Three months worth of GoPro footage cut down in a fun little 3 minute video!
Music: Feels Like Home by The Him Feat. Son Mieux
Three months worth of GoPro footage cut down in a fun little 3 minute video!
Music: Feels Like Home by The Him Feat. Son Mieux
Our trip was coming to an end. We had 6 more nights until we had to be back at the Bangkok airport to catch our flight back to Delhi. What better way to end our trip of a lifetime than chilling on the beach for a few days?
Originally, the plan had been to head to Sihanoukville, a beach town in the south of Cambodia. To do that we would have had to take either a night bus directly to the coast (which has a bad reputation for accidents), or take a bus back to Phnom Penh, then get on another one to Sihanoukville, which takes over 12 hours. Having little time left and wanting to make the most of it, we decided to sacrifice Sihanoukville and make the trip back to Thailand to the island of Koh Chang.
The total trip from Siam Reap to Koh Chang takes around 10 hours. We decided to go with a combo of big bus to the border, mini bus to the pier and ferry to the island, for about $15 a person. The bus dropped us off at the border and we had to walk across the border to find our mini bus. The Cambodia-Thailand border is notorious for scams, but we didn’t run into any issues.
The mini bus dropped us off at the ferry, and we caught the sunset during the ride over to the island.
When we got off on Koh Chang it was dark, and we didn’t have any place to stay. We caught a songthaew (a pickup truck taxi) to Lonely Beach, the backpacker area of Koh Chang.
The second hostel that we went to had space for us, so settled in there. It had an awesome laid-back vibe and cool staff, and we decided to stay there the entire time we were on the island. The price was right for a basic private room with a bug net (this is the only place that we had stayed that offered bug nets, and they were greatly needed because the mosquitos on the islands are relentless), and a bathroom that we shared with the rest of the guests. They had a restaurant and bar as well with cheap breakfast and coffee that we hit up every morning. Perhaps the only downside with it would be that it is right in the middle of the party area and is the locals bars keep the music pumping until the wee hours of the morning. It didn’t bother us, at that point we were used to the noises of SE Asia, but if you weren’t you may want ear plugs. Overall, awesome place!
The main thing on our agenda was to get back on the hogs. The next morning, leaving Nicole alone to catch up on her blog (check it out here), we found a place to rent them for 150 baht a day and drove the island from one end to the other.
Koh Chang is huge. It is Thailand’s third largest island, behind Phuket and Koh Samui. It is covered in jungle and mountainous terrain, and the road the around it does not fully connect because of the dense jungle at the southern tip. There is only about 500 metres of terrain that isn’t connected by a road, so there is no way to get around the entire island. It took us a total of about 6 hours to drive to where the road ends and back to Lonely Beach. The roads on the island are pretty well taken care of, good for riding the hogs. This was the first place that we rented bikes that we were given helmets to wear. In Thailand it is the law to wear a helmet, but it isn’t usually enforced, and most rental places don’t even have them.
That night, eager to check out the nightlife we hit up the 7 Days (a rip off of the 7-11 minus the Toasties, WTF?) to grab some Changs and assess our options for party. But instead of hitting a bar, we stayed out front the 7 Day. Perhaps you’ve read our post about Koh Phangan where we learned that outside the 7-11 is a perfect place to drink, people watch, and listen to rad ballads from the 80s? The 7 Day offered the same amenities minus the music, which was a problem. A problem solved by our bluetooth speaker and Youtube. Before long, others had caught on to what we had going on and followed our lead. Everyone took turns connecting to the speaker, and we heard everything you can imagine, from German rap to old school Biggie Smalls. If you are ever in Thailand, ditch the bar and head for the 7-11 (or the 7 Day). No cover and cheap beer!
The next day we set out on the hogs again to find a new beach to hang out at, this time with Nicole joining on her very own hog. It was her first time riding and she did awesome! We found a little village on the south of the island with a beautiful stretch of beach and some funky bars. We hung out there for most of the day, playing in the ocean and lounging in the sun.
On our way back to Lonely Beach we stopped at Ban Bang Bao for a bite to eat. Ban Bang Bao is former fishing village that is built on interconnected piers, and it is a popular lift off spot for diving tours. The village consists of family run restaurants and souvenir shops, and is know for its high quality seafood.
The next day marked the last day. The last swim in the ocean, the last ride on the hogs. The last of wandering and exploring. The last beers on the beach. The last vacation from our vacation.
The next morning we boarded a bus back to Bangkok. We had one last night left with Nicole and we were determined to make the best of it!
Siem Reap is a bustling tourist town, a place to lay your head after touring the temples. Or maybe just enjoying 50 cent beers on the popular Pub Street. The area around Old Market is the place to be, that’s where we settled in after our 6 hour bus trip from Phnom Penh. Traveling further south into Cambodia the temperature rises. We have never experienced a heat like this before, the afternoon sun is killer.
