29.01.2012 - 03.02.2012 31 °C
It was a very lazy morning watching films and sunbathing. We were glad to have our first day off of Muay Thai training in over 6 days as every bone in our body was aching and it was a long overdue recovery day. We were also sad to be leaving KYN as the island was so beautiful but we signed up to go travelling, so travel we must. We had planned to catch the 1pm ferry but it was such a lazy morning that by the time we got into gear and packed it was already 1:15pm. Lisa from the gym called us a taxi and shortly afterwards we were on our way to the pier where we would be taking a speedboat to Phuket.
Watching the island disappear rapidly from the back of the speedboat we couldn’t help but feel like we had left a small piece of our hearts there. But it wasn’t long before Koh Yao Noi was a distant speck and the island of Phuket loomed into sight. It was a beautiful sunny day as we stepped off the boat and again were bombarded with offers of Tuk Tuks and taxis. We gestured no to all of them and followed the stream of locals heading to a little bus around the corner. This was a good ploy as it was only 25Baht to get into town versus 700 by taxi!
The ‘bus’ was very packed and we sat elbow to elbow and knee to knee with a whole host of locals for the sweaty 30 minute ride to Phuket old town. The bus stopped at the bus station and we hopped off, again immediately surrounded by locals asking where we were going but this time we had directions and knew it was only a 10 minute walk.
The directions turned out to be a bit dubious but we found our hostel ‘The Sleep Sheep Hotel’. It was again a nice room with AC and large bathroom so happy with another good choice we dropped our heavy bags in the room and took out to the streets to explore Phuket.
The Lunar year celebrations last for a few weeks all over Asia and our stay tonight happened to coincide with the Phuket street party – perfect timing!
The streets were closed off for a few square blocks and hundreds of little stalls were being set up in the doorways of shops and in the middle of streets.
We found the hostel that we believed Phil & Megan were staying in and left a note to let them know we had arrived. Unfortunately it wasn’t until a few hours later that we discovered it was the wrong hostel as it had the word ‘boutique’ in the title that the other one didn’t!
Eventually noticing our mistake we found their real hostel and were greeted with a warm hug and a smile. It’s always nice when your travelling to hook up with some people you already know as it makes places feel slightly less alien and more fun. The four of us headed down the streets taking it in turns to spot interesting food stuffs like jellied turtles, Chicken popcorn and coconut stuffed pancakes.
We then managed to find a really cute art gallery who were serving alcohol to tables outside so took a seat and ordered some Chang. (Chang is the Thai equivalent to stella and at 6.4% does a good job of making you feel sideways rather quickly and cheaply!)
The first alcohol in a week – yummy! It went down a little too well so Phil and I left Jayne and Megan chatting and watching the world go by as we went in search of an even cheaper source of Chang. The 7-11 came up trumps as usual so we smuggled a few of those back to the bar and sat drinking for a few more hours.
All of us pretty ‘Chang-d up’ by now thought it best to see if our legs still worked and began to wander through the street madness again until we came across some sort of local dancing contest on a giant stage. Now the power of Chang made us unbelievable dancers for a few hours as we bounced around and shook our asses to some strange Chinese rock band. The locals seemed to appreciate our involvement and began copying our moves and were very reluctant to let us leave the stage!
Midnight came and everything began to wind down and be packed away so we said a sad goodbye to Megan and Phil and went back to the hostel.
Woke up today feeling like I had been in a bike accident - everything ached and I was so glad there was no training. We headed to a local bus stop to hopefully get a bus to Patong beach for the Muay Thai stadium and perhaps a ping pong show.
The locals were surprisingly helpful once they realized you didn’t want a tuktuk or taxi and directed us to the correct local bus which would take half hour to Patong Beach for 25Baht (50p).
The bus was rammed and hot as usual but we are getting surprisingly used to these conditions now. Luckily just as we were wondering where to get off the bus it stopped for a local to hop on and out of the corner of my eye I saw the big American dude from KYN gym running down the street! He was waving vigorously and gesturing we get off so we jumped up, grabbed our bags and hopped onto the pavement. He laughed in his usual jovial way and told us the hotel they were all staying in was just around the corner. Thankful we had seen him we followed him to the hotel. He told us that the hotel he was booked in wasn’t all that great but the one over the road had massive beautiful rooms for the same price. Not one to turn down a bargain we ignored our booking at the basic hotel and followed him to the one across the street. We weren’t disappointed! The room was HUGE. It was easily twice the size of any we had stayed in so far and even had a chest height fridge. The bed was super comfortable and we had our own huge balcony – result! We spread our stuff as wide as we could to make the most of the room and danced around in it for a bit just because we could!
