Welcome to Long Beach

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My crazy ride through the jungle to reach Long Beach on Ko Chang, Thailand

I’m leaving Lonely Beach on Ko Chang, with it’s long sandy beach and large crowds, and heading to Long Beach, 50 km away on the eastern side of the island. Long Beach has a fairly small beach, in comparison, and is nearly deserted. I’d suggest a name swap but I don’t know who to approach with the idea.

I’ve really come to love the people at my guest house on Lonely Beach and had hoped to say meaningful goodbyes when I left, but the last-minute training on the website I built for them runs late and I find myself rushing off to the pickup spot with nothing more than a hurried thank you. I reach the spot with 10 minutes to spare, then stand in the rain for an hour waiting on the taxi. When it finally arrives, the driver has to eat and we end up leaving two hours behind schedule.

The driver is a young, shirtless Thai man and is one of those “I’m not really going to acknowledge your presence” types.

I’m joined on the journey by an male expat who rides shotgun and a tanned German woman name Anna, who has bright blue eyes and a perpetual dreamy look on her face. The driver is a young, shirtless Thai man with long hair and is one of the “I’m not really going to acknowledge your presence” types that I’ve run across more and more here on the island.

The pouring rain that began at 5am has now decreased to a steady drizzle as Anna and I climb into the back of the songthaew with the packs. For those who aren’t familiar with that term, it’s Thai for a pickup truck with poorly-padded bench seats and a roof rack that you’ll crack your skull on at least once before the journey is over.

We set off immediately for Long Beach, crawling slowly along rain-slicked roads that twist and turn, then rise and fall through the dense rain forest of the island’s edge. I’ve ridden these roads on a rented motorbike and they are nothing to be trifled with — they are thick with tight turns at hill bottoms and ridiculous double-switchbacks that would have Mario Andretti chewing a hole in his seat.

The conversation fades eventually as our attention is drawn to the blurred landscape of rain-soaked tree

Anna and I chit chat a bit and exchange the requisite traveler’s questions of “Where are you from?” and “How long have you been traveling?” I find that, like most Europeans, she speaks better English than I do. The conversation fades eventually, as our attention is drawn to the blurred landscape of rain-soaked trees, strobe-like glimpses of hidden beaches, and the perpetual washing-machine motion of the truck.

Women pass the other way, riding scooters with their heads ducked low — right hands on the throttle and lefts clutching brightly-colored umbrellas. We’ve only gone a few kilometers when the driver pulls over at a small roadside store and buys a 20 kilo bag of rice, depositing it in the bed of the truck and on top of my feet. Two minutes later he stops again at a convenience store and we all pile out to buy last-minute supplies.

I pick up some mango juice, cookies for late-night munchies, a refill card for my phone that doesn’t work, and a insulated beer cozy. I’m very excited about my cozy purchase and dream of a future with beer that isn’t lukewarm, but I’ll later forget and leave it in the back of the truck.

The driver walks out with a small bottle of a Thai energy drink that sports a cow skull on the label and a girlie mag.

The driver walks out with a small bottle of a Thai energy drink that sports a cow skull on the label and a soft-porn girlie mag. I laugh and say “no reading while driving”, but he gives me the “Did you hear something?” treatment again. The expat is thrilled with his purchase of a case of wine coolers called “White Moon” for only 400 baht. “Five percent alcohol and damned hard to find!”

Back in the truck and on the road again for a full 45 seconds, we stop again at a grocery where the main supplies are loaded on. The backpacks are stacked high and I find myself surrounded by clear plastic bags full of every kind of vegetable, fruit, and mushroom I can imagine, as well as large tins of avocado oil, 2 stacks of eggs, and a bag stuffed full with raw chicken and fish. I’m seriously starting to worry that they’ll stop next for live goats.

We make it a good 3-4 kilometers before we pull over to pick up a hitchhiking monk. He hands me his orange pack (matching his robes) and climbs in, clearing a space next to me rather than sit next to a female. He looks to be about my age and asks where I’m from in broken English, pointedly ignoring Anna. I reply “I’m from America and she is from Germany” which he acknowledges with a slight nod and then clams up completely. Another conversation killed by the legendary Nations charm…

If I have to take sides, I’ll choose the cute backpacker over the celibate monk every time.

