Rainy Beaches, Crashed Motorbike, Full Moon Party and Dengue Fever: South Thailand Round-Up.

After volunteering at SaeLao, I made my way back to Bangkok to be reunited with Murphy, my best friend from home! (YAY!) Murph and I spent two weeks together in South Thailand, spending a few days in Bangkok, followed by Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangnan.

Basically all we did in Bangkok was shop and drink like desperate housewives. It was great.

We took a 14 hour overnight train to Surat Thani followed by a 1 hour bus, 30 minute ferry and 30 minute taxi ride to get us to our hotel in Koh Samui. SO WORTH IT. I decided it was time for some luxe livin’ so Murph and I treated ourselves to a stay at Mantra Boutique Resort, a five-star paradise up in the hills of Koh Samui, overlooking Bo Phut beach.  It was stunning, and we had the best time catching up and enjoying the good life for the two nights we were there. The weather was absolutely amazing on the day we arrived, but turned stormy the next day. That didn’t stop us from sipping cocktails by the pool though.

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Poolside drankin'
Poolside drankin’
Crazy storm!
Crazy storm!

The ferry ride from Koh Samui to Koh Tao was beyond a joke. The weather was horrible, and so the sea was super choppy. When we were about 20 minutes away from Koh Tao, we pulled up next to another boat and were told that we had to get on that one instead. So our whole boat full of about 150 people, had to jump from one boat to another. As the boat rocked up and down, we had to time our step on to the new boat perfectly, or else we would lose our footing and fall into the water. I had 30kg strapped to my body and Murph was carrying a rather large suitcase so needless to say this exercise was both extremely difficult and also terrifying.

We spent three nights in Koh Tao and it didn’t stop raining the entire time. Except, of course, the day we left! So disappointing! So no diving, no snorkelling, no beach time, nothing! Since we couldn’t have any fun in the sun we thought we’d at least have a wild night at the Koh Tao Pub Crawl. We got to the meeting place right on time at 7 o’clock but they were sold out! Nobody told us to go early! Argh so annoying! Poo you Koh Tao.

Beautiful weather the day we left!
Beautiful weather the day we left!

Next stop, Koh Phangnan. With more cheap alcohol and MDMA than you can poke a chopstick at, this party paradise is a favourite of lads on tour and home of the famous Full Moon Party. Upon arriving at our hostel in Koh Phangnan I was reunited with Amelia, Chloe and Alice from The UK (YAY!). We immediately got into the Koh Phangnan spirit with a game of Kings Cup before heading out to a pool party at Coral Bungalows, one of the resorts on the island. This pool party was nothing short of insane. There was at least 1000 other people there, a massive bar with incredibly cheap buckets of alcohol and a huge (probably disease-ridden) pool that was literally full of people. I have never seen anything like it. It was some Project X level shit.

Not a great photo but you get the idea! CRAZY!
Not a great photo but you get the idea! CRAZY!

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Getting home was tough for little Amelia.
Getting home was tough for our little Meems.

The next day, Murph and I decided to do what all stupid backpackers do, hire a motorbike. Now, I’ve ridden a motorbike before. I was confidently zooming around Chiang Mai and Pai on one for a week, but I’d never ridden with someone on the back.

You guessed it, we crashed.

The road from Baan Tai Beach (where we stayed) to Haad Rin beach (where all the shops and restaurants are) is made up of unbelievably steep inclines and declines. The roads are very narrow, and overrun with speeding, horn-honking taxis. While riding up one particularly steep hill, our bike decided to give up on us. It started to slow down. I panicked. I slammed on the brakes and Murph and I jumped off the bike. Taxis were speeding past, literally inches away from us. People on motorbikes were honking their horns and zooming around us.

In my panicked state, I accidentally revved the accelerator as I tried to wheel the bike to the side of the road. The bike flew out of my grip and straight into a ditch.

Fuck.

I stood stock-still staring at the scratched-up bike with my hand over my mouth. I was in complete shock. The front and sides were covered in scuff marks and scratched. One of the side mirrors had cracked. The seat was broken and no longer clicked into place. I thought I was going to vomit. The bike was too heavy for us to lift out of the ditch so we stood shaking on the side of the road until some good samaritans stopped to help us.

We waited there for at least half an hour wondering what the hell to do. Did I mention it had started POURING rain? There was no way either of us were getting back on the bike, so how were we going to get ourselves back to the hostel? And how were we going to get the bike back to the hostel?! And how much money are we going to have to pay to repair this now messed up motorbike???!!!?!