Starting the temple tour as early as possible offers two big benefits. First is you get to see the famous Angkor Wat at sunrise. Secondly, you should wrap up before the afternoon heat gets too much to handle. So that’s what we did first thing the next morning. We hired a tuktuk for the whole day, it cost $15 (plus $20 each for a temple pass). He picked us up at 5am, drove us to each temple and waited until we were done exploring. Well worth the money!
After spending a week in Vietnam it was time to move on to our next destination, Cambodia. Ho Chi Minh is only about 6 hours from Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and after a little research we decided that taking a bus was our best option. Our tickets cost us about $11 each, and the bus was comfortable and air conditioned. At the border the bus driver takes everyone’s passport along with a $35 USD visa fee, and does all the legwork for you.
We arrived in Phnom Penh at 10 o’clock at night, which wasn’t an ideal time. Cambodia is still considered a third world country, and it has been through hell and back in the last 40 years. Poverty is a huge reality for some residents, and bag snatchers and robberies are common. It is advised that you don’t take any valuables around with you, and if you do, make sure they are well secured. While we were in Vietnam we had overheard a man with a cast on his leg telling someone that him and his girlfriend were riding a scooter in Phnom Penh in the middle of the day down a busy road when someone on another scooter came up behind them and ripped the bag off his girlfriend’s back. During the commotion they fell of their bike and he broke his leg. Needless to say when we were dropped off in the dark with all of our belongings on our backs, we were a little wary. Luckily we met Don, a very nice tuk-tuk driver who brought us to our hostel with no issues.
Our agenda for the next day was to dive into some history. We met up with Don again (it is common in Cambodia for tuk-tuk drivers to stick with you for your entire trip if you wish, and we were lucky to have such an awesome guide) who helped us move to another hostel. We had stayed at 88Backpackers, a hostel with a party vibe and a swimming pool, but it wasn’t really our scene. We’ve come to find out that family run guesthouses are our thing, as they are usually cheaper and have a more authentic and friendly feel. When that was said and done we set off in Don’s tuk-tuk for Choeung Ek, otherwise known as the Killing Fields.
In the 70’s a man named Pol Pot was the leader of a political group called the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot rose to power following the Cambodian Civil War. He gained popularity as a political leader with his plan to make Cambodia into a form of Agrarian Socialism. He praised the rural labourers and felt educated city types such as teachers and doctors were not necessary. He sent everyone to work in the rural areas, mostly farm labour, leaving Pnomh Penh and other urban areas virtually deserted. He eradicated education, health care, religion, currency and more. In addition to forced labour he used torture and orchestrated mass executions to move towards his new plan.
It is estimated nearly 2 million people were killed during Pol Pot’s reign from 1975-1979, a quarter of Cambodia’s population. Over 20,000 mass graves have been unearthed, known as killing fields. The most well know killing field is Choeung Ek, about 17 km from Phnom Penh.
Almost 9000 bodies were found here after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime. The self-guided audio tour explains what the victims went through and how they were killed. In the middle of the fields stands a monument called a stupa, that is filled with more than 5000 human skulls, bones, and clothing extracted from the site. Each skull has a colour coded dot that explains how that victim was killed. Not even children and infants were spared. Pol Pot believed if he let them live they might one day seek revenge. Most victims were beaten to death because bullets were to expensive. Throughout the site there are pits from where the bodies were extracted. Bone fragments are still found on the grounds today. It was an interesting but heartbreaking experience, and we still had one more stop.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as S-21. It is a former high school that was turned into a prison by the Khmer Rouge to house political prisoners before they were taken to be killed. Pol Pot arrested anyone who he thought opposed him, and in the early months of S-21’s existence most of the prisoners included soldiers, government officials, teachers, doctors, students, factory workers, monks, and engineers. The victims were tortured into admitting to crimes they hadn’t committed. Electric shock, waterboarding, and pulling off fingernails were common torture methods. Sick experiments took place, such as draining the victims blood just to see how long they would survive.
Its hard to comprehend that the rest of the world was largely unaware this tragedy was happening, and when it was known the response was minimal. It wasn’t until 2003 that the UN formed the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). A court established to help the Cambodian government persecute the most senior members of the Khmer Rouge. It hardly feels like any justice has been served. Pol Pot died at home in 1998.
The whole day hit us pretty hard. To learn about this tragedy in the comfort of your own home would be difficult enough. But to hear it from the Cambodian people, stand on the soil where it happened and see the remains of the victims was all to real.
Don brought us back to the guest house late afternoon. We met an American family who were living and working in Phnom Penh. They suggested a retaurant around the corner. A Mexican place believe it or not. The nachos and margaritas hit the spot, we called it a night shortly after. Tomorrow we head to Siem Reap.
We touched down in Ho Chi Minh just after sunset. I turned on my phone to double check the booking info for our guesthouse. It was a university dorm that rents out rooms to the public. We got a large room with 3 double beds and a private bath for about $20. But then I realize its located in District 3… damn! We knew nothing about this city, but what we did read was to book accommodations in District 1, which is the busy tourist/backpacker area. Honest mistake. District 3 is a quiet, suburban area according to what I was reading briefly while waiting for our bags. Not many tourists around here, or restaurants by the sounds of it and of course after our flight we are all hungry.
