Wednesday 28 August 2013

Thailand Video

Here it is, sorry for the delay:

Koh Tao Bouldering from Ace Eebie on Vimeo.

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 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.

Thursday 22 August 2013

My 200th Blog!

Here. We. Go!

So for the last month I have been diving, climbing, sunbathing, eating, drinking and rehabing in Thailand.

Koh Tao to be specific.

The trip was a bit of an unplanned adventure, I didnt even know we were going to Koh Tao until the evening before we left (I thought we were staying on Koh Samui - an island about 60km south of where we were staying)

For those that (like me) know sod all about the area, Koh Tao is a tiny island in the gulf of Thailand that is famed for its extensive diving potential in the surrounding waters.

But before we got there, we had to navigate Bangkok...

Given that we had a 10 hour swap over between flights in Bangkok we thought it might be a laugh to motor round and check out as many of the tourist sights as possible before getting back to the airport.

Unfortunately, we had no idea what they were, where they were, and how to get there.
The Thai staff at the airport were pretty useless on that front as well - I was pretty amazed actually, I really thought they would have a better command of English. Lesson leant...

Anyway, I had brought a book at home that very briefly mentioned a few places in the city, and after finding a cash machine we negotiated a lift to one of them...the Golden Mount...

Sounds good doesnt it...

Opulence on a hill, a buddhist temple of repute perhaps, somewhere with a bit more going for it than a slightly weathered shelter for some flaking buddahs and a giftshop with a view over a smoggy city?

As you can see, Bangkok is littered with temples that peek like islands rising above a mishmash sea of newer development. The islands are beautiful when you can see them, which is why I have highlighted them in this photo, but when you cant, they fade into a background of brown and grey.

After we came down from the Golden Mount we tried to find our bearings so we could get to the Grand Palace, and Wat Pho. Unfortunately, with a poor map and no bearings to work from (the road signs are written in squiggle) we completely failed to make any meaningful progress towards the targets.

While we were standing looking a bit lost, a kind thai guy came over and helped us out. Pointed us which way we needed to go, and in very garbled English suggested he could hail us a Tuktuk to take us there for about 40 Baht. Now, at first I thought he meant to walk us there, probably take us down a back alley and shank me for my camera and passport. So when he got us a Tuktuk, I was quite happy with the arrangement. Especially when it would cost less than a pound to go to both things that we wanted to see.

Our Tuktuk Driver
Once we got into the Tuktuk we were informed that there was some deal going on with the tourism board that would help the driver pay for his fuel if he went on a tour of a few of the other sites as well. Hell, sounded good to me - More bang for my buck, and 40 baht was only about 80p anyway. We didnt really understand what he was saying though. Something about a fat Buddah, a golden Buddah, a tailor and then the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
Soudned fair enough, so we got in and started to move. After a while we found out his name was Mai Lee or something along those lines. Naturally, he became MaiLee Cyrus and we made our first friend of the trip.

MaiLee first took us to see a big standing Buddah. No one was around except for a guy selling birds, an old woman selling fruit and a dodgy looking guy with face tattoos sitting menacingly outside the gate...

Trying to ignore this guy, we walked inside the outer wall of the temple and looked awkwardly around waiting for someone to tell us what we were and werent allowed to do. No one seemed to care about us being there, so I cracked out my camera and took a couple of photos.

Big Buddah was neat, no one had shouted at us and we hadnt been stabbed. I felt like we were doing alright. To top it off, when we returned to where we left our MaiLee, he was still sitting there waiting for us!
We got back in his Tuktuk and got a lift to the next exciting place.
Hell. The golden mount could get stuffed, being driving round Bangkok by a guy who didnt seem to care about 'traffic laws' was a laugh. Open sides, wind blowing through my hair, experiencing the city at ground level, this was more like it.

MaiLee was trying to tell us where we were going next, some temple with a Buddah in it. Apparently there was something good about this one, but I couldn't work out what he was going on about. But whatever...for 40 baht it had to be worth a look, no?

When we got there, a slightly chubby Thai guy with hardly any teeth came up to us smiling profusely. He spoke English! Magical! The first chance to actually have a conversation. He told us that he had been working in this temple for 10 years, a mini tour guide, cleaner, and general upkeep manager. He told us that we had been lucky today - the temple was open to foreigners to look around. We took off our shoes and walked in (I was still a bit nervy about having my shoes stolen at this point). We didnt get his name, but I'm going to assume it was LinSae Lhoan. LinSae told us that the Buddah in the back of his 5x10m temple was SOLID GOLD. Hot shit, that is impressive.

