Monday September 4th, 2017
Hiked 4.1 miles
The ATM that stole my money.

10:19 am

I am back at that great coffee shop I came to yesterday.  I ordered the iced coffee because I was particularly hot after walking all over the place.

I have learned that you can lose your money in a million ways in Thailand.  One is to simply go to an ATM.  An ATM that gives you a 1000 bhat bill with four cigarette burns on it across the image of the king.  I did not give it too much mind as in our country as long as you have most of the bill you can get your change.

After the bill came at dinner I left that 1000 bhat bill with the check.  I saw them all gathering around the cashier.  I was surprised how many people worked there.  I thought it was just two, but now there are at least five or six all looking at the bill and pointing at me.   I can not make out what they are saying, but this bill obviously was bringing bad luck.   I motioned for them to give it back to me and I gave them a 500 bhat bill that was nice and crisp.  They bowed in thanks and appeared eternally grateful that I relieved them of my curse.

I checked on my conversion tool and was reminded that 1000 bhat is about $30 US and worth looking into.

This morning as I was checking out of the hostel I spoke with the owner Jason who was from Austin Texas.  I pulled out the burned 1000 bhat bill and he gasp.  I told him I tried to pay for dinner last night and they didn't seem to want to take it.  He said no, it is really a big deal to have money that is desecrated.  I assured him that I did not desecrate it, I got it from the Surf Shop ATM like that.  I ask him if I was just out thirty bucks, or maybe I could write the bank of the ATM.  He did not have an answer for me so I think I am just out thirty bucks.  A pretty cheap lesson considering that I could have easily pulled out a greater amount.

Did I say I really like this little coffee shop, it is air conditioned and I did a lot of walking before trying to remember where this was.

Before I landed I learned that the King has projects all over the place he blesses.  I was told by a tuk tuk driver on Khao San road that one of his projects is to make Bangkok known for more than just ladyboys so he gives free gas to bring tourist to the best tailors in the town.  I have to say their quality was the best I have ever seen.  A custom made suit for $345 sounded like a bargain to me, but I was not here to buy suits.

Back to the ladyboys. There really are not that many around anyway.  I noticed one or two during the day, but they are not accepted well in their society and walk around with a hint of shame. There is a street you can go to and see shows and wonton activities.   Every big city has an outlet like that. I did not visit it, but online it brings in a large amount of money to a poor part of town, and foreigners tell legendary dirty stories about them.

I learned that Google translate is useless with Thai. If you buy something with English writing it could be 800% higher than the one next to it you don't know what it is made of and have no way of knowing.

Pepsi is called EST.  I don't know how to say it, but it taste the same and has the same colors on the can.

I learned that once you are done spending your money, the locals are pretty much done smiling too.  Like when we got dropped off early from our tour,  I think maybe he got paid early. They are hungry. They are not smiling a lot because your shit is floating down the sidewalk and they are welcoming the rainy season to wash it all away. They can tell it is the farang, (forienger), shit because it is followed by a stream of milky paper.

I couldn't be more ready to leave this island.  I caution all foreigners that go here that you get all your shots if your going to scuba dive.  If your going to scuba dive here, then anything you eat or drink will not be what kills you.

I learned that on Phi Phi you can not sit in any chairs placed out without paying a fee.  I saw anywhere from 40 bhat ($1.20 US) to 500 bhat ($15 US) for a chair.  I don't know how much time that actually is for.  The 500 bhat chairs looked a lot nicer. Outside of your hotel you must pay to go to the bathroom.  It ranges anywhere from 20 bhat to 100 bhat.  I couln't afford the 100 bhat bathroom, but the 20 bhat I tried near the bar at night was not ever cleaned.. ever.   There was someone to take my 20 bhat as I left though.

Now I am reading on the internet that Thailand is a second world country.  It is an emerging market. I can clearly see that it is.  Until they realize that tourist like fecal free beaches their tourist flow is going to be minimal.  They charge to clean it.  Maybe it is way too much trash to handle.  Who is throwing it in the ocean then?

