Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Koh Chang

Sunday, March 14, 2010, Koh Chang Island 9:30 am
Siam Huts, Lonely Beach

Arrived here from Trat yesterday after a couple of 150 baht song-taew rides and a ferry trip. And I must say, this place is a dump. Albert says it’s gone downhill from the last time he was here a couple of years ago. When he first visited over 20 years ago, it was very remote and difficult to get to; 4-wheel drive was the mode of transport and because of its remoteness, was quite beautiful and well kept up. That's all changed with the advent of plentiful tourist dollars. My hut is very shabby, the surroundings full of litter and cigarette butts, the bathroom dismal, the water brownish in appearance. I do have air conditioning but, even though I'm right on the seashore, at 560 baht (about $16) the cost is ridiculous. I said to myself, I'll stay the night and look around for something better tomorrow. But the area hereabouts is spectacular. Big forest, big trees, and beautiful beaches were noted on the way in. We will do a bit of touring on motos later today and perhaps I’ll find a better place.

My hut, as seen from possibly its best vantage point

Did a longish moto ride today. Started out with Albie but did my own tour south of here to Bang Bao on the return leg. Saw some beautiful beaches and nice, high-end resorts. I asked about a room at one, the White Sand Beach Resort north of here, and the clerk replied, 1500 baht/night. That makes it pretty expensive, roughly comparable I suppose to what I had to spend in Europe. Amsterdam was 50 euro/night if I recall correctly (damn nuisance having no Internet in the room), equivalent to ~$75. Well then, I guess it actually isn’t that expensive: 1500 baht is equivalent to about $47. To put things into perspective, this hut is really no worse than the bure I had last year at Wayalailai Resort in Fiji for $30/night, and it does have air conditioning after all. The floor has wide cracks between the floorboards, and looks sort of like a deck built of green, rough-cut lumber would after a few years of drying out, so the idea of air conditioning it is, at some level, ludicrous.  Yet, the space is so tiny it does get chilly inside after only a few minutes.
Below are a few pictures I took during the ride:
 View west from a highway overlook near Kai Bai Beach
Independent Bo - a hostel and bar on White Sand Beach

Beach on Bang Bao Bay
Town of Bang Bao
Shady little road near Bang Bao (above and below) offers nice motorcycling

I’m just up and stirring after a long night last – went out for beers with Albie and after we parted company I went off to go dancing at the Tree House just down the beach from my hut.  I had a good time and got back at about 1 am.

But after the next night, my feelings about the Tree House changed dramatically. I did not go out dancing, but other people did. Read on... 

Monday, March 15, 2010, 8 am
I didn’t get to sleep until at least 4 am I’ll bet. Loud music from the Tree House and then the idiots next door were out on their porch talking and carousing until very late. Finally I drifted off for a few fitful hours. However, I am not rested, definitely not rested. At about 9 am I called Albert on the cell. I said, "Let’s get out of here today. I’m sick of this dump and my rowdy neighbors." He replied, “Sure, I’m okay with that. Let’s move in that direction.” We’ll go back to Pattaya and from there it’s an easy hop to the Bangkok airport and Chiang Mai. But in the meantime, I’ll get a nice room at the V&M Terrace on Soi Boakhao, hang out in the air conditioned room, read and do Internet stuff.  

I was on the IM yesterday for a few minutes with Tuli and I admitted to being a little travel weary by now (ha-ha he said, of course) and I must say I truly am. If I could get home tomorrow, even knowing there’s snow everywhere after four big storms in the past two weeks, I think I would jump at the chance. Better yet, I want to be at Tuli's in Oregon to wait for the snow to melt. He says the weather there’s getting nice now.  I called the V&M Terrace and made a reservation for tonight. Same rate as here (550 baht) but those rooms are quite nice and they have good, strong wi-fi. Now all we’ve got to do is get there.

