Monday, August 29, 2011

Day 137 - Conquering fears and waterfalls

I'm standing at the top of a waterfall, looking down into the extreme wall of water pouring from just behind me, which I am about to abseil into.  I am not in the calmest state I've ever been in to be honest.

Mallary and I are 'Canyoning', which involves abseiling down waterfalls, hiking through forest, sliding down waterfalls as if they are water slides, jumping off cliffs, and swimming through canyons.  We started the day with a quick warm up session, getting used to holding our own weight on the harness and ropes, and slowly walking and jumping down a small slope.  Then, it was straight into our first wall.  It was a little slippery, and dropping into the water at the end was invigorating, but it was nothing compared to what was to come!

We hiked through the forest for a while before reaching our natural water slide, first, we went the easy way, feet first.  Then it was time to go in backwards - now that was scary! Luckily we had helmets on!  But again, this was just all small stuff compared to what was waiting for us after the next hiking venture.

The mother of all waterfalls, slippery as hell, at a "just don't look down" height.  The first bit was easy.  The moss made it slippery and finding footholds proved a little difficult, but when I got down to the second part was when it really got tricky. With water splashing into my face like it was coming from a high pressure hose, I could barely concentrate on anything except trying to keep my eyes open.  I slipped, got stuck on the rock, water then bearing down on the top of my head, found my footing again, just to slip once more! But I eventually made it, and the 4m drop into the water when the rope ended was an adrenaline rush all on its own.

After jumping off the cliff (sans helmet!), we hiked and scrambled over rocks to get to our final waterfall, also known as 'The Washing Machine'.  Named after the force of the water when you meet it, making you feel as if you are tumbling inside a washing machine.  My guide told me that it is technically the most easy, but also the most frightening.  I really didn't think I had the courage to go down this one.  I took it slow, breathed deeply, and was more than delighted to finally hit the water.  I made it! That washing machine sure made an impact on me!

Exhausted, hungry but happy, we climbed up the final mountain to our picnic lunch spread.  Gone was the girl frightened of the slippery limestone at Pai Canyon, and reemerged was the adventurous, "yeah I'll give it a go" girl I'd be searching for my entire trip.

Canyoning - some of the best fun I've ever had, whilst still keeping my clothes on ;)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 134 - Tearing Up Some Sand Dunes

I've just had one of the most exhilarating days of my trip.  I'm in the coastal Vietnamese town of Mui Ne, which is known for its wind surfing and its sand dunes.  Not really being that interested in wind surfing, Mallary and I hired a scooter and found our way to the sand dunes.

There are two types of dunes to play in here; white and red.  The red ones are close to town, and not quite as picturesque, then there are the seemingly endless white dunes.  After quickly arriving at the red dunes, we decided to carry on the 20 some kms to the white dunes first.  With our handdrawn map in hand, which tells us to just go straight for 'a short distance', then make a right, we thought it would be simple enough to get there.

After having no choice but to make two left turns, we started to voice our concern over the accuracy of the map.  Inevidably, we got lost.  Quite a bit lost.  Once the road markers started telling us how close we were getting to the next town, and consequently, how far from Mui Ne, we knew we weren't going the right way.  We pulled the scooter over and flagged down a local.  Although he didn't speak any English, he knew exactly were we wanted to go, and pointed us back in the right direction.

As we approached a left turn, about 10 minutes of driving later, we stopped and peered down a dirt track. A Vietnamese woman, who was lying in a hammock out the front her house said "yes, yes" and pointed down the road. We loved that this Vietnamese woman knew exactly what we were looking for just because we were two Westerns on a scooter!

What was just beyond the next corner was really beyond words.  As we got closer and closer, I couldn't believe we had stumbled upon a mini desert.  Sand dunes reaching the sky as far as the eye could see! We paid our 15,000 dong (AU$0.75!) for a plastic sheet that we would use as a sled to tear up the dunes!

We spent the next best part of an hour sliding down the dunes, having the time of our life, and then painstakingly running back up the dune to go again.  It felt like we had stepped into a postcard for the Sahara desert, and we were only a couple kilometres from the ocean!

It was definitely the best fun I've ever had for 75c, plain and simple fun, like being a kid again.  If you're ever in Vietnam, do NOT skip Mui Ne! (Even if it means you will be finding sand in every possible crevice of your bags, clothes, shoes for the rest of your trip!)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day 132 - Crawling in the Cu Chi Tunnels

After sleeping in a little longer than we were supposed to, Mallary and I found ourselves in a bit of a pickle.  We had missed all the tours going to the Cu Chi Tunnels for the day. Dammit. Ho Chi Min City isn't exactly a budget destination, and we really needed to move on after today.  But the Cu Chi Tunnels were on our 'must see list' for Ho Chi Min.  The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong in the 60s to control the Cu Chi district, and at their height, reached all the way to the Cambodian border.  Just within the Cu Chi district, there were over 200km of underground tunnels.

Being the saavy travellers we are (you tend to get the hang of it after 4 some months!), we figured there must be a local bus out to the tunnels.  We walked to the bus station, and in broken English, found which bus number we needed to catch (number 13).  We boarded the bus, paid for our ticket (25c!) and rode the two hours to the Cu Chi district, hopped on a scooter and drove the further 25km for only $2.50! Not only did we save money by sleeping in and missing the organised tour group, we also got to the tunnels when they were blissfully quiet, once all the tour groups had already left.

Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels was a completely different experience to visiting the war reminants museum.  I felt that the war reminants museum focused on the US and anti-communist Vietnamese attacks, weapons and their overall involvement in the war, whereas Cu Chi was more about how the Viet Cong outsmarted their enemies, and fought back, despite having less sophisticated weapons and being severely outnumbered.

The tunnels themselves were absolutely tiny! We walked through two different passage ways that had been made bigger so westerners could fit through.  We learnt that most of the Viet Cong had to bend down or crawl through the tunnels to fit.  Just walking the 40 or so metres in the tunnel, bend over in order to fit, was incredibly exhausting, I can not even begin to imagine what living down there would be like.  However, being a little claustrophobic and a lot scared of the dark doesn't exactly help!

But what I took away from the Cu Chi Tunnels the most was just how smart the Viet Cong were in their battles.  They used techniques they had previously used for catching animals in the jungle as booby traps, they stole US weapons and modified them or cut them open to make their own hand grenades.  They created tunnels just large enough for them to fit in, but that almost no American soldier would be able to crawl in without getting stuck.

Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels (and enjoying another bowl of Pho) was the perfect ending to our time in HCMC, it really rounded out the history lesson that began at the war reminants museum.

But now, enough serious stuff, we are off to Mui Ne to tear up some sand dunes!!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Day 130 - Vietnam: A History Lesson

I'm in Vietnam! I arrived in Ho Chi Min City yesterday, after a mostly painless flight from Oz, and met back up with Mallary.  We indulged last night in a little Aussie feast consisting of cheeses (vintage cheddar and blue vein), hummus, Allen's lollies, Aussie wine (white and red!) and Caramello Koalas.  There are somethings you just can't get over here in Asia, and I wanted to introduce Mallary to the myriad of awesome stuff from Australia.

Today, being our first actual day in the city, we began by exploring Ho Chi Min City from the front of a 'cyclo'.  A cyclo is a modified bicycle, in which one passenger can sit on the front, and the driver peddles from the back.  It's a cool way to get around a big city like Saigon because its a nice slow pace, and you're sat at the front of the vehicle so you can actually see everything!  You do feel a little like you're being pushed around in a wheelchair though.  And the traffic feels even more crazy (if that possible) when you're being pushed directly into it beyond all control.

