Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October is a film where Sean Connery plays (comically) a soviet sub commandeer in charge of a sub equipped with new technology, he however wants to defect. The soviets obviously don't want this to happen and are so are trying to hunt down 'Red October'. The US are also trying to find him. This relates to me as I am also trying to find a vessel to sail, and so here is my very own story of hunting for a boat, my own personal 'Red October' or Moby Dick for those literary types.

My tale begins with Welshie deciding to go home in Koh Tao, now not really affecting my plans I didn't want to go to Ko Lanta early and spend weeks there, so I looked in to other options. With Welshie finally leaving me in Krabi after the jaunt in Rai Leh as mentioned, I headed for Phuket in search of my sailing ambitions.

Phuket is the ridicuously tourist area second only to Pattaya (which is so touristy and 'horrible' our Rough Guide has completely dropped it). My first destination in Phuket was Patong, despite it being overly touristy,busy, full of horrible bars and middle aged men with their Thai girlfriends I found it reasonably tolerable. It being touted as expensive I possibly found the cheapest hostel so far and because I'm a savvy traveller, ate cheap street food and spent less money here than almost anywhere else in Thailand. On the mission to find a boat, Success! I found a Hobie Cat for rent for the completely ridiculous price of 1000bht (£20) an hour. Bare in mind a rent for a full day of moped hire in Koh Pha Ngan was 150bht for the whole day. Thinking this extortionate I returned to the hostel to do more research.

I read here that I could rent one on a different beach to the south(Kata) in a quieter area of Phuket for 200bht an hour. Note the ridiculous difference in price here.... we'll find out why. I had always planned to go to Kata after Patong and so I messaged the hostel already booked and checked a bed for the next day. I awoke early and headed straight to Kata for this glorious cheap boat rental. I arrived nice an early and dumped my bag in storage and got a free lift to Kata Noi, the furthest south of all 3 beaches near to Kata. I had breakfast and began my scout, first beach no sign of any boats.... second beach, same story and finally Karon...... NO BOATS. It seems that the 200bht an hour dream was one of those 'too good to be true' occasions. However it wasn't a complete fail as I walked over 10km and felt pretty productive. In the afternoon I booked my boat to Koh Lanta and sipped my welcome cocktail whilst bantering with the Thai bar staff, Kim and Bo. (In doing so I got more free drinks just for sitting around)... Utitilizing my 'savvy' traveller vibe once again I got cheap dinner again by turning left instead of right and heading into town... why anybody would bother eating at the places with ridicuously inflated prices I've no idea, its not even like the food is any better! Phuket is the sort of resort where people travel to a foreign country and then eat British food every single day.
Kata Noi

Kata (I think)

Karon (again I think)

Day 2 in Kata. Knowing there was no boats to be found I went for a morning run along the beach followed by a swim. If I can't sail I may as well be active. I made the mistake of ordering "Danish Meatballs" at lunch which turned out to be a slab of bread with some meat on top and Sauerkraut. I followed this up with a proper steak sandwich! In the evening I had another run/swim narrowly dodging a torrential downpour. I liberated a poor millipede from the bar as the Thai staff were literally too scared of it and headed off for more cheap thai food, topped up with meat on a stick from a roadside bbq (20 pence a stick). I had an early night after watching Black Mirror and prepared for my early start and boat to Koh Lanta.

Two boats later and I'm in Koh Lanta. I arrange to meet Welshies friend who we had both planned to meet, however as I did not actually know her it felt like arranging some kind of weird internet date. I asked one girl if 'She was El?' and embarrassed myself when she was not. Ironically she had been there the whole time also wondering if I was who she was meeting. During the conversation with her and her friend Judith, I learnt that on Long Beach there was a watersport shop who rented Hobies! Success I thought, my hopes lifted and in good spirits I crashed El's Boyfriends dive shop xmas party which was hilarious as they were all wrecked when I got there.

