Hello from Khao Lak. Finally – the sea, sand…and (due to my lazy application of sunscreen) a silly splotchy sun burn on one shoulder, down the back of one leg, and on one butt cheek.
It’s transition time between high season and low season here (the official change is May 1) so the place is pretty empty. *Everything* here is brand new, since this is part of the Thai coast that got hammered by the tsunami back in ’03. It seems that the tsunami also washed away all of the budget accommodation, because everything here is an effing resort. The cheapest room I could find was at the Happy Lagoon – 600 baht (a bit less than $20), which is outrageous. I must admit, the room is fairly nice (by cheapie standards) – it’s big, adequately fan-cooled, and has a small balcony out front. The grounds of the Happy Lagoon are sort of manicured jungle resort. Not my cup of tea, but at least it’s about 20 meters from the place I’ll be diving from….starting tomorrow! Can’t wait.
The other phenomenal feature of the HL is that the pillows are actually *soft* – not the rock-hard, 6-inch thick pieces of nonsense that people call pillows elsewhere. Sure, the bed is predictably rock-hard, but the pillow…ahhh, it’s the first comfortable night’s sleep I’ve had since I arrived.
Some other bits of observation:
* it seems to be the fashion for young people to wear Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong bracelets
* most monks walk barefoot (and bald, in their yellow or saffron robes), but some wear flip-flops (to match their robes!)
* for the most part, private transport is at extremes: either pathetic little motorbikes or huge-ass SUVs and trucks.
* that said, people treat their motorbikes as Americans treat SUVs: I saw a family of 5 on one bike. I’ve also seen two people and a medium-sized dog. it’s madness.
* it’s really hard to learn new Thai words because everything is translated rather than transliterated from Thai script. All I’ve mastered so far is hello (sawat dii ka) and thank you (kap kun ka).
* around the region it’s BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper). This will become more extreme when I go to Myanmar next week.
* (a woman in the internet cafe just asked me what day it is. “Is it Friday?” she asked. Nope, it’s Tuesday.)
* instead of “the same as” Thais say “same same.” As in “that taxi same same like this one.”
And now I have to tell you a story that Chris, Howie’s friend, told me when I was still up in Pai. It seems that a western friend of his is married to a local Lisu woman. (Lisu are one of the hill tribes. Many Lisu and other tribes came to Thailand to escape discrimination (including forced labor) in neighboring Myanmar.) This guy called Chris for help because he couldn’t understand his wife – something about a long lost nephew. So Chris when to the house and heard the story: It seems that some old hunchbacked Lisu man was passing through town and told the guy’s sister-in-law about seeing a young Lisu man from Pai when he was in prison in Burma. The woman got all excited and showed him a photo of her son, who had disappeared a few years ago. “Yes, that’s him!” the old man said. He said he had been in a “submarine” prison (yes, that’s right – a vast underwater prison) run by the Burmese. He knows it was underwater because “sometimes the prisoners were allowed to go up to the surface” and I guess he saw water all around. The circumstances of this old man’s escape from this underwater prison evidently never came up. Fantastic story! But what probably really happened was: a few years ago the Thai government started a “war on drugs” and basically started rounding up suspects and their friends/associates and either incarcerating them without a trial or just executing them. (This is what Chris tells me.) Thousands of people – I imagine mostly minority hill tribes, who to be fair really are sometimes in the drug trade – just disappeared. Chris imagines the nephew was a casualty of the war on drugs, and the poor old man was just giving the family hope with his fantastical story as inducement for them to give him a meal. “These sorts of dramas happen all the time in Pai,” says Chris.