Vagabond Tales: Full Moon Parties And Surfing A Monsoon

There are few larger rights of passage on the Southeast Asian backpacker circuit than the full moon party on the island of Koh Phangnan.

A tropical version of Ibiza on psychedelics, the pull of this legendary debauch is so strong that nary a backpacker within a 1000-mile radius has the chance of escaping its hedonistic spell.

From the highlands of Chiang Mai to the the back alleys of Bangkok, the week leading up to the night of the full moon becomes a spiral of buses, ferries, trains and tuk-tuks all headed for the sands of Haad Rin.

During the party, in the same way that the full moon acts upon the tides, so too will it elevate the young, the promiscuous, the inebriated and the curious to levels exceeding their monthly average.

Imagine 30,000 revelers with their toes in the sand, gyrating en masse to visiting DJ’s, executing brain cells with whiskey and Red Bull, and losing themselves in the glow of the moon. While liquor is guzzled and consumed by the bucket, most in attendance are drunk on freedom, and the intoxicating possibilities that accompany the unknown.

It’s a big, hot, beautiful mess, and it’s one which every traveler needs to experience at least once.

%Slideshow-777%Started in the 1980s by a handful of Western backpackers, the Koh Phangan Full Moon Party has gradually morphed into one of Asia’s largest parties. Drug use is common, despite the harsh penalties, and the party continues to well beyond sunrise.

For a better idea of the level of debauchery, take a look at some of the “party tips” on a website devoted to the party.

-Don’t bring your passport
-Don’t bring any valuables
-Don’t bring a bag, because you’ll get drunk and lose it
-Wear shoes to protect your feet against broken bottles
-Don’t eat anything offered by strangers
-If you actually plan to sleep, get accommodations far, far away from the party.

Or, for a more visual approach, step inside of the party with this video from lbwtravel.

Having just endured an all-night party on the neighboring island of Koh Tao, I was actually among the select few who decided to get some sleep. Not without staying out until 3 a.m., however, which was more than enough time to revel in the scene.

Body paint replaced clothing the further the night wore on, and fire-twirling locals illuminated the dark sky. Dreadlocks twirled in rhythm with the House tunes, and the sand became littered with eventual one-night stands.

Since I enjoy people watching as much as the actual party, I opted to squeeze in a few hours of sleep and return for the scene during sunrise. On the walk back to my bungalow far, far away, a light breeze began to rustle the trees and was punctuated by stronger gusts. A storm, it seemed, was brewing on the horizon.

Three hours of sleep, two ibuprofen and one bottle of water later, the orange light of the rising sun revealed a scene of social warfare. For every two bodies, which continued to gyrate, a fallen soldier lay collapsed on the sand. For every bucket, which continued to hold liquid, four others were discarded on the beach. The clouds thickened, the beat continued and a scrap of white linen, which was once someone’s pants flapped in the breeze as it dangled from a tree.

By 9 a.m. a few hundred remained; by 11 a.m., perhaps 30. Finally, by 3 p.m., as dozens of Thai workers cleaned up the detritus, the number of party-goers had dropped to one.

With trance music on the iPod and booze in the veins, the party continued on his own personal planet.

My attention meanwhile, had shifted from the party to what was suddenly brewing offshore. Mutterings of a monsoon had been percolating through the community, and the wind-driven waves had been increasing by the hour. By no means were they good waves, but they were big enough to ride.

As we mentioned in our article “6 Surf Destinations You’d Never Think Of,” Thailand can actually get decent surf during times of a passing monsoon. The problem, however, is finding a board, as none are offered on the small Thai island.

Gulping down a banana pancake and slurping on a fruit smoothie, that’s when I spotted it leaning against a house:

A haggard, blue, obviously used longboard, which had been hand-carried in by a backpacking Argentinian. With the sea salt on the breeze and a pounding in my head, I approached the fellow traveler about renting out his board.

As it turns out, he and his friends were on a 12-month tour of Thailand and had rented the beach house for an entire three months. Nursing a hangover from the previous night’s party – his third in a row – he loaned me the board completely free of charge.

With board in hand I jogged to the beach, my bare feet dodging the curbside debris. The wind intensified to the point of destruction, and plastic chairs were sent scurrying down the beach.

At the scene of the party, the lone dancer remained.

