平成24の冬休みの旅:タイ – Winter Break Trip 2012: Thailand

We arrived at the Thai border with grand expectations as there were a lot of things that I was really looking forward to seeing and doing.  The immigration procedures were problem free and soon enough we had entered a whole new land.  Aside from the written language, which had assumed some bizarre alien script, things pretty much looked the same as Malaysia though.  We had to switch vans and also picked up a few more passengers but I continued my antisocial coma, and after several more hours of Christmas in a van we arrived on the resort island of Phuket.

Ho Ho Ho

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There was another half hour or so to our hotel at Kamala Beach.  Despite us being in a dorm, it was only the four of us, so we could relax a bit.  It was already mid afternoon by the time we arrived, so we took care of some particularly foul laundry and then treated ourselves to some fantastic food.  Japan is oblivious to the concept of spicy food, and even the blandest of the bland tends to be too much for them to handle.  Coming to a country like Thailand where the cuisine has a lot of spice and diversity was a treat for the tongue.

Just a couple guys havin’ a gay ol’ time

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One of the things we had talked about during the long ride was how we had yet to christen this trip.  With our sleep schedules more normalized, and plans to stay here more than a single day, we began to scheme over what would become one of the more eventful nights out ever.

Things began rather tamely, just a few grown men chatting and drinking on the beach.  As we did this, some fire lanterns rose up into the darkness over the bay.  Eventually the appeal of taking a dip couldn’t be denied any so we waded out to some boats that were anchored offshore.  After getting scared that Saad faffing about upon said boats would get us in trouble, while staying low in the water we hurried back to shore.  While redressing two guys who rode in the van with us happened upon our little powwow.  They were about the same age, one from France and the other London, and were keen on joining us in whatever was to come next.

Together we walked over to a bar whose employees had solicited us on an earlier pass.  At this sort of establishment, they have plenty of girls on staff to sit and talk with you while also playing various tabletop games.  Their purpose is of course to keep you entertained and thirsty, though, they do of course offer other services as well.  We were just there for a drink or two to appease their earlier demands that we come in so this never became an issue.  Amusingly, one of our men was caked in white makeup before we left that place.

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From there we made our way down the streets and decided as a group the the six of us would get a massage at one of the stalls that are absolutely everywhere.  They only had five beds in the whole shop so Neil was made to wait a bit, but the scene inside was hilarious.  We were all having a great time and being the only patrons didn’t need to fear disturbing anyone else.  The workers too were having a lot of fun with our crew’s antics.  When it finished we all just waited outside for Neil’s to wrap up as well.  We laughed with the masseuses, I got my hair braided, and Saad was soaked by an entire 2 liter bottle of Sprite by John over a petty dispute.  Hilarious.

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From here we recalled our hostel owner saying something about an all night Christmas party that he would be happy to drive us over to.  With the night already in full swing, that was sounding pretty good.  After making the short walk to our hostel, he drove us over to some part of town that was flashy and filled with people of all ages – mostly people in their 20s, but families and the elderly were out to play as well.  What became immediately apparent was that this place was as much a reincarnation of Sodom and Gamorrah as could possibly exist on this Earth.  In the spirit of Christmas we went for a stroll through the area before finally getting to our beloved McDonalds.  The vast majority of the people in this part of town were there to party, and this restaurant was keeping them all sated.

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While in line, the French guy managed to irk someone a few paces away.  Rather than sitting quietly eating his food, Alpha Male #1 wished to express his distaste for the French fellow’s faux pax.  Peacekeeper Saad, taking a step forward, suggested calmly that everyone just relax and let it go.  This overtly aggressive display seemed to upset lurking Alpha Male #2 who appeared out of no where to punch Saad in the face.  They left in a hurry, while we were all in a bit of a tizzy as we tried to digest what had just transpired.  This moment punctuated the end of the night.  Things almost reverted to fisticuffs again when some English guy couldn’t accept that we actually were in line before him.  During the chilly ride back to the hostel, there was a lot of chat about what we woulda coulda shoulda done back at McDonalds to make the first guy pay for his actions, but based on some of the ideas that were being pitched its definitely best that we didn’t stage a counterattack.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night…

This was taken earlier on, obviously.

