Monday, 8 March 2010

Thailand - The first braids

Hello everyone!

Friday we went snorkelling at Ko Rok, a collection of small islands south of Ko Lanta. It was an early start, so I prepared for this by going to a bar the night before. Kelly was feeling the effects of her food, so I initially comforted her before deciding that I should get out of the way of her route to the bathroom. I went to a bar at the bottom of the beach, where I was given a free shot from a bottle with scorpions, snakes and spiders in it. Turns out that they make the liquid taste awfully like tequila.

Whilst there I starting speaking to the millionth Swedish guy in Thailand, called Rasmus. I asked him whether anyone was left in Sweden, and why of all the places they had created Little Stockholm in Thailand. He said that there is an exchange scheme in place, where Swedish students can 'study' in Thailand for five months, and the government will give them a loan to cover it. I think that such an agreement would be very popular in Britain, especially if armed with the knowledge that Rasmus had been out just about every night he had been away. He had studied a little bit: he told me there were 66 letters in the Thai alphabet, and 5 tones for each. Not so easy to pick up.

After passing on the bong that was being passed around, partly due to the length of the jail sentence attached to drug use in Thailand but also because I needed to get some decent sleep, I headed back to the bungalow. I woke up the following morning feeling similar to how Kelly felt the previous night, thought thankfully to a lesser degree. Joe had gone diving at Ko Rok the previous day, but Jerome decided to join us. We were tight for time, which made it a bit strange when he ordered breakfast. Rok, being the hero that he is, put it in a box for him to take on the boat.

After the disaster of Tuesday, we went heavy on the sun cream. I've never used factor 50 before in my life, and felt as if I was dying a little inside each time I applied it to a part of my body, but it had to be done. About an hour on the boat and we were at our first location, just off Ko Rok Nok. I have snorkelled before in Cyprus, so I knew the basics. This was good, as they weren't bothered about giving instructions. I knew the key was to breathe through your mouth, and forget about the unnatural fact that you are chomping on plastic for an extended period of time.

I began to get concerned that I had forgotten how to snorkle when water kept flying down my throat for the first five minutes. Turns out it was just a duff mask, and I was soon able to experience the marine life. The first place was nice, but it was too shallow, and most of the fish were rather small. After 40 minutes we moved to our second location. This was the best of the three by a distance. Time flew by. It was again quite shallow, but it was more secluded than the previous stop, and there were many more fish. Bigger fish. Bigger fish which were freakishly random colours. I followed four fish around in 40 minutes. The first was purple, with a streak of electric green. Another one was pink and light blue with a white bottom half. The colours were so vivid, it was incredible.

After the second stop we docked on Ko Rok Nok and had lunch. We ate in very close proximity to a group of komodo dragons, each being almost 5 feet long. Joe had told us about these and called them lizards. Awfully big for a lizard. Their tongues were purple, which I found fascinating. We had a fair amount of time on our hands, so Kelly dragged me away from eyeing up girls with Jerome to hike around the island. We made the same mistake that we made on Railay, and were soon hiking up a very steep path. At least we had a bit more energy this time. Besides, the view from the top was sick, so it was worth the physical effort.

Kelly forged on ahead whilst I was leaning off the clifftops to take more artsy photos. I followed the trail down, where is suddenly finished at a beach composed of rocks. Ko Rok Nok had been connected to a smaller island before the tsunami in 2004. The effect of it was to cut the island in two. One of the obviously less important legacies of the tsunami was to alter the various trails around the southern islands. This one, which blatantly led to the other island, hadn't been altered. After trying to go through the jungle, and realising that everything was sharp and not great for my bare feet, I opted to get back over the rocks. I wasn't panicking at this point, but was aware that I didn't know the time, so had to step on the gas a little bit. The problem was the rocks were rather hot. You know at circuses when you see people walking on hot coals? I'm guessing this wasn't as hot, but it felt that way.

So the other way to approach this was to walk on the rocks in the sea. They were wet, so cooler, but also very slippery. I got about five metres before realising how treacherous this method was for me and my camera, so just accepted that my feet were going to feel a bit cooked and hot-footed it around until I found the beach. Kelly was there, and wasn't overly happy. She had left her camera on the side to take a dip in the sea, and a freak wave came over and covered it. The shutter wouldn't close, and it wouldn't turn on. Nightmare.

The third location was good, you could go pretty deep, and we saw one blue and one white starfish, which was cool. It was beginning to become a bit samey, so it was a good time to finish. Ko Rok was a beautiful place. It even had swings hanging off the trees. Seconds after this photo was taken I swung a bit too much and crashed onto the sand. I also left my flip-flops on Ko Rok as some sort of gift. Believe that if you will, or just accept that I am an idiot and forgot about them.

We got back and people went for their various massages. Thinking that another Thai massage wasn't in my best interests, I looked at the board, and noticed they did hair braiding. It's important to note at this juncture that Kelly and I had had a joke running throughout the week. Basically, it was me saying I would do something stupid (get a ladyboy, get dreadlocks) and her saying she would disown me. Normal stuff. However, I can be the kind of person that actually pushes on and does these things. Well, not the ladyboy one anyway.

I ask about the price of the braids. They offer me a haircut. I point at the phrase 'HAIR BRAIDING' on their board. They again offer me a haircut. It's not until I get Rok to talk to them that they understand that I'm looking for hair modification, not hair removal. They call the specialist hair woman and, after I start moaning about the time, she arrives and we begin. Even though everyone is convinced that my hair isn't long enough.

I say to her that I want between 5 and 10 braids. I don't really know what I was expecting. Something that looked like Jono's hair, probably, but on a smaller scale. She says it is 20 baht for each braid, so it sounds like decent value. How long will it take? 2 hours, she says. I grab my Sudoku book and we get started, sat in a chair overlooking the beach. Pristine.

