Island life.

So I went to a little island (it seriously is tiny, check it out on google maps) called Koh Mak for just over a week. It’s kind of a filler time, something to do in between landing in Thailand and waiting for Nick to fly into Bangkok. I didn’t want to go South or East (Ko Samui, Krabi etc.) as that’s where we’ll be heading together at some point so I looked for somewhere [fairly] close to Bangkok that I could head to for a bit. After the last 3 whirlwind months I figured I’d choose somewhere that I could relax and chill out for a bit. Somewhere I could just have a bit of alone time, where I could catch up on my blogging, reading and so on.

So, after a 6 hour bus journey and an extortionate short taxi ride (robbing bastards) I found myself stood on a pier looking out over the bright blue ocean in the sun and thought, yep, life is pretty sweet right now. A hop, skip and a jump later and I was on the back of a speedboat whizzing through the nice calm sea from the mainland to Koh Mak. This speedboat journey was particularly pleasant and quite glamorous; wind in my hair, sun on my face and lovely scenery to gaze at. The speedboat ride back just over a week later was not so pleasant. The sea was rough so the boat was jumping about all over the place. I spent the entire 50 minutes clinging on for dear life, getting drenched from the waves coming over the side of the boat and wondering when the boat would either a) capsize or b) break in two from the force of jumping and then landing with full force. I remember thinking I didn’t really want to add ‘boat accident’ to my list of accidents I’ve had so far (taxi and bus), and how my iPhone would be ruined if I ended up in the sea. Luckily, we stayed the right way up and I live to write about another day.

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So the first night I got to the island I stayed in a fairly posh, pretty amazing room with a panoramic view of one of the bays, a massive king size bed and a floor-to-ceiling window next to the toilet (to take in that amazing view). And, for the first time since I’ve been travelling, that night I wished I had someone there to share it with. I still don’t know why. Maybe it was the view, maybe it’s because the island was quiet, maybe it’s because it was quite a romantic setting, maybe it was the huge bed. I don’t know. I just know it all seemed a bit of a waste just for me. It was the kind of place that seemed like it should be a bit special. Not just for a run-of-the-mill, filler week for just me. So, I watched an amazing sunset, lightening storm and the sunrise the next morning out of that window but the decided to find somewhere else. I just couldn’t spend a week there, I wasn’t feeling it. Plus, the wifi didn’t work properly. On an island where you’re alone and there’s not that much to do, this is a Big Thing.

So, I moved to the beach, to a little resort called Monkey Island. No king size, air conditioned room this time; I chose a little beach hut with a fan and a shared bathroom. No more wishing someone was here with me for this one, the resort was cute, had a bar (although it shut at 8pm) and was right on the beach. And had decent wifi. Sold.

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And there I stayed for just over a week. It’s low season for Koh Mak (as it’s the tail end of rainy season in Thailand just now) and so it was very quiet. There’s hardly anyone about (there were only a handful of us staying at Monkey Island) and a lot of things are shut. So, on a small island where there isn’t a lot to do in high season, there really wasn’t much to do at all in low season. Which, is kind of why I went there. I fancied a bit of downtime, although, if you know me you’ll know I like to be busy pretty much all the time and get a bit twitchy if I sit around too long, so why I decided to go there I’m not actually quite sure. Maybe subconsciously I thought it would be a good rest. Or a challenge. And, yep, I ended up getting twitchy. But, it also did me the world of good. So, all in all a win. But, I was ready to leave by the end of it, ready to get back to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.

So you’re probably [not] wondering what I did with myself for just over a week? I’ll tell you.

