Monday, 25 March 2013

Sunsets, scooters, Singha and white sand in Thailand.

Hey folks, it's been a while since our last blog, but we didn't want to bore you with tales of white sandy beaches and photos of glorious sunsets! Nevertheless we've been busy, working hard on getting a tan and and expanding our minds with a lot of literature.
Singha or Chang beer?
After Cambodia we had a night stopover in Bangkok and then flew to Krabi to officially start the last leg of our tour (beach and relaxation on South Thailand's beaches). First stop, a very touristy area called Ao Nang, near Krabi. Mistake!!! Too many tourists, very expensive and poor beach. We soon realised that we'd actually been there some four years earlier and had not been too impressed then either. Fortunately our wooden bungalow on stilts with "natural air conditioning" (aka holes in the walls) was excellent and we enjoyed many games of P├ętanque with our French host, helped along with the odd bottle of beer. We did spend a day on the scooter visiting some amazing beaches along the coast hunting for a better place to stay but unfortunately all the totally gorgeous, secluded beaches with fantastic views are dominated by 5 star luxury resorts so it not an option for us. We also took a longtail boat to the semi-secluded Railey beach but after three nights we were ready to move on to somewhere quieter, perhaps more like Otres beach in Cambodia.

 
The second destination in Thailand was to the island of Koh Lanta, a few hours bus and a short car ferry south of Krabi. Unfortunately we were both ill for the best part of the week we stayed there and so perhaps didn't really see all Koh Lanta had to offer. Again, we weren't really enamoured by our beach which despite having 4 km of beautiful white sand, lacked a little atmosphere and nightlife so we spent another day on the scooter checking out the other beaches on the island. No luck once more but we whiled most of the days away with a few hours on the beach trying to recover from our stomach bugs. Koh Lanta has some lovely beaches but something wasn't quite doing it for us. Maybe it was because we were ill, or perhaps we were longing for something more like Otres beach.















After much deliberating, we decided to move on from Koh Lanta and head for Koh Phangan, famous for it's Full Moon Party. Thousands of drunk kids vomiting on the beach is not really our scene, but to our delight, outside of the Full Moon dates, the island is very quiet, un-touristy and under developed compared to other locations and the locals are much more friendly. There are many cracking beaches (and seriously hilly roads), which we discovered when we took a scooter out for a few days. Finally we'd found our haven and so surprisingly we decided it would be our home for the remainder of the holiday.



Sunset from our balcony.
Another room with a view!
Squid fishing boats
 
It's a dog's life.
 
 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Kep't up all night!

One of the tree houses in the background
The next leg of our tour was to the sleepy seaside town of Kep. Like Kampot, Kep is surprisingly quiet and laid back, but this is how we like it. Our fantastic accommodation, an eco resort, was set back from the sea, high up within the mountain jungle and National Park. The area commands incredible gorgeous panoramic views of the sea and sunsets which we discovered on our three hour walk when we first arrived.

Gorgeous Kep sunsets
Our veranda
Living within the forest presents some natural challenges such as sharing your room with the local wildlife, troops of ants, watch-strap eating mice and the odd spider to name a few. Our first night was a nightmare with neither of us getting any sleep. Just as we were dropping off, an incredibly loud frog-type noise bellowed out inches from my head. I'll freely admit that I nearly shat myself and dived across the bed onto Sonja for protection. The modern man!! Anyway, on inspection behind a large picture on our wall, we found not one gecko... but a whole family of them including about 15 eggs stuck to the wall, some unhatched. They were removed for us, but the trauma of the first night prevented us from getting any great sleep for the following three nights as our ears and eyes were tuned into any rustle or creep around the room. Embarrassing!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pepper plant
Despite the nighttime antics, we did manage to see some sights during our days. Taking a little motorbike out for the day we took ourselves out for a tour of one of the local pepper plantations, Kampot's most famous produce. We tested the peppercorns straight from the bush and learned about the difference between green, black, white and red pepper (you can test Sonja later).

Giant crab!!


Kep is also famous for it crab so one evening we headed down to the crab market and sampled the well-hyped crab and green pepper combo. Well, Sonja did, I chickened out and had fish and chips.

We also spent a day on Rabbit Island, a short boat trip from Kep seafront. With only a few basic bungalows and cafes, Rabbit island offers travellers a chance to find a deserted beach or two if you're prepared for a walk. Despite Sonja slicing her big toe on a rock and me getting sunburnt, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Are you look at me?
Rabbit Island
 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Cruising in Kampot

All aboard!!!!
Our journeys on this trip so far have never been without incident. Otres Beach to Kampot was no different. The minibus picked us and another couple up and we joined a further four people already on the bus. With everyone's luggage on the back seat it was cramped but manageable. To our surprise, we went on to pick up a further six people, filling the bus's seat capacity, using the back seat for bums not luggage. Everyone looked with intrigue as to where the luggage would now go. "No problem" explained the driver, "I tie them to the back of the bus!". In a method similar to the game Tetris, he balanced all the bags on top of each other with some rope, securing them to the open boot and we headed off. Amazingly they all survived the two hour bumpy trip and we made it to the sleepy river town of Kampot unscathed.

The old bridge
The town was one of the last strong-holds for the Khmer Rouge, before the Vietnamese forced them out. Despite this happening over 30 years ago, it feels like it happened more recently due to it's abandoned burnt out buildings and eerie silence throughout. We weren't quite sure about the place initially, but as a few people commented, it's quiet simplicity kind of grows on you. It lends itself to a low key cafe and restaurant culture with a nice mix of tourists and locals.

 

 

We divided our time between wondering or cycling around the town where I got a fantastic haircut for $2 including a massage, river cruises and a day trip. Our night cruise along the river in the hunt for fireflies was fun. With just the two of us and a non-English speaking skipper, we cruised in the pitch dark without a glimpse, wondering if we would actually see any fireflies. The fun started when suddenly we became grounded and the driver whipped his trousers off, jumped in and pushed us clear! After a quick pee off the back of the boat (by this time we think he may be drunk) he got his act together, cut the engine and waited quietly for the lights to appear. Millions of them lighting up the trees and bushes like fairy lights. Spectacular, and in fact we managed to hold one that was low enough to be captured. The strange trip turned out to be a winner.

Durian Fruit
We also did a cycling tour along the river, into the countryside, passing by little villages. Such a wealth of unusual things grow here and we were delighted to discover cotton plants, mangos, mangosteen, jack fruits and the seriously big, ugly durian fruits to name a few. Our biggest delight was discovering the cashew trees with their funny yellow fruit and the nut poking out on the outside! Lunch was at our guide's riverside house where we met his family and swam in the river from a pontoon. We ended a lovely day with a sunset cruise along the river.

 

Cotton plant
Cashew nut fruit
Playing in the river
Sunset cruise
Spot the dog!!!!
Our plan of going on the wagon in Kampot went down the drain when we met a lovely Austrian couple, Robin and Isabelle, who we enjoyed more than a few beers with and a lot of very interesting, varied and passionate conversations.