A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: kristian23

Chiang Mai to Suffolk, via Bangkok

My overseas odyssey comes to an end

sunny 35 °C

I love the social atmosphere in hostels. Having spent a whole day stuck in an aeroplane and soulless airports, I arrived at 'a little bird' with one thought on my mind - I need to sleep. However, I was immediately bombarded with requests to join everyone for a few drinks. Of course, the questions were rhetorical, and I had no choice in the matter. So, off we went to 'Reggae Reggae Rooftop Bar' where I was immediately into the swing of things.

I decided to explore the city of Chiang Mai on my first full day there. Armed with my Lonely Planet, I set off on a walking tour, taking in just a few of the 'wats' (temples), of which there is at least one on every street. Rather shamefully, this was the first temple I had seen in Thailand, despite being in the country for over a fortnight. The culture vulture in me did emerge though, as I spent hours ambling through the streets gawping at the intricate details both inside and outside the temples.

A golden statue inside one of Chiang Mai's many 'wats'

A golden statue inside one of Chiang Mai's many 'wats'

Although I'd only been there a day by this stage, I had already developed an affection for Chiang Mai. Despite its status as a city, the fact that there are no buildings taller than three storeys gives the impression that you're in a quaint, small town.

That night, I headed to the night market with Tine with the intention of watching the infamous ladyboy show. We got so caught up in the superb market though, amazed by both the variety of products and the unbelievably low prices, and we ended up missing the show altogether.

The last few weeks had seen me lounging on the beach, by the pool and, rather less glamorously, in a hospital bed. With this in mind, I was intent on going on a day hiking and biking in the jungle surrounding Chiang Mai. Accompanied by a friendly French couple, Matt and Julie, and led by our energetic leader, Tiew, we set off on a three hour trek up to the top.

Cooling off under a waterfall on the hiking and biking trip

Cooling off under a waterfall on the hiking and biking trip

The humdity was unlike anything I'd experienced before and the arrival at a waterfall was a welcome respite. Although I wanted to stay longer under the cool water, we were soon trekking again. As we scaled the river to join the path, I slipped. I dug my heels in with all my might, but there was simply no friction on the slippery rock and I continued to career down the river towards the looming waterfall, performing an unintentional forward roll in the process. I remember saying aloud to myself, "I'm in trouble here'. By sheer luck, the river took me close enough to the edge of the bank so that I could dig my heels in and stop myself.

Danger averted, I took far more care on the rest of the climb, and stayed well clear of any rivers! Following a quick photo and some lunch at the top of the hill, it was time to mount the bikes and begin the descent. We took things slowly to begin with, but we were soon on single tracks where the path is only just wider than the bike itself! With my body aching all over, we peddled the final stretch around the perimeter of a tranquil lake, where we were treated to food and drink as we soaked our battered feet in the water.

As we had missed the previous night's show, Tine and I headed back to the night market to watch the ladyboy show. I was incredibly sceptical, but with the recommendation of many people from the hostel I went along to watch. And I'm glad I did! It wasn't quite a West End show, but it was far more professional than I thought it would be and the performers were amazing! However, there was one performer in particular who was as puzzling as they were brilliant. Split completely down the middle, this particular performer was the most literal definition of a ladyboy.

The most amazing costume at Chiang Mai's ladyboy show!

The most amazing costume at Chiang Mai's ladyboy show!

The Wednesday signalled my last day in the beautiful city of Chiang Mai, but before I got the night train to Bangkok, there was still time to squeeze in a morning on a Thai cookery course. I couldn't leave Thailand without learning how to cook some of the amazing cuisine the country has to offer, so be prepared to taste some pad thai!

The night train brought me into Bangkok for the last full day of my journey. Having heard many horror stories regarding Bangkok, I wasn't particularly enthralled to be there, especially as I was coming from a place as peaceful as Chiang Mai. There was no need to worry, and although Bangkok is nowhere near as nice as Chiang Mai, it is still a fascinating place to visit.

I checked into a hotel and headed for the Grand Palace, one of Bangkok's premier sights. Covering a vast area, the incredible array of temples, monastries and halls are symbolic evidence of the country's monarchy and the mindblowing architecture of Thailand.

