Sunday, July 25, 2010

Off My Crutches On Koh Phi Phi, Muay Thai Boxing, and Andres' Arrival!

I was once again on my own after effortlessly extending my stay on Koh Phangan (a full two nights following the Full Moon Party), but once I finally got my sh*t together, I booked transportation to Koh Phi Phi. From what I had been told by all the travelers I had met and from my numerous new friends on Koh Phangan, Koh Phi Phi was the place to recover from the madness of the Full Moon Party.

Despite its appeal to those who had just washed off the glow-in-the-dark paint, Koh Phi Phi is always a place of serenity, quiet beaches, and amazing sunsets. Honestly, I didn't really care what "they" told me about Koh Phi Phi--I just needed to get OFF of that island for fear that I might stay and be the guy who has been there a month since the last Full Moon Party because he wanted to do it all over again 31 days later. Um, no thank you.

Saying more goodbyes that day (to Alice, Laura, Alicia, Tyrone, etc.) then I'd like to remember, I boarded my first sleeper boat for a journey that--still to this day--I can't quite map out other than the fact that I knew I was headed to an island on the eastern shore of the southern part of Thailand. I'm not quite sure why we took a sleeper boat and not a sleeper bus, but at this point in my travels, I've become a sheep. When it comes to changing locations, I just go with the rest of the herd . . . so off I went. Baaah!

For a pleasant surprise, I boarded with two of my friends I had met in Vietnam who had also stayed a few doors down from me in the same hotel on Koh Phangan (two sisters--Mariana and Michelle--from . . . you guessed it: Argentina!). To get some sense of what this sleeper boat was like, I took one picture, but it really doesn't do justice to the level of comfort I experienced for nine hours . . . solid SLEEEEEP!

Although the sleeper boat may not look comfortable, it was simply marvelous! I had been experiencing horrible sleep in my final nights in my hotel room on Koh Phangan because of the mixture of humidity in the room, no air conditioning, little-to-no ventilation, massive amounts of sand covering my sheets, and my being bed harder than wood (don't know how that is possible but it is the truth). My sleep was just plain awful, but I know that I had been quite spoiled from my adjustable bed in the hospital room. In my defense of not being that high-maintenance, I could also attribute my poor sleep to the on-again/off-again pain from my foot that would throb and wake me up at random points throughout the night! Needless to say, the sleeper boat--with its ocean breeze, fans, and soft mattresses--allowed me a solid nine hours!

Once I finally came to early the next morning, the sun had started to rise in the Gulf of Thailand, and our next transit stop was now less than an hour away. What's more, the pain in my foot had started to subside. Thankfully, I had also started to wane myself off my pain medication (well actually, I started to run out of it), but I still had about a week left on anti-biotics.

I was still a bit scared about the risk of infection since my cut was healing very, very slowly. It probably didn't help that I had ditched my crutches the day after the Full Moon Party partly because I could limp around okay without them but more so because I couldn't even manage to use them since the blister on my hand had grown to the size of a quarter from the night before out on the beach. My hand and its blister had gotten to the point where it hurt more to put weight on it than on my foot, and presently, my hand is still healing from that damn blister whereas my foot is almost back to feeling normal--go figure!

We made it to Krabi that morning long enough to get a few coffees and a small breakfast. Almost immediately afterward, we were shuttled to the pier, boarded our ferry, and within a few short hours back on the water, we finally reached paradise: Koh Phi Phi!

This has easily been one of my favorite Thai destinations and for a number of reasons. First, I met a friendly Canadian guy as we were all getting off the boat who had also made friends with some of the others on the boat who I was talking to. David was by himself, so we quickly became friends and agreed to split the costs for a room. Once, we followed all the girls around to find their hotels while checking the prices for ourselves, we settled on a place right between the two beaches of Koh Phi Phi--the one is in the picture above (used primarily for taxi boats and ferries), and the other is where the nice beach is and where all the parties happen at night! Here's a good arial view to get an idea of the island and the little strip with beaches on either side:

Second, everything that happens on that island essentially goes down right on that little strip in the middle of the island, and it's amazing because you can walk the entire width of the strip--from the pier side to beach side--in less than 10 minutes. Finally, there are no cars or motorbikes on the island--only bicycles. So needless to say, it was an absolutely peaceful place to be and served as a great break from taxis, loud motorbikes, and aggressive traffic on Koh Phangan!

