Day 3: Waiter knows how I roll
The die said 'Hot Lenongress' tea, but it was thwarted by a restaurant with no hot water. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.
A WAITER returns to my table, politely informing me that the lemongrass tea chosen by the die isn't an option, as there is no hot water. I ask for the lemongrass shake, which it turns out also isn't an option.
Now before anyone gets too excited about a restaurant that doesn't have hot water and is unable to blend a shake, we should note that the power just went out. It appears that with the ample amounts of rain has come a shortage of electricity.
Though anything requiring hot water or a blender is off the menu, juices they have. There are seven options, so by skipping number two (green tea) I give the die a quick role. I count down to the hibiscus juice and point at it for the waiter.
He hesitates. Then looks at the menu. Looks at me. Gestures toward the die. He gets it, or at least he thinks he gets it. But then again, he's not sure.
After a bit of charades, with me counting down the list in Thai (fudging the count to six instead of seven), he picks up the die and smiles.
He drops it on the table. Two little pips stare up at us, like the eyes of a child ready for an adventure. The waiter points at the green tea juice option – number two on the list, and ironically the one I kept skipping.
I nod. He smiles. He was right: the odd man who strode up to the rustic, wooden restaurant dripping water from the tips of his biker gloves was indeed randomly selecting his drinks and food.
The die serves up a delicious serving of fried sweet leaves with oyster sauce and egg, as well as pumpkin with pork – it turns out the better the options you give the dice the better the results.
Waves of light rain and heavy rain do little to dampen the exhilaration I'm feeling from the morning's role. That was exactly what it was about: waking up in the morning without the faintest clue of what the world has in store for you – and then with a flip of the wrist, having just a glimmer of an idea.
Given the option of traveling by destination or cardinal direction, the die said, “Gve me some options of where you'd like to go, Good Sir.”
I obliged: Pak Nam Tapi; Monkey Training School; Khao Sok National Park; and Tai Romyen National Par.
The die took the long shot with a single spot facing up – 180km to Surat Thani City (Surat) to visit Pak Nam Tapi (Tapi River Estuary) for some seafood. The idiocy of driving from one coast of Thailand to the other coast for some seafood didn't dawn on me until I am well on my way.
The plan is to visit the Tsunami Memorial in Khao Lak on the way out to see the 80 foot-long police boat that had been swept about 1.2km inland by the waves. However, lost in my head, I zoom right past it.
I'm a bit disappointed; it seems wrong to pass through without visiting the site.
More than 5,000 people were killed along the Andaman coastline when the waves struck. Though Phuket received a great deal of international attention, communities north of Phuket, such as Khao Lak were more severely impacted.
Nonetheless, I am not U-turning after five minutes of being on the road though, so forward and onward.
As I approach Takua Pa – most well known to me as a popular human trafficking corridor until was mostly shutdown by Thai officers last year – I see signs for another tsunami memorial, as well as an archaeological site. I hit the turn signal and head for the ocean.
A few caretakers of the the Baan Nam Khem Tsunami Memorial are out hacking apart branches that were ripped down and strewn across the road from last night's storm. A few centimeters of water cover entire sections of the road as I approach.
Given the location, it is of course tempting to attempt to draw parallels between the storm rocked memorial site and the true devastation it marks. Such a comparison would simply be unfitting, deceptive and crude. Nonetheless, as I read the names of those remembered on the tsunami wall, I can hear the large waves piling up and lashing the beach front, seemingly on the verge of rising above the shoreline – a reminder of the raw power of the ocean.
Baan Nam Khem was one of the worst hit places in Thailand: 2,000 people were killed when the waves hit the small fishing village on Boxing Day 2004.
“Before the first wave struck, a white line of waves appeared on the horizon, according to witnesses who survived. Many villagers actually took relatives and friends to the beach to see the waves; it wasn’t until they saw a boat being tumbled by the wave that they started to run,” reported the Phuket Gazette Chief Report Chutharat Plerin for the 10th anniversary Tsunami Special we collaborated on with the Asia News Network (ANN) in 2014.
“The wave hit me and my family,” one survivor, Weerachai Nakyim, told the Gazette. “I had my daughter in my arms when the wave struck – she was pulled from my hands. I caught a tree and held on.
“My wife was calling my name when she was washed away – there was nothing I could do. Those are my last memories of my family ... they haunt me.”
Despite heart wrenching stories of survivors, the place doesn't hold the same disturbing, soul stirring energy that I found in the Slave Castle of Ghana or the concentration camps of Germany. Perhaps the difference was the magnitude of life lost, or simply that the site was a memorial and not necessarily the exact point that so many souls departed this world.
Only moments after being back on the main road, a small sign marred by a Coco Cola advertisement points toward a tsunami cemetery. (What advertising potential Coco Cola saw in being part of this sign is beyond me. The association is not the sort of flavor anyone would want lingering in their mouth.)
I pull a U-turn. At this rate I'll never make it to Surat Thani, but freedom of stopping anywhere and everywhere is exactly what makes motorbike travel so special.
I feel excuses for failing the die rising like bile, but I'm determined – if easily distracted.
