Category Archives: Thailand

Ko Samui to Ko Lanta – a typically random Thai journey

Getting to Ko Lanta from Ko Samui was never going to be straight forward. The journey was to take me right across Thailand by way of the able awful catamaran I had staggered of off a few days earlier, two buses, two minibuses and two ferry journeys. Even as I set off I was thinking that such a journey in one day was a little ambitious.

I bought my ticket though my accommodation. I probably paid over the odds but to me it seemed cheap, and the promise was that I was sorted all the way to Ko Lanta.

Getting off of Samui

This party was easy,which was lucky as I’m a bit dopey in the morning.

I woke at 6am to be picked up by a coach at 7am and taken to the dock. Having swallowed sea sickness tablets I was mildy confident of not heaving up but the sea looked a little choppy. Despite this the journey was nothing like my first a few days earlier and I arrived at Surat Thani by 11am

Surat Thani to Krabi 

I was shown to a reasonably decent coach not long after arriving at Surat Thani. This coach departed in short order but took me to a random bit of pavement somewhere or other where I was ejected along with a small group of travellers and a huge bag of cuddly toys.

You really do have to just relax and let things happen in South East Asia. Just typing this makes me realise how weird the system can be. If you bought a bus ticket in the UK and after only 10 minutes you were ejected onto the pavement and told to wait for some other coach to collect you at some point in the next hour or you would be far from pleased. But in Thailand this is normal, and it does no good to fret. So I sat on my rucksack and made some new friends (the travelers, not the cuddly toys).

After a short while a decrepit old coach arrived and we once again began loading suitcases into the hold, which was as usual too small. So most of the cases went on the back seats and on the floor down the aisle. When I boarded I realised that my relaxed approach hadn’t done us any favours as I ended up standing in the aisle….for the whole 2 hour journey. During the journey a Thai man clambered over the cases in the aisle to attach coloured stickers to the tourists on board.

My vantage point for the 2 hour standing bus journey

During this hair raising 2 hours the bus stopped to collect a couple of local people. We also stopped to discard some huge packages into a road somewhere. As we drove away from these parcels people were appearing and poking and prodding them. Again, totally random, unless you are Thai.

Eventually the coach pulled into a dusty yard and all of the tourists were once again ejected. Depending on what sticker we were wearing we were told we would have varying amounts of time to wait before being collected.

I found out later that this was the outskirts of Krabi.

Krabi to the Ko Lanta Ferry

I was told I would need to wait for 1 hour, but 10 minutes later I was being bundled into the back of a pick up truck with 5 others and taken to a tour operator’s office close by in Krabi. I transpired we were all destined for Ko Lanta and once we reached the tour office we were again told we were to wait. As a group we took the chance to grab a bite to eat and to get to know each other. Crazy journeys like this do bring people together it seems.

After an hour or so a mini van appeared. It had tinted windows and a little too much chrome – as do most minivans in Thailand. We bundled into it, again with cases on seats and the floor and set off to make the ferry crossings which would eventually get us to Ko Lanta.

The Ko Lanta Ferries – Any Excuse for Race

This was where the journey became slightly terrifying. We guessed that we were behind schedule and may miss the ferry. This was the best explanation I could find for the absolutely insane driving. During the journey I chatted to my fellow passengers but it was very hard to concentrate due to the overtaking on corners, hard breaking and fast cornering being expertly performed by our non-communicating driver. Again random locals climbed in during hurried roadside stops and after 30 minutes or so we reached the first ferry in time for sunset.

Sun set from the Ko Lanta ferry

One fellow passenger, a Swede, had made the journey in 2009 and told us that when crossing the island between the first and second ferry drivers race as the second ferry is smaller. So again we had to hang on for dear life during a white knuckle journey complete with some insane overtaking by our driver. We made it to the second ferry just in time and took the final space on board.

Eventually, some 13 hours after departure I arrived at my resort at Hat Khlong Nin beach, Ko Lanta.

