Looking for tickets or info for the Get Happy Tour 2018 featuring Bowling for Soup, Army of Freshmen and The Aquabats?

This domain name was used for the Get Happy Tour back in its original run around 10 years ago, when I used to do work for BFS and AOF. However, for the past 5 years it has been used for my travel blog as I never thought we would have another Get Happy Tour and I didn't want it to go to waste.

But as a favour to two bands who have done a lot for me over the years, and so you don't miss out, ticket info is:
O2 Presale: 10am on 25 September
General Onsale: 10am on 27 September.

Tickets available from ticketmaster.co.uk and bowlingforsoup.com
 


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Posts Tagged ‘Thailand’

My Myanmar Travel Blog is online!

May 14th, 2014 No comments

I’m happy to announce that my blog from my recent trip to Myanmar (aka Burma) with short stops either side in Thailand and Hong Kong is finally online after some delays.

As explained on this site I write up my blog in note format and then take time to write it up in detail, and to sort through my photos properly, rather than typing it up on the move or rushing through it as soon as I get home. This is the method I’ve found works best for me.

I really enjoyed this trip. Myanmar is a country I have wanted to visit for some time and while I didn’t get to visit the mainland, other than 20 minutes at the end of the trip while our passports were being processed, I found the trip to be very worthwhile and enjoyable. The Myeik Archipelago is a beautiful location and I feel privileged and honoured to have visited it while it is still deserted and has not been ruined by being opened up to tourism too much.

There were a few highlights for me. The first highlight was the beautiful scenery which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen while travelling before as I usually go places where there’s lots to see, do and experience rather than wildernesses where I want to relax. The second highlight was visiting the Moken Sea Gypsy village and interacting with the people – we didn’t spend much time there but I really enjoyed it.

I’m having a few issues on this site and have noticed that visitors are unable to browse to older posts from the main page, however if you click “2014 Myanmar Sailing” in the main menu you should be able to browse through the posts from this trip in date order without any problems. Enjoy.

Sunrise

Sunrise from the boat

Moken village

Arriving at the Moken Village

For the benefit of search engines and ranking here’s a list of the things we saw and did:
Myanmar, Burma, Myeik Archipelago, Mergui, Sailing, Boat, Intrepid, Gecko’s, Trek, Thailand, Phuket, Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, Moken, Sea Gypsies, Andaman Sea, MacLeod Island, Lampi Island, Bo Cho Island, Myauk Ni Island, Kawthoung, Ranong, Fishing, Snorkeling, Temple, Kayaking, Swimming, Asia.

Just so that I finish my blog with something better than a list, here’s an adorable photo of some kids from the Moken Sea Gypsie village…

Moken Kids

Moken Kids posing for photos

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Thoughts from Myanmar

March 16th, 2014 No comments

Now that I’ve been back in the UK for a few days, and have started re-adjusting to UK time, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my trip to Myanmar.

I had wanted to visit Myanmar, also known as Burma, for a while. There are a few things that drew me to the country. The first is that it’s not on the general tourist map for people in the UK, secondly I like to visit somewhere that has good experiences and unique things to see and thirdly I like to visit places that have a story, event or culture that I want to learn more about. Myanmar definitely fits those three.

The trip I originally booked is different to the one I finally went on due to changes made by the tour company. Originally I was due to spend a few days in Yangon looking at the sights and learning more about Burmese culture but I was moved onto the version of the trip starting in Phuket instead which missed out the mainland of Myanmar. This had the benefit of fewer early mornings and being cheaper but resulted in me missing out learning about the culture and also resulted in me visiting the tourist hell of Phuket. I didn’t let this change spoil the trip, however, and I had a fantastic time.

Karon Beach

Karon Beach – tourist hell for me

The scenery in the Myeik Archipelago is absolutely beautiful and this was one of the things that made me pick the trip. While walking around on the islands, snorkelling in the sea and just sitting back watching the world go by we saw some of the best scenery I have seen while travelling. I’m not much of a beach person in most places that people travel as they tend to be overcrowded, full of sunbeds and be generally ruined. This was the case in Phuket, the reason I only spent one afternoon on the beach there, but the beaches we visited in Myanmar were almost a world away.

The waters were a bit murky in Myanmar which was a shame but this didn’t affect the snorkeling. If you’re looking for beautiful crystal clear waters then this might not be the best place to go but if you’re looking for a remote, unique and beautiful trip then I’d highly recommend a visit.

Me on Island 115

Me on the beach of Island 115 – a beautiful beach that I loved

Sunset

Sunset over Swinton Island – the most memorable of the trip

 

One of the good things about doing the trip this year is that it has only just started opening up to the outside world. For years it was impossible for foreigners to visit the region, then for a while it was possible to visit on short trips with liveaboard boats, and then finally this year it was possible for foreign operators to visit the region. This hasn’t spoilt the region, however, as it must be organised on a local license instead of a foreign one, so there are hardly any boats around except for fishing boats. Except for the night at MacLeod Island we didn’t share our anchorage with any non-local boats and that was brilliant.

All of this could be changing, however, as during the trip we were told that the Myanmar Government have started allowing foreign operators to bid for permits directly rather than going through a local operator. If this is managed correctly it should still preserve the pristine environment of the area but there is a risk that up to 100 boats could be operating in the area rather than the 4 that currently do.

