Banter About Quiet Koh Lanta

DAY 1
Today we journeyed to Koh Lanta; still within Krabi Province, but further south than Ao Nang and Railay.

Leaving Ao Nang, we took a songthaew to Krabi Town bus station (B60pp). The ride was rather hair-raising as the driver had a severe case of road rage. To make matters worse Lauren had eaten something that was now not sitting well with her and unfortunately she had to make use of the filthy bathrooms at the bus station (B3).

We were then crammed into the back of a minibus for a couple of hours as it wound its way down to Koh Lanta (B150pp) and made two separate water crossings by car ferry (the only way to get there in the low season). The only toilet available was a nasty long drop in the car ferry’s engine room.  Not even the locals made use of it.  The bus station’s toilet was luxurious in comparison. Poor Lauren!

The car ferry to Koh Lanta
The car ferry to Koh Lanta

The minibus stopped a few kilometres away from our accommodation, Escape Cabins, in Long Beach, so we hired a tuk tuk to take us the rest of the way (B50).

Luckily for us, Lauren worked a deal with the manager at Escape Cabins to get us the “Romantique Room” (their Honeymoon Suite) for the same rate as their cheapest room (B800).

The Romantique Suite
The Romantique Suite

We decided to end the day in our fancy room watching “The Beach”, comparing it to our real life experience of Maya Bay – some things are best left a secret.

DAY 2
After a leisurely sleep-in and a budget breakfast (Nutella on bread), we were ready to go exploring.  We hired a scooter from reception and off we went (B200).

Our aim was to find a secluded beach to relax on, but somewhere along the way we took a wrong turn and ended up at a place called The Viewpoint Restaurant overlooking the eastern side of the island.  We had a quick refreshment and used the opportunity to re-orientate ourselves.  Discovering we were already half-way to Lanta Old Town, another attraction on our list of must see’s, we scrapped the beach idea and continued on to Old Town instead.

Lanta Old Town is a very pretty, quaint little town about half-way down the east coast of Koh Lanta.  Walking along its main street we almost felt like we might have been on the set of a Wild West film.

There are a few restaurants along the main street that hover over the sea on stilts.  Their meals all seem a bit pricey but then the sea view kind of makes up for it.  We tried some interesting, but tasty local food at a place called “Fresh Restaurant” before heading off to explore the area.

The two sides of Old Town meet in the middle at a pier that extends out a fair way into the sea (we found there was more to see to the left of the pier).  Considering the length of the pier, we decided to drive the scooter down like we had seen the locals do previously.  Lauren decided this would also be the perfect place to have another attempt at driving.  I was actually quite impressed with her improved skills.  Maybe the large drop into the ocean on either side was helpful in keeping her straight.

Anyway, little did we know a quick trip to the end of what seemed like a quiet pier would turn into 40 minutes spent chatting to the loudest, most obnoxious and egotistical man we have met whilst travelling.  It turns out we were speaking to none other than the American actor, Steven Baldocchi, who acted “alongside” Nicholas Cage in the movie “Bangkok Dangerous”.  He is featured for a couple of minutes in the movie playing the role of a tourist walking through a night market in Bangkok.  He proudly boasted about his career as an actor, his fortune and his experiences, whilst his Aussie friend sat in the background shaking his head.  As proud as he appeared though, he was extremely friendly and very generous.  As a wedding gift to us we were told that anytime we find ourselves in California, he will gladly put us up in his mansion for as long as we need.  Now we just to find the money to get ourselves to the US.

Rather overwhelmed and a little tired, we headed back to Long Beach.  We made a quick stop off at the beach. They don’t call it Long Beach for nothing.  In the off season you literally have the entire beach to yourself.

That night we went to a local market in search of some food, but came away with nothing so we continued to Saladan town to see if anything was happening there.  Being the off season it was very quiet there too.  Low season here is great if you’re wanting peace and quiet, but it’s not fun if you’re looking for a vibey place where you can meet people.

Koh Lanta Night Market
Koh Lanta Local Market
Saladan Town
Saladan Town

Day 3
Today we spent our morning chilling by the pool at our hotel which was really nice.  However, our attempt to tan was short-lived as you don’t last long in the midday heat.

For lunch we headed to Lanta Tavern on the main road.  If you’re going in search of food, along Long Beach’s main road you’ll find four to five restaurants, a bakery and a convenience store to choose from.  Lanta Tavern has a very western menu but unfortunately, like most of Thailand, they don’t really know how to do western food well.  Here we tried to get a bit of blogging done but wifi on Koh Lanta is very weak.  We often found ourselves wandering around the streets in search of a good connection.  You know you’re on holiday when that is the biggest worry you have.  Life is good!

Western food at Lanta Tavern
Western food at Lanta Tavern

We had heard that Long Beach boasts some beautiful sunsets, so we took a stroll down there in the late afternoon to check it out.  It was magnificent and we had the entire beach to ourselves.

Sunset on Long Beach
Sunset at Long Beach

After our “tough” day lazing by the pool, searching for wifi and watching the sunset we headed back to the main road to the only Indian restaurant in Long Beach.  Yum!!!  Best curry, rice and naan bread and the owner is really friendly!

DAY 4
Today was a top notch day exploring more of Koh Lanta by scooter!  We wanted to head all the way down to Koh Lanta National Park and stop at some beaches along the way, but we were wary about the road as we had read on another blog that it is very steep and uneven.  We decided to risk it anyway.

Road to the National Park
Road to the National Park

The main road along the west coast of Koh Lanta has numerous beaches you can stop at along the way.  Some are rocky yet picturesque and others great for swimming.  The drive to the National Park took about 45minutes including a quick stop at Bamboo bay, Khlong Nin beach, Kan Tiang bay and Klong Khong beach.

Klong Khong Beach
Klong Khong Beach
Kan Tiang Bay
Kan Tiang Bay
Bamboo Bay
Bamboo Bay

Arriving at the national park we were a little confused as to what people had been talking about when they said the road was very steep and difficult.  We found it relatively easy to navigate and saw many others doing it with ease.  If you have driven a scooter at least once before and you take it slowly you will be absolutely fine.  We found the “steep” entrance fee the hardest part to get over (excuse the pun) at 80 baht per person.  A little more than we expected.

Regardless, it was a lovely place to visit.  We would suggest though, that you make the most of it by bringing along some snacks or a light lunch and have a picnic on the green lawns of the camp ground or on one of the two beaches.  Just beware of the monkeys in the area.

Koh Lanta National Park
Koh Lanta National Park

We wandered around the camp ground a little, wishing we had bought along a picnic, and then took a walk up a hill to the lighthouse.  The view from here was amazing.  Looking back you can see a beautiful rocky beach on the left and a white sandy beach to the right that would be perfect for swimming.  Looking out you can see poweful waves crashing against the steep cliffs of the spit of land that extends out beyond the lighthouse.  We spent a fair bit of time up there as it was really beautiful, although slightly windy.

Looking back from the Lighthouse
Looking back from the Lighthouse
Looking out from the Lighthouse
Looking out from the Lighthouse

We contemplated doing the jungle walk to a viewpoint.  However, we had read that the path was not well maintained and a little overgrown and that the view was average anyway, so we decided against it.  Koh Lanta National Park is well worth the visit on a clear day, especially if you bring along a picnic and maybe even a frisbee or a ball.

Heading back we stopped for lunch at Narima Resort and Restaurant, and had the BEST yellow curry we have ever had.  Slightly pricey, but absolutely delicious!!  If you are ever driving past, do yourself a favour and stop just for the best yellow chicken curry you’ll ever taste!

The rest of our day was fairly relaxed.  We were now looking forward to the Four Islands Tour we had booked for the following day including snorkelling and visit to the beautiful Emerald Cave (B800pp).

TIP: The Four Island Tour Company is apparently one of the more reputable tour companies to go with in Koh Lanta.  In peak season they take you by big boat and in the off season they take you by long tail boat only, like most boat tours on the west of Thailand.

Day 5
We woke up at 5am to high winds and heavy rains battering our cabin.  The weather was miserable and didn’t let up till late that afternoon!  Sadly, that meant our tour was cancelled and visiting the Emerald Cave, the one thing I was really looking forward to seeing whilst in Koh Lanta, was not going to happen.  Instead, we spent the day in our room playing cards to help pass the time.

