Friday, July 18, 2008

Koh Yao - Day One

No matter what, something bad always happens on our intra-country flights. When we went to Thailand in 2004, it happened on our flight from Chiang Mai (coming from a hotel that we loathed) to a remote island that we had built up in our minds as paradise. When we got to the Thai Airways boarding desk, they said that they gave our seats away because we didn’t call 24 hours in advance. Nothing on the boarding agreement said anything about that rule. Hours later, we negotiated our way on another flight and arrived in Phuket so late that we missed our transfer to the island and had to stay the night at another crappy hotel. In Guatemala in 2007, it was our flight from Flores to Guatemala City. We were leaving the jungle to go to this beautiful old Spanish-style city surrounded by volcanoes. When we got to the airport, we found out the early flight had been canceled and that they may cancel this one too. Just because. We ended up getting to Guatemala City two hours later than scheduled and then spent another three in the freezing cold luggage area with no bathroom while we waited for our luggage to go all the way back to Flores and return again, thus earning Taca Airlines the dubious nickname of Caca Airlines.

This time, I was prepared for the worst and planned for it as well. I packed emergency clothing in my carry-on (for an island, this meant one dress, one bathing suit, one pair of flip flops and two bottles of sunscreen), had the concierge call Thai Airlines 72 hours in advance to confirm our reservations, ensured that I had no hairspray, no lighter, no matches, no nail clippers and so forth in my purse, and headed off totally comfortable in the fact that we would be on that plane. Confident, we approached the ticketing agent who was all smiles. She found our reservation, went to print our boarding passes, and then said, “credit card?” I informed her that the tickets were paid. She politely informed me that the credit card that we made our reservation with was required to be shown before she gave us boarding passes. I, not so politely, informed here that absolutely nowhere on the boarding agreement did it say that. She wouldn’t budge. Also not so politely, I dropped the f-bomb at her. She recoiled and I immediately felt terrible. David took over and found out that we had to go to the ticketing department, purchase new tickets and have the old tickets refunded. Considering that I am still waiting for Thai Airways to refund $500 of tickets from May when I found that they had the tickets cheaper and bought them again (under their refund policy), I wasn’t quite convinced that I would see the money any time soon. We were traveling with our debit card only, so it was a damn good thing we had the flexibility to pay for that unexpected expense.

We made it through three security checkpoints and were going through our very last one with the gate in clear sight when David got stopped. “This is going to be bad,” I thought and it was. In the agent’s hands was a bottle of our favorite scotch, Glenmoragie 18 year, purchased for a pleasing price at Taiwan’s duty-free store. What ensued was 15 minutes of me, David, one agent, and three other agents that would occasionally come over to listen to the conversation while none of the agents actually spoke English. This made it very hard to communicate that it came from the duty-free store (even though it was in a duty-free bag). Eventually, someone got it and asked to see the receipt. David went pale, said that it was in his checked luggage, and this is how our plan to save money at the Paradise (by drinking our expensive scotch for cheap instead of the reverse at their beach bar) went into the garbage. The agents said that there was possibly no way that we could get his bag checked in time as the plane was leaving at any moment. With that, after trying to shove the bottle on the agent, I cringed as David threw it into the garbage. We then sat in the airport terminal for another hour while our flight was delayed.

We had a non-eventful but freezing-cold flight to Phuket where the immediate heat and humidity that greeted us was welcoming. We located our driver from the Paradise easily and were driven to the dock. I’d have to say that the Phuket airport is the prettiest ever, with lush tropical trees and beautiful ocean surrounding it (well, maybe a tie with the airport on the Big Island of Hawaii). Soon we were at the dock, much changed from the last time we were there. After a nice cup of tea, we were headed back to “what we see when we dream”.

David said that it felt like coming home. We knew the boat route, we knew which bluff we needed to go around to arrive at our destination. With no visible signs other than the shape of the island, we just knew. Our bodies remembered every feeling, every sight that they saw on our last trip and stored it away for future reference. This isn't like coming home to the same boring thing but instead is coming home to jade green waters, limestone formations jutting out of the ocean, sometimes with beaches and large terrain, sometimes with a single, fauna covered towering rock. I was happy to be headed back to my weakness.

