Koh Ngai Paradise Resort

It absolutely threw it down overnight and the noise of the heavy rain on the roof was awesome. We woke up early enough though and try and plan our trip over the next few weeks. Originally we wanted to visit many of the islands in Southern Thailand including the well known Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Phuket. But have decided that we will probably give these islands a miss and concentrate on the quieter islands instead.
If we are to visit Laos which we are both keen to do, we have to gain some time somewhere and don’t want to miss out on Kanchanaburi or Chang Mai. We also have to spend at least a few days in Bangkok getting our visa’s to Vietnam and China organised, which is cool as we both adored it there last time we went.

Simon has bought both shampoo and a razor from the shelf of supplies here and subsequently we are going to stay on Ko Hai for another day. Today is Chinese New Year and we have heard reports that we may find it difficult and/or expensive to get accommodation on the busier islands.

Simon spends an hour teaching Ali maths and then half an hour teaching me. Being so crap at maths makes me feel dumb and inadequate but he’s very patient and doesn’t take the piss which I really appreciate. I spend some time doing literacy with Maisie and we concentrate on passive and active verbs and spellings. We take it in turns to do some snorkelling off the beach and Simon is lucky enough to see Nemo! I only see dead coral, parrot fish and a cat fish but still its good and we all have fun.

By now I am getting a bit stir crazy, there is so little to do here and Simon suggests we walk to the other side of the island. We set off through a wide and well marked path into the jungle and within 10 minutes are scrabbling through dense overgrowth and over roots. Despite the intense heat I do enjoy it and eventually strip off to my bikini. I guess I don’t really look the part in my flip flops but we have brought water, repellent and a towel with us and make our way along quite well!

At last we arrive at the Koh Hai Fantasy Resort on the other side of the island, I quickly redress and we head straight to their bar. Complete bliss, we sit on comfy sofas over looking the lovely white sands and sea and drinking Gin. Love it!

The tide goes out and we make our way along the beach to The Seafood Restaurant, we have shrimp rice, a huge salad and a whole barbequed salted Red Snapper which is really good. We chat to an English couple and their 2 young sons; they are presently living in China and offer some interesting and insightful information to us. By now it is around 8.30pm and we ask the lady at the restaurant to arrange a longtail boat back to our side of the island. The weather is really stormy and although there are only a few spots of rain, the thunder is rumbling around and lightening constantly lights up the sky. Travelling back on the boat, in the darkness is surreal and scary. We crash through the waves and I’m glad when we reach our shoreline.

Ali has heard from his friend Kate that his best friend Woody has been hurt in a skiing accident and we decide to phone home to check on his progress. This is quite upsetting for us and we all hope he is home soon and back to his normal crazy self. Get well soon mate!!!

Maisie and I crash out, it is hot, humid and sultry and soon the rains will pour down. Tomorrow we are moving onto Ko Lanta, this is a larger and busier island and although I have had a great time here I am looking forward to returning to civilisation with easy access internet, a decent bed, running water and that modern miracle, all day electricity.

Snorkelling and The Emerald Cave

I wake up to the dawn chorus; there are no sounds here except the waves, the birds and the wind blowing through the coconut trees. I wouldn’t say I have had the best night’s sleep, as the beds are so hard we may as well have slept on the floor but when I look out of the door I feel so invigorated and alive. It’s really fantastic to wake up on the beach in such a beautiful setting. Simon goes to get our usual coffee and we sit sunning ourselves in 2 battered old deck chairs on a completely deserted beach.

A young couple from the Netherlands called Eva and Jan have asked us if we would like to share a boat with them this morning to explore the islands around us. We are waiting to see if Maisie is feeling better before we make any firm plans but when the kids wake up around 8am she’s ok and says she does want to go out today.

