Monday, 21 November 2011


The night bus was nothing special to be honest. As with most public transport in Malaysia it was freezing! Seriously if you're ever travelling by bus at night, take something unless you're prepared to freeze. They seem to have the air con on full blast and don't believe its possible to turn it down, and I wasn't the only one who was cold. I was dropped off at Lavender Street Bus Station at about 6am on Saturday morning. Due to the time I was arriving, and the way I'd been feeling, for the first time I'd booked accommodation in advance. I was staying at the Green Kiwi Backpacker Hostel, also on Lavender street. When I found the place I was shown to my dorm and allowed to go to bed.

I was in a 10 bed, relatively spacious dorm, and when I arrived I was the only person there! Less people in your dorm makes it a bit harder to meet people but does mean less disturbances. I slept for a few hours (the beds were really comfy by the way and had duvets which always makes me happy) and then went to check in properly. The hostel is relatively new, but the staff are very friendly and helpful, and the facilities are great. There is a roof top garden where you can sit out and look across the city - its partially covered which is helpful due to the amount of rain I've experienced since I arrived, and has comfy wicker chairs all around. There are 3 computers in the reception which you can use for free and free wi-fi as well. The toilets and showers are really clean and there is an overall chilled out atmosphere. They often have music playing through the day too which is a nice touch.

After sorting out my bill, I went out to explore the city. I managed to walk to Little India which was a lot more developed than the previous Little India's I've visited - I have to admit Penang has to be my favourite for it's Little India. I then navigated myself to Chinatown which was amazing! It stood out well above the likes of Kuala Lumpur and Penang for so many reasons. I think most of all because it was just so big and so obviously Chinatown. The stalls didn't have as much pointless knock offs as previous places, instead there were multiple Chinese trinkets and artwork scattered around the spot. I didn't feel too harassed either. Obviously one of two were trying to get me to look at their stall but not every single one like in KL. I spent a good couple of hours there just because it was so extensive  - there was even an indoor "Chinatown Complex".

When I tried to return to my hostel I got quite lost so ended up jumping on the underground to the station closest to where I was staying, Boon Keng. I'm not a city person in all fairness, and up until now undergrounds have always confused me. Over the last couple of days I've used the underground so many times that I've become a bit of a expert! I even had to help some Asian tourists to use the ticket machine, and direct some others to the correct line. The underground is immaculate - not surprising really considering there is a $500 fine for eating/drinking and $1000 fine for smoking on the premises! I was really impressed with how quick, easy and efficient the system was. Obviously we don't have this sort of transport in Carlisle but I have used the underground in London and a couple of other cities, and I found the transport in Singapore one of the best and relatively inexpensive.

Singapore itself is incredibly clean, as I'm not a smoker, I hadn't been aware of the fact you had to pay taxes on cigarettes brought into the country. A couple in my dorm told me they were asked to pay a total over $160 just to bring their cigarettes into the country, however they were allowed to leave them at the airport and collect them in a few days time when they were flying home to Holland. In addition to this, chewing gum is illegal! I can understand fines for putting it on the street etc but making it totally illegal seems a bit steep. Having said that, the streets are spotless so I guess it pays off.

The Merlion - Half Lion, half fish
I took the underground to Harbour front and walked across to Sentosa - the island part of Singapore. I hadn't given much thought as to what would be there: I knew from my lonely planet that I could take a cable car from which I would get good views of the city, and that there would be a couple of beaches but otherwise I didn't know. It turned out to resemblant to a theme park minus the majority of the rides. Universal studios, The Merlion, iFly Singapore (An indoor air tunnel) and a 4D Cinema are just some of the attractions. I went on a Sunday so as you can image the place was packed with visitors, the majority of whom were Asian. For the second time, I was approached by a group of girls asking to have their photo taken with me - they surrounded me so it was difficult to say no - I'm not sure what the obsession is, I can't quite imagine a group of British girls running up to and Asian in the UK desperate for a photo, can you? I found that whilst it was only $1 to enter Sentosa, everything on the island was incredibly expensive. I opted against the cable car ride in the end as it was quite pricey and it had started to cloud over so I probably wouldn't have seen an awful lot.

After wandering around the different areas, I found my way to one of the beaches. It was packed with sun loungers and had a real holiday resort feel to it. Eventually I'd seen enough so headed back to underground. Since arriving in Singapore, I've been in multiple shopping centres - not through choice but it seems that above most underground stations, there is a huge shopping centre! Similarly to KL, the shopping centres are huge and in pristine condition. They are all decorated for Christmas and have seasonal music playing from loud speakers. It feels really weird that it's coming up to Christmas time: for starters its ridiculously hot, and secondly that fact that I'm in Asia just doesn't make it right!

