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Thailand...a busy few weeks!

sunny 32 °C

Our flight to Bangkok went like a dream and we landed in the early hours of the morning sleepy but excited to see a new country and experience a different culture!

Coming out of the airport was like a shock to the system. So accustomed to India, jumping into a modern, plush metered cab was strange to us. It was about 5am and as the city slept we gazed out the window of our taxi as we noted the smoothness of the roads, contemporary buildings and bright lights. We headed to the famous Khao San Road (famous for its backpacker hotels and loud bars) in search of a place to call home for a few days. As we made our way down this famous road, rucksacks on our backs, sleepy eyed and tired, there were a handful of bars still open and a few hardcore party goers still larging it and dancing in the street!

I immediately realised why this place was so well known amongst fellow travellers; the whole street is geared up for the backpacking, beer drinking, party going backpacking people, with numerous bars, hotels, currency exchange kiosks, and street stalls selling knock off designer gear and beer branded t-shirts! That said, at 5am, the only thing we wanted was to get our heads down for some sleep!

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Over the course of a few days, I started to discover what Bangkok is all about. J having been here many times before, set about showing me around, taking me to the key places and introducing me to my very first whisky bucket. That was my Bangkok baptism of fire day!

We befriended some local Thai's who ran a small street bar, this led to them doubling the strength of our whiskey buckets of which there were many and later a group of us piling into a tuk tuk heading in the direction of Patpong! The latter half of the night was a bit of a blur but I do recall the tuk tuk ride home as a bit of a white knuckle ride with the driver doing wheelies along the road as the flashing lights in the interior of his tuk tuk mesmerized me through my whisky bucket haze! A great night out, a hangover from hell and a lesson learned about the hidden strength of those whisky buckets!

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Being in Bangkok was a sensory overload! Bangkok was filled to the brim with super modern shopping malls in Siam, the streets everywhere bustling with people, street food vendors whipping up Pad Thai, colourful tuk tuks and day glow coloured taxis. Bangkok had a great buzz to it and I loved it!

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We did the obligatory tour of the Grand Palace which was so beautiful with all its grandeur and opulence. It was such a difference from the sort of architecture we had seen in India; everything glittering and shimmering in the sunshine.

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Next, we checked out Wat Po, a famous temple with its giant gold reclining Buddha.

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Wat Po, aside from its temple status is also famous for it being the mecca of traditional Thai massage; we decided that this was a good place for me to have my first Thai massage. I thought I knew what to expect and was really looking forward to it.

At first it all seemed to be going swimmingly; lots of pulling, stretching and kneading, but when the lady came around my back as if to perform the Heimlich maneuver I did wonder what was to come next. A few seconds later, as she hooks her arms under my arm pits, swings my whole torso swiftly to the right the sound of my entire backbone clicking fills the room! I let out a scream from the shock; nobody told me that was going to happen! Before I knew it, she then swung me to the left and pop, pop, pop there goes my spine again! Wow! Double shock.
My reaction to which was to start laughing nervously (I do that with pain...dont ask me why!) I have a pet hate of the sound of people even cracking their knuckles (it goes right threw me!) and so this to me was like that but in super technicolour! What had started off as a nice relaxing massage had somehow turned into a white knuckle ride and before the ride was over however, she managed to get hold of my head and give that a good old swing too; yes left AND right and the sound of my neck cracking filled my ears as I was suddenly desperate for this experience to end.

Thankfully it did end shortly after and trying not to seem ungrateful I thanked her, paid her and got out of there pronto! I make it sound like hell, it really wasn’t but to me cracking bones has the same effect on me as someone scratching their nails on a school blackboard; it makes me feel funny! So if you like a good bone crack, then Thai massage is the one for you!

Before we left J took me to see Chatuchak weekend market (apparently the biggest market in Thailand and I'd believe that too!). A bus journey away, we arrived to see masses of people swarming in and out. The market had everything you could imagine. Hundreds of stalls selling all sorts like clothes, shoes, shades, belts, lamps, jewelry, furniture, traditional crafts, original pieces of art…you name it! Lots of stalls had stuff that was handmade and if we had room in our backpacks I would have had a field day in there! Well worth a look in if you are ever heading home via Bangkok!

While we were in Bangkok, we fell upon a major demonstration by Independence monument. At first we couldn’t work out what it was all about, but as we waded through the sea of people wearing red shirts the penny started to drop. For as far as the eye could see there were people filling every square inch; there must have been tens of thousands of people there. Everyone there was wearing red, some with banners, and some with slogans on their red t-shirts. We stopped at one place where they had set up a stand. It was here that we saw photographs of a previous demonstration with people who had been injured and killed, lying bleeding on the floor, some already dead. The stand was appealing for the justice of those who had died there in the violence (90 people…last year) and for the release of a group of anti-government protesters.
I wasnt sure at the time if it was appropriate to photograph there so for the purposes of this, I have found a photo on-line to illustrate.
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We realised that this was probably not the best place for us to be, particularly as there had been trouble at these demonstrations before and with the sheer volume of people and the fact that many were drinking heavily, we felt that it would have made for a dangerous place if this turned violent. Keen to get out of there quickly, we realised that there was no quick way out and we had no choice but to wade slowly through the crowds until we found a way through. It took us about 20 minutes to reach a clearing and though the demonstration was peaceful and in actually in most parts we saw people smiling and singing, we knew that it was good to get away. As our luck would have it, this was not the only time we found ourselves wading through a red shirt demonstration; having come back through Bangkok again later in our Thailand trip, it happened again!

