THAILAND: FROM “TRAVEL” TO “VACATION”
Travel: Sit in the back seat of a minivan and twist around the mountains of Laos. Constant bumps bounce our heads off the roof, and that somehow eases my nausea. After this eight-hour ride, an international bus rolls us across the border back into Thailand, where we catch a twelve-hour overnight train to Bangkok.
Then, hop onto a third-class train…standing room only with no bathroom for six hours. Mare has a terrible cold. The train stops frequently to load more passengers, as our sweaty bodies squeeze together. Finally, we disembark in the city of Hua Hin, where we take a quick piss and grab a chicken leg, before climbing into a two-hour minivan to our final destination, Prachuap Khiri Khan. We walk the road looking for our hotel, in heat so humid that even our backpacks sweat. An elderly German man, with a hot Thai wife, puts us into the back of his pick-up truck, and rides us to our hotel. Thanks, stranger.
Vacation: Now, let’s relax…nothing in our budget hotel room can keep us inside, except for air conditioning and a shower. On the street of this “off the tourist circuit” town we stop for food and drink. Who knew that restaurants do not serve alcohol on this important Buddhist Holliday, Magha Puja Day? We manage to find a small, German owned place that serves it up, and it only takes a couple of beers to put us down for the night.
We devour breakfast on a terrace overlooking mangroves spiked with oyster beds, and then walk along the seawall into the center of this small town. I rent a scooter, which provides the only way to explore the area. The perils of scooter riding appear in the form of monkeys, rather than dogs.
Let’s climb into sleeping Buddha cave (Tham Phara Nawn) and pay respects to “Reclining Buddha,” who hides near a Teak Temple, (Wat Ao Noi).
In a fishing village, workers harvest hoards of small fish, while others repair nets.
With evening comes a tolerable coolness. Back at our German bar, I meet a man who is an attorney, a realtor, and also the sheriff of this town of 15,000 people. “Most people are in prison for drugs,” he says. “You get 48 days for smoking marijuana, 2 years for selling it.”
“That explains why I don’t smell it anywhere,” I respond.
He holds my gaze. “If a tourist gets caught, an additional fine is added. For opium, the penalties almost triple, and they take urinalysis for proof.” (I am now convinced that I shall not retire in Thailand) When I ask him why so harsh, he explains that the government needs farmers to grow rice, not cash crop.
Our final meal in Prachuap Khiri Khan consists of spicy seafood salad, and Tom Yum Koong (shrimp soup). Whoa! Fire burns our throat and chest to the verge of breathlessness. This meal may have cured Mare’s cold.
We decide to move on, and spend our final week in Thailand on the island of Ko Samui…full of tourist resorts.
Jump back into a minivan for a four-hour ride, followed by a one-hour bus, and a four-hour catamaran ferry ride that stops three times, before arriving in Ko Samui. On the bus ride to the Imperial Boat House Beach Resort, we desperately hope that they have a room available.
Decadence, baby! Seafood pizza and beer tonight, not to mention probably the best shower in Southeast Asia. Our final days consist of burning the sinful breakfast buffet off with walks along a white sand beach, reading, and taking coconut oil massages.
We eat street and beach food to help offset costs, and it is delicious. What a perfect way to end our Thailand adventure! Ron Mitchell