A Koh Chang New Year

There’s nothing Todd’s school likes better than celebrating the new year, and last week we had a week-long holiday to commemorate the third new year of the year (this is not a typo). First, we experienced the standard Western new year (“Comes after Christmas but before Valentine’s Day!”). Then, in February, we got to taste the joys of the Chinese new year and its accompanying week-long holiday. Finally, Thailand got it together, and rang in the new year in April. What can I say – if it translates into a holiday, I’m game to celebrate as many new years as the school wants.

With a week off work and a mother in tow, we thought it apropos to explore a bit more of this beautiful country. We asked friends for suggestions, and after discarding various ideas – “too expensive,” “too crowded,” “too stoned” – we settled on Koh Chang, an island located in the Gulf of Thailand. We packed up Momalot, and began the 8 hour trip to get to the island.

102_1436

After getting off the ferry, it took us a while to find a song-taew (a shared truck taxi) to take us to our guesthouse, as the island was packed with people celebrating the new year. They especially enjoyed celebrating into our vehicle with buckets of ice water. Much to my mother’s delight, we spent the song-taew ride either racing around blind corners at breakneck speed, or slowing down and getting doused. A great start to the holiday.

102_1396

Moist.

Turns out that arriving soaked was a foreshadowing of the days to come. For the first three days, it poured rain like a mothah on Koh Chang. The last time I’ve seen rain like that, I was up to my knees in the monsoon in the streets of Kolkata, trying to avoid kicking dead rats. So that’s how the island stays so green… Good thing it doesn’t take much to amuse Momalot. She spent her time teaching Todd how to play the recorder.

102_1435

Which I stole from him in order to demonstrate proper playing posture.

102_1399

And then Momalot stole it to soothe herself to sleep

Our guesthouse was lovely and quiet, but sorta in the middle of nowhere. This wasn’t a problem, except at mealtimes. We had two options for restaurants if we wanted to eat nearby, and one of them was filled with blazing neon lights, a blaring Thai soap opera, and staff that seemed completely disinterested in serving us. So we ate at the other option, which was quieter, and had some fun dogs hanging around. The staff managed to get our order wrong almost every time we ate there, but on the plus side, my mother learned a valuable lesson: do not attempt to customize your order when your waiter speaks limited/zero English.

102_1411

“I’d like our smoothies to be a proper rainbow, please.”

Fortunately, the rain let up on our last full day, and we took advantage of it. We hiked to a picturesque waterfall in one of the parks, and went for a swim. Unfortunately, many large European men wearing speedos had the same idea, but if you squinted hard enough, the scene was idyllic. It was nice to finally swim in water that was colder than bath water.

102_1446

102_1449

This must have been the moment I spied the obese, semi-naked Russian man…

We also visited one of the island’s beautiful beaches, and ate a massive grilled meal by the water. Thai beaches tend to have tons of these restaurants – take a peek at the catch of the day, and choose what you want to eat. Just like at every buffet I have ever been to, I overdid it, and we ended up with a mountain of food. Honestly, though, this is a mountain I’m happy to climb any time.

102_1463

Somehow it all disappeared…

102_1460

The next day, it was time to head back to Banginkok, so we packed up the recorders and the mother, and hunkered down for another 8 hours of transit. It’s been rough getting back into the daily grind, but I feel at peace knowing that it will probably by the Kyrgyzstani new year soon, with an accompanying holiday.

I Get Around*

I thought today would be a good day to describe the modes of transportation that move this particular lump of farangness around this particular corner of Bangkok. When I’m not drinking coffee on my couch or lurking around various orthodontic offices, I am constantly ON DA MOVE.

Walking

This happens a lot. I like to think that I’m a good walker, but the weather in Bangkok does not make for pleasant strolling, particularly when you sweat like I do.** Walking occurs when I missed the Song Taew, or I’m too cheap to pay for a taxi, or when I feel the need to reacquaint myself with the highway that borders my neighbourhood. Whenever I walk next to the highway, the timeless words of Johnny Cash (“I went out walkin’”) run through my brain, putting me into a strangely meditative state as I dodge motorcycles that are driving on the wrong side of the road/sidewalk.

Ahhhh. Nothing says “home” like a good stretch of highway

Song Taew

Literally “two benches,” this is basically a pick-up truck with a cage on the back. The place where you would ordinarily expect to find chickens or some milk crates is where passengers sit. Todd and I keep hearing rumours of these contraptions taking people to malls and other prime destinations, but we usually just end up at the neighbourhood dump, or under a bridge.

Clambering into the Land of Two Benches

Not my neighbourhood Song Taew, but pretty close.

Bus

Buses are some of the cheapest and most rickety transportation that Bangkok offers. Imagine taking an ancient school bus, torching the interior, and replacing the floor with old wood planks. Some of these are reliable, but others groan and heave like a seasick whale. I have experienced some mighty loud gear-shifting in my day,*** but nothing on par with what takes place in these tanks – think “migraine in clutch form.” That’s assuming that the gears work – on one memorable occasion, Todd and I found ourselves rocking back and forth and chanting as we tried to “help” our bus crest a gentle incline.

Rocketin’ down the streets of The Big B.

Taxis

The taxi is a favourite Bangkokian mode of transportation, and they are everywhere. If you’re ever in need of a lift, just look for a car the colour of Barbie’s lipstick, and bob’s your uncle. Taxis offer an exciting ride, because they have a certain penchant for hurtling down the freeway at 120km/hour, and weaving in and out of traffic. This generally occurs when you don’t have a seat belt, which is only 99% of the time.

An older model – the pink has faded.

Motorcycle taxis

These are my new secret addiction. Motorcycle taxis are as easy to find as taxis, and charge much less. They’re not great for long distances (call me a coward, but I don’t have any great interest in sitting side saddle on the back of a bike that is manoeuvring through impossibly tiny gaps at 100+ km/hour), or if you’re carrying lots of stuff, but for short jaunts, they are great. There are a few hazards involved – the drivers have a penchant for driving on the wrong side of the street, they like to hop on and off the sidewalk, and sometimes they take off too quickly – the other day, I got a burn on my leg from the motorcycle tailpipe when the driver was a little too rarin’ to go. Don’t worry though, moms. I always insist on a helmet.


And I do mean “insist.”

I look just like this on a motor-taxi, except more glamourous.

After using any and often all of these on a given day, I’m ready for another coffee on the couch.

* A tribute to that great and profound Beach Boys’ classic – I Get Around

** Presenting Exhibit A: The Fire hydrant

*** Exhibit B: My father learning to drive a standard. Every Saturday, I would wake up to the unique and special sound of a clutch being ridden into the ground as dad drove his poor Toyota up and down our steep driveway.