If you haven't been sick for a long long time, say more than 10 years, doing so is a mixture of sweaty discomfort and utter wonder. It is of course unpleasant, but the volume, speed of exit, colour and smell are all fascinating. How can my normally well behaved body do such a thing? To do so whilst experiencing moderate turbulence, wedged into a loo of a Boeing 777 adds a not overly welcome twist to this very odd experience.
And so, phase 2 of the holiday started, shivering and sweating as I closed on Bangkok at 600mph.
My next 24 hours were spent lying in a nice room in the Oriental Residence on Wireless Road, experiencing my body shutting down to the point that I didn't have the energy to lift my mobile lying next to my hand to read texts, or to drink the water sitting next to the bed, then slowly coming back to life, so that by about 1am I could move my arms and legs and everything. Nurse Jodie was at her best. After not seeing her charming husband for over a week, she looked at me in the way she would view a snot and food encrusted child, gave a curt hello then went to drink cheap wine until 2am with the rest of the gang, returning to sleep on the sofa. Neither of us saw the fireworks and both of us felt rough the next day.
The gang that assembled were Bridge, currently living in Tunis, Liz from London (both of whom Jodie had served with), Helen and Nikki from Brisbane and Carolyn, David and Wendy from Sydney. J had known all for various lengths of time (up to 24 years) and most knew some of the others but it can be a worry that the team may not bond. We bonded quickly through our common interest in all things boozy.
We spent a reasonably subdued 1st Jan in Bangkok due to a 3.30am start on the 2nd to catch a 6am flight to Ranong on the border with Myanmar. The traffic can be really bad in Bangkok and taxi drivers rarely get to drive at any sensible speed. When the roads are clear, a sensible speed seems to be about 140kmh so we got to the very efficient and well managed domestic airport in record time.
We were all off to sail in the Mergui Archipelago, a collection of 800 islands off the south west coast Myanmar.
The area is just opening up to tourism and there is a trade-off here. You get of lovely unspoiled area but you don't get a refined tourist experience. In previous blogs I have stated that travel is getting blander as the world becomes more homogenous. The domestic airport with its McDonalds and Starbucks was a great example of this but our destination, Ranong, showed it can still be fascinating. The modern and efficient Nok Airlines dropped us off at a very basic airport, we were transported in a minibus designed for fewer people and bags than were in it, to the only full service hotel in town, a rather soulless place that had a pool as its main attraction, where we waited for 4 hours for the transfer to the boat, drinking beer and sleeping by the pool.
The same minivan returned later to pick us up and take us to a structure rather like a old corrugated iron shed on the edge of town which had a large entrance on one side and was completely open on the side that adjoined the busy river. It was set in a area full of noise, motorbikes, people and shops that sold everything, and it was Thai immigration.
Despite apparent mayhem we were met by Eric from Burma Boating, who talked us through the process of getting out of Thailand, on to a long thin wooden boat, known as a longtail, that has a car engine mounted on a pivot and a propeller mounted at the end of a long axle, which then buzzed us, in sea that seemed about as big as the boat could safely handle, over the bay to Myanmar.
Burma Boating didn't cover themselves in glory for the next 5 or so hours. On the upside we were met by a very pleasant and helpful Janice who plonked us in a bar that served nice cold beer where we met up with Nikki and Helen to sit watching the world and it's monks go by. On the downside, the boat was late, the tender transfer disorganized and we were unable to get away that night, instead staying anchored off a rather bland port.
The boat itself, 'Capricorn' is a corker. Dark wood decks, dark blue hull, loads of space to lounge in and it's bloody massive. Besides the 9 of us were a skipper, 2 crew, a local guide, a great cook and a lovely lady who makes sure we have enough G&T, beer etc as well as keeping our cabins clean. We are very pampered and privileged.
I am content we will be ok for booze. We all brought some duty free booze so have about 7L of gin, 2L of vodka, 2L of whiskey, and 1 of Kalua (after 2 hours in the bar and hearing there was a coffee machine onboard we decided we needed the ingredients of expresso martini). I am hoping that this is too much for 9 people for 5 days (over and above the wine and beer we will drink). If it's not, we have issues.
The experience of sailing through deserted islands, stopping off to snorkel over lovely coral or walk along empty beaches with white sand as fine as talcum powder can be summed up by an exchange with Bridget. I asked 'Happy?'. 'Yes. If I wasn't I'd be a funking weirdo'.
It is a truly beautiful area. The islands have lush green jungle, white sand beaches, turquoise sea and are mostly deserted. Snorkeling exposes swimmers to coral teaming with fish and other creatures: Clown Fish (aka Nemo), Puffa-fish, Angel Fish and many many others with beautiful neon coloring. There are plenty of fishing boats that are most active at night but the odd putt putt of their engines is calming rather than disturbing. The few settlements seem to be small villages where the government has settled sea gypsies so that the children can go to school and the adults can devote much of their meagre earnings to building a temple and monastery that are far nicer than anything they will ever live in. Once again, well done religion for adding so much value to everybody's lives. Well the Monks lives at least.
It's not perfect though, and like anywhere in this part of the world, plastic rubbish is a huge issue. Every beach is topped by a line of bottles, bags, flip-flops, containers and other plastic s***. A lot of the coral is also dead or dying. It's very sad to see just how much we are managing to f*** up even the remotest parts of our home.
It would be almost impossible to have a bad holiday here and Burma Boating have done well in many respects. The crew are nice and as it's the first time here for many of them, they are as excited as we are. The food is excellent and Chi Chi & Lorna could not do more to look after us. But the boat needs some TLC (shower doors don't shut, showers don't drain properly, aircon makes more noise than cold air), there was no safety brief and basic safety equipment for Man Overboard actions is not evident (we are nearly all sailors so found that very odd), the crew smoke upwind, they are not well organised (they thought we were going back one day earlier) and the guide speaks very basic English. These are all first world problems but it is not a cheap trip and once there is viable competition in the area, they may struggle.
I would strongly recommend coming here though, and doing so soon. When J and I decided to come to Myanmar for Christmas 2014 there were about 400k visitors each year. By the time we got there, in 2014, there were 1m tourists. In 2015, 4m people came..........Whilst few come to the archipelago, they are bound to soon and it will be harder and harder to feel like intrepid explorers.