It would be a shame if the area opened up fully as there is a chance that it could ruin the reason that people want to visit. There are hardly any pristine areas left in the world and so the area would need to be managed fully. This would mean that prices would go up but it would be a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. This is what the Government in Rwanda have done with the National Park containing the Mountain Gorillas. In Rwanda it is only possible for a maximum of 32 people to visit a day, which has resulted in the price of a Gorilla permit almost doubling since I was there, but it has helped to preserve not only the habitat but the Gorillas themselves.

There were a couple of things I was worried about before embarking on this trip. Firstly I was worried about the seas being too rough. I’m an experienced traveller, and used to sail around Dover Harbour when I was younger, but I’ve never really sailed on the open seas. This is one of the things putting me off other sailing related trips that I’ve looked at, such as The Galapagos Islands, the British Territories in the Atlantic and Antarctica. The seas did get a bit choppy on a couple of days but were never anything I couldn’t manage.

The other thing I was worried about was the cramped conditions on board the boat. We were told in advance that the cabin space would be limited to maximise public space and this was definitely the case. The cabin I was assigned to share with one other person had a double bed with hardly any space to move, a couple of shelves to put bags, a wash basin and nothing else as you can see in the photo below. Some people may be worried about not being able to get any personal space but I never found this to be an issue. During the sailing portion of the trip it was possible to sit in the social area and chat but it was also possible to sit on bean bags on the deck and relax, lay in the hammock, sit on the seats at the bow of the ship or sit on the sides of the boat with your legs over the edge if you needed a bit of personal space. The deck space was quite large and never felt cramped even though there was nowhere to go while sailing. Obviously this depends on which boat is in use, and I can’t guarantee that the same boat will be in use next year, but Intrepid won’t use an unsuitable boat for the trip.

The cabin assigned to myself and Ashu

The cabin I was assigned to share

On board the boat

Looking towards the bow of the boat. Win can be seen working hard as usual!

On board the boat

On board the boat

On board

Another view of on board the ship

Our boar

This is a view of our boat from the water

(Photo credit : Ashu Khanna for the on board photos)

One thing I’m amazed at is this is the first trip I’ve been on since I started travelling to weird and wonderful places on my own where there hasn’t been somebody moaning the entire trip about the smallest of things trying to make everybody’s life a misery for the sake of it. I guess as sailing isn’t for everybody and as this is a brand new trip, which we were told in advance to expect issues with, we were all like-minded and so got on well.

I like to visit a variety of places rather than going back to the same place all the time but I do want to visit Myanmar again soon to be able to visit the mainland and to experience more of the culture and history of the country than I did by just sailing. Myanmar has such a vibrant culture, detailed history and beautiful scenery so it’s a country I would definitely recommend to anybody who likes to get off the beaten path and experience a country which still has things to discover. This is, of course, as long as you’re somebody who likes to visit a country on its own terms rather than having things your way. Myanmar is a country which still has things to discover but according to reports it’s already changing rapidly and I don’t want my recommendations to speed this up.

Ma Kyone Galet

Walking through the Moken “Sea Gypsy” village

As far as the trip is concerned I would highly recommend it to anybody as long as you’re able to travel with no advance expectations. This is a new area which is only just opening up so things will go wrong, and you will be in close quarters with other people for a week, but it’s a highly rewarding trip if you’re able to do it.

After the issues I had with the travel company I’d recommend going direct with Intrepid as opposed to booking through Gecko’s, as they were completely incompetent, but if you’ve got this far in my blog I suspect you already have an idea that you want to go on the trip so I’d say go for it. Alternatively feel free to contact me using the contact form on this site – I’m always happy to hear from people if they want to comment on my blog or ask questions / advice.

Here’s a map of the route of the sailing portion of the trip.

Map of Myanmar Sailing Trip

The route that the sailing portion of my trip took

Myanmar Sailing Map

The red circle is the area that we sailed in. The two red X’s indicate Phuket and Hong Kong.

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From Thailand to Hong Kong

March 11th, 2014 No comments

I’ve arrived in Hong Kong and even though I’ve been here less than an hour I’m already impressed with the city. Everything just seems to work so fast and efficient compared to other places I’ve been in Asia and it’s a whole world away from Thailand where I started the day.

As my flight from Phuket to Hong Kong wasn’t until this evening I decided to have another day of exploring so after breakfast on the roof terrace I was straight out into the city to do some more exploring. I decided I was going to start the day at Monkey Hill which is just north of my hotel and is a hill overlooking the city which is home to hordes of monkeys. I thought this could be an interesting experience but the main reason I wanted to go here was to see the view due to the disappointment on Rang Hill yesterday. Unfortunately there was more disappointment as I just couldn’t find the entrance to the road leading up to the hill no matter how hard I tried looking online and at maps. Maybe the view from the hotel is the best one I will get of Phuket Town.

I decided not to let this spoil the day and decided to divert back towards the city centre to check out some more sights. My first port of call was the Chinpracha House which is the last remaining colonial mansion in Phuket that is open to the public. I passed it yesterday while walking towards Rang Hill and the guide book said it was worth a visit if you’re in the area. I would agree with that description as it was worth seeing but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit again. It was nice to see a mansion set up how it was back in the colonial era but other than few rooms with a pond and a lot of china there wasn’t much to see, although it was cheap to visit so I can’t really complain.

