One sunny evening at Alum Chine Beach, Flic and her colleagues planned to have a drink before the work summer party. Unfortunately, they were unable to get a table at the overcrowded (and underwhelming) Vesuvio, but much to everyone’s delight, the ever classy Flic pulled a six-pack of Red Stripe from her Mary-Poppins-esque bag and thus was born the Tinny On The Beach.
Here, Flic and Nick discuss what they’re drinking and where they’re drinking it.
The times they are a Chang-ing
The truth of the matter is that we don’t drink much beer these days. When we started ‘Tinny On the Beach’ back in England, we were beaten down by the 9 to 5 grind so a zippy IPA or a fulsome ale was a regular and necessary glass of solace for us. Now that our Thai visas are nearing their 60 day limits, our worries consist of finding the right mosquito repellent and leaving new found friends behind. Whilst the latter can be particularly painful and the former infuriatingly itchy, these woes are solved by the joy of discovering new places and the efficiency of Facebook Messenger. What’s more, a fresh coconut shake, bursting with flavour and electrolytes, is often cheaper than a dehydrating and insipid beer.
Yet there are moments when a bottle of adult lemonade is absolutely necessary. One such moment was on the gorgeous island of Koh Lipe, when we met with former ‘colleagues’ from our Tipsy Tiger volunteering days in Malaysia. This being Alex, a rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ Nebraskan, and Vanessa, an ageless zen queen from Chile with mouthwatering tales of avocado. When you have spent over 2 weeks drinking every day with certain people, it is of course pleasant to spend time sober with them. But it is essential that you drink with them at every opportunity because you never know when you will see them again. After a feast of a dinner at Papaya Restaurant, just around the corner of Walking Street at the Sunrise beach end, with a whole sea bass, spicy som tam and piles of sticky rice, we took to Pataya beach with a large bottle of Chang.
At this point I should explain that 3 out of 4 of us were on antibiotics. Alex, because he had ripped open his hand on some rocks whilst clambering around on a rocky island just off the shore that day (he’d also lost his bank card to an ATM, which rubbed salt in to his large and multiple wounds). Nick, because he was recovering from a mysterious UTI picked up in Penang and Vanessa because of some condition that was not properly disclosed, whether due to the language barrier or for reasons of confidentiality. Flic was the only person that should have been drinking, but there we were with bottles in hand, amongst the locals, perched on huge wooden sun loungers that probably weren’t free to use but no one was checking or cared by this time.
Chang cannot be described as a great beer, but through anecdotal evidence we have gathered, including looking under shop counters to see what the staff are drinking during their shift, checking our wing mirrors to see what other scooter drivers are drinking whilst on the move and casting our eyes around beach bars packed with tourists, it’s fairly safe to say that it’s one of the most popular beers in Southern Thailand. This is most likely because it’s cheap, but may also be due to the cool label, designed with a laid back swirly font and two charming elephants. Finally, it may be because it’s marketed as being 5% alcohol, and will therefore be more effective than other Thai brands at getting you sloshed. And whilst there are claims that the alcohol content is now being regulated, this is about as truthful as Nigel Farage saying that Britain is now a better place because of Brexit. This means that you never really know how strong, or weak, your beer is. You just have to suck it and see. Sometimes you lose out, sometimes you hit the motherload. This gamble adds another edge of appeal to the beer.
Whatever the reason for Chang’s popularity, it is not down to the taste or the body of the beer. It is far too metallic on the tongue, with a chemical hoppiness and a rough finish. There are no stand out flavours except for ‘beer’, which would be fine if the craft ale revolution never happened, but it has and now we want a bit more from our lager. Even so, after a hot day and a super spicy dinner, the taste of a good old fashioned, industrially processed beverage can be refreshing, as it was for us as we watched the inky tide under the silver glow of the waning super moon.
We played cards, we told tales from our travels and our past lives and pretended that this was normal. We hoped we’d see each other again, but you never really know what the future holds. Under our laughs, our starry eyed smiles, you could detect an honest sadness, a disquieting sense of reality. We were all going to keep moving, never staying still for too long. This may have been the last of these gatherings, a miraculous meeting in itself.
Beers finished, ocean admired and locals bid farewell, we headed off to bed. Well, we went to sleep, but Vanessa informed me the next day (via Facebook Messenger) that she and Alex had continued drinking and had been escorted home by the police. When I asked for further explanation, she replied that the police were their friends and left it at that. We never heard the full story, but I suspect that on another shore, with a bottle of Chang, all will be revealed.
