Phuket, Pt. III

Following the Koh Yao Noi adventure/fiasco, we eventually stumbled back to the hotel and agreed to take a bit of a break to rest. Immediately I hop in the shower, which was probably one of the top 10 showers I’ve ever had (top ones being: after returning from the Three Peaks Challenge and Bonnaroo). I flopped down on the bed and meditated on the afternoon for a bit. It would make a great story, wouldn’t it?

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Once recouped, we emerged into the world once again. The normally quiet street was all of a sudden bustling with tables, lights, and wandering people. The night market had arrived. We walked around, admiring the trinkets and food being sold. Needing an energy boost, we decided to make a stop at Bookhemian, a nearby cafe, for some coffee. True to its playful name, it had several books for sale on the wall. It reminded me of The Book Cellar, a favorite cafe of mine in Chicago. Upstairs there was a photography gallery, which we would have totally missed if we hadn’t wandered up the stairs.

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Phuket Town is a bit of an enigma. As I said in my first post, it is suspiciously picturesque, with colorful colonial buildings and more quaint shops than you can count. The wealthy white tourist would likely get quite a kick out of this area. However, Phuket Town maintains just enough grittiness on the edges to keep it grounded, and for those willing to find it. The market wasn’t trying to “be” anything to anyone, unlike many markets in Bangkok that are Western-friendly exaggerations of Thai culture (tiny wooden Buddhas, elephant pants, woven bracelets, etc.). Phuket Town seems to have nestled into a comfortable middle ground. Not sure how long that will last, but for now, it’s enough and it’s lovely.

Sunday morning arrived, and after another breakfast of roti, we were northward bound to the Soi Dog Foundation. I’d read about SDF online and it became one of the few “must-visits” on my list for Phuket. It’s no secret that I adore dogs. Since moving to Bangkok and witnessing soi dogs, it’s been both a blessing and a struggle. I have a local soi dog that I see/pet almost every morning in the same spot.  She makes my early mornings a little brighter. I wonder what she sees in her day. I constantly am worried if she’s okay, if she’s being fed, if she’s dehydrated. That’s for ONE dog. There are thousands in this city. It’s safe to say that I needed to visit the foundation partly to put my soul at ease; to know that there are lucky animals who are in good care and people who are working on ensuring a better life for them.

Upon arrival, a volunteer promptly and apologetically told us that the staff was on lunch and wouldn’t be taking visitors until the next tour in an hour and a half. She suggested that we head to nearby Nai Yang Beach to relax for a bit while we waited. We popped back in the cab. “Nearby” is a relative term, as it took 20 minutes to get there. By the time we arrived, we had about 15 minutes to wander around before turning around to head back to the foundation. Regardless, it was a nice little teaser trailer of sorts, enticing us enough to return again later.

Tour time. We walked around the various “runs” on campus, or enclosed spaces that were separated by animal personality and status. We started out with some of the more recent arrivals and the sensitive pups. Some of them got quite anxious when we started walking around, but they eventually calmed down. At first the noises were jarring and I wondered how the staff dealt with the constant barking, but they quickly turned into normal background noise. We encountered a nice little man-made pond with a path circling it, with several volunteers walking dogs around. It was hard not to resist squatting down and giving each of them a proper greeting – but you can trust that I did so at least once!

Next came the puppies, the medical unit, the cat run, and the elderly dogs. As we walked, our tour guide told us about how the foundation works and what their goals are. In my mind, a shelter would make it a goal to take all of the dogs off of the streets and put them into homes. That’s the way it works at home, not here. Many of these dogs are truly born and raised on the streets, and to snatch them out of their environment like that may be too traumatic for them, especially depending on their age and health. So, SDF makes it a point to vaccinate, treat, and neuter/spay the dogs. 80% of the animals will be “fixed”, so that the population can still grow but not out of control. They will then decide if they are suitable for adoption or if it is best to let them back on the streets. Proudly they have made Phuket the only rabies-free region in the country. It’s great to see an organization not only doing good, but also doing so in a way that suits the culture and the animals’ best interests.