We checked in and decided to walk the street for some food. We actually were on a main road that had some food options. We grabbed a beer at the 7/11 and walked by a market. A group of locals were sitting at a table eating snails and drinking beer on ice. They stopped us to say hi and being that we just cracked our beers we decided to sit and join them. We spent a solid hour chatting with King, Lee and Hill. Lee was the only one who spoke english so he tried to translate some of the conversation. Laughter and “cheers-ing” is universal language so we stuck with that for the most part. Lee works in tourism and gave us some tips for the rest of our visit. They even bought our beers. Truly good people, we were lucky to meet them. This encounter helped solidify our love for Vietnam. We found an awesome pizza joint before heading back to the “dorm” and crashing. I guess District 3 wasn’t a mistake after all.
In the morning, we realized the War Remnants Museum was fairly close to where we stayed so we decided to check it out. We hadn’t heard about this place before but definitely wanted to see some more history. The museum was way beyond our expectations. It was a huge building with multiple floors and different areas showcasing horrifying accounts of the war. The whole exhibit really demonizes the American involvement. I can imagine it is hard for some westerners to see. Most shocking was probably the room dedicated to Agent Orange, the chemical American troops sprayed in Southern Vietnam. It shows the horrible genetic defects caused by the use of this weapon. A preserved fetus on display was a shock to see.
The Vietnamese people have experienced unimaginable pain. Their families, homes and land were destroyed by the war. We left feeling a mix of sadness and anger. Sad for what happened here. And angry that wars just like Vietnam are still happening today, in other parts of the world. Its a disgusting part of humanity.
After that heavy experience it was time to pack up and move to District 1. We checked into Galaxy Hostel and roamed the streets for the rest of the day. Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam. We continued to improve our street crossing skills here and nobody got hit by a scooter! Its a very developed city. It still has smaller areas with charm like we seen in Hanoi, but also modern sky scrapers, designer malls and all that 21st century jazz you would see back home. We grabbed a map and hit a few points of interest like the Reunification Palace, Notre Damn Cathedral, Central Post Office and Opera House.
A walk around the city isn’t complete without a stop for some refreshments. All over south East Asia you see food stalls and restaurants that have outside seating, but they use “kid sized” plastic tabled and chairs. We noticed this especially in Vietnam. It seems like a local past time to kill the afternoon or evening, eating and drinking beer on ice, while sitting in these little chairs. We made this a usual activity of ours as well. When we met King, Lee and Hill we all sat at the little plastic sets as well. We noticed they had quite the snail and mussel feast with their drinks. We made it our mission to experience that as well. A couple days later we did and it was awesome!
This part of our trip was special for us. March 17th marked 10 years since we became an item. Anyone that knows Britt won’t be surprised to know we hit a burger joint! We’ve been enjoying all the local foods but Soul Burger hit the spot. We walked back to our hostel through a nice park. It was lit up beautifully and they had these small pavilions busy with couples young and old dancing. A mobile DJ rolls his cart up and plays all the hits. It was really cool to see.
Another educational excursion we had planned for a while was the Cu Chi Tunnels. Its a couple hours out of the city. We booked a package with our hotel that included bus transportation and a guide. These tunnels were initially constructed around 1948 as a means to hide from French air strikes. It was more famously used for Viet Cong fighters during the American War and expanded to a 200 km system. At one time housing underground hospitals, schools and kitchens. The guide explained the traps used against the American Soldiers who came to the Cu Chi area. We also got to climb through the tunnels. Its a creepy, claustaphobic experience. And these were just the “tourist versions”, expanded to about 1 square metre. The original tunnels were very small and the Viet Cong had to crawl through them on their stomaches. It was more of a “look at the cool tunnels and traps” kind of thing, rather then a war history experience so we were really glad we stumbled across the Remnants Museum as well.
We have been lucky enough to travel slow for the first part of our trip. Five weeks in India and 4 weeks in Thailand gave us enough time to really get to know a place. Unfortunately with Vietnam and Cambodia, we will only scratch the surface. They deserve so much more time to explore but we are lucky to have spent anytime here. We are already talking about coming back.
We knew we had to see Halong Bay. It’s tall limestone islands poke out of the water creating a breathtaking scenery. Its hard to imagine we discussed taking Northern Vietnam out of our travel plan. It felt like time was running short and we hate to rush. We are glad we decided to keep it in.
Booking a Ha Long Bay tour is a crap shoot. We arrived in Hanoi and planned to book it somewhere, we just didn’t where or how. Its not hard to find a place, every hotel and tourist agency (literally on every corner) will be happy to do it for you. You just don’t know what you will get until you’re loaded on the boat. Package tours don’t appeal to us much anyway. It is possible to tour the bay and book everything individually but we weren’t sure the hassle was worth the reward in this case.
