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Stuck at the beach

Cintsa Mouth, South Africa

J-Bay lived up to all expectations. Really cool looking waves that I have no business getting in the way of, and plenty of less deadly but equally perfect spots as well.

I finally got on my first bus today. Everybody has rental cars here, so I've been pretty lucky at finding people who were going in the right direction. Now I'm in Cintsa, at the backpacker's equivilant of a black hole. Everywhere you look, there's a nice hammock in the shade overlooking the beach or the pool, and a friendly barmaid to hand you another 75 cent beer. Laziness beckons at every turn. I don't see how I can possibly escape.

permalink written by  Jason Kester on March 21, 2003 from Cintsa Mouth, South Africa
from the travel blog: Africa, 2003
tagged Drinking and Laziness

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Efe'd up

Fethiye, Turkey

Turkey y'alls! It's all good!

Just got off the boat from Olympos. 4 days of chilling in the sun, swimming in the Med., and sleeping on the deck of a beat up old yacht.

Ten passengers and a cheap price mean that they end up cutting corners in a lot of areas. The food was not particularly exciting, and they kept lopping off chunks of the itinerary. Twice a day, somebody would have the brochure out, reading about whatever secluded cove we were supposed to stop at but were at the moment sailing past. Lucky for me I had never read that brochure. No expectations = No disappointment.

But yeah, the ride was cool. Nothing to do but sip cold beers, work on the suntan, and maybe jump into the sea from time to time to cool off. Evidently, we cruised past some nice beaches and awe-inspiring ruins, but really I was too busy chilling to pay any attention.

permalink written by  Jason Kester on July 12, 2003 from Fethiye, Turkey
from the travel blog: Middle East, 2003
tagged Drinking and Sailing

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PBRs and Mini-corn dogs

Dhahab, Egypt

Tonight, I'm drinking Johnia Waaker Black Label. No typos there, it's genuine egyptian whiskey. Aged almost six weeks. Tastes much like the local hootch in Thailand.

I'm doing my rescue diver course at the moment. Underwater Combat would be a better title for this thing. For two days now, I've been trying to subdue panicked divers at the surface and below, while my mask is being pulled from my face, my regulator is being ripped from my mouth, and I'm being kicked and beaten about the head and neck by the thrashing scuba tank of my 250 pound instructor. Even when we're doing basic things like taking our gear off and on at the bottom, this guy will come up and turn your air off to see what you do. Too much fun!

One more day of this and I should be certified. After a bit of celebrating, I think I'll hop the ferry into Jordan. This place is great, but there's only so much relaxing a fella can do before it's time to move on.

permalink written by  Jason Kester on June 11, 2003 from Dhahab, Egypt
from the travel blog: Middle East, 2003
tagged Diving and Drinking

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Re: g-e-t-l-i-v-e

Ban Ao Nang, Thailand

So Jay seems to be a step or two farther from the grave. In fact, he'll be climbing this afternoon, and all I can do is belay. I seem to have hosed up my shoulder, so anything I do with my left arm is somewhat agonizing. Maybe more chillin' will help.

And you'll be happy to know that I've been downing every sketchy looking dish that the street vendors can toss my way. I've even been drinking the local hootch with buckets of poisonous ice from the bar. I'm indestructable!

(Notes: 1. Jay did in fact not die of the intestinal disorder that had him sidlined for most of the trip. 2. The shoulder complaints mentioned here were likely a mild case of the bends. )

permalink written by  Jason Kester on December 15, 2000 from Ban Ao Nang, Thailand
from the travel blog: Southeast Asia, 2000-2001
tagged Drinking

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The Goodbye Party

Tokyo, Japan

Adam kindly organised the venue for this occasion (a place called The Dog's Bollox in Ikebukuro) and we both went about inviting our respective and mutual friends. Somewhere in the vicinity of 60 people turned up to join in the festivities. As the night progressed, we got drunker and drunker and yet neither of us had had to buy a drink. As expected all of this drunken behaviour led to some drunken shenanigans, but no-one was hurt or arrested, so all was good.