For our first night there, David and I got settled into our room--pure luxury at a great price. This room had A/C, nice comfortable beds, and thick comforters to keep the A/C nice and cold but stay warm through the night. As for a room with A/C in Southeast Asia, it becomes an interesting game. In a room with all guys or by myself, you tend to set the A/C at a certain level thinking it's a safe temperature through the night. Then, about 3 hours into your sleep, you wake up FREEZING, so you turn it up a few degrees only to wake up hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable a few hours later. I guess we could've set the timer or make the necessary adjustments, but as guys, you only have patience for full-blast, always on, and always cold A/C, so you just learn to deal with it. Thankfully, the room came with those thick comforters, so it was easy to escape the frost-bitingly-cold air circulating in the room.

After taking our first showers in nearly two days--and with salt water at that (the only drawback to our room), we realized that we were able to get the free Wi-Fi signal from the bookstore directly across the street. We were then convinced we had the best room on Koh Phi Phi, and after spending too much time on Facebook and swapping movies, we found our friends and a watering hole we would visit every night during our stay on Koh Phi Phi: Reggae Bar. Reggae Bar, however, didn't play much reggae or even have their staff equipped with dreads; instead, this was the place to watch live Muay Thai Boxing--between Thais but more entertaining was the matches between random backpackers!

Personally, I have never been much of a fan of any form of fighting--not UFC, wrestling, or boxing--but once David and I walked into Reggae Bar and felt the energy from all the other groups of backpackers who had been convinced by their friends to fight other random backpackers that night, it was easy to stay, order a bucket, and watch some Muay Thai. As well, David had recently trained in Muay Thai while traveling in Thailand and was excited to see there was going to be definite chance to put his new skills to the test against an unsuspecting backpacker . . .

Just like the other groups that had convinced one of their friends it was a great idea to go up against someone else for three 1-minute rounds in the ring, David needed no convincing to go in the ring for a fight, and I promised him that I would find someone of equal stature and weight for his match.

The next day, I woke up earlier than I would have liked to but was excited to greet two friends I met in Bangkok before heading south to Koh Phangan--Mara and Tara from NYC! They were so great to be around because we shared many similar stories from our experiences as Americans traveling in Asia, and there were many more stories to share from back home. Plus, it was just great to hear them talk, as I have said many times before: the American accent and American backpackers have been quite the rarity in my travels this summer.

So, with another day on Koh Phi Phi and everyone in our (growing) group now shacking up at the same hotel (Phi Phi Princess), I needed to get myself back to sleep in order to catch up from the early wake-up. Plus, it was SO hot out that day, and after a few hours at the pier waiting for the New York gals in the heat, I was definitely not ready to go to the beach. Unfortunately, my decision to go back in the cold A/C and my bed wash something I would soon regret over the next few days because that day's sunshine would soon be gone for the next two days . . .

With the heat, early wake-up, and a small hangover from too many buckets at Reggae Bar and on the beach the night before, I was completely unproductive and became very lazy spending the rest of the day in my hotel room. While I napped and waited for Mara and Tara to catch up on their sleep in preparation for their first night on Koh Phi Phi, I watched every episode of the first season of How to Make It in America (many thanks to David and his expansive TV/movie collection!).

Once I finished the season, I felt recuperated and was instantly surprised to read a message from Andres! He had written to let me know that his plans to stay with friends in Cambodia had changed and that he would now be arriving solo to Koh Phi Phi at 3pm the next day! So, with another night ahead of us, David and I got our group together to show Mara and Tara what Koh Phi Phi was all about. Unfortunately, I left my camera in my hotel room for the second night in a row, so I have no pictures to share, but only memories in my head that can just stay there.

The next day was much the same, and our established routine was feeling great. However, this was an exciting day due to Andres' arrival, but when I got up for breakfast with Mara and Tara, it was raining cats and dogs! Rain isn't uncommon this time of year, but Koh Phi Phi takes it personally since they experienced a devastating tsunami in December 2004 that brought massive floods and destruction to the entire strip I had described above. If you can stomach it, here is a graphic YouTube video of what happened that fateful day. Needless to say, the relentless rain that morning doesn't feel like the rain at other places around Thailand. For me, rain was still my enemy because of needing to keep my foot dry, so it was a bit frustrating dodging the huge puddles that had collected in the streets on my walk to meet Andres at the pier.

It was absolutely great to see him and know that he would have fun on Koh Phi Phi during his final days in Southeast Asia. As well, adding a bed in our room for him cut the cost down for David and I, and Andres was completely content on his roll-away!

With great expectations for the night ahead of us, Andres and I did our best to get David excited about his match as we waited out the rain for the nightlife to set in on the streets right outside our door! For some reason, David was nervous, but at the same time, he didn't have much to really fear because we soon found a nice enough guy from England for him to fight and we stayed in his corner for the entire match.

