Goodbye Thailand; reflections, lessons and final adventures on Khao San Road

So this is it, after four weeks of temple touring in Bangkok, elephant riding in Chiang Mai, bike riding in Ayutthaya, volunteering in Koh Samui, snorkelling in Koh Tao and partying in Koh Phangan; I had gone full circle and was back in Bangkok again – for a final night out with the people I’d become so close with that past month, before our trip came to an end.

After a snooze on the long journey from Koh Phangan, I opened my eyes to the bustling atmosphere and bright lights of Bangkok. Arriving at the Sawasdee Banglumpoo Inn – where our adventure started four weeks before – felt like stepping back in time. It felt like just yesterday we were all sat around a table outside, introducing ourselves to eachother and wondering what our journey would entail. The big, scary place I’d left behind a month before now felt like home.

It was such a weird feeling realising our trip was coming to an end. After saying goodbye to some of the girls who had to head off pretty much as soon as we arrived in Bangkok, and giving presents and cards to our lovely tour guides made me feel really sad. I should tell you more about our tour guides actually, I haven’t given them enough credit in my blog posts.

Yo and Art; you are my heroes! As a first time traveller, I wouldn’t have had the foggiest idea (and still don’t now to be honest) how to organise travel across the country, accommodation, taxis, tours etc…I just generally would have no idea what I was doing. Yo and Art organised the best activities for us, always making sure our safety and happiness was their top priority; and were always happy to answer our questions. Above and beyond all that, they were amazing people. If you’re reading this Yo (Okayyyy guyyy), you are truly one of the most kind-hearted people I’ve ever met. It was so endearing to meet someone who is so proud of their culture and so happy to share it with others. You taught me so much about your culture, about yourself and just how to be a good person. You’re a credit to Gap 360, to your parents, and most importantly to yourself. Remember; check your belongingggg! And Art, I’ll admit I didn’t completely “get” you at first, but you were always there for us, joining in with our drinking and such; and once we started sharing banter about our plans to “get married and honeymoon on Koh Phangan” we totally became the best of friends! You’re a funny and smart guy, thank you for everything you & Yo did for us; and I hope to see you both again someday.

Goodbye Thailand; reflections, lessons and final adventures on Khao San Road Goodbye Thailand; reflections, lessons and final adventures on Khao San Road

*puts away tissues and continues writing blog post*

Okay, so as a group where the foundation of our friendship was alcohol, we couldn’t have gotten away without having one final banging night out, KHAO SAN ROAD BABY!!! The nostalgia and déjà vu continued throughout the night, for example; buying street food (chicken skewers) from a vendor I’d visited just before we were leaving Bangkok the first time and going to a live music bar that we went to on our first night out together. It was such a fantastic night, the buckets were flowing, the alcohol was making me even more emotional, I don’t remember most of the night and what I do remember I can’t possibly share on the internet…yeah, crazy shit happened that night; but with the way our nights out always panned out, I wouldn’t have expected anything less – it was absolutely perfect!

Goodbye Thailand; reflections, lessons and final adventures on Khao San Road Goodbye Thailand; reflections, lessons and final adventures on Khao San Road

Goodbye Thailand; reflections, lessons and final adventures on Khao San Road Goodbye Thailand; reflections, lessons and final adventures on Khao San Road

Goodbye Thailand; reflections, lessons and final adventures on Khao San Road Goodbye Thailand; reflections, lessons and final adventures on Khao San Road

So the night was over, I’d said goodbye to most of the gang whilst ridiculously drunk (which actually made it a lot easier, I was dreading the goodbyes), I had to leave for the airport at 8am in the morning; but that didn’t stop me staying up til about 5am, with one of the lads who was shoving food & drink down my throat to sober me up.

And with that, my trip was over. All the sunshine, beaches, mosquitos, elephants, tigers, temples, bike riding, snorkelling and fab adventure with my new pals was over; back to boring old reality in boring old England.

It’s been three months since I returned from Thailand, meaning I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on my journey; what I’d learnt, what I’d do differently and what I want to do next.

Things I’d do differently

This was my first travel experience that wasn’t a normal resort holiday with my parents. I had a lot to learn, I didn’t get everything right but that’s what life is about – learning.

Budgeting was one of the things I was most worried about before I went. I’ve been to uni, budgeting was never my strong point. Going to a place where the currency and value of things is so different to home tricks you into believing you aren’t spending much money. The equivalent of £1 for a beer is quite a bargain, but do remember that all those pounds add up. Fortunately for me, after my four week trip I was going home; back to a place where I live with my parents, have a decent job and don’t have that many bills and other payments to worry about, so I spent my money pretty freely and didn’t say no to any opportunities. Overall I spent about £800 over the course of a month, which is not that bad. However, next time I go travelling I want to stay out for longer, and go to places that are a bit more expensive than the land of smiles; therefore next time I shall put a bit more thought into budgeting.

As you can tell through reading my Thai memoirs, alcohol played a big part in my adventures; which was absolutely fine, I had loads of fun and the parties out there shit over any party I’ve been to at home – but please remember the majority of my adventures weren’t alcohol induced and I am definitely a person who can have lots of fun without it. There were occasions where I embarrassed myself, lost my friends and had alcohol induced confidence (can be a good or bad thing!) Luckily, nothing terrible happened to me, I had wonderful friends who always had my back and made sure I was safe – and I felt completely safe too. I wasn’t so drunk that I had no idea what I was doing/where I was/what was going on etc, but I could always end up in that situation in the future…so yeah, next time I’ll probably drink a bit less.

Little lessons and big reflections

I know it sounds bare cliché, but I really feel like a different person since coming back from travelling. I have a different perspective about certain things, and I learnt many things (big and small) about the world and about myself.

