Posts Tagged ‘koh pha-ngan’

Perhentian Islands in Malaysia

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

July 6
When I woke up yesterday morning, it felt as if I was in the middle of an earthquake… When the next flash and boom came a few seconds later, I realized it had been a clap of thunder, but it had been so loud it rattled the doors and windows in my room! The rain came shortly after, and lasted until late afternoon, so I spent the day doing some reading, and when I’d finished Anna Karenina I went to a bookshop and sold it, and bought The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Eon. I don’t often read sci-fi, but Eon is pretty cool. It’s written in ’86, and set in 2010, so the setting is a bit odd. ๐Ÿ™‚ The Soviet Union is still going strong, and so is East Germany, and the much dreaded nuclear war that we were all afraid of in the late eighties had happened in 93!

In the afternoon Helena came over from Tim’s, and told me he was finally starting his tattoo. We had dinner, and then headed over to watch Tim having pain inflicted on his shoulder blades with a foot long stick of bamboo. ๐Ÿ˜‰ On our way there we met a couple of Swedes from Piteรฅ, that we’d been talking to a few days ago, and agreed to meet up with them at the Reggae Bar after we’d been to offer Tim some moral support. We spent the night partly at the Reggae, and partly at the tattoo parlour, until I had to head to bed. I was getting up at seven thirty, so I needed my beauty sleep. ๐Ÿ˜›

This morning Helena woke me up at seven twenty, I packed, and we had breakfast at Garlic, where I’ve had the greater part of my breakfasts on the Island. She followed me to the boat, and we said bye and see you later. I’m going to write her an email once I get onto the Perhentians, and tell her where I’m at, so she can come meet me in a few days.

The Piteรฅ guys were also on the same boat, but they were headed to Koh Samui, and then Koh Pha Ngan for the full moon party. I got in a minibus in Krabi, and was taken to Had Yai, where I changed into an older minibus with less leg room and without aircon, but I was happy, because they weren’t playing insanely loud concert videos with Thai music… ๐Ÿ˜ฎย  I got to Sungai Golok on the border around seven thirty, left Thailand and entered Malaysia very easily. As I came out of the immigration office, I spotted three people just entering, and fingers crossed, I was hoping they were going to Kuala Besut as well. It turned out they, Dean, Rachel and Nathan, had in fact also come from Phi Phi today, and were also headed to Pulau Perhentian, so we’re now sharing a taxi. It’s a 110km taxi ride, but with four people in the taxi, it’s cheaper than the bus, at 25 Ringit per person, or about 40 NOK. I am now at GMT +8 instead of GMT +7, so it’s getting kinda late. I’m guessing we’ll be in Kuala Besut around 11pm, so I hope there are open guesthouses! The first boat to Perhentians leaves at 8am tomorrow morning, and I don’t want to spend the night on the pier… ๐Ÿ˜› It’s also been rainingย  all afternoon and evening, so it’s very wet, but it’s also a bit cooler and refreshing. I definately won’t need any aircon. The last few nights I’ve actually woken up early in the morning and I’ve had to turn off the fan! I suspect I will have to get heated blankets and hot water bottles for my bed when I eventually return to Norway…

July 7
We arrived at 11pm like I thought, and when we’d checked into a guest house, had dinner and gone to bed, it was half past midnight. I got up before 7 to take the first boat out to the Perhentians, and had a gorgeous trip out on a little speedboat, with the sun just up over the islands. Dean turned out to have taken his DM licence on the Perhentians a year ago, and I think I want to use the same outfit. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s on Long Beach on the smaller Perhentian, and it’s called Sunlight. I’m staying at the Moonlight Chalets, which cooperates with the Sunlight Divers. I spoke to the owner of Sunlight today, at the Coral Bay, opposite side of the island from Long Beach, and she said I just had to tell her when I was ready to start. I’m spending some time with the instructors and divemasters here, and I’m going to do a couple of fun dives tomorrow, and if nothing extreme happens to put me off the course or the people, I’ll be spending at least the next six weeks here on the Perhentians! ๐Ÿ˜€ I also might work here after.

PS: My foot is healing nicely.

