A to Z of me. J is for…

J is for JUNGLE.

Tom and I decided to follow a rickety looking staircase that lead up the side of Nam Muang waterfall on Koh Samui because we fancied finding out what was at the top (as you do)!

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With no proper gear and no water (fail) we ended up going on a semi-trek through the jungle.  After running into a snake (see if you can spot it in the picture!) we turned around and headed back down to safety!

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p style=”text-align:center;”>Spot the snake…

If you want some proper details about the waterfalls that we visited on Koh Samui, and where to find the mummified monk, check out this post.

 

Paradise found.

My favourite go-to website for boredom busting (AKA Buzzfeed) just posted a feature on 10 Paradise Islands That Will Take Your Breath Away.  The ninth island in the list is Koh Samui – although I am glad that Thailand got a well deserved placement I can’t help thinking they haven’t managed to select the best island.  Those of you that have been following for a while will know that I did my TEFL training on Samui and went back for a break over New Years – while the island is a great place to go for a party filled holiday it’s not quite what I would consider a ‘paradise island’ and here is why;

  1. No paradise island should host a Tesco Lotus, Big C or any other chain megastore.
  2. Home delivery McDonald’s/KFC is not a requirement for paradise relaxation.
  3. I do not want to see a Brit pub boasting beer on tap or Eastenders on the telly.
  4. I don’t need the services of a prostitute, hostess or lady of the night thank you very much.
  5. Similarly, paradise will not be found amidst the sequined knickers of a lady boy.  ladyboy
  6. There should be no queuing on paradise islands, lest of all behind a 50-something year old man and his bored looking Thai counterpart, or topless UV-clad stag parties.
  7. The only thing I want to be looking over my shoulder for is mischievous monkeys, not scam artists or pickpockets.
  8. Dodging mopeds being drunk driven by steaming farangs does not lead to rest and/or relaxation.
  9. I want the alcohol in my cocktail to be what it says on the bottle, not ethanol.
  10. I don’t want to have to double check if I am in fact in Benidorm at any point!

Instead, I would like to nominate the island of Koh Lipe as one of the 10 islands that truly will knock your socks off.  And, in keeping with the feel of this post, here are ten reasons why it truly is paradise found;

  1. I have never seen clearer water in that perfect hue of blue-green-turquoise.  I mean just look at it!  P1050710
  2. This is an island where a beachfront hut truly is on the beach.  P1050745
  3. You can walk from one side of the island to the other in 15 minutes.  On one side of the island you have Sunset and Sunrise Beaches (about 5 mins apart at their closest points), with a view across to some of the other 50 plus islands that help to make up Tarutao National Marine Park.  A short walk through the Chao Lei village where the once-sea gypsies indigenous to the island live and you are at the Walking Street (with a mix of chilled bars, restaurants and little boutiques – all pretty much closed during low season) and then on to Pattaya Beach that is the more active stretch of sand but still a place of mega chill, massages and beachside cocktails.  P1050741                                                    A typical Chao Lei home on the island.
  4. Koh Lipe maintains an air of being unspoilt.  Yes, there were plenty of spots being developed when I was last there and it is no doubt going through a period of expansion, but there remains the feeling that it will only be developed so much – there aren’t any big vacant spaces that can be taken over by resorts with unnecessary swimming pools and sunbed reserving clientele.
  5. Koh Lipe is part of Tarutao National Marine Park which was only the second area to be given national park protection status way back in 1974.  This means that the islands in the area, the coral and the water have been protected for a lot longer than many areas in Thailand.  This makes for beautiful, crystal clear waters, amazing coral (fantastic for snorkeling) and limits on how much on land development can take place; making sure that paradise is kept in pristine condition.
  6. The only real road running through the island is little more than a glorified dirt track and is only used by the locals – there is no moped hire to drunken farangs here – yay!
  7. There is no McDonald’s, no Tesco, no KFC, not even a 7-eleven on this island!
  8. There is always plenty of space on the beaches (as in, they are crazily abandoned) and there are zero touts selling tickets, or crappy sunglasses, or neon things that spin around.
  9. I don’t think I looked at the time once while I was there, and I even let my iPhone run out of battery and didn’t charge it until I got home – this is an unknown occurrence for me.
  10. People do things like this with palm leaves and it just looks perfect.  P1050751

And there you have it – my thoughts on why Koh Lipe should be considered as a true paradise island.  We just spent four days here and we are already checking the calendar for our next chance to return.  It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve been away and actually feel like I’ve had a rest.  Smiles all round : )

