A Travellerspoint blog

Adventures in Cow Toe

Diving and Biking in Ko Tao

sunny 32 °C
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It doesn't take much to navigate round Cow Toe and early in the morning it is pleasant enough to walk round without saturating your t-shirt. Confusingly, the word 'Hat' and 'Ao' is put before most of the place names here, so we soon forgot which one we were looking for as we stumbled across Hat Sai Rin, or was it Hat Sai Nauan, no, Hat Sai Daeng. For a so-called un-developed island there are still plenty of grand resorts and big, beach-side bars, but they seem to be located in one area and are still aesthetically pleasing. We're not usually out and about at 6:30am so it was a novelty to watch the place come alive with people going about their early morning duties - praying, sweeping or just contemplating life. Interestingly enough Cow Toe has a somewhat chequered past, and in the early days before the glitzy hotels it was a favourite hideout for pirates and a detention centre for political prisoners. It is known that the dependents of the original inmates still make up a large part of the local community. So, I was on the look out for salubrious looking locals ready to pinch my passport, but instead we were met with welcoming smiles and friendly banter in that lovely drawn-out Thai accent: "Hellooo my friiiend, look somethiiiing, very niiiice!!". Prices are certainly higher here than anywhere we have been, but we found a pleasant, budget room near the beach and breakfasted on fresh fruit.

Next we scouted out a Padi-accredited, buzzing dive centre called Scuba Junction, which was offering great fun dives for only 15pounds! Apparently, the diving here is great but not the best in Thailand, but we weren't going to grumble at these prices! So, the next morning was another early start where we headed to the dive shop to prepare our equipment. Kay, our Thai Dive Master was extremely efficient and knowledgeable and as we sailed to our first sight she ran thought the briefing about what to expect and what we may see. Andy went a bit green when whale sharks were mentioned but thats maybe because the boat was a bit rocky. Thankfully the company had 15litre tanks for Andy's consuming lungs, so I was hoping for a long, fish-fueled frenzy, and I was not disappointed. Lots of live, colourful coral, covered in floaty anenome with clown fish hiding inside. Three huge Groupers went swanning past while bright angel and butterfly fish came close. I am pleased to report Andy's previous 'flapping' diving style has been controlled slightly and he now holds his hands together in a prayer-like manner - possibly to pray for no sharks?

Back on the boat for a slice of pineapple and to change out tanks, then onto our next sight. Amongst other things we saw little barracuda, a blue-spotted ray and a tiny octopus, but no sharks unfortunately/fortunately for some. Despite the popularity of this diving island - Ko Toa is the second largest issuer of the open-water dive certificate behind Cairns in Oz - the coral seemed largely unspoilt with fish in abundance. But while we were underwater a big boat load of divers joined us and kinda ruined the serenity. Price you pay for popularity I guess.

For the next days activities we decided to hire a little quad bike to explore the island which is only 21sq km. Now, before you get your knickers twisted about safety and insurance - it's ok, these nippy motors are considerably more stable than skiddy mopeds, especially on these multi-terrain paths. I must admit at times the rough tracks nearly got the better of us with vertical inclines and slippy, sandy descents, but what a laugh! We scooted around every possible trail and found secluded, tiny beaches like at Ao Him Wong. At one southwest point we saw the most picturesque views, and there was one little guest house right on the beach, with giant rocks nearby to jump into the deep blue. The water was clear as glass here and as we paddled by the shore hundreds of little black and white fish came to greet us and see if we tasted nice. One confident parrot fish took a particular liking to Andy's foot, I'm sure fish can smell fear.

Much to Andy's annoyance I took to the biking rather well, and after he reluctantly handed over the reins to me I was off... bumping around the jungle roads. Sitting at the back is rather more bumpy but for both there is a certain strain on the derriere, so after a few more hours we retired to the soft, bean-bags on the beach and watched the sun set. Ahhhh!

Tomorrow we head to the next island along, Ko Pha-Nang, which is dubbed the 'rebellious little sister' due to its ability to party. We will unfortunately miss the world-famous Full Moon Party which happens on the island, but we hoped to see what else it had in store.

