Iris, Reinvented

June 20, 2008

After months of allowing this blog to die a slow death, I have now moved on and started a new blog hosted on my own domain. This is now the place that I call mine: Goddess-I-Am.com. Hope to see you there!

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A couple of months ago, I wrote about a guy I was dating who kept a number of pastel-colored toothbrushes in a rather discreet shelf above his bathroom mirror, obviously for his many paramours. I never did get my own toothbrush. I got out of there faster than you can say “toxic bachelor”.

He has since been dumped and presumably recycled. Since then, I’ve developed a kind of wariness for wayward toothbrushes. I know because it was certainly the first thing I watched out for, the first time I paid a visit to The Boyfriend’s place. I did get a quite a scare, at first. A quick trip to the bathroom after watching The Virgin Suicides revealed an electric toothbrush and a pink one of the plastic, manual variety. Obviously, he owned the electric one. But who, pray tell, owned the pink one? And really, pink?

Needless to say, my fears were unfounded. He actually owns both toothbrushes, though he prefers using the pink one, for some reason. It was probably that, more than anything, which allowed the relationship to move forward without too much drama on my end.

The toothbrush fairy tale doesn’t end there, however. I’ve been regularly spending the weekend with The Boyfriend since, and human as I am, I did the unthinkable one weekend – I forgot my toothbrush. I was about to take a quick trip to the 7/11 across the street when he takes out the virtually unused electric toothbrush, unwraps a brand new toothbrush head, and gives it to me. And, as if that wasn’t monumental enough, days later I found my toothbrush head still attached to its body, standing on his bathroom shelf like it totally belonged there. Like I totally belonged there. How did I know it was my toothbrush head? It had my name on it – literally. In bright red ink. (His toothbrush head also has his name on it in blue.)

To this day, my toothbrush head still stands sentinel on his bathroom sink. I like to think it’s watching over my man while I’m away, though I’ll never tell him that because he’ll probably freak out. Anyway, getting one’s own toothbrush head with one’s name on it prominently displayed on a shelf for all to see is a colossal step for all single women, not just in Bangkok, but the entire world. (Think Carrie getting the pink toothbrush head from Mr. Big in Sex and the City, except that it didn’t have her name on it, ha!)

So now I’m finally ready to answer that question that I asked months ago, to much controversy and judgment: Are there still farangs in Bangkok who aren’t just out to dip their wicks in as many Asian crevices as they can? Indeed, there are, and they don’t hoard pastel-colored toothbrushes. Instead, they would give you one of your own, possibly with your name on it. And if you’re lucky, one of them is probably right under your nose all along. I know I was.

I’m All In!

August 30, 2007

One of the many perks about living in Thailand is that it never runs out of noteworthy people. Indeed, some of the most interesting people I’ve met in my entire life, I met in Thailand. There’s the fabulous Filipino couple that got me here in the first place. There’s the Internet cafe owner who tirelessly persists on teaching me Thai phrases every time I walk through her doors, even when it’s a losing battle. There are the locals that I sometimes have long chats with on the bus, and tourists and backpackers whose brains I just love to pick.

Not the least of all these fascinating folks is the Lost Boy. Twice we’ve been in rather close proximity to each other and twice we’ve missed out on meeting up. I found him by chance while I was reading back issues of The Guru magazine and I just had to meet him. He’s a fantastic writer and a great buddy to have. Now he’s giving away $100 out of the goodness of his own heart. Who am I to turn down an easy buck? Neither can any of you, my loyal readership of 15, and fortunately for all of us, we all stand a chance. Throwing your hat into the ring is as easy as pie and is certainly not rocket science.

So there you have it. I’ve sung the praises and created the blog post. In poker talk, I’m all in! Now to make that list of the things I can buy with $100…

Hold the Coriander!

August 29, 2007

I’m no cunning linguist. In fact, I’m so bad at languages that I can’t even speak my own language properly. I can speak my island’s dialect and English very well, no problem, but my grasp of the actual Filipino language is so horrendous that the people I speak Tagalog with don’t even bother to hide the looks of pain on their faces.

Needless to say, my Thai is dreadful. My Thai is pretty limited to “thank you”, “go straight”, “turn left”, “how much”, and Victory Monument. I know some but not all of the numbers. I can’t even say the name of the area I live in the right way. It’s not for lack of trying. I just can’t remember the words, and if I do, I can’t say it right. My vocal chords don’t seem to be capable of adapting the shifting, sing-song cadence of the Thai language.

In an effort to make my almost 3-month stay here worthwhile, I have since acquired the habit of perusing The Boyfriend’s (formerly known as The Object) Thai-English dictionary. Though I forget most of the phrases within 5 minutes after I have supposedly learned them, one phrase has fortunately stuck to me like glue: Mai paak chii. It means “no coriander”, whoop-dee-doo! I may not be speaking fluent Thai anytime soon, but at least I’m eating coriander-free dishes. And since I don’t have to put up with those pesky leaves and their terrible flavor, I’ve found that I actually love Thai food.