I spent a lazy morning getting breakfast and doing boring admin tasks before getting the moto-taxi to Long Beach, Hobie spotted on the beach I thought this could be it, but I did notice it wasn't fully rigged and the rudders were missing. In conversation with the owner he told me the boat was broken and was "semi-retired, just like me". Spirits again dashed I headed to a nearby bar for an iced chocolate shake and a water. I then went for a swim and a sunbathe to regroup. The hunt for my 'Red October' was and is fast becoming my 'Moby Dick' moment.

I have decided to instead go Windsurfing tomorrow (Xmas day) and combine culture with one last try in Koh Lanta when I visit the east side of the Island and Old Town on boxing day. The hunt is not yet over and recent news has reinvigorated me. It appears my base for New Years in Cambodia may actually definitely have it as shown on the official Sihanoukville Tourist website....

to be continued....

oh and also, Merry Christmas from Thailand!

Monday, 19 December 2011

"So, After I lost Everyone" - Full Moon and Islands.

After Bangkok we headed south to the legendary island of Koh Pha-Ngan. This where the world famous full moon parties are held and this was the exact reason we headed to this island. The aforementioned party also lends it name to the title of this post as literally everyones full moon story started this way.

We had been forewarned about staying in Haad-Rin as we were told 'you won't get any sleep' but we decided to throw caution to the wind and did anyway, besides we didn't come here to 'sleep', we came to party, can sleep some other time. For the rest of the first day I read my book in the hostel after a quick tour of town and Welsh went for a beach walk and ended up nearly dying (of exhaustion) from a game of football. In the evening we met the 'lads' from football and played drinking games till we lost the quiz, even with horrendous cheating. Welsh bought me a cider as I had decided 400baht (£8) was far too expensive for it, even if it was Stowford. Welsh went to a pool party whereas I went to the beach, broke my flip flops and threw them in the sea. None the less an enjoyable evening of introduction to the island.

I shall call the second day the adventure day. We hired a moped for all of £3 for the day. We drove it over hills and far away to secluded but due to the weather miserable beaches. Took in a rather dull waterfall and drove back to town, after struggling to make it up a hill. This evening, being the evening before the 'big one' we had a quiet one, the danes from the night before and the scouser who looked EXACTLY like Manwell from Fawlty Towers had heard of a secret bar you had to take a boat too. Thinking this was a good idea, we took quite possibly the most dangerous longtail boat ride ever through rough sea's with absolutely no regard for the waves. It paid off though as the bar was awesomely chilled, quiet and with some people dancing to trance. Another slightly less risque boat ride home and we were prepped.

A completely lazy day of curry for breakfast(lunch) and a casual atmosphere. we saw them setting up the beach and we found our 'party' attire, ie a stupid vest. We returned to the hostel to get painted and in doing so met most of our dorm mates properly (we had of course met them before) where a sense of kinship developed as we took turns to paint each other various colours -cept for the spacehead Americans. We all got suitably attired and headed out to partayyyyyyyyyy. Due to a Lunar Eclipse the moon turned red and disappeared slowly throughout the night. Like previously mentioned at the party we all lost each other, and each persons story is theres to tell. I once lost found the Drum n Bass stage and enjoyed that for a long time before wandering the beach where I was given free stuff.
It is very much like Glastonbury on a beach.

The next night we had another 'quiet' one with our new friends, you know it's not going to be quiet when you buy a bucket to go with dinner(which was a curry where of course we ordered far too much). This night we didn't lose everyone and it wasn't as packed down the beach, everyone else either asleep or dead to the world save a few hardliners. This night was almost better just because we were altogether.
Full Moon a day later

welsh, Loes and Helen
Full Mooned up with the Irish
On a more annoying note Koh Pha Ngan is probably where I began to become disillusioned with travelling in Thailand. It's not so much Thailand as the traveller. For instance, in our hostel we had a group of French/Brazillian guys who can only be described as louts, or to use the technical term; complete Knobheads. They would drink from as soon as they woke up, (10am)blast music out of the hostel bar, catcall women and literally physically hold them while they shouted their taunts. This went on for all 3 days, non-stop An is just a microcosm of a larger issue, (more on these themes later). The islands do have a reputation obviously but I never thought it would be this extreme, I know these people aren't looking for 'Paradise' and I certainly aren't, besides I've already found it...

