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The Beach -Koh Phi Phi & Krabi

 

DSC_0673What a dream, completely what I had hoped for and more. Obviously a tourist hub, but this couldn’t detract from the natural beauty of this place. Markets and food stalls line the streets as you step off the passenger boat. It’s Hot Hot Hot and we took quite a walk to our Bay View Hotel – with our very own beachfront no less. The longtail boats in line floating on the crystal clear turquoise water. Our room was essentially a chalet on a hill with many steep steps to get up there, cue dodgy drunk walks home. I shared with Sandy again and she was a great room mate, super friendly, really pretty, a great laugh (I forgave her for becoming known as the puker). Travelling is pretty tiring so we headed out for some food and I grabbed an early night I had signed up for the Maya Bay excursion the following morning – complete with the locations that were used in the famous Beach film (which is a great read too).

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Approximately 25 of us took a speedboat with leader Nikki out on to the water, wow it’s called a speedboat for a reason, what a rush. Our first stop off was Monkey Island and they are very tame, obviously used to tourists and food. I half expected them to great me with ‘alright darlin’got any grub’. Next we headed to the Blue Lagoon (much nicer than the alcoholic beverage of the same name). This was a perfect spot to stop the boat and take it in turns to jump off for a swim. It was absolutely stunning and the highlight of my day. The boat then continued to take us to our next spot for some snorkelling. I have snorkelled once before in Iceland so was interested in the comparison – much warmer and more sea life! I had snorkelled in Iceland between 2 tectonic plates in ice cold glacial water.

We continued on to Bamboo Beach which was pretty big with a very small amount of people, it was strange as the water was so clear and the sand so white. Here, I worked on my special British lobster tan, alongside my beautifully tanned beach babe Australian friends.

It was time to head back after a quick snorkel in Shark Bay. The sharks were vegetarian thank God. After copious napping (there’s a lot of that isn’t there) and numerous showers I was pretty psyched for a night out on Phi Phi, it had a better feel to me than Patong. It was lined with themed live music bars as well as the best sea food you’ve ever seen and clubs and beach parties starting to erupt.P1050694

We started off our evening with our very own fire performance by some guys on the beach. Wow! What skills, I’m a sucker for someone with exceptional talent (male with long hair bonus points) so this was a joy to watch. Ahem..

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The tour recommendations for bars and restaurants were pretty average really (I did my own thing most of the time) we started at a place called Dojo and had beer pong booked for a few hours. It was good to be around everyone drinking the famous ‘buckets’ with shots on tap. The alcohol varies and it can be cheap, I think you wind up drinking more as you are pretty DSC_0747much always thirsty too (that’s not an excuse, honest). Everyone was dancing on the beach, it was so humid, there were fire performers walking on tightropes, fire skipping and strong man competitions to lure in the proud tourist. Most of it was free if you were naked too…nah you’re alright. I was really feeling the music and it was really hard not to buzz off the atmosphere of it all. I returned home eventually relatively in tact, unlike a few of the group. Tons of hangovers, lost phones and wallets, injuries and one girl Hannah wound up getting a boat home in just a towel..

It’s fair to say Phi Phi was a party island and it had pretty much gotten the best of us- it was time to move on to Krabi (Ao Nang) for a relaxed end to the tour. Krabi was the perfect setting, lush greenery, palm trees and fascinating rock karsts.

The hotel Cliff Ao Nang Resort had an ‘infinity’ pool which gave a panorama of the cliff face and sea. It was an optical illusion as you cannot see the edges-the water just runs off, it was absolutely dreamy and I apologise to the green faces that see the photos! 10658564_10153905072028024_5415412563130076785_oKrabi held interest in it’s close by music bars ‘Boogie Bar’ and the most terrific buffet I’ve ever eaten – fresh fish, meat, prawns, sushi, curry, I certainly made the most of that, in case you were worried. We took an iconic long tail boat across to Railay Beach which had the most incredible rock formations and was yet another perfect quiet beach.

So I returned to Bangkok after wishing everyone I’d met and Thailand farewell. It’s been amazing, but it’s time to move on to New Zealand, where the adventure continues…

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Heading South – The Islands ~ Into the Sea

Wow, so it’s HOT down south, and a different feel completely, things are more expensive and tourists are everywhere – but I can see why..