Indeed, it’s amazing how a few simple words can change one’s perspective. Now I just have to learn how to get motorcycle taxi and cab drivers to stop. I’d like to get off right in front of my destination for a change, thank you very much.

Wander with Me: Pattaya

August 28, 2007

Forgive me for my lack of posts. When you’re writing freelance full time and spewing out at least 3,000 words a day on stuff like mortgages and video surveillance, you won’t have much energy to write anything else. Anyhow, this is a very much delayed account of my trip to Pattaya with my friends from home some 2 weekends ago.

My friend, A, who currently lives and works in Singapore, flew in to Bangkok Friday night to visit me and my friend, D, who was nearing the end of his Bangkok vacation. It was going to be a reunion of sorts and we have been it planning for weeks. A was only staying until Sunday afternoon so there really wasn’t enough time to go anywhere far, and since the 3 of us have always been serious beachcombers, we weren’t left with much of a choice – Pattaya. I’ve never been there but I’ve heard so many things about the place, most of them quite bad, so I figured it was going to be very interesting.

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But I digress, as I usually do. A’s flight was delayed for hours and when she finally walked out of the arrival gate at 2 AM, well, let’s just say a lot of shrieking and jumping up and down were involved. A looked fantastic, as always. She’s filled out a bit, which really suited her. I took them home with me to crash. She had her first taste of Thai street food at 3 AM. I didn’t get a wink of sleep that night. After all, somebody needed to be the mother hen and for some reason, that’s a job that always falls on me.

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I woke my charges up at the crack of dawn. We headed to the Mo Chit bus station where we boarded the bus to Pattaya. The trip was uneventful. We slept through most of it. We got to Pattaya a little over 2 hours later and took a songthaew to Pattaya Beach. We had breakfast at a McDonald’s, the only McDonald’s in Thailand that I’ve been in that actually served proper breakfast food (Egg McMuffins, anyone?).

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We spent a good part of the morning looking for a place to stay and we finally decided on a beach front hotel called Natural Beach. It was quite nice. We were given a room with a terrace and a view of the pool and D was given an extra bed, so we were all quite satisfied with the accommodation.

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As soon as we were all settled, we slipped into our swim wear and crossed the street to the beach, where we were greeted by quite an appalling sight. Pattaya Beach has got to be the worst stretch of beach I’ve ever seen. It was cramped, dirty, and very much ruined. Needless to say, we were very disappointed and very outraged. Once again, like in Patong Beach in Phuket, I was struck by the people’s negligence. Everybody was so caught up in making money that they’d ruin perfectly good beaches just to get it. It was sad. Since we can’t be made to swim in all that muck, we swam in the hotel pool instead.

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We decided to go on an afternoon tour and we were taken to the Million Years Stone Park and Pattaya Crocodile Farm. We had loads of fun feeding the fishes and the crocodiles. A had her picture taken with an elephant, D and I with a tiger cub. We watched a camel pee for over 10 minutes, saw giant catfishes the size of baby whales, and watched a crocodile show, which included a guy sticking various parts of his body in the crocodiles’ heads.

We were taken back to the hotel at the end of the day. Tired, we all took a nap for a couple of hours. By 9 PM, we were ready to hit the famous Walking Street and see Pattaya in all its gaudy glory.

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We had dinner at a seaside restaurant. We watched tourists walking in with their scantily clad Thai whores. It was exploitation at its very best. Both the tourists and working girls were busily getting something out of each other, so I couldn’t really feel sorry for anybody. At the table beside ours there were 2 obese American men and a tiny Thai girl in even tinier hot pants. At some point, one of the fat men said to her in a really loud voice: “Do you like my brother? Because he’s going to bite your ass.” Gross. We were out of that restaurant pronto.

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We all planned to see a girl-on-girl sex show but none of us was daring enough to just walk into a club and take a seat. We must have walked through Walking Street quite a number of times before we were led by a dodgy little man to a go-go club, the name of which escapes me. The experience was educational, to say the least. We saw vaginas perform daring, even miraculous, feats. Indeed, all sorts of possibilities were opened up that night. The whole of Walking Street was so ugly and dirty but we couldn’t look away. In all its ugliness, it was much too fascinating.

We ended the night by getting a nice Thai massage on the way back to the hotel. I treated my friends to my favorite banana and chocolate pancakes. The moment our heads hit our pillows, we all passed out.

