Tag Archives: koh samui

Good morning Kuala Lumpur!

11 May

Our last few days on Koh Samui were very relaxing – well, this was kind of enforced as I couldn’t move any of my limbs after the evil Thai massage. So we pottered about, raised a glass to Matt, explored a few last restaurants and suddenly it was time to go. We didn’t go and see the dead monk – a mummified monk who died 40 years ago and has been sitting outside the temple ever since, nailed to the wall so he doesn’t fall over and with sunglasses on because his eyes fell into his head – but I think we covered most other things to do. It was still sad though as we had to say goodbye to the lovely Oh, Andy, Meow and Guy who had looked after us for a month. They gave Craig an embossed Thai ashtray (with instructions never to us it) and me a little painted wooden box…two things we can hopefully get into Australia as they’ve got strict rules about what wood you can take in. This proved prudent as I went to pack my bamboo cup from trekking in Cambodia and found termites were nibbling away at the bottom of it :(

So after a mammoth packing session (stuffing everything into three bags), we were finally ready and got the ferry over to the mainland. Having been relieved of money on the way over to Koh Samui on the ferry, we tried to take our bags off the bus, but the driver said no. So we sat in the car compartment the whole way there, watching the bus in case anyone tried to take anything. This tactic worked and we didn’t lose anything from the bags this time. We got back on the bus for the trip to Surat Thani, which is a fairly non-descript and faceless town, but close to the airport for our flight the next day.

We found a hotel and dumped the bags, and wandered around the town trying to find a restaurant. There were plenty of street sellers but with getting a flight the next day, we wanted to be as sure as possible that the food wasn’t going to cause us problems. As the Greek girl who was also staying at our hotel put it, she wanted “food with a few less flies on it”. So Craig and I ended up eating back at the hotel – this was clearly a rare occurrence as it looked like we’d woken the staff up when we went in. The dead cockroach in the pot next to us should have been a warning sign in retrospect. Stupidly, I ordered Western food (the rule is, the fewer the tourists in a place, the worse the Western food will be), but I just fancied some comfort food so took the risk.

Idiot. They didn’t let me down – I should have stopped when I ordered spaghetti meatballs and they asked me whether I’d like pork, shrimp, beef, crab or catfish – the ‘meatballs’ arrived and it was pork mince (I had ordered beef) and not shaped into balls, just cooked up like normal bolognaise. Which was fine although there were approximately three strands of spaghetti. But luckily I’d ordered chips too so I at least had those to keep me going. I took a tentative bite…mmm sweet tomato sauce…and what’s that? Oh, they’ve added pineapple. Num num num. There is no way spaghetti bolognaise should ever be able to be described as sweet and contain fruit other than tomatoes. A hideous, hideous mess. Made slightly worse by Craig giving me the money to pay whilst he nipped to the shop to get beer –  the waitress upon receiving the 1,000 baht note, put it underneath her bra strap and told me I had to get it from there. I had no clue what was going on, but this was apparently comedy gold for the other waitresses so I just stood there, laughing confusedly and blushing. I did briefly consider whether to take it out with me teeth – that would show her – but I thought she might call the police so gave that one a miss. She then asked me again, shaking her chest towards me…I just went for the same tack, laughing whilst hoping the ground would swallow me up and she eventually took it out herself. So odd! What is the Thai women’s obsession with breasts at the moment?!

The food issues continued the next day – the breakfast looked vile so I just had some water, thinking I’d be able to buy some snacks on the plane. The airport is tiny and there wasn’t much to do so I bought a Mars bar and a book (A Shattered Youth about a Cambodian girl growing up during the Khmer Rouge years, which was both interesting and disturbing) but this being Thailand, the book cost £11 as for some reason it’s really expensive to buy even used books here. But it kept me entertained and we got on the plane. As usual it was a lovely Airasia plane: new, leather seats etc but this time it was full so we didn’t have the luxury of stretching out like we have done on the last two. But they were serving food, which was chicken fried rice and as I was starving, I bought one and a Pepsi Max, which came to 180 baht…a fortune compared to what we would have paid on the ground.