We have some pineapple, papaya and banana for breakfast and then set off in the boat. I chat to Eva on the way, like most people we have met they are travelling the other way round to us and we talk about their experiences in Cambodia and Vietnam. Soon we arrive at The Emerald Cave on Koh Mok, for many years this cave was used by the local people who gathered bird’s nests from it and then used by pirates to store treasure. At low tide it is possible to take a boat through the caves but at high tide the only option is to swim through the 80metres in pitch black. We were expecting this so aren’t surprised but I think it came as a bit of a shock to Eva and Jan.

We all don our life jackets and jump off the edge of the boat and into the deep blue water. It is warm and clear, the fella’s are feeding small blue and yellow fish off the ends of the boat and they are all around us. The kids of course love it. We swim to the start of the tunnel, our guide has a torch but it is very dark and cool out of the sun. We start to swim along slowly, even though we’re all so close together I can touch Simon and the kids, I can’t see a thing. It is quite a strange experience swimming along in complete and total inky blackness.

Suddenly the tunnel opens out and we are in the sunlight and fresh air. It is I suppose, a bit like being inside a volcano with tall cliffs stretching upwards a hundred metres or so high. There is a small beach and the water is very warm. Although it is really amazing and beautiful it is slightly spoilt by the fact that there are loads of people in there. So much for getting an early start to avoid the crowds!

We swim back to the boat and set off for Ko Kradan, this is the most unspoilt of all the islands in the Trang province and has a lovely deserted beach. We try several beaches and use the snorkel equipment we have hired to look at the fish and underwater rocks. By now it is 2pm and we’re all hungry. We set off back to Ko Hai and enjoy the wonderful scenery along the way. We managed to get some photos but it was difficult due to the large amount of spray coming into the boat!

Back at our island I have a quick shower and realise that I have left both our shampoo and razor at the guesthouse in Trang. What a pain, now I have to contend with dirty hair and hairy legs and that is enough to make me decide we should move onto Ko Lanta (A bigger island) tomorrow. Still despite the misery of that, the fantastic food makes up for it and I have chicken, coconut and ginger soup for lunch. So good, I can’t tell you!

Simon spends the afternoon doing maths with the kids and I lie on the bed nursing my sunburn and reading my book. Later we have dinner of fried chicken and mixed vegetables and round it off with coffee and a packet of M&M’s each.

Ko Hai

Once again the heat woke me up early and although I hardly leap out of bed, due to my strained shoulder, I can’t get back to sleep and lie there thinking about our plans for the day. After showering and breakfast in the cafe next door, Simon packs up our gear and goes to the ATM to get more money. The exchange rate is more like 70 baht to the pound and we realise although things are more expensive than we thought, we have more left in the bank also.

I try and do some schoolwork with the kids but can’t get comfortable due to my shoulder and give up on the idea for today .At 11.30 the minibus comes to collect us, there isn’t anyone else on the bus and it’s a very comfortable, air conditioned ride along a decent road. It’s a fairly rural area and we only pass a few huts made of wood and corrugated tin on the way. We also pass thousands of rubber trees planted in straight lines, I had read that the whole area is a giant rubber plantation and there are small black cups attached to the trunks of the trees about a metre off the ground collecting the sap.

After an hour we reach the pier, the boat is being loaded up with supplies to Ko Hai and we share a beer whilst the fella’s finish packing up. The boat is a type of motorised wooden longtail boat and we are the only passengers. I’m really excited, this seems very adventurous and we sit on the benches together until the boat gets out to sea. Before long we are speeding along, the sea is calm and so blue and tall, sharp limestone cliffs rise up out of it. The film The Beach was filmed in this area and I sing the All Saints song Pure Shores as we race along. It’s so exhilarating, feeling the scorching sun and spray on my face and the wind blowing my hair everywhere; we move and sit on the front of the boat.

We pass several islands and soon one of the fella’s points out Ko Hai in the distance. As we near the island he cuts the engine and we drift in over rocks and coral. The beach is about 400 metres long with fine golden sand and at the back on a grassy flat area are about 20 small wooden huts on stilts. Thankfully I don’t have to carry my pack as 2 fella’s rush down to greet us and carry them for us. I’m apologetic when they nearly collapse under the weight of them though!