I worry that maybe the king can not hear this from his people because of the old lese Majeste law of 1908 that says that you can not critique the king or his decisions. I heard that in 2015 he publicly announced he was not above criticism, but there is definitely tension in the air whenever the royal family is mentioned.  I know that I am thinking very cautiously right now about what I write.  I am in the kingdom and although I respect it, I am finding that they have no problem sticking me as a criminal for having a defaced bill I got from the ATM.

Worlds most beautiful sunset, from afar.
From what I have seen so far, anything the Royal Family has blessed is a prosperous, clean, new, and well taken care of establishment that stick out among the rest.  Surely the king has the resources to clean up Phi phi island and make Waikiki beach look like a shit-hole in comparison. I would love to welcome him to visit Hawaii and see how we handle hundreds of thousands of pounds of tourist shit, hauling it away from the beach, and comb the beaches every-night for glass, trash, condoms, and cans. During the day you can not tell the horizon from the sea with the amount of tourist that are swimming in the inferior cool waters of the pacific.

If they cleaned this place up it could be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  It is from afar.  Pictures are all awesome.  Up close it is neglected and in need of the right repairs.

Oh yea.. Last night after I sat on the beach and enjoyed quite a beautiful sunset I tried to buy a beer with that 1000 bhat bill.  The bartender reached passed my extended hand with the bill and grabbed a 100 bhat right out of my wallet.  I feel like such a criminal with this money.

8:00 PM

It was raining on the way back.
I am in Bang Tao Beach section of Phuket.  It is on the western side of the peninsula and is definitely a very muslim side of town.  I heard a very loud prayer on a loudspeaker booming not too long ago.  There are also couples on motorcycles where the woman is dressed in head to toe elaborate coverings.

After my last entry I got on the ferry back to the mainland. It started to rain as we left.  I went out on deck and did not see any trash in the sea as I saw on the way to Phi phi.  I was relieved that nature is still finding a place for the trash and cleaning itself. They just happened to sell me tickets on board the ferry to my hostel on this side of town.  It was pretty cheap and the van was packed.  I happened to be the first one out after a half hour ride.

Air conditioned seating inside.
This hostel is very nice.  It is very new, modern, and well kept.  When I got here I decided to go for a walk.  I noticed how efficiently the water systems were all connected and irrigation flows to everyones gardens.  I was walking down an alley in a residential section and a mother with her baby passed me on a bicycle.  The baby saw me and just started to laugh hysterically.  I couldn't help but laugh too.  I can't tell if the mom was laughing because she was wearing muslim clothes.

I saw how locals cooked and lived.  It was really interesting.  There are no homeless people in Thailand like they are in our country.  No one was trying to get my money without giving me something in return. I didn't see anyone wallowing in their filth.  I think you will get out of Thailand what you desire.  If you desire good karma they will share it with you.  If you desire bad karma, they have a special street for that. They will take you there for free.

When I got to the hostel it looked closed.  A short older lady locked up the shop next door and walked over to check me in.  She spoke very little english.  She kept telling me her daughter needed to come and copy my passport.  Once I was checked in and paid, I put my bags in the room.  I had cashew chicken at the restaurant next door where I learned that Wales is a separate country from England.  I never knew before, but I was sitting next to a retired veteran of their armed services. The cashew chicken was the second best I had in Thailand, by the way.
Road near Bang Tao Beach
My trek around Bang Tao Beach
That is when I went for my walk.

I am laying in my bunk now and ready to continue on my journey. I never saw the hostel owners daughter, but her son took a copy of my drivers license.  He also offered to take me to the airport in the morning for 500 bhat.  It is a 45 min drive from here, and only a little more than a Grab car so I said sure. He said his shift ends at 4 am.  I will be in the lobby waiting for him at 10.  I made it 9 after he told me he was working all night. In case he doesn't show I will have an hour to get a Grab car.


