The lowdown from Sarah – backdated two days ago when I wrote it!
Alright, now that I have a power bar with a ground I can relay a little more of our journey to get here. It has been an interesting couple of days…
After officially vacating “House APES Victoria”, Steve put us up one last time in Vancouver while we sorted out the visas and last minute stuff. Colin’s laptop delivery didn’t go as smoothly as planned (big understatement – I hope we didn’t have to pay for the couriers’ totally botched “zoom zoom” delivery and the lying lies we got from their package tracking hotline). I hear it’s in Nanaimo now…
We didn’t have any trouble with the flights to San Francisco, Tokyo and Bangkok. I had a Budweiser in San Fran and toasted the States, but the Tokyo airport was kind of a blur after another 10 hours of flying. Actually that flight was totally painless – all the seats had personal tv screens and we watched three or four bad movies at our leisure. I played some Sid Meyer’s Pirates! which was kind of disappointing.. I thought it was supposed to be like the pinnacle of the pirate/trader genre but it seems way too simplified to me. Maybe compared to Dwarf Fortress anyway. :)
OK this was a first for me – I slept almost the whole six hour flight to Bangkok then another two or three in the terminal! Bangkok wins for most uncomfortable airport seats BTW.. my back and neck are still sore from the experience. But then in Bangkok – disaster – turns out our tickets for the hop to Koh Samui were for the 22nd, not the 21st. Egads! An off-by-one error understandable if we had booked it, but we went to a travel agent to avoid this kind of mixup. But this little hiccup was quickly fixed as we managed to squeeze in on standby. I was warming to the idea of spending a day in the city but Colin wasn’t looking too hot at that point. He has a low tolerance to airplane food and we’d forgotten to bring any of our own (not that it would have gotten past security – they took a total of 4 bottles of water from us, including sealed bottles from a duty free shop and one I bought at the gate a few minutes before boarding).
So we got to Koh Samui, an hour and a day earlier than we’d expected. Oh, and we met this guy named Alan along the way who was as jet-lag-blasted as we were and heading to a resort just up the street from our place. He comes to Thailand every six months until he runs out of money, then heads back to LA to work his ass off so he can come back. He got us a taxi and the right ferry over, and gave us a lot of tips about the place. He didn’t have a high opinion of Koh Samui as we were heading through it – too much hustling and a lot of girlyboys (he used the Thai word for it).
There are kids hunting for – I think – crabs right now in the shallow beach I can see through the sliding glass door. We’ve seen two kinds of crabs out there – ones with blue claws and ones with feathery legs that can burrow down in the blink of an eye. We saw bags of the blue-clawed ones for sale in town today. But there’s so small – if only I had the Internet to tell me how people cook with them!
The airport in Koh Samui was a single runway with a little open-air terminal. The taxi-to-the-ferry driver went way too fast and kept passing despite the stream of oncoming trafic. It seems there are two kinds of vehicles on these islands: pickup trucks and motorcycles. Some of the pickups are taxis with benches in the back, that drive up and down the main roads and pick up passengers until they are packed full. On the bikes, people usually ride two or three per, and even kids and old ladies ride them. As I mentioned before – nobody walks here even though everything is very close by. I’m surprised gasoline prices aren’t prohibitively high out here where the average wages are… low. Gas stations here, BTW, are little covered stalls with clear glass bottles of gasoline, rubber hoses coming from them, and tin cans for you to put your payment in.
We’ve been warned by every guidebook and by Alan-from-LA that the bikes are dangerous; the roads are badly paved and covered with sand and the other drivers are pretty reckless. I’m already terrified of motorbikes, even the little scooters you can rent in Victoria, so I’m growing a little ulcer here worrying about when Colin is going to decide we should get one.
So today’s impression of Thongsala was completely different from the one I got when we arrived on Saturday after roughly 30 hours of traveling. The first thing that really hit me on Saturday was the smell… or rather smells of the town, each more horrible than the last. It was hot, and dirty, and we couldn’t find the travel agency we were supposed to meet Malee at. When we did find it, the woman there had no idea what we were talking about and didn’t speak much English. We waited around for a few hours until her boss came back and could straighten things out.
Malee and another guy from phanganisland.com eventually found us (we’d told them we were getting in on the 22nd, not the 21st, having read the date off our flight tickets) and got us a taxi to the house. It looked just like in all the pictures! Right on the beach, all stone and wood and big windows. And air conditioning! Ah, heaven.
The bathroom is really cool; it’s like one big shower all made of stone and tile. And has a really nice tub with a second heated shower. The toilet has a bidet spray gun thing as well as toilet paper. I think it’s genius, but it probably only works in places where you are dry again 30 seconds after using it.
Ooh, it suddenly started raining hard. The sound of it on the roof is wonderful. The kids hunting with sticks for crabs are in retreat now.
