Rudd On The Road
By Steve Rudd
Part 30: The Greatest Water Fight in the World
After the madness of April's Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, I needed a spot of down-time. In typical fashion, a mass exodus from Koh Phangan occurred the morning after the night before, so I wasn't the only person who was making a beeline for Koh Tao, the much smaller yet arguably far more beautiful island located north of Koh Phangan.
The ferry that I caught eased in to dock at just after 2 p.m., allowing me plenty of time to try and find where a friend, Becky Fletcher, was staying. Having provisionally arranged to meet at her apartment for four o'clock, I scurried straight past the scrum of taxi drivers giving claustrophobia a bad name beside the pier at Mae Haad.
I soon succumbed to the relatively comfortable steps of a '7-Eleven' store so I could find the piece of paper on which I'd scribbled Becky's directions.
I'd copied them down from a message she'd sent via 'Facebook', and on the face of things they sounded as though they were going to be simple to follow, consisting as they did of a 'take the first right, then the second left, then go straight on'-styled procedure.
In reality though, the task of finding Becky's place at Mr J's Apartments was not without its navigational difficulties, primarily because she'd mistakenly instructed me to take a right when a left was necessary. In the wake of a succession of wrong turns, I wound up stalking the main road to Sairee past a runaway cow, lumbering in the same direction as me, on the verge of getting mown down by the incessant traffic.
Becky had assured me it was a five-minute walk from the boat pier to her apartment. Thus, when I glanced at my watch and realised that I'd been walking for the best part of an hour, alarm bells began to ring. As they rung, every man with a motorbike smoothly swerved in front of me to see if I required an impromptu lift someplace.
'I'm trying to find Mr J's Apartments, if you know where they are,' I wheezed in the punishing heat.
In turn, each motorbike rider shook his head and sped off, leaving me for dust. On a hunch, I eventually cut down to the beachfront where I found a beautifully paved walkway flanked by plush restaurants and guesthouses. In more ways than one, I was getting hot. In fact, I was getting hotter than hot. Duly doubling back towards the main pier, I clocked a sign announcing that Mr J's Apartments lay down the next cunningly concealed snicket to my right.
It was great to be able to catch up with Becky. Formerly a Toni & Guy salon manager in the UK, she'd recently decided to up-sticks and do some travelling. Although she was ultimately bound for Australia and New Zealand, she thought it would be a sound idea to cut a course through Southeast Asia en-route.
I'd first met her in Bangkok, over a week beforehand. I'd been looking forward to hearing about the places she'd been and the people she'd met since I'd last seen her.
While I'd been indulging in Koh Phangan's Full Moon Party, Becky had been casually kicking back on Koh Tao. Her daily routine of lying-in (and not feeling guilty about it), before heading down to the beach to read, sounded like bliss.
Over the course of the next few days, I allowed myself the rare luxury of following suit. And you know what? The transition from being a bedraggled backpacker to a carefree beach-bum was surprisingly easy to tolerate. To be fair, to not have spent quality time on Sairee Beach would have been a crime: it genuinely is one of the most alluring beaches the Thai islands have to share with the world.
Somewhat paradoxically, the main stretch of beach was astoundingly quiet at most times of day, but that was due to the staggering number of people diving off-shore in the clear blue waters surrounding Koh Tao.
Indeed, Koh Tao is perhaps the most revered dive destination in all of Thailand, hence why the majority of guesthouses overlooking Sairee Beach are keen to promote a myriad of dive course options to satisfy all budgets.
Becky had initially considered taking a course, but even the cheapest ones on offer still seemed expensive. Consequently, she'd decided to take things as easy as possible for ten days. Given the intensity of the heat, I could understand why.
On the second day of my stay, Becky and I attempted to hound out the skeleton of a whale which was clearly marked on a map. Eschewing the temptation to rent bicycles, we opted to walk; an apparent act of foolishness which we soon came to regret. The blazing sun beat us both into submission after just thirty minutes.
Eager to avoid the debilitating effects of heatstroke, we fled to the nearest beach bar for an ice-cold drink, vowing to do all in our power to locate the skeleton at some arbitrary point in the not-too-distant future.
The following day was Monday April 13, start of the Thai New Year, and there was no escape from the pandemonium that's all part and parcel of the good-natured festivities.
Forget the staid traditions that come as standard in countries such as England when a drunken singalong to 'Auld Lang Syne' is classed as essential fun. Thai folk do things differently; they genuinely do all they can to have as much fun as humanly possible.
More commonly known as Songkran, the Thai New Year celebrations revolve around colossal water-fights of the most light-hearted variety. And such fights aren't purely for children; people of all ages are encouraged to get involved and to pick up super-soakers and water bombs in the name of welcoming in the new year.
If I could have prolonged my stay on Koh Tao I would have.