We planned to get an early start back to Bangkok so we can visit some markets before A leaves in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we all woke up rather late. We didn’t get to leave Pattaya until noon. Still, it left us with enough time to shop a bit in Chatuchak Market. We never got to visit Chatuchak, however, because A lost her wallet somewhere. We spent the next few hours looking for that wallet. We checked the bus we were on and even called the Pattaya bus station but it was nowhere to be found.

Dejected, I took A back to the airport. D didn’t come along because he was leaving Thailand the next day and he needed to spend time with his sister. I stayed with A long enough to share a burger with her. At the customs gate, we hugged each other goodbye and promised that we will do it again soon.

I wonder if we ever will. Sometimes I think that weekend was the last we’ll ever spend together as a group. After all, in a few months’ time, D will be migrating to New Zealand. A will still be living in Singapore. And as for me, well, God only knows where my feet will take me then.

We have come a long way from our headsets and workstations and beaches back home, my friends and I. And even if that trip was indeed our last together, it’s at least something that will never be forgotten. As long as we have the pictures proudly displayed on Friendster, we’ll always have each other. And in all its dirty sand, cracked pavements, and ugly neon, we’ll always have Pattaya.

It was a trip of many firsts. Though my own country is rich in waterfalls, rivers, and mountains, I have never been inclined to visit them. As a serious beachcomber, I have always chosen the sea over the mountains, and it was a first for me to have agreed on this trip instead of going to Koh Samet, as what was originally planned. It’s the first time I’ve ever been to quite a historic place, as well. It was also the first (and hopefully not the last) trip with my man – the object of my affection, who shall be referred to from this point forward as The Object.

The Object and I left his apartment in Don Muang bright and early on Saturday morning, with the intention of getting settled in Kanchanaburi by lunch time. Unfortunately, we chose the wrong route and ended up being stuck on a bus along Phahon Yothin Road for almost 2 hours. It was almost 11 AM by the time we got to the bus terminal in Pinklao, and a further 3 hours before we finally made it to the River Kwai area in Kanchanaburi.

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A very amiable songthaew driver recommended the Sugar Cane Guest House, and we were not disappointed at all. We were lucky enough to get a cottage on a raft right on the river. For 550 baht a night, it was absolute perfection. The resort was quite a long walk into the center of town but our floating accommodation more than made up for it. Personally, I was happy with the arrangement. I’ve been cooped up in my apartment for too long eating sugary buns. I totally needed the fresh air and the exercise.

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But I digress. We intended to walk to the Bridge Over the River Kwai after lunch. Unfortunately, it was drizzling in what was supposed to be the second driest province in Thailand, so we headed back to the guest house and waited for the rain to stop on our lovely veranda. I amused myself by anxiously gazing into the dark green waters, hoping to catch a glimpse of any animal larger than me. I wasn’t so lucky.

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Eventually, the rain subsided and we walked to the Bridge Over the River Kwai about a kilometer away. (If anybody’s wondering why I can’t just say the River Kwai Bridge or something, it’s because I can’t. Everybody calls it the Bridge Over the River Kwai, no doubt because of the movie, so I’m joining the bandwagon. Deal with it.) The Bridge, no, the entire railway, for that matter, was supposedly built by POWs back in the Second World War, The Object’s own grandfather being one of them. It’s a rather sad bit of history, actually, and I’m not about to go into a lengthy account of it in here. It’s much too depressing. The view was stunning, however, and the air was cool and pleasant.

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A train came by while we were on the bridge and it was quite scary. I had a picture in my head of the bridge collapsing with the weight of the train and all the tourists and we will all plummet into the river and I’d come face to face with an animal larger than myself. Ahhh…to have such an imagination.

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But once again, I digress. The Object and I made it to the other side of The Bridge (in one piece) and wandered away from all the tourists. We peered through cages of exotic birds, among them peacocks, and made our way to a grassy spot on the riverbank where we sat for a while and took in more calmness and fresh air. I honestly did not know how much more serenity I could take, but The Object seemed quite contented so I found myself relaxing little by little.

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We were back on our little house boat before sunset. I showered, put on the ridiculously expensive dress I got conned into buying in Phuket, and settled on the veranda to watch the sunset. I was disappointed when I didn’t see a spectacular one. The Object was tired and wanted to rest for a bit. I did a bit of writing and amused myself by listening to our next-door neighbor going at it (you get the picture), watching the floating restaurants go past, and vainly hoping for a reptile to make an appearance. Eventually, the novelty wore off and I was bored out of my eyeballs. It was useless trying to talk to The Object because he was half-asleep and rather unresponsive, the way people who are between consciousness and unconsciousness are. The silence was deafening. I hated it because I found myself thinking of things that I did not want to think about, like where the relationship was going, how scared I was about falling, where my life was going, etc. My thoughts were too serious, too intense. I wanted to avoid that because when I think, the floodgates open and I start baring my soul, potentially humiliating myself. I think I must have, a little. I certainly know I asked a lot of questions. I can only hope that The Object really was half-asleep and therefore can’t remember much of the conversation that night. Finally, I was able to rouse him enough to convince him that he was hungry enough to walk to town with me for dinner. I found a used bookstore and the German owner gave me a discount because, according to him, I was the prettiest girl he’s seen for a long time. I didn’t know how true that was but I couldn’t complain. After dinner, we gave our next-door neighbors a run for their money. (Sorry, I couldn’t help squeezing that in.)

