Islands

Hippy Commune and Tiger Cave – Koh Lanta

We quickly grew tired of Krabi and all the Russians (seemed to be there number 1 holiday destination) and went to Koh Lanta for a few days. We wanted to see as much of the island as we could so we rented a motorbike for the day from our hostel for 200 baht. Unlike the dodgy rental guy in Koh Tao, our hostel didn’t ask for our passports or even check the condition of the motorbikes! Marc had met a Russian girl the night before who was travelling alone and was interested in joining us for the day. We had to brake sharly twice for monkeys and snakes crossing the road – it’s not everyday that you can say that!

Marc’s Russian lady friend was staying at what could only be described as a hippy commune. We drove down this random dirt crack and came to a clearing with tiny little bamboo shacks scattered all over the place. The place was very, very strange. She explained that you could work at the hippy commune in return for food and board. 2 hours work got you a free night of accommodation and an another 6 hours got you free food for the day. You could choose the type of work that you wanted to do from bar tending to cleaning to hosting their open mic night. She said some people arrived at the hippy commune planning only to spend a few days and ended up staying 3 months! We went to the hippy commune’s open mic night one evening and everyone was just sitting around smoking and singing along to Bob Marley (although they seemed to be rather unsure of the words).

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The next day we decided to check out one of the many caves on offer in Koh Lanta’s National Park. We decided to go to ‘Tiger Cave’, where tigers were reported to have lived many years ago. We followed the road signs to Tiger Cave and pulled up at this little house at the beginning of the trail, where we had to pay 150 baht each to go into the cave and an extra 100 baht each for a guide. We thought a guide would be a complete waste of money and that we’d be able to find it ourselves with a map. How hard could it be? The guy drew a very, very basic map on the back of the ‘ticket’ which just looked like two squiggly lines.

The guy said the trek to the cave should take about 30 minutes. We walked, climbed, jumped over rocks, trees and streams. 30 minutes came and went and no ‘tiger cave’. The forest had no markers to point you in the right direction. It now made sense why they offered a guide for an extra 100 baht each… We were wandering around for another half an hour before we bumped into two Australians also looking for the tiger cave. We joined forces in the hope of finding the cave together but after half an hour we were still unsuccessful. We just couldn’t understand where it could possibly be. We eventually decided to call it day because we were melting in the heat and decided to go to the beach instead.

N.B. Our Australian friends did eventually find the Tiger Cave! They told us it was rubbish and a complete waste of time so… nothing lost, nothing gained…

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Ladyboy cabaret – Krabi

During the day we’d hear vans going past announcing events happening that night for parties, Muay Thai and ladyboy cabaret! As soon as I heard the announcement for ladyboy cabaret I wanted to go. It sounded like so much fun. Kyle really didn’t want to go though and Marc flat out refused… What’s wrong with these boys?!? It took a LOT of convincing but eventually Kyle agreed to go. He probably realised I’d go on and on and on about it until he gave in.

We turned up to the cabaret show and we were one of five couples in the audience. There were more ladyboys than there were audience! It was really annoying that you couldn’t take pictures or film during the show! Some of the ladyboys looked amazing. You couldn’t tell whether they were actually men or women. Some of them looked absolutely stunning but couldn’t dance to save their lives. It was so cringe how bad some of them were. They probably should have invested in some dance lessons before joining a cabaret show!

One ladyboy dressed as Barbie and sang Barbie girl (duh). She had stuffed her bra with bean bags and was getting people to put money into her bra. She would just stand there until you put money in. Luckily we were in the back row and she couldn’t reach us!

At the end of the show you could take pictures with the ladyboys but they wanted you to pay 40 baht per person per picture. We took a picture with one of them and they asked for the money straight away. It was quite sad how desperate they all were. I guess they make very little (minimum wage in Thailand is 300 baht a day) and have to make it in tips. It was a little sad though and kind of ruined the show.

