Day 225 – Thursday, December 5th 2013
After suffering through an atrocious stop over between flights at Kuala Lumpur LCC – arriving at 4am, and with a departure at around midday we got what little sleep we could manage slumped at McDonald’s tables. Don’t worry – we are aware that we are on a massive holiday, and that we only had such a lousy time because we were too tight fisted to pay out for either a hotel room or for flights that lined up better, we shall whinge no more.
On arrival in Bangkok we managed to loosen our purse strings just enough to remove the money for a taxi into town. We couldn’t face fighting our way through the public transport system with our bulging back-packs, and Kim had gotten chatting to a girl on the flight that we would be able to split costs with. Even better: she knew some hostels in town, so it would save us thinking at all (an ability that was fading from us fast).
It took a few attempts to find a hostel with space, but given that we’d showed up at the capital city on a public holiday with no reservation it was surprisingly little bother.
It was the King’s birthday, so we caffeinated ourselves sufficiently and went out into town to find the Thai dressed in yellow and lining the streets. We watched the King and his entourage cruise past – though with blackened windows it was little more than a procession of smart looking cars to us.
Many a yellow candle were lit and held aloft as the national anthem and the King’s song was proudly sung by all in attendance – with the small exception of the confused tourists, who just stood there and tried not to feel awkward, wisely deciding not to have a go at joining in. We retired to a bar before a fireworks display got fully underway – but we could still watch some of the whiz-pops exploding up above the Khao San Road. In choosing the venue for a cold Chang we’d overlooked the large screens and speakers. It would be this very bar that large groups of Thai folk would stand around in order to hear the speeches of the night – we were very lucky, since the national anthem and (equivalent of) God Save the King would then be sung directly at us – even more awkward than earlier, and even wiser than ever not to have a go at joining in.
Day 226 – Friday, December 6th 2013
Spurred on by the low cost of a double room elsewhere and the drunken accident of a Danish girl in the dorm room (of the yuckiest kind), we found a nicer place.
Other than some internet jobs and a walk around the immediate area we achieved very little. That said the blog progressed a fair amount, and we took large breaks from the laptop to rediscover just how amazing Thai food is.
The long day before took it out of us, so we grabbed an early night to make sure we’d be on top form in time for Mike’s arrival tomorrow.
Day 227 – Saturday, December 7th 2013
Vaughan even surprised himself by rising early and squeezing in a run before the sun fully got his hat on. We had another internetty morning at the hotel before adopting the correct tourist guise – which involves a large map (unfurled), and standing on street corners looking puzzled before admitting defeat and asking directions to a blindingly obvious local landmark (which the local people have often managed to paint in bright colours and made as tall as physically possible). It was in this manner that we eventually managed to track down ‘The Golden Mount’.
On route, in between bouts of idiot tourist behaviour, we did come across some of the protests that were going on at the time (and still are to this day). They were not in full force at the time, since both sides had called a truce for a few days in honour of his majesty, but they did seem a good deal more civilised than the warnings on the foreign commonwealth website had made out. There were stages, musical performances, even food stalls set up to ensure the protesters could keep their energy levels up for all the chanting and shouting that’s generally required at these events.
The Golden Mount is an impressive Buddhist temple set on a hillock that rewards pilgrims who are dedicated enough to climb to its peak with a great vantage point over the city. We couldn’t hang around for too long though; we had a Mike to track down at the airport.
We made it to the airport despite the attempts of a scumbag taxi driver, who dropped us off at the wrong station. We had just enough time to scribble a sign before he appeared at arrivals.
A taxi into town, some cold beers, dinner out, and some bad dancing to some worse music kept us occupied until 3am. It was a sterling effort from Mike, who’d not slept on the flight and whose body clock must have been well out of sync.
Day 228 – Sunday, December 8th 2013
We had a planning session for the rest of our Thai time. Despite a long and fruitless journey to the train station we ended up booking flights to take us down south (to Trang) for some island hopping, then after a week we’d go north from Krabi to Chiang Mai to see what goes on up there.
With all that out of the way we could get on with the serious business of Bangkok tourism – it would involve river taxis, Wat Pho (the site of a huge sleeping Buddha, very impressive – the pictures do more justice than our words could ever hope to), getting to a market sometime after it had closed, walking through gardens full of exercising people, the purchase of fake ray-ban sunglasses, dinner, and drinks before an early(ish) bed.
