24 Little Hours
Waking up determined to sustain positivity, I took a shower, partly blaming yesterday’s perils on my absence of a morning shower. I paid for another night at On On and booked a full day tour to Ko Phi Phi Don & Ko Phi Phi Ley for the next day. So far, so good. Few minutes up and at ’em and already accomplished a good deal. Next step, local transport to Hat Karon, another of Phuket’s area beaches. The weather was perfect. Strong sun and blue sky. I found my way to the songtheaw station across from the 7-11, battling taxi bikers hoping to whisk me away for a far greater price. But Phuket Town offers transport to all the beaches for bargain prices (25 baht). Signs are in English and prices are posted, which is also a relief. It is irksome when prices are seemingly made up on sight. (Who knows how much I’ve been cheated out of in total!) I made it to Hat Karon and jumped off at first sign of the shore. Exuding with positivity, the universe was rewarding me with ease and convenience. It better! I didn’t free those darn birds for nothing.
The beach was nothing short of glorious. White sand, turquoise waters and azure blue skies. I shimmied my pale legs past the beach chairs, mostly full but not overly, and set my towel towards the beaming sun. I was sure my initial burn weeks ago in Ko Chang would allow me to darken up nicely. I rotisseried around at approximately 30 minutes on each side, certain this would not leave me red and raw. However, I grossly underestimated the strength of the sun. I’m much closer to the equator then, say, at Jones Beach. In my water breaks I noticed a burn already dotting my skin. But determined to make a full day at the beach, I ignored this little detail and continued in my cycle of sun and water bathing. When physically possible to read (facing upward the sun was unbearably strong, even in my new “Louis Vuitton” sunglasses) I browsed other tour brochures, impressed by my hotel’s ability to knock 50% of the asking price for my full-day Phi Phi tour. There were a few other islands I’d like to see, many with no accommodations or services on the island. It looked as if booking a day tour from home base would be most convenient as boat transfer alone to the islands was a hefty baht.
Wait, back to the water. It was the most beautiful sea I’d ever seen, let alone dog-paddled in. Ironically, the day before (my bad day), I remarked over the phone that being in the water alone is boring and that I was like Philip Seymour Hoffman in Love Liza in the waves, putting great effort into trying to enjoy myself. But today, a mermaid enchantress buoying through the strong currents, greeting the waves head first with sinus-clearing intensity. It was perfect. And I went back and forth from my towel to the sea in consistent intervals until the current got a bit too strong for my taste. (I’m not the greatest of swimmers.) A note about life here in Thailand: there are far less safety precautions in general. Everything is at your own risk. (i.e. transport by songtheaw is riding in an open-backed pick-up of sorts, lean back, you fall out.) There is a freedom to this kind of living that I value, especially coming from America where hazards are clearly and overly obvious for property owners’ liability’s sake.. so much that, you don’t get the opportunity to be careless. Anyway, so yes, no life guards here. No flags, no signs on shore… just the sea and your wits. And I know better to tempt the sea. I respect it as a superior force in nature.
Lest we forget, 2004. There are signs far from shore that point to evacuation sites, still bright and shiny. Ironically, I was amidst planning a trip to Thailand before the tsunami hit. A spring break trip adventure with Ms. Penny. For those who thought my destination of Thailand randomly picked of all the places on the globe, I’ve had my eye on it for awhile. Watching the surreal images of the devastation caused by the tsunami on the television, I thought… damn. Instead, we headed over to New Orleans… which Katrina hit after we left. Weird. Ok, onward. I had planned to stay at Hat Karon until sundown, taking local transport to a reputable viewpoint to watch her majesty bow down gracefully. But after inquiring with the local taxi people I learned this would cost me 1500 baht roundtrip. (Just who do they think they are dealing with here!) After this discovery, I used my local knowledge of the transport system to ensure me a front row to the show at Cape Promthep, the Southern most point of the island revered for its daily sunset viewing.