The island's nothing if not a tropical paradise and it was difficult to believe that it had once been used as a place to detain political prisoners.
Becky was due to stay for a few more days, but I needed to ship out the following day in order to catch up with friends on Koh Samui.
As a result, I attempted to find a travel agency which was open so I could book an advance boat ticket. Most shops and travel agencies were shut because of Songkran, but I did eventually find an agency which was willing to sell me a ticket to Koh Samui for the bargain price of three hundred baht.
In the meantime, Becky had hit the beach. She seemed somewhat subdued, but I couldn't blame her.
She had a lot on her mind, and I sympathised. She was not only worried about a friend back in the UK, but also about a tour through Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore which she was vying to join the following week.
Fearing that her tour might be cancelled as a result of politically-motivated trouble in the capital, she was determined to temporarily escape such worries by finding a sun lounger, lying back, and dipping into a decent book for an hour or two.
As I retraced my steps back to Sairee Beach along the meandering promenade, I became unwittingly embroiled in what was possibly the greatest water-fight in the world.
Standing sentry in front of almost every guesthouse and bar were groups of armed and dangerous Westerners and Thai people of all ages. Brandishing water pistols, buckets and hoses, they soaked everybody in sight.
I saw the water coming a mile off, and while I would have preferred to stay dry (not least because I had a stack of Thai banknotes in the pockets of my far-from-waterproof shorts), I made a complete hash of trying to suppress a grin every time I neared a group of revelers with large volumes of water to hand.
Resistance to the fun-fuelled celebrations really was futile. Easily excitable Thai kids dashed up to liberally daub talcum powder on my face, and I think I laughed more in the course of half an hour than I had in twenty-eight years.
The next morning I surfaced with a hangover the size of China. Buoyed up by the mid-afternoon soakings, and a beautiful BBQ-based meal, Becky and I had surrendered to the party mood the previous evening by buying four buckets of alcohol. Gin and vodka had been their prime components.
As much as I wanted to stay, it was time to move on, so I begrudgingly dragged myself out of bed, said goodbye to Becky, and sauntered unsteadily down to the pier.
I was going to miss Koh Tao. Its palm-fringed beaches, clear blue water, cosmopolitan nightlife and easy-going vibes had collectively conspired to spear my heart in style. I was going to miss Becky, too. But that's another story.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 28: Full Moon Fever By Steve Rudd
'Four thousand baht! You must be joking!'
I'd just been told how much it was set to cost me to rent a beachfront bungalow for the night on Had Rin Nok, the home of Thailand's infamous Full Moon Parties on the tropical island of Koh Phangan. I was frankly astonished. Four thousand baht roughly equated to eighty pounds: a blatant rip-off by anyone's standards, however desperate they might have been
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 27: A Wasted Day at the Embassy By Steve Rudd
Having reported the theft of my backpack to the police, I thought it might be beneficial to report the incident at The British Embassy, too.
Before making tracks across Bangkok to the embassy, I sat outside the police station near the end of Khao San Road for a few minutes to collect my thoughts and get organised. As I rifled through my documents,
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 26: Signing My Life Away By Steve Rudd
I could just about deal with the fallout of the theft. The thing I struggled with most was the betrayal of trust. I have always trusted everybody, regardless of whether they are a close friend or a complete stranger. I don't judge. To do so is unnatural.
Even though I'd had my backpack stolen, I doggedly refused to let such a fact affect the way I acted
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 25: A Temporary Loss of Faith By Steve Rudd
In my absence, somebody had broken into my room and stolen my backpack from where I'd rested it against the wall beside my bed. I hadn't unpacked anything since checking back into the guesthouse. I'd had neither the need nor the motivation to do so.
Fortunately, I still had my passport, my bankcard and my camera; they went everywhere with me
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 24: Spontaneous Combustion By Steve Rudd
I'd returned to Bangkok in anticipation of heading south to Ko Samui, one of Thailand's most-visited islands, on which two friends were due to be married. However, they weren't going to tie the proverbial knot for another two weeks, a fact which awarded me plenty of spare time to gad about at my leisure.
It was a scorching hot Friday morning, and I'd just met an English girl called Abi on Soi Rambuttri in Bangkok. We both had something in common: money - or rather 'lack of.'
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 23: A Cashflow Crisis By Steve Rudd
Twelve ATMs down, and not all that many to go. It was fair to say that I was in a quandary, with no cash to my name other than a few dollar notes I had left over from my recent trip to the US.
It wouldn't have been so bad if I'd had a clutch of British pounds, or a sizeable wad of notes in any currency for that matter; a staggering number of currency exchange offices line both sides of Khao San Road in Bangkok,
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 22: Trios Amigos! By Steve Rudd
OK. So what do you get if you cross a well-to-do Frenchman, a freethinking Englishman, and a mad-as-hell Spaniard? Adventure by default.