Bangkok's Grand Palace

Bangkok's Grand Palace

To finish off my cultural experience, I headed to the 'Reclining Buddha', a huge gold plated statue of buddha. To put it into context, one of the toes alone was bigger than me! My time in Thailand was quickly ebbing away, but I squeezed in a Thai massage before one last meal of pad thai accompanied, of course, by a Chang.

The next morning, I boarded my flight home to England and after a 14 hour flight, I had landed back on British shores to be welcomed by miserable grey clouds and persistent drizzle. What happened to the supposed drought conditions?!

Despite only being home for a week, writing this final blog is bringing all the memories flooding back. It's great to be home, but I already want to be back travelling.

I've travelled for exactly 100 days through six countries across two continents, spreading the word of trueLAD and Gunther in every single country. I ascended 5,895m when conquering Africa's highest peak and saw all the 'big five' on safari. I've trekked in the Himalayas, surfed in Bali and partied on the beaches of Thailand. Even though I've had 24 stitches etched into my forehead, I've had the time of my life.

The reason for this has been the people I've travelled with. Be it Stringer, Molly and Alice or the people I've met on my travels, I'd just like to say a huge thank you for making it the best three months of my life.

For the final time, thanks for reading!

Posted by kristian23 12:29 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

The mecca of surfing - Bali

sunny 30 °C

When I last updated you all, I had just arrived in Patong. I'd describe it as a playground for madcap Australians - their version of Magaluf, I guess. Due to my flight being at 6:45am, I had no choice but to explore the weird and wonderful sights of Patong. If you're in the region, you have to visit, but I wouldn't recommend staying for more than one night!

A short taxi ride took me to Phuket airport, where the exhaustion set in. I thought I'd just rest my eyelids for a second or two... Next thing I know, I'm woken up by the tannoy: "Last call for Kristian Johnson to Bali." A quick glance at my watch told me the time was 6:41am. My flight was due to leave at 6:45am. Doing my best Usain Bolt impression, I sprinted to the boarding gate and jumped on the plane whilst offering my apologies.

I'd already had enough excitement for one day and it was only noon when I arrived in Bali. I checked into the first place I could find and slept all afternoon. After I woke, one of the very first people I saw was Adriano, a guy I'd met at The Rock on Phi Phi! We ate at Bamboo Corner Restaurant and it was the first of many meals there - fantastic Indonesian cuisine with meals costing less than 1GBP!

The real reason I'd come to Bali, however, was to surf (sorry if I'm making you jealous, Alice!). I arrived and was kitted out with a rash guard and surf board before being taken across the road to Kuta beach. I had imagined that I'd be on the beach for quite a while, but I was in the sea within 10 minutes. The first day saw me standing up on the board, but with little style, balance or speed.

My lack of balance was quite evident!

My lack of balance was quite evident!

By day three, I was beginning to paddle out beyond the waves. Well, I should say I attempted to paddle out beyond the waves. Being a novice, I frantically battled the waves and retired to the beach after an hour for a break. Little did I know that I just needed to wait for a break in the waves to be able to get further out. Armed with this advice, I suddenly found it a whole lot easier! 'D', my surf instructor, was fantastic and I spent the majority of my fourth and final day bobbing up and down on the waves chatting away with him.

Exhausted!

Exhausted!

Catching a wave on Day 4

Catching a wave on Day 4

I was gutted to leave the surf school. If you're sitting there reading this now and thinking about learning to surf, then do it! The feeling of sheer adulation when you catch a wave is unrivalled!

Yet another bout of illness rendered me good for nothing but laying in bed for the next two days. This really scuppered my plans, as I'd hoped to go to Ubud for a few days and do some walking, but as it was I only managed to go for the day. I sat on the back of a scooter as Joe, a local Indonesian, took me away from civilisation and into the serenity of the rice paddies. It was great to escape the madness of Kuta, if only for a little while! Kuta is full on. You can't escape the hawkers as you walk down the street. Cries of "Transport? Massage? Weed? Mushrooms? Viagra?" ring throughout the streets all day and all night long!

Most evenings in Kuta were spent in one of the many bars on the main strip. But there was only one place to go. Skygarden. From 10pm until 11pm, drinks were completely free! Yep, that's right! Many people saw this as more of a challenge than an offer. Two such guys were Killen and Addison. I met Killen in the hospital at Ko Phangan and happened to bump into him again in Bali! It's a small world...