If people coming to Thailand are looking for the paradise found in the beach then they need stop looking, I should keep this secret to myself but as none of those ‘looking’ will read this here I may as well spill. Firstly, it is not Thailands commercial beach party vibe, that is exactly what Richard was trying to avoid and one can see why, read the aforementioned reason above. So the secret where is the paradise of utopia? If it is beaches then that is easy. The location of this paradise is the San Blas islands of the coast of Panama.
They are an archipelago of islands that are small with sandy beaches and clear waters to swim in. The locals live in wooden huts and fish for Langoustines, crabs and fish. There is one main island that has amenities and a bakery. There are no ‘bars’ on the islands, no discos and definitely no annoying trance music. When the backpackers disembark the yachts arrived they have sailed in on they eat the locally caught lobsters ($1 each) and rice. For ‘partying’ this involves drinking rum and sitting around a fire playing drums, in essence a true hippy experience. This occurs because there is no electricity.

The Panamanian government has also taken steps to protect the indigenous population and its culture, banning large scale tourism and resorts from the islands, in essence protecting uniqueness and brilliance of the islands. What little trade the backpackers do bring will go a long way to these people without destroying their way of life. Creating a harmony rarely found elsewhere. An I’ll end it there cause now I do sound like a damn hippy, so if you ever get the chance to go, take it, crystal clear waters make for awesome snorkelling too.

Sunset in Paradise
ANYWAY back to reality. After full mooning we went to Koh Tao which was amazing. Chilled but still with the beach scene, the boat ride here was fantastic. I read my book about sailing the world whilst everyone else looked a little worse for wear as we rolled in the swell. The girl next to me looking as pale as a ghost turned to me and asked "do you not get sea sick at all? Even reading?"
"You should be a Sailor". Im inclined to agree, sometimes I enjoy the getting there more than where were going and don't want it to end. Anyway after the Voyage of the Vom(sorry everyone) we chilled in Koh Tao in our Bungalow where we mused about where to go and played cards, while I dealt with the effects of the party before having dinner on the beach. We then headed for Krabi after two nights to head for Koh Phi Phi. I like Krabi although it is just a stop off, the hotel is nice and does a killer Mango Lassi.
Suffering before Voyage of the Vom

Sunset in Koh Tao

Koh Tao Beach
Koh Phi Phi is the island from the beach, it is in fact two islands. It is very similar to Koh Phangan in that it is largely a party town for backpackers. Every bar has about two hundred promo staff and drinks promotions. We met Helen, a feisty Irish girl we met in Koh Pha Ngan, she has more banter than most hockey boys and probably hates me cause I'm English. She gave the Welsh jip for being under English rule. Anyway patriotic differences aside we went to a beach and tried unsuccessfully to snorkel. Although we had some fun nights out (free bbq at the irish bar and a nice place called Banana bar) I remembered why I dislike these 'party' islands, too full of people who are literally only on them to get as drunk as possible, every single day. I am not being a travel snob, or a hypocrite I like too party every now and again but every single day? No thanks I'd like some culture too please. Also in musing with Shauna(a girl from the hostel) I realised that in every other single country I've been to by this point I would have been out with a local by now, In China they came and sat at my table and I had a deep conversations about politics and the economy. In Peru, a good percentage of the entire people I hung out with were Peruvian, as examples. In Thailand the only drinking invites I've had have been to "go to my bar" etc. Reasons for this are quite obvious, this area of Thailand is very much geared to tourism, and most of those Thai people who have bars also work on the tour boats. Just when I thought i'd had enough and it couldn't redeem itself we went on a boat trip to Maya Bay (The Beach from the Beach) and other islands, snorkelling, kayaking and jumping off the top deck. The staff were friendly and when we went swimming/kayaking would encourage each other to also jump off the boat and also get us involved. One guy did a backflip off the top of the boat which was impressive. At last, I had found it, Social interaction that goes beyond the "let me sell you something". Our boat had all of like 12 people on it which was great, the whole trip had only cost £6 in the first place. In contrast, a boat doing virtually the same tour (we would anchor next to it) was full of the "let's get drunk brigade" and to further cement this, the Brazillian twats from the full moon were on it. It was pretty packed and looked like a nightmare. However are trip was absolutely amazing from Kayaking around sheltered lagoons to snorkelling. In the evening half of our boat (the non couples it seems)had dinner in the other Irish place and got free shots. If everyday was like that, I could stay but as it was I was ready to move on. Another stop off night in Krabi and we went to Rai Leh.
Flying Welshman
Thai Dive

