Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, Siem Reap, Loas, Chang Mai & Bangkok
04.03.2012 - 29.03.2012 30 °C
Railay Beach, Krabi, South Thailand! what can i say! STUNNING! arrive with our Brazilian friends to these gorgeous white sandy beach with rocks soring 100m into the sky, undercut by the water making them appear to hover above the crystal clear waters surface! Sunsets are stunning, cheaper accommodation is on Railay East (the opp side you arrive from, if your coming from other islands) and there are some pretty epic fire shows including hurling these balls of fire across the audience to each other! It is renowned for it rock climbing, so to make the most of the water and the rock faces we decide to do cliff jumping...in hind sight i think rock climbing would have been better as for cliff jumping you have to be a pretty confident climber and it can be pretty daunting! anywhoooo cliff jumping it was and funnily enough we were on a boat full of a climbing group on tour...basically a boat of spidermen and women!! Cruise over by long boat to our destination and ascend a rope ladder..which is an achievement to ascend in itself..before climbing the past vertical rock face which is pretty slippy coz you have just come out of the water and the chalk that ppl use for grip when wet is almost impossible to get a good hold. With the water looming below you it is a nerve racking experience and any slip or miss of a handhold leads to you plummeting into the water...as well as looking rather pathetic to the spiderpeople!! Once you make it to the "platform" (a 20cm ledge) this is where you leap into the water from a mere 10m!! 10m may not sound much but trust me...its pretty bloody high! Having triumphed up the rock face the only way down is to jump...no backing out! If i didnt think this was hard and high enough the next spot was harder and higher and a smaller area to jump, as more rocks were around you. This time the rope ladder was about 3.5m high with a challenging functioning of the rope ladder to rock, and a jump of about 13m! Exhilarating to say the least!
Next day and before we set off i did a morning kayak (lovely, only need an hour – 200Baht) and final bit of exploring making my way towards Phangan Beach. On the way i see a sign to a viewpoint...oooo goodie! I look to where the sign is pointing and there is a rope and a muddy near vertical root covered mountain facade, i look again at the sign and then at the proposed route...as we are leaving i have left my luggage at the pick up place, but my rucksack i had with me. Note this rucksack has my paperwork, passport, laptop, books to read, ipod, headphones, phone, toiletries, glasses, purse, camera, yardayardayarrr, basically my worldly possessions weighing around 10kg! It was 9am and i wasn’t leaving until 1.30pm...what the hell, why not! So rope in hand, clinging flip flops i start the ascent! It was good thigh and tricep burner, but as it was still early there was no one about so could have some fun. Made it to the top and to the left is the viewpoint and to the right is a lagoon, ooo exciting! Viewpoint first. Dripping with sweat but feeling good for the workout, im standing overlooking east and west Railay, another cracking view. Back to the junction and off to hunt down the lagoon. Only 20m later im at the top of a slippery slope down, again with 2 ropes this time. I turn around grabbing the two ropes leaning back i kinda abseil down this slope, great fun! Im at a plateau in the journey to the lagoon with imposing jungle and jungle sounds all around me. I slip and slide my way to the next descent, this time no one is around and this is vertical climbing now, stepping down to the lagoon. My rational and irrational minds are battling it out..Laura, there is no one about, its slippery, you have your heavy rucksack and little climbing experience, what if you fall...ohhhh stop worrying, just leave your rucksack, no ones around, take your PPP (purse, passport and phone), if anything goes wrong you can just call for help, and its a tourist attraction, im sure ppl are still sleeping there will be people coming this way later! No dramas, get on with it!...ok, you’re right, great lets do it, Indian jones eat your heart out! So i abandon the rucksack and get a climb on! Its awwwweeesome! I feel like a tomb raider in action, what am i gunna discover! Lowering my body weight, again abseiling down these 5m high steps to the lagoon. I made it! The lagoon wasn’t actually that stunning, bit murky, and muddy around the edges but the rocks soared above and it was a real sense of achievement! Right now, about getting back up?
