A Travellerspoint blog

New Year in China

A Gregorian New Year and a soon-to-be Chinese New Year quickly approaches...

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I felt it was time to evaluate my life in China so far, what with the dawn of the Chinese New Year fast approaching and the Year of the Horse wielding unknown potential.

I'd like to share with you some things I have learned from living in this amazing country:

1. No matter what ailment is troubling you, be it a headache, menstrual cramps, a cold or the flu, a chesty cough or generally just feeling a bit under the weather, hot water will be your best friend and ally during these tenuous times!

You will be hard pressed to find a Chinese person, especially where I live, without a flask, mug, glass jar or some other nondescript container filled at least three quarters of the way with hot water.
Now don't get me wrong, I already understand the value of water; it's good for your skin and keeps your body hydrated, it provides much needed moisture to maintain strong brain power, it can even aid digestion. However, it is not just the miracle of water that the Chinese understand and appreciate, oh no! It is hot water, with its glorious cleansing steam gliding up into your sinuses, it is the warmth spreading through your chest into your stomach and down to your toes as this apparent heavenly hand guides its warming embrace throughout your entire body.
Whenever in the past year and a half, I have experienced any kind of medical annoyance, the first thing any of my students or Chinese friends have advocated is this, 'Drink hot water, keep your body warm', and although sage advice, it is not only this, but also an undeniable truth.
I drink hot water in restaurants, at home, whenever I feel a cold coming on, or am experiencing particularly uncomfortable cramps - out comes my very own flask which locks in the magical heat and within a day or two, I am back to feeling tip-top again.

2. You will never be as popular anywhere in world with people you've never met, than you will be in China.

Every single day, I walk to school, or I get a bus or a taxi into town; I meet my friends, I go shopping, I'll stop in somewhere and maybe have some hot water (with tea in it!) - I do a myriad of things throughout my weeks and months, often different things or trying different places, or trying to find the place I really like but that appears to have closed down...! One thing however remains constant:
Every single person you walk past will either want to, will know how to, or actually does say one or all of the following phrases to you...
'Hello' / 'Nice to meet you' / 'My English is very poor'

I have made more friends on the streets of this town, in the short space of time that I've lived here, than I have in my previous 20 odd years in the UK.
Everyone is so desperate to interact with a foreigner that they usually pluck up the courage and put their limited knowledge of the English language to use.

The best part is, that if these brave souls happen to be girls, usually of any age, or younger boys, when you reply to their 'Hello' with an equally matched response, they will giggle, run away and then point and talk about you with a group of their friends who never seem to be very far away.

It has gotten to the point now where I genuinely cannot remember if I've met, seen or even spoken to this person before me offering a cordial greeting as it happens so often, I've almost lost track.

3. People you have never met, or have perhaps met during one of the aforementioned bravery conversations, will have photographs of you on their cameras or their phones and they will have passed these photos on to at least 5 of their friends, or better yet, they will simply have posted these pictures on to one of Asia's many social outlets. QQ, WeChat, Weibo etc.

My first encounter with the stealth photographers happened when I arrived fresh-faced and excited in Beijing. The sights, the smells, the immense number of people, the strange language on every sign, the incredible feat to find and navigate the subway system (read some of my earlier blog entries for that thrilling debacle!)

It was however, on the subway, that my suspicion peaked... through the wonders of peripheral vision.... I saw them.
Slowly, almost unnoticeable to the human eye, people's mobile phones were creeping up over other passengers’ shoulders, heads, arms, each one pointing their judgemental camera's eye directly at me.
I waited for the sound, the give-away that a picture had indeed been snapped, but nothing.
Just as eerily as they had appeared, the phones slid back into pockets and bags, calculatedly waiting for their next prize photo opportunity.

4. At more than one interval throughout the day, you will eat an entire meal from a plastic bag:

It doesn't matter how much money you do or don't want to pay for your food, whenever you buy food outside or even from a little shop, you will be served your succulent meat or soup or rice or noodles, all together, in one bag (after all - it's going to end up like that in your stomach once you've masticated it!)

Once you've gained the skill of not eating a little piece of the bag with each bite, you get to really understand and enjoy the bohemian thrill of it all - no plates to clean, no cutlery to wash; you just put the disposable chopsticks you were given into the empty food bag, tie it off in a neat little bow and boom, straight into the bin it goes.

Restaurants, of course, have a little more western etiquette to them, you get to enjoy your food on plates with sturdier chopsticks and separate dishes for you to portion out your required amount of food. There is demonstrably the added benefit of once again, not having to do any washing up or tidying up of any kind; but to think you escaped the bags?
How foolish of you.
Once you've eaten your fill, the kindly waiter or waitress will appear with several empty bags, pick up your leftovers (from the serving dish, rather than your individual plates or bowls) and pour said contains into the plastic bags.
Taking home any uneaten food is very important here, again, at least where I live, as the government is trying to cut down food waste and if you don't want it now, you'll probably want it later so why not just pop it in a doggy bag and take it home with you?!

