A Travellerspoint blog

Soaking in the sun

The Southern Islands

Our milk bottled appearances were fairly apparent as we made our way around the north of Thailand. Other intrepid back packers radiated a golden hue. Our white skin contrasted with these fellow wanderers. Southern Thailand had rejuvenated their bodies before they headed northwards. If vanity is your friend then my suggestion is to head south first and immerse yourself in the sunshine of the islands, where a healthy glow is a guarantee.
Niamh and Pippa Wilson from Portsmith

Niamh and Pippa Wilson from Portsmith

This is no fake tan with Pippa!

Southern Thailand is an entirely different experience to the north of the country. Prior to our departure we received little tips and information that in hindsight have made our travels all the more pleasurable. We are both wanderers at heart, with curious natures. Time and time again we have chosen to wander off the beaten track avoiding the more popular media spun locations. Travel articles always rave on about Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Bangkok, when truly the real beauty and uniqueness of Thailand lies in the multitude of other islands and hidden places. These idyllic havens are bursting with natural richness; long sandy stretches of beach, shimmering blue waters, glowing sunsets and comfortable beach huts with the odd scary insect or foreign animal lurking about but more on that later!!!

Railay , Krabi

Railay , Krabi

- Just like the setting of the famous film ,The Beach, but it's not Koh Phi Phi...

Sunset in Railay West Beach

Sunset in Railay West Beach

- Just like having a lick of vanilla ice cream on Lahinch or Kilkee prom!!

Monkey business

Monkey business

- These little monkeys are cranky creatures who can easily snip!

Hours fall quickly into days and happily being on the right side of time, we have the luxury of choosing to move on when the traveller itch for more intrigue sets in. It's a scourge of an affliction. Our average stay in one place is about 3 to 4 days. Once the backpacks are squashed to the brim, we hit the road again! After researching on Lonely Planet and pouring over the map of South East Asia, our instinct kicks in and we decide on the next location. This is in essence how we arrived to Koh Jum. A bird's eye view positions this touch of Paradise beside Koh Lanta, a renowned spot in the southern islands. We caught a mini- bus to the ferry. We passed a few hours gazing on the familiar views of the Indian Ocean. The sea views are incredible and soothe the eye of the lucky onlooker. Beware however of the sharks( the ferry workers) on board these ferries. When you stay on the islands sometimes the ferry is met by a long tail boat close to the shore of your resort. Our geezer managing the drop off system on board, deposited us miles away from our destination. We ended up having to pay a local tuk - tuk driver a smathering of Bahts to drive through dirt tracks, to our next spot. The picture of the elephant recreates I hope a little of our jaunt to heaven.

Elephant view

Elephant view

Sometimes you spot a situation which doesn't sit very well with you!

Elephant at work

Elephant at work

After our Formula One track event we finally made it unscathed to Coral Bay Resort. Management; a 16 year old feisty girl, couldn't get rid of us! Four days turned into a week. The biggest decision we had to make was where to sun ourselves. Effort in Thailand is contending with the heat. It takes energy to apply and apply and reapply the sun tan lotion. The sweltering sand stings the base of the feet! How annoying it is when the sand gets stuck in the most unlikely of spots, these are the trivial annoyances experienced in Paradise! No post to be delivered to No 6 Coral Beach Resort. We've vacated the hut but they are accepting visitors- mention Niamh and Richie and there may be room.
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P1010231

Next hop, Koh Lanta. It's a busy place. A typical strip that resembles any resort on the Costa del Sol. To be honest living in the remoteness it was hard to adjust to the traffic and noise of the place. A far cry from the debauchery of Bangkok but we are ageing and enjoying the contemplative way of life for the period in question!!Do you believe in divine intervention? On this journey of enlightenment we have been often surprised and delighted when the hand of something or another, strikes. Richie happened upon a little brochure that advertised the Nature Bungalow!
Bridge view

Bridge view

Water lilies and swans on this lake!

Water lilies and swans on this lake!