Of course, David won but not without a lot of work on his part. As you can tell from the picture after it was over, he fought like an ANIMAL and was completely exhausted as well as mildly injured with a swollen ankle from a good kick against his opponent in the third round. Well done David--you worked hard for the free bucket!!! As well, Andres and I had confidence in his abilities before the match, so we made a few bets with his opponents friends and others in the stands that ended up funding few nights at the hotel, drinks, and food!

From the looks of this Dandygram, I do believe I need to end Dandygram post and catch you up with the rest of our stay on Koh Phi Phi in another one, so . . . . .

Next up on The Dandygram: Sunshine, Beach Time, and Andres' Muay Thai Match During Our Final Days on Koh Phi Phi!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Full Moon Party (albeit on crutches), Body Painting, and Impromptu Limbo on Haad Rin Beach!

I was finally released from the hospital on Saturday (June 26th) after three days and three nights, and believe me--it felt o-mazing! Freed from my I.V., I could now get on with my traveling and get back to my friends, clean clothes, and the FULL MOON PARTY!

Leaving the hospital to many sweet "goodbyes" from the wonderful hospital staff, I made my way via taxi to the ferry station to catch the 4pm ferry back to Koh Phangan. While I waited, I took my first long wobble down the gnarly dock with my new crutches. This was my first real chance to wobble around beyond the hospital hallways and see how I could manage for a long night with my snazzy crutches.

No surprise. It sucked, but I remained positive because I always turn frowns upside down, so with a smile from the paid vacation from my vacation, I headed back to Koh Phangan! My injury, however, was still very tender and also susceptible to re-opening, bleeding, infection, or worse . . . amputation (j/k!), so I reaallllly needed to baby it during the next few days--especially on the beach that night.

Once I arrived back to Koh Phangan, I was greeted by Sam and friends in and around the town after dropping off my bag at the hotel. They were so positive about my foot, but they could barely contain their excitement because they were in the middle of making all the necessary purchases for the party: body paint, face paint, outrageous outfits, Full Moon Party shirts and tank-tops, bright colored accessories, numerous bottles/bags of ice/sodas/red bulls for buckets on the beach, and anything else tacky enough to wear while in the sea of thousands that would soon be gathering for a full night of dancing on Haad Rin Beach. My only accessory upon arrival? My crutches, so needless to say, I had a bit of shopping to do.

There is a brief note that must preface my Full Moon Party stories as well as for my explanation in my choice of attire. Well, there are two things actually . . .

First, I was not to get my foot wet, and based on the instructions from the doctor for showering each day, he said it was best for me to I sit down during a shower with my foot propped up or somehow rig my foot on the top of the toilet or something high enough to keep it from getting wet while I showered (showers in Thailand are typically part of the same part of the bathroom as the toilet and sink are in--think one big room with a drain--and the shower area has no curtains, bathtubs, walls, etc.).

Second, after I went around town making my preparatory Full Moon Party purchases, we gathered back at the hotel to start painting and then it started to POUR--the first time in at least a week. It seemed like the sky was making up for the lost time because it lasted for 3 hours straight! Therefore, I needed to take precautionary measures with my foot, so I decided it would be best to wear two socks and have a plastic bag between each sock as well as another plastic bag rubber-banded around my heal outside the two socks to prevent water from penetrating my cut.

Because I needed to take the crazy contortionist-style showers, I did not want to be in the shower any longer than I had to, so I kept the paint off my body and instead painted my new FMP tank-top. USA played their first Round 2 game that night (they lost), so I decided to look like a football fan and went to work painting a big US flag on the front. Then, I put a little slogan on the back to taunt the thousands of Brits on the island (about 95% of the tourists there) since they were going to play their first Round 2 game the following night, which was also a loss for England (same same, but different).

Alas, here are the pictorial highlights from our group's Full Moon Party preparations!

After the rain finally let up, it was almost 10:30pm, so we made our way down to the beach. It was on this walk that we realized the massiveness of the party. People had filled the streets leading down to the beach, and it was incredibly easy to lose members of your group. I, however, was able to clear a fairly large path (with mah crutches) and keep people together by raising them high in the air if we got split up. I swear, I was probably the ONLY person on crutches that night since most injuries occur the night of the Full Moon Party--not three days before.

My crutches worked great as a method through the madness because we managed to stick together and arriving to the beach ready to party under the moon. Unfortunately, I had an even harder time once on the beach because of something that happened on our walk . . .

So in the middle of most roads throughout Thailand, there blocks of cement that have been cut out and replaced by cement drains with holes cut into them to prevent flooding and standing water. As you can probably imagine, I was already having a hard time dodging these damn holes on my crutches in the crowded streets, and of course (!), I managed to get my right crutch stuck inside one of those freaking holes just a block away from the beach.

