Thursday, 21 September 2017

#30 Thailand part 9 - The heights of hedonism and feeling crabby in Krabi

It's funny how the universe provides us exactly what we need when we need it. Literally as I was finishing off my last blog and wondering what I was doing with my life, in walked yet another important stone in this pathway.

I'll call her temporary but meaningful friend (T.B.M.F) for short. She had the same vibe as the Mumbai friends I'd met in Pushkar at Holi and it turned out that she had travelled around India for three months and spent time at some of the same places Super Chill Mumbai Guy had. She was teaching English as well but was almost finished and about to head back to England.

We had a lot in common and spent the afternoon chilling down by the river drinking Leo beer chatting about everything. Somehow the conversation kept coming back to India. She made me realise how much I missed India and wanted to go back.

Just chatting with her helped everything become clear. There was no point visiting Cambodia and Laos if my heart wasn't really in it.

She also convinced me the best way to see Chiang Rai was by scooter so the next day I braved up and hired one. I'm so glad I did because it meant I got out of the town and could explore on my own terms without any guide telling me where to go and what to do.

First I visited a waterfall about an hour away which was beautiful and very peaceful. It was blissful to walk in the jungle on my own and reconnect with nature. There's really nothing like it. Afterwards I felt better than I had done since I left Phibun.

I also visited the famous white temple which was touristy but enjoyable nonetheless. I felt so free having the scooter and decided to keep it for the next day as well.

That evening T.B.M.F and I went to a cat cafe. It was bizarre.The cats seemed very serene but also very haughty. They knew everyone there was desperate for their attention, and being cats, they milked that for all it was worth. There was even a very sad looking one wearing a sweater which pretty much summed up the vibe of the place. It wasn't a natural environment for a cat and I regretted supporting such an establishment but my cat cravings were too much.

Later T.B.M.F and I went to the mall just for something to do. We wandered around but couldn't find anything particularly interesting so got some steamed buns and made our way home on the scooter as the rain stung our faces.

We spent the rest of the evening chatting about life and watching a TED talk. The next morning T.B.M.F had to head back to her village so we said our farewells. As I left her parting words were 'Go to India!'

Later that day I booked my tickets to Phuket and set in motion some plans to go to India in mid October. Every time I think of it I feel a little pang of excitement in my stomach so I know it must be the right decision.

The decision to go to Phuket was mainly to see the famous Maya Bay. This was the beach in the Leonardo DiCaprio film called 'The Beach.' I had been warned that it was incredibly touristy so I figured I would go in and out as fast as I could. It wasn't a very practical thing to do, location wise, but I knew if I didn't satisfy my curiosity I would regret it.

I also visited an interesting contemporary art gallery called The Black House on the scooter and then chilled in my dorm for the rest of the afternoon.

The next day I flew to Phuket. When I arrived I had a feeling I had made a mistake. It was very built up and the people seemed very fed up with tourists even though it was still low season. I took a gamble and bought a bus ticket to a part of the island called Patong. I had done zero research before I landed but when I arrived in Patong it was confirmed that this was not what I was looking for.

The streets were filled with sweaty sunburnt men in wife beaters holding beers and talking loudly in mostly Australian accents. There were sleezy looking massage parlours everywhere you looked and bars pumping loud obnoxious music into the streets.

I asked one man where a cheap quietish place to stay could be found. He gave me a weird look and replied "You want somewhere quiet?! Then don't stay anywhere around here." The way he said it made it clear I was very much in the wrong place. This was no place for sleeping. This was a place to leave your morals at the door and have fun at the expense of everything else.

I found a cheap hostel just off the main strip and chatted to two nice Australian girls who had just finished high school and were on their O.E. I was starving after a day of travel with no meal breaks so I headed down the road in search for food. Everything was really expensive and mostly western style resturants.

After a bite to eat I wanted to sit on the beach and soak in the sea air whilst reading a book. Even that wasn't as relaxing as I hoped. There were strange men who seemed to be either drunk or high wandering along the beach and women trying to sell package deals and rip off sunglasses. I stayed on the beach until dark appreciating the sound of the ocean after being landlocked for over four months. For an island dweller that's a long time to be away from the ocean!

