Lois Andrews

Pharmacist on a career break - hoping to scratch my itchy feet
Living in: Torquay, United Kingdom
  • Day150

    S̄wạs̄dī Koh Phi Phi & Koh Lipe

    August 28, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 86 °F

    Day 1
    I was up picked up early the next morning and taken to the ferry terminal to catch the boat to Koh Phi Phi. The ferry was fairly comfortable and only took just over an hour to reach the island. As soon as I disembarked I headed to my hostel arriving just before 12. I spent half an hour or so in the room looking at what to do on the island. While I was there two new girls checked in, one from Spain and one from Portugal, and we decided to go to the beach. The Spanish girl wanted to snorkel so we walked to the other end of the bay to our hostel as we were told the snorkelling was good there. On the way there’s noticed how clean and pedestrianised the island was, with no cars or bikes in sight in the main town. If I’m honest it also felt quite like being on a resort. Albeit one occupies by backpackers. To our disappointment when we reached the “snorkel spot” we found that the sea bed was this weird mixture between sand and mud, which made the water really cloudy as you walked through it. It also wasn’t very deep, both factors making it less than ideal for snorkelling. We didn’t fancy swimming in it either so decided to head to the other side of the island to the main beach (the party beach at night time). Although the water was much nicer here it was even shallower as the tide was on its way out. Me and the Spanish girl decided to walk out for a bit hoping it would get deeper. After about 10 minutes of walking the water was still barely at knee height so I abandoned the idea of swimming and headed back. The Spanish girl kept going still hoping to snorkel. Back at the beach i chatted to the Portuguese girl (you may have guessed by now I couldn’t remember their names) while we waited for the Spanish girl to return. Half an hour later she came back, telling us that she went right out to the edge of the bay and was still only waist deep. She did manage to see a few fish though so not a completely wasted effort. We headed back to the hostel where the girls left me to go hike to the view point for the sunset. As it was pretty cloudy I didn’t see much point and would do the hike tomorrow. Instead I went and had an early dinner at a vegetarian restaurant where I had a yummy falafel burger. As I wanted to spend the next day hiking around the island i decided to have an early night so returned to the hostel.

    Day 2
    I was up and out early the next morning so that I could explore as much of the island before my ferry back to Krabi at 3pm. I decided to only stay the one night as the island felt too much like a resort for my liking, plus as it was off season and there was no direct ferry to Koh lipe id have to take the long way by getting the boat back to Krabi the a bus down the mainland and then another ferry closer to the island. I started my day by climbing the hundred odd steps up to the islands main viewpoints. The first view was nice but still fairly close to the town. The second viewpoint was higher up and so you could see the whole island below and also the famous Koh Phi Phi Li island, home to “The Beach” beach (sadly that specific beach is now closed for the next four months in order to let it recover from the mass tourism involved in being one of the main fist famous film sites in south east Asia). I had a drink from the conveniently located cafe and sat looking at the view for a while (taking a short break for the customary jumping picture). I then continued my hike up to viewpoint 3, which was more secluded and gave a nice view of the bay I tried to swim in yesterday. After seeing the three main viewpoints on the island I decided to follow the route to the east of the island to Long Beach. On my way there I found another viewpoint hidden away up an overgrown path (thanks maps.me). The simple viewpoint was just two large rocks looking out to the beach where all the boats dock. Although not mapped as a main view it was actually my favourite on account of it being so quiet and peaceful. I sat in blissful silence for half an hour, thinking how lucky I am to be there right now. I really appreciate every second of my trip. As time was ticking on I continued on to the beach and finally found the nice sandy beach I had been waiting for, complete q water deep enough to swim in and a view the The Beach Island. I spent the next two hours soaking up the sun and swimming before it was time to head back to catch my ferry. I was back in Krabi by 6pm, staying at the same hostel as before. I booked by bus for the next morning and then headed out to weekend night market for dinner. At the market I stumbled across a baked potato stall ad jumped at the chance for some home comforts. Washed down with a nice mango smoothie. With my tummy full I headed back to the hostel to shower and sleep.

    Day 3
    The next morning I woke up with a slightly unsettled stomach but tried to ignore it as my minivan picked me up to head south to Park Bara port. Unfortunately my stomach continued to feel unsettled until finally four hours into the journey I couldn’t hold it and threw up in to a plastic bag. As I hadn’t eaten anything yet it was mainly just liquid and thankfully didn’t smell up the bus. I felt slightly better and managed to make it through the last hour of the bus ride without being sick again. Unfortunately while waiting for the speedboat to take us to Koh Lipe I was sick again, this time over the edge of the pier. Thankfully I don’t think anyone noticed. With no other option I reluctantly bordered the speedboat and began the final hour of the journey. And as you might have guessed I was indeed sick again, this time having to back my way to the front of the boat before one of the crew gave ne a bag. I stayed there until we got to the island. Finally finished with transport for the day I walked the last 10 minutes across the island to my hostel where I checked in and went straight to bed. I woke up at 7pm having slept for an five hours, bought sone bananas and water in the shop next to the hostel, brushed my teeth and then went back to bed for the night.

    Day 4
    I spent all next morning in bed, eating a few bananas as keeping hydrated. Finally at about 2pm I felt well enough to get some fresh air and decided to walk to the beach. The island is pretty small so it only took me 5 minutes to reach a nice quiet beach. I spent the next couple of hours reading and cooling off in the water before heading back to the main walking street. I managed to find a nice restaurant that did some western food (I couldn’t stomach fried rice or noodles just yet) and had a veggie sandwich for dinner. Feeling better for having a proper meal inside me I headed back to the hostel for an early night, hoping one more good night sleep would do the trick.

