South Thailand


Party Islands
 

Flying from Denpasar, Indonesia I left for the airport at 0330 am for my 0700 am flight. This was the first plane I have taken in a long time that left at its correct departure time. I landed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at 1000 am. After entering Malaysia and collecting my baggage I soon left again back through immigration into the airport. Waiting for my next flight at 1615 pm (plus one hour because of the timezone change) made for a tiresome day.


Phuket

[Thailand]

After a long travel day I arrived sometime around 0600 pm and made a few friends at the airport. I took a shared minibus to Patong area, the city of Phuket. I stayed at a hostel named the Bodega, it had a good atmosphere and I met some really fun people.

I hung out and played football at the beach during the day and walked around checking out the local markets. It is definitely not a very classy place, with most massage parlours offering happy endings. “Massage, massage sir” can be heard numerous times walking down any block in Patong. There were many ladyboys throughout the city also offering “massage, massage” in a deeper toned voice. I avoided getting a massage in this city but I’m sure there are some reputable places if you seek some local advise. Indonesia was so different; I had forgotten the atmosphere since the last time I was in Thailand. I was lucky to meet some great people at the Bodega hostel which provided for some good conversation and fun nights out.

I stayed two nights in Phuket and it was time to leave. I wanted to get to the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan. I spoke with four or five different travel agents in regards to finding transportation to Koh Phangan. The highest price I had found was 1500 baht at a convenience store and the best price was from a kind woman just across the street from the hostel. I ended up paying 550 baht for the bus and ferry.

The world is a big place but small in so many ways. I was in my hostel room when a girl walked in named Danielle. She had just come from Indonesia a day after me. After introducing myself and speaking with her for a few minutes I found out she is from Limoges, only twenty minutes from the town I grew up in. She is 20 years old and has backpacked alone throughout Southeast Asia for 3 months. Canadians are everywhere in this part of the world. At times with only 37 million people in Canada, I wonder how many people are in Canada working.

The culture and people are visibly changed by the tourism in this area. The gorgeous beaches drive many tourists, backpackers, party people, as well as sun and sand lovers. The benefits of tourism are beyond substantial in Thailand. This was not an area where I got too local with the Thailand people. In a city with tourism as an economic steam engine, local traditions seem to be pushed towards the outside of the city.

The shops and street vendors often are not willing to negotiate prices because there are so many tourists (there is likely someone behind you willing to pay top dollar for the same item). Many people from the western world vacation for a few weeks in Thailand and often people come over from North America for a month or so. People backpacking for longer periods of time don’t have the capacity to be spending two to three times the local price all the time.

The nightlife scene is busy in the Patong area, most of the action happens on Bangla road. It lights up like what I imagine Sin City in Vegas would look like. Neon Lights everywhere. The gang from the bar and I went out to a bar named White Room. A dangerous place if looking to party hard and get drunk, the cost was 500 baht ($16.50 Canadian) for ‘all you can drink’ until 0100am. It was essentially the only option as one drink cost 230 baht. We had a pretty big group of people out from the hostel so it was fun to dance with friends.

White soft sands on Patong Beach (Thailand, 2016).
White soft sands on Patong Beach (Thailand, 2016).

Koh Phangan

The minibus to Koh Phangan took ages until we arrived at another bus meeting point. After getting off and waiting for a while we were bound on another bus to the harbour. Arnold, a friend I made at the Bodega split off for Koh Samui onto a different bus. We arrived to the harbour got a bite to eat and waited until 0400 pm to board the boat. We finally departed at 0500pm. We made a stop at Koh Samui and dropped off some passengers before heading to the island of Koh Phangan.

My bag was soaking wet when I picked it up, it had rained for a good portion of the ride and continued to rain when we arrived. It was a 25 minute covered truck taxi ride in the back to Haad Rin. By the time I got to my hostel it was 0800 pm, it was a long day of travelling.

I was staying in a dive hostel named ‘Jaya Hostel’, I expected it to be complete shit from the reviews online. It consisted of many different dorm rooms in different buildings but had a big central bar area. It was a 3 minute walk from my dorm room to the reception area where food was sold and the bar was located. I stayed in a building with two floors, on my floor there were two 22 bed dorms with one toilet and one shower; it was the same downstairs but with two additional showers. For the large number of people it went smoothly, bathroom facilities were throughout the hostel buildings. All in all the hostel exceeded my minimal expectations and provided me a good location in Haad Rin. It was in the heart of the Full Moon Party and had many restaurants and food options available. I had my hair cut across the street for 200 baht (tourist price of $6.60 Canadian).