So after our first stop in Bangkok we headed north and spent a few days in Chaing Mai where we did a Thai cooking course which showed us how to make Pad Thai, Red curry, Penang curry amongst other Thai dishes. A fun day learning to cook some seriously good food! First we took a trip to the local food markets to check out all the fresh foods, followed by some serious chopping and cooking!

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I found Chaing Mai to be a chilled place with a far more relaxed place compared to Bangkok. It is also where many travellers then head out on various treks in the surrounding regions but we didn’t fancy that as J had done this a few years before and mentioned that his trek to the ‘authentic’ tribal villages had been a bit of a non-event when he got there to find that the traditional wear the kids in the tribe wore consisted of a Manchester United football shirt. We did however find out about a great place for traditional wood carvings, about 20-30km from Chaing Mai where we bought and sent home two beautiful wall carvings for our flat back in London.

We were going to head to Sukhothai to check out the ancient temple ruins but opted instead to check out Kamphaeng Phet as this was the lesser known of the two sites so a little less foreigners milling about. Beautiful crumbling Buddha’s in peaceful surroundings, it made for a lovely relaxing day.

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The town of Kamphaeng Phet had little to see or do and there was a simple town with a smattering of local restaurants’. With little going on we grabbed dinner and started to walk back to our guest house. On the way back however we saw a little place with blacked out windows with music coming from within. Curious to know if there was any fun to be had in this quiet town we ventured inside. Call it naivety if you will, but it took a few minutes to work out that we had just stepped into a karaoke bar where every male guest gets his very own female host. Aside from the fact that as a couple we stuck out like a sore thumb compared to the typical male only clientele, we had a fun night chatting away to our host and applauded her efforts at karaoke!

From there we knew we wanted to head towards the islands, but east coast or west coast first? Decisions decisions! We heard that Ko Tao was one of the cheapest places in the world to get the PADI diving qualification so we decided that if we did that sooner rather than later, it might open up some diving opportunities later on, so that made up our mind and we headed to the east coast and over to Ko Tao.
Ko Tao was four days of diving and that was about all. We felt that the place was a little overrun by really young backpackers (man, that makes me sound really old, doesn’t it!) and being surrounded by loud bars with pumping music into the early hours wasn’t the vibe we were looking for, so we got down to the business of getting qualified.

Ours was a small group of four; me and J and a lovely couple Dylan and Liv who were also taking some time out to do some travelling around Asia. Our first lesson, in a swimming pool taught us the basics of breathing using the gear and the signs to use underwater. So far so good! Though after three hours in a tepid swimming pool on an overcast day had us all shivering like nobody’s business and we were glad to get back into dry clothes!

Day two, some class work in the morning swatting up on the theory stuff and then in the afternoon we went out on the boat and did our first real dive!

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With mild nerves and a whole bag of excitement, we each plunged into the water with our masks on, air supply strapped to our back and our fins on our feet, looking like the real deal!

At first, the feeling of breathing through the regulator (the contraption you pop in your mouth) was just plain odd and at first found myself breathing quickly and a bit panicky. As we descended down the anchor rope popping my ears to try and regulate the pressure, the peacefulness of the water and the little fish near the surface helped to calm my breathing and before I knew it, it didn’t feel so strange at all.

As we descended deeper, all I could hear was the sound of my regulator taking in air (sounded a bit like darth vador in star wars!) and the bubbles leaving it as I breathed out; it felt almost surreal but so calming seeing the fish swim around my goggles…it was incredible! J looked in his element too, exploring the coral and marine life around him. That said, the waters were heavily populated with little jellyfish and no matter how hard we tried to avoid them, their long tentacles stung every bit of exposed skin including our faces! Thankfully as we descended deeper the jelly fish thinned out, but by the next day I was covered in red itchy welts where I had been stung (strangely J didn’t have that reaction).

Coming back up, that first dive site was in choppy waters and where we came up was a fair old swim back to the boat. Tired from the dive and me not being a very strong swimmer, I found the swim back difficult and as I grew weaker I started to panic when I saw that I was on my own as nearly everyone was back at the boat. Thankfully Dylan and Liv realised I was struggling and came back to help me. It was a bit embarrassing getting a tow back to the boat (especially as I also managed to get cramp in my foot just as I was trying to get out of the water) but I was just glad to make it back. Despite that set back, I got right back in there for the remaining dives and by the end of the four day course and four dives under our belt, we both were hooked and knew that we’d be diving again soon. A great experience and one that we celabrated with a cheeky drink with our diving pals!

