We're Never Coming Back

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Day 366 - London, England

Home sweet home!

OK, so there's WAY too much to tell right now, and I'm super busy. But so that you know...

  • YES - I haven't blogged in 6 weeks
  • YES - I have some posts from India to write in the next week or so
  • YES - I'm home now
  • YES - I had the time of my life.
Until I manage to extract enough time to finish the blog, sit tight and check back here in a few days. There should be something up by then. Laters. x

Monday, April 02, 2007

Day 324 - The Full Moon Party

thailand So, we left off with me stuck in bed, sweating out my tonsilitus-induced fever and wishing I was partying with the routy 18-30s crowd that are inhabiting my hotel. Its not looking good. Truth is - i'd kinda lost faith in the whole thing anyway. This full moon party looks more and more likely to be the worst thing we've done all year. If the people we're staying with are anything to go by, i reckon the whole crowd will be offensively laddish and uninteresting.

But its out of my hands. I'm not well enough, and sweating so much that within seconds of being out of my air-conditioned room I have sweat dripping down my chest and back. Wearing clothes is not an option. But the sun's setting. And I haven't eaten in 2 and a half days, so I wander out to meet the guys who are sat drinking vodka red bulls at the overcrowding bar area. I'm shirtless because of the sweat - I certainly don't have the body to be flashing my pecs after dark - but I have to do it. And a soda water later, my energy levels have miraculously altered. I'm laughing for the first time in days. I'm trotting to the toilet when before it would have been a near crawl. My splitting headache has been replaced with a gentle wave of nausea every 20 minutes - not ideal, but not painful.

And soon enough the hotel drags out a huge buffet which the rotten 20-somethings claw over embarassingly. And then comes the dance music, some dancing from the more drunk members of the hotel occupants, some splashing from the re-opened (although somewhat cloudier) pool. And then the body paints.

The full moon party - a legend in Thailand and around the world - is inextricably linked with fluo body paints. At the actual party you can buy the most ornate and amazing fluo paint tattoos for just a few quid, which look amazing (providing you don't sweat them off). Within minutes, I'm covered in fluo stripes down my arms and legs. Some routy girl from newcastle paints something rude on my back which I then have to try and wash off before I get caught on camera. And Eve's so wasted she's throwing paint on herself and rubbing bodies with other party-goers to spread paint over each other. All this and we've not even left the hotel yet.

But midnight comes, and the night is short, so we decide to leave. The atmosphere in our little quintet is odd. Tom's a bit wired (he took Ping Pong up on his offer and bought something suspicious) and has Tick (his new girlfriend) hanging onto his arm as excited as I am; Eve's wasted and talking non-stop; Sam's drunk but already decided that she hates tonight so isn't in the mood; and I'm smiling from ear to ear because the antibiotics have finally kicked in and I feel alive enough to go for a dance. We walk through the heaving town - past haords of revellers decked in the fluo paints and dressed up to the max. The crowd seem to all be looking for something - this far from the beach seems to be too far for the party vibe to stretch. But we as get closer, the party picks up. Before long we're just meters from the beach and it all becomes apparent.

So, I know what to expect. Its a big beach - maybe a kilometre or so long and quite wide. Bars line the top of the beach, all suitably equipped for a good party. But what we see before us is insane. The beach, from shoreline to barline, is rammed. There's barely room to move. The roar of the beach bars is deafening. Broken beer bottles poke out of the sand. Wasted teenagers lying on the the sand get trodden on and apoligised to by other drunken teens. Everyone clutches the tiny buckets that are so familiar in these parts. And the crowds go on and on and on for as far as you can see - constantly thick and throbbing and sweaty. I'm still sweating out my fever, but the electric atmophere grabs us all and propels us into the crowd.

And within seconds we realise why the beach party has such an infamous reputation. Just metres from each other, we lose sight of tom and tick and its a few minutes before we find them. Eve's dragging behind and sam has to rescue her from becoming lost. Tom's flipping out too - the overpriced chalky pill he bought has made him go a bit mental and after lashing out at some dude he's holding his head in his hands and I suggest Tick takes him somewhere quiet to calm down. 2 recruits down. 3 left.

I'm not drinking, but Eve and Sam are sinking vodka buckets (a small bottle of vodka, 2 small bottles of red bull and a CocaCola), getting more wasted by the second. Those things are lethal. Eve's suddenly talking to some welsh dude and seconds later she's got her legs wrapped around him and they're kissing in the middle of the throng of people. Sam and I spend 20 minutes trying to get the 100m down the beach to the toilet - bumbling over sand-covered plastic chairs, passed-out rudeboys and techno worshippers. I buy a bottle of water from some dude I find unable to stand up, talking to a tree (that was me in Peru, remember). When we get back, Eve's still at it, so we leave her and go for a wander.

