August 9, 2008

"You got me flipping like a flag on a pole"

After a lot of fun and spending lots of money  in Luang Prabang and on "The Night Market"..... The latter with the side effect of another 7 kg added to my backpack...! I treated myself to a night at a "Top end" "Boutique Hotel

 ( I've still haven't figured out, what exactly "Boutique" Hotel/Airline really is..?? Sounds like a very mysterious term for; " Yes! You're now being robbed in clear daylight and/or your wallet is having a bad and acute case of bulimia" = Way too expensive, artsy, wannabe cool designs, but the pillows are still a sack of stones and in this book less nation; bedside/reading lamps simply don't exists!! When used in contexts with airplanes it means something like; "Yes, all the seats are leather, the color theme is hip and the pursers uniform have been designed by someone with worldwide fame in Bangkok, but you still have to pay overprice for a tiny glass of canned orange juice) 

The German "Jack of all trades" /old salty dog and I opted for an appropriately named 
"Happy Hour" ticket to Bangkok
 (Laos Airline sold '2 for the price of one' tickets to all their destinations)

In Bangkok airport, after a very, very short discussion about sleeping arrangements in case of travelling together to the islands ( I'd prefer to say "Goodbye" to my Asian road trip on my own)- we went our separate ways; Me to the nearest island and he, back to his Nepalese wife, waiting for him in Phuket...No hard feelings at all!! 
He may have forgotten most of what did happen back then in the early '70's, but 'The Peace, Love and Understanding' part of it, is still a vivid memory/live by codex, somewhere in the back of his mind and soul...

Yet another "Boutique Airline" took me to the provincial town of Surathani and with the bus to the port... I have never seen so many school children/pupils as in Surathani....There must have been thousands, a whole street of different schools, different uniforms in different colour combos..... (How about wearing canary yellow Polo's with purple pants/skirt for ten years?)
And doing what kids do all over the world; The girls walking briskly and with a purpose in two's, the boys fooling around in groups....
( Turns out, that most of the kids from the nearby islands, live either with family/ friends or boards in order to attend school on the mainland)

After fairly uneventful ferry rides to Koh Samui and Koh Pha-Ngan, a dinner-less night at a way too expensive "luxury" hotel.. It was time for the fast catamaran to Koh Tao and for a Monsoon storm to take over the waters... I was at first surprised by the very high number of employees/deckhands on this vessel, but when 99% of the passengers became violently seasick, then I got it... They are fundamentally hired to clean up after sick passengers.....! 
Onboard I had a coffee and a great conversation with a 17 yr old German boy, travelling with his dad, and with a fluent command of an admirably English... He was overly sweet and extrovert, telling me which spots on Koh Tao, I'd might find nice and interesting. All in all, reminding me sooooo much of Amadeu, my late son. (Even the same haircut!!) Only him wearing glasses, saved this poor lad (unwittingly) from having a total stranger; a middle aged woman throwing herself around his neck with some tearful babble.... Had to go outside and cling on tenaciously to the railings, while pretending to smoke a cigarette in the warm wind, as not to break down in the midst of already serious ill people........ 

Finally we came into Mae Hat, principal town of Koh Tao.. and as I ran up the steep hill/main street, in the pouring rain, with my 7 kg box of Luang Prabang extravaganza in my hands and my backpack on my wee shoulders - All the while fighting off the taxi and hotel punters.... I quickly became thoroughly wet and out of breath...  When I just couldn't handle the misery anymore, I just threw my backpack at a random hairdressers and told them I would be back for a manicure after having unloaded my burden at the post...;" Please take care of my things..." Which they did, no probs! -  I have met people, being just terrified of leaving a pair of cheap flip-flops at the door ( Which you have to do most places throughout Asia) And last night at Koh Pha-Ngan, this Dutch couple insisted that all three of us walked around to all the guesthouses with all our combined luggage -instead of one or two walking around, and one or two standing with all backpacks at a strategic spot.... I can surely feel the difference in  my fellow travellers way of "Doing it" - I'm back in Thailand and people just out of their homelands for a fortnight of vacation, act, more or less, the way I myself acted when I first came... It took me about three weeks to figure it out; All the unwritten rules and unsaid "ways of the road" and become a globetrotter instead of a holidaymaker... And yes there IS a subtle difference!

