From Backpacker to Flashpacker

I always promised myself that my last two weeks in Thailand would be a holiday – travelling can really take it out of you! So when I reached Koh Phangan in search of sunshine (it was glorious) I checked into the flashiest place I’ve probably ever stayed. I’m talking private beach, gym, huge infinity pool with a swim-up bar, and the comfiest bed in all of Asia. It was full of posers but I didn’t care that I was a bit out of place, the staff were all lovely and I needed that gym to start working off the belly that I haven’t been able to shift since Taiwan.

The Coast Resort Koh Phangan

After a few days here, incidentally in Haad Rin where most people go to rave under a full moon and vomit on the beach, I moved up to Haad Chaophao to a place half the price but equally gorgeous. I was upgraded to a sea view by the lovely Irish couple running the place and I spent my days swimming, reading, staring out to sea and visiting the vegan cafe opposite. Their food was delicious and the sweet Burmese man there gave me free banana and chocolate cake because I went three days in a row.

Beyond the Blue Horizon Resort

I’m really sad to leave Thailand, especially Koh Phangan. I fell in love with this place five years ago and it hasn’t disappointed the second time around. It was just what I needed in order to renew my energy for India – my final adventure before returning home.

 

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The Most Disturbing Festival Ever?

Krabi was a washout – I’d hoped the rainy season would have passed over by now but it was late this year apparently and still going strong.

I was obviously meant to be there though… on my first night I bumped into a great friend made in Bangkok a few weeks earlier, and on my last day I bumped into Kate, the girl I travelled through Cambodia with last month.

Not only that but I stumbled upon the most disturbing festival I’ve ever seen.

Kate and I were around the corner catching up over cake and jasmine tea while the procession was going on down the main street. Our conversation was constantly being interrupted by the sound of firecrackers so we decided to go and see what the fuss was all about.

As we turned the corner we were struck with the sight of men and women walking trance-like with poles pushed through their cheeks like a skewer. We spotted one man who had a gun pushed through a giant hole in each cheek! As if that wasn’t shocking enough we were confronted by hoards of men who were cutting their tongues with razors, swords and axes, with blood dripping down their fronts.

that festival

A man stood at the side of the road lighting firecrackers while enthusiastic participants jumped around in the explosions until the final bang. Some of the firecrackers were thrown near the crowd (i.e. me) and a chunk of one of them flew up my nose!

firecrackers at festival

“What is this for?” I asked a Thai lady, wide-eyed with horror. “Vegetables” she replied. I laughed to myself comparing it to our harvest festival at home.

 

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Stormy Koh Lanta

I’ve arrived on Koh Lanta with rainy season still in full swing. No matter, I was getting sick of the heat anyway. I’m secretly enjoying being holed up in my little eco-cabin hearing the sea roar and the winds whistle past. A ferocious storm usually wakes me up early, and a second one often rolls in before breakfast, then the day tends to brighten up and I swim and stroll along the beach in the warm breeze.

khlong khong beach koh lanta

As I wrote this a brief power cut stopped my AC and the gardener’s strimmer and all was quiet for a while. Bliss.

I’m treating my time in Thailand as a holiday from now on – rooms to myself instead of dorms (which are driving me a little bit mad now), and resorts with a swimming pool because I’m scared of swimming in the sea. Even travellers need a break, a holiday, something to recharge the batteries.

boats koh lanta

I’ll be home in 5 weeks so I’m making the most of my remaining time abroad before going back to life as I knew it.

 

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Still Stuck in Bangkok

All in all I spent 2 and a half weeks in limbo in Bangkok. My Indian visa took 7 working days in the end, but I decided to get an unusual rash checked out at the hospital and the wait for the results meant another long stretch in the big bad city.

I got into a nice little routine though, spending a few hours catching up on Breaking Bad before the finale, and a daily pilgrimage to Siam Paragon, the second largest shopping mall in the world. I hate shopping, but Paragon is different. They regularly hold events, shows, parties, and have a huge cinema and bowling alley on the top floor.

outside siam paragon at night
Outside Siam Paragon at night
inside siam paragon
Oh just a lake inside a shopping centre

I absolutely love going to the cinema so I saw Diana (awful), Jobs (good), Runner Runner (not bad) and Prisoners (great). I also hung around a Vogue fashion party, partially hiding behind some big speakers so nobody could see how horrible my clothes are. The main attraction was the food hall – an entire floor of expensive restaurants and more affordable stalls. My love for bubble tea was revived here, and Jasmine tea has become my all time favourite.

