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.)

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—

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—

Koh Tao (Paradise)

After spending so much time on the mainland and finally letting go of Bangkok, it was time to live a beach life, more specifically, live it for the next month, whilst we travel through the Thai peninsula, hitting the beautiful islands on the way to the Malaysia. Our first stop off was the island of Koh Tao, which is 7km long and has 1 ‘major’ road connecting it (you will see what i mean as you read through!)

We had already booked onto a SSI Open Water Course (OWC), which would take up the first few days of our time in Koh Tao and allow us to do something with structure and daily routine, something neither of us had done since we had left the UK and for me, since I left my job in October. The OWC began with slight anticipation as firstly Cheryl has or I should say had a slight phobia of having fish around her when she couldn’t get away from them. This quickly got thrown to the sideline, when a phobia of both of ours kicked in….claustrophobia! Now I don’t have it as bad as Cheryl when it comes to water, but one of my biggest fears is drowning, therefore it knocks the gauge up a little bit for me and filled the course with a little bit of optimism for both of us, as it was very (pardon the pun) uncharted waters for us.

The first day morning session was fine, theory based learning in a safe environment where air was plenty. On the afternoon session however it was time to hit the water and see how this would sit with us both. Although apprehensive, we both got off to a great start and managed to do mask removals and air removals whilst under shallow water. We then headed into a 10m dive, which wobbled us both slightly as its a very strange sensation to get used to and due to pressure, you can’t just ‘bob’ up when you don’t feel OK. Given that Cheryl was a lot more apprehensive than me, she powered through, even after i had to surface, thanks to inhaling far too much of my air and pretty much emptying my tank, therefore Cheryl and our other course friend Nikolai got a good 10minutes extra dive, perks of having mahoosive lungs i guess!!!


On day 2 when we hit the water, things didn’t settle too well with Cheryl and as it was a straight away (rather than warm up in the shallows first) deeper dive, it didn’t sit very well and unfortunately the claustrophobic feeling got the better of her. As we had already descended a fair bit and Cheryl had now gone back out, I had no clue why and how she was and was instructed to plod on descending, which when you have been spending such close proximity with your loved one, is not a nice feeling and i can certainly put my hand up and say it really freaked me out, not being in control. Once on the bottom we were going to do masks off and air out etc drills again, only this time at 12m. As my mindset was now in worry about how Cheryl was, it really showed me how clear your head needs to be when diving, as i nearly had a freak out myself and somehow managed to pull myself around and gather my cool. The rest of the day went fine, as did the rest of the course, unfortunately Cheryl called it a day after that dive and with her support I carried on to see the course through to the end.

The island itself (apart from diving), has so much to offer and its such a beautiful paradise. We hired a bike for the remainder of our stay, which comes equipped with very, very knobbly tires! Why i hear you ask…because once you come off anywhere from the 1 main road which stretched from Sairee beach to Chalok bay, the roads look like this:


This picture (not mine as unfortunately i was slightly preoccupied not dying) doesn’t give the ‘roads’ or tracks as they should be called, any justice. We had a 150cc engine and on a ascent of a hill, Cheryl had to jump off because the bike wouldn’t pull us both!!!! All in all great experience though, but please do not do this if you are only ‘OK’ on a bike, I like to thank the fact I am quite comfortable on bike and learned a lot from driving in Vietnam. Other than driving and diving, the beaches, snorkeling and views Koh Tao has to offer, are simply some of the best I have ever seen, in person and online.


There is also some great light hearted nightlife to be found, including beach bars with great live music, chilled out atmospheres and awesome fire displays. Then for more ‘Thai’ based entertainment, you can hit the cabaret show, which for me was very mind boggling, thanks to some very convincing lady boys, but great fun and good laugh all the same.

Koh Tao is definately somewhere we will both happily return and whilst we were there, really under appreciated how beautiful the island was, if only we had the money to stay in a nice Air Conditioned room, we may have stayed longer..

—ACastling—Stay Classy World—

Thailand to Laos (Chiang Khong/Huay Xai border crossing)

We had researched various ways in which to do the border crossing on various forums etc and one of the most straight forward routes was from Chiang Rai through to Chiang Khong and then cross the river over to Huay Xai (Laos). This can be done in either one day and then jump straight onto the slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang or you can stay the night in Chiang Khong (Thailand) or Huay Xai (Laos), both border towns and then catch the slowboat in the morning, with less hassle and more ease, from what we had heard! Obviously we opted for the less stressful and fail safe option of staying the night in Huay Xai, mainly because once you have got through immigration etc (which takes about 15-20 minutes each side, depending on how much they like you) the slow boat tickets are cheaper on the Laos side!! Well worth the trip.

As it was the day after my birthday, we had decided to treat ourselves (me) to a UTV (dune buggie) experience in the mountains surrounding Chaing Rai, somewhere inbetween Chaing Rai and Chiang Khong. Therefore making our drop off Chiang Khong instead of back to Chiang Rai, once we were done. We packed up our bags early in the morning and got ourselves all psyched up for a morning of muddy dune buggying (thanks to the rain storm the night before). Once fed and ready to roll, we went to meet our driver, who would take us across to the outdoor activity centre, where we would set off from. within minutes of us finding each other, the heavens opened and out here when its rains……it pours!! A 10minute rain shower dropped enough rain to flood all of the streets and bring everything to a grinding hault, especially whizzing scooters.

Once we set off, we were lucky enough (sarcasm) to have a driver who was a stereo typical essex boy and by that i mean wouldn’t shut up, was obviously a multi millionaire (picking people up in a nissan march) his word not ours and loved nothing more than telling you how amazing he was. This was semi bearable until we were dropped with the news from his boss, that we wouldn’t be able to get up the hill to even start the UTV ride, thanks to the road being flooded and as the essex boy had opted for a nissan march, we were screwed. Sods law really, as i had pulled the guy as soon as we saw the car and said out of all the cars and pickups in Thailand, you opt for this, which he cockily replied ‘i don’t need a pickup’!!! YOU WORK IN A OUTDOOR CENTRE!!!

So we then had no option but to head onto Chiang Khong and make the border crossing a little bit earlier, which was fine as a) the driver was happy to take us at no extra cost since our trip had been cancelled and we were already halfway and b) we would get to sort our boat ticket and explore Huay Xai without rushing. After leaving the essex boy and his Thai/Burmese (he wasn’t sure) ‘girlfriend’, we strolled down to the Thai immigration office and got ourselves stamped out of Thailand (boooooo). It was an easy process and apart from a few Thais laughing at my huge bag, as they all had carry ons, everything went fine. We then jumped on a tiny boat about 2ft wide to cross the Mekong and hit immigration for Laos.

Laos immigration was fine as well, after filling out or necessary forms, handing over 1 x passport picture and paying the fee of 1500Baht each, we strolled on through to Laos, oh and not forgetting the random ‘official entry’ man who checks everything is OK, once your halfway up the hill, sitting on a plastic seat in a bamboo hut!! Welcome to Laos i guess.

We took a short stroll along the road and after a few ‘room visits’ and price negotiations, we found a little guesthouse so we could bed down for the night. Once we dropped our bags, we were immediately met with a sign in our guesthouse which showed after crossing the Mekong we already managed to save 800Baht each and that was without haggling, well worth the easy crossing.

After a walk to the official slow boat pier and noticing the ticket office was closed, we decided to book through our own guesthouse for 900Baht/250,000kip each as they sorted us a tuk tuk to the pier in the price too, which others didn’t. Once we were all sorted, we went for a wander and all in all had a stress free crossing, which from what i read, the same can’t be said for doing everything in one day.

—Stay Classy World—ACastling—

Chiang Rai

After a horrible and very hairy 4 hour bus journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, we felt like we hadn’t got off to a good start, but as we only had 3 days in Chiang Rai we felt like we had to make the most of it.

Our opinions quickly changed as we went to the local night market, and were the only westerners there, so the market was actually pretty good, not just the same stuff being sold over and over (and over!) again. We had the cheapest massage we had ever had (and that’s saying something), ate an amazing soup and then got to pick what we wanted in our ice cream and watch it be made. There were other things to buy there too, but we were far too focused on the food!

The next day we decided to fit in as much as possible as there is so much to do here, but it is all very spread out. So we popped into a tour guide and she gave us some great advice, which we were surprised about as we didn’t book any of her tours, and that is generally how it works. They will give you advice, on what they are selling, but will not help you if it doesn’t make them money. But this lady gave us loads of advice, and like I just said, it didn’t include getting any of her tours.

It’s not that we didn’t want to but they are very expensive and all the tours offered things we had already done, so why pay more money to repeat them, when you can do something that you haven’t done before?

And that’s exactly what we did, we hired a tuk tuk to take us around for the day. The first place he took us to was Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple which was only built in 1996 by an artist and is still in the process of being built now. This place was mind-blowing. We stepped out of the tuk tuk and just stood and stared, a “wow” was all we could muster.


This gleaming white temple stands out like a beacon, and the closer you get to it, the better it gets as well. I do not have the best vocabulary to explain this temple in the detail it deserves, but I can try! The detail is immense and the white mosaic tiles makes the whole modern temple glisten. As you walk over the bridge, hands thrust out of the ‘sea’ all individually designed and all slightly different. Snakes, skulls and heads intertwine to enclose the hands, and then you walk inside the temple…

what can you see?

what can you see?

