The month of February started with a surgery, but surprisingly it was not mine. Amy decided to get a laser procedure on her eyes at the international hospital here in Bangkok. Since it wasn’t covered by insurance anyway, there was no reason to wait until we returned to the US before going under the knife, I mean laser.
I drove us down to the pre-procedure appointment on the scooter to cut the travel time in half and avoid the motion sickness that comes with riding in a Bangkok taxi. On the way back from the appointment it was during rush hour and it was complete chaos. All the intersections were gridlock and you had to improvise to get through as no one was paying attention to the actual traffic lights. I mean it reminded me of an apocalypse movie where cars are backed up and people are leaning out of taxi windows yelling and looking up at the sky.
It took us an hour to weave our way home, but it would have been double without the scooter.
The next day was the surgery, and we had to take the taxi because the surgeon was not cool with us riding home on a scooter. While Amy got surgery I wandered the streets. It just so happened that the hospital was in the middle of the red-light district. So I wandered through the streets in the daylight, when the area looks as depressing as possible. I stopped in a shop to get some edibles and then 2 doors down I signed up for a massage…an actual massage. I had pain in my neck, which was nothing new, but it was getting rather intense. I signed up for a shoulder massage. This older lady led me to a chair and spent 5 minutes berating me for the fact that I did not pay for a whole body massage. I was like, ok, I get it, your not happy with me, can we just focus on the massage?” Fortunately, most of the complaining was in Thai, but man she really wasn’t happy about it. She started digging into my shoulder and I vowed not to show any sign of discomfort. It was a showdown. It started to get very intense and a couple times I almost released my bowels. Then I begin to rehash the scene from Fight Club where Edward Norton is trying to tolerate a chemical burn on the back of his hand:
“I tried not to think of the words "searing" or "flesh." I’m going to my cave. I’m going to my cave, I’m going to find my power animal.”
Eventually it ended and I could feel some relief, but was happy to get out of there, of course promising I would return for a full body massage tomorrow. I found a coffee shop and worked for a couple hours. I wondered how many people worked on their laptop in a coffeeshop in the middle of Bangkok’s sex district.
I arrived back at the hospital just in time to roll Amy out and pick up a taxi home
Amy's vision was immediately better and after a few days of isolation we ventured down to Chinatown for the Chinese New Year celebration. It was the year of the Wooden Dragon. I struggled a great deal with what day and time to go down to Chinatown. I figured the night before would be crazy, and maybe if we went New Year’s Day in the morning we could avoid the crowds. Well, we did, but also not much was open yet and it was pouring for the first time since we arrived in country 2 months ago.
Our first stop was a Curry pastry shop that was a popular stop. She had pictures on the wall of all the famous people who had visited. She was trying to compete with Katz’s Deli in NY.
Our next stop was Mother Roaster Coffee Shop about a block away. They were not open for another 2 hours
Outside there was a lady pretending to be interested in things with a film crew following her. I just don’t think I can carry on a conversation with someone under 30 these days without getting annoyed.
Since coffee was closed we walked the street of the Talat Noi neighborhood. It is supposed to be a “photographer’s dream”, perfect for the instagram model in your family, as evidenced by the entourage I just mentioned. Google Maps actually called out a rusted car here as an attraction, “Antique Turtle Car”
It had over 50 reviews as well. How frustrated would you be if you owned a coffee shop and you were trying to build the business and you had less publicity then a rusted car on the side of the road. I was definitely missing something here.
We tried to visit the The So Heng Tai Mansion, but it was also closed. Some lady in a wheelchair was outside, who matched the description of a lady in a photo in the glass case (see reflection in picture below)
Here is a pile of old motors we came across. 1 is trash, 2 is an eye sore, but 3+ is an art exhibition.
A couple more shots from the Art tour before heading to Chinatown
I thought the below picture was an interesting contrast of life in Thailand
Chinatown was not overly crazy, as mentioned because of the rain and early hour, but there were still celebrations happening. You could see that by the evening it would be pure chaos. It was too bad we would miss out on many of the Michelin star food stalls packed into Chinatown, but we could always come back for that another time, and I am not really one to appreciate a world renowned meal over the generic food stall next door.