Vogue party Siam Paragon
Vogue Party

My sad little routine was punctuated by a visit from a friend I made right at the beginning of my Bangkok stint. She’d been to Chiang Mai and back while I was festering in the city, and we took a boat from the central pier to a hospital to visit the Forensic Medicine and Parasite Museum to learn about all the nasty things that were out to get us in Asia. This probably wasn’t the best idea while I was awaiting test results on a bite but hey, it was an interesting afternoon. My favourite bit, as gross as it sounds, was seeing all the crush injuries preserved in jars.

So that was the last few weeks for me since arriving in Thailand! Time for a trip to the South Islands for an escape.

 

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In Visa Limbo

I’m back in Bangkok again. Last time I was stuck here in medical limbo awaiting some injections and now I’m awaiting an Indian visa which means I’m here for a minimum of 11 days. I could have gone elsewhere to be fair, but I met some really great people in the hostel who are also stuck in visa limbo, so we’ve enjoyed hanging around not doing much.

buddhas

My body is protesting to all this travel malarkey. I was a bit unwell in Siem Reap last week and I haven’t yet recovered, then a day of peer pressure drinking with a couple of scousers sent me into relapse. I’ve self-imposed an alcohol ban for the foreseeable future and am trying to eat well.

A quiz in an Irish pub is about the only thing I’ve done this week. My team proudly came last – it’s the taking part that counts. I’m now moving away from Khaosan Road and towards Siam Square for a change of scenery and to be nearer to the sky train to access parts of the city I’ve never seen. It’s only right after all – this is my 7th time in Bangkok and I’ve never really strayed from the backpacker area. Shocking.

 

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The Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

I’m sitting on the slow boat watching the currents of the Mekong push, pull and swirl around rocks dotted along the edges and sometime right in the middle of the river – one of the reasons I didn’t take the speed boat actually. My journey to Luang Prabang from the border between Thailand and Laos takes two days and we have no choice but to relax and drink beer. Ok the second one is optional but it’s enhancing the experiencing and helping me to pass the time by sending me to sleep.

inside the slow boat
Fairly comfy seats in the slow boat

slow boat to luang prabangThe trip began with an eight hour minivan ride from Pai to the Thai border where we arrived at 2.30am, caught just four hours of sleep in a musty and slightly creepy hotel (comfort isn’t a priority at borders it seems) and then went to get stamped out of Thailand, cross the river and enter Laos. Although the Laos border was busy and disorganised it was a fairly straightforward process to get the visa and off we went to board our boat.

Laos immigration
Laos immigration

The journey was a hot and sweaty one for the most part, except for the second morning after an all night storm had cleared the air. We passed many villages and sometimes just single homes with nothing but jungle and mountains around and I wondered what it must be like to live like that, so cut off from the rest of civilisation.

boat on the mekong

misty mekong

The closer we got to Luang Prabang the more dramatic the scenery became, with steep cliff faces emerging from the muddy coloured water. The river started to widen more too, giving us huge reflections of the mountains ahead.

slow_boat_to_luang_prabang

I seem to be saying this a lot lately but this experience was something I’ve been wanting to do for a while and I’m really happy I did it. You essentially give up control and let the Mekong guide you to your destination.

If, like me, you’re unsure about getting to the border yourself and taking a boat alone I recommend booking a package from any travel agent in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai or Pai. For 1,750THB (£36 or $56) I got the minivan to the border, 1 night in a hotel + breakfast (the 2nd night isn’t included) and 2 days on a boat. It also means you have a few other familar faces with you along the way. The Laos visa cost $35 for US and UK citizens and you only need 1 passport photo. Take snacks but you can buy a sandwich for lunch at the dock in Laos and at your hotel for the last day – some boats offer rice or pot noodles but not all. Oh, and standard advice for asia – take toilet paper! If I’ve missed anything or if you want to ask anything leave a comment below and I’ll try and help.

 

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