Ah, pad thai, that most delicious of dishes, those most noodley of noodles… Well folks, let it be known: it IS possible to eat too much of this fabulous stuff! I literally had it for almost every meal for the two weeks I was in Thailand, and I MIGHT be OK if I never see it again!
I arrived in Bangkok from Mumbai very early in the morning and with no idea where I was going to stay. However, after India, Thailand seemed the very height of civilization- not a cow, goat or chicken in sight- and it was easy to get a cab and have the driver take me to the backpacker mecca of the Khao San Road. Once there, I stumbled about for a bit in an exhausted haze until I found a decent place called New Joe’s Guesthouse and promptly passed out.
After my nap, I roused myself for a walk down Khao San to find some food, drink, and hopefully some friends. I was successful in all areas, meeting some lovely fellas from London and a nice girl from somewhere in England and a bunch of her buddies. I had a nice time with them, but after some pad thai (surprise!) and a few Tiger beers, I was once again very weary and had to call it an early night.
The next morning I slept very late- I couldn’t figure out why I was SO tired, but I think now that I hadn’t realized just how exhausting India had been and I was getting over it! Once up, I had a late breakfast and a walk down the Khao San to find a new cheap bag. It’s an insane place, the Khao San Road. Absolutely jam-packed with bars, restaurants, hostels, massage parlors, 7-11s, people selling cheap clothes and hawking bootleg DVDs and electronics, taxi and rickshaw drivers shouting at every passing backpacker and so on. After spending all of $3 on a new cloth bag (which started to fall apart within 24 hours), I decided to take advantage of a ridiculously cheap manicure, pedicure and massage. It took two hours for all that and cost me a whopping $15. Brilliant.
In the evening I took myself out for dinner and a drink. On my way out I ran into Jade and Alan, the couple I had met at Benson’s homestay in India, and we made plans to meet up the next day as they were exhausted from their journey from Mumbai earlier that day. Out at the bar, I met up with the English girl and her friends again and went with them to a bar with a fantastic live cover band- it was amazing to hear local Thais singing classic tunes in English so well!
The next morning I went to meet Jade and Alan, but was either confused about the time or the place, as I couldn’t find them. Instead I went out for breakfast and then made plans to meet up with Faine, the girl from Sacramento that I met in Haridwar, India, just before the horrible sickness ordeal happened! I took the metro (clean, easy, no one staring at me!) to meet her in the centre of Bangkok and we went out for a fabulous meal at a local restaurant she had read about. We had all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff and it was great to be the only Westerners in the joint. We then went for a ramble around the famous night market, where every sort of counterfeit product is on offer, right down to fake Calvin Klein underwear! Next we hopped a cab back to Khao San for a few drinks, and met two guys from England, Henry and Adam, who were just starting an eight-month trip together. I hit up a local club with them after Faine went home, where I ran into my friends from the night before, and after same late-night pad thai (shocker!), called it a night.
The next day was again fairly uneventful- I was still quite tired from my travels a couple of days before and my recent late nights, plus the rain was torrential! I did manage to get the next legs of my trip planned- a bus to Chiang Mai for a trek, and then a flight down to Phuket to meet up with my buds Dan and Jen White, who have recently moved to Singapore from Cali.
That evening I went to bed quite early to catch up on some sleep, but alas my plans were foiled as when on the verge of slumber, the most almighty crash roused me from my bed! At first I thought someone was breaking into the room, but then I realized the sound was coming from the bathroom. I went and peeked round the door, only to see that the ENTIRE bathroom ceiling had caved in due to the rain. Thank God I hadn’t been sitting on the loo at the time, as I’d probably be dead or have a broken neck at least! Now wide awake, I took some photos of the destruction and walked down the five flights of stairs to the reception to show them what had happened. Luckily they were kind enough to give me another room just across the hall, but it meant moving all my stuff over in the middle of the night, upping the tiredness factor!
The next morning the rain was still crashing down, but I decided that I absolutely HAD to get out and do some sightseeing before my 6pm bus to Chiang Mai. I took a stroll down to the waterfront and found myself a small fort to look at, though fort expert that I now am, I was quite unimpressed! I then went to a lovely temple, where I learned that it was Buddha Day, or something, so all local cabs and rickshaws were half price. EVERY other person I came across on the street wanted me to know this, and were absolutely beside themselves with disbelief each time I explained that I actually preferred to walk. “But, taxi cheap today, miss. Special day, no expensive. You take taxi.” No, no thank you, I’d say, I like to walk, I’m trying to get exercise, and then I’d do what I’m sure is the international sign for exercise, the Running Man.
I rambled along some more, snapping pics of various temples and palaces, before it was time to go back to Khao San and hit 7-11 for some snacks. The clothes I’d been wearing all day were wet with both sweat and rain, and I did not want to sit for 12 hours on a bus in them, so I did the obvious thing- bought some baby wipes and new t-shirt, wiped myself down in a hotel bathroom, changed and threw the dirty t-shirt in the bin. Sorted.