Sam's trashed at this point, and I just wat to dance. So I tactically escort her through the crowds to a hardcore bar. Its great - every bar is blaring their choice of music out across the sands. If you don't stand directly in front of the bar, you get this nasty mix of two genres singing into each ear. But we make it about 10 bars down, and Sam's too wasted to dance to this mental squall of sound, so before long she's ready to head home (mission acomplished). I wander her back - its carnage across this part of the island. We pass people passed out on the sand, drunkenly fighting in the streets. Even a girl brazenly giving a boy a blowjob on the beach - Sam mistakenly thinks they're hugging. And within 30 minutes I'm heading back towards to the party - alone this time. I've ditched all the troops now - its just me and I can finally come and dance and space myself out (high on antibiotics and one red bull).

And excitedly I approach the beach - still heaving at 3am - ready to go and find some music to rave to - when I hear "DUNCAN!!!!! DUNCAN!!!!!!!" from the crowds. I look - horrified - its a completely wasted and slumped Eve sitting on the same deckchair we left her in with the welsh boy 2 hours ago. She's so so trashed and in her stumbling talk accuses us of promising to come back for her and never coming back. Some truth in the statement - perhaps. But she caught me out. My precious alone time destroyed - i take her under my wing and escort (again, tactically) to the Hardcore bar where the music blips at over 180 beats per minute - where only the bravest survive. She's offended by the music, slumps on the sand and leaves me to dance - keeping a watchful eye on her all the time.

And within 20 minutes some lone dude aproaches her, starts talking to her, and before long they're kissing. Nice work eve - but its all further reinforcement of how debauched this place is. He leaves shortly after, and I pick Eve up and take her for some food, after which she decided to wander home. Its a good 25-minute walk with a drunk girl, but its pretty safe so I tell I'm going to stay and minutes later I'm back on my own. I find myself a spot outside a house bar, sink another red bull and dance with the rest of the beach for 2 hours. Until the sun starts to rise.

And its here I realise that the two red bulls I've downed have had a somewhat suspicious effect on me. Its rumoured that the red bull here is of such supreme strength and mixed in such a way that it actually acts on the brain in the same way as amphetamines. The much lauded myth that they actually add amphetamines to the buckets is rubbish - its the chemicals in the red bull. And I experienced this first hand; one side effect of taking pills is gurning - the hugely unattractive practise of unconsciously grinding your teeth and jaw for a few hours after taking the drug - and by 6am the (now three) red bulls I've drunk (neat) have had the same effect. I find myself a spot on the beach to watch the sunrise and quietly gurn to myself, shading my mouth with my hand to hide how rank it looks.

And with that, the sun rises slowly. In 10 and a half months travelling the world, I've only seen 1 other sunrise. How bad is that. Yeah, I've seen some from my sleeply daze on nightbuses, and i've been awake when its got light outside. But this was only the second (after one on the Bolivian Salt Flats) that I've actually sat and watched. And this time I'm alone, and conscious, and alert and observant. At first its hard to tell what's different about a sunrise and a sunset. Its the same familar pinks and oranges, catching on the underside of clouds and beaming down towards me. But soon you realise why its so novel - the colours from the sun are the same, maybe a little more pink, but mostly the same. But the backdrop is different. Its not a dark blue sky, darkening with the dropping of the sun. This is a crystal blue sky, almost white in its purity, washed with just a hint of blue. Its stunning. And every minute the sky's changing as the sun, still lurking below the horizon, gradually rises up. I sit and wait for 40 minutes. Every second, like waiting for that bus around the corner, thinking it will break the horizon any second, but it doesn't. Eventually I bore and wander the beach until it finally rises. And with that people flock to the waters front, some dancing, some praying, some couples contemplating the new day hand-in-hand. I suddenly feel oppresively alone, and i'm still sweating out my fever and gurning. The day has arrived, and its time for me to head home.

And so start to I wander slowly back - past a fenced off section of the beach for party casualities (a commendable practise) and past literally HUNDREDS of lost flip-flops. I've never seen anything like that before, and pass a tramp collecting the ones in best condition - i assume to try and match up and sell? I wander through the streets home, now soaked in daylight and crowded with homebound revellers. I'm in a daze - the caffeine has truly gone to my head and I can barely concentrate on the raucous sights and sounds of post-party Haad Rin. And soon I'm in bed - wide awake and alert, still sweating, using a curtain as a cover because mine is nowhere to be seen. Eve's just got back - she ended up wandering the island with some boy and being lost for hours. My jaw's still crushing. My eyes are sore. And sometime in the next hour I fall asleep.

And with the morning comes the most horrendous of Sam and Eve's hangovers. Tom's happy - he finally did the deed with Tick last night - but we've got to check out in less than an hour and are booked on a nightbus to Bangkok later today. Sam's been sick. Eve's miserable. I'm packing my stuff, feeling much better although in need of some proper sleep, and soon enough we're wishing farewell to Tom (see you in London mate) and jumping on a taxi across the island to the ferry terminal.