Paddling out into the wind-driven slop, the hopes for waves were novelty at best. With gusts approaching 40 mph and onshore winds crumbling the surf, I largely questioned the point of the endeavor.

That was, until, I caught the first wave. And the next, then the next, and the next after that. Ugly, short, onshore, and mushy, it revitalized a feeling, which had been shelved for too long.

Yes, I was surfing in the middle of a Thai monsoon, on a stretch of beach covered in beer bottles and backpackers, but even in this outpost on the other side of the world, there was a sense of familiarity, which made it feel just like home.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

Is Horse Surfing The World’s Next Watersport?

Here at Gadling we always love researching new watersports. In April we looked at the high-powered sport of jet surfing, and last November we explored a wing that lets you fly underwater. Before that, it was SNUBA.

Now, an article on the surf website The Inertia has turned us on to a wacky new watersport being born out of England.

The sport?

Horse surfing.

In what is cheekily billed as a “completely green sport,” tandem duos of one horseback rider and one wakesurfer attach a tow rope to the back of a horse, which then takes off galloping down the length of a beach. Skimming their way through shallow water and launching over ankle-high waves, the riders and their one horsepower engine have been known to reach speeds of 25 mph.

What do you think? Olympic sport by 2024, or nothing more than a one-trick pony?

Did A Multi-Billion Dollar Company Steal This Travel Blogger’s Brand?

In August of 2012 I had an email exchange with a blogger named Turner who was the founder of the travel blog Around the World in 80 Jobs.

Turner had written a post on working at the Pink Palace party hostel on the Greek Island of Corfu, where I myself had worked for a summer in 2005. I got in touch with him, he said he’d been working on the blog for a while, and was looking to grow. I told him he had a great idea and wished him the best of luck.

Almost a year later, it now appears that after working tirelessly to grow his blog into a successful travel brand, a large, multinational corporation with assets estimated in the billions of dollars has launched a marketing campaign that is shockingly similar to Turner’s brand, and has even trademarked the name of his site.

For the sake of comparison, here is a link to Turner’s website, and here is a link to the marketing campaign.

Looks pretty similar eh?

More importantly, here is a post where Turner addresses the issue and raises the concerning fact that, amongst other things, the actor in the promotional video looks just like him.

Some are claiming it’s Turner’s own fault for not trademarking his brand. Many in the blogging community are claiming this is a blatant intellectual property violation that obliterates the role of ethics in business.

Take a look for yourself, and let us know what you think. Does Turner have a right to be angry about this, or has a large company seized on a successful idea and taken off running with it?

Give us your thoughts in the comments below.

**Update: The company has since removed their promotional video from their website and has restricted access to their marketing video**

Vagabond Tales: Kayaking With Thieving, Soda Drinking, Bloodthirsty Monkeys

Most people who think monkeys are cute have more than likely never met a real monkey.

Although they might be cute on television, as anyone who has actually met a monkey will tell you, their cuteness is simply a disguise for their evil.

Yes, I’ll say it again: monkeys are evil.

They have stolen my lunch while hiking in Costa Rica, and broken into my backpack in the streets of Kathmandu. They have danced on my roof all night in Bolivia, and an orangutan managed to steal this man’s shirt off his back. In Peru, one even crawled into my sleeping bag, even though I was already sleeping in it.

Nevertheless, even once you realize they’re mischievous little thieves, it’s hard to not be drawn to them. There’s just something about their pudgy face and long, dexterous tail that makes them too hard to pass by.

Which is why I found myself – despite all past encounters with the cheeky little devils – kayaking the waters of a Thai island with the specific intent of sharing a beach with monkeys.

%Slideshow-702%On the island of Koh Phi Phi, “Monkey Beach” is only a 30-minute kayak paddle from the developed shoreline of Ao Lo Dalam, a crescent of white sand where budget backpackers binge on buckets and snowbirding Swedes slather on sunscreen.

For a fistful of baht that amounts to about $5, you can rent a kayak from a makeshift activities stand and paddle your way towards the primate-filled cove.

It was at one such stand where we received the first warning.

“You bring kayak back in two hours,” advised our smiling, black-haired rental agent, his skin tanned to the point that it meshed with his black shorts.

“And watch out for monkey. They steal your food.”

