With my bedroom and living room devoted to getting my things organized, everything was starting to come together as I had planned. I had finally heard from Coop and Miles that they were going to meet me at the airport in Bangkok. Scott was driving me to SFO and we’d have a beer before my flight. Rahul and I were meeting for dinner before that. Thursday night college football was on TV. Still, a twinge of anxiety would creep over me now and then. Watering the plants and feeding the Koi while making farewell calls eased my mind. I told my sister I felt as one does right before entering the final exam hall in college, everything is set and you’re ready (or maybe not!) but the gravity of the situation still weighs you down. The unseasonably warm October air reminded me of preparing for my study abroad term in London, exactly four years earlier. I thought of all that occurred between these two dates. Getting into UC Berkeley, studying politics in Washington DC and my past summer internship at Bella Terra in Orange County. Everything led to this point, I was set to go and perhaps most importantly, I felt I was supposed to go...
After a couple beers with Scott at SFO we said our goodbyes and I went through security. Luckily, I got the emergency exit row and could stretch my legs out. A fairly large Taiwanese man sat next to me, profusely sweating and constantly wiping his forehead with a white handkerchief. He asked me where I was headed, I told him. He still seemed to think I was actually staying in Taiwan and proceeded to spend the next ten minutes using my i-phone to show me where he lived in Taiwan and explain that it was the best part of the whole island. He went into detail with the train route from Taipei and everything. I didn’t want to interrupt him, thinking he’d quickly drop some local knowledge my way and then think of something else. He seemed to have a million tiny things on his mind. He finally did and the rest of the flight was uneventful, I slept the majority of the way to Taipei (Thanks Liba!).
The Boeing 777 landed in Taipei in the early morning to fog and light rain. I changed some money, got some noodles and drank a coffee while reading a Dan Brown novel. The longest part of my journey was over and I was excited, if not a little tired, to see Miles and Coop. The terminal was impressively modern, lined with duty free shops, restaurants, cyber cafes and rest areas. Students, Christian groups, families and backpackers boarded the flight to Bangkok along with me.
It was raining and grey when I landed at Bangkok International Airport, a complex of steel and cement, I guess like most airports are. I somehow expected something less modern. Being a citizen of the US, I didn’t have to go through a customs checkpoint and after a few standard questions I was cleared through immigration. I recognized Coop and Miles almost immediately. Miles had a rooster haircut, buzzed sides with the top gelled up. Coop had a Mr. T likeness that along with his black shirt made him look like he belonged more in Afghanistan than here in Bangkok. It was as if no time had passed at all, we were back joking with each almost immediately.
The subway took us about an hour into Bangkok. Light rain falling from grey clouds. Bangkok seems to be the epitome of East meets West. Buddhist temples in between shopping centers. At almost every intersection you’ll see a gigantic picture of the King dressed in a suit staring past the camera as if into the future. The city center lies on the banks of the Chao Praya and emanates outwards in all direction for miles. Like most cities, Bangkok is home to virtually every walk of life. Down every narrow street can be found contrasts between modern city life and that of the golden kingdom. Delicious food smells mixed with the stench of rotting garbage. After settling into a guesthouse in the city’s more touristy area and waiting out the rain, Coop, Miles and I decided to explore the surrounding marketplace. We had a pretty good time of it. We went to a rock concert, quite out of accident, got our feet cleaned by hundreds of tiny fish (Coop bet me I wouldn’t be able to stand the feeling of hundreds of little sucker-mouths on my feet and legs) and met an interesting guy from Montana who piqued my interest in fake passports and exit strategies. Kind of an odd conversation for my first night I thought. I was getting pretty exhausted from the two days of travel and we headed back to the guesthouse. We were about a block away when a group of Thai guys came up behind Miles and hit him over the head twice with a wooden club. Coop was walking in front of Miles and I in front of Coop. Coop turned around first and ran into the group, tackling the guy with the club and landing blows on some of the others. When I turned around I saw Coop and Miles surrounded and ran into the fray myself. Grabbing onto one of the punks by his shirt collar I yanked him out of the fight. One of them hit my left arm with a club but by then they seemed to notice it was no longer six on one. They took off into the crowd. I was okay but spent the next day with Miles in the hospital where he received thirty four stitches in his left ear and four more in the back of his head. Coop was a little shaken and had bruised his knee but was okay otherwise. What a way to start my adventure! We all had a pretty dismal impression of Bangkok after that and left the day after.
Looking back on all of it, it’s difficult to give an unbiased account of Bangkok. The attack happened on my very first day in country and prevented me from enjoying the rest of the city. I’ll be back at the very end of the trip and I’m sure I’ll be able to see the floating market and royal palace, among others. What a way to start off a two month journey! Welcome to Bangkok, wham!