What did I think of the party? Well - it was pretty awesome. In terms of scale, its amazing. Its a huge beach, rivalling the first Fat Boy Slim party in Brighton, but on a monthly basis. The people are routs, but that's a huge generalisation since I managed to meet (when on my own) some nice people. Its got a little something for everyone, and whilst the anticipation was a bit more exciting than the real thing, I had a wicked time, despite the sweats and unexpected gurning. I wish I'd felt better. But it was great. Perhaps. My ambivalence stretches as far and wide as that crammed beach. Would I go back - probably not. Will I remember it fondly - I think so. Its back to Bangkok for me now, and then India. Farewell Thailand. Its been fun.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Day 321 - Ko Pha Ngan

thailand Ko Pha Ngan is probably the most revered of all the thai islands. Its small enough to have a single road running around its perimetre, its got great beaches and plenty of snorkelling sights, and its overrun with party animals every month, flocking here from all over the world to celebrate the Full Moon Party. How could it go so wrong?

So, after still-drunkenly leaving Ko Samui, we have what can only be described as one of the most amusing and soul-destroying short-journies of our lives. All 4 of us are hungover (I've hardley slept and still have redbull coursing through my veins) when we get picked up by a truck driver with a deathwish. Within 30 seconds of leaving the hotel, he's driven so fast around a corner that Tom's backpack flies 5 metres into the air and slams down on the road in front of the oncoming traffic. We reload it onto the roof, then we're off again at 90mph along dust tracks, sat unprotected in the back of this guys pickup truck. There's 10 of us crammed in. Sam's fearing for her life, banging on the driver's rear window to tell him to slow down. he doesn't. Before long, Sam's halfway between crying and being sick, so we stop the truck and get out.

demanding our ticket from the truck driver, who's promising to go slower now, sam's had enough, so we hop in a cab and take a leisurely journey to the port. Much nicer. That is until, after checking in to the port ready for our ferry ride to Ko Pha Ngan, we're told that we're at the wrong port. OUR ferry is about a mile down the road. We're flipping out. we've missed the ferry by 5 minutes and probably lost our 10quid ticket price. Sam's nearly crying again. I'm shouting for her to calm down. We wait 10 minutes for a cab, then travel 2 minutes down the road where our ferry is sat in the dock *waiting* for us to arrive.

Our mental truck driver is shouting at us to hurry, whilst we're lugging our massive bags onto our backs and walking down the wooden gangway. Its shameful. An entire open-topped ferry of people are staring at us - they've been forced to sweat it out in the blazing sun for 20minutes waiting for us to arrive. Its truly the walk of shame. But we make it on the ferry, which choppily crosses the straight in an hour and drops us off on the beachless shore of Haad Rin, party town on Ko Pha Ngan. Sam makes an immediate run for the toilet, projectile vomits and poisonously returns and sits in the shade, while Tom and I investigate the missing ferry pickup we were expecting. But soon enough, we're in a cab to our hotel (its just down the road, but the heats insane) and checking in.

And here's where the fun starts. Ping pong - the hotel's resident bar manager - welcomes us, leads me to reception, and offers me whatever drugs I want on the way. I nervously decline (the penalties for buying drugs in thailand are enough to scare the crap out of anyone, especially when he's brazen about it). We're then shown around - the common area is a huge expanse of wooden floorboards covered in cushions and adorned with about 30 shirtless beach bums laughing and drinking. The site has an internet cafe, well-stocked bar, a nice, albeit narrow, beach and a lush swimming pool - plenty deep enough and big enough for me to dive around like an idiot for days without disturbing the peace. And in case a swimming pool wasnt quite enough, the place is consumed in flesh - hot boys and girls, lounging around in barely enough clothes to be considered decent, showing off their buff bodies and trim stomachs. Its a bit grim, but kinda pretty at the same time. And since its so bloody hot, i grab my towel and spend the next 3 hours with Tom in the pool, chatting to some of the more interesting members of the congregation of young people.

An that's where the fun stops for me. That evening takes ages to arrive, and whenit does we're too tired to attend the hotel-hosted pool party. So after watching a DVD instead, I nip to the bar to see how things are going down and ITS HIDEOUS. Its actually like a Club 18-30s holiday - shed loads of completely wasted 20-year-olds dancing like monkeys, bumping into me, spitting on the floor. Girls with their tops off shaking their tits around while boys stare at their chests like they've never seen a pair before (I caught you Tom). People in the pool, wasted, holding their pint glasses above their heads so not to spill anything. Drunk girls in bikinis spiralling around and being pushed into the pool by equally wasted boys. I stayed for about 3 minutes. It was grim. Although I kinda wanted to stay just for the sights.

