A Travellerspoint blog

Getting back to business

semi-overcast 25 °C

After six months break, welcome back to my travel blog. It certainly didn't take a very long time at home for me to realise that I want to be out in the sunshine for a little while longer before 'settling down'!

As most of you know, I returned to work with my Dad for the summer in London and moved there into a sharehouse. Whilst I had a great summer and met some new friends in London, the thought of a winter at home knowing that I could be elsewhere wasn't too appealing. An irish friend in Melbourne intoduced me to the life concept of 'FOMO', standing for the Fear Of Missing Out.... whilst initially just applying to partys or events you could be at with friends and then feeling left out when they have great stories about them, I seem to be expanding it to everything!

Anyway, enough about the past, this is just really a quick update to explain my plans for the next few months. I am currently in a cool Bangkok (by its own standards, its still 25 degrees), and have six weeks to travel from here, through Laos, into Vietnam and down to Ho Chi Minh City. I fly from Ho Chi Minh back to Melbourne for another summer out in Australia! Here's a quick map of my major city stopoffs for those that don't know this part of the world too well...

I didn't visit Laos or Vietnam at all on my previous trips so I'm really looking forward to seeing how they differ from Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia.

I'll leave Bangkok tomorrow evening for Chiang Mai, a city in the north I passed through when going to Pai (my last stopoff in Thailand last time) and will spend a few days in the area. Normally, an overnight train can be caught as its around 600 miles north of Bangkok, but because of flooding I have been reliably informed the train 'isn't working'. I'm stuck with an overnight bus which I can't imagine is going to be the finest 12 hours of my life.

It's still the end of wet season in Thailand and Bangkok is getting about 30 mins of heavy rain a day, the locals love it though as it keeps the temperature down. The north and Laos have better weather though, and by the time I head south in Vietnam it should be starting dry season.

I am looking to spend a bit of time trekking on this trip. There are a lot of hill-tribes in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam that were without much contact with others untill the last 20 years or so. I'm looking to sign up on a couple of treks for a couple of days at a time. The recent wet season should mean any waterfalls are nice a full too.

Before I leave Bangkok I'll continue exploring the quite remarkable area that is Khao San Road, I have mentioned it previously as a bit of a backpacker ghetto, but its just crazy. If I come out of it having not blown half my budget on tshirts, fake designer sunglasses and chang beer; I'd have done well!

Posted by pullboy 22:10 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Last stop: Pai

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I'm now back in Bangkok after returning from Pai, some 900km north, early this morning on another night train. I managed to spend 8 days there for a number of reasons, its actually the longest I've stayed anywhere on my travels (obviously other than Melbourne).

The road from the provincial capital, Chiang Mai, is legendary. The road has 762 curves (according to tshirts!) and takes about 4 hours to cover just 132km. Terribly frustrating, but the drivers try to make it go as fast as possible by some highly dangerous overtaking manouvres you wouldn't even consider at home.

The curves and hills are what makes this area of Thailand so different. There are valleys, waterfalls, canyons, rivers and all together amazing scenery to explore in this area. Some people also take trips out on elephant back to visit local hill tribes that have isolated histories and some strange traditionals (one extends the neck with a kind of brace, forcing it to grow longer). I didn't take an elephant trip after seeing the conditional these emotional and socialable animals are kept in- they can literally move about 2 metres as their back legs are chained.

The town of Pai itself grew from being a small hippy retreat some 10 years ago into a signifiantly larger hippy retreat nowadays. The crowd there varies from a Canadian couple, probably the same age as my parents who I met on the train, to backpackers younger than me. Many come to stay out of the town away from anywhere to practice yoga, spiritual healing and various kinds of detox. The many cafes in Pai contain all kinds of books on accupuncture, karma and even modern witchcraft! The food is excellent and cheap, most places use locally sourced ingredients and are mainly vegetrian.

As I'm hugely suspicious (or ignorant) of these types of practices, I stayed in the town at a cheap guesthouse and used the time to relax, visit some of the local valleys and enjoy the relaxed nightlife. Most bars had some kind of live music on, usually with a few regular Thai's and then any travellers that wanted to get up and join in could too.

