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  • Writer's picturevanlafaxine

week 51-52: southern thailand

bangkok


bill: a lot of people that i have talked to don’t like bangkok.  including people that live here. they say it is too crazy, too loud, too busy.  khaosan road, the famous centre street of the backpacking district, is hell.  it is packed shoulder to shoulder with wasted people (on any number of substances), streetcorner face tattoo booths, touts screaming at you and trying to corner you into their bar, people waving scorpions and tarantulas on a stick in your face (to eat of course), flayed alligators on food carts, and bass from the many clubs that line the street so loud that it makes your chest shake, but not in any discernible rhythm because all of the music is overlapping.  so if you only came here, i could see why you would hate it.  





i on the other hand, actually really enjoy bangkok.  the key i think is to just stay out of the backpacker areas, the nightclub zones, and the red light districts. in my time in bangkok, i stayed outside of the downtown core, in sukhumvit and near chulalongkorn university. you know, places thai people actually live, and i found bangkok to be really enjoyable.  it is like any other international city - full of amenities, high quality restaurants aplenty, cool shops, cocktail bars, dive bars, vinyl bars, big malls, business towers, night markets selling vintage clothing, day markets selling any number of street meats.  




tuktuk is the preferred method of cabbing here



bangkok is this amazing fusion of old and new, decrepit and modern. tenements next to 50 story skyscrapers.  10 story shopping malls beside hole in the wall mechanic shacks that look like an episode of hoarders.  chickens on the street and fine dining.  street dogs and businessmen in suits.  sure there is traffic, but nothing like hanoi, a lot more like toronto, just more scooters.  there are giant, beautiful, green parks that are full of giant water monitor lizards.  compared to hanoi, bangkok is almost clean, quiet, and calm. it is none of those things, but a lot more so than hanoi. did i mention that it is hot here. holy hell.  sweat through your shirt in an hour hot. sticky. not as bad as cambodia, but it’s up there. 





giant water monitor lizard on a casual stroll through the park



bangkok is great but the coffee here sucks



i mostly did a lot of walking around, exploring, and eating. there is lots to see.  and lots to eat. once i wasn’t on a schedule anymore because amy had gone home, i mostly stayed inside during the peak of the day to avoid the heat.  i did a couple trips to the massive malls to run some errands, made quite a few walks through china town to eat.


chinatown


terminal 21 is this massive 10 story mall themed like an airport - each floor is a different city




street meat lady


lots of traffic, but it is all very orderly


this was perplexing



i spent about 4 days here after amy left, and by the end of it, i was actually almost bored of bangkok.  i get it. it is just another big city. i do get why there are so many expats here though, this is the first place in southeast asia that i have been where i thought “yeah i could probably live here.” i won’t, but i could. 



krabi


bored with bangkok, i hopped on a flight down to southern thailand.  krabi is a small city on the west coast, straddling the andaman sea, and bears a striking resemblance to cat ba island in vietnam: towering limestone cliffs over jungle and azure sea.  there is a distinct cultural shift in krabi; it seems that almost everyone here is a 21 year old european backpacker, or working in the tourism industry to support them.




the motors on the backs of long boats are basically just car engines welded onto a pivot, transmission, radiator and all, with the driveshaft still intact and a propeller on the end. they also burn a lot of oil.


now that i am on my own and amy is back in canada, i decided that i should save some money by staying in hostels from now on.  that and it is a better way to meet other travellers.  because of the demographic that travels to the south of thailand, pretty much every single hostel you can book is branded as a “party hostel”. hmm.  basically no other choices. there is no old man hostel. “well, if every single hostel calls itself a 'party' hostel, how bad can it really be?” i asked myself.  after booking they send you an email that says “just to make sure you know; if you don’t love to party, you can kick rocks”. uh oh. turn out that this was a horrible idea.  at 11:00 at night my hostel had about seventy 20-year-olds dancing on the bar tops screaming “mr. brightside” at the top of their lungs, shirtless dudebros pouring shots of vodka into each others mouths right from the bottle, music so loud you can’t even talk.  i am currently living inside pub101 on a friday night.  that’s how bad it can be.  i did meet some people, but all of them were like 20 years old and none of them were cool enough to justify continuing to stay in a place like this. at 11:30 mostly everyone takes off to go to the bars (except a select few that stay screaming around the pool), at which point things quiet down enough to get to sleep.  until about 3:30 in the morning, when about 70 absolutely shitcanned 20 year olds get back from the bar, all screaming and thrashing around the rooms trying to drunkenly find their way into their beds.  i am too wayyyy too old for this.  the next morning i checked out early and went and found myself a nice quiet hotel room.  guess i am done with hostels.


