Monday, June 9, 2008

Parasites and Krabi

I slept until mid-afternoon the next day. I could barely drag myself out of bed. Something was definitely off. When I finally did, I crawled to the internet and then watched a little soccer with the Irish boys before crawling back to bed again. The next day, I again woke up late and tried to go out around Chiang Mai. I had a lovely dim sum dinner/late lunch and returned to the hostel when it got dark. I was feeling a little better now. My friends were congregating and trying to decide what the evening's festivities were. But trying to get a dozen people out the door was like herding cats. I don't think we actually got out the door until almost midnight. There was a great deal of bargaining with a tuk-tuk driver (how the boys thought they'd get 12 people in a tuk-tuk, I'll never know, but it involved people hanging out doors and off the back -- and probably a later trip to the hospital). Reluctantly, we hired a songthraew and went out on the town.

I had a train back to Bangkok the next day in the early afternoon. Another night train, but this time it was open-aired, which I rather liked. The scenery was luscious. I had some terrible fried rice for dinner and read and wrote most of the way.

Arrived in Bangkok around 7 a.m. I planned to take a night bus down south to the islands that evening so I had some time to kill. I had a few errands to run first -- some interneting, pick up the stuff I left in storage and mail a box home. My tummy was an absolute mess by the time I was at the internet cafe. I must have gotten up 6 times. I felt awful and weak. I had emailed Gavin from Chiang Mai about any nice hospitals in Bangkok and he'd recommended Bumrungrad. Considering the first two syllables -- I figured it was apropos. Time to go see a professional.

I caught a cab to the skytrain -- very nice! A quick (thank goodness since my tummy had no thoughts of settling down) and easy ride dropped me off only a few blocks from the hospital. I wandered inside and found myself in what seemed like a hotel -- gorgeous lobby complete with Starbucks. Little tables and comfortable chairs spread around the floor. I found a receptionist who told me to go to the third floor to sign in. I noticed on the way up the escalator that there was a McDonald's and an Au Bon Pain. I registered and was ushered down the hallway where I figured I'd be waiting for awhile. I was intimidated by being in a hospital in another country (I'm also a baby about being sick and alone), but this was an incredible facility. Within five minutes of sitting down, I was doing the usual blood-pressure/weighing triage. Five minutes after that, I'm ushered into see a doctor. I am asked to give a sample (no problem, buddy) and told it'll be about an hour before lab results are back. I have a little lunch and return after thirty minutes or so. Lab results are back. I apparently picked up a few critters in India who cozied up in my innards. Doctor prescribed me an antibiotic course for 3 days and told me I couldn't drink for 6. Luckily, my birthday was in 8 days, so I could live with that --although I was looking forward to a pina colada on the beach. I left in the pouring rain and hoped I'd feel better soon.

There was a shopping center nearby so I perused the sale racks but, after not shopping for regular stuff for so long (and being on a backpacker's budget), everything seemed absurdly overpriced. But it was nice being in a mall for the first time in over 6 weeks -- despite the fact I visited the bathroom on every floor. Eventually it was time to return to the train station where I was to catch a bus.

Another young man was waiting for the same bus at the bus office. We were ushered to a cab and taken to Khao San Road. Christian, a 22 year old German, lamented that he'd just spent money on a taxi from Khao San Road to the bus station, not realizing we'd be taken right back there. We introduced ourselves and decided to have a beer while we waited (my last before I was due to start the antibiotics). The sky opened up again as we sat and chatted, water swirled around our ankles.

At last, it was time to board the bus for a 12 hour trip to Krabi. Our bus was a typical double decker tourist bus. The bathroom, luggage area and what appeared to be either a VIP area or maybe where the bus staff slept were downstairs and our seats were upstairs. Each tourist bus seems to have a different theme design. Ours was an aquarium. I have seen a bus that was decked out in a sort of urban theme with fake graffiti and a cartoon character on the side of the bus giving passing traffic the finger.

