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15th August

The yoghurt smothered banana left my spoon and arched a smooth trajectory towards my mother, where it landed on her top. We glared at each other surprised as well as furious. The argument, as all good arguments are, was a petty one.

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I gathered my things (P.D.Q. I can tell you) and stalked across the terrace and down the steps to the small garden below where I paced, breathing deeply. After a good ten minutes I returned to our breakfast table over looking Udaipur’s picturesque Lake Pichola. We muttered apologies to one another and we both giggled – the day was underway.

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Jamil was taking us on ‘The City Tour’. I would never normally do the city tour but it was probably a good way to take in all the necessary Udaipuri sights without exhausting Mum (now bespattered) too much. As it turns out it was a waste of time and money (in my opinion, for the opinion of the other members of the tour you will have to ask her).

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Our first stop was the spice market, which rankled a little as I knew where this was having spent most of my last visit to Udaipur there and would have preferred to visit under our own steam. We were taken to the edge of the veg. market and given time to wonder around and the opportunity to buy spices from Jamil’s friend. I declined this offer knowing that the really good spices were much deeper inside the warren of market streets.

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We made our way to the market where beautiful vegetables in a rainbow of colours are laid out on burlap sacks and the noisy bartering and weighing on old-fashioned hand held scales takes place. We were soon centre of attention and the market women wanted to have their photo taken.

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This is common place in India, wherever you go people of all ages implore “please madam, one photo” and then stand stiffly to attention for the photograph. I snapped a couple of the women who then insisted that mum went to join them for the pictures.

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The fat, jolly lady pulled up a plastic crate for mum to sit on and patted it. Quick as a flash, however, the adjacent veg. seller and owner of the bright orange crate pulled it back, “NO” mum could not sit on her crate. The first lady then rattled off some rapid Hindi and the crate was pulled back for mum.

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This continued for about a minute until our lady triumphed and secured the crate and indicated that mum take her seat for the photo. Almost in slow motion, as mum started to sit down the crate-owner pulled it out from under her. Mum was suddenly up-turtled, legs in the air! The entire market was in hysterics and once I realised that there was no saving mum from her fate I started rattling off photos to capture the comedy.

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After such auspicious beginnings the tour continued. We saw some mausoleums, king ones. They were alright, bit over grown and covered in pigeons and their effluent – fun when you have to remove ones shoes out of respect! Then we drove to see the statue of a famous horse, a warrior horse whose name was Chutak. He was loyal to his Kingly master and bravely defended him and then died in battle.

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Most importantly, lunch was an incredible thali.

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After which we went to the Princess gardens where we were supposed to admire the fountains. Instead we found ourselves inside the onsite Science Museum, in the loosest sense of the term, you understand. The officious man in charge pounced on us when we entered the room – his next victims had arrived. He was delighted when he found out that I was a teacher too. Being a teacher is usually the easiest lie to tell about ones employment and education status in India, being as it is an honourable profession. He led us around his museum which contained such strange exhibits as a pile of labelled local rocks, fun-fair mirrors, a magic (how did we do it?) tap and a large free standing pulley.

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“Madam, Madam. Come” he ordered us from one display to another. “Look Madam!” “oh! yes” we politely nodded. “Here, Madam. Here!” “Touch the Peacock” he bodily moved me and then mum towards a plaster peacock. We both touched the peacock. We managed, but only just, to keep straight faces when he showed us riding a bike, Benny Hill style, standing up against a vertical mirror. I was then made, yes MADE to do the same. This continued around the mercifully small ‘museum’.

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If either mum or I tried to skip an exhibit or didn’t pay enough attention to the wonders of an exhibit, we were admonished and physically returned to the exhibit to appreciate the marvels within. The last item was a camera obscura and Mum was told to “SIT” and “look” which she obediently did. We managed to escape at last and made it out into the pouring rain where we stood next to the giggling school girls under shelter. Suddenly he was back, he looked at mum and said “I had to say goodbye to my English girlfriend” I let out an ill-disguised guffaw. Mum gave me a steely look, “let’s go now before he tries to make me his wife.”

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After this we told Jamil that yes it had been a wonderful tour but now we would like to go back to our hotel. My recommendation is that if you ever have the luck to visit beautiful Udaipur that you do not do the tour.

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The rest of our time was more purposefully spent. We took an art class. This I loved, not just because I really enjoy the intricate, delicate work of Indian Miniature Painting but because it was such a fun thing for mum and me to do together.