not my first nor last encounter in thailand with a group of people screaming this song who may not have been born when in came out (2004)



this did kind of sour my impression of krabi, so my time here was short.  i walked down the very long beach one day to a trail that runs up into the jungle, which happened to be full of monkeys.  pretty cool. feeling a little bored without amy to keep me company, but not bored enough to try to befriend any more 20 year old european alcoholics. i’ll pass.




the next day i got into the real main attraction of krabi: climbing the massive limestone faces.  hiring a guiding company is a bit of a pain in the ass; if you have no idea what you are doing and want to have someone set up everything and just toprope, it’s like $60, if you know what you are doing and want to lead your own routes, it's like $250 (which is crazy because it involves way less work for them).  so i booked the toprope tour, which did let me get onto some harder stuff so that was alright.  plus everyone knows i love toproping. the rock here is different than i expected.  it is limestone, so it has all the weird jugs and handles in it, pretty overhung and burly at times but unlike all the rest of the limestone i have ever climbed which is grippy and sharp, probably because this is such a popular climbing destination, the routes are all super slippery and polished.  the 100% humidity doesn’t help.  you also get to climb up these crazy massive stalactites, and do some chimneying between them and the walls.  very cool. it is cool climbing right off the beach, and the view from the top is awesome.






yellow curry


feeling like i should go out and see the area, i booked a boat tour around the nearby islands, which again reminded me a lot of ha long bay and cat ba island. towering limestone karsts sticking straight out of the water, the occasional white sand beach tucked into the side of an island.  they shot “the beach” out here if you remember that movie from the 90s. we went snorkelling briefly and i saw a few longfin bannerfish and clown fish in the coral, which was the best part of the tour.


*not my photo - clownfish - i didn't know how small these guys are, like maybe 5cm long

*not my photo - longfin bannerfish





koh tao


sick of all the partying euro 20 year olds in krabi, i booked a bus out of there to my real destination in southern thailand; koh tao. koh tao is a small island, about 7km x 3km wide in the middle of the gulf of thailand, about a three hour ferry ride from the mainland.  it has no airport and a permanent population of only about 1300.  my buddy ben from ottawa (now victoria) has been living here every winter for the last 3 years, so i figured i would stop by and say hi and see why he likes it so much.  koh tao also has its fair share of european tourists, but a much mellower vibe for one main reason; it is the scuba diving capital of south east asia.  most people are up and on the dive boats bright and early, and tired and home in bed by 11.  there is obviously still some partying but it is far more reasonable and less disruptive. i figured i was going to be here for a bit, so i settled in; i booked a resort on the beach, i got an open-ended scooter rental, and got to know my way around.  there are only so many roads on an island this size, so i spent a day ripping around on the bike and getting my bearings, relaxing on a beach or two in between. 


the beaches here are all very narrow, hard to even lay down when the tide is high


after a couple of days of chilling on the beach, i decided to get off my ass and booked a snorkel tour of the bays.  it turns out i chose the wrong day, a storm was whipping through with super high wind, thunder, lightning, and giant waves.  it might not have been so bad had i not been out drinking with ben and his diving friends the night before, but when i got onto the boat already a little hungover and the boat started pitching up and down 8 feet with every wave, i just about puked.  we couldn’t actually go into a lot of the bays we were supposed to see because the water was too rough, but where we did go was alright.  saw a bunch of reef, some cool corals, more longfin bannerfish and parrotfish, and i did get to swim alongside this sea turtle, which made the whole thing worth it.  


