Tag Archives: ferry

Duty-Free Langkawi

I finally left Thailand via ferry from the Tammalang Port at Satun and about an hour and a half later was greeted into the Northernmost island in the Andaman sea of Malaysia, called Langkawi.  After clearing customs I grabbed a cab for the T-Star hotel in Cenang.

During the 40 minute cab ride my driver informed me of some interesting facts about the island.  According to him,  Langkawi was barely visible on the map of tourism and tourists until the 70’s when the Prime Minister declared the island Duty Free.  Since then, Langkawi has skyrocketed as a hot spot for tourism (loads of tours from feeding eagles to snorkeling are available) and shopaholics looking for the best deals on booze, makeup, chocolate, perfumes, etc.

Another tidbit he shared with me was that the population on the island was about 85% muslim, 10% Indian and the rest a mix of Chinese, Expats, and Europeans.  After having been in Thailand for so long with diversity in foods only being available in larger cities, Langkawi was a breath of fresh air on that front with a large variety of cuisine choices to choose from.  Of course they also had traditional Malay foods, which consist of rice, fish, chicken and lots of vegetable varieties.  The foods are generally a bit spicy (though not as spicy as Thailand) and their national meal is Nasi Lemak, which is a rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf 🙂

I went to Langkawi with one specific goal in mind: to check out the animal shelter on the island and see if they needed volunteers.  T-Star, my chosen hotel for the week was an absolutely delightful place and only about a 45 minute walk to the shelter.  Every day, at least twice a day troops of the macaque monkeys came through the hotel leaping from balcony to balcony in search of any sort of food.  There were signs everywhere to beware of things left on the balcony as they may be snatched and for good reason because those little guys were fast in snatching things!!

The day after I arrived I started my wander toward the animal shelter to check it out.  I was a bit confused about it at first because online they seemed somehow located at a hotel resort, which didn’t make a ton of sense until I got there and learned the story.  The Bon Ton resort, located next to The Temple Tree hotel is owned and operated by an animal lover.  The owner started both hotels and the restaurants attached to them and uses moneys from the hotel and restaurant to fund an animal shelter located just in front of the resorts.  There, over 100 dogs and over 100 cats find shelter and a loving home.

I arrived a little after 10am and chatted with the volunteer coordinator, Dorothy, and began the next day doing half days at first (since I was walking 5 km there and 5 back daily).  Morning activities consisted of taking over 50 dogs for walks around the hotel grounds with fellow volunteers, then picking up after them and finally serving them lunch, which consisted of rice cooked in beef broth with chunks of beef and a variety of vegetables, all prepared FRESH daily by the restaurant chef!!

So for the first week I walked to and from my hotel to help walk the doggies in the morning, then spent my afternoons trying out new restaurants in the area and walking along the Cenang beach.  As my week started to come to an end, it turned out that one of the Nepalese workers for the shelter had to go back home, so I was asked if I wanted to stay in one of the volunteer rooms so I could help with full-day activities along with the other 2 full-time volunteers.  I agreed and moved in to my new accommodations (complete with 2 yard dogs, John and Mummy) and began full day activities.  Of course, though I’d only planned at first for a month there, it quickly turned into two:)

On to Bon Ton Animal Shelter

Back to Malaysia

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Don’t Mess with Thailand

I will say for the record that yes, the following scenario was pretty much 100% my fault, and no, I don’t recommend anyone else to follow in my footsteps (as the ending results may vary greatly!!).

When I first arrived in Thailand in December of 2014 I didn’t bother to look at my passport stamp before leaving the immigration desk.  Instead it was probably the next day, after I’d slept for several hours catching up on lost sleep, that I bothered to look (out of curiosity) at the stamp in my passport.

It was then that I’d noticed something interesting about my stamp… The entrance date was correct, but the “valid until” stamp said December, 2015…

A year later???  That can’t be right!?  As I started to research information on tourist visas for Thailand, I quickly realized that a mistake had been made.  Tourist visas if entering by plane are ONLY valid for 30 days.  If entering by land I believe it is only 15 days.  To get more than 30 days, extensions must be made and paid for.

