Sunday, July 7, 2013

Surviving the Full Moon Party and the monsoon season in the Andaman Coast

It's been a while since I blogged.  It has been hard for us to carve out the time lately- Southern Thailand is stunning and has us wanting to be out exploring.  But we've worn ourselves out- our back and arms are sore from kayaking and our legs are sore from hiking. Today seemed to be the perfect day to sit and relax in our hostel's coffee shop and catch up on our blogs and hopefully upload photos to Facebook before we leave for China on the 10th (where we will lose access to both sites because of the countries censorship of them).  

My last post was a few weeks ago when we were in Bangkok.  We were blessed to not only see one friend in Bangkok but two!  It had been since Australia that we had last seen friends.  Shane arrived first to Bangkok and gave us a welcoming tour of his neighborhood.  Based right off the Skytrain, the Nana district is packed full of travelers seeking the attention of beautiful Thai women, cheap drinks and exotic foods.  We had heard about Nana from a Malaysian traveler that we had met on the packed Skytrain one day- so we had an inkling of what we were getting into by meeting our friend there.  I claim it as a cultural experience.   

A few pictures to capture the spirit of the evening-

Fried frog.  I tried a bit of a leg.  It tasted like fried chicken...  

A slap that Shane promised he would deliver to Nate from some old co-workers.  Also in the picture- you'll see the last wine I have ever (or will ever) order while in SEA (so unbearably sweet), my water which the boys should also have in front of them too but don't and a hard working but fun woman who was working the room to find some love- or at least some evening companionship.

Shane dismantling a cricket for me to try.

A band singing popular songs in English- but otherwise can not speak English.  Totally a wild concept to me...

Two days later, Cherrie flew into Bangkok after 17+ hours of travel.  I wasn't in much better shape- I couldn't sleep the night before or the night of her arrival because I was so excited to see her.  I stayed up both nights thinking of all the things that I wanted to ask her or talk to her about.  Here's a picture that Nate took of us once we arrived back at the hostel from the airport around 1 am.  We are both exhausted but so happy to see each other.  Cherrie's wearing a flower garland made by an old woman who makes them around the corner from our hostel- where she sat every day, rain or shine.  I couldn't resist getting one to welcome Cherrie to Thailand.

The next morning- I gave up trying to sleep and got out of bed at 6:30 and went down the the lobby.  Cherrie, who also wasn't sleeping soon joined me.  Over coffee- we started to download on the 5 months of gossip that I had missed out on.  Our overnight train south was departing around 7pm- so we had a day in Bangkok if we were up to it.  It was Saturday so the huge weekend market was happening.  Cherrie, quickly realizing how hot and humid Thailand really is this time of the year wanted to pick up a few lighter things to wear- so we went to the Chatuchak market.  This was now my third trip to this market- and I can tell you that I still feel like I'm in the world's largest corn maze when there.  It is massive in scale... and I'd love to think that the consumer has some bargaining power since there are so many similar vendors but the truth is- you'd never be able to relocate your preferred item- so you may as well just buy the item you like when you see it.  I had seen some pants that I really liked when I had gone with Nate a couple weeks prior.  I had thought $6 was too steep (yes, it seems silly but you start to think in terms of the local going rate and not what you would have paid for a similar item in the US) so I was set on finding the booth again to negotiate for the pants.  I never found it....

After recognizing how delirious we had become- we made the trip back to the hostel.  We had told Nate that we'd meet him by 4- but by 3 we were exhausted from the heat and lack of sleep.  Nate was online at a nearby cafe- so it was easy to meet up and head off for some food.  I had been eyeing a local food kitchen which never had "farong" (white tourists) there- so I was sure that it was going to be an authentic, amazing and cheap meal.  Well, turns out it was none of those things....  Afterwards, Cherrie and I decided to get an hour long massage at a salon that was around the corner.  We had just about an hour to kill before heading to the train station- so we scurried off, leaving Nate behind again.  Before you feel too bad for him that we're bailing on hi, again- he hates shopping and is truly scared sick at the thought of ever getting a massage again (no thanks to a foot massage that he got in Ubud, Bali which I have no doubt has left permanent damage to his psyche).  So, after hearing Cherrie attempt several times to communicate her desire for her masseuse to go easy on her- with only giggles in response from the masseuse- it was my turn...  Having had similar massages several times- I was prepared for the intensity but this is the first time I had ever had anyone walk on me!  A true Thai massage---$6 well spent!

After reuniting with Nate, we headed for the train station where we loaded up on cheap- but very tasty- Thai food before taking the overnight train to Suratthani- which was followed by an hour bus ride to the Donsak pier, a three hour ferry ride to Koh Phangan and then finally a cramped taxi (songthaew) lift to our hotel (ok, we didn't end up being dropped off at our hotel- so then add on a half hour of getting conflicting directions- before our actual arrival).  

Our songthaew looked something like this-

The Full Moon party was that night.  After the long trip from Bangkok- we needed some sleep.  We all crashed for a few hours and then motivated for some food.  After that- we were ready to see what this party was all about.  It seemed to be a neon-themed, early 20's, waste-fest.  We did our best to fit in- and bought some neon, glow-in-the-dark necklaces and debated neon skin paint- but thought better of it. Then hit the party.

 Horrible photo- but you now get what I mean by the neon-themed dress code.

Cherrie and Nate-

Two friends from Humboldt had been traveling in Indonesia while we were there but we seemed to always be on different islands.  I had just gotten a note from them that they had been on Koh Phangan for a few days and should be at the party. So- after only a half-hour of walking through the party- we bumped into them just as they were walking onto the beach!  Considering that there are thousands of people on the beach- we were thrilled to see them so early in the night.  