How can you make chicken fried rice inedible? Put tiny whole fish in it of course! And basically no other flavouring! The disgusting tiny fish had their faces still on, complete with eyes. Except, some of them didn’t have eyes. This could only mean one thing…my rice contained tiny fish eyes. I think I’m not hungry any more. The irony of reading a book about a girl who was actually starving and forced to work all day on just a bowl of rice soup whilst complaining about tiny fish eyes was not lost on me, but I repeat, tiny fish eyes. I just couldn’t do it!

Our plane arrived early by 15 minutes, meaning the whole trip took just over an hour. We swapped the lovely Koh Samui

for this

Absolutely torrential rain. It was still warm, but just bucketing down. So after taking the bus to Kuala Lumpur city centre, we turned on our heels and headed to the nearest Burger King to wait it out and eat something that didn’t contain gross fish. We contemplated using the train to get to the hotel, but in the end decided this was too difficult in the pouring rain so we just got a taxi for 10 ringitts to the guesthouse.

A new language, currency, set of customs…unlike all the other countries we’ve been to bar Vietnam, the Malaysian language doesn’t look like a beautiful drawing, it looks like ours. Ours that has been shaken up – bus becomes bas, restaurant is restoran, taxi is teksi, central is sentral etc. It is confusing because it looks like English, but you find yourself wondering whether they can’t spell in English or whether that’s how they spell it in Malay as lots of words look the same. They also mix Malay and English on the same sign, so you have to look quite hard to work out what language it’s in and what applies to you. The currency also takes some getting used to – 65 baht for a night would be incredibly cheap at just over a pound, but 65 ringitts is actually £16. The whole place is very expensive, so we’re back to staying in grotty accommodation (but paying a lot more for it) to save some cash so we can do all the exciting things KL has to offer a little bit less guiltily.

So we found said grotty accommodation (would you like a room with a toilet or without?), dropped the bags off and headed off to explore the area we are staying in, Chinatown. First stop: umbrella shop!


Ow ow ow ow ow. Why am I paying you to do this to me?

8 May

So the last few days have been spent trying to get over dengue fever – the main symptoms have gone now but I just feel knackered all time. Apparently this will last up to a month following the actual fever :( I’ve been spending a lot of time in my room lying down trying to get my energy back, but yesterday Craig thought it would be a good idea for me to get a massage as it’s something I can do whilst lying down, my new favourite thing, and it would help relax me. I thought this sounded like a good idea, temporarily forgetting that I find massages awkward as it’s essentially a random stranger rubbing you…but the spa we went to was so gorgeous I thought this time it would be lovely.

I walked through the tropical garden – bowls filled with water with intricate designs floating on top made of fresh flowers, little streams and tons of flowers and trees – to the private room (air conditioned, yay) and was handed what looked like a black headband. No. These were my new pants. The lady left the room and I put the scrap of material on, taking all the rest of my clothes off. I wasn’t really sure what to do at this point…do I lie down on the bed on my front? Or stand there? In the end I went for wrapping myself with one of the towels on the bed and standing there.

The lady came back in and made me lie down on the bed, then covered me with another towel, and then took my wrapping towel off. I’d gone for an oil massage (with re-energising oils, perfect) and ticked the box on the form that said medium pressure, knowing that if I’d gone for a Thai style massage it would be painful. The lady put some oil on her hands and for 3.5 seconds it was nice and relaxing. The rest of the time was pure agony. If that was medium I don’t think I would have survived firm. For such a tiny lady, she was inflicting levels of pain that are the same, no, probably worse, than childbirth. She kept saying “does this hurt?” and prodding me where she’d spent the last 15 minutes pummelling me. YES, REST ASSURED, EVERYTHING NOW HURTS. WELL DONE. The only way I managed to get through it was to pretend it was happening to someone else.

She then asked me to turn over onto my front. She massaged my arms and legs again and then wrapped my head in another towel, covering my eyes. She then massaged my stomach, and covered me back up with the towel. “That’s odd”, I thought, “she’s moved the towel in such a way that my boobs aren’t covered. I expect she’ll move it back in a second when she realises her mistake”. Oh no. No no no no no no no no…she isn’t planning to massage my boobs is she? That would be…oh yes, that’s exactly what she’s doing. With oil. I have inadvertently signed up for a torture/sex massage. Excellent. Well, this isn’t awkward at all and perfectly relaxing….