Well, at first I was a bit panicked about this incorrect stamp but nothing online seemed to address my issue.  All the visa problems were related to stamps giving LESS than the proper time allotted, never once did I run into anyone saying they were given MORE.

Perhaps that was due to people not wanting the outside world to know they had been “granted” longer than legally allowed… In any event, I was still worried about what to do in the several weeks that followed and almost did a border run within the 30 days, but the more I spoke with fellow tourists (some who had been there for months on end with proper extensions) it seemed that it really wasn’t a big deal.  There was no special stamp for 30 days vs. extended stays, so I thought no biggie!

Everyone (seasoned Thailand travelers) seemed in agreement that there wasn’t even a special visa stamp for year applications.  So needless to say, I simply blew off making border runs and figured I would deal with it whenever I was ready to leave Thailand.

So the day came, about 9 months later, that I was ready to leave.  Up to the border patrol in Tammalang Pier I strolled with my ticket in hand for Langkawi, Malaysia.  I passed over my passport to the seasoned employee… All seemed well for a few seconds… Then his eyebrows furrowed.

I was asked to step out of line and into the back where I was basically scolded for my mistake.  I tried to reason with them saying it was one of their own people’s fault for giving me the wrong stamp, but really when it came down to it (and I knew this already) it was my own fault.  So I was given two choices.  A) Pay the maximum fine for over-staying my visa (20,000 baht) or B) Go to the Police station.

Needless to say I picked A!!  I wasn’t even going to test choosing option B, lol!!  But the only problem then was that I needed cash!  I only had about 70 baht on me, so I basically begged for and borrowed a motorbike, drove myself into town, got the max allowed out of an ATM (20,000 baht), drove back, paid my fine, got a lovely full-page stamp in my passport outlining the infraction (stating boldly my mistake in full detail), finally got my exit stamp, and boarded the ferry to Langkawi Malaysia.

It was kinda humorous at the end there as when I had to return to the main immigration desk hours later (after paying the fine) I ended up with the same officer who caught my mistake.  When I approached, he just gave me a jovial smile and shake of the head.  I had to chuckle at that and smiled.  No hard feelings 🙂  At least I wasn’t asked never to return to Thailand!  I paid my fees and got straight with the law.

So I’ve learned my lesson, which I’d actually seen written several times in visa blog discussions: ALWAYS CHECK YOUR STAMP BEFORE LEAVING THE IMMIGRATION DESK!!!  Avoid future hassles!!

As for the money, if you really think about it, it’s probably the same amount I would have had to spend in border runs and legal extensions of my tourist visa anyway.  C’est la vie!

That’s my story and my warnings!!

On to Malaysia

Back to Thailand

Ko Lantaaaah

Ko Lanta or rather Lantaaaah, which is how all the locals say “Lanta” is a 300 sq. km island just off mainland Thailand, only a short ferry ride from Phi Phi.  Thailand is known as the “land of a thousand smiles” and though people throughout my travels in Thailand had been very nice and friendly, none were as smiley, friendly and good-natured as those we met on Ko Lantaaaah.  That island alone could be called the land of a thousand smiles! 🙂

Originally, Anna and I were only planning on using Ko Lantaaaah as a brief stopping point, a jump off to get to Ko Ngai (aka Hai) or Ko Mook (aka Muk).  However, things always change when traveling.  Mind you, both Anna and myself are very easy going travellers.  Whenever we asked locals about getting to one place or another, if they said “no, you should go here instead, or do this instead” well, we just about always followed that.

It all started as we were waiting to board our ferry to Lantaaaah.  We were down by the pier hanging out when we were approached by Win, one of the locals.  He showed us a brochure for Lanta New Beach, a hotel just along Long Beach on Ko Lanta.  At first we brushed it off, but then started to think that maybe it would be better to stay one night in Lantaaaah, just so we didn’t have to have such a long travel day in getting to the other islands.

