Tag Archives: hike

Elephant Trekking

The morning of our tour started out interesting.  Long story short, Win (who set up our tour on the ferry ride over from Phi Phi) didn’t alert the tour people that we needed a pickup and the women at the hotel (the first unfriendly people we had come across on the entire island) weren’t at all helpful.  In fact, we were even yelled at for not making the reservation through them!  But, eventually we were able to get a gentleman from the hotel to help us call the elephant trekking people to let them know we were scheduled for a tour that day.

We were at least a half hour late from when our tour was supposed to start, but when the pickup came for us the employees were very apologetic for having missed us.  And once we arrived to the tour location, the vibe was so chilled and relaxed that you could immediately tell that even though they had tour “start times” they really didn’t pay that much attention to them!

Instead of starting with the elephant trekking, we went off on a guided hike (on foot) through the jungle to the bat cave and waterfall.  We started with the bat cave and while it wasn’t that deep to walk through, the most impressive thing about it was that there were trees growing just inside the cave and the trunks of the trees had grown through the roof of the cave!  Also there was a very large mushroom (magic??) growing deep inside the cave beyond the point of light reaching, which I’d never seen before either!  The bats were teeny and so freaking cute!!  Every now and again one would stir and fly around a bit or simply stretch its wings then curl back up for a nap.

After the cave we walked to the waterfall, which unfortunately due to lack of rain was rather lackluster.  However, it was still quite pretty and due to the heat of the day felt very nice to stand under the water to cool off!  The best part about the waterfall were the cleaner fish AND a cleaner shrimp!!  After cooling off under the waterfall Anna and I stood around in the shallow areas of the waterfall pool and watched as the fish surrounded Anna’s feet nibbled away.  None of the fish were interested in my feet until suddenly I felt a little tickle on my pinky toe and looked down to see a cleaner shrimp nibbling!!  He was just adorable to watch as his little front pincers hacked away dead skin around my toe:)  I could have stayed there all day getting my free shrimp pedicure, but alas it was time to head back and hop on an elephant:)

When we had first arrived to the elephant area, another couple were coming in from their elephant trek and one of the people was sitting in the “saddle” while the other was riding on the front of the elephant… I wasn’t sure if this was allowed for everyone to do, but I was going to ask anyway!  I was informed that it was ok to sit on the front of the elephant, but I had to properly, meaning I had to sit as far forward as possible on the elephants neck so that the sensitive area would not be damaged or strained.  We climbed the stairs to a platform and first I mounted on the head (essentially) of the elephant while Anna got on in the saddle.  I asked if I was sitting forward enough to which the trainer said “more forward”.  So I pushed forward.  “More forward” he said again, so I moved further forward…

Now, I’ve been a horse back rider for over 20 years, so I do know my way around riding horses and the feeling and sensation of that, so I figured it couldn’t be THAT different to ride an elephant… I was wrong!!  You literally had to sit so far forward on the neck so that you were tucked directly behind the elephants ears and all you had in front of you was the head of the elephant and then the ground.  You would think that with the size of the elephant’s head, that it would give you comfort of not falling off, but seriously, once on top, it really isn’t that much space!  The safe space on the neck is so far forward and so narrow that it was hard to feel 100% comfortable about not falling off.  I had to keep my palms flat on the top of the elephant’s head to help with balance and her movement was so foreign that I had to hold on for dear life with my thighs too!

About half-way through the trek Anna and I switched places (with the trainer again telling Anna several times to “move forward” before continuing on) and what I found amazing was we both had similar stories in that every time either of us felt like we were losing balance to the left or right, the elephant would flatten her ear against our leg as if she was holding us steady!  Throughout the ride her ears were constantly flapping around to keep the mosquitos and flies off of her, but the minute we felt like we were losing balance in either direction, the corresponding ear would stop slapping and it would snap shut around our leg for a couple of seconds until we were back in balance, then they would resume their regular fly swatting action.  Absolutely amazing!!!

That experience was one of the most amazing I’ve had.  And again, while I was a bit reluctant at first to sign up for the tour because of not knowing how they treated the animals, I can say with assurance that these elephants are well taken care of and loved.  The trainers were constantly loving on them in one way or another, none of the trainers had a hook prod that you often see at other elephant places, but rather they only had a thin bamboo stick, which they used as walking sticks for themselves more than anything else.  They never once struck an elephant and during the trek, they walked behind the elephants simply chatting amongst themselves.  If the elephants stopped to grab a bite to eat, the trainers would say something to them, give them a pat, and wait until the elephant was ready to walk on.  They were all so chill, comfortable and good with the elephants that it was amazing to see.

After our trek we spent, I don’t even know how much money, buying bananas for the elephants to nibble on as a thank you.  Of course a gazillion pictures were also snapped and lots of loving and praise was given to the beautiful beasts.  It was an experience I won’t ever forget and feel so grateful to have been able to do.  Thank you Anna!!!

On to Hangover to Koh Ngai (Hai)

Back to Thailand

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The Quiet Sides of Phi Phi

Getting away from the party scene on Ko Phi Phi Don isn’t hard.  The East side of the island as well as Long Beach on the far east side of the southern bay are two great spots to really feel like you are getting away from it all.  Whether you choose to walk or hire a longtail boat taxi to get there is up to you. 🙂

The one good thing about having chosen to stay at Phutawan (technically Phi Phi Hill Bungalows) was the close proximity to the viewpoint.  We were only a short uphill hike to a rather stunning view of the two bays of Ko Phi Phi.  The signs to get up there were fairly reasonable and noticeable.  However the signs on how to get to the beaches of Rantee, Moo Dee or Ao Toh Ko on the east side of the island from the viewpoint was another story!!  To be fair, we were warned in advance (thanks again to a post on Travelfish) that the signs would be sketchy at best!

