10.23.10 - 11.1.10 85 °F
Holy gorgeous!! The islands of Thailand are truly paradise and i couldn't be any more thrilled to have spent the last nine days livin' the good life...barefoot!
We trekked down to the island of Koh Samui on the southeast coast from the condo in Hua Hin on Friday night. Our journey started off strong with a luxury sleeper train but unfortunately plopped us into Surat Thani (80 km from our ferry port) at 3 am. The only tuk-tuk drivers available at the station brought us to a tourist agency that may have been opened especially for us where we did not find a cheap public bus leaving within the hour as promised but rather an outrageously expensive personal car. Once we discovered we had been hoodwinked we took off walking and found an adorable tuk-tuk truck style driver passing by about 3 blocks away who was willing to drive us the 80 km for a fair price. As we were loading in our bags the son of the angry woman from the tourist agency rode up on his scooter and started arguing with our dear driver claiming we were on our way to the ATM and that he stole their business. This exchange was happening in Thai but we figured out what was going on through tone and body language and were sure once the angry woman showed up and our new driver asked us to tell them that we were in fact leaving when he found us and never planned on giving her our business. It is big in Thai culture to save face and have a sound reputation and they were threatening to tell people our driver stole our business unfairly and he was obviously uncomfortable being put in the middle. After some more arguing things finally got resolved and we were on our way at about 4:30 am. It's really interesting that we were so taken aback by the attempted scam after all we had just been through in India. Although it's completely unfair we had come to expect to be cheated in India and in turn began to distrust people from the beginning. In Thailand, everyone seems so sweet and honest and patient we were automatically trusting and ended up getting burned a bit. It just goes to show that there are always going to be people who are in the business of screwing over tourists but there are also always people that are honest and helpful and just plain friendly. The tough part is figuring out how to have our guard up a little bit without unfairly assuming people are out to get us.
We planned to come down to the islands at this time because the big full moon party on a neighboring island called Koh Phanghan was happening that night. These parties are supposed to be a huge (8-15,00 people), crazy beach dance parties with different stages set up featuring various genres of music, fire show dance performances, neon clothing and of course neon, glow-in-the-dark body paint. We took a 1/2 hour long boat ride over just after sunset, got crazy with some body paint and danced the night away. It was so much fun! We met people from all over the place and it was pure madness. Exhausted, amused and with really sore feet we took the boat back the next morning at about 4 am and spent half of the day recovering; it was totally worth it!
The next three days were definitely more low key hanging on the beach, wandering through the rows of market shops, taking scooter adventures to different parts of the island and scouting for affordable restaurants. We were hanging on the beach our last night and got to share in the magic of an Australian couple's wedding reception. We observed the standard best man's speech, the hootin' of the garter retrieval and the commencement of the dance party. After bobbin to a few killer dance jams from about 40 yards away, the party moved further onto the beach to release these awesome, barrel-sized lanterns into the air. Once they are lit and filled with enough hot air they floated up crazy high and swiveled south in a really neat swirly pattern. They probably released at least 20 and at could still be seen in a galaxy like formation above the moon. It was so cool! Environmentalists in the States would probably make a fuss over something like that but if i get married abroad i'm totally doing it! After they ran out of lanterns they started setting off some pretty legit fireworks (don't forget we're still only about 40 yards away). It was amazing to be watching them so close and believe it or not our camera wasn't zoomed in at all when we took the pictures. We did have a close call when the second one pictured went off and shot every which way and a sparkling stream headed straight for Dan forcing him to dodge out of the way. It was still sizzling in the sand for a second about 3 feet behind him, major yikes!
From Koh Samui we headed to the west coast of Thailand to the famous island of Koh Phi Phi.S PP is famous because of it's white sand and turquoise waters, renowned diving and unique shape and set up of a skinny stretch of land framed on two ends by incredible cliffs covered in palm and leaf trees. PP is also backpacker central and a huge party island, not to mention Leonardo DiCaprio's famous backpacker movie, "The Beach" was filmed there. We were planning on staying just a few days but ended up staying about a week. I'm pretty sure this happens to almost everyone who visits.