Unless you pay big bucks for high end luxury, what you will find are the same basic options everywhere. Castaways Tour is an exception to this rule, its a highly recommended, booze fuelled, young backpacker party cruise. An expensive option at around $220 CAD but sounds like a blast if your looking for a party. The tours are almost always on a “Junk Boat”, a traditional Chinese sail boat turned cruise boat. We decided to take our chance with a mid range tour suggested by our guesthouse. You can pay as low as $50 for a 2 day trip, but we paid $105 per person. We were advised not to go with the cheapest, jumping up to the next price bracket supposedly gets you a worthwhile increase in food and service quality.
Our trip included transportation to and from Hanoi (3 hours), all our meals, one night stay on the boat, one night stay on Cat Ba Island and all the fun activities thrown in. Of course the boat didn’t match the pictures or description provided by the guesthouse. But it wasn’t horrible. We had a group of about 20 people, close to what a typical Junk Boat can accommodate. The food was decent. Overall no major complaints, we made the best of it. The crew was good and our ship mates were fun. We will let the pictures tell the rest of the story.
Of course the highlight was the views while cruising the waters.
Onboard cooking class.
Kayaking around a floating village and oyster farm.
A long sweaty mountain hike in Cat Ba Provincial Park.
Walking deep inside massive caves also on Cat Ba Island.
Exploring Cat Ba Pier area during our one night stay on the island. Its low season there so its kind of a ghost town. Bonus is we got upgraded to some sweet hotel digs.
Being dropped off at a beach on Monkey Island. Watching tourists feed or run away from the gangs of monkeys that roam the beach. These guys have definitely been exploited by the tourism. We are their source of food, and they are a source of entertainment. It was weird, yet funny. These guys even developed a taste for beer. No surprise that bites are common here. We were lucky.
Ha Long Bay is something you have to do. But surprisingly it didn’t leave us with the urge to ever do it again. There is a revolving door of travellers and the tour operators don’t need to focus on quality. We made the best of being shuffled through a cookie cutter schedule, looked past the negative things that come with big tourism, and were able to appreciate Ha Long Bay for what its meant to be.
Our time in Thailand was up (not to mention our visas) and we were headed to Vietnam. We took the short, cheap 2 hour flight to Hanoi, and arrived about 6pm.
You can’t get visas on arrival for Vietnam. However you can print off a pre approval letter online. Bring it to customs, pay $35 and they will issue one providing your letter is proper and your not a felon. After that process we hit the ATM and pulled out 2,000,000 Dong, or about $120 CAD (the dong jokes did not stop here). We planned to stay in the Old Quarter, the backpacker hub. About a 20 min taxi from the airport.
The Old Quarter is the place to be. It has so much character and you could never get bored walking around people watching, admiring the beautiful old buildings, eating weird food and dodging the thousands of motorbikes that clutter the small streets. Crossing the road in Vietnam is no easy feat. The Old Quarter has no traffic lights, and no one follows the stop signs. Its every man for themselves, and to get across the street alive on foot you just have to close your eyes and hope for the best.
We had pre-booked our first night at Hanoi Lucky Guesthouse. It is a small, family run guesthouse that has two locations in the Old Quarter. The rooms were nice and big, it was really clean and cheap, and the staff was incredible. Breakfast was included, and they helped us book our Halong Bay tour from there. We would highly recommend this place!
After checking in we set out walking the streets to find dinner. The guesthouse suggested a little spot just a few blocks away. Beef Noodle was the famous dish here.
We fully intended to dive into some history while in Vietnam. Our first taste of this educational adventure would be Hoa Lo Prison Museum. But first, lunch. Since leaving Canada we hadn’t had a proper sandwich, and Jeff had read that Vietnam was famous for their Bahn Mi’s. A Bahn Mi is a piece of French bread stuffed with pate, meat of your choice, and veggies. They were spectacular. And it wasn’t our last…
Ok, back to the prison. Hoa Lo was used by the French Colonists to house political prisoners and then later used by North Vietnam to house US prisoners of war. The Vietnamese political prisoners were victims of horrible living conditions and torture at the hands of the French, who also made use of the guillotine here. It still stands today, definitely a creepy site.
The US prisoners of war had a very different experience. The museum tells a story of good food, lots of leisure time and quality medical care offered to the US soldiers. Propaganda? Maybe, although it is said the US soldiers themselves coined this place the “Hanoi Hilton”. US senator John Mcain was one of the soldiers held here.
The museum takes a couple hours to go through and costs about $1.50.Hearing about the war from this side is a unique experience.We knew little about it before coming to Vietnam, but our interest was peaked and it left us craving more.
The rest of the day was spent walking around the Old Quarter, taking in the sights and craziness and stopping to enjoy some of the local brew. The next day we were heading to Halong Bay. Our time in Hanoi was short, but was the perfect introduction to Vietnam. A country we were quickly falling in love with.