Other than the signage issue, the hike downhill wasn’t terrible.  The jungle was very thick at times, mosquitos hovered around every pore on our bodies and took to nibbling on us the second we stopped or paused, and at some points it took a little bit of clever maneuvering to continue on, but overall wasn’t bad.  On the other side, the beautiful beaches and quiet greeted us!  Granted, compared to the Lo Dalam, the beaches weren’t as spectacular but they were still beautiful in their own way.

We spent the afternoon snorkeling, having lunch, reading books and of course drinking beers.  Earlier in the day we had the best of intentions to actually hike back up the hill to the viewpoint and then back down to our bungalow again… But of course after a few beers and the fact that the sun was starting to set a little (the other excuse we used to not hike back up, lol!) we opted to take a taxi boat back:)

We made it to Long Beach a couple of days later.  What a difference in vibe that beach was!!  The party scene was transformed into a chilled and relaxed family-type vibe!  No doubt this part of town was where the money stayed as well, as the bungalows and other resorts here were quite impressive!  It was only about a 15-20 minute (very easy) walk from the main town area, but the energy was completely different!!  We found a little alcove on the beach with stunning white sands and lots of easy snorkeling.  There was also a restaurant and outdoor massage area for the ultimate in relaxation!  As we did with all the other beaches we’d been to, our afternoon was whisked away with reading, tanning, snorkeling and…. you guessed it!  Drinking beers! 🙂

On to Monkey Beach Adventure

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Kayak to Koh Nangyuan

Off the North West of the island of Koh Tao, there lies another much smaller privately owned island of Koh Nangyuan.  Since being on Koh Tao for the past couple of months now, I’ve always thought to go visit Koh Nangyuan as I’d heard spectacular things about it.  Of course it has popular spots for diving and snorkeling, but it also has a bit of hiking and provides beautiful views looking back on Koh Tao.  To get there however one must either go on a snorkel/diving tour or hire a taxi boat.  Since I was on my own I couldn’t justify paying the price for a taxi boat, however I knew that Anna (my neighbor in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica and whom I’d visited in Scotland and she’d visited me in Italy) was coming for a 5 week trip to Thailand.  So I waited for her to come to do some of the activities that aren’t near as fun solo as with a traveling buddy.

When Anna first arrived we were absolutely lazy.  I stopped doing Muay Thai, we slept in until 10 every day, had cocktails nightly on Sairee beach and generally lounged about.  When I’m on my own I’m in travel mode which means saving every penny and taking advantage of every day.  But when a friend arrives who is on vacation mode, the spending increases and the relaxing skyrockets!  Isn’t that what people do on vacation??  After the first week however we snapped to and started actually planning activities that extended beyond reading books and napping on the beach.  Afterall, there is literally so much to do and see on this teeny 21 square km island that it’s impressive!

One of the activities I saved for her visit was to visit Koh Nangyuan.  But instead of going there the “conventional” way, we opted to kayak there :).  Deb and Rick (friends I’d made on the island who own my favorite coffee and sandwich shop on the island, Through the Looking Glass) suggested where to go to rent the kayaks.  So semi-early one day after a couple of cups of coffee, Anna and I made our way to Wind Beach for the kayak rental.  For 600 baht we rented a double kayak complete with life jackets and a dry bag for the entire day.  We were supposed to give something as a deposit for the rental (passport- though recently I heard it’s actually illegal for people in Thailand to hold your passport, monetary deposit, room key, something!) but as we didn’t arrive THAT prepared, after a few minutes the guy simply said, “no problem, just write your name, where you stay on the island and where you from”.  Good thing!

We packed the kayak with our stuff and a large plastic bottle of water, snapped on the life vests and headed out to sea!  I’d only done sea kayaking once before in my life and that was years ago in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica in a single kayak to boot.  Riding in a double kayak is a teeny bit different.  First off communication is KEY!!  For if one person is paddling right and the other left, well no one would get anywhere!  Since Anna is similar in nature to myself however, even when we did goof up or get out of sync, we simply laughed it up and got back in communication.  It did take probably the first 10 minutes or so for us to completely organize ourselves with our respective duties on the kayak (Anna in the back would call out commands- left, right, steering!!- and I in the front would look out for obstacles) but once we did we rocked it out!

The morning sea while not insanely choppy did have quite a few waves to overcome.  The channel between Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan is often frequented by passing dive boats, tour boats and taxi boat traffic which added to the waves, but we took it all in stride.  Currents were another thing to contend with as we found ourselves often being spun toward land so we had to paddle to the left much more than to the right, which of course exhausted that side faster.

We crossed the channel safely however and then were faced with a new question… Where are we supposed to park this thing over there??  We weren’t given any instruction when we left so who knew where it was appropriate to land… The first little bay area we reached, just next to the pier where the boats came in, was where we decided to go and we very slowly and carefully navigated our way to shore.  I say “slowly and carefully” because just beneath the surface were tons and tons of coral and sea slugs/cucumbers!  We had to paddle very shallowly as well so we wouldn’t knock any corals and navigating became a bit trickier to avoid the living marine life.  We thankfully made it to shore without incident to marine life however and pulled the kayak to dry land.

