A Travellerspoint blog

The art of climbing active volcano's

and home away from home in Kuala Lumpur

sunny 33 °C

I've been trying to convince myself to eat something really local on this big ol' world trip at least once. Well, on my first night in Yogyakarta I had pigeon. It still had its head and beak on, so I left that bit. Actually, it wasn't too bad. And in all seriousness, there's way worse stuff to eat in Cambodia, I just never had the guts to try then (or perhaps it's just my hatred for pigeons after all those years of cleaning pigeon droppings from my old Honda's bonnet every morning before work). So for the last few days I have been in Indonesia. I'm in a little city called Yogyakarta. It's famous for one of the world's most famous Buddhist ruins - Borobudur - its monolithic. And also for some Hindu ruins - Prambanan - and lots of volcanoes. As I flew in, I could see a number of volcano's peaking out from above the clouds - just immense. After four days, I think it's safe to say that I will be enjoying Indonesia very much. It's pretty different from other south east Asian countries. One thing that stands out as soon as you get here are road crossings. It's something of a suicide mission attempting to cross main roads here - there are so many hordes of bikes flowing down main roads that the traffic simply doesnt stop flowing - you have to kind of find a small gap (very rare) and wander across into the lanes (very slowly) facing the oncoming traffic (very bravely) and start waving your hand around (a little desperately in my case) at the scooters and cars. You gradually get across. They don't always slow down very much, but a sort of slipstream develops in front of you and its possible to walk away unscathed!
A sight for sore eyes were 'scooter-guards.' They wave down motorcyclists, who pull over, hand the bike to the guard to park, tip the guard, and leave their helmet with him. There are literally legions of these uniformed guys guarding the many thousands of bikes all over the city's pavements.
Saturday nights are usually reserved for open-air music concerts by the look of things. So I enjoyed wandering the streets for a while, watching the shows. Tourists are not present in huge numbers here... so locals keep taking pictures of me. Maybe its the immaculate, designer beard.

Mount Merapi:
I signed up for a volcano walk....... some would see this as a silly thing to do, as Mount Merapi is one of the world's most active volcano's. Nonetheless, I joined a group to the volcano and off we trudged at 1am to get to the top. Nerves hadn't been made any better by continual commentery in our group along the lines of: "It hasn't blown in nearly two years... what's the worst that could happen?!" Walking in steep furrows and narrow water run-offs made for some adventurous muddy wipe-outs on the way up, but after nearly 4 hours the group arrived at the top of Merapi (2914 meters). Just in time too, my dodgy torch that I rented was busy spluttering to death and it was still pitch black. The smell of sulphur was incredibly strong.
So, what's at the top of a volcano??? I wasn't sure what to expect - a crater lake full of bright red lava perhaps?! No, instead there are lots of rocks, hot steam vents and some icy winds. The effects of previous eruptions was clear - for the top few hundred meters of the mountain there is nothing but lava rocks, and no life whatsoever. I sat on a vent for a while to keep warm - it was seriously chilly and I didnt want to risk the cold, regardless of how comical it may have looked!
The dawn broke and I must say, it nearly brought tears to my eyes. Well not quite, but it was very beautiful. Got lots of pics but will have to display them another time as I can't upload here (too sloooooooooooooooow).

KL and the Legend of Dup du Plessis:
So prior to arriving in Indonesia a few days ago, I spent ten days with Dr Don Juan "Dup" du Plessis, an old mate from school days and East London (South Africa), who has the nasty habit of always bragging about that swimming record he broke when he was 13, back in 1687. After arriving in Kuala Lumpur, we stayed on a mate's 20th floor balcony looking over the KL skyline, sipping ice cold Tiger beers til 5am, getting an hour's sleep and heading off to the Cameron Highlands for some forest exploring. The Cameron Highlands are stunning. The dense forest growth, the size of the trees, the size of the whole forest - its breathtaking. We stayed in a backpackers called Daniel's where the owners have a deep grudge against the Lonely Planet for comments made two years ago about 'Spartan" rooms and some other stuff in their 'On a Shoestring' issue. There's a big blunt sign at the door that between many four lettered words, seems to indicate that LP travel writers are not welcome. After asking about it, and being drawn into a long discussion on why the LP is a crock of bull, I made a mental note not to bring up the topic again. The entertainment and transport for the weekend was provided by Francois and Jana - two ex-pats living in KL, hailing from Cape Town. Ah, good times!