The huts cost 500 baht each and we decide to have 2 separate ones. We check them out and as expected they are really basic with simple wooden furniture, mosquito nets and cold water shower. Power is only available between the hours of 6pm and midnight and for the first time since we have been travelling we have western style toilets without a flush. Still pouring water down the toilet to flush it is an easy enough task and the peace and solitude definitely make up for it. It is so gorgeous here, with palm trees all around and a quiet restaurant with a good menu. There is a decent selection of books available for exchange and a few games for the kids.

I think maybe half of the huts are occupied and I’m looking forward to a few days of complete tranquillity and relaxation. With that in mind, after some fresh chicken, vegetable and noodle soup I crash out on the bed for a few hours and go to sleep. With the door and shutters of the hut open it is beautifully breezy and I have a complete doss afternoon.

Simon takes Ali out for a walk across the rocks, we are planning to do some fishing and want to hire a boat and do some snorkelling here also. An English fella and his Chinese wife who are very familiar with the island tell Simon there is an excellent seafood restaurant on the other side of the island and we decide we will pay them a visit there too.

In the evening we share a green curry, and hot and sour orange curry with shrimps. The foods really excellent and it would be good to think we can avoid fried stuff for a while. As Maisie is feeling poorly with a cold I put her bed early and Simon and I sit listening to Ali playing his guitar on our little wooden veranda. What a lovely end to the day.

Trang

I awoke very early today and must be still be on Malaysia time. We have gained an hour and are now only 7 hours ahead of the UK. The rooms are very hot even at 6.30am and I get up and have a shower to cool down. The kids are fast asleep but at 9.00am I can’t contain myself and go and disturb them. Their room is small and the window opens internally and I am slightly worried that they may have boiled to death overnight but happily they’re alive and kicking and as ever want to know when we are getting breakfast.

We catch a tuk tuk to The Meeting Place Cafe; according to the book this is a good place to arrange transport out to the islands. The difficulty now arises in having to choose between paradise and paradise we eventually decide on Ko Hai. This island is only 5km across and described as having palm trees, white sands, clear blue sea and almost entirely ringed by coral. It will take an hour to get to the pier and a further hour by longtail boat to the island and we agree on a cost of 900baht. There is one slight flaw in our plan and that is that The Meeting Place Cafe usually only arrange transport and accommodation together as a package. The Ko Ngai Resort does look beautiful but we want to see other (Possibly cheaper) accommodation on the island also.

As there is no transport on Ko Hai we will find it very difficult to get around with all our gear but decide to cross that bridge tomorrow and see what happens. After breakfast we return to The Yamawa Guesthouse where we are staying. There is a small seating area in the reception and to the kids disgust we get the schoolbooks out. Continuing on from the literacy they did with Toby we discuss the differences between tabloid and broadsheet newspapers. Sticking with their themes from their presentations I tell them that “all cats and guitars are banned”. They write 2 newspaper articles each in the style of The Sport and The Times and although it’s difficult they do really well and write some great articles.

In the afternoon we get some food in a decent restaurant, there is very little to do here and we are waiting for evening when it will cool down enough for us to go out to the night market. In 3 days time it will be Chinese New Year and there are lots of red lanterns decorating the streets of Trang, it looks very pretty and we would have liked to see the celebrations but as we’re now hoping to visit Laos we must keep to a tight schedule and have agreed to move on quickly.

Back at The Yamawa Guesthouse, Maisie and I decide to have a foot massage. The Thai masseuses have the strongest fingers and before long I remember likening a Thai full body massage I had in Hua Hin to nothing short of torture. Still Maisie seems to enjoy it and once it’s over my feet feel silky and I finish it off with clipping my nails and repainting them in readiness for the beach

Thailand

Predictably, as the alarm went off at 7am this morning we struggled to scrape our arses out of bed. Late last night we decided that if we felt too tired this morning we would stay another day but in the end we go for it and get a taxi to the ferry port at 8am. The ferry costs us 14 pounds for the four of us and the journey takes an hour. We arrive at the Thai port of Satun and immigration takes around another hour. The immigration officials are friendly and chat away to the kids but they are knackered, irritable and spoiling for a fight with each other.

