Thailand Wrap

They call Thailand the land of a thousand smiles. This is actually a fairly accurate description, there are plenty of smiles to go around.

Tourists smiling drunkenly, shop keepers and tuk tuk drivers smiling as they rip you off, and older locals smiling because they have no fucking idea what you’re saying to them.

The well beaten path of Thailand’s tourist industry has become a haven for travelers of all walks of life. The heard of tourists leaving a wake of trash and five-star hotels as they spill their way from island to island.  In search of the next major party spot or all-inclusive resort, both equally jammed packed with people, just, like, them.  Treating the country like a rental car and the local people as if they are there to serve them and get the fuck out-of-the-way.  Of course its nice to get my caramel non-fat frappe with extra whip and dance the night away to techno music while paying for drinks with a 300% markup from time to time.  But is a careful balance between letting your mind go, and losing your mind.

Don’t get me wrong, the locals have done a very good job adapting to the hoards of tourists that trample their culture.  They ensure as much of the foreign currency stays in Thailand as possible. You can’t walk more than five steps without being offered a suit, a ride to an overrun attraction, or be asked to look inside a shop.

“Looking is free”, “No suit? Maybe a haircut then”, “Very special price for you my friend”.

If it wasn’t for the wonderful (sometimes dirty) beaches and the steady stream of alcohol diluting down your blood, you might be tempted to grab a chop stick and shove it into the next unoriginal pricks eye. Leave him on his knees screaming for his sight on the side of the road, only to go rent a scooter and proceed to run over the back of his legs several times. Then drag him down the street by his hair as an example to all the other suit salesmen.

Alright, maybe that is a slight pessimistic exaggeration.  I would only run over his legs once.

If you are adventures enough to get off the western road of Starbucks, steak houses, and luxury accommodation, you will find a more reserved local experience.  The humble and genuine interaction that makes you admire and respect the rich culture and aura of this Asian country.  The placement of the hands palms together and the bow of gratitude.  Showing you the respect you are certain is not reciprocated by most visitors to their country.

Thailand has an abundance of gorgeous islands.  Each with its own breathtaking views and amazing beaches.  We found it extremely enjoyable to slow the pace of our travel down to a crawl and spend an extensive amount of time in each of the few places we chose to visit (long in comparison to what we normally spend at each location).  We only ended up visiting Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, and Chiang Mai.  With pit stops in Bangkok and Phuket to organize transportation and dental arrangements.

You may not be able to decifer exatly where we stand on this love hate relationship with Thailand.  I think it all boils down to the fact that we hate to love it.

Food:
There is an abundence of street food available in Thailand.  For the most part we found they offered the same food that was available in the restaurants, just at a lower price and qaulity. There is really only one thing we couldn’t find in a restaurant that absolutley blew our mind, the spicy papaya salad.  A simple combination of green papaya, chili, peanuts, garlic, fish oil, tomato, and lime juice, seemed to be the perfect dish for sitting on the beach under the hot sun. 
 
The fresh juice shakes also were a hit with us.  It was refreshing (pun intended) to finally feel like we were getting fruit into our diets.
 
Of course Pad Thai was often our go-to selection from most menus.  The quality and enjoyment of this popular dish was able to hit all ends of the spectrum.
 
Top Rated For The Trip:
It is hard for Sally to rate anything higher then going to the beach for the day, but Chiang Mai put some pretty firm pressure on her for the number one spot.  I think if Chiang Mai had a way to cool off other then 7 eleven and the overpriced mall, then it would be hands down our top spot in Thailand.
  
Items Lost:
 Putting the Rummy score up for our wrap posts. Hmmm….. it seems to have coincided with Bret taking a firm four game lead that it no longer became necessary for us to include it.
 
Items Acquired:
A sun tan and a new-found motivation for working out and eating better.  Turns out our time in Brazil and seven weeks in South Africa added a couple of pounds to our waist line.  Or in my eyes a couple of kilos.  Because it is a lower number and I have no concept of the metric system. 
 
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Chiang Mai

Mini bus: 1 Hour
Bus: 20 minutes
Boat: 2 Hours
Bus: 1.5 Hours
Pick-Up: 5 Minutes
Tuk Tuk: 25 Minutes
“Sleeper”Train: 12 hours
Wait at train station: 2 Hours
Train: 14 Hours

That was the gruelling trip we made to get from Koh Samui to Chiang Mai.  We arrived around 10pm determined to shower and hit the sack.  However, after getting off the damned train and driving through the bustling city on the way to our guest house, we decided to head to the Sunday night market to stretch our legs.  That lasted all of about ten minutes before we realised just how tired we were from our travels.  We chose to grab a quick bite and call it a night.  To Bret’s delight there was an abundance of Mexican restaurants available so we hit one of them up for a night-cap  (with FREE chips and salsa) and a plate of nachos.  Surprisingly they were pretty well done and they definitely hit the spot.

