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Monday, 28 December 2015

Fun Diving at Koh Tao

I woke up at 5am feeling refreshed and raring to go. I got ready and headed to 7-11 for breakfast again as it was right next to the dive school I was using that day (called Roctopus!) and not much else was open. In typical Thai style I arrive late but they were running later. This time the ride to our boat was much shorter and more sedate than the previous days as we didn’t have to cross the island this time. Both companies tended to dive on opposite sides of the island which was one of the reasons I chose them.

On the way out to our site the sea was quite choppy which made for an interesting journey. I had never been out in such conditions and wondered how it would affect our dive but the people taking us out knew their stuff. They took us to a site called Green Rock and told us we would swim around it. Our guide showed us a picture of the site as well as pointing out which fish we might see. There were only three of us going out with her so she designated herself my buddy as the other two were there travelling together. Once in the sea I enjoyed floating on the waves before we started our descent  and was amazed at how good the visibility was below the surface. It wasn’t sunny-day-good but considering the surface conditions we could see a surprising amount of life. There were many different fish which I still don’t know the names. Once we surfaced our guide helped us identify some of them but were just too many for me to ask her about them all!  The main surprise for me though was how much of the previous days final dive had sunk in. I knew that it would take time for me to get better at controlling my buoyancy and after yesterday I fully expected it to take a lot of time but I think in my sleep I must have processed a lot. I was still far from perfect but I felt I finally understood how to use my breathing to control my rise and fall. It may not sound like much but for me it was a big deal. I probably missed a few fish whilst testing this new skill but since even a banner fish amuses me I still saw plenty to make the dive worthwhile. I did have a slight issue with my buoyancy during our safety stop but an extra weight from our guide soon sorted out that problem. The highlight for me though was the small school of little remoras who decided to come and investigate me. I wanted to keep them but as we swam off they elected to stay behind. Understandable but sad as they were extremely cute!


Our second dive was near a sunken WW2 ship. We were told that if the thermocline was too high we would give it a miss and explore the pinnacles nearby. We descended in much calmer water this time and started to swim. Our guide once again pointed out anything she thought would interest us including a trigger fish which we stopped to look at. Though my mask was not fogging up as much as it had the day before it was still clouding up during the dives and I foolishly decided that this would be a good time to clear it so I could see better. I had mastered the art of not kicking whilst I did this so I no longer floated up however as previously mentioned I still had away to go and this time the tip of my fin touched the bottom just as cleared my mask. The fish thankfully didn’t move but I turned and saw the instructor wave me over. It turned out there was one behind me and it didn’t like me messing up its territory! Of course then fish one decided it would have a go too, I only saw one so I have to take the guides word for this. I am happy to report I remembered the advice from the previous day and kicked my fins to attract it (them?) to those instead of me and swan directly away from their territory. Phew, fish attach averted! I did my best attempt at an underwater apology and was very careful the rest of the dive.


After a short swim  I was excited to see the wreck looming out of the thermocline. The thermocline was just above the bottom of the wreck so there was still plenty for us to see plus I got to experience my first thermocline! It was unsurprisingly very cold but even having been told about it I was still surprised at how quickly the visibility deteriorated in the cold water. There wasn’t any coral on the wreck yet but there were plenty of fish and it was nicely bizarre to see a ship underwater. The gun turrets once used for mass death were now home to little fish who looked like they were enjoying playing hide and seek through the various hidey holes. After the wreck we saw some more coral and marine life and a blue spotted ray! Years on and I still love them and am seriously considering one as tattoo number three....  This time I managed to ascend with no buoyancy problems. The difference a day makes. I was as much in love with diving as I had ever been, possibly even more.

We headed back to the shop and our guide was quick to find me and help me fill out my log book. She was a genuinely lovely person and it was real pleasure to dive with her so I was a sad when she announced I’d have a different guide for my afternoon dives. She introduced us and he turned out to be English and unsurprisingly as friendly and nice as everyone else I met at that place. I do wonder if they give them all happy pills there. Turned out I had just enough time to go to 7-11 for lunch then  it was back to the shop where I got to have a lie down because once again I was in the last taxi. I was also introduced to my new dive buddy who turned out to be English too. I will admit it was nice to converse with people who are fluent in sarcasm for a change.

We were on the same boat I had been out in that morning but this time it was a lot fuller, I guess on an island know for partying as much as diving the afternoon dives are a lot more popular! We piled on and were soon on our way back out to sea. I took the chance to practice my meditation breathing as I had read it could help improve my diving.. Once we arrived at the sight we were to be first off the boat so we headed straight to the bottom deck for our briefing. It was time to dive


My new ‘buddy’ hadn’t been diving in a while so was doing a quick refresher. I was a bit concerned about this as I thought it would cut in to my dive time but as said previously, these guys know there stuff. Visibility was good so whilst my ‘buddy’ and our guide did the refresher I went for a swim about. I kept them in sight and checked in regularly. There were again a lot of fish it was interesting to swim about and good to take my time and great practice at going slow and really looking. Since they were having a review I decided to do one of my own. I attempted a Buddha pose only to open my eyes and realise I was floating up, sigh. I hadn’t gone too far so I stayed calm and concentrated and soon I was descending once again. I did take the time to signal I was ok to our guide who was probably a bit confused as to what to was doing up there. He totally gets points for noticing though. Whilst I was disappoint that I had ascended I was proud of my lack of panicking and my cool reaction which allowed me to fix of the situation quickly.

Soon enough we went off exploring. We swam over some coral then we hit sand, sand and more sand. I never thought sand was that interesting but I lowered myself down and close up I saw fish popping in and out of their hidey holes, an almost transparent crab and what looked to be mini banner fish with babies! Tiny tiny fish that were ever so cute!! To top the dive off I found myself hovering quite by accident. I stayed calm and waited to see if I could hold it. I could! So I crossed my legs and attempted a mask clear and I managed it without noticeably ascending or descending. I cannot tell you how impressed I was with myself, as the saying goes simple things... Too soon we had to ascend to the surface.

We stayed in the same spot for out second dive of the afternoon. This time though we went to the other side of the boat. It turns out that the other side of the boat was similar but different and just as entertaining as the first.

Though eight dives in two days was a lot my only regret was that the following day instead of going on a dive boat I would be getting on a ferry and heading back to Bangkok.




Sunday, 27 December 2015

Advanced Certification at Koh Tao

The overnight train was an easy journey yet unusually sleep did not come easily to me therefore I arrived at Chumpon at 5am sleep deprived and anxious to find my bus so I could get to the ferry and attempt more sleep. I had read some horror stories about the company I was crossing with but my worries were unfounded. I was able to stretch out and rest though sleep was still eluding me. Therefore on arrival at the island I was glad to jump in a taxi with two other girls who managed to negotiate my 150 ride to a 100 Bhat ride. I’ve yet to have any success negotiating, I don’t think I have the conviction needed to make it work so I always admire those who can.

Once I had checked in to my hostel I ignored the comfy looking bed and went to organise some diving! I spoke to several dive companies but as usual it was the smaller ones that were the friendliest and most appealing to me. My favourite company couldn’t do my advanced certification so I booked some fun dives with them for my second day and went to my second favourite company for my first day when I would do four dives, two of which would complete my advanced open water certification. .  It sounds easy but it took a few hours of walking about to achieve this so once everything was booked I found a nice restaurant that served a decent Pad Thai. It was a good thing I had a lot of diving planned as I would need to work off some of the food I had been eating!

