Late last year I was due for a visa run, and as luck would have it, one of Koh Phangan’s resident DJs had a gig coming up at a 5 Star Resort in one of my favourite islands – Langkawi. One of the other DJs had pulled out as his passport was stuck at Koh Samui immigration department and did I want to come along for the ride, and maybe spin some tunes? Of course I said, so at 5am the next morning we were off.
We jumped into his 1970s Mazda Luce (a non rotary Mazda RX4 for you car nuts out there) and headed for the car ferry. 3 hours of talking shit and watching a Thai dude play with his monkey (literally) and we were on the mainland at Surat Thani. Our plan was to make it down to the border town of Satun before 4pm, park the car up, jump on a ferry to Langkawi and be at the resort in the evening.
Things didn’t quite go to plan. The roads turned to shit, with road works everywhere, we ended up having to detour, and well, that detour didn’t show up on google maps or the iphones GPS. About 20 minutes into the detour we hit an army checkpoint full of bored soldiers carrying M-16s and probably wondering why two Farang’s were driving a 1970s Jap import at 150 kph down the highway without seat belts in a car full of DJ gear and heading straight into Muslim country (theres been an ongoing insurrection in the South for the last few years). After a bit of broken Thai and a few “Mai Dais” (Thai for “Can not”) we were sent back in the opposite direction to find another way South. After getting stuck on back roads behind people who clearly got their drivers licence on the back of a cereal box we were once again on our way South, at least thats what we thought.
Breaking Down in Southern Thailand
I started to relax, and fell asleep, as you do on a massive road trip when you think all is well. I woke to the feeling of the car shaking and a bit of swearing from our driver. Then I felt the car lose power. Then it started to drift to the side of the road. Then it stopped. We were in the middle of fucking nowhere, no one spoke english, we didn’t speak passable Thai, and our car was somewhere in the region of 40 years old and Japanese.
We managed to get some lovely people from the local cafe (which was Muslim, they seemed a little confused when our pilot asked for beer) to arrange a mechanic to come and take a look at the car. After an hour of waiting and learning some basic Thai (For instance, that Chang is the word for Elephant, while Chang is the word for Mechanic) our hero finally arrived. He started to tear the car apart and in pigeon Tinglish proceeded to tell us there was a problem. We could only guess that he actually meant the alternator, but we left him to work in the vain hope that he’d get us back on the road. And hour later, he re appeared, started to put the car back together and it started, we still were none the wiser as to why it wasn’t working, but he wanted 1000 baht and we wanted to get back on the road, and it seemed like a fair trade.
Missing the Boat
We once again began our (delayed) journey to to the Thai port of Satun. We had a 5pm (we thought) deadline to meet, and dammit we were going to get there in time if it killed us, so onward we drove until we got to town and it started to piss down with rain. The entire town came to a stand still, the car obviously had no de-mister, and well, being an old car, the windows didn’t exactly close properly. The car started to fill up with rain, and we couldn’t see out the windows.
I got onto my iPhone and searched for guesthouses realising that we weren’t going to make it in time (little did I know we’d actually missed the boat already, as the departure times we looked at were in Malaysia, rather that Thai time zones!). We settled on Ang Yee’s guest house, a guest house dedicated to climbers who like to hit the mountains around Satun. The place is easily one of the nicest guest houses I’ve stayed in, and has a real Thai/Chinese vibe. Most of the time we were looked after by one of the guests, who I can only guess has run out of money and is trapped in Thailand without a way home. He lives in Satun as it gives him the ability to border run every two weeks at minimal cost, renewing his visa and helps out at the guest house to cover his expenses. By this stage we were completely shattered, having dealt with getting lost on the highway, the car breaking down and missing our boat. We grabbed some beers and food, and then went to bed.
Langkawi or Bust
The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn, we prayed to the car gods that the Luce would start, turned the key and we were off to Satun Port. We parked up in the carpark, got started at by the locals who were wondering who on earth these mad Farang were who’d turned up by car on the Thai/Malay border. We went to the ticket office, and realised, that in our efforts to be early, we were in fact too early, and had to wait another two hours until the first boat left. So we did.
We had our tickets, and were ready to leave, all that stood between us and the freedom of Malaysia as Immigration. So, we lined up, then we were moved to another line to let a Thai tour group through. Then security made us move to let another bunch of Thais clear Immigration. Then we queued up again, until we finally got to the front of the line and…
… The Immigration officer slammed the window in our face. Our boat was literally minutes from leaving and we still hadn’t cleared Immigration, so off to the back of the original line we were in we went to start the process again. Luckily this line flowed fairly fast and we had a friendly immigration officer this time around, our passports were stamped, and we made it onto the ferry to Malaysia. Just.
