A Travellerspoint blog


Day XXVI - XXVII: Krung Thep Maha Nakhon

Sawasdee Krab!

sunny 38 °C
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Checking into a hotel at 7am messes with the mind a little, especially if you go to sleep as soon as you arrive. When I woke up from a few hours in bed I firmly believed it was Monday, and started panicking that I had missed my meeting with Charlie altogether. I was delighted when I realised that it was still Sunday morning and that I had (in my mind) bagged a free night by checking in so early. The sound that woke me came from the alleyway behind the hotel and conjured up an image of someone being beaten up, but in a very methodical manner. The combination of shouts and thumps turned out to be from a local Thai Boxing gym that opened its doors to foreigners every morning for two hour training sessions, and I told myself I'd give it a go later on.


A few logistical Facebook messages later I met Charlie at the entrance to the hotel and a firm manly handshake welcomed me back to the party. Having blown the budget on luxury rehab accommodation in Krabi another expensive baht withdrawal was required, followed by my first Thai tuk tuk ride. Charlie's job for the next two days was simple: show me around the city and share enough Bangkok knowledge with me that I would look like a pro when Lucy arrived a few weeks later. We negotiated a price (200 baht, a little expensive) and set off for the market. After four weeks of buses and boats, the reckless speed and rushing air as we weaved between cars and trucks was exhilarating! We were thrown about in the back as our driver took every possible shortcut, overtake and illegal manoeuvre, and in less than 20 minutes we had covered the 12km to Chatuchak.

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Chatuchak Market (or Jatujak/JJ market) is the world's largest weekend market with over 5,000 stalls selling everything imaginable, with prices all 'TBC'! I was badly in need of some lightweight shirts and Charlie was on his bi-annual t-shirt run, so we made our way through the vast indoor arts and furniture areas to the clothing stalls. There is nothing comparable in the UK to the size and density of the market and it is hard to describe, but if you imagine walking down the aisle of a train or plane and every row of seats is another stall you'll be getting close to it. It took well over an hour for us to find what we wanted at prices we were willing to pay but we were both highly successful, particularly Charlie with his bag of 18 (!) t-shirts. The heat didn't mix well with the crowds and our growing hunger, so we stopped for a street food snack (giant veggie spring rolls, mmm...) and then flagged down another tuk tuk.


Charlie was keen to go to a Thai Boxing event at the national stadium in the evening, but with nothing more than a curious interest in the sport I let him go alone, wanting to explore the Khao San area a little more before phoning home to welcome Dad back from Afghanistan. In the 8 hours since I'd first arrived, the street had woken up and was in full swing with shouting market stall owners and bass-heavy music blaring from the restaurant speakers. I was satisifed after a short walk that it wasn't somewhere I'd be desperate to return to, and spent the rest of the afternoon cooling down at the hotel with the Lonely Planet guide getting ready for the trip to Cambodia.


A quick food run that evening found the street food to be rather disappointing, and I threw most of my tasteless pad thai in the bin. On the way back I walked into a scene from Fast & Furious, and watched a dozen grown men showing off their pretty cars without being allowed to race (under the watchful eye of the police). The image of my own car falling into disrepair on the driveway at home popped into my mind, so I let down a couple of their tyres and went to bed.*

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  • This may have been a dream.

I slept brilliantly and sauntered down onto the sleepy Khao San to find Charlie and the restaurant that served (in his words) "the best fresh fruit muesli in Thailand". Still sticking to my travel ethos of following personal recommendations I ordered and fell in love with the muesli, which came with a pot of fresh yogurt and was mixed with huge pieces of banana, watermelon, papaya and pineapple (which I picked out). We had no firm plans for the day, but I had decided that I was going to leave for Cambodia tomorrow (the 14th) so that I could arrive and get settled in a hotel in time for my birthday on Thursday. A quick search on my phone's Kayak flight app found a bargain flight to Siem Reap for 4475 baht (under 100 quid), but predictably after half an hour going through the booking process the webpage froze as I was confirming payment. Instead, C took me to a cosy travel office opposite my guest house where he had clearly been a few times before, as the two Chinese sisters (Lek and Yai) that own the place came out saying "Mr Charlie!". A round of introductions followed and I turned on the charm, jealous of Charlie's rapport with the girls and their memory of his name! By the time Lek got round to booking my flight the price had gone up by a few baht, but she worked some magic and got me the flight plus a transfer bus for 4900 baht.


Charlie had his own business to take care of at the office, booking onward flights and visas to China, so I left him to it after double checking that my name had stuck with the girls. I was dubbed Will Smith for ease of memory, which became my second favourite nickname from Southeast Asia after my surname was misheard on the Perhentian Islands and I was referred to as 'Mr Danish'.

