Posts tagged ‘Koh Phi Phi’

An ode to Asia – our top ten experiences

In ways it feels like only yesterday that Gary and I said tearful goodbyes to our Mums and Dads and set off with our names sewn on to our shiny new backpacks, hardly able to breath for all the excitement/nerves/sadness/happiness and general overwhelming flow of emotions vying for our attention. Yet somehow, we have found ourselves a few days short of halfway and, even more alarmingly, out of Asia. Somehow we have become semi-seasoned travellers. Gone is the lettering on our bags – the victims of a hundred careless baggage handlers – and the brand new look. Now everything we own smells like Asia; all our clothes have bobbles around the waist from chaffing backpacks; we don’t bounce out of bed at 7am every morning; we barter for everything even when it’s inappropriate; and we start sentences with the ever-infuriating “Well when I was in Laos/Cambodia/China/East Timor…” We could be gone for years or it could have just been days.

Leaving Asia, after having such a fantastic time, was more bitter than sweet. Granted Oz could offer us all the comforts of home – chocolate, television, air conditioning, home cooking, cleanliness and the ability to communicate – but would it surprise us with impromptu religious processions in the street? Would we have the fun of blind ordering creamed yams because we couldn’t read the menu? Would there be the same backpacker solidarity that we found in rural China or Vietnam? Would we be able to buy and sell motorbikes without a drivers license? Would we be able to afford even the  most basic of things? Hardly.

As a tribute to our favourite continent we decided to compile a bit of a nostalgic top ten list. After much squabbling and a few punches we came up with a list that surprised even us. Whenever asked we always say that we loved Japan and Thailand most yet China seems to have housed most of our best memories. The main difficulty lay in choosing just ten – how could we leave out watching the Hong Kong skyline come into focus from the Star Ferry or the Full Moon Party in Ko Pha Ngan or having our teeth rattled out of our heads in Timor Leste? It was hard but here it is – our ode to Asia. It’s been emotional.

10.Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos
Choose getting wet. Choose taking off all your clothes in front of strangers. Choose sunburn. Choose throwing yourself into a fast-flowing river. Choose drinking from a bucket. Choose falling out of a tractor tyre. Choose dropping your camera in the water. Choose dancing on tables. Choose 100 new friends, Choose killing your liver. Choose falling asleep at 5pm. Choose writing on your face in permanent marker. Choose risking your life for the best matinee party ever. Choose tubing in Vang Vieng.

9.The onsen experience, Japan
For most people being naked with a big group of people is about getting dirty. In Japan it’s about getting clean and let’s face it, there are very few times in life where you will have the opportunity to perch between two naked Asian women in an outdoor thermal mudbath high in the mist-shrouded mountains. The Japanese onsen experience, be it in the dedicated town of Beppu or a public facility in Tokyo, will change the way you feel about bath-time forever.

8.Food, just about everywhere
Slurrping down bowls of ramen at noodle bars; discovering mango and sticky rice at a roadside stall; bagging 20 Indonesian fried bananas for 40 cent; eating an entire fish on a stick; figuring out where M&S steal their recipes from over a bowl of fish amok; and the endless search for the best Thai curry. Who said eating in Asia just meant pad thai and fried rice? Yes there was enthusiastic vomitting and 100 odd boxes of immodium but it was worth it to be able to say – “Can you make that Thai spicy, not farang (foreigner) spicy?” And thanks to fantastic cooking classes in China and Thailand we may never have to eat western food again…

7.Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan
The phrase ‘fresh sushi’ never rang as true as it does in Tsukiji Fish Market where fishermen and chefs meet to haggle over a 70 tonne tuna fish or a handful of live prawns. While the rest of Tokyo is still sleeping, skilled tradesmen gut fish with one hand while texting with the other and demonstrate just how easy it is to turn an eel inside out.

6.Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat was one of those extremely rare, heart-stopping moments. We’ve seen our fair share of religious sites from simple wooden structures in Kyoto to the ancient stupa of Borobudor and even the gold-plated royal temple in Bangkok but nothing has come even close to seeing the light change Angkor Wat from a vague black shadow to a spectacular glowing pink, orange and yellow marvel. Never has getting up at 4am been so worthwhile.

5.Tiger Leaping Gorge, China
There are very few places in China where you can find peace and quiet but over three days in Tiger Leaping Gorge our only human interaction was around a camp fire on our last night when we finally met the eight other hikers doing the trail. During the day we edged across cliffside waterfalls, dragged ourselves  by the fingernails up the last of the infamous 28 bends (more like 128 bends), clung onto fraying rope ladders for dear life and sat and stared in awe at the mighty Yangtze as it roared past Middle Tiger Leaping Rock.

4.Diving in Thailand
“Two thirds of the world’s surface is covered by water. How can you call yourself a traveller if you’re happy to settle for less than a third?” reads a sign in Ko Phi Phi. Diving in Thailand opened our eyes to an entirely different, entirely superior world full of vibrant colours, swaying reef and curious fish. Away from the blaring music, honking horns and obnoxious tauts we perfected our backflips and were adopted by schools of Sergent Major Fish.

3.Biking in Vietnam
Yes there were near death experiences, crashes, break-downs on mountain peaks, monsoons, burst tires, broken engines, dodgy chains, hit and runs, guilty pay-offs, police bribes and painful sunburns but as the saying goes – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Biking around Vietnam we managed to get off the very sticky tourist trail and see a whole other side to a very beautiful country. Of course it didn’t hurt that we got to know some great Aussies on the way too.