Getting my crutch lodged into the hole wasn't much of a problem at all. The problem came when I went to pull it out and realized the rubber footing at the end of my crutch was now stuck deep inside the hole! Just great. Getting situated and coming to terms with the fact that I was not going to get another rubber piece, my right crutch was now about an inch shorter than my left, and I made a "ting-crunch" sounding noise every time I took a wobble on the cement.

This new situation was good for a few laughs, but it turned out to be worse than I imagined because once on the beach, the crutch without the rubber footing would sink about 4 inches down into the sand every single time I wobbled. It really couldn't have been more frustrating (I mean, I guess I could have been in a wheelchair where it would have been impossible to go on the beach), but what's more is that water was now soaking through my socks and USA was now out of the World Cup because they had lost their game against Ghana. Boo freaking hoo.

Nevertheless, all of my friends were patient with this added burden to my already-getting-sore-under-the-armpits-and-blistering-of-the-hands-wobbling around, so shortly after making out to the beach (with buckets in hand, mine in Sam's), we realized we could make the most of the situation by not moving around too much and instead using my crutches to start an impromptu limbo competition. It didn't take long to get a long line formed with numerous limboers getting very serious about their limboing. As well, some of them managed to get extremely low on the sand that night--not an easy feat!

The remainder of the Full Moon Party was absolutely incredible: thousands of tourists and Thai people dancing side-by-side on a night celebrating the full moon.

After hours upon hours of dancing, singing, and wobbling up and down the beach visiting dance floor after dance floor, I had to call it a night around 5am, and I did not, unfortunately, get to see the sun rise that morning. Staying up until the sun rises is a big part of the party. I, on the other hand, went home with tender/bruised armpits, a gnarly blister on my right hand from my lopsided crutch, and amazing memories from the week at Koh Phangan and in the Koh Samui hospital. And actually, I will never forget my time there because I now have a scar on my left foot to always bring me back!

The next morning, I was up around noon and found an internet cafe to have lunch and surf the web. Honestly, my time that afternoon at the cafe was the most memorable experience that week (next to getting stitches) because while I sat on the second story on the street, eating my lunch, I saw countless people stumbling back from the beach--searching for their hotels, into random restaurants for meal, or into 7-Elevens in search for who knows what because it didn't seem that they even knew where they were or their own names. It was absolutely hilarious and priceless to see that part of the party.

My time in Koh Phangan had been really good; the chance to attend the Full Moon Party was epic to say the least. Meeting Sam Bullard there on the dock was also completely unexpected and having him as a travel partner in Koh Phangan was really a life-saver. Finally, I was excited to get the move on and go to Koh Phi Phi for a possible meet up with Andres and quite definitely for some exploration of another island during my time in southern Thailand!

Next up on The Dandygram: Off My Crutches On Koh Phi Phi, Muay Thai Boxing, and Andres' Arrival!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Koh Phangan, Random Moment #1 (and #2!), and Nine Stitches!

I finally left Bangkok after numerous late nights with Jeroen on Khao Sarn Road in order to start my trip to the islands in southern Thailand. Since Jeroen had already left and our nights (and days) on Khao San Road had done numbers on our sleep, diets, and livers, I was in desperate need for some relaxing time on the beach to swim in the ocean, sunbathe, and sleeeeeep. Despite my plans to recoup from Bangkok on the beaches and islands in southern Thailand, I had every intention to attend one of the world's biggest parties: The Full Moon Party at Haad Rin Beach on the island of Koh Phangan.

As I packed up my stuff yet again and walked to the bus stop, I immediately felt a sense of rejuvenation because I knew that I would soon be experiencing a drastic change in scenery and atmosphere. I also looked forward to the opportunity to be completely on my own, in a foreign place I had not yet experienced, and to be moving through Thailand--making new friends at every step of the way.

I left Bangkok late that night and boarded another sleeper bus for the incredibly long ride south to the coastal town of Surat Thani (primarily a place of transit for those looking to travel to the eastern islands of Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, and Koh Tao--"Koh" being the Thai word for "island").

On the bus ride south, I made a new friend with a girl named Augustina who was shy but very pleasant--and from Argentina! I told her of my friends I had made in Vietnam from Argentina and how I expected to see one of them (Andres) again soon. Honestly, I am not sure what it is about meeting/making friends with so many travelers from Argentina, but it has provided numerous advantages when trying to brush up on my Spanish, talk about potential places to visit when I go to South America, and to make more friends since two friendly people can make more friends than just one friendly guy like me--although it hasn't been hard on my own thus far!

