Thailand Diaries: Ton Sai, Ao Phra Nang and More Monkeys

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Dinner with a view – Ton Sai

On 13th December we returned to the mainland – sort of. We were on a peninsular that you can only reach by boat, called Laem Phra Nang. It has a series of beaches that you can trek between, but the easiest way to get between them is a long boat taxi or by renting a kayak. We stayed three nights in Ton Sai, which is a hippy paradise! The rock climbing is great, so you get a lot of people who come just for that, and we saw some people base-jumping too – it looked terrifying! They were really high up, but it just didn’t seem high enough to get a parachute up; there were no casualties, thankfully.

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That orange blob is the parachute of a guy who has just jumped of a ledge on that cliff …

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… and touching back down to earth, with a bit of an audience.

Other things to do on Ton Sai are listening to reggae music, drink and learn circus tricks! There are tight ropes everywhere, and opportunities to learn fire tricks like poi and fire breathing. I took three steps on a tightrope!

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Me on a tightrope! In the dark, sorry.

We saw a great fire show, but we thought that one of the guys could do with a bit more practice with the fire poi because he kept dropping them and hitting himself …

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This guy kept losing his poi and hitting himself ...

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... But this guy was pretty good!

 

We stayed in another hut on Ton Sai, but it was so lovely. We were up the hill in a resort called Pasook resort, which was clean, mostly bug free, sturdy and included a fully hole-free mosquito net! They also have a small shop where you can buy these mosquito incense spirals, which are really useful but definitely not a replacement for your mosquito repellent! The huts are kind of in the jungle though, so beware monkey invasions. They come and raid the bins on the verandas, and took a big bag of crisps and a bottle of coke (!) that I had left outside.

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Stealing crisps – well that’s easy …

 

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… but surely she can’t get into a closed bottle of soda??

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OMG THEY’RE GOING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!

On one of the days in Ton Sai we rented a Kayak to explore the neighbouring beaches. We went to investigate Railey, as we intended to move on to there the next day, and also went to Ao Phra Nang beach: the home of Tham Phra Nang, or Princess Cave (‘Phra Nang’ means ‘revered lady’). The story goes that a beautiful Indian Princess was involved in a nearby shipwreck, and her spirit came to reside in this cave. The locals believe that she influenced the fertility of the sea and leave her gifts to encourage large catches … very specific gifts … phalluses. There are loads of them and they’re mostly massive.

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Cave full of willies

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Thailand Diaries: Snorkelling in Koh Lanta

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Beautiful decoration on the Thai long boats

So, we finished our time in Ko Lanta with a snorkeling trip. We got a big boat to Ko Phi Phi, then a long boat around the various islands of Ko Phi Phi. We stopped at Monkey Island, where we fed the monkeys our left over bananas from lunch.

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Feeding the monkeys – our guide hurried us a bit here, and we learned why later. A friend we met got bitten by one of these guys!!

Then we headed to a cove where we could climb stairs up to the island and walk around to Mia Beach, where they filmed The Beach with Leonardo Di Caprio. It was beautiful, with white sand like sherbet, but packed full of people. We definitely had more fun actually in the water, where we saw loads of coral, a gazillion fish and some scary sea urchins. (Unfortunately for this post, we don’t have a waterproof camera, so no pictures of Mia Beach or sea urchins)

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We were there with a lovely Malaysian family – just the five of them and the two of us on the trip – and they had a little boy who didn’t want to put his face in the water. They got a sandwich bag and some bread and spent ages trying to catch one to show him! They did it eventually, and because they were throwing loads of bread in, all the fish came to our boat, it was great. Don’t worry, they threw the wee fish back!

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List: Unexpected lessons from traveling the world

I’m far from an expert, but after traveling for three months, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the world, different cultures and myself. I could write for pages and pages about all this, but here’s a quick rundown of the things that I wasn’t expecting to learn.

1: Bum hoses are the future

As anyone who has traveled to Asia might tell you, the whole toilet situation can become quite stressful, from Delhi Belly to squat toilets – but I’m here to tell you that it’s not all trauma in the little girls’ room. Something that I had never heard mentioned is a toilet hose, which you can find hanging beside any plumbed-in toilet in Thailand and Vietnam (and probably beyond, but I’ll stick to what I know). We didn’t know what it was called, but it looked like a hose for your bum – hence, bum hose. We were dubious at first, but by the time we flew to New Zealand five weeks later, we were bum-hose-converts – there’s nothing like the fresh feeling of … well, you get the idea.