With my flight booked I spent the afternoon planning my stay in Cambodia and made plans to spend the evening exploring more of the city with Charlie. A deafening electrical storm passed over the hotel and I sat on the balcony watching the tourists running for cover as the smugly amused tuk tuk drivers looked on from under their passenger canopies. Monsoon season is a wonderful time of year, with its reduced crowds and spectacular storms, but most importantly (for me) the sense of relief you get from the temperature drop after the rain. The raindrops fell hard and I could almost hear the sizzle as they hit the burning hot corrugated iron rooftops. When it was safe to leave his own hotel, C very kindly came over and took me through a physio routine for my knee and back while I filmed the various stretches I would need to do to get shot of my three-year-old injury. Feeling energised we jumped into a tuk tuk and Charlie took me on a high speed tour of the slightly seedier parts of Bangkok. We managed to dodge most of the advances from street touts while we perused the counterfeit merchandise at Pat Pong market, and then had a heated argument over street food pricing (hungry Charlie is not a man to be messed with) before heading to Nana Plaza in search of a sports bar with a pool table.


We spent an hour trying to find a bar that was showing the Formula 1 (I'm now not convinced we got the date right), and after failing in our search Charlie promised me a game of pool and a beer before he had to head back to meet up with a friend. There was a catch: "we're just going to pop into this one club first". Inside I realised I'd been lured on false pretences into what appeared to be some sort of gentleman's club, but the glint in Charlie's eye made me suspect that something else was going on. As soon as we stepped through the door we were ushered into a booth and watched in amazement as a parade of thirty rather stunning bikini-clad girls lined up in front of us and we were asked to pick the ones we'd like to share a drink with. We politely declined and the crowd dissipated, moving on to the next new punters. This gave me a moment to turn to Charlie and ask in a less-than-polite way why he had brought me here, knowing full well that I was in a happy long-term relationship. He grinned and answered by calling over the waitress, asking her to point out which of the 'girls' were actually female and which were... not. I couldn't help but stare and marvel at the craftsmanship when (s)he told us that there wasn't a single girl in the room.

My mind was elsewhere as Charlie beat me severely at pool, and seeing the distress on my face as I started to question everything I had ever taken for granted in the world he loaded me into a bright pink taxi and took me home. I packed immediately, desperate to leave the following day - I'm a scarred man.

Posted by WorldWideWill 18:15 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Day XXV: All Roads Lead to Bangkok

storm 32 °C
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Let me tell you something about Thai roads. There are only two rules: drive on the left and don't hit anything. Ok, it's really just the second rule. Out here you can go anywhere, anyhow and at any speed, and trying to drive like a considerate, cautious Westerner will most likely get you killed. Slip roads join from the right, there are no overpasses so all junctions involve a U turn onto the opposite carriage, and hard shoulders are for motorbikes and tuk tuks, and any vehicle that feels like driving in the opposite direction to avoid a pesky legal manoeuvre. The bus drivers are similarly entertaining. Outside of pre-planned toilet stops they will happily pull over to stretch their legs, have a cigarette or even buy some lunch, leaving a bus full of bewildered travellers in a sun-baked car park. I feel sorry for people who fly everywhere and miss out on these little observations.

Saturday morning: this time I was ready. A second night of sleep in relative luxury had worked wonders, and with a bounce in my step I went to the minimart to buy supplies for my bus journey and a new razor. I ate well, tactically avoiding the slightly undercooked part of my eggs, and after a hot shower, shave and throwing on a freshly laundered t-shirt I felt like a new man. I'd peaked a little early with 6 hours still to kill until the bus, so I did what any poor writer who has committed to producing a travel blog would do with the time and sat painstakingly touch typing 5 days' worth with my phone. Finding a computer in your hostel is a rare treat in Thailand, and without the speed of a keyboard a daily update is a little taxing.

Annoyingly the bus driver was punctual and my bags were taken from me and loaded before I'd had a chance to say goodbye to Lucy on Skype! I settled in for the 2 hour transfer to the bus depot, and was more than a little surprised when I was kicked out five minutes later at the same travel office (in front of the same woman) that had hosted our little spat two days earlier. With my ticket checked and taken from me I was branded with a 'Bangkok' sticker and sat with several other bemused folk with no explanation of when we were leaving or why my bag was still on the bus. I took the opportunity to stock up on snacks, ignoring the pair of flea-ridden dogs lying next to the food stand.

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A lady came out from the desk and did a lap of the office holding a sheet of cardboard above her head like a ring card girl from a boxing match, which read "Don't leave valuable in your bags". I was confused again until I realised that there were two minibuses going to the bus checkpoint and several bags were being taken separately from their owners. Being at the back of the queue I did the gentlemanly thing and ran for my bag (every man for himself!), and was luckily placed in the same bus. Unfortunately I was folded into the middle seat next to the driver, which meant that in addition to getting no leg room I also had a front row seat for his insane manoeuvres. His unannounced cigarette break allowed the nerves to settle halfway there.

