Thursday, November 12, 2009

Horse back riding, diving and snorkeling…under a full moon

06-Nov-2009, by Jason

OK, so as I write this we’re a little behind, mainly in the pictures department. It may be a while until I update the Flickr albums, but they’ll get up there eventually (hopefully it won’t be next summer! ;-)

So we took off from Langkawi on the first ferry to Satun, Thailand, 9.30am departure. After passing through Malaysian customs we were on the boat and within an hour and a half over to Thailand and quickly through and into the country. (That tourist visa we picked up in Penang worked well, 60 days in Thailand instead of the 15 days we would have been granted had we shown up with nothing.) Within the Satun ferry terminal there are a few tourist agencies with bus service to Krabi (where we needed to pick up the ferry to Ko Phi Phi, our ultimate first destination in Thailand. Of course by the time the bus arrives in Krabi we’ll have missed the last ferry over to Phi Phi, so we were guaranteed at least one night in Krabi. We asked around and they all had the same prices for the bus, so we went with the first shop that found us and bought a ticket for 600 baht (around USD 18.) Of course the ferry terminal does not have an ATM so while being driven over to the bus terminal we had a convenient stop to get cash. The bus was nice, air conditioned and about a 5 hour drive. We left Satun a little after noon, passed through Trang around 3pm and finally arrived in Krabi a little after 5pm. Once there one of the helpful locals showed us a picture of a nice room with fan and hot water shower for 350 baht/night. We booked one night just because we were tired, didn’t want to look around any further and just wanted to eat and relax. A quick 10 minute ride sitting in the back of a pick up truck and we’d arrived at P Guest House in Krabi.

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The place was nice and near a night market, restaurants, shops etc and so we ended up staying 2 nights there. We settled in, ate some random food at the night market, stopped at a few different places for a drink and called it a night fairly early.

Laundry and Horse Back Riding

Friday morning I was up and ready for the day, I’d slept well after a few nights of less than quality sleep at the Gecko Guesthouse in Langkawi. We hit up breakfast and I dropped off some clothes for some much needed laundry (OK, everything I had!) while we set off to find Swiss a haircut, sort out the status of the minutes on my Thai SIM card and figure out where to stay on Ko Phi Phi. The first two were quickly achieved without much hassle but we spent quite a bit of time research budget accommodations on Ko Phi Phi without much success. We ended up with one place in mind and were fairly certain we wanted to stay on Long Beach (a 25 minute walk outside the main town mayhem and cramped quarters) and as it also turns out, there are very few “budget” accommodations even left on Ko Phi Phi, but we’ll get to that later. So our traveling buddies Caroline and Sally wanted to go horse back riding and we decided to join them at 3.30pm for a 2 hour ride. The farm picked us up at our hotel and we rode about 20 minutes to their horse farm near the beach. Run by a very nice family and a few hired hands, the four of us set out for a 2 hour tour (with 2 guys from the farm walking along with us.) Swiss and Caroline had never ridden a horse and Sally and I both used to ride (although it’s been over 15 years for me) so it was a good time and probably a lot of fun for those guys to watch us! We went down the beach then along a road to cut into the “countryside” a little ways down. I think the most interesting part was going through the countryside and past a little “hut” village that many families lived in. They were pretty much tin roofed huts with shared water/showers out front, a way of life common for many people around the world, but one I’d need to travel a bit to find anything close to similar in the States.

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The rest of the ride was nice and we returned back to their farm where they fed us fresh cut pineapple and water. They were even generous to give us 2 whole pineapples to take with us, we were sure to tip the owner before leaving his farm.

