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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Land of Sex and Smiles

And so the craziness began...

We arrived in Phuket and check in to Ban Thai Resort, where the concierge insists on only talking to Neil. Now, I don't care who pays for something in a couple, who earns more money or who stays at home with the kids if you have any. I do, however, have an issue with you PRESUMING that the man is the leader of the couple or the man is the one who earns more. When the concierge started talking to Neil about the details of the hotel, going to hand him the keys, talking to him about the bill and completely ignoring the fact that I was standing there, despite my name being the one on the credit card; that didn't go down well in Ciara-world. This guy was completely dismissing the fact that I was also human and of equal importance to everyone else in the room. And so, when he went to hand Neil the key to the room, I intercepted the exchange by grabbing it off him and saying "thank you, I'll take that"; staring at him with a look that would probably burn through lead.
Upon entering the hotel room, it was clear they thought that we were on our Honeymoon and had the room showered in rose petals and had the towels made into swans. I could actually see Neilee starting to actively sweat as though I had secretly organised it and was about to get down on one knee! The poor boy. The petals were quickly removed and swiftly thrown in the bin, for fear that they would evoke any sort of romantic nonsense and anyway; they were making it less comfortable to watch Match of The Day on, I'm not joking.

We went out to find somewhere to eat and I quickly remembered how much I hate the pushy culture of people pretty much trying to wrestle you into their shop or restaurant. I don't even like when you walk into a shop in Melbourne and they immediately ask "How you going?" (plus, what does that even mean? There is at least one word missing in that Aussie sentence), never mind have people constantly trying to get you to come in and buy in their shop. Not to mention the fact that they put on an Australian accent ("cheaper than Myer mate") if they think you're Aussie or an English one ("lovely jubbly, cheaper than Next") on the nights when Neil looked particularly English (polo shirt with the button done up to the top). They never guessed I was Irish, but I imagine that would bring on the onslaught of "Top of the morning to ya" or something along those lines.
I understand that this is the way they make their money, but it's too pushy for me and just intimidates me not to go into their place. Not to mention that they start off really friendly, but then when you don't do as they want or even when you say "no thanks" they immediately start slagging you off in Thai. Oh yes; now i really want to buy from you...?! Anyway, it probably took me half the week to get used to this and not either flinch when they approached or snap at them so that they would leave me alone. I couldn't get over how different the people in Koh Samui were to the people of Phuket. And the pushiness was only the beginning...

We decide that we're going to try and do a few things whilst on holiday. This was the first holiday Neilee had been on that wasn't a drunken haze of booze, stupid tattoos (no need to remind you of the "Billy the Fish" incident) and God knows what else, so we decided to do a few activities. As we loved the snorkelling so much, we decided to do some island tours and signed up for the Phi Phi Island and Raya Island tour, which also brought us onto the beach where "The Beach" was filmed. Our tour guide was great! We were on a boat full of Asians and a few Russians, but were the only native English speakers and so the guides took a shine to us.

Our guide took some photos for us, explained some history about the place specifically to us and even took the two of us out snorkelling on our own (as none of  the rest of them could really swim). At one stage we stopped the boat in the middle of the sea and were told we could go out to snorkel. The Chinese group get their life jackets on and get into the water. They were all out again before we even got our turn to get off the boat and into the sea! The big Russians (who fit EXACTLY into the stereotype of being brick-houses) were the same, saying there were jelly fish in the water and that they had gotten stung. So, then there was only Neil and I in the water, feeding the fish, who were in a frenzy around the banana that one of the guides had given me, It was amazing!!! I had the GoPro and was filming it happen, when I got stung on the lip by a jellyfish. You can hear my screams under water through the tube I was using to breathe! It was sore!!!! A couple more stings to the hands and legs, some underwater swearing and we needed to get out as the boat was waiting on us. I looked like I had botox done when I got out! At least it was free though!

A great day, with lots of new experiences. We snorkelled some more off The Beach, but the current was very strong and I didn't last long as my mask kept leaking and the seawater was stinging my eyes. The Chinese group were a total liability, clinging to the boat in their life jackets, or indeed anything they could get hold of - including me! At one stage I had to pry two fully-dressed girls off of me as I was trying to get onto the ladder of the boat and they were going to drown me; grabbing hold of my head and pushing me down for fear they would drown in their lifejackets...! Scary stuff as they literally were unaware of how dangerous they were being to the few of us without gear keeping us afloat. We held some baby monkeys and I saw a shark while snorkelling (which was thankfully both small and swimming away from us!) before heading back to Phuket.