The same practise of using a bag over crockery also applies in Qingdao during their annual beer festival - instead of tables for you and your friends to sit around and discuss current affairs, there are hooks on the walls for you to hang your beer bags on.
(It saves space, allowing more beer bags to be purchased by more patrons)

5. If you have any colour hair, other than black or dark brown, you are suddenly the Messiah:

My Australian friend who lives here with his beautiful Chinese wife once told me that he had a friend (male), with shoulder length blonde hair, who took a trip on one of the marvellous trains we have all over the country, and decided to take a nap as it was going to be a long journey.
When he woke up, he saw before him several concerned and awe-stricken Chinese passengers staring at him.
Now given the previous points of foreigners being interesting commodities, it would appear to be understandable to have a group of unknown voyeurs to this man's train journey.
It was however the large chunk of hair he was missing that these travellers were more put out by....
During his nap, someone had decided that his golden locks should be shared amongst his earthly comrades and thusly cut off a large piece of his hair as a keepsake.

As a fellow blonde, my roots ache for that man's lost locks, but luckily (for me!) I have yet to encounter any serial hair collectors.
My hair dresser here does however tell me, more often than not, that my hair is too soft to do anything with.
I take that as a compliment!

6. If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend in China, not only will your parents be thrilled, but so will clothes manufacturers throughout the country:

The Western world is already aware of the massive influence Asian countries and their trends have had on popular culture; Hello Kitty, Sushi restaurants, glasses without lenses (Asian Hipsters!), coloured contact lenses, brightly mismatched clothing etc.
What the Western world has yet to cotton onto is the booming market of girlfriend/boyfriend shops.
Now don't get me wrong, we have 'His and Hers' towels and bathrobes, but we’ve got nothing on the Chinese niche for boyfriend/girlfriend matching outfits.
That's right folks.
Couples in Asia don't just want you to know they’re a couple, they want to show you through the medium of fashion.
Whole boutiques dedicated to sweatshirts and hoodies sporting the same colours and logos - bigger sizes for him; petite, perfectly figure-hugging sizes for her.
This phenomenon even extends to shoes, hats and trousers.
You and your partner can walk into one of these boyfriend/girlfriend shops and kit each other out in perfectly harmonised ensembles.

7. Poorly translated and often comical signs and menus:

When picking your food in restaurants or trying to figure out where you are in the major metropolis can be daunting, but fear not, because someone, somewhere, with a basic understanding of English has attempted to assist you in this ordeal.

Pictures, clear as day, show you a delectable dish of Chicken with potatoes and vegetables in a colourful blend of culinary excellence, and although the Chinese, if you're fortunate enough to understand it, tells you that that is indeed what this dish entails, the English version will probably put you off eating for the rest of your life.
I once saw a similar dish described as 'Flavoured Fungi and assorted entrails', even though the Chinese characters told me it was Chicken and vegetables....
The fun continues with warning signs or polite notices.
In a hotel I saw a sign in the corridor outside the elevator, with a picture of pursed lips and a single finger laying gently over them, telling me to 'put it mildly, and then put it mildly'.
Common sense would dictate that this probably means, 'Please be quiet when walking about the hotel so as not to disturb other guests', but alas, this elegance was somewhat lost in translation.
Another interesting warning came from what I presume was a 'Slippery when wet' or 'Uneven steps' sign in a tourist attraction of ancient art and temples, with a sign that simple read 'Don't fall down' accompanied by a picture of a foolish naysayer falling down some steps.
The list is of course, long and endless, but usually full to the brim with hilarious mistranslations and equally amusing illustrations for added effect.

8. If you're outside, feel free to spit wherever you like, even out of a car window, whilst on the move.

Now as a quintessentially British childhood moulded my sense of propriety and manners, spitting was never an appropriate past time, but in Asia, if it's in your mouth, you need to expel it as loudly and thoroughly as you can.

You are all probably aware of the guttural wrenching sound people make when they have a particularly stubborn phlegm build-up in the back of their throat or nose. Well this sound is only part of the cacophony of sounds one hears on a daily basis in China.
If it's not a taxi honking it's horn to see if you require a lift; small, barely audible speakers shouting at you to buy the freshly picked produce or children departing school en mass, then the pise de résistance, will be the spitting.
If Disney were to recreate Fantasia using the sounds of Asia rather than actual instruments, the sound of spitting would account for the percussions, strings and probably brass sections as well.

But have no fear readers, because cleaners are on hand 24/7 with their bamboo handled, mesh and feather street brushes to clear the congealed mess away…

9. If you can still breathe, then there is enough space in this taxi, subway car, bus or ticket office for more people:

If you've ever wondered why Asian people tend to lack basic manners in regards to space awareness and entry/exit protocols, look no further for your answers.
It all starts here, in Asia.
If you want to get on that subway train in the UK or the US and there doesn't seem to be a lot of room, you will probably have the basic instincts of self-preservation to wait 3 minutes for the next train.
If you want to get on that subway train in Asia, you get on the damn subway train, regardless of that child's face you've now squashed against a window or that small family of foreigners you've all but forced into a vacuum, slowly suffocating them to death.