Day 6
Today we decided it would be our “catch up on blogging day,” otherwise known as our “office day.”  However, our office doesn’t function too well without a reliable wifi connection.  Now picture this, Mike and Lauren wandering the streets of Long Beach, holding up an Ipad, trying to find a decent wifi connection.  What a pair of stupid Western tourists we must have looked like.

After trying a few places, and grabbing some food in the process, the co-owner of the Indian restaurant let us in, even though they were closed, to use their wifi.  After much frustration with the slow upload of photos, we eventually published another post.

Our last night on Koh Lanta was spent having dinner at a restaurant across the road called the Thai Orchid.  The food there is great, especially since they serve one of Lauren’s favourites: deep fried banana and ice cream with chocolate sauce.  After an early dinner, we headed back to the room to pack our gear and get a good night’s sleep before the long journey ahead to Langkawi the next day.

Our journey through southern Thailand had now come to an end.  We were full of anticipation and excitement for what was to come in the next part of our journey … Malaysia.  Our first stop would be the island of LANGKAWI!

TIP: The only way we found to get to Langkawi from Koh Lanta is to book a transfer to Trang, on the Mainland, and then catch a bus from Trang Bus Station to a town called Satun.  Here you can go to Thamalang pier where you will go through border security before getting on a 2-hour ferry to Langkawi, Malaysia.
For more information, including times and prices, check out our upcoming post on Langkawi. 

‘Caught In The Rain’ – Ao Nang & Railay

DAY 1

Over the years we have come to realise that the cheapest option is most often not the easier alternative.  However, sometimes the extra effort to find a better deal does pay off.  Our trip to Ao Nang was one of those, where we chose to forfeit the more direct ‘tourist route’ via ferry and instead opted for what seemed to be the cheaper alternative, making use of public transport.  With this kind of travel there are a lot of unknowns and occasionally it can turn out more expensive.  It’s a risk you have to be willing to take.

Below is an outline of our journey in comparison to the other options offered to us (marked with an x).

1. Kata Beach-Phuket Town *Public Bus B35pp xTaxi direct to station B700pp

2. Phuket Town-Bus Station #2 *Taxi B60pp (bargained & shared with another couple) xOther taxis B200pp

3. Bus Station #2-Krabi Town *Minibus B140pp xBig bus B160pp and Minibus direct to Ao Nang B370pp

4. Krabi Town-Ao Nang *White Songthaew B60pp x Taxi B200pp TOTAL SPEND: B295pp (As apposed to an B800 ferry ride that would have taken equally as long to get there)

In this case the risk was well worth it!  Not only did we save, but we met a very kind Thai gentleman who waited with us till we were safely on the right bus, a young couple from Holland with whom we shared a taxi (Tee, the funniest taxi driver in Thailand whose laughter was contagious), and lastly, two girls from Malaysia who promised to take us out for “real spicy” food when we are there.  SCORE! After settling into our hotel, The Nine, we took a short walk down the street and stumbled upon Macdonalds.  For those of you who are into fast food, Ao Nang also has Subway, Burger King and Starbucks.  We’re not usually, but Mike had been having an inexplicable craving for Macdonalds.  It only took one bite of a Big Mac for him to realise why we don’t generally eat fast food!

DAY 2

Ao Nang is a quaint little town by the sea.  Its main street, lined with shops, cafes and restaurants, runs down towards the beach, then turns right and continues parallel along the coast.  It had a rather peaceful atmosphere, with the exception of the countless Indian men who stood outside restaurants and attempted to sell us their menu as we walked by. After exploring a while, we eventually stopped for lunch which bought satisfaction to at least two of the many men we had refused previously.  Sadly, the Italian pizzeria-like restaurant produced very average and overpriced pizza. To make up for it we walked a few shops down to a quiet cafe and indulged in iced mocha shakes whilst we caught up on social media and other important matters.  Before we knew it, blue sky had turned into a torrential downpour.  My idea: stay and wait for a gap in the rain.  Mike’s idea: make a run for it because supposedly there wouldn’t be a gap.  I think you can see where this is going.  Just two minutes after making a run for it, already drenched to the bone, the rain suddenly gave way to clear blue skies! Soaking and no longer in a rush we stopped in at a few tourist information centres to check out their tours.  All of them offered four main tours: Phi Phi Islands, Four Islands, Hong Island, and an inland tour to hot springs and waterfalls.  Being low season they were all willing to cut their original tour prices by half, leaving most tours priced between B400-B1200.  The only catch was that most only run by long-tail boat in low season, as opposed to big boats or speed boat. We chose to go with the Andaman Krabi Hong Island tour for B650pp as we were told it offered better snorkelling.

Day 3

The Hong Island tour began with a short trip to the dock in a cramped songthaew.  All tours leave by long-tail boat from this point so there were a lot of other tour groups departing at the same time. Whilst the weather wasn’t bad, the sea was rough and what started out as a thrilling long-tail boat ride became rather nauseating after forty minutes. The Hong Island tour also included snorkelling at Daeng and Phang Nga Bay.  Due to the rough sea we were unable to stop at Daeng Island, but Phang Nga Bay did have a small sheltered beach where we could stop to swim.  The water was too cloudy to snorkel, but swimming in such a picturesque place was a wonderful experience. Back on the long-tail boat we were taken to Hong Island’s beautiful lagoon before heading around to the beach for a buffet lunch which was included in the tour.  Unfortunately, while the food was very tasty, there was so little that our guide had to ask another tour for their leftovers in order to feed us all. Given an hour to relax or explore, Mike and I found a perfect place along the beach to have a short nap, whilst the others swam.  When we woke it began to rain and the beach was suddenly deserted as everyone ran for shelter.  We saw this as the perfect opportunity to have a swim.  Swimming in the rain on Hong Island made our day.  It was an unforgettable experience!  I think we may have started a trend as slowly others emerged from their shelter to join us in the rain. Feeling rather content, we boarded the boat and braced ourselves for a long and bumpy ride back to Ao Nang. To round off the day we devoured the most delicious street food for dinner: battered prawns, spring rolls, pad thai, fruit shakes and Thai banana and nutella pancakes.  If you are ever in Ao Nang be sure to take a walk down the main street and find these guys for the cheapest meal in town. They are usually situated opposite the Subway from 5pm onwards.

Best of Ao Nang's street food!
Best of Ao Nang’s street food!

Day 4

We loved exploring the small island of Railay and it must be one of the most beautiful islands we have visited in Thailand!  East Railay is rocky and mostly covered in mangrove so is not suitable for swimming.  By contrast, West Railay has a long beach and crystal clear water flanked by high limestone cliffs on either side.

The view from the top
Railay

To get to the island we purchased a long-tail boat ticket to East Railay from a sales booth along Ao Nang Beach (B200pp).  Confusion at the jetty resulted in us being dropped off on West Railay instead, which in hindsight was probably for the best.  From here we could explore using paved paths that take you to different parts of the island, or hire a kayak. Mentioned in every tour brochure we had come across was Phra Nang Cave, a must-see attraction when visiting Railay, and of course our first destination.  After searching for the cheapest price, we hired a kayak for two hours (B250) from a tourist information shop on Walking Street and kayaked our way around to Phra Nang Beach.  They will all tell you it takes 30 minutes, but it took us 15. Phra Nang Beach, or as we like to call it, “Railay South”, is a stunning, quiet beach great for a peaceful picnic.  The cave, located at the east end of the beach, didn’t appear to stretch deep into the cliffs, but was still beautiful and majestic.

Phra Nang Beach, Railay
Phra Nang Beach, Railay

With our kayak back in the water, we set off to visit East Railay further round the island.  Taking the opportunity to be intrepid, we chose a route between two small islands not far from the beach.  However, as we attempted to kayak through, we were faced with some pretty daunting waves being channeled between them, resulting in me having a minor panic attack.  We made it through alright, but looking ahead at the rising swell and unsure of the distance we had yet to cover, we decided to head back to the more sheltered West Railay. Adventure #1!

After returning the kayak in one piece,  we went in search of an affordable lunch.  There are only a few resorts and cafes on the island, most of which are situated on Railay West and are quite pricey. However, if you’re looking for more local cuisine you’ll find it at East Railay.  We bought a cheap lunch from a food cart down Walking Street and ate it on the beach before having a swim. Tanks full, we were ready to continue exploring the island.  This time we opted for the island’s numerous paths, a much safer route.  It took less than fifteen minutes to get to the east side of the island, even though we stopped off to explore a cave we spotted along the way (B40pp).