Partying in Skygarden with Alison and Ruth

Partying in Skygarden with Alison and Ruth

My beard is slightly less impressive than Adriano's...

My beard is slightly less impressive than Adriano's...

My last night in Kuta was no less eventful than the flight to Bali itself. I woke up the next morning not knowing where I was and my flight was due to leave in less than four hours. Gulp. I sprinted to the beach and quickly got my bearings. I managed to find my hotel with relative ease and shoved my stuff into my backpack, then signalled a taxi to take me to the airport.

The mad dashes ended there. My two flights to Chiang Mai were mundane and there were no more panic stricken moments when I almost missed a flight.

All that's left now is three days in Chiang Mai and just one day in Bangkok before I fly home on Friday. I'm gonna make the most of it!

P.S. Thank you so much to everyone who helped Stringer and I achieve the title of trueLADs. We won the competition by a landslide majority! It is, without doubt, the greatest achievement of my life!

Posted by kristian23 04:07 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Scarface hits 'The Rock'

If Carlsberg did dorm rooms...

sunny 32 °C

The faint smell of piss lingers in the dimly lit dorm. There were bedbugs on my sheet the first night there. I couldn't sleep due to the stifling heat.

Its name is The Rock and it's undoubtedly the greatest place I've ever stayed. Sound strange? I guess it does, but I had an absolute ball at this amazing place. The reason I'm raving about The Rock is because of the people I met there. It's the first dorm I've stayed in of that size. I've stayed in one or two in other places along the way, but none had anywhere near 16 people in. It was impossible not to meet people, especially as a solo traveller.

The view from 'The Rock'

The view from 'The Rock'

The first night started rather timidly. Even so, a gathering of 25+ people descended upon The Rock to pre-drink before heading down to the infamous Slinky, a beach bar playing club music with people everywhere downing their obligatory buckets.

On my second day, the real fun began with the arrival of Cameron, Christian(!), Jen, Jess and Milly. I immediately clicked with all of them and I'm currently writing this in Phuket wishing I was back there with them, out in force in fancy dress.

Every night on Ko Phi Phi followed a similar pattern. Go out for food, pop back to The Rock with a bucket and head down to the beach for, you guessed it, yet more buckets and dancing. Once the music stops at 2am, everyone staggers down to Stones to chill out (or in my case snooze) on the beach.

I have done other things aside from drinking and strutting my stuff under the strobe lighting though, I promise. Having come to Ko Phi Phi, I had to visit Maya Bay, where 'The Beach' was filmed. Having completed the book and watched the film on the eve of my trip, I was incredibly excited. The relentless downpour on the boat there did dampen spirits, but at least I was better at snorkelling here than I was in Zanzibar! I never realised, however, that the film has photoshopped Maya Bay, so it was a little bit of a letdown in real life. Nonetheless, it is a sensational place and I'm glad I went. The short walk back to the boat was more eventful than the trip itself though. Waves knocked me into the rocks and we had to turn back down miniscule caves due to the sudden arrival of a poisonous sea snake. Yes, I squealed like a little girl and I'm not ashamed to admit it!

You'd think that was enough excitement for one day, wouldn't you? But oh no. All seven of us lads (some may even say 'trueLADs') on the boat decided to accept the 'Burger Challenge' at Reggae Bar. 800g of meat seperated into three burgers, sandwiched between four buns, accompanied by four jacket potatoes' worth of wedges and the same quantity of onion rings. Did I mention the huge bowl of coleslaw, too? Quite why I even contemplated it, I do not know. The look on my face after the poor attempt says it all, "I feel ill, bloated and a bit of a fool."

Before...

Before...

... and after the 'Burger Challenge'

... and after the 'Burger Challenge'

The Thai boxing provided much entertainment, even in my sickly state. I watched awestruck as professionals tore into each other and drunk tourists swayed around the boxing ring throwing aimless, heavy punches.