A long sleep and a good workout the next day had us ready to explore Chiang Mai.  We spent the day checking out the old town, which is surrounded by a moat and is home to numerous temples as well as many modern stores, coffee shops and Thai/Western restaurants.

Our second day we had organized to learn a little about Thai cooking.  We were picked up at 9am and were taken to the local market to take a look around and learn about the staple ingredients used in Thai food.  From there we made our way to the school where we were introduced to Nancy, our teacher for the day.  We were asked to each select six dishes and together our menu consisted of: hot and sour soup, spicy soup with Thai basil, pad Thai, spring rolls, spicy papaya salad (my new favourite Thai dish), chicken with cashew, fried holy basil with chicken, northern style pumpkin curry, jungle curry and sticky rice with mango.

After we prepared each dish we sat down to dig into our wonderful creation.  It was a lot of food to consume in five hours so luckily we had the option of taking some away with us.  We both thoroughly enjoyed the class and walked away fat, happy and excited to try the dishes back home with the recipe book we were given by Nancy.
We were dropped off back at our guest house and ready to chill out in the air-conditioned room and recover from the food coma.

While we were exploring the old town the day before we found an Irish pub that was going to play the Seahawks Vs. Packers Monday night game.  We were stoked and had our Tuesday night planned.  After a little rest we enjoyed the last of the delicious rum we picked up in Koh Samui.  We then headed out to the bar to catch the game.   It was the first full football game we have been able to watch on our trip and were lucky that it happened to be the Seahawks.  What a game to watch – Seahawks win!  Although it was somewhat controversial, we’ll take it 🙂

As Bret says in his Koh Samui post: Live to ride and ride to live.  We were at it again in Chiang Mai.  Another day on the badass scooters to get out of the city and up Soi Duthep mountain.  It was a scenic ride and much cooler up near the top, a welcome relief from the 90 degree heat and 90% humidity in the city.  We stopped off at a view-point to catch a hazy view of the city and a few kilometers further up we took a break to take a look at yet another temple.  Although the temples are beautiful, the ones we’ve seen so far are more of the same.  I say this now but don’t hold me to it – I’m templed out.

 

After the temple, we continued further up the mountain to see if we could catch a glimpse of a royal palace.  Unfortunately we could not see if from the road and it had started raining so we called it good and headed back down, stopping at a few buddha temples along the way to get out of the rain.

We navigated our way through the Chiang Mai traffic to a tribal craft market but were quite disappointed with the selection of goods on sale.  Bret asked “where to next” in a flat tone and with pleading eyes that we could be done with the scooters and call it day.  He’d been a good sport with all that exploring, wearing a helmet that barely fit the top of his head.  It was back to the comfort of our air-conditioned room to chill before braving the massive night bazaar.

Our last day in Chiang Mai we chose to head for the mall to see if we could find some last-minute deals before leaving Thailand.  Instead we wandered aimlessly by the American and British designer shops before deciding to see a movie, Bret’s second-favourite pastime.  Later on we stopped by our new favourite pub to watch a bit of football (Bret’s favourite pastime), the Thursday night game Browns Vs. Ravens.

In total we spent five nights in Chiang Mai.  It’s a great city that we instantly fell in love with.  A little less touristy than Koh Samui and much, much nicer than Bangkok.  Clean, friendly and cheap!

Chiang Mai Photos

Koh Samui

Rules Of The Road #4 – Moving is expensive and should be limited whenever possible.

Trains, planes, and automobiles. . . and boats, and tuk tuks, and scooters, and half a horse ride, put holes in your wallet like a shot-gun blast.  Except the horse ride, we didn’t end up paying for that one.  It just put holes in Sally’s face instead.  The cost of transportation is the most expensive part of being on the road, followed closely by alcohol.

Similar to the sensation of watching a live MLS game that ends in a tie, you are left with the feeling of being cheated, overcharged, and thinking there has to be a better way to get to the end point than this.

