Friday, January 8, 2010
Our own version of The Odyssey
Okay, so I left off after a day in Kanchanaburi touring the WWII related sights. The next day we hopped on our rented motorbike and headed to Erawan Falls, which is a seven-tier waterfall 75km north of the city, reputedly one of the most spectacular in Thailand, and it was. We spent the afternoon hiking the trails upward, stopping along the way to take a dip in several of the crystal clear pools with the creepy, foot-fetish fishies. As soon as you step into the water, you feel raspy little fish lips kissing your feet and ankles, eating the dead skin. We saw places in Cambodia and elsewhere in Thailand with swimming pools full of the same fish where people would pay for the privilege of having their toes lipped. They apparently hit the mother lode with my feet, because I think there were about 30 of them munching away at one point. It was pretty icky but sort of became a test of will to see how long I could stand it, sort of like watching a mosquito bite you (outside of malarial areas, mind you). The BEST thing was watching other people discover the fishes! The next day, we rode out to see some Angkor-era ruins that were mightily unimpressive after seeing the real deal. We also went to see a very large monkey-pod tree, which is an acacia of some variety and must have been about 15 feet in diameter, and rode past some huge horse stables (seemed odd to me, I didn't know there were many equestrians here). The next day was the New Year, so we got back on the bus (having determined that yes, the Malaysia-bound trains from Bangkok were full through the 4th of January) and went to the city of Cha Am.
Cham Am is on the Gulf of Thailand about two hours from Bangkok and is one of the places the locals go for beach time (not sunbathing, the locals stay in the shade of umbrellas and use whitening creams to remain as pale as possible). They also wear street clothes when they do get into the water (we saw this in Vietnam as well). Since the day was a holiday, the beach was packed- it looked like photos from Coney Island in the mid-20th century. It was really neat to see, but we decided not to stay and went the next morning to Hua Hin (20 minutes south) to catch another bus to southern Thailand, only to learn that the bus station "is finish," which means closed, gone, not there anymore. Fortunately for us, a very nice lady waiting in the back of a songthaew (a pickup truck with a roof over the bed and two rows of bench seats along the sides) told us it was going to her hometown of Pranburi, which has a big bus station, and to hop in. We did and got a bus to Songkhla in the south of Thailand, arriving 12 hours later, at around 11pm, without a map or a place to stay. We found both, along with a noodle soup midnight snack, and went to sleep. The next morning, since it was raining, we got on yet another bus and went to Hat Yai, which is where all roads and trains in southern Thailand meet. Since the train was full and the buses would arrive in Malaysia late in the evening, and we were tired of sitting on buses anyway, we stayed the day and went to....McDonalds for dinner. Yes, we ate at McDonalds for the first time since September, and you know what? It tastes the same in Thailand as it does in the US! And you know all the super-size fries they can't sell at home because of the exhorbitant caloric content? They must have shipped all the packaging over here, because that's what we got and enjoyed each and every one of those delicious, crispy potato and grease angels.
Finally, for the last leg of our epic journey, we got up the next morning at the uncivilized hour of 5am and were able to get tickets for the train to Butterworth, Malaysia. We were seated across from a Buddhist monk from Taiwan who was traveling to Kuala Lumpur. He started to giggle when he saw the book in my lap, Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, and pulled the Chinese version of the same book from his bag- same edition, same photos even! Well, we made it to Malaysia on Tuesday and are now on the island of Penang, in the city of Georgetown and loving it here!