Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Bangkok Blackout - Omaha Beach v.II

So last night I thought it would be a good idea to try out Kho Phi Phi's 'Burger Challenge' - 800 grams of beef (tower of three burgers), followed by; a plateful of potato wedges, 20 doughnut sized onion rings and a large bowl of coleslaw. I had 30 minutes and if I completed the challenge, I would get the meal for free as opposed to paying 500 Baht.

I wanted to die.

Having thrown in the towel at the last hurdle (8 more onion rings) and a tactical chunder later, I realised what a f***ing stupid idea it was and will never ever do it again.

As of this point in time of writing, I have exactly three weeks left until I return back to the United Kingdom. There is also a woman behind me talking to a baby on Skype making the most irritating sounds. I cannot quite believe how fast it is going, but this is unsurprising when one does so much on a daily basis. To make matters worse; On those all too frequent days where I don't actually do anything, I have usually been in a zombie-like state from a copious amount of alcohol. As such I declared that my time in Kho Tao would be...


Furthermore, as a lot has happened over the past 3 weeks, I will only discuss the 'highlights' to keep this prose as succinct as possible. See this as the Thailand update.

So I arrived in BKK International Airport at around 11 in the morning on the 8th November. The whole flight went pretty smoothly, but getting up at 5 AM to catch the damn thing was painful. Immigration was an entirely different matter. In one of those typical Sod's Law moments it seems I chose, quite possibly, the slowest person in the world who seemed to enjoy staring at the computer screen without actually doing anything. I knew the Thais were laid back but this was ridiculous. Anyway, I eventually proceeded through, collected my bags and met my mini intro-tour leader, Shell.

For those that don't know; Even though I have been travelling independently for quite some time, I found a pretty cost-effective package called ThaIntro which I thought would alleviate the burden of 'travelling' for a week. Basically a vacation on a vacation. Furthermore, it was a guaranteed way of meeting people and I certainly met some cool  and interesting characters. Some of the stories I have to tell of our adventure, I will definitely be leaving for real-life conversation. Even now I can't quite believe what actually happened.

After a 40 minute taxi ride I arrived at our guest house and chose to go off solo and explore the local area. Immediately, I was beset upon by men repetitively screaming "Tuk-Tuk!?", and within 10 minutes I had one guy trying a ridiculous scam. He basically claimed he worked for Unicef (It was across the road) and wanted to tell me where to go and what to do. This was fine, but having been travelling for over 2 months, and having pretty much seen it all, I saw straight through him. Part of the conversation was like this: -

Man: "My friend, I am just on lunch from my job." (Points at Unicef building)

Me: "Oh yeah? Well what do you do?"

Man: "Oh, haha. You know... Looks around. Things."


Conveniently his tuk-tuk mates were hanging around so I politely told him to stop wasting his time and headed back to meet the rest of the group, the majority of whom were English with a couple of Canadians mixing it up. (Much love to you all).

I have always been intrigued by Bangkok because it really is the decompression chamber of first-time travellers. I'll be honest, I had heard some pretty crappy opinions of the place prior to going, but I actually liked it. I'm not sure if it is because I am now more experienced and as such had no culture-shock to taint it; but having come from the very intense hustle and bustle of Vietnamese cities, Bangkok was just fun. Even the notorious Khao San road, which is basically just a long street filled with 7-Elevens (my God, I love these stores; They take convenience to a new level), bars and Western restaurants. Not a particularly cultural place, but you must see it if you are there.

The first night was a relatively early one (2 AM, ha) for I was shattered and we had to get up 'early' to undergo a river cruise and Wat sight-see. However, the occurrence most worth mentioning was my first, and probably last, Ping Pong show. (For those that do not know what these are, I suggest, and warn beforehand, you Google them). 

To be honest, I really did not know what to expect. Well, I did in that these women were going to be particularly adept with their, uh, 'region'. But some of the acts were just plain bizarre. One of them was basically Jesus and somehow turned water into what looked like Pepsi. I'm aware it was wine in the Bible.

Being Chris Dennett, of course I was not going to just 'watch' the show. No. Instead; of all the couples (why they were there I will never know), perverted men, and shocked onlookers like myself, I was the one that got picked to hold balloons whilst the 'Ponger' defied physics and fired darts at them. It was not a pleasant experience; I resisted being pulled up the whole way; And I specifically held the balloons at the lowest point to ensure my hand would not be the target. And no, contrary to what people may imagine, I did not get a 'look'. 

The show only got weirder when, going to the mens' toilets, I was greeted by a completely naked Thai woman doing her makeup in the mirror. Immediately, I thought I was in the wrong and backed out to leave, but the dancer insisted that I was in the right place. It wasn't the fact that this woman was naked, it was the fact that she was so nonchalant about a man being in proximity of her in that state. A real pro I guess. 

The performance climaxed with the most non-intimate sex show I have never wanted to see and it was at this point that I questioned what me, my friends, and in fact the whole audience were doing there. Suffice to say we left pretty much speechless as we loaded into our taxi for a night out on Khao San road which is where I discovered buckets..