Someone had the idea of doing speeches, an unusual event at a normal going-away party, at least for the ones I have been to. Some good friends spoke and explained to everyone there how wonderful we were and then I spoke, followed Adam. As expected, Adam started his speech with some toilet humour at my expense, as I had to go to the toilet quickly after finishing my speech.

As the speeches progressed it started becoming clear how much our friends thought of us, and hopefully our words in the following speeches demonstrated how important those people were to the both of us too. Although Adam did use the “C” word in his speech... Naughty naughty!

The night wore on, with some people going home on last train, people who lived close enough taking cabs, and the last few remaining drunks staying until the morning... All in all, a brilliant evening and a tribute to the great friends that have made my stay in Japan such a wonderful experience.

permalink written by  Big_T on August 17, 2008 from Tokyo, Japan
from the travel blog: Big_T's Travel Blog
tagged Drinking, Fun and GoodbyeParty

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Chiang Mai: Songkran at its craziest!

Chiang Mai, Thailand

(S)he only really belongs at the end of the blog, but I think the photo deserves prominence.

Waiting for the bus from Chang Rai to Chang Mai, we bought some drinks and snacks for the journey from the 7-11 in the bus station. 7-11 is absolutely everywhere in Thailand, although they've been surprisingly ubiquitous throughout Asia. The Thais seem to really care about drinking straws, but I had to laugh when I opened the bag. We'd bought two big bottles of drinking water (Thailand may be more developed that the rest of South East Asia, but you still can't drink the tap water), two cans of Coke, and two little bottles of Yakult. The bag also contained six straws in three different sizes: long, thick ones presumably for the bottled water; medium-sized ones for the Cokes; and two tiny little narrow straws for the Yakult. I wonder how many different types of straw they have easy access to at the counter, and for how many different products!

Last time I was in Thailand I stayed at a little backpackers' called Eagle House and as they had been so friendly and incredibly cheap we had taken the unusual step of booking ahead so that we could be sure of somewhere to stay over Songkran, during which we had heard Chang Mai books up very fast. The Irish owner, Annette, who run the place with her Thai husband, Pon, did not have very good email communication skills. In fact she had almost completely failed to confirm that we had a booking at all: “I think the staff have booked the room for you” was the best we got from her. When we arrived it was pouring with rain so I did not relish the thought of looking for another place to stay. The guy at the desk told us it was the first time there had been rain in Chang Mai since last year. Either people were lying to us about the weather, or the apparent early monsoon was just for us, and was following us around Asia. There was a bit of confusion and delay but, yes, they did have a room for us, although I soon realised it was not what we'd asked for: this room had a hot water shower, a totally unnecessary luxury we had not been bothering with. The “cold” water comes out pretty warm when the ambient temperature is 35C and over, and you don't want anything warmer when the weather is that hot anyway. Also, hot water showers are usually electric “power” showers, which means that the water tends to trickle out much more slowly than water straight from the mains. I went back to the desk and explained to the young guy that I had booked a small cold water double room at 150 Baht, but he said they don't have any, just hot water rooms at 180 Baht. The price was about £3.60, a considerable increase on the 75p per night I paid before, but I suppose five years is a long time! The difference between cold and hot didn't seem too bad, so I agreed to stay where we were. There was apparently a trek leaving the next day, but we wanted to see Songkran in Chang Mai. Unfortunately he could not confirm when the next trek would be leaving, nor could he confirm whether we'd be able to stay a couple of days longer than the three days we'd booked. “Ask again on your last day” he told me.

We ventured out onto the street and it was quickly clear we would need to be armed, so we got Joanne a lady's-sized super-soaker type of water gun, but the water activity seemed to die down in the early evening, so we left the gun in the room and investigated the Chang Mai nightlife. We found quite a nice club called THC, which was playing a good mix of psychedelic trance, hard trance, and drum'n'bass in lovely soft-cushion fluorescent decorations surroundings. It seems to be a little slice of Thai beach culture migrated to the northern end of the country. We were starting to notice that loads of people were smoking in Thailand compared to anywhere we'd been so far. There are no real smoking restrictions anywhere we'd been in Asia, but it hadn't bothered us much because there were never many people smoking at once. I suppose other than Thailand the locals are too poor, and as for the travellers, it is more the backpacker end of the tourist industry outside Thailand, so maybe the tourists there can't afford to smoke as much either. But now we were in Thailand it was stinging eyes and the smelly clothes and hair again we used to suffer from before the excellent smoking ban was brought in for bars and restaurants in Scotland.

