Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Koh Samui...Koh Phangan...Koh Tao

After spending many days resting on the island of Koh Samui, I actually began to relax more and appreciate the beautiful island. We ventured out around our beach hut and ate some delicious local food. One evening, we ventured into the main town and watched a Thai Reggae Band, who I must say where incredibly talented and sounded amazingly like Bob Marley & The Wailers. This was not even the highlight of the whole evening, the walk across the street was, in order to watch the Muay Thai Boxing. We viewed two men's and two women's fights, each demonstrating great skill and technique. The most exciting thing was how the crowd reacts and the whole atmosphere set when viewing this competition. The sport of Muay Thai is highly respected in Thailand and many people follow, therefore, watching and being apart of this event was an exciting evening indeed. After many days of rest, we opted to catch our boat across to the 'famous island' of Kho Phangan, all I could say is that I was eagerly excited, ready and well and truly deserved to have some fun. 

After a smooth and enjoyable boat journey across the islands, I departed the boat feeling hot, excited and most of all ready to party! We wandered through the small streets and located our hostel easy enough, then was greeted with a huge smile from 'Wan', the manager of the hostel. She checked us in and showed us to our swanky room. Well, when I say swanky, I express now what I was greeted with. The walls on the way upstairs where smeared with an array of neon colours of paints, plenty of yellows, oranges, pinks and greens. Then, as we pushed heavily on the door, the room was filled with around 20 bunk beds. We opted to choose the far corner near the window, as I was on the top bunk, the mattress was actually made of wood. I actually didn't mind, as I knew I would hardly be getting the perfect sleep on this island anyways. We ventured out to the beach and the whole vibe on the island is amazing. The people who venture here are all in search for a good time, wanting to socialise and party. We chilled on the beach for a couple of hours and then randomly bumped into some friends we had met in Bangkok, Trey and Karla. It's crazy as me and Karla after talking for 2 hours, realised we knew the same person from back home, a mutual friend. We ended being joined by a Dutch guy called France and we all sat on the beach in darkness enjoying some Chang Beer. As the night drew closer, we decided to go and eat at Karla's bungalow, this entailed getting a fisherman's wooden boat out to sea, cruising around the bay and hopping off across rocks around the next bay on the island, this is only accessible via boat. It was a little scary zooming through the waves in darkness, especially having consumed one too many beers, but it was fun! We chilled at there place all evening, eating nice food, drinking beer and listening to Trey, who is a great musician and reminds me of Bob Dylan play lots of songs. 

The next morning we awoke happily, knowing that we actually arrived home safe and that we could head out to the beach and hopefully bump into some others friends who arrived that day Karlie & Ronnie. Luckily, we bumped into them and we spent the next few days and nights, enjoying the island and partying even more. One night, me and John stayed out late and under our feet in the sand we found a new iPhone, I checked the pictures to see if I could see who it belonged to, but it was no use as the person who seemed to appear on all the pictures was nowhere to be seen. I decided that I would keep hold of it, then in the morning we can call or somehow get in touch with them to return their phone. I always believe in doing something good, in a way helps the karma of my soul, but also just being a 'good' person, as I knew this person would be gutted to have lost their phone. The next day, we ended up drinking beer and having cooked breakfast with Karlie & Ronnie around 3pm, then we mentioned about the phone and showed them the picture, it's crazy but they replied "that's our next door neighbour"!! So, after our food and drinks, we ventured back to their place to return the phone, that's when we met two great people...Kyle and Damon. They are two Americans, who are real characters and really nice people. Damon was so happy to have his phone back that he declared we all drink a bottle of Samsong on his balcony to celebrate, so our evening was filled with great times and lots of fun with four Scousers and two Americans. 