If  you're a fan of cities, and have plenty of money to spend, Singapore is a great place to be. I've only spent two and a half days here, and there's not an awful lot more I can take. It clean, friendly and easy to get around but its so big and busy. Compared to Kuala Lumpur I much prefer it but at the end of the day, its another big city so I'm looking forward to leaving. Tonight I fly to Cairns, Australia: I'm feeling almost back to normal now and I cannot wait. So for now its Goodbye Asia, but I can almost guarantee I'll be back!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I left the guys in the Cameron Highlands and caught the bus down to Kuala Lumpur. I'd been pleasantly surprised by large comfortable seats and as I sat down I noticed a sign above me saying "plastic bag for vomit". Sure enough in the back pocket of the chair infront was a small carrier bag for anyone unfortunate enough to get sick. I was almost amused by the idea until 20 minutes into the journey the guy who was sat behind me started to throw up! It was awful. I'd noticed how windy the roads were on the way to Tanah Ranta but it hadn't even crossed my mind that someone would get so ill! After putting in my headphones and turning the volume up full blast I still couldn't drown out the sound. What made it even worse was the fact that he was a local and all I could smell for the entire 4 hours was curry... I wasn't impressed and I was still feeling ill myself.

Eventually we arrived at one of the many train stations in KL and so I set off in an attempt to find somewhere to stay. I'd been recommended the Reggae Mansion but had also been told of several other hostel on the same street Jalan Tun H S Lee in Chinatown. I ended up staying in Reggae Guesthouse which I was really impressed with. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful and it was a nice clean hostel. Also, the shower there was the best ive had since leaving England, and i'm even inclinded to say better than mine at home! After dumping my things I went for a bit of a look around Chinatown. The streets were packed with stalls selling all sorts of knock off goods, it reminded me a lot of Khao San Road. Unfortunately it wasn't long before I felt really ill again and went back to the dorm.

The following morning I'd felt a bit better so I went for another walk around. This time I walked through Little India, which was nothing in comparison to the Little India in Penang for some reason. Maybe because it was more spread out, I'm not sure, it just didn't have the same feel to it at all. I continued walking and eventually found myself at the Petronas towers. I'd been told to visit them at night time but even through the day they did look impressive. In most other places I've been there are usually random little stalls selling fruit drinks and or snacks, but I didn't seem to find KL that way. Even in the districts of Chinatown and Little India, the stalls were often indoors and linked to actual shop buildings rather than scattered around the streets. Yes there was still some street food available but somehow I didn't find it had the same feel to it. When I reached the towers I needed a drink so I went into the shopping centre. I could not have felt more out of place if I tried! This place was unreal. Marble floors, immaculately clean windows, and everything was shining. I felt way too scruffy to be there - that didn't stop me having a look around of course. I'm not a big fan of shopping but when I saw Quicksilver, Billabong and Ripcurl I couldn't keep away. I didn't actually buy anything but still had a good luck. After a while I began to get more ill again; I found the pharmacy and asked for advice but instead they directed me to the medical centre and told me I needed to see a doctor. I found the Twin Towers Medical Centre with relative ease, signed in and waited to be seen. A doctor's trip had really been on the cards but at that point in time I felt so terrible that I gave in. I was met by an older female doctor who was very nice and showed alot of concern. After examining me she decided I must have had food poisoning and that it had developed into more of an infection. She prescribed me a whole load of medication and told me to rest and only eat plain foods, avoiding spice, dairy and too many vegetable. The bill came to just less than £20 which wasn't too bad. By this time I didn't feel well at all so I got the train back to Chinatown and went back to the hostel.

Petronas Twin Towers

I managed to get some sleep and did begin to feel a bit better. I met up with Andy who had travelled down to KL that morning and we went in search for something to eat. After the way I'd been feeling I was so grateful to see a familiar face. Instead of finding food we ended up going to the Petronas Towers, for me the second time that day! It was worth it though, they looked amazing lit up in the dark. Other than a quick look and a few snaps of the camera there's really not a lot to do there, so we continued our search for food only to end up back at Reggae Bar where we gave up and ate there instead. Kuala Lumpur is easily the most developed place I've been since I started travelling. Whilst I don't suppose the fact I really didn't have much of an appetite helped, I really struggled to see many places to eat other than fancy restaurants, and the food places in Chinatown looked a lot less clean than any of the food stalls I'd seen in other places. 