One of the things I'd liked about the Eagle House was their “honesty system”: you help yourself to soft drinks, beer, or whatever from the fridge then write it down in your room book, and if you order food, you write that down too. This was still in place, but there was no longer beer available, which was a bit of a disappointment. In the morning, when writing down our breakfast order, I noticed that the room rate had been written in for me: 240 Baht, not the 180 I was expecting, so I took it up with them at the desk. It turned out we were in a large hot water room, not the small hot water room I thought we were in, and certainly not the small cold water room I'd booked. I complained about this and suggested that they should let me have the room for the rate I was expecting, but they were having none of that and closed ranks, claiming (falsely) that everyone working in reception had heard him telling me yesterday that the rate was 240 Baht. They were able to move us to one of the cheap rooms we thought we were already in. I think it was right next door to the room I'd had five years previously, but the nostalgia was somewhat ruined by “improvements” they had carried out in the room. The ceiling fan had been replaced by a light and a small fan mounted on the wall instead. Ceiling fans are really nice, effective, and quiet at night, but they seem to have been replaced by noisy little ineffective wall-mounted ones in many places. I suppose they must be cheaper to replace when something goes wrong, but they really are useless. The gushing cold-water shower was now a trickling hot water electric shower, and the clean-but-basic flush-with-bucket squat toilet had been replaced by a western-style flushing toilet, but as is the case all over Asia, the cheaper western-style toilets are worse than the Asian-style ones: they leak, the seat is never properly attached, they don't flush properly and so on. All in all I was becoming pretty disillusioned with Eagle House, and Joanne wasn't at all impressed with my choice of dwellings.

We had to go looking for a camera shop, to see if we could get my grit-damaged one repaired, but before we looked for it we had some preparations to carry out: Joanne transferred all of her stuff from her small rucksack into the dry bag we had bought for Tubing in Vang Vieng; I also had a smaller dry bag designed to go inside a rucksack, so I transferred everything into that; we filled Joanne's gun up from the tap; and the first place we went out on the street was a stall selling a huge range of water weapons. I settled on 1.5 litre super-soaker, which I paid about £8 for, although I was tempted to get one of their top-of-the-range twin barrel guns, or a weapon with a back-mounted water supply for about £15, but it seemed like a rather silly expense when our daily budget is only £35 between us, including accommodation. The only camera place we could get information about on a Chang Mai tourist map we had, was a fair walk away. We were a keen to do it that day because Songkran officially started the following day and we were fairly sure they would close for the holiday, however an extra twist had been added by the government declaring a state of emergency and three extra days of holiday, which meant it had actually already started. Our walk took us through some less central parts of the town, but there were still plenty of people ready to soak us from street corners, outside shops, or from the back of moving vehicles. We were able to retaliate most of the time with our newly purchased weapons, and I noted that many people actually want you to wet them. A couple of people had pointed at me and said things like “wet me, farang, for good luck!” so how could I refuse? We soon came up against the limitation of our guns which is water supply, but we discovered that everyone is very friendly and happy to share their water supply with you, which is usually a huge plastic bin full of water. Of course they usually give you an extra soaking while you're filling up, but it's a price worth paying. When we couldn't find the camera place, it occurred to us to call the number on the leaflet: no answer.

