Vodka + Red Bull = Loss of Inhibitions
Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
74Trip End Oct 22, 2004
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It was 11.30am, and we were back to our much visited Tan Son Nhat airport, half an hour outside Ho Chi Minh City. This time we had a two hour wait for an international departure to Koh Samui, via Singapore. Jet-setters or what?
Our uncanny knack of always choosing the slowest check-in queue came up trumps yet again, as a tiny Vietnamese hawker hauled her two suitcases onto the scales. Bells and whistles rang as they registered 80kg. To put it into context, a couple of heavyweight westerners such as ourselves, with all our belongings on our backs had a combined rucsac weight of 30kg. She was soon despatched to jettison some of her fake tat.
Once again it was time for security checks, immigration controls and passenger service charges galore
Today, for our 1.30pm flight to Singapore, it would be Singapore Airlines job to get us there in one piece. Although, on taking our seats, we realised why they're always near the top of 'Favourite Airline' polls.
A nice bright modern cabin surrounded our comfy wide seats with that 'all important' extra inch of legroom. After looking around for the TV screens, there they were, right in front of our sun ravaged noses. Seat-back screens and it wasn't even Premium Economy. The TV Guide was crammed with viewing pleasures even the Christmas Radio Times couldn't contend with. Not only were there TV programmes and just-released movies, there were video games and card games galore all controlled with your very own personal PlayStation control-pad. And to make matters worse, if you didn't have enough trouble concentrating on this veritable feast of orgasmic-auralification, there were the Miss World stewardesses to ogle, of whom I would have stared at for the duration of the flight if it wasn't for my own visual obsession with my angelic wife (I hate it when I'm forced to write at gunpoint)
At 4.20pm, we touched down at Changi Airport, Singapore, with a four hour wait for our onward flight to Koh Samui. We'd read a lot about this airport in the trendier magazines of old Londinium, and of how modern and spanking new it all was. The airport was filled to the girders with shops, restaurants, bars and spas, and for the first time in our globe-trotting lives we were glad to see our flight had an hour and a half delay.
In fact, a two week delay would have suited us. This was a duty-free Bluewater with wings.
The hours were wiled away scoffing Indonesian curries, surfing the free Internet and using complimentary laptop power supplies with the background serenadings of a wandering Aboriginal troupe, doing their didgeries and making fire with sticks, while Soph entertained herself with 'Hello' magazines and reclining seats with their own built-in flight-alerting vibrating alarms.
The Cactus Bar took our fancy for the remaining hour
We sat quaffing ale in a forest of cacti in its own micro-climate controlled by a labyrinth of pipes constantly emitting cold-spray until it was time to totter to our gate, where our Bangkok Airways flight 504 awaited. Now, I don't mind telling you this, but of all the flights, THIS was the flight I had nightmares about. The doomed flight PG504 from Singapore to Koh Samui with Bangkok Airlines that was inexplicably an hour and a half late due to problems we'd rather not know about. We could see it now: "The Final Hours of Flight PG504" starring Bruce Willis and Liz Hurley (this could make or break their careers), a sure-fire straight to DVD blockbuster. B-movie scriptwriters licked their lips at the prospect.
The price of the flight alone would have beaten the takings at the box-office. £160 each for an hour and a half flight to a tacky Thai island. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission needed a serious chat with Bangkok Airlines.
We boarded a plane three-quarters full
It was now pitch-black outside as the pilot searched for Koh Samui airport close to Chaweng Beach. It seemed as though he spotted it at the last moment as we dive-bombed into the airport and skimmed over the infamous Chaweng Road, the only other man-made object that can be seen from space along with that obscure wall in China.
Praise be to God as we landed in Koh Samui, and praise be to you as 926 words is probably a little too excessive for a description of a couple of flights.
We kissed the tarmac in relief and boarded a quaint little Disney-like choo choo train to take us to the open-sided thatched arrival hut. We waited for an eternity at the back of one of the queues until they'd seen we'd suffered enough, whereupon they opened another couple of desks.
We were only staying one night on Samui before catching a ferry to Koh Phangan the following morning for a week of relaxing and a night of debauchery at the legendary Full Moon Party. We hadn't expected a pick-up for our one night stay on the island, but there he was . . . John. He was an old next-door neighbour of our good buddies Dave and Helen back in London's deepest darkest south-eastern suburbs
John had the air of a man of the world. Polo-shirt collars turned up, he was a little bit oooh, a little bit aaah, ducking and diving, bobbing and weaving, a bit of a cagey customer. But fifteen minutes later after a couple of beers back at his Green Wood Bungalows he escaped from his cage and was full of semi-interesting Thai anecdotes.
The next morning John was dragged from his air-conditioned pit at the unearthly time of 10.30am. We needed a lift to Na Thon Pier on the west coast of the island, for an 11.40am ferry to Thongsala Pier on the southern tip of Koh Phangan. We had arranged with Green Papaya, our resort on Phangan, for a midday pickup but after a late arriving ferry we knew we'd miss it. The 11.40am arrived at 12.10pm, so our 50 minute trip would mean we'd be arriving an hour late.