Back at the hostel I managed a quick Skype home before it was time to do my homework. I had to read the relevant chapters in the dive manual before I could do my certification dives. Once I had swatted up I could finally go to bed, where I again failed to do much sleeping. I guess the excitement of the next day was just too much for me.

6am the next morning I was back at the dive shop and ready to go. Despite my lack of sleep and 7-11 breakfast I was excited that soon I would be back in the water. Before we could dive we had to drive to the beach to find our boat.  The taxi’s here are modified Ute’s which meant that when we crested the last hill of a very narrow road we could see all the way down, it was a great view but not for the faint hearted.

On the boat we were left to put our gear together. At had been just under six months since my last dive which meant I was spared the expense of the refresher required after a 6 month break. It soon became apparent that I could have done with that review. After one of the crew helped me assemble my gear the right way round I was good to go in the water. Before long I felt like I remembered what I was doing again and the nerves were replaced by the pure joy of being a diver once more. As expected the reef wasn’t as colourful as the Great Barrier Reef nor was there the diversity of animal life. However it was amazing to be underwater again and there were manmade blocks which were starting to attract marine life.

I was in Koh Tao in the off season so the weather wasn’t the best. For our second dive the bad weather forced everyone to same spot so there was a lot more diver traffic. Due to the traffic we stayed close to our guide but still saw some interesting marine life.  Once we emerged I got straight out of the water only to be asked why. My limited experience in the reef has always ended with us going straight to the boat so I guess it was habit. Therefore I removed my BCD and jumped straight back in with my snorkel to enjoy the fish massive shoal of fish near our boat. I stayed on the surface though as 1) my free diving is terrible and 2) we were warned never to free dive after a scuba dive and I value my health.

On Koh Tao the boats don’t go out for the day only the morning or the afternoon therefore we returned to the mainland for lunch before I was back at the dive shop ready for my certification dives.

Before going out again myself and three other divers practiced using our compasses on land. One of the girls took a while to get a hang of the use of the compass during our dry land trials but I suspect this was a translation issue. The one guy in our group tutted a bit and his impatience was obvious. I thought it was quite unfair as different people get different things more easily than others. Fortunately our instructor was very patient and went over it with both girls until he was sure they understood.

On the boat it was time to gear up again and thanks to my morning dives I had no problems getting everything in order and even managed to help one of the other girls. Eventually we were all geared up and it was time to get back in the water. As soon as we descended my mask fogged up! It was new and I had used toothpaste on it in an effort to prevent the fogging but I fear one night was not enough. Before long the trainee dive master pointed out to me that I needed to do it again and motioned for me to clear my mask. I doubt anyone who reads this remembers but clearing my mask was my least favourite task when doing my original open water certification. Our instructor made me do it time and again and I appreciate why but I hate it because it involved filling the mask with water and I’m afraid I’ll lose a contact so keep my eyes closed and then I can’t see. Not to mention I always get water up my nose. Anyway I did it, badly it turns out. Later on I happened to see the OW video and realised I really had forgotten some real basic things. This was one of them but at least next time I would be better prepared.

During the dive I was paired with the impatient guy who turned out to be an annoying dive buddy. The good news was that I managed the navigation tasks easily and once they were complete we had a lovely dive.

Next was buoyancy. This is my weakest and most desired skill: to gracefully float through the water and even sit in perfect harmony with the ocean. Yes. Well. Here I found out just how much I had forgotten. I had forgotten about using my BCD to change my buoyancy. I get the theory easily enough but in practice. I’m up and I’m down. I’m floating away. I’m bumping in to people. It is extremely frustrating. This would be why love brings suffering as Buddha says. I love diving but I desire to be better than I am and I suffer because I fail to meet my own expectations. However my love outweighs my suffering though on this dive it was hard to remember why. My mask made it hard to see and for some reason when I tried to clear it I often ended up floating up. I later learned from our instructor that I have a bad habit of kicking when I clear it so now I know hopefully that won’t happen again (much). Anyway since I was quite tired by this point I really struggled. I managed the basic stuff but the more advanced was beyond me. There was also a task I was unable to do because I didn’t know what it was. Our instructor had demonstrated and other had gone before me but my visibility was so low I had no idea what they were doing until the last person did it. I shrugged my shoulders and tried to get this across but there is only so much you can communicate underwater and I don’t know how to sign "I’m sorry I didn’t see what you did and I can barely see you cos my mask is fogged up. Actually I could now but I'm tired, frustrated and feeling very unsuccessful." However I did enough to pass and that (as well as being the story of my life) is the main thing. I might have been tired and feeling a lot stupid but I had actually learned a great deal. It is true that you learn more from your mistakes and that dive I really think I learned a whole lot.

Finally it was over and though I was by no means in perfect harmony with the ocean I had done enough to pass my certification. Back on dry land the girls returned to their hostel to get their dive books so there would be a wait to fill out the details from our day. I decided to stay and help rinse the rest of the equipment as really I wanted to shower before I ate. Eventually I went looking and though I didn’t find them I did find the dive master from our morning dive and was able to get the details of our dives from him. Over an hour after the girls had said they would return I found our instructor and told him I needed to go get some money but I would be right back. By this point I was extremely hungry and if you know me you know that isn’t pretty. The only slight consolation was that he seemed just as annoyed as me at the non-arrival of the two girls.

 I took the opportunity to collect my washing which turned out to be a wise move as on my return to the dive bar the rain started. I ordered a burger and I swear it was the best burger I have ever had, did I mention I was extremely hungry?! I’m sure my instructor didn’t believe I was just hangry as he was quite concerned about me but as always once I had eaten I felt my mood improve and I was once again able to form sentences and be almost sociable. As there was no sign of the girls we finally filled out my dive book and completed the paper work for my certification. He went off to check on it since I was being awkward by splitting my advanced only to discover I was not on the system. I did not have a tantrum at this point and much to his credit neither did the instructor. Thankfully I had my card and my log book so he could see I should be in the system and promised he would sort it. I have to say I did feel sorry for that instructor; he earned his money that day with the four of us! I know I for one I was more than happy to call it a day. I felt for sure there was no way I wouldn’t sleep well that night and I was right. It took me a while to clam my mind and drift off but once I did I was out for the night. The power of sleep had returned to me and not a moment too soon, after all I was only half way through my diving.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Ayutthaya

My final day in Bangkok my friend had to head back to her current home so I decided to get out of the city and visit the ruins at Ayutthaya. My friend told me about them and informed me I could easily get a train there and back and see it in one day. I was intrigued about spending the day away from the city and happily postponed my planned trip to the art gallery. I got to the station quite early but I was glad as it meant I was one of the first on the train and managed to secure a seat for the 2 hour journey. One woman did decide to use my arm rest as a seat but when she kept shifting further and further back I had enough. I refused to move my shoulder and the lady beside me nodded approvingly. The woman didn’t get the hint so the approving local lady had a few words and she moved on! I was very grateful and happy I could at least say thank you in Thai thanks ot my Thai friends at the meditation house. Therefore when a few stops later a man got on with three children and she made room for the littlest one of them to sit I was more than happy to shuffle the other way. Before I knew it I had a small girl leaning her head on me sound asleep. Now I’m not overly fond of children as in hospo I’ve seen them at their worst but this little girl sat quietly and ever so properly until she fell asleep making it impossible to mind and did my best to stay still so as not to wake her up.