Taking this rule into account and also noting that the weather forecast for the next ten days was expected showers, every, fucking, day.  We decided it would be better to chill out on Koh Samui for the week, rather than spend every two days hopping from island to island.  We were already staying in a good, cheap, hotel that was a five-minute walk to an excellent beach and we thought it would better to be flexible according to the weather.  Go to the beach when the weather is good and spend the money we saved by not moving around on things to keep us entertained when the weather wasn’t so great.

Penzy, the owner of our guesthouse, proved to be an extremely knowledgable and well-connected asset.  She had a good opinion and discount for just about everything that was on the island.  Not one of the typical Thai discounts either, where you find out it’s really just one of their relatives or they get kick backs.  Only to walk around the corner and find the same deal at the same price or cheaper.

Rules Of The Road #2 – When going to the beach, choosing not to wear sunblock is never an option.

Our first day in Koh Samui we decided to check out Chaweng beach (what turned out to be the first of many).  Sally has a religious habit of applying sunscreen before we leave for the beach and reapplying throughout the day.  Myself, being from a part of the world where we really don’t spend that much time at the beach, insists on re-learning the second rule of the road, over and over and over again. . . the hard way.  Chaweng is an extremely nice piece of real estate.  It is a fairly long stretch of soft sand lined mostly with resorts, each offering its own restaurant, and a couple of bars.  The water isn’t as warm as Koh Phi Phi but it seemed to get a lot hotter during our visits to Chaweng so the cooler water was more than welcomed.

 There are plenty of people strolling the beach offering various foods, ice cream, beads, sarongs, and flotation devices.  In Thailand “No” means “Not at this particular time” or “Not from you”.  Which results in a different person badgering you with their “Happy hour prices” every five minutes and the same person swinging by every hour with a “Special deal for their friend”.  Occasionally the drunk ice cream guy would come by and do his karate moves, sing, and throw his sign down in front of you with sound effects.  Unfortunately the only way to rid yourself of his over acted and annoying show is to give him the “I will shove that sign so far up your ass you will be shitting ice cream stickers for the next week” look.  Then be thankful when he sees the person adjacent from you chuckling at his antics, which is usually enough to draw his attention away from you.

The only vender who is highly sought after and actually has the ability to post up in the shade and wait for tourists to find her is the Papaya Salad Lady, as she is formally known.  She whips together what appears to be a fairly simple mix of vegetables and papaya extract, making it at various degrees of spice upon request.  A sprinkle of peanuts and the best (least amount of fat / most meat) chicken kabobs on the beach, leaves her highly sought after and a staple of our diet when visiting Chaweng.

One of the activities we decided to do with our saved money from not utilizing transport, was to utilize transport.  In the pursuit of freeing my inner renegade, showing my distaste for authority, and keeping up with an American veteran pastime, we decided to straddle a steel horse and hit the open road.

Live to ride and ride to live.  Wanted dead or alive.  Fucking outlaws!

Well, not exactly. . .


At 40 kph, we slowly cruised the island. . . on the shoulder of the road.

Koh Samui actually has quite a few sights that are worth checking out and plenty of beaches to offer variety from Chaweng.  Our first stop was Wat Plai Laem, where you can find a statue of Chiva and one of Buddha (cough, cough) sculpted in a manner more fitting with what the 21st century American would like to worship.

Big Buddha (literally) who watches over the Samui people is just north of Wat Plai Laem and about a ten minute ride away.


After Big Buddha we ducked into the area where they have elephant rides and photo ops with tigers.  Nothing they were providing sounded appealing to us, it was really more or less to confirm our disagreement with their operation.  Just to reiterate I have a personal conviction that there is no longer a need to ride on the back of any animal, which after our time in Bolivia Sally now fully agrees with.  The elephants were kept in pens that barely provided enough room for them to turn around.  When they weren’t being smacked with sticks to continue their forced march with 2 to 5 people on their back, you were given the opportunity to purchase overpriced bananas to feed them after they did a trick.  Which I don’t want to know how they were “taught” to perform.  The facility housed three cats; a fully grown adult tiger, a tiger cub, and a leopard cub.  Each was chained by the neck to a large platform.  For 400 baht (around 15 dollars) you could have a trainer slap at the animal with a stick until it gets into position so you could have your picture taken.  Prior to anyone insisting on agitating the should be wild animals, they spent most of their time in a hazy sleep mode.  Not deterring any of the rumours that they are kept drugged up to avoid any “situations”.

By the time we made it to Grandfather and Grandmother rock we had been on the road for almost five hours.  Needless to say I now understand why there is such a high use of meth among biker gangs.  Five hours put both of us in a bit of a daze and we didn’t even have to beat up any rival gang members, smuggle any weapons, or collect money from our working girls.

