Snowy #Beijing! #feelslikechristmas … finally!
Snowy #Beijing! #feelslikechristmas … finally!
Cooking up a storm at the Thai Farm Cooking School (Taken with Instagram)
My biggest worry coming on this 5 week adventure as a solo traveller was the fear of being alone: having to eat alone or sit in a hostel alone at night because I didn’t have any friends to go out with. Everyone said that South East Asia is a great place to meet like minded travellers, but what I’ve learned over the last 2 weeks is that the extent of that really depends on you…and even more so on your desire to take risks. To me, it all boils down to saying “Yes”… no matter how odd the invitation sounds, how tired you feel or what other plans you may have. At the time, I didn’t give much thought to it, but now looking back, I can pinpoint exactly the turning points of my trip so far…and they all involved taking a bit of a risk and saying “yes”.
My first night in Bangkok, I was exhausted from my 20 hour flight and was planning a quiet night in, when 3 girls in my dorm invited me to join them for a ping pong show. Now those that know what a ping pong show is, know that it probably isn’t a “must” on Bangkok’s list of activities. So I hesitated at first, tried to think of some excuse of being tired and needing some sleep, but in the end I said, “yes”. While waiting to head out to the show, the 4 of us recruited another guy from our hostel, called Will, to join us. The show was seedy, but we followed it up by a night out on Khao San Road, with some Changs, shisha and street food - a perfect first night in Thailand! Not only that, but the girls and I ended up following a similar route and bumping into each other in quite a few places along the way. And Will and I carried on spending the next 2 weeks together, first on Koh Tao as diving school classmates and diving buddies, then on Koh Phangan for jungle party, full moon party and beyond.
In Koh Phangan, Will and I stayed in different hostels, and I was once again faced with a decision. Do I accept the invitation to head to Indian buffet dinner with a bunch of guys from my dorm (all of whom seemed a bit intimidating at first) or do I stay put until I figure out how to meet up with Will later in the night. Despite a bit of hesitation once again, I joined the guys for dinner and after a bit of dinner chat, I knew I made the right decision. Will and I ended up joining them for a Jungle party that night, along with the Full Moon Party the following night. 2 great nights that made my Koh Phangan experience that much better!
And then there was a time I said “no”. The day after the Jungle Party, 3 of the guys from my hostel invited me to join them for a day of scooter adventures exploring the island beyond the parties and the Haad Rin Beach. A few of my Koh Tao friends were arriving in Koh Phangan that day and I decided to decline the invitation and spend a day wandering around Haad Rin instead. When the guys got back that evening, their stories and pictures made me pretty jealous and to this day I regret saying “no” to an off the beaten path experience on Koh Phangan.
I alway say that in life there should be no regrets, just lessons learned, so my lesson, and maybe a lesson you can learn from me as well, is ” just say yes”! Especially if you a hesitating and it feels slightly uncomfortable, because it will likely lead to an unforgettable experience…and let’s be serious, life is all about those!
“Attend the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan” - item #21 on my 30 before 30 bucket list.
To be honest I have no idea how it made it on the list in first place. I don’t know a lot of people that have been to the Full Moon Party and I certainly have never heard too many stories from it, so I really didn’t know what I was in for. But as I was planning my rough route around Thailand, I couldn’t help but keep it on my list of things to do. I promised to myself that I would only venture down to Koh Phangan, if I had a good group of friends with me. The idea of partying at the biggest festival in Asia all by myself somehow didn’t appeal to me. So when in Koh Tao, my 3 friends from diving school decided to do it, I jumped on board.
We heard that the pre-parties leading up to the Full Moon were actually better than the Full Moon itself, and while we tried to get to Koh Phangan 2-3 days ahead of Full Moon, our addiction to diving was bigger than our desire to party for 3-4 days straight.
So it was August 31st, the day before Full Moon, when we finally arrived on the island. The second our taxi drove into Haad Rin (the Full Moon party area), we could feel the buzz in the air. Dozens of shops lining the streets with fluorescent shirts, shorts and accessories of all kinds. Music blasting from every restaurant, every hostel, every street corner. The beach and the streets leading to it lined with carts selling the famous spirit buckets. Everything you could possibly need to have a good time.
Despite what many people think, the Full Moon party actually takes place a day after the real full moon. So that night, under the beautiful full moon light, we had a choice: beach party, jungle party or pool party. All happening on the same night at the same time and luckily for us lasting until 8am…plenty of time to check out more than 1. We started off with the beach. To our disappointment, it was a lot less busy than we had expected, making us wonder if perhaps we were there in the off season. After a stroll on the beach and few buckets to get us in the mood, we decided that perhaps we were better off checking one of the other parties. So we hopped into a taxi ( aka back of a pick up truck) and headed for the jungle party. Now THAT was an experience! We were truly in the middle of the jungle, but a jungle with a stage, few sound booths, porter potties, fire dancers, and a bar-like area area selling more buckets. Within seconds we were engulfed by the atmosphere and the music…and it wasn’t until hours later that we were ready to leave. Although to be honest, I’m not sure I ever wanted to leave…
September 1st was finally here and it kind of felt like New Years Eve: from outfit shopping to dinner choices, everything was carefully planned out to guarantee a good and loooong night. By 9pm, we were all decked out in our full moon fluorescent attire, ready to put the finishing touches…aka the paint. Now I still don’t know why everyone covers themselves in fluorescent paint. There are no black lights on the beach, or any other lights, for that matter, so you can’t really see the carefully drawn designs on anyone. Yet we all grabbed some paint and brushes and got creative…paw prints, flames, lip imprints, palm trees, flags…you name it, we had it. Even the boys, who at first, had no interest in the activity, spent hours perfecting their designs. I’ve got to admit, though, the pictures look awesome! There is not much to say about the party itself. The beach was filled with people looking just as fluorescent as us, drinking buckets, dancing or just wandering around the beach aimlessly. And that’s exactly what we did…for 8 (!!!) odd hours: losing and finding friends along the way, snaking on crepes every few hours and chatting up the locals.