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I took a flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket and stayed in a lovely hotel called The Blue Pearl 10 minutes away from Kata Beach. Everywhere was buzzing with life and there were Bob Marley themed bars on every stretch lining the beach. This is the life. After time on the beach soaking the sun and time to recuperate it was time to take a tuk tuk towards Patong and prepare to meet the group for the next tour at The Sawaddi Resort. DSC_0643 This tour was a 9 day island hopper west, around the picturesque South of Thailand. I met my cool room mate Sandy from Canada and continued to meet the other 34(!) people on the tour. To say I was a bit overwhelmed was putting it lightly! It was a group of 18-35 year olds mainly from Australia and America, Canada and 3 South Africans. I was starting to realise that this tour was about partying and couldn’t have differed more from the intimate, back to basic Chaing Mai trek. I work so much better in smaller groups and take quite a while to get to know people so this felt very tricky for me. Most of the group were there just for the tour and then home and I felt a little isolated.

 

After an evening of feeling sorry for myself I spent the following morning on the beach, wandered around and had another painful/massively great Thai massage (I swore/she laughed). I’ve never had anything quite like it, it changes from unbearable pain to feeling sublime. I made my way towards the hive of activity which is Bangla Road  (which was badly affected in the Tsunami, although you’d never know). I was trying to locate the Siam Guesthouse, specifically the owner called Tuy. My friend Ian from back home stayed there a few years back and befriended him. He was a really nice guy, full of information and loved his music, which is always good.

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The tour plan was roughly 3 days in each location with one planned activity in each place, with travelling days and ‘me’ days scattered around these. The following morning I decided to take an excursion to the Big Buddha and Wat Chalong which was great because it gave us chance to get to know each other, particularly in the crazy tuk tuk ride there. The guys plugged their phones in so we had ‘young person dance music I’m really out of touch with’ ha, no it was fine- it suited the mood. I couldn’t quite help wondering what they would’ve done had I put some Black Sabbath on.

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As we approached the temple the same standards were expected-no shoes and covering of most of your skin, which was really tricky in the heat. Incense and candles burned and at the side of the road a chimney type structure suddenly erupted with firecrackers-P1050667thankfully not gunshots as we all thought at first!

My roommate Sandy took time out this day, as along with the big group had been out all night drinking, watching ladyboys and a ping pong show, if you don’t know what that is, tough, google it.

Painfully for her, she suffered from a hangover and sunstroke which was a reminder about taking care of myself, everything seems heightened in Thailand – particularly the sun, the spice and the hangovers…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soundtrack: Bob Marley – Could You Be Loved, The Cure – Hot, Hot, Hot

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Chiang Mai Pt II Hilltribe Family

What I didn’t realise is that the next 4 days would be like no other..

After a 4.30pm finish from the elephant camp I had 1 hour before I had to be at the next hotel to meet with the trip leader and group. Art was our CEO, an easy-going of half Thai/half Chinese heritage. Our group consisted of Sarah & Emilian, Lizzie & Ryan, Jess, and sisters Daisy and Lucy -all brits! It was nice for some familiar company and I already knew that this was going to be a good trip. We had some drinks together that evening at the Walking Market- the Thais are mad on their night time activity and boy, it was buzzing. We had a few beers, and Mojitos were 70 Baht (£1.35 ish!) I was comforted by the decent cd collection behind the bar and continued to choose tracks the rest of the evening whilst a game of pool commenced.

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So after trying to ram everything into my small backpack so that the weight wouldn’t be a burden, we had a 7am(!) departure from Chiang Mai to the trail head Pa Mai Daeng. This was a pretty excruciating hilly 4 hours even in a comfortable air conditioned van, I knew I had to be sick. The hill climb was unreal!

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When we arrived at the trek starting point we were joined by a member of each hill tribe, and armed with a trusty bamboo stick, or Gandalf staff as I liked to think of mine.

Walking is such a healing exercise, it can be social and yet gives you copious time to clear your mind – the perfect balance. After a couple of hours of walking through varied rich woodland we stopped for lunch. Lunch consisted of a cute bundle of rice wrapped in a banana leaf, with meats and veg, little did I know that this would be the same meal for breakfast lunch and dinner!

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In the afternoon we continued through rice fields, whilst learning about bush, food and medicinal plants and the ‘Spirit houses’ that are everywhere across Thailand. We arrived hot and a little broken at the Lahu village. The Lahu have just 7 families living in the area and it was really basic. The mud was a rusty red, the houses made from bamboo and other gathered materials. The squat toilet was essentially a hole in the ground that you use a saucepan of water from a bucket to flush – much easier for a man. The ‘shower’ haha, was an open viewed tap with a bucket. Never will I complain about festival portaloos again.

Pretty much instantaneously our group was separated, 2 of us to each family. Myself and Jess helped remove sundried corn to feed the chickens and drank tea with Langsee (our charismatic Karen village guide). Our beds were pretty good actually, a mattress on the floor with enough blankets and not forgetting the trusty mosquito net. I did get massively jabbed up by my friend Emma before travelling, so felt reassured. Food was served cooked over log fires, as we tried our very best to interact with the family that couldn’t speak any English, so I just kept saying thank you in Thai and my miming skills are exceptional now. Bedtime was early – no electricity, yet a perfect 3G signal and Nokia ringtones going off every so often HELLO, YEAH, NO TOILET’ etc.