It just seems that each beach that I’ve been to in Thailand just gets more and more beautiful than the next.  Koh Nangyuan is no exception!!  The structure of the island is essentially two small island connected by a sandbar which on either side exists beautiful ocean bays full of a ridiculously lush array of sea life!  We immediately had to get in the water to cool off and do a bit of snorkeling.  The snorkel didn’t last terribly long that first time however because the fish in that particular bay kept nibbling at us… Guess they knew we were new to the island, lol!!

As we emerged from the first “dip in the pool” we were approached by a Thai gentlemen who obviously worked on the island.  He asked if we were the ones with the kayak and then said we had to each pay 100 baht to be on the island…  It was then that we were told that this island was privately owned and hence there was a fee to walk about it and play in the waters surrounding it… We did come with plenty of money, but it would have been nice to know in advance of this extra charge.  So I’m sharing it for future travelers!  Also, I don’t know if for the taxi boats, if the charge to get there includes or not the 100 baht fee to be on the island… In any event, just be aware of this additional cost.

Moving on.  The small island bit to the South had a walking trail that led around the edge of the island to a beautiful viewpoint, so we headed off on it to check it out.  Mind you, it is possible to sleep on the island so as we skirted along the very shady (i.e. sketchy) barely still standing wooden plank path, we were passing several pleasant-looking bungalows.  We went to the viewpoint that was on the southernmost tip of the island and then had to turn back as the wooden path was falling apart and almost demolished in bits beyond a point, and headed up the trail that led to the top of the island for another viewpoint.

Though it was very hot and the walk was completely uphill, it really wasn’t a terrible walk by any means and not terribly high either.  The only struggle really was competing for space at the top on the rocks to be able to take pictures without other in them!  There seemed to be quite a few impatient people really who wanted to simply scramble to the top, took ages getting “just the right shot” with them in them and then hauled down.  So needless to say it took us a bit of time to get some shots, and once completed we leisurely made our way down.

At this point it was time for a nibble of food and as we sat down at the only restaurant on the island with our plastic water bottle in tow, it was then we noticed the signs just about everywhere that read “NO PLASTIC BOTTLES”…. Ooooppsss!!!!  Apparently plastic containers are NOT allowed on the island and all beverages from the restaurant are served in glass containers.  Again, just another little tip for future travelers:)  We were never yelled at for having the bottle however and we made a very big point of being sure to carry the bottle home with us, regardless of it being empty.

After the nibble it was time to check out the North end of the sandbar to see what kind of snorkeling action we could get there.  Don’t worry mothers we did wait about a half hour after food to go swimming 😉  The North end of the sandbar was lined on both sides with umbrellas and beach chairs and seeing as the sun was out in full force, we opted to pay the 150 baht for the set-up.  This part of the island was by far my favorite and it as quite evident it was the favorite of just about everyone else there too.  The water was crystal clear and reminded me of the waters I’d seen at some of the beaches on the Island of Elba off the Tuscan coast.  I lovingly started to refer to that bay as the “kiddie pool” as the waters were very calm, quite deep, but so clear you could simply stand on the edge and see all the marine life.  All sorts of fish (including puffers!!), sea urchins, anemones an cucumbers could be found in a relatively small area.  The bay was large enough however to accommodate several dozens of snorkelers and several classes of divers working on their refresher course.  It was absolutely spectacular snorkeling that I spent at least an hour exploring.

The rest of the day was simply spent reading under our shade, dipping in the kiddie pool to cool off, snorkeling and generally relaxing.  Around 4 we decided to head back to Koh Tao to turn in the kayak and though the waters were calmer in the afternoon, we did have some harrowing moments as the boat traffic (we must have hit rush hour) was a bit on the ridiculous side!  But after about 45 minutes and dodging about a dozen boats or taxis, we made it safe to shore and headed straight to the Wind Beach bar for a nice cold beer.  We watched the sunset while sipping on our beers (though it was quite cloudy at that point so not the best sunset sadly) and I even bought a beach dress from a traveling sales lady.  Though we were both exhausted from our day of activities, we had plans for the night as well… It was time to check out the Lady Boy Cabaret!

On to Night with the Ladies

Back to Thailand

Eating Bat and The View

Many days after my morning Muay Thai Kickboxing workout I’m left exhausted wanting to do little more than just relax with a book or have a massage.  The best remedy for my sore body (especially my feet) however is to walk.  I really have to rev myself up for the task however.  Especially since the walking includes doing so during some of the hottest hours of the day.  Usually I head to Hin Wong for a snorkel or Sairee to just hang about but this time I thought to check out a new route.

My initial plan was to head to Jim’s bar.  Located high up on one of the hills nearby, it seemed like it would be a nice ‘goal’ place to walk to and to be rewarded in the end by a cold drink and hopefully a beautiful view to boot.  Armed with my plan I headed out toward Hin Wong bay but made a turn at the top of the hill toward Jim’s bar instead of heading down to the bay.  The walk there wasn’t altogether unpleasant.  Though there were bits with a 20% or 30% grade to them, the majority was variable enough to cut the monotony of just walking uphill.  Bits of the path were concrete while other bits were only dirt and gravel cut through with erosion from storms.

Though it is possible to make the trek with a motorbike or an ATV, I prefered walking.  First because of the exercise aspect, but most importantly because of the condition of the unpaved bits of the path.  They really were quite treacherous and while during my hike up I didn’t notice any accidents, on my way back down I witnessed 2 rolled motorbike accidents (one with injuries) and heard from another person that he’d witnessed 3 as well!  But I’m getting ahead.

