Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Penang and Langkawi

Onward to Malaysia! We needed to do a quick visa run to extend our time in Thailand until we fly back to London, so we did a short round trip to Penang and Langkawi, which are surprisingly close to Koh Lanta. Unfortunately, we’d already booked flights the long way round before we realised that there's a quicker ferry/minivan option to get to Langkawi! Still, it meant we got to see a bit of Penang as well, which we wouldn’t otherwise have done.

Before flying out of Phuket we had time for a few hours on the beach. I enjoyed watching the planes come into to land low over the sea.

Plane coming into land at Phuket Airport
We arrived in Georgetown, Penang to torrential rain – this region of South East Asia really isn’t having the best weather at the moment, but then again it is in the tropics and we are fairly close to the equator. Fortunately, when it does rain – though it is torrential – it doesn’t rain for long so we were soon able to go out and explore.

Georgetown is an old British colonial outpost and still retains many of its original English street names – we stayed in a guest house on Love Lane! Now, much of the city centre is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site with many landmarks dating back to the settlement's establishment in 1786 and including later 19th-century buildings including Chinese shop houses, Hindu temples, Indian Muslim mosques and two of the city's oldest wet markets. (Thanks to Wikipedia, as always, for the historical information!)

Colourful Chinese shop fronts
The architecture, street art and reputation for being the foodie capital of Malaysia all make Georgetown one of Malaysia’s most popular tourist destinations. We had a great time wandering around Armenian street and the city centre, taking in the ‘famous’ murals of children on bicycles, old Chinese-style buildings and wrought iron cartoon strip artwork on the sides of buildings. 

Wrought-iron caricatures

Wall murals and bicycles
 By the seafront, the city extends on a boardwalk on stilts out over the water, in a market selling souvenirs and street food: big bowls of Chinese ramen and durian fruit pastries and ice creams.

The seafront market on stilts
With Chinese New Year celebrations coming up next weekend, much of the city is decorated in preparation, with red paper Chinese lanterns adorning the streets.

Chinese lanterns on Armenian Street

We enjoyed trying some of the local delicacies, including a regional ‘laksa’ (noodle soup) made with mackerel, lemongrass, tamarind, chilli, tomato and thick rice noodles. 
There is also some excellent seafood available, cooked in every country’s style at the Red Garden night market. We opted for Japanese teriyaki but could have chosen between Malaysian, Thai, Chinese or Indian flavours. Dishes cost around £2 - £4 so it’s possible to eat very well here for very little.

For a novelty experience and a bit of fun, we visited the Upside-Down Museum – which is exactly what it sounds like – basically, a house arranged upside down and a series of photo opportunities in each room! Very silly but a good way to pass an hour.

Upside-Down Museum
On the way back to our accommodation, we passed this guy – talk about putting all your eggs in one basket! 

Putting all his eggs in one basket!
After two nights in Georgetown, we took the ferry over to neighbouring island, Langkawi. Langkawi is actually an archipelago of 104 islands, of which Langkawi Island is the biggest. It also has duty-free status, so alcohol is very cheap - compared to the mainland, where its mostly Muslim population do not drink.

Kev is pleased about the price of his 'Royal Stout'!
We stayed in the main tourist hub at Cenang beach, with icing sugar fine sand and calm seas to swim in. 

Pantai Cenang
We had planned to do some diving whilst we’re here but apparently, Langkawi is not known for its good diving. For a start, visibility is never more than two to four metres at any time of the year! Once again, I think we’ll hold off until we’re in a slightly better dive spot and with better weather. Whilst the afternoon rain and thunderstorms won’t stop the dive trips, it’s always much better when the sun is shining as the colours are better under the water.

A storm brewing...

We hired a jet ski for a fun way to pass a morning – Kev took to it much like he took to quad biking, so he didn’t much like being the passenger, but enjoyed driving as fast as possible and doing small jumps over the waves!