At the end of my journey I followed the crowds across the road and dug out my phone. Right enough they were heading in the direction I wanted to go according to google maps and trip adviser. I’d had two hours on a train and had made good use of them planning which spots I might want to visit. 5 Bhat got me across the river but I decided against hiring a bike as cycling is not a joyful activity for me (spry bro, I know you consider that blasphemy). I happily walked along the streets happy to meander along to the first set of ruins. I was heading to Wat Mahathat but decided to visit the ruins beside it first because they looked interesting but also nice and quiet. It didn’t take me long to investigate but the day was heating up and I had had a long journey so I though it would be a good idea to get a cold drink and some more water. I crossed the road to a cafe thinking that if I sat I would have time to reapply my sunscreen. After burning my back in Malaysia I had been applying it religiously every morning but horror of horrors I had forgotten it! I was extra glad I had applied it well that morning before leaving the hostel and decided not to let it ruin my day. I cooled down  with a very tasty fruit freeze which looked and tasted like some kind of frozen smoothie/fruit salad combo.


Rested and re-hydrated I headed back out to find the rest of the ruins. Wat Mahathat was busier than the neighboring ruins as it had the famous Buddha head in a tree. I’m not sure what I was expecting but as different as it was I don’t think it ranks as one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen. The rest of the temple was interesting though and it was worth the 50 Bhat they charge you to get in. Also being Wat Mahathat there was a beautiful park which I walked through to get to Wat Phra Ram and the historical park. The park itself had the odd ruin and by the time I got to the park I was more interested in Wihan Phramongkhon. This was a working temple and as well as being beautiful I was drawn by a familiar chant. They were chanting in Pali and I recognised the words from my time at the meditation house. The temple was busy with worshipers and tourists so I didn’t stay long but it was interesting to see a temple being used as a temple not a tourist attraction.


My next stop was Wat Chai Watthanaram which was an hours walk away. At this point you might think I was wishing I had hired a bike but my day was costing me very little so I gladly paid a tuk tuk driver to take me there. At Wat Chai Watthanaram it was easier to see where the temple would have been and to imaging what it may have looked like long ago. Even though they were ruins I still felt that these were special places, though maybe that was the lack of people. Don’t get me wrong there were people about but nothing like the crowds I had become accustomed to in Bangkok. Yes, getting out of the city was indeed a brilliant idea. I splashed out on another tuk tuk to take me to see the Reclining Buddha. It was difficult to compare it to the one I had seen the day before but it looked just as huge even though this one was out in the open and the stone not decorated. From there I walked back to Wat Chai Watthanaram and from there back to the station. According to the internet I had made it back in time for the rapid train but was told no, next train was actually in an hour. Oh well, that gave me time for dinner then. Across the road from the station 40 Bhat bought me enough Pad Thai to feed a small army. The lovely cook and I had one of those stilted conversations I was becoming used to when we are both trying to be friendly but neither of us speak the others language so mostly there is just a lot of smiling. I don’t know if it was this or she thought I needed feeding up but tasty as it was I struggled to finish it however I did because it was delicious and I will not waste good food. I bought some fruit and water for the long journey home and went back to the station to try figure out where my train would come from. On arrival I figured the platform with all the backpacker looking people would be a good bet.


I wasn’t as lucky on the way home and had to stand for most of the journey but my boredom was alleviated by my discworld audiobook (my iPod was such a good last minute investment) and my fascination with the case the boy sitting near me had. I could see there was something alive in there and it looked like a case you’d carry a pet in but I never did figure out what it was. So ended my day out of the city; a completely successful and interesting day indeed.



Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Peace in the City

We had planned on visiting the famous Chatachak market but since we had spent the day before at various other markets we decided to give it a miss. I had a feeling that this was a city I would be seeing again so I was happy re-think our day. This time I went on the breakfast run soon we on our way to Lumphini Park where we hired a paddle boat and went out on to the lake. It was a nice change of pace and I was glad we made the effort to go. However the park was quite small and I felt there was only so much we could do there. I was still keen to see the reclining Buddha but my friend wanted to a lazy day in the park so we happily decided to go our separate ways and meet up for dinner in the evening.


Once at the temple I was glad I had made the effort. The Buddha was huge and though busy I was able to get a few shots that I hoped might convey just how big. I also paid a 20 Bhat donation to drop coins in the 108 bowls along the wall behind the Buddha which is meant to being good luck. I’m fairly sure I was meant to wish for something but I didn’t feel the need so just enjoyed the sound of the coins dropping into the bowls and hoped for general good things to keep occurring in my life.


Once through the temple I put my shoes on and went for a walk. The grounds were peaceful and felt larger than any I had walked though before, though being me I was probably going round in circles a lot. Many people look at the Reclining Buddha and leave so the surrounding grounds were peaceful and there were times when it felt like I had the whole place to myself. As well as being the home of the reclining Buddha Wat Pho is the home of many, many Buddhas. I think I read that they had been collected from all over Thailand in order to be restored. Whether or not I recollect correctly there were a lot of them. As well as the lines of Buddha statues there were four temples. One was quieter than the rest and I took the opportunity to attempt to meditate. Though I was keen to keep practicing my meditation I was finding it difficult to find suitable places. The temple was quietish and with a guard keeping an eye out so I put my bags on my crossed legs and with my hands on top of them I felt it was safe enough to try. I wasn’t sure how appropriate it was but I noticed on my way out a Thai lady was doing the same thing so I reckon I was ok in trying.


I continued my explorations of the many Buddhas and the architecture then when I realised I still had plenty of time before I was due to meet my friend I returned to the quiet temple and attempted to mediate once more. After my second more successful meditation I felt very peaceful so when I looked on my map and saw there was a park close by I decided to go have a look. Saranrom Park was originally a Royal Garden so it is nicely landscaped and still well maintained. Though it’s close to two major attractions it was blissfully quiet. There were a quite a few Thai people and the odd tourist like myself but we were all well spread out. There was a stone pagoda which I noticed looked nice and cool. A group of Thai people were practicing their massage techniques and a likely looking backpacker was having a snooze but I reckoned there was room for me to relax too. Since the group practicing were discussing their efforts I felt comfortable enough to dig out my phone and practice my Spanish in the park. I rested my legs a while then decided to see what else the park had to offer. It’s not large but a very pleasant place, I can see why the local people would be drawn there to run or practice Thai Chi. 


It was a very peaceful and restful day but I was still happy to return to the hostel before meeting my friend for dinner as I had walked around the temple a fair bit before exploring the park. Depsite having to take them off at repeatedly I was glad I had chosen to wear my Merrells and not my flip-flops that day! I made it back to the hostel just in time before the rain started and was happy to take a quick nap before getting ready to return to the Sukhumvit area where we would be meeting for dinner. My friend had found an Irish bar that served good ol’ English food and had live music. The food I could take or leave but the music interested me. Most importantly though it was inside and close to the BTS!

On arrival I found us a table and looked at the menu. Whilst I hadn’t been overly bothered about the food the menu did look good and I was soon looking forward to a sausage sandwich and a glass of wine. The food turned out to be good, even the fries which I happily poured vinegar all ove. The music turned out to be worth a listen. As well as being a good guitarist  the bloke also had a nice voice and sang lots of old favourites. We happily sat for a few hours discussing our separate days activities before heading towards Soi Cowboy to see what all the fuss was about. Neither of us are big drinkers so we were only planning to go look but even then I felt bad. The old men hanging on the young girls seemed wrong to me and the large groups of scantily clad girls outside the clubs just made me feel sorry for them. I was happy when my friend said she had seen enough and we were on our way back to the hostel.