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Mum has fallen in love with Nandi. Nandi is the vehicle of the Hindu God Shiva and he is a bull and the reason why the cow is sacred in India. You will find a Nandi at every temple entrance and he is the subject of her painting.

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The teacher was intrigued by her choice saying that in all his years no student had ever requested a Nandi. I chose the national bird of India: the peacock.

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We took a cooking class. It was my second lesson with the same teacher so we took a more advanced class. We learned paneer butter masala, dal fry, pumpkin curry and veg. biryani. Our classmates, a married couple from Leeds were soon exchanging surreptitious glances and clearly thought that this mother/daughter duo were more than slightly unhinged. I am not sure exactly what we did but after eating they dived into their room and we could hear uncontrolled fits of giggles.

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We had impromptu Hindi lessons over cold beer at the bar by the bridge, we watched Ian Fleming’s ‘Octopussy’ play out against its real life backdrop – minus Roger Moore’s quizzically arched eyebrow of course.

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We looked after a 21 year old Scottish boy who was lonely, saw a traditional dance recital and weaved our way amongst the many bovine inhabitants – who just collapse wherever they deem fit. Looked through piles of pashminas and declined to buy any, we watched the women washing their clothes on the ghats from our beautiful room and had a romantic dinner in a posh restaurant with an amazing view of Udaipur city palace lit up like a fairy castle at night.

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We also had to eat part of said dinner in the drizzling rain but like the good Brits that we are we pretended not to notice. And on our last day at breakfast a very lovely gentleman leaned over and said “I have noticed you around and have to tell you, you are the best dressed ladies in Udaipur!”

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Quitting whilst we were ahead, we decided, we had better leave Udaipur. Our quarry was still Jaisalmer where we want to do the camel safari and sleep in the Great Thar desert under the stars.

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10th August.

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We leapt out of bed the following day, with a spring in our step, eager to attack all that Mumbai had to offer. We strolled down to the ‘Gateway to India’, the scene of my panic attack on my second day in Mumbai, all those months before.

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Our plan was to take the trip out to Elephanta Island to see the Unesco World Heritage temples there, but we were way-laid. We were cunningly sold a city tour – encompassing the slums, the laundry, the two hotels where the bombers were (?), Jain temples and Gandhi Ji’s house.

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Mum had great fun with her new camera – my old Canon G10. My G10 took me faithfully around five countries and through, literally, thousands of photos. Our love affair is over, however, as I am now the proud new owner of a Canon 550d so expect more photos, hopefully markedly better ones.

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We saw the sights, heard the tour guides broken English commentary and declined to buy anything in the obligatory tourist shop at the end. We were dropped off at a fab little thali place that was conveniently located just next to our fabric shop where the day before we had purchased our new salwars. We popped in to see if they were ready before a quick trip to the internet to book train tickets for our next destination, then we were to catch the last boat to Elephanta.

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However, the clothes were not ready and I mistakenly booked us waitlisted tickets on the train to Udaipur the following day. We rushed back to the Gateway to catch the boat – which we missed. Dejected and blaming each other we made our way to another internet cafe.

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On the way a very wily young boy tried to sell us a map. We did not need or want his map or his children’s books, but after hearing his story about how he is a good student and that he doesn’t like to beg for money, he artfully suggested that we might like to buy him some rice. A very reasonable suggestion and we concurred. He told us he would take us to the rice shop and then show us a good internet cafe. We had envisioned buying him a plate of rice for him to get his skinny bones around, but he had much more grandiose plans than that. He proposed that we buy him 5kgs of rice, thus feeding his whole family for one month.

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This ‘tiny’ bag of rice would set us back Rs500 (and although not a huge sum by Sainsbury’s standards, you must understand that Rs500 is my daily budget and I wouldn’t even pay for a hotel at that price). He stood there with his cheeky little face and categorically denied that he was begging. We negotiated with him and it was finally decided he would, in fact, accept Rs10 to take home to his mother.

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We did then go and spend another torturous hour or so in the internet cafe where we tried every which way to get straight from Mumbai to Jaisalmer (it cannot be done) and finally decided to take a risk and hope that we got seats on the train the following day. We would be going from Mumbai to Udaipur, a hop at only eighteen hours. And although you don’t know it because I never published the blog, Udaipur is the last city that I went to in India the first time round. It is beautiful and romantic and perhaps my most favourite city in all India that I visited. It is hustling and bustling and I did cooking classes and art classes and I loved it. Maybe one day I really should publish that blog……hmmm, we’ll see.

