Koh Sumai is Thailand’s third largest island, 247 square kilometers, and one of the biggest tourist attractions. There are three main beaches, the longest being seven kilometers long. The beauty and curse of Thailand is that it is old hand in the tourism game. Days of people living out their backpacker fantasies of living life on a deserted beach are holdouts from the sixties and seventies. Now it is a brimming metropolis set up around tourism, roads are smooth, economy good, and they are way ahead of the curve for tourist comforts. It’s all big business now. Even when you get some low-rent bungalows, they are usually part of a larger company. Food has been westernized alot so that the spices are not too deadly, the ice is safe, and the toilets are thrones. The benefit of this is getting from one side of the country to the other is a piece of cake. With mini buses picking up every couple of hours, which then take you to numerous ferry crossings, ending up on a really large ferry. This three story car carrier chugs along taking you to an island in the Gulf of Thailand. All this done in a span of six hours where the biggest discomfort is bladder issues.
I got my first good look at a largely the big ferry, he was smoking a cigarette, wearing a pair of Oakleys, and chatting on his cell phone. The east side was very different than to Koh Lanta, with plenty of stone karsts jutting out of the water like a child’s building blocks scattered in a room. The water was dark blue, with plenty of shipping traffic going back and forth. At first glance Koh Sumai did not blow me away, it had little elevation and the beaches were surrounded by lots of buildings. Our plan was to hitch a ride on the Wedding Mobile, a special pick up for the bride and groom to be. We have no shame when it comes to getting free rides. Alas the Wedding Mobile was waiting at the other ferry, an hour away. So I wandered over to some venders and got a spicy chicken rice dish of some sort. It was yummy but the extra kick was a bit much. Well our ride showed up, and he had no problem allowing two well-worn travelers in. As we drove along the loop road to the resort area, it felt a fair amount like any Florida beach town, over built up, a million hotels, and very little in the way of authentic Thai culture. The entire island makes its’ money from tourism. There was even a Tesco, with its’ own movie theater.
We arrived at Elaine and Derek’s hotel, Akyra Chura Sumai, and they had the royal treatment already set up for them, chilled ginger tea, nice cooled face towels, and soft music reverberating around. It was stationed on a hill with a lovely garden path winding down to the water, with modern but tastefully done bungalows on either side of the path. This was not to be our pleasure pad, we were staying down the road at some Garden bungalow place, at half the cost. So we took our packs and hiked down the road. Good planning or just fortuitous, our place was literally just a hundred feet down the road. Setback from the road, there was a lovely flooded garden with concrete bungalows, and small porches. Not bad, but compared to the wedding digs, we had just arrived in the ghetto. But you can’t expect luxury when traveling for a year, so sometimes we have to take a hit, at least the pool was nice in the back.
So we returned to the Akyra resort to meet up with everyone. There were people flying from all over the world for the wedding, and they were all arriving at the general same time. We wandered down the beach to the wedding suite, a huge bungalow with a family room with large flat screen TV, huge king size bed, an outdoor bathroom with a granite tub surrounded by ferns, and separate outdoor shower. Very nice indeed. They were next to the infinity pool, which overlooked the beach and the large bay that sported numerous tropical islands.
We sat down at the beach and had a few expensive cocktails, (two of them was about the price of our bungalow) and met some of Derek’s side of the family, his brother Brent, his dad and girlfriend, all from Canada. It was nice to get some more North Americans to the party, can’t be St. Paddy’s day everyday. Yvonne and Elaine decided to pick their mother and sister up at the airport, but they neglected to tell them that. So while they were waiting at the airport, her mom Margaret and sister Stephanie were riding the public bus to the hotel. Not even in the country an hour, they figured the public transit system out and were using it, while the other two sisters spent six times that much going back and forth via taxis. But in the end we all met up and had a great time sitting on the beach.
We were on the longest beach, Chaweng. The entire length of the beach is loaded with hotels like fleas on a dog. Some were tastefully done, well others were beyond tacky. The beach practically disappears at high tide, but at low tide restaurants pop up along the shore. We had a lovely dinner in the dark because someone had accidently cut the electric cable from the main land. Oops! Sorry to the forty thousand people who live on the island and use it. But I will say, it made for a very peaceful candle lit dinner with the family.
The next few days were filled with relaxing on the beach, floating around in the water, swimming to islands, and loving life. Yvonne was thrilled to be with her family, and probably happy to have others to talk to who don’t pronounce their “th’s”, understand high tea, and enjoy Hot Whiskeys at night. For me it was great because I could just relax. I gave full control of my life over to the sisters and I could not be happier.
Over the course of the next few days the rest of the party showed up. We were all sitting around the beach when I hear the longest list of F bombs that I had heard in long time echo over the crowd. First I look to make sure the family is not too insulted from such vile words, then I look for the source of such profanity, thinking some West Coast rapper had arrived with their entourage, but there is only a small curly-haired blond girl giving hugs to everyone with a beer in hand. Derek and Elaine’s friends had arrived from Canada. The second thought that popped in my head was “Thank God they were not American.” Yvonne always tells me how Americans drink too much, swear too much, and talk too loud. It’s about time Canada steps up to the plate and takes some responsibility too. Well Emmet and Janessa were so much fucken fun, really, it’s ok, because the Canadians say it too. The party really started then and rolled on for the next few days.
