Singapore Take Two

September 15th, 2009
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Having already been to Singapore I was well and truly up on it and quickly realised that it’s actually a lot smaller than my first impressions had made it seem. It’s also actually a really nice city but probably one that’s only really worth a visit if you know someone who can take you to the places that the guidebooks don’t know about.

With Emma forced to stay behind in Bali for another night I checked in to the hostel dorm room at the Hangout. This place is a pretty reasonably priced, lovely hostel with almost the perfect location for town. I got chatting to a German guy in the dorm room who had an unhealthy obsession with airplanes. Carrying a 747 manual (or something similar) and donning a T-shirt with an airbus, or something, on it we took off to find some dinner and beer. By now I knew Singapore like the back of my hand so took off down to Chinatown for some food and beers. The night was ok, if not slightly dull!

Once Emma arrived we made like good tourists and set about seeing the entire city in a single afternoon. We did not achieve it but we did see a hell of a lot of the town and bumped in to one of Emma’s friends from back home who had moved to the city. We almost timed our visit to Singapore to perfection accidentally coming across the preparations and rehearsals for that years National Day celebrations. For a rehearsal they must have spent an absolute fortune on what was probably the best firework show I’ve ever seen. That night we went for a curry in LIttle India. In fact we ended up going to the same place that Ravi, Steve and I had been to on my previous visit. A word of warning to any girls wanting to go to Little India: cover up. Emma was wearing an outfit which would be perfectly fine in the UK but not here it seems. In a place which seemed to be overrun by men she was looked up and down by every single guy in the area. Pretty horrific really and not something you’d want to be subjected to on your own.

The following day we took off to go meet Emma’s friend, Becky, and her family. They’d just moved out to Singapore and were quite literally moving in to their new home. They took us out for some lunch at this lovely little farmers market before I headed off to Australia and Emma stayed around for another day.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Back to Bali

September 15th, 2009
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Having experienced the sheer joy of the slow boat to Gili Trawangan Emma and I decided to join Lou and Viks on the fast boat back to Bali. Not only is it quicker it’s actually a fair bit of fun as well. They certainly don’t mess around. We managed to get some serious air, off big waves, several times. Loved it.

We decided that we’d try to see a bit more of the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak conurbation and, given what the guidebooks said, we decided to stay in the, alledgedly, more upmarket, slightly more expensive but not as much as seminyak, Legian. We arrived fairly late on in the day and walked around a few places before finding a bigger hotel with a couple of rooms free. At this point I feel it necessary to say that I think most of the hotels know that it’s getting late and basically try to push their more expensive rooms on to you. It’s a bloody pain. Anyway, the two rooms we found could not have been more contrasting. Em and I had a pretty awful place with what can only be described as a trickle i.e. definitely not a shower. Viks and Lou, on the other hand, had a jacuzzi at the end of their bed along with a bathroom each. Thankfully we only stayed one night.

That night, though, was a good one. It started off ok with a fairly mediocre restaurant and the dawning realisation that actually Legian had pretty much nothing going on at night. Em and I said goodnight to the girls and then went off for a walk to try and find some bars. A little while in to our walk we realised that not only was everything shut but it seemed like mugging central. You certainly wouldn’t want to walk around some of these places alone. Before Trawangan we’d visited the “Ocean Beach Club” on Kuta beach a couple of times, once for lunch and once for dinner. Feeling that the night was coming to a premature end I stopped a guy on a scooter and managed to get him to take me and Em to the bar. We arrived around 10 and quickly set about the cocktail menu. This place is brilliant, the food is varied and well done, the tunes at night are top notch (it has a laid back feeling but mixed with a bit of dance) and the atmosphere is great. We ordered a few cocktails and then got chatting to the manager who it turned out was seeing the guy who was running Ku De Ta. She gave us some hints and then got us booked in to Ku De Ta for the following day. Result.

We spent the next day on the beach up in Legian and realised where a few of the bars were. It was a fairly uneventful day although we did manage to find this quality little Italian cafe, Cafe Marzano, which does some of the nicest pizza I’ve ever had. You could have just eaten the base itself, it was that good. That night we went to Ku De Ta, the restaurant famous for having Kate Moss as a regular patron. Ku De Ta Cheese Board!Somewhat out of keeping with the rest of Indonesia this place charges good London prices but thankfully the food (Venison in my case), the cocktails, the atmosphere, and the frankly out of this world service really do make it worthwhile. Apparently Christiano Ronaldo had been there the year before and at the time I was quite happy with that. Now, not so much. We finished the night off with a trip to the bars in Legian that we’d found. Not the greatest of places but there was one guy on his own, unbelievably inebriated, keeping everyone entertained.

