This dress that was talked about by Geeta

When I first wore the dress, I felt so much better. It was lighter than all the clothes I had brought. But surprisingly, it was also the topic of discussion of a fellow traveler in our group. The dress was everything that I didn’t normally exude of my personality. It was an embodiment of the ideal me.

For the past few months before the trip, I was cutting back on all my random (unneeded) purchases—clothing, replacing broken items, refilling essentials, impulsive gift-giving…and my selfish and generous side was suppressed until the moment I stepped in a country where I was led to believe everything was worth buying.

At the touristy floating market, I spotted a colorful dress on the wall, placed carefully next to other knee-length single color dresses.

A few months earlier, I had walked by Charlotte Russe in the mall and hesitated, not wanting to spend money that I didn’t have. Chris guided me back to the store, encouraging me to look at the displays. Then I unleashed my inner student studying the way they had layered clothes. I observed and marked in my mental notebook that bright colors that seem to clash go well underneath an outer layer of a single color.

Having always been a conservative dresser, I was now affected by the urban lifestyle of San Francisco. Working at a design studio, I felt that I could not just wear my plain colored tops and bottoms. There had to be a slight effect, a slight unique, personal touch. It had taken me years to be comfortable with wearing tank tops and spaghetti straps (tube tops don’t work on me though). And only recently, mini-skirts swung my way.

So there was this dress. Brightly colored. Thin fabric. Patch work. If worse comes to worse, I could always cover it with my long cardigan with a hint of color.

“That is pretty,” a saleswoman said as I was looking at it. She immediately brought it down from the wall with a pole.

“Will this fit me?” I asked holding dress in front of me.

She nodded in response. “How much?” I asked.

“950 baht.”

That was almost $30 USD. I hesitated, but because I really wanted the dress and could not walk away…I counter-offered 700 baht which she quickly accepted (later I found out that everything in there was over-priced and I could have gotten it for 350 baht).

On the way to Koh Lanta, I decided to wear the dress. I was tired of wearing clothing that felt uncomfortable, not built for the weather. Later, Geeta had told me (repeatedly) that she was surprised by the dress. The brightly colored dress that fit me perfectly. And complemented the tan that kept getting darker.

“Don’t wear that silly cardigan,” she told me. “Show off!”

On my last day on the islands, I pranced around in the dress with no cardigan. I walked up to the viewing point of Koh Phi Phi in socks in walking shoes…with that dress. At dinner, I ate fish and curry…and stayed outside when it started raining. Then I walked with the group down to the bars where I made small talk with strangers (in a non-alcohol-induced state).

When I returned to the states, I immediately washed the dress through a gentle cycle and air dryed it. It’s sitting in a bag with the other dresses I purchased, waiting until my sister or I decide to wear it.

Being so colorful isn’t really me, but being surprisingly different is.

Gathering the moments together.

The journey to Thailand and Cambodia had started from a simple phrase Shipra must have said a few years ago: You should visit me when I am in Bangkok!

A few years later, it was that…her classmates from grad school and other friends assembled together to travel overseas. Somehow 2 weeks to spend in countries that nobody had visited before (except for Jake) relying on our Lonely Planet guidebooks and Shipra’s knowledge. Somehow it all survived.

What was your favorite moment, I was asked when I came back.

It was funny because the night before I left…I was chatting with Geeta until I fell asleep and while she was trying to will time away before her 6 am flight. Idly, I asked, “What was your top 5 favorite moments of the last 2 weeks?”

Immediately, she said “Ko Lanta. Then Cambodia.”

I laughed, knowing why. I hesitated knowing that my own answers were atypical of most visitors to paradise. Perhaps it was growing up in California (albeit the Bay Area) with easy access to pools, beaches, Florida and LA. Perhaps it was my growing love of the urban cities in my early twenties…or that simply I was interested and curious about people. Not at all how nature affected me like when the heat in Arizona evaded any appreciation of Grand Canyon and the pervasive boredom in Hawaii. As I grew older, taking photos took precedent almost as if capturing landscapes to show people later that I was in a place, but not necessarily enjoying it.

“The first real day in Bangkok,” I said. “When Jeff and I woke up early—around 6 am. We walked down a street without knowing where we going—just that I wanted a hair cut. I had found a market in Lonely Planet, but didn’t know how to get there. We went into an area where we didn’t see a single person that spoke English for more than an hour—surrounded by every day Bangkok life of insects as food and busy people getting groceries for the day. That was my favorite moment.”

Lost in a market

I later did include the “private island” moment when we had lunch after kayaking—an island with sand where your feet would sink, but not sink far. Where the water was cool on one side of the island and on the other side of the island—only 30 feet wide—the water was like a sauna. The island where shells were abundant and whole. And for more than an hour, it felt like we were truly lost in paradise.