    Day 5
    I woke up late the next morning feeling so much better. I decided to spend the day at the islands sunset beach, reading swimming and soaking up sone vitamin D. It felt good to be able to finally enjoy the beauty of island life. I had most of the beach to myself until the rest of the islands few tourists turned up to watch the sunset. I finally got to watch a cloud free island sunset. Once the show was finished I headed back to the same restaurant as last night and had the same sandwich for dinner, too nervous to try anything too special before my journey off the island the next day. After dinner it was back to the hostel to pack. Although I spent most of time on the island I’ll I was still able to enjoy enough of what Koh Lipe has to offer, quiet beaches and chilled vibes.

    So there you have my few days living the island life. Next stop is Malaysian peninsula.

    Lā k̀xn!

    PS - in case you were wondering, I’m pretty sure it was the mango shake that gave me the food poising. The risk with ice here.
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  • Day146

    S̄wạs̄dī National Parks!

    August 24, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 84 °F

    Day 1
    The night ferry to was actually pretty nice, more like a boat hostel with actual bunk beds inside. I was able to get a good nights sleepy and woke up just as we were docking in Surat Thani. The terminus of the ferry all the passengers got off and waited to be picked up bu their respective tour companies. After 10 minutes my company arrived and me and a few other passengers bundled into his minivan. We were then transferred to their office where were given stickers for stating our next destination and waited again for another minivan to come. Me and another couple heading to Khao Sok National Park were the first to be picked up. We didn’t get too comfortable before we pulled into a bus station and were transferee to our third and final bus which would takes all the way to the park. It took another two hours to reach the park where we were dropped by the main road outside the village. I decided to ignore the waiting taxis and walk the final 10 minutes along the road to the village and finally reached my hostel just before lunch time. I dumped my stuff in the room and headed out to fine somewhere for lunch. As I didn’t really have breakfast I decided to have pancakes for lunch, which would have been nice had it not been for the wasps hovering about. I managed to trap three under a lid so that I could finish my meal before paying and making a speedy exit before they released them. Refuelled I headed into the National Park and started the main hiking route. The first 3km of the park is quite a wide dirt road which can be trekked without a guide, the main highlight being a small waterfall just off the route. At the 3km mark there is a small forest cafe and information centre marking the point where you need a guide to continue. I had read online that it is possible to continue on alone as there are signs showing the route and the path is well marked on maps me. I decided to ignore the signs at the entrance and continued on. The path was much narrower and trickier than the main route with many stones and tree routes to navigate. Although there were arrows every so often the path was not always so obvious. After ten minutes of so I met two Czech guys and joined them for a bit as I truthfully I didn’t like walking there alone. Soon after we met a family with their tour guide and followed them for a bit before having to pass them as they stopped to talk about some of the plants. We found ourselves having to climb up the routes of a tree along a steep hill and when we got to the top it started raining. I checked maps me and say that we were quite far from the next point of interest. The path was getting harder and harder to navigate so I decided to make the sensible decision and turned back. The guys said they’d carry on for a bit so we parted ways. On the way back I saw that the family had decided to turn back too so I knew I’d made the right decision. Finally I reached the forest cafe and took shelter there until the rain stopped. Not long after I got there i saw another group return followed shortly after by after by the two Czech guys who carried of to the man entrance. While I was waiting for the rain to atop I met a nice young couple from Manchester, Adam and Rachel and we chatted about their trip and life in Manchester. It was nice reminiscing about uni days. Finally the rain stopped and we made our way back to the town. Still pretty wet and dirty I headed straight to my hostel and had a shower before finding somewhere for dinner. After my meal of pizza (I think I’d earned it) I retired for the evening, exhausted after a long day in the go.

    Day 2
    The next day I decided to take a tour of the Cheow Lan Lake within the National Park. I was picked up by a minivan in the morning and driven the hourlong journey to the main pier. About twenty other tourists and I bundled into one of the many long boats and at the lakes main pier and headed off on our tour. The 165 square km lake makes up almost a quarter of the whole park and is surrounded by huge limestone rocks and is surprisingly man made. The basin was flooded over one year in 1987 in order to use it as a source of energy. We had an hours ride to the centre of the lake, stopping along the way for photo opportunities of the main rock formations, until we reached one of the floating restaurants and Homestays where we had lunch. After lunch those that opted to hike to one of the caves headed off (only two young guys) while the rest of us stayed around the homestay where we could swim or kayak if we wanted. Unfortunately for me the group wasn’t the most conducive for making friends (mainly couples or families) so I decided to spend the afternoon reading on the porch of one of the guest huts with the view of the lake. A couple of hours later the boys returned and he got back on the boat for the journey back to the pier. On the way back we stopped for some more pictures before finally reaching the pier at around 5pm. We bundled back into the minivans and headed back to the village. After a light dinner I returned to my hostel for an early night ready for the morning bus.

    Day 3
    I caught the 9am minivan the next day to Phang Nga. Unfortunately there are no direct buses so it took over three hours to get there due to the route. As soon as we left Khao Sok the heavens opened and we had torrential rain the whole way. Even more unfortunate was that it didn’t stop when I arrived at the Phang Nga bus station which was quite far out of the town meaning I had to get a motorbike taxi to my hotel. In the rain. Thank god I still had my poncho I bought in Pakse! Although it didn’t really make the rise much better. I arrived at the Phang Nga guesthouse pretty damp and checked into their cheapest cupboard of a room desperate to change into dry clothes. Feeling instantly better I went to the reception to ask if they had a tour of the National Park Bay and they gave me a brochure from a local agent. The price looked good, and to be honest the town looked pretty dead, so I decided to book it straight away for tomorrow. I wanted to do a half day, due to the price but they already had a family who wanted a full day if the weather was good. As I really wanted to see the bay I agreed and booked it anyway. With the tour sorted I ventured out to find somewhere for lunch. Thankfully it had stopped raining. Thanks to TripAdvisor I managed to find a really nice cafe on a hill overlooking the town and had a nice meal while looking at the view. With literally nothing else to do on the town and no other tourist in site I decided to spend the rest of the day in my cupboard room making full use of the WiFi.