Jet ski fun
Tomorrow we’re heading back to Thailand (the quick way, this time!) for our last week before we head back to London. Back to Koh Lanta first, then making our way back to Bangkok via Krabi, Railay and Phuket. I'll blog again before we fly home. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Koh Lanta

We’ve had a really chilled out ten days on Koh Lanta and most of our days have been spent relaxing on the beach with a selection of books. I think I’ve probably read more in the past two weeks than I did all of last year! 

We decided to stay in the same bungalow I wrote about in the last blog post as the location is pretty idyllic and the best beach on the island is a ten-second walk from our front door. The beach is lined with a string of beach bars and restaurants, all offering cheap food and happy hours of varying duration every day, so we have been working our way through most of them and sharing around our custom.

Sunset on Khlong Nin Beach
Our day has pretty much followed the same itinerary most days: wake up, have breakfast on the beach, alternating between swim, read and snooze in a deckchair in the shade, lunch, more beach time, a spot of work or blogging as the sun goes down, followed by dinner on the beach. It’s a hard life! 
I did however, break the inactivity with morning runs, workouts and yoga sessions on the beach, so I don’t feel quite so guilty about taking it so easy!

One of the highlights of each lazy day is seeing a dog and a duck (an unlikely partnership, I know!) go for a walk down the beach and back again. They might stop for a sit on the beach, or a wallow in the waves on the shoreline, but always together! It makes everyone look twice, smile and invariably take out the camera – myself included.

An unlikely friendship
The dive boat that got washed in by last week’s storm has been gradually been thrown about the beach and smashed up more every high tide. It’s been quite a mission for the locals this week to clear the wreckage, which concluded with a digger on the beach dragging the remaining sections away from the shore before the next storm rolls in – apparently, that’s expected over the next couple of days. We are hoping that we will have made it safely back to Phuket and on to Malaysia by the time it hits as I don’t fancy that five-hour ferry ride in rough seas!

The shipwreck

We hired a bike for a few days in order to see a bit of the island, making trips to the beaches along the east coast (which are all pretty glorious), over to the old town, with its buildings built on stilts, out over the sea, and down to the national park at the tip of the island. 

Koh Lanta Old Town
I’m not sure if we’ve been fairly sheltered on the beach we’ve been staying on, but elsewhere on the island there are so many macaques. We saw them in the trees on one beach and as we arrived at another roadside beach, a couple of tourists warned us that some monkeys had just chased another couple on the beach. Remembering our experience in Borneo where we were chased by a particularly territorial alpha male macaque, I was very wary that they didn’t get too close. We must have seen twenty or thirty over the course of the day.

Monkey steals someone's picnic on the beach
Unfortunately, some of the tourists still find it hilarious to feed the monkeys, which is only going to encourage them to ‘attack’ more. Mind you, I once found them ‘cute’ and funny too – perhaps it’s not until you’ve been threatened by monkeys that you realise they are wild animals and not to be befriended. I will certainly be keeping my distance, that’s for sure!

A stick to ward off the monkeys!

In contrast to the hot fierce sun by day, the evenings have given way to a few tropical rainstorms, thunder and lightning – perhaps in a build up to the imminent storm. We were lucky yesterday when we managed to make it back to our accommodation and park up the scooter just seconds before a torrential rainstorm hit and lasted for several hours. It’s funny how quickly the weather can turn in the tropics.

A storm rolling in

As mentioned previously, we leave tomorrow for Malaysia on a visa run before coming back to Thailand for our final week – I can’t quite believe that leg one of our trip has almost come to an end! We’re planning on visiting Penang and Langkawi in Malaysia but will see if the storm is meant to hit there too and if so maybe visit a different part. It would be great to fit in some diving, but subject to calm seas, I think.

Monday, 16 January 2017

The unglamorous side to travel...

A bonus post for you this week! A fun take on my thoughts on the unglamorous side to travel...

The weeks of planning the far-flung and oh-so-exotic locations, poring over guides books, finding the best beach hut to stay in for the can’t-believe-your-eyes-price – who’d have thought it would be four times cheaper to live on a beach in Thailand (including accommodation and eating out three meals a day), than merely get by in London? 