Chiang Mai is the largest city set in mountainous northern Thailand. Its slower, relaxed vibe provides a nice contrast to the craziness of Bangkok. There is no shortage of things to do while here. Some quick research gave us a long list to choose from. Visiting the elephants is probably the most popular item. We were hesitant about this, a lot of places claim to be sanctuaries or rescue centres but regardless, its still a tourist driven business. Is there such thing as a good animal based tourist attraction? We aren’t sure. Our taxi driver felt that as long as you don’t visit places that let you ride the elephants, then they are treated well. He also worked at one and sells the tours, so his opinion may be biased. They aren’t cheap either so we passed on it. Elephant riding out but we still had a big list:
With all these options and this new city at our finger tips, here is what we ended up doing:
1. Condo Chillin’
This one is first for good reason. We decided to splurge on our accommodations for the 6 days we had here. Its still the 3 of us travelling together. After Bangkok we knew we would want some time and space to come down. We thought it might be nice to do a bit of home cooking too. So we found a 2 bedroom condo at Tree Boutique Condos. It had a full kitchen, big bathroom with separate shower, balcony, laundry and a decent living/dining room. Oh, and a pool! In retrospect this place was a blessing and a curse. It was nice to have the comforts but it seriously hindered our motivation to get out and explore. We probably would have done more had we booked a basic room in a more central area. Regardless we all enjoyed it! Its also worth mentioning Jeff was sick (again) for the first 3 days. This was probably the most comfortable place to lay in bed feeling like crap all day. And that’s pretty much what he did. Would you believe we never even took a picture of our temporary home!?
2. Walking Around Town
We spent a lot of our time in Old City. The historic brick walls and moats that surround this area are still partially intact. Small shops, restaurants and guesthouses give this area its cozy charm. Not many big name businesses around here, and its hard to see a building over a few stories high. We checked out some markets, and dabbled in some food and drink. We returned to the Old City daily, it was about a 10 minute tuk tuk from our condo.
3. Cooking Classes
Britt and Nicole took off on this full day excursion alone. Jeff spent the day recovering. The class was booked through Thai Farm Cooking School. It started off with a trip to the local market to pick up ingredients and learn about some of the foods the vendors were selling. The rest of the day was spent at the farm, in a nice rural area about 45 minutes out of the city. They each had their own cooking station and chose 5 dishes to make from a list of popular thai foods. Papaya salad, mango sticky rice, coconut soup, yellow chicken curry, pad thai and spring rolls were some of the options. The setting was beautiful, the guides were super friendly and they were left with a recipe book. They were also sent home with some food for Jeff.
4. Muay Thai Fight
This has been on our to do list for a while. Bangkok offers professional stadiums and better quality fights but it didn’t really link up with our schedule. We knew we could still check them out in Chiang Mai. It did not disappoint! Despite not being big fans of any pro fighting sports, we had a great time. The Chiang Mai fights are more general entertainment then the pros you would see in Bangkok. This was clear when the first fighters took to the ring and had to be no more then 13 years old. Next up, a female fight… the girls were maybe 16. But make no mistake, the fights are brutal. These kids train hard, and can land some serious blows. The girl fight ended in a knock out. Super entertaining stuff once you get over the weirdness of watching young kids beat the hell out of each other. Half time show was 8 guys blindfolded in the ring, throwing random punches. It was more of a comedy act then a fight. The last two fights were adults. Jeff started placing a few bets with one of the locals and we really got into it. Definitely makes for a good night out. Almost every seat is ringside and the ring is surrounded by bars. There are a few options, we chose to see that fights at Thaphae Stadium.
5. Getting a Tattoo
Thailand is littered with tattoo parlours. Trying to find out which shops have a comfortable balance of skill, cleanliness and a fair price is nearly impossible. But if you do the homework it can be totally worth it. Most shops are open 24 hours for those who find the courage after a few cocktails. We seen a guy who had to be pretty wasted getting tattooed on Koh Phangan during the Full Moon Party, probably 3:00am. But tattoos are definitely not just for the tourists. Thai’s love tattoos. Most have really good work done too.
A different way of getting tattoed in Thailand is “bamboo style”. A traditional method using a single needle, gently tapped into the skin by hand. An even more unique way, and what Jeff was interested in was getting a Sak Yant at a temple by a monk.
Traditional Sak Yant are hand-etched onto the skin using ancient geometric designs mixed with Buddhist prayers. They are believed to give the wearer magic powers associated with healing, luck, strength, and protection against evil. Buddhist monks originally engraved Sak Yant into warriors seeking protection and strength in battle.
Clearly the most legit way of getting this done was to find a temple. CM Locals website has good info. Of course there are downsides, a temple is not a sterile environment, you don’t get a new needle, risk of infection and disease is higher. The natural ink monks use can also cause an allergic reaction. You can’t get too picky about the vanity stuff either (placement, design, straight lines etc…). This is about the magic and honouring the tradition.
With every cool story comes risk but Jeff eventually opted for the shop. Sacrificing the mystical tradition, but also avoiding HIV so… thats good. The Best Tattoo Parlour was a western style shop, clean as a medical office and came highly recommended. Jeff went with a 9 Spire Sak Yant design he picked out ahead of time. He did get it done bamboo style. It was a painful, but really cool experience and the tat turned out just the way he wanted.
