#Pupsforlikes

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It’s a depressing rainy Monday here in York and although I saw this guy last week I miss him so much already, looking at December flights back home. Sure this rubbish weather would be much improved by his company.

E: Island Hopping around Railay Beach

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After a speedily eaten Pad Thai we reluctantly boarded our boat to leave the Phi Phi’s. Our next point of call was Railay Beach, a coastal resort in close proximity to Krabi town. Our initial plan incorporated a short stay in Krabi town, but after hearing from multiple sources that Krabi was in fact a shipping town we decided follow up Kate’s friends recommendation that Railay was her favourite place in Thailand.

The Railay beach area is made up of three stretches of coast, one pristine white sand beach tucked away by limestone cliffs (above, Phra Nang Beach), another perfectly nice beach lined with hotels (West Railay) and one small stretch of coast comprised of rocks and concrete promenade (East Railay Beach). Upon arrival we set eyes on the latter during low tide where all the rocks and mud was visible and I turned to Kate, “You made us leave paradise for this!?”

The other two coasts of Railay Beach however are the perfect place to set your worries aside and relax. The only way to get in or out is by boat and transport can be arranged at various travel agencies dotted along the sea front. Prices for drinks and food at most of the restaurants are noticeably a lot higher than the rest of the places we visited in Thailand. I’d recommend sticking to the east coast for more reasonably priced dining options. My favourite activity of Railay Beach aside from the actual shore was hiking to an enchanting viewpoint and a gorgeous green lagoon tucked away behind some forest.

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The hike entrance is located between Railay east beach and Phra Nang Beach is quite challenging and for the majority of it you find yourself climbing vertically holding on to patches of red mud and tree trunks on your way up. The distinctive red mud in Railay later proved that it was ridiculously hard to remove from clothes, since that day I have still not managed to remove a few marks on my swimming trunks. They make nice if not slightly odd reminder of our time in Railay.

At the viewpoint we met a very friendly Austrian couple where we discussed the Bangkok protests, holidays and Austria’s recent victory in Eurovision. Regrettably although getting close, we struggled with the downhill climb to reach the lagoon. It was difficult to see how we would get back up once down, a rock climbing instructor later comforted us by letting us know she didn’t get to the bottom the first time she attempted the hike either.

Finishing the hike and turning to the opposite direction of the route we came, we exited from under the cliffs and found ourselves shrouded in a large group of Asian tourists, walking a little further along away from the cliffs you discover the full beauty of Phra Nang Beach, often voted as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. It’s so easy to see why. Beyond the soft chalky sands and turquoise waters the views consisted of limestone islets laced in greenery, distant cliffs and longboats scurrying across the sea.

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Some longboats even offer fresh juice and snacks, what more could you ask for in paradise? The crowds in area  weren’t too plentiful either, probably due to the limited options for reaching the peninsula. We spent the majority of the day going for dips in the water under the isolated limestone islet and listening to music whilst drifting in and out of sleep under the shade of the local flora. It was a truly brilliant day rounded off with some delicious green curry, morning glory (the vegetable) and ridiculously overpriced mango sticky rice.

Following a visit to the enchantingly noisy bats located in Diamond Cave, we opted for a small island hopping boat tour to Chicken island, Poda island and Tup island as a way of keeping us busy for the second day. The trip provided numerous opportunities for some brilliant snorkelling where we witnessed all sorts of coral and an interesting array of tropical fish. We had booked this through the restaurant which doubled as a travel agency that we had eaten breakfast at.

All the staff on the boat were extremely friendly and welcoming, seeming very proud of the place where they call home.  As the sun set over the peninsula of Railay we sat down on the sand and devoured a delicious Thai barbecue. Just before delivering us back home the boat tour ended with a visit to see some photosynthetic plankton which lit up when disturbed by movement underwater.

The time to depart from Railay arrived the next day, once again very reluctantly we arranged our transport to Bangkok before heading back to our favourite beach for a final few hours of bliss. It was there we accidentally encountered our friend from NUS Jan! In disbelief I sighted him on Phra Nang Beach and ran over to him. Both of us where pretty shocked, I mean what were the chances of us accidentally running into each other on a coast in Thailand? He decided to join us for the next leg of our journey, to the mighty Bangkok!