The following day I had to check out of my hostel at 12pm but I wasn't leaving for Singapore till midnight. A lot of time to kill when you really don't feel like doing much. I'd intended to visit the Batu Caves as I'd been told they were worth a visit but I really didn't feel up to it. I stayed in reading my book for a little while then went for a short walk to the central market. This was actually quite interesting packed full of arts and craft form the different ethnicities within Malaysia along with traditional food and dress. Later I headed up to the Reggae Mansion. As I got there, the Mayor of KL had arrived: there was a crowd of people and police all around the place and I hadn't a clue what was going on. Eventually everything calmed down and I found Andy. We ended up just chilling out there until I had to leave.

My bus left Kuala Lumpur at midnight and I arrive in Singapore at about 6am this morning. A 6 hour journey probably isn't worth a night bus but I saved on accommodation and as I don't have much time left it was quite handy not to waste a day.

I wasn't overly phased by KL. It was a nice city, but very busy with traffic and few systems in place to help you cross the road. I didn't find there was an awful lot to do there either, if I'd been feeling better I'm sure I could have found a few more things to do, but even from conversations with people I met, they didn't seem particularly enthused either. Its obviously an impressive area for shopping, but other than that, I failed to see what was there.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

On arriving in Malaysia, I had been quite surprised as to how dramatically more developed it was in comparison to Thailand. Yes, there are large areas of Thailand that seem well on their way, however the parts of Malaysia I saw showed little signs of lack of development. Skyscrapers and other impressive buildings gave this impression, along with fully operational roads on which people even seemed to stay in lane - a rare occurrence in Thailand! On Penang, whilst some areas were a little shabby, I thought the same applied. However I noticed a lot of differences in the landscape throughout the journey to the Cameron Highlands. Especially in the more rural places

Alec, Andy, Steve and I left Georgetown around 8am in a cramped, poorly air-conditioned minivan. At first I attempted to sleep as I'd not got to bed until around half 3 and was pretty hungover following several rounds of drinking games with some other guys from our hostel, but it soon became apparent that wasn't going to happen. The roads were bumpy and busy and our driver wasn't exactly taking it easy. After about an hours driving, the landscape was no longer grey and crowded with buildings; instead it was completely green with the odd outcrop of rock here and there. It took us about 4 hours to reach Tanah Ranta, the village in the Cameron Highlands where we were staying. From a recommendation we headed to Father's guest-house: the dorm was hilarious! There must have been almost 20 single beds dotted around in a large, completely open room. It was only 15RM a night (£3) which I thought was incredible. It's probably the strangest dorm I've ever stayed in, but nice all the same.

The temperature was a lot cooler than anywhere I'd been since leaving the UK so it wasn't long before I'd changed into my jeans and a hoody. We headed into town for a look around and some food - I got vegetable fried noodles which I think, aside from the samosas, was probably the best food I'd had since arriving in Malaysia. None of us had much enthusiasm to do much for the rest of the day so we chilled out in the dorm. I would definitely recommend staying in Father's, however, other than for breakfast, I would not advise anyone to eat there. Our meal was awful! It had been pouring down with rain so instead of going back into town we took advantage of the "restaurant" on site which we soon regretted.

The Cameron Highlands are known for two things; Tea and rainforest walks. Our first full day we all decided to find some of the trails through the rainforest. It took us a while to find any of them at first but once we started on one we seemed to jump about on 3 or 4 different paths. The ups were relentless - continuous steep incline made more difficult by the fact that the path was essentially natural steps from the roots of the tree. However as with most intense ups, there was a pretty awesome down...Running and jumping down the trail was great fun, naturally I slipped a couple of times but that's only to be expected! Sadly when were were at the top it was clouded over so we didn't get any amazing views but it was good fun. Our route took us about 3 hours and when we finished we realised we'd a sort of horse shoe and it did actually look like we'd walked quite a way.

Tea Plantation
I'd not been feeling 100% for a while but that afternoon it peaked quite badly. I spent a good few hours in bed with various painkillers and hot drinks to help and after a bit of sleep, I did begin to feel a bit better. The Cameron Highlands is a lovely setting during the day, but it soon becomes apparent that there isn't a lot to do in the evening. After getting food, we spent several hours playing card games: a popular way to pass the time yet after playing the same games over and over again it does become a bit tiresome.

Mossy Forest
The next morning I still didn't feel great but Steve and I had decided to do a half day trip booked through the hostel. We started off by visiting one of the Tea Plantations and I have to admit the view was actually really impressive. As we walked around we saw workers picking the tea: we were told that this was the smallest plantation but it was massive! After this, we were driven to the entrance of the Mossy Forest. Our guide was very informative throughout the trip but especially so when it came to plants and wildlife in the jungle or in the forest. He showed us two different leaves: the first to use should you get muscle cramp and the second the stop the bleeding if you get "leeched". When in the Mossy Forest he pointed out Pitchers to us, they were quite impressive too. The Mossy Forest itself was really mystical almost - the way the trees covered in moss intertwined with each other and the cobwebs, it kind of looked like something out of a mythical film. From there we walked to the viewpoint tower, where, in theory, you get the best views of the Highlands but yet again it was completely clouded so I got a photo of the view tower and that's about it! Next, we were taken to the Tea Factory where we could see the process of the tea leaves being turned into what we drink but to be honest by this time we were more interested in stopping off in the cafe for a brew! The final stop of the tour was the Butterfly Farm - not something I was overly enthused about going to but it was nice to see the difference butterflies and all the other insects and animals that can found in Malaysia.