    Day 4
    I was up and ready in reception by 8am the next morning where i waited for my tour guide. As I waited I was treated to the view of the local schools parade agains smoking. The seriously over the top parade through the towns Main Street made up of each class dressed in different costumes, some as dancers, some as giant cigarettes or trees carrying rubbish bags. Every so often there was a slightly under rehearsed marching band to accompany the dancers. All this for stop smoking. Imagine what they do on the kings birthday! Soon my guide arrived and led be down the street to his car where I met a sweet Canadian girl called Mercedes. We then navigates the backstreets as we tried to avoid the parade before we picked up the family from the Netherlands, Sonja and her three teenage kids (I cant remember there names). We then headed out of the city and to the small pier where we were shown onto our long boat for the day. The driver left us in the hands of our local boatman who would take care of us for the day. He didn’t speak much English but was very sweet making sure we were comfortable before setting off. The boat headed down river before turning into the narrower river through the mangroves. I had never seen mangroves before and i have to say they are one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing how trees can grow like that. We travelled through the mangroves for an hour before taking a brief tour of one the areas water caves. We then joined the main river again and continued down to the main bay of Ao Phang Nga National Park. The park is made up of small limestone islands within the Adman Sea, very similar (but on a much smaller scale) to Halong Bay in Vietnam and is even home to a floating Muslim village, complete with mosque, where our boatman is from. As we traveled across the bay our guide indicated that we could sit on the roof which is where I spent pretty much the rest of the time in the boat. During the tour we stopped at a few of the islands briefly, the main one being “James Bond Island” where they filmed The Man With The Golden Gun. It’s a fairly small island and is now busy with tourists making it hard to imagine Roger Moore’s Bond being there. We stopped for lunch on the quiet beach of another island. As I got off the boat I suddenly noticed that there was a turtle on the beach. Though just as suddenly I saw that it was sadly dead. It was in its back with a huge chunk out of its side, possibly from crashing into something (its not an area for large predators. I’m so sad that the first turtle I see in real life turns out to be dead. We mixed future down the beach to have our lunch, not that we really felt like eating after that. Not long after the National Park coast guard turned up to deal with the turtle. Not exactly something you want to leave on a beach. Almost as soon as we’d finished lunch it started to rain. We quickly packed up our stuff and for back on the boat while our guide pulled the side panels down shielding us from the worst of it. We started to make our way back through the bay, and as with most rain storms here, it stopped almost as quickly as it stared. A few minutes later I found myself back on the now dry roof enjoying the boat ride. On the way back we stopped at the floating village and spent half an hour walking around and reading the information board about its history. It was probably the worst bit of translation I have ever read so I couldn’t tell you anything about the village even if I wanted to. Seriously none of it made sense. We then headed back to our boat and made the final journey back to the pier, spotting a few monkeys in the mangroves on the way back. We arrived at the pier earlier than expected so had to eat ten minutes for our first guide to pick us up. As previously requested I asked to be dropped at the bus station on the way back so I could get the bus straight to Krabi. I was able to catch the next bus and reached Krabi two hours later. I got a tuk tuk to my hostel for the night and had a quick shower before going to the local night market for dinner. Pretty tired after the days adventure, and yet more travelling ahead tomorrow, I decided to call it a day.

    So there you have my few days in two of Thailand’s National parks. Next stop it’s back to island life for a few days.

    Lā k̀xn!
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  • Day142

    S̄wạs̄dī Koh Tao

    August 20, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 88 °F

    Day 1
    The night bus to the port town of Chumphon was pretty standard and uneventful. Unfortunately it arrived at the pier at 3am and the ferry wasn’t due to leave until 6. Plus the pier office was closed so the rest of the passengers and I had to wait on the mismatch junkyard of airline style seats outside. Somehow I managed to sleep for a couple of hours and woke up just before we were allowed to board. The ferry itself was quite nice with comfortable seating and even played a movie on the way, though i chose to sleep for the duration. We arrived in Koh Tao just after 9am and I headed straight to my hostel to freshen up. Once I was feeling slightly more refreshed I headed over to Simple Life Dive Shop to book my open water course. There are dozens of dive shops on the island, it’s the main reason people come to the island, but I was recommended to use this one by two fellow travellers on my trip, independently of each other. That was good enough for me. The dive shop has a new open water course starting every night so I was able to sign up easily. I even met my dive instructor, Eve a lovely American girl who actually did her open water course with Simple Life a year ago and loved it so much she stayed to do her Divemaster and then instructor training. If that’s not high praise for the company I sing know what is. The course wasn’t due to start until 5pm so I headed back to the hostel for a power nap. On the way to back to the shop I had a quick dinner at one of the islands many vegetarian cafes (falafel wrap, my favourite as you know). Back at the dive shop I met the three other open water trainees; Artip from England, Molly also from England and Alex from France, all just as nervously excited as me. Eve took us up to one of the classrooms where we spent the next two hours watching the first two PADI videos, answering review questions as we went which we discussed at the end. By the end of the videos we were all pretty overwhelmed by all the information but Eve reassured us that once we were in the water with our gear on it would make more sense. Feeling reassured we all headed off to our hostels for the night to rest for the next days course.

