A Muslim Fecal Fishing Village

James Bond island, Thailand
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Well, we woke up and had a nice fight with Ooi Shie Ching, the manager of the Imperial Hotel. We complained that there was no hot water, brown sewage came up from the tub, and there was rat shit all over the side of the tub, which we hadn’t noticed at 1 in the morning, and we’d like half our money back. She went upstairs to inspect it herself, and came down to announce, that’s not rat shit, it’s bug shit. Elif did not take this kindly and Ooi offered to call her good friend at the tourist police who could side with her if we wished. Elif yelled some more and Ooi said Elif was the rudest person she’d ever seen. Elif asked her to repeat herself and the woman got a little flustered, which gave me the opportunity to lean over and ask, what did you say to my wife. Say it again, I want to hear it. We left saying all the nice letters we’d write to the guidebooks, etc., and took a bus to Phang-Nga. The bus had a VCD player and they were playing a karaoke disc of a gay singer singing Thai pop songs, with transliterations on the bottom in Thai script. Every video was the same: the gay guy surrounded by six Thai women adoring him and dancing badly, all in front of a curtain. The video was 30 minutes long. The ride was 90 minutes long. They played the video three times.

As soon as we got to Phang-Nga, we booked an overnight tour with Sayan Tours, which was recommended by Lonely Planet, and, as it says on their brochure, WE WILL HAVE FUN. The tour started at 4, it was noon, so they took us to the Sa Nang Manora Forest Park in a pickup truck and said they’d pick us up at 3:30. The park was fantastic. They had a 2km trail through the forest, with rattan vines, mossy roots, water cascading down rocks into pools. The trail made you climb on logs over some of the pools. Cos, disappearing and reappearing, fell off a log and Dilek caught him; then his heft knocked him on the ground, which took her with him – and he yelled at her for making him fall. You can’t say the word “Cos” without Elif following it with “…he’s an idiot” as if it were his last name. Thais were playing in the pools, bathing. It was beautiful. We got back to the entrance, and waited, and waited, and there was no pickup truck. We tried to call Sayan on our cell phone and the cell phone could not pick up a satellite signal, of course. We asked the park ranger and they had no phone. But she laughed at us; Sayan’s always late, don’t worry. And, sure enough, a half-hour later, they came. We complained; they gave us a song and dance about another truck being repaired or something.

They took us by superloud longtail boat past some incredible mangroves to Ko Panyi, a Muslim Fishing Village of about two thousand people. Were it not one of the most beautiful places in the world, it would be the most disgusting place in the world. The village was situated in Phang-Nga bay, overlooking dozens of cliffs jutting out of the bay, in bizarre shapes, with the setting sun causing spectacular light effects and shadows in all directions, amazing scenery no matter from where or to where you look. The village itself was built on small pilings, with some concrete but mostly wood, extending out into the water, so the bulk of it was over the bay itself. There was a mosque, some stores, and a few kids playing soccer on the ground over the water. The problem was that the people were gross. Their dump and their toilet was straight down below them. Everything goes into the bay. You use a toilet, you can hear your excrement splash. You look into the water, the children are swimming in the styrofoam cups with the trash with the feces. Their sustenance is fish farming, and their traps where they kept and raised the fish were with the trash with the feces. We walked through the village and looked in the houses, with Osama bin Laden posters inside. Dinner was at 7 – fried fish. Yum. We stared at the food a long while and decided to eat salad, which was imported. We slept in our bungalow, with mosquito netting, over the bay, over the trash and the feces. When we awoke, the tide had carried all the garbage out. We decided not to shower in the morning, a first for Elif. It would have involved pouring bay water over your head with a small bucket.

(Imperial Hotel, Phuket: 51 Phuket Rd, Muang Phuket 83000 Thailand, 076-212311; fax 66 76-212894)

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