Stop 3

Trip Start Jan 29, 2008
Trip End Apr 30, 2008

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Where I stayed
sukumvit on nut guesthouse

Flag of Thailand  ,
Monday, February 4, 2008

We got very lucky with the hostel we'd booked in Bangkok.  The guys there were lovely and there seemed to be two almost permanent residents who were also able to help us out.  Mark is a Welsh man living in Hong Kong on holiday.  He's got his own wood carving business there, carving celtic designs into upmarket on spec furnitire.  I've been given business cards to get him some business in Ireland!  I did warn him I'd be unemployed when I got back but he didn't seem to mind!  He lived in Thailand for two years and recommended coming south to the Krabi region.  I'd never heard of it but we said we'd look into it.

Dave is a Londoner, although he's decided he's been adopted there.  I'm not really sure what he does here but he's quit his job in finance (I thought a common interest but he really didn't seem interested in talking bout it) back home.  He roped myself and the girls into visiting Ko San Road with a bunch of English lads who had arrived earlier that night.  Basically it was like walking down a street in Ibiza or any resort in the Med with bar after bar all with blaring music and lots of white bodies everywhere (as in recently arrived tourists rather than dead people).  Not my cup of tea at all but we had a good laugh with the boys we met.  Charlie, Matt and Will were from Newcastle and my OAP status was confirmed when they told us they were all 18 and just finished school.  Jack (Leicester) and Anthony (Liverpool) had both recently finished Uni at Sheffield and were only marginally better at 21.  Andrei was from Germany and had travelled most of the world over the past six months and had the tan to prove it. 

The next day we were up early again and decided to go ahead and book the flights down to Krabi on Marks recommendation for the next day.  Once that was done we headed into Bangkok with Andrei.  We got the Sky train into the centre - like the London underground but over the roads and clean and air-conditioned with music videos on screens - Leona is popular over here!  From there we got the ferry up the Chaophraya river (sound familiar people of Manchester?!) to the temple of the reclining buddha.  Absolutely amazing temples here.  All the rooftops are decorated in bright red and gold, with coloured glass which blind you in the sunshine.  We went into the temple and watched the monks chanting for a few minutes.  You have to be so careful about your etiquette here.  Feet are considered very dirty, so you have to make sure you don't step over someone or have your feet facing someone or a statue of buddha or anything.  You also need to take your shoes off any time you go into a guesthouse, private house or temple and in some cases even some shops. 

Outside the Temple we got accosted by a man dressed in a smart shirt and trousers.  I wouldn't mind but the girls had read about this particular scam in the Lonely Planet book!  He convinced us of where we wanted to see (not really but we stood and agreed with what we understood of what he was saying) and next thing he'd pushed us into a tuk tuk agreed a price and sent us on our way.  Having been kidnapped I did my best to persuade the driver to let us go - he was a Man city fan and I tried to reason with him - no such luck (don't tell Joe I said that).  And so we visited another temple, apparently the government tourist office (although they didn't seem interested in giving us any information just wanting us to book something) and then on to a tailors and a jewlerry shop.  Thank goodness we had Andrei with us because I think we'd have seriously started to worry if it had just been us three girls going down some of those dodgy looking streets.  I think Andrei was quite happy to have come along too as when we arrived at the tailors all the men in there seemed to think he was amazing to have three women with him.  The boss even gave him his business card in case he needed help in dealing with us all.  Andrei came out chuckling and saying he'd sold us all for a hundred camels. 

We finally escaped unscathed back to the sky train and to our hostel.  It's down the dodgiest little side road but is actually quite nice.  We went through the local market and I bought flip flops for eqivilent of one euro fifty or something ridiculous.

