A Travellerspoint blog

Malaysia - Perhentian Islands

A little piece of heaven.

sunny 32 °C

Our next move was to Pulau Perhentian Besar one of the Prehentian Islands 21 kms off the east coast. It involved a pretty lengthy bus journey across Malaysia but if there is one thing Malaysia does very well its public transport. We were completely spoilt with fully reclining seats, foot rests and karaoke on the TV so the time just flew by.

Obviously you need to take a speed boat for the final stretch to the island and as we pulled onto the beach I realised we were going to be spending the next few days in heaven on earth. The island is nothing short of a white-sand paradise with the clearest turquoise blue water I had ever seen. We had heard beforehand that the islands were becoming increasingly popular with travellers and holiday makers so you can experience difficulty securing accommodation. We eventually found ourselves a room after being unsuccessful at five other places. It's fair to say it was a pretty basic hut with literally four walls, a kind of roof and two beds but who's complaining when you can lie in bed and have an awesome view of the beach.

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The whole vibe of the place was total relaxation, the small beach is lined with beach huts, dive centers, small restaurants and the odd shop. The best thing is that it still has that untouched innocence that many of the Thai islands have now lost due to their growing popularity and party culture. There is only one bar serving alcohol on the whole island which is a great place for meeting people as pretty much everyone ends up there (including locals) to sample the local whiskey (Monkey Juice) and have abit of a dance. I have never met such genuinely nice people and with it being such a small place after a few days everyone knows who you are stops for a chat.

We soon discovered that there was better accommodation available on the island and we got abit sick of people taking the piss out of us as apparently our place "Rock Garden" is commonly referred to as "Rock Bottom" with it being the cheapest place to stay. Also we had got abit concerned about the increasing number of wildlife we seemed to be attracting. We had three small lizards living in the rafters which kept on shitting all over our mozzie net, but it when I came back from the bathroom one day to see a Monitor Lizard so bloody big I was convinced it was a crocodile (it was seriously about 5ft long) that we splashed the cash on somewhere slightly less jungle like.

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This turned out to be the best decision as we moved to a place run by the coolest and funniest group of Malay lads you could ever hope to meet. From then on we had the best time with them playing cards, volleyball (not naked), Frisbee and this weird Malayan sliding counters game which has to be the most addictive game ever.

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Howie, one of the guys ran snorkeling trips so we headed out with him one day and visited five different sites. You wouldn't believe how much sea life we saw just snorkeling on the surface, the visibility was amazing. Our first stop was Shark Point where we saw three Black Tip Sharks at pretty close proximity. They are completely docile so there is no risk of them attacking you but it was pretty thrilling to see them swimming so closely around you. Then we went to Turtle Point and saw two massive sea turtles. We spent about 20 minutes following them just glided along all chilled out, then it would come up to the surface for more air and then carry on swimming again. Other highlights were Stingrays, Triggerfish, Clownfish (Nemo's) and amazing coral. At one point we were all given bread to feed to the fish and you get completely surrounded by all different kinds. It was such a good trip that we didn't even bother diving as we didn't thing it could top it.

We had originally planned to spend four days on the island but ended up staying for eight as we got so settled with such a great group of people. To be honest it was pretty hard to leave but all good things must come to an end.

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Our next stop - Kuala Lumpa.

Posted by greggers 23:55 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Malaysia - Penang

Food glorious food & that bloody hill!

sunny 31 °C

It was time to move from Thailand (we needed to dry out more than anything else) so we decided to spend a few weeks doing Malaysia before hitting Singapore.

After a good trot on the journey's front recently we had abit of a rougher ride into Malaysia involving alot of hanging around for no real reason, having to change buses 4 times for no real reason and being scammed out of our remaining Thai Baht, so we were pretty relieved to finally arrive in Penang 16 hours later.

Whilst we were in Thailand a fair few people had told us not to bother with Penang as it was abit rubbish but I recon you need to see these places for yourself and make up your own mind. Once we got used to the fact there are open sewers running down the side of the road and there are rats the size of Alsatians it kind of grew on us.

The first thing that hit me was the cultural diversity of Malaysia, the people come from a number of different ethnic groups - Malays, Chinese & Indians but they all get along really well so it makes for a pretty vibrant atmosphere and you can imagine how good the food is given all those influences...

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On our first day there we went armed with our Lonely Planet to have an explore around China Town and Little India. We dropped in at a Mosque which had been flagged as a highlight and we promptly found ourselves sat with a "Religious Consultant" who began reading and then singing to us from the Quran. It was a slightly bizarre experience although pretty enlightening, I decided however that I was a good Catholic boy at heart - it seems to have served me well thus far.