Day 229 – Monday, December 9th 2013
New Year seemed to have hit Vaughan a little early, since he again mustered the enthusiasm to go for an early morning run around the local park. First on the tourist trail for the day was the old palace. We got off to a false start failing to find the correct entrance and assuming it to be shut due to the public holidays. With a little luck, we spotted the wide open gates which had bus loads of visitors arriving outside of it. As a penance for not dressing respectfully enough (short trousers not allowed), Mike was lent an awful pair of beige slacks to wear for the morning.
Equally impressive to the Wat of the previous day, and in a similar fashion we hope digital photography can give you an appreciation above and beyond any description we could come up with in words.
We had a flight heading south booked for 3:10pm, and caught a taxi from the Khao San Road at 10:30am – surely we could safely make it to our flight, we had quite literally hours of margin. We had not reckoned on Bangkok traffic, and the effect that a city wide protest can have on it. Shut down is an appropriate phase.
It was only due to a 10 minute delay in our flight that we managed to check in, it really was that close. The rest of the journey was surprisingly seamless –and we managed to orchestrate the transfer from flight to bus to boat with ease to end up on the stunning island of Koh Ngai just in time for the sun to take its final bow over the horizon.
As we chinked glasses that night it was with enormous relief – had just one more crowd of yellow T-shirts formed in front of our taxi, had the driver not accelerated hard the moment we were steered onto open freeway, had we not run quite so hard and pushed in front of the Air Asia queue, we could still be sat there in Bangkok – flight tickets wasted and protests once again taking over the city. As it was, we’d come up trumps, even managing to find some nice cheap beach huts to stay in.
Day 230 – Tuesday, December 10th 2013
To say we’d struck gold is a mild understatement – we’d woken up to find ourselves in a tropical paradise.
The island was far too small to support any roads and, apart from the handful of hotels and bungalows rentable to tourists, it was all but deserted. We took advantage of our splendid surroundings by taking a morning swim before donning our hiking shoes and setting out to explore the island. A small dashed squiggle at one end of the island on our GPS screen highlighted the possibility of a jungle trek, and we were relieved to find the map data matching with reality.
Trek is perhaps a strong word for an hour long stroll, relaxing at a beach slightly further around the coast, exploring slightly further, and then heading back in time for happy hour. Between using the hammock and chasing fish through the crystal clear waters, there had been very little time for anything more involved in our day – but then, that ‘s the point of desert islands isn’t it?
We hopped between some beachside bars, punctuating the beverages with more swimming, and a very tasty grilled fish dinner at our ‘home’ restaurant. Eventually ending up at a hotel bar in the north of the strip we befriended some German travellers, played them at table football, and generally chatted nonsense with them as the evening wore on. It was sometime around this point that our recollection of the night’s proceedings becomes a little hazy. It coincides, almost exactly, with the ordering of cocktails containing the infamous Thai spirit Sangsom (who’s closest translation into English is the threatening phrase ‘Fire Water’).
In order to maintain suspense within the text, and certainly not because our minds are still totally blank, key facts regarding the causes of the following events have been omitted prior to us all waking up in the beach hut:
- Kim recalls watching the sunrise from a beach lounger in a hotel at the southern end of the beach, despite having taken photos with Vaughan in them in the beach hut at 3am
- Mike’s bleeding foot made his bed sheets look like something from a horror movie
- Vaughan had been unwell in the bathroom
- Plumbing components, originally attached to the bathroom sink were on the floor
- Kim’s phone and hat were missing
- Not a single one of us remembers leaving the Sangsom bar
- Vaughan had a cardigan wedged into the pocket of his shorts. It did not belong to any of us.
Day 231 – Wednesday, December 11th 2013
Oh dear, we clearly should have known better. Our plans for a daytime kayak around the island faded to a, mildly less impressive, 2pm breakfast and afternoon swim. We arrived at the hut / restaurant to find the friendly woman sniggering at us – we are still not sure if it is just because we had risen so hopelessly late, or whether we had done anything more specifically stupid. She remained her friendly, hospitable self throughout the afternoon, so we can only assume it wasn’t anything too awful. Even when it came to making amends for the night before mishaps (regarding the sheets and broken sink) she was remarkably helpful, and not upset in the slightest.
Looks like we’d just gotten away with it (with the exception of a hat, a phone, and a small hole in a man’s foot). Surely by now our 3 musketeers would be adult to enough to learn their lesson? Only time will tell….
Day 232 – Thursday, December 12th 2013
Clearly feeling guilty for the previous excesses Vaughan took an early morning run and a swim. Mike’s foot was unfortunately still not in good enough state to let him join in.
We’d decided to continue our Island hopping adventure by catching a boat to Ko Lanta, a larger island an hour or so up the coast, which would form a good base for yet more exploration of the Andaman coastline.