Posted by AndyGem 20:38 Archived in Thailand Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

From One Small Island to the next

Perhinition Islands to Thailand

sunny 31 °C
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These Perhintion Islands are a magnet for young, predominately blonde, bronzed European beauties, so I was glad to be weightless underwater for a while with only the Puffer Fish to marvel at my waist belt.. and I'm not saying I'm a prawn-eating porker because even Kate Moss would feel a bit frumpy in this place. Diving here is very relaxed and relatively cheap but we decided to leave the disorganised Quiver Dive Team with their fading wetsuits and spend the next day snorkelling, swimming and sunning ourselves. Tough life huh! Practically clear as gin you can spot the little fishes in the shallow water even without a mask. It was certainly hard to tear ourselves away from such seclusion and paradise but we had four countries to visit in four weeks so we bid farewell to Gilbert the resident Ghecko and took the first boat taxi back to the mainland the next morning. Our next endeavour was to get to Thailand and we had no option but to get a car to the border - our first on-foot border crossing! Surprisingly enough it was very straightforward, no military men with guns searching through our bags and mistaking talcum powder for a suspicious substance then throwing us in jail... well, it happens in the movies! Anyway, a quick stamp here, another stamp there and we were through! Again we were suprised to find the tourist information office was, for once, full of information, and the friendly clerk sent us in the direction of the bus laden with useful leaflets. This border town is notorious for prostitutes and drugs but we didn't see any seediness, just lots of birds in cages - and by 'birds' I don't mean the colloquial word for women.

We were sticking to the East Coast, taking the VIP Bangkok bus to Chumphon and then onto the island of Ko Tao. There was no other bus option like the Indian style local cattle class, it seems big, a/c, lacy curtained cruisers like our one is the standard tourist travel. Ironically we were the only westerners on it, and we were certianly treated like VIPs - snacks upon boarding, superb Thai dinner and entertainment of a surreal Thai Gameshow; (Lots of instrument sounds at every movement, followed by canned laughter - in one scene an invisible, painted-face, sumo-type with pointy, scary teeth kept harrassing a guy who presumably couldn't see him, ultimately the guy couldn't sleep and ended up annoying his girlfriend. Hilarious... this would go down well in the England.)

Ten hours later, through a massive storm of terrential rain and thunder, we arrived at Chumphon, well, a crossroads near Chumphon to be precise. It was the middle of the night, in the middle of a large junction, with the only sign of life being a little Thai chap on a moped, who didn't speak English. (I knew you'd like a bit of horror to happen to us after all this fun and sun). So we were at the mercy of this moped boy, who called over his mate also on a moped and we wrote down our intended destination. If he'd have charged us 100Baht (200squid) we'd have been pretty much prepared to pay it but thankfully we agreed on a smaller fee and loaded up the bikes. Now if you can imagine, mopeds here are just the same as in the UK, they can carry one or two people, and a bag at the most, well, we also had to fit on our huge, rucksack which they tried to balance on the foot ledge below the handlebars... apparently turning was not necessary in these parts. Ahhh! I was less than happy with the situation but we had no time to waste, Andy plonked a helmut on my head and we were off.. we had a boat to catch! My moped taxi followed Andy's, thankfully, and I was soon laughing again when I caught sight of myself in the wing mirror with my ridiculous, mushroom-style 'safety' helmut, which was about as safe as a real giant mushroom. Hey ho, we arrived alive and just in time to get the 12 O'Clock Slow Boat.

The night boat takes a steady snail pace over to Ko Tao to deliver provisions and for 2pound we got to sleep onboard. Expecting to be the last on the very busy crossing we were infact bouncing around the sleeping chamber with just two French and one Thai. Bonus! Selecting a nice mattress and pillow we bedded down for the night, and as we got a few hours kip we were floating to a paradise island. What a way to travel!

The pier was a hive of activity at 6am with boats arriving and unloading their goods. Out of the three main islands in this area Ko Tao, or Kao To (Cow Toe) as Andy hilariously misprounces it, is the smallest, quietest and most laid-back. More importantly it is a mecca for diving, and we set off in search of the fishes!

Posted by AndyGem 05:07 Archived in Malaysia Tagged bus Comments (0)

Leaving Kuala Lumpur for Malaysian Islands

(I have bought some new t shirts now after all the comments!)

sunny 35 °C
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Today we left Kuala Lumpur for the coastal town of Kuala Terengganu (KT) and as it was to take over 7 hours we were hoping for something better than the Indian buses! Thankfully the bus was great, arriving in KT we were at a bit of loss as had no guide book for this area so had to rely on a taxi tout, not something we like doing but had no choice. Walking round KT we were struck not by its natural beauty or golden beaches (couldn't find them) but by the lack of people both local and tourist. We found an outdoor cafe and as the evening wore on more and more locals arrived, probably spending most of the day sheltering from the heat and / or praying as it is a massively devout Muslim area. As ever we over ordered at dinner mainly due to language problems and Gem ended up with a huge fish.