She finally stopped doing that and went back to beating me up, telling me that I was probably 30% fixed today and I should come back tomorrow for more work. What part of watching me weep with relief that it’s over makes you think that I will be coming back?! Never, ever again. Although I have been given a 30% discount voucher so maybe I will go back for a pedicure – they probably use chainsaws to cut your nails and then pliers to pull them out. Maybe not.

But I am being looked after by the staff at the hotel very well – Oh made me some lemongrass and ginger tea which is meant to be very good for you when you’ve been ill, she gave me a cuddle (Thai people do not cuddle so that made me feel special) and she cooked me chicken nuggets when the kitchen was closed. Very sweet. Craig’s been going fishing with Andy whilst I’ve been napping

and I think he’ll be missed by Andy when we go so the girls also did us a massive barbeque last night to say goodbye. We had chicken, ribs, jacket potatoes, salad and the fish that Craig caught the other day, along with toffee cake and banana and sticky rice parcels. So yummy, it’s just a shame I have no appetite as normally I would have demolished eight times what I did last night :)

We were also treated to a couple of traditional Thai dances by a young girl who is learning at the moment. It’s a very slow way of dancing, and every movement down to the way her fingers are pointing is carefully choreographed. It was amazing to watch and she clearly loved doing it. I also had severe costume envy.

It’s our last full day on Samui today: tomorrow we’re leaving for the mainland so we can get to the airport there in time for our flight on Thursday. It is also the anniversary of Craig’s best friend’s death last year so I think a quiet day of recouperation and reflection is in order before we leave for Malaysia.

You give me fever…dengue fever

5 May

Aside from the usual pottering (which I will write about soon when I have more energy), this week has mainly been spent feeling ill. We stayed at Tom and Sarah’s last Friday for lunch after work, and then beers by the pool which was a lot of fun although their pool had got some weird stuff in it that dyed everything green – bikini, fingernails and skin! We had a fairly quiet day on Saturday but then both of us woke up on Sunday feeling rubbish…just really achey and tired.

Craig was fine the next day, but I had had a fever in the night and felt worse. I had a pain behind my eyes, felt weak and hot all the time. I was going to stay off work for that day but thought rather than just sitting in the room feeling yucky I might as well make myself useful and go in for a couple of hours. On Thursday, when the pain behind my eyes was at its worst, I took some paracetamol and went to work, but halfway through the morning I realised I had come out in a rash all over my arms and legs so Sarah (who’s a nurse) said it was probably best to go to hospital to get myself checked out. Craig took me to the hospital where the doctor reeled off my symptoms as soon as she saw the rash and said it was likely to be dengue fever, but they had to do a blood test to be sure as there’s another disease with similar symptoms – the much cooler sounding chikungunya. But no, the blood test showed it was dengue.

Dengue is a disease that is carried by a certain type of mosquito…you have to be fairly unlucky to get it as the mosquito needs to have bitten someone else with dengue fever first but I guess that’s just me! These mozzies bite during the day so you need to be careful with deet during the day too (something that I didn’t appreciate). Thankfully I seem to have contracted a mild version – the muscle/bone aching bit for some people can be excruitating but luckily that stage of it only lasted a few days for me and only felt like an ache. It’s not something that can be treated as it’s a virus – you just take paracetamol, try to keep cool (not easy when it’s 45 degrees outside) and take muscle relaxants to help with the aching. I had to go to hospital for daily blood tests to make sure that my platelet levels didn’t drop too low, as that is when complications can happen and it can turn into dengue haemorrhaging fever or dengue shock syndrome, neither of which are good. Mine went from 113,000 per whatever to 101,000 in 24 hours (100,000 being the point they will admit you to keep an eye on you), but I got the good news this morning that my levels have started rising again so I’m on the mend and won’t get the nasty bleedy/shocky version. Yay. I am looking forward to getting out of bed and being up and about a bit more: Thai TV is rubbish.

