Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thaisland I: Koh Lanta

We spent five days on the island of Koh Lanta (it's on the west coast of southern Thailand, accessed by two short ferry hops from the mainland to the Koh Lanta Noi, then another ferry to Koh Lanta Yai). Since we were going to be there over Songkran, which is the Thai New Year, and we had no idea how busy it might be, we actually did something we rarely do: we made a reservation. We had a bungalow, at the Nautilus “Resort,” about 200 feet from the beach, with a porch, big windows, a fan, and an outdoor bathroom (taking a shower in the open air, in a rainstorm, is a strange experience, let me tell you), and no internet access. It was comfortable and clean, and very quiet. A couple of nights, we were the only staying guests (obviously, we worried needlessly about reservations). We spent most of our days catching up on some reading, some thinking, and looking for seashells on the beach. Oh, but not all was idyllic.

Our first evening, we decided to ride our bikes to find some dinner. On the dirt road out of our bungalows, Colin hit a bump, and afterward, his bike started making a noise like there was something rubbing inside the chain case. We pulled off the side of the paved road, under a street lamp, to find the source of the noise. Damn it, it was the stupid bolts that hold the stupid sprocket to the stupid hub...AGAIN. Two of them were loose. Since it was getting dark, and neither of us felt like dealing with it there on the side of the road, we limped back to the bungalow, stopping at a small roadside restaurant for some noodles for dinner on the way, and vowed to work on the bike tomorrow.

So that's what we did the next morning. We unrolled the tarp and got to work repairing my rear hub. We went through the now too familiar process of removing the rear wheel and rear hub. A quick inspection showed that two of the bolts had backed off by several threads, one was starting to loosen, leaving only one still snugly fastened. We once again, put it back together with Loctite and as much torque as I could put on it. I received an email from an experience mechanic who suggested that our problem now was probably due to the threading being overstretched, and that replacing the bolts and nuts is next step. Both Re and I seem to be infected with a bit of forgetfulness, since I got the rear wheel completely installed without reinstalling the chain (doh!) and Re reattached the brake rod without the spring (double doh!). We should be able to do this in our sleep by now. We eventually did get it all put back together, with all the parts seemingly in place. 

With that job finished, we hit the water for a quick dip and then settled ourselves in one of the berugas (a raised bamboo platform with a thatched roof) to read. Later that afternoon, as Colin and I hunted shells, two local men ran onto the beach, waving their arms at us and the one other person on the beach, and told us we needed to get off the beach. Curious, we asked why? Because. (okay, not just because). They had just received news of a strong earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, and the news was accompanied by a tsunami warning, which certainly made it sound like a good time to get off the beach. As we stepped from the beach onto the lawn, we watched as the managers and their daughter loaded their suitcases (and their pet rabbit) and then themselves into a car and drove away. So much for getting more info about the situation. Wondering what we needed to do and where to go, we returned to the bungalow and packed our essentials (documents, money, keys) and had them ready at the door to go if we needed to leave in a hurry. Everything else, we hung up as high as we could inside the bungalow, and then we went back to have a seat in one of the berugas that overlooked the water at the edge of the lawn. 

Turbo Dave
As we sat there, Mr Hutyee, who owns the Hutyee Boat Bungalows (in the forest behind the beach where we were staying), strolled over and sat down with us in the beruga and said that he was on this very beach when the Boxing Day tsunami hit in 2004. He told us how the water receded quickly by between a half and one kilometer, leaving all sorts of fish out of water (he said many people were out on the sand picking up the fish). Between 20 and 30 minutes after the water receded, he saw a tall, black wall of water moving toward the shore, and it rushed in and flooded the land. The wave of water hit the beach and covered the ground where the bungalows sat with about two feet of water. He told us that if we saw the water recede rapidly, it would probably be a good time to hightail it out of there and get to higher ground. Good to know! Fortunately, there is plenty of easily reached, higher ground on Koh Lanta. So we sat in the beruga with our new buddy, Turbo Dave (a resident, wide-open, maybe 8-week old kitten) and waited for something to happen. And we waited some more. And...some more. 

When the sun finally started to set and the tide hadn't really gone much farther in either direction, we figured it was safe to eat. We rode up to the main street to look for some dinner, only to find that the majority of businesses were shuttered. We did find one restaurant open and jumping (lack of competition will do that) and enjoyed the first of many delicious meals at a place called Jumrat.