East Railay Bay
East Railay Bay
East Railay Bay
East Railay Bay
The Cave
The Cave

After taking in the rugged yet stunning views, we decided to tackle the climb to the viewpoint over the lagoon.  It was literally a free rock climb, straight up, using roots and rocks as grips.  Sturdy shoes are advisable, but we only had flip-flops.  After making the 15-minute climb to the top we only had time to walk to the viewpoint.  However, the view was quickly obscured as it began to pour with rain.  Our guide in Khao Sok had warned, once it rains the path becomes a river … in our case, a small waterfall.  Knowing we had to get down somehow, we slowly and carefully began our slippery descent.  Each and every move had to be carefully thought out to avoid slipping on the sharp rocks.  Drenched and covered from head to toe in orange mud, we managed to make it down safely.  It was an adrenaline high we will never forget!  Adventure #2!

The view from the bottom
The view from the bottom
Our "path" back down from the viewpoint
Our “path” back down from the viewpoint

High on excitement, we couldn’t help but talk about our experiences on the boat ride back to Ao Nang, as people curiously questioned our now orange attire. Reflecting on our experience of Ao Nang and the surrounding areas we visited, we can safely say we would choose it over its neighbouring competitor, Phuket, any day.  It has the right combination of beautiful scenery, relaxation and adventure which makes it perfectly suited to every kind of traveller, from the luxury holiday-maker to the budget backpacker. For more on Krabi Province, check out our upcoming post on Koh Lanta.

Phuket…Not Our Paradise

Maya Bay, Phi Phi Ley
Maya Bay, Phi Phi Ley

DAY 1:

When Lauren and I travel, we like to travel in style.  Where possible, we like to download TV series and buy snacks to make our often long and tedious bus rides more enjoyable.  This is exactly how we travelled to Phuket.

We were told that our bus would make its final stop in Phuket town.  However, on arrival at Phuket bus station (#2) we were ordered by a rather rude bus driver to get off the bus, only to find our packs dumped on the muddy ground in the rain.  When asking around we were told the only way to get to our hostel at Kata Beach was by taxi.  The taxis at the station were charging the ridiculous amount of B1000.  Walking to the street we managed to find a taxi for B550.  This was our first introduction to over-priced Phuket!

Tip: We later learnt that you can actually take a taxi to Phuket town for around B300 and then catch the public bus to the beaches for B35pp.

We had pre-booked our stay at FIN Hostel via Hostel World (Bookings.com is a great website as well) and we were thrilled with our selection.  FIN Hostel was bright, colourful and modern.  Most importantly, it was clean, offered a range of extra amenities such as a kitchen, lounge, laundry area and swimming pool, and was close to the beach and a range of restaurants and cafes, including a Monday night market.

Street outside FIN Hostel
Street outside FIN Hostel
Colourful & Clean
Colourful & Clean

After walking the streets and scanning numerous menus attempting to find something in our price range we came to the realisation that this was just not going to happen.  We eventually decided on burgers at Coffee Club, which were really good.

DAY 2:

With no set plans we put on some laundry (B40) and headed to the roof-top pool for a swim while waiting for the machine to finish.  The pool was very small, but quite refreshing and had two plastic loungers on the side for tanning.  It all got a whole lot more fun when Lauren cleverly decided to throw one in the pool to see if it floated.  Amazing!  The picture below says it all …

Roof Pool & Epic Floating Loungers
Roof Pool & Epic Floating Loungers

When it came time to check on our laundry we were HORRIFIED to find all of it had turned BROWN!  My beautiful wife had placed her new tie-dye clothes in with everything else … not so clever now.  On top of that, the B40 we had initially paid was not enough to finish the cycle.  So another B40 and an hour-and-a-half later we had clean, dry, brown clothes!  Yay!

With that mundane chore over, we went for a stroll alongside a smelly, stagnant river to Kata beach.  Kata beach, like many of the beaches in Phuket, was littered with umbrellas, beach chairs and holiday-makers making use of them for B150 PER CHAIR!  Refusing to pay that, we were left with a mere metre of beach for us to make use of before the tide came up.  Suffice to say, our stay was short lived.  We longed wistfully for the quieter beaches of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan.

Later on in the evening, we went for a walk to explore Kata and came across some intriguing little alleys with really nice restaurants and shops.  We were drawn to a very colourful one in particular, with interesting lights and curiosity got the better of us.  What we didn’t know was that we were walking down – how can I describe it – the red light district of Kata Beach.  The street was lined with strip bars and Thai woman half-dressed getting ready for a stimulating (ahem!) night ahead.  As we walked along we were greeted with smiles and kinky waves and one or two odd looks.  It was hilarious!

On our way back we came across the Monday night market just around the corner from our hostel.  It was the biggest one we had been to and offered all kinds of things, from interesting foods to fresh produce, Chinese trinkets and clothes, spices and more.

DAY 3:

Today we embarked on our tour to Phi Phi islands.  The day before we had tossed up whether to go to Phi Phi islands or hire a scooter and explore Phuket independently.  We found a tour agency who offered us a 50% discount on the tour so we decided to take it (1800B pp).  Worst mistake ever!!  Let me elaborate on our experience of Phi Phi islands with “Phuket Absolute Marine”.

We were picked up and transported to the pier by a minibus, collecting others along the way.  Arriving at the pier we joined hundreds of other tourists waiting to take the same tour.  Our tour guide, in her expressionless tone, rattled off the itinerary to the crowd that had gathered and then proceeded to make a sales pitch regarding flippers on hire for B100.  After showing some gruesome photos of people that had been injured by sea urchins, she explained that the flippers would protect people.  You should NEVER stand on coral reef in the first place, it is the fastest way to destroy it.  After watching numerous tourists make their flipper purchase, we were tagged with different coloured wrist bands to help the guide identify us and herded onto our respective speedboats.

Our Guide...
Our Guide…

We were lucky enough to get a seat at the front of the boat on the outer edge so we had the chance to stand up and quickly take photos as we briefly stopped at the different places of interest. Unfortunately, anyone sitting inside the boat never got that opportunity.

Our first destination was the beautiful Pileh Cove.  With crystal clear water and soft white sand we were all excited to get out and snorkel.  However, I believe our tour was the only one to simply circle the cove and motor away.  It was beautiful for a couple of seconds and then it was gone.

Pileh Cove drive by...
Pileh Cove drive by…
Our next “stop” was Viking Cave.  This looked interesting from the outside, but we couldn’t tell you anymore about it as we could not hear a word our tour guide was saying as we sped past it. Supposedly, you can pay a small fee to lay anchor and go exploring inside, but obviously our B1800pp wasn’t enough to cover that.
Viking Cave at a distance...
Viking Cave at a distance…
On arriving at our “snorkelling” spot, most passengers were reluctant (understandably!) to get into the rough sea with the waves crashing against sharp rocks.  Looking over board, I saw a very large fish.  I claim it was an eel but Lauren claims it was a barracuda.  Although Lauren and I were ready to jump in and give it a go (anything to get off that boat), families on the tour refused to let their little kids go snorkelling in the open sea and demanded they take us somewhere more sheltered.  I would have done the same thing in their position.

The tour just seemed to go from bad to worse.  Luckily, we were sitting with a group of older Australians who we could have a good laugh with and joke about what “exciting” adventures might possibly come next.

The alternative snorkelling spot happened to be in a corner of Maya Bay where the coral was dead and the fish only came when bread was thrown into the water, going against all the conservation signs we had read about not feeding the fish.  Lauren and a group of other snorkellers also kept getting stung by some sort of microscopic jellyfish in the area.

Snorkelling at Maya Bay
Snorkelling at Maya Bay

Maya Bay, famous for the movie “The Beach” with Leonardo Di Caprio, was our final stop before lunch.  Lauren and I were so incredibly disappointed.  It felt like a circus, with the beach swarming with over-excited tourists doing cartwheels and dives, taking photos, and running around shouting.  It was virtually impossible to get a photo without some stranger in the background.  This was ok, but we felt the beautiful bay deserved more respect.  With a mass of speed boats arriving every hour of every day we can only imagine what the boat fumes and oil in the water are doing to the environment. We were told that in the high season you cannot even see the bay from the beach because of the amount of boats that idle in the bay waiting for a chance to offload their passengers onto the beach.

