Riding in Cars with Thais: Koh Chang

In late July of 2013 the Thai teachers offered to take the foreign English teachers with them on their long weekend vacation. What a nice offer. They would take us with them in their car so we wouldn’t have to find a bus, and they’d get us a discount at the big fancy resort whose owner was one of the teacher’s cousins. Sounded like a sweet deal at the time.

Koh Chang - "Elephant Island"

Koh Chang – “Elephant Island”

They picked us up dark and early, even before the anxious Thai sun rose at five thirty. The family who agreed to shuttle us the eastern island known as Koh Chang (Elephant Island), turned out not to be any of the teachers we actually knew from school. Instead it was a friend of one of the teachers whom we referred to as Sailor Moon – due to her excessively long hair frequently worn in the anime character of the same name. The friend and her family spoke less English than any of the other teachers. They graciously accepted out overnight bags, however, shoved them into the trunk, and had us squeeze into the back with their early teenaged son. If he spoke any English, he hid it well.

At this point the other teacher and I, H, had been living in Thailand for two and half months, and had become well adapted to the frantic speeding and weaving that is the typical car ride with the Thais. What we weren’t prepared for, however, was the number of stops we would be making. We pulled off the road into every single roadside 7/11 rest stop for the first four hours. It averaged to at least one per hour. More than half of these pit stops consisted of us pulling in to the parking lot, stopping, sometimes not even getting out of the car, and then leaving again. We weren’t even stopping for food or toilets. We did that too, often, because the other car was full of children under the age of ten. We also apparently had to make a detour into a different city in order to drop off the brother of the woman we were riding with at a bus station. Not her husband, like we had thought. Oh well. After he left the teenager boy bolted out of the backseat and into the passenger seat. I guess he hadn’t hit the ‘girls are awesome’ stage yet. Either way, everyone was happier with the increased leg room after losing one member of the car. At about the ten hour mark, however, we started to suspect that we were lost. At close to fourteen hours we finally reached the ferry port, with the long line of cars orchestrated by the policemen. This set the tone for the majority of the long weekend.

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We sat in the ferry line for half an hour or so. I purchased a thirty baht coffee that was nothing but an instant mix in a tiny paper cup. The day was grey and gloomy. The island itself was very green and beautiful, with sections of very dense forest. Some areas were less touristy than others, one part of the island I believe still functioned mostly as a fishing village. The other teacher and her family that came with us, left a few hours after we had, and still beat us to the resort. Apparently our cars had been lost. Sailor Moon had bad directions. Foreshadowing.

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IMG_2212IMG_2215The resort staff greeted us with moist towelettes, tea, and pretty little purple flowers. We were excited to finally be there. Until we learned how much we actually owed for our room, even with discount. Even with the room we had, with two beds and a mattress on the floor for the other foreign teacher joining us; and an enclosed bathroom with an actual bathtub including hot water to shower in, we did not find it worth the price we ended up paying. It turned out to be quite separated from the rest of the island and the main drag where the small collection of other tourists and shops were. It was off season, so everything was a bit quiet, but a shuttle down to the strip was 300 baht for one trip down the hill. We originally were going to walk, but it was pitch black outside and people kept warning us about the poisonous snakes. That liked to come out at night. We caved in and coughed up the money for the private shuttle down to White Sand Beach, the downtown area. The people carousing the street that night were primarily of retirement age, and prices at a good number of restaurants ran high. We noticed, however, that in off season, we probably could have found a room at one of the hotels, motels, bungalows nearer White Sand for a lot less than our resort.

IMG_2234One of the foreign Chinese teachers was unable to join us on the trip, so I had drawn up a quick crayon portrait of her, and taped it to a chopstick. We took this along with us everywhere on our trip to Koh Chang and took pictures of her doing all the things we were also doing. She was sadly holed up back in our town hospital with Dengue fever. No fun. So when we finally found a place to have dinner, a little Western place called Oodie’s, we took photos of the Chinese Teacher on a chopstick having a coke and eating French fries. I was so, so, indescribably excited to eat a sandwich that night. A regular sandwich has possibly never tasted so fantastic. H ordered a pizza, which unfortunately was not as nearly as delicious as my sandwich. There was a little Thai man playing a guitar and singing English songs for the farang. When he noticed how I reacted to The Eagles song he started playing every Eagles song he knew. I also suspected that the only English he knew were the lyrics to these songs.IMG_2223

And that was the extent of our night, really. We were back to the room by eleven. What a wild Saturday night on vacation!

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One of the teacher’s little girls started knocking on our door at 6:30 that morning. The other foreign Chinese teacher sharing our room got up and kept coming and going from the room around then as well. Did they not believe in sleeping late during vacation?? All the commotion sort of forced us into action that morning, and we gave in and went to breakfast at the resort. Buffet, included with the room. So, yes, we were going to take full advantage of that unlimited food supply. They had western styled breakfast foods like pancakes and eggs and yogurt. We thoroughly gorged ourselves, us American English teachers, and spent hours sitting in the open air dining area. We were just planning on how we’d spend our day, when we were coaxed into going around the island with the Thai families that day.

IMG_2252Another day spent in the car, with this mother and her son. Neither of which we could talk to. They took us to an overlook/viewpoint spot first, where we climbed a bunch of steps and it sounded like someone was setting firecrackers off at the top. After that they drove us to one of the parks where we reportedly were going to the waterfall. It was a 200 baht entrance fee for farang. Only 20 baht for the Thais. Normally they give foreign teachers a discount on entrance fees of about 100 baht, but the guards on duty that day were refusing to let us in for the discount, even having our Thai teachers with us. They wanted to see our work permits, which of course we didn’t have. Finally they gave me the discount after I got out my passport and showed them my Visa. H didn’t have her passport either, so she declined the visit to the park and the waterfall. Instead she went walking around the island nearby.

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IMG_2273The waterfall was nice; a lot of people were around swimming in the pool at the bottom. It was fairly rocky and very muddy and slippery. Even with the clouds and gloomy weather, it was still hot and humid and being in the water was enjoyable. There were a few too many people for me, though. Then the Thais took us to the beach to go swimming in the Gulf of Siam! IMG_2291This was my first Thai beach experience. It consisted of the other English teacher, the Chinese teacher, and I playing with the Thai teachers’ children in the surf and their mom Sailor Moon taking hundreds and hundreds of photos. This was all we did for maybe two hours. We ran into the ocean and struck poses with the kids and their parents. Our long weekend vacation on the island turned into the Thai teachers’ “My Vacation with the Farang!” Our Thai English teacher kept goading me to take off my shorts and t-shirt to go swimming in my bathing suit. Except the Thais all swim in jeans and t-shirts. I was more than ok with just continuing to play in the water fully clothed, because I knew all those photos were going to be shown to the assistant director of our school, and I had no interest in him getting a hold of those photos. He already made me uncomfortable enough at our morning gate duties as it was.

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Sailor Moon used one of the many photos she took that weekend of us as her new background on her phone and iPad.

Finally…it was time to go back to our resort. If only. We piled back into our respective cars…and promptly got lost. Again. I noticed that we were going the wrong way around the island, but they kept driving long after it became obvious we were going the wrong way. I tried to say something, but didn’t have any of the needed words in Thai. I drew a picture and tried to show it to them. The woman ignored it, at the behest of her son. Stupid teenager. Apparently Sailor Moon had been trying to take us to yet another lookout point, and got royally, royally lost, yet again, which is sort of impressive, given that there was really only the one main road that goes around the outside of the whole island. We ended up seeing all the other little sections of the island, though. We passed through areas geared more to the backpacker type of travel; kind of janky, but laid back and cheap. There was a place called “Cheap Thrills” and a bar called “Thor’s” which, after visiting the toilet, gave me the impression it served as a gay bar at least some of the time.

"Thor's" Bathroom

“Thor’s” Bathroom

I was just desperate to get back to my room. I was cold, damp, and had no towel. I just wanted to shower and get dry change my clothes. But they insisted we get out and take more photos at this overlook when they finally found it, 40 minutes later. I couldn’t hide my grumpiness any longer; I was outwardly disgruntled and uncomfortable. They’d been driving us around lost for 2 days now, and they just kept telling us ‘it’s ok it’s ok!’ I disagreed. Sailor Moon’s sense of direction and insisting on carting the farang everywhere with her was not OK! The farang needed a break from being the entertainment and accessories.

The evening after our little tour of the island with the Thai teachers and families, H and I went off on our own to have some farang time. We ended up going to the same restaurant as before to eat dinner and the same little man playing guitar was there. Though he was replaces eventually by a different band. We perused the street and did a little shopping. Well, we looked in at the myriad of shops and carts selling the hordes of t-shirts and trinkets we found all over Thailand. We were still back to our room by midnight. At eleven they upped the prices of the public transport options to the resorts.

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The next morning the Thais decided we should leave and go back to our little town. Another day in the car. H and I prepped mentally to go 7/11 sight-seeing again. Luckily, it turned out we were much less lost on the way back and took a lot fewer pit stops, as long as we didn’t count the one stop that included the mom and her son shopping at a giant roadside market to buy a bunch of fruit. H and I napped. Maybe we should have gotten out as well and looked around the market, but we weren’t quick enough on the draw there and didn’t want to get lost or lose our driver. The ride back only lasted maybe 12 hours? I could have spent that time productively lesson planning or prepping for classes for the coming weeks. But I did not. I listened to music and slept on and off most of the time. I thought about things I could possibly do in class. I wrote nothing down. I caught up in my personal journal, and that was the extent of my productivity. A waste? Maybe. But I did learn one very important thing. No more road trips with Thais. At least Sailor Moon, whom we loved very much, but didn’t trust with a map.

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