Bret’s World Trip – GoPro Videos

Well after four months my around the world trip is over, and after 53 blog posts, I only have one remaining (after this). I wanted to thank everyone who read and followed along with my journey. Connecting with my readers was an incredible experience. I have some wonderful memories and did some ridiculous things. I have met amazing people and developed lifelong friendships. I have been both ecstatic and afraid and have definitely grown as a person. Throughout my journey I tried my best to capture my experiences with my blog, and I hope that these experiences convince other people to take the plunge. Thanks everyone! It was a pleasure. Until my next trip… -The Sweater

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My Trip: Stats, Numbers, and Other Useless Facts

To summarize my trip I was going to write my thoughts in paragraph form, however, I have done enough of that emotional writing over the last four months. I thought I would make it a bit more fun and throw down some ideas via list form.

Total Length of Trip: 124 Days

Number of Countries Visited: 7 – New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Sweden, Norway

Total Number of Miles Traveled: Approx. 34,000 miles

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Number of Flights Taken: 10

Total Cost of Flights: $2,200 ~ Bought most on sale!

Total Cost of Trip: No Clue – I think somewhere around $11,000 to $12,000 ~ maybe more definitely not less

Best Day: Lord of the Rings Trip to Mount. Sunby a.k.a the Capital of Rohan

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Worst Day: Day after the Full Moon Party

Best Excursion: Hobbiton

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Scariest Moment: Bungy Jumping from 440 feet at the Nevis Bungy Jump

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Best Night: Hard to say, but the Full Moon Party was an experience like any other

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Worst Night: Night in Olso with the snorers and the plastic bag man

Number of People Met: Hundreds

Favorite Country: Nearly impossible to say, but I loved Thailand

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Favorite Long Destination: Ko Tao – Small island in the gulf of Thailand

Biggest Regret: None, but I would have done some things differently –

  • In SE I would have relied less on the Hostelworld app and more on word of mouth
  • I moved around too much – spend more time at one location
  • Hotels were nice but I did one too many in S.E. Asia
  • I needed to cook more meals myself (excluding S.E. Asia) since dining out was a fortune

Worst Hangover: 2 – Ferry Ride from Ko Phi Phi to Ko Lanta in rough seas or bus ride from New York City to Washington D.C.

Favorite Country to Tinder In: Sweden.. obviously

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Favorite Travel App: Skyscanner

Favorite Hostel: Travelers’ Oasis, Cairns Australia

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Least Favorite: Dingo’s Backpacker ‘Resort’ Rainbow Beach, Australia

Weirdest Experience: Thai Rap Concert

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Most Awkward Moment: Eating Chinese food in Chinatown, Singapore at a table with all Chinese people while using chopsticks

Most Common Meal: Green Curry in S.E. Asia and McDonald’s everywhere else ~ it was cheap

Most Worn Piece of Clothing: Bathing Suit

Items Lost: Patagonia Jacket, SD GoPro Memory Card, Wool Sock, Nalgene Water Bottle, Shampoo x2, 30% of my Amazon Cloud Photos, sunglasses, flip flops, T-Shirt, and one pair of boxers

Favorite City: Stockholm

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Nicest Accommodation Outside of Hostels: Avista Resort in Phuket or Mansion in Bergen

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Best Scuba Dive: Ko Tao – The coral wasn’t that great but I saw a lot of sea life including an eel, a puffer-fish, and a turtle

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Favorite Mode of Transportation: The Moped

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Favorite Food: Massaman Curry or Muslim India Food (I think?)

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Best Day Hike:  Hike on the Franz Joseph Glacier

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Nationalities That I Spent the Most Time With: Israeli, Swedish, German, Dutch, and English.

Most Difficult Day: Hiking up to the top of Mt. Doom and running the whole Tongariro Crossing

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Best Decision: Deciding to go to S.E. Asia

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Worst Decision: Waiting so long to do this trip and change my life!

 

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The Big Apple, the Capital, and the 757

My flight from Bergen to New York City was rather uneventful. I played Solitaire and watched three movies. I finally arrived in NYC at 8:30 PM completely and absolutely exhausted. While it was only 8:30 PM in NYC, in Bergen it was 2:30 AM. I didn’t get much jet lag my entire trip, but for some reason I was having a tough time with this leg.

Anyway, after a slow departure off the aircraft, I made my way through customs and then onto the NYC subway system. I took the one and half hour ride to my friends’ house in lower Manhattan and  arrived to their neighborhood around 10 PM. I was starving and exhausted. However, because it was getting late, I decided to go to McDonald’s (shocking isn’t it?) and purchase twenty chicken nuggets and one massively large french fry (of course not too large because that would be illegal in NYC).

Following this poor health choice, I made my way to Stefan and Ed’s apartment, buzzed myself in, and took the elevator up to the 8th floor. I got off and slowly proceeded to make my way to my friend’s door not knowing what I would expect. But before this, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an electrician working on the power box at the end of the hall. I was exhausted and the only thought that went through my head was, “Well this is an interesting time for an electrician to be working.” I continued walking to the door, and it wasn’t even five seconds later before I realized that it was not an electrician. Instead it was my friend Ed, commonly referred to as Eggward. Seconds after seeing him I was  greeted by a stiff kick in the rear end. Here I am dead tired, carrying all my gear, and getting kicked in the ass by a freak wearing a hardhat and a bright yellow caution vest. How I have missed my friends….

Following this, I made my way to the door and opened it. I have seen a lot of foul things on my trip especially during my time in Thailand, but the scene that lay before me might have outdone them all. That is all I am going to say about that. After the ‘introductions’ were complete and I had put my belongings down, I was immediately bombarded by a barrage of gin shots chased by the very McDonald’s I was carrying. In between these delicious treats, I chatted with some familiar faces which had become a foreign concept for me. I was happy to see my friends.

After a brief pregame, we decided to head out on the town. Unfortunately the rest of the night is a blur. My friends were feeling generous and with that generosity came strings attached; copious amounts of free shots. The free shots soon turned into wild dancing, fueled conversations, and eventually ended in relative stupor. The next morning I awoke fully dressed sitting upright on Eggward’s couch. It was 12:30 PM. My bus was to leave at 2:00. I felt horrid and reeked of hell.

With the little time I had, I took a quick shower, headed down the stairs, hailed a cab, and made my way to the bus. The bus ride was horrendous. The bus itself was actuality quite nice. It had big seats with a cold and strong AC. It even had Wifi. Though no amounts of amenities could cure the way I was feeling. For six hours the bus lurched towards DC stopping and going in the traffic around it.

Finally it arrived, and despite feeling like I was on death’s format, I had to get my act together. For weeks I have had my parents and my sister in one big hoax about when I was arriving home. I had kept my real intentions a secret this far and didn’t want to mess it up now by carelessly letting some important detail slip.

So unbeknownst to my sister, I arrived into DC around 8:30, but unfortunately my sister wasn’t home. Typical of a DC Sunday afternoon, she was stuck in traffic on her way back from Virginia Beach. In the meantime I hung out with Alia, went to Ragtime, and tried to rebuild my body. After what seemed like hours, my sister texted me to tell me that she was about home. This whole time I was telling her (via text) that I was up late because I was out drinking. Remember she thought I was still in Norway. When I thought she was close, I left Alia’s and made my way to the entrance of my sister’s parking garage. I was wrong in my estimate and sat there for about forty-five minutes before I saw my sister drive by. I was confused that she didn’t pull in the garage so I sent her another odd text, and she responded by saying that she was going to go to Wendy’s. Later I learned that she did notice me on her initial drive by the garage but thought I was some homeless man.

Ten minutes later my sister finally drove back, and as I saw her coming up the the road, I jumped out in front of her car as she was pulling into her garage. By the look on her face, I could see how she thought I was homeless. But once she realized it was her brother, she got out of her car and gave me a big hug.

