I hate to inform you all folks but this is the last official blog as the trip comes to a final round up in Thailand.
We got up early in Penang for our long trip across the border from Malaysia into Thailand. It took a few hours to reach our border crossing point, which we got to in our cramped minivan. It was a funny old journey as half the bags flew out the back of the van door because our driver had failed to shut it properly. What sounded like an engine backfiring happened to be someone's suitcase crashing to the floor, with the motorist behind us narrowly missing all the rucksacks strewn across the roads. Don't worry - both our bags remained in the vehicle and any gifts acquired lived to make it back to Blighty in one piece as opposed to a thousand!
We reached the border intact with a load of security guards waving at our vehicle - as our guide regularly passes the border, she knows a lot of the border patrol staff, so we thankfully passed through without any issues. Although, when we reached the window of one of the officials there was an example of how to fill out your immigration card with none other than Steven Gerrard's name on it. Smole being the bigger football fan thought he had stepped where the legend had. The guard pointed out that this was an example and that Stevie G had not actually given up his immigration card for the benefit of other tourists!
Once we passed the border we stopped for lunch. Thai curry was on the menu and it was nice but our mouths were suffering from the vast amount of chilli in the dishes! We soon learnt that this is the norm unless you say 'mai pet', which translates to something along the lines of 'not very spicy please, I'm British'. Ok, I made the last bit up but you get the drift! Our driver attempted to show off and demonstrate how manly he was - it all went well until he bit on a chilli then tears streamed down his face! Serves the arrogant git right if you ask me! On many occasions we walked past food stands and our eyes watered from the fried chillis being cooked nearby - seriously strong stuff! Another 3 or 4 hours later we made it to Nakhon Si Thammarat after watching both Finding Nemo and The Beach to ease our boredom and discomfort on the journey.
We wandered around the local mall before we went to see a light show in the town later that evening. We got a pimped-up taxi, which was effectively a trailer with a roof over it. It was quite a nice ride as you got a welcome breeze and there was even a bit of padding on the seats. Although the show was narrated in Thai it was still very enjoyable. We sat around tables on the floor, eating and drinking while the locals danced around in traditional clothes and entertained. I found the best bit to be when they released around 30 flame-lit paper balloons into the sky. These are very traditional in the area and lit up the night sky magnificently - actually looking like gleaming stars once they gained enough height.
We crossed the street to where there were market stalls selling food and drink, while a stage hosted local bands and musicians, most of whom were really entertaining. After a while loads of locals were present to watch and they all loved it. They also had a good stare at us. They must have noticed we weren't from round those parts I guess. As I proceeded to the toilet I noticed Jimbo and Louise having a bit of a snog. This was nothing out of the ordinary to us Brits, but it is extremely offensive to be affectionate in public. I noticed many middle aged Thai women looking furious at the couple and I laughed all the way back to my seat! It later turned out that one woman actually hit Louise in order to try and stop them! (Jim: I think the woman was jealous it wasn't her). I wish I'd seen that!
The next day we made our way to Donsak Pier for our 90 minute ferry trip to Koh Samui. This part of the Asian leg was my personal favourite as it was an opportunity to relax and unwind over 3 days. Our accommodation was also one of the best places we had stayed for our entire trip. We had a brief tour of town near our hotel, but really we just wanted to eat and then get to the beach. And that's exactly what we did. After a really nice green curry, of which Jimbo later became a bit of a conoisseur, most of us headed down the beach, where we remained for the rest of the afternoon. I jumped straight in the sea to wash the sweat off me while the others worked on their tans. I don't know why Jimbo needed to work on his tan as he's already pretty dark. This reminds me that he has been mistaken for all sorts of nationalities over the trip including: Brazilian, Argentinean, Kiwi, American and even Israeli if I remember! There were many more I'm sure. I think I was once mistaken for being Irish or Scottish due to my amazing accents that I had perfected with some friends from those mentioned countries, but nothing exotic cropped up. The number of times we've been asked if we were brothers was also ridiculous, the answer to which was always along the lines of "me, related to that burk? No way!" from both parties.
