Fleshwound

It is only through the authors usual level of whimsical banter and eloquent nonsense that making this particular entry is possible, for the news and developments it covers would make for a less than enjoyable read were I to keep a straight face. I can only introduce the following by saying this: when I made my plans to go travelling, I expected to see many strange and unusual sights, and to experience much that was new to me. However, I did not expect to experience the agony of a ruptured appendix followed by the sight of several nights in a Thai hospital. Yet again, it seems my journey has taken me in a direction I could never have foreseen.

As I write this now I am sitting comfortably on a tranquil, tree lined balcony, whose large patio doors lead directly to my private hospital room that rivals many of the hotels I have stayed at in both comfort and aesthetics. The cable TV and DVD player, ensuite bathroom, refrigerator and aircon have taken care of my material needs, leaving the superb nurses and staff to cover everything else.

Whilst reading this you may feel I’m either in denial of my recent disposition, or screwed in the head after too many antibiotics, but the truth of the matter is things could have been a far lot worse.

Five days ago I was still taking things easy at my bungalow on the northern banks of Ko Phangan, where up to then the most exciting occurrence of my stay had been when the hammock strung up outside my hut decided to snap and hurriedly send my boney arse ungracefully to the wooden floor, much to my annoyance but apparently to the great joy of two older ladies in the bungalow opposite, who up to now were entertained with little more than engaging in tedious small-talk about the local market and the great collection of shite they’d bought there for friends at home. Anyway…

It was on that afternoon that I was relaxing on the beach, having just completed my second swim and enjoying my third session of sitting in a deckchair, when my stomach pains, up to now assumed to be just another case of my body’s continuous disagreement with local produce, began to intensify. A lot. I headed back to my bungalow hoping that plenty of fluids, a trip to the water closet, and a little nap would sort me out. It didn’t, in fact, and the pain worsened to the degree where I couldn’t lie in one position for more than a couple of minutes without having to move. This wasn’t an ‘upset’ stomach, this was a raging, demonic, furious stomach, foaming at the mouth and brandishing an axe as it roared and howled, its fiery eyes piercing the soul of its luckless enemy and…well, you get the idea. Later that evening I made my way down to reception where I was booked a taxi to the local clinic. I explained my symptoms to the nurse there who diagnosed it as food poisoning and prescribed me a collection of painkillers, antibiotics, rehydration sachets and anti-diarrhoea medicine. I took her word for it and headed back, happy to have the painkillers more than anything else.

By the next morning things were no better, and having had no more than 30 minutes sleep at a time throughout the night owing to my discomforts, I assumed far worse than a dodgy fried egg was to blame. Again I made my way to reception and was organised transport to see the same nurse at the local clinic. It was after this second examination that she realised it wasn’t just food poisoning, and as I’d feared myself in a speculative thought that morning, it was my appendix that was to blame.

From here the Thais burst into action – no tasteless pun intended. The roads in Ko Phangan are uneven, unpaved, and perilous, and so it was more than a little displeasure that I endured my 4×4 journey to the nearest emergency clinic, upon which I was examined again, had blood samples taken, and was put on an intravenous drip before being driven again to the nearest pier, where a speedboat was waiting to whisk me across the waters to the nearest hospital on neighbouring island Ko Samui.

And I’ve been here since. The Dr examined me within minutes of my arrival, and said on the spot that he would be operating that afternoon. It was only then that I could really relax, despite my ongoing pain, as the hospital staff efficiently took over, booking X-rays and CT scans for that day, dealing with my insurance providers, and getting me to my private room so I could attempt to relax before my ruptured appendix was to be removed.

There’s not much I can tell you about the surgery itself, being somewhat unconscious as I was. The operating theatre was spotless and appeared well-equipped, as has been the case with everywhere within the hospital that I’ve seen yet. For those of you who have your own personal visions of Thailand, and fear that I’ve been shacked up in a mudhut with geckos running up the walls, whilst an old woman sits crossed legged in the corner chanting to herself and mixing up medicines from dried leaves using a pestle and mortar – forget it. I’m no expert, but from what I’ve seen and experienced so far, this hospital rivals any I’ve seen in my own country.