Our final destination was the War Reminants Museum.  It was intense to say the least.  We started by walking around the US Army tanks and fighter planes, but it really hit home when we walked into the recreation of the Con Dao and Phu Quoc Prisoner Camps.  I realised that what I learnt about the Vietnam War in school was totally biased, and how the Vietnamese prisoners' of war were treated was absolutely barbaric. The torture techniques used on these prisoners were so far beyond inhumane, I don't think there is a strong enough descriptive word to use.  I felt like I was going to throw up just looking at the torture devices and reading about the torture techniques. I can't even begin to imagine how it would have felt to be one of these helpless prisoners.  It is clearly so far flung from any level of pain I've ever experienced, I felt as if I'd never felt pain in my entire life.  Mallary and I both commented that we felt like we couldn't remember a single painful experience that had occurred in either of our lives.

This is called a 'Tiger Cage'
These barbed wire cages were used as a torture device. The small size (1.8m x 6.7m x 0.4m) was used to hold 3 people. 
With concerned looks on our faces, we learnt of the after affects of the war too, and the birth defects still occurring in babies today from Agent Orange, the chemical weapon the US sprayed over a large portion of Vietnam during the war.  We read a tear-jerking and heart breaking letter from one child to Barrack Obama, desperately asking for his assistance in seeing that sufferers of Agent Orange in Vietnam get the same compensation as the US sufferers.

Mallary and I kept commenting to each other that we really did not learn enough about the Vietnam War in school, and even though we knew they suffered during this time, we had absolutely no idea of the deep level of suffering, and just how lopsided the fighting was.

Feeling a little numb and a lot overwhelmed, we needed sometime to process what we had just learned.  We did this over our first bowl of Pho.  Vietnam's national dish.  And a delicious dish it is.  Pho is a noodle soup, usually with some kind of meat, a tasty broth, and a myriad of ingredients you can add yourself to change or enhance the flavour of the broth.

Watching a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show (which they have been practising since the 11th century), was the perfect end to the perfect day of immersing ourselves in Vietnamese culture and history.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day 121 – Culture Shock!

I’m back in Australia. No, my trip isn’t over. I’m in Perth, my hometown for my sister’s engagement party (Congrats Elle and Gael!). But, whoa, culture shock.

I felt the first effects when I stepped off the plane.  It was freezing! Going from 30°C+ to 14°C was horrible.  Perth isn’t known for it’s cold weather, but it hit me like a tonne of bricks!  Being surrounded again by Australian accents also sounded so unfamiliar, I could really hear the Australian twang in everyone’s voices.  Then, after seeing my family and telling them all my travel stories, they told me I had a new accent!!

Another thing that struck me was how clean everything was.  Not that Thailand is especially dirty, but Australia is hospital grade clean in comparison.  I immediately felt unclean, and like I needed to jump in the shower ASAP.

It was definitely nice to walk on carpet again (I think I forgot it existed!), and I really missed using a big fluffy towel (rather than a thread-bare sarong).  It’s also become apparent that I have developed some strange travel habits, like looking for a water bottle before I brush my teeth, or grabbing toilet paper from my backpack when I need to go to the toilet.  Drinking water straight from the tap also felt strange.

But the biggest thing is that even though I’m at “home”, even though I’m here in the “real world”, I feel like I’m on holiday from my regular life.  Catching buses every couple of days and dragging my backpack everywhere has become so second nature to me, it feels strange that I’m not doing it!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Day 69 - Redemption and Depravity in Laos!

I don't think I've ever been so uncomfortable in my entire life. My shoulders ache, I feel like I no longer have movement in my neck, my knees are killing me and this is all compounded my the fact that I feel like I've haven't been to the toilet in my entire life. I'm currently crammed on a minibus on my way to Udomxai.  There are seats for 20, but there are 28 of us on this bus. But, I'm one of the lucky ones. The man next to me doesn't even have a seat to sit on, he is perched on top of a bag of rice instead. But that's Laos transport for you.  I'm sure we are bound to pick up at least another two extra passengers before we reach our destination.

I've just left the town of Luang Namtha, and the journey there was a similar story, and I'm only just recovering from the lactic acid build up in my thighs from that one.  Luang Namtha was mostly a disappointment.  I had wanted to go into Northern Laos to get into the local food, do some trekking or kayaking, and escape the tourist trail.  However instead what we found were expensive (by Laos standards) guesthouses, annoyingly slow internet connections and very over-priced trekking offerinfgs. Luang Namtha felt like a town built on tourism, with one problem, it was empty.  There were barely any tourists around.  This is not the experience I was seeking.

Yesterday Luang Namtha redeemed itself a little however.  Our original plan was to hire a scooter and just generally ride around town whilst trying to suck any fun we could out of it. But after studying the map of the city once more, Tom came up with the idea that we could do a walk through some of the nearby villages instead, and perhaps we would stumble across something that inspired us.  Stumbled indeed we did, but let me explain first.

We set off from the town centre and made our way across a little (but surprisingly sturdy) wooden bridge over the river.  As we walked through a couple of small villages, I was (apparently rather annoyingly) pointing out every species of wildlife I laid my eyes on, from butterflies and dragonflies, to cows and baby chicks.  We soon found ourselves walking along a dusty track surrounded by rice padi fields on either side.  Once we reached the main road, not so helpfully named 3A, we took a left to make a loop back to town.  As we were walking along the main road in the searing hot sun, a friendly 'Sabai Dii' (that is hello in Lao) was called out to us from a small group of locals, we smiled, waved and returned the friendly greeting.  One of the men hand signed to us 'eat?'.  Tom and I looked at each other, 'Really? Should we?', 'Free lunch! It would be rude to refuse'. So there we were, eating lunch with the locals in the middle of a rice padi. Whilst enjoying a generous spread of sticky rice, bananas, papaya salad, boiled spinach and some sort of chilli paste, we explained in broken english we we're from, how long we are travelling for, and 'why you in Laos?'. Then, with the help of a 'Speak Lao' app on our iPhones, said our names and learned there's.  Who needs to pay US$75 a day for a 'cultural experience'? Not us.  Such a friendly and generous gesture gave us both a fresh outlook on the town, and we continued our walk with a bit more spring in our step.

A couple of kilometres from town we saw a big blue tent and one hell of a sound system set up, seemingly in the middle of the street.  With a refreshed perception of the locals, we decided to gate crash whatever this party was.  We snuck around the back and found ourselves being invited to take a seat at one of the many tables set up. Immediately plastic cups full of ice and Beerlao were thrust into our hands.  After a chat to some more of the very friendly locals, we learnt we were at a party to celebrate the birth of a baby.  These local guys spoke amazing English, I was thoroughly impressed. All the while having our cups overflowed with Beerlao, we introduced ourselves, and spoke mostly to a guy named Tag.  He'd just finished studying in Luang Prabang and worked for the electricity company as an engineer.  He earns just $1 million kip per month. Thats about AU$115. I was astounded. It hit home that Laos really is one of the poorest countries in the world.  Before we could protest, our drinks of ice and Beerlao soon had a new addition: Laolao, the local spirit.  Which is a nasty spirit let me tell you. I think Laolao could strip paint stripper! So feeling rather tipsy, we were invited by a cute local girl to 'please come and dance with me'.  We danced some traditional Lao dances and were introduced to a whole new group of locals, this time, law students. Again, they spoke impeccable English.  All the while more and more drinks were being forced upon us.  After politely refusing a number of times, and after I'd consumed far far too much alcohol, it was time for me to call it a day. I couldn't walk straight, think straight or see straight. It was time to throw in the towel.  Tom wasn't quite ready to leave yet, so I left him with some very cute Lao girls and walked in what I hoped was the direction of our guesthouse, leaving the blaring Lao music behind me.

It wasn't until I was a couple of hundred metres down the road that I realised Tom had the map and I really had no idea where the hell I was.  Drunk and lost in the boiling afternoon heat, I stumbled all the way to our guesthouse. I'm not really sure how the hell I found it actually, I kind of just turned a corner and there it was; I was overcome with relief.

I shall leave the story of the remainder of Tom's debauchery for him to tell, but I will say this; Tom busted into the guesthouse about 3 hours later, stumbled up against the wall, hiccupped and then said "We HAVE to leave tomorrow".

