Archive for ‘Thailand’  

Thailand : Parting with Phangan

Friday, 26th September 2008

Four days on Koh Phangan turned into six days without us actually realising it. We found this tiny resort (Haat Tian) completely by chance and we don’t think we could have done any better. Being the only resort in a small bay away from the crowds, it was exactly what we were looking for.

Each day was spent mixing up the following activities in some random order: snorkeling, lying on the beach, eating, sipping shakes, exploring other little beach coves and bays on the motorbike and watching NCIS on the Archos. In short, exactly what we haven’t been doing up until now during this trip – and it was about time!

Because we heard very few good things about Koh Samui (the last of our 3-island stopover) we decided to only go there for two nights. We were happy we did that in the end since we had a far better time on Tao and Phangan. But to be fair we didn’t give Samui a proper try and only saw about one square kilometer of it. Perhaps we’ll see more next time.

Yesterday we got the ferry/bus combination back to Bangkok and now we’re waiting for the minibus transfer to the airport. Yes, you heard right, the airport..

We have been travelling for exactly 6 months today (left London on 26th of March) and we’ll be flying to South Africa tonight for a 6 week break from travelling. We are breaking the no-flight rules a bit, but we promise to be back in Bangkok on the 9th of November to continue where we left off.

We’ll still touch on the blog from time to time, but as you can imagine, we won’t have too much to report on from Bloem and PE ;)

Chat soon

J&M

Thailand : Koh Tao treasures

Tuesday, 16th September 2008

Called the ‘turtle island’ because of it’s shape (even though it’s pretty hard to form that exact mental picture when seeing her for the first time), Koh Tao is about 50km east of Thailand’s south-east peninsula and the north-most & smallest of the famous Tao + Phangan + Samui trio of must-see  islands in the Gulf of Thailand. There are many more islands dotted across the region, but many of them fall under protected marine areas, most of which are uninhabited.

After the morning’s journey from Bangkok, riddled with a series of tiny mishaps, we made land-fall on the ‘turtle’ at 14:30 and immediately started dodging touts. We walked through the masses and straight into the center of the small port town of Mae Hat. We checked into a small guest house, above a massage parlour, after spending some time checking through a few different options and getting all hot & bothered. We thought that since we had a few days to burn here that we’d just check-in, chill for a while and then get a bike to explore and pick out a really nice spot for the rest of the time.

That afternoon we rode up the west coast to scour the area known as Sai Ree Beach, just north of Mae Hat and hand-picked our bungalow accommodation for the following days out of a vast range of choices. The next morning Jan carted each of the big back-packs individually the 3-odd kilometers to the new abode on the measly little scooter, and finally came back to fetch Marizanne to finish the trek.

Our bungalow was in a lovely tropical garden environment with only the basic necessities – i.e. no air-con or hot water – but that’s all you need here. It was only after our first evening that we realised our piece of paradise wasn’t so idyllic.. This entire strip of beach only has one noteworthy nightclub, and even though our resort was a good 400m away, the sound seems to somehow bounce off palm-trees, buildings and shrubbery in a mysterious way to somehow find a route to us and resonate in and around only our little bungalow. It was a strange acoustic phenomenon indeed, as during the nigh Jan walked around and standing even a few feet away from the bungalow, the sound was completely muted, yet inside it was a disco of sorts.

After enduring one more night of this we booked into a different resort about 500m further north and this time it really was the paradise we were hoping for. We stayed in 3 different places in 4 nights on Koh Tao, so we naturally rate ourselves experts on the accommodation options of the island.

Despite having the scooter for 2 full days we never ventured further afield than Chalon Baan Kao, one of the southern bays and only about 15min away on the bike. Instead we focused all our energy and time on intimately familiarising ourselves with our strip of beach-front estate, enjoying all that the local restaurants had to offer and trolling over the reefs just off the shore-line with our snorkel gear.

It was an absolute pleasure to finally pull our snorkels and dive-masks out of the dark and forgotten corners of our back-packs for the first time since leaving London. We knew that they were in for an initial lonely few months, but that they would prove invaluable towards the latter half of the trip. And they are!

As one would expect, the days on Koh Tao drifted by almost unnoticed and before we  knew it our ferry transfer to Koh Phangan was upon us.

Thailand : Bangkok – 1st Pass

Saturday, 13th September 2008

The mini-bus dropped us off in a very touristy part of town full of funky bars and restaurants and we managed to find a very nice hotel. It was already after 22:00 at this stage but we still found some travel agencies open and asked around about trips to the island Koh Tao. It was too late to book the bus for the next morning, which meant we had to stay an extra night in Bangkok and will leave very early the following morning to start 12 days of island-style chilling before heading back to the capitol for our flight to South Africa.

We had a lazy day in Bangkok with no sightseeing at all – just eating, drinking a fruit shake or two, updating the blog and some more eating. In the midst of all this excitement we ran into the British couple we met in Siem Reap, Joe and Aysha – hope you had a great time in Krabi!

Our first impression of Bangkok is completely different from anything else in Southeast Asia – while interacting with the people in hotels, restaurants and shops we experienced a lot more of a hard-skinned attitude towards tourists/clients in general. On more than one occasion, without even trying, we managed to seriously upset shop keepers by initiating bargaining and in one case we even had a girl in tears as she was chasing us out of the shop. It seems that this is the reaction due to them having to deal with hard-nosed Westerners constantly. Luckily this is not the norm as we’ve had many pleasant experiences as well.

Bus and boat tickets were booked for Ko Tao and the pickup was at 05:30 on Saturday morning for the departure at 06:00. By 06:00 we’ve already walked back to the office twice and the agents phone the bus company twice, but still no-one arrived. At 06:10 we found out that our booking had been lost and that the bus had been waiting for us in a different location. A representative of the company walked us there (only 500m further!) and we were finally on our way. Arriving in Chumphon (from where boats leave for the islands) there was another mix up with our boat tickets and again we were the last two passengers onboard. It was only an hour and a half Catamaran trip and we finally made it to Ko Tao at 14:30.

As you would’ve guessed by now, we’ve made more alterations to our itinerary and will be spending the next 2 weeks island-hopping in Thailand before going to South Africa, instead of continuing our hectic schedule through Laos. We’ll come back to that after we have recharged our batteries.