Our friendly host and landlord for the last few days helped us secure a place on the only cheap ferry travelling to Ko Lanta today – perhaps motivation to see the back of us drove her to our aid, but she gave the impression of just being incredibly helpful.
After landing on Lanta we jumped the first cab that was offered to us. On route our hilarious driver preached to us the benefits of having multiple wives, and insisted it was necessary to have at least 3 children with each – we were now in a Muslim area, but we can’t be sure that all of the inhabitants would agree with him. Of course the driver directed us to his friend’s place – for you special price. We’re naturally sceptical of this type of deal, particularly when it’s accompanied by suspect marriage guidance, but actually the place was really nice, right next to the beach, and slightly cheaper than our Lonely Planet suggested we would have to pay.
Following on the trend of going with the very first option that was on the table, we booked a speedboat tour of the surrounding islands with the booking agent right next to the hotel – the lady behind the desk was again really friendly, so we couldn’t be bothered to search around.
Had the last 8 months of travelling not taught us anything? Had we not learnt to be weary, particularly in these tourist hotspots? Or had we finally got to grips with the idea that most people are actually pleasant and decent human beings and that if you trust nearly all of them, apart from the obvious trouble makers, you’ll seldom be disappointed.
Hippy nonsense aside, we had an early start the next day, so it would be straight to bed. Or could we afford to check out the bar first, just for a quick one…?!
Day 233 – Friday, December 13th 2013
Yay, our heroic travellers have managed to take on board something to do with cause and effect – Hurrah!! We were sleepy, but sober – we’d managed to avoid getting too carried away and the reward would be delivered in no time at all.
We splashed through the shallow water to our allotted speedboat bright and early, and were whisked off towards the Maya Bay on the limestone isle of Ko Phi Phi Leh – made famous by the movie ‘The Beach’. Of course stunning, but also infested with sun seeking tourists (like ourselves). Our guide told us we were actually lucky to have it this quiet, and sure enough as we pulled away from the bay an armada of boats were on the approach. Coming from Ko Ngai, where we’d had the run of the place, we realised how lucky we had been.
After a tour of Ko Phi Phi Leh we set off across the open water once more towards what would be one of the highlights of the day; snorkelling at Monkey Island. It’s true that, in accordance with its namesake, there were monkeys on the beach – but the real treat was below the waterline, with a plethora of multicoloured sea-life the likes of which we’d never seen before. Apparently reef diving can compare with the density and luminance of the widelife on display, but without having that experience behind us, we were astounded.
How do you top that?! Well you can’t actually, but a trip to the beach on Bamboo Island, where the guides prepare a delicious massaman (Muslim) curry is a damn good attempt. We spotted a true monster of a lizard, but unfortunately it was being tormented by some idiot tourists who seemed keen on losing some fingers to it.
We moored briefly at the resort hub of Koh Phi Phi Don on our return journey. We elected to search out a roof top smoothie in preference to the souvenir loaded market streets, and before long we were back on the boat headed for Ko Lanta.
That night the good ol’ LP steered us towards a restaurant run buy a couple from the Netherlands – a good end to a fantastic day. The guide book is no way to avoid the hoards, but they do pick some good places.
Day 234 – Saturday, December 14th 2013
Our morning would be spent in a minibus, headed towards the last of our destinations in southern Thailand – Raileh Beach near Krabi. We’d be dropped at a quayside, from where we would have to clamber aboard a longtail boat for the short hop up the coast to the beach.
Billed in the LP as ‘one of the most beautiful beaches on earth’, the place had a lot to live up to. We’re not experienced enough beach judges to assess its true ranking, but we were in no way disappointed. Golden sands, crystal waters, towering limestone cliffs – it has it all. We even managed to find a nice bungalow hotel tucked away that would not break the budget.
We’ll apologise right now in case this part of our trip sounds a little too good to be true, and appears as if it has been solely scribed in order to invoke envy – if it makes you feel any better, it wasn’t all that far back that we were bouncing along dusty Indian roads in the middle of the day, without air conditioning, dodging cows and averaging less than 25 kilometers per hour. Right now we feel pretty damn privileged.
After the midday heat died down a little we rented a sea kayak and did a little exploring of the coastline. We had hoped for a little more snorkling, but the sight of jelly fish the size of beach balls soon put paid to that idea. We took it decidedly easy that evening, and after some refreshments on the beach and the bungalow balcony, we opted for an early night.