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 66 - Into Laos!

Finally we have entered Laos!  Last night we caught an overnight minivan to Chiang Khong, the border town that will get us to Laos.  Originally we had decided to get up at 6am (the bus arrived in Chiang Khong at 3am), to get the earliest bus we could to Luang Nam Tha.  That didn't happen.  Instead we are on the 12 noon bus.  Definitely the right decision given just how cramped this bus is.  This minibus regularly sits 17 people. We currently have 27 people (and one dog) aboard.

Cramped is not a strong enough word. Perhaps claustrophobic might be a better description.

Besides the muscle pain in my legs, and the joint pain in my knees, my first impressions of Laos are good ones.  The people here seem a little more cautious of foreigners (or falang)than Thai people are, but the serenery is absolutely amazing. All around us are huge, luscious green mountains.  The only thing I can liken it to is driving through a movie set.  Everything just looks so green and amazing.

One thing that really threw me though; in Laos they drive on the right.  Already I feel a bit disoriented and I've only had to cross the road twice.

By the way, there are now 33 people (and still one dog) on this minibus. Welcome to Laos!

Day 61 - Back to Chiang Mai

I'm back in Chiang Mai.  This city is just to inviting to not visit once more before we make our way across to Laos.  We caught the local bus down from Pai yesterday, and spent the night catching up with our friends at Mojito bar.

Today we visited a couple of temples on a scooter.  Tom wanted to go back to one in particular where a monk had blessed him and given him really good luck for the last month.  Unfortunately, the monks were not doing blessings when we visited, but we still explored the litte temple and it's grounds.  The meditation room was amazing.  It felt like you could sit in there for hours without moving and not be at all bothered.  I guess that is kind of the point of a meditation room!  The temple also has an amazing little area called the Garden of Reflection, and on all of the trees there are quotes intented to invoke thought.  I took pictures of the quotes I found the most powerful.

There is a stark contrast between how I spent the day, and how I spent the night.  By the time we got back from the temples, I could tell I was getting an onslaught of food poisoning.  My stomach felt like it was doing backflips and twisting itself into knots.  Not wanting to miss out on all the fun, I medicated myself with paracetamol, gastrostop, stomachease and 3 shots of vodka. The plan was to start the night at Chiang Mai's famous beer buffet, and then onto a house party.  Beer buffet was fun, as all you can drink beer for AU$5 usually is, however, it was at the house party when my cocktail of drugs and alcogol came back to bite me.  All was going extremely well, or so I thought. We even got the songthaew driver to stop at 7-11 for supplies. My supply of choice was a chicken pizza toastie. But once we'd arrived at the house party, and within minutes I'd already convinced a cute boy (with 20baht) to take off his clothes, it was time for me to throw in the towel.

By the time I got home, the food poisoning was back with a vengence, and kicking me twice as hard given my previous level of intoxication.  The next few days aren't looking so good...

Day 57 - Fishing for some change

Fishing in Pai.  It's the perfect pastime for a little town like Pai.  It doesn't require much effort, you just sit back and enjoy your surroundings, and if you happen to have a little snooze, no-one is too bothered.  So that's how Tom and I spent the day.

I wasn't too good at the fishing part, but I was really talentedat enjoying my surroundings.  I was particularly taken by the amount of beautiful dragonflies and butterflies going about their day around the pond.  Tom was a bit better at the fishing portion of the day, and caught two catfish.  Both of which we threw back but not before we took a sexy photo!

The fishing ended perfectly at sunset with a massive buffet, including  spaghetti bolognese, pad thai, fried rice, chicken curry, prawn crackers, potato chips and barbeque kebabs.  This, of course, was also accompanied by a couple of large Changs to wash it all down.

Once we'd had enough fun pondside, we decided to venture into town for cocktails.  Jikko was the place of choice, firstly because the cocktails are two-for-one, and secondly, because they are amazing.  After sipping on Mojitos, Tom Collins and Long Island Ice Teas, it was back to the house in the pouring rain.  What we realised once we left, is that we never paid for our cocktails! Once again I had walked out on my bill.  I better not keep making a habit of this... It could be dangerous :P

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 56 - Time Machine

Time really does slow down in Pai.  I got here about 6pm yesterday and haven't really done anything of substance. The pace is slow here. No-one is in a rush to go anywhere or do anything.  On one hand I can see how people get sucked in to being here, just chilling out, taking life as it comes. On the other hand, I can see how it would drive me crazy after a while.  You can't spend your entire life sitting in a hammock watching the world go by. Especially when there is such a big, beautiful, unexplored world out there.

Tom has spent the most part of the last month here in Pai, so even though I was here a month ago, Tom is my tour guide. Tom has sussed out all the good places to eat, drink, get laundry done, he has even discovered the best cobbler in town.  It's great cruising around Pai with Tom, like being with a local.

Last night we ate at Curry Shack, where I ate the best Masman curry I have ever had in my entire life. In fact, it was so good, it was one of the best meals I've ever eaten.  And, truth be told, I'm not even a big curry fan to begin with.  My level of enjoyment may have had something to do with the fact that I hadn't eaten a proper meal since the day before the full moon party (3 days earlier!). Oops, that's traveller's nutrition for you; too much alcohol, too many trips to 7-Eleven, dodgy street food and the occasional vitamin C tablet.

I feel like I've only just recovered now from the epic night that was Full Moon.  After no sleep and travelling for 31 hours straight to get to Chiang Mai, I was only a shadow of a person. Its taken the last couple of days to really get me back on track, and pay off my sleep debt!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Day 52 - The Full Moon Party

After numerous local expats telling us not to arrive at the full moon party til midnight, "after all the dickheads have already had too much", we planned to leave our bungalow around 11.30pm.  Myself having to wake up at 6.30am that morning to go diving, desperately needed a nap if we were to last til sunrise! So after a couple of hours sleep we cracked out the neon paint and started to get ready.  At 20B a pot, we decided to buy one of each of all the colours.  Leah's idea was to paint an all black dress in all the colours of the rainbow, whilst Mallary and I had purchased obscenely bright outfits already, so planned to paint our skin instead.  My plan was to cover myself with as much neon paint as my skin could possibly sustain.  I needed something quick and cheeky and that would cover most of my exposed skin. Then the idea struck. Neon handprints it was! So after pressing my handprint onto myself at least one too many times, and it being strangely reminiscent of fingerpainting in preschool, we were finally ready to go!

We made our way down to Haad Rin, and as we walked through the laneways to the beach we could hear the party long before we could see it.  It occurred to us we must be really late as we passed people who were on their way home.  We'd already made a pact to not bring along any time-telling devices, so we asked someone the time, and it was already 1am! We hadn't even eaten dinner yet! We needed something that was quick and tasty, and that could soak up the copious amounts of alcohol we were about to subject our bodies to. So we stopped at what has become one of my western comforts here in Asia: 7 Eleven. So we induldged in our most favourite of their offerings: Chicken Pizza Toasties. Two each. That should do the job! We ate them as we walked down to one of the biggest parties on the planet.

I think from here on in, the pictures tell the story far better than I ever could....

7-Eleven: even better in neon!

"Hello Haad Rin!!"

Watch out here I come!

I'm here!

Stopped up short.

Got a little tired...

Laughing til we cried!


Do you think I need some more handprints?

Playing in Fairyland

I'm sooo bright!

The sun is up... WE MADE IT!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day 51 - Painfully Pissed on Picnic Tables

I have the hangover from hell.  If anyone is keeping count, I think I've written far too many blogs in this state. My poor liver.  On the brightside, Mallary and I have decided that we are "the most pleasant hungover people ever".  Even though we had to wake up incredibly early to pack all our stuff and move to our new bungalow, the entire day has still been full of laughter and smiles (that is, between rushed trips to the bathroom, which
has an over-sized lizard as a resident).