We had known that it was a place of interest but had put little time into finding out why in our rush to get the most out of our scooter rental.  When we got to the rocks we sat confused as groups of tourists were avidly snapping away at the rocks, repositioning themselves, and giggling all the while.  We stood there for about ten minutes extremely confused.  “What the fuck is everyone doing?” Sally wanted to know.  Conducting myself in the usual omnipotent but really has no fucking idea manner, I threw out the first piece of bull shit that came to mind.  “See that is Chaweng beach right over there and if you go to the end of the rock you can get a really nice shot of the whole beach.  And they are taking pictures back this way because it’s a really nice contrast between the rocks, water, and treeline.”

No, it wasn’t Chaweng beach and it wasn’t until the next day when we were looking at postcards we saw the blatantly obvious penis and vagina shaped rocks.  It was like the sound of breaking glass when it finally hit us.  This is why the old asian couple were working so hard to get the husbands head in the exact right place.


The weather had been working in our favor for most of the day until we were about twenty minutes from home.  Then the sky turned dark grey and opened up with a powerful right cross of rain.  Everyone on scooters was dashing for the nearest cover.  By the grace of God we were fortunate enough to be close to a store that had a nice overhang to park our bikes and a bar across the street.  I know what you’re thinking, this seems like an awkward pairing, drinking and riding scooters.  No, no, you couldn’t be more off base.  First and foremost, drinking goes with everything!  Second, there is no better way to pass the time then sipping on a beer with good company.  Not to worry, we firmly stand against driving while over the legal limit.  That’s why we kept our consumption to a modest five beers each.  (Just kidding parents)

Rules Of The Road #35 – If something is amazing it’s only a matter of time until its overrun. (The definition of overrun will vary depending on the traveler)

After our brief encounter with snorkeling in Koh Phi Phi, Sally decided she would like to give it another shot.  After a discussion with Penzy and a visit to Tripadvisors Koh Samui activities section, we decided to do a day tour to Ang Thong National Park.  Unfortunately Tripadvisor rates going to the national park very high, but doesn’t have a section about specific companies that make the trip.  Penzy had recommended a few options and we decided to go with Lomprayah because they offered a high-speed boat.  We thought that spending half the day just trying to get to the islands didn’t sound overly appealing.

Thankfully we didn’t do any serious drinking the night before because the water was a little choppy and the capitan was in no mood for slowing things down.  The shift in waves gave the feeling of being airborne (weightless) and the hard slap back down sent your head forward sharply and water flying into the boat.  Everyone from the middle of the boat back was climatized to the temperature of the ocean well before any snorkeling gear was handed out.  The first ten minutes had all of the girls looking a little concerned and the guys smiling with an entertained look in their eyes.  But gradually everyone’s head started to sink as the hypnotic motion began to take its toll.  Even though Lomprayah was noted as being one of the quickest ways to get to the park, it still felt like one of the longer hours of my life.

When we finally reached the snorkeling location everyone gladly dismounted into the overcrowded water.  The six boats already parked up left little room for the two boats from Lomprayah to wedge in.  The little space was tightly packed with tourists from the various companies all jostling for a place to observe the  fish.  To my dismay it didn’t seem to detour any of the fish from the location.  It appeared as if the same arrangement above the water was taking place below.  Their was an abundance of fish that seemed to engage in their regular activity with no regard for the hundreds of orange life jackets floating above.  Several groups of fish same close enough that I could literally reach out and touch them.  Even with a prod from my finger, the only reaction I could coax out of the fish with my presence was a small stroke of the fin to put themselves just inches out of my reach.  It only took Sally about ten minutes to confirm that snorkeling would no longer be on the list of things to do when we vacation.  To her credit the water was a little murky and a bit chilly.  After we crawled back onto the boat we were joined by about half of the patrons that also must have been disappointed with the conditions.

Once the hour of snorkeling concluded we headed to the national park to kayak and eat a Thai buffet lunch.  The kayaks were two seaters and we ended up being the last pair to get into the water.  Our unspoken natural competitiveness instantly kicked in as we went for gold.  It didn’t take long for the tour guide to beckon for us to relax and wait for the rest of the group to catch up.  We laughed as the entire duration of the trip around the island was spent critiquing the others technic and level of effort.  Lunch was respectable.  Nothing too fancy, about on par with what you can get for 100 baht at a local restaurant.  White rice, green curry, vegetables, grilled chicken strips, and some watermelon.