The day had finally arrived....The Full Moon Party! The island had become much more busier now and the whole atmosphere was exhilarating, I loved it. I ensured I had my bright coloured top on, mini mouse glow in the dark headband and most of all body paint, this is compulsary for the Full Moon Experience. In order to totally integrate yourself with the party and whole vibe, you have to splash and dash some sort of neon paint on yourself. The night was one of the best partying nights I have ever experienced. We began lightly with beers before moving onto buckets, this is a must in order to last the night. Once we had our body paint in tact, we ventured out into the streets, I enjoyed some street food, a nice piece of crispy chicken. Then, we opted to make our own buckets (cheaper!) going to the 7-eleven and opting to fill it with pineapple juice. This is our own special drink that will become famously known throughout the night as the 'Samsong Colada'! We eventually reached the beach around midnight and was greeted by thousands of people all having a great time. You can be mesmerised by the fire shows that take place on the beach, each bar has lots of entertainment and most of all, there is so much variety in what music you can enjoy. There are bars that have strong drum and base, reggae, dance, cheesy pop, there is literally everything. Me and John ended up partying through at least 10 buckets of 'Samsong Colada's' and adored viewing the sunrise from the beach. It was so enchanting and an amazing experience, the party was still in full swing even at this time. We managed to stay up until 9am, then opted to have some food...breakfast. At this time, still finishing off our last bucket, I opted for sweet and sour chicken for breakfast, well not the normal type of meal I would go for, but I was on Koh Phangan and you can eat anything at anytime. We eventually settled into our bunk-beds for sleep at 10am, I am almost proud of this achievement. 

After two days of recovering from the massive party, I was glad to leave this island and in need of rest and relaxation, especially in the means of no alcohol. We ventured onto the nightmare of a catamaran, that not only made me sick, but myself and another 100 people. The whole hour and half journey, produced two full sick bags from me, I felt as though I was about to faint and there was nothing I could do about it, as I was thrashing around as we bashed through the choppy hurling waves of the sea. Once we reached Koh Tao, I instantly felt happy. Of course for reaching Koh Tao itself and also for being off that catamaran, never again. The next six days, I spent relaxing along the beach and by our wonderful pool. John opted to complete his PADI Open Water Scuba Diving, so he is now a qualified diver, whereas, I spent the days relaxing and taking it easy...I needed it. Koh Tao has a quaint nightlife, lots of beautiful restaurant and bars lined along the beach, each dishing up delicious food and a very uber chilled atmosphere. Therefore, my evenings laying on cushions on the beach, surrounded by live acoustic music and fire shows was well appreciated and most of all enjoyable. I loved my time on Koh Tao and now as I venture into the jungle and visit the Khao Sok National Park, I wonder about how many bears, tigers and monkeys I may see? 

Resting and taking it easy on Koh Samui

Watching the Muay Thai Boxing in Koh Samui

Our beach huts on Koh Samui

DIY Dinner - we ate at a local Thai place, cooking our own food

Arriving on Koh Phangan...loving the beach

Chilling at sunset, observing local men fishing in the sea

Chilling with Kyle, Karlie, Ronnie & Damon...watching sunset!

Enjoying a day at the beach with John & France (Dutch Guy!)

On a night out, bumping into our Israeli friends (Thomas & Adam).
 We've seen them in every country we've visited. 

The 'Fire Limbo' on the beach on Koh Phangan

This is the vision that me and John had by this time in the night

Chilling on my cushion on the beach at night in Koh Tao

Kyle taking a nap on me and John, chilling on the beach

Scuba Stan!! John on one of his diving lessons for his PADI

Our last night in Koh Tao, relaxing with some friends

My memories of Koh Tao, the laidback nights of fire dancers and live music

Friday, 2 December 2011


So what can I say about Bangkok...well, it is vibrant, exciting, crazy, cultural, busy, populated, alive, noisy, fun and most of a great place to be. As soon as we hopped off our minibus here, I loved the vibe of Khao San Road, this is the main backpacker area of the city. The big neon lights, street vendors, music and food stalls welcome you down a street filled with life. We ended up staying in a cell style room, with a bed and fan and nothing else, but it is was cheap for the area so we opted to stay a good few days.

Our first night, we headed out to a bar and took some chilled time to sit back and people watch, this is when we ironically bumped into two friends we had met in Sihanoukville in Cambodia, Emma and Gillon. They where staying with their two friends who live in Bangkok, so within a couple of minutes we where all huddled around a table drinking Chang Beer. As the night went on, we ended up on the main street, sitting on baby sized plastic chairs and drinking 4 rum buckets...this was not a night we could remember finishing! In the morning, John woke up and sort of remembered he'd bumped into the kerb, to which we now know, he broke his big toe, cut a chunk of flesh out the top of it and nearly removed his full nail. I felt sick even looking at it, plus felt bad as he was in so much pain. As we are travelling, the first response is to self-help treat it, so we spent the next few days mending the wound and keeping a close eye on it.