The following day was effectively the last day with Lou and Viks as their plane left early the next morning. We spent another fairly lazy day on the beach ensuring that their tan was nicely topped up before heading back home. The girls went off for an evening out and then we caught up in the Legian beach bars for further drinks before saying our goodbyes.

The following morning Em and I checked out of the hotel and decided to head back to the seriously more lively Kuta. Spending what seemed like an eternity we found a fairly cheap but pretty clean hotel to stay in and decided to spend the rest of the week there basically having a bit of a beach holiday.Sunset on Kuta Beach The rest of the week passed fairly uneventfully, we spent a lot of time on the beach, I spent yet more time not surfing. Until the last two efforts that is when I started to get a bit of confidence on the board. We spent pretty much every night that week getting a taxi up to Jalan Oberoi (that’s a street), in Seminyak, for dinner. While it doesn’t have the greatest nightlife, given the more upmarket resorts, it does have by far the best restaurants in Bali. We had quite a few italians (The Trattoria does a phenomenal rabbit ravioli) as well as Morrocan and others. Not only is the food very very good, with an excellent variety of tastes, it’s also bloody cheap; think £3 for a main course! Once we’d eaten we invariably headed back to Kuta to go for a few drinks.

Our best night of the week involved the awesome Rabbit ravioli followed by a trip to the aforementioned Ocean Beach Club where the manager now recognised us and introduced us to her sister, the great DJ, as well as a few other people. We had a few cocktails before heading off to the Sky Garden, a far preferable alternative to Bounty, where we had more cocktails and painted a few shapes on the dancefloor. While there they put on a fire show with a couple of dancers showing off their moves. It was a great night although made more memorable by the hangovers that Em and I had the next day!!

We left Bali to go to Singapore and as per usual made a right cock up of it. Em already had her flight sorted so I was getting there another way. She was going first to Kuala Lumpur before getting a connecting flight to Singapore. Obviously I just went straight to Singapore a fair bit earlier. Unfortunately Emma’s flight was delayed which meant she would miss her connecting flight resulting in her staying another day in Bali before catching up with me.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Gili Trawangan

September 15th, 2009
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We split up from Lou and Viks at the port on the east coast of Bali. With them taking the fast boat we knew that they’d get there well before us. We were slightly pissed off though when we received a text to say that they’d arrived while we hadn’t even left port. What happened next is best left forgotten. However, just in case anyone is reading this with a view of going to Gili Trawangan, we spent 5 hours on what is possibly the hottest and slowest boat on the planet. That was then followed by several bus journeys through Lombok with many unnecessary stops and then finally a local boat to Gili Trawangan. My advice: pay the extra and take the fast boat. Although the view certainly can’t be knocked….

View on way to Gili Trawangan

Gili Trawangan is part of the “The Gili Islands” that people mention when they go to Bali. As far as I can tell “Gili” is actually indonesian for Island so technically it’s “The Island Islands”. Hmm. The Gili Islands are situated just of the north west coast of Lombok and comprise Gili Trawangan, the largest, furthest from the mainland and busiest island, Gili Air, the second in every way, and Gili Meno.

As with Bali we arrived on Trawangan smack bang in the middle of the peak season. Unfortunately this meant that the guesthouses could pretty much charge exactly what they wanted especially given that on one night the number of people on the island outnumbered the number of beds. With that in mind we checked in to a guesthouse that a prisoner would turn down. With just a mattress in the corner and no sheets or anything to be seen we regretfully handed over far too much money for our first night. The rest of the stay was much more pleasant; with an early start we were able to find a bungalow in a much nicer guesthouse.

To be honest we didn’t really do too much while on Gili Trawangan. There’s not really that much to do. For some R&R though it’s definitely up there with the best of them. There’s some great restaurants, some truly stunning sunsets and good, quiet beaches. On top of that there are the local spirits. Not entirely certain how good they are, and I don’t think they’re that strong, but at 60p for a spirit and mixer you really can’t complain! Regardless of this, if you want a decent cocktail then head, somewhat amusingly, to the Irish Bar. The guys there know their stuff; I had a mojito which barely touched the sides it was that good.

