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Malaysia Part 1

Ancient Histories and Modern Cities


View rtw on pmunson's travel map.

We are now on to an overland segment of our trip were we will travel by bus, boat, and train for a long time before boarding a plane again. At least that is the plan under its current revision! It could not be at a better time after our lousy day at the airport in Sydney. We boarded a very comfortable bus for a 4 hour ride to the town of Melaka in Malaysia. Situated on the straights of Melaka this historic port city was a strategic and wealthy trade center with China, India, Thailand, and Indonesia. In 1405 the Chinese Sailor Chung Ho stopped in Melaka on the first of his 7 sea voyages between China and points west. This led to a long and colorful history that can bee seen in the architecture and read about in the museums. Melaka was declared a World Heritage Site some time in the last couple years. Hopefully this will help preserve the charm and old buildings.
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Dutch Buildings from their occupation of Melaka in the 1700’s
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Old Buildings along the Straights of Melaka
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Old Rooftops and the odd Satellite dish.

We had arrived Melaka on a busy Holiday weekend and the town was bursting at the seams with local Malaysians and Singaporeans out for the long weekend. There were a ton of rickshaw drivers out and about in their over decorated bikes. It was almost like a competition to see who had the most lavishly decorated bike with the most lights, pinwheels, and of course the loudest sound system.
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King of the Trikes in his kingdom of happy tourists

Their was also a lively night market going on and the main drag through the old town was closed off and full of vendors hawking food and assorted junk. It was fun to walk around and take it all in even though the crowds were a little overwhelming. At the far end of the walk they had erected a stage big enough for Woodstock 3 and what a scene it was. Folks gathered to sit in plastic chairs while people sang karaoke over an enormous sound system. It was really odd and to make it even stranger their was the scene on stage. The stage itself was huge. Front and center on a small stand was a small TV which the singer stood in front of. Other than this the only thing else on the stage was a 6 foot tall Asian man looking especially feminine and most likely wearing makeup. He was dancing. He was the only person dancing. He was not the MC, did not announce the singers or say anything, just resumed his dancing as soon as the music started. Truly weird.
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Eat your heart out Tony, this is Malaysian Karaoke!
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Doing the Jonga Walk!
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Wooden sculpture for sale in the market

One fun thing we did that felt far from home was a visit to the fish spa. Here for less than $3 a bunch of curios little fish went to town on all the dead skin on your feet. Up to this point we both had accumulated a lot of dead skin and this left our feat feeling soft and smooth!
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Feasting Fish!

We also went out for a true taste of adventure dining. We went to a satay restaurant that was not to be missed. Here locals qued up outside in the street to get in for the well known fare. Just as we started to realize we were the only westerners in line a Malaysian gentleman in front of us struck up conversation by asking how we found out about this place! He was really nice and gave us the low down on how things worked and what to order. Unfortunately even with his recommendations, and him pointing things out to me before we got in, we still had very little idea about what most things were and there were not a lot of easy options. All the tables in the restaurant were stainless steel and each was hooked up to a propane tank with a recessed burner in the middle. Here they would place a pot with the magical sauce that made the place so legendary. Along one wall was a open cooler with trays stacked with many many different meats, seafood, vegetables, breads, and other assorted items we could not identify. You loaded up your tray with what you wanted and then cooked it in the boiling sauce at your table. People were going to town! Tables were overflowing with trays and spattered sauce as people crammed in to get their feed on. It was delicious, and those of you that know me know I do not use that term lightly. If we knew what we were eating and had a crew of friends with us I could see how it would be a really fun dinner. When it was all said and done the meal was less than ten dollars and we were both very full.
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Queing up for Capital Satay… Can you find Meghan?
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Hmmm… so many choices so little clues
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Get your tiger prawn on!

