Friday, July 3, 2015

Living the Island Life One Last Time

Following our trip to Sukhothai, we returned to Chiang Mai for one more day, then came home to regroup for a couple of days before heading out to show our visitors island life as the last leg of their visit. We went to a small island, named Koh Larn, about a 30-minute ferry ride from Pattaya. Unlike beautiful Koh Larn, Pattaya is a seedy city frequented by foreigners for its sex industry and about 1 1/2 hours' drive from us. Just walking through the port area of Pattaya made me feel dirty.

It was on this trip that our visitors got a small taste of what living and traveling in Thailand might be like. First, we had hired a driver -- our morning taxi driver during the school year -- to take us to and from the port of Pattaya for an agreed-upon price. But the day prior to our departure, I received an email from a teacher's aid at our school, who is neighbors with the driver, telling us that the driver's taxi cab had been rear-ended, so a taxi-driver friend of his would drive us instead, and that the friend was asking for more money. It wasn't that much more money than what we had agreed on, but it still didn't sit right with me that we were paying the price of his accident. Nevertheless, it being the day before we were to leave, we agreed to the change in driver and amount of payment.

On the day of our trip, the driver showed up on time to pick us up, but he didn't seem to know where he was going. Due to that and bumper-to-bumper traffic for much of the way, a trip that was to take less than two hours took about three hours instead. By the time we got to Pattaya, it was early afternoon and we were all starving.

Once in Pattaya, we were immediately visually assaulted in every direction by leering men. We tried to ignore it and look for lunch. Unfortunately, walking around, it seemed every restaurant was closed except for a fairly pricey western-style grill. Fortunately, the food was decent, and as it was my husband's birthday, I surprised him with a large piece of the best chocolate cake I have tasted in Thailand.

After lunch, we took the ferry to get to Koh Larn. Once there, we walked to the place where we were staying. The streets there were narrow and crowded with people, animals, tractors, scooters, tuk tuks, and songthaews. It was quite a scene. Our first afternoon there, we took a songthaew to Samae Beach. The songthaew ride was harrowing -- the driver drove at breakneck speed on narrow roads that were steep and windy. We held on for our lives. At Samae Beach, we walked and our kids played in the water. Samae Beach was busy, but fairly scenic with mountains in the distance. There also was a building with a solar-paneled roof shaped like a sting ray.

After a couple of hours there, at around 5:30 p.m., we decided to head back to the hotel. As we were walking towards a songthaew to get on, a group of people got on and took up all the space. So we decided to wait for the next one. Immediately, everyone from the passengers to the songthaew driver began talking in Thai and gesturing. Everyone was insisting that we get on, even though there was not one single space left on the bench in the back of the songthaew. After some confusion, one of the passengers told us in broken English that songthaew was the last one from the beach for the day, and that we HAD TO get on that one. Everyone started shifting and a couple of people got up for all of us to sit with our kids in our laps. Then, once everyone realized we were completely ignorant of the ways of the island, they asked us whether we were staying on the island that night because the last ferry heading to Pattaya was at 6:00 p.m.

We got so lucky that we decided to leave at that time rather than stay longer; otherwise, we would've been stranded at the beach and would've been walking for at least an hour or two on windy, steep roads alongside speeding scooters and cars just to get back to our hotel. We were also lucky that people were nice enough to inform us about what was going on. This experience was the epitome of living and traveling in Thailand, and of our experiences with the Thai people -- you're never completely certain of what is going on, no information is ever communicated to visitors to inform them of any kind of schedule, and you just have roll with the punches or you'd go insane, but people will help you out once they realize you're a clueless farang.

We finally returned to our hotel for a shower and dinner. The shower in our friend's room had no hot water, so we reported it to the concierge. Of course, when they went to check it out, hot water came out. Later, when she decided to shower, there was again no hot water. The way our day was going, we were neither surprised nor upset about the shower.

Dinner that night was a disaster. We chose a restaurant recommended by someone at the hotel. At first glance, it seemed like a cute place with an amazing water view. But that was the only good thing about the restaurant; nothing else seemed to go right. We waited forever for our food to arrive; the waitstaff made mistakes on our order; all the lights at the restaurant kept going on and off; and our friend's and her son's dishes were super spicy despite instructions to add no spice, so dinner was torture for them.

As if that weren't enough already, the power went out at our hotel that night. It wouldn't have been a big deal except it was hot and muggy without the air conditioner. My husband spoke to someone at the hotel who spoke English who told him that it was probably caused by some work being done on the cables in town. After about half an hour, I was about to wake up my son to go outside for some fresh air when the power returned. Phew.

The misadventures continued at breakfast the next morning. When I booked our rooms, I had made sure that breakfast was included, but when we ordered breakfast for our kids, we were told by the Thai staff that they weren't included and that they could only get a small box of cornflakes and milk each. I was quite annoyed by this information as there was no indication that the kids wouldn't get breakfast on the hotel website or the booking website. We three adults ordered breakfast and had to give the kids some of our food to supplement. Luckily, as we were heading out for the day, we ran into the Australian proprietor of the place. He asked us how breakfast was, and we told him what had happened. He told us the kids were entitled to a full breakfast like everyone else, and the problem was resolved for the next morning.

The rest of our second day there went well, fortunately. We hit another beach called Tien Beach after another harrowing songthaew ride. Getting to the beach area was a bit of an adventure itself with rocky terrain and a walk above the rocky shores, but the beach was gorgeous with pristine water. It also was a quieter beach with fewer people, though there were quite a few speed boats and other boat tours. We rented umbrellas and beach chairs at 50 baht per person for the entire day, parked ourselves under the umbrellas, enjoyed the temperate water and the view, ordered delicious food delivered to us for lunch, drank delicious cocktails, and had a relaxing and wonderful day at the beach. It was just what we needed.

The next morning, we all had a full breakfast, got on the ferry to go back to the port of Pattaya, and our driver picked us up, all without incident. The drive back took only an hour and 20 minutes as there was no traffic whatsoever. All's well that ends well!

The view from Pattaya's pier:

On the way to Koh Larn: A beautiful house on its own island, and views of Koh Larn from our ferry.

At Koh Larn: Colorful buildings near where we stayed, a wedding being set up at the parking lot where the songthaews usually park and pick up passengers, the view at the horrible restaurant where we ate the first night, and a menu item at another restaurant.

At our hotel:

At Samae Beach: Building with sting ray-shaped, solar-panel roof, a floating pier, a colorful shack, and the colorful rocks at the beach.

At Tien Beach. The third picture is of my husband's foot. He stepped on a sea urchin, and a woman who was referred to as a "doctor" came over with a stone and pounded on the wound site to break up the spine that had gone into the skin.

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