This response does win me a smile from the German lass, however — if I have to take sides, I’ll choose the cute backpacker over the celibate monk every time. It doesn’t matter in the end, as she’ll ditch me first thing at the guest house for a British backpacker named “Brillo” when we arrive. I think the monk would have been more loyal.

The rain picks up again and I’m glad to have the monk along. I’m hoping all of his good karma will work in our favor as we make our way through the increasingly tight turns, with their steep drops and lack of railings. Our driver nearly side-swipes another car as he passes, one of the few truly stupid moves I’ve seen a Thai make behind the wheel. So far, at least.

About halfway to our goal, the driver pulls into the parking lot of a ferry landing where he buys an ear of roasted corn and bullshits with some guy for five minutes. We stop again at the next ferry landing, where the monk exits, taking his pack and karmic shield with him. The words “we’re screwed” pop into my head involuntarily.

Eventually, our stalwart pilot decides to make up the time he’s wasted and the pace increases considerably.

Eventually, our stalwart pilot decides to make up the time he’s wasted and the pace increases considerably. The roads on the eastern side of the island are not as steep but still very twisty and he guns the truck faster and faster through the rain. I look over at Anna and see more white in her eyes than blue. My quip of “They charge extra for this at Disneyland!” is lost to the roar and the rain and her laser-focused terror.

The last two kilometers of the road are unpaved and rocky, looking more like a path cleared with hand grenades than a road. One would think that a rugged road like this would merit a slower, more careful pace, but Captain Too-Cool-for-You has scented home and, like a horse, is running for the barn.

The next few minutes are a wet, acid-trip jumble of images and sensations.

The next five minutes are a wet, acid-trip jumble of images and sensations. Midway, I crack my skull on the luggage rack and then nearly fall on top of the eggs. I’m clinging to the rack with both hands in a desperate gorilla grip, scared shitless, elated, and grinning like a jackass.

And, like all good amusement park rides, this one coasts to a smooth and sudden stop. The driver gets out of the cab and walks around to the back of the truck, making eye contact with me for the first time. He smiles wide and says “Welcome to Long Beach. 100 Baht.”

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

SpunkyGirl March 27, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Okay, that’s fantastic. Sounds like a fun ride…haha I’ve had similar rides in China, and I was always glad to be walking away!

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wes March 27, 2010 at 1:07 pm

PS. Sorry for the long post with no photos. Bandwidth here on Long Beach is thin at best. – W

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Anna March 27, 2010 at 2:50 pm

That was a good story, Uncle Wes! Tell another one!

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wes March 28, 2010 at 7:04 am

I’m afraid I won’t survive another one…

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TR March 27, 2010 at 3:21 pm

It sounds like a rainy version of our childhood trips to the hill country. Was your driver drinking Lone Star like Dad used to?

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Irene March 27, 2010 at 6:08 pm

OMG My Poor Ribs!!!!
What a story!!!

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Jolyn@Budgets are the New Black March 27, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Sounds like your companion had the right idea with the wine coolers! One (or two or three) might have have helped take the edge off… ;)

Were you a writer in a former life?

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wes March 28, 2010 at 7:31 am

ha! not sure about last life. hope to make it this go around :)

ps. I’d kill for a wine cooler right now

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Nomadic Chick March 28, 2010 at 2:36 am

Brillo? What an unfortunate name and bad call on the German gals’ part. Who needed pictures, vivid writing doesn’t need pictures. Gorgeous writing.

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wes March 28, 2010 at 7:31 am

thanks, Jeanie! :)

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wes March 29, 2010 at 12:17 pm

postscript: the two of them were inseparable the entire time I was there. True Love?

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leon March 28, 2010 at 7:20 am

sounds like you are having a fun time. keep up the writing. nice photo too.

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wes March 28, 2010 at 7:43 am

thanks, brother

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Miss Maria March 28, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Whew! I think I stopped breathing half way into the story. I’m so glad you made it to your destination.

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wes March 29, 2010 at 7:17 am

Heehee, thanks. It was actually fun in a “oh my god, I’m gonna die” kinda way.

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Chris March 31, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Great story man, sounds like one hell of a ride.

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