Contrast – Bangkok

Flying into Bangkok was a shock to the system. Sure only 28 days had elapsed, but what a difference those 28 days had made to my outlook. I couldn’t help but be struck by the modernity, efficiency, and general cleanliness of everything. Cleanliness? Bangkok? Really, it is true. During the taxi ride that would eventually drop us in front of the Democracy Monument (recently abandoned headquarters of the Thai Redshirts) we couldn’t help but comment as we looked around, “Thailand is rich,” over and over.

Zooming down the multi-lane freeway the taxi driver filled us in on the recent Redshirt activity. Bunch of hooligans and vagrants disrupting business, frightening away tourist, and causing a public hazard was his general assessment. In the days to come, things would escalate significantly. Many would be killed, hurt, or maimed, but eventually the crowd inhabiting a busy shopping and business district would disperse as the government switched from “asking nicely” to “using force.”

We didn’t stay in Bangkok long. After finishing a few top-priority errands, like mailing over 100 photos to Sasa (finally), we scheduled a night bus** to take us to the party island of Ko Phan Ngan. Friends from our 5 Bananas Gang in Laos had worked on a lesser known, more serene part of the island and had recommended it highly. Having only seen the Andaman Coast (West), we decided to give the Gulf Coast (East) a chance.

**It wasn’t until I arrived in Malaysia that I noticed the theft that occurred upon this night bus trip. I had enough cash on hand that there was no need to dig into my wallet that held my passport, credit card, debit card, and all the US cash that I did not spend in Myanmar. Myanmar has no ATM’s; therefore you must arrive with as much cash as you intend to spend or be left high and dry. I overestimated my expenditure by a significant amount; in other words, I had a lot of cash on me. Much more than usual. Much more than I ever have had on this trip—except upon entering Myanmar of course. On the night bus, I was robbed while at a bathroom stop. It was one of the few times I have left my bag unattended, and I paid for it. The culprit made off with a lump sum of cash and managed to charge $3500US before the credit card company pulled the plug and contacted me to verify that I had indeed gone charge happy. Luckily I was able to easily file a fraud report and be absolved of the charges. But the cash is another story. It stings. I beat myself up for a good while, upset that I had been so careless. I’m over it now (mostly).

Eventually we hopped from the night bus, to a van, and onto a ferry to get the island, then onto a song taw across the island. There we found boat drivers offering to deliver us to Sunrise beach. Transport was not cheap, so we decided to look for a better deal. We found one, eventually, saving us a few bucks. It probably wasn’t worth the time or footwork, but what else do we have to do? The slight saving made us feel validated.

The boat finally dropped us at our intended destination and we were hit with high-season prices for pretty basic rooms. The beach was rocky; great for neither sunning nor swimming. The surrounding grounds were overgrown and neglected, although the landscape did hold some beauty, especially when viewed from higher vantage points. Hornbills were also a nice addition to the atmosphere. Overall though, the place was pretty lackluster and left us uncharmed and unmoved. While our friends had a great time at this place, it just wasn’t happening for us.

A few days passed in utter laze-around-mode, and eventually we found ourselves back in the overpriced transport boat back to the main part of the island for what would be yet another day filled with various types of transport. Again, we put in a significant amount of footwork to get a descent rate to take us back to the ferry station, and showed up minutes before the ferry was scheduled to depart. I quickly purchased tickets and jumped on the back of a motorbike to get to the pier in time. Scotty walked until the speedy motorbike driving lady swung back around after dropping me to bring him the remaining distance. After the ferry ride we were ushered onto a bus, and then transferred at the bus station onto a passenger van border-bound.

We remained in the van many hours until we reached the Thai border town of Had Yai. It was fairly late and the city streets were already deserted. I wasn’t looking forward to walking around in the dark looking for accommodations. Luckily, our mini-van driver drove us directly to a cheap backpacker’s hotel that was more than adequate for the evening. Sitting in the common area, we were still able to book transport to take us to Penang Island in the morning despite the late hour. Feeling happy about that stroke of luck, we shared a drink, part of a bad movie, and decide to spend some Internet time before hitting the hay. Sure enough, I had an email from the fraud department of my credit card company and, finally checking my bag, realized the theft that occurred days before on the bus. The happy feeling was sucked out of me pretty quickly and I slept poorly that evening.

In the morning we were promptly whisked away, Malaysia bound, again.

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