From that small beach town I took what was supposed to be a 10-hour bus ride to Bangkok where I'd immediately catch a sleeper train down toward the islands. That 10-hour bus ride took 16 and I was forced to spend the night and most of the next day back in Bangkok
. Though I wasn't overly pleased, it allowed me to get a glimpse of Songkram, the New Year celebrated in Thailand, Cambodia and Lao. I was on Khao San Rd, the epicenter of the festivities in Bangkok. The celebration is a huge, three day water festival (the New Year is basically ringing in the wet season) in which everybody runs around dumping water on people, either with buckets or water guns and spreads a powdery substance on each other's faces. It's meant to be passing along blessings for the New Year. It's good fun and the place is absolutely trashed when all is said and done. The only thing that I find unfortunate about it is a lot of the backpackers in the area tend to get a little overzealous with the whole thing. It's cool when you launch yourself into another culture and get to have a laugh on top of it, but I felt that a good chunk of the people are just hijacking the Thai traditions so they have an excuse to douse people with water.
So after drying off my clothes and washing off my face I was on a night train to Surat Thani, the mainland town nearest Koh Pha Ngan. Because I bought the ticket last second I was on a train that not only got me in at the ungodly hour of 4:30 I also had to ride third class. Let's just put it this way, third class is no class. I paid the equivalent of $4, and that's about what it was worth. There was a feeble attempt at a cushion covering the rigid, completely upright seat, and the seats faced each other so leg room was at a premium
. It was a joy, let me tell you. You could imagine my relief, then, when I showed up at the bungalows that a few German friends had recommended to find that they had a swimming pool. It also worked out well that while I was in the pool I started chatting with a few English guys, who as it turned out were in a group that had slowly expanded to about 20-strong. I had kind of hit a wall a few days back where the whole forcing myself to go up to meet people was starting to wear on me a bit, so it was nice to have one small pool-side chat turn into not worrying about having to be overly social for a few days. They all invited me out that night, and so began the brutal, relentless pace that Koh Pha Ngan sets you on. Keeping in mind that I had gotten off my train at 4:40 that morning, I thought it was a fairly impressive performance to not get back home until about 7. The buckets out here deserve a good amount of credit for that, because as I mentioned in an early post, the Red Bulls out here are an absolute menace. They might as well just pour speed into the alcohol instead. And rest assured, that has been far from the only sunrise night I've had. Oh yeah, there was also the booze cruise a few days back where they just dump a bunch of people into a longtail boat and then also throw in enough Song Sem (cheap Thai whiskey), Red Bull and Coke to drown a whale and set you off for the day. The day may have not been too messy had I not selected the boat carrying five Norwegians. They showed their Viking roots that day. Things really took a turn, though, when toward the tail end of the day we were on a beach and the boat -- with my flip-flops and towel still on it -- left without me. I had no clue where I was and no money to pay for a taxi. After a few minutes of stumbling in the general vicinity of my bungalows a young Thai girl took pity on me and gave me a ride back to my bungalows on her motorbike. The kindness of strangers... And as I said, your life becomes a total sham when you're in a place like this. No wonder half the people I've met out here still haven't been able to escape after two months.
Well, I hope you're all ready for a very uninspired update, because the cultural sightseeing part of the whirlwind is long over and this past week has been a blur, a hideous hideous blur in Koh Pha Ngan. When I last left you, I was in Sihanoukville hanging out with five Swedish dudes that I had chatted with at the Vietnam-Cambodia border but had unwittingly met in Nha Trang when I was hanging out with the Swedish girls. I only realized this when I went back to a photo I had taken for the girls that consisted of about 16 people -- all Swedish -- and realized that four of the faces in the photo were sitting right next to me.