You can imagine the state I was in at this point.

Eventually some guys turned up, and we begged them to drive our motorbike back to our hostel for us while we took a taxi. These guys could have just taken off on our bike never to be seen again. THANK GOD they didn’t. What absolute HEROES. I honestly have no idea what we would have done without them.

In the end, we paid $100 for the damages on our bike. It could have been a lot worse. We are incredibly lucky to have come out of it completely unhurt, albeit extremely shaken up and scarred for life.

Murph and I when we were NOT distressed over motorbike incident. Ah, a happier time.
Murph and I when we were NOT distressed over the motorbike incident. Ah, a happier time.

As that day progressed, I was not feeling good. I had no appetite, a fever, chills, felt extremely weak, fatigued and had muscle aches. I spent pretty much the entire afternoon sleeping. That night was the Jungle Experience Party, which some people say is even better than the Full Moon Party. Given my condition, I decided to skip it. I thought maybe my body was having some sort of weird stress reaction the the motorbike incident, but when I went to bed at 8pm and didn’t wake up the next day until lunch-time, I knew something was definitely wrong with me. That’s when Alice decided to drop the bomb that there had been a lot of dengue fever going around. Sure enough, after a quick Google, I discovered my symptoms were an exact match for dengue. Nothing like a life-threatening mosquito-borne tropical disease to kill the vibe on the day of the Full Moon Party.

Despite feeling absolutely horrible, I couldn’t possibly miss out on the promised night of all nights, so I donned my ridiculous fluorescent singlet and some face paint and tried to psych myself up for what was supposed to be the best night of my life (okay, no). In an effort to prolong my lifespan, I decided not to drink at all because it would only thin my blood and let the dengue kill me faster. So as probably the only sober person out of the 20 000 that attended the July Full Moon Party, you can imagine the amount of fun I was having. HINT: NONE AT ALL. I felt like I was on death’s door, and at 2am (8 hours earlier than when the average person leaves) I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I got a taxi back to the hostel.

YAY ALICE
YAY ALICE
Trying to stay awake before heading down to the beach.
Trying to stay awake before heading down to the beach. Evidently not doing a very good job, given that my eyes are closed.

THIS SUCKS. I cannot believe I missed out on the biggest party in South East Asia because I was ill. Of all the times I could have gotten sick over the last 8 months, it had to be now.

We spent the next night on the 14 hour train back to Bangkok. By this point I had developed a rash all over my body. Death by dengue was imminent. We went to the hospital the following morning only for the doctor to tell me I had a viral infection, and it was far enough along now that there was no point in even giving me any antibiotics. GREAT. I laid cooped up in my hotel room in Bangkok for the next three days, too sick to even see Murph off at the airport. It was so horrible, but hey, I didn’t die. So all’s well that ends well.

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Pai is like, really, really great. Really.

After cooking and tiger patting and elephant bathing my way through Chaing Mai, I jumped on a painfully packed mini-van with five massive British guys, three gap year girls, a hippy, a very uncomfortable looking elderly couple and all of our huge backpacks, to the laid-back mountain surrounded paradise that is Pai.

Three and a half hours of the most winding road I’ve ever been on (762 curves to be exact, there are T-shirts to prove it), led me to be dropped off in the middle of the tiny town, from where I had to get a taxi that was literally just a motorbike with a massive cage bolted to the side of it, to get me five minutes back up the road to my hostel, Spicy Pai. Without a doubt the coolest hostel I have stayed in so far. Forget abut the fact that I slept in a 26 bed mixed dorm with no air-conditioning, a ripped mosquito net and no security. It was a giant bamboo hut for goodness sake! Coolest thing ever or what?

While it’s a chilled-out little hippie town by day, Pai goes mental at night. The whole town seems to be driven purely by the tourism industry, and by midnight, its crawling with drunken backpackers, hopping from one reggae bar to the next.

It’s quite a strange place in that there’s really no reason to go there other than to party. There’s really not a lot to see or do, so drinking is quite a popular activity. It’s sort of like the partying beach-bum life without the beautiful beach. I mean, yes the mountain scenery is gorgeous, but I wasn’t gazing open mouthed into the distance with “What a Wonderful World” softly playing in my head. Pai does have a pool though, and a few waterfalls, and a giant Buddha, and a strawberry farm, and a canyon. 

I was feeling pretty down in the dumps when I arrived in Pai, missing the comforts and familiarity of home. Which for me, is a feeling that comes and goes quite frequently. So I was super happy to meet three totally lovely British girls; Alice, Alex and Emma, and was reunited with Melissa (who I met in Chiang Mai) and her friend Brinn.

