Posts Tagged 'funny'

Koh Rong – Monkey Island

Half way through our time in Sihanoukville the four of us decided to take a trip to Koh Rong, an island just off the coast of SV. You can reach it via a 2 hour boat ride, and despite the extra expense of accommodation and higher prices of food on the island, it’s completely worth it.

We stayed in a resort called Monkey Island, which is the sister of Monkey Republic and just as fun.

There is not much I can really say about this place, I think the pictures of the idyllic beaches describe the paradise that is Koh Rong far better than I could depict.

The view from a restaurant on the island:

me looking ginger:

snorkel fun in the sea:

the frog and roast beef:

yes me lizard:

passed out on the beach:

my view most of the time in Koh Rong:

boat houses:

the guys playing volley ball:

All four of us stayed in a modest little hut right on the beach, which was cramped and boiling hot most of the time, but hanging out in the hammocks on our porch while drinking a cold beer and listening to the waves lap the shore made up for it.

The view from our balcony:

Our evenings were spent in one of the few bars on the island, playing chicken eyes (of course) and chatting with the other backpackers that were enjoying the same paradise as us.

Uno:

My Frog nomming a fishie:

Cosmo:

a spot of chicken eyes me lion:

the guys cracking up, probably something to do with chicken eyes:

ring of fire ruins lives:

party frog:

roast beef and frog <3 :

Come 11pm all the electricity on the island was shut off, as it ran purely on generators. With this and the modest nature of the cold water communal showers, plus our little hut it made you feel like you were in an episode of ‘Lost’. Upon the lights being shut down we tended to spend the rest of the night smoking, drinking and chatting on the beach, laying on blankets and basking in the moonlight. It was special.

n.b – this blog features images by the photographer Steven Branscombe :)

Sihanoukville – Back to the Beach

We set off in the morning, taking a bus to Phnom Penh and then changing onto another bus which arrived in Sihanoukville later that night. Another day spent sleeping on ramshackle buses. I would love to know how many hours and days I’ve spent on buses in the last two years of my travelling life, but then sometimes (as seen in my previous blogs) the journey can be an experience in itself.

Cambodian transport with free Khmer Karaoke:

20 minutes outside Shanoukville and the bus grinds to a halt. We are stuck in a 2 hour traffic jam and day turns into night. The cause of the jam? A bad traffic accident involving a tourist bus, exactly like the one we were in. Seeing these accidents and hearing about them makes me both sad and grateful it wasn’t my bus and also part of me always wonders if there was anyone I met on my travels involved. Luckily so far, to my knowledge there hasn’t.

On arrival in Shanoukville we head to the backpacker area and consulted the bible on where to stay.

We decided to that Monkey Republic was the place for us, which is probably one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in, if not the best. It’s run by 4 friends who have done their fair share of travelling and decided to take all the best bits from the hostels they’ve stayed in and lump it all together in one awesome backpacker oasis.

Monkey Republic:

Amazing + cheap hotdogs:

Shanoukville is on the coast in the south west of Cambodia, and although I’m sure there may be cultural destinations here, and I know for certain that there are some great volunteering projects such as CCPP but the main draw for backpackers is that SV has some of the best beaches in Cambodia, plus the parties to go with it. It’s like a minature koh phangan but much more chilled and one million times cheaper.

Our first night in SV I was bursting with excitement at the opportunity to have some mindless fun. My culture-ometer was up to maximum, and I needed to balance it out by having an evening of debauched stupidity. And in true Harmony style, that is exactly what happened. At about 10pm, after several Singapore slings I bumped into two lads from the Wirrel (posh Liverpool) that I’d met on a tuk-tuk in Vang Vieng previously.

Lovely Stephen:

Lovely Chris:

What happened next was this: I was taught ‘Chicken Eyes’ possibly the most ridiculous drinking game I had ever played, $1 buckets at (what we named) Granny’s Beach Bar, beach party at Dolphin and then at around 5am the infamous Utopia pool party to finish it off. I woke up the following afternoon with a banging head, my voice sounding like an 80 year old man, still wearing last nights clothes and my face painted entirely green. It had been a successful night.

Pool party mayhem:

 Ring of fire ruins lives:

Most evenings in SV were passed in this manner, and most days were spent recovering on the beautiful beaches eating fresh seafood, barbecued right in front of you.

Grilling fresh squid right on the beach:

King prawn noms:

Fresh crab:

The first day Adeline and I took a stroll down to the main beach we found out that beautiful as it is, the main tourist beach overrides the beauty with annoyance. No sooner had we set foot onto the sand than we had two insistent massage/hair removal/cigarette, bracelet and trinket selling women on our tail shouting to us “misaaageee madamme? Verrrry good, verrrry cheap priiiice” After walking for 10 minutes down the beach they followed us still. We were polite, even when we sat down on loungers and they continued to ask us if we wanted a massage/hair removal by threading/bracelets/cigarettes etc. etc. half an hour afterwards, we were still polite. It was when one woman started grabbing my leg and almost forcing the cotton thread method of hair removal upon me that I lost my rag. It was practically leg rape. From then on we spent most days on Otres beach which is prettier and much more quiet, just a 10 minute tuk tuk from the centre.

sunset on the beach:

me probably drinking cocktails:

making sand temples:

another cool beach photo:

‘arty’:

Halfway through our stay in Shanoukville all four of us went to Koh Rong for a couple of days, but I’ll write an additional blog about that next time. The main thing I want to tell you about is the afore mentioned drinking game:

Chicken Eyes – the stupidest drinking game ever

The first rule of chicken eyes is, you must not talk about chicken eyes… that’s not true at all, once played everyone talks about chicken eyes because it’s so stupid, weird and brilliant. It’s a great game for all nationalities as there are literally no language barriers whatsoever (we realised that linguistic problems can occur when playing drinking games such as ‘ring of fire’ when with people for whom English is not their native tongue. Especially when booze is involved)

Everyone must sit or stand around a table, have a fair quantity of booze each and possibly a little drunk to begin with. You start the game with a song:“Chicken eyes baby… Chicken eyes boy…” whilst drumming the table with your fingers. Don’t ask me why, but thems the rules. You then place your sprawled fingers (silly glasses style) around your eyes like so:

assume the position:

The initiator of the game (or person who fudged up in the previous round) then begins the game with either a “bwark” to the left thrusting their left hand forward or a “bwark” to the right in the same method. The “bwark” then goes around the table in that direction until someone changes direction by giving a loud and proud “bwakkkkeeerrrr” with both hands like so:

When someone gets it wrong, which happens a lot, they drink.

