This topic covers a vacation to Thailand back in November and December of 2002. I was not into tropical fruit at this time, but I'm sure this trip help set the stage. My wife is Thai and her family...mother, father, brother, and sister...still live there. We married in January and so it was only natural to end up vacationing over there. This will be my very first trip to Thailand, and out of the country, so I felt our flight experience was worthy of my first blog.
Throwdown at 35K feet
We had three flights to get through and there was a hefty layover in between each of them. Ohio to Detroit was roughly an hour maybe. Couple hours layover. Detroit to Japan would be around 13 hours. 13!! We had at least a four hour layover in Japan. Then it was about seven hours from Japan to Thailand. Another work day. I think back on this and being in a cubicle for eight hours each day is really not all that bad. All in all, flights and layovers, we were looking at around 27 hours total.
The flight to Detroit was uneventful. It was the flight to Japan that had me concerned. I had books. I prayed there would be decent movies on board. I had candy and a couple of meals to interrupt the boredom of flight to look forward to. I can do this. As we board, of course you get to pass all the fine folk in first and business class seats. Again, thinking back, giving up a testicle to sit in one of these seats really doesn't sound so bad at all.
And our seats? I was really expected to sit in that tiny space for thirteen hours? I barely get sat down and I'm already uncomfortable and my back hurts. They haven't even closed the doors and I'm ready to bolt. My wife reassures me it won't be as bad as I think. Okay. I'm supposed to trust my spouse. She's done these flights before. She should know what she's talking about. Jesus! There is not enough room to lift a butt cheek!
My other concern for the flight are other passengers. I can tolerate some things from fellow human beings, but unwashed bodies are not one of them. I sniff all points of the compass. So far so good. Everyone seems normal and interested in minding their own business. Great! Except I didn't check my six o'clock passenger well enough. Not that it really would have mattered. The seat you're dealt with on the plane is not like a hand of cards. You can't just fold and hope for a better one the next deal. The trouble didn't start until right after takeoff when we were allowed to recline our seats the .000005 degrees that the seats would recline. I immediately heard the person behind me start to bitch about the seat pressing against his knees and that he had no room. Well, if he thought I was going to sit straight up for thirteen hours, his ass was mistaken.
The guy would obviously stretch one of his legs out into the aisle where the flight attendants and other passengers had to step over or around it. Sometimes the person wasn't as agile as they believed and would trip or bump his leg. The guy would raise his voice, bitch and moan about it, and scare the piss out of the poor soul who hit is leg. He really howled when a flight attendant hit his knee with the serving cart!
I would occasionally have to get up, walk up and down the aisle, stand to read...whatever it took to get the kinks out and try something different. I got a glance at Mister Personality when I got up. Oh shit! This guy was either a relative of Andre the Giant or played football for Detroit! He was big and he was not a happy man. I knew how uncomfortable I was in these seats and I weight at least 180 lbs. less than he did and was several inches shorter. It had to have taken a magic act to get him into that seat. The bottom line was that everyone was miserable and they weren't bitching at the top of their lungs. Me? I just drove my poor wife nuts.
The flight staff and I got along great. I would chat with them during my walk abouts and they allowed me to stand near their area and read my book. It was not long before the angry man went ape shit again in the section. He's slamming his hands against the seats in front of him and yelling...scaring the absolute shit out of everyone in the vicinity. I’m yapping further down the plane with the staff and the purser steps up to me and says “listen, if we need to take this man down, can we count on your help?”. I take a few seconds and stare at the purser with my best "you've got to be shitting me?" look. This guy is smaller than me! I ask him who the hell “we” is. So he’s figuring on some of us to physically take this guy down if it becomes necessary?! We are going to take down Mean Joe Green? Right! Well, we were all spared the embarrassment and a sure ass-whooping when the captain came back and put the fear of God into the man. I guess threats of federal agents meeting the plane has a way of calming the savage beast. The man soon apologized to all around and even offered me a piece of gum! LOL!
We touched down close to midnight in Bangkok. Tired. Sore. Stressed. Thankful. After finally making it through customs, we find the folks and make our way to the parking garage. The heat. WTF?! It's after midnight in December and it's like having a wet towel thrown on to of me.