One of the main reasons that kept me there was the friendliness of everyone. I've heard off so many people about the friendliness of Thais, but that seems to have disappeared on the southern islands as they have probably seen one too many sunburnt "farang" being sick on the beach and are just there to make a living for their family. Both the locals and the continuing hippy culture has ensured the area has stayed relaxed and friendly. Just what I needed for my last week before returning to 'real life' in England!

I've just checked into a place for tonight near the centre of Bangkok, ideally located for a day spent at the markets and shops picking up a few cheap things to squash into my rucksack and bring home. I leave early tomorrow morning and have a 15 hour flight via the middle east, returning Tuesday evening UK time. I'll update again when I'm home as I'm sure I'll have a few thoughts to pass on after such a journey.

Hope to see you all very soon!

Posted by pullboy 19:28 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Pictures from Angkor

So I was wrong, my pictures hadn't actually been wiped from my flash drive and I do have them to put up here.... enjoy! If you haven't read my text about Angkor, its in the previous blog

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Gates of Angkor Thom

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The faces of Bayon, I've managed to put a bit of wight back on since this picture when I was ill!

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Sunrise at Angkor Wat

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The main tower of Angkor Wat and view to the front gate

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Terrace of Elephants

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Jungle advances create some great photo opportunities

Posted by pullboy 00:44 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Temples of Angkor

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You go to Kenya to see Lions, Zambia for Victoria Falls, New Zealand for the national parks and to Thailand for the beaches. Cambodia you visit for the temples of Angkor. This is the only stop for some people coming here and sometimes the only stop for those coming to Asia. Apparently over two million people come here every year to sweatily clamber up the steep staircases, squeeze through the narrow hallways and to admire the ancient carvings and architecture.

There are hundreds of temples and buildings, many complete ruins, across this part of Cambodia representing what one used to be here; the headquarters of a 800-1200 year old empire whose monarchs loved building magnificent temples and cities. I spent the last three days exploring those in the most concentrated area, near to the city of Siem Reap, including the huge walled city of Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, still the largest religious building in the world today.

The quality of the remaining temples varies greatly due to a large period where they were 'forgotten' about, after the empire collapsed and the people moved from the cities the jungle advanced and covered many of the temples with huge forest, causing walls and complete temples to collapse. Since re-discovery in the late 19th and early 20th century, teams have cleared the jungle and attempted to restore some of the temples. They didn't manage to stop a lot of theft from the area though, so headless statues are not uncommon at all. The temples are, of course, a World Heritage site, and have a lot of funding from various UN monument and history funds.

At $20 per day for a temple pass, its expensive here compared to the rest of Cambodia and this doesn't include the ridiculous amount of water that you drink whilst exploring. There are hundreds of stalls and small kids selling everything you could want- water, food, hats, guidebooks etc at the temples. We bought a guidebook as I wouldn't let Kelly pay for a proper guide, although this certainly would be worthwhile if we could have afforded one. You get around the temples via tuk-tuk a motobike with passenger seats in tow, our driver was a young Cambodian guy.

We started off by taking advantage of a 'free' sunset at the temples (tickets sold after 5pm are valid for the next day), and we went off to on of the smaller temples to watch the sun go down from the top. By smaller, the temple walls were still probably 50m by 50m and the temple about 25m high!

The first temple we visited on our first real day was one of the main ones and probably my favourite of the lot. Bayon. This is the centre point of the great walled city of Angkor Thom. The scale is amazing, the four city walls are each 3km long, with huge gates on each side. The whole city is surrounded by a moat that is over 100m wide and used to contain crocodiles- it makes our castles at home look tiny! We stopped off at the south gate that has the most intact statues either side, in its day it would have been simply amazing. Driving through the old city where hundreds of thousands would have lived and traded, we got to Bayon that is unique because of the carved faces everywhere, of a god but apparently similar to the king that built the temple and most of the city.

