Thailand is the kind of place where after a day or two your brain switches gear and starts thinking crazy things, like whether you are too young to get a retirement visa (you have to be 50, for the record), or if there is some other way you can get a visa to stay there long term, some way some how, because you simply just don’t need or want to go back to where you’ve come from.
Stay, Thailand beckons. Just stay.
Thailand is a seducer. After three days in Koh Samui, I had already adapted to Thai Time, as if my previous life did not exist. I could easily have not come back to Hong Kong. Possessions? Who needs them, when every day you awake to a perfect blue sky, to squirrels climbing in the bamboo outside your window, to the lush green mountains and sandy beaches.
And the food. THE FOOD. What an orgy for your tongue, a rich cornucopia of green curries, noodles, mango and coconut rice, spicy papaya salad, and a whole bunch of other things I can’t even begin to pronounce.
Strolling through the weekly Walking Street night market, the colors are so vibrant, the sounds of the tinkling ranat echo through your ears, the smells of cooking all around you…. you just want to inhale everything, taste everything, touch everything. And when it’s so cheap, buy everything.
Just stay! your brain says. Come on, you know you want to. It would be so easy….
My father moved to Koh Samui ten years ago, and no matter how many times I go to visit, somehow it still grabs me. I’m still amazed at the cool, fun vibe, it’s still fun going to the same bars, I’m still excited to be there. And I think maybe something that appeals to me is that in some ways it reminds me of Trinidad. It’s decadent. It’s sexy. It’s slightly lawless. Anything goes, once everyone is having a good time.
After 10 blissful days, I reluctantly accepted that all good things must come to an end (do they HAVE to? Really? Who made up that bullshit? Surely there is some way….) and boarded the plane back to Hong Kong, and to reality. Sigh.
Thailand’s crowded, traffic clogged capital, Bangkok, is not exactly the first place that comes to mind when you think of family friendly activities. Shopping, yes. Food, yes. Night time ‘entertainment’, ladyboy cabarets, street markets, definitely. But family fun?
You would be surprised to learn that in the past ten years, this mega city has built so many attractions aimed at kids, including safaris, aquariums, ice skating rinks, science museums, and more. Most of them are right outside the train stations too, so getting around is easy and cheap.
On this short trip, we only managed to scratch the surface by visiting two places.
The first was Snow Town – a place that perhaps got a bit of inspiration from the infamous ski slopes in the Mall of Dubai. It might be 30’C and 100% humidity outside, but inside Snow Town the ice machines are creating a nice slope for sledding, as well as ‘snow’ for making snow men and snow balls. And of course living in Asia she’s never seen ‘snow’ before so it was a good novelty.
You can rent sleds of all sizes, but I recommend getting a bigger one or else your kids will get very wet butts. It was my daughter’s first time and I couldn’t get her off the sled!
The other place that was a LOT better than I expected it to be was Dinosaur Planet. Unfortunately when we went, it was pouring with rain, and the ticket staff were reluctant to let us in because more than half of the attractions would not be operating. But we decided to go anyway and it was worth it. If your kid likes dinosaurs, then this place is fantastic. They have dinosaur skeletons, fossils, and eggs. In one section, a ‘scientist’ pretends to examine some eggs, until a T-Rex comes down from the ceiling and tries to eat him.
Another part is a ‘4D’ movie complete with shaking seats and super sound effects as fierce beasts chase you. My kid also loved the sand pit where you can excavate bones and fossils. Too bad we could not do all of the other attractions.
And of course, a good part of a vacation is just chilling by the pool, eating good food, and taking it easy. Bangkok is an INTENSE place with lots of noise, lots of crowds, and lots of traffic. So sometimes it is nice to just stay in the hotel and get a bit of peace and quiet. And room service, of course. Because some cold Singha and a green curry is absolutely fantastic after a long day of sightseeing.
It’s early June in the idyllic paradise of Koh Samui, and the mood is nothing short of subdued. We seem to be the only ones staying at this gorgeous, cheap hotel across the road from Lamai Beach. The Swedes and the Germans and the Russians are long gone, having returned to their homelands to enjoy the best time of year, summer time in Europe. The restaurants are almost completely empty, and have resorted to putting up signs saying that every dish is 90 baht (less than $3) and cocktails are 2-4-1. But still, things are quiet in town.
At the usually raucous and racy boxing ring in Lamai, most of the ‘girly bars’ are closed, and the only one that’s open has three or four ladies in blue dresses dancing half heartedly on the bar, while the rest of the staff are sitting, heads down, looking at their phones. They perk up when my father takes my 2-year-old daughter over to see them. The kid seems to like the loud music and although she is too young to know what gyrating and twerking is, she comes back, wide eyed, to tell me they are having a ‘big party’. I mutter to my father that if she grows up to be a professional pole dancer, I’ll know why.
Winter is high season in Thailand, with many retirees returning to the islands for their annual four months of cheap living, quiz nights, cold beers, and spicy food. But the slump of summer I’ve never seen before. I wonder how many of the shops will manage to stay open for the next five months with no customers.
Perhaps this is a good time to visit the island. You might not get the usual energetic party atmosphere, but things sure are cheaper in terms of flights and hotels. So if you’re looking for some peace and quiet, summer time is the best time to go. Because the cold of winter brings the hordes of tourists like flies to shit, causing the island to go into a frenzy of activity, with drag queens in ball gowns parading up the sidewalks, the girly bars pump up the base and draw in the crowds, the shop keepers get into the hustle of hustling a few more euros out of your pocket, as high season goes into full boom.
In the meantime….
I guess I’ll have to enjoy having the dining room, the pool, and the beach almost entirely to myself.
Chiang Mai is a surprisingly pleasant little walled city in northern Thailand, and the second biggest city in the ‘Land of 1,000 Smiles’.
The walled city itself is a small area in the center of town, but life revolves around it, with a constant flow of tuk-tuks, songtheows and tricycles going around and around the city walls and through the main arteries that flow through the downtown area.
Far removed from the raucous, sweaty, half naked beach bars and Carnival atmosphere of places like Phuket, Pattaya, and Koh Samui in the south, much to my surprise Chiang Mai was the most ‘normal’ place that I’ve been to in Thailand. By normal I mean that most of the people there are locals – not tourists. Chiang Mai is where they are from, and where they are raising their families, and running their businesses, and owning houses. This is contrasted with the islands in the south, where there are really only two types of people — (1) ambitious Thai women who have flocked by the thousands from the northern parts of the country to make a better living, and (2) randy retirees, nuveau-riche Russians, and nearly broke Europeans stretching their francs and deutsche marks through the winter, feeling like the king of the world with a cold Chang in one hand and a warm young body in the other.
