Mosying around Melaka

From Thailand we flew into Kuala Lumpur then hopped on a bus for the 2 1/2 hour trip south to Melaka.  

The city was settled by the Portuguese in the 1500’s (we had a trishaw driver who was 16th generation Portuguese) and the Dutch in the 1600’s so many of the buildings around the Old Town have European influences, such as those in Dutch Square.

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The remainder of the buildings in Old Town are more Chinese influenced with shophouses lining the very narrow streets.
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Why anyone would want to drive the poky mostly one lane streets is beyond us, it’s hard enough to walk some of them. The main tourist street is Jonker St. It’s a mix of restaurants and souvenir stores.
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On the weekends there is a night market that fills the street with vendors selling things like mini rice cookers, microfiber cloths, jewellery , food, electronic accessories etc. It was great to look around even though it was pretty packed with people.
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We were some of the very few western tourists around, most of the tourists come from within Asia, especially Singaporeans, other Malaysians and Koreans.

It was pretty hot and humid during the day so we didn’t do too much walking around but at one stage we did come across this statue that Matt thought he could imitate quite well.
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We both bought shoes while we were here but they weren’t the Chinese Clog variety.
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Malaysia in our opinion has the best shopping we’ve seen in Asia in terms of a mix of price and quality. We grabbed 2 pairs of shoes, real bargains at least 1/2 of what you’d pay in NZ. We’re not talking knock offs in a street market either, these are branded shoes in a new flash mall, we can’t understand why the exact same pairs would be double the price at home. No wonder online shopping is becoming more popular every day.

There are lots of trishaws around and they’re all decorated up with flowers and soft toys and many of them have a pretty good sound system on board too. image

To get out of the midday heat we could have visited the many museums (stamp, meteor, maritime), but instead we chose the airconditioned mall to look around. We like going to foreign malls because it (seriously) feels like we’re getting to see more locals than if we stuck to the tourist itinerary. Also mall food courts in asian countries often have much better food than the ‘famous”‘ recommended and well reviewed spots.

There is a river running through the city which has some neat bars and restaurants on the bank. Sitting there with a cold drink is a great way to spend the still hot late afternoon.
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We also went on a river cruise one night. It was great to get away from the traffic for a bit and see the lit up buildings from the winding river, you wouldn’t want to go for a swim though, it doesn’t smell the best. The pedestrian bridges crossing the river are all different designs that give it lots of character.
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St Paul’s Hill is home to St Paul’s Cathedral and the A Famosa, a remnant of the fort/town gate built by the Portuguese. It gives you a good view over the city to the Malacca Straight.
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Malacca was good to visit, probably better for a just couple of days (we had 5) unless you have your own transport to get further afield than the Old Town. We found it a bit odd how few bars and restaurants stayed open late, the majority closed by about 9pm.

Well, we’re heading closer to home but before we get there we’ve got a quick stop in Melbourne to catch up with friends and no doubt sample the best coffee we’ve had in 12 months.

Lazing on Ko Lanta

From Ao Nang we left Mark and Janice to embark on their 2 hour minivan ride back to Phuket, and we headed south to the island of Ko Lanta. It was a fairly uninteresting 90km drive causing me to almost fall asleep on the back of the bike (if I was tied on – could have had a great nap – we’ve seen many motorbike passengers sleeping on our travels!).

The main objective of basing ourselves here for a couple of weeks was to lie back, relax and work on our jandal tan.
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The west coast of the island has beach after beach so we were spoilt for choice when we wanted to get in the water. Down the south we found Bamboo Bay pretty deserted. This happened to be the day of the all day, island wide power cut so we thought it was a bonus to find a resort with power and sun loungers we could use.
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Generally the water along the west coast is beautiful and clear.
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Our lunch stop had us dangling on the cliff side for a great view.
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Our accommodation was a great villa tucked away in the trees about 500m from the water on Long Beach. We had a small kitchenette so cooked for ourselves a bit. After not cooking for months, the simple act of going to the supermarket to get supplies then strapping them on the bike was quite fun.
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Great sunset view from our balcony.
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Long Beach is as you can gather from the name, quite long. It took us a couple of days to find the best spot for swimming and lemon shakes but once found, it was a winner we kept returning to.
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This was also the best beach for our new found hobby of paddle boarding (went 3x). Wish we had tried it sooner (like in Hawaii at the very start of our trip) because we both enjoy it and it’s a good workout.