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With plenty of pineapple in our hands, we had the hotel carve us up the two “take home” fruits we had gotten from the farm and shared them with the staff, which earned us some smiles and a plate of shrimp chips on the house.  Afterwards there was the night market, the special Friday night market, a stop by a department store for Caroline to look at digital cameras (she’s already down 2 on the trip), I bought a 4 plug power strip for us to use (so Thailand uses US style plugs/outlets, so a power strip purchased here allows us to plug in up to 4 things without using adaptors, a tip to future travelers, bring a small power strip with you to Asia, for charging things like laptops, iPods, electric razors, cell phones, etc) and then a sit down restaurant for dinner (I didn’t feel like eating standing again.) It was a fairly early night since Swiss and I were planning to catch the first ferry in the morning to Ko Phi Phi (the girls would meet us later since they had some errands to take care of on the mainland before coming over, but Saturday was Swiss’s birthday and we wanted to be settled early so he could enjoy the day)

Halloween in Thailand/Swiss’s Birthday

Saturday morning we were up and picked up by the shuttle (i.e. pickup truck with a luggage rack overhead and benches in the pickup bed itself) for our 9am ferry to Ko Phi Phi. In the back we met Natasha and her 2 friends, all British and Natasha has been in Thailand for 5 years, she runs an orphanage system across Thailand. [As I write this I realize that we’re coming up on the 5 year anniversary, 26-Dec-2004, of the Boxing Day Tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people and I’m sure left many small children without parents. I wonder if her coming here to Thailand is in any way related to assistance after the tsunami?] The ferry ride was quick, a little over an hour and had “A/C” but was nothing like the air-con in a Malaysian shopping mall or Singapore restaurant, that’s for sure! If my pale skin could’ve taken the sun I would’ve gone outside for a nice breeze, but it was a short ride, so no worries. We immediately hopped onto a long tail boat taxi down to Long Beach and checked out a bungalow at the hotel right next to the dive shop where Swiss would be taking his advanced open water PADI course. The bungalow was, ummm, basic at best. It had a large double bed, mosquito net, fan, one extra electrical outlet (our 4 plug power strip now comes in super handy!) and a bathroom with shower and toilet [again, the toilet was an interesting proposition. It was a “western” style toilet (we didn’t have to squat) but it also doesn’t flush, so you have to pour water from a bucket in to use it. Hopefully this isn’t too much for everyone to handle, but it’s quite interesting to see hygiene/toilets around the world.] Next it was over to the dive shop so that Swiss could sign up for his course and I could enquire about going snorkeling with the boat one day. With that all squared away, we set off on the hike into town. Most sites/books will quote 20 minutes to get into town, but if you ever stay on Long Beach I would plan on closer to 30 minutes to walk into the main town of Ko Phi Phi. We had lunch right on the water to start off his birthday celebration, took a stroll around town to get a lay of the land and then headed back to Long Beach. A quick nap later, the ladies had arrived from Krabi and we were headed back into town for dinner and drinks to celebrate Swiss being a year closer to 30! We had a great grilled seafood dinner on the water, complete with fireworks. They have some concept of Halloween here, which involves costumes worn by westerners and face paint/body paint worn by Thai people….and perhaps Swiss.

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We headed to a few bars after dinner and enjoyed the drinks, met up with some new friends (we found Natasha and her group of friends) and enjoyed some fire spinning on the beach (don’t worry, we didn’t spin any fire, we left that to the “professionals”, but there may have been some fire line limbo!)

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Afterwards we found a great little street stall making cheeseburgers and headed home on a long boat taxi.

Sleeping and Diving

Halloween/Swiss’s Birthday was a bit of a late night. Let’s just say that we slept in quite late on Sunday, hung out on the beach, had an early dinner and went to bed a little early. Monday morning marked the start of Swiss’s PADI Advanced Open Water course and he spent the day out on the boat.

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OK, it wasn’t quite a boat like that, but aren’t those some nice shots of Ko Phi Phi and the long tail boats that are the work horse of transportation around the island. I’m going to guess from his camera that his day was more like this:

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I spent the morning wandering around the main town with Caroline and Sally, enjoying some breakfast and shopping along with enjoying the views too!

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Monday afternoon was spent relaxing on the beach (again, life is rough here, I know) and given that November 2nd was a full moon (and also Lay Kratong, a once a year holiday where locals pay tribute to the Goddess of Water) it was time to head into town for dinner and a few drinks to see what was going on for this holiday. We had dinner at Unni’s, a Nordic restaurant (run by a Swedish and Scandinavian couple) that offered western food (and I, as did the whole group, I think, need a break from rice and noodles.) While eating dinner a parade passed through the narrow “roads” of Ko Phi Phi town with people carrying their kratongs, taking them to the water to launch them out as offerings (a kratong appears to be a banana leaf base filled with flowers and candles and these are floated out into the water)

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Afterwards we went to Reggae Bar for a drink, some pool and as we found out after arrival, a little Muay Thai Boxing. It was an interesting show because it started with two small children “boxing” as a demonstration. At first it was a little shocking and appalling to watch, with a little girl hopping into the ring, “knocking” out one of the boys, the boys not really taking any shots at her, and the little girl (who was very cute in her dress) ultimately winning the fight it was finally clear that it was a staged show that they’ve done many times before.

