As much fun as Bangkok was, we were pretty excited to make our way down South and enjoy some beach time and island revelry. Having a friend in Phuket to show us the ropes proved invaluable as we got to see much more than we would have otherwise. It's funny how we can pick a country like Thailand and end up meeting with two friends to help us manage traveling around. I feel like I have reached some sort of minor success to enjoy the hospitality of old and new friends, and I am excited to indulge that pride more in the future. Perhaps when we attend World Cup 2014 in Brazil, we can further test the limits of our connections and mutual friends.
Phuket is Thailand's biggest island and attracts some serious tourism. It is also the hub for further island exploration throughout the south. This being said, you would think that transportation around the island would be just as easy as it was for the rest of the country. We had grown accustomed to cheap taxis, red trucks that pick you up along their path for 60 cents or simply being able to walk places. None of these things exist in Phuket due to the Taxi Mafia. At first I thought this was a joke or an exaggeration founded in the ridiculous prices tuk-tuks and taxis charge, but it's actually a real thing. A 10 minute ride that would cost about $1.50 in Bangkok is about $7-10 depending on your bargaining ability. Efforts by the island have been made to establish more affordable transportation, but boats are sunk, taxi drivers are killed and city officials are on the mafia's payroll. Crazy stuff, but I guess when you consider the mass tourism and a pure cash industry it isn't a total surprise.
Now that I have given sufficient background to the transportation situation I can more proudly explain how we beat the mafia's system: renting a motorcycle for $5 a day. I had never ridden one before and traffic in other countries is always intimidating, but I am so glad we rented one. It took me a while to feel safe, and even longer to feel safe with Allison as a passenger, but after a couple hours of getting around it was easily done. I realize this is no major achievement for many of the readers, but I had a lot of fun doing it and highly suggest this method of transport in the future. There is no way we could have visited the beautiful Rawai Beach, gone up to Big Buddha (seriously, a giant Buddha just up on a hill) and eaten at the different restaurants we did without the bike. All for $5 a day!
It was great to meet up with Jason, who I taught with in Georgia. He was a gracious host and was able to share his favorite spots with us since he has been here for about 9 months now. I would like to elaborate briefly on people like Jason because it is a unique type of person that travels from country to country teaching English. His roommate Tim is in Thailand for the world class rock climbing, his girlfriend is here because she had never been abroad before and wanted to travel before settling down in the States, some of his friends are musicians and travel the world posing as teachers so they can play their next gig and almost every other ex-pat has their own story. These are the same type of people that go up to a ski lodge in Colorado and work for almost nothing so they can hit fresh powder every day. I really value their free spirit and commitment to doing what they want to do. Of course, there are many complaints a parent or grandparent would make towards such a lifestyle, but the freedom, the people and the passion these people all share justify the life choice. I am jealous of them, easy as that.
Seeking further separation from tourism and society we went to Ko Phi Phi, an island about 2 hours away from Phuket. Our Bungalow had a killer ocean view and a private beach to boot. I was worried it would be too hot without AC, but since it is low season (rainy season) it was very manageable. We fell asleep both nights to the repetitive lapping of waves just meters from our mosquito net-covered bed. We arrived yesterday to Railay which is famous for its rock formations. Expert climbers come from all over the world to conquer the sandstone cliffs, and it makes me wish I had trained all year to try one out myself. I encourage you to google Railay, Thailand and see a couple pictures yourself, you will be jealous of us if you do.
We splurged a bit to stay at a nice resort with AC, a TV and hot water, but I must admit I appreciate modern amenities. Life is great and we are sad to see our trip coming to an end. We will try to spend as much time as possible on the beach over the next few days and take some good pictures to remember it by. We miss everyone at home and are excited to tell more stories we we get back.