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Ting Rai Bay - In which the smiting comes.

THAILAND | Friday, 30 November 2007 | Views [5291]


It's my fourth night of my three day Ting Rai Bay sojourn, and you'll be pleased to know that I'm no longer Captain Picarding in the bored and listless sense. I'm now Captain Picard in the exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilisations sense. Also in the sense that I've acquired a nemesis.

What tropical island holiday is complete without a nemesis?

First a brief lengthy recap. Yesterday I joined five others on a snorkelling, island-looking adventure. We launched ourselves from these fine sandy shores, navigating our way across treacherously rough waters in our reasonably insubstantial long-tail boat, destined for waters just off Bamboo island. We latched ourselves to the buoy, donned our fins and masks and plunged into the blue waters. I saw many interesting fish and, in the absence of any more authoritative taxonomical guide, named them myself. "Tiger fish", "Betoothed Rainbow Fish", "Spear Fish", "Tease Fish".

My snorkelling experience was ever so slightly tainted by the fact that I went snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef a year and a half ago. Sadly, Thailand's fish off the coast of Bamboo island weren't nearly as colourful or bizarre, and it's coral was ever so slightly more tsunami devastated.

During this stop I noticed that one of our party was taking an unhealthy interest in clams. Specifically, he was diving down and chiseling them off the sea bed with what can only be classed as "a chisel". This is a national park we're talking about, and this guy kept going down and emerging with more clams. One of them was as big as my body is thick, if you can imagine that. That's a pretty bloody big clam.

But, you know, what do you do? We would be admonished for this later, but we did nothing. The captain of our fine vessel kept whooping when this guy emerged with more clams. Nobody was exactly sure how legal or ethical it was, and I kind of assumed that somebody who seemed to have a brain in his head wouldn't go doing anything that was so wrong, disrespectful and illegal. Plus this guy was a Norwegian navy diver man and built like a brick shithouse. I wasn't willing to mess with a brick shithouse at that time. Note that I say "at that time".

Following our snorkel, we then proceeded to a place I called Monkey Island (with affectionate nod to the game of the same name) but which was actually the ass end of Phi Phi Don. When you think of what a tropical island beach should look like, you're thinking of Monkey Island beach. It was long, it was white, it had turquoise waters. And like the Monkey Island of the game, it was swarming with monkeys.

I'm slightly ashamed, but only slightly. I fed the monkeys. I enjoyed it. They came and ripped the bananas out of my hand, peeled them with their little fingers, pulled them apart as if looking for something more interesting than banana, and then ran off to find somebody with nuts. Those were some extremely well-fed monkeys. There were perhaps a hundred scantily clad, bronzed westerners loitering on the beach offering them peanuts and bananas. That's the way it goes on stunning beaches populated by monkeys.
Monkey Island Beach. More officially known as "The ass end of Phi Phi Don". I've framed this shot so you can't see the hordes of other boats and tourists. Pretend they're not there, and that I didn't tell you, ok?

Resident monkey. This is right before he tried to steal things from my bag, the little monkey!

Lunch brought us to Phi Phi Leh. That's the island where the beach part of The Beach was filmed. Yes it's stunning. Cliffs emerging out of the ocean, covered in a wooly layer of forest. Blue water. White sand. Smaller hidden coves with equally white sandy beaches and blue water. It's achingly beautiful.

We anchored at a smaller beach, since (following our Monkey Island escapade) we didn't wish to be surrounded by people who reminded us of how foreign we actually were to these shores. Our little beach was about a hundred metres across, a hundred metres deep, and just up past the tide mark was completely and heartbreakingly strewn with rubbish. Plastic bottles for Africa. When I asked the captain if it was left over from the tsunami he said yes, but I'm not so sure. You'd think that after a couple of years they would have sent a boat or two to clean this shit up. National park and all that. I walked around and tried to pick up what I could, but I had only the tiny tiny plastic bag that my lunch came in. My complete impotence in the situation was more painful than the situation itself.
"The Beach" beach is that one you can see in the distance on the left, covered in tourist crap. The rubbish is behind me.

