I thought Phuket was supposed to be this lovely little beach community where people went to relax and be peaceful. Don't ask me why I thought that, I'm sure it's just ignorance. It's a hell hole. But more on that later!
Before we arrived in Phuket, we spent a few days (including New Years Eve) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Phnom Pehn seems like a really really awesome place... if you're a 60 year old single white male and looking for a young girl to help you forget your loneliness. Most places we went seemed to have old dudes with young ladies awkwardly "enjoying" each other's company. Also, the Killing Fields are really fun. Oh no, wait... depressing.
One night we had Happy Pizza. It made me anxious. It wasn't much of a happy time. Another night we ate tarantulas.
Also, one time, I ate cockroaches. It wasn't till we got to Chiang Rai, but here's what it looked like:
On New Year's Eve we took it pretty easy. We started out at this sweet place called the Zeppelin Bar. They have this huge collection of 70's and 80's Rock and Heavy Metal on vinyl and just play that all night. The guy accepted my request for "The Trooper" by Iron Maiden. My friend Ronnie would have loved this place. Oh yeah, they had Canadian Club there too. After 4 of those we moved on to find somewhere that was doing a countdown. We ended up at a place in which we were the only white people. We got there just before the countdown and left promptly after. I got weirded out because I looked around after the clock struck 12:00 and everyone was looking at us. It was almost like a scene out of a movie. You know, where the camera does a 360 pan and everyone is staring into the lens? Yeah, just like that.
Okay, so then we went to Phuket. Now, before I trash Phuket any more (and I will), I have to say that we actually had a pretty good time there. The reason we were going in the first place was to meet up with Laura's parents and some of Laura's Norweigian family, who vacate there often. They were fun, the beaches were really nice (however, crowded), the water was crystal clear, and I got a badass tan (that has already mostly faded away). So, you know, it's not where you are or what you do, but who you're with that makes something worthwhile.
If you ever want to experience open contempt for people other than Americans, Phuket is the place to go. Everyone there hates Russians. If you're talking to someone who isn't Russian, as soon as they find out you're also not Russian, they'll tell you they hate Russians. I found it funny because everyone was so comfortable just letting you know that they hated Russians. Every single Russian. Hate them. Usually when I tell people that I hate another race or culture, I at least try and sugar coat it with something like "I'm not racist but..." or "I don't want to stereotype but...". We only really got the "Russian" experience once. It was on this awful tour we took to Koh Phi Phi.
So, I know you're really not supposed to go on these package tours cause they're usually a rip-off and often don't turn out the way you expect, but we wanted to see Koh Phi Phi so we took a chance.
They picked us up at 7:30am. That sucks enough on it's own. After a 45 minute drive and a 45 minute wait, we were ready to go! Or at least, we would if one of the boat's engines wasn't broken. After another 45 minute wait (we're now 45 minutes behind schedule) we were off!! As we pulled away from the dock, they inform us the boat capacity is 45, but there are 3 extra people because of a booking error. The boat's capacity is officially 42 according to the sticker on the side, which still wouldn't have been comfortable. Also, it didn't help that there were at least 5 overweight Italians weighing down one side of the boat. Not 10 minutes into the trip we had to stop at some random island to fix the engine again. It only took them an hour. They had to bring in three new carburators and a mechanic. While they tried to fix the engine Laura's dad and Laura's second cousin once removed, Brage (we figured it out) discussed what the real problem was. When we finally got on the boat again the Russians literally yelled at the people who had moved into where they were sitting before.
Our first actual activity was snorkelling. There were at least 6 other tour boats in the bay- there were so many people it was more like swimming through a flabby armed spanking machine. This was followed by lunch which consisted of cramming our feed-holes with excrement from the guests at the 5 star resorts. Buffet Style. When we get back on the boat the Russians yelled at new people in their spots. This time with finger snaps! After colliding with a long tail boat near Koh Phi Phi Ley (no one was hurt) we made it to Maya bay, where they filmed the movie "The Beach". It was nice but we only had 30 minutes because we were so behind schedule. Actually, everyone was back on the boat in 30 minutes except for the Russians who showed up 20 minutes late, unapologetic.
Then it was on to Khai island where we were finally able to buy a much needed beer. It was the only highlight of the tour. When we boarded the boat yet again, there was a 5 foot radius around where the Russians were sitting. Brage, who was pretending to be Canadian, was eavesdropping on a family of Swedes who were trash talking everyone on the boat. Especially the Russians.
Then we ran our of gas.
We got back to the dock about an hour and a half late. After an hour in Phuket traffic, about 15 minutes from our hotel, our shuttle bus driver informs us that he has another pick-up to make at the airport and dumps us on the side of the road. He flags a tuk tuk to take us the rest of the way but only has enough for part of the fare, so we fork over the rest. I doubt he was reimbursed. I know we weren't.
Anyway, after Phuket, we moved on to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. We loved it in Chiang Mai. People are nice to you there even if they're not trying to sell you anything. The first few days we spent with Laura's parents. We saw a bunch of temples (there are about 300 in Chiang Mai), ate some good food, and did an elephant thing.
Laura's parents left after a few days and but we stuck around in Chiang Mai. There are way more North Americans in Chaing Mai than in the South of Thailand, or anywhere else we've been for that matter. A few nights ago a dreadlocked hippie was playing music on a little speaker thing around his neck. I asked him "Is that Bassnectar?" and we were friends. His name is Jonesy- he wss with a group of about 12 people all from San Francisco. They reminded me of the kind of people we would meet at Shambhala. There's also a lot of hippie vegan fare in Chiang Mai. There is a restaurant called Blue Diamond that the raw-diet-organic-hipster-vegan folks back home would die for. We ate there as much as we could.
Everyone told me about how wonderful and smiling the Thai people are before we left for the trip. It wasn't until we got to the North of Thailand that I felt like I understood what they meant. When we were in the south islands, there were so many tourists and it felt like the locals were just there to run the resorts, restaurants and taxis. This resulted in what I felt was sometimes either bitter attitudes or superficial encounters. Thai people actually live in Chiang Mai so I felt less like a big dollar sign with arms and legs and a head.
After Chiang Mai it was on to Chiang Rai which is even farther north. Chiang Rai didn't really turn out to be what we expected... We thought it was going to be even more of a hippie haven than Chiang Mai, but it seems more of a transit town than anything. It seemed like tourists just come in for one or two nights before moving on to their next destination. We were going to do some trekking here, but it was a bit expensive so we went on a cycling tour of the country side instead- it was awesome. We finished at the White Temple which made coming here worthwhile 10 times over. It was so cool that it deserves it's own blog post so stay tuned...
Oh yeah, at this one temple in Chaing Mai there were monks praying. You could get super close to their faces and take pictures and they wouldn't flinch or break their concentration or anything. I only got four pictures off before another monk chased me out of the temple with a bo-staff.