The final stop on the tour was to the lagoon.  A five-minute hike up stairs that define the word steep and you’re granted access to various decks and look out points.  The lagoon is quite impressive but unfortunately you can’t swim in it and getting the opportunity to snap a quick shot without some turd disrupting your photo proves to be a challenge.  Once you’re ushered through the circular route of lookouts you spend the next twenty minutes on a small over crowded beach that stinks like toilets and unconscious cigarette smokers.

I wouldn’t claim the trip as a successful journey, more like a completed journey.  Thanks for showing up, here’s your participation ribbon.  The Tripadvisor reviews made it sound like it’s a place where heaven comes down and touches earth.  I think its more like an exploited tourist trap.  Something good was found and is now overrun by people trying to squeeze as much cash out of it as possible.  Can’t say it is something I would excitedly recommend for the price.

Rules Of The Road # 8 – Some of the best things happen when they’re unplanned and unexpected.

Our exhilarating, adrenaline packed, death-defying time on the scooters encouraged us to rent them again before we left Koh Samui.  Having already explored a majority of the island, the plan was to take a more chill approach to the day and enjoy only a few stops for a longer duration of time.  We visited the mummified monk, chilled out at Lamai Beach, and then headed for Buddhas foot print.  Fortunately while on the way to Buddhas foot print something amazing happened.  We were looking at the map and trying to figure out the best route to take to the foot print.  We need to go along this road and turn onto this road and when we get to this road we need to left at the rum distillery.

The rum distillery!?  Oh shit yeah!  Penzy had neglected to mention this attraction to us.
As we headed down the gravel road of Magic Alambic Rum Distillery, thoughts of our South African Vine Hopper tour crept back into my mind.  During the tour we had visited a Brandy distillery and though I absorbed and retained very little of the information that was dispersed I most certainly enjoyed the sampling portion of it.  We dismounted our ferocious metal beasts (our scooters) and walked up to the bar.  Not a soul in sight.  We looked around a little, tried to make ourselves obvious, and then hung our heads as we slowly walked back to our steel horses.  We made it half way down the driveway when a woman appeared out of a side building.  We asked if she was open and she replied with a dry “You saw the sign”.

Further conversation about the operation she was running revealed her French heritage and stereotypical pretentious mannerisms.  Apparently rum is a French creation and most of the rum in the world is complete shit.  She came at the American first, thinking she had an easy target.  Not being the first time someone has been quick to point out all the flaws of America to me (like I give a fuck) and the clear direction the conversation was going, when she asked what rum I prefer I replied back with a quick and flat “Appleton”.  She seemed slightly discouraged and stated that this was in fact good rum but blah, blah, blah, this brand, that brand from America (Puerto Rico) is absolute shit.  She was mildly entertaining and unrelenting in conversation, one-sided conversation.  Most of our time spent with her consumed by self acknowledgement of being great and confirmation of being great by repeating what great things other important people have said to her.

“Well isn’t that just fucking great” I said to myself.

But here’s the kicker.  This lady knew exactly what she was talking about.  Her rum WAS fucking great!  I mean really, really, fucking great!  The best rum I have ever tasted and smelled in my entire life.  Apparently there is a process that she follows to make it so great, but I think you can gather from my frame of mind during our conversation I didn’t really catch how all that was done.  She did say that the Thai sugar cane is the best in the world and it all starts with using the best ingredients.  That’s about all I picked up.

Before I tasted the rum I was trying to block her out to keep from getting a headache and after I tasted the rum I couldn’t stop staring across the bar trying to read the pricing.
She doesn’t / can’t ship to the States, not sure why, didn’t catch that part.  She could have said “Because you’re a fucking asshole and you’re not listening to a damn thing I am saying right now, blah, blah, blah, Bush’s illegal war, real films derive from France not Hollywood, freedom fries, blah, blah, blah” for all I know.  But they do ship to Australia!  We have already worked several bottles into the budget to be shipped and waiting for us when we arrive.

On our way back home we once again got caught in the rain.  Surprisingly two out of the three times we did get rained on was when we had the scooters.  I think its mother natures way of making fun of me.  It didn’t take us long to find a place to conduct our favorite pastime.  As we sipped on our beers we marveled at the fact that the weather showed dark clouds and rain for all ten days we were set to spend in the area but most of the rain came at night.  The weather didn’t really prevent us from doing anything and we had more than enough beach time.  In fact the occasional cloud was savored as it temporarily blocked out the raging sun.