Railay beach was indeed one of the most special parts of our journey.

Favourite things to see/do:

  • Hike to Viewpoint/Lagoon (free)
  • Phra Nang Beach (free)
  • Four Islands boat trip
  • Diamond Cave to see the bats
  • Fluorescent Plankton

Tips:

  • East coast Railay is much cheaper for both food and accommodation
  • It might be advisable to take some climbing gear for the descent to the Lagoon

E: It’s Better in Bangkok – Thailand

Expectations were grand for the world famous Bangkok. Stories which had previously caught my ear included scenes where drunken backpackers were mugged by ladyboys and tales that violent stray dogs roamed wild between the city streets. Through word of mouth Bangkok had compiled a reputation as a place of danger, a place where things went wrong, where the people were troubled and trapped in a frantic malfunctioning metropolis. Certain films like the Hangover sequel and a few stories from my flatmates may have been to blame for this distressed image I had painted in my mind. The time we visited was also the time of the 2014 protests. Now travelling with the addition of our friend Jan the three of us had no clue as to what awaited us after liberation from the confinement of the night bus.IMG_9019

Around 3 AM we were flung out to the roads no longer the bus driver’s responsibility.  The usual gathering of tuk tuk drivers amassed around us attempting to convince us our desired location was a good hour away and any journey there would be expensive. Disputes and difficulties aside we arrived at ‘Amazing House’ where we rented a private room for £2.58 a night, by far the best deal on accommodation on our trip so far. (Compliments to Kate) The lady at the desk was very kind considering we had woken her from her sleep and our check in time was around 2pm. She gave us the password for the wi-fi and let us leave our bags behind the desk while we ventured into the city in search for breakfast.

Following some parents with school children, they led us to a modest shop producing scents of warm food. The school children didn’t seem much bothered when we sat down amongst them. The waitress proceeded to approach us concerning our order, gesturing for food for three people with an added thumbs up, we sat in anticipation of what she would present us. ↓ Below you can see what she brought us, I found it a little heavy but served it’s purpose, keeping us satisfied for a good while through the busy day that followed. Surrounded by images of hungry groups of school children laughing and busy parents swiping screens on their smartphones my first impressions of Bangkok severely distorted my previous frame of mind on the city.

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Upon thanking our cooks and the waitress we continued along the road to accidentally stumble into the heart of the Bangkok protests. It’s hard to explain what it feels like when within three minutes walk of being in a normal everyday environment you can turn a corner and be surrounded by a protest camp. We strolled through the site and to our surprise, the atmosphere was very different to how the situation was being portrayed by the international media, things were relatively peaceful. Families lay together in temporary tent fixtures surrounding the Democracy Monument and people smiled at us as we tried to find our way through them. The atmosphere did seem a little uneasy but we saw no form of violence or anger while we were there. However later that night, upon returning to our hostel we heard people had been killed that morning, just after we had left the site. No information was released at the time on who the killers were. You can read more concerning  the protests we saw throughout in Bangkok here.

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After deciding we had seen enough of the protest camp to get an idea of the situation we headed towards the Grand Palace. After sighting a large temple we decided to take a short break. There we met ‘Vis’, a very friendly local lass who spotted us as confused tourists and offered us a hand when we requested some route information. “I can take you there, I’m heading there later anyway”. Vis guided us through some streets and after picking up some (I think it was robes) for some monks she got us there safely. It was very kind of her to show us the whole road and once entering the temple she let us get on with our sightseeing while she went off to finish what she had to do.

The Grand Palace was a feast for the eyes. All the temples we had seen up until now had been very beautiful but the Grand Palace was  different as many of the intricate decorations were still in pristine form. There are a large number of tourists at this site however for some reason they didn’t seem to detract as much from the atmosphere as the tourists in Angkor Watt. An interesting museum on the history of Thailand’s textile industry is located right next to the grand palace. It contains a lot of information about the local clothing industry and how it contributed to improving the livelihoods of many villagers, as well as strengthening the country’s external trade.

