Wednesday, 19 March 2014

"I awake in a puddle of other people's piss."

 One wild train journey through Thailand


"Are you f**ing serious!?" This was my initial reaction when I found out we'd been ripped off by a rather greedy Thai man, named Ken, the man that had sold us our return trip to Bangkok. I'm not sure "ripped off" is an adequate term, considering we only got conned out of approximately £7.40 but as we were nearing the end of our time in Thailand, and we had grown rather accustomed to the reduced cost of living, 550 Baht for half a trip to Bangkok seemed like a lot.

Jordan, my travel buddy and I were on our way back from Koh Phangan, we had just ticked off a big wish on our bucket list - The Full Moon Party. As you can probably imagine, our mental and physical state was already largely compromised due to a very last-minute sprint to the port, add to that copious amounts of bucket cocktails and Chang beer and you get an idea of how we were feeling, now we are being told by a tour operator that he was in fact "serious" and our tickets were invalid, as they do not trust the establishment where we purchased our tickets, they were "Bad news" apparently.

After much bickering and stubbornness on my part we eventually purchased new ferry tickets to Surat Thani, where we could meet with the elusive Ken and resolve this issue.
The ferry journey was exactly what we needed to blow out the cobwebs and to come to terms with my new ridiculous tattoo - a misshapen star on the side of my hand, inked by a man of questionable hygiene with a sharpened piece of bamboo. For the record I do not condone entering a tattoo parlor under the influence of alcohol.

 
(Said tattoo, Fresh and unsterilized)

Finally on land, we reach a dusty barn that housed, not cows but a combination of hungover, mosquito bitten tourists, and stray dogs, this wasn't a barn, but the bus station. We resume our rather lackluster pursuit of Ken, we attach ourselves to a lovely Canadian woman who taught English to Thai children and had been on a quiet break to the neighboring island of Koh Samui, she spoke the language and seemed confident she could get everything sorted. Long story, short Ken was very apologetic and actually quite likeable. He gave our tuk tuk driver 350 Baht for each of us and ordered him to book us on an overnight train - not the spacious, bright pink, air conditioned coach we'd paid for, but a rickety old train all the way to Bangkok - an arduous 10 hour journey.

On arrival at the train station we discover that we've been booked in 3rd class, Oh Ken, you sneaky dog. Images of caged chickens, babies crying, and people sleeping on baggage shelves begin flying around my head. could it really be that bad? The station was a sombre setting, the faint stench of sewage that we'd grown so used to was now more prominent than ever, much like in the UK people were striving to avoid any eye contact with one another and almost everything in view was a dank shade of grey.

We wait on the platform, feeling sorry for ourselves, hangovers now in full swing, another backpacker catches our eye, he looks equally down-trodden, we strike up a rapport over our new found contempt for Ken. Deciding that this trip is already a write off, we purchase more alcohol from the one establishment in the entire place that seemed to possess any form of saturation - a seemingly neon food stand with a refrigerator filled to the brim with gloriously golden bottles. We board the train, beer in hand, with our new friend, whom I will now refer to as Dave to protect his identity, it was almost exactly how I had imagined, minus the chickens. An employee spots us and asks "You in the wrong carriage? You follow me." So naturally we do so.

 
(Surat Thani at the bottom of the pic is 635 KM away from Bangkok)

We're lead to one of the dining carts, illuminated by long florescent bulbs which obviously did wonders for our clammy, weathered faces, we catch a glimpse of each other and turn away in disgust at how vile we've become. we're greeted by some very friendly wait staff, they take us to a table and forcefully hand us menus, the unmistakable aroma of Pad Thai is now filling my nostrils, our waiter spots our bags full of beer and says something in Thai to another member of staff, they chuckle amongst themselves and say "naughty, naughty". We order some food that to all appearances is rather yummy, but it will later render Jordan unable to move without having to make a dash for a toilet.

Naturally, as the bottles begin to empty, we start to order various beverages from the menu, we're taken aback when asked if we could purchase a few beers for members of the wait staff but being as drunk and as irresponsible as we were, we wholeheartedly accepted their request. We laugh and joke as they join our table, convinced they're laughing at us as much as with us - we don't care, we keep going.