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The wise words of GhandiJi.

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9th August.

I am back!

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The flight to Mumbai went without a hitch. Jet Airways once again surpassed themselves, it is comfortable, the food is excellent and the in-flight entertainment is…well… entertaining.

As we (we being, one intrepid traveller and one very intrepid mother, on a five week sojourn to (in my opinion) the best country in the world, ever) touched down in Mumbai, I began the series of warnings, preparing my mother for the onslaught ahead. The scram for taxis, people trying helpfully to grab our bags, the heat, the noise. India. But as India is always surprising, none of this happened. We sailed through immigration (having sensibly filled in our immigration cards – unlike some other Goa-bound travellers I could mention!), baggage claim was a breeze and despite the only ATM machine at the airport not working, we managed to change up enough Rupees for our taxi ride into town.

Once having secured our very own black and yellow cab we commenced the forty-five minute journey. Retracing my exact first steps in India some nine and a half months previous. Then the taxi driver decided to take some elaborate detour and we ended up driving around for well over an hour. Finally we reached our destination: YWCA Colaba. Downtown Mumbai, don’t you know! I favour this hotel because aside from its central location, it is fairly reasonably priced, spotlessly clean, they provide towels, soap and hot water, have A/C and TV’s in the rooms and give you free breakfast and dinner – what more could a girl want?

Our first day in Mumbai was spent shopping. Mummy needed ‘appropriate’ attire and in my book that means (as I am sure you are aware) Salwar Kameez. There were two ways to achieve this goal either off the peg or a visit to a tailor. To purchase your tailor-made Salwar Kameez you must first buy the cloth. This will come in colour coordinated packages containing the material for the trousers (salwar) the contrasting yet matching material for the dress (kameez) and accompanying scarf (dupatta). The dupatta is artfully draped across the chest with the tails hanging down the back and although is very attractive its main function is to preserve one’s modesty by covering the breasts. This bundle is then taken to the tailor and he will measure and design, to your specification, and return within about 24-48 hours one ‘suit’.

We didn’t have 24 hours as Mum needed clothes now, so we made our way to ‘Cotton Cottage’ and ‘Fab India’ where we had great fun mixing and matching colours to create an outfit. Here the method is slightly different as everything is readymade but not coordinated so first one chooses the kameez and then the other pieces to match.

Kitted out with her new clothes we made our way to the perfume shop. But on our way the monsoon stopped us in our tracks and with water dripping down our necks and swirling round our ankles we dashed into the nearest restaurant. We feasted on Dal Makhani, veg Biryani and Paneer Butter Masala. Once the rains had abated we braved the streets once again and managed to find the perfume shop that has eluded me each and every time I have been to Mumbai.

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We sat on the padded sofas as ornate decanter after ornate cut-glass bottle was proffered. The perfumier handed us the stoppers so we could smell the rich oils. Every now and then he would sneakily manage to spread some on us. A little Kashmeri Rose on my left sleeve, a smear of White Musk on my dupatta, Opium on the back of my right hand and Jasmine over the other side of my dupatta. As the heady smells were starting to make my head spin and I was sure I was starting to smell like an Arabian brothel (I have no actual frame of reference for this and it was purely conjecture on my part). Mum and decided we better hurry up, choose and get out. Our final choices were Kashmeri Rose, Frangipani, Lemongrass and the mysterious Ice Burg!

As we left the shop we spotted a cloth shop displaying beautiful salwar kameez in the windows and we dived in. After the shop assistants had pulled out over forty different colourful packages we made our choices: mine an olive green number and mum a baby pink and white ensemble. ‘Master’ was then summoned to measure us and we spent a happy half hour giving instructions as to neck shape front and back, sleeve length, dress length, salwar size and other intricate measurements as well. With assurances that we could collect them on the morrow we jounced back out on to the busy Mumbai streets.

Ducking past the street stalls selling everything from magnified watches to gaudy plastic, sparkly Ganeshes, from “very good price” pashminas to “it’s free for looking” silky bags. The sing-song of their wares ringing in our ears we decided to end the day in “Leopold’s Cafe”. A Mumbai institution and watering hole since 1871, Leopold’s is also famous for its Shantaram connection and one of the places the terrorists attacked during their raid on Mumbai in 2008. The bullet holes in the wall a sombre reminder. We had fresh grape juice and I had a large kingfisher all to myself.