So how did I arrive in this familiar state this time around? Well, yesterday we were super keen to explore the island of Ko Phangan.  It is much bigger than we all imagined.  We had a bit of a problem though.  Only Mallary is competent enough to drive a scooter, and three of us can't fit on one (yes we tried).  Plan B? Hire a jeep! Hang on, another problem, only one of us know how to drive a manual.  And its not me.  It's Leah, who has only ever driven left hand drive. Everything is backwards!  But not to worry, Leah took the challenge in her stride, and with me in the front seat to remind Leah to "stay on the LEFT!", we set off for Haad Rin beach.  That is, the beach where the infamous full moon party will be held! After filling up with copious amount of fuel, and getting mostly hazy directions, we arrived at Haad Rin pier. The beach must be near.  Walking around this area, we knew we were in the right place given the amount of Full Moon memorabilia, outfits and everything you can imagine in neon colours.  

We had been forewarned not to swim at Haad Rin beach following the party (due to the shenanigans that go on at the party), so we had to take a dip now, otherwise we would miss our chance.  We also had to make 100% sure we were in the right place.  The beach was amazing. The water a translucent turquoise, the sand an enticing shade of white, a backdrop of lush green mountains, and the sun was shining.  What an amazing place to have a party!

After stocking up on supplies (read: every colour of neon paint imaginable), we wanted to eat dinner whilst watching the sunset. And what an amazing sunset it was.  The sky was a delectable shade of pink, splashed with some blue and yellow, whilst the water reflected these colours in a perfect way.  We just couldn't resist a sunset swim.  If you've never swam at sunset, on a very calm beach, you're missing out on an amazing experience.  What happens is that thermoclines develop.  That is, the top layer of the ocean is a warm day time temperature, whilst the lower depths are changing to a lower, night time temperature.  To swim through these thermoclines is a strange but wonderful feeling.  Not like being hot and cold at the same time, but rather like experiencing warm patches of hot tub and sudden refreshing pools at the same time.

After having such an enjoyable day, we didn't really have any big plans for the night.  Our initial intention was to simply take the jeep out and cruise around for a while.  We had also seen a number of signs about a jungle party that we thought we'd check out. 7-11's played a big part in our demise last night.  It started with large Leos, and when downhill, or uphill, from there; depending on your perspective.  

After following extremely dodgy and vague signs to the jungle party (at one point it was a candle that marked our turn off).  We parked out the front and were told it was 100B entry each.  We couldn't see anyone of interest inside, and it didn't look altogether impressive. We said we'd pass.  The sour door bitch called us back and told us she would let us in for free, as long as we don't tell anyone. Alright we are in.  But our initial impressions were confirmed, other than a couple of other enthusiastic guys covered in neon paint, there was nothing going on. On top of that, the music was shit.  We all decided that we were having way more fun driving around in the jeep instead.

We piled back into the jeep, wound down the windows, and turned up the music. I'd forgotten how much I missed cruising around in a car. Something I hadn't done in over a year.  With the Leos all dried up, another stop at 7-11 was in order.  Mallary and I decided we would make our own bucket.  In fact, we even had to convince the 7-11 attendant to sell us an empty bucket to mix our ingredients in.  But our efforts were well worth it, we had our very own homemade bucket.  We ate chips as our chaser (twisties to be exact), as we may have made it a little too strong.

Our cruising evidently brought us to Haad Rin beach again. Our current state of inebriation meant we thought it was a perfect time to pick out our full moon outfits.  Even though we definitely made appropriate outfit choices, our bargaining skills were not what they could have been!  By this time, the bucket was approaching shallow levels, so it was time to stock up again.  No 7-11 required. We'd stumbled upon a street stall selling buckets for cheaper than we had purchased all the ingredients separately at 7-11!

This is where the events of the night start to get a little hazy.  I vaguely remember chatting up a Canadian restaurant tout, and then one very attractive boy jumping in the back of our ute. Don't remember where he ended up.  But I do know where we ended up. We were on Haad Rin beach! The party had started early! Bucket in hand, it was time to dance. But dance on the sand? Pfft, that's for beginners. I chose my dancefloor, the top of a picnic table!

Events following this are not within my powers of recollection, however I am told they were fun-fueled and definitely not lacking in debauchery. The bruises we sustained suggest that perhaps our dance floor picnic table was not the best place to show off our moves.  However, if last night was a trailer for the full moon party, bring it on!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day 48/49 - The Full Moon Beckons

It's 3am. I can't sleep. It's just so fucking bright in here.

I'm stuck on a train. A train going to Surat Thani. And if you ever decide to take a 2nd class seat (note: not sleeper) on a train in Thailand, know this: they NEVER turn the lights off. This insanely fluorescent, over lit railcar is keeping me awake.

But that's not the point. The point is, I've left Bangkok and I'm heading south. I'm making my way to Ko Phangan for the infamous full moon party. Not exactly part of the original plan, but hey, plans change.  

See I was already missing the sun, sand and sea after spending 3 weeks in Indonesia. After spending 5 days in the megalopolis of Bangkok, my blood was surging for some sun and salt water. So when Tom and I met up with Mallary and Leah (two American girls we met in Chiang Mai), and they practically begged me to come along with them, I couldn't resist. We left Tom to go back to his rented house in Pai, so Mallary, Leah and I could have a girls week on a tropical island in Thailand!

So here I sit, on this train bound for Surat Thani, where we will catch a bus and then a ferry and finally arrive on Ko Phangan in about 12 hours time.

On second thought, maybe isn't the bright lights that are keeping me awake. Maybe it's the anticipation that is cursing through my veins. I'm headed for one of the biggest parties on earth, set on an amazing backstop of a tropical island.

Ko Phangan, I hope you're ready for us. Eat your heart out!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 44 - Take me on a helicopter ride!

The night began with two tube of traveler’s vegemite and a reunion with two handsome men from Sydney.  In front of the Four Seasons no less.

The two handsome men were of course Chao and Brendan, and they had very kindly bought me my kryptonite; “yurky vegemite” from down under. The night only got better and better from there on in.  Our first destination was a German-Thai bar/restaurant/stage show where we had an awesome meal of hearty Thai food (it does exist!), accompanied by a 3 litre beer tower. Which may have skewed our judgement somewhat, as copious amounts of alcohol have a tendency to do.

So we all jumped in a taxi. Our destination; a helicopter show. Last night was ping pong shows, tonight it was time for the boys of Bangkok to show us what they could do.  FYI, a helicopter show is the gay man's answer to the Ping Pong shows. But Tom and I went along with Brendan and Chao for a laugh. 

The four of us walk into the bar, and take a hopefully inconspicuous seat in the back row.  The show has already begun, and wow, these boys definitely have some talent.  Not only do they look like they're having fun, they also reak of sexuality.  Already they are far out stripping the girls from last night.

The finale of the show was a 'meat market'. Quite literally. The boys walk around the stage, in a line, with numbers pinned to their underwear.  This was when the show really started getting interactive. Being one of the only females in the gay bar, it was quite obvious from all the attention I was receiving that not all of these boys were of the gay persuasion.  On the other hand however, from all the attention Tom was also getting, some of the boys were obviously gay. Or willing to take Tom home anyway. After we'd had enough of being fawned over by men we definitely weren't going to invite to bed, we called it a night. 

But let me leave you with one vital piece of information; helicopter shows are much, much more fun than the ping pongs. Given the choice, I'd take a helicopter any day!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day 43 - Bye bye Indonesia, Hello Thailand

Today I'm flying back to Bangkok.  Not the best destination Thailand has to offer, but I'm definitely glad to be going back. To going back to street stall food, street side cocktails, and spending less than AU$5 a night on accomodation!

