Saturday, June 20, 2009

Three Guys in Thai... Days Four thru Seven

Day Four...

As a special surprise to make Tex and I feel more like home, Noi decided to make us her version of breakfast tacos. What we were served was a spicy mix of eggs, pork, and herbs wrapped in homemade Indian kerala bread... flaky yet chewy. What a way to start the morning. We finished up with some fresh fruit, and headed to the airport. Flick's dad gave me two bags of durian chips to enjoy on the plane.

We arrived at the airport early and walked around to people watch. We boarded the small plane filled to the brim heading to Krabi. After a quick hour flight, we landed at the tiny airport, found the taxi van that Flick's dad had arranged, and drove half-an-hour to Ao Nang.

The countryside was stunning... solid thick green with vertical cliffs dotting the landscape covered in vines and lone trees. This area is known for its rock climbing... something our three fat asses couldn't do if we were fleeing jungle tigers.

Ao Nang is a small tourist town on the southern Peninsula of Thailand, across the bay from the more famous Phuket. The town was situated on a narrow road along the beachfront with one side filled with souvenir shops and restaurants. The beach was a narrow strip of sand with deep green-blue water stretching out to sea, with tall, narrow lone islands of sheer rock that looked like they were dropped in from above. The weather was very hot and humid, but the constant sea breeze took most of the stifle out of the air as it swayed the local palms.

We arrived at our hotel, a very nice open-air hotel just off the main strip on the beachfront. We checked in, and Flick checked out our rooms... and was pissed! Turns out that his parents had arranged the rooms, and we were supposed to get sea-view rooms... instead we got pool-view rooms. Well!... that just won't do!! So we were dragged thru room after room until Flick was satisfied with our rooms. We originally were going to share rooms, but since it was the start of the monsoon season (and the end of the tourist high season) we went ahead an each took a nice room with a view of the outstretched sea. The rooms were nice except for the fact that your room key was welded on to the card that activated the power in the room... including the air conditioners. We all quickly broke the solder and left the rooms as cool as we could get.

Once we got settled in, we took a thirty second walk from the hotel to a scooter rental. Everyone in Thailand... and I mean everyone... drives scooters and motorcycles. Cars are extremely expensive, while scooters are cheap, easy to maintain, and incredibly customizable. We saw scooters that had sidecar attachments that were used as cabs, hauling vegetables, carrying other bikes, and best of all... restaurants.

Anyway... we rented three kick-ass high-end scooters (Yamaha Nuovo MX's... if you want to know) for the astronomical price of four dollars a day... seriously. Four dollars. How much fun is that?

We had to give Tex a rundown on how to ride a scooter, since he had never driven any two-wheeled motorized vehicle ever. So we just had him put on his helmet, and we took off down the road. They were so much fun... everyone was zipping around us on their bikes. I quickly got the feel of it and was soon gunning it full speed down the beach, leaving the others in my wake. Tex was going all of 30 km/hour... his shoulders and neck tensed so tight you could see his veins from three lengths back. He was horribly scared at first, both by the ease at which he could fall directly onto the pavement (he kept putting his foot down on the road to balance) and by riding on the left side of the road. We thought he finally got the hang of it until he took a right hand turn directly into oncoming traffic! Three riders and a small truck had to veer out of his way until he quickly leaned left on found the correct side of the road... damn tourists!

We rode for a while along the beach and into the town, checking for dive shops and restaurants to visit later. We stopped in for seafood at a place next to the hotel for some pad thai and pineapple rice. We rode our hogs further on until the beach ended. There, we took off our sandals and finally got to dig our toes into the sand. Near this area is a secluded cove where the local boats, called longtails, were harbored. Longtails are long, narrow boats with large car engines salvaged from some beater or another on a rotating gimbal. Attached to the engine block is a long pipe axle, about twenty feet long, with a propeller at the end. To steer the boat, the driver moves both the axle and engine along multiple axis... this was he can navigate the shallow beaches and fishing lines laid out along the coast.