No, in Chiang Mai you won’t have to constantly deal with Nepalese suit makers calling you from the door of their shop, or bored girls in the spas plucking their eyebrows and asking if you want a masaaaaage or pedicuuuuure, or incredibly beautiful ladyboys gyrating on the bars while wide-eyed families eat pad thai in a nearby night market.
In this lovely, normal Thai city, with its crumbling red brick walls and moat, there is a lot to see and do, and Chiang Mai definitely attracts a different kind of tourist. There is an endless number of stunning temples and cultural sites, and it is also a mecca for outdoor adventure tourists who want to do zip-lining in the forest, elephant trekking in the jungle, or buffalo cart riding through the rice paddies. There’s also a huge aquarium, a night safari, and a Tiger Kingdom, to name a few.
None of which I could really do, of course. Not with my little 2-year-old travel buddy. Maybe when she is a little bit older, and has a chance of remembering the experience, we’ll spend the money to go up on the back of an elephant. But, not this time.
We did, however, have fun riding in the tuk-tuks and songtheows, seeing the city, eating delicious mango and coconut sticky rice, and when it got too hot to stay in the relentless midday sun, we jumped in the roof top pool and had a great nap before going out again at 5pm for an iced coffee and dinner.
Our hotel, the Smith Residence, was a stone’s throw away from the south gate of the city, and near to a huge local market with lots of food and shopping. The hotel isn’t particularly fancy, but it is incredibly, weirdly, spotlessly clean. Some staff member is always cleaning, any time, night or day. I think the owner must have some serious obsessive compulsive disorder. Anyway, the location is brilliant because it’s easy to walk around the city, and you’re close to both the Saturday night market and the Sunday Night Walking Street. Also just walk out the door and there is always a tuk-tuk waiting to take you around.
Anyway, other than liming, drinking Singha, eating green curry and swimming, here are some of the main cultural and historic sights that we saw:
If you’re travelling with a baby, there isn’t that much to do in Chiang Mai compared to the effortless fun that awaits you at the beach, but here are three recommendations:
Find a hotel that has a pool, because it is bloody hot between 12 and 4pm and even the locals find a cool place to wait out the heat
Take a break from temple traipsing and go to Tesco Lotus to let the kids run around in the play room and ‘edutainment center’ on the 2nd floor
Visit the beautiful and well maintained Nong Buak Hard Public Park in the south western corner inside the walled city. I met a Croatian woman there with her 2-year-old and ended up having a nice time in the park with them.
Because let’s face it — little kids are not interested in cultural relics. A room full of plastic balls is waaaaay cooler, mom.
While on a recent trip to Thailand, I snapped a few shots in the local supermarket of all the millions and millions of beauty products and toiletries that have so called ‘whitening agents’. You can try to whiten everything from your butthole to your armpits, apparently. Everything from powder to bath soap seems to have ‘white’ in it. Take a look and see for yourself:
So what’s the obsession with being white? Apparently in South East Asia, if you have dark skin, it shows that you are someone who is poor and works in the field, and thus has a lot of exposure to the sun during manual labour. This is also why Thais go to great lengths to cover their skin from head to toe when in the sun, and abhor the concept of tanning. Whiter skin shows that you perhaps work in some nice air conditioned office. Thus the proliferation of whitening agents in every damn product that goes in, on or around your body.
I just find it highly ironic that while all the white people are going to Thailand to get brown, a bunch of white people in the US or Europe somewhere sat around a board room and realised they could actually get a bunch of brown people in a developing country to spend their hard earned money on things to make them less brown! What a thing!
A few nights ago I slapped my 9-week old daughter right in the face. Now before you accuse me of child abuse, let me say I did it for her own good. See, she was lying there in bed fast asleep, all plump and innocent with her wonderfully soft and powdery baby skin, and a nice, fat, contented mosquito was just sitting there on her forehead, so full of blood it couldn’t even fly away. So I smacked her on the face — whap! — to kill it before it waddled off to tell its friends about the baby buffet laying there on the bed waiting to be plundered.
My little child flinched momentarily at the quick hot slap, and much to my surprise she mercifully slipped back into sleep.
As I went to wash the blood off my hands, a very scary thought crossed my newly maternal mind — what if my poor little child gets dengue? After all, here we are in Thailand, she’s barely over two months old, and she’s just had her first mosquito bite, and not even from a local Hongkie mosquito but a Thai mosquito. What if her tiny developing immune system can’t handle it? All kinds of guilty thoughts went through my head in the blink of an eye. Am I a bad mother to take a baby that is barely two months old to a foreign land? Should I have done like the Chinese mothers and confine their babies to the home for the first few months of their lives to keep them safe and sound and far away from the nasty germs and parasites out there in the real world? Was I crazy to take her to Koh Samui before she can even lift up her own head? What was I thinking? What kind of a mother was I?
These thoughts of doubt and guilty plagued me off and on for the whole 10 days that I was visiting my father in Koh Samui, a beautiful tropical island in southern Thailand. But you know what? In the end, this kind of experience as a new mother was exactly what I needed. I think new moms, especially first time moms, tend to be paranoid, and rightfully so, because statistically speaking babies are most likely to die, for whatever reasons, within the first three months of life. Thus the confinement period here in Hong Kong and China. This kind of paranoia can really make you go insane, and I can say for a fact that the first month of her life I was a total basket case, trying to do everything right, trying to not make any mistakes, trying to do all the good things good mothers are supposed to do.
But there I was, in Thailand, doing all the wrong things, on a daily basis. I think some of the things I did would cause any local Hong Kong mother to blanche. I took her on a plane full of foreigners and foreign germs at 8 weeks of age. We went to the Koh Samui Hash and walked around the bush in the afternoon sun. She got bitten by a few mosquitoes. She was exposed to loads and loads of friendly Thai women (many of whom were ex-prostitutes) who were begging to hold her and squeeze her and hug her up. She was often out of sight as people showed her around. She was taken out to bars at 6 pm, when most rational mothers and taking their babies home to put them to bed. She was bathed at all the wrong times. She was hot like hell in 35’C. She had little to no routine, and every day brought something new.
I worried. I won’t lie — I worried every step of the way whether doing any of these were a bad idea.
And after all that, what did the baby do?
She just looked at me and smiled, a big goofy smile.
Perfectly fine, mom. I’m happy like pappy. Nothing to worry about.
She didn’t get sick, she didn’t die, she didn’t perish.
I wasn’t a bad, crazy, neglectful mother after all!
Now that I’m back in Hong Kong, I feel slightly more relaxed about motherhood. Even my husband noticed it — that I came back with almost a sort of new found confidence about this whole parenting thing. That you of course have to do what’s best for the baby, but you CAN actually travel, and do things, and go out, and not just stay home with a baby all the time. We humans have survived much worse conditions for millions and millions of years. Going out is not going to kill your child. And maybe once in a while, you can even get a pedicure and a massage, and maintain your sanity.