    Day 2
    Back at the dive shop at 9 the next morning it was time to get more real. We started by trying on different sizes of BCDs (the buoyancy control device you see divers wearing), we suits and fins, making sure we all felt comfortable in the right sized gear. We then each collected an air tank (bloody heavy they are) and carried them along with the rest of our gear down to the training pool. Eve then explained each part of the gear and demonstrated how to put it all together in the right order. She then dismantled it all and showed us again. Then she went through each step with us putting together our own gear and then taking it apart. She then made us put it all together and take it apart four more times until she was satisfied that we could do it without help. Then it was time for our first test. Before we were allowed to go any further with the course we had to prove that we could tread water/float for 10 minutes. Initially nervous about this I found after a couple of minutes that actually just floating on my back was pretty easy (we are 70% water after all). Luckily we all passed the test (even Artip who had to start again after he touches the wall two minutes in). Now it was time for the fun stuff. We suited up and got in the shallower of the two pools only about 1.2m deep (compared to the 3m one we were just in). While in the water we had to do a number of skills. Eve explained each one first along with the hand signals she would be using (as we couldn’t talk down there) and then we put or regulators and knelt on the bottom of the pool (as it was so shallow). Some of the skills were clearing our mask of a little water, fully flooding our mask and clearing it, taking the regulator out of your mouth and putting it back in and clearing it of water, retrieving your regulator if it floats behind you, and swimming for a short distance with no mask but aided by Eve. We all manage the skills with ease and finished our first two “dives” feeling much more confident. We then had a brief lunch break before getting straight back into it. We had now graduated to the bigger pool were we would actually be going to a reasonable depth. We did two further dives in this pool where we learnt even moe new skills. Such as taking our mask on and off underwater and clearing it, hovering using our breath and what to do if you or your buddy is out of air (using each other’s second regulator). Each dive lasted about twenty minutes and after the two we all felt even more confident that we’d be able to complete the rest of the course. There marks the end of our second days training. Feeling proud and excited for the next day I headed back to my home on the island to rest up.

    Day 3
    We were booked into the morning boat the next day so we met at the dive shop at 7:30am. Eve briefed us on the days objective and then it was time to catch the long boat from the beach to the main diving boat. Once were were given the mandatory safety briefing we headed downstairs to assemble our gear, slightly more difficult when you’re on a moving boat than by the pool. Eve checked them all over and then briefed us again on the skills we would be doing on the first dive. We than got to relax until we reached the first dive spot. Once there it was time for our mandatory second swim test before we were allowed to dive. This one involved swimming two laps around the boat (about 200m) or three of you wore fins and snorkel (about 300m). I wasn’t confident so opted for the latter. Thankfully we all completed our test and were allowed to continue. Before getting back on the boat we did a brief “skin diver” technique were we dove a couple of metres and then swam up clearing our snorkelled on the surface. With both skills complete it was back on the boat to get our gear on. Once we were suited up and did our buddy checks Eve showed us how to enter the water using the giant stride (no room to do that in the pool). One by one we stepped off the boat and joined Eve by the mooring line to the first dive site. Time for the main event. We did our safety check and then stated to descend down the line, equalising our ears as we went. Once at the bottom (only about 12m deep) we found an area of sand we were wouldn’t disturb the coral to do our skills for the dive. Most were repetitions of what we had done in the pool, but in the rea life scenario of the ocean. Once completed we were able to have a brief fun dive before we returned to the boat. Back on the boat we changed our tanks and went upstairs to chat about the dive, all feeling much more excited now that we knew we could do it. The boat then took us to the second dive site and we repeated much the same process as before (minus the swim test). Both dives lasted about half an hour and by the end of the morning I was feeling more confident about my abilities. Once everyone was back on the boat we headed back to the dive shop and spent the afternoon watching the last three videos, taking more in as we had more context now. Once the videos were finished we did the final knowledge review covering everything we’d learned. It was then class dismissed and we headed off for the night. I went for dinner and then straight to bed.

    Day 4
    I was able to have a slight lie in this morning before heading down to the dive shop to get the afternoon boat. Once again Eve briefed us on our last two dives before leading us to the boat. The first dive involved doing a few new skills involving using a compass and controlling our buoyancy as we tried to hover. After we all successfully completed them we were able to explore the dive site. As we were now much more aware of how our breathing effects our buoyancy we were all swimming much more controlled over the coral. When we surfaced Eve commented on how much better our control he gotten over night. Having successfully completed all our skills the final dive was just a fun dive. And as long as we didn’t royally screw up we’d be signed off as completing the course. We spent the 35 minute dive following Eve as she pointed out various different fish and coral formation. With no skills to worry about this dive was definitely the most relaxing. Back on the boat we had a group photo to celebrate finishing the course before heading back to the dive shop where Eve gave each of us a log book and took our pictures for our new Open Water SCUBA licence. Very cool indeed. I loved the course so much and felt so at ease with Eve as an instructor I decided to go straight into the Advanced course which would allow me to dive up to 30m (instead of 18m) and give me more confidence it’s my new skills. Plus it meant I got to do five more dives! The other three decided against continuing due to time and money constraints so Eve booked us on the morning boat for the next day.