We spent most of our time in the below alley avoiding the rain from getting into Amy’s new eyes. She kept her motorcycle helmet on as we strolled through, so we did not look strange at all.
We stopped at one stall to buy elephant pants and shirts for friends back home. If not familiar with “elephant pants” they are like pajamas with pictures of elephants on them. They were mostly sold cheap outside temples for foreigners to wear if they did not have long pants on (necessary for enter into temples). It was an ongoing joke, as you can see by below reference:
Recently they crossed over from being a hit with tourists to being sought after by locals as well. We decided to buy the whole family matching pants and shirts. The stalls acted like we were the first people who would think of asking for a matching set of pants and shirt. They had no order in their shop as to where different colors or sizes where located. They guy was rummaging through bags, asking other stalls, trying to match colors. Trying to convince us that blue and black were basically the same color. After 15 minutes of their inability to come up with anything, I just wanted to get out of there. Just put some shirts in a bag and let’s go!
The following evening we went out to an Italian restaurant. I don’t completely understand why anything but Asian food is so difficult to make here. I am sure there is a valid reason, something to do with sourcing, but it all is so terrible. I mean this food was like eating cardboard pasta and sauce worse than ketchup. We could not even finish the meal. Ok, I finished the meal, but that has no bearing on the quality.
We were able to find a good Western breakfast place for eggs and French toast and even a halfway decent ramen place that was part of a franchise we had visited in Japan where the place is set up like a NYC peepshow booth.
Here is a picture of our neighborhood dog, “Handsome.” I had to take this picture while walking by. He was sleeping under there and reminded me of the shot of the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz.
Near the end of the month, I left for the Southern part of Thailand to go on a SCUBA trip. For those not keeping up with my SCUBA achievements, I had gotten certified in Florida during COVID at a HotSpring and then let me membership lapse until doing a few dives last year when we drove down to Krabi Thailand. This was to be a big leap forward, testing my skillset. I would be landing in Phuket and then picked up in a van to be taken to a boat where I would live for the next 4 days, amassing 14 deep dives in the process. The dive company was Big Blue Diving Khao Lak , and here is a sample of the Itinerary .
I landed around 1pm in Phuket Thailand with about 3 hours to kill before the van picked me back up at the airport. I found a taxi and told him to just take me to closest beach with a bar.
There I sat for a couple hours getting familiar with the tourists in this part of Thailand. I was in Phuket, but not the Phuket most people are familiar with. Just a couple kms south of the airport, but not all the way down the peninsula where all the action takes place. I was also on the West side of Thailand, the Andaman Sea, not the East where the Gulf of Thailand is located. I saw this lady across the road with a unique tattoo on her back and arm. I always try to imagine what is going on in their life at the time that they got the tattoo? Was it something they researched? Were they saving up for weeks to be able to get this? Was the drawing pinned to their wall and they would look at it each night before going to sleep saying, “Someday, someday I will get that permanently placed across my back.”
Just then I saw this creature walking towards me. I honestly thought it was either a Chupacabra or the devil in animal form. Or maybe one of those pictures you see of a Bear without any hair. He looked fierce and I gave him a wide berth as he sauntered by, expecting him to just reach out and take a pound of flesh off my haunches.
I caught a Tuk-Tuk back to the airport and waited for my ride
It was a 2 hour ride to the dock and boat. Myself, and the other 15 people boarded and had dinner, drinks and got to know each other as we set sail about 10pm. The idea being that by the time we woke up we would be at the dive site and just roll out of bed right into the ocean.
As I get older I seem to get motion sickness easier and easier. Now all it takes is a ride in a car as a passenger and I am nauseous for the rest of the day. The last thing I wanted was to sick on a boat or 4 days. I left no room for chance. I had applied prescription Scopolamine patches to my skin, taken daily Bonine tablets, Dramamine 1 hour before boarding and a bag full of ginger and THC edibles. I did not get sick, but I also did not sleep at all that first night.
It did not take long to realize I was out of my league on this trip. I had approximately 6 dives to my name, and I would guess the average of the rest of the group was at least 50+ I was the only one without Advanced Open Water certification and also the only one breathing regular oxygen. All the rest were using Nitrox, which allowed them to remain at deep depths longer without the risk of suffering the “Bends” or Decompression Sickness (DCS).
