It's been a sun-soaked, adventure-packed, super-chilled three weeks I've had here in southern Thailand: first in Ko Tao, and then in Ton Sai. But now, unfortunately, the time has come to say farewell. In just four days' time, I'll be flying home to Sydney; and as such, it's time that I made my way back up to Bangkok. This morning, I said adieu to Ton Sai beach, hopped on a long-tail boat around to Ao Nang, and then caught a sawng thaew (pickup slash shared-taxi) back to Krabi. From there, I was lucky enough to purchase the last ticket on a bus back to Bangkok (via Surat Thani) this evening (my last dodgy Thai "tourist bus"). And after only a few hours of waiting during the day, I was soon on my way, and the return to Bangkok was happening. When I woke up the next morning, familiar (and still overwhelming) Khao San Road was there to greet me.
One last place here on Ko Tao that I've heard good things about, but that I haven't previously visited, is a place called Freedom beach. Since this was my last day on the island, today I tore myself away from yet another trip to Moondance beach, and instead ventured onto new sands. Freedom beach is in the opposite direction from Moondance: it's on the eastern side of Chalok Baan Kao, in a tiny protected bay just in from Chalok's eastern headland. Lovely place, and a great final impression of Ko Tao.
I really should stay longer here in Pai. It's such a nice place. Anyway, despite the great friends that I've got here, and despite the urging of said friends for me to linger, tonight was my final night here: what can I say, except "the south is calling"? This evening, I enjoyed a delicious Thai curry for dinner with Sonny (can't remember the name — but it's one I've never had before), while the two of us engaged in our final heated political debate. Then, it was back to the sewer bar: it left such a good impression on us last night, that we just had to return for more.
If there's one thing you simply must do when you visit Thailand, it's elephant riding. This afternoon, for the grande finale to our Doi Inthanon trek, the 15 of us hopped onto a troop of 7 elephants, and went on a lumbering stroll around the jungle. The seats atop the elephants can only accommodate two persons each: and since we were an odd-numbered group, and everyone else was a pair, I ended up sharing an elephant with the German guys, and straddling the beast's enormous neck. It was a jolly old ride (if a bit uncomfortable for me): it's very impressive how these seemingly clumsy animals can daintily saunter up and down steep, narrow jungle trails; and it's good fun when they walk splashing right across a river, with you getting sprayed on top.
This evening I said farewell to Europe at the same place where I first greeted it: London's Heathrow International Airport. A bit different to Luton airport; and flying Qantas again is also totally different to (and a welcome relief from) flying with Ryanair. So long Europe; Thailand, here we come.
This morning I woke up, to find Jake asleep at the breakfast table — apparently, after last night, him and Mitch managed to flood the bathroom, and the flood spread into the entire lounge-room area. Man, I'm gonna miss those boys, they're the biggest bogans on Earth: I just hope they don't get kicked out of the hostel. I had some brekkie, said goodbye to everyone (especially to my good friends, the crazy Swedes)... and that's it for Kitzbühel! It's been an incredible week: as with my previous week in the snow this year, it's been one of the best weeks of the whole trip. Pity that spending the whole year skiing would send me broke — otherwise, I'd do it in a heartbeat.
It was a long night, and it was a good night. Sadly, it was also my last night: Kitzbühel après-ski, I'm going to miss you! After our fun and games at Snowbunnys, Jake and Mitch, Nikolas and Viktor and myself hit the usual pub crawl route: we started at Flannigans, and then eventually moved on to Highways. Flanny's was mainly about the drinking (and the passive smoking — f$#% that place stinks), and Highways was mainly about the dancing. All of it was about partying like only an Austrian mountain village knows how. I got back at about 4am — considering that Jake and Mitch were asleep on the breakfast table the next morning, I hate to think when the hell they returned.
After four blissfully quiet days on the slopes, the world finally makes sense again: as of today, Kitzbühel has crowds... and lots of 'em! For my final day of skiing this year (seriously — look at the date, will you), I once again got in as much slopes-time as I possibly could. But today, I was battling some fierce hordes on the pistes and in the chairlift queues. Looks like I got in my ski trip just in time, before the rush — if it's going to be like this for the next week, then maybe the fact that I must depart Kitzbühel isn't so bad after all. Maybe... but probably not :P.
As with the previous two nights, my final night here at Yoho in Salzburg was a blast. No need to go out: more than enough fun to be had, simply by "going out downstairs" — and considering the cold, that's the best type of going out you can do around here. Big group, lots of beer-drinking (and mainly "wheat beer", which they have on tap at the Yoho bar, and which I far prefer over other beers), plenty of card-playing, and plenty of laughs. I'm really going to miss this place: and it's hard to believe that my next destination is probably going to be even better! Austria, you're giving me a good run.
This officially marks the end of a major part of my trip. That is, the America part. Because although I'm now 8/12 months through my trip (that's 2/3 through, for those of you that can dredge up your memories of high school mathematics, and of simplifying fractions :P), I've spent the whole time so far in America — whether it be North, South, or Central, it's all "The Americas". Tonight, I fly east over the Atlantic (the first transatlantic trip in my life, I might add), and I leave the Americas behind, to begin my adventures in Europe. It's been great hanging out here — the lack of jetlag for 8 months has been particularly welcome — but the time has come to fly onward, and to start actually making this a round-the-world trip, rather than just an up-and-down-America trip.