I also tried yoga for the first time and wasn’t put off so went to a few classes, it was really popular. I never realised that between concentrating on correct breath-taking, getting the positions right and not falling over you really do switch off any other thoughts so you come out feeling really relaxed. Matt enjoyed having an hour and a half of alone time so wasn’t willing to join me.

Although the west coast houses most of the tourist settlements, the East is home to Lanta Old Town. We managed to time our visit with the Old Town Festival and went to it 2 out of 3 nights it was on.
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It was the big community event of the year, lots of food and drink stalls, and a huge stage for entertainment.
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It was around the Old Town that we found a friendly bike repair man to replace our back light and oil the chain. Immediate service, took less than 5 minutes and cost less than NZ$2.
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So, the 17th of March rolled around and what do you know, we had an Irish bar 5 minutes walk from our villa. We didn’t have any green clothing so I had the excuse of needing green to get a manicure and Matt made do with the very small green line of material around the pocket of his shorts. Not that it mattered, we ended up drinking green beer anyway.
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Who’s your Paddy?
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We had a fun night out and made friends with an Irish couple who had started out the festivities much earlier in the day than us. They even offered us a place to stay if we’re ever in Dublin.

During our time in Ko Lanta we established some favourite hangouts for food and drink. Our main coffee man made an excellent cappuccino (sadly flat white isn’t recognised here) and latte, and being kiwis we loved the free wine biscuit tasting, animal shaped crackers we got each time. It was here we spotted the photo of The King hanging out with ‘The King’.
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Next up was our other coffee man at the ‘NotaToy’ cafe, who made an outstanding massaman curry with the best roti we’ve ever tasted. Without a word of a lie we went there 4 times just for this.

Our favourite dinner option was ‘Red Snapper’, a tapas style menu but with Asian flavours. Again we went here 4 nights, & would have gone more if they weren’t closed Tuesday / Wednesday!

The bacon wrapped cod with mango and beetroot salad with roti and tomato relish was delicious.
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At the other end if the dining scale some of the menus around have a few spelling mistakes……
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To work off all the good food we found the golf driving range for a hit one day. 40 balls each later Matt had some good shots while I eventually got the ball in the air and going straight. Lydia Ko, watch out.

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Thailand in general has lots of stray dogs and here on Ko Lanta they are addressing the health needs of these dogs with Lanta Animal Welfare, a volunteer organisation. They carry out vaccinations, sterilisations, surgeries and have eliminated rabies on the island. We visited the centre to see their good work and have some animal ‘cuddles’.
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My favourite was ‘Carrot’ who sadly had recently been signed up to be adopted by a couple in Sweden. They try to get as many animals adopted as they can so they can end up in loving homes anywhere in the world.
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If you like you can take a dog for a walk too. They also have lots of cats, feeding time was a real feline frenzy.
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These kittens are with a foster mother cat, 2 of them were found by volunteers abandoned in a rubbish bin. They’re looking pretty healthy and active now.
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Our last day Matt wanted to get a hair cut, the barber advertises with pictures of David Beckham circa 1999.
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We had our final (not for ever) Thailand beach session and ended our time with a sunset drink. Cheers Thailand we’ve had a great time.
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Of our 5 months in South East Asia, Thailand is easily our favourite country, and one of two we’d return to.

The people are friendly, the food’s great, love the beaches & scenery, day to day life & culture, the driving awareness can be a bit sketchy (there are two times it’s dangerous on the roads – the daytime & the night time!) but as a whole it feels like a very safe country.

This will definitely not be our last trip here but for now we had to say goodbye as we head to Malaysia for a few days.

Part II – Thailand with the Thomas’s

We were excited to have Matt’s parents Mark and Janice plan a trip to catch up with us in Thailand.   With 10 days to work with we set about putting an itinerary together, so we could show them some of the places we have enjoyed, along with exploring new places together.

After arriving into Phuket late at night and a 40 minute taxi to the accommodation it was a quick catch up before getting some rest, ready for day 1 of exploring. Our accommodation was somewhere we stayed when in Thailand 3 years ago, run by an English lady it had everything we needed and was in the quieter south eastern side of the island. 

We wanted to give Mark and Janice a real feel Thai life and you can’t do that unless you’re on the back of a bike! Here they are setting off on their maiden voyage.

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We went up to the Khao Khad viewpoint which gives great 360° views across Cape Panwa, Phuket Town and Chalong Bay. It was a great way to show where we were in relation to main sites.

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Their first taste of Thai food in Thailand was at a small streetside shack down the road from our accommodation. Very tasty lunch for a great price with each dish only costing around NZ$2. The only problem was that we ate so much we didn’t feel like much for dinner so opted for drinks on the beach. Not a bad view for Mark and Janice’s first night out in Thailand.
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Gotta love the taste of a pina colada when your toes are dug into the sand.
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Mark had an appointment to get some dental work done in Phuket Town so while he was in the dentist chair we went off to one of the markets, where Janice quickly picked up the art of bargaining the shopkeepers down on price. After we collected Mark we had a quick look around the Old Town before heading back to base for a well needed dip in the pool.

Our last day in Phuket was quite chocka with activities so we started early, first stop Wat Chalong, the largest Buddhist Temple in Phuket. The temples are beautiful, so colourful and ornate.
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From the top of the temple we could see our next stop, the Big Buddha . It’s a bit of a climb on the bike (1st gear required to get us up the hill) but worth it to see the ongoing creation.

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Janice also took the opportunity to be blessed by a monk.
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After a quick stop to fuel up on a lemon shake we were off to Kata Noi on the western side for an Elephant ride.
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We had already done a 15min ride in Chiang Mai but didn’t want to miss out on the fun so we hopped on too. I have to say that Mark and Janice’s elephant was a little more unruly than ours, it was pretty interested in all the greenery within its trunks reach.
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Maybe I’m just biased because ours could do tricks.
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After that busy morning we thought it’d be good to have a rest at the beach. We went to a quieter one that we’d discovered a couple of days before but unfortunately we (Rach) hadn’t factored in tide times so ended up looking at a lot of sand and not so much water. Never mind it was good to lie on a lounger in the shade of the umbrella for a while, at least we could cool off with a dip at home.
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Dinner was at a local seafood restaurant which juts out over the river.

We had cockles, prawns, soft shell crab and this whole fish that Janice chose. Smothered in chillies, believe it or not it wasn’t the hottest dish of the night.
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The next morning it was a bit of a trek north to Bang Rong pier where boats depart to our next stop the island of Koh Yao Noi. Because we were taking our bike with us we needed a longtail boat rather than speed boat. Unfortunately in our planning, the schedule was different on the day (who’s running this show?! ) so it was a wait at the pier for a couple of hours before the next longtail. We were kept company by a group of monkeys in the tree above us who enjoyed stealing our water bottles, opening the lids and tipping it up to see if they could get the last dribble out. They didn’t stick around long when a shopkeeper got his slingshot out.
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I know Mark, sometimes it’s hard to keep the monkey off your back.
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We finally got on board the longtail, along with our bike and the many other miscellaneous items being loaded on.
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I’m not saying it was overloaded but the water level wasn’t far from the open windows. It was a nice calm trip to Yao Noi with some great scenery on the way.
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No ramps required to get the bike off, just 4 guys with a bit of muscle.
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In terms of tourist numbers Koh Yao Noi is relatively undiscovered so it retains its sleepy small town feel. Our bungalows were just across the road from one of the nicest beaches on the island so was great for swimming at high tide.
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At low tide the water went out a fair way allowing a good width of sand for walking out to a small island and dodging crabs scurrying along the beach.

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Our days here were for sitting back and relaxing. It only takes about half an hour to circumnavigate the island so we had lots of time for reading, swimming, eating/drinking. Have I mentioned we love lemon shakes…

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The western coast is more mangroves than beaches but we managed to find a nice spot for a sunset.
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We followed up this view by dinner at a popular Italian restaurant. Admittedly the service was slow/non-existent but at least we weren’t hurried through dinner to make room for another group. The yummy breads, pizza, pastas and wine went down a treat.

Filling up Thai style.
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After our busy few days in Phuket it was nice to relax and just take in the scenery of the island as well as some local wildlife. The sound they make really sounds like they are calling their name, gec-ko.
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Next it was another longtail back to the mainland and the province of Krabi. We had a great view of the limestone karsts en route.
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Ah what’s this, a bit of technical photography if I do say so myself.
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Unfortunately there wasn’t a direct boat to Ao Nang so instead it was a 40 minute motorbike to reach the seaside tourist town. This time at the pier they had to lift our bike over 2 other boats, the same deal with the man in the wheelchair on our trip.
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We were delighted to see the towel elephant’s waiting for us at our accommodation, how cute.
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Collectively we’d had a bit of thai food but there’s nothing like cooking it yourself. So the four of us donned aprons for a class at Thai Charm Cook School. Strategically we’d booked an evening class as we figured there’d be a lot of food. We weren’t disappointed each making a soup, salad, stirfry, curry paste and curry as well as banana spring rolls (better than they sound) and to finish mango sticky rice.
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Overall I think the hot and sour soup as well as the mango sticky rice were the favourites. I’m sure we can test out our new found skills on friends and family if they’re willing!

