Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Good morning Bangkok!

We have found big cities daunting and Bangkok was no exception. We arrived by train at 7:30 am when Bangkok was just getting up and starting her day. We knew there were a series of rapid transit options but didn’t know where they went or if we could use them to get to our hotel. A quick stop at information and we found that Chinatown was close by and that walking or a tuk tuk were the options available.

We negotiated a fare and hopped onto a tuk tuk. When we saw how far it actually was, we were glad we had not attempted to walk. I had booked us into a budget hotel in the heart of Chinatown to be in a culturally interesting neighbourhood. The hotel somewhat aptly named “Check Inn Chinatown” was on a small back street connected to Yarowat Street (one of Chinatowns main historic thoroughfares) by a maze of small back alleys. If we wanted colourful, we certainly got it!

The hotel was perfect for the price. The young man at the front desk was as good a tour director as they come, and gave us tips and instructions each day to get to our destinations and to get as much out of the transportation as the sights. Where necessary he gave us a note in Thai to give to the taxi or tuk tuk driver to be sure we got to the right place. The rooms were neat and tidy, the laundry service quick and cheap and the location was perfect for day and night markets of every description.

Still our first day was challenging. It is a big city and there are underground trains, sky trains boats, taxis and tuk tuks to get you from “A” to “B” and it does take a while to figure out which to use for what and to get where. We were tired too, and it is very hot. We used the first day to get business out of the way and headed for the Vietnam Embassy to get our visa sorted out and we also made arrangements for transportation to our next destination: the Cambodian border and Seim Reap from Bangkok. There was a lot of traffic and the city seemed impossible. Tomorrow will be better I told myself.

Walking down a narrow street in Chinatown

We ended up at a very touristy gem market later in the day and felt quite embarrassed that we didn’t see this coming when a local hotel employee we met on the street encouraged us to find the place. Tired and a bit deflated we returned to the hotel for a bit of a rest and a shower and reluctantly left our air conditioned room to go out again for a night wandering the streets of Chinatown. By this time we were overcooked with heat and exhaustion and would have been better off staying in for the night. Nevertheless we found some very interesting night markets on several streets close to our hotel, had some food and called it an early night. Tomorrow will be better, I reminded myself one last time before falling asleep.

Walking down another narrow street in Chinatown

And of course I was right. Bangkok is absolutely amazing! By day two we had all of the transportation maps in hand and proceeded to use all modes to get to our destinations. We started out walking to the nearest Pier to catch a boat to Bangkok’s most famous tourist attraction: The Grand Palace (which was so awesome, we both were dumbstruck for the entire visit).

Golden Buddha

From there we walked to Wat Pho temple of the reclining Buddha (which was also mind boggling). Then we hopped on yet another boat at a different pier, which dropped us at the skytrain station, which with one transfer got us to the Vietnam Embassy to pick up our visas. From here we walked to the Lumphini Boxing Stadium for an evening of kickboxing (I know, I can’t believe it myself, but I actually did this). From there we took the underground back to the Hua Lumphong train station which is sort of near Chinatown. We should have taken a taxi or tuk tuk at this point but decided to walk and enjoyed all that Chinatown has to offer after 10:00 pm!

Grand Palace

We let ourselves sleep in just a little on day three, as we knew we were planning a day at South East Asia’s largest market: Chatuchak, which is way the hell and gone at the other side of Bangkok. Luckily the underground subway takes you right there. Over 35 acres of market stalls open only on the weekend. And it is not what you would expect. No junk at this market except the collectible kind. The market is divided loosely into sections; clothing, crafts, furniture, plants, food, accessories etc. There is fashion of every description from classic one of a kinds to tourist t-shirts. There are handmade leather bags, hand painted skateboards, women sitting in shops beading, sewing, painting and making earrings. Full food sections, as well as food vendors in each of the other sections so that you do not need to stop shopping if you need a quick drink or hotdog on a stick to regain your strength. We even saw a tattoo parlor. We barely scratched the surface in four hours. By then our feet were tired and our bellies were full.