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Lunch Time

This is where I had lunch both days

As the Chinpracha House was just down the road from the great little cafe I had lunch at yesterday I decided to head there again for another great meal. I had the same as last time, stewed pork on a bed of leaves with various sides such as hot sauce and soup, but I really liked it so didn’t see the need to change.

There wasn’t much time left by this point so I decided to head back the hotel, via the memorial gardens to the Queen of Thailand and a few temples, to catch up on my reading before heading to the airport in my prebooked taxi. When I arrived I was told that even though I was an hour early there was a taxi available and so I decided to head to the airport straight away to allow for holdups, after changing into my travelling clothes. I could have delayed until my prebooked time and visited one of the other museums in the area or grabbed a coffee but decided there wasn’t much point and I would. rather just get there.

A park

The park dedicated to the Queen of Thailand

The park again

The park again

Phuket Town

Outside my hotel in Phuket Town

The journey to the airport was quick and I arrived an hour before check-in opened so relaxed outside reading a book and watching the world go by before checking in. The check-in process was fairly slow but the people themselves couldn’t be more helpful. As I’m only spending tonight in Hong Kong I asked if there would be a way to check my bags all the way through to maximise the time I had to look around and they were able to do this for me which was great. This way there was no waiting for luggage when I arrived in Hong Kong and no worrying about checking in on the way back as I’m checked all the way through.

The flight was on time and uneventful and I arrived in Hong Kong at 11pm which meant there was hardly anybody around. This was good with me as I wanted to get an early night and then rise early tomorrow in time to explore. The arrivals process in Hong Kong was very quick, due to the fact that they now issue slips of paper rather than stamps in the passport, and I was soon through to the Airport Express train which whisked me into the city in 20 minutes. From here I grabbed a taxi at a rank which was run with military precision and was soon at my hotel for the night, the Island Pacific Hotel. In total I landed less than an hour ago so I can’t believe I’m at the hotel already.

I decided to stay at this hotel as it is right on the waterfront and offers rooms on a high floor with a great view of the harbour. I thought this was perfect so upgraded to one of the expensive harbour view rooms on a high floor. However when I arrived I saw that the city was shrouded in thick fog so I couldn’t see a thing except the buildings next to the hotel and the ground below. Hopefully it’ll clear up by tomorrow so that I can make the most of my time in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Hotel

My room in Hong Kong

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Charlie : Phuket, Thailand

March 11th, 2014 No comments

Charlie has enjoyed his time in Thailand. Phuket is not the sort of place that has ever interested me, as most people come here for the nightlife and the sterile beaches, but I did my best to get away from these and see some of the local culture.

Before travelling to the Myanmar border we stayed for two nights in Karon, the second biggest nightlife town on the island, and while I was here I did go to the beach for a little while but I also explored the local area, ate some good food, saw some temples and visited the Big Buddha statue which is located on a hill overlooking Karon.

Charlie

Charlie at the hotel in Karon, Phuket

Charlie

Then after returning to Phuket I stayed in Phuket Town, the administrative centre of the island, to get away from the beaches and experience some Thai culture. While in Phuket town I explored the local area, visited some parks, visited a few museums and enjoyed some lovely (and cheap) meals. There were some tourists around, as this is a stop off for people visiting the nearby islands, but overall I enjoyed my time in the town a lot more than I enjoyed my time in Karon.

We are now at the Island Pacific Hotel in Hong Kong, half way through my journey back to The UK. Tomorrow we will have a look around the city and hopefully take some nice photos of Charlie, as long as this fog disappears.

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A day in Phuket Town

March 10th, 2014 No comments

I’m back in my room after an exhausting day exploring Phuket Town but it has been worthwhile and I’ve seen a lot of things.

This morning I had breakfast on the roof terrace at the hotel. The food itself was average but the view was really nice and you could see from Monkey Hill to the north all the way south over the city. This provided great photo opportunities but I didn’t stay long as I wanted to get out and explore.

Breakfast time

The view from the breakfast terrace

Phuket Town

Phuket Town as seen from my hotel

Old Town

Walking around the old part of Phuket Town

The first port of call was the Phuket Thaihua Museum which is dedicated to the Chinese migrants who settled in Phuket when it was nothing more than a fishing island and about the culture they brought with them. It’s located in an old Chinese school and houses all sorts of artefacts including old school books, immigration papers, photos, musical instruments, an old Chinese typewriter and all sorts of scenes depicting the history of the Chinese people of Phuket and of the school itself. The building itself was a little hard to find as all of the maps only showed a vague location but after arriving I spent probably an hour and a half looking around without seeing everything. It was probably top of my list of things I wanted to see in Phuket Town so I was glad I went and I would definitely recommend a visit if you’re interested in the changing history of places you visit.

