Hello to all my fans eagerly refreshing their screens waiting for me to post a blog post. Yes, that means my mum. Hi mum - you’re allowed to read this one, it’s not very rude.
So I’m in Thailand! This trip has been a long time in the making. I wasn’t sure if it could ever happen - a three-month sabbatical from two jobs seemed like a lot to sort out. But it happened, I’m here! So far I’ve mainly posted idyllic pictures on Facebook and Instagram to annoy everyone back in England, but in an effort to be a little more real and honest, this is where you’ll get the whingy bits and possibly some descriptions of my poo if you’re lucky.
It’s fair to say that my journey here was crap. Delayed flight, then cancelled flight, then waiting and more waiting, and all whilst I had a horrible cold/flu thing with aches and pains. We (‘we’ refers to me and the long-suffering boyfriend, John) arrived on the same day we were meant to at least, but it was too late to get a ferry to Koh Phi Phi. So we stayed a night in Phuket, which was… meh. Didn’t have time to explore, we just ate in a strange restaurant with some kind of weird funnel decor, then headed over to Koh Phi Phi the next morning. I’ve been to Phi Phi before but it was nine years ago so I didn’t recognise anything. No, that’s not because I was drunk the whole time I was there last time, although that does seem to be what everybody on the island does now.
Koh Phi Phi is much nicer in the mornings when all the 20-year-old backpackers are either still asleep or have their heads in toilets puking up their “super strong bucket” contents from the previous night. One morning I went for a walk on the beach at 8am and saw the locals working away, clearing the beach of cups and bottles, neon clothes and rogue flip flops. Litter is so bad on Koh Phi Phi, they have to charge 20 baht to everyone on entry. They may as well call it the “tourists are shit” tax. It makes me ashamed to be a tourist sometimes. Is it that hard just not to trash the beautiful beach you’re partying on?
There are A LOT of tattoo shops on Koh Phi Phi. I’ve never seen so many in one place. They’re all open really late, interspersed with bucket venders which is probably no coincidence. I’m beginning to realise the “shit Mel did in Thailand nine years ago” really wasn’t that bad – at least I didn’t get a bad tattoo after too much vodka and Red Bull.
One of the main reasons for going to Koh Phi Phi is to do the obligatory boat trip to “The Beach”. That’s the one from the film with Leonardo DiCaprio, which is a mediocre film at best but the book is much better. I did a similar trip nine years ago. Most trips involve going:
1. To piss off some monkeys
2. To piss off some fish
3. To piss off other tourists at said famous beach
Monkey Beach is a tiny beach inhabited only by monkeys who probably just want to be left alone but stupid tourists keep taking selfies with them. (Note to self – short story idea: Zombie Monkeys on a Beach).
Next, we went to a gorgeous green lagoon where some middle-aged Russians who thought they were 15 repeatedly did backflips off our boat. Then there was the snorkelling, which was nice but I guess I’ve been spoilt being as my first ever snorkelling experience was the Great Barrier Reef. Then we approached a cliff face and our driver announced “Maya Bay” (which is The Beach). I looked up at what can only be described as a PE teacher’s wet dream… and my worst nightmare: lots of jagged half-submerged rocks and climbing ropes. I really dislike longtail boats, and getting on and off hadn’t been easy, but I hadn’t been expecting an obstacle course too. From what I remembered, the last time I went the boat had gone straight into the bay.
At least it wasn’t just me. A lot of people were struggling - clambering over rocks, wading through water, desperately trying not to fall with their bags. I’m not sure if this is an effort to keep too many boats out of the bay, or if it’s meant to give more of an authentic Leonardo DiCaprio experience, but at least Maya Bay was as amazing as I remembered…when I finally got there. I’ve still got the bruises to show for it.
Sharing the bay with lots of other tourists is unavoidable. There is no accommodation and no camping, though I think there used to be… but guess why there’s not now? Because tourists are shit. The slogan for the Maya Bay experience should just be ‘this is why we’re not allowed to have nice things’. So that was the beach trip over and done with. It’s still a gorgeous beach, and I still hate longtail boats.
Now I’m on Koh Lanta, which is way more chilled out. We’re staying at a place called Sanctuary which has everything I wanted – beach, yoga, good food and a basic beach hut. As I write I’m hiding under a mosquito net trying not to need a wee because it’s raining and the toilet is outside. The outside bathroom was a novelty at first until I had to fight off ants and mosquitos last night. Still, you can’t beat having a poo wearing sunglasses, looking up at the clouds.
Thanks for reading, part two coming in a bit.
Ps My poo is okay, don’t worry.