On my last night there, Cameron, Christian, Jen, Jess and Milly went off to Maya Bay for a camping trip, leaving me on the island. Not to worry, though, as I asked the guys in the next bed where they were eating and off I went with them. Firstly, we watched The Hangover 2 on a rooftop bar as the heavens opened and decided not to close again for the rest of the film. Soaked through, I didn't really feel like drinking. I lay in bed wide awake all night, but I knew that I'd caused my liver enough damage from five continuous nights of Sangsom rum. It needed a well earned rest. Besides, it was funny watching all the party-goers return in their drunken state at 5am in the morning.

I had such a good time in Phi Phi that I scrapped the idea of going to Railay, purely because I met so many cool people on the tiny island I like to call paradise. I also felt far more than a tinge of sadness as I left on the ferry for Phuket, where I'm currently twiddling my thumbs idly killing time before my flight at 6:45am local time. It really is a strange place - 40 year old men prowling the streets for the inevitable prostitues that are around.

Don't worry Mum and Dad, I'm staying put in this internet cafe until my pre-arranged taxi comes to take me directly to the airport! This time tomorrow, I'll be looking forward to surfing on the beaches of Bali.

But my last shout out of the blog has to go out, once again, to the people of The Rock. Thanks for making it the time of my life.

Peace out x

The view from 'The Rock'

The view from 'The Rock'

Posted by kristian23 07:51 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Full Moon Party ends in disaster

sunny 32 °C

I thought I'd left the troubles with flights behind in Zanzibar, yet on arrival at Kathmandu airport, I was told my flight to Bangkok had been cancelled. After much waiting and worrying, I was informed that I'd been moved onto Ranu's flight, which left at 9:00am, in half an hour. A mad dash through the airport then took place to make sure I made it in time. As thing turned out, this flight had been delayed by an hour anyway. I made it in plenty of time and we were soon in the air on our way to Thailand, the land of the perfect beaches, Full Moon Parties and ladyboys.

My first port of call upon arrival in Bangkok was the hospital. My stomach had, well let's just say, been a little more active than usual for the last few days, and I decided that I needed a course of antibiotics to sort myself out once and for all. I walked into the foyer to be greeted by Thai ladies roller blading around the hospital transporting documents from desk to desk. It really was a surreal introduction to Thailand.

With the antibiotics prescribed, I returned to the hotel to discover a bus / boat combo could get us to Ko Phangan a full 12 hours earlier than originally expected. This did mean, though, that for the second morning in a row we'd be up at the ungodly hour of 5:00am. Bleary eyed, we stumbled into the bus, where we were immediately back into a deep sleep until we arrived for the catamaran ferry to take us onto Ko Phangan. The second leg of our journey revealed the beaches and blue seas nestled in the Gulf of Thailand. The final mode of transport was reminiscent of the Tanzanian dalla dallas, as 15 of us squeezed into a pick-up truck headed for Haad Yao, on the north-eastern coast of the island.

Ranu and I didn't even care that we'd be ripped off at the first hotel we came to. We paid for one night's accommodation, dropped our bags and headed straight to the beach for a cold beer as we watched the sun set. This was what I came to Thailand for. As the sea lapped at our feet, we tucked into a delicious meal, hoping that the next few days were going to be as good as this.

Dozing in the hammock at Ibiza Bungalows

Dozing in the hammock at Ibiza Bungalows

The next day, Ranu checked into her hotel, which was ever so slightly out of my price range... Not a problem, however, as I picked up a beach bungalow with sea views and a hammock on the balcony for peanuts. The early mornings had taken their toll on me, and I snoozed in the hammock before lying on the beach with a pineapple lassi. Then came the preparations for the infamous Full Moon Party. Donning my trueLAD t-shirt, Ranu and I shared a bucket - yes, you heard me right, a bucket - of Sang Som rum, Red Bull and coke with dinner overlooking Haad Yao bay. I really think the bucket idea could take off back in England...

Once again, we were hopping into the back of a pick-up truck, but this time we were off to Haad Rin, where the beach festivities had already commenced. With my Full Moon Party wristband securely strapped on, the craziest sight revealed itself to us. Literally thousands of people were dancing away on the beach and on raised stages, covered in fluorescent paint and taking big gulps from their buckets. I couldn't help but gawp for a while at the madness ensuing all around. Pretty soon, though, I was off to be coated in fluoro paint and grab myself a bucket.