We barely shuffled our way back down the street and flopped into our hard but clean beds for a well deserved sleep. And thus ended our very first day together in India – so far, ten points to the mother for getting stuck in!

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Dear Patient Blog Readers,

I am very sorry for the terrible gap since my last blog. Firstly, thank you to everyone who emailed me and if I couldn’t reply to every one I am also sorry.

Since nearly getting myself arrested in Malaysia much has happened and although I have not been able to blog about it, I did upload the photos from Indonesia – so please feel free to trawl through them whenever you have a spare 18 hours. (My Flickr Photos)

Indonesia was infinitely preferable to Malaysia and I spent many an hour in my hammock sewing and reading. I also was able to fulfil a life-long ambition and make myself very proud of myself by completing a three day jungle trek to see Orangutans. They were, of course, adorable and majestic in equal measures and I only wish I could jump back into the photos and be there again.

After the jungle I decided to reward my exertions by taking much deserved R & R by the beautiful waters of Lake Toba. It was here that I met Denise. A girl who shared not only my passion for India but loved it in (unnervingly) exactly the same way. From fresh lime sodas to the virtues of sleeper class, we waxed lyrical to one another, boring the very socks off anyone in ear shot. After two days of intense reminiscing, I made the best decision that I ever made since deciding to go to India the first time – I decided to go back. To end my trip of a lifetime in the place that bought me such joy and happiness. I will return to India for the last three months of my journey, visiting those places that I was unable to get to the first time: Calcutta, Khajuraho, Bodhgaya to name a few. The lull that was starting to pervade my trip has lifted; my excitement is very much renewed.

There will be one slight difference, however. Well I say slight – that is perhaps downplaying the enormity of the situation, for this time, yes this time I shall have in tow: one mother – mine. That should definitely spice the blog up somewhat, so if you haven’t already, subscribe to the blog now because hopefully they will be coming thick and fast and juicy.

Goodnight with lots and lots of love,

Sara (intrepidly returning to somewhere she has already been and apparently cannot stay away from) xxxxx

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Air-Asia

Slinging my inexplicably heavy pack on to my back, I turtled my way to the jetty to purchase my ferry ticket for the crossing to Medan in Indonesia. The original plan had been to take the ferry from Melaka but after being told about the terrible roads and buses in Indonesia the advice was to make up the distance in Malaysia, for this reason I had travelled back to Georgetown.

I arrived at the jetty and was greeted by smiles and invited to it down and relax. “One ticket to Medan please”. It was at this juncture that everything started to unravel. Unfortunately the ferry, the one to Medan, that has been going for yonks had been discontinued. The previous day. The woman behind the counter asked why I hadn’t telephoned; I explained that I would not telephone to find out if the service that had been running since forever was suddenly going to stop running the very day that I was wishing to take it. She helpfully advised me that if I wanted to take the ferry I should go to Melaka, it was still running from there.

“Or?”

My other option was to fly from Penang airport. Many flights leave daily and the best bet was to get to the airport and get on the next flight. I trundled off to the bus station and waited for the bus. The bus took about one hour to get to the airport and I kept falling asleep, my head lolling from side to side and jerking awake much to the amusement of several of the passengers.

Once inside the terminal I made a list of all the flights to Medan and the prices. Sriwijaya Airways was the next t leave and they assured me I could make the flight. I handed over the credit card …………..declined. Twice. Cursing I asked if I could book it online, did they take phone payment. No to both.

I thanked them and picked up my bags. And then the fun really started. “Where are you going madam?” I looked at her blankly because I really wasn’t sure what she wanted me to reply. “You have to pay for the ticket”. I explained that as she had just seen my card had been declined. “You have to pay cash” “if I had cash I would have paid cash already” I explained. “You cannot leave”.

She then called in her manager who started asking me why I didn’t want to travel. I tried to explain that I did want to travel, but my card had been declined. “Why did you book ticket if don’t want to travel?” “I DO want to travel but my card has been declined” “why change mind?” I felt like I was talking to a very stupid four year old.

Then they called in the bigger honcho, a big rubber faced, salivary pig of a man. He managed to squeeze his revolting person in front of me and began yelling at me. “You have committed fraud, where is money, you must pay now. We have issued ticket and you have to pay for ticket” “I am leaving Malaysia, I have no cash and my card was declined. You won’t take a phone payment, what can I do?” Then all three of them were standing around me and the ghastly manager threatened to call the police. “But why?” I really couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. The ticket was a hand written slip, and if they had to have payment once it was issued why didn’t they wait for the payment until they issued it.

