Two nights ago I began a journey which led me straight to where I most desperately didn't want to be
I am crammed into a small hotel cheek-by-jowl with too many others on a Thai island.
It started out innocently enough. Faced with limited time and a lot on my mind, such as selling my home, packing, recovering from surgery, more imminent surgery, oh the typical, I did my level best to plan a month in Thailand. I've been here before, so this time I wanted to head somewhere new.
When I am short on time sometimes I just pick a spot on a map. Not likely to do that again.
For my third week, I picked Sri Racha, and a hotel there, having absolutely no clue what I was headed for. Nor did I have any clue what was going to happen after I got there. But I am ahead of myself.
I'd already spend a lovely week in fast-growing, busy Chiang Mai doing what I most love: massaging tigers and playing with elephants. Then I took four days' pure gorgeous rest in more rural Chiang Rai. There I found a small spot on a pond, where the view from the glass windows was as gorgeous as any top-notch resort without the price tag, noise or the trouble.
I wish I had stayed there. But I left.
When I got to the airport, I'd already been alerted by one airline that kindly, we moved your flight. TWELVE HOURS later, which completely screwed up my timeline. Instead of trying to deal with them (you can't), I made another reservation, only to discover that because of a very confusing website, I'd bought a ticket from the wrong city. My fault, not theirs.
So in a rush I had to buy ANOTHER ticket, so by now I've invested in three airline flights which should have told me something. When I landed in Bangkok, along with many others, I ended up waiting some two hours more for a bus driver for a long ride south because, well, traffic.
By the time we stopped in Sri Racha, I knew I was in trouble. Far away from the soft greens and quiet of Chiang Rai, this was industrial hell. Loud beyond loud, with pickup trucks trolling the streets with speakers on full volume. I thought my ears would bleed.
If you want your sales pitch to be heard above the noise, you have to get louder. Sadly, there's a problem with that because the next guy is louder still, and the next guy is louder still. I escaped into my hotel.
The hotel was smack in the middle of all that, surrounded by garbage-filled alleys with no tourist services, not even a fruit stall. No stores but a 7-11, not your best place to get supplies.
The room stank to high heaven of some intense, overwhelming industrial room freshener. It was so bad that I had to open all the available windows and doors, which of course let in the brutal heat, bugs and noise, but did nothing at all for the stink.
If you have a sensitive schnozz, and I do, this isn't a whole lot of fun. It's funny, but not fun.
The bathroom reeked of mildew, which may be why the housekeeping was using such potent chemicals. The staff were terribly sorry but the stench had integrated itself into everything: pillows, towels, the walls. It was unbelievable. Unlivable.
I got a migraine.
If you can't see what's funny about this, and most can't, you will understand why I travel solo. This WAS funny. I had left heaven in Chiang Rai for this. Well, it's nothing if not an education. However...
Stuck here for a WEEK? I cancelled all my local excursions and threw myself into finding something better. I found an island, a place that promised a quiet beach, and booked the rest of my time. I saw photos of what appeared to be a free-standing spot, read promises of a quiet beach. I was sold. Stupid me.
You would think that a girl who grew up in Florida, subject to all the hype and tripe of the overwrought tourist business, would know better. I so badly wanted relief from the industrial chemical smell I bought the week in what I honestly believed was a small, isolated hotel on a small, isolated beach.
You can see what's coming, right? First of all such things rarely exist anywhere any more. That's the first clue. Second. If they do, only Elon Musk can afford to stay there. Not this budget traveler. But I wasn't thinking. I was trying to get out of the smelly room and away from the sirens.
Desperate times make for desperate choices. I headed out. A tuk tuk to the main highway, to my eye and long long experience no different from any of the busy highways heading through Miami, and got on a local mini van where not a soul spoke a word of English.
That is also superb fun. First, others know what the driver is telling me, and they use hand language to explain. Second, we all find it funny. Because it is funny. The driver is barking at me to get all the way in the back, I have no clue what he's saying, and then the entire van full of people points at me, then to the back row, which is blissfully empty. That is hilarious.
I have been forced to download all kinds of apps this trip, and the translation one has gotten a lot of serious wear. While I am terribly clumsy at most apps I was able to get my dying phone to work long enough to ask a few questions of the passengers to help me get where I needed to go,which was a very long way from Sri Racha.
By the time we reached South Pattaya, unbeknownst to me THAI TOURIST CENTRAL and in many ways even worse than where I'd just been, I realized my mistake.
I thought I had been transported to southeastern Florida. Sure looked like it except here people don't flip you the bird, nobody is sitting on three telephone books to be able to see over the dashboard and everyone is going twice the speed limit. (I can say those things, I am a born and raised Floridian)
Somehow in my addled brain I kept thinking that the further south we went, we'd eventually hit rural, right? The condos rose higher, the shoreline encrusted with all kinds of buildings and restaurants and homes, the water populated with every kind of seafaring boat.