The main thing to remember is you cannot “bwakkkeeerrr” a “bwakkkeeerrr” and you also can’t start the round on one. I’m hoping by now Chris and Stephen have ‘you can’t b-ker a b-ker’ tattooed on their butts, I’ll let you know if this is the case.

One of our last days in Shanoukville was spent at a beach bar called ‘I don’t know’ – I haven’t forgotten the name, it’s actually called ‘I don’t know’ which for some reason made me laugh hysterically upon first discovering it on the map. We thought perhaps the person producing the map couldn’t remember the name or something, but alas, it’s just another beach bar with a weird name.

the amusing map:

I don’t know:

The evening was spent in much the same manner as I’ve previously described, playing chicken eyes and generally larking about although upon arriving at Dolphin for the beach party we soon realised that at about 3am all the backpackers leave, and only the prostitutes, old men and weirdos remain. This was fine we thought, we were in a group dancing, drinking amongst ourselves. We were merrily having a great time singing along to Oasis Wonderwall in our own little world of drunken yay. Then suddenly out of nowhere we hear an explosion of liquid, and in the blink of an eye my hair and back were sodden and wet… I turned around to find a pleading prostitute reaching for my hand and apologizing over and over again…

Oh no. Oh dear god no.

The realisation hit me in the face, like being slapped around the chops with a stinking rotten salmon.

The sticky liquid that now dripped from my hair like glue, was in fact, the result of the prostitute projectile vomiting. Yep, she had puked, full force, into the back of my head. Chris and Stephen had taken some of the force of her sick on their legs, but the main element of sputum was in my hair, increasing the redness of my locks by the addition of carrot chunks.

Luckily for us, the Utopia pool party was still in full fling, so what better place to wash it off…

ewwwww…

On the bright side, at least I hadn’t been facing her when she chundered.

The journey to Cambodia and Kratie

I am currently writing this blog lying in a sweaty hotel room in New Delhi, sick and hallucinating from my Doxycycline pills. So if this blog entry seems a bit weird, you can blame it on the malaria medication. So anyway, on with the blog:

We left Don Det early in the morning, waving goodbye to the lady who ran our guesthouse (and didn’t know what the guesthouse was called in English) which I thought was rather sweet. I think it might have been ‘Billie Guesthouse’ but if the owner was unsure, I’m not going to bet on it.

Billie Guesthouse:

After taking a longtail boat across the Mekong to the travel office, we handed our paperwork and passports over (plus $30) to the chap organising our visas. The visa is only meant to be $25 but with a $5 ‘handling’ charge, or if you like, a $5 ‘in the back pocket’ charge.

After being herded here and there we finally got on a bus to the border. I always find it strange walking across a border into another country as opposed to flying for example. Like there should be an actual wall with a door marking the exact point of entry, or at the very least a big red line distinguishing each respective country. Instead we walk through no-mans land which comprises of a dirt track, a health check facility in the form of a lady taking our temperature with a remote beeper thing, luckily we ‘pass’ and bypass the rather amusing ‘Quarantine’ tent, then through to the other side; Cambodia.

In ‘Quarantine’:

We past the health test!

We made it through to Cambodia!

After a mere two hour wait in the baking hot sun our passports (complete with Cambodian visa) were returned and it was our turn to leave for Kratie.

Waiting, waiting, waiting with Xavier:

Having been eyeing up the big, luxury, air-conditioned VIP bus, I grabbed my backpack and darted over to be one of the first to board. A small angry man handling the baggage looks at my ticket, shakes his head, then points to a crappy minivan across the way. This was my ride and not the VIP bus. Great.

After being on the road for no more than 30 minutes, we are turfed out opposite a petrol station somewhere near Stung Treng which is a rather crappy boarder town and told to wait for another bus.

Waiting again:

After another 2 hour wait in the heat, my little French friend becomes understandably agitated. Fair enough, the bus driver had been saying the bus would arrive “in 20 minutes” for the last two hours. Through the heat and frustration we make our driver call the other driver to see what was going on. Through various language barrier difficulties I end up speaking on the phone to a backpacker travelling on the other bus. He tells me that their bus had broken down, twice, and they were now trying to repair the engine using items from backpackers on the bus such as plasters and tape. Hilarious.

Another hour passes and finally the bus arrives to pick us up. We cheer and congratulate each other like first time parents, so proud, yes we did it, we lasted the heat, and the sweat and the test of time and now the bus is here to pick us up and we shall go on our merry way! Wrong. Everyone was told to disembark the bus and wait until further repairs had been made.

Everyone off the bus, again:

Amused! Fixing the bus:

Hangman  to pass the time:

Finally on the bus with Thomas:

Eventually, after a grand total of 8 hours combined delays and 12 hours travel time we finally made it to Kratie. Me, The Frog, a Dutch guy and two French chaps. We had been through so much together already that our bonds were strong; these were my new travel companions for the next week, and my new friends for a lifetime.

The gang eating dinner:

Kratie is a Cambodian town right on the Mekong famous for having the best sunset on the river. Quite a few people stop over here for a night or two before heading to Siem Reap, as although the journey from the Laos boarder isn’t very far, it is when you’re using Cambodian transport on Cambodian roads and to do the whole thing in one go is pretty full on.

