Thursday, August 14, 2008

Foreign Visitors

The past couple weeks have seen the arrival of my first official visitors to Thailand. It has been a busy three weeks with two friends from the States, Linsey and Becky, coming to visit first and then my brothers and sister-in-law following not soon after Linsey and Becky’s departure. I cooked up the same itinerary for both groups and it turned out that is was a great one at that.

After meeting each group at Suvarnaphumi airport we checked into our flight to Krabi and then hopped into a taxi for a brief excursion into the chaotic metropolis of Bangkok. Linsey and Becky’s trip went flawlessly and we were able to visit the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok for some authentic food from a bustling roadside restaurant and make it back to the airport with plenty of time for our flight.

With my brothers it was a somewhat different story. Given the fact that our group numbered five (four large boys) I figured it would be prudent to take two taxis into the city rather than overloading just one car. I decided that Adam and Taylor could travel solo being that they were the oldest and wisest of the group. I had to take care of my baby brothers. It turned out to be a good decision. I told the cab to go to a certain street but didn’t tell him a particular destination because, well, I didn’t have one. I wanted to make it to that street and then just find the most appetizing of the many small restaurants that line the sois (side streets) of that area. As we made our way into the city I started wondering if how I had gone about the how ordeal was the best way to do it. As we exited off the highway into the Sukumvit area we actually stopped at a stop light right next to Adam and Taylor in the other cab. I thought to myself, “Things surely can’t go wrong from here.” Was I wrong! The little bros and I made to the requested street, granted with a fairly extensive amount of explanation in Thai. We got out of the taxi to find that Adam and Taylor were nowhere to be found. We walked up and down the street, but there was no one. I finally told Brandt and Tyler to walk one way for about five blocks, I would walk the other way and we would turn around and meet where we had left from. Only a few steps after we had parted ways I heard Brandt yelling for me. Adam and Taylor had miraculously appeared! Was I in for it after that! Adam, not know to be the most patient or tolerant person, upon first step into Thailand had been taken for a ride by a Thai cab driver! The following is a summary of his story:
“We get into that cab and I was worried that we were going to get lost, and look what happened! That cab driver spoke no English! How the heck were we supposed to talk to him? Didn’t you give him directions!?! We are on this main road and then all the sudden he’s turning off onto a small street and I’m thinking, ‘oh here we go.’ We take several turns and I think he was trying to ask me where I wanted to go. Hell, I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but I knew I didn’t want to go where he was taking us! I was trying to tell him to read the slip of paper that Garrett had given him, but he was speaking Thai and I was speaking English and we understood each other about as well as a dog talking to a rock! The whole time I see we are being taken down these narrow side streets and I could only think that he was taking us to his buddy’s house to rob us blind. Finally we pulled up to some apartment buildings and the gate of one opened. I said, ‘screw this’ and we got out of the cab. I told Taylor that Garrett couldn’t have wanted us to go down this street, he must have wanted to meet us and that main road we had just turned off of. Luckily, I remembered the way back to the main road because if I would have left it up to Taylor we would have been hopelessly lost!”

I can’t say that that is a verbatim representation of what my brother said, but it is close! Finally he simmered down and we sat down for some Thai food. We tried all the famous Thai dishes and drank copious amounts of water, which was more than necessary in the famous Bangkok heat. After we finished I suggested we go and check out the opulent Siam Paragon shopping mall before heading out to the airport. We stayed there for a short time and then decided to head back to the airport. Right before we got into another taxi Taylor suddenly blurted, “Where is the backpack?” A quick revision of the last couple hours revealed that Adam had forgotten it at the small restaurant we initially ate at. The backpacked, or course, contained most of Adam and Taylor’s valuables. At this time we were somewhat short on time to get to the airport to catch our flight. I told the taxi driver to rush back to that restaurant. As Adam and Taylor worried we made our way slowly back. We arrived and I jumped out of the cab and found two relieved Thai ladies after the “farangs” had come back for their backpack. It was an interesting start to the family’s trip to Thailand!

Both of the flights to Krabi went flawlessly. With the family, we had booked transportation directly from the airport to the resort we were staying in at Railey Beach and made it there quickly and were able to relax and enjoy our first night in a beautiful resort. Given the budgetary restrictions of Linsey and Becky’s visit, we decided to stay one night at the port town of Ao Nang before heading to Railey the following day. Everything went pretty smoothly, until our dinner. I was intent on having the two ladies eat only Thai food on their trip. We ended up picking an Indian restaurant that served both Indian and Thai food so that I could enjoy some Indian food. Hey, I have eaten Thai food for a year and a half! I convinced Becky that the fish in Thailand was really good. What she wasn’t expecting was a Thai fish plopped in front of her. American’s are quite picky with their meat and by the expression on Becky’s face I was sure she wasn’t expecting a whole fish, head and all, staring back at her from the plate. Nevertheless, she was a trooper and at the fish with very few complaints.

