Tag Archives: snorkeling

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

Advertisements

The Beauty of Ko Lipe

Getting to this beautiful and teeny little island in the Andaman Sea was quite treacherous at some points, but very much well worth the trip!!

Really I should (or rather could) simply blame the travel treachery on the fact that I was traveling during low season.  There’s a reason why it’s low season!  Simply stated the seas are unpredictable.  In high season it is relatively easy (due to calm waters) and cheaper to get from island to island via a longtail taxi boat or other ferry boats, however once again because of low season the options were limited.

I left Ko Muk (Mook) easily on the morning ferry (which seemed to not only haul a couple of tourists but also local commuters to the mainland and bundles of rubber ready to be processed into final products) for the mainland where I was met by a mini bus.  Several very rainy hours later, we came upon a stop where I was told to exit the mini bus.  The name of the town, I can’t at this point recall, but it was a good 20 minute motorbike ride to the Pak Bara pier for Ko Lipe.

100 baht and 20-ish minutes later and I was at a teeny tour place near the pier buying my roundtrip (open return!) ticket for Ko Lipe.  As I waited for the powerboat, I encountered my first and only unsettling experience as a solo traveler.  Ladies, if you are traveling solo (or even with people!) to or from this pier, beware of the very large (literally) local.  He’s on the younger side, but you can’t miss which one he is because he really is quite obese.  When I first arrived I thought he was part of the working crew at the pier, but after observing him for a bit, I figured out he wasn’t.  What made him unsettling was he kept trying to get VERY close to me and other female tourists.  He would sit next to you on a bench, then try to shake your hand, then try to hug you, and even tried to lean in to kiss you!

What was more suspicious of his behavior as I watched, was that he would first look around as he tried to sit with a female, and if he didn’t spot any actual workers or security guards, he would sit.  But if he did (even when halfway down) he would immediately jump up and walk away.  With me, he did get as far as sitting next to me and trying for a hug to which I immediately put a very harsh stop to his behavior.  He left me alone for the remainder of my wait, but when coming back to the pier on my way back Ko Lipe, he was there again up to the same antics!  Beware female travelers!

Now the only other unpleasant portion of getting to Ko Lipe was the powerboat ride itself.  Again, it was because of the unpredictable low season seas, but if you are one who gets sea sick easily, I recommend to travel only when the seas are calm!!  The ride was only a couple of hours long but they were very bumpy, and at some points a bit unnerving as the powerboat launched skyward and then slammed down onto an oncoming wave.  Just about everyone on the boat (except the locals chilling all their way in the back smoking away) lost their lunch, and some even lost their breakfast, and perhaps even the meals from the day before!  Yes, it was THAT rough!  I almost lost it at one point smelling all the vomit surrounding me, but thankfully I didn’t… But I won’t share what I kept saying to myself in order to prevent myself from getting sick because it may make some readers lose their lunches just reading it, lol!

When we arrived to Ko Lipe, the seas were calm (protected by beautifully lush surrounding islands) as we disembarked on a floating dock and switched to a longtail taxi boat for the 2 minute transfer to the island.  Once again, I didn’t have a room booked anywhere, so once on land I started my usual walk around to try to find a place.  We were dropped off by the longtail boats on Sunrise beach (beautiful beach along the East side of the island) and it wasn’t until I made it to Pattaya beach along the South side of the island that I was able to find a place.

Again, because of low season, many of the places along Sunrise beach were closed.  In fact, even walking along the walking street in the middle of the day, the island felt relatively deserted, giving the place a slightly spooky feel to it.  As I wandered along Pattaya beach with my backpack and sweating my rear off (despite the cloud cover) I finally spotted a little sign for The Seaside Resort.  For 500 baht a night, I got my own bungalow with a bathroom and lovely porch, only about a 30 second walk from the stunning beach.  The people were very friendly (though they didn’t speak a ton of English) and accommodating for my week stay there.

While at first I wasn’t entirely convinced I liked Ko Lipe (due to the initial spooky vibe I got), after my first full day there I was in love with the place and honestly would never want to go there during high season just because I grew to adore how quiet it was and couldn’t imagine it stuffed to the gills with tourists.