Crime scene one

Crime scene one

Richie fancied taking this "heap" out into the lake. Think he mentioned that Dickie, Richie's dad had a Zodiac boat at some stage. Richie I believe has similar ambitions but...... I didn't think it was in great shape. He seemed very enthused by the prospect of riding out into the lake as it were. I mean we didn't even have the picnic basket with us! Enticed under duress, I climbed into the "toy" boat and immediately water started to pour in, this didn't dissuade Mr Murphy. In he footed, the full bulk of him leaving us with no choice but to abort! We managed to salvage ourselves though destroying our sandals with mud and silt! Keep dreaming Richie... this girl 'aint impressed.

That night the manager of the resort ( only one employee, HIMSELF1) invited us for dinner and it turned out to be an informal cookery class and an exchange of stories about this and that! Check out the photos!

Cooking Thai Style

Cooking Thai Style

- Nop our entertainer and me very very busy!

Richard getting tips

Richard getting tips

Straight from the lake!

Straight from the lake!

We got every jab imaginable before leaving for this side of the world. We have avoided everything walking on legs for fear of rabies but nobody told us how to prepare for an encounter with a SNAKE!
Picture this..... dressed up,ready to explore for the day;

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P1010335

Richie then casually asks me a rather unmentionable question but here goes anyway and I will share it with you! " Were you in the loo earlier?"
This is what he clearly mistook for human excrement!!
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P1010339

I never realised how important is to always look down before using this device!! This big "beaut" had ensnarled its body at the bottom of the pink toilet bowl. Richie quickly skirted away in search of reinforcements. Being the ultimate gentlemen he couldn't quite blurt the words out when he met with the manager. Nop wasn't alone. He was showing off the finer features of the resort to a German lady. Richie still was unsure about opening up. Nop searchingly looked at him and signalled to him to get to the point! Nop unshaken replied to the revelation, " It's okay, it's not poisonous. They like fresh water" The poor fraulein nearly had to be carried away.... to which I placed my two pence worth on the table :" It's okay, I'm not too fond of snakes myself. Saint Patrick got rid of them from Ireland". With supplies in tow (a catapult and stick and a bottle of chemical lotion) Nop and his sidekick soon saw off our visitor! Remember to always look down before you sit down! Could you imagine explaining the marks and stings to a local Thai doctor!

The evening ended in the Irish Embassy bar watching the defeat of Ireland against England. Despite the disappointment we encountered some great folks who were amused of our narrow escape from the slithering animal of the wilds of Koh Lanta!

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P1010359

Here we are with Fiona McLoughlin and Marc Gass en route to Australia to set their roots down there. Fiona is from Athenry and Marc from Zimbabwe...great folks who we will surely catchup with in the future

Pancake Tuesday in Koh Lanta
Pancake Tuesday in the heat of the night!

Pancake Tuesday in the heat of the night!

Esso Station

Esso Station

Irish Versus England and appropriately I am in black!

Irish Versus England and appropriately I am in black!

Until the next bedtime story.... stay safe!!

Posted by steakie 04:58 Comments (0)

From Bangkok to Khao Sok

On the road again

sunny 21 °C

So there we were in Bangkok, 5am in the morning, 4 sheets to the wind and grappling with one of those conundrums that we thought had been consigned to our rapidly receding youth: go to bed for an hour or two or keep going untill we board the train at 9? In conclave with our new found best friends from France we took the only sensible option and racked up another round. As ever with these early morning brainwaves we paid dearly for it on the slow journey south to our next destination, the seaside resort of Hua Hin.
The Brains Trust

The Brains Trust


There isn't a whole lot to say about Hua Hin other than that its full of Russians and we couldn't wait to get out of there. (I've been reminded that there was a beautiful coffee shop there by herself). Here's a picture of Niamh waiting for the train south.
The littlest hobo

The littlest hobo


Our next destination was a small town about 400km south of Bangkok called Ban Saphan Yai. Thinking that we could just roll into town and find the beach there waiting for us, we very fortunately met an Aussie in a pick up outside the station who recognised us for what we were, lost and naively ill-prepared. After sending us in the right direction we eventually ended up at a really quiet and relaxing beach side resort where we ended up staying much longer than we expected to. We met some really good people while we were there not the least of which were the Tandem Turners, a newly married English couple who were cycling from New Zealand back to the UK - on a tandem!!
Kat and Steve, the Tandem Turners