From here it was on to the capital city of Malaysia and home to the famous Petronas towers, Kuala Lumpur. Here we met face to face with a gritty city that seemed cosmopolitan in some places and downright grungy in others. The Public transportation system (are you noticing a theme yet) was a mess with 4 different systems that did not work with each other and lousy streets for walking. We tried to occupy our time but generally did not really enjoy it to much. I am sure KL has a lot to offer but we were growing tired of big cities after Sydney and Singapore and were eager to get out to the country side. We did take in a very cool bird park in the city’s gardens. It was advertised as the worlds largest free flight bird avitory. It was a lot of fun and we got to have lunch with a few inquisitive hornbills at the parks hornbill café.
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Petronas Towers
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The impressive Hornbill reducing himself to a thief of french fries

Another part of KL that seamed unavoidable was the Mega shopping malls on every street corner. This was almost even more prevalent than in Singapore and as Christmas was getting closer there was even more activity. Muslim families, dressed head to toe in traditional Islamic garb, waited in line to plop their kids on Santa’s lap for a photo while songs glorifying the birth of Christ played in the background? Explain that one to us. Here we found the Christmas commercialism at its best with gaudy store windows and hordes of Malaysians buying into the Christmas spirit.
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Is this Malaysia?

In need of escape we found an elusive bus stop and jumped on board for a few days out of town in a small town called Kuala Selangor. This place was a bit off the guide book tourist track and we enjoyed a few quiet nights in a town without tour guides and English menus. Did I say quiet? I am sure I have already mentioned the fact that everywhere you go in Malaysia there is a Muslim Mosque and they blare their call to prayer five time daily over loudspeakers for all the country to hear. The first has been somewhere close to the 5am hour! It is not that bad when it is not waking you up in the morning because the song prayers most places have been actually really good and interesting to listen to. In Kuala Selangor we enjoyed playing with monkeys, walking in a nice nature park when the huge water monitor lizards would let us pass, and a boat trip up a river that was lined with berembang trees that were home to thousands of fireflies. We considered this our Christmas lights as it was a spectacular sight.

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Feel free to find some recorded prayers online, crank up the speakers, and spend and early morning with Meghan and I
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Water Monitor Lizard
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Mangrove forest at nature park
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Friendly Monkey, maybe a little to friendly
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One more photo and I go bananas

We had to head back to KL for a few nights before heading into the high country so we took a trip out of town to the Batu Caves. Here a flight of 272 steps in the shadow of a giant golden statue of the Murugan, one of the many Hindu gods, leads to a giant limestone cave filled with shrines. This was impressive but had we come about a month later it would have been the bizarre festival of Thaipusam. During this time up to a million pilgrims make their way to these caves. Some devotees display exorbitant acts body piercing in a devotion of fulfillment of answered prayers.
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Entrance To the Batu Caves
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Lunch at Batu Caves - Best Indian food yet!

Posted by pmunson 05:04 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Kuala Lumpur to Penang

Malaysia part 2

We were glad to get out of Kuala Lumpur for the second time. We were heading inland for the first time and to the largest National Park in Malaysia, Teman Negara. Home to hidden elephants and tigers, the park has a lot of jungle trekking and the worlds longest canopy walk. After the 4 hour bus ride to the closest town with a bus station we had to hop a quick cab to the jetty were we arrived a few minutes before the last scheduled departure of the day. Here a long boat took us on a three hour tour up a wide and muddy river through dense forest. We felt the full force of a tropical downpour for some of the ride but managed to keep ourselves mostly dry. This was one of two ways to reach this entrance to the park. The other being via road, we opted for the longer, wetter and not as comfortable 3 hour long boat trip, but worth every second!

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Long boats to Teman Negara
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Caught in the rain

We stayed two nights in a colorful guest house and spent an entire day exploring a very small part of the park including the canopy walk. ½ of the 580 meter walk was closed for repairs but the ½ we saw was still impressive. A rope bridge with a narrow plank walkway was spread out from one tall tree to the next high above the jungle floor. In one section their was a ladder staircase that had one lady in tears, cursing her family for “making” her come there! Because of the rainy season the trails were really muddy and the hiking was slow going and difficult. We were able to get to the top of one of the smaller peaks for a view. On the way back we spotted the leaches we were warned about. One on my leg and a few more on our boots. These little suckers looked more like an inchworm than the fat black leaches I remember from home. They rise up out of the mud and come inching towards you at surprising speed. Really creepy but generally harmless unless you let a whole lot of them go unnoticed.

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Walking the Canopy
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The view of things to come (Rain) from Bukit Terisek in Teman Negara

The layout of the park entrance and accompanying village was pretty interesting. HQ stood at the junction of two large rivers while the village was on the opposite side. There were water taxis that would take you back and fourth across the river for about 30 cents US. The village was composed of a few floating restaurants lining the shore. From the floating restaurants there were gangplanks leading to shore were a few muddy paths led up the hill to an eclectic cluster of guesthouses, locals homes, and a few odd convenience store like shops. Other than that their was not to much going on.

