Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Thai Boxing Day

On Boxing Day we realised we would soon have no place to roost. They say that a positive attitude is a lighthouse for the hopeful and so we beamed onwards. After searching fervently on-line to no avail our light began to fade. Everything seemed booked up on the island. We engaged the services of the hotel reception staff, yet each request for help was met with a smiling countenance. It was plausible that all accommodation was booked and we would have to depart Koh Lanta tout-suit! Eventually with the help of the hotel manager we managed to find 1 room down the coast. 

The restaurant opposite our hotel had been recommended to us for their fantastic fresh fish.  The three of us enjoyed a huge red snapper coated in sweet yellow curry with steamed rice and spinach-like accompaniment. The restaurant was busy and a couple from Zurich joined our table. They were a humorous pair and we were all in good spirits and spent the whole evening in fits of laughter.  

The following morning the hotel had found us a second room, albeit further south. Pleased by our luck we set off to spilt locations.  That evening we re-grouped and following Kitty's advice we tried 'Time for Lime' restaurant (cookery school and animal welfare charity). The food was a five course 'tasting menu'. Bubbly Marinda from Holland joined us at our table. The food was quite fusion style, but unfortunately we had to leave early as service was slow and we had a ringside date! 

The entertainment of the evening was Thai Boxing or Mauy Thai. The warm up act was a young girl of around 4 dancing around the ring evading capture and emulating the moves of her idols with an imaginary opponent. Then young willowy boys, about 9 years old, started the evening off first on the card.  There was lots of kicking, less punching then I expected, and a good deal of kneeing. Fight categories were by weight, which made for some interesting matches i.e. Giraffe v. Buffalo. As the night went on more muscle-bound guys went their five rounds in the ring. There were over 7 fights on the card in total, providing a good 2 hours of entertainment.

We'd made friends with a helpful tuk tuk driver, Thee, and we'd arranged for her to collect us at the end. We were delighted when she turned up with her 6 month old daughter to join us at eleven o'clock to watch the heavyweights. She said, "there's not much else to do in he evenings".

The barman from our hotel (who we'd hired the tuktuk from on Christmas Day) also rocked up for a sly bit of gambling after his shift.
We decided that Koh Lanta was too busy and set our sights on a move to the National Park of Khao Soak.

Christmas Day Dinner on a rickety jetty at Koh Lanta Old Town

Friday, 27 December 2013

Christmas Day

We awoke and put our only Christmas card in pride of place. It was thoughtfully given by Carol and Ernest before our departure, so many many thanks.

Our treat for the day was a Thai massage each. We surprised Fraser with this gift over breakfast and he said he really enjoyed it afterwards. Fraser for his part had generously brought us a bottle of gin over (Bombay Sapphire of course darlings!), some of which we had shared with Kitty and Niall at Ko Lao Liang.

Once we'd finished our massages we took a trip down the island in a rented Tuk-tuk. For those of you that don't know it's a small motorbike with a sidecar. Sarah, unwilling to pay the hotel hire prices had negotiated with a local to rent theirs for the afternoon, a saving of £8. Unfortunately it was lacking good brakes, so we proceeded slowly with Chris valiantly at the helm. The three gears were tricky beasts, especially changing down into second when it jumped left. We didn't use the forth gear! We crossed the island to the east side, just missing a monkey crossing the road. Once over the mountainous central spine of the island we travelled down to the Old Town on the east coast. Here we parked up and admired the century old teak houses.

We settled on a traditional restaurant 'since 1888' and were lucky enough to get the single table at the end of a rickety pier, which could have been original. The sea was a still as a lake and with an overcast hue it seemed very serene. The dish of the day was Marlin fillet. Lightly fried with fresh green pepper, garlic and herbs. It was a sublime Christmas Dinner. 

We returned back to base to shower before the evening drew in and were cheered to receive a Skype call from Sarah's folks wishing us a Merry Christmas. Later we watched The Queens Speech on i Player. Sarah noted the Queen was wearing the same dress as she had for Kate and William’s wedding; the day Chris proposed. Maybe it was her subtle way of letting us know that she too is following our blog!

Tuk Tuk Timelapse

Nearly Christmas

Sarah managed to find a “40% off” deal for a resort in Ko Lanta, which she booked with literally a second to spare as the minivan revved its engines to pull away from Trang.

