Bear with me, I’m almost finished with the catch up posts!! In early December, we had our first long weekend and probably one of the very few we will have while we’re here! Emma was off on both Friday and Monday, and I was off on Monday, so I decided to take Friday off as well so we could travel somewhere a bit further away. As usual, nothing is ever easy in Chiang Kham and this trip proved to be frustrating, but now a few weeks later very entertaining to look back on. It all began with me trying to tell my school that I would be absent the following Friday.
Taking Off From School
A little more than a week before I was going to be absent, I asked my co-teacher (the teacher I share a homeroom class who speaks the ‘best English’ who I should talk to about being absent. After staring at me blankly for a few minutes, she asked what I meant. I whipped out my phone and quickly translated that I would not be at school that Friday because I would be going out of town, and asked who I should talk to. A slight look of panic came across her face as she informed me that I was supposed to camp out at school on Friday and Saturday that weekend as part of my school’s “Scout Camp”. This was the first I heard of it, and I was thrown totally off guard. She seemed worried because it was her responsibility to have told me and she forgot, but also now I would have to talk to the principal and explain I wasn’t told. This is kind of a recurring theme here, I always hear things second or third hand and have to ask questions a million times before getting any kind of answer. They just have a very different way of planning and preparing, I think I’ve mentioned before but there is no type of school calendar or anything which can be really hard for us Americans that like to plan in advance. She was making a pretty big deal out of it and I was starting to get really worried since I already had my flight booked! Eventually she told me to talk to Ms. Pranom, the principal. I was anxious and nervous walking in but it turned out to not be a big deal at all. She just said okay and confirmed that I would be back at school on Tuesday. In the future I may just go straight to the principal to ask for days off instead of having to go to other teachers that don’t really know what to say or what the protocol is for foreign teachers.
Getting to Phuket
This story is very long and slightly complicated but I will do my best to keep it short and sweet lol. Our original plan was to catch the 5pm bus to Chiang Rai after school (2ish hours), and then to take a taxi from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai (3ish hours), get a few hours sleep, and then fly from Chiang Mai on Friday morning at 6 AM. After school on Friday, we quickly ran home, got our bags, and headed to the bus station. In an effort to be extra prepared, both of us went and bought bike locks the week before so we could lock our bikes up at bus station for the long weekend and easily grab them when we got back. Excited for our trip and ready to begin our journey, we rolled into the bus station and there was not a SINGLE SPOT to lock up our bikes. Every pole was waaaay too thick for a bike lock to get around, and there was absolutely no bike rack/gate/tree in sight. After doing a few laps, we decided to bring our bikes up onto the curb where there were motorbikes and other bicycles like ours. We pulled out our locks and almost immediately this grumpy, old Thai lady came over shaking her head and wagging her finger at us. We realized that somehow she was in charge of this piece of public property and wanted us to pay her. So we quickly grabbed our wallets and showed her money but she kept looking at our bikes and shaking her head. Within a few minutes, a sketchy older Thai man most likely under the influence of something came over to join the confusion and tried to translate for us. He could not really understand what we were trying to say so he kept listening to the woman go on and on in Thai and then looking back at us blankly. Didn’t help very much. Then, ANOTHER woman came over and started to tell us “no locks”. What do you mean no locks? We’re paying to park our bikes here, we’re going to put our locks on. No offense lady, we’re not just going to leave our bikes out in the middle of the station, especially after causing this ruckus. Then yet ANOTHER Thai man came over and he was able to translate to us that the grumpy lady said there were no locks allowed at this bike place. We tried explaining that we could be getting back very late at night when the garage thing would be closed, but the translation we got back was that the woman said she lives there and is always awake and sitting there. Well, that just simply was not true. After this extremely frustrating situation we decided we would just pay the “garage” we normally went to as we were absolutely not giving this grumpy old lady our business. We walked away, parked our bikes and turned around as it was just about 4:58 and…OUR BUS WAS GONE!! Oh!!! Awesome, the last bus of the day and the one time anything has happened early in this country!
