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Letter to Ban Phe

Dear Ban Phe;

We’ve had a good two months. From the moment I stepped off the bus, smelled your fishy smell and saw the sad excuse for a public garbage dump on your main road I thought that we might have a problem. However, I quickly got used to the smell of drying fish and learned how to avoid breathing from my nose when I passed the dump.

Fish laid out on the roof of sidecar moto’s to dry out in the sun

The first month brought a lot of fun. Meeting new people and making fast friends, going to class every day and spending a couple weekends on the beautiful shores of Koh Samet. It was a good month spent exploring back streets full of wonderful little shop front restaurants and enjoying the westerner bar, Christie’s.

Lazy days on the beach at Koh Samet

Strings of seashells lining the walkway to the pier

The second month hasn’t been as good as the first, as I watched all my new friends leave, headed home or elsewhere, but it gave me a lot of time to self reflect and enjoy lazy, sun-soaked days. This month saw me get a job, lose a job,** and get offered too many to choose from. I’m happy to say that I’ve now figured out my life and will also be leaving your tourist piers and seashell shops, but not before I buy some of your beautiful seashell jewelry and decorations, my new apartment will bear memories of you.

Throughout these two months I’ve been amazed at how accepting and wonderful your citizens are. They are always willing to help and are genuinely curious about you and your life. I will be sad to say goodbye to all the friends I’ve made here that I’ve only ever been slightly able to communicate with. But to those who have helped me learn the little Thai I know, thank you. I could not have done it without you. Despite you wanting to practice your English, I am grateful for the conversations we had in Thai, ordering and paying for food. It’s a start!

To the staff at Christie’s; you were always a pleasure. I don’t know how you girls make every single customer feel welcome not only in the bar, but in the town. I thank you for taking us newbies under your wing and showing us Beach Bar and for constantly running to 7-11 when Sam requested more Spy Coolers.

As I pack my bags to leave this humid “non-touristy” beach town, with it’s abundance of tourist bars and restaurants. I’m sad to say that I can’t help but think of the negatives: I was just not meant to see the Rayong Aquarium, the only tourist destination aside from Koh Samet, your clinic could use a better doctor, and your beaches could use a full sweep from all the rubbish that has washed up on shore.

I will miss the quiet streets and my even quieter guesthouse, with only the random weekend wedding preventing me from sleeping until the god-awful hour of 11 PM. (How dare they? Don’t they know that some people don’t have lives and that Thai pop makes their ears bleed?) I’ll miss watching sunsets over the main strip. 

Sunset over the main strip leading into town

I will miss the friendly smiles as I walk down the street, from the guy who lives in a shack in the field and takes care of all the puppies, to the staff at Christies and the old woman at Bedrock who is a seriously amazing cook and last but not least, to the staff that work here at Koh Kaew resort. Quiet little Boo and her German boyfriend, Yergan, the new cook, Lot, and the old man who seems to spend his days and nights on the couch viewable from my patio have always been nothing but accommodating and friendly. Welcoming smiles from those that recognize you and are truly happy to see you will be something that I remember fondly about Ban Phe. (And, of course, the smell of squid)

Yours truly,
Nicole

** I don’t want to focus too much on it, but on getting and (rather quickly) losin) a job here in Ban Phe:

I was ready to settle in, as is evidenced by a previous post deleted in anger. The job itself would have been mediocre, but the staff I worked with would have made it alright and the pay for the work was more than acceptable. However, in true Thailand fashion, things sometimes just don’t work out as well as planned. It’s best to shake my head, say “mai ben raiand move on without (too many) expletives. Lesson learned: approach pilot projects with utmost caution.

I’m glad for it now, as I’m ready to move on and explore a new town and gain a different experience of life here in Thailand.

Ha Long Bay Cruise

A fishing Village with the best view in the world

Much like the beauty of the Limestone Mountains in Vang Vieng, Laos, the beauty of Ha Long Bay can simply not be described. So I’ll describe the boat and ride and post some pictures instead.

We arrived at the ferry docks the day of our tour and got on the boat after only a little waiting, just enough time to buy and drink an overpriced, harsh tasting tourist coffee.

The boat we ended up on was quite beautiful, complete with “VIP” written on the side. We felt special. Not to mention after a couple days’ talks with other people on the boat, we still paid less. Awesome

Our guide spoke incredible English and explained exactly what it was that we were going to be doing in the next couple hours, so we all sat back and got to know each other while we eagerly awaited lunch to be served. I don’t know how we do it, but everywhere we go, Melisa and I always find the Canadians. So we end up on a boat with three Canadians teaching at the Canadian International English School in Beijing, a couple Newfies and an Australian girl who also has Canadian Citizenship who may be doing a year at U of T next year. (Her uncle also works at York) That’s 8 out of 16 people that have Canadian roots, all on one boat. It IS a small world after all.

Surprise Cave formations complete with lights

So we spent most of the first day dumbstruck at the beauty of everything around us, and take a hike through a couple caves. One was the Surprise Cave and the other was the Bo Nau Grotto. Both were beautiful, the first was discovered only about 5 years ago and some of the stalactites and stalagmites have been recognized as animals, the image of Buddha, and even shadows of Romeo and Juliet. The exit has a place for any other discoveries that people may notice in the shapes of the rock formation.

The second cave was home to the Vietnamese army, where they would hide out when they were sharpening their weapons in preparation against the Mongolians. Our guide explained that when they enticed them into battle, they would hide out in the cave and wait for the water to recede; causing the Mongolian boats to be impaled by all the rock, and planted steel tipped spears, under the water. Walking through, I could almost feel myself walking back in time watching the commander and all his men plotting their battle win.

After seeing the caves we waited on the pier for our boat to come around and pick us up, it’s at this point that there is a serious boat traffic jam and our boat crashes into the side of another boat. No big deal all the crew claim and help us all onto the boat. At this point, we all start to notice the dents and broken sides of our boat and all the other boats around us. Turns out those boat drivers in Ha Long Bay are just as careless as motorcycle drivers in Hanoi.

My only regret about our tour of Ha Long was that it wasn’t warmer so we could sunbathe while watching all those amazing rock formations slowly move past as we cruised through the bay, I’m sure that there would have been more activity in the fishing villages and that we may have been able to see the fisherman at work. Although at one point, our giant junk boat got caught up in the line of a tiny little boat and pulled them almost a kilometer before the crew recognized their frantic screaming and stopped to allow them to untangle themselves.

Despite the cold we got into Kayaks and steered ourselves through a mountain tunnel that I am absolutely in love with, and around the bay. Later some of the people in the group went swimming, despite the frigid temperatures outside and the fact that everyone else was wearing double pants, double sweaters and scarves. (Turns out we weren’t the only ones completely unprepared for the cold weather.)

Kayak tunnel: my favourite place on earth

All in all it was a great three days away from the city, and despite the frigid weather and wind keeping us inside the cabin, we made the best of it.

And no, the Aussie children were not on our boat! I think the lady we booked with hooked that up after we told her that we weren’t actually friends with them.

“In the end its not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away”