I tried to get them to understand that I did want to fly but my card, through no fault of my own, had been declined. They couldn’t understand this and I was very tired and frustrated and now terrified they were going to call the police. I had flashes of Banged Up Abroad going through my head. Asian police are not known for their even-handed, fair treatment of foreigners.

“Give us cash.” “I don’t have any cash”. I felt like I was going round in circles. “What do you have?” Now here I blame my mother. Having had it drilled into me as a child that you never tell lies, I find it very difficult to tell lies. Honesty is just my default setting. “I only have 50ringgit” “give it to me” I was outraged, what was I supposed to do? I had to find a room for the night, get back to Georgetown, eat, get back to the airport. The evil pig didn’t give a shit.

In my less than normal state I had totally forgotten about my travellers cheques. Having calmed down marginally and talked to my mum, I went and changed them into ringgits. I went back to the desk to be informed that the flight was now closed but they would put me on the flight the next day.

I was very forlorn and stressed on the bus back to Georgetown but my mood improved when I was able to get a bed at Old Penang Guesthouse and talk to some friendly faces that I recognised from before. They explained that this was a regular scam that they pull and that made me feel marginally better.

I decided to check my ticket. In my confusion at the airport I hadn’t done it. They had not changed the date or issued a new ticket and the big red VOID across the bottom made my heart sink.

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The next day at the airport I decided to purchase another, much cheaper ticket with Air Asia. My flight left on time and I had a very pleasant experience with them. I have never been more relieved to leave a country and after this really hope it is a very long time before I have to step foot in Malaysia again.

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Footnote.

But its all ok because LOOK where I am now…………………………………Paradise!

Weh-hey

Pulau-Weh

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railay

Why does no-one tell you that you cannot swim in Thailand? Go to the Islands, they said. The beaches are beautiful, they said. Thailand is so cheap, they said. Well they omitted one prescient piece of information – you can’t swim in Thailand. I am here to right this wrong, I am telling the world (or the 55 of you that read my blog – but you know how word spreads), you CAN’T swim in Thailand.

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If you were being a pedant you might say that it was my fault, that I chose the wrong beaches, but I don’t hold truck with that. I went to the same beaches as everyone else, Baan Tai on Phangan, Sairee on Koh Tao etc. These beaches were perfect, if what you were looking for, in the searing 36° heat, was a very hot, shallow bath, accompanied by a sea cucumber or two. I (clearly) misguidedly thought that the sea was supposed to be a refreshing respite from Hadean heat. Also for main tourist beaches, I thought they better resembled marinas. Flotillas of longtail boats moored just off shore, pumping their delightful effluent into the water. Have I mentioned yet – you can’t swim in Thailand.

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Luckily, an inspired recommendation came in the form of Railay Beach. Surrounded by beautiful limestone cliffs that effectively isolate it from the mainland, Railay is accessible only by boat. One of the main attractions here is rock-climbing and I figured, even though I had no intention of participating, rock-climbers might prove to be a more interesting bunch than divers (who are interminably boring), gap-yahs and ardent bucket-drinkers (“I was so drunk last night, I lost a toe” (or some such nonsense, I don’t really think I was paying attention!)).

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I found a lovely wooden hut on stilts in the hills behind East Beach and even though I had about ten days until I left Thailand, I couldn’t be bothered to move again. I strung up my trusty hammock once more and ensconced myself. My first day in Railay I met a German/French couple and another German boy. “Did I want to go with them to the Lagoon?” Arriving at the foot of the climb, I was horrified. “There is no way I can do that. I don’t really see myself as a rock-climby sort of person. What if I break a nail?” They, however, ignored my heartfelt entreaties and soon enough I was actually climbing up the scary, steep hill thing. (That’s it in the picture below, and only the beginning bit!)

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At the top and feeling suitably proud we posed for photographs, categorical proof of my triumph. Now the conspiracy theorists amongst you will love this, for subsequently they all lost their cameras – any evidence of my story gone forever, my first thought was ‘Quai d’Orsay’ (perhaps I have been reading too many bad spy novels; I have definitely been reading too many bad spy novels). I suppose I could have gone up there again with my own camera, but the silty, red mud was a bitch to wash out, so I didn’t. Go up there again I mean. I did wash the mud out.