Somehow, both of my jobs are letting me take a three-month sabbatical to go to Thailand in January 2018. I'm getting a bit old though - I'm just about to turn 35 and people keep telling me that's pretty much 40, which is pretty much middle-aged, which is pretty much dead. All the more reason to go.
So whilst I ponder if I can get away with telling every person I meet that I’m 27, I've also been reflecting on my first few trips to Thailand (and around South East Asia) and some of the silly things I did that I really shouldn't do again…
Drink things from buckets
In my experience, this meant one of two things – either you don't know what’s in the bucket, or you do and you drink it anyway.
Vodka, whiskey, Red Bull and Coke = green diarrhoea. That was a valuable lesson.
Ride an elephant
A serious one. I'm not proud of myself. It was nearly a decade ago. I was naive going into it thinking all the elephants were going to be showered with luxury in beautiful surroundings by loving hippy type people who treated them like Gods. As soon as I got there I knew that wasn't the case. The elephant was being controlled with a stick digging into its head and the poor thing was actually bleeding.
I didn't have the confidence to say I wanted to get off. Riding an elephant was meant to be a beautiful experience, everybody else seemed to love it so I just went along with it. As I said, I'm not proud of myself. I went along with these silly things just for my silly backpacker metaphorical tick box.
I'm sorry to all the elephants. I'm glad I never petted a sedated tiger.
Be a sex tourist
I’m now wondering how many times I'm going to use the phrase "I'm not proud of myself" in this post. If you're my mum or my boss then stop reading.
When you're in Patpong – the red light district in Bangkok - and the first man you see asks if you want to go to a "lady show", you should probably just say no. I often joke that my first date with my boyfriend was a ping-pong show, yet somehow were still together. It's a cultural experience, I thought. Something everyone needs to try when in Bangkok. Turns out, ping-pong balls have multiple uses and so do ribbons and razor blades.
The women looked bored. The atmosphere with seedy. There was not an ounce of respect between anyone. Some Thai girls came over and put full drinks down on our table and I knew what was going on. I started to feel an impending sense of doom, and knew that we were going to be presented with a huge bill as soon as we got up to leave. And indeed we did. We protested but there suddenly seemed to be a lot of stocky, stern-looking Thai guys surrounding us. I knew we'd have to pay it, but we didn't have enough cash on us. I wasn't sure what the safer option was – stay there with a bunch of scary Thai guys who might kidnap me (yes, I've watched too many films), or go out to the cash machine. I chose cash machine and left my boyfriend with the Thai mafia watching women pulling ribbons out of their vagina's like clowns pull handkerchiefs out of their pockets.
There was a cash machine just downstairs but it didn't seem to be working. It wasn't giving any cash out so I started to freak out as my chauffeur (the guy who was standing next to me to make sure I got the money) told me would have to go to another which was "not far." I was convinced that this was it – I was going to die. This was all part of their evil plan, to pretend the cash machine wasn't working and lead me down to an underground cellar where they chop up backpackers for being horrible sex tourists. I'd be fed to snakes or have my fingers chopped off and sent home as ransom. Again too many films, I apologise.
He actually took me to a working cash machine. I didn't get robbed, in fact he didn't even talk to me or look at me and neither did anybody else. I went back and handed over the money and suddenly there were no stocky Thai guys and we were free to go. We got straight to the taxi as my boyfriend started to tell me about the finale – razor blades. I’d paid a small fortune but missed supposedly the best party trick, though I think it’s something I’ve been able to live without seeing.
I really hoped that most of the money would go to those women with the vagina's full of ribbons and balls, but it probably didn't.
Consume anything with the word ‘happy’ before it
Happy shake. Happy pizza. Technically this wasn't in Thailand but it's still good advice for myself. I made the mistake of having a happy shake. It did not make me happy. Yes, I was aware it had drugs in it (mum, you definitely shouldn't be reading this now) but I thought it was only a bit of weed and it would just make me sleepy or giggly. It didn't actually take effect until the next day when I had to do a 6 hour bus trip through the mountains of northern Laos. I just felt wrong, that’s the only way to describe it. Just wrong. Sick and out of control and spaced out yet anxious, it was horrible. People have suggested maybe it wasn't just weed. There's a high chance they could be right (no pun intended).
That was the second worst bus trip of my life. The worst was 16 hours on the back seat of a bumpy bus in the foothills of the Himalayas. Fun.