So again, I've packed my ever expanding backpack, and I'm embarking on another transit journey. After being away from home for 43 days, somethings do start to get to you. Like packing. Packing everything I own back into my backpack is sometimes the reason I end up staying in places a little too long! There are other things as well though, like, not being able to brush your teeth using the tap water. Or not knowing where you will be sleeping that night. Or there never being hot water available. But then, it will hit me, that actually, I don't have to clean a bathroom, or mop my floorboards, or cook my own dinner, and repacking my backpack for the hundredth time doesn't seem quite so bad.

Arriving on Khao San Road it was my mission to find a guesthouse. Something nice and cheap, I needed to make up for all the extravagance of Indonesia! Finally, I stumbled upon Mom's Guesthouse, where I found a room, with two beds, and within my price range! YAY! Unfortunately, it did not have any of the comforts I'd come to love, like; soft beds, private bathrooms, swimming pools and free wifi. But boy, I was still glad to be back in Thailand. Tom had spent the last 3 weeks in Pai whilst I've been away, and I couldn't wait to catch up with him! I wasn't sure what time he was getting in, but he'd planned to come down to Bangkok to meet up with me. 

Bangkok, being the backpackers gateway to almost everywhere else in Southeast Asia, is always a place to reunite with previous travel buddies. And this time didn't disappoint; I was to be reunited with the crazy pirates of the Perhentians (minus Tori unfortunately!).  Just as I was having a Chang (oh, how had missed them!), and catching up with Gwen, I got a call from Tom, he is in Bangkok already - where am I? I give Tom rough, but hopefully sufficient directions to my whereabouts, and return to my girlie chat.

After meeting up with Tom, it was time to hunt down the Manchester boys, Zach, Danny and James, to reminsce about pirates, ladyboys, and spiked buckets.  Now, Bangkok being Bangkok, we felt it necessary to go and see the horrible but curiously intriguing tourist attraction; the Ping Pong Shows.  Tom, having 'been there, done that', was not up for another round and retired to the guesthouse, quite understandable given the 10 hour bus ride he endured to arrive in Bangkok! So the rest of us, 9 at this point, piled into 3 tuk-tuks, and we were off! If you've never been in a tuk-tuk, they are generally designed for two. That is, two people that know each other quite well.  Cramming in three westerners is quite the challenge, and three competing tuk-tuks makes it feel like you are an involuntary passenger in some twisted version of 2 Fast 2 Furious: Tokyo Drift. Perhaps, 3 Too Many: Bangkok Nightmares? But once we arrived, down a dark alley, we had apparently arrived.  After a dispute over the entry price (welcome back to Thailand Alicia!), we were in. Into the dark, dingy, little bar with mirrors all around, a blacklight and a disco ball that had seen better days. The show began. I won't go into all the sordid details, but let me say this; it's not as fun as you expect it to be.  The girls have a sad emptiness in their eyes, and their movements lack any hint of sexuality. Ping Pong Show: Check. It's a one time only kind of thing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 42 - Check Please!

Back to Kuta. Not exactly looking forward to my night in the mecca of touts, hawkers, and general money raping of tourists.

My lack of sunscreen yesterday on the snorkeling trip definitely got to me, and I feel like my blood is boiling.  Just letting the sunshine hit my skin is extreme agony.  I've drank approximately the equivalent of my body weight in water, and I desperately need to just be immersed in ice cold water. Instead, I'm boarding a boat back to Padang Bai, to then catch a minibus to Ubud, then to Kuta, where, finally, I might find myself in a pool. But that is at least 7 hours down the track at this point. Somehow, I don't think I'll be enjoying this boat ride as much as the one here.

Finally, finally arriving in Kuta, I took directions (albeit, rather dodgy ones) from some friends I'd met on Gili T to a cheap (by Indonesian standards) guesthouse that had (hurrah!) a pool! After turning down one too many back alleys to be comfortable, I finally stumbled upon Kubu Hotel. They had a room, with my own bathroom, overlooking the gorgeous swimming pool, things were looking up.

After dowsing my bright red skin in the coolness of the pool, I found myself wondering down Popies Lane I. In Kuta, there are lane ways known as the 'backpacker' district, Popies I and Popies II and all the tiny lane ways that run between them.  I happened upon a little Mexican place that looked pretty decent, so I wandered in and ordered, by the 'chef's recommendation' their "famous" Nachos. Upon the presentation of such nachos, I wasn't entirely impressed, but still managed to start woofing them down following the 7 hours of transit.  Just as I had eaten the last corn chip, my eyes laid upon something scurrying along the floor and running under the bar. Yep, it was a rat. I quickly asked for my bill.  Whilst waiting for said bill I saw two more rats, each one larger than the last. At this point I was becoming less and less impressed with the place and my meal, then I was presented with the bill.

Now in Indonesia, restaurants, bars, hotels and cafes have a nasty habit of stating a price on their menu, and then in very fine print at the bottom putting 'Not Inclusive of 15% tax and service charge'. The percentage varies usually anywhere from 5% to 21%, this place however, had slapped on 25%, with absolutely no mention of this on the menu. My bill came to an astounding amount to a backpacker (just over US$10), and I knew there was noway I had that much cash on me. I'd just come from and island and paid for my room for the night!  Fuck, what am I going to do?  With my heart pounding, I put all the Rupiah I had on the table (approximately half the amount the bill was asking for), and legged it whilst trying not to look suspicious.  Oh well, didn't really want to give my hard earned cash to a rat infested place anyway.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 41 - Uncharted Waters

I can't think straight. I can't process a thought in a reasonable amount of time.  I'm sweating pure alcohol and running on 3 hours sleep.

Today is the day of my snorkelling trip.  It's not entirely convenient that I'm doing it the morning after another one of Gili T's notorious island parties.  The location of my demise this time was at Rudy's, a bar on the island infamous for offering magic mushrooms in every dish on the menu.  Again, the local spirits were my poison of choice.  But last night's party was bigger than Wednesday's.  And I think I know why.

Gili T was plagued with thunderstorms yesterday, my original day to go snorkeling. The weather was so bad the trip was cancelled. Activities all around the island met the same fate, and hence, the internet cafes were full and the beach was empty.  Everyone had nothing to do.  So after a day of sitting around, reading books and surfing the net, everyone on the island had a whole load of pent up energy.  Myself definitely included.  We dispelled this energy dancing the night away to the US Top 40 Chart from November 2010 (or so it seemed), getting wet in the pouring rain and watching the lighting light up the night sky.  Walking home at 4am, escorted by a rather cute Irish guy, the streets were so flooded, I thought we might have to swim part of the way.

So armed with two nescafe lattes in-a-can, and an enormous desire to get in the water, I, along with some 50 people piled into the glass bottom snorkelling boat. We made our way out to our first stop, which was a couple hundred metres off the shore of the neighbouring island Gili Meno. We all jumped into the cool, clear water and promptly forgot all about our supposed hangovers.  The conditions were perfect for snorkeling. The sun was shining, the water was crystal clear and with gentle rocking currents.  The biggest attraction at this stop was the abundance of neon coloured fish, and the bright yellow coral which seemed to catch my eye no matter where they wandered.  The second stop was somewhere between Gili Meno and Gili Air, where we were able to go quite deep, and see some turtles. Unfortunately the one I laid eyes on was fast asleep (the lazy bastard!), but was amazing to gaze upon regardless.  At the third stop, just off the shore of Gili Air, we explored a coral reef that was very shallow, so duck diving and holding our breath was not required.  Again, the neon yellow coral was prominent, but was also joined by brillant blues, oranges and greens.

After getting our fill of sunshine, water, amazing sights and stories, our bellies were grumbling. Next stop: lunch.  We ate at a gorgeous little restaurant on Gili Air, the smallest of the three Gili Islands, where I immensely enjoyed the Indonesian favourite, Ayum Sate (or Chicken Satay), and washed it down with fresh watermelon juice.  What is it about being on an almost deserted tropical island that makes everything taste amazing?