After a well deserved shower we headed out into the madness of Patong Bay with the American dude and a Swiss German called Sebastian. It was lunch time so the American dude suggested we popped into a local restaurant for some lunch. It looked a bit expensive but I couldn’t resist the club sandwich with fries! This was the first sandwich and fries since I can remember and it made them taste stunning! The American dude even offered to pick up the tab so it was turning out to be a great day!
Patong Bay is to be honest a bit of a hellhole! The streets are rammed with locals hassling you to buy crap, take a taxi or have a masssaaaagggeee. The beach is shoulder to shoulder and full of Russian tourists and old White guys with little young Thai girls. The Big American dude got tempted into a shop to have a suit made so Seb, Jayne and me decided to try and escape the madness with a quiet beer. He didn’t buy a suit in the end but Jayne did manage to haggle for and buy a bikini on the way back to the hotel.
Back in the giant room we changed into our fight night clothes and Big Dude and Seb joined us for a few beers on our balcony. After a couple of 7-11 bought Changs we felt brave enough to venture outside again and went to the other hotel to join up with the rest of the gang from KYN to walk to the arena for the fight.
The stadium was smaller than I had expected, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as we were closer to the action. There were to be 6 fights with Jacobs being the last one of the night as they were in ascending weight categories and his class was 160lb. The first fight was under 120lb and actually looked like a white Australian dwarf fighting a 12 year old Thai boy, but it was good fun all the same. As beer flowed and the fighters got heavy it got more and more exciting waiting for Jacobs finale.
I bet with a few of the locals on a couple of fighters but soon realised that if it’s a westerner versus a Thai and it goes to points then the Thai will ALWAYS win, so stopped giving out free money to the local mafia.
Jacobs fight began to the usual Thai fighting music which sounds like a funky saxaphone house track! I tried to place a bet on Jacob with the local dodgy looking bookey and he said 'no no - he KYN'. At that point I realised our trainer was very well respected and it was going to be difficult to place a bet. The first round ended pretty even with Jacob getting a few great punches in but the other Dutch guy with a few good kicks. I tried to place a bet again with a different local and this time she took the bait, I was now even more keen for Jacob to win!
The second round they both stepped it up a gear and the thuds from the punches and the slaps from the kicks echoed around the stadium. Jacob lost his footing a few times and slipped over but looked like he was started to get the other guy worried. Especially at the end of the round when a good left jab from Jacob made the other guy rock backwards for a moment looking stunned.
Start of the 3rd round and Jacob came out in a flurry. He was really putting in some good punches and scathing kicks that made us all whoop and shout with encouragement. Then he ran towards his opponent and did a flying knee at his stomach which seemed to really shock the Dutch guy. He then pummelled in with punches the guy backing towards the ropes. Then an awesome shot, it was left jab, right punch and an elbow to the chin and the Dutch dude was down. KO!! We all jumped around in excitement shouting at the top of our voices, Jacob had won very convincingly!
Buzzing with all the excitement we all walked back down the street to a local bar to celebrate, Jacob still in his fighting shorts with a towel around his neck. The local bar was small but lively and I challenged some local lady boy to a game of pool while Jayne drank Mai Thais!
Leaving Phuket Day
Woke up worse for wear for the second time in a row this morning, I think that will be it for partying for a while. We checked out of our MASSIVE room at 12 and I sat in the reception area for a few hours to catch up with the blog while Jayne shopped. Also managed to book a mini bus to the airport through our hotel reception so that we would be on time for the flight to Bangkok. The only thing was it would mean 4-5 hour wait at the airport but it seemed the cheapest and best way to go today. While we were waiting for the bus I thought it about time to get my ears lowered so headed off to a local barber. The guy didn’t seem to speak much English, but he did wear a fetching face mask and quite politely kept asking if I was ok? I guess it must have been the terrified look on my face when he got out the cut throat razor and started pushing my head to the side that prompted his question. About an hour later I returned to Jayne with one of the shortest/worse hair cuts I have had for a while but felt quite refreshed and cool and it was only £2!