As you’ve gathered, i managed to climb back up, amazingly my flip flops survived, but i was red faced, sweaty as and caked head to toe in orange mud! I land on the path, with fresh clean people on their way to the beach looking at me a bit weirdly, understandable. I made my way to yet another stunning beach, passed a temple of penis’s (its a sign of power in Thailand) and walk straight into the water fully clothed! There were rocks and caves to explore on this beach too, just stunning the combo of rocks, sand and turquoise waters! Then it was onto Koh Phanang.
We wanted to go to Koh toa, but unfortunately, not knowing about the accommodation situation for the full moon party (as you have to book min 5 nights) we didn’t have time. The night boat we had booked actually got cancelled, so had to get the fast ferry the next day. Taxi to Power Beach Hotel (100 Baht), then motorbike (140 Baht) around to get a feel for the place. The full moon beach was awesome and we found some cheap accommodation you could not reserve and stay for however many nights you want AND it was right next to the famous Coral Bungalows with their pool party AND it was 10min walk from the beach, so Rainbow Bungalows is the place to stay FYI! I ended up booking my open water scuba dive course as i had 3 days before the Sydney crew arrived for the full moon party and our luxury hols. The padi course was easy, and the dive was cool at sail rock, visibility was a bit poor but the actual site and number of fish was amazing!
We went to the pool party...like no other haha, and then the crew arrived (odi, nez and lisa). That night we explored the full moon party beach which was actually surprisingly cheap for food and drink! The atmosphere was insane! I did fire skipping rope, musical chairs, arm wrestle, basically playing games all night, purrrfec! This was just the warm up to the full moon. Next day we went to the beach, actually a stunning beach, then took a longtail boat to Eden Bar a couple of beaches up for a chilled afternoon and a UV painting session, where i covered head to toe in hot pink UV paint, all very exciting. Back to base, change, and head to the party! It was like the night before but like, 5 times the number of people. It wasn’t overcrowded though, and this time there was a water slide too haha! We didn’t actually have accomodatino for this night as we were catching teh 7am ferry to koh samui as our luxury resort was actually booked for the night of the full moon, the 8th as the full moon was changed from the 7th due to a buddist holiday. Only disappointing part of the night was the lack of black light, my UV paint wasn’t visible for most the night...and turned out to be a NIGHTMARE to get off, don’t bother, or at least not head to toe, especially when going to a nice place the following morning!
Rock up to Beach Republic looking pretty mangy to say the least, but still giggerling and very excited for our ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET BREAKFAST! HA! Quick shower and change in our king size double bed, kitchen, western bathroom, balconied apartment to head down, looking semi normal to breakfast, WoW!! Thank you, oh thank you cudo (the co. I booked the deal through)...started with cereal, oh how i miss cereal, then onto fruit salad with muesli, yogurt and sultanas, then full English breakfast, with an omelette on the side, then croissants, pain au chocolat and muffins, then Mongolian noodles, and finished with a slice of toast with MARMITE! Couldn’t breathe, but most satisfied! This meal was repeated for the next 4 days, no need for lunch We enjoyed cafe del mar style live music and bongo players, cocktails, went to Waterfall 2 with elephants and good walks to the top for swimming, nights out, and a day trip to angthong National Park. It was so nice having the girls around and enjoying the luxury after slumming it for so long!
Odi left us, back to Darwin (wah), and the rest of us continued to Siem Reap. Lisa and Nez did the sensible thing of coughing up the money and buying a flight so they could see Angkor Wat, amy and i (having already done Angkor Wat) endured an extremely long journey leaving koh samui on the 13th via 11.30am minibus to a boat to the mainland, bus to a bus, bus to Bangkok, taxi to bus, minibus to the boarder of Cambodia Thailand, walk over boarder, free transfer bus to a bus to siem reap arriving 7pm 14th to go for dinner then get up at 5am for a hot air balloon to view Angkor Wat (which is a balloon attached to a basket in a rope thing, basically just goes up and down and you can see Angkor Wat). It was good to see the sunrise and it was quite cool and only $15, so would recommend it! Then it was bus to Kompang Chum – a small town heading towards the loas camboida boarder so we could get to 4 thousand islands the next day. Not a bad place, on the Mekong, and had a good little restaurant which trains orphans to work there. Its a very local place and great to see Cambodian life in full swing, doing mass dance exercise classes on the pavement, street food, motorbikes criss crossing, markets, volley ball, etc..good insight. We struck gold with our tuk tuk driver who spoke exceptional English (coz no one else could!!) and he helped book our tickets to 4 thousand island in Loas.
