The final night at the last hotel, albeit creepy and sweltering, passed without any parts of me being taken and wrapped in plastic. Phew. That morning I caught a boat to the mainland and caught a night bus to Bangkok. I paid for a shower at a hotel and booked another night bus to Vientiane, Laos. I arrived this morning. It is even hotter here, but less humid, which is (kind of?) preferable.
Somewhere along the line my hand decided to become infected. A week ago, as you may recall from an earlier post, I was scuba diving and scraped my hand on a rock and impaled it on a sea urchin. All in the same graceless motion. I blame the urchin spines, but the infection took a week or so to crop up. My middle and ring finger are swollen and it hurts to press on one side of each of the first knuckles. That strikes me as a weird characteristic of an infection and is troubling. I saw a doctor in Bangkok that spoke perfect English and said there were no spines (he insisted he would be able to feel them were they in there, regardless of the size) and prescribed me antibiotics.
My guess is that there are little bits of spine left in there and I irritated them. Rock climbing is very popular on Railay beach, and I did some bouldering while I was there that may have stirred them around. I was planning on doing one whole day of climbing on the limestone cliffs, but it was expensive, and I had sea urchin spines in my hand. So instead I opted for a half day of deep water soloing. This is rope-free cliff climbing over the ocean. You get in a boat and they take you to cliffs in a national park. You climb to your heart's content and simply fall into the deep water at the base of the cliff or get high enough that you want to jump off.
If it sounds fun, it's not. I have absolutely no problem with heights, but apparently I don't like jumping into water. Most everyone else seemed to enjoy it immensely. One girl didn't like it and claimed to get seasick after trying it a couple times. I tried it a couple times and admitted that I was a coward and didn't like it. There were also huge jellyfish floating around waiting for jumpers. Everyone got stung a couple times. A German guy also got stung by a wasp that was basking in the sun high on the cliff. Both thought they were high enough up to not have to worry about encountering the other. He fell off with a shriek and crashed (safely) into the water. It was all pretty satisfying to watch from the comfort boat.
Down below is a picture of our Thai guide jumping off from as high as anyone got. He was out of control good, and did it all in bare feet. We had lunch on a gorgeous secluded beach. There was a small cave complex on the beach and we all climbed around and did some bouldering. My friend was walking through the sand, stubbed his toe on a hidden rock and tore off his pinky toenail. The nail fell to the sand and within a minute was swarming with ants hungry for goodies. I took a picture, but decided not to post it.
Now to backtrack some. I left Koh Tao a little less than a week ago. One of my last nights in the budget bungalow I came back and found a rat/giant mouse rummaging around in my stuff. As soon as the light came on he dashed under the door. That might mean that the "gecko" poop I found next to me when I woke up that earlier morning had in fact been a mouse poop after all. The morning that I checked out I was looking under the mattress to make sure I hadn't misplaced anything, and I discovered a likely source of the stink that filled the bungalow. A lizard had somehow gotten under the mattress and gotten squished, possibly by me. However, there was an index shoved under a front foot that looked like maybe someone else had found him and tried to scrape it up, so I'm probably in the clear.
I left Koh Tao via night ferry. The crew were the rudest people I've ever met. They treated us like cattle. I checked in at the pier an hour early. After glancing at my ticket, he looked away and said "numbersfull. nosleep." I didn't understand. "NOSLEEPNUMBER!" Sleep number? Serta? I remained confused. Hew as getting pissed. The guy was wearing a black tank top sitting behind a desk he'd pushed out to the middle of the concrete pier in the dark with a paper covered in scribbles with the scribbles covered in pink highlighter, slamming his hand down and screaming "NO SLEEP NUMBER! NO NUMBER!" One of his lackeys, no doubt fearful for the safety of my person, took me by the shoulder and led me into the boat.
As it turned out, all the "beds" were just spaces on benches, and they all had numbers. They put me on a straw mat in a hot little room in the bow. For a few minutes I wondered if they wanted a bribe for a bed, but I decided that there are lot cooler things to try bribing people for and that I didn't want to steal someone's bed who thought they had one. 10 minutes later I met two kids from England and we moved to the...aft? Is that the word? We moved to the back. The engine noise back there was thunderous, but it was outside and much cooler. The engine drowned out the voices of the people around me that had brought beer and I managed to sleep pretty well.
At 5 a.m. we arrived at the pier. Everyone with a pickup truck claimed to be the company that sold you your ticket and beckoned you to climb on in. Taking a gamble with one of them, we piled into the back. He drove us two blocks and kicked us out in front of a cafe. There's a system in Asia that drivers use where they drive you to a restaurant and make you wait between 20 minutes and an hour. They get a commission for bringing you. We stopped at five separate crappy restaurants and changed buses/vans three times before we finally got on the freeway.
Despite of some pronunciation issues, I got off alone at Phang Nga bay. It is supposedly one of the most beautiful bays in the world. They used an island there for Scaramanga's house in "The Man with the Golden Gun." Now they call it James Bond Island. That was definitely very cool. Everyone told me that it was low season and there were no tourists, so I'd have to take a private tour. This seemed to be true, so I arranged a private boat. The bay has lots of islands with vertical cliffs that shoot out of the water and continue so high that you have to strain your neck to see the top. Around some caves I switched to a canoe and my guide paddled us into a cave so low you had to lie down in the boat. We emerged in a lagoon surrounded on all sides by 40 foot high rock, with jungle vines and tree roots reaching down towards the water from a circle of blue sky.
Back on the dock as I was waiting for my van I began to suspect that I had overpaid for the tour. There were no white tourists, true, but there were lots of Thai and Chinese tourists that were parts of groups, although they could have been from Phuket. An old Thai man on the dock started talking to me to practice his English. He asked me what I paid. I told him. "Did I overpay?" "If you are satisfied, then you did not overpay."
From there I caught the bus to Railay and spent my three nights in the jungle bungalow version of The Overlook Hotel. (That's from The Shining. Not sure how obscure that is.) Now I'm in Laos, where I plan on being for a week or so, and then to Cambodia. My hostel here has multitudes of signs saying "no prostitutes in the room," "no sex workers are allowed in the hotel," etc. The currency in Laos is the kip, which is supposedly inconvertible. But I just used an ATM, so I'm not sure how that works. It's about 8,000 kip to a US dollar. I got 1,000,000 kip, and they gave it to me all in 20,000 notes. It is a huge stack of bills that I can't fit in my wallet. Makes me feel like a baller, though.