Back into our majestic vessel, somewhat deflated, we then cruised back around Phi Phi Leh and over to the other side of Phi Phi Don. I think that this side of Phi Phi Don is trying to emulate the Monkey Island side of Phi Phi Don, but a distinct lack of monkeys means that they have to fill the beach with barely clothed farang in their place. The slight difference being that nobody is after your bananas on this side of the island. They only want your baht.

Our captain gave us 40 minutes to explore this great exhibition of sarongs, smoothies, magnets, fisherman pants, bags, sunglasses and expensive internet access. As someone whose first island experience is Koh Phu, this was quite boggling for me. The final straw was the revelation that if you wanted to go pee pee on Phi Phi you had to pay 20 baht (NZD$1). After that we all just tipped over into terrible pun territory, and scuttled the hell out of there.
The beach behind Phi Phi town. Can you hear the oonst oonst?

Returning to Koh Phu and Ting Rai Bay with a great collective sigh of relief, we all settled down on the beach to watch the sun go down with the resort's entire supply on Singha.

Mr Clam, the Norwegian navy diver, astonished all with his haul for the day. The staff of the resort all came down to inspect his bounty and debated the best way to cook it. Clam is not a food they know much about on this island. Mr Clam also decided that he wished to get extraordinarily drunk and so put all the beer on his tab. I couldn't say no to that, and proceeded to imbibe without too much thought.

Several hours later and half the population and staff of the resort are lounging around on the beach. I'm more drunk than I realise, and I'm singing the theme song to "George of the Jungle" over and over again. I mention that I want to stay an extra night and that I hope it'll be ok. I'm not quite ready to leave my island paradise, despite my previous boredom. Boredom is nothing compared with not having any onward plans.

Mr Clam pulls me aside and takes my hands into his. Earnestly, he says that if I want to stay another day I should let him talk to the resort staff. I thank him for his kind offer, but suggest that I might be capable of speaking for myself. On a creepiness scale he goes from "creepy no-friends guy in small swimsuit who I can avoid" to "creepy no-friends guy in small swimsuit who steals clams and patronises me".

However that little signal is not enough for me. A little later he makes some smartass remark directed at me, and I throw a handful of carefully compacted sand into his hair. "That's it!" he exclaims enthusiastically. "Someone wants to go for a swim!"

My foresight had abandoned me on the first count, but I could clearly see what was coming next. I latched onto the nearest and largest object I could find, which happened to be the lovely Amanda who l I had just been chatting with, and refused to let go while Mr Clam yanked at the bottom half of my body. Eventually he let go, and I spent the next ten minutes apologising to my poor anchor for the bruises I probably inflicted on her arm.

But remember how I said I was drunk? Yeah, well, I did the same thing again about fifteen minutes later. This time he was yanking me away so hard, and at the same time violently trying to dislodge my arms from around Amanda's, that I had to let go. My drunken brain kicked into gear and realised that no amount of dampness could justify dislocating someone's shoulder.

Now tucked under the arm of a Norwegian monster, I had to employ my best "I'm really serious" voice and ask him to please let me go. Oh god. I hate the serious voice. He put me down but then gave me a seriously inappropriate telling off and made me promise to never, ever, EVER go anywhere near his hair ever again. I promised. I was shocked. I sat down. Then I stood up. I collected my bags and escaped back to my bungalow. Then I cried.

The other thing people don't mention about this whole travelling alone business is that when you're alone you have no defence against mammoth Norwegians. Nor do you have anyone to tell you when you've had too much to drink, or when you really should stop throwing sand.

This morning I consulted my body, noted that while I was a little woozy I was definitely sober, and took this as a good sign that I should hire a motorbike to make a loop around the island. I think that this probably tops the "throwing sand at a drunk Norwegian brick shithouse" in the "stupid things to do on holiday" stakes.

But it was so much fun.

I have never ridden a motorbike before. I received no instruction. I received no helmet. I wasn't even told which bike was mine, I was just given a key. Once I located the bike that responded well to the key, it was like finding a new lover. "How do I turn you on? Ok, how do I step things up a gear? Ok, how do I make you stop? Ok, how do I turn you off again?".

The roads around the island are basically just dirt tracks. They are rutted, they are sandy, they have potholes you could lose a small child in. The trick, it seems, is to follow the path created by other bikes, and not to focus too much on what side of the road you're meant to be driving on. I putted my way down the road at speeds approximating half a kilometre an hour, whooping as I went over potholes and cursing when my water bottle fell out of my basket.

