08 Jun

KOH LIPE – ONE EXTREME TO ANOTHER

Sunset at Sunset Beach

Too many Sunburns & Tattoos

I so enjoyed my time at Koh Tarulato, quiet and relaxing.  My last stop in Thailand was Koh Lipe.  It was not quiet or relaxing.  Arriving by ferry, our boat backed up close to the beach.  We went down the swim ladder to water well over our knees.  This island was very expensive and the only affordable accommodation I could find was a dorm at a hostel.  I had not done the dorm thing for many years so was quite apprehensive.  The hostel was huge – over 300 beds.  Rooms did not have bunk beds, but more like a capsule, private and comfortable.  Each bed had a locker across from it.  In my room there was a big stack of big suitcases at the end of the lockers.  They belonged to 3 young gals from RIo.  They wore very very tiny thong bikinis during the day, and little slip dresses at night.  All of the clothes I ever saw them wear would have fit in one of my pockets.  What was in the suitcases??? This was a narrow island, Sunrise Beach on one side, Sunset Beach on the other.  There were endless seafood cafes.  This island had a great program idea “Trash Heros”.  Once a week tourists could meet and spend the day cleaning up a beach – boat ride and lunch were included.

Trash Heros

Seafood Cafe

This was a good idea, but they should have started on Koh Lipe.  If you went half a block off any of the main streets there was more trash than I had seen on any island.  I was really quite amazed at how dirty this place was.  It was extremely hot and there was nothing to do but go to the beach, and the beaches were very busy.  Once again, many Europeans in too small swimsuits.  The water was not as nice as the last place, but I did swim a few times.  I was certainly glad I had not decided to stay any longer – it was far too busy and crowded for me.  I stood on the beach one day and looked around – I could have been at a beach resort anywhere in the world – there was nothing “Thai” about this place. One day as I was walking on the beach a supply boat had arrived.  Everything used on this island had to be unloaded from the big boat  – and taken to shore in the longtails, then carried by hand from the boats to the beach.  It was interesting to watch and amazing to see the amount of supplies it takes to run a small island in high season.  This was my last stop in Thailand, and I was not all that sad to leave.  Next stop Malaysia.

Boats full of Supplies

Supplies Arrive

22 May

KOH TARUTAO – JUST WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR

Information

Jungle Road

I wanted it all  – palm trees,  a white sand beach,  and clear warm water.  I also wanted it on a budget, and for myself.  So far I had not found that perfect combination.  The owner of my guesthouse in Trang suggested I visit Koh Tarutao if I was looking for nicer beaches and fewer tourists.  The ferry ride was not long, in calm seas.   This island is one of the stops for the many tour companies offering day trips to 4 or 5 islands.  Some tours only stop here for 15 minutes.  If you are staying, you must pay your park entrance fee, then at the Park office you choose your accommodation – there was not a lot of choices as there are only park bungalows or tents to rent.  I was staying at Ao Molae 4 kilometres from the pier.  As I waited for the shuttle I read signs warning of noseeums, monkeys breaking into cabins, and pythons in trees.

My Bungalow

Outdoor Shower

This island was at one time a prison colony and has never allowed outside development.  My bungalow was perfect, and on a beach that was ideal.  There was a line of garbage just above the high tide line.  The Goddess of the Sea did not want man’s garbage, so this was nature’s way to return it.

A Perfect Beach

Returned Garbage

An outdoor shower served both sides of each bungalow building.  There was one cafe with restricted opening hours.  The staff were armed.  I do not know who thought water guns might be a deterrent to monkeys, obviously, no one told the monkeys as they swooped in and stole food off plates as we ate.  Electricity from solar panels was available from 6 – 11 pm.  There was no wifi.  I swam and walked the beach several times each day.  I always had both the beach and the sea to myself.  The social life revolved around dinner and sunsets at the cafe.  One day I decided to go for a walk down the jungle road. The jungle was so thick you could not see anything, but there were lots of sounds.  Monkeys were playing a wild game of Tarzan.  The trees formed a canopy over the road, and I could not avoid thinking of the warning of snakes in trees, so I did not walk far.  Four days of time alone, on a beach,  and I was rejuvenated to carry on with my adventure.  Every silver lining has a cloud – and the only cloud here was the constant threat of thieving monkeys.  I had found what I was looking for.

