Monthly Archives: October 2013

FULL MOON AND JUNGLE VOO DOO

P1060128The week leading up to the Full Moon Party began with a jungle trek the day after my scooter accident. Heading out with Yingying she suggested we climb Khao Ra, the highest peak on Koh Phangan.

We rode up to the parking area and from where we left the bike we hiked up through dense jungle. Ever on the lookout for cobra snakes, the largest and most aggressive of the venomous snakes on the planet, we clambered up the small, muddy trail. I looked twice before placing my hand on tree trunks and branches. Last thing I need to add to my injuries is a well-placed bite from a jungle inhabitant.

With the dense trees shading from the intense heat the sun beat down on us, there was no hiding from the humidity. Two hours later, reaching the top, I had to peel off my drenched T-shirt and lay it on a rock to dry as we sat and took in the view of dense jungles, coconut plantations and the sandy beaches that tickled the lapping turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand.P1060116

I left a note in the jar in the tree that was full of notes from previous hikers and took in the dizzying height of 627 meters above sea level. Although slightly limited by my injuries I managed to make it up and back down, losing only sweat.

I was still astounded that there was no pain.

Yet.

That night Yingying went to work at the Jungle Experience, an outdoor festive scene of electronic music. She put my name on the guest list and I headed over with Jim, an American staying at the Morning Star resort. The girl in charge of the list happened to be the administrative nurse from the hospital.

She waved me in and after Jim paid his entry fee, we headed over to the bar. I got a pineapple juice as I didn’t wanna fuck around with alcohol whilst on anti-biotics. Jim got himself a bucket and we hit the dance floor.

I stuck around until about 02:30, the music becoming a little too repetitive for my eardrums. Making sure Jim was doing alright on his second bucket I headed back to the resort on Ying’s bike.

We chilled out the next day. Issac, a mate from home had arrived and we met up in the afternoon for a late lunch (or early dinner). That night we headed out to the Voo Doo party, another outdoor festive scene of electronic music.

It was here that Issac flicked something off his leg. Yingying, seeing what it was, jumped between us, pushing us back. Someone next to us stepped on it and Issac finished it off. Just before burying it in the sand I took a closer look at the 6-inch centipede.

Slightly shaken but not stirred, we grabbed a bite to eat. Issac sneezed next to a dog, making it jump in fright which in turn had me rolling with uncontrollable laughter until tears were streaming down my face.

The next night we chilled out at the Am-Star-dam Bar in Wok Tum. It was the place to smoke some high-end herb (200 baht) and have the finest, purist, cleanest and strongest mushroom shake (700 Baht) on the island. Although that night it was only Issac, Yingying and myself, we decided we’d just stick to the smoking and save the ‘shroom shake for the Full Moon Party.

IMG_3095The sunset was an endless colour of orange and pink over the waters, the distant islands of Koh Tao and other small rock formations protruding from the water were thrown into a shadowy darkness as the sunset took over the show.

Staring at the darkening sky, Venus came out to play.

“Oh, hello,” I said.

 

 

It had been quite a while since I’d seen her. There had been too much light pollution on Samui and mainland Thailand to see stars in the evening but here at Am-Star-dam Bar I was contempt and happy to just exist on a cushion, leaning back and enjoying the beauty and peacefulness of nature.

On Saturday we prepared for the Full Moon Party. Nina, my couchsurfer host from Bangkok made a surprise trip down to Koh Phangan. I found her at the Delight Resort with six other couchsurfers. We hit the beach where I watched the Full Moon Party Beach Soccer tournament.

The teams were made up from backpackers staying in the hostels. A majorly Israeli team (there was one French guy) won an intense final that had the ref pull out a yellow card as tensions mounted. The final score: 1-0.

Later that evening I suggested we start the night off at Am-Star-dam Bar with a few joints and a mushroom shake. There were 11 of us, all couchsurfers (besides Issac). We split one shake between the five people that were keen to try it.

As the sun set and the full moon rose up high, so did we. We floated over to the balcony and stared up at the moon with its four rings of aura and a large cloud ring surrounding it – a phenomenon I have yet to find the name and cause of.

At about 22:30 we headed down to the beach in two taxies and two motorbikes. Yingying took us through a way where we didn’t have to pay the hundred Baht entry fee. We hit the Drop In bar at the far south side of the beach where the tunes were mashups of rock songs mixed in with some beats. It was a delightful change to the electronic dullness I find droning and repetitive.

“Is it me or did we already hear this song about 7 times?” I asked Jeff, an American teaching English up in the north of Thailand.

“Yeah,” he grinned.

“Let’s go check out the rest of the beach,” I suggested.

Yingying stayed with Dan and Lucy while Issac, Jeff, Nina, Charlotte and myself walked around the beach, stepping between drunken bodies, the thud of stampeding feet to the music of some hardcore psy-trance assisted revelers in digging a trench to the beat.

We paused at Tommy Resort where the music was lighter and had us dancing for a bit before we decided to chill at the Reggae Bar. I hadn’t seen anyone I knew and was hoping to find Baz and Jim. As we began to move on, I saw that our group had stopped. I looked to where everyone was looking and saw that a couple were having sex on the beach, right in front of everyone without a care in the world.

“Strange huh,” I said to Jeff. “We’re animals yet when it comes to sex the majority of us prefer privacy whereas in the animal kingdom, which we are a part of, they have no qualms about shtooping in front of everyone.”

Jeff nodded as we stood hypnotised, like deer in headlights, by the natural human act happening in the sand. Although it wasn’t the most erotic of sex acts I have come across it was hard to tear away.

“Alright, let’s go,” I managed to hustle the group and we continued on.

We climbed up to the Dragon Fly Bar to see if we could purchase some herb. As we climbed down the stairs to leave the place, I heard a familiar wolf whistle. I turned around and saw, “Baz!”

I clambered back up and hugged his fluoro painted mass. After a quick catch up I had to move on. I found Jeff and the gang on the beach and we headed back to smoke at the Reggae Bar.

Nothing like a joint made mostly of tobacco to burn your throat. After choking on it, we threw most of it away.

