A cockroach the size of an oreo just crawled across my white bedsheet, which smells either like laundry detergent or embalming fluid, I can’t decide. I am writing this post with one hand; the other is holding fast to my shoe to launch a defensive strike against the next cookie sized roach that comes my way.

This morning, I woke up to an air-conditioned room, on a king sized bed, with an actual blanket, instead of an oversized towel as they’ve supplied me with here. A minor ant problem back on Ko Samui seems rather humorous now. Although they did bite, they were less apt to suddenly appear out of nowhere and scurry under the dark folds of your blanket. I prefer ants to these nasty bugs of Surat Thani. Well, I prefer Southeast Asian ants. You’d never have heard me say “I prefer ants” in the Amazon.

I spent the last five days on the Island of Ko Samui, which is a large island South of Ko Tao in the Gulf of Thailand. I took a ferry from Ko Samui to Ko Pagan, and ended up on Ko Samui a few hours later. My initial impression: dirty and big. Ko Tao is known for diving and it’s small size. It has more of a backpacker/adventurer vibe than anything else, although a touristy party scene does exist. Ko Pagan is known for its outrageous parties: full moon parties, half moon parties, really any shape of the moon parties. There is always a party on Ko Pagan, and although partying on a beach with 20,000 other tourists sounds interesting, the motivation is not there for me. Someone dies at every full moon party (this last party there were two casualties), and the majority of people just end up exceeding their reasonable limits to the point that it makes me wonder, at what point is it fun? The idea of partying on a trashed beach with thousands of trashed tourists just doesn’t do it for me. So I skipped it, and I went to Ko Samui.

Now, I ditched my Lonely Planet guide a couple of weeks ago, and so my plan has been to zoom in on Googlemaps whenever I can get online, and make a list of places that either have an interesting name (“Phuket” almost made the cut just based on it’s name, but then I learned that it’s one of Lonely Planet’s hottest locations), or that look like they’d take some work to get to. I picked Ko Samui simply based on the fact that I liked traveling by ferry, and in my Googlemaps escapades, I saw an island close to Ko Tao, but BIGGER. So it made the cut.

I probably would have hated Ko Samui, had it not been for my amazing Couchsurfing experience. I didn’t care for the busy streets and city-like atmosphere, but I was able to see past all of that thanks to Ron.

Ron is a very interesting guy. He is a firefighter, who has been around the world working contracts in various countries training firefighters. The day that he picked me up from the pier in Ko Samui was the same day he had arrived from Afghanistan, via Dubai. He has been spending the last couple of months over in Afghanistan training Afghan firefighters.

Of course, the first conversation we had consisted of me asking for a detailed description of his experience over there.

“What’s it like?”
“Terrible.”
“Has anything improved?”
“No. It’s gotten worse. I was over there in 2006, and if anything has changed, it’s changed for the worse.”

He explained to me how he lived on a small military base, among Americans and Jordanians, while being shot at daily by Al-Qaeda. He said when he left, there had been 10 days of no “incoming” assaults on the base, which was a record. It’s getting too cold, so the assailants are taking a break. But what I found most interesting about his account was his frustration about the progress we are not making. He said that, even though they are getting mortars blown at them every day, they are not authorized to fight back. He said it’s actually quite a spectacle, to go over and see the U.S. army completely not defending itself, when most people think that we are fiercely fighting terrorism every day. He said it’s just not like that. There is nothing to do, and there is no fighting back. I really wish I knew why.  And on top of just this scene, there has been no visible progress throughout the country. There are a lot more contracts and American companies over there, and contractors are almost all making at least six figures, but there is nothing else to be shown for it. We are pouring billions of dollars into the “fight,” but he assured me that there is no fighting on the American side. It’s mind boggling, and terribly sad that American soldiers are risking their lives every day for a fight that, he says, we aren’t really even fighting.

Ron does not like to talk about politics. He lists politics with ex girlfriends as taboo bar conversation topics. Bar conversation etiquette is important to him, as he owns a bar on Ko Samui, and that is where we spent most of our time. I stayed with him in his apartment above his bar, and I like to think I was a quite helpful guest in a couple of ways. It was his first time living there too, and my carelessness often ended up being informative in the end.  Examples:

1. I showed him that deadbolts on the doors have springs, such that when you close the door it locks behind you. I learned this the hard way, locking myself out on the third floor balcony during a thunderstorm/downpour, where no one could hear me screaming for help through the violent weather. I sat there for 20 minutes, having accepted my fate and decided to wait until someone noticed I was missing. Anyways, now he knows this about the doors.

2. We locked my purse in his motorbike one day, and went into the bar. I went to bed, he went to bed, and then the bartenders shut down the bar and also went to bed. In the morning, we realized that the keys to get us out of the building, which has a metal gate that slides down over the entrance and locks with the padlock, were on the other side of the gate…in my purse…in the motorbike. The bartenders had taken their set of keys after locking us in, and we were literally locked inside. After hours of hungry helpless waiting, we found a way out, which involved lifting me over a fence in the back, and walking down an alley littered with feces and garbage, to get out to the road. Now he knows about the escape-route.

3. I brought a glass of orange juice up to my room. Hours later, ants moved in. Now he knows not to bring food upstairs.

We had a good time, and a variety of adventures. He took me to these incredibly luxurious resorts and bars that were really unlike anything I’ve ever been to before in my life. “The W,” for example, has lounge tables that are set inside a shallow infinity pool, which overlooks the city. We went up there too late to get a picture, but I wish I was able to show what it looked like. It was awesome. My friend Shay from Ko Tao came to visit yesterday, and we took “girls night” very seriously, treating ourselves to giant shrimp and pasta dishes at wonderful Western restaurant.  A break from rice and curry was much needed.

Anyways, after relaxing at resorts and lazily enjoying life, I left today to get back on the grimy road. And here I am, worlds apart from where I was this morning. I am in Surat Thani, and I will try to make my way across the border tomorrow into Malaysia. I say “try” because I have really no idea how to do this, and I have no map or idea of what town I might want to go to once I get to Malaysia. It’s a nice challenge to travel without a guidebook.  The whole stepping out of the comfort zone is actually beginning to become a reality for me.  When I arrived at the train station today and asked for a ticket to Malaysia, the guy behind the counter laughed and called me “ting tong” (crazy).

“Where do you go?” he said.
“Malaysia.”
“Yes, where do you go Malaysia.”
“Uhm. I don’t know man, just Malaysia, anywhere.”

I started realizing how silly I sounded, especially having no map to make me seem a little more sure of where I was going. But he gave me a ticket for tomorrow morning, and hopefully it will get me to the border. My week of poolside lounging, sipping Pina Coladas out of a coconut had to end at some point.  And here I am.  Back on the road.