We pretty much stayed on the east coast of the island where most of the development has taken place and you have the majority of restaurants, bars and the cheaper accommodation. It’s also where the boat arrives on to the island so makes everything very easy. On our final night we changed it up a bit and walked to the north coast of the island, passing by a few cute bars on the beach, to a restaurant/cafe that has the best sunset view. They put tables and chairs out on the beach so that there’s nothing between you and the horizon but water. Sunset Table and ChairsThey do a selection of tapas but being early we went for a jug of sangria to share and some patatas bravas for a snack. The food was good, the drink was good, the company was good, and the staff were hilarious. Basically a bunch of locals in their early twenties trying out their language skills and, by the looks of it, trying to pull as many westerners as possible!

Another attraction with the east coast of Trawangan is the snorkelling that can be done just off shore. There are many little stalls along the beach which will lend snorkels, masks and fins for a tiny price and then you’ve got the day to go exploring the reef. There’s quite a current out there so it’s best to walk to the north end of the main beach and then simply drift your way back down the beach.

Gili Trawangan Beach

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Bali

September 15th, 2009
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Having departed Gunung Bromo, Java, at 10am I was happy that I’d be in Kuta for around 8pm hopefully giving me enough time to find somewhere to stay and to settle in. Unfortunately I’d not factored in Indonesian timing and was a little hacked off to notice that it was 8pm and I had not even entered Bali. Anyway, 5 hours later I, and a German couple, arrived in to Kuta, Bali, and started making our way through the numerous full hotels that were on offer. The few places that did have rooms seemed to be strangely expensive. An hour in to the hunting, and a couple in to the morning, the German couple found a place for pretty much nothing and left me to it. Slightly hacked off at this I got on the back of a scooter, backpack n all, and was taken off to a hotel which I was assured had a room. On arrival I was given a key and told a price and off I went to bed exhausted yet again.

Bali is the one remaining Hindu island in Indonesia and, coupled with it’s diverse scenery, is a very unique island. If there’s one island that can appeal to everyone this is it. From the surf, sun and Aussies (!) in Kuta to the volcano of Gunung Batur via the highly cultural Ubud this place has it all.

For the majority of our time in Bali Emma and I were joined by two of her Uni friends, Lou and Viks. With Emma in Kuala Lumpur, having experienced the same journey from Koh Samui that I did, I met up with Lou and Viks on my own. We had some lunch and then went to try and find some accommodation for the next few days. Asking at a few places we soon realised that, while Bali is cheap compared to the west, it’s not quite as cheap as you think when it’s high season. I would, therefore, suggest that future visits to Bali should be done just outside the peak season when your money goes further and the Aussie’s haven’t gone anywhere at all!

We spent the first couple of days getting some beach time and pretty much didn’t stray from Kuta beach and Poppies lanes 1 and 2. Neither of us had surfed before and Kuta (actually Bali in general) is renowned for it’s excellent surf. There are plenty of official surf schools offering to teach you for around $35. That seemed a bit steep to us so we popped down to the beach and got one of the many Balinese, who offer teaching, to show us how it’s done. As a teaching experience it’s probably one of the worst ever but it was about $10 for a quick lesson and two hours on the board. Viks and Lou went first putting serious pressure on me and Em. We shyly buggered off for some lunch before attempting the lesson ourselves. I knew my masculinity was in question and that was only exacerbated when Em managed to get up on the board first time. I got up third time! That night we set about hitting the Kuta nightlife as hard as possible and headed out for dinner before visiting the might that is Bounty nightclub. This place is free to get in and in my opinion they should pay you for the pleasure. Actually that’s not completely true but it is a little reminiscent of some of the cheesier clubs from Uni days.

Having had a bit of beach time we headed towards the centre of Bali to the town of Ubud.Cafe Bali, Ubud Ubud is the cultural heart of Bali and a UNESCO heritage town, which ensures that it stays as true to its roots as possible. The place is stunning, with traditional Balinese arts and crafts, festivals, food and architecture in abundance. If you’ve ever been to Luang Phabang or Hoi An then it has the same kind of feel but in my opinion is even better.

We arrived in Ubud by minibus and immediately headed in to The Three Monkeys for lunch. This place is an awesome cafe for lunch, doing a full range of cuisine all done superbly. Once we’d eaten the girls went off to find somewhere for us all to stay. This took a little while, to say the least, but once done Em and I checked in to this lovely little guest house. Only four rooms in the whole place but the room was absolutely massive, with breakfast being served on our balcony in the morning. In terms of nightlife Bali is not exactly rampant but the restaurants are absolutely top notch and there are a few bars to relax in after dinner.

