In Deep Curry: Part 3

Day 3: Goodbye Bangkok, I hardly knew ye

December 27, 2009


I’m awake. Megan’s awake. Not so sure about anyone else. I met Kevan in the hallway sometime after four, rumbling through like a wounded rhinoceros, and he grumbled something about everyone else being alright. Or dead. I don’t quite remember.

There’s a bit of excitement in the air even if ¾ of our crew are abnormally hung over. Even Marty almost drank the Irish out of himself last night, and that’s saying something. Not a lot, but it’s something. We roll out into the street in packs and commandeer taxi cabs (screw you, tuk-tuk, screw you) en route to the airport. Cabs are nowhere near as fun as the steel chariots of punishment, but with Zachy boy near death and Kevan’s dragon breath in the backseat we’re inclined to take the most readily available option.

We convene at the airport and sort ourselves out as well as can be expected. If we weren’t on our way to paradise today, I don’t think Phil, Zack or Marty would be much use to the world. Kev is some sort of strange new Terminator, made up mostly from steel and old hooker parts, so he’s fine. Waiting in line at the gate with our gigantic packs and a few hundred hung-over travelers is not so fine. Not so fine at all. But watching Marty belittle a 7-year-old French girl is one of the highlights of the trip so far. They play some odd counting game I’ve never heard of – I have trouble getting past ten – and squabble over rock, paper, scissors. In a game of wits with someone a quarter his age Marty’s bound to win 30% of the time. At least.

The flight crew is the same bunch we had on the way over from Incheon. That’s bad news. They are wise to our game. The refuse to serve us anything with booze in it, citing archaic FAA regulations (I made that part up) and we’re forced to do the hour-long flight dry. The boys insist this is a good idea. I truly believe they can beat back their hangovers with another round of beers, but the thought is for naught. In other news, Megan is seated next to a chubby Korean stuck in the window seat, a man with a penchant for picking his nose and looking at it closely when she’s not looking. But I am. And I’m laughing.

We smash into the tarmac of Phuket’s lovely little airport amidst the churning sea and a million palm trees and are energized the moment we suck the salty air into our lungs. The plane comes alive. Our crew is no longer dead to the world, instead brimming with excitement. We sort out a van into Phuket Town, accommodations for the night and a ride to the port for tomorrow morning. Are we getting fleeced? Are prices too high? Should we go somewhere else and compare? Maybe, maybe and yes. But who cares. No time to doddle; we want to mix things up. We’re in the islands, baby.

We race through Phuket craning our necks at the novelty of entire families crammed onto motor scooters, trucks loaded to the brink with dozens of day laborers and other assorted sights unique to this part of the world. We pull into our hotel and the last bit of gloom hanging over our party recedes. We discover that we’ve just spent $7 a piece, per night, to check into what would creep into three-star territory back home. It’s not a sweaty hovel. Better yet, it’s not a brothel. Three days in Thailand and I haven’t seen a single hooker. Not a one! The best part about this place, other than the fact that room service isn’t going to be knocking on our door at 5am, is that it’s a Thai joint, hardly a western face (other than our own) in sight. You have to feel for the concierge at this point. Poor girl doesn’t speak a word of English.

We take an hour or so to work through the three S’s before meeting in the lobby. It’s a nice change of pace from the frenetic coming and coming we’ve been putting on since we left Korea; we need a bit of time to relax. I’m edging into dangerous territory with the itinerary. Dangerous like any moment Phil might tear it to shreds and shove it into my spring rolls. Maybe I need to relax the most.

We call a “cab” and settle in for another long wait. While it felt like free enterprise reigned supreme in the world of Bangkok cabs, there’s some black hat monopoly action going on here; you call a cab, you wait an hour, the same guy that dropped you off two hours previous shows up and charges you the same rate to any destination… regardless of passenger set or distance. Good times. Thankfully, there’s a fridge full of Heineken’s nearby and Zack is eaily talked into sharing a cold one. By the time our second gray van of the day arrives we’re a couple deep and feeling alright. Off to the coast!