It was around mid afternoon when we returned to the hostel and again I really wasn't feeling well. I didn't do much other than book my bus to Kuala Lumpur until the guys were going for food. I went with them but only ended up getting a plain chappati as it was about all I could stomach! It was my last night with the lads so I was a bit gutted I felt so rough. They proceeded to play drinking games so I sat and laughed at their misfortune. I did eventually begin to feel more human again so I did have a bit of a laugh with them later on.

This morning I left them and headed down to Kuala Lumpur (KL) ... Lets see what the city has to offer!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Penang, Malaysia

View from Penang Hill
After what turned out to be a 12 hour trip, Alec and I arrived in Penang at 11pm local time not having eaten and with no where to stay. We had been told we'd arrive at about 8pm but after a mix up with number I think, we'd had to wait an extra hour or so in Hat Yai and then the border crossing seemed to take forever. A guy I'd met on Phi Phi happened to be on one of the buses we got making his way down to KL and he had recommended a place to stay, so after being dropped off we set off to find Reggae guesthouse. I'd also been told about Old Penang but they were both on the same street; Love Lane. After taking the "scenic" route we eventually found the place. Sadly both hostels were full but sandwiched in between the two was Red Inn. For 28 RM (just less than £6) we got a dorm room which has hot showers, free wifi, breakfast included and all day tea/coffee/water. I was impressed! A Finnish guy we met on the bus decided to stay we us too.

I was pretty tired and ready for bed once we finally had a room that I didn't bother getting any food - also one of the people already staying in hostel said the breakfast was amazing so I decided to sleep and get up early for free food instead! The breakfast was pretty good I have to admit. That morning it was raining quite badly so just chilled out in the common area until just before midday when the rain subsided. I'd managed to pick up an albeit fake copy of the Lonely Planet to Malaysia on Phi Phi and it gave a map of Georgetown (where I was staying in Penang) and a walking tour. As neither of us really knew what there was to do around the area we decided to go for the tour! I was struck by how clean the area was in comparison to the places I have been previously; there were lots of impressive buildings along the way too. I was struck by how multi cultural and diverse the area was just by walking around. We stopped off at the Penang Art and History Museum as we were passing: it was interesting to see the different areas of the world that people have come from and settled in Malaysia. We passed the Cathedral, Fort Cornwallis, several temples, Victoria Memorial Tower and so much more. Just walking around was so interesting. Penang is mostly Chinese which is evident as you walk around. Lots of Chinese shops, food and writing everywhere and several different Chinese temples. There is, however, a little India. This was hands down my favourite part of Georgetown. As we walked down the streets, Indian music played loudly from various shops, the smell of Indian  spices filled the air, and there was just so much going on. By this time it was mid afternoon and we'd done a fair bit of walking, we spotted a samosa stall so decided to go for it. Quite easily the best samosa's I've ever had and  at only 50 Sen (10p) each you can't go wrong. We walked back to the hostel but on the way we met a local who had retired from the tourism industry and now sold drinks from a stall offering information for free to any tourists who wanted to know. We met him on Harmony street - so called because places of worship of all religions can be found along this street: mosque, Hindu temple, Chinese temple, Buddhist temple and a church.

When we made it back to Love Lane we ran into Timo - this Finnish guy who was in our dorm. and all decided to catch a local bus and go and visiting the floating mosque on the North coast. We caught the bus from down the road. At the time, we didn't realise school had just finished so it was a very busy bus! On the bus we were crammed in like sardines, however it was air-conditioned so not too bad. The journey should have taken about 10 minutes but the bus stopped every 10 metres almost so it took us a while. Sadly, due to the tide being out, the "Floating Mosque" wasn't as impressive as it could of been, but it still looked pretty cool.

3 day old turtles
The next morning we took the bus to the Penang National Park. There are several trails through the jungle that you can take. Initially we thought we'd walk to Turtle beach then try to get a boat to Monkey beach and then walk back, but after walking to Turtle beach we just walked back instead. The walk through the jungle was really nice - lots of different species of plants and animals could be seen and the sounds of the insects was overwhelming. At turtle beach, they keep the young turtle for 2 weeks once they have hatched before releasing them back into the wild. The ones we saw were only 3 days old!

