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.

image

image

The remainder of the buildings in Old Town are more Chinese influenced with shophouses lining the very narrow streets.
image

image

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.
image

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.
image

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.
image

We both bought shoes while we were here but they weren’t the Chinese Clog variety.
image

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.
image

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.
image

image

image

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.
image

image

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.
image

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.
image

image

image

Generally the water along the west coast is beautiful and clear.
image

image

Our lunch stop had us dangling on the cliff side for a great view.
image

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.
image

Great sunset view from our balcony.
image

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.
image

image

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.
image

It was the big community event of the year, lots of food and drink stalls, and a huge stage for entertainment.
image

image

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.
image

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.
image

Who’s your Paddy?
image
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’.
image

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.
image

At the other end if the dining scale some of the menus around have a few spelling mistakes……
image

image

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.

image

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’.
image

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.
image

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.
image
image

image

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.
image

Our last day Matt wanted to get a hair cut, the barber advertises with pictures of David Beckham circa 1999.
image

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.
image

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.
image

Gotta love the taste of a pina colada when your toes are dug into the sand.
image

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.
image

image

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.

image

Janice also took the opportunity to be blessed by a monk.
image

image

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.
image

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.
image

image

Maybe I’m just biased because ours could do tricks.
image

image

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.
image

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.
image

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.
image

I know Mark, sometimes it’s hard to keep the monkey off your back.
image

We finally got on board the longtail, along with our bike and the many other miscellaneous items being loaded on.
image

image

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.
image

No ramps required to get the bike off, just 4 guys with a bit of muscle.
image

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.
image

image

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.

image

image

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…

image

The western coast is more mangroves than beaches but we managed to find a nice spot for a sunset.
image

image

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.
image

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.
image

image

image

image

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.
image

image

Ah what’s this, a bit of technical photography if I do say so myself.
image

image

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.
image

We were delighted to see the towel elephant’s waiting for us at our accommodation, how cute.
image

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.
image

image

image

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.
image

Once at Railay (after a coffee for energy) we set off in kayaks around the karst cliffs to Phra-Nang.
image

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?
image

The midday sun is too hot for us to enjoy so we hopped back in the kayaks back to Railay.
image

image

This time of day there are so many longtails lined up ready to ferry people from beach to beach.
image

image

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.
image

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.
image
image

We had a drink down by the beach to catch the sunset before dinner, some more shopping and live music.
image

image

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.

image

image

image

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.

image

The line at the petrol station gives an idea of how many bikes there are on the road.
image

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.

image

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.

image

image

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.

image

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.

image

image

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.

image

image

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.

image

image

image

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

image

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