Koh Lanta to Penang, Malaysia- Our friendliest bus journey

We were leaving Thailand, and for good this time 😦 We were both quite sad to be leaving a country that has been so good to us and in which we originally started our adventure, it felt quite poignant, like leaving a second home. We had become so used to its customs, language and the way everyday life goes.

We started our journey at about 7 in the morning. It was the usual sort of long journey; cramped mini van, too many bags crammed into every spare space, bongos bouncing off Adam’s legs for hours on end, many stops and mini van changes. But our last leg of the journey really made it for us as we were lucky enough to have some very friendly and chatty Malaysian companions.

Our companions were nice enough to explain what was going on at each point of the border crossing as the driver was unable to. Just the command given of “PASSPORTS!” With an expecting open hand makes both of us respond with “eeerrmm…No!” But our travel buddies were able to explain actually what the driver wanted and why. It definitely put us at ease as border crossings can be quite stressful and confusing when not in your own language or script.

After the border crossing, which occurred event free and included putting our large backpacks through an unmanned scanner (I questioned the point of it…) We got chatting to our fellow passengers, one a young Malaysian couple and one an older man and we hardly stopped talking for the remaining 6 hours of our journey to Georgetown, Penang. The older man was extremely animated, excitable and fast talking whilst the couple were a bit more chilled. We discussed everything to holidays to jobs and the difference between our countries. Talk got serious when they mentioned the upcoming elections happening on May 5th. They asked where we would be, we answered Kuala Lumpur and their response deeply worried us. “For your safety I recommend you leave the country, or at the least do not stay in KL.” Oh. We can’t afford to get any extra journeys out of the city. “You will need to find a secure hotel and stay inside then” they warned us. The older gentleman reminisced about the 1969 elections where people were killed in riots and told us that tensions are as high as they were then and would not want us caught up in anything by accident.

We have heeded their advice, have got extra advice from the hostel we are staying in, and are currently taking it easy inside. It looks like we are going to have to play it by ear. Nothing may happen at all, but I know that I do not want us being caught up in something we have no idea about. I also worry for the tourists who do not know about what is coming and all the “accidents” they could get caught up in.

We are both very lucky and grateful to have met such friendly and helpful people, and made us think “I hope our first amazing insight and account into Malaysia and Malaysian people doesn’t let us down…” And so far it hasn’t and actually leads us quite nicely into our ‘Travelling Highlight of the Week’…

Travelling Highlight of the Week (w.b 22nd April)

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Things got stormy on Koh Lanta and we decided to head to the beach to watch the lightening light up the coastal sky. Little did we expect that it would come so close! The lightening struck very close to the shore line around 200 yards from where we were standing and we managed to capture it all on our little digital camera too!

Needless to say we ran away (literally) after that as it definitely got too close for comfort!

But what a beautiful spectacle to behold, we had a great evening watching in awe as the storm rolled in.

(Copyright pending…ha.)

Doggy walking and Kitty cuddling

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We had heard about this place; Lanta Animal Welfare, by researching online and it sold itself pretty well, basically if you want to walk a dog or cuddle a cat you are more than welcome. And that is exactly what we intended to do there!

Obviously they do a lot more; like spade all cats and dogs free of charge, operate on animals and take animals in who have been mistreated, which is a lot. Especially dogs, a lot of dogs are maimed and hurt by people who don’t want them or think they are dirty/evil/god knows what. Some of the worst cases come into the welfare centre who have had burning hot oil poured on them, or who have been stabbed or attempted to be drowned. All very sad. But then getting to go and see them once they have been rehabilitated and living in a pack, or who have been adopted ready to go to their forever home turns that frown upside down and makes you realise how important places like this are.

So we turned up, had a quick nosey around they kitty house and then got ready to walk some dogs. We were given Bell and Lanta to walk. Bell had a muzzle on as she doesnt like cats (!) but was able to remove it once we were away, and Lanta seemed to be an older dog with a lovely calm nature. We got given a route to do and set off. We walked them to the beach and were warned that Bell may need some encouragement to walk sometimes as she can just stop. And she did. As soon as we went near the ocean her bum went into the ground and she would not budge, even with encouragement from Lanta who was running along. But no, she was adamant that was it. So we turned back around after a bit and walked them back.

