11 Days, 57 Hours Traveling… 100% Worth It

As I mentioned in my last post, I took a New Year’s vacation down south to see some friends. Hanging out with Bobby, Will, and Petra was exactly what I needed. It was  great to see a different part of Thailand,  and visiting Phuket and Koh Samui made me appreciate the Northeast much much more.

My vacation started with a six hour bus ride from Khon Kaen to Bangkok. I was expecting an uncomfortable bus ride, but much to my surprise it was the nicest bus I’ve ever taken. I should have figured this though, because every time I have expectations, Thailand shows me the exact opposite of whatever it was I was imagining.

The bus pulled out from the station at exactly noon and arrived at almost exactly 6:00PM, which was quite amazing since nothing ever happens on time here. A cute Thai girl adorned in a silver Thai silk suit served fruit juice, water, a snack, a hot lunch and some milk over the course of the journey. The chairs reclined and gave massages if so desired. I was in heaven! The cherry on top was the Thai variety show and movie that they played on the TV. Thai entertainment is as corny as Telemundo, only much worse, which means it is so much fun to watch.

My friend Dow (her name means stars), her boyfriend, and his father picked me up at the bus station in Bangkok. We went straight to a massive market where we searched the stands for the ingredients for our seafood dinner. We bought large prawns, crabs, fish, an octopus, vegetables, and desert. Unfortunately, I left my camera in the car so I don’t have any pictures of the market, but I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll be visiting it so I’ll take some pictures next time.

Dow prepping the prawns.
Dow prepping the prawns.
Dow's boyfriend grilling the fish, shrimp, and crabs.
Dow's boyfriend grilling the fish, shrimp, and crabs.

They cooked one of the most wonderful meals I’ve had in Thailand so far. There was a hot and spicy prawn soup, shrimp with snow peas, grilled crab and octopus, fish, and rice. I couldn’t have asked for a better meal. The next morning we had the leftovers for breakfast along with an octopus stir fry and some crab stir fried with garlic and morning glory.

The breakfast best breakfast I've had in Thailand so far.
The best breakfast I've had in Thailand so far.

After breakfast we walked around the garden looking at the cockatoo, the peacocks, and the Thai speaking parrot. I was confused when Dow said that we would take a tour of the house, which I’d thought I had already done. It turns out the house is on a fruit farm! I had no idea since we had arrived in the dark the night before. We took motorbikes around the farm where they had jack fruit, banana, coconut, and dragon fruit trees. I sampled a little of everything and was so full by the time they dropped me off to catch my next bus.

Thom cutting open a coconut.
Thom cutting open a coconut.
Dragon fruit trees.
Dragon fruit trees.

After waiting an hour for my bus to Phuket I finally sat down in my seat at around 7PM. I was stuck with a seat in the very back of the bus where none of the seats recline, and appeared to be the seats reserved for the people who were traveling alone since most people were traveling in pairs. It was an uncomfortable bus ride and I awoke at one point to find my blanket and purse soaked. It was raining outside and the roof above me was leaking. As if not being able to recline my chair wasn’t uncomfortable enough, now I was wet as well.

There was about a foot or so of water covering the entire highway so the bus drove slower than it usually does and as a result we arrived in Surat Thani around 7am when we should have arrived around 5. They dropped us off and we waited for an hour or two which is when we were shuttled into a van which took us to another shop where we waited for another two hours. When my bus to Phuket finally arrived I had to walk through quite a bit of water and despite my attempts to stay dry, my pants ended up getting completely soaked. I spent the next five hours sitting on the bus in wet pants.

I arrived in Phuket around 4PM after having spent 21 hours traveling. I was so excited to see Bobby and Will though, that I didn’t really care about the bus experience, in fact, it sounds much worse than it felt. That night we went to Ko Panyi, a Muslim fishing village, and spent the next day hiking in Phang Nga. My last day in Phuket we went to Karon beach, which was my only beach day of the entire trip. I had so much fun with Bobby and Will who make me laugh so much. I kept thinking how wonderful it would be if Rachel, Logan, Arin, and Des could have been there though! Next time maybe?

The view from our room on Ko Panyi. The entire village is built on stilts around one big rock in the ocean.
The view from our room on Ko Panyi. The entire village is built on stilts around one big rock in the ocean.
Sa Nang Manora Forest in Phang Nga
Sa Nang Manora Forest in Phang Nga
NO DURIAN IN THE ELEVATOR!!
NO DURIAN IN THE ELEVATOR!!

On the 30th I took an eight hour bus/ferry trip to Koh Samui to see Petra. Petra is working as a butler at an absolutely stunning resort called Six Senses (http://www.sixsenses.com/Six-Senses-Hideaway-Samui/). I highly recommend it if you are looking for a lush beautiful resort to stay at. Although I’m not sure I would recommend Koh Samui itself as a destination. It is swarming with tourists and despite some very beautiful views, the amount of development on the island took away all of the magic for me. If you are looking for Thai culture you will only find a watered down version here.