Here's a pic of Cherrie, Jen and I.

And a picture of Jen and Glenn at their favorite bar after we all quickly decided to retreat from the party.  Note  how none of us seem to have the dress code mastered- like the cool kids at the back of the photo who are blocking your view of the pet monkey.

There's not much to say about the party.  We saw people jump-roping rope on fire, drinking their weight in alcohol, dancing and having a great time.  Here's two photos that sum it up well-

Dancing on a stage with their blow-up friend (also in neon)

And the ever present bucket of alcohol.

The next day, we saw person after person (no really) with bandages on their feet.  Either they all messed up in the flaming jump rope- or they got sliced up on broken glass.  I was glad that we had survived without any injury.

Nate's and my Thai visa was about to expire- we had only one day left on it.  We needed to make a visa-run down to the Malaysian border.  We left at 4am with others who also decided that they liked Thailand too much to leave after only 30 days...  (Two of the 6 of us had bandages on their feet.)  So, we said good-bye to Cherrie with the hopes that we'd be able to see her again and boarded the 3 hour ferry to the mainland- and then took a 4 hour bus ride to the boarder.  It was astounding to me- in 30 minutes we got 4 passport stamps- one leaving Thailand, one entering Malaysia, one leaving Malaysia and one re-entering Thailand giving us 15 more days in the country.  

This time, after the long drive and the ferry ride, we arrived in Koh Samui- the next island over from Koh Phangan and Cherrie departed for Koh Tao (the third and least touristy of the islands).  After arriving, we learned that Shane and his two good friends from Vancouver, WA arrived on Koh Samui the same night we did.  The next day, we met them at their hotel which was the next beach over from where we were staying.  

Shane, Sarah and Morgan in Koh Samui.  Yay, more friends!

Shane somehow became our third official sponsor- purchasing all of our drinks over a period of three days.  We have no idea how this happened- he was obviously in cahoots with the bar staff since we always asked for our own bill.  None-the-less-- we are extremely grateful.  Thanks Shane!!! 

After a few days in Koh Samui- we left for the west side of Thailand to see the Andaman Coast.  I've dreamed of seeing the limestone cliffs and kayak the waters below them.  although I knew that we were arriving during them monsoon season- I still had high hopes of having plenty of good days to get out an explore- so I was a bit crushed to be trapped in the hostel lobby for two days as it down poured.  Thankfully, that storm only lasted for two days after arriving.  We did get out once or twice during the first couple of days for short walks. This was taken in Krabitown very close to our hostel.

After the weather improved, we spent a day kayaking around the limestone cliffs.  I didn't take my camera for fear of dropping it in the water- but did get this series of pictures of Nate playing on the muddy river after we kayaked!

One of the local highlights of Krabi as well as Southern Thailand is the Tiger Cave Temple.  We caught a songthaew outside our hotel and after a bit of negotiation on the price- we hopped on.  The Tiger Cave Temple used to house a tiger up until the mid-1940s when perhaps the tiger either passed away or moved on- and a temple was built into the cave.  There is also a beautiful temple that can be seen after a painful climb up a non-stop series of stairs- which of course we did.  I almost didn't make it.  The heat and humidity of Thailand make any movement difficult so this was extra challenging.  But worth it- the temple at the top was amazing as were the views.

The Tiger Cave Temple at the base of the mountain.

After checking out the tiger cave- we searched for the trail up the mountain.

The trail head.  (Note- Nathan just now told me about Purple Mountain in Nanjing, China that he wants to visit which has 392 steps which he now claims to be "child's play") 

The stairs up.  After the first several hundred- my legs were rubbery and I started feeling nauseous and dizzy.  I am quite honestly surprised that I ever made it to the top.

Very cute temple guards requesting payment of bananas from those who wish to pass and climb the stairs past them.

We made it up!  And the view was spectacular!

As was the temple, itself.

Our original plan had been to stay in Krabitown for just a few nights before going to Koh Phi Phi island but that quickly changed after investigating the lodging prices there.  For example, we are paying 450 Baht (15 USD) now for a room with AC, a tv and wifi.  The going rate in Phi Phi is 1,200 (40 USD) for a room with a fan- and this is the lowest price in the low-season.  Hard to believe that it would be double or triple that amount in high season.  So we decided to stay where we are and take a day trip to the island to snorkel and sight-see.

I cannot express how beautiful this island is.  It was in the film The Beach, which apparently has caused the island to triple in development since the 2000 film.  Still, the water and limestone cliffs are spell-binding.

We went snorkeling in a few spots around the island but it wasn't as good as the snorkel trip that we had taken with Shane, Sarah and Morgan in Koh Tao.  Apparently, Koh Phi Phi's waters are still recovering from the Banda Aceh tsunami that hit the island in 2004.  I guess between the tsunami and the massive number of tourists- the reefs and ocean life are struggling.  But, we still saw a number of beautiful fish including one of my favorites- the parrot fish.  

I love this photo- it sums up the beauty of the Andaman Coast.

Maya Beach where the movie The Beach was filmed.

And that brings me to now- sitting in the hostel's cafe while Nate fine tunes our upcoming trip to China.  We leave tomorrow for Phuket and from there, fly into Guangzhou.  I feel that staying in a bamboo hut right on the beach seems like the perfect way to end our 6 weeks in Thailand- so that's where we'll be by the time you read this.

Since I won't have Facebook for the next month- feel free to send me an email at nancystev at gmail dot com!

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