A Travellerspoint blog

Recap & stats

5 °C

So here we are, a few weeks after coming home.
"Coming home" is a relative term, as we are now spending some time with family in Italy, before returning to London to settle back into some sort of routine.

We were quite ok to "come home". Almost five months on the road is a fair length of time, even though of course we would have liked to spend a little more time in the sun and around the sea in South Thailand, especially after a whole week was lost with having an ear infection that precluded me from snorkelling or sunbathing...

The trip went well and gave us what we were looking for: a break from London, a chance to visit new places, get to see what other cultures and people are up to, soak up some much needed sun, do some scuba diving, and perhaps also prove to ourselves that we are still strong and fit and able to backpack. Spending some time together was also very much on the agenda, as well as spending less time on social media. The latter certainly worked out for me, less for Gregory, who did not seem to relent from online games and other online social stuff as much. As before, our travel partnership worked quite well, with me doing the planning and Gregory being very adaptable and questioning matters only when I was pushing too hard. The ability that Gregory brings to connect with people is just unique and it certainly enhanced our experiences in each and every place we visited. His popularity in China was just hilarious.

What was our favorite place, everyone asks? Mmm. The first part of the trip was more intense, with China and Japan being particularly interesting. Our favourite countries were probably the Philippines and Japan, and we would have to toss a coin if we were told we could only now visit one of the two. Very different places obviously, but both amazing in their own way. The Filipinos stole our hearts, the most amazing and lovely people ever! Japan is also quite special and distinctive, and I was really super happy to have been able to go and see my old friend Akiyo. Akiyo and her family allowed us to see the Japanese people up close, and we were touched by their hospitality and affection.

A lot of people are probably wondering how much this whole thing cost. And how many countries we visited. Etc. So here below are some stats:

17,000 km (Beijing to Singapore)
10 countries
142 days
Someone advised that I should not really write how much the trip cost...

We were more or less on budget. We knew that we were not really going to be able to do this cheaply and, while I was watching our spending and being careful (a lot more than Gregory for sure), at the same time we also knew that we did not want to compromise with our comfort. We almost always had a private room with our own bathroom, we moved frequently and generally included tours and activities in each location, which adds to costs a great deal more than sitting there not doing much. So, despite our best intentions not to zoom around trying to see everything, during our 142 days of travels we did sleep in 50 different beds, meaning that we spent less than three consecutive nights in any one place on average! Our average hotel spend in the less expensive countries was about £22 per night – this was the price for a double room with private bathroom in mostly excellent family hotels, sometimes with breakfast, sometimes not. In Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong the hotel average spend was more around £45, and that was for a private room without a private bathroom. While in Hong Kong and Singapore the standard of accommodation for this price was pretty low (Singapore was the worst by far), the standard of accommodation in Japan was brilliant, including their shared bathrooms with hot toilet seats and bathroom slippers :-)

For what it’s worth, below are our travel averages. Backpackers often speak of an average spend per day – I am not sure that these averages mean much, as everyone’s standards, habits and preferences can influence the price of things quite dramatically, but here they are. For the sake of a fair country comparison, we have removed all flights, diving costs and also the Halong Bay cruise in Vietnam, which is expensive for the country standards and which therefore would have skewed the average. We took flights from Hong Kong to the Philippines, from the Philippines to Japan, from Japan to Vietnam, from Cambodia to Phuket, and from Langkawi to Singapore. The rest was all travelled by land or boat. Our daily costs in China would normally be around £43 per day, but the visa cost for China hiked things and unfortunately this is not a cost that can be avoided (£218 each, for UK citizens). High speed rail in China also cost quite a bit, but again, China is large. If time was not an issue and we travelled for days by bus or slow train, then we could have travelled China for the same price as the south of Thailand.

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I am now trying to sort through the 5,000 photos that we managed to take... hoping to cut them down to half, possibly! And then use the best ones, together with this blog, to create our Asia travels Blurb book. Writing the blog really required a real effort sometimes, but, as we learnt in our previous backpacking trip, this effort is totally worth it to ensure that our experiences do not fade in our memory. At the same time, we hope that the blog was interesting for those reading it.

