The Tropical Island Vacation
Trip Start Sep 04, 2008
41Trip End May 19, 2009
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Friday - Smooth flights. Quick flights. Taxi to the hotel from the airport - check. Nice hotel room, only problem is that the resort's outdoor beachfront bar/restaurant was right below the balcony, and the house band bumped jazzy-funk-pop music until midnight every night - aka - no sleep till midnight - aka - no getting up for sunrise pictures.
Saturday - I paid 50 baht for a half-hour internet connection, ( I DIDN'T BRING MY MACBOOK!!) and then walked over to the locked computer, where I realized I didn't need the password I just paid for, because username:free password:free works. poop. Took a taxi to Kata beach. Nice beach. Chilled and read 100 pages of Obama's Audacity of Hope... so incredibly boring I stopped reading it and put it back in the suitcase after reading that far. I guess I'll read it later, when I'm not on vacation, because I promised myself I'd read it if he got elected. Went shopping - bought some t-shirts from a burmese refugee. I realize that gap year must be affecting my math skills, because in an amazing display of quick thinking, and an impressive display of negotiating, I cut a great deal on 3 shirts. Here's how it went down. I haggle the t-shirt price down to 150 baht. schweet. Then, I find three shirts, approach the girl, and offer 500 baht for all three. Think about it. I felt like an idiot. I need to go back to second grade.
Sunday - Found a new hotel in Phuket town, this one was 180 baht per night, at 35 baht per dollar, you can do the math on that one. Too good of a deal to pass up. Took a taxi to all the "tourist spots" in Phuket town, including some incredible gems dealers. They looked like the scenes of sweet action movies, with acres of glass cases filled with jewelry. I wish I could have taken some pictures to share the experience, but cameras were banned.
Monday - rented a motorbike - schweeeet. Driving from my hotel across the mountains in the middle of the island to the beaches on the other side, and back, may have been the best part of the entire vacation. The roads were smooth blacktop, that seemed to wind up and down, left and right, forever in a cliffy maze through dense green tropical rainforest. Then, every once in a while, there'd be a clearing through the palms, and I could see out over the ocean, the smaller islands, and the rocky or sandy coasts of Phuket. I hiked out on the rocky coast until I got to a point where I could see two popular beaches in neighboring coves at the same time. I got some great pictures.
Tuesday - This was my first (and unfortunately my last) dedicated beach day. On monday I scoped out about half the beaches on the island, so I drove straight to my favorite - Kata Noi - and got a chair under a big umbrella. I brought along two books, Blood Brothers and Slaughterhouse Five, both of which turned out to be excellent. I spend almost the entire day laying on the beach, reading. I did a fair amount of people watching, and one thing I noticed was that all of my chair neighbors got visibly redder as the day went on. I watched at least a dozen different people drag their chairs out from under their umbrella and into the sun, where they laid trying to get a tan. It's no wonder they all walked a way a few shades redder than they showed up. I was praising my own self control, my ability to live entirely in the shade of my umbrella. Then, about 4 in the afternoon, I realized that somehow I had turned just as red as my neighbors, who had been laying out in the direct sunlight. It was a disappointment for sure - I guess the white sand reflects the UV, and I don't think my umbrella was completely UV proof either. Oh well, it's just starting to peel now, a week later. The big problem was that it killed going back to the beach as a possibility. I made friends with the beach hut attendant, Alex, who moved to Phuket because there was no work in Burma. We had a flash rain-storm on the beach, and he invited me into the concession center to hang out while it passed. He was 23 and I really enjoyed talking to him. I met a 66 year old Thai guy, named Preecha, in my hotel lobby, where he offered to teach me Thai in 2 hour lessons for 150 baht per lesson. I didn't have anything better to do, so I took a Thai lesson from him on Tuesday, Wednesday, and (unexpectedly) Friday night.