Scuba diving and rock climbing on Koh Phi Phi

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

On Wednesday Helena and I left Koh Tao, took the boat to Surat Thani, and then a bus to Krabi. We spent a night in Krabi, and then headed out by boat to Koh Phi Phi on Thursday. Out here we’ve kept meeting people that we’ve met before, and all agree that this island beats both Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao. It has neither the forced party atmosphere of Koh Pha Ngan, nor the forced diving environment of Koh Tao, although it offers both the party scene, the diving scene and more. It also seems the locals are more welcoming and friendly, making us travellers feel more relaxed and at home. I don’t know if it has anything to do with it, but the tsunami on December 26 2004 might have made it clear how dependent society out here is on continued tourism. It was a horrible disaster, and everyone here, expats and locals alike, lost family and friends when the massive wave washed over the island. Some signs are still left of the wholesale destruction left in the wake of the tsunami; a few pieces of land are still just fields of rubble, and some broken palm trees areย  still standing, but all in all Koh Phi Phi is just as beautiful as it used to be. The Phi Phi islands have been backdrop for both a Bond movie that I can’t remember the name of, and the movie The Beach, and it’s just as beautiful as it looks on the Silver Screen.

We booked our first dive trip the night we arrived, and on Friday, yesterday, we went out on a dive boat shared by a big diving outfit, and several of the smaller ones. We’re in the low season now, and many don’t have enough customers to warrant taking out a boat each. I had two dives to about twenty meters, while Helena spent the time snorkeling. On my first dive I saw a couple of black tipped reef sharks whizz by, but I missed the sea turtle that some other people spotted just after I got out of the water. On my second dive, I saw another couple of Black Tipped Reef Sharks, was REALLY close to two Great Barracudas, a Striped Sea Snake, and also saw a couple of Leopard Sharks. The second Leopard Shark was lying still on the bottom, and I swam up around to try and lie down next to it for a picture. While I was heading around, someone else got too close to it, and scared it up. The result was that the shark swam up, and alongside me for a few meters, and a divemaster from a different outfit got a cool picture of me swimming less than half a meter from the Leopard Shark! He’s the boyfriend of the divemaster who was my dive buddy for the dive, and he promised to email me the photo! ๐Ÿ˜€ I rented an underwater camera for the day, and I don’t regret it in the least, even though it cost quite a bit. ๐Ÿ™‚ Helena saw a handful of Blacktips during her snorkling too, and also a couple of Leopard Sharks. She was bitten by the dive bug, and is starting her Open Water course tonight. ๐Ÿ˜‰ When we’re heading out to Pulau Perhentian in Malaysia, she can then either do fun dives, or she can take her Advanced Open Water if she feels like it, and her budget allows it.

Last night we headed out to the beach after dark, and watched a really good fire show, with poi, fire sticks, fire limbo and other games. Some of the fire jugglers around here are really good, and they look like they really enjoy what they’re doing, unlike what we saw in Koh Pha Ngan and to some extent in Koh Tao.

Tomorrow Helena is headed out to do her confined water dives, and I am going rock climbing. I suspect my body will be completely beat after seven hours of climbing, seeing as I’ve hardly climbed at all since I left Italy in ’99… I’m going to start out with a few top rope climbs, and if the guide is satisfied with my skill, I’ll be lead climbing some routes after that. Here’s hoping that climbing is like biking, and my body remembers the techniques! Right now I’m sitting in an Australian bar with free WiFi and the France vs. New Zealand rugby match on TV, but once this is posted I’ll bring my book to the beach, and keep Helena company while she’s studying for her OW exam. It’s a pity I’m missing the Norwegian summer, but I’m not complaining. ๐Ÿ˜›