As we continue on our way things start to die down, some staff members bunk down under the tables with nothing but a pillow and their jacket, we're left with two of them, young men about our age, at this point I've had enough and I've put sunglasses on with the aim of sneakily snoozing while the party carries on around me. Jordan and Dave are still knocking them back with the staff members. Now, my memory is quite hazy as I kept coming in and out of conversations but I'm certain of this fact, the wait staff had began smoking opium and were sharing it with Dave. I begin to grow a little uneasy as the mood in the cart changes.

(Opium contains morphine and alkaloid, the chemical used to create heroin)
 
I remember their pupils widening so much, they almost resembled 2 great white sharks in hunt mode. I'm awake but my head is on the table and I have a pair of wayfarers on so no one can see me studying the room. Suddenly, Dave shoots up from his seat as if one of these sharks had butted him with their nose, Dave is convinced that one of the staff members has pointed at us and made an "injection gesture", this forced Dave to run up and down the cart frantically screaming things like "they're gonna kill us!" and "Stop the train, we're getting off!"

Jordan and I were now so inebriated, we'd reached the phase where we could only really make incoherent noises in a futile attempt to calm Dave down. As you may expect, this just spurred him on and he ran from the cart and into another, we can do nothing but shrug our shoulders in confusion and follow him. I didn't realize it at the time but our bill for the 3 course meal and alcohol would have came in at around 2000 Baht but there was absolutely no mention of it from the staff as we were rushing out the door.

Panic ensues when we get to the last cart and we realize we're at a dead end, A cart full of confused faces stare back at us, including the Canadian teacher from the ferry. We have no choice but to try and "blend in". Jordan, ever the master of subtlety crashes out in the middle of the isle, while Dave has now hidden in a luggage shelf, I have the master plan to go to a toilet cubicle and lock the door until we get to Bangkok, little did I know the toilet was nothing more than a stainless steel potty with a hole leading to the tracks - combine this with a shaky train and bad aim and you have yourself a rather futuristic looking piss pond.

(a fine example of a 3rd class Thai train toilet minus the pool of urine on the floor)

I get to the toilet, the motion of the train, the stench, and the alcohol finally takes it's toll and I find myself on my knees vomiting down a hole, watching the tracks passing by quickly underneath me. I'm too far gone to realize I'm kneeling in other people's urine, I pass out in there. I awake in a puddle of other people's piss, I have no idea how long I've been in there, I stagger to my feet and pear out of the small window, the sun is beginning to rear it's head on the horizon.


 I hear the crackly voice of a woman over the speakers "Next stop Rachaburi" confused I stumble out of the toilet, one side of my body still drenched in urine, I find Jordan spread eagle in the middle of the isle, I shake him and say "We're getting off, get your backpack." Without hesitation Jordan is doing exactly that, like a seasoned army trooper toughened up by months of rude awakenings and hasty departures just like this one. We look for Dave, he's not in the baggage shelf where I'd left him, according to the Canadian teacher he'd got off a few stops before.

The Train comes to a stop we leap off and begin to power walk towards the exit, half expecting to be stopped by a staff member, we keep our heads down and don't look back. We walk for what seems like twenty minutes, This is the first sign of a conventional looking city - wide tarmac roads, ATM machines and traffic lights but for the first time there is not a soul in sight. We finally come across a young man opening a shop, he spots us too, two white guys walking towards him, stinking of piss and speaking in English at 5 o'clock in the morning, "Can you please help us? we're lost, Where is the nearest hotel?"

The young man looks at us, up and down, he opens his fridge and hands us a bottle of water each, he calls out something in Thai, what I assume was his Grandmother comes out of the shop, she gives him a set of keys. He climbs on a scooter and says "1 minute" we're left with this sweet old woman just smiling helplessly at each other. He comes back and says something else in Thai to the woman, another set of keys is exchanged, he then tells us "No vacancy, now go far" he disappears for a moment and pulls up in a Toyota 4X4 we jump in perhaps rather naively, Our hearts are now in our throats.

After about 20 minutes of our hands hovering over the door handle, ready to tuck and roll, we pull up at a very posh looking hotel, the young man springs from the car and runs to the front desk, a smartly dressed concierge comes out to welcome us. We’re flabbergasted by the kindness and generosity shown by this young man, we thank him excessively and try to offer him money but he begs us not to, We stand, shell shocked as the young man drives away. 

