tiistai 25. helmikuuta 2014

Day 58 - 58. päivä: Serving suggestions

It has become the time to leave Thailand and its awesome and friendly people and beautiful nature (Lamru National Park in Khao Lak offers both). Next stop: Malaysia. Here is what we have done and learned since the last post:
  • Traffic rules and opening hours are merely serving suggestions. If it says on the door of a store that the business hours are from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, it does not have to mean that the store would be open if you go there at ten in the morning. Or at three in the afternoon. Speed limits are for sissies and “Slow down, dangerous curve ahead” really means “This is the best possible time to try how fast your bus REALLY goes.”
  • Thailand is like all that’s good in China was put together, without the dirt everywhere. Also, Chinese tourists love the place.
  • Beaches are fun. Sun is fun. Cheap beer is fun. Too many other people enjoying them with you (i.e. kilometres after kilometres of sand yet no space to spread your towel and lie down) are not. If you are looking for company of other people, quality services, Western bars and restaurants, go to Kata or Karon Beach. If you want to stay drunk 24/7 and wish the party to never end, go to Patong Beach. They all have stores selling Western products, cheap food and accommodation options from really, really cheap, small hotels to luxury resorts. According to a rumour heard from many, one should NEVER go to Pattaya.     
  • Using public transportation is the cheapest possible way to get around, and surprisingly convenient. There are two bus terminals in Phuket Town. Terminal 2 is for long distance busses. There is also a small, pink bus running between downtown, terminal 1 and terminal 2. Local busses to the beaches leave from Fresh Market, to Kata, Karon and Patong in front of the small 7/11 next to it. Ask any of the locals or taxi drivers hanging out there, they will practically push you to the right bus. The prices are set, and the conductors not apt to overcharge you. Ride to Kata or Karon costs 35 THB, and to Patong 30 THB. Don’t expect to see any seat belts. Motorbike taxes (dangerous and so much fun; you’ll be given a helmet only because the driver doesn't want to any trouble with the police, not for your own safety...) and car taxes (comfortable with often very chatty drivers with an English vocabulary of about ten words) have somewhat set prices, too.

  • Leaving the tourist attractions for a while is worth all the little trouble it may take to get to your destination. We have a friend, Arto, who is staying on Koh Phra Thong, a small island close to Kuraburi town. He has stayed there for some time now, working for a turtle saving project called the Naucrates. The aim is to protect the sea turtles of the Andaman Sea. The project is funded by donations and volunteers’ participation fees. The office is located in the Phra Thong Island, and the volunteers are staying with families, supporting the local economy. We, however, stayed at this small, paradise like resort called Koh Phra Thong Nature Resort. The owner, Karen, welcomed us to her place, and provided us invaluable information about the island. The bungalows were modest, but had all the necessities one needs in paradise; shower, power, beds and peace. The resort also offers all sorts of activities. Unfortunately, we only stayed there two nights due to a bit tight travel schedule but we did have time to rent bicycles from the resort (just 100 THB per bike for half a day) and explore the beautiful nature of the island. No fear of getting lost, either, for there is only one road. We also spent time at the beach, where we saw as many as four other tourists; that’s what happens when there is about 10 km of sandy beach and only a handful of resorts and hotels. What we enjoyed the most was the fact that all the tourism and activities on the island aim to be economically friendly. And the trouble of getting there?  It took two busses, a taxi, a boat and a motorbike to get to the resort from Khao Lak. An adventure itself, and totally worth it J (Thank you P’Teawl aka The Chef aka The Driver aka James Bond for the safe ride!)

  • Overcoming you fears and doing crazy stuff again and again doesn't make it any less insane, but it does get more fun. Aching muscles, bruised legs and sore limbs are here again, this time after spending three hours in the jungle, climbing, jumping, swinging and hanging on trees, ropes, nets and zip lines. Xtrem Adventure Phuket was worth the 2500 THB we paid for it (per person). The price included a pick up from the hotel, all the equipment and water. They have tracks for everyone, from kids’ obstacle course to the red and black tracks, which we were tricked to try and actually finished, too. Go give it a try, it may be challenging but it is safe and SO much fun!

  • Two months on the road takes its toll. Eventually you get sick and tired of having sand and dirt everywhere; packing and unpacking every few days; leaving places just when you have learned where the nearest store is; being confused if you should tip the waitress or if someone is trying to con you... We realised we need a break after having stayed in 17 different hotels and resorts. We looked into our options and decided to book a holiday rental apartment in Kuala Lumpur; a nice studio with kitchen and all the facilities a service apartment offers, in the middle of the city. That means we will have one week of cooking our own food, having a living room with a TV and a couch, and a washing machine to do our laundry with. But before that, we will be staying at Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur for three nights, a nice little engagement gift from some lovely people. Thank you! (I also bought two sets of new clothes, which really helped with the tiredness...)

tiistai 11. helmikuuta 2014

Day 43 - 43. päivä: Aim high!

