Thursday, February 27, 2014

Island Hopping - Part 2

With the island of Koh Samui behind me (and with it buckets of good memories) I decided to head into the lion's den, Koh Phangan. I'd say that this island quite met my expectations, although it's only fair to say that I arrived exactly one day after the infamous Full Moon Party ended. Therefore I was lucky that most of the hardcore party visitors were intending to leave the island on that very day or simply were sobering up their massive hangover.

What immediately catched my attention was how much the Full Moon Parties actually affected the island and the local people. The first thing you actually see when arriving at the pier are funny signboards warning tourists about illegal drugs and scammers at such parties. It also seems like everything on the island is marketed at Full Moon Parties as well - literally everywhere there are promotional posters for all kinds of ominous parties. If it's not the Full Moon Party, there's still the Half Moon Party, Black Moon Party and many more. Just awful!

Let us all be modest tourises, right?

But it gets even better! Just when I just thought the whole drugs stereotypes of Koh Phangan perhaps could be a little exaggerated, I really got disabused. When I arrived at my hostel which I booked over Hostelworld, the hostel's owner was already waiting for me. So far so good.

But then I couldn't believe my eyes, that guy was actually smoking weed and was already so stoned, he didn't even remember how much a room costs for a night. I actually had to show him my online reservation several times until he finally agreed with me to some point. To make it even worse he almost forgot where he put my room key in his reception. Well, but apart from that the accommodation was OK I guess.

But hey, Koh Phangan acutally has its good sides too! During my expeditions I discovered some really nice (and even deserted!) beaches, temples and landscapes.

Wat Khao Noi

Crystal blue water!

A carnivorous plant! You flies better watch out!

This place was actually deserted - not a single person within the next few kilometers!

Again a Chinese temple - I'm a big sucker for them!

In the Thansadej National Park

The HTMS Phangan, originally an American tank landing ship which was later commisioned into the Thai Navy. Before its 'exchange' it actually saw action at the Incheon Landing, at the Korean War in 1950.

But even then the island left a kind of an average impression to me. Inspite of all these party-free places I discovered on Koh Phangan, I still think Koh Samui offered much more in comparison. After all I only stayed only like 2 days on this into disrepute fallen island, and think that was more than enough. Ideal for party-lovers and potheads, but njet for me.

With Koh Tao, my next destination, I already was expecting something similar. But hell, I was wrong! Look forward to the next post involving my stay in the Big Blue Diving School!
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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Island Hopping - Part 1

Some of you may know that the Gulf of Thailand / Siam is dominated by three major Thai islands, namely Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui (order from north to south). Especially Koh Phangan has earned its name for the so called Full Moon Parties, which are infamous for visitors being drugged and robbed big time. Or to put it in a nutshell, just imagine thousands of respectable westerners overcrowding a single beach in Koh Phangan for once in a month, while not only destroying their livers and brain cells, but also leaving one hell of a mess on the beach as well. Needless to say that I'm not keen on witnessing those party animals, I could visit a zoo just as well.

But hey, there's more to see than grounded party-tourists, so I decided to visit all these three islands anyways, starting with Koh Samui, the biggest one of that trio infernale. From Surat Thani in the mainland there are in fact quite a few ferry agencies who organize daily boat passages to those islands, the most iconic agency being Lomprayah. With a speedy catamaran the passage only took about 1 hour and besides the sea through a little window there was not really much to see. Oh yes, there were those noisy westerners heading to Koh Phangan, but they soon calmed down as the seasickness kicked in. How I loved the look on their faces. :D

The earlier mentioned Lomprayah catamaran
As for myself, I was lucky that I found a splendid bungalow on the island, for a lousy 300 Thai Baht a night. Now that's what I call a deal! The island itself offered quite some sightseeing, both on and off the tourist-beaten track. Let's take a look at some stuff I went to see:

Nathon, probably Samui's most important town
Hin Ta and Hin Yai - two rocks formed in a, err, certain shape. Google it.
Palms, palms everywhere.
Again up for some scooter action, high in the mountains.
The «Magic Garden», a kitschy exhibition of some stone sculptures chiseled by an eldery farmer
And surprise - more palms.
Mr. Durian - here we meet again!
Getting off-road is where the fun begins...
... and where secret places are revealed.

Wat Silangu

The higher you get in Koh Samui the better, believe me.

Wat Plai Laem, one of the better temples on Koh Samui!

But don't be dissapointed by thinking that there are no obscure places on Koh Samui, as the following one will blow you away...

Wat Khunaram - this one is really memorable! This here is actually a mumified monk who sits here dead for more than 30 years in a glass display.  During that time someone actually put him on these rad sunglasses. Excellent.

This signboard actually made me crack up - unlike that waterfall.

Quoting Axl Rose: Welcome to the Jungle!

Hainan temple in Nathon - I actually adore these Chinese-styled temples!