It is a good thing we don’t need anything (and don’t have room for all the things we really don’t need but want!) because you could spend a lot of money here on really interesting stuff. For those of you that know about ETSY (an online shopping venue for everything handmade), this place was like being at a physical ETSY market. Everywhere you looked there was something really interesting on a shelf or being made.

On the way back to Chinatown, we stopped in Sukhumvit, which is the neighbourhood for all of the high-end shopping malls in Bangkok. After about half an hour in the Terminal 21 Mall, we realized that this was not for us and got back on the subway to our air-conditioned hotel!

We had one day left in Bangkok and we spent it with our mouths wide open at the Anantasamakhom Throne Hall, admiring the frescoes as well as the displays. This marble masterpiece of architecture houses the most exquisite display of Thai crafts in the form of gold filigrees, tapestries and embroideries. We were taken aback by the detail and high level of craftsmanship in all of the work we saw. Her Majesty the Queen of Thailand has apparently taken a huge interest in these crafts since the beginning of her reign. Through her efforts, women in the countryside of Thailand have been trained in these crafts in order to create for themselves a new source of income. The items on display were a tribute to the efforts she has made to keep these crafts alive and to move them a step further in their evolution. Many artifacts were embellished with iridescent beetle wings. We had never seen anything like it.

After a day of admiring artifacts, we stopped at a street seafood restaurant in Chinatown that we had walked by every day, commenting on how busy it was. It was our last chance to try it out for ourselves. We took seats at the tin tables and plastic chairs, literally on the street, and ordered from the extensive menu of fish and other seafood. It was so hot and I was so thirsty that I ordered a beer with a bucket of ice. I filled my glass with ice and poured the local Thai beer over it. I can’t even explain how good it was! The scene was just starting to heat up at our corner seafood restaurant. More tables were being set up all around us, and just as quickly filled with hungry locals. It was the perfect dinner spot for our last night in Thailand.

Chinatown was the perfect base for our four days in Bangkok. Early the next morning we would be off to the train station to catch our mini bus to the Cambodian border. Our overland journeys have all been exciting. The trip to Cambodia will certainly rank up there as one of the most frustrating. But that my friends, is a tale I will reserve for the next post.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The saga of Khoa Lak to Surat Thani to Bangkok

It seems like years ago, but for the sake of documentation, I must say a few words about our exit from the sleepy beach town of Khao Lak and our entertaining journey to Bangkok.

If we count our first two days pre-scooter scrape-up, and add the four days of diving for Marc and spa treatments/shopping for me, our stay in Khao Lak was longer than most. Our cute little room, poolside at Motive Cottages, was feeling quite like home, and the cleaning, cooking and reception staff, were treating us like family (or maybe wondering if we would ever leave). The only problem with this sleepy little town is you can’t get a clear answer about anything, which led to a very hot and sweaty exit.

By the time Marc returned from a very successful diving trip, we both came to the conclusion that heading directly to Bangkok was our best bet. The jungle excursions in Khao Sok and beach/diving/snorkeling in Koh Samui, would have been difficult for me with stitches and after six days in a beach town, I was ready for a bit of a change. The only problem is that getting to Bangkok from Khao Lak is not easy if no one really knows exactly the schedule of the bus going in that direction. There is a train station in Surat Thani to get us to Bangkok, but you cannot purchase tickets in Khao Lak and there is no online way of doing it. Even the travel agents aren’t interested in getting you a ticket, as they would have to call an agent in Krabi and have a cab bring the ticket back to Khao Lak.

As I have mentioned, Khao Lak is one road basically that traverses the coastline. There is no bus station. The local buses simply pick people up along the road. We had received intel from the 7-11 staff (they are often the best tourist information by the way in all of Thailand-but not this time) that a bus would pass at 9:00. This was confirmed by a shop owner. A travel agent had told me 11:00. Not wanting to miss the bus, we were standing in the sun from 8:45. At 9:30 two other tourists arrived heading in the same direction with info a bus would pass at 10:00. Info I had found online said there were busses every hour. Obviously that was not accurate! In the meantime, I pulled out my umbrella to shade us from the unrelenting sun (already probably 32 degrees at 9:30). At 10:00 more or less, a bus came rambling towards us, packed with locals. The bus assistant (there is always a driver, a ticket taker and often times a third helper on each bus) yelled to us out the window to be sure it was worthwhile to stop for us and we yelled back “Surat Thani” and the bus came to a stop. Our luggage got jammed into the bottom of the bus somehow and we climbed aboard.