It wasn't all fun and games though.  On the boat ride back to Gili Trawangan, it was clear my hungover mind had made one disastrous mistake; I wasn't wearing any sunscreen, and I hadn't applied any all day. Shit, I'm going to pay for that later.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day 39 - Drink Triple, See Double, Act Single

I hired a bike to ride around the island today. Not a scooter or motorbike of course, a bicycle.  Now, I'm not the best bicycle rider (as Dani will fondly remember from Year 11 geography camp, when I made an art out of falling off).  I don't know what it is about bikes, but I just do not feel comfortable on them.  I do not have the best balance to start with, and as soon as I wobble, I panic.  I grip the handle bars far too tightly, and constantly drop my feet to the ground when I break. So as expected, I stacked it. Twice. And this island is completely flat. Today, my excuse is my hungover state of mind.

Last night was one of the party nights on the island, this time held at the Irish Bar.  Unfortunately I do not remember much from last night.  I remember dancing to some of the cheesiest Western music, like the Spice Girls.  And drinking arak, the horrible, and clearly lethal local spirit.  I remember doing shots with random people at the bar, and discussing the topic of Asian Toilets with girls in the bathroom. I may have also swapped singlets with some French boys. But what I did take away from last night, is Gili T's motto: "Drink Triple, See Double, Act Single". Love it.

But today I got to see parts of the island I hadn't seen before, and it just keeps taking my breath away. It's just so devastingly beautiful.  The awesome turquoise ocean, the green of the trees, the peaks of the mountains in the distance, the almost unreal colour of the sky. Did I mention how much I love it here?

I realised my time is kind of running out on the island, so I've booked a snorkelling trip for tomorrow, that will take me to explore the oceans around all three islands. Fingers crossed I see a turtle (and maybe not a shark?)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Day 36 - Relax!

Today has been amazing. Really just because I'm so taken with my current location.  Swimming just off shore, surrounded by tropical islands, and misty unexplored mountains as the backdrop.

I spent the day hopping between the ocean and the swimming pool, and just generally lazing around in the sun. It was amazing, I've definitely missed having the ability to swim in the ocean.  I haven't swam in the ocean since we left the Perhentian islands, and that was far too long ago.  We did briefly visit the beach in Kuta, but the currents were too dangerous for swimming, and the extremely persistent hawkers made the visit altogether unpleasant.  Gili T is vastly different in comparison.  There were no hawkers to be seen (other than a lone man selling ice-creams, but an annoying hawker he was not), and the ocean had just gentle ripples from passing boats.  The water really is perfect here.  I think the salt levels must be high, because I found it far too easy to just lose myself floating on my back and looking up at the sky.  The sand here is white too, another thing that Kuta lacked, and I don't mean Kuta's sand is slightly yellow, it is black, and too often littered with rubbish.

Gili T is not like I expected.  I guess I expected it would be exactly like the Perhentian islands, which were pristine, and had barely any structures at all. Just a handful of bars and restaurants, a large choice of places to stay, and the odd place offering diving and snorkelling packages.  Gili T is much more inhabited.  There are hundreds of places to stay, there are hundreds of restaurants to choose from. There are hundreds of people and hundreds of dive shops.  There isn't any motorised transport (after Kuta, thank god!), but there are plenty of bicycles, and a handful of horse drawn carts.  It is just generally busier. But I am absolutely loving it here.  If I only have one calling in life, then it is swimming and lazing in the sun. I must have been a mermaid or a dolphin in a past life, there is something about the ocean that just calms my soul and warms my heart.

Last night I met some fun people. I met Hannah and John, a sister and brother, from London, who were in Indonesia for just 3 weeks (on holiday). Unfortunately it was their last night on the island.  They introduced me to Simon and Angie, another brother-sister team, this time from Scotland.  Angie was a lawyer, and is now a backpacker, she has been travelling for a year now, and has no sign of stopping. She said she will simply stop when she has had enough. Lucky her! I said I would stop when my bank account is empty.  Simon was just visiting Angie on her travels, whilst on his holiday.  They introduced me to Aaron from Norway, who was travelling through Australia and Indonesia before he has to do his uni exams.  He said there was no better place to procrastonate studying than on a tropical island on the other side of the world. I couldn't agree more.  We all had a lovely dinner at a seaside restaurant called Scalywags, where you pick your meat or fish (from a selection on ice), and then they BBQ it for you.  We followed this with drinks at the Irish bar, which was of course on the beach as well, where we had beers and cocktails and shared experiences from our various walks of life.  I couldn't have really asked for a better start to my time on Gili T, the island that has truly stolen my heart.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Day 35 - I'm on a boat!

I've learnt a lot about myself on this trip. Like, my love for buses has a limit.  I've also discovered I really kind of love boats, maybe even more so than buses!

I'm writing this as I catch the slow boat from Padangbai to the Gili Islands.  Which is really a very peaceful journey. It's certainly beating the 3hr bus ride that preceded it.  I'm sitting at the front of the boat, with the wind in my hair and the slow rocking of the boat calming my mood.  The sun is shining, I couldn't be happier.  I was just sitting here, contemplating my life and the direction it's taken. As you do when you're deliriously happy and have a 5 hour boat ride to pass by. When it occurred to me, this is the only thing I have to do today; get to the Gili Islands. That's it.  I don't have to cook my dinner, clean my bathroom, or be anywhere at a particularly horrible hour tomorrow morning (it's a Sunday - I think?). I don't have to commute to some outlying office, and sit in front of a computer all day. In fact, I can do whatever the fuck I want.  All I really have to do is enjoy my life, and every single second of it.

The past week I've spent in Bali, mostly around the Kuta area.  If I had to sum it up for you in one word, it would be traffic.  The amount of time we spent in traffic was outrageous.  Having been to Bali once before, I didn't expect this at all.  However, that was 4 years ago, and only shortly after the Bali bombings, when the bottom fell out of most of the tourism industry.  It seems everyone has certainly gotten over it now, because there are Aussies everywhere.  Taxis are everywhere too. One taxi driver hilariously noted "Taxis be like mosquitoes! They be everywhere! Have to swat them away".  Part of the problem of course, is the lack of a public transport system, and the hodge-podge of the road network. So many roads are one way its ridiculous, big long highways only going in one direction. Then there are tiny little lane ways that accept traffic in both directions, but certainly don't have room for cars going both directions at once.  This was astonishingly presented to us when, at the end of one miniature lane way, our taxi played a serious game of chicken with an on coming four wheel drive.  Brave taxi.  Of course we had no say in the matter. Eventually the four wheel drive had no other option but to reverse into traffic on the main road he had just left. That is the craziness of traffic in Kuta.

The taxi drivers are just as crazy as the traffic actually.  This was made crystal clear to me on the night when Mum and I jumped in a taxi to take us to our next hotel (we moved when Dad, Elle and Gael all had to fly back to Perth).  It was about 11pm when we jumped in the taxi, and told the driver where we wanted to go.  We battled the traffic, as usual, until our driver took an unexpected turn down a small alley way.  Thinking we must be taking a short cut, I didn't think much of it.  Then the driver stops the car, and puts the handbrake on.  Now I'm really shitting myself. There are no other cars, or even any streetlights down this lane way. I can hear my heart pounding in my chest as Mum reaches for my hand and squeezes it. The driver takes his seat belt off, turns around and says "just a minute".  Mum and I look at each other with terror in our eyes. What the fuck is going on? I turn around, and see the driver run into some nearby bushes. Then he undoes his fly. The driver is taking a leak! Huge sigh of relief. Then I see the meter tick over. The cheeky bugger left the meter going!

Another thing that is everywhere in Kuta? Rats. Yep, big tasty rats.  Mum and I were having coffee at a little place called Kopi Pot. Cute place, nice big garden. In fact, we'd had dinner there just the night before.  On this occasion however, we sighted not one, not two, but three giant rats. And oh how we loved the dinner last night. Shudder.