And it appears that I’ll be leaving here in just a day or two. I consider myself fortunate in this, especially after a nurse recently told me that the usual hospital recovery time is three or four weeks, or even longer. I also have to thank fate, as ridiculous as that sounds, that this happened now, rather than during a week-long trek in the jungle, or whilst visiting an extremely remote village solely occupied by old chanting women, or during a visit to a rural country where the nearest decent medical facilities are a two-hour flight away.

As for my next move – I honestly couldn’t say, even more so than usual. England is a long, long way away, and whilst it’s natural that there are some who feel I should go home, it’s a journey that would be unwise for me to undertake yet from a medical perspective, aside from the fact that I’d hate to end my adventure so prematurely. I’ve been advised by many to consider my options very wisely, and I’m a rational enough thinker to know that I won’t be recklessly putting myself in danger. So, for the time being at least, I’ll remain in Thailand. True, there won’t be any mountain trekking, scuba diving, bungee jumping or Muay Thai training to be done in the near future, but a few weeks of visiting temples, sampling local cocktails, and playing guitar with strangers ought not to be too strenuous for me. Perhaps I’ll even hire a local child to carry my luggage for me.

And after a few weeks have passed perhaps I’ll be feeling recovered enough that any contingency plans I may have thought of won’t be needed anyway, I really don’t know at this point. All I do know, is that every turn of this journey so far, every event endured, no matter how large or small, no matter how fun or painful, has made me stronger, wiser, and shown me new facets of life. And that can never be a bad thing.

The storming of Haad Rin beach

The full moon party, Ko Phangan’s monthly celebration of chaotic reveling, extreme intoxication, sleep deprivation and primal fury, has come to an end. And as I sit here, four days later, it is only now that I find myself having the time and energy to write about what has passed…

The journey to Ko Phangan

Most people, when faced with the prospect of visiting Asia’s biggest and busiest rave (a somewhat popular gathering of 20,000 people on a single beach) tend to do a little bit of planning beforehand. Of course, you’ll all be familiar by now with my preference to go with the flow and make plans as they come. However, when faced with events of this scale, a little bit of organisation goes a long way. Booking a room in advance perhaps, and arriving a few days before the party, giving one time to recover from the gruelling journey and take in some relaxing beach time, leaving them feeling refreshed and prepared for the party.

Rather than following the plan set out by my new London friends, which worked along the lines of getting smashed until 6am on the day of the decision to go to Ko Phangan, waking at 9am to book the tickets, getting on a night bus that evening, having no sleep, boarding the ferry at 8am, starting on the beers by 8:10, going to the party that night, getting back at 6am, barely sleeping that day and then going back to the party the next night until sunrise.

The tale begins at 6am on January 29th. I’m walking down Khaosan road with Roger – a 43 year old property developer from Bethnal Green. He’s done Thailand seven times, refuses to grow up and accept responsibility, and is a true Peter Pan character if ever I met one. The streets are desolate at this hour and ridden with vermin, and aside from a handful of working-girls on their way back from another night at the office, nobody else is walking through. At the kerb-side a beer cooler on wheels is parked up, the last few party-goers of the night slouched around it on plastic stools. Amongst them sits a homeless boy, around twelve years old, who laughs hysterically as he sways forward and grabs himself another bottle of Chang.

It’s these final visions of Khaosan road, as well as those of the monstrosity of a nightclub filled to the brim with whores and gay Germans, that Roger has just brought us back from, that taint my nights rest back at my hotel. My dreams are, however, short lived, as I face a necessary alarm-call at 9am to phone up and confirm my travel arrangements to Ko Phangan.

Later that day I sit surrounded by beer bottles at a table in Khaosan road, along with Roger, and Mark and Shaun, two guys from Lewisham we’d met the previous night before persuading them to join us on our adventure. We’ve managed to book accommodation on Ko Phangan, a forty-minute trek through the roadless jungle from the party beach itself, but still a miraculous achievement considering the obscenely late planning.