8am and he picks us up, i pick up a local sim card for just encase situation, and we get shuffled onto a bus to Stung Treng at 9am. Arrive at 3pm, quickly put on a mini bus to the border, get kicked out and told to walk towards the border...in no mans land, between Cambodia an d loas having just paid $2 to leave Cambodia we are apprehensively wondering if we are gunna make it. There is no one else around, the border consists of a wooden hut for the camodian side, a stretch of unsealed road past a boom gate to another boom gate and another wooden hut for the loas visa (on arrival, one photo and $35 then $2 to arrive) and then a construction to site for the more impressive looking border gate, currently under construction, and a stretch of vacant unsealed road. We pass through and see no one....ring the agent and he says wait a minute i get someone there for you, ok...out of no where this taxi arrives as if by magic, wow, we might actually make it ha! The pressure of organising a trip for people is weighing on my shoulders, with nez being a working professional with limited holiday and wanting to make the most of her stay, any hiccups and i was jeopardising her hols. But it worked! Phew, one down many to go ha! Taxi to a boat, we actually bought our bus ticket to our next destination before boarding a long tail boat watching the sun go down over the Mekong to 4 thousand islands! Up some rickety stairs and we made it woop woop!
Next day we enjoy a full on day of kayaking...highly entertaining watching lisa and nez struggerling with their inflatable raft like canoe zig zagging across the Mekong ha! Did some rapids, went to a “small” waterfall – pretty big, then saw some dolphins, before lunch and the big waterfall – pretty impressive. Great day and good way to see the area, oh and there are no ATMs on the island so they even advertise as a site on the trip, trip to the ATM woooooo! Quite funny.
The tickets that we bought for our next trip actually became redundant as we organised a private trip from the islands to champasak for Wat Pu (a smaller more ruined loas version of Angkor wat) which was nice, then onto pasak for a night bus to Tha Khiet to go to the Kong Lo Caves. The Wat was nice actually and a lot of ppl cycle to it, but its a long, hot and unsealed route, so minivan is def better! The bus was a sleeper bus and very exciting we had the whole of the back of the bus, so 4 off us in this big bed bouncing around in the back, cool little den! 2am and we got off at the bus stop and as the bus to the caves was a 5.30am we decided to camp it out. The 5.30am bus decided not to come so 7am it was, and we didn’t actually know where it was going, the seats were tiny, so couldn’t sit in the chair straight and they put people in the middle of the aisle on plastic stools to fill the bus to MAXIMUM capacity. We got kicked off in a town unbeknown to us and searched around for some help. Loas is a bit basic like that. Your going to a tourist destination, yet no one, no one, understands or has heard of the caves?!? Ok so we decide to get this big tuk tuk thing. We thought we’d agreed a price and we were going straight to the caves..no. We drove up and down for about another 45 mins picking up more and more ppl until there were, and im not exaggerating we counted, and this is basically in a Ute, pick up truck thing with stools and a roof...30ppl and all there shopping, baggage, babies etc! PLUS they have a horrible habit of coughing up their insides and spitting it over your shoulder onto the ground outside the truck, eeeewwwa! Its a sound i’ll never get used to yet it is the morning chorus in the hostel showers and streets! Anyway, we make it to a town 2hrs later and we are still not there! Shifted onto another tuk tuk thing with another 30ppl and their worldly belongings and we make it to the caves at 2pm – worst journey to date. I had scheduled that we could do a day trip to the caves and catch a bus to vietenne, however by the time we made it there was a 4pm bus going, but it takes 3hrs to see the caves. The journey was a nightmare, and we were all tired but the caves were awesome! 105,000 kip each for a boat through 7.5km of tunnels whizzing through the dark to the other side, stopping off for a walk around the caves which are nicely lit and great formations, for a beer loas before returning. It was stunning and quite exhilarating, 2 to a boat you have to get out every now and then as the water is pretty shallow. Stayed the night at the booking office officers guesthouse, had a superb meal, watched a beautiful sunset over the surrounding mountains and farmed fields before a well earned bed and a 7am bus to vietenne.