My Thoughts on the Journey

I find these kind of journeys fun, but many wouldn’t. They are often frustrating, sometimes dangerous and they can take a very long time.

It seems that flights from Sumui over to the Western coast are fairly reasonable. Or you could break the overland journey up into two days maybe.

But one thing is for sure. The overland journey can give you some great memories and an amusing story to tell your friends.

I have to admit to enjoying the surreal and often terrifying overland journeys in Thailand. This one was particularly fun.

However this would not be for everybody. If you are new to Thai adventures like this it can be stressful, tiring and it is a great way to wast a whole day.

Bare in mind that you can fly from Ko Samui to Krabi for around £60 too.

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My Ten Favourite Things About South East Asia

South East Asia is mad. It’s also very diverse. It can be ugly. It can be challenging. But I love it.  Here are my ten favourite things I have encountered whilst travelling around South East Asia. Have a read, and let me know yours.

Thai Minibuses of Doom

If you have ever travelled around Thailand in an economical fashion you have probably sat in one of these. You have also probably clenched your buttocks in fear and held on for dear life. And you have probably scratched your head in confusion as you were dumped at the road side and told to wait in the middle of nowhere for no clear reason.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, it is probably best that you can recognise these vehicles. They tend to look something like this. With varying amounts of chrome accessories.

Thai Minibus

I have no idea how the whole system of Thai minibuses work. Without doubt they are vital. They are used by backpacker and locals alike and they seem to ply every possible route. There is no evidence of a timetable and they seem to set off once they are full. And when I say full, I mean stuffed to the ceiling with people, bags and whatever goods the locals want to transport.

That’s me below with the ginger facial hair. And those two guys had never met until the point when they realised that they had to share a seat for an uncomfortable few hours. It was a big seat, stretching the width of the minibus. But, in Thailand the back seat is always used for storing rucksacks and boxes of mysterious Thai cargo. The driver excavated that little alcove for them to climb into.

Inside a typical Thai Minibus

You will find one of these things very easily. Somebody will happily tell you which bus is the one for you, and the owner, who will look and behave like an Automobile Pimp, will happily sell you a ticket.

Some time later, when you depart at the speed of light, you may well think your next stop will be your destination. But not necessarily.

During more than half of my Thai Minibus adventures I have been dropped off in some random dusty location and told to wait along with most of the other equally confused passengers. The parting shot of the driver is to slap a coloured sticker on the clothing of the passengers who are being ejected. Then he will speed off.

Everybody looks at each other and gradually they start to discuss the situation. Eventually somebody goes to ask the only person around, the man selling ice creams, and he says to wait. Because he knows how the system works.

At some point later, another minibus will appear and collect whoever is wearing a particular colour sticker. This minibus may well not really have enough room, which is what happened to the two guys up there.

The minibus drivers are clearly on a bonus of some sort to arrive on time.  I once had to counsel a Scottish chap who had sat in the front passenger seat of one of these things. His eyes were unblinkingly glued on the road, aside from frantic glances at the speedometer.

But despite all of this, I have always arrived safely and only a little shaken, dehydrated and hungry. And with hindsight each trip has been enjoyable in it’s own special way.

Pad Thai

Oh wow! I already loved Pad Thai, the national dish of Thailand, long before I first set foot in The Land of Smiles. But when I first tucked into a genuine Pad Thai, in 2010 in a dark and dingy Thai alleyway, I knew I had found my perfect food.

Chewy noodles, fish sauce, egg, crunchy crushed nuts, tofu, bean shoots, tamarind, garlic and few other ingredients come together in perfect union with a squeeze of lime. and some meat or prawns.  This one here is wrapped in a clever egg omelette net.

Pad Thai

It is cheap, incredibly satisfying and available absolutely everywhere in Thailand. Make sure you try it when you get there.

