Oh, Fiji Airlines. How you have spoiled us. Nothing really against Jet Star Airlines, but let’s just say our 10 hour flight to Singapore from Auckland was a bit less luxurious that LA to Fiji. I mean, with coach seats on Fiji airlines we had shrimp friggin cocktail, red wine, free movies, power outlets, fancy reclining seats, relaxing spa music as you board, and a voice of a British pilot that exuded confidence through the speaker. I could live on that plane. Jetstar…meh. I had a tray that didn’t fold down properly. But that is neither here or there!
Singapore! We descend through the haze of the bustling metropolis and land with a generous thump. We deboard and quickly discover that Changi airport is a classy joint. Clean bathrooms, sanitary drinking water, shops you are likely to find in a Vegas casino, and the fastest wifi we’ve had since we left Boulder. One blog post, 4 slices of ham and mushroom pizza, and five hours later we hop on our next flight. This time we are headed for Phuket. Considering our bodies now believe it’s about 5 AM (NZ time) we have no problem dozing off on this flight. Once we’re on the ground again we meander our way to customs. It’s a fairly sprawling area with gaggles of people waiting in line, filling forms, and reading signs. Then there’s us: ping ponging around the room wondering what to do. Naturally, we immediately begin to overcomplicate the situation. “Oh that sign says 20 baht for a visa for US citizens. Where do we pay?” “Oh shit, we don’t have any Thai money. Let’s ask the people at the info booth where an ATM is.” (Walk over to the plastic table to find people who clearly do not work at the airport.) “Oh man, my passport photos are in my checked bag!” “Maybe I’ll get my photo taken over there before we go through.” At the photo booth, we believe we gather enough intel in broken English to realize we don’t need a visa before entering, in direct contradiction to the posted signs. So we jump in line and wait in confusion. Fifteen minutes later, after a few thuds of a stamper, no money exchange, or dialogue, apparently we had just made it into Thailand. Sweet.
We grab our checked luggage, skate past the customs officer who looks as though he would just prefer if you didn’t bother him, and head to the exit. The glass doors part, I step into the humid Thai air, ignore the signs in my face and the shouts of “Taxi! 100 baht! Taxi, 100 baht!”, and soon find a plump looking Thaiman with a toothy grin holding a sign with Anna’s name in it. Alright. Things are going pretty smoothly! Apparently you just walk, don’t talk, and the right things will happen! (Author’s note: this is actually false 99% of the time in Southeast Asia).
Plumpy McTootherton drops us off (that’s not fair, he was very nice…but I don’t know his name, so that will suffice) at our prebooked accommodation: Ai Phuket Hostel. We pay for the overpriced shuttle (we knew this ahead of time) and are shown to our private room. Thus far, this place is pretty friggin immaculate. Come to find out, the secret to their cleanliness is that the cleaning lady just doesn’t stop cleaning. Fine by me. Bags are dropped, clothes are shed, and we’re dreaming of bowls of pad Thai in no time.
Up again! A combination of the continuous sounds of motorbike traffic, a dull light shining through the window, and my body thinking its 9 AM, I’m up and at it at 4 AM. I leave Nanners asleep in bed while I go seek out the little boys room. It is here, in the bathroom, at four in the morning, that I must solve my first cultural puzzle: how to use the bathroom in Thailand (when standing will not suffice…) My puzzle pieces: toilet, toilet paper, small trash can, a spray gun on the end of a hose, and a sign that says “please do not drop toilet paper in the toilet” (or some variation of that in broken English).
…Yes, I took I picture. Get up off me.
Okay, it’s a fairly easy puzzle. And a matter of preference. The procedure:
Step 1: goes without saying. Step 2: bust out the bum gun. Now, this is where preference comes into play: spray front to back or back to front. My research indicates many people seem to stand by the front to back method (…get your mind out of the gutter. People have voluntarily given up this information). Step C: tidy up with some good ole’ fashion TP and place in the trash bin. Success! Come to find out, you should consider yourself lucky if you have all or any of the five aforementioned bathroom puzzle pieces at your disposal; therefore, if you find yourself in Thailand, be prepared to improvise upon entering the water closet.
A few hours later, we’ve gobbled down our free breakfast and are out the door. First stop: post office. Here we intend to shed a few pounds from our luggage and send them on their way to the US. Some of these items include my wetsuit and booties (which were used in NZ, but are no longer needed), our tent, and some miscellaneous clothing items. This runs us about about 35 USD for 6 kg. Not bad, even with the 3-month shipping time. Next stop: food. I think the main source of our excitement to travel in Thailand is food. Alright, the main source of our excitement to travel anywhere is food. With that said, we waste no time in heading to a food stand recommended by the lady at the front desk of the hostel. Before we left I had her write down her favorite dish in Thai, thus making my ordering process a bit easier. Nanner orders some pad see yew and I point to my paper. A few minutes later, I receive a plate of fried ground pork, accompanied by rice and veggies, and topped with a delicious fried egg. Ah, yes. Our glutenous journey has begun.
Not yet bold enough to rent a motorbike on our first day in Thailand, we opt to explore the nooks and crannies of Phuket Town on foot. After checking out a temple or two, watching a wildly dangerous fire safety course for school children, and sampling a few street food items, we chomp down some dinner at the same food stand and wash down the goodness with a Chang at a nearby bar. Not a bad start to our journey through the Land of Smiles.
(Funny side-note: Our second round of street food in Phuket was purchased at the fresh market near the center of town. When I asked the lady what kind of stick-o-meat she was grilling, I’m fairly sure I just heard, “Chicken,” with no additional descriptors. I give Anna the first bite, so I can document the situation [naturally]. Based on her facial expressions, I gather this is not the finest of meat sticks. I try/finish the meat and also find that it has a very strange texture and aftertaste that I have not encountered when sampling the traditional chicken parts I am accustomed to. It wasn’t until we went to Chiang Mai much later that I encountered another meat stand where they sold a similar-looking meat, but this one was properly advertised as chicken heart…so, I’m sticking with the story that we ate chicken heart on our first day in Thailand. Not bad, for some amateurs.)