World Tour Highlights: 10 Party Places Avoided and Not Avoided

I’ve met a lot of people on this trip that seem to be interested in travelling only to party. Mostly (not exclusively) young, but invariably obnoxious, their conversations are all about where the best party places are, and which place is louder and has better drugs than which other place. I’ve seen these people stumbling into their hostel beds at sunrise, drifting in and out of bleary half-sleep all day, and then doing it all again when the sun goes down. I don’t really get it, myself. I have nothing against a few drinks with a few people, but partying on that kind of scale seems like a waste of good travel time to me; it’s nothing you couldn’t do at home, in more or less exactly the same way. And even if I were inclined, I haven’t got the money for it. So we’ve really tried hard to avoid the most notorious party spots on our travels. Sometimes we were successful at avoiding them, and sometimes we weren’t. So the sixteenth list in the World Tour Highlights series is really two lists - five party spots we avoided, and five we didn’t manage to avoid.

Five Party Spots We Avoided

1. Goa, India

There’s a certain type of person who, when they find out I’ve spent time in India, immediately asks if I went to Goa. And then blink in confusion when I say no. I’m in India, why would I want to hang around on beaches with a bunch of foreigners? Not to mention that Goa has been thoroughly discovered, and so it’s slick, crowded, and expensive. We stayed a state south in Kerala, where things are a tenth the price, it’s quiet and unspoiled, and you can still get your secret beer served in a teapot if you want. The only thing I regret about not visiting Goa is missing out on the vindaloo.

2. Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand

You have to get pretty far off the tourist circuit in Thailand to get away from the rampaging hordes of gap-year Australians and British. They travel in huge, brattish packs, unbearably loud, perpetually drunk and not wearing anywhere near enough clothes. One of the places they congregate is the island of Ko Pha Ngan on the eastern coast. Ko Pha Ngan is the home of the infamous Full Moon Parties, all-night beach raves of legendary proportions. Packed like sardines on the beaches, the kids spend all night out of their tiny minds on sugar, booze-buckets and fistfuls of pharmaceuticals, dancing to ground-pounding beats and the light of fire-baton twirlers. Sounded incredibly lame to me. We stayed one island over on the peaceful, sweet little snorkelling paradise of Ko Tao.

3. Pattaya, Thailand

Sex tourism, go-go bars and transvestite hookers. Pattaya is a bottomless black hole of sleaze, and the source of muttered legend among the greasy, shifty-eyed, middle-aged white men who flock to Thailand’s southeast looking for child prostitutes. I wasn’t about to go within a hundred kilometers of the place. You’d probably catch half a dozen diseases just by breathing the air, let alone touching anything. Maybe I’m being unfair, maybe it would be an amusing place to visit. I can take honest smut in my stride with a smile any day. But judging from the sort of people I overheard raving about the place, well… yuck.

4. Munich, Germany

Sheryl and I were in the Netherlands, trying to decide how we should use the last day of our rail-pass. It made sense to us to go as far as we could to make the most use of it, so we decided to go as far south into Germany as possible. The train schedules worked for Munich and the connections were good from there, so I went ahead and started trying to find accommodation. Nothing. Not a single bed available in the entire city of Munich. It was bizarre. Clearly my brain was not working at full speed that day, because it took me a few minutes to make the connection between Munich and the current month. Dear god, Oktoberfest. Munich is a nice place, and I like it, but you couldn’t pay me enough money to be there during Oktoberfest. We opted for Nuremberg to visit the grim and disturbing museums documenting the Nazi era instead - more or less the opposite of Oktoberfest’s beery good cheer. When we finally did make it to Munich a few days after the festival finished, the whole town centre was covered with trash and broken glass.

5. The Yasawa Islands, Fiji

Like Bali, Fiji (or fayJAY, as they call it) is immensely popular with Aussie tourists on cheap package holidays. They get picked up at the airport in Nadi and shuffled straight onto the ferry (included in the package) to one of the islands in the Yasawa group off the west coast of Viti Levu. There are lots of budget resorts all catering to the package tours. These aren’t all-inclusive Caribbean-style resorts - all you get is a bunk bed, three meals a day, and the opportunity to drink as much overpriced beer as you want and then puke on the beach. The Yasawas themselves are beautiful, and we thought hard about going despite the atmosphere - but in the end it just wasn’t enough value for money and we went east instead.

