06 Jan

Thai Mass-‘Ouch’

The massage platform is on the beach with soft sand leading up to it and, when the tide is high, the waves lap underneath in a calm, rhythmic pattern. Dappled sunlight filters through the palm trees and the scent of tiger balm is carried on the breeze as the Thai girls call out to all who pass ‘mass-age, would you like a mass-age’ in their lilting voices.

It’s hard not to give in to the call. At home, a massage costs upwards of $60 for an hour whereas here it’s a measly $9! We have seen massages offered throughout all of our travels but kept telling ourselves that we would wait for the infamous Thai massage so, as soon as we got to the beach, we made a beeline for the platform.

Massage Platform, Koh Pha-Ngan It all starts out nice enough, with a soft mattress and a pretty draped sarong, but before too long I am writhing in pain as the once-kind-and-gentle masseuse digs her elbows into my back and I realize that this is no spa experience. In fact Thai massage is not supposed to be like getting a massage at the spa. It is based on energy channels, pressure points and stretching…and it can be painful.

Massage, Koh Pha-Ngan-2 She starts by pressing gently but firmly all down my back and legs and then slowly increases the pressure and the pointed-ness of the pressure until she finds a knot. Then I know I am in for it. Next, she works on the knot with her extremely strong fingers until it’s released or I beg her to stop.

She is small, but deceptively strong, and can bring me to my knees with one hand tied behind her back…luckily she is also very kind and constantly asks if I am okay and offers to make it ‘less strong’…I  take her up on the offer.

Massage, Koh Pha-Ngan-6 J seems to be even more manipulated than I am. I open my eyes to see his masseuse standing on him pulling his arms and legs in various directions, or twisting him into various impossible positions and then ‘helping’ him to stretch. He communicates with her using grunts and groans as she giggles and seems to get some perverse pleasure in delivering the pain.

When it’s all over we both lie there, exhausted even though we haven’t done anything. She gives us some instructions for stretching later and we drag ourselves to our deckchairs to recover.

On the way to breakfast the next morning we pass by her platform. She calls out and asks if we are ‘kaput’…we respond that ‘oh yes, we are kaput’…and promptly make an appointment for the next morning…it’s addictive.

01 Jan

Happy ‘Full Moon’ New Year!!

Happy New Year 2010 Normally we are the stay-at-home, make-a-nice-dinner, have-a-good-bottle-of-wine kind of New Years revelers. Pretty low key…nice and quiet…just the way we like it. But this year we were near one of the biggest New Years parties on the planet (OK, I just saw that Rio had 3 million partiers, so maybe I’m exaggerating)…how could we not go?

The Full Moon Party is legendary in Thailand and this year, with the full moon coinciding with New Years Eve, it promised to be bigger and better than ever with an estimated 40,000 people expected to come from all over Koh Pha-Ngan and the neighboring islands.

We opted to take the last hotel taxi heading to the beach in order to be there for midnight and to catch the height of the action so, at 10:30, we climbed into the back of the pickup truck with 10 other people to be ferried across the island.

The island is hilly, very hilly, and soon there was a line up of trucks and vans waiting by turns to make it up the steepest of the hills. This was hampered by the 100’s of scooters that honked and scooted their way around all the stalled vehicles only to, themselves, stall halfway up and have to push the rest of the way. The end of 2009 was ticking away and we all wondered if we would make it to the party in time for the big countdown.

Soon, people in neighboring taxis gave up, jumping out into the road and frantically running towards the beach intent on making it in time. As midnight drew closer I realized that I just might be ringing in the New Year with my 10 new ‘truck friends’. And then the line-up started moving, we made it to the drop off point and rushed to the beach with 4 minutes to spare.

Crazy Full Moon Crowd The music was pumping, there were 1000’s and 1000’s of half-dressed, more than half-drunk, fluorescent-streaked bodies moving to the beat and the DJ was marking every passing minute closer to 2010. Soon enough we were all chanting the classic countdown and then, at the stroke of midnight, the fireworks started.