Moral of the story? Travel with the baby — don’t stay home!
They say that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, but apparently flooding does.
Last year we got caught in what, at the time, was considered the worst floods ever in Koh Samui’s history. Everyone thought it was a freak event, including me. Which is why I should have known better when one day the skies opened up and it didn’t stop raining for seven days straight. But what are the chances that I’d happen to be in Samui for the second worst flood in the island’s history!?
It rained, and it rained, and it rained, and it rained. All day and all night. We went to sleep in the rain and woke up in the rain. But no one expected the kind of flooding that we experienced.
Thankfully most Thai houses are built up on stilts, so the house was fine even as the garden filled up with four feet of water. The steps from the ground to the house disappeared under the water, one by one. The whole area turned into a giant river, with a variety of items floating past, like styrofoam coolers, shoes, boxes, bags of garbage, and, unfortunately, an old plastic hard-case Samsonite suitcase I had forgotten under my father’s house. I guess someone else is enjoying it now.
Being trapped in the house is one thing, watching and waiting while the water continues to rise. But it got real bad when we lost electricity, and then running water, and then mobile phones. We were totally cut off from everything, and we couldn’t leave the house.
My father had tried to park his car up on a higher piece of ground, but by morning we found it full of water and mud, the engine dead.
When finally the flood waters receded, we decided to make a go for it and venture out to get some supplies. The level of damage this time was far worse than what we experienced last year. The water must have been so strong, and carrying so much heavy and dangerous flotsam and jetsam, that it broke the huge pane glass window of the 7-11 on the corner. As we walked by, huddled under our raincoats, the family members of the owner kept a vigil by the door. Everywhere you looked was a disaster.
Many buildings fell into the rivers, both in the slums and in the fancy hotels. I guess mother nature doesn’t discriminate.
Other than the hardships of being stuck in a flooded out town with no water, no power and no phones, another major problem was that I had a flight out of Samui on March 31st, and the airport was closed. Nonetheless, I packed up my bags that night, and figured that in the morning, if the roads were clear and some of the water had drained off, I would at least make a try for it.
We awoke the next morning glad to see the water pretty much all gone from the garden, though the roads were still partially underwater. We had no idea if the airport was open, and the phone lines were still down, but Bob called out to his neighbour who has a big powerful pick-up truck with four-wheel drive, and he agreed to try to take us to the airport. “I’ll see you in an hour!” I joked to Bob’s girlfriend, convinced that we wouldn’t make it and would be back in time for breakfast.
Slowly we inched our way through some very deep waters and emerged into a drier section of road. We drove slowly, looking at all the destroyed homes and wrecked cars and motorbikes. But then there was a sign of hope — a taxi heading in the opposite direction with a tourist in the backseat! Our driver slowed down and called out from his window to the taxi driver. “Good news!” he said. “They just came from Chaweng. If Chaweng is open, the airport must be open.” So off we went.
So said so done — the airport was open. But boy was it a scene of chaos. Thousands of stranded tourists who were two days late on their flights, and no doubt missing their connecting international flights from Bangkok. The Samui Airport was not in any way equipped to deal with this kind of catastrophe. There was no organisation, no lines, no signs. But, they did have electricity, thank goodness. We asked a few people in different lines what they were waiting for and no one seemed to know which line they should be in. After about half an hour we found a line that was supposed to be accommodating passengers flying that day. Unfortunately for people who were two days late, they would have to go on stand-by.
I stood for four hours in the line as people slowly filtered in to the airport and the ground staff slowly tried to figure out what the hell to do with so many thousands of people. During all these hours of tedium, boredom and uncertainty, I chatted with a lot of other people on my flight, including an Aussie who had never left Australia before, an American couple on their honeymoon, and three Kuwaiti gentlemen who were extremely kind and generous and a great help. I guess a catastrophe is a great equalizer — we’re all in this thing together, so you may as well make the best of it.
Finally, everyone’s ears turned to the sky — the wonderful glorious sound of a plane’s engine approaching! The entire airport burst into spontaneous and joyous applause and cheering. The planes were able to land, which meant that at least some of us would be able to leave.
But after six hours, people were really starting to get irate. Some Chinese passengers tried to squeeze in front of the line for the flight to Hong Kong and about a dozen people started a shouting match. The ground staff kept pleading with people to line up and be patient but everyone was angry, frustrated, and tired. It got so bad that they announced that the Thai Royal Navy was sending a ship to take 300 passengers over to the mainland, first come first served. A bunch of people rushed over to the line, taking whatever transport was available, even if it meant then taking an 8-hour bus to Bangkok.
It was exhausting waiting in the airport, and people started to spread out old paper boxes to sit on. Some people dozed, some read books. The airport started providing huge pots of free soup to everyone because there was no food to be had. Not to mention the fact that it was still bloody raining and we couldn’t leave the airport to go buy food. I have no doubt that the handling of this event is going to be a really bad reflection on Bangkok Airways, which owns and operates the airport, because I have to say they truly failed to handle the situation properly.
I finally got on a plane at about 6 pm, and I had been there since 8 am, but I was one of the lucky ones. Some other people I talked to had been there for two days and had no idea what they were going to do about their missed flight back to the UK. Nonetheless, we gratefully took our seats on the plane, and breathed a sigh of relief that we were getting off the island. As the plane took off and we roared into the sky, the plane full of hungry, stinky, tired tourists clapped with joy. We were getting out! I have to admit, it was a great feeling to touch down in Bangkok and look out the window and not see rain.
Amazingly, the storms and the rain had brought the temperature in Bangkok down to a chilly 20’C which is a very sudden drop considering the fact that Bangkok is usually 35’C. Everyone shivered in their shorts and flip flops. But, we got our bags, and wearily went on our way. I said goodbye to the people who had been there for the past eight hours waiting in line with me, and we all wished each other well.
Something that really stood out for me in this experience is how, in times of duress, strangers can come to your aid. When the airport started giving out free bottles of water and packets of biscuits or cookies, the three bearded Kuwaitis always came back with a bottle of water for me and insisted I eat some of their crackers. Whenever the Australian backpacker needed to go to the toilet, or vice versa, we watched each other’s bags and made sure no one stepped on our cardboard seats. Whatever small acts of kindness we could offer each other to relieve not only the stress, but also the boredom, were extremely appreciated. And people that you probably never would have talked to ended up being allies in time of need. That is probably what I will remember most during all those hours in the airport; the feeling of camaraderie during a very difficult and unpleasant time.
So, I left Samui, and left Bangkok, and now am back in Hong Kong where it is nice and safe and dry and most definitely not raining. I feel really bad about leaving my father back in Samui to clean up the mess and have to deal with the mud and the flooded car and everything, but I am very grateful I was able to catch my flight. I have a feeling it is going to take a long, long time for poor Samui to get back on its feet.
