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Thailand

Returning to Thailand - Koh Samui & Koh Phangan

sunny 32 °C

Ironically, this blog entry has been more hassle to write than any previous one. It’s ironic because I’ve had far more time on my hands for a change. I suppose it’s because I’ve gone into complete relaxation mode. The plan was always to chill out for the last two weeks in the South Eastern part of Thailand on the islands. I have to say, it feels great doing very little these days!

I arrived into Koh Samui on the 15th. Carly was spending more time in Luang Prabang so I had two days on my own. The journey was quite tiring – my first flight was delayed by an hour leaving me little room for my connecting flight. Like a scene from Home Alone, I ran the whole way through Bangkok’s airport to make it on time. Thinking I had just made it, it turned out that my 2nd flight had also been delayed – initially by 20 minutes which ended up being 90. Still, they had a special waiting area for Thai Airways customers which felt like a 1st class flight style luxury. Everyone flying with the airline were entitled to it so I was able to kill time eating some of their free food on offer and on the internet in a posh lounge. Arriving into the Samui airport it felt a bit strange – there was a big difference between somewhere like Laos and a Budget travel packaged holiday style resort. I wasn’t sure what to think. The mini-van journey to my hotel only confirmed this feeling. Looking around I saw McDonalds, Subway, Pizza Hut and endless amounts of bars and restaurants. I was in Thailand but it felt like one of the Canary Islands. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a 1 week packaged holiday for a week every year or two but I have done these to the death and you don’t exactly fly to Asia for this type of experience. The commercialization of Thailand’s largest island is very evident to see. Still, I had expected this in advance so rather than moan about it I decided to enjoy it and just chill out for the 4 days in Samui.

The first three days were spent by the beach reading my book, also called ‘The Beach’. I love this movie and it felt appropriate to read the book as it takes place just off Koh Phangan. I’ve been quite engrossed in it actually. For the first time in six weeks there were no early starts, demanding self-inflicted sightseeing schedules or endless bus journeys. I was loving it. By the fourth day I felt a little guilty for doing so little so I hired out a scooter for the day and travelled around the island. I had a great day and got to see a temple, a waterfall and their main attraction on the North end of the island, the Big Buddha. It’s bloody huge! Randomly they also had an Alien Vs. Predator store right beside it. Very strange..

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My last night in Samui was spent with Carly – we had a lovely meal in a local Irish pub and chilled out by the beach with a cocktail and cards. The next morning it was onto Koh Phangan. Our main reason for flying straight down to the islands rather than travelling by bus was to make the Full Moon party in time. Of course, it was just as nice avoiding a 3-4 day bus journey with a couple of overnighters thrown in for good measure. The Full Moon party is notorious in Thailand and we wanted to see what all the fuss was about. That night we ventured down to the South part of the Island at Haad Rin where it was taking place. After dinner I got myself painted (as you do) and met up with Chen and Roni, the two Israeli girls we had met in Mui Ne in Vietnam about four weeks earlier.

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We spent the evening with them, their mates and Roni’s boyfriend Aras. Describing the party only one word comes to mind – mental! The event takes place on a beach and with at least 5,000 people there it was quite surreal looking up and down at the endless crowds. It was very easy to lose one another so we had to stay close at all times. Most people were painted and some were completely covered. Vodka and Redbull in a bucket is the main drink on offer. It’s quite cheap too but I was apprehensive of getting too drunk. I had heard reports of people being robbed and others getting so wasted they would have no choice but to collapse on the beach and hope for the best. Carly and I didn’t want either of these to happen so we got a bit tipsy and enjoyed the night for what it was. Each area blasts out different kinds of music so you end up walking up and down the beach, stopping at various sections to dance when there is good music on offer. Other attractions include a waterslide which I was tempted to try out but didn’t want to risk further injury. My ribs from the swing on Vang Vieng are still causing discomfort so I thought it would be best to avoid the risk. Having started drinking at midnight, it was easy to keep going well into the night and we managed to stay for sunrise and daylight. It wasn’t a pretty picture! Plenty of people were sprawled across the beach unconscious and the whole place was littered with buckets and rubbish. I wouldn’t fancy being on the cleaning committee put it that way. By 8am we were ready for bed. We had a lot of fun and made it back in one piece with nothing stolen, damaged or lost – job done!

