● For full details on our route, transport info, hotel details, etc, look at our Google Maps page

Friday, 27 February 2009

Bangkok for the final time

25 – 26th February

Arriving back in Bangkok felt a little bit like coming home. We made our way across the city like locals and headed to Rhiannon’s flat to re-pack our bags. Ben and Alison had very kindly purchased and carried bike helmets and gloves from home and we were keen to try them out. They gloves fitted like a glove and strangely so did the helmets… the superior quality, design and weight, after the many crappy Asian helmets we’d tried on brought happy smiles to our faces. Plans of how we would be able to get on a motorbike in India were finally coming to life.

With 101 things to do we powered on after our sleepless night. Ady needed to get the all clear from the hospital before the insurance company would agree to insure us for our time in India. Thankfully all was well, but not before the doctor dispensed some more pink sweeties. We googled them up this time and they turned out to be none other than milk thistle!

Whilst Ady rushed around, posting half our life home (we were now down to one 20kg bag, perfect for bike touring) Sam spent some time in the hairdressers, and finally managed to convince someone to cut it all off. Several inches shorter, the end result was definitely more suited to a city fashionista than scummy traveller. Still…if it could be concealed under a bike helmet and attract fewer undesirables!

Top Traveller Tip #17 – Downsize your luggage! If you are heading off on a trip, buy a 30 litre pack and make do with what will fit inside. We starte d with two 60 litre packs and two 15 litre day packs. Now we have one 60 litre pack and 1 day pack. We have our hands free again! You only need minimum clothing, and shoes are a waste of time. 1 pair of flip flops can get you everywhere.

After 6 months in South East Asia it was strange to move on, but we were both ready for a change, and by this stage, hopefully prepared for the mental and physical headache that is India!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Ko Phangan

17th – 24th February

The famous backpacker island of Ko Phangan is known amongst many as home to the world’s first and biggest full moon party, attracting many thousands of revellers each month. We’d missed the last full moon party by one week, and the half moon by one night, so nothing was scheduled during our planned stay on the island. Still, by all accounts we’d been told to avoid Haad Rin like the plague and, reluctant to spend the whole of our time there (since this is where we’d arranged to meet Amy and Ali), we he
aded to Had Yao for a few days rest and relaxation.

The beautiful backpacker island has certainly lost it’s roots – our first “fleecing” took place just as we’d stepped off the boat as we were quoted 300 baht for the 10km songthalew transfer up the coast. How much?!! Only recently we’d hired a taxi for an 88km private transfer, for just 400 baht, and regularly travelled across Bangkok for a fraction of the cost. We managed to battle the driver down to 100 each by insisting we needn’t leave until the van filled up.

Had Yao was still sleeping when we arrived and we had to knock a few people up in our search for a room. Again, prices for basic huts were pretty steep but we were lucky to find a hut at the Seaboard Guesthouse, right on the beach for just 300 baht. The place prides itself good value accommodation and encourages guests to eat at their restaurant (at very un-backpacker like prices!) to minimise unnecessary price hikes. There was little to do here other than sunbathe and swim and, with little in the way of nightlife we soon understood Amy’s reasoning behind Haad Rin. Having said that, we were content. The sweeping bay was lovely and the sea was clear and clean. There was a reef a little way out and at high tide the snorkelling was spectacular –
Ady even managed to see some reef sharks, something that has eluded us when diving. We’d planned to dive at Sail Rock, the Gulf of Thailand’s most famous and spectacular dive site, but deterred by the expense and the expected low visibility we explored the reef some more.

On Thursday we set out to Haad Rin, again, bewildered and amazed at the prices we were quoted (enough to buy a tuk-tuk!) for a transfer across the island. Unfortunately there is nothing in the way of public transport here and we were completely at the mercy of the tuk-tuk mafia. We ended up travelling back to Thong Sala, the port, by jumping in an already full songthalew and refusing to pay more than 100 baht each. Once there, we managed to negotiate small discount for the second leg of the 20km journey, again, 100 baht each. Whilst in Thong Sala, we decided to pay the ferry ticket office a quick visit, pre-empting our escape from party hell. We’d travelled down from Bangkok to Ko Tao with Seatran for 850 baht, also checking the price for the return journey but from KPN. The office here on the island told us the price was 1450 baht, an increase of 600 baht!! We queried this with them and they said simply that the prices had been revised two days before!!