Temples in Cambodia

The Temples of Angkor, the only remaining remnant of a once great empire, is the very reason I first set foot in South East Asia. The awe inspiring photographs of Angkors Wat and Thom had been calling to me for many years.

To stand and behold the behemoth that is Angkor Wat is enough to make you question whether humans have actually moved forward in the past 900 years. Angkor Wat was and still is the largest religious building in the world.

Angkor Wat

When the French “rediscovered” Angkor in the mid 19th Century the French Explorer Henri Mouhot was taken to say…

 “At Ongcor, there are …ruins of such grandeur… that, at the first view, one is filled with profound admiration, and cannot but ask what has become of this powerful race, so civilized, so enlightened, the authors of these gigantic works?”

In fact they were so sure that the Cambodians of the 19th century could not be descended from the builders of this astonishing city that they toyed with the idea that the Egyptians must have been responsible. Which probably prompted a knowing Cambodian farmer to smugly mutter…

“Good work Frenchy!”

Angkor Wat is the biggest single temple at Angkor, but for me it is in fact not the best. For starters it is intact, having actually remained in use over the centuries. I prefer my temples to be crumbled. But Angkor has many other temples, many of which were lost to the jungle for many centuries. Some retain this mysterious lost atmosphere, and for me there is not much I like more than clambering over the moss covered ruins of the temples Ta Prohm and Beng Mealea. Or gazing in wonder at the amazing detail of Banteay Samre.

Beng Mealea in Cambodia

It takes time to tour these astounding monuments Not least because the daytime heat in Cambodia is very draining. I would recommend 3 days if you are visiting. And prepare to be blown away.

Mango Lassi

Talking of the heat, nothing pleases me more when I am hot and tired than a cold, refreshing Mango Lassi.

Mango Lassi

Vietnamese Tourist Tax

Any well travelled person will agree that extracting lots of money from tourist is a trade that crosses all international borders. I’ve been ripped off and guilt tripped in most countries, but the worst and in turn most entertaining is Vietnam.

In the defence of Vietnam, when I visited I was pretty naive. But they knew it and tried to milk me dry. Just to be clear, you can find a list of some of the Vietnamese scams here.

Having read that I came off lightly actually . But I still paid for a first class train ticket and ended up in a really nasty bunk. And I paid for a wonderful tour from Ho Chi Minh City to Cambodia and got not much in return. And every single shop, which is a lot as every house seems to be a shop in Vietnam, does not show prices. You can almost see the shopkeeper’s eyes brighten as they think about what price they can get away with,

But I still loved Vietnam. I would go back, though a quick Google search suggests many don’t.

The Horn of Corn

“The what?” I hear you ask. Well, that is in fact the name I gave to a tasty Thai snack because I can’t read the packaging. They look like this.

The Horn of Corn

These crunchy corn snacks have seen me through many a tiring journey. They are so bloody morish that I have to eat a whole bag, and they only seem to come in big bags. Even better, I discovered that the Thai shop close to my home town in the UK imports them! Woohooooo!

Smiles

The people of South East Asia really do know how to smile. They don’t smile all the time of course. That would be weird, and probably annoying. But they just seem to have a happy outlook on life. Even these kids who live in the middle of nowhere in Cambodia at a brick kiln.

Battambang Kids

Dodgy Counterfeit Gear

It’s everywhere in South East Asia. Most notably, at least as far as I can tell, in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. And the shopkeeper will swear blind that the $5 pair of Oakley Sunglasses (negotiated down to 3$ of course) are completely genuine.

The whole situation left me in a bit of a quandary. If I was planning on bringing a load back to flog on eBay I would be a crook. But I just wanted a cheap rucksack, and the “North Face” offering seemed to tick all the boxes.

My North Face bag

And the “Ray Bans” were only cheap but they did a job. I’m not so sure about the “Tag Heur” watch though – it can’t always be 6.30!