Kat and Steve, the Tandem Turners


They had been on the road about 8 months when we met them and they reckoned they had another 12 months ahead of them. Steve already had an epic beard so it'll be interesting to see what length it gets to by the time he gets home. If anyone is interested in following their progress you can check them out on www.tandemturners.com
We also met a man from Dungannon who had lived in the area for about 15 years and had a successful restaurant (Tae's Restaurant if anyone's in the area) in the town. Ray had married locally and his son Tommy was educated in Methody College. Ray was an engineer by trade but despite this unpromising background, he was great company and was liable to burst into song at any time.
Ray from the County Down

Ray from the County Down


Our next port of call on the journey south was Khao Sok National Park, a huge expanse of ancient rain forest in the interior. After a couple of weeks of utter laziness it was good to blow off the cobwebs and get active again hiking through the forest. The park is spectacular and has probably been the highlight of our time in southern Thailand.
Eat your heart out Bear Grylls

Eat your heart out Bear Grylls


This one's for Viv Arthur
The Big Bamboo

The Big Bamboo


A well deserved dip after hours of trekking
A Water Nymph

A Water Nymph


River canyon

River canyon


Spider

Spider

Exercise done, the beaches of the islands beckon. More anon.

Posted by steakie 06:23 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

30 again!!!

A little sceal from SE Asia, pictures to follow...

My 38th birthday, I mean my 30th this year was truly international! This was our first experience of staying in a hostel and we couldn’t have chosen better. The FWD Hostel is brand new and the owners are full of energy, it’s obvious they are fresh to the game. They always seemed to be ten steps ahead. I came back from my birthday bash only to find a little birthday present and card on my bed, from wait for it, Wan, Phon and Win or Thai’s answer to the Brady Bunch!

The hostel itself is a very clever design with simple wooden fabricated cubicles in the shape of a right angle, sufficient enough to maintain a decent degree of privacy. Phon, the Bean an Ti of the establishment is inclined to step into your space. One morning, she with her cleaner in toe, were feverishly searching the dormitory. It was a major operation that involved climbing up on the resting/ sleeping apparatus with torches. Not exactly what you hope to awaken to, after a night on the tiles….. I couldn’t help but question their actions! The response was a blend of animated moves and broken statements in English. The fact is that they were on the prowl for bugs. Seemingly in the initial weeks after opening the hostel they encountered an awkward Polish guest. She claimed that she had been bitten by bugs while at the hostel. She bawled, kicked and screamed and couldn’t be calmed no matter how Phon tried to comfort her- “quote, unquote!!!” She lodged herself in protest at reception, and shared her ordeal with all the incoming guests. Now poor Phon by her own admission is paranoid and wants to guarantee each guest the best of care. Thai hostesses generally are there to serve and there is no denying it they do it, whole heartedly. Having stayed there three nights we’d have to say that the hostel deserves its well -earned status as the best hostel in Trip Advisor for 2012. It’s definitely one for future reference, for anyone touching down on this side of the world.

The upside of hostel sitting is that you meet so many travellers who are genuinely open and up for anything. It’s an ideal way to share traveller information, the pitfalls too- like the German tourist, Eva who had spent two weeks in an elephant sanctuary somewhere outside Chiang Mai. She spoke of the cruelty inflicted on these animals who are beaten into submission and all for entertainment. It did make us think. We met extremely decent interesting backpackers, all having left behind their lives temporarily in search of sunshine and a spot of good old adventure!!! Jeff with the friendly smile was from LA. At the prime age of 23 he had recently qualified into the financial world but decided he needed to get away and explore. Oh yeah and when he returns he hopes to settle in San Francisco. I told him I was otherwise hooked but I’d keep him posted! He was a staunch Obama fan and was “super excited” on his re-election. In the best of spirits we celebrated Barack’s victory, in a Reggae bar on the third floor. Obama never made it! Not that there was a Marley tune to be had. Chiang Mai citizens have a soft spot for such liberal and bold characters like Che Guevara- they should consider twinning with Kilkee!!. Harry and Sian from Sussex two great people and Dan a sound fellow Brit came along for the night and we had such a blast. What a nice way to celebrate my birthday, peering out over the edge of a bar which had a view of the night bazzar. Not bad, indeed…

