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Archive for the ‘Koh Phi Phi’ Category

I’ve worked abroad a few times. Just like most people who do it, I seek labour to help me fund the rest of my traveling – hostels, food, drink, transport, and everything else in between. It can add up to be a pretty big bill.

I’ve taught English, handed out flyers on the street and sold promotion packages. Soon (fingers crossed…) I’ll either be employed in a bar, or on a farm.

To work, officially, you need a work visa. But there are PLENTY of places who will overlook this small detail. In fact, of the three jobs abroad I have held up until now, only one required any proof that I was legally eligible to work. One. The others? They’ve decided to take the calculated risk, which of course means that you do too.

Thailand

My Thai working visa was organised through a company called CIEE – the people who also found my teaching placement. I paid them a fee (which I found to be very reasonable) which covered all the costs of my visa, plus a great deal more, and it took away the headache of going through all the paperwork myself. Not bad. Because CIEE handled my paperwork, I don’t know much about obtaining a working visa for Thailand. What I understand is that you must first have a non-immigrant visa on your passport. Then to obtain a work permit, it seems that you must have a job lined up with an employer who will in effect ‘sponsor’ you and provide a contract with your job description and the dates that you will be employed.

In Thailand, my English teaching job was very official. I filled in any number of forms, got a fancy stamp in my passport, got a whole new booklet (my work permit) that looked a lot like another passport and signed a document every month when I received my salary.

We never came across any real problems, and I received my salary in cash which made things a lot simpler. The only hiccup was that my original contract ended on the last day of school. Of course it would; why not, right? The problem? Once my contract was over, I was no loner authorised to stay in the country and would have to either leave, or at least do a quick hop over the border to get a new entry visa as a tourist. The issue: it would mean missing the last week of school to get to the border and back. Luckily, we were able to have our contracts extended as long as the other teachers and I promised not to demand a salary for the extra month which, in theory, we could probably have done.

After teaching, and a couple of months of traveling through Laos and Cambodia, I was back in Thailand and looking for ways to save my dwindling pile of money. Now, of course, I had no valid work permit and nor did my traveling friend. So what did we do? We landed on Koh Phi Phi and quickly became one of the many travelers you see there handing out flyers for the various bars, advertising free buckets (of alcohol), free barbeques, Thai boxing, and any number of incentives to drive traffic. We were paid in cash at the end of each night, no questions asked. The problem is, the island had a slight run-in with the law and, as a result, the police (usually bribed to look the other way) took our photos and shut the bars down early. Luckily that was the worst that happened. I still got paid.

In theory, you are taking the risk of getting in trouble if you do this. But in my own experience and from what I’ve seen, the benefit outweighs the risk. It’s more often the company (i.e. the bar that hired me) that deal with the problems. The police know that you’re going to be gone soon anyway. Spending time getting you in trouble is rarely worthwhile for them.

Australia

Now I’m spending time in Australia, and again looking for ways to support myself and enable my traveling.

Before I arrived here, I obtained a Working Holiday Visa which was incredibly easy. Australia does all of their visas online, which means no need to send your passport anywhere. All I did was apply online, make a quick appointment at the doctors for a chest x-ray, and presto – a visa confirmation in my Gmail inbox. Simple as that.

Unlike the Thai visa, I didn’t have to have a job lined up for me. The Working Holiday Visa allows you to seek any kind of work after you have entered the country for up to six months at a time. Much easier.

When I first came here back in May, I stopped in Byron Bay for about a week. While I didn’t work there, I became good friends with quite a few people who did. Everyone I met worked in the hostel where I had a bed – Aquarius Backpackers. I don’t think that their work required a Working Holiday Visa, although most of them had one and often held a second job in bars and offices in the town. I would strongly recommend looking for hostel work to anyone traveling around Oz. It doesn’t require much work (at Aquarius, it was two hours a day) and your pay is in the form of free accommodation. It’s perfect if you’re running low on money and looking for ways to ease the pain. With free accommodation, you’re saving anywhere from $20 – $40/night. That’s pretty good if you ask me!