I would have to say that the highlight of our stay was Penang Hill, which is a massive hill (didn't see that one coming) 821 meters above sea level. We had heard that it is possible to trek to the top so being the energetic young lads that we are this seemed like a wicked idea. After a quick trip to 7 Eleven for some supplies we arrived at the bottom of the hill ready for our exhibition. Now its pretty difficult to imagine what a 821 meter high hill looks like but I didn't expect it to look like a bloody mountain! I'm ashamed to admit that we actually ended up opting for the wusses route and took the "scenic" cable car ride up there. Once at the top the views were amazing, you could see the whole of the island including the infamous Penang bridge (21 km's long) which connects Penang island to the rest of Malaysia which I had incidentally missed on our drive in (you'd be amazed at how tiring a 14 hour bus ride can be)

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Not to be defeated by the hill, plus the fact that we had lugged 4 liters of water to the top in order to keep ourselves hydrated we decided to trek down to the bottom. Turns out this is alot easier in theory than practice. We had two attempts at getting back down but without a map and minimal sign posting our homing instincts were pretty rubbish and we managed to walk in two complete circles back to our stating point, so it was the cable car back down again for us.

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On a positive note Malaysia has served us well as a rehab clinic, we were shocked to find that a beer here is nearly as expensive as home (2.50 a pint) so it has been fruit shakes all round - bring back The Blue Posts I say....

Our next stop was the Perhentian Islands.

Posted by greggers 08:16 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Thailand - Bangkok & The Islands

Muay Thai & Full Moon Party

sunny 30 °C

We took the sleeper train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok - a cool 14 hours. I'd heard alot about how amazing Thai trains were supposed to be so I was a tad disappointed when it turned out to be abit of a shit-heap really, maybe it was my own fault for getting too excited about something as basic as a train journey (how things have changed...)

Bangkok was exactly the same as last year - smelly, smoggy, sweaty & seedy but we were using it purely as an over-nighter before we hit Koh Samui. We did a spot of shopping and then tracked down a really good bar we had visited last year which plays live music. We ended up partying with a load of Israelis's til the early hours - a good night.

The next morning we started our journey to Koh Samui (complete with thick heads). In the interests of saving 500 Bht (7 whole quid) we had fashioned probably the most complicated and long-winded journey known to man. Rather than taking an hours direct flight we opted for a triathlon of transport. So, 6 hours later after a 50 min flight to Surat Thani, a 2 hour bus ride and then a 90 min ferry we arrived in Samui and promptly re-invested our so preciously saved 500 Bht in Singha beers and Pad Thai.

The following few days in Samui were either relaxing or lazy depending on how you look at it - up by mid-day, abit of food, chilling on the beach, abit more food, beers then bed. We were staying in a great guesthouse and were sort of adopted by the guys who run the bar so we spent the evenings chilling with them. Some of our best nights have been spent with the locals, they are far more interesting to talk to and have an awesome sense of humour. We did manage to go and watch some Muay Thai one evening at Samui's new posh stadium. We were lucky enough to see some decent Championship fights with three of the six flights resulting in knockouts so its fair to say we got our moneys-worth of bloodshed.

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Next stop was Koh Phangan, the island itself is about half the size of Samui and about 10 years behind interms of being wrecked by westernisation. We had arranged to meet Rob & Kristy our Canadian friends we travelled through Vietnam with so we had three good days catching up with them before they headed back to Vancouver. The nightlife in Koh Phangan is based largely around bars on the beach, they all put mats and little tables out at night so you can drink on the sand. Some of them have massive TV screens and show movies so it is like going to the cinema at home apart from it is free and your lying under the stars drinking a Singha beer.

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The coolest thing in my opinion though are the fire dancers. These guys are so talented and they basically dance on the shore with either two chains or a long stick which has been dipped in oil and then lit so at night you can just see these mad flames and they do loads of different tricks. At one bar they have a dancer at each end of the matted area where everyone sits drinking and one guy will throw his flaming stick or chain over the crowd so all you can see is a flying ball of fire above your head, his mate will somehow catch it (I have no idea how as it really dark) and do some crazy tricks then throw it back. I'm wondering if there is a demand for this sort of carry on in Clapham...

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Koh Phangan hosts a monthly Full Moon Party which is probably one of the craziest nights we have had whilst travelling. We were lucky enough to get accommodation on Koh Phangan but many people don't so as the evening is warming up there is a constant stream of speedboats pulling up on the beach to drop people off from neighbouring islands. By about 11pm the main beach is absolutely rammed with up to 8,000 people all covered in fluorescent paint dancing and drinking to banging music. There is such a good atmosphere and luckily there was hardly any cloud cover so you could see the moon really clearly, it looked really impressive reflecting off the water. The party usually lasts until about 9am and then there is an after-party on the other side of the island. We had been partying pretty hard on the build up to Full Moon so I threw in the towel at 6am..... what a lightweight!

