Thursday, 20 October 2011

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Sunrise at Surat Thani

View from our hut
After a 10 hour journey in a Mini van we arrived at the Pier at Surat Thani in time for sunrise. We waited here for just over an hour I think, before catching our ferry to Koh Phangan. The mini-van had been surprisingly cold and despite me having my hoodie with me I still couldn't sleep as I was freezing! By the time we got onto the ferry and found some seats I'm pretty sure everyone was needing a snooze. I got about and hours power nap that kept me going for the rest of the day. We arrived at the pier by Thong Sala at roughly 11am and I was struck by how powerfully hot it was. The air was a lot more dry than our previous stops and the bright blue sky allowed the sun to beat down even more powerfully. We got a taxi/truck to our resort "Mac Bay's Resort"near Ban Tau in the south of the Island. The resort has a mix of beach huts and huts by the pool. As there are 3 of us sharing we got the hut by the pool as it is bigger and also has air-con (the beach huts only have a fan). For the rest of the day we lay on the beach and went in the sea. In the evening we went to Hat Rin which is the most south-easterly point of the island. It is also the most renowned for it's night life and it home to the Full Moon Party. The October Full Moon Party took place last week, however there are several bars along the beach front and inevitably there is some form of party going on. When we got there it was quite quiet so we watched the Fire Show and had a few drinks until a few more people started to arrive. I got dragged up to have a go at breathing fire: basically you fill your mouth with paraffin and then spit it towards the stick which is already alight. Whilst I'm pretty sure I didn't swallow anything all I could taste for the rest of the night was paraffin and I definitely regretted it! After this a couple of other games were played. I came second at their version of musical chairs and won a bottle of beer so couldn't complain. Eventually the games stopped and then everyone just ended up dancing on the beach.

Sunday was another really nice day so again we stayed on our private beach and worked on our sun tan. It was just nice to chill out after the last couple of days in Sangkhlaburi with the children - whilst it was nice it was very tiring. We stayed and watched the sunset before heading into Ban Tai for some food. We found an Italian restaurant and went there for something different; it was slightly more expensive than previous places but so worth it! Its very western on Koh Phangan as so many European people visit here and surprisingly large amounts move here.

On Monday I went and had a look around the shops that are close by for something to do. Annoyingly if we want to go anywhere you need to get a taxi which, granted, isn't hugely expensive, but it all adds up. I found a travel company and booked my boat over to Koh Tao for the end of the week. As of Friday I will no longer be with the group and will be making my own way around. I can't wait! I also had a family skype call - was lovely to catch up with the parents and my brother. Monday night we headed to Hat Rin again. This time they had limbo. To begin with I was doing okay, however after a few beers and them deciding to make us go backwards things started to not go so well. I fell awkwardly and twisted my knee; I knew it was painful at the time but I proceeded to get very drunk and didn't really notice.

The next day was painful. I honestly believe it was the hottest day since I've been here and I cannot cope with hangovers in the heat! Also I was struggling to put much weight on my leg so I wasn't in the best of moods!

The weather forecast for Wednesday hadn't been very good but 5 of us decided to hire a Jeep to have a look around the Island. I didn't have a go at driving as I was still struggling quite a bit with my knee but the others said it was quite hard, especially as our Jeep had no power and the roads here are unbelievably steep in places; we sometimes only made it at a push in first gear! First we stopped off at Thong Sala and had a look around the markets. Then we headed further north and stopped off at an elephant camp where one of the girls paid to give the elephant a bath. We travelled further north again to Coconut Beach at Haad Khom. This was on quite a rugged bit of the coastline and it was nice to hear waves again. On our beach, there are no waves what-so-ever. From here we continued in the jeep to Khao Ko one of the viewpoints on the island. After a steep drive and a bit of a climb, we came across a Reggae bar built around the viewpoint so we chilled out there for a while. you could see right about the jungle and to the coast which was really impressive.After a drink there, we headed to Hat Yao on the west coast to watch the sunset. That evening we went back to Hat Rin to a restaurant which plays Friends on repeat all day and all night long - pure genius! We had our meal and watched a few episodes before heading back to our resort.

Thursday morning started very similarly to Wednesday; torrential downpour. It did, however, brighten up by about 11am when we set off on our "Island Tour". We got dropped off at Ban Chalok Lam and got a taxi boat round to Bottle Beach. Unfortunately there was a mix up with times so we didn't actually spend very long there, just enough time to grab some lunch before setting off again. We then got the truck to Ko Ma where we were able to do some snorkelling. It was a bit of a swim from the shore but once I reached the coral reef I saw a variety of colourful fish all shapes and sizes. I would gestimate the largest one I saw was 2ft. - I got a photo of it and apparently its a Parrot fish. Naturally, I took my camera however it was quite difficult to decipher where was best to take the photo so they didn't all come out very well. After a few hours here we decided to go back to the resort to get ready for the Half Moon Party !