Rules Of The Road # 3 – Putting on your dancing shoes equates to putting a smile on your face and warming the soul.

Our recent recalculation of our budget kept us modest for most of our time in Koh Samui.  It was our last night on the island and we hadn’t gone out even once with bad intentions.  The recent addition of some very tempting and delicious rum made the decision to break rule number fifty-two a no brainer.

Rules Of The Road #52 – No drinking before travel days. (The lack of sleep and clouded mind do not make the navigation process easy)

The rum lady also puts together her own mixer for the rum consisting of. . . some really good tasting stuff. The recipe calls for three parts rum and one part mixer.  Three shots of rum, one shot of mixer, one ice-cube.  The smoothness of this drink can not be overhyped.  You think there would be some kind of pull back from this drink.  Either the smell of that much alcohol would tug at the nose hairs or the taste would certainly cause the lips to pucker, even if just a little.  Nothing.  Nothing but a sweet, smooth, delicious, taste of rum and spices.  Two of these bad boys go back with extreme ease.  Two of these bad boys have your dancing shoes moving to the beat and headed out of the room before you can even lock the door or turn off the lights.

We arrived at the reggae bar well before the social conscious cool kids.  Nine o’clock at night and it was pretty much Sally, myself, and the live bad singing to an empty room.  Dancing shoes already tapping away or not, it is going to take a few more drinks before Sally wants to dance to an empty room.  The drinks are over priced and due to its location, when you commit to going to this place, you commit to going to this place. That is unless your trolling for a sexually transmitted disease.

No worries, not the first time we have been ahead of the crowd.  It’s not like we were stumped on what we should do with ourselves.  The bar served three liters of beer in those oversized blender looking things.  You know the ones with an ice tube running down the middle.  Halfway through one of those and we were so busy bobbing our heads and giggling with each other we didn’t notice the place was starting to fill up.  The band was actually very exceptional.  They played a variety of music and were chalked full of talent.  The only problem was the rest of the patrons didn’t have their secret dancing juice before they came out.  Thankfully three-quarters of the way through the beer was enough to get Sally on her feet.  Some might say it was the power of the music, others the passion within for moving to a beat, but the industrial amounts of alcohol certainly didn’t hurt.  The two of us spent the next four songs tearing up the dance floor all by ourselves.  It wasn’t until we took a beer break that we looked around to see what we inspired.  The dance floor was popping with people of all different ages.

The band took five and after a couple of songs from the DJ we decided to do the same.  Our energy from the rum and the excitement of heading out to the reggae bar caused us to skip over one minor detail, eating.

Our stumble home in search of food was met with no avail.  Everything was long since closed down and we were forced to venture into the 7 Eleven in attempt to fill our stomach with something absorbing enough we would not be facing handicapped mannerisms the following morning.  Two minute noodles was the best we could scrounge up. . . Reminding me now, on the hot 12 hour train ride, the last leg of our two days of traveling (mini van -bus – ferry – bus – tuk tuk – overnight train – 12 hour train) that the Rules Of The Road are there for a reason and you must bear the consequences if you choose to ignore them.

Koh Samui Photos

Drill Baby Drill

There’s something about sitting in a waiting room that is mind numbingly boring.  It’s as if you can feel the weight of your head and eyelids literally increase with each passing second.  Your brain shuts off any ability to have constructive thought and time begins its slow and torturous crawl toward your release from purgatory.  Seconds feel like hours, minutes like days, and the actual time you are forced to absorb the bright fluorescent lights and sterile atmosphere feels like an eternity.  It doesn’t matter if you’re in an upscale dentist office in a tropical paradise or a third world shit hole thanking God your wife wasn’t decapitated.  Once your over the “worry factor” your only left with the after school detention for adults feeling.

One would imagine with all this perceived extra time I would be able to write a series of novels that could be made into a TV special or an over-acted/non-acted movie trilogy.  Nothing to complicated of course.  Something with the same amount of substance as the Twilight fecal matter that has been polluting movie screens across the world.  Not that I have read any of the books, but I have been in the unfortunate position of having viewed a few of the films.  I will say one thing positive about them though, its wonderful we have extended the Special Olympics to include acting as an event.  It’s just too bad that chick that plays the lead role won’t even come close to meddling.

Unfortunately, instead of doing anything productive with my free time, I just stare at the tablet with distaste and attempt to find other forms of “entertainment”.