We get in a sawngthaew (pronounced songlaw) these are covered pick up trucks with two rows of benches and the main way of getting around the towns of Thailand. We ask the driver to take us to the bus station but end up getting dumped at a bus stop, still that’s ok as we want to take 5 and buy a drink.

Eventually the bus to Trang turns up. We had originally planned to go straight through to Krabi but as the kids are being evil and we are also tired we decide to go halfway there instead. We get settled at the back of the bus which is comfortable enough and empty. Just as we are congratulating ourselves on rejecting the aircon bus and going like the locals our relative peace is shattered as 5 or 6 young lads get on. They are all pissed and chatter away to us, offering us their beer and fags. We tell them we don’t drink and smoke so they get out a hanky and encourage us to sniff it instead! I’m not sure if it contained anything more than snot but we only put up with them singing and dancing around us for another half an hour before we move further up the bus and they take the hint and leave us alone from then on.

Two hours later and we arrive in Trang. It is a small town on the Andaman coast and apparently a really good place to get out to some of the islands. It doesn’t seem quite as hot as Langkawi but the landscape is similar. We have passed many coconut groves and there are limestone cliffs, waterfalls and caves in this area. As soon as we get off the bus we start walking, we are trying to put a bit of distance between us and the fellas on the bus. Although they were friendly I had a bad feeling about them and don’t want them to know where we are staying.

They don’t follow us though and soon we are some distance away and relax a bit. We find the guesthouse we want and it’s gorgeous, spotlessly clean with natural, rattan furniture, crisp white sheets and silk bed coverings. We have to share the toilet and cold showers but there doesn’t seem to be many other people staying here and we virtually have the place to ourselves. I bargain the room costs down to 200 and 250 baht. This is around 5 pounds sixty total. We are working on an exchange rate of 85 baht to the pound until we know better and have checked with the money changers.

By now we are starving and go in the cafe next door. We have sandwiches and corn. In Asia sweetcorn is often eaten in bowls with added butter, salt and sugar and is completely yummy! We check our emails and let the kids have an hour surfing the net. Their internet requirements have definitely reduced recently and neither of them has complained too much about the lack of webtime whilst we were in Langkawi.
It is very hot in our rooms and we are all feeling heat exhausted. We decide to get take out and Simon comes back with some Chinese food and a red silk rose for me, we sit on the bed, sharing dinner, drinking Chang beer and eating with a plastic spoon- Happy Valentine’s Day!

Last day in Langkawi

As planned Simon set the clock and we get up early. We decided to let the kids chose what to do today and they want to go back to The Asiana Hotel where they spent yesterday afternoon. We have some yogurt and fruit for breakfast and make our way up the road. Although it is quite early it is so hot that my sunbed burns me and we have to keep diving in the pool to cool down. Before too much longer Barney appears but unfortunately hasn’t left his sleeping parents and sister a note so Simon walked back to let them know Barney is with us.

Jon, Toby and Lois appear around midday much the worse for wear! Apparently they had a late night last night and their plans of going up the cable car in the afternoon seem to be rapidly evaporating! At lunchtime we walk back to our hotel, we have got a bit of food left in the fridge and we make sandwiches for lunch. I spend sometime explaining the legends of Langkawi to Ali and Maisie but they’re not too interested and want to get back to their swimming!

Simon takes them back and I pack up all our stuff, again we have a parcel of things we have collected in Malaysia and want to post it home but as the postal service here is supposedly very unreliable we will wait until we arrive in Thailand tomorrow. We have planned to catch the ferry at 9.30am to Satun which takes around an hour and then get the bus to Krabi, a four hour journey.