On day two, the girls and I awoke early and boarded a long tail boat for Railey Beach. On the way I actually ran into Cale, another Peace Corps volunteer from my group. We got to the beach and found some cheap cool bungalows on Railey East and settled in. Later in the day we decided to rent a sea kayak for three. Luckily for the girls, I was in the back of the boat and thus got to determine our route. I tried to navigate us into some caves, but was firmly rejected by Linsey and Becky. I think they spent a good deal of time yelling at me that we couldn’t go into that cave or between those islands. We stopped at Pranang Beach, checked out the fertility shrine with its myriad penis statues, and then realized that we needed to head back to return the kayak. The sea in the area is very calm with almost no waves. At least most of the time! Linsey and Becky had to get into the kayak first because if they didn’t the water would get too deep and they wouldn’t be able to get in. We tried one time and didn’t have much success. The second time was even less successful. Linsey and Becky successfully made it into the kayak, right in time for a larger than normal wave to threaten their existence. I saw the wave coming made a concerted effort to push the kayak out before the wave crested. I was unsuccessful. The wave came in and flipped the kayak, along with Linsey and Becky, like it was a little toy boat. They tumbled into the beach to the muted laughs of the people on the beach. I have to admit I had a little chuckle myself. Luckily no one was seriously hurt, only a few bumps and bruises. The third time was a charm and we successfully paddled back to Railey.

Day two for the brother’s visit was also my birthday. We woke up early and spent a lot of time swimming, throwing the Frisbee and football, and drinking beer. We also befriended a Thai man who convinced us to get henna tattoos. All the boys ended up getting one. I convinced Tyler to get on that said ผมรักสาวไทย (I love Thai girls). After he got it done I joked with him that I had the guy write “I love lady boys” instead and I think that made him a little preoccupied for the rest of the day. We had a good dinner on Railey West with wine on the beach and I opened cards and gifts from my very loving family. After dinner the boys decided to go to Railey East to have a few beers at what Adam describe as “hippy bars.” Adam has a strange definition of “hippy.” Adam and Brandt didn’t stay long enough to finish one beer, but Tyler and I stuck it out for another hour or so. In that time Tyler managed to get himself fairly intoxicated. At one point he left and came back with five big Chang beers and proceeded to hand them out to the people around us as well as opening one for each of us. A while later I went to the bathroom, when I got back Tyler was chatting with another group of people. As soon as I sat down a Thai guy adorned in dreadlocks informed me that, “Man, you should take him home. He’s wasted.” I quickly concurred and helped keep Tyler on a straight track back to the room.

On day three the family and I had reserved spots on a scuba diving tour. Needless to say, Tyler didn’t make the scuba trip. In fact, that was the beginning of his marathon, three day hang over. He says it was the Chang beer that did it to him. I may have to agree. It can be a potent brew with its 6.4% alcohol. We headed out early in the morning and went out to some small islands past Ko Phi Phi. The boat ride out was about 2.5 hours long and Adam made a fleeting comment about how slow the boat was going at that initial point. On the way out Adam, Brandt and Taylor got basic instruction on scuba diving. We got to the dive site and I went with a separate group because I already had my diving certification. The water was turquoise blue and the reefs were pretty amazing. In the two dives I saw a shark, sea turtle, sea snake, lion fish, and myriad different species of other fish. The first dive was not so successful for Taylor. Adam just kept saying that all three of them would be under the water getting instruction when he would look over and Taylor would be floating at the surface. Apparently she didn’t have on enough weight and decided to sit out the second dive. We finished the second dive and most everyone was exhausted. The dive crew was merrily drinking beer along with other dive participants. For some reason we elected not to have beer. The sun was hot and then Adam really made it feelings on the speed of the boat be know. I recall him saying, “I’ll give that damn captain 500 baht to take the boat out of first gear!” Nearly three hours later we made it back to Railey!

The third day with Linsey and Becky was spent on a local island tour. We took a long tail boat to Chicken Island, to a group of islands that are connected by a sand bar, and to another island with a pretty spectacular rock jutting out of the emerald blue waters just a hundred meters off its beach. That island was also occupied by many monkeys who seemed to be pretty accomplished thieves. I fed them for a while, but as soon as they grinned and showed me their abnormally large teeth I decided it was a better idea to just let them be. Towards the end of the trip a pretty threatening storm blew in, but it amounted to very little. That was the only rain that I encountered during the middle of the rainy season in Southern Thailand. Contrary to the warnings of many of my friends about rain, we had in total nearly seven days of amazing sunshine.

This is the first of several installments. Be looking for the next one in a few days!