The next day we recovered all day long and the day after, as I wandered into a bar to ask for ice for John's toe, I heard a familiar voice call out 'Laura'. As I swooped around, it was Ronnie Smith and Karlie Laffin, two friends from back home in Kirkby. They are in Thailand for a month on holiday, it's crazy as a couple of years ago, I was on holiday alone in Australia and Ronnie had gone on holiday around the same time with his friends over there, strangely I was in a bar in Cairns with some backpacker friends and I heard that familair voice call out 'Laura' all those years ago...madness. So, we spent the next couple of days have a lovely time with Ronnie and Karlie, catching up on conversations, visiting Chinatown and I spent a cultural day out with them. We visited the Grand Palace and temple and explored the city on foot. The architecture and style of the whole city is mixed, you have traditional Thai structures correlated in spaces with new contemporary buildings. What I found so special was that this week is the King's 84th birthday, so the whole city was being illuminated by draped fairy lights on every single street and open space, so the city became a magical aethetically pleasing location. I adored it all.

We finally opted to head South, so we shopped around checking out prices and companies to travel with, as we have heard of so many scams and robberies taking place. We opted to book at our guesthouse, as the people seemed genuine and the price was near the expensive end rather than cheaper so we knew by paying more we sort of felt more safe. We headed off on our night bus, I knew my backpack under the bus would probably get looked into, anyways, I felt calm as I knew nothing in there is worth taking, I only have clothes and toiletries really. I kept all my important things, documents, money, camera's and things on me in my mini backpack. It was a seat coach so we settled down and I put my backpack in between my legs and dozed off to sleep. Looking back upon it, this bus was literally pitch black, they'd closed all the curtains too, so the visability was perfect for somebody to sneak around. Through the night, I thought I'd felt my bag move, so when we both looked it was there in between my legs with the rain cover on, just as I'd left it. We arrived to a place, sort of in the middle of nowhere, where they quickly threw off our backpacks and the private bus zoomed away. Luckily, we noticed within 5 minutes that in my mini backpack that had been in between my legs, they had somehow taken my camera and been into my purse and taken all my money. John reacted furiously at first, went over to the manager man of this place and demanded something be done, he was aggressive and upset. The man reacted not too well to this and was quite aggressive back, that's when I walked over and tried to calm things down. I find it strange in this situation; I am usually a person who will cry at anything, if I am upset, angry, happy...anything! Yet, here I was acting rational, calm and not crying. I went into the man's office and spoke to him and said can he get the bus back, get somebody on the phone to sort this out or phone the police. Within minutes, I was talking to this random Thai woman, I explained to her to keep all the money but what I want is my camera back and if not, I am not leaving this place and I will have the police here soon enough. She explained that she would 'chase' the bus and see if my camera was there to return. We waited over two hours, the manager man was also in on the scam, as he was asking me strange questions and I kept friendly with him, as though I knew he was helping me but I really knew he was probably in on it all too. Then, as our minibus arrived to take us the boat, a motorbike man appeared out of nowhere and low and behold in his basket was my camera in it's bag. We where then frantically ushered onto the minibus to reach our boat in time. Once on the boat, we explained to a Thai woman there, she was so angry as she mentioned this so called private bus company does this everyday to people. The previous day she had two young German girls this happened too and the day before a French guy, who had his bag on his lap and they still managed to take his camera and wallet. We mentioned about the police but she informed us that nothing ever happens as they always pay the police. She was really shocked and surpised that we had our camera given back, as she says they never give anything back once it's taken. In a way, I am sort of thankful the money was taken as it was a large amount and I think if that hadn't of been taken, I would never have seen my camera again. Me and John where absolutely devasted, upset, hurt, angry and most of all sad. Through my whole journey, I have never really had one bad experience, all the people I have met and the means in which I have travelled have always been fine, yet this one experience has impacted my whole experience of travelling. I know I must forgive in order to move on, in a way as the days are passing I am more being able to, it is hard but I am trying. Thailand is a lovely country, it's just I am finding it hard to see past this now, so every person we look at suspiciously and I am constantly on alert now.