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Next stop, Koh Phangan. Known for its full moon parties, we decided to see what the island was like when it wasn’t full moon. The boat trip over was a soggy affair as dark clouds came in, the heavens opened up and the rain came down. We docked at the main area (Haad Rin) but decided not to stay there to avoid the main tourist beach. So we took a tuk tuk to the north west part of the island to a beach called Had Mae Had. Being a gloomy day, the beach was a wash out which was a shame as the beach itself was lovely with a little sand bar leading to a small island just off the main beach. The beach was chilled with only maybe three resorts of beach bungalows. We stayed in the one at the far north of the beach nearest the sand bar where we had a beautiful view.

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Now it was just a case of waiting to see if the weather improved. We had one glorious day, and the beach was stunning on that day. It lifted our spirits no end but we soon came to realise that the few people staying on this beach were middle aged families with kids; no backpackers in sight. Despite it being a beautiful beach, it just had no vibe and with the rains returning in full force the following day, we decided that we would move on in search of better weather!

So with that in mind, we skipped overland to get to the west coast! We picked Ko Lanta as neither of us had been there before and it sounded good in the guide book. As our journey progressed the weather started to really improve and we were in great form!

We found a lovely little bay just south of long beach called Relaxed Bay. It was very pretty and we decided that this would be a good place to plot up for a while. We managed to find a very basic but clean wooden beach bungalow for 500 baht a night and was happy enough with that and to top it off there was a cool beach bar with young backpackers’ right where we were staying. We thought we’d found the right vibe in the right location. Perfect…or maybe not.

The bar was laid back with good tunes and even the token fire dancing guy! The only problem was the guys running it had a sound system that could have been big enough for the O2 arena! The bass line was booming every night until 5am and our lovely beach hut was only yards away. Sleep? No sir, that was not an option. We were gutted...especially as the place just next to us (a chilled out restauraunt and basic beach hut place called Strandbaren) had the most AMAZING Thai chef! So after 4 sleepless nights, the bags on our eyes were bigger than the weekly shop at Sainsburys! So with no possibility of escaping the endless noise we had to leave.

We thought that we had found a good alternative, about 10 minutes away in a place that had these beautiful but pricier huts further up the beach. With thatched roofs, they looked like mini hay barns and these were set back from the beach so we were encouraged by the temptation of a good night sleep ahead of us!

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Very picturesque but what I didn’t foresee was the necessity to be at one with nature if staying in one of them. I was ok about the fact that the gaps in the floor boards were big enough for any large insect to crawl through. I was even ok with the fact that the windows in our little barn had no glass so were just open spaces…and would let in the mozzies at night (we had a large mozzie net after all so we’d manage). But I couldn’t have foreseen that with a thatched roof, comes little things that make their home in the hay which I started to get a bit squirmy over and in my state of extreme tiredness my imagination ran wild and J woke up in the middle of the night to find me on the verge of tears mumbling something about bugs falling from the thatched roof onto the bed. He didn’t look too impressed about his sleep being disturbed yet again and basically told me to pull myself together and go to sleep. It’s funny when I look back now, but at that moment it didn’t seem funny at all!

The next stop on our Thai tour took us to the region of Trang Islands. This is a group of islands on the far south west coast of Thailand and were seriously stunning! The most beautiful group of islands we had seen yet. Even on the boat approaching Ko Muk, we were blown away by the amazing limestone islands jutting out of the crystal clear blue/green tropical waters.

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It was picture perfect! Ko Muk itself was a tiny little island with the main bay with only two bungalow resorts on the main beach and a couple of other cheaper options further up the hill in the jungle. A bit pricier than Ko Lanta, Ko Muk was much quieter and more relaxing. The island seemed to cater for a mix of people, some of which were families taking a two week break, as well as the odd backpacker. The vibe was chilled and besides the fishing village on the other side there wasn’t much else going on.

The bungalow we chose was basic but a great location and great view. Ours was one of only two that were concrete built so we thought that this would keep the bugs out. An ambitious notion and one that was unfounded. The first morning, as I made my way to the bathroom, still sleepy and hazy I plonked myself on the loo. In a flash, I saw a big (and FAST) spider run around the lip of the toilet bowl, only out of sight as it passed under my legs! As I screamed and leapt up mid flow (sorry but its true), the spider managed to jump from the loo to the side of the sink. Not only was he quick but he could jump too! Too much for me to comprehend so early in the morning, it was left to J who had been woken by the sound of my surprised squeal to deal with the matter (which he did thankfully!). Aside from that, there were no further bug related incidents there! (Phew!)

The food here was simple but good and besides the nightly beach BBQ, we found ourselves hooked on the local Thai rice soup. It was at one of the local restaurants that we discovered this cheeky little monkey (the restaurant’s pet) who seemed to take a real liking to me!