And in the morning, my beloved Pool Of Dreams was closed - for cleaning. A process which ultimtely took 3 whole days. A team of 6 thai guys with sieves crouch beside the pool sieving up the most revolting mixture of frothing beer, vomit and, i'm sure, other bodily emissions. The party went on til 6am, and is known for being heinously debaucherous. Great. No diving for me today.

So Sam, Eve and I head into town where we wander the single main high-street crowded with jewellery shops, 7-11 stores and swimwear shops. Within 10 minutes we arrive at the famous Sunrise Beach, site of the upcoming Full Moon Party, and we spend a couple of hours wandering the wide and lush beach, tapping our toes to the oversized sound-systems adorning each and every bar on the beachfront and dipping our feet in the cool water to cool off. The beach is overrun with the same crowds as the hotel - buff and trim 18-30s flexing their muscles during a game of volleyball or tanning their already stupidly dark skin further. Eve and I feel like the rank lard-arses of the beach, covering our shamefully un-toned stomachs and trying not to make too much eye-contact with the prettiest of the herds.

And its now that things go a bit messy for me. Walking along the beach heading home, a sudden shoot of headache cracks through my skull. Followed by a hint of shivering. Within 20 minutes I'm in bed, air-con cranked down to its lowest setting (18 degrees), wrapped in 3 towelling blankets to soak up the sweat. An hour later, I'm unable to sleep from the fever and moaning to myself constantly. Its tonsilitus - confirmed the next day when I sum up all the strength I have to get a cab to the island's doctor and recieve not just a course of anti-biotics, but my first ever INJECTION IN MY ARSE! (come on guys, no jokes please). Much to Sam's amusement, I'm laid out on a doctor's bed, white never-seen-the-light-of-day bum cheeks shining in the waiting room while a tiny nurse pokes my fleshy rear as deep as she can go, walks off with the needle still poking out, waggling with every move I make, and eventually injects the good stuff 5 minutes later and charges me 30 quid for the pleasure.

It was supposed to sort me out properly. But it didn't. The next morning, the holy day which marks the start of the Full Moon Party, I am still sick as a dog. The pool is still being seived. The weather's kinda rubbish, but i don't care because I still want to spend my life in bed. I'm devastated. Its looks like I'll miss the party after all. The only energy I have I waste on buying some water to drink. Ko Pha Ngan isn't working out as I had hoped. And our shitty bedroom has hardly any light and no TV, so I'm bored as well as miserable and lonely. And we were so excited about coming here and its so grim now. So I sit it out - reading my book, watching the walls, listening to the same music I've listened to for the last 10 months, and wishing I was feeling just slightly well enough to leave this pit of a room. But I can't.

And so I prepare to miss out on the Full Moon Party - its probably gonna be hideous anyway. Or will I....

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Day 318 - Ko Samui

thailand Fake bags, fake sunglasses, fake dvds... this place is so fake, even the women are fakes.

A day of travelling across Thailand takes its toll on your sensibilities. After a ferry ride, 2 bus journies, another ferry ride and then an hour journey in the back of a truck not really knowing where to get off, we decide to hop off, tired and irritable, on a highstreet that we *think* is Chaweng - most populous and happening town of the sleepy island of Ko Samui. Another 40 minutes of trawling for a cheap hostel and eventually we're unpacking our stuff at 8pm. I've said it before guys, and i'll say it again, travelling is like a full time job.

Anyway, we unpack in our plush, air-conditioned rooms, and head out to get some food. Minor drama (sam would probably disagree with the 'minor' aspect of that last comment) when we find that Sam's cash card doesn't work anymore through lack of funds. She's nearly in tears, as am I since I have been relying on her for cash advances since I maxxed my Egg card. But we leave her to fight it out with the bank and Eve and I head into Chaweng town.

And this is when it dawns on us exactly what Ko Samui is. This town is made up entirely, without any exceptions, from fake designer goods. Every shop sells fake Christian Dior sunglasses, or fake Billabong boardshorts. Fake Fendi handbags. Fake Gucci shoes. Fake DVDs, CDs, Playstation, Xbox and PC games. Fake Eastpak backpacks. Even fake Dali paintings. This whole town thrives on a industry of selling fake stuff to cheap tourists. Its tacky and imposing and feels like you're taking a bath in dirty water when you wander the streets and peer in at the goods they're displaying with embarrassingly low prices (which are just a starter price, usually 4 times more expensive than what a keen haggler can get). I don't like it, and to top it off, we're located about a mile down the road from the Burger King which we're all craving, so it takes an age to walk there and back, by which time I'm ready for bed.

So yeah, i'm not altogether taken with Ko Samui. Whilst I'm happy to browse the Playstation 2 games and try and find some boardshorts to get for my impending trip to Ibiza (i know - a year travelling isn't enough, I need another 2 weeks of sun just after I get back), I still feel this place is rotten and cheap and unappealing. And having no cash makes it all the worse. I can't even afford the cheap games, and they cost just over a quid. Anyway, to lighten my mood, effervescent Tom, who's always up for a bit of adventure, decides we should hire a jeep for the day and explore the island. And a good idea it is too.