On one day, Swhite and I went snorkeling while Melanie went scuba diving with a separate group. Our boat stopped at about 5 locations around the island where the snorkeling was best or just an exceptionally beautiful place to stop and swim. We saw some vibrantly colorful fish and sea life and Melanie even saw a shark (the kind that are afraid of people though so no worries there)!
Besides relaxing on the beach, swimming and having nightly epic dance parties a highlight of the week was definitely meeting this group of three guys from Vancouver Island, B.C and their smiley English friend who danced like he was from Jersey Shore and looked Italian. Two of the Canadian guys were SOOO Canadian it was insane. They had the accent for sure with the pace and pattern of speech and the classic denial of the term"aboot". The town/island was so small that even if we didn't plan on it we saw "the Canadians" about three times a day. Once when we were sitting in a restaurant and saw them walking by i called out, "hey Canada" but they didn't seem to hear me. When i told them later they said, "no, no, you have to say Oh Canada!" Of course the boys grew up playing hockey, had the longish curled slightly at the ends brown hockey hair and often had to ask us to repeat things because their hearing wasn't that good, no doubt from being checked into the boards one too many times. The icing on the cake though was when we were at dinner with them and the younger, even crazier one took off his shirt and... wait for it....took out HIS RIGHT FRONT TOOTH before aggressively digging into his pasta! Yes, he lost his tooth playing hockey and, yes, he does this at every meal including on dates and yes, we laughed SOOOO HARD! Apparently it happened three years ago and his friend says he's not embarrassed but has a lot of fun with it. I was overwhelmed with how entertained i was and told him i couldn't wait to tell my dad about the most stereotypical, young, Canadian male ever!
There was one bar/restaurant on the Island that had a boxing ring for both Thai professionals or foreign visitors to try a kick box. We stopped in one night and i noticed one of the foreign fighters didn't have anyone supporting him in his corner while his opponent had three. I shared this concern with a guy watching the match and he offered to go up with me and support the feisty young Englishman. We stood there and cheered, gave up brief neck rubs, water and our words of wisdom like "jab and tuck"! it was fun and Ewan (our fighter) seemed to appreciate it even though he was boxing his "best mate".
One other fun cultural experience was a 20 minute fish massage. We sat with our feet in these large fish tanks as the sucker fish gnawed away at our dead skin. Lovely right? It tickled but was pretty darn fascinating. The woman claimed she had to buy the fish from Japan and that they only lived for 2 weeks. Not sure of the details but it was a neat experience!
To polish off our great week in Koh Phi Phi we got to celebrate Halloween on Sunday night. With limited funds, space in our packs and resources we had to get creative when coming up with a costume of some sort. We settled on "hood rat gypsies" or tacky girlfriends of bad boys with hippy scarves as tops. The tipping point was when we discovered we would get to creatively corn row our hair and wear lots of intense eye make up. It took Swhite and me awhile to convince Melanie that braiding her whole head would be awesome but once she got involved, she had mastered the fiercest tough girl face of all! On our way to the bar we passed the massage parlor we pass everyday where the women get our attention by saying, "massaaaaaaage?" I swear they somehow drag the word out for a good three seconds.
Throughout the night we ran into some nerdy tourists, zombie geishas', lots of toga wearers and cats/bunnies but the night was once again ruled by neon body paint. On our way from one bar heading to the beach party we came across a group of Thai women and their young, darling kids. Talk about a detour! We played with the three and five year old brothers until the moms handed over two, jolly little babies! The two older boys and one baby all had whiskers painted on their faces and couldn't possibly be any cuter! The moms were having fun and were so trusting as Swhite and i swooned incessantly over their little ones. Love them!
The next afternoon we hopped on a ferry in the pouring rain to start our overnight journey back to Bangkok then on to Cambodia. It turns out we left just in time because we've since heard the late monsoons have hit so badly that boats cannot land on PP and people are getting stuck on the island. Rough.
We're lovin' Thailand and i'm grateful and elated things are working out so well!
More Photos!! http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/3ifBySEA/