That evening two of Alec's mate, Steve and Andy, who had arrived a day later than us came and met us. As we were sat chatting I spotted another Finnish guy from the dorm in Phi Phi, Aki, and he came and joined us. Later we all went out to try and get a good Indian meal - the previous night we'd failed to order correctly and got what was essentially fried rice. We found a place in Little Indian and ordered. I got a vegetable masala in a pancake (?) and a plain nan with sauces. It was actually really tasty but I was completely stuffed by the end of it! After eating we went back to the hostel and watched a film.

 I had planned to leave the following morning, but after chatting to Aki, we decided to go to Penang hill the next day. 4 of us left at about 10am to catch a bus to Penang hill. We were under the impression we could walk to the summit from there however when we arrived we found out that we should have taken the bus to Botanical Gardens for the trail. It was going to take a long time to get there by bus and too expensive by taxi, so we admitted defeat and took the Penang Hill Railway to the top. The views from the top were incredible; you can see the whole city and out to see. There were several school trips and I was approached by a large group of teenage girls who were desperate to take a photo with me: I was surrounded so I didn't really have much choice! After escaping  I rejoined Aki, Timo and Alec and we started to look around. After an hour or so we decided we'd find a walk down to the Botanical gardens. There was a 5km steep, winding, tarmac road that we took - initially we'd hoped to find some trails off to the side but we didn't manage to. We reached the gardens and had a look around. They weren't overly exciting, obviously lots of different species of plant but they were in grubby enclosures that we weren't able to go into so we couldn't really see much. Eventually we took the bus back into Georgetown. I have to say the Malaysian public transport is really impressive, organised and operates in a relatively timely manner.

Banana Leaf Curry
Following the success of the previous night's curry, Aki, Timo and I went in search of a Banana Leaf curry. As per usual I didn't really know what to expect, but I was impressed! I decided to have one more day in Georgetown to chill out and get up to date with things before heading to the Cameron Highlands, however when I went to book my bus I was told it was full. This meant another day. I booked the bus for Sunday morning in good time so as not to be disappointed again. For the majority of the two days I just stayed in the hostel - I found a second hand book shop and bought myself a new book to read. I also went for a walk and saw a bit more of the city. I visited the huge shopping mall because I hadn't been able to find a book shop at this point: I couldn't believe how big it was, mostly clothing but they did sell everything. I was amused by the number of movie shops; they all were showing different films of the screens outside their shop and each shop had a crowd gathered around it.I almost seemed that people went to their just to watch films - crazy! There was also a lot of western food chains: Macdonalds, KFC, Pizza hut and there was even a Starbucks. I was tempted to try to get a chai latte but managed to resist. Attached to Penang Mall is a 62 storey tower; I'd been told to go because you get great veiws of the whole city. Today Steve and I decided to try and check it out however, when we arrived we were told it was closed for maintenance. Instead we settled for a trip to the bakery then back to the hostel.

Tomorrow I leave Penang and get the bus to the Cameron Highlands. I have less than 10 days now until I fly to Australia so I can't afford to waste much time in places. Its a bit annoying that I'm having to stay an extra night here but I like the atmosphere and the hostel is really nice so its okay. My plan at the minute is to stay 2 nights in the Highlands, 3 in Kuala Lumpur and the rest of my time in Singapore before my flight. But if there's one thing I've learnt since travelling, it's that plans inevitably never stay the same...

Monday, 7 November 2011

Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, Thailand

I left Koh Tao on the night boat to Sura Thani. When I reached the boat I wasn't entirely sure what to expect; I'd been told there would be beds but it was pretty basic. I walked on board and dumped my bag then I was directed up some small stairs to the sleeping area. This consisted of a narrow passage with mattresses on the floor either side. It slowly started to fill up and by the time we left we were crammed in like sardines. One of the girls I'd met on the island was on the same boat so we managed to get space together. The boat took about 7 hours and I managed to get some sleep but it wasn't the best I'd ever had! We arrived in Surat Thani two hours early which is rare in Thailand. A van took took us to where we were to be picked up by the bus but we had a long wait non the less. I got a bus from Surat Thani to Krabi which took about 2 hours then the boat from Krabi to Koh Phi Phi. I met a couple of people I'd met on the night boat on the second boat so when we arrived on the island we decided to look for somewhere to stay together.