First stop was some huge buddha on a hill. Its kinda cute and feels like you've stepped into the set of a movie - cute local shacks selling drinks and snacks (overpriced, of course), dusty roads and big trees bending their branches down to the brush on the ground. Its nice. Tom and I wander the monastry, which the girls don't want because they're wearing disrespectful clothes, which is nice. Monks everywhere, elaborate snake carvings and of course a close-up on the huge buddha that dominates the landscape. Its big. Not MASSIVE. Not Rio Jesus big. But big all the same and probably took a while to make. So I'm impressed.

Thais (and buddhists in general I think, correct me if I'm wrong) have a style of foretune telling, a lot like a horoscope but far less ambiguous. Here, as in china, people shake a basket of sticks really gently until one stick falls out. Each stick is numbered between 1 and 26 (or something like that) and that number corresponds to a fixed fortune description. bringing all this into the 20th century is this amazing machine...

yes, just like a fruit machine / roulette wheel, you insert a coin (5baht), watch the LED-wheel spin and eventually stop on a number, and correspond it to your fortune. And here was mine.

And whilst the description may read my 'fortune', it unfortunately wasn't so fortunate for Tom, who left his wallet on the machine and when returning to get it 5 minutes later, found that it had been nicked. Credit cards and cash, swiped from a monastry. Karma? i dunno. But these monks are sophisticated - they have CCTV watching the whole place, which Tom and I examine at length but find nothing incrimating. Gutted.

We then bomb it in the jeep, open topped and breezy in the scorching pre-monsoon heat, down to the south of the island where we're promised a huge waterfall. We don't find it. But we do find a tiny pool for the girls to soak their sweating bodies in, whilst Tom and I don our hiking boots and trek for an hour up the steep valley sides, clinging to vines and braches, as far as we can go before the sun sets on our adventure.

And one last stop before we head home was this amazing sight...

Here stands a mummified buddha, sat upright, decaying arms resting on his lap, in a sealed glass container. But by some strange fate, he's wearing sunglasses (fakes from Chaweng highstreet, no less). We're told its because his eyes started rotting and they wanted to hide the empty sockets.

Anyway, we ditch the jeep and spend the rest of the evening watching Sex and the City (eve's just bought a whole series on fake dvd), and I end up playing pool with Tom and his new friend Tick (tiny cute cambodian girl who introduced herself as Dick - she's mental).

Now, all along, I was due to travel with Darren when I was in Thailand for a while. he was coming out this way at the same time as us, and we arranged to meet up and have a few beers. But until now, we've only seen each other for one evening and haven't crossed paths since. It all looked like we were gonna miss each other when I emailed him yesterday, until he comes up with an amazing plan. If we stay on the island one extra day, he's coming back, so we get to have a day together. Awesome. So 9am my alarm breaks my already broken sleep, I hop in the jeep and drive to the docks 20 minutes away with Sam to meet Darren and Kate from the jetty. And a couple of hours later we're at their hotel (their *plush* hotel), swimming in their pool and catching up on 2 weeks of thai travels.

And with the evening comes something I'm SO EXCITED about its hard to put it into words. Of course, thailand is famous for its ladyboys. That's a fact. But little did we know, Ko Samui is a hotbed for ladyboys, hosting 2 nightly ladyboy shows and being a haven for ladyboy wannabes. Just wandering through town you see at least 10 boys covered in glitter, boys who are now girls loaded with makeup, and feather boas and huge peacock tails adorning both boys and girls promoting the shows. Its awesome. I wolf whistle a couple (they don't appreciate it, understandable. as if I was bought up to wolf-whistle anyone). Chat to a couple (they like to hold hands with me it seems). Its amazing.

I don't really know why I have a fascination with ladyboys. Its not like I ever did back home. But then its different here. Here these girls (i.e. ex boys) are respected. They are as much part of thai culture as standard men and women. Being a ladyboy isn't so much a person who's uncomfortable in their owen gender, its a whole gender of its own. That's fascinating to me. That it can be so well regarded in society. And to think that we think we're liberal and progressive enough as a western democratic society. This beats the crap out of our attitudes towards gender and identity.

Anyway, on with the show. After a few cocktails to loosen us up on the beach, we weave our way to the show on the main highstreet, take a seat at the side (i'm crapping myself with excitement now) and order some (again, overpriced) drinks. And the show starts. Its amazing. Like a drag show at a tacky gay bar, but with girls in bikinis (they've all had the chop it seems) and an audience of half-shocked, half-fascinated western tourists.

The shows progresses - much to my over-enegetic delight - with a rendition of "I will follow him" from sister act (ladyboy with a blacked-out face), a workout routine hosted by a leotard wearing ladyboy, a couple of power ballards from the host with huge hair and some weird fashion shows with ladyboys wearing antlers. Its mental and I love it.

