As we start planning our next trip (seriously we’ve already started), I thought I would share a quick update on the country count.
With the new countries from this trip, Katy has now been to 34 countries and my count sits at 33. The three countries on this trip, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, were all new for me. Katy, having been to Thailand before, added two new ones to her list. (We aren’t counting Japan as we didn’t leave the airport. Sadly it looks like we might have to wait a while to get back there.)
So, we have a long way to go. While we certainly we won’t beat Chris Guillebeau, nor is this blog nearly as interesting as his, I’m looking forward to years of travel to come.
As usual, it’s a bit of a shock to be home, and not just because we left +35 C to arrive to -12 C. One minute you’re sitting on a beach trying to remember a few words of Thai and the next you’re back at your desk in your office wondering whether you were really ever gone at all.
Fortunately, we have proof. On a very short two and a half weeks, we took over 3,000 pictures between the two of us. Digital is a curse and a blessing. Luckily for you, we’ve narrowed that down to a top 600 or so. Seriously, we liked so many of them, we didn’t want to cut it any further. To see the pictures, just visit the gallery section of this site or click on these links:
If you’ve read any of the previous posts, you’ve probably gathered already that we had a great trip. Southeast Asia is a really easy place to travel and it’s a trip both Katy and I would highly recommend to anyone. The people we met along the way were all very interesting, warm and welcoming.
If you tend to stick to Western countries when you travel, or don’t travel much at all and are thinking about branching out a bit, Southeast Asia is a great place to start. While the languages aren’t that easy, you can get along fine with English. All three countries we visited on this trip offer a range of activities, from cultural to sitting on the beach, and they’re all really inexpensive once you take care of the international flights. Surprisingly, you can even find Western style washroom facilities everywhere and rarely have to pay to use them; Katy didn’t have to squat over a hole or carry her own stash of toilet paper with her during the entire two and half weeks. For those who travel like we do, you’ll understand how much of a luxury this is.
If you’re really adventurous you can take 2 months and travel around Southeast Asia finding lodging as you go, like Kevin and Vanessa. If you’re pressed for time, or want a little help, I’d highly recommend Gap Adventures. (I swear, I don’t get any money. They’re just good.)
Thanks to everyone that read along with us and especially those who posted comments. I’ve enjoyed writing these posts, it helps me remember everything we do and take the time to consider and appreciate it.
If you’re a glutton for punishment, I’m going to keep writing as we get ready for our next trip so feel free to keep visiting. Or, you can subscribe to receive email notifications of new posts in the top right corner of this page. Just click on the “sign me up” button.
Our trip home was relatively uneventful. Our flight out of Bangkok to Tokyo left just after 8:00 in the morning and the free hotel shuttle got us to the airport with plenty of time to spare. We managed to get ourselves the bulkhead seats again, without even paying the extra $75 each, so the nearly 6 hour flight to Tokyo was painless. Unfortunately the Thai Airways entertainment system didn’t work, but I managed to pass the time with my iPad. Katy had some old fashioned paper magazines. Not nearly as cool, but it seemed to work for her.
We had a tight connection in Tokyo, but in our very brief time there it seemed to be a well run place and we breezed through the security. We were quickly on our Air Canada flight to Toronto within 15 minutes. Sadly, we didn’t have any luck getting the seats with the extra room for this 12 hour flight. Somehow when we were paying the fee for the good seats on the Toronto – Hong Kong flight (16 hours) we convinced ourselves that we should just take our chances on the Tokyo – Toronto flight (12 hours). This seemed like a pretty stupid decision as we settled into our seats.