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We had read that round the side of the island of Ko Muk, there was a hidden sea cave that opens out to a beautiful little lagoon with its own beach which legend says was used by pirates to hide their stolen treasures, so we knew we had to check it out. Accessible only by sea, there were various day trips we could join that would take us there but we had heard that it spoils the experience as they pile 50+ people into this small lagoon. So we decided that we would hire a kayak and time it so that we got there after the day trippers had been and gone.

We paddled our way around to the entrance of the cave, which took about 40 minutes, tied up the kayak and started to swim through into the darkness. As we swam deeper into the entrance we saw that there were two small tunnels, both pitch black. If we had a waterproof torch we could have taken our chances but in the absence of any source of light we were worried that we’d end up lost and chickened out on going any further. So now we just had to wait by the entrance of the cave and hope that someone else also had the idea of coming later in the day.

Our luck was in as five minutes later we saw a group of four come along on a small boat, once of which was a local with a head torch! They were happy enough for us to tag along as they navigated through the darkness of the tunnel, which as it turned out was about 50 metres long. Together we swam with the little torch guiding our way, in hopeful expectation. As we made our way round the corner we were taken aback by the stunning beauty that unfolded before us. Wading through from the darkness of the cave, we observed the beautiful green vegetation growing up the jagged walls of the cave, all the trees and vines brightly lit by the sunlight that shone through from the opening at the top, some 50 metres above us and the light dancing on the lapping water as it hit the little sandy beach before us. It was stunning!

I had to pinch this from google as we didnt have a waterproof bag or camera with us!
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Back on Ko Muk, we discovered a great little diving company called ‘Chilled out divers’. Aside from the cool name, the guys that worked there were really friendly and had a wealth of knowledge of the local dive sites and before we knew it were booked ourselves onto a day trip to go diving to a place called Ko Rock. Over a few beers we got introduced to the rest of our group that would be coming out with us the following day. A great mix of personalities and genuinely nice chatty people, we were really looking forward to it.

The following morning we set out on their traditional Thai long tail boat, with all the diving gear ready to go. The journey to Ko Rock would take us an hour or two, so we spent the time chatting to our group and getting to know them. Margaret and Louis and their friends from Portugal, and Claire and Rob from the UK were all very well travelled and the time flew as we talked about various places in world.

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Once at the dive site, we all strapped on our gear and got ready to start our dive. So much more relaxed than when we had done our course, no skills training to do or new things to remember, it was a simple case of getting in there and just enjoying it. As soon as we descended into the water we knew we were in for a treat. The water was amazing with great visibility and schools of brightly coloured fish all around us as we swam down. Coral reefs that were full of life and colour, we could get up close to see so many things; graceful hawsbill turtles, moray eels, lion fish, cornet fish, sea stars, and clown fish to name a few! It was a technicolour of sea life and it was nothing short of amazing!

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To rest for lunch, we brought the boat round to the beach on Ko Rok where we sat and enjoyed some food and snorkeled round the shallow bay. In a clearing just behind the beach we saw three big monitor lizards that seemed to be enjoying each other’s company and obviously not bothered by us spectators. Amazing creatures!

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We had heard from Margaret and Louis (who were on our diving trip) that the island directly opposite Ko Muk, called Ko Kradan had a beautiful beach and was well worth checking out. We weren’t due to get back on the road for a few days, so we decided to jump on a long tail boat and go check it out too.

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We got a bungalow set back from the beach set in a lovely garden. We shared our bungalow with a mysterious gecko (who we never saw but he always left evidence of his visits by leaving his little gecko poo trails behind) and a cute but shy little frog who would come into our bathroom at night.
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In addition to their accommodation, this place was also famed for their American style cheese burgers! (The divers in Ko Muk would often come over just to eat dinner there!) And after five months in Asia eating traditional Asian food; the odd occasion where you can get western food done properly was always worth a try and we were not disappointed!
We stayed there two nights but had to move for our last night as they had booked out our room to another guest (we weren’t best pleased about that one as they sprung it on us at the very last moment!), so we went down to stay in the beach bungalows that Margaret and Louis were staying in. At 1500 baht a night (about 30 pounds), this was the most we had paid for a beach bungalow and though not big bungalows, these were what I would call more upmarket than the average bungalow, with comfy and clean beds, almost hotel style bathroom and French doors to a balcony to a sea view. A nice treat for one night and as it was valentine’s day too so we decided that it was worth it. Ko Kradan was worth the hype. It had the most beautiful beach of all the islands we had stayed in and it wasn’t overdeveloped, though this was not so much a backpackers' island in my opinion (perhaps more of a ‘flashpackers’ place?). Though you could find some cheaper places to stay, many were fairly upmarket and some of the beachside bungalows were verging on opulent with a couple of the restaurants attached to them were serving very expensive food and wine.

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While we were on Ko Kraden, we learned that it was also famous for its Valentine ’s Day diver’s weddings. Apparently each year, a bunch of people don their diving gear and say their wedding vows under water. We hoped that we could observe this crazy concept from the side of the beach but we missed them. What a shame…I was curious to see if the bride was dressed in white! Talking of Valentine’s Day, Margaret left a little present on our balcony, some lovely perfume and creams. It was such a lovely gesture and I was over the moon to have some perfume (as mine had run out a long time before that!)