After a restless sleep on my sister’s couch, I got up and headed to lunch with my friend Alia. Keeping old traditions alive, we decided to go to Chipolte. Usually I ask for extra beans and rice. This time I could barely finish an entire chicken bowl. American sizes are ridiculous. After lunch I made my way to my sister’s work. Thankfully she gave me a ride to the Amtrak station where I boarded a train at 4:30 bound for Norfolk, Virginia.

Now if you recall my parents thought I was still abroad so to get from the train station to my house I had to rely on my old friend Jimmy. And of course, I also had a surprise in store for my parents. In talking with fellow backpackers in some hostel somewhere, I was told a story of brother surprising his sister by making a slideshow of all his travels with the end of the slideshow ending at her front door. Once the slideshow was over, the brother rang the doorbell surprising his sister inside who was watching the slideshow. I like fun projects and thought it was both a cheesy and fun way to surprise my parents. So following suite, I made a slideshow on the train ride home and uploaded it to YouTube.

When I arrived to Norfolk Jimmy picked me up, we drove the outskirts of my house, and I called my parents. I made up this hoax that I had been up all night working on a slideshow that I wanted my parents to watch. Being the loving parents that they are, they proceeded to the computer room to watch the video. Not wanting to wait on the phone while they watched the video, I told them I would call them back once it was done. However, in reality, I used the three minutes and twelve seconds to make a run for my front door. The fates aligned, and precisely at the end of their show, I hit the doorbell.

Here are the results:

With that I had made it home all in one piece… sort of. My four month adventure was over. While I am not off gallivanting around SE Asia anymore, I will not be ending my blog. There are still some loose ends, and as such, I still have several more posts to write including my final thoughts regarding my trip, the Top Ten Things I Learned About Myself While Traveling Alone, some surprises, and my edited GoPro videos. I am working as fast as I can and hope to have these out within the coming weeks!

 

Keep chugging people and thank you everyone for reading!

 

 

 

 

By Losing Everything I Made It – Welcome to Never Never Land: Bergen

After four months of traveling I didn’t think my trip could get any weirder. My time in Bergen changed that.

After my brief stint in Oslo, I boarded a seven hour train ride to Bergen, Norway. Bergen is a small and quaint fishing town nestled between mountains to the east and fjords to the west. The train ride to Bergen was a journey in itself. Hailed as the ‘most scenic’ train ride in all of Europe, the passage from Oslo to Bergen didn’t disappoint. Over the approximate 450 kilometer journey I saw high mountain passes, glaciers, rivers, thundering waterfalls, dark winding tunnels, and massive fjords. My gaze didn’t leave the window the entire time.

When the trip ended, like in every city, I departed the train and made my way to my accommodation. Since hostels in Bergen were even more expensive than in Oslo, I decided to go the CouchSurfing route. A week before I arrived, I was browsing the app and by pure chance I happened to find a location owned by a guy named Stian. Stian had strong positive reviews and from what I could tell he had had many backpackers come stay with him over the previous months so the location seemed rather appealing. I sent him a message explaining who I was was hoping that I would be able to stay at his place. Thankfully in a day’s time he responded yes.

His house wasn’t in Bergen but on Askoy Island, an outlying coastal island about an hour’s bus ride away. After fumbling around for an hour or so I found the correct bus, ticket, and bus stop. The time was 8:30 pm. The bus only ran every hour so for the next forty-five minutes I sat there in anticipation of what was going to come. Finally the bus arrived, I boarded, and began my hour long ride through Bergen’s rural landscape.

With a sudden stop, I arrived at the Hop bus stop. Thankfully Dusan, one the people staying at the house, was there to meet me. I introduced myself, and we proceeded to walk up the steep hill towards the house. After about ten minutes and summiting a mountain, I saw my accommodation for the next three nights, a mansion.

Built in 1793 this was no ordinary house. It was an estate. It had twenty or so rooms. There was a parlor with pool table, a fancy dining room, a massive kitchen, two living rooms flanking a massive foyer, and of course a reading room. To complement the massive house, the estate was situated on a plethora of land. The land had a lake, a massive patio with a fire pit, and several gardens. All I could think was….how did I end up here?

I was still in awe when I finally I entered the house and introduced myself to Stian. Apparently Stian had worked in consulting, and similar to me, had had enough of that type of career when he decided to quit his job. In December 2014, he rented this mansion with the idea of turning it into an open source school for backpackers. Over the next seven or so months, Stian and several others created  ‘The International School of Common Sense.’ The website and subsequent Facebook page are located below:

http://www.askfreeschool.org/

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From what I could gather and with a little help from the website, the school was designed for “people who want to share knowledge, skills and ideas with others from around the world in a communal living environment.” While some of the space is occupied by backpackers, the school does have a some ‘permanents.’ Typically these permanents live at the school for a period of  several months. They teach classes to fellow travelers including but not limited to creative writing, meditation, yoga, guitar, and nature. They also volunteer for the city of Bergen. At the present moment, they were helping the city prepare for a Tall Ships race on the 24th of July. The permanents are also responsible for maintaining the house. They work daily; cooking, cleaning, and working for the betterment of the house. The beauty behind this idea is that there is always a constant coming and going of new people to and from the school. These new people bring new classes and new skills. So while it is always a school, it is always changing.

The rest of the space is designated for CourchSurfers. It was hard to figure out, but from I could tell, there were usually anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five people in the house at a time. I hate to use the cliche of ‘hippie commune’ to describe what Stian has built, but it definitely had more of that vibe than that of a tradition hostel. Regardless of what you call it, the setup was amazing, the people were fantastic, and my experience there was unique and exhilarating.

The night I arrived was Stian’s 28th birthday and as such I was greeted with a free rum & coke, a draft beer, and some birthday cake. After a brief chat with Stian he gave me a tour of the house and showed me my room. Turns out I would be sharing a room with an Estonia couple and two Spanish girls on the first floor in the southwest corner of the house. I didn’t stay in the room long. I left to join the party.

I meandered around the house and soon met a Norwegian, John Arna, and his German girlfriend; name can’t remember. John doesn’t live in the house, but down the road maybe fifteen minutes away. For prominent occasions he comes over. In our discussions I learned that most native ‘Bergenians’ don’t believe him when he tells them of his adventures at the house. After talking with the couple, I ran into another permanent, Nicole. Originally from California, Nicole was currently in Bergen visiting family and working at the house. Her specialty was yoga and mediation.  Curious, I picked her brain over exactly what she does. Over the course of an hour we chatted about yoga, mediation, the house, politics, and personal property rights. During this conversation, I learned that the house had a nickname, ‘Never Never Land.’ That nickname made perfect sense for a mansion filled with kids living in a communal harmony.

Following this conversation and brief pool match, I went into the foyer and met a group from Washington DC. They all went to JMU and were on a brief three week vacation around Norway. Experienced travelers, they were also in awe of what they happened to stumble upon. We ended up chatting for maybe thirty minutes before I decided to head to bed. I had enough excitement for the day. While I went to bed, the rest decided to head to the lake for brief swim.

The next morning I made my way into town and spent the whole day traversing the old city and wharf of Bergen. I don’t think I need to describe just how beautiful it was. I will let the pictures below do it justice. By the time I was finished taking in the sights in it was nearing 7 pm. I made my way to the train station to meet Annabelle.

If you can recall, I first met Annabelle in Stockholm mostly during our intellectual sunset conversation. My last day in Stockholm was also Annabelle’s last day. I went to Oslo, Annabelle went to Helsinki via the ferry. After Helsinki, Annabelle was going to Bergen. Since our time in Bergen overlapped, we planned to meet up. Prior to her arrival in Bergen, she had texted me saying that she was having some difficulty finding accommodation in Bergen. I informed her about the mansion so she sent Stian a message and he accepted.