And that's all!

Posted by Flav-Greg 08:29 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Singapore

'

sunny 30 °C

After a smooth transition into Langkawi, with a good rest in a great hotel - Villa Abadi Resort - which picked us up from the boat and delivered us to the airport for free, our arrival in Singapore was somewhat stressful. First of all Air Asia left our luggage behind, which was then delivered to us at the hostel the next day. That was stressful, as we had no change of clothes, as well as for the worry that the backpacks could in theory never show up again.  They apparently left 25 of them behind, so it was not very likely that they could positively lose 25 suitcases all together, but you never know. Secondly, our room at Wink Capsule Hostel was - is - awful. I booked it five months ago, when already affordable accomodation seemed to be pretty limited. I should have checked the description more carefully, but back then, I was less aware of how thoroughly online reviews need to be examined. The hostel in itself is clean and ok, and very well located, but the room!!!! Definitely the shitiest room in our entire travels - we would have gladly moved out, had we not already paid for it. There was a clean and comfortable bed, but it was a tiny room with mould on the walls and without window - the smell of damp was overbearing. We even considered moving into the dorms, but then decided that being out all day and able to leave all our stuff scattered around and locked in securely was more important. Just about. It was bearable, I suppose, otherwise we would have moved out. On the up side, we were in the heart of Chinatown, and at a good time, with the Chinese New Year festivities just about to start, so the area was nicely decorated and filled with festive stalls.

I did not know much about Singapore before arriving here on Sunday.

After some reading through Wikipedia, here are a few pieces of information that I have found interesting about the place.

Singapore was founded as a British trading colony in 1819. Since independence in 1963, it has become one of the world's most prosperous countries in the world. Along with Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan, Singapore is one of the original Four Asian Tigers, but has surpassed its peers in terms of GDP per capita, which is 3rd in the world!
It apparently has the world's highest percentage of millionaires, with one out of every six households having at least one million US dollars in disposable wealth. This excludes property, businesses, and luxury goods, which if included would increase the number of millionaires, especially as property in Singapore is among the world's most expensive. No wonder our horrible bathroom-less room costs £45 a night!!
But of course wealth is not shared equally - Singapore has one of the highest income inequalities among developed countries.

Singapore is a global hub for education, entertainment, finance, healthcare, human capital, innovation, logistics, technology, tourism, trade, and transport!! The city ranks highly in numerous international rankings, and has been recognised as the most "technology-ready" nation and world's safest country, amongst many other things. The Economist has ranked Singapore as the most expensive city to live in since 2013, and a tax haven. Singapore is the only country in Asia with an AAA sovereign rating from all major rating agencies, so it's super solvent. Money, money, money.
It currently has two casino complexes — or "Integrated Resorts", to use the Singaporean euphemism — opened in 2010 in Sentosa and Marina Bay as part of Singapore's new Fun and Entertainment drive, the aim being to increase the number of tourists visiting, and increase the length of time they stay within the country, and spend their money here. Indeed, the commercialism and opulence of the shopping malls, which are everywhere, is striking.

Now some of the bad stuff.
Singapore does not have a minimum wage.
It has penalties that include judicial corporal punishment in the form of caning, and there is death penalty for murder, as well as for certain aggravated drug-trafficking and firearms offences. But worse, it has strong links with Israel, a country that is not recognised by the neighbouring Muslim-majority nations of Malaysia, Indonesia, or Brunei. As the main fear after independence was an invasion by Malaysia, Israeli Defense Force commanders were tasked with creating the Singapore Armed Forces from scratch, and Israeli instructors were brought in to train Singaporean soldiers. Military courses were conducted according to Israel's format, and Singapore adopted a system of conscription and reserve service based on the Israeli model. Singapore still maintains strong security ties with Israel and is one of the biggest buyers of Israeli arms and weapons systems, spending a sizeable portion of its government dollars on defence.

So it was not surprising to read that some have dubbed the country as “Disneyland with the death penalty" and "the world's only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations"...