I learnt little things about Thailand/South East Asia specifically, about how peaceful and welcoming their religion and culture is, that their toilets – whether Western or squat – are less than sanitary; deal with it, that when crossing the road you can’t dawdle – it’s so busy but you need to just GO! I learnt that eating my body weight in spring rolls and chicken satay is totally cool, that wearing the same outfit 7 times is okay, and most importantly I don’t need a lot of material belongings to make me happy.

Goodbye Thailand; reflections, lessons and final adventures on Khao San Road

Granted, my phone, my iPad, my makeup, my hairdryer and my straighteners came with me; but I didn’t feel the need to sit on social networks and compare myself to other people, and I genuinely felt that everything I had in my backpack was all I need. The experiences I had, from things as big as riding elephants and to as small as watching the sunset on the beach, were more valuable than any material possessions I could ever own. As that famous saying goes, “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” I learnt how important it is to immerse yourself in culture and experiences; I mean just look at the amount of things I did that I was so scared of doing! Eliminate the fear! I can’t wait to get out and see the world again; the travel bug has truly infected me. Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos are next on my list, with another visit to Thailand – and then hopefully onto Australia.

Goodbye Thailand; reflections, lessons and final adventures on Khao San Road

Last but definitely not least, the best thing to come out of this trip was meeting 17 of the most beautiful people inside & out – who I can honestly say are some of the best friends I’ve ever had. We were all so different but so the same, we blended together perfectly and genuinely got on. I felt like I could completely be myself around them, I didn’t feel like I had to prove myself or live up to any expectations. After hearing some people’s stories of nightmare travel companions and arguments, I can’t help but think how lucky we got with our group. As soon as we got the buddy list a month before our travels were beginning, we were straight on Facebook, introducing ourselves, asking advice about what size backpacks to get; and once we’d all met up we completely hit it off! Admittedly there was so much drama in the group, more than Geordie/Jersey Shore, The Only Way Is Essex and Made in Chelsea; but it was mostly good drama and I really felt like we were cool enough to have our own TV show.

Okay Guyyyys; thank you for being such incredible travel companions and friends, I couldn’t have possibly wished for a better group. You’re all amazing people and I couldn’t be happier that I met you all; I will never forget any of you and I look forward to seeing you all again someday, wherever in the world that may be.

Kop Khun Kha Thailand, and always remember

I REGRET NOTHING

Goodbye Thailand; reflections, lessons and final adventures on Khao San Road

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

*Disclaimer* Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, I’m back and blogging about my trip to Thailand again…if this is boring you, in a few posts time my Thailand memoirs will be over and I’ll be talking about other stuff.

So, after the bar-crawling, sunbathing, snorkelling adventures in Koh Tao, the island of Koh Phangan – best known for its “infamous” Full Moon Party – was where our travelling group would spend our final week together. After three weeks of guided travel, we were now free to do whatever we liked; with no specific itinerary planned. I’m not gonna lie, this was a weird week; I think some of us felt a bit lost not having anything specific to do, we’d lost 2 members of the group who were only on the three week trip, and the group seemed to be dropping like flies – we had people in and out of hospital for various reasons. Also, with monsoon season upon us it rained A LOT, meaning I spent stupid amounts of time scrolling down Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in my room. But ya know what, deep down I am a lazy person, and when the sun peaked through I really enjoyed laying by the pool or on the beach, smoothie in hand, headphones in, music up, or reading a book. When you’re travelling with a big group of people you’ve got to remember to spend some time with yourself.

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

Our accommodation this week was a beach front resort named Sarana Bungalows, and as the name suggests, the rooms were bungalows shared between 2/3 people. Yes, the accommodation was basic, but I didn’t come travelling expecting 5* hotels. Granted, the rooms in this hotel were a little bit of a step down from previous accommodations we’d stayed in, but they were a head and shoulders above what I’d expected. The infinity pool, palm trees and being a footstep away from the beach sure as hell made up for that!

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

In addition to this, there was also a cute little restaurant area with cushions on the ground, where we all made the most of the food and drink tab system in place; spending many evenings eating Pad Thai, drinking beer and having deep emotional chats. My tab actually came up to ONE THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED BAHT by the end of the week…which is the equivalent of 32 British pounds. It sounds like so much in Thai currency, I was absolutely horrified I’d spent so much money stuffing my face; but in reality £32 for a week’s worth of food and drink isn’t bad at all.

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

As I said before, I spent a lot of time in the pool, chilling on the beach, befriending dogs (see pictures below) and hiding in my room when it was raining. As well as this, lots of fun and random times were had with the gang; playing volleyball on the beach (FYI I am absolutely terrible at all sports), doing handstand competitions like 5 year olds, and playing a game in the pool where me and one of the other girls were on the lads’ shoulders, trying to push each other off – and whoever got pushed in first was the loser (maybe you had to be there for it to sound fun).

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

One night we had quite a sentimental moment watching the sunset together on the beach. I can’t think of any other time in my life where I’ve actually sat and watched the sun go down; it was truly spectacular, no filter needed. Actually, iPhone cameras don’t even do it justice. It was a pure Louis Armstrong moment, thinking what a wonderful world we live in. One of the girls said something so sweet and true, that has stuck with me ever since and I’ll always remember it when I’m feeling a bit sad, or missing people: “watching the sunset is comforting because you remember that at some point in the day, everyone in the world has looked at that same sun.”

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

Cute, right? Here are some of my other Koh Phangan highlights;

Total Wipeout

You’ve all seen Total Wipeout, right? The TV game show where contestants would attempt to complete a series of obstacles over water to win money? Always thought “I would soooo love to have a go at that”? – well on Koh Phangan in Thailand, you actually can! and I did! (of course I didn’t fully complete the circuit, but it’s the taking part that counts)

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

The course was complete with inflatable paths, spinning spokes, inflatable rock climbing, monkey bars (the only thing I could actually do, and not gonna lie, I was a fucking pro), and the three big red balls at the end which you have to somehow find your way to walk/crawl along without falling into the water. This attraction gets thousands of visitors per month, and in the two or three years it has been open, only 88 people had made it onto the wall of fame, as of November 2014!

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

Despite not actually managing to complete the majority of obstacles in the circuit, I had so much fun just messing around, egging my mates on, and watching other people fall down and such. The absolute highlight of the day came in the form of a giant inflatable cushion by the side of the lake. One person lies down on it, and two people jump down onto it from a high platform above, causing the person laying down to launch into the air! I watched many people do it, go flying ridiculous heights into the air and lad with a massive (and painful) thud into the water…initially my brain said “fuck that for a laugh”, but of course I ended up doing it, and I’m SO glad I did.

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

Laying down on the inflatable waiting for my pals to make the big jump felt more like a thousand hours, than the 30 seconds that it actually was. “Are you ready Natalie?” they said, “YEAAAHHH!” I yelled back. Was I ready? Was I fuck! I was absolutely shitting it. Next thing I knew, I went flying into the air, turned upside down, could hear my friends saying “SHIIIIT”, as I landed in the water face first. It was SO FLIPPING COOL! It was probably the most exhilarating and frightening experience of my life, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat (even though I lost my nose ring and had to wear a stud for the rest of the trip; which I now realise don’t suit me at all.)

Random night out

On our first night on Phangan, after enjoying a group dinner at a restaurant high up in the hills, one of the girls asked me if I was gonna go out that night. Me being me, I never say no to a night out, especially in Thailand; so of course I said yes. I was stunned to realise it was just me and one other girl from the group going; along with 3 girls we’d met earlier on in the day at the hotel. Was it really true, the usual party-goers of the group were actually STAYING IN? Crazy times. Anyway, it was actually a pretty damn good night. We ended up at a bar called Ringside – that was also a hostel – playing beer pong and raving the night away to old school R&B and hip-hop music. It was the perfect choice of music for me, Kisstory all’day err’day for me! By this point of the trip, I’d come to realise that nights out in Thailand always ended with weird things happening to me, and that night was no different.

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

*Disclaimer* What I’m about to tell you is something that I 100% would not recommend for anyone’s safety, and mum, I’m sorry

It soon got late and Maria and I realised we didn’t actually have any idea where we were, or how to get back to the hotel. Fortunately, we’d met two French guys that night (one was an angel, one was an absolute dickhead) and used our womanly charms to get a lift back to the hotel on the back of the nice guy’s motorbike! Three people on one motorbike, when the driver is slightly pissed is not the best idea, but it was really funny! He was going so fast and I literally could not stop screaming, but we made it back in one piece and alive to tell the tale.

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

selfie as blurry as I felt!

FULL MOON PARTY

Okay, here it is; when you clicked on this Koh Phangan blog, I’m sure the Full Moon Party was what you wanted to hear about. In case you’re unaware The Full Moon party is an all night rave held on Haad Rin beach, once a month (when the full moon is out, of course). It has everything you could want from a Thailand party; alcohol buckets, fire skipping/limbo etc, lots of music, lots of people and some recreational drugs, obvz.

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

After a girlie day of shopping for Full Moon supplies, including being served by a very enthusiastic man when buying vodka (“Smirnoff Vodka – THREE HUNDRED FIFTY BAAAAAHHHHTTT”), we got ready and started pre-drinking at the hotel. Lots of banter was had in this time; we covered each other in neon paint, drunk lots, and sung happy birthday to one of the lovely girls, Brogan, whose birthday we were celebrating.

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

Amongst all the drunkness, we had a cute, sentimental, spiritual moment setting off chinese lanterns into the sky; bare cute.

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

And then, it was PARTY time! By the time we’d got into the taxi, I’d already drunk a small bottle of vodka to myself, as well as lots of Malibu. I’d done my research vis-à-vis Full Moon Party, I’d always read that you need to pace yourself in order to make it to sunrise, but did I listen? I was pretty smashed by the time we got to the party. I don’t remember much, but my pals told me that I was absolutely mental when we first got there, jumping and grinding on everybody, being one of the only ones who was drunk at that point (god’s sake Nat)…shortly after this, I bumped into someone I’d met in Koh Samui, stopped to talk to him for a few seconds, then all my pals were completely out of sight. Yep, I’d done what I read you should never do, be alone at this 80,000 strong party. I’d also read that you shouldn’t wear flip flops to Full Moon as you’d either break your foot or go home with one flip flop, and that you shouldn’t bring your phone or anything valuable with you. I did all these things and I’m here today, writing this blog, with no severe harm done.

So there I was, alone amongst 80,000 people, walking the length of the beach to find everybody, sitting down with a group of randomers; crying that I’d lost my friends. Eventually, I gave up, walked into a place I considered safe: a walk-in clinic, and slept on a bench for 4 hours. Yes, I’m an idiot. I drank too much, got myself into a situation which could have been very unsafe, and missed the majority of the party. Eventually I woke up, deciding I should probably get myself back to the hotel, when by MASSIVE fluke I bumped into 2 of my friends; some of the only people who were still at the party! I couldn’t have been more relieved (and neither could they, wondering where the hell I’d got to all night), and after my nana-nap I was ready to rave shit up! We danced some more, found two of the other pals asleep on the beach, and OMG I actually made it to watch the sunrise!!! Okay, so I cheated a little. But I was there, awake, sat on the beach watching a new day begin.

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

Overall, the Full Moon Party was quite an experience for me. Although I slept through most of it, it was an absolutely banging party; slightly overrated considering it is THE thing to do on Phangan, but I’d recommend trying it once. Again, I wouldn’t recommend being as stupid as me and losing your pals and sleeping in a clinic; but hey, I was safe, I was fine. If you plan on going to the Full Moon Party in the future, keep your wits about you, and just have fun!

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

Final Night; BBQ and reflections

Our Thailand Adventure was drawing to a close, so a beach BBQ in the evening was the perfect way to spend our final night on Phangan. Between munching on the yummy food and drinking Singha, our time was spent reflecting on the highs and lows of our trip, our incredible tour guide giving an emotional speech about how much he loves us, winding each other up, laughing at the memories, and chatting about random crap. A few nights before this, myself and two of the lads went to a place called Kangaroo Bar; it was a totally chilled out place (mainly because of the magic mushroom shakes), overlooking Haad Rin beach. It was rainy and windy, the waves were choppy, that “wave after wave” song by Mr Probz was playing and I was having a proper “moment”. Thinking about how lucky I was to have spent the best part of the month in a beautiful country with even more beautiful people.

Another night we went to a pub called The Mason Arms. Yes, a PUB! A real British pub where I ate gammon and chips and drank Magners. By that point it’s fair to say we were missing our home comforts a bit, so we had a whale of a time eating British food, playing pool/darts and generally being “homey” (is that a word?) It made me think of what it’d be like if all of us reunited in the UK someday.

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

I absolutely LOVE this group of people, and the tour guides too. How was I gonna leave them? What would I do without them? I had an epic time on Koh Phangan, but I think I was quite sad at some points too, as I was so aware our time together was coming to and end. How would I cope saying goodbye? But hey, after Koh Phangan we still had a 12 hour journey back to Bangkok followed by a final night out together to enjoy, forget the tears and hand me the beer!

Koh Phangan; wiped out by the Full Moon Party

Koh Tao; rhymes with WOW!

A short ferry journey from the island of Koh Samui brought us to our next location, the beautiful island of Koh Tao. In light of the tragic events that occurred there just weeks before my trip (two backpackers were brutally killed on the island), I didn’t really know what to expect of this place – but once I was there I forgot all about that…I absolutely ADORED Koh Tao.

Koh Tao; rhymes with WOW! | Welcome to the Goode life

I can’t even put my finger on what it was that made me love this place so much, writing this post two months on I’m struggling to remember what I even did in Koh Tao; but I remember loving the vibe and feeling really happy there.

Koh Tao is a very touristy island; shops selling souvenirs, t-shirts and fake Ray-Bans were every where you turned, the streets dotted with hotels and western restaurants – but I actually found these things quite comforting. I despise the idea of being an ignorant traveler who only wants what they’re used to, but by that point in my trip (two and a half weeks in), home comforts and familiarity were much appreciated! The relaxed island vibe and the fact Koh Tao is quite a small island struck similarities with the Caribbean island of Barbados in my mind; a place I feel very at home in, having been there 3 times, spending my 21st birthday there, having family there, and actually being of Bajan descent myself. In addition to this, Koh Tao was also the first place on this trip where I’ve seen the type of people I would see at home, your typical tourists, which could be considered as a bad thing – but together with all the things I previously mentioned: the mix of familiarity and a beautiful new environment was a blissful combination.

Our 5 nights in this divers’ paradise island were spent incidentally at a hotel named Asia Divers Resort. Despite the lack of hot water and temperamental WIFI, I would go as far as saying this was my favourite accommodation of the entire trip. The rooms were comfortable – clean, and provided with new towels and bedding every day, the pool was lush, surrounded by palm trees and lovely greenery; the whole place was just really cosy. If I were to go back to this hotel I’m sure a tonne of happy memories would immediately come flooding back to me.

Koh Tao

Koh Tao is famous for its heavenly beaches, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Chilling out in the sea whilst having a break from the burning sun, looking around at the trees and the hills, the longtail boats, sun shining…I felt like I’d literally found heaven on earth. I was enjoying the moment so much that I didn’t actually take any decent pictures of Sairee beach! Of course, that is how the world is meant to be enjoyed in all honesty, taking it all in with your eyes, and ears, and nose, and hands, not through a lense. But hey, here is one picture I managed to take whilst scoffing a club sandwich at a beach side bar. (Have I mentioned how much I love club sandwiches)

KT15

Between lounging on the beach or by the pool reading my book, and dodging the blistery rain showers which saw the drout end and the monsoon season begin, here are some of my Koh Tao highlights:

Koh Tao pub crawl

The fact I put this in my highlighted memories of Koh Tao is somewhat ironic, seeing as I barely remember that night and it took some hungover discussions with the rest of the group the next morning to piece the events of the night together. The first bar started off with some buckets, banter, and my friends wetting themselves laughing when I said you can’t take selfies with me in a dark room because “YOU CAN’T SEE ME”, and everything after that was a bit of a blur. From what I do remember it was a fabulous night, which fell on Halloween; people with painted faces and scary costumes, lots of buckets, a Ladyboy show – in which one of the lads in the group joined in and got on stage, slut-dropping, dancing on tables, laughing gas, one of the girls disappearing for an hour then coming back with her face painted, some lads getting lairy, a power cut at the final bar, and a drunken walk home…what more could you ask for of a night out eh?

Koh Tao2 Koh Tao1

Food

As I mentioned before, Koh Tao is crawling with western restaurants; Italian, Mexican, American, European…you name it. When you’re hungry on this island you’re sure to find something that will tickle your fancy. The morning after the night before (pub crawl) I ventured out by myself to find some grub that would attempt to cure my raging hangover; and I wasn’t disappointed when I found a little place called Blue Chair and stuffed a beautiful chicken salad sandwich down my gob. Of course, as well as all these Western restaurants and bars, there were plenty of Thai options too; such as the beach front restaurant we went to that same night. The Wind Beach resort was a typical Asian set-up, cushions on the floor around low set tables to eat around – it was really quite beautiful; as was the Green Thai Curry I ordered. Unfortunately, the service there was not up to much, but what can ya do. We didn’t stick around there for dessert but instead enjoyed some delicious ice cream from one of the many ice cream stands in the little alleys by the beach.

Dinner the next evening was at a BBQ themed restaurant named Sairee cottage, and similar to the night before, the service wasn’t spectacular but thankfully the food was. I personally went for Thai cuisine rather than BBQ, in the form of Spring Rolls for starters and Yellow Curry for main which was quite delish, but the BBQ food did look amazing.

My two favourite food establishments in Koh Tao were Sairee Sairee restaurant and Farango; both located near Sairee beach, next door to each other in fact. Sairee Sairee’s menu was mostly American and European cuisine, over the course of our time in Koh Tao I visitied this place for breakfast, lunch and dinner! They must have got sick of my face in the end. Full English breakfast, paninis and burgers were absolutely divine. Farango was an Italian restaurant, which we visited for dinner twice as a group; I’m such a sucker for Italian food, and I’m quite obsessed with Lasagne. Of course, I ordered Lasagne on both occasions and it was truly scrumptions.

Koh Tao, I rate you A+ for food.

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Beauty and relaxation

A bit of a girlie note here, but Koh Tao was the place where my nail life changed forever; I discovered shellac! Gel nails, in which the nail varnish lasts weeks and weeks on end without chipping. Some of us visited a beauty salon for massages and nail treatments; I decided to go for a mani-pedi, shellac on the hands and normal nail varnish on the tootsies – with everything in Thailand being so much cheaper than the UK it was a perfect bargain. I chose a bright yellow shade, and it looked so perfect that my lifelong habit of biting my nails disappeared – in fear of ruining my shellac! Two months on, my nails are healthy and super long! It sounds ridiculous but I’m so excited by this, as I’d never ever had nice nails before. I’m a changed woman!

KT16

Snorkelling

My absolute favourite memory of Koh Tao – and one of my many favourite activities I did on this trip – was a snorkelling day trip on what can only be described as a boat of death (not quite the Titanic, but I feared it would have a similar end).

As I mentioned before, monsoon season was on the horizon, and the day of this trip the weather was quite horrendous. The wind and rain made the boat extremely rocky; I’ve never experienced sea-sickness in my life until that point. It genuinely felt like the boat was going to topple right over, I absolutely hated it at first.

snorkelling5

But as the weather started to let up, and we stopped off at the first island for some snorkelling, the day soon improved. I’d never snorkelled properly before, so me being me I was a bit frightened, but it was absolutely wonderful. I got to see some stunning and colourful fish very close up, and sort of got chased by them when some of the lads threw food into the sea near us! It was an incredible experience, and another one of those moments where I thought “wow, I’m here, in Thailand, doing some incredible things that I’d never dreamt of doing before.” What made it even better was seeing one of my friends who couldn’t swim get into the deep sea and go underwater; couldn’t have been more proud of her.

Snorkel times 🐠

A post shared by Natalie Goode (@goodenatalie) on

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Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any more exciting, we stopped off at the final destination of the trip; Nangyuan Island. I can honestly say I’ve never seen or been to such an idyllic and tranquil destination. Thailand seems to be a “there is no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs” sort of place, evident by what felt like a climb of 13726836 steps to get to the viewing area where you can take in the outstanding views of the island. It was SO worth it, just look at it…

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Being in Nangyuan Island felt like stepping into a screensaver. The beauty was just indescribable. The water in the sea was so ridiculously clear, you could see your feet in it and can barely tell where the air ends and the water begins.

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This island was a beautiful way to end a magnificent day.

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Our final night in Koh Tao was spent in one of the best ways we knew how; by getting notoriously drunk of course. Sadly, the monsoon-ness of our time in Koh Tao meant we couldn’t go out-out on this night, as it was pissing it down with rain and the best bars in the island are open air. So we raided a 7/11 for alcohol and played drinking games in the hotel. Most of us were sensibly drunk, whereas one member of the group drank an entire bottle of Jameson to himself in a very short period of time and spoke to my family on facetime! It was so funny though, and a lovely way to spend our last night all together; as the next day we would lose two of our girlies in the group as they were only on the 3 week leg of the Thai Adventure – meaning they were heading onwards *sad face*

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Saying goodbye to these girls and Koh Tao made me realise what I loved about Koh Tao most, which was hanging out with my amazing new group of friends in a leisurely fashion. I love them all so much (which I shall talk about more in a future post).

So next stop, the full moon party island of Koh Phangan; but before that I’ve gotta say thank you Koh Tao, for a wet and wonderful time; I will definitely see you again in the future! So until next time…

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Koh Samui; dam-building, alcohol-consuming and beach paradise

After an all-together 12 hour coach – boat – coach journey from Ayutthaya, we arrived in a place of relaxed vibes, gold sand beaches and turquoise sea. Paradise seems too small of a word to describe the stunning island of Koh Samui.

After two weeks of traveling through mainland Thailand; trekking, elephant riding, ziplining, white water rafting and cycling, I think our minds and bodies needed an island break, and what an incredible place to begin. Our accommodation, Samui Econo Lodge, was absolutely wonderful; myself and two friends were lucky enough to be allocated a room that was like a penthouse suite! It was absolutely huge, had a double bed, a single bed, a sofabed, a kitchen, A BATH! It was literally a dream. It wasn’t long before the rest of the group came to have a nose at how epic our room was and continued to just barge in whenever they pleased – party roooom!!

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After dumping our stuff and reveling in our palace of a room, we headed straight for the beach. I’ve been to a lot of beautiful beaches in my time, such as those in the Caribbean, but the beaches in Koh Samui were like nothing I’ve ever experienced before; I felt like I’d stepped straight into a “wish you were here” postcard.

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Over the course of our 4 days in Koh Samui we had some fabulous times on the beach; sunbathing, playing frisbee in the sea, teaching one of our girls how to swim, eating the best club sandwiches and drinking fruit smoothies in beachside bars, eating our bodyweight in ice cream, and just generally having lots of giggles. By this point I felt like I was on holiday with life-long friends – it’s crazy to think we’d only known eachother for two weeks at that time. I felt so lucky to be where I was, with the people I was with; it was like a much better version of your typical coming-of-age holidays to Magaluf or Ibiza.

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We didn’t waste any time in getting into the party spirit. Our first evening on the island saw us girls go all out with our appearance (most of your time spent traveling you look like a pork scratching – at least I did anyway), getting dressed up, made up, straightening eachother’s hair – lucky I brought my straighteners along eh? Everyone was using them!

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We went out for a meal as a group to Charming Restaurant, which does what it says on the tin really. The food was great and the cocktails were lovely…”boom boom on the beach!” We carried on to a little bar near our hotel, in which some of us snuck bottles of vodka in, one of the girls ended up with a pool cue in her eye, and my friend and I ended up getting quite drunk – her more so than me! Spent the night holding her hair up as she puked in the toilet, when in Rome eh?

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The next morning saw our volunteering project begin, with a spot of dam-building; which didn’t immediately sound that interesting, but it was actually lots of fun. The building of new dam’s in the river helps the flow of clean water in these rural areas, so we did a worthwhile thing. Our group made a very good team, some of us (myself included) mixing cement, some people went to gather rocks, some laid the rocks, and we were all like a factory system – passing buckets of water up the line to make the cement, and passing buckets of cement down. We completed our dam in a couple of hours, much quicker than other teams, we were told; and all signed our names whilst the cement was still wet, whereas one of the lads decided to stick his face in it – coz writing your name is just SO mainstream.

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Our next volunteer project was in a school, which I was so excited about; at home I’m a support worker for people with special needs, I love working with children and I was really looking forward to meeting some Thai kids. Unfortunately, it was half term, so the kids weren’t actually there; gutted! Our task was to paint one of the classrooms pink, which of course was much easier to do when the kids weren’t there. This was a two day task, which was actually rather enjoyable. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of DIY at home, and I get quite OCD over it; so I just got on with the task, whilst having giggles with the group, singing, chatting etc. Although we didn’t get to meet any children, it was nice knowing that the kids would hopefully appreciate a colourful new learning space.

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I may not have got to meet any children at the school, but it soon became clear what they do during half term; sell crap on the beach at nighttime and start cuddling the shit out of you in order to trick you into buying stuff. On our penultimate night in Koh Samui we visited Ark Bar – a bar on the beach which we would be going to again the next day for a beach/pool party. It was a cool place, with benches on the sand, a staggering choice of cocktails, fire dancers and banging music! So yes, you’re sitting there, enjoying your cocktails when these adorable kids come up to you selling things like glow-stick glasses, flower necklaces and other junk that you’d absolutely never need in your life – but the children are so bloody cute it’s hard to say no! Sneaky marketing trick there. Grown-up sales merchants also bothered you, selling jewelry, sarongs, and some rather weird stuff; one woman put something which felt like a vibrator on my back, and there are also sales merchants with live monkeys and lizards which they just put into your hands, take a photo and force you to buy the polaroid. (We didn’t fall for that though, ain’t nobody got time for that)

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The following night is when the real party began, the beach & pool party! I can absolutely 100% say that this was the craziest night of the trip in so many ways. It all started off fine, with a buffet dinner and one free drink included in the ticket price, we met some nice people from all over the world and had some good old chats in the sea…that was the calm before the storm, which very quickly turned into being absolutely rat-arsed (being drunk in the sea is such a surreal feeling), some frolicks that couldn’t possibly be shared on the internet, and some drama that made Geordie (or Jersey) Shore look tame.

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It was an epic night though, and if you remove the bad parts, it was a fabulous way to wrap up our time in Koh Samui. I’ve taken away some wonderful and insane memories from this place, and I will definitely be returning one day.

Until next time, bye bye Koh Samui and onto Koh Tao

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Ayutthaya; bike ride, temple ruins & a Bangkok pit stop

Ayutthaya is a place bursting with history. The long and short of it is, the city was founded in 1350 by King Ramathibodi, which back when Thailand was named Siam, was the capital city of Thailand; full of important monasteries and temples. Fast forward some 700 years and a destruction by the Burmese in 1767, the city is full of Ancient temple ruins, and little else.

Another long coach journey from Chiang Mai (broken up by a trip to KFC, in which they give you glasses instead of cups and bring your food over to you) brought us to Ayutthaya on a Friday afternoon: the place was literally dead. An honest description of Ayutthaya would be that it’s a contrast between the beautiful and…erm…the not so beautiful. An eery quietness of the area made it seem quite sleazy, we were warned by our tour guide to not even go to the 7/11 round the corner from our hotel on our own. The hotel we stayed in was actually lovely, when you walked in it looked as posh as The Hilton! Bit of a bummer that we only had the luxury of that hotel for one night, in a location that wasn’t so luxurious.

We took a larger version of the Tuk Tuks we’d experienced in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, to a beautiful looking restaurant that overlooked the river; the problem was, the service was terrible, there were bugs on the plates one of our groupies actually ended up eating somewhere else! But hey ho, that’s the beauty of travelling; not everywhere you visit will be quite up to your standard, and you will experience things that gross you out a bit. Anyway, we decided to go to Tesco (yep, UK people, Thailand have Tesco!), grab an ice cream and carry on.

The following day saw Ayutthaya redeem itself, as we embarked on a bicycle ride around the Ancient temple ruins. When I was a kid, my bike was my life, but I hadn’t really ridden one since! Riding a bike for the first time in the best part of 8 years, in a country where there’s seemingly no speed limits for cars, more motorbikes and scooters than cars and where traffic lights seemed to be ignored, with NO HELMET ON was a terrifying prospect. But, you guessed it, I loved it! (This seems to be becoming a pattern)

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Riding a bike through Ayutthaya in all it’s glory, wind in my face, swerving in and out of all the vehicles on the road was a pretty amazing feeling – as cliche as it sounds – it was one of those moments where I felt really free, and really appreciated what I was doing. It also made me appreciate that Ayutthaya is in fact really beautiful, even the not so beautiful parts.

The first temple our bike ride took us to was the Wat Phra Mahathat, which is now a registered UNESCO world heritage site. It’s strange to think that what once was a full on temple could still remain so beautiful just as ruins. Some of the exact spots we stood in were walked through by the King as a celebration, and in the 20th century the temple was very likely surrounded by canals and moats…but no more. It was all very interesting, our tour guide went through some facts and history with us, if you’re interested in hearing all about it then…look it up yourselves lol.

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We were soon back on our bikes to the next lot of temple ruins, Wat Lokaya Sutha, which is home to another massive Reclining Buddha (see previous posts for the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok).

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After a quick stop to take a group snap with the Reclining Buddha we were on our way again, to Wat Phra Si Sanphet, in which the ruins of the ancient Royal Palace can also be seen. There were some very spiritual moments here: such as putting a coin on the Buddha statues ear, which represents a wish for a long life; and being given a wristband which wishes you good luck, good health etc.

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Overall, my less than 24 hours in Ayutthaya was very enjoyable. It was short and sweet, but it was all the time we needed to explore the main attractions of the Ancient city.

We were soon back on the road again, heading for our island adventures in Koh Samui. A coach journey of a couple of hours took us back to Bangkok, where a 5 hour wait for the next public coach forced me to buy a load of crap on Khao San Road that I didn’t need, and we got caught up in a torrential rain shower! So folks, our mainland Thai adventures drew to a close, and we were so ready for some relaxation on the islands…stay tuned for my next posts to hear about my volunteering in Koh Samui, Snorkelling on Koh Tao, and the Full Moon Beach party on Koh Phangan!

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Chiang Mai town; tigers, temples and tipsy times

After an epic and somewhat messy 48 hours in the Thai jungle, getting back to civilisation, showers, western toilets – and of course WIFI – was a much-needed luxury! Upon our arrival in the city of Chiang Mai, it wasn’t long before I jumped into the pool in the lovely Lai-Thai guest house and spent the rest of the day lounging in the sun.

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After a western style dinner – which our hungover arses were all craving – some more temple exploring was the first thing on the agenda the next day.

The 45 minute taxi journey to the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep temple was another example of a literal uphill struggle, 1676 metres above sea level! I’m not usually one to get travel sick, but even I felt nauseous; the mixture of rain and seeing a few vehicles not make it to the top of the hill didn’t exactly help my nerves. My legs were uncontrollably shaking, I thought there was something wrong with me, but I believe it was just my body adjusting to being so high up! Thankfully, the beauty of this Buddhist temple was absolutely breathtaking, although it would’ve been made better by being able to see the rest of the city from such a high altitude – but it was too foggy! It was a lovely place though, the temple was like another little community; with a market selling lots of little gifts and trinkets – t-shirts, scarves, ornaments, postcards – you name it.

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The next activity of the day required many hours of ethical debate – and against the wishes of my mum – myself and a few others in the group decided to visit Tiger Kingdom. Some of my friends back home seemed quite mad at me for doing this, and I was a little mad at myself because the ethics are extremely questionable. However I don’t regret it, as I’ve wanted to get up close and personal with tigers for years; and every experience you have, whether it’s good or bad, is an experience never the less. So in I went, into an enclosed space with humungous tigers who were just laying down and didn’t really have the faintest idea what was going on. I admit that was quite an uncomfortable experience, which is why I enjoyed seeing the tiger cubs so much more! The babies were fully aware and engaging, they played with you, crawled over you like puppies and kittens; they were the best snuggle buddies you could possibly ask for. All the tigers, big and small were absolutely stunning; I knew there was a reason why these beautiful creatures are my favourites.

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Playing with the baby tigers was such a wonderful experience; they were just so adorable! I can’t explain how it made me feel – but I felt all fuzzy and warm inside for days afterwards. I don’t think I would visit a place like this again, but I’m pleased I got to do it once – and despite the harsh words of people who didn’t agree with my choice, I’m glad I made the choice without being swayed by what others would think and stood up for myself.

After such an excitable day, a drink (or several) was definitely in order. A trip to the salon for a pedicure with a few of the girls was followed by a lovely meal with the group, and a trip to the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. By now, I felt like I was an absolute pro at haggling, however it seemed that asking for 2 pairs of elephant pants for 250 baht when the original price was 350 was probably a little steep (oops). Anyway, after we’d had enough of shopping, ended up getting lost, giving up and getting a tuk tuk instead, we headed out to paint the town red. The club we went to, which I believe was called Spice or Spicy club (?), was ABSOLUTELY BANGING! The music and vibe was just amazing, I had the best time; danced the night away with my pals, watched as my lad friends attempted to pull lady boys, saw a ladyboy fight, and I attempted to down half a bucket of what can only be described as 25% mixer and 75% alcohol. I did quite well with my attempted downage but I had to give up in the end as it tasted SO grim. In typical British fashion, we ended the night in McDonalds, and rolled into the hotel at 6am. It was such a funny night, even writing this post two months on I’m still giggling at the things that went on that night.

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As you can imagine, I was extremely hungover the next morning; but when you’re traveling on an organised group tour, you can’t just spend a hungover day in bed watching endless episodes of your fave TV show, there’s always something else to do. That day, it was White Water Rafting. If you’re anything like I was and don’t really know what White Water Rafting is, I can only describe it as being similar to the water rapid rides in Thorpe Park, Universal or any similar theme park; except you’re controlling the boats yourselves and you’re in a real rapid river!

I literally did not know what to expect, but like every activity I blindly signed up for on this trip, I fricking LOVED it! It was absolutely unreal! In simple terms, you’re in what is basically an inflatable boat, with about 4 or 5 other people, each with a rowing paddle. You have to follow the commands of your instructor, such as “stop”, “paddle forward”, “paddle backwards”, “over left”, “over right”, “down” and “up”. For example, when you’re about to go down a slope where the river rapids were fast, you’d have to get down, keeping your arms and legs inside the boat. Those moments were so epic, it really felt like I was on a theme park ride!

Unfortunately, not everyone in the group had as much fun as I did; one of the boats turned over, causing a few of the gang to get stuck under water – including one of the girls who doesn’t know how to swim! I really felt for them, it must have been so frightening. I’m really proud of them though, they were so brave and didn’t let that experience stop them from doing other adrenaline full activities over the course of the trip.

The rafting took every last bit of energy out of me, which made me appreciate the Thai massage I had that evening even more. I’d never had a massage before, so being in Thailand where an hour massage costs the equivalent of £4 seemed like a great time to start. I have to say, that massage was absolutely phenomenal! Being pulled, cracked and stretched in all sorts of positions, as well as being gently rubbed all over felt like being in heaven! (I didn’t mean for that sentence to sound as dirty and innuendo-filled as it came out)

The following morning saw our time in Chiang Mai draw to a close. Including the time we spent in the jungle, the week spent in Chiang Mai felt more like several – as there was SO much packed into such a short space of time. I felt like I did more in a week than I’ve done in 6 months. I felt sad saying goodbye to this vibrant & cultural city, which felt like a more chilled out version of Bangkok, I loved it so much!

Thank you Chiang Mai, you taught me;

  • that you can do as much or as little as you please in the time you have
  • how to immerse myself into new cultures
  • that seat belts (or even seats) are not required in all vehicles, and speed limits are to be ignored
  • how to use a squat toilet
  • to always have hand sanitizer and tissues in your possession
  • failing on the previous point; drip drying is okay

Bye bye Chiang Mai, until next time…next stop, Ayutthaya!

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Chiang Mai; elephants, trekking and jungle adventures (part 2)

*DISCLAIMER* I am SO sorry it has taken me over a month to continue this blog. I’ve been so busy with Christmas and the rest of it…but good news, I got a laptop for Christmas so I can keep on top of this blog writing malarkey now.

Just to refresh your minds as to what was in my last blog post Chiang Mai; elephants, trekking and jungle adventures (part 1): I discussed my near death experience on an elephant, ziplining through the breathtaking Thai jungles and meeting the Long-Neck village tribe. My life changing experiences in the hills of Thailand didn’t end there; and this day I’m about to tell you about – which may have ended with me being drunk as a skunk, in a bamboo hut – was actually the most eye opening day of my life.

With my new Nike runners on my feet, rucksack on my back and water in hand, the day began with an uphill struggle, in the most literal sense. I’m a very unfit person, anyone who knows me would assume that trekking through a jungle in the midday sun, sweating like a whore in church, would be my worst nightmare – but I loved it and it was worth every second. It’s the harder things you do in life that you remember, right? Usually, I get worn out just walking to the bus stop, so I decided to take it slow, often slacking behind everybody else, taking in the incredible views of lush green forest…we even saw a cow! I also took this time as an opportunity to get to know my new pals; having deep discussions about our jobs and home life whilst climbing through trees and rocks, trying not to fall on our arses.

     

The trek was broken up by a lunch break in which we enjoyed rice out of a bamboo leaf, with the whole jungle at our feet…literally!

We also enjoyed a dip in a glorious waterfall, the feeling of getting to that point after walking in the heat for so long was like walking down the freezer aisle of a supermarket on a summer’s day but 100000000x better.

    

After a bit more walking, we ended up at our accommodation for the night; a bamboo hut. In all honesty, this was the part of the trip I was least looking forward to; essentially sleeping outside, dealing with squat toilets, so close to all the natural essences of the world…but that’s what made it so great! I would go as far as saying this was the best night of the trip for me, hence the eye-opening experiences I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I learnt that the simple, natural elements of life are enough to make me happy; a night where you’re cut off from the outside world, no internet, surrounded by nature and good people is something I would recommend to everyone. It clears your mind and helps you realise what is important in life.

     

The evening included helping the local villagers cook dinner for us all over a bonfire and enjoying the meal together surrounded by natural beauty and stunning views, all 18 of us sleeping on mattresses on the floor surrounded by mosquito nets…it was just so surreal. And of course, there was something else involved in the amount of fun we had, something which already seemed to be a running theme of the trip; alcohol of course!

   

We arrived at the bamboo hut at 3pm, we were straight on the beers and absolutely f*cked by 6:40pm (I only know the exact time as we were all yelling “IT’S 6.40!! WE’RE DRUNK ALREADY!”), and didn’t stop til 1am! Being that intoxicated, in the middle of a jungle, playing weird drinking games with even weirder concoctions of drink, dancing on a bamboo balcony which felt like it was going to collapse beneath me felt like an alcohol induced version of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here mixed with The Hunger Games; but it was one of the best experiences of my life and I couldn’t be more grateful.

So the next day, after a 10 hour drinking binge, the thought of trekking back down the hill made me want to gauge my eyeballs out, but in actual fact, walking is a great hangover cure. The rest of the day was spent bamboo rafting, which was another surreal but incredible relaxing experience; despite the threat of our bamboo boat being turned over – The driver(? is that what you call them?) spared us because I had glasses on, didn’t wanna lose them did I…Anyway, the bamboo rafting was followed by a nice lunch – which I almost choked on (was it the hot chilli sauce? did the noodles just get stuck in my throat? we’ll never know) – before heading into Chiang Mai town and back to civilisation…