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Long boats
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Floating Restaurant
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Tahan Gueast House

We opted for the more expensive and less challenging transport option to our next stop in the Cameron Highlands. Instead of taking three or four buses and perhaps losing a day in a town that we were not sure had accommodation we decided to pay at least twice as much to take a mini bus ride in a sort of shared taxi through one of the tour operators. It was faster than the bus, a little less comfortable, and used a lot less brain power!

Ahh the Cameron Highlands! At 5000 feet above see level the air was cool and dry! Well maybe not compared to our home in Colorado but it was a welcomed refuge from the heat and humidity. We were actually cold the first night! We stayed in a marvelously simple guesthouse with a gracious host who could not have been more friendly. There is plenty of good trekking in the area as well as expansive tea plantations but we decided to take our first day off and just laze around the guesthouse. When we did get out we walked though a beautiful tea plantation were endless rolling hillsides were lush with tea bushes and workers out cutting the leaf. We learned about the tea making process and took our afternoon tea at the elevated tea house/visitor center over looking over the grounds. The cool weather made for nice walking so we decided to walk all the way back out to the main road.

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Boa Tea Plantation
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Boa Tea Plantation
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Employee Housing
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In addition to modern machinery they still cut the steepest parts of the plantation the old fashioned way

Meghan caught a bit of a cold while on the bus ride in so she took it easy for a few days. During this time I made it out on a long hike to a couple of peaks with good views of the town and surrounding areas. The trails were hard to follow in some places and I actually wound up hiking farther than I had originally planned. I came out of the jungle in a village that was still holding on to some of its old ways. I had to walk straight through the village and got as many strange looks as smiling faces before I was on the way to the main road again.

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Cameron Highlands View
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Village at the end of my hike

From the Highlands it was onto Penang, an island on the north east coast of Malaysia and was designated a World Heritage Sight, as was Melaka. The draw of Penang for most is the old city with its temples, architecture and people than beaches or water sports. We somehow found ourselves staying at the worst guesthouse yet, complete with awfully musty and moldy rooms and a rat infestation.

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Anyone for a Bath?

We randomly ran into the father son Germans for the fourth of our 5 stops in Malaysia and wound up drinking beers with them and they got us to go to some really cheesy nightclub. Being Saturday after the new year it was super quiet and at one time we were the only ones in the entire place.
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Dinner with Lutz and his Father
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Tasty Satay
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A little Seafood action for all my people on the East Coast

We also visited the best temple that we had been to yet but the real highlight was the town itself. Penang was stocked up with old world charm. Everywhere you walked their were dark old shops were men huddled around fixing old broken machinery. Or shops where old Chinese men wove whicker furniture, repaired trishaws, sewed clothing, sold spare parts out of oily cardboard boxes, or carved signs by hand. The city was filled with ancient architecture in picturesque states of decay. There were endless narrow alleyways and side streets that one could get lost in for hours at a time. On one of my walks I came across an really cool old antiques shop. It was once a bike repair shop and now was more of one man’s personal museum. There were bikes dating back to the 30’s and cases full of old parts, peddles and accessories. There was an entire case filled with old leather saddles and a lot of them were the popular Brooks brand still made today. Some of the bikes crammed into the shop were really interesting models I hade never herd of or seen before. I took hundreds of photos in Penang as every inch of the city was interesting. Here are a few.

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Overcrowded turtle pond at the entrance to Kek Lok Si Temple
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10,000 Buddhas Pagoda at Kek Lok Si
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To Many Pictures of Penang (Georgetown)
Temples
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Windows and Doors

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Bicycles

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Other Random Penang
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Fishing Village
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Slow Food Cafe

From here we are on to Thailand. Malaysia was an incredibly interesting country with its diverse populations. We did not try to explore the less populated east coast were most of the beaches and islands were because it was monsoon season. While we were disappointed about this we knew that we would have plenty of time on the beach in Thailand. This left us with the old cities of Melaka and Penang, the outdoors oriented Cameron Highlands and Taman Negara National Park, the small town of Kuala Selangor, and the capital of Kuala Lumpur. The highlights for me were the world heritage cities for their old world charm and interesting architecture followed by Cameron highlands simply because for the cool dry climate. The people of Malaysia we came in contact with were really friendly and helpful. I feel like we got a good taste of western peninsular Malaysia. But much more remains to be explored including Borneo!