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Sea kayaking in Ao Thalene, Krabi

We’d heard rave reviews about sea kayaking in Krabi and we decided we’d give it a go. We went into various’Official Tourist Offices’ and travel agents in Krabi to find the best deal. Every restaurant, hotel and massage parlour also was a travel agent. It was totally bizarre, there’s no diversity… everyone’s selling the same thing. We got various quotes and brochures quoting half a day kayaking from 500 baht (a tenner) to 1700 baht. Those who showed us brochures quoting 1700 baht a person said they were able to offer a 50% discount, which made us think it obviously wasn’t 1700 baht in the first place. Lesson Number 1 in Thailand: everyone is trying to rip you off. In the end we decided to book the sea kayaking through our bungalow’s travel agent just to be safe.

We were picked up in a converted truck at about 8.30 am and were driven to Ao Thalene. We were told to queue up for paddles and lifejackets (ONLY if you couldn’t swim apparently). In England everyone would be required to wear a lifejacket, but that’s Thailand for you!! The paddle Kyle was given was a little broken and when he asked for another one the instructor said:

‘Kayaking is not about paddle, it about power. Not paddle!’

Kyle got a new paddle anyway.

We got into the kayaks and we were told to kayak to the little island in the middle of the sea and wait until everyone was ready. We paddled there and waited for everyone but we got confused about whose group we were in and so we decided to get back in the kayaks and follow another group. We managed to catch up with the group and listened to the instructor talk about how pirates would hide in the limestone caves and crevices. He even showed us some human bones that were 300 years old. He said we could touch them if he wanted! It was then that we realised that we were not only with the wrong group but the wrong tour operator! The instructor from our operator kayaked up to us and started yelling at us to rejoin our group! It was a shame that we had to rejoin our group because we didn’t get the pirate tales in our tour.

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We kayaked all morning taking in the breathtaking views of the limestone cliffs and mangroves. After 2 hours though, I was quite tired and Kyle’s bottom was a little sore! We finally made it back to base camp, where we had some fresh watermelon and pineapple before being dropped back at our bungalow.

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Sleeper Ferry to Surat Thani

We’ve been trying out all the public transport that Thailand has to offer recently! After about a week in Koh Tao, we decided it was time to move on. We couldn’t decide whether to try another island in the Gulf of Thailand or to go an island on Thailand’s Andaman coast. We decided that Koh Samui or Koh Phangan (Gulf of Thailand) would probably be more of the same (same same but different – common Tinglish phrase), so we decided we’d check out what the Andaman coast had to offer. We booked tickets for the sleeper ferry to Surat Thani and then a minivan to Krabi.

We weren’t quite sure what to expect of the sleeper ferry to Surat Thani. Earlier in the day before our trip we’d read reviews on tripadvisor and people were saying it was the worst experience of their lives. We also got talking to a Brazilian guy who said he found a cockroach in his bunk, but that he wasn’t sure whether it had come from his backpack as he’d just been trekking or whether it was from the ship… We got to the port pretty early and exchanged our tickets for bunk tickets. We were each given a number to a bunk. When we went upstairs, we came to a room with rows and rows and rows of orange bunk beds. We found our bunks and some of them were doubles – each half of the bed was assigned to someone. Luckily two of us had been put together. Can you imagine if you were sharing a double bed with someone you didn’t know?? It was strange. It was also so so so SO hot in the sleeping quarter – I thought I was going to melt. I wasn’t quite sure how we were going to manage 8 hours on the ferry to Surat Thani.

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The ferry had three floors, the bottom floor was cargo and the top upper decks were sleeping quarters. That was it. There were also stand up toilets and no sink to wash your hands, which was really strange. The toilets were pretty clean though. I overheard an English guy asking where the bar was on the ship. He said there’s got to be something on this ship!! I think he must have thought he was on a P&O Ferry or a luxurious cruise in the Caribbean… it was not. (The sleeper ferry is usually taken by the locals)

The air con finally kicked in the sleeping quarters and it actually got pretty damn cold in the cabin. The blankets, which in the beginning I thought were a waste of time, actually came in pretty handy. It was freezing.

