A Travellerspoint blog

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Bangkok, Thailand

The Land of Smiles?

Bangkok stirs up a lot of different emotions in people. It is loud, it is fast, and you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want. This freedom provides for a disconcerting liberation, the scope of which is limited only by your own inhibitions.

I had my first real taste of culture shock upon arriving in Bangkok. My flight arrived around midnight, and after navigating the giant airport, and working my way through customs it was already very early the next morning. After a short cab ride, I was dropped off at Khao San Road – the epicenter of the South East Asian Backpacker universe.

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Khao San Chaos

The contrast between Malaysia and Khao San Road was palpable. Immediately upon exiting the cab I was offered drinks by drunken shirtless British guys, Thai men were making the noise of a ping pong ball being shot out of a tube (more on this later), street vendors were selling everything from pizza to scorpions, and fake id hawkers were posted up every 20 feet, indicating that I was probably slightly above the median age of this particular locale. After travelling all night, I just wanted to find a place to rest my head, and get away from the chaos of Khao San. My eventual resting place smelled like feet, there was a tv with one channel that played Bollywood music, and let’s just say the decor was slightly less than charming, but at this point I didn’t care.

The next morning, adequately rested, I set out to upgrade my accommodations. The area was still bustling, even at 10 am. I was serenaded by the sounds of cheerily haggling street vendors, the smell of chilis filled the air, Tuk Tuks (3 wheeled taxi carts) swirled around, and hungover westerners wandered around like zombies, aimlessly trying to unravel the mystery of what had happened the night before.

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Inside a Tuk Tuk. The good ones can do wheelies

I found myself at a hostel called NapPark Inn. Trendy music played on the speakers, the design was smart and chique, it was spotless, and the common area had an array of mattresses and pillows on the floor. The most appealing part, however, was the sea of welcoming, smiling faces lounging their hangovers away, and belly laughing from various regalings of the previous night. I would stay at NapPark hostel the next 6 nights, it was my oasis in a desert of shenanigans and sin.

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Recovery/pre-gaming/hang out spot

I met so many amazing people at NapPark. I’ve said in previous posts how much the people in a hostel can escalate the overall experience. This has never been more true than in Bangkok. Being able to share my crazy experiences with the people here is something I will never forget.

My first night out I was joined by several fellow NapParkers. We would navigate the Khao San area, and I would begin to scratch the surface of what this city had to offer. As I’ve stated before, Malaysia is a modest country. The Muslim culture doesn’t provide for many crazy nights. Sure, partying was had, but I needed to flip a switch to get back into the proper mode for Bangkok. This switch was flipped by something backpackers are all too familiar with, buckets. The ingredients for a bucket vary, however generally they consist of a small bottle of coke, a bottle of red bull (which, by the way, Thai red bull has amphetamines in it, essentially speed. I’m not joking), and a bottle of Thai whiskey. Combine, and get ready to party your ass off for the next 6 hours or so. My next six hours, would consist of eating a fried locust and a scorpion, meeting countless other backpackers, and meandering around the streets chatting with the thai hawkers, who, behind their urgency to sell you whatever they can, are actually quite charming and witty.

The veil of the seedy underbelly of the city would begin to be lifted that night. Nearing the end of our evening, a few friends and I found ourselves at a club at the corner of Khao San. There was a varied mix of westerners and thais, a mix which had remained fairly consistent at most of the bars. My buddy came up to me, and declared that every single one of the Thai girls was a hooker. Most of which were young, beautiful, and fairly innocent looking. Hoping to regain some semblance of my innocence, I vehemently, perhaps stubbornly, argued that this was not the case. He grabbed my arm and we approached a shy looking Thai girl at the bar.

Spencer: “How much for both of us?”

She hesitated for about 3 seconds, in my mind I was sure she would slap him and we would be on our way. She looked us up and down, and then:

“2000 baht” (About $60)

Jesus.

Spencer and I stumbled away from the girl, myself slightly shellshocked from the realization of the abundance of the oldest trade in the world in Bangkok. We headed back to home base, my eyes beginning to open up to the realities of the so-called Land of Smiles.