As the boat was arriving I was struck by how picturesque the island was; white beaches, clear water, and stunning cliffs. However after getting off the boat and walking through the town my opinion completely changed. It was overcrowded with westerners and had an unpleasant European holiday resort feel to it. I wasn't sure I'd stay very long after that. We headed for the Rock backpackers – cheap hostel accommodation that had been recommended to me. It was 200 baht/night very basic dorm rooms with fans and cold showers. There was a really friendly atmosphere and we knew it would probably be the cheapest we'd get so we decided to stay. In the dorm I was in there was 17 people and every day the beds were full. After dumping our bags we got some food and headed to the beach. The beach was very nice however it was full of people and deck chairs to rent so it still felt very touristy. Phi Phi is obviously a popular holiday destination as opposed to a backpackers destination. The water was scorching. At a guess I'd say we had to walk about 100m to get to above waist deep water and the whole time it wasn't refreshing as it was so warm! Eventually we reached patches of cooler water which was very much appreciated as it was so hot on the island, much warmer than Koh Tao and less rain as the monsoon season on the west coast had finished. That evening we went out for a few drinks but I was so tired from the trip over I didn't really enjoy myself so I didn't stay out very long. 

Viewpoint 3
After very little sleep from people coming back at all hours of the morning, I woke up early and decided I needed to go for a walk to clear my head. I knew there that there were some viewpoints on the island so I decided to find them. The first was about 4km from the hostel; first you walk up a long road and then turn off onto a dirt track through the jungle. Even just walking up the road you could see so much of the island and I began to like it. It felt like forever since I'd actually just been on my own so I really enjoyed having some time to myself. I saw a sign post to Viewpoint 3 and headed there. The view here was spectacular. You could see for miles and see the cliffs and beach either side of the joining land on the island. It was difficult to get a photo to do it justice. Whilst there I met two guys who had just come from view point 4; as I hadn't seen any signs they directed me and I decided to go whilst I was there. This was a further 20 minutes down the dirt track headed towards another beach. The view here wasn't anything in comparison to the first however it was still nice to look at. I walked back to the first viewpoint I'd visited in order to find 1 and 2. When I eventually found view point 2 it was evident that it was by far the
Viewpoint 4
most popular for tourists. There was even a small shop at the top and there was at least 20 people there. It was similar to the first one I'd visited although closer to the central point. (Photo at top of page)By this time it was getting towards mid afternoon and very hot. As I'd no more water and not actually eaten I decided to head back instead of looking for viewpoint 1 as I'd seen no signs what-so-ever. I descended down the more well used route of hundreds of steps down to Ton Sai village where I was staying. When I eventually found my way back to the hostel most people were awake and heading to the beach. After grabbing a bite to eat I joined them and chilled out for a while. That evening we decided to walk to the viewpoint to watch the sunset. Imy, Alec and I walked the same way I had done to Viewpoint 2. We were stood on the eastern part of the island and sadly the full sunset was blocked by the hills on the western but it was still nice to watch. Despite it being about 6pm it was still unbelievably warm so we got ice creams at the shop - Magnums have never tasted as soon in my life. 

I had a much better night that night so I decided I'd stay on the island a little longer. There are many limestone cliffs around the coastline so rock climbing is a popular activity. Rai Leh is meant to be a lot nicer but as I'd been in Thailand so long already and I'd heard it was very expensive to stay there I decided I wasn't going to make it there so did some climbing on Phi Phi instead. I went in the afternoon and was with 3 Lithuanian guys who'd never climbed before. It cost a lot more to do lead climbing so the instructor put the ropes up but he allowed me to lead belay and second him before showing the guys what to do. This was good because it meant I got to do a lot more than the others. We were out for 4 hours and I got about 5 routes done. I think they were about 30-40 metres but I'm not sure on the grades. They weren't overly difficult though. The views from the top were amazing - the cliffs I was climbing were the west side so it was a slightly different view than the viewpoints which was nice. I was pretty tired out by the end because it was so hot and I hadn't done any climbing in at least 7 weeks. 

The next day I had another lazy day on the beach with one of the guys from the dorm. The previous two days exercise and lack of sleep in the dorm left me ready to do very little. I decided that I would only spend one more night on the island before starting my trip to Malaysia. It was a little cooler that day so we just chilled out in the sea and slept on the beach for a while - a nice way to say goodbye to the islands. About half the people currently in the dorm were leaving the next day so we all went out for food and then drinks. Whilst I'd got used to night scene on Phi Phi it didn't mean I liked it. If you looked at the beach bars it looked and sounded tacky and cheap: multi coloured flashing lights and really bad music came from pretty much everywhere in sight. Later on there was lightening which was really cool as you could see the bolts so clearly and it lit up the whole sky. 