We headed back to Drop In to find Yingying but she was gone. A decision was made to move further up the beach and there I found Yingying and Dan the Pirate dressed as Jesus playing with a crystal ball.

And no, it wasn’t the mushrooms.

The goal was to stay up until sunrise which was still about 4 hours away. So we danced about. I politely declined offers of bucket drinks form passers by.

Who looked at a bucket and thought, Now that’s a cup I can drink from!

The effects of the bucket were all around us. Besides the environmental impact it was the people who were asleep in drunk yoga poses, swaying and walking diagonally that had me see why it would be better to not drink the stuff.

The Full Moon Party has been around for almost 30 years, started by a group of backpackers to celebrate the rising of the full moon. It took off from there and since has become one of the biggest parties on the planet with a stack of pre and after parties to coincide with it.

And 30 years on, it still isn’t owned by anyone or any organisation. Each beach bar supplies its own DJ and sound systems. Some have stages, decorations. Almost all line the beach with bucket stands with the vendor trying to entice you to buy a bucket. There are fluoro painting corners where you can choose a design and the painters paint it on you.

“500 Baht,” said the girl after I showed her a design I had come up with.

I smiled. “How about I pay for the paint and do it myself?”

“500 Baht.”

“Khap-un-khap,” I grinned and passed.

Issac had retired and Nina had disappeared so we headed back down to chill out at the Reggae Bar where we watched the sunrise.

At about 7 am we retired from the party that was set to go until noon. It had me wondering if the marine life was affected by the sound of the party disrupting their nightly patterns. Party-goers used the sea as a very large depository for bodily fluids of all kinds from the standard one’s and two’s to the projectile vomiting and sexually induced liquids.

I had 3 hours to sleep before my audition at The Outlaw Saloon where I could get paid to play and help cover the damages for the bike.

I reached the saloon blurry eyed but ready as I jammed for Soren, the Danish owner.

“Can you play Sunday?” he asked.

“Whenever you need,” I answered.

“OK, we call you.”

Doing the rounds on the island I’m now booked in at The Outlaw Saloon and possibly The Harp, an Irish bar opposite the pier in Thong Sala.

“Can you play Irish music?” asked Carl, the manager in a thick Irish accent.

“I can do a couple of U2 songs,” I grinned as he laughed.

“I’ll come see ya at the Saloon and let you know. I’ve just lost a musician today so you may just be heaven sent.”

I just wish my voice was.

That night I was summoned at the last minute to play at The Outlaw Saloon. Dan the Pirate came round to support my 2-hour set. It was my first ever paid gig. It felt strange to call myself a musician as I have never regarded myself one. Just the average Joe who plays average guitar and claims to sing while everyone begs me to shut up.

Still, it was fun and a local girl even bought me a beer as she was enjoying the show.

After my ground-breaking performance, Dan and I invited two Russian girls we met at the bar to join us at the Oasis Aqua Bar for a party. You know it’s a good party when the Russians get too drunk to dance and retire early. But you know it’s an even better party when the police come and take the DJ away in handcuffs for not having the right work permit, shutting Oasis down at 1 in the AM.

The police aren’t just the law enforcers on Koh Phangan. They are also the bribe-driven enforcers that, as a club owner, you must pay them for ‘protection’.

Koh Phangan has a weird vibe to it. I can’t place my finger on it but I definitely felt better energy on Samui where I hope to return for some work at Vikasa to help pay off my dues.

The Dos and Don’ts of the Full Moon Party

DOs

Do enjoy yourself

Do go with the flow

Do everything safely with a trusting circle of friends

Do get painted

Do take a pair of sunnies. The morning sun can be very harsh after a night of partying

DON’Ts

Don’t accept drugs from anyone. Either have your own and go somewhere like the Am-star-dam Bar to enjoy the cleanest and strongest mushroom shakes. You never know whose an undercover cop looking for a bribe or what they actually put in the drug.

Don’t go swimming under the influence. The water is as unpredictable as the party itself.

Don’t take any possessions you don’t want to lose. I.e cameras, phones, credit cards, passports. Just take money and nothing else.

Don’t drive after the party. There are enough idiots who do this and you don’t need to be part of any island statistics.

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SLIP SLIDIN’ AWAY

The doc looked me over, lifting my elbow, peering into the blood-red hole just above the bone.

“Need stitches,” he said.

I looked at it. I hadn’t realised it was so deep that you could see China on the other side. I was surprised there was very little blood. Of course, most of my blood was on the road where scooter-met-sand just a few hours earlier.

“How much?” I asked, bracing myself (and not cause of the cleaning alcohol being prepared).

The doc looked me over and seemed to calculate accordingly with the amount of injuries I had sustained.

It had all happened just that morning as I was heading out on the scooter to visit Baz at the Shiralea Backpacker’s Resort on the north side of Koh Phangan. I took a curve at a safe pace and hit the camouflaged beach sand that had gathered on it. Luckily, I wasn’t going fast as the bike slid and I lost control and went asphalt surfing on my right side.

The good news? I’m alive minus a few layers less of skin on my waist, right arm, right and left hand and on my right calf. And a hole just above the right elbow bone where blood had dripped from, leaving a splatter of my DNA on the road.

The bike’s motor was still running as I looked behind at its sprawled form. There was no one about. I slowly checked myself for anything broken and got up. I lifted the bike and saw that the right indicator had broken off.

Shit, I thought. Then I saw the whole right side, scratched like a record at an amateur DJ’s night.

Fuck.

I picked up my sunnies and phone, the back of it cracked.

Shit.

My sunnies didn’t survive either.

Fuck.

Shit and fuck.

I threw them to the side of the road, picked up the bike, hopped on and rode back to the Morning Star Resort where I was staying with Yingying, my couchsurfer host. It was her rented bike that I had introduced to the asphalt.

“Do you have first aid?” I asked at the reception. The lady gave me a bag with Band-Aids, cotton balls, cleaning alcohol and Betadine.

“Thanks,” I said, “I’ll go to my bathroom and clean myself up. I’ll bring it back.”

“Just careful of the Betadine,” she said. “Not wash off bed sheets.”