It felt like I had been walking for hours!  No one was in sight except the occasional random passing motorbike and the sun was beating down hard on my skin.  I took appropriate breaks here and there to chill in the shade and have some water or take pictures of the local wildlife (I spotted a water monitor!!) and though I was absolutely dripping in sweat to the point of all my clothes being soaked through, I trudged on having no idea how far or close I was, yet determined to get there.  Eventually (after going up the 30% grade bit of the path) I made it to a little bar.  It turned out to be the Butterfly Garden!  That was good news for me since Jim’s bar wasn’t too far beyond that. I stopped for a sugary tea to replenish a bit of energy then continued up the hill to Jim’s.

I was surprised that Jim’s wasn’t that far at all from the Butterfly Garden since on the map they seemed to be a bit further apart.  It literally was just up the hill from the Butterfly Garden.  While it was a cute little bar, no one was there and the views were simply of the surrounding jungle.  So instead of sitting and staying, I opted to check out a bit further along the path.  There were signs for the Mango View Bar and another place simply called The View Bar.  One was down the path to the right, the other to the left.  I chose the right path toward The View Bar and about half a km later, I’d arrived to one of the most stunning views of the island I’ve seen so far!  You could see just about the entire island including the National Park islands to the South of Koh Tao, a bit of Koh Samui to the SW and even the mainland of Thailand!

So stunned by the beauty of The View’s views, I took a seat on the patio and ordered a drink.  I learned from the owner that the place had only been open for 5 months now, the deck I was sitting on was only a month old and the bar itself is the highest bar on the island!  There was only one other couple there when I first arrived which gave the atmosphere an even more peaceful and beautiful appeal to it.  I met Suay (beautiful), the local squirrel who would pop in every time it was hungry for some fruit.  He ate out of the owners hand but unlike other squirrels I’ve seen, he didn’t live in a cage.  He simply came and went as he pleased 🙂  He did come over and sniff my toes at one point during his search for some more food, but sadly my camera didn’t reload fast enough to capture the shot 😦

I spent hours up there sipping on drinks and chatting with people as they came and went and was reminded just how international Thailand is.  Within the few hours I was there I met people from Spain, South Africa, Norway, Germany and the States.  Quite an impressive mix!  In any event, the day was moving along and it was time for me to start heading back along the 3.5km path back to my place.  As I came back into view of the Butterfly Garden however I was coaxed into staying for “just one drink”.  “Have a beer, kick up your feet!  Free view!” the Thai’s were calling to me.  And though I had been kicking up my feet for several hours I thought, why not?  So I settled in for a beer and started chatting with the locals who owned the place and a tourist from Canada.

It was then that the local said they were going to have a barbecue.  And the main meat of this barbecue??  Locally caught and freshly killed bat… Yes bat!  I LOVE bats!!!  Ok, not in the eating sense but I love those cute little critters!!  I’ve loved them since caving in college and have always adored their little furry faces!  So when he pulled out the bodies ready to be put on the barbecue, I couldn’t believe it and figured there was NO WAY I’d eat a bat!  Alas, after 2 beers (why not have 2 when you’ve already had 1??) I thought, yea, I could try some bat!  The meat was very tough and quite hard to pull off the bones but it was flavorful.  I only had one wing however as I started to feel a bit guilty for having eaten one of the cute critters, but at least I tried something new.

I ended up staying for another couple of hours at the Butterfly Garden having beers (3 in total, I promise!) chatting with people coming down or up the road, heckling them to stay for some bat, doing some Muay Thai play fighting with one of the locals who then invited me back everyday to practice with him for free, and sadly witnessing 2 motorbike rolls (one resulting in a nasty road rash injury).  After my 3 beers however, the sun was really starting to set and it was definitely time for me to head back down (I still had 3km to go!) before it became pitch black.  I thanked my new Thai friends for the bat and conversation, and headed down the quickly darkening path back toward town.  I won’t lie that I kept thinking how idiotic I was to have waited so long to go back down as the path became darker and darker.  But, all’s well that ends well, and my hike down the hill was thankfully without injury!

Sun setting
Sun setting

I made it to the bottom of the hill just in time to see one of the most stunning sunset skies I’ve seen since being on Koh Tao.  I wish the picture I took did it justice, but really it doesn’t.  Unfortunately my camera doesn’t take night shots well at all!! 😦  All in all, it was a beautiful day full of unexpected people, experiences and breathtaking views all around.  And on top of being thankful I’d made it back home in one drunken piece, I was also so very thankful that I’d made myself get off my duff that morning and make that hike in the first place.  I will definitely have to go there again!

On to Muay Thai Kickboxing Training

Back to Thailand

Hiking Khao Lommuak

Jo and I rose early to meet a local and her son who had invited us for a hike to the top of Khao Lommuak.  We had met Ploi and her 13-year-old son Noi Noi several days prior to the hike at a restaurant called Da-DoDo (by Dubai) that she and her husband (a native Italian) run.  From the first time Jo and I had gone to Da-DoDo, the reception was unbelievably welcoming and warm.  The food was also very delicious, and since it was only located a couple of doors down from where we were staying, well obviously, we had Italian more than just a few times, much to the dismay of my waistline, but NOT my taste buds! 🙂

We really weren’t all that keen about having to get up so early (we met Ploi at 6am) but knowing how hot it gets as soon as the sun rises around here, it made the most sense to get the hike started as early as possible.  We hopped in to Ploi’s car and headed out to Khao Lommuak, one of the tallest of the islands in Prachuap that divide Ao Manao and the Prachuap bay.  It really was a good thing that we had gone with a local because though Jo and I had already planned to do the hike at one point, we would have gone to the wrong place for it to begin with!  See, we had already walked to the Ao Manao beach several days earlier and had spotted signs for the National Park just before reaching the beach.  But this entrance is NOT the entrance to the hiking trail… So had we gone on our own, we would have been very lost as to actually finding the place.