Get in a Tuk Tuk on Koh San Road
There is a magical place where all the backpackers stay in Bangkok called Koh San road. It's loud, busy, noisy crazy, everything you'd expect it to be. If you've seen the start of The Beach, it's like that – drunken backpackers, overpriced souvenirs, scams galore. So when a guy offers very reasonably priced tuk tuk ride to see "all the temples", trust me – you'll be lucky to see any temples. I made this mistake. First we went to a jewellery shop. Then we went to a suit shop. Then we went to a travel agent who told me I absolutely had to book every night's accommodation and tour with them because everything was full. Everything. Having spoken to many other people who've been taken on one of these tuk tuk magical mystery tours, I should probably think myself lucky. I got dropped off at the same point as I started and I paid what we arranged. Many others were dropped off miles away, not having a clue where they were, and were charged a lot more money.
I never did actually see any temples in Bangkok.
Stay in a guesthouse with mirrors on the ceiling
The first time I went to Thailand, I'd heard about the debauchery of Koh San road – the aforementioned backpacker area - and decided against it. In hindsight, sometimes it's better to be around other travellers when you're travelling alone in Asia for the first time. But I was feeling very brave after a year in Australia so I took a recommendation from a friend (cheers Dave…not) and stayed in a place which I thought might be a bit quieter. There were other foreigners staying but they were mainly expats - older men with Thai girlfriends who were screaming at them most of the time. I don't like the cliché of the screaming Thai wife, but that’s all I heard, though the men seemed to have little respect for them so that was probably why. They’d watch sport together most evenings and didn’t seem too pleased that I was hanging around trying to make conversation. It was one of those special boys clubs where they have to prove their masculinity to each other by being overly aggressive watching guys kick a ball around a field.
The room was huge and was quite lovely, though the mirror on the ceiling and the round bed were a little disconcerting. I'd emailed and arranged a rate to pay in advance, but of course I got talked into paying a lot more in the end. It was my first time in Thailand, I was terrified but pretending I wasn't. Other travellers always told me I had to barter more, but I didn't feel I could sometimes. I'd certainly be more keen to stand my ground now, but it's good to keep in mind that what you're haggling over is often very little to us - they need that money a lot more than we do.
There was one nice guy staying there, he was British and I think he felt bad for me and took me out to get pizza. It felt pathetic to go for pizza when there was so much amazing Thai food to try, but sometimes you need a few home comforts just to cope. At least I was there. It did get easier.
I didn't like Bangkok at all. I only stayed a couple of days, then made a 17 hour journey to the southern islands. I’d purchased a train/bus/boat combination ticket (not from the dodgy travel agents) which in fact meant motorbike/tuk tuk/bus/train/bus/boat/truck or something along those lines. I just got ferried on and off stuff and hoped that at some point I’d arrive near some kind of beach. When I finally got to Koh Phangan, it looked like paradise. I stayed on one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen (I can’t even remember what it was called now) in a gorgeous little blue bungalow. I made friends with a couple of cool British girls and we went to the Half Moon Party together (a rave in the jungle), which of course involved too many buckets of concoctions.
After, I went to Koh Phi Phi and met a friend of a friend - Bruce - who I'd met once before and we spent a few days together. We went to THE beach - the one with Leonardo Di Caprio (he wasn't there, but he was in The Beach) - and I ran into a huge lizard which was pretty much a dinosaur. I thought I was going to die but then I didn't. I didn't even have my camera on me so have no photographic evidence so you'll have to take my word for it.
Despite only having a short time together, I felt like Bruce and I got rather close. I wanted to travel for longer with him but I was going to Australia and had only left about 2 days in which to get down to Singapore, overland. Bruce passed away earlier this year sadly, but I'll always have fond memories of our time together. It's amazing how you can have such a connection with somebody even if you only know them for a short time. Travelling offers so many of these beautiful little connections.
Everything is an adventure and an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world, and that be at ANY age.
In January 2018, I'll be going back to the south of Thailand to focus on yoga and writing. I want to read a lot and chill out a bit – having two jobs and a constant niggle of ‘you should be writing’ has been getting tiring. But let's face it, I'm probably just going to sit on beaches take pictures and post them on Instagram to piss off everyone back in England.
I'm excited to be going to a place called The Content Castle. It's a house specifically designed for writers on Koh Samui. I'm going to be writing for them and staying for a month in what looks like a beautiful, colourful house. I've got just under three months away, 12 weeks off work. I'm excited but nervous, which is strange because I’m meant to be older, wiser, more sensible and experienced. However, sometimes I look back at my 25-year-old self and admire the resilience I had. I was stupid but resilient.
I’m mainly hoping to finish off some projects – my screenplays and novel – but I’ll be writing a few blog posts of course. I’ll probably overshare massively so if you want to hear about my bowel movements then you’ll love it. Also, if you want to be jealous of my pictures (why wouldn’t you?) I'll be posting most of them on Instagram so follow me here: @melciavucco
Thanks for reading.
Novels. They're long, like really frickin' long.
