NINTH MOVEMENT: THAILAND
I woke up today, showered, dressed, packed my bags, and checked out of the hostel. I then walked to the Komitar building and took the bus to Penang International Airport. After a ride that lasted a little more than an hour, I departed the bus, entered the airport, and waited in a long line to receive my boarding pass. I was flying Malaysian Airlines today to Phuket, Thailand, but the plane was actually operated by Firefly airlines . . ., but Firefly is actually a full subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines. Either way, it doesn’t really matter, the chances of dying due to a plane crash or explosion are pretty low and if I use the gambler’s fallacy, the chances are even lower; in other words: I felt pretty safe. Inside the airport I had McDonalds (again?! – it is cheap and quick) before passing through immigration and then waiting for about an hour before boarding the plane. The plane left slightly later than scheduled, but it was a short flight and in less than ninety minutes, it arrived at Phuket International Airport. I was a little worried about passing through Thailand Immigration since they sometimes check to see if you have an exit flight (I did not because I plan on traveling to Cambodia by bus), but the man behind the desk asked no questions and I quickly received my 30-day Visa, grabbed my checked bag, and then passed through a derelict customs. Once outside, I grabbed cash (Thai bahts) at an ATM and then waited forty minutes for the Airport bus to come (it was the cheapest option). At 15:30, the bus came, many boarded, and then many waited a half hour before the bus actually left. Then we stopped at a nearby building and waited another twenty minutes before we were told to get off the bus and to take a minivan instead – once again, due to not having enough passengers, the men in charge decide to jerk the customers around in order to save some money; I hope one day Asia learns that quality, efficiency, low prices, and respect are how you gain customers and – most important of all – money. “Hope”, that ever present she-demon, like the carrot hanging in front of the mule, has once again entered my mind. Oh well.
After a drive through the island of Phuket, I was finally at the hotel I had booked with (located in Patong and owned by some young Italian guys); I had to open the side door of the minivan to get the driver to finally stop the vehicle after he had told me a number of times he would; then I grabbed my bags and walked back toward the hotel. I checked in and immediately requested a tour to Khao Phing Kan in the Phang Nga Bay, northeast of Phuket. The hotel manager’s friend (another Italian) came through with a decently priced tour for tomorrow. I then set out in the night to buy some swimming trunks for tomorrow’s tour. I had brought swim wear with me, but because of the design on the shorts, I should not have even brought them in to this country, let alone wear them in public; so I needed something “less offensive” (Note: in almost any other country in the world, the design would not even be noticed and no one would be offended). I walked south by Patong beach before coming to a main street and soon after found an open store selling male swim wear. I tried some on in the back of the store which is also apparently the “dressing room”; the owner held up a towel to offer some privacy from potential peering pedestrians (though I was wearing boxer briefs and therefore not completely naked); I then selected swim shorts and a t-shirt to purchase; while the owner was putting back some clothes, I reverted back to my original clothes sans privacy towel. After paying far more than I should have (I talked him down some, but had no clue what was reasonable until later – I paid slightly less than American prices -; evidently the 40% rule applies to Thailand just as it does in the Middle East or where ever else dishonest hagglers exist), I walked down part of the infamous Bangla Street. The street was not all that busy since it was still too early, so the ladyboys (or “katoeys”) were not out in force, but I was amazed at the layout along the street – bar, after bar, after bar, ad nauseam; one side alley had multiple drinking stalls lined up on one side; if someone were to try to hop to every bar or drinking establishment available, they would die of alcohol poisoning and be completely broke long before being near finished with the impossible task. I was in awe. Also, at the end of Bangla street, I saw a truck driving by that was advertising a Muay Thai fight by having a man with loud clappers getting everyone’s attention while another man kick-boxed another’s gloved hands inside a pen on the top of the vehicle. After that minor tour of Bangla, I walked back toward the hostel and stopped at a nearby restaurant for dinner; I had pad-kreang-keang (chicken in red curry paste, coconut milk, and herbs), spicy fried rice with seafood, water, and a Chang beer. I was told that in Thailand, the meals are prepared on a scale of one to five in terms of spiciness and I had a “three” (or “medium”) for my chicken meal and rice dishes; to me, that was just the right amount of spiciness; I had to stop for a few respites whilst devouring the delicious food and my eyes slightly watered, but it was all manageable and pleasant; it was actually about the equivalent of “Thai Curry” or “Hot” wings at Buffalo Wild Wings (I can’t enjoy “Wild” or “Blazin'” wings – too damn hot for my tastes and stomach . . . and colon). After that excellent meal, I chatted with the head chef who told me he had worked on a cruise (cooking many different cuisines) and Miami, Florida (making sushi), which explains why his restaurant offers just about everything you can think of to eat. I then walked back to my hotel and spent a long night waiting for an email to arrive, which never came, before going to sleep.