Posted by pmunson 05:22 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Southern Thailand and the Andaman Coast

Perfecting the Art of Doing Nothing

It is Islands and beaches to start our South to North trip through Thailand and relaxation is high up on the priority list!

We departed Malaysia on a bus driven by the Chinese version of Mario Unsteady. A man with a death wish and a lead foot that brought complaints from the other passengers for his reckless driving. After driving circles around Penang for an hour we were out on the highway and on our way to Hat Yai. We just made a quick transfer here on our way to Pac Bara and were glad to be in and out as it was one of the locations of violence between Islamic Separatist groups and the Thai Government. Pac Bara is a costal town and the jumping of point for the islands of the Ko Tarutao National Marine Park. We had missed the last ferry so we spent the night in a pleasant bungalow and had a nice dinner at an ocean side restaurant that was geared more towards the locals than us Ferang (foreigners)
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Pac Bara bungalows
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Fishing Boats at the Pier in Pac Bara

The next morning we were whisked away from the sweltering mainland to the island of Ko Lipe. First Class all the way we went by the more expensive speed boat. Taking the easy, fast, and expensive travel option has become an nasty habit that we will need to shake if we plan on enduring for the full year, but there is more on that to come.
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4 of the 6 engines powered by foreign investment!
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Floating Fishing Shack

Ko Lipe does not have a pier so we were required to exit the speedboat onto a floating pier were long tail boats were lined up and ready to take us to shore. The long tail is somewhat of a southern Thai Icon and I will let the pictures handle the explanation. The sea was not exactly calm, our legs were not exactly rock solid after the long ride in, and Meghan did not exactly make a graceful transfer from boat to pier to boat. BUT! Everything stayed dry and we made it in without leaving any of our lunch along the way!

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Ko Lipe Coming into View
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Long Tails waiting to bring us to shore

Ko Lipe is a small Island without any roads or cars and not to long ago was the type of place you could come to get away from it all. However a lager portion of Thailand’s visitors must be trying to get away from it all because we found a very busy Island. There were no cars but there were bulldozers and backhoes making way for more beds for more visitors. Unfortunateiy the Island has been going through an un sustainable growth spurt. This was more apparent with every passing minute as we completely circled the island trying to find accommodation for over three hours while more ferries were arriving. But enough with the bad on with the good! We found a bed at the Handicraft Bungalows that were right on the beach. It was bohemian artsy paradise with a hodgepodge double decker bar and chairs and mats out on the beach were we spent the next four nights sipping beers and watching the sun go down.
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We would have liked to stay at the Porn Resort but they were all full.
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It is not Corona but you get the point
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Our Spot at Handicraft
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Home Sweet Home - Beachfront thatched bungalow complete with outdoor shower, $15 a night.

Other than idling away outside our bungalow we did get out for a boat tour of 5 of the 51 Islands in Ko Tarutao National Marine Park and did some great snorkeling. The snorkeling around Ko Lipe was good but this was amazing. We saw very colorful coral and spotted two lion fish which was really cool. We met a nice couple from Sweden on the boat (it was just us and them) and they recommended another island in Thailand that we decided almost on the spot that would be our next stop.

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Rusty old long tail engine, Ko Lipe
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Sunset Beach, Ko Lipe
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Still some spots available for Sunset, Ko Lipe
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Secluded stop on the snorkeling tour
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Another View of Handicraft with our bungalow on the right

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My favorite time of day

We reluctantly moved on and back to the mainland for 2 nights in Krabi Town before heading out to the recommended Ko Jum Island. In Krabi town we took trip by long tail boat up the coast to the beaches of the Laem Phra Nang (Railey) Peninsula. Here we found beautiful beaches and hoards of tourists monopolizing the pristine sand. After an extremely steep and muddy hike that did not bring us to the lagoon we were trying to find (to steep, too muddy) we made our way out to Ao Phra Nang beach. Here white sands met turquoise waters framed by towering limestone cliffs and palm trees. There were a lot of caves and interesting rock formations to explore and tons of climbing routs made the area a rock climbers mecca. It is a truly beautiful spot and we had a great day.