With set priorities I promised her I wouldn’t stain the bed sheets. Yingying didn’t move in the bed as I crept to the bathroom, grabbing my personal first aid kit which had gauze pads and a tube of anti-bacterial cream.

I washed off the sand and gravel and cleaned my wounds with the alcohol. The slight burn had me wincing lightly. I applied the Betadine to the gauze pads and stuck them on with an adhesive tape that wouldn’t stick.

What’s the point of making an adhesive tape that won’t stick?

I crept back through the room after cleaning up the CSI scene. Yingying stirred to wake in the bed, hungover from last night’s floating party we went too.

“Hey,” she murmured softly.

“Good morning,” I said cheerfully. And then decided it was as good a time as any to let her know that, “I, er, slid with the scooter,” I said, her eyes opening up.

“Are you OK?” she asked worryingly, looking over my wounds.

“I’m fine,” I assured her.

“And the bike?”

Well, here’s the thing… I relayed the damage report promising to pay for it. “I’m going to visit Bazza at the backpacker’s resort. They might have a better first aid kit.”

“OK, drive carefully,” she said as she returned to the pillow.

Oh, I will.

P1060092I headed out through the jungle-filled hills overlooking the turquoise crystal-clear waters surrounding the island. A little rattled from my spill, I was flying at 40 K’s an hour and looking out for sand on every corner. I reached the backpacker’s only to learn that Baz was out.

“Motorbike accident?” asked Brendan at the bar, indicating to my battlefield wound dressings.

“Yeah,” I said, relaying my brave tales of the morning.

 

“There’s a hospital down the road, in Thong Sala,” he suggested. “You don’t want that getting infected or you’ll end up worse off than a couple of scratches.”

He was right. So I rode down to the hospital, passing Baz on the way.

“I’ll come see ya after I get cleaned up,” I said.

The hospital was a small clinic. So small that the entire staff came to see the ‘falang’ that had become a part of the motorbike accident statistics of Koh Phangan, obtaining what is locally known as the ‘Koh Phangan Tattoo’. Three nurses and two doctors came to have a look. Even the administrative nurse had a peek.

So the doc looked me over and off the top of his head said, “5,000 Baht.” Or $168 AUD.

I burst into laughter. “You’re kidding right?”

“No. You not have insurance?”

“No.”

“OK, so we can clean for you and then you go to government hospital. Much cheaper.”

That works. I thanked them and headed off after a swab of alcohol.

“Go information window,” instructed the administrative nurse at the Koh Phangan Hospital.

I filled out the card with my details and handed it back.

“Your father name and mother name,” she pointed to the space I had left empty, right after ‘Religion’ and ‘Race’.

“Really?” It didn’t make sense. “You need my parents’ name?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said and waited patiently while I filled out the requirements.

“OK, go to emergency room next door,” she pointed to her left.

I went in and said a cheerful, “Sa-wa-dee-khap,” to the attending nurses.

A local kid was balling his eyes out as the nurses attended to some scratches on him. I was directed to lie on a bed with a plastic cover on the sheets. I removed my shirt and pulled my pants half way down to expose the strategically placed grinding of skin that had been removed from my waist.

The nurse set up a small silver platter, like the kind you get when dining in an Indian restaurant. Cotton swabs were piled; a clear liquid poured into one holding and Betadine into the other. She began to wipe away at the gravel and sand, cutting away the torn skin on my hands. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt (except when the metal of the scissors touched raw skin).

Fuckin’ lucky, was all I could think of as it could have been a lot worse.

The nurse dabbed Betadine on my leg wounds. The burn was sensational. Like taking a bite of the hottest chilli in the market place. It would be worse on my right hand, the first two layers of skin on the lower part of my palm having being ripped away. I was distracting myself by looking away as Nurse Ratchet wrestled with a pair of tweezers to get a stubborn piece of gravel out of my hand.

Again, no pain.

I was caught off-guard when it came to introducing the Betadine to my raw skin. I didn’t see her dab the cotton swab into the Betadine. I didn’t see her swipe it into my open wound. I didn’t see her step back and wait as it hit me like a Mike Tyson knockout punch in the third round.

I sucked in all the air in the room and had to bite the back of my left hand as the burn slowly subsided.

“Wooh!” I grinned as though I had just jumped out of a plane. “What a rush.”

The nurse did her magic on my elbow, administrating a local anesthetic and then sewing up the hole with two stitches after cleaning it out.

“OK,” she said. “Finish.”

“Sweet,” I said with a positive demeanour. “How much?”

“You go to information room,” she said as she packed up and invited the next patient in.

I went to the information window and was presented with a bill of 935 Baht. Or $32 AUD. That included the full treatment I had just undergone and the medicine.

“No discount?”

The nurse laughed. “You go pay at window number 2, take medicine at window number 3.”

Medicine? I thought. I hate medicine.

“Anti-biotic,” said the pharmacist.

“Why do I need anti-biotic?” I asked.

“You have open wound. It help to fight any infection.”

Sold.

I declined the offer of painkillers and headed back out to Bazza’s backpackers where I caught up with him and Jill and realised that my first full moon party would be sober as I wouldn’t be drinking. Maybe it’s for the better. It must be a sign that if I got stupid drunk at the full moon party it would not end well.

Now the other issue was finding work to pay off the damage to the bike and the hospital bill. Yingying, being connected around the island was going to help as I offered services of bar tendering, playing acoustic sets in bars and doing whatever it takes to pay off the bike (about 15,000 Baht in damages. Or $600 AUD) before my potential ride to Africa from Phuket in November.

Everything happens for a reason.

Now, to avoid my mother panicking about this I just have to remember not to click the ‘Publish’ button –

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VIKASA YOGA RETREAT

P1060027Now how the hell am I supposed to get my body into that position? I thought. I looked down and watched as, somehow, my arms interlocked between my legs.

Well that’s a first, I thought.

“Now bring your right leg to the side while balancing on your hands and left leg,” instructed the instructor.

Yeah, right, I chuckled on the inside. There’s no way I’m gonna be able –

 

What the..? I stared at my right leg as it followed through with the command.

OK, I thought. Now the hell am I supposed to get out of this position?