Train to Suratthani
As the train took us deeper into the southern Thai peninsula we passed by rice fields and palm forest illuminated under the waxing moon. Coop, Miles and I sat in the dining car playing cards and drinking Chang beer. It was hot and humid, the only breeze coming from the open windows. The rhythmic sounds of the tracks under the train and its engine pulling us towards our destination. A man sitting a few tables away, who seemed to hate every part of the experience, drank from a fifth of Sang Song Thai rum. Thai pop drifted our way from behind the counter. I watched the dark landscape fly by my open window, almost mystified by the experience. Miles mentioned he had felt the way same going up to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. Ahead of us awaited sandstone mountains covered in jungle, surrounded by emerald sea. Beaches pictured on postcards
Ko Phang Ngan
It took us quite awhile to arrive on the island once we departed the train. With little sleep we had taken a mini bus to an offload station where we then waited for two hours to load onto another bus which took us an hour to the ferry. The ferry ride to Ko Phang Ngan took an hour and half but we finally spotted the island and rejoiced. The wait had been worth it. The island rose from the signature Thai emerald sea, thick with jungle and bordered by pearly white sand. Paradise. We jumped in a truck taxi loaded with other backpackers and drove about forty minutes up and over steep winding hills to Haad Rin, at the islands southern point. It turned out the place we booked was at the center of the happenings and a three person room at Coral Bungalows set us back five dollars a person the first night. A large Chang cost less than a dollar. We stayed here for the duration of our visit to Ko Phang Ngan. Although we were primarily here for the Full Moon party, the island offered tons to do. One day I rented a jet ski and flew up the coast, inspecting the bays and inlets. The 1400 cc machine powered through the water with such great speed that when I stood up and held down the throttle I felt as if I was flying over the water. Another afternoon I took out a motor bike and drove back to the port town, where I walked through a traditional Thai open-air market. Vendors sold everything from fried birds' nest to American red cross t-shirts. One night Miles, Coop, myself and some people we had met on the Island went for sea food in Haad Rin. Miles and I ordered the seafood platter and I consequently worry for the sea creatures around Ko Phang Ngan. The platter included a tuna steak, large whole squid, whole crab, two tiger prawns, seven shrimp, seven mussels and a salad to top it all off. We were given the opportunity to substitute the tuna steak for shark but we both passed on that golden opportunity.
Over the course of two days I joined up with some guys we’d all met at Coral Bungalows and played in a beach soccer tournament, or football tournament to be more correct. The first day we had strong team and won three out of four games. I had a couple strong shots on goal, and an assist. Our team won the division and qualified for the single elimination round the next day. That night Coral Bungalows put on a Muay Thai fight at the Haad Rin “stadium” across the street. The event had seven fights which featured five knockouts. One of the fighters knocked out went down in front of me (we had bought front row tickets afterall) and I remember those dark eyes of his looking into mine but registering nothing. The blood and the sweat, the hard hits and the knockouts transferred a ton of energy into the crowd. Right after the fight, Coral put on a pool party that lasted till three in the morning. I went to bed that morning around six. The next afternoon it seemed that I had had a relatively tame night compared to some of the other teammates. Some had taken mushrooms and hadn’t slept since. Most were still nursing hangovers. Our star player, who had scored the majority of goals the day before, had sprained his ankle running from the police who had stopped him and his friends the night before. Although on the lam he still showed up to cheer us on. Half the team didn’t even show up! The night had provided one useful resource: new recruits. With these and our current players we fought hard but lost in overtime of the first game.
Full Moon Over Haad Rin
The day of the full moon party I could feel the energy and excitement build among us all at Coral. It was to be held that night on a beach about ten minutes away. Following Coral Bunglalows tradition of excellence, the official pre-party was to be held at Coral. Coop, Miles and I went out and bought sweatbands, incandescent pant, shorts, beads and sunglasses for our party fits. After dinner a lot of people disappeared for a couple hours only to return wearing absolutely ridiculous outfits. As for myself I donned short neon green shorts, beads, sweatbands and loads of incandescent paint in tribal designs all over my back, chest, arms and legs. I can honestly say I’ve never gone this all out before. Nick would be proud. Coop, Miles, Myself and the friends we’d made all pre-partied and added even more incandescent paint to each other. At around one in the morning we all headed down to the beach. Picture a small bay with white sand and hotels all blasting hip-hop and techno. Now add fire-dancers and stages for dancers and performers. Now add ten thousand party-goers and you can begin to get a picture of the Full Moon Party.
We stayed at Coral for another night to recover and plan the next leg of the adventure. Ko Phi Phi, the site of the movie “The Beach” and one of the most beautiful islands in the world awaited us on the other side of the Thai Penninsula