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Knights Off The Grid

Southern Thailand: (and it's not Koh Phi Phi)

THAILAND | Monday, 8 February 2010 | Views [1420]

Did you know the spines on the common sea urchin can reach over 12 inches in length and are made of calcium carbonate?  The tips are needle sharp and along the shaft are tiny barbs that make it difficult, if not impossible, to extract once they’ve imbedded themselves in a foreign body.  Due to the calcium makeup, they will actually dissolve - we’ve also heard the term decompose - once in a human system.  

They’re not poisonous; however, due to the immediate, excruciating pain a typical victim will loudly question this fact.  Similar to the lion-fish, scorpion, porcupine and Dennis Rodman, sea urchins are one of those animals that scream “Don’t Mess With Me” based on their physical appearance alone.  

Once you’ve made contact with a sea urchin, suggested remedies include lemon and/or lime juice, ammonia, beer, urine, alcohol, Neosporin, gasoline as well as wadded up leaves straight off the beach.  It’s generally a good idea for children, really old people, and the highly-religious to be outside shouting range after an impalement due to the adult content that’s now likely to be flooding from the victim.  Do not ever, under any circumstance, mess with this animal.

Emily messed with this animal.

We are now a pair of walking Sea Urchin Wikipedia pages.  With such a wealth of sea urchin knowledge; what, exactly, do you do when you have nine barbed spines sticking out of the bottom of your foot?  Answer: Absolutely Nothing.  You sit and wait until they dissolve, which is what Emily was forced to do over the past week or so.  

During that time, I became a doctor, nurse, fruit shake and pad thai delivery boy, rickshaw driver, compassionate observer, cheerleader, personal assistant, sherpa and overall shoulder to cry. 

Let me back up:  

After Raja Ampat, we had the entire map of Southeast Asia open to us as potential travel destinations due to the fact that flights from Bangkok to any Asian destination typically run you about $100.  We had 3 weeks before our return flight home and seriously considered, at one point or another, traveling to Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia or the island of Java.  We headed back to Bangkok to repack our bags, lick the wounds we received in Indonesia, and do some final excursion planning.  Once there, we caught a lethargy bug with the main symptom being a complete lack of ambition.  

After a couple of days strolling around Ko Sanh Road, we grabbed an overnight bus heading south and did some leisurely island hopping around the Andaman Sea.  This extreme Southern Thailand, a mostly Muslim area just north of Malaysia that includes several thousand islands that range from five-star resorts to completely deserted atolls (we chose the latter).  The area has as pristine silica beaches right next to black volcanic and offers you a perfect mix of Thai-influenced seafood; I’m also certain it’s the only place in the world where Jack Johnson songs integrate seamlessly with the Islamic call to prayer.

We spent the next two weeks on long-tail boats moving from one place to the next while attempting to obtain as close to a Robinson Crusoe existence as possible.  We checked out Koh Lanta (“Koh” is Thai for island), Koh Lipe, Adang, Taratao and Koh Bulon.  No mountain climbing, long distance hiking, or third-world festivals on this leg of the trip; we didn’t do anything except eat, swim, sleep, read and watch the waves roll in.  It was perfect.  

We did keep a close eye on the waves though -  this area was one of the worst hit in 2004 when a 10+ meter high tsunami going in excess of 120 mph slammed into Southern Thailand wiping several of these islands off the map.  There are no physical signs of the damage left these days, but you can see Tsunami Evacuation Area signs everywhere and just about every local we spoke with had at least one family member die in the disaster.  

As always, it’s the individuals we travel with that make all the difference.  This time, it was a random grouping of Swiss, Portuguese, Spaniards and Germans.  When Emily kicked the sea urchin, the level of care, concern and generosity that came from these people would re-instill even the most jaded person’s faith in humanity.  We cannot thank them enough.  That said, who wouldn’t want to get involved when you have a beautiful woman in a two-piece rolling around in the sand like she’s on fire while some helpless-looking guy stands over her holding a plethora of articles that include lemons, limes, ammonia, beer, alcohol, Neosporin, gasoline, as well as wadded up leaves straight off the beach saying nonsensical things like, “You want me to pee on you here or back at the house?”

Now that we’re coming to the end of the trip, Emily and I have finally started the discussions about what’s next for us.  Beyond the haircut, we’re relatively wide open.  We’ve both been offered jobs in Laos and India.  Some have suggested I write a book which is a great idea, although I think the only book I’m qualified to write at the moment would be YOU: Throwing Your Life Away.  I could also take a legitimate shot at Chicken Soup for the Unemployed Soul. (Has this one already been written?)  After the last 5 months of traveling and continually devouring ethnic cuisine, Emily firmly believes she’s capable of writing a book loosely based on Elisabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat Pray Love.  Hers would be called Eat Eat Eat.

Picture this: 

It’s 10:39pm and our last night traveling.  We’re sitting at an outdoor food stall located in an alley just off Bangkok’s famous--some say infamous--Khao San Road district; ground zero for every wanderer exploring Asia.  Tom Ka Gai soup and Pad Thai are on the way.  A stray cat just shot under our legs causing a worried look under the table.  In the distance, we hear a number of sounds that include club remix music, traditional Thai orchestras, a number of indecipherable foreign languages and the belching acceleration of a three-wheeled tuk-tuk puttering up the road.  I can see northern Thai Montagnards - Asian minority tribes - attempting to sell wooden frogs just outside of the restaurant.  Up the road is a dusty legless guy sitting on flattened cardboard, begging, unconvincingly it seems, for money.  Joining us, apart from ten or so other travelers, are a number of imposing Buddha statues depicting the various stages in his life.  It’s maybe 90 degrees here; not too balmy considering it’s February in Bangkok.  There’s a slight breeze.  In it, we can catch the scent of incense, beer, exhaust and the mouth watering smell of our still-simmering meal.   

In an over-the-top Hemingwayesque/Peter Matthiessan style, I’ve just tried my best to describe the indescribable.  It’s much better seen than read about; I dare you to come check this place out.  

So this is it.  Our final chapter in the Chris and Emily Around-The-World Travel Blog.  Thanks to everyone for your interest, prayers and support.  Emily, ever the notetaker, will follow up in a few days under the “Random Stuff” link with a statistical rundown of the trip - ie. tuk-tuks taken, number of flat tires, equator crossings, flights, etc. 

I’m curious to find out myself.  

Tags: end of traveling, end of trip, kho sanh road, thailand

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