No time for vientenne, but looked a cool city, instead minibus over a horrific bumpy, sealed and unsealed road to Vang Vieng, home of the famous tubing! We started the next morning with a trip to the caves and lagoon – awesome! Caves are vast and unguided so take a torch and you can go anywhere, and the lagoon, more like a stream has a tree with rope swing and ladders to climb up the tree to jump off it, from about 6m, again exhilarating stuff! We collected our tubes, got tuk tuked over to the starting point and was welcomed by a wave of booming music, a bridge over the river and bar no. 1. You get a shot and a bracelets and then buy a bucket to start your day. Tube in hand jump into the water and float downstream, lovely way to travel! Before being thrown a rope and pulled into bar 2 for volley ball, and a bit of competition...doing a worm (worming your body along the floor on your stomach)....for a free bag of popcorn. With the sound of competition, i was shoved may i add, towards the competition arena, to slip and land so loudly the music almost stopped and everyone pointed and laughed..but that wasn’t going to stop me, forward i go to perform a worm and, i think more out of sympathy, presented with a bag of popcorn...the things i do for a bit of competition?
Continuing on, this basically was my paradise, there was pumping tunes, lots of people, tubes down the river, swings, trapeze bars, zipplines....yes, i may have completed 3.5 rotations coming off the zipline about as gracefully as a seal moves on land, and the slide – a 20m long, 20m high slide that launches you into the river...just too much fun! We returned our tubes late, which is a 20,000 late fee (about $3) but well worth it! Sooo much fun, everything it was hyped up to be...then guess what, it was onto a bus ha! 9pm onto the bus bound for Luang Prabang.
Timed our arrival perfectly for the 6am buddist alms, where you give the monks food offerings – the people are supposed to support the monks physically and the monks support then spiritually. Find our hostel, then off we go for a city walk. Lovely city, interesting morning markets, lots of Wat’s (temples) and then cheap loas massages – 1hr $4. In the evening the main street gets closed off and filled with the market, off which is a awesome food market for dinner, have the whole fish and the pork kebab with the fill your plate for a dollar buffet! We were due to get a bus the next morning but it was full so we got to go the waterfall, which is very pretty and has a bear sanctuary which is interesting, before a 6.30pm night but to houxsai, arriving 7am for an 8am Gibbon Experience – the highlight and final activity for Nez’s trip!
The gibbon experience is expensive, but it is an ecologically successful project of ziplines through the jungle, sleeping in treehouses being woken to the sound of rare gibbon monkey’s. The ziplines were between 150m to 450m whizzing across valleys over primary jungle. You get fed a lot! No complaints here ;-) and we had a great crew in house number 7 which you sleep on mattresses under mosquito nets overlooking the jungle, showering below the main deck, in a completely open shower both below you and all in front of you..was quite conscious of onlookers at first, but quite a liberating experience! It was a sic 3 days 2 nights and well worth the money!
Next stop, chaing mai, Thailand, where nez flew back home via Bangkok and then there was three! Amy, lisa and I. We took a cooking class – awesome! Start in the market checking out all the exotic fruit and veg and different varieties of rice (who knew white rice could have so many differences!). Then it was a train ride to the countryside, bicycle along a stream, through the farmed fields to our cooking school. Our teacher made it, Benny, she was this 26 year old thai who basically made everything into a sexual innuendo and had the funniest deepest, loudest laugh ever! Plus, she laughed at all her jokes and you could help but laugh, highly entertaining! We whipped up a feast, each of us choosing different meals so we could sample a bit of everything! 3 types of soup, spring rolls, papaya salad, pad thai (obviously!), cashew chicken, holy basil chicken, 3 types of curry and then 3 desserts! So as you can imagine we were pretty full by the end of the day! Back into town and onto a night bus (400Baht – half the price of the sleeper train) to Bangkok. Bangkok i realised i left my prescriptive glasses on the bus, and amazingly got them back in the evening! Result!! We did a tour around town on the tuk tuks via a number of clothes, jewellery etc factories and after our penultimate stop the driver realised we weren’t buying anything and left us haha! So we made our own way back, had a shop around koh san road – where they have everything! Bit of a night out then a 7.30am minibus to Phnom Penh, Cambodia!!...