Koh Tao for Christmas / by Tyler Wood

Graffiti on the streets of Bangkok


I wake up early on Friday to get to the airport early, I wanted to do some duty free shopping. I knew I had to layer in the cold of Seoul so I could peel the layers off when I reached the heat of Thailand. Carrying a heavy coat is unnecessary and awkward. I was wearing a long-sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, and wind-breaker with my long socks and jeans. I hobbled in the cold to the bus. I got to the airport 3 hours early. Normally 3 hours is way more than enough at Incheon – a very smooth and nice airport. However, my flight was Thai Airways and they had a huge line for check-in and, of course, no self-check. One and a half hours later I get to the counter to check-in. The lady checks me in and informs me the flight is scheduled to leave 30 minutes before my itinerary says. What the fook!

After getting through security and immigration I had just enough time to grab some food and do the all-important Facebook status update. Whew! Oh, and then it started snowing. We boarded and sat on the runway for over an hour waiting to get de-iced. Awesome, reminds me of Louis C.K. – Yes, then we flew    through the air    like a bird – to Thailand!

Landed and made it through immigration and was waiting at the baggage claim when a lady with a paper sign with my name on it came by. Not a good sign when you haven’t planned to meet anyone.

“Come this way, sir,” she beckoned. I followed to the lost luggage room. What the shit?! My luggage was on a different flight landing in 2 hours. How did they manage to get my luggage on the wrong flight? It was direct - I didn't even have a layover! 

“We can send it to your hotel,” she said, “Where are you staying?”

“I’m not staying in Bangkok. I’m going to Koh Tao.”


“Koh Tao.”

“Oh, เกาะเต่า?”

“Yes.” Should I wait? I asked if I would have time to get to Khao San Road after getting the bag because I have a bus to catch. She got on the phone. She got off the phone and told me they would send the bag to my hotel on Koh Tao. How long will it take to get to Khao San? I filled out the paperwork and jetted. She had me worried it might take a long time to get to the bus, so I got on the express train to Bangkok. Reached it with not much fuss. Figured out the maze that is the exit of Phaya Thai station and waited on the loud obnoxious streets of Bangkok for a taxi. There was a couple in front of me that just got turned down by a taxi to go to Khao San. The next tuk-tuk offered a ride, but they seemed reluctant at the price. I offered to join them if they were going to Khao San, so they agreed and we were on our way in a death trap breathing exhaust all the way there. Yay for lung cancer!

They were a young Indonesian couple that had just gotten married. They told me about the running around they had done to get the paperwork all sorted in Bangkok, including translations and dealing with the odd hours of the offices they had to go to. They thought it might take a day or two but they were finishing 7 days into their trip. Bangkok man. We passed a car wrapped around a pole and a woman on her phone and we were there.

They tried to help me find Lomprayah, the company I had booked the bus/boat to the island with. Our conversation was drowned out by a parade. An immigration parade. You read that right, an immigration parade to pass out information on foreign visas and to make sure we get in and out of the country with ease :) I guess pamphlets haven’t been popularized in Thailand yet.

Anyway, found the place and had a few hours to kill before the bus left. I could have waited for my luggage after all. I sat on a road adjacent to Khao San and had some street pad thai and then spring rolls and a banana shake when what to my wondering eyes do I see? My friends I thought were on Koh Tao already! Ended up hanging with them for a few drinks before getting on the bus. What a random meeting.

Thigh-land Road Trip

Was there a sale on neon tube lighting or something? The streets of Thailand are lit up like the Vegas strip – if the Vegas strip were in Alabama. Thousands of the exact same sized tube lights in an assortment of colors lined the streets and made into shapes like peacock feathers spinning on overpasses. I’m supposed to be able to sleep on this bus ride? I’m more likely to have a seizure. The road’s smell goes from sewage to s’mores. It might ruin my fondness of s’mores. The overnight bus was a double decker and I was sat upstairs next to three Korean girls traveling to Koh Tao as well. Can’t escape Korea.