To their credit, no one treated me as an idiot, but I did feel guilty that I rained on their parade of top notch divers. Per usual, I just showed up with a swimsuit and expected to stand there and have them turn me into Aquaman with all their fancy gear and electronics.
I am a minimalist when it comes to SCUBA. If it is not essential to my survival, don’t attach it to me. I really did not even want the wetsuit. Here is the plan. You wake up at 6am and dive. Then have breakfast. Then dive again. Then have lunch. Then dive again. Then dive again followed by dinner. In between you sleep and pee about 100x.
The first dive I was paired with a girl from Taiwan. The only other person who didn’t seem to have a clue what was going on, even though she had all the certifications necessary. She reminded me of watching a Vietnam War movie where a platoon of battle-hardened soldiers welcomes in their new lieutenant who is straight out of West Point with no combat experience. They have all the qualifications but no real world experience. We dove in and about 10 minute in her mask filled up with water and she had a panic attack and could not clear the water. Having a mask full of water that you cant clear is a real problem 100ft below the surface. First, you cannot see anything. Second, you cannot just shoot up to the surface, fix it, and come back down. It is a long way up to travel if you are panicking and not breathing, and you are supposed to stop frequently as you rise to avoid decompression sickness. Well, she shot straight up to the surface like one of Quint’s yellow barrels. We all had to follow, but doing a safety stop along the way. We are basically on a safari. One guide for 3-4 customers. If the guide has to go back to base camp because of an emergency with a customer, they don’t leave the other customers out there to interact with the lions. On the next dive the girl was confident she had it figured out. She dropped in off the side of the zodiac like the rest of us, but this time she brought a camera. Great, another thing to complicate her life. Well, she was bouncing along the bottom and the guide indicated that she needed more air in her life vest. This throw her all out of whack and I cringed as to how this was going to play out. I personally would have just let her bounce across the bottom, but now she was a chaotic tumbleweed. I tried to grab her as she rolled by, but as she started flailing I thought it better to let the guide handle this one. My dive buddy and I joined another group under water and the guide and girl drifted off into the ether having a mimed conversation under the water that was going nowhere fast. By the end of the trip, the Asian girl had been awarded her own personal guide and I watched them on subsequent dives and it just looked like a puppet on a string, where she would float around and make ill advised moves and the guide would be above her, pulling on various appendages and equipment to steer her in a different direction. It kinda looked like Bill Murray in “What About Bob” “I’m SCUBA Diving!”
It was a full first day. I did not embarrass myself too much, although my guide might have a different opinion. I got to see Sharks, Rays, Octopuses, and tons of shrimp, eels and snakes. After dinner everyone sits around and drinks and talks SCUBA, but I admit I was not overly social and was happy to just go to bed after not sleeping the night before.
The next day was a repeat of the last day with different views
To be able to dive 100ft I had to take a “Deep Water Dive Session” This consisted of dropping down and looking at an M&M wrapper underwater. The wrapper was brown ,but when a light was shined on it, the true color of bright red was exposed (peanut butter M&Ms to the uneducated). She explained to me that colors were all dulled down at depth. So even though you might think that SCUBA diving looks like Finding Nemo with beautiful colors, it is really very little bright colors at all, which kinda sucks.
I had a near catastrophe myself on this dive. Remember how I was talking about that girl filling her mask up with water and going into a panic attack? Well, halfway through the dive my mask got some water in it and I assumed I remembered how to clear it. So I basically removed my mask and put it back on. I then lifted up the top of my mask and blew bubbles. I opened my eyes and, wait for it, my mask was now completely full of water. I could make out fuzzy shapes within 3 ft radius. I repeated the mask tilt and bubble blow. Nothing. Ok, Fortunately I had some edibles in my system and tried to remain calm. I could see nothing and was at the bottom of the ocean, but as long as I breathed normally I was ok, at least until the air in my tank ran out. I tried the mask maneuver 2 more times then gave up. More important than dying I was trying not to look like an idiot. I calmed myself like Frank Dux in Bloodsport and started swimming around with my hands out.