I watched people wander along in their groups taking selfies and swinging their selfie sticks around to get the perfect angle. Later I went for a longer walk along the streets. I bought an ice cream from a street vendor and ate it sitting by myself on the dark beach again. I felt very disconnected like I had just arrived on an alien planet.

Eventually I ended up at a mall in the same family as the one we had in Ubon and decided to go in just for some sense of normality. I noticed the movie IT was playing in English at 9.40pm and thought why the heck not. I'd been dying to see it and there didn't seem to be anything else I wanted to do in Patong.

So I took myself off to the movies and it was the best decision I had made all day! It was one of the most enjoyable horror films I'd seen in a very long time and made me feel slightly more connected to people back home since all my friends had been talking about it.

Halfway through the film at a non - scary point a woman screamed and yelled "there's a rat in here!" Sure enough there was a big ol' rat running around the theatre. That set the scene perfectly for the film is shot mostly in sewers. It was a wonderful addition to the whole experience.

When IT finished an Australian couple and I got lost trying to find our way out of the mall after hours. By the time we made it out it had started to pour with rain. I had apparently walked further than I realised and it took me a good 40 minutes in torrential rain to get back to my hostel. Even though by this stage it was 12.40 in the morning there were still plenty of people around and tuk tuk drivers trying to tempt me into getting a ride. I stubbornly refused and squelched on past every single one of them much to their disbelief.

I finally made it back to the hostel completely saturated and wide awake to find everyone else fast asleep in the dorm. I had to quietly wring out my dress and hang it up dry before stealthily hopping into bed.

The following morning I had arranged to get a ferry to Koh Phi Phi Island where the beach from the film The Beach is located. That was really the main reason for coming after all and since I wasn't a fan of Patong I figured there was no point staying any longer than I had to.

I was filled with hope when I first stepped foot on Ko Phi Phi. For one there was no traffic and the beaches seemed nice and swimmable. However, the longer I stayed, the more that old alienated feeling began to creep over me. It was the same as Patong. People came here for two things, to get drunk and to forget their worries.

I found a dark, cheap little dorm and dropped my bags, before heading to the beach. There didn't seem to be much shade available but I found a tiny little tree and managed to fold myself into the smallest patch of shade known to man. It was quite comical really but I was desperate to avoid getting sunburnt.

I had fully intended on reading but the human activity was much more interesting. There was couple arguing as they walked along the beach.
I over-heard the man say to the woman "I wish you wouldn't bring this up now. I can't change that and we are supposed to be having a nice holiday."

It made me so curious about what he had done and very glad to not have to deal with those kinds of squabbles. It's better to be alone than with the wrong person after all.

It also seemed to sum up the whole vibe of the island. It looked very beautiful on the surface but the cracks were starting to show. The water was polluted, the beaches over crowded and even climbing up to the viewpoint cost money!

I climbed up anyway and found a semi-quiet spot to watch the sunset. It wasn't long before I was joined by, it must have been at least 70, other people and a couple sitting next to me who kept shouting "go pro! Take a photo!" instead of asking someone to take their picture. A person above me decided to let off their drone and it buzzed around like an oversized, very irritating, blow fly.

I perservered, gritting my teeth, and becoming more and more depressed with every selfie click I heard.

I did wonder if perhaps everyone was thinking the same thing though.

It's like we all knew we'd ruined it. The paradise that was once The Beach and everything it stood for has now become exactly what the community in the movie feared would happen. The bitter, bitter irony.

The man in the TED talk I watched with TBMF said the sickness of the west is because we've lost our connection with spirituality. I don't think he meant literally a god or a spirit but that calmness that comes with really knowing yourself. We as a society don't know ourselves or how to find happiness.

Koh Phi Phi is a hedonistic paradise. I'm usually all for hedonism as long as it doesn't negatively impact others or the environment but it seemed on this island it was fun over everything else. I've never felt more alienated and out of place than I did in Patong and Phi Phi.

Again I decided to just get in and get out. I booked a boat trip that would take me to see Maya Bay and then a ferry off the island to Krabi a few hours later. I didn't want to stay a minute longer than I had too.

I'd done a few of these boat snorkel trips before so I knew what to expect. The lady who sold me the boat ticket also warned me that it cost an extra 400 baht to even get off the boat at Maya Bay.

It would be fine if this was meant as a detterent to keep the beach cleaner and less crowded but it didn't seem to work. It just meant only rich people could drop their litter in the national park.