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The next day they promised to teach me rock-climbing proper. Marian was an instructor and they were hiring the gear anyway and I just had to hire shoes. ‘Hire’ and ‘shoes’ are two words that never should be said together, like bowling, its just gross and against shoe-nature. Rock-climbing shoes are supposed to pinch your toes so they almost curl under and for some reason mine also had hard rubber back bits that dug into my heels. I can’t think of anything more distracting when you are half way up a sheer rock face than feet in agony, but mine is not to reason why…..

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Apart from the shoes, and I am sure the girls out there have already considered this, is of course the harness. Did I really ever want my bottom viewed from that angle, strung up in a harness? Well no I didn’t, but I figured that it is smaller now than it has been in a long time and I was never going to see these people again anyway…In the actuality I managed to get about 3 meters off the ground. Then Marian told me that I had chosen the hard bit to climb up. As I was still up the rock and had yet to get down, I didn’t like to mention that she was the teacher and should have told me to climb up the not-hard bit. “Let go” was my instruction on descent, which I did. I, of course, spun around, through no fault of my own, but physics’. Then I was told never to turn my back to the rock – that is the kind of information I could have done with before I had spun round and turned my back on the rock.

Rock-climbing – Tick.

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In my desire to swim I made my way to Phra Nang Beach, where the only teeny-tiny bit of Thai culture in all Railay can be found. A beautiful cave cum shrine to an Indian Princess, shipwrecked here. Hundreds of lingam offerings, garlanded in flowers, in the hope of increased potency, prosperity and good-fortune are left here by the fishermen.

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I was able to find a deserted stretch of beach where I managed to sunbathe for all of an hour – and swim, in deep water, beautiful, blue, cool-ish, water. Beautiful, blue, jellyfish infested water. After being stung twice on the leg, three times on my arm and finally and most painfully across my neck, I marched out of the water and returned to the relative safety of my hammock.

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And so it was. Poor Thailand, the first mistake Thailand made was that it categorically wasn’t India, and to be honest I don’t think I ever quite recovered from the shock or forgave her. There were many wonderful aspects to my trip, i.e. two amazing friendships made. Also many firsts: like my first bikini, that I bought in Koh Tao and have proudly worn just once. I walked the length of Sairee Beach (Koh Tao) until I found a secluded spot, next to a girl much fatter than I, and surreptitiously took off my dress and quickly lay down. The world did not stop spinning, no-one threw up and I was not arrested for putting the human form into disrepute. Who knows, after that auspicious start I may even try wearing it again!

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So what an adventure Thailand proved to be. I spent way too much money, knocked cockroaches out of my bed all by myself, learnt the art of Thai cooking,

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nearly learnt how to do fire spinning, stopped a flood in my hut, screamed at coconut beetles and slept sardined like refugees on a night-boat.

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And one more thing, I cannot leave Thailand without mentioning the Spectacled Langurs. These adorable and shy creatures could sometimes be seen swinging through the trees without me even having to leave my hammock.

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Langurs – Tick.

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Sadly though, you can’t swim in Thailand.

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Boat-to-samui

 

Having consigned another battle of ‘should’ into my past, and having been allowed to stay at Kate’s house for my short stop-off in BKK, I set about procuring a ticket to the beach. I found a company that would get me a bus ride to Surat Thani and from there a boat to Samui. The red-shirts tried to thwart me, as their demonstrations started to heat up with the introduction of hand-grenades and therefore greater police presence, shut roads and swollen traffic. The tuk-tuk took almost 2 hours to get me to the Khao San road where I was meeting my bus at 6.00pm. Arriving there at 5.58 and having to lumber be-laden down the road, I made it by a Siamese cat’s whisker.

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The bus journey a blur and only a short, hours wait for the boat and I was heading for my quarry – the beach. Watching the mainland slip away and the boat heading straight out towards the island I felt enormous satisfaction. Soon, really, really soon, I would be swimming in azure waters and walking on white sandy beach once again. I stood on deck watching the water spin and foam around the boat, in my smug contentment (and the relaxing ease of one beer) I managed to get sunburnt arms; suntan and sun-damage whether I wanted them or not.

