Kapunka Koh Tao, Sawadee Koh Phangan.

tao boat

Koh Phangan was beckoning us, and after 4 days of Tao it was the least we could do to listen. Sal and I checked out of our backpacker’s building at 10am but with nothing else to do until our ferry departed at 3, we scoped out the best beachfront restaurant we could and parked ourselves for a smoothie and a nap. What we thought would be a nice way to relax ourselves through a slight hangover turned more into an afternoon of listening to a guy with a power sander coating us in sawdust that was blowing in our direction, but the food was cheap and the WiFi aplenty, so we stuck it out as long as humanly possible before catching our pickup to the boat.

ladyboy

Tal met us at the docks and boarded the ferry to our bigger island to the south.  I had envisioned it to be much like my ferry ride to the islands only several days prior, that picturesque dawn journey where my fellow travelers and I had sprawled out on the deck and soaked in the sun. I was clearly disappointed this go-around when we boarded a packed large boat and were left with rooftop seating in the rain. My insides were laughing, but my face was not. At least if nothing I got one use out of that raincoat-in-a-pouch I brought.

phangan ferry

We arrived at a cozy little hostel named Our House in the Haad Rin area of Koh Phangan– just a stone’s throw from the beach and a rightful skip to a bunch of strangely Israeli restaurants. Our bunkmates were a group of Brits we had just seen at our same hostel in Koh Tao (“Yeah, we met in the bathroom and you told me how you were so hungover and about to go snorkeling while you brushed your teeth”) and although we all planned to go out for a drink together after dinner, nobody even made it – a group of 10 in our room, all having a snooze before 11. All the beach parties taking place on the island and nobody even said a word. Koh Phangan can’t even handle us right now.

Two-timin’ Tao Taxis

 

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Taxi fares on Koh Tao are a total rip off. It’s a minimum of 100 baht per head to go anywhere, and the drivers pile people on the back of an open pickup truck then drive like complete madmen with no regard for if you fall off the back or not. Payment is collected before passengers get in the truck, so who cares if anyone arrives in one piece anyway? They’ve already made their dime.

On my second day in Koh Tao, the talk of Sairee beach had been all about “Castle Party”. I’d explain what it is but I’m not even sure – we never got to go to it. Or rather, we arrived, but were told the power was out (the recurring issue on Koh Tao) and nothing was happening. I’d traveled a whole 3 minutes down the road with 10 of my dorm-mates and now we all needed to go back. “100 baht each,” again demanded the driver. In plain English, this guy was about to make $70 for a max 5 kilometer drive. Sorry. No.

We climbed back into the truck and demanded our return. Unfortunately the driver wasn’t about to take us anywhere without a fare. He stepped on the gas and quickly threw on the brakes, sending us flying off our benches and gripping each other to not fall off the rear. Then he stormed away, leaving a truck of 11 party-goers, arms folded, cranky, drunk, yelling for anything to happen. Nothing did.

The driver was fine with waiting, but our group, not so much. Several people ran off to haggle with other taxis, but I would’ve rather walked an hour than give anyone any more money. I’d been ripped off enough times in Thailand, and this whole thing seemed like some scheme for cars to take people out to a party that wasn’t happening tonight because of the power, and they knew it.

In what felt like a split second and a complete “fuck dis shit” moment, the four English girls and I completely bailed on it all. We jumped off the truck and hopped on the back of the motorbikes of 5 Canadian guys who had just arrived at the party and were heading back to Sairee upon seeing the party was closed, speeding away from the scene with not much more than a “toodles!” wave goodbye. When all else fails, jump on a stranger’s motorbike? Sorry to everyone else who still got stuck paying those dirtbags. Sorta.

zomebie fixed 

…but different

To Chiang Mai from Bangkok I took an overnight bus. It’s not the greatest option at a 9 hour ride, but also not the worst. The train system in Thailand is nice but it has a few downfalls: one being that tickets must be bought at the train station, another that tickets often should be bought far in advance. I couldn’t be bothered to navigate myself to the station in Bangkok and my hostel sold bus tickets at the front desk, so whatever they sold me is what I took.

A 9 hour ride sounds long but before I knew it there I was at half five in the morning, completely disoriented, in Chiang Mai and not totally convinced of it.

I noticed a lot of backpackers in SE Asia just rock up in a city with no arranged accommodation and find something when they arrive. That’s completely bold – the last thing I want to do in 90F 90% humidity is wander with a 40 pound sack on my back looking for a cheap room. I applaud those more adventurous than I. That method is not for me. It’s enough that I’m standing here in Chiang Mai with no clue where the bus has dropped me and all the other passengers scattered like ants. I asked a few local people if they could show me where we were on a map I had, but the English this morning was non-existant, so like a bumbling idiot I stood instead until a tuk tuk driver appeared to take me to my destination. For the entire trip I had been seeing tourist shirts with the text “same same” written on them, but it had been completely lost on me until this moment:

“How much for a ride to Deejai’s Hostel?”
“100 baht.”
“Can you do it for less?”
Same same. But lucky morning. 80 baht.”

I got “Same Same-d” at 5 in the fucking morning. I almost fell over before climbing in the back of his tuk tuk. It’s all same same, but different. Lucky morning indeed.

Bert abroad, a blog, returns

“Will you be joining us for dinner? Tonight we have chicken or beef.”

I’m at an altitude of plus 35,000 feet with nowhere else to go except for this seat, so yes, I will be “joining” you for dinner, but give me that vegetarian plate you aren’t telling the other passengers about-I know it’s a rad curry that knocks the socks off of any Trader Joe’s microwaveable meal- why Rajbhog Foods isn’t nationally known I’ll continue to ponder for the remainder of this meal.

I’m on my way to Paris for the first time for what is undoubtedly the least planned trip I’ve ever gone on. Despite my lack of preparedness I’m not nervous – I’m rocking this one with my girl Lia (a seasoned travel companion) in tow, and I’m confident that winging this one together will be what we needed for our year’s end: a casual, yet busy, adventure.

I booked this trip entirely last minute using a backlog of airline award miles (I luuuve you MileagePlus) so the only way I could make this trip work given the surplus of holiday travelers, I was scheduled to have a wacky connection in Toronto instead of a direct flight. At first to my horror and later on to my delight, Mama Nature threw me a bone and delayed my initial flight so much that I was able to switch at no cost to a direct flight out of Newark – and they even put me in one of those fancy “extra leg room” aisles and let me board first. For an essentially free flight, I really can’t complain.

As I mentioned, I really have nothing planned so there isn’t much to brief anyone about. I do intend to instagram the fuck out of the Eiffel Tower and maybe a Mona Lisa or two, and well, the rest of the cards are just going to have to fall into place.