Since she was staying at the mansion and I had such difficultly working the bus system, I thought I would meet her at the train station to help find her way to the house. Also let’s be honest, I wanted to impress her with my acquired ‘knowledge’ of Bergen. Turn’s out she had met a fellow Norwegian from Bergen on the train who had a superior knowledge of the city. Upon her arrival, he showed us directly to the bus station, the one right next to the train station (I didn’t even know that one existed), and within five minutes we were on the correct bus with the correct tickets. Damn.

That night most of the people were dead from the following evening so everyone was taking it easy. Though while people weren’t drinking there was still a lot of fun to be had. Also staying in the mansion were a group of professional jugglers. They were originally from the US but were in Europe for the ‘European Juggling Convention’ which was being held in Ireland for 2014.  From our conversation, I learned that this convention is the largest juggling convention in the world. Jugglers and non-jugglers from all over the world come to learn and teach new skills. They had arrived early and were traveling a tad bit in Europe beforehand. I’m glad they did because for the next three hours they performed acts for us and gave us personal lessons on the basics of juggling (which isn’t very basic at all). I didn’t participate but instead spent the whole time filming. It started to get dark.. sort of, so we eventually all made our way inside. I went to play pool but maybe ten or so people went into the kitchen. In twenty minutes or so, I began to hear a lot of laughter so I proceeded into the kitchen to see what was the commotion. Annabelle and maybe nine others were busy hitting balloons up into the air. Apparently it was a game and the rule was that the balloon couldn’t hit the ground. I decided to join them. Soon we had maybe thirty balloons flying all over the kitchen. To be fair this balloon exercise was rather tiring, and after about thirty minutes of this I went to bed. I had to get some rest, the next day Annabelle and I had a ‘big’ hike planned.

I awoke just in time for the 12 PM bus and Annabelle and I hurried into the city. The hike was to the top of Mount. Ulriken, the tallest mountain in Bergen. At 2,100 feet, the mountain isn’t actually that high. Still it goes from sea level to 2,000 feet so it is a challenging hike nonetheless. The top is also free of trees so the views are stunning. It took us about an hour or so to hike up, and once on the top, we spent three or so hours resting, chatting, and taking in the sun. Soon we headed back down and made our way to the fish market. I settled for Burger King since it was the cheapest option. Annabelle went for the fish platter. It was $32 USD, but in hindsight, I think I would have paid it. It looked wonderful. Thankfully she let me have some.

Afterwards we took the bus back to the mansion. It was the last night of being abroad, and I was sort of feeling sad and relieved at the same time.  I didn’t do much that night other than slowly pack my things while thinking and reflecting on my past four months. It was a weird anomaly. At that moment I had very little money, I had worn the same shorts for weeks, and had very few possessions in my backpack. Yet, I somehow was staying in a beautiful mansion on top of a beautiful mountain with a beautiful woman overlooking the beautiful bay surrounding beautiful Bergen. I literally had nothing, but somehow I had everything.  No where in my travels have I felt so at peace and so scared at the same time. I had everything and was going to lose everything at once. It was one of the weirdest feelings of my life.

Sadly the night turned into the following day, and I slowly said my goodbyes. This was one of my toughest goodbyes particularly because I had met fantastic people at the mansion, and I knew there would be no more random meetings with amazing strangers. Plus I had to say goodbye to Annabelle. Over the last week I had really grown fond of her. Though we were mostly opposite in mostly about everything, we still got along pretty well. With one final hug and kiss, my time abroad was over.

The House:
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View from the Toilet:
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Plankton – Sponge Bob’s Square Pants
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Annabelle’s Fish Platter
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Bret Goes to Oslo

From Stockholm I boarded a 6-hour train to Oslo, Norway. I only spent one full day in Oslo, but in hindsight I wish I would have spent more.  Despite being ultra pricey (a Big Mac is $18 USD), Oslo is an extremely lovely city filled with rivers, peaceful bays, beautiful people, and lush green parks. Once I arrived, I thankfully only had a five or so minute walk to my hostel. Like everything in Norway, hostels are extremely expensive, and this hostel was no exception. For a six bedroom dorm, HostelWorld, my booking app for the iPhone, wanted $64 per night! Obviously, it is expensive to stay in downtown Oslo, and of course, I could have stayed further outside of town for less; maybe $40 to $50 per night. But public transportation in Oslo is expensive, and after doing the math, I realized that I would have lost the savings in transportation costs.  Still I was fed up with HostelWorld’s prices, so I decided to search elsewhere.  On Booking.com I found the same room, listed as a ‘male dormitory’ for $50 so I booked that. Booking on a different site sort of caused me to have a minor panic attack. Had the prices on Booking.com always been so much lower than HostelWorld’s?

Turns out, they weren’t. Booking.com put me in the twelve bed all male dorm… fantastic. Still despite sharing a room with twelve other males, I was quite relieved to find out that I wasn’t getting ripped off for my entire trip. But still… it was a twelve person MALE dorm. Hello to a night of hell!

The first disturbance occurred at 2 am.  Two gentlemen came in with loaded bags and suitcases. Instead of getting ready in the dark like considerate people do, these two morons turned on the lights.  For thirty minutes, I and the other sleepers were showered with white florescent lighting.  That passed but thirty minutes later another guy came in. He didn’t turn the lights on, but got into the bed next to me. He had severe asthma and sounded as if he had just run a marathon. I asked him several times if he was okay. When he wasn’t breathing heavy and finally asleep, he was snoring. To top things off, he put his clothes in a plastic bag and used that as a pillow.

Plastic bag pillow guy… I need to add that to my list of people you don’t want in your hostel.

Lastly, the guy to my left was also a snorer.  I think I slept three hours that night. I awoke myself the next morning at 8 am and immediately went downstairs and asked for an upgrade to the six bedroom dorm. I didn’t care how much it was going to cost me. Surprising, they upgraded me to a six bedroom dorm, free of charge.

After my ‘free’ breakfast, I packed my things and headed to get coffee with Maddie, ten minutes north of the city. I meant Maddie through the Courchsurfing App. For those of you who do not know, Couchsurfing is hospitality exchange website. It is designed for poor backpackers like myself who need a place to stay for free. You build a profile on it, and upon traveling to foreign cities, you send local hosts a message with a request to stay at their apartment. If your a good fit, they accept, and you literally end up sleeping on their couch. It also works in the opposite direction. When you are not traveling, you can host travelers from all around the world. It is a brilliant app.

I had sent Maddie a message earlier that week, but unfortunately, they were unable to host me because they didn’t have the space. Still, because we are both travelers and had a lot in common via our profiles, she asked if I wanted to join her for coffee. Meeting the locals is always fun, so of course, I said yes. I met Maddie at a local cafe, and from the moment we met, Maddie and I acted as if we were old friends.

Maddie, along with her two other roommates, are from Sweden and are currently living in Norway. Like me, they also love to travel. To finance their traveling passions, they all work in Norway. While Norway is more expensive than Sweden, you make a lot more money in Norway. In fact, it is common for many Swedes to come to Norway just for work. Also during our coffee date, I learned that they didn’t have any room because at that moment they were three girls sharing a one bedroom apartment. Maddie along with a friend shared a bed in the main bedroom. The other roommate was on a bed in den.  ammed right next to this bed was the couch for Couch Surfers.

Upon learning about this living arrangement, all I could think about was Collin’s trip to America in the film, ‘Love Actually.’ For those of you who haven’t seen this film – the clip is here. Scroll to 2:39.  God I’m awful.