 At first on Koh Tao, I went where everyone goes; Sairee Beach ... A long beautiful stretch of beach with lots of nice beach bars, eateries and above all; LOTS OF DIVING SHOPS/Schools...  I'm back into the world of " 7-eleven's"  But also the party world and their " day afters " and two days of British boys running or stumbling (Styles and techniques depends wholly on the time of day/night!) in packs - making a whole lot of noise, when howling at the moon late night/early even late morning. 2 days an 2 nights was my breaking point!  I talked to the very simpatica and suave lady owner of my guesthouse and together we found a place, catering to my needs of peace, quiet and closeness of the sea; Further down the coast on a small, white sanded beach, lies  "Moondance" ! (Here's an old video of the place-It's has changed a lot since this recording- but just to get the gist!) The easiest way to arrive, when carrying backpacks/luggage, is to hire a "Long tail boat-Taxi" (Here I thought of Ninon and her winters on "Flyvefisken" -The Taxi-boats in the port of Copenhagen, Denmark - Man! It requires balls to navigate in the ice cold winds and the snowstorms of the northern hemisphere.... Respect!)


I stayed at the hippiesque "Moondance"  for the last 10 days of my time in SE Asia.... Just didn't want to move...At first the colored flags were a bit suspicious... I'm not really into the hippiedippie scene.....  The round huts with outdoor showers, the "bathroom floor" made entirely of pebble , bits of white coral and small shells... Well, the entire place is made from materials found; Either washed up on the beach or from the surrounding small palm forest - All these details + the fact that owner; Mama Pa gave me the front hut/room, which meant; That I could see the sunrise and the blue, blue ocean without getting out of bed, quickly won me over and made me a smiling, suntanned, lazy sack of bones in no time....

Days were spend with the family and their friends; Mama Pa (Their only son, a big fella of 12, lives in Surathani)
 - Pa's husband; Hong, who, like a lot of Thais, just adores to gamble...He'd go off every day and gamble on the "Fighting fish" !! He would then come home and lie about the winnings, always winnings, never ever lost and always exorbitant sums of Bahts- The fights are basically the same principle as "Fighting Cocks", just that these fish is the size of a small goldfish and apparently they fight each other till death or exhaustion sets in- Women are not allowed at such serious endeavor - But it works out just grand! Because the women then have the peace and quiet to keep the wheels turning, without time wasting interference of ignorant husbands/brothers/fathers/sons in the family business. In Thailand and most parts of SE Asia; 99% of all business's' belongs to the female part of the marriage anyway, women own the land/house etc.... A strong and well functioning matriarchy....
 -  At the "Moondance" theres some nice staff; The very friendly Burmese refugee; Than, who lives and works in the downstairs/beach bar and cleaning the grounds. He'd send home some money every month to his parents, who'd stayed on in Myanmar... I've never seen a smile as big as his, when I said, that yes; I knew of his all time heroine; Aung San Suu Kyi... But then again, he was one of the sweetest and smartest young men, I've met in a long time. we communicate with signs, gestures and basic english in the style of " Me Gabby, you Than".... And Kim, the cook who makes delicious food when not on the cellphone... It seems to be a physical part of her body, maybe clued onto her hand cause she never puts it down... She smiles a lot...

These 10 days were an endless parade of delight and treats; Special prepared family dinners, games played in the shade of the coconut palmtops, sharing afternoons with Pa, at the local  massage/pedicure parlour in the small town; Ban Chalok Ban Kao nearby, 15 min by foot - Up the hill and down to the bay, over the walking bridge and Voila!; One's back in real life, with the mandatory diving shops, great beach/shoreline bars with chill out music/ fire artistes ( Ibiza, eat your heart out!) internet cafés, food shops, travel agents, clothes shops and of course; the local '7 eleven'.....

- But above all; We had a whole lot of laughs, lots and lots of laughs and tons of easy smiles..... A few times, I had to tell dear Than to change the music, when he's played the same Ben Harper for 6 consecutive times, but he quickly sussed out my preferences...... And good times with the other guests too, but they mostly only stayed a few days... Made me think of good pal Mike, the Globetrotter, from Liverpool ( A single traveller of 55 - Now in Borneo, checking out his mates: The orangutans.... ) on the island of Phu Quoc, Vietnam; He stayed at that place for 3 weeks and saw heaps of  "change overs"

To top things off; 10 days of lodging + food/drinks = 200 $  (Not as cheap as Tat Lo in Laos:  5 days of food and a room w/fan = 10 $ - but then Moondance were much more luxurious in every way, than "Mama's" at the waterfalls...)

I would love to revisit the rustic charm and the warm hearts of this particular paradise!


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