Thursday, June 18, 2009

postcard from thailand

As I arrive in Bangkok my foot is still in agony and I am having to balance what I want to see and do with the amount of pain it will cause me.

It doesn't help matters that two days earlier in Kuala Lumpur I have a haircut, it's too short, and I now somewhat resemble a sex tourist.

Two days in Bangkok therefore fly by uneventfully, before I get another sleeper train towards the island of Ko Pha-Ngan. The 24 hour journey actually takes this structure: Walk > River Taxi > Walk > Tuk Tuk > Sleeper Train > Local Bus > Sawngthaew > Scooter > Ferry > Sawngthaew.

The most eventful section was the scooter ride. I had never been on a scooter before, but the only way to make the 6km trip from Don Sak town to Don Sak pier was to pay a guy £1:30 to take me there on the back of his. It was a surreal experience as I had my massive backpack on my back as well, but we made it to the pier safely. Nobody had ever told me, however, that when you dismount a scooter you should be very careful of that big metal tube on the side. Apparently it's an exhaust pipe and it gets very very hot.

Having staged a moderate post-Bangkok recovery then, the first two days on Ko Pha Ngan island are spent with a deep, inch wide burn on my leg, and an inability to walk more than 100 meters at a time.

I recover just in time for the Full Moon Party pre-celebrations, which are enjoyable events in their own right, if ruined somewhat by the overwhelming popularity of Drop-in Bar and it's playlist of Euro anthems (YMCA, and 'Blow Your Whistle' being two such examples).

I'm walking back to my room at 3am the night before the full moon party, only to discover commotion on the street outside. It transpires that a local Thai woman was drumming up taxi business to all who passed. Some English idiot (not exactly well built) walked past and replied to her "no thanks, but I'll have you instead".

Which is just an insanely disrespectful, naive, downright stupid thing to say. Pretty quickly the women's husband gets to hear about this, and he proceeds to start chasing the tourist with a Bamboo stick.

As I get there, they are in a stand off, separated by some stone island thing, and the terrified tourist has blood dripping all over his arm.

I try to calm the situation somewhat, but it is difficult. The language barrier means that I am in danger of appearing to be taking his side, and I don't want to look like the sort of person who would automatically side with the Westerner in this sort of situation. Nor do I want to add to any underlying ill feeling between locals and tourists.

Plus, this tourist probably deserves to be shaken up a bit after such a moronic comment.

Still, there's a very real possibility that it'll go too far. A couple of minutes later, he's being chased again. A couple more hits with the bamboo. They jostle on the ground. Me and a local are attempting to break them up. The tourist breaks free, but only makes it back to the relative safety of his stone island divider.

Another five minutes pass. Diplomacy isn't working. Another chase breaks out, other locals are either trying to calm or further aggravate the situation.

Again they jostle on the ground. I am trying to wrestle the bamboo stick from the husband's grasp. The tourist breaks free, and this time decides running down the street would be the wiser direction. As he scarpers somebody throws a bottle at his feet, which shatters everywhere. The husband gives chase not far behind, and I am left to take myself off to bed with another man's blood running down my leg. I don't know if he sustained further injury from the shattered glass, or being caught by his pursuers. I don't see any of them again, though I am tenterhooks for the rest of my stay in-case anybody spots me and reasons that I am the next best target.

The event is an unwelcome echo of life back in Nottingham, and is something I have been very happy to not experience since I started traveling. The English influence has permeated this island, and in the following 24 hours, I bizarrely bump into two different people that I know from back home in Nottingham, neither of which I had any idea were over here.

The Full Moon Party then, is the nicely timed final blowoff of the whole three month backpacking trip. It is two days before my flight home. It is an anglophile beach party of (this time) roughly 10,000 people on a beach, dotting between 12ish bars all playing very loud, generally good, club music. It's a bit like a festival - all very hedonistic.

The challenge was to stay awake until 6am and see the sunrise. We filmed it, and I recommend you watch the resulting video here.

After the full moon party, I was awoke at 10:50am by loud knocking on my door. The minibus outside was waiting to take me to the ferry, so I could then get back to Bangkok and catch my flight home. I had no memory of most of the previous night. I surveyed the room - my backpack was still unpacked. I was in trouble.

No time to waste, I set about throwing everything together and getting out the room. It takes a while, but luckily all week I have been making an effort with the wonderful bungalow owners, have been getting on well with them, and at my time of need they are on my side. The driver is persuaded to hold-on until I stumble out the room 15 minutes later, and I am whisked off to catch the connecting ferry, then sleeper train, and eventually - flight.

Wish you were here,

Photos: click here.
Thailand rating: 7.7/10
Friendliest person met: The owners of Haardrin Hill Bungalows
Scariest moment: Bamboo stick fight
Most beautiful sight: Wat Pho, Buddhist temple in Bangkok
The Soundtrack: Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run (album)
Still to come: Glastonbury festival.

1 comment:

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