By 6pm I find myself standing with my luggage next to me, waiting for our bus to take us on the 11 hour journey to Surat Thani.

There's always something worth seeing in Bangkok, even when waiting for a bus down a skanky alleywayThere’s always something worth seeing in Bangkok, even when waiting for a bus down a skanky alleyway
There's always something worth seeing in Bangkok, even when waiting for a bus down a skanky alleyway29-Jan-2010 18:18, Panasonic DMC-LX3, 2.3, 7.4mm, 0.125 sec, ISO 400
 

Two hours later – right on schedule according to Thailand’s unusual concept of time, the bus arrives and we board, and I soon realise that the glamour of such a journey as described in The Beach couldn’t be further from what I’m about to endure.

I crawl into my seat, clearly built with Ewok’s in mind judging by the mind-boggling lack of legroom, and attempt to get some sleep. Minutes later I’m rudely awoken by the sound of obnoxiously loud machine guns, as the in-bus movie begins playing at the traditional 40,000 decibel volume level. Despite the sound of artillerymen, a few rowdy Spanish persons behind me, and Christian Bale shouting a bit, I manage to nod off for a short while. Later on as the film finally comes to an end, I wonder if it’s finally time for those few still awake to get some rest, but no…it’s midnight, so it must be time for everybody to wake up, light their cigarettes and start bellowing across the bus in a thousand different languages. A loud Colombian to my left, hitherto content with watching the movie and quietly browsing the web on his netbook, bursts into bilingual conversation with anybody who happens to be listening, and despite his interesting stories about drug-fuelled car chases across Texas and his extensive knowledge of international sport and foreign literature, I’d prefer him to hush-hush a tad until morning. He doesn’t. I turn back to try and sleep again and as I do so a gargantuan woman from US of A sat in front of me decides to tilt her chair back, sending my knees into my stomach and making me wonder why I didn’t just think about this two days earlier and buy a sleeper-train ticket instead.

In the wee hours of the morning the bus pulls in to a makeshift service station for a dodgy sandwich and sugary orange-juice break. As I awake I find the air so thick with grease that I can see it on the walls and handrails. Furthermore, there is now a Mexican lying in the gangway next to me, and Planet America in front has opted to recline her seat to such a degree that my ankles are now neatly resting in the lobes of my ears.

By 8am we’re stood on the ferry, admiring the beauty of the tropical islands in the distance and watching a solitary Dolphin dart back and forth in the bay. I take a deep breath of fresh sea air and thank the maker I’m off the bus when my London friends wander off to the shop to buy a round of Singha beer. I’m tired and ratty after just 3 hours real sleep in two days, but perhaps a little drink will help, so I join in. Later on our Colombian friend from the bus joins us, and by 9am he is unrecognisable from the well-travelled, cultured guy talking to everybody on the bus. An hour of drinking has left him a stumbling wreck, sweating profusely, swaying from side to side, and spitting continuously as he slurs his words at us. He leans clumsily towards me and slowly opens his salivating mouth.

“Sometimes, weeth tha pussy,” he explains, “you get the humour. We don’t want that.” he finishes, shaking his head. I smile politely and slowly back away before heading to the toilet, stumbling myself by this point and only too pleased that the rocking of the boat is making just about everybody else do the same.

30-Jan-2010 07:58, Panasonic DMC-LX3, 8.0, 5.1mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 400
 

Fast forward a few hours and I’m sat on Thong Nai Pan beach, Ko Phangan. The Samsong and Red Bull buckets have reluctantly been and gone, no sleep has been achieved still, and the stupidity of my plan to sit in the sun, for 20 minutes, sans suncream, has left me redder than Dr Zoidberg. Stupid Englishman indeed. Still, the resort is peaceful, the ocean is beautifully warm, and despite it only being a week since Ko Chang it feels SO NICE to be back on a beach.

