So you want to get off the beaten track, immerse yourself in a completely different culture and find yourself on the road? When I thought of South East Asia, I thought of the meandering Mekong, chanting Buddhist monks, misty rice paddies…
(I have assumed knowledge of last year’s viral Gap Yah video on YouTube, so for the uninitiated I suggest a watch — one is enough to get a handle on those irritatingly quotable one-liners.)
If you are in fact on your gap year, chances are that you will become one of the following:
Exhibit 1: The Gap Yah Girl
Baggy white printed Thai beer vest, with arm holes almost large enough to let their midriff escape. Frayed denim shorts that pretend to cover their bikini bottoms. Messed up top knot. About 20 bracelets on each arm. I mean it’s, like, helping the local economy. Ray Ban Wayfarers, could either be Phnomh Penh’s finest fakes, or bought by Daddy as a farewell present. A tattoo resembling a black blob. Up close it could be a prayer wheel? Slightly orange tan, speckled with white mosquito bite scars, and a large infected scab from that token motorbike accident. Havaina flip flops.
Exhibit 2: The Backpacker Boy
In The Tubing, Vang Vieng, Laos vest. Everyone has floated down the Mekong in a rubber tyre, so everyone just has to buy the vest to prove that they drank too much Lao Lao and almost drowned in the murky river. Neon swim shorts, with Full Moon Party printed across the butt. Casio wrist watch – an Argos cheapie with a button that lights up the screen, or the Vietnamese version. That is, neon, with lots of flashing lights. Neon green plastic aviators – large enough to cover the pink eye that you got tubing. A tattoo in Thai. It says ‘I Love Thailand’. At least that’s what that Thai bird said before it turned out she was a he. And all the Thais crack up when they see it.
And they’re everywhere. I mean like EVERYWHAH.
Now: a typical tale. It was about 7am in Luang Prabang, Laos, the morning after the Dutch had won another world cup match, and I had wished I was wearing orange (having said that, the Dutch are very amenable to letting you forget your English woes and become a Netherlands native for a bit). My sister and I had already abandoned our porridge to make a mad dash back to the hotel toilet, much to our parent’s bemusement. Note – parents are not suitable Gap Yah accessories. Father had pitched up at the match last night, and we’d had to pretend we were on our second Lao Lao cocktail, not our seventh. Luckily for me, that was to be the last of the day’s chundering. My sister was not so fortunate.
An hour or so later, and we were astride an elephant, swaying majestically through the Laos jungle, while the sun burned bright above us through the leaves, and brightly-coloured birds chattered around us. I mean, it really gave us a moving sense of the intricacy and delicacy of the world’s fragile ecosystems. It was like, we were like so small… and the elephant was like, so big.
And then my sister just chundered everywhere. Off the side of an elephant. Impeccable aim, unlike our football team.
To prove you can’t keep a good British girl down, my sister has been on her own Gap Yah odyssey this year, breaking locals’ hearts in salsa bars up and down Latin America. She and her Norwegian partner-in-crime were particular fans of the Peruvian city of Cusco, start of the Inca trail to Macchu Piccu, where one goes to search for the mythical Andean Vomcano.
Back on the trail in Asia, no trip to Thailand is complete without a pilgrimage to that shrine of wankered Westerners – the Full Moon Party on the island of Koh Phangnan. My advice is as follows:
1. Start the night in one of Had Rin’s finest eateries. Pad Thai is just the ticket for lining the stomach, and the endless reruns of Family Guy are perfect for predrinks.
2. Wear a bikini and not much else.You need plenty of skin space to plaster with glo-paint, and you may be sprinting into the waves to take a few tactical chunders. And donÂ´t go out of your depth while drunk – thereÂ´s a mean riptide that claims a few Westerners every party season.
3. Don’t be discerning with your drinking.There are over 50 stalls that eloquently differentiate themselves with slogans such as:
They all sell the same thing, and everything tastes the same after a few glugs anyway. Buy the cheapest 350ml bottle of Thai Rum-skey with Red Bull for that dance ‘til dawn boost, and down from the child’s plastic bucket to your heart’s content.
4. Don’t try to find that ‘fit’ Australian from the Vietnamese pool party. You’ve been there and done that, and with 10,000 people partying on one beach, chances are he’s probably getting with a Swedish girl as we speak. Plus when and where are you going to get a chance to play the ‘how many nationalities in a night’ game again?
5. Pace yourself. My friend made the tragic mistake of peaking too early, and what started out as a tactical chunder turned into falling in the sea to vomit every half hour until dawn. We put her in a tuk-tuk home at 7am where she got distracted by a gentleman who she classified merely as ‘Northern’, and returned to our cabins an hour before the ferry to the mainland.
6. On that note, don’t leave the morning after. The beaches are white and the sea is crystal-clear, so give yourself a chance to enjoy paradise by day. More realistically, you will want to lie in a darkened room for 24 hours.
It’s not all party, party, party though. Well it is, but your itinerary can take in the cultural (and spiritual and political) on the way. You can admire the fabled temples of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat by sunrise, examine the horrors of the War Remnant’s Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and the Killing Fields in Phnomh Penh, Cambodia, pick leeches off your legs while scrambling up waterfalls in Laos’ northern jungles, and watch hundreds of Buddhist monks collecting alms at 6am in the elegant, French-colonial streets of Luang Prabang in Laos.
But you’ll probably just want to line your stomachs in preparation for uni, and watery Vietnamese street beer is 10p a pint. After all, where else in the world could you literally chunder off the side of an elephant?