After arriving in Surat Thani, we only had to wait a few hours for a ferry to pick up the hundreds of tourists looking to make their way to either Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, or Koh Tao. While waiting under some much needed shade on a very hot day in Thailand, I looked around among the numerous groups of backpackers and tourists to see if I might recognize anyone from my time in Vietnam or in Bangkok, but I really had my eyes focused and ears perked up to find Andres after his time in Cambodia. Andres and I had made tentative plans to meet on Koh Phangan before the Full Moon Party, but the last I had heard from him was that his time with his friends from England in Cambodia was going better than expected, so I might see him soon. The communication with him after leaving him in Vietnam had been quite sporadic, so I didn't know when or where I might see him again--just that I would . . .

As I scanned the groups, I did recognize someone--Amanda, from England, who I met during my last night in Bangkok. She had recently made friends with three others from England, so Augustina and I joined their group, got the introductions out of the way, and started talking about what we could expect at Koh Phangan and at the Full Moon Party since one of the girls (Alice) had attended the party four times in the past. What was even more comforting was that she and her friend had attended May 2010's Full Moon Party, and they were well-versed on the island, where to stay, and where to spend your time. It ended up working out really well for Augustina, Amber, and myself to have such friends.

Moments later, we started to see the other groups stand up to strap on their backpacks, so we figured it was finally time to make our way to the ferry bound for Koh Phangan! It was a rather biblical experience (read: Noah's Ark) boarding the ferry since everyone had huge backpacks and were walking very slowly in a single file line across a very narrow plank onto the boat. Once aboard, we dumped our bags on an ENORMOUS pile and immediately made our way to the front of the boat to lay on the open deck in order to get an early start on our tans under the sun for the three hour ride through the calm waters in the Gulf of Thailand.

Once we arrived to Koh Phangan after spending every moment of that boat ride under the sun--some of us getting wicked tans and very peculiar tan lines--we patiently waited for our backpacks to make their way onto the heaping pile of bags that was being formed by the staff who were throwing bags from the boat to make way for the passengers awaiting their depature ferry from Koh Phangan. In the days leading up to the Full Moon Party, ferries are filled with tourists and backpackers who are eager to attend the party. Honestly, the days leading up to the party were supposedly the most enjoyable because it was a bit more relaxed on the beaches and in the clubs, but I don't have much to say about them because of a little accident (a story soon to follow . . . ).

Random Moment #1:

As we waited for our bags in the swarm of people and disarray of unloading the boat, I stood waiting and picked up on another backpacker with an American accent. He first commented on the ridiculousness of trying to find your backpack--let alone having enough room to grab it once you see it unloaded from the boat--and so I couldn't help but ask him where he was from since an American accent has been a rarity during my travels. Below is literally how our conversation unfolded . . .

Me: Hey man, I overheard you talking and recognized your accent. Where are you from?
Him: From the States.
Me: Oh really? Me too. Which state?
Him: Indiana. What about you?
Me: I also grew up in Indiana! I lived in the Indianapolis area, but I also lived close to South Bend during high school.
Him: Really? I grew up in Elkhart (a smaller city just east of South Bend)!
Me: Crazy! I went to Northridge High School in Middlebury (an even SMALLER city east of Elkhart).
Him: Wait, what's your last name?
Me: Sparks . . .
Him: Trevor??? I'm Sam Bullard--Morgan's younger brother (I knew his sister when I first started high school there in Middlebury). I graduated from Northridge a year behind you!
Me: Holy sh*t! SAM! Ha ha!! Now I recognize you! What a small world, etc, etc, etc . . .

Needless to say, we talked for a bit about our travels, what we had been up to in the past eight years since high school, and what our plans were for Koh Phangan and Southeast Asia. Sam was traveling alone on a long break from his job teaching English in South Korea, so he was going to various places in Southeast Asia for a month--visiting Thailand, Vietnam, and others. It was absolutely needle-in-the-haystack-random to run into him--especially since it was one of three ferries that leave from Surat Thani, and with it being that day, on that ferry, and on that chance occasion that I would overhear his accent a few feet away! It still blows me away that I would meet someone from Northridge High School in Middlebury, Indiana--a school of just barely 900 students in a town of maybe 2,500 people. Whooooooa.

After I introduced Sam to the group I was traveling with to Koh Phangan (Augustina, Amber, Alice, and Laura), we all decided to find a hotel and split the costs of our rooms by dividing two to a room. Once we got settled in, we left our things behind to explore some of the island around where we were staying, check out the beach (Haad Rin) where the Full Moon Party was going to be held, and eat a hearty dinner. Although we were very excited for our first night on the island, we needed some time to rest after dinner in order to recoup from our time on the boat under the blazing sun (many of us resting with aloe vera spread all over our legs, shoulders, and/or faces!).

