Thursday, October 16, 2003

Bamboo Rafting in the Thai Jungle

Funny how you romanticise your homeland when you travel. I was looking forward to coming back to Melbourne for a short time and riding my bike almost daily in the pleasant Melbourne spring. Somehow I forgot that the words "pleasant", "Melbourne", and "spring" can only be connected in a sarcastic tone. I am currently taking shelter from the enduring rain.

Well, enough complaining, and enough about the weather. I arrived in Melbourne a few days ago after two superb weeks in Thailand. I began with a three day jungle trek in Thailand's northwest with a group that consisted mostly of Canadians. The trek included walking, elephant riding, climbing up a limestone-encrusted cascading waterfall, staying with small hill tribe villages, rafting on flimsy bamboo rafts, playing cards late at night by candlelight, and trying to elude malaria-carrying mosquitos. The rafting was particularly fun. I think the rafts were designed to disintegrate easily. One of the Canadians did his best to help, diving off his raft swimming over to ours, undoing the flax that held the raft together, and leaving me stretched across the raft, trying desperately to hold all the planks together. And all because I "accidentally" pushed him into the water.

The highlight of the trek was the presence of Marc, a 42 year old French Canadian waiter from Quebec. With facial hair in a fashion last popular with the Habsburg emperors of Austria and a fair bit of extra weight, he looked like he wasn't going to be a good addition to a group of backpackers doing a reasonably strenuous trek. But everybody's opinion of him changed when it turned out the only things he had in his backpack for the three days were Werthers Originals sweets, bottles of whisky, and a Bruce Lee headband. Really, what more does one need for a jungle trek? He also had an uncanny ability to procure a guitar no matter where we were and sing rock and roll classics in a strong French accent.

After the trek I quickly headed to the other end of Thailand, so I could witness firsthand the Full Moon Beach Party I had heard so much about from other travellers. Held each month on the night of the full moon (obviously!) on an island beach, thousands of people come in boat after boat from all around the island and neighbouring islands and spend the night dancing by the light of the moon. Entertainment is provided by a dozen DJ's, fire throwers, unusual fireworks, and very drunk English guys who don't realise they are getting picked up by Thai transvestites until it is all too late. The party doesn't stop until well after sunrise, and it was quite a sight to look around at 7am at a beach still seething with people dancing in the early daylight.

After the full moon beach party I was ready for a few days of relaxation, so I travelled to Bottle Beach, an isolated beach only accessible by boat. I stayed in a simple bungalow on the beach, and I snorkelled, read, talked, ate, swam, and slept until it was finally time to race to Bangkok to catch a plane to Australia.

The single best thing about Thailand for me was the massages. For prices ranging between $4 and $10 Australian, you get an hour long brutal treatment, seemingly based on the assumption that your body is made of clay. Your spine makes cracking noises at times, the massager treads on your back, and afterwards you may have various amounts of bruising. Well it hurts a bit, but it feels so good everybody goes back for more.

Now I am staying in Melbourne for a couple of weeks before heading straight back to Thailand en route to Europe again