Though it is a teeny island, there was plenty of walking and hiking trails to various areas of the island and the snorkeling on Pattaya beach was stunning!!  I spent hours for days on end watching clown fish nestling against sea anemones (the first in nature I’d ever seen!!  I’d seen plenty of anemones, but never the clown fish with them!!); sea urchins and sea cucumbers chilling on the ocean floor; puffer fish swimming by; angel fish, damsels of all kinds, corals, clams, you name it, they pretty much had it!  I was so enamored with the variety of tropical life just off the shore!  And while there were several times I wished I had a waterproof camera, part of me is thankful that I was actually present for the experience instead of being fussed by getting the perfect shot and looking constantly through a lens.

Seriously, while Ko Lipe does have a couple of shortcomings (revealed in Ko Lipe Trash Hero!) it is NOT an island of Thailand to miss!!

On to Koh Lipe Trash Hero!

Back to Thailand

Hangover to Koh Ngai (Hai)

The time had come to leave Ko Lanta (Lantaaaah) and do some more Thai island hopping.  Ko Ngai, pronounced “Hai” was the next destination.  Up until this point in our travels together, Anna and I would enjoy drinking nightly and so far had been very tame about it.  No hangovers, no overdoing it, we had been behaving!  A couple of days before we left Ko Lanta, there was a Buddhist holiday for 2 days where booze were not allowed to be sold in any stores.  You could still get them in restaurants however, but in honor of the holiday, we decided to abstain ourselves.

However… The night before we left Ko Lanta, which was no longer one of the holiday days, we went a teeny bit overboard.  I guess you could say we were making up for lost time!  We were due to leave the next morning at 8am for a taxi boat… And we ended up staying up the night before drinking until about 2am, then chatting away until about 4am.  Or maybe it was 5… So needless to say, when the alarm went off at an ungodly hour of the morning (7ish) we were not happy campers!!  The only good thing that we did do was pack our things before falling asleep, so all that was really necessary was to drag our rears to the front office with all our things and wait for the taxi.

While we did manage to make the taxi relatively on time, it was just painful to be awake at all!  I wasn’t so hung over from the booze as I was just grumpy and not feeling well due to lack of sleep.  After a very long delay in picking up more people from other hotels, we made it to the taxi boat and headed out.  All morning it had been sunny, but about 10 minutes into our boat ride it began pouring rain!  The poor taxi boat driver looked miserable in the back getting soaking wet!!  Yet somehow he was still able to light and smoke a cigarette…

Moving on, we made it to Ko Ngai (Hai) probably 40 minutes later.  The taxi boat driver ran us onshore and Anna and I got off.  As it turned out, all the other people on the taxi boat were on an island hopping snorkeling tour, so they were heading to a different island first.  Made me wonder how good the snorkeling would be with all the rain around, but I digress.

We were dropped off on the shore of a cheap place (our request of course) and got settled into one of the bungalows.  Well, it really wasn’t that simple.  Anna and I were both still exhausted and grumpy to ridiculous levels.  We barely spoke to each other all morning, neither of us wanted to make any decisions, everything seemed ugly and miserable.  Everything was annoying.  Everything sucked.  We were just plain out of ourselves.  So at first we had turned down the “horrible” cheap bungalows and tried to go elsewhere but were stopped shortly after leaving by an english speaking local who said that every other hotel/bungalow (literally) on the island was MUCH more expensive… I’m talking into the thousands per night!  So really it was (at first) with GREAT reluctance that we settled into the Koh Ngai Villa.

Food was the next agenda item.  Neither of us was really hungry, but we knew it had to be done.  We wandered next door to another hotel where they served food and ordered.  I found a teeny roach in my soup, and honestly would normally not have said anything (it’s just one of those things you get used to picking out and setting aside when traveling) but because I was so darn grumpy still, I pointed out the little critter to the staff.  Mind you, I still continued eating the soup because, well why not?  And I wasn’t expecting anything to come out of it, I just wanted to let them know about it.  But when the bill came, they said they wouldn’t charge me for the dish (though I tried to pay still) and that they had decided to close down for the rest of the low season because they felt like they were “losing face”… I felt absolutely a million times worse after hearing that for even pointing out the bug!!  It broke my heart!  But certainly they will be back up and running again in time for high season.

