I’ve been desperately trying to narrate my adventures in the order they occurred. What actually happens is that I fall about 3 months behind, occasionally vomiting 3000 word long halfhearted posts that probably bore my two readers to death, while the spontaneous updates I want to make and could possibly be somewhat interesting go unwritten.
Since, ultimately, it doesn’t matter to anyone other than myself (I even wonder why I’m bothering to write an explanation at all), I decided to mix it up! From now on, screw chronological order, I’ll post in whatever order I want! (Do I feel empowered or what?) It’s not like I update and get read often enough to be confusing anyway. (One might ask why I’d even bother with writing about everything that happened months ago, but I do want to have those things documented, if only for my personal reading enjoyment 20 years from now.)
So now, as I type these lines, I’m sitting in my little room in Ranong, Thailand.
Getting to Ranong
Ed and I arrived in Phuket (the starting point on the map) on New Years day. We were scheduled to meet our volunteer coordinator in Kuraburi (1 on the map) on the 5th and head up to Ranong that same day (2 on the map) but international travel and jet lag being what they are, we wanted a few days to acclimatize.
We stayed in Phuket town at the Blue Hostel. We didn’t know what to expect but it turned out to be really nice. The wifi was shakey, but the AC, hot water and friendly staff were much appreciated. It felt a lot more like an inn than a hostel (I think I only saw one other person there other than the staff!) but since Ed and I weren’t feeling social at all, we didn’t care.
Getting from the airport to the hostel was more confusing than I’d hoped – none of the taxi companies (which I suspect were all the same company) claimed to have a shared vehicle going to Phuket town (despite it being advertised). Under the “Airport Bus” sign down the road, 3 guys from Brazil were waiting, so we figured we’d wait too. After about an hour, we gave up and decided to team up for a taxi. Of course, the company wouldn’t let us get a taxi. “Only room for 4 in a taxi”, they said. So we recruited two others, a Kiwi and her friend, a Thai girl exploring her own country and tried to rent a van. “No can do”, the company said. “We don’t have any vans (despite them being advertised and lined up in front of the counter), you have to get a more expensive minibus.”
By then the “Airport Bus” finally showed up and we ran off to catch it.
Of course, after a few minutes on the “Airport Bus”, it pulled over, made everyone get out and load into a minibus, one of the minibusses from the company at the airport. Suddenly overfilling wasn’t a concern anymore as we crammed 14 people in a minibus with only room for 12.
It was almost an hour drive to the outskirts of town where the bus dumped us in the parking lot of a grocery store and drove away. It was lucky the Thai girl in our party was able to explain that we were to transfer into a local bus (henceforth dubbed “Pink Thing” due to its bubble gum colour), pay 10 baht (about 0.30$) and end up at the local bus station near our hostel.
After idiot-proof Australia, it was a bit of a rude awakening! Welcome to South East Asia!
Fortunately, the time between then and now has been much smoother and the other businesses we’ve dealt with have been far more honest.
We only had 2 full days in Phuket town which we spend exploring. The town was way nicer and less touristy than I expected. I was expecting creepy perverts everywhere, but I guess they mostly stay in Patong because we only spotted a handful. You do notice that the local women are much colder and distant than their men, which is a little off-putting until you realize how much harassment they must suffer through. Being cold is probably all they’re able to do to discourage the creeps.
What I remember most vividly was the food.
OMG the food.
I feel like I finished every meal with the thought “I can’t wait to be hungry again!”
The restaurants were plentiful, the food was top notch and dirt cheap and most places had English menus (a luxury we miss dearly). We had one bad experience – we were drawn in by the cool layout, but they ended up not having what we ordered, didn’t let us order anything else, then tried to charge us for what they didn’t serve – but everywhere else we ate was a borderline spiritual experience.
After our nasty bus experience at the airport, I was pretty nervous about making it to Kuraburi, especially on a Sunday, but it was no big deal at all. The interurban busses leave from Terminal 2 which called for a Pink Thing transfer from the bus station near the hostel. The Pink Thing costed the expected 10 baht and picked us up immediately. At Terminal 2 we bought our tickets (for barely more than the airport transfer costed us) and within 30 minutes we were on our way in a cozy, quiet, clean, air conditioned bus. It even came with complementary water and at some stops vendors came aboard with interesting looking snacks. They also played some Thai karaoke on the (very nice, I must say) TV screen which I studied intently in hopes of picking up some of the language. (It didn’t work, but I became very familiar with some of the local hits. I constantly have “I heard this on the bus!” moments.
We got into Kuraburi a few hours later.
“Sooooo, where’s our hotel?” Ed asked me.
