Money and time wise, economically it makes sense to travel at night. You save money on booking a hostel, and you’re sleeping during a time where you’re physically inactive anyways. In practice though, it just doesn’t seem to work out.
Night travel gets you into a city WAY too early (usually around 6 AM) meaning that you can’t actually check into your hostel (there is something so unsatisfying about leaving your bad in the hostel lockup).
You also probably didn’t sleep well on your bus/plane/train so you’re groggy. Even as a self diagnosed narcoleptic who can sleep pretty much anywhere at any time of day, once I’ve had that first doze off on my mode of transportation I’m pretty much awake for the rest of the ride, day OR night.
If you actually do muster up the motivation to start exploring, you get immediately frustrated when you can’t find things, and even when you do manage to successfully navigate a map through the fog of exhaustion and find your way, you aren’t conscious enough to appreciate the things that you find.
Arriving mid day means you get to check into your hostel, wash the bus/train/plane off you, and settle into your new home for the next X number of days. You have time to chill in the hostel common room where you’ll talk to other travellers. You’ll have some time to learn from those who have been touring the city already for a few days before you head off into it on your own.
Wandering around a city you don’t know with little to no advice (trust me, I’ve tried doing the research BEFORE getting into a city online or in guidebooks, and word of mouth has won over in good advice about 100 to 1) is just not as effective. Not that I don’t mind a good wander, but a good wander is usually a lot more enjoyable after a good nights sleep and with some idea of the lay of the land (from a helpful receptionist).
What do you think? Is there a way to travel at night that works for you? What are your experiences?
So I’m now officially ahead of where my blog posts are on this trip, but the internet has been lousy where we’re staying, and in the last place with internet this guy kept clearing his throat and it was driving me insane. So, at long last, I’m able to post this update of our trip up to the beginning of our Intrepid tour.
Koh Phi Phi
The first day in Koh Phi Phi we decided to go scuba diving, so we just walked into the first scuba shop we found and signed up. Because the dive was at 7:30 AM, we had to play safe that night and not drink (drinking pretty much anything the night before scuba diving puts you at high risk for decompression sickness, aka the bends .. not the Radiohead song though). We did, however, scout out the party district for future reference. It also marks the first time on this trip where I saw an abundance of people our own age, and by that I absolutely mean it was the first time we saw a ton of really hot girls our own age. I was strong in my resolve not to party though, but for the first time that I can ever remember, Chris was pressuring ME to go drinking. He started out subtle, but got more to the point as we went on.
“We’d probably be fine with just 2 beers.”
Ty: “We’ll get two beers.”
Server: “Small bottle or big bottle?”
Chris: (Before I can answer) “Big bottle”
(Walking in the party district)
“We can go into a bar if you want to.”
(On the way home)
“Man, a LOT of people are heading out to the bar tonight.”
(Getting into bed)
“Should I take my contacts out or are we going to go out tonight?”
I was forced to be the voice of reason for once, which is not a good place for me spiritually.
Our resolve to save ourselves for scuba diving turned out to be totally worth it. I never thought my first dive would go so smoothly. Our first jump in the water was a bit daunting seeing how deep we would be going, but everything worked out well and my ears cleared pretty easily which was an issue I was having in the lessons. Over the course of the dive, we saw:
2 sea turtles
A ton of puffer fish
And a boatload of other awesome stuff
Oh, and if you missed that first bit, that is correct. I was in open water, unprotected, mere meters from a shark. You may wonder if I wet myself, but luckily being that I was underwater, it will never be possible to prove it.
During the lunch at the dive, they took us to see the beach from the movie the Beach which I recognized immediately which opened my eyes to a) how much time I spend watching movies and b) how much time I spend watching the same movies over and over again.
After the dive we decided to take it easy and be beach bums till that night.
Last Night in Koh Phi Phi
Since we’d missed the party the night before, we decided to make up for it in spades tonight. We met up with our good German friend Diane we’d met in Bangkok randomly. She’d been resting after a bad stomach flu with a British dude named Joe who was also adamant about not going out. We shared a few beers, gathered some more people, and with our silver tongues persuaded them to come out with us (“You need to at least get something to eat. Come out for dinner with us.”)
Travel Day from Hell
The next day was a travel day, but I don’t think we were expecting the show that was about to take place. We climbed aboard the van that picked us up and found it totally empty. We were optimistic. Maybe nobody booked today and we were getting a van to ourselves. Think again.
