Saturday, 28 July 2012

Bungalows and Beaches...

This may be a very very long post as I have done so much in the last 10 days. I'm now on Koh Phangan chilling out for a bit until I head off to the monastery (but more about that later..!) so I thought I'd try to update you as much as I can about what I have been doing.

We left Bangkok on the evening of the 18th just after I had experienced my first real Thai torrential rain shower. I managed to get inside the train station just before it started, but Wow, seriously I am never complaining about UK rain again - the whole street turned into a rtiver in about 20 seconds! Another intersting thing about the train station - at 6pm every day the national anthem is played really loudly out of speakers and everyone has to stand up and face the picture of the King and Queen at the entrance to the platforms. It was really eerie - suddenly everyone stops talking and stands facing the same direction for the duration of the song. I'm glad our tour leader warned us what was going to happen as otherwise I wouldn't have a clue what was going on, it was like something out of 1984.

Anyway then we boarded the overnight train down south. It wasn't actually too bad. I got my own bed which was folded out of the seats and it was quite exciting to see everything out of the window on the trip down. We had a Chang (local Thai) beer and tried to relax but I did only get about 3 hours sleep as it wasn't exactly a smooth ride.

The next day we headed to Koh Sak national park which was an experience! The whole thing is a  massive freshwater lake and we took a longtail boat around it, swam for a bit and then were dropped off at the floating bungalows where we were staying the night. These things are literally just floating in the lake and there is no electricity after 11pm so it goes pitch black and 2 of our group actually fell in! In the hut is just a mattress and that's all. It was probably the scariest nights sleep I've ever had as I kept hearing monkeys outside the room and frogs inside the room, plus there was a massive storm and it felt like we were going to drift away, but it was an amazing experience. It was so lovely to wake up and look around the incredible scenery.

After this we headed to Koh Phagnan island for the next 3 days. It's been amazing here, we've been on more longtail boat trips and visted secluded beaches and waterfalls as well as going snorkelling. This was pretty embarrasing for me though as I, not being able to swim very well, had to wear a bright orange life jacket which made going underwater to look at the fish near enough impossible...

One of my best days so far however has been elephant trekking. We saw monkeys and crocodiles and then got to ride on the elephants for an hour trekking through the jungle. They were so friendly and tame and seemed to understand the guys that looked after them perfectly - they spoke 'elephant language' to them to tell them to stop, go right or left etc. Then when we got off the elephants we went to collect our bags and I discovered one fo the monkeys had stolen some paracetomal tablets from my bag and was eating them! Apparently they steal everything and anything. I was worried for the monkey but was told he was alright.

That afternoon I had a Thai massage which was actually the most painful experience of my life (worse than getting my tattoo). It was an hour of being pulled around and prodded and stepped on and pulled some more. My bones were cracking and I seriously thought my shoulder was going to be dislocated but strangely enough I did feel better afterwards, I guess it must be good for you. Not sure I would do it again though...

This was our last night together in Koh Phangan before the tour ended so we all painted ourselves up in neon paint and headed to the beach for a party. The next day I went with  a few of the people I'd met on the tour to Koh Tao, which is another island an hour and a half away by ferry. It's much more chilled out than Koh Phangan and is famous for diving as there is a lot of coral and things to see around the bays. I stayed there for 4 nights and had a great time. Our hotel was right on the beach and so I've been sunbathing in the day and then watching the sunset from the beach bars in the evenings. There is also some more crazy nightlife as well - one night we all went on a bar crawl and watched a lady boy cabaret which was erm, interesting! I also had another longtail boat ride to another part of the island, which I've done so many times by now I thought was completely safe but this time the waves were so big on the way back that we almost capsized! Luckily I managed to save my camera and phone by holding it out of the water but my books were soaked, I had to dry them out when I got back to the room.

Thursday night was the Half Moon festival on Koh Phangan so we headed back there for the night. Again we got painted up with neon paint (I'm getting quite good at the designs now) and went partying. The Half Moon is in the middle of the jungle and everything is glowing in neon, the music was good as well and I had such a good night!.

The group I was travelling with left the following morning so I have been on my own since. I've met a few locals who are so friendly - one of the guys that works at the hotel doesn't speak very good English but I think he's been telling me he has just had a baby. Anyway he says hello to me all the time! Yesterday I was feeling ill and needed to go to a pharmacy as my insect bites were flaring up (they are disgusting, I have 39 at the last count all over my legs and arms, eurgh). Anyway so on the long walk there from my hotel I stopped at a shop for some water and the family that ran it could tell I was feeling ill and gave me some fruit (they did laugh at my face when I ate the wrong bit though which is really sour) and let me sit down and chatted to me for a while. Everyone is so nice!