“Now we go into vipasana and relax,” Konstantin ‘Kosta’ Miachin, the owner and founder of the Vikasa Yoga Retreat in Koh Samui ended the hour long session.

This was my favourite part of yoga. The part where after you’ve contortioned your body into impossible positions you get to lay down on your back, palms up, relax everything and just breathe, loosing yourself to the sounds of the nearby sea, lapping gently against the rocks on the beach. Because in yoga, it’s all about the journey that you take your body and mind through to reach that pinnacle moment of self-reflection within your own soul.

P1060051Escorted by the chiming sounds of Japanese bowls played by Kosta, your mind, body and soul embark on a journey that’ll have you feeling enlightened.

Kosta isn’t just the owner and founder of this magical place. He is also the creator of the Vikasa yoga method. I would say it is a power-based form of yoga, helping to strengthen your body and mind, stretching your ability of balance and centering one’s self while combining an essential diet of meditation and organically healthy food, which is another highlight to look forward too after an hour long session – morning and night.

I first reached Vikasa on Monday via taxi from the Nathon ferry dock on the western side of Koh Samui, a peaceful island whose name translates to ‘Safe Haven’. The retreat is located on the eastern side of this jungle paradise, in Tambool Maret where it is built on a cliffside above the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand.

Vikasa Yoga Retreat has a variety of yoga classes from Ashtanga to Hathay and the signature Vikasa yoga – the evolution of yoga.

P1060040But Vikasa isn’t just about the yoga. With the rocky beach at its feet, there’s no better place on the whole island to meditate whether it be from the balcony of your bungalow that’s facing the water to greet the rising sun every morning, or perched on a rock on the beach. Better yet, take part in one of the meditation sessions the place has to offer – for free.

Vikasa Yoga Retreat also combines the most important element to any budding yogi – nutritiously healthy, organic amazing food. With the help of world renowned raw chef master, Boris Lauser from Berlin, and the help of Cider Organic’s restaurant chef from Ubud, Bali, Kosta has helped create a balanced meal for brunch (served daily between 10:30-11:30) and dinner (19:30 – 20:30) including freshly squeezed tropical juice.P1060054

Fish and chicken are served on occasion and eggs are served with brunch but the majority of the food is purely raw vegetables. As a carnivore, I wasn’t sure what to expect but besides the meditation at the end of a good yoga session, my next favourite thing to look forward too was the amazing food being served as a self-serve buffet.

The view from the dining area – with options of bean bags or standard tables and chairs – is of the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand.

Vikasa Yoga Retreat also offers a 200-hour teaching course. Students of all ages congregate from all over the world to take part in the three-week intensive course, studying and practicing the art of Vikasa yoga.

With its friendly and always smiling accommodating staff, Vikasa Yoga Retreat is the place to relax and kick back – even if there are 109 steps to the yoga salas from the dining area. And although it’s still a young place, only open for a year, its growing reputation on the island and around the world as the yoga place to be has already got itself booked out for the upcoming high season.

P1050989And you don’t have to stay here just for yoga. You’re not forced to partake in any classes (although its all inclusive so why miss out?). There’s great swimming to be done off the rocks below and snorkeling (although there’s not much to see).

And whether you practice yoga daily, or just once every few months. Whether you’re a carnivore or a vegetarian, Vikasa Yoga Retreat has it all and is all inclusive when you book. There’s an inviting infinity pool and spa and for a little extra, you can get a variety of massages from Thai to Swedish, foot to full body.

But the most important thing to remember when at Vikasa is too simply relax and enjoy the serenity.

Om Shanti.

P1060036

 

 

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ON THE ROAD AGAIN

“Fuck,” I said aloud as the first of the rain drops hit me.

On the one hand, maybe someone will take pity on me and stop. On the other, who wants to pick up a wet hitch-hiker?

It had been 3-hours since I was dropped off by my host Nina. The only movement I had done was from where I disembarked to where I now stood – exactly 5 steps.

Watching the grey, almost black clouds coming in fast from the east I was hoping they’d just miss. Hope vanished like gummy bears in a kid’s hand as large drops hit the earth with a thud. I grabbed my packs and guitar and ran for cover under the entrance to the gas station shop (in Thailand the gas stations are – literally – gas. The majority of the vehicles run on LPG).

As the rain subsided to a drizzle I headed back to my corner, contemplating calling Nina and asking to stay another night. I’ll head out in the morning, I figured. It’d be easier to walk into the delivery company next to her place and ask who’s heading where.

Then, among the 23 taxis that stopped and almost caused a pile-up, a car with a young couple pulled up.

“Where you go, Mister?”

“Surat Thani,” I smiled. “Where you going?”

“Oh. OK, I take you to bus stop,” he offered.

I managed to explain the point of my travel methods. “Oh,” he said, “this place no good. I take you to gas station. Better for you.”

Finally, going somewhere. I stuffed my gear into the small car and off we drove. They took me about 20 K’s down the road and dropped me off at another seemingly desolate gas station. The turn-off for the U-turn bridge was behind them but in Asia, there are no road rules and he simply threw the car in reverse and managed to reach the ramp without taking anyone out.

Crazy motherfu –

“Where you go, Mister?”

I turned around to the young woman sticking her head out of her car, her husband behind the wheel.

“Surat Thani,” I smiled. “Where you going?”

“Oh. OK, I take you to bus stop,” she offered.

I shook my head and tried to explain the point of my travel methods. Her English was very broken. His was non-existent.

“Oh. OK, I take you to bus stop,” she repeated.

“No, really, I don’t have money for the bus,” I smiled as the rain started to intensify.

“Oh, OK.” She looked at me with such a strong willingness to want to help me.

“Maybe you can take me further down?” I suggested. “Next gas station?”.

“OK,” she moved her seat forward as I opened the door of the back seat. Most of the car windows in Thailand are tinted dark to reflect the glaring sunlight; hence I was surprised to find a 6-year-old boy huddled under a blanket, hiding from the air conditioned air.

I squeezed in my 75 litre pack, my 40 litre day pack and guitar without harming the child and away we went.

“You go Samat Sakhon?” I asked.

“Yes!” the girl answered excitedly.