When we arrived in Surat Thani, we were taken to an office where we’d get our VIP Coach to Krabi. The so-called VIP Coach with comfortable seats and air con included in our ticket turned out to be a shady minivan. The van was packed like sardines – people had luggage on their knees! Luckily the driver let the two small people (me and Kyle obvs) sit up front with him (for once being small has its advantages!!!). Off we went to Krabi listening to both some terrible Thai music and our driver’s own rendition of it. It became apparent that our driver had some errands to run along the way… we stopped at various places in shady areas and he’d get out, talk to someone or hand over some money and then get back in the van and turn around.

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We arrived at Ao Nang Beach. The Krabi province is quite famous for its limestone cliffs and some of the islands were in the James Bond film ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’. It was very beautiful and very different to the Gulf of Thailand. We arrived without prebooking any accommodation as it’s low season here and easier to negotiate rates in person. We found a room in a hostel with 20 beds and no windows for 200 baht a night, but we decided to give it a miss and try our hand at negotiating at other places until we settled for a little bungalow with amazing views of the limestone cliffs for about 5 pounds each a night – a steal!

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We spent the rest of the day walking around and munching on 50 baht pad thai street food. It was oh so yummy.

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Shark Bay – Koh Tao

With my PADI Open Water Certification complete, we decided to rent dirt bikes and check out the island. I was a little worried about renting them because you have to put your passport down as collateral. You hear horror stories of people returning bikes with a minor scratch and the rental company wanting 16,000 baht (about 300 pounds) for the damage! You either pay it or risk losing your passport. Add to that Thailand being number one place for passport theft, you can understand why I was a little concerned.

Kyle and Marc decided to take a risk though and handed over their passports as collateral. It seemed so dodgy as the rental guy just slipped the passports into his rucksack and away we went! I was a little scared of riding around on a dirt bike if I’m honest, my last go on motor vehicle put a prompt end to my hand modelling career and the millions these babies could have earned (lol). Plus, the roads were so dodgy!! If my mum was here and Thailand was Lambeth Council, she’d be on the phone 24 hours a day! Anyway we took it slow and drove all around the island taking in the spectacular views.

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We went to some beaches and then made a stop at Shark Bay, where we were told there was a 90% chance of swimming with reef sharks. We got to the beach without any snorkelling gear though and the dive shop on the beach wanted 150 baht to rent them for the day plus a deposit of 1000 baht each! It was insane really but I guess you’re more likely to walk off with them if it’s only 150 baht to rent (3 quid). Anyway we didn’t have 3000 baht on us, but then this lady who worked at our dive resort was there and let us borrow her stuff.

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Snorkelling gear in hand, we swam past the safety buoys and to the rough location of the sharks and waited until we saw one. I saw the first shark and I was actually a little scared – I could hear the Jaws music in my head. It’s quite funny that I was scared because the shark was probably only a metre long! Over the course of an hour, we spotted about 10 sharks! Sometimes you could tell the shark was curious and would swim in your direction, and other times you could tell it was scared. It was so much fun.

After an hour or so, we got out and got back on the dirt bikes to find somewhere to eat. We stopped at this restaurant with amazing views over Shark Bay and took in the view over the best pad thai I’ve ever tasted. I know it sounds ridiculous given that pad thai is just fried veg and noodles, but the seasoning and quality was spot on. It was simply delicious washed down with some ice tea. Nom nom nom.

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We spent the evening watching our resort’s fire show on the beach. The people running the fire show made a huge skipping rope and set it alight and dumb drunk English people (always the bloody English) gave it their best shop. A couple of them managed a few skips, but the majority of the people we saw tripped on the rope and got burnt. I’m not quite sure what possessed these crazy people to do it really. We met this Australian guy on the beach who decided to take his chance at the skip of fire a few nights previous and had come away with a nasty nasty burn on his shoulder. He was all bandaged up – it was not pretty at all.