Besides eating amazing food, getting a massage and watching the sunset, there isn’t all that much to see or do here in Kratie if I’m honest. But it was a good place to relax for a day or two and adjust to our new Cambodian environment. To give you some insight into a day in the life in Kratie, here are some photos:

Xavier demonstrating the Khmer massage pants:

Khmer massage:

Amazing sunset:

Singapore sling:

Another awesome sunset:

After a day and a half spent here we decided to head down to Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor as a merry group of 5. We paid our travel bloke extra for a ‘direct bus’ which we soon found out didn’t actually exist. You will have more luck making a pig fly than catching a direct bus in Cambodia!

Don Det and 4,000 Islands

Don Det, what a beautiful place. On the boarder between Laos and Cambodia it’s the perfect stop over to chill at after Laos, and before the chaos of Cambodia. This is the second time I have visited these islands in the Mekong, and will no doubt not be the last.

The main activities on Don Det are as follows:

  1. Rent a bike to explore the scenery. Although Don Det is small, to tour it on foot in the heat of the sun would be a bad decision. Plus, it got me to grips with how to ride a bike again after a few years. Amusing for my little French cyclist.
  2. Rafting and kayaking in the river (which Emma and I did the first time round) extremely fun, especially upon capsizing after hitting a tree.
  3. Relaxing in a hammock. This is the main activity in which we immersed ourselves. Everyone needs a hammock in their life.

On the first night we decided to delve into a spot of Don Det nightlife (if you can call it that) and so we tried to find where the other backpackers were drinking – in low season, this was not that easy. Instead we chatted with some highly drunk, extremely high locals. Nice, but intense. After bucket number 1 we left the bar, indulged in a spot of hammock time, and then bed.

On the second day after breakfast we began exploring the island by bicycle. After the first couple of hours I got the hang of it and we were on our way.

We managed to explore almost all the sites on the island, including south east Asia’s biggest waterfall (in terms of the volume of water, which in wet season is A LOT.)

We also found a little ‘beach’ just by the waterfall where we shared a beer with the locals and chatted about travel and culture. Very fulfilling.

After an excellent lunch overlooking the river, we continued our little bike tour around the island to try and find the second waterfall. Somehow we managed to get lost (of course)

and soon enough we were in the middle of rice paddies and farmland with mean looking water buffalo eyeballing us.

On the approach to yet more fields we stop to rest and drink some water by a little farmhouse. I notice in the corner of my eye that one of the scrawny looking chickens outside has something in its beak; a mouse. A half dead mouse. Fascinated by this carnivorous chicken I alert Adeline to this newly discovered phenomenon. We both stood staring at it run around and peck at it for quite a while.

Having noticed that darkness is closing in, and we are still lost we move off homeward bound. I get a little tap on my leg and hear a tiny little voice say “pen, pen!”

Pen” is the universal term that begging children say to mean “do you have anything at all to give me?” but it actually refers to giving kids pens and paper for writing and schoolwork.

The only thing I had on my person that I could give to her was the elastic band for my hair. She seemed extremely pleased with this, and in return also gave me a “pen”; the half dead mouse. This she presented to me like a proud cat accosting it’s owner at 5am. She placed the mouse in my hand and trying my best not to be impolite I gratefully accepted it. And then laughed a lot. At least it wasn’t dangerous or poisonous.

After offering her the mouse back ‘to feed the chicken’ she took it and then placed it in my handbag where it ran around a lot until I could fish it out (or take a photo). Sadly this little escapade was documented in ‘mind camera’ form only. Open your eyes and ‘click’. Otherwise I would have posted an image.

Later that night we had some additional hammock time and prepared ourselves to enter a new country on the following day.

We were crossing the boarder into Cambodia! Exciting!!

Vang Vieng / Tubing in Laos

After my extended time in Bangkok and much dithering and faffing I was so indecisive I had to flip a coin to decide where my next destination should be; Burma, Laos or Cambodia. Laos won. I booked my ticket to Vientienne, the capital and 10 minutes before boarding the bus decided on a whim that I should instead go straight to Vang Vieng. V V is in the centre of Laos and the home of the infamous ‘tubing’ where you float down the deadly Nam Song river in a tractor tyre inner tube, visiting bars and partying along the way. This is actually the destination where I left my blog at last year, so I conveniently won’t be repeating myself in this post.

2 vallium, 4 buses, 1 tuk tuk and 22 hours later we finally arrived. I’ve never been a fan of long hall bus journeys but the vallium helps immensely with only mild hallucinations upon waking. I had never taken vallium before so perhaps it’s just the Bangkok kind that makes you see strange shit but I’ll never be without it on south east Asian transport again. I slept like a baby. Also the tourist buses in Thailand aka VIP buses are really rather plush; you get a loo on board and frilly doily like curtains and sometimes a little packed lunch. And as I found out, Thai /Laos transport is like 5* luxury when compared with the transport in Cambodia.

Now Vang Vieng is where most holidaymakers and travellers go tubing and to party, and for most it’s the only place in Laos they will visit as it’s basically like the full moon party x 1000 but in the daytime, on a river, every single day. It’s a shame that few visitors make it past this hedonistic place. Partying in Vang Vieng, as amazing as it is, is nothing like the real Laos at all. Pretty much all of the food is western fare; pancakes, burgers, pizza and more chicken sandwiches than you could ever imagine in one place. Laos food exists here, but isn’t that great apart from one restaurant called Nokeo which I visited last time but was closed every single day I went to eat there this time around. Having said that, if all you’ve been eating for the past month is noodles, rice and curry, sometimes a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich is just what the doctor ordered. Ok, now I’ll stop with the judgemental ‘I’m a REAL traveller now, so it’s not all about drinking buckets’ rant and tell you about the fun stuff because, as you know, I like to party.

