A Travellerspoint blog

January 2010

The Joy of Travel - Pt. 1

Planes trains and Automobiles (not necessarily in that order).

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Ahh the Joy of traveling. I am writing this in the Darwin airport and hopefully we get into Singapore with less difficulty than we have gotten out of Sydney. We were able to catch the shuttle, in which would not bring us to Glebe from the airport on arrival to Sydney, without much difficulty other than the driver arriving 20 minutes early. Fortunately we were prepared. We got off at the international airport only to find we needed to go to the domestic airport (as opposed to what the airlines website indicated). A five dollar train ride and a 120 second trip, we were at domestic. After a quick panic attack when Meghan temporarily could not locater her passport we got in the line to check in. We learned here that we needed to have proof of onward travel from Singapore, which we did not have. Frantic but still with plenty of time we went to the service desk to purchase a fully refundable ticket out of Singapore that we would later have refunded. The friendly Jetstar representative slowly found us a ticket while answering phones and holding a conversation with her coworker and proceeded to tell me that all three of my credit cards were declined. Or at least she thought they were declined. This lead to a longwinded phone conversation with her supervisor who could not run our cards either and left me a little sweaty and generally nervous that we were going back to Glebe! Meghan still had her whit’s about her and came up with the idea of booking the flight ourselves online. The only internet computers were in the terminal so I had to jump in line, go through security, and locate a CPU in the terminal. This was easy enough and when I got to the cash only CPU I realized I only had enough Australian dollars for 14 minutes of internet time. Convinced it was not enough time I raced through the online booking process and had tickets purchased in 7 minutes. Onward! After Meghan got checked by security for explosives we were on to the terminal were we were told that our flight was 45 minutes late. That is 45 minutes out of the 90 that we had in Darwin to collect our bags, check into our flight to Singapore, and clear customs. My fingers are crossed!

Posted by pmunson 03:08 Archived in Australia Tagged air_travel Comments (3)

Singapore

Street food and shopping malls

semi-overcast 85 °F
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Well we made it into Singapore after our horrendous day of travel out of Australia. Getting out of the airport was much easier than anywhere we have been yet. Everything is bright, shiny, and well organized. A quick ride on the MRT (Singapore’s public transport train) brought us to our stop and we were out on the street in the heat and humidity. A quick word on the MRT. Everything is automated and in order to pay for your fare you simply step up to a kiosk with a map of the city and press on it were you want to go. The machine calculates your fare and after you have paid it spits out a plastic ticket that looks and feels like a credit card. This you simply tap on a pad on the turnstile and the gates open up to you. Use the card one more time at the exit of the stop you purchased. Return the card for a dollar refund! The often busy MRT was easy to use and really efficient and was all we would use to travel in Singapore.
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MRT

We got a little off track on the walk to the guest house from the MRT. This is never nice in a new place with all your belongings on your back. We were on busy streets with a lot of people milling around and new we were close but not really sure what way to go. Just then a man who was sitting on the corner in an Indian restaurant’s front porch and smoking a hookah called out to us, “Sleepy Sam’s? You looking for Sleepy Sam‘s? Yes you are very close. Just the next left and you will see it down a little way”. Not only were we immediately spotted for tourists this man knew exactly were we were headed. Welcome to South East Asia!
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The Street Scene outside Sleepy Sam’s and the Sultan Mosque

We spent our time in Singapore mostly walking and checking out different parts of the city. We started out in Little India. Set in an old part of town Little India was a tightly packed area of narrow streets and old but colorful buildings. Our senses were alive with the sights, smells, and sounds and yet we knew that this would be a far cry from the sensory overload we could expect in the real India.
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Flower Garlands at the street stalls in Little India

We passed a lot of interesting modern architecture. This was mixed in with the older street scenes of little India and Chinatown as well as Temples from the mid 18th century, gaudy shopping malls, and monstrous housing complexes made for many different worlds within one small island that is Singapore. This also was apparent in the different peoples and religions of Singapore. Singapore and Malaysia are a cultural melting pots were Muslims, Hindu, Buddhists, Taoists, Confucians, and Catholics (amongst others) all celebrate their religion side by side. On the same street you will find any number of different temples and mosques and people of different beliefs existing in harmony. On the same street as the largest Mosque in Singapore their was also a Christmas tree!
Some Singapore street scenes all in a days walk

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Modern Art School
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Color coded housing complex
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Little India
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Thian Hock Keng Temple

One of the things I was most exited about in Singapore was the Food. Up to this point we had been cooking about 95% of our meals and now we were in the land of cheep eats! We went directly to one of the Hawker Centers that Singapore was famous for and dove in. Here for about $3 USD you could have a feast of many different strange and exciting foods. Most of these places were sort of an open aired cafeteria with a lot, sometimes up to a hundred, small food stalls selling a variaty of foods. It was overwhelming at first. All the smells coming at you from all directions was intense. A lot of the displays had some in English but even with this it was vague. Some items that we really enjoyed were the Chili Crab, mystery meat dumplings, a weird tofu like dish made of radishes and called fried carrot cake, chicken satay, and some strange seafood soup.
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Some incite for the tourists
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Mmmm… Dumplings and Tiger Beer.
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Meghan digs into some Indian Food
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Tiger Prawns in Ice

On our last day in Singapore we took a trip out to the Zoo, but not before a quick walk through a zoo of shopping malls and rich Singaporean shoppers out for the holidays. Shopping is so big in Singapore that there is a section of our guidebook dedicated to it. This is hard core capitalism and one could easily get lost in the maze of mega malls.
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Orchard Road MRT Station
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Glittery Sidewalks of the Orchard Road Shopping vortex
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Even Santa’s Reindeer get the latest styles, high heals, and diamond earrings!

The Zoo was entertaining and a nice break from the busy city.
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Posted by pmunson 03:36 Archived in Singapore Comments (2)

Malaysia Part 1

Ancient Histories and Modern Cities


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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)

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