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The next morning we enjoyed some well deserved sleep after our grueling pace thus far in the trip.  For this day, we had plans no more elaborate than relaxing at the beach.  Taking the recommendation of our hostel, we walked to the main road and awaited a tuk tuk to sweep us away.  What we got however, was a 300 pound gorilla of a woman piloting a 125cc motorbike with a some canopied bench affixed to it.  We definitely questioned the merits of this transport, but she assured us things would be fine.  Despite being rather sluggish off the line it did manage to get us where we were going, though, I did have to get out and help push it up a wee knoll.

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The beach we arrived at was nice, but nothing like the scenes of tropical haven you’d find on a calender.   We rented a couple beach chairs and waded out into the water.  After a bit of chatter, we returned to walk across the rocks over on one side of the beach.  This was good, very hot in the open sun, but working our way around the bend offered a nice view out over the bay.  After a few lame group photos and some skirting across the hot stones we were back to our chairs.  As the sun was going down, John decided to get us all a ride on a boat by giving parasailing a whirl.  It was a short little zip around the bay but it offered some great views and a pleasant breeze.

I liked Saad’s pastel me, so I borrowed it.

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We hung around to see a rather bland sunset before taking a more conventional vehicle back to base.  We hadn’t really planned anything for that evening, and we definitely weren’t feeling anything on par with the previous night.  All that we really needed to do was sort out how we were going to get to the Full Moon Party.  After weighing all the options, we determined that there was no way that we could guarantee our arrival to the massive island party on time.  This infamous event butted right up to the new year’s celebration and the combined demand overwhelmed the island and all means of transport.  This was the one instance where our spontaneous planning style came back to bite us, but we still managed a good time.  We decided instead to book a flight up to Bangkok to see if we couldn’t make it down a few days later for the equally insane New Year’s bash.  We figured that by giving ourselves a few more days to make it happen, we’d be alright.

Our kindhearted hostel employee took to tears when she couldn’t manufacture some way for us to get to the party island.  We assured her that there was no reason for her to accept any blame for this, that it was our fault.  I bought her some chocolate to make it up to her though.

Having sorted our plans, we decided to take a last walk around for some street food.  We found a couple stalls nearby serving some hot soup and another with noodles.  We devoured this, though Saad felt a bit ill and decided to head back to bed.  John, Neil and I got a hot drink in a bag and kept walking.  Weather was great, so making our way down some unknown roads like this and even getting a little lost wasn’t such a big deal.  When our bags of drink had finally cooled down, we exhibited our complete lack of knowing how to drink them by spilling it all down our fronts and on the ground.

Spicy Beef Noodles.  The cilantro leaves add a lot of flavor.

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The next morning, we nabbed a taxi to the airport and made our way up the city of Bangkok.  After arriving, we trekked through the city streets trying to get ourselves to the hostel we had reserved.  All we knew was that it was near the Victory Monument.  We gave up on the walking through the scorching sun and took a cab to what was only 100 or so meters away.  Feeling a bit like stereotypically lazy foreigners, we climbed out and checked in.  It was a really nice place and the lady working behind the desk had character right off the bat.  “Justin?  I KILL YOU!”  Certainly not the first words I was expecting from Pui Pui (her name) but she wound up being a very memorable part of our time there. While everyone knows that a night in Bangkok will make a hard man humble, we had left ourselves with five.  This was without a doubt the doldrums of the trip, having spent a bit too much time not seeing enough.  Rather than providing a play by play of our time there, I’ll just cover the highlights.

Oh, Pui Pui

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On one day we took a trip to the old part of town and walked around the Thai King’s palace grounds.  Pants and respectable footwear were required to enter, and watching the ill prepared tourists floundering at the gate was rather amusing.  Inside were a number of buildings bejazzled to hell and back with shiny tiles of various colors.  If not for being so over the top, it would almost certainly come off as gaudy.

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Around this area were a number of people selling stone talismans and other knickknacks, which made for some decent souvenir shopping.  While we were walking, a bus driver suggested a boat trip to a nearby floating market.  I’ve seen one of these in Vietnam, so to do it again wasn’t high on my list, though some of the others were pretty keen on it.   After getting the to the jetty, we boarded a slender craft and started cruising through a few canals.  At some point a single boat came up to ours claiming to be the floating market.  I laughed to myself at this scam, but the hour long trip through a very Venice-like style of life was worth it on its own.  We saw a few massive lizards, countless temples, and soaked in what what it must be like to live life with the river lapping at their doorstop.

This isn’t flooded, its just normal.

