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Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

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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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.

Catz

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.

flotilla-sunset

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!)).

railay-cabanas-2

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!)

the-climb 

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.

umbrella,-ella

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…..

cavely

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.

penis-cave

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.

princess-cave

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.

my-hut

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!

railay-lump

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,

cooking-cat

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.

night-boat

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.

langur-2langur langur3

Langurs – Tick.

my-bags

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.

Boat-to-samui-2

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.

view-to-samui

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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Bangkok, Thailand – the land of smiles.

Buddha

No-one warned me about the culture shock that I was about to go through. Bangkok airport is a gleaming edifice, organised and beautiful. The roads have street lights and the traffic is orderly and consists only of motorised vehicles. The only place I knew of in Bangkok was the Khao San Road, so that’s where I headed.

Khao-San

Every tacky, seedy tourist area in the world crammed into one street, Khao San is a monument to backpacker-power. Hundreds of restaurants, guesthouses, fortune-tellers, cybercafés, food stands, hair-braiders, tattoo parlours, tailors, bars, clubs and of course Thai massage parlours all jostle for space and business under neon-lights and a million cables.

Khao-san-veg-seller

The streets are spotless, no spit or trash here, just one of the seediest atmospheres I think I have ever encountered. My Indian trained eyes were shocked by the amount of flesh on show; mini-skirts and strappy-tops, bra straps and butt-cracks.

Wat-Arun-Dress-code

The roaming cows and goats have been replaced by hookers and bar-touts. Western music blares from every outlet. The onslaught on my senses was overwhelming. Revolting, sordid and an enormous amount of fun.

Dried-fish

Humid is not the word, by the time I had a guesthouse I was drenched. 300Baht got me a box room only marginally bigger than the bed, a small wall-fan to move the oven-temperature air about and a shared bathroom (for the very first-time on my trip I didn’t have my own loo!). I changed out of my redundant salwar kameez and put on western clothes and emerged, hot and sticky, out into the chaos.

Dragon-Fruit

It has been amazing to have a few (!) drinks, listen to some music, dance and let my hair down. And there is definitely no shortage of people to talk to. In India bed-time is 10.30pm, so far in Bangkok I haven’t been to bed before 3.00am.

Fishy

I had a ‘fish massage’. This is where you put your feet in a tank of fish who then gnaw away at the dead skin and bacteria, leaving them feeling…. well, exactly the same as when you started, but it was an interesting experience. Not brave enough to eat a whole grasshopper, I just tentatively nibbled at a leg – it tasted like fake-prawn flavoured straw (plastic-drinking rather than hay). Then enjoyed the new wonders of my first ever drink out of a plastic bucket and I ate beef for the first-time in six months.

my-fish-feet

On my second evening we (me and seven 19-21 year olds) bargained hard and got great deal on a ‘ping-pong’ show. The menu (there actually is a menu) of delights on offer included, among many others, “pussy shoot banana, pussy smoking and of course, pussy ping-pong”. What had started out as a jolly jaunt to see a strange, quirky cultural oddity turned into perhaps one of the most depressing evenings of my life. I felt very guilty for haggling SO hard.

Cats

The girls would arrive on stage, jiggle their hips perfunctorily for two minutes and then perform their speciality: drawing pictures, blowing whistles and producing 5 meters of flowers on a string. The evening climaxed (literally, no pun intended) with a live sex show. At this point I was wondering if it’s possible to start a sanctuary for ping-pong girls. I am an open-minded kind of girl, I will defend a woman’s right to be a stripper, hooker or a porn star and Bangkok is full of savvy, money-making girls who are exploiting the men just as much as the other way around, but after India where most women would never show their shoulders or knees, or talk to a man that wasn’t a member of her family, it becomes hard to stay objective.

Wat-Arun-river

Quite sure I needed to get out of Bangkok and fast; I arranged to meet up with the lovely Lydia, an English girl who I’d spoken to for two hours on Varanasi train station. Her friend Kate, a fabulous powerhouse of a freelance journalist, has recently moved to Bangkok and had promised to show Lydia all of BKK’s best kept secrets and all the other stuff too. I was invited to tag along.

Red-shirts

We met up with Kate (who had had to rush off to the airport to cover the story of a grounded Quantas flight) in downtown Bangkok (Siam Square). The jushiest area had been taken siege by the protesting “Red-Shirts” who are demanding democratic elections. We wondered through the sea of red, the atmosphere more carnival than riot. Then hopping on the Sky-Train we returned to Kate’s flat and another huge culture shock. I had forgotten what the inside of a real home looked and felt like, or how to behave in one!

Sky-train

Kate had planned the best night out. Starting with dinner at the night market, about 40 food stands offering a bewildering variety of food (I had crispy pork and duck – yum). Then jumping in a taxi we made our way to the very posh Banyan Tree for cocktails and “the best view in Bangkok”, neither disappointed. The spectacular panoramic view is something that I will never forget. We finished our night in Patpong, the red-light district, where we danced for several hours before making our way to a gay (boys) show – here we were hugely popular, especially as most of the boys are not actually gay, but alas, we had arrived too late to see anything so I cannot comment on the parallels between the male and female variety.

Buddha-Chillaxing

The next day a more militant faction of the red-shirts drove a lorry (or something) into the parliament buildings, so Kate had to dash off again. Lydia and I went sightseeing. Taking in the sights from the river-taxi and then visiting the famous and enormous, gold reclining Buddha (I have since discovered that there was a whole complex of wonderful sights that we managed to miss entirely – oops).

Wat-Arun

Culture-vultures that we are, we managed to drag ourselves across the river to Wat Arun before declaring boredom and returning into town to meet Kate at the Foreign Correspondents Club, which is where we were when the State of Emergency was declared (all very intrepid and exciting).

Lydia-n-Sara

Throughout my trip I have met the most wonderful, interesting, intelligent and dynamic women travelling alone (Ok, kudos to Kate who has actually moved – but still…). They have influenced and enhanced me and my trip. These two fantastic girls were no exception, completely changing my stay in Bangkok, a city that I now have no reservations about returning to.

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