But it's a whole new world out there with lots to do and see...after I hit the sheets of course. Lots of traffic this time of night too. I was anxious to get to the house and crash. And about hour later, that was what we did.
A Little Toilet Talk
I found this picture courtesy of www.hobotraveler.com. But it pretty much says it all. There’s no sitting on this bad boy. My wife began to explain how one must use this kind of toilet. She even showed me how you are supposed to squat. My very first thought was "I ain’t going to Thailand". Now I’ve been in the Boy Scouts. I’ve been camping. I've been places where there were no toilets at all. Believe me, those are much easier!
Seeing my wife squatting on the floor, it was very clear there was no way I could do this. I CAN NOT bend like that. No freakin’ way. I went to the middle of the room and proceeded to do my best impression of what she just did. Not even close. “I’ll shit all over my nuts!!” I yelled. Well now, that statement made me famous. I no sooner was up from my squat and she was already on the phone telling her mother all about my squat and what I just said. Both were laughing so hard, tears were rolling. That statement went from family member to family member. By the time they were done, half the population of Thailand had probably heard about it.
See the instructions above? “Pour water down your crack”. "Use hand in front to sprinkle". Sprinkle what?! Well hell, again…for someone who can’t squat down as far as necessity demands, where do you all think that sluice mixture is going to end up? Yep. Another coating on the sack. And do you see anything in that stall resembling toilet paper or anything else to dry yourself off with assuming...you were successful at the cleaning? Nope. So you can see why I was a bit concerned.
I have IBS...or irritable bowel syndrome. If you don't know what it is, go Google it. For those of you who have it or know someone with it, you can clearly understand my concerns. My stomach issues made it a good bet that I would indeed run across one of these porcelain contraptions. My mother-in-law takes toilet paper everywhere we go. Why? Because many places provide the hole, but not the paper. Yeah...even in places where they have the sit down models. So keep that in mind wary travelers.
Well, while out and about somewhere in the city, my worst fears were finally realized. Armed with toilet paper in my pocket, I scurry inside the gas stations only restroom. I’ve scored a squatter, not a sitter. Damn! But when you got to go, man, you go. There was no going back to the car and hoping for a sitter down the road.
Knowing I could not squat and that I was holding closed the gates of hell, I still had to figure out my game plan here. I can work under pressure, but come on! Everything in this tiny little room was laid out just as it was in that picture above...and I still did not understand what I was to do with all of it. I began my best impression of a tight rope walker and gymnast. Arms and legs sprawled every which way. My hands were out and stretched to and pressing against the walls...much like a gymnast doing an iron cross on those rings. All I could picture was my feet slipping, an arm or leg giving out, and plopping down into the water below. It was a workout for sure, but I succeeded without splashing down and embarrassing myself any further. I didn't pour water down the crack or sprinkle anything. I'll leave that to people who can actually squat and know what they are doing.
In all fairness to the fine country of Thailand, these squatters are being phased out pretty quickly. Not only do the Thais appreciate their comforts, they realize that this is one aspect of Thailand tourists would rather not experience. This goes for the cities of course. Rural areas further out may not be quite up to date. This is still my top concern when traveling here.
That's me and my wife waiting to board the domestic flight south. I was ready for some beach fun. But first, there were other stops along the way far from any beaches. One such place was the Elephant Cave in Phang Nga. This was a very large cave system but required you to travel much of the cave in small canoes. The stalagmites and stalactites created beautiful structures and there were many that actually resembled elephant heads, trunks, and feet. A nice, cool, side line trip out of the Thailand heat.
This was also my first introduction in how some of the older, and maybe less educated, Thai women think. My sister-in-law Beau(pronounced bow...like take a bow but with an emphasis on the "ow"), her boyfriend Kaywood, my wife and I were walking thru the park prior to entering the cave. There were a few old ladies at some park benches and they made some comments towards us. My wife and Beau fired back some comments and it was clear to us two fellas that the exchange was not pretty. The girls were obviously very pissed off and would not say crap to us until we were out of the park. Turns out that when some older folks see young women with farongs, foreigners, they assume that we had paid for their company so to speak. In other words, the old busybodies basically called our gals whores. It was hard to let that go but we were convinced to do so. The family apologized to us for the ignorant old ladies. It wasn't the family's fault but we understood that they were just as embarrassed and upset about it as Kaywood and I was.
