Ladyboys, Spectacles, and Expanse: Notes from Thailand

The walk into Tonsai Pier from Viking Nature Resort

The walk into Tonsai Pier from Viking Nature Resort

During April 2014, I travelled to Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta- first for a cousin’s wedding, and then to relax from the toll that working on HIV issues was taking on my personal wellbeing.

Here are notes typed up from my diary, verbatim. The pages are filled and interspersed with shells, dried flowers and leaves, and drawings, none of which I can truly reflect online. Nothing is chronological, because I have found I don’t think very chronologically.

The travels take you through 2 thunderstorms, 2 massages, 4 sunsets, 1 sunrise, 7 walks, 3 flights, 1 train, 5 minivans, 3 subways, 7 longtail boats, 5 ferries, 2 islands, and 8 beaches in 11 days with the most budget vacation that I’ve had in a while- 522 USD and 10 Euros (more on that in the next entry).

*

There is a child playing foosball with a waiter. The child is grinning, shouting, laughing joyfully and it seems he is winning against the older boy, who looks barely 18. I saw the older boy waiter smoking marijuana. It is good that the child was not here earlier.

He laughs so gleefully when the ball is dropped onto the foosball table, this little boy. He cannot be older than seven. He is barefoot. I believe a family owns this bar, which is called “Majestic,” next to a resort of the same name. 

The woman who owns the bar came over to me and said smoking is allowed when there are no kids. On reflection I wonder if she meant kids or guests, because I could not understand. The little kid is wearing a faded green t-shirt, oblivious to the pot habits of the waiter he is playing with. I have not seen a child with so much exuberant euphoria in a very long time. It is truly overwhelming in a delightful way. (Khlong Nin Beach, Koh Lanta).

*

itsnotabouthowyoulook“It is not about how you look, but about how you see.” (saw this inscribed on a tshirt picturing an owl with reading glasses. Perhaps a light hint that wisdom is in following the details?) The walk back from Tonsai to Viking was gorgeous, along secluded beaches lined with lilies, touch me nots, tamarind, hibiscus, large banyan trees with breathtaking roots that also doubled as steps. I was so overwhelmed by the various types of flora and fauna, taking it all in .

We sat along a beautiful beach overlooking Tonsai pier for lunch, my cousin and her new husband and I, after the wedding. They upgraded me to a hotel room just for making it to the wedding. Bless them.

The couple from the other room has shifted. Now there seems to be three Scandinavian girls with whom I am sharing a balcony.

Yesterday, there were bright blue crabs with green edges climbing on the black rocks between Viking and Long Beach. I have never seen these before.

On the way back from Tonsai, I saw the same discarded orchid that I had seen on the way totown to have lunch with Ramses and Tim. I picked the flower up but it fell through my fingers soon after. In the evening, I ate away from the people on the beach, and watched lightning light up the sky. While it rained I slowly meditated on the pieces of it all, the shells, and the rocks that have been mesmerizing me for days. It is only then that I began to realize that I will never truly begin to comprehend anything fully. (23 April, Koh Phi Phi).

*

I’m starting

to

realize that

walking trails in Phi Phi

walking trails in Phi Phi

the more I

give something

my 110% the more

it becomes an

EXPECTATION,

and yet my inertia

feels 

CHALLENGED

and

I want to give it my all 

just to see that genuine 

smile of pleasure

cross

and 

lighten someone’s lips into fits of

LAUGHTER.

(25 April, Khlong Nin, Koh Lanta)

*

EXPANSE: Taking walks along the water, I’ve realized taking walks allows you to feel in a manner that is unique because your eyes are suddenly expanding, because your horizon is actually visible, especially if you live in concrete jungles and don’t get to leave very often. I have been looking and seeing shades of peachy (but even lighter) hibiscus along with low hanging yellow labarnum forming magical curls with their tendrils, that frame the walks perfectly along the roads.

labarnum

labarnum

*

I can’t fully explain what we just witnessed but it was so beautiful. Fire spitting out against water, men and women, sometimes little boys, jumping on a tight rope with the prospect of getting singed pretty high, and yet people are playing with fire by jumping though hoops every night in the hedonistic dens of Phi Phi.

Rameeza’s wedding is tomorrow at 4 PM. In other news, Canada made a pizza cake, I need to pay my student loans but my phone is dead, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez is too.

Overheard on the balcony of the hostel I am staying at with two Canadians and a British dude:

“Hello ladies.”

Laughter follows. Two men, drunk, respond to what appears to be one of the women stepping off the stairs in front of their shack.

“I won’t be getting massages from you tonight.”

More laughter follows. “Why, don’t you want me? I know you do. Come here.”

“No, really, I am married.”

I look up into the night I realize that I am not alone at 4 AM. A man wearing a white shirt, presumably Thai, is facing away from me and staring into his phone two balconies down. In front of us, the silhouette of the mountains and stars are both bright. The tiled rooftops of various houses jut out in the shadows. In front of the hostel is a village style boutique hotel, separated from the rest of us by a thatched bamboo wall, weaving through the entire length of the street. A swimming pool filled with laughing guests can be seen in the morning through the cracks.

Everything in the region of Krabi is such a spectacle. It is wonderful to be able to interact with others who are so friendly and casual. Finding it incredibly relaxing already, being away from men who stare crudely, as though simply being female is the spectacle, because here, I am reminded of how fun and interesting strangers can be. It is fun to be socializing instead of working mad hours.  (18 April, Loh Dalum Bay)

*

Between Noodles and Seashells (or the time a phone charger helped me bond with non english speaking tourists near long beach, koh phi phi).