Next day we got oursleves to the Perhentian Kecil Island by bus and more excitingly speed boat. It really did look like paradise as we arrived into the bay which has been saved so far from mass tourism and development. The water was so clear and warm, about 28 degrees!

Island life is very quiet and relaxed, most restaurants show a film in the evening, we watched Gangs of New York so after seeing 100's of people chopped up we retired to our room which we seem to be sharing with a small Geckho. On the way to the beach in the morning we passed a lizard that was 1m in length which was cool but couldn't get the camera out in time before he scurried off!

We decided to revive our scuba diving skills and booked a refresher and a wreck dive. The wreck dive was quite a strange experience to actually see something so big having been defeated by the sea and now be using as a marine home! This was out first dive without an instructor, we just had a guide with us and although I guzzled my way through the air in the tank at my normal alarming rate we did find it enjoyable until the weather turned! Whilst diving we saw several flashes of light, at first thought it was a photographer but then realised a tropical storm had gathered above us. Rising to the surface we could have been in the North Sea, the sea was rough, cold, pouring down with rain, pour visibility and constant thunder and lightening. The journey back to the island was freezing and took some time as the driver navigates by sight and when he couldn't see anything was quickly lost!
It was good to be back diving but the coral and fish life as nothing in comparison to what we had experienced in Eygpt and as the level of organisation was dangerously lacking we decided to call it quits after 2 dives and hit the beach again!

Decided to have a nice meal at the only resort on the island, got to have a few beers and watch the Japanese tourists take photos of everything all evening, such interesting people to watch!

Posted by AndyGem 02:47 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

On the road again

Back to Delhi then Singapore then Kula Lumpur

sunny 31 °C
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Our relatively stress-free stop over in Delhi consisted of avoiding the smelly, mental, choas outside and doing dodgy transactions with the hotel staff - like changing over our Nepalese rupees or ordering a beer. Both of these services are seemingly normal yes, but we were told by the cheeky waiter with bad teeth that we should "no tell reception!". We haven't quite worked out if alcohol is illegal in some places but we normally have to be discreet when downing a Kingfisher.. service in a sports bottle or coffee cup for example, adds to the excitement I guess. It is definitely hotting up here because the sewer smells are becoming a lot more potent, and the crowds are swelling, so we were glad to make a swift departure after our last lovely chicken curry and rice.

Next stop Singapore, and oh what a refreshing contrast! If Delhi is hell on earth then Singapore is surely paradise? Jumping from pollution, poverty and chaos into graffiti-free, organised, clean-cut utopia. It was like time-travelling from the past staright bam! into 2050! It is so advanced by comparison that I half expected robots to serve me my noodles. It's an amazing place, a city, an island and a country, smartly compact all-in-one, and so perfectly efficient. On arrival at the serence, orderly airport, complete with tropical plants and waterfall, our bags were already floating around the conveyor belt! Now that is a first! I told Andy to take notes so if he ever goes back to work at Heathrow he knows the standard we are aiming for.

My only preconception of this opulent land is from my grandad who informed me it is home to the architectural landmark that is 'Raffles Hotel' - an adored Singaporean institution which happens to be one of the most expensive hotels in the world. A little out of our price range, and as we don't have anything in the way of smart attire we couldn't even treat ourselves to a Singapore Sling. (It has been noted that Andy only wears one T-shirt, but I can assure you he has at least two!). Anyway, even without cocktail guzzelling I knew my credit card would need dusting, no more dining out on a $1.

With only a day to see the sights we firstly took a trip on the big wheel, a bit like the London Eye but its bigger, less crowed, cheaper, generally better, and comes complete with a fab circular map so you can identify what you're looking at . Ingenious! Spectaular buildings such as the Esplanade Theatre and the classical Art Museum shape our view, so much construction Andy didn't know where to look, "yes, those big cranes are interesting darling!". The friendly Yorkshire couple in our pod told us about the riveting specialities in Singapores cultural heart - Chinatown, where amongst the many weird and wonderful sights you can witness live Bullfrogs trying to hop away from the butchers knife - certainly sounded ribbeting! So after a quick Hamilton impression on the F1 track we headed downtown for some sweet and sour.