Sunday, 27 September 2015

Market Day

Our first day had been a full on day of walking and exploring so a lie in the next day was very welcome. We considered going to see the reclining Buddha but decided that since we had a late start we would go straight to Chinatown instead. The dock was as crowded as the day before but they managed to squeeze us all on to the ferry and by late morning we were in Chinatown. As expected it was a very crowded and busy market but also full of interesting food. I gleefully bought some corn off of the first vendor we saw and happily munched it as we took in the sights. I struggled to choose my next item but eventually decided to try some coconut pancakes which were not quite as delicious as the one I had tried in Kuala Lumpur but still pretty tasty; they were more fried and less fluffy in case you’re wondering. We walked in and out of many streets lined with stalls selling everything from clothes to souvenirs to fruit to spices to loose tea to toys and of course street food!  After a couple of hours we felt we had seen enough and I had eaten enough though I am sure there was plenty we didn’t see.

From Chinatown it was a much less crowded boat ride further up the river to Koh San Road. Straight away there were tourist orientated market stalls with all the typical tourist print trousers, skirts, tops and shorts which I happen to love by the way. I’m proud to be a tourist I am and they had so many elephant prints I loved it. The streets we walked up on the way to Koh San were quite pleasant. There wasn’t much touting and the stalls were quite spread out but Koh San itself was busier and not as pleasant. It was much more crowded and I felt less comfortable browsing through the stalls. I did try a full Thai massage but the lady giving my massage didn’t have a lot of power and despite repeated requests the massage was a lot lighter than I was used to. Still it knocked out a few of my knots and it made me happy to stick to the tried and tested foot massage in future.



After our full on day the day before and a late start we were both feeling a bit run down so we decided this would be a good time to try the cinema again. We go the boat then train to Siam and went to the Paragon Complex to see Antman. This was a film I was not keen on when it was first released but as more and more of my friends posted positive reviews ( such as https://eddielucasreviews.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/ant-man-2015/) I became more interested. It was the right decision as it was a very funny film and we left feeling refreshed and good about life. As it was after 7pm we stopped at the Siam market to see if there was any food and since we were there we had a look at the clothes stalls since it had turned in to a market kind of day. We didn;t find anything worth buying so ended our market day with a quick stop at a stall and the ever handy 7-11 to get some snacks before heading to bed to recover and rest so we could do it all again the next day!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Bangkok City Tourists

On our first day as tourists together my friend woke up before me and went on a breakfast run returning with some orange juice and biscuits to keep us going until we could find some proper food. Since I am not a very good human being until I have eaten this was a stroke of genius, it soon transpired she was exactly the same so we were very much on the same wavelength regarding the importance of regular feedings! We left early to go to the Royal Palace as my friend had been told that the earlier the better as it is a very popular place and I am so glad we listened. We were up and out by 8am and even then the express boat was very busy. We got off a stop early and though it meant a walk we did manage to avoid a lot of the crowd as it seemed the palace was the most popular destination. As we walked into the palace I was stunned by the opulent beauty of the place. There were people everywhere and we soon joined a crowded queue to enter the main palace grounds only to find that we should have purchased our tickets further back, oops. We did a reverse struggle through the crowd and purchased our tickets with surprising ease, not only that the crowd had died down a lot so getting back to the entrance was a lot easier than we expected. Once inside the palace I was struck by all the shininess, there were gold and glittery buildings everywhere. It was  one of the most colourful places I have ever been and like the other few hundred people around us I immediately tried to capture some of it with my camera. I don’t know how they fared but I feel I failed. I was just so big and there were so many buildings and there were so many people everywhere! Even at 10am the temperature was heading past 30 degrees C so I was again thankful for our early start. We picked up one of the free guide pamphlets each and soon discovered they made great fans as well as having some interesting information contained within them.



Not to be deterred by the crowds or overwhelmed by the number of large buildings I started to concentrate my photography on the smaller details and statues. I was delighted to discover that my friend as well as being a happy subject was also a willing accomplice when it came to positioning Zack in (in)appropriate places. By 11am we had walked around and photographed everything we cared to and felt it was time to head off. Whilst we had planned to concentrate our efforts in separate areas each day to minimise transport costs we changed our minds for a few reasons. Next on our list for that area was Wat Pho, the temple of the reclining Buddha. Since it was a religious holiday the temple of the emerald Buddha had been closed to the public so we thought this might be the case for Wat Pho as well. We did consider looking but it was getting hotter and we felt we had seen enough elaborate buildings for one day. Instead returned to the lovely air-conditioned shopping centre I had visited the day before. On her last visit to Bangkok my friend had been there and been very impressed with the cars and variety of shops and food available. They have a Maserati
(or something similar) and a couple of Rolls Royce cars on one of the upper floors, as you do. Also she was keen to see a film in English as her only English speaking entertainment recently had been Masterchef Australia.


In the end we didn’t go to the cinema but we did manage to find some Indian food in the food court. It was mediocre and they did get my order wrong but it turned out what they brought me was better than what I asked for so I was happy enough and it was a change from the thinner Thai curry my friend was used to. At this point you can be forgiven for thinking we were the kind of foreigners who only eat ‘our’ kind of food. I can assure you this is not the case. My friend lived on Thai food and was enjoying a welcome change and I am always happy to eat whatever. I enjoyed the street food but was equally happy to try the Thai versions of more familiar food too.

The aircon was muchly appreciated as it always is in humid countries but there are only so many shops and food courts I can wander around and soon enough we decided it was time to head back to our hostel. There was a restaurant that had been recommended to my friend as being a bit expensive but with wonderful and traditional Thai street food, since it was raining we decided this was a good night to try it. We freshened up and with the help of google soon found it. It was exactly as advertised. We were sat at the bar as we hadn’t booked but it was a lovely little place and the food was indeed excellent as was the service. There was a mix-up wit h my drink but when I questioned them on it they immediately sorted it out with the bar tender doing the universal “Doh, I misread it guestures”. My only complaint was that the portions were quite small. I noticed that the people around us ordered a few dishes but we were too cheap to do that and decided one dish each and some rice would do us. All in all it was a lovely night out and a good end to our first day exploring and it is somewhere I would definitely go if I were in Bangkok at the end of my trip and looking for a last splash out meal before heading home.

Friday, 21 August 2015

My Introduction to Bangkok City

The day I was due to leave the meditation house the girls were also preparing to go to the temple. As it was a religious holiday a large group of people were going to spend the days in worship, meditation and contemplation. Had I been staying I would have loved to have gone with them as I believe the peace and tranquillity would have helped me improve my meditation. However I had my own plans. My friend wasn’t due in to Bangkok until the evening but I left the house as soon as I was ready. Though we weren’t due to check in until later I was sure I could leave my stuff there and start my exploration of the city, I had plans....

A short taxi then train ride and I was soon only a 15 minute walk from my hostel. On arrival the owner was surprised to see me but happy to let me check in early as our room was ready and waiting for us. I happily made myself at home and made my plans for the day. Like many a tourist before me I had assumed that finding a salon for waxing would be cheap and easy and I was definitely interested in getting one of the famous Thai massages, the not dodgy kind of course! It turns out finding a salon was harder than I thought. I read a lot online about reused wax and lack of privacy so decided to pay over the odds to go to a nice place that guaranteed new wax and complete privacy.

