Saturday, December 29, 2012

Introduction to Thailand

I left Japan on a damp and dreary day with no plans to return. Between my two flights I have a 7 hour layover in Shanghai, China. So, of course, the best solution for this 'spare' time (that I planned) would be a quick jaunt to Nanjing Road:  a must-see metropolitan destination attracting thousands of fashion-seeking shoppers from all over the world. Along the way, I ran into an interestingly cute Korean named Seongjae who went to university in Idaho and Utah. Quite a choice for a Seoul boy. Anyways, we chatted a bit as he taught me a few interesting cultural aspects of Koreans vs. Chinese. Along the way, I witnessed a few for myself:
Chinese are in a rush onto the subways just to get a seat. I mean, pushing people back onto the subway who are trying to get on and sometimes causing others to fall down. Quite rude. Maybe because there are so many people, if you don't stake your claim and get defensive, you won't get anywhere.
Also, Chinese spend their money on everything but clothes or cosmetics. The total opposite is true of Koreans and Japanese. And both are extremely cheap along the Nanjing Road. I gotta say, the Chinese I saw didn't care much about their appearance.
Milk tea is a Taiwanese treat stolen by the Chinese.
Food carts are plentiful and quite unique.
People are everywhere, even more so than in Japan.
They say 'lefta' on the subways instead of 'left'. It's humerous.
All the men must be blind because they all have the exact same glasses.
There is some fascination with Nike. The stores were impenetrable due to young kids buying kicks.
Girls wear skimpy clothes and dance in family friendly malls. Kinda different.
Knock-offs are the way to go!!!
Chinese women hardly ever travel alone.
It is common for men to be married but go out to get other girls. It is usually understood and accepted by the wives/girlfriends.
Chinese eat a lot of junk food + anything that moves.
Next, off to see the sights of Southeast Asia, starting with Bangkok, Thailand!
Bangkok, Thailand
Land of Pad Thai
Bangkok has an extremely good subway system. It is clean, punctual, often packed, and efficient for getting anywhere in the city. If the subway doesn't go there then the boat will.
Street vendors with chicken kabobs, Thai tacos, boiled eggs, sweet jelly substances, dried squid, fruit, sprout salads, Indian dishes, sweet bean buns, etc. are plentiful. It's difficult to go one block without shopping or eating. For me at least. ;)
Just after arriving at Bangkok airport I coincidentally kept following a young man who was carrying a white box. From the airport? A little questionable. After about the third train transfer and us being on the same cart we started talking. Johnny, a swiss guy, just happened to be staying at the same hostel that I was trying to get to. We walked together to the joint, I got settled, then we headed off to breakfast. 40 baht = $1.33 for a plate of three traditional Thai dishes: pad Thai, steamed veggies, and chicken stir fry. Mmmm mmm. Good start! While in Bangkok I indulged in fattening food, bought Christmas presents, scoured outdoor markets, found the cord I needed for my tablet, bought a day pack, toured a few temples, and relaxed in luxury atop the Sky Bar from Hangover 2.
The same view as from the movie Hangover 2.
World's Largest Solid Gold Statue... worth over $250 million. It was discovered in 1954 when the structure was dropped during a move and the stucco covering the gold chipped. Much to the movers surprise, the structure underneath was solid gold: forgotten for over 200 years.
Coconut ice cream!
True Statement: There is a cat on the table, under my chair, and on the register. The Nam Prik, golden beans curry and prawns, was delicious though!
Although, Bangkok wore thin, and it soon became time to find solitude at the beach. Off to Krabi!
I took an overnight train, 2nd class, to Krabi and along the way met a wonderful Swedish guy, Artur,who had a very interesting take on Swedish and American society vs. sex. Anyways, this is where I slept on the train:
Monk on the train
The bus that was booked at the train station was somewhat of a scam. They picked us up about an hour after the train arrived and shuttled us to a nearby town, but to a hole in the wall in the outskirts of town so that we were stuck. We waited there almost two hours for another, more run down bus to Krabi. Now I understand a little bit of this method after living in Fiji for two years, but really? Don't lie about direct transfer, plus a destination time, and not deliver on either. Needless to say, people were irate. I just found ways to enjoy the day and find humor in the situation. That's all you can do if you want a sound mind. But, they got us there. What I'm confused about is that that is what the large bus station counter sold me when I requested the 'local' route. Who knows!
Krabi Town, Thailand
Au Nang Beach, Thailand
Beautiful stretch of white sand, tall limetone cliff at the and of the beach, and a local troop of monkeys. I arrived on the beach alone, grabbed a passionfruit smoothie for a dollar and headed to a massage cabana for a $5 half-hour back massage. I am so blessed with the opportunities to enjoy life in this way. Although, after my massage I was given a slice of pineapple and a banana that I was excited about enjoying on the beach. As I walked towards the water a sneaky little monkey came charging at me and stole the banana right out of my hand. It scared me so bad that I immediately turned the other way. Bad idea. This only persuaded another monkey to run over, crawl up my legs and grab my pineapple out of my backpack.
Little stinker! Needless to say, I was hesitant in hanging out with the monkeys for the day, but I did see others photo graphing the monkeys so I thought surely they are safe.
I laid down my backpack a safe distance from the troop and headed closer to get some shots. As I snapped away I was surprised to notice that they had teeth straighter and flatter than ours, no canines or incisors. Still, for some reason I was terrified of being bitten. As I looked out of the corner of my eye army backpack I noticed a monkey trying to get into my backpack. He was literally unzipping my pack to get to my banana chips. I wasn't sure what to do as he was trying to grab my water bottle and run for it.