The trip to Surat Thani was long, stink’n hot and crowded. At one of the rest stops, everyone got out for a snack, and (what seemed like) a whole Monastery full of monks dressed in deep orange costume tried to get on the bus and take everyone’s seats. There was a bit of a mutiny led by very vocal (and very large) Thai woman who set things straight. The bus assistant then told all of the men (including Marc) to stand and move to the back of the bus. The Monks went with them. The front of the bus was then transformed into an overcrowded daycare centre. The seats in this bus it seems can be pulled apart by five inches so that three people instead of two can straddle the two seats. In the case of a family of children, the sky is the limit as to how many can sit on seats, laps, and somehow in the five inch gap (one butt-cheek on each seat). With all of this accomplished, and most people seated, we continued the journey to Surat Thani.

But what then? No clear info once again on how to get to the train station which according to my internet sources and 7-11 was a 12k local bus ride away from the central bus station in Surat Thani. Could we buy a train ticket in town, or would we have to go to the train station? According to the info I had (which was also wrong as it turned out) there was one night train and it was a very popular train. If we couldn’t get a ticket on the train we had a back-up plan to stay the night in Surat Thani. Wiki travel described Surat Thani as a town with no attractions other than being a transportation hub for trains going north and south. We prepared ourselves for another Ghorakpur, Thai style.

The trip seemed to take forever with millions of stops with more women and children at each stop getting on and off. Finally we arrived at what we thought was the bus station in Surat Thani. The bus assistant waved us off and we retrieved our bags. We were for the most part in the middle of the road, but we could see a station across the street. We grabbed our stuff and headed in that direction to get some information.

To our surprise and delight we were in fact at the train station! Even better news, there was a night train leaving at 6:30 with room for us. On further investigation we discovered that there was a train to Bangkok almost every half hour. I guess I will be making some corrections on Wiki travel!!

So there was really no need for worry.

I am happy to report that despite all of the research I did both online and through human contact, that was all incorrect and unreliable, we managed to purchase tickets for less than we expected, and secured a private first class cabin on the 6:30 train that was only an hour late! We had plenty of time to have lunch, buy snacks for the trip and bake in the sun at the train station for several hours until our train pulled into the station.

The train ride to Bangkok was smooth and comfortable. The train steward made our beds for us with starchy white sheets and fluffy pillows and we slept soundly until wake up call at 5:30. We arrived in Bangkok at 7:30am ready to explore the big city for the next four days!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sleepless in Khao Lak

I won’t lie. Sending Marc off for four days with a bunch of strangers (and without me) to jump off a boat to the bottom of the ocean with nothing but a tank of oxygen and a computer watch on his arm to keep him from drowning was tough. I know Aaron meant well, but it didn’t really help when he told me last night that it is kind of like riding a bike — since we just fell off one and that’s why I am still in Khao Lak and Marc is in the middle of the deep blue sea.

Worrying is always harder at night even if there is nothing to worry about at night. Surely he was not diving at midnight when I tossing and turning. Note to self: Must drink more alcohol!

I finally fell asleep and woke up amazingly refreshed. And among other things, organized my first Thai foot massage.


For about the equivalent of $10, I was tortured into bliss for a full hour. There is no other way to describe it. Half way in when she pulled out the small wooden dowel with a sort of pointy rounded tip and started to draw deep lines up and down the inside of my arch, I had to hold back a very long scream. But she knew that was exactly what I needed after walking for miles everyday for the last few weeks. By the end of part one of my massage, my feet felt better than they have for months.

Then she started on my arms, neck and head. All of this as part of a foot massage!