Shabbath Shalom in Koh Pha Ngan

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

On Tuesday Lucas left for Koh Tao, and Helena’s roommate left as well, so we’ve been sharing the room Lucas and I had in the Israeli guest house. We rented a motorbike on Tuesday afternoon, and headed out to find some waterfalls. The bike was crappy and the roads were worse, and the first gear kept slipping when the hills got too steep, so every once in a while the one that wasn’t driving had to get off the bike and walk up the hill… We still headed north to look for Than Prawes waterfall, but when we couldn’t find it, and the locals had sent us on a couple of wild goose chases, we turned back south to find some other waterfalls. We got to Thong Nang waterfall, and were rather unimpressed, but we had a little dip in a shallow pond to cool off before continuing. The next waterfall we came to was Saampan, a couple of kilometers further down the road-cum-dried-up-riverbed. Although the waterfall wasn’t impressive or spectacular in any way, it was a lot of fun! The river, which technically isn’t more than a stream this time of year, gathered up in a narrow cleft, where it plunges down intoย  a pool, where you can sit and let the water massage your head and back. Below a couple smaller “steps” where you can sit, is a deep pond where you can swim, and around it there are nice rocks to lie down and relax on. The whole place is surrounded by green jungle, and when the sun started to set, dragonflies were zooming around everywhere. Beautiful. On the way back we stopped at a local restaurant for dinner high up in the hillside, and lay on pillows by a low table on the balcony, watching a thunderstorm over Koh Samui, the neighbouring island to the south.
Late at night, we got a spur of the moment idea to head out and see if the pool party at Coral Bungalows was all that it was cracked up to be, and seeing as it was all that, the plans of an early night and early next morning melted away like a snowman at a pool party. ๐Ÿ˜‰

The next day we decided to hand back the ratty moped, and instead rented a scooter from a different company. It was a lot newer, a little stronger, and a lot more comfortable to drive, as it was an automatic. It took us up and down the ridiculously steep and winding road, as we headed past Saampan waterfall and out to the sea at Ao Thong Reng. To my surprise, the coast there looked a lot like the coast along southern Norway, with rounded rocks lining the sea. We found a place out of sight of everyone and everything, and after a long swim, just lay there reading and sleeping until almost sunset, and we had to return quickly, before it got too dark to see the deep gouges left by heavy rains, crisscrossing the road crossing the island. Dinner was taken at the same restaurant, watching that night’s lightning show.

On Thursday we headed all the way up north, since we’d heard of some good snorkling there. We rented masks, snorkels and fins in Baan Chaloklum, and were directed by the nice lady in the dive shop, to Haad Khom, Coral Bay. It certainly lived up to it’s name, and we spent hours floating around the clear water in the bay. We saw a couple of boats come in, some snorklers whisped around for a half hour, and then they were off again. We kept congratulating ourselves on having made the right choice, seeing as we’d paid way less money, had way more freedom than the people on the boat. The road up there was even quite good, and our trusty scooter took us there fast as the wind. ๐Ÿ™‚ We saw striped fish, bright blue fish, neon-rainbow coloured fish, leopard spotted fish, green corals, red corals, brown corals, spiky corals, soft corals, in such a great variety that I have to say it’s my best snorkling so far. On the way back, we stopped at the night market in Baan Thong Sala where we had some grilled squid on a stick, a grilled cob of corn, and an absolutely brilliant Pad Thai. We got a little basket, and filled it with the ingredients we wanted, then the chef prepared it while we waited. It was fantastically tasty!

On Friday when we got up and paid for the room, Levi, one of the guys who runs the guest house asked if we wanted to join them for the Sabbath meal that night, and we accepted. We then tried to reach Ao Haad Khuat, Bottle Beach, on the crummy roads across the island, but when we were about a kilometer away, we reached a point where the scooter was unable to cross the bumps and loose sand. We were too high up in the hillside to consider leaving the scooter there and walking the rest of the way in the oppressive heat, so we had to turn back. Instead we went to Ao Thong Nai Pan Yai, where we spent some hours in the sun and then some in hammocks in the shade. When we were ready to leave, we wanted to stop by the Saampan waterfall again, and do some filming, since I’d finally remembered to bring my camera. We also filmed a little while we were looking for the road to take us to the waterfall along the coast, but again the road was impassable unless you had a 250cc off roader or better which was exactly what our scooter wasn’t. We still went there the long way around, and when we returned to Haad Rin, and our guest house, it was almost time for dinner.