Pasir Panjang – a Bitter Disappointment
This Tinny on the Beach comes from Wild Pasir Panjang, a long, and potentially beautiful, beach on the small island of Pulau Tuba. You’ve probably never heard of it, but Pulau Tuba is part of the Langkawi archipelago, a 5 minute boat ride from the surprisingly developed main island, off the west coast of Malaysia.
Before we get to the beer – Tiger, by the way, nothing too fancy this time – here’s how we ended up stuck there. We found this ‘resort’ via the very useful website workaway.info, a site where travellers can find free accommodation and the like in return for offering their skills. An exchange of culture and labour that should benefit both parties.
The listing said that they required volunteers to help clean the 800 metre (this is an exaggeration on their part) private beach for 3 to 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, in exchange for accommodation and breakfast. An update posted in June also mentioned that they had housekeeping vacancies and which would involve 6 hours work a day, 6 days a week, but would include ‘incentives’. We signed up for the 3 to 4 hours a day beach cleaning. This sounded like a good deal to us and the feedback on the website was wholly positive, with people saying how friendly the owner was and how the work was easy. We also checked out their AirBnB listing and so many of the comments described the resort as a paradise, kept mentioning the owner Gahsri and noting how hospitable he was. This isn’t what we found when we arrived.
We hopped off the boat expecting to be welcomed to the tiny strip of beach by the owner himself – the famous Gahsri. We’ve spent a lot of time on the islands of Fiji and we know very well that you know exactly when someone new arrives on an island because there’s so little else happening during the day. Anyway, Gahsri was obviously too busy to meet us because he didn’t show up. Instead, a delightful lady named Emma, who later became a mother hen figure as we became increasingly disheartened with paradise, met us and showed us to our dorm. She mentioned that Gahsri might come over and see us, but there was the implication that we weren’t really worth his time right now. He’d have to walk from his house which would take about 2 minutes. Pretty welcoming and friendly.
The first thing we had to do was make our dorm liveable. We knew it would be open air, with a roof and low walls, and this sounded rather exciting in a boy scout/girl guide kind of way. It was a fine structure, proudly facing out over the beach with a great view of Langkawi, especially at night when the lights of the coast glow and the lightning flashes over the rainforest mountains. The only downside was that our sheets were dirty – Flic’s had an ominous crusty white stain that we never managed to identify and didn’t really want to. Our pillows were covered in black mould and our mattresses were as thin as the cheaper than cheap sliced bread we were given for breakfast. But we’re travelling, out for adventure and abandoning our ideals of luxury, like old Tolstoy in his peasant phase, so we could put up with this.
Next up, we were told about the fantastic Wild Kitchen, a superb little kitchen set up on the beach, completely open at the sides for great views, with everything you need to rustle up a hearty meal. There was a twin gas hob, rice cooker, blender, a selection of spices and seasonings, a fridge-freezer, running filtered tap water and a big old wooden table in the centre to make you feel at home. But what we were told about this kitchen was that we weren’t allowed to use it, or spend any time there unless we were working there. No, we were to use our own kitchen behind our dorm so that the guests would be spared the sight of us filthy volunteers rehydrating our supplies of dried food, perish the thought.
Our ‘kitchen’ consisted of a low, mouldy wooden table, a single ring camp stove (without a gas cylinder at first) and a sink unit that wasn’t plumbed in. What’s more, the few bits of cutlery, saucepans and utensils we were provided with were mouldy, rusting and evidently had not been cleaned for months – understandable in a kitchen with no running water. On the plus side, it was just about covered by the edge of the dorm roof so we could still ‘cook’ in the torrential rain.
Still trying to make this work, we enquired about the bathroom. We were shown to an open air toilet and shower room, tucked away at the edge of the jungle. Excellent, we thought, we love a bit of open air showering! But then we smelled a terrible waft of raw, unrefined sewage. This was coming from the toilet which was completely blocked. An attempt at flushing it with a bucket of water yielded no positive results and actually increased the pong. Flic only just made it to the door before the tidal wave of faeces engulfed her flip flops. The solution to this was not to fix the toilet, but for Emma to share the bathroom in her bungalow with us. Of course, we have no objection to sharing someone’s bathroom, but it did seem quite unfair that Emma had to share her own bathroom with 3 volunteers, as well as any paying guests staying in the dorm. We were told that a new toilet would be fitted the next day, but as expected, this never happened.