Next to the party capital of Haad Rin. We checked into the Palita Lodge, and lazed by the pool waiting for our second set of guests to arrive. Amy and Ali were to join us for 4 days before going off to a wedding on the next island.

We spent the next few days relaxing by the pool and on the beach, people watching and hunting for pretty boys for Amy. Our vision of wild sleepless nights partying into the early hours couldn’t have been further from the truth. The party scene was pretty dead, this being the period exactly 2 weeks after Full Moon, and the quietest time of the monthly party cycle on Haad Rin.

Food at least was good, and we found lots of good cheap eats – the kind of thing that we’d been craving for the past couple of weeks. We also sampled a few buckets of Samsong, Coke and Redbull on the beach in the evenings – well it wouldn’t be Haad Rin without them!

After lots of fruitless searching, Amy’s luck was in on day 3 when she met a young man by the name of Ben. Up until then the fit men count had been very disappointing (the fit girl count on the other hand was pretty good, much to Adys delight!). A pool party which felt more like a Butlins holiday camp provided the perfect environment to get chatting. One thing led to another, and we soon found out that Bens hut was actually next to ours – how we worked that one out in the middle of the night we’ll leave you to decide, but let’s just say the walls weren’t that thick….!

Top Traveller Tip #16 – If you decide to go back to a new friends hut for ‘coffee’, make sure you don’t know the person staying next door, or they may hear your coffee drinking and they may give you marks out of ten in the morning.

Suitably embarrassed the following morning, it was only fair that we ridiculed Amy for her behaviour. She was due to get the boat over to Koh Samui at 11am, so there wasn’t much time in which to get stuck in!

Sadly, we had to say our goodbyes and spent the final 2 days relaxing on the last beach that we will see for quite some time. Our next stop, India, will have some beach action, but not before we explore the north of the country, far from the sea.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Krabi to Ko Phangan Transfer

16th February

Our transfer from Krabi, as expected, was not without incident. We knew the night boat from Surat Thani wouldn’t depart until at least 10pm, so we suspected our departure on a bus from Krabi at 4pm (for the 3 hour journey to Surat) had an ulterior motive. When we arrived in Surat Thani, at 7pm, we were deposited at down a dark street and ushered into the only restaurant. We were told to wait here for transfer to boat, and eat. We knew that there was a night market near the port, and that was where we presumed we’d be able to kill a couple of hours. The bus company had other ideas and once we told them we were going to walk to the market (we knew it wasn’t that far away) they started to get very annoyed with us, telling us that we couldn’t go by ourselves.

We managed to persuade them to take us to the port, where we found the night market with great food, and free WIFI to download some new music and films! The night boat set sail at 11pm, and having bagged berths 1 and 2 again, we settled in for a good nights sleep!

Krabi and Railey

13- 16th February

We arrived in Ao Nang by mid afternoon and began the usual mission of finding rooms. Ben, Alison and Rhiannon were not on a budget and we very definitely were, so it took some doing to find something that
catered for different “classes” of holidaymakers. In the end we found a couple of nice hotel rooms at the PK Mansion for the guys, and a not so nice room (behind reception) for us. Ben and Alison treated us to a pizza and we headed to the beach to catch a swim and see the sunset. Alarmingly we saw a number of very large jelly fish that had been washed ashore and decided against going in. The beach was a bit disappointing with quite a lot of litter. The sea, in addition to the jellyfish didn’t seem particularly clean either. The resort itself is clearly very popular (despite it’s now overdevelopment) and the hotels are all very upmarket, which they’d need to be to make up for the beach. The surrounding coastline is really quite dramatic and also detracts nicely from the not-so-white sand. We’d been told to take a boat to the nicer beaches of West Railay and Ton Sai and when Rhiannon had joined us this is where we headed to stay.