We were just the first to be picked up. We had no idea what we were about to go through. The next people we picked up were a couple traveling friends from Scotland. Nicky who is moving to Malaysia to open a bar, and his friend Tamara who is half Thai, half Scottish, and will apparently be gracing the Thai cable networks on a travel show shortly (though I forgot to catch the name of the show). After a long van ride, they de-boarded (read: dumped us) at a queue point for the boat where we waiting for 15 minutes and were loaded onto another much more crowded bus. From there the bus hurtled completely overloaded down the highway with all the windows down, which made me thankful that it wasn’t a completely boiling hot day like it usually is otherwise it would have been a great candidate for the trips first bout of heat stroke. This worked fine until it started to rain. Then it started to pour. Then it started to straight up dump buckets on us like we were in an episode of LOST being chased by the monster. They dumped us at a port in the middle of nowhere, started unloading our bags, and then suddenly asked everyone to get back on the bus. We were definitely lost (though still, not in the show).
We finally reached the dock, but things were hardly a relief from there. At this point the rain was slowing down, but the wind was picking up, which is great news for a bunch of people about to get on a rickety boat. They overloaded the tiny, barely sea capable catamaran. After about half an hour on sea, were were riding up and down on huge waves as the boat crashed down on the water heavily. This started with the universal sound of everyone in the boat shouting and laughing like we were on a roller-coaster, and ended about half an hour in with the crew handing out plastic bags as almost everyone on the boat starting throwing up. Chris and I also had the brilliant idea since the day had been such a gong show so far to have a couple beers to make the boat ride more fun. Hilarity did not ensue.
Riding our good luck and Chris’ expert advice that we stare intently at the horizon till the nightmare was over. I praised him for the entire ride for this advice like he was some kind of magical witch doctor and against all odds with 2 beers in our stomachs, we managed not to toss our goods.
From there, we transferred to a taxi. We expected to get right to our hostel, but anybody who’s taken a taxi in Koh Pha Nga knew what we were about to go through. To get the most of the ride, taxi drivers in Koh Pha Nga load up their cabs with as many people they can carry at all times, even if you’re with people that are going to opposite sides of the island. Adding to this, we’d booked our hostel about a month before the full moon party, which is apparently laughable and we’d ended up in a hostel completely on the other side of the island from Haad Rinn (where the full moon party actually happens). After about an hour, we got to J.B Hut.
The final slap in the face
The hostess (Mama) invited us in, gave us a beer, insisted we have food before checking into our hostel, and Chris and I felt our positive attitude through the day was finally about to be rewarded. Sure, the hostel was far away, but we had our own room (our first non-dorm hostel) with separate beds, and the hostess seemed pretty awesome. Our patience was about to be rewarded … or was it?
After allowing us to finish our meals and have a beer, Mama informed us that since we’d checked in late (despite arriving at 7 PM and specifying online we’d be in at 8 PM) and that all that was left was one room … with only one double bed. We’d survived overcrowded van’s, suicidal bus drivers, a boat more designed for motion sickness than Space Mountain in Disneyland, but the prospect of spending 3 nights in the same bed as one another was more than we could stand. Unfortunately, we were too weak at the time to argue, so all we could offer were cold stares to Mama as she apologized profusely and offered us a discount on the room (which was later revoked).
Needless to say, our first night in Koh Pha Nga was a write off. Chris and I slept so far apart on our bed there was room for a whole other person, curled up on opposite sides like complete homophobes. It couldn’t have been more gay if we’d tenderly kissed and cuddled while gently falling into a deep sleep.
First days in Koh Phangan
The next few days in Koh Phangan were filled with rain, so Chris and my plan to finally turn our skin color from a sickly white to a tolerable eggshell white was put on hold. We’d heard time and time again that the best part of Koh Phangan was the nights leading up to the Full Moon Party were actually much better, so we headed out to Haad Rinn at 3:00 to check it out before the party started. This is essentially a beach town filled with lots of stands and was really interesting to see during the day. We walked up and down the beach a couple times before finding a nice little chill bar aptly named retro and were served by a Thai man with an Afro can’t help but make you smile. Chris commented on it EVERY time the guy came to our table (he might have been a bit jealous, maybe this is our chance to convince him to grow his hair into an epic Afro?)
When the night came we headed out to the beach where I discovered buckets. Basically, when you walk down the beach in Haad Rinn there are these (licensed?) stands set up where people sell buckets of alcohol (not an analogy).
