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Part 12 - Thailand

1 British Pound (GBP) = 60 Thai Baht

Krabi Town | Ao Nang | Ko Phi Phi Don | Ko Lanta Yai | Krabi Town | Phuket Town | Kata | Phuket Town | Surat Thani | Ko Samui (Thong Tanote) | Ko Phan Ngan (Hat Rin) | Ko Samui (Mae Nam) | Phun Phin | Hua Hin |

Krabi (Friday 18th February)

We took a litle air conditioned bus up to Hat Yai this morning from Penang which took just over three hours. We'd intended to spend one night in Hat Yai, but when we arrived there it didn't look very exciting - just another town and a guy said there was a mini bus leaving for Krabi in an hour. We thought - what the hell and took the bus there.

We arrived in Krabi around 5pm (Thai time - which is strangely 1 hour behind Malay time) and checked into the KR Mansion & Guest House. We got quite a nice clean room with a fan and private shower/toilet for 280B. There's even a carpet on the floor - luxury compared to our last week in Georgetown. There's also a restaurant downstairs, a rooftop bar with a view and rooms with shared bath for 180B.

In the evening we had a wander round the town - a nice little place with a relaxed feel to it, especially after spending a week in the hustle and bustle of Georgetown. We're not planning on spending any time in the town as there's not much to do aside hang out, eat, drink and organise trips/transport, so it's off to Ao Nang tomorrow.

You can read reviews of accommodation in the Krabi area here.

Ao Nang (Saturday 19th - Sunday 20th February)

On Saturday morning we took a Songthaew from Krabi Town to Ao Nang. A songtheaw is a kind of covered truck with two rows of seats (or benches) facing each other. The journey took around half an hour and cost 25B each. Beach at Ao Nang Ao Nang has a long prety beach with green - blue water, but it's not of the fine white sand variety - more like crushed up shells. There's limestone cliffs down at the beach, sticking up out of the sea and it's a very touristy place, especially popular with Germans. There's a plethora of tourist offices offering island hopping trips, elephant rides, canoing trips, temple tours and rock climbing, none of which we can really afford (prices are mostly over 1000B per person), lots of bars, restaurants and places to stay. Unfortunately for us there isn't a lot of budget accommodation though. We ended up at Wanna's Place staying in a very basic hut. It's small and very rickity with lots of holes in it , a fan, a bed, a squat toilet (shock, horror !) and a very pathetic shower which I've not even atempted to wash my hair with yet ! Despite being very basic it's clean, there's an insect net, the sheets are fresh and it's only 150B a night. I'll survive for a couple of nights and try to get over my fear of squat toilets (they were not designed with women in mind !). If you're looking for somewhere a bit more classy to stay have a look at the reviews of Ao Nang hotels here.

We've spent the last two days reading and relaxing on the beach, swimming in the sea, eating and not much else. The prices in the shops here are a bit inflated compared to Krabi Town, probably since it's so touristy. We've eaten some lovely Thai food in the restaurant where we're staying - Green Thai Coconut Curry with rice (60B) and Pad Thai (45B). The food was so good that we ended up eating all our meals here. The menu is huge with lots of Swiss food (150B a dish) as well and the place is packed every night. Along the streets are some food stalls where you can get a bunch of bananas, pineapples on a stick and all kinds of pancakes for 10B. Yum Yum. On the beach there are lots of locals offering Thai massage for 200B which I'll have to try some time in Thailand. On Saturday night we went to a hotel to watch the Scotland V England rugby match. Scotand lost 21-24, but it was a good game - I've not watched rugby in such a long time. We also drunk a lot of beer which hasn't helped our budget, but it's good to have a few beers now and then, and they had a special offer on ! It's our last night in the hut tonight. Sleeping has been alright as we're under a net and it's well ventilated, so it's not too hot, but we've found far too many beasties for my liking - cockroaches, spiders, mossies and even a frog which visited our toilet one night ! I'm sorry to say it, but I've not learned to like squat toilets yet. I found a couple of western toilets in the restaurant today which made me happy !