The next morning I booked my boat to Krabi where I decided I'd spend one night to split the trip to Penang, Malaysia.One of the guys I'd met is doing essentially the same trip as me so we decided to go to Krabi together and then decide from there. After booking the boat most of the day was spent chilling out at the Rock and saying bye to people. We eventually went to the pier at about 3pm and got on our boat to Krabi. When we arrived we got a taxi to the centre. I'd been recommended two places to stay; the first was full but we found the second by chance and stayed there. For the same price as the rock we had hot showers, wifi, aircon, clean rooms, duvet and proper security. I was so excited by the luxury of a hot shower and a comfy bed I almost wanted to stay an extra night. 

We went and got food a the outdoor food court. I just got fried rice with vegetable but it was so cheap and really good. There was several patio table and chair set out and various food stalls around. After spending so much time on the islands it was great to finally feel like I was in a different country again. There were so many locals sat around us and the waitresses barely spoke any English - a great way to spend my last night in Thailand. After eating we went to check out the night market: it seem to go on for about a mile! Stalls of all varieties and even some fairground type stalls - locals were throwing darts to pop balloons to win cuddly toys, it was so surreal. It turned out it was a Muslim festival on that particular night so there was a live band playing too. Thai music has never been something I've particularly been into but it was a novelty in itself. After walking the length of the market we headed back to the dorm, but not before booking our bus to Penang for the following morning. Last night spent in Thailand completed, next stop Malaysia.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Koh Tao, Thailand

Of all the places I've been in Thailand, so far, Koh Tao is by far my favourite. I arrived on the island on the Friday afternoon following an uneasy journey on the Songserm boat from Koh Phangan Its one of the slower boats (and cheaper) but if you suffer from seasickness badly, it's not recommendable. As I disembarked the boat, bags were shifted down to the pier for collection by a somewhat questionable shoot. None the less I retrieved my backpack and headed to land. I'd pre booked with a dive resort who had offered to pick me up when I arrived. After about half an hour of waiting I gave up and found a taxi to take me there instead. I arrived at Coral Grand Diving Resort which had been recommended to me by various people and seemed to have really good reviews online, and went to check in. My course was due to start the following day so I headed to my room to dump my gear before having a look around. Several hours later I woke up! Lack of sleep following the half moon party had definitely caught up on me... This is actually my first room without air con and just a fan instead. The difference is unbelievable! Through the day it can get so hot and even at night it doesn't always cool down very much but its included in the cost of the course so saving money doesn't harm you once in a while. I went to get some food and whilst at the resort bar, I met Alan. I'd been told to look out for him as he's a friend of a friend but I was surprised to meet him on my first night! I got to know him a little bit over a beer but it wasn't long before I was ready to go to bed.

After a good nights sleep I woke relatively late and went to have a look around and get some food before the first part of my course. You can walk along Sairee beach past many dive schools, bars and bungalows and its easy to find the town. The atmosphere here is much more chilled out than Koh Phangan and its evident that a large number of western people live here; some working in bars but most as Dive masters or instructors. Koh Tao is also a popular spot to do the dive master training. My course starting at 3pm and consisted of filling in medical forms and safety information and then watching a video which went through 2 of 5 sections of the course. This in it's self proved difficult with 2 power cuts in the middle. Power cuts are very common on Koh Tao especially at the moment: their monsoon season is November however it seems to have come a week early, bringing heavy rain in the morning, usually followed by hours of sunshine, then becoming reasonably overcast by sunset. I was asked to wait one day and join two other girls as as it stood I was the only one on the course running from that day – they gave me an additional night's accommodation for free so I didn't object. I spent my free day relaxing on the beach and in the evening went to Fishbowl – the bar linked to Bans diving school (biggest on the island) with some guys I met from Argentina. They had fire shows as per usual and live music which was actually really good! I've missed live music, and well any form of decent music since I've been away

Monday was essentially “day 2” of my 4 day course. I was on a course with two French girls. After watching the first 2 sections of the course information it became apparent that one of them was not proficient enough in English to continue. After a big debate, it was decided they were to get a French instructor, and I was to continue with “day 2” the following day! I thought it was a bit of a joke but again, another extra night at no extra cost on Koh Tao isn't the worst thing in the world... The weather was beautiful in the afternoon so we chilled out on the beach. I met Alan again that evening and went for a meal with him and his family in Mae Hat which is where I got off the boat, a little more south from where I am now. I then got taken out in Sairee by a few of the DM and DMT's which was a nice way to spend my birthday.