Day 235 – Sunday, December 15th 2013
Knowing that we had a flight to catch to Chiang Mai later on, we paused only briefly to dent the buffet of the hotels inclusive breakfast before setting out on a hike to find a viewpoint and lagoon that was apparently within reach.
The hike quickly turned into a scramble, even needing ropes and vines to negotiate the steepest sections. Our reward would have to wait until we had faced one more obstacle though; the evil monkey-lord of the viewpoint. To tell the truth, we never witnessed the true extent of the monkey-lord’s evil powers – but we were considerably more scared of him and his pack of minions than they were of us. Grouping together with another couple, we edged our way past the primate king and out onto the ledge forming the viewpoint.
Next test was the lagoon, and as we descended we were running low on both time and nerve. We made it halfway down the treacherous path before having to turn back. Now we realise this sounds like we’ve gone all soft, but please accept our assurances that the wet clay and shear rock faces were no walk in the park – if you still don’t believe us you’ll just have to go and do it for yourselves, and then you can freely brand us as sissies all you want.
Before we knew it, our southern excursion had come to an end, and we were once again checking into an Air Asia domestic flight. This time to Chiang Mai though, exciting huh?!
We’d made to town in time for the Sunday walking market, whereby the streets of the old town are transformed by a myriad of stalls selling all you could possibly imagine – including frighteningly realistic treats, which turned out to be made of ceramic and simply decorative.
After narrowly avoiding the need for a dentist, we supped a beer and hit the hay.
Day 236 – Monday, December 16th 2013
We spent most of the morning working on an answer to the question – “Now we’re here what the flip are we going to do?” We were so extraordinarily efficient that we started to put the plan into action that very afternoon with a little temple spotting around old Chiang Mai.
We followed the LP walking tour and, as so often is the case, we hate to admit it but they’d got it right. A good mix of all that Chiang Mai has to offer, in age, styles, and purposes.
Now that we were templed to the max, we made use of our new zen state to carry out boring internet based tasks back at the hotel while Mike searched out a cooking course for us to take on Friday.
We found a wee back street eatery that was bustling with locals, which is always a good sign. They even had a menu in English (albeit not without fault in some of the translations), so we were spared the inane pointing, and lucky dip servings that so often result. After dining handsomely on bamboo shoot salad, curries, and fermented pork, we went out to sample the Chiang Mai nightlife.
The evening passed so smoothly that we barely noticed the small fire at one of the bars, loosing at pool to some Thai guys in a bar wide group game, the shutters being closed on a bar without a late licence while we were inside and having to hide from the police, or the lady of the night who kept giving us free bar snacks. Just a normal night then.
Day 237 – Tuesday, December 17th 2013
We got ourselves packed up and searched out the bus station – we were going yet further north for a couple of days. Chiang Dao had been recommended to us as a country retreat by Rosie, a friend of Mike’s Aunt (a Chiang Mai resident who has more to do with this story a little further down the line in Thailand round 3).
Having squandered 40 Baht (just over 1 USD) on the hour and a half bus journey, we caught a taxi to the guest house – which turned out to be another success story. An underpriced bungalow overlooking the rice fields, and a friendly owner who was both eager to please and accomplished in the kitchen. Well done us.
We took a walk to a set of caves that were nearby, and we sneaked in just before closing. Our guide carried a paraffin lantern and pointed out some of the more interesting formations, a spider well above a size that any of us were comfortable with, and a nesting bat colony. It was fun clambering through some of the tight squeezes, and down the slippery rocks, but it was very peculiar being in caves that were warm. Caving is supposed to be a cold, damp, and somewhat miserable affair – but we were in shorts and T shirts and sweating. Even underground you cannot escape the heat of the day here.
The sun kindly obliged us with a stunning sunset over the rice fields and the mountain backdrop as we walked back to our Bungalow. Our host showed off some culinary talents, and even gave us a complimentary dessert. We were very happy campers indeed.
Day 238 – Wednesday, December 18th 2013
With the use of a dodgy scooter borrowed from the guesthouse we managed to find some bicycles for the day, which we naively assumed we could use to get a fair way up the nearby mountain. It was not to be, since the road leading up there was steep, and the bikes were terrible. We revised our plan and set our sights on the 500 steps to a nearby monastery, this turned out to be considerably more realistic.
After the monastery hike we set about the short ride to some hot springs. It turned out that relaxing in naturally heated water with a cold beer in hand was something we could adapt to even more effortlessly than the monastery visit. It came so naturally in fact, that we stayed a little too long and ended up racing our cycles back to the guesthouse to beat sundown.
With food as good as this, we were happy to dine in-house again, and we were joined by an Aussie guy would was touring around Thailand on a motorcycle. He’d seen a fair bit of the world, so we spent the evening exchanging some good stories.