On the way back from our largely futile shop search, we came to a busy bar with rock music belting out, where the clientele were almost exclusively Thai. Outside there were several farangs, though, and a few Thais waging a very intense water war with the passing traffic and people stationed across the road, at the corner of the moat. The centre of Chang Mai is surrounded by a square moat, and standing next to it clearly gave those people the massive advantage of a limitless water supply, however I worried about the cleanliness of moat water being chucked all over people. I think the moat may be the reason that Chang Mai celebrates Songkran more vigorously than anywhere else in Thailand. The bar seemed like an interesting place, so we confirmed it was OK to go inside dripping wet and sat down at the bar for a wee drink. We got chatting to a friendly girl at the bar called Aey, who told us that her sister, behind the bar, was the manager. She told us that all the farangs outside water-fighting had Thai wives or girlfriends and children to them. While we were in the bar it started to pour with rain again, so I asked how unusual it was to get rain at this time of year. She claimed that this is the first time that it has ever rained in Chang Mai during Songkran. She went on to tell us how Songkran was a gift from Buddha, when during his life there was a very hot year (40 or 50 degrees she said) and he wondered how to ease the suffering of all the people, and he apparently came up with the idea of a water fight. She was really quite drunk so I'm not sure she knew what she was talking about; I had thought that Songkran was all about washing away bad luck rather than cooling down, hence some people's desire to be wet. Also some, usually older, people tend to sprinkle a little water over you with their fingers as if anointing you. There is also a tradition of washing your Buddha figures during Songkran, and I had seen someone pouring water over the large Buddha at the Sunday Market, so I think it is more about luck, although it was a nice story Aey told us. We sat and chatted to her for most of the afternoon, getting drunker and drunker. At one point she produced some very tasty Tom Yum Crisps and told us she works as quality control for the company. Tom Yum is usually a hot and sour soup, so these were quite an unusual take on it: most of the same ingredients, dried i.e. shrimps, chillies, lime leaves, nuts, squid, etc. I thought they were very nice and I told her I thought they would sell well in Scotland; I was thinking of posh shops like Pekhams. She assured me that they do export and kept trying to give us free packets. We only took one because it didn't really sound like the business had properly taken off yet and I've not been able to find any sign online of them in the UK, but I'm sure they would sell because they're delicious. The water fight had started to spread indoors as people got more and more drunk. As far as I can gather everyone in Thailand gets drunk continuously for about five days over this festival. Since we had Aey on our side, she helped by filling our guns with iced water which makes for an excellent secret weapon. When you fire iced water at people you can really see the difference: the shock on their face, the sharp intake of breath, and the stiffening of their back. Great stuff!

Eventually we staggered back outside into the battle zone, where I started to notice that the iced water idea was neither original nor very unusual: we were frequently hit by streams of water that made us gasp, or worse, whole buckets of water over our heads. When I spotted huge icebergs floating in some of the large bins people were using as water supplies it all made sense. The iced water is just one element in the huge range of weaponry on the streets for Songkran: there are the ubiquitous super-soakers like we had, but many people had those guns with water supplies on their backs like rucksacks, which allowed them to go longer without a water source, while others had gone in the other direction and were using long, thin water canons which expend their aqueous ammunition in one powerful jet, or had gone for the cheap and simple option of using a bucket; both these groups of people would often be found gathered around the large water bins, never able to stray to far from a water supply, but able to deliver the most devastating assault when next to one, especially when the bin was full of ice too. Quite a few people had complimented their weapon with a comedy or horror rubber full-face mask. Let me tell you, it's quite scary to see George Bush coming towards you fully armed. Many of the bucket-packers had stationed themselves along the moat, and were re-arming their weapon by lowering it on a string they had attached. In fact, so many people were using the moat as a water supply that by the end of the day, the road next to it was flooded several inches deep and even before then a little river ran down the road all day. Another two weapons at opposite ends of the spectrum are those who carry around a little cup of water for dipping fingers into and sprinkling over people, and those who have a hose, though the hose is usually used to refill the big bins it is occasionally turned on some unlucky or deserving opponent. This raises the question: who is your opponent? Mostly it seems almost as if there are two teams: the people standing by the bins against the people driving round in vehicles. But then the people standing on opposite sides of the street also have a rivalry, even if it comes second to the war against vehicles, and of course there are plenty of peripatetic warriors like us, who are happy to take a shot at anyone and definitely get it back in at least equal measure. But even with these loosely defined enemies, you still see plenty of in-fighting: you can often witness short bouts where a few people round the same bin, or on the back of the same pick-up, start going for each other, but this is usually brought to an end by a passer-by refocusing the team effort. Some people seem to pile as many of their friends as they can onto the back of a pick-up, along with plenty of beer and huge bins full of iced water, which is also good for keeping the beer cool, and drive round and round the square of the moat all day. You can even charter tuktuks with buckets of water, by the hour, to drive you round and round. Plenty of people even opt to drive round and round on mopeds or bicycles. The result of all of this, of course, is that there is a constant traffic jam all the way around the moat, but nobody seems to mind much: it just gives them enough time to have a mini-war with one group of bin-dwellers before the traffic frees up enough for them to move onto the next campaign. Many of the vehicles and lots of people faces have white pasty stuff all over them. We had asked Aey what this is and it is apparently talc, used to protect against the sun. I had thought it was maybe a symbol for the bad luck which would then be visibly washed away. One of the fantastic things about the fighting is that it is very mixed: young and old, Thais and farangs, men and women, monks and police, they are all equal targets and everyone is having fun together, without resorting to grouping along racial or gender lines or suchlike. It's just a great big happy party, with music thumping out of various stages set up around the city.

