Last weekend Laurie, Sean, Noz, Wolfgang and I took yet another vacation to the island of Ko Tao along Thailand’s southern gulf coast. We wanted to get out away from Bangkok in case any of the protests turned violent. Last Friday classes were canceled in the afternoon and Chula was closed on the weekend in anticipation of the protests. It don’t have the space here to give a thorough background about the red shirt protests, but you can read all about on any world news website. Thankfully, there hasn’t been any violence.
We took a long overnight bus ride (7 hrs) down to Chumpon, waited at a terminal there (4 hrs), then traveled by ferry to get to Ko Tao (2 hours). Normally whenever ever we arrive at a place via bus we get stormed by a few taxi drivers asking “taxi ride?” and “where you go?”. But the taxi drivers on Ko Tao were much more relentless than the ones in Bangkok or at other places we’ve been to; we must’ve been approached at least 20 times in the first kilometer walk from the pier on the way to our hotel. After a night of no sleep the last thing you need is a bunch of Thai taxi drivers who hover around you like mosquitoes.
We were very relieved to finally arrive at the Wind Beach resort at Sai Ree beach, where we got a room ($30 a night, split five ways. Thailand is great.) and had a chance to rest and swim at the beach.
In the afternoon we decided to trek over the island to a beach on the other side (Ko Tao is only about 2 km wide and 8 km long). The island is surprisingly steep, with a high point around 350 m above sea level. The dirts roads that go across the island quickly become unmanageable for cars, motorbikes, and was even a scramble for just walking. But the trek up is worth it, as the whole island is visible from the central high point and is just far enough away from the beaches and the main road to be quiet. I stayed up on top of the peak to watch the sunset and read.
On Sunday while Sean and Wolfgang went diving, Noz, Laurie and I went snorkeling with Oskari, a Finnish exchange student at Chula and Aino, Saloa, Annas, three friends of Oskari’s who are taking an extended vacation in southeast asia. Oskari is quite the character. He loves to tell about how he has friends/contacts at various locales throughout Thailand, especially Ko Tao. For example, while waiting for our longtail boat, Oskari sits down the owner of a Thai massage parlor on the beach starts chatting with her, links arm, and then offers her some of his beer. I have no idea why he is studying engineering because he would make the perfect business major. Osakari managed to get us 25% discounted rentals on snorkel gear, because he knows the shop owners.
We rented a longtail boat for the day (with a discount, thanks to Oskari) and rode around the entire island, stopping at shark bay and Mango bay to go snorkeling. The snorkeling was great, although not that much different than our previous snorkel trip on Ko Chang. The highlights for me were seeing a school of parrot fish scrounging among the coral and a few clownfish. The sunset was particularly amazing.
I spent the whole day on Monday at the beach relaxing, napping, swimming and reading. I couldn’t help but think of the ridiculousness of being able to spend several days on a tropical island in the middle of an academic term. In truth, I don’t really like Thailand’s touristy tropical islands that much. They’ve been taken over by the tourist industry that caters to affluent Westerners (me included), who are trying to find that “dream vacation” mold of tropical paradise. Tourists spend all day diving, reading, drinking and taking full advantage of their buying power. Such islands are completely disconnected from reality. It bothers me in the same way that the luxury mall complex near our apartment of Siam Center, Siam Discovery and Siam Paragon does. These three malls on one city block use more energy than the entire country of Laos. I can think of a million better uses for that fossil fuel-derived energy than to flaunt luxury items destined for wealthy foreign shoppers.
On Tuesday we did our 12 hours of traveling back to Bangkok, only to discover that the red shirt protests hadn’t ended yet. It looks like they’ll be around for awhile longer, but I doubt the conflict is going to escalate further than it already has. Many of the original 100,000 protesters have left, leaving 40,000 to keep the protests going. More rallies are planned for this weekend.