But I did feel like I was in a Seinfeld episode. While my gal was working on me, her buddy was working on a man behind closed curtains. The two girls were chatting in Thai and laughing through the whole treatment. I kept imagining my gal was telling her buddy all about my cellulite or flabby calves as she kneaded my thighs. God knows what her buddy was going on about her male client behind the curtain! These girls are really good at what they do, but they must have missed the etiquette class in the Thai school of massage!

To my dismay, the market I found yesterday was closed on Sundays so I had to go for a longer walk to find a good place for lunch and some people watching entertainment. A little ways along the main road, I found a small restaurant filled with locals. Everything on the menu was about $2. My kind of place! We have noticed that every business is a family affair here and this restaurant was no exception. Mom was cooking and her daughters where clearing tables, taking orders and delivering food. One of the daughters had her small children sitting around a table playing games.

In short order, I had the small grilled fish, spicy green mango salad and steamed rice I ordered in front of me, and a tall cold local beer to wash it down with. I sat facing the street to get a good look at the action and dug into my delicious meal. It was mid afternoon and stinking hot, but the restaurant tables were in the shade and I guess I am finally getting used to the hot sticky weather here.

Just as I finished my meal, three scooters raced by. The last of the three skidded on something and the bike and driver fell directly into a deep puddle of water at the side of the road about five meters in front of me. And I mean right into a really deep puddle. His head was submerged in muddy water. Within a few seconds, he was up trying to get his bike to start. But it wouldn’t start. He kept trying and I kept starring in disbelief. Finally he wiped some puddle water off his face and walked his scooter away. He truly acted as if nothing had happened at all. I couldn’t see any scratches from where I was sitting. Maybe he ran out of gas? I think he was as confused about what happened as everyone watching was.

Anyway, if I had any second thoughts about not getting on a scooter ever again, this sealed the deal!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Our encounter with a monitor Lizard in Khao Lak

Our day yesterday started out amazingly well. We had organized a 24-hour scooter rental our first night in Khao Lak after finalizing our booking for a three night/four day diving/snorkeling expedition to the Similan Islands. Khao Lak is a series of beaches connected by a long road. The distances from one to the other are long and without a scooter, your exploration options are quite limited. We had one full day here before the diving trip, and we wanted to get to know the area. Down some smaller roads in the opposite direction were several waterfalls that we also wanted to visit.

Coral on the beach at low tide.

So off we went after breakfast, with our helmets on, water, towels and sunscreen in our daypack. We first hit a couple of beaches, soaking in the scenery as we went. Wow, we both thought. This is the way to go! About an hour into the trip we found the first waterfall, which was gorgeous and we joined some other tourists and many locals for a dip.

I had been a bit nervous at first (about riding on the back of a scooter) but was feeling good by this point and was taking silly pictures like this (below) while we were driving along. I had a working headline going in my mind for this post: Out of my element big time and loving it! That would all change soon enough!

We headed for the next waterfall after drying for a bit in the sun. It was further than we thought down a windy road and through a village. We thought we had missed it when we finally ended up in front of a gate and a ticket booth. We were taken aback by this and had a long discussion about whether it was worth paying the entrance fee. In hindsight, if we had gone to see the waterfall, the end of the story would have been quite different! But hindsight is always twenty-twenty and at the time we both felt there were going to be many untouched natural waterfalls in our future and we did not need to pay for this one.

We had seen a cute restaurant on our way to the waterfall and we decided to head there for a break before continuing to the next attraction.

It probably took all of about three seconds, but neither of us can really piece it all together. We both know we saw a huge (maybe 3ft long) monitor lizard come out of the bush and cross the road right in front of us. At that exact moment, we were on a gravel patch of an otherwise paved section of road. Marc put on the breaks, but we swerved on the gravel and down we went. We were not going fast and the lizard managed to get away unscathed, but I had managed to get some nasty cuts to my elbow and Marc had quite a few scrapes.

No, I did not take time to photograph the actual lizard, but this is what they look like.
A quick look at my elbow and I knew I would need stitches. My adrenalin was pumping, so I got up and noticed right away there was a small house very near by and I started walking towards it holding my elbow that was bleeding quite badly. I knew it wasn’t serious but needed to be taken care of. Poor Marc was so worried about me, he didn’t even notice his own scrapes.