Tubing in Vang Vieng

How it works is this: you wake up in the morning with a massive hangover, stumble out of your guesthouse to the nearest restaurant and order something greasy and wrong, then wash it all down with a fruit shake of your choice. Or a Beer Laos. Next you get your waterproof-ish tubing bag, stuff it with fags and kip and stumble your way down to one of the tubing stations. You pay an extortionate sum of kip and sign a form (all written in Laos) but I presume it’s some sort of disclaimer so if you happen to injure yourself or drown it’s your own fault and not theirs. After this you pick up your tube, clamber into a tuk tuk with a bunch of other hooligans and then an Irishman will give you shots from a bottle of Tiger whiskey. This isn’t an essential part of the experience, the Laos people don’t actually pay an Irishman to sit in the tuk tuk and feed you booze but I would bet money on it happening as it literally happened every single day I tubed. Then you hurtle down dirt roads past amazing scenery (just ignore this and have another shot) and then get dumped at the start of the tubing bars along the river. Grab your tube and you are ready to go. Good bye and good luck.

Q bar is the first you’ll visit along the river, you receive a ‘Q bar’ wristband, a bikini girl will pour whiskey in your mouth like a sort of Q bar baptism, or perhaps offer you a bodyshot, then you are practically forced to down more shots (from a glass) and after this Laos whiskey ordeal you will receive a woven bracelet. Each bar along the river will give you one of these in varying colours every time you enter the bar. From this it is obvious to recognise the people who have been there for far too long (like me). I had about 21 at the last count having been in Vang Vieng about a week. Next, if you are a girl you should expect to have your bikini untied by the guy running the bar, string bikinis are especially easy for this sort of activity, which I unluckily found out. All of this happens before you have even entered the bar and bought your first beer. And it happens in almost every bar along the river, of which there are 6 or 7.

Within the bars they play the usual cheese/dubstep SE Asia soundtrack, have games and competitions such as beer pong and in the 2nd bar (Star Bar) you can partake in a civilised game of X-rated Jenga, the family favourite. It’s like regular jenga but each jenga stick has either a dare or drinking associated task to perform scribbled onto it.

I played the game once not realising the complete set of rules and ended up having to perform various simulated sexual positions and then walk around the entire bar topless (but obviously covering my boobs with my hands), which was mild compared to some of the dares.

I watched one guy take a shot of whiskey in his eye. IN HIS EYE. And the amount of upside down beer bongs I witnessed are impossible to count. It’s amazing what kids will do for fun these days.

This young lady I fear may have taken the game a little too seriously, bear in mind that this is only the second bar.

As it’s easier to sum up visually, and to be fair I can’t really remember most of it through my haze of drunkenness, here are some snapshots of day to day life in Vang Vieng:

So, after a hard days tubing and as the evening draws in and turns into night everyone takes a tuk tuk back into town to then shower (or not), get some dinner (or not) and then party across the other side of the river until the early hours (compulsory). Bucket bar has probably the happiest happy hour I’ve ever encountered – free buckets from 9pm – 10pm then £1 buckets thereafter. Plus the obligatory fire limbo for drunken loons to acquire additional injuries.

The first time I was in Vang Vieng it was during the dry season and each bar had either a rope swing, zipline or slide into the river. During the wet season the river runs much faster and so many of these dodgy wet n’ wild rides were out of use when I was there this time. Even so, you can easily imagine why the Nam Song River takes many lives here every year. Westerners who think they can handle their alcohol and drugs may be fine on dry land, but on the river it is another matter entirely. I for one had to help on average at least one person per day who had either drunk too much, or dabbled with drugs they thought they could handle and couldn’t. Like this guy:

I also had the interesting experience of sharing a room with a girl who I met on the bus and I guess I sort of ‘misjudged’ her on the whole alcohol tolerance front.

The first night alarm bells started to ring right from the off; we arrived early, but not early enough to tube so thought it would be nice to sit in a restaurant overlooking the river and enjoy an early evening meal. To accompany my meal I ordered a Beer Laos. She ordered a bucket. And then another.

By around 8pm that evening she was totally and utterly smashed. I gave her the key to go back home (literally a 2 minute walk from the bar). At around midnight the owner of the bar informs me that she has fallen down the stairs of our guesthouse, she’s lost the key to our room and is a crying, jibbering mess on the floor. Great.

After sorting her out and finding the key I put her to bed and hoped that the whole thing was just a case of ‘first night syndrome’ and she would have learnt her lesson. I was wrong. The following day I lost her at about 5pm and couldn’t find her for the entire night, then as I arrive back to our hotel find her butt naked on the bed; a sprawled, drooling mess. It transpired the next day that she thought it would be a good idea to eat an entire bag of magic mushrooms, on her own, in our room.

The following night; same story, or as the SE Asians say ‘same same, but different. This time an opium pancake was her disaster of choice.

On her last day in Vang Vieng I had basically given up and ignored my initial instincts of responsibility. If she wanted to kill herself by getting twatted and drowning in the river, or breaking her legs on rocks tubing or overdosing on some weird drug, well she could be my guest… Only that wasn’t true at all. Of course I went to look for her when she was lost. And on her last day there after losing her by the riverside I went to the Island to try and find her. Which brings me onto my next story:

After spending a week in Vang Vieng did I sustain any injuries? Yes, of course I did. However, I didn’t injure myself by crashing a motorbike, nor have any drunken related tubing disasters, I didn’t fall off the stage trying to pole dance drunk (again a la Koh Phi Phi), or fall into a coma from some insane cocktail of drugs. No, instead of these rock and roll endings I was stone cold sober and fell through a bridge when looking for my crazy room-mate. This bridge:

And this is my leg in various shades of black and blue:

It was dark when it happened and I was alone, my leg stuck in the bridge refusing to release itself like two foxes mating. No matter which way I shifted, my leg wasn’t going to budge, my knee joint was plugging the gap and the bridge was having none of it. It was my own version of 127 hours, although it was probably only around 10 minutes, and I didn’t have to saw through my own leg to escape.