So eventually I got to start my course! I met them in the morning, 2 Canadian guys and a guy from England. All really nice and a good laugh. We did a bit of theory then got to practice some skills in the swimming pool. Even that was pretty cool! We learnt to take off, replace, and clear water from our masks underwater, same with the regulators. Also we had to do scenarios in our buddy pairs – for example if one of you were to run out of air, breathing through your buddy's alternate air source. It was all really good fun and not as difficult as I'd anticipated – I'd not been looking forward to the mask stuff! The rest of the day I just spent getting to know the guys a bit better and had a few drinks later on. I love the atmosphere here at night - the vast majority of the bars are beach bars, more chilled out than Koh Phangan though, with bean bags to sit on, fire shows and music. One bar even has giant jenga!

The next day was our first day diving in the sea. In the morning we had a bit more theory to go through but in the after noon we headed out on the boat. It was actually quite rough Wednesday afternoon and assembling our gear whilst trying to balance was difficult. The guys on the boat were all really friendly and helpful which made it a lot easier to get things done. After a quick briefing by Jules, our instructor, we got geared up and entered the water. Our first dive was at Lighthouse Bay. We stayed at 12 metres for this dive but still got to see a wide variety of sea life. We spent most of this dive practising swimming and maintaining buoyancy. I had no problems when I was down there but during the ascent, I think I must have breathed some water in through my nose as I ended up coughing and spluttering on the surface. Once out of the water I was fine. The boat had free tea/cofffe, biscuits and fruit on board after the dive which was well needed. Once everyone was back on the boat we set off for our next dive site: Japanese Gardens. This was a slightly shallower dive but the visibility was much better and we saw a few more things. We also did some underwater skills on this dive.

The last day of my course came really quickly. We met at 6am (my “buddy” agreed to wake me up as early mornings haven't been my strong point over here) and headed to the boat. Today Alan came with us: he's a videographer and actually sometimes works with Coral Grand to produce a film for people doing their Open Water Course. Our first dive was at Chumphon Pinnale, and second at White Rock. My favourite moment of the first dive was when we saw a turtle; it was such a beautiful creature and amazing to watch it swim by. The two dives were both a lot of fun – we reached our full depth of 18m and had some skills to carry out too. On returning to the resort, we washed the equipment and then got our certification done. At this point I decided that 4 dives wasn't enough, so I booked to do my Advance course too: this would give me 5 more dives, and the ability to dive to 30m. Alan came to the bar that evening to show us the video which all four of us opted to buy. It has an hours worth of extra footage which fish identification on which is handy as I haven't a clue what different fish are called. After seeing the film, our group went for food and then for a few drinks.

For the advance course you have 2 compulsory dives; deep and navigation, and 3 optional dives. I choose Night dive, underwater photography and Peak performance buoyancy. (PPB) For the navigational dive we were dropped off at Red rock and swam round to Japanese gardens. For PPB there is a site set up at Twins with obstacles to swim through which was a bit of a laugh. I did my deep dive (30m) back at Chumphon Pinnacle – this was probably one of my favourite dives, everything seemed to click and I didn't feel like I had to think about what I was doing as much. Next was the photography dive; I had to hire the underwater camera and annoyingly it played up a couple of times when changing depth but I managed to get some photos. We were dropped off at Satakuk to see the wreck there and then headed to Hin Pee Wee to take more photos. I also really enjoyed this dive as it allowed me to play around with my buoyancy. I experimented hovering upside down, on my side and getting very close to the coral in order to take pictures. As the visibility wasn't great for the night dive we stayed on Sairee Reef (most people will tell you White Rock is the best place for night dives). It was a bit strange at first on the night dive – you can't really gauge what's around you and where the coral is. Obviously you have a torch but that only lights up where you shine it. I managed to spot two different type of sting ray and a crab. You don't tend to see these during day dives so that was pretty cool.

After my courses finished, I decided to move resort so I was slightly closer to town. I booked for two nights as I wanted to stay for Halloween. The extra couple of days I just spent chilling out on the beach when it was sunny, and when the rain came I didn't do much either! The diving had taken it out of me and for about 48hours it felt like the ground was moving under me. Not sure if this was because of my ears or delayed motion sickness, either way I didn't feel like doing much. Halloween was a great night out - loads of people made great efforts with their costumes. I didn't have a costume what-so-ever but the guys from Coral Grand were out dressed as pirates and I managed to acquire an eye patch at some point. My big mistake was drinking buckets! For the most part, I've managed to stay away from them whilst in Thailand and stuck to beer, but I wasn't feeling up for beer last nights and the girls I was with talked me into getting a couple of buckets and today I'm definitely suffering ! I really can't handle hangovers in the heat! 

I've actually been on Koh Tao about 11 days now - its gone so quick! I feel settled here and don't really want to leave if I'm honest but there are other things I want to do so I've booked my trip to Koh Phi Phi. I get the night boat to the mainland tonight then a bus and another boat in the morning. I think its about 14 hours journey in total! Lets see how it goes...