The tour finished and we were free to visit some of the open runs. I got my fill of pets. What shocked me the most were the elderly dogs. There was one pup that had no eyes, but was still venturing out onto ledges. He could sense my being near and was barking for my attention. He was just about the sweetest creature I’ve ever encountered in my life, but also one of the bravest. I hope he finds a home.

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Our time at SDF came to an end, and it was off to Nai Yang again to grab some grub and relax on the beach for a little while. The beach was practically glowing at that time of day, and the skies were dotted with kite surfers. I waded into the water for a refresher and floated idly, watching as the kite surfers zipped past at what was probably a dangerously close range. I’m still here, though. That will likely become a theme for this entire adventure. 

Phuket, Pt. II

Day two, Saturday, is the entire reason that I had to break this blog post up into different parts. It’s quite the story. Here we go!

After another happy helping of roti and eggs, we trekked to the pier to hop on a ferry over to Koh Yao Noi, one of the lesser populated islands surrounding Phuket. After sitting down on the back of the boat, a man turned around to say, “I hear North American accents.” He introduced himself as Dan, an American. Funnily enough, he is from the same suburban Chicago area that I am (Glen Ellyn)! Small world. He and his wife, Nook (who was with him) had been living in Las Vegas for the past couple of years with their children. They also have a house on Koh Yao Noi, and was their first trip back to in some time. I have to say that he did fit the “Western man in Thailand” trope, in that he was socially clumsy and had an air of entitlement about him (“check it out, I’m married to a pretty Thai woman”). Despite this, he was conversational and kind, so there was really no harm there.

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30 minutes of slightly awkward small talk later (of which Andre bore the brunt, bless him), we stepped off onto the barren island pier without much of a plan, to be honest. That’s when Dan and Nook invited us to their home on the coast, where they had two kayaks that they would lend us. Of course, we jumped at the offer and hopped in a taxi (a.k.a the back of a truck). Can’t deny that good ol’ Midwestern hospitality, even in Thailand!

Unrelated insertion: I use parenthetical statements too often, I KNOW, I’m working on it. Okay, back to the story.

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Dan and Nook’s home is nestled in greenery, a small bungalow-like property complete with three dogs that greeted us with gusto. We chatted with the couple for a little bit before borrowing their two single-person kayaks to go around the island. Dan let us know which direction to go in for the best views, and apparently warned Andre saying that we should come back sooner rather than later because of low tide. He didn’t think that’d be a problem, as we needed to return before too long anyway in order to catch the last ferry off of the island at 4:30 p.m. Off we went!

Alas, I did not bring my phone or camera with me, so I don’t have any photos. Words will have to do. To my left, there were the foggy grey shadows of islands in the distance, at varying heights. They seemed clustered, though I’m sure that was an optical illusion in some sense. To my right, massive faces of rock towered over. Eons of erosion created half-caves where the water met the land, perfect for gliding through on a kayak. When you got close enough to the rock you could let yourself float through this pseudo canal, gently leaning back and forth to avoid being brushed in the face by hanging vines. It was eerily quiet, save the sound of the waves and wildlife chanting in the distance. A few wild beaches dotted the coast, a mix of rocky and smooth. Eventually we wanted to settle on one of the beaches to relax and swim for a bit.

We attempted to go for the most prolific-looking wild beach, but of course a speedboat containing a very touristy couple pulled up to said beach just as we were arriving. It must be a place where a local will bring you for peace & quiet, if you pay the right amount. So we turned around and chose another, slightly more rocky beach. I was actually quite pleased with the choice anyhow. There was a good deal of shade thanks to a giant rock, a welcome respite for my sun-singed thighs and shoulders. I didn’t even need a towel, I just laid on the sand and rested. It was lovely.

On the other side of this beach boulder was a much sunnier chunk of beach, with a very welcoming shoreline. A downside of wild beaches? The sea bottom is a textural nightmare. I kept tripping over rocks and dead coral, followed by stepping into what felt like sand diarrhea. Luckily the scenery and the warm water made up for it.