Some jewish travellers had gathered there for the Shabbath Shalom, the meal, all with their little hats on the backs of their heads, and Levi started the meal by saying a prayer, breaking the bread, and handing out pieces of bread dipped in salt. We then got a taste of wine, and then the meal started. Out came more and more dishes, different fish dishes, meat balls, chicken, salad, loads of sauces, and we ate until we couldn’t eat any more. Then there was a shot of Sambuca, a whole lot of Mazel Tov’ing, and the guests started leaving. I noticed that all the smokers went outside to smoke, even though they usually smoke inside in that restaurant, and one of the jewish guys told me it was because they didn’t want to break the rule of the Sabbath of not lighting a light, i.e. cigarette lighter, INSIDE the house, so they went outside. The guy who told me this was from Stavanger, which strengthens my view that our planet is really the size of a small town…

This morning, Saturday, we left for Kho Tao. On the boat getting here, I spoke to a lot of Scuba divers, and we are currently staying in a dive resort. Helena is considering taking her Open Water certificate here, and I have thought about doing my Dive Master here, but none of us have quite decided. Malaysia is supposed to be cheaper for diving, and one of the guys I spoke to on the boat told me that Perhentian in north east Malaysia he met a couple of girls who did their DM on an internship, without paying for it. That’s what I want to do. They say they have an internship here as well, so I’ll check into it, and find out how long I have to stay here for if they do. I also want to do some dives here to see if it’s worth staying a few months, or if I’ll get bored with the dive sites in the first couple of weeks…

Full Moon Party in Koh Pha Ngan

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Friday night I took the night bus from Bangkok to Chumporn, and the boat from there to Koh Pha Ngan. I walked around for a bit, looking for a guest house, but all I could find was way too expensive, so I was preparing to find a place to store my luggage and just sleep on the beach, when I found a place that had bungalows at a price that wasn’t blood curdling… I had just checked in, when another traveller in the same situation came walking up. He was a bit put off by the price, and I suggested we share a bungalow, seeing ass they all had two beds anyway. His name is Lucas, he’s from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, but has been living the last seven years in London. He’s a fun guy, friendly and outgoing and flamboyantly gay. ๐Ÿ˜›

The atmosphere here is a little like Vang Vieng, with lots of people out to party, but it’s both a bit less laid back and has a bit older crowd, i.e. more people my age… The reason why I came here was the full moon party last night, and it was a lot of fun. ๐Ÿ™‚ All the guest houses and restaurants along the beach rig up with bars and music and lights on the beach itself, and the whole beach is crammed with people dancing, eating, drinking or just sitting around talking. I met Helena again, that I went sightseeing in Vientiane with, Lucas attracted both girls and gay guys, and we ended up being a big group of people having fun together. I’ve also seen a few other people that I’ve met around South East Asia, but not as many as expected. The party was even bigger than I’d expected, apparently tens of thousands of people, and the chances of meeting people again in such a throng are not very great.

This morning we watched the sunrise on the beach, and then went to bed for a few hours before we had to check out. We found an even cheaper place to stay, at an Israeli guest house, and have moved there now. Lucas is really happy that it has aircon, but I’m afraid I’ll get a cold again… Today has been spent like the last two days, lounging on the beach, and my nose is peeling from too much sun. I am generally good at remembering the spf, but on the boat out here it was packed in my big backpack, and I spent all three hours of the crossing on deck, which was a thoroughly stupid thing to do. The water is so warm here that it doesn’t really cool you down very much, so people spend hours on end in the sea. It feels nice, but it’s not helping my sunburn, seeing as there’s no shade out there… ๐Ÿ˜›

Tonight I am planning to head to bed early, and tomorrow I might rent a moped and drive around the island. There are supposed to be some nice beaches away from the crowds out on the east side of the island, so I’ll try to find one of them and relax with my new book. I couldn’t find any of the books I was looking for in the book exchange store I went to, so I decided on a classic, Anna Karenina. I am looking into doing an internship for my Dive Master course, but I’m not sure where I’ll end up. I hope to find something out on Koh Similian or Koh Phi Phi, because those islands have the best dive sites in Thailand, but I’m also trying to find out about diving in Malaysia.