Thirty minutes, one bottle of water and two dozen photos later, the white sand of Monkey Beach crunched beneath the kayak as I slid the vessel onto shore. We hadn’t even opted to bring food, since past encounters taught me it was nothing but trouble, and instead nursed our waters in the mid-winter heat.

On shore, spindly green vines dripped down from the jungle and turquoise water lapped at the coast. No monkeys could be seen scuttling about the shoreline, but the telltale hum of a long-tail boat told me things would soon change.

As if on cue, the moment the long-tail boat rounded the corner and pulled its bow up onto the sand, the trees came alive with the rustle of mischief. Despite their inhabiting an undeveloped beach, these monkeys encounter over a hundred visitors a day, and they’ve come to learn these visitors mean food.

With my kayak tucked into a protected corner of beach, and not a loose item or scrap of food laying anywhere about it, I was more than happy to sit back and watch the thieving carnage unfold.

Humans, they say, have the most developed brain of any animal and it’s one thing which separates us from monkeys. That argument could be a tough sell, however, to anyone watching the scene on “Monkey Beach.” Spilling off of tour boats, visitors will try to photograph the monkeys, they will chase the monkeys and perhaps even try to pet them.

A lobster-skinned British man thought it might be fun to feed one a banana. Not only was the plantain aggressively swiped from his hand, but as he sat stunned at the speed with which the food had been swiped, another monkey had made off with his camera.

One monkey stole an orange soda and drank it in front of the crying child who was suddenly without an orange soda.

Nevertheless, most people were still wrapped beneath the spell that everything monkeys do is cute.

As in, “Look Honey, the monkey decided to play with our camera and is now chewing on the memory card that has every photo from our trip on it. Isn’t that adorable!

Things turned a bit more dire, however, when one of the four-legged hoodlums stealthily snuck up on a woman still seated in her kayak. With the bow of her boat facing out towards the water, she casually appeared to be enraptured by the tropical panorama.

Even though common wisdom says you should “never turn your back on the ocean,” there should be an addendum to include “unless the beach behind you is covered in monkeys.”

As this poor woman kept to herself and enjoyed her moment of peace, this stealth monkey gradually snuck up behind her and playfully pounced on her back. The ensuing scream, which shot across the jungle, was so piercing and high-pitched it was probably heard by dogs in Malaysia. Unfazed, the monkey then climbed atop the woman’s head, opting to play with her curly black hair.

The screams continued, and while the monkey eventually bounded back into the jungle, by the time it was finished colonizing her cranium he had left bloody red scratches on the woman’s back and neck. Rabies can be a serious business when it comes to monkeys in Asia, and luckily, it appeared, the woman would be going home with scratches instead of bites.

A horseshoe of onlookers gathered around the woman, and a dry-witted Aussie was the first to chime in.

“Bloodthirsty little buggers aren’t they?”

A trickle of nervous laughter went about the crowd, and while the woman would be fine after her oceanfront mauling, it was a reminder that wildlife needs to be respected, even if it’s in a cheeky place with a name like “Monkey Beach.”

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

Vagabond Tales: The Thin Line Between Backpacker And Homeless

Long-term backpackers can be a competitive bunch.

In case you’ve never spent time in the common room of a youth hostel, either nursing a hangover, mingling with strangers, or ogling at the opposite sex, the conversation always starts with a simple and genuine phrase:

Where are you from?

Once initial pleasantries have been exchanged and conversation materials run thin, the discussion naturally turns to where you’re going, where they’re going, and where you both have been.

Get ready, because the competition is set to begin.

Although it starts gradually, what was once an interest in your fellow traveler slowly turns into a comparison. “Oh, you hiked that trail. Cool. I hiked this trail.” “You spent two weeks in Bolivia, cool, I spent five.” “You’re 16 months into a two-year trip? Damn.”

And so on.

Then, of course, there are the country counters, where the entire purpose of setting out on the road is to increase your own personal number (as evidenced by this recent article on insanely competitive travel).

The “how many countries have you been to?” bomb inevitably gets dropped as conversation progresses, and it’s much like that moment with your new love interest when you raise the sensitive topic of their number. It’s in the back of both of your minds, and it’s finally just laid on the table.

As is to be expected, exaggeration is common.

At the end of the day, however, the largest competition on the budget backpacker circuit revolves around one thing: money. Namely, how much, or how little, are you managing to spend?