very cool




they actually have pretty good pie on this island

my faithful click 125



unlike a lot of the islands on the andaman sea side which are all composed of limestone, koh tao has a very familiar makeup; coarse, granular granite.  it must have been a volcano at some point.  the stacks of giant boulders that make up the island have a very striking resemblance to joshua tree, just covered in jungle.  so the next morning ben and i headed out to join the koh tao climbing club.  we ripped our scooters way up right near the top of the island, where there are a bunch of exposed cliffs and a bunch of sport routes.  the climbing here is pretty hard, it basically starts at 5.9+.  the rock is super, super sharp, like just immediately starts taking layers off your finger skin.  it’s probably like what joshua tree was like before anybody climbed on any of the rocks.  the route are oftentimes very featureless, almost like slab climbing except completely vertical, just using small variations in the coarse crystals in the rock for grip, searching desperately for any real crimps to hold.  very cool.  plus the view of the island from the top is unreal. 




the days just sort of disappear here.  i spend a lot of time swimming, i spend a lot of time sitting on the beach reading.  a lot of time just wandering around to go get food, or ripping the scooter up and down the island. pretty peaceful, pretty lovely.  





merry christmas from ben


being that this is the scuba diving capital of southeast asia, i figured that i should probably just get it over with and get my license. after a whole day of online learning modules (blah) and a whole day practicing skills in the pool (slightly less blah), you are finally ready for your first dives out in the ocean. this part is very cool.  


i got one of these giant egg sandwiches every morning for 60 baht ($2cad)


koh phang-nga, a smaller island off the coast with a single strand of white sand beach, i saw some porcupine fish (a giant type of pufferfish) while snorkelling in the bay


everything moves in slow motion underwater.  my instructor kept telling me i need to slow down, and i didn’t think i was going fast at all, but oxygen preservation is the name of the game, so you barely move at all, just the smallest kicks to propel you forward.  scuba diving is intensely parasympathetic; you are obligated to take long, slow breaths to preserve your air, and if you breathe too deeply too quickly you will float back up, so breathe control is buoyancy control.  it is meditative.  you just move effortlessly slow along the coral beds as schools of vibrant tropical fish swim all around you, completely oblivious to your presence.  it is hard to imagine a more relaxing activity.  that is, except the first initial descent into the depths:  when you start sinking into the ocean for the first time, just dropping down and down, unable to see the bottom, or the sides, or the surface, without any visible landmark to gauge where you are, after about 30 seconds your brain freaks out and tells you you shouldn’t be there and that you need air.  panic is actually one of the most dangerous things about scuba diving. but you just keep breathing slowly and calmly, and by the time you hit the bottom (like 40-60 feet down) now you have a landmark and know where you are and your brain has accepted that you actually do have air and it doesn’t need to freak out. pretty cool.  4 dives later and i am a certified license holding scuba diver. i wish that i could say i have all kinds of cool photos of the fish and reefs that i saw, but my gopro broke immediately on taking it down with me, turns out it is only rated to 15 feet, not 60.  oh well.


here are some longfin bannerfish from before my gopro broke


*not my photo - parrotfish are probably my favourite of the koh tao aquatic fauna, they are insanely colourful, about the size of a football, and just about everywhere and they don't really care when you get close to them


*not my photo - titan triggerfish - these guys are massive, i saw a couple of them and you have to be very careful to avoid them or they will attack you and fuck you up with their giant teeth


there was a massive, week long storm system that came through the gulf of thailand while i was on koh tao. over the course of the week 7 boats sank and 8 people died. some of the boats were ferries coming to and from the island. safety isn't really the highest priority here, so they just keep running the ferries regardless. one of the people in my hotel lost everything (passport, clothes, money) when their ferry sank. pretty freaky.


beef nam tok; spicy beef and basil leaves, v good


the best pad thai i had in thailand, only ran 70 baht ($2.50), i would get this most days for lunch. pad thai isn't actually a real classic food in thailand, it was invented by the thai government as a nationalistic ploy back in the 1930s


classic red curry and rice




i have been on koh tao for almost 2 weeks now and i can see why ben likes it here; it is very chill, there are a ton of great restaurants, great people, tropical beaches and coral reefs, jungles and rock climbing. a very cool place.  for my last day here i ripped my scooter around in the 30 degree sunshine, drove down to the tanote bay and went snorkelling and saw the most wild selection of tropical fish i have ever seen, watched the sun set from the top of the island, and had a send off dinner with ben and tim.  great time.



now it is off to bali to get in some final surf sessions before i go back to sitting at a desk forever, far, far away from the ocean, the warmth, and the waves.


no video this week!

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