My family, friends, and colleagues were all pleased for me and vicariously excited for my upcoming adventure – but perhaps a little jealous of my escape to the sunshine during the cold, British wintertime…

This post is for anyone who’s a little bit envious of mine – or anyone’s for that matter – exotic travel plans. Ok, so maybe two months backpacking in Thailand costs the same as two weeks’ in a luxury five-star resort, but long term (budget) travel takes its toll (yes, really!) 

Here’s what you’re not missing out on:

Lotions and potions: It’s thirty plus degrees in the tropics. This means two things – you can’t go out in the day without slathering on the sunscreen and the mosquito repellent by night. It’s humid, you sweat and your skin is permanently greasy with the creams and sprays, sticky from the salt from swimming in the sea and a little bit of you longs for a temperate climate, where you can leave the house bare-skinned… This is genuinely one of my favourite things about going home!

Living out of a bag: A sixty-five-litre rucksack seems a generous-enough size. As you’re packing to go away, its contents are meticulously planned, listed, packed and everything has its precise location in the bag. Fast-forward to the fortieth time I’ve unpacked and re-packed my bag and it’s not quite so orderly – prompting everything coming out of your bag to find the one item I'm looking for. Oh, and why do my possessions seem to expand once I’ve left the country? I was sure I left home with some space to spare in my bag, but it’s all I can do to stuff everything in when I’m on the move.

The clothing issue: The bag size restriction means that there’s space for precisely one week’s worth of clothes that must be washed every week. Pack extra items for special occasions, or niche activities at your peril! You’ll soon resent packing those heavy walking boots on the off chance you climb that mountain – or the ‘smart’ outfit in case you go somewhere posh (you probably won’t, or if you do then it’ll have to ‘go’ with flipflops). Note the above point and cue jettisoning of any non-essentials once you’re on the move.

Island time: This probably as much what we love about the island lifestyle as it is a frustration, but when you leave your ordered nine to five lifestyle to travel, it’s hard to leave behind the structure of things (supposedly) running on time and happening when they’re supposed to. Cue transportation leaving when it’s full – or when it’s ready to. Bus journey quoted as taking four hours when you booked but took seven hours in reality? Laundry promised to be washed and dried by five pm yesterday but is still not ready and the laundrette is closed when you go to pick it up the day after? This is all par for the course. Things will happen when they’re ready, so get used to it!

Stinks: As much as you might try and avoid any unpleasant smells, it’s a constant challenge when living in a humid climate, and most usually exacerbated by having to pack damp items whilst on the move. Micro fibre towels one of the main offenders and one of my pet hates – as much as I admit they do save space and dry quicker than a standard towel. The worst part is perhaps getting used to the smell – or at the very least, putting up with it!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017


Hi everyone!

A bit of a transition week for us this past week, moving from Koh Chang to Koh Lanta, via Bangkok and Phuket, so a lot of movement but not much to report on the blog and a short post from me this week.

We spent our first two days in Phuket in the pouring rain! To be fair it’s only the third day of rain we’ve experienced since leaving London in November, but it does come as a bit of a shock to the system! For us it meant the traffic was terrible so it took us three hours to get to our accommodation in Kata Beach (a journey which should have taken an hour or less), but on the plus side, we got to put our waterproof gear to good use, as up until now, it had been sat redundant in our rucksacks.

Kata Beach in the rain

Watching a storm roll in
Kata Beach in Phuket is supposedly the quieter, nicer end of Phuket island, though we still found it very touristy – a bit like being in Palma, Majorca in high season, with lots of British and Russian tourists. With the torrential rain, we were able to experience the beach with practically no one on it – which I don’t suppose is a common occurrence, but on a sunny day – as we discovered the following day - it’s another matter. There are nice big tides here though, so when the tide is out there’s a big beach and plenty of space to find a spot for your towel.

Kata Beach in the sunshine
Glad to finally see the sun come out after two solid days of rain, we – and all the other sun-starved tourists in Phuket – headed to the beach. The sea was a muddy brown colour from the rainfall, so not the picture postcard view you might associate with Phuket, but it was a nice beach nevertheless if a little busy.

