Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Making a Splash in the Gulf of Thailand

I hardly know where to begin; so much has happened in the (short?) time since last I wrote. My time in Hua-Hin completed quite nicely the unforgettableness that this trip has consisted of. Perhaps the best way to describe my experience there is to say it was pregnant with the unexpected and very, very full. 

We rose early on Tuesday morning after an absolutely beautiful deep sleep on my part, at last, and readied ourselves for the first portion of the morning: horseback riding on the beach at 8 a.m. In advance of that, we went to this adorable little coffee shop on the corner of our street--both of us being slightly less than awake in mornings before some strong coffee. 

One of the interesting things there is that before entering any of these buildings (our hotel included), you have to take off your shoes. You just leave them out on the sidewalk or on the terrace before entering. May I say, eating barefoot in an open-air restaurant is absolutely refreshing?

After wolfing down our breakfast (I was determined to arrive at the beach in good time for the horses), we walked to the beach and then down along the water in search of the horses. It was overcast--the sky and sea both the same shade of cloudy grey--and the horses were much farther down the beach than we had believed. They also did not com out at 8--we had received misinformation there. So, in the time we had to pass til 9, we wandered through the waking market place just off the beach, explored a bookstore, and picked up some water. (My most perpetual state these last 2.5 weeks has been of endless thirst.)

They were waiting for me with a horse when we returned to the beach, Candace having decided the previous evening to be prudent and not ride. Now, here I might note that I *thought* at the time I had not ridden since I was 12 years old--a time when the girl behind me was nearly thrown from her mount on our trail ride and then carried madly into the woods, all at the provocation of the horse behind her, who then began to annoy my mount before being controlled at last. As I recalled while riding on the beach, though; I have actually ridden a horse once since, just before my 3rd year in uni. That was in West Virginia, where I discovered riding a horse along a ravine while being unable to sit well in the saddle due to a sprained ankle is not the best life choice. So really, all that to say, I am not much of a horsewoman. 

That was fine, my lack of skill, until Candace, being a fine horsewoman, decided to ride after all. Due to her mad skills, the horse people gave us free reign of the horses and the beach--we were quite on our own. No trail ride, no guide, no thing. Just us, horses, and beach. Me alone on a horse... 

I had visions of being able to gallop along the sea--visions that, if you have ever seen the movie "Second Hand Lions," you can draw up in your own mind as well. I am not so foolish as to actually think that I, with no skills, could ride like that. The horse, however, didn't know this about me. So after a very pleasant walk down the beach, it trotted me (oh the jostling!!) and then cantered back up the beach. Exhilarating, but terrifying. But definitely exhilarating and absolutely awesome. 

After dismounting, we went back into the market to find a way back to Bangkok for me. The ladies at the hotel reception the previous evening had told us of a vanservice we could find that would take me. We must have inquired of at least 5 different people before finding it, but we did succeed in arranging for them to pick me up at our hotel at 3 PM. They would get me to some place in the city and from there I would catch a taxi to the airport--all with extra time built in for some crazy delay or breaking down.

Getting to the airport on time was the most stressful part of the entire 2.5 weeks, actually. Not having a phone, not having any sort of device that even could get online, and not speaking the language were all factors enough here... Not being particularly inspired by our train-rides to trust Thai-time as operating anywhere near according to my needs or desires was another. But in fact, it was made even more stressful by my going to the beach at all--a choice which involved missing a flight. You don't deliberately miss your flights. But we made our beach plans after I had bought a ticket, and that ticket left me in Chiang Mai until the 3rd, flying from there straight to Bangkok to London to JFK to home. If you just skip a flight, they often cancel your following flights. I had asked my travel agent beforehand if this would be alright and they wouldn't cancel on me, and he said it "should be fine." Not "will" be fine, but "should" be. So I also had that nagging question in my mind--what if it wasn't fine? Getting to the airport and checking in would be such a relief to that question which could only be answered at that last minute. 

After settling my return trip to the city, which we trusted would actually only take 3 hours instead of the 6 it took via train, we rented a scooter and rode around the city a little before returning to our hotel to change for swimming. There, I tried my first time driving a scooter--very fun! And driving British style, at that. First time legally (I may or may not have driven that way in the States when first learning to drive...Oops.) It was so natural, I later dreamt that I would crash at the airport back in the States for forgetting which side and doing it wrong.

By the time we arrived to the beach, the rain had stopped and the clouds begun to dissipate. It was beautiful. The water was not nearly so clear as the Caribbean, but it certainly was warm. I think I could have stayed in it all day. It was so calm you could float without your face getting splashed by water, too, and for the longest time we had it all to ourselves excepting the fishing boats nearby and some navy boats further out.

Of course, a walk along the beach looking for shells and interesting sea things was necessary, so we did enjoy a nice walk again, only to run back into the water shortly after. Alas... We were lounging luxuriously in the water when all of a sudden Candace yelped--she'd been stung on the arm by a jellyfish and it burned horibbly. Thus abruptly ended my sea-time. But we got her taken care of back at the hotel and then had a delicous lunch (shrimp in tamarin sauce for me, followed by crepes for dessert) and then packing me up to leave.

The 3pm arranged van never showed up, and I realised anew how much I hate trusting my future to others and not having any hand in it at all. We finally just took my things, got a tuk-tuk and took that to a station downtown that was also a van shuttle service--a much more reliable one, it seems. So I took a van an hour later, leaving at 4 instead of 3, back to Bangkok by myself. I fell in with a group of recent graduates from Hong-Kong who had come to celebrate their graduation together, and we enjoyed talking and navigating our way through the Bangkok subway system together before parting ways when I left them to take the sky train to the airport.

My 2nd impressions of Bangkok were much more favourable. This time around I actually got to see the built up, awesome, and almost ridiculously modern section of the city--skyscrapers and beautiful bridges and all! It was gorgeous. I really enjoyed the van ride through over the train ride, as well--entirely different perspective. I chose not to take a taxi because I was so completely done with feeling helpless and having to trust myself to others--taking the subway and then the sky train was tiresome with all the bags, and super crowded, but so rewarding to fight and find my own way through and arrive successfully on my own at the airport at last.

12 hour flight to London left at midnight... I stayed awake for a whole movie (most excellent: "The Exotic Marigold Hotel" or something like that) and then slept for a solid 8 hours at least. There was even an empty seat next to me, so I felt quite spoilt. We got stuck on the plane in London, however--their gang-plank to the airplane wasn't working, and it took a long time for them to relocate steps over to our plane to get us off. I had to run through the airport in order to make my next flight, even with being shortcutted by the airport staff through all the lines.

7 hour flight to JFK was still good, though perhaps a bit less. I wasn't overly fond of my seat-fellow, who felt that he had priority to the entire armrest and over onto my side, kept messing up my tv channels, and kept putting his feet on my side as well. Happily for me, his chair didn't lay back, so he ended up moving to another seat for all but the last remain 30 minutes of the flight, and I again had an empty seat next to me. I also watched another most excellent film--"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" as well as a rom-com to keep awake.

Which I still am. Despite having to go through immigration and security in JFK, check myself in for the next flight in a different terminal, wait, fly again, and then drive the remaining 1.5 hours home. I calculated that the entire trip--from leaving at 4 pm in Thailand to arriving home, took between 36 and 40 hours. I had it worked out exactly, but I might be a bit exhausted right now. Which means it is time for me to sign out. More tomorrow!

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