So hear is the deal on these travels, we like to accommodate each other’s interests as a pair of mature adults would naturally do! Richie decided that mountain biking would be great exercise and he opted for the beginner’s route, bless him. Now I like a challenge but I had a sneaking suspicion when I read the 50 pages of regulations that this sporting endeavour might not be so straight forward. To Richie’s credit he told me that the main thing was to pull the right brake and I’d be fine. Not so simple. The course turned out to be all downhill ,a little akin to the black stage on a skiing course, springs to mind. In admirable fashion as only the Crowe would, I managed to rise into action half way through the course and cycle or should I say hurtle through the air! It was in a downhill manoeuvre that I collided with the side of the ditch, dust rising and I lifting myself from the ground in humiliation, all bones intact. Your man later, tells me that it was far from a beginner’s track and that a few others had crashed too. Not to draw attention to myself but my body has decided to exhibit some rather beautiful bruises, the size of the continent of Africa…..so my profile this week Doctor is- I am smathered in bruises with the characteristic mosquito marks from our expedition in the mountains, having just faded. Is there no rest for the wicked?! Suffice to say, it probably is something I would do again, having learned a trick or two from the experience.

Royal images are everywhere. Be it in massage parlours, private homes, restaurants or on bill boards on main roads- caught only at a glimpse when you are the pillion passenger of a rather novice driver of a moped , who thinks he is Joey Dunlop. I’d like to point out that you do not have to produce your driving license to sign your death warrant. Traffic lights serve as a suggestion to either stop or go, depending on your mood. DRIVERS ARE CRAZY! Now where was I, yes, the imposing portraits highlight the importance of the royal family in the Thai culture. Equally, there are little altars dedicated to Buddha adorned with golden and white flowers and burning incense everywhere. This dedication and sense of respect epitomises the culture of this race.

This wonderful country full of contradictions in a way is a great place. It holds strongly to tradition. Rarely do women frequent bars and if so, tend to be there to “work”. The social distinction is difficult to recognise but what we have learned is this, that the more coloured you are the lower you reside in the pecking order. Hence, the compulsion of the Thai woman to maintain or should I say achieve white skin; doing everything in their power to achieve the desired white effect from using chalk substances to wearing balaclavas on their mopeds. Those from the country are perceived to be at a ‘disadvantage’. I know it doesn’t sit comfortably with my thought line.
So now we have achieved our visa pass into Laos, we are ready to take the slow boat to Luang Prabang…we will keep you posted- Motilum and Arret and plastic bags are somewhere in the backpacks…. This gem of a city is recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site due to its striking French colonial architecture. Tony Honan, take note!! We’ll regroup later and tell you more… have to really go now my knight in shining armour is on his hands and knees over the toilet bowl and it ‘aint pretty believe me…… Tonight’s accommodation- The Friend Ship GC is not of a star rating and definitely not a place you want to feel queasy in. Trish Russell our dear advising medical consultant, you never mentioned that those Malaria tablets would cause us ill….. more penance- now 3 stone lighter…..

Posted by steakie 03:32 Comments (0)

Up on the Mountain

Mud huts, a mute German and a little bit of Buddha

sunny 32 °C

It's time again to make contact with the outer world. Another week has slipped by; that's what happens on an adventure like this one. We've weathered a tough, though exhiliarating week high in the mountains, 90 kilometres north of Chiang Mai or a slow 4 and a half hour journey on a dusty yellow,wanderley wagon. And by was that an experience as we ventured into no- man's territory. Slowly accustoming ourselves to the Thai way of life, we made our way to our collection point, a backstreet in the heart of Chiang Mai ready for road. It is in such places that Thai life is palpable. The rising heat, the dusty pavements, the hum of passing traffic and the buzz of trade merge to make lasting memories. The locals' environment is busy and crowded- everywhere is squashed and brimming with excess. Walk into one shop and it opens out into a wide food market full of fresh and exotic fruits, meats, sweets ...whatever you fancy. Take note- be prepared for spicy food... western food is rare and the challenge for the traveller is to be adventurous! Culinary items are unrecognisable and the unimaginable is to be tried ,be it bamboo salted worms or curried tapioca wrapped in pandan leaf- there is no no need for plastic packaging in Chiang Mai.
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Time is not measured here. 11 o'clock runs into mid-day, that's the way it is. Nothing is prompt. This was the case as we waited to leave for our sojourn in the mountains. Our wagon would remind you of a mini version of a public style American school bus with two benches on either side of a central aisle. The lovely aspect of public travel is you encounter like minded individuals. We met Johnny and Nathan on the bus and after the initial degree of awkwardness, we pretty much bonded. Welcome to global travel, our wee Johnny from Co Down, all 6 foot tall was instantly likeable. A qualified sparky, Johnny has been travelling now for over 3 years or more and is slow to return to the land of the living. Nathan, a History major graduate from Charlotte , North Carolina had moved here for the year hoping to secure a teaching post. It was lovely to find a nice group to share our memories with.
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This road trip was dangerous. Drivers overtake on bends and edge decidedly too close for comfort to the steep road falls. In fairness, the road surfaces are largely well developed, apart from the summits of mountaineous regions where you can spot the local council boys hard at work, digging. We saw some of the most beautiful views imaginable as the wagon twisted and turned climbing high up though the amazing valleys of Samoeng. This bus service is also a delivery service.Our luggage was stored on top of the wagon and by the time we arrived to our place in the mountains the aisle and the top of the carrier was overflowing with different commodities. The people high up in the valleys depend on this service to supply them with the essentials.