Five Party Spots We Didn’t Avoid

1. Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng is a… special kind of place. Most of Laos is quiet and peaceful, but not here. Vang Vieng is a haven for the sort of backpacker that feels they aren’t getting the most out of their travels unless they’re stoned 24/7. The restaurants all have prominent menus by the door advertising “space” pizzas - your choice of psychoactive toppings. They all play back-to-back DVDs of Friends episodes on permanent repeat for their clienteles of bleary tank-top-clad 20-somethings, all on the nod. The main tourist activity in Vang Vieng is to go floating down the river on inner-tubes, stoned out of your mind, collecting beer from all the riverside bars, and then to go stumbling and screeching incoherently through the streets in search of munchies, sunburnt and covered in body-paint. We knew the reputation of the place beforehand, so we went with our eyes open. In fact, Vang Vieng is a charming little town once you’re away from the backpacker ghetto, and its situation amidst fascinating limestone karst landscape couldn’t be better. We rented bikes and spent our time caving in the surrounding hills.

2. Bali, Indonesia

In Australia, especially, we heard a lot of people claim to have travelled in Indonesia. But under further questioning it almost always emerged that they’d just been to Bali, taking advantage of cheap flights and package holidays. Bali is as much representative of Indonesia as Amsterdam is of the Netherlands, or as Goa is of India. Now, I wouldn’t claim to be an Indonesia veteran by any means; I’ve spent two months there in Sumatra, Java, Lombok and Borneo. And I’d definitely never claim to be an expert on Bali, having spent less than 24 hours there going from a ferry on one side of the island to another ferry on the other. Indonesia’s a vast and diverse country and every island has its own distinct culture - Bali, arguably, most distinct of all - so no one island could ever be representative of the whole. But - barring the remote inland mountain areas which are said to still be unspoiled, Bali was one of the places worst ruined by tourism I’ve ever been. The locals are servile, hostile or both, and the entire economy is geared for money-extraction from tourists. And half the island seems to be given over to one big party zone for the Australian kids. Twenty or thirty years ago Bali might have been lovely and fascinating, but now it’s a clapped-out caricature of itself.

3. Bangkok, Thailand

If you’re travelling in Southeast Asia you can’t really avoid Bangkok. And if you’re on a budget in Bangkok, you can’t avoid the Banglamphu district. And if you’re in Banglamphu you certainly can’t avoid the pathetic and disgusting freakshow called Khao San Road. Bangkok is an incredible, vibrant city full of culture and history, and the Thais have wisely and quietly concentrated the drunken hordes of obnoxious, shouting foreign backpackers to this one area of town. That not being enough, the “naked ghosts” all pack themselves into these few blocks of grotty pavement that I unaffectionately (but accurately) called Puke Street. “The KSR” is a 24-hour party strip lined with heaving bars and filthy, lice-ridden backpacker flophouses with cardboard walls. It’s the epicentre of the Banana Pancake Trail, an irresistible gravitational attraction for stoned gap-year assholes, and a Lonely-Planet-approved money-extraction machine built around the worst, most blatant kind of tourist-pandering. We took one walk down Puke Street just to prove to ourselves that it really was that lame and ridiculous, and then took a little room in a quiet alleyway at the very edge of the Banglamphu ghetto, and had a great time in Bangkok staying as far away from the noise and stupidity as we could get.

4. Queenstown, New Zealand

It bills itself as the “adrenaline capital of New Zealand”, a designation that ought to be enough of a warning. The town’s full of operators offering exciting, expensive activities like bungee-jumping, skydiving and the like, so the hostels are full of overstimulated backpackers loudly outdoing each others’ daily Adventure Activity, all regressed to an atavistic state of fist-pounding dumb-jock Bros and Dudes. It’s just like being in high-school again. The town itself is gorgeous, and its setting among the beautiful peaks of the Remarkables mountains can’t be beat, but it’s a very hard place to like. Such are my memories from an earlier trip, at least, and that’s what I was expecting when it became obvious that Sheryl and I wouldn’t be able to just quickly pass through town on our way north, but would have to stop a couple of days to have our visas renewed at the immigration office. But luck was with us. We were there over the Easter weekend, and the town was deserted. Turns out Queenstown’s a pretty nice place after all.

5. Galway City, Ireland

I can have fun sometimes, really. I mean, I am actually capable of it, despite the snarky impression I might have given here. I’ve left Galway for the last to prove that. I liked the place a lot. It’s got an amazing energy, friendly people, and a fantastic live music scene. We had a great time there, even though it was a holiday long weekend and the place was crammed with groups of bachelor parties and hen nights. It was like some demented but entertaining, totally improvised carnival. The most memorable evening there we spent with our German friend Armin and a Swiss girl, and it began with me horsewhipping a man in the middle of the street and ended with Armin running around a park asking all the men if he could measure their toes.

Flourish

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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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