We also visited other places in the city, such as the terrace of elephants- an old parade terrace that is beautifully carved with a lot of animals. This took up a large part of the morning and we went off to a few of the smaller temples in the north of the area. Each is notable for something (or many things), whether it is the architectural style, particularly good carvings, different materials or a strange shaped tree growing out of a wall!

In general, we did well to stay away from the big crowds on our first day until sunset when it got ridiculous at the only hilltop temple. Quite how they managed to get the huge bits of sandstone up the hill is amazing.

We knew we were in for crowds the next morning, even though we were up at 5am. We went for sunrise at Angkor Wat, the most popular temple by some distance. Seeing the silhouette of the temples becoming clearer as the sky turns red behind it is an unforgettable experience though, and at times like that you don't really mind if there are 300 Japanese tourists around you.

We went into Angkor Wat and started to explore but the top part, the most important part, was closed for cleaning for some reason. There is also a bit of renovation going on so we were quite limited to what we could see. We decided to head somewhere else and return the next morning when it should be open (and nice and clean!).

The highlight of the second day was visiting Ta Prohm, a very atmospheric temple as the huge jungle advances meant that a lot of the trees couldn't be cleared and there is a lot of odds pieces of sandstone around from collapses. various huge trees are growing out of the 5m high walls. A lot of the temples were used for filming 'Tomb Raider' (with Angelina Jolie), but this one features most as when walking around you get some idea what it would have been like for the explorers that found these temples in the jungle. We arrived just as about 10 tour buses descended on the temple though, very annoying! There were queues of people waiting to take pictures next to trees!

The following morning we got what we wanted, which was access to Angkor Wat. The place is just huge, built over three levels with five amazing towers as the centre piece and a large moat around it. Everything is perfectly symmetrical and the building is in great shape- it will still be there in hundreds of years time even without much work on it! The ground floor has amazing carved walls depicting various battles, of real wars and between gods, with each scene being about 300m long and of amazing quality. Up the steep steps to the top there is the main tower and a feeling when you are up there greater than being in any cathedral or mosque. The temple is actually built to represent the entire universe from the view of Khmer beliefs. The temple was nominated as one of the twenty finalists for the new wonders of the world voted on last year and is really the pride of all of Cambodia- featured on the flag and on the money notes.

I was just attempting to put my pictures up of the temples but the internet cafe I'm in just wiped my pen drive as there apparently was a virus on it. Kelly has a backup of the pictures though so I'll have them when I get home! That will be it for pictures for the blog as the new camera I bought is no longer working, but in good camera news I have received word that the camera I lost in Melbourne has actually turned up in a random room in the hostel meaning I'll have all my pictures from Australia (and my better camera)!

I've now returned to Thailand but far away from the beaches in the south. I travelled by bus and night train to Pai, a small town near the northern city of Chaing Mai, near the border with Burma (or Myanmar, depending on your political views). I will spend a few days here and then to the city of Chaing Mai before going back to Bangkok.

Posted by pullboy 21:50 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Cambidan History Lessons and Photos

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Its been over a week since I last updated and it would have been sooner if I hadn't suffered my inevitable bout of a horrible bug or food poisoning that everyone seems to get when travelling (more on this later!). The latest phase of my travels has taken me from Kampot, the old French colonial town I started to describe in my last blog and through the three largest cities in Cambodia- the capital Phnom Penh, the second largest Battambang and via a beautiful river cruise to Siem Reap, the tourism capital of Cambodia. During this week, Kelly (who is still tagging along!) and I have had a chance to explore some of the horrors of Cambodia's recent past that plunged the country into poverty.

In Kampot we were disappointed that we didn't make it to the deserted hilltop retreat that we had planned to go to. The French built it as a holiday resort in the early twentieth century and was deserted when the country entered civil war in the early 1970s, it is still deserted today except for a few tourists and the builders who are renovating the old hotel to be a top resort. As part of this, the road up the hill is being rebuilt and the only official option of passing it is a very sweaty three hour climb followed by a ride up the surfaced part and a walk down. Being Cambodia there is also an unofficial way of passing by bribing the workers on the road, we were going to take this option but the price jumped rom $90 to $160 (for 4) overnight and we refused to pay. We did spent a couple of nice days relaxing by the riverside, which I'm sure you'll agree from the photos isn't a bad place to relax!