The surreal nature of the party continued as people attempted to leap over blazing skipping ropes doused in petrol. Trying to take it all in at once was impossible, but I had an irreversible grin on my face all night as I danced and drank.

Where am I? What happened? Where's my trueLAD t-shirt?! These were the questions buzzing through my head as I awoke groggily. Apparently I told the nurses I was fine, and that I needed to go back to my accomodation in Haad Yao. I was oblivious to the huge gash on my forehead. The nurses, understandably, took my into a separate room, where a surgeon stood waiting to fix the hole that had appeared on my head. I still had no idea where I was or what was happening. They must have given me something to numb the pain, as I could feel nothing but the occasional tug from the needle as 14 internal stitches and 10 external were put into my forehead. I lay deadly still, still not quite understanding the severity of it all. How could I? I didn't know what had happened and I hadn't seen the open wound on my forehead.

After I was all patched up, I was taken to a room where I went straight back to sleep. I woke mid-afternoon as the nurse came in to change my drip. I still had a thousand unanswered questions, but many were quickly dispelled with a glance in the mirror. Underneath plasters was obviously the gash, but the skin had ballooned up all around my left eye, obscuring my vision.

Hobbling through to reception, carrying the drip above my head, I was determined to find some answers. Nick, the Scottish doctor, was the man to see. He said I was brought in at 1am by two Thai guys. I wasn't with any friends at the time of the incident, and a cursory glance at my phone told me Ranu didn't know what had happened. Her text read, "I've gone back to Haad Yao. Tried to find you but you're obviously having a good night! Enjoy it!" That's all the information that I found out. Oh, and that I'd probably be in hospital for a week or so. Marvelous...

To compound my misery, my trueLAD t-shirt was thrown out by the nurses, as it was soaked in blood. It did mean, though, that I got another post on trueLAD. (Speaking of trueLAD, head onto the website to vote for the picture of Stringer and I on Kili. I really want to win this competition! Thanks! http://www.truelad.com/True-Lad-Competition.php )

Ouch!

Ouch!

I was knackered - probably all the drugs they'd given me - so I headed back to get some sleep. I opened the bathroom door and a massive millipede was scuttling around on the floor. Probably a foot long and an inch thick, it's jet black skin looked ominous. The nurse came to have a look and immediately yelped, jumping back and shouting "poisonous, poisonous!" She returned less than minute later with a big, metal rod and began smashing the millipede repeatedly, but still it held on for life. After a good two minutes, it eventually went limp and she brushed it outside. So along with the head wound, I now had the remains of millipede smeared all over my bathroom floor. As I said, I was knackered, but it took a long time to get to sleep that first night.

I was soon moved into a room with Stevo, an Aussie who cut his feet whilst walking back from the Full Moon Party. It was great to eventually have some company. After just two days in my room, I was beginning to go stir crazy! The sheer number of movies we watched was ridiculous - the DVD player was an absolute godsend.

When the drip finally came out, I had so much more mobility. I could walk around without having to hold the packet of fluid above my head! Having the drip out also meant that I could leave the confines of the hospital. I was straight out to explore Haad Yao and walk around for ages. I did, however, have to stay in hospital until the 26th May, so that I could get the wound cleaned daily.

I managed to be quite productive on my first day out of hospital, too. I booked return flights to Bali, where I'm going to learn to surf and pushed my flight home back a week to 17th June. My trip now has a definitive end, but I don't want to start thinking about that yet!

Slowly but surely, Paul and Stevo were allowed to leave the hospital for little trips too. Stevo had to walk painfully slow due to a cut within a millimetre of his achilles tendon and Paul also had a foot injury, so our 'great escape' from the hospital was always flawed... The sight of the three of us walking down the road must have been rather interesting for everyone in Haad Yao!

The last couple of nights we even made it as far as the beach, where we had a couple of beers whilst watching the various entertainment. They had the obligatory flaming skipping rope, but also a basketball contest where if you shot a hoop, you won a free drink. The best game, by far and away, was the balloon game. With a balloon strapped to your leg by an elastic band, the object is the hop around and pop other people's balloons with your feet whilst keeping your balloon out of harms way. When 'Jump Around' is played, it's the signal for the game to begin. After watching on the first night in hysterics, I thought I'd give it a go. I failed miserably and was one of the first to be knocked out.