Not only will you hardly ever see a queue or something to that effect, you won't see a patient Asian person either.
If you've got somewhere to be, you get there no matter the cost, damage or possible offence it may cause.
If you need a ticket but the mass conglomerate ahead of you doesn't have your best interests at heart, you force your way to the front, interrupt the employee who is already dealing with another customer and thrust your money into their hands, talking over the previous patron.
It reminds me of that scene in Titanic when everyone is trying to evacuate the sinking vessel and the lower level passengers are all pushed up against that padlocked gate, clambering on top of one another for just a glimpse at their possible freedom and escape.
Even without the threat of imminent death by frosty cold drowning, the assertion to survive and be the first to do so lives on in the heart of pretty much every Asian person alive.

10. Pyjamas are not just an inside outfit, but don't wear indoor shoes outside, obviously:

During the harsh winter months, I've learned that PJ's are not just a comfy, cosy, indoor outfit for you to nestle into on the sofa with your mug of hot chocolate, oh no.
Pyjamas are actually giant layers of padded warmth that you wear over your normal outside-clothes and when you combine these two fashion masterpieces together, you get a warm outside look with all the comfort and cosiness of your inside outfit.
The best part about wearing your pyjamas outside is that everyone else is doing it too so no one thinks you look utterly ridiculous and some of the designs and patterns could even be deemed fashionable.
The rooky mistake however, is mistaking indoor shoes for outdoor shoes.
It's completely acceptable for you to wear pyjamas outside, but if you wear flip flops in summer or the matching cosy booties that go so perfectly with your PJ's in the winter then you are opening yourself up to ridicule and the blatant question 'Why are you wearing slippers outside?'

Overly fluffy or felt-style boots are slippers.
Flip-Flops are slippers.
Shower-shoes are slippers.
Slippers are slippers.

And at no time is it appropriate to wear any of these items of footwear outside.
Even if you are wearing a Michelin-man inspired pyjama set.

Posted by Lady Mantle 20:34 Archived in China Tagged shopping china asia subways new_year spitting trends food_in_bags life_lessons rules_of_asia social_etiquette asian_hipsters lost_in_translation winter_wear year_of_the_horse Comments (3)

Trip to Xian for the National Day holiday...

sunny 28 °C

So the journey began with a taxi to the train station; a taxi that should have cost about 10-15 yuan (£1-1.50) but because it was the National Day holiday and because we're white, we were told it would cost 30 yuan!
We informed the taxi driver that was too expensive and we would pay 15 - He said 20 and although it was still extortianate, we had no choice.
We arrived at the train station here in Xinxiang to see a massive queue, so adopting the Chinese way and relinquishing our British upbringing, we basically went to the front of the queue!
Rude, I know, but when Rome and when you're running late, screw the Romans and side with the Chinese!
There were no seats on the train, and although we were a little hungover, we were only on there for an hour or so until we got to Zhengzhou to get our connecting train to Xian.

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After having a decadent McD's for lunch, we wondered around outside the train station for about 2 hours then went back in side to get the train to Xian.
Ricky and I had seats at opposite ends of the train, so with our headphones at the ready, we climbed aboard and settled in for the journey.

The fast trains in China are pretty much the best trains I have ever been on - big comfy seats that recline, foot rests, free food/nibbles and drinks and a small Chinese boy telling you a story about a tiger and a monkey in near enough perfect English.....
Ok so that last one as only on this particular journey, but you get the idea!

We arrived in Xian and tried to follow the instructions of how to get to our hostel.....
We tried to find bus 251.....

After an hour and refusing some rathe pushy taxi drivers, we started walking away from the station and said bolshy taxi drivers in search of this mystical bus, only to conclude that we were in fact walking further away from civilisation and into what looked like the remains of the world in 'I am Legend'....
So, refusing to return to the pushy taxi drivers, we flagged down a different one and were on our way.... ahh Aries!

Trying to follow the instructions for Your Tour International Youth Hostel's location proved harder than anticipated, but given our astrological stubborness, we trekked onwards and with some help from the universe, we managed to find our hostel!
After some worrying minutes waiting for Ricky's passport to materialise, we were all checked-in!

It was a nice enough hostel with the added experience of getting to make your own bed (really is like a home away from home!)
My locker box was broken, but with a simple request to swap boxes, the woman a reception happily obliged.

If you wanted 5* luxury accommodation, this is not the place for you - it's clean enough but the beds have less cushioning than a yoga mat and the decor in the bathroom and shower rooms leave a lot to be desired.
As reasonably accomplished travellers and being accustomed to Chinese ways,, it didn't really phase us, but others may be less accommodating for this hostel's abvious drawbacks.
The staff are friendly and helpful, but for 50 yuan a night (£5) you can't expect too much for your money.
Although the street itself is quiet during the day, at night that is not always the case and for some reason, peoples' conversation volume attempts to break the sound barrier....
Provided you can block out the noise mentally or with ear plugs, the sleep you get is enough to see you through the following day.
The food, although exorbitant (in price not amount) for a hostel, is actually quite tasty and filling - seriously not good price-wise though!
The hostel is quaint and small but there's hardly any atmosphere in the common area downstairs.