45 minutes later we decided it was probably wise to head back and give ourselves some time to get to the pier for the last boat. As we were getting ready to leave, I noticed these strange formations of tiny balls of sand on the beach behind the rock. I crouched down to investigate and discovered dozens of small, sand-colored crabs. They would scurry about on the beach, paddling their claws back and forth to form these balls, leave them there and then move onto the next. Together they formed a constellation. It was weirdly beautiful, like I was witnessing an episode of Planet Earth.

Andre and I kayaked back and began to approach what we *thought* was the area where we needed to turn and go into shore to find the house. As we started to go in, it became curiously more and more difficult to paddle. The water was only a few inches deep. That’s when we discovered that low tide had already set in – one kilometer out from the shore. We could no longer kayak; we would have to drag both of them out to shore. Cue the overly dramatic orchestra music.

Let me say that I had brought nothing with me except a bottle of water and my swimsuit, which I was wearing. Imagine looking at an expanse of mud, sand, dead coral, and rock – the same stuff you just cut your feet on swimming casually – with no shoes on. I’m trying to stay calm and optimistic.

Luckily, Nook had been watching for us from a distance and began walking out in our direction when she saw the realization sink in. She brought me flip flops, the absolute angel. At first, we  analyzed the situation. Realistically there was no way we were going to make this last ferry.  We only had half an hour until the boat left. According to Nook, we could either A. Pay for a private boat to take us back to Phuket for the hefty cost of 7,000 Baht (almost equivalent to my monthly rent), or we can find a place to stay on the island for the night and forego our original hotel. The money simply wasn’t there for a private boat, so it was decided for us: we’d have to stay on the island. But that was a situation to deal with later – for now, we needed to get these kayaks out of here.

We tried tying the kayaks together so we could bring them out simultaneously, but that wasn’t working. We were only going to be able to get them in one at a time, so all three of us picked one up and started for the shore. We kept having to stop because, well, it’s tiring work carrying a kayak across a sticky, rocky mess! My flip flops kept getting stuck in the mud and coming off. I’m actually lucky I didn’t fall. How unusual for me.

After about the third time we had to stop and take a break, Nook seemed fed up with the situation. I felt about 1 centimeter tall at this point for putting her through this. She told us to stay put while she goes to ask two men on the beach if they’d be willing to help. Feeling terrible, Andre and I try to tackle at least the one kayak we’ve got and keep moving without Nook. The two men seemed to have agreed to the deal and have started walking out towards us. When they reach us, they say, “Don’t worry. Leave it there. Go to the beach.” At first it seemed like they were trying to be polite, and we said that it was no problem for us to help. But they were insistent on us dropping the kayak and walking out. So we did, reluctantly.

A tiny Nook is in the distance on her motorbike, which is on the road just behind the beach. The closer we get to the shore, the better we can see her. She’s waving her hands and saying something. Eventually we can make it out: “Hurry! Run!!”

“Get on,” she said once we reached the bike. “I called a taxi. We will meet them at the house. They will drive you to the pier. They called the pier and asked the last ferry to wait for you. I don’t know how long they will wait, but you can try.” A mixture of adrenaline, guilt, and appreciation soars through me as we pile on to the back of her motorbike before ripping down the road.

Eventually we meet a taxi (again, a truck) and quickly dismount. Nook had all of my things in her front basket. I returned her hopelessly dirty flip flops to her. Before getting on the taxi, I begged her to let us pay her for the trouble. She wouldn’t have it and wished us luck. Every moral fiber of my being is resisting the end of this story but we had no time to waste. The boat was waiting for us. We thanked her profusely for everything and were on our way. The pier was not nearly as far from Dan and Nook’s house as we thought, and we actually arrived 3 minutes early, thanks in part to the taxi driver’s speed.

Sitting on that boat on our way back to Phuket, splattered with sand and mud, salty hair, makeup running, I felt jaded. What just happened? This picturesque afternoon exploring some of Thailand’s best natural beauty was all of a sudden turned into an intense, intrepid quest against time. I wish we would have at least gotten Dan and Nook’s surnames so we could connect with them on social media, to thank them properly. I’m compelled to go back to the island to find them. Maybe one day.

