My stomach wrenched and my head wanted to burst. My throat was constricting and I made some gutterul sounds that resembled some kind of Lord of the Rings creature. Lying next to the toilet, with one arm around the rim and my face stuck well and truly inside the bowl, I was trying to expel whatever it was that had led me to this situation.
I was well and truly poisoned. It wasn’t the cool kind of poisoning though, the type where some sneaky, backstabbing underling poisons their king like some kind of Game of Thrones plot, it was old fashioned food poisoning.
Kind of wish it was the cool kind though, that would have made a better story.
I had tried to figure out what it was that I had ingested that led me to this situation. Between flushing my body out of every sort of fluid and function, I had narrowed it down to the plane food from the flight home from Thailand.
The irony was almost as bad as the poisoning.
I had spent three weeks in Thailand with my girlfriend and did not get sick once.
Prior to leaving, I had spoken to friends who had travelled South East Asia and they all said the same thing – “Watch out for anything that touches water” one said, “even the rim under bottle caps, check that the seal isn’t broken and they haven’t just refilled an old bottle”.
“Shit,” I thought. “What kind of place am I going to?”
I had travelled quite a lot before Thailand, I would consider myself a well travelled person. South East Asia, however, had eluded me, and I always felt a little threatened and daunted by it. You hear some horror stories around the place, the stories where drinks are spiked at bars then you wake up on a beach full of needles without your kidneys.
I had somehow come into the good fortune or getting a week of paid accommodation in Phuket, however, and I thought it would be stupid to waste it. Thanks to my girlfriend’s parents we were off.
We packed some rock climbing gear and did some research – there’s some killer climbing in Thailand.
After some shuffled flights and almost 30 hours of no sleep, we arrived at our hotel in Patong Beach, Phuket. The time was around 3am and the receptionist was asleep on the couch. We woke him up and before I knew it, I was in the shower of my room. I tried as hard as I could to resist the urge to drink the water.
You learn a lot after a week in Phuket, but the one thing I learnt was this: If you don’t want drugs, prostitutes and don’t like Russians, don’t go to Phuket.
Our time in Phuket eased us into the culture, but I would have rather dived in. The tourist traps of the island are truly the place of horrors for travelers, that is, the people who travel for culture, in every sense of the word.
Polluted, sleazy, in your face (no I don’t want to buy a damn suit), sometimes scary and very much distasteful. That is how I will always remember Phuket.
And I accidentally bought a suit.
Okay, I accidentally bought three suits.
… as well as three shirts.
One thing to do in Phuket – take an eco-tour on kayaks around the islands of Phang Nga bay. A beautiful and sustainable way to view the wonders of the bay without contributing to the pollution. John Gray Sea Canoe has the best reputation, and they backed up their reputation with plenty of fun and laughter.
One thing not to do – do not ride scooters. The amount of westerners I saw with patched up legs, arms and faces around the place told the story bluntly. You ride at your own great risk. You could be the best driver in the world, but many on the road are the worst. An incident in Chiang Mai would ram home this lesson.
Did I mention the Russians? Many of these people I have met are extremely lovely, I would love to visit Russia. However I don’t want to visit Phuket for the type of Russians that frequent the place.
Rude, rich and sleazy, that is what the Phuket Russians are. Please note, I don’t judge the entire nation on these few. The amount of fat, hairy, old Russian men wearing dick-togs in fancy restaurants will haunt me forever. The Russian women however, I may remember (they wear see through clothes and little underneath).
A lot of Phuket is geared towards the Russians. I saw Russian strip clubs with European women, instead of Thai, plastered with Russian writing. It’s the same with restaurants, there’s a Russian menu everywhere. There is even shooting ranges.
Come to think of it, there is even shooting ranges at Russian restaurants.
And they love to fight with each-other.
From Phuket, we headed north to Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is the city of my dreams. Well at least my dreams of South East Asia.
Culture, food, amazing people, folk art and an amazing history, the city has it all.
The first night we arrived was a Sunday night, the weekly-run walking market was on and our taxi driver suggested we check it out.
As stated two sentences ago, Chiang Mai has it all, and all of it can be found at the Sunday walking market. The food – my God – the food.
I ate everything – all rules I had promised myself that I had based off stories were gone. I ate anything that looked edible. If it looked like something I had never seen, I ate it, because that is what Chiang Mai did to me.
A week in Chiang Mai isn’t enough. I could live there. I don’t want to tell you any more about it because that’s how good it is, you might ruin it.
No, I’ll tell you about it.
Chiang Mai is built on an ancient fortified city, the stone walls are still present, so too are the narrow old city streets. Outside of the town walls, the city is much like many in the region, sprawling with plenty of concrete. The charm of the city is unbelievable, however, and I suggest you stay within the walls if you ever visit.