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If you just want a bed to sleep in, this place is fine for ou, but if you want the opportunity to meet other foreigners or a livelier place, then Jano's Hostel is proably more for you.
The staff at Jano's are equally as lovely but with the adjacent Belgium Beer Bar and local street markets, it's location and clientelle easily exceeds Your Tour's...

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Having dumped our stuff and made our beds, we ventured out in search of food...
3 hours later, we'd walked most of Xian inside the wall!
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of places to eat but we were feeling particularly fussy and indecisive!

We ended up at the Drum Tower and ventured into the Muslim Quarter..
My, my, that was busy!
2 lanes of human traffic had formed to avoid causing a blockage, which, although organised, left a whole side of the street unvisitable!
Fantastic smells and foods and a bustling atmosphere, the walk was interesting enough and with a little light bartering, some trinkets and niknaks were purchased successfully.

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Our broken and tired bodies begged for slumber so we clambered into a tin box on wheels, told the driver where we wanted to go, and with some directions on our part, he eventually got us back to the hostel where we fell (carefully) onto our wooden boards for the night!

The next day we studied some maps and plotted the root to the Small Goose Pagoda (an apparent 'must-see' in Xian).
We walked from the South Gate of the wall (near our hostel) and headed south until we got to the Pagoda.

I imagine the Big Goose Pagoda is more impressive but the grounds surrounding the Small Goose Pagoda was quite beautiful and a sense of calm washed over me.

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A relaxed walked around and a few pictures with Chinese people (at their request rather than ours!) and we began the walk back to the hostel.

A quick nap and a shower then we went to meet our friend for dinner and drinks but once again my body wanted sleep so I left Ricky to dance the night away whilst I headed back to my pillow and board!

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The next day, despite Ricky's hangover, we decided to cycle around the wall again (like we did last year!)
Only this time, for some reason, we did it in less time and actually cycled all the way round - Obviously a bit fitter than last year!
Still hurt the next morning though! ha!

So Ricky and I had concluded that on this visit to Xian, we would go to see the Terracotta Warriors... what we hadn't accounted for was that everyone else had the same idea.
We arrived at the train station to get the bus to the Warriors only to be greeted by thousands of people trying to do the same thing!
6 different taxi companies approached us, advising of their prices to get us to the Warriors and back, all of which were above and beyond what we were willing to pay to get there and after an hour with barely any progress made in the queue situation, we decided to call it a day and concluded we'd go to the Warriors next time we were in Xian....!

Posted by Lady Mantle 22:23 Archived in China Tagged travel adventure china xian hostel cheap cycling travelling sleepy foreigners night_market city_wall sore_bum budget_travelling small_goose_pagoda your_tour_international_youth_h janos_hostel_xian national_day Comments (1)

Medical Massage...

sunny 27 °C

So today I went to see my Chinese friend for lunch.
Nothing strange there - She owns a restaurant in town and I cooked Christmas dinner there for everyone last year (hopefully a tradition that will continue this December as well!)
I told her that I hadn't been sleeping well and that my back, neck and shoulders were in desperate need of a massage.
She advised me that in our town there is a special kind of hospital that is run by blind people who specialise in using their hands as their sense of touch is heightened by their inability to see.
Needless to say I was intrigued and out the door we went to get on the number 20 bus for about 5 minutes or so, all for the extortionate price of 20p!
We arrived at a rather shabby building with a worn down medical cross sign outside.
Through the apparently popular plastic meat curtains we entered.
It looked a little like a make-shift hospital concocted when an unforseeable war suddenly strikes an area.
Hospital beds in odd places, dark little rooms and corners with muttering, hushed voices and people in distressed white coats floating from what appeared to be patient to patient.
I was seated at a cluttered glass table with my friend and a young woman clad in an aforementioned white coat.
She asked relative questions; my age, where I live, my profession and what appears to be the problem...
My friend dutifully translated both ways until the young woman left into one of the rooms to the side, only to return moments later with an older gentlemen, somewhat more befitting of the coat, with a white stick guiding his way to the desk and to me.
He asked my friend if I was in great pain and if an injury had been the cause of my discomfort, I advised of the no such injury but described my medical issues as more of an ache, a constant ache, like my muscles were too weak to hold me together anymore.
My friend advised me to turn in my chair so my back was to the gentlemen who began to move towards me, using the edge of the desk to find me.
His hands were warm and unthreatening as he placed them on my shoulders. A little pressure here, a gentle squeeze there and some quick questions at my friend then lead him to put his hands between my shoulder blades. Bam. The source of my ache was located.
I was moved to one of the beds in plain sight of every other person in there and told to lie face down with my head in the little face-hole in the table/bed.
A white sheet was placed over me and another man was called over. Even though the situation was quite surreal, knowing my friend was sat there on the bed next to me watching everything unfold made me feel safer than had I been alone so my ability to actually relax was much easier.
For half an hour this other man, equally befitting of the white coat he wore, applied hard and accurate pressure to different points of my back, my shoulders and my neck.
After 20 minutes or so I was advised to lie on my back as he massaged my shoulders, neck, head and forehead - pushing all of the pressure points until I felt almost ethereal.
It was like he knew where my body needed attention before I did. He kept applying pressure then asking my friend to ask me if it hurt and it did, every time - not from what he was doing, but rather from his heightened sense of where the energy was being blocked in my body.
I was then told to sit on the chair as he finished my shoulders and neck with some stretching and pulling - I think I grew a whole inch by the end of that!
I paid my 30 RMB (a whole £3) for the experience and was told to come back regularly to help ease the ache away completely.
I was told by the first man that the reason for my aches and pains could be down to three things:
1. My bed is not supporting me properly when I sleep.
2. My head hangs forward more often than it should, so I must work on keeping my head up and my neck strong.
and my personal favourite -
3. I'm letting too much cold wind get to my neck and it's getting into my bones.

