There are no speed limits posted here. Riding in the back of a pick-up truck or three to a scooter are widely accepted modes of transport. Lightning illuminates the sky and still the beach and waves are speckled with people swimming, suntanning, beach combing. All mini lighting rods, flirting with the 1-in-a-million probability. Compared to Canada, where the playgrounds are laiden with impact-absorbing rubber pellets and anxious mothers follow their children around with Lysol wipes and Purell sanitizer, there is a certain attitude about health and safety that has been interesting, entertaining, and sometimes scary to witness. Here are a few ways one can be injured in Thailand:
- Sunburns: After five weeks in Europe with an abundance of clouds, rain and cold, we were rather ambitious about donning our swimsuits and offering up our pasty white legs to the sun gods. The first official beach day in Ko Lanta gave us red hot noses and peeling shoulders that were sizzling and sore the next day. I felt a bit better when I spied a group of normally light-skinned tourists that looked as though they’d been thrown into the lobster pot. Misery loves company, I guess. Funny enough, sunscreen is one of few items that is more expensive than buying it in Canada – around $15 a bottle. Pricey or not, after the first burn, we stocked up.
- Bad Food: Knock on wood, we haven’t been stricken with the dreaded traveller’s diarrhea. Yet. Spend any time watching how food is handled here and it’s not much of a mystery as to why it’s so common. Diner beware if you chance to purchase one of those street side chicken skewers that’s been sitting raw and warm in the blistering sun, flies buzzing around it, it’s juices mixing with the brown-ish beef, and yellow-tinged fish laid out in a stinking display. After hearing horror stories of people that spend their entire time in Thailand clutching porcelain, we’ve made a point of avoiding street meat and trying to eat at restaurants where the diner turnover seems high (and therefore more likely the food fresh and the meal made to order). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: say no to street meat people!
- Drinking: After reading in our guidebook about “buckets” of cheap Thai Sang Som and coke, I had to try one or three for myself. Without elaborating, I’ll say this: it’s a hurt that keeps on giving. Though many believe the cure is another bucket (and another and another), after my hurtful introduction in Ko Phi Phi, I was happy to sip on watered down pina coladas henceforth.
- Driving: Here’s something fun. Take an overstimulated tourist who has never ever been on two wheels, feed him a couple beers, plop him on a scooter in flip flops and a bathing suit (no helmet), and send him hurtling down a street full of trucks, tuk tuks, motorcycles, bicycles, buses, dogs, cats, and pedestrians. For added excitement, put a passenger on the back and ask him to drive on the wrong side of the road. Oh, did we forget to tell you it’s a manual? Hope road rash goes well with your short shorts! Though I’d like to think that having experience on two wheels made us less of a spectacle, driving was a little hairy at times. Scootering down from a mountain viewpoint just outside Chiang Mai, the roads were slick with rain. Within three kilometres, we saw two scooters go down hard and one truck being pulled from a ravine. Tyler’s white shirt was soaked through and our arms bumpy with goosebumps, but in his ever calm, cool, and collected way, we arrived back in Chiang Mai safe and sound.
- Things that slither: One afternoon in Ko Phayam we took a shortcut from the beach to our bungalow through the hotel restaurant. A crowd had gathered in a tight circle, with cameras and iphones drawn, so we moved closer to see what was happening. In the middle of the gawkers was a neon green constrictor wrapped around a lifeless gecko, its jaws stretched wide in an impossible looking attempt to consume the unfortunate amphibian. One of the staff thought it a good idea to poke said snake with the end of a broom handle to separate it from its already dead meal. What!? Once the snake figured out it wasn’t going to get its meal, it started to move. Fast. The gathering scattered like a flock of frightened chickens as the snake darted with lighting speed towards the closest gap in the crowd. I was halfway back to Canada by then.
- Things that swim: A previous post detailed one of our tour group taking a couple of sea urchin spikes in the foot. That incident combined with the basketball-sized jellyfish we saw on the boat ride from Ranong and a scary scene in Costa Rica where a rogue wave nearly swallowed Tyler whole, has cultivated a healthy respect between me and the sea. Don’t turn your back on it and don’t touch anything.
- Rabies: Dogs and monkeys in Thailand are said to have a higher than normal risk of carrying rabies (amongst other things). Touring around the pier in Ko Phayam, there was a mangy stray dog limping around with a hole the size of a toonie in its hindquarters, a few inches deep, and obviously festering. Later when we were describing this wound to a local, he claimed these types of wounds happen as a result of monkey bites. Don’t touch the dogs, and definitely don’t pet the monkeys.
- Mozzies: Chiang Mai is one of few places in Thailand labelled as an area with medium to high risk of contracting malaria from mosquitos. After learning about the risks and probabilities, as well as possible side effects of various anti-malarial medications, we’ve opted not to take the drugs and load up on mosquito spray and long pants instead. As I hold my breath to spray on the toxic bug spray that boasts 85% deet content, I’m not entirely convinced the alternative is that great for you either. C’est la vie, at least I won’t itch.
- Playing with Fire: Our second night in Ko Phi Phi saw the arrival of the new moon, and with it the Black Moon party, ugly cousin to the famed parties that occur with each full moon on many Thai islands. Apparently the thing to do if you are a beachside bar wishing to attract money-spending tourists during this time is to throw a fire party. It starts out with an experienced pyromaniac juggling flaming batons while balancing high above on a tightrope, the cheering crowds safe below sucking on their beers and buckets of whiskey and coke. When the sweaty flamethrower finally steps off the stage, it’s time for audience participation: fire limbo. Of course, with the incentive of free shots, many become brave enough to bend over backwards under the flaming rod of fire. Chest hairs are burnt, eyebrows singed, and shots had all around as the rod moves down and down and down, low enough in its final stages for only the bendy Thais to pass impossibly beneath. Bored with that? How about another grade school game: jump rope! Except this jump rope is doused in gasoline and put to torch. By now everyone’s had their shots and are feeling like they can somehow win this game. The Thais laugh hysterically as they turn the rope faster and faster. One after another, would-be jump-ropers fall hard with a flaming rope twisted in their legs. One girl’s ponytail goes up with a “whoosh”.
- Lions, tigers, and bears oh my! Okay, maybe just tigers. We couldn’t resist the opportunity to cuddle with baby tigers and pose with the big cats at Tiger Kingdom, just outside Chiang Mai. We lined up to purchase a combo ticket that would give us 15 minutes with the smallest tigers and 15 minutes with the big ones. The mood inside the baby tiger enclosure was playful and fun, with the cats scrapping with each other, pawing their handlers, and climbing all over us while we posed, petted, laughed, and snapped photos. As we entered the big cat’s enclosure, the mood changed drastically. The handler was serious and focused, often putting himself between us and the cats as he gave careful direction on how to approach and touch them. Walk to them slowly from behind and touch them firmly. Don’t tickle. Avoid touching their head and paws. Don’t run or move abruptly. Use quiet, steady voices.
I’m happy to report that we’re still alive and well and enjoying our remaining days in Thailand as safely as possible.