Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Islands of Thailand Have so Much to Offer

Hi everyone, and happy new years, I can't believe it's 2011 already! 2010 was an amazing year for me and being in Thailand right now, I can't imagine 2011 getting off to a better start than it already has!

The day began with our being awoke by monkeys on the roof, causing quite a racket. They seemed a bit less hostile than the other day, which was nice, but you don't want a monkey bite, nor monkeys in your room, so I try to be careful around them. Nick of course had the same concerns, but was more interested in playing with them, first handing them a water bottle to play with (which they fought over) and then a (empty) can of Chang Beer. When we'd returned later, I found the can full of bite marks and ripped in half, haha.

After breakfast at our hotel (the provided breakfast is eggs and toast, I guess they assume that is all white people want to eat in the morning, I prefer Thai breakfast though...) Jeans surprise was revealed (though it was already sort of blown a bit earlier by Ellen) to be a little hike over the hill top to the other side of the island to snorkel, so we went into town, gathered supplies, and headed off.

Naturally the beginning was quite steep, and we were all sweating within short order, but the views were more than worth it. This is the best viewpoint of the island, and I think shows why this is such a popular tourist destination. The main 'town' is that sandy bit connecting the two hillsides, the main bay with the pier for larger boats is on the left, and the sandy beach with all the bars and long-tail boats is on the right.

On the other side, the hike took us through the jungle, where we saw a large lizard, some birds, and interesting insects. The weather started to turn a bit unfortunately, and it was rather overcast once we had arrived on the beach. The wind was blowing a bit as well, and the sand was stirred up, meaning the snorkeling wasn't great, and I ended up just falling asleep on the beach while the others actually did some snorkeling.

This picture is of something we often find ourselves discussing: sewage. Officially, this is called the “Wastewater Collection and Constructed Wetland System” but the graffiti on the sign was a better name I think, the “Poo Garden”. Open sewers are a common site around this part of the world, and big whiff of the stink is a common experience. This is a Dutch (if I remember the sign correctly) project to use a 'wetland' to help filter and clean the sewage using natural methods, and we ended up with a nice view of this “poo garden” from our room!

The next day, all of us hopped on a boat for an all day tour around the island. From the boat we would stop a number of places to look around, snorkel, kayak, and so on. The weather still wasn't perfect, a bit overcast, but it was not a problem, and did clear up a bit as the day went on. The snorkeling we were able to get to on this boat was vastly better than what we had been able to get to on our own previously, and we all saw some pretty neat things in the water.

Of the many stops the boat made over the course of the day, this was the last: Maya Bay. It is a very pretty little cove, and was used in the Leonardo DeCaprio movie The Beach. From there, we watched the sunset from the boat, and motored back in. Quite a nice, full day. On shore, we got dinner, and headed back to our rooms to clean up and rest for the new years celebration.

I know I was getting down on the party-scene in my last post, but this is new years eve, this is the night to party! One very nice feature of this area, and a great money saving tip, is you really don't need to buy drinks at the bars. We bought all of ours in the little stores along the way to the beach, and then you just walk along the water, watch the fire-shows, and dance on their dance floors. This was a pretty crazy scene. There were so many people out, the bars were packed, the music was blasting, and once the clock struck midnight-ish, the sky erupted with fireworks. I'd say this is probably the most fun new years party I've ever had.

In the morning, the sun had finally come out, but it was time to move on. After relaxing on the beach for a while, everyone else caught the ferry to Phuket. Nick and Ellen are starting a month long volunteer program at a monkey rescue center, while Colin, Jean and Chris had a flight to catch up north to Chang Mai. I know I said it before, but after my own family, I've spent more time with the Jones-Clan than anyone else. To get to spend Christmas and new years with them here in Thailand has been a special treat, and I am very grateful for the hospitality they have shown me during our time together. I do hope to meet back up with Nick and Ellen in about two weeks however on my way back north to meet Brendan in Bangkok, so this isn't goodbye to them yet!

It was also my time to leave Phi Phi and after some rather typical confusion regarding schedules, I caught a different ferry to another island, Ko Lanta. It is closer to the mainland, farther south and a much more mellow place than what I was leaving behind. This gives me about two weeks to travel alone again, which will be interesting. I began alone in the Philippines, but within a day had travel partners, and ended up spending only about 2 days alone. I'm not sure what will happen here, but while traveling with Nick and Ellen has been a total blast, I'm also looking forward to some alone time, haha.

Ko Lanta isn't like Phi Phi, it is a long island with 5 main beaches on the west side. Because of this it lacks a central area and is a bit more difficult to negotiate. The boat I caught was later than I expected, so in a bit of a hurry I went with one of the guys who waits for the arriving ferries to some bungalows on the beach which are a pretty good prices, but higher than I want to be paying for more than a night or two. At the time it worked out very well however, and was a pretty good find.

The next morning, I slept in, and went for a walk trying to figure out what I actually want to do while here. As I said, there is no centralized town here, other than a collection of shops by the pier, and walking around made that quite clear. I walked for about an hour in one direction, and honestly there isn't much besides a few shops, hotels and restaurants. With a vague plan in mind, I went back to my room.

This is laundry time! While there are plenty of laundry services on the island, they charge 30 baht a kilo, so I choose to do it on my own. (the laundry services do it my hand and sun-dry as well) I bought some soap for 10 baht at the 7/11, and used a plastic bag I had with me. You can wash in the sink, but they can be nasty and it didn't have a stopper anyways. This bag method actually ended up working out very well. After laundry, I laid out on the beach for a while, relaxing and trying to build a solid base tan finally so I don't need to worry so much about burning!

In the evening, after sitting on the beach, watching the sunset and writing up most of this post, I headed off for some dinner from one of the local restaurants along the road. Food here is 'expensive' compared to the street-food of Bangkok. The cheapest meal is 50 baht, rather than just 30 baht, which is a bit of a bummer. Anyways, no one at the place spoke English, and they didn't have a menu, but a neighbor translated for me. Something must have been lost in translation however, because I asked for stir-fried noodles with veggies and chicken, and instead got veggies and chicken, and a huge plate of rice. Oh well, that's how things go around here!

I decided to spring for an evening of muay thai, or Thai kick boxing. I've never been to a fight before in my life, but this seemed interesting, and 'only' cost about $20. It consisted of 8 fights, starting two kids who looked to be about 8 years old, then moving up in age and size, ending with the main event between an Australian guy and a Thai guy. The crowd was mostly tourists, but there were a decent number of locals who were very into it (and I'm sure got their tickets for a fraction of the price). The whole thing ended up being a lot of fun actually, and was defiantly worth it. Oh, and the Aussie won, but it wasn't very graceful.

That's it for now. Tomorrow I will probably rent a scooter and explore the island, maybe go caving, then go to this weird carnival thing they have setup. In the coming days I'm looking into doing some more scuba diving, maybe an elephant trek and a home-stay with local fisherman. Take care everyone.