Sunday September 3rd, 2017
Hiked 6.5 miles

11:00 am

The beach is beautiful, but the sand as dirty as ash tray sand.
This morning I showered and checked out pretty quickly this morning.  My first stop was 7/11 where I grabbed a cold coffee.  I was hot after spending all night refrigerated. I walked over to the pier and watched the boats.  I saw a local getting his long-tail boat ready for a long day. He jumped up on the stern by stepping onto the anchor ropes first.  In his hand he carried a gallon oil container with a very dark oil in it.  He walked to the shaft of his propeller and poured the oil down the shaft where it ran right out the other end and onto the beach water.  I am not sure how bad that is for the environment, but it made me feel better about my old 2 cycle outboard motor.
Saturday September 2nd, 2017
Hiked 3.3 miles

5:49 am

Bangkok International Airport - Domestic Terminal

Nok airlines makes their planes look like birds.
I am getting ready to board my plane to Phuket.  The cab driver was at my hotel right on time. I arrived at the airport just as Amy said.  Every envelope seemed to explain that my passage was paid in full already and I was free to pass.  I pulled out the envelope this morning and what looked like a blank receipt with a small pen mark was enough to get me first class, personal, service to the airport. I have had a nice visit, until this morning in line for my long anticipated Thai Latte with the foam design that I saw in the picture, and that Mr Terry told me about in Hawaii.  It sounded wonderful.

Friday September 1st, 2017
Hiked 5.7 miles

5:23 am

Any picture you take here is magical. 
So I fell asleep very early last night. I woke up about an hour ago, took a shower, and came down to the lobby to see what Bangkok looks like in the wee hours of the morning. I walked outside to see almost everything was locked up tight.  There were very few commuters going to work.  They seemed to have the entire road to themselves. Sporadically shops are starting to open.  I saw one woman walking down the street with bags of produce.  I came back to see some trendy American music videos on the large ceiling mounted TV, it was familiarly comforting.

The receptionist has just told me that I am welcome to eat my breakfast early since it is already laid out.

I am sitting in front of a tourist safe, nutritious, and quality fresh breakfast.

Thursday August 31st, 2017
Hiked 5 miles

3:00 am

Well I made it to Bangkok. Checked into the Great Residence Inn, and am laying on a fairly soft mattress in an air conditioned room.  It appears slightly dated, but well taken care of.  Some items had slight damage to them, but were clean.

So when I got off the plane I had no idea what to do so I went with the flow.  The flow eventually opened up to a well lit, very clean, open terminal with bright fluorescent colored lights presenting a tropical feel. It felt bright and welcoming.  There were plants in the secure immigration area.  It was relaxing and felt peaceful. I got in line with Montana when we were reminded by the official in line that our arrival cards need to be completely filled out.  I had left off my signature and Montana left off where he would be staying because he was an awesome backpacker going with the flow.  

I offered the address of my hotel to Montana and lent him my pen.  A pen is valuable to have when traveling. I signed my card and we proceeded easily through immigration.  No one was worried about us and we felt they trusted us. As I stood by the curb, checking out transportation cost to the hotel, I realized that when I thought I would stroll the few miles to the nearest airport hotel that I had no idea how tired I would be, or that most of the sidewalks and streets happened to be flooded from the those thunderheads full of lightning we just flew through.  They were warm torrential shower heads that had just cleaned every street in Bangkok. 

I stood in the very warm humid air by the curb where all the taxi's were waiting patiently. I liked how the very large structure adjacent the terminals was lit up in bright, but very subtle and classy purple. My phone connected easily to data and I was looking for a car service.  Montana came up while I was looking for an Uber and had no idea where to go so I suggested he can stay at my hotel with me as I have two beds in the room.  He accepts and we climb into the Uber.  The driver is playing some Johnny Cash music but does not speak English much. I sat in the front seat and was pleased that this older car was taken so well care of and smelled of a lavender air freshener stuck in the vent. 

The streets had an unusually dark appearance to them.  Everything was soaked and not a single person was on the street or sidewalk.  It was a long desolate raised road from the Airport.  It would have been an adventure all in it's self to have hiked, but we both were exhausted from our trip. 