We arrived to Thailand one and half weeks ago. Since then we've stayed in 4 different hotels, the absolute winner in quality, service and facilities being CC'c Hideaway at Kata Beach, Phuket. A swimming pool with clean water and rainbow colored beach balls, and complimentary coffee delivered to your room in the morning; do I need to say more..?

It is damn hot here in Phuket. One would think three weeks in Goa prepares you for dealing with burning hot sun and humidity, but no. Hiding from the weather in our hotel room or a restaurant with an A/C has become a daily routine for us. Swimming in the sea makes it a lot better, but seriously, it is almost a five minute walk to the beach from our current hotel, who wants to go through all that trouble just for cooling down in the blue, clear watered ocean, or sun bathing on clean, white sand? (Okay, fine, we do, and have!)

Besides trying not to melt, we have also been slightly active while in Thailand. As a matter of a fact, so active that we gained some sore muscles and a ton of new bruises and scratches by trying rock climbing in Railey Beach. The trip was organised by King Climbers, and we really have nothing to complain, the opposite really. The trip cost us 1200 THB per person, and it included a pick up from our hotel in Krabi, water, equipment, instructor and insurance. In the end, the instructor was the only thing that got me up that cliff; he really would not let me come back down from the two meters where I got my first "no way I'll be climbing up there!" moment. Rather, he told me to simply let go, lean back and see for myself if he'd really let me drop. Well, he didn't, but also wouldn't let me give up (although I told him to let me come down), so all I could do was to climb all the way up. Every time I couldn't find a hold he'd tell me from the ground where I could find one. The second time I climbed (yes, it was so freaking awesome I gave it a go again) was much faster, and I felt almost confident. Okay, fine, yes, he did help me a lot with the safety rope, and I probably would have fallen like 27 times and broken my neck, but damn, I'm proud of myself. Ari climbed three times, the last time being according to the instructor about 20 meters up. The feeling of overcoming yourself was totally worth the time and money but there are two things you should NOT think while up in ten meters: "Holy shit, the only knot attaching the safety rope to my harness was tied by me", and "Holy shit, what if the next hold I put my fingers into is inhabited by a humongous spider?". However, the knot held, and I was only accompanied by a tiny lizard.

Currently we are at Karon Beach. The place is filled with Finnish, Swedish and Chinese tourists, accompanied by unrealistically beautiful young Russian couples, and odd Middle-Europeans and Americans. You can get anything here, all sorts of hygiene products, medicine, food, clothes, accessories and luxury items are sold in various shops at the beach, some of them actually genuine, not counterfeits (I found Fazer's Turkin Pippuri!!!). We did notice that the prices of everything have pretty much doubled since India, but everything is still far cheaper than in Europe. Business seems to be quite good, the locals own shops and restaurants, which are packed at nights; the 2004 tsunami has left its marks, but the area has been rebuilt and tourists are back. Although one local tailor told us the business never fully recovered, mostly it seems life here is pretty good nowadays.

Speaking of Finns, there is no escaping from them (us...). Once again we've had some as next door neighbors in a hotel. It's okay, though, because it helps us with this little game of us, called "Spot a Finn." Not difficult to guess the rules, is it? However, this other little game we're playing, has turned out a bit more challenging, with only one score so far. It is called "Bongaa sauvakävelijä", and the only occasion of seeing anyone with walking poles was at Goa. I have once seen someone doing Nordic Walking in China, so maybe that's where we'll gain our second point.

We also went to see some hot springs (lukewarm water with way too many other people), Emerald Pool (lukewarm water with slimy rocks) and the Blue Pool in Krabi. After that we went elephant riding, which made at least me feel a bit controversial; the animals seemed fine, well fed and they were not aggressive or anything, but how okay is it to use them just for entertaining people? And anyway, it was a very short ride, the guide did not speak a word of English (apparently quite usual here), and it was really hot, so I don't think it was worth the money. I would imagine little kids may like it, though.

Next on agenda is also some sort of animal-related activity: we're going to check out Dino Park, a mini-golf course at Kata Beach. Tomorrow we'll pack our stuff again, and head to Patong Beach. More sun, sea and cheap beer! 

P.S: There is only so much fun you could expect to get for 240 THB per person, but oh dear the Dino Park was awesome!!!!