I softly tossed a coconut shell at him hoping it would scare him off. To my dismay it didn't tempt him in the slightest. So, as soon as he looked the other way I snatched my bag and made a run for it. Time to get outta here!
As I walked towards the limestone cliff I ran into a couple of local boys fishing. I asked them if I could take their picture and soon enough I had a boy about 10 years old attached to my hip.
We snorkeled, walked the beach,and attempted to communicate. I said goodbye as the sun started to set and he was called over by his father to start helping to put away the family's kayaks. What a sweet boy.
Railay and Tonsai Beach, Thailand
Covered in rock climbing hippies, trash, and beautiful limestone cliffs, this beach studded peninsula was a sight to see. The view of long tail boats, crystal clear turquoise water and huge black and yellow striated cliffs makes for stunning pictures, if the sun is shining.
Oh, Krabi town. Great food vendors, a local scene, easy access to beaches by truck or long boat, and plenty of Georgians. Wait, what? Yes, I was on a random long boat to Railway Beach and all three guys sitting around me were from Atlanta, and Sandy Springs/Brookhaven no less. So weird! Kevin and I hit it off with similar interests in marine biology and travel. When I mentioned heading to Khao Lak for a backpacker-style live aboard he was in! We landed on the beach, called the dive company, and booked for two! Oh I can't wait! Nine dives near the Similan Islands plus Koh Bon island and sleeping under the stars! I'm wishing for a whale shark and manta rays too! Is that asking too much? ;)
Kevin with the troop of monkeys at Au Nang
Similan Islands, Thailand
Our precious dive boat.
Dive boat was great, food was spectacular, and company was mixed:  two retired Germans, an officer in the British Army who lives in Kenya, and four Americans - a doctor, an engineer, a pharmacist and me, plus two dive masters: an Austrian man and an English woman, and three Thai staff: a cook, a deck hand, and a captain. Small and quaint group. Kevin and I nicknamed our dive master Ms. Trunchbull though because she was a Grinch. We couldn't do anything right and were constantly getting in trouble. That doesn't sound like me right!? Seriously, she had problems. The weather was cloudy most of the trip so the diving wasn't just spectacular, but it was all well enough.
Can you spot the fish? It's a scorpionfish.
Andaman Sweet Lips - Endemic to the Andaman Sea
We saw octopi mating, 6 different nudibranch species, the Andaman Sweetlips, a huge green moray eel, garden eels, a few sea turtles (only one on a dive, other two came to our boat at night), large grouper, tune, barracuda, giant clams, soft corals in every color, beautiful anemones, other eels, convict tangs, and other random stuff. What a good time!
Nai Harn Beach, Phuket, Thailand
Immediately after getting off the lives board Kevin and I hopped onto a bus bound for the famous Phuket. After arriving late at night, hiring a taxi, and reaching a cheap set of bungalows there were no restaurants still open within kilometers. So, around 11 pm, we walked and walked, looking for food. Oh man, Phuket was a bad idea from the get go. Never again do I need to visit Phuket. The beaches were nothing special and they were covered in European speedos. Plus, every Thai person there seemed to be out to scam you. So we thought. After spending two nights at the beach we knew it was time to get out of there. Upon attempting to take the local bus back to Phuket town we waited around for two hours. No bus in sight, so the next option was an open air truck. We settle on a price after the man keeps repeating that for 40 baht we go slow and for 300 baht we go straight there, fast. I don't think we really understood. We hop in the back anyways and are off, at 1 km per hour, I kid you not. We got about a 1/2 kilometer down the road before banging on the back of the window asking "What's the deal?" and "Why are we going so slow?" He states that this is the slow ride. Well, needless to say we get pissed and get off. We walk back to our original spot and continue waiting for the bus. Another thirty minutes and a similar truck stops and says "Phuket town?" We hop on again for the 40 baht price and we are off again. This one goes just as slow! What is the deal? Turns out they go that slow because they are used more so as local transportation and pick up and drop off people along the way. Oh man we were aggravated, but at the same time relieved that the first guy wasn't just being rude to spite us.
The type of Songthaew that we took to the bus terminal.
Anyways, we made it to the bus terminal just in time for a terminal transfer, an amazing Pad Thai, and to catch the last bus of the day. Off to Khao Sok National Park.
Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok National Park in Southern Thailand is a beautiful park situated between Surat Thani and Khao Lak. It is covered by the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world, huge limestone mountains shooting straight up in the air, deep valleys, breathtaking lakes, exciting caves, and wild animals. Our stay there was absolutely delightful as there weren't too many tourists, the locals were extremely nice and good at English, and the area was just peaceful.
Our treehouse type bungalow.
While hiking through the bamboo-laden forest we spotted two great hornbills frolicking in the trees above. After about 4.5 km in we stopped at the Bang Leiap Nam Waterfalls which were stunning little cascades, pools, and a natural slide.
While bathing in the cold, clear waters we were visited by a wild macaque. I wasn't near my camera so I went to collect it and follow the monkey for a photo shoot. Little did I know he wasn't in the mood to be followed. I soon had fangs shining their pearly whites at me and a monkey looking to charge. I quickly, and shakily, stubbled the other direction for fear of being airlifted to an undeveloped hospital with blood loss and rabies.
Yeah, I was in shambles after I reached Kevin. Anyways,all worked out just fine, I had attracted a few too many leeches along the way, but Khao Sok was a hit. On to Surat Thani to catch a night ferry bound for Koh Tao, the cheapest place in the world to get dive certified. I said bye to Kevin as he was off to Vietnam, and I settled in my slave bed for the night.

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