The next day we flew to Krabi and arrived in even more heat.  The people down here seem lovely.  They're not too pushy and will still talk to you even if you walk past their shop.  They seem to love guessing your nationality and a lot of them have picked up on the fact that we've only just arrived.  I wonder if that's anything to do with our colour....  Someone has guessed that Lois is Israeli, but apart from that we've had some good guesses.  Some of them even know a bit of Irish - I've been asked "conas a ta tu".  We had a wander up the street when we arrived and got a McDonalds (third in three days.  Sarah is a bit nervous about the local food).  We headed back and the guy in a tailors shouted after us we'd gone past our hostel, which we had. 

We spent today adventuring.  We got up early (these girls do not know the meaning of a lie-in) and headed to the beach to get a long-tailed boat to Railay.  It's the only way you can get to the peninsula, there are no roads.  We arrived on an incredible white sand beach with huge towering cliff faces on either side - just imagine the beaches from the film The Beach and you'll get the jist.  We had a wander round for the backpacker area and got conflicting advise.  This is never good cos we start to bicker about what we should be doing.  Anyway, we finally decided to find a little roadway which was to bring us through to the backpacker area.  We headed up this walkway towards the inland - it was only big enough for two people to walk side by side.  First it was a concrete path, then a wooden walkway and then it was a path that had just been worn straight through the jungle.  It went straight up through the cliffs, so we had to start clambering up this crazy incline through jungle with very strange noises in the distance - I'm still convinced they were some kind of monkey.  We were quite worried about getting lost in the wilderness and never being found but also a little bit excited about finding the lodges at the end of this crazy road.  We met a group of Americans at the top of the ridge and they confirmed we were on the right track.  Half an hour later we emerged on the beach which was beautiful.  The area can be reached by boat and nothing else (unless by foot).  Again, there were huge mountains on either side covered in dense forest.  There were no cars, no tourist shops and I can just imagine what it's like on an evening.  Apart from being eaten alive by mosquitos, the cafes and bars would be playing music and apart from that there wouldn't be a sound from anywhere.  The girls weren't as impressed as I was. 

We got lucky with our timing and we were able to wade through low tide around the coast to get to the West Railay Beach, our original landing spot.  Don't worry mum, we followed everybody else who was coming and going round the coastline.  It was only fifteen minutes and it's a recognised route online and in the Lonely Planet, we weren't being crazy!!!!

We got back tonight, showered and went along the seafront here at Ao Nang and booked ourselves into a dive school for Saturday.  We've got a book that we're supposed to study and answer questions on before starting the course and then we've got a day in the classroom (What?!!!!  In this weather?), a day in a pool and two days diving off Phi Phi to be fully qualified Padi Divers.  Looking forward to that.  We're quite happy with the school we chose, one of the guys is from Birmingham, went on a six month round the world trip two years ago, first stop Thailand and hasn't left since.  He's fully qualified and it's all above board.  He's even been nice enough to let me wait a few days before getting passport photos for my Padi card - when I've got a tan....

We also had an authentic thai meal and I'm very proud of the girls, they went the whole hog.  Thai food I think is a little bit safer than Chinese, at least they speak English and you've got a much better idea of what you're eating.  The scuba guy gave us a recommendation for a restaurant too.  Sarah needs to watch out for the chili's though, she decided to try one off my plate and I think her tongue is still swollen!!!

The day before our diving started we spent on the beach at Railay where Andrei joined us.  He's staying in Krabi town, the other side of the Peninsula and something tells me we'll see a bit more of him yet!

That's it for now folks, I'll no doubt have loads to tell you after we've finished our diving, but for now we're hoping to chill out a bit and not have to travel anywhere for a bit.  Hopefully that means half decent tans, although I burnt everywhere today already, so maybe just for the other two!!!  Yes Mum, I did use sun screen, I just missed bits!