Our next stop - Penang (Malaysia)

Posted by greggers 04:39 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Thailand - Chiang Mai

Trekking & Thai cookery school

all seasons in one day 30 °C

Our first stop in Thailand was Chiang Rai but it's fair to say it was relatively short-lived - 18 hours to be exact. We arrived, had a wander round but there was just nothing to do and Chiang Rai itself lacked any sort of appeal after laidback Laos. Maybe we just needed abit of time to adapt to a faster pace of life again.

The following morning we made the four hour bus journey to Chiang Mai. I was certainly abit taken aback initially by how westernised it was - McDonalds, Subway, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Baskin Robbins. I suppose this was mainly because when I was reading up on the area it focuses very much on the fact that it has 300 Wats so I had imagined it being alot less "neon" but then you remember this is Thailand. We mulled over what to do the rest of the day whilst devouring a Big Mac (well it has been 8 weeks of rice and noodles)

It just so happened that it was the final day of the Lanna celebration of the refurbishment of the largest temple in Chiang Mai. This was one big party, there were Monks attending from all over Thailand, traditional dancing & music and alot of fireworks. It was a real experience to attend such an event and witness how these people celebrate something that is so important to them.

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Trekking is very big business in Chiang Mai so we signed ourselves up for a 2 day, 1 night affair starting the following day. We were greeted the next morning in the guesthouse reception by quite possibly the most hyperactive and smiley Thai guy ever. Mr T was his name and there was no way this Trek was going to be dull with him at the held.

It took quite a while to pick up all the other trekkers from their guesthouses, it appears Mr T wasn't so familiar with the urban jungle. Eventually, after a few laps of Chiang Mai all 12 of us were on the road. It was a good mix of people, some lads from America, a few Canadians and the rest were Europeans, not to mention the 3 Dutch stunners who thought quite rightly, it was perfectly acceptable to trek in hot pants.

We had a four hour trek that day, the going wasn't too bad but it was really hot so we were all slightly relieved when we reached the village we were staying in that night. When we booked the Trek the overnight stay was pitched to us a "Tribal Village" but to be honest we had found Chiang Rai alot more tribal. This was abit disappointing as I was really up for mingling with some authentic hill tribe types. We had a walk round all the same and took lots of photo's of the huts like you do.

That evening we all sat down to eat and then the evenings entertainment cranked up a gear courtesy of Mr T being the wrong side of a few Chang beers. It seems the guy had an endless array of magic tricks and riddles he was only too willing to share (if he could stop pissing himself laughing long enough to perform them). Check this one out for size - "What has roads but no cars? Rivers but no water? and Cities but no people?" He kept us guessing for a good 10 mins - it's a map apparently - pure genius!

After a pretty much sleepless night due to the fact that I managed to pick the only bit of floor space directly below a hole in the roof and it pissed down all night we were up at 7am for day two. We trekked for a further 3 hours to look at another waterfall. I did a spectacular fall on a slippery rock and almost got washed away, I'm really not having a good relationship with water at the moment.

They had laid on activities for the afternoon, first up was an hour of elephant trekking. Mark and myself were assigned what had to be smallest elephant in the world (how Mr T laughed - alot) which just followed the other normal sized elephants smelling thier bottoms. Then it was time for whitewater rafting which was really good fun, amazingly, against all odds I managed to stay in the boat. But they had saved the best till last, bamboo rafting. We didn't have as much luck with this one. The guide seemed think a raft made from bamboo could hold the weight of 7 men so we all climbed aboard and promptly sunk about 4 inches underwater. The guide then steered us straight into a concrete bridge forcing us all to abandon ship and we spend the next 15 mins helping the poor guy rescue his livelihood from the bottom of the river.

Next on the agenda was an authentic Thai cookery course. We were taken to the food market early in the morning to buy all our fresh ingredients and then it was to the kitchen to cook. To be honest it was a really good laugh, the group was made up of Brits, Americans and Canadians all our age so we all got on really well. I made Thai green curry, sweet & sour pork with veggies & Pad Thai in the morning then we broke for lunch and ate our dishes. In the afternoon I made spicy beef salad, chicken & rice soup and mangoes with sticky rice. I was really impressed with how damn good they all tasted - I evidently inherited my mothers culinary skills. I will be laying on a Thai banquet to celebrate my return to the UK so look forward to that one guys....