We arrived at the port in a place called something like Chumporn (not to be confused with the Japanese fetish) in the middle of the night. We had to wait for the pier to open. It was like we were a few hundred people on the Amazing Race. My alliance was with the Korean girls' team. We strategized over juice and chips. They opened. Two of the girls waited in line. We got on our high speed ferry and took to the seas. About an hour and a half later we arrived at Koh Tao’s pier. I had glanced at the map and found my hotel, so I was confident I could walk to it. The girls met their guesthouse/dive staff and we agreed to meet later for dinner. I headed South to my place.

I was looking forward to having a shower and making sure I got my luggage. I was still in jeans, long socks, and sneakers. My hotel was not as close as I thought, so I kept trekking. The town turned into jungle. There was a resort just up ahead so I continued. It wasn’t my place but I remember reading mine had a private beach, so I thought it could be out here by itself. I asked a guy cutting weeds where it was and he pointed the direction I was going. I’m pretty sure he had no idea what I said and would have pointed everyone in that direction however. I kept going. Finally, I reached a mountain. Wait, what? Where in the hell did the resorts go? I knew how far back I would have to go, so I figured it would be closer to keep going and see. My glasses were sliding off my nose every second or two from the stream of sweat flowing down my face, but I trekked on. I had been walking for 30 minutes at this point, and about 25 minutes later I finally found a building with humans inhabiting it. I asked where my place was – they hadn’t heard of it. I asked for a map. Found it. 5 minutes North of the pier! What?!.

Koh Tao pier 

I asked for a taxi and I received a boat. He dropped me on the beach in front of my place. Thank god, I made it. Checked in and just wanted to sit on the bed in AC for awhile. Got to my room – AC doesn’t work. Fuck!

Yeah, the Vacation Bit

I didn’t end up meeting my friends I had planned to meet after the random Bangkok meeting until Christmas night – 3 days later. Luckily, I had the Korean girls to hang out with. They met me for dinner. I had finally received my luggage after a day of buying and re-buying swimming shorts and sandals from town. They all had homework from scuba class. I mocked them and then signed up for free-diving to get my own homework.

The island was nice, but not amazing. It wasn’t disconnected enough to really relax like I’m away. I had that feeling on Gili Trawangan in Indonesia. But it also didn’t have the nightlife or food of Boracay or other places I have traveled, so it wasn’t quite good enough in either direction, but it was nice. It is known for diving, and it seemed that was what everyone was there for – that and drinking heavily. I chose to go the diving route.

Christmas eve was the night of the big party I went to. Santa Claus and his sexy elves were in attendance. We drank buckets of mixed drinks and watched fireworks and the fire show on the beach between dancing and ordering more drinks. At one point I was jumping rope with a rope on fire. Not too sure if that was a good idea when drunk. The idea that I could spit and ignite myself aflame didn’t cross my mind. There was an ocean close though, just in case.

Free-diving was something I had wanted to do for awhile because I have trouble holding my breath which is how I snorkel because I also have trouble breathing through a snorkel. Because I have trouble with my breath I have a fear of being too deep in the water. I am a pretty strong swimmer and love to swim, so I thought this would be the next progression of my swimming.

It was incredible to learn and test myself. But on the first trip on the boat I stepped into the rickety boat and slipped. I put a one inch gash in my foot before setting off. This was my test. I like challenges, but I was on a small boat (I get seasick) with no roof (I burn easily) going to dive deep (fear) on one breath (fear) in the ocean after breathing through a snorkel (fear).

I was the worst in class, but I really felt great about what I did. I had trouble equalizing pressure in my ears when I dove head first the first day. I was finally getting comfortable being underwater for awhile and then I have a sinus problem. Figures.

The second day I was having the same problem, so I went feet first down the line. On my second to last dive (the last I put no effort into because of this dive being so great) I made it to 13 meters down (about 42 feet) and felt great. I started to come back up and my diaphragm convulsed. This is the urge to breathe that makes most people breathe or panic. It is actually a build-up of carbon dioxide, not a lack of oxygen, as we learned in the class. But my brain didn’t care about the reading. I panicked a little and started pulling myself up fast. When I looked up and couldn’t see the buoy, I realized I had no choice in the matter. I wasn’t breathing air for a bit whether I liked it or not. My body relaxed and I just cruised up to the surface. By the time I got to the surface I felt ok, not even out of air. I took my breaths on the buoy and found out I have made it to 13 meters (my goal was 10). Success!