The hospital, Bangkok Hospital Samui, is really nice but expensive. We should have guessed this when we saw the fountains outside it :I On the other hand, it’s really clean, has western standards and the staff are knowledgeable and kind. On the first day the lady who took the blood sample said it was going to take an hour and a half for the results to come back. I asked whether we had to go and come back, but she said I should stay. She then asked if I’d like a lie down instead and got me a little bed in the corner of her room so I could have a nap whilst I waited. The room had air conditioning so I was out like a light :)

So the volunteering job to save money has fast turned into a fairly expensive three weeks:

Ferry robbery


Bike scratchery


Computer power cable surgery


Immigration dept. thiefery


Hospital savery



Our insurance will hopefully cover all but £100 of the hospital bill (£10o being our medical expenses excess) so the total unexpected costs from being here is probably likely to be £441…but that’s still a fairly horrendous amount. I hope Malaysia doesn’t contain the same amount of nasty surprises…

Koh Samui week 2

28 Apr

Another week has drifted by quite effortlessly. Craig went fishing with the hotel’s owner, Andy, and caught a massive fish in the nearby lake

which was a bit alarming as they can live out of water for hours so it was still alive when they brought it home. Andy dispatched it in the kitchen and his wife, Oh, made a Thai curry with it and also deep fried chunks of it, which dipped in chilli sauce, were delicious. I think quite a bit of chilli and spices is needed to make catfish nice but she managed it :)

The next day, Craig, Mathias, Frederik and Johann, a Swedish boy they’d met in Malaysia, and I went for a drive around the island trying to find a nice beach to swim to make a change from the pool. We found the beach in Lamai but there was a stagnant pool of sewage next to it so it stank. We carried on round and found a smaller beach that had loads of brown foam in the sea so gave that a miss, but found a nice waterfall along the way. We then drove up the mountain (well we did, Frederik and Mathias had to walk for part of it as it was very steep and their bike was small) and went to a little cafe for a beer and to watch the sunset over the island before heading back to the hotel to say goodbye to Frederik and Mathias as they were leaving for Koh Tao the next morning, by which time I would be at work. It was so lovely to see them again and I’m glad we had a chance to catch up.

I had my first solo drive the next morning as Craig was not in a fit state to take me to work. I went the quiet way feeling like I was in Easy Rider, although they probably didn’t drive a titchy scooter, go at 20kmph until wobbling to a stop whilst humming Bad to the Bone and mentally joining Hell’s Angels. But I did the difficult bits (turning right across traffic) like a badass…ahem…and got to work in time without being smushed or causing someone else to be.

Emboldened by his recent catfish success, Craig took me and Andy fishing. I sat and read by book for a few peaceful hours and watched the sunset

and looked at the stars. Craig didn’t catch anything but Andy caught this

He does usually look a bit more cheerful than that!

We went for a drive to Nat Thon via the scenic route: a new road that cuts through the island that was absolutely deserted. A good, flat (well most of it, apart from the bit that had been smashed by falling rocks) quiet road is fairly rare here and it made a nice change not to be panicking about who was going to pull out on us next.

At Nat Thon, we sorted out our visas – only having a visa exemption rather than a tourist visa meant we could only extend the visas by 7 days for the bargain price of £40 each :I So I will be stopping work a day or two early. We have finally decided where to go next…Kuala Lumpur on 10th May. We’re not quite sure about what to do after that but one thing at a time!

P.S. The lovely Yulia (http://insearchofperfect.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/paying-it-forward/) kindly nominated me for the Versatile Blogger award. Thank you :) In return you have to nominate your favourite 15 blogs and do a new post…sadly I don’t actually follow 15 as the internet is so temperamental it’s hard enough to get this one sorted. I kind of just read random ones when I can! But my friend Samantha’s travel blog is always a good read (http://scgreenslade2.wordpress.com/ – although she’s home now, she’s not quite finished getting up to date so there should be more posts!), the four in the box on the right and Where is Phil Now – http://wheresphil.wordpress.com/2012/04/. Having spent 5 hours trying to connect today I am sorry I couldn’t join in properly!