I love China, Chinese people and their views and interpretations of the needs of our bodies.
For a thorough and in-depth half an hour sports massage for £3, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm not in there several times a week!

Posted by Lady Mantle 00:19 Archived in China Tagged medical china cheap energy body massage blind_doctors Comments (1)

Back to China :)

After a summer holiday in the UK...

sunny 28 °C

So... after having been in China for 10 months, and then spending 5 weeks in the UK to catch up with old friends over the summer, I find myself back on my home soil - China.

It's strange to go from living somewhere so familiar for a such a long time, to move to somewhere so different in so many ways, only to feel more at home and at peace with yourself in your new surroundings rather than your old ones.

China is so incredible and has been the best decision I think I've ever made. Asia is so beautiful and so are the people, their cultures and how they treat people. I feel so at home here and welcome. When I finally returned, people welcomed me with love and open arms and I've never been so happy to be anywhere in the world.

Obviously the proximity to other Asian countries is ideal for travelling and allowing me to see other wonderful cultures on this side of the world, but more so than that, it allows me to continue soaking up the atmosphere and really emerge myself in the culture and customs and especially the language of this amazing country.

Ay, there's the rub! The language! It still eludes me but everyday I feel as though another word or the correct pronunciation sticks in my brain a little longer. It's so unfamiliar having to use tones and intonation to change a word rather than provide emphasis as we do in the English language. However, I welcome the challenge and will hopefully reap the rewards in due time.

People tell me I am an inspiration - I enjoy this idea but don't believe it. I feel very blessed to have found the strength to do what I have done but it was inspiration that drew me to this place; I can only hope that my story helps others find the inspiration to do something they will truly love with their whole heart as I do now.

At the minute however, I feel very disconnected from myself which is making me feel disconnected from China so this needs to be rectified immediately! I think my brief time in the UK has reset me somehow, so I feel like I have to re-tune myself to my surroundings and rejoice in them once again. A brief moment in time showed me that although I love it here, and I do, when something happens and I cannot find a friend here to console me, I still have people in my life, albeit in a different country, that can still bestow good wishes and vibes on me which is reassuring and gives me hope that even though rivers and oceans separate me from the most important people in my life, they are never truly that far away.

This new school year promises to be a fruitful one - my kids from last year are my kids this year so I get to enjoy their growth from the beginning until the end, which will be very rewarding. The plan for Chinese New Year is Cambodia, Vietnam and possibly Malaysia so watch this space for another look at the Asian world through the eyes of a soon to be once again optimistic western traveller :)

Posted by Lady Mantle 05:52 Archived in China Tagged cambodia malaysia vietnam work chinese_food travelling students teaching teachers foreigners tefl new_beginnings chinese_games starting_again Comments (0)

The last entry for "3 Weeks in Thailand"

Heading South and Island-hopping: Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao...

sunny 33 °C

We arrived in Bangkok from Chiangmai around 6am, hopped in a mini-bus to the airport where we bought disgusting, overpriced 'breakfasts' then found a quiet corner to sleep in for 4 hours, before checking in for our flight.

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The irony being that AirAsia charged us for our baggage, but had we checked in 4 hours earlier it would have been a lot cheaper.
Livid.
I paid for our baggage on the way back right there and then - £20 to Surat Thani, £5 back - Ridiculous!
We bought our bus and ferry tickets on the plane so we didn't have to faff around when we landed.
Within an hour and a bit we arrived in Surat Thani, then had to take a 2 hour bus to the ferry port.

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We arrived about 5.30pm and boarded the ferry just before 6pm.
About an hour and half after that we docked in Koh Samui and were bombarded with people charging 800 baht for a taxi!
We hopped on a red bus again for 100 baht and half an hour later we arrived at our hostel.
Knackered and hungry, we showered, grabbed some food, walked along the beach for a while then went to sleep.

I'm not going to lie to you, we stayed at The Wave (nice enough) on Chaweng Beach on the east side of the island in what can only be described as the offspring of Falaraki and Benidorm, with equally annoying clientelle.
Not my idea of an island getaway.
Upon reading my guide book, I discovered that the whole of Chaweng Beach is the party district of Koh Samui so I forgave as much as I could of the gaudy, over-westernised chips and gravy restaurants as possible.
Everything there was very expensive as well, when a few streets over there was authentic Thai food at half the price - that's more like it!
We got some food and Ricky and Mish got some cocktails from a little street kiosk and we walked around.

