Friday, February 25, 2011

Ko Phi Phi

On Monday, we caught a ferry from Phuket to Ko Phi Phi Don, the largest of the Phi Phi islands. The guidebook describes Phi Phi as being more expensive than anywhere else in Thailand (and it was; we payed nearly £30 per night to stay here, massively more than anywhere else in Thailand) but cheaper than any other similarly beautiful island in the world.

The first sights of Phi Phi Don as the boat approached were indeed beautiful:

As we got a little closer, it was possible to appreciate the sheer limestone cliffs. I don't know if it's possible to see in this photo but the sea had been eating away at the lowest few metres of cliff, while rainwater attacking them from above had left stalagtates dangling down towards the sea.

After checking into our guesthouse, we went out for lunch at a restaurant by the beach. The beach was superb, by the way:

The afternoon was spent catching up on sleep, before heading out for dinner. We were disappointed by the sign that greeted us when we arrived at the restaurant:

I think that they meant to say "no food or drink not bought on these premises" or something similar. Those crazy Thai restauranteurs!

Hannah wasn't very well that evening so I went out on my own to explore. The beach had turned into party central:

Impressed, I returned to the guesthouse and persuaded Hannah that it would be more fun sitting on beach than lying in bed. We sat on mats on the beach, watching people twirling burning batons around and sipping the juice from a fresh coconut:

I was a little worried about mosquitos but my fears were calmed by the numerous paraphin fires built on top of cones of sand; I assumed that the mozzies wouldn't much like the smoke from those:

Not so, of course: I received a huge number of mozzie bites all over my feet, causing me much distress for the next few days.

The next morning, I left Hannah and climbed up the nearby hill to the lookout point. On the way up, I passed numerous signs like this one:

The signs were presumably installed following the boxing day tsunami in 2004, which utterly flattened the part of the island where we were staying and killed numerous people.

On the way up a sequence of steps on an unnecessarily steep path, I looked back and got a strange sense of deja-vu. Eventually, I realised that I had seen this view before, in some grainy amateur video footage of the island being innundated by the tsunami six years ago. Somewhere down there is the guesthouse where we stayed. A lot of people lost their lives when that thin strip of land was assaulted by water from both sides simultaneously.

When I reached the first lookout point (it turns out that there are several), I came face to face with some kind of bird of prey:

It turns out that the guy who lives there feeds it fish every day, which is one way to make sure it keeps coming back.

Finally, tired and drenched in sweat, I reached the highest of the lookout points, from which views of the island were beautiful:

Also visible in the distance was Phi Phi Lei, one of the smaller islands and the setting for the film The Beach. If you look carefully, you can see that Phi Phi Lei looks like Homer Simpson lying on his back.

Mmmmm... Donuts...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Phuket Town

On Tuesday, we left Bangkok on a flight for Singapore, leaving Thailand a few days before the expiry of our 30 day visas. We had been thinking about flying home from Singapore but decided instead to come back to Thailand to visit the south of the county. Sadly, hotels in Singapore are expensive and we couldn't justify paying for accomodation for the night so we spent a largly sleepless night in the airport. Luckily, a few cafes stayed open all night so we were able to get something to eat and drink.

One cafe sold "chocolate mouse" which we initially assumed was a spelling error. I stand corrected:

Finally, morning arrived and we got on a plane to Phuket.

First impressions of Phuket: it's insanely hot here. Hotter than Singapore, perhaps, which surprised us. It's also, unsurprisingly, even more touristy than everywhere else we've been in Thailand. When we arrived at Phuket airport, we were set upon by an army of touts who were keen to charge us far too much money for a minibus to our guesthouse or a boat trip to Ko Phi Phi. We eventually found the taxi rank and caught a taxi for far less money than the touts were going to charge us.

We're staying in Phuket Town, quite a distance from the beaches and consequently a lot cheaper than places near a beach. We haven't made it to the beach at all yet, mainly because we have spent our first two nights here at a nearby bar, being plied with free drinks by the owner and a whole load of cool British and American ex-pats, and have consequently spent our first two full days nursing hangovers.

Here is a picture of us with the Turkish guy who owns the bar:

A mention must be made of the hilarious Plup Fiction picture which adorns one of the walls of the bar. Well, it made me chuckle anyway:

In the next few days, we plan to catch a boat to Ko Phi Phi, supposedly the most beautiful of Thailand's islands. We'll stay there for as long as we can afford, which probably won't be long since Phi Phi is meant to be the most expensive place in Thailand to stay.

Monday, February 14, 2011


We are back in Bangkok and, once again, are staying in Banglamphu, a stone's throw from the (in)famous Khao San Road. The guidebook describes this area as a "backpackers' ghetto", which is a pretty apt description. Farangs like ourselves outnumber the locals and the streets are lined with stalls catering to the likes of us.

This time, we decided not to book any accomodation in advance and just turned up, doing a tour of guesthouses until we found a room. We eventually managed to find a double room with a private bathroom for 350 baht (just over £7), which didn't seem to bad, despite the dirty concrete floor, lack of light and the smell of cooking coming from the kitchen directly beneath. Things took a turn for the worse during the night, however, when Hannah woke me up and complained that she was being bitten by bed bugs. We left the light on for the rest of the night to scare away any bugs and promptly checked out the next morning. We're now paying a king's ransom (£17 per night) for a much nicer room down the street.

Walking down the street round here is rather a draining experience, with tuk-tuk drivers and tailors touting for business. Unfortunately for them, the guidebooks are pretty clear, advising travellers that both are either a rip-off or a scam. We still managed to fall for a scam, though. When we first arrived in Bangkok, when the first few locals noticed that we were clearly new in town and approached us, we asked where the tourist information office was. Little did we know but the tourist information office was mere feet away at that point. We were instead led in completely the opposite direction by a friendly chap who dropped us off at a travel agent who promptly offered to plan our entire time in Thailand in axchange for £800. Thankfully, we didn't go with that offer.

At night, this area becomes even more manic, with a million backpackers coming out to play.

A million biting insects also come out to play and we have learned that insect repellant is essential, even in the centre of Bangkok.

Today is, of course, Valentine's Day. We're off out for a swanky and expensive meal. We're off to a pizza restaurant round the corner where a pizza will cost all of 300 Baht. That's £6 per pizza. Good job Valentine's Day only happens once a year.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Man's Inhumanity To Man

We have just returned from the rather appropriately titled Death Railway Museum in Kanchanaburi, a museum dedicated to the history of the Thailand-Burma railway.

The museum rather effectively told the story of the construction of the railway at the cost of the lives of tens thousands of forced labourers, many of them allied POWs.

Visiting the museum was a humbling experience, in a "there but for the grace of God" sort of a way. We also visited the cemetery next door:

6,318 of those who died were British and many of their graves could be found in the cemetary. One thing that I didn't realise was that most of the labourers who were forced to work on the railway weren't alllied POWs but were Malay and Burmese. Of the 180,000 Asian labourers who worked on the railway, 90,000 died, which rather puts things into perspective. They don't even get an immactulately kept cemetary; most of the dead were never even identified.

Kanchanaburi doesn't feel like party central any more.

The Bridge Over the River Kwai

I haven't blogged in a while, during which time we have visited Sukhothai (the ancient Thai capital) and Ayuttaya (which was Thai capital until it was sacked by the Burmese 200 years ago). I'll try to post some pictures at some point.

We have now arrived in Kanchanaburi, home of the infamous Bridge Over The River Kwai. I had been expecting this place to be a stark symbol of man's inhumanity to man but, so far, a more apt description seems to be "party central". We are staying in a floating bungalow on the river and were kept awake last night by party boats going up and down the river, blasting out terrible music and even more terrible karaoke singing. We are staying on a street that is incredibly touristy and rather reminiscent of Bangkok's Khao San Road, being lined with bars and restaurants.

Today, we are going to visit the Burma Railway museum before walking across the bridge, which I'm rather apprehensive about.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Moradok Thai Guesthouse in Auytthaya

On Sunday, we took a train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. Oour hosts very kindly picked us up from the station and drove us to our accommodation for the next few days, Moradok Thai Guesthouse.

This turned out to be by far the most wonderful place that we stayed in Thailand so far and I can't speak highly enough of the awesome hospitality shown to us by our hosts. That evening, they laid on a barbecue for us (which they wouldn't accept any money towards). The barbecue was great, too, and the format was very new to me. I didn't know that you could barbecue soup.

We hung out with the other guests, getting very drunk on Chiang Beer and making friends with lots of awesome people, before our hosts took us out to a bar down the road where we watched a very good local band.