Tomorrow we're off to Ko Phi Phi (pronounced Koh-pee-pee) on the 9am boat from Ao Nang beach (250B 1 way). We might have some trouble finding budget accommodation here as there's only a few places and it's still the high season. I've also heard a rumour that prices have rocketed since the film The Beach was filmed there starring Leonardo Di Caprio ! We'll just have to wait and see...

Ko Phi Phi Don (Monday 21st - Tuesday 22nd February)

We arrived in Ko Phi Phi Don around 11 am today. Ko Phi Phi Don is the larger of the two Phi Phi islands, the other Ko Phi Phi Don Ko Phi Phi Leh is protected and there is no accommodation on the island. We went to one of the only budget places on the island, the name I can't remember, described in LP as bungalows for 100-200B or 250B with private bath. The prices were actually 300-600B or 850B with private bath and it was full, so we wandered off to find another place. There were a few touts showing us photos off places to stay, but they seemed to be either luxury resorts charging extortionate prices or really basic, shabby looking places for 600-800B. We ended up asking one lady to take us to a reasonably priced place which took credit cards. We'd rather stay somewhere OK and use our credit cards than go to the over priced rock bottom places. So off we went to the PP Princess Resort which she said had bungalows with fans for 750-850B. Unfortunately it was full so we went next door to the Phi Phi Pavilion Resort and took one of the few bungalows they had left for 1200B. We never realised it would be quite so busy and expensive. Our bungalow is nice but not really worth the money. No air-conditioning , no hot water or nothing you'd expect for that price. It's called a "resort" but there's no swimming pool, restaurant, bar or any of the facilities you'd expect in a resort. Breakfast isn't even included in the price so we're staying here only 2 days instead of 3 or 4, so I'm going to make the most of it.

The beaches here are really nice - fine white sand and clear blue water. We've spent a few hours each day lying on the beach and floating about in the warm clear waters. On Monday evening we walked up to the "PP Viewpoint" - a 1km walk up a steep hill and lots of steps. It just made me realise how unfit I am, but it was worth all the puffing and panting as the view was excellent and worth a few photos (see photo above !).

All the shops and restaurants here seemed to be overpriced compared to Krabi Town - we've seen the price of a bottle of water nearly triple since we left there ! The little "village" area on the island is full of restaurants, dive shops, travel agents, bars, shops and stalls selling pancakes and fruit. There are also Thai massage places, usually a room with a long row of mats and pillows, an internet cafe that charges 600B an hour (10 times as much as in Malaysia) and various other places to spend lots of money in - just as well we've only a couple of days here !

To summarise, Phi Phi is busy, touristy and expensive (for Thailand), but beaches and the scenery are lovely. Tomorrow we're off to Ko Lanta on the 11.30am boat (170B each) which is an hour's journey away and quieter than here...

You can read reviews of all the hotels in Ko Phi Phi here.

Ko Lanta (Wednesday 23rd - Friday 25th February)

On the boat this morning there were a few touts with photos of different accommodation. One of the places Rapala Long Beach Resort looked quite nice and cost 300-500B a night (all bungalows are the same but cost more if they are nearer to the beach), so we agreed to go and have a look. We got a hair raising lift in the back of a truck to the bungalows and I was glad when we got there after about 10 minutes. Unfortunately there were no 300B bungalows left so we just took 400B one, but it's really nice - a hexagonal shaped, quite spacious, solid bungalow with tiled floors, toilet and shower, fan and seats outside. The Lonely Planetsays the bungalows are 150-350B, actually quite nice but you have to contend with barbed wire fencing and consistently poor service. I couldn't see any barbed wire and the staff seemed helpful enough to me.

The beach here is really long, wide and quite good. It's not quite as pretty as the one on Phi Phi, but it's very quiet and there's a relaxed peaceful feel to the place. There's only a couple of places to stay on this part of the beach, each with their own restaurant and there's also a bar, but no shops or anything in site - quite a change from Phi Phi and Ao Nang.