Just as we’d got used to the inflated prices of Ao Nang (even after Ko Lipe) we were hit with the craziness of West Railay. The first place we enquired about was 6,000 baht per night, which was way out of our price range of course, but the second place quoted a whopping 25,000 baht a night for the cheapest room. I think even Ben, Alison and Rhiannon flinched at this. Thoughts (for us) turned to sleeping on the beach, but somebody suggested we try the East Railay beach, over the peninsular. Initially it looked almost as pricey, until we came upon Ya Ya Resort – a small, rustic set up with rooms to suit all. The relief didn’t last long, the restaurants were determined to fleece us if the hotel wouldn’t. It was certainly a far cry from the travellers hangouts and the 50 baht phad thai. That said, the beach was more idyllic, though still rammed with tourists. The oversized jellyfish caught us out a few times and didn’t entice us into the sea.

The Railay Peninsular is famous among the
climbing community and we were both keen to have go, neither of us having climbed outdoors since our schooldays. The idea, understandably, wasn’t met with much enthusiasm by the others and in the end the hot weather won over. We opted to take a boat out again and chartered one from West Railay beach. Chicken Island, Koh Poda and another offshore island were all very beautiful but exceptionally crowded with day trippers like ourselves. Still, we managed to snorkel for a few hours from each of the islands and see the abundant corals and fish.

A good few days was enjoyed by all and we were pleased that Alison managed to catch up with Rhiannon. It was time for us to move on; we’d arranged to meet up with Amy and Ali (more friends from home) in Had Rin, Ko Phangan and so with some trepidation, we set out to see the world famous party island.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Ko Lipe

8th – 13th February

Not for the first time, we were caught out by a public holiday. We got talking to a few people on the boat who’d tried reserving accommodation but had had little success. Unperturbed we set off for Sunrise Beach and the Andaman resort – the place we’d agreed on with our friends Ben and Alison who were due to arrive from the UK. It seems that a bank holiday over the next two days had led to a massive influx in Thai tourists and indeed there was no room at the inn, all the beach huts were taken! There was just one (concrete) bungalow available for 1000 baht - around £20…what happened to £5 a night?!! We dithered about the room while Ady necked a bottle of Fanta, but knackered after our 20 hour epic journey, gave in and forked out the funds for the room (but not before negotiating a 10% discount first!).

The Sunrise beach was really quite stunning (and clean – we’d heard about a burgeoning litter problem here) and we definitely prefer this over the main beach Pattaya where a constant stream of noisy, longtail boats come and go. We secured a basic bamboo beach hut the next day for a whopping 600 baht, set amongst Andaman’s pine trees and just a short distance from the beach. At the very northern end of the beach, close to where Andaman meets the Mountain Resort is a stunning peninsular of sand that juts into the crystal clear sea, and from where you can swim out to an offshore sandbank and the coral reef beyond. Unfortunately you have to share this with half the tourists of Sunrise bay!

Following in the vein of Thailand’s exploitation of it’s other islands of natural beauty, Ko Lipe as a whole has most definitely been “discovered” and is wholeheartedly on the fast road to overdevelopment, if the number of plush resorts (with more being built) and their residents are anything to go by. Certainly there was no need for that visit to Seven – Eleven; you could buy anything you so wish right here on your doorstep! Despite the difficulty in reaching the island, the place seems completely geared towards wealthier holiday makers on short trips, prices baring more in common with the Spanish Costa’s than any of the other Thai islands, let alone the developing country of which it is part. For the moment at least, travellers (regardless of time or budget) are coming independently in fewer numbers but it’s only a matter of time before this changes and this small island is overrun with tourists and subsequently troubled by insufficient infrastructure.