Chiang Mai was good to us. Our last day there left us only 2 more days until our Thai Visa’s expired. So, it was time to cross some borders. Vietnam bound!
We loved the islands, but felt a bit spoiled at the same time. Islands are a vacation, and everything inland is travelling. There is a difference. Both are great but after the R&R we were seeking more adventure, more of the unknown. Bangkok delivered.
Day # 1
This wasn’t our first time here. We spent 8 hours around the Khoasan Road area waiting for our ride to Koh Tao nearly 3 weeks ago. We wanted to stay in a central place, frequented by other backpackers….so of course we returned to Khoasan Road. We checked into The Wild Orchid a few blocks from the party. If you enjoy sleep, you shouldn’t stay right on Khoasan. The surrounding area has a ton of accomadations for every budget.
As we’ve learned already, the website pictures never match the reality of the place you are staying. With such a nice name, “Wild Orchid”, one would assume a certain level of quality. Funny that the hotel name is a flower, yet they put us in a windowless room. A janitors closet turned bedroom, where flowers come to die. Sounds dramatic but it wasn’t that bad. The bed was clean, it had AC and we only needed to spend one night. It was about 9pm by the time we got settled. So we went out for a quick snack and a night cap before returning to the closet.
The next morning we had to shuffle to a new hotel. We booked it in the same area but had no idea it ended up being directly across the road. It made for an easy move. We booked a triple room at Erawan Guesthouse. We needed a 3rd bed for our friend Nicole who was joining us on our journey. She plans to continue travelling solo after spending a while with us. She hopped on the blog bandwagon as well, check it our here. We were both getting excited to see a familiar face from back home.
We took off on foot and walked aimlessly for most of the morning. We had a tuk-tuk take us down to the canal. Bangkok had an extensive canal system years ago, but in recent years they have filled them in for paved roads and infrastructure. Canals still exist today and are a practical means of transportation and popular for tourism. We stopped for a noodle soup lunch at a roadside spot. These roadside noodle stands are very popular amongst locals. Noodles are suitable for any meal, especially breakfast.
So we weren’t sure how to kill the afternoon, we had lots of ideas but also wanted something kind of chill. We remembered hearing from our friends in India that oddly enough, it’s a good time to walk around some of Bangkok’s malls. They are massive! Very high end shopping. You can definitely access some first world comforts in this city. We decided on Central World Mall, apparently the 6th biggest in the world. It was big, the AC was pumpin’, and who woulda guessed we would find a Krispy Kreme….damn, was India ever a distant memory at this point.
Well, the mall killed the rest of the day. We kinda wanted some evening entertainment but also knew we had to get up early to meet Nicole. We decided to check out one of the “Red Light Districts”. Probably the most seediest area is Patpong. Home to the famous “Ping Pong Show”, it ain’t table tennis…if you don’t know Google it (not for faint of heart). What goes on in certain areas of Bangkok is not right by a lot of standards, and it definitely challenges our morals. But it’s still something we wanted to see, just to walk around. You would expect it to be a dangerous place given the partying and the sex trade being so prevalent, but it’s actually a place you could see families dining, in plan sight of western men on the prowl for a ladyboy. Maybe not into the darkest hours of the night but surely anytime before midnight, when we were witness to it. It felt safe and harmless to walk around. The Patpong area is also home to one of the cities busiest night markets.
Day # 3
Nicole Arrived! We gave her a big airport welcome. The rest of the day was short on pics but consisted of some serious walking time, a good ole fashion day drunk and thai massages to end things off. I think we slept 12 hours that night.
Day # 4
Our 4th day felt action packed! First we returned to the canal for a long boat tour. It was cool seeing the locals who live along the waters edge. We also stopped at what the salesman said was a small floating market aka one lady in a boat selling cheap sunglasses and beer. We stopped at a Fish Farm, the whole canal is overloaded with carp, and there was a guy on a dock selling bread to throw in and feed them. Lastly we stopped at a temple “Wat Arun”, which was under construction and mostly covered in scaffolding. If you think that these stops were underwhelming, you are right. But the whole experience was great! It’s another tour that is taken over by touts trying to charge 10x it’s actual worth to tourists. Barter hard and keep expectations low and you can enjoy it like we did. We also road the regular water taxi boat which you can get on for about 13 Baht and it’s something to experience on its own, for next to no cost.
We met a new friend from England on the boat tour (in the pic above) and he strongly suggested checking out Wat Pho. So we had our boat drop us off at the closest pier to that temple rather then taking it back to the original spot. Wat Pho is home to the famous reclining Buddha. It was definitely worth the visit. It’s a huge temple and we spent a couple hours there.
After a short relax and refresh at the room we were out on the town again to do the Midnight Food Tour we booked the day before. We booked online through Bangkok Food Tours. This was definitely one of the trips highlights! We cruised the town with a group of about 10 of us split up in tuk tuks. We stopped at 5 spots, experiencing both famously known places, and hidden gems. Tasting the most popular Thai dishes and getting schooled by our super friendly and well spoken guide “Mod”. We also met a fellow Canadian named Brad, who would later join us on some other adventures.