On the right-hand side is the cemetery, which is apparently maintained by one of the local schools. On the left-hand side is the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification and Repatriation Center (TTVI). The metal mesh gate to the center is chained and locked. A few dogs and cats lay on the wet road on the far side of the gate. Two large chimneys of two blue-roofed crematories stirs something inside me; a feeling reminiscent of when I was in Germany.
“The center was tasked with identifying 3,777 of the bodies recovered from the six tsunami-affected provinces. As of October 8, 2005, a total of 2,363 of the bodies were identified (619 Thais and 1,744 foreigners), which left no postmortem resolution for 1,414 people who had families and lived somewhere in the world before that day. (This of course doesn’t even take into account those whose bodies were never recovered.)” I wrote just last year for the Gazette's “A Decade Ago Column”.
These words, buried in my mind, blend with the reality of the now defunct center before me. It was closed before the one year anniversary of the tragedy. Unclaimed bodies were turned over to the Justice Ministry's Central Institute of Forensic Science.
It might seem like a heavy start to the day, but in reality such darkness never shakes me to my core. Death in all its forms, like life, is fascinating.
And life is so fascinating.
Only with a great amount of effort do I manage to pass up the something-or-other Sea of Fog and a number of other attractions as I steadily work my way along the wet roads of Surat Thani province.
The majestic karst limestone cliffs jutting from the valleys, heavy with jungle foliage, around me are from a lost time. They are also images of home, places I know well and places I love. I know the limestone rock, the fee of it, the texture, from Phang Nga and Krabi.
I take a deep breath in and try to see it again with fresh eyes. To watch as the thick leaves and succulent stalks filling a banana plantation give way to the vines and jungle clinging to the nearly vertical cliffs. To drink in the muddy, swollen rivers as they flood out across the low lying plains, enticing at least one fisherman and his wife to get into a canoe and spread a fine gill net through the water. To imagine whether or not he thick white clouds are ascending from the mountainous jungle like a puff of smoke from a dragons nose or descending into the lush greenery like foam on green tea latte.
It's past 2pm and I've still only had a coffee, which brings us back to the restaurant with no hot water and no way to make a shake.
The rain stops for lunch, but resumes as I mount my bike. My phone has gone on the fritz, manically turning on and off during lunch. It had been acting up because of the magnetic field from my ring I think, but seemed to have snapped, falling into some acid-tripping loop.
I prayed it can be fixed – it's amazing how dependent we as travelers are on technology. Without my phone, how can I show people where I'm headed? Hell, I can't even remember the name of where I am going. Somewhere around Surat Thani City is the best I can muster.
So I plug the phone into my charger, tuck it away from the rain and hope it sorts itself out. (Luckily it does, though I do have my concerns about its future, as I need it for operating my action camera and drone, not to mention the need for its countless other functions.)
Just after 5pm, there is a light warming of the air, the sun is merely a soft, hazy light behind the clouds, but it's the first time in two days it has shown up on stage.
By 5:11, I can see my shadow. It's strange how it is only until your shadow appears do you realize it's been missing. It's seeing an old friend on the road, riding a little ahead of me, but riding with me nonetheless. Not long after, the roads dry – I of course don't. But dry roads are a great start.
I check into My Place @ Surat Thani, whose staff, according to the binder in my room, “are delighted to have you [me] as our [their] guest”.
It's clean, simple and cheap (360 baht for a fan room to myself).
After trudging up several flights of stairs with all my gear and a taking a quick, cold shower, it's time to wrap up the die's command: Go to Pak Nam Tapi.
And going I am.
The area is about 7km from the hotel. It feels wonderful to be back on the bike, but without any of my riding gear. I should have my helmet. I know I should, but instead I put on my Dice Travels baseball cap and role out in a pair of linen pants and my white Zimplex T-shirt.
It's starting to get dark as I pull through what appears to be the industrial part of town. I'm not impressed or even sure I'm heading in the right direction. The area feels devoid of business life, well life in general.
Just as the road appears to end there are a couple neon seafood signs that feel like they are more likely for fishy smelling karaoke than a local dive. The road takes a 90 degree turn to the left as it butts into a local port.
Several hundred meters down the road, it is suddenly lined with cars on both sides. On the left-hand side there are a few local vendors selling some food items. At the end of the road, before it drops into the Tapi River, named after the Tapi River in India, is the place I'm looking for.
The local restaurant is packed. There is nothing more exiting for a traveling foodie than to find a restaurant packed with locals, it's like finding a vein of gold – countless treasures await.
A police truck sits out front – police and local big shots usually know where to get the best grub in town. I snag a plastic chair in the corner of the open-air restaurant, which is bustling with customers and food orders. There is nothing remotely fancy. It is quintessentially a local seafood dive – a vibe that is apparently cross cultural, as the essence of the place is the same as any crab shack that caters to locals in the Gulf of Mexico.
Ecstatically, I flip through an English-language menu – yes, they have an English-language menu. The order comes in big: Fried Black Banded Kingfish with Spicy Mango Salad, Spicy Squid Salad and four oysters with all the accompaniments.
It's a meal to be shared. And probably a meal to be washed down with a couple of beers. But it's just me, and, like anyone on a quest set in motion by the gods, I am simply happy to arrive.
The taste of success better than even I expected. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli