A Travellerspoint blog

Whale shark at White Rock!!

Koh Tau, east coast

overcast 28 °C
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Thank goodness for Mom's 'Fabric care: Travel wash!' Sweating is what foreigners do best in Thailand, and locals reckon its a little chilly cos its still winter. As a result, I'm washing my shirts a lot! At midday, I generally find myself lazing about a beach bar in the shade, with a strong fan above me! Honestly, I thought Africa was hot, but in reality it's refreshingly cool.

So the last week was spent in Koh Tau, and what a place. As a Kiwi commented to me last night, while we soaked up the sunset, cold beer in hand - "It's easy to fall in love with the island". It truely is remarkably beautiful. Its not big - perhaps 2 km's from north to south, but houses a lot of people and over 50 dive operations. Dive courses are cheap. So lots of people do introductory courses, where they learn to dive. To get an idea - the place I stayed at is one of the bigger operations and has at any one time, probably 8 groups of open water divers. They have eleven instructors and churn through almost 300 Open Water qualifications each month. My dive school back home does perhaps 12-20 qualifications a month! So it's scuba on steroids here!
So the first few days I dived, and what a pleasure this place is for divers. There are plenty of dive sites all around the island. Unfortunately, the visibility is not that great here - I was expecting at least 15 meters, but on all 6 dives it was below 10 meters I think. Its very comparable to Sodwana Bay, South Africa - in terms of underwater viewing, except with less vis but much warmer waters.
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The highlight undoubtledly - was a 5-6 meter whale shark sighting at a dive site called White Rock. A radio call came through to all the boats in the island's area that a whale shark had been spotted there, and so all boats headed to White Rock really fast, in the hope of catching sight of it. We got to the site and there were dozens of anchored big boats already emptied of divers. Thinking it must have been hounded off by now, I went down thinking our chances of seeing it were minimal. I was wrong! 3 minutes in, and a big shape emerges above us, glides slowly over, and not a diver in site. The big guy didnt need to offer twice - so I swam up and joined him, swimming alongside him for a few minutes. He even eyed me out, his big eye swivelling around to look me over, and wonder what this little thing was trying to do next to it and why the hell there so many bubbles coming out of it!! I was absolutely elated! The rest of the divers caught up and I drifted off, its legion of remoras clinging to it, and a dozen divers a few meters behind. Whale sharks are so popular - they have plenty of friends!
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Another highlight happened yesterday, and involved sharks of another kind. Believe it or not, Shark Bay has sharks. Little ones though - perhaps just 2 meters...! You snorkel out into the bay, the reef system starts really close to the shore. It gets deeper gradually, and soon you're far out. You're not too sure what to do in case you do see a shark, so the guys with me were sticking really close together! Then you see something - a reflection, and its much bigger than the rest of the fish - black tip reef shark!! Cruising along the reef only six meters away! It was about a meter long - small-ish I think. I saw plenty of others yesterday, and they take no notice of you. In fact, you feel quite safe. What a day!
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Other highlights were the visit to the Nang Yuan islands - also stunningly beautiful and seems to come straight from a post card; and hiring a scooter for the day to explore the little island. Discovered some beautiful spots...
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I'm in Koh Pha Ngan (pronounced Ko Pan yang by the sounds of things) for the next five days. Full moon party here we come. Adios

Posted by Shlugger 21:29 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Soaking up the Thai's