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After a decent nights sleep we awoke to a beautiful sunlight. We were given clothes to dress in that are made and worn by the Lahu people. We visited the school, which had 1 teacher for around 4 classes(!) and bought some woven souvenirs from our family.

We left the Lahu for a long hilly climb between villages, over farmlands and grasslands to ascend the ridge line. Langsee showed us corn, passion fruit and tobacco that was drying in the sun along the way. I tried some wrapped in a dried banana leaf – think the strength of 10 cigarettes in 1!

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After a total of 6 hours walking we arrived at Langsee’s village, home of the Karen people. Here it was much bigger, roughly 180 families, each with their own noisy animals (I had a cockerel under my bed 2 nights in a row). It was a different feel here, there was electricity, a shower bucket with a door and light(!) This time we all joined together in Langsee’s pad for food and drink over a lush roaring fire. The stars looked INCREDIBLE and everyone was in really good spirits.

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Our last day was a short 2 hour walk predominantly through rivers which was lovely in the heat and so peaceful. We fed fish with local flora and took a small ride to Tham Lod– a 1666m deep cave-yeah mann! We took a bamboo raft through the imposing cave through the different chambers, lead by a lantern, it was magical.

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I’m sure you can appreciate I have condensed my experience somewhat! I know and realise that this 4 days will stay with me and remain a high point of my trip, emotions were certainly heightened and we all become a family.

 

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Soundtrack: Dead Can Dance – Spirit, One Giant Leap – I Love The Way You Dream

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Chiang Mai Pt I-Art, Elephants & Wet Pants

Sitting in Chiang Mai station, feeling relaxed and free, Blind Melon playing on my headphones sounding sweet, and I find myself reflecting on how this feels. It’s good to pause. Flying is actually really fun and liberating and completely affordable in Thailand – it will be a total of 7 flights before I reach New Zealand. The heat has been totally bearable so far, I enjoy waking up early and the warmth on my skin. It seems that everywhere is air conditioned, which is great although I’m pretty sure it’s given me a sore throat.

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I had yet another taxi ride which consists of disjointed conversation alongside tragic boyband music (they love it) and the questions 1. How old are you? 2.Are you single? 3. Why are you on your own? All light-hearted of course, my response is usually ‘it’s easier’ because maybe I don’t really know why, maybe because nobody else wanted to come? Maybe I didn’t want them to come (in the nicest possible way) It hasn’t bothered me, I know it’s really early days and the night times could be massively more fun and exhilarating with a group of friends, presence makes a difference, but it’s just how it is – it’s all good.

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Chiang Mai feels instantly calmer after the madness of Bangkok. I booked into an art gallery hotel called Art Mai? which is absolutely beautiful. Each floor is designed by a local artist and themed on an art genre – I’m on the abstract floor! My room has an easel to create art and I found myself doing a happy dance around the room with excitement.

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There are lots of boutique hotels and cafes around and the old city that hosts a night bazaar, no time for boredom. I have experienced a beautiful 2-hour long Thai massage (turns out I enjoy being squashed) and am very much enjoying the freshness and quality of the food, oh and the cheap beer.

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I have packed a lot in for my time in Thailand but tried to have a couple of days in between to relax and reflect on each experience. On the second of my free days in Chiang Mai I booked myself in to spend time with elephants and experience the day as a mahout. I was picked up from the hotel alongside a couple from France, 3 Australians and a guy from Seattle. After a quick change into what seemed to be 90’s denim prison fashion, we were instructed on how to climb onto and command the elephant. Bai – forward, Toy – backward and um, I can’t remember the word for stop…

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I climbed the elephant by holding the top of her ear, a fold of her skin, she then lifts her leg with you on it and well, you kind of make a jump for it and hope for the best! Totally strange but really good when you relax into the movement. When you’re ready to get off you put your legs forward over her head, which she then lowers and you slide off! this seemed about a 2 mile drop for me. We walked for around an hour through the forest and river which lead to us bathing the elephants, this was incredible, what powerful clever creatures they are, I really was in awe of them.

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I didn’t get the memo about swimwear so had wet pants the rest of the day -yay! I was careful to choose a company that rescued and rehabilitated elephants, rather than exploiting them purely for tourist purposes. There was no use of chairs (completely bare back and natural) and no use of metal canes or any of hideous tools. It was a case of the elephant responding to commands, whether you think mine did or not I’ll let you decide…

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Soundtrack: Blind Melon – Sleepyhouse, Guano Apes – Rain