A Travellerspoint blog

Ko Payam - Thailand

Ko Payam, 21 December – 26 December

sunny 30 °C
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The four of us catch the bus to Ranong (3hrs) – a hole of a place close to the border with Burma. From there we catch the slow boat to Ko Payam (2.5hrs) laden up with locals and suppliers. A slow, relaxing journey follows that takes us past many uninhabited islands. Home to around 500 people who mainly make their living from fishing, growing cashew nuts, coconut palms and rubber trees, Ko Payam counts only one village, a pier, a temple, and a few shops and is very much of the tourist radar (you can tell by the number of hippies running around). Moto-taxi’s take us to “Ao Yai” the nicest beach on the island. Alana lucked out and got the frail old driver who for starters dropped her and the bike while stationary - confidence shot right from the start! =)

The road to Ao Yai is a narrow, cracked concrete motorbike track (no cars allowed here) with a few restos and homes along the way but most of the island remains undeveloped (for now) so it's a real treat to be here before it becomes the next big thing. A beautiful long beach dotted with bungalows and chill out areas, complete with a few low key bars is our home for the next wee while. We find small but cheap bungalows by Joker Bar and move in just in time to appreciate the sunset with happy hour pina coladas at the neighbouring bar - served in plastic cups, classy!

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The bar is having a "black and white" party that night and they've gone all out with fluoro lights, streamers and costumes (it really does look wicked!). After dinner and some beers we get adventurous and drink Sangsom whiskey and coke at the beach fire while one of the British expats tells us he came here for a holiday four years ago and pretty much never left - he built his own bungalow on the beach for $50. He reckons we won't leave this place in a hurry - many farangs seem to stay on... "welcome to Hotel California...such a lovely place".

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Time to meet our hosts at "Joker Bar" - there's crocodile man (covered in tattoo's, piercings, and wearing a cape) who speaks in nonsense "How are you today... for tomorrow?". And Tiko who assumes managerial position one moment, then breaks out into manic laughter and crazed ramblings the next. They give us the "catalogue" menu to order from (which is a blatant copy of the fancy Russian Resto's menu on the other side of the island) and say we can have whatever we want - yet everything we ask for they apparently have to drive to the Russian Resto to check, then come back to us and apologize for unavailability. As such it takes a while to get a feed and everyone ends up with random food that was never ordered in the first place. At least we got a feed though - considering they're all high as kites 24/7. We chill out on a bamboo bed on the beach, amongst cushions and axe pillows until happy hour commences and it's that pina colada time again.

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We hire dodgy manual motorbikes and head off to explore the island (which doesn't take long as the island measures only 4x7km at it's largest points). Past the pier, Buddhist statues, and shrines, and over to the other beach to chill out at Hippy Bar. Then back to the pier to stock up on booze for our xmas eve eve party - one large Mekong whiskey and coke, one large white rum, some assorted pina colada ingredients and one big plastic bucket from the general store. Back home we decorate our xmas palm with beer cans and an angel made by the girls "so pretty", drinking homemade cocktails from the huge bucket on the deck surrounded by balloons and our xmas palm.

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Our party overshadows life at the bar and the jokers keep coming over to join in on the fun and impart their wisdom. They even play "Job to do" all night at our request (a wicked and very popular thai reggae band). We get really excited when santa, with his yolly grey beard and big pukenui, arrives at our xmas party - but our excitement is short lived as the American santa grumps at us for being too loud (I guess he has a big day tomorrow...). Stargazing and beach fires follow when our buckets go dry.

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Christmas Eve begins hungover and with a large nasty centipede in Leesh's bag, a huge fat black spider in her bungalow, and a mild motorbike crash on the way to brekky, breaking the side mirror. But we have pressies by the tree so life is still good! Hooray for Xmas! We then bid farewell to Leesh and Skiv who leave us for Bangkok and find a fabulous resto that gives us a free xmas eve buffet dinner (because rich foreigners had already paid for it). Love the xmas spirit!

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Merry Xmas! We treat ourselves to a large pot of Italian Espresso Coffee and chocolate brownies at our new fave resto, while lazing in the hammock. We then migrate to the beach for more lazing, eating and drinking all day (as you do on xmas) and toast to all our family and friends with many a delicious pina colada.

Posted by beefnlamb 05:50 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Ko Similan Serenity

Khao Lak and Ko Similans, 15 December – 21 December

sunny 30 °C
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We find ourselves en route to Khao Lak (via the dusty township of Klok Kloi) for some premium diving at the Similan Islands with our mates Leesh and Skiv. Rumor has it these islands harbor some of the best diving in the world so we decided to check out for ourselves what all the buzz is about. Not surprisingly, diving is what makes this place tick but still we marvel at the never ending number of dive shops that somehow eck out a living here - dozens of them line the main (and only) street. The place is lively and has made a great comeback since that disastrous Christmas four years ago. One of the worst hit places, the tsunami rolled in with tidal waves up to 11 meters and wiped it off the map, a beached police boat next to the motorway, 2km inland, testament to the havoc wreaked here. We check in at the Youth Club at the end of town and score a pretty sweet room which even has its own hot water and beer fridge (a steal for 350 Baht). Time for cheap drinkies from the local 7 eleven!

The next day is pretty cruisy and spent on the curvy white sand beaches that make up Khao Lak, since we’re waiting for Leesh & Skiv to arrive back from Khao Sok National Park. Met up in the arvo and had good catch ups over dinner, followed by some Changs and choccies on the beach and lucky lanterns that reach for the skies around us (it brings good luck to light one of these things – a Thai tradition).

Up at the crack of dawn for our three day liveaboard dive trip with a diving outfit called "Wicked". We have a traditional Thai fireworks show as we leave the pier for good luck… and so begins the four hour boat trip to the Similan Islands – rated as one of the top ten dive sites in the world! A chain of nine islands, 64km off the mainland where 3 days of eating, diving, socializing, eating and diving eagerly awaits.

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Stunning topography surrounds us. The islands, simply referred to as number one to nine are shaped by smooth weather worn granite boulders, set in lush jungle and surrounded by crystal clear waters at an inviting 29 degrees and, of course, 30 meters visibility. The diving is pretty much picture perfect with a large variety of dive sites for the picking; submerged mammoth boulders and tunnels to navigate through at Elephant head rock, coral gardens aplenty at East of Eden. We’re consistently surrounded by an abundance of marine life to entertain us – seal faced pufferfish, banded sea snake, nemo's, oriental sweetlips, napoleon wrasse, jellyfish, lionfish, morays, unicorn fish, clown triggerfish, batfish, sea turtle, porcupine puffer, baby white-tipped reef shark, garden eels (that look like finger puppets sticking out of the sand), barracuda, khule stingray, and many many more. We even saw a couple of leopard sharks at Xmas Point dive site – definitely one of the highlights. It’s the kind of thing you have to see and experience but we really didn’t want to fork out lots of moolah for murky photos so we googled a website that already did it for us – www.similans.net (I know, we’re cheapasses).

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Since the whole thing cost us an arm and a leg anyway we did our Advanced Open Water Certificate with Leesh and Skiv so had 5 dives of the 9 to count towards specialties – "navigation" (who would've thought it would be so hard to go in a straight line?), "Peak Performance Buoyancy", "Deep Water" (where you go to 30 meters depth but most of us had already done so with dodgy operators elsewhere), "Night Dive", and the bio geeks fave "Fish ID". Interesting experience, since our instructor (fresh from diving school) was a weird sort of headmistress personality - always over excited about everything and wet her pants every time she saw fish. And who would have guessed that a 7.30am dive would be the perfect way to wake up… so peaceful, dreamy, relaxing.

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The food is spectacular too thanks to the Thai chefs onboard who cook for us round the clock. We get fed five times daily, huge buffet style and we don't have to clean up or lift a finger either! We're treated like royalty as the Dive Master Trainees (DMT's) are running the show and try to make a good impression as it is their last exam on this trip. Downtime onboard includes relaxing on the sundeck, chatting, and more eating – who needs weight belts anyway? The four of us even went snorkeling with a very friendly sea turtle at Donald Duck Bay while everyone else opted for the beach. Alana jumped in first – slight trepidation as the sea turtle headed straight for her… but it was just curious and looking for an easy feed. The turtle hung around for a while so we swum with it for ages – a mutual attraction and an amazing experience!

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We later got the opportunity to go ashore and walk up to the viewpoint – a pristine, practically secluded environment with stunning views. Once the sun sinks, so do we, for our night dive. The night dive is particularly freaky at first, jumping off the boat into ink black water which then turns into some sort of suspension in utero. We see lobsters, morays, lionfish, scorpionfish, cleaner shrimp, flatworm, and a large purple parrotfish sleeping vertically, wedged in amongst the coral – how strange!

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Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and on our way back to Khao Lak we stop for our final dive at a wreck called Boonsong (an old tin miner). No luxury of 25 meters visibility here – but that just adds to the charm. However, there are millions of lionfish hovering around, scorpionfish hiding and large porcupine pufferfish surround us. One pufferfish gets the boot from Thomas, our DMT instructors fins - never trust a man diving in speedos and adorned in a cape (a tradition for his 100th dive). Never seen a pufferfish so horrified either! On top of this we see many tiny honeycomb moray, white-eyed moray, batfish, yellow boxfish, and goatfish. Back on board as the sun sets we head back to Khao Lak - many people seasick at this point… So we wrote the day after off as a recovery day and lay in the sun by the pool dining on Pringles, ice creams and 7 eleven burgers (no wonder we all felt ill!) and had drinks on the deck at Youth Club to celebrate our completed Dive Certificate – go us!

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Posted by beefnlamb 07:05 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Farang in Phang Nga - Thailand

Phang Nga, 14 - 16 December

sunny 29 °C
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Arrived in Phang Nga town - a sleepy village tucked in between the vast craggy karst mountain ranges that make up this area. After a few hits 'n misses we finally settle on a place to stay - Therwisik hotel, dirt cheap (150 Baht) and looks like a semi-converted prison. But its clean, which for this price, is really the only thing you hope for. Wandering around town we stumble upon the Heaven & Hell caves - a mean fiery looking fiberglass dragon guarding its entrance. Intrepidly we enter the realm of the dragon and approach a massive deep humid cavern stacked with Buddha shrines in every nook & cranny - Heaven? Eerie! The Hell part comes quickly thereafter - a still play of giant plaster ghouls caught in the act of torturing people in all kind of intricate ways. Some of it so perversely graphic it would definitely not make PGR rating anywhere =). Curiously, a local monk goes around and collects money from the tortured ones who also, as it happen, double up as donation boxes - intriguing.

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Next morning we meet up with our driver for the low budget longtail trip we arranged earlier - to the mangrove maze forests and limestone formations that this part of the bay is well known for - it's a popular outing around here. Meandering thru many mangrove alleyways and several hongs (limestone passageways that eroded away by the waves) we set course for the bay's most celebrated island - Kao Tapoo (James Bond Island), with in its bay a peculiar rocky outcrop that is vaguely reminiscent of an icecream cone, aptly named Khao Taper (needle rock). James Bond purists will recognize this spot as Scaramanga's hideout from the 'Man with Golden Gun' movie. Not surprisingly, the place is teeming with day trippers making it the last place on earth any villain would choose to hide his affairs =).

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On our way back we stop in at Koh Panyee, a local authentic Muslim fishing village on stilts that floats around a limestone outcrop. Reeling with souvenir shops selling all kinds of paraphernalia that nobody really wants its hard to imagine what makes this place authentic, though we did almost end up with a nappie-crapping baby gibbon on our trails…

Posted by beefnlamb 05:50 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Ton Sai Bay Times

Ton Sai Bay, 6 - 14 December

sunny 29 °C
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Once back in Krabi from Koh Phi Phi we stayed the night to explore Krabi town proper. Found the outdoor food market where Guido tried the strangest looking concoction on display and spent considerable time picking his way through the minute bones that pervaded throughout the whole dish. Curious as to what he'd eaten - he asks..."frog" replies the vendor, mimicking the amphibian kind using his hand in bunny hopping fashion. We stroll along the pier marveling at the karst cliffs & mangroves that predominate the krabi area - a stunning backdrop indeed. We felt like having a big night since beer is so cheap here (compared to Koh Phi Phi at least) but were surprisingly denied at the pub - King's Birthday, the whole country is on dry. The next morning we head to the pier to catch a long tail boat out to Railay, waiting for a while for the boat to fill up with people going the same way. As it turns out most of our crew were rock climbers anyway (surprise, surprise), all heading past Railay for the next bay over, Ton Sai Bay. Apparently more mellow, less crowded and still only a few minute walk to the other Railay bays and Phra Nang - we're easy ...and sold.

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Around the bay we go, subsequently passing East Railay, Phra Nang and West Railay bay, people scattered everywhere along the beaches, palm fringed shores, lush jungle inland, small islands dotting the sea...and Ton Sai - a little gem in the midst with bamboo shacks reaching out from among the palm trees. We dump our packs and explore - encountering a troop of gorgeous tree dwelling black fluffy gibbons. As we explore the inland dirt track slowly a community unravels. Back to basics and thoroughly welcomed - an enclave of rock climbers and chillers embracing the much slower pace of life, lounging on axe pillows and rattan mats...to lie on, read and drink the days away - we avidly adapt to this new way of life for the foreseeable future.

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Hammocks, swings, the inevitable climbers balancing on slack lines, learning fire dancing amid the white sandy beach that is surrounded by mammoth vertical limestone cliffs... we have to come back just for the climbing! We find the perfect bungalow right at the beach @ the Chill out bar. Another Bob Marley outfit (its hard to escape Bob Marley and pancakes on these islands) but with the perfect bamboo chill out platforms. Our bungalow is a mere 2x2 meters and only just fits a futon, a bedside table, light and a power plug next to a small window that overlooks the greenery out the back. Simplistic but equally brilliant. The bar is made of bamboo and driftwood and in fact so is everything else, with empty beer bottles as garden walls. Even the communal showers and toilets are richly decorated with sea shells. You must get very innovative when you're living on a secluded bay with all the time in the world. The shower is a through used to pour water over yourself. We relax on our stranded boat that has since been converted into a lounge platform - a spot we spend much of our time on over the next week. After all, once you've found paradise, why move?

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At night the beach bars come alive with lanterns and small beach fires lighting the way to entice you in. We have some Changs at various bars and eventually settle at the Chill Out bar, where we meet Mattias and Monica - bold travelers from cold Sweden. Keen to do some climbing we agree to meet up the following day. Up early and feeling the Changover, we head inland to buffet brekkie. Delicious waffles drenched in chocolate and condensed milk, fresh fruit, omelets...the list goes on and on...we made a pretty good effort at it =) but obviously way overdid it as we couldn't lift a finger until noon. M & M drag us off to the cliffs @ east Railay. Stunning crags looking out over the bays, darn popular too! On our last climb, the sun had already set and so had to find our way back to Ton Sai in the pitch black via a steep jungle track. Not entirely uneventful if one of your team has a severe snake phobia and all vines look like exactly that in total darkness. Finally we scramble home for a much deserved dinner and sink our teeth in a delicious Massaman (Muslim) curry.

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The all you can eat brekkie becomes sort of a routine - it's just too good and M & M decide to join in. This is always followed by a near coma on our lounge boat near the beach until lunchtime and every second day we move. M & M meet for some further exploration - we clamber over the the rocks to West Railay then East Railay and climb up to the viewpoint, which looks out over both bays. Heading down the cliffs to the lagoon with Mattias as our probe - the lagoon turns empty and we all save our efforts. Phra Nang beach - apparently the best stretch of sand in the area surrounded by even more limestone cliffs (where do they all come from?) and home to the Princess cave. Swimming in crystal clear water, drinking fruit shakes from the longtail boats which, for the occasion, have been turned into mobile cafes - excellent!. Later we meet for more beers - it's great to have drinking buddies again =). By 1.30am we're ready for a true beach party...but the only place open is Viking Bar, which is having an ipod party..how random.

