A Little Town Called Ungarie

Each year, thousands of backpackers who are seeking to acquire a second year visa are forced, by the evil Australian government, to complete three months of farm work in a rural area of Australia. It's hard enough to even find a job that's eligible, let alone one that meets the criteria, pays well and doesn't involve some form of abuse from the employer.

Although you hear of more 'farm work' horror stories than nice ones, some backpackers get pretty lucky, and enjoy their farm work. In very rare cases, some get so lucky that they even enjoy it enough to return to the place that they completed their 88 days, and decide to spend the rest of their time in Australia living there...

Ungarie, New South Wales. Population 399, (according to the sign upon arrival, anyway...) For someone who grew up in a city as vibrant and busy as Bristol, moving to a rural area with such a tiny population is a fairly daunting experience - it feels like you're in the absolute middle of nowhere for a start - the supermarket is over 40km away, (which feels like forever when you've grown up having three within a ten minute walking distance), all you can see for miles and miles is farm land, and most nerve-racking of all, you're new in town and everyone knows it.

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Nerves aside, I was warmly welcomed and ended up enjoying my time in Ungarie so much that I became one of the very lucky few that loved it enough to return and call it home for another eight months. Eight months which have seemed to fly by far too quickly, whilst somehow also plodding along slowly enough that I almost feel as though I was always there.

It's a funny feeling, arriving somewhere with a blank slate, and leaving it, a new home. Thanks to this tiny little town, I now have a full understanding of the word 'community,' I've learned what it feels like to be able to leave your doors unlocked, your belongings on the bar, certain they'll still be there when you return. I've spent the last eight months living amongst people that are always willing to go out of their way to help. I've won meat raffles, attended football games, been exposed to country music, (even enjoyed country music!) I've become accustomed to waving back when someone's car passes my car on the way to town, developed an interest in tractors, can tell you which beer anyone in town drinks and even how much rain has (or hasn't) fallen that day.

I'm not sure I ever could have imagined growing so fond of a place, but it's been near impossible not to fall head over heels in love with the little rural community where you're sure to find smiling faces, a whole ton of laughs, and if you're there at the right time, the local copper using his jukebox credits to play 'Backstreet Boys!'

Eight months has gone far too quickly, but I know for sure I'll be back. A huge thanks to the Australian government for allowing me to discover somewhere to call a second home, and an even bigger thank you to Ungarie itself, for adopting me and making me feel so welcome. See you next year. x

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Half the World Away

A flashback to Pai, November 2016. My friend Liam and I are staying at a Circus School. We're watching the evening fire show, when my phone starts to vibrate in my shorts pocket. A FaceTime call from Nan. My gut instinct is to panic. My Nan NEVER FaceTimes me - she hates being on camera, and that instinctively rings alarm bells in my head. I run off to a quiet spot to answer, and as the image on screen springs to life, I'm met with the shaky and breathless voice of my Nan - she sounds panicked.

"Emma, the bombs. Are you ok? Are you safe? The bombs." 

I have NO idea what my Nan is talking about and I try to calm her. 

"Nan, I'm safe, there are no bombs. I'm watching a show. What's wrong?"

"I saw it on the news, the bombs, in Baghdad. That's where you are, isn't it? Baghdad?"

I try to stifle a little laugh. 

"No, Nan, I think you're thinking of Bangkok. I'm in Thailand. And I'm nowhere near Bangkok anyway..." 

Happy in the knowledge that I've not been injured or killed in Iraq, Nan talks to me a little on the phone, her camera now pointing at her ceiling, no longer on her face. She makes me promise that 'If I can't be good, to be careful,' we say our goodbyes, and I head back to finish watching the rest of the show with Liam, overcome with affection for my beloved Nan.

Unfortunately, in early January 2017, Nan passed away peacefully in her home. I was just about to leave Thailand and fly to India. Making the decision as to whether I should get on that plane to India or to fly back home was the hardest decision I think I've ever had to make. In the end, I chose to continue on with my travels - heavily influenced with the knowledge that it's what my Nan would have wanted. I don't regret getting on that plane to India, but I can easily say that over the next couple of weeks, I have never felt further away from home.

I could relay thousands of stories to you about this brilliant lady. Nearly all of them would make you laugh. Most of the photos or videos that were taken on my travels were taken with my Nan in mind. I'm pretty certain that if I asked someone to stop and take a photo of me, I will have used the phrase "Can you please take a picture of me here - it's for my Nan." I know how much she loved looking through my travel photos, and I definitely have her to thank for the fact I made sure to take so many.

It's been over a year since Nan died. Because I'm still away, it doesn't really feel real. I still take photos with her in mind. I think I always will. I still half expect to receive a text from her and the dog, and then I remember that there won't be any more texts. Then I read back through her old texts and smile through tears. I was in two minds as to whether or not I should even write this post, it almost feels too personal. But this blog is essentially a diary, and my Nan was a huge part of not only my travels, but my entire life.

Miss you, Nan.x 

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Werthers' Top Travel Tips

Many moons ago, I promised a number of people that I would write them a list of apps, tips and websites which I've found useful whilst travelling. 

I've taken so long to get round to it, that there's every chance that at least some of those people have already been on and returned from their trips. (Sorry!)

Nevertheless, a promise is a promise, so here are some tips and stuff. (I'm likely to update this further when I have a little more free time!)

 

Workaway.

I've talked about Workaway in a previous blog post, but it's well worth mentioning again! If you've not heard of it before, Workaway is a cultural exchange programme where you get the opportunity to volunteer ALL over the world, in exchange for free food and accommodation. It costs a measly £25 to sign up for one year, and membership givers you the opportunity to contact the hosts on the host list. (Which is available for anybody to look at, free of charge on the website!)

There are some absolutely crazy good opportunities on Workaway, including jobs on the Husky sleds in Finland, a position available for someone to act as the caretaker of a private island in Cambodia, vacancies aboard a travelling theatre ship in the USA and endless listings for horse ranches, orphanages, dog sitters, language exchange, artists, yoga instructors and countless other opportunities.

Whilst I was in India, I had many great Workaway experiences, the highlights of which were working on a desert camel safari, leading groups of people into the desert in Jaisalmer to sleep under the stars; living with a family in the mountains of Kodaikanal, and moving into a hippy commune in Goa, where we lived in tipis and rescued street animals. There really are some incredible opportunities on there - check it out! 

 Camel Safari Guide

Camel Safari Guide

 Always with a puppy in hand. 

Always with a puppy in hand. 

 

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is another fantastic website/app which I've used a fair amount on my trip. Would you believe, there are hundreds of thousands of people, all across the world who are willing to let you have a bed/sofa/room for a night or two, for FREE!? 

The whole point of Couchsurfing isn't the free accommodation, but rather to the chance to have the help and experience of a local, to give you some insider knowledge and tips and to show you around. A lot of the hosts on Couchsurfing are backpackers or ex backpackers themselves, and they are always interesting! 

Each host (and surfer) gets a profile page, and after each stay, you get to rate each other, so it's easy to see which hosts have had lots of people stay with them, and which have had good or bad reviews - making it easy to pick a host to visit. It's a fantastic way to see hidden parts of the city or town you're staying in, as well as save on a night's accommodation! 

