Pictures of some weird and wonderful things seen in Thailand! Commentary to follow!
*Apologies, meant to post this yesterday!*
Today we took the boat, again, from Koh Tao to Koh Samui. We’re flying back up to Bangkok from Koh Samui otherwise I don’t think we’d have come here. We’re booked in for one night, and one night only in a hotel in Bophut in the Chaweng part of the island. And, in all honesty, I wasn’t much looking forward to Koh Samui- its more touristy, more built up… etc etc. However, the hotel we are staying in is a DREAM. Nestled alongside a tiny piece of beach front, the hotel comprises a series of little huts (a word which does not do them justice), each one a hotel “room”. It is unbelievably beautiful. My other half said my face was an absolutely picture as we walked from the check in desk through a sort of walled passageway (strewn with climbing plants, lianas, vines etc) out into this collection of “huts” dotted amongst even more lush garden, with little streams full of fishes, and lanterns warming the growing dusk. Honestly, it’s like a fairytale place. Our bathroom (and I acknowledge the ridiculousness of waxing lyrical about a bathroom) is beyond words, with its own little garden area (inside!). We even have a day bed (in case the enormous double isn’t sufficient and a beautiful basket of local fruits. We haven’t ventured out into Koh Samui (and we have to leave relatively early tomorrow morning) so I don’t know if I am missing something even more special there but this oasis is the place I’m planning on putting my feet up for our last night in Thailand. Who knows, there might even be space for a glass of something bubbly. This will have to do for now as I dearly want to go soak it all up.
I love the plants here. Green, lush, limey, draped, hanging, grey-green, succulent, tangled, spiky, rounded and flat…
They fill every nook and cranny, the crevices outside on the balcony, the niches between doors, hanging from old coconut shells, draped over windowsills, tucked in between hotel rooms, little oases of green, damp, lushness…
We took the overnight sleeper train from Bangkok to Chumpon. That in itself was a pretty mad experience! We had two bunk beds but curled up together in one using the other to store our belongings. Wedged into the bottom bunk with a curtain between us and our fellow travellers, with the upper bunk grazing our heads if we sat up it felt like we were camping, or making a den, or something similarly childish. And a bit lovely.
We arrived after little to no sleep in chumpon at 4.30 am and waited for our 6am coach to our 7am boat. Admittedly at this point some of the “adventure ” magic was starting to wear off! But the boat out to the islands was beautiful. The sun was mostly hidden behind gauzey clouds, and the sea was a hazey grey-silver. The crossing was pretty smooth and we sat on the top deck in the breeze and spray which almost wiped away the sounds of the idiots sat a couple of rows behind us.
The boat arrived into a chaos of tourists, resort stewards, taxi drivers and mopeds. But only a short transfer later and we were safely ensconced in our hotel.
Although it sits on one of the few main roads here (which gives good access to the local shops and restaurants etc) the pool in the centre and our room is secluded. Tucked away and fringed with palms. Absolutely wonderful. I’ve mostly written this laying on a sunbed as green fronds wave in the breeze… Nice.
Apologies in advance this post may include TMI and some swearing!
Tonight we are rattling our way across country on an overnight sleeper train, which is quite exciting but not at all like the orient express!
The train was leaving at half 7, so at half 5, because I thought was likely I’d have a bit of a rough night, I thought I’d treat myself to a massage. At 500 bht it was a tenner for an hour’s massage. #win. Or so I thought!!!
The woman asked me if I was OK with a man massaging me and that was fine. So the guy showed me to a little curtained off booth and to some prison pyjamas which I put on. Then… It began. Now apparently Thai massage is notorious for being vigorous, painful, and not as “aromatherapy twinkle music” as some other types of massage. I’d say that’s the understatement of the century!!
First of all I’m used to massages where they use their hands. Massages primarily done through the medium of elbows into nerve endings are excruciating! All of the points my massuse was merrily digging his elbows into (leaning his entire boy weight into it, just to really pummel my muscles, nerves, sinews) seemed to be those weird nervous points where you simultaneously flinch, giggle, and want to throw up. And it was like that. For the whole hour. At at least three points I was genuinely concerned I was actually going to vomit. Genuinely, I’m not saying this for laughs. I certainly wasn’t laughing. Initially I thought maybe I just had particularly tight muscles in my thighs and that it would get better when he got to my back, my neck, or my arms. It didn’t. And being supremely British and more than slightly uncomfortable with the language barrier I clenched my fists, limited my breathing and curled as far into myself as humanly possible.
