Tuesday 27 August 2013

Thailand Part 2

This is the second part of my Thailand Story. 
The first part may be found here.

Sorry for the delay, I had to go to font - you know how it is.

Back to the story!

We stopped before the break with our two handsome protagonists about to head off to Koh Samui. Given our previously demonstrated ability to navigate Thailand successfully, you might think that we wouldn't stop getting into trouble just because we were in a pressurized cabin for an hour or two... But our self endangering highjinks were over for a while.

Naturally, being organised and stuff, we had managed to bag a room in a hotel on Koh Samui, in a hotel called P. Chaweng - pretty close to the airport. So with our bags in tow, we got a *real* taxi and motored on to our first accommodation. 
For the first time since we had started the trip, it seemed as though we were succeeding in following some sort of a plan! 
Indeed, when we got into the hotel, our hostess even booked us a taxi and arranged a wakeup call for our trip to the port in the morning. Champion! Time to venture out into the night.

Jamie, looking pensively across the sea

We checked out a couple of places to begin, some practically ghost towns, some charging 40 quid for a meal, and one with a cute Thai girl outside that charged just over a pound for a cocktail. Guess which one we chose? 

Settling in upstairs, we ordered some food and the first of many cocktails. 

I hadn't eaten much Thai food before this trip, and on the plane (after giving up on trying to bear the American voice over on 'how its made') I watched a program about 'Pad Thai' - a peasants dish based around beansprouts and rice noodles, often with some meat included in the form of chicken, pork or beef. I figured that there was no time like the present to get started with the culinary investigation, so I ordered the Chicken variation. 

Oh. My. Dear. Sweet. Noodly. Jesus. 
This dish is delicious, I could literally eat it every meal for a week without getting bored. 

Once our first incredibly strong cocktails were done, we ordered more and settled in for the evening's entertainment - A Thai guy was strumming out some pleasant chords on a nice acoustic steel string guitar, and had attached a harmonica to his front. But what really sold the deal was his singing. I want to be fair to the guy, because his English is way better than my Thai, but holy crap. I have never heard such garbled versions of the lyrics to famous songs. And yes... I have heard myself sing. 

Sadly I didn't record his version of 'Blowing in the Wind' that conformed to every asian accent stereotype, but I did manage to get a few minutes of this version of 'imagine' instead.

Eventually we got tired and headed off to bed, in a nicely Air Conditioned room with soft sheets and a hot shower. Thailand was luxury!

The next morning we woke up early to catch our boat to Tao with a group of equally tired looking young people from around the globe. Despite giving the impression of being a disorganised scruffian, I was already 95% packed from the night before. But Jamie had decided for whatever reason to open his bag and spread various bits of his crap all over the room. One of these was his 'bum-bag' (containing passport, money, cards etc.) and another was his tablet and kindle. 

So early'o'clock comes round and we get our call to leave the room. 

Jamie hops up to pack his stuff. But where is it!? Its not there. He runs around, checking shelves, checking the shower, checking under beds, checking the catches on the windows. Clearly getting stressed about the absence of pretty much everything that he absolutely shouldn't have lost, he is certain that we have been broken into. Naturally, I was supportive and stood there smirking about the stupidity of the situation... Minutes left to get into the taxi and I'm the organised one...

Has he checked his bag? Of course he has, what a stupid question... 
Would he like to check it again? 

Uurgh, fine... 

Oh, there it is...Lets go.

We dash out to the taxi and, after an uneventful ride, make it to the port on time to catch our boat.

How I felt watching Jamie panic

The boat ride itself was pretty straight forward, but I took a few nice pics on the way that I ended up being quite pleased with.

Some chaps with a stick

The Entrance to the Koh Tao ferry port - framed nicely by chaos.
2 hours later, we docked in a very busy Koh Tao and tried to find the taxi that was due to pick us up from among the horde of touts. Some of whom straight up lied about being sent to get us...I'm not sure how that scam is supposed to work, but no doubt it would have involved a stabbing. 

We were doing our diving with a company called Big Blue, who were offering 12 dives for about £160 as well as complimentary accommodation on any day we dived. Of course, we decided to stay in one of their rooms. However, P. Chaweng this was not. 
Cold showers, a single room fan, thin sheets and stiff beds, not to mention the toilets that wouldnt flush toilet paper (you had to put it in a bin in the corner...wtf?) but the best thing of all was the nightlife. Our nights were spent sweating, no sheets on, waiting for the fan to rotate and bless us with 5 seconds of respite from the sweltering heat. It would be manageable if we could get to sleep, and just forget about it. But our room backed onto the road down Big Blue and a local bar seemed to think it was appropriate to play their music at full volume until 3am every night. Fuckers.

You can call me a pampered, over privileged twat if you want, but this was the same price as our palace back in Samui. And I have a couple of standards I like to maintain. 

1 - I like to be able to sleep.
2 - I like to flush my faeces away, instead of storing them in a bin in the corner.

Call me crazy! - We eventually moved to a different hotel where it was possible to fall asleep. We still had to act as shit curators though.

So anyway, after finally getting some sleep we got started with the whole diving thing.

Now, I knew before going that there was a decent chance I would get bored with the whole thing after the novelty wore off. Sure, being under the sea would be an interesting change but I wasn't sure whether the lack of a 'challenge' would be a bit of a turn off after a while.

The first few dives were a laugh, learning how to deal with the buoyancy and maximise air efficiency. Trying to spot fishes while not getting lost from the group. But none of it was terribly taxing. I described it as bird watching underwater.
Birds are cool and whatever, sparrows, wrens, chickens. But its always the rarer things that are more interesting - a deer, a red squirrel, a turtle.