At one point, they're looking for volunteers from the audience. I hate this stuff, and as the main light shines on me to attract the hosts attention, I make a run for the toilets and lock myself inside. Its hideous. I hate audience participation. But the moment passes and some german guy is seduced into a lapdance from the girls in his pants. Its amusing. I'm glad it wasn't me.

And with that the show goes on. Another few acts, more dancing routines. A big fashion show with each girl labelled with a country. And then the host announces that they need 5 volunteers. Sam, Eve, Tick, Darren and Kate all grab me and Tom by the neck and shouting and cheering thrust our arms in the air. Tom's a (reformed?) homophobe and finds ladyboys somewhat distasteful, so I knew I could count of him to shake the others off and allow me to make a toilet dash. But before I know it he's on his feet, laughing and swearing and dragging me onstage. This is hideous.

So yeah, I'm a show-off. I know that. And I love being the centre of attention. But on my terms only. I hate not being in control, and I hate being stared at. This is awful and I have no idea what they want us to do. The next 10 minutes are a blur of fear, nerves and shame. In front of an audience of some 100 people Tom and I, along with 3 other guys, are escorted across the main stage behind the curtains where a completely naked ladyboy (CHOP CHOP) starts touching my penis and telling me to drop my trousers. I ask what's happening, and she says nothing. More groping of my genitalia as I drop my trousers and she helps me take my t-shirt off. I'm stood in my boxers, next to a naked ladyboy, confused, as she brings out a huge red sequinned dress and a wig.

I'm mortified. I hate this stuff. I hate guys who dress up in girls clothes. I hate it at parties and i hate drunk guys who think its funny. I find it SO cringey its ureal. and here I am, getting zipped up by a ladyboy who seems obsessed with fluffing me up (it only worked a little). And then, all 5 of us are pushed onto the stage with just a thick red curtain between us and the audience, told to dance and smile, and the curtain is raised.

The place erupts. The whole crowd is on its feet, dancing, screaming, laughing. 5 guys, hairy chests and beards a plenty, dressed as women, dancing on stage. I'm near tyhe back, but can make out Sam rushing to the front, smile stretched across her face, taking close up photos. Eve's howling in the distance. We dance for a minute, then we're lined up on stage and interviewed by the hostess. I don't remember what I said, but the place is still in stitches and loving every minute of the show's finale.

And then we're doing the conga through the crowd, dancing some more, and I'm doing some weird kind of dry humping up against a ladyboy (i'm so ashamed of myself) before being led backstage for some more fluffing and the removal of the dress. more naked ladyboys with their hands on my privates, a return to my own clothes and a free huge glass of vodka and coke to numb my adrenaline-fuelled psyche.

It was amazing. The audience ebbs away as the show ends, but we're lauding it up,laughing and taking photos. Its amazing. I'm still in shock somewhat, but its fun. The three ladyboys who'd been fluffing me earlier come out for a photo, and after some play-flirting and raucous laughing we leave the bar to find a club to drink in.

And its here where the night becomes a mess. One strong vodka and a number of beers, in addition to Darren's exquisite company mean we're all into a truck and heading 10 minutes down the road to Malebox, one of the two gay clubs in Ko Samui. Its empty, except for a lone thong-wearing dancer shaking it on a podium and 5 of 6 thai guys lurking around the bar. We're all manic, laughing and shouting. Tom gets up on the podium, dancing aruond when he's not cuddling up to his new lady friend Tick, and Eve and I are dancing around like idiots.

And about an hour later the girls decide to head off, so Darren, Tom, Tick and I jump in a cab and head into town, where a huge party is going off. Hundreds of thais, dancing in the streets. Its unreal. My alcohol-fuelled lack of perception blends the next 3 hours into a blur of moments - following the crowds to a secret pool party, dancing in the toilets with a load of thai guys, talking to an irritating australian (i love australians, just not this one), drinking out of other people buckets of whisky, taking way too many photos with people I don't know, waving goodbye to darren and staying on my own, and eventually making it home and slumping into bed. All very rock n roll.

And with the morning comes a still-drunken last chance to pack my backpack, regale the stories of last night to the girls and Tom and grab some crisps for our journey to Ko Pha Ngan. Ko Samui might be tacky as hell and hideously ripped off, but having Darren here made it an awesome time. It looks like we'll be having plenty more nights of carnage when I get back.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Day 317 - "The Beach" & the tsunami

thailand Today was possibly one of my favourite days in Thailand. In fact, I think it was my most favourite. I'm writing this almost 2 weeks after it happened - a sure sign that I've been enjoying myself way too much - and nothing's topped it yet. So I dedicated a whole posting to a 4-hour event. Anyway, on with the day...