Tuesday March 16, 9:00 am, Pattaya
We made it back but what a terrible experience it was. For the first time we bought passage on a minivan and what should have been a 3-hour trip took 6 hours because, as it happens, the operator of the minivan service can do whatever he likes regardless of what his clients might expect or need. What a pain in the ass our return was; at 300 baht it was cheap but that was the only good thing about it. We paid for and signed onto the 35 Group Pattaya minivan service as soon as we got off the ferry at about 12:30. However, we didn’t leave that parking lot until after 3:30 pm. Why? We didn’t have a full load. We were forced to wait until the van was full to its capacity of 12 passengers before we ever left thus ensuring for the owners the maximum profit for the trip. Because there is no fixed schedule and no timetable to adhere to, they can get away with this sort of stuff.  We complained to the driver but he just threw up his hands, in effect saying, I’m not the owner--I can’t leave until he says it’s okay. Eventually we headed off. Well, I just said we had a full load, and I certainly thought we did. But as it turned out, that wasn't quite accurate. After a rest stop we stopped yet again in a small town and took on two more passengers. That meant crowding four people onto three seats and putting an extra person up front near the driver. Feeling a little crowded now? Too damn bad!

Then, one final aggravation: as we drew close to Pattaya the driver turned off onto a smaller highway and began hunting for a side street. After a few tries and reversals, it was obvious he wasn’t sure exactly which street he was after. On the fourth or fifth try as we were driving slowly down another street (was he scanning the addresses?), a fellow ran out onto the pavement to signal the driver.  Upon recognizing this man as the person he’s been looking for, he now fishes around under his seat for a small briefcase or computer case he picked up at one of our stops. He hands him the case, and the fellow hands him a few bills.  This son-of-a-bitch has dragged 13 people around for an extra 15 minutes to make this delivery. Is this sort of crap sanctioned by the 35 Group Pattaya? Did he pocket the money for himself? We’ll never know. I finally got to the hotel at just after 7 o’clock.
Now I see why Albert was so keen on using taxis to get from place to place. Sure, it’s more expensive but you can travel completely on your own schedule. The driver is your slave for the duration of your travel, not the other way round. If you want to stop for lunch, you merely tell him to stop at the next restaurant, or as was the case with Udon, who drove us from Pattaya to the Cambodian border a few weeks ago, you ask him to find a good place to eat.  If you can’t find your hotel, let him find it—if you need a break, tell him to pull over. Yep, it’s a good way to travel. With two or three people splitting the bill, it’s affordable too.

Toyota Commuter, 12 passenger minivan

A note on minivans while I’m at it. These things are used everywhere in Thailand. They’re Toyota Commuter vans equipped with 2.7-3.0 liter engines; they’re sleek, seem always to be clipping right along, and apparently come in any color as long as it’s silver. The seats are very comfortable, they have great air conditioning, big sound systems, DVD players, and offer a quiet ride. A helluva a vehicle all in all. By the way, every taxi we were in, including the minivan, was powered by propane or natural gas. I know they are available with diesel engines too, and I’ll bet most have manual transmissions. Automatic transmissions are fairly rare in Asia, as well as Europe. Aside from the minivan, which is really a compact bus, the wide array of smaller vehicles available over here makes me wonder why the hell we don’t have more of them in the states.  I guess I know the answer to that one already. Americans have a thirst for big, powerful cars (I reluctantly include myself in that category), and years of cheap gasoline have only encouraged the proliferation of these gas guzzlers. For example, the engine in my old 1993 Camry is a 3.0 liter V-6, the same size as the largest engine available in a Toyota Commuter. Then too, corporations have so much power that increasing the fuel economy of our automobile fleet has so far proven an impossible task for our lawmakers, who are not surprisingly on the dole from those same corporations.

Wednesday, March 17,  4 pm, Pattaya

I’ve mentioned before in here that I want to connect with two friends while I’m here but it’s proven more difficult to get together than I thought it would be. One friend is Joe, a dive instructor I met in Fiji last year, the other is Ainara, who I met in Bilbao in December. Joe is here taking a diving course on Koh Tao and Ainara is, or  maybe I should say, was, working in Mae Sot. I just learned that Joe needs to leave Thailand by the 23rd and the funding for Ainara’s project has dried up.  Seeing as Albert will be going to Bangkok tomorrow, and Joe needs to come through Bangkok before he leaves, I decided to head back there with Albert. I can still go north to Chiang Mai after Joe leaves. So that’s the plan for now. I will continue to travel with Albie for another few days and hopefully will see Joe at last. And maybe Ainara will come to Bangkok ahead of schedule too, who knows?