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Miraculously unscathed we reached the bus checkpoint, Hell's waiting room, at Surat Thani. It's essentially someone's garage with tables a kitchen attached, and owing to yet another downpour we were all huddled under the roof gazing at the food menu and trying to guess the wifi password. I spent 20 minutes helping a British guy track down his bag (they had travelled individually, the fool) and then ordered myself a "cheese sandwich", very excited at (a) the prospect of an actual sandwich with actual bread (not big in SE Asia) and (b) eating my first proper meal since falling ill. This is what I received:


Yes, a stale (solid) burger bun with a processed cheese slice. Natalie Haynes (one of my favourite Times journalists) once wrote that "being in favour of the processed cheese slice is morally identical to being in favour of cutting down ponies with a scythe". A little dramatic perhaps but I've always been inclined to agree so I'm ashamed to say I took a few bites before throwing it away, and for fear of getting ill again rather than what it looked/tasted like - enough ketchup will mask any flavour! Luckily I still had a stash of fruit buns and pringles to make a meal from and our VIP coach had arrived just in time for the heaviest rain. Inside the air con was set to a welcoming 'Scottish Highlands' rather than the usual 'Frozen Wasteland' and we had fully reclining armchair style seats. I logged the location of the toilet (downstairs!) and a large TV screen started to play a movie with heavily delayed subtitles. This felt good!


After watching what I could see of Life of Pi (very good, overrated a little though I thought) I snuggled into the smelly blanket I'd been given and tried to sleep. This plan was abandoned within 30 seconds as the next movie, 'Flight', started playing at full volume. Those that have seen the film (as I already had, recently) will know that it involves a plane crash - not a soothing soundtrack for tired souls to fall asleep to! Halfway through the film the roof began to leak, streaming through the air vents and soaking everyone on the other side of the bus. This meant all vents were closed and the bus became very warm indeed, so the midway stop at midnight was a welcome break. The storm escalated in intensity very quickly at that point, to the extent that it caused a complete blackout at the service station and the lightning was so bright that it had the effect of staring at a camera flash. Partially blinded I stumbled down the bus stairs to investigate the toilet, which I found acceptable until the realisation that the 'complimentary' water bottles next to the cistern were to be used to manually flush the loo...

(Picture not provided: you're welcome).

The remaining 6 hours of the drive passed slowly and uncomfortably with no hope of sleep but we eventually arrived in Bangkok with the storm still in full swing. Predictably we were set upon by the tuk tuk drivers as we got off the bus, which quickly drove off before most of us had found the pile of our bags slowly absorbing a cascade of rainwater from a phonebooth roof. With only sketchy directions to the Icelanders' hotel and no sign of Khao San Road I latched onto a Japanese guy who seemed seasoned enough and we found our way to backpacker central. Khao San Road is notorious, infamous and hailed as the Western traveller's destination of choice in Bangkok and I was glad to have the opportunity to walk its length at 6am on a Sunday and get my bearings before the madness descended later in the day. I was rather disappointed to be honest, but being dangerously tired I ploughed on, found the Lucky House hotel and checked in to a double room with air con, hot shower, TV, wifi and fresh towels. Perfect. Not wanting to lose the day I sent a quick email to Charlie hoping he was still around and could show me the sights and then fell into bed for a power nap. What a long day.

Posted by WorldWideWill 19:25 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Day XXIII - XXIV: Sickness in SW Asia (Round Two!)

sunny 36 °C
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This was worse than Singapore, so much worse. I was woken much earlier by the cramps than usual but this time there was an added sense of urgency - I have never been more glad of a private bathroom! The five metre dash game kept me occupied for about 4 hours, after which I was not only exhausted but also dangerously dehydrated. At 9am I attempted a walk to find water and a cup of tea, got as far as Mom's for a speedy facebook status update and then lost balance and had to ease my way back to bed. I lay there until checkout at midday, dreading the huge journey ahead of me to Bangkok that we'd booked the night before.

Walking out into the heat with my bag weighing heavy on weak shoulders was too much for my body to cope with, and I'm ashamed to say that halfway down the path to reception I was forced to use a wheelie bin as a giant sick-bowl. And then a drain. And then the reception bathroom. Charlie appeared late and confessed to having an upset stomach (though with his experiences in India he was better trained than I) and we instantly jumped to the conclusion that Mom had poisoned us. We made a point of telling them we were just fine when they asked as we passed, and Charlie led me stumbling through the forest to spend our last couple of hours on the posh beach. My drink order was fairly simple: one glass please, and directions to your nearest toilet. Both acquired, I set about making another Dioralyte cocktail which proved pointless moments later as I rushed through the bar at breakneck speeds.

I managed a distress call to Lucy via Skype between my shuttle runs and together we agreed that a 14hour bus to Bangkok wasn't a great plan. I headed back to the hotel and asked to cancel but it was too late and I lost my 650 baht. I did keep my boat transfer to the mainland though, and there we bumped into our Icelandic friends who had been up all night with food poisoning! Coincidence? No. Stupid rice.