Christian and I chose seats up front. Not many people were on the bus. Almost immediately, they started a movie - "Hitman." Great movie -- purely because whoever was in charge of subtitles/closed captioning (not sure why a movie already in English had English subtitles) had about as much a grasp of English as I did of... well, any other language. I laughed the entire way through it. After it ended (completely unedited by the way -- nudity galore), "P.S. I Love You" began. Terrible. Christian turned to me and said that they showed the same movies on his flight from Australia and if the pattern continued "I am Legend" would be next, followed by "The Golden Compass." Unfortunately, the bus driver decided it was nighty-night time and no more movies were played. I took my meds and tried to go to sleep but realized that it was 10:30 and we had not stopped for dinner.

I drifted off finally but around midnight the bus pulled over and the driver told us we had a half hour for dinner at the roadside cafe. I would soon discover this is typical of night buses. They don't pull over for dinner until you're already asleep, then you groggily spoon down some noodle dish, climb back on board and can't sleep again until 2 a.m. -- which is too bad because the bus is going to arrive at its destination at 5 or 6 a.m. We arrived around 7 a.m. and pulled ourselves together to try and figure out what was next. Christian and I really didn't have a plan, so we ended up getting a taxi with a couple of rock-climbing Canadians who recommended we check out Hat Railey.

The scenery was stunning -- limestone cliffs jutting straight up -- an absolute rock-climber's paradise. We had breakfast with the Canadians but caught a boat out to Hat Railey on our own as they needed to do some shopping for supplies.


The water was so blue it seemed fake.


Hat Railey is a bit Honeymoon Land. One side of the spit of land (it seems like an island but it's not -- it's just impossible to get to without a boat because of the cliffs, so I'm probably gonna keep calling it an island) is where all the pricey hotels are and the other side is where the cheap hotels are because the beach is really just some mud and rocks. But it's a 5-10 minute walk to the nice area so it seems fine.

We find a huge hotel room on East Railey for 10 dollars a night and decide to share as it has two double beds. This seems to be what you do when you travel -- no one finds it weird to basically shack up with a total stranger in order to save money. Christian had mentioned a girlfriend many times and as we settled in, he called her. When he's done I ask him if it's okay with her that he's sharing a room with another girl. He says, "At first she was jealous, but then I told her how old you are, and now she doesn't care."


I wanted to say, "Did you happen to mention you thought I was 25 until I made the mistake of mentioning having worked in television for ten years, which confused you?"

Anyway... with my ego smarting, we headed for the beach for a bit and then to do a little exploring.

We came around the back end of the "island," found a family of monkeys and then amazing scenery.

Christian grooming a friend.

Limestone cliffs leaned overhead, clear blue waters washing into a cave and a sunset to die for. We plopped ourselves down in the sand to watch the evening sky change to an angry violet and pink and then decided to find some dinner.




I was not liking how expensive the Hat Railey was. After dinner, we puttered around a little more and then ended up at a restaurant showing "I am Legend." Unfortunately, it was halfway through, but we had dessert and watched it. I remarked that we kept seeing the movies from his flight so was "Golden Compass" next?

The bus ride had zonked us out quite a bit so we headed back to our room to watch an episode of “House, MD” on Christian’s tiny dvd player. “House” is one of those shows that I always enjoy when I remember to watch. But I rarely remember.

Next morning, we woke up to a cloudy/rainy day. Christian got up early and went for food. I went later and was even more dismayed by the high prices. We braved the drizzle and swam in the hotel’s pool for a bit.

There was a couple staying next door to us. I sat on the porch for a bit while Christian was out and heard the young Thai woman swear loudly quite a bit at her older Western “boyfriend.” Then Christian later heard him telling her, “You just don’t understand. I am a very important person. I am an important photographer where I come from.” Ah, so this wasn’t exactly an established relationship.