We were met by familiar faces and enthusiastically met by Man, confirmation that we made an impression on him just like he did on us. When we travel, we’re usually the ones drinking or going clubbing with the staff. I think that it is our cultural understanding and genuine friendliness that allow us to make so many friends abroad.

I had requested room 282, a jacuzzi villa overlooking both bays. As there was construction nearby and we were return customers, they upgraded us to a pool villa. That made it entirely worth losing the scotch. It was the best of the villas, set back from the main path with gardens that were very private, an excellent view of the ocean from both in and out of the infinity view pool (5’5” deep, perfect for swimming). While the layout was similar to the jacuzzi villa, it was on a much grander scale. Huge shower room, dual sinks, a dressing room, a toilet room, a closet almost as large as my office. There was also the nice addition of an outdoor swinging bench, an outdoor bar, and plenty of outdoor seating.

First step, eat lunch. Second step, change into swimwear and camp out on the beach. We spent the first six hours of our time there between the ocean, the pool, and smoking Cubans on the loungers in the sun with nothing but the sounds of lapping waves and birds to keep us company. It is absolutely amazing how exhausting just lying around can be. We lounged away hours, playing in the sand, taking photographs.

The new general manager, Michael, had implemented a manager’s social night which happened to be on the night of our arrival. We showered, got dressed up a bit and popped on down to the beach bar for many rounds of the deliciously fruity and knock-your-socks-off house drink and plenty of appetizers. This was a nice addition as it provided an easy forum to socialize with other guests and get to know the general manager as it may come in handy later. Thai cuisine has these little lettuce wrap things are made with basil instead. I think that they are absolutely to die for and had to keep myself from parking out at the wrap station once I realized that they were serving them.

I would have camped out and not cared what anyone thought of me scarfing down wrap after wrap if I didn’t just have the feeling that I was being watched. There was a couple around our age sitting next to us at the bar and I just felt eyes piercing into me but, whenever I looked, neither of them were looking at me. David decided to improve the tension by taking the walk back to the room so he could get his camera and geek out with the professional photographer who was there. Alone I sat at the bar, twiddling my thumbs. The couple eventually joined the manager at a beach table but I still had this feeling of eyes piercing through me. I finally just got up, walked over, and said “My husband’s disappeared. Do you mind if I sit down?” And that is how we ended up meeting Gokce and Gokce, a Turkish couple married the day after us, that we dub handsome Gokce or beautiful Gokce to differentiate which one we are talking about what with their same names and all.

Beautiful Gokce, an English teacher, was absolutely engaging. Handsome Gokce, a civil engineer, was more reserved mainly due to his discomfort speaking English. As the night wore on, and the drinks kept coming on, handsome Gokce became less self-conscious and more talkative and all four of us were engaged in lively banter. Beautiful Gokce mentioned that she kept staring at me because of my eyes, a blue that she said she had never seen before and matched perfectly to my shirt. She kept saying a blessing in Turkish that was something about keeping curses away from my eyes.

After hours of drinks at the bar, we headed over to the main restaurant grabbing a table for four in the sand. Thai buffet night…we all dug in. Eventually, we were doing tequila shots. Round after round until David finally noticed that our server was ever-so-slightly pacing back and forth behind our table with a quiet demeanor common to the Thais. Well past closing time, we were the only guests left. Calling it a night, we drunkenly tromped back to our rooms. The Gokce’s were in a pool villa next to ours so we took their main path back, saying goodnight as we continued on. Right after their villa, the path ended and we had to tromp through the grass and bushes in the dark to get to our villa. Alas, we had taken a wrong turn. Not having seen a snake last time we were on the island, I felt confident that there would not be a snake in the bush. I’d save that for another night. In the meantime, we blew out all of the candles that had been lit by the staff and crawled into bed, mosquito netting firmly tucked in place. Day one was complete. We were at home, we were comfortable, and we had seven more days to look forward to.

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