So for 500 baht, we booked one night at Lanta New Beach at the Phi Phi pier.  Funnily enough, we almost ended up missing the ferry because though we were right there, Win kept saying to wait for him and he’d let us know when to board, but then suddenly he was gone and we were running to the ferry.  When we arrived at the ferry, all the locals were laughing at us and signaling us to calm down and just walk.  They had been waiting for us apparently but they also didn’t seem in any rush to get going on time.

Once we boarded, the real salesmanship games began!  Win, along with other gentlemen Toom and Mark (and at least 3 others) were circulating around the boat selling people accommodations and tours.  Toom was standing nearby speaking to some guys sitting behind us about various tours.  They kept asking questions about getting to Ko Tao and other destinations, and even though they kept arguing with him about the prices, everything Toom was saying about each destination (costs, etc) was directly on point.  So I knew (as did Anna) that he wasn’t full of it or just trying to hike prices for no reason.  I wanted to tell the boys behind us that they were idiots for not listening, but it wasn’t my business to do so.

Anyway, once Toom finished up with the boys, he moved onto Anna and I.  We had already booked Lanta New Beach for the night, so he began asking us whether we wanted any tours.  Out came a brochure on an elephant trekking adventure that his father owned.  I should mention at this point that one of Anna’s objectives while visiting me in Thailand was to ride on an elephant.  Personally, while I like the idea of it, how they treat the animals and whether the animals are really happy about taking people on rides was my primary concern.  But talking with Toom put my mind to rest and Anna and I signed up for an elephant trekking tour, which also included a hike to a waterfall and bat cave.

We arrived at Ko Lanta, loaded into a truck and were dropped off at Lanta New Beach.  We thought we had died and gone to heaven!!!  After spending the past 4 nights in the ‘Kamikaze Cockbox’, we had now arrived to a beautiful hotel which basically offered anything and everything one might want!  They had 2 pools (one of which was just outside our door) the structures were all solid, they were located directly on the beach, they offered a large variety of massages right on the beach, they had a restaurant and bar (which offered Happy Shakes!) and a tour office on site as well!  We were so awe-struck, especially considering it was only 500 baht per night!

Needless to say, we ended up staying there 4 or 5 nights living it up with almost daily massages, dining like queens, swimming in the lovely pools, enjoying cocktails with the setting sun nightly and having our first taste of Lao Cow (Whiskey made in Thailand!!).  Our days were filled with relaxing, the elephant trekking tour, wandering around town shopping, riding around the island on a motorbike we rented for only 200 baht a day to the Sea Gypsy village and Old Town, and a short visit to the Animal Sanctuary.  Though Lantaaaah was a bit of a ghost town (being low-season and all), it was such a breath of fresh air compared to Phi Phi and definitely worth the visit!!

On to Elephant Trekking

Back to Thailand

Koh Phi Phi Don

We arrived to the beautiful island of Koh Phi Phi Don (pronounced pee-pee, not fee-fee) early in the afternoon, just in time for the heat of the day!  As the numerous tourists and locals collected their bags and disembarked from the ferry, heading for the island toll (20 baht per person to “enter” the island) a few things about the island became immediately apparent.  First off, the views of this island were absolutely spectacular with steep cliffs jutting out from crystal blue and green waters.  Second, this was DEFINITELY a popular tourist destination, even in low season.  Third, the presence of cats on the island was immediately noticeable (seriously cat lovers would be in absolute heaven!!).  And finally, despite having several walkways winding through and around town, there was no motor traffic… No cars, no motorcycles, not even bicycles!

Koh Phi Phi Don is the larger of the Phi Phi islands, the smaller being Phi Phi Ley, which boasts the famous Maya bay (made famous by being the location where they filmed “The Beach”).  While it is possible to find plenty of accommodations on Phi Phi Don, it is not possible to stay on Phi Phi Ley (camping is also not allowed there!).  Another little fact about Phi Phi Don is that in 2004 a tsunami devastated the island with waters rushing in from BOTH sides of the bay.  It has since recovered, but still unfortunate it happened.

