macado's se asia adventure I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

2Sep/060

The most beautiful place on earth – Sapa

After being in Sapa for only 2 days I have to say it is probably one of my favorite places in all of Southeast Asia and possibly one of the most beautiful places in the world.  Every view (even from my hotel) looks like it should be on the front of a postcard.  Besides some of the Thai islands, and Angkor Wat, it was definitely the most enjoyable experience so far since I've been traveling and honestly, that says a lot..

While I was in Hanoi, I booked the package tour through my hotel which includes hotel, all means, train and bus transportation, and 2 days of hiking to rural minority villages.  I don't remember what I paid since I did it as sort of a package deal with Halong Bay but I think it was around 75-80 USD.  Well worth it.

The train was an overnight sleeper that left Hanoi at 9:00PM and arrives in Sapa around 6:00AM the next morning.  Not the best train in the world but I had a soft sleeper car so it was comfortable enough.  From the train station, it's then another 1.5 - 2 hour bus ride up all sorts of mountainous roads with breathtaking views until finally reaching the main town of Sapa.  Since Sapa is very high in elevation the temperate is actually very cool compared to Hanoi and Saigon.  There is virtually no humidity which made it quite a change from the rest of Southeast Asia.

The hotel I stayed in was called the Royal Hotel and my view overlooked one of the numerous valleys.  The room was extremely nice like most of the hotels I stayed in Vietnam.  The room had old hardwood flooring and a brick fireplace which gets used in te winter when they occasionally get snow high up in the mountains.  The entire place has a sort of cosy small town feel to it where after a while every local remembers your face and will greet you by name. The included food although very few choices (could only choose from a set menu of 4 things) was excellent and the portions were very large unlike Ha Long bay where the food was pretty horrible and was basically re-heated Spring Rolls.

There are a handful of ethnic village tribes up here that don't really fit anywhere else in the world but here.  They're not Vietnamese, not Chinese, or Laos.  They're just what they are; they've lived here for thousands of years and they don't really fall into any boundary of any country.  The tribes here though are probably most closely related to the Chinese minority tribes than Vietnamese.  In fact, some of these villages here use supposedly speak a dialect of Mandarin (or another Chinese language) and don't speak Vietnamese at all as you get closer to the Chinese border.  All of their clothing is made entirely by them.  Everything is extremely colorful and dyed with indigo. I've got some fantastic pictures. What I found most interesting was the Black H'Mong tribe (as seen in many of my pictures) spoke better English than almost all of Vietnam even though they claimed they didn't go to school for it and learned it entirely from tourists.  Most of the girls all wear their traditional clothing and hike up to the main town every day to sell clothing, bracelets and handbags made of hemp and dyed with indigo to all the tourists.  Even though they live in the villages their entire lifes most of them still have some sort of western influence.  Even in the remote tribes, they have televisions with satelite. I also saw one of them with a cell phone of all things and some of the younger girls even have email addresses! Not too bad for a small little minority tribe.   Still their culture is pretty unique.  I don't know enough about it to explain but it definitely warrants more reading into.  They have no religion and basically worship living ancestors, when people die, they're forgotten about.   Men can have wifes and girlfriends at the same time.

I could have definitely stayed in Sapa for a week, I actually felt bad for leaving and didn't feel like I had seen enough.  The people weren't pushy or aggressive like lots of the Vietnamese people who try to sell you stuff in the markets.  Their smiles were genuine unlike most places in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam who see you as a walking ATM machine.  One of the girls actually gave me 2 free bracelets because I was talking to her.  In return, I gave her a bracelet I bought in Cambodia; sort of a trade I guess.

Anyway, I got back from Sapa this morning at 5AM on the train and walked around Hanoi until 11:30AM to catch my flight to Bangkok.  Now i'm back in Bangkok. My AirFlight took 2 hours, passed through Thailand immigration without any problems. For some reason, it just feels like i'm coming home.  This was my first place in Southeast Asia I traveled and stayed the longest. Coming back to it has a good feel.  It's funny, if you read my first post about Bangkok, I mention that I thought it was extremely dirty, crowded and polluted.  After traveling much of SE Asia, I have to say Bangkok now feels very clean, modern and certainly less polluted than Saigon. Bangkok is certainly less crowded than Saigon which has 8 million people and 6 million motor bikes.  Bangkok travel and congestion is nothing compared to the small side streets of Hanoi. Bangkok looks like a sterile hospital compared to Phnom Penh.  Basically, you get my idea.  After revisiting this place, it just feels more impressive than it did 3 months ago when I first arrived.

Anyway, feels good to be back in Thailand.  Though it's much more touristy, the people are friendly, you don't get hassled as much, and of course Thai girls are just beautiful to look at.  Staying here until the 4th and then I fly to Australia!    I'm off for some Beer Chang! 8% alcohol.  Stay turned for updates from Sydney

27Jun/064

Koh Phi Phi

So i've been on Koh Phi Phi for 3 days now and I have to say this island is beautiful but at the same time the tsunami devastation is apparent everywhere.  It's a shame because I would have liked to have seen this place in all it's glory.  The entire landscape still appears to be marred with trash and debris as you walk around to where hotels and bungalows once stood.