Despite these space limitations, I still didn’t see any problem…

We ended up chatting for an hour and a half before we took a brief walk around Oslo. Our three hour conversation ended when Maddie had to go to work. I guess we got a long pretty well because by the end of the conversation, she offered for me to sleep on their couch for my remaining night in Oslo. Unfortunately, I had already booked my hostel and had to decline the request. But I did need to do laundry, and laundry was $20 in the hostel.  Thankfully, Maddie was kind enough to let me do my laundry in her apartment free of charge! We planned to meet the following morning.

I spent the afternoon doing what I usually do – walking.  From 1 until 7 I walked. I saw the castle, some churches, some famous park, Norwegian architecture, a Viking museum, and Embassy Row.  I ended my walk at this peninsula connected to downtown Oslo via a ferry.  I had no cash on me to get back via the ferry, and the walk around would have taken me another two hours. Looking like a homeless man pays off, and the first mate on the ferry took pity on me by offering me a free ride.

That evening I went to this Kebab place where I watched the Brazil v. Germany soccer match.  I was dead tired from the night before and passed out early. The following morning I awoke early and headed to Maddie’s to do my laundry. I didn’t have much time because at noon I had to catch a train to Bergen, a coastal city west of Oslo. Luckily my laundry didn’t take long because apparently in Norway, they don’t have dryers. Wet clothes in my bag didn’t bother me because wet clean clothes for free are a hundred times better that dry clothes for $20. While doing laundry Maddie and I went for another walk. During this time, I also met one of her other roommates. As an amusement to myself, I also hacked into their Wifi router with my phone and changed their network name to ‘BretistheBest.’ Childish I know, but at least they won’t forget me!  Sadly noon quickly approached, I left their house and made my way to the station. I soon was on a slow train to Bergen.

 

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Home Sweet Stockholm

After a long but relatively enjoyable flight from Thailand, I touched down in Stockholm’s Arlanda airport at 4 pm. Bangkok to Sweden was quite the shock. Relative to Thailand, everything was so clean. There also wasn’t a terrible stench in the air, and the weather was not too hot and not too cold. It was perfect. Plus the people were beautiful. Sweden was turning out to be everything I dreamed it would be.

After the initial shock of being in a developed country wore off, I slowly made my way to downtown Stockholm. I was dead tired, but upon arrival to my hostel, I decided to go out to dinner with my roommate; a lawyer from Korea. Despite costing me a fortune, I ordered a traditional Swedish dish that was delicious. What happened to green curry for $2 USD? After my overpriced dinner, I went back to the hostel and went to bed.

The next morning I awoke at 9 am and went to the grocery store to purchase groceries for my remaining days in Stockholm. This took me some time since everything was in Swedish. After finding the necessary basic foods to survive, I went back to the hostel and had my first bowl of cereal in seven weeks. Corn flakes never tasted so good.

The plan for that day was to meet Louise for coffee and have a brief tour of Old Town Stockholm. Louise is native of Stockholm, and I first met her in the YHA hostel in Airlie Beach, Australia. I messaged her on WhatsApp to let her know I was in Stockholm, and from that I soon had a friend in a strange and foreign city. During my travels in Australia, I also met other other Swedish people, but unfortunately they were either out of town or still traveling abroad. Meeting people all over the world is one of the many beauties of traveling. One day I just may need to do a Euro trip to visit them all.

I was supposed to meet Louise at 2 pm in Gamla Stan or Old Town downtown Stockholm, but I arrived early and went to one of Old Town’s small coffee shops and ordered a latte for $6 USD. Louise soon joined, and we spent thirty or so minutes sipping on lattes and chatting like old friends. Afterwards we walked around Old Town and visited the King’s castle. Our walk didn’t last long, and we soon found ourselves back in yet another cafe drinking lattes and conversing. Sadly Louise had to leave at 4:30 pm, but before she left she invited me out with all her Swedish friends the following night.

Once alone, I spent the afternoon and early evening walking around Stockholm. During the summer, it doesn’t really ever get dark so you can pretty much sightsee for twenty four hours straight. I didn’t have a map and used this opportunity to wander wherever I pleased without any agenda or goal. If something looked interesting, I walked to it. I have done this aimlessly walking strategy a lot on this trip and have really enjoy it mostly because you get to see a lot of things off the tourist path. Furthermore I have concluded that I really enjoy visiting cities by myself. You can do whatever you like, no negotiating or compromising. Whenever I get a job (ha) and have vacation time, I am going to have no problem taking trips by myself. In fact, I will probably prefer them.

After the walk, I headed back to my hostel. It was an eight person room, but only three of the beds were taken – paradise. That night I met a fellow American named Sydney. Sydney was in Stockholm for almost a month studying Swedish and living the life. We chatted for a bit before I went to bed. The next morning, Friday morning, I headed out for another day of hiking. I am nearing my budget for this trip, and being that museums cost money, I took to the free alternative; walking. Like the previous afternoon, I spent whole day wandering around Stockholm. My favorite place was Djurgârden island. It is basically a massive park with hiking trails scattered all over. I spent many hours hiking and sitting by the river watching the boats parade by.

I came back to the hostel around 6 pm and found my room almost entirely empty; just Sydney and I were left. Shocking since this was a Friday night. Still the quietness was a nice reprieve from the usual packed hostels. My plan for the night was to pregame at the hostel and then meet Louise and her friends out at bars. But before that I went to the front desk to try to extend my time in Stockholm. I was particularly enjoying Stockholm and didn’t want to leave Saturday morning. Upon my inquiry, I was told by reception that Sydney had beaten me to it and the rest of the beds were already taken by a group of seven arriving Saturday morning. Thankfully I could extend, I just had to change rooms on Saturday morning.

Relieved I didn’t have to move hostels, I went back to the room and pregamed with Sydney and another German girl we met in the kitchen of our hostel. After several hours in the hostel, I finally met up with Louise and her two other beautiful friends in line at a ritzy club in downtown Stockholm.

From talking to the front desk at my hostel, I learned that after 12 in Stockholm, it is almost impossible to get into clubs. The lines are long, and they charge an extremely high cover charge. Fittingly, the club we were at had a massive line. Still I was a guy with three beautiful girls, I didn’t think I would have any problem. But in a country where the majority of people are beautiful, my perceived ‘advantage’ had little if any effect on my ability to party. After sitting in line for twenty minutes and not moving, we decided to go to Spitfire. Spitfire is a bar similar to Brass Monkey in Washington DC. They play all types of music but they focus primarily on Swedish hits from the past fifteen years. It was way too packed, and everyone there was smashed. It was my kind of place. We ended up staying there until 3 am. In that time, I danced, chatted to various Swedes, and chatted with one of the bar’s employees, Lovisa. I told her I wanted to move to Sweden and needed a job. She told me I could open and close the doors for guests. I tried for ten minutes but got bored and left my post. Soon I was tired and headed home to bed.

Around 11 am the next morning I was awoken by a group of beautiful blondes entering my room. I was half asleep and literally thought I was in a dream. The first girl, whose name I can’t remember, was standing right next to my bed when I fully awoke. I didn’t have my contacts in, and all I could make out was blonde hair and black cat ears. I mumbled hello, exchanged a few courtesies, and quickly put my contacts on. From what I could tell, it was the group of seven that was suppose to arrive Saturday morning. Curious, I struck up some more conversation and was soon informed that they were all Finland on a bachelorette party. Continuing they asked me were I was from and told me that they all had several challenges to complete. One particular challenge was for the bride to receive sex tips from as many nationalities possible. Here I am wearing only my boxers, hungover, and was just asked by a group of seven women for sex tips. With them all looking at me, I felt right in the moment; the pressure was on. What was I going to say? In my defining moment all I got out was a confused “huh?” I was so nervous and taken by surprise I couldn’t even pronounce “huh” correctly. I slurred that too. Fail.