Jan had to leave us early the next day so we decided it would be a good idea to locate the train station for him. We walked down random streets and past various apartment blocks. On our way meeting numerous giggly locals and unintentionally finding China town. One market nearby stood out to us in particular, not only due to the delicious noodle soup which a very cheerful lady made for us but because every working Thai in the market was more than willing to take a photograph when setting eyes on a camera. Kate went ahead and sampled some Thai iced tea which is ridiculously sweet and a peculiar orange colour. These vibrant people again completely shattering my pre-conceived image.IMG_9199

Night fell and we hopped onto a local bus to take us back to where we were staying. A night in Bangkok awaited! There we found the most probable route of the infamous stories we had heard. One particular road was lined with the classic backpacking night-life entertainment, the phone cases, the fake beats headphones and of course the rowdy bars run by westerners. One stall even offered fake ID’s, I was very tempted to purchase an Australian driver’s licence. The strip wasn’t that much different from Phuket so we didn’t feel the need to stick around. The following day we visited the Museum of Siam which was fairly large and surprisingly interesting, all the dots of what we had learned about Thailand seemed to connect.

Bangkok is a stunning city. In a place like this, it’s fair to say you see what you want to see. It could be perhaps a lot of visitors have been missing out on some of the lesser known aspects of the Bangkok lifestyle. I’m sure if we had more time we could have explored more of the night scene aside from markets and the typical tourist bar strips, yet Bangkok can offer a whole extra range of things to explore, even if you’re slightly hungover from the night before.

Favourite Sites To See / Things To Do:

  • The Siam Museum
  • The Grand Palace
  • Floating Markets (We didn’t get a chance to go but heard many good things)
  • Walk around! Bangkok has endless lively hidden street corners
  • China-Town
  • Night markets, (Tourist and Flower markets)

L: 08/14 I’m Listening To

Sampha and SBTRKT are at it again, this has been out for about a month now and is without a doubt my favourite track of the moment. I find it’s much easier to listen to than SBTRKT’s previous material.

The next one’s taken from Chrome Spark’s latest EP release. Chrome Sparks is still quite new to me as I only recently discovered his stuff after hearing ‘Still Sleeping’ a collab with Steffaloo while watching one of the Nokia adverts. 

Found this just one today over on: Musical musings of ho. I really recommend taking a look at Kenny’s site, he’s got a great ear for music.

And finally me and my flatmate Phebe love a bit of La Roux, been listening to the new album and this is one of my favourites from the new release

E: Phi Phi Islands – Thailand, Still Paradise?

IMG_7717When the final exam paper came to a close on that glorious date the 28th of May I swiftly exited the exam hall, hit the button to the 21st floor and arrived back in the comfort of my 10 month orange walled apartment. I then began to fill my rather modestly small bag which would accompany me through the next 3295 miles or so of my final chapter of adventures in south-east Asia. The following two weeks would be the well deserved light at the end of the tunnel that everyone who studies at NUS should be entitled to. (Apart from those on pass/fail they deserve to sit some real exams)

Although excited I was slightly dubious about what my time in Thailand would be like. The comments me and Kate (my travel partner) had heard about the land formerly known as Siam formed a very mixed bag of speculations in our minds. Remarks stretched from ‘It’s the most beautiful coast you’ll ever see” to “It’s really cheap and tacky”. Expectations aside we arrived fresh and excited into Phuket International Airport. Phuket and Koh Phi Phi are often seen as the heart of the Thai tourism love story which went wrong. Phuket’s streets are messy and distasteful, cluttered with badly built bars and shops catering for a surprisingly older crowd. Lines of middle aged men desperately selling tickets to Thai Ping Pong shows prove quite the task to be overcome whilst making your way down the infamous Soi Bangla road.IMG_8220After escaping from the bombardment of people begging us to use their taxis, we were quietly approached by a duo of thai men offering us a ride. Before leaving we approached the tourist reception in hope for an estimate of a fair price for a taxi, the Thai women were not too keen to help and seemed to give us the first number that came to their head. We reluctantly agreed to take the duo’s taxi and were guided towards a shady car in an unlit parking lot. With no clue he gave us a price we got it down to half and after a few stops for food (for our driver) along the road we arrived at our hostel Sea Blue Guest House. The guy on reception was very friendly and helped us sort out transport for the next couple of days as well as kindly informing us that we had been ripped off. The room we had was clean and comfortable. Phuket gives off the vibe at one point it was a truly exciting town with a vivid night-life. Disappointingly it now carries a European package holiday vibe due to the many fast food chain restaurants that are scattered across the town. We were most surprised by the fact the main clientèle seemed to be an older crowd. We had a few beers at this one bar and a wandered around. There are still some decent street food stalls to be found for reasonable prices but quite simply we weren’t big on the feel of the place.

