Thursday 28 February 2013

Kek Lok Si - Buddhist Temple wonderland

The Temple of Supreme Bliss is the finest and largest Buddhist Temple complex in South East Asia, or so says our guidebook.
We visited last year in the day-time and loved it, and we read that for the 30 days after Chinese New Year it was lit up with thousands of lanterns. Each lantern had a handwritten label on it.
We got there a little early and climbed the stairs to the top of the Pagoda and waited for it to get dark and for the lights to be switched on.
They started slowly as if one person was walking around pressing light switches and gradually the picture built up as it got darker. They also played birdsongs over the loudspeakers and every now and then a massive bell gonged.
It was completely magical and we loved it all.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Trekking in Penang National Park

We caught bus number 101 today which goes from Georgetown, past Batu Ferringhi and as far as Taman Negara Pulau Penang. I think this means Penang National Park in Malaysian.
It is an excellent park which is free to visit and they have a Park Office where you register and tell them where you are going, presumably so that they can rescue you if you don't return.
We spent almost four hours wandering up and down its trails and saw very few other people fortunately, as it was very hot and sweaty work.
Our walk took us to turtle beach and we saw a few babies that were five days old and were due to be released very soon.
Apparently, only one in 5,000 baby turtles survives to become an adult.
Our journey was very undulating and rocky and at one point we were walking up a track where buffalo used to haul tree trunks. None of them around today but we were glared at by a massive lizard that we disturbed who was taking a nap on the pathway. I think was about six feet long!

Monday 25 February 2013

Looking for art in Penang

We left Hat Yai yesterday morning and arrived in Penang mid afternoon. Incidentally, I don't recommend that you visit Hat Yai as it is listed on the Foreign Office website as ' essential visits only' due to local unrest and various bombings.
There were hardly any westerners about and people were very friendly towards us, but I was a bit relieved that it all went okay.
We are now in Malaysia and I didn't take any photos yesterday as there was a massive rain storm and then it got dark.
Making up for it today though. We are wandering around the historic parts of Georgetown, which is the major town on Penang, looking for street art.
Ernest Zacharevic is a Lithuanian born artist who graduated from Middlesex University in London and is temporarily living in Penang.
He has painted about a dozen murals on various streets and we are trying to find them. Some appear to have been painted over and one has almost disintegrated, but we are doing well. We still have 'kungfu girl' and 'trishaw man' to find, but have just stopped for a cappuccino.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Rainy afternoon in Hat Yai

When it rains out here, it really does rain. It was interesting to find that some of the drainpipes are angled carefully to make handy car wash areas along the street.
We spent the afternoon escaping the rain in a pub with Margs and Dave who have rejoined us again.
They are catching an overnight bus to Kuala Lumpur later this evening and we are going to Penang in the morning.

Saturday 23 February 2013

Hat Yai hotel and upgrades

On the move again, this time on a very cramped minibus to Hat Yai. We weren't going to book another minibus as they are always uncomfortable and packed to the rafters, but the owner of our hotel persuaded us it would be good this time - of course it wasn't.
Hat Yai is not a tourist place and there is very little about it on the Internet. You can tell I have struggled finding something to take a picture of when I resort to using one from the cctv in our hotel lobby of us just about to get in to the lift!
However, as you know, Daz likes a bit of modern technology and we could email the photo directly from the camera to my address.
It is Saturday night but we couldn't find anywhere to go out to so we are going to stay in, watch a film and have a little drink out of some paper cups Darren has carried around for months.
Our hotel is very funny and is a bit like an easyJet flight, you only get the basics and can pay to upgrade. We have paid for a pack each that they handed to us when we checked in and it looked like a sleeping bag. In it were our upgrades - a towel, some soap and shampoo, wifi password, a tv remote control and the aircon remote. We never thought to upgrade to include glasses.
Pleased we were prepared though.

Friday 22 February 2013

Overnight in Krabi

Caught a ferry from Koh Phi Phi back to Krabi as it is a convenient place to stay before heading south down the mainland.
We were here a few days ago and I published pictures of the traffic lights.
This time I have chosen the White Temple which is on a little hill in the centre of Krabi. It is very impressive, but a strange experience as we were just about the only people there.
The Temple is guarded by gold dragons all of the way up the staircase and to one side there is a park with life size concrete elephants and tigers wandering amongst a man-made waterfall and stream.
It is not quite finished yet and the photos are taken a bit artfully to catch it at its best.
I loved the blue plant pots filled with water and I think that the plants in them may be lotus flowers.
There were many of them, all around the Temple and they looked beautiful against the white background of the Temple.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Things I like and don't like about Koh Phi Phi

