Some dodgy boat took us across a choppy Andaman Sea this morning to Koh Lanta, off the east coast of Thailand. We came here from Koh Phi Phi and were pretty glad to get out of that place after a couple of nights. We've managed to find ourselves a bamboo bungalow about 20 metres from a quiet white sand beach and a clear blue sea.
The trip south after Chiang Mai has had its ups and downs, first stop being Bangkok, which was brilliant. We'd expected it to be totally 'in yer face' but it was not so crazy as anticipated and easy to get around. We stayed about ten minutes from the infamous Khao San Road - a grim busy street packed with grim Brits and others exposing their grim freshly-tattooed torsos. It was good to walk down but not much else and we quickly became thankful we had not booked ourselves into one of the budget backpackers guesthouses that hang from it's side alleys. Exploring Bangkok was pretty easy with the fantastic and cheap river taxis and the skytrain that flies over the city's main streets. For a few days we wandered the streets with no real direction
and managed to get a flavour of the city (KFC flavour). Almost got scammed by a smarmy travel agent, ate what looked like chicken oesophogus in coconut soup and took in the sights and smells of Chinatown. We also had a great night of Karaoke, singing a wide range of cheese washed down with much beer and cocktails until the early hours. Felt sorry for the staff that had to keep popping into our booth though, Catherine was good but I wasn't exactly Robbie.
I love the sense of pride they have here and the respect for their King. His image is absolutely everywhere and he is, apparently, universally adored. We had a slice of traditional Thai culture by going to the cinema and watching 'Happy Go Lucky'. Film review another time but before the showing, the national anthem played to a thousand images of HRH as we all stood in respect. The national anthem is actually quite a pleasant tune as well, unless you have Catherine next to you singing her own words along to it. We experienced it again the next evening in the superb Lumpini Park, where at 6pm everyone stopped their running, walking, and Tai
Chi and stood still as the national anthem was played over the tannoy. Great stuff.
Lumpini Park was so great that we went there again for a bit more the next morning. We arrived before the sun did, and as it came up we watched the locals go about using the park as a huge free outdoor gym. There were big and small tai chi sessions and a huge free aerobics class at the main gate. Other people were running around the paths whilst some used the outdoor gym equipment laid on by the authorities. Sounds a bit pretentious but it really was inspiring to see it, and when the sun cast its morning rays over the lake it created a magnificent red colour over the city. We both walked out of there full of the joys of winter and thought of all the fantastic things we'll do to enrich our lives when we get home. In reality, we probably won't do anything.
The next part of the trip meant experiencing Thailand's railways and a night sleeper train down to Surat Thani, followed by a bus to Phuket. The train was good apart from the frequent stops, the
drab food and having to wake up at 3.30 am. We dragged ourselves from the carriage under the cover of darkness and waited for the 7am coach to the east. Mass confusion set in, with no idea which coach to get or where it would leave from. The 7am bus turned out to be about 7.45 am and rather than the 'VIP' coach we'd expected, we scrambled onto something similar to the one I used to go to school on in the late 1980s. With chandaliers. Luckily we found a seat at the back, which is where the cool kids used to sit at school, but about 10 people started the 3hr journey standing up. At school we had to go three to a seat, a much better idea I think. I sat next to some Thai bloke who liked to keep smelling his fingers but luckily he got off after about 2hrs. The 3hr journey turned into a 5hr one and we eventually rocked up in Phuket town, stupidly leaving our great Cambodian hats tucked away on the overhead shelf. We'll miss those hats.
We found ourselves a cheap but decent guesthouse, which we shared with a friendly
ant colony (they lived in the bathroom, we lived in the bedroom) in Phuket town. Phuket as an island is not as Ibiza-like as we'd thought. There is a sizeable element of it, but away from the beaches it is friendly and relaxed. Phuket was hit badly by the Tsunami, as was most of this area, although there are not any real obvious signs of it. Patong beach has many big companies with new buildings right on the beach, land snapped up after it was devastated four years ago. There are also many signs pointing you to the nearest Tsunami evacuation route. Reasurring in some ways but unsettling in others. The beaches themselves were amazing, if a few to many bodies on them. We spent a day on Kata beach not doing much apart from occasionally going for a dip in the warm clear waters, tyring to avoid the jellyfish.
A few days ago we took the boat from Phuket across to Koh Phi Phi, the island where the hit motion picture 'The Beach with Leonardo Di Caprio' was filmed. Hadn't expected the boat there to pitch and roll so much and both us and our stomachs were relieved
It converts to bunk beds, like Transformers
to get to dry land. The feeling of relief didn't last too long though. Phi Phi was like a cross between Ayia Napa (not that I've ever been there), Blackpool and somewhere rubbish in Sweden, but with an absluotely amazing setting. The stunning island had, for us anyway, pretty much been wrecked by tourists intent on getting completely wasted, getting more tattoos and cremating their skin for two weeks. It's not even that we're very boring or acting like pensioners - the island is breathtaking but unfortunately tourism has gone way overboard. It feels like the infrastructure won't be able to cope and it's going to implode. Or perhaps there will be another large wave. (Sorry)
So yes it was good to escape from there with the 1000 Baht note we'd found in a locker - that'll pay for two new hats - and Koh Lanta looks to be much more our kind of thing. When this is written we're off for a stroll up Long Beach, so called because the beach is quite long (in case you were wondering), then we may dip our toes into the, hopefully tame, beach party this evening. We'll do our best to
turn this place into another Phi Phi...
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