Later, we stopped in to a scuba shop and booked our trip for the next day. All of us are avid, if not capable, scuba divers and really wanted to dive in these waters. Flick headed to the hotel to try out his new fins and snorkel, while Tex and I took off Easy Rider style in search of trouble and ice cream.

After our sundaes, Tex pulled away from the curb with a little too much gusto (and belly fat) and pulled ahead of me, screaming something about his tire. I look down, and see that his outer tire is completely pulled away from the rim. I pulled up and made him stop and walk the bike back to the store where they patched up the tire in no time.

After a rest, we pulled out of the hotel at night and headed to a local tourist place down the road for dinner. Ao Nang was beautiful at night... the garish lights of the disco bars and stalls of T-shirts plus the loud music and bustle of scooters back and forth... all across the road from the pitch-black serenity of the seemingly endless sea...

We pulled into the restaurant and let Flick order a huge menagerie of local dishes. We ate BBQ mussels, whole steamed fish, fried squid in chilies, and a seafood chowder served out of a coconut. The dim red lights of the establishment lent it an odd mood... odder still was the sideways glances I was stealing of our waitstaff. I swore I thought that waitress had an Adam's apple... and I'm pretty sure that cute waitress just adjusted her balls...

Ladyboys!! We had caught a few glimpses of some during our trip, but here was a single restaurant full of ladyboys! For those who don't know what I'm talking about, a ladyboy is an Asian man who because of his sexuality, and generally feminine frame, decide to live their lives as women... both in style and dress. They are, for the most part, accepted as part of southeast Asia culture... and they are awesome! There was one who was about six feet tall and looked a lot like my dad in lipstick and rouge.

From there, we scooted over to a nearby bar and ordered some drinks. But suddenly, something strange happened... something that had probably never happened to anyone in our ragtag bunch...

Girls started to hit on us... and good looking ones at that.

Now at first, we thought they were possibly prostitutes looked for a good time. But it turned out to be something different, as Flick explained to us. In Thailand, there is a certain bar etiquette. When men sit at a bar, good looking ladies are hired to work for the bar. They will come up and start talking and flirting with you... it's their job to keep you happy and in the bar! After a while, the girls pulled out games of Connect Four and challenged us in bloodthirsty duels to the death. Turns out Tex is a master Connect Four player. After vanquishing most of the bar girls, we had to retire the game. At this point, Flick explained that if you are enjoying the girls' company, and if they like hanging out with you, it is customary to ask if you can buy them a drink; since the girls make a commission on how many drinks you buy for them. We bought a round of mai tai's in naked lady glasses and proceeded to dominate game after game of Jenga.

But it was a good system... they provided the fun and flirtation that everyone wants in a bar, and you provided the occasional cheap drink. We had a blast for a few hours as they told stories of stupid tourists driving scooters into the sea and showing off their tattoos of charms and marijuana leafs. We would have stayed longer, but we had to get up early for scuba diving, and needed our rest. So we left the bar, promising to return, and headed back to the hotel.

Day five...

We awoke early and ate breakfast at the buffet. I will never know why every other culture in the world classifies hot dogs as haute cuisine "sausages"... but they're not! When your sign says sausage omelets, I want Jimmy Dean... not Ballpark Franks in my eggs...

Our ride to the scuba dive was the back of a pickup truck outside of our hotel. We headed to the beach end where the longtails were pulled up onto the sand. Our gear was thrown into one, and we climbed in. The longtail pulled out of the harbor and into the open water for about ten minutes until we came to a large, two-story boat that was our dive boat. Climbing aboard were 15 others with their dive gear strapped down and wetsuits hanging up, waiting on us. As soon as we were aboard, the board roared to life and headed to the first dive site.

Upstairs, we met our dive master, who wasn't very good so his name isn't important. We went over our checklist and feasted on the local bananas (diving robs your body of potassium, leading to leg cramps... which is why you always eat bananas when diving). We headed downstairs where our dive master unpacked our rental gear and fitted us with the necessary weights and tanks. When all was ready, we all took our falls into the beautiful green-blue water right off of a vertical rock nestled in the middle of the sea... Kohsi Island. Actual translation... "island #4."