Unfortunately, to add to the cramped conditions, Air Canada decided that Katy didn’t need to eat during the flight. In the course of 12 hours they served 3 meals, and managed to screw up Katy’s each time. Despite having booked the vegetarian option, Katy’s first meal was chicken. (Actually I should have kept it as it was better than the normal chicken). Apparently it had been mislabelled and they had no other options available. The second time she was told there just wasn’t an alternative to the chicken noodle soup and the third time they actually gave her meal away to another woman in our row in error. Sadly, the woman ate it without wondering why she had been served ahead of time. The flight attendants, clearly a bit flustered at this point, actually asked Katy if she was allergic to fish, or just didn’t like it. I guess the implication was that since they couldn’t deliver what was ordered, maybe Katy should just eat what they gave her.
Food issues aside, the rest of the flight was relatively painless. After the flight we made it home and even managed to stay awake until 10:00 pm in the hope that this would somehow ease the jet lag. Lying in bed staring at the ceiling at 3:30 the next morning it was pretty clear it hadn’t worked.
It’s the last day of our trip and, as usual, it’s gone by far too quickly. We’ve packed a lot into the last two and a half weeks, but it still feels like we just left.
Our 7:00 pm flight from Krabi to Bangkok meant we had to leave for the airport around 4:00. While we considered another private hire boat tour we decided to opt for hanging out near the hotel, in part because we had to be checked out by noon.
After trying to sleep in a bit and having some breakfast we went to get massages, a.k.a. “massssaaaaaa”. The hotel had a promo that included an hour of Thai/oil massage and an additional service, e.g. a pedicure or a head and neck massage all for $10. Katy opted for the pedicure and I went for the head and neck.
Once rubbed and stretched into relaxation we dropped our bags off at the front desk and headed to the beach. Realizing that it wouldn’t take long before the sun started to get the better of us we walked down to have lunch at the last cafe on the beach, conveniently called, “The Last Cafe”. Katy even had time to pop over to see the vicious monkeys again while our order was being processed.
After lunch we split our remaining time in Ao Nang wandering the stores and lounging by the pool. The latter was a bit tricky because the people at our hotel seemed to think that it was ok to simply leave a towel on a chair by the pool all day, even if they weren’t actually around. It was so bad that people seemed to drop off towels at the pool before going to breakfast to reserve their seats for the day. This made it harder when we were trying to figure out if a towel on a chair was for someone in the pool and taken, or someone being selfish so we could move it. In the end we managed to figure it out and didn’t even get into any fights.
Needless to say, we were sad to see the end of the day and reluctant to leave the sun and water for the airport. In the end, common sense prevailed and we got on the shuttle to the airport.
The flight to Bangkok was uneventful and we were pleasantly surprised that our $30 per night airport hotel included a free shuttle. The hotel itself was clean, we only had to kill one bug, but other than that it was pretty much what you would expect for the price. Given that we arrived close to 10:00 pm and had to be back on the shuttle to the airport at 5:30 am, it did the job just fine.
A chance for some sleep before the marathon travel from Bangkok to Toronto begins.
After a very relaxing first day in Ao Nang, our second day promised to be more adventurous.
Before we started the trip we had agreed to meet up with Kevin and Vanessa in Krabi. (The fact that we had already seen them in Hoi An was actually just the result of fortuitous timing as we passed through the same town.)
Railay Beach is a 10 minute longtail ride from Ao Nang and is world famous for rock climbing. We arranged to spend the afternoon climbing with Kevin and Vanessa who were staying in Railay.
They didn’t actually arrive at Railay until around noon, they were coming from another island, so Katy and I headed over early to laze about on the beach. It wasn’t quite as nice as our private patch of sand on Poda but we managed to enjoy ourselves nonetheless.
After some lunch we walked over to meet Kevin and Vanessa at King Climbers. We had booked a four hour beginner climbing trip and it turned out to be just the four of us with our two guides. Well, us and the dozen other climbers of various levels who were all climbing at the same location.
After getting set up with our gear, we walked over to see just exactly what we would be climbing. The spot they took us to could hardly have been more picturesque and I will readily admit that the first route they chose looked a little more advanced than “beginner”. After a quick rope tying and belaying lesson, we were off.