So whilst I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with my family, I'm delighted to be escaping Kuta. The Gili Island I'm headed for is Gili Trawangan, or Gili T for short.  It has a reputation of being the 'party' island out of the three Gilis.  But it is still supposed to have a pretty relaxed vibe.  There are no scooters or cars on the island, or any other kind of motorised transport.  The water is supposed to have excellent visibility for snorkeling and diving. Sounds like exactly what I need.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Day 29 - Bagus Kali!

Ubud. What a charming little town it is.  Ubud became famous after the book/movie 'Eat Pray Love' (which I myself have yet to read, but this town has inspired me to get a copy), but it doesn't seem any worse because of it.  I only had a couple of hours here, but it was more the vibe of the town that I loved.  It had a similar vibe to that of Pai, in Thailand.  These little towns are small enough to explore in a short period of time, but large enough to be interesting. I guess quirky might be a good word to describe them.  But generally, there is just something quaint and intriguing about Ubud, that sparks a curiosity inside me. Questions arise in my head like, how does a town get such a cool vibe like this?

Being in Ubud instantly calmed me.  Maybe it was just the fact I was no longer stuck in the endlessly frustrating traffic (all the way from Kuta!), and was out of the confines of a minivan. Or maybe it was the town itself.  Maybe it was being surrounded by my beautiful family, but not in the endless chaos of Kuta. I didn't have enough time there to find out, but I do know that I want to visit again. Maybe on this trip, maybe on another one.  But, what I really loved, were the lotus flowers we stumbled upon.  We were having lunch in a restaurant amongst the rice padis, when we spied ginormous lotus flowers. They were as big as my head! (And I have the photographic evidence to prove it!).  So that was my brief, but lovely, encounter with Ubud.

Elle and Gael were struggling today.  They were as tired and hungover as a backpacker awaking on Bondi Beach.  Last night the three of us went for dinner and drinks to celebrate being young (me!) and them getting engaged just the night before.  We had a wonderful dinner on the backpacker street of Popies Lane II, where we got free shooters (that were called arak attack - the local spirit is arak), sipped cocktails, and learnt the expression bagus kali! Which is local slang, and literally translated means very good, but its such a fun thing to say, that it really turns more into awesome I think. After being kicked out of the restaurant at closing time, we hit the main drag to hunt down more delicious Bali Moon cocktails.  Still struggling with the lack of sleep after my massive transit day (read:no sleep for 36 hours), and nursing a residual I-fell-off-a-ute migraine, I had to call it quits and find a bed before I collapsed into a comfortable looking corner (and they were all starting to look comfortable at this desperate point).  Elle and Gael were still on the high of the previous night, and so deliriously happy, that they obviously wanted to continue on. And so the story goes, stay out to 5am, reap the consequences.

So tonight we left them to their own devices, and Mum, Dad and I made our way down to Jimbaran Bay for dinner.  Now I don't know the history of Jimbaran Bay but it sounded far too Australian for somewhere in Indonesia. Like somewhere you could find really good wine in the southwest of WA, not a beach in Bali.  Regardless, we battled the relentless traffic, and made our way onto the beach.  The set up of Jimbaran Bay is that all the restaurants have tables on the beach, and most of them sell only seafood, and by weight.  Let me just say that the prices are quite ridiculous.  The seafood was obviously fresh, but lacked any sort of enhancement, flavouring or sauce.

But it wasn't the meal that I loved at Jimbaran, it was the four man band who wandered among the tables and sang for us.  When they arrived at our table, they asked us where we were from, and as soon as we confirmed we were from Australia, they broke into an awesome rendition of The Last Train Out of Sydney, but instead changed a few of the words around and sang The Last Plane Out of Sydney.  It was hilarious, I loved them and their energy, so I just had to get up and dance.  Once they were done I said bagus kali! And they were suitably impressed I knew some Indonesian slang.  Even though the food was not impressive, I went back to the hotel happy from Jimbaran Bay.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day 26 - In transit

Today is a transit day for me.  I'm currently sitting in the Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Terminal, which I'm disappointed to report is basically outside.  Meaning I'm currently dripping sweat all over my laptop because there isn't any sort of temperature control. I'm on my way to Indonesia.  I left Pai at 9am this morning and will arrive in Bali at 11:30am tomorrow. That's just over 24 hours in transit - lucky me! I caught the local bus from Pai to here, which was actually quite pleasant, the bus wasn't full so I could stretch out a little and I slept most of the way.  If the bus was full however, it would have been a different story entirely.  There was no aircon, the floor was made of wood, and the windows were extremely difficult to open and close.  I like to think I have relatively long legs, but I am definitely no daddy long legs, and even my knees were excruciatingly close to the seat in front of me.  Hence why I sprawled out and my dangled my feet into the aisle, to many stares from the Thai's around me.

Let me break it down for you.  I took the 9am bus from Pai, arrived at Chiang Mai at 1pm. I then booked a bus to Bangkok that leaves here at 4.30pm.  That bus should take about 10 or so hours, so I will get to Bangkok around 3am.  From the Bangkok long distance bus terminal I'll hop in a taxi to BKK airport, and board a flight for Bali at 6.15am.  Then finally I will arrive in Bali at 11:30am. Shudder. Bright side; I don't have to (or rather, am stubbornly refusing to) pay for accommodation tonight, and by this time tomorrow I'll be within walking distance of both a swimming pool and a beach, something I haven't had since I left the Perhentian Islands, 19 days ago.  I am also immensely looking forward to the 5 star resort I'll be staying in.  Doesn't sound in line with the first leg of my trip does it? That's because I'm venturing to Bali to visit my family for Easter, so 4 nights of pure luxury.  Then I will come crashing back to earth when I'll be once more joining the backpacker trail, with 12 days flying solo in Bali.  Yep, I've left Tom behind in Thailand. I'm sure he'll survive without me for three weeks, even if it won't be quite as fun :P

I am a little apprehensive about my impending solo travel.  The few times I've travelled alone in the past have not provided me with warm fuzzy memories, rather a few tragic tales instead.  (Example: losing my big toenail, in Paris, at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and receiving only horrified and disgusted stares rather than actual help). On the flip side, I am looking forward to having my own space back for a little while.  Coming from living by myself in Sydney for a year has not exactly well prepared me to share my space with at least one other person all the time.  I've never really been a great sharer anyway, which I'm sure my sister will attest to.  I figure I'll just be starting to get a little lonely and then it will be time to return to Thailand and meet up with Tom again. Who, despite all the ups and downs that travel provides, has been an amazing travel buddy so far :)

Last night, being my final night in Pai, and my last night in Thailand for a while (tonight doesn't count because I'll be stuck on a bus!), we all decided to get dressed up, and go out for dinner and dancing.  Tom lent out his entire wardrobe, and all the boys got dressed up in collared shirts, and even bow ties! Tom made the comment that it felt like we were going to a school dance, it kind of did.

Our night started at Country Pai restaurant, whose menu was like a book, and had everything imaginable listed, from 13 potato dishes and 18 'spicy salads' to western 'delights'and of course every Thai dish under the sun.  We all needed some liquid courage, so our entrees were SsamSong whisky and cokes.  For dessert we moved to a bar offering buy-one-get-one-free cocktails, where we waited out the evening rain, and much more courage was gained.  From here on in it gets a little hazy.

We had grand plans to end up at a 'Rock and Roll Disco' we'd heard about via flyers on the street, however, upon arrival at such "disco" it was clear why they invited BYO.   Needless to say, we didn't stay, and with a group of 15 or so, we were bringing the party with us wherever we ended up. Finally we settled on a Reggae Bar on the outskirts of town.  It was a charming little place, but clearly not used to such clientele.  This was especially evident when the band became a little flustered after their fourth song (which we had all joined in on with bongo drums), and over to the iTunes DJ it was.  We danced the night away to a strange mixture of reggae and cheesy pop songs.  There was an MJ track thrown in, when everyone pulled out their break dancing skills. It was a great night had by all, Tom and I know how to start a party!  Even if I am paying for it in hangover and speech impediment today.

