Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Recovery Position

A mere 3 hours after collapsing into my bed following the Black Moon party my eyes ping open and refuse to close again. The room is like an icebox, refrigerated to the max with the air con cranked up, so that my neck is stiff and I can't feel my extremities. I feel like I've just trekked to the North Pole...naked.  I also appear to have been savaged by several hungry mozzies who are flying lazily around the room, drunk on my vodka-spiked blood. These are incognito mosquitos - unlike the ones in other parts of the world, these Asian badboys don't make that annoying droning sound heralding their proximity, or any sound at all in fact, preferring to make a stealthy approach, like an insect SWAT team.

Cursing them loudly, I eventually admit defeat and drag my weary carcass down to the beach for a restorative Thai massage and a local spicy dish of sweet and sour something-or-other. The Aussie chicks are Facebooking me to come party at the beach club again, but whilst my head is saying yes, every other part of my body is steadfastly refusing to allow it, so instead I almost wear my flip-flops out dragging my exhausted limbs back to the hotel, armed with various drinks and munchies for a quiet afternoon in a trance half-watching Despicable Me 2, which is about as intellectual as my brain can handle right now.

I spend the rest of the day in my decompression chamber of a  hotel room, psyching myself up for the ferry crossing to Koh Phangan bright and early in the morning. I have to remind myself that I'm supposed to be relaxing on this trip, and I am permitted the odd non-eventful day betwixt the dancing and partying. Yin and yang, rest then Chang.....

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Black Moon Party

Waking up with a hangover in the early evening completely disorientated is not the one! Is is 8pm or 8am or.....and what day is it again?

Despite this, temporary amnesia as to how rough I felt after my last foray to KC Beach Club kicks in and I find myself heading towards there again. Tonight is the Black Moon Party at Cha Cha Moons, so I decide to check out the location beforehand. It turns out it's at the opposite end of Chaweng Beach, next door to Ark Bar. Zharita had told me how much she hated Ark, and I nodded along whilst secretly making a mental note to check it out as it sounded like my kinda place...."fire-dancers, drunken youngsters raving raucously and pumping music....yeah, sounds awful mate..."

I book my ferry crossing to Koh Phangnan for Tuesday morning and decide to grab a Chang at Ark, where 2 cool Aussie dudes called Sonny and Brex strike up a conversation with me immediately. We chew the fat for a while and shoot some beers, belly-laughing and getting increasingly rowdy. They are flying to South Korea in the afternoon, but I still easily persuade them to join me at KC Beach for a few hours first. We sink yet more beers, dance and smoke some menthol shisha as the DJ pours aural sunshine over the crowd. They reluctantly stumble off to make their flight, making loose plans for us to meet up again in a week's time when we will all be on Koh Phangnan. They are replaced instantly with 2 Aussie girls, also from Melbourne, in a kind of Aussie tag-team - Talia and Amy see the guys leave and come to chat to me. Cue wild dancing on sunbeds, cocktails, craziness and an Israeli dude getting a bit fresh with one of the girls, before I extricate myself from the carnage and head back for a pre-party power nap.

Waking an hour or so later I rinse away the fuzzy head in the shower and power on down to Cha Cha Moons for the Black Moon Party. A couple of young German guys rush up to me and apologise for being late. Seeing my blank expression they explain that I invited them to the party earlier in the day and we arranged to meet...I swear I have never seen them before in my life....have I?! I think I style it out convincingly....

The drinks flow, the music get louder and harder and the atmosphere is electric. A stray dog casually plonks himself in the middle of the dancefloor and remains there all night, looking bemused as the crowd closes in around him, bouncing up and down, and he is seemingly oblivious, even managing to fall asleep...

By 4.30am I decide to slip off, saying my goodbyes to my new Thai BFF, a gay guy called Pok, before making a cheeky pit-stop at Mac Donald's for a dirty burger. I meet several other partied-out travellers and we chat for an hour or so before heading home, me in the wrong direction as usual. Luckily I bump into a guy I'd met earlier in the evening and he points me in the right direction, my head finally hitting the pillow at 6.30am.....goodnight/morning....Zzzz

Life's a Beach (Club)

Packing my bag takes about 5 minutes : as I know I'm moving on every few days I don't bother to unpack, preferring to locate what I want by rummaging about furiously in my holdall as I go along. Head slightly cloudy from the blow-out at the W, the bit that takes the longest is locating all my valuables from their various dusty hiding places around the room, where I'd stashed them days before like a squirrel burying nuts.
There's just time for a final set breakfast of scrambled eggs and hot dogs on toast before my taxi arrives to take me to my next hotel in Chaweng, to the east of Samui and the most popular area of the island. The hotel dog who sits by my ankles does particularly well out of me that day as the cold hot dog is even less appetising than normal. He throws his head back and swallows it whole with a cheesy grin. The staff are constantly shooing him off the furniture, then as soon as their backs are turned he does that thing that dogs do where they rub themselves on their backs all over the sofas, ensuring maximum hair-shed and dog-odour transfer. Makes me chuckle every time as he looks like he's laughing as he does it.
I arrive and check into my next hotel, pre-booked a day before via my Expedia app, costing £15 a night for a 4-star rating. I'm thrilled to discover my room has a safe and hot water and everything - such luxury! I drop my bags and head up to the infinity pool on the roof for a quick dip, before heading out to check out my new surroundings. Walking along the brochure-perfect beach, my ears prick up as I hear the bass of some sexy house beats, and I quickly discern that the tunes are coming from the KC Beach Club. Like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn, the DJ calls me to him with his audio porn and I'm powerless to resist - my 'exploring the area' is over 5 minutes in and before I know it I'm buying overpriced vodkas and gyrating to the beat with the 'Beautiful People.' As the day wears on the volume and pace picks up - dancing girls are performing double-jointed routines in sequins and chiffon, their outfits billowing in the gentle breeze. This place is a piece of me - I love the vocal house and glamour of the 5 star resort and the sweet scent of success emanating from every pore of the clientele. I chat to a middle-aged Isreali guy who lives here and runs a few restaurants - we arrange to meet later so he can take me to the Muay Thai boxing and the Green Mango club. I'm slightly apprehensive as I don't want him to make any assumptions - I would rather stick pins in my eyes than kiss this guy so end up texting to cancel later as I'm not sure I could trust him. Something tells me I'll be spending most of my time (and money) in Chaweng at the KC Beach Club...

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Ang Thon...or should that be Hang On...(for dear life)

Waking up with a start, I check my mouth for foam following last night's dog bite (I'm sure I've exchanged saliva with worse in the past) and to my delight the only damage to my weary hungover self is the pounding headache and suitcases under my puffy eyes. I can still party like my 18yr old self, but clearly my face doesn't agree with that statement.

Having only had 4hrs sleep, I need this bumpy speedboat ride like a hole in the head, but hey, I paid 1800baht for this excursion so I need to shape up. My minibus arrives and I greet the rest of the daytrippers, then we head off to the pier. There are about 25 others on my speedboat and we all look on sceptically as 3 young Thai guys get busy with spanners and screwdrivers trying to get the boat started. Hmmm, not a great start! After 30 minutes, a battery change, and lots of bashing with various tools, the engine roars into life and we're off. The are 42 picturesque islands that make up Ang Thon Marine Park and we will be visiting 4: snorkelling, kayaking, swimming etc. Sounds good, huh? And it would have been, had the crew not almost killed us all with an old dog of a speedboat which turned out to be a death trap. Thank God for my lucky bracelet and blessing from the monk yesterday...jeez!

I got acquainted with some of the people on the boat and we shouted over the roar of the engine as we made the hour-long journey to the first island. Zahrita was a separated woman travelling alone too, and her life story mirrored my own so closely it was uncanny. Then there was a fun group of Irish guys who we chatted to also. So far, so good. The boat reached the island and we dived in and snorkelled around the boat...which was a tad scary as the waves were picking up and it took effort to stay nearby.  The start of the unease...

The next island was beautiful, great scenery, a hike to the top of a huge rock, amazing blue lagoon straight from a scene in The Beach. Stunning.
The journey to the third was where things got 'interesting' it's monsoon season here, torrential downpours are common but don't tend to last that long. No dramas. No dramas, that is, unless you happen to be on a tatty old speedboat, overcrowded, in choppy seas with a bunch of 15yr old Thai boys as crew. Shit was about to get real. Worried looks were exchanged between the crew as the waves grew bigger and the rain got heavier, drenching us all as we clung to the rails for dear life, the boat smacking hard against the waves and sending our stomachs into our mouths like a rollercoaster ride. Our giggles and screams of laughter soon turned to shrieks off terror as the waves almost overturned the boat several times. The Chinese contingent hurriedly put on their lifejackets and it soon became apparent there were only 7 jackets...and at least 25 of us...eep!

The storm suddenly passed as quickly as it had started and calm was restored for long enough for us to visit more islands, have lunch and go kayaking. I'm now resembling Popeye since I got paired up with a 14yr old Chinese girl with Twiglets for arms who was as much use as a chocolate teapot. I ended up persuading her not to use her oars at all, as she was actually going against me..!

Back on the boat and disaster soon struck - a major tropical storm that made the earlier one seem like child's play, resulting in a broken rudder, no control over the boat, waves and rain battering us and almost certain death, had another boat not seen our distress and radioed as an emergency for another bigger boat to come and rescue us. Just as well it did, as we then ran out of petrol...what the hell else could these guys get wrong?! We formed a human chain and helped each other make the leap of faith into the other boat as they rocked and crashed together with the force of the huge waves. Not the easiest jump to make whilst wearing a tiny denim skirt and straddling 2 moving vehicles. Elegance personified...not! I kid you not, we all said a few prayers on that boat, even the Athiests amongst us...

Having survived the ordeal, Z and I met a few hours later at the achingly glam W Hotel for some very moreish vodka cocktails and a mouth-wateringly delicious steak to celebrate still having our limbs intact. Not so much mouth-watering as eye-watering came the bill, but hey, having cheated death we figured we deserved a treat. Because we're worth it...or something like that...

Monk-ey business at the Big Buddha Temple

Since there is no hot water at my hotel (common in SE Asia in cheaper accommodation) I was wide awake after my shower this morning and raring (ish!) to get going. The hesitation comes from battling the cringe-factor of dining alone, but I could hardly have a tattoo saying "Fortune Favours the Brave" in Latin emblazoned across my torso then cower in my room, too afraid to eat an anaemic hotdog on offer for breakfast in front of a few others Farang (foreigners) could I?

So I summoned up the courage to pass the family of Boden catalogue-perfect Scandinavians who had banged on my wall last night to turn my music off ( so the dulcet tones of their whining blonde brats could be heard instead) and strode into the dining area. Perhaps swerving the anaemic sausage would have been the better option, seeing as it's caused me no-end of porcelain God-worshipping ever since.
After this hearty (farty?) breakfast I grabbed a brolly from the lobby and set off for the Big Buddha the wrong direction. Despite taking a map and snapping away with my iPhone on each corner so I'd have picture evidence of my route (a photographic version of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, Hansel and Gretel style), I still managed a sweaty 45 mins in the opposite direction until I stopped to chat to a Thai tour rep who giggled when I told her where I was off to. As she was so sweet I booked a trip to Ang Thon Marine Park, a collection of 42 picturesque islands, for tomorrow.

Determined not to give in and hail a motorbike taxi, I guzzled water and swatted flies as I stomped along, before finally conceding and haggling with a moto-taxi over the price of a lift to the temple. After a lot of light-hearted banter and laughing we finally agreed a price and I made it to the temple-an enormous gold-painted Buddha which sits on it's on mini-island accessible by a pier. To be honest, it looked more impressive from a distance, as closer inspection revealed a bit of wear-and-tear of the big guy....but impressive nonetheless. Then came my very own 'Eat, Pray, Love' moment as I kicked off my flip-flops and made a small donation to the temple and ended up being blessed with holy water (aka toilet water probably) by a moon-faced, kindly monk, resplendent in full orange robes. We chatted a bit and he tied a friendship bracelet on my wrist and wished me good luck. He then kind of ruined the moment by retreating to a deck chair at the back and barking loudly into his iPhone as I walked off, but hey, even monks need to communicate and stuff I guess....
One green Thai curry later and I was ready to make the journey back to my hotel to chill before heading out for the evening.

Heading to The Fisherman's Market, I decided to kick-off the evening at the Irish bar before grabbing some dinner at a cool restaurant I'd spotted the day before. However, as is standard procedure amongst us alkies, once the Changs and convo flowed any thoughts of food went out the window, and instead I spent the entire night bantering away with Nick from Zimbabwe and Bill from Surrey, a couple of fifty-something guys here on business, investing in property (and possibly a couple of Thai brides methinks). Having ripped the piss out of each other satisfactorily, I bid my farewells before stumbling off along the beach to my hotel, pausing only to shake off the stray, flea-bitten mutt who took a shine to my ankle. It hurt but didn't break the skin, so I went to bed with the attitude that if I wasn't foaming at the mouth by the morning then I guess it's fine....

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Sammy hits Samui

My trip didn't kick off with the most auspicious start : just days after the horrific Malaysian Airlines plane crash I boarded flight number 911 at Gate 13 from Heathrow. Good job I'm not superstitious...gulp! Luckily, the only missiles launched at me during the flight came from the disgruntled Thai baby next to me, who screeched and squirmed her way through the 11-hour ordeal until I actually felt like joining in. Several complimentary vodka lemonades did little to take the edge off of the high-pitched screams that cut through my brain better than any Russian rocket launcher no matter how loud I cranked up the banging 'Son Of A Beach:Bora Bora' tunes on my Ipod.
Despite her best efforts, I did manage to watch a few films - The Artist and Her, both great movies. Finally we touched down in Bangkok and a glance at my watch (through bloodshot boiled eggs that seemed to have replaced my eyeballs) told me that our 45min delay in leaving Heathrow meant I had only an hour to locate and board my Samui connection before take-off...
One Usain Bolt-like sprint later and I arrive at the gate a panting and sweaty mess, like a kid being pursued by Saville around a children's home.
Merely an hour later and any stress is instantly removed as we disembark at Samui - the waft of  blossoming jasmine flowers seducing our nostrils. My pre-booked driver meets me with a toothy grin and whisks me to my first leg of the adventure : Sundays Resort And Spa in Bo Phut, North-East of the island and a stone's throw from the airport.
The humidity is crushing and exhausting, but excitement spurs me on. My room is basic and 'rustic' shall we say, with other guests' flight detail stickers strategically placed over various holes in the front door, but the beauty of the jungle surroundings and warmth of the staff overrides any concerns.
Eyeing the dense palms and shrubland engulfing my hilltop room, I shower then douse myself liberally in my high-strength DEET-based mozzie repellant (this stuff melts plastic) and head out, not bothering to unpack, taking any valuables with me.

The Bo Phut main road is a dirt-track away, and is treacherous: no pavement and motorbikes, cars and lorries whizz by so closely I swear they touch the hairs on my arms (and I'm no Chewbacca).
I enter the first Spa I see (the hotel one is closed, despite being the main reason anyone stays here), and request a Thai massage. The therapist takes one look at my weary limbs and suitcases under my eyes and proceeds to pummel, pound, twist and bend the life out of me...and yet somehow to her amazement I manage to fall asleep mid-assault...?!
Feeling relaxed I pay 500baht (£10) for the battery-recharging hour of well...battery, and stumble bleary-eyed back out into the sunlight, relaxed and feeling the need for liquid refreshment. I easily locate the highly-recommended  Fisherman's Village and sink a few Chang Beers at a bar overlooking Bo Phut beach, before sampling a delicious Pad Thai at the chilled and hippy-like Karma Sutra restaurant.
As it looks like rain and I have an IPad, IPhone, camera and iPod in my cloth tote back, I decide to head back to my room - a major insurance claim-up for water-logged electronics would not be a good start to my trip...

My fears are unfounded, it remains dry and stifling, and I slip into a jetlagged, alcohol-boosted food coma, before waking several times as I readjust to my new time zone....goodnight....Zzzzzzzz

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Sam Goes Solo...

So here I am, 5 years on from my last travel blog, once again seeking solace in South East Asia: taking comfort in the hospitality, climate, atmosphere and general sense of wellbeing that washes over you from the moment of arrival to the Land of Smiles that is Thailand.
Only this time I am not half of the loved-up married couple of '09 full of hope and optimism, taking a break before embarking on the IVF that should have led us to parenthood. No, I return as a single woman of 38, no husband or children in tow as I had previously envisaged for my next trip to Thailand. Apologies for the self-indulgent tone, I am actually exhilarated to be here, embarking on a brand new adventure. I'm just exhausted and a little jet-lagged from the journey to Samui via Bangkok. So here it is folks....Sam Goes Solo....