We have spent five days on Koh Phi Phi and some things are great, some not so. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, but there problems.
Good things :-
Firstly, there are no cars or mopeds on the island, so everyone has to walk or cycle everywhere and goods are transported on trolleys. You can tell when one is behind you as the pusher shouts 'beep, beep' to get through the crowds.
There are almost no dogs so I have had a calm few days. Instead, there are hundreds of cats.
Thirdly the scenery is amazing
Not so good things:-
There are too many tourists. I include us in this. We have come to see the sights and experience the beautiful things on the island, but even in the short time we have been here, it is obvious that so many people are ruining it.
The narrow walking streets mean that many more buildings can be crammed into a small space, which accommodates more people.
At the moment it is still a lovely place, but you can see that most of the snorkeling sites are dying, the beautiful bays are getting polluted and nobody is doing anything about it.
We leave tomorrow with mixed feelings.
Finally, there are so many tattoo parlours that open all evening, so when we are out everywhere we look there are people lying on couches having needles stuck in them. It looks a bit like we are walking through some weird and never ending hospital operating theatre.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Kayaking to Nui Bay

Decided to take drastic action today and kayak to a beach instead of relying on a boat trip. I had read someones blog who had also done this so I had a rough idea of where to go.
We set off straight out through the middle of the bay rather than sticking near to the shore. It was a bit frightening at times as the kayak wobbled alarmingly and we are very inexperienced paddlers. In fact the only time we have tried it before we zigged and zagged constantly and never managed to go in a straight line.
This time it was important to do better as we had a destination in mind and we hoped that a) we could paddle to it and b) that it would be nice when we got there.
After about 40 minutes we went round a large rock and there was a beautiful beach straight ahead of us. We felt like intrepid explorers as we dragged the canoe up the sand (or I did anyway, but then I am a bit over dramatic at times).
I am guessing we kayaked about 4 kilometres in total which seems a long way to me.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Snorkeling in the footsteps of Leonardo di Caprio

Took an afternoon boat trip around Phi Phi Lay island which is a small island just south of Phi Phi. It has a beautiful bay called Maya Bay which is where the movie called The Beach was filmed. (See first photo)
Usually the trips we go on are excellent, but this one was an exception. Todays captain didn't speak a word of English and he didn't have a helper with him, even though he had 18 tourists on board. He also had no interest in us and just wanted to get round as quickly as possible.
Our first stop was called Monkey Beach which was exactly what it said on the tin. We decided not to get off the boat as the monkeys were not scared of the tourists at all so they jumped up at people.
Our captain set off again and slowed down slightly as we passed a cave and he called out what sounded like 'Viking Boat'. No one could see a boat and I was surprised that the Vikings made it to Thailand.
We then stopped in a very pretty bay and had a swim off the boat. I think there may have once been coral and fish there but there certainly isn't now.
Maya Bay was also lovely to see and the snorkeling from the boat quite a way offshore was excellent, although the water at the surface had occasional bits of rubbish floating around.
We then landed on the beach and had to pay a National Park entrance fee to the captain. I hope he didn't just pocket it as we did not get any receipt.
All of the coral anywhere near the beach is dead and there is no sign of any fish and it would be interesting to hear what the National Park people spend their money on.
It is a lovely spot though and it is apparently controversial how the coral off the beach got damaged. I read on Wikipedia that when they were filming The Beach they decided to take out a lot of the beach vegetation and replace it with palm trees as they looked prettier. After filming ended they planted new vegetation and took the palm trees out. The following winter there was a storm and a lot of sand got washed on top of the coral and killed it as the root system of the new plants wasn't deep enough to hold it in place.
I also overhead a guide on the beach tell his group that the Thai government had put a load of extra sand on the beach to make it prettier and it had washed out on top of the coral, so I don't know which, if either, is correct.
In case you are wondering , apparently the tsunami did not damage the coral in the area.
Just trying to add a bit of gritty investigative journalism into my blog - Matt hope you appreciate it!

Monday 18 February 2013

Loh Dalum Bay nightlife

This is the beautiful beach near our guesthouse that I won't paddle in as the water looks polluted.
At night it is completely crazy and every evening there is fire dancing in about half a dozen huge open air bars that spill out on to the sand.
We walked past them in the daytime and saw the huge sound systems pointing out towards the beach, so hopefully the sound is funnelled away from the accommodation.
We wandered on to the beach at about 9.30 and it was already busy, but I am sure it won't reach its peak until well after midnight.
There were quite a few people spinning large poles that were lit at either end and throwing them up in the air then hopefully catching them.
Some of the bars then changed to fire skipping with flaming ropes and lots of the customers were joining in. There was also fire limbo dancing and one of the customers managed to set fire to the front of his shirt as he didn't dip low enough!
There are also lots of little shops selling drinks in buckets with straws so we are going to try this tomorrow and make a bit of a night of it.