So, not the best of beginnings to a new adventure. However, Flic set to cleaning the dorm and washing as much of our kitchen equipment as possible, while I met the extraordinary Gahsri. His first words to me, as he saw me carrying a mop, were, “You are doing work, good.” He then told me to stop what I was doing and follow him as he picked up some rusty secateurs and loppers. He asked me where I was from, I replied “England,” and that was the extent of the conversation. He did not ask my name, make any further introductory efforts and gave the impression that small talk was far beneath him. He led me to a big tree and gestured that I should cut the branches above my head so that the sea could be seen from the bungalow behind us. He then made a similar gesture to a tallish hedge. I assumed that he had a poor grasp of English because he used so few words, but I later learned that this was not the case.
This was the most satisfying task I undertook during my week at Pasir Panjang because it had a clear purpose, and by the end it was obvious that I had done a hearty afternoon’s work. Sadly, most of the other work we were asked to do was fairly pointless – such as spending hours creating a new AirBnB listing as requested, only to be told to delete it because it had already been done by someone else – and would not afford us such satisfaction. Gahsri was also impressed by the work, and surprised us by inviting us to drink with him in the evening. We accepted gladly.
After cold, trickling showers, we were treated to a delicious meal by the wonderful Emma. On the sly, she cooked us a spicy Malaysian omelette, showed us how to use a rice cooker and shared some chicken and cashew nuts that were left over from the meal prepared for the guests. We shared the food and ate with our hands, mixing in spicy homemade lime pickle and a punchy chilli sauce. This felt truly welcoming, and our friendship blossomed over this meal as all good friendships should. Even though we ate in fear that we would be caught in the kitchen, we relaxed and started to feel at home with our carer from Kedah who saw the beauty of the world all around her.
Later that evening, we were summoned to Gahsri’s house further along the beach for our welcome drink. We sat under the veranda of his beach front bungalow, along with 2 Australian guests who were departing the next day. With a beer in hand, Gahsri was a changed man. He welcomed us both to the island, and offered us can after can of Tiger beer. We sipped our cool, watery lager under the stars and wondered if this could work after all. We were entertained with stories from Gahsri’s travels, from his time in Engand and his experiences in Japan. He became a great conversationalist, and even though he kept calling Elton John a ‘poof’ and explained that he liked lesbians but not gays, there was a hint of knowing irony that almost made this ok. Almost.
As we finished the last can of Tiger, Gahsri explained that he was shocked earlier in the day when he realised we wanted to stay on the island for 1 month. Quite why this should have been a shock, when we had mentioned it several times over email, was beyond us. But we were a few beers in so we just let it pass. He told us that we could possibly stay for a month, but he’d see how we were doing after 2 weeks because he couldn’t keep us around if we were useless. He mentioned that he had another volunteer lined up anyway, so we were totally replaceable. Sure, this is a fair policy and probation is common in many jobs, but it would have been nice to have been made aware of this months ago when we were invited to the island, instead of in front of paying guests in the middle of our ‘welcome’ drinks. All of a sudden, we felt again like we were an inconvenience, an afterthought. We went to bed troubled, unsure how long we could stick this out.
Over the next few days, things went from bad to worse. The worst included 6 hours of hard labour, breaking and shifting concrete; Nick digging a hole as deep as himself to bury non-biodegradable rubbish and Emma being told repeatedly that she was not to allow us in the kitchen, along with the dogs. The most heartbreaking task was being told to throw a bag of rubbish in to the sea because it was food waste. As Nick did this, the bag emptied and out came plastic bottles, tin cans and crisp packets. Nick tried to get back as much as he could, but he couldn’t reach it all. We had come to clean the beach, but we’d succeeded in filling it with rubbish.
This was accompanied by Gahsri treating us like second class citizens at all times, unless ries and simply barked orders at us.We were given tasks without any context or objective, and then told we were doing them completely wrong. It’s hard to explain how unwelcome and uncomfortable this made us feel, but it broke us in the end.
There was the occasional glimmer of hope. Being able to take fresh oysters from the rocks at low tide and slurp them for dinner is an experience we will never forget. The day after we arrived, another volunteer, Tugce, a laid back, super smart engineer from Turkey, joined us. By day she would inspire us with her resolve, and persuade us to swim in the sea in the monsoon rain to help us forget our troubles. At night we would sit on the veranda of our dorm, along with Emma, swap pictures of our cats and stories of our adventures in the haze of spicy cigarette smoke as we gazed out to sea. There is no doubt that we will consider these people close friends for the rest of our lives.
Eventually things became too much for us to make volunteering our time and labour worth staying. We left after 7 days, and spent the next week on the luscious island of Langkawi recovering. This was not how we expected it to end, but when we met Emma and Tugce on the jetty from Pulau Tuba a few days later, the sense of companionship we felt told us it might have been worth it after all.