Once back at the welfare centre we were shown around and shown all the animals they have there, including the happiest 3 legged dog we have ever met, a few puppies and some cats and dogs recovering from injuries (one pup had been stabbed in the head 😦 and had received brain damage because of it)

Even though the animals are there for sad reasons, it is such a happy place which can only benefit the islands and its animal inhabitants.

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Nemo fish galore!

We have a new love for snorkelling. Well, I do. Adam has always enjoyed it whilst I had a fear of the sea and fishes! But since I tried scuba diving, even though I didn’t enjoying the scuba diving itself, I loved seeing all the fish and coral and it made me realise how beautiful it can be down there and it cured me of my fears (kinda…)

With this new found hobby we have been trying to go on as many snorkelling trips as the budget allows. Unfortunately, since we left Koh Tao we haven’t found any good snorkelling sites accessible from the shore so we have had to do day trips. I don’t think we realised what a gem Koh Tao was as we thought all the islands would be very similar in terms of the quality of coral, fish and visibility. But they most definitely are not 😦 and have therefore had to go further a field to find sites which are not even half as good as Koh Tao.

So, we booked onto a day trip by longtail boat which cost us 700 baht each (15 GBP) and included everything; drinks, snacks, lunch, transport and snorkelling gear. Our first stop was a 45 minute ride away to Koh Chuck where we were able to (carefully) jump out into the shallow waters and start snorkelling. It was a beautiful area with a mix of corals and fish and a lot of spiky black urchins! But as it was so shallow, there were many schools of fish right near the surface, which with my fear of fish only just overcome, it was a bit much. They moved out of your way when you swam through them, it was just that they swarmed around the rest of your body and nibbled at bits of skins or bites on your legs. I asked Adam if he could swim in front and clear the path as at some points your couldn’t see the water for the fish! We snorkelled here for around 40 minutes, then it was back into the boat ready for the next stop. Once we all climbed back in, we commented on feeling like we had been zapped a few times, in which some Aussies said, “yeah us too, its the sea louse” which we found out are microscopic baby jelly fish and when you come into contact we them, they give you a little baby zap!

Next stop, Koh Mook and the Emerald Cave. We weren’t too sure what to expect of this, but we most definitely weren’t expecting to be greeted by a train of Thai tourists bobbing in the water and slowing coming out of the darkness holding onto each others shoulders for dear life! All you see initially is a small opening in the rock where the sea runs right through. Boats stop a bit away, everyone puts life jackets on and jumps in the water. Then you swim into the darkness. The cave is only around 80 meters long but gets pitch black and you swim through this with only the light of a small torch to guide you through. As you enter the cave and look back it is clear why it is called Emerald Cave, as the sun lights up the water near the entrance and it glows so beautifully, just like the colour of an emerald (funnily enough!) Back into the abyss…the creepiest thing is the noise you hear when swimming in the darkness, it sounds like the cave is groaning but it is the waves lapping off the side of the cave and echoing. It is a very eery sound. Then there are the bats who live in there too, which our guide kindly showed us with a torch. And then there is the smell!…around three quarters of the way through it begins to smell very much like bad body odour. God know what it is, maybe the bats, or maybe the hundreds of sweaty people who swim through every day…?

But either way, once you’re through you are greeted by the most lush greenery with tall trees and plants (some of which are only found in this cove), white sands, an amazing array of butterflies and sheer rock faces which enclose this private bay. It is nature at its best.

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And yes, it is full of tourists, packed in fact. But if you ignore all the silly jumping photos being taken with different comical sunglasses and just look up in awe, its all worth it. I spent a long time just gazing at the cliff faces, admiring the trees and imagining how the pirates (who used to keep their treasure here) initially found this area and if the surroundings have changed or evolved at all.

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After the nature watching, we watched the Thai tourists leave en masse. Its a sight too see, everyone lines up (around 50-70 people at once) hold the persons shoulders in front and seem to do a massive conga into the sea, that is how they all swim back to their boats. We managed to get seperated from our group in the pitch black by one of these extreme conga lines. They intersected us and we were stuck up against a rough wall until they had all passed. Not much fun, but we seem to be far more comfortable in the water than them, so just let it happen.

