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How to Write a Beach: Thailand’s Andaman Coast

It’s difficult to write about a beach vacation.

I’m not pompous enough to pretend that I can write anything, even if I am enough to write. Besides, nothing really happened; and when nothing really happens, shitty metaphors spill out in oily logorrhea. I’ve been on whiter sands, have enjoyed more soothing and impressive surf, and swum in bluer waters. The mere notion of evoking such platitudes is enough to kill the real beauty that the coastal areas of southern Thailand actually contain.

I mean, this is the area where moviemakers filmed The Beach, The Man with the Golden Gun, and Tomorrow Never Dies.

Because of the awful, deadly, and destructive floods in northern and central Thailand that began at the end of July and have been slow to subside, many schools and businesses in the area have been forced to temporarily—permanently, in some tragic cases—suspend operations. From Thursday, 27 October, until Sunday, 30 October, the city of Bangkok declared an impromptu holiday. All residents who were able to leave the city were strongly encouraged by the government to do so.

Resort areas, like Hua Hin and Koh Samet, became quickly filled as Thais and others left the city. Many expats even flew home, including two of my friends.

All of us had just returned from our inter-semester vacations and were exhausted and traveling and ready for work. The news that classes were postponed—eventually until 28 November—was deflating.

Of course, not everyone was able to leave—and certainly not to beaches. On November 20, the Associated Press reported that the death toll from the floods had passed 600.

A friend and I left for the beach on Saturday, 29 October. We ran ourselves into the ground island hopping (if such a statement can and should be made), a strategy that was pretty stupid in hindsight. We got back to our rooms in Bang Na on Sunday, 6 November.

Of course, plenty happened during that week. I filled two and a half pages in my notebook with day-by-day notes—more than my stint as an extra in a commercial received. One day, I traveled on a long-tail boat to two islands and two karsts—limestone formations that jut out of the water and high into the clear sky—snorkeling into schools of fish I’d seen only in Finding Nemo. Another day, I spent all but five hours in my bed—mainly sleeping—as my body battled some disruptive and evacuating twenty-four-hour bug.

I also, embarrassingly, left my camera behind and missed photos within the otherworldly Emerald Cave, reportedly a one-time treasure cache for pirates.

The highlight, though, was a couple hours spent on a rented motorbike with my friend. She and I wanted to explore past our little nook on Klong Khong Beach and maybe hunt down an alleged night market in the older area, on the east coast, of Koh Lanta.

There was no night market where we looked for one, but it didn’t matter. We continued to slowly make our way around the eastern and north-eastern coasts of the island. The night was chilly—especially for me, who was driving—the road was poorly maintained and riddled with potholes, and our motorbike’s headlight worked, tops, at fifty percent.

But the sea air was crisp and delicious and the stars lit the sky almost as much as the waxing moon.

There weren’t Norwegian and British flags; signs reading, “We speak Francais”; persistent vendors pushing trips to other islands; or scuba shops. This was Koh Lanta before many—non-Thai and Thai alike—realized the island’s beach paradises, particularly on the western shores.

Ramshackle wood and corrugated metal houses stood on sparsely vegetated plots of dirt. 7-11s and restaurants were less popular than mobile food-stalls fixed outside of these homes. One could drive for five kilometers before seeing another human. Streetlights illuminated ten meters every kilometer, if not less.

I did float around in the gentle Andaman Sea as well. Long-tail boats and rectangle limestone-mountains were the only things visible on the horizon.

I did announce, twice, “This is motherfucking delightful,” squatting chin-deep in azure waters and staring down a karst.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Thailand

 

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Conspicuous flight; chance encounters.

Sunrise from my balcony.

Up at 5 a.m., my body’s time clock is still trying to calibrate itself and shake off the exhaustion of travel the morning after I arrived in Thailand.

The trip started off far too conspicuously: starting to pack around 10 p.m. on Friday and mentally preparing myself for my—at least as my mother and I recalled—2:45 p.m. flight on Saturday out of JFK in New York, I decided it’d be good to check my trip itinerary again; enough people had been asking, “How long is the flight?” I figured it’d be a good time to actually find out.

I was wrong about the flight time. My flight was at 8 a.m. on Saturday—not 2:45 p.m. There went my embattled night of sleep and leisurely packing routine. My family and I had to leave at 3:30 a.m. from Philadelphia, Pa. to be at JFK with enough time for me to feel comfortable about boarding an international flight on time.