Boarding the boat to the Phi Phi Islands the next day, the limestone rocks which come into view near the end of the journey are truly captivating as you slowly approach them. I feel the limestone formations appear so majestic to us are because they less commonly appear in this form around Europe. Koh Phi Phi Don is the largest island of the Phi Phi’s and also houses the central ‘town’. The settlement has evolved over years into this intriguing, busy and complex backpackers maze. It is noticeable travellers have been coming here for a long period of time yet there is a definite remarkable difference between the tourists that come to Phi Phi and Phuket. Due to heavy rainfall during the first night, many of the streets flooded and this made for entertaining scenes of both tourists and locals overcoming obstacles throughout the following day. Despite that the area is slightly dated and a little uncared for, there’s a great deal of charm not only about the area but about the locals that live and work there. Many of whom have left their villages in search for a more prosperous life.IMG_8270

The town was actually badly damaged by a Tsunami that struck in 2004 but there has been rapid reconstruction work on the town and on the more badly damaged coasts. We managed to get a very decent price for a boat trip around Phi Phi Let and although bearing some resemblance to Ha Long Bay the smaller islands have a completely different atmosphere surrounding them. As we were there in low season it didn’t feel as touristy as we had prepared ourselves for. It was quiet and there was plenty of space to roam around Maya Bay without much disturbance. I think it’s wrong to look at the Phi Phi’s in the same way as Phuket, ruined by mass tourism, the islands have changed from the untouched heaven they once were, yet in it’s place there’s an incredibly exciting, fun and vibrant forum to meet other travellers and let your hair down. Paradise doesn’t have the same definition in every person’s book.

Favourite Sites to see:

  • Phi Phi Don viewpoint – A beautiful spot overlooking the two main coasts of the island. Requires climbing up a large number of stairs and a small entrance fee is charged (20 Baht)
  • A secret tucked away shore on the east of the island. Accessible on foot via a forested trail from the viewpoint. Hardly any tourists to be seen
  • The famous Phi Phi fire dancers available on the north facing coast of the main strip during most nights
  • The Lagoons around Phi Phi Let
  • The famous ‘Maya Bay’ (The beach)

Beware of:

  • Being ripped off by Taxi men at Phuket airport, even the tourist information office is on their side!

 

C: Days Not Forgotten

It’s strange how quickly it’s possible to settle back into familiar surroundings. All those memories which are relatively fresh feel like they’re being masked and covered very easily just by settling into a routine of mundane tasks. Below are a selection of photographs taken during my last few moments in SG, Apart from the selfies all photographs were taken by John And Ai Jia, thankfully I think between us we’ve taken enough photographs to rest easy about the concern of forgetting. Still miss these guys!


E: Cambodia, the real life temple run!

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Phnom Penh

Our journey in Cambodia spring bolted into action instantly upon arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport. After obtaining our visa and having our all of our fingerprints scanned and saved by the government, we hurried into a tuk tuk and within minutes were free to roam amongst the Khmer people. ‘Phnom Penh’ usually isn’t regarded as being the most interesting, beautiful or fascinating spot in the country, yet due to it’s capital status it tends to be much cheaper to fly into as opposed to Siam Reap. Upon setting foot into our first tuk tuk the first thing out driver did was warn us not to hold our phones out for photographs due to snatching theft, a great welcome.

