Note: in the interest of being more up-to-date with this blogging business, I’ve skipped postes about my last couple weekns in Chile and Argentina. I’ll slip those into corilives when they’re finished, and back date them accordingly. (You may call that cheating, but it’s my blog and I do what I want!)

So… Thailand! Here are more pictures of Bangkok and diving in Koh Tao

I arrived in Bangkok after 30 hours of traveling from Buenos Aires. I was sad to leave, but excited for Bonderman Phase 2. On the way, I watched 4 movies and ate 4 airplane meals, finished book 3 of the Game of Thrones series, and ran sprints in an abandoned terminal in Istanbul (to the entertainment of a couple passersby, I’m sure – I didn’t care, I needed to MOVE after sitting for over 12 hours).

In Bangkok, I took the Skytrain to my hostel, fueled by dreams of a shower and a bed. I’m impressed with the train system here: it’s cheap, clean, and air conditioned, and people actually QUEUE (wasn’t expecting that). I made it without incident and proceeded to fulfill my shower/bed dream, racking up a solid 13 hours of sleep and making goood progress on kicking the jet lag. I awoke Saturday morning feeling fairly motivated, since I knew that if I didn’t get out of Bangkok by the end of the weekend, I would feel like my time had been wasted. (I’ve leaned over the course of this trip that being in big cities is only fun for me if I’m occupied a majority of the time, ideally by activities with good people.) It was 0730 when my body woke me up, so I proceeded to the gym at the “partner’ hotel of my hostel. It felt good to challenge my muscles with something other than pushups and pullups. Back at the hostel, I showered and sat down with the tour agency rep there to plan my 10 days in Thailand before the arrival of my friend and former roommate, Mari. I found out about the weekend markets in Bangkok and about diving courses on an island called Koh Tao down south. I decided to take the plunge (see what I did there?) and drop the 300USD for a 4 day course open water dive course (including accomodation) with Coral Grand Diving. I’m not a natural at liquid water sports, but I was curious about diving and figured I might as well give it a shot while I’m somewhere cheap and famous for diving. After getting the course sorted, I made for the Chatochuk weeekend market near the Mo Chit Skytrain station.

I was hungry when I arrived to the market, which was perfect for sampling the street food selection. Meat on a stick was okay, and the papaya salad was delicious, if not burny, but I think my favorite things were the sweet ones: 1) coconut icecream in a half shell, from which the young coconut meat had been shaved for eating with the ice cream, topped with your choice, and mine was sticky rice, pineapple, and red beans and 2) mango sticky rice. Sweet mother of deliciousness, mango sticky rice is fantastic. And for those of you familiar with Thai Tom in the U District in Seattle, I can now affirm, regarding their mango sticky rice: they’re doing it right.

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I wandered the market without a map, just to get lost and see what I could see. Along the way I stocked up on summer clothes, which I had very few of because S America wasn’t exactly roasting for most of my time there. I didn’t pay more than 6USD for anything, shoes, sarong, or tank tops. And I was surprised at the lack of haggling. I guess word got out, and vendors decided it was too much effort to go through the process with a bajillion haggle-crazed tourists every day. I’ve seen haggling in the streets, but in that market there was basically none to be found. There were lots of great shirts around – great because of what was written on them. One of my favorites was the “tonight I’m single” knee length t-shirt. Not the sexiest thing I could imagine wearing for such a sentiment, but amusing nonetheless. There were also some fascinating options for home decor (if you’re interested: they ship!)

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I got back to my hostel feeling the effects of my big wander and discombobulated internal clock. I showered and slept, with a 2 hour awake break in which I hung out with a couple of delightful girls from my room. Sunday morning I spent wandering a street market near the hostel and Skyping with my sister. That afternoon, I joined forces with the girls from my room for a trip to a floating market outside Bangkok. The actual floating part of the floating market proved difficult to find, but we finally did. We hopped on a boat for a little tour, and within minutes the thunder that had been threatening earlier that afternoon unleashed a proper rain storm upon us.

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Fortunately, the boat was covered, so we remained more or less dry (emphasis on the less for my new friends on the port side of the boat). Lara and Erika serenaded us with a freestyle rap entitled “bitches love brunch,” inspired by the message on a t-shirt that Lara covets. The three of them knew each other from before, but I fit right in. When I bought a fake turd and they were amused, I knew we had high friend potential.

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We ate some food and then headed back to the hotel, where I was happy for a shower before having to get on a bus. I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt compelled to shower twice a day, but the heat (>30C) and humidity in Bangkok make cold and frequent showeres seem like an excellent idea. I caught a taxi to check in for my bus, and shortly after arriving began the exercise in patiently waiting. Check-in was at 8, but the bus wasn’t supposed to leave until 9. Then it was 1.5 hours late. After the relative ease of taking buses all over S America, this experience felt torturous. You don’t get a ticket with a seat number, they just put colored stickers with numbers on you, to indicate bus and seat, respectively. In retrospect, I think this happened because the Bangkok to Koh Tao trip is incredibly touristy. It was the first bus I’ve taken that was mostly tourists, instead of a healthy mix of natives and tourists. We finally made it to the ferry terminal after a 0230 rest stop (more like middle of the night torture stop… “oh you just fell asleep? Cool. I’m just going to turn these insanely bright lights on and have everyone get out to pee. That’s cool, right?” …I wanted to punch someone) .

The ferry brought our horde of (mostly) white people to Koh Tao, a proper tropical island, in just under 2 hours. A truck brought me to my Dive Resort (schwanky, right?) to check in. It is a beautiful location, mercifully far away from the party center of the coast. I was delighted by the palm trees and turqouise water, but after about 20 minutes of walking and splashing around, I remembered that I’m not much for spending lots of time on beaches, and was happy that dive class would start that afternoon. (Don’t get me wrong – I love my fair share of lounging – but I need some activity in there somewhere.)