The Full Moon Party is an all night party that originated on Koh Phangan island on the beach in Haad Rin. People start to migrate from Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia towards the island anywhere from a week before to the night of the party. It becomes infiltrated with tourists, over 30,000 travellers meeting up on this little island to party and have fun. I arrived two days before the Full Moon Party night.

The beach takes five minutes to walk down to so I checked it out. There are bars and small liquor stands serving beer and buckets of alcohol all over the beach. Fire shows, fire limbo, dancing and lots of drinking – the party had unofficially started – and the official Full Moon Party wasn’t for a couple days. I walked back and spent most of the night hanging out at the hostel with some of the staff and friends I made. The staff were celebrating one of the employees birthdays so hanging out there was a lot of fun. There was a ‘Waterfall Party’ on this night but I didn’t go, from what I heard it was expensive and not too fun.

During my day time hours on Koh Phangan island I spent most of my time at the beach relaxing, playing volleyball and resting; night time hours were spent partying away.

There is always a ‘Jungle’ party the night before the Full Moon Party, it is located a taxi ride away from Haad Rin in a large jungle area. There were thousands of people, at a certain point I lost track of where my friends were and it was late so I headed back. At this point the island was almost at capacity in the Haad Rin area, the party was going all night at the beach.

It exhausts me to write about how hard I partied for the next days. I’ll spare the details for the sake of my grandparents reading but my sleeping pattern was minimal and the drinking was excessive.

One of my favourite experiences was taking a boat taxi from the main Full Moon Party beach party to a bar named Garden of Eden in Ban Tai (arriving on the isolated Yuan Beach). It is only accessible by boat but is part of Koh Phangan island. I heard about it from a guy I met in the truck taxi from the harbour to Haad Rin. I shared the boat taxi with some friends I made on the beach. The DJ’s played some amazing sets through the night and sunrise.

All you need to say to the boat taxi driver from the main beach is “Eden” or “Garden of Eden” and they will know exactly where to bring you.

The Full Moon Party days were draining. I spent a day resting after the party and departed the next morning. I forgot to set my alarm to get out of bed to catch the ferry to Koh Tao. The 1100 am taxi pickup time for the ferry to Koh Tao was full so I was forced to take the 0900 am departure to Koh Tao. I heard a guy working in the hostel wake up my friend Adam on the other side of the room.

Typical Full Moon Party clothing & accessory shop. (Thailand, 2016).
Typical Full Moon Party clothing and accessory shop. (Thailand, 2016).
The road heading down to the beach, lots of people out getting the party going! (Thailand, 2016).
The road heading down to the beach, lots of people out getting the party going! (Thailand, 2016).

Unfortuantely my camera did not make it out for my highlights of the party. Try a quick ‘Full Moon Party Koh Phangan Photos’  search on google to get a better impression of the beach and party.

If you have better Full Moon Party photos send them to me, I’d be happy to have a link here. Still sorting the spam out on here but best reached through @ https://www.facebook.com/BackpackingNurse/


Koh Tao

0910 am, “Shit!” I packed all my things in under 30 seconds and rushed down the stairs to the street.

I booked my ticket to Koh Tao with a company separate from the hostel; I saved 50 baht but it didn’t come with a wake up call. The woman I booked my ticket with was an angel. I spoke with her at length the night before and she told me she worked the travel agency, the hostel and as a taxi driver, sometimes all in the same day.

I saw her on the street and waved stupidly, pretending to not notice I’m late and rolled out of bed the minute earlier. “Where’s the bus!?” I asked. She replied to me “hey, you late,” I apologized and asked “what can I do?” “Wait!” She told me as she made a call on her phone, lucky for me it was her husband working the taxi. “Get on, get on” she said as she started up her motorbike. With my bags I hopped on, we drove for about 20 minutes before meeting up with her husband driving the taxi. I hopped on the minibus taxi and we were headed to the ferry.

After arriving at the harbour the ferry to Koh Tao didn’t take long. The sun was shining and it was a gorgeous day. I ended up at the same spot as a bunch of friends I made at Jaya hostel on Koh Phangnan. I spent a few days relaxing and enjoying the sunshine. I played some volleyball in Koh Phangan but have been surprised how few nets are around.