For our first day in Ubud we decided to go white water rafting. In all honesty it wasn’t the most exhilirating of experiences; the girls did in fact give me a bit of abuse for laughing my way down instead of screaming with them. The scenery, however, is really amazing: gorges cut in to rainforest give the whole ride a really amazing atmosphere and the 5 metre drop at the end is an absolute laugh. The amusing outfits are pretty funny as well: there should be photos of it somewhere. Oh yes………

Lovely white water rafting outfits

For our second day in Ubud we decided to climb Gunung Batur, the still active volcano in the centre of Bali. As with the volcano in Java it’s suggested that you climb the volcano in time for sunrise. Unlike Gunung Batur, however, you do actually have to climb the volcano. We set off at 3am in the morning to get to the foot of Batur for 4am in order to climb up in time for sunrise. We had a guide with us, who was invaluable as it would be impossible to find the way up in the dark without one. Sunrise view from Gunung BaturFor me this was definitely one of the highlights of Bali. It took around 2 hours to get up the volcano and at times the incline was very steep to say the least. I think it’s best, in this instance, to simply have a look at the photos of the volcano and sunrise; it’s quite amazing to have the earth steaming around.

On our third day we went to the hot springs at the foot of Gunung Batur before spending an afternoon walking round Ubud and the surrounding rice fields. The following day we left for Gili Trawangan with Lou and Viks taking the fast boat and Em and I taking the slow boat.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Java

September 10th, 2009

I left Em early (7am)  and had decided to save some money and take a bus down to Kuala Lumpur before getting a plane to Jakarta. Definitely one of the worst ideas of my life. The journey started with a minibus to the west coast of Koh Samui before getting a boat to the mainland. I also have to point out that there’s a serious amount of confusion at every single stop as noone really speaks any english and you just hope that you get to the right place. Anyway, I got off the boat and on to another minibus which took everyone to another stop. At that point, much like a post sorting office I imagine, we were separated depending on location. I was then put in another minibus which was just ridiculously small. The driver then proceeded to pick up a load of mates and we headed off down to the Malaysian border. After the border we headed to Penang where we were then put in another bus to Kuala Lumpur. This bus was actually pretty amazing but we were originally scheduled to get into KL at 6am but I had a feeling that we were way ahead of schedule and as a result didn’t really want to sleep in case I missed my stop. Amusingly I was right and we got in to KL at 2am. I’d planned on getting in at 6am and then getting the train to the airport. Unfortunately the city was dead, I was alone and a taxi to the airport was the only option. £30 later I was at the quite frankly terrible domestic airport where I had to wait for 7 hours. Feeling pretty worse for wear I boarded my plane hoping to be near the end of my journey. Upon arrival at Jakarta airport I realised I had no money and needed to get a visa for $25 before going through immigration. Thankfully I managed to go through to an atm to get the cash and then back through. I picked up the visa and headed on to immigration. The usual questions were asked and then the guy asked if I had a return ticket. Not knowing that you needed a ticket out of Indonesia to get in I, of course, did not. He said I could go get one at the desk before immigration. Bizarrely you must have a ticket, or so they said, from the incoming airline so I had to find a bloody cheapskate air asia representative to buy me a ticket. A guy, who spoke no english, quickly found someone who did speak english who then attempted to buy me a ticket for ~£40. He couldn’t do it over the phone and needed to take my credit card with him through immigration to buy it in his office. Uneasily I handed over the card and then waited and waited and waited for him to come back. About an hour later he did and then explained that all of the computers at air asia were down (!) and couldn’t get me a ticket. While he’d been away I had been approached by a “security official” saying “you help me I help you”. Not knowing what the going rate for bribery was I showed him 100,000 Rupiah (about £7) at which point he said 600,000 Rupiah at which I said no thanks as the ticket was going to cost me the same. Anyway, having no ticket and seemingly no hope I was resigned to the bribery. Thankfully I checked with the air asia guy, who was having family problems - he was a muslim, his girlfriend a christian and his parents not at all happy - and he said that 250,000 Rupiah should do the job. He had a quick word with the one remaining immigration official who just about let me through but told me that he would never do it again. Thoroughly pissed off, stressed and tired I got a bus in to Jakarta and checked in to the first hotel. It had taken 36 hours to get from Koh Samui to Jakarta, never again. I think Phileas Fogg could have done it quicker.

I had not originally planned on staying in Jakarta at all but my experience, and the fact that I was absolutely shattered, had knocked me out and so I headed straight for the backpacker area. Checking in to a double room in the first hotel I came to I collapsed on the bed for a while. Getting myself together I decided to check out a bit of the city and organise my train travel for the following day. To really top off my day I was offered a BJ by what seemed like a 50 year female tramp, lovely! Anyway, I had a look around the local area having a look at the mosque (a mammoth building with a 250,000 capacity) as well as part of the financial district. About a week and a half after I visited the area was bombed by Malaysian terrorists with two of the more upmarket hotels being targeted.