The next day would be spent lounging around the comforts of our hostel, myself now joining in on the storytelling and belly laughs. The discomfort I had felt from the previous nights social awakening had morphed into nothing more than an interesting memory, another piece of my travel puzzle. That day, we would also take in some of the classier culture Bangkok had to offer.

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Grand Palace

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In stark contrast to the rest of Thailand, you are actually required to wear pants at the Grand Palace. You could rent these stylish digs there

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Giant Reclining Buddah

The following night would take the intensity of the city to another level. We were going to do it big: Thai boxing, Khao San Rd, Ping pong show. The Thai boxing was, honestly, slightly underwhelming. I was more entertained by the rowdy crowd, and trying to figure out how the gambling system worked. Everyone was just yelling and waving money in the air, how could the little Thai man in the white hat remember all of this?

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After our last match of the night, a fight between two 9 year olds, we crammed about 8 people into a cab back to Khao San Rd. We each drank a bucket, then about 10 of us caught Tuk Tuks to the ping pong show. If you don’t know what this is, it’s probably best to just leave it be. Unsavory doesn’t even begin to describe it, and it’s not something I really enjoyed or am particularly proud of. But hey, when in Bangkok right?

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At the end of the night, it was time for more food. In Thailand, the food is so ridiculously good that you take any chance that you can get to eat the cheap street fare. We settled at a noodle place on the corner near our hostel, and began to discuss what had just happened at the show. As we waited, a pair of lady boys, a Thai man, and a Russian wandered up to the noodle stand. Some friendly banter was exchanged between myself and one of the ladyboys, and apparently something was lost in translation, because before I knew it she was screaming at the table.

No one is really quite sure what set her/him off, but before I knew it a plate of noodles was flying at my face. Using my cat-like reflexes, I dodged the primary projectile of noodles, but was scraped by secondary threats of dumplings and veggies. As everyone was yelling, the old Thai woman at the noodle stand began to bang her metal spoon on the table and yell at the ladyboys. Always good to have the elderly on your side, they’re deceptively feisty. The vigilant diversion allowed us enough time to slip away, and run back to safety at the hostel.

Prostitution, fighting, booze, drugs, pick your poison. In Bangkok, the world is your oyster. Me? I prefer a few new good friends, a couple of cocktails, sore abs from laughing, and to watch the chaos from the sidelines. Enter the ring if you dare, but just know the egg may literally be on your face in you provoke the wrong “lady.”

Posted by dpteitel 09:23 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok Comments (0)

Full Mooning

South East Thai Island Hopping

After the chaos of Bangkok, I figured I would take solace on the notoriously beautiful islands in the south. I would soon find that I was mistaken in thinking they would provide any semblance of relief from the shenanigans.

For most of the trip I’ve been travelling solo from place to place. I’ve met countless wonderful people at each locale, however when it was time to go I said my goodbyes and went on my way. This is no longer the case. I left Bangkok with a crew of about 12 people from the NapPark Hostel. This group, a global potpourri of 20 somethings, provided for a welcomed level of familiarity at a new place. We would begin at an island called Koh Tao. I would spend three nights on the beautiful island, a proper warm-up for its boisterous neighbor to the south, Koh Pha ngan.

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Sunrise, waiting for the boat to Koh Tao

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The Legion

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Perhaps you’ve heard of a small get together called the “Full Moon Party.” And for those of you who are not aware, the word “small” could not have been any more facetious. Estimates pin the attendance of this party at around 30,000 people. As certain as birds flying south for the winter, backpackers and party seekers migrate from all over the world to this island every full moon. The craziness would begin on the ferry ride over.

I looked out my window in the morning before my early ferry to Koh Phangan, and the wind made it all too obvious that getting to the other island would not be a breeze (Sorry about the pun, they happen). I began to prepare myself for what would surely be an eventful ferry. The ferry arrived, and sickly looking backpackers stumbled off, warning us to not get on the boat. Strong start for sure. Throwing caution to the wind (ugh, sorry again), we boarded the boat. As the boat jostled in the port, another boat smacked into the side, cracking one of the windows about 2 rows up from me. Awesome.

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Still in the pier

The initial portion of our trip began with the two fellows in my group and myself trying to assure the frantic girls in front of us that everything would be fine. Regardless of our confidence, a sense of uneasiness was sweeping across the boat. The sea was vaulting the boat up and down, choruses of upchucks were bellowing from the bathroom, and I decided to put my headphones in and try to sleep through the negativity.

