We arrived in Thailand safe and sound almost exactly three weeks ago. Amazing how time flies! We spent our first week in Bangkok shopping for clothes (since we brought almost nothing here) and seeing parts of the city that we hadn't explored last time we were here. Bangkok is really an amazing city, insanely busy, with delicious street food everywhere, and amazing (and quite clean) public transport.
After an awesome, action-packed week with barely any time to breathe in Bangkok we made the almost 18h journey to Koh Samui by land. Of course it was supposed to be 11h, but you know, we were taking our time. Koh Samui is the island where we'll be spending the vast majority of our trip and our home base for side trips around the country. Our friend Duane is also staying here for a little while and we've all been having a great time so far.
Though metered taxis are ridiculously cheap in Thailand (about $3 for a 30 minute cab ride), the taxis on this island have colluded to inflate prices to at least as high as, if not higher than, even North American standards. It costs approximately $6 for a ride less than 10 minutes. Because of this we've been renting scooters the whole time. Scooter rentals cost anywhere from $5-8/day. We've rented one on a monthly basis which worked out to about $4/day. The downside is that driving here is a bit hectic and safety gear is limited at best. Pretty much all we've got for protection are helmets and our skin, which I think is probably the standard for scooters in this part of the world. Though we're quite safe it's not uncommon to see someone weave in and out of traffic and drive into oncoming traffic wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and sandals. I have to say I'm quite concerned that we'll be witness to a severe accident while we're in the country.
The road rules here appear to mostly be just suggestions, rather than law. Fortunately, not too many people seem to speed... but they do drive the wrong way up one-way roads, drive on side walks and park anywhere. It's all good fun ;-).
I have to admit, so far my attempt at learning Thai has been pretty underwhelming. Though I can pronounce all of the characters, I can't read anything longer than a few syllables. Because there are no spaces between words in Thai, you need to be able to identify all of the syllables and words as they run together. In addition, different fonts make reading a huge challenge. I had no idea how much of a difference font could make, and with so many characters looking so similar a slight variation in the look due to the font makes it impossible to identify without being familiar with the context of the sign.
In terms of speaking Thai I can say most greetings and, believe it or not, in my first week in Thailand I was able to do very basic negotiating over a shirt I bought in Bangkok, all in Thai. I have the basics now, and am mostly just memorizing vocabulary so that I can say a little more than just greetings. Since I can more or less negotiate purchases now, being able to do a full restaurant experience in Thai is my next mini-goal. By the end of the trip I'd like to be able to do a short video update all in Thai.
Next week I'll be heading up to Chiang Mai, where I believe even less English is spoken, so this will give me even more pressure to get into the language.