I've written two... they're quietly hiding away in a folder within a folder within a folder on my computer somewhere. Every so often I'll open my recent one, leave it up on screen for a few hours whilst I browse vintage dresses on eBay, and then inevitably run out of time and close it. I've been trying to get back to editing this novel for a while now. It's finished, as in written to the end, but it's a messy first draft. Surprisingly, banging all the words out was relatively easy as I did it for NaNoWriMo (50,000 words in a month), but trying to get myself to go back and read it? Well, I'd rather do the washing and the cleaning... and go shopping for something tasty for dinner, and bake carrot cake, and eat carrot cake... and well, you get the idea. It's called procrastination, and I know a lot of writers do it, but I wanted to get underneath that to see what it is that really makes editing so damn hard.
The thing about a first draft is, it's allowed to be crap, because it's a first draft. I've read a lot of articles which say not to worry about what it ends up like, just get the words out instead. Having the incentive and community focus offered with NaNoWriMo, I indeed managed to do that. I surprised myself to be honest, I didn't think I stood a chance... but then there's editing. That's when you have to take the mess and try to make it good. Uh oh.
Now I know I should "set aside time", "create a writing space", "get into a routine" and all that sort of stuff we're told to do. But if I simply do not want to do it, then nothing is going to make me. Nothing will stop me from shopping on eBay or eating cake, or binge watching Stranger Things.
I'm fortunate that I don't ever seem to get writers block. I always have ideas, so in fact part of the problem is that I always want to write new stuff instead of editing and finishing something else. This is dangerous territory as it results in folders full of documents which maybe should be 'out there' in the hope that real life people will read them one day.
The truth is, I think I'm just scared, and I'm sure many other writers are with me on this.
Editing a novel means revisiting your baby, which is terrifying because that 80.000 words you spent months or sometimes years writing will now be back under your critical eye. What if it's crap? What about all the time I wasted writing it? I long for the time I can read something and not worry about how rubbish it sounds. Sometimes I can look back at my own writing and think it reads like a five years old's.
Then there's getting it out into the world, if you do manage to 'finish' it (will it ever really be finished or do we just need to know when to let go?) Then it's open to the perusal of scary people such as literary agents, and that's even more terrifying. A novel is a piece of you, It's likely you poured your heart and soul into it and now that part of you will be out in the open for people to judge. You hate it and love it at the same time, and now you have to send it over to some fuckers who probably just want to change it anyway. The whole thing will be horrible and we question why we ever wrote the thing in the first place and swear never to write another, but then the ideas come. Then we realise that you can't not do it, and then write another.
Writers are bonkers. I wish I didn't want to be a writer. Or, do I wish I could be a better one? What even is a better one? It's all so subjective. Would I even realise if I was better? I try to tell myself that things I've written are good, I say this so much that I hope one day I finally start to believe it. It's hard to keep going until then, especially through the editing stage, because I'm constantly feeling in denial of the whole thing.
Then there's the lure of short stories. They're short enough to be able to finish and edit without the self-doubt eating away for too long, and if you're lucky enough to have a great writing group like I have (Stokes Croft Writers) then it's even easier. Often I find short stories bring variation when writing something longer. My novel is pretty dark and gritty so writing comedy short stories alongside keeps things a little more lighthearted. There's no doubt that writing dark, emotionally charged things are harder to work on, certainly for me. I feel a strong emotional connection to my characters and have to get really in their mindsets to be able to write. That's not necessarily fun when some of them are going through a very tough time!
I wish I could suggest a way to solve the problem, but I don't want to give all the usual cliche bits of advice. The truth is, I'm still looking for that magic answer too, and its through sharing my thoughts like this that I hope others will relate to it too (answers on a post card?). However, I had some great advice recently: pick a chapter of your novel you think might be okay. One that won't need much editing, or is short, or just one you like, or one that's funny. Whatever it is just see if you can pick one and just do that one.
I tried that and found it wasn't as hard as I thought, and in fact got on a bit of a roll and did several chapters. And in all honesty, they weren't as bad as I thought, which was a great relief. I think this theory of chipping away at different little bit of it may work, I'll just need to keep trying. This may not work for you, but if you try to give different things a go then at some point you'll find a process that works for you.
Don't give yourself a hard time - if you want to work on a short story, a blog or something else instead then just do it. It's all good practice.
The thing that ultimately keeps me going to knowing that if 80,000 words just sits on a computer, that's such a shame. Believing it is worthy of the outside world is hard to do but I'm determined to keep practicing, and I hope you can too. We're all worthy of having our work 'out there.' Let's start by just trying to be kind to ourselves.
Thanks for reading.
How do you write/edit? Do you have any tips for when you lose confidence or faith in your work? I'd love to hear your experiences and advice!