Agree on the beachesIf you think Cozumel is gorgeous (which btw, I think it has the worst beaches in that area), you should check out Tulum and Akumal. It's unbelievable!
And ditto to scuba license... get it for sure!
I hope to get the balls to beat my fear of drowning and get that done too. I heard the corals in Mexico are spectacular!!!
i wasn't hanging on the beach. I was snorkeling for an hour and then we left. The Water was gorgeous. I've never in my life been in water like that. I've been to Akumai to swim with sea turtles and sting rays and Cozumel was better. For Akumai I didn't hang out on the beach. I went in the water to snorkel with sea turtles and then we left. So im' talking strictly from being in the water and the visibility. The only beach I hung out on was the one at my resort.If you think Cozumel is gorgeous (which btw, I think it has the worst beaches in that area), you should check out Tulum and Akumal. It's unbelievable!
And ditto to scuba license... get it for sure!
I hope to get the balls to beat my fear of drowning and get that done too. I heard the corals in Mexico are spectacular!!!
Thanks DG!as requested: tour companies a single woman could travel with:
great canadian travel company
great rail journeys
and some other ones in here Tour Companies; My Adventure Store
thats all i got, but im sure there are still many more.
I do not endorse any of these companies, I would certainly do your research via the internet/trip advisor etc.. into anything you may wish to take with these.
Fucking sketchy.Your Daughter Died
Your daughter died thousands of miles from home. In a hotel where no one came to help. In a hospital where she struggled to keep breathing and just couldn’t. In a room where her heart — and somehow you still don’t really believe this — just stuttered to a stop. In a country, where authorities have failed for months, years even, to tell you how or why your daughter died.
Your daughter died on an island in Thailand, famed for its stardust beaches and its parties that glitter through the night. She died in an old and lovely mountain town, in the northern reaches of that country, just a few days after she wrote to tell you how very much she loved it there. Of course, you worried; what parent doesn’t when a child travels so far from home? But you thought she was safe or you would never have opened your hands as you did, let her go.
Your daughter, you’ve come to realize, died in a pattern that links too many other young women, a chain of suspected poisonings over the last few years. It starts with Jill St. Onge, 27, of Seattle, Washington, and Julie Bergheim, 22, of Drammen, Norway, who both died in May 2009 on the southern island of Koh Phi Phi. It continues with Sherifa Khalid, 24, of Kuwait, who died 12 hours after she spent a day on the same island in July of the same year. And it still continues.
Not that this has ever been investigated with any apparent enthusiasm by the Thai authorities. In 2011, two years after Jill’s death, the U.S. Embassy in Thailand sent her parents a letter best characterized by its hang-wringing frustration:
“We have attempted on multiple occasions to find out what happened to all the items taken for testing…” it reads, noting that many of the test samples were not taken until five weeks after the deaths and that the police had made no effort to seal the women’s hotel rooms in the interim. The embassy had been unable to learn of any useful results that would explain the deaths on Koh Phi Phi. “I imagine your frustration with this is much greater than ours and that our sympathy is of little comfort.”
Your daughter, Soraya Vorster Pandola, 33, of Berkeley, California, died in January of 2011, the same year the embassy was expressing its frustration over another death. She died to the north, in the city of Chiang Mai, where she’d been working as a bicycle tour guide. “In her last communication with us, a few days before we learned she’d been hospitalized, our daughter communicated to us how much she loved Thailand and the friendships she had cultivated during a series of visits there,” her father, Ted Vorster, wrote to me after I wrote two posts about what struck me — like so many others — as too many deaths with too little credible explanation.
You rushed to Thailand, hoping to save your child. But your daughter died just hours after your arrival. The Vorsters were told that Soraya appeared to be suffering from exposure to some toxic chemical compound, possibly a pesticide. Yet, a few weeks later when others in the same city started to die with similar symptoms — acute nausea, difficulty breathing, inflammation of the heart muscle — her father recalls the “reaction of the authorities in Chiang Mai was to downplay the significance, despite the almost identical symptoms and rapid progress of the illness to what my daughter experienced.”
There was a tumbling block cascade of the dead that followed Soraya, mostly people staying at a hotel called the Downtown Inn. First a Canadian, Bill Mah, 59 on Jan. 26; followed by the death of a Thai tour guide, Warapom Pungmahisiranom, 47 on Feb. 3; New Zealander Sarah Carter, 23, on Feb. 4, and a British couple, Bill, 78, and Eileen Everitt, 74, two weeks later. As the Bangkok Post reported, the building that began to be referred to as “the death hotel” was torn down this spring.
