Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Aahh. There is nothing more satisfying than picking at a scab. The large scab on the upper part of my right arm was the subject of much attention from the fingers on my left hand this morning. It is currently being fashioned into the shape of the two islands of Ko Samui and Ko Pah Ngan, but sadly there is still a land bridge between the two forcing the multifarious boat operators to lose much business.

My scab:

Intriguingly, the bit that might represent Hat Rin on my scab was the first bit I picked off. And that is where I am a now - the Ibiza of Thailand at the south-east tip of Ko Pa Ngan. This place is as touristy as it will get during my travels and I'm still not sure about the vibe. Although Thais are almost universally friendly, if you are to find an exception it is probably where they are constantly in contact with annoying Western holiday makers. So that's at customs in Bangkok International Airport where the singly most glum looking individual welcolmed me to the Land of Smiles and here, where a laundry woman directed some unknown rant towards me for indescernable reasons.

There is a stark contrast here to the laid-back feel of Hat Yao or, for that matter, most other parts of the coast. This is the place where the monthly full moon parties are staged, and the next one is this coming Sunday. I expect the town to fill steadily with holidaymakers during the intervening days. And holidaymakers is the correct word; although there are undoubtedly many travellers like me here, the mood is dominated by people on a two week jolly, and they are a very different type of animal. Expect loud music, drunken revelry, sports bars and bars playing dodgy copies of movies. Forinstance I watched a DVD replay of 'Love Acctually' complete with absurd attempts at English subtitles.

Don't get me wrong, Hat Rin is still a fun place to visit, but you need to be of a certain persuasion socially. A dreadlocked traveller I met last week advised me Hat Rin was "a shithole" whilst the three Glaswegian Celtic supporters baring their stripey football tops seemed to love the place. I am somewhere in between. Sitting on the beach sampling a Bucket (hip flask-sized bottle of whiskey plus eastern-style Red Bull emptied into a bucket for 160 bhat) watching locals speedily manipulating blazing sticks and having people approach you hoping you will pay to have a monkey sit on your lap or to stroke an eagle etc etc is okay. But I still prefered finding a bar in Hat Yao built like a treehouse and chatting to all comers from around the globe.

Two different experiences; one island. And a bloody terrible road connecting the two.

Friday, March 26, 2004

They call the phenomena a Ko Pah Ngan Tattoo. Mopeds are the most efficient way to see this beautiful island and when you fall off one the scrape you get leaves quite a scar. And that's what I've got. Perhaps unsuprisingly then, I'd advise against hiring one of these mopeds - the roads here are atrocious and anyone not experienced will surely have a dangerous and hair-raising experience. Even my friend Rob, who rides a 600cc road bike in Blighty, had a minor accident.

At least the locals here are ridiculously friendly. Everyone who came past stopped and offered assistance. A local boat owner gave me a lift on the back of his moped to a clinic where I had some treatment administered. I should think myself lucky though - in hindsight I have been hearing numerous horror stories from others about accidents where peoples faces have been permanently damaged - and I'm told that 12 farang have been killed here on the roads since January... The local who kindly transported me to the clinic told me that he used to hire out bikes but after seeing the injuries they cause and then having to charge the victims for the bike damage on top of their doctors bills he gave it up.

Not many people wear helmets here, and there are many children who ride motorcyles as well. Naturally they are competent as hell. Bloody typical.

So I'm sporting a few bandages and experiencing a bit of pain. Which is both bad and good. Bad you probably know about; good is I've met more people in the hours after treatment than in the entire period I have been out here. In fact I've met countless people thanks to some white bandages on my right arm and hand. It's great.

I've moved from my original resort of Hat Yao on the North West side of the island to the busy tourist trap that is Hat Rin on the opposite corner. Not really my cup of tea to be honest but still fun. Hat Yao was great in that it was beautiful and fairly small. We got to know people and continued to meet them at bars all week. Definitely to be recommended. We stayed at a place called Long Beach - probably the most picturesque location on the beach and although the younger staff were great fun, their was an underlying atmosphere I didn't like. No enough to ruin the spirit, but the way we were bundled off after we checked out was unnecessary. If I were to go back I would try somewhere else - and I would consider going back to that beach.