Happy New Year 2556 (admitting defeat to the Gods);December Part 4

The rest of our time on Samui was punctuated with heavy downpours of rain. We used this to our advantage and, rather than lolloping in the sun we got out and about on the island. When the rain had cleared we visited the two main waterfalls on the island; Na Muang Waterfalls (1 and 2). They are easy to reach if you have your own transport by following the ring road around from Chaweng, through Lamai and on a little further, you will reach Waterfall 2 first and if you drive another couple of minutes you will see a signpost for Waterfall 1. Na Muang Waterfall 1 is the larger of the two but number 2 cascades over three smaller tiers and is more set up for tourists. Naturally we went to number 1 first. We drove right in, past the man at the main entrance tooting his whistle and telling us to stop (we had been warned that this man was infact scamming tourists to park on his land and walk when in fact you can drive much further up and park in a larger car park for 20 baht (I think). The waterfall is a short easy walk away followed by a bit of a scramble down over some rocks. The waterfall itself is high and quite picturesque, but the pool at the bottom seemed a bit green, a bit murky and not inviting at all. Maybe this was the weather, having only just finished raining. After taking the obligatory happy-couple-at-the-waterfall pictures we went off in search of a jungle path that we had heard would lead you to another ‘better’ section of the waterfall. After crossing the base of the waterfall we found an old metal staircase with missing steps and plants and tree roots growing through it in an obstacle course that lead us up the cliff face to the top of the waterfall. We stumbled across a worn pathway through the bushes and started to follow, walking alongside the river that lead to the waterfall, heading up and away from Waterfall 1 and in the direction of Waterfall 2. After about 20 minutes of walking we started to have our doubts that we would find anything; the worn pathway had all but disappeared and the surroundings started to get more jungle-y. The weather had cleared up by now and it was getting hot and humid, and we weren’t prepared for finding ourselves on an accidental jungle trek – no water, crappy shoes, no map… Paranoia started to set in as the jungle got more jungle-y and the bushes got more bush-y and the worn track got less worn-y; talk turned to that of creepy crawlies, and literally just as we were discussing the fact of “I’m sure snakes sleep in the shade at this time of day”, Tom almost walked smack bang into a green snake that was hanging across the ‘pathway’ at waist height. Well, that was enough for me, and we gave up on our jungle trek and headed back down to the original waterfall, this time armed with sticks and a very much heightened sense of awareness that we were very much in the territory of many snake-like things. At one point I freaked out over what turned out to be part of an old coconut, and visions of more snakes and spiders and things in the undergrowth and the trees above filled my head. As we reached the old staircase back down the cliff we bumped into a couple of travellers in search of the same elusive ‘better’ waterfall. We wished them luck and headed back down the cliff and off to Waterfall 2.

Na Muang Waterfall 2 is about a 10 minute scooter ride from number 1 and is definitely more set up for tourists, with market stalls and drink sellers lining the walk up to the waterfall. Number 2 also sits alongside Na Muang Safari Park and so there are often elephant rides passing through the area and you can feed and pet an elephant at the entrance if that is your thing. There is also a separate area where they keep a tiger and a leopard which is set up specifically for the stereotypical here’s me and a tiger photographs – you have to pay for this and as usual the methods used to keep the animals docile are questionable, but it looked clean and again if that is your thing then you can do that too. The actual waterfall is a further 10-15 minute uphill trek (on roads this time, not through jungle!) but you can pay for a ride in a 4×4 or on a pick up. We had plenty of time and were still feeling adventurous so we chose to walk, and by the time we reached the waterfall we were hot and sweaty and ready for a dip. The bottom tier of the waterfall is the section where you can swim – it was quite small and quite busy, I can imagine that on certain days you may have to sit around and wait for there to be space to get in (without sitting on top of a fellow pool-dipper). The water was clear and cool and refreshing, but be warned that this small pool goes very deep and the pressure of the waterfall creates a current underneath, so weak swimmers like myself should definitely take care – I ended up hanging onto to Tom’s neck and once again what could have been a romantic dip turned into me avoiding having a panic attack, stopping my face getting wet and generally floundering about.

When we had finished at the waterfalls we quickly nipped to visit the mummified monk – one of the benefits of my having spent so much time on the island before was that I had done all the annoying back and forth searching for things last time and this time I could locate things pretty easily. The mummified monk sits in Wat Khunaram, on the opposite side of the road from the waterfalls and about 10 minutes back towards Chaweng. Before coming to Samui I was obsessed with the mummified monk and when we finally managed to visit it I was a bit underwhelmed to be honest. But still, we were there so I took Tom so that he too can say that he has seen the mummified monk. What I don’t get is why they have to put cheap fake RayBans on his face, it’s just weird.

As I’m recounting what we did on the island I think that I am mixing up what we did when, and I think I’m writing a bit too much… apologies.

Also, while I’m having a break from rabbiting on I thought I should probably explain the difference between the Thai year 2556 and the year 2013. Because Buddhism is believed to have originated 543 BC, their calendar is 543 years ahead of ours. When I noticed this, it was an entertaining fact for about 5 seconds filled with technically we are living in the future thoughts.

Anyway, New Years Eve 2556 was upon us and we had bought tickets to get a speedboat across to Koh Phangnan to go to its famous full moon party (although technically not on a full moon). We had our UV outfits sorted (standard procedure for a full moon party) and I had my rave-face kit with me (loose glitter, and lots of it). Unfortunately, the Weather Gods had different plans for us, and decided to downpour on the island with torrential force. We had been out visiting the Big Buddha and after sheltering in a restaurant waiting for the rain to stop we finally admitted defeat and drove home in the horrific downpour. The roads were flooding, we were soaking wet and we were running out of time to get back to the hostel, get showered, glittered up and on the boat. We got back to the hostel and ran up to the room to get ready in record time, but this time the Power Gods had different ideas for us – the storm had knocked out all the electric to the island and out hostel didn’t have a generator. Finally realising why we had a stack of candles provided in the room I went to have a candle-lit shower; only the water is pumped up using an electric pump so there was no water either. After mildly panicking and padding downstairs wearing just a towel to confirm that indeed, no one else had electric or water either. Undeterred, I settled for a wet wipe wash, scraped by my rain soaked hair and got ready in the dark. It was reminiscent of a wet Glastonbury.

Now it was the turn for the Transport Gods to be against us. After waiting for 2 and a half hours, the mini bus was not arriving to collect anyone. We had heard that the speedboats weren’t able to leave the island either. Having waited all that time and having drunk all of our beers, we admitted defeat once again and headed to Ark Bar with our ticket refunds in our pockets. We had an OK New Year, but I guess we were a bit disappointed that we didn’t make it to the full moon party. It’s still on my Thailand to-do list so I guess we will have to head back over there another time and keep our fingers crossed that the Gods will be on our side this time.

New Year’s Day would be our last on the island, and we spent it riding the scooter the whole way around the ring road, stopping off at different spots along the way. The weather had finally cleared up so we were happy to spend our last day on holiday out in the sunshine before heading home and back to school, ready to face the New Year of 2556.

WordPress is being silly and won’t let me include pictures in this post so I will post them separately 🙂

Sunset at The Rock Bar, Lamai.

Sunset at The Rock Bar, Lamai.

Sunset as viewed from The Rock Bar, Lamai. I would recommend allowing enough time in your visit to Hin Ta and Hin Yai rocks so that you can chill out here. Good, fresh cocktails, friendly service, reggae and a definite ‘fragrant’ smell in the air that really helps you appreciate the sunset, man; if you catch my drift…

No room at the inn. (December Part 3)

With Christmas over, New Year was quickly upon us – a holiday where we would actually get 2 days off work – hooray!  So with a spring in my step (and stitches in my gum following a visit to the dentist the day before and the resulting tooth extraction – oops…) I made my merry way to the destination for our New Years Celebrations – Koh Samui.  Having spent 3 weeks on Samui doing my TEFL training it seemed like an easy option for a quick visit.  We had booked a villa in a quieter area of Samui, and had plans to take a speedboat across to Koh Phangnan for the NYE Full Moon Party.  Myself and Tom took the night bus up to Surat Thani where we would get a ferry across to the island.  There are many bad storied going around about the questionable safety of night buses and it’s something I would prefer not to do alone so I was glad to have Tom with me.  We were pleasantly surprised to find another 4 or 5 people on the coach that we knew through teaching in HatYai and so we had a little group of us which was useful for watching each others bags and keeping each other entertained throughout the night.  Night buses are a convenient way to travel the long stretches that connect the different corners of Thailand, if you are able to sleep while on the move you can go to sleep in one place and wake up at your destination – easy.  That is, if you have a seat.  You see, the capacity of these coaches is often overlooked in favour of making a few more hundred baht, and so you will often see people standing in the aisles, perching two to a seat or even loading into the luggage hold underneath the coach – I didn’t believe the latter until I saw it with my eyes that very night!   Our coach seemed to be Thai people and farangs in seats and then Malaysians standing and perching where they could.  Possibly the Malaysians are paying a cheap fare and this coach journey was part of a border crossing up into Thailand for them.  Who knows, but I was glad to have a seat, a working fan and enough room to recline and get comfy-ish

The coach journey and ferry went uneventfully and we found ourselves approaching the port on Samui as the sun was rising from behind the island hilltops – had I not been half asleep with dribble on my face and my sleeping mask pushed up onto my forehead then I may have ventured out to take it all in – but I didn’t, so sorry, no photos.  Upon arrival our first challenge was getting a taxi to the villa with minimal address information and the usual breed of taxi driver that hang around outside arrival ports – after a quick buck from a farang tourist.  After a little negotiating and much map rotating we located our villa’s whereabouts and a price, with a traveller named Dave in tow for good measure.  Dave was a real traveller-type and was on his way back to the UK from a long trip around SE Asia and Australia.  He ticked all the boxes and lived up to the traveller stereotype fantastically – a deep tan, wooden jewellery, beads and bracelets, the obligatory rucksack and an odd accent that see-sawed from British to Australian and then to somewhere in between.  The traveller named Dave was staying at the next resort along from ours and was coming along to share the taxi ride part way.  He had learned to play the bongos on his travels.  That was about all the information we gathered from him in our short time together but that fact was enough to confirm in my mind that he truly succeeded in fulfilling every stereotype there was.  You could tell he probably had a copy of ‘The Beach’ tucked into his back pocket.  

We arrived at our villa (with the traveller named Dave still in tow, hoping to hijack their wifi to locate his accommodation) and we were greeted by a confused looking man (it was very early, I don’t think he’d had his coffee yet) who couldn’t speak English and just looked at us, looked at an official-looking clipboard and back at us again, shaking his head.  You don’t need to share a language to be able to ascertain that something was not quite right here.  He rang for his wife, but before she swanned down the stairs in her silk dressing gown and fluffy slippers, we had gathered that there was a problem with the booking.  Down she swans and quickly confirmes the worse.  There was no booking.  There was no villa waiting for us, no sun loungers reserved by the pool, no complimentary breakfast with our names on it.  Unfortunately for us, we had used agoda.com to make our booking, and although agoda.com had gratefully taken the money from us, they hadn’t made the quite-important step of confirming the booking with the hotelier.  And so we found ourselves arriving on a fully-booked island, days before New Years eve, with nowhere to stay.  The manager was all apologies and arranged for us to have a lift in her husband’s car to search for somewhere to stay.  We obliged and, dropping the traveller named Dave off at his hostel we headed to the only resort that I knew and that I thought may have some rooms available – Chaweng beach.  Walking through the main strip we passed plenty of ‘no vacancy’ signs, and found that those places that had room were charging extortionate prices (no doubt to take advantage of poor homeless people like ourselves).  It was almost like we were having our own Mary and Joseph moment, only I wasn’t in labour, or riding a donkey, and no Immaculate Conception had taken place, and it was New Year’s Eve-Eve-Eve rather than Christmas Eve.  Eventually we found ourselves at a large guesthouse/hostel on the main strip, and bagged ourselves one of the last rooms – a room with a view of an asbestos rooftop on one side and a building site on the other, perfectly situated under the very low flight path.  But, we had a fridge for beers and a bed to sleep in so we couldn’t complain too much.  It was no poolside villa in a quiet resort, but in a way we are both better suited to the party side of the island anyway.  We dumped our bags and headed to the beach, about 2 minutes across the road and I found myself back at Ark Bar, where I had spent many drunken nights while on my TEFL training.  After the stressful start to the morning we were glad to sit back with a morning beer, followed by a swim in the sea (or in my case, hanging on to Tom’s neck while I tried to stop my face getting wet).  The day turned out to be a blazing one, and we spent it strolling along the beach, sunning ourselves and generally relaxing and fully appreciating island lifestyle.  In the afternoon we took our newly rented scooter and headed to Lamai, the next resort along from us to find Hin Ta and Hin Yai rocks – I knew where they were after much searching last time I was on the island but I hadn’t seen them.  It turns out they are just a couple of rocks that just so happen to be in the shape of a penis (Hin Ta, or Grandfather rock) and a vagina (Hin Yai, or Grandmother rock).  I don’t know who named those rocks but why someone would see a rock representation of male and female genitalia and decided to name it after their Grandparents is beyond me.  We couldn’t even locate the lady-parts rock; I wasn’t even sure how a rock could look like that anyway!  What is more interesting at this odd tourist spot is that nestled into a crevice in the rock face is a fantastic reggae bar (The Rock Bar) perfectly situated to overlook an unspoilt cove and angled directly towards the setting sun.  So we grabbed ourselves a cocktail and a beer and sat on some cushions to watch the sun set on our first day on Samui – a beautifully chilled end to a day that started somewhat more strained.