I didn’t really come for the island though, I went to see Petra. I arrived in Thailand one week before her and we call each other constantly to share both good and bad experiences. We have very different jobs and live in very different parts of Thailand, but we both have shared similar emotions and challenges throughout our experiences here.

I spent New Years Eve at some bars on the beach in Chewang. Fireworks and good luck lanterns were released into the sky everywhere. The island was teeming with drunk tourists and unfortunately some Thai people use this as an opportunity to bring out pet monkeys and even eagles for drunk tourists to take pictures with. I felt so bad for the poor animals who are brought to the loudest part of the island, where even I can barely handle to be, and are forced to take pictures with stupid tourists. It broke my heart.

My trip to Samui was cursed with rain, so I didn’t manage to get to the beach. We still found plenty of fun activities to do though. We went to the movies, for a hike, and we popped into a Zen art gallery where we met the a fantastic artist. She was a true artist at heart and wanted nothing to do with money. Her sister took care of the business end of things and she insisted that Petra and I each take a painting that spoke to us even though neither of us had enough money. I chose one with a teal mandala and some black bamboo painted on it.

The waterfall at the end of our hike.
The waterfall at the end of our hike.
Petra at work!
Petra at work!
One of those fat jiggling weight loss machines from the '50s. There were two at this little gym in the middle of no where off a random little dirt road.
One of those fat jiggling weight loss machines from the '50s. There were two at this little gym in the middle of no where off a random little dirt road.

On the third I started to make my way back to Khon Kaen. Which started out easy enough but took a turn for the worst when I was left stranded somewhere in Surat Thani due to reasons that are still unknown. I may have been sold a ticket for a bus that didn’t exist…we will never know for sure though. After an hour of driving around with an off duty cop who wanted to help me, I finally caught up with a group going to Bangkok and did not have to buy another bus ticket. I finally got lucky, and was seated in a seat that reclined really far, making my ride to Bangkok extremely comfortable. It took me thirty hours to get from Koh Samui to Khon Kaen and was so unbelievably happy to be back in a city where things are cheap and people are extremely nice. I am so glad I was able to see my friends, but I am also really glad to be away from all of the tourists. This trip was exactly what I needed to appreciate the Northeast.

Sawatdee Pii Mai!!! (Happy New Year!)

Learning to Eat Alone

This was written five days ago, but I haven’t had the time to type it up and post it until now. Here ya go!

It’s 11:35am. I have been awake since 6:30 even though it is a Sunday because the roosters outside my building refuse to stay quiet. I have wasted as much time on the Internet and Skype as I possibly can and now I must venture outside the comfort of my apartment for some food. I have been trying to put this moment off for as long as possible. It may sound silly, but something as rudimentary as finding food to eat is scarier than an attempt at sky diving would be for me right now. At least with skydiving you know what you are getting yourself into. Ordering food here could result in weird animal parts, food so spicy you can’t even sniff it without choking, or a really delicious meal.

These past two weeks have spoiled me. The teachers I work with have been around for every meal I eat, so I haven’t had to order food on my own. Now it is the weekend though, and I finally have the much needed free time I have been longing for, but that free time has brought me to the realization that if it weren’t for my pointing and grunting skills I honed on Semester at Sea, I would be starving in Thailand, a country full of tasty food.

As I finally venture out of my apartment I pass my favorite food stand. The sweet smell of taro doughnut holes and fried bananas rolled in crushed spices fill my nostrils. I decide that maybe I can just live off these tasty fattening niblets until I can speak Thai better.

The doughnut man and I are buddies now, even though the only thing either of us understands is when I try to say banana in Thai and when he tells me how much I owe him, also in Thai. His treats make my day and he has a kind smile, so I have decided that we are great friends.

I buy one bag of doughnuts and pop one into my mouth. Instantly I feel a little more relaxed. I watch the paper bag slowly soak up the grease from the doughnuts and convince myself that I need to find a healthy meal to justify this indulgence.

Close by my beloved doughnut stand is a hole in the wall selling some sort of dish with duck. I know this only because I see two ducks hanging in the front. I have always loved duck, but in the States it is always out of my price range.

So duck it is. I stop and clumsily point at a bowl and hope they understand. They say a few things in Thai to which I just say yes to and hope for the best. I also throw in a “mai pet” (not spicy) for safety because it would be so disappointing if my duck were too spicy for me to consume.

So here I am now, eating non-spicy duck and rice in the shade. The weather is perfect, not too hot, and I have managed to feed myself successfully. My fear has subsided and I am extremely proud of myself. Dinner is in a few hours and I will have to go through the same experience all over again. Is it possible to get lucky twice in one day? Let’s hope so.

**I have successfully eaten on my own several times now and the fear is almost all gone. Although today I was chowing down on some chicken and realized that I was trying to eat a foot which kind of freaked me out.

***Last night was a festival called Loi Krathong. I will post about it soon.