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Tsunami? Where?

Well, after Bangkok, I hopped on the train to the south. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do in the south, or even if I would do anything other than cross the border into Malaysia and so I figured I’d have the whole train journey to decide. I got an email from a buddy in which he said that I was missing out on a lot here in Thailand by zipping through it like I did Vietnam. Yeah, I know I’m missing out on a lot – but you have to if you’re going to travel the world. I decide on where I will visit based on a few criteria.

1) How much it costs
2) When I need to be in the next destination (mainly due to weather)
3) How many other backpackers there are at a given place (I’ve already mentioned how much my kind annoy me)
4) How easy it will be to come back to a given place when I’m old, have two kids and a wife. And a dog. Maybe even a cane.

So let’s expand on this last one. If you were my wife (if there are any ladyboys in Thailand reading this, don’t get any ideas), which would you rather hear?

“Hey babe, I was thinking we could go trekking in the Malaysian jungle for a few weeks. Pack the mosquito repellent and some salt. The salt will keep the leeches away. It’s hard to tell when the leeches get you because you can’t feel anything. They get in your boots and when they get their fill of blood, then plop off to the bottom where your feet squash them. You only know they were on you when you take off your boots to find your socks drenched in blood and leech guts. Don’t worry though. They can’t give you any diseases. It’ll be fun!”


“Hey babe, let’s go to Thailand and lie out on a desolated, white-sand beach and do nothing but drink beer, swim in the ocean, eat seafood and relax for two weeks. It’ll be fun!”

Case in point.

I can always come back to Thailand. And Vietnam. This is also why I probably won’t be going to Europe this trip either. I’m broke and it’s not going anywhere.

Soooo, on the train, I met a Thai guy in the dining car with whom I chatted for a while. He had a bottle of whiskey so he opened it up for me and the dining car staff and we all had a great time. That night I decided that I would go to the beach in southern Thailand. But I didn’t know which coast yet. Songkla to the east was supposed to be okay, but nothing spectacular. But the west coast (Ko Tarutao) was supposedly hit by the Tsunami. Decisions decisions.

When I got to Katya, I hopped off the train and after talking to some Germans headed to Ko Lipe (on the west coast), I decided that I would go to the west coast and check it out. Tarutao National Park is a series of stunning tropical islands off the coast that have very few tourists. With the tsunami, they had even a fraction of the previous number, so I thought it would be nice and quiet. My plan was to find a desolated beach, set up a tent and hammock and call it home for a few days.

After wandering around Katya for a few hours, I made it to the bus station and eventually Pakbarra only to find that the last boat to the island had already gone. So I would have to spend the night there. No worries. I got a bungalow for 5 bucks and spent the night playing chess, cutting open coconuts, and drinking beer with an English guy I met at the next bungalow over.

In the morning, I caught the ferry to Ko Tarutao. Everyone seemed to be going to Ko Lipe (it was the most developed and commercial of the 5 islands) and it was only me and two Thais that got off. I arrived at the park office, rented a tent and set off to the furthest beach I could find. After a few hours of walking through the rain forest, I arrived. There was no one but the park staff there and I set up my tent.

“You have food?” they asked as I passed their house on the mountain on my way to the beach (their house is a fair distance from the beach where I was to camp).
“Yeah. I brought bread and instant noodles,” I replied.

“Good. No have food. Maybe tomorrow.”

From what I gather, there was supposed to be some semblance of a restaurant there, and when I got to the beach, I saw that there was a deserted building that was supposed to resemble a snack bar / kitchen. But, as we all well know now, “No Food”.

I picked a spot on the beach and set up my tent and hammock. I was ready. It was almost getting dark so I went exploring on the beach. I got my bearings. After watching a beautiful sunset over the beach, I came back and gathered up some firewood and started a fire using pages from last week’s edition of The Economist (is there anything that magazine CAN’T do??). I never knew how incredibly satisfying it was to start your own fire and cook your own food over it until I did it in New Zealand. I guess it taps into that primal hunter instinct we all have. I drank tea, ate soup and relaxed in my hammock while I watched the stars and the ships far out at sea with my binoculars. This area was supposed to be devastated by the tsunami but I saw no sign of it. None anywhere. I talked to a lady and she said all they got was a swell and black water. She cried, she told me, but I guess it wasn’t too bad. I couldn’t see any damage, even on the west coast of the island facing the ocean.