Early the following morning I caught a train (Eksecutiv class) down to Jogjakarta, the most visited town in Java. My first experience of public transport was an education; the train stopped and started seemingly randomly and arrived a full 3 hours late, which left me with an absolute nightmare trying to find accommodation for the night. I did find some accommodation but was so scarred by the experience that I promptly checked out the following day and into a much nicer hotel. The first evening spent in Jogja saw me visit a few shops, get some cheap dinner and accidently visit an “art gallery” where an old guy demonstrated the art of Batik before trying to get me to buy his ludicrously expensive artwork. I declined.

For the first full day in Jogja I took myself down to the palace and history museum. A very helpful chap gave me a few hints as to when was best to see all of the places but didn’t fully grasp that I only had that day to see everything. The palace was a bit rubbish really but I saw a few local things and the museum was full of fairly interesting statues.

The following day I’d signed myself up for aPrambanan visit to the two major attractions of the area: Prambanan and Borobodur. Java has a fairly mixed history and some varied culture in close proximities. As a result it has been dominated by both Hinduism and Buddhism at different and the same times. Borobodur is the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere while Prambanan was the Hindu’s response. There’s not really too much to say about the temples as the pictures probably suffice. The only slightly amusing addition is the sheer number of photos that I had taken of me while at Borobodur. I had several photos with groups of people but one family was intent on having individual photographs and proceeded to get all 6 of them one by one.Borobodur

Having spent more than long enough in Jogja the next day I took a bus to Cemoro Lawang so that I could visit Gunung Bromo, the worlds sixth most active volcano. This involved yet more public transport and the sheer horror that is Indonesian driving; they have a tendency to randomly overtake whether there’s oncoming traffic or not. We arrived late in to Cemoro Lawang so there was not much to do except get some sleep (there wasn’t even anywhere to eat.) I awoke early (4am) the following morning to get up to the volcano. Sadly I’d timed my visit perfectly with the last day of the school holidays and was therefore accompanied by every man and his dog. In groups of 6 we were taken up in 4×4’s to a viewpoint overlooking Bromo from where we could get a great view of the sunrise. Sadly this was ruined by the fact that it was so crowded that it was actually nearly impossible to move. After sunrise we were driven down to the foot of Bromo and walked up to the rim. A pretty amazing sight but a slightly annoying one given the ash in the air and the difficulty breathing.Me on rim of Gunung Bromo

Once we’d done this it was back to the guesthouse for breakfast and then another bus to Bali!

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Koh Samui 2

September 10th, 2009
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After Koh Samui Em and I went to Koh Samui so that she could meet up with her friends in time for the Full Moon Party on Koh Phang Nan. We spent a couple of days on Chaweng Beach, this time towards the south end of the beach. This was nowhere near as pleasant as the north end of the beach. Where the north end of the beach feels secluded and quiet the southern end feels more like <insert trashy mediteranean resort>. Despite it’s shortcomings during the day the evenings were really special. Not only is the food good the best bit about Koh Samui is the bars on the beach which allow you to have a cocktail under the stars while being soothed by some laid back tunes. We were also treated every night to an awesome display of lightning. Just off the coast would be some massive electrical storms with very visible forks of lightning raining down on to the sea.

After Chaweng beach we headed up to Maenam beach and in to Hutcha Resort. Fortunately we turned up and managed to get the very last beach villa. A really nice little bungalow with outdoor bathroom and swimming pool to match. There’s not really much going on in Maenam but to unwind it was bloody brilliant.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Hong Kong

September 10th, 2009
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On the 24th June we departed Krabi for Bangkok, where saying our goodbyes to Claire, Steve, Emma and I headed off to Hong Kong to meet up with Rav and to get out of Thailand before our Visas finished.

Hong Kong, as most people know, is an (recently) ex-British colony but now back in the hands of China given the status of a SAR (Special Administrative Region) of China. This essentially means that while it comes under the ultimate control of Beijing it does have some autonomy and is slightly more flexible in terms of capitalism and relations with the west. This is beneficial to both the residents, in terms of increased (relative) freedoms, and to China, in that Hong Kong provides a disproportionately large amount of income. Hong Kong is obviously very flush with cash, and shares many similarities with Singapore. The shopping is pretty ridiculous, malls everywhere and we’re not exactly talking Primark either.

