Our driver was pure asshole, card carrying and filigreed. He almost told us that straight out when he picked us up, and his inflexibility and lack of human relations dripped off him like sweat off the nose of a bull. We crammed into the van and spent almost seven hours in transit, a huge time commitment that took us only five to get there some weeks earlier
. We stopped for fuel twice to our complete surprise, and those two stops were only about an hour apart. We had a strong feeling he was doing it out of spite for us for some reason, but we really never gave him any reason to behave in that way. Chris and I started playing with him after that, just dropping crass jibes at him, looking for reactions. In the end he dropped us at the wrong entrance to the right hotel, and refused to take the Bongas to their hotel, saying it wasn't in the contract to go to two separate places. It saved me significant money because I am a big tipper, and I was able to keep it all. The Bongas wound up staying in our hotel because it was probably better than theirs, even if a bit more expensive.
The Prince Palace was a giant hotel, with a few thousand rooms spread out over four buildings. Just moving from one tower to another took three Sherpas and a change in area code. The hotel is centrally located but the immediate area lacks conveniences like other restaurants. In order to get a meal other than the hotel’s exorbitantly priced dishes, your only options are some deep fried street food or items off the shelves at the 7-11. We already ate the mini-bar pistachios, and those cost us four bucks.
The first morning Chris discovered a canal that ran beside the hotel, dirt brown and rich in floaties
. In the canal, long boats serving as water taxis run people around like local buses, and are mostly for the locals, although the tourists use them for the novelty and adventure. The price is dirt cheap but the outfit is professionally run. It has a website and an email address, and a woman who takes money actually wears a helmet and hands out receipts. The boats are driven by throttle jockeys who seem to have a hell of a lot of fun manhandling these 60-foot long beasts from one end of the canal to the other, their large diesel engine shoved into reversing gears when approaching docks while the nimble footed deck boys deftly hop from the rail to the tires acting as bumpers to the docks and back, wrapping their ropes around pylons just long enough for passengers to embark and disembark and not a second longer. If you hesitate for an extra few seconds, the boat will go on by. One time, Mason was in such a hurry to get on board, fell face first into the boat, slipping on the curtain that lines each side to keep the fetid water out of the faces of the passengers. Chris and I used this mode of transport many times, and we dragged the family grudgingly onto it just a couple of times. The boat would take us to a distant destination in minutes, a straight line with no traffic, whereas a taxi might take us twenty. The ride itself was like a carnival ride, with all the exotic smells, mild whiplashes and sights along the way.
Chris and I attended business around the city, he was looking for some altitude sickness medication for his upcoming climb of Kilimanjaro; I was trying to get anti-seizure meds because I would run out of them by April
. He was getting his passports back from the Indian embassy and some other things we needed to handle in this large city. I needed a shutter velometer for my camera in order to take time lapse movies with my SLR (another thing Chris taught me how to do), and Mason had earned an IPAD in a deal we had stuck a few months earlier. We took many canal boats and spent a lot of time zipping around on the sky rail, a train system that runs on rails above the city streets, the opposite of a subway. The names of the stops must have been figured out by a westerner with a good sense of humor because the English translations were great. There was On Nut, Bang Chak, Thong Lo, and my personal favorite, Mo Chit. Mo Chit was more than aptly named because it was the stop for the weekend market, where you loaded up on said crap.
During one trip when we were trying to get onto the sky rail, The doors opened during rush hour traffic, and it became obvious that with the cars filled to bursting, not a living soul could possibly fit inside of the train even though there were dozens trying to jockey themselves inside. Chris and I were at the back of the crowd. Chris weaved his way to the front and actually turned sideways and made his skinny body slip past some other passengers, and one other westerner in front of me gave up because he saw it as futile. When his buddy saw that he wasn’t going to make it, he left the train, leaving just enough empty space for me to slip inside, but I had to do a lot of pushing to get there
. Once inside, I could see that there was plenty of room, but it didn’t look that way from the outside. I still can’t believe we made it onto that train.
We spent our last day with the Bongas and were very sad to see them go. We had such a great time with them, and wanted to keep moving along with them, but we had different plans on different continents in different directions, ours east, theirs west. We would spend time in places they had been, sometimes in the same houses, and they would stay in places we had been. They would stay with Adam in Kenya and we would stay in their place in Nusa Dua, Bali. It was great to spend time with them, compare notes and enjoy each other’s company. We will spend much time together back in California.
When we left the beaches of Koh Chang we felt like we were making a grave mistake. Over the two weeks we had been there we had seldom seen a perfect day, usually we had an early morning wind or some offshore clouds blowing in off the water. There was invariably a little chill to the air, despite the latitude. Not one day did we feel like we HAD to be in the water. This day was different. Packing and moving our bags down the beach and packing them into the extra large van was difficult because of the heat and stagnant air, and the agony of leaving a place so nice for a big, congested city. But this thing we had to do.