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Again, we were up bright and early the next day. We had booked ourselves into an all-day tour (990 baht each) and we were both pretty excited. I had the best breakfast ever, the best since I moved to Thailand, and it was the perfect way to start what was to become a fantastic day. We were picked up by a mini bus with the rest of our tour group for the day. First stop, Erawan Falls, some 65 kilometers away. It was a rather scenic drive all the way to the park where the waterfalls were. Erawan Falls had 7 waterfalls, 3 or 4 of them you can swim in. We separated ourselves from the rest of the group and explored on our own. The Object is quite a nature buff and we were always stopping every so often to look for wildlife. It’s amazing how much he knows about birds, lizards, snakes, etc. It was like being in National Geographic or something.

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On the 4th tier, people were sliding on huge boulders into the water and it looked like so much fun. An unbelievably fat Western woman in an unbelievably skimpy bikini was about to slide. She changed her mind halfway through and tried to climb back up the rock while her bikini slipped and exposed half of her huge ass. She was thrashing and screaming and by the time she plummeted into the water, locals and tourists alike were in hysterics. That was one of the tackiest and most pathetic things I’ve ever seen.

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I finally convinced The Object to take a dip with me. The water was cool and it felt so good. I think the fish felt quite good too. They were certainly having the time of their lives eating (or should I say, sucking) the dead skin on my ankles, toes, and, umm, butt. Both of us weren’t very good swimmers, so we had to stay close to the rocks where the fishes congregated. Indeed, The Object and I made our contribution to the environment by being fish food.

After we’ve had our fill of the water, we attempted to climb further into the 5th tier. We never made it, though. It was much too muddy and I was sensibly wearing flip flops. The Object and I decided to make our way back into the park to rendezvous with the rest of the group for lunch. In an effort to dry myself out, I didn’t put my shirt back on and was walking around in my bikini top. It was a miracle I didn’t get stoned to death. Apparently, Thai women don’t wear bikinis, even in beaches. I never knew that until then and when I thought about it, I realized that I was the only Asian woman shamelessly walking around half-naked in Phuket, Phi Phi, and Ao Nang. That explained the dirty looks I’ve been getting. After all, nobody can ever tell I wasn’t Thai until I opened my mouth. I wasn’t about to be deterred by that revelation, however, and I carried on like normal, impervious to the dagger looks I was getting. Why? Because I’m shameless that way, that’s why.

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After lunch, we drove on to our next destination. We cruised on a wooden raft along the river Kwai Noi and it was quite pleasant. It ended too soon, though. I felt that if we carried on a bit longer, we might have seen something exciting, like maybe a crocodile swimming alongside the raft or something.

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My disappointment didn’t last long, however. We were going on the elephant trek next, and I was looking forward to that more than anything. I’ve seen quite a few elephants in the area where I live in, but they’ve always looked so sad that they just break my heart each time I see them. This time however, I was going to see elephants that, though captive, were in their own natural habitat. I was quite sad to see wounds on one of them but all in all, they looked quite happy. The elephant The Object and I were on was quite special. She was a massive and healthy-looking female. I was quite apprehensive when her handler left us on her while he took our photographs, but I need not have worried. She was very obedient and she actually posed once or twice. It started drizzling again and I was handed an umbrella. I was on an elephant with an Englishman and what could pass for a parasol. All I needed was a gown. I felt so colonial, indeed.

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We left the Wang Pho Elephant Camp shortly thereafter and we were driven to Krasae Cave and the Death Railway. The Cave was used as a medical barracks of sorts back in the war but it was now a Buddhist Temple. We took a walk on the rather precarious railway. It was uneventful. Nobody fell off or anything, but The Object did refer to me as his “lady” on a phone call with his friend. There I was precariously dangling 50 feet above a river on a rickety railroad track with the most depressing history imaginable and I was ridiculously happy. We then rode the train over the same rickety track, got picked up by the mini bus a couple of stations away, and were driven to the Bridge Over the River Kwai, where The Object and I had a leisurely cup of coffee.

Dusk found us on our veranda once again waiting for a sunset. There was one, but it was mostly obscured by thick clouds, so, once again, I was disappointed. We passed the time talking and this time, I wasn’t the only one opening up. It’s amazing what silence could do. I didn’t have all of my questions answered, but I found out enough to know that The Object and I were on the same wavelength all along. There really might be something good here, something that only time will really tell.

