Chapter 42: "All these places feel like home..."

Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
Trip End Nov 2004

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Friday, June 25, 2004

Uh-oh. The music geek in me is surfacing again in my chapter headings (not that it's ever buried deeply). Bonus points if you can name the tune! I'm now on the beautiful tropical island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand, and this entry should be (relatively) short for two reasons: A) internet is expensive here, and B) I'm running out of adjectives to describe beautiful tropical islands. So on to a recap of the past 10-or-so days:

I loved Bangkok this time around. I really felt comfortable in the city - especially using public transportation - and staying just outside of the Khao San craziness made for a more relaxing visit. Tuesday I ran around by myself for the afternoon taking care of errands (getting a haircut, shopping for cheap fake Diesel clothes, buying "Entertainment Weekly," picking up contact lenses, etc.). I also made a trip to the Queen Saovabha (sp?) Snake Farm, where I spent a few hours fawning over the poisonous snakes. The highlights were holding a cute Burmese python while answering questions for some other tourists (my own little snake show!), watching a staffer force-feed 12 big pieces of meat to a huge sick python, and seeing how they milk the cobras to make anti-venom.

Wednesday we bought tickets (a combo bus-ferry trip) to Koh Samui from a travel agency near our hotel, and wandered around the neighborhood during the afternoon. We took it easy that day, because we had big plans for the night: a trip to the world-famous Patpong (red light) district to see a girlie sex show (Jonas' idea) and check out the boy bars (my idea). Soi Patpong 2 was a crazy Khao-San-ish mishmash of souvenir stalls, go-go bars, restaurants, tourists, sex clubs, and the countless touts trying to drag you in to see their club's "ping pong show." After walking around for the better part of an hour soaking up the, um, ambience, we followed a guy into the "Wildcat" bar. There we indeed saw an authentic Bangkok sex show: a bunch of mostly-naked women on a stage in the center of a room performing a bunch of incredible acts with various body parts and props (razor blades, bananas, Coke bottles, needles, and of course, ping pong balls). Actually the whole scene was kind of hilarious, because the choreography was terrible, and one Thai girl did most of the work while the rest (who weren't super-attractive) lazily swayed around poles to the music and worked the crowd for tips. For some reason they seemed especially interested in talking to me, and they kept poking me in sensitive places and giggling in the hopes that I'd buy them a beer, even though there was a perfectly good straight boy sitting right next to me. At any rate, I suppose I had to go see it, if only to say I did, and I'm just happy I didn't go blind.

By comparison, the gay street was very chill and friendly (despite the ubiquitous dirty old men hanging in the corners), so Jonas and I sat outside at a bar and shared a pitcher of beer until 2, when we took a cab back to Khao San Road. For some reason we weren't tired yet, so we stopped at the Center Khao San for some whiskey & Coke, and we met two girls who were studying in Bangkok. One of them had a brother who worked in the news department at my old radio station (WBRU) until he graduated from Brown in 1999, so I remembered him, and she knew several of my friends, and we talked for a few hours! Small world!

We didn't get to sleep until 5-something, so waking up and checking out the next morning was predictably hard. After breakfast we took care of some business (post office, bookstores, internet, etc.), and at 6pm we went back to the travel agency to catch our bus. The 12 hour overnight bus-ride to Surat Thani was surprisingly nice for a Khao San operation: double decker with working A/C vents, comfy seats, a few well-timed food breaks, and two movies ("Bruce Almighty" again... blah, and "Jeepers Creepers 2," which I'd seen already but was fun if only because it's like the gayest horror movie ever). I even managed to sleep for a while.

After a two hour break at a strange rest stop in Surat Thani (VH1 was showing Bonnie Tyler, Pet Shop Boys, and Madonna), another bus came and picked up those of us bound for Samui. It brought us to the ferry, which was large and air-conditioned, but that's all I remember because I slept for the entire 2-hour trip. We had a vague idea of where we wanted to stay on Samui, so we took a minivan to Chaweng Beach, because it's got the most going on around it, and it has a large variety of accommodation options. After checking out a few places, we picked a nice bungalow at the Samui Mandalay Resotel. For 600bt/night ($15), we got A/C, a fridge, a nice room, beach chairs & towels, and a small pool containing a great reading table and stools.

We'd heard that Samui was over-touristed and not very nice, but we really like the combination of beach and shopping/dining action (perhaps because it's low season), and we've stayed for much longer than we anticipated. Granted, it's been a lazy week, but unlike Sihanoukville we've never been bored. The days have mostly been filled with the beach and the pool (and Ludlum's "The Bourne Identity" for me), and we've found some amazing restaurants here. The seafood is especially good, as you might expect, and because of the large numbers of Europeans who set up shop here years ago, you can get some pretty tasty pizza & schnitzel & chicken cordon bleu. After eating so much rice elsewhere in Asia, it's been nice to have a variety of Western options!

Jonas was eager to see Germany play in the Euro 2004 soccer cup, and the two games made for incredibly fun nights. The first was at 11pm on the 19th against Latvia, and I had a lot of fun at the Islander pub learning more about the sport (and the cup) from Jonas over a pitcher of Long Island Iced Tea. Germany tied, unfortunately, which made the game on the 23rd super-important. Of course, time differences being what they are, the game didn't start here until 1:45am, so we sat around our porch chugging whiskey & Coke, talking, and listening to Franz Ferdinand ("Take Me Out" and "Matinee" have been a near-constants in my life lately) until gametime. We went to the main strip of bars (sports bars & go-go bars) in central Chewang and stood amongst throngs of drunk happy people watching the game on an enormous projection screen. Germany lost, but the night was still a blast (despite some drunk guy trying to start fights who shoved someone else into me, spilling my drink).

We stayed up talking until 6, and slept until 3pm yesterday. We couldn't motivate to do much in the afternoon besides watch "Catch Me If You Can" on my little DVD player, but I managed to walk 1 km to the bookstore in the early evening to pick up "The Bourne Supremacy" (I'm hooked). Today has been a laundry/journal kind of day, and tomorrow we'll move on to the next idyllic island of palm-fringed beaches and beautiful people: Koh Phangan! We're planning on staying there through the hedonism of the Full Moon Party on the 1st of July; hopefully by then my tan will be deep enough that I can get off the beach and do some diving as well! Keep in touch, and be good...

- Tim
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