The Uber driver exited the highway and we drive down an unfamiliar exit on the opposite side of the road than we were used to. At the bottom of the ramp, the raised highway continued on and dripped over a darkness that completely enveloped the shadows. There was one ultra bright bluish light shining on a pole that left ripples in the landscape of water that consumed the road in front of us.  To our right was an abandoned car 3 foot deep in water.  The driver makes a grunt as his car enters the water and he hits what sounds like a decent pothole. He slows way down and I can clearly see a wake halfway up the door on the car.  The driver is very attentive with his American cowboy music playing softly. We pull up to a very large rectangle shaped building that we can see is our hotel by the large red lights on the top. The rooms all look empty with the lights off.  I think maybe that is because everyone is sleeping. 

Busy intersection near Khao San Road.
The red lights reflected down the entire long building,  There were no other lights, except a porch light by the dimly lit lobby. We pulled up close to the front door, thanked our driver, and instantaneously were greeted by the doorman, wearing that Thai smile we heard about. He welcomed us into the office where the manager was standing proudly as if he was awaiting our arrival right there at attention. He ask about my reservation.  He spoke good English too, I was surprised.  He didn't smile as much as the doorman, he was a bit more stern. 

$2.17 Original Uber Fee with tip on app.
$6.89 Uber ADJ help.uber.com additional charge on my account. (I don't know what this is, but the guy deserved an adjustment for using his car as a boat.)
$9.06 Total

I explained in my plain American english that I had reservations for tomorrow night, and not the current morning, but wanted to know if it was possible that I could check in early for tonight since we were both very tired.  I stopped there, but in my mind continued. "Besides we are stuck here, and unless we want to swim in whatever is flowing down the street and is creating potholes in the road. We are either going to sleep in your lobby or a room."

Wednesday August 30th, 2017
Hiked only 1 mile traveled thousands.

11:57 pm

I am beginning to feel illiterate.
Our plane arrived as on time, but I was surprised to hear the unclinking of seat belts long before the seat belt sign was turned off.

As we came in through immigration everyone lined up with the speed of school children going to recess. It was subtle, the differences are slight, but if it happened like that in our country people would think something was wrong. I stood around and looked at the Chinese writing. I noticed that almost a quarter of the people standing in line happened to know someone that was approaching and would let them cut in. I didn't think much of it  I thought maybe more families are traveling here. You can go through customs with your family. Even as I step in my first foreign country I realized I was overwhelmed with slight differences everywhere.

I write this as I am leaving China. I knew everyone was watching me and didn't feel comfortable writing a novel in the middle of the airport. I did not see a lot of visible cameras, but I could feel I was watched just because I was different.   I felt like the elephant in the room. I was different than everyone.  This particular airport in China has only recently allowed international travel through as soon as 2 years ago so I am suddenly completely engulfed in China. I may have been the first white man some have seen.  I saw men and women looking at me all very different.

The immigration officer stamped my passport for visa and not Transit visa so she called a supervisor who came over and escorted me to a bench outside an office where about 12 others stood waiting on some special circumstance or another. The immigration officers wore very decorated military style uniforms that had stars on their collars and all either had 1 to 4 stars to show their rank.  I got lost trying to establish the rank because everyone was doing their job with serious confidence.  It did not look like a place to tell a joke.  I think you can smile, but few are going to return it. 

I stood over to the side because I figured that with all these people standing by that office my passport just disappeared into, I would be here a good hour of my visit. That officer that proudly carried my passport away walked with a very swift purpose.  He walked right into what appeared to be a brightly lit bathroom sized office with a speed I felt most have carried him right through the opposite wall. 

He came out and broke through all the waiting citizens of somewhere and approached me with my passport in hand and said, "Ok.. you go."

I guess they had a higher ranking stamp in there that had to approve that the mistake had no fault, and was simply an accident.  I opened my passport to make out a stamp that said Cancelled over another that said "Permitted to stay in China." 
Stamped under that was "Temporary Entry Permit" with an entrance stamp. 