Tuk Tuks

Yep. Those three wheeled things that are nothing but a novelty in the west – they seem to stitch the very fabric of the rest of the world together. I’ve ridden them in Asia, South America and I even saw one in Morocco.

They come in many guises, from the slow relaxing variant in Cambodia to the crazy, mental version that tears up the streets of Bangkok.

A typical Bangkok Tuk Tuk

They are most famous in Thailand I would say. Putting the terrible traffic congestion aside, a Tuk Tuk is a very quick way to get around Bangkok. The drivers can weave them in and out of traffic with great skill, and seem to take great delight in extracting screams and whoops of joy from their passengers.

The drivers also like to drive a hard bargain. They could teach the Vietnamese a thing or two, but I always seem to reach an agreeable price. Oh, and don’t forgot to tell them you are not interested in their brother’s suit store or their friend’s shop.

Beaches

I’ve saved the very best until last. South East Asia has lots of incredible beaches. Some of my most relaxing times have been spent on Ko Lanta in Thailand and on the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia.

But finding a good beach that suits your requirements is not easy. I like a quiet sandy beach with good swimming, low key infrastructure and plenty of Mango Lassis.

A Beach on Ko Lanta

That up there is a great little beach on Ko Lanta in Thailand. Note the clean sand, calm waters, forest back drop, and of course the dodgy North Face bag. And when I was dropped off by boat at this beach on the Perhantian Islands in Malaysia I knew I had found my kind of beach.

Perhentian Islands in Malaysia

So, what about you?

This is my top ten, but you most certainly will disagree. So what do you love about South East Asia? Add a comment, or a Tweet, or even a Facebook comment and let me know.

The Ultimate Act of Kindness – Find it Via Your Local Airport

I was talking recently with my wife and travel partner. I can’t remember how we got on to the subject but we were talking about acts of kindness. The conversation reached a slightly depressing conclusion, but intrigued I stoked up the same conversation at my workplace a couple of days later.

The conclusion we all reached, is that, rather sadly, most acts of kindness are in fact transactions of a sort. The kindness is given but something is expected in return. Be it love, appreciation, loyalty etc. I’ll give you an example.

A man gives his friend £100 because the friend is in a bit of fix. If 2 weeks later this friend had extricated himself from the fix and then won a holiday for two, but invited a different friend to join him, it is fair to say that the kind man would be rather miffed. And £100 lighter.

Probably without really realising it, the man, now really wanting his £100 back, expected an upgraded level of friendship in return for his kindess.

You can apply this type of logic to almost any act of kindness when the two parties know each other.

In the end, after much toing and froing, my wife and my colleagues all conceded that the purest act of kindness is between two people who do not know each other and will never see each other again.

The homeless person in the big city. The anonymous donation maybe. But certainly not between friends and family.

Now this is actually a rather depressing thing to be thinking about, but then I realised that by far the best place to find pure unadulterated kindness is at the other end of an aeroplane flight.

Prove It!

I’m not sure I can, but I’ll try,

When I got off of a night train at Da Nang station in Vietnam I was concerned with one thing and one thing only. Finding a taxi to Hoi An so I could get some sleep. Sadly the arrival of a train is like a honey pot to bees when it comes to taxi drivers. A few would be handy, but in Vietnam they can be wating en mass.

So bleary eyed, I staggered towards the crowd of excitable taxi drivers, all beckoning me with great enthusiasm. Then a man appeared next to me speaking pretty good English.

“Where you from?” he asked.

“England” I responded, blinking in the harsh sunlight and wondering where my sunglasses were.

“How long you staying?” he enquired.

“Three days” I replied. “Or maybe four.”

The man touched my arm in a way that encouraged me to stop. I looked down at him for the first time. His face was one of concern. “You should buy your ticket for your next train now. There is a festival and tickets will sell out. Come with me. I will help you.” He turned expecting me to follow.

Yeah yeah I thought. I may be a newcomer to this travelling lark but I know all about that type of scam.

“No it’s fine” I responded confidently, setting off towards the baying crowd of drivers once more.

“No really” he shouted after me. “You will not get a ticket tomorrow. You must buy now. Come.” He was probably beckoning me with great vigour but I wasn’t looking back and I certainly wasn’t falling for his skullduggery.

I fell into the crowd of taxi drivers and before I knew what was happening my bag was slung into a taxi and I was on my way to Hoi An. I felt pleased with myself for making short shrift of the trickster. But of course you can see where this is going.

I arrived at my hotel and the first thing they asked me is if I had bought my onward ticket for the train. When I answered they looked concerned and told me about the festival. A boy was sent to the station to buy a ticket and I paid a premium for it.

I never saw the man again, which was lucky as he probably would have pointed and laughed. But was his act an attempt at pure kindness? Probably not. He most likely hoped that I would pay him for his assistance. I will never know for sure.

I Said Prove It!

I’m trying…

What about the young student who offered to show us the best photographic opportunities in Banteay Kdei temple in Cambodia. He was so helpful and courteous, showing us how to capture the light just right and where to stand. Then he hounded us for payment and no amount was enough. Grrr.

Or the Argentinian man who tried to help me wipe ketchup from my shirt. He worked so hard as he dabbed at the stain. He even happened to have a cloth and a bottle of water in his hand at the time. Sadly he didn’t see who stole my camera. (This didn’t really happen…though it often does)

You’re Running Out Of Time. I’m Getting Bored

Hang on….I think I’ve got it!

We were on our way to Ko Samet in Thailand. Our crazy Thai Minibus of Doom from the Cambodian border had somehow conspired to deliver us to the edge of a main road miles from anywhere. As we stepped off I looked back at the driver with a look that said where the hell am I?

He pointed down the road the behind us. “Walk” he shouted. And then he was gone, in a way that only Thai Minibuses of Doom can be gone.

Think twice before getting in one of these!

We set off, heavy rucksacks weighing us down in the early afternoon heat. The road was long. We could tell this because it was straight and flat and the end was hidden somewhere in the middle of a heat haze. Then we heard the most welcome of sounds, the rattling popping engine of a Thai tuk tuk.

We hailed it vigorously but then realised it wasn’t like the tuk tuks we had been using in Bangkok. This was a tuk tuk designed for carrying goods. Judging by the contents of it’s floor it usually carried vegetables.

Nevertheless the driver, an elderly Thai man with kind eyes, stopped and insisted we jump in. It was a squeeze but we managed to get “comfortable” and he set off. First of all he swung by his house to get his motorbike helmet. This was confusing. Maybe there is a law in Thailand that says you can ride helmetless if carrying vegetables, but you must don the head protection when carrying backpackers.

But anyway, within 5 minutes we were at the dock in Ban Phe. The man jumped from his seat and helped us out, even assisting me as I hauled by backpack onto my back. I reached for my wallet and removed a sum of money that seemed a little more than suitable, but as I turned to give it to him I saw that he was already sat astride his tuk tuk and was pulling away.

“Stop” I shouted, breaking into a run which made Bambi look surefooted. But he waved dismissively, still smiling at me with his kind eyes as he drove away.

“Please stop” I whimpered pathetically. Then I stood and watched him ride away into the distance. I was confused. I felt like I had cheated the poor guy. I was almost worried that people may have seen me not paying him.

And then it dawned on me. That was pure unadulterated kindness, all bundled up in the form of a smiling happy Thai man. Nice.

Cool Story Bro’. What are you trying to say though?

I guess that what I am getting at is that travelling delivers the most extreme high. The unbridled happiness, the awe inspiring vista, the jaw-droppingly tasty and cheap food, the most special of late night conversations with like minded nomads.

And it also delivers the most testing of lows, which make the highs all the more amazing.

For me, on that steaming hot day in 2012 I eventually came to realise that the Thai man was possibly the kindest person I have ever met. It made me happy.