Status Update: Surfacing for Shirts and Strings

Right then. It’s been about three weeks since my last post: a regrettably blasé draft of a song about my un-regrettably adrenal motorbike ride from Chiang Mai to Pai. I’ve begun to receive a few hey-Alice-how’s-the-view messages, which has coaxed me out of the rabbit hole long enough to write a status update. Wait, let me get coffee, [short pause] and a cookie [shorter pause]. OK, now I’m ready.

Sunday, March 23nd 2014—three restful days have passed since my long-delayed departure from Thailand. Anything but laziness kept me captive in the Kingdom of Smiles [and Scams]. As primary evidence, consider the following two opportunities:

  • Opportunity 1: Climbing in Good Company A very attractive Swiss rock climber and aspiring yoga teacher suggests that I join her in Thakhet, Laos for some breathtaking climbing and related adventures.
  • Opportunity 2: Ruined Temple Run Two near and dear friends from back in the States invite me to join them in Cambodia for the Siem Reap/Angkor Wat tour. Bummed I missed this one—familiar faces would’ve been a really nice change of pace.

Entonces, behold the power of Thailand.

My second month in the Kingdom was just as fulfilling as the first, and well worth that ridiculous visa run to the Myanmar border. I met many more intriguing characters (including Swiss girl): an international campsite of fire dancers; a Bavarian guitarist who bills himself as a one-funny-man show; a moonshiner couple, and their notorious steel and copper still; a Thai baked potato sorceress self-styled as Shampoo, who can transform potatoes into irresistible drunk treats; an American expat who can transform ludicrous quantities of alcohol into bellowed rowdiness and the fastest dancing feet I’ve ever seen; a gorgeous Russian couple who perform on horseback for Cavalia; a German BASE jumper with a tattooed face and eyes poached with adrenaline; a Filipino ladyboy model with a taste for adventure and American ad slogans—there are more but I think I’ll stop here. Don’t want to water down the list.

I’m still working on the 2nd part of the Bangkok post. I had worried about losing details as time and travel progress, but the key moments seem to surface just fine. The delayed writing might help me spare you some of the tedious details, which you’ll probably appreciate. Anyway, the journals will be slow-going, and I’ll try to keep the status updates rolling.

A [not-so-]brief overview of month two in Thailand:

I raced the setting sun on a motorbike over a beautiful 160 kilometers of twisting hairpins through mountains and bamboo jungle, which was enough to earn a “you’re crazy, man” from the owner of a Ko Phangan hostel that I met along the way (if you’re wondering why this is significant, check out full moon parties—the dude has seen his fair share of craziness). I sweatingly swung fire poi, flew and was flown in an acro yoga class, and finally traversed an entire slackline in a field edged with bamboo bungalows at the Pai Circus School and Guesthouse. I camped under the stars for a week with a remnant of the Shambhala in Your Heart festivalites at a Japanese commune called Moon Village, where we bathed in rivers and waterfalls to pass the scorching day and made music, mantras, and moonshine to ward off the nighttime chill. I finally left the north on a rickety sleeper train bound for Bangkok. Though my stopover was graciously brief, I still managed to drop myself into a karaoke bar of food, beer, and thirteen Thai girls who sang for hours for a Swede’s going away party (and the 20 baht bills he was doling them). I dropped in on a golden old college friend during his performance at a Phuket bar crowded with English teaching expats..incidentally, this is also the first time I’ve been simultaneous kissed and muay thai kicked. A day later, we sleeplessly boarded a boat ferry for Ko Phi Phi, where I got my first taste of scaling Thailand’s beach-side limestone cliffs. On Phi Phi I also got my first taste of Thailand’s infamous beach parties. I actually remember most of the events, which include enumerating the uses of a large bucket—to justify that we could do more than drink copious amounts of alcohol from it..which is all we actually used it for—and taking breaks from sand-choked trance raves to jump through fiery rings and over fiery jump ropes. Once my liver stabilized, I escaped to the sabai paradise of Tonsai Bay and its dynamic throng of adrenaline-junkied climbers and BASE jumpers (and a respectable amount of suitcase touting gawkers). Here, I would engage in the Tonsai dream:

  1. Wake up, break the fast with a fresh tropical fruit smoothie, and then sweat through the scores of excellent climbing routes that rise from sand and sea along the bay. To send these routes, you must endure pumpy sequences of overhanging jugs, core your way along overhanging roofs, and even take forward superman falls of faith to distant hanging stalactites.
  2. When the sun and heat becomes unbearable, rinse in the ocean or the cold water shower of your bamboo bungalow and then find lunch and a shaded siesta at one of the open-air beach bars—an only-in-Tonsai question: which is your favorite bar nap spot? [Answer: Chillout Bar's converted longtail boat.]
  3. When the sun graciously leaves the opposite side of the beach cliffs, head in that direction for more blissful limestone climbing.
  4. End the day by gorging on fresh seafood barbecued in tinfoil, and sipping cold drinks on the beach while you watch deft locals spin fire on slacklines and perform brilliant covers of Western classics.
  5. Spend your rest days lying on the beach, snorkeling or diving, getting a coconut oil massage, practicing slackline, playing guitar in a hammock, etc.

I carried out this routine for a blissful ten days with only two breaks: one, a quick trip to Ko Yao Noi, a chilled out island whose limestone cliffs are guarded by sea and the most sketchy motorbike approach over rutted dirt hills and turns; and two, a Deep Water Solo excursion. The latter was a glorious experience—riding a longtail boat out to climb the limestone karsts that rise straight out of the sea, and jumping from heights up to 30 meters into the warm Andaman Sea. My highest jump lasted about four seconds—I will never forget the gut-twisting experience of falling long enough to realize you’re still falling..and then still falling. Most people only get to experience such a drop sans protection in their dreams.

cliffDeep water solo—see more great photos from @tedhesser on Instagram.

My visa ended [again] on the 20th, and so that morning I braved a Malaysian Airlines plane for Kuala Lumpur (thoughts and condolences go out to MH370 flight and its family and friends). And here I am now, in a mall-choked modern city waiting for my Vietnam visa and catching up on my blog, finally. It’s been really nice to regain a sense of reality in a proper apartment with consistent WiFi, and worry about little more than replenishing a few shirts and replacing Alice’s strings. Thanks so much Kitty for hooking me up with your awesome wax therapist friend.

That’s all for now—catch y’all again soon! ~PWALLE

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3 responses to “Status Update: Surfacing for Shirts and Strings

  • Roxanne Reschke

    From your aunts–walking and talking in search of simplicity.

    Status update– We wake, drink lots of coffee, and decide what swimming suit to wear. We then amble to the same spot on the beach we have been visiting for weeks. We search for the resorts’ beach chairs and settle in. We move our chairs to follow the sun. We read and talk until it is time for wine or martinis. We change into real clothes, head for happy hour, and, most often, dine early.

    Your blog lets us live vicariously. Keep sending updates. We love you.

  • Jan Shugart

    That happens all day long as we bathe in our gold lame’ swimsuits…frankly dear nephew, it gets tiring…love, the youngest aunt

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