Boat Krew

Maya Bay

'The Beach'
Oh, further disillusionment and tales of stupidty I have forgotten to add. On the way to Koh Phi Phi a Belgian guy was telling anyone who would listen to his tale of woe from the boat trip from Koh Pha Ngan. In his own words "I left my bags three times to go to the toilet" -idiotic, guess that happened? Yeah he had 25,000 Baht (£500) stolen from his bag. Thinking that would be the end, how wrong were we. When you have stuff stolen you'd think people would learn, nope in the next hour he left his bag unattended at least 4 times. I almost stole from him just to teach him a lesson, but I figured he wouldn't get it. Later on the boat, he asked Welshie (bear in mind we hadn't actually spoken to him, just shared a taxi) a stranger, to look after his stuff. Now I could understand this stupidity had he been a fresh backpacker, like 18 years old on their first trip, but no he was at least mid-thirties.
Second tales of stupdity, this happened all of which in about 10 minutes apart. A guy in a dorm struggled to explain to his friend what initials were. Now firstly a) its pretty easy and b) who doesn't know what they are? In the second quick incident, a girl claimed to have spent £450 on injections, probably a pragmatic thing to do if your doctor says so, but NO who told her this? A fortune teller from Mali said "im worried you don't have enough vaccinations and might get ill". Now I'm immune to most travel things (lots of jabs) and i don't think I've spent anywhere near £450 in getting them all. Anyway, it's not really the cost that bothers, its the reasoning.

Moving on to brighter happier pastures, Rai Leh. This is a climbers paradise. Karsts jut out of the water right on the beach where you can climb from as well as creating amazing scenery. However not being a climber I had little reason to go here. In fact not being a climber or a diver I have little to do for activities... We sat on the beach and watched the climbers which was incredibly relaxing. I liked the people here, not only was it 5000 times less crowded here most people were here to climb rather than get drunk. Welshman helped fix a light fitting in a beach bar, I decided it was a too many cooks job and took my camera back to the bungalow. When I returned it was not working and my Maglite has also decided to break. Anyway for our (Welshs) hard work we were rewarded with a bamboo hit. The light eventually worked and we continued our beach bar pub crawl (hardly a crawl or excessive as there are only about four) and went to bed after I 'lost' the key only to find it again this morning.
Aon Ton Sai(Rai Lei)

Sun going down on Rai Leh

Climbing the Karst

Longtail Boat

I could have stayed in Rai Leh for a long time but fearing I would get bored and having just learnt I actually can rent a boat in Phuket (like the first place so far) I decided to ignore the fact Phuket is probably the worst of all the party places (so i've heard) - expensive etc etc the fact that I can sail has swung this so I am back in Krabi (for the 3rd time) to connect to Phuket. Things are looking up, Ko Lanta should be nice and relaxing for christmas and then it is off to Cambodia.
Photo's of Rai Leh now up and welsh is still feeling sick.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Return to Asia