The following day we set off early as we wanted to show Mark and Janice the great beaches around Railay and Phra-Nang, so we climbed aboard a longtail for the quick trip from Ao Nang beach.
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Once at Railay (after a coffee for energy) we set off in kayaks around the karst cliffs to Phra-Nang.
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The water here is about the clearest we’ve seen anywhere and although Janice noticed it was a couple of degrees colder than around Yao Noi, it was a welcome relief from the morning sun. We made use of the longtail restaurants that arrived mid morning. Not many places you can order brunch knee high in seawater and enjoy it on the beautiful beach?
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The midday sun is too hot for us to enjoy so we hopped back in the kayaks back to Railay.
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This time of day there are so many longtails lined up ready to ferry people from beach to beach.
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When we were in Ao Nang previously we found the ‘drink drink’ man, literally a man with cooler boxes on his ute who sets up plastic chairs on the side of the footpath. It doesn’t sound very glamorous but is a great spot to people watch, and meet people from all cultures. Mark and Janice chatted to a Swedish man (yellow shirt) who grows strawberries back home and comes to Thailand during the Swedish winter.
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Time went so quick and all of a sudden we were at the last full day of Mark and Janice’s time in Thailand. We visited a great place for lunch that had tables set up under a huge conical bamboo dome. We sampled a few dishes and ended up with the tastiest Penang curry we’ve ever eaten.
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We had a drink down by the beach to catch the sunset before dinner, some more shopping and live music.
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To end the night we went to the local ladyboy cabaret. One of those things to see once in your life (maybe that’s one too many times, it cannot be un – seen), pretty costumes, ok dancing and some pretty average lip-syncing. Anyway we had a fun night out.

Thanks Mark and Janice for coming to visit , we had a great time showing you the tastes and sights of some of our favourite parts of Thailand.

Phuket Part I

From Khao Lak we had a bit of a drive to get to Phuket. Rather than take the highway we took what back roads we could, which was a bit more scenic. We stopped for a break at this pier and watched some fishing for a while.

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The main part of the drive was actually getting down the island and across to Patong where we were staying for 4 nights. Patong is the main ‘tourist beach’ of Phuket & famous for its sex tourism & nightlife.

After our days there we can say for sure that it’s not a place we’ll be going back to. What many people don’t realise is Patong like many other ‘main tourist beaches’ of SE Asia has about 80% Russian tourists, 15% Chinese tour groups, & 5% everyone else. It was 2 days before we heard english spoken on the streets or in the malls.

Patong has clogged busy roads, is dusty, dirty, loud, ugly, with lots of construction development. The touts are really in your face, aggressive & everything is more expensive, but less good. To us it’s all the worst parts of Thailand in one place. The main beach was chocka block with loungers the whole length, then you have jet skis etc boosting around on the water.

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The line at the petrol station gives an idea of how many bikes there are on the road.
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In exploring the area though there are several other west coast beaches (Karon, Kata, Kata Noi, Kamala etc) they are all quickly becoming mini Patongs, while not as busy still not nice. We enjoyed going north a bit to Laem Singh beach which doesn’t have a village or resorts, still has some loungers but not right to the waters edge, and spent some time relaxing.

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It was quite entertaining watching one of many Russian friends photo shoots, lots of posing on the rocks or rolling around in the water. Matt at least found some positives in the influx of Russians.

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The highlight of our time in Patong was seeing the excellent ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ at the movies, along with finding Rachel a great pair of Merrell shoes for a bargain price at the mall.

From Patong we moved across to the south eastern part of the island where things were much quieter and much nicer in our view. We had a 5 star resort just down the beach adjacent to us so went there for a drink one night to check it out.

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We couldn’t help but notice two lovely looking infinity pools that were deserted (the whole resort had maybe 15 guests with a capacity for hundreds) so we decided to sneak in the next day for a swim. To be fair we bought 2 coffees at NZ$5 each so we thought using the pool wasn’t out of the question.