What happened next will stay with us always. Anything that happens to us in Thailand will pale in comparison to what the family in that small house at the side of the road did for us that afternoon. We don’t even know their names, but they took such good care of us, they can only be considered family.

I first saw a woman sitting on a chair in the house. As I approached she didn’t know what was wrong, but in any case, she immediately came towards us smiling ready to help no matter what our question might be. When she saw the blood, she jumped into action. She ran for her first aid kit and motioned to her husband to come right away. Within minutes, she had me wrapped in gauze, and her husband was getting the pick-up truck started to take us — somewhere. We were not sure where. Neither of them understood a word of English. Tower of Babel in action. All of us talking, and no one understanding anything. What we did understand was that we were to leave the scooter at their house and get the hell into the car! The woman took a quick perusal of Marc and saw he had no serious bleeding and off we went.

The first clinic refused us. The nurse apologized saying there was no doctor there and we needed to go to the larger government run clinic if stitches were necessary. So off we went to the next larger clinic five or six kilometers away. My new Thai momma was with me all the way explaining in Thai what had happened to whoever needed to know. The nurse there started cleaning my wounds but explained that we needed to go to the hospital, which was 25 kilometres away (oy!) once I was cleaned up. Nurses are allowed to suture only after a doctor has seen the wound. They knew the doctor would agree that it needed to be done but their hands were tied.

Oy! Marc and I felt we could not possibly bother these people any more and asked the nurse to call us a cab. But our new family would have none of it. They were going to see this through and they would take us. The nurse at the clinic cleaned my wounds and did the same for Marc and all bandaged up, we piled back into the pickup truck and were on our way to the hospital.

Lucky for us, the emergency room was empty when we arrived and I was sutured up in no time. The hospital was very clean and everyone we encountered was amazingly kind and gentle. We were both completely fine and knew how lucky we were that it was a lizard and not a car (or a cow!) that had gotten in our way.

But what to do for these people who had taken us in and made all of our troubles disappear? All stitched up, I was sitting in the back seat of the pick-up truck starting to cry. Not from pain or fear, but overwhelming gratitude.

Just about this time, we pulled into a gas station. We passed some money to papa to at least fill up their tank. We knew by now that most people here fill their cars with one litre at a time and we had just gone more than 50k. They hesitated, but I think they also knew they needed the gas and that we really wanted to do it. It was one of those unspoken moments.

Marc and I had a conversation amongst ourselves in the back seat about how we both felt about getting back on the scooter and driving the rest of the way back to the hotel. Momma and papa were having a similar conversation in the front seat. At the same moment I looked at momma, she looked at me and I made a hand gesture as if I was holding on to the scooter handle bars and revving it up. She nodded and said something to papa and everything was understood.

When we got back to their home, their son got on the bike to make sure it was in operational condition. He drove it for a few seconds and handed it over to us with a nod. That is when I lost it. I ran over to momma and hugged her tightly. I asked Marc to take a picture of us together before we left these amazing people forever. We tried to give them more money, but papa flatly refused and backed away smiling. I tucked the money into momma’s hand as I gave her a last big hug. “You take it.” I told her. She squeezed my hand and we had a last unspoken conversation as we gazed into each other’s eyes.

My Thai mamma and I after returning from the hospital.

We put our helmets on and got back in the saddle as they say and drove off to our hotel to change clothes and regroup. There would be no snorkeling trip for me as my stitches had to stay dry and bandages had to be changed every day at the clinic. So we got on the scooter one more time to drive to the diving company to cancel my part of the trip. Truth be told, I was definitely fine without the snorkeling, so this was a good excuse to have some time to myself to write and read and plan the next days of our trip. So there really is a silver lining to the monitor lizard story.

Marc left this morning for his trip and I have had a great day pampering myself and discovering the amazing food and clothing market just across the street from our hotel, hidden by a 7-11 and a taxi stand! We have been here three days and neither of us knew it was there. I happened to hear the man having a massage (every business in Thailand seems to offer massage … don’t ask!) in the beauty parlor where I had my hair washed and blown out (I can’t get my stitches wet remember?) that he visits the market each day. Market? What market I thought? I soon found out!

