krabi and evil twin
2001.03.17, bangkok, thailand
it was worth it to spend another day in hat yai, if only for the experience of a thai-style cowboy bar. there was a live local band, with decent renditions of "sweet home alabama," "country road," etc. good drinks too.
the next day, I caught a minibus to krabi, to catch up with danilo. minibusses are basically vans that have been converted to carry 12 to 14 people, and are the most brutal assault on the lumbar since the computer desk. the worst seat, which I inevitably get, is the far-back corner, where the wheel well uses up most of the legroom. when I am an evil mastermind and I catch my nemesis... "fetch the minibus of dooooom!"
on the coast, krabi is much more of a back-packer town than hat yai, much more local than ao nang, a few kilometers away, which is more resort/tourist oriented. still, it caters to people passing through to and from ko phi phi and ok lanta, and has decent guest houses and the usual mix of restaurants, travel agents, exchange bureaus, internet shops, etc. we had dinner with a big group of fellow travellers, including a couple of americans. of course, when I do run into countrymen I have to deal with the "yah, ya sure do look like a californian" comments.
the next morning, we rented a motorbike to go see some of the sights nearby. no sooner were we ready than it started raining again, hard. we killed some time by going to the big department store in town. my father is a geologist by degree, and has a collection of sand from around the world. I am adding to this as I travel, though I am beginning to think that carrying several kilos of sand around is not compatible with backpacking. I was looking in this department store for some sort of ziplock bag, for my samples; but I have been unable to find them anywhere in thailand. what I settled on instead is small baby bottles. they have a top, so I can put the sand in the bottle, and put a label under the cap: the nipple does not leak any residual water onto the label.
the storm had mostly passed, so we set out for the tiger cave temple. the cave, so far as we could tell, was not very interesting, but there is also a temple at the top of the hill that the cave is in. these 'hills' are limestone cliffs, which jut up out of the plains. they remind me of the mesas in the US southwest, except that they are whiter in color and covered with jungle. I wonder if this is what the southwest, nevada, and utah looked like before the seas evaporated there millions of years ago.
we climbed 1200 steps almost straight up, many of them over a foot high and very narrow: apparently one person a year dies climbing, due to heart problems or trouble breathing. the climb was worth it, though: even with the limited visibility, it was a great view. at the top, there is a life-size buddha and a large teardrop shaped golden tower, visible for miles. apparently, a nun lives up there in a small enclosed area, but I was not sure who she might be: there were several monks and nuns there, adding to the platform. it was cool to see buddhist monks in their saffron robes using power tools.
on the way down, I fed the resident monkeys. they are greedy bastards, trying to take all the peanuts out of my hand even if they couldn't really carry them. they also hurled shit at the dog who came over to terrorize them.
after a few failed attempts, we found the road that led to the national park: it was about a 20 km journey on back-roads. the entry fee for 'farangs' (foreigners) was about 4 times as much as for locals. the rainforest was hot and misty in the late afternoon, with some enormous trees rising 50 meters above the small river. a short ways into the valley, there is a series of waterfalls down from the same high plateaus as we had to climb at the temple. there were no stairs here, but we were able to climb up to other levels of the falls over roots and with the help of hanging vines. at the highest point we could reach, we took pictures, went swimming, and I took a sample of the sand: much more grainy than beach sand!
I had a really hard time sleeping in krabi. every time I closed my eyes I could see letters passing in my field of vision (I had been reading through a lot of posts to a mail list I am on), and could sort of hear voices. I did not feel sick and couldn't feel a fever, but I was hallucinating and at best got only a few hours of sleep each night. I was exhausted and stayed in krabi when danilo left for ko phi phi the next morning. I followed along the next morning, but was still not 100%: by that evening, I was starting to have some sinus problems, and I said as much to a guy who was trying to sell me on a diving course. he suggested that the problem could be mineral depletion. the drinking water in thailand is just purified, and has no minerals in it. I got a packet of effervescent mineral salts, like super gatorade or E-mergen-C, and after some of that and a short nap I felt 100% better!
ko phi phi is beautiful, but it has become very developed and is about 3-4 times the cost of the mainland. I can see something like this happening to the perhentian islands, if development there is not limited. the main island is sort of dumbbell shaped, and the flat center part is completely covered with a 'village' of guest houses, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, massage parlours, travel agencies, etc. it is like a permanent burning man, or something. the nice thing is that there are no cars, since the island is so small; and the people who live there seem prosperous.