I was in Sukhothai, Thailand, all psyched up to savour the unassailable beauty of one of the most dazzling jewels in the country's crown. Long before Ayuttaya and Bangkok succeeded the city as Thailand's capital, Sukhothai flourished as the naval of the nation.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 21: The One Hundred Baht Experience By Steve Rudd
I was searching for 'The London Hotel', having had the place recommended to me by a friend. Paying close attention to the road signs, I was definitely heading in the right direction as I made tracks away from Phitsanulok's train station.
Confusingly though, the hotel that I presumed to be 'The London' had no exterior hoarding in English proclaiming it to be the place I desired. Its sign was in Thai script, and thus beyond my comprehension.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Twenty: Stray Dogs and Cheeky Monkeys By Steve Rudd
I'd barely made myself at home in Lopburi, and I was already on the verge of being chased out of town. From the off, as I ambled out of the train station after catching an early morning train north from Bangkok, the town's myriad stray dogs were on my tail, as though they genuinely resented backpackers snooping around their patch.
Making more haste than usual to find
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Nineteen: Going West for Eastern Inspiration By Steve Rudd
'Tuk-Tuk!' came the shout across the concourse. In the same beat I was offered a taxi, before a middle-aged lady rushed up offering me a cut-price massage. And this was all out front of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, into which I'd just flown from LA.
My writing work in the US finished, I had decided to head over to Southeast Asia in order to attend the wedding of a couple of friends who I'd first met on my first visit to
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Eighteen: A Mile Of Miracles, And Then Some By Steve Rudd
Taking the bus was too easy, despite the fact that my film making pal Dave Kebo had dropped me off at the Shell gas station at the Wilshire and Vermont intersection in Koreatown which was conveniently situated right beside a bus-stop.
Looking due west along Wilshire Boulevard, my feet felt the twitch before my heart. A bus bound for Santa Monica had just pulled up, and for the meagre fee of a buck and a quarter ($1.25)
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Seventeen: On Foot Across LA By Steve Rudd
I don't like not knowing what's out there. I prefer to be informed rather than ignorant. I hate living in the knowledge that there are sections of certain towns and cities in the world that I know next-to-nothing about.
That's why, given the chance, I always walk whenever and wherever I can. I walk and I walk and I walk until my feet begin to announce their grievances.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Sixteen: When in Venice ... By Steve Rudd
No visit to LA is complete without a saunter along Venice Beach, south of Santa Monica.
The actual beach is beautiful, yet it is the mad parade of stalls and performers which are set back from the beach on Ocean Front Walk that are the real attraction to this part of the city.
It's like the sixties never ended, a slew of tarot card readers, tattoo artists, dubiously talented musicians and all manner of folk on the scrounge for marijuana making
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Fifteen: A Run-In With Gordon Ramsay By Steve Rudd
Having touched back down in LA on what had been a sensationally overcast day, I was glad to see the sun the following morning as I ventured out into Santa Monica, aspiring to hit the beach. I was back in the city to catch up with a friend and to do some writing, but I still intended to make some time to see exactly why people get so excited about the smattering of beaches gracing The Pacific Coast at LA.
It's certainly easy to understand why
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Fourteen: St. Patrick's Day With A Difference By Steve Rudd
In the wake of an exhilarating hike into Runyon Canyon, one of Hollywood's best-kept secrets, I was all buoyed-up to sample a prime slice of LA nightlife. It was St. Patrick's Day, and I was keen to see how Americans celebrate it. Rest assured, I wasn't disappointed. They celebrate the day with just as much gusto as stout-addled folk back in Ireland.
Opting to head downtown in order to appreciate the wide variety of bars in the district, I was accompanied by Dave Kebo, a movie-making friend who I'd first met in Istanbul back in November 2008.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Thirteen: The Green Side of Hollywood By Steve Rudd
Keen to see a side of LA that the majority of visitors to the city never get to appreciate, I couldn't have been more pleased when my friend Dave Kebo, a movie-maker who was raised in LA and knows much of it like the back of his hand, offered to show me around.
It was St. Patrick's Day, and our first port of call was a cafe in the Silver Lake district, east of Hollywood. Neither of us had so far indulged in breakfast, so we ordered up and sat back, sitting out on the busy sidewalk in order to increase our chances of spotting a celeb.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Ten: Sun, Sand, Sea ... and a Man on a Mission. By Steve Rudd
In terms of beaches, visitors to Mexico genuinely are spoilt for choice. World-class stretches of sand are to be found on both The Pacific Coast and The Gulf of Mexico, with old favourites in the ridiculously commercialised forms of Acapulco and Cancun still managing to draw in huge crowds with ease.
However, some of the country's lesser-known beaches are