Saturday, February 19, 2011

More Thai Bits & Bites

A few more random Tall Thai Tales (hahaha!)

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Bus Ride

The air-conditioned mini bus that I insisted we book for our journey to Pai was already an hour late. 'It will be here at 9am, our front desk lady told us, 'Thai time.' So really, that narrowed our departure time to anytime between 9am and 9pm that day. Or perhaps at some point on the following day. It's only one hundred or so kilometers from Chiang Mai to Pai. But somehow, the road manages to take in 762 curves in that distance and takes about four hours, depending, of course, on how late your driver is to fetch you, and how many times you need to pull over for someone to throw up out the window. How do I know that there are precisely 762 curves, you may ask. Well, because that's what the T-shirts in the market say, and so therefore, it must be true. I don't know what kind of sick masochist actually kept their eyes open the entire swerve-a-thon, taking time to notate each and every nightmarish curve, but whoever it was then proceeded to construct big white pillars along the side of the highway and adorn them with the curve number you are on, followed by how many more kilometers you are still destined to endure. I didn't find it that helpful. Ohhhhh curve 235! Only 527 to go! Hurray! Anyways, in the defense of Pai, because it's a fantastic place and I wouldn't want to scare anyone from visiting there, the highest numbered column I managed to catch was only like 187 or something.

Although, considering the state I was in on our way to Pai, our van certainly did feel like it spun in circles at least 762 times. Maybe even 763. The trip would have been a test of your inner stomach muscles to begin with, but considering I thought it a good idea to have a very fun night the evening before with a gaggle of new found friends, made the four hour journey just barely survivable. The event of which I speak was held at a posh hotel in Chiang Mai. We were led (after a few wrong turns... its a very big, very posh hotel with a lot of hallways, you know) to an amazingly atmospheric outdoor lounge where huge black leather comfy chairs were arranged in a cozy circle, palm trees were lit up with soft yellow light and a group of friendly farangs (fellow travellers) were chatting away in the warm summer air. Our personal waiters added a couple more chairs to the circle and brought us some ice cold drinks. I say personal waiters because the twenty or so of us where the only people in the bar. The night went into flash forward, as time when one is having fun. One minute I was chatting with and Irishman about the state of world affairs and the next I was waving goodbye to Jonathan from the back seat of a motorbike, being driven by my new Thai friend, Ving. 'Boys!' she exclaimed as we sped off. Then there was a heart to heart with an infamous Thai Lady Boy, some giggling at the plethora of gorgeous young Thai women on the arms of old wrinkly white men, a dance storm to the tune of the quintessential reggae song, No Woman, No Cry, at the Reggae themed bar, a pit stop at the oasis-like 7-11 to stock pile chocolate bars, and finally, a stern looking husband. Then somehow, at approximately curve 98, I came to the stark realization that my fantastically fun night had somehow morphed into a 'terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.' 'Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!' I whined at curve 103 to a bright-eyed, bushy tailed, eye rolling Jonathan whilst clutching a very large, very ready, plastic bag. He rolled his eyes again, because he could.

Sweet as Pai

Pai was a place that was made for lingering. We found a perfect $6 bungalow about a fifteen minute walk from town that came with a balcony and comfy nylon hammock overlooking the valley and mountains. There was a bamboo-constructed open air lounge with even more spectacular views, made even better with comfy places to sit, hot water for tea, and wifi. Sigh. Most days I really can't believe that this is our life.