We headed back in Boesman (F&J's old Landcruiser) to KL where I spent the remainder of the week. There's enough to see in the city - the bird park, the Pretonas towers, the KL Tower, the National Museum, but it was great to just chill out in one place for a while, without packing my life into a bag again (backpacking quarter life crisis??!!) I must admit - sometimes you crave malls, big screens and McDonalds burgers. KL is certainly a step ahead of most of south east Asia - it is an advanced and heavily built-up city. I can't compare to Singapore yet, as I've spent no time there so far, but I imagine its the next biggest economy in the region. It has a number of advanced sky/overhead rail systems - it makes getting around the city quite easy. Its also not as massive a city as I thought - 40 minutes by rail to any destination is lengthy. Many people reside in high-rise apartments looking over the city.
I also spent a day in Melaka (ie. Straights of Malacca) - the old trade city of the east. Its immensely historic and well worth a visit. The Portuguese were there in 1511, then the Dutch, the Brits, Japanese - everyone seems to have had a piece of the pie.
Malays love food. There are food markets and stands EVERYWHERE. Food is a major part of the culture. The people are split into three major groups: Malays, Chinese and Indians - its amazing that they get on so well, there aren't many countries in the world with such diversity.

Anyway, tomorrow I'm off to Gunung Bromo and then Bali. Til next time, sampai jumpa...

Pics to come in the next week (i think).

Posted by Shlugger 22:16 Archived in Malaysia Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Roadtrippin along the Ho Chi Minh trail

and temples in Cambodia

sunny 45 °C
View The Shlug's world tour on Shlugger's travel map.

I haven't a chance to add anything to the blog for a few weeks, so is turns out I've crossed borders three times and obviously seen quite a bit since then! Massively dissapointed in myself for booking flights so close to each other and as a result, I havent seen as much of Cambodia or Vietnam as I wanted. The biggest loss is not even making Laos, i have heard so many good things about the place. To be honest, Vietnam also should have received at least a month of my travel time. Big bugger - up on my part. Oh well...

So I thought the Nepalese were the friendliest people until I got to Cambodia. It was pretty easy to travel and enjoy Cambodia thanks to the great locals I met. First stop from Bangkok was the host town for the Angor ruins - Siem Reap. I managed to fall into a border crossing scam by buying Cambodian currency at a ridiculous rate. Lost about $50. Last time I try swopping any cash near a border (in my defence, I was scammed by the Thai bus tour guide, as he informed us all that Siem Reap was a wasteland of a town where the ATMS's rarely worked, and then he took us to a local exchange place - probably his uncle behind the counter.... b@stard! All the ATM's worked fine as it turned out!)
First morning at Angkor Wat and I met my scooter driver at 5.30am at my hotel - 20 minutes later and I was standing in front of the most unbelievable architectural wonder and photographing Angkor Wat with the sun rising behind it. "Angkor Wat" is a bit of a misnomer - in fact, Angkor Wat is simply one of many massive ruins in the Angkor area. These ruins take up a huge area - each was built to be a seperate city, each with its own massive moat (some with crocodiles) and a few large walls just for good measure. Since I have always enjoyed architecture and history, I had three awesome field days wandering around, although some could not be more bored by these old ruins, I would imagine. So the ruins were great for me - my favourite temple was Bayan - but the temperature was insane. Having been to a few hot places in Africa in my time, I was blown away by what must have been way more than 40 degree heat. The humidity was just unbearable at midday. I drank about 8-10 litres a day! I was physically exhausted from the heat before midday the entire time I was there. So I guess not the best time to be in Cambodia, but what the hell, its all part of the experience! Air conditioning was my best friend there. P1050605.jpgP1050438.jpg