“Awesome,” I reflected. “Is it OK I come with you to Samat Sakhon?”

“OK,” she grinned and I laid back.

Finally, I’d be outside of Bangkok. The rain started to subside as my luck started to pick up. I figured I’d ask if they might be heading to Phetchaburi.

“Oh no,” she said with a hint of sadness. “Go other way.”

I was dropped off at a bus station. “You take bus to Phetchaburi. 180 Baht,” she informed.

I hopped out of the car and thanked her for the ride, again trying to explain the logic behind hitch-hiking. As I walked past the bus drivers the young family couldn’t understand where I was going. They followed me in the car as I held out my sign by the highway, hoping to reach a gas station.

“Mister, take this. Take bus,” the woman reached out of the car window with 200 Baht in her hand.

I was taken aback by her generosity. I shook my head, politely declining and again tried to explain the point of my travel methods. It almost turned into an argument as her persistence started to become forceful.

Although, my Thai being as good as her English, I could imagine that she was saying, “Take the damn money and get your ass on that bus!”

I managed to shake them off and continued plodding in the rain. There was no sign of a gas station or a break in the clouds. The smell of a biblical storm was all around. It was just a matter of when it would hit.

“Where you go, Mister?”

I turned to look at the guy on the scooter who had pulled up beside me.

“Surat Thani,” I smiled. “Where you going?”

“Oh. OK, I take you to bus stop,” he offered.

Thinking he just wanted a bit of conversation I tried to explain the point of my travel methods. “I don’t have money for the bus,” I smiled back thinking this guy was entertaining himself with the notion of carrying me on the back of his scooter with all my gear. I continued walking as he chugged along beside me.

“Mister,” he began in English more broken than a smashed China vase, “I go home.” Then, using the Google translator on his phone he showed me that he would, ‘Take me forward.’

“On the scooter?” I stopped.

He nodded eagerly. I shrugged. What the hell? I rode on the back of El’s scooter in Alor with my surfboard and the rest of my gear. I handed him my day pack and sat on the back, my 75 litre pack sitting on the tail-end while I balanced my guitar on my left thigh.

“OK,” I tapped him on the shoulder and away we scooted, doing about 40 K’s on the highway. A half-hour later we stopped by a market.

“I buy DVD,” he said as he ran off and came back a few minutes later with a box of re-writable DVDs. “I go home here,” he pointed to the other side of the road.

I collected my gear, thanked him and, after he added me on Facebook, began hiking up the road.

“Where you go, Mister?”

Walking with my sign held out, a car had pulled up next to me. A woman held an infant in her lap and spoke a little bit of English, her husband behind the wheel.

“Surat Thani,” I smiled. “Where you going?”

“Oh. OK, I take you to bus stop,” she offered.

I shook my head and tried to explain the point of my travel methods. Her English was very broken. His was non-existant. I managed to understand her offer to take me to a gas station further up the road. I stuffed my gear in their car and sat back just as the heavens opened up and the torrential rain pounded the land of a thousand smiles.

The woman handed me her phone. “Talk,” she motioned to it.

I took it. “Hello?”

She had called a friend who spoke English and I managed to explain my method of travel, where I needed to go and why I needed to be let out at a gas station-slash-truck stop. I handed the phone back to the woman who listened to her friend and did a lot of ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ahh-ing.’

She explained to her husband and then she tried to tell me that she’ll take me to a police station as they could arrange a truck heading south to take me and it would be safer.

“Sure, that’d be great.”

We drove through the wall of water for almost half an hour until we pulled into a gas station. The woman hopped out, popped into the 7-11 and came back, handing me a packet of custard-filled bread and a small bottle of water.

“Wow, kharp-un-krap!” I thanked her.

15 minutes later we pulled into a truck weighing station. The woman jumped out, talked with the policeman there and it was here that I was let out.

The policeman helped carry my guitar and small pack, offered me coffee (which I gladly accepted) and a pack of 2-minute noodles. I sat down to eat and munch on some fruit I had brought – langosan, the lychee-styled fruit which had become a favourite of mine. I offered the fruit to the officer and his partner as I finished up and washed the bowl and cup.

The rain hadn’t stopped but had become a trickle. I asked for permission and stood at the end of the weigh station with my sign as the trucks rolled in. 10 trucks rolled through until number 11 offered to take me to, “Phetchaburi.”

The officer spoke with the driver just as another truck pulled up. The driver grinned from ear-to-ear and pointed at my sign. “Sura Thani,” he read and pointed to himself.

I lit up. “You go Sura Thani?”

He nodded.

“I come with you?”

He nodded.

I shook hands with the first truck driver that had pulled over and thanked him for stopping (he looked like he needed a break anyway) and stuffed my gear, with the help of the police officer, onto the bunk of my new ride, a 48-ton gas powered Nissan carrying tarp-covered cargo.

I shook hands with the police officer, thanking him kindly. He tried to convince me to take the rest of the 2-minute noodle packets but I declined politely.

My driver, Tont (pronounced, ‘taunt’) had absolutely no English in his repertoire and using the Google translator on his phone, asked me to let him know when and if I needed a toilet break. We hit the highway and no sooner had he shifted up to the second gear when the rain’s coffee break was over and it resumed its torrential state – for the next 10-hours straight.

I dozed off every couple of hours. During the periods I was awake I could see that Tont was connected to his phone as if it were an IV. He was texting, calling, talking and surfing the web, all while navigating his truck on the wet highway.

Yet, I felt safe in his hands.

As darkness fell, we pulled into a truck stop for a toilet break and dinner. Tont shouted me a chicken-based rice dish. We continued on with a few more pit stops. At about 01:30, when we were an hour away from Sura Thani, he began to weave across the road. Just as I was about to suggest we pull over for a power-nap, he tapped into his phone and handed it over.

The Google translator read, ‘Half hour sleep.’

“Perfect,” I grinned as he pulled over just before a set of lights. He set the alarm and we dozed off.

At 03:30 we woke up and, with the rain having stopped and the sky clearing up, I stuck my head out of the window as we hit the road and saw the starry Thai sky. I was glad we had overslept as he dropped me off outside a gas station on the outskirts of Sura Thani at 04:30. I thanked him, shook hands and headed into the dining area. A bus  had pulled in as I sat down.