Simon and Ali come back at 4.30 and we walk up to Lylia’s Bar. Ali plays for an hour or so with the guitarists we met last night and we have some Tigers with an Australian mum and daughter who are holidaying here. Eventually everyone else returns and we light a fire on the beach. Jon and Toby have bought some burgers and the kids make us ice cream sundaes. We say our goodbyes and wish them good luck with the rest of their trip; they are heading off to the Cameron Highlands and Taman Negara before their flight to Australia. It has been great spending time with them and I will miss them but can’t wait to get to Thailand tomorrow. We had a fantastic holiday there last year and we’re hoping to explore so much more of the place all the guidebooks call The Land of Smiles.

The SImple Life

The money situation has become quite desperate and the main aim of today is to get to Kuah and get some cash. The nearest ATM is at the airport but there will be more choice of banks in Kuah and Simon, Toby and Jon set off in a taxi and leave me with the kids. I’m so lucky and have definitely pulled the long straw as all I have to do is remind them occasionally to put on sun cream and have a drink – Yeh !

I lie under the coconut trees on the beach reading my book and day dreaming. I have really loved it in Langkawi and seem to have found the answers to some of the things I have been thinking about really easily here. I have met some really amazing people here too. The girl who runs The Submarine Shack is from Nottingham. She came to Langkawi on holiday, met her boyfriend, went home jacked in her job and has been here ever since!
I love hearing about stories like that, people who don’t worry too much about the consequences of stuff and just get on with it. Eventually they return with cash, hurray and we plan what to do for the afternoon.

Simon and I found a lovely bar up the road for sale for 7000. We sat there planning what food we would serve if we owned it etc!! Don’t worry mum we weren’t serious! In the afternoon Jon and Toby offered to take Ali and Maisie to The Asseana Hotel, it has apparently got the largest swimming pool in Malaysia and we jumped at the opportunity to spend a bit of time on our own. When we arrived there a few hours later they had all had a fantastic afternoon. The pool comes complete with waterfalls, slides, a hot pool, (as if you need that!) wave machine and “relaxation river”.

We head back to our hotel and stop on the way for the kids to ring their Dad and Nana Judy and Bob and quickly check a few emails. After a quick shower we walk along the beach. Jon found a bar yesterday where they have an acoustic jammin session at sunset and Ali wants to go and play. The two guitarists there are really great and tell me they have just met and are camping on the beach and busking around the bars for a bit of cash. What a great life! Unfortunately some drunken fella decides he wants to play and when he sits down in front of Ali and tells him “sit there and I will teach you something” I want to laugh. The bar owner soon sorts him out and Ali arranges to meet the buskers tomorrow afternoon.

We have our food and make our way back. Tomorrow we will be leaving Langkawi and we get to sleep fairly easily. I will be setting the alarm in the morning to get us up early to make the most of our last day.

The Delta Motel

Today I even surprised myself by jumping out of bed and making the decision to go for a run on the beach. It’s early and I leave Simon and the kids asleep and set off along the water edge. There aren’t many people about, some of the locals are having an early morning swim (all fully dressed, laughing and splashing around) and I stop and watch the fishermen emptying their nets. I have my MP3 player with me and listen to Jack Johnson along the way. It’s a bit of a half hearted attempt at running though but I console myself with the thought that although it might not being doing my body much good it’s certainly good for the soul.

When I get back they are all up and we sit having coffee and chatting with Jon and Toby for a couple of hours. I have decided to stay out of the sun today as my lips are still sore and burnt and Simon doesn’t like to lie around too much anyway. Toby does some schoolwork with the kids, she gives them a topic each and Maisie and Lois share theirs. They are told to plan a presentation explaining why they feel cats are better than dogs. Ali has to present his thoughts on why the guitar is the best musical instrument and Barney tells us why skateboarding is the best form of exercise. They all seem to enjoy doing this and talking to her has given me some more ideas on how to structure literacy lessons.