I was awoken by getting smacked in the face by a wave. Keep in mind, we were in the bottom, enclosed portion of the boat. People were screaming, and jockeying to escape the bottom of the boat to the top section. Confused, slightly afraid, and soaking wet, I staggered out of my seat. The window that had cracked previously had been smashed in by a wave. Luckily, the Thai man working the bottom of the boat was sleeping in the back, and provided absolutely zero assurance to anybody. People would frantically awaken him. He reacted valiantly, saying nothing, and beginning to eat crackers.

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Voila! Window gone.

After collecting myself for a moment, and helping to pass out life jackets, I realized that my ipod was now sitting in a puddle on the floor. I now have a fancy looking apple paperweight. Thanks, Thai boat company. Luckily at this point we could see the island, and although more waves were splashing into the cabin, we knew we were going to make it. People were understandably shaken, and all of our stuff was soaking wet, but we knew we would make it, and we knew the party of a lifetime awaited us.

I had parted ways with the NapPark crew (dubbed, The Legion) at Koh Tao, intent on meeting some other fellow travelers. I would meet up with the legionnaires in a few days, but in the meantime I had a chance to meet all of the other party goers in the hostel. One of the main reasons I enjoy travelling solo is how approachable you become. In a large group, people tend to be intimidated to insert themselves in, however by yourself, you open yourself up to all different sorts of social situations. I really enjoyed traveling with the Legion, and I still run into them from time to time, but I am happy to have a chance to be solo once again.

It is hard to adequately describe the energy of the island leading up to the party. Everyone had been on a similar partying crash course through Thailand before reaching Koh Phangan, and spoke of how they wanted to take it easy the nights before the main event. It’s amazing how quickly collective peer pressure, thirty thousand people strong, can change these sentiments. The nights before would be just as crazy, if not more so, than the Full Moon Party.

The days would consist of recovering from the previous night, and the evenings would consist of the aforementioned buckets, and various changes of scenery around the island. Don’t get it twisted, everyone was on this island for one purpose, and it wasn’t culture. Pool parties, beach parties, street parties, hostel parties, pretty much take any word and put “party” after it, and you have Koh Phangan in a nutshell.

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Buckets! Pick your poison.

The day of the party would eventually come. Everyone was licking their wounds from the previous nights parties, and doing whatever they could to prep their bodies for one final night. Like a boxer bracing for the final round of a prize fight, people around the island were focused, and had their eyes on the prize. Napping, greasy foods, fruit juices, water jugs, massages, anything and everything to prepare their bodies for what was sure to be an epic night. We put on our battle garb for the evening, which consisted of a minimalist approach to clothing, and a bounty of body paint. But enough words, I could sit here and type all day and not do it any justice. For your viewing pleasure, I present to you the insanity that is the Full Moon Party.

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Legion, version Koh Phangan

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Friends share.

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Represent

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Then there was this guy

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Fire slide. I may or may not have done this. Twice. Since then I've met two people who broke bones doing this.

It is impossible to stick with the same people at a party like this. As people who have been to festivals with me can attest, I have a knack for losing people and doing my own thing for large periods of time before meeting back up. Although I split up from the people I went to the beach with in mere minutes, nary a full song would pass before I would meet someone new, or run into someone else I had met previously on the islands. Music pumping, everyone dancing, buckets flowing, the biggest full moon in the last 30 years dubbed a “super-moon” shining overhead, sin, euphoria.

As the sun rose, a rush came over the ambitious few thousand people who paced themselves well enough to witness the light at the end of the party tunnel. The music began to pump harder, the dancing became more frenzied, a collective smile swept over the beach, and I could only wonder how long the seemingly limitless hazy euphoria would last.

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Starting to rise.

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Getting closer. Yes, that's a fire jump rope.

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Made it

For one night, all of the B.S was forgotton, and the world’s youth came together over one simple common goal: fun. What an experience, truly unforgettable.

Full Moon Party accomplished, time to get off the beaten trail for a while for some much needed R&R. Until then, caio.

Posted by dpteitel 04:18 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

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