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The next day, we said goodbye to Margaret and Louis and headed back to the main land to the town of Trang. A little bustling Thai town a few kilometres from the coast, this little place had very little in the way of tourist sights but had a nice feel to it. The people of Trang were really very friendly, the kind of Thai friendliness that both J and I remembered from our previous visits to Thailand some 8-10 years ago. In Trang, we felt that we were given a very warm and genuine welcome. People wore that famous Thai smile and were keen to help us find our way. It really put a spring in our step!

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We decided to venture afield and got talking to a helpful lady who told us about Le Khao Kop Cave that were about 40km away. In this cave we could see stalactites and stalagmites and would pass through small tunnels in a little boat. It sounded interesting so we hired a scooter and decided to check it out. The ride along the highway was so windy, we were holding on to our helmets! Coupled with the fact that this place was not easy to find, we were glad when we finally found the place! Our hard work was rewarded though, as we got on board the little fiberglass boat, we were taken into the beautiful cave where we saw the various shapes that the stalactites and stalagmite’s had created. As we got to the final part of the tour the tour guide told us to lay flat on the floor of our little boat as we ventured into this small tunnel deep within the cave. It seemed to go on and on, getting tighter and tighter as we went. At one point we had to turn our faces to the side and breathe in just to get past some of the tight spots! It’s funny now but there were a couple of times when the boat got stuck and I did wonder if we were going to make it out of there at all!

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That night we too the overnight train to Bangkok, having booked the AC sleeper. Wow, what a nice way to travel! We had plenty of experience doing sleeper trains in India but this was so much nicer compared. The cabins were clean, the bunk beds really clean and comfortable and best of all, there was a dining carriage that served hot food and cold beer. The dining carriage was ace! The waiters and waitresses were dancing to the music which was kicking out of big speakers, serving people with beers, whisky and various Thai dishes. What a stark contrast to the Indian trains! You couldn’t help but smile and join in on the fun!

Our time in Thailand had come to a close, six weeks had passed quickly and we had undoubtedly seen some of the most beautiful beaches and incredible natural beauty, but a part of us compared our time with the previous trips to Thailand and longed to go back to the time when you could easily find your own slice of untouched paradise. A time when backpacking was cheap and it was easy to find like-minded travelers. Thailand will always be beautiful and special, but we could see how many places have over time had changed through mass tourism and we felt a tinge of sadness as we said our goodbyes.

Posted by Eveness 05:54 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches trains islands cities diving thailand bangkok cooking chaing_mai monitor_lizzard koh_rok emerald_cave Comments (1)

Goa - the return!

Chilling out, fun times, drunken times and great new friends!

sunny 33 °C

Back to the beaches of Goa…and what a fun 7 weeks we had there! One of the highlights of our time in India!

So after we finished our route in Kerala, we made the decision to slow down a bit in search of rest and relaxation and to also avoid the typhoon that had hit the Bay of Bengal and affected pretty much the whole of the east coast. We made the 18 hour journey back to south Goa via an overnighter to Mangalore in Karnataka and then a few days stop at Gokarna (Kudley beach) and then onwards south Goa for Palolem beach. We had already planned to head back to Goa to meet our friend Dave (who had been traveling the north of India and Nepal) for Christmas and new years, so we figured we’d come back a bit sooner to avoid the typhoon and rest our tired legs!

Being back in Goa was so good, no really it was! As much as the diverse and interesting sights we had experienced in Karnataka and Kerala was fulfilling, we discovered that traveling India was at times very tiring and sometimes frustrating and after two full months on the road we figured it was a good opportunty to chill for a while. So we were glad to be back in a place where we could rest and escape the crazy noise poluted places we had been to. And it was quiet in Goa...apart from the occasional honking of the bread man with his old horn and over-sized bread basket balancing precariously on the back of his bike first thing in the morning! We knew that Goa would revive our spirits and nurture us back to traveling health and maybe along the way we would have a bit of a giggle.

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Palolem, had transformed since we had passed through there in October. The beachfront previously had just as few bars/restaurant had since filled up to cover nearly every gap along the palm fringed crescent bay with bamboo style bars and beach huts. It was so very different to the Palolem we has seen before but with that came a buzz to the place and we knew that this would be a great place to celebrate Christmas and new year.