We consider the financial situation, by now we are down to our last few hundred ringitt and decide the best option for lunch is to buy some supplies and make sandwiches for everyone. We have crisps and fruit also and enjoy having a simple homemade lunch.

I spend the afternoon reading and we start to consider where and when we might move on. We had originally planned to stay in Malaysia for 3 weeks and have been here 3 weeks today so need to plan how we are going to spend the next 2  months in South East Asia. We want to travel around much of Thailand, but have heard conflicting reports about Cambodia. The consensus about Vietnam is unanimously good and everyone we have spoken to seems to love it there. We have also been considering going to Laos as we have heard such excellent reports but will have to see if we can fit it all in.

After a quick shower we head off up the road to phone home, get some dinner and watch the rugby. Mum has been looking on the internet at pictures of Langkawi and tells me she is really jealous as it looks so lovely! Simon has found a bar where the England / Italy game is showing and we order some food and settle down to watch. 15 minutes later there is a sad realisation that it was actually shown at 9am this morning not 9pm as we thought and we have missed it by 12 hours!

We head back and have an early night; it amazes me that doing nothing has the ability to tire you out completely. Tomorrow’s job for the day is to get some money; else we will have to resort to sending the kids out fishing for our dinner.

Sunburn and inpiration

Simon and I went for an early morning walk along the beach today. We left the kids asleep in bed and crept out. There are a handful of people out walking and it’s a tranquil and romantic stroll along. We stop to examine some of the beach kill along the way. There are 5 or 6 jellyfish washed up and they vary from the size of a dinner plate to about 4 times bigger. We also see a baby shark and some starfish. The shark and some of the jellyfish are still alive and I want Simon to put them back into the sea but he wouldn’t touch the jellyfish and the shark was apparently some fisherman’s catch and had disappeared by the time we came back.

I swap my book for a new one, Between a Rock and a Hard Place. This is Aron Ralston’s true life account of how he became trapped by a falling boulder whilst hiking in Utah and subsequently amputated his own arm in order to free himself and save his life. I read really quickly and soon get into the story, it is a compelling read and I admire his strength of character that enabled him to do that.

Someone told me I was inspirational and amazing for following my dreams with this trip. I’m not sure whether I agree with that, to be honest in some ways I feel like it’s almost a cop out, running away on a huge adventure for a year. One thing I think I have learnt from the trip already though is that most things are possible if you want them enough and are prepared to be brave and work at it.

In his book Aron Ralston talks about a fella whose book he read who dropped out of mainstream society to travel around the US. He wrote that “Many people live within unhappy circumstances but won’t take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity and conservatism, all of which might appear to give you peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the spirit than a secure future.”

I’m hardly going to become that type of mountain climbing adventurer myself so perhaps shouldn’t comment too much! But one thing I hope is that I have become a bit braver and have the balls to take a few risks. I think that’s important and a fantastic quality that not everyone has.

All that said I have done nothing braver or more adventurous today than brave the fierce sun. I asked the sunbed fella to pull my bed down by the waters edge and lay reading and listening to Duran Duran and The Scissor Sisters on my MP3. The sun is too hot to go out in for long and I stayed under my umbrella all day. Despite this I have still got burnt and my lips and cheeks are really sore. Simon said I look as though I have been skiing as I have got panda eyes where my sunglasses have been. I also have the perfect Angelina Jolie pout.

Everyone including us is short of money, the visa system on the island has collapsed and no one has been able to access any cash for 5 days. We decide therefore to eat at The Delta Motels Restaurant, the food is pretty basic and cheap and chicken fried rice is probably the best they have to offer but it will do and goes down ok with a few Tigers. Usually a lack of money would completely freak me out but I am more relaxed about it than I would have thought possible. Maybe finally I am listening to the words of The Serenity Prayer that I know so well.

Its 11.15 and I’m sitting on the bed. There is so little to do here that I feel very lazy. I have decided Langkawi is a place for reading, listening to music and thinking and not much else. Today has been one of those perfect days that nothing could spoil and I can’t wait for tomorrow.