    Day 5
    I met Eve bright and early the next morning ready for the new challenge. The advanced course consists of five dives with each one focussing on a different specialty. The first two dives we were doing were the mandatory Deep dive and the wreck dive which I chose. Alex also decided to join us for the first deep dive so that she’d be certified for 30m too. Once on the boat we had our usual skill briefing from Eve before getting geared up and jumping in. Aside from safely getting down to around 27m the only “skills” we had to do were playing with a raw egg underwater, watching how the pressure keeps the yoke together (I know, don’t) and also seeing how colours lose their brightness at such a depth (for example red looks more brown). With the skills completed we were able to enjoy the rest of the fun dive. Back in the boat we had a quick break before Eve and I geared up for the wreck dive. The HMS Sattakut is an ex Thai Navy ship donated to a Koh Tao for use as a dive site. The ship was cleaned and stripped of any hazard before its controlled sinking in 2011. It is now home to many coral and schools of fish. Although no actual skills were involved in this dive using caution and assessing where it’s safe to swim is definitely learnt. Plus knowing not to touch anything as it’s covered in rust. Pretty cool. Although the ship is safe to swim in that is for more specialised divers so we spent our time swimming around and over the hull. While swimming around I saw my first big fish, a grouper, just chilling in the shade of one of the canopies. After half an hour we resurfaced and got back on the boat before heading back to the dive shop. I had a quick break for lunch as then spent the afternoon completing the required knowledge reviews for each of the dives (involving reading textbook chapters and answering quiz questions - felt like school). Eventually it was time to call it a night and return to my island home.

    Day 6
    After a brief lie in I returned to the dive shop in time for the afternoon boat. Today Eve and I were joined by two new advanced trainees as their instructor was unable to dive that day. Eve briefed me harry and Sam on the days dives covering navigation (mandatory) and peak performance buoyancy (chosen by me). During the first dive on navigation we had to complete a few new skills. We had to swim along a 30m like while we counted kick cycles and then return counting seconds (for our future reference); we had to swim in a square in pairs, one counting ten kick cycles and one using the compass; and finally we did some natural navigation involving Eve pointing out three distinct coral or rock formations as we swam and then telling us to guide her back. By the end of the dive I definitely felt more aware of my surroundings and not just following along. After a quick tea break in the boat he got in for our second dive. For peak performance buoyancy we learned more about controlling our movement with our breathing. Eve brought some additional weights down and did a few exercises with them (like swimming just above the sea bed and knowing them over with our regulators, and trying to over with 1,2,3 additional weights). We then swam over to the cube structures (huge metal cubes on the aww bed, like an underwater playground) and had fun swimming through them and hovering out the top and vice versa. After as the we were working a lot in our breathing we went through our air quickly so the dive only lasted 30minutes and we didn’t have any time for a “fun dive” even though I found it to be pretty fun. Once back on the boat we discussed the dives on the way back to the shop. I still had one more dive to do which I hoped would be a night dive but that depended on the weather (mainly if there was a strong wind). Eve and I decided to go for dinner in a local vegan restaurant before she had to make the call. Over dinner we discussed diving and how Koh Tao compares to other dive sites, and her new job opportunity in Japan (how exciting!). Finally it was time to head back to the shop and to my delight Eve said it was safe for us to night dive. As it was just the two of us we would do a shore dive which meant we’d gear up at the shop and walk down to the beach to enter the sea. Slightly harder as it involves carrying all your gear for 100m before you can swim. Once in the water we put or fins in and swam out until Eve said we were deep enough to descend. We turned our torches on and headed down. The only skill I had to complete was swimming in a straight line and back again using the compass like before. After that it was just a fun dive, where I followed Eve closely scared of getting lost in the darkness. The sea is completely different at night with different sea life coming out. We saw dozen of hermit crabs and a few puffer fish. At one point Eve stopped and lay down on the seabed looking at a rock. I wondered what was wrong until I saw an octopus tentacle poking out from beneath the rock. She’s told me earlier that it was her favourite animal (even having a tattoo of one on her leg). I must admit it was pretty cool seeing one, especially when it came out and swam (or whatever the do they do) around the base of the rock before it hid away again. We continued on with our dive and say yet more crabs and even a few glowing plankton when we turned our torches off briefly. After a while Eve motioned that she was going to surface to check where we were and then guided us back near where we started. Once back at the surface we were both ecstatic with the dive and what we saw. Plus at 48 minutes it was my longest yet. We spent the swim back to shore talking about all the different fish and crabs we saw, and the octopus of course (only the second one she’s seen an the biggest too). Back in shore we returned the gear and said goodbye for the night.

    Day 7
    The next morning I headed back to the dive shop for the final time so complete my last knowledge review as have my photo taken for my new Advanced Open Water SCUBA licence. It was then time to say goodbye to Eve for the last time, thanking her for her patience and for truly giving me the diving bug. I then spent the rest of the day lazing about around the hostel, catching up on some Netflix shows and ordering take out food from the twins burrito bar (thanks for the tip Eve!).

    Day 8
    On my last day in Koh Tao I decided to finally explore more of the island. I followed the coastal path around the south of the island and found a lovely quiet beach with crystal clear water. I spent a an hour reading and swimming before continuing my hike, hoping to find more pristine beaches. After a slightly more strenuous hike through the wood (part of which I’m not convinced is frequented by tourists) i came across another quiet beach, this one with a beach bar. Sadly the water wasn’t as clear but the cold drink from the bar and the deckchair made it worth the trek (sort of). After another hour spent reading I continued on and soon reached Chalok Ban Kao beach, the main beach on this side of the island. Across the bay I could see people on top of the hill at the John-Suwan viewpoint so I decided to push on. To reach the viewpoint involved climbing up a hill over a number of boulders with makeshift ropes to guide you up. Although pretty tricky at points the view was certainly worth it. Sitting on the large rock outcrop you could see the island in a sort of T shape with beaches on either side. I spent twenty or so minutes there taking in the view before navigating the rocks down again and treating myself to a mango shake at the bamboo bar on the adjacent freedom beach. Sadly it was soon time to head back along the main road to my hostel where I showered and got ready for my night ferry.