The week hasn't got much better, as John's toe was getting worse yesterday, we visited a clinic to ask for advice and they told us to go the hospital straight away. So, another hour journey in a taxi and we arrived at 'Bangkok Hospital in Ko Samui', this place was more like a swanky hotel than a hospital. It had all contemporary fixtures and fittings and we literally did not sit and wait once. After spending the day there, John had a broken big toe, he received a local anaesthetic in his foot and the toe nail removed, then infection treated and finally foot dressed and anti-biotics prescribed. The two hours of treatment set us back over 200pound, but in a way I keep saying health is so much more important than money. Especially when travelling, you need to take extra care and I would rather him get well sooner and know that we did the best choices by going to a sanitised, clean hospital for treatment.

After coming back a little deflated, we have both had long talks and now trying to be positive and move on with our travels. As I am an explorer at heart, I know it is the small minority that have impacted us, it could literally happen anywhere in the world. So, I am holding my head up and trying to enjoy the rest of Thailand as much as I can. We are spending the couple of days resting, as John's mobility is limited, I like the idea of having time to rest, recoup and reflect. Hopefully, as the days pass, we will feel more happy and perhaps even feel excited for our next adventure over to Kho-Phangan...to which the Full Moon Party awaits us!

Wandering around Chinatown in Bangkok

View down the street in Chinatown

Some of the food on the Chinese Market...I dare not eat this!

John enjoying his green shu mai

In the middle of Khao San Road, heart of Bangkok

On the rooftop pool, overlooking the city

Ronnie & Karlie at the palace

Me at the palace, on our cultural day out

I love this picture, a fish in a tiny pond in the middle of the palace

The colours and architecture are beautiful to observe

The exquisite detail and work into the palace is inspiring

One of the tapestry painting's within the palace

I chuckled one night, guess which one is my drink...the beer! John's toe in background too!

The fateful first night, after 4 buckets, a broken toe...we purchased this hat

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Battambang and Farewell Cambodia...

So arriving into Battambang reminded me of Kampot we had previously visited. The French colonial architecture was dominant in every street building and the ambiance of the whole town was content. The place was not too busy yet it still oozed life, Cambodian style. 

We ventured out on a tuk-tuk with our guide for the day 'Mr.Philay', we visited the old Bamboo Train first. This is a bamboo raft that is held together with rope and a local man with an engine sits on the bag, we both hopped on board our 'train', then we zoom off at great speed along the dis-used railway lines across the countryside. Arriving into a small rural village, the friendly locals welcome us dearly, providing me with a cold drink and making small jewellery items made of leaves. After wandering around the rice mill and spending time chatting to locals, we jumped aboard our train and headed back to our tuk tuk. Here, we headed to his friends place, where he grows and produces his own rice wine, then after he has produced enough he will turn the rest of the fermented wine into pig food. This was interesting place with plenty of interesting smells. Throughout the afternoon we ventured to a village bridge and a village where fruit bats live within the trees. Mr Philay smoked them out for us and woke them all up, so within 2 minutes we had over 100 huge fruit bats squeaking and flying around above our head in the sky, this was amazing! The day concluded with a hike upto the 'Killing Cave', this was a place where the Khmer Rouge murdered 10,000 local people but hitting them at the top of the cave with a weapon then tossing their bodies down the hole to the bottom of the cave. It was such a saddened place, yet at peace now too. A small monk provides bracelets which symbolise peace here and you can take time to say a small prayer and reflect upon your surroundings. 

After my action packed day, the next few days we opted to rest and relax. We each became to develop the 'Cambodian Cold' and did not feel too good. So, even when traveling constantly, my body was telling me to slow down and make sure I take it easy. Evidently, we rested up for 6days here in this lovely quaint town and then arranged to head to Bangkok. I was excited and eager to embrace a city that I had longed to see, not exactly sure of what would greet me...the famous Thai Ladyboys, Pad Thai Noodles, Crazy Neon Lights...I was pretty sure I would love it all! 

