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April 24, 2005

Last Day

Bizarre to think this is it.

Moira and I hitched together to Takua Pa early this morning — she caught the bus to Ranong for a visa run and I found one to Phang Nga to see Wat Tham Suwan Khuha (Cave Golden Temple). It's this super cool temple built inside a cave with a reclining Buddha and a bunch of other Buddhas.

I met a young girl there, about 12 years old, her name is Deeyan. I convinced her to come down into the "dark cave" (from the "light cave"), where all the bats were squeaking and hanging from the ceiling. We climbed up toward the stalactites into an area that surely should have been roped off to keep greasy finger oils off the rock. Then she tried to take me through a pass-through that I completely vetoed due to MANY low-flying, screaming bats.

Please click continue below to read more about the wat in the cave.

But she did take me on a wee hike to an out of the-way-cave with three Buddhas in it. You could tell by the path hardly anyone went back there, and the Buddhas were all dusty and there hadn't been incense burning in a while. It was cool, I never would have found that one with out her.

There is a nice waterfall about 6K past the wat in the national park, but I decided to skip it so I could get back to Khao Lak. If I'd had friends with me, it would have been nice to go for a swim there.

I decided to hitch back into town, as the songathew driver I hired from Phang Nga pulled a fast one on me when we got to the wat. We had discussed a fare of 20bht (50 cents), which he repeated a few times. "Twenty baht, twenty baht." Once he tried "thirty baht" and I held firm at 20 (which was the rate the Lonely Planet book had advised).

When we got to the wat, I pulled out my 20bht note and he looked very insulted. He then insisted the fare was 200 baht ($5), which is completely outrageous. You can buy two dinners for that kind of money here, or a pair of pants, or a night in a hotel. It would be outrageous if I'd had three friends with me in the songathew. (If it were a guided, air-con minivan, maybe not as outrageous. But this was a piece of junk songathew, and I had to wait while he filled it with gas — while it was running.)

I tried to work it out with him but was getting nowhere. We each abandoned the discussion at 100 bht ($2.50). It was pretty disappointing; this is the ONLY time I've had a situation like this since I've been in the country, where someone flat tried to take advantage of the tourist. (The prices at the shops in Khao Lak are a little high in the same vein, but they are consistently high, and you are charged either the same or less as the price in the initial discussion—not completely jacked.) Both the town of Phang Nga and the wat grounds felt very touristy, people yelling at you, begging you to buy food, snacks, drinks and peanuts to encourage the disgusting aggressive monkeys out front. (These monkeys make the ones at the center look like private school kids.)

So anyway, I hitched the 10k back to Phang Nga, free. Found a minibus back to Takua Pa right away. Actually it was the exact same bus I took from Takua Pa to Phang Nga in the first place. And it was still playing the same karaoke VCD of some Thai woman singing, like, love tuens. These things are HUGELY popular here. All the buses play them on the little TV in the front. I've also seen bad American movies, and a Thai tranny magic show, which was cracking everyone up. (I didn't get it.)

We hurtled past the lush landscape. Some farms, green palm forests. Many of the houses were a little nicer — proper cement houses with several cars out front, more often than tin shacks without any cars but maybe with a rusty motorbike. Though we passed plenty of those, too. It was a pretty drive, but too hard to photograph at the speed we were moving.

In Takua Pa I found a bus headed to Khao Lak right away...but I didn't feel good about it. It was a tall, air-con coach, and as soon as I got on I felt uncomfortable. Crowded, tippy. So I got right off and hitched instead. It took me a while in the heat to find a car heading all the way to Khao Lak, and not to the market around the corner. But my patience paid off — I found an air-conditioned ride all the way to the front door of the center.

I need to pack up my bags for tomorrow's long adventure. Another volunteer at the center cajoled Christoff, a project manager, to make his Phuket trip on Monday, thereby scoring us a free ride to the airport (a savings of 250-1000bht!). Which then will be followed by abominably long air travel, and punctuated with more abominably long air travel. And some pasty airline food in between.

I hope tonight to catch a swim at the Merlin 5-star resort down the road, then a last-dinner with friends at Khao Lak Seafood. Mellow.

It's hard to imagine really leaving. Giving up this lifestyle of paint-stained hands, sweaty clothes, hungry mosquitoes, showers with no water (disadvantage to cheap rates at the center: sometimes the water goes out). Great food, nearly every night — even when you're not sure what you've ordered, or you're sure, but the server isn't. Leaving projects before they were finished, but knowing they never will be finished, not for a year at least.

Someone asked Heather on Friday how she felt about leaving, and she said, "I feel like I haven't done enough."

I totally understood. We each have been here six weeks, and have sweated like crazy. But we want to do more. There is more to do, even before it's time to properly turn each project back to the hands of full Thai managment. The center is continuing as an NGO, with some shuffling as the proper paperwork is filed, and they hope to attract a lot of college volunteers on summer break.

They will need the help.

Posted by sedda at April 24, 2005 04:26 PM