The six of us became instant best friends, and had such an awesome time together. We spent the mornings stuffing ourselves with amazing brekkies at Boomalicious, and the afternoons riding around town on our scooters getting lost in the countryside with the wind in our hair and the sun slowly etching signs of premature ageing into our backs. We would then spend the evenings sipping on some Sangsom (the local poison of choice) and find ourselves walking back from who knows where at four o’clock in the morning. It was a really fun time and I already miss those girls to pieces. 

Moral of this very short story? Get your ass to Pai.

Alice, Brinn, Emma, Me, Melissa
Alice, Brinn, Emma, Me, Melissa
Night out at Don't Cry Bar. Alex, Me, Emma.
Night out at Don’t Cry Bar. There was a Thai heavy metal band playing live while this photo was taken and it was probably one of the weirdest nights out I’ve ever had. Alex, Me, Emma.
Nature's water slide.
Nature’s water slide.
I felt like such a bad ass srsly.
I felt like such a bad ass srsly.
Big Buddha!
Big Buddha!
View from Spicy Pai hostel. Doesn't get much better than that.
View from Spicy Pai hostel. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Pai Canyon.
Pai Canyon.
Already missing you millions, Pai !
Already missing you millions, Pai !

Making Elephant Pals in Chiang Mai

I feel as though I should preface this by suggesting that if you’re uncomfortable with or wholly against the concept of elephant tourism, this post probably isn’t for you. 

I thought about turning this post into a long, heartfelt, intelligent discussion of the moral dilemmas behind elephant tourism and animal tourism in general. However, I decided I wasn’t comfortable throwing around my opinions about such a controversial issue that, to be honest, I don’t really know much about. Especially given that there are so many people out there with very strong opinions in regards to the massive issue of animal rights. Perhaps one day I’ll have the time to research the issue properly, and discuss its related ethical concerns a little further. But for now, I’ll be keeping my big, fat, uneducated mouth shut, thanks very much.

I will say though, that when I chose to do this elephant experience, I did not choose lightly. I researched the hell out of at least half a dozen companies to make sure I wasn’t just handing my money over to some dodgy little Thai man with a pack of elephants chained up in his backyard. I decided on Baan Chang Elephant Park, who are regarded as the second most morally conscious elephant experience provider in Chiang Mai. I wasn’t able to go with the number one company because a) they were hopeless at getting back to me and b) they were well out of my price range. Baan Chang definitely didn’t come cheap, mind you. 

The day began in a minivan as I was whisked away from my hostel and off to the Baan Chang site, about an hour up into the gorgeous lush green hills surrounding Chiang Mai. Upon arriving, we saw about two dozen elephants all just standing around in a field, swinging their tails and swishing their trunks around, having a great old time. My first thoughts echoed around the minivan as others said the same thing out loud: they looked SO HAPPY. Honestly, they looked so at peace with their surroundings and just happy to be around all their elephant mates with nothing to worry about.

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We were soon changing into our special elephant trainer clothes provided by Baan Chang (real cute btw) and hearing lots of important and interesting information from our guide about what the day ahead would involve. 

Next, we were each given a huge basket of bananas and sugar cane to feed the elephants straight off the palms of our own hands. Skin and all, the elephants scoffed down entire hands of bananas at once, along with great big bundles of sugar cane.

Taking those 'nanas like a champ.
Taking those ‘nanas like a champ.

Before this day, I’d never seen or even imagined the way an elephant looked and behaved up close. Everything about them is overwhelmingly large. I was struck by how big the soles of their feet were, bigger than dinner plates.

Their entire bodies are constantly in motion. Always flapping their giant ears and swinging their trunks and shuffling their feet from side to side. Their skin is wrinkled and leathery as if from a life-time of tanning while lathered in coconut oil. The little hairs on top of their head are short and spiky and hard, like the bristles of a harsh scrubbing brush. They honestly are very, very cool.

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IMG_2828After another pep talk from our guide we were up and learning how to ride them. There are no little wooden seats strapped to these babies’ backs though. We were riding bare-back, right on the elephants neck, which is actually the best way for the elephant, and the traditional way that mahouts (human trainers/ companions that partner with one elephant for life) have been riding elephants for hundreds of years.

Sorry for super dodgy photo. But look I'm riding an elephant!
Sorry for super dodgy photo. But look I’m riding an elephant!