We had originally wanted to travel to Koh Lanta sooner but the heavy rain and rough seas delayed us. Tour operators advised us against trying to make the four-hour ferry crossing from Phuket and a couple of days later, once the weather had cleared up and we finally arrived in Khlong Nin Beach, Koh Lanta we understood just how rough the sea had been -  a dive boat had been smashed up and washed ashore just two days before we arrived!

Fortunately, now the sun is out, there’s a light breeze and it’s perfect beach weather. Koh Lanta will be our home for the next ten days and we found ourselves a lovely bungalow (read: hut) right on the beach – so close to the shore we can hear the waves from our bed. 

Ours is the small apex in the middle of the photo
I hope that will make for a relaxing night’s sleep and not have us dreaming we’re about to be washed away!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Vientiane and Koh Chang

Happy new year, everyone! Apologies for the lack of posts for a while – we have been relaxing on the beach and settling into the new year!

Last time I wrote were we were due to arrive into Vientiane, where we spent a couple of days. It's a small and pretty French colonial city and Laos' capital. 

At times - if you ignore the tuk-tuks - you could be mistaken for thinking you're in Paris: cafes with blackboards written in perfect French handwriting, run by French ex-pats, advertising duck a l'orange and 'jambon beurre' baguettes, tucked in amongst the Laotian cafes selling fried noodles.

Can you spot the French influence?

We also found a Tintin-themed Belgian beer cafe, which Kev just couldn't resist!

Drinking with Tintin in the Belgian beer cafe
We spent a morning at COPE (, a museum dedicated to telling the story of Laos' unexploded ordnance following the Vietnam war – and the resulting need for prosthetics caused by injuries from cluster bombs.

Laos is the most bombed country in the world per capita. The impact of the Vietnam war in Laos was equivalent to bombs being dropped every eight minutes, 24/7 for nine years, non-stop. Thirty percent of the cluster bombs dropped did not detonate and are therefore still active. 

Much of the land is used for farming so the unexplored 'bombies' (individual bombs, about the size of an orange, within the larger cluster bomb shell) still pose a very real threat today. However, with new bomb search and disposal techniques, they hope to clear all remaining ordnance by 2020.

As we travel south, the weather is starting to get warmer. We felt it first in the move from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, and then again through Bangkok into Koh Chang. Fortunately, also the roads are becoming less mountainous, though the minivan drivers remain as crazy as ever! 

We passed through a town called Trat – the jumping off point for Koh Chang and randomly met a man who lives in Truro – it’s a small world and the Cornish really do get everywhere! 

Koh Chang is Thailands third largest island and is just south of Bangkok. It has a mountainous, jungle interior and is fringed with pretty sandy beaches on the west coast – the perfect place for a spot of rest and relaxation.

White Sands Beach
Arriving in time for new year we were fortunate to stay on a fairly quiet part of the island, so we were able to avoid the worst of the (hideous) new year’s eve’s parties on the beaches - and found a secluded part of our local beach, Pearl Beach, to toast in the new year. Nearby White Sands Beach and (somewhat inappropriately named) Lonely Beach were 'party central', so well worth avoiding!

We hired a scooter to get around and made Kai Bae Beach our home for the week. Three times a day the elephants from a nearby elephant camp would be walked down the beach to bathe in the sea (which from experience, we know they love! 

Elephants on Kai Bae Beach

I just hope they were not forced to also do circus tricks for tourists in the camp). In any case, they seemed to love the ocean and were well used to human contact. You could walk right up to them in the sea and touch them if you wanted, but even the baby ones are pretty strong so I kept a safe distance!

Baby elephant, Kai Bae Beach

One afternoon we hired a kayak and paddled around on of the small off-islands off Kai Bae Beach. It took forty-five minutes and was a welcome break from the inactivity of sitting around on the beach. That said, I think some beach time was long overdue after a month in land-locked northern Thailand and Laos.

The sea is the perfect temperature (probably somewhere around twenty-nine degrees Celcius) and the weather around the mid-thirties. The afternoons have been overcast and slightly cooler and fortunately, too, there have not been many mosquitoes around - paradise!

White Sands Beach
Next, we head back to Bangkok in order to head to our next location: Phuket and then on to some of the other islands.