12 May

TRANG – CHINESE NEW YEAR

Small and Fancy Tuk-tuks

Another Style of Tuk-tuks

I only went to Trang for a couple of nights.  My plans were indefinite and I was hoping to access more information from there as to my next destinations.  Leaving Koh Lanta I rode in a van with a local woman and her cute little gal.  They were obviously going to a party as the little gal had on a fancy dress and sparkly gold shoes.  She was so shy and moved so her mother was sitting next to me.  I got out my Ipad and showed her some photos of our dog.  Once I did that we were friends and she sat beside me for the entire trip.  Once again only hug taxis were available at the bus terminal.  Again, I stood my ground and got a tuktuk.  Here they were very small and I had to sit hunched over in the back, and as usual, hit my head often.  I had booked a guesthouse in Trang and my room had a balcony.  I expected to sit on my balcony, have my  coffee and write my notes.  Well, my room did have a balcony – and I have posted a couple of photos – certainly no view!

My Balcony

View from my Balcony

 

The Chinese New Year celebrations were taking part only a block from my hotel. Chinese people were setting off firecrackers all day and there were long lineups to buy lottery tickets.  Along the street leading to the celebrations there were a series of large paintings of the former King.  People were lined up to have their photo taken with each of the paintings.  The party  was a fun time with lots of food and entertainment.  Many children were dressed in traditional outfits.  My guesthouse was booked for the following night so I had to move – only a couple of blocks. Before I left I was speaking to the owner and asking his recommendations for places to see.  He said he was sure I would enjoy Koh Tarulao an unspoiled island.   My new place was near the train station, and the night market.  There was a large building across the street that appeared to be under deconstruction.  I learned it had been damaged by a terrorist’s bomb.  Fortunately, the bomb detonated during the night, so no injuries or death.

Chinese New Year

Kids in Cute Outfits

06 May

KOH LANTA – BAMBOO BEACH HUT

Nice to walk on this beach

Beach massage

Typical Tuk-Tuk

 

 

 

 

 

The ferry from Phuket to Koh Phi Phi goes past where the movie “The Beach” was filmed.  My ferry stopped in Koh Phi Phi but I did not stay there.  I could tell by the number of people I saw arriving  it would be far too crowded for me.  I changed ferries and went on to Koh Lanta. I had heard the beach was nice, and not so crowded.   As usual the arrival of the ferry caused mayhem and tuk-tuk drivers increased their rates to meet the demand.  I went for lunch and by the time I had finished things were much quieter – and the tuk-tuk rate to my resort was less than half what it had been an hour ago.  Tuk-tuks here were a motorcycle with a box side car with two benches.  My little Moslem gal driver drove like a bat our of hell, not bothering to slow down for the many potholes. My head hit the roof many times.

 

My bamboo bungalow

Door lock

Clean and basic

 

 

 

 

 

I had always wanted to stay in a little bamboo hut on the beach and I could do that here.  Huts were as cute as could be.  The beach was fine, but once again, I could only swim at high tide.  It was a very social place.  As everyone met in the little cafe for the complimentary breakfast names and plans were exchanged.  I met a great gal from Germany who was Turkish and great fun to spend a couple of days with.    It was a lazy location.  I enjoyed reading on my deck and walking on the beach.  On the way into “town” there was the funkiest cafe I have ever seen.    The walls and roof were made of plants.  Each table was at a different level, and each table was completely private as walls of plants separted each one.  I had dinner there one night and it was one of the best meals of my trip – coconut curry shrimp.

Funky cafe

Awesome dinner $6

 

29 Apr

PHUKET – PATONG BEACH

Beach Bus

Colourful Taxis

It is not far from Krabi to Phuket, and the famous Patong Beach.  I thought since I was so close I would make a quick trip to check it out.  I left Krabi in the pouring rain and took a van bus to Phuket.  Young fellow from the hostel came to pick me up on his motorbike.  I was very very reluctant to ride with no helmet but he assured me it was just a few blocks, and he would drive very slowly and carefully – and he did.  I stayed at Poshtel and it was one of the best hostels of the trip.  There was a big long table to sit at,  and lots of interesting travellers  – so great social time.  Phuket itself did not have much to see.  I did go to a big temple high on a hill.  It was interesting, but nothing different from many others I had seen.