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Rome 2 Rio

A super handy website/app, Rome 2 Rio helps you find a number of different transport options if you need to get from one destination to another. Simply fill in the 'From' and 'To' boxes and hit 'Search' and you will be presented with transport options, travel durations, and the cost of each.

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You aren't limited to searching for a city to a city. It's possible to search for a landmark to a city, for example, 'Big Ben, UK' to 'Delhi, India' will bring up step by step directions to get you from Big Ben to Delhi! 

 

Maps.Me

Maps.Me is especially handy for all the (hundreds) of times that you're lost, have no phone service and/or you've run out of data. A completely free and offline navigation service, you simply download the app, download the maps of the locations you're visiting, and next time you get stuck in an area with no signal, it won't even matter, because you just tap open your app and the maps will load faster than if you were on 4G! 

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Hostelworld

I feel like most people will already know about Hostelworld, but I believe it deserves a mention anyway, just incase. 

A simple hostel search engine, which shows a rating and reviews for each hostel listed. It's SO quick and easy to type in the name of a town, set the filters in favour of price or rating or location  etc and compare listings with other listings. You can book on the spot, paying only a small deposit, and then pay the rest of the balance on arrival. I probably booked at least 90% of my accommodation through Hostelworld!

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Revolut and Monzo. (Formerly Mondo.)

Two great digital banking alternatives, which allow you to spend and transfer money abroad, fee free. When you download each app, you get the option of being sent a MasterCard. Simply top up your card via the app, and you can instantly use the card online, in store or at an ATM. 

I NEVER change up currency before I head to a new location, I always use my Revolut card or my Monzo card to withdraw the currency I need from an ATM once I arrive. They both have slightly different rates, but in my own experience, they both seem to be a lot better than the rates you find elsewhere. Both cards have a monthly free withdrawal limit of around £200. Once you've withdrawn £200 then you get charged a small percentage on withdrawals, but it's still a cheap deal.

Spending with your cards online or in stores is always fee free. I ALWAYS book my hostels etc using either my Revolut or Monzo card as it means I avoid the international transaction charge which would occur should I use my UK or Australian bank cards to book.

 Image borrowed from  Two Humans Living. 

Image borrowed from Two Humans Living. 

Touchnote

Touchnote is a cute little app which allows you to turn your travel photos into postcards. You pick a photo, write a message, add the address, pay using a credit which you can purchase within the app, and Touchnote will print out your postcard and post it to the address. It's a fairly cheap way to let your loved ones know that you're still thinking of them whilst you're off gallivanting, and it involves minimal effort too. Go on, send your mum a postcard!

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Skyscanner 'Everywhere' Feature.

This is one of my favourites. When you're searching for flights on Skyscanner, set your destination to 'Everywhere' to see if you can nab yourself a cheaper flight (and an extra holiday!) For some reason, flights to certain destinations are heaps more expensive than a flight to a destination that's next door to your intended one. 

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For example, when I wanted to fly from Australia to India, the cheapest flight I could find was $900. I used the Skyscanner 'Everywhere' feature to check out the cheapest places I could fly to from Melbourne and found a flight to Thailand for $98. Knowing that Thailand is reasonably close to India, I then searched for flights from Thailand to India and found a flight for $58! That's a saving of $744, AND I got to visit two countries instead of one. This tip is especially good if you're flexible, as you can also use the Skyscanner 'Whole Month' feature on the search engine, and pick the cheapest dates to fly on, potentially saving you even more money!

 If your geography isn't the best then you can search for a world map on Google to help you out!

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Packing Cubes

Something so simple, yet something so, so life changing. I'm uncertain how I ever managed without them before.  Packing Cubes do exactly what's written on the box. They're cubes that you use for packing - it's basically like having drawers in your bag. I use one for t-shirts, tops and dresses, one for shorts, leggings and trousers, and one for underwear. There is absolutely no rummaging though my bag to try and find something, I simply unzip my bag, pick which cube I need, unzip it and take out the required item. I actually manage to fit a lot more in my bag since using these! 

I use different coloured packing cubes so I can quickly and easily work out which one is which, but there are plenty of different ones available online to suit your needs! 

 

Lush Shampoo

This is a bit of a random one, but I felt as though I couldn't leave it out, because like the Packing Cubes, it changed my life!

Lush Cosmetics make a range of shampoo bars. They're about £6.50 each, they last for what seems like forever, they make your hair smell and feel nice and most importantly, they're not a liquid so you don't have to put them in a silly little plastic bag to go through the airport security. 

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You only need to rub it on your head gently and it creates a huge amount of lather. I started using these in April 2017, and with practically daily use, I'm getting close to the end of my third bar. So they really do last a long time!

 

As I mentioned earlier, I'm likely to update this page with a few more tips when I remember a few more. Hopefully at least some of them have been helpful to some of you!x

 

Thailend. (Thailand End.)

Turns out that checking out of the Koh Samui hell-hole early was one of the things that had miraculously worked in my favour. I'd booked the first possible boat that I could off of the island and just by chance, that boat actually ended up being the last boat off of Koh Samui (or any of the other islands) for nearly a week. The weather had become so bad that the ferries weren't running, leaving hundreds of backpackers and other tourists stranded on the flooded islands. If it weren't for a loud Bristolian man annoying me so much, I would have ended up stuck in the floodwaters too, so in a strange way, I should maybe thank him for being such a horrible, disgusting, arrogant prick.

I was making my way to Phuket, where I was to spend my last week in Thailand before heading on to India. It felt hardly believable that a whole three months had passed since that first day I'd stepped onto the streets of Bangkok in search of a SIM card, and ended up returning back to the hostel almost eleven hours later, freshly tattooed by a Monk... I'll hold my hands up and admit that my expectations of Thailand were fairly low in comparison to the reality of it - I'd been a little worried that it was going to be full to the brim of sand, (I HATE sand) and 'much too drunk' and rowdy Brits. You do of course find quite a lot of sand, and a fair few idiots lurking around the islands, but for the most part I managed to remain sand (and idiot) free whilst discovering some of the hidden treasures that Thailand has to offer.

The rain in Phuket was even more relentless than it had been on Samui. I met a newlywed English couple who were just about finish their honeymoon and fly home - they'd seen a total of three days without rain during their two week stay. I refrained from telling them that they would have been better off staying at home - their faces seemed to suggest that they wouldn't have found it funny. 

The roof of the hostel I checked into was leaking. A lot. The relentless sound of dripping did absolutely nothing to drown out the screams and cries from the room next door. My roommate - Stefanie - and I, tried to work out if the people making the noises were having sex or getting badly beaten up. We decided that it was more likely to be sex, though the racket they were making was absolutely unimaginable, and it certainly didn't sound like they were having any fun. Stefanie awkwardly bumped into one of them in the corridor the next day too. I was so glad that it was her and not me - I didn't want to have to put any faces to the noises because it was inevitable that there was going to be a repeat performance that night.

 The rain was pretty much holding us constant prisoners in the room, after so many months of constantly being on the go though, it was nice to actually have a bit of downtime. I spent the next couple of days reading, watching documentaries and practicing my Spanish on Duolingo, (without feeling guilty about spending all day in bed.) The hours seemed to pass really quickly and it felt like no time at all before it was time to check out of the leaky hostel. Stefanie was checking out too. We were both staying in Phuket, but moving elsewhere as we were meeting friends from home. We said our goodbyes and I managed to hail down what I believe to have been the most expensive taxi in Thailand. It was somehow even wetter on the other side of the island, and I was starting to worry that my last few days in the country would be spent in bed, playing Duolingo...