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We had a late dinner in a bar called No Name and I was introduced to proper English food. I had a steak and mushroom pie and the most amazing mashed potatoes I’ve ever had in my entire life. A proper English meal with a real Englishman – what more could I ask for? The food was fantastic, the company even more so. I was quite sad that we were leaving the next day.

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The next morning, I ordered the same breakfast because God only knows when I will ever have eggs, bacon, and toast again. We have since decided to take the train back to Bangkok because we’ve both never done it before. To do that, we had to catch the train from the River Kwai station to Nam Tok near the Burmese border, wait for about 10 minutes, and take the same train back to Bangkok. The train was late, and after a grueling 8-hour journey, we finally pulled into Thonburi station. Though it was pleasant at times, none of us is going to try that again in a hurry.

It was one of the best weekends I’ve ever spent for as long as I could remember and I wish it could have lasted even just one day more. Once again, my eyes were opened to how beautiful the world really is and how glad I am to be alive. I needed that, considering that I was seriously thinking of finally going home. Indeed, there are still so many things and so many places I want to see in Thailand. And if that isn’t reason enough, well, you can guess what other reasons there might be.

I’m Off!

August 10, 2007

I’m off to wander in beautiful Kanchanaburi for a bit of mountain air and a taste of history. 

I promise to bring back a bag full of tales.

Since we were already in the area, the plan was to take the ferry to the Phi Phi Islands, wander around a bit, and take the only ferry to Ao Nang in Krabi in the afternoon, where we could spend the night before leaving for Bangkok the next day.

 

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We were picked up by a mini bus from Game Mansion bright and early on Monday morning and taken to the Phuket dock (the name of which escapes me), where we got on the ferry to Phi Phi Don. The trip took about an hour and a half. We spent the first part of it inside the boat because again it was drizzling. I tried to get some writing done but I felt kind of sick in the ferry’s cramped cabin. The rain eventually stopped pouring and we decided to stay outside to get some air and take lots of pictures.

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We were pretty much unsure about what we were going to do in Phi Phi. We had about 5 hours to kill before we had to leave for Ao Nang and the best plan we had was to eat and swim. I suppose he overheard us because Joe, a Thai man who works with the ferry company, approached us and offered to take us along on a snorkeling and sightseeing tour of the Phi Phi islands with the rest of the tour group on board for only 200 baht. It sounded like a good idea, especially since the alternative was much too boring.

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As instructed, we didn’t get off the boat in Phi Phi Don with the rest of the one-way ticket passengers. We then proceeded to Phi Phi Ley and snorkeled for about an hour. It was quite an experience. I’ve snorkeled a lot before but most of the fishes I’ve met were rather timid. The fishes of Phi Phi Ley were complete show offs. It was cute, except when some of them mistook me for a piece of watermelon and started biting my backside. My snorkel wasn’t working right, my life vest kept trying to float up over my head, and I was gulping in a lot of seawater so I was kind of struggling for a bit. D wasn’t much help because he kept laughing at me. I suppose I must have looked funny with my hair all over the place and I started laughing hysterically too. We probably spent half the time just giggling like mad until we had to get back on the boat.

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After snorkeling, we were then taken on a sightseeing tour of the islands, which pretty much meant going past it on the boat while the guide gave background information over the loudspeakers. D and I found a perch at the front of the boat where we could get some sun and lots of air. We saw more beaches, some caves, and Maya Bay, the beach where they shot the film, The Beach. It looked so beautiful and I was so disappointed that we weren’t going in to swim. I was very much looking forward to it.

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Back in Phi Phi Don, we got off the boat, thanked Joe, and parted with the rest of the tour group. We found a seaside restaurant with a fantastic view and were just about to order when they told us they didn’t have food. It was unbelievable. D and I both were getting quite cranky because we were so hungry. We eventually found another restaurant on a side street. The food was passable but nothing special. There were several used bookstores in the vicinity and I took a look but they were ridiculously overpriced for used books. There were some very, very good selections, though, and I wished I could’ve bought some but money was dwindling fast so I had to pass.

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We had a couple more hours to kill before heading to Ao Nang so we decided on more swimming. The beach was calm and the view was fantastic. The sand wasn’t powdery but it didn’t hurt my feet so it was all good. What I hated about it was the number of speed boats parked close to the shore. I think they were there for banana boating. There were just too many of them and it made swimming difficult because they sort of float up behind you when you’re not looking. It was totally annoying, but it was good fun watching people fall off the banana boats.