I managed to drag myself from the ruins, and went on to Battambang, via the enormous Tonle Sap lake (largest in Asia). It was pretty cool seeing the river town along the way - at some stages of the boat-trip you can't see the shore at all - and then we proceeded (in terrific, humid, cramped heat again) to Battambang. This town isn't much of a tourist mecca, I must say, but for $9 I got a half-day scooter trip to some pretty remote hilltop temples, travelling along old dusty roads. It also happened to be the April New Year's water festival - locals LOVE giving those stupid foreigners/barang a good ol' mouthful of waterbombs - I got a few in the back from some demonic little kids running unforgivingly after my scooter. Luckily, I was traveling with an Irish dude on another bike, and just pointed at him to distract the kids and so that they could prepare properly for a full volley in his direction. I think he got it way worse. Another interesting chap to meet that day was a young Buddhist monk.... complete with business cards. I still have one, just to prove that I did in fact meet a monk with business cards.
So these temples were even older than the Angkor ruins, but not nearly as impressive. Its here that various locals started walking up to me and taking photos with me and randomly chatting in the local Khmer dialect.... foreigners are not that common, especially 6"4 redheads!

Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, just has to be done. This is where you see the unpleasant side of Cambodia. The city is busy and bustling, but I was more interested in seeing the Killing fields and S21 prison. I can't say I was looking forward to either, but... when in Phnom Penh...
So, obviously, Cambodia is famous for the Khmer Rouge and the resulting killing fields all over Cambodia. In 1975, an army called the Khmer Rouge took over the country after defeating the government army. They immedietely began to convert the entirte country into a communist agrarian society. Therefore, if you had an education or could speak another language, or wore glasses (all indicating that you are educated) - you were in trouble. An estimated 2 million people were killed in the next four or so years, either because they were seen as an educated threat to communism or because they didn't work hard enough in the fields (aptly named the killing fields).
So there are tours now to the Killing Fields outside the city. There are still bones and clothes sticking out of the ground. Everywhere. It is a very humbling experience.
S21 was a prison used by the Khmer Rouge for torture and interrogation and holding onto specific prisoners. It is also a very sombre experience, as only about a dozen of the nearly 20,000 prisoners survived the prison.
In fact, during my short stay in Cambodia, virtually every Cambodian I met had lost someone during the 4 years of the Khmer Rouge. So, that was a pretty melancholic end to Cambodia ;(

I crossed Vietnam once again on water, and upon entry (I was the only person on the boat besides the skipper, so I could stretch out nicely) I was greeted by a bunch of smashed boatmen, who handed me my first Saigon beer and started yelling "Bottom's up! Bottom's up!"... what's a man to do? I was damn thirsty after that trip and downed that bad boy in record time (for me that's about a minute!) The Vietnamese guys weren't looking all that impressed but they offered me another. I declined. My first night was Chuc Doc - not much of a tourist mecca either, but it was awesome sitting under a big umbrella in a local town market later that evening, getting out of the rain, and soaking up some local Vietnamese cuisines with another cold Saigon.

Saigon is a terrific city. No one calls it Ho Chi Minh city, unless you're from north Vietnam. I can honestly admit that I would have no problem living there. It's modern, busy, and everyone seems to speak decent English. It's very Western, which is probably a result of all the American and French influence. Wandering around the city centre is a great night out, dropping into good coffee shops along the way, and sampling excellent local foods. The highlight of the night though, was coming to my hotel and finding one of the sports channels playing Super 14 rugby! What a pleasure!! AND it was the Stormers, my favourites! The Incredible Schalk took the team to victory and 3rd on the log! Yes, I have missed the weekend rugby matches...
So Vietam had to be a highlights package tour, due to my poor planning and flight schedule. The Cu Chi tunnels were next on the list. These were the tunnels that the Vietcong built back in the 60's, right outside Saigon, and they are well worth a visit. Russell Fish... thanks for the tip, it was a good day out!
P1060137.jpg Yes, that is an AK47...! (Cu Chi tunnels still have the sound of gunfire everywhere as this touristy firing range is right next to the main cafe. Leaves a bit of ringing sound in your ears for a while though...)