We moved onto Koh Ngai where we stopped for lunch and swam in the crystal clear shallow seas. The lunch was delicious and floating in the sea after was a treat!

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Our last stop was Koh Ma for our last bit of snorkelling, the water was even more shallow here, maybe only 3-5 meters deep max with a lot of hard coral (which someone managed to cut themselves on) so it was lucky we had flippers or we would have very cut of and bloody feet. We swam around for ages looking at different parrot fish, butterfly fish and banner fish until we heard someone shout, “I’ve found Nemo, I’ve found Nemo!!” And he most certainly had, not only Nemo, but his whole extended family too! In this little anemone coral there lived around 8 clown fish all darting in and out. They were just beautiful and we were able to get quite close for a good old look!

And after all that excitement Adam and I found a group of 5 squid just squidding past us! Mmmm…dinner!

—Love to all—Cheryl—

Travelling Highlight of the Week (w.b 15th April)

Since arriving in Koh Lanta we have taken on the islands approach to life and not done a lot! So this week’s travelling highlight of the week is about a massage. Probably the best darn massage we have ever had!

Located in Saladeng, the port town, we stumbled across this massage place as it was a few doors down from where we were staying. You could hear the waves crashing under the floor boards and after the thai massage was finished we were given fresh fruits out on the deck.

We were twisted in every direction, bones cracked and full of fruit. Happy campers!

Travelling Highlight of The Week (w.b. 8th April)

This week is a no brainer, the highlight of our week has quite simply got to be celebrating Songkran/Thai New Year on the streets of Ao Nang. Once everybody has been to temple to cleanse themselves ahead of the new year, they hit the streets to help cleanse everybody and everything else, in the form of a water fight, where anybody and anything is fair game.

It was a great day, we met some great Thai people who were drunk as skunks and were all to happy to show us how to truly celebrate Songkran.

Will definitely return to Thailand for Songkran again, i would say this should be a must in life for all my fellow travellers.

–ACastling—Stay Classy World—

Top 10 items to have in your backpack

Since making our initial packing list and packing (and repacking) our bags meticulously, we have found some things that we couldn’t do without, and some things that we just haven’t used. And we thought we would share this with you as it may help some backpacker somewhere along the way!

Top 10 most useful

1. Some form of Wifi enabled gadget. Ideally a small laptop or something with a USB and big storage. This has multiple uses: can download and watch movies, music, travel guides, upload and store photos and skype loved ones. And update travel blogs obvs (hehe). In the long run, it will save money on using dodgy internet cafes which can and will corrupt your USB or memory card at some point.

2. A compact digital camera. Unless you know how to use an SLR style camera, do not bother bringing one as you will look like a douche and you will attract unwanted attention. We have seen too many people taking exactly the same quality picture, if not worse, than the ones we are taking on our compact digital camera. Just make sure you have good zoom!

3. Kindle/Kobo. Even if you are not a big reader, you probably will be as you have a lot of spare time. Books are heavy and big, a Kindle is small and light and many books are free!

4. Pocket Knife. Multiple uses from unclogging a drain to cutting fruit on a long journey to popping bottle caps. Obviously it is cleaned between uses. That would just be gross.

5. Travel sink plug. Hand washing clothes has to be done at some point and most sinks in hostels or guesthouses do not have a plug for the sink, so in steps the universal travel sink plug. Perfect solution to an annoyingly simple problem.

6. Travel washing line. Sticks to almost any surface or can tie round handles, holds loads of clothes and you don’t need pegs. We would be lost without this simple amazon bought product!

7. Head torch. Great for many situations, reading in the dark, walking home of a night with no street lights,or searching for items dropped where the naked eye cannot see.

8. Silk liner. When you don’t trust the sheets your sleeping on, in steps the silk liner. Its cooling on the skin and compact. No bed bug bites for us!

9. Mosquito net. Even if you are not in a malarial zone, if your room is full of mosquitos its bloody annoying. This has happened a few times to us, and the nets have been a god send.

10. Pillow case. Again, for use in those hostels or guesthouses where the pillows are mouldy or covered in questionable stains, putting your own pillow case over eases your mind that you are not inhaling anything too toxic.