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We boarded the ferry to Ao Nang around 3 PM. I was really looking forward to a nap. Unfortunately, D was still halfway through his new Harry Potter book and kept waking me up every time something good happened. I gave up trying to sleep. By this time, I started feeling the tightness of my face and I realized with horror that I was rather horribly burnt. I didn’t even think about sunblock until that very moment and it was obviously too late. I suppose I was too complacent. The sun was hidden behind the clouds the whole time, after all. Apparently, I was being stealthily roasted. Sneaky. Very sneaky.

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We arrived in Ao Nang late in the afternoon. Once again, we looked for a cheap guest house to stay in, preferably with wireless Internet. We weren’t so lucky this time. Most of the guest houses we went to had rates of at least 500 baht per night and didn’t offer Internet access. We finally settled on Nongeed Guest House because the owner agreed to give us a room for 400 baht instead of their usual 550 baht. We also bought our bus tickets to Bangkok for late the next day at 500 baht apiece. I took a shower and tried to get some writing done but I was too tired. D and I decided to get dinner and just call it a night.

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I was planning to wake up extra early because I haven’t written a single article, but I must have been really tired because I woke up rather late. We didn’t have to leave for Bangkok until 4 PM but we did need to check out by 11 AM. That didn’t leave a lot of time for swimming because we obviously wanted to shower before the trip to Bangkok. Still, we wouldn’t pass up the chance to frolic in the water even just for a while. The current and the undertow were quite strong and the waves were pretty big. I stayed close to shore. After we posed for the necessary photographs and had our fill of Ao Nang’s beach, we went back to the guest house, showered, packed, and checked out.

I spent the next few hours writing frantically. I was finally able to send my articles to my editor around mid-afternoon. Internet cafés in Ao Nang were ridiculously expensive at 1 baht per minute. Still, I couldn’t complain. It rained for quite awhile and I was stuck in the café. When it let up, I took a little walk near the beach and watched the town for a bit. I then headed back to the guest house where we were waiting to be picked up for the final trip to Bangkok. D was napping on the guest house’s reception area, so I ended up watching a really bad Thai soap opera.

We were picked up by a mini bus around 3 PM and driven to yet another travel agency in Krabi, where we stayed for over an hour. We actually thought in horror that we would be on the same mini bus all the way to Bangkok. We were looking forward to being on a comfortable VIP bus. The mini bus drove us all the way to Suratthani where we finally boarded a VIP bus with blankets, reclining seats, and all that jazz. I was asleep within minutes and didn’t wake up until we arrived in Bangkok at 6 AM. They dropped us off on Khao San Road. I didn’t really have any idea how to get home from there. D took a cab home but I couldn’t. I sort of wandered around for over an hour before I finally took a bus to Mo Chit and another bus home. I had spent about 1,500 baht on the Phi Phi Islands – Ao Nang leg of the trip.

It was a hell of a trip. I’ve never felt so alive and so free. And though I enjoyed it with all my heart and would do it again in the blink of an eye, it still feels good to be home. Well, at least, until I start burning to wander again.

Wander with Me: Phuket

August 3, 2007

Because the tourist visa was unexpectedly free and because it costs only 70 ringgit to get from Penang to Phuket by mini bus, I couldn’t resist. My friend, D, who was in Bangkok visiting his sister, also decided to meet me in Phuket for the weekend.

I left Penang early Saturday morning and spent the next 11 hours on the road to Phuket. It was interesting how the mini buses operated. They were like a well-oiled and structured crime syndicate. I thought I was going to take the same mini bus all the way to Phuket but apparently I was wrong. I was dropped off in some dodgy looking travel agency in Hat Yai where I was told to wait with no further explanation. I sat there for an hour and a half, unsure of what it was that I was supposed to be doing. The driver didn’t give me back my receipt and I was afraid they were going to charge me more just to get to Phuket. Eventually, I was ushered into another mini bus that took me all the way to another tiny travel operator in Krabi. This time, they stuck a sticker on my chest that said “Phuket” so I definitely knew I was going to get there. I finally did at around 9 in the evening.

D wasn’t arriving in Phuket until Sunday morning so I had the entire Saturday night all to myself. I decided to wait for him in Phuket Town so we can head to Patong Beach together in the morning. I needed a place to crash that was cheap and clean. I ended up sharing a room with a Swedish guy I met on the mini bus at the Holiday Plaza Hotel on Phuket Road. There was absolutely nothing holiday, plaza, or hotel about it. It was just a fan room with a bathroom, and it reeked of pesticide. They were charging 300 baht a night, though, and since I was keen on saving a bit of money, I took a leap of faith and took the Swede’s offer of sharing the room. He seemed like a nice guy and he was rather skinny, so I figured I could take him if I had to.