So, its our 4th day on Ko Phi Phi. Yesterday we were supposed to be jaunting around the island in a boat but the weather decided to betray us, so we're here today, 9am, mildly hungover from an evening of watching bad lady boys dance to bad gay pop music to the open-mouthed reception of hundreds of western tourists. More on that another day, but for now, its sufficient to say that I'm still a little drunk, giggling like a kid and overly excited about our day on the waves. Slapping on the factor 15 and clambering into our boat, the 6 of us head off across the crystal clear waters of Ko Phi Phi's east beach heading south.

After passing bay after bay of white sand beaches and cliff-side huts, decorated with wooden shacks and garland-covered long-boats, we stop in a small cove where the 10ft deep perfectly clear water covers a vast field of sparkling coral. No idea how deep it is from above the gentle waves, i'm the first to don my snorkel and mask and drop in. And within minutes we're all face down in the water, gazing at the gorgeous coral formations.

So, its not the Great Barrier Reef here. The water's not *quite* as clear, and the coral's not *quite* as colourful or varied. There's the odd Chang Beer can rusting on the needle-like coral bed, and occasional trees of coral the size of footballs snapped at the their root and fading from life rest against other more vivid sponges. That all said, its a pretty good alternative. This isn't the best place in Thailand for snorkelling, but its as good as it could be and for anyone thinking of visiting, don't be put off by what you get told. Its a nice ride, and we spent a good 30minutes lost in the abundance of fish, circling us as our boat driver throws banana skins in to attract them, and the warm sunshine penetrating our lotioned backs and glittering off the shallowest corals.

And the next 2 hours were pretty much this. Another stop - this time in deep deep water with thousands of fish bombing around in those amazing formations likes dynamic clouds. We'd dive deep to try and reach them and the cloud would gracefully arch away from us. Diving off the boat was amazing - the long boat we were riding stands high out of the water on the helm - perfect for perfecting backflip dives (I couldn't do it - some kind of fear of breaking my neck on the water - no doubt instilled in my from childhood - MUM!).

And after some more corals and a brief landing on a picturesque coral beach (we were expected to pay to disembark - we refused and I have no photos - take my word for it, it was beautiful), our comical guide throws us the map and directs us around the other end of the network of islands to "the beach" beach. "from the movie".

If you haven't seen "The Beach", starring Leo DiCaprio, you're not missing too much. Its good. Not as good as the book (of course), but good. The book itself was *the* traveller book to read if you were in thailand in the late nineties. Even now, its seen gracing the shelves of book exchanges across SE Asia and around these parts of talked about by travellers and locals alike. Some kind of selling point to thailand. Anyway, Lord of the Flies style thriller, Leo hears of the last perfect beach in thailand, uncorrupted by tourists and locals alike, and hunts it down to find a community of backpackers running the place. I won't go on - read it if you're bored.

BUT, the fact is that whilst in the book/film the untouched island paradise is located miles away from here on the other side of Thailand, the actually filming took place on a island off the coast of Ko Phi Phi. And we're heading for it. Its around the back of the most impressive of volcanic plugs that we skirt around, gawping at the sheer hugeness of the rising cliffs, undercut dramatically at the sea level and waiting to collapse at any time. And just minutes later, a mere 20min boat ride from our home island, we encounter The Beach.

I'm pretty rubbish at describing these things, so I'll let the photos do the talking, but this beach is now. Instantly recognisable if you've seen the film, the beach is surrounded by towering limestone cliffs and exudes a serene and tribal quality. Our boat driver, as is the custom for thai tourist-workers, decides to rip us off by charging us to go on the island - we're all well aware this isn't the case and pay up begrudgingly as he hides his face from us in some kind of shame-filled ritual. That aside, we swim in the chalky blue waters, Dan and I skim stones til are arms are tired, and sam skulks around in the shade of the surrounding cliffs to protect her burnt skin, over-sensitised by the anti-malarials we're routinely taking.

But we can't stay for too long - we have other items on the agenda, and after some more sight-seeing under the water (this time dogged by the those microscopic jellyfish that we all hate with venom), we take a slow casual ride around the amazing blues and greens of the coves of the island, claustrophobic from their imposing cliffs and water that radiates colour.

And just as the sun starts to make its descent, slowly at first and then rushing to submerge itself below the horizon about an hour later, our boat driver takes us to our last stop - the 25ft jump. I'm crapping myself. I HATE heights and I HATE climbing to heights and I certainly HATE jumping from heights. I'm nervous and agitated - he's dropped us not at the cliff-jumping site routinely used by these tours with a footpath to the top. No, we're at low-tide and need to clamber over sharp volcanic rocks, scaling the precipitous rockface in flip-flops and bare hands. I cut my foot. I hate this. I can feel the pressure of having to jump getting stronger - the lack of an easy alternative - no way of climbing down. I'll have to jump. I hate that.