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Phnom Penh was our next stop, and required a few days to get around all there is to see around there. The trip there involved a very interesting bus journey with a driver that didn't stop honking his very loud horn all through the 5 hour journey and when you couldn't hear this he was playing a tape of a cambodian singer doing a terrible copy of the latest 'Akon' and other Hip Hop songs! We stayed at a fantastic guesthouse with a lot of information on the area and got out to see a lot.

The most famous sight in Phnom Penh are the Killing Fields. It was here that the Khmer Rouge bludgoned to death some of their enemies in Cambodia and buried them in mass graves. The Khmer Rouge were a regime that came to power with possible support from Americans and probable support from the King when the region was unstable because of the Vietnam war next door. It is estimated they killed hundreds of thousands of their political enemies as they attempted to change Cambodia into a closed state and forced people to move to farm in different areas of the country. We visited the prison where many were held and brutally tortured, located in an old school. Visiting the Killing Fields was a horrific experience, reminiscent for me of visiting Auschwitz- the Nazi concentration camp in Poland. Although the scale here wasn't quite on the scale, the way it was described the victims were hit over the back of the head whilst blindfolded and fell unconscious or dead into a ready-dug mass grave was terrible. There is a beautiful religious building that houses the skulls of those that have been excavated.

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Also in the capital we spent a morning at an excellent market that sells back door products from the local factories. Some of the big names including Abercrombie and Fitch, Levis, Adidas and even the likes of Next and H+M have contracts out here. Probably bad for the companies ethical standards but brilliant for a broke backpacker looking for US$4 t shirts that aren't fakes!

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After a visit to the predictably elaborate but very beautiful royal palace and to the National Museum of art we were ready to move on to Battambang. This is the second largest city in the country, although about a fifth the size of the capital. There wasn't too much of interest around the small city centre but we found our way into the surrounded countryside and villages quickly. We visited a partly collapsed temple a few kilometres outside the city and passed through villages with very friendly kids on way. The temple is between 800 and 900 years old, built of sandstone and is the usual mix of Hinduism and Buddhism in Cambodia with fantastic carvings above the doorways that have somehow remained almost perfect in places. The temple was partly destroyed by the Khmer Rouge as they didn't like anyone believing in anything above them, many of the temples I will visit here were damaged during their time after surviving hundreds, and in some cases over a thousand years. There will be plenty on temples in my next blog!

Our guidebook described the boat journey between the two cities of Battambang and Siem Reap as scenic and taking 6 to 9+ hours. Not really sure what to expect we paid our inflated foreigner prices and went. They were right on both accounts as the trip was very beautiful indeed and took 9 and a half hours due to the boat getting stuck on the bottom of the river (it is dry season). We passed tens of riverside communities that lived on the fish in the water and their small patches of land on the riverbanks. What made them beautiful and very unique was the fact that a lot of them lived on the water rather than next to it. Bamboo is used as a float and basic houses are floated on the river with access only available by a boat. In the largest communities there would be two or three houses deeps at the river edge. This is nothing unique for Cambodia, in the lake in the centre of the country there are whole villages of thousands of people living several kilometres from the shore, with the houses, shops, restaurants and even a floating volleyball stadium arranged into streets!

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This bought us to Siem Reap, the city most local to the legendary temples of Angkor, and for me it bought the end to my belief that my stomach is nearly invincible as I caught a bug straight away. This kept me from sleeping for the first night as I was constantly on the move to the bathroom and I have had to rest for three further days and have had some problems eating. We got out to see a few temples today though and although I'm not 100% I managed half a meal and no sign of it coming up yet!

