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From London to Lanta

Arriving in Thailand after a combined eight month stint on the Indian sub-continent was like being catapulted forward more than a few centuries. A sophisticated small Phuket airport surrounded by real taxis with fixed rate fares, real modern highways and the familiar Thai squawk of ‘Sawadee Kaaaaaaa’. Sawadee Ka we replied to our taxi driver, a slightly overweight lady named Beer (“like drink ahahaha“) who was dressed in a tight purple t-shirt, black leggings and a pair of stilettos. “I your driver, if I go fast you die, ahahahahaha“. We chatted with Beer who upon dropping us off at our hotel informed us that there was a gas station around the corner and if she “go smoke her cigarettes there then boom! We die.” This was followed by her loud, hysterical Thai giggle / cackle inherent in every person in the country, including the rather camp hostel receptionist who led us to our room.


Phuket town was a pleasant surprise. Rather than being the Butlins style resort we had anticipated, the town itself was a coy composition of trendy cafes, restaurants, bars and shops selling hotpants and doll like dresses for the modern Thai lady (or lady-boy). Among the small streets of indo-European architecture hung the Phuket youths; boys dressed in skinny jeans listening to jazz, girls pretty in pink sipping cocktails, and lady-boys in hotpants dominating the karaoke rooms. Few foreigners visit this area instead heading straight to the surrounding beaches of Kata or Patong. We had two days to kill in this unexpectedly relaxed dwelling waiting for the arrival of two of our best friends from London, Charlotte and Francis. We killed time by munching away on Pad Thais, sipping a beer or two and making our way mistakenly to the most awful place on earth, Patong. As we stepped down from the song thaw an overweight, over-browned German man strutted past us wearing only a silver thong and entered the beachside McDonalds for a midday snack. A slither of beach encroached by beer bars, strip joints and Western chain restaurants housed lines of sunbeds stacked together drenched with 18 year old boys, 50 year old women and some rather drunk inbetweeners. Carl and I were happy to see people enjoying themselves but decided to get back on the bus (after getting lost of course) and head back to Phuket.


Finally the day arrived where we would meet Frank and Charl at the airport. Setting the tone for the holiday we acquired Burger King tray covers and wrote our friends name on the back so that they knew who we were. Hugs and kisses commenced as we reunited after almost a year; I was so happy to see them and very excited to be sharing our travel experiences with people we cared for. It was late at night and our friends had come a long way but we still managed to catch up over a beer before hitting the sack for the night.


After a day acclimatising and achieving the first burn on Kata beach, we boarded a big white cruise ship fit for the likes of Duran Duran and departed for Ko Phi Phi where we had booked rooms at the luxuriously sounding ‘Bungalow Dave’s‘. With the wind in our hair, and up Charlotte’s dress, we looked out over the ocean with ’Rio’ on loop in our heads. Two hours of riding on the beautiful ocean and the majestic island of Ko Phi Phi drifted into sight. Krast lime stone rocks shot up out of the sea and golden sandy beaches extended into view. However, arriving on the island provided a slightly different view of this potential paradise; we were greeted by touts galore, trance party invitations and special offers on buckets of all varieties…


We trekked with our backpacks to Bungalow Dave’s and Frank’s face dropped beneath the floor while Charlotte shuffled uncomfortably as we joined a group of Northerners scoffing down egg, chips and beans and talking about how ‘foocked’ they’d all been for the last week or so. However, we soon came to love our tatty bungalows. Frank truly made himself a piece of the furniture and Carl befriended the 50 year old blond Northern cook who made a special egg, beans and chips just for him, after ‘heating up pan’.


The beach was stunning and the sea crystal clear and shallow, stretching far into the distance. Fish swam amongst the rocks and we all took turns to sunbathe or float in the sea talking about the different lives we’d been living out for the past year or so. After a day of lazing, tanning, burning and blistering we got ready for our first real night on the beach. After living out of a backpack for almost a year I was ecstatic to find that Charlotte had of course packed over thirty outfits, some with me in mind. Like the old days we chose our outfits, sipped our beer, applied make up and went for pizza before dancing.


Having not drunk alcohol for a long time, Carl and I were pretty drunk after sharing a beer but we were determined to try the infamous Thai buckets, which are literally buckets filled with ice, vodka or Samson (Thai rum) and red bull. A fire show and a 2 for 1 offer tempted us onto a beach bar and soon we were dancing along with 18 year olds and pissing behind boats (as the toilets cost 10 bhat each), telling stories and generally having harmless drunken fun to celebrate our holiday from travelling, work and life. The night ended in an Irish bar with Carl getting lost only to be found surrounded by kittens on a hotel step. Frank and Charl woke up in the same bed and I woke up to an empty bed to find Carl tucking into a cup of Tetley and eggs, beans and chips cooked by his favourite northern lady. “Just a minute lovely, just got t’ heat up pan”.


We decided to leave Phi Phi behind and enter the more chilled out section of our holiday on Koh Lanta. After another short boat ride we arrived on the luscious island of Koh Lanta which instantly had a more chilled vibe. Charl and Frank checked into a nice hotel with a pool and Carl and I found a cheap place down the road run by a lovely Thai couple. The large Thai man, Nid, was kept in line by his OCD wife who would smilingly wait outside the shared bathroom for us with a mop in one hand and a cloth in the other. She also made the best Mango smoothies in Thailand, of which we all had many over the following days.


Koh Lanta is inhabited by Thai Muslims, some of the most chilled out people in the world and this is maybe why Koh Lantas long stretches of beach have remained chilled and relaxed next to its party island neighbours. We bedded down at our Beachside Guest House and moved inside only as the daily thunderstorm approached at 5pm. In the night we ate Thai curries and stir fries and sipped cocktails and beer. We attempted a game of cards but couldn’t agree to whether the Welsh or English rules should pervade in Thailand so we reverted back to the beer.


Time past slowly and we decided to fill our mornings with a yoga session on the sand before cleaning off in the sea. Much to the amusement of the Thai workers the spot we’d chosen away from the beach bars and restaurants was right in front of a building site. ‘Sawadee Kap’ they’d call as we attempted Padhastasana (i.e. bending over forward) in our bikini bottoms.

The day soon came for us to move on from the islands and onto Bangkok. Although we were all sad to leave our daily beach bumming routine behind we were very much looking forward to introducing our friends to the madness that is Bangkok.


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