So, I had a little temper tantrum yesterday after getting to my hotel (the Asia Hotel, fan-cooled room) and discovering yet another primitive bathroom. OK–this one had running water, and the toilet actually flushed (instead of dumping water down it to flush it) but since it didn’t feature toilet paper or…oh, never mind. You don’t want to know the details.
Anyway, that in itself wasn’t so bad, but when I found out the sink leaked all over the floor (which was nominally OK since the cold shower sprayed the entire bathroom floor with water anyway) and the room hadn’t been repainted since the days of Chairman Mao, well, I decided I’d had enough. If I had to take one more cold shower or deal with a dubious toilet for one more day…so I packed my bags, caught a songtao (pickup-taxi), and checked into the Jansom Thara Hotel, the best hotel in Ranong.
And, in fact, it was pure luxury. (About on par with a Motel 6.) 1200 baht a night gets you miracles: running water (HOT running water!), air conditioning, a TV, and actual ELECTRICAL OUTLETS in the rooms!! Also access to their hot springs and a free breakfast. But forget all that. The important thing was the shower. OK, it wasn’t hot, it was lukewarm at best–but it wasn’t cold, and that was what counted.
I don’t know what it is about hot showers. It’s warm enough in Thailand that cold showers really aren’t bad, and you can get perfectly clean in cold water. But there’s something reassuring about a hot shower that has nothing to do with practicality.
Anyway, the second thing I did, of course, was to sit down and plug in my laptop. I’m embarrassed to admit it (especially since I came here to get away from all that), but I’m now traveling with digital camera, laptop, and cell phone. *sigh* So much for the simple life. But, it is allowing me to process photos, so I should have photos on my website in a day or two. (Sherry: did you get the photo CD and prints? and Jim, did you get the negatives?)
I spent most of last night working on web pages; which is just as well, since there isn’t much to see in Ranong. I also took a bath–not because a lukewarm bath is much fun, but it was the first bathtub I’d seen since my arrival, and dammit, I was *going* to soak in (lukewarm) water while I had a bathtub. I even turned on the TV, although I didn’t watch it. It’s the principle of the thing. 🙂
I also sent out the laundry (luxury!). On top of the awful gruel, it had also poured continuously for nine days at Suan Mok. This made the cisterns muddy–so on top of the awful gruel, I’d been washing my laundry (and myself) in muddy water for five days, with about the results you’d expect. I was GOING to have clean shirts and underwear, dammit. More, I was going to have clean clothes WITHOUT washing things in the sink myself, dammit. And, in fact, I actually have clean clothes today–yippee! It’s so nice to be without wrinkles, even if only temporarily.
Anyway, I arrived at the Burmese crossing-point determined to play wealthy Western tourist for a day. Which turned out to be a good thing, since the crossing-point exists solely for the purpose of fleecing Western tourists renewing their Thai visas. After Thai immigration, I went to the dock, where a young boy named Ali directed me into a longtail boat.
The longtail boats deserve description because they’re both brilliant in conception and absolutely terrifying. Take a thin boat about thirty feet long. In the back, attach a fifteen-foot pole with a propeller at the end. That’s it. The boatman sticks the propeller in the water to get the boat moving, and puts the propeller to the side if he wants to turn the boat. The overall effect is exactly that of a boat being driven by a gigantic weed whacker. When you’re looking at extensive dry rot, wormholes, and roaches inside the boat, it’s not very reassuring. But it is picturesque.
Anyway, Ali offered to show me around. I asked how much, and he said, “Afterwards–whatever you want to pay.” At this point (I’m somewhat dense) I realized he was a tout–someone who makes money by steering tourists to overpriced shops and tourist attractions and then collecting a commission. But what the hell–I was looking for the rich Western tourist experience, so I figured i might as well go get myself fleeced. Try everything once, right?
Anyway, we cleared immigration (you would not have believed Burmese immigration–a little shack on stilts in the water, with an immigration officer stamping papers in his undershirt, smoking a cigarette while chickens ran around behind him–I took a photo). As soon as I set foot on the dock, another flock of touts descended. Within thirty seconds I had not one but FOUR “guides”–Ali, the original one, a Thai friend of his, and two other Burmese teens who came along as “bodyguards” for ten baht an hour. So I figured what the hell–I was enjoying the absurdity of being a Western tourist, and could certainly afford an extra fifty cents. (Needless to say I didn’t actually *need* bodyguards–the area was perfectly safe–besides which, I could have beaten the lot of them up without breaking a sweat, and I imagine any serious mugger could have, too.)
Well, the rest of the trip was quite amusing–they dragged me to a temple where I paid an outrageous 120 baht “admission fee and camera fee”, followed by a trip through the market and lots of overpriced jewelry stores, where they urged me to buy cow horns shaped into sharp points for cockfighting. (I did buy some button pearls, just to get into the spirit of the thing. It wouldn’t have been a full experience without getting massively overcharged for *something, after all.) Then I paid them off, and got my passport stamped, giving me 30 more days in Thailand.
The following morning, after a few misadventures, I got to Khao Lak, which is about halfway down the peninsula, very near the Similan Islands. The bus dropped me off by the side of the road, and out of curiosity, I dropped into the dive shop across the street. There I got into a three-hour conversation with the dive shop manager covering everything from Buddhist philosophy to prostitution to Thai rainforest ecology, after which he told me that the place I was going to stay had been razed three months ago and was no good anymore, recommended a different hotel, pointed me at a good restaurant and tailor, and signed me up for his PADI open-water course and a four-day trip to the Similan Islands. (Jim: you will see three withdrawals in the next few days; they’re legit.)
The dive shop guy also loaned me a book on Zen Buddhism which looks very very interesting–I’ll probably read it on the dive boat, and I’ll try to lay hands on a copy at home, too. Much more Western-friendly than the version I got at Suan Mok.
So, I’m taking diving classes the next two days, then leaving on the 16th for the Similans. The boat is a leaky, rusted–actually, no, it’s quite a modern boat, with electricity in all the cabins. (More luxury!) I’m looking forward to catching up on my writing while I’m there. (Yes, I’m bringing my laptop and digital camera with me.) If they have hot showers, too, I’ll be in heaven. 🙂
And now, off for dinner–I haven’t eaten since breakfast, so I’m pretty hungry.
I’ll try to post my photos tonight, but it may not happen until tomorrow.