Crowded Maya Bay
Crowded Maya Bay
Beautiful Maya Bay
Beautiful Maya Bay

After the crowded yet beautiful Maya Bay we were herded back onto the speedboat to go and check out Monkey Beach.  Unfortunately, the tide was too high and therefore the monkeys had retreated to the clifftop.  We added it to the list of sights we were unable to see.  You would think that a tour that offers “Monkey Beach” as one of their main attractions would be familiar with tidal times and schedule their stops appropriately.

High Tide at Monkey Beach
High Tide at Monkey Beach

Lunch on Phi Phi Don was in a prison-like cafeteria situated above a restuarant.  The food was tasteless and we even had to buy our own drinks, even though the brochure advertised that soft drinks were included.  I think by that they must have meant the 1L Coke that was shared between the 40-odd people on the speedboat.  Note: unless you’re willing to pay B20 for the toilet just hold!

Lunch
Lunch

Kai Nok was our final stop before heading back to Phuket.  Here we FINALLY got fresh fruit which was great since it was something we had all been longing for.  We were given time to swim and relax on a small part of the beach that wasn’t taken up by B150 beach chairs.  Yet ANOTHER thing we had to pay for.  Lauren was even shooed away by a local collecting chair money as she was sitting on the beach too close to the chairs.

To top it all off, on our way back to Phuket the tour lady asked for our wristbands back.  That was pretty much the icing on the cake for all of us.  Now, I don’t condone stealing but I felt like we had earned and deserved those wrist bands!  Lauren and a few others pretended to put their bands back but somehow slipped them into their pockets, up their sleeves, one lady even into her bra and we all had a good giggle about it.  This was then followed by our usually monotone tour guide suddenly changing her tune as she bounced around the boat cheerfully asking for tips.

Needless to say, we HIGHLY RECOMMEND you DO NOT take Phuket Absolute Marine Tours.  We would even go so far as to say that unless you can find a way to see the sights at a time when you are not surrounded by hundreds of tourists, then don’t go.  There are countless more beautiful things to see.

A highlight of the day was meeting a British guy in a minibus with the most insane story and the coolest name.  When we first met Lascel De La’ Bruv we thought we were being introduced to the lead singer of LMFAO, with his funky style and his crazy hair.  His story left us shocked, astounded and full of admiration.
Whilst we may not give justice to his story we feel that we should tell what we remember.  Back in Britian, Lascel was unfortunately roped into a fight to protect a friend which resulted in extremely devastating injuries to his face.  It was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  After numerous facial reconstruction surgeries, and a lingering pain he feels in his face constantly, he found escape through yoga.  The physical intensity of his yoga sessions seemed to take his mind off it all and give him the rest he needed.  He now travels the world using yoga instruction as a way to earn an income and a chance to explore.  After going to court to dispute the amount of compensation he was receiving, he and his friend made a bet that if his request was approved he would have to change his name to Lascel De La’ Bruv, the last part meaning “of the brotherhood”.  Evidently, he lost that bet, however it sure makes it easier to find him on Facebook. What an amazing guy with an amazing story, choosing to live each day seeing the positive regardless of his constant pain.

All in all, Phuket seems like paradise to the weekend tourist wanting to escape their busy daily lives and relax on a beach.  For us though, while it was an experience we will never forget, it is not a place we will rush back to any time soon.  We left with a sour taste in our mouths.

We hope that you continue to enjoy reading about our journey through Thailand.  We feel so blessed to be able to share it with you.

Next stop, Krabi, Ao Nang and Railay.

Leeched in Khao Sok

DAY 1:

Whilst we could spend an eternity lazing around on any beach anywhere, we’re also up for an adventure. The tales of jungle treks and floating raft houses in Khoa Sok National Park provided just the right amount of temptation to get us off our beach towels and trading in our flip-flops for hiking shoes. The time had come for us to spend a little time in the jungle, which we did with Tree Tops Jungle Safari’s. Our package with Tree Tops included one night in a “tree house”, two nights river bungalow (floating raft houses), all meals, a range of activities, and transfers to and from Surat Thani/Phuket for B1550pp (low season).  Since we were travelling from Koh Phangan, all we had to do was make our way by ferry to Oums Cafe at the train station in Surat Thani.

We caught the Lomprayah Ferry at 7.30am, including bus transfer to the train station, and arrived at roughly 10.30am (B750pp). Whilst waiting at the pier, we met two American girls fullfilling their promise to travel somewhere new together each year. They hoped South Africa would be their next trip and after chatting a bit about what they could possibly do in SA, I got to thinking about the beauty of travelling.
We have met so many different people from all over the world, all on different journeys of their own.  It has been amazing to share stories, tips and opinons with those from other cultures. It’s given so much meaning to the quote:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime (Mark Twain)”.

What’s more personal than being greeted by a Thai guide holding a piece of paper up with the words “Mr and Mrs Collins” so neatly written?  For once it was evident that we were in the right place, no map needed.  Not long after we had arrived, an unmarked car pulled up.  A little Thai man jumped out, helped us put our bags in the boot and ushered us into the backseat of the car. A little unsure, and feeling like we might either get scammed again or become part of a “hack and slash” news headline, we reluctantly got into the car, going against everything our parents had ever warned about “not getting in a car with strangers”. It turned out the driver was legit, and we were safely delivered to Tree Tops.

Welcome to Tree Tops Safaris
Welcome to Tree Tops Safaris

After settling into our “tree house” room, a man at reception rattled off the ENTIRE itinerary of our trip in a matter of minutes leaving us overwhelmed and unable to remember most of it. However, our stomachs weren’t about to let us forget that lunch was first!

After lunch we excitedly piled into a minivan with the rest of our tour group: a lovely Chinese family and a young Dutch guy. We were promised a waterfall, a viewpoint, monkeys, a cave and finally a choice between kayaking or tubing. Unfortunately, our excitement didn’t last very long. As you read on, bear in mind it was the dry season.

Simply put, there was no waterfall. The viewpoint was purely a rest stop on the side of the road. We all got out to take pictures so as not to offend our tour guide. The cave held some promise until we hit a dead end, and the only positive thing about the Monkey Temple was that the monkeys were much friendlier than the cheeky minions we have back home. We ended off the day by tubing down the “river”. Let’s just say, a small, shallow stream makes for a lot of rocks and a lot of walking. However, there were a few moments where we could lie back and admire the lush green of the trees and entangled vines, and wonder at the towering limestone cliffs of the jungle.  Breathtaking! Near the end of our tube ride we saw a mangrove snake which we were told are not poisonous but often retreat into the trees during the day, then drop to the water in the evening to eat frogs. Note to self: Don’t go tubing at night.

Monkey "Temple"
Monkey “Temple”

That evening we were treated to a delicious selection of Thai dishes for dinner before making use of the free wifi (in the jungle … what!?) and heading off (up) to bed. After a rather disappointingly tame day our hope was that the next day would hold more adventure.

DAY 2:
After a good night’s sleep in our air-conditioned “tree house” we joined the rest of the group for breakfast. French toast with syrup and sugar. One of Lauren’s favourites. Although she doesn’t eat eggs, she devours French toast! Yes, I know, it has egg in it … don’t ask.

On our way to Ratchaprapha pier, by air-conditioned minibus, we stopped at a local market where our driver conveniently parked right beside a bees nest. Things were getting exciting. We used the opportunity to try out some interesting looking Thai food. Not really our cup of tea but you never know until you’ve tried it.

Yum yum!
Yum yum!
The local market
The local market

At the pier we all hopped onto a longtail and began the hour boat ride to our river bungalows. What an awesome trip! The dam’s clear emerald waters are edged by lush green jungle and ridiculously tall limestone cliffs. The photos truly don’t do it justice.
It just seemed to get better.

The Ratchaphrapha Pier
The Ratchaphrapha Pier

The floating raft houses were stunningly set in a picturesque bay with still waters that continually reflected the beauty of its surroundings. The cool breeze that drifted through the wooden structure had an instant calming effect. No taxis and tuk-tuks, or shop owners demanding our attention. Not even wifi. Just complete solitude … until we all noticed the 8 metre-high diving platform.