A while ago I stumbled upon a very funny and surprisingly accurate website called Stuff White People Like, which pokes fun at the “typical” things that left-wing white North Americans are into. It includes stuff like Teaching English in Japan, Bob Marley, Camping, Hummus, Having Gay Friends, Expensive Sandwiches, Sarah Silverman, and Riding Bicycles.
So I decided to compose my own little top-ten list of my cultural insights into Thailand, and thus, the list of Stuff Thai People Like was born.
1. Thai Food:Thai people are extremely loyal to Thai food; more than any country I have ever seen. In general, unless you grow up in a rich urban family in Bangkok, Thai people do not like to eat farang (foreign) food. If it doesn’t have at least five red chillis, it’s not real food. Japanese food? Too boring. Indian food? Unclean, in their eyes. Pizza? Maybe, but only if you douse it with spoonfuls of crushed red chillis. Spicy papaya salad, tom yum goong, and morning glory, on the other hand, all pass the test. Cucumber sandwiches are not considered as edible in this country.
2. Sleeping: Power gone? Cable out? Internet on the fritz? Roads flooded? Boyfriend gone? Nothing do, nowhere to go? The only logical thing to do is sleep. Thais have an amazing ability to shut down for a few hour’s rest, or just to pass the time if there is nothing else to do. Vendors having a slow day often have a fold-out cot nearby to lie down on, or to put their kids to lie down on. I guess the kids learn early.
3. Karaoke: This is true across Asia, actually. Though it is a Japanese invention, no matter whether you are in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul or Bangkok, you can find a karaoke place with the hottest local pop songs and the lamest English songs. Expect to see a lot of videos where the star-crossed lovers spend a lot of time on motorbikes or jet skis.
4. TV: From the moment a Thai person wakes up, the TV turns on. Every single home, every single restaurant, and every single shop has a television on as long as someone is awake. It can be left blaring in an empty room, but it is never to be turned off.
5. Drama: Gossip, intrigue, cheating, drugs, funerals, and chopping off your cheating husband’s cock are all good entertainment in this country. Don’t be fooled by Thailand’s nickname “The Land of Smiles”. They smile because secretly they want to kill you! And, related to #4, they also love TV dramas, particularly from Korea.
6. White skin: Every single semi-liquid cream being sold in the skin-care aisle is supposed to make your skin whiter. Face wash, moisturizer, exfoliate washes, and even sunblock all have “whitening agents”. There is a simple reason for this and it applies all over Asia: If you have dark skin, it means you are a peasant who spends all their time in the fields doing manual labour. But if you have creamy milky white skin, you are blessed with a big condo and a high-power office job which keeps you pale and rich. This is why in Asia many half-Asian-half-white kids end up as movie stars.
7. The Royal Family: Well this is a no-brainer. The Thais are loyal to their King and Queen. Every single home has at least one calendar with a big picture of the King on it in various poses, such as taking pictures, or planting seedlings. But I never knew how far this loyalty went until I went to a cinema in Bangkok. After the previews, suddenly the screen went black, telling everyone there to stand up and pay respects. The National Anthem started playing, along with a video tribute to the King. Apparently this happens before the start of every single movie! Now that’s loyalty.
8. Ghosts: There is no question that Thais are highly superstitious. From the little Spirit House on every piece of land to the amulets people wear around their necks, the Thais are mindful of ghosts. Thai people I have talked to have all confirmed that they have seen ghosts. And if you tell them you don’t believe in ghosts, they give you a real funny look. So if you are in Thailand and a local is telling you a ghost story, don’t laugh in their face. They might chop your cock off.
9. Gadgets: In a country rising from the third world to the developed world, economic indicators are important. This is why gadgets are so hot in Asia — and so widely copied. Thai people always seem to have the absolute hottest gadgets around. My phone, in comparison, is a dinosaur. Even the poorest Thai has a touch screen phone. Once I went into a local market, and the woman selling vegetables was lounging on a chair with an iPad in her lap. It was probably fake, but compared to my ancient cell phone, it was very cool.
10. Shopping: A national obsession. If you are in Bangkok, the reason why it takes so long to exit the train station is not because there are too many people. It’s because vendors have set up shop all over the sidewalk, and all the Thai women cannot resist slowing down and holding up the traffic to see all the cute things on sale, whether they are slippers or blouses or hair clips or handbags. In fact I have to say that the Thais give the Hong Kong girls a run for their money — both are raging shopaholics.
So, that concludes my 10-point list of Things Thai People Like. I’ve only been here a few months and of course that is nowhere enough time to get a true, deep understanding of any culture. But all I know is that if a Thai person invites you to their home to eat somtam and watch Korean soap operas, you better say yes, or they might sik a ghost on you…
Not nearly as flashy and cosquelle as the Grand Palace, not nearly as crowded as Chinatown, not nearly as rabid and flea-infested as Khao-san Road, Jim Thompson’s House proved to be a lovely and peaceful excursion in Bangkok. In fact, for a second I really forgot I was in the middle of a mega Asian city.
For those of you who don’t know, Jim Thompson was an architect who because a serviceman and a CIA officer during World War II, and in the process become enamoured with Thai culture, eventually divorcing his American wife and moving back to make Thailand his home. But he didn’t just stay in Thailand — he is also credited with taking Thai silk to the rest of the world in the 40’s and 50’s. Today, ‘Jim Thompson’ is the most well-known name in the silk business, and of course famous across Thailand and the world.
Why his house is so famous is because he took six antique pure-teak houses from across Thailand, shipped them to Bangkok, and built himself a beautiful home in the middle of the city.
Very annoyingly, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the house, but his personally collection of unique items across Asia was astounding. Fantastic wooden carvings from northern Thailand. 13th century stone Buddha statues. Chinese Ming vases. 500-year-old mahjong tables converted into a dining room table. Paintings from Burma, bowls from Cambodia, a chamber pot in the shape of a frog…. the list of beautiful and quirky items was endless.
As we walked around in this fantastic teak home which one man obviously had such a vision for, I tried to imagine what it was like for him, waking up every day in a home smelling with the delicious aromas of wood, with birds chirping in the trees and frogs in the lush garden. Every single item in his home was specifically chosen to surround himself with. Every day he woke up to beauty — a beauty he had chosen and made.
Jim Thompson disappeared in Malaysia in 1967, never to be seen again, his body never recovered. His home was turned into a museum a few years later, and all the items were donated. Now his house and lush gardens lay just a few minutes walk from the incredibly busy National Stadium Station, the huge MBK Shopping Complex, and a massive highway chock full of ancient coughing buses and millions of tuk-tuks and taxis. As I walked back to the train and got on line, I sort of got the feeling that perhaps Jim Thompson got the best of Bangkok, just at the right time…. a time that I suppose is too late to go back to.