We have two more days of temple viewing included a sunrise at Angkor Wat, one of the most famous temples in the world, tomorrow. I will then head to Northern Thailand as my flight home draws nearer

Posted by pullboy 07:00 Archived in Cambodia Comments (2)

On and off the beaten track

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This blog post should have been posted yesterday but due to a useless computer that decided to close the window as I was finishing it, I gave up and am making a fresh attempt today. Since Ko Chang, I have passed through the strange border town of Koh Kong for two nights to visit the nearby island, I've spent two nights in the seaside town of Sihanoukville and am now in the old French riverside colonial town of Kampot.

In our last day in Thailand, myself and Kelly hired a bike to get to the quite side of Ko Chang, in search of some uncrowded beaches and to get away from the resorts on the Western side of the island where we were staying. What we discovered was that it isn't just the sunsets that keep everyone on the Wesern side- the beaches were generally very poor and there wasn't much interesting except for a few local fishing villages. After a quite ridicualous road involving very steep hills and rocks all over the place, we did find a very nice beach on the south coast that just had one set of bungalows on. We'd actually considered moving to here after our first night but didn't get it sorted out, huge mistake as it was almost perfect there! After an afternoon of lazing on the beach we headed back, seeing a fantastic sunset on the way.

The next morning bought the Hat Lek border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. The border here has a bad reputation amongst travellers due to the 'stamp fees' on obtaining a visa and a lot of hassle and scams going on at the border. We ended up overpaying for our Cambodian visas by about $8 but got through in a reasonably priced taxi without too much hassle. As soon as you arrive at the border there are people attempting to carry your bags, sell you all kinds of things, begging and trying to help fill your visa forms, quite hectic!

The border town of Ko Kong was the designated stopover point for us, in order to visit Ko Kong island; Cambodia's largest island that is supposedly completely untouched. After an afternoon of wondering around the town you realise that you are well off the 'beaten track' here as not many people spoke english and everyone stares when you walk down the street like they have never seen a Westerner before. The little kids that can speak about 5 words of English do come and try and speak to you though! The few white people in the town are mainly very strange middle aged men sleazing over the local women, the less though about the intentions of this type in a border town, the better I think.

We took a day trip to Koh Kong island that was really nice and included a great king prawn barbeque on the beach there. There is almost no-one on the island, which makes a nice change from Thailand, and those that are are mainly 'military'. Our guide reckons 'military may as well mean 'illegal loggers' though, as he thinks they are gradually cutting down the forest on the other side of the island from where we were. A huge shame considering how nice it is. I'll get pictures up next time as this computer's USB port is broken.

After Koh Kong we got well back on the beaten track to the seaside town of Sihanoukville, named after the royal family here. It is popular with the better off Cambodians, as well as independent travellers. A lot of people stop off here for partying, happy hour beers go down to US 25c each and there is a lively bar scene. The beaches were average and I complained most of the time as I'm really bored of lying in sand all day!

Kampot, where I am now, is a historic colonial town built by the French. It has some really nice old buildings and a very relaxing riverfront. It's not really a 'doing' town but the type of place to stroll around and enjoying a cool drink looking over the market square. We're going to visit an abandoned hilltop town tomorrow that was left empty during one of the wars here.

As a whole, I'm enjoying being in Cambodia so far. The Khmer people are really friendly and smile every-time you make eye contact with them. The country is a lot poorer than its Thai neighbour but that only seems to make the people nicer in my experiences. I'm starting to make my way through their foods and am enjoying watching their very cute kids (Madonna loved them so much she stole/adopted one) run around and seeing the great sport of 'how many people can we fit on a scooter' take place- a mum and her 4 kids is the record that i've seen so far!

Posted by pullboy 04:04 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Full Mooning, Khao San Rd and Ko Chang

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Its been about a weeks since my last update as I managed to party much too hard at the full moon beach party on Ko Phang Ngan and have spend the last few days recovering from the aftermath! I have moved through Bangkok, where I spent two nights, and am now on my last Thai Island- Ko Chang, not far from Cambodia.

Ko Phang Ngan and the full moon party was as good as we'd all hoped it would be, we got convinced into getting drunk every night we were there (I've found this is what happens when there are too many Irish people in a group!) and even managed a rather good pool party on the night of our friend Alice's birthday. We found that the 1st, the night we were told the main party was, was actually not the full moon date. The 28th Feb is some sort of Buddhist holiday so surprisingly the actually move the main party onto the next night and everyone drinks from cups instead of bottles (pointless I know!)