It’s just me and that stack of magazines from two years ago.  Most of which I  wouldn’t read even if they were up to date (or in this particular case, in my native language).  But I  know the time will come when I pick up that one picture heavy magazine for the second time to ensure I didn’t miss any of the riveting photos I’m sure it contains. . .

The only thing my mind does seem to be doing effectively is math.  Simple addition and subtraction,  conversions.  12,000 – 18,000 for each root canal, 10,000 – 12,000 for the crowns that need to go over each tooth, at least two teeth. . .  that we know of, and yep, there goes two grand of our travel money right there.

Its humbling to face the reality that your dream of exploring the world indeed does have a point where it must end.  It brings you to your knees when that ending point is abruptly moved closer by a few months due to unforseen events.

During our travels, our year-long trip morphed into the dream of being on the road for a year and a half.  We already added on Ireland for St. Patties day and our anniversary.  We also started to look into volunteering in a central American country for a couple of months.  Then the plan was to swing through Oklahoma for the Army reunion and drive up the west coast.  Making it to Seattle just in time for the Fourth of July and the Seattle International Beerfest.

The only problem is we only saved enough money for exactly the trip we planned when we left.  Not the elevated lifestyle we lived out in Brazil, the extra 20+ days we extended South Africa, and certainly not the pit stop in Ireland.  Reality didn’t catch up with our dreams until we were forced to look at things closer due to the trip to the dentist.

At least there are worse places to be stuck for a couple of weeks.  The dentist office was conveniently located on Koh Samui’s best beach, Chaweng.  The beach is lined with resorts, bars, restaurants, clubs, Muay Thai, shops, and message/beauty spots.  We are going to be forced to sit at the beach, drink rum, and chill out.  (What a terrible thing to have happen to us.)

It had been an hour since Sally disappeared into the back of th dentist office.  Last time we went to the dentist in Bangkok, her analysis visit turned into three hours and four fillings.  I was assuming she would reemerge sometime in the next two days with a half robot mouth and a bill that would require one of us to sell a organ on the black market.

Just as I was envisioning what it would be like to makeout with Robowoman, Sally came skipping out of the office with a big smile on her face.  It turns out the specialist wasn’t going to do the ‘smash and grab’ I expected.  To my surprise, she was the first Thai we met who didn’t want to take any of our money.  It was her professional opinion that Sally didn’t need anything done with her teeth at the moment.  The entire experience felt like a T.V. episode.  The main characters faced conflict, learned a valuable lesson, and everything was wrapped up neatly within an hour!

Ko Phi Phi

To say we were overcome with joy and excitement to be leaving the shit hole that is Bangkok is an understatement.  There just seems to be something about the combination of size, temperature, garbage, and third-world, that comes together to make you feel like a claustrophobic being choked out by a dirty sock, in a dark, over crowded, sewage drain.  We didn’t even want to put up with the pain it would take to make a slow escape by bus or train.  Nope.  It was straight to the airport to get the fuck out at as high of speed as possible.

During our over stay in Bangkok we managed to visit Sally’s arch-nemesis, the Dentist.  A little problem between two of her teeth turned into four fillings on the spot and the recommendation to get two root canals.  This turned our tour of Thailand into picking a singular location to sit for 2+ weeks and visit the dentist multiple times, awesome.
Thankfully we had already booked our flight to Phuket with the intention of making our way to Koh Phi Phi and Sally had enough of Bangkok to rule out any possibility of returning to that shit stain.  That meant we had four days in paradise to pretend that our A.T.W. budget wasn’t getting held up and robbed by a Thai with a mask and drill.

When we arrived in Koh Phi Phi we were pleasantly surprised to discover that three of our four days were going to be blessed with sunshine.  We had been formally introduced to what monsoon season in SE Asia really meant in Bangkok and we’re feeling a little discouraged about how long the rain actually hung around.  Being here during the wet season did have its advantages though.  Hotels were 30% cheaper and the island didn’t reflect Bourbon street during Mardi Gras.

We settled into our well equipped hotel room with A.C., mini fridge, and T.V. with cable!  We had been reading our friends blog who had been in Thailand a few months before us and they expressed A.C. had made its way to the top of their ‘Greatest Invention’ list, edging out sliced bread.  Having made the transition from Cape Town weather just a week ago we couldn’t agree more!  I also have to say having been forced to suffer through old forms of entertainment such as reading during this trip, T.V. is also very high on my list.

It didn’t take us long to discover the best beach Ko Phi Phi had to offer was Long Beach.  A twenty-minute hike through the jungle was enough of a deterrent to keep a majority of hung over tourists from overcrowding the nice strip of sand.  It also has the advantage of only anchoring a few long boats, which keeps the water free of the gooey oil balls of sand that can be found in the water on some of the other beaches.