We went out one night for the ‘Pub Crawl Night,’ there were three times the capacity of the pub crawl lined up for tickets (~500 people). It was expensive at 400 baht per ticket so my friends and I had some drinks and met up with the pub crawlers at the bar. There is no cover charge at the bars so missing out on a couple shots and a T-shirt was worth saving the baht. We had a great time, many of the people leave Koh Phangan for Koh Tao at a similar time (the pubcrawl is the biggest at this time). I ran into friends from Indonesia and Thailand.

I rented a motorbike for one day on Koh Tao spending some time exploring the 20 kilometer island. I parked the motorbike in front of the hostel overnight and someone stole the license plate right off of it. I was able to ‘bargain’ from 4,000 baht to 3,000 baht in order to have the guy renting the motorbike to return my passport and resolve the issue. The Thai people close themselves off when they are yelled at or feel disrespected so I had to stay nice and calm throughout it all. In truth I was very frustrated, likely it was him or one of his friends who stole the license plate and will put it back on in a few weeks to profit 3000 baht.

The roads are in poor condition; construction, dirt, gravel and sandy corners make for some challenging terrain. The motorbike rental companies make most of their money ripping off tourists for dents, small scratches, mirror issues and many more issues with the bikes. I caution anyone who choses to rent a motorbike on this island, take a 360 degree view video of the bike and note each scratch or they will make you pay. Within three days I spoke with over nine different people who each had to pay between 3,000 baht ($100 Canadian) to 13,000 baht ($433 Canadian) because of motorbike scratches, accidents, missing mirrors, etc. An extortionary price but they hold the renters passport as collateral so a person must do their best to bargain a better repair price.

Though drugs can be found at some bars on Koh Tao it is best to tread carefully before indulging. The police do not often turn a blind to anyone with drugs on this island. A few days before starting my PADI course our diving instructor had to bail out one of his previous students out of a holding cell the size of a dog cage for having 5 grams of marijuana. The typical result is a criminal record, time served, labour or a lot of money. This particular situation cost the young man 80,000 baht ($2,660 Canadian) and possibly a criminal record.

View of the local harbor (Thailand, 2016).
View of the local harbour (Thailand, 2016).
Ships docked for the day (Thailand, 2016).
Ships docked for the day (Thailand, 2016).
Love the beach and warm ocean at Koh Tao (Thailand, 2016).
Love the beach and warm ocean at Koh Tao (Thailand, 2016).

Scuba Diving

I booked myself into an open water PADI scuba diving course offered by Ban’s Diving Resort. It include 4 nights accommodation in my own fan room. It was great to have my own space, taking a break from the dorm rooms I have been sharing with many people. I paid 9000 baht for all ($285 Canadian). Koh Tao is known to have some of the best prices for scuba diving certification in the world.

Day one of my PADI license started at 0500 pm and only lasted a few hours. It consisted of introductions, watching a video and completing some questions.

Day two we had a quiz and got into the pool with the scuba gear. My body had a fight or flight instinct when going under water and breathing from an air tank the first time. It took a few minutes to calm myself down and gain control of my breathing. After the first few minutes things became easier as my body adjusted to the sensation of being under the water.

Our group was big for scuba diving lesson standards. Six people in total in the group – Ban’s had two awesome instructors and a DiveMaster assisting when we went in the ocean. The group It was a ton of fun the pool we did some exercises required by PADI to obtain the open water license. One of the first exercises we completed was taking in a deep breath and throwing the regulator and air supply hose, grabbing the hose appropriately and then clearing the water out of the regulator by ‘purging’ or by blowing into the regulator. No problem.

Another exercise was letting water into the mask and then clear the mask by blowing air out of the nose and tilting the head back while putting pressure on the top of the mask. We then demonstrated taking the mask off, putting it on and then clear it by the head tilt, pressure on the top of the goggles and blowing out the nose. We then stepped it up a level and headed to the deep end of the 4 meter pool swimming and equalizing our ears. We took off our weight belts and reapplied them to adjust our buoyancy. My least favourite exercise was taking off the mask and have the instructor spin me in a circle around him, continuing to breath with the regulator but not seeing anything; still a bit dazed from the spinning I reapplied my mask and cleared it. It was a great first day getting comfortable with the equipment in the water.