So yeah, our bus that lead to the taxi that lead to the guest house that lead to the airport to Phuket was gone. The one thing that really, really stresses me out when travelling is the thought of missing a flight (haha Sam, remember that time in Paris?). It stresses me out so much that if I have a morning flight I almost never sleep the night before because I’m scared my alarm won’t go off in the morning. So here we are, standing in the bus station in our small town, wondering how the heck we were going to get anywhere. We reluctantly approached the row of songthaews and the drivers all looked up at us with straight faces. Before asking where we needed to go or offering to help, they of course asked if we had paid to park our bikes because at this point the whole bus station knew about this bicycle debacle so they wanted to ensure we were paying one of their fellow townspeople before they offered us a ride. We told them we parked the bikes at the garage and then they asked where we needed to go. When we told them Chiang Rai, they all giggled and kind of shook their heads and you can imagine our horror. One man told us he could take us at 5 am the next day, but that didn’t help us in the slightest because our flight left from Chiang Mai at 6! (We couldn’t even tell them we needed to get to Chiang Mai because we knew it would confuse the hell out of them and there was no way they would drive 3 hours). We resorted to acting out airplane gestures so they would understand we had a flight to catch and eventually one driver agreed to take us to Chiang Rai for 1,500 baht. Although this was definitely out of our budget ($45, which is nothing in comparison to American taxis), we hopped in the truck part of his songthaew to get on our way. About 10 minutes into the ride, he pulled over, got on the phone and started talking in Thai. Although we had said about 10 times we were headed to Chiang Rai and he would nod, we were still not completely sure he understood. He made a U-Turn and now we were certain we were headed in the wrong direction, before pulling over and telling us to get out. I was scared our friend had changed his mind, but soon his wife pulled up with a nice car and we were quickly on our way to Chiang Rai in a real car.
Once we finally got there (after almost stopping at the airport and at the wrong bus station) we found a taxi company who could take us to Chiang Mai. He even asked if we wanted to eat dinner first! We got dinner and arranged to meet back at the bus station in an hour, so we had a yummy pizza, got snacks and got back to our taxi driver to head on our second leg of the trip. We finally arrived at our guesthouse a bit after midnight, and the owner told us it was too late to book a taxi to the airport for 4 am so she would drive us instead, how sweet! We got a solid 4 hours of sleep and were on our way to the airport the next morning. Sitting at the gate I was honestly in shock we had made it. Just shows how you have to go with the flow here and things will somehow work themselves out.
Relaxation and Russians
We landed in the airport early Friday morning and found the cheapest shuttle service to get us to our guesthouse in Karon Beach. Should’ve known the cheapest option would also be the longest, so two hours or so later we arrived at Pineapple Guesthouse. The guesthouse was pretty nice and definitely a bit luxurious compared to my usual abode! We arrived, checked in and made our way up to the 3rd floor where we had a “king bed” (definitely a queen by American standards), a hot shower, drinking water, a t.v, and AC. One of my favorite things to do when we arrive to a new place is sit on the bed for the first time. We really never know what we’re going to get, but this time we were pleasantly surprised by soft beds and a comfy comforter.
Our friend Kirsten wasn’t arriving until the next day so once we dropped off our stuff we headed to grab some breakfast and went to the beach. The first day we checked out Kata beach, one of the quieter beaches on the island. It felt surreal to finally be on a beach after a month of being in Thailand, and we took the afternoon to relax, nap and enjoy the water. Unfortunately, the water was a tad dirty with some garbage floating around, but I suppose that’s what you get in these super touristy areas. We were approached by two club promoters, one Australian and one German (I think?) and giggled about how they must be living their best life getting paid to go talk to girls on the beach and partying all night.
After a few hours of relaxing, we decided to make our way to a second beach that was recommended to us, Karon Beach. This one was a bit closer to our hotel and also a lot more crowded. We plopped down to enjoy the last sun of the day, went swimming some more (surprisingly less garbage) and enjoyed the end of our first day of relaxation. Just before sunset, we noticed this bizarre and 100% unsafe parasailing crew setting some of the tourists up to go sailing over the water. While parasailing seems amazing to me, and I would love to do it at some point, there is no way you could pay me to go up with these guys. It’s hard to even put into words because I have never seen anything like it before.
Potential Problems with Karon Beach Parasailing
- The participants and the men running the company definitely did not share a language.
- The participants were motioned to start running on the beach as the boat began to tow them, if they fell while running, the boat would continue to drag them as they got a face-full of sand.
- They were parasailing/driving around all the swimmers on the beach.
- The man assisting with the parasailing was in no way attached to the sail or the boat (hahaha)
- As they were landing, the men would start running around the beach clearing the area while they hoped the participant would land and not crash onto the beach.
Honestly, I don’t even think this description is enough to describe what was happening on the beach that day, so here are some videos for you to see for yourself!