I get bored of puzzling, have a nap and reawaken, talk to people, and get the chair moved back because the sun has dropped to a level where it is attacking my burnt feet. If you think I'm exaggerating the burn, look at my foot. It's purple. And this is three days, and a tube of aloe vera, after it happened. But it is at this point that I realise that I have been sat in the chair for a long ol' time. Both Jerome and Joe had had massages whilst I had been confined to the white plastic seat. How long? Many left, she says. Strange that, I didn't think ten would take an extortionately long time.

3 hours have passed. The sun is getting close to setting. Others in the complex are coming over to see what is happening. It's turning into quite the event, and if I didn't get stared at every time I am in public in Korea I would have found it to be a new and strange experience. Eventually, she puts her gear down. Finished! She then starts fiddling with her phone, and finds the calculator. She types in 79, and then multiplies it by 20. Aah, amateur mistake. She's pressed the 7 instead of the 1. 19 braids, not too bad I guess. That's just under 400 baht, so about £8 for three-and-a-half hours work. But she doesn't seem to have realised. She shows me the result of her equation - 1580 baht. Good one.

She counts them off again, and again types in 79. Strange. Joe comes over, and I ask him how many there are, saying that I wanted between five and ten. He laughs and walks off. I summon Kelly over, who then tells me to accept 79 as it is probably more than that. I imagine this is the point where my face would have gone white were it not sunburnt. Are they serious?? That's pretty much my budget! I excuse myself to get some cash and consider my options in peace.

Then I see it in the mirror. Wow. It looked awesome. At that point the money didn't matter. It actually worked! I went back and negotiated, and got her down to 1300 or so, I can't remember exactly, but she had been working on it for such a long time that to barter any more would have been a crime. She even wanted to take a picture of it to show her kids. Adorable.

I checked the internet at this point. I had allowed myself to be cut off until the Thursday, when the desire to actually be connected to the world became quite strong. Mainly to send an email to my parents telling them I was in a hammock on the beach drinking one of many coconut milkshakes. Jealous? I had received a message from Lexie, from the plane over to Bangkok, saying that they were also on Ko Lanta! I figured I would go say hi and see if they wanted to go out, as they were staying at the beach which had more of a party vibe to it. As we were leaving at 8am the following day to go to Ko Phi Phi, Kelly opted to stay local.

There was every chance that this would end in failure. Would they have seen the message? Would they already have gone out? I wasn't bothered, I was quite keen on seeing Long Beach anyway, so I grabbed myself a tuk tuk, though only after asking Rok what would constitute a reasonable price. A guy picked me up. He took me about 50 metres before telling me to get out. Strange. He told me that he only drove around the south of the island, so the tuk tuk now parked next to him would take me on. I wasn't suspicious; only disgusted at the giant 'Liverpool F.C.' lettering on the seat. I got in, and the man told me that he was waiting for two customers to come back, then we could go together.

A couple of minutes later, a blonde girl stumbles over and falls onto the seat. She looks at me, tells me my hair is nice, and then introduces herself. Her name was Clementine. Maybe her parents like small oranges. Better than being called satsuma, I guess. She was annoyed because she had lost her wallet, which her friend was looking for. He returned without finding it, so we were soon on our way. They were a funny pair, with the girl's attempt of a Welsh accent being particularly shocking. They hopped out, and a couple of minutes later we were at the bungalow complex where Ashley, Lexie and Chris were staying.

Finding their hut was difficult. Finding it and noticing how quiet and dark it was didn't fill me with optimism. Still, I had come this far, I may as well knock on the door. 'Hello?' It's a girl's voice. Bear in mind that we had only spoken to them for a few hours, and a reasonable period of time ago. I had a 50% shot. 'Is that Ashley?' 'No'. Ergh. Lexie comes to the door. She was in bed, which made me feel slightly bad, but we chatted for a while. A Dutch guy walks past and asks us where is good to go out. I tell him that I will go with him, and soon say my goodbyes to Lexie. It sounded like they had done a similar route to us, and that they were having a great time. Very nice people.

This guy was called Vee. Something like that, anyway. We followed the loud music, and arrived at an open-air bar/club. There were two people - a bouncer and a waiter. Maybe later? We head nextdoor to a bar, and chat for a while. He also tells me about the Thai mafia thing. He had been travelling for 14 months, which was very impressive, and wasn't planning on stopping for a long time. My new idol, perhaps. After a while he wanted to go somewhere more energised, so he asked where to go, and was told a place called Sunset Bar. He then told a tuk tuk driver, who took us to said bar. It was deserted. Hmm.

At this point I decided it was in my interests to head back, so accompanied by four new people he drove along. They all got off at the bar we had vacated, and I was tempted to join them as they were cool people, but it was gone 2.30 at this point. My man drives back, and then tells me that it will cost 280. He'd said 200, but had forgotten to add on our journey to Sunset Bar. On my own, slightly drunk, on a part of the island foreign to me, at night, in a tuk tuk - I wasn't in a position to negotiate, and I wasn't stupid enough to force the issue. I needed water, so got him to stop at a nearby 7-11, and gave him 300. He then told me he didn't have change. Not a fan of this attempt of a con. I start arguing with him, and carry on arguing until he snaps and goes into 7-11, buys some cigarettes and gets change for me. He pretty much drops the money into my hand and storms off. The moral highground is a wonderful place.

Compared to other days on Ko Lanta, the final one was fairly eventful. It was slowly dawning on us that we now only had one full day left, before flying on the Sunday. If we had the option, we would have stayed for longer, I'm sure. Ko Lanta is one of the most peaceful, most idyllic, most tranquil and most beautiful places I will ever see in my lifetime. If you get the chance, you have to go. Simple as that.

Love you all


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