The boat was tricky to manage on a wobbly stomach but I sensed that the worst was behind me and somehow made it onto the minibus transfer which I had understood would take me back to Krabi town so that I could find a bed to sleep it off. This wasn't the case and, long story short, I ended up miles out of town in the middle of an argument between Charlie and the greedy tour operator woman who was charging me another 150 baht for a taxi into town (despite the fact that I'd practically given her 650 baht, plus the 300 I'd paid to change the date of my bus). Eventually I'd had enough and coughed up the money, desperate to just get into bed. I was taken back to K Guest House where I knew I could get a more fancy room with air con and the all-important private bathroom. They seemed genuinely happy (and slightly concerned) to see me, and offered me a generous discount of 150 baht off the 650 baht room.

The rest of the day passed in a blur, and all I really remember after collapsing on the bed and setting the air con to 'arctic' is a couple of delirious phone calls to Lucy and being offered a taxi to the hospital by the guest house owner when I emerged to buy some water in the evening. Charlie and the Icelanders had carried on to Bangkok on the overnight bus, and I knew I had made the right decision to stay put.


The next morning started better, and I woke up to several supportive texts from Lucy, including the address for the hospital. I honestly don't know where I'd be without her! After getting up, the first test of the morning was to see if I could hold down fluids. Having successfully passed I made the wobbly walk up to the 7 eleven for water and then collapsed on the bed again. At 9am I ordered toast and took the malaria tablet I'd missed the night before. This was followed over the course of the day by most of my first aid kit, including paracetamol, ibuprofen and a probiotic multivitamin. I still didn't have the strength to face the bus, so I booked another night, handed over two kilos of laundry and walked to a payphone to change my ticket. When I got back I was happy to see that Doug was still here and we had a nice chat before the bus came to take him back to Hat Yai.

My afternoon was equally exciting, broken up only by a quick walk into town to buy postcards and a loaf of fruit bread to give me some much needed ballast and energy. A trip to the pharmacy restocked the rehydration sachets at 11p each, and after a couple of hours' WiFi access I headed back to bed and fell into an uninterrupted 9 hour sleep.

Don't eat the rice, folks.

Posted by WorldWideWill 00:30 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Day XXI - XXII: Railay Rocks!

sunny 34 °C
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We bid a fond farewell to our hosts at K Guest House and set off for the pier after another hearty morning feast. The backpacks were like giant targets on our backs, and after three days of peace we were set upon once again by the local touts. A very pushy man in rather shady shades wanted to play hardball and ignored our attempts to brush him aside, going as far as walking us all the way down to the tourism/ticket office which really aggravated Charlie & I. We were only mildly embarrassed to be told that he was actually the boat captain, and we begrudgingly made our way to his dock wishing our money could go to someone with slightly better people skills!


After the standard Thai wait for the boat to fill up we sped down river to cross the sea over to Railay Beach. We had already seen much of the karst limestone landscape on the previous day's ride, but seeing it from the sea was twice as impressive. Huge cliffs and forests framed the Railay beaches and as we approached the rock climber inside me became very excited indeed! We paid the man his 150 baht fare and set about finding a bed. The list of hotels of the map didn't bode well for the budget, as almost every one ended with the word "resort". The nearest rooms to the boat started at 2800 baht (£62), a little more than our £20-a-day budget and a long way from the £5 we had been paying in Krabi town! After a fruitless walk along Railay West (the postcard beach, very pricey) we finally settled for the cheapest rooms available on the East side - 500 baht for a private bungalow with shared pool. Not bad, we thought, ignoring the warnings from the owner of the resort next door...


With half a day's budget blown we had a reasonably priced lunch and then headed up to the cliffs to check out the climbing scene, eager not to waste the afternoon wandering around. A half day beginner course was 800 baht, and Charlie signed himself up having never climbed before. Our attempts to convince Doug to have a go failed miserably and he instead volunteered to remain on the ground as photographer and cheerleader. There was no option for me to just climb (kind of tricky without a belay partner) so I bit the bullet and signed up too. I was very happy to discover that beyond the basics we were just there to climb, and having previous experience I was used as the demonstrator guinea pig for the lesson. Despite the heat the climbing was excellent and sufficiently challenging. Charlie struggled to find his technique at first and came close to hanging up his shoes in frustration but after being assured by the guide that these were beginner crags he carried on valiantly and did very well indeed. (As we were leaving I asked what grade the climbs had been and was told that they were all around a 6a/6b... Not exactly what we'd call beginner level back home!) I finished the 4 hour session with some leading to really wear myself out and then we walked down to the posh beach for a cool-down stroll in front of the sunset.