Another day we went scuba-diving for an hour or so, where Neilee couldn't get the hand of standing still underwater or not kicking when the guide was pushing us around the place - it was funny! We literally had to do nothing but breathe but I came out with bruises on my legs from Neilee's flippers! I took loads of footage of him scuba-diving and then handed him the camera underwater and he went off doing his own thing and didn't take any of me! Eh...cheers mate. #flyingsolo

We went to Tiger Kingdom another day, where each of the keepers were obsessed with the fact that he was from Liverpool (although none of them were Everton fans and probably the same number could even understand him) and therefore gave us more time in the pens or took more photos for us. In the "small" tiger pen (where the tigers are 9 months old and not exactly small at all), I even got to feed one of them by bottle, which was unreal! I was standing in the middle of four or five tigers who were "play fighting" (there would be nothing fun about being caught in the middle of that!) with each other and wrestling for the bottle I was feeding them with. I will not lie and say I wasn't really excited but just as equally fearing for my life! What an experience. The tigers are free to roam about the enclosures as much as they like. The keepers are armed with small sticks...yes, STICKS, to keep the tigers from mauling anyone inside the enclosure. It wasn't exactly confidence-inspiring when one of the tigers decided he had enough of the attention and completely ignored the keepers and their sticks and bowled past them, moving to the other side of the enclosure. I kept close to the edge of the enclosure where there was an electric fence, having decided to throw myself against it in the hope of instant death through electrocution rather than mauling should the event arise.  

This same day we got to ride on the back of an elephant with a guide on her neck, until the guide got off and told me to sit where he was and then walked away. The elephant started moving and I was clearly in less-than-zero control of what she was doing, so I was just left sitting in fear and trying not to fall off, while it made it's own way home. Again another stroke of luck, as the other couple who had gone with us just sat on the back and didn't get to be involved at all on their elephant. Our guide took video footage of us and it was great - those animals are so big and move so slowly, but you can feel their power; it's quite scary. Neilee sat on the back like he was some sort of King being brought through the jungle.

After seeing a monkey show at this same place, I started to feel a little uncomfortable as I wasn't 100% happy with the way in which the animals were reacting to the people, so I was glad to call it a day. You leave money for the animals in the blind hope that they will at least treat them with something.

One night we are walking down Bangla Road and getting hounded to buy suits or go to a "Ping Pong Show", when we come across a group of Lady-Boys dressed up to the nines. Posing for some photos, they smile and do all the moves for the camera, but then stand towering 7ft over you to get you to give them money afterwards. It was only $4 each for the photos, so I didn't mind, and then we watched them from a bar across the road attack every unsuspecting passerby possible. I was in absolutely shock at one of them; who could have been one of the hottest "girls" I had ever seen, if I hadn't known "she" was actually really a "he"!! It was incredible how absolutely drop dead gorgeous this girl was!!! Some of them were completely obvious (and shouldn't have been wearing the little clothes that they were!), some less so; but this particular one was only obviously a Lady-Boy because she was wearing flamboyant feathers and a bikini top and was surrounded by other Lady-Boys. She became known as "my favourite" - I honestly couldn't get over how she was actually a guy! If I was a straight guy in Phuket, I wouldn't be getting with anyone, because you actually cannot tell sometimes. Well, apart form the dancing. You can tell when they try to dance sexily, as they can't. Imagine your brother/Dad/Uncle trying to dance sexily around a pole. This is what these Lady-Boys danced like - a bit like older people dance at weddings...
OK, the actual females were slightly bigger and probably not as good looking, but they could dance.

Neil tells me about this Lady-Boy show that travels the world and how he's seen signs for it at home and we decide that it'll be fun to go and see the show here as it HAS to be good. Surely it will be good, being one of the biggest homes of Lady-Boys?! How unbelievably wrong we were.