Your daughter died; she was only 23. So it was Sarah Carter’s death that drew the most attention, largely because her parents exploded in a fury of protest. Of course they did. They had nothing to hold on to, no explanation of loss, as they struggled to understand. The governor of Chiang Mai at first dismissed all the deaths as a coincidence. An investigation by a New Zealand television station raised the idea of insecticide poisoning, perhaps the illicit use of the pesticide, chlororpyrifos, to treat bed bugs. But, as I wrote this fall, that particular compound makes imperfect sense because while poisonous, it’s also a neurotoxin not particularly known for causing inflammation of the heart muscle, and heart damage was a consistent symptom in the Chiang Mai deaths.
The letter to Jill St. Onge’s parents tells you that U.S. officials doubted that idea from the beginning, mostly because the compound is only considered moderately toxic on the dangerous pesticide scale. “Chlorpyrifos alone seems unlikely because extremely high concentrations would be needed to kill so quickly,” the embassy wrote in the spring of 2011. The Carters, the St. Onge family, the Vorsters, all of them, are still waiting for that believable explanation.
So your daughter died and instead of answers you started hearing the whispers. The rumors, the under-the-table theories. People contacted you, I suspect, as they’ve contacted me. You heard those darker stories of life in this corner of the world. You received notes like this one:
“I used to work in Phuket (a resort island off Thailand’s southern coast) in 5-star hotels and have seen it to be a common practice to poison foreigners. It has never been made public but I do know of the poisoning of an executive chef, a Swiss sales and marketing girl and a general manager who almost died… the police never took any action and neither did the owners and it was kept quiet…” You received messages that echoed your anger and frustration: “something is rotten in Thailand.” Messages that hinted at cover-ups and conspiracies: “Everyone blamed bug poison….but there is something scarier going on.”
You received copies of stories, such as travel journalist Nina-Noelle Hall’s look at the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand’s C-magazine about the resort island of Koh Phi Phi: “When the unlucky vomit to death, find themselves in a murderous altercation, or go missing, the authorities have a suspicious pattern of allowing the case to fade into distant memories, old archives, all “unexplained.” You learned that even the tourism-focused paper, Phuket Wan, has crusaded for more honest investigations of these deaths on the islands.
But still daughters continued to die. This summer, two more dead on Koh Phi Phi, two sisters from a small town in Canada who decided to vacation together and who died together in their hotel room in June. Again, there’s a moving target of explanations from the authorities. The police blame first poisonous mushrooms, then poisonous fish, then a cocktail laced with the mosquito repellent DEET as a cause for the deaths of the Belanger sisters, Noemi, 26 and Audrey, 20. And again, as I wrote earlier, none of these suggestions ever answered your questions.
So your daughter died and you may never know why or how. You wonder if you could have somehow saved her but there’s no way to find that out. “I am under no illusion that we will ever get the kind of answers that would lay to rest the constant ‘what-ifs’ my wife and I entertain in thinking about our daughter’s death,” Ted Vorster wrote to me last week. “We cannot change the fact of her death, yet without any clear understanding of what caused it, I feel an acute sense that we are betraying her memory, particularly if it was preventable in some way.”
If you could get some answers, you might able to save someone else’s child. And if you could do that, it might offer you some comfort, some resolution. But instead you are left, trapped, at the point where all of this started.
Your daughter died.
Note: After I wrote the two posts cited above, I talked in late October about the poisoning of young female tourists in Southeast Asia on NPR’s All Things Considered. Many people contacted me afterward with tips, their personal stories, investigations that they’d done into deaths in Thailand. All of them expressed frustration over the limbo-land that these families have been left to wander, which I’ve tried to convey here. But I’d also like to send my thanks to the families of Soraya Vorster and Jill St. Onge for their help with this story, to Denis Green, Nina-Noelle Hall, and to the generosity of everyone who wrote and wanted to help.
I am a bar/restaurant/guesthouse owner on Phi Phi island, and I can't tell you how many young people, of both sexes, I see or hear every night that are completely out of it as a result of drinking bucket concoctions. They do and say things they wouldn't normally dream of doing.... they have sex with strangers in obscure places (ie on my pool table, on the roof of my house, on our boat seats in the bar which are named in honour of people who died in the tsunami, in the tsunami memorial garden in front of the memorial wall) and the wonder why the locals get shitty; they decide they can twirl fire sticks or jump through burning hoops or over burning skipping ropes and give themselves 3rd degree burns; they go swimming in the dark and tread on sea urchins etc; and sometimes they even think they can crowd surf, even though there's no tighly packed mosh pit full of people to catch them.
And yes, sometimes i truly believe they do and say these things because someone has knowingly or unknowingly slipped a little something extra in their drink, usually into a bucket as its wide opening allows for inconspicuous drink spiking, while the shitty alcohol and sweet mixers they generally contain provide an easy taste cover-up.