Monday, March 22, 2004

So I'm here now in the beautiful tropical island paradise of Ko Pa Ngan. It is a semi-developed island just north of the much bigger and more touristy resort of Ko Samui in the Gulf of Thailand. But things are are changing. Three days ago a mobile phone mast was erected here in the resort of Hat Yao and work is already underway to complete the island's first airport. So one might imagine things to change quite a bit over the next few months - in fact the bar owner I talked to has told me that the beach I am on has transformed in the last eight months alone. It seems that every generation of traveller who then returns to the island believes that their time was the best and "it'll never be the same". Probably true, but not a reason to avoid the place. Everywhere you look might be the view you would get on the front of a postcard.

Stray dogs wander the edges of the islands. At first you might think they belong to the various establishments, but the owners seems to just attach themselves to a few. The owners of our hut call the local dog Willow and probably feed it to stop the thing from pestering the tourists. Actually the dogs seems tame and are very friendly - they also seem clean. Anything else would be off putting to the hundreds of people who populate the beaches looking for tans. A dreadlocked bar owner called Marty I spoke to has two dogs who follow him around called Black Dog and Brown Dog whom he feeds. THe dogs don't approach tourists but don't mind bing petted. There is only one bitch in this resort and it apparently used to get gang raped by the other males until Marty got the dogs splayed. The dogs rule though. Sniff stuff. Walk around a bit. Eat some stuff it finds. Wander down the beach with tongue hanging out. Sit in shade. Eat something unknown. Sniff plant.

Just like a real tourist.


This is a place at which to do nothing. However it is also the place at which to party. And all that is on the other side of the island from where we are at now. We will certainly poke our heads round to have a look at that.

From Thailand, bye for now.

Photo reproduced from Helges website

Saturday, March 20, 2004

I landed in Bangkok airport, negotiated my way through customs, waded through the army of taxi touts, rushed past the barrier of air conditioned doorways and I was bathed in the crush of the Bangkok heat. And my body did sag.

I found a taxi and watched the amazing street scenes rush impercetibly slowly past my window. I have been here for four days now. Bangkok is a city where the everyday business of the people is conducted on the street rather inside emotionless buildings in London where the outside is used only as a means to reaching another destination. There are so many taxis here they defeat themselves. Bangkok is one big traffic jam - even in the early hours you can find yourself trying to ask an uncomprehending taxi driver about football whilst waiting in motionless traffic. This is done thusly: "You like football?" *smiles back* "Football?" *smile* "Theirry Henry? Owen?" *smile* "Manchester United? Arsenal?" *smile*

On the sides of the streets can be found tuk tuk (three wheeled motorbike taxis) drivers half asleep only arousing to wave at Farang (westerners) and ask if they want a ride. Alongside these are street traders, food stalls (cheap and yummy), and at least one random activity at least every twenty yards. It is definitely like nothin else I've seen. Walk for ten minutes as a westerner and you will be guaranteed to have had at least thiry or fourty people conversing with you in some way. Usually it is to tout you on behalf of some business, but sometimes it is just friendliness.

tuk tuk, fruit stall, and gubbins. A typical picture of Bangkok

It is often all too easy to forget just how cheap everything is for someone from London. haggling is expected. I just bought a cool looking vest and haggled 20 bhat off the price down to 200. 20 bhat is probably about 35 pence. It is nothing to me and means more to the trader, but is really is expected and earns you more respect. For this reason, I would not haggle aggressively or for too much, but do it with a smile, say thank you (kawp Kun Kha to women, kawp kun khrap to men) and you will be treated greatly. They've probably asked you, a Farang, a higher price anyway. To give an idea of the cheapness, bottled water is 5 bhat (about 7p)!

But the heat, traffic, sheer persistence of locals approaching tourists and noise makes Bangkok a city which becomes too much for more than a few days. The trick is not to attempt to cram everything you can see into your stay. Relax, spend some time away from the sightseeing for a while, and you will make it a much better experience.