Soon the girls left for the city, and I packed my things and moved into another room for my last two nights. Sydney, if you are reading this, I still do not forgive you from taking my room. But, in all seriousness, out of every negative comes a positive. My new room was great. I met loads of new and interesting people. There was Julia from Brazil – sorry for the loss! Next were Ryan and Steven, two guys from California. Next was professional pianist (I can’t remember her name) who plays for opera and pit. Then there was Annabelle, an Australian studying to be a doctor. In the other room was a guy (missing name again) from Norfolk, Virginia. He went to the University of Texas but left early to travel and work his way around the world. At the moment he was teaching himself computer code from textbooks he ripped online. Good for him – why pay $40,000 a year to go college when he can do it for free. Last was this Irish guy who manages restaurants in London. He was on vacation viewing competition and possibly scoping out other places to live.

After moving beds, I spent the majority of the day planning the next several weeks. That afternoon I went for another walk in to see the some viewpoint over the river. Afterwards I casually drank beers in the hostel withAnnabelle and Sydney. Being Saturday night in Sweden, we all decided to go out on the town. Sydney wanted to see this Swedish band “Like Swimming” so all of us followed her to the bar. There was a steep cover, so me and the American guys decided to stay upstairs and watch some of the World Cup.

After an hour of soccer, we headed back down. The concert was almost over and the bouncers weren’t charging a cover so we went in. Next thing I knew I found myself in a grungy basement listening to a Swedish hipster band with other hipster Swedes. I only heard two songs, but I actually enjoyed their music. I was feeling pretty good at the end of the concert and decided to introduce myself to the lead guitarist. Assuming that all fans ask him the same thing, I asked him “has any fan ever asked you something remarkable; something unforgettable?” He said “no, no one has.” We finished our conversation literally chatting a little more about nothing.

After the concert our group wanted to go to another bar. It was past 12 so clubs were out of the question. No one knew were to go, so knowing one bar, I suggested Spitfire. There were no objections so we went. After about thirty minutes in the bar, Annabelle and Sydney were feeling tired and went home. Me and the Americans continued to party.

Walking around the bar I ran into Sarah, one of Louise’s friends and chatted with her for a good while. Afterwards, I ran into Lovisa, the employee I had chatted with the previous night. Immediately seeing me she asked if I was back to try my door job again. We continued chatting for a bit, and on a whim, I asked her out for drinks the following night. She said yes and gave me her contact details. With that, I left the bar and went to bed.

The next day I spent the morning finalizing some details on my trip. That afternoon, I went another long walk starting at 2 and ending at 7 pm. I walked mostly along Stockholm’s rivers and waterways. During this time, I also messaged Lovisa. Turns out she had a work party that night and wouldn’t be able to get drinks. She invited me to join, but I couldn’t go bring myself to go back Spitfire for the third night in a row. Plus it would have been all her work colleges and me. We tried to reschedule, but sadly I was leaving the next day for Oslo. Oh well!

When I got back to the hostel, I made myself a quick bowl of cereal. My plan for the evening was to go this overlook to watch the sun slowly fade over the river and Old Town Stockholm. While I was eating cereal, Annabelle was also in the kitchen preparing herself dinner. I asked her if she wanted to join me. She said yes and soon we made our way to the overlook. We found a bench, sat and talked all while watching the scenery play out our eyes.

Watching the sunset with Annabelle was of my favorite moments in all of Scandinavia thus far. It was one moments that you don’t want to end and while they are occurring you think forward to how sad you will be when this moment does end. The company was great, the weather was perfect, and the conversation was stimulating and intellectual. I felt alive and in the moment, cliche yes, but that is what life is all about.

After maybe two hours we got up and walked around Old Town. Afterwards we made our way back to the hostel and went to bed. My last day in Stockholm was over.

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Bangkok: A Cultural Experience

If this is even possible, Bangkok might have been one of the most interesting and most awful places I have ever been. Before we get to Bangkok, let’s rewind a bit. Unfortunately I had to leave Ko Tao after spending fourteen days in paradise. I had no choice for two reasons. First my visa for Thailand was about to expire. Second my flight out Thailand was scheduled for the 2nd of July. Anymore delay, and I would miss my flight and face a penalty. Sadly, I boarded my two hour ferry and subsequent six hour bus for Bangkok.

I arrived in Bangkok around 9pm and took a taxi to my hostel. I had been in Bangkok for less than ten minutes before I was already scammed. The taxi should have been no more than 50 baht, but I ended paying 200 baht. I learned my lesson quickly, and luckily it didn’t happen again. Upon arriving at my hostel, which was surprisingly nice, I chatted with a few people, prepared my things, had delicious Pad Tai with shrimp, and went to bed.

The next morning I awoke and spent the day traversing Bangkok with Emily, a fellow American whom I had met the previous night. We spent the morning touring the Grand Palace and the ‘Laying Down Buddha’ statue. Two temples were enough for me, and we spent the afternoon on a short river cruise around old Bangkok. Later that evening, I went to a McDonalds where I proceeded to purchase two massive meals and an ice cream.

Following this Emily and I took a tuk tuk to one of Bangkok’s central and massive malls. A tuk tuk is basically a tricycle with a big bench in the back to sit on. They can’t be the safest form of transportation; no doubt an accident would have been devastating. But still, they were a blast.

We went to the mall with the intention of seeing a movie in one of Bangkok’s world class movie theaters. Apparently before each movie, the theater is required to play the King of Thailand’s national anthem which is accompanied by a hilarious montage of pictures of the king and his adoring fans weeping at his presence. During this montage, all movie goers, regardless of nationality, have to stand to pay respects to the king. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see a movie, and subsequently I didn’t get to see the royal montage. Of the twenty theaters in the movie complex only three were playing something other than Transformers 4. I had no desire to see Transformers 4 and left.

After our disappointing movie experience, Emily and I headed back to the hostel. I rested briefly, gained a second wind, and decided to go out on Ko San road. Ko San road, a well known backpacker destination in Bangkok, is a road where the east meets the west. Lining the street are shops and eateries. All the junk Thailand is famous for selling is also on this road. So are McDonalds, KFC’s, Thai restaurants, and, of course, alternative food stalls where one can purchase fried cockroaches, scorpions, and other various insects. Scattered between the shops and restaurants are massage parlors where for a specific price you can purchase just about any type of massage imaginable.

Despite all these things, the two things that took up the majority of the street space were bars and men advertising Ping Pong Shows. The first is pretty self-explanatory. The latter is not. Instead of me trying to explain a Ping Pong Show, I think the picture below will give a much better description of the acts performed. Also the girl in the photo is Emily and is NOT a performer. Sadly we paid 10 baht for this photo (or 30 cents).

After walking up and down the street several times, we sat down at a bar to watch some of the World Cup. Here we met three other guys. I can’t remember their names but one was from Spain, the other Afghanistan, and the third from England. Little did I know that this random meeting would bring me into a wild night.

After a brief introduction,we all ordered beer. Emily, after finishing her beer, felt tired and decided to go back. Following suite, the Afghan soon left to smoke weed that he just purchased from some Thai guy on the street, and the Spanish guy took his absence and disappeared into a club never to be seen again. That left me and this British guy watching soccer at the bar. At the conclusion of the game, we decided to head to another bar up street. We ordered a couple Long Island Ice Teas and started chatting up some English girls. While in line ordering my second cocktail, I overheard a guy in the line saying that he was from Arlington, Virginia. I butted into the conservation abrupty and introduced myself. Turns out they were a group of four guys that had just graduated from the University of Virginia. To celebrate, they were on a month long trip to Thailand. After we received our drinks, the four joined me back at our table. We chatted for about thirty minutes and soon concluded that we all had had enough of the bar. We didn’t want to call it a night, so we convinced ourselves that it was a good idea to go to Sui Cowboy, the infamous GoGo bar opened in Bangkok by an American ex-solider after the Vietnam war. It was located in the heart of the red light district. The time was 2 am.