There was at least one more stop at a nice resort where we stayed in these cabins. I cannot remember the name or the place. I do recall a huge assed spider about the size of my hand in the shower. All I could think of the rest of the night was waking up to find this fella sitting on top of my chest. But the place had a real nice breakfast buffet the next morning and we all stuffed ourselves before the bus arrived.
I got to see the woks they fry their chicken in. These were the largest freakin' woks I've ever seen! Had to be at least five or six feet across and laying on a bed of charcoal. And garlic? Ahhhh...yes...garlic.
This tissue don’t cut it for me especially when eating foods like fried chicken. All it does is stick to your fingers. So you need more tissue to help remove the tissue on your fingers. See all the wadded up pieces on the plates? There's probably fifty pieces wadded up there! The Thais don’t seem to mind. Of course, they are used to it and this is all they’ve known. It’s everywhere you go. Homes, restaurants, and markets. Not a paper towel or real napkin to be found. Chicken looks good though doesn’t it? Believe me...it is!
Even after several trips to Thailand under my belt, I still don't understand this. It is a close second to squat toilets in my book. But I'm the ugly American from the land of excess.
The Beach at Last!
I say dangerous because that truck ride scared the shit out of all of us! We all sat in the back on benches. You could look thru the back window and watch the driver careen the truck from one side of the road to the other with no regard of traffic laws whatsoever. People walking or on bicycles would scatter and several nearly ended up as hood ornaments. If the asshole would have wrecked, each of us would have been pickings for the birds.
Once we were done with Goggles Pizano, we hopped aboard a speed boat for about an hour or so trip where we were dropped off onto Surin Island. This is a beach resort mainly, but I don’t want to emphasize “resort” too much. There was limited electricity and that was shut off at 10:00 pm each night. We all slept on mats, on the floor, all in one room. Hot? Muggy? You betcha! But it was just unbelievably gorgeous. This was our home base for three days. That’s Kaywood on the left…ex-boyfriend now. Sister-in-law Beau in the middle...with her mouth open as usual (LOL!), and my wife on the right edge.
The food was a part of the all inclusive package. The twist was that you ate what they served. It was mainly seafood for each meal. Don't get me wrong, I like seafood but I like options more! Okay...I admit. I'm a pain in the ass. This was my first trip and did not know what to expect. I'm better at this now. Some. I think the second day, dad did get a chicken dish for me...brought along on one of our excursions when we stopped on a beach for lunch. It was divine!
What about fruit? Don't recall anything out of the ordinary at this time. Nothing at all sticks out. This was before I was into the hobby so I wasn't seeking anything out. A shame really.
The island really was beautiful. Kaywood and I did a lot of exploring one afternoon after we all mutinied against the folks. We wanted a "do nothing" day rather than more snorkling. There was a bay that seemed to go into the island forever. It was just deep enough to float on the current or stop and fool around with some local denizens of the reef. What we did NOT realize, was that the current that was fun to drift with going inland, was a S.O.B. trying to get back! Damn near impossible to try and walk back out.
That current sure didn't seem that strong. So we took to the massive rock formations that lined the inlet. This was a tough go as well. We finally found a trail and off we went. We had no idea how far we had come or where this trail might take us. The island was pretty fair sized too. It took us at least a couple of hours to find our way back to the resort. Everyone had freaked out after we disappeared! Guess we were gone for quite a while.
There was nothing much that we found to do once it got dark. It wasn't long before the island shut off all electricity so that pretty much discouraged any activity besides trying to find where you sleep. Sleep? It was 90 degrees and 100 bazzillion
The next couple pics are from a couple of stops during the day. The first was a stop at an island for lunch and a rest from all the snorkeling. As you can see, the group is pretty wiped out. The next pic is a local island monkey swinging on a rope. Nope...sorry...I guess that would be Kaywood.
The last pic is of a big cave system where swallow nests are harvested to be made into a delicacy. Mmmm…bird spit.
All of us rented kayaks and paddled around some of the small islands. This were straight up and down rock formations with plants and trees clinging for dear life all over them. Pretty amazing really. The weather was awesome. The water was practically see-thru.
