Welcome back to the exciting conclusion of my week in Thailand! If you happened to miss the first half of this post, you can catch up here. I last left off with the ThaIntro group pulling away from Bangkok on an over night train, heading off to our next exciting location. A few people were expecting the train to be something similar to the Hogwarts Express. They were severely disappointed. We were informed that new trains were going to be installed next year, so the train we were on had a very “dated” feel. The worst part was probably the bathroom, which had a traditional eastern style toilet. Translation: it was basically a hole in the floor which ran to a tank. I tried not to focus too much on the surroundings and mainly concentrated on writing a paper that was due soon after I returned. Each seat had a nice, large window that allowed a cool breeze to run through the train. At one point while I was busily working away, the window suddenly collapsed and scared me half to death. It was defiantly a testament to the age of the train. I put my work away and walked around to see what everyone else was doing. Some people were playing games to pass the time while others were busy drowning their claustrophobia in alcohol. I returned to my seat and played a couple games of chess with Andrew. One of the train workers soon came by and turned the chairs into beds, which was pretty cool. After a few hours of catching up with Andrew, I tried to go to sleep, in hopes of getting off the train that much sooner.
Monday April 21, 2014: Floating Bungalows
We got off the train at 7am, only to get on a 3 hour van, then finally a 30 minute boat ride to this hideaway located on a huge lake. Khao Sak National Park was a gorgeous place floating on the water full of places to swim, kayaks to use, and space to lay out. Once rooms were settled, everyone jumped in the water and started taking it easy. Khao Sak was a much needed change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. There did not seem to be people around for miles. As the afternoon went on, some rain rolled in, but that did not slow anyone down. The fun continued on into the night where the entire group played this odd game with a box. The objective was to pick up this box using only your teeth. After each round, the sides of the box were partially torn off and people tried again. This continued until people were picking up a flat piece of cardboard off of the ground. I was terrible at this game, being eliminated in the first round, but one guy in our group managed to make it to one of the last rounds.
Things quieted down on the bungalows and the electricity was turned off at 11pm. We were provided with oil lamps to navigate the narrow walkways. Before bed, everyone got together and gazed at the stars above. Aside from the few people that did not realize star gazing works better when their cell phone flashlight turn off, the view was incredible. A few of us snuck away onto a boat to get away from those that could not go without electricity.The glimmering, starry sky above painted the perfect scene for us to just talk about life, the universe, and everything. After several minutes of mind stimulating conversation, our group leader busted us and we were forced to get off the boat much to our disappointment. We changed locations, but it was getting late so we said our good nights and went to bed.
Tuesday April 22, 2014: Arrival at Koh Phangan and the Half Moon Party
After a great night’s sleep, we ate a quick breakfast and shipped off for our next location, the island of Koh Phangan. Since the usual place the group stays at was booked full, we would be in the resort next door. This resort was awesome, but had one, minor flaw. The day we arrived, the staff decided to clean the water. Apparently, the way to do this is to pour what I presume to be gallons upon gallons of chlorine into the water system. Everyone looking forward to getting a nice shower had their hopes quickly dashed , unless they wanted to endure the eye stinging, suffocating showers. I suffered through and got ready for the night’s main event, the half moon party.
Before we left for this party, everyone was required to wear bright neon shirts and get painted ridiculously. It was about midnight before we arrived to The Half Moon Party. Once everyone was reunited, the group made the journey up the hill and into the heart of the party. I stopped for a brief moment to appreciate the sea of several thousand neon painted party goers, the colorful surroundings, and the bumping bass beats of a party that would stop for no one. Soon enough, I was grabbed by the wrist and lead into the chaos which was about to ensue. We posted up on our “Party Platform”, which overlooked the madness of The Half Moon Party and was conveniently located next to a bar. The number of people in attendance was incredible and it was obvious the party would continue until the sun came up. Once we had our fun, the leaders arranged taxis to take us back home so we could end the night.
Wednesday April 23, 2014: Koh Phangan Island Tour
Today we would be taking a boat around the island of Koh Phangan. After waking up at 10am, we went out on our boat actually named “Snoop Dogg” and started to explore the island. A few laid out on the front of the boat while others were exchanging stories about the craziness of the night before. An hour or so into the tour, we stopped to do a bit of snorkeling. Before jumping in, some of the leaders tossed bread in the water to attract fish. I grabbed a mask and jumped in to the sea life below. The water was teeming with a rainbow of ocean life. Small black and white minnows moved in swarms all around me. Several meters below lay a multitude coral hosting many other exotic and beautiful fish. We snorkeled for around 30 and it was definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip.