Doug had left us by this point, deciding he'd rather stay the night back on the mainland and not keen to join us for another day of climbing. So we sat down for a tasty dinner at Mom's Kitchen on Railay East, mainly to use the WiFi, and after a minor incident with Charlie showing his displeasure at the taste of his papaya lassi I made my excuses and went to bed. Walking past the closed pool after a day of physical exercise was too much temptation to resist, so I grabbed my swimshorts from the room and had a stealthy dip. Only once I returned did I realise that my bungalow had been double booked, and walking into the bathroom I was confronted by a GIANT cockroach. This thing was enormous, not quite Men In Black proportions but so fat that it didn't fit under a glass when I tried to evict it! I ran back into the room to grab the ashtray, the only other container large enough apart from the bin or a pillowcase, but when I returned it had disappeared. I searched everywhere, armed with the bidet hose, but there was no sign of it. Sleep was out of the question now, so I turned on the TV and watched Harry Potter on HBO. Over the next few hours I met giant ants, flying ants and inquisitive geckos. I have no idea how I slept for those three hours, especially on that excuse for a mattress, and to top it off I even woke up with bed bug bites.

Wednesday looked set to be a good day, the sun was shining and more importantly I was out of that god-foresaken bungalow! Quite why I'd agreed to pay for two nights is still beyond me, but nevertheless we had great plans today: deep water soloing.

Breakfast is rarely included in the room price in Thailand it seems, so without any cash tying us to our hotel we went back along to Mom's for some morning WiFi. We're still not sure what happened or what we said, but things turned nasty. Firstly, the lady tried to charge Charlie 50 baht for plugging in his laptop which prompted one of his frustrated rants about profit over service in Thailand. After this had been settled we then watched as three couples arrived and were served breakfast before us, and when the WiFi lady announced that it was turned off to allow the router to cool down we promptly left. Neither party was particularly impressed. We ended up back at our hotel and it was our best decision yet: 150 baht (seems like everything is that price) bought an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast, including eggs, juice, cereal, tea and pancakes. We soon forgot about Mom's (for the time being).


Deep water soloing is essentially rock climbing over open water. You are taken to the rock face wearing nothing but swimshorts and climbing shoes and once you've hauled yourself onto the crag you climb as high or as wide as you can manage until you either fall off - or reach the top and jump off - into the sea. This was the reason I'd come to Krabi, and I'd booked us on a "sailing boat" for the day which would take us out to the cliffs for a few hours of climbing, snorkelling and a free lunch. At 1,000 baht it was expensive for Thailand but it was £20 I was eager to spend.

Alarm bells should have sounded when the man who took my money the previous day called himself Bang Bang, and when he didn't show up we thought nothing of it. There were four of us in total, Charlie, me and two Icelanders plus our driver, Mi (this got confusing). The rubber dinghy that was supposed to transport us from shore to boat broke down more times than I could count on my fingers, and Mi eventually accepted that Bang Bang hadn't left him enough fuel to make the 200m transfer and grabbed the paddle to make up the distance. We arrived at our "sailing boat" an hour later than the advised start time, and boarded a slightly shabby vessel that had probably not seen a sail on its mast since it arrived here. With a splutter Mi got the old engine started and we trundled off into the ocean.

It was a long journey, but well worth it for the views - please look up images of Railay to see what I'm on about, I'll add photos once my camera is back in service!

The climbing was fantastic, absolutely amazing. Without a dinghy to drop us at the foot of the sea cliffs we had to jump in and swim to the makeshift rope ladders and pull ourselves onto the rock. In most cases the ladder was the hardest part! I took the first fall, largely to boost my confidence, and it was a great feeling to be caught by the warm sea. Charlie was glad of his afternoon's intro to climbing, but we were both outstripped by the beefy Icelandic bloke who managed to reach dizzying heights without any visible effort. The jump was the most nerve wracking part, and our first was from about 30ft up. Peer pressure and a countdown in broken English from Mo were enough to make me take the leap, though I managed to wind myself in the process.

Lunch was a dodgy affair, and my request for a veggie meal had been politely ignored. Instead we were each presented with a lukewarm Styrofoam box containing a lump of chicken, fried onions and damp, sticky rice. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but we were all too hungry to think too much about the food and I filled up on rice and onions once I'd donated my chicken to the Icelanders.

The water was too murky for snorkeling, and after Malaysia I wasn't too bothered so we "sailed" around to another climb. This one was a bit of a beast and started with a huge ladder. I swam over for a go after watching Mr Icelander give up, and managed to ascend the ladder and another 20ft of rock before the jumping distance began to make my legs wobble! Despite the shouted encouragement from the boat I climbed down a few feet to find a suitable platform and stepped off, leaving my stomach behind!

Our journey back must have taken 3 hours. In true Bang Bang style the boat's engine coughed itself to a standstill on more than 5 occasions, and each time we watched as Mi jumped beneath the deck with a spanner between his teeth to provide a temporary fix. He did well, and I was relieved when he called in another boat to take us back to land.