Three men approached me and sat down to talk, practicing their English. I told them my story as they told me theirs. During our conversation they bought me a coffee just as a young girl of about 12 sat beside meת grinning. She touched me on the arm to grab my attention. I turned towards her and she waved at me. I waved back with a smile and continued to converse with the men. She touched me on the arm again and said, “Phone number.”

“You want my phone number?” I clarified.

She nodded and pointed at the table behind the men. Three women were sat staring at me, whispering between them. One of them was undressing me with her eyes and signaled that she had sent her daughter to ask for my number. She was an attractive woman and I smiled back, nodding in gratitude at the complement.

I played it dumb and continued to converse with the men while the girl kept asking me for my number. An hour later, the group headed off just as the sun rose and I took up my position on the road with my sign.

10 minutes later a woman had stopped for me. I saw that she had a Pincher in her lap as she pulled over and got out.

“Where are you going?” she asked in conversational level English.

“Sura Thani to get to the boat to Koh Samui,” I said. “Are you headed there?”

“I can take you to the road that goes to Koh Samui,” she offered.

Better than nothing. I stuffed my heavy gear in her boot and hopped in the front only to be confronted by two yapping Pinchers.

If there’s one breed of canine that I really cannot stand or figure out how the hell they’re classed as dogs and not oversized rats, it’s the Pincher. In a car with all the windows up, a Pincher’s yap turns to an ear-drum tearing level. Two Pincher’s yapping could lead a man to grab the wheel and drive the vehicle into oncoming traffic. But I fought the urge as she managed to settle them down.

Every time I looked at them they would yap so I avoided eye-contact.

A half hour later, I was dropped off at a gas station. I stood by the road and waited for the ringing in my ears to subside, brushing off the dog hairs as I held up my new sign to Koh Samui.

A huge oil tanker had pulled into the station. As the driver fueled up, he was watching me. I guess he took pity on me as he yelled out to me that he could take me half way. Grateful, I clambered up to his truck, piled on my gear and away we headed.

His truck horn, which he blasted every time anything overtook us or pulled into the traffic, seemed to be facing into the cabin as it only added to the Pincher produced ear-ringing.

An hour later he dropped me off at the intersection that lead from the 401 to the 4142 (Don Sak District) and eventually to the ferry to Koh Samui. Thanking him, I walked down the road until I found a spot just over the bridge, opposite the Pak Phraek post office.

I held up my sign and soon enough a coach had pulled over.

“Where you go, Mister?” the driver’s assistant asked.

“Koh Samui,” I said, hoping that perhaps all the windows would open like at the end of Dumb & Dumber and a Swedish bikini team would stick out their heads (and a little bit more).

“Come,” he gestured.

“No money,” I gestured back.

“Is OK,” he said and I climbed aboard only to be greeted by a very solemn looking bunch of what I presumed to be Thai workers heading towards the islands for a job that they hated. It was the first time I had encountered a group of Thai people and not one of them smiled.

I sat upfront and dozed off. Half an hour later we pulled into the ferry terminal. I thanked the driver and his assistant, and with fifteen minutes to spare, I boarded the slow boat to Koh Samui.

At 09:00 we chugged off for the two-hour crossing. We passed islands that I had only ever seen in travel magazines and grinned to myself as I reflected on the beginning of my hitching, where I had just about given up, and here I was, sitting in the ferry about to disembark on the sandy beaches of Koh Samui.

Reaching the island by 11:30, after declining taxi drivers that wanted 600 Baht to take me to the other side where the Vikasa Yoga Retreat stood perched on the cliffs and my week long yoga session was too begin. After declining the offer of a scooter taxi, I finally hopped on a red bus – which was a pick-up truck with a converted tray for sitting and a rooftop for shade.

I explained to the driver and showed him on the map on my phone where Vikasa was as it didn’t appear anywhere on the maps and not a single driver had heard of it, let alone knew where it was. We started driving and as I followed the blue dot on the Google GPS, I noticed he had missed the turn. The driver stopped outside of a resort.

“Here,” he said.

“No, I told you Vikasa Yoga,” I said slowly. “Near the Samui Beverly Hills resort.” I pointed to the map. “You understand?”

He nodded but did not look happy. He asked a passing red bus for directions, but he too had no idea. I was tired and just wanted to arrive. I called him over.

“Let me sit up front with you, I show you the way.”

He agreed and we U-turned, passing the left turn that I pointed out for him to take.

“No, no,” he said. “Only motorbike go there.” He pulled over. I again pointed out the location on the map.

“We are here,” I indicated to the blue dot. “We need to go here,” I pointed to the red drop pin.

“No. That 400 Baht,” he demanded.

“What?” The terms had already been agreed upon. “I showed you on the map. You said, ‘OK’ for 100 Baht.”

He shook his head.

“Fine,” I got out. “You get nothing.” I grabbed my gear and started to walk down the road. A taxi pulled over. I explained my situation. “I only have 100 Baht on me.”

He immediately declined and drove off.

A little ahead a woman had waved down a taxi. The driver asked where I was headed. Again, I explained my situation. “Look, no one wants to help me. I’m begging here. I honestly only have 100 Baht.” I emptied my pockets. “See? If I had more I would give you more.”

The driver looked at me and smiled. “OK,” and he took me and the woman (who was heading in the general direction) for 100 Baht a piece.

“You are a good man,” I said, shaking the driver’s hand after he dropped me off outside of Vikasa.

27 hours after I had started, I met my host, Betti, who shouted me a well-deserved coconut drink as we sat down and I relayed my story.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Hitch Hiking, Thailand | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

ONE NIGHT, IN BANGKOK

DAY 1

My eyes cracked open.

This doesn’t feel like a bed, I thought getting out of the chair I was sleeping in. And this doesn’t look like a bedroom, the wheels in my head turning ever so slowly as I looked around the car park.

The attendant walked over, smiled and presented me with a bottle of water.

“Kharp-un-Krap,” I grinned. “And thanks for letting me sleep in your chair.” I assumed it was his.