Tree Tops River Bungalows
Tree Tops River Bungalows
The Diving Platform
The Diving Platform

Shouts and screams (well, just Lauren’s screams) could be heard across the dam as we all took the plunge. Lauren took a little longer … 20 minutes longer, as she tried to convince herself to jump. Even when she did finally jump I’m not sure she had fully convinced herself it was a good idea.  She tried to grab hold of something on her way down, but gravity did the rest. Well done, my love!

After lunch and some well needed time-out on the tubes, we set off again by longtail boat, this time to see what appeared to be a floating catfish farm and then for a swim in a bat cave.

The Floating Catfish Farm
The Floating Catfish Farm

 

What an incredible experience the cave was. We jumped off the side of the boat with life jackets and a single torch, swam into a beautiful cove and then into the mouth of the cave. It didn’t take long before we were blindly following our guide through the cave, trying to capture our surroundings as he shone the torch around. Beside reminding us a little of the movie “Sanctum”, it was an incredibly thrilling experience and the highlight of our trip at that point.

Swimming in the Bat Cave
Swimming in the Bat Cave

Back on the raft houses the table had been set for dinner and again a delicious aray of Thai food was on offer. All the staff were friendly and hospitable. They really looked after us!

Last on the itinerary was a night safari. We followed our guide into the jungle and an hour later returned disappointed, having only seen spiders, bugs and wild mushrooms. We might have seen more but stealth was not really something our group was familiar with. To give you an example, one of the group members was so eager to see a monkey he kept shouting out “monkey, monkey” at the top of his voice. There was one highlight though! Lauren who hadn’t stopped talking about leeches since we arrived got “LEECHED!” Freaking out, she pulled it off and our guide, Kai, placed a swab of tobacco on the bite. To stop the bleeding? Who knows.
Tip: If a leech is not pulled off correctly it can poison you if it vomits the contents of its stomach back into you. We were told to monitor it for a couple of days and head to the hospital if a red ring began to form around the bite mark.

Our "Room"
Our “Room”

Our bungalow was simple, just a mattress and a mosquito net. With doors wide open, we watched in awe as the lightning across the dam outlined the cliffs with each strike, the gentle breeze providing some relief from the heat.  The day had been a resounding improvement, and as we nodded off to sleep we couldn’t help but be excited for what the next day held.

Magnificent Sunset on the Dam
Magnificent Sunset on the Dam

DAY 3:
We thought gibbons were cute until we woke to one making a ridiculous noise at four o’clock in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. Luckily we all had to be up early anyway (6.30am) for the first activity of the day. Breakfast (basic scrambled eggs on toast, fresh fruit and toast with jam) served on a bamboo boat whilst gliding across the dam looking for wildlife. What a tranquil way to start the day!

Breakfast on the Dam on a Bamboo Boat
Breakfast on the Dam on a Bamboo Boat

We were lucky to see our alarm clock (the rare Gibbon) swinging in the tree tops. Although they are ridiculously noisy, they are incredibly cute and it’s quite fascinating watching them swing from the trees and hang from the branches.

So Beautiful!
So Beautiful!

We were also educated about a “special” leaf we had seen a few Thai men chewing on. Lauren’s curiosity (nosiness) means we often learn a lot of interesting things. When questioned about the leaf, they all flexed their muscles, and in broken English suggested that it makes them “stronger”. When questioned further, they said “many Baht” and held their wrists together as if to suggest they are handcuffed. After an impromptu game of Charades, we came to the conclusion that it must be illegal in some way.  It must have healing qualities too, as Lauren was offered one to treat her leech bite the night before.

Our guide, Kai, was a really interesting old man, and incredibly strong for a 58 year-old (must be the leaves)! He spoke hilarious broken English. Some of his more memorable phrases were “same same … but different”, “check again”, “many rain, many leeches” and a few others. He definitely made the whole experience a lot more fun. Joe, who was our guide on the first day back at the tree houses, was just as funny and friendly, besides being quite sarcastic, which we loved.

Anyway, returning to the raft houses we spent the morning and a large portion of the afternoon relaxing, swimming and tubing. Kayaks would have been amazing to go exploring during the down time.

Later on in the afternoon we set off by longtail boat for our 3-hour hike to the viewpoint (3km). The path wasn’t as strenuous as expected but near the end there was a rather steep and dangerous climb to the viewpoint, a rocky ledge on the side of a cliff overlooking most of Khao Sok National Park. The view was simply spectacular.

The Viewpoint-Well worth the hike
The Viewpoint-Well worth the hike

Spotting the ominous rain clouds heading our way, Kai quickly ushered us back down the steep rocks and onto the path. He hurriedly led the way back mumbling the words “many rain, many leeches”, his pace quickening with each roll of thunder. However, Lauren and I were quite happy to keep up, especially after listening to his stories of the path becoming a river and “more 20 leeches everywhere climb your body” – we were right on his heels.

What a relief it was when we finally arrived back at the boat. But before heading back, it was time for us to “check again”. We examined ourselves for leeches and found two in Lauren’s shoes. As geeky as we all looked, tucking our pants into our socks saved us from becoming their next meal.

Socks tucked in (Leech Protection)
Socks tucked in (Leech Protection)

Speaking of meals, our driver had been spearfishing whilst we were away. Look what he caught for dinner:

Dinner!
Dinner!


And what a delicious dinner it was: battered fish bites, onion rings, sweet and sour chicken, sticky rice and more.

We later found out I hadn’t been so lucky on the hike. We never found the leech, but discovered its bite mark on my waist. Next time I’ll tuck my shirt into my pants too!

DAY 4:
After a great sleep-in, a dive in the dam to wake up and a quick breakfast, we packed our bags and headed back to the mainland by longtail boat.

Shortly after arriving at the pier, we were picked up by minivan and driven back to Tree Tops. We had only taken our day bags with us to the dam so after lunch we grabbed our larger packs and were taken to the bus stop. We opted to be transfered to Phuket, so the tour guide paid for our bus tickets and left.

Waiting under the rooftops of a little convenience store trying to avoid the downpour, we began chatting to the store owner, a gracious, elderly Thai lady. She openly shared about her life, her family and her hopes for the future until the bus arrived.
One of the qualities I love most about my wife is her openness to meeting and interacting with people. I just jump on the band wagon once she gets the conversation rolling. It’s so rewarding when you make true, meaningful connections with other people.

All in all, we really loved our ‘Wilderness Adventure’ experience in Khao Sok National Park. We highly recommend Tree Tops Safari Tours, high or low season.

Phuket here we come!

Phangan Paradise

DAY 1:
It didn’t take much for us to fall in love with the beautiful island of Koh Phangan. It was the perfect place to chill, chow and chat. It was also perfectly suited to our budget.

To get to the island we booked a combined Lomprayah ticket, including taxi and ferry, from the reception at our resort for B500pp (ferry price at pier B300pp). We rose early, packed up our gear and jumped on the 6.30am minibus to the Lomprayah pier.

Lomprayah Pier early in the morning
Lomprayah Pier early in the morning

Whilst waiting to board the ferry we met a German lady who told us about Koh Nang Yuan, a small island close to Koh Tao, belonging to the owner of Lomprayah. The island, with a single resort, is known for its serene atmosphere and boasts some impressive snorkelling and diving spots.

Ferry from Samui to Phangan
Ferry from Samui to Phangan

Now, many of you might have heard the saying “hindsight is a B*#ch”. At first, this saying seemed somewhat cynical, but with each and every scam we are quickly coming to realize that it is in fact true. Not more than 10 minutes after steeping foot on Phangan we were scammed by another taxi driver.

We should have known the moment he demanded we pay the B160 taxi fare upfront. However, we had previously misjudged the distance we needed to travel on Samui. Not wanting to repeat the mistake, and unable to find a map, we naively believed the man when he said, “Walking, one hour … many kilometers”. It turned out our resort was a mere 100m walk along the beach; the closest resort of ALL the resorts on the island. He simply drove us 10 minutes up the road to a random resort. When we explained that this was the wrong place, he smiled cheekily and slyly said, “My mistake”, jumped back in the front seat and drove us all the way back to Lime & Soda, our resort, just minutes from the pier. I did find a map in his car and frustratedly pointed out to him that we could have walked and that he had lied to us. Looking ‘caught out’, mumbling to himself he got back into his minibus and without any apology drove away. In hindsight, we should have NEVER paid a taxi driver upfront.

It’s so easy to get frustrated and quickly become bitter, but it helps to think if they have to lie to get extra money then maybe they need it more than we do. In the long run it doesn’t hurt us as much as it damages our pride.

