Today is my last beach day, or at least it should/could be. I’ve been debating whether or not to get up early tomorrow to watch the sunrise then catch a quick dip before heading to the airport.
In the last couple of days, I’ve been besieged by a cold and a period, dread enemies of travel. Still, I was determined to get in a few hours on Patong Beach and before it got too crowded with jet ski guys and charter boats setting up for business. And of course half of Europe coming down for a swim.
The trick is to apparently hit the beach by around 7 am and get in your fun by 9. It’s 8:42 and where before I had no one near my blanket for dozens of feet, now I have a family of Russians practically reading over my shoulder.
The sun is drying the saltwater from my skin. Once that’s done, off to find food.
On my way to find something touristy to do in Phuket Town, specifically look at and take pictures of “the Golden Dragon.” I’m a little hungry but figure I’ll go back to the hostel where they have a nice little racket going – no fridge, kitchen or microwave on premises but you can buy food and drinks at the small restaurant or coffee shop adjacent, both of which the hostel people conveniently own.
Despite google maps telling me the direction to go, I wander obliviously in the opposite direction the golden dragon. After not too long, I stumble past a woman making roti something for breakfast.
It’s fried bread! It’s eggs! Immediately, I’m all “screw the golden dragon.”
I take a seat. About 40 minutes later I’ve consumed half a pot of tea, a small coffee with milk, roti with egg and rice folded in, one separate fried egg, a mysterious (to me) sauce that tastes a little like a good afternoon’s nap. I think about hanging out to blog and do some actual fiction writing but notice that the place has a pretty steady crowd and there’s only one empty table, which is about to be filled. So I ask for the check.
80 baht, says the demi-goddess at the fryer. That’s $2.43 US.
The place is not on either of my digital maps. There’s no storefront with a name, but it could be called “Abdul’s.” When I go back there for lunch I’ll let you know.
Koh Samui has been incredible. Not just because the island is beautiful (which it is) or that the food is delicious (so much yum!) but because of the wonderful people who made me feel SO welcomed. Karen, Max and Kate (Aroonphad), goddesses on earth, made my time on the island absolutely magical. And I’m not just saying this because they fed me.
It was absolutely perfect that on the last night with them, instead of going out to see “lady boys” perform on stage in a nearby club, we put on our bathing suits to swim in the jade-tiled pool and float with sun-warmed water at our backs while above, the stars came out to glitter and seduce like they themselves were on stage.
The fact that later that night, I almost took out my kneecap getting into the jacuzzi is incidental.
Beautiful rainy days.
I found someone else who’s fallen under the spell of the mango sticky rice lady in the Chiang Mai morning market. At a bar that alternately did and did not sell beer on a religious holiday, I met Elizabeth.
She seemed nice enough and we bonded over our mutual love of Mango Sticky Rice. We were talking about the best we’ve ever had and, to my dismay and pleasure both, her stories began to sound eerily familiar. The perfection of the rice. A mole. The sweet mango clinging to the firm seed.
Elizabeth showed me a photo of her mango sticky rice lady. I showed her a picture of my last mango sticky rice from Chiang Mai. It was the same woman.
Since leaving Chiang Mai, Elizabeth too had searched but found no one to compare to our mutual beloved. Sure, we experimented once we left her cool and sweet charms. It’s only natural. But in the end, no one compares to our lady of the assertive mole and brusque tenderness. Her rice, her firm and sweet mangoes are incomparable.
The world is a small and beautiful place. Especially when you find people who share the same passions along the way.
When the sign at the front of the promised Deluxe bus with cool a/c, wifi, and “toiltel,” read “NO Wifi Now Repair,” it should have been my warning. But even if it had been my warning, how should one heed such a sign in the middle of Thailand with bus, plane, and hostel tickets already booked?
The bus ride started off fine enough with the double decker bus floating through Chiang Mai like an old, old ship. Sure, there were more modern and better equipped buses passing us on the highway, but the point was to get us to Bangkok not make sure our devices were charged and ready to stream Netflix.
Then about a half an hour into the ride, the bus picked up a little speed. Then a lot of speed. Remember, double decker.
The bus barreled over several pot holes. It sailed around tight corners. I thought we were going to tip over.
At least get us to Bangkok in one piece, I kept thinking.
So, I reclined my seat, pulled the blanket over my head and tried to sleep. If I didn’t see us tip over then hopefully the death would be quick and/or painless. Just get us to Bangkok.
Somehow I managed to sleep. At some point, my bladder woke me up. After spending the better part of the day in a coffee shop swilling Thai iced tea and the occasional fancy coffee, I needed to empty out. Keeping the gleeful sign of “toiltels” in mind, I go hunting.
What I found was a tiny room, an aluminum bowl, and two buckets. No toilet paper. No running water. And a smell I hope never to experience again. After much maneuvering while pitching back and forth (remember speeding double decker bus) in a small and smelly room with two nearly full buckets and a wad of napkins taken from a distant coffee shop, I managed to pee. Then scrambled back to my seat and crawled under my blanket in hopes of dismissing the whole experience as some miserable nightmare induced by the lack of Internet.
I woke up a few hours into the ride to us stopping for “dinner.” 😐 It was literally the worst food I’ve ever had in Bangkok. The absolute worst. Fish balls in thrice-used dish water with two limp noodles and a demand for payment in the form of our food vouchers. A reminder for next time: Get snacks before the bus ride.
After another half hour, we all get back on the bus. The bus starts up and drives from the plaza. Three minutes later, the bus pulls over in the gravel and stops.
It idles, then the driver cuts off the engine. Minutes pass in disquiet. The driver and conductor are speaking in Thai and none of the passengers know what’s going on.
Did we leave a passenger behind? Is the engine compromised? Did the driver need to piss?
The engine gets turned on and then off a couple of times. More conversation. More disquiet. I think with longing about the 6,600 baht ($200) one way ticket I sneered at before getting on the 600 baht ($18) bus. More speculation from my seat neighbor, Jon. He, mildly disaster prone, accepts the blame for our circumstances. His karma or something.
How will we get to Bangkok? I’m questioning all my life decisions at this point.
Then, the engine heaves to life again. This time, the bus moves gently into motion. We sail carefully off the gravel shoulder and back toward the highway. No explanation. Maybe the driver ate the “food” and had to urgently take care of the results of his bad decision. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to Bangkok.
A reminder for next time: pay the extra money for the plane. Maybe.
This is the year I turn(ed) 40. Surreal, right? I’m still coming to grips with it in my own way, analyzing past life choices, looking toward the future I’ve planned for myself, doing my best to immerse fully in the now. So far, so good.
Part of this “luxuriating in the present” is traveling more. Going to places I’ve always had a desire to visit but was too scared/broke/alone to take the plunge. With that resolution made in my 40th year (and 6th year of being cancer-free. Yay!) I decided to explore Thailand. For a little while, I thought I would have company but instead I am traveling alone here. The next few posts (4 weeks) will feature snapshots from this time.
For tonight, I’ve just arrived in the Bangkok airport to beautiful art and clear signage. Both are priceless.