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I had been given a recommendation by Lydia of where to go once on Samui, but that is as far as I had taken in – get to Samui, was all I remembered. Having achieved this I suddenly realised I needed to tell the taxi where to go. Dashing to the nearest internet I soon had all the information I needed. The island looked beautiful from the Songthaew (a bus, taxi, tuk-tuk hybrid), jungley and not unlike Havelock Island in the Andamans. The driver, clearly hating the Falang (foreigners), pretended not to understand where I had wanted to go, meaning I had to walk down the street about half a kilometre in the baking sun. No problem for me, I managed to find the guesthouse and get a room at a knocked down rate.

water-tree

For me that was as good as Koh Samui got. Full of resorts and restaurants showing football games, I found it very tacky and made my mind to leave the next day for Koh Phangan and the promised delights of the Full-Moon Party. Meeting a lovely Irish couple in the taxi to the boat was my first stroke of luck, the second was meeting a Spanish boy and two Italians on the boat. They rented bikes and transported me and my stuff all over the Island until we found the perfect spot. “Two Rocks” guest house on Baan Tai Beach. I took the hut right on the sea and strung up the hammock that I have been carrying since Gokarna and haven’t used since Havelock.

My-hut

We managed find the only party on the Island that night, and dragging an American brother and sister (Thomas and Tess) with us, went to a dreadful trance party on the beach. This was great as I now had people to go to Full-Moon with, because my boat-friends were leaving the next day.

Full-Moon

No-one else came to the guesthouse, so for days I had the place to myself. Lying in my hammock, looking out to sea, reading, going for walks along the beach. The only hitch being the inability to swim; the sea just doesn’t get deep enough and the sand is slimy underfoot which makes me feel queasy.

Phangan

Finally the 28th came – Full-Moon party, Koh Phangan. It has been going since the late 80’s and now attracts around 10,000 people each time. Locking up my hut, and ensuring that I had enough money to get home should I need to, I made my way to meet Tess and Thomas. I was being so careful not to get drunk too quickly, having only two vodkas before I got there but I think all my previous partying had caught up with me.

sunset-2-rocks

The thump of the music always arrives first, building excitement of the impending evening, of course in Asia, more often than not, that music is heavy trance. We wended our way down to the beach, paying our 100Bhat entrance and receiving a rubber bracelet thing (which I then lost within 2 hours). The entire stretch of beach was heaving with people. Different bars had set up huge platforms at intervals for partiers to dance on, between the bars, stands had been set up selling buckets of alcohol, their patrons calling at you trying to get you to buy from them. On arrival we bought a bucket of vodka/redbull to share, and I think that was my downfall.

me2

I went to the loo, and emerging had absolutely no idea where I was or where the Americans were. This didn’t bother me one iota. I was actually secretly pleased, I was now free to do exactly as I chose (I am getting intolerant of how long it takes groups to organise anything looking like a plan). Solo travel=solo Full-Moon. I spent the next six or seven hours walking the beach, stopping here and there for a dance, or talking to people. I even met up with the lovely Irish couple from the taxi and we spent ages together until I went in the pursuit of food and consequently lost them too. I spent a fortune on water that night, not needing anything else alcoholic, about 300Bhat, the price of one bucket – bonus for the budget!

kids-on-beach

The crowd was unsurprisingly a lot younger and had all daubed themselves in neon paint. Among the revellers, those who had got too drunk and injured were being tended by the many medical stations set up or those who had fallen asleep in the sleeping area like innocent babies, curled up on mats. Then, of course the drunk and uninhibited who had stripped and ran about splashing in the waves or worse (much worse….).

shells-from-hut

As the sun rose, the emptying beach looked like the set of a disaster movie. Rubbish strewn everywhere, bodies prone on the sand – lifeless, and zombies wandering the beach looking for the last of the hardcore partiers. I, however, was only looking for one thing – western junk food. I found it, in the shape of a bacon and cheese toasted baguette, it was delicious. I jumped in the songthaew with a heap of other partied out girls and slumped in my seat to watch the island flash by.

my-lovely-noodle-soup

So with yet another thing I swore I would never do under my belt (tubing is looking more and more like a distinct possibility – if I ever go that way), I am ready for something else. I now want do do something more with my day than recover from amphetamine-laced-Redbull hangovers. And that something will be snorkelling, I don’t know if I an push the extremely fragile budget to actually going diving, but in my experience it can be very hit and miss – snorkelling on the other hand, is free.

wet-dog

Oh yes, one more thing. I have made a very big decision… I am going to, for the first time since forever, I am going to get a suntan! I will actually do sunbathing and everything – I am very excited and hope you are too (especially my sun worshiping friends Jenny and Karen – I will dedicate my tan to you xx).

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