Exhausted, Charlie & I headed back to Mom's for some dinner and I decided to clear the air and apologised (not sure what for, but it seemed to work). There was no trace of spit in my soup or coconut shake and we went back for an early night with a clear conscience. When I opened the bathroom door to find that Mr Cockroach's missus had moved in with us I was too tired to care and went to lie with the bed bugs.


Posted by WorldWideWill 23:20 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Day XIX - XX: Krabi Town

storm 26 °C
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Day XIX - XX: Krabi Town

The plan for Sunday was to get an early start, a decent breakfast and then rent a fleet of motorbikes to explore the area. We managed an early-ish breakfast, but then decided there was no harm in booking a second night in Krabi town and easing over to the rock climbing tomorrow. So we ended up having a rather lazy day, and I spent hours listening to Doug and Charlie talking passionately about astrophysics and physiotherapy (respectively), throwing in the odd comment of my own whenever I could relate the topic to Geography or retail management!

Our decision not to take the bikes out was vindicated by a loud rumble of thunder and the following downpour shortly after lunch. We were yet to leave the guest house and the staff seemed more than happy to accept more and more of our cash as we raided the drinks fridge and worked through the food menu. Afternoon naps, laundry and travel research were the theme for the rest of the day, though I did venture out to the evening market for veg fried rice and a banana pancake, all for £1.30. I finished the night with another lovely Skype chat with Lucy and went to bed.

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All in all, a rather dull day was had on Sunday - it was just what we needed.

We did better on Monday. Up early and well fed we headed down to one of the rental shops following advice from some fellow guests that it was the cheapest in town. It was unbelievably cheap, just 150 baht for a day's rental (£10 for 3 bikes!), with no requirement to return them refueled. Great news for me as I was given a bike with a full tank, but no such luck for the boys so our first stop was the local petrol station (no complaints there - a full tank cost just over 2 quid!).

We set off on our scooters looking awesome (even D with his hot pink ride), all with mismatched and ill-fitting helmets and armed with nothing but water and a dodgy, not-to-scale road map. We later discovered that the turning we had missed was just 10mins into the ride, but unaware of this at the time we drove for well over an hour along the Thai country roads and highways in search of the beach before stopping for a Coke and directions. No one spoke English of course, so we headed back the way we came and eventually started to pick up English signs to Ao Nang beach. I found it hard to believe that even with the breeze at 60km/h the sun still felt burning hot, and I made several stops to top up on suncream. Of course it had to be me that had the first bike drama, and midway through yet another unplanned U-turn I lost balance and dropped the bike on my bare leg. I got away with a few scrapes on my foot and a painful exhaust pipe burn below my shin, better than it could have been!


Another hour of driving and more poor directions brought us at last to Ao Nang, after a quick stop to investigate a roadside bird auction/competition (I wish I knew enough to elaborate!). Coming from the peaceful low season pace of Krabi town, arriving at tourist-packed Ao Nang was a bit of a shock for us all. Seeing the first shirtless European as we parked made up our minds that we wouldn't stay long (or ever return!) so we stopped for lunch and a round of mango smoothies at a beachside restaurant.

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My post-lunch swim in the (very salty) sea was cut short by the appearance of the only-too-familiar black clouds on the horizon. We made a run for the bikes after I'd washed off the salt in a hotel water feature and set off at speed, hoping we could stay ahead of the storm. We couldn't. Within 5 minutes the monsoon had reached biblical levels and with zero visibility we were forced off the road to shelter in a makeshift mechanic's garage. The rain fell for what seemed like hours, and we were incredibly touched when the garage owner brought us some chairs and a sliced up pineapple (the best I've ever tasted). Still wearing my damp swimshorts, I volunteered to make a dash for the minimart 200m down the road and came back, wading through ankle-high water, with Coke and a packet of choccy biscuits which I offered round the garage staff.

We pounced on the first lull in the storm and with a wave and a heartfelt bow to our hosts we hit the road once more, desperately trying to remember the directions back. The second deluge hit us on the outskirts of town, and C & I were so cold from the wet ride (C was the only one without a waterproof) that we ploughed on through the puddles and crazy traffic to the guesthouse. The guesthouse staff were highly amused to see us, three "farang" soaked to the skin and clearly in no mood to follow through with the plans to change accommodation for the night. We took our bags out of storage and booked a third night, this time Doug (very thoughtfully) booked himself into a room with private bathroom and hot shower which he offered to me and Charlie to warm up.

It rained all evening, but I made a dash for town in search of food and had a wonderful veggie pad thai followed by a 40p roadside pancake with banana and raisins :) An early bed was needed after a bath in aftersun - the ride had taken its toll in many ways! Tomorrow we would finally find the rocks that we came here to climb!


