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Matchstick Men

By Bill

Bangkok is an interesting city with much to see but it can quickly become overwhelming and it is a relief to go. It serves its purpose as a jumping off point for me. I got my bus along the coastline intent on getting to Koh Samet.

After a couple of hours I realized that I was starting to feel funny. I needed to eat. I waited for a while and when we stopped in Chantaburi, I recognized the place and jumped off the bus. I knew there was a place to eat right around the corner. As the bus pulled away I noticed someone followed me off the bus. It was a Japanese woman. Now I don't mean to stereotype but this woman had coke bottle glasses and two of the biggest front teeth I have ever seen. She had a big smile though and said hello in English. We spoke for a few minutes and I said I was going to eat. She asked where and I said "come on" We ate and talked and told our respective stories. She is a grade 9 teacher and is traveling all over in a way similar to mine. It was interesting comparing cultures and lifestyles. After lunch, we parted ways after having a picture taking. She promised to send it my home e-mail address.

I headed back to the bus stop and could not find the bus. I stopped a moto (boy with moped who gives rides for money) and asked him where to get the bus. He spoke a little English and said hop on. The bus lets you off here but you get on somewhere else. He took me quite a ways away and stopped at the side of the highway. I was a little worried because if he just rode off, I would be at the mercy of a speeding bus driver. Luckily he stayed with me and when the bus came he waved it down for me. Good thing too because the destination was not in English. I had to trust the kid that he wasn't putting me on a bus to Siberia. The bus stopped and I said to the driver "Rayong?" he said "yes we go now" and I tipped the kid a buck (half a days wages to him) and got on.

No-one on this bus spoke English but I knew the town of Rayong was the turn off for Koh Samet. The last time I was in Rayong, we pulled into a big bus station and the touts (people trying to sell you stuff) answered my questions and guided me to the right bus. This time the bus stopped in Rayong along the highway and I expected it to turn into a bus depot ahead somewhere. Nope. We kept going. After a few minutes I noticed the highway signs didn't read Rayong anymore and I knew I had a problem. I signaled to the driver I wanted off and he let me off in the middle of bloody nowhere. I started to walk back towards Rayong and as I went I noticed a family just off the road with one of those impromptu houses set up. The son was grinning at me like I had refused to buy a squirrel. He had seen this movie before. He said Koh Samet? I was amazed but cautious and said "yes, please". He disappeared and came back a few minutes later with a moto. Then the price war began. He knew he had me trapped because he had the wheels. But I had the money. Mama came over to get in the debate as well. A bunch of children materialized having heard there was another poor sucker at the roadside. They all came running up shouting their only English word: "Hello". We eventually agreed on 80 Baht (2.40C) to the ferry dock. When we got there he showed me where to get the ticket, a Sprite and a bathroom and saw me onto the boat. Despite the haggling, he had taken me under his wing and I gave him 100 baht instead. He deserved the tip.

The 30-minute boat ride on a fish boat was nice. The salt spray and schools of what look like chum swimming alongside added to the moment. On arrival we all (7 of us) jumped into the back of a songtaew (pickup with benches in the back) and headed off to the other more isolated side of the island. It was dusk as we arrived and the mosquitoes were waiting for us as we jumped off the truck. These suckers were about the size of a small dog flyin around and when they crash into you it hurts. I got hit right away with about 30 of em. It freaked me out big time and I did kind of a strange dance I guess because the children all started laughing. I danced and struggled to get my pack open at the same time. I eventually got the spray on and the mosquitoes retreated, although not happily, to another less prepared victim. It is scary when they are big enough to see the expression on their faces.

My accommodation was Jep's Bungalows. These are thatch huts right on the beach with basic amenities and the bathroom is up the hill. It comes with a built in Mosquito net for 200 Baht (6.40C) A couple behind me listened to the guy explained the rooms and did not like the sound of it. No private bathroom is a serious offence to some western women (my wife would understand) They asked over my shoulder if there was anything else. He said that just off the beach there were a couple of better huts with all four walls and an actual roof. It comes with air conditioning, a private bathroom and breakfast for 1000 Baht (32.50C) While I was prepared to take the beach hut, I was willing to shell out the extra for some comfort. I really needed a shower and I prefer to poop alone.

I stashed my stuff and went to the water. Beautiful. The sun was just going down and the staff were putting out candles in jars along the walkways. I wanted to see what the food was like so I tried to discreetly walk around and look at the others food. There was a guy eating alone so I asked him how the food was. He said it was excellent and he seemed friendly so I asked to join him. He is a lawyer from Chicago teaching English in the south. We ate and talked and told our respective stories and had some laughs at the world's expense. A TV was dragged out onto the beach and everyone gathered around to watch "Along came Polly" After that everyone gathered around the bar for the regular nightly matchstick drinking games. When I realized what was happening I did not want to be excluded. I pulled the bartender aside and tipped him and told him my problem. He winked at me and no problem. "I take care you". All night he made me these great non alcoholic drinks and never said a word. I participated and had just as much fun as the others.

The games are simple mind games where you arrange the matchsticks in say a series of squares or triangles and the trick to is make more (or less) by moving only 2 matchsticks. These where tricky and people were losing badly. I however, retained my sobriety and became somewhat of a champion. The bartender kept my secret though and earned another tip. This bartender had a trick that I thought was amazing. He would take a box of matchsticks and remove one match. He would then reach behind his ear and place the box on his raised elbow. He would then bring the match in his hand down swiftly enough to strike the match before the box fell away. Simply amazing what people can do with a little time on their hands.

In the morning I woke early and walked out onto the sand. This is what it is really all about folks. As the sun came up, the shrimp boats were going out and the colours and smells were exhilarating. It felt so good to stand there with my toes in the sand and the water lapping at my ankles.

I heard there was a heightened Malaria warning for Koh Chang, my next destination. It is known as a malaria hotbed and I had been there before. It just requires the right precautions. One week before leaving I started myself on a course of Doxycyclene. It’s a strong antibiotic that helps fight malaria and other possible infections along the way. That along with diligence on the 95 percent deet spray (don't lick your fingers) and everything would be ok. There was talk of quarantine though so I knew this was more serious and required a pass. I am happy to advance my itinerary by one day and head for the Cambodian border. Maybe I can come back to Koh Samet on my way back and stay for a day or two.

I am looking forward to Cambodia and the Khmer people. I also like the economy. Cheap, cheap, cheap. Luxury hotels (don't use em) are 20US and meals are 25 cents to a dollar. It is also a land of virtually no English speaking people and my pantomime and hand signal skills go into use.

It is only day three on the ground for me here and I am lovin it.

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