After countless attempts to swindle us out of our money in various cities around Thailand our faith in humanity was now restored. Thailand managed to shock us in so many different ways but the most surprising way of all was the kindness and utter selflessness of one stranger when we perhaps didn't deserve it at all - He saw two people in need and literally went out of his way to help us, my biggest regret is that I never got his name so I could one day return the favor, so instead I dedicate this post to that young man as a sort of thank you (not that he'll ever read this).

































Friday, 7 February 2014

The Best Travel Songs (PART 2)

Kia Ora Whānau, for those of you that don't know, that basically means "Hello, my extended/non-nuclear family" in Maori, the native New Zealand language. See, I'm catching on already!
That's enough chit-chat let's continue my post from last week, on the best songs to travel with...


31. JACK JOHNSON - UPSIDE DOWN
Jack Johnson's music seems to conjure up images of Oceans, Beaches, Guitars and Fun - so it's basically perfect for traveling. There are a few of his songs that could feature in this list, so it's worth checking out his albums "To the Sea" and "In between Dreams".

32. CAS HALEY - SLOW DOWN
Cas Haley was brought to my attention by a guy, who let us tag along in his camper van, while driving along the great ocean road in South Australia. I'm now taking the time to thank him for this, as this song, and many others by Cas Haley still continue to chill me the f**k out.

33. ETHERWOOD - WEIGHTLESS
One of the few songs on this list that don't involve a man and his guitar, but none-the-less still an amazing song. Etherwood's debut album "Begin by Letting go" is jam packed full of great backpacking songs - the liquid-like Drum & Bass seems to fit, both, relaxing on the beach, and adrenalin-filled excursions.

34. BON IVER - HOLOCENE
"And at once I knew, I was not magnificent." Never has a sentence summed up traveling as good as this. It's a lovely song and quite haunting in places, perfect for those moments of deep thought when you've reached the pinnacle of your journey, and experiencing something far bigger and more profound than anything you've experienced before.

35. THE WHO - BABA O'RILEY
I was listening to this a lot when I got to Los Angeles and it just seemed to fit so well! Could be good for those moments when you're just entering a big city or alternatively just leaving one as it does speak of "the exodus" and "teenage wasteland".

36. FLEETWOOD MAC - GO YOUR OWN WAY
Great to sing along to! Imagine this coming on the car radio as your driving along the highway. Only issue is you will need someone else there too, so they can sing the back up parts like so - Person A: "You can go your own waaayyyy" Person B: "GO YOUR OWN WAAAAHAAAAYYYY".

37. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - BORN TO RUN
Inevitably I listened to this a fair bit when I reached the American leg of my journey. It's relevant to other Countries too, but this really excels in the US, Just makes you want to buy a pick-up truck, wear nothing but denim and plaid, and exclusively drink Jack Daniels for a few weeks.

37. WHITESNAKE - HERE I GO AGAIN
Another American classic, but this time of the hair-metal variety. This song reaches very, very high on the official scale of epicness (Yes, that is a word). A fun song to listen to when driving along a winding road and when you're in the mood for a spot of air guitar.

38.  TOM PETTY - FREE FALLIN'
The chorus to this song just encompasses that feeling you consistently have while traveling through all the beautiful scenery this world has to offer. another good song to sing along to - "And I'm Freeeeeeeeeeeee... Free Fallin'."

39. BOB DYLAN - LIKE A ROLLING STONE
This song always reminds me of a rooftop bar in the middle of Bangkok because they had the same Thai guy singing it, in very broken English, almost every night! Ahh Memories :( Another Dylan song worthy of a spot here is "The Wind".

40. JOSEPH ARTHUR - IN THE SUN
The tempo of this song and his voice are just so mellow it's perfect for those lazy days after a heavy night where you're hungover and just want to chill by the beach or even a park in the city.