How far are you stretching your budget?If you saved $10,000 for your extended trip, do you travel for two weeks at $5,000/week, 10 months at $1,000/month or ten years for $3/day, fortifying your trip along the way with some under-the-table cash jobs, extended sessions of hitchhiking and sourcing your meals from the leftovers of strangers?

Amongst “travelers,” there is an unspoken credo that your traveler legitimacy is inversely proportional to your daily budget and level of comfort. How so? Let’s take a look at this purely hypothetical, yet all too true chart regarding the way your traveler status is determined by something as simple as where you’re sleeping.

All-inclusive resort = Fraud
Hotel = Tourist
Private hostel room = Upper-class backpacker
Hostel dorm room = Middle-class backpacker
Cleaning dishes at the hostel in exchange for a bed = Lower-class backpacker
Tent = Camper
Train station/Overnight Train = Resourceful
Build your own shelter/sleep in a sewer/smuggle self aboard a Thai fishing boat = Legend

All half-hearted joking aside, either way, amongst competitive, long-term backpackers, he who travels longest and visits the greatest number of countries in the most frugal of ways possible, as recognized by the unwritten constitution of budget backpacking law, ultimately is deemed the winner of a non-existent competition. I know because I once felt like that, and it can easily render you homeless.

I was 22 years old, with $7,000 saved, a fancy degree in one hand and a copy of Rolf Potts’ “Vagabonding” in the other (which despite my tone is a tremendous read).

My timeline: two years. On seven grand. Not a problem.

After three months of living in a van in New Zealand and surviving on canned beans and corn, I found myself in a fetid hostel in the inner city of Melbourne, Australia. My money was nearly gone, I couldn’t legally work and the $20/night bed was simply too pricy.

If I could just cut a few of my expenses,” I thought, “I could continue this loathsome existence for maybe a couple of weeks longer.” I checked out of the hostel, grabbed my backpack and ukulele, and spent that night in the train station.

The following day involved half-priced, day-old baked goods, using free Internet in the public library, and playing ukulele on the banks of the Yarra River. I made $10, I spent it on pizza and spent another night in the train station.

The following day was much of the same, and my two-year trip around the world began to take on an element of survival. I made another $12 playing music by the river, and I decided I needed to accelerate my earnings. I walked in the door of the city casino, doubled my money playing roulette, and with $25 graciously in hand I smiled at the idea of a shower and a bed.

That was, of course, until I saw a table that hadn’t hit red in the previous 14 turns. Despite having studied probability in school, the nice, round $50 I would walk out with when it surely hit red was simply too much to pass up. When the tiny white ball clinked into a black space for the 15th time in a row, so too did my immediate reality descend into a very dark place.

I was no longer traveling, I realized. I was homeless. I was not a frugal, resourceful, earn-your-badge-of-honor traveler by shaving expenses to extend your trip. I was a smelly, unkempt, ukulele-playing, college-educated, homeless immigrant who trolled the public library by day and inhabited the train station by night. I was no longer punch-drunk on seeing the world. I was hungry, tired and largely miserable.

To add fuel to the fire that fellow Gadling writer Pam Mandel so eloquently raised, I didn’t start a Kickstarter campaign and ask strangers to bail me out. I bought an airplane ticket back home on my credit card, got a job and I dug myself out of the hole.

I decided to move in with a girl I’d left at home. Today that woman is now my wife, and we travel together to this day.

Since that time I’ve continued to travel for the better part of seven years, taking time every now and then to hunker back down and work. I learned that your global backpacking excursion doesn’t have to be a one-off affair, and it’s not as if when the money runs out you’re destined for a life of non-travel. Purists might claim that I gave up too soon. I like to think I reset.

Granted, there is definitely a difference between being “houseless” and “homeless,” and thousands of travelers successfully find ways to stay on the road for extended periods of time. This man walked around the globe for 11 years. This man gave up money.

The distinction, I suppose, comes in accepting the reality of your situation instead of the romanticized version. If you’re eating out of dumpsters, sleeping in the park and patting yourself on the back for being the world’s most resourceful traveler, you might want take a step back for a moment and look at the bigger picture.

Consider it a word of caution to potential long-term travelers. Trying to win the traveler game might earn you a few badges of respect, but employing the strategy of extreme cost-shaving will only take you so far.

For me it was the Melbourne train station. A ukulele, an empty stomach and a call to head back home.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.