But that’s not where it stopped – I soon found many uses for the trusty bum hose. It’s great for giving the toilet seat a quick clean before sitting down. If there isn’t a sink, use it to wash your hands. Been to the beach? Don’t traipse sand all through the apartment, bum hose your feet! I also once raged a war on a team of ants trying to get in about my shower with the bum hose. The possibilities are endless, and every toilet should come equipped with a bum hose.

A handy guide to using the toilet hose

2: There is such a thing as too many noodles/Buddhas/museums

I set off on my travels with an ambition: I was going to eat local food all the time, and I was going to see everything. The first leg went really well – we saw two Buddhas, celebrated the King’s birthday, shopped in Siam square and ate in a different place for every meal, all in just four days in Bangkok (when you take into account the two days we suffered with jet lag, this is pretty impressive). Cut to week four in Vietnam, and we were sick to death of noodles, and we were exhausted. We had looked down upon those who caved in and had pizza and full English breakfasts in Bangkok, but Oh-Em-Gee, were we craving bread and bacon now! On top of that, temples were no longer impressive, and museums were downright boring. We felt like we had literally seen it all, and where’s my pina colada on the beach already?

My advice to you: you can’t see it all, and sometimes you need home comforts. Choose the educational and cultural things you want to see, and remember to schedule in a few days to relax and really enjoy the 3/6/12 months you’ve taken off work – if you don’t, you’ll only need another holiday afterwards. And take your home comforts when you can! A lot of the smaller towns and islands won’t have real milk (how I missed tea!), and the menu options were noodles, rice, or noodle soup. Take some time to look after yourself, or else you’re going to burn out.

3: Pineapple juice is good for jellyfish stings too

Now I’m not a doctor, biologist, zoologist  or anything clever like that, so don’t take this as gospel. When we were scuba diving in Railey, Thailand, my boyfriend felt something zap him on the lips and had to stop. He never saw what caused the damage, but his trout pout was pretty impressive, and he said it was stingy. We’re still not entirely sure, but we reckon it was a teeny tiny jellyfish, or a bad reaction to a sea lice sting. Well, we all know the cure for a jellyfish sting, but for some reason he wasn’t really up for a wee in the face – each to their own, eh? So we got on Google (other search engines are available, but who knows what they are), and discovered alternative cures such as vinegar or pineapple juice. We met up with some friends at a bar, and Chris spent the night drinking rum and pineapple juice with plenty of soothing ice. Whaddya know? He felt fine in no time. Whether this was the rum or the pineapple at work, we’ll never know.

4: People are mostly good eggs

Throughout our travels, we had to rely on the kindness of strangers a lot. From asking a local in Bangkok where the hell we were, to politely requesting a jump-start not once, but twice in campsites in New Zealand, there were a lot of opportunities for people to double cross us, make fun of us or just be generally unhelpful. But they weren’t. We got a bus all the way across Vietnam with no-one who spoke English. We entrusted our worldly possessions to uncountable hotel receptions while we waited for transport/an available room. We let people know that we were totally lost, broke or homeless, and asked for their help. And, aside from one or two incidents, people looked after us. While I’m still sensible and cautious, it’s made me far less cynical about other people’s motives. After all, if you were on the other side, you’d do your best to help too, wouldn’t you?

Thailand Diaries: Beach Bumming on Koh Lanta


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On the 8th we just chilled out, in preparation for our 16 hour train ride that night. We got the sleeper train from Bangkok to Trang, then a bus (and two car ferries while on the bus) to Koh Lanta Yai, off the Andaman coast. So far we’ve only booked flights and sleeper trains in advance, so we just popped into a travel agent in Trang to arrange a bus, and book our first two nights in a beach hut.

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The Island of Ko Lanta is beautiful. We stayed on Ao Phra-Ae (Long Beach) for four nights. By the end of that though, it was a bit too long – the whole island was really quiet, with not a lot to do in the evenings. We missed the only party on the first night we were there! We were so tired after the long journey, and the music kept us up until the wee hours. We considered going out, but reckoned there would be another party tomorrow – wrong! According to the bar staff, it was unusually quiet for this time of year, but I get the impression that even when it’s busy, it’s not THAT busy. The weather was brilliant though, so we took the opportunity to relax on the beach, drink some beer and work on our tans (or, more accurately, my tan and Chris’s freckles).

