May was a whirlwind of a month for us. We had just settled into our Lipe headquarters (a rented house/shop) and spent our first few nights there when we had to go to Satun. A few days later, we were back on Lipe. A couple of days later, back in Satun again, for what we thought would be a short trip, two or three days max. Little did we know that we would wind up being on the road for more than a month before we would have time to go back to Lipe. For the first time in my life, I finally understood how tiring business travel can be. I’ve always thought of it as a paid vacation, a chance to mix travel with work. Wrong. Being on the move all the time is incredibly tiring, especially when you’re on a tight budget as we are, taking cheap forms of transport and staying in dingy hotels and guesthouses.
One of the first things we had to do was get our visas sorted out so that we could begin the process of applying for a work permit here. To get the visa, we had to go to the nearest Thai Consulate, in our case, the one in Penang, Malaysia, a 4 hour trip on a cramped minivan. We left on a Friday with a big stack of papers from our lawyer and the assurance that the consulate would be open on Saturday. Well, upon arriving at Banana Guesthouse in Penang, we were greeted with two pieces of unpleasant news. One, the consulate was indeed closed on Saturday (as we suspected), and two, we were missing a document. A single piece of paper that was pretty much absolutely necessary in order for us to get the business visa. *This is when we started to pull our hair out* The agent at Banana Guesthouse told us that we could try our luck submitting our application without said document, or we could try to get it faxed over Monday morning. Well, all we could do was wait until Monday at that point, as we couldn’t do anything over the weekend.
Come Monday morning, and Eric is on the phone desperately trying to get our lawyer to understand what we need. Mind you, our lawyer speaks very little English. The deadline to submit our application passes and we realize we’re not going to get anything done from here, so it’s back on a minivan to Thailand. The next morning, we meet another lawyer who seems to know what she’s talking about (and thankfully in English!) and promises that she’ll get us the document we need. The following day, we’re back in Penang and this time, our application is complete. We pay an “express service fee” aka bribe to the agent at Banana Guesthouse in order to get our visa the next day, to save us spending an additional night in Penang. Then it’s back to Thailand all over again.
We were starting to drive each other a bit crazy by this point, being together 24/7 and stuck in this city with no wheels in a crappy hotel room. So after the last of our scheduled meetings, we went to Ko Tao to see Eric’s best friend Vinz, to meet with some contacts and to scout for used dive equipment.
After a few days in Ko Tao, we headed over to Phuket for more business related matters. Opening up accounts at the dive equipment wholesalers, purchasing used equipment, establishing contacts. We based ourselves on the seedy, girly bar lined road leading to the pier in Chalong, since that’s where all the dive shops and suppliers are. The hotel I had stayed in on my previous visit, 2 years ago, was closed, so we wound up taking a room upstairs from one of the girly bars. To get to this room, we had to walk through this narrow passageway past these smaller rooms that were obviously rented by the hour for one reason only. Well, here or the pricey resort down the road. Remember, we’re on a budget.
We left after just two days in Phuket, as the boat builders could not start without Eric there to explain exactly what it is that we want, and we need that boat built already!
We’re still smiling in this photo because we’re only about an hour into what will turn out to be a 7 hour journey from Phuket to Hat Yai.
It never fails to amaze me just how big this country is. I mean, when you look at a map, it looks like it would take 4-5 hours to reach Hat Yai from Phuket. Then you realize how windy and indirect the highways are, and then there’s the amount of time spent driving through the cities on crowded roads. And if the bumpy bus ride itself wasn’t enough, then there’s the frigid air-con to contend with. It seems to be a Southeast Asia thing, buses with air-con cranked to a temperature best described as “freeze my ass off.” At least the driver wasn’t playing any music, because when they do, it’s usually pretty terrible.
Finally, back in Satun the following morning, and then a couple of days later, back on our beloved Lipe to check on our rented house and to pick up personal stuff for the next few months we’ll be spending in Satun.
The speedboat ride to Lipe that morning was an absolutely miserable experience. The waves were several meters high and kept on splashing into the speedboat. Everyone was soaked within the first 20 minutes. The speedboat was basically riding the waves, up and down, up and down. But this was not a smooth ride, we were being pounded on all sides by the waves and every time the boat slid sideways, I thought, oh god the boat is going to flip. All this meant that more than just a few passengers got seasick. The crew was prepared for this, having handed out plastic bags before we departed. A rough ride got even more unpleasant once people all around us started vomiting. Into their clear plastic baggies. Me, I just kept my gaze fixed on the horizon and tried my best to zone out. A trip that normally takes an hour on relatively flat seas took close to 3 hours that day. We were beyond relieved when we finally set foot on Sunrise Beach. The sun was shining, the seas were calmer here, and Lipe was as beautiful as ever. It was good to be back, and to be reminded that everything we endure, we do it so that we can have our very own dive center here in paradise.