After a long nap late into the evening, we awoke in time to enjoy our first night there. It was almost overwhelming because hundreds--maybe thousands--of tourists had already flocked to the island for an early start on their tans, relaxation, and dancing. As well, the first round of FIFA World Cup games were still in full effect, and with nearly 95% of the tourists on that island coming from England, there was a LOT of anticipation for the following night's games (USA v. Algeria and England v. Slovenia). Koh Phangan turned out to be an excellent place to watch the World Cup matches every night we were there because they had set up HUGE screens at different places along the beach and projected the games with the English commentaries, and each night, hundreds of tourists would gather under the screens and sit on the beach to watch the entire match.

Unfortunately, the following night--after a long day on the beach, in the water, and sunbathing--Sam and I were hard pressed to find a place airing the USA v. Algeria game. After walking through every road in the little beach town of Haad Rin, we slowly started collecting others from USA who were also in search for a TV--any TV--that was broadcasting the USA game. We eventually found a small restaurant where a crowd of maybe 15 others (probably close to the entire population of Americans on the island) were gathered around a big screen LCD TV for the game. Sam and I found a table, introduced ourselves to the other Americans, and got situated for the match.

(Sam is far right in white long-sleeve shirt.)

It was a great game with numerous close calls for both teams, but in the final minutes of the game (during the extended time, actually), USA scored a single goal to capture a win and put themselves in first place for the group! It was a great game, and Sam and I were excited to celebrate the win, so we made our way back to the beach to find the others in our group who--quite understandably--stayed on the beach under one of big screens to watch England's match.

Sam and I brought a few of our new American friends with us to celebrate the recent win over a round of drinks at one of the numerous places for music and dancing. The night before, Sam and I had had too much fun--taking part in some of the fire games (jump rope, a fire circle to jump through, and limbo), so we decided to take it easy, dance a little bit, and spend our night chatting up our new friends from San Diego (Hannah and Jackie). Over a late dinner before going out to the beach, Sam shared with us an interesting fact about himself and his time in South Korea.

Random Moment #2:

During Sam's previous year teaching English in South Korea, he developed a blog that he later turned into a website about something quite peculiar in South Korea . . . At dinner, there was another American (Simonds) with us who was also an English teacher in South Korea but had just met Sam for the first time that night. Once Sam shared the news about his website, Simonds immediately knew about it and told Sam how big it is among his friends and where he lives/teaches. Sam then shared with us how, in a course of two months, his sight had 40,000-50,000 hits and was blowing up right under his fingertips! Sam also said how his idea, website, and its pictures come with much controversy but that it is--unfortunately--very common in South Korea. I guess you'll just have to check it out and decide for yourself . . .

Anyway, he was flattered our new friends were so excited to hear about his website and its notoriety from Simonds that they couldn't resist taking a chance to be part of it, so quite fittingly, there was an opportunity for them to get in a picture with a nearby patron. When/If you visit the site, you'll see Simonds in one by himself and our friends from San Diego in a picture a few down from there.

Once we finished our Thai food, we made our way to the beach for a bucket and dancing, and here's where my time on Koh Phangan took a turn for the worst . . . As we made our way to a small piece of open sand next to the dancing, we started busting the moves, laughing, and singing along to some of the over-played songs. As a rule of thumb (a rule commonly posted on signs, the Full Moon Party website [see tip #6], and in the travelers' books), party attendees should not go barefoot on the beach where the Full Moon Party is held--not the day of the party or in the days/nights leading up to the party.

Of course, I follow tips and rules, but I needed to get my feet wet that night for some reason, and upon returning from the water a few feet from where our group was dancing, I found everyone jumping and dancing to one of the great (yet wildly over-played) songs. As I danced with them, I jumped around, jumped around, and without really taking close notice to what was nearby, I accidentally jumped and then landed on a trash bag full of empty beer bottles. CRUNCH! Next thing I knew, pain was shooting from my left foot to my brain, and I immediately realized I had just cut the bottom of my foot and needed to sit down for a look at the damage from breaking an entire bottle of beer while dancing barefoot.

Once I was able to sit down and examine it, I realized it was pretty bad (and quite deep), so I alerted Sam and the others that I needed to go into the water to rinse it off and get some of the sand out of the cut for a better look. After getting ankle deep into the water, blood from my foot started pouring like a stream into the ocean with the under current.

I have to admit, I am not a wimp when it comes to pain or injuries, but with the amount of blood that was escaping my body that night, I started to get light-headed and decided it was an injury worthy of a visit to a nearby clinic on the beach.

As I wobbled on Sam's shoulder across the beach to the first clinic in sight, the nurses immediately guided us to an open bed and and started preparing my foot for the doctor. Sam was rather ecstatic to see it the cut up close and clean, and I told him to take a few good pictures, so when I was in a better mindset, I would also be able to see the severity of the cut.

