Bangkok, The Scramble For Koh Phi Phi, and the Cambodian Mystery Death Infection

My titles are nothing if not dramatic.

When we left off, Ellen and I were taking a minibus ride to Bangkok. It was a frustrating trip because we stopped at a gas station nearly every hour, which meant I bought a lot of unpronounceable Thai snacks. Some were tasty; some tasted like burnt wood.

Now, because I am clearly a charming little tourist (and humble) I made friends with the couple sitting next to me. Ellen was not sitting to me; she had done what she always does on motorized transportation and passed out in the back. It’s a pretty amazing skill, actually. Anyway, the pair next to me were Dutch travelers who spoke excellent English. I mention this interaction because it scored us a dinner date once we arrived in Bangkok. After wading our way through a veritable army of pushy taxi drivers, we walked about twenty minutes toward the backpacker district of Khao San before stopping for dinner.

After, we wandered the streets until we found the guesthouse we had booked online (again, the night before). The place, called the Amarin Inn, was run by a remarkably spastic and wildly gesticulating owner who spoke nine words of English, three of which were variations on the word, “deposit.” We dropped our stuff in our room and headed out to Khao San to see what was there. We had a grand plan to stay up late to watch the Euro Cup game, although spoiler alert: we were too lame to make it past midnight.

Khao San was a short street closed to motorized traffic. It was a brightly-lit, incredibly busy and loud strip full of young, mostly dirty travelers drinking large amounts of alcohol. Vendors pushed carts down the street selling fried grasshoppers and beer (no, seriously). Women on the sidewalk invited us to see “ping-pong shows,” which I will not describe here for fear of being censored by WordPress. Google it if you want to know.

Most bizarrely, I ran into a pair of old Capital Camps buddies of mine, Brits on vacation for a few weeks. It turned out they were heading the next day to the same island as us. Small world.

After the fatigue of spending nine hours in a bouncy, dusty bus hit us, we turned in. We had to get up early the next morning to make a flight down to the west coast of Thailand and the beach!

…About making that flight. To catch a 10 am flight, we hopped in a cab around 7:45. The plan was to take a short ride to the nearby tram station, which ran high-speed trains to the airport every half-hour. The tram stop name was “Praya Thai,” and we had the map to back up our hasty pointing. The map was in English, but we figured a taxi driver would recognize the layout. Wrong.

The driver who picked us up spoke zero English. When we tried to make him understand where we wanted to go, it didn’t work. He seemed to think we wanted to go to the airport, which was true, but couldn’t seem to understand that we didn’t want to take a taxi all the way there. Eventually, he got frustrated and started screaming “PRAYA THAI! PRAYA THAI!” as he zoomed off with us in the backseat.

We had no idea if he was going the right way. What ensued was a thirty-minute cab ride (the tram stop was six blocks away from where we were staying) while the driver jabbered loudly at us in Thai the entire way. He did not seem happy.

Eventually, he dropped us at… a gigantic bus terminal. Bangkok has three bus terminals, and all three are way outside the city. We had no idea which one we were at, but it definitely was NOT where we wanted to go. Frustrated, we paid the driver and just got out.

After wrangling with a different driver, a security guard, and a bus station information staffer, our council finally discerned where we wanted to go. We got into another taxi and finally went to Praya Thai – thirty minutes of driving later.

Now late, we hustled up the train station to find the tram. As we were walking, I felt in my pocket to make sure I had my passport and wallet and – hey, wait, where’s my phone?

Sh*t. Now I have lost my camera and my phone in a one-week time frame. It must have slipped out of my pocket somewhere along the crazy taxi ride from hell. I was already pissed off from being late (those of you who know me well know I do NOT like being late) and now losing my phone sent me into a fury. I didn’t speak for about an hour. Ellen kept her distance.

We arrived at the airport 42 minutes before our flight departed. They normally close the gate 45 minutes before to check-in; we found a sympathetic agent who managed to sign us in. As we cleared security, we heard our flight’s final call.

We took off running. The signs made it seem like our gate was a short sprint away; instead, it turned out to be “500 m” distant. 500 m doesn’t sound so far until you try making it with your backpack (which, by the way, you are going to try and carry on to the plane). We amazingly made it to the gate with seconds to spare.

The short hour flight to Krabi, a beach town that happens to have an international airport (odd? I thought so too) went uneventfully. We took a bus, and then a ferry, to finally reach Koh Phi Phi. After a crazy morning, we eventually managed to check in to our room, a really pretty standalone bungalow about thirty feet from the beach.

Koh Phi Phi (pronounced “ko pee pee”) is a beautiful, small island where the movie, “The Beach” was filmed. It’s small enough that motorized transport is forbidden on the island, and the pace of life proceeds at the speed of sloth. Wonderful.

We signed up to go scuba diving the next day, then hung out on the beach drinking things with umbrellas in them. Perfect.

Except not. When the sun went down, I developed a splitting headache and started seeing everything spin around. I tried to stay up late – really, I did! – but eventually gave up and went to sleep around 10.

I woke up two hours later in a feverish sweat, alternatively freezing cold and melting hot. I thought my head was going to explode – and I had no Tylenol or anything to alleviate the pain. Needless to say, that was a bad night.

In the morning, I told Ellen she would have to go on diving without me. After she left, I tried to find something for my head – but nothing opened until 10am on the island, so I was left in the fetal position for another three hours before I got any relief. Finally, I slept.

And slept. And popped more Tylenol. And slept more.

As the day changed to the next, I got worse. I had clearly picked up some sort of bug in Cambodia. I didn’t develop a rash, though, so apparently it was not dengue fever as the pharmacist who sold me the Tylenol predicted.

I don’t have much else to say about Koh Phi Phi. I wish I could have appreciated its beauty a little more, besides a three-hour period where I felt brave enough to venture outside and promptly got horrifically sunburned (a souvenir I’m still dealing with today). Instead, I spent most of my time curled into a ball, shaking miserably and picturing small microbes swimming around my body, exploding cells. (This is what happens when you take too many science classes.)

A couple days later, we flew home. I would write about the abject misery of flying twenty hours, wedged into an airline seat while feeling sick enough to contemplate pulling the emergency exit door to get some fresh air. But it’s too depressing. So on that note, my travel posts end; it took me nearly a week of home care and antibiotics to kick the bug. All told, though, traveling was exactly what I wanted to do as my break between postbac and starting work.

Next time, I’ll post about the craziness of secondary hell beginning, plus the anxiety of waiting for your MCAT score.

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