We ended up spending three nights in Ko Lanta in total - most of the time spent sleeping, eating and lazing on the beach. On Thursday we walked a couple of miles to the beach further north of the island for a look around and some lunch. The beach there is quite a bit busier and there are a lot more bungalows and even a shop (selling not a lot). Despite this, the beach near us is a lot nicer, but three days is enough for us as there really is nothing to do apart from sleep, sunbathe, read and eat ! In addition we've managed to spend over budget every day. Our budget has been $25 (US) a day (900-950B), the same as it was in Indonesia and Malaysia, but even though we're only buying three meals a day , water, soft drinks and accommodation, we're still spending over that amount. If the rest of Thailand is like this, all I can say is thank god for our credit cards ! Anyway, enough of me waffling on about prices and budgets - it's still much cheaper than back home ! Tomorrow we're going back to Krabi Town for 1 or 2 days before heading up to Phuket. We're going to see if we can book a snorkelling trip from Krabi and if not we'll just stay there for 1 day. Ko Lanta has been nice for a few days of relaxation, but I don't have a lot to write about it as we've been beach bums for the last few days.

Click here to read reviews of hotels in Ko Lanta.

Back to Krabi Town (Saturday 27th - Sunday 28th February)

I was actually siting in a Thai hairdresser when I wrote this entry while Gavin had his haircut. The hairdresser took him into another room so I couldn't see him, but the three blokes sitting opposite me had the dodgiest haircuts ever. One had a squint fringe and a puffed up hairdo, the other had his head shaved apart from a little tufty bit in the middle and looked like he was going to cry and the other guy was undergoing the pleasure of having his nostril hair trimmed. There's not much to write about for the weekend really. We left Ko Lanta on Saturday morning - 12 of us were crammed into the back of a pickup truck for a squashy hair raising ride to the port where we caught a boat back to Krabi town, a one and a half hour journey (150B). We bought some essentials like suntan lotion and insect repellent here as it's 30-50% cheaper than on the islands, ate a nice Coconut curry for only 40B for dinner on Saturday night and had a very long lie on Sunday morning (so much for the snorkelling trip !). ON Sunday we were going to visit an internet cafe, but the prices were prety extortionate at 600B an hour in one place and 900B in another !! We finally found somewhere for 300B which advertised a fast (??) 33.6kbs line and internet explorer 5 !! Unfortunately nothing worked so we gave up on the idea. We also tried to swap some books with not a lot of luck. We swapped one for two of our old books plus 70B, but there wasn't a great selection. The only other place we found had a huge selection but charged an average of 500B per book, which is more expensive than buying a new book back home !

Gav came out the hairdresser's with a typical Chinese man's hairdo, but not as bad as the other three men in the shop. Gav said the woman rubbed talcom powder round his face and wore a face mask while cutting his hair, not asking what style he wanted. For 60B, you can't really complain, but I think I'll save my haircut until I get home ! We've been staying in the KR Mansion hotel again, this time in a cheaper room (180B, without a bathroom). It's basically the same room as the one we had with the bathroom last time, but there are no towels, toilet roll, bathroom (of course) or top sheets. We also had a look in the Grand Tower Hotel before coming here (nothing Grand or Hotel like about it), but their 180B rooms are just a mattress on the floor of a shabby room, so we didn't bother.

So that was our stay in Krabi Town - not exciting, but alright if if you just want to hang out for a day or so and eat good Thai food. There's also a night market down on the pier which is interesting to go and have a look at. Everything's written in Thai though, so geting what you want might be a little harder. Tomorrow we're off to Phuket Town followed by a few days at one of the beaches.