My first week in Asia

sunny 35 °C
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I doubt there's anywhere else like Khao San Road in Bangkok. It's quite simply... chaos! For a first time visitor, this road can blow your mind. Its the tourist mecca of the city, most foreigners arrive from the airport and stay there. I booked into a decent spot with a window over the road, with complimentary additional lighting from the 7 meter neon hotel sign right next to my window. Across the road were two booming nightclubs, neon big screens advertising their doors to the masses. Their neighbours are restaurants whose front line in dealing with tourism are attractive Thai 'hostesses' almost wearing small dresses. On either end of the road, taxi drivers offer lifts, and anything else that a tourist may require - I got offered 'Wanna girl??' a few times! Some revellers are still going strong when buses pick up tourists for day trips the next morning at 7am. The food sold by the street vendors is excellent, by the way - its cooked in front of you and takes a minute or two.
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I only stayed in Bangkok for two days, of which, the second day I spent in Ayuthaya, Thailand`s old capital. This was mostly because of my experiences on the first day thanks to making the error of taking a tuc-tuc to the Grand Palace. Ok, its probably not that bad, but I'm convinced Tsu (I think), my very friendly and approx 15 year old tuc tuc driver, was trying to kill me. Incoming traffic means nothing to this guy, although I'm sure he must 6-foot under by now. A tuc-tuc is a converted motorcycle with a sort of bench and canopy attached to its back. Its quite fun taking side alleys, but then you get into heavy traffic, and this is a tuc-tuc driver's opportunity to impress with his maneuverability, acceleration, and gap-taking skills. Which are all impressive, and timed to the mili-second - I had some large lorries bearing down on me a number of times. The mesh wire tuc-tuc backing appears a little fragile during those hair-raising moments. Its also interesting to note that you will get a great discount to your destination if you let them take you to some shops they recommend along the way. Inevitably, you find yourself at a jewelry or mens suit store, who finance the drivers to drop off tourists at their front doors. I got to see the Wat Phra Keo (huge, ornate temple) and the Grand Palace in Bangkok, which are both immensely impressive. The art works surrounding the interior of the temple are amazing. P1030470__Medium_.jpg
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Ayuthaya is an ancient collection of Buddhist temples. Its really worth the trip. Unless you've been to Angkor Wat I imagine. I went on a day tour, which unfortunately makes you feel like you're part of a large herd of sheep! The day tours are efficient conveyer belts of tourists, constantly being transported to each venue, with very specific time limits. On the up side, you do get to see all the top spots, which are all impressive.
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Next stop was Kanchanaburi, west of Bangkok, for three days. Mixed feelings about this place: Erawan Falls is really beautiful - the water is refreshing and is a weird turqoise colour. It has seven falls in it, and is a great forest hike - it wasnt packed and swimming under some of the falls was a great way to cool off from the rising heat. I also did an elephant ride, which was really cool, and we went off the beaten track into the bush for half an hour.
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On the other side of the coin, is a hideous tourist trap called the Tiger Temple. This is an animal rights case waiting to explode (unless that has already happened). Despite discounting it in their lie of a brochure, the tiger temple - without doubt - uses very heavy drugs to keep the tigers drowsy and pretty much asleep for what must be most of their lifespans. I've seen enough wild animals to know that you need a pretty large fence between predators and people. Between the mass of tourists and the dozen tigers there is only a thin rope, which is not to stop tigers, but just to show you were to sit. I had two massive adult tigers not 7 meters away from me, but they were so sleepy they didnt even know I was there. Every time they raise their heads, one of the tenders walks over and thrusts a water bottle at their mouths - the tigers love the flavour and lap up the concuction. Two minutes later, they are asleep and posing nicely for photos, the tenders placing their giant heads into tourist laps. The cubs - in the other den - are guarded by savage western volunteers, who guard their cubs as their own children, claiming that despite the thousand hands that touch them every day, they will remain normal tiger cubs; touch them on the face though, and they're all of a sudden too close to humanity and at the risk of being raised abnormally.
And still the hordes of tourists vans keep coming. Geez, its ridiculous. But I guess if tourists want to pose to with tigers, that's what they'll get, right?
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I'm finding it really easy to meet and chat to other travellers - so far met some really ridiculously crazy Dutch chicks (waterfall pic), Canadians, Slovenians, Danes, Brits, Germans, Aussies, and all sorts. I'm seeing quite a few of them in Koh Pha Ngan for the full moon party.

Ko Tau, south east coast - I've just arrived two days ago, and its like a postcard - more to come on this and the dives I've done so far. This morning... scuba dived with a whale shark!! AAAH! And, I got photos. More to come.

Posted by Shlugger 20:01 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

On the road... nearly

8 days to go...

8 °C
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Right, so as promised, here’s my first blog.
As I write this, I’m still preparing for the trip in London, so I can’t report back yet on what it is like diving with leather-backed turtles in some tropical paradise, or trekking up some giant volcano ;)
I’ve bought a round-the-world-ticket from London going east, via fourteen countries, back to London, and cash-permitting, I think I’ll be on the road for about 8 months. I’ll probably be posting blogs and pics every couple of weeks, depending on accessibility to internet café’s.

HIGHLIGHTS

- Diving in Sipidan in Borneo, Blue Corner in Fiji, and the Similan Islands in Thailand are probably top of the list.
I’m taking an extra BIG bag for diving – some might say its madness to drag such a large extra burden around for the better part of a year, but if you’ve dived, you’ll know that using familiar equipment can really change the enjoyment and down-time of your dives. So, when Im cursing this extra bag, I’ll hopefully still see it that way!

- Trekking in Nepal is going to be awesome. The mountainous views, the clean air, the Nepalese cultures – its all going to be very different to what I’m used to. I’m doing the Annapurna route – a 3-week mountain trek.

- Cambodia – Boeng Leak Yaom crater lake – came across this while researching my travels and it sounds and looks ridiculously amazing.

- I also think the 2 – day climb on Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia should be pretty awesome.

- Lastly, but it’ll take precedence very often – chilling on a remote beach with a cool beer in hand, hammocks making some guest appearances!

TOP TRAVEL FEARS (the ones I’ve been having feverish nightmares about)

- Cambodian bus drivers
- Malaria again
- unfriendly king cobras
- Running out of air at 32 meters down
- Circus folk
- Polio
- 8-foot Fijians on a boys’ night out.
- Koala's

THE ROUTE:

Thailand
6th Feb – 15 March 2008

Nepal
13 March – 08 April T

Cambodia, Vietnam
09 April – 30 April

Singapore, Bali, Komodo
30 April – 23 May

Philippines and Palau
23 May – 24 June

Borneo (Malaysia only)
24 June – 24 July

Australia
25 July – 22 August

New Zealand
22 August – 13 September

Fiji (& surrounds)
13 September – 29 September

California & NYC
29 September – 11 October 2008

For those of you meeting me here and there along my travels, see you soon.

Until I post a ‘real’ blog… Cheers!

Posted by Shlugger 06:24 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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