Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bangkok and Koh Tao

We returned to Bangkok from northern Thailand to spend a few days touring the city. A minute after we got out of the taxi from the airport to our plush hotel, looking forward to an evening on the town, my dad tried to check in and realized he forgot his fanny pack in the taxi! We ran after the taxi but to no avail, it was gone! Everything was in that pack… EVERYTHING: both my parents’ Israeli and American passports, credit cards, visas, thousands of dollars in cash and a brand new smart phone! Michael was beside himself and we were desperate. We tried to call the cell phone a thousand times, we tried reviewing the hotel’s security tapes for any clue of a taxi number, we tried calling the taxi central operator, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack: there are more cabs in Bangkok than New York City. We called and we texted, pleading, with no response. Thinking the documents and cash were goners, and calming down a bit, we started to take care of the details, calling the US and Israeli embassies and going to the police to get a report. The timing was unfortunate. It was the Friday before the 4th of July weekend and the embassy would be closed on Monday, meaning they wouldn’t get their passports till Tuesday. They would be not only missing their flight to Israel, but also a flight the following Thursday to Crete. This was going to be a costly mess!

Aba sat on the phone all night trying to rearrange flights, while Rusha and I continued to call the phone, text, plead with the ringing on the other side. The only thing that would help would be a miracle, a holy interceding on the part of the Buddha, who we had been meeting and celebrating over the past weeks. Lo and behold, Sidhartha came through. We woke at 8 in the morning to my dad coming to our room and announcing that the taxi cab driver had showed up and returned the pack, unopened! My dad hugged him ten times, and gave him enough of a tip to make his year! It took the Buddha, and more importantly a Buddhist to perform that miracle, and it changed the mood of the rest of the trip.

Happily, we went out and toured Bangkok, catching the highlights. We took a river ferry out to Wat Phra Kaew, a massive temple complex that houses both the sacred emerald Buddha and the king’s ceremonial palace and temples. The complex is massive and its many temples, stupas and statues are adorned with shiny gold leaf and glass mosaics. From there we walked to Wat Pho to see the 150 foot reclining golden Buddha that temple houses. We thanked Buddha by dropping coins into the monk’s bowls that line the buddha. We walked south through the flower market and enjoyed Thai ice coffee, which is quite good, in a bag. That night we went out on the town and had a drink at Vertigo, one of Bangkok’s fanciest bars on the rooftop of a 65-story skyscraper. From there we could see all of Bangkok, including the lightening storm that was coming our way and forced us back down into the lobby. The next day we said good bye and thank you to Ima and Aba as they, now on schedule, left for Israel. Rusha and I took the train to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, a massive market on the outskirts of Bangkok that is comprised of thousands of stalls, many of which belong to young hip designers that make their own clothing and sell them for peanuts. It also has stalls selling all sorts of pets, crafts, and of course Thai trinkets and tons of food.

After short flight the next morning we found ourselves in Surat Thani, a coastal town on the gulf of Thailand that is the gateway to the gulf’s 3 major islands, Ko Samui – vacation paradise of 5 star resorts, Ko Phanang – home of the famed full moon party, the largest beach party in the world, and Ko Tao, the smallest and most rustic of the 3, known for unbelievable scuba diving and remote beaches. We ferried to Ko Phanang, and not knowing exactly what to do, we decided to continue onwards to Ko Tao in order to escape as far as we could in the short time we had. Already from the ferry ride we could sense that we were in paradise, greeted by calm turquoise waters guarded by tall granite and limestone forest covered cliffs and karst formations cropped up in the middle of the ocean as long tail fishing boats passed by. We landed in Ko Tao, and after renting a little 125CC scooter, we went off in search of accommodations. We found what we were looking for on a little remote spot between 2 serene bays. We got a simple bungalow on the water, complete with a porch overlooking Thian Og Bay (Shark’s Bay).

We spent the next 5 days exploring the island. I did a 2-day advanced open water scuba diving course, and Rusha joined me snorkeling for the first day on the boat. The crew on the boat was small, but quality and the guys that worked at the small dive shop ended up being great guys to hang out with. In the course I learned advanced diving skills, including a night and a deep dive, and got to see turtles, rays, and the occasional trigger fish. We did not see any eluszive whale sharks, unfortunately, as the waters were too warm. At night we would go to the main town on the island, Sairee and get fresh fish, beers and watch the Tour de France on TV or World Cup, and walk around the busier, drunker, younger, part of the island, always knowing that we would return at night to our serene little corner of the 5 km long island. When not scuba diving, we spent the days taking the scooter and exploring the more secluded beaches on sketchy dirt roads more appropriate for a mountain bike that a little vespa, which brought us to isolated, serene, picturesque bays, where the snorkeling was fantastic, the waters clear and the scenery stunning. Rusha learned how to ride the scooter, and I wouldn’t be surprise if she wants one when we get back.

We spent our last evening watching the sun go down over the long tail boats before boarding the night ferry, a transport barge that allows people to sleep on it and get an overnight ride to Surat Thani. It was hot (no AC), choppy, and crammed, but a great way to get across the 110 km of open water to the mainland. We arrived in Surat Thani at 5 am, got a ride to the airport, where we tried to get on an earlier flight to Bangkok, but were unable to. So we have about 9 hours to kill at the airport, thank god for free internet! Tomorrow morning we are off to Hong Kong, and then, if our tickets come through should be back state-side (gulp) in less then a week. See you all soon!

For more pics of Bangkok, click here

For more pics of paradise, click here

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