Luckily, when I met up with Patt and Alex, the sun decided to make an appearance for a couple of days, which gave us the chance to check out some of Phuket. We ate lots of good food, visited the Big Buddha, got blessed by a Monk, ate more good food, attempted to watch the sunset from one of the viewpoints, (which failed due to the sun not really being present again by this point,) ate even more good food and generally relaxed and caught up with each other. It was good to fit in some final tourist activities before the 13 hour bus to Bangkok and the 4 and a half hour flight to India that followed it. Onto the next adventure...

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New Year, Same Rain.

So, the Full Moon Party was a horrible, gropey, phone destroying disaster. It was always going to damn me to at least an entire day in bed feeling like I'd die a horrible death if I didn't eat something, and die a much worse death if I did, but in my opinion Mr or Mrs Full Moon could have done me a much fairer deal, and at least given me a half decent night in exchange for both the loss of use of my movement and also the freedom from pain and suffering over the next twenty four, (potentially more) hours.

For roughly the first 31% of the 1st January 2017, I was blissfully unaware of these afflictions upon my body, as I'd managed to fall into a sleep which was deep enough to (initially) not feel the hands of the hostel maid tapping me awake as she angrily shouted at me in Thai. 

Bleary eyed, with not a single inkling as to what I'd done wrong, I just about managed to muster up the strength to shrug my shoulders and hold my hands out with open palms - the universal sign for 'I haven't got the faintest clue what you're talking about...'

'MAEW' she shouted again, and this time pointed at the cat that was curled up next to me in bed... 

I know that coming from me, this might sound like a completely fabricated statement, but I genuinely hadn't let the cat into the room. Sure, I'd spotted it outside my door when I'd arrived back the night before, played for it with a little while, considered letting it in and decided it wasn't a good idea. I suppose the maid had good reason to believe I'd smuggled it into the room, but for once, I was not guilty.

I didn't think it wise to ask one of my dorm mates to take a photo of me with the cat whilst the maid was there, and she'd shooed it off of my bed, but luckily he decided to return when the maid had buggared off, and it felt like the Full Moon God had gifted me a furry hangover friend.

The cat and I managed to watch the entire series of 'Planet Earth 2' that day. David Attenborough's soothing tones got us through what would have otherwise been some pretty tough hours.

 Really crap picture of the cat on my bed.

Really crap picture of the cat on my bed.

January 2nd, and I was able to stand on two feet and make it out into the real world. I was across the road at the supermarket, trying to hold myself together, when I bumped into Derek, who I'd met in Koh Lanta. He'd hired a moped for the day, and even though my plans had been simply to survive the trip to the shop, grabbing enough vital supplies that I wouldn't need to leave my bedroom again for at least the next 48 hours, Derek's invite and adamancy that the fresh air would make me feel better soon saw me putting on a helmet, climbing onto the back of his bike and heading for a trip to visit a waterfall.

Phaeng Waterfall turned out to be at the top of an Everest-like mountain. (At least it felt that way whilst we were walking up the path, anyway...) But true to Derek's word, once we were at the top, I felt a lot better for being in the fresh air. We sat on a rock, with our feet in the water, eating crisps and talking about life and travelling. It's a good job I'd bumped into him, or I would have ended up spending another day in bed with the cat, re-watching the first series of 'Planet Earth.' Being out and about was a much better alternative, (obviously no offence to David Attenborough intended,) and I ended up having a really good day.

 Photo taken from Google Images of some other people sat where we were sat, because I had no camera to get a photo of us.

Photo taken from Google Images of some other people sat where we were sat, because I had no camera to get a photo of us.

On January 3rd, all my friends were leaving Koh Phangan to move onto various other destinations. I was supposed to be leaving as well, but everyone in my dorm room had moved out too, and the owner offered me a really cheap rate if I wanted to stay an extra night. To be quite honest, the prospect of having full control of the air conditioning had sold me before she'd even suggested the idea, and I'd geared myself up for another day of reading in bed, with the AC on full, so for the first time in months I could enjoy the comfort of lying under the covers, without drenching the entire bed in sweat.

I did venture out for a little while, in an attempt to find a shop that was able to repair my phone, but the storm that had appeared out of nowhere and destroyed my phone in the first place, decided to re-appear out of nowhere, and soaked to the bone, I gave up and went back to the hostel to read.

There was no luck finding a repair shop on Koh Phangan and the rain was showing no signs of stopping. I arrived the next afternoon on Koh Samui a little grumpy and a lot wet. The dorm I checked into smelt of sewage and the air conditioning was broken, so it felt like I'd moved into a smelly sauna. The communal area was one that guests were allowed to smoke in, and was the only place that the WiFi 'worked,' so I was forced to sit down there for at least a little while. Due to the non stop rain, practically every single guest was crammed in there hidden amongst clouds of smoke - so many people trying to connect to the wifi they were rendering it completely useless. I could hear about four different (terrible) songs playing on different speakers at the same time which was driving me criminally insane, there was a loud and very obviously rude and obnoxious Bristolian guy who was acting like a dick in general, and I could almost feel the minutes dropping off of my life as the only air there was to breathe was secondhand smoke. 

My options were to sit in the common room, where the smoke and noise and general busyness meant I was likely to snap at a random person (or more likely the Bristolian guy who was doing my head in,) to relocate to the dorm, which smelt like a Portaloo on a Sunday evening at Glastonbury, or to put on my trainers (for the first time in months) and head out into the rain. 

It says a lot about the hostel that I chose to spend the next few hours, traipsing through the rain, looking for a shop that might be able to repair my phone, or sell me a secondhand one for cheap. If I'd thought the heavens couldn't open any further, I couldn't have been more wrong, and as the rain continued to pound down, I found myself wading through the shin deep, dirty river which used to be the street. Completely defeated, I made my way back to the hostel, where of course the shower wasn't working and my only choice was to put on some dry clothes and get an extremely early night.

 Another photo borrowed from Google Image Search. 

Another photo borrowed from Google Image Search. 

I was woken in the early hours of the morning by the loud Bristolian, (of course he was in my room...)  returning from a night out with the rest of the people from our dorm. They'd obviously all been out drinking together, and one of them suggested that the loud guy should be quiet, as I was sleeping.

"Screw them!" he'd replied, (or something along those lines, anyway,) before turning all the lights on and bashing about a bit more loudly than he already had been doing. I shot him a filthy look before rolling over and trying to get back to sleep, only to smell cigarette smoke a few minutes later, and feel him flicking his cigarette ash on me. I knew that speaking up wouldn't benefit me in the slightest, and I was already sick of his voice that day, so I just closed my eyes again and pretended to sleep.

I was awake early the next morning, hoping that the common room would be peaceful, smoke free and empty enough that the WiFi might actually connect. The only other people in the room were the loud Bristolian who had woken me the night before, and some girls. The loud Bristolian was talking animatedly to the girls, and I couldn't help but listen in on his conversation.