Bangkok stopover

Friday, June 5th, 2009

On Tuesday Hannah and I rented bicycles and headed south on Don Det, to the old railway bridge connecting it with the larger island of Don Khon. We rode past the remains of a small, old French locomotive, and west out to the Tat Somphamit waterfalls. The part of the Mekong that runs west of the islands comes crashing down through rocky canyons, and the mighty river, that has turned brown with the tons of silt washed out by the rains now in the rainy season, roars with a deep bass that resonates with something deep inside the stomach. It was a truly breathtaking experience! From there we cycled south, to a much lauded beach that turned out to be a smelly stretch of dirty, brown sand, where we stopped for a soda in the heat. We turned our bikes east on a small dirt path, until we reached the course of the old railroad again. The French built the little stretch of rails to transport goods from boats downstream of the waterfalls to the boats waiting to take them further upstream to Vientiane and beyond, but now the rails are gone, and we bumped south on the coarse gravel on which the tracks used to lie. My travel guide informs me that the government is talking about restoring the little railroad, but warns me not to hold my breath waiting…

We reached the tiny village of Ban Hang Khon at the south tip of the island, and across the river was Cambodia. It is possible to rent a boat to go out and try to spot the rare Irrawaddy fresh water dolphins, but like in Lake Baikal it was both too expensive and also the wrong season to go fresh water dolphin spotting… Instead we turned back north, and followed the eastern edge of Don Khon up to Don Khon Village. We stopped for a late lunch, and while we were sitting there, a mighty rainshower turned the road to mud, which the scorching hot sun turned dry again before long. Back in our guest house on Don Det, Mama Tan Orn’s Rasta Cafe and Guest House, the rest of the day was spent in exactly the way we came to the four thousand islands for to begin with: In hammocks with our respective books. ๐Ÿ™‚

On Wednesday Hannah had to catch the boat and bus back to Vientiane to pick up her new passport from the Australian Embassy. She left at eleven, and shortly after I went to enquire about tickets to go to southern Thailand. I found that the best way would be to just buy a bus ticket to Ubon Ratchatani, and find my own way to the railway station and buy a ticket on the night train to Bangkok from there. For lunch I went to a bakery run jointly by a Laotian family and a man from Australia that has some amazing cinnamon rolls for next to nothing. I sat there for hours, reading, until an incredibly fierce rainshower crashed down over us, while the sun was still shiningย  just as strongly as always. After about three minutes it stopped as abruptly as it had started, and it was difficult to comprehend how much it had rained just seconds earlier! The only other customer and I looked unbelievingly at each other, and simultaneously exclaimed “That was unreal!”

We got to talking, and discussed what was worth doing on the islands. Her name was Lisa, she was from Germany, and she’d rented a bicycle that morning, but hadn’t found the waterfalls. I told her where they were, and that they were worth an extra trip out there. We figured that there was just enough time to go out there and back again before it would get dark, so off we went in a hurry. While we were out at the waterfalls it started raining so hard that when we found shelter after a couple of minutes I could wring several deciliters of water out of my T-shirt… The only other traveller out there so late was Kaye from England, who was hoping to get some video shots of the sunset over the waterfalls. She wants to be a TV announcer, and was using her travels as an opportunity to compile a show-reel to send with her applications when she returns home, and I remembered seeing her filming herself buying a donut in the bakery earlier that day. We all waited out the rain, but there was no sunset to film. The three of us headed back to Don Det together as it was getting dark, and then went out for dinner together. Kaye was tired, and went to bed early, and Lisa was leaving for Cambodia early the next morning, but we stayed on the back porch of my guest house until almost midnight anyway, because she wanted to see some photos from Nepal, as she was thinking of going there later.

Yesterday morning I bought the bus ticket I’d forgotten all about the night before, and had breakfast with Kaye in the bakery before I went to the pier to take the boat to the mainland. From there I went to Pakse in a minibus, and from Pakse across the border on a VIP bus. We arrived at the border just too late to change our Laotian Kip into Thai Baht, and the bus driver offered a totally unacceptable rate, so I got in a sawngthaew, a pick-up truck with two benches along the sides in the back, to go to the train station, hoping to be able to exchange there. I got to talking to a Lao man who spoke incredibly good English on the truck, and he told me there were no places that would accept Lao Kip anywhere outside of Laos and it’s borders. I almost considered going back to the bus station to make the change with the greedy bus driver, even though that would mean missing my train, because I had way to much Kip left to let it slide, when the guy offered to buy the Kip from me! We looked up the going rate online on his palmtop, and I insisted on giving him a slightly more favorable rate, seeing as he had just saved me from a much greater loss. I find that the people around south east Asia are extremely friendly and helpful, it’s just too bad that communication is so difficult when I don’t speak their language, and very few of them can speak enough English to communicate properly!