With that, my time in Ko Phangan was over. Would I do it again? Hell yes! I'd certainly come back to the Full Moon Party, but I'd make sure to stay safe. It's a shame that I couldn't really appreciate Ko Phangan, but it's not all bad. I'm off to Ko Phi Phi for a while before I hop over to Bali, where I'll learn to surf. That is, if I don't end up in hospital again...

P.S. A massive, massive thanks to the guys at Bandon Clinic. You're all incredible people and thanks for taking care of me! Thanks, too, to Ranu for bringing all my bags to the hospital and being an awesome travel buddy!

Posted by kristian23 04:11 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Paragliding over Pokhara

sunny 28 °C

It sure is quiet without Molly and Saul... The notable lack of noise also continued on the nine hour bus journey. Unlike the public buses, there is no Justin Bieber blaring out of the speakers and there were plenty of spare seats too. Luxury!

We arrived in Pokhara just before the torrential downpour. But, as we were so keen to get the much famed milkshake at Mike's Restaurant, we decided to pop on down. In the deluge. Even the cows were sheltering from the rain! To compound our misery, the powercut meant that we couldn't even get our milkshakes! Nevertheless, we ate at Moondance Restaurant on the recommendation of the girls & Saul and we weren't disappointed. It was probably the best meal I've had so far whilst travelling and I can see why the lemon meringue is described as 'legendary' by Lonely Planet! Our first day's entertainment was not over, though. Ranu discovered not one, but two, cockroaches in the bathroom and alerted me with a scream and a prompt order to "kill the bloody things!"

With the nationwide strikes becoming more and more frequent, our paragliding was postponed by a day. However, Lake Fewa seemed the perfect location to waste the day away. After figuring out how to row the boat, which took far longer than it should have, I paddled slowly out to the middle of the lake. Once in the middle of the blissfully tranquil Fewa Lake, it was time to get the book out and sunbathe. With the sun beaming down and radiating our little wooden boat, we decided it was time to head back to shore. Our two hours on the lake turned out to be fatal though, as the exposure to the sun meant I had a dodgy stomach for over three days!

Strike a pose

Strike a pose

Of course, this is not ideal at any time, but especially not when waking up at 4:30 to watch the sunrise at Sarangkot. I was slightly disappointed by the excessively large crowd at the viewing point, but the views over the Himalayas, and in particular the 'fish tail' mountain, took my breath away as the sun crept over the peaks. The morning had only just started, quite literally, as we went from here to paragliding. My instructor, Neil, told me to run off the edge of the cliff. As Alexander the meerkat would say, "simples." I was slightly wary being in the air considering the state of my stomach, but the immodium worked it's magic! The feeling of flying of hot thermals was majestic enough, but the views out over the Pokhara region were something else altogether. As more and more paragliders joined us in the air, we circled high above Fewa Lake, following the soaring birds ahead.

Sunrise at Sarangkot

Sunrise at Sarangkot

Paragliding over Pokhara and Fewa Lake

Paragliding over Pokhara and Fewa Lake

Yet another strike postponed our bus back to Kathmandu, but, in all honesty, it wasn't such a bad thing. I spent pretty much all day on Friday chilling out by the lake writing postcards. It's a hard life, eh? When we did eventually get back to Kathmandu, we we greeted with the news that we couldn't do the bungee jump on Sunday due to, you guessed it, yet another strike.

So there you have it. My time in Nepal is almost up. I've loved every last minute of it (yes, even the arduous trekking!) and I'll be sad the leave this truly amazing country. I fly first thing tomorrow to Thailand and hope to make it to Kho Phangan in time for the Full Moon Party on Wednesday!

Ciao for now!

Apologies that the last few blogs haven't contained photos. Here are a few from my time at BULA and from the trekking. Enjoy!

Game on!

Game on!

The amazing BULA family

The amazing BULA family

Jump around!

Jump around!

Sunrise at Kyanjen Gompa

Sunrise at Kyanjen Gompa

Collapsed after the exhausting climb to Lirung Glacier

Collapsed after the exhausting climb to Lirung Glacier

Posted by kristian23 01:32 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

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