Tag Archives: burmese

Koh Tao Island

After leaving Bang Saphan I headed directly to Champon to catch a catamaran over to the very beautiful island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand.  Only 21 sq. Km, Koh Tao (turtle island) has surprisingly a lot going for it!  It boasts 2 of the top diving schools in the world and is considered one of the top spots in the world to dive, has several volunteer opportunities from being a “Trash Hero” to helping at the Animal Clinic and even some Marine Conservation programs as well.  In addition, it has 2 Muay Thai Kickboxing training facilities: Island Muay Thai (where I’m currently training and will write more about in another post) and Monsoon Muay Thai Gym.

The island itself is lush and green with a large variety of foliage and critters all around.  The beaches are breathless with clear blues and greens and abundantly diverse marine life to boot.  Sadly, the island does have a dark past as it is the site of the very unfortunate murders of a young British couple just last year in September that made news world-wide.  There are even websites dedicated to the “dark side” of Koh Tao, but so far I haven’t witnessed or felt any dark side to the island.

Like the two neighboring islands to the South of Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Tao also parties it up every full moon.  They call them “Full Moon” parties, which is really just another excuse to do what people do nightly here (party in bars) but apparently kicked up a notch.  Before coming I had heard the Government is trying to put a stop to them because of the drugs that also surface during the parties, but so far all the islands are still celebrating the moon phases.  The other two islands apparently also have half-moon parties and even new moon parties!  I haven’t experienced the Full Moon party here (the first one I will be present for is tomorrow night) but honestly have no interest to join the crowds at the bars for it.  See, while this place does have a huge party scene to it, my purpose here is to train in Muay Thai and get involved where I can in the available volunteer opportunities.  Guess I’m growing up a bit… Just a bit though;)

The expat community here is also huge!  Most are in their early 20’s and have come here originally just for vacation and ended up getting jobs and staying.  I would say honestly the population of people from the UK or Australia is possibly more than that of Thai’s and Burmese.  It is legal to get a job in Thailand as an expat if it’s in an area of expertise that a Thai local wouldn’t necessarily have, such as teaching English or in the case of Koh Tao, diving instructors.  One of the bummers in my opinion about having so many expats on the island however, is that the Thai culture seems lost a bit.  Many of the locals speak better English than most native speakers and while they may view it as a benefit for them, it’s hard to find locals who only speak Thai.  Hence why I wrote my other post on “Talking Thai” so I wouldn’t forget what I’ve learned so far!

As the island does boast some of the best diving in the world, there are dive shops absolutely everywhere!  You could probably throw a rock in any given direction while walking, and within only a few meters (depending on your location) could hit anywhere from 3-5 of them!  They really are everywhere you look, which makes it tough when trying to pick one to go with.  Everyone has their opinion on which is the best, and so far each person I’ve spoken to has named a different one as “the best”, lol!!  Though I do have my open water certification, I have yet to have done any diving as it’s been so long since my certification and I would have to do the refresher course AND for this month at least, I am tapped out financially on my extra-curricular spending.  It’s all about the budgeting!  Perhaps next month I’ll get into it, but for now, I frankly enjoy going to the beaches and simply snorkeling!  It’s free to snorkel on your own (though there are snorkel tours available too) and the variety of marine life seen snorkeling is impressive enough to me to stick with that for now.

Truth be told… while there are several beaches around the island I’ve so far only made it to two!  Sairee beach and Hin Wong beach.  Hin Wong beach is teeny and is privately owned so the owner (Mol of Mol’s beach bar) asks that each visitor either pays 50 baht (equivalent of just over $1.50) or buys a drink from the bar.  The snorkeling is unbelievable there and I keep returning for it’s absolute beauty and range of marine life!  Every time I go I see something new!  There are irradescent clams, blue-spotted sting rays, parrot fish, all sorts of damsel fish, christmas tree corals, anemones, puffer fish, and on and on!  Every time I go I also wish I had an underwater camera so I could share the beauty under the water!

Since I don’t have a motorbike however (the roads are absolute crap on the island and the other drivers are nuts to boot!!) I walk there, which is yet another way I get my exercise.  It’s a literal pain in my rear to scale the wee but very steep hill to get to the other side of the island, but it’s well worth it once there!!  While I do adore going to that beach, I also try to space out how often I go because inevitably I end up having some drinks at the bar then curse myself as I have to make the trek back over the hill, sweating my rear off (and hopefully some of the booze) to get back to my place.  Mol herself is quite the character too!  She is a native Thai but speaks English perfectly and even has a cockney accent when she drinks, lol!!

When I first arrived, I walked my way in the blistering heat from Mae Haad (where the boats all dock) toward Sairee and found very close to the Wat a place called Happy Bungalows.  For 400 baht a night I got my own bungalow with a bed, bathroom and little fridge.  When I first arrived I wasn’t sure honestly how long I’d actually stay.  My plan was to check out the two Muay Thai gyms and if I liked one, I would stay for a month to train.  If not, I would hang about for a few days to a week then head elsewhere.  Within 3 days I’d decided to stay and found a monthly rental with a kitchen through Bua Management.  Now almost 3 weeks in, I’m planning to stay for another month.  There are two reasons I came to that decision: first, I’m really enjoying the Muay Thai training and want to give it another month and second, one of my friends will be popping into Thailand to see me.  Since she is interested in diving, I figured I may as well stay put so at the very least she gets to do some diving in one of the best spots! 🙂

Eating Bat and The View

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Sangkhlaburi

Once again I opted for the ‘bit more expensive but will get you there faster’ mini-bus from Kanchanaburi to Sangkhlaburi.  It took about 4 harrowing hours to get there, and boy, I’d never been so happy to finally get anywhere before!!  Reason being was because of our absolutely lunatic mini-bus driver!!  It was one of those times I just had to breathe and trust that he knew what he was doing.  Why you may ask?  Well, basically because every car or truck or motorbike we came behind was swiftly passed at a very rapid speed.  And for a good percentage of these passes, we were doing so while going around blind corners!!  Interestingly I later heard from a fellow traveler that there is an accident involving a mini-bus every day because of how crazy they drive!  And even more scary, one of the volunteers said her driver FELL ASLEEP at the wheel in the mini-bus she took!!  Lovely…

I must admit though that through much of the driving (that is while we weren’t driving like a bat out of hell around blind corners in the WRONG LANE) I was thankfully distracted by the absolutely stunning national parks around us.  I tried so many different times to take some decent pictures, but failed each time.  Again because of the warp speed we were driving, it was just impossible to take a picture that wasn’t blurry!

The road to Sangkhlaburi is one to take your time on.  And if you are able to rent a car and don’t mind driving on the “wrong” side of the road (in Thailand they drive on the left like in the UK) then do it!  Between the Erawan National Park, Sai Yok National Park and the Khao Laem National Park, just about the entire trip was breathtaking!  The last half hour or so was a bit rough because the road turned unkempt with lots of sharp uphill turns, but other than that (and the crazy driving) it was beautiful.

I arrived mid-afternoon and started wandering the little town.  It was boiling hot and I had no idea where I was really going.  All I knew was that the gentlemen I’d spoken to in Kanchanaburi who turned my mind around about going to Sangkhlaburi told me of a lovely hostel called J’s Family Homestay that he’d really enjoyed.  So in my mind, I was set on finding that place to stay as well.  There were a couple hostels in town but no one wanted to help me find J’s place, they were only set on getting me to stay there.  So I wandered town aimlessly for a bit and spotted a little place to eat on the corner.  As it was mid-afternoon, I was starving and sweating profusely and my bag was really starting to bother me, so I figured I’d stop for lunch and maybe Google where the J’s place was.

Across the street there was a spa that advertised WiFi, so I thought maybe they had it everywhere.  I asked the woman at the eatery whether they had WiFi (basically I just said WiFi?? as she didn’t speak any English) and she immediately busted out laughing.  She said something to the ladies behind her with the word ‘WiFi’ in there and they too suddenly busted out laughing.  I’m talking full on hearty belly laughs as if I’d told a hilarious joke!  So well, yea, I figured the several minutes of laughter meant that no, they didn’t have any WiFi there, lol!!

After filling up on some fried rice, I headed on down the road leading away from the main town.  I walked for what felt like forever in the heat, just feeling the sweat drip down my back and moisture soak into my backpack.  My instincts were not on my side on that day because every side road I took “feeling” like it may be down that way was in fact not correct.  I backtracked so many times that I almost just gave up and went back to town for a hostel there.  Thankfully I came across a place where the woman knew where the J’s place was!  YAY!!!  Sad news was I was going the wrong way and had to turn back up the street, make a right and walk about a kilometer down the main road… BOO!!!

The heat of the day was really wearing on me and the several glasses of water I had with lunch were just being sweat out faster than I’d absorbed them.  I was once again just about to give up when I spotted a little sign across from the Temple grounds that said “J’s Family Homestay”… HOORAY!!!!

A left turn and a block later I found the place and just as I walked up the drive, a woman stood at the top.  Her face went from a smile to neutral.  She shook her head left to right solemnly and lifted her right hand out to her side pointing to a wee tent on the grass.  “That’s all I have” she said.  Sold!!  At that point I couldn’t have cared less what kind of accommodation I actually had, I only cared that I no longer had to carry my bag around!!  I paid for a few nights and settled into my tent, happy as a clam:)

As the sun set, I went for a stroll to see the famous Mon Bridge.  Sangkhlaburi is a richly diverse area consisting of several ethnic groups to include Mon, Burmese, and of course Thai people.  Several decades ago the valley of Sangkhlaburi was home to the Mon community.  However the village was destroyed after a flood following the construction of the Khao Laem Dam.  Now a lake separates the area with the Mon village on one side and Thai/Burmese people on the other.  The two sides are connected by the famous Mon Bridge which is a very tall wooden bridge that from afar looks to be constructed in a VERY sketchy way, but walking across it feels completely secure!  Believe it or not, children actually jump off this bridge!!  Brave souls!!  There is even a second bridge made of bamboo that parallels the Mon Bridge.  Walking across it however feels completely sketchy as the bamboo is basically floating on the surface of the water and sways left and right like a slithering snake as you walk across.  Definitely NOT recommended to walk after a few drinks, lol!!!

The lake is dotted with several homes constructed out of bamboo that also simply float on the lake.  It was so lovely to see such impressive simplicity.  I must admit I’m curious as to whether the homes have bathrooms… Do they use the lake as their toilet or go elsewhere?  I’ve been harassed by my fellow volunteers as to why I don’t go swimming in the lake like the locals and they do… Let’s just say that just in case those floating house residents DO use the lake as their bathroom, well that’s why I’m choosing not to swim in the lake, lol!

That evening I went to town for the Saturday market.  Streets normally open to car traffic were completely blocked off and lined with hundreds of street food and shop vendors selling again every imaginable food or physical item one might need.  I dined on street food and wandered the shops listening to local boys jamming on guitars and drum sets then wandered back to my hostel for rest.

The next day I wandered the neighborhood, back to the bridge for another viewing then over to a little animal sanctuary I had spotted earlier in the day.  I spoke to a guy hanging out there who turned out to be the vet and inquired about volunteering there.  Unlike volunteering in the States and even in Costa Rica, they didn’t require copious amounts of information, insurance, etc, etc to vounteer.  Simply show up and work.  My kinda place!  The next day I arrived there at 9am ready to work.  I planned to only stay a few days and help out where needed.  That was almost a month ago…

I’m still here loving each day with the animals and learning something new.  I stayed in J’s Homestay for about 2 weeks, then moved into the volunteer house with the rest of the gang.  Honestly, how can I possibly leave a face like this???

 

Elvis
Elvis

One for the Dogs

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