Day 3 started with writing the final exam in the morning. It was straightforward enough, I got 96% and everyone in the group passed. Headed to the ocean in the afternoon I was excited to get the equipment on and jump in for the first time. I still have not shaved my beard, it has gotten thick through the past few months of travel. I brought some vaseline on the boat to help make a better seal between the mask and my face. We had our first dive to twelve meters at ‘The Twins’ site, visibility pretty poor from the storms the night previous. The monsoon season has fucked with the visibility, it was only possible to see a few meters ahead. Regardless it was a great experience, everyone was able to get to twelve meters, equalizing pressure was not a problem for anyone in the group. We adventured around underwater for about 40 minutes seeing some different fish and other people diving. The ocean waters of Indonesia were significantly more clear, I was able to see more with my snorkel and mask in Indonesia than scuba diving at this time of the year in Thailand.

We were brought to another diving site for our second dive in the ocean. Each person in the group had a buddy; my buddy was Christian from the USA, when diving we would have to be within view of each other. Prior to getting in the water we would complete a quick series of checks, these included testing the air, straps are fastened and the tank is properly attached. We completed it and hopped into the water at the point named ‘The Junkyard.’ Hoping to spice up the dive a bit our instructor knew the visibility was not good so we looking at a man-made set up underwater. We dove to twelve meters again and did a few exercises under the water. We explored different metal areas to swim under and around, saw a collection of golden thrones (toilets), a car underwater among fish and some sea life. The 40 minutes under water seemed to fly by. I adjusted to breathing from the air tank better than I imagined I would.

Day four we had planned on an early start to the day but Ban’s Diving Resort is huge and some adjustments to the boat times had to be made. We took up the final exam in the midmorning and dove in the afternoon again. I was happy with being able to sleep in; the poor visibility would not be greatly changed from the morning to afternoon. The waves had whitecaps on this afternoon. Slightly intimidating heading out on the small taxi boat to the main big boat but we made it thanks to some good driving. We made it to Red Rock diving site. Gearing up and completing our checks has become smooth within the group and a few minutes we were hopping in the water.

Jumping off the high side of the boat for the first dive was a fun change. We completed the rest of our PADI requirements when we got into the water, clearing the mask and some other exercises. We were taught to use the compass and had to navigate under the water, it was very challenging because of the poor visibility and minimal reference points. We each had to do a controlled emergency swimming ascent from 5 meters (CESA).

After the whole group was able to complete the exercises we were off to have some fun. We split the group into two smaller groups as we have throughout the previous dives. The first dive down we went to about 19 meters at the maximum depth, just a hair deeper than required for the license. It was fun seeing the coral and fish, trying to maintain a good level of buoyancy. Now that my comfort level under the water has improved I have been trying to increase control of my breathing. More efficient breathing provides longer legths of time to dive. It was a good dive, the past few days have flown by; it’s hard to believe that there is only one dive left.

After meeting back up on the boat with we stayed Red Rock but took our second dive in a different part of the ocean. The instructors switched groups, we did our buddy checks and were prepared for entry. I did a front flip (a roll) into the water with my gear all on, and surprisingly all stayed on. It was by far my favourite of all. I did a front flip (roll) into the water with all my gear on. We went to some amazing underwater cave ruins. There was light flashing through the rock so visibility was not a problem. It was amazing to weave through the different areas, smaller passages and tunnels through the depths of the ocean. We passed over coral and saw schools of fish swimming about. We dove to about 18 meters and as the previous dives no one had trouble with equalizing the pressure in our ears. The final forty minutes flew by, as did my air just reaching the surface with 45 liters left.

The water was too rough for the taxi boat to bring us in to the beach at Ban’s Diving Resort so we were brought to the harbour and brought to the resort in a truck.

We all got our open water PADI licenses and agreed to meet up later that night for some drinks at the resort bar. It was a fun night celebrating with lots of laughing, dancing and drinking. There was a fun live band playing, it was a great time.

I booked a boat/bus trip to Bangkok, deciding that after a few weeks on the islands I’m ready for a change. There are many islands I didn’t make it to, perhaps I will be back. We passed through a heavy rain/ hail storm on the ferry. The weather was great for my time in Koh Tao so I didn’t mind a bit of rain on my transit day. I ended up have a few seats to myself on the bus where I was able to get a bit of sleep, which was nice because the journey was long.

The oceanfront view from Ban's Diving Resort. Also doubled as Fishbowl Beach Bar. (Thailand, 2016).
The oceanfront view from Ban’s Diving Resort. Also doubled as Fishbowl Beach Bar. (Thailand, 2016).
Relaxing view from the boat heading out to the dive spot (Thailand, 2016).
Relaxing view from the boat heading out to the dive spot (Thailand, 2016).
Deep moment of thought after the first dive (Koh Tao, 2016).
Deep moment of thought after my first dive (Thailand, 2016).
Lots of divers out on the water today (Thailand, 2016).
Lots of divers and boaters out on the water today (Thailand, 2016).
Ban's Diving Resort way bigger than imaginable (Thailand, 2016).
Ban’s Diving Resort; a facility way bigger than imaginable (Thailand, 2016).
Top 5 beach in the world. There's a rule; no towels. They had been losing too much sand. (Thailand, 2016).
Top 5 beach in the world on Nangyuan Island. There’s a rule; no towels. They had been losing too much sand. (Thailand, 2016).

