A Travellerspoint blog

Songkran, the full moon party and the Beach

After Chiang Mai and the north of Thailand, it was time to move on the islands of the Thailand. My first stop was to Koh Pha Ngan island which lies on the east coast of Thailand. My two main highlights while I stayed on Koh Pha Ngan was celebrating the Songkran Festival and going to the full moon party. Songkran is a festival to celebrate the Thai New Year. The Thai's celebrate by having a huge watergun fight. In some parts of Thailand the festival lasts for seven days but on Koh Pha Ngan it was only celebrated for one day but it was awesome. My friends and I ventured to city of Thong Sala and partook in the celebration of Songkran. Now, imagine the biggest waterfight that you have ever been in, add about 1,000 people and make everyone a target - pedestrians, cars filled with people, police officers, good times, good times. It was an awesome festival which never got old. After celebrating the Songkran, that night was the Full Moon Party. Koh Pha Ngan is famous for it's Full Moon Party. The party was on Had Rin beach on the south end of the island. There are about a dozen clubs playing every variety of music and about 8,000 people dancing and drinking on the beach. It was a pretty intense and very festive event. The rest of my stay on Koh Pha Ngan involved chilling on the beach and hanging out with my friends.

My next stop was to Koh Phi Phi Island with an overnight stop in the city of Krabi. While I was in Krabi, I went on kayaking trip where we paddled into mangroves and visited a small island where our group was nearly attacked by wild monkeys. Suffice to say, I don't like wild monkeys.

Koh Phi Phi is on the West coast of Thailand and was one of the islands that was hit by the Tsunami. Koh Phi Phi has slowly recovered from the Tsunami but there are still signs from the devastation like cement slabs where bungalows once stood and shells of stores that have not been rebuilt. With that being said, Koh Phi Phi offers white sand beaches with warm tropical water, a bevy of activities like snorkeling, diving and cliff jumpning and a variety of food and bars to suit almost anyones tastes. Most of my time on the island I spent at the beach where I tossed the disc aka the frisbee and enjoyed the ambiance.

Also, just off Koh Phi Phi lies the small island of Koh Phi Phi Ley. Phi Phi Ley is most known for being the beach where the movie "The Beach" was filmed. My friends and I took a boat to the island where we snorkeled in the small coves filled with vibrant colored fishes, swam to a deserted beach and of course, we visit Ao Maya or "The Beach". Not a bad experience.

Posted by ejgalang 00:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

To Chiang Mai

My first stop in Thailand after leaving Lao was Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is situated in the Northern part of Thailand and offers a more laid-back Thai experience. The city of Chiang Mai and the area surrounding it offer a variety of things to do. You can visit the numerous Wats, take a Thai cooking class, practice Muy Thai (Thai boxing), take a Trek to the local hill tribes or just hike in the mountains.

I was in Chiang Mai for 5 days and while I was there I stayed at a cool guesthouse named Julie's Guesthouse. Julie's offered good accommodations, cheap food and a chill common area which made meeting people really easy. It seemed like all the people that I met there had been staying in Julie's and Chiang Mai for at least a couple of weeks. I think the allure of Chiang Mai was that it offered the best of both worlds - the hustle and bustle of the city and the outdoor activities of the mountains surrounding it. While I was in Chiang Mai I visited a local disco and I heard Thai versions of songs by popular American hip-hop bands like the Black Eyed Peas, pretty funny. Also, I went on a one day trek into the mountains that were south of Chiang Mai. Along with visiting the local hill tribes and swimming in a waterfall, the two main highlights of the trek was riding an elephant and bamboo rafting. I was looking forward to riding an elephant but the experience was only okay. The elephant didn't seem too happy and I realized that if the elephant fell over which almost happened, I would be smashed flatter than a pancake. I have to say there is about a 72% that I will not ride an elephant again but you never know. On the otherhand, bamboo rafting was a blast. The raft was made out of about 10 long bamboo poles and four of us navigated down the river. At the end of our rafting, we got into a massive water fight with about 30 kids and we lost miserably but it was good times.

Posted by ejgalang 00:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Lao-a-bunga

When I first began my trip I wasn't sure if I was going to visit Lao but after talking with other travelers, Lao quickly became a mandatory place to visit. Lao had a beautiful landscape, really good beer - Beer Lao, and friendly people which added up to a great experience. I traveled in Lao for 12 days and I visited three cities in the northern part of Lao - Vientiane, Van Vieng and Luang Prabang.

Vientiane is the capital of Lao and it lies around 25 km from Thailand. My friends and I crossed Friendship Bridge from Thailand and made our way to Vientiane. Although Vientiane is the capital of Lao it is not a large city. You can easily navigate it on a motorbike in one day. My stay was short, I was only there for one day and night. While I was there, I rented a motorbike and toodled around the city, I visited Laos' most famous wat, Pha That Luang, a golden wat and visited a local bar called Riverside Bar where I had hung out with a group of 8 other backpackers whom I had met after I arrived Lao.

My second stop in Lao was Van Vieng. There is one main street in Vang Vieng and not a paved street in sight. (Although the streets will probably be paved in the next six months) The "bus" station in Van Vieng is a large dirt tarmac that was an old landing strip. When we first arrived at the dirt lot I asked my friend why we had stopped and he replied, "Umm, we're here." After 6 days in Vang Vieng, I barely noticed the dirt streets and I had a great time. Van Vieng sits along the Nam Xong river and offers a variety of activities like rock climbing, kayaking, hiking and of course, tubing. During the day, you choose your desired activity and at night you grab dinner at the numerous food places which are constantly showing movies and reruns of Friends. The most popular daytime activity is tubing. You rent a car tire tube for $3.50 a day and your are dropped off about 3 km north of the "city" and you drift down the river. Along the river, locals sell Beer Lao and they have built elaborate bamboo swings and platforms that you can use to jump into the river with. Good times, good times.