We spent three nights in Hong Kong in total and stayed north of the river a short MRT journey from the main part of Hong Kong. Unfortunately it pretty much rained for the entirety of our stay due to a typhoon passing through. This made our stay not as enjoyable as it could have been. This did however teach us how to use all of the walkways and malls to traverse Hong Kong without stepping a foot outside.

We spent most of the first day exploring round town having a look at a temple before heading off to find some Dim Sum for lunch. We ventured in to a small tea house to try out the Dim Sum and knew we were in an authentic place as all the other diners were Chinese. We each ordered some Dim Sum and then spent the rest of the meal not knowing who’s we were eating and, Steve in particular, complaining that our Dim Sum tasted pretty crap not realising that we were actually eating what someone else ordered. That afternoon we met up with Ross, one of Steve’s friends from a “previous company” who showed us his office and took us to a few places. We headed back to the hotel before going back into town to meet up with Ross again as well as another guy called Gideon. We first went to the harbourside to look at the lightshowHong Kong Light Show, not realising at the time that we were in the wrong place and therefore missed a fair part of it! We then took off in to town to get an Indian and a few drinks.

The next day me and Em spent going around a few shops before heading up to the park and aviary and then finally heading off to the History Museum. THe History Museum is definitely worth a mention as not only is it massive it’s very well put together. I can’t remember how long they suggest you visit for but it’s definitely worth taking heed of their advice. We had an hour and ended up rushing the experience. That night we headed off with Rav to SOHO and had a really excellent italian.

The third and final day was accompanied with a spot of sunshine and led us straight up “The Peak” in search of the iconic view of Hong Kong. A tram transports people up the (very) steep hill and from there you can see views over the entire city. Towards the end of the day Emma and I headed off to Koh Samui, leaving Steve to go to China and Ravi off to Perth.Hong Kong from "The Peak"

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

West Coast of Thailand

September 4th, 2009
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Having finished the tour a few of us decided to head off down to the West Coast of Thailand for a bit of time on the beaches. At this point Ravi left us to head off down to Koh Tao to get his Padi and do some diving. So, Emma, Claire, Bex, Steve and I left Bangkok and made for the (obscenely) touristy island of Phuket.

Phuket, in all fairness, is a pretty nice island; it could not have grown to be the tourist behemoth, that it now is, had this not been the case. However this popularity has not done the island too many favours and, as a result, is slightly overdeveloped and frequented by package tourists (I’ll leave it at that.) We stayed at Karon Beach, the second most roudy beach, in a fairly nice little hotel just off the beach. A great big long pool was accompanied by some really excellent rooms with flat screen tv and beautiful bathrooms. Anyway, the place was actually fairly quiet (it was low season) but still had enough going for it to give us a bloody good dinner. We went to a little restaurant called “The Two Chefs” where I had a melt-in-the-mouth steak and really can’t recommend highly enough.

Our second night in Phuket was spent with a visit to Patong Beach, the most popular resort in Phuket - think 18-30 holiday and you’re about there. In all fairness this night was one of the best so far. We started off by going to a little italian restaurant where we had a lovely meal and a few drinks. You know you’re in good company when the chef comes out and is actually Italian: it makes a hell of a difference out in Asia. Following that we headed down to the main nightclub/party street where we were greeted by what was basically a few hundred yards of girly bars. A quick walk up the length of street and then, on our way back, we met a Tina Turner lookalike (as much as a man can look like Tina Turner) and, after the girls had gotten a few photos, we headed upstairs for a drink and a look at the competing “dancers”. Following this we headed in to a little bar, guided by a guy offering something or other, where we discovered Thailand’s best cocktail waiter. This guy was bloody good, as were the number of free drinks/shots that came our way. Showing off his skills was impressive but every now and then a round of shots was bought for the bar and, once decanted, he literally lit the entire bar on fire. At this point I also discovered that I’m not quite as adverse to Tequila as I’d thought, which was nice! Several drinks and barely a Baht later we walked out of the bar and straight upstairs in to a club. The club was heaving, but the dance floor was not. Using the greatest selection of shapes known to modern man we proceeded to dance our arses off on the floor attracting a lot of attention and, eventually, getting the club bouncing. It was bloody brilliant. Not sure when we left but a good night was had by all, except at 6 in the morning when I realised I’d lost my wallet. Thankfully it was handed in to reception as I’d dropped it outside the hotel.