Thanks to my brother, his girlfriend, and my mother, I got all of my stuff together for my contracted year-in-Thailand—which brings me to why I’m currently sitting on a college campus in Bang Na, Samut Prakan, Thailand.

About 90 days ago, I began to apply for teaching positions in Thailand. I was working at a local news station in Philadelphia writing for TV (bleck) and their Web site (yahoo!). It was a hell of an opportunity, but I wasn’t ready for it: aside from family, I had no reason to stay in Philly—hell, I actively did not want to stay. Oh, and did I mention I was living with my parents? Needless to say, I was getting a bit antsy. I was applying to jobs all over the country—probably 200 in eight months since I got my degree and started looking—and nothing was biting. After posting some frustration about jobs on Facebook around the end of March or April, a friend of mine who had been in Thailand for the last year told me to apply for jobs there.

So I applied for teaching jobs in Thailand. Thirty days later I had a job offer. Forty-five days later I landed in BKK airport.

The flight was a flight: long yet somehow atemporal, oscillatingly well- and under-serviced, and full of in-flight TV mixed with the short nap. In fact, the worst part was probably during my layover in Heathrow, where I got eggs on toast. The dish was awful; it looked and tasted like a scrambled egg sneezed itself onto two pieces of limp bread and covered itself in butter. I could have eaten it through a straw, bread included. I figured I could take refuge in whatever British Airways served on my flight to BKK.

And then passed the next 11 hours on a plane.

Bleary eyed but kind of giggly, a super friendly representative of the university met me at the entrance of the airport. We took a shuttle to the campus, where she took me to the front desk of my dorm room (big ups for subsidized housing five minutes from work). After filling out some paper work, the representative looked at me and said, “See you Saturday for the meeting,” and left. That was on Sunday.

View from my balcony

I think something along the lines of “Holy fucking shit-balls” ran through my mind as she walked out the door, and definitely became verbal when I closed the door to my room and stared at its white walls.

At least it has a hell of a view, huh? 

I unpacked for a bit, took a shower, and studied my Thai phrase book before I couldn’t ignore my screaming hunger. I made my way over the to mall—complete with restaurants, laundry services, a barber, and mini mart—which was still very empty since classes don’t start for another week. I took a lap downstairs and then upstairs, looking for a place to eat that advertised a negotiable mix of English and Thai.

Then jackpot: a trio of native English speakers (NESes) walking up the steps facing me.

“Hey guys, where’s a good place to eat here?” I asked.

“IndiThai. You new here?”

“Yea, about three hours old.”

This is how I met Zack, Bernardo, and Kit.

We ate and talked. Each of them had been here since at least October and knew the ropes, so they filled me in on life in Thailand while I gave them my general background. Thankfully, though, the dinner involved more bullshitting than formal get-to-know-yous, which was a relief after “See you Saturday.” There were tentative plans to go out in downtown Bangkok—my campus is 40 minutes outside downtown—but they fell through, which was fine with me and my fatigue. I ended up unpacking some more and checking out my Lonely Planet guide—all with some Thai game show(?) involving scuba diving—before popping a sleep aid I didn’t use on the plane around 10:15 p.m.

Seven hours later, I’m awake. I grabbed a cold shower and used the dorm’s Internet café for a second round of family e-mails before walking to the convenience store for some breakfast because it was, by then, only 7 a.m. and the mall still closed for another.

I walk in, give a presumably awful “Hello” in Thai, and am hit by an incontrovertible fact: I am in fucking Thailand. Sure, the inside looks like a standard mini mart, but that sure as shit isn’t English written on the food’s packaging. Don’t get me wrong, I was and still am very excited to be somewhere where my English skills won’t get me far, if anywhere, but the fact that English isn’t only spoken but also not written probably still hasn’t computed. Again, this

Microwave lunch? dinner? Breakfast.

is fine—fuck, I have no choice—and totally exciting, but still a bit mind bending.

I ended up with microwaveable Spicy Thai Basil Seafood Pasta and a chocolate soymilk to be enjoyed later. Pretty damn good, to be honest, even though my presumably awful “Thank you” in Thai was met with a confused nod of the head by the cashier.

Which brings me to here, in front of my computer, listening to Raphael Saadiq’s Instant Vintage, and typing my first entry for my blog before heading off the gym (a hopeful nonlinguistic refuge).

And, if nothing else, suddenly farang.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Disorientation, Thailand

 

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