  • Got sunburn. The weather was pretty iffy while I was there but there were a few days of sunshine so I decided to try and even my tan out. I’m a shit sunbather; I’m not very good at it, I get bored and if I’m on the beach I get sand everywhere. So I tried it and failed. I then had to spend the next day in my hut with no clothes on, slathering myself in aloe vera gel trying not to move because it hurt. Erotic.
  • Caught up on my blogging. Well, apart from this post which I’m writing after being back in Bangkok for a couple of days.
  • Thinking. Lots of thinking. I probably spent a bit too much time thinking about Australia and jobs. Both of those things are far away yet and I don’t want to wish my time away. But, I can’t help being excited about Oz; I have so many cool things planned. And jobs, well, it didn’t help that I saw my ideal job advertised, so I guess that’s what started me thinking. I applied, but it was a bit of a half hearted attempt and it’s not come of anything. But at least I won’t have any ‘what if’s’.
  • Walking and exploring. I wandered around the island most days (when I wasn’t sunburnt or it wasn’t raining) trying to get a bit of exercise in. I had all good intentions of doing some running but it never happened. I never got up early enough, there were no street lights and I didn’t fancy running in the dark or it was raining.
  • Watching storms. There were a few of them. I liked watching the lightning and the rain from the veranda of my hut. Apart from when the rain was so heavy it was raining into my veranda, then I had to retreat inside and watch it from the doorway.

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  • Imagining I was in Lost. I was on The Island. A lot of places were empty, quiet, overgrown and deserted. I can only assume that it’s because it’s low season, but it reminded me of the Dharma initiative village in Lost. I didn’t see any polar bears or black smoke. Or Jack. Unfortunately.

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  • Providing consultancy services to a friend who was applying for a job by helping them with their application one day. It was really quite bizarre, doing ‘work’ from a little beach hut on a tiny island (or at one point, sat on the beach).
  • Eating pancakes that weren’t pancakes. Not like you and I would think of them (like crepes). This was like a thick round shaped cake. A whole plateful of cake. I had this a few times. Of course.
  • Reading lots of books about murder. I’ve just discovered the DI Matt Barnes series by Michael Kerr and I found them to be can’t-put-you-down books so I got through two of them. But, they’re also pretty graphic, and I’m not sure reading about murder, torture and psychopaths when you’re in a remote, deserted place is the best idea…
  • Realising that no matter how many times I go, I’ll always need the toilet just before I go to sleep. Especially when it’s about 20 feet away from my room.
  • Making a bowl out of a water bottle using nothing but a key. I had bought cornflakes but had nothing to eat them out of. 2 minutes later, voila! It wouldn’t win any prizes for aesthetics, but it was functional. Win.

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So, a pretty relaxing week, but I was ready to leave. Ready to get back to a bit of city life and civilisation. It did me the world of good though, to just stop for a while and have some time alone. To figure some stuff out, recharge my batteries and look forward to the next adventure when Nick will join me for the rest of my time in South East Asia.

Bangkok nights.

I’m going to start this post with a caveat that despite spending 5 nights in Bangkok so far I’ve not really done much, so I’m not sure I’ve got much to write about. My friend Nick is joining me in Thailand in about a week and I’ll be heading back to Bangkok to meet him. So I put off some of the tourist things until he arrives. That and I was also feeling a bit ‘templed’ out after India and China. Oh, and I was also fed up with the heat.

So, I had quite a relaxed few days. I had to sort out plans for getting to Koh Mak where I’d spend a week or so before coming back. Sorting out=researching, figuring out how to get there then going and booking bus tickets etc.

I didn’t want to be in the middle of backpacker central, so the place I stayed in was in a mainly Thai residential area south of the river; nice and quiet and away from the madness and crowds. There was a little night market selling mainly meat, fruit and vegetables (most of which I couldn’t recognise and had no idea what they were) that popped up near there so I spent a bit of time walking round it. It was a hive of activity, with people chattering and cooking, the smells and colours all so strong and fresh. It was a full ‘in your face’ experience, making all my senses feel alive and a great way to introduce me to some Thai culture. It also made me pretty hungry so after a bit more wandering I found a little place to eat in. Nothing fancy; just a few tables and a small kitchen at the back. A proper little Thai eating place, where it kind of feels like you’re sat in someone’s living room. There’s no menu, just a load of Thai writing on the wall. The woman couldn’t speak English; I couldn’t speak Thai. We looked at each other with bemused looks on our faces until a chap sat behind me came to the rescue. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing I ended up with some kind of chicken fried rice dish. The tastiest chicken fried rice dish I’d had ever. Add in some fierce chilli flakes from the table and it was incredible. Oh, and the best bit? It cost me less than a £1. “Welcome to Thai food, Paps.” I thought. One of the best things for me about travelling is the food. Trying new food, finding different places to eat. And I’m pretty sure Thailand is not going to disappoint. Especially as they also have fruit carts! I am so excited about this. Carts full of melon, pineapple and other [as yet unidentified and untried] fresh fruit. For pennies. I am SO going to eat healthy while I am here. It’s like the melon on a stick snack carts in China all over again. Such a shame England doesn’t have anything like this. All we have is carb-heavy, calorie laden shitty snacks like pastries, crisps and sweets. No wonder people struggle to eat a healthy diet when out and about, the options are so limited. Maybe that could be my new job when I get back? Fruit-Cart Operative. Wonder how many people would go for it?