However, hell, I was committed. I paid my driver, found a speedboat in the masses of tourist throngs, and we headed across the short bit of ocean to Koh Larn.
By the time we hit the docks where I was accosted by an army of motorbike drivers, I had about thirty seconds left on my phone. Just enough time to reach the hotel, and get them to send a pickup for me. I sat there in the intense, wet heat, dripping sweat and festooned with my bags.
I loaded onto the truck and watched the shops, hotels, scads and scads of houses and hotels under construction with barely an inch between them go by.
Well, crap. Not exactly a remote hotel on a remote beach. But the photos sure looked like it.
Anyone who has ever been to Phuket's very busy beaches, or Ko Phi Phi Island, can relate. Some folks like that kind of intense party down vibe. The teeming masses of people, the shops crammed cheek by jowl and tourists towel by towel on sand that nobody can see or enjoy.
I DO NOT. Never have, never will, but it still has enormous appeal to many.
If anything, the older I get the more I prefer a slightly run-down, rural resort with plenty of busted planks in the walkways, a very generous family to run the thing and not a whole lot to do other than think, write and relax. Granted, I need my serious adrenaline rushes too, but I cannot live, nor do I wish to vacation, in such frenetic environments. They are even more stressful in some ways than living in such cities, for the idea is to get away from it all.
Here at least, most come just for the day. We'll see.
The challenge for any traveler these days, and that includes those of us who know better or should by any measure, is that getting away from it all is exceedingly difficult. Any good photographer can carefully edit their photo in such a way as to utterly convince the viewer into honestly believing that the bristle of tall condos doesn't exist, that you are, in fact, looking out at a sunset solo rather than likely to be jostled by people and pushcarts.
Add to this the punishing heat, the overcrowding, the overwhelming noise, the traffic, and it's no wonder that I landed here irritable and overheated. The Thai people, being endlessly patient, allowed me some space. I apologized, everyone was happy, and I headed up to my room. Nothing like an honest apology to take the weight off. There was a cool hallway, and a lot of hope when I opened the door.
Where the promised ocean view was basically looking into someone else's busy back yard.
I am of course paying a lot more to be here than I was in Chiang Rai. The humor isn't lost on me, nor are the lessons.
One of my favorite Medium writers just penned a piece wherein he reports leaving Land o' Lakes, not far from where I was born and once a sleepy sleeper town north of bustling Tampa, for an as-yet-unnamed Oregon town. LOL is the home of an old high school friend whom I have on occasion visited over the years. So when he reported the loss of the ancient oaks and cow pastures to breakneck drivers and ill manners and concrete boxes called homes, I knew whereof he spoke.
I saw that happen to Winter Haven, too.
And every other quiet sleepy town where city people moved, desperate to get away to a quiet sleepy town. But soon there's a Walmart and a Costco and highways and highway expansions and condos, and there went sleepytown.
The world at large, and I am witness to it on my travels, is fast running out of sleepytowns. Lonely Planet tips on those secret places, articles about those gorgeous little mountain towns...after a while, nothing's a secret any more, and there aren't many places left. I am not writing about some of the places I find for that reason alone. Terrible thing to say, and yes it may be selfish. But not to the people who beg me to please, don't write about where they live.
It won't be long before someone does, and there it goes.
So much editing has to go into making a slick brochure convincing enough to get this seasoned traveler to bite. When I am short on time, I'm an easy mark. I want to believe. We all do.
I am not going to move again this week. It takes so much energy, it is so damned hot, there is so much traffic and stress involved. Besides I have located a hang gliding outfit (right up my alley) and if you're willing to go out of the way, there are indeed beaches where there are far fewer folks. That is also right up my alley, and again, a message for us all. To get away, these days, you really do need to put in more effort.
When I leave here on the 18th I will have just over a week left, and I plan to maximize it as best I can. More ellies, horses and tigers.
And this time, I am going to Khao Lak, which you may recall, got hit with a horrible tsunami in 2004. It has recovered, but high season is two months away. That means that while I'm there, the place will be pretty quiet.
I enjoy that wherever I can. It's increasingly precious. For those who are still in love with the party vibe, wait a while. When it comes time for you to prefer a little peace, you might also find out just how hard that is to find in today's world. Just....quiet.
The older I get, the more I realize that I'm going to have to work a lot harder to ensure that the place where I land is the place that is pictured. These days, that's increasingly not the case. Tomorrow I will wake up here at my "resort" to roosters, construction, traffic, and a skyline full of buildings and pollution.
So I will need to, pardon the pun, "resort" to a little escapism here for a few days to see if I can indeed find some of that storied white sand and that goreous turquoise water. It's around here somewhere. But if I find it I'm not telling anyone.
Next time I am staying in Chaing Rai, here is where I'll be. To me, this is what a true "resort" looks like:
But that's just me.
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