The mini bus took us to the airport and I was so tired I must have fallen asleep about 10 times in the half hour journey. At the airport it was too early to check in yet so we sat and ate nibbles while waiting for the plane to board.
It was delayed for over half an hour but we were still glad we chose the 1 hour flight over the 12 hour + coach journey. It was a very quick flight by our standards but we were shattered when we arrived. We landed at the new Bangkok airport and it was very clean and shiny. The all to familiar hassle for taxi's etc when we arrived were this time actually useful as we needed one to get to our accommodation (The airport YHA).
We got ripped off as usual with the fair, it should have been about 100Baht but he insisted it was 200. Too tired to argue we paid up and checked in. The room was a little small but seemed clean. The only annoying bit was a concrete pillar smack bang in the middle of the room next to the bed. It was even more annoying later as every time I rolled over in bed my knee would hit the pillar and wake me up - dam. Didn't sleep too well either as the sound of planes taking off went on for ages and then just as I thought it was quiet people started showering in my room (or at least that's how it sounded!).
It seemed like I had zero sleep when we got up to check out so it was gonna be a tough day. We checked out and walked to the nearby main road to grab a taxi to the nearest train station. The driver we flagged down seemed to understand what we had asked but after five minutes I was doubtful. He stopped the car and gave me a phone and asked me to talk. The woman on the end asked where I wanted to go then got me to give the phone back to the driver. He jibbed for a bit and then took off in the car again. This time doing a U-turn and heading back the way we had just come. As he pulled up outside a train station I questioned if it was right and he said yes. We got out and he drove off sharpish.
The ticket office didn’t speak much English and once we could understand each other they told us that we were at the wrong station, not the one we had asked for. Thai'd again!!
Another taxi got us to the correct station (which was actually back the way we had come!) and we were finally on our way to Lumpini. We had to switch to a Metro after a few stops but then we arrived and it was only a short walk to the hotel I had selected for the night called 'Charlie House'. It seemed a very reasonable price for the double room so we took it and after emptying the bags sat downstairs in the restaurant and ordered a selection of rice and noodle dishes (of course!).
A little rest to let our food go down followed before guilt for not exercising in 24 hours set in so we donned our running gear and headed to the local park. It was mad when we arrived, it was as though the whole of Bangkok had decided to run around the park! So we joined in and ran for about 2 k before coming across an impromptu aerobics class in the middle of the running area. There were about 200 people doing aerobics like some crazy flash mob so we joined in. 15 minutes of flailing my arms around out of sync with about 190 others came next before it was over almost as quickly as it had begun and everyone carried on running. This happened several times as we ran around the park and was actually incredibly good fun!
After the randomness in the park we tried to find a night market that didn’t exist and then had a weird bowl of food which consisted of us cooking leaves and slices of liver in a boiling pot of water balanced on coals on the table. Bangkok was getting weirder and weirder! The bowl of water failed to full fill us so we grabbed various chicken and pork snacks from a few food stalls and then some cheap Chang from Tesco's (yes they are very popular over here!) before heading back to Charlies.
A movie and beer was the line up then until falling to sleep on a mattress so hard it reminded me of the BunBum we had slept on in the Jungle.
Day 2 Bangkok
Not much exciting happened today except our Vietnam visa pre-approval letter came through on email. Which is bloody lucky really as our visa for Thailand runs out tomorrow and our flight goes at 6am!
We were planning on going into the center of Bangkok for a walk around but the rain poured down all day long so we hung around Lumpini area. We ate from local food stores and spent time looking up interesting places to visit over the coming weeks. We ended up having a rough route with dates mapped out for the next month so it wasn’t a wasted day, in fact we are now really excited about arriving Vietnam tomorrow!
We also managed to get new passport photo’s done for both of us ready for our Vietnam and Cambodia Visa’s.