The highlight for me in Vietnam though, has been hooking up with a bunch of guys called the Easy Riders. These local guys head off into Vietnam's Central Highlands on their motorbikes, and with their excellent English, show you what Vietnam is really all about. I visited minority villages, matriarchal villages (women run the tribe, their husbands sitting quietly and meekly in the background), hill tribe villages, ex-Vietcong villages, rice paddies, coffee plantations, silk factories, incense workshops, wandered along the Ho Chi Minh trail, saw vast bomb craters, old battlefields, houses that decorate their garden gates with giant bombshells, all sorts. Seeing the Ho Chi Minh trail was fascinating. The most alarming thing about the trail is the complete devastation of the land on either side of the trail, perhaps 2 km's wide at some point. This is a result of the South Vietnamese and American air forces trying to destroy the jungle. Initially it began with normal bombs, and then progressed to chemical warfare - Agent Orange and DDT (banned now) were used, amongst other things. The effect is a complete wasteland in some areas of the trail - there is no more jungle or forest... 40 years later.
Everywhere you go, people greet you, and children wave non-stop. Everyone wants to know your name. I felt like a hero! It's totally incorrect to say that there is much animosity in southern Vietnam towards foreigners. It was the best money I've spent in three months of travel. The website for the Easy Riders is: http://dalat-easyrider.com.vn/
Check it out if you are heading to Vietnam. Not cheap at $60 pd, but well worth it, as I have heard from all of the other travellers who have done it.

I have spent the last two days in Hoi An, on the coast in the centre of the country. Its an old town with huge influences from the French, Chinese and Japanese. Not as great as its made out to be I think. The highlight for me here was the Marble Mountains - giant caverns which have been turned into a Buddhist temple.

Major dissapointments:
- missing Laos
- missing the crater lake at Boeng Yeak Laom in Cambodia (but since its mentioned in Lonely Planet, its probably very touristy now anyway)
- not seeing Ha Long Bay, the place I most wanted to see in Vietnam.

Soon I will be off to see Dr Juan "Dup" du Plessis in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for about a week. Dup - please don't go on and on again about your glory days in the U12A rugby team back in 1973, and that time you broke some lame swimming record, and that time you were nominated for Mr Dale 1994 either. See you soon boet!
P1050218.jpg (Yes, Colm that's "The Hand!!")

Posted by Shlugger 05:45 Archived in Cambodia Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

Trekking through the Himalaya's

Adventures on the Annapurna Circuit

View The Shlug's world tour on Shlugger's travel map.

"Hello. We are Maoist. We want peace and sustainable development for Nepal. We are on campaign for election. We dont want to fight."
And thus I was introduced to my first Maoist. Contrary to popular opinion he didnt try to extort money from me. We even shook hands twice and I bid him the best of luck on his blazing campaign trail as he wandered down the path on his pony, teenage flag-bearer/hero-worshipper by his side. The conflict between the government and the Maoist's is currently on standstill, at least until the April election is over, and that means that the Maoist party is trying to gain favour with the Nepali population to get as many seats as possible in the upcoming elections. They're communist, so the red hammer and sickle flag is displayed all over the country. Nepali's take an interesting view on politics here. Communism seems to be popular here - partly because so much money is squandered by politicians, leading the population to want equal wealth distribution, and therefore a rise in communist sentiment. And strangely enough, people dont seem to harbour much of a grudge against the Maoist's despite the fact that many civilans have died over the years. Many Nepali's seem to understand their issues. Anyway, I never felt at risk of any danger, and neither do other tourists. P1050186.jpg