We emptied our BCDs, and headed down into the deep. In the first thirty seconds, I spotted a black banded sea snake... the most poisonous animal in the world! The visibility wasn't very good due to the swirling winds above and heavy plumes of plankton around us, but the dive was nice anyway. We spotted tons of neon green coral, lionfish, sea slugs, and vast schools of little barracuda. Watching a lionfish sail thru a school of barracuda reminded me of Star Wars... a lone Tie-Fighter cutting thru the rebel fighters. If that sounds odd, you have to remember that the regulators we use to breath are the sound-effect used for Darth Vader's breathing sounds... I always think of Star Wars when diving...

We dove for around 35 minutes (quick dive, but we're fat and use up air quickly) and climbed back aboard the boat. There we drank our fill of electrolytes and enjoyed a green curry over rice and more bananas. I started talking to some of the other people on board the boat. A group of twenty-something trust fund kids were spending the year on a conservation project counting corals and fish. They said it wasn't all fun though, tomorrow they had to fly to Cambodia and teach a class. "On what subject?" I asked. "Leadership" said the twenty-year-old that acted like he had never lead a cash register, much less had any experience on leadership.

On board were about six guys that worked for various dive shops around town; most of them were British or Swedes. I asked how they all got to work in Ao Nang, and the same story kept coming up. In a nutshell, all of them were either on vacation or working in the area... and just decided to stay. They all left their jobs, some their wives, and decided to live a simpler life here in Ao Nang. After their money ran out, it was either open a bar (which one guy said wouldn't be good for his alcoholism) or become dive masters. All these people, for some reason or another, had decided to stop following the rules of others, and would spend their lives enjoying life.

Let me be perfectly honest... I could do it. I know I could. Maybe not forever... but I could so be one of those people who disappear from the world to begin anew... I know I could. If I every go incommunicado... I'll be in Thailand.

After an hour's boat ride, we disembarked for our next dive site, Koh Talu... the stab hole. Two massive rocks perched in the sea with two long channels that cut between them (the stab holes) that we could dive thru. Unfortunately, right after we descended, I noticed a small air leak in my dive gauge. I tried to tighten it, and it became a massive leak. We kept going, but it shortened our dive by about ten minutes. Thankfully, we were able to see lobster, fragile coral fingers, a sea archer, and a rare spotted stingray. Very cool.

After surfacing, I kept swimming in the cool water until the other divers started to appear below me. We ate lunch aboard the boat of pancakes with fresh pineapple preserves. On the way back to shore, a summer storm came in and drenched the decks. But we stayed right on the edge of the storm... starboard was gray and pummeled with heavy rain, while port side was clear as day and sunny.

After dropping off our stuff at the hotel, we grabbed some noodles at one of the mobile restaurants I spoke of earlier. Let me set the scene. A scooter with a flimsy steel frame attached that has a cupboard, and a large cooking bowl with propane burner and tank attached. These were dotted everywhere we went. They would just pull up, and the lady on the bike would start cutting vegetables and heating the broth to cook the noodles. All these places were so good... never had sub-par noodles, ever. After lunch, we decided to split up for the day. Flick went about talking to the locals about places to eat, and rode his scooter all around town. Tex stayed on the strip and walked up and down looking for barkers that he could take down in a negotiation of best price for a Singha Beer T-shirt.

I got on my scooter and drove. I drove for hours, at least an hour out of town both ways. I found hidden beaches, little flea markets, beautiful temples and mosques, and simple scenes about rural Thai life. At one point I found myself driving up into the hills, and felt the temperature drop about fifteen degrees in two minutes. I gunned my Yamaha on a straightaway to find out the max speed... 101 km/hour, 104 km/hour down a hill with the wind at my back. I just let the wind blow thru my hair and filled my nostrils with the smells of the jungles, markets, and flowers that were around every corner. I am so buying myself a scooter wherever I live next. They're a death trap in Doha... but the next place, definitely.

