So, I'm in Australia now. Surprise! Will stave off going into why for now. Assuredly it's a good and happy thing, though.
I'm going to try an exercise in brevity [which is clearly not my strong suit] by summarizing the rest of my journey up using one sentence per change-of-sleeping-space [rather than change-of-place, as Koh Tao deserves more coverage seeing as how I spent weeks there], probably cheating a bit via the use of em-dashes, parenthetical clauses that've I arbitrarily refused to put in actual (parentheses) since someone told me I had to—and possibly also cheating thoroughly and unambiguously through the use of semicolons—in usual sloppy-overkill fashion.
Vang Vieng, Lao PDR >—bus—> Vientiane, Lao PDR
Everyone who claims this city is in any way particularly worth visiting is either being paid to do so or has no semblance of taste [or was lucky enough to stumble into experiences uncommonly serendipitous for the area—granted, I've got a soft spot for places like Fargo, ND for such reasons], and at any rate is likely engaging in some twisted form of anti-libel, as Lao's capital is essentially just as soulless and culture-less as any American capital city, only Asian—in the vein of Albany or Sacramento [though, again, I have reasons to visit both places, those reasons mainly being friends who can't or befuddlingly won't relocate to greener pastures]--rife with palpable tones of universal resentment and mistrust, as illustrated by guesthouses' flamboyantly paranoid policies, and an excess of devoutly ethnocentric fellow travellers who beg the question, "What are you doing so far from home?" or otherwise travellers irritatedly biding their time until the next available flight/bus/train/wheelbarrow could deliver them from this trap that their usually-handy guidebook or Google search results betrayed them into thinking was worth a stop.
Vientiane, Lao PDR >—train—> Nong Khai, Thailand >—train—> Bangkok, Thailand
In a surreal homecoming that showed me just how much I'd adapted and learned in a few weeks, this same city that a month ago completely overtaxed my senses suddenly feels comfortable, laden with ass-corrodingly clean bathrooms [particularly in Terminal 21, which, despite being a mall, is definitely a place worth a poke-around if you're holed up in the city during a long break between trains], and almost ludicrous in its ease of navigation.
Bangkok, Thailand >—train—> Chumphon, Thailand >—bus—boat—> Koh Tao, Thailand
A. The Campsite
After a first night of socially-oversaturated partying, [which involved a lot of incredulous laughing and belligerence on my part: "Where ARE we? That's not really the ocean right over there—it's just a hokey backdrop. Fucking two hundredbaht for one goddamn ripoff balloonful of hippie crack?!...ehh, I'll take three,"] spent my many days high above the populated corners of the island, hanging out at a campground-slash-bar-slash-festival-ground in the making [or would-be-in-the-making if not for interpersonal politics] wandering aimlessly and endlessly around the island, snorkelling through what was likely pulverized human excrement [the better to see benign-albeit-still-intimidating sharks--a fair trade-off in my opinion], reading, examining critters [most notably giant geckos, ant lions, and whip scorpions], and having psychologically-arduous-but-not-entirely-unproductive conversations with Alex about our morphing goals and dreams and consciences and self-concepts and all that shit.
B. Baan Suan Ta
Opted to get my Advanced Open Water scuba cert on the cheap and found that, in this instance, you definitely get what you pay for: i.e., an instructor who waves you off when you let him know you're almost out of air because he's too busy tinkering with his GoPro and not getting paid enough to give a fuck, then being made the butt of sexual jokes by all the other instructors on the boat who assume that just because they're speaking in Portugese or French that you can't understand mimed hanky-panky—granted, it's hard to stay grumpy after days of diving around reefs rife with schools of great barracuda, pufferfish, fluorescent parrotfish, butterfly fish, wonky-looking trigger fish, blue-spotted rays, and bioluminescent plankton at night.
C. Save Bungalows
My last, and best, leg of island life—funky and consummate and dense, but strangely wholesome—staying in an odd tile-lined basement room across from the beach in Ban Mae Haad owned by a guy who makes reusable condoms, full of chance run-ins with Europeans who instantly felt like long-time friends [and some less-relatable-but-unaffectedly-hilarious characters who seemed almost to have come into my life purely for my amusement], getting ravaged by territorial fish while snorkelling incognito-nude around a huge shipwreck, my one and only traipse around the infamous Sairee [Mae Haad wins, in my book], vignettes of absurdity [e.g., being heckled late at night by taxi drivers using three-foot traffic cones as megaphones] and kitschy reminders of home-or-somewhere [e.g., watching Kill Bill 2 projected on the wall of a cafe while scarfing after dinner waffles and getting chewed on by a beagle puppy], culminating in a last night on the beach playing ukelele, spinning poi [and taking obligatory long-exposure photos] and speaking in broken-English-turned-broken-Thai-turned-animal-noisemaking-contests with a couple enthusiastic and snarky Thais.
Koh Tao, Thailand >—boat—bus—train—taxi—plane—[an irresistible aside: found begbugs in the waiting lounge seats of Kuala Lumpur's airport, in broad daylight no less, scout's fucking honor]—plane—> Melbourne, Victoria
Will go into more detail later, but for now: modelling, enjoying very serendipitous airplane seating arrangements, holding koalas, feeding kangaroos, opining and feeling alternately awed and indignant at free art galleries squashed into loudly modern buildings from here to Adelaide, South Australia, and back.