Phuket Town (Monday 1st March)

Today we got up bright and early and tooke a songthaew to the bus station just outside Krabi, where we caught a public air conditioned bus to Phuket. We could have done it the easy way as most tourists do and took one of the air-con mini vans bookable at one of the many hotels, tour agents and restaurants around the town, with door to door pickup but we didn't really see the point. It cost 200B compared to 101B on the public bus and you get half as much legroom. I think it's worth the extra effort to get to the bus station. There's around 35 buses a day and you can even get a non air-con bus for 55B if you're strapped for cash. We were the only farangs (foreigners) at the bus stop, but the Thai people, as always were very helpful and pointed us in the right direction of the bus. The journey took just over three hours and e're now in Phuket Town.

We spent the afternoon wandering around and looking in the shops. It's a nice litle town and has quite a different feel to it from Krabi - busier, a bit bigger and more modern. There's lots of places to eat (even Burger King, MacDonalds and KFC which I'm pleased to say we resisted). They've even got a Boots the Chemist ! I couldn't believe it, so I went in and felt like I was back home for a few minutes. There's not really that much to do here apart from shopping and a few interesting buildings to look at, but the food's supposed to be great, so we thought it was worth spending an afternoon and evening here. This evening we had some food at a local restaurant called Mae Porn - chicken and cashew nuts, fish with garlic and pepper, steamed rice and a couple of drinks for 200B - quite nice. I tried to phone home without success later on. In Thailand you can only make International calls using an International phonecard and a yellow international phone. We found one eventually (on a busy street full of motorbikes as usual), but couldn't get through to the UK. Last night in Krabi we'd had similar problems. First all the shops seemed to have run out of phonecards, but we eventually go tone at the fifth place we tried. The first two phones we tried couldn't make a connection, one complained that the card was inserted the wrong way, which it wasn't then we found one and got through but it was engaged. We've also tried to use our calling card unsuccessfully in a few places . It's beginning to drive me spare !

Kata Beach, Phuket (Tuesday 2nd - Thursday 4th March)

Today was a frustrating day. We took a songthaow out to Kata beach, the third biggest beach on Phuket (after Patpong and Karon). This cost 20B and was simple enough, but finding accommodation was another story. We'd tried to phone a few places a couple of days ago, but despite trying both a card and a coin phone we couldn't get through to anywhere. All I can say is that if you're going to the Phuket beaches around this time of year try to book somewhere in advance ! We spent the next hour or so in the midday sun wandering around trying to find a room, but everywhere seemed to be full. We finally found a place quite a bit away from the centre with no name where we got a bungalow for 500B. It's alright, nothing special for the price, but it's not like we're in a position to do any bargaining when everywhere else is full ! Later on we went out for lunch and tried to phone and find a better place (phone didn't work), went to an internet cafe ("Internet not working"), went to another internet cafe (couldn't dial up), went to a travel agent to see if they could find us a place to stay, but she just pointed a few places out that we'd already tried or were too expensive. Later we managed to find a room to stay at a place called The Little Mermaid for tomorrow and Thursday night - more about that tomorrow.

One of the things we've been looking forward to doing in Thailand is sea canoeing since we enjoyed it in Australia and heard about the trips in Thailand where you can explore sea caves or "Hongs" as they are called. I picked up a few leaflets today about the various trips, but they are more expensive than I imagined, at over 3000B per person (50 GBP). We're going to look into it tomorrow and decide. I guess I'm feeling kind of frustrated just now as we've not really done much for the last couple of weeks or spoken to anyone but ourselves. All the places we have been so far have been more touristy and built up than I imagined and we seem to spend all our budget each day on food and lodging and have none left to have a few beers or go on a trip with. There's no other travellers to speak to round here - most people are older foreign tourists. Maybe it'll be different on Ko Samui and Ko Phan Ngan - I hope so ! We spent the remainder of the afternoon sitting on the beach. It's quite a long beach with deck chairs along the whole length of it and full of jet skis, speed boats and parapenders zooming back and forward - not peaceful and untouched like Ko Lanta !