“Aaaahm” I mumbled.
I was counting on there being signs, or maybe a taxi, or on Kuraburi just being a small town. No such luck. And no internet to check (not that it would have helped, google doesn’t know Tararin Resort). I show up places all the time not knowing where I’m going and it always works out. Why not now?
Apparently it’s a little different when someone’s counting on you… I covered for my embarrassment by leaving Ed with the bags and running off to explore.
When I returned, unsuccessful, we grabbed our bags and Ed, always the more outgoing one, offered to ask someone.
We found an English speaking girl across the street who pointed us in the right direction. Turns out I had explored the wrong way and the “Resort” was barely a block down the road. Oops. The embarrassment continues!
The people at Tararin didn’t speak any English, weren’t expecting us at all (even though we had a reservation and had pre-paid) but went out of their way to make us feel at home. At that point, we didn’t know that Thais say “Where are you going?”, the same way us North Americans say “How are you?”, so when we were flustered at their asking us where we’re going (Andaman Discoveries was going to take us to Ranong tomorrow), they mobilized half the town. We showed them the Andaman Discoveries logo. They didn’t seem to recognize it but someone with a motorbike signaled for me to get on. He drove me to the office (which was closed until Monday, of course, but it was a relief to find out where it was), then to another resort where the owner spoke some English. The sign on the door said “Taxi” and he kept asking me where I was going. I was pretty panicky by then, with the memory of our airport transfer fresh in my mind, I half expected to end up in a car and driven to Ranong then and there.
Kuraburi, however, isn’t like that. They had driven me to the office to show me where it was and because they thought I needed to go there now. They drove me to the Taxi/Resort place because they knew someone was there who could act as a translator and reassure me. He asked where I was going because it’s just polite. The crazy precautions they teach you about Asia, it appears, mainly apply in tourist heavy places. In these small remote-ish towns, people aren’t out to get you at all. The lengths they go to help you, without charge, are quite humbling.
(I suppose my experiences in Cuba – where people will help you then demand payment – were also fresh in my mind. Thailand, despite being quite similar to Cuba development-wise, is quite different on the business front. In Cuba, everyone wants tips since it’s pretty much the only way to make a profit in the heavily communist regime. Thailand is much freer and tipping isn’t customary outside tourist areas, so you’re much less made to feel like a human ATM machine every time someone is friendly to you.)
Our accommodation in Kuraburi was quite basic, but it did have AC and it was only for one night, so all was good.
Our awesome liaison from Andaman Discoveries, Lindsey, also stopped by in the late afternoon to make sure we made it ok and to remind the hotel staff that we had already paid for our room. (Of course, they had forgotten by morning and I had to run down to the office to get Lindsey before they would let us leave. For some reason, when I said “Andaman Discoveries” they had no idea what I was talking about, but when Lindsey said the EXACT same thing, they nodded enthusiastically. Figures.)
Which brings us to our base for the next two months, Ranong.
Our apartment is again basic (no air con /sad, but hot water and free wifi!) but does the job. The building is quite nice and it’s a pleasure to come home to after a big day of volunteering.
Not having any way to prepare food has been frustrating, especially since we are on the outskirts of town and there are very few restaurants nearby that both look open and are easy to order from (most places seem to be cook-to-order, which is tricky when you have no idea what your options are). We found our favorite spot, which is about a 45 minute walk from our apartment and we’ve been eating there almost every night. I wonder if they’ll miss us after we move on.
I did get an episode of food poisoning after eating a different spot, where for about 8 hours I followed a strict schedule of vomiting-diarrhea, followed by an hour of being ok, then an hour of stomach pain, rinse and repeat. Once I was completely empty, I was pretty dizzy for about two days but slowly recovered. Ed, on the other hand, was fine, only to fall under the weather the following week. He wasn’t violently ill like me, but was pretty crappy for about 4 days. Ah the joys of eating in a new country!
The school (the Ranong Special Education Center) has been wonderful to volunteer at. The kids are adorable and the staff is amazing. Having heard of Asian school reputations, I was a little nervous, but either the rumours are wrong or Thailand is different from the rest of Asia. You can tell the teachers really care about each student as a person. They show a lot of affection and are super super patient. It’s actually not much different from how we acted with our kids when I worked at Autism camp. They don’t have all the resources and tools we do but they do provide a fantastic learning environment and I’m so impressed what they’ve accomplished with so little.
Out of respect for the kids, I’m not going to post recognizable photos of them all over the internet, but if Andaman Discoveries uses some of my pictures for their sites, I’ll be sure to post a link.
And, um, I think that’s the jist of it!