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No cameras are allowed inside the modest sized temple and there are men still painting away inside. On 2 out of the 4 walls there are more traditional paintings, one of buddha himself and on the other there seems to be families on clouds being taken to Nirvana, all carrying lotus flowers between their hands. On the third completed wall is something completely different; modern art mixed with traditional art, as there were traditional Thai images and then there were very dramatic and controversial pictures of the Twin Towers with a snake wrapped around them made of oil or images of a grim underworld. But then there were more lighthearted images of Angry Birds, Spiderman and many other modern things that everyone relates to. Very interesting and thought provoking mix, which I guess was the artists idea.

We carried on walking around and saw the buildings which were still being built and we also got to make a wish to hang up along with hundreds of thousands of other peoples wishes, which made for a beautiful image of these silver hanging discs all hung together to make trees.

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We then got back into the tuk tuk and off we went to our next destination: the hot springs. When we got there the place was deserted and we wondered if we were in the right place! But we got shown to a room with a plunge pool which was tapped in to the hot springs (you could smell it) and you could decide how hot you wanted it. They also had little extras you could get like exfoliaters, loofahs and eggs to boil in there with you…?! We just went for the exfoliater and we left with the smoothest skin we have ever had, it was lovely. No exfoliater you can buy from boots or superdrug can match how baby soft our skin felt from using their homemade one! It turns out this place is very popular with the locals too, as when we were leaving, hordes of families were coming in to use the hot springs. We came at a good time, otherwise I don’t think we would have got a room!

After being so lovely and clean, we got back into the tuk tuk for a dusty and dirty ride to our next destination; The Black House. This place was…interesting… it is a place designed by an artist with clusters of black houses and buildings on some land. The houses boast the artists personal collection of animal hides, skulls, bones and horns as well as art and sculptures dating back to different periods and different countries. This place is not for the squeamish or animal rights activists, and if we had known what we were getting ourselves into, we possibly wouldn’t have gone, but it was interesting none the less.


That is the length of ONE snake skin...yes, ONE!

That is the length of ONE snake skin…yes, ONE!

Like a bowss

Like a bowss

Back into the tuk tuk for what we thought was our ride home. 20 minutes into the ride we were both nearly dozing off when the driver pulls over, we thought so he could pick up some dinner or cigarettes but instead he comes back with 2 water bottles for each of us! Again, we were shocked and surprised by his thoughtfulness and very grateful as it gets very dry, dusty and hot in the back of a tuk tuk. He then did an impromptu stop at the Gardens, which Chiang Rai is very proud of, as it is known as the ‘Flower City’, we took a look around and the most impressive things we saw were the Orchids. We have never seen so many different types, and growing outside, not in pots like we see back home.

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The next day we decided to go to the Golden Triangle which is where you can see 3 countries from one area; Thailand, Laos and Burma. We took the hour long bus to get there and were instantly disappointed. You couldn’t seen anything for all the touristy crap. We got a few pictures by some signs and we walked up a hill to get a better vantage point, but it was all spoilt by tat. One positive was a beautiful old temple that we found which it seems not many people come across as we had it pretty much to ourselves. We spent most our time here before heading back down to get our bus.

One memorable thing from the day; it was the first time we had seen rain since we left the UK, and boy did it chuck it down! And what happened next?…Our bus broke down…

300 Steps to Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep is a Wat (temple) based far up into the mountain of Chiang Mai, on the dge of the national park. As you may have guessed, there are 300 steps to climb to et up there.

We were really looking forward to going here, not just to see the temple, but for the scenary as well. The only transport which can take you there are the red songthaew. Tuk tuks are not allowed by law to go up that far. If you have your own transport, thats fine too.

We began our ascent…slowly at first, but then we saw older people and OAP’s making their way up, and it made us think, “if they can do it, I can do it faster” so we picked up the pace. I am glad we did it early in the morning as it wasn’t hard, but the heat would have made it that way. Once inside the temple, it was all breathtakingly beautiful; the view over the city and the lush greenery surrounding it to the pagoda and layout of the temple.

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We spent a long time just watching others, to try and learn more about what they do. We were able to also take part in some rituals as there were translations. We could do the blessing of the pagoda by walking round it 3 times, clockwise reading the chant. Adam even managed to do the ‘shakey stick thing’ (technical term, I know) A kind man showed him how; you shake a pot of numbered sticks until one falls to the floor. You then go and get that blessing/prayer/fortune from the wall. If you like it, you keep it, if you don’t like it, you can put it in the box to throw away, and shake again. (Make your own fortune…?) Adam liked his and kept it. If it ever comes true, you can go back and stick it on the wall. We’ll just have to wait and see if it does or not!

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