Moaning aside, (and of course we were only too aware of how our visit also contributed to the tourism explosion) we spent a few chilled days soaking up the stunning surroundings and were joined on our third day (in style, by speed boat) by Ben and Alison, close friends from home. They bought welcome news and even more welcome (only kidding!) presents – special thanks to Stacey and of course to both Ben and Alison for running around collecting (from half of the UK) and carrying everything! It was so great to spend some time with people with whom we didn’t have to make any special effort, or explain our life history to! Unfortunately, post hospital discharge, Ady was on strict orders not to drink, so we didn’t get that big night out (or several) that we all assumed we’d have. Probably just as well as the two of us, ultra lightweights by now, would have fallen after a few buckets! Still, we had some great meals out and the three of us enjoyed a few cocktails, Ady happy on Fanta orange and it’s multitude of colourings!!

We chartered a boat from our resort and our boat driver took us on a tour around part of the neighbouring national park (Ko Lipe falls just outside of and is hence unprotected). There was opportunity to snorkel at each of the four different sites for as long as we wanted – the beauty of not hooking up with a group of twenty! The coral was interesting enough but there were just so many fish, as many in a small area as we’ve experienced diving. Ben managed to take some pretty cool photos with his new all singing snorkel mask cum camera gismo.

On the Friday we’d arranged to meet up with Rhiannon (Alison’s friend from home who very kindly put us up in Bangkok) in Krabi for the weekend. We’d booked a transfer with Tiger Line via Pak Bara to Ao Nang, from where we planned to head for the beaches of Railay or Ton Sai. Expecting a return journey similar to the one we’d arrived by and looking forward to a morning sunbathing on the deck it was a bit of a shock when we got herded onto a small speed boat. Still, we managed to grab some of the few seats outside, on the bow, only to find the smiles wiped off our faces as we encountered huge waves and the front of the boat crashed noisily and almost painfully against them. It was impossible to move, let alone read or have a conversation even. A few people managed to find room at the back of the boat, at which point the lighter front end bounced even more and we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! Thank god no one was seasick or it would have been a very messy experience! After two hours the sea calmed and we cruised the last half hour in moderate comfort. We can quite honestly say this was the worst crossing in our year so far!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Ko Tao to Ko Lipe

7th – 8th February

The journey from Ko Tao (off the East coast) to Ko Lipe (off the West) was never going to be easy - none of the tourist agencies we’d spoken to had even heard of the island we wanted to go to. Everything had to run like clockwork to keep the journey time within a bearable 24 hours and avoid wasting an unnecessary night in some dead-end town on the mainland.

After a painless connection from our resort (in the back of a van!) we caught the night boat from Ko Tao to the mainland port of Surat Thani. Berths (by which I mean mats on the floor) of little more than half a meter wide and not an inch between them all made for a sleepless night. We arrived at around 5am and found the port deserted, normally a blessing but we were really counting on an agency tout to advise us on the first bus out to Trang. En route to the one tourist office we’d heard of (Pantip Tours) we were picked up by a guy who claimed to be from a competitor around the corner and could arrange a transfer at 7 o’clock for us. All very well and good but he couldn’t commit to how long the journey would take (we’d heard anything from 2 to 4 hours) and we had to meet a connection at 11am in Trang to make it to the port for the last ferry of the day.

We decided not to stick around (well, not before using his “facilities”) and set out again to search for signs of life. Our host didn’t seem in the least bit bothered and we were now fairly certain that the said transfer didn’t even exist. Time was ticking and desperation set in. The Pantip office was still closed and the local bus station couldn’t shed much light on direct transfers to Trang. They did however suggest we hop on the next bus south, bound for Had Yai. We didn’t need telling twice and jumped aboard, relieved just to be moving somewhere!

Relief turned into frustration as it took 3 hours to travel less than 100 km, and we were still only halfway to Trang! By now it was 9.30 am and we knew our chances of making our connection were slim. We left the bus at Thung Song where it headed directly south and we were bound south-west. Out of Lonely Planet territory we didn’t really know what our options were. The bus station in Surat Thani seemed to think we could catch a direct mini-van from here, but we were in the middle of nowhere! Two moto riders came to our aid and loaded our bags onto their bikes as we jumped on the back, yelling over the din our request for the mini-van station to Trang!

