Thailand is famous, world renowned for its beaches and scuba diving. If you know the geography of Thailand, it sort of looks like a tree. The trunk of the tree is a peninsula with AWESOME diving, outrageous parties and because of this a backpackers haven. I visited Phuket 2 years ago when I was Thailand but only for a few days. I was only spending about a week more in Thailand because of visa time constraints and chose not to go to the 'trunk' of Thailand and rather the bottom right of the 'leaves' to save time and money, the diving is not world renowned but it is still great. In addition, I had a friend, the one I partied with in Bangkok, Sarah Barr, living and teaching about an hour east of Bangkok. I first stopped in Pattaya to go diving. Pattaya is a beautiful beach town that is a major destination for Thai locals to escape from Bangkok, it is also a major destination for sleazy men who want a 18 year old Thai girl or ladyboy. If you do not know what a ladyboy is, (you have obviously never been to Thailand) but it is a man who wants to be a woman, some in appearance and character and others go further and have some 'adjustments'. The concept of ladyboys is interesting to me because it is so accepted by Thais, it is just part of the culture. Pattaya nightlife is a sad place because I was in the minority for not having a Thai prostitute by my side. However, there is crystal clear warm water full of marine life. I went diving twice in Pattaya, one time throughout a sunk car ferry. This was my 2nd wreck dive and I love them. I am not 100% sure biologically but I think wrecks are such great diving because the coral have perfect surfaces to attach to, which in turn attracts fish. Diving a wreck is weird mix of human and nature and it is an adventure going through small spaces in dark waters.
After Pattaya was Chonburi, where my friend Sarah Barr teaches and lives. Chonburi is a large Thai town but is in no way a tourist destination, does not make an appearance in the Lonely Planet, does not have cheap hotels for backpackers and trying to figure info out online was very tough. To make everything more difficult, I did not have a cell phone and had sent Barr a few emails but had to somehow borrow cell phones from locals, which is tough not knowing any Thai or use phone booths which I struggled much too much with. When I got on the bus in Pattaya and told them Chonburi they thought I was wrong because no foreigners take the bus, the bus workers kept asking 'Bangkok?' and I had to answer 'Chonburi!' I showed them the address and they literally dropped me off on the side of a highway. After showing Barr's address to about 5 motorbike drivers, someone finally knew where it was. Of course it was only about a 5 minute ride from the side of the highway. Barr was living in an apartment building/hotel right next to her school. Her room was very nice, own bathroom, AC!!! and a swimming pool! I had not slept in a room with AC since America, because hotel rooms with AC are always much more expensive and I had only swam in a swimming pool once in Chiang Mai since leaving home in August. Barr was teaching and living with 3 other American girls. The day I arrived in Chonburi happened to be Thanksgiving and also a payday for these girls so we decided to go out for a Thanksgiving dinner feast of rice, fish, papaya salad and of course noodles. The girls had told me that whenever they go out they are starred at very hard because there are no foreigners in Chonburi (and they are good looking girls) and of course to contradict everything, at the restaurant we went to there were two white guys having dinner. Pretty much as soon as the two groups saw each other jaws dropped because the 6 of us might have been the only 6 foreigners in all of Chonburi. Turns out they were American too and we had a great Thanksgiving dinner together, no turkey, no stuffing, no peas, no cranberries (thats all I eat on Thanksgivng) but one I will never forget.
That weekend, Barr and some of her American teacher friends were visiting a festival in Lopburi, just north of Bangkok. It sounded awesome, the town is overrun by monkeys who steal food from unsuspecting humans but once a year the town puts on a buffet feast for the monkeys to go rummage through. I wish I could have gone but the day before leaving, I started feeling awful. Long story short I stayed in Barr's room because it was better than any hotel room I wanted to pay for and recovered. I only had a few more days until my visa expired and my flight left so I did not get out to Ko Samui, an amazing dive site but did make it to Ko Samet, a great dive spot. Ko means island so I took a ferry to Ko Samet. Ko Samet is a touristy island but not the party backpacker scene, which was fine with me as I still was not feeling 100%. I was also able to leave my large backpack in Chonburi and Barr's place and travel for a few days with just my small pack. I had a great dive in Ko Samet and even found a place to rent sailboats. Of course there was not too much wind on the days I was there but I still rented a Hobie (the laser was in sad shape and I did not even want to let myself down by sailing it...I sail and race lasers and this one was a disgrace) and went around for a few hours. My cheap hotel room even had a TV in it, which was a great relief from the heat and sun when I was not feeling great. I will be honest, I stayed in one day and watched Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park 2 and then, you guessed it, Jurassic Park 3. I even watched a college basketball game on ESPN, AMAZING! I rented a motorbike one day and drove around the tiny island and had another right of passage motorbike spill, scratching my leg up pretty bad. Salt water and scabby legs are a painful mix. A few days on Ko Samet, then a ferry ride back to the mainland, one more night with Barr in Chonburi retrieving my bags and then back to the Bangkok and off to Indonesia, my last country!