An aging ferry lurched into port, stuffed to the gills with tourists of every kind. It had come from Surat Thani on the mainland of Thailand, and we were relieved when half the passengers got off, allowing us to board
On arrival at Thongsala Pier on Koh Phangan it was obvious our pickup had long gone, but after a spot of asking around, we jumped in a taxi going our way. Our destination was Salad Beach on the north-west tip of the island and it turned out there were two other couples in the taxi staying at our resort who were soon telling us how lovely it was.
Twenty minutes later and we were at Green Papaya where we were met by the owners Wee and his French wife Elodie. I could imagine the fun they must have had in their courting days with Elodie constantly answering her new boyfriend's questions with "Oui Wee". A match made in comedy heaven.
We were shown to our bungalow, the closest to the sea, and one of the nicest we'd seen on our travels. A large, well-made bungalow with bathroom, TV, minibar, air-con and verandah overlooking a turquoise and indigo two-tone sea
After lunch we checked out the secluded three-quarters of a mile crescent of beach with it's five or so other resorts and restaurants. It was Bounty advert perfect and put our old favourite beach in Sri Lanka to shame, especially the crystal clear calm sea that remained shallow for a good quarter-mile until you hit the stunning coral reef (but more about that later).
This morning we hitched a ride into Thongsala town with Elodie in the back of her truck, driven at breakneck speed in true Parisienne fashion.
First stop was the 7/11 for toiletries and beer then it was off to the second hand bookshop for another dose of Bill Bryson, settling for his tour of the UK book, although I must point out we're not homesick yet. The owner offered to buy the book back for half the price you bought it for after you'd read it. A map of the island and a couple more cheap CDs later it was time for a lunch of seafood pasta.
After a ride back in a 'songthaew' taxi, named after the seating arrangements, meaning two benches, a couple of hours of late afternoon sun were caught, then it was a dinner at the resort next door of barbequed prawns and squid.
The Reggae Bar up the road were showing Blackburn v Chelsea live that evening, so it was back to the bungalow to change into my new fake Chelsea top, its first chance of an airing in public. Off we skipped up the road (well I skipped), but it was soon becoming clear that all was not right.
There were no lights on anywhere, and it dawned on us . . . a power cut.
We did a U-turn and trudged home (well I trudged), while Soph did a good impersonation of being upset with the situation as well. Back in the bungalow we decided to watch another of our fake DVDs, Mystic River, and my state of sadness soon vanished as the film wore on.
What a superb film. If Sean Penn and Tim Robbins don't win Oscars, there is no justice in the world (see footnote below)
The day was spent reading on the beach, not before popping up the road to check last nights result on the Internet, where I was horrified to learn I'd missed an action-packed, nail-biting 3-2 win.
So not a lot to report today. It kind of went like this: sunbathing-swimming-reading-swimming-sunbathing-reading. It's a tough life.
That evening we went to Haad Lad seafood restaurant for another barbeque of prawns, shark and some scary looking barracuda that was delicious.
Today we borrowed our resort's snorkelling gear to check out the reef. We had reports from some of our fellow guests that it matched, if not bettered the Great Barrier Reef and we weren't disappointed
Ten minutes of flipping out to sea and we began to see what all the fuss was about. It was another world, one we had never seen before apart from on Jacques Cousteau documentaries. It was an underwater kaleidoscope of colours with strange brain-like and shimmering tentacled coral, a complete housing-estate for a huge number of neon blue and day-glo striped fish, including our favourite, the Beak Nosed Coral fish. SCUBA divers swam nearby, but the water was so shallow you didn't need to go that deep.
We could have stayed out there for hours, but we began to feel little stings on our arms and legs. I'd read about Box Jellyfish before and began to wonder whether they swam in these parts. If they did we'd begin having convulsions before expiring in 15 seconds flat. We survived, but decided to head back to shore where we later learned they were probably Sea Wasps.
That evening we headed into town to watch Thai kick-boxing at the island's little open-air arena. We were joined by an English couple, Rowan and Alice, a Dutch couple and a pair of guitar-strumming Americans from San Francisco.
After a quick beer in a bar we took our third-row seats
Bangkok champions fought Phangan champions and a rather Thai-looking German champion fought the Samui champion. But after seven bouts of curiously choreographed kicking (of which the Dutch couple inexplicably knew who the winner was going to be on account of who got in the ring first, what colour shorts they had on and which way the wind was blowing), the eighth bout proved the most enjoyable with a couple of blubbery amateurs going hammer and tongs until the larger of the two made his extra weight tell with a swinging right-hander that dropped his opponent.
Another day lounging on the beach beckoned so we decided to hire a kayak and snorkelling gear to paddle around to the next bay where some interesting rock formations needed exploring
We took turns under the water, and found a deep abyss with a trench running through, where all sorts of weird and wonderful sea life lurked including Groupers sitting on rocks with what looked like front feet and a vivid orange pointy-nosed Kenneth Williams look-alike of a fish that wouldn't leave us alone. Yet again there were thousands of fish and yet again it was unbelievable.