Talk soon, Miss you xxx

Well I guess I'd better update you on progress since then!  As many of you will already know I proved to be the wimpiest scuba diver the world has ever seen.  I excelled (even if I do say so myself) at the theory of scuba diving and planning multiple dives, calculating the amount of nitrogen in my blood etc - all that was right up my alley.  On the second day we got to the pool and got all our gear on and went under and my nose got wet.  That was it for me, every time I went down after that I had a panic attack about water streaming into my lungs via my nose and had to lunge for the surface before I drowned in less than 2 metres of water.  Sarah and Lois did well tho and calmly remained on the bottom every time they saw my fins heading for the surface.  I wouldn't mind but myself and Sarah have done scuba diving before from Tunisia.  They gave us ten minutes in the pool and if we managed to breathe continually then they took us out for an hour long dive.  I think this is the definition of ignorance is bliss because after studying all about lung expansion problems, nitrogen nicrosis and decompression sickness the milimetre of water directly under my nose in my mask sent me into a panic attack underwater every time. 

Liz eventually asked me if I wanted a break while the others practiced their skills at the bottom of the pool.  I think he got so fed up of following me to the surface every two minutes that he needed a break to be honest.  Eventually the girls and Matteus (another German who did the Padi course with us) took a break and Liz tried to persuade me back into the water.  He really did have his work cut out for him.  I had decided that I wasn't getting back in and I certainly wasn't going to attempt this lark any deeper than the 2 metres I'd just been.  Bless him, he won in the end and I felt like a kindergarten kid when he tried to make it all fun for me by hiding Lois's earring at the bottom of the pool for me to find.  In fairness it worked.  As long as I had something to occupy my mind other than the fact I was on the verge of drowning then I was doing ok.  Until of course the next time we stopped for something and I was back to square one. 

I know that you're all sitting back laughing hysterically at my pathetic attempts at diving in a swimming pool (it was in a resort as well so you can imagine what the guests there thought of me coming up every two seconds in full scuba gear coughing and spluttering like I'd just drunk the whole pool) but I'm telling you, it's the scariest thing I have ever done in my life.  It feels completely unnatural and when your head decides that you're drowning it's very hard to calm yourself down and convince yourself it's not.  (See, we don't just laugh at Sarah on this trip - everyone's now laughing at me!!!)

We spent the next two days up and at the dive shop at half seven in the morning and out on a long tailed boat to our pretty impressive double decker ship for the two hour cruise to Phi Phi islands and some of the most amazing dive sites in the world.  The beaches that we passed and the colour of the sea was something else.  Our first dive was by a cliff face - I think the idea was to make it easier for us to get our bearings.  It's the weirdest feeling floating in clear blue water - you have no concept of how deep you are, whether you're drifting or stationary how close the sea bed is or the surface.  Anyhow, the first challenge of the day was to go to about 6 metres and complete some tasks that were required for our Padi qualification - you have to show you are confident at taking off your mask, clearing it, finding your regulator if you lose it (that's the thing that gives you air, quite important).  Liz (pronounced Liss by the way and he is a he) found a nice flat area covered in sand for us to sit on at which point my mask started filling up.  He was checking everyone individually and by the time he got to me I was at the surface again.  The problem is if you do that at 18 metres (aim for the next day) you spend the next three or four days in a decompression chamber.  Needless to say I got a telling off when we got back to the ship.  But I managed to skip most of the tasks for that day :)  We did two dives and both dives we did a few tasks and then went in search of fishies.  We saw lots of nemo's, beautiful coral, puffer fish, hose fish.

The next day we turned up and I was again reminded of my problems should my mask fill and I not fix it wherever we were.  What felt like a stone was lodged in my stomach and I had no doubt that I'd get down to the required depth given said stone and Liz was very confident that I'd make it back afterwards!  I did have a panic attack at about 8 metres but this time I managed to get Liz's attention.  He promptly grabbed my bcd (the jacket you wear) and wasn't going to let me go anywhere, altho he's only a little fella, I'm sure I could have taken him if I'd really panicked.  Anyway, I was forced to stay looking at him while he held me down until my breathing regulated and I managed to clear my mask without panicking.  Wahey!!!  Success.  I don't think liz has ever been as proud of any other student for the simplist of things.  We went to 18 metres without problems although it does feel like the water is trying to squeeze you to death.  It's quite claustraphobic down there.  We made a safety stop at 5 metres for five mins to allow nitrogen to leave our bodies.  At this stage my mask filled again and despite two instructors helping I couldn't clear it.  I didn't panic though and I don't think I missed much cos we went straight to the surface after that. 