Arriving in the evening, we settled very comfortably into the Pilanta Resort & Spa hotel.  For a couple that has spent a month, through our own choice, in very basic accommodation I must indulge you on the specifics of our new home. Firstly, it was clean as a whistle. The air conditioning was pure luxury, as was the presence of WARM water. How alien it was to us not too have a cold shower, step out and immediately start sweating again! We were elated to find a bath, those avid readers will recall the last mini-bath Chris sat in in Madrid. Furthermore it was a jacuzzi bath. Layers of grime arose on the bubbles as I sank blissfully into the foamy waters.  The sheets, without patches, tears and gritty sand deposits, felt as soft as a cloud. We slept like logs and woke up revitalised. 

After doing some chores, such as clothes washing, we relaxed by the pool and updated our blog. Fraser similarly wrote up his diary. The astute of you might have noticed that we had not had any connection since 16th December and so you've been blessed with a rush of posts over the past few days covering the past few weeks. We apologise for this hiatus, and thank our dedicated blog follows for their patience! Normal service might resume, technological connections dependant. A few of you have asked who writes the blogs. The blog updates are each written by either Sarah or Chris, we’ll leave it up to you to guess whom. 

The resort was pretty empty, hence the price reduction but the facilities were excellent. We swam in the swimming pool of emeralds whilst drangonflies whirred overhead.

The Christmas Eve entertainment was a 'special dinner'. They did their best to serve the nine tables a western style menu. We acknowledged Christmas by donning flashing Santa hats. 

I don't know if you can remember the comedic episode of Only Fools and Horses where pregnant Raquel is cajoled into performing with the Elvis style impersonator named Tony? The pinnacle is the performance of "Cwying" by Tony and Raquel and the first, dramatic, belting out of the song's chorus! Well, we had a similar experience, when the Thai acoustic guitar player belting out his version of the Tina Turner Classic "Rolling on the River". Which translated as "Lolling, lolling,..Lolling on the Liver"! We clapped rapturously at the end.

Most restaurants close about 9pm, and the guests retired on Christmas Eve about 9.30pm leaving us alone. Fraser and Chris played darts and then challenged the barman to a few games of connect 4 (which he won outright). We were very pleased to be able to Skype brother John and Amy. It had been too long without hearing John's dry sense of humour and invented a new international, long distance drinking game!

Merry Christmas!! xxx

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Ko Lao Liang – a climbers paradise

Our chartered longtail left Koh Mook at 12 noon and headed south over a calm tranquil turquoise sea. We passed countless rocky limestone spires and the large island of Ko Libong, which contains no resorts, just a few fishing villages and a few bungalows for the odd traveller who ends up there looking to escape the crowded resorts of Ko Lanta, Krabi and Phuket.

After a few hours a large rock mass began to loom out of the horizon, vertical or overhanging on all sides, topped with jungle and surrounded on all sides by azure blue waters. As we came alongside we could see a beach running for half of the eastern side of the island, maybe 400 metres long with mangroves and palms just behind dotted with tents and temporary wooden structures. Home for the next few days.

Ko Lao Liang is part of a national park, they manage the island, the accommodation and the kitchen for the 4 months that the island is open for visitors. A climbing company has an arrangement with the national park and brings visitors here to test their metal against the overhanging limestone cliffs and drink cold beer in the evening at the beach shack. Everything is chilled and informal, after paying for your tent and all meals on arrival (about £24 a night per person) everything else is run on an honesty system which you pay for at the end of your trip, drinks, climbing equipment rental, instruction, kayak hire etc.

There were a mixture of visitors, majority European – British, German, French, Scandinavian – most of whom were on a climbing tour of Thailand and had brought all their gear and trained hard for these few weeks of climbing paradise. We on the other hand cruised up with all the air of amateurs out for a jolly and as we surveyed the routes on offer, all well protected but all pretty hard, I started to wonder if maybe this was a good idea!

Our tents were spacious and clean, with mattresses (the obligatory hard as reinforced concrete), pillows, sheets and blankets and even a fan and power point for when there was electricity in the evening.

That first afternoon we searched for the easiest routes we could find, generally around French 5+ but quite often with a 6c boulder problem to start!! There were plenty of bolts and sling runners and good quality ring anchors at the top and we spent a pleasant first evening climbing a few easy routes, belaying on the sand watching the waves roll gently in.

That evening we met Kitty and Niall, Kitty was living and working in Bangkok and Myamar and Niall was living in St Albans and skiing a lot in Chamonix – sounds familiar.

