Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Live your life every day, never waver from your path, and cause no cruelty

That inscription was the tattoo on the back of our spiritual guide to Krabi, an as-yet-unnamed man from Gibraltar who straddled the front of our Thai longboat like Neptune commanding the sea with his trident. He punched his fists in the air with each pounding wave, chanting "Raylay Beach" like a mantra. Today I finally sat on a peaceful, mostly deserted beach watching a sunset over one of the most beautiful bays I've ever seen, with cliffs hundreds of feet tall surrounding me on all sides. But it's been a long time getting here.

I'm not a fan of sleeping in airports, because as a rule, I don't. However, this time it was convenient to leave for Phuket at the same time as picking up Ryan, our fifth hardy traveler after Mr. Alberto Lugo's sad and tragic departure. Once we got to Phuket, our experience was filled with sleeplessness, overly aggressive taxi drivers who are used to nonbargaining Eurotrash, and some surprisingly good Chinese food. As soon as we rolled, scuffled, and hauled ass off the ferry at Ko Phi Phi, the group consensus seemed to be that we would never leave. Much to my dismay, even considering it is the low season, we didn't. At least not soon enough.

It's not so bad. Really. Ever seen the excuse for a movie called "The Beach" with Leonardo DiCaprio during his floppy haired days? This is where it was filmed. Only in real life, it's overrun with Swedes who give you an insecurity complex with all the tanning in bikinis they do all day. It's a rough life traveling on the kroner.

As for us mere mortals, we sat at the Sunset Bar and read and swam during the day and drank there at night, watching the fireshow put on for benefit of hippie tourists. To add insult to injury, we paid three times as much as we would in Bangkok for the much beloved banana pancake (beloved by farangs anyway). One night I was awakened at 3am by Canadians in the hallway of our guesthouse who were arguing about American politics.

OK, sarcasm aside, we did do a day trip to little Phi Phi that was amazing. It wasn't even as crowded as I expected it would be. We jumped off rope swings into the ocean as our friendly longboat man tooled us around the island, finding inlets that were beautiful if not deserted. We also met gap year Brits who we hung out with for most of our time there.

I may have become a beach snob, but I personally thanked God for having created Krabi when I first saw it. Finally. I am in my happy place.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Whatever you do, don't fall in the river

We're back today from a two-day trek through Konchanaburi, about 2 1/2 hours to the west of Bangkok. It was jam packed with the bread and butter of farang behavior in Thailand: riding elephants, swimming in waterfalls, and partying with other backpackers. My elephant's name meant "Pig" in Thai, which made sense since when he wanted a snack he destroyed most of a tree, carrying it off in his mouth like a dog to save it for later. The waterfalls were pretty spectacular as well, and less packed with tourists than the ones near Chiang Mai, which has a pretty similar landscape.

Konchanaburi is famous for being the home of the bridge on the river Kwai and other WWII memorial sites. Most of the monuments and museums had very apologetic and occasionally humorously worded/gramatically dubious displays about the Allied forces that were in POW camps in Thailand, which had sided with the Japanese. Konchanaburi is pretty close to Burma and therefore was pivotal in the transportation of supplies for the Japanese to fight the British. The sites, especially Hellfire Pass (a museum funded by Australian ex-POW veterans), were disturbing but very interesting. Since there were not very many Americans in Thailand during WWII, it's not something you generally would read about in a US history textbook.

Although the history was interesting, what made me happiest was the floating guesthouse we stayed on in the river. There was, of course, the requisite United Nations of Alberto's 20th birthday party. He got a better deal than when I had my 20th in Thailand: all I got was a Christmas decorated birthday cake (my birthday is in October) while he got to hang out on a party boat with cool travelers from all over the world (Sri Lanka, England, France, Germany, the list goes on). After that, coming back to Bangkok was a bit of a letdown, rife with dehydration, downpours and the first man down with food poisoning. Although the honeymoon period of Thailand may have worn off, at least we are headed to the islands this weekend!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Does this city never sleep, or is it just me?

Now I remember why we left Bangkok after only two days last time I was here...this place is overwhelming. I am loving every second of it.

My first day in the city began with Nate's loud knocking on the door at 6am. All of us were massively thrown off because of jetlag, but we weren't about to let that stop us from an early morning jaunt around Banglamphu. Thailand accosted us immediately: the hilarity of the ladyboy guesthouse receptionist, the unforgotten tastiness of Fun-Os, the random strangers who try to help us, or help us relieve ourselves of our all came back in a rush of feeling. I got a whiff of the smells emanating from the market stalls, and wondered why I ever left. The stupid grin on my face may have labeled me as a naive farang, but I'm remembering more and more Thai words the longer I stay. Watch out, kon Thai.

That being said, it is much hotter here than it was last time, and the pollution is hurting my eyes almost as much as Delhi's did. Per Emily's request we finagled ourselves an upgrade into an A/C room, but alas, we leave today for a much cheaper guesthouse - one, weirdly enough, I recognized from two and a half years ago. With six weeks of travel ahead of me and no particular plans, its price is comforting, especially since I am still unemployed. Thailand has become a sort of place of limbo for my life...but at least it's cheap limbo:

Guesthouse: $3
Noodles from a stand for lunch: 50 cents
Taxi to the other side of town: $2
Hourlong Thai massage: $6
Triumphant return to my second home: priceless