We spent our next day touring the nearby islands by speed boat, which was amazing fun. Funnily enough I didn't feel sick, but had done on one of the slower boats in Australia - I know I'm a weirdo! We got off at one island and wandered up the steep steps to a beautiful view point that overlooked the nearby islands and a crystal clear lagoon. After a brief swim in the water we got back on the cramped boat and made our way over to another larger island. It was here that we partnered up and went kayaking around one of the nearby islands for half an hour. It could have gone better for me as I was partnered with Kirsten, who was German and could speak w*** all English.
Basically, the guys were supposed to sit at the back and be in charge of steering the boats, while the girls just paddled. Piece of cake you say? Yeah right! Kirsten understood none of the instructions and therefore tried steering the boat when it was down to me. She also didn't grasp the fact that if you hit the paddle on one side of the boat then it will veer in the opposite direction. So here we had me steering in the correct fashion with this German trying to steer as well but in the wrong sodding direction! I tried to explain but she didn't get it so I just gave up as we ploughed into a Russian couple's boat! I wouldn't have been surprised if we never made it back to shore - needless to say we were one of the last back! We then had an awesome lunch, followed by a coconut on the beach, which thankfully put my mind off killing Kirsten! Again more swimming followed to allow us to cool off. The boat then took us past some animal shaped rocks, which me and Jimbo argued over what we could see - we had been travlleing together for the best part of 5 months so we could easily argue about anything by this point! We soon made it back to the shore in one piece and made our way back to the hotel.
That night we went over to another more lively side of town to witness a ladyboy show. The doctor says the nightmares should go eventually but couldn't be more specific than that sadly! We were the first to arrive at this bar, where a stage was ready for our performers that evening. Here you could order cocktails as you watched the show in shock and awe. I was tempted by the cocktail entitled ladyboy, but didn't dare ask for one in case they plonked the real deal on the table in front of me!
The show was soon underway with lots of singing and dancing performances from these umm.......people. It was safe to say that all the performers were male in some shape or form, but you really couldn't be that sure with some of them as they looked genuinely feminine. None of us were prepared to find out one way or the other mind! Midway through the show our host stopped the dancing in order to get some audience volunteers up for a chat. Guess who got picked?! Much to our entertainment it was Jimbo!! He took about 5 minutes to get out of his seat as he was clinging to Louise's arm for dear life! He was eventually persuaded and made his way to the stage for a little chat. He disclosed his name and who he was out with but didn't really go too in depth for some reason! There was another chap who was upstage with Jimbo and he also got a few questions and returned to his seat. Jimbo wasn't so lucky! I think it may have been that he took a little longer to get on the stage and the ladyboys were going to exploit that! They certainly did, as Jimbo was dragged backstage and returned 5 minutes later completely topless with lipstick all over his face and torso. I thought the marks were applied by hand, but unfortunately for Jimbo there was no such luck! He got a free drink to numb the pain and returned to his seat, where we were waiting to ridicule him.
The show continued with more dancing and singing. The cabaret ended a half hour later with the announcement that the show had ended but that they were going to have a final half hour of audience participation! I have never seen men run so fast before, except perhaps Usain Bolt! Sadly for us we were in our tour group and the girls wanted to see what the final part had in store - I'll never forgive them! Of course with a rapid depletion of men in the audience I wasn't rating my chances! Low and behold me and fellow Intrepid traveller Eugene were soon beckoned. I learnt from Smole and went up straight away in a hope that they would go easier on me - no such luck! 3 of us were lead backstage into the ladyboys' den for our 'transformation'. I started by saying 'great show guys.......girls'........awkward pause! You get the idea of the awkwardness! It was pretty weird as most of the performers were changing or not wearing much clothing and had their breasts on show. Most men would leap at a chance to go backstage at a cabaret show, provided the performers didn't have a hidden package concealed! I became more alarmed when one of these ladyboys started to take a shine to me saying how it loved a tall man! This ladyboy then attempted to help me remove my trousers - my whole life flashed before me in that moment. (Jim: He later informed me that he loved this experience).