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We spoke to an English lady back at our accommodation who had the same idea but she got caught out by the staff and got charged 500baht so I guess we were lucky.

This was a great location for us to explore Cape Panwa and also Phuket Town. The old town has lots of shop houses which are gradually being restored.

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We decided to visit the aquarium which had recently undergone an 81 million baht upgrade. We saw the fish feeding and a giant grouper but otherwise it was quite uneventful.

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We found a nice spot for a sunset drink overlooking Chalong Bay.

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Next Matt’s Mum & Dad were arriving for 10 days so we had a bit of a program planned.

Khao Sok and Khao Lak

From Ao Nang we loaded up the bike and headed off the main tourist track, 131km north to Ratchaprapa near the Khao Sok National Park ( the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world).
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We were just staying one night and found accommodation that (like all of Thailand) is very proud of the King. This large picture was in our room.
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We had a drive around the village and found the local market just in time for dinner. Westerners are obviously a bit of a novelty because we got a lot of looks/ stares. A few people spoke English but that didn’t matter because Matt has become a pro at ordering food in Thai, “Ao neung somtam khap” (I would like one papaya salad please).

The drawcard of this area is the huge man-made (dam) lake and the beautiful mountains that surround it.

The limestone mountains ( karsts) are the remains of an ancient coral stretching from China to Borneo.
Some of the karsts rise up to almost 1,000 metres high, making them three times the height of those in nearby Phang Nga Bay and Halong Bay in Vietnam.

The best view is from on the lake so we hired a longtail boat (after being pursued by our ‘boatman’ around the jetty) for a 2 hour leisurely cruise.

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It was magic seeing the odd shaped cliffs towering over the water.

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Part of the lake is home to a floating restaurant and cabins where you can stay the night. We pulled in for a quick look. It would be a beautiful spot to wake up to the sun coming up over the mountains.

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We’re very puzzled why this area isn’t more well known and packed with more tourists (there were hardly any) . It’s stunning scenery, probably the best we’ve seen on the Asia portion of our trip, and up there with something like the Grand Canyon we reckon. We imagine it is something like the Milford Sound which we definitely will make it to some day.

After our tour we hopped back on the bike and went through the National Park towards the coast and Khao Lak.

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The Khao Lak area is a coastal series of beaches that was one of the most devastated parts of Thailand from the 2004 Tsunami. There is a memorial park which is home to the Police Boat that was washed ashore with the wave and still sits where it ended up 2km inland.

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There is also a tsunami museum which has information and statistics from the tsunami as well as some videos showing the devastation.  Incredible to read that the wave can reach speeds of 500km/hr in the open ocean.

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The area of Khao Lak has many nice beaches stretching along the coast so we got in a bit of sunning ourselves and reading, mainly late afternoon, the midday sun was far too hot and burning for us.

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Another great place to see the sun set over the Andaman Sea.

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We found a great Italian cafe that made good coffee and yummy pizzas. When we were having dinner there one night we made a friend and thought she was probably capable of driving us home.

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This bike was probably more suitable.

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She was such a neat kid and liked hanging out with us for an hour or so, Matt was a little worried I was going to take her home with us.

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About 40 minutes north of Khao Lak is the island of Ko Kho Khao, only a 10 min boat trip from the mainland. For $2.20 NZ (including 2 bottles of water) it was neat to have our bike driven onto a longtail, no need to wait for the car ferry to leave.

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We drove up the length of the island, stopping for the obligatory (daily) iced lemon shake on the beach. The beaches are beautiful and deserted even though there are resorts dotted along.
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Up until this point our seeing snakes in the wild count was at two (one in America and one in Cambodia), in the space of about an hour and a half on this island the tally was up to five. The first was on our way back down the island, a 1.5-2m brown snake in the middle of the other side of the road but crossing towards our side. Matt was driving and didn’t see it initially so by the time I saw it, it was right beside us. I wobbled the bike in my attempt to get further away from it, Matt was wondering what was going on, then he wanted to turn around to have a look at it. No thank you, so I got off the bike while he went to see it.

After that ordeal we decided to spend some time on the beach and had a good hour in the sun before Matt noticed something in the tree above us. Snake number 2 was having a snooze right above our heads! You can see it curled around the branch in the middle of the photo. It was green probably under a metre long.
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Obviously I’m no snake fan, so told Matt that I’d had enough of this island so we headed home immediately. What did we see on the road back, snake number three – albeit its head was squashed but its body was still flapping around furiously. Needless to say I was pleased to leave “Snake Isle”.