I also assumed it must only be seven or eight in the morning as I looked at the time on my phone. It slapped me back with a reading of 13:00.

One.

PM.

I scratched my head. My backpack was by my feet and it had everything in it with a new addition – a book wrapped in plastic titled, ‘Gypsy Boy’ by Mike Walsh. And all my internal organs where still internal.

I don’t remember buying a book.

I don’t remember how I came to be in this car park.

I don’t remember how I ended up sleeping in a chair.

I don’t remember what happened last night after I parted ways with Maya and Daniel, good friends honeymooning in Bangkok. I do remember drinking local beer called Chang (6.4% although it has been tested at 12% on occasion). And I remember continuing the night with an American, Blayne, and his partner, Josie. But that’s it.

Now I’m in a car park in Bangkok, don’t know where.

And it’s one PM.

I smiled and grinned, thanked the car park attendant once again and hit the streets. As I walked along, enjoying the tipsy feeling that a night of drinking gives me (I don’t suffer from hangovers. I just wake up tipsy) I watched two tuk-tuk drivers playing checkers.

I continued walking and was stopped by a local who took the initiative to play tour guide and explained that, “Today is special Buddha holiday. All yellow tuk-tuk 20 Bhat. They take you to Standing Buddha and Golden Mountain Temple. You go, Mister. You enjoy special price on special day.”

“OK,” I grinned and hopped into the first yellow tuk-tuk I saw.

The driver grinned back and took me to the first stop, the Standing Buddha. As we rode along the streets in the three-wheeled motor I noticed on the ceiling the pictures of Thai girls covered in soap bubbles giving massages to one another.

“You like, Mister?” the driver grinned. “I take you to girl?”

“I like girls but I don’t pay for it,” I smiled back. “Just take me to the Standing Buddha. Then Khoa San Road.”

“No problem,” he revved off.

We arrived at the temple and my driver waited for me outside. I strolled around, noticing the small corners of worship within the temple. Some people were praying, others just wondered about. I came round to face the Standing Buddha, standing at 45 meters.

P1050614It made me wonder how, for a religion that preaches no need for materialism and wealth, everything was made from gold. And they had charity boxes for money donations everywhere (which I know every religion has. Maybe if they didn’t spend so much on pimping their places of worship, they wouldn’t have to ask for monetary donations).

The temple was a large area with statues of various characters and sizes, the majority being of Buddha. Satisfying my spiritual need, I returned to my tuk-tuk driver who had purchased peanuts and offered some to me.

“Thanks,” I grinned. “Khoa San Road?”

“Golden Mountain,” he said.

“Right, then Khoa San Road.”

He expertly shot us into traffic. “You want girl, Mister? Very sexy.”

“No, really, I’m fine but again, thanks for offering,” I leaned back and watched as we passed a large round-about with three tall arches in the middle.

Golden Mountain is named for the temple at the top of the hill. Walking in, I was greeted by the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac in the form of colourful statues. I walked along the road, stopping to look at the golden statues, sipping on the free water offered.

The 20 Bhat entry fee had me continue around the hill rather than go up it. Sure, it’s less than a dollar but I wasn’t paying to go into a place of worship. Not really my thing.

I headed back to my tuk-tuk.

“OK, Khoa San Road?” I asked as I hopped in, munching on some peanuts.

“One more stop,” he said. “Jewelry store. Special day, special prices. You no pay tax.”

“I don’t do jewelry,” I began but realised quickly I was in a discussion that I could never explain or win.

We pulled up outside a store. The door was held open by an official looking person who greeted me with a smile and waved me in.

“Hello, Mister,” she smiled. “Today special Buddha day. No tax today. Duty free prices only.”

“Yeah, I heard,” I smiled and looked into the glass stands. I walked around, figuring I may as well enjoy the air conditioning before returning to my means of transport.

“OK, Jeebs,” I sat back into the tuk-tuk. “Khoa San Road, please.”

“Wait, Mister. One more store,” he zipped us off.

Like I had a choice.

We rode around for about 20 minutes before stopping outside of a tailor shop. All tailor shops in Bangkok are run by Indian immigrants.

“Hello, sir, are you after a suit today?” the tailor looked at me with suspicion.

I don’t blame him. My beard was bushy, my hair curly and I was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and sandals. And I had woken up in a car park not two hours prior.

“No, I don’t wear suits,” I answered casually. “My tuk-tuk brought me here. I dunno why but here I am.”

“OK, sir, thank you for coming,” and he held the door open for me.

Jeebs seemed upset that I had returned so soon. “You go slow, Mister. Me get government coupon. Petrol.”

“You want me to spend at least 5 minutes in the shop so you get a petrol coupon from the government, right?” I verified with him.

He nodded, grinning at my finally understanding.

“Well, I’d like to go to Khoa San Road but that hasn’t played out too well, has it?” is what I should have said. I don’t know how, “Alright, next time,” came out but off we went.

To a tourist centre.

I walked in. A guy invited me to sit at his desk, hungry for the commission he thought I might be bringing him.

“So, what am I looking at here?” I asked in confusion.

“Package tours.”

I hate package tours. Too pass the 5-minute threshold that Jeebs needed for his government coupon, I asked, “I’m waiting for my friend to arrive next week. What’s good to do?”

“Come back with your friend,” he said, handing me his card. “Then we talk. Goodbye.”

“Can I look at the photos on the wall?” I asked.

“Come back with your friend, Mister. It’s better then.”

Ignoring the hint, I looked around at the photos on the wall, ooh-ing and ah-ing at each one before finally exiting the place.

“OK, Jeebs,” I said. “Khoa San Road, please.”

“One more stop,” he said and pulled into traffic. “You go slow, I get coupon. I take you Khoa San Road.”

“Fine,” I was fed up with him. And hoping it wouldn’t be another –

Tailor shop.

I sighed. How do I stick around for at least 5 minutes in a place where I stick out like an Evangelist at a science convention? A Indian opened the door before I had even hopped out of the tuk-tuk.

“Hello, sir. Are you after a suit?” he smiled with suspicious eyes.