Forest walk to Long Beach

Margs and Dave caught a ferry this morning so me and Daz are on our own in Koh Phi Phi. We are planning on meeting up with them for one last evening in a few days time.
Left to our own devices we spent the morning watching Top Gear on Darren's tablet and then walked along a trail to Long Beach to do a bit of snorkeling.
We are getting quite a bit of exercise with all this trekking to the distant beaches, but I think the beach near to our guesthouse looks dirty so I won't even paddle in it.
Background info on Koh Phi Phi - the island has two mountainous areas and then there is a strip of land between the two that is about 200 metres wide, about 1kilometre long and only two metres above sea level. This area is completely crammed full of bars, restaurants, shops, tattoo shops, massage parlours and guesthouses.
When the tsunami hit in 2004 it completely devastated the low lying area and at least 2,000 people died. When it was starting to be rebuilt the intended idea was to limit the number of buildings and also impose a maximum number of tourists allowed to visit each year to cut down on pollution and the environmental impact, but that never happened.
Apparently it is even busier than before the tsunami, so there are problems, such as the dirty beach, etc. However, it is still (mostly) a very beautiful, if a bit crazy place.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Beautiful Koh Phi Phi

Caught the 9am ferry this morning from Krabi to Koh Phi Phi. It costs about £8 each and took about an hour and a half. The sea was calm and it was a very pleasant journey.
Left our bags at our guesthouse and set off to the viewpoint overlooking the centre of the island. It was 186 metres to the top and very hot, but an excellent view.
The pictures need to be viewed from left to right. The first picture is of the middle of the viewpoint, the second is the left hand view and the third is the right hand view.
We walked further along the top and then followed the path down to a secluded beach. It was really steep and slippery. I was fine in my sandals, Darren was not bad in his flip flops, Margs struggled with her dodgy ankle and Super Dave brought up the rear.
Water very warm and after a refreshing swim we were going to catch a long tail boat back.
They wanted nearly £5 each for a 20 minute journey so we all marched back over the top of the hill again instead.
It was much easier going back so we were all chuffed with ourselves and had a free fiver for drinks this evening.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Traffic lights in Krabi

I am not saying that Krabi is boring, it is just that it is not as scenic as places we have been to recently.
They have however, made a huge effort with traffic lights and street lighting, which caught my eye.
We have also been on a long tail boat trip today where we went to a cave where the bones of pre historic man have been found, so I am guessing that is where the idea for the traffic lights came from. They have another set of traffic lights featuring sabre tooth tigers so there is definitely a theme going on.
All of the street lights were nice as the bulb is held up by elephants standing on their two back legs.
I don't know if the crab sculpture is a play on words or if the area is particularly renowned for its crabs. We are going out for dinner later so I will see if there are lots of them on the menu.
Krabi is a nice place but is fairly quiet and seems to be used more as a stopover by people passing through, rather than a place to stay for a whole holiday.

Friday 15 February 2013

Wat Tham Sua

As part of our day trip, our final destination was Wat Tham Sua, otherwise known as the Tiger Cave Temple. Apparently, it is situated in an area that used to have wild tigers but they are long gone.
The highlight of the visit was the top of a 600 metre high limestone rock. There were 1,237 steps to the top, many of which were about a foot high and extremely steep. There were also monkeys around the lower steps that were very interested in the tourists and any food they might be carrying.
It took over half an hour to get to the top, although Superhero Dave shot past me taking two steps at a time!
Once at the top the views were excellent and there was a large bhudda, various little lookout areas and a little temple at the very end of the cliff.
As we set off down we could see a rain storm heading our way so we got soaked on the journey, although it was quite cool and pleasant. There was also a very pretty rainbow and the sun was shining again when I collapsed on a bench at the bottom to recover.

Where's Wally?

At a hot stream fed by a hot spring today. The water is an average of 42 degrees Celsius.
This photo reminds me of a Where's Wally picture. Can you find Margs among all of the other faces?
Also went to a crystal pool where we all swam. Finally, a blue pool that was supposed to be the same colour as Daves teeshirt, however, that was a slight exaggeration.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Valentines day hero

Twice in one day Dave saves the day. He has bought a valentines card all the way from England for the lovely Margs.
It is only 8pm here so I am sure that mine will also turn up very shortly.