And air conditioning. Find some air conditioning.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

So this is probably my last post before I fly off. The next time you hear from me I will be in South East Asia and most likely at an Internet Cafe. Tonight I am doing my leaving drinkies thing with my mates. Desperately hoping the estimate of twenty to thirty people that the good people at the pub asked for does not become an embarassing over-estimation as a mere seven or eight friends turn up.

Bah. Sure it'll be alright.

Anyway, this is a flying visit. Perhaps I'll pop my head round the door before my departure. I can tell that all this preperation gubbins is getting boring by now so I'll probably only be back with some fascinating and informative titbit or two from another part of the world...

Monday, March 08, 2004

It is strange but with eight days to go until I jet off to South East Asia for several months or more I feel no sense of excitement, nervousness or intrigue. In fact I feel strangely empty about it. I was more energized during the build up to a weekend in Dublin. It is a strange phenomenon and I am struggling to understand it. Don't get me wrong; although I am not emotionally excited, I am logically excited. Perhaps I have realised that this event will be a long haul and my mood throughout will thus be a temperate rather than an excited one. Although I think it is an unlikely explanation.

More probably I am thoroughly bored with the marathon preparations I have had to undergo. Tomorrow I have to travel to my local surgery to get yet another injection. Meanwhile advice on what I should take with me has continued to be coming my way mixed heartily with the usual dispensed guidance regarding the need to travel light. Most recent has been that I can become a popular and necessary friend to fellow travellers if I was to stock some hair-clippers amongst my belongings. Probably good advice, but the list seems to be getting a bit lengthy and superfluous.

I had written what I thought was a comprehensive list of things to bring more than three months ago. Since than I have been slowly accumulating the necessary goods. Things like a penknife, bath plug, pairs of shorts, torch and so on. When I wrote it, I was planning to travel alone and only I expected to see it. Sadly since then, others have espied the list.

When you write a thing exclusively for your own eyes my friends, you write things that others may not understand, and you write without need for style or flourish. So it says something about me that two of the things I wrote were thus:

"Approx $100 US currency to stash upon my person", and:

"Sarong (wussy yes, but all advise is to take one)".

That I should use the words "upon my person" is bad enough and its existence has caused some limited mirth for my friends. But I feel the use of brackets within which I have written a justification to what could perhaps be a kind of omniscient god of all writing is particularly embarrassing. Why did I not just simply list the word sarong and leave it at that? Perhaps had I written the list for someone else it would have been absolutely fine, but to write it to myself? Did I not have confidence in myself to buy the product?

Ironically the existence of this episode has caused me such pain that I have not even dared to enter a shop with the intention of looking at sarongs. In fact I haven't even discovered where I might purchase such an item. So I will depart without a sarong. And I will depart without an emergency stash of US currency. Although I think I might still try to acquire some.

Random pic of travellers in sarongs...
...and they look like twats.

The importance of these things is fairly clear. The currency is a useful tool, as all peoples will accept it - so it could be vital in an emergency. The sarong is a common piece of clothing in S.E. Asia and a useful beach item that can be lied upon, used as a simple blanket, and converted to a kind of towel. I will pick one up in a Bangkok street market.

The other probable reason I am feeling strangely unexcited by my imminent adventure is that I am in the process of listing to myself what I will miss. For instance, I watched the first race of the 2004 Grand Prix season this weekend. And although it was probably the single most boring motor race I have ever witnessed in my entire life, I felt sorry that I would most likely miss the remainder of the season. Sad I know. And I am happy to see there will be a new series of Black Books, but sad that I will miss it. Pathetic. Obviously I will mss my friends and family as well...

Actually though I have been spending most of the last weeks silently telling myself what I cannot wait to leave behind. My local train line Thameslink is high up on the list of things I am looking forward to leaving behind. And so are the British equivalents of red necks. The names given to this group of fucks differ. Be it townies, rat kids, scallies or as this wonderful website calls them, chav scum. Regardless, they can be identified by the same common signs: tracksuit bottoms, baseball caps, stupid looking jewellery, getting massively drunk every weekend and antagonising their neighbourhood - I don't need to list all the things: look at the site. I can't wait to leave these annoying fucks behind me.