It wasn’t until the next morning, when we woke up sober and well rested that we really realized what an absolutely beautiful little island we were on!  The water was clear and warm, and had this gentle current that ran parallel to the shore where you could literally swim in it and not actually go anywhere!  Great exercise!!  The beaches were white and clean and the beach dogs were all so very friendly.  It was quiet and serene and every evening the tide would go out so far that you could walk all the way to the Southern tip of the island to watch the sunsets.  We even ended up really liking our bungalow and “princess bed” at the Koh Ngai Villa!  It’s amazing how your view can shift so easily when you aren’t really yourself!  In any event, I would recommend this island for a visit, though I would also recommend showing up for it sober;)

On to Koh Muk (Mook)

Back to Thailand

Monkey Beach Adventure

After having kayaked to Ko Nangyuan on Koh Tao, Anna and I were hooked and made a pact of sorts to make sure and do it again!  Ko Phi Phi Don provided yet another fantastic opportunity to do so.  On our second or third day there, we got up bright and early (around 10am-ish?) and headed out for food and coffee to quench our slightly hung over bodies.  It was probably about noon or one by the time we made it to Lo Dalam beach to rent a kayak so we could paddle our way to Monkey Beach.

As soon as we stepped foot on Lo Dalam we were approached about renting kayaks by a local shop worker.  The price for the day was 600 baht.  This price wasn’t out of the realm of what we were expecting to pay, but being the bargain seekers we were, we tried a couple more places first.  The third place we stopped by was the winner.  The woman (whom I’d guess to be the boss) had that feisty vibe that reminded me of Mol from Mol’s beach bar on Hin Wong Bay (Ko Tao).  We asked her how much the kayaks were, and she said “200 baht per hour”.  We replied that we wanted to rent one for the day, to which she gave us a quizzical look, checked her watch, looked back at us and said “for the day??”.  Lol!  We had to laugh and give that one to her!  I’m sure most people renting kayaks for the day would have in fact rented them in the morning, but alas there we were mid-day.  She gave us the kayak for the bargain price of 400 baht and away we went.

The crystal clear water of Lo Dalam bay was so calm and almost lake-like that the paddle just around the corner to Monkey Beach took very little effort and time.  Once there, the only thing to really watch out for was the boat traffic!  Dozens upon dozens of tour speedboats were coming and going with numerous tourists aboard, all coming for the snorkeling and monkeys.  A quiet beach this was not!!  The snorkeling was also ok, but not the best of the bunch really.  The monkeys of course were adorable and lovely and amazingly patient as tourist after tourist shoved their phones and iPads toward them on selfie sticks.

After several hours of literally baking in the sun, we decided to try to get to yet another beach that was located across the Lo Dalam bay.  We skirted around tour boats and out into the open sea we went!  While the sea looked to be quiet and calm from our perspective on Monkey Beach, it wasn’t quite the correct story once we were actually out there…  Lets just say that Anna started to feel a little sea-sick and we both started to question whether it was really smart of us to continue on.

We opted for the “Safety first” route after making it probably 3/4 of the way.  But seeing how the waves were crashing violently against the cliffs ahead and not wanting to potentially be part of those waves doing so, we headed back toward the sanctuary of the bay waters.  We didn’t quite make it until sunset on the kayaks, but instead simply went to the Sunset bar for drinks to toast the setting sun. 🙂  Anna took a picture of a kayak in the sunset (while we sat comfortably drinking) and we pretended that was us in spirit. 🙂

On to Ko Lantaaaah

Back to Thailand

The Quiet Sides of Phi Phi

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

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

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

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

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

On to Monkey Beach Adventure

Back to Thailand

Ao Luek & Chalok Bay

On the south side of Koh Tao, the beautiful beach of Ao Luek and the quiet hippy town of Chalok can be found.  I hadn’t spent a great deal of time on this part of the island during my stay on Koh Tao mainly because it was “so far away”.  I put that in quotes of course because Koh Tao is only 21 square Km (21mm- inside joke!) so really, not getting to that part of the island simply came down to laziness and being cheap!  However, if ever on Koh Tao I would NOT miss going to Chalok and Ao Luek!!

