Saturday, September 26, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
I have a lot updating to do for the last four weeks and so much has happened. Andrew (my completely platonic counterpart from SD) arrived the first week of August. We only had a few days to check out Seoul before your trip abroad. So naturally we put on our matching outfits (it wasn’t entirely on purpose but we fit right in with all the other young twin outfit wearing couples). We took the cable cars up to the top of Seoul Tower on probably one of the most humid days.
Just imagine shoving 20 people into a glass box with no air in direct sunlight for 10 minutes. Seoul Tower is the tallest point in the city and the only way to really grasp the magnitude of 18 million plus people all living together.
I could hardly wait for Friday to arrive. I had pretty much been taking about summer vacation since the first day of school and for even longer then that I had been anticipating my return to Thailand. With our backpacks packed and only 20 minutes till we left for the airport, a representative form the airline called my cell phone to inform me that all their flight for the evening had been cancelled. She tried to politely explain to me that there was a natural disaster in Taipei (where all their flights connected) and there was no way I was getting to Thailand in the next 24 hours. With only one flight serviced to Bangkok my chances for getting a seat on the next flight were looking slim. To make a boring story short I cancelled my flight with the airline called a friend’s Korean travel agent and booked two direct tickets to BKK airport for first thing in the morning for only about $80 bucks more then my original flight. In my moment of stress and self-absorption that my holiday was totally being interrupted I barely even acknowledged the seriousness of the disaster in Taipei. It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized how grave the situation was and regret being uncooperative with the airline. Having just been to Taipei in May I hope they are able to mend and recover quickly.
In the end everything worked out for the better. Once the wheels of the plane touched down in Thailand I wanted to jump out the window. I was so anxious to be there; the food, the people, the smells, the sights and the SangSom! What would I do first? Well there is really only one place on the agenda of a backpacker passing through Bangkok, Kho Saun Road. Without any preparation or explanation I was rushing Andrew and I into the nearest cab straight into Bangkok chaos. I guess I can understand why his first reaction was “Did you really just make me travel half way around the world to visit another Tijuana?” He soon would understand that although Bangkok might not be glamorous it is a place unlike another and can hardly be compared to Mexico.
First on my list of things to do was track down my Brummies mates. I hadn’t seen them in almost six months ago since our course ended. As soon as we were reunited we fell right back into our old banter, or I should better said they starting taking a piss at me with in the first 5 minutes. It was great to catch up with them and learn about how their teaching experience was going in Bangkok.
One can really only spend some much time in BKK before the constant heat and smell of your own sweat gets to you. We spent Sunday checking out the Grand Palace, eating great street food and getting lost walking around. I discovered why you can get some pretty heavy duty sleeping aids over the counter in Thailand. How else could you spend 14 hours on a night train and another 2 on ferry and not even realized it happened? It was the easiest 18 hours of traveling I’ve ever had.
So when we arrived in Ko Toa early Monday afternoon and within 20 minutes of docking the boats we had ran into Andrew’s old roommate and found you a place to stay for the next week, I knew this trip was going to be epic. The boys decided to sign up for an open water dive course, which is the main attraction on Ko Toa. It is fairly inexpensive and one of the best spots to dive.I had to pass up the opportunity because the thought of setting an alarm and following a schedule while on vacation made me cringe. So I got to spend the next 7 days hanging out solo in our beachfront bungalow catching up with the sun.
Ko Toa was a chill island with lots of backpackers who had just come from the crazy full moon party and were now taking it easy. I enjoyed the vibe, meet some nice people and saw some amazing sunsets. Only drawback was losing my camera, which was totally my fault for leaving it with the passed out guy while a group of us went for a late night ocean dip. When I came back from the water my small purse with my camera inside was gone and the cushions had been collected, leading me to believe that someone behind the bar probably nicked it. I didn’t have too many pictures but it was a new camera and my third one this year. Around day 8 on Ko Toa, after Brittany had joined us, we realized it was time to move on a see some more islands. It’s just so hard when your in a place that doesn’t seem like it could get any more beautiful to pack up your bags and spend the day on a ferry.
Once we reached Ko Phangan we were exhausted and could hardly be bothered to wonder around the island looking for the cheapest accommodations. Thank God we didn’t settle for our first stop, a hotel that was charging $60 bucks a night, an absolute outrageous price for anywhere in Thailand. We set our sights on Mellow Mountain not really sure what we were expecting. After a small trek up the mountain, which was only accessible by beach, we had found our paradise. A prefect bungalow tucked away from the heat up in the jungle hills of Ko Phangan for only $10 a night. I thought I was going to cry when he showed use our place, a wraparound porch with a hammock, a king size bed, a fan, bathroom (no hot water or flush toilet) overlooking the entire peninsula including views of sunrise and sunset.