Yvonne’s Uncle Tom and Aunt Kathleen, who dance at any chance they get and are always laughing and having a good time. Never a dull moment when hanging out with them. Tom had asked us all out to an amazing dinner at a buffet down the beach. We all filled a large table up and the feast was on. The waves were extremely large that night, and we enjoyed the sounds of them as a Filipino singer played the ukulele and sang all the top hits from the eighties. All the food was yummy, but the best was the steaks. The last good steak I ate was in Singapore, and before that, the states. Most people just grabbed a steak from the pile, but Tom let me in on a secret, you can get it grilled to order. They were small, but if you have five rare steaks, they fill you up. I was in gluttonous heaven with a big belly.
Later on we checked out the scene in the city, and dodgy is all I can say about that. We learned if you stray to far from your significant other, someone would be grabbing at your parts, so hold your special lady friend’s hand and keep her close. I have to say the area is a pretty big dump, filled with massage parlors, whore houses, strip clubs, lady boy shows, and burlesque shows. Some of the massage parlours have great names like Porno Massage, XXX Massage, Dragon Massage, and Happy Ending Massage. All these businesses have anywhere from three to twenty scantily clad girls out front, calling customers in. Everyone is in your face for something, and drugs are being peddled every where by little kids. It’s not helium in those balloons let me tell you, so you won’t be talking funny, but you might be seeing things. It reminds me sometime of scenes from Mad Max. Now I am sure most my friends would say I was right at home, but this madness was too much even for me. Plus the more you learn about the industry, the sadder you get, but that is all for another blog. I was impressed though by Yvonne’s Connect Four skills, as she played against a stripper. They rode it out to the last slot was filled, but the stripper got the drop on my girl. You can’t beat working girls.
The two biggest shows in town were Lady Boys show, and the Muai Thai or Thai boxing. I did not go to either of these events, but my Canadian friends gave me the info on it. We had thought about going to Thai boxing, but at fifty bucks a head there was no way I was going to pay that. I would rather wait and go some place where the crowd was not all tourists. The Lady Boy show was a huge song and dance number, and some of our Canadian friends were brought up on stage all dolled up. They had a great time, and really make cute girls. One Australian guy we met caused quite a ruckus at the hotel the night they went out, he brought home a six foot tall ladyboy after partying all night. He claims she helped him when he got mugged, so he let her stay the night, but she strutted out of the hotel in her six foot stelettos, mini skirt, and see through blouse at eight in the morning looking very fine. The staff were all in a huff, but I’m not sure why they minded, this is Thailand after all.
The day before the wedding we had to get our visas renewed on the other side of the island, and let me tell you how much of a pain in the ass that is. It’s about an hour away, and the lovely internet gave us wrong directions. Poor Yvonne was in a lot of pain that day, having pulled a muscle in her back, probably from all the hugging, so every bump was excruciating, and there were lots of bumps. We finally found it after asking numerous directions just in time for lunch. We grabbed some ourselves, got pictures taken, and were told to come back in three hours. Plus they would only extend it for a week, for a hundred dollars. We were looking for thirty days, so we could spend the holidays in an apartment and avoid the high season rush. But with a week, all we could do was see her family off, and then leave the country ourselves. It’s seriously a really stupid system in a country where tourism is their main income. If we had flown in we would have gotten thirty days, and there would have been no problems. Well every hour or so I would go back, and look through a box of passports. That’s right, a box of passports. You know, that document that represents only you, allows you to travel overseas, and if it is lost, you can get tossed in a Thai prison for the rest of your life. It just gets tossed into a shoe box with twenty or so foreigners fighting over it like candy out of a piñata. Well three hours later I was able to find our passports and we got the hell out.
Later that night I went to ship all my Christmas presents to my nieces and nephews. I went to the post office, but of course it was closed. Across the street was a Fed Ex office, with a big neon Fed Ex sign, so I went over there. The lady was really nice and helped me box up all my gifts for the last four months. I made a very neat list of everything, who it was going to, and a little story about how we bought it. I also made videos at places so my family could see where the gifts were coming from to make it more meaningful. The woman said if I wanted I could add some postcards so I drove my scooter looking for a shop. But of course there were none, and I had dinner with Tom at that steak house again, and I did not want to miss that. In my rush, I did a turn on my bike, hit the throttle too hard and nailed a parked scooter broadside in front of a restaurant filled with Thais. You have to love where you get that little shred of panic, and instead of releasing the throttle, you pull harder on the break and throttle together, thus hitting the downed scooter a second time. Well I had my wallet out ready to pay damages but lucky me it was old, so the owner just waved me away. So I went back to Fed Ex, told them to ship it as is and rushed to make it to dinner on time. But I also felt a lot lighter, knowing that all my gifts were going to make it for Christmas.
That was the last we ever saw of those gifts. Fed Ex had never heard of the shop, the tracking number was bogus, all the documentation was crap, and the hundred bucks I spent on shipping was gone. Not to mention the hundreds of dollars of presents. Merry Christmas to me. But I did not know any of that, so I enjoyed every bite of that steak dinner, and was ready for the madness of the wedding tomorrow to begin.