Life’s a beach

After a two hour delay at Yangon airport we arrived in Bangkok in time to check into our hostel, dump our bags and head out to meet Dave at his hotel. We found Dave and Dave (his friend) by the pool enjoying a cold beer looking very relaxed. The football boys were arriving late that night, so after a few beers and a curry we decided to leave the boys to catch up and head home as we were shattered.

Dave (err) flying down the wing
Dave (err) flying down the wing

The football weekend consisted of a Friday night match at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club where we were treated to a fantastic buffet meal and all the free beer you could drink. This was followed by a weekend of seven a side games held at the Royal Bangkok Polo Club, which is basically a very nice country club with an Olympic size swimming pool smack bang in the middle of the city. Unfortunately the boys (KCC Royals) didn’t have a great weekend in terms of results but I have a feeling that had something to do with the amount of beer consumed. It was great weekend, albeit a heavy one, and it was really good to see Dave and catch up with a few familiar faces.

We left Bangkok on Sunday afternoon and caught an overnight train to Krabi in the south. We loved the overnight sleeper trains in China so were excited to see if the Thai trains were as good. We’d been told that you start off with seats that get changed into beds. Each carriage has its own conductor who comes and changes the seats into beds when you’re ready for bed…quite cool. After a few hours sleep we were woken up at 4.30am to get our connecting bus to Krabi. After leaving Bangkok at 15.30 on the Sunday, we eventually arrived in Krabi at 14.30 on the Monday.

We arrived at our hostel very tired and also very disappointed when we realised the room wasn’t what we had booked and was a lot more money than we thought. So after a heated discussion with the owner we walked away with our money and checked into another hostel. There is not a lot to do in Krabi. I think most people use it as a stop-off or a base to visit the surrounding islands, so we decided to move onto Koh Lanta the following day.

Sophie and Seb were already there which was perfect as they were able to find us a room. They did a great job, finding us a bungalow about one minute walk from the beach with air-con and a fridge, all for a very good price. After checking into to our bungalow, Sam surprised me with a Valentine’s poem on the back of a postcard which he had written whilst on the train. Who said romance was dead! Seb was almost in tears when I read it out that evening, and Sophie had to point out that it wasn’t actually meant for him. I wanted to post it on here, but Sam said it would ruin his street cred (if he had any to begin with).

No tripod required
No tripod required

We spent the next few days relaxing on the beach, working on our tans and playing Frisbee. We had one day exploring the town Saladan, and decided to check out another beach whilst there. We ended up taking a wrong turn and found ourselves on a deserted beach which was basically a huge sand bank covered in crabs and rocks with the sea miles out. We were clearly on the wrong beach but we decided to walk across to get to the next beach instead of turning back. It didn’t look that far when we started, but after a few minutes we were thinking we’d made a mistake as there were thousands of crabs and sea slugs everywhere. Anyway we persevered and made it to the rocks where a couple of local fisherman looked at us like we were crazy and pointed us in the direction of the right beach.

The next day was the first day of our Open Water PADI course but first we had to say goodbye to Sophie and Seb as they were headed back to Bangkok to collect their visas for India. We were sad to see them go as they’ve been our travel buddies for the last two months which has been a lot of fun.

Our first dive site
Our first dive site

We had already completed the first three chapters of the course so the morning was spent recapping on everything we had learnt followed by the next two chapters. We also took the final exam and both passed with flying colours so we were ready for our confined water skills test which took place in the sea rather than a swimming pool. We had to do lots of different things like pretend you’d run out of air and use your buddy’s alternative air source; let water into your mask and then get it out and take your mask off, which was the bit I hated the most. Our instructor seemed happy with everything so we were ready for our first proper dive.

Over the next two days we completed four dives, each time practicing the various skills we had learnt on day one and also reaching the course depth limit of 18m. We were diving in a stunning place called Koh Haa, a collection of five tiny islands each surrounded by beautiful coral reef and we saw so many fish including eels, lobsters, puffa fish and sea snakes but my personal favourite was seeing Nemo (clownfish). It’s very sad but I did get quite excited. We both absolutely loved it and can’t wait to do more diving, we’re even talking about doing our advanced course which takes you down to 40m and where we’ll probably do a wreck dive.

Our customary sunset picture
Our customary sunset picture

We met up with our instructor and her boyfriend for Sunday dinner at the local Irish bar which also happened to be playing the football. We hadn’t eaten a roast dinner for five months so it was a real treat to have roast pork with all the trimmings. We were also treated to a great game of football; Arsenal v Spurs (for those non-football fans) and to say Sam was happy with the game and the result is an understatement, ecstatic is probably a better way to describe him that night (except for the first 20 minutes). It’s a shame Bolton couldn’t pull off the same result the day before.

I’m not sure what came over me on Tuesday this week but I was out of bed at 7am running on the beach (with Sam). I think I was feeling guilty for all the beach time we’ve been having. Anyway it’s out my system now so no more runs planned for the time being.