"So I got back to the dorm with the others last night, we were all creeping around really quietly so as not to wake the girl who was asleep, and the bitch suddenly woke up, turned on her light and shouted at me! I told her to calm down and she got really angry and started swearing at me. So when she was asleep, I smoked a cigarette and flicked the ash all over her...'

The loud, lying Bristolian was laughing and the girls were laughing too, and I couldn't help but call his stupid loud laughing face out on his blatant lie. When I explained that I was the 'bitch from the bed below' and I'd not said a word to him when he'd got back - even when he'd purposely woken me up and I'd felt him flick his cigarette ash all over me. His face instantly gave away that his version of the story had all been a lie, the girls stopped laughing and one of them asked him what the point in making up stories was? I didn't stick around for long enough to find out if being caught out shut him up - I was checking out a day early and going to Phuket....

Mountains, Full Moons and Storms.

Koh Phangan. Home to the notorious Full Moon parties of Thailand. Famous for drinking, dancing and general debauchery... 

Seeing in the New Year at a Thai Full Moon party is one of those things which has always been on my bucket list, but it's only ever really been on there half heartedly. Supposedly one of the best parties in the world, it's an event which I've always felt that I should go and investigate at some point, but have always secretly suspected that I'd not actually enjoy too much. Seeing as New Year was merely days away, and Koh Phangan was just a short boat journey from our current location it made sense to choose the present time to welcome in 2017 on Haad Rin beach, with around 30,000 other partygoers.

The boat journey from Koh Tao to Koh Phangan was by far the most traumatic boat journey of my travels so far. As the weather was clear and the sea was calm, we decided to sit on the top deck and play the 'Guess The Celebrity' game, where someone thinks of a celebrity and the rest of the group get twenty questions to try and guess which celebrity the person is thinking of. I was sat happily munching on Heather's Oreos, quite smug that we were nearing the 20th question and nobody had guessed my celebrity, when Sarah looked up and said,

"I'm really stuck with this one - the only person I can think of is Cilla Black, but you said that it was someone that was still alive and she's obviously dead, so it can't be her..."

I practically choked on my Oreo. "CILLA BLACK IS DEAD!?" She was my chosen celebrity - I'd somehow missed the news of her death well over a year before, and was only just finding out about it. I was absolutely gutted, though everyone else seemed to think that my dismay (and my ignorance,) was quite amusing.

 Rest in peace, Cilla. 

Rest in peace, Cilla. 

Although a very special Christmas treat, at a cost of nearly triple my entire daily budget per night, the five days I'd spent in my posh room in Koh Tao were more than enough for me. (I'd rather spend the extra money on food...) So whilst everyone else continued their lives of luxury and checked into their hotels in Koh Phangan, I went Lone Ranger and booked myself into a hostel. It was actually good to go back to sharing a room with a bunch of randomers - I've become quite accustomed to background noise and I'd found myself struggling to sleep in my quiet room and huge bed over Christmas! My hostel wasn't too far from where everyone else was staying either, so it was only a short walk to theirs to join them for a Mai Tai or four by the pool.

 Mai tai crew.

Mai tai crew.

The eve of New Year's Eve soon arrived, and we decided to spend the day at Mellow Mountain on Haad Rin beach, the same beach where the Full Moon Party would take place the following night. I'd been pretty ill overnight and for most of the morning too, and a kind French man from my dorm had looked after me - got me some food, water and medicine and made sure I was propped up in bed ok. Although I'd started feeling a little better, I wasn't sure if I should spend a day in the sun at the Mountain, but I went anyway and it turned out being one of my favourite days in Thailand. We were all in a bit of a silly mood, got the giggles in a big way and within a few hours my stomach hurt from laughing. I had a permanent stream of tears running down my face. I was mid hysteric when we bumped into the French guy who had been looking after me just hours before - his face was a picture - I'd gone from looking like something out of the Walking Dead to the chirpiest girl in Thailand. He must have been thinking, "Blimey, those meds were good!"

We were trying to relax on the beach when a group of loud, boisterous Scots appeared from nowhere and started throwing clumps of sand at each other. Seeing the look of distaste on each other's faces set off our laughter again, and then we realised that if they heard us laughing it would attract their attention and they might want to come and join us. For me, one of the hardest things in the world is to try and stop laughing when I'm not supposed to be, and the more we all tried to stop laughing, the harder we laughed. We did an absolutely terrible job of avoiding their attention and of course they spotted us and came to sit next to us.

One of them had a big bushy ginger moustache and and spat a bit when he talked. It just about killed me off to watch everyone's faces as he yapped away, rather than speaking to them at a normal volume, spraying their faces with flecks of spit in the process. I was almost rolling in the sand, crying with laughter. His friend had chosen to lie right on the shore of the beach, waves crashing over him, submerging him fully for a second or two each time a new wave came. Hannah and I went for a paddle to get away from the yappy, bushy mouthed one, but when we got to the water, there was a loud shout of "BOW DOWN TO YOUR MOTHER!" The 'water Scot' had risen from the sea, and with eyes bloodshot from the salt water, he proceeded to inform us that we have all in fact evolved from fish and not apes. He kept trying to get us to bow down to the sea, as it was our creator, and he wanted us to give the whole 'lying down in it' thing a go, so we made a prompt exit and instead went in search of a toilet. (We found a puppy instead, which as you can see, brought us copious amounts of joy.)

 Mellow Mountain puppy. 

Mellow Mountain puppy. 

The following day was New Year's Eve and we were all ready for the Full Moon Party. (We were covered in UV paint and mentally prepared to drink buckets of disgusting Thai vodka and mixer at least.)

We arrived at Haad Rin, and in a suitably tipsy state, the cheesy music and horrific dancing that everyone was partaking in was actually quite a laugh. There were fire spinners and fire twirlers and lots of fire in general. In fact, it was all fire and fun and games until we needed the toilet and saw that every single other person at the Full Moon Party also needed the toilet, and the queue stretched out of sight.. There was absolutely no way we could hold for that long, and even if we managed to, we'd end up missing the NYE countdown, so we had to go and join the large group of people who had also left it too late to get in the queue, and were using the sea as a form of communal, unisex urinal. 

This is where the night started to go horribly wrong. A nasty, chavvy male (who looked like he'd skipped leg day at the gym every single day for all of forever,) told us (whilst urinating into the sea himself) that we were disgusting for using the sea as a toilet. He got quite angry at us so we returned some abuse in his direction before heading towards the main area of the beach, where the countdown for New Year was going to happen. I wanted to be right next to the fireworks so I could film them for my GoPro video. Everyone else wanted to stay out of the most crowded part, so we found a prominent spot for to meet them after. Pretty much ten seconds after leaving them, I bumped into this disgusting boy I'd met in Koh Phi Phi a few weeks before. The last time I'd seen him, he'd said to me,

"You may as well get into my bed instead of your bed later because we both know you're going to end up in my bed tonight anyway.." 

When I'd arrived back at the hostel that very same night he'd been so sure that I was going to sleep with him, he'd been sat in his bed, blind drunk, being sick all over himself and making absolutely no attempt to go to the bathroom or to throw up somewhere other than all over his bed and his own self. Hate is an extremely strong word, but from that moment onwards, I hated him with passion. Naturally, when I was making my way over to the area where the fireworks were going to be set off, and I bumped into him and he suggested that I stand with him and kiss him at midnight, I did a complete U-Turn and made my way back to stand with everyone else.