Patong Beach

Sunburns & Speedos

Patong beach is about 15 kms from Phuket.  There is frequent bus service in the back of large open air trucks with as much bench seating as they can fit.   We were dropped off at the head of a short street that led to the beach.  The street was lined both sides with bars and “Men’s clubs”.  The sex trade was more blatant here than I had seen anywhere – even in Bangkok.  I felt so sorry for the young Thai girls trying to get ugly old men to come into the bars and have drinks with them.  I walked to the beach and was impressed with how big it was, and how nice the sand was.  I was not impressed with the number of people.  There were many Europeans.  Most wore swimsuits that fit them twenty years, and thirty pounds ago.  Old guys in speedos do not impress me.  I spent a short time on the beach and took the bus home.  There is a famous ladyboy show in Phuket so I decided to go.  It was awesome.  Much better than the one I saw in Bangkok last year.  These “girls” were so beautiful, any one of them could have competed in a beauty contest.  After the show you could have photos taken with them, but I was not willing to be overrun by the Chinese tourists so I passed.  I was glad I went to Phuket – but I was also glad to only spend a couple of days there.

Ladyboys

Beautiful Costumes

21 Apr

KRABI

Beds on the Boat

Beach at Last

Leaving Koh Tao for Krabi I was told there was a night boat – with beds.  I certainly thought that would be interesting, and it was.  The boat was similar to our big car ferries.  There was one large room with about 50 sets of bunk beds.  No privacy here, but we all slept well.  I was constantly surprised at the cleanliness of the public washrooms, and the ones on the boat were spotless.  We arrived at Surat Thani early in the morning and had time for breakfast before the bus trip to Krabi.  I had booked a bungalow at a rather remote resort and was thrilled to see how cute it was. Pine Bungalows was all little bungalows with lovely seating areas on the front patios.  The resort was on a decent beach and seemed to cater to families with young children.  You could only swim at high tide as the water receded far out at low tide, and there was a lot of old dead coral making walking difficult.  The resort had an excellent cafe so I was fine just staying there.  The gal I met going to Koa Tao was coming in a couple of days.  I spent my time catching up on email as there was decent internet access.  The resort was built on the side of a hill going down to the water.  The landscaping was beautiful and a huge variety of tropical plants.  I had to change some money one day and the manager told me I would have to walk about 20 minutes to an exchange place near the 7/11.  I walked past a housing area of local

Local housing

Fishing Village

fishermen.  Housing was pretty poor – mostly just tin shacks.  I changed my money and decided to stop at 7/11 to buy a bottle of wine to share with my friend.  They would not sell me wine as Thailand has rules as to the hours alcohol can be sold – and 9 am is not one of those times – oh well.  After she arrived we stayed a couple more days then moved to a hostel in town.  Krabi is all about seafood with some excellent cafes.  One night we went for a nice dinner and our male waiter had on a lot of great makeup – false eyelashes, eyeliner, blush etc.  Neither of us were wearing any at all, so we felt pretty plain.  Lots of action on the river – longboats take tourists for sightseeing trips.  The water was not nice so we did not go.  The local buses here were interesting.  Each colour bus had a different route.  We wanted to go to a big shopping centre, so had to flag a blue bus.  The bus was actually a little truck with bench seating in the back. 25 minute ride cost 15 cents.  Local transportation in Asia is always an adventure.

Waiter with Makeup

 

Beautiful Sunsets

31 Mar

KOH TAO = DIVING

First, I must once again apologise for the endless problems with this blog. Trying to get it fixed while I was away, with poor internet, was an exercise in futility. I am hoping it is going to work now, and I will play catch up with the posts I could not send while I was away.

 

Thai night train

Recovering from flooding

Any mention of Koh Tao always mentions diving. As I am a diver and a lover of islands and beaches, I could not wait to check out my first island in Thailand. I was spending some time in Bangkok and heard a lot about flooding on some of the islands. Fortunately, reports said Koh Tao was returning to normal by the time I planned to go. I was going to take my first overnight train in Thailand. When I went to buy my train ticket, they have an inclusive train/bus/ferry package to get to many of the islands. I have used overnight trains in other Asian countries, and usually the bed is always a bed. Not so on the Thai trains. An attendant folds the bottom seats flat, puts a mattress on, makes the bed, and then pulls down the top bunk. There is a ladder and privacy curtains – nice touches I had not seen before. Train trip was very comfortable, and we arrived at Chumpon at 4 am. Bus arrived at 5 to take us to the ferry. We boarded a large fast catamaran – I would think it held about 300 people. Seas were rough and almost everyone was seasick. I was fine but felt so sorry for those who were not.
Arriving at Koh Tao it was a short, muddy walk to my guesthouse. I was reminded of Caye Caulker in Belize – dive shops and cafes dominated.