Posted by WorldWideWill 23:20 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Day XVIII: Bye Hat Yai

sunny 34 °C
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I was woken up (with a slightly fuzzy head) simultaneously by the daily cramps and Charlie's banging on my door. I checked the clock to see if I'd missed my alarm and saw I still had an hour before our agreed meet-up at 9am - Charlie was still on Malay time. I let the other two head off in search of food without me while I pulled myself together and made a dash to the 7 eleven for water. I had read about Thai water brands before leaving the UK but still found it interesting seeing them all in the fridge - beer companies making drinking water (Chang and Singha) next to Nestle and half a dozen other brands. It took me a couple of minutes to decipher the text on the bottles and find the mineral water instead of the treated tap water and reverse osmosis water - both, I'm told, taste horrible and I'm not taking any water risks after mine and Lucy's holiday disaster in Fuerteventura!

The guys were still oblivious to their incorrect watches and wondered why everything was still closed, but we found a lovely little cafe for breakfast that was offering toast, eggs and coffee for 100 baht (a little over 2 quid) and sat down for a good chat about the previous evening and our plans for the day. Charlie and I were planning to grab a bus to Krabi, and Big D was just chilling out and enjoying Hat Yai for another day before working up to Bangkok and Cambodia.


Charlie found us a good deal on transport over to Krabi (350 baht for a 5-hour minibus trip), and happily Doug decided he'd like to come with us and see a new part of the country with new people. We packed up, spent a couple of hours lazing about town and then ended up back at the cafe for an early lunch before the 1230 bus. Sadly our order was stuck in a queue and we had no food by 1220, so we pleaded with the owner to bump our order up the priority list and asked for it to be put into takeaway containers for the journey. Very kindly she put a packed lunch together for us and we legged it down the strip to the pick up point just in time. The driver was not impressed by our little food package, and after doing a strange dance move holding his nose and wiggling his finger he made us scoff our big boxes of Pad Thai so save stinking out his bus. I almost cried, this was the best meal I had eaten since leaving home and here we were wolfing it down with no respect for the culinary expertise that had created it.


The bus was packed before we even attempted to find room for our backpacks, it was clear from all the parcels and boxes that the driver was earning cash on the side from a coast to coast courier service. Fair enough. It meant we were very cramped for the 3 hours until the first drop point, but with new friends to talk to our minds were happily preoccupied. Charlie has spent a lot of time exploring the philosophies of Buddhism along with his study of Eastern healing techniques and we spent most of the journey talking about life, bitching about the NHS and even attempting to work out what I should do for a career! Deep stuff, and it was great to have a skilled physio to talk to about my knee and my injuries from the xmas car accident. I'm now doing daily stretches, go me! Our lunch stop was brief but delicious, soybean pasty and sesame seed caramel bar for me, and a few more dodgy parcel drops later we arrived in Krabi town.


It's beautiful here, peaceful, quiet, calm. Not a tout, ladyboy or elephant in sight. We took a moment to bask in it and stretch the legs, grabbed a map and a coke from the tourism office and explored the streets for a crash pad. As a general rule, the first place you see that seems half decent is the place you will end up in, no matter how much shopping around you do. I'd ignored this principle to my cost on the Perhentians, and we proved it right once again when we settled for the K Guest House with a double room with fan and shared bathroom for 250 baht (about a fiver).

IMAG1134.jpg 871A2C6A2219AC681755FAFF7EA9E734.jpg

Sure, we could've spent double for a pool and an extra walk away from town but we liked the mellow air of this place and I was won over straight away by the comedy signage:


Hungry, we had a stroll through the night food market and the fresh fruit stalls and then found ourselves on a floating restaurant - a fun experience, especially when the waves from a passing longboat rock the whole place for the first time and make you question how many beers you've had! Another language battle brought us more wonderful food and we ate in front of an impressive tropical storm over Krabi River. Bed should have followed our 7 eleven stop on the way back, but instead C & I stayed up until the wee hours discussing meditation retreats, travel, girls and pretty much everything in between. I feel very fortunate to have met these guys, something that would never have happened if I'd caught the bus!

Posted by WorldWideWill 06:40 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Day XVII (Part Two): Hat Yai, Border Town

Land of debauchery...

sunny 28 °C
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I was drained. Physically, emotionally and financially drained. As I watched the sun set over Southern Thailand I finally accepted that I would be spending the night in Hat Yai, something I'd hoped to avoid based on the guidebooks and the FCO website! Before I could get worked up about being in the "land of debauchery" by myself at night, an American voice asked if I was getting off at Hat Yai. Doug is a fascinating man, a 64-year-old ex-pat with a handful of degrees, published papers and a Masters in astrophysics who now lives in Malaysia and lives one day at a time. I'd met him on one of his regular visa runs to Thailand, and after seeing my antics jumping off the train he must've assumed that I was just another British muppet and struck up a conversation. I must admit that in my fragile state and with darkness falling I was extremely sceptical about a strange man with no luggage approaching me and offering to take me for a drink in a town I'd not heard much good about! 40 minutes later, however, my gut told me this was a decent man and as a seasoned Hat Yai veteran he seemed my best bet at surviving the night.