Now, please brace yourselves because below is the picture he captured of my foot about 15 minutes after it happened. It was taken while it was getting rinsed and cleaned at the clinic:

A gruesome sight, huh? Well I have to say, there wasn't much pain, but the first shock came when the doctor inspected it and informed me that it required stitches but there wasn't a specialist able to stitch a cut that deep on the island and that I needed to go to Koh Samui (a different island about an hour away)!!! What had been an accident was turning into a completely crappy situation altogether. Here I was, in the first few nights on the island, and now I had a cut in my FOOT that was too deep to be stitched on the island where all of my things and friends were. As well, I now needed to figure out a form of payment for transportation to Koh Samui and make arrangements for a night at a hospital on a completely different island. Crappy is an understatement; I think sh*tty is more fitting!

I hate to say this, but I seriously contemplated not going to the hospital--leaving my friends and quite possibly missing out on the Full Moon Party--but after much discussion and some serious venting of my frustrations with the sh*tty circumstances, I took the doctors orders and kindly asked Sam to go back to our room, grab my messenger bag with my laptop, passport, travel documents, wallet, and bring them back to the clinic so I could pay for transportation to the hospital. Fifteen minutes and 10,000 Baht ($300 USD) later, I was in an ambulance by myself accompanied by a nurse to the pier, then on the speedboat (a REALLY fast boat I might add), and finally to the Koh Samui hospital for the night.

Once I arrived to the hospital, the nurses immediately re-cleaned and reinspected the cut. They also informed me that they had called the specialist and that he would be in within an hour. Only 35 minutes passed, and I was greeted by a very nice doctor who told me that he was ready to inject me with numbing shots and then stitch up my cut.

The most painful part of the night then commenced as he injected me six different times around and inside the cut, but as he did, he moved the needle all around while it was inside my foot. The pain from this made me cringe and contort my body in ways that exorcists would be amazed by. I wish I had a biting stick for that experience.

After the shots, my foot and ankle went completely numb, and the stitching commenced quite smoothly. As for the final shock, I was then informed that I needed to keep the stitches in for at least two weeks, that I could not get it wet or go into the ocean, and that I would be required to stay in the hospital for a "few" nights so they could monitor the cut and foot for possible infection. At this point in the whole ordeal, I was not in a place to complain or argue, so I obliged and was then taken to a very nice room with A/C, free Wi-Fi, a mini-fridge, great food from the hospital's restaurant for every meal, strong pain meds, and constant check-ups from nurses and doctors.

All in all, the THREE nights I stayed in that hospital ended up being the much needed break from the late nights, drinking, and malnutrition that my body desperately needed--something I doubt I would have gotten had I stayed on Koh Phangan. Also, I got incredible sleep each night, watched every World Cup match, and wrote a lot of emails to family and friends as well as frequented FB chat to send hellos and catch up with friends back home.

As Saturday soon approached, I was eager to leave the hospital, return to my friends (and clothes), but most importantly, I was eager to make it back in time for the Full Moon Party that began later that night. I was finally released from the Koh Samui hospital around 4pm on Saturday and had successfully arranged for my travel insurance ($60 insurance I had purchased with my round-trip ticket to Thailand) to pay for my entire hotel stay and expenses (160,000 Baht or roughly $5,000 USD!!!). Needless to say, I got a pair of crutches and some great antibiotics/pain meds out of the deal and was sent in good spirits to attend Full Moon Party--sans hospital gown . . . !

Next up on The Dandygram: The Full Moon Party (albeit on crutches), Body Painting, and Impromptu Limbo on Haad Rin Beach!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Back to Bangkok, Sending the Boys Off, and On My Own in Khao Sarn . . .

My posts since Singapore are WAY overdue, and I am so sorry to all the Dandygram readers for the long delay . . .

After Singapore, Ruben, Elliott, and I made it back to Bangkok safe and sound. The following day, I saw them off since they were headed back to San Francisco to start summer classes at UC Berkeley. We had a fun last night in Bangkok together--watching more FIFA World Cup games, eating CHEAP street food, and staying out late with two nice gals from Denmark.

The following day, Ruben and Elliott left (June 17), and I went to the airport with them to get online for a few hours while I waited to greet Chivi--Andres' sister who was to arrive later that night from Saigon!! I was able to also see Nate (my cousin Rachie's husband) who arrived to Bangkok Airport from Chiang Rai and had a short layover before his flight back home to Los Angeles to finish his degree.

After the numerous hellos and goodbyes throughout that entire day at Bangkok International Airport, Chivi and I left for Khao Sarn Road (the backpacker mecca in Bangkok) to find a hotel, drop our bags, and get some food. Being out with Ruben and Elliott the night before, I met a friendly guy traveling by himself (Jeroen Ott from Amsterdam, Holland), but he was at the tail end of his travels in Thailand.