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Our next stop - Koh Pha Ngan via Bangkok

Posted by greggers 00:14 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Laos - Huay Xai

The Gibbon Experience

rain 29 °C

To set the scene, The Gibbon Experience is essentially a nature reserve which has been set up in the Bokeo forest in very Northern Laos. The project was created to help protect the Nomascus Concolor Lu Gibbons which were once thought to be extinct but have been living in this part of the forest for many generations. By taking part in the project not only are you providing funds but also helping to raise awareness - sounded like a good enough reason to us.

Theoretically it is a 2 to 3 hour drive from Huay Xai to the start of the forest and then a further hours trek to the reserve. It all started well and we were approx 1 hour into the drive when we stopped for lunch. It had been raining alot the past few days so the roads were really, really muddy, so muddy it turned out that the truck we were meant to all change into was stuck on the way to pick us up. We waited for an hour or so before the guide said we have no choice to walk the final 14km's. So we got our waterproofs on and set off thinking this won't take too long. It soon became apparent the going was pretty dreadful even by foot, we had to wade through rivers, balance over rickety old bridges and trudge through deep mud. After 6 very long hours of walking we arrived at the village completely covered in mud and pretty tired.

We were met by another guide who would take us the final hours trek to the reserve (which ended up taking 2 hours). Little did we know that this would be the most extreme trekking we had done so far. There was barely a path as it had been washed away so most of the time you were having to be extremely careful not to put a foot wrong unless you would fall over the edge. We all made it in one piece although there was plenty of complaints from some members of the the group. Where was their sense of adventure..?

Our home for the next three days was a treehouse 100 meters in the air. The only way to get into the treehouse was by zipline so after a brief breather for some water and pineapple we got strapped into our harnesses and prepared to take flight for the first time. It was now 7pm and dark so we had to just push off the launch platform and aim for the lights of the treehouse. It was a pretty amazing feeling to be flying through the air in the darkness. After showers, dinner was served and we all hit the sack exhausted.

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The real treat came the following morning when we were woken by the sounds of the gibbons singing, I climbed for underneath my mozzie net and saw the full treehouse and forest for the first time. It was unbelievable, I couldn't believe how high we were, the views were absolutely stunning we were just surrounded by trees. After breakfast we were given a quick safety and procedure talk about using the ziplines and then allowed to go and play.

There are four treehouses in total and they are all connected by a network of ziplines some running as long as 300 meters and the highest being 250 meters above the ground. Most of went out with one the guides to try and spot some gibbons. Doing my first zipline in the daylight was pretty spectacular as this time you could actually see how high you were and you had to climb the main tree holding up the treehouse and zip out over the side. This was probably the best day I have had travelling so far as we spent the day zipping and trekking around the forest. It didn't take long from us to graduate from novice zippers to one-handed, leaning right back in the harness and zipping like the guides. We had such a great time.

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That evening when we all settled down for dinner I felt something on my leg, I just presumed it was another mozzie bite but when I rolled up my trouser leg I realised I had two leeches trying to suck me dry of blood. The weird thing is that you don't feel it at all at first and when you get them off they bleed like hell, apparently they have an anti blood clot agent in their bite.

On our final day we had to leave the reserve at 10am in order to get back before dark. There had been even more rain so there was speculation as to whether we would have to do another 6 hour walk. We did our final zip back to the HQ and set off on the initial walk back to the village. When we arrived there was no car so we waited and waited and waited some more until Hannah (a volunteer worker who was teaching the Laos guides English) said we had better start walking. Well all hell broke loose as these two American girls who were in our group went mental saying there is no way they could walk as they had blisters from the the walk on the first day. It was pretty funny they were so dramatic, threatening law suits and all sorts. We just started walking.

After about 45 mins we saw the truck which was dropping off the next batch of people so we waited for it to come and pick us up. We all piled in (all 13 of us with our 2 guides on the roof) and started what was the most extreme off-roading I have ever seen. The roads we were so deep with mud that the truck kept getting stuck but the driver was so good that he always got us out even when all thought there was no way he could.

We changed into two smaller pick-ups at the half way point and myself, Mark, Hannah and Chico (one of the guides who we had got on really well with) got stuck with the banger. Despite having chains on the wheels the pick-up got stuck at least 6 times on the way back, each time we had to all jump out and push it out of the mud. We had a good laugh with it though getting covered in mud and there are some pretty funny photo's to follow.

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It was so good to get in a proper shower when we arrived back in Huay Xai, we were filthy and it has taken about 3 days to get myself properly clean. We spent that evening drinking our last Beerlao's with Hannah and Chico reminiscing about our 3 day adventure. It has been by far the best thing I have done whilst travelling, anyone heading over to Laos should definitely check it out!

Our next stop - Chiang Mai

Posted by greggers 08:29 Archived in Laos Comments (5)

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