For the last month in Sydney I worked for Redhot PR, selling promotional packages for Sydney’s top hair salons on the street, in shopping centres, on the beach. Just about anywhere. The pros: they also promote bars and big events, which meant free club entry, and free tickets to things like the Space Ibiza party I went to on New Years Day. They also sent me to Melbourne for a week to work, paying for my flight and accommodation. Plus, every Friday they provided drinks and a small party in the office before we headed out for the night. They certainly piled on the added bonuses.

The cons: technically we were not allowed to sell inside shopping centres, the airport, or anywhere else, which meant spending the day dodging security guards and occasionally getting kicked out. There was no hourly wage, which meant all of my income was commission based. This could be seen as a good thing, as it meant your potential salary is completely unlimited. The difficulty is, if you’re having a rough day, you’re not on your game – you come home with nothing. A lot of people are fantastic at this job. Myself – I had a great start, but I quickly got worn down and eventually it became impossible for me to stay. You’ll find, in Sydney at least, that there are a LOT of jobs like this. My advice – give it a go, and try to stick it out for one week. If, by then, you don’t see the potential, at least you tried, but a week should be enough time for you to see whether you have what it takes.

Next on my list is either bar work or farm work, so we’ll see how it goes!

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So I successfully completed three nights of being a promotions girl for Reggae bar. While it was nice to get the small income (can’t complain when you’re getting free alcohol all night plus 300Baht and you’re only paying 200Baht for your bed…) I really enjoyed the chance to get to meet so many different people. Holding a pack of flyers in your hand is a great excuse to talk to complete strangers. The Tiger Bar and Reggae Bar promoters were a great group of people, almost exclusively Brits interestingly enough, and we definitely knew how to have fun. I got to watch the sunrise after my first night of work and then sit on the curbside commiserating with other over tired staff the next day. Then I got to see what influence the Thai mafia/police (same thing…) have around here on my second night, then on my last night I was reminded that my job was actually illegal. Technically.

On most/all of the Thai islands, the place is controlled by the Thai mafia. The only reason bars, especially on the beach, party until the sun comes up is because they pay off the police enough to keep them from shutting down the music. Unfortunately, sometimes things don’t go to plan. Someone doesn’t get their money, or someone elses causes a problem and people get angry. A few days before my first day of work a stabbing occurred at one of the beach bars. The story differs, some people say the guy survived, some insist he’s dead, some say it was a fight between two white guys, others say a Thai bar staff member was involved. Either way, the police were not happy about it. After a few days of uncooperation, the police decided they were going to starve out the information that they apparently think is being kept by some barstaff. So on my second night, all the bars on the island got the call that they had to shut down at 1am or there woul be trouble. Most Thai people don’t like trouble, in fact they really go out of their way to avoid it, so by 1am the island went dark despite the many many angry football fans who were waiting to watch the semi final game at 1:30am. It was a nil-nil game anyway; at least they didn’t have to miss any epic history making match. After walking to the beach just to briefly observe the shocked tourists standing around still trying to order alcohol, I headed home for a proper nights sleep.

Our third night out, the same call went out – 1am shut down. We started work at 7pm – an hour earlier than usual, however Claudia and I showed up at 7:20, unaware of the time change, grabbed our flyers then ran off to sit down for dinner… Very good work ethic, I know. After a yummy green curry we set out to actually start promoting, only to be quickly shut down. A strange looking Thai man had come around taking photos of the white promotion staff, then shortly after that our manager came around taking away our flyers and saying “Immigration police, go go go, come back in one hour.” So we walked off around the corner, found the Tiger Bar staff and joined them at their bar to wait it out and share travel stories.
After our hour waiting period I wandered back to find the immigration police had decided that Reggae Bar wasn’t such a bad place and they would in fact be spending the whole night there. Hmm.. I walked up to the bar, was very generously still given my full wages, then told to hang around outside the bar and discreetly ‘promote’ Reggae Bar without the flyers for awhile. That didnt have to last very long since a curfew was already set. This time it seems the cops relented and allowed one of the beach bars to keep their big screens running without sound so as not to upset the football hooligans two nights in a row. After watching what seemed like the longest game ever with some fellow staff at the beach, I made it home in time to sleep for about three hours before an early wake up and a boat ride to the mainland.