At this point in the story it is only about 5:00 p.m., but I think a 1719-word story is quite enough for one post. More in the next one!

Phuket, Pt. I

I just spent 3.5 days in Phuket over a long weekend (that I accidentally made one day longer after misinterpreting the national holiday calendar). I’m happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by what it had to offer – not that I expected it to be a shit show of any kind. I had been made to believe that Phuket was a cornucopia of beach bars and resorts, a place for Westerners to check “island adventure” off their list. Alas, there is more to it! Fancy that.

My friend Andre started talking to me about his plans for Phuket a few weeks ago. I’d been telling him that I’m having a great time in Thailand thus far, but have been finding that there aren’t many people who have the same travel personality as I do. Turns out that Andre and I are actually quite aligned in that respect and he kindly invited me to tag along.

The idea that hooked me in the first place was to avoid Patong and instead make home base in Phuket Town. It’s known for being a quieter, colonial town that’s more centrally located. This sounded like heaven to me. I’m quickly tiring of the drinking & partying scene here in Thailand and wanted something different (but not something too “plain bagel”, either). It truly lived up to the reputation.

We stayed at The Rommanee Boutique Hotel right in the middle of town, which proved to be both an excellent choice in stay and in location. The vibe on all of Rommanee (street) reminded me of the outdoor patio at The Court of Two Sisters in New Orleans, with the pastel lilac vines and twinkly lights hanging from above. Very quaint, almost suspiciously cute – but I chose not to question it. The first day was spent exploring and walking around Phuket Town. Just down the street was this tiny restaurant that specialized in Roti. After a series of misunderstandings in our order (common!), we ended up with three different types of Roti – fried egg, banana, and egg & banana together. Along with some fresh coffee, it was absolutely delicious and quite cheap. It ended up being breakfast for three of the four mornings.

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Wandering ensued afterwards, and I mean that in the true sense of the word. There wasn’t a whole lot of planning involved. We’d see a interesting mural over there, and then get a glimpse of a building that was featured in Lonely Planet, then stop to admire the unusual quietness of the markets. It’s like the traveler’s version of “follow your nose”.

After a brief respite, we switched to hiking mode and decided to trek up Rang Hill to a lookout point with an apparently spectacular view. I use the term “trek” lightly. It was quite leisurely, actually. It was a mostly cloudy day and everything’s a little easier without the sun beating down on you. The lookout did have a expansive view that I think was particularly captivating at the time we were there, dusk. I’m biased, though, as I’m a sucker for the sun on the horizon. Plus, there were these trees with roots and branches in tangled knots, begging to be climbed. We allowed ourselves a few minutes of slightly juvenile Tarzan time (and a couple of unwanted encounters with cicada exoskeletons) before walking back down to town.

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It was Asahna Puja Day (July 8th) and so we made a point to stop by a local temple to watch the proceedings. Many people circled the temple, holding slim burning candles and lotus flowers. Lots of bats whipped around as well, which gave it a slightly eerie vibe. Ever loyal to Lonely Planet, we headed to dinner at a LP-recommended Italian-Thai fusion restaurant called The Cook. It was such an odd pairing of cuisines that I felt the need to go to what seemed to be the heaviest extreme – Tom Yum Goong pizza. You know what? It was delicious! In a rare circumstance I did not eat the whole thing, and unfortunately half of the pizza will live the rest of its life sitting in the hotel fridge. 😦

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RIP.

The following day was quite the adventure on Ko Yao Noi. In short, beware of the low tide. More to come on Day Two, Day Three, and Day Four later!

 

 

 

Music On Repeat

I have this tendency to murder songs that I love by listening to them so much they essentially become attached to my brain. Music is my saving grace and a balm for life so I consider it a healthy thing. Here are my most recent victims.

“Time Trap” by Built to Spill

I’ve become a fan of Built to Spill over the recent years. They make me feel like I was a teen in the early 90s, which is something I’ve always wanted to be but obviously impossible. The slow build in the beginning of the song is so juicy. Ya girl loves layering.

