As many of you know, Chris and I made it back safe and sound to Canada a week ago, concluding our 380 day around the world trip. My next post will be the final post on our time in Thailand and I will then try to convey in a conclusory post what we learned during our 380 days visiting 35 countries on all but one continent. I will also share the varying degrees of reverse culture shock I am experiencing on a day to day basis being back in the great white north.
Picking up where my last post left off: Our gaggle of a group made our way to the DMK airport in Bangkok via the extrodinary metro system to catch our very cheap domestic flight to the South of the country. Had it been just Chris and I we would have opted to take the 12 hour overnight bus, but where our companions only had a limited amount of time we decided it was in their best interest to fly. We caught a quick van transfer from the airport to the nearby pier, where we hopped into a long-tail boat that transported us from the pier to Railay Beach. We arrived on Railay Beach and quickly got lost trying to find our way to our accommodation, somewhat of an achievement considering the island takes 10 minutes to walk around. We finally made it to where we intended to stay, a recommendation from Lonely Planet as one of the only budget options in the area. Chris, Rilla and I were to share a three person bamboo hut, which we had a look at and agreed that for the price ($9 CAD each a night), it would be sufficient. The other two guys had one look at their hut and quickly bee-lined for the door. They felt it was more than just basic, and were rather shocked by the lack of toilet seat on the toilet. They were also put off by the number of chickens running around the property, and affectionately named the place, ‘The chicken coop.’ Alas, for being on a 3 week trip they were going for comfort over a true backpacker experience, for which we couldn’t fault them. They found a lovely resort down the hill with air-conditioned cabins and a pool.
Having ditched our bags we changed into our swim gear and headed for the beach. The beach was absolutely stunning, being surrounded on both sides by the spectacular karst limestone cliffs. These rock faces are extremely popular for rock climbers and allow for free climbing as if one falls it is into the ocean below. The beach was very picturesque but had very little in way of shade. It was a scorching hot day so we spent the majority of our time in the shallow water trying to keep cool. After the beach we hung out at the guys pool, and then splurged on some Changs.
The next day was another beach bumming day, and it was an even hotter day than the previous. By mid-afternoon we all had to call it quits and find a respite from the heat. Rilla had a thai massage in an air-conditioned spa, the guys hung out at the pool, and I took a nap in our hut. That evening we watched the incredible sunset from the beach before heading to bed early, the combination of the heat and the humidity overwhelming us into an early slumber.
The next day we explored the island, starting first with the two caves that you can enter (I would rate both as a miss), and then scrambling our way up a very steep hill to one of the viewpoints. This was a major workout and had us all breathing heavier than anticipated, but afforded some beautiful views of the peninsula. After the viewpoint we began to make our way down to the lagoon, which I gave up on half way down as I had worn my sandals that lacked any semblance of treads, and it was becoming exceedingly difficult and dangerous on the slippery rock face. The rest of the crew continued to the lagoon, hooting and hollering along the way, and reported it was a very tough climb down and back up.
Having worked up a sweat we went for a swim before heading back to town for lunch. We stopped at a great restaurant where the food was authentic and cheap. We spotted a western restaurant close to where we had lunch that was serving a mean looking chicken strip and fries platter and collectively decided to return for dinner.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on wifi, and playing with the lovely cats and kittens at the guys resort. One little kitty captured all of our hearts and we lovingly referred to him as Stevie French (from the Trailer Park Boys).
That evening we returned to the restaurant we had scoped out and all ordered the chicken fingers and fries. They were as delicious as they looked, and despite being approximately 5 times more expensive than a thai dish, they were worth it. After dinner had us head to a bar to watch a live Muay Thai fight. The fight promoters were going around and trying to entice foreigners to sign up to fight, regardless of ability, for a free bucket of booze. I kid you not, they serve alcohol by the bucketful in Thailand. Picture a bucket a toddler would take to the beach to make sandcastles with, but instead filled to the brim with alcohol and ice that certainly isn’t made with filtered water. In Bangkok the hostel we stayed at had warnings about these buckets, stating most establishments use homemade booze to fill them as it is cheaper, but it is often so potent it burns peoples stomach linings and they end up vomiting like they have never vomited before. There is also absolutely no way to protect your wide brimmed bucket from someone slipping something in your drink which made me very concerned for the hoards of young girls I observed sloshing their buckets around everywhere we went in Thailand. I personally obstained from the buckets, but having a few sips of the guys lead me to the final conclusion that buckets in Thailand are just an overall disastrous idea.