Lime & Soda was fantastic! The staff were so incredibly friendly and the atmosphere so peaceful and relaxing. After being greeted with welcoming drinks, we dumped our bags in our cute chalet and headed straight for the pool. Unfortunately, the sea in front of the resort is too shallow to swim in, but the refreshingly cool pool makes up for it. For B300pp a night for an airconditioned basic double room, we highly recommend staying at Lime & Soda.

Our friends at Lime and Soda
Our friends at Lime and Soda

At the pool we met a Canadian couple, who had been traveling for five months already, and two lovely girls, one from Germany and the other from Wales. They made our stay so much more enjoyable!

View from the Pool Side
View from the Pool Side

That evening we all headed up to Amsterdam cafe (which definitely lives up to its name), on top of the hill, to watch the sunset. Sitting on the edge of the pool (B100 to swim), sipping fruit cocktails, we were blessed with the most spectacular sunset I think we had all ever seen. Not so keen to join in on the party, we all took a Songthaew down to the Phangan night food market. Suffice to say, this became our local eating spot each night (only 15 minutes walk from Lime & Soda), offering curries to kebabs, pad thai and spring rolls, fried chicken, seafood, fruit shakes, waffles and pancakes. The best market food yet at cheapest prices. To give you an idea: Satisfied (B30), Full (B60), Giant Food Baby (B110).

Sunset at Amsterdam Cafe
Sunset at Amsterdam Cafe
Food from the Food Market! Yummy!
Food from the Food Market! Yummy!

The rest of the evening was spent relaxing in the pool, chatting for hours about life in our different countries, our travel experiences and everything else in between.

DAY 2:
Today was our “Orion” tour to Angthong National Marine Park, which we booked for B1800pp at Lime & Soda. Four words … WELL WORTH EVERY BAHT!

The Orion.
The Orion.

After taking the transfer to the pier we almost weren’t allowed on the boat as Mike had left our ticket behind. Luckily, a simple phone call to our resort was enough for them to allow us on board, where we were offered tea, coffee, and donuts.

The tour began with a 45-minute boat ride to an incredibly beautiful snorkeling spot at an island on the edge of the marine park. My first time snorkeling and I was in love! It was so beautiful! Unfortunately, Mike cut his leg on the reef and was finding the sting uncomfortable so he didn’t enjoy it as much.

Back on the boat an impressive buffet lunch had been prepared for us, including fresh fruit and soft drinks which were available thoughout the trip.

Next, we kayaked in the rain from one bay to another alongside overhanging cliff faces. Mike will tell you he did all the work but he’s lying, I just stopped to take in the scenery every now and then!

The coolness of the rain was much needed as we conquered the steps of the Emerald Lake view point. The view of the tranquil green lake was breathtaking!

Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake
Two Journey at Emerald Lake
Two Journey at Emerald Lake

A short long-tail boat back to the Orion and off we went to our next destination, a hike, on another island, to a 500m high viewpoint of Angthong National Marine Park. We were pre-warned that this hike would be difficult, may include steep rock climbing at points, and not for the faint hearted. Note: Hiking shoes are necessary.

The Steep climb to the Viewpoint
The Steep climb to the Viewpoint
The View
The View

Well, it wasn’t an exaggeration. The trail was steep and slippery, lined with sharp rocks and only navigable by ropes some of the way. However, we thoroughly enjoyed it and the view was well worth the climb; although a little hard to capture when you’re out of breath and drenched in perspiration. A quick swim, another delicious meal on board (second lunch) and sadly it was time to head back to Koh Phangan.

Paradise!
Paradise!

Our Orion experience was incredible and such good value. We highly recommend it!

Content!
Content!

DAY 3 &4:
Our last couple of days on Phangan have been paradise for us. Although we would have liked to have seen more of the island, we were drunk on relaxation.

A lovely quaint cafe called Nira’s Pattiserie provided us with just the perfect place to catch up on social media, eat lunch and fulfill my dessert cravings. It was also here that we met an inspiring German woman who lives on Phangan with her young daughter. She makes and sells jams to support the animal shelter she runs for the many stray animals on the island. For those of you who love animals as much as she does, she would greatly appreciate your support. You can learn more about her cause on her Facebook page: Phangan Animals Lovers.

Nira's Cafe- Delicious Food!
Nira’s Cafe- Delicious Food!

Relaxing on the beach, dips in the pool, volleyball with our German friends and locals, street shopping, and finally drinking beers on the porch of our Canadian friends’ chalet whilst playing cards till midnight was the perfect end to our time on Phangan.

Our Phangan Mates!
Our Phangan Mates!

Koh Phangan is commonly known for its parties: the full moon, half moon and black moon party. But we know it as our paradise!

Samui On Scooter

DAY 1:
The next chapter in our travels through Thailand began with us departing from Bangkok on an all inclusive train-bus-boat trip to Koh Samui (B1048pp at train station). We soon realised that this was the easiest and most cost effective way to get out to the island, as we explain further on.

Hualomphong train station on our way to Surat Thani
Hualomphong train station on our way to Surat Thani

Filled with excitement and anticipation, we had time for a quick cappuccino frappe (Black Canyon Coffee) before boarding the train … yum! Second class was just our style: comfy, air-conditioned and affordable. The carriage was lined with bunk beds above and seats below, which were later converted into beds at around 9pm.

Our second class train crib :D
Our second class train crib 😀

Earlier, we had noticed a couple tying their packs to the bag stands to secure them – a sensible idea, we thought, and decided to do the same with our packs. Overhearing their South African accents we quickly struck up a conversation. Sadly, this pleasant interlude was interrupted when, with utter dismay, they saw that one of their bags appeared to have gone missing. After an hour of searching the train, explaining to police and report writing, we tried our best to console them as they realised that the bag containing passports, cellphones, money and wallet had in fact been stolen. A Thai man had helped them carry their luggage onto the train, and placed the bag under their seats, or so they thought. Instead, he had actually pushed the bag far enough so that it lay under the seat behind; while the couple were distracted with tying their bags down, he must have retrieved it from the other side! Here comes the obvious tip …
Tip: DO NOT LET ANYONE HANDLE YOUR BAGS! Separate your passports, money and cellphones into two or even three bags/packs to avoid disaster if one gets stolen. Carry copies of credit cards, passports and other ID documents separate from their originals.

With our packs secured, we drew the privacy curtains and cuddled our day-packs to sleep, feeling very sorry for our fellow travellers, as the train sped through the night.

DAY 2:
Who needs an alarm when you’re woken up by train staff yelling their OVER-PRICED breakfast menu at you?
Tip: For those of you who didn’t read our earlier post, buy food to take on the train unless you’re willing to fork out B300 a meal.

It wasn’t long before the train came to a stop at an empty car park … sorry, meant to say Surat Thani train station. Two legs left to go!

Our experience of the famous overnight train was a good one, despite the leaking aircon and the moment we realized everyone’s bowl movements were being deposited along the train tracks. Truly disgusting, and we felt very sorry for the Thai people living alongside the track.

Watching each and every passenger hop on board a pre-booked bus, with not a taxi in sight, it became evident that it would have been an absolute mission trying to make our way independently to Donsak Pier had we not booked the package deal. To our surprise, the bus trip from station to pier was a solid 90 minutes, made more enjoyable by aircon and comfy seats. Surat Thani didn’t appear to be somewhere you would want to stay even for a night – but with some research we may be proven wrong.

A quick hop from bus to super-fancy boat and we were one step closer to the islands. Just before getting off the bus I decided it was time to visit the lavatory. About to jump off the bus the doors shut promptly in front of me and I was left trapped inside about to make a trip back to the train station. Lauren, standing outside yelling/laughing, saved the day and we were back on track.

Selfie on the boat to Koh Samui
Selfie on the boat to Koh Sammie

 

Just because
Just because

The 90-minute cruise was spent on the front deck admiring stunning views of the Andaman Sea islands, trying to capture their beauty in a photo and taking ‘just a couple’ of travel selfies. Before we knew it we had arrived at Nathon Pier only to be greeted by more taxi vultures eager to swoop in and prey on gullible and unsuspecting tourists.

Luckily we managed to find what the islanders call a ‘tuk tuk’ (a kind of pick-up truck with seats in the back, not the same as those found in Bangkok) to take us the 25 minutes around the island to our first destination, the Buddha Lounge Hostel in Bang Rak (B80pp). This was an absolute bargain we found out later.