Fruit. I now recall while on the speed boat being zipped from island to island, they had snacks and drinks on board for us. There was pomelo. They peeled and even removed the skin leaving only the lush, pearls of flesh. Fantastic! Not only were they delicious, we didn't have to fool with them. Just eat. Now that my friends, is how to travel!
Wife Versus Hotel
The morning of check out, most of us were at the breakfast buffet. Horrible. Everything was ice cold. Who wants cold eggs for breakfast? I wasn’t happy and my wife tried to tell the staff about it. Another blow off! Okay fine. We head up to the room to collect the folks and that’s when we discover the state of their room. I could not believe they actually stayed in this room several nights. The musty smell was overwhelming too. The folks still did not want to make a scene. Scene my butt! This was way past making a scene.
Well, obviously, some of the staff did not get the memo. When checking out, they asked how our stay was and if there were any problems. So my wife started filling them in…calmly to start I might add. From the cold eggs to her parent’s rain forest-like room…I’m sure the eggs would have been left out if not for the soggy room. The smart and right thing to do at this stage was for the hotel staff to simply apologize. That would have been the end of it. Oh no. That’s not how this assistant manager rolled.
The lady proceeded to argue about the conditions of the room, probably blaming the folks for the conditions and me for the eggs being cold. This is the point where it felt as if time stood still. My wife gave the most impressive display of a verbal ass whooping as I have ever witnessed…and the only thing I understood in the one-way exchange was the few “F” bombs that were tossed into the mix. At one point a water bottle sailed across the patio. I kid you not, people from the patio, the breakfast buffet, and even across the street stopped what they were doing to watch the fireworks! There was a pinky wide vein that was bulging from her neck.
So note to self and anyone else that was paying attention…one of my wife’s “buttons” not to push would be to screw with her folks and try to make them into the bad guys. I’m not ashamed to admit this…but she scared the hell outta me right then. I will also admit that I was pretty darned proud of her too for sticking up for her folks. But damn! If you could only have seen it!
What an incredible experience the floating markets are. This takes you back in time. It is certainly a competitive way to do business. Most merchants are respectful of others but you always get a few a-holes in the mix. Most of these are people powered by elderly folks trying to make a living. Then out of nowhere comes a young dude with an engine on his boat knocking everyone out of the way. It didn't do any good to pray he fell in and a big croc chew his dumb ass up...cause it didn't happen...and I was praying hard that it would.
Where the HELL was Tarzan?!
So here the fam and I are walking down this narrow street taking in all the sites. Out of the blue we hear the tigers start to let out freaking roars that made your skin crawl and cause you to jump. A heartbeat after that was the trumpet of an elephant that sounded like it was right behind us. A quick turn confirmed that yep, the big flesh and bone freight train was indeed right behind and she looked as if she was in a hurry…even with a small calf chained to one of her legs. Apparently when they walked by the tigers on the stage, the tigers wanted to let them know that while chained, they are still the bad asses of the park. The elephant did not appreciate the gesture with her calf nearby so decided to split the scene in a hurry.
A person is pretty damn small when compared to a full grown elephant…especially one that is frightened and pissed off. Something you want to get the hell out of the way of quickly. A lot of stuff flew through my head in a flash...one of which was would there be enough of me left to scrape off the road or would they just simply hose my bloody remains down the drains? This was serious poo!
I took in the scene and looked around to grab my wife and whoever was close by and get them out of this beast’s way. Huh?! Apparently, what I thought was a flash of time in my head was a lot slower than I imagined. When I turned around, my wife, and every other family member was already over the fence and nearly around the corner of the closest building! Assholes and elbows going every which way. So much for being the hero eh?! Yeah…seems I was a little slow off the mark. I did make it over the fence before Dumbo ran me over. Where the hell was Tarzan when you needed him? Talk about an adrenaline rush! Thinking about those pissed off tigers and the scene at the hotel down south, I think my wife could have taken both tigers!
Well…that pretty much wraps up my first trip to Thailand. I was in no way looking forward to the flight home. Same miserable time only going the other way. There were no giants on any of the flights. However, there was an entire family of questionable hygiene sitting way too near us. Luckily, the flight going back was not nearly as full as going in and we were able to move far enough away from them and even stretch out amongst several seats. A little soap. A little deodorant. That's not asking for a lot. I'm sorry, but being "natural" is not an attraction.