41. KATIE MELUA - WALLS OF THE WORLD
Now, I'm a little bit in love with Katie Melua, so I may be biased, but ever since I photographed her in Bristol I've thought her voice is enough to give anyone goosebumps, This, combined with the lyrics of the song are the reason she's on my list. And she apparently has one of my photographs in her house! :D

42. ETHERWOOD - FALLING OUT OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Another addition from the Etherwood album. I told you there were more that could go in! The vocals over this track are perfect for traveling, although it may be something to do with the fact that this video was filmed while backpacking through south-east Asia.

43. BEDOUIN SOUNDCLASH - WHEN THE NIGHT FEELS MY SONG
This song is almost obnoxiously happy. It's one of those songs that everyone knows and loves, but yet most people have no idea how they know it. Great for backpackers hostels or camping in the country side.

44. THE BEACH BOYS - I GET AROUND
I love this song. I didn't even listen to it that much while traveling, but I feel stupid for not doing so! It's such a great song for the beach, driving, drinking, practically 80% of the things you do while traveling.

45. OASIS - ALL AROUND THE WORLD
This was literally the first song me and my Backpacking Buddy, Jordan listened to when we reached our first country, Thailand. I put it on when we got to our hotel on the first night. For that reason alone this song will always be a special one to me. It was the first song in the playlist of the greatest year of my life.

46. JOSE GONZALEZ - CYCLING TRIVIALITIES
  
When I first heard this song the lyrics fitted my predicament perfectly. I had ZERO money left, Jordan and I had split up to go to separate Cities in New Zealand, and I had no idea what I was going to do (Looking back on it, I can't even believe i let myself get into that situation) Luckily a Dutch friend and his skiing buddy let me stay with them for a while and I had an awesome time and met so many cool people.

47. THE KINKS - SHANGRI-LA
 
I'm a big fan of the The Kinks, they have a fair few songs that are nice to listen to while traveling. It's mainly due to Wes Anderson films why I like them so much, as he tends to use them in almost every one, especially Darjeeling Limited which is about a train journey across India. 

48. FLO RIDA - GOOD FEELING
Now, some would say that Flo Rida is one of the more talentless rappers out there, but not me. He's supplied some of the most upbeat, and catchy tunes of the past few years. This song, especially, was played in almost every club I attended through out traveling.

49. PITBULL - GIVE ME EVERYTHING FEAT NEYO
Shameful i know... But still, a feel good song that makes you want to dance arm in arm with your traveling buddies. Basically what I'm getting at is; which ever summer pop-song is played to death that year, you will associate it with traveling. I'm thinking this year's backpacker's song would be "Avicii - Hey Brother" or that other one he did...

50. THE DOORS - THE END
One of my all time favourite songs. I listened to it almost exclusively during the last few weeks of backpacking. I knew it was all coming to an end, and I was getting prepared for the depressing return to normality, otherwise known as the cold, wet,  and grumpy United Kingdom.


I know, I've left out A lot of great traveling songs on this list, but to be honest I'm drawing a blank at the moment. This list is more personal than general, and I'm sure it will be different for everyone. I may even add to this when the right time comes. Hope you enjoyed a little insight into my backpacking years and trust me there's plenty more where that came from! Until next time, Whānau.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Best Travel songs (PART 1)

Hello again, as I mentioned in my first post I'm off to New Zealand in June 2014 and I can't freaking wait! So much so that I've already made a playlist on my IPod specially designed for traveling, be it by road, air, or sea, I'll be listening to this bad boy!

Now, obviously everyone has different tastes when it comes to music, and I like to think I enjoy most genres, but as previously mentioned these songs are specifically for those moments that every time you hear it, you can place yourself back in a certain city at a certain time and it just feels you with pure nostalgia and euphoria, much like when I hear José González - Cycling Trivialities, It instantly reminds me of driving around the bendy roads of Otago, in the South Island of NZ, only to come over a hill and be engulfed in the white clouds surrounding the mountains... AMAZING.

Anyway possibly due to my rather inflated self-worth I think everyone needs to listen to my list and not only that, they should Love it! So here it is, in no particular order:

1. AVALANCHE CITY - LOVE, LOVE, LOVE
This is a cheeky little number by a kiwi band called AVALANCHE CITY, that just screams positive vibes, and with the obvious nods toward traveling it has to go in my list.