As we were dropped off at our our temporary home, we had to lug or luggage up a very steep climb. Pin Yan met us at the top, where his farm rests. Though our limbs were tired we felt a sense of excitement at the fact that we had a arrived in a beautiful spot. The pictures hopefully will give a flavour of what it is like to inhabit a place that is totally outside anyone's comfort zone!
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They wouldn't let me up on the rickety bamboo scaffolding - 'too big, papa, too big'
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This character, Tsoy, took a shine to me and brewed up some herbal hooch in a bamboo stem that he promised would make me 'very strong, wife very happy tonight'. Unfortunately, with all the wildlife rustling around the hut at night time I couldn't quite persuade my 'wife' to test his theory. I did hack my way through a lot of bamboo the following day!!
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Doesn't she look well?
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I thought I'd die of heat exhaustion the first day - we were in and out of the jungle all day chopping down bamboo for the hut we were building, the legs were cut to ribbons
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A moment's peace. We got out of town before all that rice in the background had to be harvested (by hand)
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Relaxing in the hot tub - the plug was a tennis ball!
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This was the farms luxuriously appointed toilet - we decided not to upload photos of the interior in the interests of your health and safety. Niamh had a couple of 'issues' in there that nearly led to full scale mutiny but she soldiered through. It is amazing though how disciplined one can become about going to the loo when facing into the black hole of Thailand - once a day will do just fine thank you very much.
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Home sweet home
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And there you have it, a week on Mindful Farm. An experience unlikely to be forgotten and probably never to be repeated.

Posted by steakie 04:40 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

Smoothies and massages

A tough old week

Since arriving in Chiang Mai last week we haven't done a great deal other than pamper ourselves with foot massages and the odd smoothie or two. The city itself veers from quaint, to tourist trap to serene every hundred metres or so. The place seems to revolve around the tour groups and backpackers traipsing through the place and every conceivble western whim is catered for. Having said that, the natives themselves are as placid and as accommodating as possible (save for the headbanger I met in Tesco hiding under a newspaper and calling me 'Evil Police') and down every side street there seems to be an ever more exotic little restaraunt or chi chi boutique. Its a shopper's wet dream.
We went for a few pints last night and fell into company with a couple of old codgers from Australia. We met them in one of the go go bars on the outskirts of the old city.

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They had both married Thai's (on a number of accasions) and they gave us the inside line on the way the bars and the girls operated. Essentially the girls had little choice because Thai custom was such that the task of looking after the parents in old age fell on the females in the family and if sufficient income couldn't be earned, poverty beckoned. The name of the game was to snare a 'rich' foreigner and secure the future. And by Christ is there plenty of foreigners crawling about the place looking for cheap thrills. Its pretty sickening to see these beautiful young women having fat, middle aged men slobbering all over them but I guess it is what it is and its unlikely to change for the better anytime soon.

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We've a busy day lined up tomorrow with a few hours by the pool in the morning and then some private massage lessons in the afternoon from Ms Lanna (don't snigger, its all above board). Till next time folks.

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Posted by steakie 08:24 Comments (1)

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