Thailand! We finally arrived after travelling for 24 hours and Bangkok was our first stop in our big adventure. Before the cab driver turned into the street where our hotel was, we could see attractive slim Thai girls in their skin hugging short dresses trying to entice their next eager customer. This aspect of Thai life is probably the one thing that left the most impression on me. Beautiful Thai girls walking hand in hand with white haired old men. In the restaurants, you could see them having their meals mostly in silence. He owned her and she knew her duty. Pleasure him and be submissive. It was quite the culture shock to see this and it is probably one of the reasons I wouldn't go back to Bangkok.
After spending 5 days in Bangkok we flew to Patong which is an area on the western coast of Phuket Island. Patong Beach was busy but not as congested as Bangkok. Fairly nice beach however a lot of locals peddling their wares. The trick is to have your sunglasses on and read a book to discourage the constant selling. Being that the beach loungers were so close together, it was easy to strike up a conversation. Met a lovely couple from Norway and an American man in his mid forties who quit his job and was touring southern Asia! So interesting to talk to them about their countries. Of course, Trump was one of the topics!
Patang Beach is quieter than Bangkok and less crowded until you hit Bangla Road where the term "Live and let live" probably originated. Bangla Road is akin to Mardi Gras on steroids. Crowds, neon lights, live music blaring out from the open air bars, beautiful transvestites, and street vendors. Yet it somehow feels safe and in good fun. There seems to be a willingness to let people be who they are. No street gangs waiting to beat up a man-boy and no apparent judgement. It is a mishmash of sights and sounds with even a McDonalds thrown in for good measure! Oh, and of course Ronald McDonald's hands were in the prayer position! I got a real kick out of this.
We booked a boat tour through our hotel with Vitamin Sea and off we cruised out into the turquoise Adaman sea. It was a long ride (about 1-1/2 hours) so I dozed off and then awoke to the most spectacular site! Huge limestone cliffs jutting out from the clear, blue sea. Now this excursion had my full attention!
First stop was Maya Bay where the movie 'The Beach' was filmed and put Thailand on the tourist map. We stepped off the boat and into beautiful clear blue water and onto the white sand beach and marvelled at the limestone cliffs. I had my first inspiration for a new mala design and I clicked pictures to remember the colours. Nature is always the best inspiration for designs of all kinds.
After a half hour there, we were back onto the boat to head off to an area close by for snorkelling. We all put our life jackets on and jumped off the boat into the most beautiful blue water I have ever seen. Black and yellow fish swarmed around us. It took me awhile to adjust being in 20 feet deep water since I am not a strong swimmer. As I relaxed, the snorkelling became easier and I was able to enjoy this experience. So much fun!
The tour continued to Viking Island where bird's nests are harvested. Scaffolds are built with bamboo on which the hunters climb in the darkness to collect the nests. It is a risky job but lucrative. Bird’s nests are sold, on average, for US$2,500 per kilo and are used in traditional Chinese soups.
Monkey Island was next! Our boat edged close to a family of 4 long tail monkeys hanging out on the edges of the cliffs. Dad was sitting majestically at the front while his mate groomed him. Our fellow passengers started throwing bananas to the monkeys. The baby monkey caught one and got a good scolding from his dad. The rebel monkey hissed back at him, kept the banana and swung himself onto another branch. The family squabble was soon over and they all sat perched serenely on the cliffs watching these strange creatures on the boat.
After 7 days exploring Patang, we took a taxi to Kata Beach for an 8 day stay. Much quieter and nicer beach with great food. Had a thai massage that was more painful than relaxing. Who knew a small swisp of a girl could be so strong!
Of course, there could be much more written about this month long adventure. It was a trip that I am glad I took. However, I expected Thailand would be more spiritual which was very naive of me. I think the only glimpse I got of what it is like to be a buddhist was my observation of the Thai people. Quiet, unassuming and gentle. This was in sharp contrast to the energy I felt in Toronto Pearson airport upon our return. Feeling this, I wanted to return to the Thailand and to the land of a thousand smiles.