When the sun came up, the beach was looking horrendous! People passed out everywhere, garbage everywhere… It made me stop and think. Why do we (westerners) have this desire to take everything beautiful that nature has and make it into some entertainment for ourselves? Be it ruining beaches in Thailand, or paying to see little monkeys in doll dresses do tricks. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the night, and I do know that if this party, and many other parties on Koh Phangan weren’t there, the locals living on the island would still be living in poverty and without basic human needs….but can’t we be just a bit more sensible and respectful to their land, their environment and their culture?
Representing! (Taken with Instagram at Full Moon Party)
Descending… (Taken with Instagram)
There is something about Koh Tao that makes it one of the top Thailand destinations for many backpackers from around the world. Getting off the ferry boat, it first strikes you as a bit impersonal. Hundreds of backpackers dragging their heavy bags along the pier, each one looking more lost than the other. Most are there for the same reason - to dive, although only a few seem to know which one of hundreds of dive schools and dive resorts they are looking for. The rest will spend the next few hours wandering aimlessly around the island searching for the “best” spot.
As I got off the ferry boat following the crowds, I was glad to have done a bit of research in advance and even more glad when my Big Blue Diving Resort pick up was patiently waiting for me and a few other guests at the end of the pier. As the car pulled up at Big Blue and we were greeted by a friendly diving instructor, I instantly felt like I made the right choice. Even though the resort itself was nothing special and the dorms (which were provided for free to all divers) were VERY basic, the place just had that friendly feeling about it. Locals playing football in the sand at the end of their work days, tons of people hanging out at the Big Blue restaurant on the beach and even more people carrying around diving equipment in and out of the water. Everyone seemed so happy!….and just a few hours later I felt the same!
Ever since my first dive in the Great Barrier Reef in December 2010, getting my scuba diving certification has been at the top of my bucket list, and here I was, finally in the perfect place to do it! The Open Water Diving certification provides you with basic skills necessary to be able to dive independently (well technically with a diving guide) anywhere around the world. It’s a fairly quick 4 day course: about 8-10 hours of videos and theory, mostly about equipment and diving safety, a 4-5 hour practice session in the pool to get the basics of breathing with the equipment and practising some basic skills, and 4 dives between 12-18m deep each. Seems so quick, but the learning curve is incredibly steep. Despite the fact that I have been diving before and felt completely comfortable under water at that time, the first 10 mins in the pool freaked the living hell out of me. I literally thought, “what the hell am I getting myself into? I can’t do this!” But somehow I managed to calm myself down and keep going…and it got better and better with every hour of the pool practice session. It wasn’t until we were out in the ocean on Day 3 of the course that I felt truly comfortable. However, our 2 dive sites that day, Mango Bay and Japanese Gardens, were just ok. Shallow, with not too much fish….nothing, compared to my Great Barrier Reef experience.
I can truly say that Day 4 was when I fell in love with diving!!! It was an early, 6am start, but as we descended into the water at Chumphon Pinnacle, the scenery took my breath away in the best way possible! I remember thinking to myself, ” This is the most incredible way to start a day!”. The amount of fish and coral at Chumphon is like nothing I have ever seen or could have imagined before. A true underwater paradise! A reason to keep diving day in and day out! That dive site alone could be the reason for thousands of divers on Koh Tao and hundreds of instructors and those that came to the island for 5 days and never left… That morning I wanted to be one of them. So naturally, as I got out of the water, wide eyed and mesmerised, I was convinced…I wanted more! And more I got…2 more days on Koh Tao, 5 more dives and an Advanced Diver certification at the end of it.
Despite a few downs (leaking mask, getting lost on a night dive and miserably failing to find the rocks on a navigation dive), the ups of the next 2 days ( shipwreck dive and another beautiful morning at Chumphon) were completely worth it!
As I finally forced myself to leave Koh Tao after a week on the island, I couldn’t have bee happier. This was a week of a dream coming true, some incredible underwater adventures with a group of new friends who made the nights in Koh Tao just as fun as the days were!
So yes, what they say about Koh Tao is true. The place is magical and I know for a fact it is not my last time on this island!
