Friday, March 23, 2012

Mai Thai Paradise: Beach Bummin'

After a week long hiatus from the blogging world, here is the last installment regarding my trip to Thailand.

Phuket and Kho Phi Phi
Following our "adventurous" time in Bangkok, we jumped on an overnight train and headed towards Phuket, an island in southern Thailand that is a popular tourist destination for people that head to Thailand. The train ride was pretty comfortable. Even though we didn't get a sleeper car, the seats were comfortable, there was a fan and the windows were open, creating a nice breeze that made it pretty suitable for sleeping. We rolled into Surat Thani around 7:00 am and changed to a bus. This was one of the most interesting bus rides that I have ever been on.

As we boarded the bus, we quickly realized that there are not enough seats for all 6 of us. It turned out Meg, Mitch, and Jay were able to grab seats, while Steve, Trav, and I had to stand in the aisles. This quickly led to us sitting in the aisles...that is before MORE people got on the bus. Apparently the bus just stops for random people along the side of the road as well. In the end, I ended up going all the way to the back of the bus and just laying down in the aisle. It actually wasn't too bad and I managed to get some sleep, despite the squealing noises of the engine and the random kicks of people using the restroom.

The train...not exactly the ICE trains in Germany...

My view from the aisle on the bus
Before we even reached Phuket, we switched from the bus to a 10-person van that was headed to Patong Beach, the location of our hostel/guesthouse. In the van, we met this guy from Ireland named Ben. He was down in Phuket to get his TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) license so that he could go to Cambodia and teach English there. We struck up some friendly conversation in the van during our ride to our guesthouse, Sweet Home. We got dropped off at the guesthouse, checked in, and moved our stuff into our rooms. Then we headed to the beach, which was only about a 5 minute walk from where we were staying.

Yum Yum Yum!
The beach was nice - nothing too special to be impressed about. The water wasn't as clear as one would like but boy was it warm! It was so warm that even when you got out of the water you weren't cold. We spent about 3-4 hours at the beach, then packed up and headed back to the guesthouse to get ready to go out that night. We ate at this restaurant that had fresh seafood (fish, crabs, lobsters, oysters, etc.) and you could choose what you wanted and how to cook it. I had the most wonderful crab EVER!

Following dinner, we ended up meeting back up with Ben and Trav, Mitch, Ben, and I headed out for a night out in Patong. It was interesting to say the least. The main street was blocked off to traffic, so people were just wondering the streets, going from bar/club to bar/club. There were tons of people out and about and it was just a really fun atmosphere.

The next day, we decided to check out a different beach, so we headed south about 5 miles to Hat Karon. This beach was MUCH better than Patong Beach! The sand was nicer, the water clearer, and there were less people. We settled into our beach chairs and enjoyed the glorious rays of the sun. I ended up going for a nice 2-3 km run along the water, which was very enjoyable and felt nice!

 That night, Meg, Trav, Mitch, Steve, and I headed down to Phuket Town to buy our bus/train/ferry tickets for our next stop. Steve and Jay were heading back up to Bangkok to fly back to Seoul, while Meg, Trav, Mitch, and I were heading to the islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Tao for another week. After we purchased our tickets, we grabbed a bite to eat. We wanted to go out, but the entire town had pretty much shut down by 8 pm! So we just ended up heading back to our guesthouse, played some cards and called it a night.

On Tuesday, the six of us headed down to the port and boarded a boat bound for the island of Koh Phi Phi. This secluded island just off the coast of Phuket is breathtakingly beautiful! Sadly, due to the wacked ferry schedule, we were only able to spend about 4 hours on the island. However, it was 4 hours well spent lounging about on the sand, snorkeling in the crystal clear water, and soaking up the sun's fantastic warmth!

 We spent our last night in Patong out on the town with Ben and two other guys that we met at our guesthouse from England, Ben and Tom. We had a great last night out on the town, enjoying some drinks, laughs, and even a few encounters with some street animals!

Koh Phangan
The next day, Trav, Meg, Mitch, and I were picked up at our guesthouse around 8:00 am and taken to the bus station for our bus/ferry combination to Koh Phangan, the second in a series of three islands located in the Gulf of Thailand. The bus ride was extremely long (about 7 hours) and when added to the 3 hour ferry ride, we were some pretty pooped and tired travelers when we finally reached our bungalow that night. We grabbed some food at the restaurant down by the beach, played some cards and then turned in for the night.