It was expensive and it was vain but I was very glad I splashed out as the place I ended up at took great care of me and I felt much better afterwards. I was slightly worried that my eyebrows looked rather red but was assured (correctly) that this would calm down within the hour. The other thing on my list was to book my train to Koh Tao, after my last minute rearrange plans at Penang I wanted to book it well in advance. I was glad I did as the Monday train was full so I ended up booking for the Tuesday. I was happy with this as though I was looking forward to exploring with my friend I also thought it would be nice to have a day in Bangkok on my own as there are always thing one person likes to do that the other doesn’t. Booking the train was surprisingly easy; I ended up letting the tour people book my train as well as the bus and ferry. I soon realised that I had been directed to a company not a ticket office but I was feeling lazy so the idea of letting them book it all for me was appealing. Since it took less time than expected I decided I just about had time for a quick foot massage before meeting my friend. As in Hat Yai it was wonderful and the feet seemed to include my legs, shoulders arms and head, not bad for 250 Bhat. I felt very relaxed, it’s no wonder the Thai people are so laid back if they get these on a regular basis. I wasn’t sure how I could bring myself to hurry to meet my friend but a quick text revealed she was running late so I could take my time getting to our designated meeting place.

I hadn’t seen my friend in over a year and she was looking great. She had been in Thailand for months so when we spied a western style cafe near the train station she was delighted to have some pasta. I love Thai food but I was happy to have a taste of home and though I had my reservations it turned out to be very good.  It had not been a typical tourist day but it had been a good one and going by the information my friend had gathered the next few would be very touristy indeed.

We spent the evening catching up and being glad to be inside out of the heavy rain pouring down. Our joy was slightly dampened when we discovered a puddle at the far side of the room. It turned out that there was a crack in our window sill and my friends bed had also sustained a soaking. I went in search of a bucket and easily found a mop and some helpful hostel guests. One of them found the owner by the cunning tactic of calling her name up the stairwell. She appeared and was suitably horrified not only by the leak but by the fact I had gone ahead and cleaned most of it up. She fetched us some towels and clean bedding for my friend and soon we were all fixed. She couldn’t apologise enough but we were happy that she fixed everything so quickly. She left us some towels as a barrier against the rain in case anymore came in but the worst of the storm had passed and when we woke up the next day we were perfectly dry and ready to explore.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Life at the Meditation House

Tuesday morning was spent tidying up the house in readiness for everyone return. Soon the girls had the place looking fabulous and I tried not to get in the way though I did manage to do some mopping so as not to feel too useless. Soon people started to return and the house started to feel like it had on my arrival.

The following week followed much the same pattern as my first few days. I had adopted the chore of sweeping the garden and tried to do this soon after our morning mediation before the temperature became too high. I also managed to practice my Spanish and some of my stretches on a daily basis as technically the mornings were our own. Most mornings I ended up having interesting discussions with my host. Primarily these were centred on the basic precepts of Buddhism but there was one morning where she was asking me about some physics and my brain really had to do some work!

I found the classes where the precepts were discussed in more depth to be interesting and appreciated that my host was open to discussions when I had questions and concerns about any of the teachings. I discovered that mediation was very difficult and my attempts to try on my own were never as successful as those when I had someone transferring for me. Every time I was successful though, even slightly, I felt a great sense of peace and very relaxed post mediation. I knew that this was something I very much wanted to continue practicing though I was concerned about how I would manage living in hostels where a quiet place is often hard to find. Ironically this was often one of the thoughts that made my lone attempts at meditation unsuccessful.

Whilst the days followed a familiar pattern every day was different with something new to learn; not just about Buddhism and meditation but also about myself. I did keep a record of my experiences but as it takes up 12 pages I have decided not to expand on my every revelation here! Suffice to say I was starting to appreciate the importance of mindfulness where it is important to be actively aware of the reasons behind our thoughts and actions. I have always believed there is more to this world than we understand and this belief was strengthened by my time at the house. Whilst I am still not sure that Buddhism has the answers it is by far the most logical religion I have yet come across and I know I would like to investigate it further at a later date.

The days passed too quickly and before I knew it Monday arrived again and once more three of us had the house to ourselves. This time my friend had work to do so I happily spent the day writing and editing some of my many photos. It was a very different day off from the previous week but it was nice to be on familiar territory. I did manage to make time to do my washing as I wanted to clean the clothes that had been lent to me. Sadly I had decided to leave my fabulous yellow trousers behind as they were too bulky for my already too full backpack but I knew that they might be of use to future guests at the house.

Tuesday was my last day at the house as I was meeting a friend in the city on Wednesday. It turned out to be a very quiet day as most people were preparing for the long weekend. My hosts had organised a trip to the temple for the long weekend and there was much preparation to be done. This resulted in a very relaxed final day though I did manage to get in all my mediation practice taking advantage of the chance to have transference one last time before I truly was on my own.

Monday, 17 August 2015

My First Almost Week at the Meditation House

My first full day at the house set the pattern for the rest of the week. There were four of us sharing a room and we all got up early for our morning chanting and mediation. First we put away our mats and bedding turning our bedroom to a meditation area. Given the choice I elected to have breakfast between chanting and meditation and one of the girls kindly waited for me so she could transfer for me.

Post meditation the girls set about their daily tasks of sweeping, mopping and preparing food. I was told to relax so I read the translation of the evening and morning chants and tried to stay out of the way.  Later in the morning my host went over some of the basic words used in the Buddhist teachings and in the afternoon I was invited to join the class with my host translating. We watched a video of an autopsy with the message being that no matter what our eyes may see on the inside we are all the same. As well as teaching us to see beyond someone’s looks we were also instructed to keep this video in mind when we saw handsome men as it would remind us that inside we are disgusting and thus help us to not give in to our desire for them.

I’m not sure about the last bit but I did remember the video during my meditation and it did help me concentrate on the here and now. I imagined my breath entering my lungs and the oxygen passing throughout my body organ by organ. I know that’s not how it works but it was a good tool to help me keep my concentration. During meditation we are taught to concentrate on our breathing using the word Bud-dho to help us focus. On the first syllable we breathe in and imagine our breath and the path it follows. On the second we breathe out again following the path the breath takes. Initially this is a conscious and controlled movement but as the mind calms breathing becomes more natural and we become still. Since I had been doing rather well in the sitting still department I thought I would try to meditate on my own. This is how I found out just how powerful the transference was. I managed all of 30 minutes on my own. I was told this wasn’t actually too bad for the first time on my own so determined that I would try again soon.

Whilst I was keen to learn that evening I had someone transfer for me and again and once more was able to sit for longer than I had on my own that afternoon. Post mediation we discussed the importance of practice. Though in reference to meditation I immediately resolved to download the app my friends had told me about so I could practice the Spanish I had taken such pains to learn the previous two months. As well as this development we discussed what I was hoping to learn and gain from my meditation.

The next two days followed a similar pattern. The differences were that I downloaded the Duolingo app on my phone and started practicing my Spanish in the mornings as well as reading my book Also despite the fact anyone who has lived with me will tell you I’m terrible when it come to housework but with no job I found myself in need of activity so took to sweeping the garden.