    So there you have my week in Koh Tao where I became a certified Advanced Open Water Diver and caught the SCUBA bug. Next stop is back to the mainland to visit some national parks.

    Lā k̀xn!
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  • Day134

    S̄wạs̄dī Bangkok & Central Thailand

    August 12, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 88 °F

    Day 1
    My flight from Yangon arrived in Bangkok at around 10:30. In the interest of saving time I opted to get a grab taxi straight to my hostel instead of the bus. Sometimes it’s nice to not have to think about the transport system straight away. Once at my hostel, a cute coffee shop with dorms above, I planned my days activities. The two main things I wanted to see in the city was the grand palace and the Chatuchak weekend market. As it was Wednesday I decided to visit the palace complex and surrounding temples. Following the my trustee map I headed over to the palace and joined the queue of tourists entering the gates. The Grand Palace complex has been the official residence of the kings of Siam since 1782, although Thailand’s current King prefers to reside in Dusit Palace in the south of the city. In my opinion the main palace building is actually one of the least impressive buildings in the site. It is fairly simple compared the ornate and colourful buildings and temples which surround it, especially the buildings making up the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand (and he’s there is an emerald Buddha statue inside). I spent a good hour walking around the site marvelling at the craftsmanship of each building. After the palace I headed next door to the Wat Pho temple. Another ornately decorated temple which houses a ginormous golden reclining Buddha. It is so huge I sadly couldn’t get the whole thing in a picture. The rest of the site sadly pails in comparison. Now that I seen the two most important historical and religious sights in Bangkok I decided to catch the bus over to another popular area of the city, the huge mall complex in the Siam district. Anything for a bit of air conditioned relieved from the heat. Over one huge block there are five interconnecting malls, each tailored to a different shopping experience. You can have a more market stall experience in the MBK center, a department centre experience in the Siam Discovery or go straight to the big guy at Siam Paragon which has everything from food courts to sushi restaurants, fast fashion to luxury designers, and even a cinema. No prize for guessing where I went. It’s a unique travel experience going to the cinema in different countries. This time I watched The Spy Who Dumped Me (very funny) and once again we had to stand for the national anthem at the beginning, this time accompanied by a picture montage of the current king. See, very unique. And luckily no one answered there phone this time! After the movie my luck continued and I found a vegan restaurant right in the mall which served vegan mac as cheese. Winning! Feeling suitably satisfied with a day well spent I caught the bus back to my hostel, ready for bed.

    Day 2
    I was up and out of the hostel early the next morning as I wanted to catch the train north to Ayutthaya, Thailand’s ancient capital and now UNESCO World Heritage site. Just a short two hour ride later the train pulled into Ayutthaya station and most of the passengers got off. Across the street from the station I found a bike rental place and rented one for the day. Along with the bike the guy gave me a map of the city and recommended the temples i should visit. With map in hand I pedalled on my way. The train station was actually across the river from the main temple sites so I had to brave the main road and roads and bridge for ten minutes before I reached the quieter area around the temples. Over the next few hours weigh the help of my trustee bike I visited six different temples: Wat Mahathat (with its famous and unexplained stone Buddha head trapped in a tree trunk), Wat Ratchaburana (with its impressive central prang), Wat Phra Ram (with its central pagoda and surrounding broken buddha statues), Wat Lokayasutharam (with it’s large stone reclining Buddha, outside in full view), Wat Phra Si Sanphet (with its three large chedis) and Wat Chaiwatthanaram across the Chao Praya River (the largest site of them all). After once again reaching temple saturation I cycled back to the station for a quick smoothie break before catching the train back to the city. Although it doesn’t quite give Angkor wat a run for its money Ayutthaya is definitely a great day trip to take away from the hustle of Bangkok. Now back in the city I decided visit the Paragon again to treat myself to the amazing vegan mac and cheese (its seriously good). Once fed it was back to the hostel for an early night.

    Day 3
    The next morning I was up early again, this time to catch the early train to Kanchanaburi, home to the infamous “bridge on the river kwai”. The four hour train journey took us west from Bangkok through the countryside. I got off one stop before the famous bridge in Kanchanburi town and headed to my hostel to check in. I had left my main bag in Bangkok as I was only staying overnight but wanted to use the internet to plan my day first. After a quick look through trip advisor I decided to visit Thailand-Burma Railway Centre. The museum depicts the construction of the Thailand to Burma railway during World War 2 by the Japanese using over 200,000 south East Asian civilian labourers and over 60,000 POWs, 90,000 and 12,000 of which respectively died during construction. The most notable part of the railway, thanks to the Hollywood movie, and the main subject of the museum, is the bridge over the Khwae Noi River (mispronounced “Kwai” by non Thai speakers. As well as a museum the centre is also a research centre focusing on uncovering the identities and cause of death of each casualty during the railways construction. Across the street from the museum was the Kanachanburi Allied War Cemetery the main cemetery for victims of Japanese imprisonment during the railways construction. I spent a few minutes walking around the cemetery reading some of the tomb stones, some were as young as 20. After paying my respects I headed out of the main town to finally see the bridge itself. The bridge had three parts of it destroyed by allied bombs in 1944 but has since been rebuilt. The original parts are now displayed in the adjacent JEATH war museum (Japanese, English, Australian, Thai, Holland - the nationalities involved in the railways construction). As there are only two trains a day tourists are aloud to walk the length of the bridge to take pictures. A surreal experience, even though it’s now a modern bridge. After the bridge I visited the museum to see the original parts. Unlike the Centre in town this museum not very well organised and was more like a huge antique collection of random war artefacts. Still it was worth the visit to see the original bridge. After my history lesson I headed back to town to sample some of the food from the local night market before calling it a day.