I only spent two nights in ko phi phi. we went on an all-day snorkeling and kayak trip which was really nice. the water is warm and very clear, and the main snorkeling spot was the location where they filmed "the beach;" a bay ringed by tall limestone cliffs. unlike in ko tao, almost all of the coral was alive and there were lots of fish. one of the guys claimed to see a cuttlefish, swimming along and changing colors as it passed over rocks and sand. the kayaks allowed me to visit all the little beaches where we stopped, and collect more sand: it is surprisingly different even from two beaches in the same bay. I took my camera in a sealable plastic case, and was able to get some great shots from on the water.
I was exhausted when I got back, and sunburnt. I didn't realize that leeching the color out of my hair would prevent it from blocking UV, but my scalp is quite sunburnt, even worse than my shoulders. I am using aloe vera as hair gel. I slept 12 hours that night, and missed saying ciao to danilo.
I left phi phi in the early afternoon, heading for an overnight train to bangkok. the boat back to krabi was just fine, and there was actually a real air conditioned tour bus from krabi to surat thani to catch the train. the train was comfortable, but I didn't sleep too well: I kept rolling against the side as we rounded long curves, and there were a lot of stops and jolting starts. I had bought a couple of books in phi phi, and finished one (Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card) during these periods of wakefulness.
the train was also very very slow: it was supposed to be a "super express" getting into bangkok at 9 am: instead it arrived at noon with no explanation for the delay. "five more stations" was all the ticket officer would say: five more stations took well over two hours. my plan for rushing to bangkok was to get the visa process started for my trip to vietnam; but with the train delay, bangkok traffic, and a lengthy search for an open guest house, I was too late to get anything started before monday. it might be for the best, though, since I now have had a chance to compare prices between a lot of travel shops.
I was able to hook up with allison and eugene before they left bangkok for the south for a diving vacation. eugene has spent some time in vietnam a few years ago, and we spoke about my plans since I don't actually have a set itinerary yet. my main reason for wanting to go to vietnam is to see it before it 'changes' too much, but apparently visitors are very much kept to tourist areas. also, two weeks is apparently a short amount of time to travel from saigon to hanoi, as had been my plan. and vietnam is quite a bit more expensive than thailand.
so now I am wondering whether to go to just hanoi, or just saigon, or not go to vietnam at all. if not, I would travel into the northeast of thailand and into laos for a bit, via train and bus. tell me what you think, since I don't have to decide until monday anyway.
I have discovered a problem with my planned trip to istanbul. apparently US citizens need 'proof of onward journey' to enter turkey, or states of the european union. my plan is to travel overland from turkey to europe, and fly back to the states from the UK. that would (probably) be sufficient proof, but I do not have that ticket and it would be very expensive to buy from thailand. I am looking to see if I can buy a ticket in UK over the web, and use a fax copy of that. does anyone have any other suggestions?
finally, I have also reorganized the last leg in my trio of trips. instead of flying from europe to new york, I am going straight home to san francisco. it has been too long since I've seen penny, and I need a vacation from my vacations to spend time with her and see family and friends. I can also switch from backpacker mode to roadtrip mode: I have tacit approval to borrow a family car for the trip. so, I will be heading from west to east and back in a big oval, visiting friends and family, and generally waiting for the economy to improve. still-unemployed-since-graduation susan and maybe-unemployed-by-then tom may well join me as well!
I am allergic to something in bangkok, or perhaps it is the pollution: my nose will not stop running and I am sneezing all the time. antihistamines seem to help, though.