We’ve been back in Chiang Mai for a few days. As expected, the trip south was wonderful but exhausting. I can’t take more than a few days of travel without craving a semi predictable place to call home. As a tourist in Thailand, my feelings are mixed. As one person, my effect on the country is minimal and positive: pump a few dollars into the economy and share some culture. But the combined effect of millions of tourists is not so sunny. They act as a cultural bulldozer, coming in great numbers, swarming once quiet secluded places and undermining whatever local economy there was. So the place becomes almost a Thai theme park, a "paradise" village of white sand, sea, food and beer. It all feels the same. It doesn’t feel real either, as a real town doesn’t sell the same shakes and western food on every corner. The Thai people become irrelevant to the setting as anything more than serving the tourists. Who cares about the local language or history when you can meet so many pretty adventuring youth and share a beer or two by the ocean. This is what you would see on MTV or beer commercial. There is nothing Thai about it, other than it just happens to be in Thailand. It is disgusting.
In San Francisco, I worked across from another wholly tourist supported area called Fisherman’s Warf and Pier 39. Did anyone care that there wasn’t a fisherman to be seen, or that the original pier was a warehouse? What about that place made it any more special than any other mall? Not much. But while this was unsettling to see, it was more like seeing a pig eat it’s own shit. It made sense that the dumb would be drawn to the bland. But in Thailand, the pigs are destroying the farm, trampling whatever other life lies underfoot.
By far, the best and most comfortable time was had around the town of Krabi. Not only was the place friendly and relaxed, but it had an honesty and real feeling compared the islands with entirely tourism based economies. We spent longer than expected there, eating in the public market at night. The first night had a festival atmosphere with traditional Thai music and dance. It was great for people-watching and cheap food. I fell in love with almost every female cook. We headed outside of town to go sea-kayaking and snorkeling. The latter was a bust, as there wasn’t much in the water and didn’t end up in the best of places. It was fun to swim around the rocks out in the middle of the ocean. One island we stopped at for lunch (Koh Hong) had a colony of the biggest ants I’ve ever seen. They seemed large enough to have facial expressions. Swimming in the water involved minor plankton bites and cutting my hands and feet on razor sharp barnacles. The kayaking went out into the ocean along cliffs and sea caves. Then we changed course and began paddling through perfectly quiet lagoons and mangrove swamp. When the talking and paddling stopped, the place was serene and powerful. The rocks towered overhead and were draped with intertwining plants. Bird calls. Fish jumping. Lapping water. Pushing farther inland into the dense mangroves, we came across monkey and crabs. The whole route took about 3 hours and was very satisfying. I hadn’t used my arms for anything more than beating up hookers, so it was good to give them a more well-rounded workout.
From Krabi, we took two buses to a little town on the coast to catch an off season boat to a small island called Koh Jam. The port town was a weird and depressing place, with a lot of dour expressions and an outhouse build on a pier so that the waste would flush straight into the water underneath. Also, I tasted the worst cookies I’ve ever had: imagine acidic, overly sweet fake lemon crème sandwiched by soggy butter crackers. Once we got to the island we walking along a red dirt road in the drizzle to a bungalow on the western beach. It was in forced seclusion since all but one other bungalow had been destroyed and not rebuilt since the tsunami. The beach was nice and the first sunset was spectacular, an explosion of peaches, red and blues all vibrating into the clouded sky. C. was in the ocean and said it was like swimming in lava. The rooms had to electricity and were infested with mosquitoes, so the sleep came early but was also irritating and fruitless. On the way out of town two days later to catch the early boat, I felt like a dirt crusted, swollen zombie.
Ready to head home, we took two buses back into Krabi and then a taxi all the way to the Phuket airport. Flight back to Chiang Mai.
Some photos (many of which were taking by K):
Hilarious techno-music scored public aerobics in Bangkok.
Me in Bangkok near old fort.
A diseased dog.
Ants carrying a roach down a wall.
A tall statue of Buddha in Bangkok.
Me and my friend N.
A view down a footpath in a cool elevated neighborhood along the river in Bangkok. It was very quite and dense.
A mosque complete with a goat and plenty of grass. Some random lady gave us a tour.
Cool swaying building.
Public park near skytrain and Chatuchak market where everyone was relaxing.
An old man playing an instrument on the sidewalk.
Lognboat moored in Koh Pii Pii.
A small view of tsunami destruction. Most of the island was gutted like this building or completely swept away.
This large section of the shore was missing all of the buildings. It used to be lined with bungalows and restaruants. Very chilling feeling walking along path of what used to be a bustling toursit area.
A boat near the Phuket harbor.
Night market in Krabi where we ate ever night.
School children doing traditional Thai dance.
Our long boat on one of the islands near Krabi.
C. in a sea kayak.
The view from the river on our way back to the pier.
K. and a monkey.
The sea kayak pier.
C. sick in bed.
Rubber tree being tapped in Koh Jam.
K. making batik.
Local men repairing a wooden boat in Koh Jam.
Stick ninja boy in Koh Jam.
Sunday market eating area in Chiang Mai.
Man frying sausages in Warorat market.
C. and me in the kitchen.
Who know what wonders won’t happen from here.