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Dive instructions started with live welcome, some paperwork, and then at least an hour of PADI video watching (super cheesey, but useful for filling in the worksheets we were given). Then we were released for the evening. Classes started the next morning at 0830. I was feeling prodigious, so I got up for a run before that. The run wasn’t as long as I would’ve liked, owing to some beach obstructions, but it felt hardcore because a thunderstorm hit me halfway through and I got to return to the resort looking like I’d showered with my clothes on. I changed into dry things and then went to class. We spent 2 hours doing theory things related to diving and then that afternoon hopped into the underwater classroom, where we got to learn and practice the skills you need to dive in open water (i.e. anything that is not a man made pool). Our instructor was German, so I expected that he would be very systematic and thorough in his instruction (stereotypes, yay!). I was not disappointed. He also had a great sense of humor, so he was fun to be around. We spent 6 or 7 hours in the dive pool that day. It was exhausting, but necessary to get in everything we needed to do before heading out into the ocean the following day. I think I fell asleep around 2030 that night.

On day 3 of dive school, we set up our gear and hopped into the ocean. My BCD (the inflatable vest thingy, to which you attach your tank) wasn’t holding air well, so my first few minutes in the ocean were NOT pleasant. My fears of water threatened to come back with a vengeance as we practiced skills on the gently rolling ocean surface, but Ben made me float near him for reassurance and talked me down from my rising panic. I survived the first dive without too much emotional turmoil, and even with a minute of stoke because as we were about to ascend, I spotted a turtle!! The others in my group soon saw him as well, and we spent a minute or two happily gawking at the more than half-meter long turtle. When I got back on the boat, someone asked how my first dive was and I responded “I don’t think diving is for me.” My intention then was just to make it through the rest of the dive class and then stick to land sports forever. We had an hour long break on the boat and then got back into the water. Somewhere in that second dive, my incredulity toward diving melted away, and I was stoked to be floating around in such an other-worldly environment. Diving is very meditative – you’re always focused, moment to moment, on your breathing, your body, and your surroundings, never thinking about what you have to do later in the day or whether or not you’ve transferred enough money to make it through another few weeks of traveling. I came up from dive #2 wishing we could’ve stayed down longer.

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We finished the remaining two dives of the Open Water course and then had to take the PADI OW final written exam. (100%, baby. BAM!) A couple other people in my OW class were moving on to take the Advanced OW course, which is 5 more dives and training to dive to 30m (the OW course only certifies you to 18m). I was torn, because to do the Advanced course would contribute more to my out-of-budget spending in Thailand. But I wanted to dive more and learn more, and in the end, the quality and relative cheapness of diving in Koh Tao is something I won’t find elsewhere, so I decided to go for it. I’m quite happy with my decision. I don’t think I’m going to turn into a dive bum (at least not before I turn into a ski bum), but my experience on Koh Tao was great and I’m proud to have overcome my fears and mastered the basic skills necessary to be comfortable doodling around the ocean with a SCUBA strapped to me. Also, now I can say that I peed while standing on the ocean floor. I’m pretty pleased with that. 😉

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Aside from diving on Koh Tao, I met up with Marta, one of the girls I made friends with in Bangkok. She was on Koh Tao for a free diving course, and we swapped stories about our respective experiences. We ate some great food, and one night went out for Thai massages on the beach. The setting was idyllic: a hut overlooking a magnificent tropical sunset. Then the massage started. I hadn’t done any research on Thai massages and wasn’t sure what I was in for. I think Thai massage can best be characterized using the following examples: imagine using a foam roller (aka “cylinder of self-helptorture”), then reduce the surface area over which pressure is being applied. Now imagine this pressure being applied up and down both sides of your spine and on insertion points in the shoulder blade region. Now imagine partner yoga (or wrestling or something), but in a situation where you’re limp like a rag doll as your partner (or opponent) stretches you, cracks your toes, and then flings you around to pop your back. Now, some of the stretching was enjoyable, and some of the gentler massage portions as well. But now that I’ve had one Thai massage, I’m not terribly interested in another. I’ve decided to stick to types 1 and 2 massages, rather than massages that include type 3 fun. (Refresher: type 1 fun is fun all the time; type 2 fun is fun when it’s over; and type 3 fun isn’t fun at all)

On my 6th and last day on Koh Tao, I went to a yoga class, packed my bags, said bye to my diving friends, and made the ferry and bus journey back to Bangkok to meet my friend and former roommate Mari. That was Sunday, and on Monday (May 12) she and I headed northeast to explore the less traveled Isan region of Thailand. More on that to come.

5 comments on “Bonderman, Phase 2: Thailand (Bangkok and Koh Tao)

  • Cori –
    It is soo awesome that you are getting to have this great adventure! I’m greatly enjoying reading your blogs. Best Wishes!

  • My gf and I are considering traveling to Thailand, Nepal, Uruguay, Peru (coincidentally, all places you’ve visited!) from Apr 24 through May 10. We also have an interest in meditation and Bhuddism, hence the trip to Asia. We are somewhat concerned about the weather around that time though… Curious, was it as hot and unpleasant in Thailand as everyone says? With only two weeks, would it have made your experience significantly worse? Cheerio!
    Jon

    • Hey Jon! Sorry for the delayed response. Thailand was pretty hot and miserable, for me. If you’re going to be hanging out near beaches it’s less of an issue. Being in cities was hot and sticky and by evening all I wanted to do was lay under a fan or AC. I had no idea how heat and humidity zapped my energy! That said, everyone has different temperature tolerance, so maybe it won’t bother you guys as much. 😉

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