My final stop in Lao was to Luang Prabang. While Luang Prabang was only around 160 km or 100 miles north of Vang Vieng, it took us around 6 hours to drive through the windy mountainous roads. Luang Prabang is a charming city located on the Mekong River. Every night there is a local market which sells local arts and crafts and offers a variety of delicious and cheap food. For a 18000 Kip or $1.80 you could get a dish of food and a large beer, not too bad. While I was in Luang Prabang I took at boat trip to Pak Ou which is comprised of two cave temples and Bang Xang Hai or "Whiskey" village which produces a local whiskey which will put hair on your chest. I also visited Kuang Si Falls which is just outside the city and took a swim in the waterfall.

After 12 days in Lao, it was time to move on to Thailand. There are two main ways by boat to get to Thailand, the slow boat or the fast boat. The slow boat takes two days and you have to stay overnight in a border town. The fast boat takes 6 hours and goes directly to the Thailand border. My friends and I choose the fast boat for obvious reasons but the ride was quite a journey. The fast boat was no more than 12 feet long and 5 feet wide with a big engine mounted on the back. The tip of the boat was used to store our bags and 8 people were seated two-by-two on 4 rows. My sitting space was about 2 ft by 2 ft. I now know what a sardine feels like. For 6 plus hours I sat in the tiny space while the driver sped up the Mekong River. Of course, we later heard that a couple months earlier a fast boat had crashed and killed a couple of foreignors. Riding the fast boat was quite an interesting experience but if you ever have the option, take the slow boat from Luang Prabang to Thailand.

Posted by ejgalang 22:41 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Battambang and the Road to Lao

My last stop in Cambodia was to the city of Battambang which is about 4 hours south of Siem Reap. Battambang is Cambodia's second largest city and sits adjacent to the Stung Sangker river. It has no ATM machines and retains a small town feel. I enjoyed my stay in Battambang because of the friendly locals and it's non-touristy vibe. The highlights of my stay included visiting a local Wat and hanging out with some young monks, taking a Cambodian cooking class where I learned how to cook some local cuisine, and
visiting Phnom Sampeau. At Phnom Sampeau there is a small wat on the top of a summit that gives you a panoramic view of the surrounding area and visiting a cave that was used by the Khymer Rouge to dump bodies which was ominiously called the Killing Cave.

From Battambang my friends and I took a circuitous route to Lao through Thailand. We took this route because it was cheap and it gave me an opportunity to check out Bangkok and the legendary Khao San road. My impressions prior to visiting Khao San were mixed because of Alex Garland's The Beach's description of it. But after getting there, Khao San road wasn't too bad. Khao San offered almost anything that you wanted or needed. It had cheap and delicious food from local vendor carts, a plethora of places to stay, numerous drinking holes and everything in between. Not too shabby. Also while I was in Bangkok, I was able to add more pages to my passport. (If you ever need to add pages to your passport, do it abroad because it's free and they usually add the new pages on the spot). After about 24 hours in Bangkok, my friends and I caught the overnight train to Lao.

Posted by ejgalang 23:00 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Sihanoukville, Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor

Just 5 hours west of Phnom Penh is the coast of Cambodia and the city of Sihanoukville. After a day in the hot and humid weather of Phnom Penh, the beach was calling my name.

We stayed in a bungalow just across the street from Victory beach. Our bungalow cost $6 a night and the place offered cheap food and a draft beer of Angkor for $.50. I sometimes wonder why I left Sihanoukville. The ocean water was amazing. The water temperature was about 25 Celsius or 75 Farenheit and it was sometimes warmer outside the water than in it. I spent my time there hanging out on the various beaches, toodling around on a motorbike and eating some pretty good grubb. Also while I was there I went running in the mornings. I got to see the locals starting their day, kids going to school and even a wedding reception. Not a bad way to spend five days.

My next stop was Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor. The bus ride from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) is long. It took us almost 11 hours to get to Siem Reap due to the numerous stops and the not-so-bus-friendly roads, oh well.

Siem Reap is a small river town that hosts the guests of Cambodia's main attraction, the Temples of Angkor. During my stay in Siem Reap, the temperature was hot and humid with an occasional rain storm. The Temples of Angkor were amazing. There are over 12 temples in Angkor. We purchased a three day pass and it still didn't seem like enough time. The temples are all unique. Each temple differs from each other due to the different techniques and materials used to build them and the influence of the ruling party when each was built.

The most popular and widely known temple is Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is awesome. The temple is surrounded by a large moat and a 1300 x 1500 meter wall. It has a massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five beehive-like towers rising 65 meters from ground level. I watched the sunrise there and it was amazing! I climbed the 45 degree steps to the beehive-like towers and I got a panoramic view of the surrounding jungle which was so peaceful. Visiting the Temples of Angkor is a must do!

The highlights of my time in Siem Reap included watching the sunset from Phnom Bakheng, playing cards (Hearts) with my friends, giving blood and exploring the numerous temples of Angkor. Good times, good times.

Posted by ejgalang 03:43 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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