The next day was pretty much a write off due to a massive hangover so we postponed looking at the sights and gladly extended our stay by another night.

The day after, we finally headed into the city to look at the ruins. Ayutthaya had been the capital of Siam until, a little over 200 years ago, it was sacked by an invading Burmese army. It was after this that Bangkok was founded but, until that point, Ayutthaya had been the Thai capital and one of the world's largest and most magnificent cities. Keen to explore the ruins, we hired bikes from our hosts and headed off.

First stop was Wat Mahathat, the ruin of a massive temple.

As we explored the temple, we came found numerous headless Buddha images. We presume that Burmese soldiers hacked the heads off the statues when they destroyed the city. Here is an example:

I wonder where the head went... ah, here it is:

While exploring the ruins of this temple and others, we took many pictures of the ruins. Here are a few more:

While biking around the town, I realised that the bike I'd been given was fairly rubbish. We passed some people who had a much better mode of transport:

We enjoyed our time in Ayhutthaya greatly. The city and the ruins were pretty cool but the best thing was the guesthouse at which we stayed. Our hosts were the most friendly and awesome that we have stayed with anywhere in Thailand (or, to be honest, anywhere, period). They took great care of their guests as well. When one of our guests developed an eye infection and needed to go to hospital, one of our hosts gave him a lift there and stayed with him all day to make sure he was ok. Stuff like that really makes a difference.

The atmosphere of the place, created by our hosts, was great, too, and we made some great friends during our stay. Overall, top marks. If you ever go to Thailand, take a trip to Ayutthaya and stay at Moradok Thai Guesthouse.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Muay Thai Fun

Last night, we finally caved in to the pressure of relentless advertising and went to see a Muay Thai boxing match. I was a little apprehensive when a little research revealed that this match was put on entirely for backpackers (and it was; the majority of faces in the audience looked pretty Caucasian to me). We paid our 400 Baht entrance fee (a whole £8 each - and that's for the cheap seats) and waited for the show to begin.

The flyer had promised eight genuine Muay Thai fights, including the main fight where a Spanish guy named Jorge would be pitted against a Thai fighter. My prediction was that Jorge wouldn't stand a chance and would be pummelled by the Thai guy . More on that later.

The first thing that startled me was that we were watching fights spanning all the age groups. The first fight was in the youngest age group, featuring a couple of nine year old kids.

Don't be fooled by the picture; the kid in the red corner made mincemeat of the kid in the blue corner, who threw in the towel in the third round.

As the fights continued, we moved through the age groups, the fighters becoming stronger and more skillful and the blows becoming more and more vicious. The third fight ended with a knockout blow in the third round, which was rather shocking to see. Luckily, the defeated fighter regained consciousness and was lead out of the ring to a round of applause.

Before the main fight, we were treated to possibly the most entertaining spectacle of the evening: blind boxing. This involved putting four blindfolded boxers into the ring, and watching them flail around, trying to find each other. Any time a boxer made contact with another, they would unleash a flurry of blows. Often, this would involve punching another boxer in the back, which seemed a bit mean. Occasionally, a boxer would make contact with the referee instead, knocking him to the ground. The ref didn't much like this sort of thing and would respond with his feet (on which he had shoes), kicking the offending boxer to the ground, to a cheer from the audience.

Finally, it was time to see the plucky Spaniard, Jorge, take on Thailand's finest. As the fighters stepped into the ring, I couldn't see that Jorge stood a chance against Thailand's finest. After all, Spain doesn't have the same reputation for producing awesome kickboxers that Thailand has. The fight was soon underway, to cries of "viva EspaƱa" from the numerous Spanish backpackers in the crowd.

The fight seemed fairly even for a very short while, both boxers trading blows and grappling with oneanother. Then, something happened that I didn't expect at all. As the fighters grappled, Jorge put his opponent on the floor. Then he did it again, before landing a series of increasingly brutal blows:

The fight ended shortly into the second Jorge putting his opponent on the canvas one too many times and the Thai guy failing to get up again. I was a little disappointed, to be honest, having hoped to see the full five rounds. Jorge departed, having confirmed the honour of his nation, and we headed for home. Despite the short duration of the main fight, we left satisfied, having discovered that Muay Thai is an awesome sport to watch. Even if this fight was purely for the benefit of us Faranags. Apparently, the Thais go to a different Muay Thai stadium across town.