Since we hadn’t booked accommodations in advance, our first task was to find somewhere.  We passed numerous tourist shops near the pier entrance that offered to assist us in finding a place, but we simply ignored them for the time and headed off on foot to try to find a place on  our own.  We walked aimlessly down one of the walking paths and eventually ended on the beach of Loh Dalam bay.  Instead of being sensible and turning around however, we continued on along the beach with our backpacks in tow sweating our rears off trying to find somewhere.  The scene on the beach was a rather confused one.  On the one hand the bay and surrounding beauty was absolutely stunning!!  On the other, loud party music thumped through the air, ruining the serene nature around.

None of the accommodations along the beach (or rather people who worked there) were helpful in any way in getting us information on where to go or even how much their places were.  They simply kept sending us off in different directions to “reception” that ultimately lead us back to our starting point.  Frustrated, tired, hot, hungry, thirsty and sweaty we decided to go back to the pier to the tourist offices and ask for help.  The tourist info shop had a huge variety of accommodations advertised from the very reasonable to the extremely expensive!  I had previously looked up potential places to stay on the island via Travelfish, so I knew of at least one reasonably priced place to stay (space permitting).

As mentioned on Travelfish, the Phutawan Bamboo Resort was one of our available options for cheaper accommodation.  As described by the Travelfish post the resort was located a bit from the main town and up a steep hill.  It was the cheapest of our options (400 baht per night) so we thought, why not?  We booked at the tourist shop then waited while an employee came along, threw our bags into a trolley cart, and started heading through town.  We walked at a rather clipped pace following our guide through town, around the bay and finally up and up and up and up the hill to a parked tuk-tuk.  From there we were thrown into the back of the tuk-tuk and were escorted the short distance further up the hill to the bungalows.

At reception we were shown to our bamboo bungalow (which ended up not being in Phutawan, but rather right next door to Phutawan in a place called Phi Phi Hill Bungalows)…  While the Phi Phi Hill Bungalows were technically livable, it was also quite apparent why they were so cheap.  Put quite simply in the words of Anna: “beasties”!!  While they weren’t immediately apparent, the bungalow did have quite a few cockroaches that also lived there.  Thankfully for me, no spiders, but unfortunately for Anna, cockroaches!  She fears cockroaches as I do spiders, so at least we had each others back in case of either appearing.  Also, since we were properly in the jungle, mosquitos were also out and about in large numbers at dawn and dusk.

On the whole, Phi Phi Don was a strange mix.  My favorite article about the island was a post I found on Travelfish (click here to read) that not only hit the nail on the head in its description of the place but was also hilariously witty to boot.  In addition, the article also provided great ideas for our future activities on the island.

So on the whole, as an overview of the place, while the physical beauty was undeniably stunning, the party scene was annoying.  The beaches in front of the bars were littered with straws, cigarette butts, cups and beer bottles which was also rather unpleasant. And again, the seemingly non-stop party music was out of place to me.  Anna and I kept complaining about the noise pollution and then started joking about how “old” we must be getting in wishing they’d turn the music down, lol!!  It wasn’t until we hiked to the other side of the island and to Long beach that we found the quiet and beauty we sought.  More on those locations later, but first I have to share the most humorous event that happened while we were on Phi Phi Don…

On to Kamikaze Cockbox

Back to Thailand

Isola d’Elba

Isola d’Elba!!  Though I am half Italian, I never knew that this little archipelago off the coast of Tuscany in the Mediterranean Sea even existed!!  The shame, I know!!!  Thankfully my dad did as he suggested a weekend trip there to explore the little land and its numerous beaches!!  From his house outside of Florence it took about 4 hours to get to the dock at Piombino where we drove on to a ferry-boat (called MOBY) and headed to the port in Portoferraio on the island of Elba.  Though the weather had been very sketchy for several weeks prior to our trip, and though it even rained on the ferry ride over, we got two full days of sun on the island and only had cloudy days on the day we arrived and the day we left:)  Seriously lucked out since it was toward the end of summer/early fall that we went to begin with!