I eventually grabbed onto the fin of my dive master. she turned to look at me. Ok, there are a bunch of SCUBA hand signals, and I probably rarely use them correct, and this was definitely an instance where I did not use proper signals. I pointed to my goggles. I am sure she just looked at me like I was a cartoon and there was a goldfish swimming around in my mask. I showed here my mask clear maneuver. She was unimpressed. She showed me that I needed to tilt the bottom of the mask out to clear and that the top of the mask tilt is to fill. I tilted the bottom and instantly my vision was restored. I had to laugh. I had about 20 minutes of air left in my tank. This meant I had 20 minutes to come up with an excuse for what the hell I was doing. When we surfaced, I confessed that I was just a stupid man and forgot how to clear your mask. One of the most basic and crucial dive skills.
When back in the boat I asked one of the dive masters, “My regulator keeps falling down, is there a way to put the tubing through a loop in my BCD or something so I can always reach it?” To which he replied, “You might want to just keep it in your mouth.” I said, “ok thanks” thinking, ok that is not what I asked, then I thought to myself, why are you such an idiot. Of course you should have your regulator in your mouth at all times you jackass.
The next day was kinda intense
We had this dive where we followed a mooring line down from the surface. The current was ripping (diving lingo!) and it was just mass chaos under waters. The amount of people and subsequent bubbles along the line was intense. I felt like I was in the Death Zone along the Hilary Step on Mt Everest waiting for my turn to summit.
My dive buddy got pissed at me cause I kinda took off after 2 sharks I saw. I understand her concern, but come on it was 2 sharks! I had to go. I also got to see some Spiny Lobsters. I was dosing up on edibles as the day progressed walking that fine line between relaxed and incoherent.
Back on the boat, something was wrong with one of the bilge pumps, or thats what I am going with for the blog as it is the only boat thing I can think of. I never saw a more excited group of guys. The dive masters got in the water so fast. A chance to dive under the boat to fix something, without customers!
We had amazing meals all trip. Could not be happier with the Thai crew all they did for us. I felt like some pampered aristocrat.
That night I was sitting up on the top deck in the dark and saw a light in the distance. I thought, man the sun is really hanging on. Then I looked over and saw another light on the opposite horizon. Instead of realizing that neither of the lights were the sun, but rather night fishing vessels, I first considered there might be 2 suns. Ya, that’s it, we were on the planet Tatooine in Star Wars.
I had to slow my roll on the edibles after that.
One of our dive sites was Richelieu Rock. It is regarded as the best dive sight in Thailand. The water was a bit cloudy on that trip, with some serious currents (ripping) but it really did not detract from all the beautiful coral and fish. Our guide did a great job of keeping us away from all the other groups and I was starting to relax a bit more underwater. Getting to appreciate and experience the smaller details of the experience. Spending a few minutes on a bed of coral and the accompanying fish to see what their daily life was all about. The eels were my favorite. These prehistoric creatures coming out with open mouthed fangs right on queue like some kind of haunted house ride.
The final day I got to see a huge ray. About 5ft across. Not one of those black and white Manta Rays you see, but still amazing.
We got back into port and everyone went their separate ways. How did I feel about the trip? I wasn’t sure. The outfitter was top notch, they were professional and went above and beyond to make every aspect of the trip a memorable experience. I was just not sure if I was ready to buy into this whole SCUBA lifestyle. These people bounce from one dive country to the next, making friends and diving for years on end. The community seems perfect. All are kind and friendly. I was just not sure if it was for me. I am happy to dive once every year or two, but do I want to get certifications to go on more difficult and deeper dives? I am not sure. It might not be a bad idea as I age out of hiking and motorcycles. I am not sure if there is enough variety in the lifestyle for me. But, I bet if I did more research in the aquatic life and topography, each dive site could be seen as completely unique. Anyway, not something I need to decided today and it did leave me with more appreciation for undersea ecosystems bustling with life all while we are just chilling up here on terra firma.
I had to kill 24hrs on land before being able to fly for safety reasons. I stayed at a Hyatt resort in Phuket. Typical resort with typical resort guests, but I could make it work for 1 night.
This trip was all about being catered to. I did not need to make any decisions for myself. And I guess that is ok every once and a while.
Until Next Month