After five or so minutes a crowd had developed around me on the bridge, each person drunk and offering advice. One guy started shouting “we need lubrication, does anyone have any LUBE?” Everyone did, but it was inconveniently back at their guesthouses. Then one girl had the bright idea of pouring her whiskey bucket on my leg to help free it. No such luck. Eventually after a struggle, through gritted teeth I pulled my leg free. A cheer erupted and we shared buckets all round. By this point though I had made up my mind; I had to leave. So the next day it was time to flip the coin once more.

more photos!

hurrah! Woo hoo! hallelujah! I have finally caught up with all my photo uploading (well up to a few weeks ago anyway) so 5 months worth of photos traveling through south-east Asia and Sydney are now on my flickr site! They’re not like most people’s boring holiday snaps by the way, I’m still backpacking and therefore this collection of photos (and video) may contain partial (or entire) nudity, drunken and irresponsible behaviour, plus the obligatory photos of amazing beaches, mountains, waterfalls, surfers, fish etc.

More blog posts to follow this week I promise mum!

lots of love,

baxxy x

 

Huay Xai, Pakbeng, Luang Prabang – on the slow boat along the Mekong

I am currently writing this blog during my lunchbreak at work. I’m now in Sydney, and have been doing this mundane admin job for about two months, which means I’ve been in Sydney for three months, and therefore this blog is roughly four months overdue. Apologies for that, especially to my Mother who I’m sure is my only subscriber besides someone called ‘3monthcarhire.com’.

Anyway, Laos; a country I hadn’t even heard of until visiting Thailand, and through word-of-mouth fell in love with. Everyone I spoke to who had visited Laos had said it was one of their favourite places in S E Asia. It was soon to be one of mine too. If you are ever in that neck of the woods, please go there. It is pure unadulterated awesomeness. Actually, on second thoughts, don’t go, don’t even continue reading this blog about what an awesome place it is. Thus far commercialisation has only managed to infiltrate Vientiane the capital, leaving the rest of the country as I imagine S E Asia was ten or so years ago – No McD’s, No Burger King, No effing Starbucks. Too much tourism and popularity will fuck this place up, so stop reading now, go away, eff off; this is a shit blog anyway.

Upon reaching the boarder, Emma and I were knackered after a bad night’s sleep in our terrifying hotel room, topped off with a long journey by taxi, boat and tuk tuk. We heaved our rucksacks to the tourist police office, huffing like chain-smokers, unsure of what visa arrangements our money had bought us.

After about an hour and a half waiting with other confused backpackers in Huay Xai we received our visas and then without instruction or direction tried to gauge what to do next. Upon turning the corner we realised that our guide who had said she would wait for us with our boat tickets, had disappeared. Bollocks.

After some negotiations with the officials, without much of a do they accepted we had pre-paid for our tickets and directed us to the port. Laos people are notoriously trusting and genuine and unlike the tourist industry in Thailand, will not try and rip you off (quite as much, or as forcefully).

Prior to boarding the slow boat I bought a massive chicken salad baguette. In Laos you eat a lot of these. This is it in all its glory:

Emma and I boarded the boat, and sat in the middle of the 60 or so people, on a bench, so skinny and uncomfortable it felt like you were mounting some sort of S&M hobbyhorse. We both ate our baguettes, and looked around our immediate vicinity. Surrounding us were relatively middle-aged passengers, couples and locals. Not exactly the party we had hoped for. Once the boat started filling up it was clear all the fun passengers were sat at the front of the boat on the floor. Emma and I both looked at each other and knew instinctively what to do. As a last elderly couple came onto the vessel, we both offered up our bench seats so we could go and play at the front. A little bit mean considering the floor was much more comfortable than any bench on that boat, but needs must when pleasure-seeking.

After a couple of Beer Laos, we began chatting to our fellow boat colleagues and met the brilliant guys who we then travelled Laos with for the next 3 weeks. Before long, a guitar appeared and we were singing our way down the Mekong, drinking, smoking and gazing out of the boat aghast at the stunning cliffs and landscape surrounding the river.

At drop-off points groups of children infiltrated the boat, selling snacks and beer. At one point a motorbike was parked at the helm to later be dropped off at a village on the riverbank. The sun was shining in a cerulean sky and we were on the best taxi journey in the world.

Our first stop was Pakbeng, a small village right on the river. We docked at dusk in not so much a port, but more like a jagged pile of rocks on the riverside, which we had to negotiate safely with our massive rucksacks in what was essentially the pitch black. The attitude adopted towards health and safety was similar to that in Thailand, there was none.

Pakbeng had a simple beauty about it. The view of the mountainous rock face that loomed over the river was like a Mordor-esque landscape, and the village itself had only one adorable cocktail bar and a handful of restaurants.  It was like nowhere I had ever been before in my life.

A group of us settled into the nearest available guesthouse and then proceeded to eat some fantastic grub, and continue on the Beer Laos before venturing out to explore the village. Walking down the single road that the village was based around we drifted past some restaurants and cafes that were populated solely by the passengers on our boat plus a few locals. This was a tiny village, I imagine the businesses survived only because of the slow boat passengers.

We arrived at the only bar in Pakbeng, a small and modestly decorated cocktail bar, drank a few LaosLaos cocktails, which regardless of the cocktail you ordered would all taste the same. Later we discovered that any drink using the term ‘Laos’ or ‘Laos Laos’ in the title, was made using local moonshine rather than a legitimate spirit. To drink LaosLaos on it’s own is only slightly more preferable to drinking paint stripper, and the intoxication effects would also be on a par. That said, it is really bloody cheap. Even the Laos whiskey ‘Lion King’ (much better than LaosLaos) was absurdly cheap, and at roughly £0.70 a 700ml bottle there was never a dry night (or usually day).

On leaving the bar we bought some whiskey and mixers and spent the night chatting, drinking and smoking until the early hours before passing out, drunk and exhausted.

