May 31st, 2004
Subject: Has anyone seen my shoes?
I have a problem and its time I admitted it. I am an internet junkie. Just like any other type of addict who cant get his fix, I get pangs in my stomach when I go too long without it, or when the connection is too slow (I need the good stuff, man, none of this low-grade crud). So, thats why the 3 days I spent in Kuala Lumpur, I spent as a computer geek. I'd wake up in the morning and head right to the internet cafe. Machines with over 500Mhz processors and 256MB of ram were waiting for me. High bandwidth connections to carry everything I wanted to email, post, upload, download, sideways load and everything else. I'd download all sorts of programs, then I'd go buy a two liter of coke and go back to my room and upload them and fidget with my laptop. I know this sounds really boring to 99% of the people reading this, but I really needed my fix.
I decided to head up to Thialand to meet Dave at Ko Pha-Ngan (pronounced: ko pan yang) and to check out things up there. The lonely planet guidebook describes it as "a nice island with great vegitation and nice beaches and plenty of places to stay. No where in this book does it mention that its one massive party beach which is known for having some of the largest parties in all of South East Asia. I guess it didnt have to, from talking with people I've met, it seems everyone did know that before coming. The place is a bit legendary among the European backpacker crowd.
In any event, I made my way up north over the Malay/Thai border where the bus driver told me to go in to an office to get some forms when we were about 1 hour from the border. As I'm in there, I see the bus pulling away, presumably to a better spot. No, he's actually driving off. I run outside in a panic chasing and yelling after the bus to the huge amusement of everyone around. They tell me to calm down and that the bus is just going to the next town over and will be back in 20 minutes. Great, could someone have told me that before they drove off.
A temple at one of the stops along the way.
Anyway, after a 24 hour journey of busses, boats and taxis, I arrived in Ko Pha-Ngan to find Dave right at the hotel he said he was staying at. Its so nice to arrive at a place and see the face of a freind as soon as you walk up. In addition, you dont have to go through the process of figuring everything out and trying to meet new people, which after 24 hours of traveling, just isnt what I wanted to do.
I remarked to Dave that the place looked pretty dead, and he told me to wait until midnight and see what I thought. Sure enough, midnight rolled around and the place got in to full swing. Fire-spinners on ever part of the beach, one in front of each of the 5 main bars. Little tables scattered all along the beach on mats for people to sit on and chill, relax, talk, and drink. And drink. Yes, Ko Pha-Ngan is a bit of a drinking place. Drinks are served in buckets. Not glasses, but buckets. Well, they are served in glasses if you request them that way, and everyone starts out that way, but at some point in the night, the switch to buckets somehow happens without your knowledge and you wake up with a hangover. People look at you in your sorry state and just say "Buckets, eh?", and all you can say is "Yes, buckets."
Everyone takes their shoes off when they go in to bars, resturants, or even sitting on the mats on the beach at night. Then, after a fair bit of drinking, people tend to forget where they left them. By the end of the night, you always have a beach full of people wandering around asking "Has anyone seen my shoes?". It was only a matter of time before someone put it on a T-Shirt. Too classic.
But it is a really beautiful place with an amazing beach with people scattered about it all day long sunning themsevles and playing frisbee. This is actually VERY difficult for Dave and I to get used to. For so long, we had been the ONLY tourists in most of the places we went to, and now here we are in a place that has ONLY tourist and no locals. For the first couple days there, we had a real hard time adjusting to this. But we've still been enjoying it immensely.
Dave has found a real nice bunch of friends from Israel and I have found a cool group from England so we've sort of been doing our own thing and seeing each other in passing and at meal times.
I know this is a lot less action packed of a report than you're used to, but I'm really enjoying this vacation-from-a-vacation of sorts. My days are being spent on a hammock in front of my bungalow, or swimming, or reading, or....well, drinking. Its been wonderful and relaxing.
Hope you're all doing well.
June 10th, 2004
Subject: Operation Ko Samui
Well, I see by the fact I got more responses on the last journal than all previous ones that perhaps less is better. See, the last journal was 6Kb in length, as opposed to the normal 50Kb in length. So, if I make them shorter, perhaps more people read them? At least to the end? Well, tough, I'm keeping 'em long. ;-)
I left off in Ko Pha-Ngan, where every night is a festival of music, fire, dancing, and buckets. We needen't recover the bucket thing, right? Well, a person can only take so much of the buckets, and I had had my share. I guess I cant party like the young bucs anymore. My friends and I decided to head to one of the more relaxed islands nearby, the island of Ko Tao for a break. The full moon party was over a week away, and already things were gearing up for it on Ko Pha-Ngan. One of my friends had some issues with a stalker which also factored in to our decision to leave, but thats another (long) story altogether.