Now, Katy had never been climbing before and my only try was a decade ago indoors. Somehow doing it on real rocks makes it seem more…real. Maybe it’s the fact that there aren’t any holds designed for that purpose, or the fact that the ground isn’t padded, but I definitely experienced a little trepidation as we got started. Actually, belaying Katy made me far more nervous than climbing myself. As Kevin put it, having just been in a similar situation with Vanessa, “there is something nerve wracking about literally holding your wife’s life at the end of a rope”.
If it were a couples competition, I would have to admit that Kevin and Vanessa definitely won. I take some solace in the fact that they have more experience than Katy and I. Competition aside, I can safely say that we all had a great time and left talking about doing it again at home, even if only indoors. Everyone did really well and probably climbed higher than anticipated. I definitely got higher than I expected and my forearms are not used to that kind of exercise, it still hurts a bit to type this post. If there was one thing I might be able to claim I was best at, it was descending. It seems I’m good at being lowered down like a limp rag doll.
Some credit for our success definitely goes to our guide who had an excellent ability to instruct and motivate from the ground. Conveniently, he also had a peculiar hearing problem that seemed to kick in anytime someone said they felt they had done well enough and were ready to quit and come down. Oddly it cleared right up as soon as one reached the top of the chosen route.
After climbing we definitely needed to clean up, so we left Kevin and Vanessa to head to their hotel while we took a boat back to our hotel. Feeling fairly proud of ourselves, I rewarded myself with a beer on the beach and Katy and I hit the pool for the first time.
Later in the evening Kevin and Vanessa came over to Ao Nang to meet up for dinner. As you would expect from a tourist beach town, Ao Nang has lots of restaurants to choose between. The thing I noticed was the weird combinations of food styles, e.g. Swiss & Thai, or Swedish & Thai. The only explanation is that people from these countries came to Thailand and couldn’t bring themselves to leave. Eventually the money ran out so they opened restaurants with a little of their home country flavour. All that to say that when Vanessa said she felt like Indian or Thai for dinner, the obvious choice was the Indian/Thai restaurant.
It was great to be able to meet up with Vanessa and Kevin, not once but twice on this trip. I’m definitely jealous of their two month adventure and hope we can pull off something similar someday.
I can see what led all of those restaurant owners to settle down on the beach. It would be great to be able to have days like this one permanently. Unfortunately for us we only have one more day on the beach and then it’s back to cold reality.
(I have to admit, I haven’t quite been able to keep up with these posts as we go, the more detail oriented reader may have noticed my struggles with past vs. present tense. Anyway, the last few posts will be written in transit from Bangkok to Toronto and posted as internet connection permits, likely not until we get home.)
We made it to the beach! After an early morning flight from Bangkok we arrived at our hotel on the beach in Ao Nang around 10:30 in the morning.
The only exciting part of the trip was choosing the land transfer to the hotel upon arrival. There are signs all over the Krabi airport telling you to sort your taxi out at a counter, not outside the airport. I like this, it makes me feel like it’s less likely that I’m going to get screwed. As we walked towards the counter a chorus of what sounded distinctly like hens clucking erupted in front of us. Krabi’s airport isn’t huge, so I wouldn’t have been totally shocked if there were birds, but it was actually the women sitting at competing taxi counters trying to get our attention. After a quick laugh, and some concentration to drown out the clucking while we read the various signs, we found a shuttle bus that cost half of what a taxi would have. I figure the mad clucking is a distraction/intimidation technique designed to try and mask the existence of the shuttle.
Our hotel Ao Nang Villa Resort was pretty nice, though it doesn’t come close to the Tara Angkor in Siem Reap. Situated on the beach it offered great views from all rooms.
Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived so we dropped our bags in the luggage room and headed out right away to get a lay of the land. Though our hotel is on a relatively quiet beach front walkway, it’s only a couple of minutes on foot into town. We quickly found a tourist information booth and, after some research and competitive shopping, booked a half day rock climbing package for the following day.