The roads were somewhat reminiscent of Vietnam, crowded, messy and alive. The noise is always such a refreshment when visiting any town in south-east Asia that’s not Singapore. The locals on the street consistently seem to be happier in the poorer Asian countries. Unfortunately due to the lack of time, a quick walk and some lunch was all we could manage before proceeding to board our night bus.

The window frame beside me throughout the bus journey exhibited a soothing image of transition from city to countryside masked in the colours radiating from the sunset over the Mekong River. The underlying excitement of the atmosphere may have been slightly dampened by the Swedish girl two seats behind us violently throwing up. Thankfully she dozed off after a couple of hours had passed, allowing us to do the same once night fell. A few random stops later and allowing some questionable faces aboard our bus, we seemed to stop moving. Upon exiting the bus we were greeted with the information that we were apparently at Siam Reap, when all that was visible were some motor vehicles and a shabby building dimly lit by the street-lights.   After a rather unnecessary (and scammy) 10 minute drive to our hostel (The Mad Monkey) we checked in and got a good nights rest.

Siam Reap – Floating Villages and Angkor Watt

The following day we decided to let the anticipation of the temples build a little, so instead we opted to go see the nearby floating villages. It was an eye-opening day and a good thing to see but the whole thing seems like a bit of a scam. Firstly the government collects a huge amount of the money produced from selling the boat tickets to see the village and it doesn’t seem to benefit the local people at all. Secondly we got scammed into buying ‘rice for the orphanage’ only to find out later online that the rice we bought was simply shipped back to the store to fool more tourists. Everyone you speak to seems to be a volunteer or do gooder, but then it makes you think, why don’t they just give all the food they have in the store to the kids if it’s there?

Right around 4am the next day was when we woke to go catch a glimpse of the sunrise over Angkor Watt. Our next tuk tuk driver was named Mr.Roth (kruta.roth@yahoo.com) he was around twenty-two years old and definitely my favourite driver we had the pleasure of meeting from all of my trips. We met him the day before on a random street where we agreed on around 20 USD  for one day around the temples and that all seven of us (stingy students) would fit into one tuk tuk. As we all climbed into the back it was apparent that our combined weight was causing a bit of a strain on the tuk tuk and difficulty for Mr Roth driving. We made a quick stop to call for support which arrived in the form of Mr.Roth’s brother on a motorbike, two of us would take turns to ride on the motorbike. They were very kind as they didn’t charge us any extra for Mr.Roth’s brother to help out. I remember that morning quite clearly despite my brain being almost entirely non functional. Despite the head the air felt fresh and although the atmosphere seemed quiet at first, tuk tuks and cars would flash by intermittently all heading towards the same direction. Passing the outlines of buildings and trees carved by the moon to get to the legendary archaeological site was quite magical in itself. (Probably would have been even more magical if I didn’t have Lola and Philicia’s legs crammed into mine).

Upon finally arriving, in the dark Mr Roth pointed us towards the temple and we passed under silhouette after silhouette of ancient entry gates. The moat around the temples emitted a mesmerizing faint glow and whispers of the excited tourists occupied your ears . After fleeing from a man dressed in a starbucks T-shirt begging us to have breakfast at his stall we squeezed into place alongside numerous other Brits, Germans and Americans and lingered. We waited for a good half hour or so before we began to see the distinct figure of Angkor Watt. It was a beautiful moment, while bizarre to witness all the photographs being taken constantly by the tourists. We joked that if aliens were to study humans this would be a scene that would probably be used in a documentary on human behaviour. The sun rose and due to my stomach’s ability to override my brain for the majority of the daylight hours we gave in to breakfast served by the man in the starbucks shirt. All of the temples we got to see were incredible, especially since I had never laid eyes on anything like them.