Immigration Papers

Immigration papers at the Thaihua Museum

Thaihua Musem

Artefacts at the Thaihua Museum

Thaihua Museum

The entrance hall of the Thaihua Museum

Thaihua Museum

The exterior of the Thaihua Museum

Just down from the Thaihua Museum was a great little cafe serving freshly cooked Thai food that was filling and incredibly cheap. I spent some time here watching the world go by in the old town before slowly making my way up to my next port of call, Rang Hill. Rang Hill, so the guidebook said, was the best place to catch a view over the city so I thought it would definitely be worth a visit. As I was walking towards the hill I was constantly nagged by taxi drivers trying to get me to ride with them up the hill but I declined as it was such a nice day I wanted to walk.

The walk up took rather a long time, and was rather exhausting due to the heat, but it was nice to experience the scenery and see more than if I had been whisked up in a car in a few minutes. I passed several apartment buildings, cafes, restaurants and a fitness park before arriving at the top. By this time I was pretty exhausted so I’m glad that I bought a few bottles of water from the 7-eleven at the bottom of the hill. Unfortunately the view was slightly obscured by construction work while I was there but there was a cafe and restaurant which were right on the edge and should have provided a great view if I had decided to stop there. I explored around the summit for a while taking photos and could see that if the view wasn’t obscured by construction it would have been really nice.

Rang Hill

Walking up Rang Hill

Phuket Town

Phuket Town as seen from Rang Hill

Rang Hill

An exercise park on Rang Hill

It was soon time for me to head back down to the city, and the walk down was definitely easier than the walk up! I decided to head to my hotel to freshen up and so took a detour half way down the hill past a temple and through some residential areas which acted as a shortcut. One thing I can’t get used to is the heat and humidity in this part of the world compared to what we’re used to back in the UK. Right now it’s probably raining and only in single digits whereas in Thailand it’s in the high 30s and sunny all day. This meant that the quick stop turned into a shower and a refuge in a room with air conditioning to cool off before venturing back outside again. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad it’s this hot, and I knew how hot it would be before I came, but it takes some getting used to especially if you’re doing a lot of walking.

Temple

A temple in Phuket Town

The view from my room

The view from my hotel room

After relaxing in my hotel for a little bit I headed back out to explore some more. The idea was to do a big circle of the city towards the big King Rama IX Park in the south of the city to see some sights, take some photos and scout out some places for dinner tonight. The walk itself was fairly uneventful, other than the repeated calls of “Hello, Taxi” and “Hello, Mister, I take you to women” which were aimed in my direction. That’s something you get used to when travelling though, similar to being called Mzungu when travelling in Africa. I see some interesting buildings and parks although unfortunately most of the photos I took were obscured by a smudge on my lens that I didn’t notice until checking them over tonight.

When I arrived at the park I had planned to sit down and read a book until sunset and then head out to my chosen restaurant, in this case an Italian restaurant I liked the look of in the city centre, but within seconds of sitting down on the bench I was covered in rather large, red, evil looking ants. As a result my time in the park was limited but it looked a great place to relax with friends, enjoy a ball game or chill with an ice cream if you didn’t mind the ants. I decided it would be better to do another loop of the city back to my hotel and leave everything I didn’t need before heading back out to the restaurant.

Phuket Town

Phuket Town

Phuket Town

Walking around Phuket Town

A park

A park in Phuket Town

The restaurant I chose, Salvatore’s, was very expensive by Thai standards and was closer to western city prices but I was just in the mood for somewhere I could sit down quietly and relax rather than one of the chaotic places I had seen in the very centre of town. It also looked like a really nice restaurant and I was in the mood for treating myself after an exhausting trip. The food was beautiful and didn’t disappoint. I chose a parma ham and melon starter followed by a four cheese pizza and it was almost at Italian standard and the restaurant itself was really nice. I would have had something other than pizza but I had a problem with the local ATMs and pizza was the only thing I had enough cash for.

After dinner I headed back to my hotel to relax and called my credit card company to find out why my cards didn’t work in the ATMs out here. It turns out they had blocked my card, even though I told them I was travelling, as I only tried to take out a small amount of money and they considered that suspicious. Well of course I tried to take out a small amount of money – the food is so cheap over here and I only needed enough money for food to make up for the rather large key deposit that the hotel had. If it wasn’t for the key deposit then I would have budgeted perfectly. After a 10 minute phone call everything was sorted out though so at least I can eat tomorrow.

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Back to Thailand

March 9th, 2014 No comments

I have finally arrived back in Phuket after a long day of travelling. I’m staying in Phuket Town for a couple of nights to see a non-beach side of the island and to experience life in a less touristy Thai town. Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to see much as I arrived quite late and I’m completely exhausted but I’m glad to be here.

This morning I planned to get up early to watch as we raised the anchor for the last time but they left early so I was still asleep when we started sailing. The journey back was largely uneventful and most of us spent the time repacking, relaxing and chatting about our experiences on the trip. It seems we all had different memories, highlights and low points on the trip but there were some things in common. I would say my highlights were the trek, even though it was hard, along with the time spent on Swinton Island as it was just magical. I’ll also never forget our local guides as they were so hard working and really made the trip what it was. Hein was so knowledgeable and friendly and Win worked like a machine – one thing I’ll remember forever is how one night when I was talking to Marie we saw that Win was still cleaning the deck after everybody else had gone to bed. Marie said to him “Win, it’s very late” to which he replied “I know. You go to bed now, goodnight”. This made us both laugh so much, and it made him laugh too when we talked about it, but it showed how much of a hard worker he really was.