I spent the late afternoon picking shells with holes along some rocks. Some East Asian tourists asked me to share what I saw, and it was only then that I realized how mundane my treasures would appear to anyone who did not see the hues and shades of the green and peach as magical, the smoothness of the mother of pearl fragments I had found, or even the iridescence of some of the stones in he little creek that was emptying out into the beach. 

Fossil Revelations

Fossil Revelations

A woman admiring (or perhaps admonishing, I couldn’t tell) my excursion, from her vantage point on the rocks above, cried out suddenly. Her charger had fallen into the crevices where I was hunched on my back on all fours collecting shells (and now subject to selfies with me as the spectacle in the background).

The tourists smiled and laughed when I helped the lady retrieve her charger. Scooped my tiny hands into the hole between the two giant rocks and simply dished it out. 

A scared hermit crab hides among the rocks

A scared hermit crab hides among the rocks

Now I am having glass noodles with chicken. The noodles were much better than my dull looking vegetables and chili-less chili and basil chicken last night, which almost made me lose faith in what is altogether quite a nice resort.  (22 April, Viking Resort, Phi Phi).

*

A Walk Along a Secluded Beach (Leamtong Beach and the beach in Koh Phi Phi Nature Resort, north Phi Phi)

Yesterday at Zeavola, I put my bags on Rameeza and Tim’s gorgeous porch, drank some cold water in the rapidly rising heat, and when the mosquitoes started to swarm me in the shaded bungalow under the coconut grove, I was mesmerized by the view of the receding tide in the light of the early morning and decided to investigate.

Armed with a blue slingover bag, arms too lightly coated with sunscreen to make any real difference, I walked along a path on a beach which rounded a corner and let to swings and led to the most secluded beach I had hitherto found in Thailand.

There were some lightly iridescent rocks wedged between black ones, some gleaming and heavy, light and dark orange, almost sepia in some cases, heavy enough to make my bag sag at other points. I was amazed by the multitude of various types of rocks, of shells, of the lack of people, the karst in the distance, the little bits of karst in the middle of the sea and now in my hands.

I was like a child, given heaven as a playground, collecting, examining, marveling, all the while making decisions about what to discard and what to keep, and with it, relishing the lightness in my endeavor.

Such is the beauty of having plenty, and being able to enjoy it without facing repercussions of bringing back soil into Bangladesh.

*

Underneath the mosquito net, on this divine bed, imagining you next to me…

Rameeza’s wedding took place under a tamarind tree, thankfully made no reference to god but to the gods of love itself. Afterwards, she told me they were asked whether they wanted a little tree in their name by Flavian, the minister and hotel manager who has conducted 62 weddings at Zeavola. Flavian contends that it is a Thai tradition to set a “love fish” loose into the sea, and a Zeavola tradition to plant a tree. I thought it was romantic, but Rameeza was disgusted by the frivolous grandeur of timelessness and growth at the thought. She had declined the gestures.
Leamtong Bay

Tim listened to Rameeza’s opinions and said that his best man speech at his friend Nick’s wedding was rendered soppy by everyone, because it was about eternal love, a heavy topic, but as the weekend settled into a pattern of hibiscus and labarnum, bougainvillea and palm trees, beaches, and drinking it all in, eating tamarind off the ground, setting chinese lanterns into the night sky, boat rides after brief haggles about bahts, starlit skies and cicadas chirping, the lizards silently ticktocking to my thoughts, the taste of coconut water, lab gai, tom yum and pad thai lingering on my lips, and that delicious bean and milk icecream something, lying on the hammock with the waves lapping up the shore under the mosquito net, colorful shell wind chimes, light drumming from somewhere, int he distance, I realized love was in the details, their samurai wedding cake sword,t he way they smiled at each other, the happiness of the sunset which split the skies into yellow and pink and purple hues tonight.

I walked back along Long Beach. The tide was coming in, the waves crashed against the rocks and I asked a man who appeared to be in uniform, “Which way to the other beach?”

All at once I felt anxious, as though by not knowing the directions, my presence on the beach was diminished. the man smiled and pointed me towards a path, which actually turned out to be shells and sand leading up to a vertical climb, steps carved out from under the roots of a large tropical tree, whose sheer size became evident when ascending over 80 steps holding onto a straw rope. The walk back took over half an hour of uphill and then downhill trekking, through pyramid style stairs that brought back memories of Cambodia.

Life on a hammock

Life on a hammock

There was a food tasting in full swing, and I realized as I ate more noodles and soup, that you can never have enough of a good thing, ever. I came back up, washed my feet with the wooden ladles, left my slippers at the base of the hut, and thoroughly loved getting on to the hammock, evenly distributing my small frame into its long length. Outside the cicadas and perhaps even some of the monkeys seemed to have resumed their chirping. 

Yes, sitting under this mosquito net and marveling at how moving allows you to find balance. It is so blissful being here.

*

Check out the mural I made from shells, as well as a collage about my time in Thailand.

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4 thoughts on “Ladyboys, Spectacles, and Expanse: Notes from Thailand

  1. As always, I contend that there is nothing to be jealous of. We are all on our own journeys throughout time and space, looking for inspiration in all that we have consumed.

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