They were great company and the 5 of us climbed and socialized together for the next few days, pushing each other on the rock and at the bar! At night the stars blazed in the sky and when the moon rose it illuminated the cliffs and the beach which rendered what electric light there was useless. The island was fantastic but limited, the snorkeling was good but we had 3 days of strong winds and big waves, which meant visibility was poor. The kayaks also were swamped in the swell, so any thoughts of kayaking around the island were put on the back burner. As we were on the east side of the island with a narrow beach backed by the giant cliffs we had come here to climb, it meant we lost the sun by about 1pm, which was great for climbing as it made it more bearable and less sweaty but not so good for sunbathing and beach fun.

After 3 days we had all completed some great climbs, with noticeable improvements, even leading French 6a+ and attempting 6c with hilarious consequences. So with egos boosted and arms trashed we were all ready for a change of scene. On the 23 December we waved the island and our friends goodbye and took a longtail boat to the mainland and a minibus back to Trang.

Departing Koh Mook - looking back at Sawadee Resort

Ko Lao Liang looms on the horizon

The eastern beach of Ko Lao Liang dotted with green tents

Nearly full moon party!

Testing our metal on 6a+, top rope first of course

Fraser tackling the stalactites

The beach shack bar in perfect surroundings

Our first guest arrives

We arrived in Koh Mook island on the 17th and stayed in the Sawaddee resort, right next to the beach on the west side of the island. Sarah had been there a few times before and swore that the stilted bungalows had not been updated in seven years, and even back then they were falling apart! One night Chris answered the call of nature and was surprised to see a mouse run under the bathroom door between his feet and out of a hole in the wall! The positive aspects are that the staff there are very helpful, the food is fantastic and authentic and the location is the best on the island. 

We were keenly awaiting the arrival of our first guest and when the sun had set we started to worry something had happened to cause a delay. We called Fraser, "Where are you?" we asked "Sorry can't talk I'm on a motorbike crossing the island" he replied - typical Fraser! Apparently his connection in India had been delayed, which meant his other travel plans had to be shifted back but, reliable to the end, he chartered the last long tail of the day to reach Koh Mook and then persuaded a local to drive him across the island by motorcycle and side car! It was really great to see Fraser. 

Over the next three days we caught up with Fraser's news and recieved a good briefing on general UK and global events. Chris was annoyed to realise that he had left his laptop charger in Ko Lipe. However, after our friendly Thai hosts contacted the pension in Ko Lipe on our behalf at 8.30am, it was found and put on the next ferry boat and arrived (with no cost to us) by 2pm. We were amazed, but this a typical example of the generosity, kindness and helpfulness shown by Thai people everywhere we have been.

One evening we met Barbara and Corina who are based in Hamburg. They were lovely people who studied Karate and traditional Chinese medicine, running their own practice in Germany. Over the next few days we were educated in the basics of this fascinating approach to health and wellbeing. The following day we took a trip with them to the Emerald Cave. We took a long tail along the coast and moored just outside a small cave at the base of the cliff. We all popped into the water and swam towards this opening. Following it into a tunnel towards the back of the cliff we swam for 80m in pitch blackness. This meant we often swam into each other and the walls! The tunnel opened up into a secret cave, which was missing its roof, so technically is a blow hole with an enlarged vertical shaft, but that doesn't sound as attractive as the emerald cave!! It was a beautiful place, used for hundreds of years by pirates to hide their loot and by locals who hunted for birds nests for the chinese market.  Then the five of us went snorkelling at a secluded bay which was teeming with large soft corals, sea fans and anemones. 

On 20 December we chartered a long tail boat to take Fraser and us to our next island destination - Ko Lao Liang.

Fraser joins us at Koh Mook and we head off to find the Emerald Cave

The cliffs that hide the Emerald Cave

The cave's entrance, just a dark patch at the base of a 200m high cliff

The inside of the roofless cave, looking back at the 80m long, pitch black, twisting tunnel we have just swam through and its opening onto a calm sandy beach

Look, no roof!

Our reference material for this post!!

 Sunset from Koh Mook looking across to Koh Kradan

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Ko Lipe stopover

Many had warned us about visiting Ko Lipe due to the untamed developments. We were led to understand that it was an island devoted to the Sea Gypsy community and a Chinese entrepreneur struck an agreement with their elders to buy or lease most of the island from them. Yes the place was busy, but the urbanisation was not a concrete jungle and still had a distinct cast-away feel to it. It's the last island in the adaman archipelago before reaching Malaysia in the south. To us it was an overnight stop to get a connection the next day northwards. Once we'd found a room for the night we relished in the range of cusine available and then treated ourselves to a good old burger, with a tasty brown seeded (not white sweet and dry) bread bun - luxury. 