Our accommodation just happened to be across the road from a 3x a week market that had food, drink, clothing, souvenirs etc. It was pretty excellent and well patronised by locals & tourists. We had dinner there twice along with one stall that made fantastic, flair bartended 60 baht (around NZ$2.20) mojitos.

Next we were off to the No. 1 Southern Thailand tourist destination, the island of Phuket.

Checking Out Krabi

Our initial plan for after Vietnam was to spend a few days in Bangkok but with the riots and political problems they’re having we decided to skip it for now.

We did have one night as a stopover but staying near the airport we didn’t get a chance to see much, except at the mall where we saw a baby put to sleep in a shopping trolley.

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We headed to Krabi in southern Thailand and spent a week in Krabi Town.

It was great to be back in Thailand, we feel really comfortable here and it is by far our favourite country we’ve visited in SE Asia.

Most travellers seem to use Krabi Town more as a transition spot rather than staying long but we really enjoyed being  based there.   We spent the days exploring the area.

There are plenty of food stalls and markets, the best one was the walking street market on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.  We went on all the 3 nights and had some delicious food like the best green curry we’ve had, although we did need quite a lot of water to wash down the chilli and we were pretty sweaty once we’d finished it.   Great value too, 2 dish up your own plates (so, full to the brim) of curry on noodles for under NZ$2. 

One of the nights was Chinese New Year so all of a sudden there was lots of music and a dragon going past us.
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We’d seen a guy doing 3 minute, $3 caricature drawings so decided to get one done.  Unfortunately, sometimes you do get what you pay for, we didn’t think it resembled us at all (Matt thinks I look Indian in it) so it’s not making it home with us (and no I wasn’t just wearing a bikini top around town at night, artistic licence).
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We’d heard about the Tiger Temple and I got excited because I thought there might be real tigers there but no, only a couple of concrete ones.   The main reason people go is the view from the top of the hill.  The only issue with this is the 1,237, very steep steps up to get there.
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At least there were monkeys on the path for some entertainment.  It’s quite funny watching them grooming.  Is that a flea?
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Well it was, yum.
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The view was definitely worth the effort, you could see over Krabi Town to the coast and the expanse of limestone cliffs stretching inland.

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Just a bit sweaty.

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We decided that because we plan to spend a couple of months in Thailand we’d hire a motorbike for almost 40 days.   Because we like making modifications to our hire vehicles we found a local engineer to fabricate a luggage rack for us.

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6 hours and $40 later it works great, a couple of bungy cords and some rope and the bags don’t move an inch. Also purchased some reflectors to be extra safe, along with our own helmets.

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We found a recently opened Wat in town so went for a look, not as colourful as some other temples but beautiful woodwork.

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The dogs at the entrance were trying to get out of the heat.

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From Krabi Town we made our way to Ao Nang, only about 25 minutes away where we had 4 nights. Definitely much more touristy, there is a constant flow of longtail boats ferrying people around from beach to beach and so many tours.  We got a longtail to Railay Beach early morning one day and walked around to Phra Nang beach which had beautiful clear water.

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It was great at 10am when the first of a few longtail restaurants turned up, quite novelty ordering food when you’re up to your knees in the Andaman sea. 
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Ao Nang beach itself wasn’t quite as nice but it was a pretty good spot to watch the sunset.

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Our last night here we caught up with Barton and Leone who were on a long weekend from Singapore.  It’s always great to see friends and we had a fun night out, good food, good stories and a monkey.

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Hectic Hanoi

From Hoi An we had thought about taking the train up to Hanoi but decided the short flight would be much better.   The airport at Danang ( 40min from Hoi An) was super quiet. It also seemed that the airports we used in Vietnam were frequented by 80% foreigners, strange to see.

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We thought Ho Chi Minh was busy, well we hadn’t seen anything until we got to Hanoi.  Literally not 3 seconds can go by where you don’t hear a horn tooting.

Our first day this hustle and bustle was ok, it felt like a lively city with lots going on.   After that though the constant traffic and noise got a bit much, as did having to walk on the road in the path of traffic because the footpaths were full of parked bikes.
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We still went exploring each day to find some of the local cuisine.   This was our first and last glass of Bia Hoi, the local brew served from a keg thats only good for 1 day.   The first couple of sips were ok but it was a bit downhill after that.  Needless to say a Tiger beer was required to wash it down. 
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Banh Cuon was dinner the first night.  Pork or chicken mince in a rice noodle dumpling, very tasty.
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This woman was at the helm making it day and night.
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Bun cha is a favourite for lunch, pork patties and bacon in a broth to which you add rice noodles and whatever combination of herbs you want.