    Day 4
    The next morning I was able to have a nice lie in and brunch on the hostel before catching the midday train back to Bangkok. I spent the train ride engrossed in the spy thriller I Am Pilgrim by Terr Hayes, a seriously gripping read. Back in the city I caught the bus back to my hostel (after waiting a ridiculously long time) and after a quick dinner of fried rice I headed to bed.

    Day 5
    The next morning after a quick breakfast I caught the bus to the famous Chatuchak weekend market. With over 15,000 stalls and 250,000 visitors a day the market was a bit overwhelming, to say the least. I spent about an hour waking around the site browsing at the array of different goods for same (from clothes to spices to ceramics, you name it they’ve got it), mainly just trying not to get lost. I did treat myself to two new tops that would be better for the ever increasing temperatures of SE Asian. After a while the crowds just got too much so I admitted defeat and caught the skytrain back to the city. The train just so happened to stop right by the Paragon mall. Well it would be rude not to say goodbye. So that where I spent my last few hours in Bangkok before my night bus, lapping up the air con in one of the many cafes (no not the vegan one this time). Eventually it was time to return to the hostel to collect my bag and head to the infamous Khao San Road (aka backpacker Street) to catch my bus. Just walking the the 10m down the street to the bus office was enough to make me glad I chose to stay in a hostel far away from it. Just endless bars and hostels which crowds of semi drunk people everywhere. I liked my quiet coffee shop thank you very much.

    So there you have my few days in and around Bangkok.
    Next stop Koh Tao and some SCUBA diving!

    Lā k̀xn!
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  • Day115

    S̄wạs̄dī North Thailand!

    July 24, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 88 °F

    Day 1
    The rest of the slow boat gang were going straight to Chiang Mai so I bid farewell to them in the morning and got the local bus to Chiang Rai, just a couple hours away. It was quite a nice change getting a local bus as opposed to the big long distance buses or minivans I’ve been used to until now. The bus was quite old and small and I was definitely the only tourist in it. I almost had felt like Red at the end of the Shawshank Redemption when he gets the bus out to field with the big tree, mainly because it went though the countryside and was old, not that I had jus been released from prison... Anyway, after a couple hours we reached Chiang Rai and I was pleased to find that the bus station was actually in the entire of town (not always the case here) so I was able to walk to my hostel. After checking in I asked about the bus times to the White Temple, the main tourist sight here, and headed back to the bus station. I found the right bus easily and got on, followed by a handful more tourists. Just a short ride outside of the town we got off on the side of the main road and followed the trail of tourists heading to the temple. Wat Rong Khum, to give it its official name, is actually a contemporary, slightly unconventional private art exhibit which was designed and built in the style of a Buddhist temple by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. From the outside the building looks like a very pristine, shimmering white temple. But inside the main building is where it’s really weird as the walls are covered in bizarre murals. At first glance it looks like any spiritual paintings but then you notice images of Michael Jackson and Harry Potter. The most bizarre is definitely George Bush riding a rocket. Very odd indeed. After marvelling at temple of madness of a while I headed back to the city for an early dinner. The temple is pretty much the main thing to see in Chiang Rai so I decided to spend the rest of the evening relaxing at my hostel, taking advantage of the air conditioning and WiFi.

    Day 2
    I got the late morning bus to Chiang Mai and arrived at the bus station in the outskirts of the city at around 2pm. I refuse to pay the extortionate price for a tuk tuk to my hostel so managed to find a local bus that would take me there for a tenth of the price. Win for the day! When I arrived at the hostel I was greeted by probably the friendliest woman ever, Jaidee. She owned the hostel with her English boyfriend. And when she found out I was from England too she said “welcome home” and gave me a big hug. After she showed me to my room I relaxed for a while before going down to the cafe for an early dinner. I felt that I was starting to get a scratchy throat so I decided to have an early night, hoping I’d feel better in the morning.

    Day 3
    Unfortunately I didn’t feel better when I woke up. I think all the traveling eventually caught up with me and I just felt really run down. So sadly I had my first sick day and stayed in the hostel for the day. All I can say is I’m glad I was ill at that hostel with Jaidee around. Every time I came down from my room for food or a drink she’d feel my forehead and ask if I was ok. So sweet. Even though I wasn’t able to see any of the city that day, the rest was a welcome break. I was sure after keeping hydrating and eating enough during the day I’d feel back to normal again in the morning.