There was one downside to the trip which was that I didn’t get to set foot on the mainland after all of the problems I had encountered with the trip being changed before arriving. I really wanted to at least set food on the mainland to see a Myanmar town so myself and Ashu came up with a plan to go ashore with Hein when he was processing our passports and luckily he agreed so as soon as we anchored off Kawthaung the three of us jumped in the dinghy and headed ashore. We were told we would only have 15 minutes but we didn’t mind.

Kawthaung

Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

 

A pagoda

A pagoda

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

 

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

We didn’t really have much of a plan other than to walk around and see the town that we would have stayed at for a day if we had been on the original version of the trip. We wandered around taking photos of the streets, markets, shops, pagodas and waterfront for a while before heading back to the pier to meet Hein. In general the streets of Kawthaung were rather busy, smelt of fish, and didn’t offer much other than the experience for travellers but it was nice to see a Myanmar town.

When we arrived back at the pier Hein wasn’t ready yet so we wandered along the shore a bit further to the southernmost point of Myanmar. Along the way there was a cafe, temple and a few children who followed us begging for money but the views we were treated with when we arrived were really nice. However we couldn’t enjoy them for long as by this point Hein was ready and waiting for us at the pier to take us back to the boat ready for our crossing back into Thailand.

Kawthaung Pier

Me at Kawthaung Pier

 

Me in Myanmar

Me at the southernmost point of mainland Myanmar

Group photo

Group photo on board

 

Back to Thailand

On the boat back to Thailand

I couldn’t find the arrival card that I was given when I departed Thailand so there was a short delay while I completed another one but the queues were short so it didn’t make much of an impact in the grand scheme of things. However the Thai authorities didn’t look impressed so try not to lose it if you come on the trip. I have found it now but wasn’t able to in the rush between getting back on board the boat and heading to Thailand.

The journey from Ranong back to Phuket was like a rally race. The driver was crazy and was continually speeding, tailgating, going around traffic lights to avoid having to stop for them and just generally swerving like a maniac the whole way back except for at police checkpoints. There was a short break for lunch, at the same restaurant we stopped at on the way up, before the rally driving recommenced and we were all thrown around like rag dolls again. We all agreed mid journey that this was the only bad point so far, and I didn’t exactly feel safe, but we got back which was all that matters.

Minibus

On board our rally driving minibus

There was a bit of an issue with language and communication. The driver had a list of where we were all staying, both in Thai and English, and asked us all several times to confirm it but he didn’t really pay attention and just drove where he wanted. After dropping Ashu at Khao Lak and a few people at the airport he completely missed the Airport Inn where one of the group was staying even though he went down the correct road and there was a big neon sign with an arrow pointing at it. There were issues with me and Sue too as we were both staying down south – Sue in Karon again and me in Phuket Town. After some argument we managed to get him to drive us to Karon but then he drove where he wanted and we had to give him directions to Sue’s hotel and he then moaned at me for having to drive to Phuket Town even though he knew I was staying here.

It took around an hour to arrive at my hotel in Phuket Town due to traffic but the hotel is so nice. I decided to stay here as it has a free breakfast, wi-fi, restaurants close by, big rooms and offered airport transfers. It’s also not too far from the town centre which is good as I intend to do a lot of exploring during my time here but there won’t be any time for exploring tonight, however, as it’s late so all I’m going to do is pop out for some snacks and head straight to bed.

My hotel

My hotel room in Phuket Town

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Crossing into Myanmar

March 3rd, 2014 No comments

It has been a very long day today but it has mainly been an administrative day and we haven’t covered much distance. Tonight is the first night I’ll be on board the boat that Intrepid are using for the trip and it seems nice so far. The bedroom I’ll be sharing is quite small but I knew this in advance – boats like this are designed to maximise the public areas.

This morning I got up fairly early and headed down to the breakfast buffet to meet my room mate who, by this point, had already been for a run, had a shower and eaten most of his breakfast. He said he was an early riser! The breakfast was really nice, especially the omlettes, and there was more than enough selection for everybody.

Time for some last minute repacking and we were whisked off to the immigration pier by tuk tuk where we met our local guides who would escort us across the border and be with us during the week. The immigration process only took 10 minutes including the time taken when one of our group was quizzed by Thai immigration about the length of their stay (this is as if you’re only leaving for a day you don’t receive an exit stamp to try to avoid the visa run). Then it was time to board the boat which was to take us across the border and, after boarding, we met up with Jill our last remaining group member. It turns out she is doing the trip for a second time as she enjoyed it so much which means we should be in for a spectacular trip!

Hotel lobby

The lobby of the Tinidee Hotel

Our transport to the pier

Our transport to the pier

Shuttle boats

Shuttle boats waiting to take people to Myanmar

The boat journey to Myanmar took around 20 minutes, although for political reasons we didn’t land on the mainland and went straight to the sailing boat where our visas were processed on board by Myanmar Immigration officials. The entry process for Myanmar was a lot longer than when I entered Thailand and in total we had to wait for 3 hours in order for our passports, visas and permits for the archipelago to be processed. One thing I don’t like is that while we’re in Myanmar the officials will be keeping our passports to make sure we come back. I guess we won’t be needing it this week but I don’t like being without my passport when travelling.