22 Apr

Another few days of ups and downs…the major down was when Craig, Mathias and Frederik went off on their bikes whilst I was at work. As soon as Craig had parked up, a Thai guy started screaming at him that he’d scratched his van. Craig was pretty sure he hadn’t even touched it, but the guy was insistent he had put the tiny scratch on the plastic bumper and didn’t let it go. He wanted 10,000 baht from Craig for “repairs” as Koh Samui doesn’t have a Hyundai dealership where “special paint” needed to be bought so he had to take the ferry to the next island and take three days off work. Craig refused as it seemed very expensive, and he was sure he didn’t scratch it in the first place. The guy (lets call him SLB, or Scamming Little B….) said he’d ring the police, which Craig agreed to as he still wasn’t going to pay that much.

So SLB rang the police who turned up pretty quickly. They both explained the situation and Craig thought the policeman (let’s call him SLP, or Scamming Little Policeman) would be on his side once he’d seen the tiny scratch, and given that Craig, Mathias and Frederik were all sure it wasn’t anything to do with them anyway. But no, SLP said he must pay SLB something or he’d arrest Craig (didn’t help that Craig hasn’t got a Thai licence) and he’d have to pay SLB 10,000 AND SLP money to release him. Craig spent an hour and a half arguing but it was no good…he ended up paying 7,000 baht (£140) for something that wasn’t his fault and will not be fixed in the first place. It is very likely that SLP got a kickback later on from SLB. The SLB.

We have spoken to many expats here and they have all said either the same thing has happened to them (20,000 baht for a scratched underside of a van!) or that there was nothing else that could be done except pay. Many of them speak Thai or have Thai wives and they all said it’s fairly common here and nothing short of blackmail but that if Craig had got cross or jumped on the bike and left, it would have caused him much more trouble and money than it’s worth.

Having just finished The Damage Done by the Australian Warren Fellows, about his 12 years in Thai prisons, I am very glad it didn’t get out of hand. I’d recommend anyone even thinking of doing anything bad in Thailand reads that book first! I read a bit out to Mathias and Frederik yesterday as they hate Marmite, having tried it with us in Sri Lanka. Warren was served a “soup” of dirty water, dirty, partially cooked rice and a fish head. Pretty much everything had live maggots in it. The prison guard kept walking past, spitting pumpkin seeds in Warren’s soup, and after a couple of times, one hit him on the face. Warren snapped and threw the soup at him, so the guard went to get a package that had arrived for his best friend, which contained food from Oz like tinned pineapple, sardines and Vegemite. The guard made them both sit down and watch him eat the entire contents of the package. He left the Vegemite til last and dipped his whole finger in and licked it. Warren and his friend Paul then had the intense pleasure of watching the guard run off to be violently sick :)

Sadly, the monetary loss has meant that the benefit of volunteering here has been greatly reduced as £140 would be a big chunk of our accommodation bill, not including the money that was robbed on the ferry. Koh Samui has not endeared us much to be honest.

Having said that, our hotel is lovely, the owner is really nice, it’s great to see Mathias and Frederik again and Tom and Sarah cooked us a delicious meal last night to try and save us a bit of cash, which was very kind of them. So it’s not all bad here, it’s just that losing the odd dollar here and there to police in Cambodia was annoying, but losing £140 in one hit is pretty distressing.

The owners, Andy and Oh, came back with a whole roasted chicken yesterday, still warm from the rotisserie, for £3, which made us feel much better. It was the first time I’ve had a roast (albeit one smashed into random mangles of flesh, skin and bone, and eaten with the fingers!) since I’ve been away and it was so gorgeous. I think we’re going to get another today, some fresh bread and have roast chicken and mayonnaise sandwiches. Yum.

DOG UPDATE: Goldie seems to have had her nose put out of joint by the arrival of the puppy so has disappeared :( but the puppy, Fanta (???), is very sweet. I woke up the other night to find her in our bed – Craig had sneaked her in. I was less impressed at this in the morning when our sheets were spotted with her blood where she’d been lying from whatever ferocious insects were eating her during the night. Gross.

More pool games have been invented, involving complicated underwater obstacle games where you have to put on clothes, goggles, fetch the dog toy and put more googles on over your shoulder whilst swimming a lap of the pool, and shark vs odd searabbitdogfishdragon thing that Craig bought yesterday

We have occasionally managed to leave the pool…we went back to the Thursday night market with the boys and watched a Thai reggae band and an amazing 10 year old doing beatboxing. He should be on Thailand’s Got Talent as I swear he didn’t breathe for 15 minutes! We went off to get pad thai and barbecqued ribs and moquitos and came back to find a German couple in their sixties dancing in the street to the band. They were great and loads of people joined in after that. Our best find has been takeaway chicken noodle soup from a little stand near the traffic lights by our hotel…you get a bag of broth, a bag of chicken, vegetables and noodles, a bag of chilli and sachets of sugar (they put it on everything) and chilli flakes. You assemble it all at home but that way it all stays hot.