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Away from the Haad Rin area (where parties on a smaller scale take place every night), Koh Phangan is quite a beautiful environment. It’s much smaller than Samui and I’ve yet to see any international franchises. We’ve been staying at Haad Yao on the North Western part of the island which is very quiet and peaceful. Our hotel is beautiful. Surrounded by trees and plants, our bedroom is a log cabin style hut complete with a toilet that is partially outdoors (the shower section where there is a bath has no roof which is cool). Despite being man made the hotel feels very natural and the pool is a great place to hang out during the day. A five minute walk brings you down to the beach which is both warm and colourful.

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Similar to Samui, we’ve enjoyed doing very little. The weather is very hot on both islands which is in itself quite tiring. On the 21st we took a taxi into the main town area. We had a walk around, had a good meal and I bought a few more books to keep me entertained. Yesterday I rented out a scooter and travelled around the West part of the Island. Once again I got to see a few more waterfalls and temples. I also stopped off at Mae Haad beach – this leads to the Koh Ma island where you literally walk across a small section of the ocean to get to it. The water only goes up to your waist but I was a bit worried with my backpack on and camera inside – thankfully it didn’t get wet. Once on Koh Ma I explored around and got into the ocean for some snorkelling. The reef isn’t all that great but I can never say no to swimming around observing fish, especially when it’s free. As in Samui, the highlight of taking a scooter out is the thrill of riding one. Driving at 40KM per hour on quiet roads through picturesque scenery has never felt so thrilling. It’s simple things like this that can sometimes be hard to remember but remind me why I'm doing all of this. Another example being last night – I got into the pool after dark and lay down on an inflatable bed for almost an hour, staring up at the stars admiring their beauty.

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Today is our last on Koh Phangan. It’ll be sad to leave but after five nights here it is time to move on. Our final joint stop is Koh Tao for a few days. After that, a couple of nights in Bangkok await where I’ll get to meet up with some friends from Ireland before my flight to Sydney. Seven weeks into our Asian adventure only one remains – the time has flown.

Posted by mattld 00:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Hello Bangkok (and South East Asia)!

sunny 30 °C

Happy New Years! First off, apologies for the length of this entry, it was hard to get it any shorter and there is so much more that I didn't even cover! I'll try to be more concise in future updates but can't promise anything.

After a three week break back home in Ireland for Christmas, it was time to hit the road for part two of my travels. I really enjoyed my time in Dublin - it was great seeing everyone and spending Christmas day with the family. I definitely made the right choice. It was weird being back at first but after a week it had felt like I had never left. All my Australian experiences from 2010 seemed like a distant memory and certainly a lot shorter than 12 weeks in retrospect.

This week was very strange - it didn't hit me until Tuesday that I was actually going again. With two days to go I had nothing organised. But by Thursday everything got sorted and I was on my way. I wasn't as sad leaving this time - it's not as scary travelling for the second time, especially when I've now got a travelling buddy to go with for the Asian part. I mentioned this last year but I met my travel buddy Carly through a friend of a friend in Sydney very much by chance in Wagamamas Japanese restaurant. We clicked instantly and the rest is history. We have a similar sense of humour and want to do exactly the same things so it has worked out perfectly. Here's a brief update on the itinary for part two before I get started:

  • 8 Weeks in South East Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and possibly Hong Kong/Maccau)
  • 1 Week in Sydney
  • 3 Weeks in New Zealand
  • 2 Weeks in Fiji
  • 1 Week in LA/San Diego

Thursday was a very long day - I left for the airport at 3pm, flew out at 6.30pm (after an hour delay), landed in London and then flew to Bangkok at 9.30pm. The flights were grand. Mr. Sleeping Tablets came in handy yet again and knocked me out for 6 of the 11 hour flight. I arrived into Bangkok finally at 3.30pm the following day local time i.e. 8.30am Irish time. Thrilled to be there, my good form was soon lost as I discovered my baggage had been left behind in London. The annoyance! I haven't had this in years and it really is a pain in the arse. After doing the whole baggage reporting routine, I got myself a cab and headed for the hotel.