Cue an hour of pure and utter skin-crawling cringiness; you know when you're in a situation so cringy that you want to scrape your skin off or just dig a hole in the ground and crawl into it? This was it. For a entire hour. Firstly, we were the only ones in the show for the first bit, until we were thankfully able to share the awkwardness with another couple who had made the same mistake as us by entering. The Lady-Boys mimed their way through songs of which they didn't know the words, wearing clothes that didn't fit and were tied together with safety pins. One looked absolutely smashed and did an "It's Raining Men" number where the bouncer of the club joined in as one of the dancers (they were obviously short?!) and the whole dance was based around the fact that the drunk could do a one handed cartwheel. Which he did. Five times. I mean, if I had been able to rip out my eyeballs to stop seeing what I was seeing, I would have. The grand finale was where they all came out on stage and the boozed up Banglarian came out in a G-string and no top on. My eyes still can't unsee the sight.

One evening I say that I want to get a massage, but don't want to go on my own, so we pick a place and I make sure they don't take him off to another room when we go upstairs. As we walk in, Neilee says he wants a Sports Massage and I ask for a Swedish Massage. Immediately a particular "girl" is picked from the staff to do what Neilee has asked for and we head up the stairs. I'm immediately suspicious as she's tall and beautiful - a sure sign of a man in this town. It sounds weird, but it's true! I'm about twenty minutes into my massage when I look over at Neilee and can just see him writhing in pain and deep breathing below the elbows of the masseuse!! He was in absolute agony the entire hour while I tried to stifle the laughter at the sound of his breaths and "f*&king hell" comments. Mine wasn't exactly relaxing either, so I can only imagine what pain he was in! At one stage his masseuse was standing on him, digging her heels into his back. My masseuse was fascinated with my hair extensions and didn't have any issues with examining me like a baboon eating lice from another's head. There are no boundaries in Thailand.

Remember I was talking about my hatred of the "Billy The Fish" excuse for a tattoo on Neilee's wrist? Well as the Ed Sheeran tickets for Neilee's birthday didn't work out (I was in Singapore for it so I sold them to get the extortionate amount of money I paid for them back), I got him a cover up tattoo instead. I found something on Pinterest that he liked since he was looking for a skull and roses and so it was bye-bye ridiculous upside-down fishy. Neilee spent the last day getting that done, so I headed off to get a massage back at the place I'd been at the couple of days before. I decided to try out a foot massage this time and despite the fact that I hate people touching my feet, it was lovely! I was enjoying the whole experience when I saw Neilee's masseuse was given the German guy beside me a foot massage too. She was clearly flirting with the poor guy who was absolutely oblivious to it all, apart from catching the daggers his wife was giving her. THEN I notice something else - the masseuse had TWO THUMBS on the one hand!!!!! I was delighted with my find so I could tell Neilee, but couldn't get an opportunity to support my allegation with a photo as she kept looking at me. As a matter of fact they all were looking at me as my masseuse talked about me in Thai. I needed to start learning this language.
I went and got another massage from the same girl I had the massage from the few days previous. She started talking to me and confirmed my suspicions that Neilee's goddess was in fact a man. And let's not forget the two thumbs on one hand. Gold.
She continued to talk to me about her life and asked me questions about mine. It made me sad to hear that she was from Koh Samui and had to move to Phuket to make money as he husband left her with three kids. She hadn't seen her children in over 18 months and it would be another 18 before she had enough money to go home. Here was this girl working full days every day (one day off in a year and a half) trying to get enough money so she could support her children and here was I lying there paying her next-to-nothing to massage me for an hour. Even after I paid her three times the amount for the massage, it didn't eradicate the empty feeling of the injustice of it all.
I headed back to see the master cover-up tatt, and it was amazing! Neilee was delighted and the tattoo artist was impressed that he was able to do it in one sitting. Billy the Fish is still lingering under one of the roses if you look closely - hopefully as a reminder to not do stupid things when you're drunk...!

I obviously took great delight in inform
ing Neilee of the fact that he had a man with three thumbs rub and manhandle him the few days prior. Funnily enough he didn't seem to relish in my discovery as much as I was doing. Shame there wasn't time to get another "session" booked in...

We saw a few Muay-Thai fights, where the competitors just fight until one of them gives up. An elbow splitting the opponents head open stopped one fight, whereas another was an elbow to the eye, busting it open. These fighters were from about 15 to 30-years-old and although the boys looked wiry, they just kept going. It was savage; knees to the head, kicks to the shins and stomach; not something someone who doesn't even like to watch boxing would enjoy.