I smiled back as I stepped into the air conditioned shop. I looked around at the rolls of material lining the wall. “Actually,” I began, “I’m a writer doing an article about how suits are tailor made here in Bangkok.” I turned to him with a $3 smile. “Would you be able to help me in my research?”

“So you don’t want a suit?” His suspicious smile turned into a gruff pan-face.

“No, not today,” I ignored his look. “As I said, I’m writing a piece on how suits are tailor-made and I need to research for my article. It’s free advertising for your shop really,” I raised my $3 smile to a $5 one.

He blinked twice before he said, “Don’t waste my time, Mister. If you don’t want a suit then please, leave my shop.”

“But it’ll be free advertising,” I played dumb.

“I didn’t ask for any advertising now get out,” he lead me to the door, holding it open.

I smiled 30 cents worth. “Thanks for your time.” I jumped to the tuk-tuk. “Was that enough?” I asked.

Jeebs grinned and nodded.

“Great, now please take me to Khoa San Road.”

Khoa San Road reminded me of Kuta, Bali. Full of bars, some advertising how they don’t check ID and have very strong cocktails, everyone was hustling for money.

“Sunglasses, Mister?”

“Thanks but I’m wearing a pair.”

“Souvenir, Mister?”

“I’m good, thanks.”

“Hat, Mister?”

“And hide my curls?”

“Scorpion, Mister?”

“I’m vegetarian but thanks.” (I’m not).

“Massage, Mister? Happy ending?”

“My endings are always happy.”

“Ping pong show, Mister?”

“No, thanks. How about tennis?”

“Suit, Mister?”

“Do I look like the kinda guy that wears suits?” I sighed.

Maybe I should have stayed with my tuk-tuk driver.

DAY 6

The Donwai Riverside Market is in the Nakhon Pathom province, just outside of the borders of Bangkok. My host, Nina, and I arrived just after noon to the shaded market pace. Every stall had fans running and although it seemed that all the 15 million people that make up the population of Bangkok were there that day, it was a comfortable temperature.

The majority of the stalls were selling food. Traditional Asian, Thai food. And they all had samples for tasting.

“Nothing I like better than free food,” I grinned as we were greeted by shopkeepers that were just happy if you had a taste. No pressure to buy anything.

I was warned, just as I was about to slam my head in a crossbeam, to be careful of the low hanging crossbeams. Some were padded with foam, from previous knock-outs. I smiled a ‘thank you’ as I sampled cakes, every farm animal that ever existed, chilli pastes that will provide a ‘fire-in-the-hole’ morning tomorrow, seafood, dry fish, salted eggs, black jelly, honey, pomegranate wine (5%) and pineapple wine (11% and which Nina bought two bottles of) and some clear liquor (40%) that had my knees shake a little. I even sampled a chilli paste made with a leaf insect.

The insect was cut into sections – head, body and tail. I avoided the body parts and tried the paste, which had a rim-burning action to it. But the shop keeper was not going to let this ‘falang’ go without some amusement at my expense.

“He wants you to try the insect,” Nina said.

I stared at the bug. The shopkeeper had chosen to present me with the middle section. There it sat on the spoon just waiting to be taken in by some foreigner stupid enough to fall for this trick.

I looked at the shopkeeper who was smiling. I looked at Nina who was worried. “Fuck it,” I said taking the spoon. “You only live once.” I chewed on the body and whatever was made of its insides was now on my tongue. And it wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t good enough for seconds but it wasn’t so bad.

But the chilli, with its ass-on-fire effect had me coughing and the shopkeeper in tears of laughter. “Ollay,” I said through clinched teeth, meaning ‘delicious’ in Thai. I stumbled off to find a stall with something sweet to sample, leaving the shopkeepers laughing.

We passed by a small Buddha temple where Nina stopped for a quick blessing.

“Let me show you something,” she said as I followed her in removing my sandals and sitting on the tiled floor, ankles behind me. “Take this,” she handed me a red cylinder box that had small, numbered pick-up-sticks in it. “You have to shake it until only one stick falls out. Then you see which number you got and get your fortune from the wall.” She pointed to the wall of printed notes with Thai, Chinese and English printed on each one.

I shook the box and eventually a stick fell out. “15,” I read out the number.

Nina grabbed the paper, tore off a leaf and handed it to me to read out. “You’ll succeeded in anything you do, especially commercial. If you’re expecting a baby, you surely will have a son. If you’re seeking a spouse, you’ll meet the right one. You’ll find the lost treasure you’re looking for as well as great fortune. For you who are sick will get well and healthy. As for other things and debtors, all is good. Whoever casts this number will live a happy life every night and day.”

I stared at Nina. “Pretty good fortune,” she said.

“Pretty good?” I blinked. “This is exactly what I’m seeking (more or less). Wow.” For once, a horoscopic prediction that actually gave me hope.

P1050660From the market we headed off to the National Buddhist Centre in Phutthamonthon. It was a vast area surrounded by a moat of water with perfectly maintained gardens, bonsai trees, hedges shaped like elephants, reindeer and other shapes. And of course, a giant statue of Buddha.

Nina bought two lily flowers and we sat on the step. She showed me how to fold the petals back until uncovering the flower within.

 

 

P1050665“This helps us meditate because we focus and concentrate on this action,” she explained.

When we were done, we handed the flowers to the people going up to place them under the giant Buddha.

The whole place was under water two years ago when the huge floods almost turned Bangkok into a beach.

“They had to cut down a lot of the trees here because the water killed them,” Nina explained.

Looking back at the huge Buddha statue I asked her, “Why is it that all Buddha statues are so huge?”

P1050653“So that every one who prayers can see it, no matter how far they are from the statue,” she put it rather simply.

That evening Nina cooked up some Tom Yum soup with a serving of rice, left over pork and chicken curry and some calamari that her mother had brought over. After dinner we watched Shaun of the Dead while sipping on pineapple wine. Then I jammed on the guitar thinking of my good fortune and the amazing people I’ve met on the way, excited for tomorrow’s adventures – hitch-hiking south to Koh Samui for my time at the Vikasa yoga retreat.

My fortune was right. I am happy every night and day.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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