The Annapurna circuit is beautiful beyond comparison. There is a lot to it. Typically the hike takes 16-21 days. I organised a guide in Kathmandu and a day later was taking the bus to Besisahar - the first town on the trail. I know I've have had my fair share of ranting and raving about bus drivers in previous blog entries, but now I think I've seen it all. My guide, Bhuben, organised a trip on a public bus - a seven hour trip from hell! The bus was a classic - straight from the 60's - so you'd think the bus driver would take it easy. But no, this only increases his desire to push the limits. The most useful tool in a Nepali bus driver's arsenal is the horn/hooter. Every horn has an annoying, repetitive tune...! When you arrive at the bus station in Kathmandu you feel as if you're in the middle of a parade band! It is used almost without stopping for the entire journey. There is no need for braking as long as this tool still works. A gap always seems to appear as the vehicle/motorcyclist in front of the bus (usually) pulls over and lets the bus go forth. When the bus enters a mountainous region, you really start to worry. Suddenly you're driving alongside massive cliffs and the bus is showing no signs of slowing down. Overtaking on hairpin corners or blind rises is par for the course. I plugged in my mp3 player, this was just too much for me...
I'll never curse a Sowetan taxi driver again.

So the trek was incredible. To get an idea of the terrain, the Annapurna area has three of the world's ten highest peaks. You are almost always looking at a snowcapped mountain somewhere in the distance, and as you get closer to the pass, you are surrounded by enormous, snowy peaks. For much of the trek you are at what mountaineers call 'high altitude,' meaning you need to let your body adjust to the rate at which ascend. So you take it easier the higher you go.
I generally tried to hike for the morning and a couple of hours after lunch before settling at a guest house for the night, then departing again after breakfast the next morning. My days varied between 11km per day and a maximum of 22.5km. In total the trip is about 205km of hiking.
The teahouses and guesthouses are owned by Nepali's and are rustic, but this all adds to the trekking experience. The villages where you stay are usually in a scenic part of the trek alongside the Marsyagandi or Kali Kandaki rivers, and often include a temple or Tibetan Buddhist monestry. Many of the villages are completely mind-blowing... they resemble medievil towns complete with ancient stone walls and cobblestone streets. The environments change constantly as you scale up to higher and higher altitudes, going from sub-tropical bush, to pine forests, to arid and rocky desert landscapes, and finally to the snowy peaks of the Himalaya's. My backpack initially weighed a ton - so I left some old shirts behind after three days, meaning that by the time I got on the bus 16 days later (no chance to wash clothes before this) my few clothes and I must have smelt like a vast herd of unwashed desert camels.
The pass, Thorung La, was the toughest part. It took a solid 10 hours of heavy trekking to get through the day. The pass is one of the world's highest - 5416 meters - I think that's higher than some continents! I felt the effects of altitude mountain sickness (AMS) through a pretty severe headache, so couldn't hang around the peak for too long, and headed down the other side into the world's deepest valley. The effect in terms of your breathing is unbelievable - sometimes you are gasping for air just from walking a few meters. Hats off to Tenzing and ol' Ed Hillary!! The west side of Annapurna presented some amazing desert scenery, gale force winds, the best hot springs in the world (surely??!), and beautiful viewpoints. What a trek - and there are plenty of other options that I hope to do in Nepal again one day.

Met some classic fellow trekkers on the route as well, by the time I finished the trek, our party had extended to six: Bhuben my local guide, Wolf the German, Ed the Englishman, Kiwi's Jason and Pipp, and me. Good laughs, and what steaks we had upon getting to Pokhara! (16 days of Dal Bhat can kill you! - ie. lots of rice and potatoe). Apple pies, croissants and hot showers were a pleasure on that first day back!

Pokhara is something of an adventure capital, it offers paragliding, kayaking, white water rafting, all that sort of stuff. Its situated on a lake, and its beatiful. I've just completed rafting and paragliding. Awesome fun! See pics below. P1050156.jpg

The rafting was a bit of a letdown - I had hoped to do some big rapids, but there were only level 2 and 3's. Obviously, the water was freezing but that didn't stop inter-raft water battles. I found myself flung into the river on a few occasions, but got my own back! Was also a great experience camping under the stars on deserted river banks at night.