Katy was on the back
Katy was on the back

We took a motorbike out one day to explore the island a bit more which was good fun, but very hot. We took a few wrong turns but I think we managed to see most of it and even stopped off at a beautiful bay for a little dip to cool off which was much needed. I did manage to lose my bank card at some stage over the day though which is really annoying. I’m hoping HSBC can send my replacement to a branch in Kuala Lumpur. For a bank whose strap-line is ‘The world’s local bank’, they sure know how to make it awkward for people overseas.

So other than the diving and the bike we have had lots of days just sitting on the beach, which has also given us time to start planning the next bit of our trip. We head to Langkawi in Malaysia on Monday where we’ll spend a few days before heading to Penang. Although we’ve enjoyed Thailand and the beach time, we’re ready to move on and are looking forward to seeing something new.

Until the next time….

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Thai food is grrrr-eat

We didn’t get to do as much as we wanted in Chiang Mai. First Katy was ill and pretty much bed-ridden for two days, then we realised that we had to leave early to sort out our Myanmar visa before the weekend. We didn’t stop to think that the embassy may not be open on a weekend; part-timers. I got to walk pretty much the entire city while Katy was in bed, and there are lots of things to do there.

Team massaman
Team massaman

We did manage to do a Thai cooking class, which we did with Seb and Sophie. This probably wasn’t the best class, and it definitely wasn’t value for money, but we had quite a good laugh. We started by taking a tour of the market, although Katy was quite disappointed when we didn’t actually buy the ingredients ourselves. We then had a tour of their herb garden before the cooking commenced.

We got to choose our three dishes from a set menu, and we got to work. Two years ago we did another Thai cooking course in Koh Lanta and when we got to eat our food I thought that maybe I should change profession, as it was some of the best Thai food I had tasted.

Katy's spring roll
Katy’s spring roll

After this course however, it was a good job I stayed where I was. My spring rolls were wonky and far too thick. I got told off for putting chilli into dishes that shouldn’t have chilli in, and most of all the apron really didn’t do anything for my legs. Katy was very proud of her spring rolls (see right), and my massaman curry was pretty good.

That afternoon we decided to go to Tiger Kingdom just outside of Chiang Mai. It holds about 50 tigers in all, from a couple of weeks old to fully grown.

The good thing about this place, is that you can get into the enclosure and touch them. We paid for 15 minutes in the enclosure with the full size tigers…huge.

Katy playing it cool (for cats)
Katy playing it cool (for cats)

We had heard stories from other people they were all drugged and just lying around comatose, but that definitely wasn’t the case. We saw these tigers running around the enclosure, jumping in the swimming pool and playing with each other. So we were slightly nervous when we were told to get on the floor next to the tiger.

We got to see three different tigers close up, and it was a great experience. We had a few worrying moments when the tiger we were stroking would suddenly turn round and look at us. The keeper did try and settle us down by telling us that there weren’t accidents too often, and it usually only ended with you losing a finger or two.

The next day we got the bus down to Bangkok, which took about 10 hours. It was one of the best bus journeys we have had, with cakes and drinks served on the bus, a free curry lunch, air conditioning, films and a toilet on board. You can tell when you’ve been travelling for a while when you start getting excited about good bus journeys.

Getting the Myanmar visa the next day was fairly easy to do, but we were glad we did a bit of research. Katy found a blog that mentioned a printer shop five minutes from the embassy that helps you with all the forms and photos before the visa section opens. So all you have to do is hand in your forms and passport and then collect later that afternoon. It was chaotic for the people that didn’t have their forms filled out, so it was a good feeling to be in and out of there quickly.

Buddha in China Town
Buddha in China Town

The rest of our time here we’ve just been walking around the city and taking in the sights. We went to China Town to have some dumplings, which we’ve been craving ever since leaving China. We treated ourselves to a nice dinner overlooking the river at River City. Last night we went to Khao San Road in the afternoon before heading to Patpong in the evening.

We were planning on going to see a ping-pong show, but with so many people trying to rip you off, and the prices for beers and entrance, we decided that it was too expensive.

Durian stall
Durian stall

We did manage to try durian, which I have wanted to do for a few years now. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a spiky green fruit and it’s banned from most hotels because it smells of feet. Everyone has always told me that it tastes much better than it smells. Now that I’ve eaten it I’m not too sure I can agree. The only way to describe it is a savoury garlic-like taste.

Tomorrow we are getting a flight to Myanmar (Burma) for just under two weeks. We don’t know a huge amount about Burma other than that fellow travellers have told us. They’ve got very weird customs when it comes to money.

You can only exchange their currency inside the country, and they will only accept US dollars. The dollars have to be in pristine condition. Any folds tears or marks and they won’t be accepted. If the have certain serial numbers they won’t be accepted. Very strange. And apparently the local money they give you back in exchange is filthy, smelly and ripped. There are no ATMs in the entire country, so it means we have to take all of the dollars out in Bangkok and carry them around with us. If we run out of money, there’s not much we can do, so we will have to manage our money well.