The monsoons in India had dragged on longer than usual and when we arrived there were a few days of thunder storms dampening things in the afternoon. We watched from our balcony of our hotel the last of the storms and the biggest one by far. Dark clouds rolled in, the rain came down, instantly flooding the streets and the wind was blowing hard as we watched the beach empty and everyone running here and there to escape the downpour. The palm trees were swaying left and right, with large branches breaking off and crashing down on bikes, cars and huts. We watched as fork lightening lit up the afternoon skies and saw the chaos of a palm tree uproot and collapse onto one of the beach huts in front of us and the electricity lines literally explode at each pole all along the little beach road, dramatically bringing the lines down onto the roadside. Watching all that from the safety of our balcony, I have never been happier to be staying in a concrete build hotel in all my life!!! But despite the power outage that we inevitably had (not that power cuts were unusual in India!), and the local children skipping around the wires moments later, locals appeared out of nowhere within minutes to start putting the lines back up and power was restored in no time. I don't think I ever saw such efficiency in my whole time in India! That said, I doubt that these were put back in quite the same way that our telephone engineers back home would, but it seemed to work and everyone was happy!

As the sunshine eventually won the battle over rain, beach life in Palolem really started to get into it's groove. Out and about we soon got chatting to people and we met a bunch of guys in the nearby (and very tasty!) authentic Thai restaurant called Yum Yum Tom Tums. Ran by a Goan by the name of Joe and his partner Nok (who comes from Chaing Mai) this little place tucked just behind Rococo’s on the south side of the beach place is Palolem's little gem (Nok’s Pad Thai is a real winner!). For us it was also a welcome change from the Indian curries we had been eating pretty much every day since we’d arrived in India! It soon became a meeting place for many of the long term visitors and somewhere you could always get a great mojito!

It was in Yum Yum Tom Yum’s that we got to know Stuart, Graham, Paul and Jason who also often frequented the place and we’d join the big table at the back and a quick pad thai would turn into an all night affair with plenty of banter too! Most of the guys had been in Goa a while, some for a few weeks and some a few months or as in Jason case, a permanent Goa resident.

Stuart and J had a genius idea one day to organise our own full moon party on the coming Saturday night. Palolem was still pretty chilled out at this point in the season so this sounded like a great idea! Paul’s friend Jackie was also due to be visiting him on that day so we extended the invite to her also. The evening started off well with everyone at Yum Yum’s and hitting the beers with hopeful expectation of a good night!

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Everyone was on board for a big night and got the party started nice and early and by 10pm we went in search of some entertainment. We found it in the shape of a launch party for a beach bar by the name of ‘Neptune Point’, a bar that ordinarily would be a chilled out beach bar, but for this one night only was absolutely banging with some uplifting house music and a bar full of people having it large on dance floor! The hands in the air crowds reminded me of a 90's rave with sweat dripping, drinks spilling and tunes banging! It was the most happening thing this beach had seen in weeks and we couldn’t believe our luck and timing and quickly joined in on the party!

It was in here that we met a couple that was on a two week holiday, who were super friendly and as it turned out, super swingers (or so it came to light later on that night...no, not like that...they told us!) They could see that we were all in party mode so struck up conversation with us to see what we were celebrating. A strange but friendly couple with pretty intense and alternative ideas about life...it made for some interesting conversations to say the least...the weirdest one being the 'eye gazing' topic of conversation! (You had to be there!) Anyway, they stuck with us for the rest of the evening and we ended up in the infamous 24 hour bar on the beach (Silver Star), keen to keep the party going. I recall that at some point in the early hours the girl (Claire) declared that she had the urge to cartwheel along the beach saying how uplifting it was (that doesn’t happen every day, does it!) encouraging the rest of us to join in! OK so the guys didn’t seem so keen but in the middle of that heavy session, blurry eyed and devoid of better judgment it seemed like a good idea to me and Jackie so in the dead of the night under the light of the full moon on the beach in front of a late night bar you could see three women whooping and cheering away as they happily cartwheeled down the beach in unison. I can’t imagine how that would have looked to the bar full of people, I am just grateful that no-one thought to grab their camera! A bizarre but fun night for all and a great send off to the Stuart, Paul, Jackie and Graham who were due to leave India in the coming week or so.

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Things were chilled for a while and we hired out motor bike for a giggle (J wanted a big cruiser as the sought after Enfield Bullet rode like a tractor so we choose an Avenger) so you could often see me and J zooming about here and there, nipping up to the chilled out Patnam and Galgibaga beaches. We still hung out in Yum Yums and had a few good nights there; in particular the night when Marcus and Joe convinced me and J to get on the sesh. Before long, it all went a bit woo and a bit wah, Joe making shapes to the tunes in his head and Marcus falling of his chair and breaking it!

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A hilarious night which ended with me and J feeling pretty spangly watching the moon set (we'd watched many sun sets but this was our first moon set!).

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J on beach watching the moon set

The following week we met Scott and Lorraine (both from Birmingham!) who was staying in the room next to us. It wasn’t long before we we’re hanging out and sharing stories about travelling and Birmingham. Like most of the brummies’ we’ve met, Scott was top banana. On the level, well-travelled and a good laugh. Most of the time we were chilling on the beach, sipping cold beers, chucking the frisbee around and mucking about in the sea (human ring throwing with a giant inflatable ring was a good one!).