The last night consisted of going to see a Ping-Pong show; if only to shut the apparent-hundreds of people on Bangla Road who were trying to get us to go in and experience it up. So we did. And my God - what an experience. We walked upstairs into a dark bar, where we sat down and paid $60 for two drinks (one of them being a Diet Coke!). Sure, the show was free but you needed to take out a second mortgage to buy a drink, which was also compulsory mind you.
In front of us was a stage, with five poles on it and with one Asian girl standing beside each pole dancing expressionless. This was no Magic Mike stuff. They weren't wearing much to start off with anyway, but ended up with absolutely nothing on. Bless Neil, who was trying to look but also trying not to look as though he was looking TOO much since I was sitting beside him! That's quite a skill.
Now, some of these girls were GORGEOUS yet swayed around the pole with blank faces, taking off their clothes til their song ended and they could swap shifts with the next lot. More and more people came into the bar until the Ping-Pong show started.

Now, I knew what the idea of the show was about and so I was expecting one of the previous models to come out on stage to start the performance. Imagine my shock when the "artist" who clambered up on stage was in fact about sixty-years-old, wearing too little to hide the necessities, fully equipped with a knee support and no teeth! What a sight! She bundled up on stage, squatted and started pulling razor blades on a string out from "underneath". The show continued awkwardly where she removed needles, a live hamster and a live BIRD from there; she continued by pushing live FISH from herself into a fish bowl (there must have been about ten of them up there!), by playing the trumpet with it, by smoking with it and then eventually by getting members of the audience to hold up balloons while she fired darts from her nether-regions to pop them! Not exactly something you see every day, but I in fact was more shocked and disgusted about what was going on in the audience than what we had paid to see on stage.
To my left was an old Asian man of about sixty-plus years of age. He had two young Asian girls around him; both of which looked about sixteen. One was topless and sitting on his knee with her hand down his trousers as he manhandled her breasts, while the other was touching herself in front of him and then rubbing her hand on his face afterwards. Neil had to keep tell me to stop staring as I sat open-mouthed at the disgusting sight no more than 2 metres away from me. To my right a white man of about fifty years of age was drinking and licking alcohol from one of the girls' bodies as she bent over in front of him. As soon as the "show" was finished I grabbed my stuff and stormed out the door, fuming at it all.
Just upon getting down to Bangla Road again, some poor lady shoved a photo in my face and said "Ping Pong Show" and I lost it, shouting at her "NO! I'VE ALREADY SEEN IT!" before Neilee rescued her by dragging me away. I had been appalled and angered at the sight of the older white men with the Thai teenagers on their arm all week and this was the last straw.

Phuket has beautiful beaches and it has amazing scenery, but due to the focus being on bringing the money in, rather than looking after the environment to prolong the natural beauty for longer, the place is becoming littered and dirty. The tourists don't seem to care and the locals even less so. The Phuket authorities don't put enough resources into keeping the place clean as they're too busy concentrating on getting more people to visit. Phuket also sells sex as its way of getting the tourists and making money, all to the detriment of its own people. It made me so sad to see the lengths that the locals will go to in order to make money. The sex rooms in the massage parlours, the sex shows on every street, the Thai men on the beach looking for white females - it's everywhere. Again, how the (usually white) men honestly think the gorgeous teenage Thai girl on their arm is remotely attracted to them, never mind in love with them, is beyond me?! How do they not feel embarrassed as they walk around the streets holding the hand of someone who could be their daughter? How do they not feel sad for the girls? How do the girls do it?? It must be that the alternative in the girls' lives is so bad that this is an easier act to follow and an easier life to live. I couldn't get over how sad it all was and how OK so many people were with it. I don't think I'll be rushing back.

Thailand is amazing on the quiet side - Koh Samui absolutely lived up to the "Land of Smiles" name its country has been given, with friendly people who are always willing to help, smiling and bowing at you in thanks. But unfortunately what they don't tell you is that it also has a dark side; crime, drugs, sex trade and corruption in Phuket and Bangkok. Thailand had the highest number of deaths of Aussies overseas in 2012, with 111 fatalities, whereas there were 389 British National deaths in 2013. Britain says that it's the country where its citizens are second most likely to require consular assistance if they visit, behind the Philippines. Scary stuff when you know this and even scarier when you only learn about it after you've been there.

And so, in a flash it was over. My holiday for the year; done and dusted. What a great time, an amazing and beautiful wedding and so good to see my family again! Neilee didn't kill me either (which was an unexpected bonus) and we managed to have a great time, even if I'll be paying my bit off for the rest of the year! Now to plan the next one...

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