I'm currently reading Bill Hicks' "Love All The People", a brilliant collection of the late comic's routines, letters and other things. And since we are on an international theme, I thought I'd detail his quick capsule view on nationalism. It's a view I can find no fault with. Go buy this book I urge you:

"I was over in Australia and I was asked, 'Are you proud to be an American,' and I was like, 'I don't know. I didn't have a lot to do with it, you know. My parents fucked there, that's about all. You know, I was in the spirit realm at the time. "Fuck in Paris! Fuck in Paris!" but they couldn't hear me, cos I didn't have a mouth. I was a spirit without lungs or a mouth or vocal cords. They fucked here. OK, I'm proud. I hate patriotism. I can't stand it, man. Makes me fucking sick. It's a round world last time I checked, OK? You know what I mean? I hate patriotism. In fact, that's how we could stop patriotism, I think. Instead of putting stars and stripes on our flags, we should put pictures of our parents fucking. Gather people around that flag and see your dad hunched over your mom's big four-by-four butt. See if any boot rally mentality can circle round that little fucking image."


Hmm, I fear every time I want to make a point in future the temptation will be to reproduce a section of Mr Hicks own mastermind philosophy.

Must avoid.

Friday, March 05, 2004

It will soon be upon me. Tuesday the 16th will be the day I fly over to South East Asia. And so today marks the beginning of the online bit of it all, as I might as well get all the crap I have to do out the way now and start talking about my imminent departure a bit more.

Many of the places I will be visiting will not have good Internet access. In fact many will have none at all. In fact I'll be mightily disappointed if I visit some authenticly local region and I find it full of foreign visitors on computers writing their weblogs. But occassionally I will come to an internet cafe and I hope to pen some words to anyone who wishes to read my probably unimportant observations. The problem I foresee is that some may find what I say offensive or insulting. I hope not, firstly because I hope I find nothing to complain about. Secondly 'cos I don't want to turn into this twat. Actually I dithered over whether he deserved my link seeing as it might give him the satisfaction of extra vistors, so I ask you to leave a nasty message on his guestbook should you become one.

My plans are thus: travel out to Bangkok where I meet my mates Rob and Ben. Rob will be with me for two months, Ben for two weeks (poor). Piss around Thailand for a bit, go to an island beach; see Phucket (pronounced "Poo-get" I'll have you know); travel up to Chang Mai perhaps if we're up to it. Then in mid April it's over to Cambodia to meet my mate known in the comments bit as Phantom Mencap. Then fuck about the place till my money's run out making sure I don't miss any of the football enroute.

Oh yes the European Championships. Don't get me wrong, I'm not travelling just to go on a year-long bender, but I will be taking in this festival of football. And Lake Toba is a place that has been recommended to me... It's a lake nestling in the crater of an extinct volcano in Sumatra and a good place to watch footy tournaments. Don't know why, looks like a good place full stop.

Lake Toba.

There are three or four other friends I hope to meet up with and tens more I hope to create whilst there. Which is admittedly not very exciting for you. But hey, maybe you'll be lucky and I'll have an absolute nightmare of an experience. In which case all those annoying early entries braying about how great it all is will become much more enjoyable as material to look back upon when you are basking in my misery.

Finally, my mate Tom has set up his own weblog: visit the dataphage blog regularly to see if he updates or joins the many blogs that end up like the majority of gym subscriptions that start in January... To this day I still don't know how I've not joined that mass - on many occasions it's been truly close.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Been a bit slack this week, mainly due to a trip to Bristol where I ate crocodile. Tastes a bit like cod. Which is a bit shit really, as cod is many times cheaper. Still, it would be a shame if it tasted so good these ancient creatures were hunted to extinction for food.

And that's it. That's all I have to say, as this is a flying visit to the Internet today. Poor really.

Stairway to Heaven backwards.