Ao Luek features stunning crystal clear waters with unbelievable snorkeling visibility, several delicious and reasonably priced restaurants, and is one of the hotspots to check out for potential shark spotting!  A baby whale shark made an appearance there one morning and several other fellow snorkelers mentioned spotting many other baby shark species (all harmless!!).

Chalok bay has an amazingly calm and quiet hippy vibe that is a breath of fresh air compared to the party atmosphere of Sairee.  Freedom beach, at the tail end of the bay is a nice spot to chill out with an easily accessible walkway along the rocks of the ocean that leads back to the quiet and serene bay.  Best of all, the New Heaven Dive School (located in the heart of the bay) offers marine conservation projects.  Every day at 4pm they allow random passing volunteers to engage in the daily activity of treating and feeding injured sea turtles!!  The turtles are released (once all better) into the wild and are the only turtles I’d seen on “Turtle Island”.

Chalok bay was recommended to me by a husband and wife team who also frequented my favorite coffee shop and bakery (Through the Looking Glass) who own a bungalow rental property in the area.  It was definitely worth the visit and had my Muay Thai gym and favorite coffee shop not been located in Sairee, I could absolutely have seen myself staying in Chalok for an extended time soaking up the chilled vibes.

On to Leaving Koh Tao

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

Koh Tao Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating Bat and The View

Back to Thailand

Isola d’Elba

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

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

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

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

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

Pictures:

On to Return to Treviso

Back to Europe

Favorite things…

Again, because I lived in Puerto Viejo for an extended period of time, it’s hard to recall everything, so on this page I will simply mention my favorite things about Puerto Viejo and why I lived there for as long as I did…  The below is in no particular order..

Cabinas Garibaldi

  • Absolutely my favorite place to live!   Just down the street from Tasty Waves in Cocles beach, Cabinas Garibaldi was absolutely fantastic!!!!  I can’t say enough about this place!!!  They have short and long term rentals available and the family that owns the land and properties lives on site!  Mancho (aka Martin) is the son of the elder woman Dona Rosa who originally owned the place.  Martin along with his mom and wife take care of the property and no one messes with Martin!  He once noticed someone trying to break into one of the bungalows and he chased him down with a machete in hand!  No one since that event has tried to rob any of the places in Cabinas Garibaldi since:)  Why do I love the place so much??  Simple: private apartment with kitchen, bathroom, hot water, WiFi, across the street from beach (literally) all for about $260 a month!!!!!  The people were fantastic, my neighbors were great!  Dona Rosa even did our bed laundry weekly… just superior and super place!!!

 

Wildlife

  • Howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchins,  toucans, sloths, agouti, iguanas… Literally everywhere you looked nature was alive and beautiful around you!!  Puerto Viejo literally was the perfect blend of beach and Jungle right at your finger tips… The nature there is just so captivatingly beautiful and alive!  So splendid!

Beaches

  • Just north of Puerto Viejo was playa negra, the black beach, and as you moved into town the sand turned white all the way down the coast line to Manzanillo, the town furthest south in Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast.  The sands were wonderful and the water was always warm!!  Great snorkeling and scuba diving areas too!  Only word of warning: beware the currents as they could be quite strong!  Oh and lots of great surfing for those who enjoy either surfing or watching the hot bodies of surfers;)

Riding Bikes

  • Everything was accessible by bike or public bus!!  I never for one second missed having to drive a car anywhere!!  I loved simply riding around town, to and from work, etc on a bike!  And for those times where I needed to get out of town, public busses did the trick.

Caribe del Sol

  • Located just outside my house in Cabinas Garibaldi (aka Anna’s front yard) was the best restaurant Caribe del Sol!!  Great Italian cuisine and local casado menu!!  The floor of the place was all sand so it felt as if you were just dining on the beach with a view of the beach while not getting soaked by sea spray:)  The people were great and actually I just heard that the owner of the place married his long-time girlfriend (my friend as well) and moved to the States!  So hopefully the place is still as tasty as I recall it being!

