Tag Archives: monkeys

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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Bang Saphan

On the Gulf coast of Thailand, halfway between Prachuap Khiri Khan and Chumphon (where transfer to Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand can be found) is the beautifully picturesque and quiet town of Bang Saphan.  I had heard of this place as a recommendation from Sai and Charlie in Sangkhlaburi and am so grateful for it!

I will admit right off the bat that I barely spent any real amount of time in the town itself, and well basically the reason for that was because once I had arrived at the bungalows I’d chosen, I simply didn’t want to leave!  That and I was about 4 km south of the actual town, and since I didn’t have a motorbike, there was no real big draw for me to go into town.  But I’m getting ahead.

I took the mini-bus from Prachuap, which was only about 80 baht and an hour and a half or so later was dropped off on the side of the road for Bang Saphan.  The drop off location for the mini-bus was about 4 km west of the town, so I had to get a ride in.  There was a motorbike taxi standing by, so I hopped on and asked to go to Lola’s Bungalows.  I had read up on this guesthouse from a posting on Travelfish and since it said it was their top pick and cheaply priced, I thought why not?  But as the bungalows were 4 km south of town, it ended up being quite an expensive trip there via motorbike!  Frankly there could have been a cheaper way to go, but being in the heat of the day and not very many other options just hanging about, I went ahead with the motorbike.

Once I arrived, I was already in love!  The property didn’t even have a sign up but it was evident how popular it was.  About 20 or so individual bungalows were on the property that were situated only several dozens of feet from a stunning beach!  I was shown to a bungalow and for 300 baht a night, set my things down and got ready for the beach!  What I thought was cute about this place (other than the amazing location) was how when I tried to pay for the bungalow, they simply waved me off and said to do so whenever I decided to leave.  I like that kind of trust in people!

In any event, I had only planned on being there max 5 days, but ended up staying 2 full weeks!  Most of the bungalows were occupied by couples or families that had been staying there already for weeks themselves and or were planning to be there for a month at least.  I guess that’s why the property owners didn’t want money up-front as they were probably used to people coming in and then wanting to stay on!

Along the beach were several eateries, including my personal favorite called Roy Tawan all of a 3 minute walk along the beach south from the bungalows, that had THE BEST chicken club sandwich I’d tasted in a very long time!!  I was seriously addicted to it!!  And for every meal they would start you off with fresh bananas and give sliced mango for dessert!  So for about $1.50 I was very fully and quite healthily satiated!  Another favorite spot I had was the Why Not Bar just a bit further south along the beach where about the only nightlife could be found.  The people there were so friendly and welcoming, I just adored it!

I spent my two weeks at Lola’s getting myself back into an exercise regime, lounging on the many hammocks along the beach reading books, walking daily anywhere from 2-6km through the lush and beautiful land filled with a variety of life to various stores for my food needs (they had a fridge in the room) or to the Thursday and Saturday evening market at the nearby Wat, hanging out at the Why Not Bar, eating a ridiculous amount of Club sandwiches from Roy Tawan, taking brief dips in the ocean (only brief and I will explain why later), gazing at the night sky, eating yet another ridiculous amount of ridiculously fresh and juicy mangos on my front porch, exploring new ways to walk to the neighborhood stores (one dirt path included cutting through a cow pasture), chatting with neighbors and making local friends, enjoying the sights and sounds of approaching storms, listening to some guided meditations on YouTube before falling asleep nightly and generally otherwise relaxing and unwinding.

I saw my first flying squirrels there and though they were impossible to take images of, since they only came out at night and moved too quickly to capture, they were still a delight to watch!  Another thing I’d heard about but had never witnessed before Bang Saphan was coconut collectors using monkeys to cut off and throw down the coconuts!  Some workers also had long bamboo sticks with a knife at the end that they would use to cut off coconuts, but far more had several macaques with them that would easily climb to the top and chuck down several coconuts.  I hope and could only assume the animals were treated well!

I mentioned above that I only spent brief time swimming in the ocean, and the reason for that was first because there were several jellyfish in the area.  Every time I walked out into the ocean I could spot several bobbing along looking harmless enough, yet I wasn’t going to test how much their sting might hurt!  Of course I could have simply walked past the area they were bobbing in as the deeper you got the fewer jellyfish there were, however once getting past the gauntlet of jellyfish, another gauntlet of sorts had to be passed.  See, this particular beach had hundreds upon hundreds of sand dollars in the sand.  You could feel them under your feet as you walked, their little bodies crunching under the weight of my feet and I just couldn’t stomach damaging them just so I could get out deep enough to where I could start to actually swim or float.  So, between the jellyfish and not wanting to potentially kill dozens of sand dollars with each trip in and out of the ocean, I simply opted to hang beside the ocean instead:)

Another first that I witnessed one Saturday when I went for an early lunch at Roy Tawan was a bird singing competition… A bird  singing competition… Yes… Let me set the scene: I arrived at Roy Tawan and sat at a little table awaiting my food when I spotted in the grass section nearby a metal structure with about 12 cages hanging.  Each cage had a bird in it and there was even another bird cage (with a bird inside) hanging in the shade about 20 feet from the other 12 on the metal structure.  One man was sitting under the shade with the bird and he had a cylinder vase filled with water that he would drop the shell of what looked like half of a coconut that had a small hole in the bottom.  Once the coconut shell filled with water and sunk to the bottom, he would blow a whistle and retrieve the coconut.  At this point, two men whom had been standing on opposite sides of the 12 hanging bird cages would approach a cage and make a mark on a piece of paper hanging from the bottom of each cage.  Then they would step back and seemingly watch the next cage.  The whistle was blown again, the coconut shell was dropped (their way of timing!) and the whistle blew again to signal time, the men would make their mark on the next bird cage and move on.

Now, mind you during this entire time all the birds were singing away.  The air was filled with birds singing as well as with some people on the side lines making sounds that sounded like encouragement to one bird or another.  I asked the local woman at Roy Tawan what on earth was going on and she simply said it was a bird singing competition!  The birds in the 12 cages were trying to mimic the song of the single bird in the shade.  The two men making marks were judges and they were scoring which birds sang the best in comparison to the one bird!  Just as I was wondering how in the world these judges could hear only the sound of the one bird they were supposed to be watching for judging and drown out the other 11 birds singing their hearts out, she added “I don’t understand this competition, it seems very silly to me”!  LOL!!

I honestly could have stayed another 2 weeks at Lola’s but alas, it was time to move on!  I think I had gotten my fill of relaxation and was ready to try a new spot.  My next destination was for the island of Koh Tao:)

On To Koh Tao Island

Back to Thailand

Things to Love about Thailand

I’ve been traveling in Thailand now for over 5 months now, so I thought perhaps now is the best time to break out with a few things I love or at least find the most interesting about Thailand:)

It will be a working list and isn’t in any particular order with the exception of the first one.  🙂

#1: NO SHOES!!!
I absolutely adore how before entering any building, home or place of work you must first remove your shoes!  This goes for just about every place, with the exception of some grocery stores (though no one would squawk if you didn’t have your shoes on) and with some restaurants as well.  But for the most part (including in the vet clinic where I volunteered) you have to kick off your shoes before entering.  I will admit sometimes it’s a pain to do so (if you are wearing anything other than flip  flops) but otherwise, the no shoe rule is my favorite cultural behavior and one that I will be using wherever I end up for good:) I love, love, LOVE it!!

No Shoes
No Shoes

#2: Nature
The diversity of the landscapes here are extraordinary!  From the beaches to jungle to islands, mountains, rivers and lakes, Thailand seems to have just about every kind of terrain one would want to find.

#3: House Geckos
I just adore these creatures!  They are simply a much larger version of regular geckos and they are quite beneficial to have in the home since they take care of the majority of other insects in the home (including spiders, yay!!).  They also make the cutest and most interesting sound.  They start off with a quick series of chitters, then make a series of staccato sounds in repetition.  When I first heard their sound I thought I was crazy because it sounded like they were saying “F you” in slow repetition.  However, I’ve come across many other travelers and very-well-spoken-in-English-locals who have also pointed this out, so I guess I wasn’t as crazy as I thought, LOL!

#4: Animals
I know I just wrote about the geckos, and they technically would qualify in the animal section as well, but I just love those little buggers so much that they got their own section.  However, I do also adore the large variety of other kinds of animals here in Thailand.  From elephants, street dogs and cats, variety of monkeys, flying squirrels, regular squirrels, lizards, birds, the diversity is so rich!  You just never know what you are going to find!  The sea life is also beautifully diverse and lush!  From corals to sting rays, sharks, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, and a huge variety of fish, it’s amazingly impressive!

#5: Kind & Honest People
The people are generous and kind, patient and welcoming.  I have yet to run into a rude local here and though I’ve heard from other fellow travelers that it all depends on where you go, in my opinion and experience the people have been nothing but kind.  In addition to the generous and kind nature of the people here, they are also very honest.  In particular when it comes to money.  I’ve been other places where I’ve handed over too much money (from being tired or just not thinking the correct exchange rate) and they’ve gone on their way with the extra money in hand.  Here, there have been several occasions where I’ve handed over too much and they immediately return whatever over I’ve paid, even if it’s just a single baht!  I’ve gotten so comfortable with their honesty that there have also been several times when my mind wasn’t working properly to understand how much I owed in Thai that I’ve simply held a bunch of bills and let them pick what they needed.  I love that kind of honesty as it makes one feel more comfortable in their surroundings!!  Now, that’s not to say some people won’t try to overcharge you for something (cab ride, etc) but if you ask upfront what something will cost, they stick by it.

#6: No sleazy men
Traveling in Latin American countries, one thing I had to get used to that also really annoyed me at times, but just had to learn to ignore, was the cat calls, whistles, stares and hissing sounds (they literally sounded like snakes to be honest) men would constantly make toward any female as you walked by.  Here, no such behavior exists!  The men are much more respectful in that way and even to the point where I sometimes wondered why I wasn’t getting any looks from locals, and it simply is because their culture, unlike others, is to not display emotions of affection in any way in public.  Hence, no cat calls, uncomfortable stares or hissing sounds!

#7: Packaging with plastic bags
This one I personally struggle with from the environmental perspective and really wish they would cut back on their use of plastic bags, but I do also find it interesting and entertaining how they package to-go food or drink items.  Coffee, sodas, rice, soups, and more are packaged in a plastic bag tied off with a rubber band for take away.  Other items like rice and pad thai are put in styrofoam containers, so it’s one evil for the environment versus the other… While I can understand the simplicity and ease of using plastic bags, I wish in general they would cut back because they insist in using a ton of bags for very few items.  I’m always refusing bags (as I generally bring my own or just don’t need one) but you really have to be on the ball to say you don’t want a bag as they are very quick to snatch one out.  The straws also drive me nuts (though technically from the hygienic perspective it’s better) as they will give you one for each can or bottle purchased (including for beers) so if I walked in and bought 2 bottles of water and a soda they would put in 3 straws!

#8: Built to last
Another thing that really impresses me about Thailand is the construction of their homes and buildings.  Yes, there are several homes that are made entirely from bamboo and other wood (though bamboo is a very highly resilient wood to begin with!) but many homes, stores and general buildings are built to a very high quality standard and are built to last!  It’s amazing watching them construct a home or other building because their scaffolding is simply rickety looking pieces of wood that you wouldn’t think would hold people walking or working around them, yet the finished product is brick and concrete with tile throughout.

#9: Muay Thai
Whether it’s enjoying an evening out watching fights or joining in training yourself, Muay Thai is entertaining, engaging and a real real-kicker!  Granted not all fights are created equal as some are much more entertaining or gruesome than others, but all the fighters have a real sportsmanship about them that isn’t as easily found in countless other sports.  What I love the most is the fights where it’s evident that the competitors are friends.  They encourage each other between fighting rounds but when the bell goes off, all bets are off and “may the best fighter win” kicks in.  Another thing I love about Muay Thai is the sense of tradition and culture.  The fighters respect the ring, the judges, their opponent and their God.  The more I train in Muay Thai, the more I understand the fights as I watch and questions I had before while watching fights are now answered because of my own training.  I won’t go into that here, but will in a future post for sure!

To be continued…

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