Fast forward another few hours and the four of us are in my room preparing for the full moon party. It’s a colour extravaganza here, so for us it’s all about glowsticks, flashing lights, and bright tribal paint. Kicking myself for not allowing enough time to paint myself up as Darth Maul, I instead opt for the less time consuming, but just as geeky, hand of Saruman. Paint applied and party heads on, we head to reception to book a taxi.

Half-hour later and we’re sat on the back of a 4×4 being flung up and down roadless hills through the pitch-black jungle. The trees are alive with the sound of wildlife, and the wind rushes in our ears as we roll across the muddy terrain, and it isn’t long before Shaun and I begin shouting every Arnie quote we can possibly think of from the back of our makeshift taxi.

Soon enough we arrive at the outskirts of Haad Rin, location of the full moon party, and the sight of alcohol-bucket vendors, traffic jams and drunken farangs riding mopeds reminds us all what everybody is here for…

The full moon party

After stopping briefly to collect a few buckets of Samsong whisky and Red Bull, we pay our 100 baht wristband fee before walking onto the beach, and into the heart of the carnage… It’s difficult to describe a rave to somebody who’s never seen a rave before, but the sight of 20,000 people dancing on a brightly-moonlit beach, is generally enough to impress / overwhelm / surprise just about anyone. Bars sit every few hundred yards across the bay, each with its own set of massive speakers hellbent on deafening any intoxicated party-goer standing too close. Flashing lights and neon signs light the beach further, along with a grand assortment of things on fire – fire dancers, fire limbo, fire skipping ropes…each of them further intensifying the spectacle. People mingle in their thousands – some dancing like maniacs, others sat on the sand catching their breath, hundreds positioned at the waters edge, relieving their bladders into the sea, men and women alike. Wooden stalls sit between the bars, each serving bucket-sized servings of spirit and mixer, the workers beckoning madly to gain peoples attention as they pass, shouting and excitedly waving their arms like men drowning at sea. Western names and language so obscene it’s hilarious adorn the signs of each stall, another ploy to gain attention. “JAMIE ROCK STAR, FUCKING GOOD BUCKET”, “ANNA, PUSSYSEXBUCKET, FUCKING CHEAP”, “FUCKING SUCK PISS SEXY BUCKET, FUCKERS” and so on.

31-Jan-2010 00:16, EASTMAN KODAK COMPANY KODAK EASYSHARE C140 DIGITAL CAMERA, 2.7, 6.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 80
 

The night becomes a blur, a hypnotic mess of sights and sounds, and it’s around 6am when I find the two Lewisham guys holding up a very, very drunken Roger, the so-called hardcore party animal who somehow has managed to find himself passed out for several hours on an Irish girls foot. We order ourselves a taxi to take us back home via the Predators back garden, and at 7am Shaun and I spontaneously decide to run into the sea. It’s blissfully warm, and refreshing, and I find the tiredness and aches and pains of the previous day drift away – albeit not for long.

After finally getting to sleep at midday and waking at 3pm, I wonder to myself if there is a quiet evening in store for me. Instead, I learn that we are set to head off to Haad Rin again, for more of the same. I slap myself awake and order a couple of Thai Red Bulls.

It’s 10pm when we find ourselves at the beach again, where by this time I find myself staying awake thanks to taurine and brisk sea air, and little else. The evening is a much quieter affair, and we manage to engage in conversation for a change, as well as lighting some fire lanterns like the ones seen in The Beach. Except ours don’t float away quite as gracefully and efficiently – one drifts down the sand and into the sea and the other one flies into a nearby tree and nearly sets fire to one of its branches. Oops.

Our plans to head home at the reasonable hour of 5am were shattered when we discovered that the taxi drivers working that night were far from keen to take us to our far away resort – the only willing people being three illegal drivers who to us seemed more interested in taking us down a dark alleyway together and liberating us of our possessions. So it was through frustration and sheer lack of choice that we returned to the beach until daylight, hoping by that time to catch a proper taxi home. By this point I was ratty, fed up, irritable and feeling the effects of no decent rest in four days, but despite all of this, watching the sun rise over a perfect tropical ocean made me realise just how lucky I am to be here.