We rented a scooter (and two helmets) to explore the glorious countryside. We made a plan to hit up a couple waterfalls, a canyon near a Chinese village and then take a dip in the hot springs. We were between waterfalls when we heard some interesting music. I glanced down the alley as we motored past and saw a whoie bunch of people decked out in their traditional wear dancing around in a circle while the musician strummed an instrument I didn't recognize in the middle. 'Turn around! We're going to investigate!' I yelled in Jonathan's ear. We found a place to park our scooter among the rows of motorbikes and scooters already parked alongside the narrow road and edged our way in to the courtyard. Everyone looked fantastic. Their clothes were velvety and colourful. Some people had a vest of jingling silver pieces that complimented the music as they moved in sync with the pied piper. Others wore bright headpieces adorned with long red or yellow strings almost all the way around. They were Lisu people, it turned out. Members of one of Thailand's several Hill Tribes. The circle moved in perfect harmony with the musician, everyone's steps in perfect precision. It was beautiful. The community lingered around, drinking 'Chai-in' (Thai ice tea, which is orange-y in colour and mixed with milk and sugar) and pop, laughing and enjoying the dance and music show.
Kids fiddled with their outfits, admiring the sparkling silver and trying to acquire as many different drinks as they possibly could from different relatives that they would then mix all together into a potion that only a kid would dare taste. People smiled and waved at us and the kids loved my camera. Teenagers tapped away on their cells, looking like they were counting the seconds until they were free from their family responsibilities. We were just settling in with our strawberry Fanta pop's when one of the men in the dance circle turned towards us and started waving frantically in our direction. I looked to my right. To my left. Behind me. The man kept waving, and then pointing. Me? Couldn't be! Then who? 'Hold my camera, Moon, I'm going dancing!' I exclaimed to Jonathan as I ran off to join the circle. The music kept on and everyone knew instintively which beat to move which foot on. I fumbled along in between two tribesmen bumping this way and that, trying desperately to follow along, encouraged by their enthusiastic nodding everytime I happened to put a foot in the right place. Those who have attempted to teach me a line dance can imagine my two left feet tripping all over each other. Must have been pretty entertaining. 'Happy New Year!' called the younger man in the middle of the circle with the video camera. 'Happy New Year!?' I cheered back. Good times. Good times.

Pirates in the Andaman Ocean

We were looking for a lazy, laid back Thai Island when my friend Daryl suggested the little Island of Ko Jum. 'There's not much to do but read and swim,' we heard. Sounded perfect. Being the busy season we emailed off a reservation. When we didn't hear back, we Skype called to confirm our arrival. It was all going so well. We booked our ferry ticket and hotel pickup in Krabi and were sitting out on the hotel patio at 10am sharp the following morning, awaiting our shuttle. The boat was supposed to leave at 11am, so we had plenty of time. 'Don't worry if they are a bit late.. its Thai time! The boat won't leave without you,' the American guy who sold us our ferry ticket assured us. 'Mai ben lie!' (No worries!). Plenty of pickup trucks, their bed's overpacked with backpackers and their gear drove by us merrily on their way to the port. People were picked up at the hotel beside us, behind us... but no one came for us. 'Stop worrying!' Jonathan scolded. 'You're going to have to get used to this 'Thai Time thing, or you'll be stressed out every day!' He was right. I tried to distract myself from the fact that it was now 10:39 and, still, no sign of our ride. At 11:00 am I begged him to run down to the agency where we bought our ticket and just make sure everything was dandy. Ten minutes later he was running back up the hill. 'They are sending someone right now!' he called breathlessly. 'So they forgot about us?!' I gasped. 'I think so,' he admitted. Sure enough, the same silver truck that had driven past us about five times about an hour earlier came squealing around the corner. The driver looked guilty as he hurried us into the back an tossed our bags in on top of us and thrust two ferry tickets in our direction. He sped to the port and ushered us inside. It was 11:13. The building was practically empty. For sure we had missed the ferry. The ticket man was there, though, leaning against the wall, looking bored. He took our ticket and ripped it. He was in no particular rush. That was reassuring... or just really mean. We ran out along the pier to the waiting ferry. Phew. It really did wait for us! And considering almost every person on the ferry already had a cold beer in hand, they didn't even look that annoyed with us. We literally ran onto the boat, just in case, after waiting around all this time, it would try to pull away as we were half way across the plank. We sat down on the steps to catch our breath and turned down the beer, ice cream, doughnuts and juice that everyone was desperately trying to sell us. Fresh meat, I guess. Now I know why everyone already had a beer. They probably just got sick of saying 'no' while they waited for us tardies. When our boat still hadn't set off ten minutes later I started to feel a little less-bad about being late. Another ten minutes passed before a couple, weighed down under backpacks the size of the Eiffel Tower, sauntered around the corner and slowly made their way to the awaitng ferry. Well, the least they could do was break into a gallop, or, jeez, walk quickly! We ran like it was the hundred meter dash! Some people. Their body-bags were barely over the ferry's railing when the boat's motor started spouting out black smoke and we pulled away from the pier. Woohooo! Next stop: relaxation!
Not so fast. Clearly the hotel touts had other plans for our boat ride. Daryl had warned us about the touts on the boat trying their darndest to convince you to go to their resort as opposed to the one you had already booked. The guy with the coin in his ear took his mission very seriously. He didn't just have a coin behind his ear, like Grandpa, but the coin was actually jammed into his ear so it sat flat, blocking his eardrum. This annoyed me to begin with. And then he opened his mouth. The worst part about these touts is that they act all friendly, like they are trying to help you, when in fact, they are really just lying to your face' 'Hey, brother, where are you staying?' he asked Jonathan. 'AoSi Bungalows,' Jonathan answered. 'Ahhh. No good. You don't want to stay there. Come stay at my place!' And he thrust a binder of pictures from his resort into our hands. 'Very nice, but no thanks. We have reservations,' we told him. 'Ok, well if they don't come pick you up, you come stay with me. AoSi always forgets to pick up their guests.' We came to the first stop. 'See, no AoSi! Come with me!' The coin-eared tout told us, making a move for our bags. 'AoSi is the next stop,' a member of the boat crew mumbled to us. 'No Thanks!' we said again. Now he was annoyed. He had spent a good few minutes trying to befriend us and we weren't even going to fall for his ploy?! What a waste of time. He huffed and puffed some more, but eventually he and his 10 Baht coin got off the boat. How many people fall for his lies, I wonder?