I then went back to my guesthouse to wait for the bus, and there I met Scott from England. He was at the end of a year-long journey around the world, and being that we were both on a tight budget, we decided to split some accommodation together when we got to Chiang Mai.
The bus ride was fairly uneventful and we arrived in Chiang Mai at about 7am. We found a decent room where I slept for about four hours, and then Scott and I went to investigate the various trekking packages on offer. After a bit of research, we found a good two-day/one-night trek for about $40, so we booked that and then wandered around the city of Chiang Mai a bit. That evening we went out for dinner and a drink, and lo and behold, who should walk into the bar but Jade and Alan! Woo hoo! I was so happy because I thought I had lost them for good! They ended up getting on well with Scott and made plans with him for the full moon party (sorry folks, judge me if you want to but I just wasn’t interested in it!) and I was pleased to have introduced some new friends!
The next morning we were up early for our trek. We packed small backpacks and left our massive ones at the hotel, and then hopped in a van with the rest of our crew, which randomly included some people I’d met in Bangkok- a few of the English girl’s friends! Our first stop was an orchid farm, which was beautiful, followed by a visit to a snake farm, which was insane. These crazy old Thai dudes put on a show for us, and were literally kissing cobras and letting boa constrictors strangle them. Nutty! Afterwards we went to a local market where I bought a massive bag of delicious lychees for a dollar, and then we went to see a longneck hill tribe. These are the folks whose women stretch their necks out with gold rings- they add one each year. I later learned that their necks don’t actually stretch, but the rings push their shoulders and rib cages down, so they’re actually compressing their upper halves.
We then had lunch, after which we set off for the first part of the actual trek, a two and a half hour hike up to a hill village. It was quite a challenge in the heat, but was so worth it once we arrived in the village and could shower and relax. We stayed in a large wooden hut on stilts with incredible views. We had a lovely dinner of curry and rice, and then sat around in candlelight chatting, joking and hanging out. Everyone was exhausted from the hike, so it was fairly early when we all (about 16 of us) went into the big dorm room- just two long rows of mattresses on the floor, covered with mosquito nets- and went to sleep! It began to pour with rain, and we all dozed off with the sound of it hammering on the wooden roof- really lovely!
We all slept surprisingly well, and the next morning the group split as some people were doing two nights. Those of us that weren’t- including me, Scott, and two sisters from New York, Christina and Dina- set out for a two-hour hike to a beautiful waterfall where we had a swim in the freezing cold water, which felt great after our sweaty walk!
After drying off, we continued our hike to the elephant camp, where we had lunch and took an elephant ride. I actually didn’t enjoy this very much. The little seats on top of the elephant’s back were very uncomfortable, and I didn’t like the guys working at the camp hitting and poking the ellie to get him to walk. It was fun to feed him bananas though. Scott and mine’s elephant was a real muncher, and we called him Chubby Charlie because he wouldn’t go one step without a banana first!
Next it was time for white-water rafting, which I’ve never done. I was actually a bit scared, being that I’m so NOT a water person, but it was actually seriously good fun and real laugh. I WAS a bit afraid for my life as we bounced around massive rocks and sailed down sharp drops, but we survived and had a blast. Then we switched boats onto bamboo rafts, and I had a go at steering ours along.
After that, our trek was over, and once back on land I peeled off my disgusting clothes and threw them away. Yuck! We bussed it back to Chiang Mai, and I then set out for the airport for my flight to Phuket where I was to meet the Whites! It turned out that Christina and Dina were on the same flight, so I got to hang out with them for a while at the airport which was nice!
The flight was delayed, but I met up with Dan and Jen just after midnight, and we caught a shuttle bus to a hotel that Dan had booked just for the night, as our plan was to go to Ko Phi Phi. The hotel wheeled a spare bed into their room for me, and the next morning after breakfast we went down to the jetty to get the two-hour ferry to Ko Phi Phi. It’s the island where the movie “The Beach” was filmed, and it really is beautiful. It was also extremely badly damaged by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, though much has been rebuilt. Once we arrived we had lunch and took a long boat over to Long Beach, which is slightly more relaxed than the fairly rowdy Ko Phi Phi town. Dan and Jen chose a room, and I traipsed up and down the beach looking for a good deal. I ended up in the same place as them as it was the best value for money, and once we were all settled we met up and all got massages on the beach, followed by dinner and some drinks.
(A note on how I know Dan, in case this seems random: We used to work together at my first PR agency. He still works for the company, and was transferred by them to Singapore earlier this year, making travel in SE Asia very easy for him and his brilliant wife, Jen. This little jaunt in Thailand was not the last I saw of them!)