Fiji Bitter or Fiji Gold?
Fiji has an abundance of beaches. This makes choosing one particular beach to write about very difficult indeed. From the Mamanucas to the Yasawas and beyond, each island has their own slice of coastal paradise. Bounty Island, for instance, is just a large beach with a restaurant and some trees in the centre. There are so many beaches that the tourist industry here is almost running out of enthusiasm for them – one of the islands is known as ‘White Sandy Beach’ as if they just couldn’t think of anything else to say about it. According to fellow travellers we’ve met, it’s a delightful place to stay but we couldn’t bring ourselves to stay somewhere with such an unimaginative name.
On the other hand, the beer situation is the complete opposite. Fiji has two beers (we’re ignoring Vonu because it’s not available on the islands and is nothing to write home about anyway), Fiji Bitter and Fiji Gold. Both brewed on the mainland by the same company, they’ve found a solution to the Wetherspoons existential crisis whereby you find yourself pacing up and down the bar for close to an hour, eyeing up the pumps and craning your neck to see the fridges, trying to decide which craft beer to sip on for the next 20 minutes.
The limited selection of beer echoes life out on the islands. The extent of the decisions you need to make on these isles with no cars, barely any WiFi and a handful of people, are limited to: Should we get out of our beds and walk 10 paces to the hammock to watch the sunrise? Should we sit on the beach and read our books in the shade or in the sun? Which way are we going to snorkel today? Which hermit crab should we choose for the crab race? These are not big decisions, so it’s fitting that the choice of beer follows suit.
Yet, if you’re travelling through Fiji on a budget you may find that you can only stretch to one beer a day, as we did, after a hard day spent lazing in a hammock. But don’t worry, we’ve tested the two ubiquitous beers so you have one less decision to make on your trip.
Picture the scene: Naqalia Lodge beach, 100 meters of pure white sand, blessed with a gentle tide of crystal clear water and backed with 4 beach bungalows hidden amongst the palm trees. Sounds perfect, we know, but this is not such an uncommon scene out here. So why did we choose Naqalia for this special occasion? Because the beers were only 4fjd at happy hour – by far the cheapest beers we found on the islands. There we sat with our beers, the beach to ourselves, as the sun started packing up for the day and the sky did it’s orangey oil painting thing. So, enough waffle, let’s talk beer.
Fiji Gold is marketed as an easy drinking, light lager. The label boasts that it has less calories, but less than what is not specified. On the nose, it’s wheaty with a metallic hint of copper. There’s also a hint of the smell you get when you wash bar mats at the end of a shift in a pub. Don’t let this put you off, it’s a delicious aroma.
Sipping the golden brew, we found it to be as light as it promised, with hints of caramel mingling with an overall wheaty taste. This is an easy drinking beer, perfect for a refreshing midday tipple or after a day spent kayaking around an island. At 4.6% it won’t blow your socks off, which is a bonus because these islands are too beautiful for hangovers.
Fiji Bitter is the more mature brother to Fiji Gold. Let’s be clear from the start, it’s not a bitter in the usual sense. It’s more of a robust IPA. It’s a shame that they call it a bitter because this probably puts a lot of people off trying this delicious beer.
The Bitter has rich, dark aromas that take you to alleyways late at night, hinting at danger and illicit pleasures. This is followed up by a well rounded taste, full of hops, woody notes and a refreshing wheaty bassline. The Bitter has a much longer, and far more satisfying, finish compared to the Gold. With the same alcohol content (4.6% in case you forgot), there’s a surprisingly stronger alcoholic tang, making the Bitter feel more worthwhile than the weak-at-the-knees Gold.
Both beers won’t let you down if you’re looking for a cooling beverage on the islands, but for it’s sheer robustness and fuller flavour, we choose Fiji Bitter every time.
Hopefully this will be an invaluable resource when you’re faced with the choice between Bitter and Gold at the bar, so you can get on with relaxing on the island paradise of your choice. Now, which hammock are we going to spend the rest of the day in?
Beaches and Brewdog
It’s been some time since our last Tinny on the Beach, and for good reason. Packing up your life and leaving everything behind isn’t entirely stress free, even if we’ve made it sound easy in a previous post. But there’s always time to write and, more importantly, there’s always time for a tinny on the beach.
It seemed fitting to celebrate our penultimate Friday night in Bournemouth watching the fireworks from the seafront, especially in light of an utter disaster of an evening in which the fireworks were heard but not seen – the opposite of good Victorian children. We packed a couple of beers, 2 wagyu burgers from the astoundingly good Armstrong’s Butchers, some smoked sausages from the local Polish deli and headed to the beach.
