Koh Phayam: Nothing, Nothing At All.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I went to an island in Thailand called Koh Phayam for a little under a month. 

I knew Thailand had some really beautiful beaches and islands and also that some of them were teeming with douchebags who wanted nothing more than to party their faces off. So I looked at a list of which islands you could surf in and Thailand and chose the least douche-baggey sounding one on the list. 

And it was a good choice. The beaches are beautiful, wide stretches with few people on them (although people who have been coming to the island regularly are complaining that this is changing rapidly), clear water that gradates into a blueish green. Only downside of the water (what?!) is that there are jellyfish tentacles kicking around, so you'll be happily floating along and then all of the sudden feel that sudden prickly jolt for a few minutes. 

The island produces rubber, so you'd see lots of trees like this.

And cashew nuts. 

Mangroves on the island too. 

The water recedes like crazy on one of the beaches. It was hilarious/embarrassing: one day I decided, I am going to kayak on this beach. The instant I got in the kayak I was like, wait, do I even know how to kayak? I had only been once before and it was with someone else and I remembered it being fairly easy. And the concept of kayaking is pretty straightforward too, just stick the paddles in and you move. But I was already kind of hungry, the sun was blaring down, and I had pretty much no upper arm strength and I was so awkward at first. Eventually I got pretty far out (when I asked where I could kayak, the man renting it out to me just waved at the ocean and said vaguely, 'there') and I decided I needed to go back and I guess I was pretty weak at this point because I would paddle for 5 minutes and not have moved an inch. I was beginning to panic. And so I paddled as hard as I could and finally began to move slowly to the shore. Eventually a man in a speedboat came by and asked me if I was okay, and at the time I was and I had said yes, and when he left, I was like, man why didn't I say I needed his help? As I was getting close to the shore, I also was like, wait, where on the shore did I leave from? I couldn't remember that either. But as you can see, I made it. And I told someone about my kayak struggle and they're like, you know when the tide is low in the afternoon you can just walk to where you kayaked out to?

Ugh, for real?

This was the first time I had seen this - little crabs making these sand balls on the beach. It kind of weirded me out - it was like crop circles for beaches. 

Pretty shells everywhere. 

Beach dogs. 

Here is this guy sleeping in a couple of ways:

And then him kissing/getting unwillingly licked by another dog:

Kids on the island:

This fell on me one day and I thought it was nice:

It should rain flowers on people more. 

I was such a noob in a lot of ways before I came to the island. I had never manually flushed a toilet before (I now completely understand the word 'flushing' now), had electricity for limited amounts of time (makes me realize how much I took it for granted and never really gave it much thought), taken cold showers straight, burned my own garbage (this can't be good), etc. I wasn't prepared for that stuff at all, and it's funny because back in Vancouver, I remember trying to seek out places on the islands where it was more simple living where you didn't have electricity 24/7, have to shower outdoors, etc, etc. I romanticized simple living so much and when I had to actually do it, I kind of railed against it at first and was like, man I only want these things in a certain perfect way that isn't real. But a lot of people that moved themselves to the island from developed places like Bangkok, it seemed like one of the reasons why they liked the island so much was that they had to work for those functional aspects of a day. That they earned their existence there and made it themselves. 

haha the inside of the motorbike I rented while I was on the island. It was hard to take this thing seriously at first. After being in Chiang Mai, all of the sudden I just wanted to learn how to ride a motorbike. This island was the perfect place to do it because there's not many people driving around and when you do, they're going at like 30, 40 km at the most. Before we think that I am kind of cool (and if you didn't, that's cool too) - I rode an automatic motorbike - and really there is not much to learn except to just turn it on and sit there and sometimes accelerate and brake. Although because I was completely new to riding on one, when I first got it, I didn't even know how to turn it on and the guy I was renting it from was like, are you for real? And then I awkwardly hobbled off with the bike and the man was just like, whoooooo did I just rent this to and am I going to get this thing back in one piece.

But once you get the hang of it, zooming along the island was one of the best parts of the trip. You're just surrounded by lush trees and tropical plants and the wind is blowing against you and man you feel so great and don't want it to end.  

I had come to the island to surf but being the doofus that I am, I came at the wrong month (I figured that there might not be great waves all the time, but there's gotta be some waves for the month that I am there) and it was completely flat the entire time. I had no idea what to do on the island then and I began asking people, "So...what do you do here?" and most of them replied, "Nothing."

And it was hard to let go and to not do much and not feel guilty about it.  To not feel that you were wasting time. But at the same time getting mad at yourself for thinking you're wasting time because here you are on this beautiful island, thinking it's a waste to do nothing and this is a nice and lucky thing to be here and the last thing you should do is complain about it or think it's dumb to just be there.

But eventually I allowed nothingness to take over as much as I could. I would wake up, read (I read more books in that month that I had in probably a year - this and this were particularly good), maybe paint, go find a place to eat lunch, hang out on the beach for a few hours, read some more, make dinner, and watch some shows or a movie on my laptop. I would also perfect my candle setup in my place at night (because it had this awful depressing fluorescent lighting) - but I think in the process I just actually ended up perfecting the perfect setup for a mayfly infestation. Man that was gross. 