In any event, once we arrived at the hike entrance, we were greeted by some lovely monkeys that live at the base of Khao Lommuak.  I had never seen this particular primate before and came to learn they are called dusky leaf monkeys or spectacled leaf monkeys!  They were quite the friendly bunch and eagerly accepted any food items we gave them.  I had some peanut butter crackers I had bought for breakfast and as a snack on the way up the hill, but of course ended up giving them all away to the beautiful monkeys!  Apparently, while the adults have a brown/black coat, the babies have yellow fur until they are about a year old, then it changes to the adult color:)  We didn’t see any babies during our first visit, but were fortunate enough to see one when we came back down.

After about 20 minutes playing with the monkeys, it was time to get the hike on!  The hike in total was 6 kilometers (round-trip) to a height of 240-ish meters from sea level.  Honestly I was shocked to hear how little of a height that was, since it seemed a lot higher as we climbed up and looked down!!  We started up the trail which first was just a series of steps with Noi Noi in the lead.  I can’t recall now exactly how many stairs there were, but generally to keep myself distracted from the pain of climbing stairs I simply count.  If memory serves however it was over 500!  We were all taking breaks of course to catch our breath, drink water and collect ourselves before moving on.  And of course I had to use the excuse that I needed pictures in order to rest a bit 😉

It was just before the stairs turned to a natural dirt and rock path that little Noi Noi decided to turn back.  He had done the hike the day before and wasn’t up for doing the whole thing again, so he headed to the car.  I had gone ahead up to the end of the stairs and started to climb up the rock path until I reached a little cave.  Not sure of whether anyone else was going to join me however, I headed back down a bit to see what the plan was.  Ploi also had apparently gone back down and Jo seemed uncertain of how far she would make it since Ploi had described part of the trek as ‘only using ropes to hoist yourself up to the top’…  She was game to try as far as she could, but wasn’t certain yet how far that would be.

I was determined however no matter what lay ahead so I continued on.  The natural path was outlined the entire way by a rope that clung to trees along the path.  Honestly, as you can see from the picture above labeled ‘safe and secure’, the rope really didn’t seem to be all that secure (though it felt secure enough) because sometimes the trees that the rope was attached to were barely thicker than my ankle and they were rooted on the cliff edge!  Kinda scary, but again it did feel secure enough.  Up and up I went, at times literally feeling like I was rock climbing with the rope as a guide and assistance at times but otherwise just feeling my way up the rocks (which were really petrified coral so very sharp at times!!) until the next area to rest a bit.  As I climbed, the views became even more spectacular as the vistas opened up to a panoramic view.

I won’t lie, there were some times while climbing up that I honestly questioned how in the heck I would get back down!  Ploi had told us that the day before there had been a class of 40 students and a teacher doing the trek and all I could think of as I lay flat against the rock, trying NOT to look down and freak myself out, was that if we were in the States, there would be NO WAY a trek like this would be allowed for students to do without all the proper safety measures in place!  It was quite impressive to think of, especially for the fact that it was 40 or them scrambling along the teeny path!

Finally, the end was in sight as the teeny Temple that stands at the top of Khao Lommuak began to come into view.  The view from the top was absolutely incredible and though I was absolutely dripping in sweat, it was well worth the climb!  I hung around enjoying the views for about 10 minutes or so, but since I didn’t know whether Jo and Ploi were behind me or whether they had gone back to the car, I didn’t want to spend too much time at the top making them wait on me.  I was just about to start heading back down when both Jo and Ploi rounded the corner!  Happy day!  Now we could all enjoy the views and chill for a bit!  As we relaxed and enjoyed the rest, more and more people started to show.  It was nice to see that no matter the age or fitness level of the hikers, everyone was dripping in sweat as they climbed to the top (so it wasn’t just me being out of shape, lol!!).

I will say it was quite impressive to watch the locals walk around the top of Khao Lommuak.  It was just their comfort level being up there!  While I kept being very cautious of where I stepped and not getting too close to the edge, the locals just walked about and went freely to the edges as if they were walking on sea level.  I was amazed and in awe of their bravery!  At one point, an older falang made it to the top and stomped rather hurriedly past us to get to the Temple to ring the bell.  He stayed for all of a minute, then headed right back down the path.  Ploi explained to us that that particular gentleman did this hike 3 times EVERY DAY.  Every day!  Up to the top and back down 3 times in a row every day…  His speed was remarkable as during the time that we were heading back down, he had passed us on his way up for the second time, down for the second time and up again for his third!  Absolutely unreal!  And he wasn’t a spring chicken either!  He claimed the only reason he did the hike was to keep in shape so he could drink more beer… I can relate to that!  Lol!