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Another Bangkok stop was to a Muai Thai boxing match.  We paid for the ringside seats, which probably wasn’t worth it, but enjoyed it all the same.  When things first began, they were starting at the bottom of the weight classes; some 100 pound kids came out and started wailing on each other.  There was something a little off about paying to watch some little kids fight, but entertaining none the less.  Towards the end of the evening, the heavier weight classes had come out and these bouts were much more physical.  There were a couple of KOs delivered, which meant I saw everything I had hoped to.

One of the interesting pieces of the whole thing was all the tradition that was wrapped up into it.  In addition to the signs that were posted around the ring forbidding women to even touch it, the two opponents would do a sort of dance routine before each match.  This was both amusing, and very interesting.  They would make it to each corner, and then in the middle of the ring perform some bouncy dance while flourishing their hands.  Both opponents did this at the same time.   Also, for whatever reason, there were a handful of people making some obnoxious form of music throughout each match.  I’m sure this quartet of kazoos and clanging pans was  based in tradition as well, but I grew tired of it in no time at all.

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To kill one of our afternoons, we did stop by a movie theater to watch The Hobbit.  Once again, tickets in Japan are a bit expensive and we happened to have some excess time on our hands.  The most interesting thing about this was when at the beginning of the film, there was a sort of public service announcement about the king.  At this time, everyone in the theater stood up for the duration.  This was definitely not something I’ve had to do in any of the countries I’ve visited yet.  On a related note, at the boxing event too, everyone stood and sang to the king before the start of the evening.  It is after all the Kingdom of Thailand, but to actually see things like this happen helped emphasize that this was indeed a different part of the world world.

For our last day and night in Bangkok, New Year’s Eve, and also to embrace our ‘ballin’ lifestyle to the max, we checked into a swanky hotel.  We got one luxury suite and a standard room for to facilitate our greeting the new year.  We spent the afternoon poolside, and when it was finally time for dinner we went out to Pizza Hut.  We were all pretty excited about this since pizza is so ridiculously expensive in Japan.  The large was more like a medium by American standards, but the taste of my meatlovers was spot on.  Not sure about why our pies came with ketchup packets though.

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We did a little shopping for that evening and stopped by the concierge desk to put together a game plan for the festivities.  A guy in a suit came and asked if we were the residents of room 2057.  We all smirked as we brimmed with swagger, staying in a nice room and all, and happily confirmed that to be true.  Our swagger quickly turned to shame as he explained that there had been a problem.  Apparently my brilliant plan to leave the shower filled with water was a bad one, it proved permeable and water leaked into the room below.  Wonderful, that was the news we had been hoping to hear.  He left us to return to our room, saying that we could negotiate a cost later that evening.  I guess it was silly of my to assume that a shower was waterproof…

After going back up to our pad, we got right into what we had bought and started talking about the plans for the evening.  Before things got too far along, I wanted to go take care of my debts, so I put on a decent shirt and sat down with the manager.  He came to the table looking for $300, but I was able to escape with paying only a third of that.  Felt pretty dumb, but as Neil kindly reminded me, simply throwing money at a problem generally makes it go away.

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We went out that night (sans John, who was being a baby) to the Bangkok version of Times Square.  Of course the scale was significantly less than in NYC, but there were still quite an impressive number of people gathered there.  There was some live music, but we couldn’t really see the stage at all.  Then out of nowhere they started the countdown with 5 seconds left to go.  Midnight passed with almost no buildup and was followed by some faraway fireworks.

We declared this a waste of time and piled into a tuk tuk to take us over to the backpacker district.  Here a proper celebration was in full effect, with the street closed down and filled with dancing bodies.  We were ready to play ourselves, so we staked out a little zone and had at it till about 5am.  We came across a few other English teachers who life in the next prefecture over and ended up spending most of the evening together.  We finally left when we started to think about our untimely 6am bus departure to the next destination.

Dancing in the streets

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After getting back and catching a few winks, we sat outside the hotel again hoping that the bus would actually show.  Fortunately it did and we were once again in a cramped vehicle heading over to Poipet for our next border crossing.

So many corns!

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Overall, Thailand lived up to our expectations of beautiful beaches and spicy food.  Although the languages and culture to an extent vary from one Southeast Asian country to the next, the look and feel of them are quite similar.  Motorcycles, street food, and poverty as far as the eye can see.  There are a couple more places that I would love to see sometime in the future, and maybe even that Full Moon Party.  If I were to return to the region again, I would try to include a detour to Thailand to wrap a few of these things up.

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