“House of the Rising Sun” by alt-J

I know they are jerky for hipsters but I love alt-J. I first listened to this song on a ferry ride to Koh Phangan a couple of weeks ago. 0:53 – 1:34, looking out at the glistening water, sun starting to set behind a green mountain, and hearing the crescendo and decrescendo of those strings – something struck a chord (no pun intended). I’ll never forget it.

“Pretty Things” by Big Thief

A poignant love song that seems full of emptiness, if you get what I mean. Maybe not. This is the perfect starting song for what turned out to be a wonderful second album from this band. Check them out if you haven’t yet. The solo, acoustic version of “Masterpiece” makes me swoon every time.

“Happy Djong” by Twelve Point Buck

I was lurking on American surfer Dane Reynold’s Instagram and found a video with a clip from the beginning of a song that I could not get out of my head. I Shazamed it so hard. I believe those were the two most millennial sentences I have ever typed. Turns out Twelve Point Buck is an Australian band. If you’re into lo-fi surfer rock then you will definitely like them. I didn’t know I was into that genre but apparently I am so maybe you should just try them anyway. They’re still pretty unknown so I couldn’t find a YouTube video of just the song, but I found this surfing video – appropriate – that features it in the first half. That’ll do.

“Fly Tonight (feat. Frankmusik)” by RuPaul

The most unusual of my obsessions lately as it is a drag club banger, but I unabashedly declare my love for this song. It is the one that plays at the end of each episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race in Seasons 6 & 7 (and maybe beyond but I don’t know yet DON’T SPOIL IT) after RuPaul says “Let the music play!” I cannot wait for when this song plays at a party and I cannot help but overdramatically lip sync, or should I say…for my life?

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“Shook Ones Pt. II” by Mobb Deep

Recent sad events have revived my love of this song. RIP Prodigy 😦

Where to Wander: Part I

Well, the past few months have been quite the rollercoaster personally! I moved into a new apartment, started my new teaching job, and have traveled to a few places around Bangkok. While I’ve successfully written in a daily journal since I’ve arrived, I’ve also ignored this blog. What else is new?

Thus far I’ve been to four places: Pattaya (has potential but was unfortunately mired in the “sexpat” scene), Koh Samui (beautiful and need to return), Koh Phangan (site of the notorious Full Moon Party and essentially nothing else), and Cambodia (a technicality as I was there for 30 minutes on a border run). All were lovely little jaunts, but I feel as though I came here for a reason – to travel! It’s important for me to start planning out where I really want to go while I’m here. So, I shall publicly display them here in the hopes it will remind me to plan. I’ll think big and start with other countries.

Laos

Pak Ou (Source)

Luang Prabang has a reputation for being extremely relaxed and relaxing, which I am all for. Phu Si will give me my workout for the day (329 steps up!), and the Handicraft Night Market also seems like a lovely place to wander, though I have a feeling that I will soon tire of markets as I will temples. What doesn’t sound tired is Pak Ou, a cave temple (!) just outside of Luang Prabang. It seems absolutely eerie and magical. Not too far from Pak Ou is Ban Xang Hai village, where they are famous for locally-produced wine and whiskey (right up my alley). Finally, the sheer number of waterfalls and lagoons (like Blue Lagoon and Kuang Si) is impressive. I don’t think I could resist a soak in those waters.

Cambodia

Choeung Ek (Source)

Again, technically I’ve been here but it certainly didn’t constitute a check off the ol’ travel list. Of course, there’s Angkor Wat, a prolific landmark of the country. I’ve had friends who have been there already. I’m also fascinated with Cambodia’s dark history and the reign of the Khmer Rouge. The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are both landmarks of this tumultuous and frightening time, and visiting them would be a good way to learn more and to pay my respects.

China

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Darchen (Source)

Oh man, this country will be a challenge to see in one go. A whopper of a trip. Honestly I sucked the life out of Lonely Planet (process ongoing) to try and pick out my top sights. I really enjoy nature and natural sights, so the Tiger Leaping Gorge and Yangzi are definitely up there. Both seem totally surreal. My golden gem of a visit would be to go to Darchen & Mount Kailash in Tibet, if I can get there. In addition to the outdoorsy stuff, I’d love to see the Forbidden City in Běijīng and Tiánzǐfáng (French Concession) in Shànghǎi. And, of course, who could forget or ignore the Great Wall. I can envision the touristy selfie now.