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Turns out that bumping into Sicky sick face did me a huge favour. As the clock struck twelve, chaos ensued. The fireworks decided to go off into the faces of the crowd instead of the sky, and as a result, there was a stampede of people trying to escape the sparks which were flying over anyone who happened to be close to the front. I managed to somehow miss the initial stampede of UV painted backpackers, as I was too busy fighting off a Thai man, who I'd caught with his hand in my pocket, trying to steal my phone. I successfully started a 'THIEF, THIEF, THIEF' chant, so the pickpocket was forced to disappear from the area, and I turned round just in time for the second wave of the stampede to practically carry me off my feet. 

It took us a little while to find each other (and our flip flops) after the rush of burnt people had trampled their way through the masses. We were lucky to have not been close to the front - there were lots of people with burns all over their arms and faces, and it was obvious that plenty of people had got separated from their friends.

We made our way off of the beach, away from the drama and to a place we thought might be less chaotic. Moving through the crowds, several men obviously thought that groping was acceptable behaviour. My suspicions about the Full Moon Party not being very enjoyable were proving correct, a little ball of anger was growing inside of me, and I was coming extremely close to lashing out and punching someone in their stupid UV faces. When we finally made it to a bar, I bought a drink and before I'd even taken a sip, a man flicked his cigarette ash into it. I was fuming. His friends apologised and said he'd buy me another one. By now, I didn't even want another drink, but out of principle, I walked over to the bar with the man and ordered another. He was so drunk, he walked off without paying and it was around this point that we all decided we needed to get as far away from one of the world's 'greatest NYE parties' and head somewhere else.

I couldn't wait to get on the boat that was going to take us to 'Eden.' There were promises of decent music, decent people and an actual good time. I wanted to get as far away from the gropey, drunk idiots and the pickpockets and the crowds of burnt people and the chaos. We clambered on board, put on our life jackets and got ready for the short journey to the other side of the island. 

It was at approximately the halfway point that the storm hit. It came out of absolutely nowhere. The waves were huge and the boat was rocking. Everyone was screaming and it looked like there was a chance that we could even capsize. I'm not going to lie - I was actually enjoying the rocky ride. We were getting drenched, the waves were spraying everywhere, the boat was almost in the sky one second and then we'd come crashing back down. Seeing as we were at the halfway point, there was no point in turning back - we may as well continue on our merry way. We hit dry land safely and everyone stumbled off the boat.

The pleasure I gained, from the same boat ride that everyone else seemed to hate, was short lived. I guess you could even say that it's karma, but as I put my hand into my bag, I realised exactly how non waterproof it actually was. The whole thing was pretty much filled with water. My phone seemed to contain half of the ocean - it was more than dripping - it was practically gushing. The screen was dying a sorrowful death, right in front of my eyes. I'd already spent hundreds of pounds on phone repair since arriving in Thailand, and the last time I'd been at the repair shop, the man had told me that if it ever got wet again then it was a goner. I walked to Eden, simply to ask for a bag of rice to put my phone in, and then walked straight back to the boat, clutching my bag of rice, so I could head back to the hostel. It was probably only around 1:30am, but I was sick to death of 2017.

Because I obviously didn't hate New Year in Thailand enough already, the boat men wanted triple the price for the fare back. They knew we had no other choice but to pay up - it was either that or stay stranded in the rain. I grumpily handed over the final remainder of my money and headed back to the hostel, all spent out, drenched to the bone, and once again without a phone. 

At least I've ticked the Full Moon Party off my Bucket List..... (Or rather put a MASSIVE red cross through it, with a flashing LED warning to ward off anybody else that ever suggests it might be anything close to a good idea....) 

 The calm before the storm. 

The calm before the storm. 

Christmas On Koh Tao

It was sad to leave our new friends - travelling seems to have different rules to real life, and you form bonds and become attached to people more quickly than you do back at home, but it was time to head to Koh Tao, where we would be spending Christmas with some old friends from Bristol who had also been backpacking for the last year or so. I couldn't wait to catch up on all their adventures. We had to get a horrible minibus transfer to Krabi where we had a short wait before we could get another transfer to Surat Thani and then the next boat to Koh Tao. There's not much to do in Krabi at all, but we did find a cool pair of Google Crocs for Heather when we went for a short stroll. 

 Height of fashion.

Height of fashion.

If I thought that the boat to Koh Lanta had been rough, the catamaran to Koh Tao was on a completely different level - a level found deep amongst the deepest depths of the seven kingdoms of hell. Within about three minutes of being on the boat, Heather and I were surrounded by vomiting men, women and children. None of whom were attempting to be the slightest bit quiet about it. Very selfish. 

My iPod and a shared pair of headphones just about saw us through the three hour journey. We narrowly avoided being covered in sick when a woman stood up with a pale toddler who then proceeded to projectile vomit all over the surrounding people and the floor. I usually love boats, but I don't think I've ever been as glad to set foot on dry land as when the sicky catamaran docked at Koh Tao.

 Sicky boat sunset. 

Sicky boat sunset. 

We'd splashed out in a big way (for Thailand, anyway,) and booked into a swanky resort over Christmas, but we still had a couple of days before it was time to check in, so we found a budget double room and got settled there before meeting up with everyone else. It was really nice to catch up with everyone after so long apart.

Typical of our luck, rain and cloudy weather plagued us for the next day or two. It was starting to look like we might not be having Christmas on the beach as originally planned. We had wanted to go scuba diving as well, but knew that if the weather wasn't clear then the visibility would be bad and it might be a waste of money. The only silver lining in the rain clouds above us was that I'd intended to do my PADI Open Water course in Koh Tao, but due to the stitches in my ear, I'd been forced to ditch that idea. At least now I could see that the weather was bad, I could stop moaning about the fact I was unable to do it - I wouldn't have wanted to whilst the visibility was crap anyway. 

Instead of exploring the depths of the Gulf of Thailand, we spent the next couple of days catching up with each other and eating burgers. The boys had found a ridiculously good burger place, (and I think I honestly lived on burgers for an entire month after it re-awakend my love for them.) I obviously spent a lot of time making friends with animals too. I think that's why I enjoy travelling so much - you get to spend a lot of time eating and making friends with animals. It's an ideal lifestyle. 

 Mates

Mates

Checking into the Koh Tao Royal Resort was like a dream after so many months in hostels. Having not only a room,  but a whole king-size bed and my own bathroom to myself was a luxury that I would have appreciated a lot less a few months before. (Even if my room was located practically at the top of a mountain and severely tested my fitness every time I needed to get back to it.)

The weather also decided to start being a lot kinder to us as soon as we'd checked in, and Sarah, Hannah and I booked in for an open water dive on the morning of Christmas Eve, (complete with our Santa hats, so we could truly get into the underwater Christmas spirit...) I wanted to see a whale shark, and though we didn't see a whale shark, we still had a lot of fun, (and I now have a completely valid reason to visit the Philippines, where I have a much better chance of seeing one anyway.) 

The staff at Simple Life Divers were kind enough to invite us to their staff Christmas party that night, complete with a free 'all you can eat' Christmas Dinner buffet. We attended and brought all of our friends too. We ate nearly all of their pigs in blankets and stuffing balls, but they didn't seem to mind. 