I spent the afternoon sampling all of the delicious food on offer and window shopping in all of the clothing stalls. Not bad for day one!

So that’s the story folks. All is well. I have five stitches to remind me of the wonderful people in Khao Lak and endless opportunities for spa treatments until Marc returns on Tuesday!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Casa Blanca and Michael Bublee in Phuket City

Amazingly, our iffy transportation plans (handshake and a receipt) worked out perfectly. That is, we were picked up on time and taken to the ferry dock. Our driver did purchase our tickets and we did arrive safely in Satun. There was someone waiting for us at a desk just outside of customs (as promised) and she did direct us to transportation (an open van) that would take us to the bus station and she did give us a voucher for the bus. When we arrived at the bus stop (We had expected a bus station, but it was just a bus stop.) our bus was there, waiting for us. As soon as we boarded, off it went.

Our top rate transport!

Like clockwork really. We were very proud of ourselves and took our seats.

Only one problem. Our seats were just behind the WC.
Our smelly bus!

It was a very long six hours to Phuket and the smell seemed to get more unbearable with each minute. The bus was full after a couple more pick-ups, so we had nowhere to go. At some point (when I was sure I would surely faint) I dug into my daypack and found my tiger balm. “Ah” I thought, “if I just put a bit of this under my nose, I will survive”. So I did and it was great for two seconds until my nose started burning (like hell!) from the tiger balm! OK, I needed a better solution. I took out a tissue and smeared some tiger balm on it and inhaled slowly. This did the trick with reapplications every five minutes or so. I prepared a tissue for Marc as well and we somehow managed to get through the trip.

Lesson learned: Always ask for a seat in the front of the bus!

Hotel Exterior

I had booked us into the Casa Blanca Boutique hotel in Phuket City. From my calculations, the bus station was walking distance from our hotel, which was located in the old part of town, perfect for touring the next morning. After a few cab drivers tried to convince us to take a cab, a nice young man in front of a tour outlet showed us a short cut to the main street and perfect instructions to the hotel. He reviewed his instructions with us one more time before he set us off in the right direction. We were there in about five minutes (with a stop at an ATM on the way)!

The Casa Blanca hotel is an absolute gem — a beautifully updated Colonial building in the heart of the historical old town. Two young men at reception greeted us warmly. One helped us with the old style elevator and showed us to our room. Shortly afterwards, he delivered two tall glasses of iced tea and cookies to our room — nice touch! True to its name, the decor is all white; every wall is white, as well as the bedding and furniture in the guest rooms. The floors in the hallways are beautifully tiled. Each room has original artwork on the walls. There is a small pool, garden area and restaurant onsite. The official walking tour of the Old Town begins almost at the door of the hotel. Perfect indeed!

After several days of early wake up calls for touring or ferry pick-ups, we decided to luxuriate in our white linens, have coffee in bed and relax. We started our self-guided walking tour about 10:00 am before it got too hot. We walked down quaint streets, visited temples, ate ice cream to cool down and visited information spots to figure out our next move. We stopped for Italian food just down the street from our hotel, which was fab! More walking/visiting temples etc and before we knew it, it was dinnertime. We found a small Thai eatery in the old town and sat down for cocktails and scrumptious food. Just to make us feel at home, an interview with Michael Bublee was being broadcast in the restaurant (We think on a local radio station, since we could not see a TV anywhere.), and we listened to his beautiful voice as we eat our delicious dinner (which was both tasty and beautifully presented).

Our plan for the next morning was to check out, walk back to the bus station and get a bus to Khao Lak, a town 2.5 hours north of Phuket where it would be possible to book diving/snorkeling liveaboards (boat trips for several days) to the Similan Islands. After a less than amazing snorkeling day in Langkawi, we had done our research and the best spot for real live corals and fish were the Similan Islands and we were not going to miss it.