Our hotel (hotel Gabbiano Azzuro- hotel Blue Seagull) was located in a town called Marciana Marina on the North Western section of the island.  The town itself is a cute little quaint place with the usual shopping, restaurants, beaches, marinas and hiking trails from here to there.  The hotel, while really not terribly impressive inside offered quite a delicious breakfast including some of the best brioches I’ve personally ever tasted!  They were filled with Bavarian cream… YUM!!!  Just looking at them however pretty much capped my daily allowance of sugar intake… lol!!  I should probably clarify that the hotel itself was quite clean, the people very nice, the location an easy walk to/from the town center, but the rooms were not that big and while they boasted that each room had a private balcony, the majority of those balconies looked on to an abandoned building and you could only see a sliver of a nice view.  However, we were not there for the hotel… we were there for the BEACHES!!!

As far as beaches are concerned, I seriously didn’t think the ones in San Blas could be topped but the ones on the Island of Elba sure do give them a bit of a run for their money!!!  The colors of the water surrounding the island at the various spots are out of this world beautiful!  I found myself literally taking the same exact picture 3 or 4 times over just to make sure I was properly capturing the colors!!

The beaches are quite different from one another and some were even different from any I had previously been on before.  While I’ve mainly been used to beaches with sand, many of the beaches on Elba consisted of stones!!  I wasn’t expecting this aspect at all!!  The stones are like river stones, therefore not sharp in any way, but smoothed out from years of sea water sanding them out.  While they weren’t that comfortable to lay out on, they weren’t completely terrible either and it was due to these stone beaches that the colors remained so crisp and lovely, even when in the water!

Needless to say, after mapping out several beaches for us to visit, the next few days were spent just going from one beach to the next, sunning and tanning, swimming and snorkeling and generally just loving the water and life!  It was a great and relaxing time to be sure!!  Even more of a bonus was that we were still in Italy so dinners were to die for!!  I Love Italian food!!  The last day was spent driving almost all the way around the island, taking several pictures along the way before heading back to the ferry and then home.

Pictures:

On to Return to Treviso

Back to Europe

Golfito Detour

My initial plan in getting to Puerto Jimenez was to take a bus down and around the upper part of the Peninsula through Rincon to Golfito.  However on the way down, as usually has been the case during my bus rides, I struck up a conversation with a local.  He was a very friendly older gentleman who is a local Costa Rican but who now lives in Panama.  He was in Costa Rica just checking on some properties of his that he rents out to tourists and such.

Again most of our conversation was a mix of Spanglish and charades.  It was great to chat with him and to pick his brain concerning the best route for me to get to Puerto Jimenez.  My original route was to go to Chacarita, then to Rincon and down to Puerto Jimenez.  I was strongly discouraged to take to this route however as it would have taken over 8 hours since the terrain in this path was mountainous and rough.  Instead, I was instructed to go to Golfito and take the ferry across.  This route would save my 4-5 hours of travel, and upon hearing this I was definitely most grateful to my chatting partner for the information.  Once we got to Chacarita, he instructed me to get off the bus and told me where to find the bus for Golfito.

Once in Chacarita we said our good-byes and thanks and parted ways.  Now as a traveler, even though I was engaged in conversation with another person, my observations of my surroundings never stop.  It was on the bus down to Chacarita that I noticed two younger men consistently looking back to see me on the bus.  When I departed the bus for the bus to Golfito, I noticed the two men also depart and  after I got on the Golfito bus, so did they.  They sat next to me and tried to talk me up.  I wasn’t going to be rude, but also I don’t have a lot of patience for people who make me uncomfortable.  So mainly I ignored them and feigned ignorance for the Spanish language.  Luckily they didn’t know a whole lot of English so ignoring them was easier to show them my disinterest.  My instincts told me to stay on the bus until they got off at their stops and I did so.  While this action did make me feel better, it also took about an hour to backtrack to get to where I needed to be.