During our stay, we travelled around the countryside, the temple of Doi Suthep is a must visit. Hire a red truck for dirt-cheap and they will drive you up the hill. Ask the driver to visit the waterfalls too, they will usually be happy to be your private driver for the whole day.
If you find yourself in this amazing city, I thoroughly recommend taking a Thai cooking class. We did a half day class at the Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School, which I can’t speak highly enough of.
One moment that will remain with me forever happened in this wondrous city. Driving out of the city we were stuck in a traffic jam. We rounded a policeman waving the traffic onwards and I looked out the window. A scooter driver lay face up on the pavement, his head swollen monstrously and blood everywhere. His helmet lay a good 10-15 metres away. He was clearly in an accident and I was later told that drivers see deaths multiple times a day, almost all of them being scooter riders.
So again, for all those of you who were not listening – think again about hiring scooters.
The people of Chiang Mai are the most friendly I have ever met. I also bought artwork from a Chiang Mai local who had his art showcased in Brisbane. The city captures the hearts of many, I even met a few Japanese blokes who have moved to Chiang Mai to live because they couldn’t possibly live anywhere else – they now run a clothing store inside the old city.
Chiang Mai is summed up for me by those people. A bustling multi-cultural city that attracts new people and ideas, but exports it’s own brand of those out to the world. It felt like a very open and embracing place and I would consider it a place to live myself.
Onwards again, we flew south to the city of Krabi, then caught a long-tail boat to the village of Railay Beach.
Railay Beach conjures visions of the movie The Beach, starring Leonarda DiCaprio. Small bungalows and shacks act as accommodation as well as bars. The town is situated on a peninsula, cut off from the mainland by a national park. No cars can even fit in this village, it is that small.
The village itself is split into two, on one bay is a couple of developed resorts, a few Russians, but not enough to rip your hair out. On another bay on the opposite side of the peninsula is the rustic, swamp town. This is where you want to go if you’re a backpacker.
I don’t really know how to describe this swamp town. It is literally a bunch of shacks built on a boardwalk, tiny streets with food stalls and bars with floor cushions. It seems most of it is built with drift wood. One bar is even an abandoned ferry that has been scuttled.
The majority of Railay beach are there for one thing – climbing.
Towers of rock rise straight from the sea on this peninsula, the rock is beautifully soft to the touch but extremely safe. In recent years, bolts that were drilled in place decades ago have been failing, but a program of re-bolting has been in place for a few years now. The Thaitanium project has been doing some great work, and it was amazing to see so many people involved. Most of the popular routes are now re-opened and back into full swing thanks to tourism and donations from around the world.
I could live in Railay, and climb for the rest of my days. The guides were wonderful, if you get to Railay, be sure to check out the climbing stores and suss out the guides before hand. The most professional looking are sure to be the most professional (some look like band-wagon climbing guides). The guides at Railay Rock Climbing Shop were the best, our personal guide for the day – Jay, personally rebolted many of the climbs around Railay, and Jane is one of Thailand’s most accomplished female climbers.
Accommodation is Railay is diverse and there is something for every traveller. We stayed at the amazing Railay Garden View Resort, which included small bungalows perched on the hill side above the bay but below some mean looking summits. For $24 a night, it was heaven in every sense.
I vividly remember one moment in Railay, I was sitting on some cushions on a bamboo shack floor, eating a salad burger. Again, my rules about contaminated water had long been forgotten.
I didn’t get sick.
After a full on week of kayaking islands and climbing cliffs, it was time to head home.
Now is the time that I should warn you that flights in Thailand are never on time and are always delayed by at least a couple of hours.
I have always hated flying, I’m not scared of it at all, I actually love the flying part. The bad part is that I am over six foot tall, and planes are like cattle trucks.
No sleep, crying babies, stinky people – that is flying.
Then there’s the food. I remember tucking into an omelette of some sort for breakfast (It’s dinner somewhere so give me that instead) and it tasting pretty strange. My girlfriend ate half of hers and I for some reason ate that too, despite the taste.
Boy was that a mistake.
12 hour later, eating a meal with my girlfriend’s family I begin to feel sick. It wasn’t the seafood chowder that her loving family had slaved over. I was worried I would insult them so I cleaned my bowl whilst the whole time I felt like I was close to death. My insides were being boiled by the result of some careless person.
I managed to hold on and get home. Running in the door I literally jumped on the toilet and commenced my romance with it. If that toilet had rights, I would be in jail, I did some terrible things to it.
Then my girlfriend did the same to the toilet upstairs.
Irony is delicious, once you can stomach anything again.