That pretty much sums it up! (Taken with Instagram at Big Blue Diving Resort)
First day in Bangkok…sweltering heat, smell of street food and an unbelievable amount of westerners all gathered on a few small streets in the heard of Bangkok’s backpacking distirct on Khoa San Rd. This area really makes this city feel so exhilarating and full of adventures! And it is….
After a few hours of aimless roaming around Khoa San Road, stuffing my face with delicious street food, photo snapping and some innocent shopping, I felt like it was time for some proper culture. So with a map in hand I was off to the Grand Palace - the #1 cultural attraction in Bangkok. Pretty much on every street corner, I kept being approached by tuk tuk drivers, saying something about cheap 20 Baht rides in celebration of Budda Day. I dismissed about 5 of them before giving one a chance to actually explain the “deal”.
“Today is Budda Day, all Buddas in the city, you see for free. Tomorrow you pay 200 baht for entrance, today, Budda - free. Big Budda, lucky Budda, black Budda - all free, you pay 20 baht, I take you 1, 2,3,4,5,6 places in 1.5hrs and I wait for you and you see Buddas. Cheap cheap.”, he said.
Hmmm…Budday Day, eh? Sounds like a bit of a load of crap, plus I remembered reading about tuk tuk scams and saying that things are free. This has got to be one of them. But then, I am only being asked to pay 20 baht …that’s what? £0.50? Not much to lose and if this “Budda tour” really sucks, I can always get off and taxi back to my hostel. Right now, I’m hot and kinda tired of walking and really do fancy a ride around the city.
“Alright. 20 baht only? Let’s see some Buddas!”
And within minutes, I was in a tuk tuk riding down busy streets of Bangkok, which, let’s be serious, is a rollercoster ride on its own worth more than £0.50!!!
First stop - Big Budda. And yes my tuk tuk driver safely got me there and to my surprise did wait for me to do my sightseeing, picture snapping and helped me back into the tuk tuk ready to show me more! The lucky and whatever other Buddas followed. And then came the catch…
“We stop now at factory, you look. Don’t want, no buy”, he said as we pulled up to some store front. I’ve travelled enough to know that tours always take you to random shops and try to convince you to buy stuff, so I wasn’t too worried about checking it out. Inside was a well air conditioned room with lots of fabrics and a comfy couch where I sat and chatted with a friendly store owner. We discussed his factory (aka sweatshop filled with women working for pennies), his prices and how they compare to Shanghai fabric market (about double in price) and his supply chain (“best materials only, not like China”) . Of course I didn’t buy anything, but I left the store wanting to share the story with others and wondering whether all “factories” in Asia where like that, and how I felt about supporting this type of manufacturing by getting all sorts of things made at the Fabric Market in Shanghai.
I hopped back into my tuk tuk and we carried on to see more Buddas and stop at more shops. Along the way, I learned a bit about my tuk tuk driver and the fact that these ” shopping pit stops” are his best way of earning money. Each store I go into (regardless of whether I bought or not) gives him a 5 litre gasoline voucher to use for his tuk tuk…a “commission” equivalent to about 1000 baht (£5). Knowing how little these guys earn and how big of help these vouchers are to them, I sort of felt glad that I was able to help him earn these coupons. So at the end of the “tour” I got exactly what I was promised, lots of Buddas, a few temples and a final drop off at the Grand Palace - my original destination - all for just 20 baht.
Sure, I got to the palace an hour later, but I really enjoyed the ride: seeing the city beyond the touristy roads, the Buddas, the temples, some great chats with the locals, and even a sneak peak into a school day of some Bangkok kids that I spotted sitting out in the school yard beside one of the temples.
So was it really a Budda Day? No…the Buddas and temples are free on a daily basis, that part of the pitch is clearly a lie to entice tourists to head on the tour now as opposed to tomorrow. So, was it a scam then? Well, hardly. I got what I was promised and for the price I agreed to pay. Was it a waste of time? Maybe. For someone on a tight schedule, who needs to get in and out and has no time to dilly dally at jewellery and clothing shops, it would be!
But for me, it was an adventure in Bangkok and a great story to write home about!
It’s the night before the big departure… the night before everything changes, once again!
It’s been over 3 months since I have moved to Shanghai to finish my MBA at Hult International Business School (which I started back in London in August 2011). The time flew by, as it always does. Culture shock, classes, crazy night life, amazing food, etc, etc. It’s been a whirlwind… and despite all the ups and downs and all the challenges that make Shanghai the city that it is, I do not want to leave!
Luckily… I don’t have to, at least not for too long :)
Next up for me are 2 months of amazing cities, old and new memories, old and new friends…. and of course family! The itinerary looks something like this…
Then in early October, I’m back to Shanghai to start my new job!
Lot’s of travel blogging along the way, amazing experiences and memories that will last a life time!
再见 Shanghai! See you in October!
This can be your life too!
I may not be a travel blogger, I may not be deathly bored of my job, but I sure do love to travel and I make it MY priority as much as I can!
Yep..Shanghai does have its beauty days! (Taken with Instagram at Shimao Riviera Pool)
800 steps later… (Taken with Instagram at Moon Mountain)
Taken with Instagram at Li River
One of many street food stalls in Lijiang Old Town (Taken with Instagram)