On Saturday evening one of the girls took me to the local market. Here I was able to buy some tops more suitable for mediation and some long yellow trousers which as well as being suitably modest also looked different to my usual attire but in a good way. I also bought some fruit for the house and my new friend bought me a herbal drink which tasted a little like grass and was surprisingly enjoyable. As much as I love the food here I constantly find myself at a complete loss as to how to describe the different flavours. Suffice to say so far everything I tasted was good!

Monday was a day of rest and the house felt very empty as most people had returned to their families for the day leaving only three of us in the house. One of the girls prepared some soup for us so we didn’t even have to cook. (And yes of course it was good!) Since it was quiet I took the time to practice some stretches and exercises I had been shown the previous afternoon by a lovely Thai lady who also used to have problems with her flexibility. One of the girls had her own plans for the day but the other offered to take me to a park she thought I would enjoy. My day off was shaping up to be something different yet again.

The park was very peaceful. There was a building at its entrance which my friend informed me was place people could go to learn about and research Buddhism. As calm and peaceful as it was I decided I preferred the methods used at the meditation house. I was however very impressed with their mediation room and my friend said we could return later for our afternoon mediation. For the moment though we went to the market over the road from the park. We weren’t too hungry which was fortunate as the market was very busy and quite a shock after the peacefulness of the park. Instead we decided to walk through the park where we stopped at a small store to top up my phone and indulge in some cooling ice-cream, well it was a very warm day and it was technically our weekend.




We then headed back to the market which was winding down and therefore much quieter. I was proud that I managed to eat a fair amount of spicy salad which was unsurprisingly tasty and happy to try the friend banana and sweet potato my friend bought to accompany it. By the time we were done we were ready for our afternoon meditation. Beside the mediation room there was a small garden with a smooth pebbled path around it. Here I was introduced to walking mediation where the emphasis is on feeling the ground beneath your feet as you walk. Instead of thinking Bud-dho in rhythm with the breathing it was as each foot was placed on the ground. So the heel was Bud and the soul of the foot dho as the rest of the foot made contact with the ground. Before we started we stood very still and slowed our breathing then walked slowly round the path. It was a very different sensation from the sitting meditation yet relaxing in the same way. Once we had walked around the path we went straight to the mediation room keeping our movements slow. Once in the room we settled down and very soon I was in a familiar calm place.


By the time we were finished my friend suggested we head back towards the house as traffic would become increasingly bad the longer we waited. I was happy to comply. After a fairly short ride though Bangkok’s idea of light traffic we met up with the other girl and their Buddhist master. They took me to a noodle house where I was introduced to more tasty food. By now I should have known better than to ask what might be in it but no I asked and was told chicken blood. The soup itself tasted good and was pleasantly filling but the lumps of congealed blood I decided I could do without. I did try them but they didn’t taste very nice, finally I had found something in Thailand I didn’t like the taste of. Back at the house I was on more familiar territory as I opened up my laptop and tried to remember everything I had experienced in the last few days. I couldn’t believe I had only been there five days. I already felt at home and was looking forward to everyone coming back the next day.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Arriving in Bangkok and the Meditation House

I am fortunate in that I quite like flying. I’m not one to get worried at take off or as we land and turbulence doesn’t bother me. However I will admit that I did find it somewhat disconcerting landing in Bangkok during a thunder storm. I kept thinking, lightening plus big metal tube is not good. However I trusted that the pilots knew what they were doing and right enough we soon landed safely.
Once at the airport I used my phone to check out the best way to get to my hostel. The internet seemed to suggest that it would be 800 Bhat for a taxi so I decided to take the longer cheaper route of bus plus train. As confusing as this seemed to be for the locals they were as friendly and helpful as I have come to expect and 60 Bhat and a long time later I was at the street my hostel was supposedly on. I was a bit disturbed to see that it seemed to be a party district but it turned out my hostel was down a quieter side street and with some help from the hostel owner I was soon in a nice air-conditioned hostel. Thankfully most of the people in my 12 bed dorm were out (I assume partying) so I could sort myself out in peace. I settled myself into yet another comfortable bed by plugging in all my gadgets to charge. This done it was time to lock away my valuables in my assigned locker before hitting the showers and finally bed time!

The following morning only four days later than originally planned I was on my way to the meditation house my friend had told me about. The lady that runs it had sent me instructions and her number so I could call her to speak to a taxi driver if necessary. In the end the lovely hostel owner translated her address to Thai and came with me to flag down a taxi. It took a couple of goes but we found one who knew where I was going and only needed directions right at the end of our journey. I had arrived!

My host and soon to be teacher was much younger than I had expected but every bit as welcoming and lovely as my friend had described her to be. We discussed me a little and my interest in Buddhism and meditation. My friend had stayed at the temple with the monks for 10 days but I elected to learn at the meditation house. As well as teaching me about Buddha and meditation I was kindly offered a place to stay which I gratefully took up.

I was introduced to a lot of people. Since I struggle to remember names at the best of times the unfamiliar sounds coupled with my being slightly overwhelmed by everything meant they were soon forgotten. I was allowed to settle in over the afternoon whilst the other students attended a classs. I thought I was excused because I don’t speak Thai but it later transpired it was because I had just arrived. One of the girls lent me a book written in English by a monk, Venerable Ajahn Chah, who I soon discovered had a way of describing Buddhist concepts that made them very easy to relate to. I thought I would spend most of my time reading but I ended up chatting with people who could speak English and a few who couldn’t but had help. Once again I was overwhelmed by the easy acceptance of me in to their community.

At this point it might be a good idea to explain exactly why I am interested in learning about Buddhism. I am aware that there are concepts within this religion which conflict with some of my fundamental beliefs, however much of what I have learned aligns quite well with my world view. I am also aware that mediation can be extremely beneficial. I say much of what I have learned but most of my learning has been hear say and assumption. Therefore when I had the chance to truly learn what Buddhism is as well as learn how to meditate and better understand my mind I felt like this was an opportunity I would regret not taking up.

During the afternoon my host showed me the correct way to sit for meditation and I had my first attempt at sitting still. I was told initially someone experienced would transfer the power of concentration to me. This involved them sitting behind me placing one finger on my back. I later learned this was so they could feel my pulse. In this way they could easily tell when my mind went wandering and give me a boost of concentration to help bring me back. Believe what you will about why this works but it does. I sat for almost an hour and even managed to clear my mind occasionally, though mostly my thoughts were quite distracting.

It wasn’t all study and practice though. One of the girls kindly took me to the supermarket so I could buy some necessities. I am glad she was with me as I didn’t see a single person as obviously foreign as I was. She helped me find my way around and translated for me when I was confronted with Thai. I do feel ignorant being in a country where I don’t speak the language but since Spanish is hard enough for me to learn I think it would take more than a few weeks for me to grasp even the basics of Thai. With that in mind I tried not to feel too bad and instead was grateful for my guide and translator!

Later that evening we chanted in preparation for our evening meditation. We chanted in Pali and I was given a booklet with the Pali written in latin letters and with accompanying English translations. Once again I was given a quick tutorial on how to sit and how to bow as well as the pronunciation of some of the trickier words. There was much stumbling and I tried to keep my voice down so as not to disturb the other chanters but in my way I got through it. It was obvious though that before my next chanting I would have to go through the booklet more carefully. Post chanting and it was time for my second meditation. I had been told I could move if I was in pain and shown the best way to go about it but I found when I tried to move it disturbed my concentration and I gave up in under an hour this time.