The other thing about Thai massages is that they really get stuck in. I can safely say that I have never had a man who was not my significant other (or something to that effects) ferreting around quite so… Intimately! I’m not trying to imply the massuse was unprofessional or that there was anything untoward about his manner but jeeeeeez! When I’ve had massages that go up the thighs they stop several miles south of this dude! And it’s not just hands! When he wasn’t elbowing me painfully in the thighs, hips… Groin, he stuck his feet right on the inside of my hip sockets and pulled my legs by the ankle like he was trying to dismember me!!
Now, I like to think I’m reasonably supple, I go to yoga, I can touch my toes, I can cross my legs (like you do in school assembly when you sit on the floor) and lean forward over them without breaking a sweat. What I cannot do, or could not and now probably can(!), is have one leg over an ear and the other bent the wrong way across my back.
So for an hour I am tortured by this sweet guy who works hard to get out all the knots in my back, to get his elbow wedged under my rib cage and massage my diaphragm from underneath, to encourage my spine to become a double helix, who occasionally plants his feet firmly (where a gynocologist treats with gentleness) and leans his entire body weight into the futile attempt to dislocate my hip joints.
It was delightful…. Or perhaps not.
I have never been so pleased that an hour had passed!!! I staggered out, feeling baffled and somewhat violated, bowing my thanks to my masseuse and I look forward to being a veritable raspberry ripple of bruises for our long weekend at the beach!!
This evening we got a taxi back to the local food market. We didn’t particularly need anything but it’s easier to ask the taxis to take us there than explain where our accommodation is (literally 2 minutes away).
We pottered around the shop and picked up some milk, paid, went outside and apocalyptic rain was happening!!
Like rain I hadn’t seen before.
Rain that fell in sheets. Like a shower. Like a bucket being emptied, repeatedly.
Really, honestly, there are no words to describe the “dry to knee high flooding” that happened in the space of… Oooh 10 minutes tops. It was mad. And wonderful. And visceral. And mad some more.
I decided to peg it home. How bad could it be?! Tuns out, pretty damned bad/awesome.
My flip flops were the first to suffer. The undertow (yes, that’s undertow) across the entrance to the car park pulled the things out of their housing, so I was forced to leap bare foot across rivers of muddy water of questionable depth. Images of water snakes rose unbidden in my mind! I got to our security guards who kindly lent me an Umbrella, which was sweet but largely pointless by this… Point. I wasn’t just soaked through, I was now so wet that my fingers had started to go all prune-y like I’d been in a bath too long!! I got back to the flat and dropped my stuff off and then headed back out to fetch my other half and to drop the umbrella back. I could not possibly get any wetter!!
There was something fantastic, exotic, and horrible about leaping from… Ankle high water to ankle high water in an attempt to avoid the knee high water!!
We’re both safely back in the flat now having squelched our way upstairs. Our laundry was drying on the balcony… Our clothes are hanging, dripping, from the shower cubicle.
There are ripples of thunder still going on. If I could open the window I would. Nature is happening! Weather, with a capital “W” is happening! Instead I think I’d better try to get some sleep…
Today I am navigating Bangkok on my own for a while. The other half is off in another part of town doing fieldwork interviews. I’ve successfully found somewhere that looks like it serves good but not too expensive Thai food and so I’m planning on setting up camp here for a bit with my work. The waiters are almost Parisian in style in this place. They aren’t sure they want to take your order, it might be too much trouble. I can understand why people might be reluctant to take mine, clearly I’m going to order it in English and that’s probably annoying. I have, however, avoided using the mode of summoning employed by a couple of gentlemen opposite-the imperative snap of the fingers or the waggle of the hand with accompanying eyebrow raise/waggle. However this seems to be getting results… I may have to try it yet!
Update : Thai food I have miss represented you! It. Was. Glorious.