About a month and a half ago, I woke up one morning to find a white splotch on the skin by the collar bone. I touched it — didn’t feel rough or itchy. I shrugged it off, thinking perhaps I had accidentally put a streak of sunscreen on that particular spot. After all, I had just spent two months lounging in the wonderful Caribbean heat, not to mention the previous three months spent in Koh Samui. After three years cooped up in an office, I had just spent a full five months baking in the sun.
Then over the past few weeks, here in Bangkok, I started to notice a few more white spots. Then a few more. On my shoulders. A few on my back. I decided to go see a skin doctor.
Luckily for me, hospitals here in Thailand — wait, let me rephrase that: private hospitals in Thailand are astounding. I chose the Bumrungrad Hospital because of its skin specialists. I walked in off the street and my jaw dropped. It looked more like a five-star hotel than a medical centers. Chandelliers and Starbucks coffee shops in the lobby. Doctors, nurses and receptionists who speak a dozen languages. Within twenty minutes of arriving at this medical heaven, I was sitting in the doctor’s office. Talk about efficient!
He took a close look at my skin, and gave me a smile.
“It’s just sun damage,” he said, “Very common. Look at how dark you are.”
He held out his arm and compared it to me, his pale Chinese skin looking like porcelain next to my toffee brown tan. He asked me how much time I spend in the sun so I told. He shook his head. Many Thai people are very protective of their skin, and for a variety of reasons, but to put it simply, the most common reason is that if you have nice pale skin it shows you don’t work all day in the rice fields like a peasant.
Anyways, he told me to cover up, wear long sleeves if I have to go walk around outside in the sun, and put on sunblock every day before going out. I didn’t like the sound of that. Did he not realise the 37’C heat outside requires cute strappy dresses, not long sleeves? Even worse — how would I survive when we moved to Dubai, where the summer heat pushes 50’C?
I walked out of the hospital with a little medicine bag in hand, and cringed when the bright sun hit my skin. The doctor said if I kept tanning, I would get darker, but the white spots would stay white. That’s not what I wanted. Being a Trini, I think I am born to bask in the sun. Now that would have to change.
Bumrungrad Hospital is located on a street called Nana Nua, also known as Arab Street. It is home to a small Middle Eastern community, with lots of restaurants, halal food stores and shisha cafes. I looked around at the women walking around me, covered from head to toe in black hijabs and chadors, and the men in long billowing robes. That’s when a light went off in my head. If they could do it, surely I could find some kind of clothing to cover my skin while still staying cool.
So, the next day, I headed off to Chinatown. Now, that might sound like a strange statement — what the hell does protecting my skin have to do with Chinatown? Well not too long ago I read in my guide book that Chinatown also has a section which is a Little India, called Pahurat. With map in hand, I set out to find it and try to find some clothing that would protect my skin while also keeping me cool in the heat.
Unfortunately, Chinatown is way on the west side of the city, and it’s not connected by Bangkok’s wonderful train system. So I took the Sky Train over to National Stadium station, went down to the street, and with map in hand tried to catch a ride.
First I hailed a taxi. “You go to Yaowarat?” I asked, using the local Thai name of the main street in Chinatown.
He sucked his teeth and shook his head vehemently. “No no no!” he said. I shrugged and closed the door of the taxi as he drove off shaking his head. But why? Why would any taxi driver refuse to take a customer somewhere? Who would turn down a paying job?
Perplexed, I walked a bit more down the road and decided to try my luck with a tuk-tuk.
Now, what’s a tuk-tuk, you may be asking?
This is a tuk-tuk:
It’s not quite a car, it’s not quite a taxi. It’s a tuk-tuk. It’s SUPPOSED to be cheaper than a taxi because it isn’t air-conditioned. So the tuk-tuk driver says okay, he will take me to Yaowarat, but because tuk-tuks don’t have a meter, he wants to charge 80 baht. “It’s very far,” he says. I shrug and climb in. It’s hot, it’s less than US $3, and I don’t feel like looking around more for transport. Whatever.
The tuk-tuk sped us down Rama IV Road while the cars, buses and motorbikes spewed noxious fumes all around. Tuk-tuks might not be as comfortable as taxis but they are damn fun! I knew I had reached Chinatown when all the signs changed from Thai language to Chinese…
My self-guided walk through Chinatown actually began at the top of Yaowarat Road under a large red gate which marks the beginning of the Chinatown district. All along Yaowarat are Chinese restaurants, including dozens and dozens of shark fin soup places, far more than I ever saw in Hong Kong. I pass stalls and corner shops selling baskets full of all kinds of weird herbs and roots and spices and shoots I could not even begin to identify. Chinatown really is a totally different world in Bangkok.
After walking for about 20 minutes or so, and trying my best to follow the map and not get licked down by oncoming buses, motorbikes and tuk-tuks, I finally reached to my destination, the intersection of Yaowarat and Pahurat. I stopped and looked around to try to figure out where to go.
Just then two little Thai kids in school uniform walked past, and the little boy looked up at me with a big smile and said, “21!” The little girl next to him giggled. “22!” she yelled out in glee. “23!” I replied to them. They burst out laughing and ran away, shouting “24! 25! 26!” Obviously they had just had English class that day… wonder what they studied?
Pahurat Market was full of tiny stalls under huge tents, and little alleys chock-a-block with shops selling a lot of beautiful Indian and Middle Eastern clothes. I picked up a few long sleeved blouses and kept looking around.
Much to my amazement, I realised that a lot of stores in Pahurat carried ‘plus sized’ clothing; sizes which would be average in North America, but are huge for tiny Thai girls. That’s when I realised that I had stumbled onto a goldmine. It is really hard for a full-figured woman like me to find clothes in Asia because the locals are so small in comparison. But in Pahurat, they carry clothes specifically for Indian and Middle Eastern women. And everyone knows — no offense intended — that a lot of Indian women start off life small and later end up plump after a lifetime of a diet heavy in carbs and sugar and oil, while Middle Eastern women in general are not exactly gym-goers for cultural reasons. Finally, an area in Asia where clothes fit my backside… it’s a miracle! I bought a pair of pants immediately just in case I was imagining things.
Pahurat apparently closes quite early, between 4.30 and 5 pm, so if you are going there for shopping, don’t expect the shops to be open well into the night. And if you can, try to avoid the traffic heading into the city during rush hour. FYI, I’ve learnt the tuk-tuks actually rip you off. The tuk-tuk had charged me 80 THB to get there, while the nice air-conditioned taxi barely cost 60 THB. Ah well. We all live and learn…..
Sometimes taking care of your most basic body fluid can be a real balancing act. Toilets across Asia — and I’ve been told also in many areas of Europe — are often the squat type, meaning the toilet is a flat porcelain basic set in to the ground over which you squat down to pee. To tell you the truth, I think this toilet style is genius because you don’t have to touch anything; no dirty toilet seats covered with urine, no hovering precariously over a toilet bowl you really don’t want to touch. With these squat toilets you don’t even have to press a flusher because usually there is a foot pedal to get the water going. I can see why many Asian countries think the western style toilet is gross… there is way too much contact.
Thai toilets, however, are quite different to those I’ve seen in other places in Asia, like Japan, China and Malaysia. Thai toilets are still squats, but they are elevated, which means that if you are a comparatively huge foreigner person, you have to balance yourself quite carefully on the steps in order to squat down. Thai people in general are pretty small — small frames, short stature — and in comparison my big bones and 30-year-old baby fat make me quite a big girl. I’m sure it’s pretty easy for a little Thai person to balance on these toilets, but for me, wow is it a challenge. Especially if drunk!!
Another thing that is quite common here, both in Bangkok and in Koh Samui, is that many places ask you not to flush the toilet paper down the toilet. Many restaurants and bars will have a huge plastic bin next to the toilet for you to put your used toilet paper because their plumbing is not good enough to handle millions of flushes of toilet paper.
That is if you can even GET toilet paper! Over the year I have learned to always, and I mean ALWAYS, walk with toilet paper because it is not a guarantee. If we are out in a night market or a street bazaar, I always steal some napkins or tissues and stow them in my handbag. Traditionally the Asian style was to use a hose to wash your derrier but this is something I dare not even try. I wouldn’t even know how to if I tried and would probably end up soaking my clothes! So take a tip from me: steal napkins everywhere you go… you never know when they will come in handy.
Thus ends my insight into various Asian style toilets. Class dismissed!
It’s about 6 pm, and I’m sitting on a bench outside one of Bangkok’s fanciest malls, Siam Paragon, waiting to meet my husband and his friend who are on the train and running a wee bit late. It’s a nice cool evening, so I sit down to do some people watching. There are lots of tourists are around — both foreign and Thai — and everyone seems to be dressed to the nines in high heels and swank clothes, and snapping pictures. I’m not sure why Siam Paragon is such a hot spot for vanity shots… Perhaps it’s a way of showing people that they were there, at one of Bangkok’s swankiest malls, in the flesh. There were loads of guys taking pictures of their girlfriends, who were trying to look all cute, posing up and holding up the ever-present peace sign with their fingers. I just had to take some shots of their own glamour shots to share with you.
Anyways, the phone rang, interrupting my misanthropic makoing, and I went to go meet the guys. A friend of theirs in the US, who was born in Thailand, had asked her niece, a local who lives here in Bangkok, to take us out one night for dinner. The niece showed up with her other Thai friend and nervously introduced themselves. “Where do you want to go eat?” they asked. “Are you hungry?” We said that of course we would love some Thai food. The two local ladies looked at each other and had a mini conference in Thai. Finally, they suggested the food court inside Siam Paragon. We all shrugged, and followed them.
The two ladies kept talking in Thai, looking quite nervous, trying to decide where to take us, as they looked around at the restaurants inside the mall. I knew exactly what was going on — there they were, two locals, with three foreigners who may or may not like Thai food, and who may or may not be accustomed to the local way of eating, and they had no clue what to do with us. Siam Paragon, as I mentioned, is a classy joint, which means the average Thai person can’t exactly afford to go have dinner there as the food is quite expensive and caters to foreign tastes.
Finally we stopped them and alleviated their fears. We said, “Please, take us to where YOU would go to eat on a Friday night.” The two girls looked at each other. “You mean like street food? Thai food?” Seiji gave an enthusiastic thumbs up. “Yes yes, normal Thai food, take us to where you usually like to go!” The two girls smiled and shrugged and said, “Okay, we’ll take you!”
We went up into the pedestrian crossing and passed over a number of huge main roads that criss cross the city, and walked for about ten minutes. Much to my amazement, there was traffic absolutely everywhere, and nothing was moving. Buses, cars, taxis, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, everyone was clamouring for a spot on the road. “Is it always like this?” I asked them. The girls laughed. “Yes, it’s like this every day. This is normal.”
Finally we reached our destination — a sidewalk street restaurant, with fold out tables and cheap plastic chairs. The air was full of smoke and the smell of cooking oil. Traffic steamed steadily on the street. By western standards, sidewalk street food would be considered unhygienic, but the truth is if you see a place jam packed with people, it’s a good sign. When travelling in developing countries, it’s always best to eat in places that are busy, because you know the food is fresh and has a high turnover. Plus, if all the locals are tucking in, you know the food is good!
The ladies sat us down, grabbed the menu, and ordered a million things… spicy papaya salad, grilled catfish (which I wouldn’t eat, personally, because fresh water fish here tend to live in rivers that have raw sewerage), grilled intestines (again, I passed on this one), grilled pork, rice noodles and long grain sticky rice. All this was accompanied by five huge bottles of Singha beer. The food was hot and spicy and made us gulp down the cold beers. We chatted with them, asking them questions about Thailand while they asked us questions about where we come from. It is in fact very likely that they have never sat down and had a meal with foreigners before!
Once the feast was done, the ladies had to call it a night because they had work in the morning. But we were just warming up. After seeing them off at the station, we headed to one of Bangkok’s most notorious adult districts, Nana Plaza. A few minutes walk from Nana Station, we simply followed all the bald old white guys who all seemed to be heading in the same direction, and once we saw some neon, we knew we had found it…
And what an eyeful!! Nana Plaza is a three storey go-go complex with dozens of bars and strip clubs with names like Pink Pussy and DC-10. There are gorgeous Thai girls everywhere with perfect bodies and luscious long black hair. There were also a few ladyboys with the most incredible bodies — far better women than real women! We walked around wide-eyed and mouth gaping. In the centre of the complex was an open patio area where a band was playing live music. Much to my surprise there were lots of foreign female tourists and a number of couples who perhaps, like us, had just come to see what it was like. Lots of people were just liming and drinking and dancing. If it wasn’t for all the brothels, it could have just been a disco!
We headed upstairs to get a better view. The stairwell stank of piss and spilled beer. In the corner, a man was mixing up spicy papaya salads and bowls of noodle soup for the working girls because hey, prostitutes need to eat too. The bass kept on booming, the band downstairs in the center square for some reason started singing a rock version of Hava Nagila which was really quite bizarre. As we passed the clubs we got a few peeks behind the curtains to glimpse a bit of the action inside — the strippers gyrating on poles in high heel black boots, girls in tiny see-through skirts and g-strings, some even in costumes. Of course, I’ve never seen the inside of a Thai brothel so I have to admit I had a morbid curiosity. For Thai people, sex tourism is no big deal — it’s just a fact of life and one which they do not hypocritically try to hide — but for the average foreigner, it is a total culture shock to see it so open. I can see why a lot of people go to Nana Plaza for what I guess is sightseeing, because it’s a bit of a freak show.
As we sat there drinking our cheap beers and ogling the action, I had to wonder whether places like Nana Plaza and the other hot spots of Bangkok like Patpong and Soi Cowboy are sort of fake, because for sure these particular red light districts target foreign tourists. Of course, the sex is real, and the girls get paid for it, but I’ve been told that this kind of sex tourism is largely a show for foreigners. Make no mistake, the majority of prostitution in Thailand is local, not with foreigners, but places like Nana Plaza and its opulence has made it famous world wide. Perhaps the Thai people know that all humans have an itch to scratch — they just provide the avenue for it to happen.
One of the best ways to avoid getting bored and/or lonely after you move to a new place is to make an effort to get up and go explore what’s out there instead of sitting at home alone. So today I set out to get some of Bangkok’s more famous tourist traps out of the way and cross them off my list.
Apparently the top ‘must see’ in Bangkok is the Grand Palace. Built in 1782 bu King Rama, it served as the royal residence (Thailand is one of the few countries that still has a ruling monarchy) and the spiritual heart of the city. It comprises 34 separate buildings, most of which are open to the public. All the guide books say that if you only have a few days here, you must see the Grand Palace. So, off I went. Here are some of the highlights of the day:
To tell you the truth, I’m not all too fond of Thai temples. They are so freakin’ bright and garish and covered with glass and gold and glitter and sparkles that it is almost blinding to look at them. Very different to the minimalist Japanese style, and the darker red style of Chinese temples. My contacts were killing me by the time I left the Grand Palace.
On top of that, it also reminded me of my trip to Beijing where I visited the Forbidden City. Both the Grand Palace and the Forbidden City have certain things in common — they are huge complexes that are now largely empty and full of no one but tourists and touts. It is hard to get a true feeling of the cultural/spiritual importance that these buildings once held when they don’t have anything inside and the only Thai people there are security guards and tour guides. I know that the Grand Palace was once a working, living, beating spiritual heart of the city, but now, in my opinion, it is little more than a very beautiful, glittery, hollow shell.
Anyways, once I got burnt out of the Grand Palace, I took to the streets and set out to find Wat Pho, another major attraction nearby, famous for being the home of the Giant Reclining Buddha. This I thought was pretty cool. The Reclining Buddha is very very huge — 46 metres long and 15 metres high. He lays peacefully in the center of the temple, and visitors circumnavigate the statue in a clockwise rotation.
By then I was absolutely exhausted, and overwhelmed by all the sights I had seen in just five hours… the tuk-tuk drivers shouting ‘Hello madam’ to give you a ride, the smell of fried chicken, pepper and garbage wafting in the air, tables and tables of clay Buddha amulets for sale, blind people begging for money, Thai tour guides speaking fluent Russian, European tourists not wanting to take off their shoes before entering a temple, stalls of fake DVDs and second hand books, super sweet iced coffee sold not in a cup but in a plastic bag…. Bangkok is certainly an assault on all five senses! I jumped in a taxi, got a drop to the train station, and headed home. Today was a good day. Intense, but good. And, there is much more to see.
Other highlights of the day: (click thumbnails to enlarge)
My good friend Aleesha always used to say that the concept of ‘home’ can be fluid. She used to say ‘home is where you rest your head’. And thankfully, finding a place to rest my head in Bangkok has proved to be a pretty good experience. Either that, or I am getting better at researching and choosing the good from the bad!
We spent our first night in Bangkok at the lovely Imm Fusion boutique hotel, close to the On Nut train station. The hotel was right across the road from a fantastic night time food court with dozens of stalls selling everything from dumplings to German sausages to oyster omelettes to spicy papaya salad. It was a great atmosphere, with locals and foreigners sitting at small wooden tables, enjoying the cold beer and the live music from a Thai acoustic band that for some reason played ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’ twice’. Weird.
The next day was spent house hunting, which was an interesting experience. The first place we went to check out turned out to be in a terrible location, right across the road from a huge construction site putting up a new skyrise, and facing a huge highway. We didn’t even bother to go inside. The next place was much too far from the train station, and a bit too isolated and inconvenient. We then went to Phrom Pong station to have a sushi lunch and look around there too. Phrom Pong is Bangkok’s ‘Little Tokyo’, with endless Japanese food and even maid cafes. The sushi was decent, but the area was much too busy, noisy and crowded. We decided to get the hell out of downtown.
We headed back to the On Nut area, and decided that since we quite liked the vibe of On Nut anyways, we should just do some footwork and see what was available in the area. We walked from the station and turned onto some of the side streets to pop in to a few places. Some were good, some were pretty bad. One wanted three months rent in advance, along with the monthly rent, and considering we are only staying for three months, it was doubtful whether we would get our deposit back.
Eventually we decided on a lovely little serviced apartment called The Green Bells, a place we stumbled upon late last night and decided to see on a whim. Turned out to be about 50% Japanese residents, with the staff all speaking both English and Japanese. It has a nice bedroom, a lovely pool, a laundry room, and excellent service. They provide sheets, towels, and a cleaning service, along with WiFi and cable. We moved in this morning, and have settled in nicely. It’s also nice to be practicing Japanese again!
The great thing about Bangkok is that it is so foreigner friendly. Thailand has such a huge tourism industry, there is no shortage of hotels, serviced apartments, and places for rent, so all you have to do is show up. A lot of people here speak English, and the transport system is excellent. Best of all, with an exchange rate of USD 1 to THB 30, everything is not only affordable, but usually really cheap.
Only one thing is a pain in the royal rass — Thailand’s law about selling alcohol between the hours of 2-5 pm. Apparently a lot of school kids were buying and abusing booze after school, or sending adults to buy them booze, so you are not allowed to buy alcohol in the supermarkets or convenience stores until after 5 pm. After we settled in to our new place and did laundry and unpacked, all I wanted was a cold beer. But the big grocery store said they could not sell it to me. I came back here to Green Bells to ask them, and the receptionist here leaned in, and conspiratorially whispered in my ear that a tiny little shop down the road sold booze 24 hours a day, regardless of the law. I quickly popped out and picked up some Heinekens. Ahhhhh. The perfect end to a productive day.
It’s high season here on the wee island of Koh Samui, which means the whole place is overrun with a lot of tourists, particularly from Russia and China. The beaches are covered with topless European sunbathers and men in speedoes, the restaurants are full (for a change), and at the night market down the road it is near impossible to get a table.
High season also means high prices — for hotels, apartments, and flights. The flights in particular are a big problem. Bangkok Airways owns the only airport on the island (they built it themselves) so they have a monopoly on price. Domestic flights from Bangkok to Koh Samui, which take a mere 45 minutes, can cost up to US $300 one way! That’s what we were paying to rent a house here for a month. It is the most expensive domestic flight in Thailand, and for that reason a lot of people can’t afford to come here.
For all these reasons and more, we are saying goodbye to the island, and heading off to Bangkok tomorrow to find a place to rent from now until May, because Koh Samui has definitely become too expensive. The good news is there are millions of places for rent in Bangkok, serviced apartments that provide you with everything, and close to the train stations which means easy transport. Spending three months in Samui was great, but this is a really small island. I think Bangkok will be a great experience as there is so much to do. So, farewell Samui, it’s been short and sweet, but we’re off to Big Bad Bangkok tomorrow. Updates coming soon.
Every Thai property — be it a humble hut or a giant mansion, a bank, a disco, a brothel, a farm, or even a rubber plantation up in the mountains — has a Spirit House somewhere on the compound. The Thais are an incredibly devout and superstitious people, and big believers in not only good and bad spirits but also ghosts. A Spirit House, as the name implies, provides a place for these spirits to stay, and people give offerings, usually in the form of food (fruit, bowl of rice, etc), a drink (often alcoholic), and light some incense. Spirit houses are everywhere, and a property without one is very bad joss indeed.
This is precisely why I was so surprised the other day to come across what looked like a Spirit House Graveyard. Right behind the Samui International Airport is a road that runs straight for a few minutes, and all along one side of the road there are hundreds of spirit houses that appear to have been unceremoniously dumped and left to rot.
So I did a little research, and found out that in fact this is quite normal. According to the website Chiangmai and Chiangrai,
“Many people have asked about what happens to old spirit houses. When changes dictate that a new spirit house be created, a ceremony will be held to transfer the spirit from the old spirit house to the new. After that, the old spirit house can be discarded. Many are discarded near a temple or wat, but usually at a place where other spirit houses have been discarded. So it is common to see many old spirit houses jumbled together.”
Well, when in Rome, I guess. I thought that tossing away a spirit house like that would be the equivalent to throwing away a crucifix or your country’s flag or something like that but it seems to be no big deal. But I suppose there are so many things about Thai culture that an outsider would not understand, unless perhaps you live here for a long time. Each country has such different rules about what is acceptable and what is a big no-no. The trick, I suppose, is to keep not only your eyes and ears open, but also your mind.
The picture above demonstrates exactly why so many people come to Thailand and go on a non-stop drinking binge. I just went up the road to the 7-11 to pick up a few things, including four big cans of Heineken, four cans of tonic, and one bottle of Gilbey’s gin. Know how much it came up to? THB 620. That’s roughly US $20. Twenty bucks for four beers AND a bottle of gin!? And mixers too? All of which were imported? Where else in the world can you get so much booze for so little dough? I tell you, if you ever want to go somewhere and drink yourself to oblivion… Thailand is the place to do it!
It’s 1.37 am in Bangkok, and I am sitting in the very appropriately named OK Place Airport Hotel (because it really is just ‘okay’ — it’s not good, it’s definitely not great, in fact, it’s barely passable), a stone’s throw away from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, trying to ignore the noise outside the hotel coming from a nearby Thai brothel which is pumping up the bass with a steady boom-boom-boom and from the jets that roar directly overhead every five minutes.
I should have known better than to book any place where the room is US $20 a night — really, it is never worth it, especially not after having just spent a grand total of 25 hours sitting on not one, not two, but three separate international flights which is enough to kill any normal human being. I’ve just downed two melatonin sleeping pills, popped in the ear plugs, and drank three very strong glasses of rum to ensure that I sleep through the noise. And as I sit here in this horrible cheap assed hotel, above all the noise and the exhaustion and the ants crawling on the wall, above the fact that I have just spent an entire day of my life flying and my ass is flat, my skin is dry and my lips are cracked, there is only one thought that keeps going through my mind… I AM TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT!!!
Be warned, and take it from someone who has done this ridiculous long distance travel four times in the last five years… long-haul travel is NOT for the faint of heart. I left Trinidad on Tuesday evening and now it’s 1.43 am on Thursday morning. I have realised that unless you are a sprightly 18 year old, flying for 25 hours straight through four countries is just riduclous, impossible, inhumane.
The route was Port-of-Spain to JFK, but due to a snowstorm the flight from JFK to Tokyo took off an hour late. That meant that when I arrived in Tokyo, I had to run like absolute hell to get to the connecting flight to Bangkok. Amazingly, there were six other people running like hell right next to me through the Tokyo airport, all of us having come from JFK. We all streaked onto the plane, the very last passengers to embark, panting and groaning and gasping for air. Thank god for the flight attendants, who knew that our flight was late and waited for us. But I tried to imagine, could I do this if I were 50 years old? Or even 40 years old? I’m barely 30, and I already feel like it is too much!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got one more flight to catch — the last step of the journey — Bangkok to Koh Samui. Thank goodness it’s just a one-hour domestic flight. This I think I can survive.
Well, as quickly as the floods came, they began to recede. And now with the sun shining, it’s almost business as usual.
In fact, the flood recovery has been so good that for the last few days I was busy at work helping my father set a Hash. What this entails is a lot of walking in the bush, choosing random routes, deciding this route looks like crap, backtracking and trying again, until finally you decide on a trail which is interesting and challenging for the group. We were out there every day in the bush, sometimes for three to four hours. Little did I know how much work it really is to set a hash!
Friday was the final day for setting the trail, so we set out armed with bags of shredded paper to mark the route. For those of you who don’t know how it works, the ‘Hares’ set the trail, and are the only two people who know where it goes. Everyone else has to follow the paper to find the right way.
Since Samui is ‘Coconut Island’, coconuts play a big part in setting the trail here. When you come across two coconut palms set up in an ‘X’ with paper on top of it, that means the group should split up and explore the different possible routes. If you go down the path and find paper with a coconut sitting on top of it, that is a False Trail and you should Turn Around. Eventually everyone does find the right way, and returns to the Hash site for numerous beers and old talk.
This was my first time trying to help set the trail, and it was made difficult by the rains which changed entire roads and washed away sections of rivers. We finally settled on sending them through this beautiful river, up the hills, across another river, and up by a quarry in the mountains. When everyone came back they said they enjoyed it, though they would have liked it to be a bit longer. You live and learn I suppose. Nonetheless, I think everyone enjoyed it, and I would definitely like to try to set it again in the future!
For people visiting Koh Samui, here is the website for the Samui Hash. Come on out and try it!
This is Day 3 of the tropical depression that has hit the region, and finally some of the water has subsided. Some areas still underwater.
Here are some highlights of the flooding around the town where I live, Lamai.
This is getting to be really frustrating but thank goodness our house is all right and we have enough food and scotch and ice to tide us over! I just feel sorry for all the tourists who have arrived at such an unfortunate time!