The longtail boat took us through Phang-Nga bay today, which was wonderful. We saw a cave with thousand-year-old paintings. We saw limestone cliffs, took the boat between them, went in and saw some more caves (at Kao Tapu and Tham Lod), where we walked barefoot through water to see amazing stalagmites and stalactites and got eaten by bugs. I swam through the cave at Ko Panak, which was shallow and idyllic, but the bottom was slimy so I had to swim flat. They then took us to Ko Ping-Kan, where they filmed the James Bond flick Man with the Golden Gun. (It has a cool teeny island offshore which is long and narrow coming up from the water, then getting flat and wide up top, like a spike fallen from the sky.) The tour ended at 4, and we took a bus to Krabi, and from there a tuk-tuk the 24km to Ao Nang. It started to pour, and we were getting soaked, but we were actually able to bargain the driver down. We got to our hotel, set in, and then heard that Dilek had a nasty fight with the hotel owner. I thought, here our Mediterraneans go again, but what happened is pretty funny: brown sludge was coming up from her shower drain, covering the bathroom. She called the manager on duty, a woman who saw it and said “Ew!” and handed Dilek a plunger to clean it herself, as she didn’t want to touch it. Dilek, who knows little English and less Thai, managed to tell her to do it herself. She called two young men who came and didn’t want to do it either. So Dilek turned the shower on and soaked the manager. She ended up with another woman; when we got to the lobby, the manager was soaked, which was great. Because we were with the lower life-form that is Cos, we ate another Italian dinner, but it proved to be surprisingly good. We walked along the shore of Ao Nang. It’s developed, catering mainly to Swedish tourists (!), but the development is a block off the shore, mercifully, the facilities are nice, and the place had a good vibe. We went into many places that had snorkeling or island tours, but they were all agents of the Barricuda Company monopoly, and all were charging the same. But we found an incredibly helpful tour guy who gave us advice for the rest of our trip. His take was that the Similian islands were expensive and hard to get to and better for diving than snorkeling, and there’s a western storm coming this week that’s muddying the waters so don’t go; and that off the eastern Gulf of Thailand it’s all overdeveloped and not for us, but that, since Songkran (the Thai New Year) is coming up and transportation will get iffy, we should just pick a place and stay there. Which place? He grinned, took out a map, and pointed us to these two little islands south of Ko Lanta, called Ko Rok. He said Lanta’s developed but from there you can get boats to Ko Rok, and that’s his “love.”
We took a huge speedboat to Ko Mai Phai (Bamboo Island) which was actually closer to Ko Phi-Phi than Ao Nang, but the speedboat whipped us there in an hour and a half. Snorkeling was great, and the real surprise and treat was that Elif was able to snorkel. There’s something erotic in sharing something beautiful and new with your spouse after being together for a long time, even if that something isn’t intellectual. I was thrilled she could snorkel, as her experiences with it in the States were miserable – she found the gear so uncomfortable on her face and in her mouth that she’d vowed never to do it again. She loved it. We saw amazing fish and coral.
We got back to the hotel and I asked the night manager for a blanket. She said, no, only one per room. I don’t know what’s happening with the hotels south of Bangkok, but this woman is going to give me a blanket, period. I pointed to all the room keys she had and said, the hotel’s not sold out. You’re giving me a blanket, now. She said nothing. Then I used an Elif trick: I said, Right now, let’s see you get up and get me one, now. And she got up and got me one.
We took a songthlaew to Krabi and had breakfast. The café owner served us rose-flavored tea, which we admired, so he gave us a free box of it. Very sweet guy. There were touts everywhere outside, like flies. Where you going? Where you going? We walked past them and got a boat ticket to Ko Lanta, which was run by a monopoly which was charging the same price as the touts. On the boat we met a Republican couple, Kevin and Margaret. They were in their late 30’s, from Atlanta. Kevin was a management consultant and was very rich. He was tan and had a thick neck, carried a fishing pole and smiled a lot, reading some junky novel, telling us about how luxurious the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok was. At $200 a night it’s supposed to be the finest hotel in Asia, or something. Margaret is a pale, pretty-but-fading-fast southern belle who works for the congressman who replaced Newt Gingrich. She told me tales of Newt’s genius and of his lechery, especially his fondness for fucking and firing his interns. She really admires her hard-working boss and got the job from an old college connection, combined with just showing up and good timing. She said she didn’t care whom she worked with as long as it were Republican – “a Democrat just wouldn’t fit my lifestyle.”