2. EDDIE VEDDER - SOCIETY 
I chose this song from one of my all-time favourite films "Into the Wild". This song, especially, struck a chord with me because the lyrics are so poignant, but practically every song on this soundtrack album is a Must.

3. JAMES VINCENT McMORROW - IF I HAD A BOAT
James Vincent McMorrow is bringing back Irish Folk, and making it cooler than ever! With his last album "Early in the morning" featuring a fair-few songs that are suitable for traveling. His new album "Post Tropical" is out now and I've only heard 2 songs so far, but it looks to be another favourite.

4. LYNYRD SKYNYRD - FREE BIRD
This simply is a must! Please, Please if you choose to add this to your list make it the 9 minute version with the impossibly kick-ass guitar solo. The lyrics, the genre, the sheer epic-ness make it the perfect traveling song.

5. RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS - ROAD TRIPPIN'
Again, much like many of these bands in this list most of their back catalog is worthy of a place on your traveling playlist. but this one is top choice, especially if you're traveling with "two favourite allies" and happen to be on a road trip.

6. BEN HOWARD - OLD PINE
Another one where the lyrics are just perfect, speaking of "hot sand on toes and cold sands on sleeping bags". Ben Howard burst onto the scene late 2012 and looks to be an ever-present fixture on my traveling playlist. 

7. RADICAL FACE - WELCOME HOME
This was one of those songs you hear on an advert and think "that song is so cool, I need to know the Title!" I believe it was a Nikon ad this one featured on, and it may have been something to do with the sweeping heli-shots of snowy mountains that sold this to me but I'm glad it did! Quality tune.

8. BOB MARLEY - REDEMPTION SONG
One of those songs where if there is a guy with a guitar in your backpackers hostel (there always is) he will play this endlessly! Also one of those songs that people can sing along to, much like in the film "The Beach".

9. JAKE BUGG - COUNTRY SONG
Might only work if you're in the countryside and slightly heartbroken, but still I love this guy's stuff and can listen to it forever, plus it can only be enhanced further when surrounded by stunning vistas can't it?

10. PHILLIP PHILLIPS - HOME
A nice song by a relatively unknown to me, until I heard this on an Advert and decided to Shazam it. The lyrics speak about "making a place your home" and "when you're lost, you can always be found". A nice addition to my playlist and always eases a bad mood.

11. SHINEDOWN - SIMPLE MAN
 I know this was originally by Lynyrd Skynyrd but I've already given them a credit and this version is equally as notable. The lyrics are great for lone traveling, and for when you want to really go for it while singing along.

12. PEARL JAM - JUST BREATHE 
Technically Eddie Vedder, again, but this time with his band Pearl Jam. Fantastically mellow and perfect for those moments when you just look around and realize you, indeed, are "a lucky man".

13. CANNED HEAT - GOING UP THE COUNTRY
Put this song on as soon as you begin a journey, either in a car or a coach, and it will instantly give you good vibes and a feeling of moving forward. This song is frequently used in films and documentaries to do exactly that.

14. CANNED HEAT - ON THE ROAD AGAIN
I didn't want to use the same band more than once in this list, but it's unavoidable with Canned Heat. This one is perfect for those moments when you feel like you've been traveling for ever and need a bit of a lift. Keep the positive vibes going!

15. ELTON JOHN - HOME AGAIN
This is from Elton's latest Album "The Diving Board". Great for those moments when you may be feeling slightly homesick, and a little sorry for yourself. Elton just keeps the classics coming.

16. WEEZER - ISLAND IN THE SUN
Now back to the positive vibes with a bit of Weezer. not much else to say except that the lyrics are perfect.

17. ISREAL KAMAKAWIWO'OLE - SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW
I hope I spelt his name right! Possibly one of the happiest songs ever, this just needs to be in there to keep the positivity ticking over. Are you noticing a pattern here in regards to positivity? That's because backpacking isn't always a piece of cake! This song did me wonders when I was homeless in Sydney and had to sleep in a park opposite the opera house. 

18. JOHN DENVER - COUNTRY ROADS
Great for a karaoke sing-along with all the friends you've made while backpacking. One of those bittersweet songs when you know you'll be home soon, but you've loved every second of it, and you still have to get there yet!  