Crossing into Myanmar

Crossing the water to Myanmar

Transferring to the dinghy

Transferring to our dinghy

Me overlooking Kawthaung

Me overlooking Kawthaung, Myanmar

Then it was time to set sail. The journey today was very short and was only designed to get us as far as a sheltered anchorage out of the main shipping lanes ready to start the main part of the trip. After dinner we discovered that our anchorage would be shared with fishing boats tonight as we were in the middle of a prime fishing area. The method of fishing in this part of the world is to wait until night then deploy rows of lights to attract fish and squid that will get trapped in nets suspended below the boat. Fairly primitive but effective.

Myanmar fishing boat

Myanmar fishing boat

Myanmar fishing boat

Myanmar fishing boat

Sunset over Myanmar

Sunset over Myanmar

The cabin assigned to myself and Ashu

The cabin I’m due to share

The scenery and sunset were beautiful tonight but we’ve been told they don’t even compare to what we have to come!

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Heading north towards Myanmar

March 2nd, 2014 No comments

Tomorrow we cross into Myanmar to start the sailing portion of the trip but I had a good day today as I had a chance to meet the rest of the group and to see the real Thailand compared to the tourist hell of Phuket.

After checking out of my room this morning I met up with my group in the breakfast room over coffee and got to know them while waiting for our leader. They all seem nice people so far – I’m the only Brit but there are some Aussies, a Canadian and an Irish person and although they’re all older than me we’re all like minded when it comes to travel. One interesting point is that there are two people with the last name Green on the trip who had been assigned to the same room. We assumed they would be sisters but turns out they don’t know each other even though by coincidence they come from the same city!

After a brief introductory meeting with our representative of Intrepid we jumped in the minibus and headed north out of Karon. On the way we dropped a spare bag off at a hotel near the airport for one of the group and picked up another member of the group from her flight at the airport before leaving Phuket and heading north along the mainland.

We all napped and chatted on and off during the journey until 2 1/2 hours later when we arrived at our lunch stop at a lodge overlooking a lake. The prices here were really cheap as well – £5 for a full meal and a couple of drinks – and it was good quality food. We relaxed, took photos stretched our legs for a bit and made use of the facilities for a bit before making our way back to the minibus for the remainder of our journey to Ranong.

Lunch with a view

The view during lunch

The journey to Ranong took another 2 hours or so and when we arrived it was already late in the afternoon but luckily the sun had not set yet so we were able to see a bit of the town as we drove through. It looks like a grimy border town but there are a few temples and things to do so it was a shame we didn’t have much chance to explore.

The hotel we stayed at, the Tinidee Ranong, is a nice hotel with restaurant, shops, pool, exercise room, free-wifi and bar. Overall it’s way better than most places I’ve stayed at with Intrepid – that’s not to say that Intrepid stay at bad places but on the contrary this was just a really nice hotel. Most of the group decided to take advantage of a free trip to the hot springs nearby but I wanted to see more of the town so after half an hour of relaxing in the pool with the others I decided to excuse myself and head into town.

My room for the night

My room at the Tinidee Ranong

The view from my room

The view of Ranong from my room

Tinidee Hotel Ranong

Tinidee Hotel Ranong

Ranong

Ranong, Thailand

I spent maybe an hour wandering around Ranong taking photos, calling home, stocking up on supplies and just generally soaking up the atmosphere. There are quite a few restaurants that I passed which were very busy with locals which looked really nice as well as lots of shops. I didn’t see anything else to do but I’m sure there would have been more somewhere. One thing I’m glad I found, however, is a 7-Eleven as I needed a spare memory card for my camera to use in my underwater camera pouch in case it leaked. 7-Eleven had one for about £5 which was great.

I returned to the hotel in advance of the group so that I could catch up on my blog notes and relax before dinner. When they returned they informed me that they had decided to eat out in town instead of in the restaurant as it would be nicer and cheaper plus mean we wouldn’t have to eat in the same place twice when breakfast tomorrow is taken into consideration. I agreed that this would be a great idea so waited downstairs while the others changed before heading out into town.

While walking into town the others told me about the hot springs. Apparently they were very nice and soothing – there were several levels of pools of varying temperatures including one which is reserved solely for guests of the Tinidee Hotel. It sounded like they had a great time but I’m glad I didn’t go with them as I had a chance to see the town and to get my memory stick.

The restaurant we ended up visiting was one of the ones I had passed earlier, called Dibuk, that was very busy. Luckily a couple of tables were available when we arrived so we made our way inside. The food there was the cheapest I have seen since arriving in Thailand. I had a minced pork dish with vegetables, rice and a fanta for 100 baht which is less than $3. It was slow to arrive but was incredibly fresh and tasty so I’m glad we ate there! After chatting and exchanging travel stories we made our way back to the hotel, after Boom made me ask for the bill in Thai. I managed it somehow but it brought smiles to the faces of the waitresses.

Dinner in Ranong

Dinner with the group in Ranong

Tomorrow the sailing trip starts so I’ll soon be off to bed. I’m excited!