Here we land on a private island

A family beloved: the one who ate Ferragamos

It was yet another brilliant day on Ko Lanta, Thailand. A day where the group had decided that we should rest, rest as normal people do in the land paradise.

I had woken up early, disturbed by the light, the footsteps, the light sheets and heat. In the morning, I rushed out and ate breakfast. Everyone was preparing to just hang out at the beach—the beach everyone described we have it for ourselves! But strangely, I felt the air was different…it felt disturbed.

But then I decided to check my email. The first subject I saw was “Peppy is gone…”

I was holding him as he took his last breath… the message trailed off in unspoken tears.

I immediately asked to borrow Shipra’s phone, but unfortunately he was in the airport boarding, currently in security. It was the first time he had heard my voice in over 9 days. His voice obviously was masked by anxiety of talking on the phone, but I could tell what he was feeling. I could almost see the stone wall falling, masking his sorrow. Normally, I would be there lifting and holding the stone wall up but I couldn’t be there. I was on the other side of the world surrounded by happy faces in paradise filled with ready tropical freshly sliced pineapple, beckoning beaches and supple masseuses on call.

I said I would call later.

In the town on my own later, I impulsively bought a couple-themed shirt—pirate girl and pirate boy. A gift, but not a remedy.

When I saw Shipra again, I asked to borrow her phone. And I dialed internationally again. The group was going to town to the dive shop and for lunch. I followed slowly, now knowing the sorrow.

I never knew Peppy, but Peppy was the life that Chris had known as a child. Perhaps the kind sibling, the best friend who equated to his craziness and energy. A dog that he had got shortly after he moved back to LA after a shift in family. I never had a pet beyond a fish…and only knew attachment to non-humans as the attachment I had with my computer and beloved stuffed animals.

In college, I remember a professor once saying that there was no excuse that someone missed an assignment beyond a family member dying. A student interrupted saying that a death of a family pet is nearly significant. I don’t remember what happened, but I must have not understood since when a friend’s dog died while she was in school, I gave a sad look and said nothing more.

So on the other side of the world, I was trying to comfort him as I walked with the group to the street. My sunglasses were on of course, and I could sense his despair hidden only by silence on the phone. I rattled on a few things about my day…then apologizing…for my near indifference. But as I prattled on, it stung…the fact that he had lost someone…after awhile, I said I would call him and be there for him. I am here.

As I got on the truck with everyone else to go to the Ko Lanta Divers, I opened up a moist towellette from my bag to wipe my tears under my sunglasses away and said aloud, “Wow, it’s hot here.”

Things I learned in Thailand and Cambodia

For my next visit. For someone else. For life.

  • Don’t need to be too conservative, but don’t be too revealing (clothing-wise)
  • Good walking shoes (especially sandals) are essential
  • Flashlight recommended for sunrise at Angkor Wat; this isn’t the United States where safety is top priority
  • Bring $600 USD; try to protect it of course
  • Cambodia accepts USD. Seriously.
  • So does Laos
  • USD is worth a lot even though it might not to us Americans
  • Visa fee is $25 and passenger service fee is $20 at the Siem Reap airport
  • Ask the Angkor Wat guide anything; she always has a good story and maybe will say yes to a proposal
  • Eat and drink everything, especially if it’s a fruit you don’t recognize
  • Learn the numbers for the language of the country you’re visiting
  • You will get more respect if you know the numbers in the native tongue
  • Two prong plugs are abundant in Thailand, but not the grounded ones
  • The best things I brought were neck pillow, USD money, anti-itch cream, toilet paper, and moist towelettes/facial wipes
  • The worst thing to have brought were long pants
  • Bring your own towel. You really will never know when you would need it.
  • Water in the ocean can be really clear
  • You can get used to showering without a bathtub or a shower
  • Letting water splash all over the bathroom floor is efficient since bathrooms are supposed to be wet anyway
  • 200 baht should be the maximum you pay for a taxi from the airport to a hotel in Sukhumvit
  • Laundromats are never close to hotels
  • Start at 50% of initial quoted price when bargaining
  • Start at 25% of initial quoted price when bargaining at a touristy locale
  • 7-Eleven has everything
  • They sell stamps: 15 baht for a stamp for a postcard sent internationally
  • 5 baht should be the maximum you pay for a postcard
  • Don’t spend any money at home for a month before going to Thailand and Cambodia
  • Then you can shop as much as you want here
  • Keep a small notebook with you at all times
  • Don’t be afraid to borrow money from your friends ;)
  • Standard meals should not cost more than 100 baht
  • A coconut a day makes the exhaustion go away
  • Get a haircut in Bangkok; you will remember it for the rest of your life
  • Don’t be afraid to go to an area where there is no English
  • Everyone understands gestures
  • If you’re asian and suddenly have dark skin, people will think you’re Thai
  • English is the international language here even between Vietnamese and the Thai
  • Stray dogs and cats are the saddest things on the streets of Bangkok and the islands
  • Try to go out on the water as much as you can
  • Find a native living near by…who will show you more than what everyone sees
  • Sunsets and beautiful beaches

    It was the moment that everyone was waiting for—the tropical paradise. As we tumbled out of the van finally arriving at the Golden Bay Cottages in Ko Lanta, we quickly checked in and put down our things. Some refreshed ourselves after the long never-ending ride from Chumpon. Then we went to the beach right outside our bungalows.