So now we’re going to have to think about what to do next…Thailand is exactly asking to be further explored to be honest. Our visas will need to be extended so we can keep working, but after that we will either go on to Malaysia and Indonesia or take the plunge and go straight to Oz. However, Craig mentioned going back to Vietnam last night…so who knows??? Bit weird to think our travelling might be almost over before we have to go to do Proper Work.

But Mathias and Frederik have given us plenty of opportunities to cheer up – I dyed Craig’s hair red again the other day and Frederik decided he wanted his beard doing too. All of us had had a few drinks by then and this seemed the best idea in the history of the universe. This is how they ended up.

In the cold light of the next day, however, Frederik had somehow become less enamoured with his day-go beard. I am not sure why, it still looks awesome to me. He decided that it had to go, and set about shaving it off a bit at a time:

How can you not smile back at that oddly-tinted face??

Elephant trekking and motorbiking

15 Apr

Even though we spent most of the day before engaged in waterfighting, we did manage to notice a couple of signs that said there was elephant trekking around 12km away, so we thought we would go and have a look and see how much it was.

It was fairly reasonable at £12 each for half an hour, so we decided to go for it as it’s something I’ve wanted to do for ages and have not managed to get a chance to yet. The elephants had seats on them, which I have heard from some sites that this causes them pain and it is better to ride on their necks. I am not sure whether it was hurting them as we didn’t see any in distress – when we came, some elephants were walking round and the others were standing in the shade being fed bananas and palm leaves. Although the mahouts had hooks, we only saw this being used once when our elephant really wanted to go down a different track to nibble things, so he got a bit of a whack which we all winced at but for everything else, the mahout just talked gently to the elephant and it plodded through the jungle, plucking at bits of tree and grass as he went. None of the elephants had any open cuts or hook marks on them.

The mahout sat on the elephant’s massive head, and we sat on the chair with our feet on it’s broad neck

The mahout had been working with this elephant for four years and the elephant understood when he wanted to get down, and lowered his head so the mahout could hop off. The rocking to and fro whilst we were going along was a bit disconcerting at first, especially as we were so high up (having only seen elephants on tv or in a safari park from a distance it was a shock to see how HUGE they really are), but he never put an enormous foot wrong. Soon after setting off, the mahout hopped off and instructed Craig to sit on the elephant’s neck, with me in the middle of the seat, so I don’t think overall the pressure on the elephant’s back was too bad. There was a lot of padding under the chair and they were given breaks in between walks.

Halfway through the walk, we swapped places and it was my turn to sit on the elephant’s neck. You could feel every muscle in his neck and head moving as he walked round, his skin was very tough and leathery and his bristles were like brush bristles they were so spiky! I put my hands on his head and my legs right behind his ears, which batted me whilst he was walking along. His ears were so huge that they made a slapping noise every time he flapped them :)

We went through jungle with flowering trees, buffalo and palms but all too soon it was over. We bought our elephant a bunch of bananas to say thank you and went to wash our hands. I kept a close eye on what happened next – I didn’t want to see him being marched off for the next walk straight away – but was pleased to see his mahout leading him off to the shade for a drink and a cool down. I went to take a picture but he said that I could help…so I poured water down the elephant’s trunk, assuming he was swallowing it…but no, he was saving it to pour into his mouth in one go. They can swallow up to 10 litres at a time and it sounded like a bath had been tipped over. The mahout said that they can drink up to 200 or 300 litres a day on hot days, and they needed several showers to keep cool so I hosed the elephant down and then filled up his trunk again, but this time he sprayed it all over himself

It was such an amazing experience…to be on top of such a big, gentle creature and then to wash it and to see them up close. He trotted off to his tree where he was fed palm leaves in the shade so we left him in peace and went to explore the mountains a bit further. We found a little place called Sunset View on the side of the mountain where you could see miles out to sea

and then went back to the guesthouse for a swim in the pool and a relaxing afternoon. Except that at some point, it was decided that I should learn how to ride the bike. There are plenty of small, deserted tracks round here which is a good job considering how disastrously the first attempt went in Cambodia. But this time I managed to go in a sort of straight line and sort of turn round corners (with Craig on the back) so 100% better than the first experience. I don’t like how the bike is so heavy when it’s not going – turning it round is quite an effort – but straight lines have now been mastered but for the first hour I refused to go over 20kmph as it was pretty scary. I don’t think I’ll ever be a biker chick but after a bit more practice on the quiet roads here, I should hopefully be able to drive us at least slowly if there was ever an emergency with Craig and we were miles away from anywhere.

As our hotel room has a fridge, we nipped to Tesco Lotus round the corner to get a few bits for lunch to save some cash…although this didn’t really work out because to our delight, we found real cheese. We haven’t had proper cheese in forever aside from the odd bit of mozzarella on pizzas, so we were pretty excited and conveniently decided to ignore the fact that a block of cheese costs more than most meals here. We loaded up on mature chedder, brie, garlic and herb cream cheese, bread, butter, salami, ham and crisps etc and managed to spend £40. Oops. The Tesco’s itself was amazing, with a large array of weird and wonderful fresh mushrooms (we’re going to ask Tom if we can borrow his kitchen so we can cook up an awesome carbonara), ginormous fresh prawns, takeaway dried fish with the bones sticking up through the clingfilm, a special monk isle where they can buy their robes (Tesco is nothing if not opportunistic) and people can buy them monk buckets full of toiletries or snacks to give them in the morning, lifejackets, sacks of rice and noodles…everything you can possibly imagine. The one thing we couldn’t find, even in the international food aisle (stuffed full of sauerkraut and Nestle coffee, was Marmite. Our stock is running dangerously low.

But even with that crushing blow, we are enjoying our time on Koh Samui. Tom and Sarah are very nice and I am looking forward to starting work tomorrow with Akky, the other boy who is helping them, who arrived today, and Craig can’t wait to try out the new fishing gear he bought here the other day whilst I am at work. Might help with getting back into the swing of working again when we get to Australia…

Waterfight carnage – Songkran 2012

14 Apr

The Thai (and Sri Lankan, Cambodian, Lao and many other countries) New Year finally arrived, and more importantly, Craig’s birthday. A happy coincidence – although Craig swears it was planned especially for him.

There are lots of rituals that are performed throughout Songkran, most of which involve cleaning (houses, temples, statues of Buddha and each other) to symbolise the washing away of bad luck from the last year and the start of a new one.

Apparently it started out by families washing their elders with scented water, but this has slowly evolved into a mass water fight. I gave Craig his card which I have been doggedly carrying round with me since the first time in Bangkok (glad they didn’t steal that!) and we had a dip in the pool to get in the spirit of things, before going out on the bike about 9.30am to go and drop our laundry off (4kg!) and get weaponry. We took Craig’s little waterproof bag and the camera in a sandwich bag, and put those in the bike just in case, but we weren’t really expecting to get soaked immediately. Before we’d even got down the road, we’d been shot at by a little girl with a water pistol…and after dropping off the laundry, the laundry ladies turned on us and tipped bowls of water over us.

This was going to be serious. We held a quick tactical meeting outside a makeshift watergun shop and decided that I would have a big gun, built for range and power, and Craig would have a smaller gun with a backpack that contained three canisters for capacity and surprise factor. We strapped on the guns and drove off.

Everyone was involved. Every 100m or so, we were attacked by little kids with tiny little pistols attached to mini umbrellas so that they could shoot you without getting too wet themselves…however they didn’t anticipate our double-team approach so when we drew up, I’d shoot the group, allowing Craig time to stop and unleash his watergun on the unsuspecting. Whilst we were engaged in battle with the children, the adults snuck up on us and chuck buckets of water over us from behind so we cut our losses and pushed onwards.

The cunning Thais were not only in the street, they had mobile units of men, women and children on the backs of pickup trucks, complete with barrels of water. They drove past, shooting at us whilst their kids chucked bowls of water towards us. We heroically returned fire but were overpowered – and anyway, we came to one of the many “checkpoints”.