Top 10 most un useful

1. A guitar. We have seen many blokes lumbering around a guitar who can only play a few cords. Unless you are a master don’t put yourself or any unsuspecting listeners through it.

2. A camel back. We bought one especially and haven’t used it once.

3. Jeans. There is no situation where jeans are needed, its just too damn hot most of the time and they are heavy to carry around.

4. A boat load of makeup. A few bits is great to have, but you honestly never wear it but for the odd night out. Even then I can’t be arsed most of the time. Travelling makes you lazy. A tan makes you think you look better then normal.

5. Hairdryer. Its hot, go outside and let nature do its job.

6. Travel iron. Everyones clothes are creased, don’t bother. But if it worries you that much, pay for it. But be warned, as soon as they go into your backpack, they will go back to being creased. It’s generally not worth the hassle.

7. Compass. Unless you are trekking the Andes without a guide or trying to find the North Pole there is no situation where you will need it. If you are following the banana pancake trail, you will not need it.

8. Hiking boots. Obviously this depends on where you are going but you really don’t need them unless you are doing some extreme hiking. We have trail shoes with us which are lighter to carry, thinner so they dry quick and they still have ample support and comfort. Hiking boots are the opposite. Bear in mind if Sherpas can scale Everest in flip flops I’m sure you can trek to a waterfall without hiking boots.

9. Sleeping bag. They are too big and bulky and hot. Use a silk liner instead.

10. Someone who has seen it all and done it all. If you manage to find one, run as fast as you can in the other direction. Of course meeting people is key, but dont let someone who thinks they know it all to put you off going to a particular place or tell you its rubbish. We all want different things from travelling and they probably have different ideas to you.

So…this is what we have experienced ourselves so far. If anyone has found anything else to be particularly helpful of unhelpful, we would love to know about it. It is great to hear about other peoples experiences.

—Love to all—

Koh Samui

Now this one is going to be kept very short and sweet, essentially just how a visit to Koh Samui should be kept. Personally it was not our cup of tea at all, although we ended up staying in one of e busiest parts of the island, Chaweng, overall the whole island was still quite disappointing. The first night we stayed near Bophut in the North of the island and we thought it would be a peaceful retreat from the busy streets of Chaweng and Lamai, instead we were in a remote area where finding quality street/Thai food was as easy as spotting a ladyboy in Soi Cowboy. Everything was french this, patisserie that and heavily overpriced, not to mention we had to get a scooter to get supplies otherwise within the gruelling walk to get to any shop we would have drank all the water anyway! There were one or two Thai ‘resteraunts’ around but all shut, no doubt because the big western eateries were too louring to tourists.

We therefore moved to Chaweng for convenience and price. Then the island showed its real colours. Chaweng was like a bad mix between Bangkok and Blackpool, full of indian blokes shouting ‘brother, brother’ either touting you to buy a suit or come into the Thai/Indian resteraunt. We knew it would be like this, but didn’t realise how bad. There wasn’t another backpacker insight and everybody was here to ‘holiday’, leaving us feeling slightly out of place. The beach itself was average, at first sight beautiful white sands and crystal clear blue waters. On closer inspection, the sand was brimming with litter and there was touts galore, even to the point where a small boat went back and forward all day, churning out advertisements on the loud speaker for the local nightlife! When we went for a dip, we had the strangest experience, aside from the water being very murky, our skin literally tingled when we went in! We have read about sea louse, but we had no stings, so god only knows why.

There is also very, very little to do here other than sunbathe, drink beer, sunbathe, drink beer, sunbathe and occasionally go listen to a horrific live performance from the local essex boy (old man) who can cover every song thrown at him, by playing the same chords again and again in ‘his own version of’ and totally killing any classic that comes around.

Overall we certainly won’t be rushing back here and Na trang now has strong competition for tackiest beach destination, the Vietnamese need to step their game up. At least the sun was shining though and we had air con in our room, trust me at the moment in 38+ degree heat, this makes a HUGE difference to your mental state.

We came, we saw and now we have left. Onto the Western side of the peninsula now and after Koh Samui’s performance, i think its fair to assume Phuket will be avoided like the plague.

