Every traveler hears a lot about Thailand, from how cheap it is to how friendly the locals are. All this builds rather high expectations for any intrepid visitor and as most people are well aware, high expectations are never the best way to go into a trip. Happiness comes from reality exceeding expectations and while the reality may still be wonderful, excessively high expectations makes attaining happiness almost impossible to achieve. Why am I starting my post about our time in Thailand with musings on expectations versus reality and the happiness, or lack there of, that ensues? Probably because we have had terrible luck from the minute we crossed the border. Not bad luck in a way that is anyone’s fault, just boring, normal old bad luck.
It started in Krabi, our first stop in Thailand, with Kane realizing that a lot had changed in the two years since he’d last been there. Apparently, in the last few years tourism has boomed even more than before in Thailand and places that were previously authentic and Thai-friendly have become Westernized. We first noticed it in the prices, with the cost of a large Chang beer jumping from around 50 baht (about $1.50) to 70 baht ($2), and then in the food. I had come to Thailand with an appreciation and a wariness of Thai spicy so while I am a chili lover through and through I was wary to ask for spicy at first, lest I repeat my experience in Oaxaca with a poorly place muy MUY picante request. I learned quickly that was not going to be the case in Krabi. Every time I ordered a dish, no matter if I said spicy or not, the whiteness of my skin and the American-ness of my accent meant that I was served the bland tourist fare that has become synonymous with touristy areas of Thailand. I was crushed. I had excitedly told everyone back home how good the food was going to be in Thailand and here I was, with sad noodles laughing in my face. I was going to have to try harder. It took a while, but I began to have more success as I learned to be very emphatic about the fact that I did actually want spicy and to avoid the food stalls set up on major tourist streets. (Note: When you ask spicy? in Thailand most people assume you are one of the millions of Western tourists who is afraid of spice and does not want spicy under any circumstances so be sure to differentiate yourself from the bland masses if you do want heat.)
Moving on from that mini rant about my spice trials and tribulations…more about Krabi. It really was a lovely little town for me, as I had limited expectations about the town itself (food non withstanding), but Kane was still disappointed that his favorite night market had been overrun with tourists, pushing out the random Thai talent shows and properly cheap food. We did find his favorite coconut ice cream lady and this made up for a lot. I thought I didn’t even like coconut going into this trip, but the Thais are quickly changing my mind about that; it was the best coconut ice cream I have ever had, the perfect balance of creamy and sweet.
While in Krabi we explored the Tiger Temple, a Buddhist temple built on the top of a mountain, and Railay beach. The Tiger Temple is a bit of a misnomer, there are no actual tigers there, it is named that after the legend of the tiger that used to live in a cave on the mountain who left after Buddhist monks began to live and practice there. Personally I was glad there were no tigers there, because most of the tiger attractions in Thailand involved heavily drugged, abused big cats or dead tiger cubs (that tiger temple was in Kanchanaburi). The beauty of the Tiger Temple in Krabi comes from the nature that surrounds it. Perched at the top of 1260 steep steps up the side of a mountain, the temple, complete with a giant gold Buddha, has a panoramic view of the Thai coastline. As a woman make sure if you choose to visit that you wear pants that cover your knees and a shirt that covers your shoulders, or bring a sarong to cover up either of these areas. While the hike up the mountain will have you wishing you needed less clothing, this is still an active temple and if you are not respectfully dressed you will have to use a loaner sarong, aka a navy blue piece of fabric that a nice monk was handing out at the bottom of the mountain.
After our excursion up the mountain we decided our next day was going to be a beach day, so we hopped on a long tail boat after breakfast and headed to Railay. Railay isn’t actually an island, but due to the dense jungle it is only accessible by boat. The trip from Krabi was about 30 minutes long and uneventful. We docked on Railay East and started the short walk to the best beach in Railay, Phra Nang Beach. It did not disappoint. Limestone cliffs jut up from the crystal clear blue waters, creating the idyllic picture of paradise perfection that is on every single office calendar I have ever seen. Unfortunately, I was worried about leaving my phone unattended on the beach while we swam so I have no pictures of this paradise, you’ll just have to take my word for it. We swam, snorkeled, laid out on the white sand, ate decent (yet tourist priced) curry from one of the many long tail boats that had turned themselves into floating food stalls, and enjoyed life. We only had a day on the beach (we had to return to Krabi for accommodation since we couldn’t afford to stay on Railay itself) so we did not get to sample some of the world famous climbing that dots the cliffs, but one day I will go back at try my hand at the beautiful routes.
One last note about Phra Nang Beach that would be obvious if I had any pictures, but I don’t so I’ll just have to paint a word picture, there is a shrine in one of the caves that is filed with penises. Giant black penises, old wooden penises, small double ended penises, rainbow penises, you name it, it’s there. There is an old legend about a beautiful girl who wouldn’t marry and a fight between the men who fell in love with her that ended in an old hermit magician turning them all into islands or caves. Long story short she became the cave and people started bringing penis sculptures to it for fertility. It does kind of weird me out that the beautiful woman who wouldn’t marry got turned into a cave that millions of people now put penises in…but that’s just me.
I just realized that I’m sitting in a warm, mountain Thai town (Pai) complaining about bad luck on my excessively long vacation filled with good food and beautiful beaches to my friends back home who are most likely freezing their asses off and/or drowning their sorrows about the disaster in Washington and now I feel like a bit of an ass. We’ve had nothing horribly bad happen it just seems like it was one thing after another, bed bugs in Krabi, an unseasonable three day monsoon on Koh Lanta that caused a power outage for a day, Kane getting sick from swimming in the post-monsoon ocean, then me getting sick right after he got better in Chiang Mai, and now after one day of both of us being well and there being good weather, he is hiding in the room, praying that the stomach cramps are just a little thing, not a full blown shit storm. No pun intended.
However, looking back on it we have managed to make the most out of our little bumps in the road and they truly were little bumps. The bed bugs were annoying and ate me alive (Kane didn’t get a single bite coincidentally), but they didn’t kill us and we think we managed to get out without them infesting our stuff. We will still do a giant wash/dry of all items before we get to Kane’s parent’s house in Perth, because I will never live down being the girlfriend that brought bed bugs into the house, even if we are 99% sure we don’t have them. We didn’t get to go to Koh Tao to scuba since the visibility was going to be too poor for too long due to the monsoon, but hey that just gives us an excuse to go back later. Our sicknesses were blessedly mild, just runny/stuffy nose type chest colds, and we got better eventually. Hopefully Kane will be okay now, and that it is just a little upset stomach, not a proper stomach bug, but at least we are in a private room with a private bathroom so if he is horribly ill he can do it in private. Travel is never easy, there are always unexpected twists in the road, but that is why we travel. We travel for the new, the unexpected, and the joy that comes from finding the unmarked gems along the way. Anyway, I would keep writing about Chaing Mai and Pai, but that could take a while and I should go check on Kane.