One Month Later: A Long-Awaited Update on Thailand
If you’re feeling abandoned by me, join the club – I’ve dropped off the face of the earth (or least off the map of it) for the past month, but rest assured that I am healthy, happy, and having an extraordinary adventure.
There are hundreds of things I could discuss here, but let’s start with the basics: where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing, and who I’ve been doing it with.
1. Bangkok (March 2 – 5)
I met up with my long-estranged boyfriend at the Bangkok airport, fearing the long delay in his arrival was actually an indication that his Thai visa was rejected and he was held in limbo prison somewhere. Luckily, he wasn’t, though he had to buy two wasted tickets to Vietnam to prove his intent to leave the country (something I somehow avoided in India by merely explaining my interest in visiting Laos). Remember: if you’re entering Thailand, make sure you have some proof of exit – it doesn’t have to be real, but it should appear real enough if you don’t want to face complications upon entry.
We spent much of our three days in Bangkok in the beautiful 3Howw Hostel – not the cheapest place (and with low ceilings, not the best place for clumsy tall people), but definitely worth the $29/night we spent on a super-clean private room with a shower and A/C. The hostel isn’t too far from Khao San Road, the main tourist party strip, but we only went out one night – the rest of the time socializing was spent on the plush beanbag chairs in the TV area, where we met (amongst others) two awesome Belgians who joined us for our onward trip to Koh Chang. (If you’re heading to this hostel from the Suvarnabhumi Airport, I’d suggest taking the SkyTrain to the Phaya Thai station [45 baht, or $1.50] and getting a taxi the rest of the way [approximately 70 – 100 baht, or $2.30 – $3.30; make sure taxis are running the meter, otherwise you might have to haggle quite a bit – 150 baht is the highest you should go; anything over that is a total rip-off. Also remember that taxis might just refuse to take you, for no apparent reason. Business sense is very different in Southeast Asia.)
2. Bangkok to Koh Chang, via Trat (March 5 – 6)
We had originally planned to head down to the islands after Bangkok, taking advantage of the 30-day visa-free exemption that comes with arrival-by-air. (Americans arriving overland only have a 15-day visa-free exemption period; for more time, a visa run, a pre-approved visa, or a visit to the consulate is required.) However, upon hearing that our friend Justine was (relatively) nearby, in the southern Laotian region of 4,000 Islands, we changed our plans and head east instead of south. At the last minute, though, we chose to join her not in Laos but in Cambodia, a country we had recently written off in response to impeding time constraints. In order to give her time to head out of Laos and into Cambodia, the Belgians and we traveled halfway to Koh Chang, or Elephant Island.
We really should have planned this better – we left from Bangkok far too late, and faced a bit of difficulty with taxi drivers randomly refusing to do their job. We eventually got a taxi to the Phaya Thai station, and a SkyTrain to the bus station, where we were lucky enough to jump on one of the last minibuses out to Trat (265 baht, or approx. $9), the coastal city from which we had to take a ferry to Koh Chang. Unfortunately, after a slightly uncomfortable and squished four or five hour trip, we arrived at the shittiest town we’ve seen thus far around 10 PM, making catching a ferry impossible. We checked into the first hotel we saw, which possibly was a mistake – we came to the conclusion that the hotel was actually a former school closed in response to a grisly murder, the evidence of which remained disgustingly on our floor. We went out to get something to eat, but the best restaurant we could find was 7/11 and we had to cross a sea of cockroaches to get there, officially making Trat the worst city in which we’ve had the displeasure of spending a night.
The next morning, after haggling an annoying persistent taxi driver down, we got into the back of a glorified truck – the standard method of travel for half of Thailand, it appears – and had a pleasant drive to the ferry station, where we purchased our 140 baht return ferry tickets and head off finally to the beautiful island of Koh Chang.
Of course, this journey was basically an obstacle course of endurance, and we were tested once again after getting into a shuttle truck for a posted price of 100 baht each and expecting to be driven to Lonely Beach, the recommended area for young people and cheap chillers of all ages. We had driven for maybe five or ten minutes before reaching another dock and stopping for about 45 minutes, “waiting for more passengers to come” and watching as they all boarded other taxis and left. The taxi driver then, after giving us absolutely no information up front, told us that because we didn’t have the full 12 people in the taxi, we would have to each pay another 50 baht. Even though the actual price was not so much, we were essentially getting scammed; we got pissed off and eventually found the completely useless tourist police (“Your first friend,” my ass…), then got back into the same truck with the same asshole driver who only was able to fill his truck up to 15 because we stood outside the truck and desperately called to offloading passengers from the latest ferry. We nearly got our things thrown off when we refused to pay up front – considering he had abandoned us in the middle of nowhere once, we weren’t sure he might not do it again – but sucked it up, paid, and grumpily rode the beautiful mountainous road over to the other side of the island.
3. Koh Chang (March 6 – 9)
Our moods improved exponentially once arriving at Lonely Beach. We walked around a bit looking for the recommended hostel, Sea Flower, and Jens and I ended up springing for the slightly more expensive but completely worthwhile beachfront bungalow at 900 baht ($30)/night. Joost and Tom, the Belgians, opted for a slightly less pricey, but still lovely, bungalow off the water for 500 baht ($16.60)/night. We were close to the main beach, but not so close that the noise of the restaurants interrupted our sleep – that opportunity was given to the trashy Germans seemingly permanently in their bungalow, drinking on the porch and playing beer pong while listening to awful top-40s pop at unseemly volumes. However, that inconvenience was completely counteracted by the proximity to the beach-front massage area, where we received the best massages of our lives (Jens’ first) while listening to the waves lap against the shore, after which we were offered tea and a seat overlooking the water.
We ate almost every meal at the best restaurant/ bar ever: Cafe Del Sunshine. I was in love from the moment I stepped in – the music was always playing something mellow, sexy, jazzy, and/or hip-hop influenced; the decorations were quirky but not pretentious; pool and darts were available; on the second floor were hammocks, comfortable couches, and a chair shaped like a hand; and there was the most passive dog ever! The staff liked us because we came basically for every meal, so we got hooked up, though Jens almost blew it by calling the man on the motorcycle a woman. They also had a book wall – as any respectable backpacker hangout does – and a super chill waiter who looks like an islander version of Steve Aoki.
We planned on leaving on the 8th, when our favorite Belgians split for the south of Cambodia, but due to our laziness and deep love for the island life (and dogs – Tom jokes that every time we’ve delayed, it’s because we saw a dog, and that isn’t actually too far off), we stayed an extra night. Sea Flower was booked out, so we stayed at a nearby bungalow overlooking the water, narrowly edging out a pair of girls who were given the last room in the whole resort. The fish spa had caught our eyes, so we took the plunge – literally. It was one of the weirdest, and most tickle-inducing, experiences of my life, though I definitely am glad I did it. (“Happy but funny”; “feed our fish your feet!”) We planned on going out afterwards, since it was a Friday night and thus the night of the biggest beach party of the week, but I wasn’t feeling well and the party was probably canceled anyway due to the massive storm that hit that night. Jens had gone out to get us food and came back absolutely soaked, though he had the learning experience of eating something other than pad thai and not liking it.
We went to bed early and planned on making it off the island the night morning, which thankfully was a much smoother and successful journey than the trip in. After one last lunch at Cafe Del Sunshine, we waited approximately five minutes and got on a taxi back to the dock, waited another ten minutes and caught the hourly ferry, then held onto the back of an overloaded truck and rode the free shuttle into the dreaded Trat.