I continued out to the main terminal.  I walked to the street and noticed the slight differences in automobiles and traffic, taxi's, and the weather.  It felt kind of like Chicago outside. Somewhat arid with cold water. 

I walked back in and realized the building was hardly different from any terminal here.  The only real difference is the 8 or so Chinese flags all hanging around the large square ticket terminal which resembled a basketball gym. It was new, built within the last few years and looked just as clean as any airport does.  I would have taken pictures, but was brand new to an area that I was obviously brand new too. I did not want to be questioned because I noticed that in this airport there are very few, if anyone with headphones on, or glued to a phone. I did not see anyone taking pictures and I did not want to be disrespectful. It would be rude for the animals in the zoo to study the masses, they all must act normal.

No one was sitting on the floor.  For 2 hours in that busy terminal I watched and no one ever sat on the floor. They must have been tired.  I was.  Sleeping on the flight proved to need some practice.  I only got a few hours.  I sat down on the floor near a corner that was public enough I didn't look like I was hiding.  I got my phone out and was about to watch some TV.  I didn't.  I looked around to see any reaction from anyone to me sitting on the floor.  No one seems to care, yet none of them are going to do it. Am I the first one ever to sit on the floor in that airport?  People were sitting on the few inches of ledge that surrounded x-ray scanners that were not in use, but I was the only one with my butt on the ground.  

I thought. Maybe the bathrooms are disgusting and no one wants to sit where their feet trample.  That made sense to me, but I could not tell if others were envious or disgusted by me.  They seemed to go about making no ones business of their own. 

At one point a man was walking his baby around the terminal.  She must have been just old enough to walk and had a pacifier in her mouth.  Her father held her hands on a finger each and she walked right over to me and smiled.  I smiled at her.  Then her father smiled at me.  We exchanged short mumbled greetings.  Mine in English and his in Chinese. Neither understood each other but we still smiled and had not offended each other.  Eventually the young child saw enough of the bearded man exhibit and wandered off with her dad in tow. 

Alternating between corners I moved a few times, watched people pass, walked around the terminal, and observed for a few hours. About a half hour before my ticket window opened so I could check in, I found a seat near the only other American I could spot for miles. I sat down and noticed he had been trying to communicate with a local who happened to speak some broken English. 

I introduced myself, "You speak english."

"Yea.", he replied

He is half my age and works as a first responder at a ski resort near Big Sky Montana.  He couldn't have been more American and was a good deal taller than me. We talked for a few moments and were both heading to Bangkok on our first solo international expeditions. We didn't actually talk as much as I thought I would.  I was tired and after my new friend and I got our boarding passes we parted.  

I saw Montana once again.  Somehow he was 15 people in front of me in the priority immigration line.  I did not know it was the priority line at first.  It wasn't until a group of 15 chinese cut in line right in front of me.  I was the last one in the line.  The lady right in front of me waved for her approaching friends to join her.  They all filed in right in front of me, it pushed me backwards several feet.  None of them looked at me.  They all faced away from me as I was nudged by alternating sides and elbows backwards.  Once I started walking I might as well have turned around and gave up.  At least that is what it felt like, but no one seemed to show me any sign of care. 

That is when I looked up and noticed it was the priority line.  Big Montana was already 30 people ahead of me and I am pretty sure we are not special.  I see that the normal line to my left is actually shorter anyway.  They must have just changed the signs.  I walk over to the next line and stand a conservative American distance of about a yard of the man in front of me.  I guess someone thought I was just standing in the way of the end of the line cause they just filled the gap.  I closed the gap and was standing no more than a few inches away from the man in front of me.  As the line inched forward another dressed up and important looking Chinese man in a suit stood besides me in line. He placed his rolling carryon in front of him and nudged it forward just ahead of him and I.  He nudged it toward the line in front of me slightly. Then I felt someone nudge or tug at my backpack.  Everyone stands so close together you would probably actually never know. I suppose that explains why I see so many walking around with their backpacks in front of them.  It looks like a huge belly and it makes people walk around leaning backwards.  