Exploring the abandoned train station in Battambang

The old train carts and sheds are now some locals homes

John and Mr Philay

Hopping on board our 'safe' carriage

Just about to leave and zoom towards the village

The friendly local people greeted me with smiles and Coca Cola

Some local children guiding me through the rice mill

Cambodia's version of the 'Golden Gate' bridge

Waking up the squeaky fruit bats

Climbing up the hill to the 'Killing Cave'

Overlooking the Battambang Province

The remains of the murdered Cambodians, many skulls and bones of men, women and children

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Angkor Wat and the magical temples...

Arising at 4am was not too bad for me, in a strange way reminded me of when your going on holiday and you wake up super early and head to the airport in darkness. It holds a great sense of excitement to me and this was the feeling I engulfed during my tuk tuk ride to the famous 'Angkor Wat'. Once, we arrived we listened to a local girl who mentioned to head inside towards the temple and go left by the lake, as this would be the best position to admire sunrise. Lots of people gather, quietly anticipating the rise of the sun and a feeling of excitement grows amongst the crowd. We enjoyed listening to the traditional music being played as the sky turned a mixture of inspiring colours, everything from blues, yellows and pinks, it was beautiful. 

Once, the darkened sky had lifted, we headed over to the young girls shack and enjoyed a interesting cup of tea and spent some time chatting and getting to know the locals there. The young girl mentioned that she rises at 4am and works to sell bracelets to tourists here at the temple, then she heads to school for 7am and studies all day, then in the evening returns to work selling items until 10pm when she goes to sleep. This lovely young lady was only 12 years old and her sister had the same routine and she was much younger. 

We headed back over to our spot by the lake and finally the magnificent sun rises and greets the temples with warmth and fascination. The sunshine steadily rises and makes the landscape appear even more beautiful and interesting than it already is. After spending some time admiring the sunrise, we headed out to explore the vast temple of Angkor Wat, the huge stone work and carvings that fill the temples with tales, stories, myths and astounding history. I instantly feel relaxed here walking around the temple itself, there is a natural calmness that crawls the walls and all I do is wander and admire the wealth of beauty this place has to offer. After spending time here, we headed over to Angkor Thom, this is a grand collection of temples all located in a sort temple city, called the 'Grand City'. The temple is being restored but the presence and wonder it holds is enchanting. The stones have huge carved faces that surround every angle of the temple and the intricate carvings all tell a story of the kingdom. When reflecting on history, the Khmer empire was huge, when at one time in history this place had over one million people living and working there when a distant London only inhabited 50,000 people. By mid-morning, we ventured to the Ta Prohm, this is a famous temple that once featured in the film Tomb Raider. It has a magical feeling as you enter through the ruins, lots of gigantic trees reign through the temple, roots powering through the rubble and almost becoming a part of the structure itself. The tree's have a sense of power and this is something you feel quickly as you explore the temple, the calmness of nature is both inside and outside of this temple. 

We finally wandered around the Grand Palace area and here you have a sense of the vast size of the structures they constructed hundreds upon hundreds of years ago. It is inspiring in the aspects of architecture and almost mystical in the sense of its history and presence. After a day of exploring these fantastic temples, we head back to Siem Reap to reflect on the beauty we have adored through the day and to happily take a well earned nap. 

Admiring the sky, awaiting sunrise...

Local girl (BoMoi) who had some tea with us at sunrise, plus the cutest dog in the world!

Watching the sun appear behind the tower

Enjoying the sunshine's reflection on the lake

Enjoying the morning sun, as we set off to explore the temples

Roaming through Angkor Wat

The vast size and architecture is inspiring

Exploring the dark and mysterious corridors

At Bayon Temple, greeted by hundreds of these carved faces

Chilling in the shade under a gigantic tree (these are some roots!)

Exploring the Ta Prohm temple, engulfed by amazing trees

The famous scene within Ta Prohm Temple...Tree & Temple

Enjoying wandering in and out of the temple

Self-picture taken as we rest by a tree in the temple

A lovely end to our day, exploring the magical temples