To get there the six of us went out in the street to find a cab. We couldn’t find a cab for the right price and ended up negotiating for ten minutes before we settled on a tuk tuk ride with six people. Usually you can barely fit three.

The ride was an uncomfortable twenty minutes, but thankfully we made it in one piece. Ironically our location was right next to both the Hilton and the Westin Hotels. Such excellent city planning…. We never found Sui Cowboy, but we did find a street littered with strip clubs, food stalls, people, and other alternative stores. We entered our first strip club at 2:40 am. Other than the plethora of Thai women (and trust me they were women), the club was mostly empty. We ordered a beer and proceeded to watch the show. About ten minutes into the show, I noticed that all the women had numbers on their chests. They also kept waving their finger at me to come to them. I soon put these two oddities together and realized that we weren’t in a strip club but a brothel. Apparently there isn’t a distinction in Thailand.

Twenty minutes into the show or 3 am, the weirdest thing happened. The club closed. I assumed that such a fine establishment would stay open all night. I guess the curfew was still in effect for some parts of Bangkok. We finished our beers, got up, and left.

Of course, not only did the guests leave, the dancers did too. Since there were few guests and dozens of strip clubs, within ten minutes of our departure, the entire street was filled with Thai beauties. Males on the street were easily outnumbered ten to one. Three of the UVa guys were uneasy from the moment we got in the tuk tuk to go to Sui Cowboy, and they quickly took this opportunity to hail a cab back to the hostel. One of them, who was adamant about seeing all sides of Bangkok, decided to continue onward with us. So for the next thirty or so minutes me, the British guy, and one of the UVa guys wandered the streets of seedy Bangkok at 3 am. One of my better decisions in life. During this time I was approached by more women than I can count. Don’t worry mom I said “no!” In addition to the women, I was also relentlessly approached by little kids begging for money. Even worse there were mothers laying on the street, pretending to be asleep, holding their newborns with a cup asking for money.

From what I am told, all of this is just one big act. The children are “rented” from Cambodia by the mob. They pull in thousands of baht a night and all that goes right into the pockets of organized crime. I don’t know how accurate that is, but I do know, that while Thailand does have a lot of beautiful things to offer to this world, there is also a frightening dark side. Upon reflection, I can only think that after seeing such spectacle before me, of how happy and blessed I am to be brought up the way I was. I am grateful for my family, living in the USA, being free, and everything that has thus happened so far in my life. Sometimes a does of the harsh realities of this world is something we all need. Soon we had had enough and took a cab back to our respective hostels. My experiment with Thailand’s dark side was over and will stay over.

The next day, I awoke and spent the morning drinking coffee. It was my last day in Thailand, and I needed gifts to take home. I took a river taxi to this massive clothing mall, but despite the endless corridors of clothes, I couldn’t find anything. I then went back to McDonalds, and while eating my cheeseburger, I noticed I was near the movie theater and decided to try my go at another movie. I was in perfect time for “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and to stand up to pay my respects to the king. After the movie, which was quite good, I went back to Ko San Road and purchased an assortment of junk to give to my family.

The next morning I got up early and made my way to the airport to board a twelve hour flight to Stockholm. My travels in SE Asia were done.

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Wasting Away in Ko Tao

Hello friends. It has been awhile. Sorry for the long pause. This blog post took me several days to type. The first part was written sitting on a plane making my way to Stockholm, Sweden. The second part was in my hostel in Sweden. The third was at a cafe by the river in Stockholm. Finally the fourth was written hungover in the kitchen of my hostel. Thank you Ashley Williams (Doucette) for forcing me to continue writing. Also I apologize for the obvious lack of continuity in this post. It is a miracle authors can write a novel over several years. I could barely do a post in four days. Still, over these four months, I am pretty impressed with myself for actually keeping my blog relatively up-to-date. I need to give a thank you to all my readers! You have made blogging both a fun and enjoyable experience.

Anyway back to the islands….

I arrived on Ko Tao on the 16th of June. My original plan was to stay on the island for three days, do some diving, and then head up to Chiang Mai to do some jungle trekking. Well I ended up staying fourteen days. Since those fourteen days are mostly a blur now, it is impossible for me to backtrack and give you a detailed description of what I did each day. Instead I will try to focus on the highlights.

The first part of my stint on Ko Tao began mostly in insolation as I, once again, decided to stay in a hotel. Feeling hungry my first night, I decided to go out to dinner alone. I was thoroughly engrossed in my book and my green curry when, by happenstance, I noticed a cute blonde sitting at the table next to me also eating alone. Making eye contact, we briefly exchanged hello’s. She seemed normal, so taking a chance, I proceeded to pick up my half eaten dish and relocated myself to her table. Luckily we had a lot in common, and for the next several hours we chatted about almost everything. Her name was Antonela, and while she was originally from Croatia, she had lived in Germany since she was a kid. This random meeting was different from most. Obviously you meet A LOT of people traveling alone. To survive mentally, you have to be outgoing and be willing to talk to anyone. Though, despite the continual flood of new faces, it is not very often that you really connect with someone. Antonela was one of the few. We ended our four hour conversation at 12:30 am, mostly, because the next morning I had to get up at 5:45 a.m. to go diving. I probably could have kept talking all night.

The diving the next day was fantastic. I was extremely lucky and was able to see a broad diversity of sea life including a massive turtle and several eels. My dive adventure ended at 11 am, and I spent the afternoon driving around the island on a moped with Antonela.

The moped adventure was quite the experience. No I didn’t crash, but the roads, some of which were all dirt, were quite treacherous. Thailand engineers must not believe in switchbacks since a majority of the roads just went straight over the mountains. Some were so steep that with two people on the bike, the brakes could barely stop us going downhill. I have learned a lot since my incident on Ko Lanta and wasn’t so much worried about crashing. Instead I was terrified of putting a scratch in the moped. In Thailand, and especially Ko Tao, renting a moped can be a huge scam. If you put any scratch, no matter how small, on the moped, you have to pay for the entire cost of the replacement part. This business model allows them to make money when they rent you the bike for only $3 USD a day.

Anyway while going down was quite the challenge, going up was even more difficult. Some hills were so steep that the moped couldn’t make it up with both of us on it. Being the gentleman I am, I made Antonela walk. I had no choice, I was the one who signed to drive. The views and the hidden beaches found while cruising the island were comparable to those seen on postcards. Plus I had a cute blonde on the back of my moped. I was in paradise.

That night Antonela and I went to this Thai conservation festival on the island. Plastic rubbish, especially plastic bags, are ruining Thailand’s beaches. This festival was designed to bring awareness to this issue. The main act at the festival’s concert was this Thai rapper. I never really got his name, but to me, he sounded like a mixture of Jay Z, Fergi, and Enrique Iglesias. Apparently this guy is a big name in Thailand. I would estimate that at the concert there were probably several thousand people of which the majority were Thai. The music was interesting and so was accompanying Thai dancing. Though the best part of going to the concert was that, despite being forty feet from the stage, I had absolutely no trouble seeing. Love being tall in a short country.

Unfortunately after the concert, one of those typical European DJs came on; the kind that drops the same beat over and over and over again. Twenty minutes in I decided to leave. I said my goodbyes to Antonela and just like that, my one and half day friendship was over.

I can’t remember what I did the next morning, but it probably involved drinking copious amounts of coffee. Coffee like booze on the island was cheap, was everywhere, and was very tasty. I saw to it that I rekindled my addiction.