Day # 5
Like we said, Brad joined us the next day for a thorough tour of China Town and some weird eats. We continued into the evening. The beverages kept flowing and we visited two rooftop spots. The debauchery led us back to Patpong where we visited the Ladyboy area. We shared some drinks and laughs with them, they know how to party. Our new friend shared a kiss with a ladyboy, Britt got proposed to and Jeff had his junk grabbed. All in good fun. The next seedy stop was Soi Cowboy. Another walk down a strip lined with bars and girls standing out front offering there services. Not much excitement there….strictly business. After a short walk we were back to Khoasan and stumbling to our room. Good night.
Wow, that felt like a long post. I guess it was nearly a 6 day review. There was so much fun and so much to see we probably could have broken it up into 6 posts. Oh well. Moral of the story, Bangkok is great, one of our faves. Six days flew by! After our last big night out we were back to the airport and on plane to Chiang Mai. We made the decision to fly to most of our next destinations. It’s cheap and quick. If we traveled slow by road we would have to cut out some areas and we really don’t want too. Hard to believe our trip is coming to an end. Our last day in Bangkok left us 25 days until home. That may seem like a lot but we still have 2 more countries to see (Vietnam and Cambodia). Let’s hope it all works out!
Britt and Jeff
Koh Phangan. An island off the Gulf of Thailand best known for the Full Moon Party, an event that, fittingly, happens once a month on the night of the full moon. Travellers from all over the world gather on Sunset Beach in Haad Rin to participate in the festivities by devouring buckets (more about this later), dancing and engaging in what one may call hedonistic activities until the early morning light shines.
It just so happened our travels linked up with one of these infamous parties. Even though we thought perhaps we may be a bit out of our element (or too old?) given the fact that we had been avoiding the party scene for most of our trip, we thought we might as well join the crowd even if we wanted just to spectate. We went ahead and booked our accommodations in Haad Rin (a week ahead of time, things book up pretty quickly in town during the surrounding dates), and took the one hour ferry ride over to Koh Phangan from Koh Tao three days before the full moon.
We arrived at the Thong Sala pier mid morning and hailed two motorbike taxies to take us to Haad Rin. Keep in mind we both had our big backpacks, plus each had a smaller backpack. The guys driving the motorbikes were obviously seasoned riders, and somehow were able to manuever us and our luggage getting us there (relatively) safely for 200 baht ($8.00 CAD).
Driving the roads from Thong Sala to Haad Rin felt instantly different from Koh Tao. It is a much larger island with a totally different vibe. More people, less resort style hotels. A ton of hostels. We found that a lot of the businesses cater to the full moon goers, and you see signs advertising pre-parties and post-parties leading up to and following the main event. Unfortunately, a lot of travellers will only travel to Koh Phangan to experience the Full Moon Party, coming into town one day before or sometimes on the day of and leaving the day after. During our time on Koh Phangan we discovered that it has so much more to offer then what it is solely known for. We were only booked to stay for five days and then were planning to head to Koh Samui, but we scratched that plan and stayed on Koh Phangan for almost two weeks.
We checked into our hostel, and upon first glance were quite pleased with our room. It was a standard fan room with a double bed, a little balcony, and a cool spiral staircase that lead from our entrance up to where our bed was. There was only one dead cockroach in the bathroom, so that was good. It even had a spot to park our hogs (Britt refuses to call it a scooter) outside. All of this for $20 bucks a night, a 5 minute walk to Sunset Beach. Not bad!
We hit the beach for a swim, hit a pub for some beers, and hit the sack early as we were tired from the travel, heat and sun.
The next morning we woke up eager to explore the island, so we went to the reception and rented a hog for our travels. They only had one left so unfortunately we had to double up (not near as badass as we wanted to appear). After a couple of toasties (more about these little pieces of heaven later) we set off to find what Koh Phangan had to offer.
Haad Rin is on the southern tip of the island, and to get to or from you must ascend and descend a variety of hills which feel like mountains when you are riding a scooter (hog). These hills make for some of the best views of the ocean we’ve ever seen. Crystal clear turquoise water with islands in the distance.
We had researched what there was to do on Koh Phangan and being the semi-adrenaline junkies we are we decided to find either the Wipe Out obstacle course (if you’ve ever seen the show you know what we’re talking about), or the Slip-N-Fly. We found the Wipe Out course first, but unfortunately they were shut down for a few weeks. Finally we found the Slip-N-Fly, a little amusement park that features 3 different slides, volleyball, mudpit jousting and other activities. One of the slides you ride down on a body board (like a lazy river but on a downhill slope where rocks break your tailbone every inch of the way), and two huge water slides. One of the slides flings you farther, while the other one flings you higher. It was 600 baht to get in, which is pretty expensive for cheap backpackers like ourselves, but that allowed you to enter every day of the “Slip-N-Fly” party (they are only open for three days before the Full Moon and three days after). It was late afternoon by this time so we decided to make a day of it the following day instead.