Before anyone points the finger, we refuse to sell buckets at our bar, and also refuse entry to anyone who attempts to enter our bar with a bucket purchased anywhere else. We believe buckets are evil as even the ones you mix and prepare yourself are dangerous. You only have to sit them down for a moment while you go to the loo or something, and hey bingo, someone can drop any number of substances into your bucket. Furthermore, some of the bars here who offer buy 1 get 1 free deals for buckets etc, are known to use the poorest quality alcohol as the base mixer (often akin to ethanol in some cases), the horrible flavour of which is then covered up by the super sweet redbull or coca cola.
My theory for the mysterious deaths of the canadian sisters on Phi Phi and perhaps some of the other deaths of young women in thailand and vietnam, is that they were the result of accidental poisoning or the result of failed attempts of date rape. Ie, either the girls have knowingly tried a special 'local' bucket, or someone has drugged their drinks without their knowledge in the hopes of making them really out of it and therefore more likely to agree to 'putting out'. But either the girls have not realised how strong the buckets are and have drunk way too much, or the persons spiking their drinks have added way too much of a particular substance.
I don't believe the Chiang Mai deaths are connected in any way to the Phi Phi deaths. Most of those deaths in Chiang Mai were not young females and they all stayed at the same hotel. I think you can safely concur in that instance the multitude of deaths were caused by something within the hotel... ie perhaps the bed bug spray theory. And perhaps the Laleena guest house deaths on Phi Phi might fall within this category also as Jill's boyfriend also got sick, but didn't die, and says they did not drink any buckets that night. And all of the people who got sick or died were staying at that guest house.
In particular, I believe the two canadian sisters died from a lethal cocktail of substances contained in a buckets, and that thai authorities were correct in suggesting deet poisoning. The 4 x 100 buckets are not as rare as some people might have you believe (with kra tom leaves, cough medicine, coca cola and ice... sometimes with added redbull). But i think in their case they tried a local version (with or without their knowledge) which contains deet. Contrary to how most people are suggesting this is prepared, in that liquid deet is added to the bucket, no one has spoken up about using mosquito coils. That's right, ground up mossie coils. Has anyone looked at the toxicology associated with the ingestion of mossie coils? No it's all been about liquid deet.
Before you suggest my idea is crazy, I personally know some local thais who have added crushed up mossie coils to their kra tom mixes on more than one occasion. One guy was very seriously ill after doing so and ended up paralysed for days, which would perhaps explain why the girls didn't leave their rooms to seek help.
Why mossie coils? They are cheap, readily available, and apparently cause hallucinogenic effects similar to magic mushie shakes, and what's more, make them really off their face. The few locals who I know that do this on occasion are addicts who turned to drugs as a way of coping with grieft and loss in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. When they can't get their ice, or ya ba, or whatever else they need, they will do anything to get out of their own heads. It's sad but true.
While i'm not suggesting this habit of drinking ground up mossie coils is widespread, i am sharing this info as proof that it does exist. And if these boys can do it, that means others are also doing it elsewhere. What's a likely course of action is that someone offered the girls a local bucket, but didn't fully explain its contents, because really, who would knowingly drink ground up mossie coils (apart from true drug addicts). Whether it was the two boys seen walking them home, someone else they met or talked to that night, or someone who worked in the bar that gave them the buckets remains unclear. I don't believe anyone intentionally tried to kill them, but perhaps the intention was to get them sufficiently lubricated and relaxed enough to consider a wild night of doing things out of character that they wouldn't normally do.
The other theory is it was marketed to the girls as a mushie shake (apparently, according to my local thai friends it's not an entirely abstract idea to think someone would grind up mossie coils into a bucket and try pass it off as a mushie shake!) and they decided to let their hair down and give it a try (this would also explain why their family has put a hush on the whole subject now, as they wouldn't want their girls reputations tarnished by one bad decision... after all, haven't most twenty somethings tried something illegal at sometime... i know i did!)
I have had many people walk up to me in the bar and ask if I sell mushie shakes or anything else like it, so is that not proof enough that they've been able to buy them elsewhere?
Anyway this is all food for thought... As the author states, raising awareness is the most important thing to come out of these deaths so that they don't continue. And these rules apply all over the world, not just in thailand, and certainly not just in Phi Phi.
Buy and open your own drinks, and only buy mixed drinks where you can openly see them being made. Never leave your drinks unattended or with someone you've only just met. And if something doesn't taste right, don't drink it. If you want to meddle with illicit substances, do so at your own risk and be prepared for any ill effects. Make sure someone you know and trust knows what your taking and when, so that if anything goes wrong, they can get the medics to help you.
I am sad for all of the concerned families who have had their loved ones taken from them, and in such seemingly strange circumstances. I send my heart felt condolences, and truly hope that there is not another death like it.