Why I Love Thailand… A rookie backpacker brings high fashion to the Thai Islands (2003).
Hip Side Convenience
I totally get why a dog loves sticking its head out of a car, tongue and slobbery gums blissfully flapping in the wind. I’m practically doing the same thing out of this train window minus the wind-blown strings of saliva. I’m awestruck by the endless acres of tropical palms as the slow locomotive chugs into Southern Thailand. The morning breeze is a fresh contrast to Bangkok’s stifling, carbon-rich air. It’s the beginning of my third day ever overseas. Can it get any better than this?
Yes! Snack lady is coming through the aisles, hawking tiny baggies neatly filled with Pad Thai noodles. Only twenty Baht? Deal! I unzip my high-volume hip pack, coolly secured on my right side, and rummage around for the fifty-cents equivalent for my spicy breakfast.
The Coconut Factory
My destination is an island called Koh Phangan, home to renowned beach parties, especially on a full moon. After the train arrives in Surat Thani, a combination of three separate minibuses scoot me over to the coast where I await the island-bound ferry. Two hours until departure, so why not wander off into the surrounding jungle for some mid-afternoon exploration. Even better, I toss my disposable camera in my hip pack in case I need it. Convenient, chic and sexy – all in one royal blue accessory.
I’m drawn to a dense patch of ferns by a steady rhythm of thwacks and thuds. I push through to a clearing where a local man is lifting green coconuts and smashing them against a medieval spear planted in the dirt. Despite being half my size, in no time he skins a coconut down to the brown, hard shell. After I admire his work for a few minutes, he holds one out for me. I’m game, despite a woeful lack of skill. More often than not, I miss the spear and a basketball-size mass thumps to the ground. And when I don’t miss the spear, I tap it so gently that the man snorts with glee. I don’t speak Thai, but I’m sure he’s saying, “Hey big man, stop hitting it with your purse.”
Once on Koh Phangan, I secure a bungalow — modest to say the least. A bed, fan and a cold shower – all for eight bucks. Mind you, the minute walk to the ocean makes up for it. Before setting off I cram everything I think I might possibly need into the blue hip pack. Who’s looking good and ready to party? This guy!
A caveman instinct sets me off in search of food. As I pass by a half-packed bar, the dreadlocked Thai man behind the fiery, formidable grill lures me in with promises of “free BBQ.” Free, you say? I like free! Dreadlocked Man introduces himself as Noosa and slaps some crispy slabs of marinated pork onto a plate, straight from the grill. “Have a seat at the bar, drink with us. Big party tonight!” he says with an enormous smile.
Noosa, owner of the Blue Pub, shuts down the bar’s reggae-blasting, party-making festivities shortly after midnight, and the merry gaggle of drunks – myself included — parades down to the beachside nightclubs for many more hours of “big party.”
The hours have been a raging, fun blur and somehow, around 4 a.m., I find myself magically back at the Blue Pub. Noosa’s unofficially reopened the joint and plops a tall glass of unnecessary rum in front of me. When in Rome … I lift my toxic cup and toast the ten others sitting at the candlelit table in the same alcoholic predicament of excess rum.
Eventually, as sunlight begins to brighten up the room, a Dutch couple I befriended sometime between midnight and morning say their goodbyes. “Wait!” I shout as they turn to leave, “You’ll need these.” I slide my belted man-purse under my belly button, zip it open and paw around for the very thing I think my departing friends need the most. Voila! Out comes an economy size bottle of Tylenol.
“Ha!” the blonde Dutchman laughs, “I was wondering what you were carting around in there all night.”
“These…” I slur, “…both of you…take some of these. They’ll help you with the hangover.” I sprinkle the plastic bottle over their extended hands and a dozen white tablets cascade out, half falling to the floor.
His wife jokes, “How very kind, but be careful. You may make enemies in this town if you put the local chemist out of business.”
“And water, drink lots of water,” I counsel, impervious to her jests, and turn to Noosa, “Can I buy them each a big bottle of water?”
“They’re on the house, my friend,” he yells from the behind the bar.
A British man, somehow even drunker than I am, staggers around the table, “Hey mate, can I get in on some of those pills?”
“Totally!” I say, spilling a dozen more into his eager, cupped hands.
The day passes for me in a delightful Tylenol-medicated, well-hydrated sleep. Come three in the afternoon I’m fresh as daisy. On the way to my afternoon breakfast, I stop by Noosa’s and the usual suspects are already partaking in a Sunday session. The Dutchman bellows out from the pool table, “Dr. Zack is here with his little, blue, magic purse!” He high-fives me as I approach, “Your medicine was fantastic, no hangovers for anyone.”
His wife gives me a welcoming hug and Noosa walks over to hand me an icy bottle of Singha beer. Can it get any better than this? Not even 24 hours on the island and I’m building up a great crew of fun-loving friends.
The Brit, however, isn’t as impressed. “I thought you were doling that lot of pills for the morning rave across town. But two hours into it, I realized, ‘That Canadian has some shit drugs.’”
Maybe things could’ve gone better for the Brit, so I try to get him to look on the bright side. “But after only a few hours of sleep, you still feel pretty good, right?” I suggest.
“Ha!” the Brit winks and clinks my perspiring bottle of beer. “Not the ‘feel good’ I was looking for, mate!”
Don’t Be A Stranger!
Another one in the books for Tacks on a Map. Much more to come! I’d love to hear any feedback or requests for future write-ups. Adios!