Jeroen had given me a traveling tip the night before about the nice place where he was staying right off Khao Sarn Road--both affordable and pleasant--so I convinced Chivi to go with me. Within minutes in the hotel, we ran into Jeroen who was headed back to his room for the night in order to recover from our previous night out. As a traveler, it's always a good idea to have one of those nights every few days or so!

After some cheeeeeeeeeap street food with Chivi and a few beers at a nice place with live music, we thought it also a good idea to call it an early night because the following night was the USA v. Slovenia game. Since it gets a bit crazy watching those games on Khao Sarn Road and because they are played in Thailand at 1:30am, you must be well-rested to stay awake into the wee hours of the night (remember the EIGHT hours at the pub in Saigon with Ruben).

The following day, Jeroen, Chivi, and I hailed a Tuk Tuk and made our way down the river and into the heart of Bangkok to do some exploring and sightseeing. We managed to get lost for a bit, but eventually, we ran into a nice Thai guy whose English was superb. He gave us the scoop on where we could go with the time we had left in our day (after wandering through numerous markets). So after another quick Tuk Tuk ride, we arrived at the oldest temple in all of Thailand. It was simply o-mazing because up to this point, I hadn't been in or seen many temples during my time in Thailand, Vietnam, or in Singapore, so it was quite an experience.

After a very relaxing time inside the temple, observing the many paintings covering the walls and admiring the beautiful shrine, we started getting anxious to get back to Khao Sarn Road, shower, and get settled into a bar with a nice view of a television for the USA match.

It is absolutely great to be on Khao Sarn Road for any World Cup games because it is essentially a hub for travelers arriving, leaving, or in transit within the greater Southeast Asian region. So at a nice pub with numerous TVs and a few projectors, I managed to find a few others from the States who were wearing patriotic gear: reds, white, blue, or USA soccer jerseys).

After the game, we took our big group up to my favorite place on Khao Sarn Road--the Roof View Bar. It was the place Chivi and I had been the night before and where I had met Jeroen with Ruben and Elliott the night before that. I know, I know--so original, but often, you can run into some of the same people or see familiar faces among the staff who laugh and smile about the nights before. PLUS, there is really, REALLY good live music every night, so it became a favorite spot after the second night of familiar songs, great sing-a-longs, and great people.

With a large group of girls and guys from all over (Denmark, Holland, Sweden, Austria, Argentina, England, and USA), I invented a fun game using the roses that are sold up and down Khao Sarn Road. Personally, I think it's a great game to break the ice and with so many good looking people, you have think to yourself . . . why NOT play? Here are the logistics:

You start with a rose that has been shortened and trimmed of its leaves. Then, in the group of friends (best with a mix of guys and girls for the soon to be told obvious reason), you pass the rose to each person, and the rules are that each person removes a single pedal on their turn. When the last pedal is finally removed, the person who removes it must kiss a member of the opposite sex, and VOILA . . . The Flower Game!

Incorporating this game with the people in our big group--people who were from all over and beautiful inside and out--made for an eventful night at the Roof View Bar to the point where we could barely contain ourselves . . .

(Jeroen and I about to play The Flower Game.)

(Our big group that night.)

There was another final highlight to that evening on Khao Sarn Road: I met two amazing ladies from the U.S. (Danielle and Nina) who had recently moved to Bangkok for a year and were just starting to teach English at a nearby school. We had a great conversation and shared similar stories about the happenings back in the States. To my surprise, Nina had mentioned how she attended Boulder State, so we had much to say about Pearl Street and its happenings.

With time growing short in Bangkok for both Jeroen and I, we made the most of it--leaving our cameras in our rooms to go swimming on our friends roof top pool at their hotel and just enjoy our final nights of World Cup matches, Roof View Bar music, and a little dancing at The Club. Jeroen left the day after Holland won their final group match, and I left the following day for Koh Phangan to attend the infamous Full Moon Party that takes place every month--attracting thousands of backpackers to the small island.

Lastly, I hope you won't be disappointed when I write to you that the majority of my sightseeing and the visiting of local attractions will slowly come to an end in the future Dandygrams. This isn't to say I didn't go to amazing places, but I really was getting more used to meeting people and enjoying their company throughout each day. It really started once I was on my own, and being with people (for this extrovert) is a much better time than going to some place by myself. Therefore, what is to come in the next few weeks is story upon story of what happens when amazingly fun and truly great people come together over great food, beautiful beaches, and fun nightlife. Just you wait--but not too long, I promise!

Next up on The Dandygram: Koh Phangan, Random Moment #1, and Nine Stitches!