Resorts accessible only by boat

Rocks reminded me of Mwanza Tanzania

I had come here to dive, so my first goal was to find a dive shop, with decent rental equipment, and qualified staff. When you pass a diving course, you get a C card. It shows your qualification. As you take more courses you get different cards. It is common for a divemaster to accompany divers. An instructor in Canada advised me to always ask to see their certification, and I have been surprised how often they have not been able to produce it. In other words, they are not as qualified as they say they are.
My one and only dive was a great disappointment. Cloudy water with not much marine life to see. I later learned the reason Koh Tao is so popular is not because of the great diving – but because it is the cheapest place in the world to get certified. I paid almost $2000, 27 years ago in Canada. In Koh Tao you can get certified for $150. This is certainly a case of “you get what you pay for”.

Typical Dive Boat

Don’t Take the Sand

So, my first island was a disappointment, still hoping to find that white sand and clear water as I move on.

25 Mar

THE KING IS DEAD – THE COUNTRY MOURNS

One of the first things I noticed about Bangkok the first time I visited was the photos of the King everywhere. I am not talking about 8 x 10’s – oh no, most were billboard size. Every house and every business had a photo of him. He had ruled for years and was the longest ruling leader in the world. King Rama IX as he was known died on Oct.13, 2016. I presumed all of his photos would be replaced by photos of his son, Maha Vajiralongkorn who assumed the throne on Dec. 1, 2016.

The Royal family do not actually rule Thailand, but they do have a massive influence. King Bhumibol Adulyadej brought many in his country of about 68 million people to tears when he died at age 88 after 70 years in power. He had stopped coups, spearheaded rural infrastructure projects and met commoners in rough or squalid conditions. His actions helped strengthen people’s confidence in their country with an otherwise wobbly government.
To my surprise almost all of the royal photos are now black and white ones of the former King. There are paintings of him everywhere, and the entire country is truly in mourning. Many people wear black tshirts or golf shirts every day with the Thai number 9 – to represent the past King. Women wear brooches in the shape of the 9. Markets sell huge numbers of tshirts that say “I was born during the reign of Rama IX” both in English and Thai. I was in Bangkok over the New Year and was told there would be a massive turnout at the Palace on NYE to honour the dead King. It was amazing to see the massive number of people, dressed in black from head to toe, many carrying pictures of the King, many in tears. Everywhere I traveled people were getting their photos taken with pictures of the King. At McDonalds, they have a self order machine, and every second screen that appears is a black and white photo of the past King. Every government building is surrounded by black ribbon, and I have seen some eight story buildings that have black fabric at least six feet wide that hangs from the roof to the ground. Every Metro station has a huge memorial with fresh flowers and a condolence book to sign. There is to be a year of mourning, and the celebrations for New Years this year were very subdued – no fireworks etc.
Thailand has the toughest “lese-majeste” laws in the world. These laws protect the Royal family from insults or threats. As a result discussions about their Royalty are very restricted – penalties start with 15 years in prison. The new King is not popular, but no one will say so. When I asked my Thai friends what they thought of the new King, they would just roll their eyes. He is in his 60s’, has lived in Europe most of his life. He has been divorced three times.
I wonder when the year of mourning is over if his picture will be as prominently as his father’s.

07 Feb

TAJ MAHAL

WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL BUILDING

Four identical gates

Flights from Kathmandu to Bangkok go via Delhi India. I just could not be that close to the Taj Mahal in Agra and not see it. I arrived in Delhi at noon, it took over an hour to clear Immigration, then I stood in line for 3 hours to change money – and after all of that I was only allowed to change $60. I had booked a hotel near the airport. My driver picked me up at 3 am for the 2 – 3 hr. drive to Agra. Arriving in Agra we picked up my guide and went to the Taj for the sunrise. It was almost 9 pm when I got back to the hotel – a long, but wonderful day. I caught a flight to Bangkok the next morning.
The Taj Mahal is considered the most beautiful building in the world and when you see it you understand why.