That morning I got back, ate a hasty breakfast, and fell straight into bed. I did very little that day apart from alternate between eat and sleep.

The aftermath

Yesterday morning I woke relatively early and, much like the littlest hobo, decided it was time for me to move on. I tip my hat to Mark and Shawn, and to Roger, and salute them for their love of the party and their incomprehensible allergies to both sobriety and shut-eye. It’s been a great laugh and a real life-experience, but I have to ground myself and remember that I didn’t leave home for six months, where my routine involved getting pissed every night with Londoners, just so I could travel 6000 miles to Thailand and get pissed every night with Londoners. I feel it’s about time I took in some Thai culture beyond the slums of Pattaya and the parties of Haad Rin, so perhaps it’s high time I return to Bangkok and admire the temples, the Grand Palace, and the things that makes Thailand what it really is.

In the mean time, I’m allowing myself a few days rest here in my own little beach hut at Ban Paanburi village.

03-Feb-2010 12:06, Panasonic DMC-LX3, 2.8, 5.1mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 80
 

It’s quiet, and peaceful, and there’s very few people to talk to, but right here and now that suits me perfectly. I plan on spending a few days sitting in my hammock, lying on the beach, and swimming in the sea, nothing more. My five days of excitement and extreme sleep deprivation have left me achey, exhausted, and with a raging sore throat.

But I guess there’s worse places on planet earth to recover from a bout of partying.

03-Feb-2010 16:00, Panasonic DMC-LX3, 5.0, 5.1mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 400
 

Wouldn’t you agree?

There's always something worth seeing in Bangkok, even when waiting for a bus down a skanky alleyway
There's always something worth seeing in Bangkok, even when waiting for a bus down a skanky alleyway29-Jan-2010 18:18, Panasonic DMC-LX3, 2.3, 7.4mm, 0.125 sec, ISO 400
30-Jan-2010 07:58, Panasonic DMC-LX3, 8.0, 5.1mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 400
30-Jan-2010 10:42, Panasonic DMC-LX3, 4.5, 5.1mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 400
30-Jan-2010 23:58, EASTMAN KODAK COMPANY KODAK EASYSHARE C140 DIGITAL CAMERA, 2.7, 6.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 80
31-Jan-2010 00:16, EASTMAN KODAK COMPANY KODAK EASYSHARE C140 DIGITAL CAMERA, 2.7, 6.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 80
 
31-Jan-2010 01:57, EASTMAN KODAK COMPANY KODAK EASYSHARE C140 DIGITAL CAMERA, 2.7, 6.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 80
31-Jan-2010 02:15, EASTMAN KODAK COMPANY KODAK EASYSHARE C140 DIGITAL CAMERA, 2.7, 6.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 80
Wasted
Wasted31-Jan-2010 02:18, EASTMAN KODAK COMPANY KODAK EASYSHARE C140 DIGITAL CAMERA, 2.7, 6.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 80
31-Jan-2010 02:18, EASTMAN KODAK COMPANY KODAK EASYSHARE C140 DIGITAL CAMERA, 2.7, 6.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 80
31-Jan-2010 02:19, EASTMAN KODAK COMPANY KODAK EASYSHARE C140 DIGITAL CAMERA, 2.7, 6.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 80
 
Drunken party-goer meets sympathetic passer-by
Drunken party-goer meets sympathetic passer-by01-Feb-2010 02:03, EASTMAN KODAK COMPANY KODAK EASYSHARE C140 DIGITAL CAMERA, 2.7, 6.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 80
Sitting down to enjoy the sunrise as best as I can
Sitting down to enjoy the sunrise as best as I can01-Feb-2010 05:44, EASTMAN KODAK COMPANY KODAK EASYSHARE C140 DIGITAL CAMERA, 2.7, 6.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 240