A Few Favourites

So far, we’ve been on Koh Tao for about two weeks. Time flies here, so even though I have little to do everyday, I find I’m always too busy to sit down in a quiet room and write. There are just too many things to do, people to meet and adventures to be had.

So after two weeks, here is a (tiny) list of some of my favourite things Life on the Turtle has to offer:

1. Pets- It seems as though everyone on Koh Tao has a dog. And not of the malnourished variety you might stumble across in the bigger cities like Bangkok.

The majority of Koh Tao’s tiny population is Buddhist. After a bit of local education I learned that Buddhists view animals as sentinel beings, capable of feeling and suffering just as humans. Karma is also important, because any wrongdoing (such as animal cruelty) will be paid for in the next life. The idea of rebirth and negative karmic consequences means creatures here- from a dog to a centerpede- are treated with respect.

George's new squirrel friend.

For me (who reaches for the bug spray when a suspicious spec of dirt moves across the floor), this was difficult to grasp at first. You can buy bug spray here but it’s pretty expensive, and for the first few days I would manically spray around the door frames of our house. Seeing the mass grave of little bugs outside our front door a few days later made me grateful they weren’t inside biting me, but incredibly guilty all the same. I have since ceased my nightly massacres, and have had no nasty mozzie bites, or frightening run-ins with the local dogs. And we welcome our little watch-frogs (who guard our house by night) and gecko friends, whose play area is our ceiling. Karma!!

This Buddhist quote sums it up perfectly,

All beings tremble before violence. All love life, all fear death. If you see yourself in others then whom can you injure?” Dhammapada 129

Fanta likes to hang out with the boys.

2. When you walk around barefoot, your feet don’t go black, they turn a chalky white. So even when you feel really dirty, you don’t look too bad! I’m guessing this has something to do with the fact that the island is made up of huge boulders and rock. Their erosion over time makes the ground chalky.

Walking under the boulders (below) is always a bit sketchy, especially since it looks like they’re being held up by twigs!

Watch your head... because the boulder you're about to walk under is being held up by twigs!

Are you sure those twigs will hold?!

3. Butterflies- there are butterflies everywhere. Enough said.

4. Yellow rice with crispy chicken- Yellow Rice is a tiny little hole in the wall and, as the name suggests, all they sell is yellow rice. It might not look like the most appealing dish, but it’s fricken awesome. Saffron rice, perfectly cooked crispy chicken, some home-made sweet chilli sauce and crunchy fried garlic scattered throughout. Delicious. And it only sets you back 50 Thb (Aus$1.50)!

5. Tanote Bay- a beautiful little spot on the east side of the island. Home to a couple of German diving schools, a few bungalows and this incredible view.

Tanote Bay from above (kinda looks like that truck is about to drive off the edge of the cliff!)

However, it can be a little tricky to get to if a truck breaks down across the entire length of the only road in and out of Tanote! We were stuck on the lower end (driving up the mountain) for a solid hour. It was hot. We were sweaty, and just wanted to get the hell off the steep mountain. That’s when this happened…

Tips for Bargaining in Thailand

The bargaining process can be intimidating for first-timers. I remember the first time I gave it a go in Bali. I felt awkward, embarrassed and totally inadequate.

So here are a few tips to guide you through your haggling experience.

IS BARGAINING APPROPRIATE HERE?

When shopping, the first thing you need to determine is whether or not it is appropriate to bargain.

All too many ‘farangs’ (Westerners) travel to Thailand with the belief that fixed-prices don’t exist. They’re wrong.

In general, open-air market places are fine- haggle your little heart out. But department/ convenience stores  are a different story because you aren’t dealing with the owner directly, and retail staff in Thailand have the same amount of power as their counterparts in Western nations- very little. So don’t bother.

In terms of accommodation, prices are fixed unless you are staying longer than a week, in which case you can try to get the price down a little.

Suan Lum Night Bazaar, Bangkok.

 

WHERE TO START

My general rule of thumb is to halve the original asking price, and go from there. With practice you can get up to 40% off the vendors initial price.

Never buy the first thing you see- excluding original art- because I guarantee you’ll see the exact same item two or three stalls down. This way you’ll have a chance to shop around, and get a better gauge on what things are really worth.

ATTITUDE

The number one rule for successful bargaining is a good attitude. Remember that haggling is part of Thai life, so while you may feel embarrassed or out of your depth, it is expected. And it’s fun! A big smile, good sense of humour and a little bit of patience will get you a long way.

Another hot tip- don’t be an arrogant ‘Westerner’. When haggling on a price, don’t scream and yell, and don’t throw your money at the vendor (I’ve seen this happen before!).

Be respectful and don’t get caught up in the trivialities of bargaining. All too often an argument will erupt over a 10 THB discrepancy. Always put it back into perspective- 10 THB is about AU30c, and that 30 cents will probably be much more useful to them than to you.

LANGUAGE

Getting a firm handle on some of the basics will get you a long way. Here are some to practice:

Hello/goodbye: Male- Sawadee krap

Female- Sawadee kaa

How much: Gee Baht?

Yes/no:               Chai/ Mai

Expensive: Phaeng

Always begin with a Thai greeting. Not only is it polite, but vendors will take you a little more seriously and appreciate the gesture (even if they do have a little chuckle at your pronunciation).

It will also make you appear less gullible, meaning that their opening price will be more realistic. I’ve also heard of vendors offering ‘Thai-speaker prices,’ which are obviously cheaper than non-Thai-speaker prices, so learn as many phrases as you can!

BECOME FAMILIAR WITH THE MONEY

Always carry plenty of small change, and make sure you familiarize yourself with the aesthetics of the currency before you start shopping.

Thai money is colour coded, i.e. 20 THB is green, 50 THB is blue etc. It’s good to have plenty of these small notes for purchases such as water (approx. 10 THB per 1 L bottle). It’s very easy for a vendor to ‘accidentally’ give the wrong change when an  unsuspecting ‘farang’ (Westerner) hands over a 1000 THB note for a 10 THB bottle of water. So, check your change!

THE UNWRITTEN RULE

Thailand is like eBay. If you make an offer, and the vendor accepts, you MUST buy it. I’ve never actually seen what happens in this situation, but I’ve heard stories, and in general, it’s just poor form. Don’t make an offer unless you are willing to see it through.

Good luck and bonza bargaining to you all!!