As we sat on our porch drinking coffee the following morning, we watched as the Nautilus's managers, who had returned sometime during the night, shuffled, very slowly, toward us. When they reached the lawn directly in front of us, the husband said that they had looked for us the day before, to let us know about the tsunami warning. When Colin told them that we were on the beach just in front of the bungalows, and that I had seen them loading up to leave, they both looked shocked and rather appalled. They sheepishly apologized for not finding us the previous afternoon and stood there, as if waiting for the judge to announce their sentences. Neither of us was upset about the situation - we had the information we needed to make a decision, and we were as prepared as we could be. Uncomfortable with the situation, we told them about what we saw and experienced while we waited and related Mr Hutyee's story to them also. They looked even more surprised that we hadn't evacuated when we heard about the tsunami warning and said as much. We explained that we aren't very bright. We told them of times we've gone to the beach in North Carolina during hurricanes and snuck into the water while the beaches were closed. They looked even more confused, and after spending some more time silently looking at the ground and each other, they left. Very strange. Our biggest concern of the morning was that Turbo Dave, the little kitten, was nowhere to be seen. Hopefully he's okay, but we missed seeing him at breakfast.

That afternoon, we decided to ride all the way around the island to check out the scenery and see some of the other beaches. Koh Lanta is quite beautiful and very hilly, with one road that runs nearly all the way around the perimeter and several other roads crossing the middle. The roads really climb and wind around the hills on the island.

 After we'd ridden about halfway round (between 15 and 20 miles), Colin pulled off the road and said his rear brake seemed to be dragging. He checked it, made an adjustment, and we rode on. A few miles and several uphill climbs later, he pulled off again and said the brake was still misbehaving. This time, he parked it under a cashew tree (I took a couple of pictures. It's interesting how they grow. There's an edible fruit resembling a red or yellow pepper, and the cashew nut grows from the base of the fruit), we got out the tools, spread the tarp, and took the rear brake apart. Then we put it back together. Nothing amiss, we were totally confused as to why it was dragging, and what we did differently that now allowed it to turn freely. Anyway, it worked, he could accelerate up the hills again, so we continued around the island and back to our bungalow.

The following day was Songkran, the Thai New Year. Traditionally, people clean their homes one day. The next day, they pay respect to their elders and monks by pouring water on their right shoulders and putting some kind of white powder on their faces. They also wash the Buddha images with scented water. I imagine at some point in history, it was a reverential holiday. But not today. Now, it involves Super Soakers and large buckets of cold water being thrown at any and everyone. We decided in the middle of the day to ride out in hopes of finding some festivities. As soon as we pulled out onto the main road, we came upon scooters whose passengers acted as tail gunners with outlandishly huge squirt guns. These were fun to dodge and weave, and we only got a little wet. The real menace on the roads are the pickup trucks. These trucks ride around with several people in the bed crowded around a 55 gallon drum full of water and usually ice. The people in the bed use large bowls to scoop out the water on whoever they happen to pass. We managed to avoid most of these icy dousings, but Re did get splashed directly one time. One motorbike ahead of us that had two large farang on it decided to overtake one of these trucks on an uphill stretch of road, and it was not pretty. The rider and passenger each shared four to five large bowls full of what appeared to be very cold water as they slowly passed the truck. We, on the other hand, waited for a downhill section and were able to nip by, while the water throwers were still celebrating the previous dousing. Then we got wet in earnest, as the rain clouds decided to take part in the festivities. We pulled over to the side of the road and put on our rain jackets for the wet ride back to the bungalow. It seemed funny that the rain would put a damper on the water celebration, but most of the revelers seemed to disappear when the rain began. 

Colin and Turbo Dave
Back at the bungalow, we were a little chilly, so we decided to walk up to the 7Eleven for some hot coffee. The shortcut by foot to the main road cuts through Mr Hutyee's (our friend from the tsunami watching party) bungalows. As we were passing by one of his bungalows, we spotted Turbo on the porch! Except that it wasn't Turbo, unless somebody had cut off his tail in the past day. Re then spied another small kitten that looked sort of like Turbo but wasn't him either, and then, snoozing on the porch, was the real deal. It was Turbo. While we were petting all three of them, Mr Hutyee appeared and asked where we were going. We told him we were heading up for coffee, and he insisted that we join him, his son, and his grandson for coffee. A short while later, some of the guests staying at the Hutyee Boat bungalows showed up, wet and cold from Songkran, and joined us all for coffee. It turns out that Turbo and his siblings were the kittens of one of Mr Hutyee's cats, but that recently, the daughter of our Swedish hosts had absconded with Turbo. A couple days ago, the residents of the bungalow where the other kittens lived, spotted Turbo on their way to the beach and brought him back home. As it should be, since he looked too young to leave his mother. We spent the rest of the afternoon and into the evening talking with the other Hutyee guests. In some ways, I wish we'd stayed at Hutyee. Mr Hutyee was infinitely more personable and welcoming than the Swedish couple running the Nautilus, and there was always a crowd of interesting and energetic people staying there. The only negative was the swarms of mosquitoes among the trees (and I'm sure, in the bungalows as well).

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