So I turn to the side casually and glance at the man next to me, his bag, and whoever was behind me.  I smiled and turned back around. No one else cut in front of me before I got my exit stamp and on to the gate. 

I got to the gate and every seat was filled, the entire hall was packed with travelers. I found an open seat and sat down.  On my way to this seat an older Chinese citizen glared at me with a hate that transcended our cultures.  I was happy to be standing in an airport with a layer of security and public witnesses to stand between this individual and me.  He watched me with some perception, some history, or prejudices that meant no good to me, and he would probably only be able to explain with his fist.  I felt that this one man,  this one man in all of these thousands of respectful Chinese does not like me, but I was sure glad this man and myself had not met alone in an alley. It only takes one man to hate you in the wrong place to do some damage.

Montana made his way over to me and sat for a few then wandered off. When they announced the flight was boarding everyone seemed to rise at once.  It was immediate and my observation already set me at the back of the line, so I just continued to sit and watch people board. 

At the boarding gate there were two men with very professional and expensive looking cameras.  They have official badges hanging from their necks or jacket and yellow safety vest on.  They are standing next to the gate and taking pictures of everyone as they scan their boarding pass. Most people only got one or two photos from one or both directions.  There was a photographer behind the line and one on the opposite side or priority lane. 

When I handed the lady my boarding pass all suspicions that I was different were suddenly confirmed.  Both photographers lit me up like the paparazzi.  It was a shower of strobes as I saw the ticket agent hand me my passport back in flashes. I walked outside and stood in the bus that would take me to the plane and watched as Montana got the paparazzi treatment as well. He got on the bus next to me.  I said, "We must be famous." He laughed as we watched out the window at the rest of the passengers only getting one photo each.  We both were slightly relieved when we saw one more man get lit up by the photographers.  He was carrying a large bouquet of flowers and appeared to be pushing someone in a wheel chair.  I wondered if we would be famous. I wonder if I will be the poster American for tourism in China?

When our bus got to the gate we all piled out and walked with a purpose to the plane as if it was leaving without the passengers.  I get to the ramp and suddenly I am stopped.  There is a funnel of short Chinese clamoring to get on the plane.  They are not just pushing me, but the poor flight attendant trying to take our boarding passes.  She keeps getting her balance by leaning on the rail. I only got on the plane because I made little baby steps forward and am large. Once we were all on the plane I was amazed at what you can learn on such a short trip to a foreign country. 

Now it is late.  I am tired.  Going to try and sleep.

Taking the BART to SFO is easy. It goes right into the
terminal and long term BART parking is cheaper than other
options, free on the weekends as well.
Tuesday August 29th, 2017
Hiked 2.9 miles

4:57 PM

I am less than halfway done with this flight and I feel like have so much time to kill. I am hoping I get get some sleep this evening, at least for a little while. I aired up my neck pillow and it seems like it may work well. We will have to see.

So far I am impressed with Southwest China Airlines. They served me a full dinner free of charge, and a glass of wine, even a refill of wine and it was completely free. The large plane looks fairly new and they have an entertainment system full of Chinese movie titles. I watched one Chinese movie about a man who goes to have his memories erased, then tries to reverse it and gets someone else's memories. You would be surprised how much drama that ensues when you mess with shit like that. It was a very deep movie. I tried to watch a few other movies, but none caught my interest. I am not sure that it is the 5 hours I have already been flying that is making me tired, or the thought that I still have 9 hours to go. Luckily there are just enough bathrooms so a line does not build up. I see a lot of Asian people on this flight. I notice many speak little English.

I thought it was pretty neat that the flight attendant gave the safety demonstration in both English and Chinese. Now I am ready to get some rest, maybe a short nap.

10:35 pm

I am doing the math and I underestimated the length of this trans-pacific flight. I am surprised by the flight path that goes straight up to Alaska then down straight over North Korea. I have been able to sleep a little bit with my neck pillow, and feel confident that I should be well rested to see China.
I had my last American Bacon Cheeseburger for 15 days.