19. JOHN DENVER - LEAVING ON A JET PLANE
I've done it again haven't I? Ah F**k it! It needed to be in there too didn't it? Yes John Denver features again in this list and there are many other songs, of his, that could also slide in here nicely, so don't be afraid to check out more of his stuff.

20. PINK FLOYD - WISH YOU WERE HERE
Great band, Great song. That riff at the beginning just does it for me every time. It turns even the most boring journeys into a scene, fit for the climax of any movie. 

21. SCOTT McKENZIE - IF YOU'RE GOING TO SAN FRANCISCO 
This only really applies if you are in the States and happen to be going to San Francisco but I can't help but include it. It just brings out the Hippy in me. And it is a cool song to drive to as well.

22. COLDPLAY - PARADISE
Imagine listening to this song, and just as the chorus kicks in you come to an epic landscape.... ARGH! Just magical...

23. PASSENGER - ONE FOR THE ROAD
Before his hit-song, "Let her go" Passenger actually traveled around the world, financed purely by busking on the streets of each country he visited. This song is an outstanding addition to this list. Like the lyrics say "This is your traveling song".

24. JOHNNY CASH - I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE
Needed to be in here, and plus it's fun to attempt to sing along. Bet you can't keep up ;)

25. OF MONSTERS & MEN - MOUNTAIN SOUND
A nice, upbeat song to drive along to. I haven't even listened to this while traveling but after hearing it I think it would be good for back packing.

26. WILLIE NELSON - ON THE ROAD AGAIN
A song that suits my current predicament to a tee. A man with itchy feet who "just can't wait to get on the road again".

27. LUMINEERS - HO HEY
Another song that came out after my backpacking years, but on hearing decided it would be a suitable addition.

28. BLIND MELON - NO RAIN
This song just reminds me of those long haired, hippies frolicking on the grassy hills in that music video back in the 90's. The lyrics are all about escaping too...

29. DAVID GRAY - SAIL AWAY
A bit obvious, I know but none-the-less a worthy addition to any trip that involves boats.

30. MICHAEL KIWANUKA - HOME AGAIN
A lovely song by a break-through artist. Lyrics are nice and the song has a nice tempo that's perfect for those nights where you can't sleep, and wonder what your family and friends are doing back home.

PART 2 OF THIS POST WILL BE AVAILABLE SOON....


Monday, 20 January 2014

"We've gotta get out of this place"

"We've gotta get out of this place if it's the last thing we ever do, Girl there's a better life for me and you". 

I believe it was Eric Burdon of The Animals that first sang these words back in 1965 but today, for me at least, these words still ring more true than ever. I'm currently stuck in a retail job I've quickly grown to detest, in a country that's growing danker by the day and with the winter months here for the fore-see able, I'm now the one screaming these words at my some-what perplexed girlfriend, Leah.

Leah is a Kiwi, she moved over to England to be with me after we met during my backpacking years in Australia. She's as proud-a-kiwi as you can get, but for some reason she's grown to love her life here in the UK. I think it's largely due to her job at an animal shelter, which she adores. I hate to sound selfish but I've been trying my absolute best to get her out of this country and back to NZ for some time now.

The original plan was to live here for 2 years and then travel back to NZ, late this year, so she can continue her studies and I can begin my new life out of this country. I've got my working holiday visa and I've just recently purchased 2 tickets to Auckland for June of this year - This was done without Leah's consent (I know, I'm a douche). But desperate times call for desperate measures! I honestly don't think I could last another year here, Everything bothers me about this place; the weather, the culture, the people, etc. I've grown into such a pessimist and it's got to the stage now where I think I'm better off going ASAP so as not to drive my family and friends insane with my frequent mood swings.

So now I've decided to start this blog malarkey to mainly keep myself entertained while counting down the days until I leave and also to keep as a public journal of the whole emigrating process for myself and my future family to look back on (One of my biggest regrets is not keeping a journal from my backpacking years). It's also going to be a way of keeping my family and friends up to date on everything I do when I eventually do get to New Zealand. 

I'll try and update this as much as possible and hopefully there may even be some helpful advice in here for people hoping to emigrate as well. but for now I'll leave you with the silver-tongued lyricist that I've so elegantly plagiarized...