That night I sat on the hostel roof with some guys also staying there drinking Chang beer from the local 7/11 (taking dibs on who would do the next beer run), making paper aeroplanes to throw off the roof, watching a thunderstorm in the distance and just chatting about travel, life and the universe. It was such a relaxed evening, a perfect way to spend a few hours, although I’d realised my tolerance to alcohol has definitely diminished and I felt more than a little drunk by the end of it (which was around 2am in the 7/11 getting beer munchie cheese and ham toasties and Hersheys chocolate). I wasn’t drunk enough to forget though that it was a Thursday night, which only means one thing: Film Club night back in the UK, and as 2am here is 8pm back there, my Film Club buddies got a drunken hangout call. I can’t really remember much about the details of the conversation but I remember laughing a lot. And them laughing a lot. And getting chocolate all over myself. Love them.

Walking round this area at night (not while drunk, obviously), down all the little streets and alleyways is like having a glimpse into real life for the people who live here because all the houses have main rooms that all fully open out into the street. It reminded me of those kid’s dolls houses where you could open the front and see into every room. Each building houses something different; people making shoes, people’s living rooms, arcade machines, fabric shops, sewing shops. You name it, there was probably someone doing it. It felt a bit voyeuristic, walking round and gazing into their lives. But a smile and a hello is returned with a wide grin and a warm greeting back, which made me feel better.

One day I went to Lumphini Park and wandered around for a bit, looking for the monitor lizards and checking it out as a possible place to run (it passed). It’s a nice place to pass the time and people watch for a bit. That evening I went out for dinner with a woman who lives in Bangkok, who I know through an internet forum I go on. Another meeting in real life of a random stranger that I only know through the internet, but this time no running, just eating and drinking. I had a great time, and she treated me to dinner and wine at a trendy bar which was super generous of her. I love that the world is such a smaller place nowadays, that I can meet new friends in all kinds of ways and that once again I’m reminded that the world is full of kind, lovely, generous people. It was nice to see a ‘friendly’ face while I’m travelling, and find out more about real life in the city, rather than just hitting the tourist spots. That’s what travelling is about for me.

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And what visit to a big city is not complete without going to Chinatown (via boat)? Now I’ve actually been to China, it’s a bit of a different experience for me. I like it. The one here had lots of small streets with markets, food stalls and everything in between. I’m pretty sure I’ll probably go back again with Nick so didn’t really do much else apart from walk through. Oh, and stop for something to eat at a street stall. Everywhere you go there are little carts that serve up mainly a kind of noodle soup with some kind of meat or meatballs for tiny prices. They quite often have a few tables to sit at nearby so I got my bowl of noodle soup and sat down, adding in chilli flakes to make it a bit interesting. Probably added in a few too many but that’s by the by. They had chopsticks. Oh how I had missed chopsticks over the last few days; forks and spoons seem to be the utensils of choice here. I’d spent a month in China mastering my own special way of using a pair, and really enjoyed it. Now, granted, my method is probably not the same as the ‘proper’ way of using them but it does the job. The chap at the food stall obviously didn’t think so as he came over with a fork as I was halfway through. Hmm. I didn’t think I was that bad. I waved him off with a smile, he returned it with a confused look and a grin.

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I’ll probably go back to Chinatown as I’m pretty sure Nick will want to go there. Nick loves trying new food even more than I do, so I can’t wait for more street food adventures. Mmmm. All that fresh food, packed full of flavour and more heat than you can handle (if you want). Oh, I’m sure we’ll do a bit of sightseeing but it’s the food. It’s all about the food.