Raining Fireworks They fired skyward right from the edge of the crowd, bursting over our heads and illuminating the whole beach even more than the full moon already was. On and on they went, bigger and brighter…some coming closer and closer. Spent material starting raining down on us making it difficult to continue looking up. Some didn’t seem to go high enough and we watched to make sure that burning embers didn’t fall on us. A few didn’t make it up at all and exploded right on the ground…and then it seemed as though one landed on the fireworks platform…and that’s when we decided to run in the opposite direction in case the worst should happen and the whole kit-and-kaboodle blew up. That’s what comes with age…we ran away while others looked closer to see what would happen…it did explode right there on the platform, and sprayed those closest with burning embers, but the worst did not happen and the rest of the fireworks went off without a hitch.

Full Moon Bucket Time to find a drink. The drink of choice at a Full Moon Party is ‘the bucket’…yup, a sand pail filled with your favorite drink…for Thai’s it’s cheap whiskey, Red Bull, and coke, but we opted for vodka and tonic. I could see how quickly one could plow through a few buckets as there was something fun about sipping our cocktail out of a child’s plaything…the bottom comes very quickly!

Full Moon Fire Limbo I have to say that the Full Moon Party was not as crazy as I had expected it to be. We wandered around for a couple of hours and, yes, I did see plenty of dancing, lots of people drunk and passed out and there was a fire limbo contest, but mostly I saw people like us….wandering around just trying to take it all in. I think I expected more ‘dancing’ (rather than the jumping up and down to the electronic beat), I surely expected to see some nudity (I saw not one single nude person) and I even thought there might be some public copulation going on (although we did see one close encounter). It was fun but, just like many a New Year celebrations, the hype outdid the actuality.

G And The New Years Lantern Before leaving we lit a lantern and, putting all of our 2010 wishes onto it, released it to float skyward towards the New Year full moon. Our 2010 looks bright as we complete our journey, reunite with our family and friends and look forward to what our next Giant Step might be.


Happy New Year!!

21 Mar

Thailand Itinerary

map_of_thailandWe come into Thailand after India. As I’m unsure of how I will feel about India, I’ve designed the Thailand itinerary to allow for some decompression which is, I’m told, what Thailand is all about.

We plan for 5-6 weeks here so there is plenty of time to settle in and to move around. We’ll fly into Bangkok and spend just the minimum amount of time to get our bearings and make travel plans for heading south…to the beaches.

Reading the guidebooks, and talking to friends who have been there, shows that there are countless beaches to visit. It is nearly impossible to choose while reading a guidebook sitting thousands of miles, and a number of months, away. We’ll need some local and traveler expertise while on the road to help us make the final decisions. Although it seems that one can’t go wrong by choosing any of them.

There are a few ‘must sees’ it seems. The island of Phuket, the Phi Phi Islands and Krabi draw many people to their shores – there must be a good reason for it. Beaches, parties (although we are a little long in the tooth), snorkeling, rock climbing and general ‘chilling’, all have appeal.

Once we’ve had our fill of the beaches we’ll head back to Bangkok to enjoy the thriving metropolis that it is. Many travelers would avoid the city like the plague, but we enjoy cities and so will spend longer here than perhaps the average traveler might – maybe up to a week. Bangkok has all that any city has to offer with the addition of some wicked markets – the floating market, and the night market. I’m also interested in seeing Wat Po – the reclining Buddha. There is, obviously, much more to see – we have plenty of time to discover all of it.

Once we’re done with the city we’ll head north, probably by train. We’ll be heading to Chang Mai stopping along the way wherever we feel like it.

Chang Mai, Chang Rai and the surrounding areas offer plenty to see and do.  We can explore the ancient walled city in Chang Mai, take cooking classes to learn how to make the amazing food, relax with a Thai massage, visit countless temples and head into the hills to do some trekking.

I’m looking forward to Thailand for the relaxation, easy traveling, the famously friendly people, the great food and the beaches. From what I hear it is a very difficult place to leave.