2.Halong Bay, Vietnam
Once listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Halong Bay in Northern Vietnam is a spectacular blanket of silky water broken by hundreds of dark shadows – giants hunched over as if in sleep. Add to that a traditional oriental junk, some fantastic food, a handful of great new friends and a liberal serving of alcohol and you have a New Year’s Eve to remember (or not remember). And as we all know, the only cure for a hangover is to run out of bed and leap straight from the deck of a boat into freezing cold water. Heaven.

1.The Great Wall of China
We had been on the Great Wall of China for around an hour and a half before we saw it. It’s hard to miss something that big (some say you can see it from the moon) but in the blanket of fog that had fallen over Beijing that cold winter’s morning we were more concerned about getting off the damn thing alive than we were about visibility. Subzero temperatures had left the wall coated in black ice, making an already precariously delapidated wall even more impassable. As we shuffled along, using our hands and bums to keep us from falling off the edge and into the abyss, the strangest thing happened. We turned a corner and all of a sudden the fog cleared and the sun came out. Stretched out before us was an endless stretch of sandy brickwork zig-zagging its way up and down the hilly landscape. We stopped dead, totally speechless. Bloody hell, we were on THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA!

All our pictures from Asia are available in the gallery


April 27, 2010 at 1:41 pm 1 comment

Desperately seeking paradise. Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

It is almost redundant to describe Ko Phi Phi, so familiar is the western world with images of the emerald in Thailand’s crown. Featured in Alex Garland’s film The Beach and James Bond:The Man with the Golden Gun, the scorching white sand and silky green sea of Phi Phi are by now synonymous with both Thailand and paradise. What more could you want from a tropical getaway after all? Crystal clear water? Check. Luxurious sand? Check. Dramatic cliff faces topped with startling green vegetation? Check. Traditional longtail boats bobbing in the waves? Check. A rough jungle interior untouched by concrete roads or high-rise hotels? Check. Absolutely no motorised transport on-land? Check.

The only problem is that Ko Phi Phi’s shores are anything but the undiscovered playground that Leo and crew happened upon in The Beach. On the contrary, Ko Phi Phi is Thailand’s very worst kept secret so instead of that Castaway moment you were looking for, you are more likely to have a Kevin And Perry Go Large experience. Topless girls sunbathing only a hundred metres from the local Mosque, overweight middle aged couples sitting in restaurants wearing only their swimwear, drunk 19 year-olds stumbling down the street at 7pm, astronomical prices (relatively speaking of course. I am told that €2 is not really too much to pay for a large plate of curry, nor is €15 for a standard ensuite room ) – these unfortunately, are the realities of Phi Phi’s budding tourism scene. But for Phi Phi, I can forgive it. For Phi Phi, I can forgive anything.

Whatever about its on-land assets though, the best part of Ko Phi Phi is only open to a select few. Here the wildlife roams free and the natural habitat, alive with vibrant shades of pink and blue, is completely untouched. And what’s more, you can go for hours without seeing a single tourist or loose boob. I am of course talking about Diving: The Sequel. If the diving scene in Ko Tao was good, it was earth-shattering in Ko Phi Phi. Instead of the few barracuda we saw in Ko Tao, there were schools of them in Ko Phi Phi. Where we saw a handful of the same fish in Ko Tao over and over again, the waters of Ko Phi Phi housed far too many species to even take in – clownfish, angelfish, sergent major fish, harlequin sweetlips, grupas… And then there were the huge, menacing moray eels lurking behind the coral (waiting to report back on the Little Mermaid no doubt), striped sea snakes curled up on the sand and comical yellow trumpet fish looking a lot more serious than anything with lips that long should. Apparently Phi Phi also has a huge population of leopard sharks, reef sharks, seahorses and turtles although we didn’t spot any (our instructor informed us that ours was the first trip he had ever taken out to that part of the marine park without spotting at least one turtle).

And all that was just two dive sites out of an almost endless number on offer – sites which take in ship wrecks, deep sea dives and some of the most beautiful reef in Thailand. Just one more reason I could stay in Ko Phi Phi forever. Other reasons include the endless offshore uninhabited islands that I have yet to explore; the fact that when a local is passing you on a bike, instead of ringing their bell, they just sing “ring, ring” or “beep, beep” to ask you to move; the impossibility of getting anywhere without setting foot on a longtail boat, festooned at the front with coloured prayer scarves as an offering to Buddha in return for safe passage; the surprisingly interesting shopping scene; the spectacular weather; the snorkelling; the monkey that walks around town, hand in hand with his owner, wearing red shorts and a shirt with sailing boats on it; the lively nightlife and in particular the live band in Rolling Stoned; the hope that one day, I might arrive in the famous Maya Bay (where The Beach was filmed) to find it deserted and the opportunity to climb up to the view point every evening to watch the sun set behind the cliffs.

It has to be said though, that one of the best parts of our trip to Phi Phi had nothing to do with the island itself but rather the happy coincidence that we got to spend a little more time with Dan, Ash, Cat and Julia (okay fine, we followed them). Before our final, devastating seperation we spent a few days lounging on beaches chattering about nothing and everything, lolling about companionably in hammocks, arguing over whose turn it is to decide where we are going for dinner and, best of all, downing buckets and attending wet tshirt competitions in the local Irish Bar. When the Norwegians left for South Africa and Dan and Ash strapped on their boots and headed for Mt. Everest (“but they’ll climb that mountain when they get to it,” says Gary) Laura and Joe rolled into town and the merriment continued. Hurrah for friends!

Six days after we arrived, we left Ko Phi Phi bronzed, totally relaxed and in my case, completely smitten. Khao Sok National Park has some big shoes to fill.

More pictures from Ko Phi Phi are available in the gallery

March 24, 2010 at 2:45 pm 5 comments


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