The water in Thailand feels like it’s almost the same temperature as the hot 90 degree sunshine.  You can walk in and go for a swim without any hesitation.  Making it by far our favorite water to swim in to date.  Which is perfect because having spent the last month in the South African winter, we can’t make it more than 10 minutes without cooling off.

While on Koh Phi Phi we booked a snorkel trip to the national park where the movie ‘The Beach’ was filmed.  Thankfully, the Thai have done a good job keeping this area clean and preserving the beauty that a majority of the countries beaches would be able to present if they didn’t have the country’s trademark (trash) littering the sand and water (Yes, even Long Beach unfortunately).

Our time snorkeling reaffirmed the fact that Sally is scared of just about everything.  We started off swimming close to each other so she could gain her confidence.  She progressed nicely while the fish stayed at a comfortable 10 to 12 feet away.  She slowly released my hand and began to swim on her own until someone threw a piece of bread into the water.  This created a collection of about a hundred fish less than a foot from us, several of which buzzed right past us.  Before I knew it Sally was literally on my back putting as much of me between her and the fish as physically possible.  To her credit, once she felt I was enough of a shield that the fish were no longer a threat, she did start to dip her head in back into the water to observe the few fish that remained.

On our way back to the main island, the boat made its final stop at Monkey Beach.  Made popular by the monkeys that line the sandy shores, waiting for tourists to either feed them or leave their bags naively unattended long enough that they can snag anything they can get their hands on.  They are fearless and for the most part vicious little shits.  The beach is polluted with water bottles, coke cans, and food wrappers stolen by the monkeys and then discarded.  The only enjoyable part of visiting Monkey Beach is watching the fucking retarded tourists.  Trying to snap photos of themselves getting as close as possible to the monkeys before they scratch or bite at them.  One Japanese guy actually tried to put a banana in his mouth and get a monkey to bite at the other end like the monkey was Lady and he was the fucking Tramp.  It failed as the monkey came running at him much quicker and more aggressively then he expected.  The monkey jumped at his leg and scratched at his face, just missing the fleeing mans flesh (unfortunately) as he dropped the banana out of his mouth.

Over all the trip proved to be successful and we thoroughly enjoyed our time on Koh Phi Phi.  There is a long running stigma that Thailand’s islands have all been ruined.  You constantly feel like you missed the boat as travelers proclaim you shouldn’t go here or there because it’s not nearly as good as it use to be.  Koh Phi Phi might not be as good as it once was and most certainly will be ruined in the near future (according to some), but its a place both Sally and I would love to return to regardless.

Ko Phi Phi Photos

“One Night in Bangkok”

Boom.  Just like that we were leaving Africa and on our way to SE Asia.

Even after seven weeks in South Africa, the next phase of our adventure snuck up on us.  Neither of us were ready for the drastic change in scenery or prepared for the craziness that is Bangkok.

Bret having been there six years previously, wanted to get in and get out as soon as possible.  It was my first time in Thailand and  I was sure there was more to Bangkok than tuk tuks, millions of people and humidity.  The plan was to stay three nights so I could see a little of the city and to plan our next move.  We ended up staying five, not by choice.

I had been having problems with my teeth and had to get it checked out.  After what I thought would be a quick visit with one filling at most, ended up being four new fillings and the knowledge that I needed to have two root canal treatments ASAP.  The up side to this, that first visit only cost $128 and that included private transfer to and from the dentist office!  ONE filling in the States would be about $250 out-of-pocket and that is with insurance coverage.

Still, this has changed how we were hoping to spend our 30 days in Thailand.  The last two weeks will be spent having my teeth drilled apart in Koh Samui. (At least it won’t be in Bangkok)

It happens to be the rainy season here in Thailand, which I thought meant hot, humid days with a quick thunder-storm in the late afternoon, not lasting more than an hour.  Unfortunately while we were in Bangkok it rained about 80% of the time.

Other than the dentist visit, our five nights in Bangkok consisted of a visit to the impressive Pho Wat Temple, a walk by the Grand Palace, which was unfortunately closed by the time we got there, a visit to one of the many shopping malls (to escape the heat and humidity) and a final farewell to Bangkok with a night out on Kohsan Road, also known as the backpacker strip.

We were more than ready to leave after five nights and were excited for our next stop, Koh Phi Phi Island!

Bangkok Photos