The next day after breakfast and some chilling on the beach, we hiked through the woods into town for lunch and a bit of shopping. Jen and I did the fish massage, where tiny little fish eat the dead skin off your feet! SUCH a weird and ticklish sensation at first, but you get used to it and it’s really funny to see hundreds of little fish sucking at your legs! That evening we each had another massage and then walked down Long Beach to find somewhere for dinner. We found a good place with decent music and some fire dancers- more on them later!
The following morning we got up early to see if we could go on a snorkeling trip, but it was too windy and so we had to postpone until the afternoon to see if the weather would improve. Luckily, it did, and at around 2pm we set off in a speed boat to visit some snorkeling spots and various beaches. One of our stops was Monkey Beach, where visitors can feed the monkeys snacks and things. They even drink Coke right from the bottle. It was amusing, if a bit sad, and I was enjoying it until I made the big mistake of sitting on the monkey swing! They are VERY territorial, apparently, and suddenly three monkeys attacked me from behind!
One gave me a nasty scratch on my shoulder which started to bleed. My first thought was, uh-oh, rabies! Even though I’m vaccinated, many times if someone is scratched or bitten by an animal, they need follow up shots. Nothing I could do at the time though, so we carried on with the trip. We visited a beautiful lagoon where the water was absolutely bright blue and clear, surrounded by huge limestone cliffs. Then we went to Maya Beach, which is ACTUALLY where ‘The Beach’ was filmed. It was fantastic and we hung out there for a while and paddled in the water and took some snaps. We had one more snorkeling stop before being dropped off in Ko Phi Phi town and hiking back to Long Beach. That evening we decided to go back to the restaurant with the fire dancers, and after dinner we went to sit close to them so we could see better. Um, probably a bad idea.
We met two other travelers from England, Steve and Chris, and while chatting with them, suddenly there was a wall of fire in front of my face and I screamed at the top of my lungs! I actually thought I was on fire. A second or so later, once I was oriented again, I looked down to see one of the firey batons at my feet and one of the fire dancer dudes running over to get it and mumbling a vague apology. It seems that the fire dancer let go of the baton, and it flew past Jenny, hit Dan on the head burning his face in two places and singeing his eyelashes, then flew to me and whacked me, burning my arm. Crazy! We managed to get a free whiskey (served in a wine glass?) out of it for Dan, but otherwise the proprietors of the bar seemed unfazed by this episode. Moral of the story: don’t hang out near rookie fire dancers- try to get some credentials or something!
The next day Dan and Jen got ready to leave, but first we stopped by the Ko Phi Phi hospital to get my monkey scratch checked on. They cleaned it properly and let me know that my vaccination from the US should still cover me, and not to worry. I asked what symptoms I should be looking out for, just in case, and the nurse said, “Headaches and confusion.” Oh, really? Because that’s me every day! Still, nothing serious has come up yet, so I think I’m all right!
After the Whites left, I spent the rest of the day moseying about and getting massages and things. I decided to stay two more nights, and the following couple of days were more of the same, except I couldn’t really hang on the beach because the weather was terrible. My next stop was Krabi, and after two days on Phi Phi I hopped on the ferry over- very bouncy and uncomfortable- and found a decent place to stay in the city. My plan had been to go from there to Rai Lay beach which is supposed to be incredible, but surprise surprise, the weather was too bad! I therefore spent two days in Krabi wandering around, getting some errands done, strolling along the river and resting up. It’s not a very exciting place- people really just stop off there on the way to other fantastic beaches and to go rock-climbing.
On my second day, however, I saw something very strange: it must have been some coming-of-age event or holy day or something, because walking along the street I suddenly heard lots of firecrackers, and looked up to see a parade coming towards me. Many of the people walking along, both men and women, had metal spikes, knives and barbed wire rammed through their cheeks on both sides, and were absolutely pouring out blood. Several of them looked so pale and wobbly they could barely walk. Others were running alongside them, pouring water on the wounds to wash away the blood. It was insane- I still haven’t been able to find out the purpose of this, and I was a bit shaken by it yet couldn’t tear my eyes away until they’d all walked past. I also had to take some photos, as it was such a bizarre scene I wanted some photographic evidence to help me explain it!
My second evening in Krabi I met three crazy English/Irish dudes, and ended up staying out way too late with them, drinking the ‘buckets’ that Thailand is famous for (basically disgusting cocktails served in, you guessed it, buckets!) and playing pool with crazy locals. This was repeated for a second night in a row, and then it was time to get out of there. As is the privilege of the solo traveler, I could decide exactly where I wanted to go next and when, so I made plans to head to Malaysia. The guy who owned my guesthouse, Rek, organized a cheap bus ticket for me to Pulau Penang, from whence I would begin two fabulous weeks in Malaysia. Really loved that place, so stay tuned for those adventures…
Susie Hughes is a UK transplant to the United States, moving from London to Connecticut as a teenager. For five years she worked in technology public relations in San Francisco, quietly putting money away into “The Travel Fund”. In May 2010, Susie left San Francisco to realize a lifelong dream of an extended trip around the world – seven months visiting more than 20 countries on four continents.