The biggest change that occurred over the next several days was that I decided that I had had enough Bret time. My self-reflection days were over. It was time to move back into a hostel. I am glad I did. Over the course of the next few days, I meant and befriended several people. First were these two Australian guys who were on Ko Tao for holiday. I met them only briefly. Two days later they were gone. The next person was Josh, a New Zealander traveling the globe for a whole year. Then there was Tom, an English guy who was in Thailand for three weeks on vacation. Tom was one of the unluckiest people I have ever met. On his third day in Thailand, his expensive sunglasses were stolen from him . Also on the third day, he forgot to put the correct case on his secondhand GoPro. We went cliff jumping and the GoPro was soon filled with water. That day he also dropped it, on accident, off the cliff. The GoPro sank thirty feet down. Luckily we were able to retrieve it but it didn’t change the fact that it was still water logged. To replace his damaged GoPro he purchased a brand new Hero 3+ the following day. Apparently the waterproof housing was defective on his new GoPro, and on the first time in water the case leaked. His brand new GoPro was destroyed.

There was also Lotte, a Danish girl that sounded 100% Australian. Last were Elliott and Shannon, an English couple traveling for eight months together. They were only three weeks in but already seemed like seasoned travelers. Over the next week or so, this group, in some shape or fashion, all hung out together, having mini adventures here and there.

One of our first adventures was mopeding. This time I had the moped to myself. I drove pretty wild, scared myself shitless, and had a blast. We ended the afternoon snorkeling and cliff jumping.

Our group also went out most nights. Some nights hard. Others easy. I liked Ko Tao because it wasn’t too big and it had watering holes to suit all personalities. You could go wild or take it easy. My favorite bar was Fizz. It was right on the beach and only served swanky cocktails. At four dollars a cocktail, I had no choice but to spend most of my evenings there sipping on Pina Coladas and Bahama Mammas while watching the sunset.

One night we all went out particularly hard. I made my way around the bar flirting and chatting up the Europeans. I was feeling confident and walked up to these two English girls sipping helium out of balloons near the bar. I though it would be fun to join them so I struck up conversation by asking them “How much for the balloon?” They replied “Three Hundred Baht (or $3 USD).” I laughed and said “Why the hell would you pay that much for helium?!” They countered quickly. “Why don’t you stop asking and try it then.” So I did.

After purchasing the balloon, I took a long, slow, and deep breath in. I looked at one of the girls and tried to open my mouth to speak. But before I could, my existence started to melt into nothing, she became distant, and I was flying. I was on drugs.

Turns out it wasn’t helium after all. It was NOS or Laughing Gas. It only lasted thirty seconds but it was sure one hell of a fun ride. Still that will be my one and only time doing NOS. I can’t imagine how many braincells I destroyed doing that. Bret’s naivety strikes again!

Another particular day, Josh and I went sailing on a Laser sailboat that we rented for about $30 USD between the two of us. Josh, an avid sailer, was the captain. Knowing nothing, I was mostly along for the ride. The day and wind were perfect. Of course, that changed about halfway through our trip when the wind became quite gusty. On one particular gust, I was leaning over the side of the boat getting some GoPro video, when a wave came up and took me right off the boat. With the weight of me gone, the boat soon capsized. Josh seemed pretty angry, but the resulting video was worth it. In total, we capsized three times. Only once was my fault.

Also during that day someone stole my flip-flops while I was eating lunch. Thai culture states that your feet are the dirtiest part of your body. As such, you have to leave your shoes outside whenever entering a restaurant. Unfortunately I was about two and half miles from the room when the heist occurred. While traversing the island barefoot, I burned my heel on some hot pavement. I stumbled back to my hostel, changed clothes (aka put a different tank top on), and walked to Fizz. Jimmy Buffett – I can relate to you now.

Another adventure – I went Scuba diving at night. The dive was good, though it could have been easily called a ‘dusk’ dive since only the last ten or so minutes of the dive were actually in the dark. Also my guide was a douche. I don’t use that word often but to describe his personality, there is no substitute. He was one of those people that the sport of diving has gone to his head.

If I had anything negative to say about Ko Tao, it would be these people. They are small in numbers but large in egos. To them diving isn’t a fun hobby but a serious activity requiring hardened skills and strong resolve. They candidly brag about their qualifications and have no problem telling you how good they are at being an Advanced Open Water Diver or how deep they once went down. I wanted to remind him that all he was doing was putting a tank of air on his back and breathing. But I let him continue in his delusions.

Still I managed to have a good time on the dive. In my adventure thus far I have dove eight times and seven were amazing. I can’t complain but I just did.

All in all, I really enjoyed my time on Ko Tao. The island was small enough that after fourteen days, I began to recognize people on the streets and began to get a feel for how things operated on the island. Most, if not all of my trip thus far, has been characterized by short stays here and there; three to five days at the most. Two months ago I read a travel blog that theorized that in order to truly get a feel for a place, you need a minimum of two weeks there. After my two week stay on Ko Tao, I agree with that conclusion. Going forward, I am going to slow down. While I will probably cover less miles, I think in the end I will see more.

To Tom, Josh, Elliott, Shannon, Lotte, and Antonela – if you are reading this, thanks for making my stay on Ko Tao an excellent experience. AND, of course, good luck with the rest of your travels.

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The Sound(s) of Silence

After the Full Moon party I was pretty dead and decided to spend the majority of that day lounging in my room watching Youtube videos. Anything else or anything that involved using my brain was absolutely out of the question. The goal for that night was to go to bed early and wake up and seize the following day. To accomplish this goal, I went to bed at 9:30 pm. Around 10 pm, the resort next to mine started pumping some deep house music. The bass was like a drum inside my head, keeping me alert far past my brain’s desire to be awake. I absolutely could not fall asleep. I tried everything. Earplugs, opening the windows, Sting’s The Living Sea, pillows over my head. Nothing worked. I had no choice. I decided to open one of the many beers in my fridge. My poison for the night, Chang Beer. The beauty about Chang beer is that it has a 6% minimum alcoholic content. Because of lack of consistent standards in Thailand, Chang beer really has no upper limit. Some bottles might be 6%, others 7%, maybe even 8%. You just don’t know.

What started off as one beer soon turned into more, and I ended up drinking the majority of the night. It sounds sad, but I actually had a blast. I kept myself thoroughly entertained with an assortment of Youtube videos. I watched America’s Got Talent, political speeches including the best parts of Clinton’s Grand Jury Testimony, and music videos. My favorite was a live ACDC concert from the early nineties. Sometime around 3:30 I fell asleep.

I tried to make the best of the next day by renting a moped to see the island. I drove to Tony’s hostel to see if he wanted to join me. Instead he convinced me to join him in going to this inflatable obstacle course on a lake about a thirty minute drive away. The course was milder form of the obstacles used on the TV show Wipe Out. I spent the whole afternoon getting pummeled by obstacles successfully completing all but one.

That evening Tony and I went to Amsterdam bar. A beautiful bar, Amsterdam is located on top of a mountain. There is an infinity pool over which customers can watch the sun slowly slip beneath the ocean’s surface. Other than the view, Amsterdam is also know for its lenient ‘fun’ policy. While ordering a beer, you can also order Happy Shakes or Joints. I stuck to Chang. Also while at the bar, I meant a German girl by the name of Anne. Anne was also traveling alone, and like old friends, we spent an hour or so chatting about our travels. Before we left, I asked her if she wanted to rent Scooters and drive around the island the following day. She said yes.

The next morning I meant Anne at 10 am sharp. We spent the day driving around the island, stopping at various food shops and eateries. It was a lovely day. The highlight was the backside of Ko Phangan. It has some of the most remote and beautiful beaches I have seen thus far in Thailand.

That evening I watched a scary movie on my iPhone. The wind was howling, and being that I was basically alone in my resort, I decided a scary movie was necessary. I watched “Let Me In,” a vampire love story. Weird, but I highly recommend it.

The next day I was going to go to Ko Tao, but I was getting pretty tired of moving every three or four days, so I decided to book two more nights in a different hotel. The new hotel, the one you probably saw in video, was cheaper and nicer than my bungalow. That day it poured, and I took advantage of the rain by taking time to update my blog, listen to a lot of Podcasts, and hash out some
details of my new adventure.