The next day we had to leave Pakbeng by 8am, all of us were hanging terribly and from then on the phrase was coined ‘mornings can be tough’ – this was said A LOT throughout the next three weeks. As the captain of the boat came round to collect our tickets in a flash of panic I realised that I had no idea where mine was. All eyes were on me as I frantically searched my rucksack knowing full well that I had probably packed it in my backpack, which was buried under 50 other bags at the back of the boat. I pleaded with the captain to let me continue my journey; he insisted that I would have to pay for another ticket. After an embarrassingly long time of trying to negotiate with him, he finally chuckled and smiled at me and I realised that he had been pulling my leg all that time. After that rush of relief came over me I lay back against the wall and could relax into my hangover nicely. That was until the bar woman from the previous night came rushing over shouting from the side of the river. After a few minutes of shouting and pointing, I realised that she was shouting at me. Apparently I had left the bar without settling my tab. I knew for a fact this wasn’t the case, but the second round of embarrassment was enough for me to just pay her to simply go away.

Finally after delaying the boat for about 20 minutes we set off down the river and my cheeks recovered their natural colour rather than beetroot red. This whole debacle reaffirmed the idea that yes, indeed ‘mornings can be tough’.

The next day on the Mekong was spent playing drinking games, singing and joking with my new buddies until reaching our final stop at Luang Prabang.

Koh Tao, Bankok, Chiang Rai & the journey to Laos

On a gorgeous sunny morning, hazy from the previous nights mushroom adventures I haphazardly packed my gargantuan rucksack and took a boat to the island of Koh Tao for a much-needed rest.

Koh Tao is known as the best place in Thailand for scuba diving, many of the hotels offer free accommodation if you purchase a dive package. This no doubt would have been amazing, however Emma and I realized with a flash of panic that our 30-day visa for Thailand was close to running out and that we had to cross the boarder into Laos as soon as possible. It’s not a massive disaster if you run over your visa, as with many things in Thailand, if you pay money things can easily be forgotten by the authorities and on a tourist visa you pay 20,000 baht (roughly £10) a day until you leave the country.

We spent around 3 days in Koh Tao chilling out, or more appropriately put, recovering from a weeks worth of Koh Phangan hangovers. Koh Tao is extremely beautiful, much more relaxed than it’s neighboring islands but had a few good bars and mini beach parties which kept us occupied of an evening.

We spent a night with some friends from Phangan and some random Americans playing ‘quarters’ in a bar while an Aussie covers band played in the background. It was a massive shame that we didn’t manage to dive, however it’s definitely on my list for next time. And there WILL be a next time in the not too distant future.

From Koh Tao we took a boat to Champon in the mainland and then a coach up to Bangkok.

We arrived on Koh San road at around 3am, exhausted and hungry having only eaten the equivalent of a Thai pot noodle the entire trip. As this was our second time in Bangkok by now we were down with the ‘just turn up and find a room’ thing. However at 3am, dragging our massive bags down a wildly raving Koh San with drunk people tripping over us, I was in no mood to be haggling for a place to stay. Eventually after making our way down to Rambratri road a friendly tourist recommends The Rambratri Village Inn, which was fairly reasonably priced, however the most miserable reception staff I have ever encountered. After bartering (arguing) we eventually conceded and took a room.

For the most part, we used our time in Bangkok to organize the next stage of our trip, so there are no amusing anecdotes featuring nudity, drugs or buckets. We did party in the usual fashion of course, but you’ve heard all that before so I won’t linger on it. One thing I will say though is that due to the police having a more obvious presence, Koh San wasn’t as mental as it had initially been on our first trip to Bangkok. Rather than drinking buckets out on the street, loud music blaring from every direction and raucous behavior by the clientele we were often shuttled inside the bars when the police van came through. This meant for a disjointed drinking experience, and Koh San no longer held the same vibe because of it. I can only assume that the bars were a little less busy and therefore weren’t in a position to pay off the police as they usually do to ensure their unauthorized street drinking license went unnoticed.

From Bangkok we flew to Chiang Rai in the north, another place I wish to explore in more depth as I’ve been told some of the temples here are astonishing. One of my Laos friends showed me photos of the White Temple and the Black House. Both built in contrast to each other by Thai Artists. The photos below are not taken by myself, but check them out, they are totally crazy:

We only spent 1 night in Chiang Rai sadly, but stayed in the creepiest hotel I have ever been in all my travels. As we turned up in the courtyard the place was completely desolate except for an old Thai woman wandering around muttering to herself like a gin addled grandma taking it upon herself to scare the shit out of us. We stepped into the reception area, this was also empty, covered in dust and looked like an old deserted hospital. It had the ambience of a horror film, like a sort of Thai ‘One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest’ meets ‘The Shining’ (although Jack Nicholson was not present on this occasion). After being shown to our room by a middle aged, also rather creepy Thai man Emma and I were sure that we would get no sleep that night, through paranoia about the ghostly place we were staying and the suspicion that our mattresses were heaving with bedbugs.

Having thankfully survived the night, but with little sleep we left at dawn to cross the boarder into Laos. I was exhausted, excited and happy, reflecting on one of the most incredible months of my life, fuelled with adrenaline and expectation for what experiences I will live in the month ahead.

Koh Phangan part two, Full Moon and beyond

Ok, so, the awesomely beautiful, hedonistic party island story part two, plus some other stuff. The previous blog paints an impression (possibly in neon body paint) of Phangan as a raucous, thrill ride of fire dancing, bucket drinking, beach partying, body painting, intravenous dripping, mosh pit of sinfully fun experiences.

And then we get to the full moon party…

Ironically the day of the full moon was actually our most cultured; we travelled around to see some of the natural beauty of Phangan, which I think you’ll agree is pretty damn beautiful. I only wish I was as good at snapping as Ansel Adams, the landscapes here are incredible, and my point and shoot photography does no justice to them whatsoever.

