Monday, August 30, 2010

I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference

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Bangkok, Thailand

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Bangkok, Thailand

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Sihanoukville, Cambodia

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Bamboo Island, Cambodia

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Bamboo Island, Cambodia

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Singapore

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Singapore

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Taipei, Taiwan

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
- Excerpt from "The Road Not Taken" by Richard Frost

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Full moon party, July 2010

Here's a video of people jumping the fire ropes. That's me and my buddies yelling in the background. One of our buddies was waiting in line to jump so we were egging him on hehehe

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Good times! Here are some pictures from the party.

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I took the next picture on the boat ride from Koh Phangan ( the island where the full moon party takes place) to mainland Thailand.

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In case you were wondering, Yes! my trip is over and everything seems so weird. To be quite honest, I am not exactly happy about being back. On the bright side though, I won a poetry fellowship at my Uni. From what I've heard, it is kind of a big deal and I would have more time to focus on my writing. I hope you all had an amazing summer and thanks for reading my rushed and probably grammatically incorrect ramblings. All the best.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tired of retirement and back into the swing of things

Hey everyone, it's been too long. I'm going to promise to keep this one short but don't take my word for it. You know me and my knack for writing lengthy posts don't you? ;-) So I ended my last post in Nong Khai, Thailand. I went there to volunteer for this volunteer organization called Isara. If you have ever done some research about volunteer organizations, you probably already know that most of them charge you a hefty fee. There was even a recent scandal about CEOs of volunteer organizations earning millions. I will talk more about this in another post dedicated solely to volunteering. Isara, on the other hand, does not charge you a single penny. All they require from you is passion and enthusiasm to help the community by teaching English and helping with other projects like recycling etc. My first week at Isara was quite eventful. The volunteers and I bonded immediately. We started off by going to the sculpture park which was simply mind blowing.







That's me in the first picture posing with some sculptures. I fit right in with the rest of the gang, wouldn't you agree? All of these phenomenal pieces of art were done by a Laotian artist.



It was also the height of world cup fever so 7/11 stores were decorated with flags. The rest of the week was dedicated to teaching English and devising curricula for the different age groups of students we were teaching. It was a blast. I loved the kids at the local public school best. They are extremely grateful, passionate and never fail to put a smile on your face. Here a few pictures of our time at the public school.





We also taught at another public school and the students were equally amazing to work with.





I was also fortunate enough to witness Isara's helmet campaign. In Nong Khai, motorbikes and scooters are the main means of transportation. A lot of people don't wear helmets and this results in heavy casualties during motorbike accidents. Isara has been creating a lot of awareness about the importance of helmets and the tv crew from a famous show in Thailand called "I love Thailand" were even present to film everything. They were doing a special on the founder of Isara. Pics below






This little guy in the picture above a riot. He kept walking around and taking pictures of everything and everyone. My three and the half weeks at Isara was literally the highlight of my trip. I met amazing volunteers from all over the world (well, mostly from England and America lol but you get the point). I had the opportunity to finally live with and around Thai people. I learned so much about their culture and customs (what's the different between culture and customs by the way?). I even learned quite a little bit of Thai which made my English classes a lot easier.I also fed aggressive cat fish...





who jump out of the water to get food (as you can from the picture above). Crazy! Saying goodbye to Isara was hard but the journey had to continue. My next stop? Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. My mission? trekking and rafting. If you recall, I told you that I traveled to Cambodia with this guy I had met in Bangkok. He left Cambodia early to head to Chiang Mai while I continued to explore Cambodia. He told me he stayed at this amazing hostel called Julie's hostel so he recommended it for me. I took a bus from Nong Khai to Udon Thani and then took an overnight bus from Udon Thani to Chiang Mai. I sat next to this American volunteer who worked at a school on the Burmese border. He was very intriguing but somewhat eccentric. He lived a very sheltered life in the mountains of Montana. They didn't have electricity or running water or even the internet. I was very fascinated by his life story but when he started making statements like "Barack Obama is trying to kill the older generation. He put toxic chemicals in the bird flu vaccines which would slowly kill off the older generation..." I knew it was time for me to sleep. I got to Chiang Mai in the morning, took a tuk tuk to Julie's hostel and luckily they had a room in a four bed dorm available for me. Here's a random shot of Chiang Mai



Ok! so if you remember in my previous post when I went back to Bangkok for the second time (or was it third?) I said "The following day, when I was about to leave, I bumped into this British lad I had met the last time I was in Bangkok. How random is that?"

and then I went on to say

"When we were saying our goodbyes, the British lad was like "goodbye, travel safe..." etc etc. I was like "I might probably bump into you again buddy". Considering how I randomly bumped into people I met in earlier destinations, I won't be surprised if I bumped into him again. Not at all."

Remember? ok! so as I was in front of the receptionist's desk at Julie's hostel in Chiang Mai, guess who I saw walking up to me? the British lad. How random is that? this was the third time I bumped into him. It felt great to see a familiar face. When you are backpacking by yourself, going to a new place feels like you are starting all over again because you have to make new friends. So yeah, it felt really good to see someone I already knew. Just as I predicted, I bumped into him again. The next day, my British buddy and I joined a group of 10 amazing dutch people for a trekking adventure. Our tour guide's name was Puzaa and he was the coolest dude you've ever met.



We started off elephant riding. My buddy from England and I had the laziest elephant. All he wanted to do was eat. After the rides, we started our four hour trek to the top of the mountain.



Me in my waterproof Vietnamese hat and that's our insanely cool guide next to me. We got to the top finally and



for the first night, we slept in one of the mountain villages who migrated from Burma I believe. This is a picture of our hut.



There were two dutch families in the group of ten dutch people and they were the nicest people. They were looking after my buddy from England and I as if we were their own children. Very nice people. Day two, we trekked some more. Visited some waterfalls, swam...



climbed more hills and ended up in the second village to spend the night. After playing card games and chatting with the gang till midnight, my buddy and I went out to explore a little bit and got into some trouble ;-) you know, the type of trouble young boys get into. For the third day, we did white water rafting and bamboo rafting. The experience was amazing. It was my first time rafting and I absolutely loved it. I think I might pick it up as a hobby even though I don't live close to any wild rivers. I might have to start scouting for rafting opportunities all over the country when I head back. After rafting, we ate, said our goodbyes and my buddy and I were dropped off at Julie's hostel. The next few days consisted of meeting new people, talking about politics, drinking, sitting around, drinking some more, and talking some more. I met some more amazing people. These cool guys from France, this really down to earth girl from Ireland and this very interesting English/French guy with a lot of interesting stories. Unfortunately, time came for us to say our goodbyes.



We all had different routes. I was going down south while my buddy from England was heading into Laos and then flying back to England in a week. This was definitely the last time I was going to see him. He is only 19 years old but I feel like I learned so much from him. He acts way more mature than his age and he's a very intelligent guy. The Irish girl was heading into Pai, the French guys were going to Phuket and the English/French guy was meeting a few friends and then heading to another location. I have to admit, it was a little emotional saying goodbye. When you travel alone, the people you bond with become your support system. It's like you've known them forever. Anyways, I took the night bus from Chiang Mai and headED to Bangkok. I spent the day in Bangkok and then took another night bus from Bangkok to Krabi. We got to Krabi in the morning, took a dilapidated and raggedy bus to Krabi town



I took a speed boat from Krabi to Tong sai bay, my next destination. The English/French guy recommended Tong sai to me. He said it was very mellow, chill and a guaranteed good time. He was definitely right. It was less touristy so not a lot of tourists (which is a good thing sometimes). Food was more expensive relatively to other places in Thailand but accommodation was cheap. I lived in these bungalows up in the forest. I had one bungalow to myself and I paid 100 baht per night (100 baht is about 4 dollars). The bungalow had a fan, large bed, pillow, mosquito net and bathroom. One thing I really appreciated about Tongsai bay was that it was a true nature experience...no technology, no tourists, just nature. Electricity was only available from 6pm to 6am. They did have a few internet places but they are ridiculously expensive so no one goes there. While walking on the beach, I met this really cool French Canadian girl I had met in Chiang Mai. In fact, she shared the same dorm with me and my buddy from England in Julie's hostel (Chiang Mai). Random huh? I also met this other guy from New Zealand so three of us explored together. Some pictures of Tongsai bay





In the second picture, I'm on Reiley beach and as you can see, I shaved my hair *gasp* say it ain't so. Well, I really don't know why I did it. Spur of the moment I guess. I think when you travel, you should do random things so I guess this is my random moment. Don't regret though. It feels insanely good when fresh air caresses my scalp. My only concern now is what to do with all the hats I own. I wonder. Back to the adventure. So yeah, Tong sai was great: prestine beaches, bob marley bars at night with waiters who would hook you up with the "right stuff" at a decent price too ;-), beautiful sunsets, rock climbing, delicious margaritas and good people. Here's a video of me in my bungalow in the forest on a rainy day. Nothing particularly interesting happens (except the tree which almost collapses because of the harsh winds) so watch it when you have time. I believe it's like a minute long. video

My next stop? the FULL MOON PARTY. I'm sure you must have heard about the full moon parties. If you haven't, then google it. It is the biggest parties in South East Asia and they take place every month on Koh Phangan, a southern Island. It is estimated that around 30,000 people show up each month for the party. The July full moon party is also said to be the biggest full moon party and I was going to attend the july one. A friend I know from America was also coming to the July full moon party with some buddies so we decided to meet up. I headed to Koh Phangan with the French Canadian girl, the new zealand guy and a German guy we met on the bus. For the first night, which was a sunday, we stayed at a resort a little far from the main beach. The main beach is on Haad rin and that is where the full moon party takes place. We arrived on a sunday and the full moon party was on a Wednesday. After settling into our rooms, we took a taxi to the main beach, Haad rin that same night and it was INSANE. OMG!!!!
so many people dancing, djs blasting music, shirtless guys, girls with only bras and panties, bars serving mushroom shakes, a sea of alcohol stands and the list goes on. It was just madness. We had a good time that night. The music was great and I met so many cool people on the beach. Let me give you an idea of how crazy the alcohol stands look like



The next day, my good friend arrived with two of his buddies. They got a room closer to the beach so me and the other guys decided to get a place closer to the beach too. The French Canadian girl was going to Koh Tao, another island, the next day so there was really no need for her to find a place close to the beach. The new zealand guy wanted to stay somewhere more quiet (the main beach is where the party is so it's noisy). So the German guy and I kept walking all over the main beach looking for a place. Every single place we went to was fully booked and the places which had rooms available were ridiculously expensive. If you ever go to Koh phangan for the full moon party and you intend on staying on the main beach, Haad rin, make sure you book at least a month in advance. We finally found a place close to where my friend from America and his buddies were staying but it was a complete shithole. The price was good though so since we were on a budget, we took it. We were going to be drunk most of the time anyways so a decent room was not very necessary. Monday was buddha day so no loud music was allowed. Thus, it was a quiet night. Tuesday, the eve of the full moon party, was just as insane as sunday night. Music was pounding the entire day and the party at night was sick. That night, I bumped into two dutch girls who were on the trekking trip in Chiang Mai. We danced for a bit and then I lost them in the crowd. In fact, I lost all of my friends that night within 2o minutes so I just ended up meeting random strangers and dancing with them. It was so much fun. Someone I was dancing with stole my hat though. Not cool. There were drunk people jumping on fire ropes...



and fire rings



In case you are wondering if I tried jumping through fire, the answer is a BIG FAT N-O!!. There were also people sliding down slides into a pile of hard mattresses on the beach. That, I did try and it was effin amazing.



That's me preparing to take a slide. Ok! let's move on to the full moon party itself. It was even more crazier than the Tuesday night I just described. My buddy from America and I randomly met this guy who went to the same university we went to in America. He graduated in December 2008 and my buddy and I both graduated in the summer of 2009. How random is that? by now, you would have noticed that a lot of random things happen when you backpack. Anyways, the full moon party was mental. SO much craziness happened that night, I don't even know where I start so I won't. I'll just say so much craziness happened that night.



The party went on till around 9 or 10am the next morning. Even after 10am, there were still people dancing and partying on the beach. Around 8am in the morning, my buddy and I were just walking on the beach and seeing what was going on. We saw people passed out, wallets everywhere, people dancing on poles, empty bottles, the ocean smelt like piss because everyone was obviously pissing in the ocean during the night, people playing guitar despite the loud music, stray dogs, alcohol sellers etc etc. I took this picture, which has to be one of my favorite pictures of the full moon party.



I like the picture because you can see the hospital sign in front and the party in the background. Why is the hospital sign hilarious? well, it's a hospital sign planted at the center of the party. Trust me, the sign is very necessary because a lot of people injured themselves. One of our buddies burnt his leg jumping through the fire rope so he had to run to the hospital for some bandages and medicine. I thought I was going to spend a lot more time on the islands, just sitting on the beach, soaking up the sun and then drinking and partying at night. The truth is, this routine gets old. After about 2 weeks island hopping, I had had enough. You know you hear stories of those old couples who go into retirement on beautiful resorts but then get tired of it and have to do something more laborious and productive? well I felt like that. I was tired of retirement and decided to get back into the swing of things. After the full moon party, I spent one more day on Koh Phangan and I headed out. Getting out of the island was a mess. Thousands and thousands of people were also heading out so the queuing was just ridiculous...and you know how hot Thailand is so imagine standing outside with thousands of people, crammed together like sardines. It was horrid. The boat which took us to mainland was equally a horrendous experience because it was PACKED!!!! I eventually got out, boarded the bus to bangkok and lost my cellphone along the way. While in Bangkok, I decided to head back to Isara to do some more volunteer work. So later that night, I boarded the train and headed up North. I arrived safely and headed to Isara. I have been volunteering for about a week now and I am absolutely enjoying it. Unfortunately, the adventure is about to end very soon. The academic year is about to start and I have to head back for school and other responsibilities and demands in the real world *sigh* This summer trip has been everything I wanted it to be and more. I have learned so much about myself, and I have strengthened my beliefs about life. I am also very grateful for all the amazing people I have met because they all inspire me in one way or the other, they really do. Ok! I'm sure this post is about 50 pages long so I'll end here. Stay safe.

XoXo
a boy from anotherplanet