    I wandered up and down by myself on the beach, looking at the hotels. Watching other people. The crowds. And the near stillness, interrupted by a crash of soft waves on the beach. The beach was clean, unlittered. There were a few ships in the distance. Nobody in the water.

    Four people and sunset

    Out in the distance, I saw four figures against the scene—a sun setting on a horizon. Having been around the same people for more than a week, I could tell it was Shipra, Jeff, Katy and John. Stopping, I took a picture of the moment—wanting to show people back home what I saw. But only what I saw, not quite what I was feeling. Not wanting to do my wimpy exit even with a desire for solitude, I walked over and waved as someone saw me.

    Jeff ran toward me in full speed and I pulled my arms close to my body, bracing for an unwanted impact. As he hugged me yelling “it’s absolutely beautiful!!! we are in paradise!”, I screamed in mock surprise.

    Unwrapping his arms around me, I nodded silently. It is beautiful.

    Simmering, he still smiled and bobbed his head

    On the way back from the airport, our Thai taxi driver was visibly annoyed by the traffic. There were a few suppressed soft grunts as we came off the freeway into a street where traffic halted at a standstill.

    Jeff, Anne and I were sharing the cab as the group had split into cabs with 3 people each. That morning, nearly all of us had waken up at 4:30 am to catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Then we spent some more time exploring the temple grounds. Despite relaxing at the hotel pool until the flight, in the taxi, we were exhausted and were nearly silent on the way back to our hotel in Bangkok.

    I peered outside, watching the scenery outside. We were at a standstill in traffic for nearly 30 minutes. I asked Shipra, our native host, about the timeliness in Bangkok—do people emphasize punctuality in a city where bad traffic is predominant? Surprisingly, she said yes—people are polite and considerate of people’s time. But the word “traffic” is a common reason for tardiness—everyone understands. A few days ago, I watched America’s Top Model and was surprised to see the girls scolded for tardiness which was a result of traffic. Thais would never openly be critical; only obviously steam internally until it was gone.

    As the taxi finally inched forward to the main road of Sukhumvit, I was surprised to see our taxi driver trying to weave through traffic. He was trying to turn onto Sukhumvit 20 where our hotel was located. In Bangkok, there’s no such thing as keeping the intersection clear. But as we turned, the traffic shifted almost as if the seas part. Cars were letting him through. I saw him bob his head; people don’t put their hand up as a sign of thank you. He started bobbing his head furiously which couldn’t help but remind me of a bobblehead.

    With no honking and no outward display of anger (a cool heart indeed), we arrived at our hotel nearly taking more than 2 hours from the airport in Friday afternoon traffic.

    In search of the perfect noodle soup

    One of my favorite noodle soups is the beef stew noodle soup from King of Thai—a Thai restaurant chain prevalent throughout San Francisco.

    Once in Thailand, I embarked on a noodle soup journey, looking for the same soup. But it was never the case. The broth was often very flavored—spicy like the Thai way. Then full of vegetables. Balanced portions of noodles, meat and veggies. And in smaller portions.

    Never in my 12 days in Thailand (2 days in Cambodia) did I find anything like the beef stew noodle soup.

    Then I realized. The American versions of all these soups are…fattening, full of the cheap meat, overflowing with broth. Veggies? Nearly absent.

    Am I too American too appreciate a true Thai noodle soup? Next weekend, I’ll see as I experiment again and trying not to fail at the Tom Kha soup I made yesterday.

    Accounting of Thailand I

    How many types of vehicles did I ride? What kind of things did I eat? etc.? These are things that I kept track to the best of my ability!

    Transportation Types
    Planes: 7
    Vans: 8
    Taxi: 7
    Tuk tuk: 6
    Truck: 3
    Longtail boat: 1
    Speedboat: 1
    Kayak: 1
    Pasenger ferry: 1
    Ship: 1
    Water bus: 2
    Car ferry: 2
    Paddle boat: 1

    Snorkeling: 3
    In water (including pools, snorkeling, swimming) : 11
    Used an eastern toilet: 4
    Phone calls (international): 6
    Postcards sent: 12
    Beds: 8
    Average hours per night slept: 5.5
    Noodle soups eaten: 10

    Rained: 3
    Photos taken: 653
    Videos recorded: 3
    Number of times Toad appears in photos: 83
    Money spent: Approximately $2300 USD
    ATM Withdrawals: 4
    Money owed to someone: $81