countin' the days

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Same Same But Different

After wrapping up a quick hop & skip through China, it was back on to my familiar, beloved, delicious, and beautiful Thailand. This was my fifth trip into Thailand in the last 3 years... proof enough of my true feelings for the place. I started doing the math and realized that, in fact, Thailand is second only to the U.S. in places where I've spent most of my time. It's now even lapped Spain, where I studied abroad for 4 months way back in '04.

It's hard to describe the feeling I get each time I return to Thailand. Knowing exactly what's going on, how to get around, how to bargain, where to sleep, what combination of delicious delights will make up my meals for the day... those are all lovely, comforting things to feel in any country upon return. But Thailand's got something different. It's the smiling people, the epic sunsets, the smell of fish sauce + garlic + chilis, it's the Tom Yum Kung and Som Tam and Pad Thai Tofu, the rainbow colored tuk-tuks hauled by the remnants of an old hog, bargaining in my broken Thai that always ends with laughter and a wide grin, the giant blow-up photos of His Majesty the King taking photographs from 20+ years ago proudly displayed in the middle of traffic ... what can I say? This Is Thailand. I love it here. And I can't help but keep coming back.

Of my 4 weeks in Thailand this time around, 3 were spent down south in old familiar Ton Sai & Railay, and 1 was spent up north in Chiang Mai en route to Laos. It's become sort of inevitable at this point that upon my arrival in Thailand, I will proceed immediately to Krabi Airport, hitch a ride to Ao Nang, hop on a longtail boat, and get my ass to Ton Sai beach as quickly as possible. If you happen to have ever read my blog in the past, you can understand why. Ton Sai is dear to my heart, a gem of a place, and home to some of the world's most epic rock climbing. The whole place is nothing but huge limestone cliffs, soft sand, turquoise water, and nightly beach parties.

Mostly things were the same as before, but certainly not everything. As the Thai saying goes: same same but different. Prices are higher (a natural but nevertheless frutrating inevitability), April was surprisingly crowded, many restaurants that used to be phenomenal have now altered their best dishes to watered-down tourist-friendly and less-tasty versions, the funky little bamboo bars have both sprouted up by the handful and been taken over by larger resorts... the usual kinds of things. But the rock is still epic, the monkeys run free, Ton Sai "road" is still a potholed mess of a dirt path, Dream Valley has the same exact p.o.s. overpriced bungalow for rent, the heat beats down like there ain't no tomorrow, and life is good with a capital muthafunkin' G. It's been interesting to watch Ton Sai evolve over the last 3 years, at a pace that at times truly frightens me. I guess I just feel lucky to be checking it out now.

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