Early that morning we packed our bags and headed off to get the boat to the island of Koh Phi Phi. Koh Phi Phi is an island about an hour west of Krabi and is in a group of six islands. Unfortunately it was devastated by the Tsunami of 2004 and while it has been mostly rebuilt I would say that it has probably not been redeveloped as it should have been. Regardless of this I would also say that it’s probably one of my favourite places and as a beach resort it is simply fantastic. In total we spent 4 nights in Koh Phi Phi but in all honesty we could have quite easily spent a few more. Our days tended to follow a bit of a routine; that is, get up fairly late morning, spend the day on the beach, go for a nice meal and then get fairly trolleyed afterwards.

With it’s undoubted beauty it was only a matter of time before Koh Phi Phi was included in a film. That film was “The Beach” and, although not on Phi Phi itself, makes one hell of a day trip. While it is possible to get a guided tour around the 6 islands we decided to simply hire a boat and a native to help us out. The girls did the usual fine job of bartering down the poor man until he was probably at breakeven point (whether he knew it or not) and for, I think, £5 each we had his services for the day. We started off the day with a quick trip round to another part of the island where we did a spot of snorkelling. Phi Phi is famed for its diving, with many people coming here to get their PADI, and this was very evident such was the clarity of the water and the beauty of the coral and fish even at this low depth. At this point I did rather make a tit of myself: trying to swim over to Em I accidentally kicked down and through a load of coral leaving a fairly hefty chunk in my ankle. A piece, of diameter ~1cm, was stuck in the side of my ankle and did not look good. I’d told Em that I’m only really hurt when I don’t say much. In deadly silence I swam back to the boat and showed it to the native (who I suspected had seen this many a time.) He took one look and pretty much yanked the thing out. Luckily it was only a couple of mm deep so was not too bad. Some really hilarious scenes followed as, first the native, and then me, threw food in for the fish in and around the others. The sheer numbers of fish coming to the surface was staggering and scared the crap out of the others! We spent the rest of the day going round the other islands, in to a stunning, really stunning, cove and then off to “The Beach” itself. This will probably go down as the best individual trip of the whole trip. We also had to give it to the native; he didn’t speak a word of English but whenever he said something we quickly learned to say “yes” to him as his suggestions were all absolutely brilliant. He was in fact so good that we added 50% on to his price.

While Phi Phi does have some more upmarket accommodation the main town really caters for the 18-30 backpacker scene. There’s a few funky bars, most of which go on through the night, as well as a couple of clubs on the beach for dancing the night away. THe Phi Phi drinking scene is STAGGERINGLY easy to grasp. Basically take a spirit, add some coke and red bull and put in a bucket. Proceed to drink it and get caravaned! Buckets are one thing but the Irish bar was offering buy one get two free: madness! While the abundance of cheap alcohol is welcoming the bars are, that I can remember, actually quite good fun as well. There’s the “Reggae Bar” which offers the usual cheap drinks but also contains a boxing ring and puts on Thai Boxing every single night. Sadly the organised fights are staged but the two guys always put on a fairly good show. More interesting is the fact that anyone can have a fight once the organised fights are over. A few times these fights are pretty dull but on one night we had an absolute treat. One guy, with an ego like the Titanic, was strutting round the ring with six pack bulging. Thankfully a 6ft something rugby lad stepped up and swiftly taught the guy a lesson.

At this point I should probably mention some of the beautiful scenery on Phi Phi and around but I won’t. Just look at the photos.

Koh Phi Phi

After Phi Phi we headed off, leaving Bex who went diving on Koh Tao, on another boat to Railay. Railay is on the mainland but due to the surrounding landscapes is pretty much inaccessible by land and, as a result, feels just like another island. The main part of Railay is a narrow strip of land (maybe a km wide by 3km long) with beaches on either side and high, steeply rising, headlands at either end. The east beach is, as a beach, fairly rubbish but contains some mangrove while the west beach is brilliant for relaxing on and appreciating the scenery. Railay West BeachThere’s a mixture of highly upmarket resorts and cheaper, albeit pretty nice, ones. The better resorts tend to be on the west beach with the north end of the east beach containing the cheaper resorts. The only drawback of Railay is that there really is very little to do other than sit back and relax, and that’s exactly what we did. The restaurants on the west beach do some excellent food for very reasonable prices while the east beach provides the nightlife. I say nightlife, there’s about 3 bars, one of which, the reggae bar (seeing a pattern), providing a very chilled out evening drinking cocktails under the stars.