A sexy Nudibrank
And we saw some interesting stuff - a Hawksbill turtle, a seasnake, some Moray eels, a Jenkins stingray and most importantly some nudibrank.

Ultimately though, it was all a bit passive. Indeed, the times that I had the most fun were when I was doing stuff I 'wasnt supposed to be doing' - like cave swimthroughs, swimming away from the group, flips and shit. Truth told, I was pretty glad that there was climbing on the island to break up the cycle of diving, sunbathing, eating, sunbathing, sleeping, eating, diving.

When I eventually started to black out underwater on the 9th and 10th dives of the trip, I was quite happy to call an end to the whole thing and remain on land for a while. I'll leave diving to the bird watchers.

So onto the climbing!

What to say?

The Thailand that most climbers will be familiar with is the image of soaring limestone cliffs and sea stacks that litter the coast of the western mainland near Railay, Tonsai and Krabi. Koh Tao however, is actually primarily formed from granite, and a sharp crystalline one at that.

Every day that I went out, I earned some sort of flapper, cut, or other bodily injury from the rock. And I still have a scabbed up ankle almost 3 weeks on from the day that the initial injury occurred - healing doesnt happen very fast when you keep swimming in the sea apparently.

My new computer background

My first problem was actually in finding the rock. The island itself is only 5 miles long by 2 across, so in theory everything is in walking distance. But an absence of pad, or partner meant that I wanted to try and recce each area before shelling out for rental (£6 a day for a beaten up pad). Two of the better looking areas were 'The Secret Garden' and 'the Frontyard/Backyard boulders'. 
Despite both of these areas being around 10-30 minutes away from our front door, the first time I went looking for both of them, I ended up being out of the house for a good 3/4 hours trying to make sense of a map that refused to be made sense of.

Indeed, if I hadnt accidentally met a guy who had chalk on his hands while walking *right by* the Secret Garden, then I dont think I would have ever found it...Maybe I suck at reading maps...but I maintain that the instructions COULD have been clearer. I spent the rest of the afternoon climbing with 'Raphael' but he was leaving for Tonsai the next morning, so I was once again going to be scraping the barrel for partners. 

Can you spot the Secret Garden? It's in there somewhere. No. Really. That is literally where it is.

The second time that I went out (after meeting Raphael) I was climbing alone 
(on what was to become my project for the trip) when a Blonde Norwegian and a stacked Canadian rocked up and said hi. I had just ripped a bleeding flapper in my finger, so I decided to hang around with them and take some pictures for the rest of the afternoon.


Anne had climbed before, but Teo was a complete novice. So I had some fun teaching him how to climb his first outdoor boulders. Seeing his face as he started to get the whole idea was great, and when he first topped out on a boulder he had claimed that he couldn't do - he was beaming.

High up on Car Jack, 6b+

Anne seems to be a social butterfly, and somehow managed to convince a tonne of random people on the beach to come climbing with her (reducing the individual cost of taxis and rental - cunning). In the following week we popped up to 'Mek's Mountain', where I did a couple of leads and topropes. Onsighting a 6b+ and 6c before failing on a valiant attempt to complete an incorrect sequence on a 7a.

Throughout all this climbing activity I was still diving, sunbathing and generally resting up between climbing days.
I cant recommend taking 2 hour long swims every day as a particularly good way to grow strong skin.

Despite this, I still managed another couple of days out on the rock to try my project.

I dont think it is even all that hard, maybe only around 7B. I'd like to claim it is harder, but factors like the blazing heat, the mosquitoes, the soft skin, the shoulder injury, the fact that I only had myself to work the sequence with. and the general lack of fitness I have nurtured by not climbing for a month may have conspired to make it feel harder than it is...

Sadly the only footage of the link move (from the heelhook to the high right hand) became corrupted on my card, so it isnt a complete ascent on my video (which I am having some issues uploading recently)

Still, I reckon that it has come out alright overall. I'll stick it up here when I get it online.

I think this blog has gone on long enough now, if you read this far then you've hit almost 2k words, so I'm going to wrap it up it a paragraph or two.

We left a few days after I completed my project and it couldnt have come soon enough. I think both of us were starting to go up the walls with the tedium of existence on a small beach, on a tiny island.

My advice for anyone else planning on making the trip out:

  1.  Bring mozzie spray out. While not a big problem by the sea, the mozzies on the island interior make projecting utterly hellish.
  2.  Consider staying on one of the other beaches away from Sairee, Raphael said that the one he was staying at was much more chilled out.
  3.  Dont expect anyone to speak English, but smile nicely at the people you deal with most often. They'll remember and treat you better.
  4.  The food from the street vendors is just as tasty as in the restaurants, cheaper but you get less meat.
  5.  Bring plenty of chalk - climbing is sweaty business out there.

I think I'm done with the Thailand section of this post now.

In other news:
I went to Font this weekend, there will be a post about it soon enough.
I got a steroid injection in my shoulder today, I have to sit out for a week but hopefully it'll sort things out by the second week of term..
Work starts next week again. Can't wait...Still, it'll give me something to do instead of sitting around bemoaning my injuries.




One more thing from Thailand!

On the way back home, we met a guy who had been shanked in the arm by a Tuktuk driver! I think he tried to drunkenly dodge a fare or something, but whatever - I think the point stands that those guys are crazy. I'm definitely not being paranoid.

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