Pattaya

Arriving into Bangkok at 0200am, I knew that I didn’t want to stay long. I have travelled through a few times travelling in the past and was caught up in the Khao San Road party scene. I just booked into a cheap one start hotel for the night and tried to relax and get some sleep. In the morning I had some breakfast and booked onto a bus to Pattaya, Thailand. I didn’t do any research about the place, just figured I would prefer it to Bangkok.

I took the jam-packed mini-bus and arrived after a few hours in the mid-afternoon. A group of five Thai people piled six people into the van so we were particularly squished in. It wasn’t until they were adding the passenger numbers up that one of the organizers noticed, they weren’t too bothered once everyone was in and we departed. (Though I am curious to know what they had to pay for the ride, plus one free passenger).

I showed up at a hostel named the Five-0, the motorbike taxi driver went to the wrong location so it took about thirty-five minutes instead of fifteen. I wasn’t in a big rush. The hostel is just a four-minute walk down to Jomtien Beach. I asked the woman working when I arrived if there was a beach volleyball net and she responded yes. “Hallelujah!” I’ll finally get to play some beach volleyball. Pattaya was a good place for me to spend four nights, I found some expats and locals who played volleyball each day in the afternoon for a few hours at the beach. I spent my days relaxing, exploring and had a few maintenance days catching up on some writing.

The truth is that Pattaya is epitomised by the slogan boasted throughout the city;

Good Guys go to Heaven, Bad Guys go to Pattaya.”

It is a place filled with everything I thought I was leaving behind in Bangkok. Walking Street the area for nightlife is composed primarily of prostitution, aggressive ladyboys, borderline pedophilia, many Russians, expats everywhere and men who must be above 65-70 years of age walking (some with canes) with young Thai women. The place was filled with foreign men. Sad and gross to see, not the kind of place I like to spend my time. Not sure why families with young children were spending time in the area to vacation; let alone bring their children to Walking Street at midnight.

Simply enough I was able to spend some time in Pattaya relaxing at the beach and putting the wheels in motion for the next portion of my trip. I booked my flight into Yangon, Myanmar and applied for my visa online. (Though I recommend getting it in Bangkok, I recently learned it is a third of the price and only takes a day or two. Not two weeks as stated online). Looking forward Myanmar is going to be a good opportunity to explore a new place and culture.

Dog lounging on the beach not worried about the storm rolling in (Thailand, 2016).
Dog lounging on the beach not worried about the storm rolling in (Thailand, 2016).
Old men can jump! Playing volleyball with the expats, locals and travelers (Thailand, 2016).
Old men can jump! Playing volleyball with the expats, locals and travelers (Thailand, 2016).
Good Guys go to Heaven, Bad Guys go to Pattaya (Thailand, 2016).
Good Guys go to Heaven, Bad Guys go to Pattaya (Thailand, 2016).
Walking Street Thai Boxing (Thailand, 2016).
Walking Street Thai Boxing (Thailand, 2016).
A good mix of sunset and clouds. (Thailand, 2016).
A good mix of sunset and clouds. (Thailand, 2016).

Bangkok

I took a mini-bus for 100 baht from Pattaya to the Victory monument in Bangkok. I had a couple of days of hanging around Bangkok before heading to Myanmar. After learning about the 27 million people in the city I was interested to see some more local areas. I visited some markets and temples, I had a Thai massage for 200 baht ($6.60 Canadian). After spending some time in Pattaya, my appreciation for Bangkok has grown greatly. The nightlife involves local people and tourists, partying, dancing, lounging at a bar; all kinds of nightlife throughout different areas of the city. Leaving the tourist areas, it is easy to find cheap Pad Thai, noodles, street food and see the local people work and live as they usually do.

Just missing the 0900am minibus; I took a motorbike taxi with all my things to the airport. Departing July 5th from Don Mueang.

Looking forward Myanmar is going to be a good opportunity to explore a new place and culture. Next stop in Yangon, Myanmar.

Want to see more photos? – instagram @_patkings