23:18 March 11, 2554
I grabbed my cool chipped ceramic plate, and headed out to the teeming buffet, ready to gorge my stomach with some three-dollar goodness.
Grateful that the seemingly abandoned town of Surat Thani that our navigational deficiency had defaulted us to, had two main attractions.
The first being The Tapi River, the longest river in Southern Thailand, that I was told not to visit during the day, despite the beauty it beheld beneath the stars. Apparently nightfall does wonders to the aesthetics of pollution.
And most importantly, Surat Thani had a 99 baht “hot pot” all you can scarf down and shove into any nook and cranny café of edible eateries.
Only to find mountains upon skyscraper stacks of raw meat.
I’m fully aware, and an enthusiastic advocate of when in Rome, but, I’m an equally firm believer in exceptions.
And this, seemed to be one of them.
Avoiding the meats, I steered instead towards the raw veggies portion of the table, and piled a modest heaping of broccoli onto my tray, my initial joy of a three dollar buffet slowly drooping into the three dollar wilted broccoli rip off.
Nissi however, loaded her plate so high it reached elevations equivalent to Mt. Everest with raw meats of all kind, fish and eggs, and brought it back to the table with a gleam of contempt.
She began dropping each slab of carnage into a pot of boiling water, with her chopsticks. And she stole some of my broccoli to add to the mix as well.
I began to get slightly possessive, until I realized just what it was she was doing.
It was a hot pot, literally.
Needless to say, the meat was significantly improved after it got a mere bit of flame under it.
If I’d been thinking dessert would be the slightest bit safer, I had another think coming!
A Thai style smorgasborg of colorful jello-esque blobs with corn over rice with sweet syrup laced on top of floating breadcrumbs.
Discovering the strawberry ice cream tucked away in a remote corner was a true moment of divine intervention.
Back in the hotel room, I couldn’t help but reflect upon how it was terribly convenient that as soon as the long awaited moment of hot water showers was upon me, I was sun burnt to a tart crisp and the absolute last thing I wanted anywhere near my skin was steaming water.
Five days post sunburn, and I’d been presented with a fabulous new hobby.
Peeling prickly, pruny pieces of flesh from my pickled pink forehead.
I stood in front of the dirty bathroom mirror beneath the dim light and pulled flakes of flesh, watching it stretch with my skin along across my forehead.
Unfortunately it was Tetris addictive and left me unaware of the time passing by.
So much so that when I was in the bathroom pulling and scratching at my forehead leaving a shiny red smear of discoloring across the entirety, Nissis’ voice called out, “Danielle, are you peeling your sunburn again…?” drawing me back to reality, and a simple relocation to the other mirror above the T.V.
I feel kind of sorry for the next guests though, because based on the look, and the entire $3.33-esqueness of the hotel.
The whole cleaning thing, yeah, that doesn’t happen too often.
At least if my careful judgments based on the amount of black hair clogging the shower drain upon our immediate arrival is any testament.
Anyhow, the next occupants of this hotel will acquire peeled flakes of my skin on their pillow, accompanying their welcome mint.
The next morning, Nissi and I decided yet again to follow the breadcrumbs and find our way receding down south, a couple of missed bus stops back to the national park.
We had the option of choosing a slower, but cheaper bus, or a van. The latter being the more expensive option, but vans typically travel faster and we were considerably exhausted from dawdling carelessly about destinations.
We figured we might as well take the van.
It was only intended to be an hour-long journey.
About forty-six stops and four hours later we finally stumbled out of the cursed vehicle at our “hour-long” arrival point.
Turns out we’ve got a knack for choosing the wrong mode of transportation.
The van driver was a bit too, philanthropic, shall I put it?
He had a lot of friends, all of which needed to be picked up and dropped off at various locations every two minutes, with stretch marks all across the map.
Thus the forty-six stops part.
To make the entire experience remarkably memorable the little boy sitting next to me managed to throw up all over himself.
At least he’s got good aim.
Khao Sok National Park was one long expanding stretch of green.
One enormously thick paint swatch exploiting the green hue.
There was emerald, and avocado, a deep jade, and lime green, and rich sea greens and grass stain greens all patched together within the closest of proximities, creating a canopy overhead that excluded all sunlight.
Flowers so luscious it made you just want to reach out and pluck them to lodge behind your ear.
Vines draped firmly around each tree trunk, binding them in suffocation.
A fierce chirping, screeching, and clatter of humming insects seemed to be hooked up to an outdoor PA system as the track looped continuously.
Khao Sok is home to the Rafflesia Kerrii, the largest flowers in the world, that grow up to 35 inches in diameter. January through March is the Rafflesia’s season, it takes nine months for a bud to open, and then the flower dies after one week. An enormous red and yellow blossom with the worst rotting smell imaginable, because the flowers are pollinated not by insects seeking nectar, but by flies.
Unfortunately none of the flowers were blooming when I was there, but I did manage to snap a fabulous photo of an enormous statue of a Rafflesia, and with the aid of photoshop, none shall be the wiser.
Regrettably, the terrible inconvenience that is school placed bookends on our voyage, and we were forced to call an end to our journey the very next day.
As far as the ten-hour train-ride home, we managed to procure the last possible tickets available. Not noticing until after purchase the small, meticulous script in the lower left hand corner reading, “Standing Room Only.”
“Cultural experience,” we chanted while boarding the train and inhabiting the aisle ways, our safe harbor for the next ten hours.
With an assortment of squatting and pacing throughout the walkway, we settled in beside the open door connecting the cars, legs dangling out, and watched the countryside blend together in a smear of speed.
Savoring the sticky feeling of a long, rolling voyage of constant movement.
Observing the comradely of proximity between neighbors and the uncorkable energy of little kids twirling in the aisles, with arms outstretched whacking whosoever dare steppeth in their path.
At every stop, vendors wandered into the train and up and down the aisles selling handmade snacks, sweets, drinks, and dinners.
They would ride, striding about the train until the next station, then get off and board another train going back to the previous station, and then repeat it all over again for a days work.
Not one hour after boarding, I was already gorged full from sampling every oddity that approached my way, and was enjoying the foamy beach view from this seaside train route.
Then came the phone call from the parents.
Their frantic, worried voices overlapping each other, with spaces of forced calming breaths acting as the only gaps in our entire conversation.
They told me about an enormous earthquake in Japan, and a tsunami that had devastated the country as well.
They said there were tsunami warnings posted all over Asia, and asked if I was anywhere near water.
The warnings rode with us all the way up the coast, and departed at our very same Hua Hin station at two in the morning, a gentle reminder that in a couple of hours we all may wake up floating.
A notice that undoubtedly made for the sweetest of dreams and the very best of sleep after one long, and thoroughly exhausting journey.