Manu xxx

Koh Tao – Scuba Diving

So after our sleeper train and catamaran, we arrived in Koh Tao and were greeted at the port by a huge crowd of people. Each person was making some kind of offer: hotel, hostel, tuk tuk, taxi or dive course. It was absolutely mad! We just wanted to get out of there, and fast. We quite by accident jumped into a taxi with some other travellers and turned up at Ban’s Diving Resort, where we negotiated my PADI Open Water Scuba Diving Certification and 4 nights accommodation for less than 200 squids. Pretty damn cheap, especially since the same course in England would be over 400 pounds (using Kyle’s computer and I can’t find the pound sign!!!).

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The course would take four days. The first evening was orientation, where we met our instructor, filled out the necessary paperwork and watched the corniest DVD on scuba diving theory for a couple of hours. The DVD was so American and cringey. It said things like:

Did you know scuba divers have the most fun in the world?

Scuba divers make friends from all different cultures!

Granted the DVD is made to be suitable for all ages, but this DVD was embarrassing. It seriously looked like it’d had been made in the 80s!

Day 2 of the course consisted of a very early morning start (7am!) in the swimming pool, where we learnt various skills such as clearing water from our masks and what to do if you run out of air under water. It was all pretty good fun but very tiring – we were in the pool for 5 hours! After that we returned to the classroom for more cringey DVD and a quiz on everything we’d learnt so far. We were going to be doing 2 out of the required 4 open water dives the next day – talk about jumping in at the deep end!

Day 3 – We met early again at 7.30 and got onto the dive boat ready for our first 2 dives. We had to get our tank ready and check that everything was in working order. Our instructor liked to use the acronym ‘Bruce Willis Rules All Films’ to help us remember everything we had to check for.

Bruce (BCD), Willis (Weight Belt), Rules (Releases), All (Air), Films (Final Check.

We each had a buddy and we’d make sure that their vest was inflating/deflating properly, that they were wearing a weight belt (otherwise you just float to the surface), make sure everything was connected properly, check their air was on and that we could both breathe out of the air pieces at the same time. Once we were all ready, we jumped one by one off the boat and into the crystal blue water.

Water pressure increases as you descend deeper so you have to ‘equalise’ to stop your ear rupturing. On the first dive I got to about 7 metres deep and I couldn’t equalise anymore. I was getting a bit panicked and I motioned to my instructor that I had problem with my ears. My instructor tried to help me but it was no use. I had to ascend and return to the boat whilst the others in my class continued with their dive. I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to do the first dive, but I was feeling quite congested that day. I decided I’d try and do the second dive of the dive and this time I managed to descend to the sea floor with no problems (maybe nerves got the better of me on the first dive?). Once we got to the sea floor, we had to do put the skills we’d learnt in the pool into action. The instructor came to each person and we had to take our mask off and then clear it of water when we put it back on. We also had to simulate being out of air and having to use a buddy’s spare regulator. We were under water for about 47 minutes and then we ascended to the boat. As I hadn’t done the first dive, the instructor took me on a one to one shore dive, where we dove from the dive boat straight to the beach. It was so much fun!

Day 4 – Last day of the course and the final dives! We met at 7.30 am (again!!) and we went to two dive sites called White Rock and Twin Peaks. We had a cameraman recording us today so we had a little fun under water doing somersaults and pretending we were surfing on our flippers. We swam through little arches and saw barracudas, clown fish, trigger fish and a blue spotted stingray. By the fourth dive I was really enjoying scuba diving, but my ear was hurting a little from all the water pressure.

After completing four open water dives and an exam, I am officially an open water diver! I’d really recommend Ban’s Diving Resort. They were really professional and the course/accommodation were great. Koh Tao is a beautiful island (or ‘iceland’ as I heard some Frenchies saying it).

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