RESEARCH INTO TRAT
Ticket Guy: "And the price includes the boat out to Trat."
Logan: "Trat is an island?"
Ticket Guy: (Stares hard) "Yes."
[Note: Later it was discovered this was not true.]
JOURNEY TO TRAT
When you cross over the border from Cambodia into Thailand, prepare for what the military has termed 'a clusterfuck'.
Because Cambodian buses do not have the correct license plates, paperwork or permissions, all of the passengers are disgorged from the large comfortable buses and squeezed into mini vans. It is surprising how many people with luggage can be stuffed into a mini van. The mini vans will show up when they are able to and leave when they have filled for various destinations.
This means a lot of people sitting on the sides of their road with luggage. They tend to find where to sit by chance as there was no one to direct them to the area about half a kilometer from the border itself.
OFF TO THE ISLAND [KOH CHANG]
While on the bus ride was talking to a guy who has an interesting job. He makes movies and music videos and had just gotten back from Russia or Republic of Georgia (not clear on which) making a couple music videos. Chatting to people who have interesting work - and are passionate about their jobs - is always interesting. There were also a couple of girls traveling together who seemed happy to hang out for a spell.
Sometimes, changing plans to accommodate new situations is a good thing. Sometimes not.
It turned out that rather than heading to Trat, they were going to a nearby island. Since the people who were doing the transportation seemed to have only a loose grasp of where we were bound, tagging along to hang out with the three seemed more interesting than proceeding directly to Trat.
The island itself was nothing special. Unless you have rented a motorbike, much of the island is accessible only on the infrequent 'bhat bus taxis' which cost between 50-150 THB.
When we were dismounting the ferry upon the island itself, the lady from the transportation office attempted to hard sell tickets through fear for 100 THB. Since she was in transportation, it is assumed that anything out of her mouth was by definition a lie. This turned out to be correct. The 'bhat buses' were only 60 THB.
As soon as we reached the island on the car carrying ferry, the girls ditched us by taking the last two places in a 'bhat bus' and drove off never to be seen again. A bit disheartening, but not a huge loss. They seemed to not need others for a conversation.
In the wind, rain and dark of night Tailor (the film producer) and I eventually reached the beach side hostels. He stayed in one that only had one room left and made sure I got lodgings in another called 'Independent Backpackers'.
This place seemed to be organically 'grown' rather than built. Any time you create something on the side of a hill or mountain, the architecture seems to get more interesting and treacherous.
The rooms themselves weren't terribly clean. The space between the corrugated roofs and walls allowed plenty of insects to make their way in. The frayed and torn ancient mosquito netting seemed to be more of a marker for a feeding zone rather than a barrier to entry.
In addition, the amateurishly made wood, stone and concrete steps of varying heights and widths became amazingly slippery in the rain. The hand rails were ornamental. Quite surprising nobody had ripped them off while avoiding falling down the side of a very steep hill.
Not the kind of place you want to go when you are feeling sick.
Would it have been more enjoyable if not sick? Honestly, only if you are interested in playing in the water. The same water that is alternatively marked 'no swimming' and 'danger rip tides'. If you only go in waist deep there are plenty of waves to splash around in. Not really worth returning. Although the places to stay are pretty cheap (down to $10) there are better affordable beaches elsewhere in the world.
On the plus side, not many other people seem to think the beach is all that grand and it was a very deserted sand beach. Some natives playing in the water and occasional tourist women in their twenties who were under the belief they were fifteen again gathering up bags of small and not very interesting shells were most of the traffic.
For the last week, conjunctivitis had been rearing its ugly head. For those unfamiliar with the symptoms, it can first feel like you have a piece of grit in your eye. This intensifies. The eye becomes bloodshot and you get an amazing dose of pain after a couple days. Sensitivity to light - never handy on a beach - also causes additional pain. Reading and perhaps seeing with the afflicted eye becomes impossible.
I had it in both eyes this time. Arrival at the island seemed to give the signal for a massive 'flare up' and the condition worsened.
Due to the heat, massive pain and hordes of mosquitoes sleeping became quite impossible. Being able to fight back a bit with the electronic tennis racquet did make me feel a bit better.
After two days there it was time to resume my journey to Trat and find a hospital. The Scottish woman who owned the guest house (Fiona) told me of the two different options - a private hospital or the public hospital.
Being sick, sleep deprived, confused and heavily burdened with baggage is not a good way to arrive in a new town.
The private hospital seems to be set up to suck the most money from "traveler's insurance" possible. To even see a doctor is $100 USD. None of the specialists were in.
Decided to check out the public hospital. For a bit under $10 USD got to see a specialist though his grasp of English seemed dubious as well as issued two tubes of eye drops. They were horrified at the prior use of 'Pred Forte'. They seemed to regard it as trying to kill a mosquito with a sledge hammer and ordered it was not to be used for this flare up. [For foreign readers, a flare up is what American doctors call it when some ailment you've got gets suddenly worse. It only applies to certain medical problems. For example, if you have a small cut and suddenly begin to spurt blood across the room, nobody would call it a 'flare up'. They may call it 'unintentional redecorating'.]
The public hospital was a good deal cleaner and more professional than many I'd seen before. In some of the public hospitals, they seem either awed or freaked out to see a foreigner. Because of either this or just being really nice, the foreigner is often bumped to the head of any line. Not the case in Thai hospitals. You are treated as any one else. While it means waiting longer, it is less embarrassing than being 'queue jumped'.
SETTLING INTO TRAT
From the main street of Trat, the tourist area is not obvious. Most of the literature says 'south of the market'. The market is also not obvious. Questioned instead a fellow backpacker who gave directions to a place called 'Residang Residence Guesthouse'.
Since seeing was not possible, lying around on an extremely large and comfortable bed listening to audio books became the major preoccupation. There was occasional staggering around in the bright light, protected by sunglasses. If I don't walk around a few hours every day the body goes into yet more pain. Since it was already enduring conjunctivitis, a cold and "traveler's tummy" we opted for the walking.
Trat itself doesn't seem to have any of the normal 'tourist candy'. In fact, most people are here for a day at most. The people are a good deal friendlier here than in other parts of Thailand - since they see less tourists. You don't get hassled to purchase anything. Trat isn't a popular town.
For just hanging out, it is fine. There are some nice streets for walking, city type stuff and 'Asian crap architecture' depending on where you go. They have a decent food block though no larger restaurants. Apparently the low tourist population won't support them.
The 'food block' is a market place of food. Find the stalls with chairs and tables first - otherwise the food will be put into small plastic bags rubber bands shutting them forever. This is how takeaway is done.
Since it looked very unlikely that Malaysian Ringets would be needed in the near future tried to exchange them at a bank. They have some crazy rule they only accept 50 and 100 denomination notes though they couldn't explain why. It sounds like one of those silly rules that is followed and nobody knows why.
This would not be a concern but no currency exchange places have yet been found.
Beer (300ml or so) $2 (60 THB)
Meal, 80-100 THB for simple stuff or Thai dishes
Taxi on island, 50-150 THB
Ferry to island, 60 THB
Hospital including seeing an eye doctor and two different eye drops, 263 THB
Shave, 60 THB
330ml beer, 50 THB
Thai meal with rice from restaurant, 50 THB
Main with rice (Thai cooking) from food block with rice, 20-25 THB
16 GB thumb drive, 450 THB - way too much.