They took us just a short way to what was certainly a bus station, so we thanked and paid them. There was a bus due to leave within the hour, but yet again the officials couldn’t tell us how long it would take – I think one to two hours was the response. They suggested we took a private mini-van, but from the other side of town as only public buses were stationed here. At this point we probably started to lose the plot – that’s where we thought we’d been brought, yet it seemed that we’d have to take yet another moto to do this!

After cooling down we were directed to the taxi rank a few streets away. So much for the budget but we were past caring! There were a few taxis waiting and our immediate relief turned to one of delight when we were quoted just 70 Baht per person to Trang. “Great” we said, loading our bags in – “can we go right now, we’re in a real hurry…”

After a few bewildered looks we clicked on and immediately felt really stupid – this wasn’t a private taxi stand but one for share taxis, where the taxi driver waits to fill up all seats (and a few spaces that aren’t really seats at all) with more people. It was still early on a Sunday morning and few people were milling around – this could take forever! We ended up commandeering the whole taxi for ourselves for 400 baht, not a bad price if it guaranteed a night by the beach and not in a soulless mini-hotel. With no fellow passengers to consider we also had the pleasure of telling the driver to “get a move on” as we settled in for a hair-raising journey in this 1970’s rust-bucket. The Toyota Corolla (just like Adys dad used to have in the 80’s) didn’t fail us and managed to cover 88km in just under 45 minutes, ok, so not fast… but after the bus it was like a rocket!

We’d also called ahead to Tiger Line in Trang to let them know we were on our way and to hold the connection in case we were a few minutes late – they tried to give us directions directly to the pier at Pak Bara but our driver was having none of it unless we paid double the fee! After a heated debate over the phone between the driver and Tiger Line we were taken directly to the office, with time enough to spare for a quick trip to Seven-Eleven and a few luxuries for our stay on Lipe.

The remainder of the journey was slow but uneventful. After our transfer from Trang to the pier, we eventually settled ourselves on the open top sun deck of the Tiger Line boat and caught up on some sunbathing, admiring the view as we entered the stunning Tarauntao National Park.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Ko Tao

2nd - 7th February

So after 10 days in Bangkok and a week behind schedule we finally set out for the islands of the Thai peninsular. Many thanks go to Rhiannon though, for accommodating Sam the whole time Ady was in hospital and for making us both feel so welcome in her beautiful apartment, even though our stay was well beyond the planned 3 days! Our extended stay gave us both an insight into Bangkok from a resident’s point of view and as city lovers we’d both be open to the idea of living and working there in
the future. Job offers anyone??!!

After an exhausting 14 hour bus and boat journey we arrived on Ko Tao. The island, who’s waters were historically rich with sea turtles, was named after these turtles and translates to Turtle Island. Since the island was “discovered” in the 80’s by the first backpackers it has become famous as a diving mecca and churns out more Padi divers than anywhere else in the world (except maybe Cairns??). Unfortunately and unsurprisingly most of the turtles have since moved onto other breeding grounds, though the sea is rich in other marine life.

The main beach is Sairee, north of the main pier where the boats arrive from the mainland. We decided against this area as we’d heard of how built up the area has become and instead headed for the second beach of Chaulok, in search of some tranquillity. We found a nice room at Sunshine 2, just metres away from the beach and home to one of the islands many Dive Schools. Without wanting to bore anyone too much, we spent a relaxing six days basking in the sun and sea on some of the smaller beaches, taking in a bit of snorkelling, some diving (including a very cool, 2 foot wide vertical swim-through!) and getting down with the yogis at Shambala Yoga.

Feeling fully recuperated after Bangkok and Bumrungrad hospital we are now looking forwards to catching up with friends from home who visit Thailand over the coming weeks. Anyone who’d like to donate some Percy Pigs or Cornish Rattler (our favourite cider but any would do!) please courier to Ben, Alison or Amy ASAP!

Visitors Since 19th May 2009...