Four full days were plenty of time to visit around, really. We spent some of this time with two friends - Siti, one of my team at comScore, and Bee Eng, a very old friend of Gregory from his teenage London days! They were both amazingly hospitable towards us and we felt spoilt by them both. Amazing Singaporean hospitality.
So we visited the comScore office in Singapore, which happens to be located in Chinatown, on the next road from the hostel!! A fantastic location for sure, and a lovely office, on a very pretty road. It was great to be able to meet Siti in person, after a long telephone relationship!

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Pagoda Street. comScore occupies one of the pretty first floors with the nice plantation shutters

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Marina Bay Sands & the Sentosa Merlion (we went to the wrong merlion in error...)

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Overall, Singapore is a nice city and we enjoyed our time here. Obviously, for someone who doesn’t like shopping, consumerism and designer shops, this is not really our type of environment. But some of the buildings are really amazing, the food scene quite remarkable, and the city has a nice feel about it.
The two sites that we enjoyed most while here were the Gardens in the Bay and the National Orchid Gardens.

The giant artificial super-trees of Gardens in the Bay are beautiful, and the evening light and sound show was spectacular, and very enjoyable.

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The Botanic Gardens in Singapore are one of three gardens in the world that have the honor of being designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. (Kew Gardens in London is one of the other two.) At 158 years old, they date back to Singapore’s British colony days and that is certainly reflected in the design and style of the gardens. The orchid section is quite a show, and also a nice respite from the artificial world of the city.

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We are flying back to London tonight. We are wearing everything warm we have - we are going back to snow and 5 C!!

Posted by Flav-Greg 19:58 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Ko Lipe

sunny 35 °C

Ko Lipe is, without any doubts, a special island.
Sitting in the middle of the Adang-Rawi-Tarutao archipelagos, it is pretty small in size - only 2 km long and 1 km wide!! - but overflowing with tourist facilities and hotels. It has apparently evaded the national parks protection because it is home to a community of chow lair (sea gipsies) who were given the island by the king at the beginning of 1900. In the last 20 years, tourist development here has gone wild, with a concrete maze of cafés, shops, hostels and restaurants most lining its Walking Street, but also extending further along all three beaches.
What is most striking is the sea surrounding the island: its intense turquoise colour, the incredibly, amazingly, inexplicably super transparent quality of the water, and the shallow coral reef all around it. It is truly amazing that, despite the tourist numbers, the water is still pristine. Don't know how it is possible??!

We split our six nights on the island between Sang Chen hostel and Forra Bungalows. Sang Chen was meant to be our stepping stone onto the island, but we ended up staying for the duration of my weird flu episode, or whatever that was. First of all it was only 200m from the clinic, secondly, despite its problems, it was comfortable. It's problems were that 1) the room was very, very hot 2) the bar across the road played the most hideous, repetitive and loud tecno music until the small hours of the morning. Despite this, Sang Chen was good to us. As soon as they could, they moved us to a cooler room, and in the meantime they gave me a camp bed to put on the balcony so that I could get some air.

Therefore, our first three days went down a black hole. During those three days, Gregory roamed our stretch of street and made friends with all the vendors along it, as he was in charge of going out to fetch shakes and meals for us to eat in. He even got a Thai friend from London!

Thai friend: "Hey, where are you from?"
Gregory: "London! And you?"
Friend: "I am from London too!"
Gregory: "Oh really? Where in London?"
Friend: "Near McDonald's!!"

He also went for some room hunting and eventually found us a bungalow at Forra Diving - surprise surprise!! Forra Diving is on Sunrise beach, just behind the locals village, and really quite nice. You get a discount on your bungalow if you dive, but in the end Gregory only dived once, and got taken out by the current before he could even start, so the diving did not go too well here.

The walking street

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Our Forra bungalow, the Forra bar on the beach and the taxi boat station just opposite

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The locals village just behind Forra Bungalows

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We managed to do at least one island hopping tour, which was very good. Tour B, as they call it, it took us to the farther small islands. I bought a silicone ear plug and joined in the snorkelling - it was just impossible not to. The reef here is very good, and visibility generally good too.