In the morning, I got up, started a fire, made some tea and had some bread. It was going to be a nice day. The park staff came down and raked up some leaves for 20 minutes then went back to their house. God, they have a rough job. I’m sure they get compensated well for it though.

I rented one of the staff member’s kayak for $2.50 and set off into the ocean. My plan was to go a little of the ways around the southern tip of the island. A real adventure-like. I got about a kilometer out when I realized that I despised sea kayaks. I sat there drenched in sweat, bobbing up and down and getting nauseous from the surf, getting scorched by the merciless sun and unable to put on sunblock because I was so sweaty. And I was exhausted. I went back to the shore and tried to walk back but it was too hard to do knee deep in water, so I just rowed back using all my will power to continue on and not throw up. When I made it back, I collapsed into my hammock and cursed sea kayaks and whoever it was that invented them. I found comfort in the fact that he was probably dead (God rest his soul) and that he wouldn’t be able to unleash any additional equally horrible inventions upon the world.

After a while, I decided that I wanted a coconut. The only problem was that there were none on the ground and they were only in a few really really high palm trees. I tried throwing stones at them but to no avail. I imagined that I was trapped on a desert island and needed to make some sort of device to get the coconuts so I could survive. I wandered around looking for long sticks and poles along the beach and found a few – none long enough to reach though (it was maybe 35 feet up). So then I went in search of some rope along the beach. I found a variety of sizes and lengths and spent two hours constructing a 35 foot long pole from four small poles and a whole bunch of rope – and !ALAS! my creation was complete! I went to test it out.

Two inches too short. Damn. I found a chair and stood on it. I could touch the coconut but not with any force. I was getting nowhere. I tried throwing more stones. No luck and my arm hurt.

I had to think this one out for a while. I went for a swim in the ocean (the water was soooo warm!) and relaxed on the hammock for a while while I listened to Jack Johnson – perfect music for relaxing on the beach and formulating a plan.

After another swim, I had another go. There was a tree next to the palm tree and I climbed into it. From there, I could hoist my pole into the air and reach the coconuts. YES! I jabbed and jabbed for 5 minutes and finally, a coconut fell.

You know – that’s how I am. If I want something, I make it happen. That day it was a coconut. Tomorrow it will be fame and fortune. Maybe even a yacht.

About that time, a delivery of beer, coke and food came from the main park headquarters. I celebrated my coconut victory with an ice cold coke. Then I set out cutting open the coconut.

Many of you may not be aware of the fact that coconuts are actually really big and have a good 3 inches of bark like padding around them. You have to hack through it to get to the shell, then crack that open. Well, I hacked through it and eventually got to my prize – only to find that the milk inside had fermented and tasted horrible. Oh well. That’s life. Next challenge!

I went for a walk on the beach at low tide and watched all the sea creatures go about their lives. Crabs, birds, fish, snails, etc… scurrying about. It was great. When I got back, I realized that the *$@#ing monkeys had gotten into my food and eaten all of my bread, sugar, tea and even had stolen my knife sharpening stone.

“YOU GOD DAMNED MONKEYS!” I yelled as I ran back to my food.z

They laughed at me from a distance, sugar and bread crumbs in their stupid monkey beards.

Those god damned monkeys.

About that time one of the park rangers came back and asked me if I wanted dinner made.
I told him that I indeed would, seeing as the monkeys had eaten all of my food. He thought that was pretty funny. I wondered if he was in on it. After all, it was conceivable that a man that worked 20 minutes a day raking leaves had time to befriend the monkeys and train them to eat campers’ food and then “coincidentally” show up and offer a meal. But “Fried Lice” with chicken (which I assume was actually fried rice with chicken) was only 50 cents and I would think that a man who went through all the trouble to train monkeys would demand more for dinner so I ruled it out.

That night I made another fire and wrote in my journal. I listened to the waves and pondered life’s great mysteries – like why the monkeys stole my knife sharpening stone. Did they perhaps have a dull knife that needed sharpening? Would their next heist be at knife point?

I may never know the answer to that question. I left this morning, caught the ferry back to the mainland and then a bus back to Hatyai. And so here I am. Goodbye beautiful white sand beaches and warm blue ocean water. Tomorrow I head to Malaysia and the jungle.

Honey, pack the salt!