The rest of the people on our boat didn't get off either. We all sat in mildly annoyed silence for about an hour as we turned slowly green from the rocking of the boat. This was definitely the darkest timeline.

I stuck my head out the side of the boat and tried to imagine what the beach would be like with no people. Sometimes I just about succeeded but it was never long before I was snapped out of it by some rich people's carefree happy squeals from the beach or the roar of a motor as a new boatful of tourists arrived.

I watched a number of women parade themselves in bikinis whilst their husband's or boyfriends followed along trying to capture the perfect instagram shot. The pictures probably looked amazing when they cropped out all the other people but I knew the ugly truth behind them.

I felt bad for feeling so negative about the whole thing. I was at supposedly one of the most beautiful beaches in world and all my thoughts were so bitter and unhealthy. Perhaps the problem was with me. Everyone else seemed to be having a great time. But couldn't they see what was happening?

We visited yet another monkey bay before Maya Bay. There must be 1000's called that across SE Asia. The lack of originality in the naming even started to annoy me. I'm sure it had a Thai name but the locals obviously thought the tourists didn't want or need to know it.

The driver brought us so close to the trees several of the monkeys leapt into the boat. The driver threw the biggest male one a bottle of orange cordial. He opened it with no problem as if he had done it 1000 times before (and I'm sure he had). When he was done he tossed the bottle aside and went looking for more food like a spoilt child. One little monkey found a bag of rubbish under a seat and proceeded to rip it open. When a lady went to stop it, it screeched angrily, and she gave up for fear of being bitten. The monkey then decided there was nothing good to eat anyway and tossed the bag into the ocean. Thankfully the driver had the sense to climb down and retrieve the rubbish.

It was difficult to enjoy the encounter when everything inside me was screaming "this should not be happening!" The monkeys were chewing on plastic, drinking sugary drinks and plastic bags, polystyrene and bottles bobbed along beside us in the clear, turquoise waters.

I wondered if anyone else was having as much trouble enjoying themselves as I was. Perhaps we were all secretly shocked but because we were all feeling lucky to be on holiday and out of our little offices we didn't want to complain out loud for fear of sounding ungrateful.

Weirdly this rubbish affected me on a deeper level than anything I've seen before including severe poverty. In India I felt like people were genuinely happy you were visiting the country but here I got the feeling the local people of Ko Phi Phi only tolerated the tourists because they relied on them for an income but they weren't blind to the impact it was having on their home and community.

Ko Phi Phi wasn't real Thailand. It's a strange global village where people come to be as vulgar and carefree as they want and then leave the locals to clean up the mess.

I was so tired from all the snorkelling and the sun I slept most of the ferry ride to Krabi. I woke up when we arrived feeling quite confused because time seemed to fly.

My ferry ticket included a bus ride to Krabi town and by this stage this was the perfect place for me. I was already very much in crabby town. However it was quite refreshing to be somewhere that felt like the same Thailand I had been living in for the last four months.

I hadn't booked anywhere to stay again and was wandering along the street when I saw a hostel advertising cheap rooms. They were even screening Season 7 of Game of Thrones. I was sold immediately! I got a room to myself for the price of a dorm which was bliss after several days of dorms.

I spent the next day in my room writing, doing laundry and booking my bus ticket to Koh Phangan which Super Chill Mumbai Guy reccomended.

I realised I was probably feeling so alienated because I hadn't had any meaningful human interaction for several days. Most of the interaction I had had involved some kind of monetary transaction. The majority of people I had spoken to were wanting to sell me something and I'm sure this was the reason for my crabbyness. Somehow deep down these interactions are not fulfilling and I'm convinced this is part of the reason capitalism can make us so unhappy.

Despite the negative feelings the last few days have evoked I believe that every experience, good or bad, serves a purpose and this experience will serve as motivation to be a tidier kiwi and to make cleaner, greener choices in the future. It would be truely awful if the paradise in our own back yard turned into the same kind of tacky tourist trap.

On the surface Koh Phi Phi looks like paradise but it's when you look a little closer the cracks begin to appear.

The White Temple, Chiang Rai

Another example of how pictures really don't speak 1000 words. Just down the beach a bar is blasting obnoxious music and sweaty, drunk men stumble around in the sun. Relaxing!

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