So we left Phuket without getting near a beach! But we did have a great visit to the historical Old Town of Phuket City, a wonderful stay at a very quaint boutique hotel and ate some amazing Italian and Thai food. We also made sure to ask for seats at the front of the bus and our ride to Khao Lak was without incident!

It was in Khao Lak that life got quite a bit more exciting … and we learned how amazingly warm and helpful people living in this small resort town can be.

Don’t worry; I won’t keep you in suspense for too long. I will begin the next post as soon as I upload this one!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Last stop in Malaysia — Langkawi

For some reason the name of this beautiful Island seems to escape me every time I try to remember how to spell it.  But the memories of our stay here are unforgettable. I booked us into a super modern new hotel called “Fave”, which was located at the end (or maybe the beginning) of the strip of hotels at Cenang district/beach. We chose Cenang over other beaches because it was close to the ferry point for the many excursions available from Langkawi. It ended up being a perfect choice. 

I have nicknamed the Fave — the IKEA hotel. If IKEA designed hotels, this one would be displayed in the hotel section of the showroom.  Space saving devices all around, but so nicely done that you hardly notice. The pool is the type that overflows on all four sides, with a constant waterfall hugging the blue glass tiles, which cover every visible surface. The pool itself is only waist deep but it is perfect for soaking and laps if you are careful at the shallow end. So it is really more for show than for real swimmers, but we are five minutes from the beach so who really needs a pool anyway right? The hotel is not on the beach. Instead, the pool looks out on a jungle scene, which is gorgeous and the sunrise is amazing. Our room was small but perfect with a beautiful shower with floor to ceiling glass enclosure. Movie channel on the flat screen TV and a desk/table for blogging.

And half price happy hour from 4:00 to 7:00. Heaven on earth!

We left Georgetown on schedule, walking to the ferry dock for our 8:15 am departure. I have to say that the scene at the ferry dock was a bit reminiscent of India. And not in a good way. There was really no organized place for luggage and the system was simply to pile all of it at the entrance to the boat. The boat itself was small and legroom was at a premium. We left buying tickets until late in the evening the night before and we had, it seems the last seats on the boat. Back row, two end seats. If you were by chance claustrophobic, this 2.5 hr ride would have been a nightmare. The windows were blocked out so you couldn’t see where you were. A baby was puking (loudly) somewhere at the front of the boat. There was an Asian remake of Rocky on a wee television screen at the front that only added to the agony of the ride. 

Exit Malaysia!

Arriving in Thailand!

By the time we arrived at the dock in Langkawi it was of course pouring with rain and the exit plank from the boat was open to the elements. There were all 80 of us to walk the plank and then somehow the pile of luggage had to find its way off the boat as well without falling into the sea.  It all happened of course, but it could have easily been an additional Indiosyncrasy for Marc’s collection! Amazingly by the time this all happened, the sky cleared and all was forgotten.

We attempted in vein to find the “wan” our friend at Lucky travel had described. We did find a van taxi but it was just for us. The fare was very reasonable for the 30-minute trip to our hotel so we hopped in. Once we were settled at the Fave, we set out for the beach. Our first stop was a quiet beach just down the road from our hotel where a young couple was just hooking up for a paragliding experience. We managed to catch both the lift off and the landing. And I have to say it was beautiful with the clear blue water, sky and sandy beach as a backdrop. I snapped a few pics so that we could imagine ourselves up in the air. That is about as close as we will ever get. Way to scary!

Just pretend this is us!

We could see the second, larger beach from where we stood, but had to head back to the strip of shops to get to it, so we investigated the eateries and the shopping along the way. I forgot to mention that Langkawi is a tax-free Island. So as you can imagine, there was a long line of tax-free shops, like you would find at an International Airport. Beside the shops is an Underwater World where you can see the fish and corals that once may have been visible along the shore of this Island (we found on day two that all of the coral here is more or less dead unfortunately from over touritisting the reefs). 

This is through glass into a tank. We did not see anything like this in Langkawi unfortunately.

Triple wedding!