We rode the elephants for about an hour, and honestly that was enough. My bum was so sore by the end of it I was almost begging to get down. With us on their backs, the elephants trekked through a jungle path that surrounds the Baan Chang site, and lead us to a river, where we got to bathe them. 

Truth be told, this was gross. All the elephants shat in the water, and their huge grassy mounds of poo bobbed up to the surface for us all to dodge wildly while we splashed water on the elephants and scrubbed them clean. It didn’t smell bad or anything, but the whole time I was painfully aware of how squishy the river floor felt beneath my feet. And I’ll never forget that tiny drop of water that made its way into my mouth.

Looking happy despite being covered in elephant shit water.
Looking happy despite being covered in elephant shit water.

After that, it was time to shower, change and head on back to Chiang Mai. This was really a great day, and I think writing about it has actually helped me to realise that. I mean, there’s not many people who can say they’ve hung out with elephants like this.

ALSO, CUTE:

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Claiming Victory of Masterchef Thailand

It’s no secret that I LOVE food, but when it comes to cooking, I’ve never been able to do much more than steam a broccoli tree.

I remember one time a few years ago, Dad was in the middle of cooking sausages, and he realised we didn’t have any butter for the all important mashed potatoes.

While he ran down to Woolies I was left with the overwhelming responsibility of not burning the sausages. “Just keep an eye on them and turn them every few minutes,” he’d said. Easy.

About seven minutes later he ran through the front door screaming. From halfway up the street, he could see so much smoke coming from the kitchen window that he literally thought I had set our house on fire.

Busy watching The Simpsons, I didn’t even realise there was a problem.

I thought that moving out of home and all the way to Japan would have somehow forced my hidden master chef to show itself, but unfortunately our dirty little kitchen didn’t do much for inspiring culinary creativity. Some days it was so gross that I couldn’t even bare to go inside, for I feared the wild mutant bacteria might start jumping off the bench and latching itself onto my skin.

So if I wasn’t eating scraps of pizza off customer’s plates (not even slightly joking), I was surviving off my staple dish of rice and scrambled eggs with mayo. The meal that allowed me to be in and out of that kitchen as speedily as possible.

In Chiang Mai, my new friend Melissa and I were convinced by the guy running the hostel we were staying in that we definitely, positively had to do a cooking class while we were there. My history of cooking disasters were certainly against me, and when presented with five recipes of very complicated and delicious looking Thai dishes, I wondered how I was going to make it out of the day alive.

Well guess what my friends. I cooked some extremely DELICIOUS things. And the whole experience was really fun! I didn’t even burn anyone, slice off any of my fingers or contract salmonella poisoning. Success!

I can't believe i was trusted with this axe.
Here, have an axe.

We started off with a choice of a few different noodle dishes, and I went for one of my all-time favourites, the classic Pad-Thai. It’s always a winner and this time was no exception. DAYUM it was good. I made mine really spicy, and added extra peanuts and lime. Super good.

Hey look I made a thing
Eaten in aprox 5.7 seconds.
Really glad I didn't choose to make "Drunken Noodles."
Really glad I didn’t choose to make “Drunken Noodles.”

We also made a curry from scratch. How cool is that?! We mashed together a collection of different ingredients in a mortar and pestle to make the curry paste and then cooked it up with some chicken and vege to make a really yummy curry. I made Kow Soi which is the signature curry of Chiang Mai. The stand out meal of the day, by a long shot.

Before
Before
After
After. SO GOOD.

I did make a few other things as well, all of which I can’t remember.  We got some mango sticky rice at the end, and a recipe book to keep. If you’re considering a cooking school in Chiang Mai, I highly recommend Siam Rice Cookery School. The teachers are fantastic, the facilities are great and the atmosphere is warm (literally so freaking hot in there) and welcoming. The six delicious meals you get to eat are just a bonus.

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Oh also, I should mention that during the cooking class there was an earthquake and everyone totally freaked out. It was funny though.

 

Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

 

My uneducated and forgetful brain has left me with no facts or figures about Doi Suthep, but I’m guessing it would have to be the most visited temple in Chiang Mai. This huge, glitzy and golden structure is a chunder inducing and bum-numbing ride up a winding mountain road in the back of a rusty old share taxi. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous (lol #yolo), rent yourself a scooter for the very first time and decide that the best place to learn to ride it is 25km up a mountain via a very busy highway and the teenie tiny alleyways of Chiang Mai. She’ll be right, mate.

I won’t attempt to explain how beautiful this place is, but rather let you see for yourself in another collection of my dodgy attempts at photography, enjoy!

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Bonus scooter appreciation photo:

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