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A day in Karon

March 1st, 2014 No comments

I’ve just got back to my room after chatting to a couple of the others from the group and they seem nice people so far but there are still a few more people to meet tomorrow morning. There was a bit of an issue tonight, however, as the person that was due to share the room with me was put off by the smell of smoke that was lingering around so didn’t want to stay there. I had noticed the smell when I checked in but due to having a long day, and all the issues I had with the travel company before my trip, I just wanted to sleep and didn’t bother kicking up a fuss.

The day started off a little quieter, however. I decided to have a long lay in to adjust to the timezone before booking a taxi through my hotel to take me to the Big Buddha statue near Karon. This was the best way to visit and only cost 1200 Baht for a return trip including waiting time – this was less than the price I paid for a one-way trip from the airport to the hotel.

The journey there took about half an hour and went through a couple of towns and residential areas before making its way up the hill past some cafes, a quad bike tour place and an elephant riding experience to the car park at the statue. The Big Buddha is a large marble Buddha built on the hill overlooking Karon that has been built completely from donations. It still has a long way to go but once finished should be a very impressive site with very impressive views.

A view from the Big Buddha

Looking over Phuket

I spent some time taking photos overlooking the sea and Phuket town before making my way into the complex itself. The first place you will visit on a trip to the Big Buddha is the entrance hall which is full of souvenir sellers, donation boxes and information about the site. Some of the information is in English but the majority is in Thai so I skipped past this and went straight through to the steps up to the statue.

If you decide to visit the Big Buddha there are a few things you will need to know. Firstly you are not allowed to wear shorts and will be asked to cover up, secondly that it will be very warm as there isn’t much shade, thirdly that to get to the site you need to walk up a lot of steps and lastly that it’s likely to be very windy so be prepared. However the views from the top were incredible.

The site is actually made up of two Buddhas – the main marble one and a smaller bronze one. After taking photos of both statues I spent some time wandering around the site enjoying the views and looking at the other displays which included gold statues, a prayer room, a gong and a bell. There is also the opportunity to buy prayer bells of various sizes which you can either take back with you or hang in the trees – many people buy two and do both which is evident by the loud sound of bells that you can hear when there is a gust of wind.

Builders at the Big Buddha

Builders in Thailand have less safety restrictions than in the UK

Statues

Statues at the Big Buddha site

A gong

A gong at the Big Buddha site

The Big Buddha

The Big Buddha

Not many people at the site will speak English so I’d recommend you learn a few words in Thai before visiting this or any other site in Thailand. Even if you just learn hello and thank you it will be greatly appreciated by the locals. This was evident when I bought one of the prayer bells – the family ahead of me asked lots of questions in English and when they said thank you the person selling them just handed them the bell and turned away. However I said thank you in Thai and she said you’re welcome in the traditional Thai manner of putting hands together and nodding. It doesn’t hurt to learn a few words and the locals will like that you have made the effort.

After purchasing the bell and a few other souvenirs I made my way back to the taxi. We stopped off at a viewpoint overlooking Karon on the way before making our way back to town. I got dropped at town so I could buy some flip flops (thongs for any Aussies that read this) and grabbed some lunch before making my way back to the hotel to change before going to the beach. I’m not much of a tourist beach person as I mentioned in my blog yesterday but I decided that I wanted to spend at least some time on the beach in Phuket to relax, read and watch the sunset.

At the Big Buddha

Walking around the Big Buddha site

Overlooking Karon

Me overlooking Karon

As mentioned earlier the beach is lined with several rows of sun loungers which you can rent for 200 Baht (less than 1 dollar) for the entire day. Just sit down on one and eventually somebody will find you and ask for the money (before issuing a receipt to prove you have paid). They will also bring you drinks and snacks from one of the small places that are dotted up and down the beach. I ordered a sprite before slapping on the sun cream and heading into the water.

I spent maybe an hour or so in the water. It was clear, calm and very warm but I’m not sure if it was over salty or if there were things living in it as I felt itchy after I had been in there a while. Although this didn’t detract from the relaxing nature of just laying in the water and watching the world go by. It was quite busy on the beach and there were other swimmers, paragliders and jetskis going up and down the water. There aren’t many fish in the area so I didn’t bother bringing my snorkelling equipment and after relaxing for a while I got out and read my book while waiting for the sunset. The sunset was really beautiful but as I was on my own I decided not to bring my camera. I don’t think this will matter as I’m sure I’ll see some perfect sunsets while in Myanmar.

I headed back to my hotel to change before grabbing some dinner in town. I decided on a Thai restaurant on the beach which served cocktails and it was really nice but overpriced compared to other places in the area. Although at $15 including drinks I can’t really complain!

Karon

Walking around Karon

My hotel

The Karon Living Room

Karon by night

Karon by night

So I’m now back in my room after running into a couple of the group downstairs while clearing up the issue with my room mate and the smell in the room. Now that I think about it I woke up this morning with a headache so I wonder if that was something to do with the smell of smoke. The guy I was due to share with was given a different room for the night and it smelt a lot fresher than mine but I can’t complain as I’ll have the room to myself again tonight.

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Thailand bound

February 28th, 2014 No comments

I’ve arrived in Thailand and am loving the temperature and prices here already. Back in the UK at the moment it’s freezing cold, windy, foggy and expensive but it’s in the mid 30’s here and everything is so cheap. It has been a long journey to get this far, however.