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We break tradition and have yummy sticky rice drenched in coconut milk with mango for brekkie. Shortly followed by seafood pad thai, our staple diet it seems. Hiring a sit on top kayak we paddle out to Koh Poda island on the horizon. It looked close enough from the beach but its vicinity is cunningly deceptive, darn! The island is stunning though and surrounded by azure blue water the color of Bombay sapphire gin. There's even a longtail selling fruit shakes on the beach, how convenient. We also bump into M & M who, coincidentally, had the same plan (this becomes quite the recurring theme, stalkers!). Appreciating the scenery we paddle off to Chicken island next door for some insanely good snorkeling. Huge coral beds, brain coral, trumpet coral, small reef sharks... A large black spotted moray that scares the crap out of us, heaps of nemo's and his friends, parrot fish, butterfly fish and plenty more exotic species continually fight for our attention. Best off all - we seem to be the only ones enjoying it as there's no soul in sight. Lost in time we paddle back between the upcoming moon and the setting sun, in perfect alignment and light shimmering on the water...

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Coming back we watch the locals deck out their beachfront with lights, banners, flags, lanterns and the like. Fat Freddy's Drop resonates through the bay and welcomes us back home. As it turns out they played a whole compilation of our favo Kiwi music - Black seeds, Salmonella dub, Unity Pacific and the good stuff goes on. Everyone's gearing up for a big one as it is full moon tonight and Full moon parties equal cheap drinks, fire shows and general craziness. We head to the Gypsy bar with M & M and Brendon (another climber we met) for their all night happy hour - 190 baht for the ever popular vodka buckets. We load up on vodka buckets as Mattias lays out the cards for a favorite drinking game of his "Circle of Death" hehehe, ain't it universal? Brendon asks for just a vodka bucket and literally gets just that: a bucket with pure vodka on the rocks - absolutely lethal. The very best thing is that you simply ask the waitress to make your potion stronger so they keep filling your bucket up with more and more booze at no extra cost. Needles to say we paid dearly for that the next day. With such paradise time really tends to slip between your fingers and after 8 days of good fun it's time to make a move....now to decide on our next destination.

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Posted by beefnlamb 02:43 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Thailand and Tiki Torches - Ko Phi Phi

Ko Phi Phi, 29th November - 5th December

sunny 28 °C
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Sawat dii!

Flew out from Kuala Lumpur to Krabi, Thailand – Wahoo! Met Alex, a Brit from London, also in the queue for immigration. Semi-shitting our pants as we have no proof of onward travel whatsoever. Made it through safe and well with no questions asked – phew! Alex convinces us to come with him to Koh Phi Phi and seeing as we have no plan or idea where to go yet we decide to jump on board.

Many a chang beer later we approach Ko Phi Phi Don by boat, a breathtakingly beautiful tropical idyll on the Andaman Coast. White sandy beaches aplenty locked in by dramatic karst limestone cliffs, lush jungle and surrounded by clear turquoise waters. In the midst of it all a gentle sweeping curve of perfect powder sand – Ton Sai Bay. This place is truly postcard material! Little did we know that its reputation as a tropical paradise enjoys fame worldwide, bringing vast crowds to its shores every day to party it up – looks like the place to be!

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We settle into our guesthouse, a place in the heart of the village near Ao Loh Dalum. Our luggage follows soon thereafter in its own purpose built box trailer – nice. We head off to the centre of village activity and buy a few vodka buckets from the many stalls that line the streets. A toxic mix of home-brewed vodka, industrial strength Red Bull and a splash of Coke, served on ice in a sand bucket. We wander around picking up flyers of tonights specials while steadily sipping from the many straws of our buckets. The waterfront is lined with seafood resto’s, people drinking on the street, sheepishly carrying their buckets from bar to bar – Party Central it seems.

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We end up at “Hippy’s Bar”, who’s offering free buckets of Sangsom, a cheap and particularly nasty Thai Whiskey, Coke and ice – we get one each – lethal stuff! We sit at a table, listening to the tunes blasting, people dancing and drinking, scoring, buckets everywhere, competitions and even, yes, a live Kung Fu show – gotta love this place. Walking back we pass an Irish pub with oodles of noodles on offer outside and drunkenly scoff plat after plate of this heavenly (free) food to satisfy our munchies. Off to Tiger Bar next to get another free bucket – in the space of just ten minutes the bartender lines up ten sand buckets and fills them up in one flow – smooth operator. Lost Alex along the way somewhere – he was trollied big time. Stumbled home, after stopping in for more noodles of course. Huge night and great vibes. Didn’t spend a cent after our first round of buckets and had an absolute blast! You can get fed and pissed for free night after night if you time it right – this is the life. We can get used to this!