Today in things that baffle me:
I knew that in this part of the world white(r) skin is fetishized in the same way tanned skin is in the UK and other parts of the West. It’s the clusterfuckery (apologies to those offended by the term!) if social beauty norms. Marketing is out there to tell us we want what we don’t have!
But anyways, if I climb down off that soap box for a minute… Hang on… I was baffled by the choice of marketing here! Here the primary whitening brand appears to be “snail white”. Now is it just me or are snails not, in fact, white but a rather gooey greeny grey colour? And even if this isn’t a reference to wanting to look like a snail then who (and maybe I’m behind the times here) wants to put “snail extract” on their face?! Honestly, I’m asking. Someone explain this to me please…
I’m not going to lie. Bangkok has not been somewhere I’ve instantly fallen in love with. I don’t mind the heat as much as I thought I might or the humidity. I can make my peace with the trickle(s) of sweat that creep down my chest and my back. I am coming to terms with my hair looking like Monica’s in the episode of friends when they go to Hawaii.
But I’m not too much of a fan of busy. And Bangkok is super busy. Don’t get me wrong, I knew it was going to be. But, man is it busy! In all honesty though I’ve struggled to get a handle on the smells. The sweet stench of decaying greenery along the riverside, the fragrance of warm rubbish piles, sewage being pumped into the heat of the midday sun, even the background note of that damned slightly-vomity fish sauce… Even though the food might taste delightful. I’ve also struggled more than expected with the food. I can’t do thai spicy. I can’t even tolerate Thai mild it seems! I am usually game to try any food, give it a go, but after a couple of days of eating things that have largely been questionable in either texture or taste (at least to my palate) I’m becoming less adventurous #musttryharder which makes me feel like a bit of a brat!
Today we decided to work from our apartment. We both had lots to get done and didn’t want to spend time commuting into the city (even on the awesome, noisy, vibraty, smelly boat!). At lunch we broke the day up with a swim (tough life!). And walked to the local mall for dinner.
This evening was the treat though. After dinner I popped back to the pool. And it was breathtakingly beautiful. In the dark it was harder to see the tower blocks that crowded around, peering into the water. Instead the lit windows were like hanging lanterns, bobbing reflections flickering up onto the overhanging tree branches. The somewhat sad and broken poolside benches nestled into creepers and bays of leaves in a way that looked charming rather than decrepit. The lights from the tiny gym over looking the pool seemed warm rather than glaring and I bobbing around happily picking flowers out of the water. It was really rather magical.
I appreciate I probably sound like I’d been smoking something rather exciting with dinner but I really hadn’t. It just felt like a little oasis in an otherwise dusty and busy (and smelly) city which I seemed to need today. Hearing the news of the terrorist attack (is it confirmed?!) back in the UK made me feel so far from home, and that sensation of helplessness that I get when I hear terrible news from another part of the world had woven itself around me. Watching a mum in a full hijab chucking her screaming with laughter daughter around in the pool, with bats dipping in and out for water (probably inadvisably given the chlorine), and blossoms trailing over the sides provided a space to try to dig out of that hopelessness and get back to thinking about how to make something, anything, (everything?) a little bit better.
Today we’ve been beavering away. Writing, marking, emailing, thinking. the challenge has been finding space for us both to work, as our apartment really is teeny tiny! This morning I worked at the kitchen table and my other half on the microscopic sofa. This was fine for a while but then they started pumping sewage outside the window and my space got a bit pongy!! So I decided to pop down to the area by the pool for a bit. I’m correcting and making notes on some printed paper so I didn’t need the laptop. And I have to say it worked rather well. It is certainly very warm outside but about every half an hour I could pop into the pool for 5 mins to cool off and then dry off enough to get back to work.
This afternoon we moved from the flat into town. Commuter boat, train, metro. It took all of our lunch hour but hey! Then we settled into a cafe for the afternoon. I wish I could tell you it was a lovely Thai cafe but the other half needed a plug point and the only place we could find them was Starbucks #shame.
We treated ourselves to some recognisable food for dinner, chicken wings and ribs with fries and coleslaw, which was kind of fabulous #slightlymoreshame and this evening we are planning on watching some episodes of British masterchef!