You’re supposed to boil the water here so we got to work with our thermoflask, which is just a fancy kettle. There was already some waiting for us in the fridge which was nice. Oh, and all the furniture was plasticwrapped when we got here. Apparently the last renters had their own furniture so they bought everything new for us. They did a good job! The only thing missing I think is a desk for the bedroom. I haven’t seen any place to buy furniture on the island yet but saw a guy carrying an end table home on his motorbike today.
We basically crashed at that point but happened to meet Alan again as he was going by (see – I love living on the road like this!). Everyone waves back if you wave to them, and I bet I could hail a taxi or an ice cream bike by sticking my head out the window.
We practiced our Thai a litte but so far I haven’t had much luck retaining anything but hello, thank you, yes, no, and cat (Maa-oo). We’ll probably be reading out of our phrasebook for awhile, assuming anyone can understand our accents. The tonal thing is pretty crazy; lots of words go high-low or low-high and they sound all singsongy when I say them.
Yesterday (Sunday) we woke up at dawn and walked on the beach. Colin then waded way out to a place deep enough to swim, while I struggled with our front door for nearly 15 minutes (the sliding door is jammed and so far searches for the tools to fix it have failed). Then we realized we had no food, but Malee had said she would come by with a contract so we were hesitant to leave. When we’d eaten the last of the airplane snackies, we walked north in search of the phanganisland.com HQ and supplies. We passed several restaurants that were pretty much someone’s home with a couple tables outside, and it being the tourist off-season often noone was around. Half a dozen taxis honked to ask if we wanted a lift on our 20 minute walk, and we had to step over into the burrs and mud several times to let trucks pass. This was about the time I realized nobody walks around here.
We made it to Seethanu but couldn’t find the place we were looking for, and the shopkeepers we asked had no idea what we were talking about. It was pretty hot at this point and I was starting to fade after half an hour in the sun. We visited a few convienience stores and I half-randomly grabbed things from the shelves. Luckily we got a bag of rice in the process; unfortunatly an eighteen-dollar bottle of gin and some soda water was the only other food.
Okay, so the thing about prices in Thailand, or at least on Koh Phangan… rent is cheap, food and Thai-made booze is very cheap, and everything else costs the same or more than it would in Victoria. Bottle of shampoo: nine dollars. Guidebook to local marine life: fifteen dollars. Wraparound skirt made of paper-thin fabric: six dollars. Styrofoam flip-flops: seventy-five cents. So some things are cheap, but it’s because the materials are cheap, and they sell the same things in dollar stores back in BC.
Luckily, the food is indeed both indexpensive and good. And there are restaurants just everywhere. I am keen to try cooking Thai-style, but if it requires more than a blender, a skillet and a rice cooker we’re going to need more supplies.
So after discovering that there are no sidewalks and the prices are higher than back home and hardly anyone speaks English, and after walking around in the heat for an hour and hungry I started to feel pretty down about the whole place. We came back, made plain rice with fishy soy sauce for dinner and waited for Malee who never came. Also we were locked out of our bathroom for most of the day so the whole time I was thinking, how the HELL are we going to find a locksmith when we can barely communicate “I want to buy this thing”? I tells you, it was bad for a bit there. But it was just a bit jammed like the front door, and the back door come to think of it. I guess wooden doors, humidity and salt water are a bad mix – who would’ve thought??
Okay, this thing that I really like about our bathroom: we never have to worry about humidity in there. It’s sealed off from the rest of the house and discreetly open to the outside (with bug netting of course). All the walls are tile and rock and the whole room is literally one big shower with drains in the floor. You can splash around in the bath and get water everywhere and it will all evaporate overnight. I felt like a kid messing around at bath time today. ^_^ I think I’ll leave the tub filled with cold water so I can go in there and read later before bed. Such a great design!
Colin came down with a sore throat and a fever that night and I was still coughing my guts out (still not quite over that cold – god I thought my ear drums were going to burst on the first plane ride). So I was ready to call it quits if things didn’t start looking up soon. But he took some tylenol with a litre of water and was good as new the next morning.
Hey – there’s someone out in the water with a flashlight now. It’s only a quarter to eight but the sun has been down for awhile now. I wonder what could be worth finding out there on a moonless night? This really is an interesting beach we’re on, if not the “beachiest” one ever. Colin thinks after a few months we should start looking for another place on a different beach; right now the water is right to our steps at high tide, but in the height of the dry season it will be almost a kilometer of muddy sand away. I’m thinking maybe I’ll learn to fish with a net while we’re here. Families seem to come do that in the afternoon although the fish they catch are pretty small.
Okay, that’s all for tonight – stay tuned to hear how Thongsala actually rules when you aren’t dead tired and carrying a 300 lb laptop bag!