Day 24 - Dizzying Heights

I'm scared of heights.  Yep, surprised me too.  Trust me, its not something you want to find out the hard way.  I found out today in fact. Let me paint the picture for you.

We're at Pai Canyon. I'm perched on a rock that I'm pretty sure is limestone, and it feels insecure. Slippery. Like at any second I could lose my footing and fall to my death. My body goes into panic mode. I am literally paralysed with fear.  My legs start shaking and I feel like I cannot go on. Im stuck on this rock and my body won't work.  Hot, steamy tears spring from my eyes and roll down my cheeks.  This is not the first time this has happened.

Let me digress for a moment.  The first time this happened to me was on this trip also, we were in the Cameron Highlands doing that massive hike.  We were at the point when it really changes from hiking to climbing.  The ground is wet and muddy.  The branches are mossy, slippery and never entirely secure.  I've slipped about four times now and I'm stuck in a little crevice and cannot move.  My body is in panic mode. I can't breathe. I can't do anything to make my feet move.

So, back to the rock in Pai.  Tom comes over and counts me through my breathing. A technique he showed me when I fell off the ute, and is supremely effective.  It did not work so well this time. I could barely get the air down my lungs.  Tom made the comment that I dealt with  "falling off the back of a truck" better. It took a minute or two, but I finally regained the ability to breathe, stopped my legs from shaking and was able to continue on. I clambered out of that canyon as fast as I could and still feeling a bit shakey, sat in the shade for a minute.

In both of these circumstances, Tom has helped me to calm down and carry on.  In the first instance, I put it down to being extremely dehydrated and underfed.  I was embarrassed about it, and so put it out of my mind.  In the second instance it was worse.  It was scarier, and I had no logical explanation for what happened. I wasn't dehydrated, I wasn't hungover, I was fucking scared.  It sounds funny to say, but it scares me how scared I was.  It is a weakness I didn't know I had.  And I don't like weaknesses.  Not unless they involve say, chocolate or sex (hey, or both!). This is something I'm definitely going to have to work through.  But I will.  By the end of this trip (and with heaps of Tom's help) I'm sure I'll be rock climbing over the scariest of peaks.

After that ordeal, it was onto the waterfall! Or rather, a waterfall, as Pai has many, many waterfalls.  We scootered to one yesterday as well in fact.  The problem is, I don't remember the obscure names of these beautiful waterfalls.  But yesterday's waterfall will be known as the Waterfall of Lost Possessions.  Mallery lost her sunglasses when they fell down a particularly steep rock, and Tom lost his glasses in the pursuit of a piece of tropical fruit.  His efforts were infact fruitless (pun intended), as when we cracked open said fruit, that he had worked so hard to reach, it smelt like moldy soap, and tasted even worse. But today's waterfall wasn't so bittersweet.  The water level was really low, so we couldn't really swim, but it was so nice to cool off under the pounding water, and I could feel it realising all the tension in me after the canyon.  So I'm calling today's waterfall the Waterfall of Therapeutic Powers, because it instantly made me feel so much better.

So that's day 3 in Pai.  Tomorrow is my last day in Pai, hopefully it won't have me pushing the panic button quite so vigorously.  But who knows what adventures tomorrow will bring? That is the beauty of travelling.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Day 22 - Pai Retox

Today I have been travelling for 3 weeks. It feels like it has gone really slowly and really fast all at the same time.

We are currently in a charming little town called Pai, which is just northwest of Chiang Mai.  Our 4 hour bus ride to get here was an interesting one. We were on a minibus, which is like a cross between a proper bus and a minivan, which was very temperamental.  At one military checkpoint, the bus wouldn't start up again.  The driver, being the excellent driver he was, just continued to crunch the gears until he finally got it started again.  I'm not sure we changed gears at all after that, but the endlessly winding road meant we didn't particularly need to.  And we made it all the way without having to change buses!

Myself, Tom and four other guys are all staying at Paiburee Guesthouse, in a treetop bungalow.  Yep, I have a Pai Treetop Family! The other four boys are; the 3 Swedes, Jonathon, Roberto and Tobias, and, a token Englishman; Joshua. Our bungalow is basically just one big room, with 6 mattresses on the floor (almost like one big bed), and a roofless bathroom attached.  Which I call 'Alicia's Dressing Room', but boys being boys, call it 'The Poo Courtyard' instead.  Exactly, what the fuck was I thinking sharing with 5 boys?!  But our bungalow does have an awesome balcony, which is nearly as big as our bedroom. So this balcony meant Tom's rooftop bar in Chiang Mai has transformed itself into Tom's treetop bar in Pai. This time with hammocks!  How rude of me, I forgot to mention our other roommates.  They don't chip in for the room, and they make lots of noise, especially when I'm trying to sleep, but they are definitely staying with us.  They are the hundreds (sometimes it feels like thousands) of cicadas.  Hey, at least they aren't mosquitoes!

The original idea was to come to Pai, chill out, and detox from all the drinking and water fighting that was Songkran.  It is clear already this is not going to happen!  Tonight we found  Rasta Art Bar and Don't Cry Bar, which basically make up one big bar. Rasta Art Bar has a stage and live music, while Don't Cry has a bonfire, fire twirling and half price buckets! Together, they have everything you could want.  Tom jumped in on the fire twirling again (he's really getting good!), and then it all got a little hazy after that (half price buckets!).  But I do know that a good time was had by all, and I'm loving Pai with my treetop family!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 17 - Near death

I nearly died today.  How often does one get to say that?
Ok, perhaps that is a little dramatic, but it certainly is a story to be told.

Today is the official day one of Songkran, so we donned our water guns and suited-up so to speak and hit the streets running.  We made it our mission to cover more ground today, so we started to talk our way onto the backs of tuk-tuks, songthaew, trucks and utes. You know where this is headed.

Tom came across a ute with only two Thai guys in the back, but with a barrel full of water, so that was invitation enough for us.  We were enthusiastically welcomed onboard and after quick introductions, the games begun.  Lots of people to shoot at means lots of refilling of water guns, hence we quickly ran out of water.  We pulled over to fill the barrel with water from the moat that surrounds the old city of Chiang Mai. Tom jumped straight into the moat, and we established quite the little production line, passing various size buckets back and forth between the moat and the ute.  The process was slowed by the irresistible temptation to occasionally pour an entire bucket of water on a passer-by.  Nonetheless we got the barrel filled and all jumped in the back.

It was inevitable that with all the water-throwing the ute would start to fill with water.  And smooth, shiny surfaces filled with water are one main thing: slippery.  The driver stopped suddenly and like dominos we all fell forward onto one another.  No-one was injured and we all thought it was hilarious.  Not a minute later, the driver accelerated suddenly when traffic cleared, and not having completely regained my footing I fell backwards.  I landed sitting on the back of the tray so I thought I was okay.  However, as soon as the ute gained speed it was Alicia meet bitumen.  Having hit my head with such force, the details are a little hazy in my memory.  I do remember lying in the middle of the road and seeing another ute looming towards me, so I somehow picked myself up off the road before collapsing onto the kerb.  I know now that upon hearing me scream, followed by a loud smack on the road, Tom leapt off the (still moving) ute to run and help me.  With me about to go into full on shock, I was so glad to have Tom there.  Tom calmed me down enough to walk back to our room, but not before the driver and at least 10 other people came over to see if I was okay and to give us advice.  All very sweet, but at the same time, very overwhelming. I just wanted to lie down and sleep.

Upon returning to the room, I curled up in bed and tried my hardest not to fall asleep.  With Tom as my watchdog we watched 'Sister Act', which happened to be on one of the movie channels (oh yeah, we have pay TV, did I forget to mention that?).  There's nothing like a cheesy musical to make you feel better.

So that's me out for Songkran, it was fun while it lasted! New near death story? Acquired.