We were called back to the boat and continued our journey around the island a little while longer before stopping at a beach resort for lunch. A couple of the residents were impressed how many of us managed to fit on the boat. After lunch, we relaxed on the beach for a few hours, swam, and even played some volleyball. My team was unstoppable and we were easily the kings of beach volleyball. Once the group was ready to head back, we boarded the boat one last time to return to our hotel. It should have been a quick hour ride home, but as luck would have it, the trip took a little bit longer. A couple minutes after pulling away from shore, the engine made a large chunk sound. The boat began to slow down. Something was wrong with the motor. Even though we were still moving, travel was much, much slower than anticipated. Between this and the showers, I took these events as a good reminder that no matter how ready a person may be, life can happen in some of the most unpredictable ways.
Eventually, we did make it back. On the bright side, most of the chlorine was out of the water system. Tonight, we would be heading to The Drop In Bar. We were not told much about this place, but it was a nice to have a good surprise ahead of us. The Drop In Bar was located on the shore of Koh Phangan and was nothing short of a crazy beach party. With options to either show off on the dance floor of sand or hangout on the shore, this place had everything. Including…fire rope jumping. Exactly as it sounds, two guys would light a massive jump rope on fire, start swinging it, and anyone brave enough could just jump in. I watched in disbelief as several people took turns jumping in and facing the danger. Most managed to get in and out without a problem. Most. Some would trip on the rope and get a little tangled up, but everyone managed to get away mostly unscathed.
The rest of the night was pretty tame after that. A couple more hours were spent watching others press their luck and just enjoying the beach. We later caught a cab home and got ready for our last full day in Thailand.
Thursday April 24, 2014: Elephant Rides and Thai Massages
For our last day in Thailand, we would be visiting the Maneerat Safari Elephant Sanctuary to intact with and ride some elephants. Once we arrived at the sanctuary, we were split in to two groups. Luckily, I was in the first, because I could not contain my excitement. There was an odd number of people in our group, so somehow, three of us guys ended up riding on a single elephant. The three of us got on this elephant’s back in a dodgy, make-shift bench that was tied around the elephant’s stomach. We sat down and took off on our safari journey. The sanctuary had a small trek through some wooded areas before ascending to the top of a hill overlooking Koh Phangan. It was a surreal experience and I loved every minute of it. We watched as the elephant ate some food, wandered around, and interacted with other elephants. I was pretty sad once the ride was over, but at least we were not leaving just yet.
Even though the primary purpose was to rescue elephants, the sanctuary was home to many other animals as well. While the other group took their turn on the elephants, the rest of us stayed back played with a monkey named Peepo. Peepo was a friendly, but curious little guy. He played with anything he could get his hands on. To interact with Peepo, we were required to sit on a bench perfectly still. Then, the keeper would set Peepo on our lap and let him do his thing. If Peepo just kind of sat there and hung out, then we could pet him. But if he was feeling adventurous, Peepo would climb all over and get into trouble. He was very unpredictable. For some, he fell asleep in people’s laps, while for several of the girls, he stole their hair ties. The funniest Peepo moment was when he was sitting on the lap of one girl, then decided to use the bathroom right where he was. I felt bad for the girl, but it was hilarious. To calm him down, the keeper would occasionally massage Peepo’s face and body. Before I could get my chance, the second group came back from their rides.
Everyone got back together and it was time to feed the elephants. Armed with a basket of bananas, the elephants snatched the bananas right out of our hand and ate them, peel and all. I think I fed an elephant at least 20 bananas one by one. Then we moved on to just giving him the basket, but it still did not seem to put a dent in his appetite. After feeding what I assumed to be the entire islandls stockpile of bananas, one of the keepers filled up the elephants trunk for what I though was a drink of water. Not quite. The elephant raised his trunk in the air and sprayed water all over us. Just in case anyone did not get wet enough the first time, the keeper decided to do it again, just for good measure. It was awesome and I am pretty sure the elephant thought it was hilarious. The experience gave me a whole new appreciation for elephants and I could have stayed all day at the sanctuary, but like always, our time was up and we had to move on.
We got back to the resort and got some Thai messages. This woman twisted and turned me in all kinds of direction. At one point, I was pretty sure I was going to snap in half. At the end, I felt like the abuse my body had taken all week had disappeared and I was ready to start the whole trip again. Unfortunately, the sun was setting and it was time to get ready for the farewell dinner. Everyone gathered together one last time and went to this gorgeous restaurant on the beach. It was a calm evening, the wave were softly crashing on the shore, and we had one last Thai meal together as a group. After dinner, we lit some paper lanterns and set them off into the night sky. Many of the others were continuing on to other parts of Thailand or other countries, but as for the Thailand Brigade, our journey was coming to a close. We caught a taxi back home, sat of the beach, and laughed at all of the incredible, ridiculous, and amazing memories that were made on this trip. Good byes were said, hugs were exchange, and just like that, we reached the end of our adventure.
Without experiencing it for myself, I could never have imagined that such a place existed in the world. Between all of the food, people, culture, and scenery, there is no other place like Thailand. The new friends I made, the experiences we shared, and the memories we created are those which I treasure deeply. I find it hard to believe that the journey is over, but I look forward to retelling these stories for the rest of my life.