I passed through tiny villages with chickens running over the road and little children who would wave and scream "HELLO!". I putted down to the Jum end of the island and I bought petrol to fill up my faithful steed. Then I putted back the other way and around to the other side of mountainous Phu.

So, so much fun. So much freedom! I'm trying to work out how I can fit the motorcycle into my concept of heaven and reincarnation. I'll keep you posted.

The only crap thing was that the battery in my camera had run out of oomph last night, so I have no photos of the day. Since the generators only kick in at 6pm this means that I couldn't recharge during the day. However I have the bike for 24 hours, which means that I can go out again in the morning.

With regards to last night, I think everyone is slightly subdued today. Poor Amanda tells me how everyone has been giving Mr Clam the evils for his outburst. I couldn't tell because I was in the middle of it, but everyone saw, and everyone was surprised. Mr Clam comes up to us as we gossip and mentions that his protected waters clam dinner had given him the most astonishing diahorrea. He then proceeds to inform us that every half hour or so he has to run out into the ocean to rid his bowels of their seething content.

Everything else forgotten, this is enough to make me despise the man. I am never venturing into the ocean again.

The next day:

I think my relationship with this island has come to an end. I'm being nudged back towards the land of the living. Most remarkably by my close brush with certain death.

Remember how my camera ran out of batteries and I vowed to go out again on the motorbike in the morning? Well it did, and I did, but my trusty steed was less trusty today. I was only five minutes down the dirt track from the guesthouse when I tried to follow the established motorbike trail as it zig-zagged across the road, missed my mark, thereby attempting to go sideways up a slight gravelly slope, and sliding sideways. Actually there wasn't much sliding about it. It was more of a "FOOF". I've ended up with a grazed top-of-foot, knee, elbow and ankle. Most annoyingly is the gouge out of my right hand, and a matching blood blister on my right middle finger.

Compared with some of the other stories I hear, I think I made out quite lightly. I managed to perform this deed next to someone's house and the poor woman came out and was probably even more flustered than I was. I managed to convey that I was more concerned about the state of the motorcycle than the state of my body, and she gave it a looking over: "Ok, ok, ok, ok", she checked what seems to be the parts of the motorcycle that suffer most from falling over. "Ok."

I jumped back on the bike, determined to do my tour and get my photos. However the gouge on my right hand is annoyingly situated on the part responsible for accelerating. The blood blister is precisely positioned as to make it very painful to brake. Not to mention, I'm dribbling blood everywhere. I ride to the ocean and try to wash myself off a little. Then I give up and go back home.
I'm determined to get ONE photo to prove I rode a motorbike. You can sort of see the state of the roads I was riding on. You can also see my awesome hat.

Upon return I'm informed that I can't have an extra day in my bungalow because it's been booked out from under me. Curse their undoubtedly German souls! But I am able to head down to Old Lamp Bungalows just down the beach a little.

Old Lamp is lovely, although less luxurious. I feel soft when I'm regarding Old Lamp and lamenting the lack of four-poster bed and tight white sheets. Considering it's the same price as my pad at Ting Rai Bay I feel a little hard done by, but I meet a lovely Swedish lady on my way down to the restaurant. She tells me how she's so happy to have found this place. That it's just like all of Thailand was like when she first visited in 1989. How she's vowed never to return to places she has visited before because with the rate of development, it's just too heartbreaking. She tells me how lovely the people are who run this place, how great the food is, and that I shouldn't burst my blood blister because it'll leave it open for infection.

So now I've been bruised, I've been uprooted, I can't swim in the ocean because it hurts too much, what else is there? Oh yeah! The vomiting!

While contemplating which coconut milk based dish to indulge in to mark my last night on the island, I was struck with the mother of all headaches. Then the mother of all stomach upsets. I couldn't even force down mashed potato. I retired, defeated, to my bungalow down the beach, just in time for the electricity to go off. So here I am writing by torchlight, camped out under my mosquito net. The headache has subsided. I've scoffed down a takeaway package of steamed rice. It's all quiet, except for ocean noises and jungle noises. I think it's time to leave.
The view from my new bungalow. There are monkeys in the jungle too! They jump on the roof in the morning and steal your flip flops!

Tags: Misadventures

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