 We are ok. 

We are ok. 

 Christmas fish. 

Christmas fish. 

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As much as it's nice to awaken somewhere warm and beachy on Christmas Day, it would be nicer still to wake up somewhere with your family. This was my second Christmas away from home, and although the sun and cocktails compensate slightly for the people you're missing, it's never going to compare. (If any of my family are reading, fancy a Christmas in the sun one year!?)

The manager of the resort we were staying in was grumpy and quite horrible, but there was a pet dog which they dressed up for Christmas Day, which sort of made up for it. I ended up spending most of the day drinking cocktails and cuddling the dog, before we went for our Christmas meal. As much as I wanted a Christmas dinner, it was horribly overpriced and I couldn't really justify spending all that money on it after we'd stuffed ourselves on free Christmas treats the night before. I ended up having a starter, a main dish, a dessert and a few drinks too, (and it still worked out cheaper than the set Christmas meal!) My brother would be horrified at the idea of me having a tuna steak for Christmas dinner, but to be fair, a Christmas dinner without my nan's stuffing wouldn't really feel a Christmas dinner anyway...

 Pure Christmas joy. 

Pure Christmas joy. 

 Christmas Dinners. 

Christmas Dinners. 

Boxing Day was a fairly chilled affair. We all got the boat over to another island, 'Koh Nang Yuan.' It was supposed to be paradise, but it had so many rules that I've decided I don't really like paradise much at all. You had to pay to get onto the beach, they confiscated your water upon arrival, and god forbid you try to bring a towel to sit on. Strictly no beach towels allowed. You're allowed to pay sit on the deck chairs provided, but it would probably be cheaper to buy one from a designer deck chair store and get it shipped over to you, Special Delivery. I spent a lot of the day wondering if it was preferable to feel like I was dying from dehydration or to spend three days worth of budget on a bottle of water to quench my thirst.

As much as I'd taken a dislike to 'paradise beach' or whatever it was that they'd called it, the viewpoint was nice. Insistent on climbing right to the top, I nearly broke my ankle, (flip flops aren't the greatest footwear choice for climbing,) but it was worth it for the view. 

 Koh Nang Yuan viewpoint. 

Koh Nang Yuan viewpoint. 

A short boat ride to Koh Tao ensured we were back to the hotel in time for a beautiful Boxing Day sunset. With my second Christmas away from home complete, it was time to start preparing for New Year!  

 Boxing Day Sunsets 

Boxing Day Sunsets 

 

 

New Animal Friends And New Human Friends

After my huge failed attempt at a relaxing for a few days on Koh Phi Phi, Heather and I were making our way to Koh Lanta, where I hoped to have a little more luck. 

I wasn't off to the greatest of starts, thanks to my horrendous hangover and the pain from my ripped ear making me want to throw up over the edge of the boat, but I was optimistic for the days ahead. Koh Lanta is home to the Lanta Animal Welfare Centre, where anybody is free to visit and help walk the dogs. There are a million and one incredible sights to see around the world, but somehow, nothing ever really excites me as much as hanging out with animals.

We checked into a little hippy beachside hostel, which consisted of a number of rickety bamboo huts, lots of Jimi Hendrix artwork and what felt like half of Thailand's entire population of mosquitoes. I literally had to climb over Heather's bed to get to my own, so there wasn't exactly room to chill out in our hut, and we ended up in a weird treetop bar across the road listening to a random live covers band until a storm came out of nowhere and rained us off. I was slightly skeptical that the huts would keep the rain out, but miraculously, everything was dry when we got back!

 Hippy huts

Hippy huts

I woke up the next morning with approximately six thousand mosquito bites. There was a mosquito net on my bed, but obviously the night before I must have somehow invited the entire cast of 'A Bug's Life' inside the net for a cuddle before sealing it closed. By this point in my travels I'd developed a serious Tiger Balm habit which I'd been hoping to kick, but judging by the state of my legs, I had no chance of giving up anytime soon. 

Rustling in the bed next to me signalled Heather's awakening, and she immediately informed me that she wanted to move to a proper hostel. There was absolutely no hesitation on my behalf - I'd had a better night's sleep than her, but I was more than happy to move somewhere which actually had lockers, wifi and a higher chance of not ending up as a mosquito buffet whilst we slept. We found a cute little hostel, dumped off our stuff and hired a moped so we could make our way to the animal welfare centre.

 Rosie's back legs were paralysed :(

Rosie's back legs were paralysed :(

The Koh Lanta Animal Welfare Centre is an incredible little non-profit charity which is dedicated to controlling the overpopulation of stray cats and dogs on the island of Koh Lanta. To date, they have sterilised and treated over 15,000 animals, and visitors to the centre have helped to re-home hundreds of cats and dogs, giving them new homes, all over the world. The centre gives each sterilised animal a fashionable little tattoo inside their ear once they've been treated, so locals are able to check which strays still need a trip the centre. Visitors are free to visit the centre each day to help play with the puppies and walk the dogs.

After our tour of the centre, Heather got lumped with a dog that refused to budge, whereas mine ended up taking me for a walk, pulling me down a leafy path at supersonic speed. Heather had to turn back due to lack of co-operation from her new friend, whilst I got dragged through some bushes into the wilderness.

 Doggo

Doggo

I eventually got dragged back to the centre and became immediately attached to a couple of puppies. The charity organises everything for you if you want to adopt a pet and bring it back to your home country, and I came dangerously close to cutting my trip to an early finish, so I could bring my new friends home with me. I tried to raise a reaction from my mum by telling her I was coming home with a pair of puppies, but instead of telling me not to dare, she asked if we could call one of them 'Fudge,' and put an instant end to my attempts of winding her up.

 'Fudge' and unnamed pal.

'Fudge' and unnamed pal.

The animal centre was pretty close to the hippy hostel we'd first stayed at, and seeing as when we'd initially arrived the hostel owner had recommended a food stall nearby, 'Mr Pad Thai,' we agreed to jump on the bike and reward our hard days 'puppy patting' with a giant plate of noodles each. 'Mr Pad Thai's' noodles were as good as the hippy hostel owner had told us, and watching Heather battle with the chopsticks to try and eat them provided us with a good laugh. Our shrieks of laughter attracted some stares from the people on the tables nearby, and when the guy at the end of our table looked over, we asked if he wanted to try some of our food. He politely declined, but we were insistent that we wanted someone else to taste how good it was!

Derek, from the States, was probably not enthralled at the idea of two random Bristolian girls turning up to ruin his peace and quiet, and have them try and ram (really good) noodles down his throat, but he put up with us for long enough to decide that we were actually alright (Well, he didn't tell us to buggar off, at least...)

We can't have been too bad anyway, as a couple of hours chatting led to him introducing us to the girls he was travelling with, Libby and Gloria, and after a couple more hours of chatting (and also a couple of bottles of SangSom) it felt like we'd all known each other for months on end.

Gloria had a dive booked in the next day, but the rest of us hired bikes and explored Koh Lanta. It's definitely one of the more chilled Thai islands. We found a cool little hammock shop (which we ended up hanging out in for a long time due to Derek's hammock obsession...) and then trekked through a mini jungle to reach Khlong Chak waterfall, where we had a much deserved, cooling dip. We stopped off in a roadside restaurant on the way home and watched the sun set over the ocean.