The island also made me like Thailand even more, almost love it really. Which is funny cause I felt ambivalent towards it at first and at times, hated it. The nothingness gave me space, to let me see how good everything is so far and thank you thank you thank you.

Chiang Mai: A Beauty.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Needing to get the heck out of Bangkok, I went to Chiang Mai for a week:

Almost everyone when I said that I was going to Thailand, either asked if I was going or told me to go to Chiang Mai. In my head I was like, yah okay. But, after only being there for a week and looking at these pictures again, I'd say yes, you should go to Chiang Mai when in Thailand. 

Temples are everywhere and they're beauties. 

When researching what to do in Chiang Mai, I read about this temple that seemed like it was a nice thing to do, you just go to the end of a road and do a leisurely hike up through a picturesque forest (and you know you're in the correct forest if you see bits of monks robes tied to trees) and boom you're at a temple that no one goes to and it's really peaceful and pretty. 

In order to get to the forest, I was like, oh I can walk there (Chiang Mai is a pretty walkable place if you feel like it). But after looking at Google Maps and seeing that it was half an hour (and then you have to hike 45 minutes in the forest to get to temple) then I was like okay, maybe I should bike there. And so I rented a bike and it was nice because before I had seen people biking around and wished I could do the same but just never did because...I dunno, ha. 

The bike ride started off nicely and it was nice to zip through the city. Then it started getting a bit hilly and it was a slog to get up the hill (the bike was a coasting bike) and I hadn't eaten and felt like I was going to pass out and was thanking myself that I at least rented a bike and man, when is this hill ever going to end. 

But once you're at the top, this is what you see:

You overlook the city and it was a nice spot to just sit and not really do much of anything except hang out with this dog (and others) and watch the few people that come and go.

The center of Chiang Mai is pretty walkable, making it nice to explore and you chance upon pretty things like this. 

Chiang Mai is known for its food and there's all these food carts everywhere and I was constantly like, "WHAT'S THIS I WANT THIS." The response most of the time was: coconut. 

This is a dish that is specific to Chiang Mai, Khao Soi. When I read about it, I was like, man not for me. I don't really like savory coconut based dishes (too heavy after awhile). But I felt pressured by the travel world to try it and it was as everyone promised...the bomb. The coconut soup base wasn't heavy at all and was so good with the deep fried egg noodles on top. What I learned from this dish: I don't know my taste at all haha. 

A lot of the food I ate in Chiang Mai made me cry from its spiciness. This is one of them. I always thought I could handle spice. But after being in Thailand, no, no I can't. At least not Thailand levels.

I dunno why but I was fascinated by the eggs in Chiang Mai. They were all so pretty looking.

When I photographed this, the lady selling these peanuts was so bored and then saw me do it and came to life and nudged her daughter and pointed at me excitedly for taking the picture (I think).

This was at a very small section of a large walking market that happens every Sunday in Chiang Mai. They shut down one of the main streets and then it's lined with vendors selling goods and food. What's really interesting is that around 6pm or so, they start playing the King's anthem, and everyone (the street is packed with people) stops and observes the song. It was like someone paused a movie. Everything was just suddenly so eerily still. And then after the song is done, the street becomes bustling and moving again. It's incredible. I forgot to mention in my Bangkok post that when you see a movie in Thailand, they play the King's anthem before the movie and it is accompanied by a slideshow of the King in all his glory. I found it odd, almost unnerving, but I guess it was more interesting to me to see the relationship between the people of Thailand and the King and how intertwined and devoted it is.

I dunno why but I for some reason took so many pictures of all the dogs I saw in Chiang Mai. 

The instant I took this picture this dog freaked out. I guess I would too if I was as silly looking. 

One of the big things to do in Chiang Mai is to go see elephants. 

I went to this elephant park that rescues elephants and also rescues dogs and water buffalo. A park of misfits. On the way to the park, they played a video that explained the park and some of the elephants' stories, and man were they ever sad. Things like the elephants being blinded by their owners when they refused to move, just really terrible stuff that had everyone in the van sad and horrified. 

It was surreal being around the elephants. They're just there. Walking around. Like it's no big deal. You could touch most of them too. And feed them and bathe them. It was so amazing and moving that you almost forgot how amazing it was and it just became your new reality, that oh, I'm hanging out with elephants, cool. 

Our guide was this hilarious tiny Thai woman who had the most perfect jokes (that have obviously been fine tuned through being repeated so many times) - things like when the elephant peed, that that was Chang Beer (Chang Beer is one of the big beer brands in Thailand and Chang means elephant in Thai) or there was this male elephant that didn't have any tusks and whenever he played with this other male elephant, he always lost and so was nicknamed "Ladyboy". What made the jokes even funnier was that she laughed at them every time. 

Not pictured: the hilarious amount of massages that I did in Chiang Mai. I literally went almost every night to this one place. For 10 dollars for an hour, how could you not? I didn't do this on purpose, but I got the same lady every time and she laughed at the number of times I came. She was also the tiniest, skinniest woman ever, but was surprisingly strong. 

I am glad I went to Chiang Mai because it showed me another side of Thailand that made me appreciate it so much more and showed me the depth of the country. I wish I could have been there longer to just explore more of the food and the city. There's so much there and it's so easy to accidentally chance upon a serene and calm spot and then end up in a place brimming with life and action. 

Till next time Chiang Mai, I hope you keep well.