Sunburnt and burnt out I ended up going to sleep early the night before leaving. Woke up and killed some time on the interwebs before hauling my stuff to the pier and doing the overnight thing in reverse.

Bangkok at 2 am. I was so tired I wanted a place to crash for a little while. I found a quiet place with nothing else around. They gouged me on the price but I didn’t care. Bed.


Slam! My eyes open to pitch black. What was that? Slam! A door. Somewhere below me. What time is it? 9:04 am. I’ll try and go back to sleep. A girl yells. Ignorable at first, probably just an argument. I close my eyes. Hard footsteps across the room. Thud! She yells again. I hear a man struggle. Another door. Her yells begin – louder this time. The tone rises. This is not good. My eyes open. What do I do? I’m sure it will stop, I don’t want to be up yet. I still have to shower. Another door. Her yell turns to a scream. A plea. It reaches blood curdling. Jesus, this is no fucking joke. She yells for her life, it seems. What do I do? Is this a room or the lobby I’m hearing? She reaches top pitch and I cringe. Four quick hollow thuds and then – silence.

Holy shit. The door opens, more footsteps. Is he in the hall? What is this guy capable of? I get up and check the peephole. I hear footsteps. I’m still in the haze of early morning. I want to get out of here, but I don’t want to walk into this in case he is more dangerous. This is Bangkok. This is not a good part of town.

I’m getting out of here. I hear more footsteps. I start to get dressed. More footsteps. What in the hell is going on out there? No talking. No voices. Is he walking around checking rooms? I get dressed and pack. I will leave and chill around people. I don’t care what time it is. I slowly check the stairway. Nothing. I walk down from the 4th floor checking each floor. Nothing. No people. No signs of struggle. Was it the lobby? I slowly make my way to the lobby. A lady behind the espresso machine and an old white couple on the patio on the street. I can’t hear the street. Noise-proof. Maybe they couldn’t hear her. All smiles from the desk.

“I’m checking out.” I look around. Everything seems fine, but I still feel uneasy. “Can you hold my bag here until 5?”

“Sure.” He takes my bag. It’s just clothes, should be fine no matter what happens.

Onto the street. The sun slaps me in the face. It’s early but still hot and dirty. I just want to sit and eat around people. I walk over to Khao San Road and eat for nearly 2 hours. I don’t fly out until 11:40 pm. I need to kill some time.

I sit next to 6 Chinese tourists and watch the eye rolling from other tourists at them. Don’t understand why Western tourists think they can claim this as a destination and not the Chinese?

Western tourists walk around in what they think is comfortable Thai outfits to immerse themselves into the culture, but good luck finding Thai people wearing those outfits unless it’s their uniform at a hotel or restaurant giving the tourists what they want. Irony.

I really don’t care for Bangkok, I’m realizing. I’m trying to plan my wasted day. Shopping, massage, but what else? I decide to just walk around. I can walk to a few Wats and the palace. Because of my sunburn, I have to wear a long-sleeve shirt. I’m sweating like my head is plugging a dike. I walk into a celebration of some sort in the middle of a park near the palace. The people have makeshift buddhas and a stage for something yet to happen. Many are walking clockwise around an alter making their offerings. A few monks in orange robes walk around. One has an arm band tattoo.

I get to the palace, but I have shorts on and don’t want to get a sari again, I have been here before after all. I decide to walk around the back streets then head back to Khao San and get a massage to relax.