Don't get me wrong; It seems the main infustructure of the island has almost been entirely rebuilt.  Bars everywhere are open, bungalows are easy enough to find and shops everywhere on the main plaza/strip are all busy with customers almost oblivious to what happened. Development here seems to be continuing at an alarming rate to the point where Phi Phi will surely be overdeveloped to its' previous state.

The first night I got here I found two girls from Holland who had been wondering around for about an hour trying to find their resort and had no idea where they were.  They managed to walk in the complete opposite direction to where they were staying and got hopelessly lost.  Being the nice guy I am and with my extremely limited geography of the island, I had them describe anything that seemed familiar.  Suprisingly, I managed to figure out where they were staying and I walked them back to their place.  Crisis averted.  Now who says Americans aren't helpful? 🙂

Since this is the monsoon season it has been heavily raining off and on for a few days, only stopping for brief periods and then continuing on with more showers.  Today is the first day I've seen the sun out in a while.  The weather on the Andaman coast during this time of year is very sporadic with bouts of heavy rain and occasional spots of sunshine.

Because of the amount of my money I spent on accommodations and food on Railay, I decided that I would trim my expenses by finding somewhere cheap to stay.  I managed to find a shithole of a place for 250baht (6.50USD)/night.  It's pretty much the worst place i've stayed so far but it has a bed, a bathroom and a fan so it will surely suffice for a bit longer. The only major problem is that it is really far away from the main town with all the night life and restaurants so it requires me to walk about 15-20 minutes up a hill to the middle of no where. I've only got 3 days left on this island so i'm debating whether or not it's worth it to find someplace better.

A few other interesting things about this island.  There are no cars or motorcycles here.  Everybody walks or takes a bicycle.  Ironically, where motorcycle traffic on the other islands can be a hazard, the only dangerous thing here is being ran over by a peddling Thai on a bicycle. In effect, not so deadly.  Even with the hundreds of bars on the island, night life here seems to be centered on about 3 main bars: Apache Bar, Carlito's and the Reggie Bar. You tend to see the same people over and over again because Phi Phi is small compared to Koh Samui or Koh Phangan.  Every backpacker more or less follows the same route so i've met many people that i've seen in Bangkok and at other places. It's really funny.  Half the people you don't remember their names or have any idea where you met them but you know at one point you were drinking with them somewhere along the line.

Another strange thing about this island is that there are hundreds of stray cats everywhere which are extremely friendly.  Most seems obviously well fed and taken care of. I had one kitten follow me half-way back to my bungalow after I gave it some attention.  This is contrast to the other islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao where the problem is not cats, but stray dogs.  Dogs seemed to have become such a plague on all the other islands that a dog rescue fund was started. For some reason, Koh Phi Phi appears unaffected.  I haven't seen one dog since I got on the island and I much prefer cats.

I did manage to met up with the two English guys, Alex and Chris that I hung out with on Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.  Since they're sort of doing a similar itinerary i'm going to follow them down to the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia for a while.  We also briefly and randomly met up with the two Canadian girls, Tiko and Chloe that we met at our bungalow on Koh Phangan at the Apache Bar.  I also met up with two other English girls, Lauren and Laura, one of whom I met on a travel website and was supposed to met up with on Koh Phangan but I never got the chance.  I knew she was going to be on Phi Phi as well so I called her cellphone and i've sort of been chilling with them off and on.  I believe they're also headed to the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia so i'll most likely see them again on my trip.

We all sort of drank heavily last night so I haven't been feeling too well. I finally got a bit of sun today to aid my ailing tan and I managed to walk around the island to explore a bit more.

24Jun/060

West Railay Beach, Krabi Province, Thailand.

So I left Koh Tao 3 days ago and I am now on Railay Beach.  So far this has been the most beautiful and expensive place I have been in Thailand.  The beach is awesome, it's surrounded by huge towering limestone cliffs on all sides that gradually drape into the clear turquoise water. Great sunsets every night.  The place I am staying at is called Sea Sand Resort and it cost 23USD/night!  REALLY EXPENSIVE by Thailand terms and it's eating my budget so I am leaving tomorrow morning for the famous Koh Phi Phi which is said to be even nicer than Railay. I could have stayed at a much cheaper place on Railay  East but that beach is mostly mud flats.  The Internet here is also triple the cost of other places so i'm not going to stay on long.

Interestingly enough, although Railay is not an island it definitely has a most secluded feel to it compared to the other places I have been.  In order to get here you need to take a 25 minute longboat ride.  There are no cars and no motorbikes, you can walk to the other end of the peninsula in less than 5 minutes.   Other than for it's spectacular beaches and world-class rock climbing which I don't do, there is no nightlife here at the moment.  Since it's pretty much the low/monsoon season, there aren't many people here.  It rained heavily all day and finally cleared up in the afternoon.

 I would love to stay here longer just for the beach but I need to be out of Thailand by the 30th. That gives me hopefully 5 full days to explore Koh Phi Phi, do some kayaking and maybe a bit more scuba diving.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us 

Filed under: Thailand No Comments
19Jun/060

More pictures from Ko Phangan

I've finally found a place with a relatively fast internet connection so I was able to upload some more pictures of Ko Phanagan.  Nothing special, just pictures of beaches, more beaches, waterfalls, and some sunsets. I've only taken about 3-4 pictures on Koh Tao so far so I'm not going to post them yet.

Filed under: Thailand No Comments