Passing a Mexican restaurant advertising free wifi, we spotted Lambert from Chang Rai, so went in to chat to him and use the wifi. He was heading back to his guesthouse for a bit of a party with the other guests there, so we agreed to join him. On the way to his place we passed a stall selling durian. I had to buy some: all this time in Asia I'd been buying durian products, trying to understand what it tastes like, but I had not thus far seen actual durian. I didn't try it immediately but the smell was rather powerful; I had to keep moving it around the bar of Lambert's guesthouse so as not to offend people. Lambert seemed less worried about offending people and ranted for some time about how he hated Phuket, where we were going soon, mostly because he had objected to all the ladyboys there. I don't think he was the sort of person who would object to ladyboys in principle, but he had apparently found that those in Phuket were very forward, to the point of extreme harassment. He posed the question why there were so many ladyboys in Thailand and quickly presented his theory that it is all because of the Thai language. His theory centred on the fact that Thai is unusual in that the first person personal pronoun (“I” in English) is different depending on whether you are male of female: “dichan” for females and “phom” for males. There is also a very frequently used “politening particle” (don't know what the correct linguistic term is), at the end of most sentences unless a conversation goes on for a while, and this too is different depending on your gender: “kap” for males and “kAAaa” (falling tone) for females. Thai is the only language, he said, which does this, and consequently allows people to choose their own gender simply by changing what they say. I thought his theory was interesting, but I was only half-convinced, and I could not believe there were not more similar languages. He assured me that he had been all over the world and learned enough of every major language to be sure. Joanne later reminded me that the word for “Yes” differs in Khmer according to the speaker gender, and I think we found something in Vietnamese too, however the fact it is “I” that changes in Thai is maybe significant and the high frequency of the changing words in Thai may be too. We were probably already a bit too worse for wear to be joining another party and after a couple of Thai whiskies from Lambert, Joanne was a bit worse for wear, so we said our goodbyes to the concerned-looking people at Lambert's guesthouse and went home to ours.

