A sign on the table of insects said “TAKE A PHOTO 10 B”. I was tempted to take a picture or buy a few bugs. After all traveling is about trying new things, eating street food to experience the real culture, tasting the crunchy crickets of a new country, it’s a hardcore backpacker snack but don’t choke on the wings and legs, blah blah blah. And other justifications to pay 30¢ for a photo, or more to actually eat a beetle. But I’m sure I’ve eaten plenty of (unfried) bugs in my life for free.
In the end I decided to pass on overpriced critters. I didn’t need to post a bug-eating selfie on social media. As to whether they are vegetarian, well, insects don’t grow on trees. Okay I’m actually a pescatarian, which is the fancy way of saying I eat fish and seafood ’cause I want to. But I skipped the crickets this time.
Bangkok was crowded, hot, and a little overwhelming compared to calm and wintery Japan. I explored temples and got lost in the madness of Khao San Road, the backpacker haunt of Southeast Asia. I quickly realized that I was just another dirty backpacker, one of 29 million tourists who visit Thailand every year.
- We eat pad thai.
- We drink alcohol out of buckets.
- We wear parachute pants and flipflops.
- We wake up with a hangover at noon.
- We brag about which islands we’ve been to.
- We say “sawasdee” (hello) and “kop kah” (thank you).
- We take tuk-tuks (three-wheeled taxis), though they’re more expensive than real taxis.
- We ride scooters.
- We get tattoos.
- We gravitate to wifi and ignore each other.
- We visit 7-Eleven daily for the air conditioning and bottled of water.
- We are American or European.
- We make fools of ourselves.
It took me a week to escape Bangkok. I didn’t have any tickets booked and I had no plans, so indecision took over. Do I go here or there? How long do I stay? Everyone says the islands are great but which one(s)? What if I miss the best one?
I took an overnight train and a ferry to Koh Phi Phi, the biggest party island in the Andaman Sea. I intentionally skipped the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, the thought of 30,000 tourists getting drunk on a beach did not appeal. But I’ll admit that I was curious enough for one night of festivities. The music blasted, the drinks flowed, I met two Brits (Kat and Katie), and we danced on the beach. The best part was that the music stopped at 2AM and everyone went home.
I took a ferry to Koh Lanta to experience a larger, quieter island. It was still overrun with tourists but less obnoxious. Koh Phi Phi had been small enough to walk around but I needed motorized transportation to see Koh Lanta, and I rented a scooter. I’d seen plenty of tourists with bandaged limbs and road rash so I heeded the warnings and drove the speed limit.
Until Koh Lanta I had never rented a vehicle while traveling, ever. It was freedom on two wheels. I could go wherever and whenever I wanted. I drove down the coast to the national park to visit the monkeys, and through the middle of the island on unpaved roads. I passed Thai families that waved at me, probably because they were surprised to see a tourist on the back roads. At the hostel I met a Brit named Rick and two Swedish cousins, and we together we drove around the island in parachute pants, looking for our next pad thai.