After starting our alcohol consumption reasonably slowly on the night of the main party, due to a ridiculous hangover, we were soon in the mood, fluorescent body paint included. We headed to the beach about midnight and some of us, myself included, were still dancing away to some rather good dance music at 9 the next morning. There are plenty of bars playing different types of music as well as locals doing fire juggling and encouraging the drunken ravel to have a go at the fire skipping rope. I stayed clear! The party peaks at about sunrise, I think after this and it starts getting light everyone sees how drunk their friends look and gradually drift of to bed. Some crazy kids are still on it well into the next day though.

After waking up the next day at 6.30pm I realised I was yet to book a ticket to Bangkok, where I was due to be the following day. I wandered down to the local agent only to discover I still had an fluorescent mustache painted on my face! I don't think I was the only one struggling! My friends from Melbourne all drifted off to the other side of the island and I won't catch up with them again, most are heading home to the UK and Ireland though so I hope I'll catch up this summer.

I headed off to Bangkok, a huge day of travel, and finally got to the legendary Khao San Road at nearly 2am. This was in full party mode, as it always is, as I was off to find my bed. I'll be returning here at the end of my trip but basically it is the most well known backpacker road in South East Asia and contains guesthouses, a lot of bars, as well as a big market selling ridiculously cheap tshirts and clothing.

Here I met with Kelly, a girl I met in Melbourne, who will join me for my next leg in Cambodia. We're in Ko Chang now, I'm almost done with the beach life but she has just flown in from Melbourne so decided a beach was required. To its credit, it is really nice here and the beach we are on has a great backpacker feel. Although its name 'lonely beach' was probably inaccurate a few years ago.

Having done some planning for Cambodia, Laos and Northern Thailand, I now realise I'm going to be very tight on time. About time I got my arse off the beach and getting involved in some real Asian culture!

Posted by pullboy 04:49 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Further lessons on development

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After my last post complaining about the over development of Ko Phi Phi, I'll continue along the same theme as this part of Thailand seems to be a giant building project. I'm now on the notorious party island of Ko Phang Ngan, home of the most famous backpacker party in the world- the monthly full moon beach party.

After a few days on Ko Lanta with my friends Izzy and Craig, I left them to go to Rai Leh. Ko Lanta was really just a beach destination for us to relax and work on getting nice and brown, there wasn't too much to explore on the island after we had seen the whole island on our bikes on our second day there.

Rai Leh was fantastic. It is on the mainland but because of the limestone cliffs surrounding it, you cannot get there by road and have to catch a boat from a nearby town. This has two main benefits, firstly it is really really beautiful as the cliffs are an amazing backdrop to a lot of palm trees and white sand beaches. Secondly, as there is no road and no airport the package tourists go elsewhere and it is really just full of independent travellers and backpackers. The main part of the beach does have a few 'resorts' but i stayed just around the corner on another beach that is very popular with backpackers as it has very cheap bungalows to rent. There are no ATMs, no 7-11s and barely a chair in sight as everywhere has mats to sit on- even to eat dinner!

This all may change in the future though. There is a huge section of land with nothing on it right on the beach, owned by a development company. No doubt in ten years this little backpacking haven will be the next Ko Phi Phi and be overrun with guesthouses on top of each other. The talk amongst the travellers there was all about this, about how nice that area was and how it was such a shame it wouldn't stay like this forever. It's hard to come to terms with the fact that by coming to the area and telling other backpackers about it that you are contributing to the problem that these places have with so much demand for tourism

Because of the limestone cliffs Rai Leh is one of the world's best places to rock climb, either on land with a harness or 'deep water soloing' where u can climb out of the sea and if u fall you are straight back in the water. Some other travellers I met were going on a trip soloing and I joined them for the day. I didn't manage to get very high up the cliff though as I have never rock climbed before and didn't seem to be a natural. I also managed to cut my foot open and have been hobbling round for the last few days.

