Singapore, Chaweng

Time to go to Thailand again. My routine at home felt like a lackluster rut, so I had to go somewhere. Tim invited me to visit him on Ko Phangan, one of the islands in the Gulf of Siam. I have never visited these islands, and most of the places I have visited in Thailand were memorable and enlivening, so off I go.

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It’s a long flight, 17 hours in the air (after 5 hours traveling to the airport and working through the boarding process). I was worried about seat comfort, sleep, and boredom. On the seat, I lucked out: there is a row of empty seats, nearby, so I take two and can get a bit a sprawl–leaving room for the elderly Indian couple in my row to do likewise. Not comfortable enough to sleep more than a few winks, but tolerable. It turns out I need not have worried about boredom–they’ve got that covered:

(click on images for captions)
I enjoyed two moves. Fantastic Beasts is really fun. Birth of a Nation is really not fun, but compelling. In between there’s Rubenstein playing Chopin, and some Brubeck, Nina Simone and Miles Davis I’ve never heard before. In other words, the list goes way beyond obvious choices.

But I digress: where was I going?

Ko Phangan is a short ferry ride from Ko Samui (sahm-wee), which has a tiny international airport. Most of the flights there are shuttles from Bangkok, but one is from Singapore. It turned out that Singapore Air had a good price this month; the only caution is the 12-hour layover changing flights.

Can’t be helped; all trans-Pacific flights either cost a fortune or have long layovers. And if you have to spend a whole night at an airport, Changi is one of the best. Three terminals open all night to serve travelers from all over the world. All kinds of restaurants, free wi-fi everywhere, pubic places to lie down and rest, even gardens. There are also dozens of exclusive lounges for upper-class travelers, which I can’t get into, and a public lounge which I can, and do, to get a shower and a few hours of deep sleep (in a private-ish cubicle). This doesn’t come free, or even cheap, but I needed it.

Airport Koi&Orchid
One of several Koi ponds at Changi airport, Singapore. This one is surrounded by an orchid garden.

In the morning, on to Ko Samui, where I’ll stay for a few days in Chaweng. My hotel is gorgeous…

Finally, I can lie down in a bed. It’s a bit after 12. When I awaken from my nap, it is already dusk. I could have slept longer, but traffic noise bothers me, and if I wait too long, everything will be closed. Better head into town and see what can be seen.

Chaweng is basically a one-street beach town, the one street that follows the beachfront for miles, with grand resorts and mid-range hotels on the beach side (so there’s never a view of the sea from the street); the other side is crowded with cheap shops, eateries, and massage parlors. Lots of massage parlors: 3, 4, 6 to a block, each with a gaggle of young (and some not so young) women sitting in front, looking for a customer. So many scarcely-employed women! But the official unemployment rate in Thailand is very low, so I suppose these don’t count.

My first night of walking up the street, I don’t see anything photo-worthy. That is, having seen lots of  this sort of scene before, including the walking street lit up at night for the public market (worth mentioning in case you haven’t seen one before).

The foot massage extends well above the knee, but it’s just a massage, relieving the stress of walking around airports all night. 200 Baht for an hour of massage, and a 50-Baht tip–about $7. I’m sure the girls would be happy to do more, but that’s not on my agenda tonight. A simple dinner is even cheaper.

One thing I have not experienced before, though, in such concentration, is the parade of sound trucks. Every few minutes, some truck goes cruising up the street, with amplifiers blazing. From the tone of the announcements, I gather that they are advertising some event, maybe entertainment at a bar or something. Some of them, at least, are shouting in English, but at 80 dB the reverb along the street is so boomy that I cannot discern more than an occasional word. They must think that this is not loud enough to get people’s attention, because most of them also have a drum-and-bass accompaniment that’s even louder.  This is the noise that woke me from my nap; I can still hear them passing by my hotel until midnight.

I book a snorkeling tour for tomorrow… and day is done.

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