The second days diving was pretty incredible in terms of what we saw.  Lion fish are those scary looking brown and white striped fish with fins in all directions that stick out a few inches from their bodies.  They're poisonous to humans and I really didn't expect to see so many of them in big groups.  We were all taking big breaths in in order to float above them rather than hit them, that wouldn't have been pleasant.  We also spotted a big scorpion fish, which again is deadly poisonous and sits on the bottom looking like a stone

We really enjoyed ourselves (no, really, we really did!!), we met some cracking people - Matteus, Lois's dive "buddy" who would randomly crack jokes at the strangest of times, the ever patient Liz and the smiliest man we have ever met, Serm - honestly, I want some of what he's on.... he never has a bad day and Paula from Cumbria.  We got to dive in some amazing spots and we got to qualify with a great team.  They sat us down on the school steps for a graduation photo, or so we thought, until someone at the back poured a bucket of ice cold water (the water from the ship - all the melted ice from the drinks container) all over us.  Needless to say the graduation photo came out a bit rough! Ao Nang, Railay and Phi Phi are the most beautiful places in the world and I'd really love to go back.  More next time our next adventure - Ko Jum where Lois makes her bloooooooooooper.....
Andrei had left Krabi town about halfway through our Padi training in search of an island he'd been told about.  Anyone who knows the film "The Beach" this may sound familiar.  Apparently he'd met a guy in a bar and this guy had been a little bit worse for wear.  The guys starts to tell Andrei about this amazing paradise island and draws him a map on a scrap of paper.  So anyway, Andrei decided to go find it and he did.  He was keeping in touch with us and gave us directions to get there after we'd qualified.  You get a ferry from Krabi and half way to Ko Lanta all these long-tailed boats come out from a small island and you jump on one of them and it takes you to Ko Jam.  An hour after we started out on the ferry, as promised we saw the long-tailed boats.  Despite Andrei's texts to Lois, we didn't get the right long-tailed boat (he'd said something about new bungalows which we mistook as a reference to the age of them rather than the name of the resort) and ended up the wrong end of the island.  Once we'd discovered this we tried to get to the right side.  Unfortunately there are no roads and therefore not a reliable taxi service.  We were told to walk the dirt track to the next town, about 1km away rucksacks and all where a tuk-tuk should be able to reach us and take us to the right resort.  I think it took us about two hours from landing to get to the right place where Andrei looked quite amused to see us, finally. 
The "resort" consisted of bungalows for rent.  There was no electricity, our bungalows had a bed and a mosquito net and that was it.  There was an outdoor toilet block where the toilets were not toilets, much to Sarah's disgust, but holes in the ground with places either side for your feet.  There was a little restaurant which opened till about ten and then we were in complete darkness.  We went for a wander up the beech the first night, thanks to our torches.  We stayed there for about three nights, relaxing.  There was nothing to do but sunbathe and swim, read and sleep
From there we headed back to Krabi and got a bus to Surithani to catch the train to Bangkok. We took the luxury option on the way down and flew, this time we were getting the 12 hour train journey back.  It wasn't too bad actually.  Surithani isn't a particularly nice place and we decided not to stay overnight and get the morning train, but rather to get the overnight train, skip the scenic trip and get to Bangkok earlier and save money on a hostel that night into the bargain.  The train was one of the old fashioned ones you might see on Hercule Poirot or something, where the seats in each of the dormers converts to bunks for two and it's actually quite cosy and private.  We were each in a seperate room with a random stranger and so we spent the journey asleep or reading. 
We got back into bangkok and headed for our hostel - the same one as we'd arrived at. We stayed in and around Bangkok city for the next couple of days, watching the sunset from the 59th floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel (v posh) was one of the main highlights.
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