Caribe horses

  • I spent some time riding with the Caribe horse club and loved every second of it!   You just simply can’t beat the views from horseback and the places you can get from the seat of a horse!  Great jungle and beach riding on safe and fun horses!!

Dogs, dogs and more dogs!!

  • Ah, I LOVE animals!!  So to live in a place where all animals basically were wild and free, I absolutely adored it even more!!  You see, while each dog had an owner, they were allowed to run free daily and do whatever they pleased!  Run along the beach, beg for food, run rampant on the streets, etc.  At night however, they all always seemed to simply disappear since most had an actual home where they would stay at during the night.  Or if the owners were going into town, the dogs would accompany them and chill with them in town before turning in for the night!  Each dog had their own personality and name of course, and you literally greeted them as if they were people wandering around town!  Now of course, this kind of life for dogs while great was also rough… Many did get hit by cars, damaged by other dogs, get mange attacks, etc. and they were treated as dogs, not necessarily as family members as we tend to do in the States.  So if an animal was injured, they wouldn’t necessarily be taken to the vet.  It was just part of the jungle life!

“Jungle”

  • Ok, now the following is not in any way intended to be racist, so I don’t want to hear about people complaining about it being so!  If anything didn’t work well or wasn’t quite working as it should, it was called “Jungle”… For example, the pool table in Tasty Waves was called a “jungle table” since it wasn’t quite level.  “Jungle coffee” referred to coffee made in the morning that had floating ants in it because I forgot to put the sugar away in the fridge! (First time that happened I was appalled!  Second and subsequent times I simply scooped the little buggers out and enjoyed my coffee:) Plumbing issues? “Jungle plumbing”…. you get the point!

Lazy Mon Sundays

  • I’m sure I’ve mentioned somewhere else already how every night was a different businesses night to draw in the tourists and crowds.  Well Sunday night was dedicated to the Lazy Mon hostel and restaurant almost smack “downtown” Puerto Viejo.  It is basically an open-mic night where people can come to perform.  Truth be told, it’s really more of a usual crew that come and perform for the tourists and my absolute favorite part of that show is the fire show!!!  Several men and women dancing to music while twirling various objects on fire!  Absolutely mesmerizing and was always a thrill to watch!!

A REAL community

  • People took care of each other in Puerto Viejo in a way that I hadn’t yet experienced.  People supported each other, their businesses, causes, etc.  You really couldn’t get away with much!  If you were a bad customer, didn’t pay your bill (many places allowed locals to run tabs and pay at later dates) or tabs or tried to screw someone over, everyone heard about it immediately and you would be shut out just as fast.  Of course not every society is perfect, but the people were always friendly.  People would look you in the eye and say good morning to you daily (imagine!!)!!  The sense of community there was brilliant.  You felt as part of something, and you did your part to take care of others as they did for you

Ahora…

  • “Ahora” in Spanish means “right now”… This is a very general term in Puerto Viejo and really Costa Rica in general… If you want something done or are waiting for the bus and ask “when will xyz happen?” and are told “hora”… that could be anywhere from “now” to two weeks from now… if you are told “ahora” it could be anywhere from “right now” to about a day from now… Love that relaxed nature!!

STREET MEAT!!!

  • I don’t know what the heck they do to their meat but MAN, I absolutely LOVE street meat!!!  Mind you, the street meat vendors only come out on the street as the sun starts to set because lord knows it’s way too hot to stand over a BBQ in the heat of the day, and luckily they stay open until the wee hours of the morning for all those stumbling out of the bars in search of something yummy to eat.  Basically they only sell chicken or beef on a skewer.  Sounds super simple, I know, but the spicy sauce they put on it is absolutely to die for!!  You can get it extra spicy or just regular spicy (I always got it extra spicy!!)!!  And I promise this basis of critique on the food is not because I was always drunk when eating!!  There were in fact several times that I went into town just to purchase a couple skewers of street meat spicy chicken for my dinner completely sober!!  My mouth is salivating at the very thought…

 

On to Characters in Town

Back to Puerto Viejo