Dan's up first. He reaches the top - its about 5 storeys high, and none of us really know if its deep enough. He's nervous (although not scared), but Tom isn't, so he skirts past me (clinging to a tree) and dan, takes a firm grip on his removed flip-flops, smiles for the camera, and he's gone. I see his head disappear over the edge and seconds later a splash and the cheers from the girls in the boat. Dan's itching to get moving too, so edges forward, hesitates a little, then he's gone too. He screamed on the way down - I feel justified to be scared now.

And then its me. Unable for a few seconds to let go of the tree holding me back, I edge myself across the sharp weathered rocks - the deep grooves and razor-like ridges of rocks exposed to the elements for hundreds of years but too tough to let themselves erode gently - and peer over the edge. It so far down. My heart is racing and all I really remember is shouting expletives as I searched for the balls to make the jump deep in my stomach. I look at Sam - she's pleading me on with her eyes. The whole boat now is cheering and shouting but I'm zoned out. Its too high. And I'm scared. I can't do this.

But I did. That hidden part of your brain that hates your fear and hates your weakness grabbed control of my motor-nuerons, zapping them with enough electrical activity to make me step, almost outside of my own control, off the edge of the cliff. Melodrama aside, falling those 5 storeys was more than just a cliff-dive. I remember lucidly the rushing of the air past my ears, the speed at which the water's surface zoomed towards me, the pain as my feet slapped the concrete-like floor and the depth I sunk too, surrounded by an all-encompassing spray of bubble, before clawing my way to the surface.

Its funny. I take this whole experience way too seriously. I shouldn't. It was just a bit of fun. But my whole life I've been hounded by dreams of falling. Dreams of hanging above huge drops, letting go, falling for long enough to compose my thoughts and realise my impending impact, but waking before it happens. And here I was, dropping through the sky. The ground rushed me, its perspective doubling, tripling in size as it comes towards me, only my feet and water seperating what feels like a near-certain death. It was poignant. A realisation that those dreams were accurate. How did I know it would be like that, all those years that i've been having those dreams. How did i know how potently acute that feeling was?

Anyway, I survived. The adrenaline kept me reeling about it for the next hour, and despite the slithers of blood of my feet from the rocks I'm beaming and ready for some more action sports. Maybe not another cliff-dive. But something fun nonetheless. And with that, our boat trip comes to an end and we head back to Ko Phi Phi, where we part company for an hour from the others as Tom and I decide to head up to the viewpoint, high on the cliff overlooking the approaching sunset and a vista over the developed part of the island.

And here is probably a good time to talk, just briefly, about the tsunami. Ko Phi Phi was hit pretty bad - remember we're on the Andaman coast now, west of mainland Thailand and in direct fire of any approaching tsunami's from the Indian Ocean. I've studied some of this stuff, so its not that new to me, but the practicalities are pretty different from my text-book education. The locals here aren't that keen to talk about what happened - when Eve decided to sing the Manic Street Preachers "Tsunami" chorus on the boat trip, the driver berated her quickly and refused to entertain the subject any more. 300,00 people died on Boxing Day, just over 3 years ago. The whole of Ko Phi Phi as I know it was destroyed. Tsunami warning signs around the island point people towards the higher ground that Tom and I are hiking towards to catch the sunset.

I didn't probe much about this stuff - so many people died here, and all around the Indian Ocean that its likely that whoever you speak to probably knows someone in their family, or one of their close friends who died. Especially those people here. But what I did find out was encouraging. One fisherman on Ko Chang told me that as the waters recede (prior to each 10ft high wave to hit the coast, the water recedes back almost a hundred meters out to sea as the wave gathers water), exposing land never seen before by human eyes, fish are left stranded on the seabed. It was at these times, perfectly timed to prevent anyone coming to harm, that fishermen, their children and their wives, would run out to the seabed with baskets grabbing as many of the stranded fish as possible, before running back inland and bracing themselves for the next wave.

And now that Ko Phi Phi has been rebuilt, its as charming as I imagine it ever was. The tourists have returned (after a serious lull that further destroyed a lot of the local businesses here), the evacuation routes and alarms have been installed and everyone keeps a quiet eye on that falling tide, just incase it doesn't come back in. Life has moved on. And as we clamber up the steepest incline I've done in months (since china in fact), we eventually make it up to the viewpoint with just 10 minutes to go before the sun slips out of view. The place is overcome with tourists, some of whom seem to have been sat here for hours waiting for the same thing. But its quiet and contemplative. A book stands outside a shop selling photographs of the damage and destruction caused by the tsunami, at key points that can be picked out from here. But its not tasteless. In fact, its informative and done without unnecessary pity. More a success story in rehabilitation than of defeat by nature.

And with an evening of goodbye drinks with Dan and Sarah, we party into the night, stumble home drunk and prepare for an early rise to head off to Ko Samui, a day's travel away from here but with the lure of more beaches and cheaper prices.

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