Paddling back, I dropped Soph off at the coral for her to make her own leisurely way snorkelling back to shore.
As the days lounging on the beach drifted by it soon became clear we were witnessing a mini-French colonial revival on Salad Beach. Each afternoon as the tide went out, a small island of sand appeared just off shore. They didn't have to utter a Gallic word. From where we were sitting we could see the double-cheeked kisses and je ne sais quoi shoulder-shrugs encircled by a mist of Gitanes hanging overhead. While children began building (albeit sandcastles), their parents would patrol the shoreline of this islet keeping watch for marauding foreign invaders. Vive l'Isle des Francais.
Une grande merci goes out a la Francais pour le opportunite de donner l'Allemandes une break
After a few nights of semi-expensive barbeques, we headed over to the My Way restaurant for a cheap and cheerful noodle banquet, and we still had change out of £3.
The day had arrived of The Full Moon Party and instead of taking it easy with our dancing feet propped up on a cushion, we headed for the Reggae Bar to hire a scooter. The plan was to head down the coast to the south-east tip where the FMP would be staged that night, Haad Rin East.
So down the coast we scootered, past Thongsala and onwards towards Haad Rin. The roads slowly deteriorated and began to get impossibly hillier. It was clear our little moped wouldn't be able to carry a couple of noodle-filled honkies like ourselves to the summit of some of the hills which led to Soph doing a spot of hiking while I waited at the top.
Haad Rin town was a backpackers' paradise of ultra-cheap bungalows and cafes, with tattoo parlours, massage rooms and ATMs galore, and after parking the Harley we headed to the beach where tonight's alcohol-ridden debauchery would be taking place
The beach was full of strewn bodies and empty beer bottles. It looked as though we'd arrived a day late for the party, but it turned out it doesn't really get fully cleaned up after each full moon fest.
We'd seen enough, so we headed back north, passing taxis full of sound-systems and vodka. As we headed north we decided to stop off at a few beaches and they got progressively prettier, cleaner and quieter. Haad Rin West, Aow Baan Khaay, Haad Son and finally Haad Yao were inspected where we sat at a beach bar watching the sun set.
Back at Green Papaya we chilled for a few hours while waiting for our 9pm taxi to leave. At 8.30pm we joined our fellow ravers in the bar, pretty much the same gang who were at the boxing, with an extra couple of Americans, Aussies and Brits. Fourteen in a taxi was close to a new island record, and with the prior knowledge of some 45 degree hills to tackle, I took a position at the back at floor level.
We arrived 40 minutes later amidst a convoy of taxis splitting at the rivets with head bangers. As we headed onto the beach we began to go our own ways, but the main hardcore wrecking crew from the Thai boxing night kept together with another couple, Brad and Katy from Sydney.
After a couple of rounds of beers we were onto the hard stuff. Mini-buckets of Vodka and Red Bull complete with a mountain of ice and five straws, the Red Bull being the extra-strong Asian version that comes in little medicine bottles. They were going down a treat and were probably going to come up a treat as well (you'll have to wait for the next Pod for that).
Day-glo wristy and ankle thingys were purchased to make us look the part, and we strolled along the beach seeing what each DJ had to offer, though if you didn't like thumping techno you were stuffed.
Interesting sand-sculptures of Buddhas and fire-juggling hippies entertained the crowds and stomach-lining barbeques were dotted between the bars. After a couple of hours the beach was heaving with people and it was clear our very own pogo-dancing posse of prancers were soon to be separated.
We ended up hanging-out (I hope I'm getting all these cool-hip phrases in their right context) with our new buddies Brad and Katy which wasn't a bad thing. Brad was 28 with piercing blue eyes and features chiselled out of granite (the bastard) with a very non-Ozzie understated way about him, while Katy was 21, extra-chatty, extra-fun and extra-drunk.
The buckets continued to flow all night, seeming to have no effect on our expert dancing skills and electric-boogalooing. Well they didn't seem so to us. Four more hours passed of intermittent chatting and body-popping before we called it a morning at about 4am.
We got ourselves a couple of takeaway buckets for the ride home and jumped in a taxi for the 40 minute ride home.
The end of the night you may think, pah.
On zig-zagging through the neighbouring resort, their pool looked far too inviting to four sweaty soft shoe-shufflers like ourselves, and what better way to get refreshed and clean at the same time than by partaking in some skinny-dipping? So we did. It's funny how eight buckets of Vodka and Red Bull can wash away all inhibitions. After 15 minutes of giggly splashing in the pool it was time to hit the ocean, so after a nude hundred metre sprint to the beach, out we waded into the chilly water. Ten more minutes of being really daring passed as we snuk back to our bungalows. We had enjoyed our night of hanging-out (in more ways than one) with them but it was just after 5am and we had a ferry to catch back to Koh Samui that morning.
Because we're now down widdit, I'll sign out with my new found lingo.
So it's big respec an nuf bling bling to ma peeps back in da UK. Hardcore, u know da score. Bo selecta, we outta here.
The Oldest Ravers on Samui
I'm writing this on 1st March having just learnt from the Internet that Penn and Robbins won the Oscars. Justice has been done.