The train ticket was cheap, and I bought the cheapest option with a bed, second class with fan, upper bunk, but I couldn’t buy a ticket all the way to Suratani, where the boat to Koh Pha-Ngan leaves from, I would have to buy the Bangkok-Suratani ticket in Bangkok. I spent some time in the restaurant car, and had several “conversations” with Thai people who spoke no more than five words of English between them, but insisted I sit down and share their food and have a glass of Thai beer with ice. ๐Ÿ™‚ When the restaurant car closed at 22hrs, I went to bed, watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica on my laptop, and slept like a baby until the conductor woke me up at 7:25, five minutes before we rolled into Bangkok station.

When I got to the ticket counter there, it turned out that because of the upcoming full moon party, all the trains were fully booked… I went instead to a travel agency, that managed to find an available seat on a night bus, with the boat ticket included. The bus doesn’t leave Bangkok till seven pm, which meant I had over ten hours to kill in Bangkok. I used the facilities in the train station to brush my teeth and have a shave, before I caught the subway out to Lumpini park, where I had breakfast at the food court. A very outgoing lady there wanted to serve me a Herbalife shake for breakfast, but laughed with me when I broke out in laughter at the thought of ME drinking a weight-loss shake when what I really needed was something that would put some meat back on my rather lanky frame… ๐Ÿ˜› It’s funny how when I travel, I loose weight even when I feel I do nothing but eat!

The lady showed me where the best food in the food court was, and pointed out her favorites, all the while talking about her friend in Bergen, and her involvment in CISV, Children’s International Summer Villages. I got her card, and she urged me to try volunteering for CISV when I return to Norway. After breakfast, I walked around the park for a while, looking at the wealthy and bored Bangkokians working out, or just enjoying a morning stroll in the painstakingly trimmed green lung in the middle of this smoggy metropolis. It is weird to think that only a few hundred meters away, people are struggling to eke out a living in the squallor of Bangkok’s slums…
When I came out of the park, a Tuk-Tuk driver immediately pulled up, as I was rifling through my Lonely Planet guide to come up with something else to pass the time. He asked me where I wanted to go, and looked a little confused when I said I didn’t know… A little explanation later, he understood my situation, and suggested to give me a tour of the main sights. I lied and said that I’d seen them all, and was just looking for a way to while away eight more hours. For some reason, Bangkok is not a city where I feel the need to see the temples, pagodas and museums, but I didn’t think I would be able to make him understand, seeing as I don’t really understand it myself. It’s just something about the city that tells me to observe the things that I accidentally come across, instead of seeking out the sights. The driver pointed out a couple of things within walking distance, wished me luck and a good journey, and drove off in search of people with a little more specific goals for the day…

I walked aimlessly up wide boulevards with noisy, polluting traffic and down narrow alleys with exotic, but by now familiar smells coming from the food stalls lining them, until I happened upon a Starbucks… I haven’t been to Starbucks since Xian in China around Christmas time, so I decided to treat myself to a Grande of Today’s special coffee, and surf the net. It turned out I have to pay for the web access, but the Columbian blend was completely worth it, although it cost twice as much as my entire breakfast in the park… I have gotten to actually enjoy the ice coffee with sweet condensed milk that’s served in street stalls and small side walk cafes, but a nice, hot cup o’ joe, black as sin and bitter as an old widower, consumed sitting feet-up on a soft leather couch in an airconditioned Starbucks is a luxury I’m thoroughly enjoying, and charging my laptop while I’m at it is an added bonus. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Here’s hoping there’re rooms available in Koh Pha-Ngan tomorrow, so I don’t have to sleep on the beach. ๐Ÿ˜›