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Laem Phra Nang Peninsula
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This is Southern Thailand
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Ao Phra Nang beach
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Ao Phra Nang beach

What it lacked in scenery compared to other places we have been Ko Jum more than made up in hospitality and tranquility. Once off the ferry and onto the long tail we immediately noticed that nobody was on the beach. There were only four places to find accommodation on the north part of the island and we were headed to one. Upon landing we were greeted with a glass of fresh juice and lots of smiles. We checked into a very nice bungalow with a 4 post bed, comfortable mattress, and beautiful linens. Nice linens have been a luxury we have not had so far on this trip. Mostly sleeping in our sleep sacks or under starchy and stiff linens this was indeed a true treat. Ting Rai Bay Bungalows proved to be a great recommendation and reinforced our methodology of word of mouth rather than guide book travel, something we had gotten away from in Malaysia and Singapore. I unfortunately had my first touch of a stomach bug and spent the first afternoon not feeling well and the better half of the 2nd day on the island in bed feeling weak. By late afternoon I was feeling better and back on the beach watching the surf once again.
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Our Beautiful Bed, Ko Jum
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Ocean View Massage and my Morning Yoga spot
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Ting Rai Bay Bungalows, Ko Jum

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Common covered areas for lounging, not just for tourists, but found in front of many Thai homes.
There is not much to do in Ko Jum. Basically "eat, read, swim, and sleep (not necessarily in that order)". We are working on perfecting the art of doing nothing and it is harder than you may think! I started the third day with an early morning yoga session on the deck of the beachfront bar. It was hard to concentrate with the monkey’s in the trees above but I did my best. After breakfast and a little swim it was into the beach chair with the Girl who Played with Fire (not Meghan, the book) and the rest of the day was history. Well not really. I did manage to get some hacki sac in and we did meet a really nice couple from South Africa who had lots of recommendations for us including a restaurant down the beach where we joined them for dinner and long conversations from Harley rallies to politics! This turned out to be the general routine in Ko Jum and before we knew it our four nights had come and gone and we did not get anything done! Well, We got exactly what we wanted done… whole lot of beach time and relaxation.

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Meghan Takes in a Sunset Swing
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Barry and Viv
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Sunset, Still the only thing on my “to do” list.

Next it is across the Peninsula to the Gulf coast and some Scuba Diving in Kah Tao… More to come!

Posted by pmunson 21:23 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

Jungle Trekking to Scuba Diving

Khao Sok to Ko Tao

Khao Sok and Ko Tao

We did our best on the way out of Ko Jum to avoid the mini busses and to take local transportation and we did a good job of it. After a twice as long trip we saved 50% of our travel expense, a whopping $12!

Khao Sok is southern Thailand’s largest national park and is known for it excellent hiking trails and a spectacular lake. There is a small village at the entrance and here we found a nice bungalow at the Khao Sok Rainforest Resort. It was right on the Khao Sok river and away from the little village. It seamed perfect so we checked in for two nights and had dinner at the on site restaurant. Here is were things started going wrong. The food was less than mediocre (especially for Meghan) and “Mr. Sexy” (self proclaimed and local trekking guide) would not leave us alone and the manager flat out lied to us about hiking in the park trying to sell us an overpriced tour. She told us that the park rangers would not let us hike past a certain point without a guide. This tuned out to be completely false and we had a great hike on our own the next day to a waterfall and great swimming hole. The relentless tour operators really put us off and we decided to skip the $100 trip to the lake. In hindsight this may have been a mistake but we were not alone in our feelings towards the pushy tour operators after talking with another couple on their way out as well. So, after enjoying the trails but not the “tourist village”, seriously, that is what it is called, we pressed on to Surat Thani were we would catch the night ferry to Ko Ta. More on that in the Joy of Travel Part 2!
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Tourist Village Locals Playing Takraw
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Meet the Khao Sok Neighbors
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Viewpoint Of Khao Sok above our bungalow
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The last water fall on our hike and a great swimming hole
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Gnarly buttress tree roots
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Bamboo
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The Elusive Phasmatodea (Stick Insect). Hard to see in the trees and hard not to step on when in the trail.

