Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Thailand: Sun, Sand, Scorpions & Ice Bars?

After a night in transit reminding me of the delightful realities of travel, as I fitfully dozed, perched on a couple of chairs pushed together in BKK’s departure terminal, my various body parts intertwined with my luggage as I waiting for the check-in counters to open, I arrived in beautiful Koh Samui. On my first return to the island in ~13 years, I was curious to see how much yet how little had changed in that time. On first glance Koh Samui (or at least bustling Chaweng Beach) was still striving to rival Cancun in its tackiness (although it’s definitely not alone in this noble ambition even in Thailand, let alone the rest of the world). Latest count: Thai Ladyboys: 1, Mexicans: 0.

The forces of Gastronomy had definitely suffered some major defeats in the intervening years, as the lone outpost of McDonald’s had been reinforced by Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, and even Starbucks. And sadly, Koh Samui has now suffered the ultimate indignity of any destination that has outgrown its natural charm and appeal- someone has constructed an Ice Bar, complete with life-size Tuk-Tuk in ice. These bars should be restricted to anywhere legitimately cold enough to support them. Sweden? Tick. Russia? Absolutely. Sydney? No. Thailand? You have got to be kidding.

Thankfully, I was able to meet up with a few Swedish and Russian backpackers, and put away enough cheap vodka Redbull (the positive aspects of Chaweng) to get me through to the next morning. After a passionate night with my new friends, the bedbugs (no, not the backpackers- damn those 500 Baht bargain beach bungalows), and a delicious breakfast of Subway (OK, I cracked), the ferry delivered me to Koh Pha Ngan, home of the infamous Full Moon parties (not that I can remember much from the last one I was at).

My sister Luci, who teaches English in a village on the coast, had arranged far superior accommodations (bedbug-free), on Surnise (Hat Rin) beach, and we spent the day catching up (having not seen each other for almost two years), swimming, eating & drinking, and bouncing around Pha Ngan's beautiful beaches. That night, we partied it up with some Thai friends of Luci's.

The next morning we started the long trek back to Sawi (Luci's village), not assisted by our hangovers (damn those buckets of cheap vodka- where's the Russki Standart?). After several near-misses of myriad transport connections, the last of which required perching in a farmer's side-baskets, we made it to her tiny village.

Within the first ten minutes at her apartment, I'd already attempted to kill a large scorpion that had invaded her bathroom, saved the dog from a large cricket (or vice-versa), and fought several pitched battles with some cockroaches who looked like they snorted bugspray for breakfast. Exhausted, we found some dinner and collapsed.

The next morning, I had a newfound respect for Luci's life choices as I ladled cold water over myself (keeping an eye out for scorpions), then attended her class, watching her try to maintain order over about 40 12-yr-old's. Those nearest to me called themselves (or at least each other) monkey, buffalo, and dog, but my Thai didn't make much progress.

Wandering around Sawi was an experience, as everywhere I went people dropped everything to stare at what I was doing. Luci is the only white woman in their village, and she's treated like a princess wherever she goes. Thankfully she has quickly learned Thai. It was so nice to once again be in a place where local people's lives are not dependent on flogging crap to tourists. We rode along kilometres of white, undeveloped beaches, through quaint fishing villages, and found stunning views over the gulf.

That evening, I took the stifling overnight train to Bangkok (cue Trans-Siberian flashbacks, the horror...), where I spent my final evening catching up with a friend, and sampling Bangkok's nightlife before catching the morning flight home to Moscow, for a break (and some new visas), before hitting the road again!

The photos are here.

No comments: