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Ko Muk (Mook)

While getting to Koh Ngai (Hai) was easy and cheap, leaving the island was a very different story!  Since it was low season (therefore very little traffic to and from the island except on tour boats that would take you back to Ko Lanta) the opportunities to leave the island were very limited.  Basically it all came down to “if and when” a local taxi boat operator wanted to take us to the next island .  And the price was not cheap either… Of course they could basically charge whatever they wanted (despite our attempts to negotiate) because hey, it’s an island.  You got here, but if you want to get off you’re gonna have to pay what they say to pay or not leave at all!

So it was one semi-stormy mid-afternoon that we decided to head out for Koh Mook (Muk) at the not so bargain price of 1500 baht.  It was just Anna and I so of course the price was pumped a bit. Had there been more people going it would have been cheaper for the individual, obviously.  Funnily enough however we did spot an older couple with a younger child who had arrived on the island in the morning and wondered whether they were staying or going on to Koh Muk.  Neither myself nor Anna were brave enough to approach them to ask whether they were staying or going, but as it turned out, they were on their way to Koh Muk, so had we asked them we could have possibly gotten a cheaper ride there… In any event…

We loaded up on our private longtail taxi boat and headed out on the stormy sea.  The two crew men (brothers- one driver, one look-out) were chatty and quite entertaining as we headed into what originally looked like a calm enough sea.  Pah-ah-ti (wrong spelling but phonetically sound and means “sun” in Thai) was the older and more “experienced driving boats” brother.  When we set out he said his younger brother needed more practice in rougher seas, so he let him drive first, but “not to worry, if the sea gets really bad I will take over”…   The closer we got into the open sea, no longer that sheltered from the neighboring islands, the rougher it got.  Anna wasn’t feeling so hot, but I didn’t mind it so much until Pah-ah-ti climbed from the front to the back to take over driving… Not a good sign!!  The waves got larger and more turbulent.  Sea water splashed over the sides and we were often hit with sea spray from the sides and front of the boat as it crashed into the oncoming waves.  A couple of times it was a bit worrisome (especially when the engine noise of the boat suddenly changed to include an ominous clanking noise) but eventually we made it to the north side of the island and banked onshore.

The motor on the boat was killed and Pah-ah-ti hopped out with us to help us ask whether there was any accommodations available there.  Being low season there too however, all the accommodations were closed and we were directed to go to the east side of the island to Coco Lodge.  Back in the boat we went, however when the engine went to start, well, it didn’t… The brothers fussed over it for 10-15 minutes (mostly by simply hitting the side of the motor with a wrench) until deciding there was something very wrong with the engine and that they would need a mechanic.  Thankfully the engine died when on land and not in the middle of the ocean when the odd noises started coming from it!  And thankfully it was low tide at the time, so Pah-ah-ti, Anna and myself were able to walk (with bags in tow) around the edges of the island, through the sea gypsy village and over to Coco’s Lodge.

Pah-ah-ti bid his farewells and headed further into town to get parts for the boat while Anna and I settled into Coco Lodge.  Now, throughout my travels in Thailand I had stayed at many very nice and cozy places that were also very cheap .  But none had even come close to the quaintness, comfort, style and class that we found at Coco’s Lodge.  The owner and his wife were unbelievably accommodating and the individual bamboo huts were immaculate and very comfortable.

I’m going to have to side track for a bit here just to further sing the praises of Coco’s Lodge.  The location (right on the beach and a 5 minute walk to the pier) was superb.  The food in their restaurant was absolutely delicious (from the massaman curry to the fruit pancakes for breakfast).  When it rained (which was quite often during our time there) the owner or his wife would come around to the bungalows and offer us umbrellas.  A cleaning staff cleaned our room EVERY DAY (something I hadn’t encountered anywhere else in Thailand).  All palm trees located above each bungalow were completely bare of coconuts, so none could fall on the roofs!  The beds were the most comfortable I’d ever slept on.  The rooms themselves had touches of personal details (like seashells lovingly placed in the bathrooms as decoration) that made the place feel like home.  The ever-increasing number of dogs that decided to live there during our stay were all friendly and lovable and while none actually belonged to the place, they would still give them food scraps from left over dishes.  Any time Anna and I were chilling for a long period of time in the restaurant after eating (due to adverse weather and not much else to do) board and card games were offered to us for entertainment.  In other words, just about anything and everything one could imagine needing in a place was offered there!  And all of this hospitality came at only 500 baht per night!!  It blew me away!  I 100% recommend Coco’s Lodge for anyone looking to travel to Koh Muk!!

Moving on however, the main reason Anna and I picked Koh Muk as our next island stay was so we could visit the famed Emerald cave.  Though we stayed on the island for the remaining time that Anna was able to visit (then I stayed on myself for another several days after she departed for Scotland) we never actually made it to the Emerald cave.  This was NOT because we were too drunk or hung over to, but rather because the weather never cooperated and none of the tours were running there.  See, to get to the Emerald cave, the tides have to be just right (low) and then you have to swim with a guide 80 meters through a cave until you reach the other end (the Emerald lake).  So with all the stormy weather we had daily, even with the tides being low, it just wasn’t safe to swim through the cave and visit the lake… Or perhaps lagoon would be a better description?  In any event, we did still enjoy our time there walking the island to the various points, enjoying cocktails on the beach (of course!) or just chilling at our bungalow, playing games and hanging with the dogs.

The island itself I will say was quite a conundrum.  It too had been hit by a tsunami years ago and while some parts of the island had recovered nicely, other more inland parts were very shabby and trashy.  One sea village a bit inland in particular had feet upon feet of trash piled under the homes (luckily on stilts) with seemingly no efforts or cares to clean up.  I will admit when we first arrived on the island, neither myself nor Anna were really sure we liked the place.  But alas, it grew on us.  And while we still marveled as to why no efforts were put (in some areas) into cleaning the place up, I guess it just became part of the character of the island that eventually you just overlook.  Last point, about Koh Muk: the beaches weren’t really all that to write home about.  This may have been due to the bad weather stirring up the ocean waters so they didn’t look clear, but also there were some areas where there were warnings about strong currents.  So needless to say not much swimming was really enjoyed while there.  Oh yea, and while there aren’t ANY ATMs on the island, there is one coffee shop that will allow you to withdraw money for a 7% (or maybe it was 10…) fee.  So just be sure you bring enough cash for your stay there!!

Sadly, it was time for Anna to get back on to mainland Thailand and head to Bangkok to get home, while I stayed on several more days catching up on blogging about our trip so far.  My next destination: Ko Lipe!

P.S. As some may notice, most all pictures were taken on one of the ONLY sunny days there, lol!

On to The Beauty of Koh Lipe

Back to Thailand

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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

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

Muay Thai Kickboxing Training

Part of the reason I wanted to stay for a month on the beautiful island of Koh Tao, Thailand was so I could dip my toes a bit in the world of Muay Thai Kickboxing.  Though I’m not in perfect shape, I do really enjoy working out and try to get workouts in daily, even when traveling.  As any fitness fanatic knows however, the best way to stay on top of your fitness is to mix up your workouts.  Since I’m in Thailand, I figured why not give their traditional martial art of Muay Thai a try?

I did not originally come to Koh Tao expecting to stay so long.  I had the idea that I would “if and only if” I found a Muay Thai gym I liked.  On the island there are actually two gyms that offer Muay Thai training.  Monsoon Gym and Island Muay Thai.  I checked both places out, dropping by during their training hours just to get a vibe of each place prior to committing to either (if at all).  Dropping by during training hours was purposeful because I wanted to get the sense of two things: first a sneak peek at the training and how the trainers interacted with students (my trainers test) and second to see how I would be greeted during a busy time (my management test).

Blocking a Kick
Blocking a Kick

On the surface, my observations were as follows.  While Monsoon Gym doesn’t have a ring, it has a very impressive workout and training space.  The practice area looks brand new and their gym (to get in weight or extra cardio workouts) is also quite nice!  In addition, they offered a variety of classes such as capoeira and crossfit type classes that you could mix in with the Muay Thai training.  They even offered on-site dorms as accommodation (for an extra price of course) to those training with them.  It was evident that a lot of money was put into the place.

Kicking Away
Kicking Away

By comparison the Island Muay Thai training facility did have a ring but their training area looked rather used and broken in, so to speak.  Their gym area to get in extra weight or cardio workouts really wasn’t anything to write home about as it had outdated machines and not a huge variety of weights.  Whether the gym had a ring or not was not a concern or care to me as I had no intention to fight, only to train for fitness.  So on the surface Monsoon gym had me hands down (especially since they offered more of a variety of fitness classes).  However one huge difference between the two gyms led me to make my ultimate decision.

Gonna Get Ya!
Gonna Get Ya!

They say first impressions are the most important.  And as far as I’m concerned, they can make or break a person or business.  Monsoon Gym, while impressive visually, fell flat on its face when I popped by to check the place out.  It had the feel of where the cool kids and cliques hung out.  I stood around for about 10 minutes waiting to get the eye of someone (anyone) who worked there to ask questions about the courses.  Of course there were posters everywhere giving pricing information and such, and while I technically got all the info I needed just by looking at the posters, my point in going in personally was to get the feel of the place and people.  And based on that aspect, I was not impressed.  I finally struck a conversation with a random person hanging about who had been training there and talked to him about the place.  He was actually very nice and informative and had nothing but praise for the place.  But when he pointed me in the direction of one of the people who worked there (a falang whose exact role I can’t recall) and I went to chat with her, the welcoming was icy and indifferent.  I should mention however that based on my observations of the trainers themselves, I had no negative impression as they seemed very engaged with the students.

Bruised Up_2

On the contrast was my impression of Island Muay Thai.  Again I showed up during training hours and was immediately greeted by someone (who turned out was the owner) with a flyer listing prices and giving information.  And again, while visually the place was lack-luster compared to Monsoon, it felt more serious and more focused.  It had that wholesome “come as you are and let us kick your rear with a killer workout” feel that inspires me to work hard.  Also the vibe felt comforting and made me feel confident to simply show up as I was (even with several extra pounds to lose!) and not feel embarrassed that I wasn’t in perfect shape.  And to boot I was actually acknowledged as I came up to the place!  To me, the vibes between the gyms were night and day and I very happily (after finding a place to stay) signed up with Island Muay Thai for a month.

Bruised Up
Bruised Up

For the past month now, I’ve been going to Island Muay Thai about 4 times a week.  Between working out there and going there for the fight nights (every 10 days!!) it’s practically become a second home to me, lol!  I arrive a little before 8am to get in about 5-10 minutes of stretching, then hit the jump ropes for anywhere between 5-10 minutes, then it’s time to get the hands wrapped and the gloves on for training.  Depending on the trainer, the sessions can go in a variety of directions:  3 minutes on, 1 minute break or up to 10 minutes on and several minute breaks.  Either way the end result is always the same: I leave exhausted, super sweaty and ready for a cold shower!!  What I appreciate most is each trainer has their own focus, or specific set of things that they watch out for, or area of expertise.  What that boils down to is that I learn something new each and every time.  And each criticism from the various trainers compliment each other too.  So learning one specific stance or technique from one trainer compliments what you’ve been taught by another and so on.

Ugly Feet!
Ugly Feet!

I’ve injured myself a bit here and there (blisters, bruises, and feeling like my feet were broken) along the way due to my being exhausted and using improper technique, but I love the training!  They push me to work harder each time and the training is unlike else I’ve done so far.  I sweat buckets during each workout and sometimes feel like I could either pass out (because I’m holding my breath during the punches or kicks) or vomit by the end, but I still show up and am even staying for yet another month so I can train on 🙂  This time it will be 5 days a week just to see how much more fit I can get with it. Let the games begin!!

On to Unique View of Muay Thai Training

Back to Thailand

What IS That?!!?

I arrived in Ayutthaya by train from Bangkok.  Though it said it would only be just over an hour, as I’ve read from other travelers, travel times should never be trusted as it always takes much longer than stated.  The train was very basic.  No air conditioning, only windows and honestly reminded me of a school bus on train tracks.  People at each stop would hop aboard to sell water, bits of food, rice, etc for the journey.  Leaving Bangkok it was amazing to see how many people live and set up work directly on the edge of the train tracks.

Along the way a very friendly Thai woman started chatting with me and as it turned out she lived in Ayutthaya and volunteered to make sure I got off at the right place :).  Though they do have an intercom system on the train that tells you what stop is next, I was still very grateful I had someone to tell me for sure since my ears are not yet trained to hear Thai words correctly.

Just across the street and almost down to the end I found my hostel for the next several nights: Baan Are Gong GuestHouse.  Originally I planned to stay 3 nights, but extended to 4 as I just got so comfortable there!!  The people are very friendly, the accommodations are clean and the location couldn’t be better and easier as the train station is just down the road and the boat to get across the river is right next door!  I stayed in a private room on the second floor (fan only) and adored that everyone has to take off their shoes before going upstairs.

The only perhaps, let’s call it ‘culture shock’ that I hadn’t encountered yet was the bathrooms… They were shared bathrooms and there were several sets of flip-flops in front of the bathrooms to slip on before going in.  Inside the bathroom was a regular toilet, sink and mounted on the wall was a shower head and knobs.  But no shower curtain…  So when showering it’s literally like going into a standard single bathroom stall (except larger) and showering.  Water of course goes everywhere and there’s just no way to avoid that!  So it sprays all over the toilet, the sink and all over the floor.  There is a drain behind the toilet to drain shower water away, but if it gets clogged with hair, well you then have a mini-flood going on… Definitely was a first for me and I kept having to remind myself that all the water on the toilet seat was from the shower, not from people peeing on it… I hope anyway, lol!!

But all in all, I adored this hostel!!  They also have a little puppy that is just too darn cute for words and I just couldn’t help but play with him every second I got!  The woman who owns the place is very nice to talk to and she gave me some great information on places to visit in the country.

My stay in Ayutthaya included going into town the first night to watch the street festival in honor of the King’s Birthday.  One of the main streets was shut to traffic and they had stage after stage set up with live music, traditional Thai dancing, a muay thai boxing ring, and tons upon tons of street vendors selling everything from live fish (as pets), shoes, food, desserts, and my personal favorite to see: fried crickets and worms!  No… I wasn’t brave enough to try any, but it was awesome to see!!  A couple hours later once the sun set and the full moon rose high in the sky, fireworks started shooting off.  It was such a fantastic time!!

Other activities included spending the whole day wandering the streets of Ayutthaya visiting the tons upon tons of temples and temple ruins they have available.  From Wat Lokayasutharam (Buddha reclining) to the Phra Ram Park where several little Temples could be found, to Wat Maha That, site of an ancient Temple ruins, the Ancient Palace, Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit where one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand can be found and so many more!  Though some of the Temples have been given the status of being World Heritage Sites, they do charge admission (50 baht) for foreigners.  Some people I came across took issue with that, but it’s such a teeny amount, I really wasn’t that bothered by it.

One funny here: as I was wandering through the park, walking through the grass in my flip-fops, I was thinking to myself whether there were any animals in Thailand to be worried about.  Before going to Costa Rica EVERYONE and their brother (mine included) warned about the fer-de-lance snake (highly poisonous and can kill you within a half hour!!) but I hadn’t heard a thing from any fellow traveler to Thailand of critters to beware of.  Just as I was thinking this, up ahead on the side walk was… Is that??… What IS that?!?!?… No…. Is that a komodo dragon???  Do they have those here???  Of course, my instinct toward animals not always being on point, I stealthily rushed toward it so not to scare it off, but yes I wanted a picture!!  Later I looked it up and it’s not a komodo dragon, but rather what they call a ‘water monitor’.  Interesting stuff!

I came across a local fishing for shrimp in the river, which was fun to watch for a bit 🙂

They also have an Elephant Village in Ayutthaya in the center of town where people could ride them down and back on the street.  I opted NOT to do this, but did buy a basket of food that I fed directly to the elephants hanging out at the ticket area.  I have so much more to say on this topic, but will save it for another post as it’s too long for this one…

My last activity in Ayutthaya was of a boat tour.  For 200 baht, the two-hour tour included a visit to Wat Phanan Choeng near the Japanese settlement that featured a bronze Buddha that looked larger than the one at Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, then over to Wat Phutthai Sawan followed by the ever so beautiful and my favorite (especially at sunset!!) Wat Chaiwatthanaram.  The tour ended by continuing along the river until we made a full circle back to our Guesthouse:)

On to Animal Exploitations?

Back to Thailand

Cruise Critique

I will start off by saying that my family and I had a great time on the cruise aboard the Splendour of the Seas.  There was lots of laughter, great conversation, fun in exploring the ship activities and of course the port stops were fantastic to visit!  However, and I think I speak for my family as well, we will never sail with Royal Caribbean again.

I will start with the positive: the staff were for the most part very nice and accommodating.  The activities on board (Bingo!, Name that Movie Trivia, nightly movies on the main deck, mini-golf, etc) were lots of fun.  In fact my sister and I each won a round of Bingo! (her $25, me $300, a bottle of champagne, an umbrella and a scrapbook package… I got the X, yay!).  Our woman who cared for our stateroom was very nice and often left towels in the shape of very cute animals in our room to come back to at the end of the day.  I loved the little daily itinerary they left each night in our rooms so we could see all the activities and plan accordingly.  I loved that they had a salt water pool instead of using chlorine.

But, here’s the thing… When people pay good money to go on a trip that is supposed to be something of a luxury, it is expected that the staff are nice and accommodating and it’s expected that there will be fun activities on board so people can fill their time up on sail days with something other than staring at the water.  It’s expected that the port stops would be interesting places to see/go.  Otherwise why would people go on cruises to begin with?  So really the only positive items about the cruise were things that one would EXPECT to be positive.

Now for the negative:  1) Booking with them was one of the most painful and stressful experiences we’ve dealt with in planning a trip.  We booked online and everyday it was a new story as to what was owed.  First everything was paid off, then we owed 5 times more than what the cruise was supposed to be, then it was back to almost being paid off, then we still owed more…  Literally everyday there was some issue or another in our booking and I can’t tell you how many phone calls (upwards of 20 at least!!)  were made back and forth to customer service (who were at least patient and nice on the phone) trying to sort everything out.

2) Steak night: my sister decided one night to order a steak… She ordered the temperature medium.  What she got was a very tough piece of medium well steak.  She didn’t want to send it back or make any fuss, but at my parents insistence (they wanting to make sure she actually enjoyed the steak) she told the waiter it was too cooked for her liking.  He immediately sent off for a new one.  Great!  Well done!

No pun intended there, but that’s pretty much what she got for the second try: a medium well to well done steak.  The waiter stood by as she cut into it (as he should) to make sure the cook was correct.  It wasn’t so off it went again.  This time however the manager came over to chat with my sister to fully understand what she was looking for.  She again stated ‘medium’ then described how the cook should look (warm pink center).

Off went the manager and server and a few minutes later out came a VERY WELL DONE steak…. Ummm…… ??????  Seriously????  At this point is was just too comical!!  Ironically it was the most tender piece received so far despite being well done, and my sister was at that point beyond trying to make them get anything right.  She was content just eating the veggies and nibbling on some of the bits of meat.  But no, the server and manager weren’t happy that she wasn’t happy, so they whisked away the plate again and brought back… Lucky steak #4????  No…. a RARE, almost so rare you could still hear it mooing steak… Again, we (my family) were actually quite humored by the whole fiasco and were in good spirits about the comedy of errors unfolding around us…

What wasn’t comical however was the second manager who came by to inform us that next time, if we wanted a piece of meat to be tender when cooked at a medium temperature, we should order the filet mignon for an extra $17…. THAT was condescending and highly rude.  Duh!  Of course the better the cut the more tender the meat!  But that wasn’t the point.  The point was there was a huge miscommunication going on with how to cook THAT particular cut of meat to the correct temperature.  And by the way, we weren’t the only ones having issues with the steak as we overheard several more tables around us raising the exact same issue.

3) On the topic of food, in general it was lackluster whether at the buffets or at the restaurant.

4) Last little bit, I had the worst drink I’ve ever tasted… I ordered a mojito.  Seriously mojitos are made by muddling mint, lime and sugar (simple syrup will do too) then adding in rum, shake shake shake, top off with soda water.  Done.  This bartender put in (I was watching) mint, simple syrup, sugar (yes, regular sugar WITH the simple syrup already put in), she muddled for about 15 minutes.  Then added rum, mojito mix out of some cardboard container, added ice, shook for another 20 minutes then topped off with Sprite… Oh and THEN she added a lime on top…  I could feel a sugar induced coma coming just looking at it!  I hate to be rude though so I took a straw sip (not sipping from the straw but capping the straw and dipping it in for a taste).  I have a very big sweet tooth, but seriously, there was no way to drink that drink!!  It was so sugary and gross.  Nowhere near refreshing as a mojito should be.  I had to refuse it and later had to make sure it wasn’t charged to my account, which it was so I had to have it taken off.

Really the real theme going on behind all the negatives was the lack of…  I’m not sure, knowledge, communication or experience with the staff???  I don’t know for sure but it was frustrating.  Again, the staff were very nice and they tried (except for the condescending manager) but there was some serious link missing there .  And again, the cruise was fun and relaxing and great to get away with my family, but if we ever happen to do another family trip via a cruise, it won’t be with Royal Caribbean.

On to Thailand

Back to Europe

 

Montmartre

Montmartre is a vibrant city with so much movement and character it’s sometimes hard to know where to look.  Fresh open street markets, stores spilling out contents for sale onto the street for people to rifle through and street performers entertaining crowds on the lawn of the Sacre-Coeur are very common sights.  Yes, Montmartre is alive!  You can feel the culture and inspiration that grew Montmartre into a popular destination to visit.  The home of the Moulin Rouge as well as countless artists (Van Gogh, Renoir and Picasso to name a few) Montmartre became home to the Bohemian Revolution long ago, yet today you can still feel its individuality and funkiness in the air.  It does have an odd nature to it that wouldn’t appeal to everyone and some “squirrley” characters, but for all except one minor episode, I enjoyed my time there.

I stayed in the Le Regent Montmartre hostel just down the road from the World Famous Moulin Rouge.  I must admit I love that movie (Ewan McGregor & Nicole Kidman) and ever since seeing it for the first time, I’ve wanted to get to Montmartre!  Well because of that and a favorite black and white poster I had back in College that I just adored of a couple kissing on the steps of Sacre-Coeur with Paris in the background.

The hostel was actually quite nice.  The location was ideal, the staff (while not overly friendly in person) were very helpful over email in getting me exact information on which trains to take to get there from downtown Paris and the rooms were cozy too.  The hostel used to be a hotel and they have converted each room into a hostel room.  The room I booked was only a 3-person room and each room had its own bathroom (a HUGE plus in my book)!!  The only negative was the breakfast.  It was lackluster and the brioche were a disappointment.  Other than that it was a pleasant stay.

Another thing I enjoyed about the hostel (though it has nothing to do with the hostel, really) was my roommates.  I stayed there 3 nights and it overlapped with each of my other two roommates’ stay as well.  So for the nights I was there I got to get to know my roommates a bit instead of getting new batches of roommates each night of a stay.  Both were young guys who were there for different reasons.  The first was there because he was about to start film school at the University.  He was from Egypt and very kindly gave me a coin from Egypt that I carry around with me.  Unfortunately when I was getting ready to leave he wasn’t around so I wasn’t able to get his info to keep in contact, but I’m sure I will be seeing his name on some films not too far into the future:)  The other young man was in Europe because he had won a photography competition and his work was being featured in a show in Brussels!!!  How exciting is that??  So he was in Paris, well because, why not??  He is incredibly talented and for anyone who loves photography, I would recommend to check out his website at ameasureofmadness.wordpress.com 🙂

My time in Montmartre consisted first of getting to the Moulin Rouge to check out prices and show information, etc.  Unfortunately the tickets were WAY out of my budget, but again it gives me something to go back there for!  I walked all over town checking out the various nooks and crannies, getting lost every now and again or simply stopping for a seat and to watch life go on around me.  I explored Sacre-Coeur and watched the sun set from the hilltop.  And of course I took a walking tour of Paris:)

The only adverse experience I had there was my first morning in Montmartre.  Before walking into Paris to the meeting point location for the walking tour (Place St. Michel) I wanted to get some pictures first thing of the Moulin Rouge.  So I headed in that direction first, finding a little place to stop and get a yummy breakfast along the way.  I sat on a park bench between the streets sipping on my coffee when along came a guy (creep) holding a beer in his hand.  Mind you it’s 8am… He spotted me and came right over and sat next to me.  So I got up and started walking away.  Apparently he thought I was trying to be cutsy/coy because he proceeded to follow me.  When I looked behind me and noticed this I immediately turned left to see if he was actually following me or not.  And when he mimicked my motions, it was time to set him straight.

I stopped to face him and quite forcefully warned him to stop following me.  I was speaking all in English but he got the point as his smile suddenly turned to a frown and he crossed the street away from me:)  I went back to my original bench keeping a keen eye on the guy and once I finished my breakfast I spotted a very tall man who was going in the direction I wanted to go.  So I walked up to him and asked first if he spoke English (thankfully YES!) and then asked if he would mind walking with me for a bit.  He was really nice to agree and we chatted for the next several blocks until it was time for him to turn off.

The area around the Moulin Rouge is somewhat like a Red Light District, but very “in your face” and not at all classy (I hate to say) as the District in Amsterdam.  Every shop turned into one type of sex shop or another the closer you got to the Moulin Rouge.  It literally was like crossing an invisible line which on one side was very obviously the Red Light District and the other very obviously regular life.  I found that interesting…

My favorite random experience while in Montmartre once again happened at the Moulin Rouge.  I had pictures of it in the daylight, but now needed pictures of it at night all lit up!  So after my day in Versailles, I stayed in Paris until it got dark to get pictures of the tower lit up, then headed back to Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge to get night pictures.

So there I was snapping away a ton of pictures.  I was just about to leave when all of a sudden a horse trailer rounded the corner and parked in front of the Moulin Rouge… Two large men in black (bodyguards) then put up a little barricade behind the horse trailer.  On the side of the trailer was painted “Les Petits Chevaux du Moulin Rouge”… Now I don’t speak French or know many words in French, but this phrase I understood!  “Little horses of the Moulin Rouge”!!  Oh this I had to see up close!  I crossed the street and sure enough out came 6 little miniature horses who were promptly escorted from the trailer to a side entrance of the Moulin Rouge by the trainers and over the watchful eye of the bodyguards, LOL!!!  The first thought that went though my mind was “What in the world goes on in there?????”  🙂

On to Paris

Back to Europe

Gatwick & Airport Fun (Leaving the UK)

Well, after about a month in Scotland, it was time to head to Gatwick and take off for Italy!!  After giving my many thanks to Anna for her hospitality, I left Glasgow via train and headed straight down to Gatwick.  I had booked a little B&B for the night (it took almost all day to get from Glasgow to Gatwick so it was a good thing I left the day before my flight!!) called Da Vinci Gatwick Guest House.  For 40 pounds (yea I know it was pricey but I got my own room/bathroom, breakfast and after traveling all day I enjoyed a little pamper:)) I reserved a single room only about 10 minutes from the airport.

Though a little pricey, I really enjoyed the Da Vinci Guest House!!  I found it comfortable, quaint, warming, welcoming and over all just had a great vibe!  The people who owned, or at least who took care of it are Latin American (I could hear them speaking Spanish) and the woman at least was very accommodating, polite and welcoming!  I didn’t get any actual chat time with the man, that’s why I only mention the woman:)  Though when I made my reservation over the phone, I spoke with a man (maybe the same one??) and he was very polite and accommodating too.  They even provided me with a number of a taxi service that they use that costs half what other taxis cost (according to them) and they picked you up right from the train station.

Quick note here though about taxis… CARRY CASH!!!  AT ALL TIMES CARRY CASH TO PAY THE TAXIS!!!!  Otherwise they will charge you a fee of 7 pounds to use a credit card!!!!!!  Yup, it happened to me… I was fuming!!  Though of course that was on the way to the airport, so what could I do??  The fee almost cost as much as the fare!!!  Consider yourselves warned!!

In any event, the night at the B&B was spent picking off ticks from my forearms (only 4 of them and they were babies, so it didn’t take that long!) and going out for a bite to eat at the local (potentially only) pub and restaurant just walking distance down the road.  The food was great (surprisingly very international!!) and the beers were splendid as always.  Needless to say that night was a quiet one as I prepped to take off the next day.

Because my flight was in the afternoon (6pm) but I had to be out of the B&B by 11am, I opted to just go to the airport and wait until my time to board.  Unfortunately, Vueling Airlines only allows people to check-in 2 hours before their flight, so I had to sit and wait (with my very heavy bag since I was carrying gifts) from basically 11am to 4pm before being able to get rid of my bag and go through security… I finally got checked in and through security, then the cutest thing happened…

As anyone who has ever been to the airport knows, past security there are a ton of shops and stores, and restaurants.  The larger the airport, the more there are!  Gatwick was quite busy and had a ton of places to shop and eat!  I stopped by one place to grab a slice of pizza (easy, cheap and I hadn’t eaten all day!!) then wandered around to find a quiet spot to play a game on my tablet…

I was there all of a few minutes when all of a sudden an elderly woman came by and asked “con permiso, habla Espanol?”  Translation: Excuse me, do you speak Spanish?  To which I responded “Yes, a little” (in spanish of course) and that’s all it took!  She was off!!  Thankfully I actually did understand what she was saying despite her speaking a mile a second!!  She was on her way to Orlando but her flight in Gatwick was delayed and she had no way to contact her family because for some reason she couldn’t get her phone to work and no one in the Gatwick airport spoke Spanish and she couldn’t find anyone to help her because she doesn’t speak and English…

I kinda had to chuckle, because she was just too cute!!  In any event, I explained that her phone didn’t work because she did not have a SIM card for the UK (she was from Spain btw) and I offered her to call her family with my Skype account on my tablet.  She was very thankful, made her phone call to let her family know about her situation, thanked me profusely and went on her way.

I simply went back to my game playing when all of a sudden, about 5 minutes later she snuck back around one again asking for help, lol!!  Poor thing!!!  My heart broke for her and loved her all at once!!  Anyway, she handed me two slips of paper and asked if I could tell her what it was all about.  The first was her boarding ticket for the plane.  But there was no gate assigned to the ticket, only the flight number and seat number.  So I explained that because the flight was delayed, they didn’t know what gate the plane would actually be at and that we would have to simply watch the monitors for departures to see what gate it would be once it was announced.  She got a good handle on that, then I looked at the second slip.  It was a voucher for 5 pounds from British Airways to redeem for food or a beverage at any of the food shops to make up for the delay in the flight.  I explained this to her, then asked if she was hungry.  She said yes, and I offered that if she was interested in pizza, I just happened to know of a place that sold a large slice for 5 pounds… She agreed, so I took her to the food shop, ordered her the pizza to go, paid the shop with the food voucher and gave her the slice.

At this point, as chance would have it I checked the monitor to see if my flight was announced yet, and in fact both mine AND her flight were announced, lol!!  So I told her that the gate for her flight was ready, walked her to her gate (mine was on the way anyway!) then went on to mine:)  She was very thankful, but honestly the whole experience just warmed my heart to be able to help her, so really I thank her!!

On to Italy

On to Europe

Back to United Kingdom

Back to Homepage

Oban (Oh-Bin)

Oban!  Pronounced Oh-Bin… What a lovely little place to visit!  Sadly the weather was absolute crap during my stay, but at least I got a little sample:)

I took the bus from Inverness (or In-bir-nis in Gaelic) early and headed to Oban.  I skipped going to Fort William because I had heard there really wasn’t much to do there, but in Oban there is the opportunity to go to several neighboring islands via ferry or boat, etc.  So I was excited to check out the area for sure!  On the way there just outside of town there is the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary!!!  I was quite tempted to jump off the bus right then and there as one of the stops was just in front of the facility, but that would not have been very sound seeing as I had my backpack with me… Plus, I figured I could always go back since I was staying three nights in Oban.

I spotted the hostel I had pre-booked to stay in (Oban Backpackers) as we drove down the main street to the bus station.  I headed easily out to the hostel and was greeted by a very accommodating and friendly German man.  I’m honestly not sure he took a single breath during his 5 minute “welcome introduction” lol!!  But just as the Inverness Student Hostel was, Oban Backpackers was also warm, welcoming and a generally great place to stay!!  They had large areas where people could hang out and chat and offered an area to put down the backpacks while one waited to check in!  Just love that feature in a hostel since many times I had arrived too early to check into my room but didn’t want to be stuck hauling my crap around or sitting at the hostel simply waiting for check-in!!

But I’m rambling again… Since I had arrived a bit earlier than the actual check-in time, I put my crap down in the designated area and headed out with a very detailed map of Oban, which I acquired from the very friendly hostel host!  The map itself was already very detailed (you know, one of those tourist maps provided by the city) but the host marked several areas of interest on mine before I left his presence so that I would know everywhere to go and see and do right off the bat!  Obviously he was used to a gazillion of the same questions from travelers, so in an attempt to stave them all off, he simply answered them all up front, lol!!

So with my map in hand and my bag no longer on my back I headed to the Oban Tower.  Located only about 10 minutes up the hill from the hostel, it provided a great place to take some aerial shots of the town!!  From there I just wandered around the small town just exploring and getting ideas on what to do for the next coming days while there.  The town itself is a little horse shoe shaped town located directly on the water.  It has a shipping dock and lots of varieties of boats bobbing in the harbor all for their various purposes.  There are even castles just a short hike up the way from the main part of town AND even a whiskey distillery in the center of town!!  Yes, Oban does offer quite a bit of activities for those looking to kill a few days in a cute seaside town in Scotland…

Now, even though there were trails to walk, castles to see, a Sea Life Sanctuary to visit, a whiskey distillery to tour and nearby islands to take a ferry to for a few hours… I did absolutely none of those… 😦

I know!!! I know!!  I’m totally bonkers!!!  And I promise I TRIED to go see the castles and the Sea Life Sanctuary and even the distillery, but alas no… I’m totally going to blame it ALL on the weather!!!  Yes, the weather!!  I already mentioned above that the weather was absolute crap while I was there… And yes, it was just cold and windy and blustery basically the entire time I was there!!  Ok, well the first day wasn’t so bad, but since I didn’t bother or care to look up an extended forecast for the area, instead of putting my rear in gear and actually doing some of the hikes and island visits on my first day (or half day, since I used the morning bit to get there!!) I simply spent it walking around and planning my activities for the next days…  So anyway, yea… The first day was quite successful in the sense that I had a solid plan on what I was doing for the next couple days…

But the next day, once I rose and dressed and stepped outside into the blustery cold and wet and WINDY weather, I realized that all my plans were about to go to right out the window!!  I first searched for something to nibble, then headed to the boat dock to see about catching a ferry to the nearby island of Kerrera, where there is a lovely monastery to walk around and enjoy a coffee in… But the docks were closed due to the windy weather.  No boats, no ferry’s, no island… So I wandered to bus station to find out about the Sea Life Sanctuary bus to see if I could catch it and at least spend some time there.  However, the majority of the park would have been outdoors and on the water basically, so if the weather was crap here, 20 minutes up the road wouldn’t be much improved… So I decided against that action… I thought ok, what about walking to the castles??

Finally an option that may work out!  So I headed back through town on the main road, then cut through a little side street to the trail that would lead to the castles and just as I rounded the corner got slammed with the biggest wind gust yet!!  My poncho flapped around me viciously while I got pelted in the face with rain drop after rain drop… This was not good!!  And after only a block of that nonsense I turned back up the next little side street and headed back to the hostel to warm up.

After inquiring about “what to do on nasty weather days” to the hostel host (whiskey tour is what he suggested… or just a pub!) I headed to the whiskey distillery and decided against the tour (I wasn’t really that in the mood for whiskey, plus had no way to carry the glass gift they apparently gave at the end in my backpack) so I did the next best thing… Went to the pub!

Turned out to be a fine rest of the day as far as I was concerned!!  Met an interesting guy from the States who was traveling all of the UK and Ireland on his motorcycle!!  He actually had his personal motorcycle flown over and was driving it all around!!  Needless to say he was being responsible and only had food and one drink at the bar, but it was really cool to meet someone who was doing something that brave!!  Well done on him!!

So that’s how I killed my days in Oban… Ate, drank, drank, ate, curled up for a movie on my Samsung Tablet, and generally found any excuse to stay out of the weather and stay indoors!!!  Some of my roommates had tried to go to the castle as well, and they succeeded!!!  Brave couple!!  However they didn’t really get to see anything at all since the mist was all around and the castles were closed… LOL!!  Poor things!!  They really looked wrecked when they came back!!  But I’m sure they still had a great time being adventuresome!!

On to Glasgow

Back to United Kingdom

 

Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye is absolutely breathtaking!!  Turn after turn it’s just filled with so many beautiful wonders of nature that it’s almost just too much to take!!  I’m so glad that I had the chance to get there!!  The tour itself was so-so, but what it lacked was made up by the beautiful surroundings.  But I’m getting a tad ahead of myself…

I’ve already mentioned that I booked my ticket at the tourist info center in Inverness.  When asking the employee at the desk about this specific tour, a 12 hour tour by WOW Scotland that cost almost 70 pounds (about $118 US), she seemed very hesitant to say anything about it… It was really kind of odd.  I wasn’t sure if it was just her or if she  just didn’t want to say anything negative about the tour.  So because of her hesitation, I hesitated too.  Then she went on to explain that she had never been on this particular tour from WOW Scotland so she couldn’t say too much about it one way or another aside what was advertised on the brochure.  But she had taken others that she enjoyed from WOW Scotland (though again she wasn’t very enthusiastic in her descriptions).  Against all the other tours of the Isle of Skye, it covered much more of the Isle and seemed to take us to more places.  And the tour itself was longer than any of the others…

My largest concern though was that we would simply be in the bus all day being carted from one site to the next, only let out for little breaks and to snap some shots.  I wanted to be able to spend some amount of time at each place.  And though there were numerous stops listed on the itinerary, I figured “heck, we have 12 hours and the Isle isn’t all that big.  I’m sure we will get some good time at each place!”.  So despite the lack of salesmanship by the tourist office employee, I talked myself into buying the tour.  Later I went on TripAdvisor and was further assured by my decision to book the tour because of the 5 star rating the tour had received.  Fast forward to the day of the tour…

All started off well, we were picked up in front of the tourist info center (nice central and easy location!!) in a mini bus that was quite comfortable and suited for our needs.  There were about 20 of us in total.  Though he didn’t show up in a kilt (a comment that a fellow tour-goer made later in the day that she was kind of hoping to see since we were on a Scottish tour) our guide was a local, was friendly and humorous and all.  He was knowledgeable and had stories to tell about each area…

But here is the kicker… Perhaps it was simply that the tour was as long as it was.  Or because of “the event” that happened later in the tour that sort of unfortunately out-shown the rest of the tour (for the better in my book, lol!!).  Or perhaps though funny and witty the guide wasn’t THAT memorable in the way he presented the info.  Or perhaps the pure natural beauty of the Island simply made everything else about the trip null and void in my mind… I simply just don’t know… But what I’m getting at here is that again, while our guide did have lots of history and stories to tell, I can’t recall a single one of them aside from a little disturbing statistic about Loch Ness and that the leopard man lives on the Isle of Skye…

No, I wasn’t drunk… I wasn’t hung over… I was completely present and alert and aware and listening just as I had on every tour prior (and all those after) yet I just can’t recall any of the stories he told.

And honestly I was a bit disappointed by the amount of time that we were allotted at each spot.  The original itinerary only allotted on average 15 minutes at each place, except for our lunch spot- 1/2 hour- then we were supposed to have an hour in one of the little towns.  Mind you, the brochure never mentioned how much time would be spent in each place so it was unknown at the time of booking.  Personally I would have given the little town less time since we weren’t there for a town!!  We were there for the sights!!!  We didn’t even get out of the van to walk around or near Loch Ness!!  We simply drove by it and had to take pictures out of the van window!!  That was kinda disappointing!!  But luckily or unluckily, as fate would have it we ended up having almost 3 hours in one of our locations… More on “the event” in a bit!

I know I’m going back and forth on how the tour actually was… Sorry for that!  But I guess if I had to be pinned down I would say yes, the tour was worth it if only for the sights of the Isle of Skye alone.  And having basically a chauffeur to take us around was quite nice (until “the event”).  Had it not been for the sights and being chauffeured around, well I wouldn’t say I would have been that crazy about it.

Oh, but for anybody planning on doing the trip, one word of advice: eat your lunch IN the van!!!!  Don’t wait for the break!!!  The only reason I say this is because you may otherwise be sharing your lunch with the midges!!  Or rather will also be eating the midges as part of your lunch!  Not to mention, if you eat at the lunch spot you will get less time to walk around!

Midges… for those who don’t know they are itty bitty teeny tiny little gnat like flies that come in swarms and will bite the absolute life out of you!  Before I went to Scotland I was warned about them but had never encountered them until the Isle of Skye.  Though they thankfully never actually bit me, they were so darn annoying!!!  They would swarm all around your head and mouth and body and hands and basically anywhere where skin was exposed just buzzing!!  So needless to say, as I tried to eat my sandwich they swarmed all around it and me and I ended up eating more midges I think than sandwich!  Needless to say about half way through I lost my appetite… So yes, eat your lunch ON The van!!!

The sights included: Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, Hairy Coos, Eilean Donan Castle, Strath Bran & Strath Carron, Slighachan, Faerie Glen, Quiraing (sight of “the event”), Kilt Rock, Trotternish Ridge & the Old Man of Storr, and finally Portree.

Yes, as mentioned before quite a bit was covered so perhaps I should have expected just a few minutes at each place and should stop complaining about the lack of time spent at each location…  Not to mention, the majority of tourists really aren’t into walking around much or hiking on tours.  Most are happier being taken around so they can snap their shots and say they’ve been there (not me obviously).  It’s unfair to expect everyone’s needs to be met so perhaps I shouldn’t take it out as a fault of the tour so much…

In any event, enjoy the pictures of each place and a story of “the event” via the below links:)  Oh one last little bit about the Isle of Skye in general: it was the first place where Gaelic became basically the prominent language.  Road signs turned to Gaelic only (some also had the original or “English” names as well)!!  And about 8% of the population of the Isle of Skye still speak Gaelic today!

Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle & Hairy Coos

Eilean Donan Castle, Slighachan & Faerie Glen

Quiraing (site of “the event”)

Kilt Rock, Trotternish Ridge, the Old Man of Storr & Portree

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