Sunday, November 17, 2013

Travelogue: Flying High

Another scam?

We had to rush in the morning; the tour operators will tell specific timings when they pick up tourists from hotels for particular activities. First thing in the morning was to carry enough money for the event; and we had locked most of our cash and passports and whatever anyone felt valuable within our hotel safety locker in our room; due to the fear created by the hotel owner the previous day. Guess what – the electronic locker didn’t open in the morning! We called the hotel owner (who is the receptionist, cashier, manager and everything rolled in one).

I’ve described a few scams that happen in Thailand; being suspicious I wondered if we had fallen into some lesser known scam. I wondered how we easily trusted a hotel safe! Truth be told – in Thailand it is probably safer to keep valuables with you in hand as long as you are not getting into a tussle with anyone or getting into something illegal; because here tourists are given priority when it comes to police cases. The owner gave us some cash to cover for the time being and said he will have it opened by the time we return. It felt uncomfortable – passport, cash, card, our expert photographer’s camera and what not.

A van picked us up and we went to another hotel where we picked a couple of north Indian families – there was also one kid. The Indian family really frustrated the van driver because they kept delaying with each person coming one by one – the driver threatened many times to move. The van dropped us on a small beach. Over here the van operator hands you over to another event organizer – they collect money for activities like parasailing and underwater sea walking. These are pretty much fixed rates that you can Google; no negotiations there. 500 Baht for parasailing, 1200 for underwater walking and the tour guy takes 500 for the whole trip (boat, lunch, pickup and drop).

Up up and away

We were all loaded into a speed boat and taken out to the middle of the sea where there was a flurry of activity atop a relatively large platform constructed with wooden planks. The organizing lady asked, “dip no dip?” and then put a mark on our hand and pushed us out of the boat onto the platform. Actually they even have 2 dips if you want – this decides how many times you want to touch the water when you do parasailing; default is 1 dip.

The activity is pretty well organized on the platform in the middle of the sea – between the speed boat organizer and the parasailing guys. They’ll strap on a life jacket on you with some places where they can hook up the strings that will attach you to a speed boat; you will also be clipped on to a type of parachute. The speed boat will force you to start running on the platform (even if you don’t you will get dragged off!), the parachute will spread open and you will find yourself floating higher and higher in the air till you reach a maximum height. The driver of the boat will then slow down a little and you will slowly descend to the water, sink up to waist level, most likely swallow some salty sea water and then he will again accelerate while you fly again. He will go around the platform and then slowdown in such a way to let you land on the wooden platform from where you started where a few organizers will grab you and unbuckle you from the speedboat. The sensation of ascent and descent is great – what starts out initially as fear will turn to joy. Take heart from the kids who are more than eager to fly - there was a little kid who insisted on doing the ride and he was buckled up with one of the organizers to take the ride. Don’t worry too much about the fear of drowning in the middle of the sea and you should be ok :-)

Our expert photographer had good fun – he got to do a 2nd round free! For some reason the speed boat driver wasn’t able to get him to land on the platform and so he took him around once again. Our photographer had another bigger surprise in store for later!

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Travelogue: Fish spa

Temptations are hard to fight; and they say that one way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it! But it’s very likely that you will regret it later. As we passed down Walking Street I wondered how many people had yielded to their temptations; how many people had Walking Street conquered?

The street is not as jam packed as the most famous street in Chennai but it comes close. As you cross the midway mark the crowd starts to thin out. Towards the end of the street there was an Indian pub playing Bollywood music; there were many playing music so loud that we could feel the beats outside. And further beyond this there was a pier (a platform extending over the shore into the sea with a few boats tied to it). Veggie friend and I spent quite a while sitting on the small wall that extended across the pier. There were a few folks on the opposite side enjoying a drink; a few meters away a few young adult Asians were huddled in a group enjoying jokes – most people had a drink in their hand.

It was around 1am when we took the return walk down Walking Street. On the way we saw a Fish Spa – it is very popular in Thailand. Look out for durations of 15 or 20 minutes because doing 30 minutes to 60 minutes will be boring and also more costly. In a fish spa you will have large glass boxes filled with water and plenty of small fish. Next to the box is a bench; you sit on the bench and with a slightly wet towel your legs below the knee level will be scrubbed to ensure there is no dirt. Then you dip your legs up to knee level in the water. And what follows is one of the weirdest sensations that you will experience – ticklish, tingling and a little worrying when you see all those little fish attacking your legs. Along with the two of us, there were two foreigners who took a dip (each person gets a separate glass box). Both of them screamed and pulled out their legs two seconds after dipping it in. Aided by the shop assistants they tried once again by slowly lowering their legs – they made funny expressions and held up for 2 minutes before resigning! Once you get over the first couple of minutes you can relax – you get used to the strange sensation and the concept of fish eating humans for a change.

The fish are called ‘doctor fish’ and they eat the dead skin on your leg; there are claims and counter-claims over health benefits. There are also concerns about infection spreading through water since the water isn’t cleaned after each customer dips their legs – when we put our legs we really didn’t know about any of this!

Veggie friend bought a cowboy type hat in Walking Street for the cheapest price we had seen in Thailand. The Thai girl who sold it to us was extremely grateful and thankful – this shop was near the end of the street and I don’t think they would have got many customers. 

It was nearing 3am when we hit the bed back in our hotel room.