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We had dinner at a little café that advertised wireless Internet. Unfortunately, it wasn’t free and that really pissed me off. The food was good though, albeit a tad bit too spicy. The Swede insisted on paying for dinner, which was probably a lame effort at buying the requisite meal before trying to get a girl to bed. That was not going to happen, however, so I offered to pay for breakfast. We wandered around Phuket Town for a bit, watched a cultural show at a park, and he had a beer at an Irish pub while I did some writing. I think I was pretty boring company, but I didn’t want to give him any ideas.

I was getting really sleepy so I decided to head back to the hotel. I was settling down on the bed when he strode out of the bathroom in nothing but a t-shirt and briefs. If he was trying to entice me, it wasn’t working. I wasn’t about to be seduced by a man who wore briefs. Not many people know it, but I have an aversion to briefs, especially the cotton bikini ones. I prefer boxers.

But I digress. I pretended that I was already asleep. He tossed and turned for a few minutes and eventually went out. I must have really fallen asleep because I didn’t hear him come back. Sometime in the middle of the night he was spooning me, so I just sort of thrashed around a bit like I was having a nightmare, which in essence I was. I suppose that scared him off because he practically scampered off to his side of the bed and stayed there for the rest of the night. D called me around 6 AM the next morning. He was already outside the hotel. I showered and was out of there in record time. Of course, I didn’t have time to buy the Swede breakfast so I paid for my share of dinner, gave him a quick hug, and said goodbye.

When I saw D sitting outside the hotel, we were both overcome with a fit of hysterical giggles. We had come a long way from our local islands. We were in Phuket! It was totally exciting. We were both starving so we tried looking for a place to eat. Unfortunately, everything was closed. The sleepy town was still very much asleep. We had no choice but to feast on cup noodles in a Family Mart.

After breakfast, we needed to figure out how to get to Patong Beach. Taxis in Phuket were much too expensive, but I knew that there were songthaews that went that way. The problem was I didn’t know where they were. We just walked around the town for a bit until we arrived at the bus station. There was a songthaew bound for Patong Beach, alright, and it only cost us 30 baht each.

It was drizzling again when we got to Patong Beach. Finding a place to stay and stash our bags was first priority. The night before, the Swede gave me a business card for a guest house on Nanai Road. It was a long walk from the beach, but it was cheap and had free wireless Internet, which was becoming a dire necessity for me. We did spend some time looking for a guest house around Bangla Road, which was closer to the beach, but they were either too expensive or too ugly. We decided to find the one on Nanai Road instead.

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As it turned out, the guest house on the business card he gave me was closed, but there were other guest houses in the vicinity offering the same prices and the same service. We eventually settled on a place called Game Mansion and it was very impressive for 400 baht a night. It was also quite close to Jungceylon Mall. D and I were quite happy about it. We initially planned on staying a couple of nights in Patong Beach, and we weren’t exactly sure why, but we decided to pay for just one night, just in case. It turned out to be a wise decision. We were thriving on spontaneity for the moment and we decided to take a trip to the Phi Phi Islands and Krabi the next day before heading back to Bangkok. Anyhow, D rested for a bit while I did a bit of writing. We then slipped into our beach wear, had lunch, posed for the requisite photographs, and headed for the beach.

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Patong Beach was super crowded, noisy, and much too commercial for my taste. The beach itself was lovely, though, even with all the hawkers and tourists. The sand was soft and the water was great, but to be perfectly honest, Boracay and Bantayan Island back home are so much better. Still, we had a great time swimming, chilling by the beach on the lounge chairs we rented for 40 baht each, eating fruit, and napping.

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I would’ve stayed in the water longer, but the current was quite strong, and because I’m not a very good swimmer, I stayed close to the shore. D went parasailing. I didn’t because it was much too expensive. I got conned by a hawker to buy a dress for 300 baht. She initially offered it to me at 650 baht and I was quite proud of myself for haggling, until I saw the same dress on Bangla Road being sold for 199 baht. That really, really pissed me off. Lesson learned: don’t buy from the beach hawkers.

In Boracay back home, you can see the people, locals and tourists alike, doing their best to preserve the beach. Nobody littered. Locals combed the sand several times during the day. In Patong, however, it made me sad how the people were steadily ruining such a beautiful beach. Rubbish was everywhere, and the locals didn’t seem to care. They were too busy hawking their wares and making money. The tourists were worse. They had absolutely no qualms about littering on the sand and in the water. It made me sick. We were in one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The least everyone could do was show some respect.

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We headed back to the guest house by late afternoon. We got the tickets for Phi Phi and Ao Nang in Krabi en route for only 700 baht each. D slept while I wrote some more. I woke him up around 10 PM so we can go get some dinner. I was starving. I found that the only thing worse than Patong Beach by day was Patong Beach at night. Rowdy tourists, lady boys, and hawkers were everywhere. It was garish and all so worldly that I found myself thinking if the tsunami was like a modern day Sodom and Gomorra and if so, it didn’t seem to work because everything was back to normal in Patong Beach.