We got to Ko Tao and checked in to a cool little resort just outside of the main beach. It was quiet and deserted, but just what we were looking for. We booked in to a place that was close to a good snorkeling area, as we all wanted to get in some snorkeling. Unfortunately, the dead coral that was between the beach and the reef made it impossible to get to the reef, so we booked a boat tour for the next day.
The boat tour is a popular thing on Ko Tao. It takes more or less all day, and will go around the entire island, stopping at 3 or 4 snorkel spots and also at Koh Nang Yuan. Koh Nang Yuan is one of my main reasons for wanting to go to Ko Tao. Its a small island off the coast of Ko Tao, and when I saw a picture of it in the guide book, it was so amazing to see, that I said right then and there I had to see it. Its 3 tiny gorgeous islands joined by a sand bar. See for yourself. Pic
Our boat tour started off at a place called Shark Bay. Named because you can sometimes see sharks there. On our tour, there was the four of us, Me, Sally, Julie, Miriam (yes, I am traveling with 3 ladies, go figure) along with 2 couples for a total of 8. While we were at Shark Bay, one of the couples from Scotland came over to me and asked if I had seen the sharks. I said no, figuring they just wanted me to point them in to the right direction if I had. To my surprise, they said "theres 3 over that way" and pointed me in the direction. I was snorkeling alone at this point, but figured I'd go check it out. I snorkeled around for about 10 minutes, saw nothing and headed back. Then I saw him. A shark of about 5-6 foot in length. No, I dont know what kind it was. It was a shark, no doubt. There are some that you see on the Discovery Channel that look friendly - this one didnt fall in to that category. It looked mean. Now, the fact that all the boat drivers bring people here to see sharks is a pretty good indication that these are not agressive sharks. I had to keep telling myself that. Swimming with something that is about my size and looks mean is rather unnerving. Its so easy to make faces when theres that plate of glass between you and him in the aquarium. I didnt want to swim away, fearing that might make me look weak and easy prey. Luckily, he took the first move and swam off after about 30 seconds. On the way back to the boat, I saw another one about 3-4 feet in length. We just sort of passed each other like Jeepneys on the highway.
The rest of the day on the boat was just as fun, although despite our best efforts, we only saw one other shark, and at 3 feet or so, wasnt that impressive anymore. You cant scare me you tiny thing. We did make it to Ko Nang Yuan, and spent a couple hours there just enjoying the scenery.
That night we headed out to check out the nightlife in Ko Tao. It was actually just what I had been looking for. It had the chilled out beach scene like in Ko Pha-Ngan, but without the so-loud-you-cant-have-a-conversation music. (Am I really getting that old?) The music was more chilled, the people we more chilled, and I just loved everything about it.
Which is why we left the next day. No, I dont really remember why we left. Sally and Julie had some visa things to sort out in Ko Samui, Miriam had to get back to the mainland, and I had to work on flights. With the only airport being in Ko Samui, it seemed the logical place to go.
But I cant say that I liked Ko Samui that much. For one, it had a McDonalds. Now, dont get me wrong, I love my Quarter Pounders just as much as the next guy, in fact more than the next guy. But when I think Tropical Island in Thailand, I dont think McDonalds. I also dont think of parents pushing toddlers in strolers. Ko Samui had a lot of that. It was a lot more upscale and although it had beach parties at night, they were a little more reserved than the other islands. Not bad, but not exactly my vibe.
But the more I thought about it, it was the perfect set up. The 3 islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pha-Ngan, and Ko Tao are all within an hour or so of each by ferry. Just pick your passion, and go to the one that best suits you. Ko Samui for the honeymooners (and McDonalds freaks - which I include myself in this category), Ko Pha-Ngan for the partying backpacker (I also include myself in this category), and Ko Tao for the divers and laid-back chilled out dudes and dudettes (I definitely include myself in this category). Ko Tao would be my favorite, but each was pretty cool.