On our last night in Railay Steve and I ventured off to find the viewpoint and lagoon. My book described this as a slightly tricky walk and, given that these books cater for everyone, promptly ignored that and headed off just before dusk in shorts and flipflops. Walking down to the south end of the east beach and going along a path we saw a sign for the viewpoint and lagoon. Looking at the cliff the sign was pointing at we carried on down the path assuming that the sign had been twisted somehow. We quickly spoke to a guy who told us that the sign was right and to go back. We climbed up the cliff, where a rope has been usefully placed, and on to the viewpoint. The viewpoint overlooks the enitrety of Railay and the view is absolutely stunning. Unfortunately we got there a little after sunset so while the view was impressive it would probably be best to go for sunset. At this point, and realising that we could barely see our own hands we decided to head back down the cliff in our flip flops and back to the girls.

It was our last night in Thailand and also the last night with Claire. This meant only one thing: party hard. We had the usual meal, cocktails on the beach and then headed to the far end of the east beach to bar/club with top tunes and cheap(ish) cocktails. A few games of free pool later we decided to hit the dance floor and strut it late on in to the night. A particular fond memory was seeing Claire chatting to a guy while dancing with a toilet roll in her left hand. Hilarious, not sure whether she even realised at the time.

Steve and I woke up early the following morning intent on getting to the lagoon that we’d been so close to the night before. Feeling ridiculously hungover, dehydrated and tired we took off, at 7am, to the cliff (this time in reasonable footwear) to get to the lagoon and back for our 9.30am boat to Krabi. We quickly scaled the first side and then began the descent down to the lagoon. At this point time was already getting short and after literally having to drop down (with a rope) and 15ft drop we decided that we’d never make it back in time and annoyingly turned back. This was easier said than done. With herculean strength I managed to pull myself back up the 15ft rope and on to the overhang. Steve, however, not quite feeling it managed to fail to pull himself up 4 times. At breaking point he then had a look around and found an alternative route up. We managed to get back, running, but felt horrific.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Bangkok Again

September 4th, 2009
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Our arrival back in Bangkok signalled the end of our 30 day tour and the beginning of adventures new. Having already done the touristy bits of the city we essentially spent the time checking out the endless array of highend malls. Staying in Khao San Road again gave us the usual banter with locals trying to get you in their tuk tuk or take you to a “ping pong show”. We had a couple of nights out while there, both of which ended up in “The Club”, a fairly cool club on Khao San Road with an outside inside kind of feel to it. Drinking the, by now, customary buckets of cocktail preparing us all for Claires moves!

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Luang Prabang

September 4th, 2009
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Luang Prabang was formerly the capital of a kingdom of the same name and, until the communist takeover in 1975, it was the royal capital and seat of government of Laos. It’s a beautiful little town, being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a population of around one hundred thousand. It sits on a bend in the Mekong river around 425km north of Vientianne.

We spent a couple of nights in Luang Prabang and could probably have spent quite a few more. Along with the gorgeous restaurants, excellent nightly street market and absurdly clean streets Luang Prabang is surrounded by stunning countryside just waiting to be explored.

On our first day we all went, as a group, on a short trek up in to the mountains and rainforest to make our way to a set of waterfalls. It’s possible to simply drive to the waterfalls but the trek that we took really gave you a sense of remoteness, with nobody else taking the same path. In fact our guide carried a knife in order to cut through the rainforest at certain points. As is the case with many of my stories you really had to be there but hopefully some of my pictures do it justice. The water, once we’d got to the waterfall, was breathtakingly clear and similarly cold but in those temperatures it’s exactly what you want.

Stunning Waterfall

For our first night in Luang Prabang we had dinner down a little side street where you could get a chicken breast or fish cooked for you on the spot and then grab as much salad/noodles as you liked from another stand. We then went off to quite a cool little bar before going bowling in the weirdest bowling place ever.

Our second day in Luang Prabang saw the boys and girls split up to do pretty much the same activities. The girls would go kayaking and elephant riding while the guys opted for mountain biking and then hardcore(ish) kayaking. We took off on the bikes like mad men. Having spent a few days not really doing any hardcore exercise we well and truly made up for it. The poor guide spent most of the trip a good few hundred metres behind us trying to keep up. About half way through the bike ride we were slighlty bemused, if not worried, to see an unexploded ordnance clearing team on the road. Feeling that they should probably be ahead of us we carried on regardless and hoped we wouldn’t come a cropper. As a side note the bombs are the remains from the Vietnam war. Although Laos did not exactly feature in the war they apparently had an agreement with the Americans whereby they got something (I’m not sure) in exchange for letting the Americans drop all of their unused payload before landing. As a result Laos is the most heavily bombed country of all time. I can’t remember the number exactly but it’s phenominal. Anyway, we finished the trip with a kayaking session down the river, which had no rapids, and was basically 3 hours of pain. It was knackering.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags: