A Travellerspoint blog


It feels Koh Kood to be here

sunny 30 °C

We've been three days here on Koh Kood. Geographically speaking its the farthest south of the islands in the Koh Chang archipelago. Apparently there were some ownership issues with Cambodia for a long spell so its only since they've been sorted that development has taken place. We'd initially not considered coming as it caters for rich Thais and the wider international jet-set. For example, there's one hotel at the other end of the island where it costs upwards of €2000 a night for a room. Needless to say we gave that place a miss. Most other accommodation is of the resort variety and as its low season the bulk of them are empty or under refurbishment. The place we're staying in was recommended by the guesthouse owner in Trat whom I mentioned in my last post. It's basic backpacker stuff and pretty reasonable by this islands standards. Cold showers are par for the course but that really isn't an issue in this heat. Once again we've been blessed with the weather. The temperature is hovering around the thirty degree mark for the last few days but the evenings usually bring some respite. The owner only opens the kitchen for evening meals but lays on free coffee and toast each morning - as a result we have to stop the boys from overdosing on the toast. The rooms are basic and built over a mangrove swamp so you get your fair share of the frog chorus at all hours of the day. Its quite amazing how you get used to the nocturnal sounds here in Asia, I expect that the silence will be deafening when we return home to Dublin.

The island itself is pretty big but any development has been on the west side only. As a result the entire interior is forested with just one paved road running through it. The local population is just over 2,000 but this is supplemented by another 4,000 Cambodian and Burmese workers that are employed in hospitality and construction. Most locals seem to rely on fishing and rubber plantations for their income, the tourism is a bit of a sideshow for them. Its strange that its so underdeveloped by Thai standards as its only an hour and a half by boat from the mainland. Its obviously the prices that are keeping most travellers away.

Last night we went for a couple of drinks in a local bar, the Tawan Eco Bar, run by a local guy who does nightly music sessions. We were intrigued by his sign that said 'Live music, Hot Beer, Bad service, Welcome'. The fact that the beer was cold came as a minor disappointment but things soon were on the up. He serenaded us with a couple of Bob Marley numbers before asking could I play percussion. As it happens in my earlier life that was a regular thing. Next thing you know the pair of us are jamming - Jong (the owner) on his guitar and me on the congas belting out 'Don't worry - 'bout a thing' by Bob Marley. What a buzzer! He then informed us that we were the first Irish visitors to his hostelry. Then some other customers came in and he had to stop playing to make them food.

Yesterday we hired some kayaks and paddled upstream through the mangroves to the Klong Chao waterfall. Crystal waters and beautiful falls that were perfect for swimming for the kids. Afterwards we paddled downstream to the beach where the kids enjoyed being pounded by the crashing waves. On the way we passed by what looked like a Korean group from one of the classier resorts who were capsizing in their kayaks everytime you looked at them. They were a bit of a maritime disaster and I was wincing as a couple of them headed towards the rocks. I could see someone from the resort frantically waving at them trying to send them in the right direction. Whilst it was unfortunate that the kids couldn't swim on the beach as it's monsoon season here, the waterfall is a more than adequate replacement. There's also a thankful absence of the hordes of sandflies that we encountered on Koh Rong but still enough of the little buggers to keep you on your guard.

We'll spend tomorrow replicating the waterfall/beach winning formula (assuming decent weather) and we'll catch the boat to Trat on Friday morning. From there we'll bus it to Bangkok on the penultimate leg of our three month odyssey. Home is looming large on the horizon.

Posted by goldenmaverick 05:34 Archived in Thailand Tagged waterfalls beaches koh_kong kayaks Comments (1)

Checking out of Cambodia

sunny 29 °C

We left Cambodia today with a heartfelt farewell. After one month in the place I've become extremely fond of it despite its many faults. We spent the last three days around Koh Kong, an area of extreme natural beauty and in hindsight the most geographically diverse of all the regions we visited. It has it all - mountains, sea and lots of other stuff to boot. Whilst it was only meant to be a stopover on the way in to Thailand we could have easily spent much longer in the area. On our first day in Koh Kong City I bumped into an Irish guy who has spent the last eleven years - on and off - in SE Asia and most of that in Cambodia. He was on a slow journey back to Phnom Penh to get himself a job. He recommended getting out to the countryside so we took his advice. We took a tuk-tuk out to the Tatai waterfall the following day and then headed on to the mangrove forests on the coast - spectacular stuff by any standards. On our last day in Cambodia we checked into Rainbow Lodge, an eco resort just outside Koh Kong. It's set along the Tatai River in the jungle and it was an inspired move. The kids spent the day tubing and kayaking in the river and then we took a sunset cruise down the river towards the sea. We took in the sunset with a Cambodia beer in hand. It was a great way to spend our last night. After the cruise we returned for a sumptuous buffet dinner in the company of a French family, an English couple, a Swiss lady and the management of the resort - an English guy and his Welsh girlfriend. They were quite delightful company, well not the French family as they just went to bed straight after dinner!

Today we crossed the border, a pretty simple affair as it turns out, and hopped on a minibus to Trat in Thailand. Once again we had little expectation about the place but it turns out to be quite a delightful place. We're staying in the Ban Jai Dee Guesthouse which is run by a French guy and his Thai wife. He's a walking information bureau on both Trat and the nearby islands. He's been living here for about thirty years and is a great ambassador for the place. Following his recommendation we've booked ourselves into a place on Koh Kood Island tomorrow. He arranged the accommodation and transport even though it means we'll be staying one less night in his place. A true gent.

Having been in Cambodia for a month it makes a very pleasant change to have the variety of food in Thailand. I don't mean western food either. The markets in Thailand are truly wonderful. This evening we had starters, mains and desserts for six people at the market stalls and it came to less than seven euro for the six of us. The range and quality of food available is amazing. Even Joe and Paddy found something to eat. I had the most amazing Pad Thai for about 70cent. The pace of the place is also a welcome respite from the onslaught of Cambodian life. There were no tuk-tuk drivers in our face when we got off the minibus, instead it was a quite orderly affair to get into Trat and find somewhere to stay. We lucked out with the guesthouse which is costing about 12 euro for two rooms and is in a beautiful wooden building down a quiet sidestreet in the town. The town also has the most beautiful old shophouses that I've come across on our travels. Reading the guidebooks you'd be led to believe that Trat has nothing to offer the traveller but as wit Koh Kong it is a bit of an undiscovered gem.

Tomorrow morning we take the boat to Koh Kood. Things were a bit up in the air as it's the Queen of Thailands birthday today and a public holiday tomorrow. This weekend and New Years are apparently the busiest times on the islands as the hordes of Thais descend on them for these two holidays. Here in Trat there's been fireworks and most of the bars are closed around the town. A guy on a nearby sidestreet has set up an outdoor cinema and is using an oldstyle projector to show a dubbed version of Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone. I passed by about half an hour ago and he's the only one watching. In fairness it was crap in English so it's no wonder really.

We've just one week left on our travels. I expected Thailand to be a bit of a letdown for our last week but now I'm really looking forward to our last few days here, its capacity to surprise and entertain is quite unbelievable. We'll look forward to our few days of island life and then a couple of days in Bangkok before our return home. Three months sounded like a long time three months ago but it truly has flown. It's been delightful and testing in equal measures - just like life I suppose.

Posted by goldenmaverick 08:58 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Only a consonant in the difference, but a world apart.

From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

sunny 33 °C

Yesterday was our last day in Chiang Mai. We promised the kids we'd take them to the zoo and so we did. It was surprisingly devoid of tourists which was a nice surprise. Not content with one Giant Panda, Chiang Mai zoo has three of them. They must be a dysfunctional family as the three of them (Mum, Dad and daughter) have separate enclosures. Along with the pandas we got to see a plethora of other animals, everything from a jaguar to a wild boar. If you're a kid it beats being dragged to a temple, which funnily enough is exactly what we did to them following the zoo.

Chiang Mai is famous for the Buddhist temple at the summit of Doi Suthep. It's quite a jaunt to the summit and when you reach the top there's still a few hundred steps to climb before you reach the temple itself. If you think of the biblical tale where Jesus drives the merchants from the temple, well by jiminy, he'd have his work cut out getting rid of all the traders around this one. They're all over the place flogging everything from roasted corn to hand-carved soaps. While myself, Joe and Rosie checked out the inner sanctum the rest of the family watched the Muay Thai boxing on the T.V. in the waiting area outside.

This morning we took the express bus to Chiang Rai. Whilst waiting on the bus I decided to go for a smoke outside. There were 'No Smoking' signs everywhere but a Buddhist monk beckoned me over and both of us sparked up. In these here parts you're safe enough with a monk on your side. The journey to Chiang Rai was pretty uneventful save for when we nearly alighted at Chiang Rai Bus Station Terminal 2. The driver seemed disinclined to tell us that we were still about 20km from our actual destination - Terminal 1. Nevertheless we've made it here. There's a small-town feel about the place. Think Ballina or Drogheda in 33degree heat. Our accomodation is more An Oige youth hostel than five star hotel, but its clean and functional and serves our purpose. In any case, we're heading for Laos the day after tomorrow.


Posted by goldenmaverick 08:10 Archived in Thailand Tagged zoo chiang doi suthep rai Comments (0)

Coffee and elephants

sunny 32 °C

We took a spin around Chiang Mai in a red taxi yesterday. We made the driver stop at a coffee shop called Ristr8tto 2 as a very helpful Thai chap had told us his pal ran it. The head barista there had been placed sixth in a recent barista world championship so we thought we,d better check it out. Also, the guy who recommended it had been really helpful when we arrived here in Chiang Mai. As you can see from the picture, the presentation of the coffee is excellent. On top of this the staff there are really nice and the owner/head barista was one really nice dude. The staff were also uber-patient with our kids and made them some babycinos instead of turfing us all out. If you're ever in Chiang Mai be sure to visit Ristr8tto. Its located on Nimmanhemin road between Soi 2 and Soi 3. (Picture in the photo gallery on the right)

Later in the day we popped next door to our guesthouse to a shop that sells elephants. Not real elephants but copies of those from the elephant parade, a charity that gets famous folk to design elephants which are then auctioned off. Joe's one was done by Ricky Gervais and is titled 'Hellephant'. You get the gist from the pictures.

Posted by goldenmaverick 09:25 Archived in Thailand Tagged elephants coffee Comments (0)

Harry's thoughts on Chiang Mai

sunny 30 °C

At the moment we are in Chiang Mai staying in a guest house called Tanita house.Every morning this really kind lady called Aor makes us a gorgeous scrambled egg and lovely crispy bacon.Also near us there is a really nice restuarant called The Riverside that has a wide variety of amazing foods.So far the first two days we have gone to the HUGE night market but really everyone pretty much sells the same things.At the markets I have bought an epic new New York Yankees purple hat and a red and black hoodless Adidas Origanal jumper.My Mom and Dad kept trying to persuade me to buy a brown and white one because they said it looked oldschool and and was so cool.Today we went to the Chiang Mai zoo and it was so big you had to get the bus'and the monorails around it.There was super cool animals I have never seen in my entire life there.Some such as a panda,a kangeroo and koalas.Also I got to feed a massive elephant.Chiang Mai is supercoolyepic.

P.S Harry wrote this

Posted by goldenmaverick 03:11 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

It's not grim up North

In fact its bloody delightful

sunny 30 °C

Yesterday we took a long boat through the side canals of Bangkok. It was incredible. Its cheaper to build your house on stilts in the water than to do so on land so a hell of a lot of people live on the waters edge. Our guide brought us around for an hour or so and in that hour she told me who lived where, how old the king was etc. More interesting was the obvious desolation that last Octobers floods had caused. The water rose to a level two meters higher than usual and the damage was pretty obvious to see. Being practical and poor everyone just moved upstairs (if they had one) and got on with it. If you didn't have an upstairs then I guess you stayed wet for a couple of months.The guide pointed out a water monitor (a kind of asian crocodile) and said that seeing one is good luck. Then I saw three more. I must be the luckiest man alive. We were also brought to feed the fish outside the temples. Hundreds of catfish swarming around the boat. Wen you move a hundred metres away from the temple there's a load of poor people trying to catch the fat fish.

Last night we boarded the overnight train to Chiang Mai. Whatever romantic notions we had of it were quickly dispelled. I sat down and the bugs started to bite at my feet.The on-board buffet car guys began an immediate hard-sell of their culinary selection. The 'special express' then moved at a snails pace until six o'clock this morning when everyone had to change to waiting buses. Unfortunately for all concerned there had been a landslide on the track due to heavy rains. We were moved on board buses at a train station about 200 km from Chiang Mai. Due to the kindness and foresight of a Thai man, he ushered us to the front of the queue, whereupon we were put into the downstairs VIP section of what could only be described as a disco bus. Alongside us was a monk and a couple of other travellers. The coach took about four hours to get to Chaing Mai as it only seemed to have two gears, the going up a hill slowly gear, and the going down a hill fast gear.

We arrived in Chiang Mai around lunchtime and despite not knowing where we our lodgings were we still managed to be there about ten minutes after we landed. This time, another Thai guy, hopped out at the station and googled our lodgings address. Into a red taxi and in ten minutes we were there. Nice one. Popped out for a stroll in the dead heat and had some nice Burmese stew for lunch. Fallon & Byrne it ain't but it was top quality stuff

I'm off to pick up the washing from a little shop down the road. I went in to buy some mosquito coils and ended up going back to use their coin-operated machines. Chiang Mai rocks, thus far.



Posted by goldenmaverick 03:54 Archived in Thailand Tagged canals water train chiang mai burmese long-boat stew monitors Comments (5)

The King & the rest.

storm 35 °C

It's our last night in Bangkok tonight. It's a funny place this city. You'll see absolute poverty right next to a five star hotel. Yet everyone seems to get on pretty well together. We took a boat up and down the Chao Phraya river this afternoon in the sweltering heat and we passed by absolute slums that were situated just a stones throw from gilded palaces. Anywhere else in the world and they'd probably be bulldozed. The juxtsposition of rich and poor manifests itself in things like the Bangkok Sky Train (BST). You just don't ever see poor folk on it. However, as you ride in its air conditioned luxury you can look down on the hoi polloi below. Another unusual thing is the pictures of the king and his wife staring down from lots of buildings. Weird and disconcerting stuff.

Another thing that surprised me was how Western influenced the place is, you can't move anywhere without being bombarded by advertising: in the train, in the station, walking down the road,it's omnipresent. Everyone seems to be chatting into their I-phone or some other gadget. By everyone, I mean those who are not poor.

We head for Chiang Mai tomorrow but we'll be back this way again in two months time. I'm already looking forward to returning. Despite the openly seedy element to the city it's a really nice place. The kids don't appear to notice that side of things though, they're too busy stepping over cock-roaches and rats to ask any hard questions.

Posted by goldenmaverick 09:35 Archived in Thailand Tagged boats river bangkok poverty Comments (2)

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