After all the pictures were taken and our energy was refueled by rest and water, we headed back down ourselves, stopping again to feed the monkeys (Noi Noi had spotted a baby this time!) some fruit purchased from a nearby fruit stand.  It was only about a quarter to 10am, so instead of going back, we opted to head to the Ao Manao beach for some R&R.  Though I did get a little R&R, and while the water did feel great on the muscles, I was exhausted more by the beach time than the hike!  Little Noi Noi (who doesn’t speak a lick of English) and I came up with game after game to entertain ourselves and each other while playing in the water.  First it was a hunting game where I stalked him pretending to be a shark, his only defense being to splash me, to which I would immediately retreat.  Then we became hunters of the sea life on the ocean floor finding all sorts of crabs, hermit crabs, and huge clams!  Of course everything was returned to the ocean floor, especially since Ploi kept saying things like ‘oh, those clams are really great to eat!’.

It impressed me that even without speaking each others language, Noi Noi and I were able to communicate and play for hours on end in the ocean.  Just goes to show you how unnecessary the spoken word really is.  We left the beach in the late afternoon (they had to get back to open the restaurant) and of course ended up having Italian for dinner that night.  It was such an amazing day!  The only ‘downfall’ was that the blister on the bottom of my foot that I’d gotten the day before popped open during the Khao Lommuak hike and stung like crazy as I swam in the ocean.  But heck, for a day with so many other blessings, I can’t really complain!

On to Ao Manao

Back to Thailand

A Real Gem

I’ve debated several times whether to actually give away the location of this next place we traveled to (are still are after a week, with no plans to jump up and leave just yet)…  I honestly can’t believe it hasn’t been discovered more!  While there are a handful of Europeans living here, foreigners are a very uncommon sight.  Thai tourists and locals (of course) are the ruling majority.  It’s just my kind of place to really feel like a part of the culture and life!

We bought tickets for the mini-bus to this gem of a place from Hua Hin, and though were told it would only be an hour wait for the bus to arrive, it turned into almost 2 before we even got on.  And when we did get on, the bus was so full that literally 2 of the passengers had people sitting on their laps, all the seats were taken AND 3 people had to stand (rather uncomfortably by the looks of it) in the aisle of the bus.  Essentially a bus equipped to seat 14 passengers had 19 PLUS our huge travel bags (which are about the size of a small human).  Luckily within the hour or so however people started exiting the bus, so space opened up a tiny bit to at least allow everyone to have their own seat.  I suspect that the bus was so crowded because of the upcoming Holiday of Songkran.

Once we arrived, we set off on motorbike taxis to a place called Ban Thai Hut, where we were told had cheap accommodations.  We settled on a tiny hut complete with a bed, bathroom, fan and TV (which we’ve yet to actually plug in or turn on) just a short walk across the street from the beach.  The place is absolutely darling, and while very rustic (there are some parts of the room we fear to put too much weight on just in case the floor falls through) it has been suiting our needs quite well.

Prachuap Khiri Khan is the name of this adorable town.  It consists of 3 semi-circular bays separated by jutting hills and islands.  Farthest to the North is the little Ao Noi bay then the Prachuap Khiri Khan bay and finally Ao Manao.  Each location offers so many outdoor things to do that it just boggles my mind when the locals say tourists only stay here for a couple of days because “there isn’t much to do”.  Seriously??  They have a Wat inside a cave in Ao Noi, beautiful beaches on all three bays, hikes to a Wat on the top of a hill in Prachuap, a hike to another tiny Wat at the top of another hill (Khao Lommuak) which gives the highest panoramic view of the entire area, plus snorkeling (I still have to check that out myself!) and within driving distance several day trips could be planned to surrounding National Parks!  There is so much to do around here that when you add in days to just relax and beach, you would need at least a week to get it all done leisurely!

But I digress…  This place really is darling though!  I would recommend it over and over but hope that even when it does get properly discovered, the integrity of the place as it currently is doesn’t get destroyed.  The weather is always delightful (though admittedly quite hot), the beaches are never overcrowded, the beach water is deliciously warm and refreshing and there is a ridiculous amount of fun sea life to play with (hermit crabs, clams, sand dollars, etc).  Seriously, what more could one ask for?

On to Songkran 2015

Back to Thailand

Lochgoilhead

As my time in Glasgow was coming to an end, and since again Anna and I do enjoy a good hike, we asked Anna’s dad if we could stay a few days in his cottage in Lochgoilhead.  Thankfully he said yes, and was even kind enough to let us use his truck to get there!!  He and his wife also happened to be going when we were planning to go, so we got to spend one of the nights with them:)

Her dad and step-mom were already at the cottage by the time we were able to go, so we took a cab to his house, picked up the truck and headed on out.  The drive there was all along normal 2-way lane roads, but just before we got to the turn-off where the road was only 1 lane (for 2 way traffic!!) with the little side pull-offs for people to pass, we stopped for a little lunch… There at the “Rest and be Thankful” landmark we had a bite to eat and I had my first taste of black pudding… Also known as blood sausage… Ick!!!  Is all I have to say about that!!!  I really didn’t like it at all!!  Perhaps it was mainly due to me knowing what it was to begin with, I don’t know… I think it’s just one of those things you have to grow up with to actually like…!!!  Anyway the “Rest and be Thankful” stop goes back from quite a long time ago!  Those words are inscribed on a stone (see the pictures) placed there by soldiers who built the original military road in 1753.  Apparently the original stone  was destroyed and replaced by a commemorative stone instead… This point marked the turning point to get to Lochgoilhead.  And after our nibble, we headed on to the village where the cottage resided.

Once we arrived and settled in for a bit, we headed off for our first hike!  Again, we aren’t really the kind that prepare the way we should prepare for hikes… Honestly though we didn’t really expect the hike we ended up doing!  We simply set out just behind the cottage on a trail that led to some lovely waterfalls!  From there we saw some signs pointing this way and that, and thought, why not?  So we headed uphill, and up and up… Eventually we came to an area that looked like it could be a good place for a ski slope in the winter!  Two older people were coming down the way fully geared in proper hiking attire including ski poles, proper wind pants and hiking boots.  As we passed them we stopped them and asked how long to the top?  We didn’t get an exact time, but they did warn us about how wet and mucky the way up was and how windy it was at the top, and they further warned us not to go past the stile!  We thanked them for their input and headed on our way, figuring that if/when it got too tough for us and our completely inept sneakers/clothing for us to continue, we would turn back!

Up and up we climbed!  The slope was pretty decent, nothing really to laugh at by any means and while the land did slosh under our feet (sometimes water did sneak into the sides of my sneakers from the amount of water that pooled from some of the steps) we made it to the stile (don’t cross it!!) in good condition and basically dry.

Once at the stile there really were only two ways to go… Back down or up past the stile… Neither of us was terribly tired at this point and though the view from the stile was nice, you really couldn’t see all the way around because we were surrounded by dense forest on both sides.  And since what appeared to be the top of the hill/mountain was just a little ways beyond the stile we thought, heck, why not??  So past the stile we went!

Up and up and up we climbed!!  And it was during this hike that I was properly introduced to Scottish hills!!!!  You see, what appears to be the top of any hill/mountain in Scotland isn’t at all the top once you actually reach it… For once you get to what you thought was the top, you realize that the top is actually just a wee bit further on… And again just a wee bit further on… And again!!!  So literally we went from one “top” to another and another and another until finally what looked like would be the actual top appeared, but by that point it would probably take another hour to get to it and as it was starting to get late in the day (sun was getting lower on the horizon) we opted to give up that mountain top and do the sane and safe thing- turn back toward town!  First we had to take some picts of the surroundings and later estimated that we had probably walked about 20-25 kilometers on that hike!  We never could actually see on a map where the heck we went, but isn’t that part of the fun??  However, from the position that we made it to, you could see the town below, so we had at least some perspective of where we were!

We made it back to town just as the sun was setting, and after a pint in town we headed back to the cottage for a homemade meal!  We watched a YES!/No Thanks debate on the tv, then headed to bed (after Anna’s step-mom cleared a rather large spider from our room!!!).  The next day we rose at the rear-crack of… about 11am, lol!!  Anna’s dad and Step-mom were downstairs with trail maps/paths of the area and they gave input on where we should probably go.  We took their advice and around one or so (after packing something to nibble on- how sensible we became!!) headed out again for a hike.  Her dad and step-mom joined us for the first half-hour or so of the hike, then headed back while we headed up the trail to the steep/climbing bits.

After the hike from the day before both Anna and I were interested and pumped to climb a hill/mountain once again!!  And we thought that this particular trail would allow us to do just that… However, the trail never really led to any mountain base.  It simply wound around the base of several mountains.  Each time we tried to get to a base we were cut off by marshes or terrain so thick with heather/brush that who knew what was under!  Finally we did come to the end of the trail that basically dead-ended on the tip of a kind of peninsula.  Yet we were still quite determined to get up a hill!!  The end of the trail happened to end at the base of a mountain, but the way up was quite steep!  Did that stop us??  No, not really… We scaled part of some sheer rock on the side of the mountain up a little way… Then we came to our senses… That we were probably being really daft!!  So we gingerly made our way back down.  Seriously, the only real way to get up that particular mountain was with proper mountain climbing gear!  But again, once at the base we thought surly there MUST be a way up!  Anna happened to find a little sheep path, which we followed for several yards until it literally dead-ended at a drop hundreds of feet below us!!  Yup, we were being daft in trying to follow the sheep path…

Again we had to give up our quest for the day and headed back.  All the while that we headed back we kept looking for ways to get up a dang mountain to no avail!  It was probably best though that we didn’t find one… By the time we got back (after a brief scare with some hairy coos- well I wasn’t scared but they are known to be aggressive when babies are around, and as we walked through the field one of the coos spotted us, turned and started walking toward us.  I thought it odd behavior and then spotted some baby coos to the right… yea… we hustled a little bit out of that field!) it was almost dark again.  We had some drinks and dinner in town then wandered back to the cottage in pitch beautiful darkness!!  The kind of darkness where you can see every star!!  Just wonderful!!  Though Anna was scared out of her wits over walking in the dark and barely let me a few feet away from her, especially when it came time to cross the river, lol!!  All in all that day, we estimated we walked about 30-35 kilometers that day!  We left the next day and headed back to town (with a brief stop in the lovely town of Luss) where we had a lovely and delicious curry dinner with Anna’s mum!  Good times!! 🙂

I almost forgot about the ticks!!!  While at the Cottage, Anna’s step-mom left us an article about ticks… Beware the ticks when you hike!!  You can get Lyme disease from them!!  We laughed it off and didn’t really get bothered by the potential for ticks, though we did check ourselves for the potential of some… I never found any until a few days later when I was in Gatwick!!  4 on my arm!!  Ewww… I know!!  But they were babies and I plucked them out, watched for signs of Lyme disease, and luckily I can report I’m Lyme disease free!!  Yay!!

On to Most Random Street Signs

Back to Glasgow

Back to United Kingdom

 

La Fortuna

I arrived in La Fortuna the next afternoon and headed to the hostel I found on the internet called “Sleepers Sleep Cheap”.  The word ‘cheap’ of course caught my eye immediately when searching for somewhere and the reviews seemed good enough.

About 100 meters south of the bus terminal, I arrived at the hostel which was set back a little from town than most of the others.  For $10 a night, I got a private room with a private bath, hot water and breakfast!  I paid for 2 nights and proceeded to get settled in.  Honestly I don’t have any negative words for the hostel.  It was a very basic set-up and nothing fancy by any means, but it was cheap, my room was clean, the staff were very friendly and accommodating, and the breakfast area had one of the best views in my opinion… I will later divulge what that view was;)

Now, I wanted to state my opinion about the hostel before writing about this bit: interestingly enough, weeks later when I was in Bocas Town (Bocas del Toro), Panama, I met a couple who just happened to stay at the hostel at the same time that I was staying there!  But they had a very different opinion of the place… Though they did agree it was cheap, they said they believed they had bed bugs and that their door wouldn’t close all the way so all sorts of critters would come in during the day and night.  Their room wasn’t clean and they weren’t that thrilled with what was served for breakfast (toast, eggs, fruit and coffee).  So, I guess it just goes to show you that not everyone’s experiences are the same!

In any event, after getting settled in it was about time to eat something, so I found a local soda that was recommended and that was just down the street from my hostel and had a fantastic fillet de pollo casado!  I absolutely love those casados!!!

Waiting for my meal to arrive, two guys whom I had met on the bus showed up so we dined together.  I spent that evening wandering the streets of La Fortuna with them, drinking beer in the central park. Since we had all arrived in the late evening, there really wasn’t much time to get our barring of the area, so at this point none of us really knew where the famed volcano was.  Sitting in the park drinking, it became a little bit of a game trying to figure out where the volcano actually was.  If the volcano had been active, it would have been quite obvious, but alas the volcano was dormant while I was there.  And mind you, it had been dark since before dinner, so there wasn’t any way to see around us…

The next morning I rose early determined to check several things off my list.  First off, I wanted to do a tour of the volcano and perhaps the hot springs and second I wanted to go to the famed La Fortuna waterfall and finally, I wanted to get a plan in place on where my next destination would be.  Even though the purpose of my trip to Costa Rica was not to be a tourist, one really can’t help but do a tour or two once here!  They can be pricey, that’s for sure but I did a lot of tour “office hopping” prior to settling on the final place to book at.  And since it was the off-season, there were more deals available than not.

Red Lava, a tour office located at the bus terminal offered the best prices and most unique tours.  Through them I booked a tour of the Arenal volcano that was 5 hours long, including a nature hike to a waterfall (not the La Fortuna waterfall but another one), a history of the Arenal volcano and finishing off with a night dip in a natural hot spring.  I also booked for a Jeep-Boat-Jeep package that would get me from La Fortuna to my next destination of Monteverde via, well you guessed it: a jeep, a boat and a jeep:)

It was mid-morning by the time I got all my bookings complete and since my volcano tour wasn’t going to start until 2pm, I opted to spend my time in between by going to the famous La Fortuna waterfall.  Since my motto on spending money was “the less you spend now, the more you will have later” I decided to walk to the waterfall, located inside a National Park, instead of taking a bus directly to the entrance of the National Park… I really should have just paid the darn $8 for the bus!!!!!  But oh no, I decided to keep that money and hike there myself instead!  Afterall, it was a paved road to the park so I figured a little exercise would do me some good!  I have no idea what the temperature was outside, but the sun was shining and it was definitely humid!  I had my little personal bag with me so I could bring my camera for the trip and take plenty of pictures.  And I was off for my hike…

About 8 kilometers (about 3 of which were straight uphill- the end 3 of course) later I arrived to the park entrance red-faced and completely dripping in sweat.  In fact I was so saturated with sweat that both my t-shirt and breathable pants were completely soaked through!!  My bag, supposedly waterproof, even began to soak in some of my sweat so that the inside contents became damp!  The very first thing I did when I got to the park entrance was go to the bathroom and practically bathe myself in the sink with my clothes still on!  Thankfully I did have along with me my vapur water bottle and therefore was hydrated the entire way, but I still had to refill it twice before ever leaving the bathroom because of my extreme thirst!!  People were looking at me like I was crazy, but all I cared about at that point was that I had made it!!

But then, I glanced at my watch… it was noon… there was NO way I was going to be able to actually get to the waterfall and back down to town by 2:00 for my volcano tour:(  You see, I had made it to the park ENTRANCE but the waterfall itself was still about a kilometer deep into the park.  And tack on the fact that if I wanted to even try to see the waterfall I would have had to pay the $10 entrance fee, well, it just didn’t make much sense at that point to even try for it.  So I decided to simply head back down to the town, perhaps get a bite to eat and make it in time for my tour.

The walk back to town was much nicer!!  All downhill with a little breeze to boot!  The little breeze did wonders to dry my clothing on the walk down and by the time I made it back (about 1) I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat at the soda where I had dinner and get ready to meet my tour.

Oh and I promised I would divulge the breakfast view from my hostel… It was indeed the volcano!!!  I had been staring at it all morning during the first morning while enjoying breakfast yet never realized I what I was looking at, lol!!!

On to Volcan Arenal Tour

Back to Costa Rica