On Wednesday I had my last day at work before my trip. I was originally planning to use that evening to get everything sorted, finish packing, rest etc. However due to the problems with my flights I had an early morning flight out of Heathrow yesterday and needed to get a hotel near the airport to avoid having to get up very early and risk public transport issues.

The hotel I picked was the Ibis Budget in Hounslow and it turned out to be a really good hotel for the price. The room itself was weird and looked like something out of a 1970’s Sci-Fi series but was clean and functional. The staff were also really friendly – due to the rush I had left the copies of my passport that I might need during my trip at home so needed to get some new copies. I thought the best thing to do was ask at the hotel and then try at the airport if the hotel said no. However the hotel staff were more than accommodating and after getting the copies done I was able to catch a good nights sleep without worrying about not having copies.

Ibis Budget Hounslow

My hotel room at the Ibis Budget in Hounslow

So then yesterday I had a long travel day to get to Thailand. I got up early as check-in for Cathay Pacific opened at 8am and I wanted to make sure I was there at the start to get a good seat and to give myself time to have breakfast. The issue was that due to having a different class of ticket issued through a travel agent I wasn’t able to check in or select a seat online but due to having long legs I need to have an aisle seat so that I’m not squashed in. They had electronic check-in desks but for some reason these wouldn’t work so I had to wait until check-in opened. As expected I was first in the queue when check-in opened although the lady at the desk told me I had successfully checked in using the machines just hadn’t been issued a boarding pass. But either way it didn’t matter as I got the seats I wanted and checked in successfully.

While waiting for the flight I did the usual get breakfast, stock up on water and snacks, buy magazines etc and then headed to the gate once it was announced to wait for boarding. The flight was a bit late leaving but they let us jump the queue to make up our slot for take off.

The food on the plane was surprisingly nice although I kept having problems with the entertainment system in the back of the seat in front of me. First the screen kept going blank when each feature started so they reset it. Then it kept crashing and restarting when I tried to watch movies so they reset it again. Then the screen just froze so they reset it a third time. It was getting late by this point so I decided to give it one more go and, as expected, it crashed again and I just gave up and decided to catch some sleep.

It seems staff on Cathay Pacific are attentive, however, as at some point a little while after closing my eyes one of the flight attendants woke me up to ask if I needed any help as she noticed there was a problem with my screen. I explained that I had been having problems and she asked if I would like to move to some seats that were spare further forward. I agreed and she showed me to a row they had kept empty in case of emergency so not only did I have a working entertainment system I had a row to myself which was excellent. I watched a few movies but wasn’t able to sleep so once the lights went back up I had a lot of coffee with breakfast.

Sunrise over China

Sunrise over China

Hong Kong Airport

Transiting Hong Kong Airport

Transit at Hong Kong airport took a while as a couple of flights had arrived at similar times to us but the flight arrived early so I had plenty of time. Once through into the departure lounge I had a look around, changed some money ready for my overnight stopover on the way back, and was amazed how big the terminal is – the place reminded me of the new terminal at Dubai which I transited through a few years ago.

My flight down to Phuket was with Dragon Air, a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific, and was only a few hours in duration so I wasn’t worrying so much about getting a row to myself like on the first leg of the trip. However I had a surprise as I was sat in front of the over-wing exit row which was occupied by a disabled couple who, for obvious reasons, were not able to sit there so were asked to move. I took the opportunity and asked the flight attendant if she would like me to sit there and she said that would be helpful. So not only did I have a row to myself it was the exit row with extra leg room.

The flight arrived on time but most of the journey was misty or over sea so we didn’t really see much. I was just happy when we touched down in Phuket Airport. The entire process through the airport including collecting bags, passport control and customs took less time than transit at Hong Kong so I was soon through into the arrivals area. I changed some money and purchased a pre-paid taxi voucher and I was then taken through to the taxi rank for my journey to Karon. Just a side note that there are several ways to organise a transfer in Phuket – you can book one online or through your travel agent but these are usually more expensive. I would recommend just getting a taxi when you get there. You can either purchase a voucher like I did for between 500-1500 Baht depending on the destination or can just go through and use a metered taxi. I used the voucher as it was less hassle although it did cost 20% higher than it would have with the meter.

After arriving at my hotel, the Karon Living Room, I relaxed in my room for a while before exploring the town. Most of Phuket is my idea of hell and is tourist central with rows of sun loungers on the beach and Karon is no different. It’s nowhere near as bad as Patong, which we drove through on the way to Karon, but the only reason I’m here is because this is where my trip starts tomorrow. The scenery is nice and the food is cheap but I didn’t get a chance to look around much as I’m really tired so I’ll be going to bed shortly to catch up on sleep.

Karon Living Room

My room at the Karon Living Room

Walking arond Karon

Walking around Karon

Karon Beack

Karon Beach

Walking around Karon

Walking around Karon

The view from my room

The view from my room in Phuket

The trip starts tomorrow officially although it’s just another night at the Karon Living Room before we head north to the Myanmar border the following day. Either way I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of the group tomorrow. I’ve been told that I can stay in the same room and not have to move which is helpful.

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