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After a day on the beach and my skin being fairer than fair, I was suitably sunburnt and ready for bed so I went back to the hostel and those guys headed to the bars.
Another day at the beach and a hearty rescue by me later and we met up with the other girls in their hotel for a pool party right by the beach - so many scrummy men in tiny pants!

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Om nom nom!
The best part about going away with a girl and a gay is that you all appreciate the same scenery!
We wanted to go to Laen Din Market, and not knowing entirely where it was, we hopped on a red bus, told him where we wanted to go and off we went.
Now we knew this market was only about 10 minutes away and we were reasonably close to where we'd already been that day so after 20 minutes and no more town, we figured that something was wrong.
Naturally our first thought was 'this man is stealing us...'
Our second thought was 'I wonder how much I'd sell for in a Hostel (the movie) style situation...'
Tanya stopped the bus and Ricky got out to investigate.
Yep.
He was taking us to the south of the island to Laen Don Beach....
O_o
After we turned around and headed back towards town, he tried to drop us off by loads of closed shops and restaurants;
Tanya quickly ran into the 7Eleven to ask where the market was and then told the guy to go up the road some more.
We eventually found it, only to the realise it was the exact same market we went to before and it was literally 5 minutes away from our hostel.
300 baht down the drain!
We got some yummy street food, they got cocktails, we jammed out to some music and then headed back to the hostel.
We woke up the next day about 11am, had some breakfast then went to rent some mopeds/scooters for the day to go exploring.
2,000 baht deposit and Ricky's provisional driving license later (as we certainly were not going to leave our passports with them) we hit the road.
Mopeds are awesome for independent sight-seeing; you can stop where you want, buy gasoline from the side of the road and drive off into the sunset.
Following a map as best we could, we found a beautiful beach that led to the island of Koh Fan.
And of course, we saw a man with the most impressive moustache I have ever witnessed...!

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We walked through the shallow warm water for a little while - Choeng Mon was much more my type of an island getaway!
We played around in the sea and explored the miniature island just off of Choeng Mon beach then after writing some messages in the sand for our wives and partners (what with it being Valentine's day) we got back on our mopeds and carried on around the top of the island.

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We got to Bo Phut pier and Fisherman's village, grabbed some lunch and a drink at the Karma Sutra Cafe then headed in land through the jungle to try and find one of the many waterfalls.

Then we almost died.....

Approaching a massive hill deep in the jungle, we see two girls further up that have either given up trying to get up the hill or have fallen off their mopeds, and Mish taps me on the back and tells me that Ricky is waving at us to stop.
So I stop the moped half way up a hill.
Everything happened so fast.
Mish flew off the back of the bike, hit her head on the ground and started rolling down the hill towards Ricky who had stopped his moped to help her but then his bike started rolling backwards down the hill, so he jumped off and it skidded sideways down the hill.
Mine and Mish's bike tried to roll on top of me so I grabbed at the handles and accidentally got the throttle, revved it and flew with the bike towards the edge of the hill straight into the barricade and a very upset Ant Hill until I could reach the keys to turn it off.
Only after checking that everyone was alive and well, did we burst into uncontrollable laughter as some man in a truck with his family tried to help us!

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We stopped for 10 minutes or so after rolling our bikes down the hill, had a celebratory cigarette then decided the waterfall could wait and we headed back to the main road.
Ricky then mentioned he needed gas which was the original reason for his signalling us, so after purchasing some gasoline in an old wine bottle from a nice man by the side of the road, we went back to the hostel.
Funny day, funny, funny day!

We left Koh Samui and got on a boat to Koh Phangan.

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We met an English guy called Mike who we named Alan after a private joke mentioned in our shared taxi to the port in Koh Samui.
He taught English and was going to see some friends on Koh Phangan.
When we arrived in Koh Phangan, the taxi wanted to charge 300 baht to take us to our hostel - we knew it was close so we asked a local who confirmed our suspicions and within less than 3 minutes we'd walked to our hostel.
Kylie aptly described our hostel as Barbie's Dream House!
It was pink and purple with play boy bunnies everywhere!

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Ghastly, but oddly homely!
We checked in and went upstairs to survey the 20-bed hostel.... oh my.
A whole wall lined with double and single bunkbeds that were all connected to each other...

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When someone at one end moved, everyone else felt it all the way down to the other end.
I'm just glad no one had sec in there during our stay, I fear I may have got motion sickness!
After chatting to Alan (Mike) we knew which bars we wanted to visit and headed to the beach to get a boat to the less road-accessible parts of the island.
The boat ride was interesting - with nothing but a head torch to the guide the boat around the rocks, we arrived on another part of the island and jumped into the coarse sand of the beach.
The captain pointed to our destination that was partly submerged by boulders and jungle.
We headed to our first destination - Eden.
As we got off the beach, we found ourselves on a rickety wooden walkway precariously balanced on the rocks and boulders below, reminiscent of the wooden walkway in the Hobbit!
Although there were no orcs or trolls hindering our journey, every step was laced with dread as sharp rocks protruded viciously beneath us.
After walking the plank and negotiating a rock face, all the while questioning a drunk person's ability to not die out here, we found a bar.
Alas, it was not Eden, but we did meet a guy called Shawn who runs a TEFL programme in Taiwan that pays substantially more than China.... it's all about networking!
We got his email and he directed us to Eden - you guessed it, back down the rock face and across an even more rickety wooden branch walkway.
After safely passing this walking test and being deeply disappointed to have not won a crystal in this zone, we found Eden.
I found home!
Black lights everywhere, giant psychedelic UV posters and throws on the walls and squidgy cushion seats all over the floor, I joined my fellow hippies and for about 2 hours was totally at peace with the world and with nature and I let the music guide me.