I forgot how bad the traffic was in this city (I had been to Thailand in 2009 for 2 weeks). It takes literally ages to get anywhere by car. A word of advice for anyone - get the MRT underground or Sky Train as much as you can! However I also forgot how cheap it actually was - an hour long journey cost just ten Euro. Love it! A trip to 7 Eleven shortly after cost me just 2.70 Euro (roughly) for 2 large bottles of water, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, a yoghurt, tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush. You can't go wrong... The hotels we're staying in are all going to be pretty much 3 star. At 14 Euro per night why not? However judging by the first one, I think it's more 2 star in terms of Western standards. I would call it pleasent plus - room are grand and clean with aircon. TV was dodgy, safe and room key weren't working initially and the pool is broken for the next month. Oh well, it beats a hostel anyday.

Carly arrived a couple hours after me looking like death warmed up - she decided to save a few quid (literally) and took the option of 3 seperate stops from Sydney. What should have been a straightforward 9 hours ended up being 24. Live and learn Carly! That evening we settled in and went for dinner down the road catching up on the past 3 weeks. An early night was in order. Saturday morning and we both woke up in great form. First day of the holiday - thrilled! A quick breakfast and off to sightsee. Only it turned out it was student day (i.e. all general attractions were free for them). Rather than facing thousands of Thai students and Qs we headed to the local shopping mall. I got myself kitted out with a new t-shirt and shorts (essential in this weather) and treated ourselves to a fish spa - very tickly, we were both laughing uncontrollably at the start with a lot of people staring at us like freaks. Oh well. The feet felt great after. We then got some lunch and randomly, went bowling where we both were completely awful - I'm blaming the jet lag. Apparently it's what you do in Asia on your first day!

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Getting back to the hotel my luggage had still not arrived - not happy! I was starting to get a bit worried but there was nothing I could do that evening as the airport helpline had shut and I had already spoken to them that day. Like me, Carly loves a good powernap before a night out so that evening after a two hours sleep we were ready to hit the nightlife. We met up with Dan one of my mates who was on the last night of his holiday along with his brother which resulted in a very long night of drinking and karaoke. I only signed myself up for two songs but the Thai people don't mind sharing one of their two microphones (I think) so I barely stopped. 2.30am and it was time for a drunken McDonalds and good oul Tuk Tuk home to bed.

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Sunday was quite productive all things considered - we took in an Asian Modern Art Gallery...

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...walked around Chinatown and went to visit one of the Temples. I'll probably be sick to death of them by week 8 but for now I can't get enough. It's very surreal walking around the markets and taking it all in, I just love the whole Asian-ness of it (is it PC to say that?). My luggage finally arrived that night and all was where it was meant to be thank god. I felt like I hadn't seen my bag in over a week and I was so fed up of only having two things to wear and no toiletries. We had planned to go to Cambodia the following morning but were knackered so decided to extend our stay in Bangkok by a day. The joys of having a flexible travelling plan - it's the first time ever I've ever had the luxury of this.

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Today we're having a relatively lazy day as tomorrow we head to Cambodia - the first of four border crossings over the next two months. I've read many horror stories so it'll be interesting to see how exagerated or bad it is! Next blog update at the end of the week.

Some Observations (Look away now if you're the sensitive type)
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Asians as we know will eat most things. From chicken's feet to pigs faces, it's all readily available.

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Tuk Tuks are great fun - but if they offer a great price don't get on. You'll be taken to 50 jewellery and diamond stores en route. Not loving it!

The local beggers love milking any misfortune they have - one old man missing a leg was only too happy to roll around on a skateboard highlighting his condition. I really should have gotten a picture...

Dirty old Western men are EVERYWHERE. Especially in our hotel. Last night we were woken up at 4am by some Thai prostitute screaming at an old man who just kept apologising. Maybe he couldn't perform??? Anyway, RUDE.

On a final note, a lot of English signs are getting 'lost in translation'. Here's just one example:

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Posted by mattld 21:56 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

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