Day 239 – Thursday, December 19th 2013
We’d taken some advice on hiking from another guesthouse owner the day before – and it wouldn’t have been right to leave this area without having made at least some effort to scale the mountain* that was essentially on our doorstep.
* not by Nepalese standards, but this is the third highest in Thailand, so out of respect to them we’ll still refer to it as a mountain, even though the word ‘hill’ is perhaps more apt.
After dropping the bikes in town we caught a cab for the short ride back to the caves, which were at the foot of the climb. Starting out for a pair of flags that should earn us a good view over the valley we took a few wrong turns in the first few kilometres, since the map we’d taken a photo of was a little hard to interpret, and our GPS was path-less. One of the dead ends involved a bamboo ladder and shuffling along a ledge on a cliff face that was unpleasantly precarious – we were pleased to find that real path, although heavily overgrown, contained nothing quite as exciting.
It took a couple of hours of scrambling to complete our ascent to the flags, but it was quite an accomplishment for us given our shoddy navigational aids and the trails knack for disappearing. After slip-sliding back down, we hot footed to our bungalow to pick up kit and then scurry into town – keen not to miss the last bus back to Chiang Mai.
Back in the city we ate and bar hopped our way around the neighbourhood close to our hotel, as all was shutting up for the night the best course of action, given that we had to be up early to attend cookery school in the morning, was to jump into the back of a stranger’s pickup truck, since he said he knew a good nightclub. We had a fun night and danced away ‘til about 4am before we realised we really had to get some sleep if tomorrow was going to happen at all.
Day 240 – Friday, December 20th 2013
Ouchy. We request no sympathy, but just an understanding that for us, the alarm clock rang a little too early this morning. Rising from our slumber at 8:20, it was indeed a rush to make it to the 8:30 start time – but we were surprisingly close. Class hadn’t started, and we hadn’t even missed the ‘introductions’ bit.
We had a morning booked up with the cooking school, and the experience started with a trip around a local market to explain some of the many different ingredients that show up in the Thai dishes.
Our dishes for the day were stir fried chicken with cashew nut, Tom Yam soup, green curry paste, Thai green curry (using aforementioned paste), and finally spring rolls. All stuffed to the brim with Thai food, and provided with a surprise cookery book and apron from our tutor, we waddled back to the hotel feeling a little sorry for those that had opted for the full day course – if we’d already passed our comfort levels, how would they squeeze in another 3 dishes?
A restful afternoon went by, and by the evening we felt we could once again face some food. It was Mike’s last night with us, so we picked a nice restaurant and caught an auto-richshaw (or tuk-tuk in the local dialect) to it. Though the food was good, and the venue perfectly stylish, the true highlight for the evening was probably the obscenely large Great Dane named Mary* that we met in a bar just up the road from our hotel that we had dropped in for one last nightcap before sending Mike on his way.
* A dog, not an obese Danish lady.
Day 241 – Saturday, December 21st 2013
After an early rise for breakfast we waved Mike off as he caught a cab to the Airport. We would stay in town for just one more day before jetting off towards the land-down-under.
All this having fun that we’d been having with Mike had been distracting us from the real purpose of our trip – to supply Iveco spare parts dealers with a steady year long income. We set this straight with some internet purchases, and then spent a fair chunk the day on the dull administrative tasks that form the unglamorous side to globetrotting.
Our only excursion was to a few shops, and to get a few things printed for our trip to Oz. Good night Chiang Mai, you’ve been fun. And now that writing this blog has slipped sufficiently, we can say with confidence – we will be back.
Day 242 – Sunday, December 22nd 2013
We waved good bye to Thailand from the flight to Kuala Lumpur – where we had another dreaded 11 hours to kill waiting for our departure to Australia. There are only so many Starbucks or Mcdonalds products you can consume before you start to feel a little insane. We even resorted to those daft massage chairs for thirty minutes of shaking in an attempt to keep ourselves entertained. Sleeping on the floor proved to be one of the best uses for our time.
It wouldn’t be right to end a blog posting on such a downer, so how about a few lines on our Thai excursion instead? It worked out well for us this flying visit – without Mike’s tight schedule there is no way we would have crammed so much into two weeks here – from islands in the south, to hill walking up north we had fully made the most of our time here.
Little did we know at this stage, but buying back this time would help massively for our return through South East Asia with Ivor in the New Year. We won’t let you in on the details just yet, since we’ve got to keep you interested somehow, but some of the best luck from the whole trip was on its way….