A few kilometers west of Koh Samui lays also a Maritime National Park called Ang Thong. I thought it would be worth to take a look a these group of islands along with a snorkel trip. In hindsight I'd better put on more sunblock on my back, as later you could peel of the skin like a bletted tangerine.

Koh Mae Ko, with its blue lagoon (lower right picture) inside the island

And what's better than a deep digestive nap before going Kayaking?

In the next part of the Island Hopping post I'll tell you more about my stay in Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Thanks for dropping by!

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The big deal about Krabi...

As already announced I herewith tell you more about my stay in Ao Nang, in the southern Thai province of Krabi. So let's start from the scratch. Instead of booking a domestic flight from Bangkok I actually decided take one of those travel coaches to ride along, an approximate 780 km drive to the south of Thailand. After rough 12 hours and some unjustified worries about personal belongings being stolen from the hold, I finally arrived in Ao Nang. Without any "material losses" or suchlike of course.
A regular shopping street in Ao Nang
The shifty travel coach

So what's the big deal about the town of Ao Nang anyway? Well basically it's indeed another heavily touristy kitsch village which lost most of its golden glory from past times. Where 20 years ago maybe food stalls were standing, are now horrible souvenir shops or branches of western corporations like McDonald's or Starbucks Coffee. Imagine it like kind of a Zermatt in Southern Thailand.
Although Ao Nang may have lost its originality - it's still a good place to start with. And a nice one in addition to that.
But nontheless this place is still a great traveller hub to explore the surroundings of the Krabi province, mostly because of its geographic location. From here you can get rapidly to the town of Krabi, the Tiger Cave temple, the (in)famous Phi Phi Islands, Railay, or some National Parks.

Now THAT'S one hot ride!
Pure awesomeness - squid with Thai Curry.
A few moments later this bastard actually bit and scratched me

The famous South East Asian banana pancake.

So after I got to see the nearby Town of Krabi (which is nothing special by the way) and renting a scooter (remember my last post) I decided to explore the remarkable sightseeing areas. One of the most memorable ones was the Tiger Cave Temple, which consisted of a 1272 steps stairway to a mountain top, a Chinese-styled pagoda and some caves in which a mystical tiger allegedly used to live. By the way, that stairway was a bitch to climb up due to the steaming temperature and air humidity! On the way up to the top there were again lots of monkeys who were eagerly waiting to steal everything that's not nailed down on you.

The beginning of the stairway
The Golden Buddha on top of the mountain
Halfway on the top...

The pagoda
Inside of one of the Tiger Temple caves

Another rascal with a trohpy left over by humans...

In any case I was repeatedly amazed by the local fauna. Most animals I encountered so far were simply never afraid of humans and many of them didn't even care. You practically never see a Thai dog barking or being aggressive, they are just there and relaxing in the sun.

He doesn't even think of moving a muscle...

A curious Gecko

Now that's what I call an overwhelmed mother...

Next stop was the Khao Phanombencha National Park with its famous Huai Toh Waterfall about 20 km north of Ao Nang. Again a location worth a visit!


A happy me in the national park

The Huay Tho Waterfall

 A visit on one of the many islands was also on my bucket list. I was first thinking of the famous Phi Phi Island, but I soon found out that that one was far too overcrowded, overpriced and even overpolluted. So instead I went to look Hong Island which someone recommended me personally. I'd say I wasn't dissappointed. The island actually turned out to be ideal for snorkeling and wasn't that overcrowded like other more famous islands seem to be.

Hong Island

One of the famous long-tail boats

A memorial for the Tsunami victims of 2004...

Near Ao Nang lays also a famous peninsula called Railay East and West, a coastline covered with those striking limestone rock formations. The scenery was OK I guess, but apart from that and because of some reckless climbers I wouldn't have stayed longer than 2 hours in those masses of tourists (which I intentionally tried to keep out of the photos below).

No, this aren't Indian totems... You guess it. It's actually a shrine for Phranang, the goddess of luck and fertility.

But what I almost liked best was the Hot Stream and the Emerald Pool about 70 km away from Ao Nang. The Hot Stream is basically a small river with a temperature of about +40°C in which the public is allowed to bath inside. I could have easily spend 2 hours in that warm water, but there was still the emerald pool to see. That one on the other side was a crystal clear natural pond, rich on various minerals and tourists (sadly). There were also other spectacular small lakes nearby like the Blue Pool or Crystal Pool.

The Hot Stream

Blue Pool

Emerald Pool

All in all I can say that my stay in Ao Nang was totally worth the stay thanks to these nearby locations I've visited. If the town itself wasn't so horribly touristy I would have liked it even more, but once more there goes the illusion of the untouched paradise in the south of Thailand.

After those wonderful couple of days I'm heading now to the island of Koh Samui, a few kilometers north of Surat Thani. Let's look if it's comparable with Ao Nang!
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