The visit to Suan Mok must have bought me major travel karma or something–either that, or I’ve finally mastered the art of Third World travel. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself…
It turned out to be a good thing that I sent off my last email when I did, as the Internet cafe shut down abruptly five minutes after I sent it. As best I could get from the owner, she didnt’ have a license and they had seen the police coming down the street to inspect, so she immediately pulled down the storefront and pretended to be closed. I can’t imagine this really works in a small town like Chai Ya, but I guess it might be a case of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.
Did I mention that on the night out at Khao San Road, we left the last bar fifteen minutes early because the police about to raid? (This seems to be a theme in my travels.) Apparently they turn up right before closing, close the doors, and drug-test everyone in the place. Since one of our party didn’t have their ID, she probably would have spent the night in jail even though she didn’t look anywhere near underage, so we bailed out early. I’m a little sorry I missed the experience, since I’ve never been arrested, but you can’t have everything. (Fortunately the police only really hassle Thai nationals, and in any case I’d certainly have tested clean, since I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never actually tried anything illegal. (I mean really, with the trouble I get into dead sober, who *needs* anything else?? 🙂 ))
Speaking of missing experiences, it looks like I’ll be missing the Gay Pride Parade in Bangkok–it’s this coming weekend, and I’m planning to be off diving. I’m really sorry I’m missing it–given the spectacular transvestite clubs, it should be quite a sight. OTOH, I’m not sure how one would get more colorful than San Francisco, so perhaps it’s just as well.
Anyway, I had planned to stay at Wat Suon Mok for an extra day or two–there was a Thai schoolteacher looking for foreign nationals to come talk to his classes (especially women, since last month was all men and the girls complained). This sounded really interesting. But, the prospect of three more nights getting up at 4am, bathing in a sarong with cold water, sleeping on a concrete slab, and (most importantly) the possibility of having to eat that awful gruel one more day for breakfast, sent me fleeing as soon as I could grab my pack.
Anyway, things went so smoothly after that that I’m seriously suspecting karma in action. Either that, or I’ve finally learned the fine art of travel as a farang…I ate lunch in Chai Ya, then went to a kiosk where motorcycle taxis congregated–I had no idea what they did in the kiosk, but it seemed like a good place to start. I went up to the uniformed guy in the kiosk, put on my friendly-but-clueless-foreigner look, and said, “Ranong?” The guy there said (after several repetitions–my accent was wrong), “Ranong? Bus!”
I said, “Yes, bus, Ranong, where?” (Translated, “Yes, I want to take the bus to Ranong, but where does it stop?”) He pointed at a motorcycle taxi, and the guy said, “Twenty baht”–which was shamelessly overcharging me, but what the hell, twenty baht is a whopping fifty cents, so I said sure, fine. (I could have haggled, but when your ability to get to Ranong depends on the other guy’s good will, it’s probably not a good idea. 😉 )
Ever ridden on a motorcycle taxi? Well, it’s fairly straightforward, and totally unsafe. The guy’s on a motorcycle, he’s not wearing a helmet (they *never* wear helmets). But hey–you aren’t either, so at least you’re on par; if he hits something, you’re *both* dead. (I did actually find this vaguely reassuring, though I’m not sure why. I guess I like company in my misery.)
You sit on behind, grab anything you can hang onto (don’t even *think* about the driver; they’re totally uncute), and pray the thing doesnt’ spill you off as he zips along. I’d have been much more blase without luggage–I had a giant pack pulling me backwards, my right hand was clutching two bags in a deathgrip and my left hand couldn’t find a damn thing to hold onto, the entire ride. I confess I spent the trip contemplating the impermanence of life, but not exactly in the mindframe the Buddha intended. 😉
Anyway, we got to the main road, and the guy stopped by an overpass and indicated that I should cross it. He was very sweet, really (or maybe felt guilty about shamelessly overcharging me 😉 )–he actually waited for me to cross and then indicated to me by frantic handwaving that I should wait there, and flag the bus when it came by.
I stood by the road and started spinning on my drop spindle, and soon attracted the notice of the motorcycle-taxi guys waiting on the other side of the road. One of them came over to chat, asked me where I was going and what I was doing, and told me the bus came every half-hour. About five minutes later, the right bus finally came into sight, and he ran onto the median to tell me to flag it down.
I got on the bus, and stayed on it for several hours. When we got to Ranong, the guy indicated I should get off at the station. I said, “Downtown,” and when he clearly didn’t understand that, said, “Hotel”. He said, “Yes, hotel?” I said, “No hotel.” (i.e., I didn’t have one yet)
He said, “Motorcycle taxi, hotel, mmm, thirty baht.” I said, “You know hotel?” He said, “Hotel, three hundred baht,” which is not cheap but not outrageous either, especially in town. So I said, fine, so he yelled at the driver to stop, and jumped off to negotiate with the motorcycle taxi drivers. The driver took me to the Asia Hotel, and here I am in a little Internet cafe, on my way (I hope) to Khun Nunt Cafe, which is reputedly the best restaurant in Ranong. I’m not sure how I’ll get there, but I figure I’ll find it eventually.
Anyway, I think the key to travel in Thailand is to (a) assume you’ll get there eventually, (b) not bother planning the exact route, and (c) ask the local people for help and recommendations. This is very far removed from the Western mindset, which is to plan everything in advance and know exactly what you’re doing–i.e., to be in control of the situation. This causes Westerners a great deal of stress, since Third World planning is often semirandom.
(A funny story one of the Suan Mok coordinators told us: he was at a bus station in India, and was waiting for a bus to Kathmandu (an 84-hour ride). There was another Westerner waiting for the same bus, getting progressively more and more agitated. Finally he went up to the stationmaster and demanded to know when the bus would arrive. the stationmaster smiled at him and said, “Please, sir, the bus is coming, why don’t you have a cup of tea?” So the guy goes off and gets a cup of tea, but he’s not really drinking it–he’s getting madder, and madder, and madder. Finally he slams the tea down, refuses to pay, and goes up to the stationmaster and DEMANDS that the guy tell him when the bus is coming.
The stationmaster smiles at him very nicely and says in very precisely accented English, “Sir, sir, you are clearly under Western frame of mind. I cannot tell you when the bus is coming. I am not a god. Only the gods know when the bus will be coming.”)
Anyway, I notice that the cafe is flashing its lights (maybe it’s about to close?), so I’m going to head off now to find the cafe. Tomorrow maybe I’ll catch up with a longer description of Suan Mok…or, more likely, I’ll just head off to Burma.
I have a date with the body painter now; we’re going to paint me not this coming weekend, but the weekend after that (whenever that is). he recommended some dive centers and places to stay along the way, so i’m giong to call them tomorrow morning, before setting off for Burma.
I still don’t know what we’re going to paint me as, and I can’t seem to think of anything. But I assume something will turn up; it always seems to, anyway.