Claudia and I made the ferry, then got into a minivan to drive down to Hat Yai where we hired a private taxi to drive us down aross the Malaysian border and back again. Got to love those visa runs. So now we have one night in Hat Yai before heading to Koh Pha Ngan once again for full moon number three. Hey why not, right?

Then, my very big news is that I may be headed Down Under after all! Will keep you updated…

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The group split up again temporarily and Emily and I headed down to Koh Phi Phi while Claudia stayed behind to meet up one more time with our old travel buddy Calvin before he headed back to Canada and the real world again.

We spent four lovely nights on one of the nicest islands I’ve seen. Our guesthouse was situated on a beautiful beach in a protected bay with white sand and blue waters. Not bad.

The tides in the bay are amazing; I suppose because the level of the sand is so even the tides appear absolutely enormous. Around midday there is often only a few feet of beach, but by the middle of the night you can walk out almost 100 feet before you hit any water at all.

We spent most of the time being beach bums during the day and checking out the bars at night. We managed to run into Bella, a friend of Emily and Claudia’s from home and her friend Lucy who were traveling around the world and celebrating Bella’s 23rd birthday on the island which was a great reason to celebrate!

On our last day there the four of us went on a boat trip to explore the other beaches and the second island of Koh Phi Phi which has, among it’s features, the beach used in the movie “The Beach.” We headed out and although the tide was pretty strong, Lucy and I were determined to go check out the famous beach. It was a pretty tiring swim from the boat and then a rather dangerous climb up and over some rocks on a very wobbly bamboo ladder, but we made it nonetheless. It would probably have been the most beautiful beach I’d ever seen if it weren’t for the hundred other people there thinking the same thing. The sand was soft and pure white and the water amazingly clear.

After that and some more snorkeling stops we hit Monkey Bay, a secluded beach inhabited by..monkeys! How did you know?? The four of us were the first ones to get on our kayaks and land on the beach. As we started to walk towards these monkeys I picked up a little plastic toy mobile phone thinking ‘oh cute, the monkey’s have toys.’ Then these ‘cute’ monkeys starting approaching us…at a full on sprint…and growling… I RAN back into the water which turned out to be a good choice since they can’t swim and therefore couldn’t get near us. Unfortunately Emily ran the other way and so after I chucked the plastic phone at them to get them away from Bella and myself they turned on poor Emily and one of them managed to sink it’s teeth into her knee before she could hit them away and run to safety. A little traumatic. She is now safe and sound back in England and halfway through a course of Rabies injections. Thanks Thailand. I skipped over this in my last post, but while we were in Pai, Emily also got her hand almost eaten off by a baby elephant. Thai animals and Emily Foot – maybe not such a good idea apparently.

After that we reunited with Claudia who had one night out with me in Phi Phi before we headed to Koh Lanta for some serious peace and quiet. Lanta is a beautiful island but thanks to low season it is really really quiet. Almost eerily so. I enjoyed my time with the girls but this place wasn’t for me. After three nights Claudia and I are now back in Koh Phi Phi! Our bank accounts are feeling very pressured, so to give them a little rest we have become one of those annoying people who stop you in the street with a flyer and try to get you to come to their bar. Yup. I’m a bar flyer girl. Hey it pays and covers my accomodation and most of my food/extra costs each day while we do it, so it doesn’t hurt. Last night was our first night and I actually enjoyed meeting all the other travellers like us who needed a bit of extra cash and an excuse to stay on this island just a bit longer.

After this our trip may be coming to an end sooner than I would like. Money being the main driving factor of course. I was thinking about the idea of going home today, and while it seems strange, I think I am getting close to achieving what I wanted out of this experience. There’s still a small hope that Claudia and I will make it to Vietnam, but barring that happening, it looks like a couple of weeks to make some last memories on the islands before a flight back to London town. Hopefully I will then be making it Stateside to see mum and dad and my other American loves for a few weeks before getting back to London to try and ride out this recession!

Meanwhile, back to the beach for a few hours before it’s time to hand out those flyers!

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