Wednesday - I spent most of Wednesday lost. I discovered a sweet beach, Siam Beach, which was actually private property, and about the size of a high school classroom. I took a road from the (incredible) viewpoint until it dead ended. I expected to find a beach, but all I found was a jungle set of stairs. I took them down about 200 feet and ended up in someone's "backyard" on their patio. A bunch of Thai people were sitting around playing cards, and I feebly mentioned that I was looking for Siam Beach, visibly embarrassed. Then a guy stood up, introduced himself as Siam, took 100 baht, and pointed me down another set of jungle stairs. I hiked down another 3 or 4 hundred feet, and found a sandbox sized beach. A little disappointed by the size, I realized that it had an incredible view of the coast of the island, because it was out on a point. I also realized that it had some cool rock formations, and little grotto thing... not too bad. I found a sweet beach that also involved a hike down a few hundred feet, called Leam Sing beach. Made friends with a little dude named Em from Bangkok. Although he was probably 5 feet tall, he was ripped, and probably could have destroyed me in a fight. He really like my white Hanes tagless T-shirt: said the US had the best quality T-shirts, although I'm pretty sure my 2 dollar shirt from Meijer had to be made in China... oh well. I hid my backpack behind some rocks, and hiked out to another rocky point, where I could see another beach. A few feet before I got out to the point, where I could see all around, my camera battery died, so it goes. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem, but my other 2 batteries were in my backpack, a good 20 minute hike away. As you might imagine, I wasn't too happy (little did I know that it would signify the beginning a long list of things that would go wrong before the end of the trip). I tried to follow the free maps I had been given to some new beaches on the Northwest side of the island, but ended up driving around in mostly circles for over an hour. I found cows, thai homes, and rice patties, but no beaches. I ended up lost and confused at a golf club, where I pointed at the map, and got wrong directions to the beach from the security guard. I gave up on trying to find it, and decided to instead hunt out for a waterfall in a national park that seemed interesting. I paid 200 baht to get into the national park - if I was thai, it would have cost only 20 baht. My big waterfall that I drove 30 minutes to get to turned out to be about 15 feet high, and had a flow slightly higher than that of my bathroom shower. I took a nature trail into the jungle rainforest, realized I didn't like sweating that much, and turned around. I retired that night beat and confused. Bangkok's international airport had been shut down that day, but not the domestic airport, so as far as I knew, I was set to fly out the next morning. I did e-checkin, seat 35A - ha.
Thursday - I woke up to a text message from Scott saying that the protestors got my airport shut down too. I showered, walked 30 minutes to the Thai Airways service office, where I waited for over an hour with dozens of my closest friends, so I could get my e-checkin un-checkedin, because my flight was cancelled. The travel agent couldn't schedule me for a new flight until I got unchecked in from the flight that was cancelled. I finally made it up to the counter, and asked to be unchecked in. The girl told me she wasn't able to do that, but that I was already booked for a new flight on sunday, and all I would have to do was show my e-checkin and booking information from the thursday flight to fly it (this assuming that the airport would be open by sunday). I walked back to my hotel, and didn't quite know what to do with the rest of my day. I had returned my motorbike, because I was supposed to leave that day. I checked into my hotel for another 3 days. I decided to explore Phuket town for the rest of the afternoon. I found a shopping mall, and a pizza joint - both under par. Eventually I landed at a pretty decent coffee shop where I had a sub-par iced lemon tea beverage. I lounged in an overstuffed chair and read most of Wild at Heart, which I didn't enjoy, because I didn't really connect with most of the points Eldridge was trying to make... oh well. It inspired me to long for a nice huge camping trip in Colorado this summer. He lives in Colorado Springs, I applied to a school in Colorado Springs - we'll see how things turn out. At the coffee shop I met a young guy from the Chicago area, who's been living in Phuket for 4 years, making enough money as an english teacher to get by, as well as spending his free time diving (in one of the best locations of the world) as well as taking pictures. At the time, I thought to myself, "man, this guy's got it figured out. It would be sweet to be like him when I'm his age. He's got it." Now, I'm not so sure. I wish I could find him and ask him some more questions. I bet he doesn't have a lot of friends. He's far away from his family and good food. There's got to be some more disadvantages to his situation, but he seemed pretty happy browsing the web on the coffee shop's free wi-fi.