Just in front of Water World, there were three couples in the middle of a very public triple wedding. Each couple was beautifully dressed. They must have coordinated their wedding costumes, since all were in different colour schemes and they looked quite good together! A crowd of wedding crashers was watching the proceedings up front, while the invited guests were seated at beautifully set tables enjoying a wonderful meal. Was this a Thai reality show, or simply a fun way to have a wedding? We will never know. It was hysterical to watch though. We picked out our tax-free hazelnut dark chocolate and were on our way.

Have I mentioned that it is sweltering hot here? Once we left the comfort of the air conditioned duty free mall, we needed to find some refreshment of some kind before we fainted. Back to the beach, we found several accommodating restaurants with seating under palm trees. We had fresh pressed fruit juices and a snack and were re-energized. Next on the agenda was booking some excursions for snorkeling and boat rides around the island, famous for clear water, colourful fish and mangroves. These tours were being sold at every stand on the beach, on the main road as well as at every hotel. It became clear fairly quickly, that no matter how well you bargained, there was probably someone somewhere ready to undercut his or her neighbour to get your business. We ended up doing fairly well but it did require a return trip to our original tour salesman to demand a better rate. He was quick to oblige and refund our money.

We had a great dinner and a cold beer on the beach and still had time to enjoy the end of happy hour at the Fave, around the blue glass tiled pool with the sun setting behind the jungle scene. We were so hot, we could hardly walk by the time we arrived, but a quick dip in the pool and a cold alcoholic beverage and all was well with the world.

Now, I said earlier that the Fave was a perfect choice for us. Someone looking for a beach holiday would think it was the poorest choice. But luckily for us, we had had enough of the beach by the end of day one. From my description of the strip, I am sure you can tell, that it was not really our scene at all. Fun for a few hours to people watch and shop, but what we were here for was the nature above and below the water. That is all found off the coast of the Island.

Our snorkeling experience was far from amazing, but we did see some fish and realized that we have been spoiled by the great experiences we have had in the Sinai and Marc has had in Australia. BUT our day on a boat discovering Langkawi’s mangroves, swimming monkeys, eagles walking fish, colourful crabs, bat cave, and amazing scenery has to be added to the list of greatest highlights of our travels so far.

Snorkeling- sort of ...

A young man in a very nice Toyota sedan picked us up. We had no idea at the time that he would be our guide for the daylong boat trip, but Marc used the 30 minutes we had with him driving to the ferry dock to try to get some information about other areas of Malaysia worth visiting. His English was amazingly good and he was very generous with information. When we arrived at the dock, Marc asked him if he would be driving us back to the hotel at the end of the excursion. He wasn’t sure, but he would likely be our guide (depending on how many people showed up at the dock), so there would be time for more questions if we had any.

Mangroves, swimming monkeys, bats.

We stuck close to him as we could tell he would be a great guide and wanted to be on his boat — And we were! And he was! Wow, what a day. Pedro (this was not his real name, but from experience, he had found that no one could pronounce his name, so for simplicity sake, he asked us to call him Pedro) was truly one of the most knowledgeable guides we have ever had — and with a sense of humour to boot. Every stop along the way he explained what we were seeing, teaching us about the natural phenomena, the animal habitats, the surrounding geography and all with personal stories and humourous asides. It was an unforgettable experience. We both turned to each other more than once during the day to say “This is what we are travelling the world to experience!”  

On the way back we asked to be dropped off in town to figure out how we would get from Langkawi Malaysia to Phuket Thailand the next morning. We found a travel agent that arranged pick-up from the hotel to the ferry to Satun Thailand, transfer from the ferry dock in Satun to the bus station and a ticket on a long bus ride to Phuket. He had some errands to do, but would come by our hotel at 9:00 pm to get it all organized. True to his word, he arrived around 9:00. Gave us a receipt and two stickers. “Be sure to wear the stickers” he instructed us. “My driver will pick you up in the morning, and buy your ticket at the ferry” he began. “When you clear customs in Satun, there will be someone on the other end to give you your bus ticket and transfer you to the bus station”.

Sounded a bit iffy, but we paid the man and after a hand shake he disappeared into the night. Did it all come to pass? Well you will just have to wait for my next post ...