We all have those songs or albums that evoke in us a particular place or time. Being the kind who incessantly listens to songs on repeat, my iPod is an absolute minefield for these. It took me two months to work out how to get Spotify Premium on my phone and stop having to scrounge a spare earphone off my fellow travellers, but once I did oh how I racked up the obsession songs! Here are a few of those songs and the fragments of my trip they framed.
The 1975 released this a few days before my sister and I left for India, we’d been eagerly awaiting a new song for them as we loved nothing better than arguing over what their lyrics were! Our seven months into the unknown began tearfully, locked inside a dingey hotel room in a very un-touristy area of Delhi. The door to our room had been scratched away exposing its lock so we dared not leave, not that the surrounding dusty high rise area appealed without a single shop or friendly tourist face. After a phone call to our mum, for the entirety of which I cried under the bedsheets, Livi decided we must cheer up. Room service aloo gobi on silver platters was ordered, The Sound was turned up to full volume and I was forced to get up and dance on the bed in my pjs. The room stank of curry, but we went to bed happy and the song became a mantra from that first day in India to one of our last days together in a dorm in Da Lat when we mistakenly thought no-one else was within earshot of our out of tune exuberance.
Here began a true love affair. Sitting in the Big Blue restaurant on Koh Tao with Livi and Kari I first heard this; my favourite restaurant on my favourite island and soon to be my favourite band. Kari drew our attention to it during the infectiously catchy bass intro and we were hooked by the time the upbeat island-life-encompassing melody began. This song is the essence of one of the best months of my life; spent diving, drinking and eating in spectacular company and incredible scenery. Koh Tao and Gold Snafu are inseparable in my mind. ‘It’s alright, stumble through your gold snafu’ was exchanged between Livi and I to lighten the load of bed bugs, ease the discomfort of ill chosen hostels and even offered as a long distance hug when Livi’s bag was stolen in Malaysia. Practically, clearly it did nothing, but as a mood enhancer it was second to none. Sticky Fingers and Koh Tao would become the bane of my relationship with the friends I would come to spend 4 months with and my inability to not talk about them to result in a forfeit involving seven hurricane shots on an unfamiliar Island.
Thank God for Rebecca, if we’d never found her to lead us through our first overwhelming experience of Bangkok and Khao San Road we would never have tasted the addiction of Koh Tao. Despite visiting the island specifically to go to Rebecca’s yoga classes a week of excruciating sunburn followed by hangover after hangover meant it took Rebecca a month to persuade me into one of her classes. I took a lesson a day for a week before scuba diving replaced dripping sweat in the non-aircon room. After weeks of indulgence it was difficult but incredibly rewarding regaining some of the flexibility I had lost since the UK. I had arrived to one of my last classes in a black mood as our impending departure from Tao loomed with the end of our Thai visa. I’m not one for spirituality, but Rebecca had picked The Mountain as the shivasna song, knowing I liked it, and as I recognised the song I felt an incredible sense of grounding; I accepted that it was the right time for us to leave, that we would be with our island family again at some future point and felt complete calmness relax through my entire body. I returned to Kari and Livi at Jizo’s in an absolutely fantastic mood, perfect for Cinco de Mayo pre-drinks – a very messy night at Banyan.
This conjures every night darkened bus journey we took. I first heard it on our return journey to Koh Tao when I couldn’t sleep with restless excitement. Lulled by its repetitive charm I kept the song on repeat as I watched the endless tree tops glide past us, dimly lit by the bus headlights. I was thinking how cool I would sound saying ‘Hold it in oh let’s go dancing, I do believe we’re only passing through’ to the guy I had liked and left living on the island (yes I am that much of a loser!). Luckily I realised how much of a weirdo I would have been to do that, but I did play him the song, to a very luke warm reception. It hasn’t dampened the romatic ghost images of tree lined midnight roads for me though.
My obsession with the Vietnam War was the main driver for visiting South East Asia over anywhere else and as Vietnam approached I filled my playlists with the songs of that era. Watching Apocalypse Now on a damp mattress in a velvet clad cinema style tent to escape my flooded tent at Big Chill Festival was my introduction to the war, so of course The End plays a bit part. It was the wrong country, but I remember plugging my ears with this at full volume on the slow boat from Thailand into Laos, floating past the overgrown banks of the Mekong’s insipid waters, imagining the eyes of hidden Viet Cong leering out at me. With closed eyes the corrugated sound of passing boats engines were choppers landing near by, or enemy incoming. The group of friends I made from that 14 hour boat journey made it much more memorable, but it was the closest I came to living out a scene from my favourite movies. It also backed my trip to Khe Sanh Combat Base where I wandered between pristine helicopters, replica bunkers and bomb shells trying and failing to imagine the battle whose scars had been reclaimed by nature on that isolated plane.