We found a delightful spot just to the left of Bournemouth pier, amongst the staycationers and rowdy but cheerful international students, and made fire like our ancestors would have done if they had disposable barbeques from Tesco Express. The scene was perfection – clear blue skies, calm sea and just enough breeze to keep us cool. For all that we grumble about where we live, I admit it – Bournemouth is beautiful.
A four pack of Punk IPA stubbies were our tinnies of choice on this balmy evening. These beers were brought to us by BrewDog, the craft brewer known by all, loathed by true hipsters because it’s just too cool but loved by those of us that enjoy beer on deliciousness alone. The crisp hoppy notes turned our smiles to grins and we surveyed the seaside scene with a sunny smugness. You can say what you like about their brand of intellectual ‘wackaging’, but dammit, I’m a sucker for any beer that describes itself as postmodern. It’s just so ironic, which in itself is pretty postmodern.
We munched burgers as the day came to an end, the wagyu beef melting in our mouth, humming with flavour, seasoned only with the char from the barbeque and a slice of Lidl Maasdam cheese, given added crunch from the sand sprinkled by the sea breeze. The sausages weren’t such a success. With a beer in our bellies our attention swayed from the barbeque and they were burned beyond redemption.
As darkness settled and the last few lunatics made their way out of the bitterly cold sea, we waited patiently for the fireworks. The week before, as I may have mentioned, we could not see the fireworks from the Skybar, but this week we would have front row seats. We were not disappointed. As the clock struck ten, the first firework shot up into the sky and burst with a great bang and a glitzy flash of red and gold. What followed can only be described as one of the best firework displays we have ever seen, probably because we could actually see it this week. There were rockets whizzing up from each side of the pier, firing up from the front of the pier and even jets of gold shimmering up from the dark sea. We were spellbound, amazed, dazzled.
Farewell Bournemouth, it’s been a blast. Next stop, Fiji!
Cocktails at Level8ight
For those of you that don’t know, there are fireworks every Friday night on Bournemouth beach throughout the summer. This is a very important detail here, because in a foolish attempt to conjure up a little romance and pizzazz on Flic’s Birthday, I booked us a table at the Level8ight (yes, this is how it’s actually spelt. This should have been an early red flag) skybar in Bournemouth to round off a terrifically tasty taco-licious time at Ojo-Rojo with our best friends Rob and Zoe. My plan was simple – pretend I have some disposable income, order some classy cocktails and watch the fireworks that my council tax contribution has paid for.
How utterly foolish, how astonishingly naive I was.
You can’t see the fireworks from the Level8ight skybar. That’s right. You can’t see the fireworks from the skybar. I don’t want to be patronising, but it is imperative that I make sure you understand this crucial point – you cannot see the sea, the beautiful coastline that Bournemouth is renowned for, from the skybar. This means that you cannot see the fireworks from the skybar.
You will also notice that it’s called a skybar. But it’s not really a proper skybar because it’s not even on the roof of the (s)wanky Hilton hotel. What’s more, it’s mostly undercover, apart from two narrow balconies which overlook Bournemouth town centre, Winton, Charminster and a bit of East Cliff. Where you would be able to see the main stretch of coast, they’ve built a huge wall. As we know from world events, something with the potential to be beautiful can so easily be ruined by building a wall.
As for the decor, you could be in any generic faux five star hotel lobby. Even then, the lighting would probably be better and you wouldn’t have to shout above the completely out of context dance music.
To make things worse, the cocktail menu was overpriced and achingly pretentious (the same could be said of the rest of the clientele). This is the first drinks list I’ve seen in the UK that used the word pamplemousse in place of grapefruit. I mean, as if grapefruit isn’t a fancy ingredient in a cocktail already, you don’t need to ‘French’ it up to impress us. Also, there was a gin cocktail that involved double cream. I’m guessing the sadistic bar manager puts this on the menu for people to order for their friends as a, literally, sick joke. I was driving so I had a fruity cucumber iced tea, which was pretty fruity but the cucumber syrup tasted a little of BO. I don’t remember what everyone else had because I was overwhelmed by the crushing disappointment of the fireworks.
Anyway, the other drinks can’t have been that great because we sipped at them gloomily whilst not being able to see the fireworks, paid over £40 and took the lift back down to the centre of Bournemouth.
As we walked back to the car, we could hear more fireworks as the Bournemouth Proms came to their dramatic close. We could not see them.
Nb. Parts of this review previously appeared in a WhatsApp message sent by Nick to a close friend. They have been reproduced here without seeking permission in the hope that our friend won’t mind.