Once we arrived back we started to get ready. The Half Moon Party takes place in the jungle and they use UV lights so illuminant paint is a must. Most of us had white t-shirts/vests which we painted with various designs so that we would glow. When we got there, there were various stalls either selling Half moon clothing, or paint. There were a few people doing body painting as well and some the designs looked really good in the light. In order to protect my knee I wasn't drinking too much but had a really good night. The group had to be back by about half 5 as they were travelling back to Bangkok setting off early this morning, but I didn't stay to the end either. After about an hours sleep I woke up to say goodbye to some of the group I've been with for the last month. I managed to sleep another 2 or so but then got up to pack. I'm currently waiting to get my boat to Koh Tao where I'm going to be doing my PADI open water course. Now I'm away from the group I can do what I want and when I want. I can't wait. I have 4 weeks now until I need to be in Singapore to catch my flight to Australia and the options are endless!

Hannah, Holly, Me, Dale

Friday, 14 October 2011

Sangkhlaburi, Thailand Cont.

The weekend we spent in Sangkhlaburi was free for us to do whatever we liked... Not that there was a lot of things to choose from. We discovered a Vegetarian Restaurant and bakery (you can imagine how happy this made me!!) I had a toasted sesame seed bagel with cheese and salad and it was amazing. I think I'd just had too much of the same thing the week before so "normal" food was incredibly welcome. After lunch at the Baan Unrak bakery we headed down to P-Guest house and the lake ! There is decking down by the lake side where we chilled out on and enjoyed the sun. I also tried to get the others involved in the jumping photo obsession that I have - I think they just thought I was special so no change there ! Later on that day we visited the Baan Unrak Animal Sanctuary of Sangkhlaburi. A woman from England has set up an animal sanctuary to treat and look after some of the many street dogs that are in the are. They are currently looking after about 30 dogs I think and treating several more who are on the streets. Its impressive what she is doing; she has learnt several treatments in the 4 years she has been here with no previous vet experience.

The Mon Bridge
After the weekend of actually enjoying the sun, it was back to the excursion of this tour. I've not been overly impressed with Real Gap to be honest but this week made that even worse. Originally, I was supposed to be doing a two day jungle trek, however due to half of the group getting fed up and heading to the Islands a week early, and the others deciding they would rather help out at the Dream House, I wasn't allowed to do it. Even though I was happy to do it on my own, the company said no. I would have left but the way I see it is I've already paid for this accommodation so I might as well make the most of it. On Monday we visited the Mon Side of Sangklaburi. In the temple there was a pot of sticks; you shake the pot and with the number of the first stick that falls out you go to a cabinet with numbered draws to get your "fortune". This provided some amusement and something a little different - I think I've now seen enough temples in Thailand to last me a lifetime... We then headed to the border market near the Burmese immigration station. This was mostly gem jewellery so after a quick look around I was content in leaving.

The Dream House

These kids are the most amazing kids I've ever met. They have all been through so much and have escaped from Burma. We spend Tuesday, Wednesday and some of Thursday with at the Dream house and every day I was touched by how kind, caring and loving every one of them is. They are so full of life and are desperate to have someone to play with. On Thursday we went to the river with the majority of them (the youngest ones couldn't come) and as they don't get to go swimming very often they loved it! There was a jump in point so I blatantly loved it too - similar to Black Moss Pot but you had to take a run up because of the vegetation you jump over, and I think it was maybe a little higher. Good fun though and I think the kids were surprised when I jumped in! When we got back to the house we cooked them dinner before they sang to us to say goodbye. It was horrible to say goodbye to them, they were so lovely and deserve so much more in life. From what I understand, as they are not Thai, they cannot get ID cards or passports unless they are adopted by a Thai family. This means they cannot go further into Thailand than Sangkhlaburi and are not entitled to own any property when they are older. Things may change in time but as it stands they are going to have a struggle to do much with there life which is horribly unfair but sadly there isn't much we can do. 