The finale of our time together ended in a silent disco called Silent Noise (where you have wireless headphones to hear the DJ’s playing – a clever way around the 10pm amplified music curfew) at Neptunes Point, (in between Palolem and Patnam beaches). These beach parties I’m sure about ten years ago would have been more of a hippy thing and less orgainised but this was the silent noise launch night for the season (a big event!) and it had to be done. We convinced Scottie and Loraine to come even though it was their last night and they were heading to the airport at the crack of dawn. It was an absolutely banging night and pretty much everyone in Palolem was there making shapes and having a top time! The Stanton Warriors were playing a DJ set and were on top form as well as Scottie who managed to spend most the night raving bare chest sweating like a nutter!

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A tip top night which ended about 6am with tired legs and full on crash and burn. We said our goodbyes on the night and we woke to a note from Scottie under the door which had some lovely farewell words and typical Scottie good humor! Hopefully a friend for life that guy and someone we’ll definitely link up with often. Happy Days!

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So with still a month to go before we would have to move on, we chilled out, spending our afternoons watching the sun set over at Patnam beach and Palolem beach, amusing ourselves with the increasing numbers of hawkers who would comb the beach looking for someone to buy their cheap jewlery, though we never grew tired of hearing the fruit seller on his slow but steady approach as he sang his happy song "Piiiiiinaaaaaaapple...cocooooooonut...papaaaaaaaaaya...waaaaaatermelooooon"!

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We eagerly awaited the arrival of our friend Dave who was at the time traveling around Nepal and north India. He soon made it to Goa and Dave’s first day there consisted of us getting down to the business of sharing a beer and exchanging our traveling stories. We hadn’t seen Dave in over a year since he had left the UK to travel so it was really nice to him and to compare our experiences of India. So with Dave’s arrival the build up to Christmas could officially begin and with that we found ourselves frequenting our usual haunts such as ‘The Nest’ (by far the best bar staff and best fillet steak in Goa!), Yum Yum's, Papillion (great Indian food) and Rococo’s (where we could normally find Jason and his sleepy giant bull mastiff hanging out).

Almost overnight we met a whole new group of people, including the lovely Merete (JB) and Camilla (frisky) from Denmark; as well as the guys...Pete (coco Pete), Sean (soups/sean the sheep) and their mate Tony (who had had such a dry sense of humour!)…all of which were from Birmingham! What a great group of people! We met JB and Frisky on the beach when Dave looking for a frisbee partner approached Camilla (Frisky got her nickname when she misheard me call her the ‘frisky girl’ instead of the frisbee girl and the name stuck from there!) We met Coco Pete through Nok (I think we met at the Alpha bar during one of their headphone parties when J was twisted and up for a late one and they walked me part of the way home...what gentlemen!). We had a laugh that night and though we discovered that we supported opposing football teams (Up the Villa!!!) or as Pete would say “right up em!” we formed a friendship from there!

Along with these great people, good old Bill (barnacle Bill!) from Iceland, another Nest regular who was never far away and always beaming from ear to ear with his famous happy smile as well as the musical guys who brought us many a good night of sing-alongs…Christabelle, Sandy and of course not forgetting Colin.

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Every night was a cause for celebration, the drunken jenga games, the hilarious song Pete would sing “no-one knows what it’s like….to be a baaaaad man, to be a saaaaaaad man….behind blue eyes”, Sean the soups amazing ability to dance in the early hours when the power of speech had gone and everyone was fading. Frisky’s unique facial expressions that expressed more than words ever could and JB’s fantastic and unforgettable rendition of the Jungle Book songs in Danish (hence the nickname JB!) were their trademarks as was J and Dave’s fascination with other peoples food. J coming in to grab the first bite of everyone’s food and Dave there to clean up any left overs (those hollow legs of his never seemingly got full!) Never a quiet moment and loads of funny memories!

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In between Christmas and New Years, a few of us decided to head into Margao for the day. Me, J, Sean, JB and Frisky jumped on the local bus and a normally dull journey turned into a giggle with lots of chat and banter and with the occasional famous Frisky expressions! With Indian music blaring out into the hot and stuffy bus and the bumpy roads making us hang on tight, it made for a fun journey (though we all left with sticky sweat patches from the humid bus ride…not a good look!) With the task of shopping done (though that was mainly me getting my netbook) we decided to take a break at the famous Longuinis restaurant in the town centre for some food and drinks.

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We spent a fair amount of time there, toasting with peach schnapps and beers and sharing stories about ourselves. It was nearly dusk and so we negotiated our taxi ride back into Palolem. The journey home was hilarious! With not enough seats in the taxi, we put J in the boot area and with his head popped up over the back seats we were ready to go! Already a little bit tipsy, we asked our taxi man to stop off at the local wine store for fresh beers for the 45 minute journey back which meant our little party mood could continue. In search of some entertainment we asked the taxi man to put on some his radio. He didn’t have a working radio so we instead we opted to sing some songs to pass the time. This was where we first heard JB’s rendition of the Jungle Book songs as well as her and Camilla’s joint versions of the classic songs! At the end of the journey, we all fell out of the taxi (J falling out of the boot!) laughing about the great day and funny journey home!