Travelling in Thailand has been very different than everywhere else I have been, even Malaysia. As all the places I have been so far here have been by the beach, the main places to stay are in bungalows. Whilst it is possible to share with other people, I have found myself in my own bungalow most of the time, meaning that it is more expensive than staying in dorm rooms and it is also less easy to meet friends. Whilst in Australia or South Africa I would meet others in a shared room, here you really have to get out to the bars or on trips in order to meet other people. It is nice getting somewhere and having the peace of your own room though, sometimes you don't want to be sociable- just to relax and read a book. When I do go out to bars though, everyone is so friendly that I usually find myself surrounded by people in a matter of minutes!

There has been no need to make friends on Ko Phang Ngan. I have met up with ten of my best friends from the hostel in Melbourne who are here for one of their 21st birthdays. The island is in the gulf of Thailand so I had a long day of travelling over from Rai Leh on the Andamen Sea (Indian Ocean) side. We've had a brilliant time over the last couple of days catching up and are here until at least tomorrow as the Full Moon party is tonight. The parties have been going for over 20 years now and every single person backpacking in asia has continually heard of them. It starts to get very busy a day or two before and the beach will be full of anything up to 20,000 people tonight as the beachside bars pump out some very loud dance music. Everyone will be painted with fluorescent body paint and drinking whiskey or vodka mixed with red bull from small buckets! I'll make sure I'm not leaving too early in the morning!!

From here I leave this group of friends for the last time and begin to make my way towards Cambodia, I am spending a few days on the island of Ko Chang on the way. I'll be overnighting in Bangkok too, but I'll just pass through as I'll be back in the city to fly home in just over a month.

Posted by pullboy 23:03 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Thailand or Magaluf?

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My first few days in Thailand were not perticularly happy ones, I came with an expectation of what Ko Phi Phi would be like (everybody had told me about it enough times) and expected to love it. What i found was that I was cramped in a town where everything is piled on top of eachother, surrounded by spring break style revelers and on an island that was undoubtably once beautiful but now full of tshirt shops, pizza resturants and a lot of rubbish. It took me a good few days to see past this.

I caught the ferry from Krabi to Phi Phi and instantly realised the different people that I was now surrounded by. A suprisingly large amount of Canadian and American accents could be heard above all others (for a change!) and various groups were drinking on the ferry, at 11am. I didn't notice any single travellers like myself and groups tended to be larger- 5 or 6 people, than the usual twos and threes seen in other places I have travelled.

When arriving on the island the first view is of the limestone cliffs that gave the island its unique beauty of the past. Tony and Maureen Wheeler, the couple that started Lonely Planet are credited with 'discovering' this island for backpackers in the 1970s. Back then they couldn't have imagined the island now, many of those beautiful forested hills now have bungalows and villas covering them, the empty, pristine white beaches are full of sunbathers by the day and party goers by night.

The main part of the town has hundreds of guesthouses, clothes shops, dive operaters and resturants all in such a tiny space. The streets are narrow, crowded and hot. To put it simple, there are just too many people in such a small space! At night, the town becomes loud and busy again as several bars open up including one with a Thai boxing ring (if you fight, you get a free whisky bucket!).

Luckily, I had friends to meet up with on the island that I know from Australia. Although we did sample the nightlife, we tended to end up at one of the more chilled out beach bars where we at least did meet a few other 'backpackers'. Most visitors to the island seem to come to party rather than actually to see Thailand and many are just on 3 or 4 weeks trips here for that purpose. I did this when I was 18, I'm almost feeling old now, as I seem to require more out of a holiday!

The highlight of my time on Phi Phi was a day tour on a longboat we took to the smaller islands around, Phi Phi Lea, we stopped off for snorkelling, on an island with a very cheeky monkey population and on Phi Phi Lea- the most famous beach here was used for Leonardo Di Caprio's 'The Beach'. This gave me a chance to see what the backpackers of the 80s and early 90s would have seen with this very beautiful area of the world- white beaches, clear blue seas and amazing scenery.