When you first walk up, they all start screaming at you abiding for your affection (money) and since they are all essentially the same (buckets filled with alcohol and juice) you invariably choose the one with the most colorful setup. Being slightly intoxicated, I was drawn to the man dressed as Jack Sparrow. They gave us a few free shots and the second they found out we were Canadian, Jack disappeared under the stand and reappeared a few seconds later with a tank top that said “I (Heart) Canada”. Sold. We’d found our alcohol source for the night.
Actual Full Moon Party
Everyone is right. The night before full moon party is better. The beach is less crowded, the locals are less cranky, and it just generally feels safer (yes, safety does cross my mind every once in awhile). All in all, Chris and I agreed that Koh Pha Nga was our least favorite spot so far. The Full Moon Party is a must see, but much like a wise man once told me about rock concerts “once you’re there, you just want it to be over so you can go and brag about being there to your friends later.”
Back to Bangkok
I’d say our trip back to Bangkok was bad, but we’d already set the standard for worst travel day ever, so despite having a smelly guy with dreadlocks continually try to sneak his inclined seat back every time I dozed off, we made it back alright.
It was time to meet up with our tour group. We took a cab to “Grand View Hotel” with no expectation, and got out of the cab to have someone greeting us and taking our bags. I know how Dorthy felt waking up in Oz now. This was an ACTUAL hotel we were staying in. The part I love about backpacking is the dirty hostels and the people you meet in dorms, but at this point, I shed a single tear checking into our room. 2 beds, our own bathroom, air conditioning and clean sheets. Definitely a great place to recharge after the last few days.
Whats next …
So despite my complaining, I’m still loving this trip. I’m thinking an organized tour where we’re not in charge of finding a place to sleep and planning out daily activities will be nice. Also, despite feeling oddly out of place in hotel’s, I’m sure we’ll have no problem settling into the life. That said, I’m already getting the feeling we’ll be anxious to get back to our penny scrimping ways after the tour is over. The approximate itinerary is:
Ho Chi Mihn City
The lack of dates is me fulling letting go of responsibility over our itinerary and just following you for awhile.
To everyone who is writing me, thanks so much for the well wishes, and for all those who asked, yes, we are obviously both still alive despite the earthquake in Burma. Thanks also to everyone who left comments. Feel free to keep face-booking/e-mailing/Tweeting/commenting/carrier pidgeon me. Hope to hear from you soon!
We are now at the end of week 1 in Thailand, and it already feels like we’ve been here for forever. We’re sitting in our hostel in Patong, Phuket (Bodega Hostel) waiting for a bus to come in what might be our first downtime so far. What better time then now to look back on what’s happened.
Everything went smoothly through check-in and customs, though Chris was pulled aside for a random security check (after seeing his passport photo, I don’t think there is any doubts this wasn’t a “random” check). We boarded our flight on time, and were then asked to de-board half an hour later. Our plane wasn’t taking off. Bad luck? Of COURSE not. Our original flight was booked with United Air which is about as low budget as North American air travel can come. We were upgraded to an Air Canada flight which meant personal TVs at our seats and all the luxuries they have to provide. But would that mean that we would be arriving in Bangkok later then expected? HELL no. We got in at the exact same time as originally scheduled. I don’t know what I did in a past life to get this good karma. My guess; either Gandhi or Mother Theresa.
In a stroke of genius and to save ourselves 200 BAHT (roughly $6 CAD) I didn’t book us a first night in our Bangkok Hostel (Nap Park Hostel, I’d highly recommend it) since we were getting in so late. We dropped our bags in the lobby and headed to the hostel bar to pull an all nighter. We shared beers with a bunch of fellow travelers and everyone thought we were idiots for deciding to stay up all night. My response: “don’t even WORRY about it”.
Still buzzing from beer and insomnia, as the sun rose Chris and I prepared to tackle the town with a new friend who was brave enough to stay awake with us. We headed to a temple and took a lot of pictures but started to walk around like zombies. We must have looked like walking dollar signs because a Thai man working at the temple asked us if we wanted to take part in a “good luck ceremony”, which we accepted through glazed eyes. He led us into a back area of the temple and into a monks house. Made all the more magical by the fact that the place was filled to the brim with junk, we walked in on the monk watching X-factor … which he never turned off for the entire ceremony. As he spoke in Thai waved his hand around most likely chanting “I can’t believe their buying into this” we were eventually asked to pay 800 BAHT for cheap bracelets at the end, and we politely refused and made 100 BAHT donations to the temple.