That night I joined Anne and a bunch of other Germans for the Germany v. Portugal World Cup match. The Germans weren’t as rowdy as I was expecting, maybe because it wasn’t really a match since Germany won four to ZERO. Still it was a unique experience.

The next day, the 17th of June, I rented another moped and drove to Haad Rind, the location of the Full Moon Party to get a glimpse of what it looked like whilst sober. It was dead quiet and eerily empty; a stark contrast from five days prior.

The road was back was extremely hilly and quite the adventure. At the top of one hill, I stopped at a small little coffee shop/bar overlooking that ocean to get some coffee. Unfortunately, I only had a 1000 baht note and Steve, the bartender, couldn’t make change. Regardless, I spent the next hour or so chatting with Steve and his German girlfriend, Sarah. Steve had met Sarah after she crashed her moped outside the bar one day. He took care of her, and the rest is history. Steve, originally from England, has been in Thailand for one and half years doing bar jobs here and there. His tenure is almost up, and after Thailand, he will move to Germany with Sarah. I love the stories of people I meet traveling.

That night I took it easy and watched another movie, Lone Survivor. The following day I boarded a ferry to Ko Tao.

I titled this post the sound of silence because over the last six days I have mostly been by myself. Purposely choosing hotels over hostels, I wanted to see how much of Bret I could handle. The answer – quite a lot. For the first time in my entire trip I just thought for hours on end. I let my brain take me places I didn’t know it could go. I felt and sensed every emotion from euphoria to extreme loneliness. Some hours, I just brainstormed random ideas; everything from new blog post ideas to open-ended questions to use as conversation starters. I thought about my career. Of course that went nowhere. But while I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, this deep thinking has led me to have a better understanding of what I DO NOT want to do with my life. Finally the most important thing I took away from this self-reflection are about ten lessons I learned about myself while traveling abroad. I plan to write these in a blog post shortly. I actually would have published them sooner, but I was having some trouble finding my final theme. By the whims of fate, I meant the most interesting girl in Ko Tao (I am about a week behind in my blog), and she helped me hammer home the last few points. Stay tuned!

Keep chugging people.

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I Escaped the Jungle and Ended Up on the Moon

165 kilometers per hour. That was the speed at which my hired minivan hurled me from Koh Lanta to the ferry terminal for Koh Phangan. For my American friends, that is a little over 100 mph. We didn’t just hit this speed once, we averaged this speed for nearly three hours. Of course, it wouldn’t have been Thailand unless the van was overloaded, and I was sitting in the front seat. Needless to say I made it to Koh Phangan a little shaken but okay.

Koh Phangan is island off the east side of Southern Thailand. It has become famous for its Full Moon Party. Each and every full moon some twenty thousand or so backpackers descend on the beach of Haad Rind for an alcohol and drug infested three to five day binger. The actual Full Moon party is only one night but the proceeding and following two days are big party nights as well.

The full moon fell on the 12th, and in anticipation, I arrived on the 11th of June – the night of the jungle party. Upon checking into my private bungalow on the beach, I reached out to my cousin Ashley’s friend, Tony. Like me, Tony has been traveling for three or so months. We have been communicating via Facebook, wondering if our paths would ever cross. Finally they did; the night of the Jungle Party.

Luckily for me, Tony was staying at the Ringside hostel, the predominant party hostel in Koh Phangan. I went there to meet him and join in on the festivities. The pre-game at Ringside was a blast, but getting there was even more interesting.

It is frustrating but cab drivers really try to rip you off during the Full Moon. Being that I am cheap, I refused to pay the ridiculous prices they were asking so I decided to walk the distance to the hostel. Halfway to the hostel some random German guy on the motorbike pulled up beside me and asked me where I was going and if I wanted a ride. I told him Ringside and in a moment of carelessness, I got on the back of his motorbike (not a scooter). What entailed was a wild ride through the island. Since I had just arrived to the island, I really didn’t really know where I was going and ended up just more lost. But the ride was fun so I guess it was worth it. In the end, I ended up taking a cab to Ringside where I finally meant Tony.

After two hours or so pre-gaming, Tony and I made our way to the Jungle Party. Fittingly, the Jungle Party is in the middle of the jungle. Out of what seemed a row of endless forest emerged a makeshift dance club complete with beautiful lights and a complete spectrum of colors.

The jungle party was okay. The setup and atmosphere were great, but the music was dreadful. Deep House is good but only in moderation; not for hours on hand. The highlight of the night was meeting two Danish girls at the hostel that joined me to watch Thai boxing. Thai boxing is a sport similar to US boxing, but they can kick. After the boxing match, I decided to take a walk around the perimeter of the party. What I saw was an endless barrage of people falling down too drunk to walk, people vomiting, people passed out, people crying, and people fighting. It amazes me what some people will do to themselves with alcohol. Is it immoral to take photos – too bad I did.

The next day was spent mostly recovering, laying by the beach, and eating all in preparation of the night’s Full Moon Party. While at my bungalow, I meant two cute Canadians staying in the bungalow next me. The only reason I meant them is because they were blasting country music. Hearing it while sitting on my porch, I had no choice but to introduce myself. Turns out we got along well, and they decided to join me for another pre-game at Ringside. But first we each had two buckets at Becks Bar; a bar halfway to Ringside.

The festivities at Ringside were a blast mostly because of the American DJ who dropped some good old 1990’s hits infused with some electronic dance here and there. Ringside also offered us body paint. Apparently it is a big deal to paint yourself prior to the Full Moon party. This is where I meant these two Irish girls. Make sure you look at the pictures below. They were true freaks and for simplicity let’s call them thing one and thing two. Thing one and thing two were covered in the most ridiculous painting out of anyone in the hostel. Because they were so intriguing, I had them paint me. Now there was a thing three, me.

Parts of their artwork were just too much, and I had to go to the restroom to dilute their artistic affects. Afterwards, I had the two Danish girls (who were also staying at Ringside) do some touchups. Soon I was ready to go!

Me, Tony, the Canadians, and the Danish girls took a taxi to Haad Rind; the infamous Full Moon beach. I need to take a step back. When I say taxi, I actually mean a pickup truck with the bed covered. Typically they are overloaded, and the only place to hold on is a small bar that runs along the roof. Alternatively you can ride on the bumper or the roof. I rode on the bumper on the way back from the Jungle Party while Tony took to the roof.

Once I landed on the beach, I immediately lost Tony and the Canadians and spent the entire evening dancing with Ellie, one of the Danish girls. Throughout the night I was offered to buy several types of drugs. I didn’t, but the funny thing is that while traveling I have realized that I have mostly lived a pretty sheltered life. Had I purchased MDMA or Ecstasy, I don’t think I would have even know how to consume them. Plus I didn’t even know what MDMA was, I had to look it up.

After dancing, Ellie and I walked around the beach. Similar to the Jungle Party I witnessed a whole consortium of individuals doing questionable acts to mostly themselves. I also noticed that along the edges of the beach they had areas roped off for sleeping areas. They were staffed by security so people could safety take a nap if they felt too tired to go all night. That’s nice…. I also took this opportunity to purchase and subsequently drink a red bull bucket with vodka. It was an RBV on steroids.

Despite my RBV from hell, I was too tried to make it all night. Old man Bret left at 4:30 am. The goal was to make it to sunrise, in fact many people did. Below is a picture my friend took at probably at 6 am. Looks like I missed out….

The Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan was unlike any party I have experienced in my life. Cancun and Mexico has nothing on Thailand. Cancun is over priced and entry to the clubs cost hundreds of dollars. The Full Moon cost me me $3 USD, plus my $4 USD bucket. I will be back. For certain.

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