It turned out that they wanted me to don a dress and wig and dance with them on stage. I quickly put on the dress and wig and was out the door before my admirer could mentally scar me any further. We all had a quick chat with our manly looking host, who learned I was single. I was offered a chance to change that but respectfully passed on that offer. We then got to dance with a ladyboy each - (nothing dodgy thank god) and return to get changed. I have never changed so fast in my life, said goodbye and ran out the door. I necked my free drink and we were on our merry way out the building. As we were leaving one ladyboy asked me if I had anything for it, to which I said no. The ladyboy in question then stormed off in a dramatic huff, which was quite funny. No women should be approached in Thailand unless you are certain by the way gents - we've heard stories of some blokes getting a nasty surprise from their new found loves!
Our final day in Koh Samui was a relaxing one, where we could do what we pleased. While Jimbo and Louise went off to see grandma and grandpa rocks (rudely shaped rocks basically!) I opted to swim in the pool and try to forget the occurrences of the previous night. We also got a Thai massage, which was really relaxing. There were a few uncomfortable positions that I didn't think possible of my body, but on the whole it was really relaxing.
We headed back through town, where Jimbo was after a beard trim. He soon found one but had a panic attack after sitting in the chair and discovering the barber was another ladyboy! He loved being touched by a ladyboy so much he almost asked for a haircut too! It can be quite hard to spot a ladyboy unless close up, and even then that technique might not work. I spent some time in an internet cafe, where some little 3-year-old kid turned my pc off while in mid use. I looked down at the little w*** where he proceeded to smile and run off! Our final night was spent consuming buckets of whiskey and coke, whilst watching a Thai band do covers of classic rock and metal songs which was a great way to end our time in Koh Samui.
The next day we got the ferry back to the mainland to make our way to the train station. Eugene left his passport in the safety box of the hotel and thankfully got it back after some quick thinking from our guide. We once again had an amazing curry for tea and then saw some of the local night market. We later boarded our night train that was to take us in to Bangkok. The train carriage was not very spacious with roughly 40 or so beds in each carriage - both a lower and top bunk. After storing our bags safely and trying out the beds - I found my bed to be too narrow and I'm not exactly what you would call fat so there wasn't much space. We made our way to the food carriage, which wasn't the cleanest! We played cards on the table but the table cloth and table made the cards very sticky afterwards. I lost a couple of times - no thanks to some Thai copper sitting behind me and telling my opponents what cards I had! It was quite a funny experience. We then all went to bed to sleep. I woke every hour so it wasn't too comfortable. We were awoken by people chanting up and down the corridor, trying to sell us breakfast items. My curtain was slightly ajar with this moustached man peering in, which isn't what you want first thing in the morning! We made it into Bangkok that morning and had a nice breakfast before our city tour with Mr B.
Mr B was a very friendly chap - a little too friendly if you ask me and Smole! He kept patting us, which after a while was rather unnerving! We started our day by catching a khlong boat up the river to Wat Po temple. The water was filthy and kept splashing over the sides so we were careful to keep our mouths and eyes shut! Along the way we were greeted by a boat selling tourist items - this little lady just pulled up alongside our boat and tried selling us souvenirs and postcards, which was pretty random on this dirty river. We soon got away and headed further up the river, passing many houses and huts along the river bank. Many of the houses use the river as their way of making cash - they would sell things from the backs of their houses to both locals and tourists. I can only say it must be a nightmare when it floods! We passed a few monitor lizards en route, which are large w***s that you definitely wouldn't want to swim with! Before reaching the temple we stopped to feed an army of cat fish. Their favourite meal that we dished up was bread that you could buy from the river side. These large whiskered fish would splash up and gobble down the bread, which was a pretty fascinating spectacle. The temple itself was spectacular with many large golden Buddhas, one happened to be reclining and take up the entire width and length of this enormous building. There were many of these Buddhas as temples are obviously great places of worship.
We saw hundreds of people that turned up to pay respects or pray to their gods. As religion isn't as important to many of us back in England it was a pleasant experience to see many people showing respect and belief to their own religions. Me and Smole even joined in and paid to light a candle and scented sticks, which would allow us to make a wish or prayer. I could tell you what I prayed for but I would have to kill you! Some of the group were tired and went back, while me, Smole and Eugene wanted to check out the Grand Palace. We got a bit alarmed when Mr B was taking us the rest of the way alone! Luckily we made it without anymore touching or inappropriateness. It was a spectacle to behold. Everywhere you looked you could see beautiful statues and buildings covered in gold and bright colours. The scale of the place is also massive and you could quite easily have spent a day looking at the intricacy of the designs in both the many temples or the palace buildings. The rest of the afternoon was free and spent relaxing by the pool-side and exploring the famous markets down Khaosan Road. The final night we all had a pleasant meal, well almost all of us! Jimbo made an enemy out of waiter. When asking for his 'mai pet' meal the waiter replied "It is impossible sir. You cannot get a curry completely free of spice!" I could see the guys point - curries are meant to be served with a bit of whoompf. But I could also see Jimbo's point as curries in Thailand could kill most British if they weren't careful! So all night Jimbo was giving the evil eye to the waiter, which made me chuckle.
Well there were only a few days remaining for myself in the end. We were due to stay for an extra couple of weeks, but for reasons I shan't go in to I left Bangkok a few days after our tour and left Jimbo to fend for himself for 2 weeks - amazingly he made it back in one piece and didn't lose anything of too much value! I shall leave the last section for Jimbo to tell us all his stories of his last weeks in Koh Phangan and other parts of Thailand - I've heard many so look forward to that folks!
Well my memories in Bangkok were fond one as we spent a lot of time searching for and buying gifts from market vendors. It was always a good laugh as you got to put your bartering skills into play. I must say the more we bartered the more fun it became and the more of a bargain you could generally get. One guy I fondly remember was an Indian shop owner who likened me to Peter Crouch! It wasn't for my football skills but a more obvious reason, which I'm sure you can all figure out! You try to knock the price down as well as you can - normally the owner says "My friend I cannot do that - I need to make a living!" Most of the time they are willing to try to work out a price, whereas some people are miserable sods!
We left this guy's shop one night before we sorted a price as Louise had spotted a rat in the shop and ran out screaming! We came back the next day, unsure if we had the right place as these shops are all quite similar. After asking if we had the right place, a voice suddenly appeared from nowhere....."Peter Crouch my friend!" We had certainly got the right place alright! The other shop assistant was telling me that my offer was too low as the product was handmade. I asked him if he made it or if he knew the maker. He replied "someone". To me that didn't do him any favours and backed up my belief that the product was a factory-made mass produced item. I'm not describing the item as the person who has it may well be reading this and I don't want to spoil the grand illusion I produced for them!
One other thing we did before leaving was to take a tuk tuk ride to have an exploration of another region of the city. Although pricier than a taxi and a little less roomy, the ride was a must do experience, which was a great laugh. We wandered a large shopping mall and then eventually got into a cinema. I got cheese popcorn, which was brilliant and meant I didn't have to share it either! We watched The Proposal, which was enjoyable. Me and Jimbo even posed in the cardboard cut out of the film afterward, which was nothing short of hilarious. We could have got VIP cinema, where you get reclining and extremely comfortable seats and more of a welcome, but the prices would have resembled UK prices so we declined. We did find it strange that the opening credits had a video bigging up the King of Thailand. During this short clip, everyone had to stand - Jimbo thought that everyone simultaneously realised they were in the wrong room and stood up to leave, so he copied them for that reason! The film was excellent and Jimbo this time left his brand new cap (which I got for his birthday I might add!) in the cinema. It wouldn't have been the worst item he'd lost on the trip, but 5 or so months in you think he might have learned!
I caught a taxi alone to the airport, which nearly left me behind as I was saying goodbye to my farewell party (more than just Jimbo I will add!) and waited for a delayed plane and extremely long immigration queue before I boarded a BA flight back to Blighty. I could honestly not see anything of London as we landed due to clouds, so I definitely got on the right flight! I was amazed it wasn't raining though! And that is mine and Smole's/Peach's/Jimbo's journey, or most of the best bits anyways! I hope you have all enjoyed the stories. I know I will have many fond memories that will last me a lifetime. I leave you now with Jimbo for his final 2 weeks alone in Thailand. I think most of the time he spent sobbing as I'd gone but you never know!
Thanks for reading.
So, Lloyd finally w***ed off and left me to my own devices. At last!
It was very strange when he left as travelling for five and a half months with one person and then having to travel alone for a few weeks was a whole different story. But I managed to stay alive so all is good.
I hung out with Louise for a few days after Lloyd left and then when she departed I changed my deodorant in fear of scaring any other people out of the country! It was after this that I met up with James, from Maidenhead in the UK, who me and Lloyd met way back on our Whitsundays boat trip in Australia.
I proceeded to spend the next two weeks with him and two of his mates - Warren and Tom. Warren had just come over for the week so me and James met up with him and then booked ourselves into a very nice three-bedded room in a hostel on the Khaosan Road, which had a swimming pool on top - lovely!
That night we went to check out some Muy Thai boxing in Bangkok, which was an experience. We witnessed a number of bouts which were pretty brutal and even had our picture taken with one of the champs. We had wagers with each other on which one was going to win each fight to keep it interesting. I lost a few Thai Baht on that!
The next night we went to check out a ping pong show. If you haven't heard what goes on at these then I suggest you Google it, but not if you are at work or on a work's computer, because I am not explaining it here. It was a very interesting occasion with ping pong balls flying all over the place, balloons being popped and darts being fired out of various destinations. Let's just say it was an experience. And I am glad I am not a woman, especially one with that job!
But Warren's main reason for coming over to Thailand was so that he could go to the famous Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan island. There is one each month, when the full moon comes around, and we had all heard that it was a crazy beach party with buckets of vodka, whiskey, gin, available for cheap cheap cheap prices.
We pre-booked some accommodation on the island and the three of us set off for Koh Phangan. After a night bus - which consisted of stopping off at a town with nothing but a Pizza Hut wannabe and a hotel room with a non-plumbed in sink - and a boat ride, we made it to the island a few days before the main event.
We had purposely booked our accommodation away from the main part of the action because we had heard countless stories about hostel rooms being robbed. Our hotel had a pool and some nicely spaced out, comfortable rooms with a TV and room service - I don't think this was specially included but some days we just couldn't move from our bed due to being hungover and the waitress/chef was kind enough to bring our food to us!
I was introduced to Tom - James and Warren's mate from home who was at the accommodation upon our arrival - and the four of us headed out to the main beach for the night to check out some pre-full moon action.
There was a fair few hundred people on the beach and this was two nights before. As soon as we stepped foot on the sand there was a cry of 'buckets here sir' from all the stalls which were lined up. Each stall had the name of the person who owned it painted brightly on the front and a line of all their buckets with mini bottles of vodka, whiskey, Red Bull - which was in medicine bottles and not advised to be drunk over there because they add some extra ingredients - and gin among other alcoholic delicacies. All of the salesmen and women would try to entice you by saying they had a great deal or they would throw something in for free, like a little flower made out of a straw. Each had a very English-sounding name too, which was surely to entice the foreigners to invest in their products.
I purchased my first bucket from a girl called Emma, so she said, which cost about £3 and had a mini bottle (this was not just a few shots) of vodka and one of whiskey, topped up with coke. It was very cheap to get drunk here!
The next day was a bit of a write off, although it was my birthday! I had breakfast and lunch in bed thanks to the lovely hotel worker and watched Villa take on Man City on the TV with James. In the evening we returned to the beach for the now pre-Full Moon Party night, for which hundreds more people were there. We chose a bar to have some grub and watched a Premiership football match, pretty sure Chelsea were playing someone?!
It was a top night and so good that I cannot remember a great deal of it! We danced along the beach at various venues - there are bars that line the beach-front and blare out every different kind of music you can imagine. The buckets flowed and we finally got a taxi back to the hotel. It was a fantastic birthday and one quite different to anything I had experienced before!