Nepali's are also amazing people. You can't compliment them enough. They are genuine and kind, and always willing to help a stranger out - no reward is expected. To be honest, it was refreshing meeting Nepali's after dealing with what I call 'The Land of Fake Smiles'... ie. Thailand - I always felt as if someone was trying to rip me off.

Kathmandu was amazing as well. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I loved it. Without going into too much detail, you can see some pics below of the famous sites I got to see. There are incredible places in the city: Boudnanath Stupa and Pashupatinath Temple top the list. Seeing burning funeral pires (with the occasional limb sticking out) on the riverside was a very strange experience indeed.

Anyway, off to the World Peace Pagoda here in Pokhara now... must go.P1040996.jpg

Posted by Shlugger 19:04 Archived in Nepal Tagged round_the_world Comments (6)

Island hopping in the Andaman Sea

And some snakes

sunny 34 °C

Liveaboard dive cruises are awesome. There are three things you do for the four days you live on the boat: dive, sleep, eat. The trip involved diving Thailand's best reefs off the west coast - the world-famous Similan's and Surin Islands - the water is warm and the visibility is from another planet. Our first dive I could see the another group dropping into the water from about 35 meters away. That's very far for diving...

Unfortunately, nothing big appeared other than a large leopard shark. The dive sites have the reputation for large animals such as manta rays, and whale sharks. Not this time to all the divers' disappointment. Got a hell of a fright actually as the dive guide motioned shark underwater (place hand like a fin in front of your face!) and all I initially saw was an ominous large sillouette of a shark above the shipwreck we were diving (adding to the eeriness). Luckily it was just a leopard shark, a very beautiful and peaceful shark.
The night dives were the best for me - its completely surreal entering the water with the boat lights illuminating everything beneath it and then searching the reefs with underwater torches. We surfaced in the middle of a torrential downpore the one night - very cool! There was a really sombre mood as the boat headed back to land, we all had a great time out there.
I also snorkeled with a greenback turtle on the second day - that was amazing. It was completely unfased by being close to people in the water. It even pushed me with one of its fins when it got really close at one point.

So I've seen 7 snakes in the last few weeks, a couple of them very close. The first one was at Ko Pha Ngan - I saw some movement in my bungalow as what appeared to be a lizard shot under my mattress. Nope, not a lizard - it was a little snake!... I called the bungalow owner and he sorted it out (brutally smashed it with a broomstick). Didnt sleep too well for my last few days there!
About a week ago, I was walking at night through the campsite at the remote island of Ko Tarutao when I almost stepped on a long green snake crossing my path. The next day, went to a remote beach on the island and there was a python hanging from a tree on the beach.
Then the last few days - I've been diving off the Similan Islands in the Andaman Sea and saw three sea kraits... one of the world's most deadly animals! Apparently you're fine though - their fangs are too small to puncture a person's skin (urban legend??). Would have been good to know before I saw it...
Then yesterday, another snake sneaked past my feet in Khao Lak.
Anyway, enough of this nancy-boy talk...

Ko Tarutao was just the medicine I needed to get away from the resort crowds. Its a beautiful and virtually untouched strip of islands run by the National Marine Parks board. Totally remote - we'll see how long that lasts - one of the islands is already being developed by resorts. Anyway, it was good.

Spending one night in Khao Lak led me to investigate the effects of the Tsunami on the area. Khao Lak was the town that made much of the news from Thailand in December 2004, having suffered more than half the casualties for Thailand. I think about 4,500 people died. There is a significant flatland extending behind the town towards some hills a few kilometers from shore. Evidence of the strength of the tsunami lies in a 25 meter Thai Police cruiser, which lies almost 2 km's inland from the water. It was literally pushed that far by the waves and makes it easy to see how impossible escaping the wave must have been for people staying/wprking close to shore. It was pretty heady stuff. I also went for a walk on the main beach, and came across a completely deserted and destroyed resort. It was also quite heart-breaking walking through the broken bungalows and beach bar, realising that many people never could have escaed in time. It's a huge resort and occupies a large part of prime beach. I didn't hear why it still hasn't been re-developed, most of the other resorts have been rebuilt now.