I did think that maybe could stay in Phuket (definitely not in Patong Beach) for a couple of months or so. I missed being so close to the beach the way I always had been back home, but I decided against it. I’d be too scared of tsunamis and earthquakes and stuff. And it didn’t help that D kept sporadically screaming in my ear that a tsunami was coming. I often wonder why I have such crazy friends.

I actually planned to meet up with the Lost Boy in Phuket. Unfortunately, he had other plans that night and I was leaving for Phi Phi in the morning so there was just no time get together. It was just too bad because I would’ve loved to pick his brain.

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So D and I have seen Phuket and our friends back home were green with envy. I spent a total of 2,500 baht, including the mini bus fare from Penang and the transfers to Phi Phi and Krabi. Though I’m not quite finished with the entire task yet, I was able to start doing one of the things I came to Thailand to do – compare the beaches. I could safely say that I was neither impressed nor disappointed with Patong Beach. What I do know for sure is just being there in Phuket was quite a high in itself.

Next stop: Phi Phi Islands and Ao Nang (Krabi)!

Wander with Me: Penang

August 2, 2007

I’m back in Bangkok, still reeling from the events of the past 7 days. After being unceremoniously fired from my teaching job, I decided to write freelance full time. In a matter of days, my laptop literally became my entire life. In less than a week, I’ve dragged it across 2 countries while the beachcomber in me ran around free in my Billabongs. It was the trip of my dreams, and I still can’t believe that I lived it.

Since I wanted to stay in Thailand but was virtually unemployed with no possibility of a non-immigrant B visa in sight, I decided to get a tourist visa instead. I flew to Penang via Air Asia on Thursday morning. From the airport, I had the taxi take me directly to the Royal Thai Consulate in Georgetown. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that tourist visas were given to Filipinos gratis. That saved me about 2,000 baht. The visa wasn’t available for pickup until the next day, so I had the taxi take me to Chulia Street, the haven for backpackers in Penang.

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Chulia Street was long and narrow and lined with guesthouses and hostels. I shopped around for a bit and eventually decided to stay in Malibu Café for 25 ringgit (1 ringgit is about 10 baht) a night, including breakfast and an hour’s worth of Internet access a day. I had my trusty laptop with me, however, so they just gave me unlimited wireless access at no extra cost. I was quite touched.

The room was as basic as can be. It was kept relatively clean and the bed was surprisingly comfortable. Showers and toilets were shared but they were quite clean so I couldn’t complain. I had a fantastic meal of pasta with white sauce, Cajun chicken, and bananas at Ecco Café across the street from Malibu. I checked out the used bookstores for a bit but found them grossly overpriced. Other than that, I didn’t explore the city much on my first night because I had to get some writing done and I was dead tired.

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After a good night’s sleep, I was quite ready to see Penang. The “concierge” (for lack of better words) at Malibu haggled rather furiously in my stead for a taxi to take me to the Consulate then to Penang Hill. They finally settled on 24 ringgit total for both trips, which I figured was quite reasonable as taxis in Penang were horrendously expensive. I got my passport back and my tourist visa without a hitch and off we went to Penang Hill, or Bukit Bendera, as the Malaysians called it.

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The idea was to ride the cable car right to the very top and back down. I got a roundtrip ticket for 4 ringgit. The ride itself was rather unpleasant. The cable car was filled to capacity with Indians, Muslims, and Arabs and it stank to the heavens. By the time we made it to the top, I had a nasty headache. The fresh air and the beautiful sight that greeted me, however, made it all worth it. I had a sweeping view of the city of Penang and it was gorgeous.

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I walked around Penang Hill for awhile, just taking in the view and eating corn in a cup. I eventually headed back down when it started drizzling. The ride down the hill on the cable car was worse than the ride up, if that was even possible. I caught a taxi back to Chulia Street and killed the couple of hours before dinner writing a few articles.

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Dinner found me in Cinthra Street where all the fantastic Chinese restaurants were. I’ve always been a huge fan of dimsum and I’ve been sorely missing it. I was looking forward to having some good old-fashioned dimsum in Penang more than anything and I was not disappointed. I found myself in Tai Tong’s where I had Yong Chow fried rice, dumplings, and a custard pie. I wanted to eat so many things but all the servings were huge and I was alone. It was the best meal I had in ages, though, so I was quite happy.

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I walked around the nearby streets for a bit but the rain was really starting to come down hard so I just headed back to Malibu. I was leaving early the next morning and I wanted to get some sleep. It was impossible, though. In the middle of the night, the Norwegian couple next door came back drunk from somewhere and was having a huge fight right outside my door.

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It was quite an interesting end to my Penang adventure. I spent a total of 198.50 ringgit, excluding the airfare I charged to my credit card. Not bad at all.

Next stop: Phuket!