The next morning (Thursday), we rented some motorbikes and set off to explore the island. This was the first time that I had ever been on a motorbike and after a few near accidents (in the presence of the bungalow staff nonetheless), I got the hang of the bike and had a really awesome time riding/driving around the island. The only thing that took a getting used to was the fact that they drive on the left side of the road in Thailand. Every time that we pulled out onto the road, someone was always yelling "LEFT!!" as a friendly reminder to avoid a devastating and gruesome head on collision with on-coming traffic.

Glorious Messages!
While on Koh Phangan, we visited three different beach. Each beach was equally fantastic and offered something a little bit different. The first beach, coconut beach was on the north side of the island and was super relaxing. I got my first Thai massage and it was heavenly! Best hour of my life! The next beach near Haad Mae Haad was really cool because there was a small island just off the coast that was connected to the island by a sand barge. During low tide, you could actually walk out to the island! Pretty sweet! The last beach that we went to, Bottle Beach, was the most secluded and glorious beach of them all. This beach could only be reached by a long-tail boat and was well worth the ride/price! All in all, Koh Phangan had the most amazing beaches in Thailand! Hands down!
Boat ride back from Bottle Beach

Coconut Beach
 The nightlife on Koh Phangan blew the other experiences out of the water! One night, we headed to Haad Rin, one of the main cities on the island and were treated to this amazing fire show! Along the way, we met to 18-year-olds from Australia, Mason and Amber, and ended up hanging out with them for the course of the night. Back to the fire show...

    We stumbled upon this bar that was set up on the beach and were instantly drawn here due to the fire spinners that were out front on the sand doing their thing! It was super impressive! Fire sticks, fire balls and chains, tossing fire back and forth across the beach - you name it, they did it! Even the female bar tender got into the act and she was pretty good!

The beach at Haad Mae Haad with the island
Now the real fun began when they brought out the jump rope - and set it on fire! They started swinging it in a circular motion and I was instantly drawn in!        Mason and I instantly jumped in and actually did pretty well! I ended up jumping with fire 3 or 4 times and managed to come away with only a very tiny scar on my foot. Not too shabby! Once they retired the jump rope, the next attraction to make an appearance was a ring of fire! Needless to say, I did a few jumps through that as well, unharmed and loving life! The rest of the night was spent dancing on the beach, running into the gulf, and enjoying the company of new friends in near perfect conditions! By far the best night out of the trip!
Mitch's camera tricks caught this awesome picture!
Here I am jump roping!

 Another night, we decided to check out some of Thailand's official sport - Muay Thai. This spectator sport is a mixture of MMA (mixed martial arts) fighting and kick boxing. It was my first experience with this type of activity and I surprisingly really enjoyed it. We were treated to 7 different bouts, including one all female round. The entire event was a really neat look into the sporting world of Thailand. Watching the Thai supporters cheer for their guy was really invigorating and added to the excitement and the buzz in the air.

Muay Thai Boxing
Our last night in Koh Phangan was spent in the jungle at a Jungle Extravaganza. We hailed a truck-taxi, which took us deep into the jungle and dropped us off. Black lights, lasers, and loud music greeted us as we entered the party area. We got there pretty early, so it was very dead upon arrival, but over time more people showed up. Sadly, we were pretty burnt out from the activities of the day and week and ended up heading home and calling it a night fairly early. Despite the early exit, I can now say that I have partied on a beach, in a jungle, and (safely) with fire! Check. Check. Check.

Koh Tao

The last stop of our adventure through paradise took us to the island of Koh Tao. This island is renowned for it's amazing snorkeling and diving opportunities and it did not disappoint. We spent most of our time here either on the beach or in the water. We even took part in a day long snorkel trip that took around the island to five different dive spots. Each spot had it's own special feature. My favorite was definitely Shark Bay - aptly named due to all the black-finned sharks in the area! Swimming with sharks - check!

Instead of write about Koh Tao, I'll just let the following pictures do the talking for me...
View of Koh Nangyuan, just off the coast of Koh Tao
Swimming with the fishes!
Some of Mitch's underwater camera mastery!

 After 13 glorious days in paradise, it was time to head back to Bangkok. We took an overnight ferry from Koh Tao to Chumphon, then a bus back to Bangkok. Our flight didn't leave the airport until 1 AM, so we spent some time in Bangkok, doing some last minute shopping and Baht spending. We made it safely back to Seoul, passports and belongings all in tact and accounted for. All in all, it was an amazing trip and really makes me look forward to wherever I may land this summer for vacation.

Early favorites - Philippines, Indonesia, or Malaysia (or maybe all three!)

Finally, a belated Happy St. Patty's Day to all everyone! Seoul had a pretty fun Irish festival that included live bands and lots of people. I leave you with a video clip from that experience!