Today, we left Sangkhlaburi and started out journey to Koh Phangan. Currently I'm waiting in Kanchanaburi for my overnight bus. It doesn't feel like it was two weeks ago that I was here - it's gone so quick ! On the way we stopped off at Hindad Hot Springs. This was clearly a tourist venture; next to the cool flowing river, a few rectangular pools had been built and the hot water is pumped into them from inside the mountain. Not quite what I was expecting however I did enjoy being able to soak in 40 degree water as my back is beginning to break from the beds! After getting something to eat in Kanchanaburi I went into the town and had my first real Thai massage. It was amazing. Not long till the 10 hour bus journey starts - can't wait to get to the islands!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Sangkhlaburi, Thailand

On Saturday morning we left Kanchanaburi and headed slightly more north to Sangkhlaburi. On the way we stopped off at The Hell Fire Pass war memorial site, however hangovers and a windy bumpy bus ride didn't really put us all in the best frame of mind to look around. We were only there a little while before we piled back onto the bus to continue the journey.
A few uneasy hours later we arrived in Sangkhlaburi – where we were to be based for the next 2 weeks. This town is on the Burmese border and is not very westernised at all in comparison to the other places I've been so far. Not many tourists visit here so accommodation is pretty basic (but there's still free wifi) – and girls have to cover their shoulders up until 7pm at night. Nightmare in the 30 degree heat I can tell you !

Sunday was mostly spent exploring the town. There's sort of a town centre with a few shops like 7eleven and Cjs – equivalent to spar at home, a bank, postoffice and bakery. There are a few stalls here and there but there's nothing compared to Bangkok! About 20 minutes walk away at a “resort” there is an entrance to lake which you can swim in and its the other place where you're allowed to be in a bikini but had no time this week – something for the weekend perhaps! In the evening me and two others decided to have a go a Thai boxing. It was great fun but I later regretted it as my body ached so much a couple of days later. Definitely something I'd consider picking up though.

Egg fried rice in a banana leaf

Monday we went elephant trekking ! There was 3 people to an elephant so 2 people sat on the wooden basket and one on the elephant's neck.. Half way round me and one of the girls swapped so we both sat on the neck. Sitting on the neck was so weird... It was pretty hard to balance and you could feel what I guess what the elephant's shoulder blades moving under you. The hairs on the elephant were really prickly too and they flap their ears a lot so you get hit quite a bit – interesting experience. It also absolutely chucked it down for a good half hour whilst we were on the trek so I was suitably soaked by the end of it. Once suitably soaked we got lunch – Egg fried rice with mixed veg (a common dish that ive already had far too many times out here) but it was wrapped in a Banana leaf which made it slightly more enjoyable! Then we headed to The Dream House : Basically its an orphanage which is home to 37 kids ranging from 2 to 17, all of whom have escaped the troubles in Burma. It very sad to hear their stories – some have witnessed the unthinkable but they are all so well loved and cared for here that they are very happy. We stayed and entertained the kids for a few hours before heading back to Sangkhlaburi town.

On Tuesday 6 of us piled into the back of a pick-up truck and encountered a rather painful hour long journey into the jungle to a small village where we would be staying for the next 2 nights. It was a rough journey but the scenery was amazing. Its coming to the end of the rainy season here so the jungle was a vast amount luscious greens and very thick set. We slept in mosquito net tents in one of the rooms amongst the villagers. Over the 3 days we were there, we were volunteers helping to expand the local school. Our project wasn't the most enjoyable – we had to dig a hole which was for the equivalent of a septic tank for one of the toilets. It was pretty hard going with the heat and lack of enthusiasm from the group but we got there eventually. There is a lake not far from the school where we went to swim and cool down – the only catch was we had to wear our clothes! I know its their culture so I went along with it but I can't wait to not have to worry about that kind of thing!

The guys in the village are very friendly and like to get you drunk I learnt on my second night there... Whilst they don't speak much English its still possible to play drinking games. Their favourite is just with a metal spoon: you spin the spoon and if the handle points at you, you take a shot of Thai Whiskey. Thankfully the two bottles of it ran out before I passed out but it was still a good laugh. I enjoyed it in the jungle but was looking forward to leaving because I could not stomach any more rice and veg. At least in the restaurants here I can get noodles, or curry with tofu. Last night I got green Thai curry with tofu and rice and it was the most amazing meal I felt I'd had all week and at only 40baht (less than a pound) I really could not complain.

This morning we went “white water rafting” or at least that was what we were told we were doing. We arrived and were given life jackets and helmets which later I decided was a tiny bit OTT. We sat on the raft on a calm, slow flowing river and set off – we weren't even paddling ! After my white water rafting experience in Zambia I was a little disappointed... Still it was quite nice to float down the river and admire the jungle and its wildlife. For lunch I got a cheese and salad sandwich which made me happy! Don't get me wrong, I’m enjoying the Thai food but being a vegetarian that doesn't particularly like spicy food I'm limited to what I can eat so English food is definitely appreciated once in a while. Another week to go here, but soon I'll be on the islands and then I can totally relax!