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Boy, our tour guide, had to collect us by motorbike as the tide was too low for the boat

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These were some of the islands we visited, and the beauty below

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Koh Hin Ngam, famous for its black stones that should not be removed

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And finally, Lipe’s glorious Sunrise Beach

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And this is it!! Tomorrow afternoon we are off to Langkawi for one night, as we are taking a flight to Singapore on the 27th. Then it is just four nights in Singapore, and this journey comes to an end.

Posted by Flav-Greg 03:25 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Koh Ngai

sunny 33 °C

On Koh Ngai we stayed at Koh Ngai Resort, no less! There are three beaches which offer accomodation on Koh Ngai - ours, Paradise Beach with its one resort, and then the main beach, which is quite long and dotted with a few establishments, including a tent site at £20 a night. For £40 we could get a room with bathroom, a/c and breakfast at Koh Ngai Resort, so we went for that.
Koh Ngai Resort is probably the first hotel that was built on the island, as it is quite dated, and it offers the luxury of a jetty. On the other beaches, people disembark directly onto the beach and have to walk through the shallow water for a good while.. All three beaches are connected by rough footpaths. A path through the rocks connects Ngai Resort to the main beach, and then from there another path through the vegetation takes you to the more remote Paradise Beach (about 20 minutes walk). The island in itself is only 2 x 4 km!! No snakes on this island, but there are some large monitor lizards, which unfortunately we did not encounter on our walk to Paradise Beach. It emerged that at night the path to the main beach almost got cut off by the high tide (we had a full moon), as a young couple we spoke to told us. They had to almost swim back, fighting with the waves!!

We were happy with our choice, all considered, despite the total lack of vibe and hammocks. It was ugly but comfortable. And there was a swimming pool, which came in handy with the rough winds. When we first arrived, the sea was calm and you could see the corals and the fish in all their details from above. In the afternoon, however, the wind started and the water got choppy and murky. At one point we even worried whether we would be able to depart!

With all the corals and free snorkeling available from our doorstep, not even Gregory went into the water once. I suppose the choppy waves did not help, or maybe he was showing solidarity? In our 48 hours on the island, we just walked to the other beaches, and had a massage done, even though I was not feeling terribly well. I got a slight cold and sore throat from the air conditioning, again. I also had a mild rash on my arms which I thought might be caused by the Cipro antibiotics I have been taking for my ear infection, but I could not be sure, so I did try my best to avoid the sun. Being on a tiny tropical island, and not be able to go in the water or be in the sun, really sucks!!

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But obviously it wasn't bad enough.
We took the speedboat to Koh Lipe, 2.5 hours flying over the water at 65 km/hr. The boat had a sun roof, thank god, and I had wrapped my ear and head into buffs and cloths. However, by the time we arrived at Koh Lipe, my head was on fire.
As we checked in at Sang Chen hostel, the room was so hot that I felt as if I had been sent down to hell. Gregory went to buy a thermometer and indeed, I had 39 C fever!!!!!!

We went to Lipe's Siam Clinic straight away, where they put me on an electrolyte drip and ran some blood tests. Looks like it's flu?!?!?!
It is not dengue, got tested for that too.
On the up side, the doctor thinks that the ear infection is gone :-)

So here I am, lying down on the balcony of the hostel, waiting to get better and hopefully manage to see some of Lipe before we have to leave!!

Posted by Flav-Greg 06:02 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

Ko Lanta

Swimmer's ear, or otitis externa

sunny 32 °C

Ko Lanta is great.

We spent 4 nights here, which we knew were not really long enough, but hey. We are quite possibly going to come back to Ko Lanta.
Green Pepper, our accommodation, is super cool. It's about 1 km inland from Prah Ae, so we had to hire a scooter again, but we knew this, and the place looked too good to overlook. It’s only been open four months, and honestly, the detail and good taste that has been put into it is remarkable.

Couple of significant events for us here.