But first, I needed to head back to Phuket Town to catch another songtheaw to Hat Rawai, closest stop to Promthep. I noticed on the bus ride back into to town a vegetarian eatery. I made a b-line to it as I hadn’t eaten all day save for a watered down and overpriced pineapple shake at the beach. The eatery was great. Offers an “all you can eat but take what you eat” for 20 baht. Several types of meat analogs done real well. It was texture heaven.
Afterwards, as I searched for the right songthaew, a extremely helpful European woman served as translator to the driver and steered me in the right direction of the walk I’d have to endure uphill to make it to the Cape. I walked 2 kms uphill to what I thought was the viewpoint. (The sign said 9 kms to the viewpoint which I was determined to walk. I’m nuts!) But many, many Thai tourist buses covered this parking area 20 minutes up and toilets/services were offered. This had to be it! Once I looked over the partition over the cliff (Ok, Thailand is not that risky.), I realized there was a more isolated Southern point below, the true front row to the action. But my viewpoint was fine… and I was in good company. The gate was surrounded by camera flickers and tour groups. And we had a good amount of time to spend together before sundown. During this time, I caused quite the stir. I was asked to be in pictures with Thai tourists, a young girl took several pictures of me and then one of me with my own camera (below. See how red I am). It was very strange. The view pre-sunset was impressive on its own, pictured below.
But sunset couldn’t come soon enough. My head was dazed from the day in the sun and my skin, beginning to burn and ache. Having to sit on the concrete, every indentation was piercing my raw skin. Circulation alone was causing me pain, let alone thinking of my trek back down to Hat Rawai/having to negotiate transportation back to Phuket Town. I snap many pictures of the sun setting, 10 of which I created this animated .gif so you can appreciate it too!
During my time waiting, I met this woman. A police woman in Bangkok visiting in a small group and very interested in fine tuning her English skills, she remarked numerous times how beautiful my skin was. (In Thailand, light skin is a sign of a higher class and many, if not all, skin care for men and women included “whiteners”.) I asked her about transportation back to the beach, were there buses that were running, etc. I knew there wasn’t but also knew her policewoman perks may know better. She asked her driver for more information and before I knew it I was in their van heading back to Phuket Town! In the bus, Sirima and I became greatest of friends. We took pictures together and she gave me a brief history of her life. She used to be fixated on marrying an American man. Her sister had done so in her early twenties and now lives in Minnesota; she has been married for over 30 years. She is a Christian and goes to church every Sunday, reminding me of the passing Easter holiday. After her goal to marry an American went unfulfilled, she became a policewoman working in internal audit bureau of the Royal Thai Police. She gave me her card and insisted I email her and call her when next in Bangkok. The ride ended at a police station outside of Phuket Town. The driver attempted to find me motorbike taxi transport back to my hotel but did not agree with the stated price. Eventually they left me in the hands of police officers that were at the scene of a motorbike accident. I was put in the backseat of the the Captain of police’s pick-up, which this man was driving.The captain soon joined us in the car, a dashing 27-year-old with a whole lot of personality who I regrettably did not photograph. Quickly the busy captain was called to the scene of another motorbike accident (They are very common.) and I went along with them. The captain was a hoot and everyone was enjoying the strange adventure as we were called to yet another accident site. So there I was, making the rounds with the captain of the Royal Thai Police, brushing him up on his English! He was a sweet man and told me he was “scared for me” if I chose to go to the club or bar by myself. He advised me against it. We ended up again at the police station, where the captain left for paperwork. The driver, a stern man who knew significantly less English, was responsible for getting me back to the hotel, finally. But not so fast, he had to run some errand, leaving me in the car to play with the gadgets (below). Then he got lost and at this point I was beat from the full day in the sun and uphill walk. What a brat I am, complaining about the speed of my free ride from the police.
What an adventure. Although I was beat at its close, it was certainly not defeat or discouragement. I needed to rest for the full-day Phi Phi to follow.