Ko Lanta is really two islands, the small round Lanta Noi in the north and the banana-shaped Lana Yai in the south, which is the main island. Lanta Yai is much bigger than we expected – it’s 27km long. The pier is in the northwest tip, and the main coast is the west coast. The place was a tourist hell. We got off the boat and it was a mob scene. The pickups were all in front of each other, and the only way to get to a bungalow was to follow a tout into a truck. We wanted to go to the bungalows at Lanta Marine National Park View; Lonely Planet said it was far down the coast, way to the south, and the last half would be unpaved, but it would have the best beaches. So we piled in and there were a dozen people in the back of this little flatbed. It was hot, the road was indeed unpaved, and my knees were up against my chest – but the worst part was that, since Elif and I were against the edge, the red dust from the road covered us with red – our clothes, hair, mouths, everything. Elif got it the worst by far. The bungalow was a disaster. Our bedsheets were stained; we asked the petulant girl at the front desk for new ones, and she ignored us and kept putting on makeup, looking in her mirror. The hot water wasn’t working, and we were informed that there was no other places with even broken hot water on the island, so we shouldn’t complain. After awhile of getting no new sheets, we took our bags and left. We walked south along the beach and found bungalows available at the Kantheng Bay View Resort for about $5 per night, and they were fine. We checked in and I discovered that it was run by a Moslem family. A really intense looking teenager asked where I was from and I said, I’m American and my family is from Turkey. I was feeling sick of lying that I was from Turkey. He asked if I was Christian. I said no. He asked if I was Moslem. I said no. He asked what I was. I said nothing. He looked angry. No God? He asked? I said I find religion very interesting. He spoke in Thai to the girl next to him. What he said sounded like, “If we kill this infidel, we will both be blessed.” I took my leave of the fine couple and went to swim with Elif. The waves were tremendous. My favorite part was the pier: it was made entirely out of rubber, so it swayed up and down like crazy on the waves – we were running and jumping and dancing and laying on the pier, and it was like being on that bridge that collapsed in Oregon in the 1920’s.
We came back and tried to make reservations for the Ko Lanta speedboat to go snorkeling tomorrow. Other members of the Family pulled us aside and said, the speedboat’s fast and everyone takes it, but if you come with just us, it’ll be just the four of you; it’ll cost $2 more per person and it’ll take an hour-fifteen instead of forty minutes to get there, and it’ll be by longtail instead of speedboat, but you’ll be able to be alone and do what you want, and snorkel all day if you like instead of spending half the day swimming. That sounded fine with us.
We walked over to the infamous $600/night Pimalai Resort and Spa to check it out and have a laugh at their dinner menu, and to our great surprise the food is the same price as at our $5 bungalow next door: about $7 per entree, but upscale cuisine by candlelight on the beach with a shockingly-good Mariachi duo. We loved it. The service was very fine. We ate and listened to the duo and the waves.
We had breakfast at our bungalow, which tasted like shit and was served by my Islamic terrorist friend. The snorkeling at Ko Rok was fantastic, every bit as good as the guy at Ao Nang promised. The two “guides” on our longtail boat were very nice, as was the provided box lunch. We not only saw a great variety of multicolored fish and multicolored coral, but the setting was especially fine. My favorite was the fluorescent holes in the coral that quickly close its mouth shut if you moved your hand near it. While we were snorkeling, Dilek stayed on the boat and watched our guide get some Thai stick from another boat that pulled up. According to her, they smoked it out of a giant bamboo bong that went into the water. They took us to a beach that had a Buddhist shrine of many linga – wooden penises everywhere. They had a blowgun and speared a fish underwater. Cos fought with Dilek on the boat and rolled his eyes to the heaves, saying “Allah Allah!” (Oh my god, what a woman I’m with!) At which, our two guides shouted and whooped with delight. “You’re Mus-i-lim! Mus-i-lim!” – as if we said we rooted for the same soccer team as them. They were already nice to us, but after that they were very, very nice.
We got back around 4, and Elif and I hitchhiked to the pier to attempt to get VIP bus tickets to Bangkok. Everything above 2nd class was sold out because of Songkran. In the street, Abdul was selling crepes. He was wearing a skullcap and did not smile at us. We ate a chocolate fried banana sugar crepe that was out of this world. Then we tried to get back to our bungalow. Nobody wanted to take us. It was 27km and unpaved, and I realized that the only people that really go there are the pickups that take the twice-daily boat-drops of tourists from the pier, and that’s it. We asked all the taxis and no one would take us. I pulled bills out of my wallet, but bills don’t really interest the Thais when the Thais don’t want to do something hard. Finally we find a motorcyclist who’ll take us there for $8. I’m in the middle, Elif’s in the back, we’re squeezed on, and it’s scary as hell. It’s the first time either of us had been on a motorbike and the road is terrible and he’s driving fast and it’s wonderful. Elif said that many times she had to hold on with all her might to not fall off. We have dinner again at the Mariachi restaurant.