After lots of laughs over the parasailing situation (and the many men in scantily clad banana hammocks), we headed back to our guesthouse and then out to dinner. That night we went to one of the top rated restaurants in Phuket, a restaurant called Istanbul Turkish Restaurant a bit off the beaten path. Trying to be adventurous and healthy, we opted to walk and our trusty old google maps wasn’t so trusty this time. We weird ended up in an empty lot and couldn’t figure out how to get to the restaurant without adding another 25 minute walk, so after a little exploring around the lot, Emma found this random gate to push open and we managed to wiggle through and find the main road that led to the restaurant.
The food was DELICIOUS, and still one of the best meals I have had in Thailand almost a month later. It was so good we even ordered a second pide, kind of like the Turkish version of pizza.
After dinner we headed back for a good night’s’ sleep in our super comfortable bed and eagerly awaited the arrival of our friend Kirsten who we hadn’t seen in a whole month! When we woke up the next morning, Kirsten had arrived safely off her night bus and we met her downstairs in the lobby of our guesthouse. We were super excited to see her and headed out for a day of adventures and beaches. We took the local bus to a different part of the island to grab breakfast, and from there got a taxi to drive us to a quieter, prettier beach. Our driver stopped at a gorgeous viewpoint, and we quickly arrived at Ya Nui Beach, probably my favorite we went to on the trip.
We spent a large part of the day soaking up the sun, catching up and relaxing: exactly what I was hoping for out of this trip. We stopped at another beach too which was very clean, and the water was nice to swim in. I absolutely love swimming so to finally be able to swim after a month of being here was such a treat to me. On our way back to the hotel that night, we stopped at a relatively cheap restaurant that was a little crowded so we decided to stop there and grab something quick to eat. One bit of advice we were given when we got here was that if there was a crowd at the restaurant you were going to, that was usually a pretty good sign that it was safe to eat there. I got fish and chips, and a Thai soup, both tasted pretty mediocre but I wasn’t expecting too much from this type of commercial restaurant.
On that note, the restaurant was full of Russian tourists, much like many other areas of Phuket. Many of the signs are even in Russian and Thai! We did some looking into it and while there didn’t seem to be a definitive answer,it seemed like in the last decade or so, Russians have begun to buy properties and tap into the tourist scene in Phuket, therefore attracting lots and lots more Russian tourists. It was pretty bizarre to be in an Asian country completely surrounded by Russians almost at all times. There were also some articles that said the Russian mafia was involved there but then again who really knows!
One of the things Phuket is known for is it’s bumping night life, especially on Bangla Road. Although we feel pretty tired on the weekends after teaching all week, we decided that while we were there we really had to check it out. We got a songthaew and the three of us headed towards the infamous Bangla Road to see what it was all about. It was bright, flashy and definitely not my scene but it was absolutely worth seeing. As you walk down the street, there are people coming at you from all different directions asking if you want to go to this show or that show, offering different drink deals, or numerous other extremely questionable things. We bar hopped a bit, got some ice cream, and kind of decided we were over Bangla and Patong Beach, the most touristy parts of the island. It was fun to check out, but not really our scene.
As we headed back to our guest house, I started to get a really sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It wasn’t car sickness, and being that I had only really had a few drinks, I knew it wasn’t from the beer either. Almost immediately upon getting back to our room, I got so sick. I knew almost right away that it was food poisoning. I knew it would probably happen at some point, but I had been so careful! I was sick all night long, waking up every 30 or 40 minutes and getting sick again and again. It was terrible and the sickest I have felt in a very long time. Unfortunately this is probably the third time I have ever gotten food poisoning in my life and it was definitely the worst. I was out for the beach the next day even though every part of me just wanted to lay in the sun. So, for our last day in Phuket I just slept on and off all day in the room. Luckily I have some very sweet and caring friends that brought me saltines (well, the Thai version), water, and Oral Rehydration Solution. At the end of the day, I was still feeling pretty rough but I was able to shower and pack up my things to catch our flight the next morning.
While Phuket was not quite the dream I had pictured, it was really refreshing to be able to get down South, enjoy the beach, and take a swim in the ocean. I am soooo looking forward to finishing teaching and staying in the islands for a bit longer, hopefully next time to explore Koh Lanta, Ko Phi Phi and some of the more beautiful, less crowded places. Serious shout out to Pineapple guesthouse for the soft beds, you rock 🙌🏻