The Main Street is called walking street, lined with restaurants, shops, dive centers and bars. After dusk the restaurants display their fresh fish selection: snapper, grouper, jack fish, large tiger prawns, jumbo prawns, squid, razor shells, clams, lobsters, blue crabs and more were on offer. Our attention was drawn to a large 5ft long sailfish which took three men to carry it and had a beautiful high and wide dorsal fin and marlin-like jaws. It tasted delicious, similar to, but softer than, swordfish. We couldn't manage to it eat it all though, as they carved over 40 steaks from it!

On the way back to our room we bumped into a honeymoon couple from Dulwich. Lisa and James asked us to join them at a bar on the beach. It was great to chat with them and we even went for a dip in the sea. Unfortunately Chris had his phone in his pocket. So it's now broken :( 

The next morning we visited a bakery for croissants and doughnuts and took the 3.5 hour ferry to Koh Mook to meet Fraser.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Pirate Waterfall

On our penultimate day in Ko Adang we undertook a short jaunt about 2km towards the west of the island to find the Pirate Waterfall. The faint path led us amongst the dense ancient jungle, contouring around the island we came to large granitic boulders and the river. From the size of the bed load that had been carried down we noted that once the volume of water in the river must have been much greater. It was amongst these giant's marbles that the pirates apparently hid their loot. Try as we might we couldn't find any treasure in this Jurassic Park vista.  We scrambled uphill, following the stream bed to find the waterfall. Whilst not a roaring avalanche of water it was a welcome sight. We decided to strip off and cool down. We sat at the fall's base and let the tattered curtains of water drape over us. 

Refreshed we set off to find a beach we had seen on the snorkelling trip from the long tail boat. This beach intrigued us as from the sea we could see a large hotel had been constructed in the bay. It is illegal to build on national park land, well, unless you can bribe a government official enough. 

We noted on our ascent a thick black pipe, which we presumed took water from the river to the Park HQ. On our way back we saw a second pipe spilt off and we followed this branch. We emerged from the jungle on to a beach opposite our neighbouring island of Ko Lipe, and following it into the sea we surmised that the National Park water must be suppling the tourist trade in Ko Lipe. The mouth of the river was wide and chocked with massive boulders worn smooth with waves, weather and time. it was reminiscent of the spectacular boulder-shores at Anse Source d'Argent, the popular beach in the Seychelles. Some of these, closest to the jungle were covered in epiphytes. the river would have been a good source of fresh water in its prime days for passing ships. 

The hotel was at the far end of this beach, furnished but empty. Three national park rangers lounged in the foyer; presumably on guard. By the standard of the build it was set to be a luxurious retreat (but not for the discerning travelling). Time will tell if the corruption can escalate high enough to build on this protected paradise island.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Ko Adang

We arrived at the national park of Ko Adang in the late afternoon on 10th December by long tail boat.  The park is wholly dominated by jungle, tall trees and creepers. The park headquarters is understated, facilities are basic although there is a restaurant with a limited menu- and surprisingly no fresh seafood. Our bungalow with fan was clean and spacious, with the (now obligatory) hard mattress; somehow they make them harder than concrete! We have developed a system of packing out under the thin duvet with all our bagged clothes, and sleeping on top of it all. Unfortunately this does little to ease the pain and in the mornings we have to pray to Mecca and remember our sleeping dog poses from yoga to feel fluid again. That said, it is a small matter when the beauty of the park surrounds us. As well as bungalows there is the ability to camp and a transient population of guests, some of which we got to know.
The weather was great, no rain anymore. On our first full day we walked to the viewpoint, a clearly signed stomp up weathered granite outcrops intermingled with forest. Needless to say we left later than planned in the morning so we had a good work out in 34C. The views were worth it though, about 240m up we had a panorama that stretched from Ko Lipe, our Thai neighbour, to Lankawi, Malaysia. On the descent we came across a troop of Crab Eating Macaques resting in the shade. Then three long tailed Greater Racket Tailed 
Drongos settled close by. At first we thought they were birds of paradise as their tails looked so gracious. Unluckily we also attracted another creature of the forest; a tick which attached itself to Sarah's right upper eyelash. After a couple of days of discomfort it was removed safely by the health centre in Lipe (mandibles included).

Our Longtail captain at the front of his boat

Dozens of varieties of lizards make the jungle their home

Ants everywhere so careful where you stand

 Jungle as far as the eye can see

Crab eating macaques block our path

The Greater Racket Tailed Drongo

Chris, hot & sweaty!