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After that the real Thai boxers took the stage for a match which was interesting to see for the first time. I don’t think I’d mind going to see a night of boxing when we get up to Bangkok. During that match they were walking around trying to get people in the bar to hop up and do a demonstration fight. Our lovely friend Sally convinced a pair of British guys (friends traveling together) to hop up for a three round bout.

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After that was done I was pretty tired and we headed back to Long Beach on a taxi boat so that Swiss could get some sleep before his dives the next morning.

Diving, Snorkeling and a visit to “The Beach”

Tuesday morning we were up relatively early, Swiss for day 2 of his advanced course (deep water and nav dive), Caroline for an introductory dive and yours truly for a day of snorkeling on the boat (for which I am still peeling on my back from the sunburn, oops!) It was a gorgeous day out on the water until the rains hit that afternoon, but overall it was pretty nice. Our second stop of the day was Maya Bay on Phi Phi Ley, famously known as “The Beach” where the film of the same title was shot. It’s a nice looking beach, but I don’t see it as any better than our spot on Long Beach and because the film was made there, it’s 200 baht/person to land there and get out of your boat on the beach (our ship stay anchored in the bay and we enjoyed snorkeling there instead.)  Below is a picture of Caroline underwater doing her training, along with some more documentation of the day.

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Swiss’s final dive of his course, a night time dive, was cancelled for Tuesday night due to strong currents and postponed until Wednesday evening, and being tired from the Tuesday daytime activities (Sally went into town and on a 6 hour rock climbing adventure) we opted for dinner at a local beach front restaurant near our bungalows and an early evening. Wednesday morning we were up and headed into town to run a few errands (I needed an ATM, Swiss wanted to exchange a book he’d finished.) Swiss ended up getting “The Kite Runner” to read [Which I’ve already finished and it’s really good! I haven’t seen the movie, but like I usually say, read the book first] and I got some cash, then we grabbed a cheeseburger from the little cart that we tried the night of Swiss’s birthday (it’s just as good in the middle of the day as it is late at night after a few drinks) and headed back to our beach. Some time on the sand [We’ve both been reading a lot, I alone have finished three books in the past three or so weeks and Swiss is catching up fast] and then Swiss stopped by the dive shop and learned that his Wednesday night dive was cancelled also! Having already spent 5 days/4 nights on Phi Phi, one of the more expensive destinations in Thailand, we were fairly ready to leave soon, so instead of waiting for a possible (but never guaranteed) Thursday night dive, Swiss changed to a Thursday daytime dive trip to finish his course [the Advanced course is 2 mandatory and 3 additional dives, but for the three you have a list of many different dives to choose from, so he switched from a night dive to a computer dive instead,] I was planning to leave the next morning and he’d catch up with us later Thursday evening at our next destination, Koh Lanta. After such a rough time on the island, it was time for a massage! A 60 minute Thai massage outside just across the sidewalk from the beach was only 300 baht and very relaxing (although a little rough for me given the sunburn on my back from yesterday.) Wednesday night we had a BBQ dinner at the restaurant next to our bungalows then headed down the beach for a drink and to meet up with two nice women from Essex, England that we’d met at the dive shop.

Thursday morning Swiss took off on his last dive trip from Koh Phi Phi and I caught the 11.30am ferry to Koh Lanta (350 baht) Swiss caught up with us that night a little after 5pm, but more on Koh Lanta later!

3 comments:

Alvin said...

I was sort of wondering when you'd get to show off your equestrian roots again!

luke perry said...

Similan snorkeling is some of the best in Thailand. The Similan Islands are a chain of nine granite islands that form Similan Island National Marine Park. www.khaolakexplorer.com

aikonsandrow said...
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