We spent about ½ of a day in Surat Thani waiting for the ferry to Ko Tao. We were able to get some research done on the road ahead of us in an public library with free internet and AC which was a nice break from the heat. Our ferry was not until late at night so we had an excellent and cheep dinner from food stalls on a market street and took in some of a bizarre shadow puppet show outside a temple. Before boarding the boat we found a guy with a tea stand that he ran out of an old VW van that he called the Hippie Trip! He had little kids plastic chairs in bright primary colors spread out on the sidewalk outside his van were we squatted down and enjoyed some traditional Thai tea. We felt like this was weird enough before the elephant came walking down the street! As I wondered what exactly was in my tea , and if Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club band was coming around the corner next, Meghan jumped up and made a new friend! Unfortunately this is not uncommon and is actually and unemployed elephant and handler.
With modernization of transportation and a ban on logging, elephants that were once trained to transport goods through rugged terrain are finding themselves “redundant”. Mahouts, elephant handlers, are also out of work. With the average working career of 50 years for an elephant and a life span of 80 years these Mahout/elephant teams have turned to the streets charging tourists for a hand full of bananas or sugar cane to offer the elephant. There is also a superstition which if a pregnant women walks under the trunk of an elephant she will have an easy birth. Of course the Mahout charges for this!

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The business end of a shadow puppet show
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Differing grades of rice for sale, Surat Thani
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Chilies
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Meghan and the magical street elephant.

Ko Tao 01/19/10 to 01/26/10

After decompressing form the night ferry we found ourselves on the really busy but also really cool beach of Ko Tao. Hat Sai Ree is the main and most developed beach on the Island. It is on the West coast (our favorite place to be) and the beachfront is completely lined with bars, restaurants, and bungalows. There is brick path that runs the length of the beach behind the first wave of development and then a bigger road behind that. We came to Ko Tao to dive and I decided to do my dive course with Phoenix divers who offer an open water cert for about $200 USD. Compared to over $600 I would have paid to do it in a pool back home I am glad I waited. As with the rest of the island, Phoenix divers is completely laid back and operates on island time. This was a little unnerving while learning about a potentially deadly sport but I just went with the flow. For the first 4 days we were on the island I pretty much went to school in the morning and dove in the afternoon. Meghan took this time to relax and to do a refresher course so that we would be able to dive together when I was finished. As it turned out she was able to come along on my final two dives. . The best part about it was actually being part of the environment as opposed to just a detached viewer on the surface as we had been on all the snorkeling we had done.
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My dive buddy and inspiration for further facial hair growth, Paddy from Vancouver
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Phoenix Divers pink dive boat
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Not all fun and games, I had homework!

We spent Meghan’s 31st birthday on Ko Tao. We started the day off with a day trip to the BEAUTIFUL little Island of Nangyuan off the NW corner of Ko Tao. Here three small islands are joined by a long sandbar to form a picture perfect tropical paradise. We took a longboat taxi right from the AC2 restaurant and were dropped off on the small wooden pier at Nangyuan. Here we paid a 100 baht ($3) entry fee as this is a private Island and made our way around to the sandbar on a rickety old wooden walkway above the rocky coast. This in itself was fun and picturesque and it was only the beginning. A concrete staircase brought us 95% of the way up to a rocky view point were after a little climbing around the rocks and other tourists we were able to take in a truly breathtaking view of the narrow beach that awaited us below. Unfortunately it was short-lived as it was a popular spot and their was very little precious space on the rock outcropping to take in the view. Down on the walkway the views got better as you made your way around the island and the beach came into view. We were lucky enough to be able to secure some beach chairs on the prime strip of beach. Out of about 20 sets of chairs and umbrella we grabbed the last one available and claimed our spot for the afternoon. In front of us was the best snorkeling spot on the island. An abundance of different coral gave the spot its namesake the Japanese Garden. Right behind us was another snorkeling spot that was un-named and while not as beautiful as the Japanese Garden it was still impressive. The three islands connected by two narrow sandbars created three bays and we were sandwiched between the to largest. The strip of sand was maybe 20 feet wide were we were. We could turn out chairs to face each other, both be covered by the shade of the umbrella, and both with a separate and magnificent view! Amazing.
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Nandyuan Island(s) from the viewpoint
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The Walkway
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The Sandbar
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One more just because it was so beautiful