There was some history about how it had been carried down from some place further north or something...but to be honest, I had stopped listening to him... A SOLID GOLD Buddah, hidden carefully behind a glass case, a couple of iron bars on the door and guarded carefully by a slightly sweaty toothless old man...Sure thing...Cool story bro.

MaiLee was still waiting for us on our return. Time to go to check out the Grand Palace! Woop Woop!

or not...

MaiLee wanted to take us to a tailor first, apparently he needed to go there to get some stamp or something for the fuel. Whatever, we had hours to kill, and I had heard about how good the Thai tailors were, it might be fun to window shop for a bit. Now... for those of you who have read this far, you probably see where this whole thing is going, and believe me when I say that it is painfully obvious in hindsight just how dim we were being. But I still think we were coming out on top of this exchange. I mean. 80p for our own personal chauffeur around Bangkok for 3 hours? Winning

We could have looked like this guy!
MaiLee took us away from the temple and drove for a while, eventually starting to take some smaller streets,
dirtier, fewer white people, more fruit sellers and some odd looks. Eventually we arrived at the tailor's. A grubby little store, nice inside I guess, but the setting could be improved. Still, it was baking outside and the store had AC so we went in and a greasy looking guy wearing a tshirt handed us some catalogues.
We leafed through looking at various suited men for a while. Great! Those guys certainly looked like they enjoyed wearing suits. Fortunately I work in a chemistry lab, so handmade tailored suits are not really at the top of my list of stuff to buy. However, Jamie showed a slight interest in them and the guy HOOKED ON.

Talk about a hard sell.

Jamie eventually feigned poverty and the guy stormed off to sulk back at the desk with his three other mates. Who gave us some dodgy looks as we walked back past them.

Now, I'm not saying my actions stopped us being stabbed and left for dead in the backroom of a seedy tailor shop in Bangkok. But I think they probably did. Seeing the situation, and feeling my mortality, I bit the bullet... and I now own 3 'silk' ties of varying colours.

When we got back to MaiLee, he seemed to think that we would like to go and see some more of his friends in another tailors. Now, at this point I can say that I am glad that Jamie was there, because I would have probably just gone along with it with a laissez faire smile on my face. However, Jamie had stopped liking MaiLee somewhere around the time he threw us into a high pressure selling situation. And MaiLee learnt this in no uncertain terms. We soon found ourselves travelling post haste towards the Grand Palace and Wat Pho with a sulking Tuktuk driver.

Upon arrival MaiLee informed us that both the Grand Palace and Wat Pho were both closed for the day (...wut?) and that we had best find something else to do.
MaiLee - you betrayed us. I am disappointed in you. Jamie somewhat irrationally paid him DOUBLE the agreed fee and we made a move to find an internet cafe so that we could book a hotel for the evening.

I'd like to say that once we were walking again, my impression of Bangkok was improved. But if anything it was reduced. The place is dirty, crawling with street sellers and crowded. After MaiLee's little game, I was also left assuming that anyone talking to us was almost certainly trying to make a quick buck at our expense.

Ah well.

Here's a calming picture of a boat:

Now, you might have thought that we would learn our lesson from all this. And only use things that we knew to be trustworthy for the rest of the holiday. You might have thought...

After finally sorting ourselves a hotel, it was time to get back to the airport, and that required a taxi. I dont know shit about how to get a taxi in London, let alone Bangkok, so we did what any sensible white tourist would do. And walked out to the street and asked the first vaguely Thai looking person we met to point us to a reputable driver.

He motioned across the street to a line of nice yellow and green cars, each with the word TAXI written on top of them and then helped us cross the road. What a kind guy. Wait. Wait a second. Why are we going this way. What is this? This isnt a taxi. This is some pimped out orange monstrosity with a rear exhaust larger than my head. Jamie...Jamie...what are you doing? Why are you getting into this clearly unlicensed taxi? Oh god, I'm getting in too. This is it. We are going to be driven down a back alley and stabbed. Damn, we had done so well!

We started driving. Me - desperately looking at my map, trying to get any idea whether we are even going the right direction. I look up and spot his taxi license on the front window. Unfortunately the guy in the picture looked nothing like the guy driving our car. Great.

Eventually , however, we started to see some signs with a plane on them and I began to chill out. When we actually arrived at the airport I considered it nothing less than divine intervention. Perhaps all those temples we visited paid off.

Finally we boarded the plane to Koh Samui and fell straight to sleep. Which is where I will leave this story for now.


- A Beautiful rendition of Browin in da wiiind by a live musician,
- A brief rundown of diving in Koh Tao,
- A damning review of the accomodation we suffered,
- Some pictures of a Norwegian girl, her Canadian friend and probably some more boats,
- and if I can get the video to upload, then a video of some of the bouldering on the island

Adieu mes amis!