 Hammock cat.

Hammock cat.

 Jungle trek

Jungle trek

 Evening sunset

Evening sunset

The next day, Heather and I decided to relocate from the other side of the island, (back to the side we started on,) and get a hut just across from the one the others were staying in. It saved us going back and forth on a moped all the time, seeing as we were spending all our time with Derek, Libby and Gloria. (And Mr Pad Thai....) I made friends with a cat, named him TJ and invited him to live with us. Heather wasn't especially happy about it but I couldn't really kick him out after inviting him to stay. 

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The next few days flew by in a whirlwind which pretty much consisted of stuffing our faces, and general bumming around. On my birthday we went skinny dipping at night, and swam with the bioluminescent plankton, then listened to Nirvana on the beach. Not a bad way to turn twenty seven! 

Before we knew it, it was time for Gloria to fly back to Germany. A large amount of SongSam on her final evening led to more drunken tattoos, (not me this time!) and emotional goodbyes. It's funny how when you're travelling you can become so attached to someone you've really only just met!

 Derek and his smiley face tattoo. 

Derek and his smiley face tattoo. 

There's not too much to do on Koh Lanta, but it ended up being one of my favourite weeks in Thailand - I feel like I made so many friends! 

Fire, Sharks, Tattoos and Stitches

Fresh off the boat from the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard Trip, I was planning for a relaxing few days on the beautiful island of Koh Phi Phi. At the time, that seemed like a perfectly reasonable plan, but I realise now that the reality is, it's pretty hard to 'relax' on Koh Phi Phi.

A quick Google Image search for 'Phi Phi' returns hundreds of peaceful looking images of crystal blue waters and the whitest of sands. I can vouch that the images are accurate - it's an absolutely stunning little island - postcard perfect. You wouldn't realise from the photos that the island is also a bit of a crazy party destination - rife with the backpackers who flock there for the fire shows, cheap alcohol and general debauchery. I, however, was there for a relaxing time, and was not going to get involved with that side of it...

After moving into my scabby twenty bed hostel dorm (which was somehow exactly five times the price of some of the more luxury four bed, air conditioned rooms I'd occasionally treated myself to elsewhere in Thailand,) I met up with Heather, a friend from home, and dragged her to come and get pizza with me, (purely so I could get a video of the size of the slice compared to my head,) before we made our way up to the Phi Phi Viewpoint.

 Screenshot from said video.

Screenshot from said video.

We traversed crumbling mountainside, dodging thorns and branches, losing half of our body weight in sweat, and narrowly avoiding broken ankles as we struggled upwards in our flip flops - finally making it to the top - where we realised that we had walked the wrong way and could have simply taken the steps... We'd thought it seemed a little desolate considering it was supposedly a popular tourist attraction! The fact that there were crowds of people who had managed to successfully take the correct route up to the viewpoint meant that we had someone to take a photo of both of us together at least, because for some reason Heather has seriously got it in for my little Pound shop iPhone tripod, and I've got a feeling she would have banned me from using it.

 Standard travel viewpoint pose

Standard travel viewpoint pose

The journey back down to the bottom was a lot simpler, and ended up being probably my most relaxing moment on Phi Phi...

Dinner that evening consisted of Pad Thai (five times the price of any other Pad Thai I'd had in Thailand...) and afterwards I was persuaded to have a couple of drinks as we went to watch the fire show on the beach. The problem with the drinks in Thailand is that they come in buckets, and they're so strong that even a few mouthfuls of a drink is a couple of drinks, so it didn't take long for Mrs Lightweight here to decide to get involved in the fire show, and find herself sat in front of an audience with fire spinning inches from her face.

It was full steam ahead from there, and by the time they'd brought out the limbo stick, I'd drank enough to believe I was the limbo queen. (I was at least a limbo princess to be fair...) You got a free shot every time you successfully passed under the stick, which didn't really help my intoxication situation as my new found limbo skills were surprisingly good and kept the shots coming.

 Maybe the best quality photo I managed to take all night.

Maybe the best quality photo I managed to take all night.

Despite having (what I believe to have been) a fantastic night, it was almost cancelled out by the repercussions I suffered for it the next day. It was past 4pm before I was physically able to even roll over in bed, which completely ruined my chances of spending the day relaxing. (Unless you're able to consider being bedridden in a room with nineteen other hungover backpackers as relaxing...) I managed to drag myself out for a burger later that night, and almost had to crawl back to bed again after. There was definitely no way I was ever drinking again.

The following morning was a new day, and with at least 60% of the use of my body back, I made my way out for breakfast with my Kindle, ready for a day of eating, reading and recovering on the beach. I'm not entirely sure how, but before I'd even finished my food, I'd somehow agreed to go snorkeling with a lady and some sharks. There were three other backpackers that came out on the boat with us, and after our first sighting, they decided that they didn't want to be in the water with the sharks anymore, so the shark lady and I had a pleasant couple of hours snorkeling together, before a mental storm came out of nowhere and we had to rush back to shore before it got too dangerous. I didn't mind too much - going back to the room meant that I'd have more time to relax.

Fast forward to the evening, and I was still feeling ropey. If anything, I was feeling worse and worse as the hours progressed. Several promises to me that 'hair of the dog' would make everything better persuaded me to have a few sips of someone's drink, and as good as everyone's word, I suddenly felt fine. Next thing I know, somebody has bought me a bucket and we're on our way to watch a Muay Thai fight.

It's safe to say that the night escalated from this point. It's free entry to Muay Thai, but you have to buy a drink when you arrive. Now wise to the danger of the buckets, I'd managed to secretly get rid of the one that had been purchased for me, but the compulsory Muay Thai vodka and lemonade (85% vodka and 15% lemonade) was unavoidable and definitely tipped me over the edge.

Twenty four hours previously, almost on death's door, I was adamant that I would never be drinking again. Yet here I was, less than a day later,  bucket in hand, dancing on a table on the beach. Unfortunately for me, the table looked a lot longer from my viewpoint than it apparently was, and I danced my way right off the edge, smacking my head on a rock as I fell, ripping the edge of my ear in half.

The logical thing to do when you can wiggle the top half of your ear in a different direction to the bottom half is to go to the hospital. Apparently though, I'd decided that it would be better for everyone involved to take a visit to the tattoo studio with me...

I find it absolutely fascinating that if I were to walk into a tattoo studio in the UK, covered in my own blood, blatantly extremely intoxicated, I wouldn't even get as far as asking for a tattoo before they'd shown me the front door. Thailand however, is a different kettle of fish - not only did they welcome me into their studio with open arms, they actually persuaded me to get a bigger tattoo than the one I'd asked for.

 Getting inked

Getting inked

The hangover I had a couple of days prior was absolutely horrendous, but at least with that one I didn't wake up in agony, caked in blood and with a crap tattoo on my ankle... It was definitely safer for me to stop trying to relax on Koh Phi Phi and move onto the next destination.

Upon arrival to Koh Lanta, I did have to go to the hospital to get patched up. Five stitches, a tetanus jab, £200 (and a selfie) later, it was time to spend a few days relaxing...

 Doctor friends.

Doctor friends.