The run up to Christmas was great! Christmas Eve starting off with a great traditional roast dinner at Cheeky Chapatis followed by a full on beach party at 'Cosy Nook' with seriously great old skool tunes kicking out and everyone up dancing like no tomorrow! Everyone was on great form and was a fabulous way to start Christmas!

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And Christmas day itself started off in full swing with everyone donning their Santa hats and us all eating our Christmas dinner on the beach, sipping beers, champagne and the odd tipple of Baileys Irish cream (it wouldnt be Christmas without that now would it?!)

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I think one of the best memories from these few great weeks in Goa and the one that will last the longest for me is the evening of New Year’s Eve, when we all partied, danced, drank and sang until well into New Year’s Day. It was a fair old session...in fact it would be fair to say it got more than a little messy! We started off as per usual at The Nest with Mohan, Raj (the Raginator!) and the guys buzzing about super-efficient as always, making sure we all had drinks and always with a smile on their faces. With the evening underway, we found out that our friends Christabelle and Sandy were playing at the open mic night along the beach so we all headed up there to enjoy the music. A great way to start the night!

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We were all starting to feel a little bit merry by then (some more than others, hey J!) and yet the night was young! So blurry eyed and full of energy it was back to the Nest once again in preparation for the midnight countdown and fireworks! Just as the midnight countdown came around Pete came out of no-where with a massive box of fireworks hoisted on his shoulder shouting out “COME ON!!!!!”

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We lit the fireworks and as they ascended up they joined the hundreds of other that filled the skies all along the beach and we hugged and cheered the New Year in! With midnight under our belts we all stumbled over to the Alpha bar where they had an open-air DJ playing tunes until 4am. We took to the dance floor (and the stage!) and shook our funky asses like James Brown himself! You might think that this was the end of the night….oh no…as Pete with his famous phrases would say “one more; and we will continue!” we were on our way back to the Nest again to keep the party going! It must have been way past 4am and the Nest was still in party mode so we all piled in to the chill out area and Christabelle got on her guitar to sing us our favourite songs as we watched the dawn bring us the first glimpses of sunlight of 2011.

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A classic memory from the early hours of that morning was of Tony and J talking to a young Indian guy who woke for breakfast and got talking to the guys. This guy was on holiday with his friends and told J and Tony about his engagement to a young Indian girl. Baring in mind that we were still on the beer and pretty ruined by this point, Tony and J with completely straight faces and dead pan voices started to tell this poor guy that his life was over if he was to marry. That it was ''suicide'' in fact. "Don't do it mate" "Seriously..." He wasn’t sure if they were being serious or not but 15 minutes later the boys nearly had the poor guy convinced that getting married was a disastrous idea! I turned round to see Sean in fits laughing at the antics of Tony and J! I think he worked it out that his leg was being pulled but it was so funny to watch! At was at around this time that Colin (the other one, slightly nutty one) who as the early morning progressed was starting to act a little weird, and very wired; decided to jump up to grab the bamboo struts which supported the palm roof of the bar. Calling him down in fear of him hurting himself, he ignored us and then monkey barred his way up the A-frame and back down again to the other side! A very odd bloke if you ask me and for sure a surreal moment!

By the morning some slipped off to get some well-earned sleep while the rest still in the chill out area got into the ‘zone’ of Jimmy Hendrix and Led Zeplin, each of us nodding our heads through hazy bloodshot eyes in approval as ‘A whole lotta love’ was building and coming to its pinnacle (met with the unexpected blast of energy from Soupie Sean who got right into gear to shake it right there and then!). Proper legend…and a lasting snapshot memory that I’ll always have! Not that this would be the last burst of energy from the dancing Sean…oh no! Before long, sometime maybe around 12 noon (by which time the rest of us were pretty comatosed and little able to talk let alone move) the bar next door blasted out some crazy banging tunes to which Sean leapt up and really started to give it some welly! That was a classic Sean moment and one that stays with me as a classic NYE memory!

The Nest, which had firmly become our favourite hangout, had provided us with so many memories and laughs. With the adventures of the crazy people like annoying Clive, Crazy Dutch Pete (pictured below)

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...not to mention Wendy and Scottish Jackie; all of these characters and the funny things that happened there gave us the inspiration to rename The Nest as ‘The Cookoo’s Nest’ but the people who really stand out were the great people we spent time there with and who became our friends; and of course the amazing staff at The Nest who were always a good laugh and were always so friendly and accommodating.

Our 7 weeks in Goa came to an end on 4th Jan (As Pete would say "My name's Goff and I'm off!") when me, J and Dave woke early to an emotional goodbye with the gang (even Pete woke up early for that one!) and headed to the train station to start our 2000 mile train ride to Delhi. It was so sad to say goodbye to everyone; such great memories and great friendships forged during our time there, but promises of remaining in touch firmly made before we departed.

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Posted by Eveness 00:18 Archived in India Tagged beaches parties goa christmas drunk nye palolem the_nest Comments (3)

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