Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Lot of WTF in Phuket

There are times when traveling where I sometimes barely recognize myself as it seems my approach to life has changed in so many ways and I have become a much more laid back version of myself. Anyone who knows me back home would describe me as a crazy planner. Anyone who has traveled with me would maybe even up that to neurotic planner. I could lie and say that my past intensively planned trips were because I always had 11-14 vacation days so you want to maximize them and not waste any time but that would only be a partial truth. I like excel spreadsheets, I like researching things, and I like and am damn good at planning. Now that I have lost my excuse of 'I have to plan I'm only here for a few days' I have fully embraced not worrying if I spend multiple days in one place without seeing specific landmarks because I can just keep extending my stay and taking long transportation with no schedules is no longer an issue for me because again, I have time! I caught the 9am ferry from Phi Phi Island to Phuket and upon arrival I was very happy to see a set fare taxi stand where I could avoid the hassle of haggling and also take the shared minivan with others. Then I found out my couchsurfing host was in the middle of nowhere and I'd have to take a private taxi for 600 baht, something I was not willing to do. The lady at the counter vaguely explained another option that involved a minivan and a bus so I just said yes and paid the 100baht for the shared minivan. As I stepped outside and tried to figure out which minivan I was in I had a helpful traveler ask me what my destination was and I look at my ticket and realizing it was written in Thai I had to respond that I had no clue. She asked me what my end destination was and my response again was no clue, near Thalang? This was the moment I realized how much my approach to problems and travel had changed in the past that situation would have stressed me out however with my planning I would have never been in such a situation. In the minivan the driver ended up driving around one block for a while asking whose hotel was supposed to be there and finally I clue in and ask him if there is a bus stop near there and soon enough I'm wandering around again with no adequate answer to where I am heading other than my map and a pinpoint that is near no landmarks or major intersections. Through some magic I ended up on a random bus that was the right one, spent a few minutes laughing out loud like a crazy person, got off at roughly the right stop, and after wandering around some suburb for a while looking for the place I had made it to the house and had spent 150bht instead of the dreaded 600.

I arrived at Franz house and was met by my great host and his three adorable dogs and for the rest of the day we hung out in his pool (yes pool) drinking and talking. I had meant to stay three nights in Koh Phi Phi but when Franz accepted my couchsurfing request he said he was bored so why not come a day sooner, next thing I know I'm in Phuket a day early and grateful for it because I'd made a great new friend. We spent most of the day in his pool (yes pool) talking and drinking Chang until the sun was setting and we decided to go and see one of the ceremonies for the Vegetarian Festival that was held almost next to where he lived. I can easily say that the weirdest things I've seen in Asia so far have been in Phuket. During the Vegetarian Festival there is some vegetarian food, truthfully I didn't see much, but the participants also spiritually cleanse themselves by performing different painful acts. So the painful act of that night was walking on fire. We arrived to a huge crowd gathered around the fire and coals and the soon to be fire runners would shake themselves like they were having epileptic fits in order to go into a trance mode and then they would throw themselves at the fire pit running across it. As if seeing that wasn't weird enough afterwards there was this giant pole that a tiny child climbed followed shortly by another man. Once both were at the top they proceeded to do acrobatics that ended with the man hanging sideways with his hands supporting the child who stood atop them. Then the man flung the child down (just a few feet) and turned into a dragon and breathed firecrackers.

A few days later Franz asked me if I wanted to throw firecrackers at people. The closing ceremonies of the Vegetarian Festival involves a procession of the participants walking through the streets of Phuket city as onlookers throw firecrackers at them. Franz had to reassure me dozens of times that not only is it not cruel but they enjoy it because the more firecrackers that are thrown at them, the more spiritually cleansed they become. We found a prime place to watch the craziness, grabbed a few beers and some firecrackers and then the next four or so hours were non stop firecrackers being thrown in the streets. At the beginning I thought things were crazy and that there were a lot of firecrackers flying around. Then a few hours later the procession began and chaos really began. For hours it was non stop firecrackers being thrown, the air was completely white with smoke from it, the noise was unbelievably loud and it was like being in some bizarre war zone. It was crazy but amazing to see and definitely an unforgettable experience. On the way back to the car I did get hit with a firecracker and all I can say is I have no clue how the participants did it because damn that hurt!

The streets littered red from the firecrackers

The day after the closing ceremonies Carlota, the new couchsurfer arrived and I was grateful that she did because Franz ended up with a two day hangover so she was my awesome company for the next few days. We visited a nearby temple together and saw the Big Buddha statue and of course continued the drinking and hanging out in the pool theme. In no time I found myself packing up my stuff to head to my next volunteering gig in Koh Phangan and Carlota who had just started traveling had never heard of helpx. So of course I explain how it is the greatest site ever and she signed up for it and showed me one of the places she was going to apply to. It was the same hostel. She gave them a call and suddenly I had a friend heading with me to Koh Phangan, so I avoided saying goodbye to that wonderful wild woman and now had a travel buddy.

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