We ate banana pancakes for lunch and walked by the restaurant from the night before. A board was propped up in the doorway, listing tonight's movie: "The Golden Compass." Christian and I looked at each other.

We explored the hilly part of the peninsula a bit when the sun vaguely reemerged and decided we’d try to get to the other beach for dinner that night. I’d read that we were on the side where the fancy hotels were and the other beach was where all the rock climbers (including the guys we’d met on the first day) and backpackers tended to congregate. In other words: cheaper. We were informed that there was a path that took about 20 minutes up and over the rocky hill. But we could not find it to save our lives. Since it was getting dark rather quickly, we decided to get a boat over. Of course the boat drivers wanted exhorbitant amounts for the 2 minute journey and I was getting rather sick of their theatric complaints and refusals. I often felt that Thai people employed in transportation would rather not make any money than bargain with you. It was an unwelcome change to the friendly bargaining with Indian folks. Here was pouting and stomping away. Oh, and also publicly drunk. Nice.


We finally teamed up with some other backpackers who wanted to make the journey so it only cost us 3 bucks each (remember, our hotel room was 10 dollars so taking 6 people on a 2 minute ride for 18 dollars is RIDICULOUS – but we’re trapped). Frankly, it wasn’t worth it. I expected at least a slightly younger rowdier scene but it was only slightly younger, not any less expensive, and not at all rowdy. We ate dinner and decided to head back – except now it was 10 dollars for us both to get back. No one else was going. We stood there for half an hour waiting to see if anyone else was going back. We offered 6 bucks, then 8 bucks to the boat driver. Nope. He went back to his beer. Ten dollars? Really? We could see the other beach. You just can’t get there unless you’re prepared to swim around a very rocky crag. We were just about to give in (as the boat guy knew we would) when a young local guy walked down the path and up to us, “Are you going back to Hat Railey?”

“Trying to,” I said.

“And they want 10 bucks?” He asked.


“You can come with me, I’m going over there – but I’m walking.”

Christian and I looked at each other. We wondered what he wanted – why would any locals do something for a tourist for free?

We followed him down the beach and made friendly chitchat. I saw him enter a large cave ahead of us and got nervous – tucked my wallet into the back of my shorts. I had my head lamp flashlight on and our “guide” had a flashlight as well and suddenly he was clamboring up a rock like a monkey. He helped us up to follow him and we were on a path up, up, up the hill in the dark. There was a rope to help us and mostly it was a well-worn path so it wasn't scary. In ten minutes we were up and over on Hat Railey – with our ten bucks still in our pockets. Our guide was on his way to see his girlfriend and waved goodbye. Christian and I couldn’t believe he hadn’t wanted anything. Clearly, we’d become really jaded travelers. We went back to our room (after stopping to save a gecko from a cat who was having a really great time batting it around and chomping off its tail) and watched another episode of “House,” hoping for better weather for our last day.

Luck was with us – it was gorgeous when we got up. We’d decided to rent a sea kayak for a couple of hours after lunch. Initially we were going to go on the “James Bond” pre-packaged tour where you take a boat out and around the rock from "The Man with the Golden Gun” and then do other touristy things like visit a cave where there’s a reclining Buddha and a floating “village” – but we felt the 30 bucks wasn’t really worth it when we could rent a kayak for 10 bucks and see basically the same stone structures. We toured around the limestone cliffs, maneuvered in and out of caves full of colorful fish just below the surface, paddled around to the other side of the “island” where a couple of jiggly nudists scampered on the beach, stopped on a coral beach where I promptly sliced a one-inch gash on my foot and then paddled back, blood seeping in the water at the bottom of the kayak.

Back to the hotel room where I doctored myself up and then we walked to the fancy beach to swim and watch another sunset.

Dinner at the same movie place – tonight was “Hot Fuzz” – great flick, Christian hadn’t seen it before. We had an early morning boat to Koh Phi Phi so we didn’t stay out. Another episode of "House" -- and I'm hooked.

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