I met up with Tex in town, and we headed to a scuba shop to fix his dive computer. Later, I went bargain shopping of my own in the souvenir shops. I saw Tex again, and we headed down an alleyway near our hotel. It was filled, both sides, with about twenty small bars, all empty. Suddenly, two girls came up behind us and wrapped their arms around our chests, pulling us into one for a drink. We obliged in a single beer, and headed to the hotel for dinner.

We met up with Flick, and went to a restaurant on the edge of town. Called Kruathara (After Tsunami), it was an amazing place ran by two aging midget sisters. We dug into piles of seafood: razorclams in chilies and noodles, BBQ conch, nameless fish, and bowls of mussels. Best part, we had baby conch that we pulled from the shells with small hooks and ate on the spot... so damn good. We followed it up with some tai tai ice cream and decided to go bar hopping.

We went into a store front on the main drag that opened up in the back into a secret circle of hoppin' bars! We walked around, ogling the exotic women dancing on the bars, calling out for us to come and join them. Many skipped the protocol all together and would dive into us, not letting go of our tender areas to get us to buy their overpriced drinks. Suddenly, the girls that had grabbed Tex and I earlier in the day saw us and convinced us to join them in their bar. Once again, we sat around playing Connect Four and Jenga (I think these are the only games in Thailand) while we watched barely dressed girls slank around strategically placed poles and mirrors... this was a good place to be.

We kept on bar hopping back to the alley by the hotel. This time, the groping was even more intense. It turns out that Thai women are turned on by folds of gut flesh and jiggling man-boobs... at least, that was what they were telling me. We walked the whole gauntlet of the alley only to finish up against a wall when Flick decides that the first bar was the best... so we had to walk all the way back thru the happy-handed women... shame. We sat down and challenged our ladies to Jenga while they wiped us down with cooling moist towelettes. Now that's service. Tex ended up getting lots of wasted attention because he whore his broken-down cowboy hat everywhere. It always ended up on some girls head, and we had to negotiate to get it back...

Later on, we ended up at the same bar from the previous night, where Flick and I held our own throughout the night. Tex left early... too much temptation for his weak constitution. I had a blast flirting with the bar ladies, and finished the night by showing off how petite they were by lifting some girls one-handed over my head. Hey!! They challenged me... and you never back down from a challenge with these women! A drunken scooter ride back to the hotel, and I was out like a light.

Day six...

I wasn't hung over... but I was really tired. You never realize it at first, but scuba diving two hours makes you feel like you've ran a marathon the next day. That, plus the booze and heat, and I was really feeling rundown. We took it easy that morning, and I got up for an early morning scooter ride. The wind had really picked up, and massive storm clouds were coming into the shore.

Flick had arranged for us to take a longtail out to some of the secluded private beaches on one of the tiny islands offshore for snorkeling. We met up with a local who was going to join us, but found out that the surf was too rough for the small longtails to operate safely. Oh well... instead we headed out to find good hangover food.

And did we find it! Along a small stretch of road were about twenty of the scooter-restaurants selling a variety of meals including pad thai, noodles, fried pork, fresh fruits, and sweets. I ordered some simple pad thai and sat on a tiny plastic stool just off the road for lunch.

The best pad thai noodles... ever. Ate three plates. To this day, I can taste the citrus, herbs, and spice of that simple yet profound chicken pad thai. The best single dish I ate in Thailand... $1 roadside pad thai. On top of that, Flick treated us to one of his favorite dishes. Coconut milk steamed into little cups that form a scalding hot custard sprinkled with sugar on top... not even funny how good those were. Only ate about ten...

Afterwards, we all headed to the hotel pool for some relaxation and the hair of the dog. We had mai tai's in whole pineapples and rum from coconuts at the swim-up bar. It was here that we had an odd conversation. I was asking what one of the girl's names were from last night, and Flick answered with their names... followed by what their names meant. Now, my name has some ancient meaning from Arabic or Judaic that amounts to "son of the right hand"... ie, "favorite son." Most of western names have some old meaning that is derived from, or was taken from some odd, dead, language. But the meanings of Thai names are not so subtle.