And then there’s a sea… and it’s underwhelming. Underwhelming at best. We’re dropped off at Rawai Beach. I’m finished with the Lonely Planet and its suggestions here and now. I’d pitch it into the river now if it wasn’t the only thing capable of seeing us through our journey to Phi Phi and beyond. Damn you, Lonely Planet. Damn you for rocky, fat corral-ed beaches, smelly septic run-off water and hawkers as far as the eye can see. If this is Phuket, or worse, if this is Thailand…

Phil and Kev have seen enough and are about ready for a bite. I’d say they throw a fit, but that wouldn’t be nice. They storm off down the road in search of sustenance while we scrounge the buskers for a morsel of our own. All manner of food stuff is for sale here, including pork pieces, friend chicken, pad Thai, grilled shrimp and innumerable other pastes, fries and sautés. They’ve even fished some squid out of the sea and grilled it up, just in case we were missing Korea too much. Very sweet of them. It goes down, in a way, and we tail off after the wavebreakers.

Kev and Phil are knee-deep in their curry when we catch up with them at a beachside restaurant. I love beachside restaurants, I love sand beneath my feet while I’m sipping a cold beer and I love palm trees. I’m not huge on the busy road 30 feet away or the thunderous K-Pop blasting out of the speakers, but we’ll get on. Hopeully Phuket has more to offer than this. Where are the Mic Jaggers, the Beckhams, the Axel Roses of the world?! We chase the wonderful salty nuts with chilly Chang before deciding on an adventure. We head on down the road in search of a clean stretch of sand, Megan and I, in a bastardized version of the original Thai plan. That plan, marked out in my itinerary in full, called for us to work down the coast and visit two or three beaches, soak up the sand, the sun and the beer before visiting the Bureau of Monks, Laem Phrom Thep for the epicality of sunset. That’s all fallen apart with our desire to cut into tomorrow’s prep and travel time. If this is how it’s going to be, if we’re going to find ourselves in shitty locations eating shitty food and trying, without success to swim at shitty beaches, tomorrow I’m going to stop caring about tomorrow. I’m going to worry more about today. Tomorrow, I mean. I’d love to find a beach not filled with bobbing road kill, cigarette butts and broken bottles. Am I asking too much?

The sun sets as we’re on the road and the dreary night falls upon us. We’re all broken down just a little; pissed that we didn’t do the sunset thing with Brian and Adam, bitter about the beach, angry about the cab fleecing to come. And then…

Piss on it. There’s the ocean. There are boats in that ocean, big ones, and there are some guys who captain them nearby. I wade out into the surf and put my bargaining cap on. Before long we’ve got ourselves a midnight run and a promise that we won’t stop cruising until we find a beach fit for a rock star. Or at least his entourage. Racing through the calm waters at speed, salt water spitting in our faces, we come around the island into the waters of the Royal Phuket Yacht Club Hotel’s beach. Or thereabouts. The bright lights of the mammoth resort beckon us and we abandon our vessel at sea. We jump out into the surf, toss our clothing and belongings onto beach chairs and dive into the water. The sea is salty, stings our eyes, the sand is soft and the water is warm. For two hours we play on the beach, while Zach and Megan go off in search of beers. The rest of us, we can’t be bothered to exit the waters. This is what we came for.

Not sure where Megan and Zach have got off to. They said they were going for beers for everyone. That was over an hour ago. Not to say that I’m worried – Zach would prove a nasty surprise to a malnourished Thai beggar should one be silly enough to get twisty– but it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing to know where they went, seeing as how we’re on an empty beach in the middle of a night in a part of a country we’ve never been to. Just saying.

Worries out the window when I find them at a café (in the opposite direction they said they were going) three beers deep and looking like dogs that just pissed on the rug. I’m not mad, simply thirsty, so I join the party for a drink. I feel bad though, like I’m invading some family chat, but can’t reroute when we’re joined by Sara, then the other girls and the rest of the crew for cocktails and some munchies. Shoot. I should have made myself scarce. Hard to do, though, when this little joint serves the best coconut and rum smoothies and spring rolls I’ve ever had. Without realizing it, the tides of Phuket are changing. The crew, save for Megan, Zack and myself retire via taxi cab (for more than a nominal fee) and we hit the beach for more sand and surf. By the time we’re finished, our skin is something akin to a baseball mitt and we’re more sending out messages in our empty bottles to the travelers who will come after us. Phuket is not such a bad place after all, our messages say. Not such a bad place. In fact, you might even have a little fun, if you let yourself relax. Forget the itinerary. That ends my message.

Shooting Day 3:

To be honest, I didn’t do a whole lot of photo-making on Phuket. Not enough time, too many beers to drink. If I ever go back, though, the one thing I’ll be doing is shooting the stars from the southern tip. I’ve never seen such clear skies in my life in South Korea.

And there are always portraits of entire families riding on motos to be had. Plently.


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