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We stayed the first two nights in a teeny tiny beach hut, with a cold shower and a hammock on the veranda – the resort was called Lanta LD Beach. It was our own beach paradise in theory, but a bit open to the beasties in reality. I’m not great at the budget travelling – the hut was raised from the sand, but you could see down through the floor boards, and our mosquito net had a few holes. It was great for the price we paid, but I was glad to move on to something a bit sturdier for our second two nights at Palm Beach Resort.

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Although it’s supposed to be the dry season here, we did see a lot of rain in Ko Lanta. It came on like clockwork at 4pm every day, and absolutely poured down for about an hour. This is a good time to get a nap and a shower before dinner – it did rain again in the evening one night, but the sun was battering down the rest of the time, so we didn’t mind too much. If it does start raining while you’re on the beach, drop your towels and bags off at one of the beach bars, and head into the sea, where the water feels as warm as a bath. It’s a great experience!

Thailand Diaries: The Grand Palace

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The Grand Palace

Picking up where I left off, on the 7th we headed out to the Grand Palace to see the Emerald Buddha. According to an old friend from school who is Thai, if we don’t see the Emerald Buddha, we just haven’t seen Thailand! The Grand Palace was beautiful – it puts Buckingham Palace to shame. The guards were rubbish though; they kept scratching their noses and laughing. It was blisteringly hot that day, the sun was splitting the sky! I was glad to whap out my maxi dress for the Grand Palace, but Chris wore shorts – not allowed! You can borrow long pants for free, but the queue was massive, so we paid 20THB and a 100THB deposit to rent some from outside the palace. They had elephant patterns on them, Chris looked very dashing.

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Thai guards – not quite as disciplined as what we British are used to

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Emerald Buddha – no photos allowed in the temple, but you get the jist!

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Elephant pants

At the palace we nearly fell for one of the common scams, which we actually read about in the guidebooks. We approached the wrong entrance (we didn’t know that at the time), and a guy told us that the palace was shut for prayer. He said we could go on a boat tour instead, and he would get us a tuk tuk, and we could come back later, all for 900THB. I fully expect we would have got our boat tour, but we decided to explore on our own, found the right entrance to the Palace and realised what had just happened. It is quite a common thing, these people just want to direct your custom to them and their own, albeit at a high price. We didn’t feel unsafe and the guy was really polite and not pushy at all, which is why we almost considered it! But as far as scams go, some overcharging and encouraging you to see other sights isn’t too bad – everyone has to make a buck!

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Walking around the temple of the Grand Palace

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Thailand Diaries: Bangkok and the King’s Birthday

The King’s birthday is on 5th December each year, and it is a massive deal in Thailand. As far as we could tell, everybody loves the King – one tuk tuk driver told us he would die for his King (a tuk tuk is a three wheel passenger carrying moped – the best way to travel in Bangkok). We started our King’s birthday with some Thai massages (a must – slightly painful, but totally worth it in the end), before heading out to explore.

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A tuk tuk

On this special day, the standing Buddha is apparently open for free to all tourists. We suspect that a guy told us that just so we would go in his pal’s tuk tuk, and that it’s free all the time – the tourist information place was giving free gas to tuk tuk drivers who brought tourists in, just for the King’s birthday. We were happy to oblige, we went in and asked for a free map (they had run out), the guy got his free gas and we saw the standing Buddha – win win win!

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Standing Buddha

In the evening, we just followed the crowds. Everyone was heading to the local park, Sanam Luang, where a stage was set up with some Thai Dancers. We didn’t really watch for long, because we were so distracted by all the lanterns in the sky! Everyone was letting them off – there was at least three a second going up in the immediate vicinity, and probably ten times as many or more all around the park; the sky was full of them all floating off, it was so beautiful.

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The King’s Birthday

The next day, we ventured into Siam – we got a boat and a sky train, so we saw some great sights along the river. It was so ridiculously mental when we got there – it made London look tame. You could hardly walk in the streets, and there are mile upon mile of back streets with stalls that would be great to haggle in. Unfortunately, because of our travel budget and backpacks, we’re not able to buy too much. There’s not much good food in Siam either – it was a great experience, but just the one afternoon was enough. Oh, and there were lots of Christmas decorations going up. Being used to a Scottish Christmas, it was odd to see Christmas trees and lights while we were dripping with sweat from the heat!

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Unimpressed in Siam