The next day featured an even worse hangover and so it was spent in bed with some more room service - those chicken sandwiches were amazing! But at night the big one had finally arrived. Full Moon October 2009. We got to the beach to witness thousands of people jigging about to various tunes. I remember as we were walking down there, it must have been about 20:00 local time, we saw a girl getting carried back because she was too intoxicated. Not what you're used to seeing at home at such an early hour.
The night went by in a flash and it was so surreal just dancing about on the beach, holding a plastic bucket full of alcohol. Towards the end of the night I lost everyone and after some Thai girl tried to pick-pocket me, but failed, I went to sit on the beach and take in the superb view. One minute it had been complete darkness and suddenly morning had come around just like that. As I was sitting there minding my own business a hand appeared to my left. It was a Thai prostitute offering her services. I politely declined and she walked off.
After taking a few pictures of the beach in the morning, I decided it was about time - around 07:00 local time - for a bacon sandwich. I found a local cafe and had a bacon sarnie and a coffee to round off what had been a tremendous night.
When it was time to go back, I was still slightly drunk at this point, I decided upon a taxi as my mode of transport. But this was not a standard taxi. It was one of the two-wheeled varieties. After negotiating down my driver's ridiculous first offer we agreed on a price and I hopped on the back. I had been on a motorbike back in Rio when we had to get on the back of one as part of our favela tour and I thought that was scary! This guy was overtaking all sorts on blind corners and travelling ridiculously fast. It was quite funny though as he kept laughing and I was laughing too - good job I was still under the influence.
You've probably already guessed but that day, as it was morning already, was a write-off too due to a bad hangover! But the next day me, James, Warren and Tom left Koh Phangan. Warren had to return home, but James, Tom and me went on to Koh Phi Phi, another one of Thailand's famous islands, which I had heard great things about.
When we got there we discovered that there are no roads on the island, just paths. We were greeted by a man with a cart that we put our bags in and he pushed the cart along to our hostel. We passed an array of restaurants, bars and shops as we walked to our new accommodation down the intricate and windy streets. It was a very picturesque place and quite refreshing to be somewhere where there were no cars or lorries ruining the place and smoking everyone out with their pollution.
One thing that struck me about the island was the amount of English tourists who were working here. They were handing out flyers to try to get people into bars or restaurants, or even to go on various boat-related excursions, including deep sea diving.
The next day we went on a boat tour which included doing a bit of snorkelling and visiting many islands such as Monkey Island - where we saw a monkey try to impregnate another one with a little too much detail - and Maya Bay, the scene of the famous motion picture The Beach. The beach itself was a little disappointing as it was so full of tourists, but you could see that on a quiet day it would be pure paradise. It was a mission to get to it as we had to swim across the choppy sea (not joking, they would never have been allowed people to do that in England) to a wooden ladder and climb up and over some rocks. But it was worth it.
That night I did some last minute souvenir shopping and purchased some genuine fake goods for myself, before packing everything up to leave the next day.
The following morning I got a boat to Krabbi before an internal flight to Bangkok, where I did my last little bit of souvenir shopping and fake t-shirt buying. I then got a taxi to the airport where I waited for my flight back to the UK. Typically, it was delayed - the only delayed flight I had incurred throughout six months of travelling!
Part of me wanted to keep travelling as it was such an amazing experience, but a large section of me could not wait to see everyone back home. It was an amazing feeling touching down on UK soil after six months away, not least the feeling of cold as I was wearing shorts and sands in mid-October, and seeing my parents again.
It is impossible to sum up six months of travelling in one paragraph but it was easily some of the best months of my life on this earth. Seeing so many different countries and the cultures that came with them, as well as meeting some of the most amazing people all contributed to making it such a fantastic experience and one that I will never ever forget for the rest of my life. I would encourage anyone to take a year out and save up some money to travel as they will not regret it. There is so much of this world to see and so many amazing experiences to be had. We only experienced a small part of that. So what have you got to lose?