So now I am still on Koh Phangan. Tonight I'm meeting up again with another guy I met on the tour and then Monday I start my journey to the monastery where I am spending the next 12 days, 10 of which are in complete silence. I'm starting to actually get very nervous but hopefully it will be worthwhile... Here is the website if you wnat to have a look at what I am subjecting myself to: (Check out the schedule page!)

I won't have internet access while I am there so on the 12th August when I get out I have booked a nice hotel to recover in and will blog then about how I found it. I'm planning to spend those 2 days just sleeping and ordering food!

Wow, this is a very long post, its taken me almost an hour to write so thanks if you have managed to read all the way down to here.

Hope everyone is well back in the UK!

Love Jem xx

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Arriving in Bangkok!

So after a very uncomfortable flight (11 hours of some guy elbowing me and leaning on my arm rest) I arrived in Bangkok on Sunday!

After a long taxi ride into the centre of Bangkok - Thai drivers are crazy and there is so much traffic! - I arrived at the guest house we are staying at while we are here. It's very simple but nice, with lots of buddha statues everywhere..


After settling in I met the rest of the group and we all headed off to Kho Sarn Road - the main backpacker street to try some buckets of cocktails and listen to some live music, whihc was really cool. Some of the bravest of us also tried one of these from a street food stall.... 

I tried a very small maggot type thing that isn't in the picture because I'm not THAT brave but it tasted OK, just very salty....
There are loads of street food stalls everywhere around here and the food is amazing and SO cheap. It's great to walk around and see so many different things and smell so many different smells.

Monday was our first proper day and we spent it having a river sruise on a traditional long tail boat. There was so much to see but was very difficult to take pictures as we were moving, but intesting to see lots of temples etc (one of whihc I got a pic of below) . Also managed to see the Grand Palace which is amazing.

We also bought some bread from the floating market on the river to feed the fish from the boat. It's meant to bring good luck and they go crazy when you throw the bread in I thought they were going to bite my hand off!

After that I got a tuk tuk back to the guest house whihc actually wasn't as scary as I thought it'd be from all the horror stories I have heard. Maybe we got the only good driver in Bangkok. Saying that, we did drive on the wrong side of the road for a while, but can't complain as I got there in one piece!

That night we all went out for a group meal at an Indian restaurant (there are so many different types of food available everywhere). We had to take our shoes off before going inside the restaurant and we sat on the floor on cushions, it was really comfy. There was also shisha pipes and games to play so it was a really nice chilled out place apart from the very loud bhangra music!

This morning we got up and checked out of the hotel before heading to a Thai cooking class. I learned how to make Phad Thai and Panang Red Curry and tasted some mango and sweet sticky rice too. You will probbaly know how bad I am at cooking so am very impressed with myself! Not sure I will be able to remember how to do it when I come back home though, so don't get your hopes up!

This afternoon I've just been looking around all of the markets and trying out some bartering with the stall holders. I've bought a dress for 4 pounds and a little ornament for 1 pound so I think I'm getting quite good but have no idea how I am ever going to fit any more into my backpack it's almost overflowing!

Just chilling out now in an internet cafe with a green tea latte and am going to head back to meet everyone in a minute so we can all head off to get the overnight train down south. It's a 12 hour journey so should be an experience...

Will blog again in a week or so :)

Jem xx

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Getting Ready

Location: Beckenham, UK
Temperature: 18c

Tan Watch: Very slightly brown from holiday in Ayia Napa

So I have decided to write this blog to update family and friends about what I have been doing and how I am as I go on my travels! I will try to update as much as I can and take lots of photos for you all to see. I've also decided to record the temperature and the progress of my tan to make you all even more jealous, ha!

Plan is to visit Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia over 6 months staying in various places along the way (including Buddhist monastery, orphanage, floating bungalows, huts on deserted beaches, and plenty of hostels!). I'm also going to try to find work once I get to Perth as by then I'm pretty sure I will be running out of money - but I'll try not to worry about that until I need to! These are the places that I am planning to go over my first few months (plus Sydney and Melbourne but they didn't fit on the page...) -

I've booked my flights, had my jabs and read Eat, Pray, Love cover to cover (all essential preparation!). I've also, finally, bought a backpack and I have to say after lugging it around Croydon for half an hour am dreading having to actually carry it with stuff inside for hours at a time - it's almost as big as me! At least I guess I will come home with muscles, who needs the gym?

And so now the countdown begins and all that's left to do is pack and say my goodbyes. I have 4 days left in the UK and am getting very very excited, I can't wait to get out there. My flight is Saturday evening and I arrive Sunday afternoon. Next time I blog I will be 6,000 miles away in Bangkok!

Wish me luck...

Jem xx