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We were befriended by a beautiful pit-bull bitch who later would become our personal guide!
After Tanya had go her fill of chatting to some new people, we went to head out to Guy's Bar, only to realise we didn't know where it was!
Luckily, a marvellously hippy woman told us she was heading that way, so with her and our new dog to guide us, we headed up through the jungle...
A lot easier to do once you've climbed a huge mountain!
We went up and down and around the jungle using nothing but the torch on my phone for light until we reached a different beach.
This is where our hippy guide left us but our trusty pit-bull continued to show us the way!
A few minutes more walking in the dark and following the music (and the dog!) and we found Guy's Bar - a black light hippy Neverland of hammocks and cushions and moving wooden platforms with small tables on and dancing.
Oh the dancing.
To feel so free and uninhibited by social pressures and conformities so people, regardless of how it looked, let their bodies physicalise the music into visual poetry.
Even thinking about it again is bringing back the Zen in me.
No one was there to judge you, no one cared what you were wearing or if you'd fixed your hair properly; they were just there, to be... well, to be!
So we danced, quite controlled at first, trying to get a taste for the crowd, the atmosphere; then we danced.
Oh lordy lord, did we dance.
I think I lost 5lbs that night!
We danced in the jungle until 4am.
I got kissed by a random Iranian man who was so overcome with joy that he needed to share the love.
The girls and I found a comfy nook to chill in for a while before heading back down to the beach and the boat that would take us home.
Our pit-bull led the way back down the random stepping stones of the jungle to the beach, the ethereal weightlessness helping the journey down run smoothly.
Then the feeling of pure happiness slowly started to ebb away with each gentle wave breaking on the sand as the wait began.
Not the wait for the boat, oh no, the boat was ready.
We were waiting for enough people to fill the boat.
The boats on the island are privately owned so they wouldn't leave unless at least 8 people were getting the boat.
So we waited.
Then we waited some more.
Then finally, people!
Damn, still not enough.
We waited some more.... until eventually the right number of people arrived, 300 baht each later and we were on our way to our side of the island.
As we walked away from the beach the the fire shows through the multitude of drunken fist-pumpers we found a very drunk and slightly burnt Alan (Mike), who had been playing with fire himself.
Resound to going to bed, we left drunk Alan with drunk Alan's friend and returned to our crowded but well ventilated room at the Moonstone Hostel.
We never did see Alan again.

Kylie went home (NYC) at 9am the following morning and with no Ricky (who had stayed on Koh Samui with some new friends for an extra day, we were down to 3.
Tanya booked herself into her hotel so Mish and I went to meet her before heading to the beach.
The sun was so hot on Koh Phangan and my poor English skin couldn't take it so I headed back tot he hostel only to be greeted by Ricky chilling on the sofa!
He regaled his adventures during his extra day on Koh Samui and I told him about our expedition then we ordered a shisha pipe and relaxed on the sofa and watched films all afternoon!
Later that afternoon, UV face and body paint at the ready, we prepared our flesh for the half moon party with the other people in our hostel.
Painted up and ready to go, we got in a tin bus taxi and headed out.

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We arrived, paid our 500 baht, got our free drink (Which I gave to the others!) and entered party central.
A large collection of girating foreigners eye-fucking and grinding their way around the sand and mud dance floor, like a scene from the Serengeti, packs of males scoped out and hunted down their female pray.

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Too much for me, I much preferred the atmosphere at Eden and Guy's Bar, so I retreated into the jungle to enjoy the music without being subjected to the antiquated mating rituals below.
A guy from Cardiff of all places who works as a primary school teacher in Qatar plonked himself down next to me and we chatted for a bit then when the conversation dried up, he carried on with his life and I did the same.
The party ended pretty swiftly for me and I was in bed by 4am - the others rocked up at around 7am...!
The next day was pretty chilled, we got some falafel for lunch then Ricky and I wasted the day away in a Rasta Bar after buying some special cigarettes..........

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........

I went to bed after that - 'smoking' always makes me sleepy but the others went to a floating bar and the next day we hopped on another boat to our final island: Koh Tao.

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We'd adopted an Irish girl, Virginia, who we aptly named Irish, from our hostel and when we arrived in Koh Tao and got attacked once again by taxi drivers we just took her to our hotel as she hadn't booked anywhere to stay!
After we checked in we got in the pool and didn't really leave the whole time we were there!

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Whenever the rest of the town went to sleep, the party continued by our pool, so until the early hours of the breaking day, pool parties were rife and the music was blasted out...

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Tanya and I walked along the beach, through the shallow warm water right to the edge of the world and looked into going snorkelling but Mish twisted her ankle and could barely move it so we didn't go in the end which was a shame.