The Bucket: A venomous concoction of alcohol, chosen mixer, and Red Bull that may as well be speed and amphetamines, all contained in a cute sand-bucket. Colours may vary.

I do not remember anything.

According to my sources, I spent the whole night dancing non-stop and when we made our own 'street party', I relished in the joy of jumping on board mopeds that were not my own. If it was not for our local friend who took us out, I would probably be in a bad way. So moral of the story; Buckets are lethal.

The next day, our still-drunken group underwent some sightseeing of the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha. Due to the fact that we could not enter the grounds without the legs completely covered up, I deliberately purchased the most garish trousers I could find. Eventually I completely crashed and the rest of the day, not helped by the heat, was pretty painful. Luckily, we were to take a sleeper train to the Khao Sok national park where we slept in floating bungalows. Before I move on, I will quickly mention the train station because it was here that I experienced the National Anthem.

Thai people love their King. A Thai person may not be particularly politically-inclined but scrunch up a Baht note the wrong way and you will probably have a Muay Thai kick to the face. And so it was, at precisely 6 PM, that some music started blaring out of the speakers followed by police whistling for everyone, farang included, to stand. People that know me can rightly imagine that I was grinning throughout. And they do this twice a day, every day. Going shopping? Well you better be standing at 8 AM. Cinema? You best get the hell up before the film starts if its a 6 PM showing. 

The national park itself was beautiful. The best comparison I can draw upon would be to describe it as an inland Halong Bay - steep limestone cliffs that puncture through a glassy, fresh-water floor. It was here that my friends and I made the stupid decision to, after spotting a monkey, trek into the jungle without any insect repellant on whatsoever, and thus we got bitten to shit. Ironically, the member of the group who did not venture in was the one who contracted Dengue Fever. Go figure.

Having spent a pretty well-slept night and had three meals served by the most unconvincing ladyboy I could ever imagine (why would I in the first place), we boarded our boat and eventually underwent a bumpy ride to Surat Thani - the gateway to the South-East Thailand islands. Destination; Koh Phangan. I might as well bring up my life-threatening (not really) encounter with the local wildlife. 

So I'm waiting for my connecting bus and I wanted to wash my sweaty face in the toilet sink. As I entered the surprisingly clean (for SE Asia) tiled room, I noticed a beetle struggling away on its back. Why, after all this time, evolution has not granted them with the ability to recover from this position, I will never know. Not being one to leave a creature in need, I eventually managed to flip it over where it remained for a while, looking more than a bit stunned. On my way back, a thought occurred to me that due to its position, someone would probably step on it and I felt duty-bound to do something to stop it. Sam (love ya' mate) immediately contributed to the situation with...

Sam: "Actually, I remember watching this cool programme on the Discovery Channel about bugs that spray acid in self-defense."
Me: "Bollocks."

Bent down and about to touch the critter, the bastard did just that and with a loud hiss, acid went spraying everywhere. I cannot remember the last time I jumped so hard. Moral of the story - In a tropical country, leave bugs alone. No matter your intentions.

Moving back on with the story, we boarded our ferry (ETA 4 hours) for Kho Phangan. Now I am sure that the vast majority of you have heard about something called 'The Full Moon Party' - an infamous night where quite literally tens of thousands of travellers and holidaymakers make the pilgrimage to down as many buckets as possible and dance until sun rise. I had already made the decision that I was going to stay the week so I could see what all the fuss was about. However, once I arrived, I realised that every bloody night on Haad Rin beach was some kind of moon-esque party. This meant only two things; A financial drain; And days that would be spent in the nearest backpacker cafe waiting for the hangovers to lessen in severity.

Kho Phangan was actually surprisingly beautiful despite its reputation. For example; Myself and the rest of the gang managed to trek up a very powerful waterfall. Unsurprisingly, not everyone left unscathed. And, if, miraculously, you actually made it to the main beach in the day time, you will see that it actually looks quite nice. To quote the Arctic Monkeys; 'They say it changes when the sun goes down.' Furthermore, I felt like I lived there for I must have bumped into at least 50 percent of the friends and acquaintances I had met when travelling.

Eventually, after a Half Moon party in a UV-laser filled jungle and a few intense nights, the night of the 21st finally came around. Preparation for the evening involved slapping on as much UV paint as possible and then 'getting on it'.

Parental Advisory
The most accurate way to envisage the Full Moon Party would be to compare it to Saving Private Ryan. Thousands of people arrive by the boat load and storm the beach with the intention of getting as pissed as possible. Then when night eventually turns to day, thousands of people are left splayed about on the beach completely inebriated. 

One story I heard from a friend was that at about 9 AM, he decided that he would try to swim to the neighbouring island, Ko Samui. Now please bear in mind that it takes half an hour to get there by FERRY. Turns out that his mate had to get the Thai NAVY who then found him 2 kilometres out at sea, simply bobbing around. 1000 Baht fine later, he got a slap on the wrist and found his transport back home. Gareth you are an absolute legend and completely lucked out. Could you imagine doing that back in the UK!?

As for myself, I got back at about 8 AM, had two hours sleep and immediately headed over to Kho Tao where I pretty much did nothing but recover on a beach for three days. I had already said goodbye to some friends who had to head back home and it was time for a detox.  

Kho Tao itself is a diver's paradise and is possibly the cheapest place in the world to get qualified. If I recall correctly, you could become PADI certified for around 180 pounds. I was in no state, financially and health-wise to do so, but I would definitely like to return.

Due to the relatively timid time I had on this island due to feeling worse for wear from lack of sleep and Thai Red Bull, there isn't all that much to write home about except for bringing up my mini golf experience. Or more like, impossible mini golf experience. I mean, look at this: - (I'll put pictures up in a couple of days as the internet is SLOOOOW)

The establishment's owner warned us that the game would probably take about 2 hours and he was not bloody kidding. Some of the holes were so ridiculous that in the end, ANY sane person would simply smack the ball as hard possible - contrary to the course's clear guideline that it was not a driving range. 

Having bumped into the Canadians whom I left in Hoi An on Haad Rin beach, not only did I find myself bunking with them at a dive resort in Kho Tao, but we also decided to venture over to Kho Phi Phi together. In order to do so, we had to board a 9 hour sleeper boat over to Surat Thani. 

Now, I cannot speak for the 70 other people who laid on mattresses half a Western-body's size besides, in front of and practically on top of me, but I feel that the description of 'sleeper boat' was there for comic effect. Even Valium, which can be legally bought over the counter in SE Asia, could not help me here and I had to make do with the occasional 45 minute nap, due to the f***ing fan which seemed to have no 'OFF' button. I also do not recommend that you try to sleep with an iPod set on Shuffle and full volume, for waking up to drum and bass is not pleasant.

When we finally made it to town, around 12 of us were shoved into a vehicle that really was faithful to the term 'mini bus' whilst our driver decided to secure all of our baggage by leisurely throwing each item on the roof. However, all was not lost for whilst we waited for our connecting coach to Krabi, our hosts decided to put on a movie which I thought would at least be somewhat relaxing. Oh wait. Apparently at 5 AM, Jackass: The Movie is an appropriate choice. I love it, but at that time in the morning it was a bit bizarre. 

You may infer correctly that we eventually made it to Kho Phi Phi and here I have been blessed with some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Yesterday, myself, some Barcelona-Ultra Spaniards, some Aussies, a Brazilian and coincidentally, but unsurprisingly, other lads I had previously got hammered with in Halong Bay, all set sail on board a long boat around the surrounding islands including the famous Maya Beach - AKA, THE Beach.

On this trip, I was also blessed with the opportunity to snorkel with sharks. This would have been lovely if they were not my one and only phobia, and if my dive buddy did not have traveller's diarrhea, thus having to abandon me as he swam faster than anyone I have ever seen, towards land. It was once some random South African helpfully informed me that a group of Black Tips (they are pretty harmless but still look like 'proper' sharks) were swimming towards me that I decided to follow in suit of my partner, but this time towards my boat.  In all honesty, it was pretty cool, and I have never been able to see them AND moray eels together before.

As for THE Beach, I was glad I saw it for it is beautiful, but it really does not look like anything compared to the film. Because the cove, alongside Phi Phi, was flattened by the tsunami, and the fact that the filmmakers shipped tonnes of sand and bulldozed everything to get it just right, it was pretty hard to recognize. Furthermore, the fact that there were about a thousand tourists there made me appreciate the intention of the characters in the story to keep it a secret. However, this did not stop me acting like every other camera-toting Japanese person, and I happily took a million photos. I even decided to reenact scenes from the film, which in retrospect, is kind of gay. 

Such a description actually encapsulates my impression of the South 'Thailands' - utterly beautiful, utterly worth seeing, but utterly touristic. It is quite inspiring to see just how fast-developing the West islands are since 2004's disaster, but, as fun as the constant partying has been, I am yearning to experience some real culture of the 'country'. To quote The Beach;

"The only downer is, everyone's got the same idea. We all travel thousands of miles just to watch TV and check in to somewhere with all the comforts of home, and you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that?"

As such, it is my intention to make one more stop to the paradise-like beaches of Railay, and then make the journey to Northern Chiang Mai. Here I will be kick boxing, assuming my rib's healed from where I fell off a table whilst dancing in a foam party, elephant trekking, stroking tigers and eating ALOT. Just like back home. ;)

In conclusion then, I have been having one hell of a time in Thailand. Parties, sun and adventure. Now all I need is to escape the hordes of holiday-makers and potentially get killed by a Muay Thai master. Until then, I will aim to have another post up in about a week's time for a I would like to have at least six published by the time I return. Not too long now, I guess.

Kob kun kap.

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