Thursday, August 16, 2012

Swimming with Sharks and Cabaret Shows In Koh Tao and Koh Samui, Thailand

I have never seen water as clear as the water I saw surrounding the islands of Koh Samui and Koh Tao Thailand. Well, maybe in a glass of water... but not only is the water clear, it is ridiculously vibrant. In the day, below the wakes of the ferry boats, you can see the reefs overflowing with zebra striped fish. At night, while eating bad beef bolognese on the beach with toes dug deep into the cool sand, chinese lanterns float farther into the sky - the soft glow illuminating the frantic silhouettes of bats diving for mosquitos.
A shirtless thai man hops onto a platform on the wet sand, waves licking at the feet of the stage, and creates a million shooting stars on the horizon.

I wish I could provide you with a more fascinating  story of our days in Koh Samui, but they were full of pure sloth and glutton - a state of being not entirely conducive to intriguing detail. We ate pad thai for breakfast, floated in the ocean, lathered ourselves in sunscreen, had amazing thai massages on the beach, swam in pools until we were as wrinkly as raisins, and (for shame) indulged in a little bit of thai Mcdonalds. I promise you, while you can get terriyaki and buffalo wings in Thai Mcdonalds, the Mcnuggets taste the same halfway across the planet.

On our last night in Koh Samui, we crammed into the back of our favorite form of transportation (the songthaew, of course), and headed to Chaweng Beach. You can erase any image of swaying palm trees and soothing ethnic music from your mind. Chaweng is where people go to party. The road to the beach strip was bumper to bumper songthaews and pimped out Taxis outfitted with blue LED lights lining their bumpers. Rocky music squeeled out of a giant loud speaker perched atop the truck in front of us, advertising an epic upcoming muay thai boxing match between Thailand and Australia. Five lanky boys sat disenchanted on lawn chairs in the back of the truck bed, each one holding a trophy half their height. A living advertisement, who would have thought.

I know I shouldn't have been surprised, but during dinner we were surrounded by men coming from table to table with baby gibbons. I knew where these gibbons came from. It is illegal even under thai law to own one of these. To get them, poachers kill the parents and take the babies from the wild. They make a decent living peddling around to tourists who want to take pictures with them. The babies cling to these men, squeaking and chirping as they are handed off from person to person. I was furious. The men practically shove the babies in my face trying to get me to pay them for a picture with the ape. The most infuriating thing is that they get away with it, tourists love it, and the cycle continues. Dozens of baby gibbons were being walked up and down the beach that night. I couldn't stop thinking about it all of dinner. I wish I could say I was more heroic and did something, but it's hard to know what to do. I was in a foreign place, with foreign languages and foreign laws. It's not as simple as calling the humane society(though I did write a stumbling, desperate email to the rescue foundation that attempts to curb this - it's largely futile), it's not how things work here.I felt powerless.

Walking down the main walkway of Chaweng is an assault on the senses. Night clubs try to outcompete each other with clashing choruses of pop, hip hop, and house music - young girls(...well, they looked like girls, you learn in thailand that that doesn't necessarily mean it is so) stand on the sidewalks urging you to come in and yell out in their best engrish that there are half priced buckets during happy hour (a happy hour that lasts from 5pm until 2am). Yes, let me repeat that. BUCKETS. BUCKETS of alcohol. Imagine a bunch of people walking down the street carrying sand-pails full of mai thais and you have a good image of Chaweng. While I did not indulge in the buckets, it was a marvel to be surrounded the the bright, loud, energetic atmosphere. This is the point where we get shuffled in to the Ladyboy Cabaret. I could try and attempt to explain it in words... but really, I think videos are the only way to explain it. 

 If you think we look a little close to the stage, you would be right. Somehow we got seated into the very front row in what I like to deem "crotch to head level". I don't know how I get myself into these situations. It was entirely awkward, entirely awesome, and entirely bizarre. We had a blast. Some of the men in our group... participated (not really a choice it seemed).

Our night commenced with a wee bit of dancing to a copious amount of 90's music (a standard soundtrack in Thailand, it seems) before we collapsed in bed exhausted, sweaty and sunburnt.

One long ferry ride away and we were in true paradise. Really. I thought Koh Samui was beautiful, but Koh Tao was so perfectly picturesque, the sand so creamy smooth and white, and the water so clear. Our hotel was a one minute walk from the beach- a beach where little fish swam around in the tide puddles and you can find feathery tipped white crabs with purple claws. We indulged in more massages, ate delicious kabobs on the beach, and snorkeled with black tip reef sharks, long spine sea urchins, and parrot fish. You wouldn't believe how many times I got bit by this fish. Sure, they may look beautiful and gentle, but they bite... hard. I've never cursed a fish so much in my life (if ever before?). Sunburns, bug bites, and fish bites aside, it was a wonderful way to end our trip in Thailand. 

Look at all the Sea Cucumbers!!!!

An uno game between five countries: Belgium, England, Luxembourg, Russia, and America

Thailand has carved itself a special place in my heart. Farewell Land of Smiles, time to go back to Japan.

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