Ta Prohm and Bayon were my two favourites of the larger temples. Unfortunately though the sad truth is that the mystical vibe is completely extinguished by the masses of tourists at these larger temples. I would recommend attempting to see them during early post sunrise hours when there is a good probability there will be less people. I’d definitely recommend the second larger temple route suggested by drivers for a second day of temple seeing as it takes you around the smaller temples which are equally as impressive in terms of detail. The key difference is they just feel so much more special due to the reduced crowds and you were pretty much free to adventure inside them at your own pace undisturbed. The main sunset spot was also a bit of a disappointment, again due to the mass tourists and I’d strongly advise finding your own spot for sunset, I imagine that the ‘Pre Rup’ temple would be a nice non crowded environment to see the sunset from. The people working in all of the restaurants and shop stalls at the temples were the friendliest I had met in Asia at this point, there was very little pressure to buy which felt quite nice and I was comfortable taking a look around. One of my favourite moments from the trip was sitting down for lunch with out tuk tuk drivers and attempting a bit of communication.

When the night falls on Siam Reap you can spend your time along Pub street and the market located right next to it, regrettably we ran out of time and energy to spend enough time here to write about it but the atmosphere seemed quite fun! (Much better than Phuket for example)

Sihanoukville and Koh Rong

One of my travel partners Kate, the most organised and efficient person I have ever met did some research previously on bus routes from Siam Reap to Sihanoukville. The majority of comments she found were horror stories on delays, stolen property and break downs and these were all related to the only bus company doing the route we wanted to undertake (Virak Buntham Bus Co). Collectively we agreed on getting tickets from our hostel instead of booking this ‘nightmare’ bus. As we exchanged our money for the tickets we opened the envelope to find that the tickets were from the same bus company. Keeping calm we reassured each other all would be fine and ultimately the road was not too bad. Apart from being in very close uncomfortable proximity to a sweaty Cambodian man for the duration of the trip we eventually arrived well. Be careful however as we had friends who took the same bus company the week after and there were stories of stolen phones and tablets from the front row passengers, it turns out we were simply lucky.

We enjoyed breakfast by the beach and took a small ferry over to Koh Rong which had been recommended to me by some Bulgarians back in Singapore. We stayed at the White Rose Guest House which was basic but filled with friendly western faces. We really enjoyed ourselves during breakfast there, completely disobeying our malaria pills instructions to avoid dairy and gorging on muesli smothered in fresh fruit and yoghurt. (Always follow the instructions provided on medication!). Howie left his glasses at the restaurant back in Sihanoukville meaning our group had to split up as him and Lola went back in an attempt to find them. The remainder of us began our hike up through a mountain/hill covered in dense tropical forest.

Usually when hearing about beaches in Asia, ‘Cambodia’ usually isn’t the first country that gets mentioned. After seeing the coast at Sihanoukville I wasn’t expecting anything special to appear past the dense foliage. Thankfully to my surprise as the sound of the waves came closer and gaps between the branches became larger we discovered the most superb five kilometres of the most beautiful pristine and untouched coastline that I had ever seen in my life. This beach was far better than the screen savers I gazed endlessly at as a child. Being there presented a task in itself, to actually process and believe the image in front of us. Even until now the memory seems to perfect to have been real. The water was so clear and glimmered bright turquoise. The best thing was, we only had to share it with roughly another thirty people!. Howie and Lola made it back from Sihanoukville in time for the most breathtaking sunset I’d witnessed in my life. It was confusing not being able to decide which direction was more beautiful to look to.

As the night fell we departed in pitch black on a hike through a patch of forest in an attempt to find a dark spot to observe luminescent plankton that we were told existed in waters nearby. This was a complete failure, firstly because all the way through I was terrified we would be attacked by snakes as we couldn’t see and being at the front of the line I would clearly get attacked first, and secondly because we didn’t know that we were required to swim in the plankton for it to fluoresce. It was fun nevertheless and we proceeded to eat at a small barbecue place which was a little overpriced and the food was slightly disappointing. Our time in Cambodia essentially came to a close with a very fun boozy night across the 4 bars on the beach and playing some drinking games with my beloved ‘herd’. As we came back to our room I passed out on the bed, Kate cut herself somehow and searched in the dark for a plaster and a mysterious puppy decided it wanted to sleep with us. I had some of the best times in my life on this trip and these memories will hopefully stay with me for a long time, thanks to my beautiful ‘herd’ who accompanied me, this trip would not have been the same without them!

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