One girl's name sounded like comb with a g-.. gomb. Flick said it means "shrimp." I asked if it was a pet-name, because she was tiny, she's called a shrimp. "No," Flick stated, "her name is shrimp." Now this got me going. "So if I go into a restaurant and order of plate of gomb... they will bring me a plate of shrimp?" Turns out yes. The translations of other people were fish, sunshine, and raindrop. This was astounding to me! With the exception of people who name their kids after flowers and celebrity kids, who has names like this?! I challenged Flick that, if following the Thai language rules, I could say a sentence like "Me and Weedwacker are meeting up with Towel and Ashtray to pick up Backhair and his girlfriend, Catfish." At this point, I got the bartender to laugh out loud. And don't get me started on the pronunciation issues we had with Mai/My/Mie/Muh-i...

Tex laid by the pool and read, Flick went driving for hours outside of town, and I went up onto the balcony and napped. Later, we ate dinner at a Korean style place where we cooked our own meats over hot coals on a modified Bundt pan... allowing the dripping to make a delicious soup broth.

W were all dead tired at this point. The scuba diving, the booze, the late nights... it had finally taken its toll. Flick headed back to the hotel to rest, while Tex and I drove around town playing with his fancy camera, trying to get some night action shots of Ao Nang. We headed out to the end of the beach for some quiet shots, and I enjoyed just listening to the waves lapping up onto the sand, while the town lights flickered beyond the treeline. After riding around for a little while more watching the people walk up and down the drag, and feeling the humid sea air against my face one last time, I headed to the hotel to read on the balcony with the ocean view nearby.

Day seven...

Hotel breakfast and packing to leave. We couldn't help ourselves, and had one last go with the scooters. We went to one of the overlooks I had found earlier, and paid way too much to gaze upon some simple fossils in the rocks. I took Tex up into the hills area, and we tried to get ourselves lost, only to find that we had completely circled Ao Nang without even realizing it. At the end of the trip, it started to rain... and that really fuckin' hurts on a scooter! It was like God decided to pelt us with BB's!

We paid for the hotel, $200 for three night with drinks, breakfast, and airport taxi... not too shabby. Then we reluctantly turned in our scooters, shedding quiet tears for our mighty aluminum and fiberglass steeds. I still miss mine...

We picked up a taxi van and quietly rode back to Krabi. We had to adjust some luggage around because Tex's bag was too heavy. But we waited for our plane in the tiny airport and had a quick, almost empty, flight back to Bangkok. The driver picked us up and took us back to Flick's house. Flick had a dentist appointment, and wanted to see some of his local friends, so Tex and I decided to spend the day relaxing and napping in some very strong air conditioning. We went and walked along the road near the house that is filled with little shops and food stalls. Along the way we ate noodle soup and picked up backs of sweet dried banana chips, chicken and liver satay on bamboo sticks, steamed rice buns, and more noodle soup. The afternoon was spent reading, sorting our laundry, checking our email, and downloading photos onto our laptops.

That evening, Flick's mom had prepared a simple dinner of noodles with chicken gravy and mixed fruit. It was the first time that we saw Flick's parents dressed down and relaxed in our company. His dad had to pick up his plate and quickly leave because his evening soaps were on, and he just couldn't miss his stories.

We all went to bed fairly early, knowing that we had a long day of sightseeing in Bangkok tomorrow.



Shihana said...

That sounds so awesome, I really want to go to Thailand now. Alas, I am not a trust fund kid, and so cannot until I have a decent job.

And I now have "One Night in Bangkok" stuck in my head, can't hear of that city without the song automatically popping in.

Joellen said...

Hi Ben, your blogs make me hungry. Please send me some conch, it sounds good. I'm gaining 500lbs. just from reading your blogs.

Love you, hope to see you soon, Benji Kay.