That night we felt like experiencing the buckets that everyone always raves about. Buckets are exactly that, sand pails that are filled with a mickey of the booze of your choice, a can of the mix of your choice, and a bottle of Red Bull. Sounds dangerous, yes? There are stands set up all along Sunset Beach with local people trying to sell you their buckets. The buckets range from 150 baht-300 baht (6-12 bucks, the Thai alcohol ones are cheaper). We were drawn to a woman named Pa who was workin’ it harder than anyone on the beach. If you ever go to Koh Phangan, buy your bucket from her and tell her that her Canadian friends Jeff and Brittany say hi. Somehow, the entire time we were in Haad Rin she was able to remember our names (tricks of the trade, I guess), and after we bought our first bucket she told us that she’d keep giving us deals if we returned and branded us (wrote Pa loves you) on our hands, and when we woke up in the morning we had Pa loves you all over the pillow cases in our room. Classy.
Also that night we met a pair of lovely British lads from London that we ended up hanging out with a few times. Their names are Dan and Greg, and we decided that if they lived back home they would definitely be part of our squad.
The next day we set back out to hit the Slip-N-Fly. It was Buddha day in Thailand, and businesses are not allowed to sell alcohol out of respect. This was just fine with us, and we had an awesome day hitting the slide and watching other people backflip and bellyflop.
February 23rd, 2016. Full Moon Party. We had heard about it and read about it for what felt like ever. That day we took the hogs out and hit some other beaches on the island (now we each had our own hog), and relaxed and prepared ourselves for the festivities that were about to take place.
Every month, on the eve of the full moon 40,000 invade the rather peaceful island (normally with a population of 13,000 people). Sunset Beach is flooded with partygoers. Stands are set up to dance on, vendors looking to paint your body for a fee, a jump-rope lit on fire for anyone brave enough to try, DJ’s set up in bars all along the beach pumping our rave and trance music, a bar advertising balloons of laughing gas and Mushroom Mountain are among some of the events that take place at Full Moon. We met up with our English friends, as well as an American named Sage, and joined the fellow dancers on the beach until the early morning.
This event is not to be taken lightly. As much fun as it is, like anything there is a certain degree of caution that needs to be taken. Luckily it being the two of us we are able to look out for each other, but the potential dangers of this event would be greatly increased if one were solo. Things like not taking a drink from a stranger, not buying drugs from a random who offers (we had heard that this happens a lot and some of the times the person who sold you the drugs is a cop or will rat you out to the cops, and Thailand has very strict drug laws), and also being mindful of potential dehydration from being in extreme heat are all dangers. Thankfully none of the above happened to us and we had a great time.
The next morning we got up bright and early to access the damage and go for a swim. Quite a few people still up and partying, some passed out on the beach, and a ton of garbage littered the street, beach, and ocean. As fun and interesting as this party is, it definitely ain’t helping our environment any.
We decided to hop on the hogs and hit another beach on the island. We landed in Haad Yao, a quieter, semi-upscale part of Koh Phangan where we spent the day relaxing, swimming, and getting beachside massages.
We had planned to leave Koh Phangan on our fifth day there, but because we loved it so much, we decided to stay. After the full moon there is a mass exodus from the island and it became very quiet and peaceful. We wanted to get to know another part of it, so we loaded up the hogs with all of our bags and set off, homeless, in the pouring rain.
Ending up back in Haad Yao, we booked into JB Bungalows, which was about a 10 minute walk from the beach, and was more backpacker friendly than some of the swanky hotels that were located directly on the beach. For 500 baht a night, we got our very own bungalow with a wicked view of the ocean, a fan, our own bathroom and a porch with a hammock. It was beautiful and clean, and the owners treat you like family. We would highly recommend this place if you are ever on Koh Phangan!
Our last few days on the island were spent relaxing and exploring. We found the local night market, in Thong Sala. Every night vendors set up their stands offering Thai and International type food like skewered meats, sushi, fresh fruit and veggie smoothies, and so much more. It is delicious and cheap.
We also met a wonderful couple who were fellow Canucks that had done plenty of Thailand travel. On our last day in Koh Phangan we all hopped on our hogs and they took us to a beautiful beach that we had never seen and to the fishing village, where we dined on some of the best, freshest seafood we’ve ever had. Shoutout to Graham and Jessica, can’t wait to meet up with ya’s again, somewhere in the world!
Early the next morning, Mr. JB gave us a ride to the pier. We boarded a ferry, and said goodbye to Koh Phangan. We left the islands the same way we had came, ferry to Chumpon, bus to Bangkok, but this time looking more tan and at least knowing the currency conversion, sad to leave but excited for our upcoming mainland adventures!
Footnote: Toasties – Ham and cheese sandwiches you get from the cold section of the 7-11. Bring them to the counter and they will place them in a sandwich maker and toast them for you. 25 baht ($1 CAD). Fricken’ life changing. A Southeast Asia backpacker staple.
Britt and Jeff 🙂