After the morning showers cleared, I took a walk into town to grab some lunch. Two British guys I met in Phangan earlier in the week caught me devouring a massive pizza and suggested I work off my 15 inch carb consumption by joining them for a trip to the waterfalls. Initially I jumped at the chance, but when it was revealed we would be riding mopeds I was a little more apprehensive about the trip, especially as the roads on the Thai islands (and Thailand in general) are known to be dangerous, especially for eager foreigners who don’t know the roads and drive too fast. Luckily we didn’t have this problem as the decaying Thai mopeds we rented had about as much engine power as my usb cup warmer.

Soon enough we were zooming (at a slow crawl) along the hills and cliffs, through lush green forests, on winding steep dusty roads climbing higher and higher until we eventually reached the waterfalls. It took about an hours’ drive, which was pretty hairy in places; some hills were so steep we thought we wouldn’t make it to the top and would start drifting backwards, the scooter engine groaning like a sick old dog.

Once we arrived at our destination we hiked for about an hour to the waterfalls, and then further to the viewpoint, which looked something like this:

After spending a few hours trekking in the jungle I was dishevelled and sweating more than a fat man in a sauna, so hopping on a moped with the wind in my face was welcome refreshment. During our journey back we stopped at a deserted beach for a quick dip, and then went home via a crazy Thai night market where I purchased one of the most useful things I have ever bought: flashing, fibre optic, light-up plastic swords.

At home, Emma and I knocked back a pad-thai from our local noodle place, dressed in neon, decorated ourselves with florescent paint, grabbed a SangSom bucket and headed to Haad Rin Nok for the infamous Full Moon Party, yes, with our newly acquired awesome swords.

On entering Cactus bar, my immediate reaction was to turn to Emma aghast; I had never seen so many people on a beach before in my life, probably about 20 – 30,000. Everyone inebriated by some sort of toxin, covered in neon body paint, all mad as kippers and dancing to Swedish House Mafia. It was awesome!

The intensity of the atmosphere was increased infinitely just by the sheer amount of people. Many partygoers come over from the neighbouring islands and from the north of Phangan, hence the tremendous influx of people for this one night. After about an hour, we realised that our flashing swords were entirely unique and created a huge amount of jealousy amongst drunken people who like to look at flashing lights or play with swords. I have vague memories of running up to total strangers and playfully attacking them while screaming “Hiiii-yaaaa!!” like some tribal warrior.

I danced the whole night, right through until 10am where by this point most of the crowd had dispersed and taken taxi boats back to their respective abodes, or simply passed out right there on the beach, with a few hardcore ravers still bouncing around, although slightly more wearily despite the effects of the amphetamine Thai redbull. Watching the sunrise with a diluted warm bucket in my hand I felt satisfied that I had probably partied enough and that it was time for bed… And then I was captured by a crazy Thai bloke who proceeded to act out some sort of pirate adventure scene where I had to be rescued by one of my friends. Unfortunately the sword came off worse for wear during this exchange, but you win some, you lose some. And THEN I went to bed.

This is the crazy pirate man:

There is not much else to tell about this awesomefest of partydom. I don’t profess to be a writer, and therefore I can’t possibly depict the mentality of this occasion accurately enough to be realistic. All I can do is suggest you go and see it for yourself. Here are some more amusing photos:

You can see the full set of photos on my flickr site here: Koh Phangan, Full Moon and Beyond.

The day after the full moon… well, as one of my friends in Laos would have said ‘mornings, can be tough.’ This said it was late afternoon by the time I got out of bed. Before the hangover could hit me full force my new Phangan friends and I decided to get back on the booze train to lets-avoid-a-hangover-ville. I met them down at Drop In, which was quiet, except for those who had pushed on through from the full moon. If I was sensible I would have probably just called it a night at around midnight, however my friends and I decided, as it was our last night, that we should climb the rickety steps to mushroom mountain for a few happy shakes.

This is one of the only photos from the mushroom night I will let you see, it’s basically me laughing my ass off because we found a random toilet seat on a box outside, simple minds, simple pleasures:

It all goes a bit wonky from here on in, I remember laughing hysterically in the back of a tuktuk talking nonsense in an Irish accent, and floating around in the foam party on the beach being fascinated by how squishy and weird the sand felt between my toes. It was REALLY squishy. After hours, which seemed like minutes the sun was rising and I so I decided to go for a dawn snorkel in the sea outside my bungalow. Watching sea cucumbers on mushrooms is a very fascinating, yet odd experience.

There are no photos of this night really, which is probably for the best so I will leave you with this instead.

The next part of the journey is a little broken up as most of it is travelling from Thailand to Laos via a few random places. This I shall save for another blog.

Mwah xxx

Koh Phangan. Part one.

After Samui we took a tuk tuk taxi to the port to get a boat across to the neighboring island of Koh Phangan, home of the moon parties. Tuk tuk’s can be pretty dodgy at the best of times, but this ride really did take the piss. As we drove around stopping at different pick up points, with each stop I found myself thinking ‘they can’t possibly fit anymore people in’ but sure enough they somehow managed it. Eventually 16 tourists were crammed into a space where only about 10 people could comfortably sit, 16 massive bags piled high on the roof and some poor Thai chap balancing on top like a monkey trying to prevent any bags from falling off. Craziness.

On the ferry across I was so excited I felt like a child on Christmas Eve, but instead of looking out of the window hoping to catch a glimpse of santa’s sleigh I was sitting in the sunshine, wind and waves thrashing over the boat, listening to Cream on my ipod and totally loving life. Looking around I saw a boat full of young, happy, party people all raring to let rip and suffer the bitter sweet delights of Phangan, and I was with them all the way.

On arriving at our bungalows Emma and I were gob-smacked; it was more perfect than we had ever imagined. Our little hut on stilts was literally ON the beach, so close you could hear the waves lapping the shore from within the room. There was a rope swing, crystal clear waters and a hammock on our balcony. Perfection. This view could mend even the most brutal hangover.