Significant event #1
About three days before arriving here we found out that one of Gregory's friends, John Campbell, is here on holiday with Fiona and brand new baby Arlo!! Literally 1 km from us, at Mook Lanta at our junction for the beach!!!!

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So yesterday Gregory and John went off diving together, while Fiona, Arlo and I took a taxi to drive us around the island to visit some far away beaches and Lanta Old Town. A good call, since my right ear had given me a sign of something wrong the day before we booked the diving, and then got pretty painful overnight (could not sleep, therefore a loud and clear sign there).

Significant event #2
I went to the doctor first thing in the morning, before setting off on the island ‘tour’, only to find out that I have an acute ear infection and be prescribed 7 days of antibiotics. Merde. Very merde, because I have been advised that I should not let my ear get wet AT ALL, not even when washing my hair. Not only that, I also need to stay away from the sun, as the antibiotics neutralise sun block and increase the risk of sun burn!! The ear infection is a direct result of the liveaboard diving we just did in the Similan. As a hearing aid wearer, I should have taken extra precautions when going diving so intensively, but I was not aware. Quite a bit of info on the DAN website about ear issues, so now at least I know.

Now, this is happening when we have 10 days of small islands planned for snorkeling and scuba diving. Yep.
If the infection heals ok, I might be able to enjoy the last four days on Koh Lipe, so I will need to really take care and hope that all resolves ok.

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Ko Lanta is a cool place, the type of Thailand that we were hoping to find. Laid back, rustic bars and guesthouses - some are very fancy, it's a good mix - with quite a few beach choices and a national park too. On our first day here we went to visit Nui Beach together with John, which is a small beach only reachable by some steps down, and undeveloped.

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Day 2 - Kantiang beach

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Monitor lizard, it appeared in the bar area out of nowhere

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Khlong Jark beach, on the south end of the island, remote and very quiet. LOVELY.

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Ko Lanta Old Town, with its stilted fisherman houses turned into restaurants

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Today we cancelled our snorkeling trip to Koh Rok, which is meant to be beautiful with cristalline waters, white powdery sand, etc, etc, and spent some really nice hours relaxing at Green Pepper with Fiona and John. Green Pepper is like a babies crèche - very well equipped with inflatable pool and slide, games, etc. Lots of hammocks and fantastic space to chill.
I kept getting impatient - why am I sitting here when we are surrounded by beaches - and then trying to remind myself that 1) there is nothing I can do about this ear infection, apart from following doctors orders, so that I might get to swim the last few days at least. 2) where exactly do I want to run, especially since I am also feeling quite tired?

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Eventually we set off for a couple of hours to Khlong Khong beach nearby. The tide was quite high, fortunately, as this beach seems to dry out quite dramatically in low tide. We went out in the late afternoon with the aim to stay for sunset, but actually we ended up staying past 8pm, it was too nice to leave!! Fiona found this bar, Fin’s stoned bar, which was just great. Hammocks, nice lounge soft furnishing for lying down and enjoy a drink looking out to sea, mellow reggae music, nobody hassling you to buy drinks, we loved it! The whole beach is dotted with similar bars and restaurants, furnished with bamboo chairs and platforms, nice lanterns, tree lights, etc.

In the morning we are off to Koh Ngai. Guess what? It’s a snorkellers paradise.

Posted by Flav-Greg 08:15 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Nudy branches

sunny 31 °C

Dimitri just sent us some photos of nudy branches that he had photographed during our dives - he has a very good camera :-)))))

Hopefully he will send us the one of the sea moth we saw on one of the wrecks, we will add it if it comes

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The photo of the sea moth came through:

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Posted by Flav-Greg 06:17 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Ao Nang

sunny 32 °C

We spent just two nights in Ao Nang, the time to do a 4-islands boat tour.
I was here and did this very same tour about 20 years ago, and I had fond memories of some stunning sea scenery.

The islands lived up to my memories, though maybe this time they seemed slightly less stunning, as by now I have seen a few other beautiful places. But still, this part of Thailand is very nice, the water is still clean and turquoise, and the karsts still majestic.