When we arrived in Hat Yai we were bombarded with offers for taxis, hotels and 'bookings'. Doug had described only moments earlier how he had been offered a 'booking' on his first visit to the town and had ended up in a shady hotel having a line of girls paraded in front of him! So when I was asked "you wan bookin?" the alarm bells rang and I politely declined. On the platform I spotted another solo traveller that I'd noticed at the border who seemed rather travel savvy too so I approached him and asked where he was headed. When told me he was stopping for a night before going to Krabi for some rock climbing I laughed, barely 24 hours had passed without a travel companion yet here I was again with two new friends. Charlie had been travelling for a long while after leaving the NHS, and was touring the world and studying Eastern therapies to compliment his Western physio training in order to return and start his own practice. By the time we reached our hotel I was already in awe of the gentlemen in my company and felt extremely happy to be having intelligent conversations with people interested in more than booze and sunbathing. We each booked a fan room with a double bed, en suite bathroom and free towels (!) for 350 baht (less than 8 quid), dumped the bags and headed down the main strip into town.


Doug led the pack towards the neon lights of his favourite haunt, 'The Pubb', and we sat inside to order an early meal. As I consulted the meat-only menu a few things struck me about this part of Thailand that I hadn't expected. Firstly no one spoke English, not a word, so our orders were made through pointing at the menus and hpoing we'd pointed to the right word on the Thai translation. Secondly, there were girls everywhere (I use the term 'girls' very loosely here, and will continue to do so). For a smallish bar with just 3 customers inside, it seemed a little excessive to have 8 waitresses walking about in hotpants and waistcoats. The third striking thing, which I had been warned about (thanks Laurie) but still got screwed over by was that all ATM cashpoints charge 150 baht (over 3 quid) per withdrawal. Having not topped up my cash card with enough sterling to withdraw a huge amount of Thai cash this charge ended up equating to 10% of my withdrawal for the night which was really quite annoying! Top tip - stock up on cash from Malaysia or even pounds/dollars and exchange it when you get to Thailand!


The food arrived, and honestly my tomato spaghetti (literally the only veggie option available) was phenomenal. It was so good that I hadn't noticed a fourth person sat on our table - Doug had bought one of the 'waitresses' a drink and invited her to come and join us! Charlie and I exchanged a look and broke into a fit of laughter, this sly fox had clearly played the border town game before and we watched mesmerised as he worked his magic despite an almost impenetrable language barrier. We established that her name was Fon (meaning rain, apparently) and that she was from Northern Thailand but spoke no English (we did well). A live band started to set up on the stage and soon it was hard to hold even a normal conversation so Doug slipped Fon a few baht for her troubles and she left (after a few photos for the scrapbook of course). The band were excellent and the beers kept coming to the table, so soon I was merrily singing along and cheering at the end of each song. Doug then leant in and told C & I that we only had to pay for our food, all drinks were on him. Good man! He explained that there was method behind the madness (we'd already dubbed him Mr Method by this stage so weren't surprised), and said he would pay the full bill in front of the staff so that when he returned on his next visa run he would be remembered as the farang who paid his mates' 1,000 baht tab and may get some form of discount or preferential treatment. Genius. He was re-nicknamed Notorious D.O.U.G.

We went outside to allow the guys to have a cigarette or five, and ended up ordering more beers as we chatted to a couple of American teachers who had moved to Hat Yai and were loving every minute. It was very hard to see why this place was so misrepresented in the guide books. Now, I've not had many hallucinations in my short life, so after having stared at the logo on my bottle of Chang beer for nearly an hour I nearly had a fit when a man pulled into the parking space next to our table... on an elephant. We went mental, and before long we were feeding courgettes to this lovely animal and I gave it a big leathery hug. There are many pictures on various cameras of the night's events, this being from my phone at the moment we realised our elephant's love of nuts...


We needed some way of calming down after the nelly had left, and just then a man popped up on the mini stage outside with a guitar and a microphone and treated us to some karaoke tunes which D and I sang along to very loudly. I leant over to him and said "I'd love to get up there and have a jam", and being a bit of a legend he thrust a 20 baht note into my hand and told me to go for it. Beer fuelled and over confident I ran up to the stage, popped my cash into the tip bucket and asked if I could have a go. What followed was the worst singing of my life to Aerosmith's I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing which I really hope wasn't recorded, but then I hope I redeemed myself by taking the guitar and having a 10 minute open mic session fiddling about and ending with a duet to Another Brick in the Wall. More money was exchanged with the bar girls for bringing us another round, and then we turned in for the night.

So, lying here thinking about the night's events and my new friends I can't help but grin. Welcome to Thailand.

Posted by WorldWideWill 15:17 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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