Vietnam

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Thiên Đường Cave (Source)

Parks on parks on parks on parks! Cat Tien National Park seems like a wonderful place to observe wildlife, and its exclusivity (you have to call ahead) makes it enticing. Thiên Đường (Paradise) Cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park may ignite my bathophobia, but for a good cause. Imagine seeing one of those ginormous fangs of stone hanging right in front of your face. I’ll just make sure to meditate twice as long before I go. There’s Halong Bay, of course – but nearby Ba Be National Park looks incredible, secluded and lush. A hiker’s paradise. Also, someone please remind me to get my malaria shots. Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi seem quite similar to Bangkok in terms of energy, so I will probably spend very little time in either. Hoi An, however, sounds much more up my alley – an old marine town.

Okay, that’s about enough research for today, but I will definitely be writing about India, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, The Phillipines, Nepal, and Australia later.

I am not brave

It’s been two days since I’ve arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, and it’s been an interesting ride. I’ve already had a two-hour massage, a mini-bout of food poisoning, nasty blisters on the bottoms of my feet, and a cold Chang beer.

I knew that coming here was a risk, a leap of faith, and “brave”, by the words of many (lovely) people. However, I don’t think I truly realized the gravity of this change until, well, now. Maybe I could never really grasp it until I got here. Still, it’s a bit shocking. I’m in a country where I don’t speak the language nor do I have a place to live. Alone.

Apparently this is Stage Two of culture shock. Where was Stage One? The stage where I am blissfully enamored with my home and unencumbered by its downfalls and difficulties? Not that I don’t like Bangkok. It is colorful, a sensory adventure, and there is a lot to explore. However, much like the beginnings of a relationship – PUMP THE BRAKES, WE JUST MET. Give a girl a second. I’ve also never lived outside of the U.S. before, and I chose a completely different atmosphere across the world.

I suppose I just want people to know that I’m scared and feeling vulnerable. I appreciate being thought of as brave, and I suppose by virtue of my being here, I am in a way. But, I didn’t take one look at Bangkok and say “Ha HA! This will be easy!” All I knew was that I wasn’t happy where I was in my life 6 months ago (and the year proceeding in a very sad and confusing stage in my life), and I needed to do something about it. Bangkok has always been in the back of my mind. I’ve literally been dreaming about this for a long time. And so, here I am. I know that humans are complex creatures, but to anyone I know who has or who is thinking about doing this – you don’t have to be “strong” to do this. You can be, but you can be scared shitless and still do it, too. Life is fleeting and I’d rather die knowing that I did something that I really wanted to do for me.

Sometimes you have to just do these things and hope that it works out. I’m hoping that mindset will allow for the struggles to roll off of me like beaded water (or my sweat).

Changes

Wow. So many things have changed in my life since I last posted here. The biggest and most pivotal change, though? I’m moving to Thailand in 25 days. There’s no better time for a blog revival, I suppose. A theme that I’m hoping to apply not only here but also in my actual life is more honesty and trust.

I wish I could say that I was super excited. Everyone keeps asking me if I am. The truth is I’m very scared. This is the first time I’ve independently moved anywhere outside of Chicago. Thailand is an adventure I’ve been dreaming of for most of my life. That is thrilling. However, a thick fog is just starting to burn off from the past year and a half of my life. I went through a gut-wrenching breakup. My uncle committed suicide. I finally had to take my depression by the horns, but not without having a complete mental breakdown first. I have been bruised, bloodied, and broken-hearted, but the experience has been nothing short of transformative. I feel as though I have nothing left to lose now.

Cheryl Strayed’s writing got me through a lot of my darkest days. This quote in particular keeps echoing in my mind:

“Hello, fear. Thank you for being here. You’re my indication that I’m doing what I need to do.”

Alright, then. Let’s do this thing.