We left Bangkok on the evening of the 18th just after I had experienced my first real Thai torrential rain shower. I managed to get inside the train station just before it started, but Wow, seriously I am never complaining about UK rain again - the whole street turned into a rtiver in about 20 seconds! Another intersting thing about the train station - at 6pm every day the national anthem is played really loudly out of speakers and everyone has to stand up and face the picture of the King and Queen at the entrance to the platforms. It was really eerie - suddenly everyone stops talking and stands facing the same direction for the duration of the song. I'm glad our tour leader warned us what was going to happen as otherwise I wouldn't have a clue what was going on, it was like something out of 1984.
Anyway then we boarded the overnight train down south. It wasn't actually too bad. I got my own bed which was folded out of the seats and it was quite exciting to see everything out of the window on the trip down. We had a Chang (local Thai) beer and tried to relax but I did only get about 3 hours sleep as it wasn't exactly a smooth ride.
The next day we headed to Koh Sak national park which was an experience! The whole thing is a massive freshwater lake and we took a longtail boat around it, swam for a bit and then were dropped off at the floating bungalows where we were staying the night. These things are literally just floating in the lake and there is no electricity after 11pm so it goes pitch black and 2 of our group actually fell in! In the hut is just a mattress and that's all. It was probably the scariest nights sleep I've ever had as I kept hearing monkeys outside the room and frogs inside the room, plus there was a massive storm and it felt like we were going to drift away, but it was an amazing experience. It was so lovely to wake up and look around the incredible scenery.
After this we headed to Koh Phagnan island for the next 3 days. It's been amazing here, we've been on more longtail boat trips and visted secluded beaches and waterfalls as well as going snorkelling. This was pretty embarrasing for me though as I, not being able to swim very well, had to wear a bright orange life jacket which made going underwater to look at the fish near enough impossible...
One of my best days so far however has been elephant trekking. We saw monkeys and crocodiles and then got to ride on the elephants for an hour trekking through the jungle. They were so friendly and tame and seemed to understand the guys that looked after them perfectly - they spoke 'elephant language' to them to tell them to stop, go right or left etc. Then when we got off the elephants we went to collect our bags and I discovered one fo the monkeys had stolen some paracetomal tablets from my bag and was eating them! Apparently they steal everything and anything. I was worried for the monkey but was told he was alright.
That afternoon I had a Thai massage which was actually the most painful experience of my life (worse than getting my tattoo). It was an hour of being pulled around and prodded and stepped on and pulled some more. My bones were cracking and I seriously thought my shoulder was going to be dislocated but strangely enough I did feel better afterwards, I guess it must be good for you. Not sure I would do it again though...
This was our last night together in Koh Phangan before the tour ended so we all painted ourselves up in neon paint and headed to the beach for a party. The next day I went with a few of the people I'd met on the tour to Koh Tao, which is another island an hour and a half away by ferry. It's much more chilled out than Koh Phangan and is famous for diving as there is a lot of coral and things to see around the bays. I stayed there for 4 nights and had a great time. Our hotel was right on the beach and so I've been sunbathing in the day and then watching the sunset from the beach bars in the evenings. There is also some more crazy nightlife as well - one night we all went on a bar crawl and watched a lady boy cabaret which was erm, interesting! I also had another longtail boat ride to another part of the island, which I've done so many times by now I thought was completely safe but this time the waves were so big on the way back that we almost capsized! Luckily I managed to save my camera and phone by holding it out of the water but my books were soaked, I had to dry them out when I got back to the room.
Thursday night was the Half Moon festival on Koh Phangan so we headed back there for the night. Again we got painted up with neon paint (I'm getting quite good at the designs now) and went partying. The Half Moon is in the middle of the jungle and everything is glowing in neon, the music was good as well and I had such a good night!.
The group I was travelling with left the following morning so I have been on my own since. I've met a few locals who are so friendly - one of the guys that works at the hotel doesn't speak very good English but I think he's been telling me he has just had a baby. Anyway he says hello to me all the time! Yesterday I was feeling ill and needed to go to a pharmacy as my insect bites were flaring up (they are disgusting, I have 39 at the last count all over my legs and arms, eurgh). Anyway so on the long walk there from my hotel I stopped at a shop for some water and the family that ran it could tell I was feeling ill and gave me some fruit (they did laugh at my face when I ate the wrong bit though which is really sour) and let me sit down and chatted to me for a while. Everyone is so nice!
So now I am still on Koh Phangan. Tonight I'm meeting up again with another guy I met on the tour and then Monday I start my journey to the monastery where I am spending the next 12 days, 10 of which are in complete silence. I'm starting to actually get very nervous but hopefully it will be worthwhile... Here is the website if you wnat to have a look at what I am subjecting myself to: http://www.suanmokkh-idh.org/ (Check out the schedule page!)
I won't have internet access while I am there so on the 12th August when I get out I have booked a nice hotel to recover in and will blog then about how I found it. I'm planning to spend those 2 days just sleeping and ordering food!
Wow, this is a very long post, its taken me almost an hour to write so thanks if you have managed to read all the way down to here.
Hope everyone is well back in the UK!
Love Jem xx