SAM_3638.jpg The streets of Ko Phi Phi
SAM_3659.jpgOne of the emptier beaches
SAM_3660.jpg The beautiful longtail boats
SAM_3677.jpg Boat in nice clear waters

I left Ko Phi Phi to go to another island nearby, Ko Lanta, where I currently am. I'm still with the same frends but I'll leave them tomorrow. This island is much more my style as, whilst it is still bus with visitors, we're spaced out over a big (20km long) island, giving you room to breath. The bleached blonde hair and rowdiness of the Phi Phi crowd has all but disappeared too.

Yesterday we rented bikes and crossed the island stopping off at some very nice deserted beaches and small towns along the way. 'Old town' on the island had amazing houses on the beachfront built on bamboss stilts and served some amazing thai food. As with most places in southern thailand, i've been on the beach working on the tan too!

SAM_3753.jpg More like it? My two friends on a deserted beach!
SAM_3750.jpg

Tomorrow I am off back to the mainland, a small place near Krabi where I last wrote from. I'll spend a couple of days here and then starting moving to the Gulf of Thailand side, where 11 friends from Melbourne, beaches and a full moon party awaits. This will include more partying, more beaches and more crowds of travellers. I'm just learning to take this part of Thailand for what it is...

Posted by pullboy 23:50 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Panang, last stop in Malaysia

sunny 33 °C

I've now left Malaysia and am in Thailand, having managed to secure a 60 day visa rather than the 15 days they give you at the border. I spent three days eating my way around Penang before a complicated day of travel yesterday.

Penang is a large, developed island just a kilometre off the West Coast of Malaysia. It is connected by a bridge but my bus terminated at Butterworth, on the mainland meaning I caught the very cheap ferry over. Penang's main town is Georgetown, an old colonial town that used to be inhabited by many of the wealthy British traders that came to these parts. It's wealth has continued and is now a large town with many big office blocks alongside the 18th and 19th Century British arcitecture and various Chinese temples.

As with most of Malaysia's big towns and cities, there is a Chinatown and a Little India providing excellent cheap food. Penang's food is even better than most with many guidebooks recommending it as the best food in South-East Asia. As it is resonably close to Thailand and with lots of different ethnic groups in one small space there is a mix of cruisines. I favoured Indian on most nights, street stalls sell fantastic fresh samosa's and the small resturants each had their own specialility curries. For breakfast I often had vegetable rice, served with a fried egg on top and for lunch (if hungry!) there were plenty of options of noodles and spicy thai soups. Depsite this, a couple of locals had set up a stall outside my hotel 'Old Trafford Burger', it seemed to be doing quite well (some people have no idea!).

When not eating, I spent time with a group of friends I made at my hotel, enjoying Bob Marley's greatest hits on repeat 12 hours a day at a reggae bar (owned by a strange japanese guy!). I also took a local bus out to one of the beaches nearby, it has been really hot though and I didn't last long in the sun before heading to the shade.

When leaving Penang, I had the intention of going to the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia but couldn't get a bus for 2 days as it is Chinese New Year on Sunday and everything is packed out. Therefore I decided to head towards Thailand.

I took 2 buses to about 10 km from the border, a taxi to the borderpost and then walked over the border into Thailand. Then a minibus to the nearest big town and then a 5 hour cramped bus journey to Krabi on the coast. Then I jumped on the back of a moped taxi (with backpack on!) to find somewhere to stay. Quite a journey!

The buses in Malaysia were generally excellent for intercity travel but old and uncomfortable for local trips. Some of the intercity ones have as little as 27 seats (in a standard 53 seat shell) with reclining seats, and just 3 seats across rather than 4. Definately 'flashpacking'! The bus I caught in Thailand was so small I could barely fit my knees into he seat, I was lucky to get a seat though, as there were about 15 people stood in the aisle of the coach.

I'm now on the island of Ko Phi Phi, its beautiful but so crammed of tourists. I'll update in a few days and tell you all about it and get some more pictures up.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Posted by pullboy 00:44 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

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