When we arrived back we realised that Joanne no longer had her camera, so I put her to bed and ventured back out to see if she had left it in Lambert's guesthouse, however I was too drunk myself to remember where on earth we had just been and after about an hour roaming the streets looking for it I had to give up. I returned home and ate one of the two pieces of durian: very odd tasting. The next morning I ate the rest if the durian as a hangover cure and Joanne was very unwell. Eagle House confirmed that they would be unable to extend our booking for two days, which meant that they had allowed other people to check in after I let them know we wanted to stay on. By now I was so annoyed with them I decided to write to the Lonely Planet and Rough guide to give them a very negative review. It wasn't a good day: we still couldn't remember where Lambert was staying and Aey's sister confirmed nobody had found Joanne's camera there. We had no idea where the Mexican restaurant we met Lambert was, but it was now our best bet for Joanne's camera. Luckily my phone had stored the name of the wifi point, “Miguels”, when I'd connected to check my email, and we spotted a place with the same name when retracing our steps. They were closed for the holiday, but we found an employee hanging around. They had found nothing either and he told us that stuff often gets lifted from there because they are right on the main street. Increasingly depressed we went looking for new accommodation, but instead we found an open camera repair shop, where the owner said he could repair mine and I could collect it later that day. Maybe our luck was changing. We continued the hostel hunt, but most just said that they couldn't tell us until tomorrow, by which time we'd be walking around with our huge packs getting soaked. Finally we found a place who told us that we couldn't book but, if we came back tomorrow, they would definitely have something. It was a much bigger place aimed at younger people, where you had to pay for each day up-front, and which the LP described as noisy, but we were desperate. We collected the camera which was working again, but unfortunately still had the sticky beer problem it had been suffering from since Laos. I went to try and blog, but I was too hungover even for that, however we did receive an email from Sia and Willemijn inviting us to lunch the following day. The water fight continued unabated and we got so wet that we both had chafed thighs.

The next morning we were up early so that we could move to our new guesthouse without everything in our big rucksacks getting soaked. I had put everything in plastic bags inside the rucksack, but I didn't trust them to the amount of water we had endured the previous day. In fact we had left early enough, but people were already starting to get set up along the moat. At lunch time we met the Dutch girls who didn't seem to be all that impressed at the constant soakings, but I think it was just because they wanted to go shopping instead. Meanwhile I tried to put my newly revitalised camera to good use by putting it in a clear plastic bag and taking some photos. My camera stayed dry despite the serious efforts of strangers, but the photos didn't come out all that well: most of them seemed a bit "steamed up". It started to rain heavily again, so that we asked each other if there really was any point in Songkran this year. We met Sia and Willemijn again for dinner then we all went to see what was happening on the stage in the main square, which had seemed to be hosting variety performances earlier in the day. Now it appeared to be a beauty contest in full swing. We couldn't catch much of what they were saying, but one thing we were sure of was that one of the facts they gave about the girls as they were introducing them was their weight in kilograms. Surely that shouldn't be allowed! We ended the day by taking the two Dutch girls to the THC club we had enjoyed so much a couple of nights before. It seemed to be full of Dutch people surprised that you can find “this kind of music” outside Holland. This time the youngsters weren't such a bad influence on us because Willemijn thought she had eaten something dodgy so wasn't drinking, even after I had recommended that a large Sangsom would kill any infection.

Last day of Songkran: rinse and repeat. I finally managed to find some spicy food in Thailand in the shape of som tam, which is a fantastic green papaya salad, incorporating lime juice, fish sauce, tiny shrimps (krill maybe), chillies, garlic, and peanuts all bashed together a bit. We'd had it in Laos a few times, but it's much nicer in Thailand because the Lao one is a bit simpler. Walking around looking for photo opportunities, out attention was attracted by Sia and Willemijn shouting from the back of a pick-up, apparently getting much more into the swing of things today.

They dismounted briefly to explain. Someone had been throwing buckets of iced water from the back of a vehicle and had accidentally scooped up a full can of beer and thrown it at them. They saw their opportunity and told him he could only have it back if he and his friends allowed them to join their party. So they had been driving round in circles for the couple of hours since and seemed to have no intention to quit. They asked me to take a photo, which didn't come out very well so after they left I decided to chance taking the camera out of the bag for brief instants to take photos and little snippets of video before quickly sealing it all back up again. I was very careful with my timing, but there were still some near misses. This time we finished the day off with a tower of Chang beer, which I had been eyeing up ever since we first spotted one.

We were going to leave the next day. We had seen no tourist attractions in Chiang Mai, but we had partied with the locals for a few days and, judging by the number of other farangs doing the same, Songkran itself is now a major tourist attraction in Chiang Mai. Only now it was over did we think we would be able to get transport to move on, but I had wanted to stay to the end anyway.

permalink written by  The Happy Couple on April 15, 2009 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
from the travel blog: Michael's Round-the-World honeymoon
tagged Drinking, Thailand, Chaos and Songkran

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