So... now the real traveling begins. This time tomorrow I'm in Nepal and will be making plans for the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalaya's. Wish me luck, and don't expect news back for at least three weeks - the circuit takes at least 17 days to complete.

Posted by Shlugger 03:01 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

The not so full moon party and Krabi

Islands in the south

sunny 33 °C
View The Shlug's world tour on Shlugger's travel map.

Travel days in Thailand are both pretty frustrating and amusing. Mostly amusing though. You often have to just sit back and go with the flow. Eventually you'll get to your destination! After a long 14 hour trip I arrived in Railay (various spellings) late at night. The trip swayed between interesting/amusing/frustrating/'some level of crazed madness' by a number of factors:
- Full Moon party the night before and arriving back to my bungalow at 04:30 (early for Ko Pha Ngan, I hear)
- The endless ocean swells on my boat back to the mainland at 08.00 that morning
- the Thai travel operators, reminiscent of dictators in their continual and unabated commands ("You do dis!", You come here!", "You eet now!", etc.)
- Two little German girls in my bus who attempted to break some sort of decibel record - earphones were no match for them
- five hour bus ride with another lunatic driver
- deluge similar to monsoon season on the 15 minute long-tail boat ride from Krabi town to Railay

Travelers start to feel sorry for themselves on travel days! I guess the day taught me to just laugh it off and sit back and enjoy the ride! However, it was all worth it. Railay is surrounded by four beaches - three of which are completely stunning. The beaches are all surrounded by massive cliffs and pinnacles. The water must be close to 30 degrees and if you open your eyes underwater it's similar to swimming in a pool, if not clearer. One of the beaches is Phra Nang Cave beach - without a doubt, this is (in my opinion) the most beautiful beach I've ever been to. I rented a kayak today and did some awesome paddling between the various bluffs and cliffs that jut out of the water. On the way back, I cruised past Ton Sai beach, home of the rock climbers. Its big wall climbing there and the view 200 meters up one of these rock faces must be absolutely amazing and terrifying at the same time. One day perhaps (Haig, Waterman, Millar - we'll have to talk...)... ;)

Maya Bay at Ko Phi Phi Ley island is where The Beach was filmed. I did the mandatory speed boat visit of course. It's well worth it - it comes a close second to Pranang Cave (and my hometown favorite of the great Nahoon beach, of course) on my beach ratings. It's full of tourists, but you still marvel at the beauty of the place. Some amazing snorkeling as well, with reefs all over the place and full of life, with schools of little fish often surrounding you. I also registered about 8.2 on the Burner Scale that day. Think I added a few thousand freckles. It's nothing compared to the 9.9 I registered a few years back.

So Ko Pha Ngan is great for hammock swinging. Luckily, my spot was a few km's away from Haad Rin - the island's 'capital' - constantly partying for some shape or colour of moon. Lazy days - I read the first of my el-cheapo re-cycled 'travel guru' classics on a hammock for a few days - Tom Sawyer - going back to basics. When you're not chilling out, you're at Haad Rin or renting a scooter and cruising the island. And on the topic of scooters, Ko Pha Ngan has more than its fare share of Thai tattoos. That's big, bandaged injuries from scooter wipeouts - it seemed half the tourists had them there. Probably a combination of late nights, dodgy roads, suicidal local 4X4 drivers.

The full moon party puts pretty much any party to shame. No new years bash I've been to is like this. Picture a wide beach, with clubs/restaurants each throwing their own party via booming music and fire dancers, and at least 10,000 revelers. It's Khao San Road all over again, and anything goes. They actually hosted the party two days later than initially planned due to elections. Plus, it rained, so no one saw the full moon anyway!

Next - thinking of heading further south to see Ko Turatao National Park - these are almost untouched islands according to some locals I've spoken to. Pictures to come soon... (monthly picture limit still too high)

Posted by Shlugger 04:44 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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