The boat was the typical Asian ferry, cheap, reasonable comfortable and a nice method of transport, except for the lunatics in control of the air conditioning. It was 30 degrees outside, but we were stuck in an icebox shivering the whole way to Langkawi.
We made it to Malaysia at about 10am, and cleared Customs and Immigration in seconds. Unlike Thailand, Malaysia gives you 90 days upon entry just for crossing the border, and didn’t seem to mind that we were carrying thousands of dollars worth of DJ equipment into the country. In fact, the officers manning the Customs scanners weren’t even awake. We pushed our way through the Taxi touts and were met by our limo driver, who unfortunately wasn’t driving a limo, and instead had a mini van. Still he drove us across the Island for free (all costs were covered) and got us to the resort in one piece.
Cba at Meritus Pelangi Resort
We were due to DJ that night at Meritus Pelangi Resort’s (one of the higher end resorts on the island) beach bar Cba. We had a stage and the typical army of sound techs who appeared never to have set up a DJ booth in their life. After much discussion I was able to explain to them that putting a strobe light where the DJ monitors belong was probably a bad idea, and some form of rain cover would be handy considering the thousands of dollars worth of electronics that were exposed to the elements. We’d been called in at 2pm to do a sound check, but as usual, nothing was ready until at least 6pm, so we went off to the restaurant to gorge ourself on free food, and back to the bar to drink as much expensive complimentary Belgian Beer (anything but Thai beer) as was humanly possible before anyone noticed.
The Bomb Squad
We started to walk to the stage and noticed a bunch of cops and military types floating around the venue. Now if I see cops around and I’m DJing in Thailand its time to keep a low profile, in Malaysia or at least Langkawi they at least seem to have a genuine interest in keeping you safe.
It turns out that they were there due to a bomb threat. These are fairly common on the island which is coping with being conservative and Muslim while dealing with an influx of secular tourists who wish to party. The official reason for the threat was that they were probably offended by party goers in skimpy clothes and the like drinking booze and partying on the beach, but I think it has more in common with the bomb threats you get at uni whenever theres an exam, they just didn’t want to go to work that day. Everything was checked, they found the person who called it in, and it was a false alarm, so we got to partying.
I played a set of classic house and garage to warm up the crowd while Guy played more of a tech house set. At its peak we had somewhere around 1000 people on the beach before we had to shut down at 1am. We wanted to keep going, but due to cops being on site, everyone thought it was best to obey the local closing times. We closed everything down while the crowd was yelling at us for one more track, to keep going etc and luckily had security to look after us. I had a yarn with one of the cops who asked me an unexpected questions “Did I play paintball” – it turns out he recognised me from last years Paintball World Cup Asia on the island. Apparently the ginger beard was memorable.
So, we piled into a card and off we went in search of an after party. We were of course by this stage wildly drunk. We turned up at some dive reggae bar playing atrocious hip hop at the time and plugged in while someone trainwrecked tunes in virtual DJ. It turns out that despite us telling everyone to come to the after party, noone knew where it was, and couldn’t be bothered, and as quickly as we turned up we were gone, and off to the organisers choice of bar, Sun Bar.
This place was a shithole. The second we got in my partner in crime started dropping the C bomb everywhere, and we got foul looks from the 100 plus Bangladeshi migrant workers who were desperately try pick up anything remotely female with a pulse (at last count there might have been three women in the bar). Once again we thought discretion was the better part of valour, and exited the building, but not without me accidentally knocking some drunk malay mafioso type dude onto the ground when opening the heavy front door.
We woke up in the five star hotel room to a basket full of fruit, complementary booze and nuts, that and a massive hangover. The day was spent getting lost while driving around the Island before giving up and going back to the hotel room. To quote Guy “If you’ve seen one fucking South East Asian island you’ve seen them fucking all”. The rest of the day was spent watching a pirated copy of Hangover III on the big screen, before once again making the most of the complementary food and bar tab.
The next day we were back on the ferry, into Thailand with a freshly renewed 15 day stamp (I didn’t have a visa at the time as I was waiting for the paperwork for my Non-B visa and work permit to get processed) and praying that the car would start. The car gods favoured us once again and we were on the road. Luckily the trip was less eventful, possible thanks to the numerous flower garlands we hung on the rear view mirror for luck, and we made it to Surat Thani in one piece. We drove the car back onto the ferry and three hours later we were once again back home in Koh Phangan.