Still convinced we weren’t tired, we went back to the hostel and met up with a couple other people from our hostel we’d spent the night before with.
We jumped in a cab and headed out for our first Thai massage. As my masseuse started kneading my shoulders it sounded similar to someone crushing a bag of potato chips. This is definitely not a relaxing form of massage, it’s more like a stretch than anything else, but the after affects are amazing.
The food (if some can be so defined as that)
After that we all decided to head out somewhere to eat. This is where I decided never to eat from street vendors again. One of the things you will find frequently in Bangkok are street vendors who sell sea food. They do something with the fish that make it look like beef jerky and smell like seafood that has been sun baking all day in a street vendor car. Now, mix that with the smell of exhaust, and you now have probably only the third meal in my life I couldn’t finish.
The meals we’ve had range across the board from the one mentioned above to the awesome cooking of the lady who runs the restaurant at our Bankok Hostel. I seriously considered asking her to marry me so I could enjoy delicious Thai food for the rest of my days. The nice thing about the exchange rate is we can eat pretty fantastic meals for cheap while in Thailand. Best meal so far was last night in Phuket. Best Green Curry I’ve ever had.
When Sleep Deprivation Becomes a Problem …
We headed out to a sky bar (basically, a bar on the top floor of a hotel) and got some drinks. The trek there wasn’t easy. Our group was now up to 8 people in total which means getting around is probably more relatable to herding cattle then coordinating sentient human beings. We lost 3 brave souls along the way, but we DID eventually get to the bar. This is when Chris and I hit our limit. Note to self: Johnny Walker is NOT a staying awake drink. I fell asleep 3 times in the bar before finally admitting that it was time to go home. I don’t remember the cab ride, but I woke up in my own bed the next day, so I’m assuming that I got there without incident.
Spa’s, Fish and Foot Fetishes
The next few days in Bangkok were much more vivid. We spent that morning going to a foot spa. They have this huge tank on the ground filled with Chinese Algae Easters which are like tiny Pecos (the fish in tanks that sucker onto the walls) and you put your feet in. The fish then sucker onto your feet, in the penultimate foot fetish fantasy. I spent the first 5 minutes laughing uncontrollably (my feet are insanely ticklish) until I finally calmed down enough to sit and enjoy it. One of the weirdest feelings I’ve ever had, but something I’d do again and recommend to anyone to try it at least once.
After another full day of seeing Bangkok, Chris and I decided it was time to see a Thai boxing match. We got to the stadium with another huge group of people (though this time, we were a lot more callous and just jumped in a cab with as many people who wanted to come as space allowed) and got to the door. We bartered for the front row seats for 1600 BAHT, and were told we’d get a picture with a Thai boxer. Sold.
Lady Boys first Sighted
Aside from being an undoubted tourist trap, Patong is the home to a thriving lady boy culture. The best part for me is that they seem to have taken a liking to Chris, who doesn’t seem to get smiling and politely refusing isn’t enough to drive them off. He did get a picture with a bunch at a bar the night before. He told as many people as possible about it the next morning and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so excited about anything in my life. Latent homosexual tendencies surfacing? Without a doubt.
Enjoying the Beach
The next day we checked out of our hostel, saw a bit more of the city via longboat this time and headed back to relax (pass out) for an hour before we had to go to the airport for our flight to Phuket. We’re staying in Patong City in Phuket, and it has been a lot more relaxed by comparison. We had our first day at the beach yesterday which was really nice. I was overly cautious about sun exposure so I didn’t tan much, but haven’t yet felt the sour sting of the suns cancerous rays, or suntans evil cousin, the sunburn. Chris said he’s never actually seen me relax and it was freaking him out. Touche.
For now we’re setup for the next few weeks in hostels. Our temporary itinerary is:
March 14 – 16 Koh Phi Phi
March 16 – 17 Phuket City
Mach 17 – 20 Koh Pha Nga
March 21 – ?? Bangkok (to catch a 9 day tour, which I have once again forgot when it starts).
To everyone I have heard from, thanks for writing me! For everyone I haven’t, write me you jerks! Better yet, tell me what you think of the blog! Want to see more or some things? Less of other things? Help me to help you and leave a comment below, send me an e-mail, write me on Twitter or Facebook me.