Ao Nang has been developed quite a bit since then, now it’s like being in Tenerife!! Not quite the type of place we look for, but it was the most obvious place to stay at for the island tour. We went with Krabi @ Sea Tour, and the trip was well run. More than 60 people on a large longtail boat, lunch buffet on Boda island, in all very ok. The best part is that we were probably the people who paid less for the tour!! It is a little crazy, the prices advertised for the tours here are all way out, and then when you go and book, you are offered a ‘discount’. Our hostel offered a price of 1,000 (brochure said 1,500), however we randomly walked into another guesthouse and were offered the trip for 400 baht!!? We then checked around a bit more, to get an idea of what the going price was, and we got offers ranging from 600 to 1,000. Therefore we went for the 400 baht offer at the Goodwill Hotel, just across the road. You kind of have to make sure that you book with someone who can phone up for you in case the pick up doesn’t materialise, etc.

It all went well and we had a good day. The 4 island itinerary includes Chicken island, Tub island, Poda island and Phranang beach. Some snorkelling is also included, but it is not very good. Tub island is the best spot. Unfortunately we got there in high tide, so we could not walk to the third island (it’s three islands connected by a sand strip). On the plus side, Gregory spotted Nicola Adams on the beach and got a photo together with her! For those who like me have no idea who she is - Nicola Adams OBE is a British professional boxer, the first woman to win an Olympic boxing title in 2012. She is the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medallist in the women's flyweight division.

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Phranang beach and its boat food stalls

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Chicken island

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Tub island

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Posted by Flav-Greg 07:56 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Manta Queen 1 - Similan liveaboard

Dive, eat, sleep, repeat

sunny 31 °C

We had a good trip.
Manta Queen 1 turned out to be a good boat, and the crew managed to get a couple of nice German girls to give up their double cabin for us, which was better than a bunk bed, and a nice show of effort on their part. It was not ensuite and it was tiny and super basic, but ultimately adequate, especially since we only went in there to sleep at night. Too busy diving!!
The schedule was intense, especially for me, as I decided to do the Padi Advanced course while I was at it. The Advanced Padi is nowhere near as intensive as the Open Water - there is hardly any studying involved, and no exam - but even just reading the four chapters relevant to each dive type required some effort, as it competed with getting some rest in between the dives. My instructor was a Russian young chap, Dimitri, who turned out to be very sensible, professional and with a good sense of humour (and a fairly strong but cute Russian accent). We dived with another couple from Australia, Heidi and Zak, as Heidi was also doing the Padi Advanced, and we had an additional lady with us, Maxi, who was training as a Dive Master. Dimitri and Maxi soon came up with a lovely little nickname for Gregory: Grisha, the pufferfish. Grisha as in Gregory in Russian, and pufferfish because Gregory soon started to hover over the group, for some reason, so any time you wanted to know where Gregory was, you just had to look up above you, and you would find him suspended up there, like a pufferfish.

In total we had about 18 divers on the boat, plus 6 dive masters, and maybe 7 Thai crew. 30 people sharing three toilet/showers!! Apart from a little bit of queue for the end of day showers, it was not too bad, actually.