Now, you may be wondering why the name of the email is "Operation Ko Samui" if it was my least favorite island and I only spent a couple days there. Most of my subject titles of my journals are obscure movie or TV references that I know only my brother and 6 other people or so get. It might make the subject titles sound strange sometimes, but I know those 7 people get a kick out of it, so I keep doing it, and keep the rest of you scratching your heads. :)
I have to mention my new toy at this point. Normally, I wouldnt mention a $6 gadget that I bought in my journal, but this thing rocks. Its an electric moquito killer. I had seen these a far back as 3 months ago and knew I needed to have one. I have NO room in my bag for this thing, but bought it anyway, and its already brought hours of enjoyment. The size and shape of a tennis racket with current running through it, making it easy to zap all those pesky little mosquitoes who are culprits of my endless itching. Your time has passed, I am now the Mosquitonator.
So, now on to why I am in the Philippines. Again. My dad is currently traveling in Asia on business and we had said that if he could get some days off, that we'd try to meet up somewhere. Well, with his meeting schedules, he wasnt sure if he would be able to get the time off, and if he did, how much he'd have or where he'd be at the time. So all we could do was wait until he knew and make some last minute plans from there. We knew that if it happened, it'd be sometime early June.
As it turned out, one of his meetings cancelled, and left us with 6 days. He was in China and I was in Thailand. We could have gone to either of those countries, but I knew the islands wouldnt really be his thing, and neither of us knew much about traveling in China. Exploring areas like that can be fun, but when you only have a few days, if you find somewhere you dont like, you can eat up a lot of time just trying to find somewhere else. So, we decided to go somewhere that I had been before that I thought he'd like.
My dad has been coming to the Philippines for business for about 15 years now. In all that time, he's never really had the chance to go far outside of Manila, because thats where his clients are. So, we decided to meet in Manila and head to Puerto Princessa, one of my favorite spots in the Philippines.
But this had all come up sort of at-the-last minute. So, I bought my plane ticket on the afternoon of the night of the full moon party, which was one island away in Ko Pha-Ngan. The flight was leaving the next morning at 7am. As I bought my plane ticket, the lady at the counter asked why I was leaving so early and going to miss the full moon party. I told her I had no plans to miss it. If I had come this far and was here on full moon, that I'd find a way there and back in time to catch my flight. She was a little doubtful about it, but reminded me to check in an hour early.
But I had to. There was no way I could come all the way here, and not see the main event. With the rainy season approaching, this would be one of the last ones of the season, so it was now or never. Besides, it was my last chance to say a proper farewell to Dave. As I left Ko Pha-Ngan the last time, it was early in the morning and neither of us were awake enough to muster more than "alright, see ya".
I found a company selling a roundtrip ticket by speedboat to the party and back from Ko Samui. Perfect! I arrived on Ko Pha-Ngan just before midnight and as soon as I stepped off the boat, decided that I'd stay long enough to see Dave, then I'd leave. The party was one of the worst displays of drunkards I think I've witnessed since my college days. The amount of people that were staggering and stumbling all over the place, and slobbering all over themselves was ridiculous. Now, I like to get my swerve on as much as the next guy, but I'm pretty sure that in my worst states I've been able to keep my saliva in my mouth. It was a wild party, but not necessarily a good wild. Just sort of a messy wild.
I met Dave at the 7-11 at midnight as we planned. Amazingly, I ran in to Colin at the 7-11 at midnight too. Colin was a guy that we met in Puerto Princessa. I had thought he went back to Ireland or was still in the Philippines. I had no idea that he was in Thailand and he had no idea I was there. One of those very eerie meetings. But it did improve my spirits immensely. I really had enjoyed hanging out with him in Puerto. Then Dave showed up, my mood improved more, and we got a bucket and my mood... improved more. :) We wandered down to a less crowded area of the beach with less drool. For the majority of the night we talked about the trip, our favorite parts, and plans for days and months ahead. Some dancing, some meeting people, and... some buckets. By the time 5am rolled around, it seemed like I had just gotten there. I had to catch my boat to make the flight in time. So, Dave and I parted ways on the very edge of a beach in Thailand amidst one of the worlds biggest parties. Thats the way the parting was meant to happen.
Then I realized I had forgotten my shoes and had to run back to get them and yanked on his dreads from behind as I ran back past him to jump on the speedboat. Has anyone seen my shoes???
I made the 7:30 flight without problem. I got to say goodbye to Sally and Julie who were catching a boat at about the same time. I'm off to the Philippines via Bangkok.