To change the subject totally, I've been trying to learn a bit Thai, but it's quite hard with only a phrase book to know how to pronounce things. There are five tones in the Thai language - falling, rising, high, low and mid. Using the wrong tone can confuse the meaning of the word. So far I've only used the word Thankyou in Thai, but I shall try to keep reading the book and listening to the locals speaking so maybe I can master a few words before leaving Thailand. Thai people speak in a very soft, sing-song way, quite similar to Chinese. I think it would take a lot of practise to speak like them !

ON Wednesday we checked into The Little Mermaid (94/23-25 Taina Rd, Kata Beach, Tel 330-730). It's quite nice, with a big swimming pool and good value for Kata with rooms in the guesthouse (clean and fan cooled with hot water from 345B. They also have air-con bunalows round the pool from 750B. Gav and I like swimming pools (as you may have guessed) and we spent most of our time siting by the pool, reading and swimming. Lovely ! The evenings were spent wandering around, looking in some of the many shops and eating in the different restaurants. They seem to have a lot of more upmarket restaurants here and the they are quite pricey (for Thailand) but we've had some great food. I'm enjoying the Thai food very much - it's quite similar to Chinese but spicier. At lunch time we usually eat noodles or Pad Thai which is Thai style noodles with veggies, meat or fish, crushed peanuts and sometimes egg. I've grown quite fond of the coconut curries, Thai Green curry and the hot and spicy soups. Seafood dishes are also very popular, with restaurants displaying their day's catch in front of the restaurant on an ice covered table, as well as Chinese style dishes like chicken/pork/beef/fish in sweet n sour, oyster sauce etc. The pork and beef seems a bit tough from what I have tasted so far but the chicken and fish is good. I suspect that the beef is really water buffalo as I've not seen any cows yet !

Anyway, enough about food for just now. There's not really a lot to write about Kata. It's busy, but not too busy, there are plenty of shops, restaurants, tour shops , an OK beach and lots of Scandanavian, Swiss, German and Austrian tourists. We wandered round to Karon on our last night here and it's much the same. We nearly acquired a new pet as well - a dog followed us for about half an hour, across all the roads, round all the corners and into the shops with us. It was very cute but we eventually managed to shake it off on a busy street.

You can read reviews of over 150 hotels in Phuket and find out information about all the attractions in Phuket here.

Back to Phuket (Friday 5th March)

We decided to spend a night in Phuket Town again since we're planning on geting an early bus to Surat Thani tomorrow and I have no idea what time they leave. We took a songthaew back to the town at noon and checked into the Montri Hotel - 300B for a clean room with fan, toilet and shower. The rest of the day was prety uneventful - Burger King, an internet place for 100B an hour and a general wander around. Everyone seems to have a moped or motorbike here and as usual it's a challenge to cross the road. Usually there are at least two people on every bike, often an adult (with helmet) and a child (without helmet). In the last few days I've seen a couple with a dog riding a motorbike, a family of four riding one and a couple with a woman holding a baby on the man's shoulders !! Lots of tourists seem to hire bikes as well and according to Lonely Planet the hospital here sees 50-100 farangs a week for motorcycle related injuries.

Tomorrow we're off to Surat on the 8am bus so it's an early night tonight. There are also buses at 10am and 12 noon.

Surat Thani (Saturday 6th - Sunday 7th March)

About the motorbikes - today I saw five people on one motorbike. Yes, five ! Two adults and three kids. A substitute for the family car perhaps ?

It was a four and a half hour bus journey to Surat Thani, costing only 140B including air conditioning. You may ask why we spent two days here and I ask myself the same question as there isn't a lot to do, but we had a few things to sort out like train tickets to Hua Hin and bus/boat tickets to Samui. We also got quite a good deal in a posh hotel (The Wang Tai) for 850B instead of 1200B with an air-con room, hot shower, TV, mini bar, fridge, swimming pool and buffet breakfast. That kept us amused for the day and a half we spent here and all our transport is sorted out. Tomorrow it's off to Samui.

To be continued ...

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