The ferry to Ko Jum goes something like this. It's actually the Krabi-Ko Lanta (a larger island, further south) ferry in disguise. If you want to get off at Ko Jum you still have to buy the ticket all the way to Ko Lanta, but then, as the ferry is passing by Ko Jum long tail boats jet out from their moorings and meet you at the ferry. It is just how I would imagine being attacked by pirates in longtail boats would be. One minute, the ferry is cruising along and the next minute a dozen long tail boats start aparating along side it. They fly in noisily, out of no where and start roping themselves to the ferry on both sides, and each other forming a big, floating convoy. On each side I counted at least five long tails tied together. Each boat belongs to a different resort and they are all vying for the closest position. When you hear the name of your resort being called out, you jostle your way to the front of the crowd and heave your luggage over the side. Unlike your typical pirate attack though, everyone was willingly walking the plank to join the pirates on their boats, destined for the deserted island. You hop (or jump, fall, roll, get up, jump, fall..and so on) from boat to boat until you tumble into the correct one while your bag is being passed along the assembly line after you. The first time we experienced this we were totally overwhelmed. It seemed like complete and utter chaos. Everyone was yelling and pointing, bags were flying, boxes of supplies from the mainland were being ripped open and their contents dumped into rice sacks... Would we ever see our luggage again? As quickly as it all began, it was over and we were motoring away from the ferry in our own private longtail boat. Ahhhh serenity. And then. 'Are you sure you have a reservation?' The friendly Thai man running AoSi asked us again. AoSi Bungalows is a beautiful resort with bamboo bungalows perfectly situated on the side of a cliff at the far end of a practically deserted beach with stunning views down the island. We were so excited when Daryl recommended it to us. The Resort is owned by a Scottish man, but he must have been on vacation (where do you go on vacation when you live on an island?) and wasn't around. 'Yes, we have a reservation for three nights. We talked on the phone to an actual person and confirmed.' The man's English wasn't fantastic and our Thai was even more useless. I got the impression that they weren't exactly expecting us. Who we had talked to on the phone remains a mystery. They only had the best of the best bungalows left. The most expensive, naturally. After much 'discussion' we ended up landing one of the 700 Baht bungalows for 500 Baht, and all was well. Until the clan of crazy monkeys started clambering all over our tin roof, screeching and competing for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (the monkey version) on our balcony at 6am the following morning. It was a barrel of monkeys...but not as fun as I remember the game to be...But, really, who can be mad at monkeys. Apparently people who have to put up with their antics every day can. 'The monkey jumped down from the tree, ran behind the bar, stole the big jar of sugar and took off with it!' a British couple informed us with glee when we went down to the patio for breakfast. 'That's the third jar this week,' the waiter grumbled.

