I've been in Thailand about 10 days now and it's been by far my most hectic stay here yet. Two days after meeting with Rap, we flew to Phuket, where we stayed for 2 nights. We took a day trip to the now famous Maya Bay, the setting for many of the scenes in the movie "The Beach". We went to one of the agents to ask about ticket prices etc, and after having worked out all the details, the agent asked us if we had any questions. I did not. Rap did. I would have thought one would want to know how many other people would be on the tour, or how long we'd spend at the beach or perhaps what was served in the included lunch. Nope, not Rap. Rap asked if there was mobile phone reception at Maya Bay. There were some spectacular views there, and I will be posting some photos to a new album as soon as I get a decent connection to plug my laptop into.
Aside from the Phi Phi island and Maya Bay trip though, Phuket was a disappointment. The locals there are obviously more touristified, and have lost much of their local character, having adopted a watered down culture which feels like it's more for the benefit of the tourists than a desire to retain their heritage. It does not feel authentic at all, especially given that I have spent much effort getting to know the feel and flavour of traditional Thai culture. After about 6pm you cant walk anywhere without being accosted by bar girls asking you to buy them a drink. My airport driver tells me that they get 50/50 splits with the bar on the drinks they manage to squeeze out of tourists. The shoppingthereis pretty poor, the products are all sweatshop trash, and there's STT (Stupid Tourist Tax) on everything. If I go back to Phuket, it will be only as a stop over for a dive trip to Phi Phi island.
A few days after our Phuket excursion, we hired a minivan and hit the road bound for Kanchanaburi, a province in western Thailand on the Myanmar border. We visited the Erawan Dam and falls, which was an incredibly scenic and tranquil place to visit. We also visited the Tiger Temple, which was a huge let down, as we were both expecting to see wild tigers being trained for repatriation to the wild. Instead, we got to stand in line with a bunch of babbling European and American tourists and have our photo taken next to a couple of thoroughly non-wild tigers so bloated with high calorie food they looked like they'd have troubly hauling their fat bellies off the ground. I've seen fiercer poodles. It was a far cry from the images of a majestic apex predator that the word "Tiger" invokes.
Finally, we had a lovely lunch of freshwater fish at a floating restaurant on the River Kwai, very near to the famous Burma Railway and the site where the movie Bridge on the River Kwai is set. All up, the Kanchanaburi expedition was a fascinating exploration into part of South East Asia that I've read much about.
Anyways, this has been a longer than usual entry, I'll post an update to my travels soon. I'm heading out to Europe soon to meet the guys for the CouchSurfing Collective in Rotterdam. More on that as events unfold. Watch this space!