These consisted of men in shorts with whistles and you had to stop (they put chairs in the road on many occasions!). We were attacked from all sides…not only with water guns, but with water mixed with talcum powder, which was smeared on our cheeks with shouts of “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”. War paint on, we decided to engage the enemy by befriending them enough to let them reload our weapons in their barrels of water. Whilst we were doing this, we were invited in by the families’ grandparents, who were sitting watching the carnage and drinking whiskey. We were given a huge shot each but we just had a tiny sip (it was very strong)…we declined the snails we were offered in case this slowed us down in battle. Think you get us that easily, eh?

Craig joined the enemy side briefly so that they could more effectively drench tourists who were driving from the dry side of town through the action. A French couple had pulled over so he smeared them in talcum powder and shot them, whilst the girl screamed “THIS ISN’T FUNNY ANY MORE!”…which automatically made it incredibly funny so she was unceremoniously shot by everyone a couple of times. There is no such thing as a neutral party during Songkran – unless you are wearing a plastic poncho, helmet and other protective gear, you will get soaked. We gleefully dispatched everyone in our path.

We refilled the guns – and in the true spirit of war, attacked our new-found friends (including the giggling grandfathers) as we made off on the bike. Suckkkkkers.

No one was safe and everyone got involved. Elderly African ladies with huge headdresses on were walking the streets, carrying enormous guns and shooting their husbands. Little kids were hiding behind cars and attacking the pickup truck groups by stealth (ok that was me). Buckets of water were tipped over everyone, whether they were riding, walking or sitting. Enterprising individuals filled their barrels of water with ice – so you never knew whether that faceful of water was going to be deliciously warm or absolutely freezing cold. We had evidentally underestimated their ingenuity. The talcum powder/water mix sometimes also contained dye, so we ended up with white faces, streaked with red and green, but within seconds of you being covered, someone else would douse you again so you’d be relatively clean until the next assault.

We  beat a quick retreat for lunch round the corner…everywhere was pretty much deserted but we found a little place for pizza with wipe-clean seats so we didn’t make too much a mess dripping everywhere. It turned out that this is where the few people who didn’t want to get involved were hiding, but as they had cameras, we took had mercy on them and turned a blind eye. It was however, an excellent place to stealth-shoot people who had ducked down the side street to reload :)

Whilst eating, we planned our final strike as by this time we were covered in talcum powder and soaked to the skin. A new strategy was clearly needed.

 A group of tourists were outside their hotel, armed to the teeth and shooting pickup truck groups. They didn’t look nearly wet enough so we parked up near them, nonchalantly pretending to fiddle with our bike seat…and then ran at them, all guns blazing. “AMBUSH!” they screamed. Suddenly more people ran out from behind the trees and we were attacked from all bases with buckets of water and a variety of guns. It was exactly like the final scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid…I’d like to say we went down in a blaze of glory, but unlike the film, we had the benefit of a scooter so we bravely Ran Away.

We went back to the hotel (making sure to shoot the laundry ladies and the little girl we’d been got by in the morning before we’d bought our guns for good measure) to dry off.

It was the most fun I have had in just about ever. I loved that everyone, regardless of age, locals and tourists alike, got involved and everyone was laughing their heads off, soaked and covered in talcum powder. It went on all day and didn’t get out of hand. Towards the afternoon, people had clearly drunk a little bit more and things were a little bit more rowdy so we got off the bike and walked round instead, but we didn’t see any accidents (although a few police bikes did go past). It may have been a completely different experience in areas where there were more tourists (Khao San Road), but here where it’s quieter, everyone just had an amazingly good time without it degenerating. Many tourists we spoke to said it was much more fun than their own New Year celebrations, and I wholly agree. It is a shame I couldn’t take more photos but I am certain that would have meant a ruined camera or missing out on all the fun from afar.

Finally dry and thoroughly exhausted, we headed back out to get some food. By that time, not much was open and the water war was over, but we found a bar run by Germans with ladyboys as waitresses, which was a little odd but the food was good :) We called it a night, happy and completely knackered. I think it made it much easier for Craig turning 32 when all we did was act like seven year olds all day!