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To be honest though, at the end of our 3 weeks in Thailand, I was so knackered I didn't even want to move!
We did however manage to do a lantern on the beach for good vibes and our wives!

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Ricky and I were going to get tattoos in Bangkok but thought they'd probably be more expensive so we found a beautiful hippy boy and he helped design our tattoos then I got a bamboo one by Mama, and Ricky got an old tattoo covered up by machine by Papa!

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That hippy boy was so beautiful!
I'm so going to move to Thailand and have beautiful jungle babies with a beautiful hippy man!
We chilled by the pool then headed down to the port to get a boat to Chumporn (no that's not shark-bait themed adult movies!) then got a bus to Bangkok.

We arrived at 5am, checked in, slept until 11am, check out, then vegged out and watched Twilight in Thai on giant floor cushions.
This is the life, sat in hareem pants, on the floor under a fan, sweating away in 35 degree heat!
Ricky and I ventured out in the midday sun to spend what little money we had left on souvenirs and cigarettes! (Naturally!)
We were stood outside, not moving, under a shade looking at the niknaks and trinkets and the sweat was pouring down our backs.
We'd forgotten how humid Bangkok was.
We saved 100 baht each for the taxi to the airport, bought some food and water with whatever remnants of change we had left and went back to the hostel.
We resumed our positions on the floor cushions, chowed down and chilled out.
At about 4:30pm we went to book the car to the airport, only to discover that the 4pm bus has gone and the next one was at 8pm and our flight left a 7pm...

Balls.

So we walked towards the main road, away from the hustle and bustle of Kohsan Road and hailed a cab.
"How much to the airport?"
"500 baht"
I look in my wallet, I look back at the driver...
"I can give you exactly 340 baht."
It was literally all the money we had left.
He looked at me and said...
"400 ok?"
I took the 340 baht out of purse and said again...
"I only have 340 baht - this is it, this is all of our money..." gently shaking the tattered notes in his direction.

Eventually after sad eyes and begging smiles, he accepted and by 4:50pm we were on our way.
Now before we left, we were told that it would take an hour and a half to get to the airport...
We set off at 4:50pm...
Check in at the airport closes 45 minutes prior to departure....
This was going to be a close one.
We sat in traffic for a while and the panic set in. I know my credit card wouldn't cover 3 flights if we missed it but I could think of worse places to be stranded.
We get to the airport at 5:25pm - less than 45 minutes!
Winning!
Now we had no money and only a bottle of water each so we tried to ignore the hundreds of delicious food places beckoning us in and checked in for our flight.
Ricky got changed into his China clothes, ready for the cold -2 degrees on Beijing.
I much preferred the 33 degrees we were currently enjoying!
We headed to our gate and were in, on and up within the hour.
Free drinks, a delicious meal and a nap across the 3 free seats next to me and we landed in Beijing.

Holy hell was that cold, and when Thailand stole all of your shoes, leaving you with nothing but flip-flops, you lose feeling in your toes almost instantly!
Determined to carry on, me, my flip-flops, my hareem pants and my strap top headed to passport control and immigration.
Mish and I felt very Asian, what with our socks and flip-flop combos...

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After a painful wait for the woman behind the counter, who I'm pretty sure didn't even work there, finally checked us through, we went to baggage claim and departed the airport.
We knew the drill in China so when the taxi guy said 450 Yuan, we told him to do one, and 90 yuan later, around 2am, we arrived at our hostel for the night.
What a dump!
Mish and I had 3 quilts and still had to huddle for warmth.
I instantly missed sleeping in my underwear under a fan.
We eventually shivered ourselves to sleep, woke up at 10/10:30am and got the heck out of there!

Next hurdle, get to Beijing West Train Station, get tickets our friend had booked online, get on the train at 12:13pm.
We got to the train station at 11:45am only to be told we needed to go to a different booth.
11:55am we get to the front of that queue, she speaks excellent English, we eventually get our tickets and head up to the platforms.
Beijing Xi (west) is huge.
12:05pm we find out what platform we need.
12:10pm we get to the gate.
"Boarding closes 5 minutes before departure"
12:13pm, our train leaves without us.
12:15pm we head back downstairs to buy new tickets.
12:25pm we go downstairs some more to the the previous tickets refunded.
12:45pm we go for a much needed cigarette.
12:55pm we give up and go to McDonalds.
13:30pm we go to our platform and wait to get on.
By 2pm, we're on the train, music on, headphones in, pillows strategically made from scarves and jackets, eyes shut, world is gone.

Tired, grotty, dirty, bruised, twisted, beaten, we get home - our lovely clean apartment, showered, washing in the machine, jammies on, sleep.

Oh Thailand. Totally worth it.

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Posted by Lady Mantle 18:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged waterfalls mountains beaches adventure bangkok hostel beijing mcdonalds koh_tao cocktails cold half_moon_party koh_phangan koh_samui uv 3_weeks_in_thailand beautiful_hippies my_future_home blacklight rasta_bars choeng_mon koh_fan chaweng_beach party_central bo_phut moonstone_hostel lotus_resort the_wave kohsan_road Comments (2)

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