Our Tuk Tuk
Our Tuk Tuk

Dropped on the side of the road we were left to find our way with a mere point of the taxi driver’s finger in the general direction we were meant to go. After a long, hot walk down some back roads we eventually found Buddha Lounge. Regardless of its great reviews, we had come to the islands to relax on the beach and this was just too far away from the sea for our liking. So, we shamelessly cancelled our booking in order to stay at Samui Beach Resort located on Lamai Beachfront.

B400 later we arrived at the Resort frustrated at the cost of taxi transport on Samui. We were told by a local that this was cheap for the 25km we had travelled (normally B700). They are very aware that tourists are stuck on the island and don’t really have much choice but to pay their extortionate prices.
Tip: Samui transport is the most expensive we’ve seen. Hire a scooter/motorbike as soon as possible (B150 for 24hrs).

On the upside, the effort and the extra cost was well worth it in the end! For B400pp we got a basic double room with aircon, kettle and fridge. We also daily received two bottles of water, biscuits, coffee, tea and room cleaning. To top it all off, the resort had a bar/restaurant and pool right on the beach. It was luxury we never thought we would afford!

Our amazing room at Samui Beach Resort
Our amazing room at Samui Beach Resort
The path outside our room at Samui Beach Resort
The path outside our room at Samui Beach Resort

The rest of the day was spent lounging on the white sand beach; the sea here is also perfect for swimming. The pool, however, was ridiculously warm and not refreshing at all. We had a bite to eat at the resturant which was a bit pricey, but we just coughed and paid up.

Literally five minutes after leaving the beach we were introduced to Thailand’s rainy season. Spectacular lightning strikes, thunder that messed with the rhythm of your heart and a heavy rain. Although when hunger set it nothing was going to deter us from finding food. We bought a take-away from a restaurant run by a Thai family just across the road and spent the evening seated on the floor Thai-style, eating and watching TV series.

The Samui storm rolls in!
The Samui storm rolls in!

DAY 3:
The day began early with cornflakes purchased from the SevenEleven the night before. At the Reception, we hired a scooter (B300 for two days). Lauren was enthusiastic, while I felt a little nervous. Why you may ask? Perhaps it is the crazy, yet somehow organized chaos they call driving that made me a little hesitant. Anyway, it was the best decision ever! After a two-minute crash course, during which Lauren almost drove into a wall head-on, it was decided that I would be the sole driver. With that we received a very nervous farewell from the receptionists and we were off! Well, at 30km per hour.

What an amazing experience! We travelled slightly inland and visited Tar Nim Waterfall (a little dry at this time of year) and stopped off at a picturesque viewing point five minutes up the road where an old Thai man sat waiting to collect a parking fee (B40). The HIGHLIGHT of Lauren’s trip to Samui … a talking bird she discovered in a cage along the pathway. As I stood laughing at her fascination with it, the bird began mocking my laughter … rather well, actually. The viewing point itself was spectacular, pretty much overlooking the entire south-western side of the island and the beautiful blue ocean – very difficult to capture in words, but well worth the stop.

Tar Nim waterfall with little rain…
Tar Nim waterfall with little rain…
The viewpoint!
The viewpoint!

Next stop, Magic Garden another 10 to 15 minutes up the road (B80pp). If you’re in the area it’s definitely worth a visit. We thoroughly enjoyed the walk through a little stone village, scattered with traditional statues, alongside the river. We came across some super-friendly locals enjoying the coolness of the shade and relaxing by the river, eager to pose for a few of our photos.

The Magic Garden!
The Magic Garden!
Scooter driving!
Scooter driving!

Back onto our beloved scooter (we had grown quite fond of it by now) and we were off again … destination the Butterfly & Insect Garden. This was a miss as it turned out to be rather pricey (B400pp) and Lauren saw a massive spider advertised on the pamphlet so decided it was not for us.

Battling to keep the scooter balanced as Lauren proceeded to take selfies, we managed to safely pull into a Shell garage which reminded us a little of home.
Tip: B150 is an excessive amount of petrol. Only fill up B50, at most, each time. Returning the scooter with a full tank is not required, so our scooter company got lucky.

Lauren, being our trusty navigator and map lady, decided we should head south along the coast for lunch. We found a nice road with a few cafe’s along the shore.

Our beloved scooter.
Our beloved scooter.
The beauty of longtail boats.
The beauty of longtail boats.

Bellies full we took the opportunity to capture the postcard-worthy scenery before heading to the Mummified Monk. Lauren had a second crack at learning how to drive the scooter. She improved greatly, although it was quite a wide open space, but it was decided that I would keep my job as driver and off we went.

The Mumified Monk was a unique experience. As the story goes, there was a monk renowned for his dedication to contemplation and prayer. Upon his death, his family responded to his wishes by placing him in an upright contemplation position in his “coffin”. His mummified body now sits in that same position in a glass box, although he now sports a trendy pair of black sunglasses. Lauren found the whole thing slightly creepy. We were also really grateful for the English translation, as most significant sights only have Thai plaques. All said, a very interesting stop.

Mummified Monk
Mummified Monk

A jumpy photo in front of the temple, free water and it was time to head back to the resort. We spent the remainder of our afternoon/evening relaxing at the restaurant, blogging and enjoying the rain falling around us.

It was an amazing day. Definitely one of the best we have had since arriving in Thailand. If you’re looking to travel independently, outside of tours and not wanting to pay ridiculous amounts for transport, we highly recommend taking a scooter. Budget on two to three days and you can easily see most, if not all, the island by yourself without breaking the bank.

DAY 4:
Today didn’t go quite as planned. Our aim was to head to the northern part of the island and see Big Buddha and Chaweng beach, but Mike was hit hard by “jet lag” and only woke to house-keeping at 10am. Luckily, or else we might have wasted away the day. Sloth like, we dragged ourselves over to the beach and pool.

After final editing, we published our first post about Bangkok! Whoop whoop! Finally! It is possible we underestimated how much work this blogging thing was going to be, but we love it and we hope you enjoy reading about our adventures.

A lovely local woman with mad cutting skills sliced up a pineapple (B50) which we ate whilst lolling about in the calm waters.

Thailand pineapple is the tastiest!
Thailand pineapple is the tastiest!

Further down the beach we found some cool rock formations – another famous attraction known in English as Grandfather & Grandmother Rock. We looked super-touristy trying to navigate the rocks with our expensive camera!

Stunning!
Stunning!

To end our trip in Koh Samui we headed to a stunning veiwpoint just above Chaweng Beach. We highly recommend buying some food and heading there to watch the sun set over the sea. The view was absolutely incredible and proved to be a wonderful way to round off our time here on Koh Samui!

Amazing viewpoint of Koh Samui.
Amazing viewpoint of Koh Samui.
Topping it all off with a jumpy photo!
Topping it all off with a jumpy photo!

Best Hawaian pizza at Crystal Bay Resort & Restaurant before a final ride on our trusty scooter as we returned to the resort. We had the most tranquil night swim in the sea just before bed. The stars were out and on full display. What a way to end our trip to Koh Samui!!

KOH PHANGAN HERE WE COME!!

Our Journey of Bangkok

DAY 1:

Beautiful Bangkok!
Beautiful Bangkok!

Bangkok was a whirlwind of sights and experiences we won’t quickly forget.  Our two-month journey through Thailand and Malaysia began with an Emirates flight from Durban to Dubai.  After coffee at Starbucks in Dubai airport and a nap on some awesome lounge chairs, we boarded our flight to Bangkok, “the city that never sleeps”.

 

We landed in Bangkok around 7pm and cleared border control.  Suprisingly, we got through without a hitch and weren’t asked to show proof of onward travel (ferry to Langkawi) which we’d been told can be requested.  We grabbed our packs and headed straight to an ATM to draw money.  There are also a few kiosks near the border control counters where you can exchange money, if necessary.

 

Asking around it appeared the cheapest way to get to our hostel, located on the other side of the city, was to first take the Airport Link to its end (Phaya Thai) and then catch a taxi to SamSen 3 (our road).  Before making our way to the airport underground to catch the link, we searched for SIM cards, air time and data for our cellphones and iPad, which we eventually found at Exit 7.
Tip: Wait to buy airtime and data at a Seven11 outside the airport as the price of the packages they offered were a bit excessive, or at least first compare prices between the different service providers located in the airport.