Muay Thai is the traditional form of fighting found in Thailand and is one of the most exciting forms of martial arts you could ever watch. After a few drinks and much banter, Chris and Brad coerced Tanner to accept a fight with a fellow foreigner. Both Tanner and his opponent were very large lads, and luckily neither had ever had training or been in a fight (even just for fun) before. There were provided with all necessary protective gear and were thrown in the ring to go toe-to-toe for three, two minute rounds. They were both very good sports about the whole thing, and Tanner ended up winning the fight by a landslide. It was a very entertaining 6 minutes and the people in attendance cheered as Tanner was declared the winner. He was treated to not one, but two, free buckets for winning the fight. After the amateur fight the pros took to the cage and we witnessed one of the craziest, most extreme and exciting fights of all time. One guy got knocked down in the first round and it seemed like he was all but finished, then he came back and knocked the other guy down in the second round and that guy seemed like he was finished, and then he came back for a very exciting third round but ultimately lost by KO from a crazy kick that remains one of the best finishes of a fight any of us have seen live or on TV. The guys were jacked up on adrenaline from both Tanners fight and then the pro fight, and were content going over blow-by-blow both fights on repeat. Rilla and I decided that was our cue to head to bed.
The next day we caught the early morning ferry from Railay Beach to Koh Lanta. I personally wanted a low key island as it was coming to the end of our trip and I wanted to relax, reflect and unwind before heading back to Canada. Koh Lanta seemed like the perfect place to do this. We spent our first day at the five mile beach, a spectacular stretch of white sand and turquoise water that is the stuff postcards are made of. That evening Rilla and I had dinner at a local restaurant across the street from our hostel, while the guys went further down the road in search of a burger for Brad. With the burger came a heavy dose of food poisoning for each of the guys that had them up all night and decomissioned the entire next day. Rilla and I had booked a snorkelling excursion for the day and were unaware of the strife of the boys until we arrived back at the hostel in the evening. We had a lovely day on the long tail boat, and while the snorkelling was a bust, we explored a cave and a secret lagoon that made up for it.
We left Koh Lanta the following day destined for Koh Phi Phi. If all things were equal, I would have skipped Phi Phi for Koh Lipe. However, Phi Phi is a major stop on the tourist trail, made famous by the film “The Beach” staring Leonardo DeCaprio and draws thousands of visitors every day. We arrived to Phi Phi after a few hour boat ride, and walked the 10 minutes along the beach to our hostel. We checked in and then headed to the beach to catch a few rays of late afternoon sunshine.
Rilla and I headed to a Thai restaurant for dinner without the guys as they were quite turned off anything but bland food due to the recent food poisoning. As we made our way through the small town I couldn’t help feeling a sense of guilt about what I was observing. To accommodate the throngs of tourist that assault its shores every year the island seems to have a plethora of shadily constructed guesthouses, hotels and hostels. The town seems to be sagging under the pressure of accommodating so many people and this is visible everywhere you look. All you have to do is inhale and you were overwhelmed with the stink of raw sewage due to improper waste management facilities. The number of massage parlours, tattoo shops, bars/pubs, and restaurants were a further testament to the driving force of the tourism industry. And that is only what is above ground. The damage the mass tourism industry is having on the coral reefs and water is devastating. What was most devastating to me however, is the effect the mass tourism is having on the Thai people. Before travelling to Thailand I had been told time and time again how kind, warm and friendly the people of Thailand are. We certainly experienced this in the North of the country. However, in the South, the demeanour of the Thai people is the complete opposite. The disdain they have for the tourists oozes from their very beings. You can sense how jaded the booming tourism industry is making them, and rightfully so. It is absolutely shameful how the majority of tourists conduct themselves in Thailand, and how they treat the Thai people. I felt incredibly saddened by this as one of the best parts of traveling is interacting with the local people and learning about their lives. I am not saying all Thai people feel this way, but the overwhelming number of experiences we had in which I came away with this impression outweighs the handful of positive experiences I had. Simply by being there I was contributing to this destructive cycle, making it difficult to shake the nagging feeling of unhappiness and guilt of my choice to travel the region.
Back to dinner: Rilla and I had a romantic candlelit dinner at a restaurant before meeting back up with the guys to check out the infamous beach party of Phi Phi. The tide had come in and the water came right up to the stages that had been set up for the parties, making it hard to navigate without getting wet. Each bar had deafening levels of music playing and various forms of games where rewards of shots or buckets were promised. Alarmingly, most of these games involved fire in some shape or form. Such as fire limbo (Free Shot!), fire skipping rope (More Free Shots! Free bucket if a lady did it topless or man sans clothes), etc. The people participating were fuelled with liquid courage, an intensely dangerous combination. After walking through town and taking in the destructive nature of the unsustainable tourism, I looked at things from the perspective of the locals and the impact we as tourists were having. The end result was a scathing view of these activites (as I am sure you can detect in the tone of this post) and I retired to bed by 10:30 pm.
The following day was lazily spent by the pool at our hostel, with little ambition to do much else. That evening we headed to a rooftop restaurant to catch the sunset and indulge in Mexican food. The food was delicious, but the sunset was definitely the star of the show. We then checked out a small pub with live music before heading to bed in anticipation of our travel day.
The next day was a long travel day to Khao Sok National Park, where I will pick up in my next post!
**Most of the pictures were taken by our fellow travellers- I cannot take credit for them 🙂