Up Close Details

Breathtaking!

It was built by Emperor Shah Jahan and is an Islamic Memorial Tomb for his third wife – his favourite. She died giving birth to their fourteenth child.
It took 22 years to build and was completed in 1653. It required  22,000 construction workers, and 1000 elephants to transport the marble. Prior to the construction of the Taj, the Red Fort was built to house the workers. It had many interesting defence features. There were ramps that could be coated with oil and many positions to drop things on the invaders. There was also a moat filled with salt water crocodiles.
I was so glad I hired a guide as he pointed out so many interesting facts I would have missed. The fact that he was young and cute certainly did not hurt either. The Taj would be considered a modern day engineering marvel. It is perfectly asymmetrical. It was incredible to see how absolutely straight every aspect of it was. You seldom see tiles laid so aligned today. The minarets on the corners are not erect, but for a reason. Each one leans slightly outward. In case of an earthquake, they would fall away from the main structure. There is only one feature that is not asymmetrical and that is his tomb. Her tomb is in the centre, and when he died, his family placed his tomb beside hers to show respect for his great love for her.
The entire structure was designed to be self sufficient. A water catchment system provided water, and a drainage system returned the water to the river. Windows were placed to form a natural air conditioning system. An elaborate type of screen was designed and built to allow the women to be able to see out – but no one could see in to their areas.
The marble used in the construction is translucent. It absorbs the light and seems to glow different colours at different times of the day. In spite of the huge crowds I found it a very peaceful place.

Art from semi-precious stones

Privacy screens for women’s quarters

I also visited the Baby Taj, built earlier.  The entire building is inlaid with semi-precious stones.  Paintings are made with inlaid stones – so beautiful.

My last view of the Taj was through the mist from the Red Fort. It was a perfect ending to a visit to this magical and mystical place.

Cute Guide

Last look

26 Jan

KATHMANDU

Rebuilding from the Earthquake

The easiest, cheapest, and most efficient way to see Kathmandu is to share the hire of a car and driver.  Four of us paid $10 each for an entire day.  Our first stop was a heritage city on the edge of Kathmandu called Bhaktapur. It was a festival day so all of the shrines were having a sacrifice.  I did not attend but one of the guys said it was pretty gory, and the blood is spread all around. This Unesco Heritage site had a huge amount of damage from the earthquake but they are slowly getting the heritage buildings and shrines rebuilt.  We went to see a demonstration of the singing bowls used for medical treatments here. They are different size metal bowls and if you have a sore knee they set the bowl on your knee, then hit on it with a big soft hammer. They believe the vibrations will cure your ails. They told us it works well for headaches but I have trouble believing that, and I was not about to test the theory.

He said this made his knee sore!!

Things just fell apart

Next stop was Pashupatinath Hindu Temple. This temple is on the Bagmati River, the start of the Ganges River.  Here we saw the cremation gats.  They are platforms where the bodies are placed, then wood is piled around the body and it is set on fire. The ashes are swept into the river.  The body is first placed on the purification stone.  Each family member pours a cup of the river water into the mouth to purify the body. The only problem with this is the river is beyond polluted, filthy water with garbage everywhere. One of the fellows I was with heads up the water purity department in Ireland.  I can not write what he had to say about that part.  The closer the gat to the temple, the higher caste the person belonged to. There are creepy Holy Men who try to charge a bunch of money for photos. I wanted a photo but was afraid to get close to them  They are weird and they stink. A wide set of stairs line the opposite bank of the river.  As only men are allowed by the gats I presumed these were family members attending the funerals.  Our guide said people just come and sit there to watch the cremations. Burning bodies do not constitute entertainment in my life.

Body Burning

Cremation Gats

 

 

 

 

Viewing Gallery?

Creepy Holy Men

We stayed in Thamel, the old section of the city.  There was no evidence of the terrible earthquake of   Nov. 2016.  One kilometer away, at Durbar Square, the heart of Kathmandu, the earthquake damage was incredible. Most of the square was damaged, and anything left standing looked like it would need to be torn down. Gurka soldiers guard many of the places that are unstable. We did see many signs of foreign assistance. Modern construction methods are being used in hopes of preventing as much damage if this should happen again.   Kathmandu was certainly an interesting place to visit and lived up to my expectations of interesting and exotic.