    Day 4
    Thankfully I woke up feeling much better and well enough to explore the city. After a very welcome english breakfast of beans on toast (I’m pretty sure it was even warburtons bread too!) I headed out for the day to visit Chiang Mai’s many temples. Unlike the White Temple, the temples here are very old, some of which dating back to 14th century. As there are so many to chose from, on Jaidee’s recommendation I visited Wat Chedi Luang (a huge stone temple, where the small temple in front had a sign saying women aren’t allowed in as they menstruate), Wat Lok Molee (the three tiered wooden temple guarded by two elephant statues) and Wat Phra Singh (which was renovated in the 19th century so looks more modern than the others). In between temple visits I stopped at a vegan restaurant for lunch and to buy some of their baked goods for later. On the way back to the hostel after being temples out I stumbled across a huge vintage clothing shop and enjoyed a good half an hour rummaging through the clothing rails. Sadly due to luggage constraints I had to contain myself and walk away empty handed. It’s nice to know that the second hand trade is not just a European thing. Back at the hostel I got chatting to an English couple in the common area and after a few minutes discovered that although they live in Bristol they’re both from Torquay. How weird! We spent the next while reminiscing about home. After a while Jaidee popped in and said we should go to the night market so we headed out to have a look. As with most night markets in Asia there are the usual food and souvenir stalls to browse. We stopped at one food stall and had some noodles for dinner and continued to chat about each other’s trip, they also gave me tips on Pai where I was headed next. After walking the length of the market, avoiding buying any souvenirs, we headed back to the hostel to pack for our onward travels.

    Day 5
    I got the late morning minibus to Pai and had yet another awful windy bus journey. I’m not usually one to get car sick, but this was a windy of windiest roads, so by the time we got to Pai (three hours later) I was feeling pretty queasy. Luckily Pai itself is pretty small so I only had a two minute walk to my hostel and soon found myself having a lie down in a large bamboo hut with 8 beds on each side. I had a nap to sleep off the nausea and woke up feeling well enough to venture to the famous backpacker walking street to sample the culinary treats Pai had to offer. Pai is the backpacking hub of Thailand with about 90% of its inhabitants on a day being tourists. Walking down the main street you’d be hard pressed to find any locals, other than those manning the food stalls. Thanks to happy cow I found a small falafel stall and got myself a huge falafel pita. Next to the falafel stall was a fresh fruit smooth stall so I got a mixed smoothie too and headed back to my bamboo hut to enjoy my dinner on the porch looking out at the river. And FYI the falafel was the best I’ve ever had. After dinner it was time for an early night so I was rested for a full day exploring tomorrow.

    Day 6
    I was up early feeling well rested and ready to explore the nature surrounding Pai. After walking around the village for twenty minutes I eventually found shop renting bicycles instead of mopeds. I should have taken that as a read flag that in the whole village there were about twenty shops renting mopeds and only one renting bicycles. Blissfully ignorant I set off out of the village towards pai canyon, the main attraction in the area. Clearly I had mentally blocked out the car ride into the town due to feeling sick and forgot that not only were the roads windy but also hilly. After starting off enthusiastically I soon lost energy after the first hill. I spent the next hours journey walking up the hills, cycling down the hills and sweating profusely. After much effort I finally made it to the entrance to the canyon. I took a few minutes to catch my breach and climbed the last few steps up to the canyon. Andrew me tell you, the view was definitely worth the effort. The canyon, like a mini Grand Canyon, covered a LARGE AREA, and consisted of a number of natural walkways across and around the canyon (some treacherously narrow). I spent around an hour walking around the canyon and taking in the impressive view. Many people come here for sunset, but the thought of repeating that journey was too much for me, plus it was cloudy so there wouldn’t be much of a sunset anyway. I headed back to the parking area and grabbed a quick smoothie at one of the stalls before grudgingly getting back on my bike and heading to my next destination. To be honest I was tempted to just cycle back to town, but as the next place was sort of on the way I forced myself to continue as planned. After a further hour of cycling and walking I reached the “Land Split” a unique tourist sight. In 2008 an earthquake split a farmers land right down the middle making it almost unfarmable. As a stroke of entrepreneurial genius he decided to turn it into a tourist attraction and also sell his homemade jams and teas. Although not a big area, taking just ten minutes to walk from top to bottom, it’s quite a unique place to visit, especially getting to talk to the farmer himself. While visiting I met three other travellers (an English guy, Sam, a South African guy and an Israeli girl). They were shocked that I’d cycled there as they had taken the more commonly used mopeds. The we’re going further along the road to visit the nearby waterfall and bamboo bridges and invited me along on one of their bikes. I gladly accepted as there was no way inward cycling further away from the town. The waterfall was quite small but fun to climb through the rocks to see the full height of it. Sam even took a quick swim in the water while the rest of us waited on the rocks having not brought a change of clothes. After the waterfall we continued on to the bamboo bridges. The bridges themselves were more like a ling network of bamboo walkways connecting various rice fields together. It was nice and peaceful waking along the bridges taking pictures of the rice fields. We stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at the local bamboo restaurant looking out over the fields. After our food the guys took me back to my bike, and after a few unsuccessful attempts of trying to find a way to carry my bicycle alongside their bikes so I didn’t have to cycle I thanked them for the gesture and committed to my fate of cycling back to town. The journey back didn’t seem as bad though, probably due to the fact that I know once I reached the cycle shop I wouldn’t have to cycle again, and I reached town after only twenty minutes. I headed back to my hostel for a brief rest before dinner. I couldn’t leave pai without another visit to the falafel stall so my dinner was exactly the same as the night before, smoothie and all. I also treated myself to a couple vegan spring rolls I spotted on the way back. Back on the porch again I enjoyed my dinner looking out onto the river (while also catching up on a few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy). I went to bed feeling satisfied after a full and active day.

    Day 7
    After a welcome lie in I got the late morning bus back to Chiang Mai and to my home away from home Jaidee’s house. Thankfully the bus ride wasn’t as car sick inducing and I reached Chiang Mai around 3pm. Although it was till early I decided to spend the rest of the day at the hostel planning the next leg of my journey as tomorrow I’d be flying to Myanmar.

    So there you have my week in North Thailand. Next stop Myanmar, my tenth country of this trip.

    Lā k̀xn!
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