During the evening we discussed the mediation and the Buddhist master talked to anyone who had questions for him or was seeking advice. I was questioned on my preference for being a night or morning person. I said night but could be morning if necessary. After two years of 5 am starts I figured if getting up early for two more weeks would allow me to learn more I was all for it. It had been a very full first day but in a good way and I was looking forward to my time at the house more than ever.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Hat Yai

I woke up to the sound of rain and was thankful I had looked out my lightweight, quick drying clothes. I made sure I had everything and as quietly as I could made my way downstairs where the hostel owners greeted me. As if helping me get to Bangkok and running a fabulously welcoming hostel wasn’t enough they offered me the usual tea and toast for breakfast then one of them announced she would drive me to the van pick up point. At this point she became my hero.

The van was late which was a bit of a worry but not much as I suspect Malaysians don’t take time keeping very seriously. It turned up only 15 minutes after expected and I was on my way to Thailand. The hostel owners had advised a later plane to give me time to get to the airport so I booked one at 8pm not realising my ride was so early. By 9am I was in Hat Yai and since I felt it was way too early to go to the airport I decided to run some errands. I was to be in Thailand for 2-3 weeks maybe more if I found some good diving so I wanted to get a Thai SIM card. I had some Thai money but felt now would be a good opportunity to take out some more. Since I was in an unfamiliar city I found a nice cafe for breakfast that conveniently had free wifi. This allowed me to find the nearest bank and find the best place to buy my SIM card.  

Once I had run my errands I was left with time to kill and a new city to explore. With all my positions on my back I felt it wise not to venture too far and decided this would be an excellent opportunity o get a much overdue haircut. I stopped at the first friendly place and the ladies running it were lovely. They spoke very little English but we managed to communicate very well despite my complete lack of Thai. The haircut was a brilliant idea. The hairdresser insisted I sit and brought me a cold cloth. Post haircut my head felt much lighter and cooler and I felt very relaxed. With many hours until my flight I thought I might as well indulge in a foot massage as well, after all my poor feet were much abused and it was only going to get worse for them. It was bliss. As well as my feet the legs, arms and shoulders also got worked over. I was a puddle by the end of it. The salon also had free wifi and they were happy for me to sit and surf the net on my phone with a cup of tea whilst I de-puddlefied.


By lunch time I decided it was time to venture back out to the city. I did my usual point and look confused at a nearby cafe and ended up with crispy pork and cabbage with rice. It was much tastier than I make it sound. It looked to be an interesting city but as I was walking about with all my luggage I decided I should head to the airport sooner rather than later. Once there it was the usual waiting game until I was able to check in and only three days later than originally planned I was on my way to Bangkok!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Penang

I had hoped to be in the city early afternoon but once I found the hostel, checked in etc it was early evening. By the time I was settled it was too late to try book anything so I extended my stay to two nights. Thus would allow me to book my train the next day and give me a day exploring before moving on to Thailand. I was in a 5 person dorm but one of the beds was a double so as we had all checked in separately it turned in to a 4 person dorm and as the lucky last to check in I got the double bed! One of my dorm mates was in the room when I arrived and she was very friendly. A student from the Netherlands she was taking advantage of her summer break to explore Malaysia for three and a half weeks. She had some great tips about places to visit so I wrote them all down as I already knew I hoped to return to Malaysia before returning home if at all possible. As well as tips about places to visit she invited me to go get some food with her and one of our other roommates. He turned out to be French Canadian and was not as gregarious as his friend but was friendly enough. We headed straight to Little India where the choice of street food was everything I had come to expect and more. We were searching for Laksa as it is a local speciality. I was curious as we served a westernised version of it in the mountains in Thredbo where I had worked many years before. As expected it was something quite different but my newest acquaintance seemed to like it. I tried the fried oysters and was not disappointed. They came in some fried scrambled eggs and were full of flavour.


The next day I spoke with the owners of the hostel about booking the train I had heard so much about. They kindly offered to look in to it for me and so I was free to spend the day exploring the city.  I started my exploring by getting the bus out to Lok Kek Si temple. It is said to be the largest Buddist temple in South East Asia and it was easy to see why it was a popular tourist attraction. As always the statues were beautifully colourful and despite being a tourist attraction there was the feeling of peace I have come to expect from holy places. Even a non-believer can appreciate tranquillity y’know. As well as the beautiful places of worship it has the advantage of being on a hill so the views from outside were equally spectacular. As usual my camera got a good workout and I found the walk around the temple both interesting and soothing. I was there for about two hours before I decided it was time to move on.


 

Since it was a short bus ride away from the temple I decided to also visit Penang Hill. This proved to be a little bit more difficult than anticipated as they had the common Malaysian rule of transactions less than 50 Ringgit had to be cash. As it was my last day I had been hesitant about taking out too much cash and I am so used to using my card I misjudged what I would need. This resulted in a walk from the bottom of the hill to the neatest bank to withdraw some cash so I could get the train up the hill. I had asked if it was possible to walk and was told yes but couldn’t see the path hence the walk into town. It was a walk I am glad I made at the train took me to over 700m above sea level. I had read the front carriage was the place to be and soon saw why. The track was steep and soon Penang was visible through the trees as we climbed higher and higher up the tracks. Once at the top we could see the clouds were moving in I am sure on a clear day the views are amazing but on a cloudy day there isn’t much to do there so it’s not the most interesting place. The map they had given me at the bottom of the hill suggested there might be some interesting walk about the place but the guide at the top of the hill suggested they were for bikes and as the weather wasn’t great I decided not to try exploring them. Instead I had a rather expensive cup of tea in the hope the cloud would clear allowing me to see beyond Penang. I wouldn’t have minded so much but their choice of music was terrible and they played it very loudly. The view did clear a little so I took some more photos then headed back down the hill.




At the bottom of the hill it was back on the bus and back to the hostel. Once there I found out that since it was the end of Ramadan the train was booked out for the next week! I was happy to fly but the hostel owners were horrified at the prices, which seemed fairly reasonable to me. Instead they organised for me to get a van to Hat Yai and then fly from there to Bangkok. Apparently Hat Yai is an up and coming Malaysian tourist destination and there are vans that go daily. The bad news was it left at 5am! I made sure my bags were more of less good to go then headed out to Penang to explore for the last time. This time I had some chicken biryani. Yes I know it sounds like something you would eat at any UK Indian restaurant but trust me it wasn’t. It was however very tasty. I had been told Penang was famous for its food and it certainly didn’t disappoint me. Since I had an early start it was back to the hostel for an early night. I did have a last conversation with the nice girl from the Netherlands. She was so enthusiastic about everything it was just lovely talking with her. It was a nice end to a quick but interesting visit. I can safely say that Malaysia is a country that is worth further exploration at a later time.


Kuala Besut Stop Over

I had decided to stay out of the sea as I wasn’t too keen on being all salty for the rest of the day since we had already checkout out of our hut so wouldn't be able to shower before catching the ferry. That evening I was staying in a very cheap and basic hostel and I wasn't to convinced I would want to shower there. However I needn't have bothered as our boat ride back made sure we got a last good bye form the ocean as we raced over the sea. It would seem that taxi drivers aren’t the only ones with Formula one aspirations.

Fortunately though not somewhere I would want to spend more than one night I decided the hostel shower was worth a go. I would have liked to have left that evening but the bus to Penang left at 8am the next day so I took comfort in the fact my private room was secure with a lock on the door and a bed inside. Of course I was less happy when halfway through the night the bed sagged alarmingly but a quick inspection confirmed I wasn’t in danger of going through it. I did however spend the rest of the night at the edge or the bed where I felt there was the most support, just in case. My friend was lucky to miss out on this excitement. She had decided to head to Malaka then Singapore which was an evening bus leaving me to continue my adventures on my own.

It was better than sleeping in the street but I was glad to leave the next morning especially on the discovery that I was at the front of the bus with plenty of leg room in a nice big seat. The bus was quiet and I had both seats to myself and even a plug socket to charge my various devices. It occurred to me at this point that I may have rather skewed priorities. I have a laptop, iPod, phone and 2 cameras not to mention back up batteries and hard drives yet I don’t own a comb. Still it meant I knew I would not be bored on the long journey to Penang. I took advantage of the bus wifi to have a last quick look at facebook and saw a friend praising the film, Silver Linings Playbook which reminded me I had the book on my kindle, yes I have one of those too, and decided this would be an excellent time to read it. I have no idea how it compares to the film but the book is excellent. There was more than one occasion I had to wipe away the odd tear and I really found myself rooting for the main character. In fact I was enjoying the book so much I was disappointed when I thought we had reached our destination. However it turned out we were having a mid way rest so I had plenty of time to finish it. Book done I was content to watch the scenery go past as we made our way north and finally into Penang.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Little Perhentian Island

After a short taxi ride and only slightly longer flight we were soon in Kota Bharu. Whilst I waited for my luggage my friend went off to investigate the taxi options to get us to Kuala Besut where we could get a ferry to the island. She soon returned announcing that not only had she sorted us a taxi but also people to share with thus reducing the cost for us. The taxi ride was a little too exciting but we made it despite our Schmaker-wannabe driver. Once there though the ferry wanted to know where we were going! After much discussion we opted for the cheaper “Little” Island where we were told should be able to find some accommodation easily enough.

The owner of the KL hostel had said there was a hostel on the island which the ferry people seemed to know nothing about but it transpired that one of the other passengers knew about it. We explored the options on the beach first and decided that since we were there for a limited time we would take a more expensive beach hut. It was basic but private and it was right on the beach with lovely views. Unlike some other huts we had looked at it had electricity 24/7 and the bed was extremely comfortable.

Since it was late afternoon we contented ourselves with a walk along our little beach to find some food before exploring the other side of the island which we had been informed was the party side. It looked like a slightly bigger version of our little cove so we decided we were very happy with our choice. We even passed the hostel and though it looked nice and was cheaper it was in the jungle which since we had made quite an effort to get to the island we were glad we had decided on the beach hut with sea view.


We returned to our own beach for the sunset which failed to make an appearance due to the thick cloud building up. The cloud did however provide us with a rather spectacular thunderstorm. Since photographing lightening is on my photography bucket list (If you know me you are surely not surprised I have one) I was rather happy with this. The lightening was mostly sheet with some forks forming and was frequent whilst the storm rumbled on for long enough for me to get a few decent shots amongst the many duds.  It was a good end to good day.


The following day we headed out on the resort snorkelling trip. The sky was cloudy but there was no mention of when the storm might come in. We reached our first stop and jumped in the water to go shark hunting. It’s not quite as exciting/dangerous as it sounds; we were looking for reef sharks which are rather small and shy creatures. I spotted one straight away but true to form it soon swam off. My friend was a less experienced snorkeler so I helped her readjust her mask and soon we were off to explore. It turns out that the shark I spotted was to be the only one I was to see that day but I did see lots of colourful fish that as always I completely failed to identify. We swam to an area known for shark sightings and though I didn’t see another one my friend saw one before it too swam away. Since we had both seen one shark, all be it different ones, we were both happy with the first stop.

The second stop was fish point which was very shallow but did indeed have many more fish. I always feel a bit unsure in shallow water. The water was so clear I was sure I would kick the coral so though we saw lots of fish I found it less fun than our first stop.

Our third stop was by far the highlight of our stay in the islands for me. We stopped between the big and little island and slowly started looking for turtles. Soon a fellow boat spotted one and waved our boat over. He had spotted a large turtle and I jumped in as soon as I had my mask on, not even waiting for my turn on the ladders. I am glad I did as I was almost on top of the turtle, which was a long way beneath me in case you are worried for it by the way. It soon moved on but slowly so I was able to keep pace with it despite my lack of fins. It stopped once or twice yet my friend and I were the only ones able to keep up with it. Its length was at least half my height and it was the biggest turtle I have seen so far. As well as the turtle we saw some fish swimming under it, alongside it and on top of it. It was quite simply, amazing.

After this lunch was always going to be a let down. We knew that as it was Ramadan the town we stopped at would be quiet, in fact originally we expected to return to the resort for lunch. It turned out there was one open restaurant and we were lucky to be served quickly as the place soon filled up. Our two boat companions were not so lucky. As we were leaving we discovered that despite arriving not long after us and before almost everyone else they were only now being served. In the end they left without eating as we had been told we would be collected at 2pm and they didn’t want to hold us up. Unfortunately our guide did not have the same concerns. At 2:30pm he finally appeared and was completely unrepentant for his lateness. I get that some cultures are more laid back than others but our poor companions had missed their lunch to be there and were understandably not happy. I wouldn’t have been either if I had missed my meal.  To add insult to injury as soon as we reached out forth stop to started to rain. Now I know they can’t control the weather but it was hard not to think that the half hour we had spent waiting on the beach should have been spent in the water and now the rough waves meant most of us were not comfortable going in to the water. By consensus we decided to move on to the fifth stop.  Once there the rain was less so we tried but the water was still quite rough and my friend who is not the oceans biggest fan was obviously not happy. As the tide was going in I also had concerns about how the swim back out from the beach would be. We soon returned to the boat. Our two companions tried but soon they too had difficulties and also returned to the boat. It was a shame that a trip which had started so well would end that way. We did mention our displeasure to the resort reception but their response was that the boat had stopped. They didn’t seem to understand that it was his tardiness and cavalier disregard for our disappointment that we found upsetting, not the weather. Sadly there was nothing to be done so my friend and I decided to concentrate on the turtle and first stop when we remembered the day.

The rain didn’t last long and once it cleared it left a lovely sky which my friend rightly predicted would make for a lovely sunset. As the sun went down my friend suggested we head to the jetty to watch it and it was indeed a beautiful sight. We weren’t the only ones with the idea but we did last the longest and got some great shots. I even got to play with some long exposures since I found a few sturdy wooden railings to use a make shift tripods.




The next day we had booked to leave on the 4pm ferry so we spent the day lazing about on the beach. It was exactly what I needed after a busy two years in one place. The sun was warm and though I stayed in the shade due to having rather red shoulders from the day before I enjoyed it none the less. I had my kindle but struggled to stay awake long enough to read it and I soon dozed off. We did venture off the beach for lunch but straight afterwards it was back to our loungers. I’m not usually a beach person but I must admit it was a lovely restful day and I am glad we had booked to last ferry to give us the maximum amount of time on the island. I am always sad to leave a plac de but this time there was the added sadness of leaving my friend behind. She had decided to head to Malaka instead of Penang so we would be parting ways in Kuala Besut.