After wasting the day away snorkeling and reading the boat came too soon to pick us up and bring us back to our accommodation at AC2. I had proposed Thai Massages but Meghan just wanted to sit on the beach some more so we watched sunset before heading out for an excellent Italian Dinner at one of the better restaurants on the island. Pizza and Pasta! A nice change of pace from the steady diet of Thai food.
The next day we were up early again for our fist real dive together. Their had been a big party at the bar next door and the all night revelers were still hard at it as we pushed off in the dive boat at 7:30 AM! I use an exclamation point but this actually was really annoying to us. Ko Tao is beautiful above and below the ocean but it felt like the vast majority of the people here saw very little sunlight. The majority of the crowd was of the spring break frat party scene and not very respectful of their environment be it the way they treated the locals, presented themselves, or littered the Island. But… Back to the Dive. We headed out 45 minutes ride in big waves and a rocking boat. It felt good to get under the water and away from the rocking boat. Meghan who normally is easily affected by motion sickness found some good drugs and performed like a champ on the unsteady boat. Under the water our Dive master pointed out lots of cool fish and led us around the southwest pinnacle were the water was too deep for us to go all the way to the bottom. When we returned to the surface and got back on the boat we found out a few people had been tossing their cookies off the side and we were going to head back closer to the island for the 2nd dive where the sea would be calmer. After convincing the Captain and Dive Masters not to go back to White rock for my 3rd time we went to a sight called Pottery. Here it was not so deep and we got to see a lot more coral and some sea life we haven’t seen before including the polka doted porcupine fish and the spotted nudibranch. Tons of fun and great to be with each other in the weightless environment that is scuba. Are you for Scuba? Yes, we are for scuba!
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Heading out to the dive boat on deceptively calm sea
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Meghan getting geared up
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Dive boats lining up at one of the more popular sights


The next few days we just sat in the sun a did not really leave the AC2 Restaurant. It was nice as we were starting to get to know the locals here and it was fun to just loaf it for a few days. Ko Tao was amazing and really frustrating at the same time. Once again we felt like were not in our element and just part of the tourist trail we were trying to avoid. We were able to meet two cool couples who seamed to have the same feelings as we did. A quote from a website I have been using sums it up… ”Judge for yourself, but this easy, fun-filled (cheap living, cheap girls and even cheaper beer) country attracts visitors of all types from all over the world for just that purpose. There isn't much class or culture in most of the offerings to these tourists and the sight can leave a bad taste in the mouth as might be experienced in Cancun, Ibiza Town and the like.”
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Ko Tao Fire Dance
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AC2 By Night
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Touching up the paint job on Sai Ree Beach
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Meghan got alot better at backgammon on Ko Tao!
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Save Ko Tao
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I could not leave you without a sunset shot!

Onto the big city of Bangkok. Stay tuned, more to come from the land of smiles.

Posted by pmunson 02:19 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

The Joy of Travel Pt. 2

Sleeping with Strangers

We join you back in Khao Sok were a lake trip was desired but not easily attainable with out hurting the budget….

What I really wanted to do here was the lake trip. It appeared that the only way to do it was on an expensive day trip so we decided to set out on our own to the lake the next morning. Up at 6:30 am and out to the bus stop after a mile walk by 7:00, trying to catch the 7:30 bus. 7:30, 8:00, 9:00, 9:15! Over two hours later we were still squatting on the same little roadside bench waiting for a bus. We spoke with a few people including one local who I believed when he told me it was more expensive to do it on your own than with the tour. Frustrated and tired we decided just to skip it and press on to Surat Thani, the departure point to our next destination of Ko Tao. We hoped on a mini bus that took us all the way for not that much more than the bus after some negotiation. At Surat Thani we were greeted with the prospect of taking the night ferry to our next destination of Ko Tao. That being said after getting up at 6:30 and waiting for a bus that never came for two hours we were tired and a little grumpy and the prospect of waiting until 11:00 (it was now about noon) for the night ferry did not sound too appealing. We went for it any way because we did not want to stay in Surat Thani and the night ferry would save us one nights accommodation. The time finally came to head out to the ferry. The ferry had two levels. The bottom was jammed full with goods being shipped to Ko Tao and the top had both sides lined with twin mattresses side by side. We did not think it would be all that bad until we realized that it was 2 per twin mattress and completely full! A bunch of drunk college type guys compounded the problem (seriously, these guys were past obnoxious). Throw in rough seas and 9 hours ride time and we reached Ko Tao completely glazed over and ready for sleep. The night boat truly was a unique experience. Sandwiched between over 60 strangers on a rocking boat threw then night is something I will not forget and would never trade for a first class seat on a luxury boat, it is all part of the adventure!
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Before and after night ferry shots

Posted by pmunson 02:42 Archived in Thailand Tagged boating Comments (1)

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