Our Manta Queen group

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Our diving buddies

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The mantra was - dive, eat, sleep, repeat - and it really was just that!! Four dives a day is a bit bonkers, if you ask me, but we all did it and actually, after the first two days, time seemed to expand a little.
The diving was ok and a bit different from what we had expected. Going from our latest diving experience in the Philippines, my personal expectation was to dip into nice, clear and calm waters looking like perfect aquariums. It was not quite like that. First of all visibility was nowhere near what we had in the Philippines - sometimes it was 5 meters - secondly we encountered some currents, one of which was close to terrifying (for me at least). This liveaboard was an excellent eye opener to diving, as we visited different sites, doing night dives, wreck dives, descending via ropes and not, etc. Overall we only saw small fish, and not a single turtle. All the dive leaders seemed to be obsessed with nudy branches, tiny molluscs which I did not even know existed. They are difficult to spot, as they are 1-4 cm small, and quite cute with funny names such as magnificent slug, varicose wart slug, etc.
Apparently I decided to skip the best dive site of all, North Point on Similan Island 9, on the morning of the second day, when I got up with a bad sore throat due to the air conditioning, and decided that I was not going to dive at 6:30 am when it was still dark and ‘cold’. The second best diving spot of the trip was definitely Richelieu Rock, a rock in the middle of nowhere which attracts a lot of fish. At times you could not see across from the amount of fish obscuring the view, it was quite impressive.
Overall, while the experience was nice and the diving interesting, we did not feel totally mesmerised by the underwater sites. Personally, I thought that the Philippines were superior. Many hard corals in the Similan are bleached, in some areas they were destroyed by the 2004 tsunami, as well as by old dynamite fishing, so not totally amazing. Also, this time we dived deeper, up to 30 meters, and that means that a lot of colour is lost as you go lower!!! At some sites there were a few other boats/divers and the place felt a little crowded. But we saw a lot of interesting fish nevertheless, and the experience was really good, the crew great, the vibe on the boat nice. Perhaps more importantly, the trip was run professionally and safely. Rules were communicated very clearly from the very beginning: absolutely no drink and dive allowed, no dive briefing/no dive, etc. At some point the group leader asked Gregory (pick one at random...) to pretend to have DCI (decompression illness) symptoms as a training exercise for the dive leaders, to check their reactions and response. They all responded impeccably, starting from Dimitri.

The itinerary

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Similan island #8

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Life on the boat

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Yesterday morning we took a minivan to Ao Nang. It should have only been a couple of hours, but they became 3.5 as the minivan took us to a sorting facility near Krabi where tourists were rearranged onto different buses. There, yet again, Gregory managed to have another accident: one of the benches in the middle of the waiting space was covered in gloss paint which had not quite totally dried. A number of people sat on the bench, included me, but for some reason Gregory’s trousers were the ones which had absorbed most of the orange paint!!! All I got was paint on my heel...

I had woken up with a headache/migraine and felt terribly for most of the day, to the point where I started to question whether I was suffering from some sort of decompression issues, and finally conceded that we could not go to Railay beach or anywhere else for the rest of the day. So we went to sleep as soon as we arrived at Pop In Hostel, our accommodation in Ao Nang, and thankfully started to feel better by the evening. It was just exhaustion from the diving, fair enough.

Posted by Flav-Greg 07:35 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Khao Lak town

sunny 32 °C

Ok, so tonight it’s finally time for our liveaboard trip!

The storm here in Khao Lak was hardly felt, it was just a bit windy and it rained a whole day, not even too harshly. Yet, the Similan national park was shut down for a second day, even though there was full sun by then. If we could not have rescheduled, we would have lost half of our trip, if not all!!
Our insurance includes ‘natural disasters’, but obviously we much preferred not to have to use it. Storm Pabuk kind of ‘lost’ us three days, but on the other hand, it gave us time to rest and plan the final part of our trip. We had not quite decided which islands to visit yet, so this unplanned pause gave us the opportunity to do just that, plus the catching up with shaving, waxing, hair dying, finding a swimming costume, etc.
We had intended to spend one night in Phuket Town, visiting at least one of the beaches, and then spend a couple of nights on PhiPhi, but as we started to look more and more carefully into the geography and the calendar, and with Nic’s very precious help over Messenger, we decided to skip them both. They are crowded, glitzy and expensive and not really the type of place we crave. Also, there is no ferry connection from Phuket Town to Ao Nang, while there is a handy, quick minivan connection from Khao Lak, so we had to make our choices.
After the liveaboard, we will spend two nights in Ao Nang for islands tour and Railay beach; then four nights on Ko Lanta for more islands tours and another day diving (nowhere long enough, but it is all what we have); two nights on Koh Ngai; finally Koh Lipe, where we have booked just two nights, as we are hoping to go camping on some smaller islands from there.

Overall we quite liked Khao Lak, and we were really happy with our chosen refuge Sri Chada Hotel, which was comfortable, well located and where the family owners and staff were an absolute delight. Buildings in Khao Lak are relatively new, as everything was wiped out 15 years ago. The coastline along Khao Lak was the worst one hit in Thailand during the Tsunami in 2004, with over 4,000 people dying here alone. Today, there is little evidence left, in fact we could not quite tell that there was ever a tsunami here - if it wasn’t for the warning tower on the beach, which is impossible to miss, along with a good few escape route signs. Resorts have been rebuilt and Khao Lak is a normal, fairly busy tourist destination. Unlike Phuket, the many resorts in the area seem to cater to families, Germans and those looking to do a liveaboard in the Similan and Surin islands offshore (us!).
The place consists mainly of guesthouses and restaurants - along the main road for the budget travellers, and along the sea for the resorts, which have occupied much of the beaches, though these are still free for everyone, with the usual access issues.

On the sunny day that followed the storm, we did a loop walk to the Tsunami museum 2 km up the road, returning by the beach. We discovered that Khao Lak is actually quite extended, and not limited to the 500m stretch we are on!! Quite nice and pleasant, actually, and very touristy. To start our walk on the beach we had to sneak down through the back kitchen of one resort, and come out through the reception of another...there are access roads, but you need to know where they are, or end up doing long rounds under the scorching sun to find them.

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At one point we came across a stream and, as we were fully dressed, had to take the ‘ferry’ across. Most likely the most expensive ferry crossing ever, 20 baht (50p) for 6 meters :-)

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Next to the tsunami museum, or rather the other way round, there is a boat left as memorial at the spot where it was washed ashore. It’s referred to as ‘Boat 813’. On the morning of Boxing Day on 26th December 2004, police patrol boat 813 was stationed off the coast of Khao Lak. It was on royal duty as Princess Ubonrat and her family were spending the new year holiday in Southern Thailand. Her son was on a jet ski at the moment the tsunami hit this coastline - police Boat 813 was swept inland about two kilometers, and the king’s grandson died.
We did not enter the Tsunami museum, mainly because the entry ticket cost $10 each, which we thought was a little too high, especially since there were lots of photos and information all around outside. A more reasonable price or minimum donation request would have gone down much better with us.

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This is our stretch of Khao Lak - pretty unassuming, especially during the day, when most shops are closed. It gets very lively in the evening.

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Yuppadee was our favourite diner in Khao Lak - we first discovered it as we were looking for a place where to have a pancake and wi-fi access. The desserts were amazing and we saw they did Thai food too, so we came back for dinner.... and ever after. Reasonably priced, and the lady can definitely cook! One of the best places we have eaten at in Thailand, which is crazy, for an unassuming pancake restaurant!!!

Posted by Flav-Greg 20:30 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

NOT setting off to Similan amidst storm Pabuk!

storm 22 °C

So we went to our 4pm boat briefing...

This time we met our actual boat leader, e.g. the person who would have to face us for the next four days, and he seemed a lot more sensible than the Thai desk agent. As soon as we mentioned that it was possible for us to move our departure by a few days, he told us that we should definitely consider doing so, and that they could accomodate the change. It sounded like the boat was going to sit in the port overnight, with no guarantee at all that it would be allowed to go anywhere in the morning, especially since Similan island is officially closed. Nobody really knows how bad this is going to be, the storm is not here yet. It is losing power, but it is still a storm!

So we checked out the options and moved our liveaboard trip to the 7th, by which time hopefully Pabuk will have been and gone. Unfortunately, this meant that we lost our ensuite double and we are now going to be on an inferior boat - Queen Manta 1 - but we suppose, it was a no brainer. We also had the option to go on the 13th on Queen Manta 3 in en-suite, but that would mean losing lots of days, going south to then come all the way back, to then head south again, plus the time lost waiting for this uninvited storm to clear.

So here we are! We have got ourselves a nice room at Sri Chada Guesthouse. We are going to be sitting here for three days, waiting for Pabuk to bugger off.

Posted by Flav-Greg 03:25 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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