Friday - The most incredibly boring day of my vacation. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I also woke up with my one sheet untucked. It was a hot, humid, gray day. I didn't have a motor bike, and I was too burned to take a bus to the beach. I ended up wasting most of the day doing nothing. I finished Wild at Heart, and started Kerouac's On The Road. Went back to the coffee shop, but the seat wasn't that comfortable any more. I'm not sure what I ate for any of my meals that day, but I know none of it was any good. I got a text from Scott, suggesting that I look into a back up plan for getting home, if the airport stayed closed. I researched the train set up and talked with the hotel travel guy, and got a plan worked out that involved busses and trains, if the airport never opened. The day dragged on, and near the end, I expressed my unfortunate waste-of-a-day to my dad. He suggested that I get out and spend a little money on something fun on saturday. I thought, "that's a good idea, why didn't I think of that." I concluded that I would rent a motorbike, go to a winch-cable wakeboard park, buy my little brother some clothes at street shops by Karon beach, where I could get 2 tees, a pair of jeans, a swim suit, and some stylish shades for the price of a pair of shorts at pac-sun. If I had time, I'd go back and visit Em at Leam Sing, grab a yummy meal on the beach, and then get a cheap Thai Massage. I had it all planned out. I was going to have enough fun on Saturday to make up for the funlessness of my friday. I took another 2 hour Thai lesson with Preecha, and then went to bed, excited for my Saturday of fun.
Saturday - I woke up, took a shower, and spent 30 minutes doing the worlds best job ever rubbing in my sunscreen, making sure not to miss an inch. I was in my swim suit, packed my back, and right as I clicked the lock shut on my room, my phone started to ring. Scott was calling. It went something like this. "Hey Scott" "Hey Stephen, how's it going?" "I'm doing good, about to go to a wakeboard park..." "Well the airport is still closed, and they haven't made any progress towards opening it. I don't think it's going to be open tomorrow either; things may get worse. I talked to your Dad and he suggested you go with the back up plan, and just leave now." "OK, I'll pack up and had out for the train station." "OK, let me know if you have any problems. Call me when you get your tickets." "OK, thanks for the heads up. Bye." "Bye"........... That shattered my day of fun. I turned around, unlocked my room, dropped off my bag, grabbed my towel and toiletries and headed down the hall to the (cold) shower, where I cleaned off all my sunscreen. I packed up, tried to get a refund on my hotel room for Saturday night, failed, took a taxi to the bus station, bought a ticket to Surat Thani. Waited 30 minutes, got on a decent charter bus for Surat Thani at 12:20. What was supposed to be a 3.5 hour ride turned into a 6 hour ride, because the bus stopped every other mile to pick up or drop off people, like a city bus. Got to Surat Thani train station, bought a sleeper ticket to Bangkok, and another ticket up to Chiang Mai. Sat around, waiting for my train to come and take me to Bangkok. It pulled up, I crawled on, and found my seat pretty quick, because it was the first one on the car. I realized that it wasn't quite the "polar express dream train" that I had seen in the movies. It was old, cold, loud, rattly, smelly, and genuinely uncomfortable. After about an hour, the attendant folded a bed out of the roof, and made the bench seats into another bed. I crawled up, and tried to sleep for 11 more hours - I maybe succeeded for an hour and a half in total.
Sunday - I crawled off my train in Bangkok, found a power outlet in a corner, charged my dead phone and dead ipod, texted my dad, bought 3 dunkin doughnuts. Shopped up the mini-mart for candy and gum and beverage and potato chips. Found my platform for Chaing Mai, platform 10, and at 8:30 I crawled onto a subway train sized setup. 3 cars in all. I found my seat, a regular cheap pleather seat in a charter bus setup. I proceeded to sit there for another 12 hours straight. Aka, 8:30 to 20:30 in one, uncomfortable seat. I didn't sleep a wink. The train was full. I finished On The Road, and I also finished both of the audiobooks I bought - The World is Flat, and Because they Hate. The former was much better than the latter. I finally crawled off the train in Chiang Mai, wondering how my 2 hour flight got upgraded to a 34 hour journey...
Monday - I reunited with my mac. It's colder here. I slept great. I loaded all the pictures I took up, and I'm unhappy with my camera's performance at ISO 400 and ISO 800.
I've been writing for a long time, and I'm bored of it now. Can you tell. If you read every one of those daily updates, thank you, but you really should consider how you're spending your time. I come home in just over 2 weeks. I'm excited.