On our first afternoon out into the main town, one of the first things we encountered was an Israeli chap outside the Siam Medical Clinic, covered in bandages, on a drip, smoking a fag. If he had been drinking a beer too it wouldn’t have surprised me. I asked him how he managed to get in such a state; he replied “fire jumping in Cactus bar”. After hearing about all the crazy fire shenanigans Emma and I swore to each other we wouldn’t risk doing the same. However, it’s funny how your perspective can change after a couple of buckets.

Many nights here will be forever etched in my memory as some of the best nights of my life. If I thought the party scene in Phi Phi was raucous, Phangan was off the scale. We usually started off at Drop In bar on Sunrise Beach in Hat Rin, which put on a fantastic fire show and then games to win drinks. On arriving there on our first night we noticed a table right at the front which was empty in a relatively packed out beach bar, so of course Emma and I (the naive tourists) went and sat right at the front. Once the fire show was in full swing we soon realized why no one had chosen to sit in these front of house seats: during the fire poi performance the fire artist throws flaming poi over the audience to then be (hopefully) caught by a performer the other side. We were directly in the firing line. One wrong move and that was it: I would be that guy outside the Siam Medical Clinic on a drip smoking a fag. To be fair, the Thai guys performing were extremely talented and only ‘made an error’ when annoying drunk people got in the way of the performance.

here’s a really badly filmed video to demonstrate this fire stuff:

After a few drinks Emma and I reversed our vow to avoid any fire play and were doing the limbo and jumping through hoops of fire with the rest of the crowd. No injuries were sustained and no hair was singed, however dignity may have been lost at some point, but I can’t quite remember. One night during the fire games a very young British guy was so inebriated he had the coordination of a new born lamb, however full of drunken confidence he proceeded to try his luck on the skipping rope (which was on fire), only to get tangled up and stack it. This in itself was pretty funny, but as he tried to disguise his embarrassment by swaggering away acting like the slip up was intentional, unbeknownst to him his shorts were on fire. Emma and I were in hysterics as were the crowd, everyone shouting in unison to alert him towards his burning arse, but he had no clue. Eventually he was rugby tackled into the sand, which extinguished the flaming shorts. I later met him in Laos while tubing in Vang Vien and he showed me the injuries sustained from that night. Yet another member of the Siam Clinic drip club no doubt.

Here are some of the (ahem) idiots jumping rope / through hoops of fire:

After sinking a few buckets at Drop In (this is where it gets a bit hazy) we would then move further up the beach to a line of about 20 bucket stalls with funny names all blaring music and touting for business. To my delight one of the stalls was called ‘Emma Fuck my Bucket’. Genius.

We made friends with ‘Emma’ and her sidekick ‘Sexy Lucy’ (who was actually a bloke) and drank many a bucket from their stall during our week there.

All the touts are quite clever, as they’ll butter you up and give you free gifts such as cute rings and necklaces (made out of drinking straws) and then write the name of their stall in permanent marker on your arm, so that when you’re later trollied and can’t remember where to buy your drink you go back to their stall for yet another bucket. I woke up confused one morning finding the name ‘Jimmy’ scrawled in massive letters on my arm, ‘who the hell is Jimmy?’ I asked myself, and then the realization sunk in; no, it wasn’t a hot guys name and number, it was my loyalty card for a bucket stall.

After the bucket stall onslaught, further down the beach you come to one of my favorite bars in the world, the infamous Cactus bar, which on most occasions is guaranteed to be completely mental. They play the same songs in the same order every night, and if you’re there until dawn you’ll hear the exact same playlist about 3 times in a row. Somehow, this never became boring; it was the soundtrack to Koh Phangan.

Fire high jinks happened here also; limbo, puoi, fire breathing, you name it – and as always, the nonexistent health and safety rules meant that audience participation was prevalent. Its fascinating watching groups of smashed party people dancing and chanting around flaming objects like Neolithic man.

One of my favorite past times at Cactus was to get arty and paint designs on people in UV paint. Emma was both my muse and my canvas of choice and every night would end up covered in random tribal stripes, flowers, swirls and spots. On occasion my designs on other people were sometimes a little more ‘post modern’ for example on night a guy asked me to write C U N T on his butt cheeks in neon body paint. He asked for it though, so it’s ok right?

As well as buckets, dancing and painting, some of the people I met at this crazy bar were hilarious. It’s one of the places I’ve been where you can just wander off on your own and party with total strangers. Everyone was on the same wavelength and up for a good time. I have found quite often when travelling that you can meet someone for a night and it feels like you’ve known them for months.

I could go on for ages banging out various anecdotes about random people I’ve encountered, one in particular springs to mind. Emma and I arrived late at Cactus quite sober and were only on bucket number one. We began chatting with two Americans at the bar who were probably on bucket number 10. I can’t for the life of me remember their names, but we called the second guy ‘long face’ because his face looked a bit like the mask from ‘Scream’.

Emma got stuck chatting to Long Face for ages, while I was being entertained by the other guy who proceeded to tell me about getting a hand-job from a Thai masseuse in Phuket. During this brief meeting we took many silly pictures, and after a while lost them in the crowd. The following day Emma and I are having lunch and decide to look through the previous nights photography when this image showed up:

I have a vague memory of hand-job guy snapping away with my camera, but god knows when he took this up-the-shorts commando shot. Thanks for the souvenir though.

Having read through this entry a couple of times, the content of this blog implies that all I did in Koh Phangan was drink a vast amount and party like a frog on acid. I’m trying to think of something refined or compelling to write in the argument against this, and to prove that this wasn’t always the case. However, I have always been a bad liar and so I’m not going to.

I am also aware that I have been yacking on for ages too. To summarise, Koh Phangan was utterly beautiful and mental in equal measure. There is more to say, the full moon party for instance, but that is another story, one which I shall save for another blog.

xxx


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