 

A train journey later, waiting on the street as we came down the stairs from the station was a “more than friendly” old Thai man who kindly offered to take us to our destination for B200.  Luckily, we found three French backpackers also heading our way so the five of us, with all our packs, squeezed in a taxi for B60pp.  BARGAIN!
Tip: Walk a bit further past the over-enthusiastic taxi and tuk-tuk drivers when you arrive anywhere in Thailand because a cheaper price is often just down the road.
Tip: Always agree on a price beforehand with all taxi and tuk-tuk drivers and share the cost with other travellers where possible.

 

After a long taxi ride through the busy streets of Bangkok, a short walk down some funky smelling streets and trying to come to terms with the heat and humidity, we finally stumbled upon our backpackers, Sivarin Guest House. After a late night, long hours of travelling and feeling exhasuted, we dumped our bags and found the closest “restuarant” for a quick bite to eat before heading back to our hostel for a well needed rest.

 

DAY 2:

Day one had taken it’s toll and we only woke up at 12pm!!  Lauren “claimed” she passed my phone to me when it went off at 7.30am but I don’t remember a thing.  We quickly packed our day-packs and headed into the city centre on Bus 53 to book an overnight train, bus and ferry ticket to Koh Samui for the following night.  The bus ride was quite adventurous, super cheap (B6.50), with a bit of a wait while the drivers “changed” over and an alternative route used as some of the streets were barricaded with sandbags and guarded by military men.  A friendly lady we met on the bus, who was on her way to a democratic meeting, informed us the streets were blocked for rallies.  Another, not so friendly woman, tapped me on the shoulder and told me off for showing the soles of my shoes and the underneath of my foot whilst folding my legs – this is extremely rude and offensive in Thailand.

Catching bus #53 to the Hualamphong train station
Catching bus #53 to the Hualamphong train station

Outside the bus station we were greeted by another “more than friendly” local, again trying to offer us the “cheapest package” to the islands if you just follow her to the toursit office down the street.  However, the tickets inside the station were much cheaper (B1046pp).

View from a Tuk Tuk
View from a Tuk Tuk

Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) was our next stop.  Tuk-tuk time … we were so excited!  We found one and managed to bargain the driver down to B20 which we thought was super awesome.  It turned out he scammed us, and took us down some alley to a tour agency who requested B2000 pp to take us on an hour-long tour of the temple.  We walked away only to find a public water taxi just down the road for B18.  As fate would have it, we bumped into an American woman who was in the “same boat as us” (got scammed) and ended up spending the day exploring the sights with her.  She was so greatful to have people to travel with that she even paid for our dinner.
Tip: Public transport is always cheaper (especially buses and water taxis).  If locals don’t take it, you know it’s not the cheapest.

Wat Arun
Wat Arun

From a distance, Wat Arun doesn’t seem too appealing.  However, close up it is beautifully detailed and there is quite a thrilling steep climb to the top of the temple to a fairly decent view of the city (ladies dress appropriately).  Definitely worth a short visit.

 

After Wat Arun we took the boat back across the river to the temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho, Old City) as we were too late for the Grand Palace (4pm close).  The enormous golden Buddha wasn’t exactly what we expected …interesting but not unforgettable.  The Old City was exactly that, a mini-city of temples and courtyards.  It is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area, plus a free bottle of water we were given was a bonus in the heat.  Our free dinner with Delora, our American friend, was at a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED cafe called Madame Musor near Khao San road.   Here, we met a well-travelled couple from Australia who were hiring a 44ft yacht with friends to explore the islands (an idea now added to our “to do” list).

Wat Pho
Wat Pho
Wat Pho, Old City
Wat Pho, Old City

Khoa San Road was an eye-opening, jaw-dropping experience!  The moment we set foot on the road we were offered all sorts: from ping-pong shows (the offer being accompanied by somewhat disturbing “popping noises”), to tailor-made suits, to scorpions on kebab sticks.  The road was buzzing with people manoeuvring between bars, cafes, street vendors, shops and massage beds.  If you’re a night owl and enjoy weird and alternative experiences, then Khao San Road is the place for you.

Khao San Road
Khao San Road

Most hostels are in walking distance of Khoa San Road.  We asked a local for directions to ours.  After walking for quite a while, we recognized an alley, one we had walked through when we disembarked the ferry earlier, one that was very far from where we needed to be.  We had literally walked in a circle.  Feeling dumb and exhausted, we hailed a taxi for the ride back to our hostel.
Tip: GET A MAP!

 

Tom, the friendly Thai taxi driver, offered a “package” to drive us out to the floating market and other attractions for B1800.  He was such a nice guy it was hard declining his offer when our hostel lady offered it to us for B490pp.  Back in our room after a long day, we packed for the following day and set our alarms on EXTRA loud for a 6am wake up for the floating market.

 

DAY 3:
Waking up early sucks, but a wake-up call to the deafening sound of “this is the story of a girl …” is no joke!  We packed our gear and stored it in the hostel’s store room.  The hostel was amazingly accommodating: they made special arrangements for us to eat free breakfast early (yummy scrambled eggs) and allowed us to shower when we arrived back long after check-out time.

 

The minibus rocked up punctually at 7am at the hostel to pick us up.  After picking up some other backpackers we were on our way to the floating market.  An hour and a half later, we were still on the way! However, Lauren met two girls from the UK on the bus, as well as a German guy, who we spent most of our time chatting to and ended up exploring the markets with.
Tip: Make friends.  Travelling is so much more fun when you meet people and get to know them!  Plus, it hopefully means free accomodation when you get to visit their country.

 

Finally we arrived at the floating market and were asked if we wanted to take a long-tail boat through the market.  Of course we wanted too!  We had assumed it was included in the package but B300 later we were on a long-tail boat floating down the canal with Thai stall owners shouting out, “Ok, want to buy?  Ok!”, or “Just looking?  No, just looking?  Buy, ok!”  Some run their over-priced “shops” from long-tail boats and whenever you look with the slightest interest at something on offer, they pull on your boat and try sell it to you.  Every “shop” sells the exact same touristy items.

The Floating Market
The Floating Market

Trust Lauren to get sucked into a costly endeavour when an entrepreneurial store owner man brought out what seemed to be a baby lemur.  Of course, Lauren couldn’t resist and jumped out the boat to hold this cute little baby lemur.  B200 later the Thai man, with a knowing grin on his face, made offered us an opportunity to hold a giant white snake … before he could even finish we were both back on the boat paddling away.

 

We also came across some tasty fruit called a pomelo, which is a cross between an orange and a grapefruit – it was so good!  After our tour of the market we jumped on a motorized long-boat to a nearby river village where we were allowed to explore a little.  It was beautiful but you only really need to spend five minutes looking around unless you are interested in a snake show.

River Village at Floating Market
River Village at Floating Market

At 11.30am we piled back into our minibus (thankful for the airconditioner) and made the long two-hour journey back to traffic congested Bangkok.  The floating market and the tour was a really down to earth experience, a little expensive in parts, but that comes with being a tourist on tours.  All in all Two Journey  recommends the floating market to those in Bangkok for more than two days.

 

We had an interesting discussion with an Australian woman about the situation in Bangkok and Marshall Law being declared.  She told us that warnings had been given to Aussie nationals to get out of Bangkok because it wasn’t “safe” but all the Thai people were so relaxed and friendly, including the military, that we didn’t feel threatened or unsafe.  We just made a point to avoid any rallies or barricaded roads.

De O’sha Cafe on SamSen Road
De O’sha Cafe on SamSen Road
First "Good" Meal in Thailand!
First “Good” Meal in Thailand!

Lunch was at a really fancy cafe (De O’sha) close to our hostel along the main road (SamSen Road).  Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel for a shower and to finish packing our gear for a long 12-hour train journey to Surat Thani.  Again we took Bus 53 to the train station(Hualamphong train station) in Bangkok city centre.  After an AMAZING iced coffee at Black Canyon Coffee located upstairs in the train station we boarded the train and set off to Koh Samui.
Tip: Buy food before getting on the train.  Train food is excessively priced and the hygiene is questionable … you will starve or be broke!

 

You can read all about our interesting experience on the train and our trip to Koh Samui in our next post: Sawatdee, Kab Kun Krab.