Walking for more than 10 minutes in the hot, humidity was about as much as we would could bare, but luckily there is always an elaborate, air-conditioned mall on every street corner to shelter from the rays. They certainly like shopping here and you can easily spend your whole day mooching around these multiplexes. If I had any room in my rucksack I'd have been temped by a nice, new Gucci dress, needless to say Andy tried to keep my mall-time minimal. But unlike many of the cities we've visited Singapore streets are well laid out, with signposts, and logically numbered buidings, and shock horror, no roaming cattle! Even without our trusty Lonely Planet Guide we could easily find our way by looking up to the high rises, so no tantrums about map reading. We'll certainly come here again!

Newly appointed Logistics Manager, Andy, booked a night train to Kula Lumpur, but made a grave error in his class judgement. Not a wink of sleep was had on seats 4 and 5 in 3rd Class, so upon arrival at 6am we grumpily search for a comfy, full-reclining mattress to recover. Again with only a day to explore we set off, rather late, in the midday sun to see what this edgy city had in store. Elements of Singapore were visible with its magnificent malls, efficient transport and modern trappings, but it seemed altogether more gritty and ecletic, where people are not prisoned for chewing gum, and pavements are strewn with potholes. We first headed to the iconic 88-store Petronas Towers where we missed getting one of the 1,000 free tickets for the Skybridge on the 41st floor. But marvelling at the building itself was enough, and the three floors of shopping and dining, plus the spacious park with sycronised fountains kept us busy. The materialistic malls must have got to us because we succumbed to a frappuccino at Starbucks! Boo! Can't beat Java Chip!

Next we took a leisurely, if rather sweaty, stroll around the Lake Gardens, 92-hectares of lush greenery at the edge of the city. Containing a host of attractions we glanced though the edible garden, where I couldn't see anything to eat, and then decided upon a spot of peddaloeing on the water. I peddaled to a little island in the middle of the lake where I intended to deposit Andy and leave him, but a huge, scaly lizard greeted us at the edge and Andy's screams scuppered my escape plan. Maginfient mosques and temples are everywhere in KL, and every time we tried to take an inside tour the tourist-time had past. We even got whistled at by a scary security guard for walking on sacred marble... but the path led us there! We did have a quick look in the beautiful Islamic Arts Museum, which I could have spent longer in if it wasn't closing.

Our hotel was right in the middle of bustling Chinatown and by the time we came back in the evening a huge market was in full swing, stalls so close that it was difficult to weave through, let alone get to the side of our hotel. From what we have been told KL is known for it's great nightlife, and many people travel from Singapore for the relaxed, late-night pubs and discos, but with weary feet we bypassed the Bob Marley Bar and got some pillow time.

For those of you following our itinery, we had planned to take a train straight up to Thailand, but after a recommendation of the pristine beaches and cheap diving on the east coast we decided to take a detour. After further investigation of the map I noticed a remote spot called Gemia island... my very own Island? How could we resist? And if you are wondering what role I have been appointed... its Entertainment Manager! Whoo! Parties on Gem Island here we come! :)

Posted by AndyGem 18:46 Archived in Singapore Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Nepal Round Up

Highs and Lows of Nepal

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Another one down!

We've spent five weeks in Nepal; amongst the yaks, yetis, stupa and Sherpa, and it's not hard to see why we dedicated most of our travelling time here... theres so much to do and see and there is something for everyone: Along the greatest heights of the Himalaya you can witness some of the best trekking on earth, or get your adrenaline kick from world-class white-water rafting, kayaking and moutain biking. Witness wildlife in action at Chitwan or Bardia National Parks, or soak up the city culture in Kathmandu or Pokhara.

All this amazing diversity and the Nepali people leave you enchanted by their open customs and friendliness. We've had some great times and some hairy times, so here are our highs and lows:


- Trekking to Everest Base Camp and stumbling up to Kallar Patter for one of the best views in the world
- Venturing off guideless on our own trek and reaching the relgious site of Muktinath
- Relaxing, rowing and re-charging in the laid back vibe of Pokhara
- Coming so close to endangered wild animals in the Jungle, and running for our lives
- Playing and bathing with the tame elephants in Chitwan
- Getting to know the lovely, friendly locals such as Oscar and Bim


- Andy getting his first bout of the trots, well, it was bound to happen sooner or later
- Getting stranded by the strike, although I can think or worse places to be stuck than the wonderful jungle
- Feeling a bit deflated from the monotonous food in the tea houses - 6 year old jam springs to mind. eugh!
- Freezing cold temperatures on the base camp trek, keeping my thermals on for a lot longer than is hygenic

Posted by AndyGem 18:27 Archived in Nepal Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (1)

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