Tag Archives: tourists

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

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Koh Phi Phi Don

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to Kamikaze Cockbox

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A Real Gem

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

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

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

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

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

On to Songkran 2015

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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

Back to United Kingdom

 

Back in the States

I flew back into the States from Bogota, Colombia after almost a full year of traveling between Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia.  I had spent most of my time in Costa Rica in the sleepy small Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo on the Southern Caribbean coast.  Coming back to the States was a bit of a shell shocker from a few perspectives.  First the amount of technology blaring in your face in the form of TVs was one thing I definitely noticed that took some getting used to again.  The second thing was the blinders were put back on.  You know, those blinders we tend to put on walking down the street, not saying hi to a soul unless you know them.  Not being present to the outside world while moving through it yet just keeping to your own world.  Those blinders… When first going to Costa Rica it literally shocked me that people would say good morning to me and acknowledge me as I walked down the streets.  Then I got used to doing the same to others as I went from place to place.  Then back in the States at first I kept my newly adopted persona of acknowledging people but was met with strange looks and no responses or people literally making a wider gap around me as they walked past.  So eventually the blinders went back on… Oh well…

Coming back to the States was a choice I made primarily because the bank account was starting to get a little low and because where I had been traveling in Colombia was getting too cold for my taste and the travel enthusiasm was just dwindling.  I went back to Houston to help house-sit my sisters place (and her two adorable dogs) as she was away quite often.  I got a job there as a bartender and server (a trade I picked up for the first time ever in Costa Rica) and stayed about 6 months or so.  Once my sister was back from her work obligations and I was no longer needed as a dog/house sitter, I moved to Key West, Florida.

I lived and worked in Key West for 10 months, saving all my pennies as much as possible (though of course I did have a little bit of a life too!) and then packed it all up and headed out traveling again.  This time the destination was Europe.  My time in Key West I’ll never forget.  And who knows, one day I may still return.  Though it isn’t the kind of place I could see myself living at permanently (there are no beaches on the island itself and it’s a little too much of a party town for my taste… If you don’t like to drink to oblivion on an almost daily basis there’s not much of a life to be had there really) I had so many amazing opportunities and met many people I consider life-long friends. It took a while to find some of these people, but I’m blessed that I did.

Key West really is a drinking town with a fishing problem.  It’s no wonder people get way too carried away there.  Tourists come for the party and as a person in the service industry we were there to provide it.  Mind you, we only dealt in the LEGAL party!  Though many tourists did come to Key West literally thinking they could do anything (it’s amazing, I seriously think people thought Key West was no longer part of the States and they could do whatever they wanted!!) and we were sometimes asked for drugs at my work from tourists, but they were always turned away.  Yes, Key West also has lots of drugs.  Go figure.  Until having lived in Costa Rica I never really realized how prevalent drugs really are.  Then from there on they literally seemed to be everywhere.  Sometimes I miss my rose colored glasses, but just like everything else in life, you can choose to be involved or you can choose not to be involved.  Everyone has a choice.

You know, as I type this up I can’t help but think that even though I really couldn’t wait to get out of Key West at the time (since there were a number of things I didn’t really like about it) it somehow grew on me and now I can say I have a little strange spot in my heart for the place.  Perhaps its also because I really enjoyed my job.  I know that’s an odd thing to say, but I really enjoyed bartending and serving; creating a positive vacation experience for tourists and such.  Anyway… that’s enough nostalgia for now!

So after leaving Key West, surprising my mom in Houston for her birthday, taking a trip out West to see family and friends in Arizona and New Mexico, then a trip to Mexico (Puerto Penasco aka Rocky Point) with my mom and finally seeing my Tennessee family back in Houston, it was time to hit the road again.  July 30th, 2014 I landed in Heathrow airport in London…

 

On to London

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Volcan Poas

Volcan, as you may guess, means Volcano in Spanish.  This particular volcano however was not a cone volcano, but rather a geyser.  It is apparently the largest active geyser in the world! But I’m getting ahead…

I took a bus ride to the volcano with all my gear in tow thinking there was a town nearby where I could stay for the night, and not really fully understanding that the volcano was located in a National Park… Therefore NO sleeping facilities… In any event, the ride there was almost entirely uphill and quite cloudy.  There literally were times when I had to stop watching the road and just trust that the driver knew what he was doing because it became so cloudy at times that it was hard to see more than a few feet ahead!!

We reached the National Park entrance and all tourists on the bus were asked to get off so we could pay.  All National Parks in Costa Rica cost $10.00 for tourists to enter, but if you are local it’s cheaper.  I’m not entirely sure how much cheaper, but none of the locals had to get off the bus to pay, but rather they were all counted up and paid for by the bus driver.  It was standing in the line to pay for the park where I met two fellow Americans.  One was teaching English to students in Alajuela, and the other was a retired gentleman who was going to head to Puerto Viejo after a short stay in Alajuela to potentially retire there.

Once all the payment business was over we loaded onto the bus and were dropped off in the bus parking lot…  Perhaps now is the time to bring up again that since I was thinking that I could stay the night in or at least very near the park, I had brought my backpack with me… Well, when we were all getting off the bus, since I wasn’t sure whether we were going to have the same exact bus on the way back down, I thought it best to bring my backpack with me.  But what this meant was that I was going to get a bit more exercise than I had signed up for originally, lol!!  Basically I hiked all around the park with my dang backpack cinched on me and cursing every time I had to walk uphill, lol!!

In any event, after getting off the bus I simply followed the signs and my two new friends up the trail to the volcano.  My oh my what a view…

Isn’t it just fantastic?!?!?!  Ok, now I know it doesn’t look like much, but believe it or not you are actually looking at the volcano in this picture.  Everyone looked and looked and looked around for some sign of where exactly this volcano was, but because of the low clouds, all you could see (as above) was mist.  My two friends and I hung around for a little while longer and agreed that this (the dense fog) was probably the reason we were given 3 hours to hang around the park.  Apparently dense fog is quite common at this volcano and one must be very patient if they want to actually see it.

Patience wasn’t very high on our list however, and since there were two other trails that led to a lake beside the geyser volcano, we decided to try our luck and see whether the lake was visible.  Up and up and up we hiked through dense jungle forest on teeny concrete paths until again meeting our final destination.  And can you believe it???  The lake looked exactly like the picture above!!  Nothing but dense fog!!

Once again we resolved to simply hang out for a little bit and got to chatting.  And then it happened… In mid-sentence one of my new friends gasped at the image that unfolded in front of us.  The clouds suddenly lifted revealing a beautiful green lake!

This beautiful view literally only lasted about 10 minutes and then the fog once again swept in and obscured the lake from view. Thinking perhaps to try our luck at the geyser we immediately left (all downhill thankfully) and headed back to the geyser.

The rain started to pour down on us as we went down and I even had to stop to put on my poncho before getting too soaked! Once back to our original station at the geyser, the fog once again showed no signs of lifting. But about 10 minutes later, just as it had at the lake, the fog miraculously lifted and you could see the geyser!!

Just as the mist came and went within 10 minutes at the lake, the same was true for the geyser!  We really lucked out on our timing for this trip!!

After waiting for the fog to close back over the geyser, we headed back for a snack at the cafe in the park and awaited our bus.  It was on the bus ride back that I was offered a free couch for the night at the girls place.  I accepted the generous offer and we were all dropped off in Alajuela.  The rest of the night was spent hanging out with my two new friends and the girls boyfriend.  We had a great dinner at a local soda then wandered the streets for some ice cream at a chain place called Pops.  Personally I wasn’t impressed by the ice cream there, but many people seem to enjoy it, so to each their own!

On to La Fortuna

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