"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home."
Wendell Berry

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bangkok and Tonsai

*Note: Haven’t uploaded photos of Thailand yet, but I wanted to get this update in before I head to the elephant park. Photo update will follow later.

I arrived in Bangkok on Sunday night and met up with Wayne, a friend from high school (and my prom date, haha) who I hadn’t seen since we graduated (Ten years! Man, I feel old). He and his girlfriend, Nicole, are, auspiciously, doing a round the world trip now as well, and we happen to be hitting up a lot of the same places. We wandered around the city together a bit, poking in temples-under-repair (those gilded windows are all painted by hand!), meandering around the frenzied tourist hub of Kaosan Road, and chowing down on both curry and insects. It was a good introduction to Thailand, but I also found Bangkok totally overwhelming with its farang-focused markets, pushy touts, and seedy sex tourism, and wasn’t so sure I wanted to hang out there alone for a full week as planned before heading to Chiang Mai. I also had a great time with W&N, who were headed to rock climb near Krabi, and was kind of depressed at the idea of being alone again.

On Tuesday I decided it would be great to hang around with friends for a bit longer, so a last-minute flight, a cab ride, and two longtail boat rides later, I arrived at Tonsai, a beachy climbers’ haven in the south. Tonsai is ultra chill, with a strangely rural, jungly feel, even while it’s crawling with white/Western Rastafarian backpackers. I stayed in a teeny tiny hut with a mosquito net (which I came to foolishly, desperately believe was a forcefield that protected me from not only mosquitoes, but rats, geckos, roaches, and ginormous spiders, all of which I had seen up close and personal around the area). An arachnophobic, I think I'll eternally resent Wayne for ever showing me the web with a certain enormous, sinister monster crouched in the middle). Either way, I grew very attached to my little abode, and was sad to leave it in the end.

My week in Tonsai passed in a blissful blur of red curry for every meal (Phed mak mak!—very very spicy), countless banana shakes, doggy paddling in the warm waters of the Andaman Sea, ultra cheap yet ultra terrific Thai massages from Didi and Sa, working, and hanging out with my friends at a bizarre open mic night, during which many jokes were exchanged regarding a peculiar character called “Dave 1.”

On Saturday, we got up before the sun rose to beat the morning rush of climbers over on Railey Beach. Using Wayne and Nicole’s gear and with their expert coaching, I had my first go at rock climbing in a world-class location, full of insane stalactites and really cool crags. Despite what it might look like at first when you see ten year old kids scuttling up the bare face of the cliff quick as spiders and when you watch people like Wayne and Nicky expertly maneuvering their limbs using invisible toeholds with hip-twisting grace, let me tell you, climbing is hard . With Nicole belaying me, I felt totally safe, but physically, it pushed me to my limits. It’s incredibly frustrating when you just want to GET THERE, and mentally, you have total willpower and confidence in your ability to do it, but your body just fails you and you fall, again and again. It doesn’t help that I have arms like noodles with zero upper body strength. I have some serious rope burn and bruises that make me look hardcore, but mostly it was my ego that took a bit of a beating—a dangerous situation that always makes me want to do it AGAIN, and BETTER. I can see how people get addicted to the rush; I’m already investigating climbing classes in NYC. Sweet.

At Phra Nang beach—epically beautiful, a la Garland’s “The Beach,” but very busy—we had a mid-afternoon swim and peeked into the bizarre phallic shrine (think wooden penises—peni?—everywhere). We also saw around a dozen monkeys. Close up! And with day-old baby monkeys clutching at them. As much as I didn’t want to be the stereotypical tourist, I couldn’t help but gawk. I’d upload a video here if it wasn’t so huge.

Later, it was time to wave farewell to Wayno and Nicky, and to Tonsai. I could’ve probably stayed there for another full month, vegging and learning to climb, but Chiang Mai with its elephants was beckoning. While I waited for enough people to gather for a longtail ride to Ao Nang, we decided to post up at a beach bar and split a bucket of Samsong and coke. Naturally, on the way there, a monkey leapt from a tree onto my back and attempted to throttle me. Because that is the type of thing that happens in Tonsai. Luckily (and also sadly), the little booger ended up being tethered to the tree, so while I panicked and shrieked bloody murder, Nicky and Wayne shouted to “Keep walking!” and soon I was free from his tenacious grip. Authentic Thai experience right there, folks.

Tomorrow I’m headed to the Elephant Nature Park. I’m there for two weeks, and internet will be spotty, so don’t worry if things are a bit quiet around here.


  1. That's one to cross off the bucket list: Attacked by a monkey.

    Wish I could have seen you rock climb! I haven't even done one of those fake walls, but I'd love to try. I'll probably have to wear bloomers under my sun dress, my usual attire for hardcore activity.

  2. (This is Jennifer being Bryn) Do you find Thailand "the land of smiles"? If you have a couple extra days condider Pun Pun & You Sabie (organic farm & cooking school)to the north. Bryn & I had a very interesting stay in a mud hut(tree house also available) plus wonderful food for less than $10 a day!

  3. Somethings crawling up my waaaallllllll,
    Black and hairy very smaaaaalllll,

  4. WAYNE! I remember shouting his name in the hallways all the time. Can't wait to see pictures!

  5. Connie: I love how hardcore girlie you really are.

    Jennifer: Didn't have time after the park to make it up further north before India, but I did end up taking a cooking course from Lek's vegetarian restaurant that benefits the elephant park. Had the most incredible time at ENP--I can't thank you and Bryn enough for telling me about it!

    G and Dad: Sick.

    Rebecca: Pics are up--he is still the same ol' Wayno.

  6. Jill!

    Can't wait to hear all about Chang Mai! We rode an elephant in Chitwan (don't be mad) and are in India right now...Psyched to be looking at your hilarious account/pics of Thailand! I almost had a run in with some monkeys as well...

    Miss ya and hope you had a fabulous birthday celebration with Ad!

    N and W