There is very little internet there, so we’ll be in touch on our return…if we make it back.

Until the next time…

Zippy, gorge and jungle

The slow boat to the border was surprisingly good, although it was absolutely freezing, I even had to get my towel out to use as a blanket and I fashioned that great look of socks with flip flops. It took about 9 hours each day which seemed to go quite quickly, probably helped by the stunning scenery and our Kindles which have been a life saver on all these long trips.

Mekong Trip to Pak Beng
Mekong Trip to Pak Beng

Our overnight stop was in a very small town called Pak Beng, but as we arrived so late we didn’t really get to explore anything. Instead we settled for a local restaurant where we had some very tasty food and then an early night.

At the end of the second day, we arrived in Houy Xai which borders Thailand, the only thing separating them is the Mekong River. After another early night, we woke early to start our adventure in the jungle. After a very brief safety video, we were on our way. We were in a group of eight and headed to a small village just outside the National Park where they kitted us out with harnesses; we were then told we had to trek for 2-3 hours (with harnesses on) up to the zip wires. You can imagine my joy when this 2-3 hour trek was all uphill, a real wake up call to how unfit I actually am!

Katy Zip-wiring
Katy Zip-wiring

We finally made it up to the first zip wire which looked very scary and suddenly the nerves kicked in. We were shown how to break if necessary as some of the zips are faster than others. I managed a 180 spin on my first attempt which was not fun and I came off feeling very shaky. After a few more zips the nerves wore off and I actually started to enjoy myself.

The key to a good zip is staying straight and making sure you reach the landing deck. If you stop short you have to pull yourself monkey style along the wire which is really hard work. After lunch we were taken to our tree house which was quite amazing and floating 50m in the air.

The tree-house
The tree-house

We had to zip in and out of the tree house which was a lot of fun. We each had beds, linen, mosquito nets and even a shower. The toilet wasn’t the best unfortunately, mainly due to the fact we were very close to the ‘Bee Tree’ so the toilet bowl was full of bees. I ended up going to the loo in the jungle as I couldn’t face the bees.

After a short break in our tree house, we were off again to explore some more zip lines. This time we were shown a small loop of zips where we were then basically left to our own devices and told to zip the loop as many times as we wanted.

The longest zip we did that day was 700m long and 300m high….quite incredible. Sam got some amazing video footage, some of which we’ve embedded below and well worth a quick look so you can appreciate how high we were.

You can see all of the videos that we took via the following link:

Sunset from our tree-house
Sunset from our tree-house

We made it back to the tree house for the most amazing sunset over the mountains. Dinner was then served which was delicious and consisted of a huge mound of sticky rice, some vegetable dishes and two bottles of Laos wine. As the night grew dark, the noises of the jungle were pretty amazing and there was also a lot of rustling above us…rats. We had been told to expect them so we made sure all the food was locked away before bed and escaped to the safety of our mosquito nets. Sam and I had ear plugs which meant we were able to get a few hours of sleep but some of the others in our group said all they could hear all night were the rats moving around.

We were woken early and told that we were going on a 2 hour trek to find the Gibbons. I had what Sam might describe as a small strop and just couldn’t face it as I was feeling really sore and very tired, so I opted out and stayed behind in the tree house, Sam kept me company. The others returned having not seen any Gibbons and breakfast was then served which included tomato omelette, chips, sticky rice, tomato salsa and fresh green mango which I have to say is delicious.

Sam Zip-wiring
Sam Zip-wiring

So it was time to head back which included a very steep hike down where I fell over and cut my elbow and some more zip lines. This time we managed a zip which was 400m high and 600m long and it was just amazing. On the last zip of the day I think Sam got a bit excited and ended up doing a 360 degree spin and at one point found himself zipping backwards. In his efforts to regain control, he brushed his arm against the wire and now has a nasty burn but he is being very brave about it.

We had an amazing two days. The zip wiring was brilliant and so much fun. We had a great local guide too which made all the difference and he told us stories of his childhood, where his family were opium growers and lived off the jungle. When the government banned the growth of opium, the family had to move to another village and he got involved with the Gibbon experience which has been going for about 10 years now.

The White Temple
The White Temple

We returned to Houy Xai at 14.50 and we were in Thailand by 15.30…pretty amazing but quite stressful. We then got a bus to Chiang Rai where where we spent three nights, mainly recuperating and relaxing. We did go and see a White Temple, which was pretty strange and very different to any other temples we have seen.

Since then we have moved on to Chiangmai where we have met up with Seb and Sophie again. So far we haven’t done too much as I’ve got a throat infection and am having to take antibiotics. Sam is looking after me and has just made me go out to have some soup, so I am hoping it will clear up soon so we can actually see some of Chiangmai.

Until the next time…