Sorry this was more of rant then a ‘what we have been doing’, but we really, physically couldn’t do anything worth blogging about on Samui.

—ACastling—Stay Classy World—

Travelling Highlight of The Week (w.b 1st April)

This weeks award is a dual award, simply because both are very minor occurrences but equally highlights of our week.

The first was driving over to Haad Rin beach/bay,which is better known for its Full Moon Party, so obviously we wanted to see what all the fuss was about, when there wasn’t actually a party happening. On route we were taken over a very steep mountain road, when we ‘eventually’ (hard on a 125cc bike with two people) Cheryl caught a glimpse of the sunset in the rear view, obviously I was paying complete attention to the next incline in front of us, until i was ‘ushered’ to stop. When we did and spun round, we were met by possibly one of the most spectacular sunsets we had seen, including a great view of Koh Tao and the beautiful seas below us. Did we have the camera with us to capture this amazing moment…….of course we didn’t! It had to be seen to be believed.

The 2nd joint award goes to a nameless blonde. After witnessing our amazing sunset and reaching Haad Rin, we pulled into 7/11 for a drink (obvs) and as we were enjoying our bev outside, a girl managed to entertain us no end by being totally baffled at the idea of a non-automatic door, staring at the people inside as if they had turned the electrics off, to the point where she went to walk away and somebody kindly showed her that sometimes, doors need to physically be opened. Thank you nameless blonde, to us that was top shelf entertainment, we salute you for being stupid or very drunk!!

—ACastling—Stay Classy World—

So….Koh Phangan….

Of all the islands, Koh phangan excited us the least, mainly because its so well known for its full moon parties (…and new moon, half moon, black moon, waterfall and jungle parties…the list could continue) it attracts a certain crowd who on the majority annoy the hell out of me and is also well known for ruining this peaceful and beautiful place with being obnoxious, rude and general d**k heads.

We missed the full moon as we were on Koh Tao, so we arrived to a pleasantly quiet island. We got a taxi to where we had booked a night and once we were dropped off we walked down the steep dirt road to a serene area on the beach with about 10 or so beach bungalows and not a person in sight! Once we did find someone she kindly showed us to our hut and we opened the door to a more than basic room. We can do basic and we have done basic and were prepared to settle into our wooden hut but then I moved a (dirty) pillow on the bed and uncovered Barry. Now, Barry is about the size of a grown mans forearm and is a lizard, aptly (and quite quickly) nicknamed ‘Barry the Beast’. Once Barry was uncovered we both jumped back and with a quick OMG from us, he scarpered up the wall and disappeared in the area between the wall and ceiling. So that means, he (and anything else) can get back in whenever it pleases. After finding him, we then began finding his little treats placed all over the room and bed. Obviously Barry has had the run of this room for quite a while.

We quickly headed out and politely asked if they do any air con rooms (thinking that they may be less basic and not let all manner of animal in) and after a bit of coercing on our side were shown the one room. The walls were concreted on the inside and sealed. Taken! We will pay the extra, anything but leaving us alone in a dark room with Barry.

After getting settled we rented a bike and began to explore the island. Which turns out is quite mountainous but with far better roads than Koh Tao! We explored up north to Haad Salad and then back down again, stopping at every good looking beach we saw. We were looking to stay in the north but after the drive, decided we like the area we were in, Baan Tai, and looked for cheaper accommodation there. We found it in the form of not a beach hut, thank goodness, they are not as good as they sound! But a large and clean and cheap room in a guesthouse. More our style. As far as the beach huts go, you pay a lot more, almost double the price, for a small, beyond basic and hot room with the added bonus is that it is on the beach. We were not that bothered, we have legs (and a moto!) We also took the dreaded drive to Haad Rin, up some extremly steep and windy hills to get to the notorious full moon party area. It not being full moon, it was deserted and the beach looked wonderful!

So we have ended up spending about 5 days in Koh Phangan, taking the bike to a different area each day and trying out some snorkeling, which unfortunately was not that good. Koh Tao spoilt us a bit. And searching out some waterfalls to find them all dried up 😦 But all in all we have enjoyed our time and happy we got to see it at a quiet time. Maybe we will come back for a full moon party one day.

—Love to all—C Smith—