With that taken care of, we could relax for the rest of the afternoon. As a past visitor Katy took me on a tour of the beach. The beach is beautiful and is lined with a few bars and about 50,000 women saying, “you wanna massaaaa”, which translates roughly to, “excuse me, would you like a massage here on the beach”. At the end of the beach there is a monkey walkway. Just to be clear you see monkeys, you don’t walk on them. One kid ignored the giant “don’t feed the monkeys for your own safety” sign. We last saw him backing slowly into the sea as his bag of monkey treats quickly emptied.
After getting checked into our room we decided to take a longtail boat out to some of the islands. It was too late for a group tour so we hired a private longtail to take us to Tup and Poda islands, two of Katy’s favourites from her last visit. On Poda, a short walk along the beach meant we had a spot all to ourselves.
Our next stop was Tup island. Well, sometimes it’s an island and sometimes it’s islands. As the tide rises and falls, a sandbar joins the two twice a day. Actually, I’m not even sure, they may have separate names. While we were there, the tide was at a point where you could walk across, but the water would be up to your chest. I went out about halfway before turning around, but some diligent Germans, each with a beer in hand held above their heads, walked all the way across.
As we left Tup for the return trip to Ao Nang beach, the sunset was just getting started and a group of people were setting up for a beach barbecue. We enjoyed the sunset from our boat as our driver struggled against the waves to keep us headed in the right direction.
As an aside, the life of a longtail driver isn’t all bad. Our driver Soleil (probably not the right spelling), would take us to the requested beach, drop anchor and then stretch out his hammock for a nap, rocking in the surf under the shade of his boat.
That evening we strolled along the road browsing the stores before a ladyboy convinced us to stop and have dinner at his restaurant.
Our second Day in Bangkok was my only full day, Katy having been before. So, we decided to tick off most of the Bangkok highlights in one high speed tour.
In the morning we headed out on a tour with a local guide and a few others from our group. Fortunately, given the previous evening’s adventures, our tour leader, Wen Pen (she told us pronunciation not spelling, so I could be way off on that) took us around by train and boat, not taxi.
Our little tour took us to see the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, which houses the Reclining Budha. Surprisingly, the Reclining Budha is only the third largest in Thailand, but it is the “most beautiful”.
Despite the third place ranking, it is pretty impressive at 15 meters high and 45 long.
Katy at Wat Pho.
The Grand Palace was also nice, but would have been better without the thousands of people. If I’m being picky, a few degrees cooler would have been nice. In the Grand Palace we had to wear shoes and cover our legs to the ankles, so we were way over dressed for the weather. There is a lot to see at the Grand Palace, but one thing that struck me was a building that blended European (French) and Thai architecture.
Grand Palace architecture.
After lunch at a local restaurant that Wen Pen recommended, most people went back to the hotel to rest. As we were leaving Bangkok early the next morning, we were off to the races instead. In a couple of hours we visited the Golden Mount, less golden and moutainous than I expected; the Giant Swing which doesn’t have a swing connected; Democracy Monument, twice; and a return to Khao San Road. Khao San Road is backpacker central which makes for some cheap shopping and good people watching.
Khoa San Road
After all that we made it back to the hotel just in time to have a quick shower before joining the rest of the Gap Adventures travellers for a final dinner together. For dinner we took a cruise down the Chao Phraya River. While it was fine, it’s not what I would pick for a final dinner. It’s a bit cheesy and the music and entertainment made it difficult to speak to most of our group. Fortunately, after dinner we all reconvened in the lobby for a drink to say our goodbyes.
It’s been another great trip and, as we’ve come to expect, those travelling with us were half the fun. It was another diverse, but relaxed group that was up for different experiences and easy to travel with. It’s a safe bet that we will continue to be regular Gap Adventures travelers in the future.
Our merry band. From left to right. Back row: Katy, me, Eddie, Russell. Front row: Mary, Trisha, Marjorie, Maggi, and Shanta.
The end of the tour means were off to the beach in Ao Nang for some sun and relaxation.