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Awoke at noon – ravenous and not even the slightest hangover (thanks to them noodles). Headed down to Cosmic with Alex for brekkie. After a mighty feed we hit the beach at the other side, where the isthmus is so narrow both beaches almost meet. Overcast but the temperature is pleasant enough to sunbathe and read on the beach, sipping on cold watermelon shakes and digging our toes into the warm soft sand – bliss!

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Time to get ready for yet another big night - everyday is Friday here so we’re confident we can find some fun. “Hey sexy boy, sexy girl, you want massage?” the girls from the local massage parlour wail in unison. We stop off at another Cosmic Bar (how many does this tiny island need? Really) and order Panang Curry for only 80 baht – the meanest curry we’ve had so far. One of the bars screens movies and tonight “the Beach” is on – a story about a bunch of people who seek the ultimate paradise (safely assuming everyone knows about this one =). This flick is particularly popular here as most of the beach scenes were filmed at nearby Maya Bay, on Ko Phi Phi Leh – an uninhabited sister island of Phi Phi Don, a mere 20 minutes away by longtail boat and focus of a great many day trips here. The widespread controversy this movie has caused among many Thai greenies is less well-known as extensive parts of the Phi Phi Leh jungle were effectively refurbished to make the location look more “natural” for the movie, despite the island being under marine park “protection”. A recurring theme in Thailand we find out later.

Between bars we pass a man hand in hand with a gibbon monkey dressed in funky beach shorts and a wifebeater shirt – incredibly random. Slightly bemused by this strange sight we ask if we can take a photo of the cute couple as a memento. But the guy wants hard cash for this favor and by the time we realise which way the wind blows the monkey is sitting on Guido’s shoulder. Not all that keen to encourage this sort of animal profiteering we kindly decline but by doing so clearly upset the monkey. Mr. Gibbon promptly jumps off & runs away crying, and climbs into his shopping basket at the front of his get-away bicycle, furiously gesturing to the man to take him home. Talk about monkey throwing a tantrum!

Another day at the beach. The sun has finally broken through the cloud cover and we feel an intense heat – welcome summer! We forego our usual beach spots and walk past Hippie’s Bar on Ton Sai side and crawl around the rocks to Long beach, aptly named because it’s indeed quite long, lined with fine powdery white sand and blessed with azure blue clear water – simply a stunner compared to where we came from. We go for our first snorkel of the trip, lovely warm water, friendly tropical fish with the likes of many parrotfish and butterfly fish, and lots of dead coral. A bit further the scene changes remarkably however, Shark point – a rocky outcrop with resident blacktip reef sharks and some very good coral. Jelly fish are so omnipresent and we swim through a thick soup of them, getting stung like crazy. Nothing better than a 40 baht ice, cold fruit shake to temper those stings and burns as we make our way back as the sun sets behind those immense limestone cliffs.

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Home to refresh, then out for all you can eat buffet dinner ($220 baht) – prawns, tuna steak, pad thai, sashimi, tempura, vege, Tom Yum soup, chicken kebabs…washed down with a giant Chang beer. Time for a movie at the 007 movie bar – Casino Royale this time round, not bad. A minimum order of 100 baht applies to help out with their electricity bill (which must be up there with all those plasma screens), but we do away with a fruit shake. Hippies Bar for free buckets & bar snacks while the DJ works his magic as the night comes alive. A fire show comes past with fire poi’s, fire sticks and the works handled by some of the best performances we’ve seen so far. The smaller the island the more time they have to practice =). “Firestarter” and other great tunes spur the guys on to go faster, harder and better… “Blue Moon Bar” tops the night with free vodka buckets and we watch him pour it – shitloads of vodka, ice and rocket fuel Red Bull – a potent one! We share, while sitting on the beach chairs in the sand, singing along to Billy Jean and other great tunes, while getting nicely toasted. Enjoy a good boogie to our trip theme song “destination unknown” amongst the Tiki torches in the water – sensational! Another groundhog day in paradise!

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Posted by beefnlamb 05:55 Archived in Thailand Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

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