Strangers in the Night

Knowing that it was the busy season down in the islands we reserved and then confirmed and then confirmed again our cheap sea view bungalow at Haad Graud Resort on Ko Phangan. We wanted to make sure that when we arrived at our second and final Thai Island that they would actually be expecting us. We saw our transport holding up the 'HAAD GRAUD' sign almost immediately after disembarking the ferry and sighed in relief. Our resort was at the other end of the Island, about ten kilometers away and we didn't fancy a five hour walk. We happily piled ourselves into the songtheaw and set off to our hammock clad balcony. The sun was low in the sky and the silhouetted palm trees were beginning to stand out against the purple and orange sky. We hadn't gone far when I spotted a tall, Polish looking guy on the side of the road. He looked familiar, but it was hard to tell in the low light. He looked up and caught my eye. We looked at each other for a fleeting moment before we both realized that we knew each other and his face broke out into the biggest smile I had seen in weeks. It was Banana, our Polish friend that we had met in the Cameron Highlands at out One Hundred Days celebration! It was Banana with a haircut, which explains why it took me a minute to realize who he was. He started waving frantically. I get overly excited when I see someone I know, just because it happens so seldomly. Plus, it made me feel super cool to be on a random island in Thailand and know somebody. Who am I? Jonathan? Anyways, another two guys stepped out of a store next to Banana and started waving at us as well. Was that Taylor too? Wow! Cool! We wanted to stop and find out where they were staying so we could meet up later, but how could we? Our driver was in the front of the truck, separated by a glass window, and he couldn't speak English anyways. Banana took a few strides towards the bus (He's really tall. A few strides got him quite far). 'Cheap?' he yelled. It was traveller code. He wanted to know if the place we were being shuttled to was cheap, and if they could come with us. I nodded enthusiastically and waved them over while Jonathan banged on the window, trying to get the driver to stop. The guys took off into a full run to catch up to where the truck finally pulled over. The driver got out, confused. We were jumping around all excited to have found each other, which made communicating more confusing for the poor driver, who I think at this point had started to fear for his safety. We asked if there were more cheap bungalows available. He quickly nodded and smiled, which in hindsight, he probably only did so that he could escape to the safety of his drivers seat and lock all us crazies in the truck bed. Of course, when we arrived at the resort a good twenty minutes later, in the dark, there weren't any cheap bungalows left for the guys at Haad Graud. But there was a room next door, so all was well again. After we had all claimed our respective beds we spent the evening catching up where we had left off in Malaysia. Banana, and Taylor had been travelling together since we had all met in the Highlands. There were a great number of tales between there and here. They had even picked up a third muskateer, Daniel, who is a Catalin photographer from Barcelona. The three of them were hilarious together. Banana and Taylor would be heading home soon, to Poland and the States, respectively, but it certainly wasn't stopping them from making the most out of their remaining days. It's not that interesting of a story, I know, but its a perfect example of life on the road. New people enter and impact your life everyday. You talk, share, laugh, learn. Sometimes, like in this case, you feel instantly connected. Sometimes you see them again, and sometimes you know you never will.

Flower Power

After our trek in the hills surrounding Chiang Mai we decided to hang around the city for a few days until the feeling returned to our calves, and to catch the flower festival that was scheduled for the weekend. It was hard to decipher exactly what the flower festival was celebrating, other than the sheer beauty of flowers, but heck, if flowers aren't reason enough to celebrate, what is? Information surrounding the festival was vague. We knew there would be a parade of sorts, which would probably somehow be flower-focused and that afterwards all the floats would be parked down in a park within the old walls for all to admire, and a bunch of food stalls, of course, to feed the masses. Flowers? Food? Sounded good. We walked towards the main street around 9am and found it lined with people. We figured that it was a good chance that we had found the parade route. Sure enough, a short while later we could see the parade approaching from a distance down the main street. 'It takes a long time for the parade to get from the river in the one end of town to the old town,' Our Irish guesthouse owner had warned us. 'Mostly because tourists are always jumping in front of the floats, stopping the parade to take photos.' Tourists! No way. I found that hard to believe. What kind of dumb, rude person would actually hold up the whole parade just for a photo? As the floats slowly made their way towards us, the answer became clear. Pretty much any tourist who could fight their way on to the road, did. And then they would stand there. Right in front of a float and snap away. Or, they would shove their child out onto the street, at the mercy of the moving float so that they could capture the 'kodak moment' when their little one was very nearly pummeled by a pretty flower float. Ahhh. How cute. Remember that time.. There was one mother who sent her child out in front of every SINGLE float. She didn't miss one. Really. What are you going to DO with fifty-seven photos of your ten year old self in front (or smushed under the wheels of) fifty-seven flower floats? Then there were the 'real' photographers who would run out into the street and literally shove the lens of their SLR into the faces of the traditionally dressed Thai people who were in the parade. The Thais took it all very graciously. They didn't even slap one person (that I saw).

Ridiculous toursits aside, the parade was actually quite impressive. Every centimeter of every float was covered in flowers. A florist could probably retire if they sold the number of orchids that were arranged on just one of these massive floats. The designs were so perfect and the colours so bright that I wouldn't have believed that everything was made out of real flowers if I hadn't seen the floats close up later that day. Every float was topped with beautiful Thai women waving and throwing flower petals, or ornately dressed couples, or, my favourite, a flower photo of the Thai king. A photo made of flowers, its true. They sure do love their king. There were flower bunnies (its the Chinese Year of the Rabbit), white flower elephants, flower pillars, flower geese, flowers in everyone's hair. Flowers, flowers flowers! Near the end of the parade young, beautiful Thai women holding baskets of flowers and with a few hundred dollars worth of orchids in their hair strolled down the middle of the street under umbrellas that were held by their doting partners. A hush fell over the crowd as they passed. Their presence was undeniably distracting. It demanded attention. They were slender but womanly, with sparkling eyes and bright smiles. They were feminine, graceful and absolutely stunning. Like Sarah on her Wedding Day. That's right. Now that I think about it, they probably took lessons from Sarah! Smart. Rows and rows of men lining the street blushed when they smiled in their direction. Wow. Good work, Mrs. Towle.


It was bound to happen sooner or later. We ran out of sunscreen. Not only is sunscreen crazy expensive in relation to everything else in Thailand, but there are also only minimal flavour selection. Choices include: whitening or whitening. Yes, it's true that I don't want to get all red and sunburnt, but I also wasn't hoping to get even more pastey white! I went into beauty supply store in Chiang Mai and was absolutely overwhelmed by the number of products and unnaturally pale cardboard cutout women that accompanied them, that promised to strip your skin of any natural pigment and leave you nice and translucent. Of course, this is not how its advertised. 'White is beautiful!' Every product had 'white' on it somewhere, which led me to wonder how many of the bottles actually contained something that would whiten your skin or if it had become more like how they write 'lite' on all the food products in the US. But really. People spend money on this.

We were at a canyon in Pai a few days later. It was scorching. We hiked up the steep hill to get to the top and were greeted by a tiny Thai woman wearing jeans, a hoodie, a BALAKLAVA(!) and the huge bug eye sunglasses that would rival those in Hollywood. I don't think a single I looked at myself in a sundress and sweating. 'Aren't you hot?' I asked her. 'Well, kinda. But I own a beauty store and if I don't cover up, no one will buy my products, because they won't believe that they work.' Fair enough. But nuts. Just like how they, no doubt, think we are off our rockers lying out in the blazing heat roasting like peanuts. Just an observation.

Your Mini Thai Language Lesson

Try out these simple phrases next time you are at your favourite Thai restaurant. I bet the Thai staff would love it! Out of politeness, you finish most phrases with 'kaaaa' if you are a woman and 'kab' if you are a man. The kaaa is dragged out, as the number of a's suggests. Of course these may not be exactly how someone fluent in Thai would spell it out, but it's what has worked for us this month.

Try it! It's fun!

Hello: Sa-wat-dee kaa/kab Pronounced: Sa wat deeeee kaaaaaa/kab
Thank You: Korp Kune kaa/kab Pronouned: the same as it looks
Very delicious!: Alloy Mac! (alloy is the delicious and mac is the very)
Beautiful: Sue-oi
Spicy: Pedd
Not Spicey: mai Pedd
Delicious Thai Iced Tea: Chai yin
Yes: Chai
No: Mai Chai

And just for fun: Rice is 'cow', Chicken is 'guy' and pork is 'moo'


Sarah said...

Yay! I made your blog :) And what a lovely call-out too! Thanks Pomey and Mooney. I was going to comment on the gorgeous purple orchid you have the photo of. Amazing.
So, disappointed I missed the fleeting moment you were on fb, but glad you liked the photos.
Thailand is sounding great and you're looking so at home as a seasoned traveller. Small world to be running into others from your travels. Miss you two loads and loads!

Sarah said...

PS... I'd never expect Jon's lack of compassion for Kristen's excess 'fun' before the swervy ride... hah you explain it all so well Pomebot, I can visualize the movie already.
Also, are you sure you weren't one of those crazy photogs sending Jonathon out in front of the floats to get your perfect shot, Pomey?

Anonymous said...

Kristen, does the bus ride not remind you of another "Special" bus ride ????? lol
Sounds like Fun to Me....but then again I AM the Fun Aunt :)