I get back and decide on the herbal massage because I don’t want to be tortured with a Thai massage right now. I get into the room and the woman has a boiler in there cooking something. I lay down and find out what she has been boiling – the herbs in a bag. Those go right on my back. I twitch in shock, but she is moving them around so it isn’t too bad at first. It gets bad when she presses the hot bag in one spot. I put up with it for awhile thinking the better more relaxing part will start any minute. It didn’t. I was being tortured with nearly-burning herbs on my body. On my sensitive areas I kept making the “ow” sound. She laughed, checked the temperature on her arm, then continued – for 2 hours! I came to cool down and relax but it’s hotter in the room than outside and I’m getting my body slowly burned by a lady that doesn’t seem to understand that my skin is a little more sensitive to heat than hers. You’d think ginger skin would be stronger to the fires of hell, but it isn’t – I assure you.

The Girl that Took 35,000 Pictures with a Tree

I kill the rest of the day drinking banana shakes and walking around backstreets and finally it is time to leave this dirty sauna for the airport. I get in a tuk-tuk to Phaya Thai station then ride the express train back to the airport.

Asiana’s counter for check-in isn’t open yet, so I have to wait for 2 hours. I find a place near the large Christmas tree watching the people get that perfect angle for pictures of each other. But one couple is slightly different.

This is the tree

A Thai couple, the girl was cute and had a crazy happy face on her. I don’t mean she looked crazy, I mean she was way too happy. She was grinning like they just won the lottery, but good on her for the happiness. Anyway, I didn’t really take much notice to them at first, he lines up his iPad, she poses with her gigantic grin, then she trots over to check it out. Obviously isn’t happy with it, so she goes back for another pose. She points orders to him for position and angle and waits for others to move from behind her for the perfect shot. She trots back over to check her work. Not happy. Still grinning though :) She goes back for more.   She grabs her hair with both hands and pulls the two sides straight on either side of her face and flattens the front of her peach dress. Poses pointing at the tree or with her arms at her sides and her hands curled away in the Thai style. Then checks the picture again. I shit you not, this continued for about an hour. I would guess a few hundred other people had taken pictures with the tree and left and they were still there getting the perfect shot – on an iPad. trotting back and forth from her centered position in front of the tree for symmetry back to the iPad for editing.

I began to get into this real-life drama happening in front of me. It’s like watching the Next Top Model or something. I began getting real curious as to what was wrong with these pictures that she felt she needed another one. Also, I wanted desperately to see the final shot. I wanted to see the shot that they lined up repeatedly for an hour to get. What was she looking for? I was fascinated now. But then, it ended as fast and as benignly as it had began. All of a sudden they stopped, they just walked off. Didn’t they owe us a look at their work after all that? Damn that girl.

It was nice to have been entertained for an hour though. By that time I could just hit the bathroom and get some drinks from the tiny convenience store that I had to shoe-horn into with my luggage. I checked in and went to the gate for the march of the flight attendants.

Aside from my bad relations with one Asiana flight attendant, I have to admit they have the most beautiful flight attendants in the sky. It reminds me of a time I didn’t live through but feel must have been the height of flying – the 60’s. Watching the crew on Asiana is like watching Leo’s flight scenes in “Catch Me if You Can”. It makes flying seem elegant and luxurious again. A far cry from the trolls on Delta last time I flew with them.

*Side-note for Airline companies – if you are going to go lax on the looks requirements for your airline, that is all fine and great, but at least choose people who have good people skills and customer service. If I have to look at several beasts for a few hours across the Pacific, they better at least be nice and courteous. Or on the flip-side, if I am going to get terrible attitudes and service at least they should be nice to look at. Asiana has beautiful flight attendants that also put others’ customer service to shame (note for the haters – Asiana hires men too). It’s all with Asiana and nothing with Delta.

What I’m trying to say is it’s part of the pleasure of flying in Asia versus America, standards we have given up in the false hope of getting a better deal on our flights. Not just looks (which isn’t a requirement for a good flight, don’t get me wrong here) but customer service.

The flight was smooth and uneventful. Back in Seoul. Freezing. After the bus ride back to my neighborhood I had to ice-skate back to my apartment. Where did the salt go? It was crazy watching everyone shuffle around on the ice like penguins. But I made it and turned the heat on, waited a few hours before really being warm, took a nap, then showered (finally, after 2 days) and got ready for New Year’s Eve!