So we arrived in to Bangkok after a simple flight and found the way to the hotel that was to be our home for five days. First off, Bangkok is huge, at one point we took a half an hour taxi and still were like only halfway across. It is of course, busy, interesting and a welcome re-introduction to the hustle and bustle that makes up Asian cities.  It reminds me of Mongkok(in Kowloon) but cheaper and grimier. Bangkok being what it is, the hub for entry into most of Southeast Asia; it is obviously full of westerners, the most I have seen in a concentrated place in Asia since Dali/Yangshuo.

We took some ill-advised tuk tuk tours and were harassed by the tailors who we visited so as our driver could get a free gas coupon, by the third time someone asked to do this we politely declined and gave the driver ten extra Baht (20p) which he seemed quite happy about(the tuk tuk had only cost 20 Baht in the first place). Anyway the point is we saw some temples, a large buddha and some other sites of life in Bangkok. Crossing the road is nigh on impossible, as is trying to drive a car around, which they still attempt to do.
Welshie in the Tuk Tuk

Elephant Flower

Khao San Road
We left the next day for a day trip to the Floating Market, the Bridge on the River Kwai (the one the film is about), Tiger Temple and a Cobra fight. These all interesting sights, ie a man wrestled a cobra and caught it with his teeth and I petted Tigers. However I was severely suffering from the early start and late night.
Floating Market

Fighting the Cobra

This looks like a good idea

As does this
Next day was the Kings birthday so we took a walk around the park where the celebrations were to be held and ate some fried bugs. In the evening we watched the fireworks and Welsh tried to set himself on fire by 'saving' a doomed chinese lantern that was headed for a crowd of people, he tells this story as if he is some kind of hero.
Celebrating the King

Preparing gifts

Deep Fried Bugs
WE spent the remaining time, trying out various massages. Namely a Thai massage (not as good as the tibetan one I had in Sichuan but better than Cuzco) and a fish spa, where little fish suck on your feet. Weird but enjoyable. Remaining activities were largely left to fighting the heat and drinking on Khao San road.

Im sure a lot more has happened but this is long enough already. Next time, Full moons and lunar eclipses, Island hopping and a growing disillusionment with travelling in Thailand....

Friday, 9 December 2011

A land down Under

So New Zealand over we slept in the airport with calamitous hilarity and retarded logic. We were told to move from departures as they close it overnight but we were "allowed" to sleep in arrivals but only in a 'designated' area and not on the chairs. The reasoning behind this was that when people arrive they didn't want to people to see people asleep in the airport which is fair enough, had we been hobos. Firstly, when I arrive in an airport at 3am I kind of epxect people to be asleep waiting for an early flight. Secondly the 'designated' sleep area was in arrivals, smack bang next to the exit so people ARE GOING TO SEE PEOPLE SLEEPING, which completely contradicts their whole reasoning in the first place and when we get to number 3, theres a whole termincal called departures where new arrivals won't see people sleeping which is totally EMPTY you retards. Anyway the sleep nazi's (people who walk around telling you you can't sleep where you are, we totally sassed them) disappeared or became chilled and we got some sleep on the bench and flew to Australia.

Australia is everything i thought it would be. Expensive, warm and a lot like england. However on the plus side, the girls are stunning. We went to the beach and it got cloudy, we saw Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera house before enjoying $3 dollar beers (£2.50 and about 5 dollars cheaper that everywhere else) going out was kinda dull and expensive. We said goodbye to stones and slept in the hostel movieroom discretely due to a 5am check-in and got the hell out to Asia. It's not to say I don't like Australia it's just expensive and too much like back home to really enjoy as a 'backpacker'. Anyway here are some photo's
3 dollar beer bar and Kevin(and the welshman)

Oz Flag in the harbour

I think you know this one

Kevin's movember effort

Sydney harbour bridge
SE Asia now. Laters.