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And it wouldn’t be right to leave without having a Pho.   The chicken noodle soup was meant to rid us of our colds we picked up.
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We have nothing against dining on plastic stools at plastic tables but we were glad we didn’t have to get down this low to eat.
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We were staying in the central Old Quarter which with it’s narrow streets just seemed to exacerbate the traffic and noise. 
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It was a nice change to walk through the French Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake.   There are many French style buildings including the Opera House.
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The lake was a popular place for wedding photos, there were at least 6 couples that we saw.
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We had a quick look at the pagoda on the lake, a nice spot to stop and catch your breath. 
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Your never far from someone selling something in this city, either from street stalls, walking up to you or off the back of a bicycle.  Fruit, flowers, socks, nail clippers, you name it and they’ll have it.  A local even touted a shoe shine for a British guy sitting next to us once who replied with “What, you’re going to shine my Crocs for me?” Classic.
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Matt was (unsuccessfully) in the market for some new togs so we went on a mission to the newest, monstrosity of a mall in town. The Caesars Palace type statues and fountain are actually the ceiling of the mall which takes up 4 levels underground.
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What’s quite surprising is that there is an ice skating rink and massive waterpark in the middle of the mall.
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There are well over 150 food outlets too, not that any were very busy though, it’s definitely geared up to handle many more people than were there on this day.

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We decided to go to the movies to watch The Hobbit, our first ever 3D movie. It was in a small 36 seat theatre which was great considering we were 2 of 4 people in there. The seats were lazyboy recliner type, the only thing that could have made it better was a blanket to make us feel right at home.
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Coming up to the end of January and the TET festival/Chinese New Year meant the locals were busy buying red lanterns / pictures/ decorations (red for luck) , flowers, sticks of blossom, and also carting around clementine trees on their bikes which Rach found particularly amusing.
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Despite all this seeming activity, due to our colds we actually spent most of our time in Hanoi in our hotel room, a lot of Australian Open Tennis & movies were watched.

Our final night there we had dinner out with an old uni friend of Matt’s who has lived in Hanoi teaching English for 5 years, was a good catch up.

Unfortunately Hanoi proved a little too hectic for us, we were relieved to get a plane to Thailand where we will spend most of the remainder of our trip.

Hoi An

For our train to Hoi An we decided to get a sleeper carriage just to try it out, even though only a daytime trip. There’s 4 beds to a room so we were sharing with an American guy who kept Matt amused pretty much the whole 5 hours with stories of his travel through Asia.

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Locals don’t go far without their bikes, we saw these ones wrapped up ready for the train trip.

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It was a lot different being back in a (very) touristy town after our quiet time in Qui Nhon. Lots of restaurants to choose from, souvenir shops galore and around 400 tailors. Known as the city of lanterns it was pretty at night especially along the river front.

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We didn’t have great weather, it was overcast with rain on and off every day so unfortunately didn’t get to spend any time at the beach. We generally spent our time wandering around the different shops and watching some Australian Open tennis. Matt got a massage one day and when he came back I thought he must have had an Indian masseuse because he had a red splotch in between his eyebrows. But no, apparently the mark was the wind /evil coming out of him. Must have been a lot of wind because it’s still visible 5 days later.

The city has some beautiful old buildings but some of them could do with a paint job.

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Coming up to the festival TET it seems common to burn coloured pieces of paper on the street.

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This meant the streets got quite smoky.
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We had some great meals, both streetside and in restaurants.

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Happy hour specials were offered pretty much everywhere, some though were too good to be true. No one likes a cocktail where it tastes like they used the petrol dregs from their motorbike.

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None of these were drunk apart from the beer.

The old town has a curfew on motorbikes where they close off the central streets to pedestrians only from 2pm. We knew this happened but had 4pm in our minds so when we returned to our parking spot at 3.30pm one day we found an empty spot. After some frantic searching and asking around we found that it wasn’t stolen but shifted out of the central area. We found it and were expecting to have to pay to get it released but it wasn’t a problem at all, no money exchaged, we just drove it away.

Rach enjoyed Hoi An whereas Matt wasn’t too fussed and felt the whole town was like a giant tourist market. We didn’t get any tailoring done, the process just seemed a bit much for the savings that could be made.

The weather didn’t help the impression, which may have been different as apparently the beaches are lovely. Next stop and final in Vietnam the capital Hanoi.

Haven near Qui Nhon

From Nha Trang it was another train for us, continuing north to Qui Nhon.   Matt had found some great accommodation in a very small, very local fishing village, Bai Xep about 20min drive south of the city.   The guesthouse, called Haven (as is the pet dog) was fantastic, the best we’ve ever stayed in.  As well as having nice rooms and great owners (Australian) and staff, the food was incredible.  
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Breakfast was included with the room and they served an optional dinner at night.  Although there weren’t really any other dinner options close by, after the first night there’s no way we would have missed here.  

3 course something different every night whipped up by three very talented Vietnamese women.  It was great sitting down to eat with the other (3) guests and owners , a good way to break the ice and get to know each other. Was like a dinner party every night.   
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Each room had an honesty book that you wrote in for what you had grabbed out of the fridge to drink, or snacks to eat each day. They had great music, books and magazines to peruse – extremely relaxing.

The guesthouse was right on the beach which would have been great had it not have been for the slightly stormy seas.  Still nice to walk along.
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It’s really a place to relax and do as little or as much as you want to. 

One day we all (guests) missed the bus into Qui Nhon, but managed to flag down a local minivan for a smoke filled foot to the floor hair raising 15 minute ride in for lunch.  The beach there is incredible, the beautiful sand stretches for miles and it’s completely deserted.  Better not let the Russians know or in a few years it’ll be just like Nha Trang.
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One morning I went on a walk with Tom (guest from Finland) and Yin (one of the staff) to a waterfall near the village.
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It took a bit of clambering over rocks to get to it, and although there wasn’t a lot of water running there was still a deep pool that would have been temping for a swim had it been a bit warmer day. This is also the source of the village water supply.

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Bai Xep is a very small village that relies a lot on fishing.  One part of the beach is laden with fishing equipment.
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The guests at Haven were definitely the only tourists in the village, it’s not somewhere you would just stumble into.  A lot of the kids would say hello and ask us what our names are.

The standard Vietnamese inquisition is;

Hello!
What is your name?
How old are you?
Are you married?

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After 3 fantastic nights here unfortunately we had booked to move on to Hoi An, so back onto another train it was.

Vietnam by Motorbike Trip Day 5

From Buon Ma Thout we headed back out towards the coast.  Our first sightseeing stop was a rubber plantation. 
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The rubber trees are cut on one side so the sap leaks out.  This is collected and used to make rubber products.
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We also saw a cacao plantation. 
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The dark fruit are ripe.  When you break open the fruit you can see the beans which are covered in a flesh that tastes similar to mango.   I was hoping that there’d be a chocolate factory nearby but no such luck.
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Unfortunately not far into the day it started to rain so it was rain jackets / ponchos for everyone. Luckily it only rained for around an hour on our whole trip.
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The rain did little to dampen the views though.

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We had an amusing stop at a rail crossing.   Although you drive mostly on the right here, that rule goes out the window as you’re waiting for the train to pass.  You take whatever space you can find on either side of the road then as soon as the barriers are raised you’re off over the crossing, gradually merging back into the right lane.
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Once we hit the coast we headed south towards our destination of Nha Trang.   This final 30km or so was on the main highway 1 which proved to be the most sketchy part of the whole trip.  The buses and trucks go so fast and often pull off crazy passing manoeuvres.   There was a small lane for motorbikes but when a bus passes a truck in front of an oncoming truck it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.  I think they feel like using the horn gives them a bubble of safety.

We made it to Nha Trang and got to catch up with Simon and Gieve again for one last night.
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We had a great night with dinner and drinks then a couple of games of very amusing beer pong.
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Matt and Simon also got a bike taxi ride for the novelty rather than walking about 300m. The photo’s not great because the old fella was peddling too quickly.
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All and all we really enjoyed the bike trip. We definitely saw alot of scenery that would have been a shame to miss had we travelled the coastal route. 5 days was maybe a little too long for us, but the motorbiking itself was fantastic.

It was great to end it with a reunion with the Slades. Was great to have them join us for travels in Vietnam, thanks Simon and Gieve for the great time and all the laughs.

Here’s our approximate route over the 5 days.
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