Bangkok to Vietnam
Up at 3:50am (eergh!) to get ready for the taxi which is picking us up at 4:30 to take us to Bangkok airport. Bags all packed and down the dark stairs of the hotel only to realise that the front doors were locked with a shutter across and no way out! We could see the taxi waiting on the other side so waved and shouted out that we were stuck inside. The Taxi guy saw a bell so started ringing it which thankfully woke up a member of staff who drearily looked out from a door and when we gestured at the shutter he nodded and disappeared back behind the door. Thankfully he reappeared with a key and raised the shutter to allow us to get to the waiting taxi (phew). The drive to the airport took around 45 minutes in busy traffic (yes busy traffic at 4am – I don’t think Bangkok ever sleeps!).
We had no problems checking in and once through the lengthy security queues it was already time to board the plane. I did have time however for a quick stop in a camera shop to look for a replacement for our recently deceased Sony. While chatting to the rather helpful shop assistant and showing him my dead camera he had the idea of trying a different battery in it and low and behold it worked! I don’t know if it just needed to dry out but this was a brilliant bit of news! Once we land in Vietnam I will try to figure out how to get it all working again (Just goes to show my never throw things away attitude is sometimes useful!).
Landed in Vietnam airport and had to wait in a lengthy visa queue and pay $50 before they would give us the great priviledge of entering their country. Once we stepped through customs and into the airport we were surrounded by people asking us if we wanted a taxi. Knowing that their were hundreds of Scammers at the airport we made our way to an info desk and asked about taxi's. She said she could get us to our hotel for $30 and it would be direct or we could go outside and try our luck. Outside she said there is no fixed price and you might get a bad driver who will take you to different hotels and charge you double. Hmmm. We only wanted to pay $20 so we went outside and took a chance. Finding a Vietnam Airlines taxi (which we thought would atleast be safe) we bartered a price of $18 and got in. The drive we knew should be about 40 minutes so kept our eye on the clock and tried to spot street names along the way so we knew roughly where we were. AFter around 35 mins the driver made a phone call in Vietnamese. This I knew was a bad sign as inevitably he is calling someone to tell them he is about to arrive with 2 gullable westerners. Keeping an eye on the very busy narrow roads was difficult but I noticed he had driven around in a large circle for the last 5 minutes and ended up back at the same road again. Suddenly he pulled up outside what looked like a book shop and a guy opened my door and said 'We are World hotel, sorry we are full but we give you a room in our sister hotel. Better rooms and facilities, just around the corner'. Now this stank like bullshit so I said ' No, this isnt the hotel, the road name is not right',
He asked to see our reservation and waved a piece of blatantly photocopied paper with the World hotel logo and address on in my face. I showed him the number and he said ' Yes, that right, but you must follow me to our sister Hotel'.
Anyway this carried on for about 5 minutes until Jayne said ' NO, I HAVE PAID FOR THE WORLD HOTEL. I WANT TO GO THERE AND SEE IT FIRST, IF IT IS FULL THEN WE WILL WALK BACK' in a very shitty/angry voice. This finally seemed to sink in and he barked something at the cabbie and slammed the door on me. The taxi drove off and after about 5 minutes the cabbie gestured to a road sign that was at last the one we wanted. He dropped us off just down the road from our hotel, I guess not wanting to pull up outside when he had just tried to scam us into a different hotel! He also miraculously had not a scrap of change and therefore had to insist on taking $20. WELCOME TO VIETNAM!
We checked in to our REAL hotel and the chatty lad on reception explained he often has reservations and people don't turn up, wonder why!! They gave us a downstairs fairly large but not very clean room. Oh well, it had been super cheap so we have to roll with the punches on this one. They did however offer us free tea/coffee or soft drinks, which apparently are free the whole time we are staying there and gave us a handy map of the city.
Showered and full of caffeine we ventured out into Hanoi old District. What a crazy place! We were immediately engulfed in mopeds (there are no paths to walk on) and they shoot past you in every conceivable direction beeping their horns wildly.
The noise and crazyness got more and more intense the further into the old town we went. The little streets barely a car wide were 6 or 7 deep in the demented Moped drivers and every space not filled by them was filled with little shops that spilled out onto the road.
After what seemed like forever exploring the streets we found a place to hide, sorry I mean to eat and which had been recommended by the chatty lad at our hotel. It felt so good to escape the madness for a while and enjoy a cold cheap beer (50p) and a lovely big portion of rice and curry.
Braving outside again after the meal we managed to find a camera shop to replace our water logged one and Jayne bought a few things at the night markets before returning back to the world hotel for a kip.