I had completely missed my stop for the ferry to Golfito but was thankfully guided by a very nice older tica on which bus to take and where to get off.  Of course the stop I should have gotten off on in the first place was one of the stops that the men I was getting away from got off at.  Luckily however enough time had passed that they were nowhere in sight and I continued on my way to the ferry.  This little detour however did cost me to miss they ferry by about 10 minutes and thus I was left to wait a few hours for the next one.

It was while I was hanging out near the dock enjoying a soda that I met two guys traveling Costa Rica together.  Though they didn’t know each other prior to a few weeks ago, they evidently had enough of a bong that made them decide to travel together for the rest of their time in Costa Rica.  One guy was from Austria and had an unbelievable amount of energy, and the other was from England but looked as if from India.  These two travelers (whose names have totally escaped me) were trying to get a group of people organized to take a whale watching boat tour.  Despite my better judgement on this occasion, as I really am not the biggest fan of boating around for the sole purpose of trying to catch a glimpse of a whale or dolphin, I agreed to be part of the crew.

The boat was to take off from Golfito the next morning which meant that I would have to stay the night there.  The two guys knew of a good place where they were staying right along the main road called El Toucan (honestly it seems every town has a place called El Toucan) so I went along with them so I could also get a room and settle in.

At this point it was about 5pm, so we opted to take a small boat ride to another part of the gulf area and do a hike that the boys had heard about.  Golfito has almost a gulf within a gulf as there is a large vast area of ocean at the town, but to actually get into the Golfo de Dulce, you have to cross the mouth of the smaller gulf into the larger.  On this boat ride we stayed within the smaller gulf area and crossed to a more secluded and foresty area.  Only a few tico homes were lined along this beach area and in fact, the man who boated us out there lived in one of the homes.  Once we arrived the very energetic Austrian and his friend found the hiking path they heard about and started on their way.  I opted to just hang about the coast area and simply take pictures of my surroundings close by.  I opted to do this for two reasons: first, because I honestly needed a break from the overly energetic duo, and second I knew that it would be getting dark pretty soon and didn’t want to get stuck walking along hiking paths as it got darker when the threat of potential snakes on the trail was possible.

As I was hanging about, I was fortunate to hear and see a troop of Capuchin monkeys come by.  I indulged in taking several photos of them as well as photos of the many crabs hanging along the beach.  And just as I had predicted, about a half hour after the two guys headed out on the trail, they returned because they heard some noises that they couldn’t identify from some large-sounding animal and got frightened back down the trail.  A little while later we made our way back to Golfito and went shopping for dinner.  The Austrian whipped up some pasta for us along with some carrots, onions and mushrooms.  He was quite upset however when he left the watch of the food to his friend who then ended up burning all the veggies.  It was by far the most interesting meal I had had as the pasta sauce he chose to use was ketchup!  I almost opted to just skip the meal altogether, but in not wanting to be rude, I ate it and it surprisingly wasn’t as terrible as I had thought it would be.

The next day we headed out early for our boat ride and not to my surprise but to the great disappointment of the guys, we didn’t see any whales or dolphins out in the vast and large Golfo de Dulce.  The Golfo de Dulce (sweet gulf) is one of the deepest gulfs and due to the calm and protected waters in this area, it is a very popular location for many whale species to come to during birthing season.  We drove around the gulf for several hours and while nothing was spotted, I still enjoyed just being on the water.  My two companions were not at all content on not having seen anything and were becoming increasingly annoying as they kept trying to get our tour to go here and there for potential whale spotting.  Needless to say I was probably more happy when the ride was over with and I was able to part ways with the energetic duo.  Once back on land I boarded the 1pm 40 minute ferry across the Golfo de Dulce (which if I had been smarter, I should have just asked to be dropped of there during our whale tour) to Puerto Jimenez.

Back to Costa Rica