 

 

 

 

When You Want Maya Bay To Yourself So You Make Sure To Get It To Yourself...

There's so much more to Thailand than just beaches, yet prior to actually visiting myself, the only images that really ever popped into my head whilst daydreaming about my upcoming trip, were of crystal blue waters and heavenly white sands.

 Koh Phi Phi

Koh Phi Phi

Despite not being the world's biggest fan of beaches, (I think that sand is pretty much the spawn of Satan,) one of the highest items on my 'Travel Bucket List' has always been to visit Maya Bay - the beach from 'The Beach.' Reading the book makes it hard to believe that such a stunning place actually exists - the movie makes it even more difficult again. It does exist though, and I couldn't wait to see it for myself - to peacefully walk along the stretches of white sand whilst taking in the views, furtively seeking out a younger Leonard DiCaprio.

Although quite predictable, I was still pretty dismayed when I actually did a little bit of research on Maya Bay, only to find hundreds, maybe thousands of photos and blog posts about how horribly crowded it gets; so crowded that a lot of people actually said not to bother visiting it at all. I realised that if I did decide to go, there was an extremely high chance that I'd arrive and spend my whole time there moaning about the sand and the people and the noise and the impossibility of being able to get any decent photos. Maybe it was just best to cross it off my list, and try to enjoy it's beauty whilst watching 'The Beach' for the four thousandth time.

 Photo I nabbed off of Google of Maya Bay in the daytime. Hell on a beach.

Photo I nabbed off of Google of Maya Bay in the daytime. Hell on a beach.

You can't ever really appreciate something fully just through a TV screen though, and by the time I'd actually reached the islands of Thailand, on my trip, I knew that there had to be a way to see the bay without the masses of people. I'm fairly stubborn, and really didn't want to give up on my visit too easily. Luckily, after some more research, I stumbled upon the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard trip.

For 3500 Thai Baht (which equates to roughly 80 quid) you can buy yourself a lovely shiny space on the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard trip. The first thing I looked at was the price, and the budget backpacker part of me instantly said 'no, no, no.' There is never any harm in reading some more information though...

 The Sleep Aboard Boat

The Sleep Aboard Boat

The further I researched, the more certain I was that I was going to book a space on the overnight trip - and the more confident I was that it was in fact great value. The Sleep Aboard company is the only company with a license to be on Maya Bay before and after the official opening hours, and they take full advantage of this by taking you in the evening as well as first thing the following morning. Entry to Maya Bay is 400 baht each time, (about £10) and I was quoted 600 baht for the boat to take me there. (about £15) Obviously if you go with Sleep Aboard, this is all included as part of your trip. If you were to hire your own boat to visit Maya Bay in the evening and the following morning too, (whilst all the crowds are there) then you'd be paying 2000 baht anyway! Spaces on the trip are limited to (around) 25 people each day, and because of the license, you'll literally be the only people on the beach. You get all your food included, as well as snorkeling and kayaking (both days) a free bucket when you have a BBQ on the beach, a visit to the monkey island and to top it off you get to go swimming with the luminescent plankton at night. (As a separate trip, this costs 1700 baht or £40.) I worked out that to do everything you get to do on the trip, but paying yourself for each individual activity, plus food and accommodation would cost you in excess of 6700 baht. (£155) Long story short, I was sold.

I got extremely lucky, and managed to get the last available space on the trip - it was fully booked up for the next two months aside from that one date. Along with the shining TripAdvisor reviews, I took this to be a really good sign, and I wasn't wrong.

The day finally arrived and at 3pm, along with the rest of the group I set off on the Sleep Aboard trip from Koh Phi Phi. I was initially a bit nervous about the fact I was going to be on my own on a small, overnight trip, but everyone on the boat was friendly from the word go. We visited the Viking Caves and then stopped off to kayak and snorkel. I (sort of) conquered my fear of jumping from the top of the boat a couple of times, for the purposes of a GoPro 'boat jump' shot, (compulsory in any travel video...) After a couple of hours, we made our way round to Maya Bay. It was absolutely heaving with tourists and I can't deny that as soon as I saw how busy it was, I was absolutely certain that I'd made the right choice by paying the extra to visit the bay this way! It was extremely satisfying to take a seat on the soft white sand, and watch the hordes of loud people get on their hired boats and buggar off, leaving just the 25 of us with the whole place to ourselves.

The island is nowhere near as big as they've managed to make it look in the film, but there is still enough to explore, that if you're lucky, you may at some point actually get the entire beach to yourself. I found myself completely alone for five minutes or so, as the others disappeared into the jungle behind the bay itself. It was a completely surreal moment for me, one of those moments that renders you a little speechless for a while, and will never ever leave you. 

 Maya Bay.

Maya Bay.

A few of us sat on the beach and watched the sunlight disappear before we made our way into the jungle where the Sleep Aboard team had set up a little campfire and had a whole lot of BBQ food ready and waiting for us. We were allowed to eat as much as we wanted and I ate so much I felt like I would never be able to eat again! Free buckets of vodka or rum and mixer were dished out, and we all sat around the campfire to play 'Ring of Fire.'

I normally wouldn't opt into a drinking game, but after the first round, I wanted to join in as everyone was having so much fun. Suitably tipsy, I managed to get myself temporarily lost in the trees when I went on a toilet hunt halfway through the game. The sounds of laughter soon brought me back to the group, slightly disappointed that I wasn't going to have to rough it in the jungle like a proper adventurer.

At 9pm, it was time to leave Maya Bay and head back out on the boat for a bit of night time snorkeling with the luminescent plankton. I was hugely skeptical that it would look even half as good as it does in the film, but I was blown away by how amazing it was. I've since re-watched 'The Beach' and it definitely looks much better in real life! The more force you disturb the water with, the brighter the plankton shine blue. We spent ages swimming under the water, it was like a whole new, magical world under there. It's a bit of a shame that you can't capture the magic on camera, as you need an underwater camera with a really long exposure, but it also makes it even more magical in a way, as to see it, you actually have to go and physically see it.

When we eventually got back on the boat, and had dried off, the Sleep Aboard crew produced a guitar. A few people went up to the top deck of the boat to get some sleep, but the rest of us stayed downstairs and sang all night. I'd go as far as saying that it was my happiest night in Thailand. I loved how there were so many people from all over the world, coming together as a drunken international choir - not everyone spoke English, but as soon as someone busted out 'Wonderwall' we were all singing together. I eventually went up to the top deck to get some sleep, and awoke just in time to see the sunrise, which was beautiful.

 Sunrise from the boat.

Sunrise from the boat.

Everyone was awake early, and we headed back towards Maya Bay so we could have a bit more time there before the crowds of people arrived. It was just as satisfying to watch the reverse of the previous night, and go from being the only ones there to seeing other people arrive to crowded scenes. We stayed for a suitable amount of time before getting back on the boat to go snorkeling and kayaking again.

 Crew.

Crew.

We docked back at Koh Phi Phi just after 10am, absolutely full of smiles. I had an amazing time at the Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, but I'd say that the Sleep Aboard trip just about takes the prize for my favourite couple of days in Thailand. I urge anybody who wants to see Maya Bay, to do it with Sleep Aboard!

The trip seems to book up quickly, so I'd advise booking in advance if it's something you really want to do. I booked via the website. The link to booking is here.