After recovering from the stomach bug which put me out for a few days, I was finally able to start my advanced open water dive course. Whereas I am glad I did it, I have decided that PADI is nothing more than a brilliant pyramid scheme. You could have 1,000 dives and yet, if you have not paid the $300 to do the course, you are not an "advanced" diver. Regardless of my feelings towards PADI, I was stoked to get back under water. Phi Phi doesn't hold a candle to what I saw in Indo (there I go whinging again) but I really enjoyed the dives. Our "Fish ID" dive was the best - we saw an octopus running along the reef as well as a big morey eel swimming around. The night dive was also cool.
But perhaps the best part of being in Phi Phi was when Emma finally showed up. We were supposed to rendezvous in Phuket but neither of us had heard great things so Emma decided to meet me there. She, Kyle and I spent the next three days getting into all sorts of trouble - from fire limbo and fire jump rope to snorkel trips to "The Beach" to eating and drinking copious amounts. Yes, we had fun. And we could have stayed in Phi Phi a long time, had Emma quit her job and I blown off my flight home. Neither of us really wanted to do this (although we seriously considered it) and so we hopped on the train to Bangkok.
One thing about Southeast Asia is that land travel is cheap, easy and comfortable. Emma and I were able to take a ferry, a bus and a train to Bangkok for 1,400 baht each -- about $40. I have grown quite fond of sleeper trains over the past few weeks because they are a clean and comfortable way to travel overnight. Sure, the train is swaying and clacking and whatnot, but it is a piece of cake compared with trying to sleep on the boat during a passage.
After a restful night sleep, we arrived in Bangkok the next afternoon. Having no idea where to go we took the guide book's advice, and headed to Banglamphu. Of course it is the most touristy part of Bangkok, but it also has the widest range of accommodation and lots of sights nearby. After getting our room sorted and freshening up, Emma and I set out to see the town. We didn't get very far as we had to try food from various stalls all the way down the street. I must say I was disappointed with the food in Thailand. I know this was my fault -- I stuck to the touristy parts rather than seek out the offtrack culinary gems -- but in the two weeks I was in Thailand I never ate a meal that blew me away. Sure everything was good, everything was cheap, but I can't pick out one meal that stood above the rest. I guess I will have to go back.
It just so happened that Emma and I arrived in Bangkok on the full moon festival of Loi Krathong. We walked down to the river where thousands of people were setting tiny boats made of banana leaves adrift, adorned with a candle and incense. We bought one and set it out into the river, ensuring a prosperous and lucky year. The most magical aspect of the evening was the lanterns -- hundreds of homemade lanterns like mini hot air balloons floated in the sky -- like shooting stars hung in midair. The mix of the chaos of the city and the serenity of the lanterns floating in the night sky was enough to give me the chills on a warm evening.
The next day Emma and I set out to see the city. We were nabbed by a friendly tuk-tuk driver who offered to take us around the city to see the sights for a very cheap price, so long as we agreed to stop at his friends' shops along the way. We agreed, and along with seeing the tallest Buddha in the world we also got to see many shops selling trinkets. Neither of us minded blowing off the tailor who was in cahoots with our driver because we were having too much fun being carted around by tuk-tuk. Finally, our driver got fed up with us and dropped us off at the Grand Palace before zooming off.
Of course he could have told us that the Grand Palace was closed that afternoon, but never mind, so we walked around until we came across a ferry building. We hopped on a ferry having no idea where it was going, but it was cheap and a good way to see the city. Somehow we ended up at Siam Paragon, a massive shopping mall that hosts both a Rolls Royce and a Lamborghini dealership. You know, just in case you are in the market. I don't like driving in flip-flops so I didn't ask to go for a test drive, but next time I'll wear my driving shoes. Emma couldn't be bothered and so we moved on.
That night we went out in Silom with friends we met over dinner. Silom is known for gay clubs, strip clubs and a night market where you can buy remarkably cheap Prada and Gucci handbags. We stayed out until the wee hours of the morning shopping, drinking and dancing, but steered well clear of the strip clubs. Men standing outside the clubs offered a menu of the things we could see inside while whispering "ping pong?" but they were a little too seedy for my taste.
And then came the dreaded day that Emma went home. I spent the day moping around but was cheered up by the friends we had met the previous night. They invited me out with them again which I decided was better than hanging out in my hostel room alone, so I took them up on the offer. We ended up having a rather debaucherous night which I will refrain from describing here. It will make a good story to tell you over a beer.
The next day I left Bangkok (alone) and made my way back to Pangkor via a 24 hour train ride followed by a three hour bus. Mom and Dad met me at the bus station and took me to dinner before going back to the boat. The boat has been hauled out of the water and living "on the hard" really sucks, so I can't say I was sad to have missed it. I spent two nights on the boat and packed up three years worth of stuff in 12 hours. Of course this was more difficult than I had anticipated -- how am I to pack two surfboards, a guitar, ukulele, clothes, souvenirs, dive gear and so much more?! Oh the woes of being a pack rat...
Somehow I managed to stuff most of my belongings into five bags and then again managed to stuff them all on the bus. We are now in Kuala Lumpur, enjoying the sights for a day before flying back to California. What an amazing trip it's been. But the adventure won't stop here.