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Published: December 16th 2008
We crossed into Thailand from Malaysia by what seemed like an easy well trodden path, well at least according to the venerated Lonely Planet book. This could perhaps be deemed partly true, but the fact is the Lonely Planet is wrong so often that we have come to doubt its accuracy and this proved to be just such an occasion that it was wayward in its advice. In short the journey involved organising 3 bus journeys with stops, one overnight in a dive of a town, where it seemed the locals had never laid eyes on a westerner before. But at last we arrived in the 'Land of Smiles' Thailand and found our way to our first destination, the island called Koh Lipe, which promised another beach paradise, we know, we simply have not had enough since Fiji!
But when in Rome... or Thailand, the beaches are a must do. Koh Lipe however proved to be a bit of a disappointment, it was supposedly off the beaten track and unmolested by hoards of sun-worshipers, but this turned out to be a load of rubbish as tourism has well and truely left its mark here, it is sad to see a
place that once must have been so peaceful and serene now spoiled by the rubbish created by all this modernizing and tourism. Maybe even more sad is that we are part of this! That isn't to say the island was not without its charms. There were indeed stunning beaches and we spent a couple of days lazing around enjoying the sunsets. At night the beachfront bars were lit by burning torches and colourful lanterns with mats layed out on the beach perfect for lounging on to enjoy a cold one! On one such night we were treated to an impressive fire dancing show with the friendly barman whirling flaming orbs on chains around his head, it was mesmorizing to watch. We also tried an extremely hot and spicy Thai green curry, nothing like those jarred imposters back home. Happy days.
Next up was a wee detour to a coastal town called Krabi, this is the main stopping off point to the infamous and highly visited island of Ko Phi Phi, but given that we found Koh Lipe dissagreable we decided against venturing to the island itself. Instead in an attempt to evade the masses and party atmosphere we chose
Near Hat Ton Sai, Krabi
a wee rock climbing haven called Hat Ton Sai on the mainland a short boat trip away. This beach retreat is nestled between towering limestone karsts that attract rockclimbers from all over the world. The place was incredible. In the morning we were woken by cheeky monkeys jumping on our beach hut's bamboo roof. From the lovely beach we could see massive rocky outcrops rising out of the deep green water, with caves underneath them and jungle covering their tops. Above us the rock climbers started early and one cannot doubt that there are few other places on earth with such a spectacular backdrop for them to practice.
From the beach we rented a two person sea-kayak and complete with a new waterproof bag for the camera we headed off out on the ocean to explore those enticing limestone islands. It was a wonderful experience. The simple independence of having our own sea going transport was great fun, but add to that paddling underneath the skyscraper like rock formations with tropical fish swimming all around you and it was just a really fab way to spend a day together. We even stopped off for a spot of snorkeling, which
revealed some more underwater magic, with some great coral and some more inquisitive fish.
We then crossed over to the opposite side of Thailand's peninsula for a trip to the island of Koh Tao for yet more beach time! The place was all a bit overboard on the whole tourist trail thang and unfortunately because of this prices have rocketed for food and accomodation. To be honest, while it is again a lovely location, with some nice beaches and some decent snorkeling it just didn't cut the mustard for us. But listen to us moaning again! We had another relaxing few days in a wonderful resort with a private beach, our bamboo hut was stunning with a fantastic view, we cant really complain can we! It was all worth while if only for the night boat we took to get there, it was definately one of those experiences to savour and remember. We turned up at night on the river side of a smelly dirty inlet, there were some beat up boats moored which had clearly seen better days and a wee shack in a run down building posed as a ticket office... we wondered if we were too
early for the 'ferry' but were soon informed that one of those beat up boats was actually ours! It was a cargo ship filled with every conceivable type of grocery as well as a 4x4 pick up truck! The accommodation took the form of a single room, packed full of about 30 odd locals with a few gringos, sorry, 'falang' thrown in. We slept on mats crammed in like sardines and tried to sleep through the drone of the engine and the queasy sickness inducing sway of the boat. Still, for all that, like we say it was one to write home about!
With a stop in Bangkok next up we then jumped straight onto an overnight train bound for the north of Thailand, we plan to do a little more in and around Bangkok later before we, wince, fly home. Well, if the night boat was an experience so was the night train. To our horror there was no room left in the sleeper compartments, but actually this was OK as we ended up with almost an entire train cabin to ourselves, with fans to keep us cool, reclining seats and a lovely train hostess from Laos who
kept us plied with Tiger beer, a jolly night was had by all.
We reached our destination, the city of Chiang Mai early in the morning, feeling a bit groggy and worse for wear after all our beer swilling! Chiang Mai is full of ancient temples to keep a culture vulture occupied for days on end and also has a buzzing night market selling everything bar the kitchen sink, no wait it sold that too! We wandered through the streets between temples, stopping every so often to quench our thirst with a refreshing fruitshake, mmm, slurptastic. The temples themselves were really quite gorgeous and very interesting to boot. They are all intricately decorated with ornate carvings and statues, often with gold plating to top things off. The image of Buddha is everywhere and there is a huge population of monks to worship at their feet. We were lucky enough to get chatting to a gregarious monk who was eager to brush up on his already impressive English. We spent about 2 hours speaking with him! He wanted to know all about us and our country, and we in turn quizzed him about Buddism and his life as a monk.
It was a real pleasure to spend some time with him learning from each other, not to mention laughing at his surprisingly witty quips!
As we walked the streets of the city, we were taken slightly aback by the sheer number of tour agencies offering elephant riding trips, or visits to camps to see elephant shows where they perform tricks. This kind of thing doesn't really sit well with us. With our well practiced research hats on we found an organisation who really had the elephants best interests at heart, there was no riding, no shows and the elephants at this sanctuary had all been rescued from captivity and lives of maltreatment. Our time with the elephants was incredible, one of the highlights of our entire travels, so much so that we have devoted another blog to it, this way you can enjoy more photos! Coming soon to a computer screen near you!
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