Ko Phangan is notoriously know as the party island, hosting the world famous Full Moon party that can attract 30,000 in peak season. We unfortunately were about 1 week two late or 3 weeks to early till the next big beach bash. So the crowd wasn’t too big during our visit but enough to keep our interest for 5 days. The oddest thing about being on Ko Phangan was how messed up my sense of direction got. It took be a minute to get use the sun rising on the water and the coast being on the opposite side. The sun was so intense in the mornings we could barely stand to lay on the sand or swim in the too hot ocean.
On one day in particular we decided to beat the heat in the tattoo parlor. Brittany and I had been talking about getting traditional Thai bamboo tattoos since our last trip. We had looked at a few shops before and I was starting to have second guesses about the whole thing. Brittany was pretty gun-ho about getting hers and once we got into this shop and starting talking to the guys she was all in. We sat and talked to the artist for a while flipping through the ancient Buddhist protection book, of Sak Yant. Which are sacred geometric shapes that were tattooed to soldiers by Thai Buddhist monks before they went to battle. Only monks can actually read their text. As soon as Om (our tattoo artist) showed me the picture I knew I wanted it. It’s meaning is to bring love to myself those around me, for wellness and peace.
I watched Brittany go first, once the bamboo started hitting her skin I was waiting for her reaction but it never came. I was worried she was in shock but she just said it didn’t hurt and could barely feel it. Hers took a little less then an hour and before I knew it I lying on by side with a needle to my skin. Mine was not as painless as Brittany’s. There were a few spots I thought I might start crying but I held it back and within 40 minutes it was complete. The great thing about bamboo tattoos is there is no bleeding; you can go in the sun and swimming right after. I honestly would never get a tattoo with a gun ever again.
I now have a lasting token of Thailand and how much the country has changed me. It truly is a place that I can’t describe. All I know is when I am there I am so content in the deepest part of my heart. I have nothing more then a backpack and could never imagine having anymore. I do not worry about things, people, places, time or dates. I never had a watch, checked my email once and never really knew what day it was. It just brings you back down to earth and into the present, no future, no past.
I really feel in love with our place and I even made great friends with the magic shake bartender Max. He had some great words of wisdom and was cool enough to invite us to his small birthday party at the bar. I would honestly live up on that mountain for the rest of time, well minus the fact that the beach bars played their music loud enough for space to hear every night from 10pm till 6am in the morning. I mean the beach is pretty much a ghost town until noon and no once even thinks about going out until 11.
When our stay at mellow mountain had to come to an end we signed up to take the overnight ferry to Ko Phi Phi. Again, I can’t stress the importance of sleeping aids when dealing with an 8-hour sleeper boat that was turbulently rocking, a bus ride and another long ferry ride. Making for another 14 hour trip but as soon as we could see where we were headed, we understood why everyone calls this the best places in Thailand.
Ko Phi Phi was breathtaking, a huge beach, clear water as far out as you could swim and rocks protruding out of the water like a small Yosemite. We had planned to take a boat taxi over to see “the Beach” where the movie was filmed but weather and a little bit too much partying got in the way of it this time. I have a feeling I keep leaving out important things to do and see in Thailand because I have to leave something to do when I come back next time (which might be as early as December).
As you are island hopping you meet people from all over the world Ireland, Finland, Israel, Italy and of course the English. They all come for different reasons, holiday from Uni or celebrating release from the military but everyone measures their trip the same way, the day they have to snap back into reality and find their way back to Bangkok to go home.
After Ko Phi Phi it was all the way back up to BKK and almost 48 hours of straight travel but seriously sleep aids are the best. I felt like I floated up the coast. I did some last minute gift shopping and got my hair re-straightened (I am obsessed with magic straight). We were on the red-eye flight back to Seoul so we only had the afternoon is BKK.
Our flight was now getting in about an hour before the first day of class. Fortunately Korea’s government is super paranoid about swine flu and has ordered all teachers that leave the country to self-quarantine for 7 days after reentering. This basically meant I got some real time to recover from my vacation, readjust and show Andrew around the city some more. I guess it wasn’t all paranoia because one of my co-teachers actually caught H1N1. She thinks she got it while vacationing in Thailand but she said it was really no big deal, went to the doctor, felt sick for a few days and has now fully recovered.
During my second little vacation in Seoul I took Andrew to a few palaces and museums, but most importantly I showed him how we party on the weekends here. This also meant we spent a lot of time in recover mode in my small studio apartment that somehow began growing mold while I was away. Who knew your suppose to crack the windows in humid climates so your apartment does turn into a Petri dish.
When Tuesday rolled around it was back to reality. I sent Andrew on his way and I headed back to school. I forgot how much I love living with other people and not being alone so much. It was good to get back into the groove and see all my students again especially when most of them keep pointing to my skin with very concerned looks. Like teacher why are you so dark? I am still trying to work on my explanation, that’s it’s ok I want to be this color. It’s a good thing.