Author Archives: laurakcolgan

Bangkok

What we did in Bangkok:

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Loi Krathong floats

Loi Krathong festival
This is celebrated in certain parts of Thailand. In Bangkok people put lotus-shaped boats made out of banana trees, banana leaves, and flowers into the river. It is to symbolise letting go of any past negativity. In Chiang Mai it is celebrated by sending lighted paper lanterns into the sky. We bought them for between fifty cent and one euro twenty-five off ladies selling them near the river. They were beautifully handmade. We lit the candles and incense and a man put them into the river for us. It all seems lovely but we did have trouble keeping the candles lit and as soon as they hit the water they went under the dock we were standing on and didn’t drift out until I couldn’t see them any more as I had originally imagined.

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Tuk-tuk

Got a tuk tuk
We avoided the first tuk-tuk driver as he said he’d do the journey for thirty baht (seventy-five cent) with just one stop off on the way (this is so they can bring you to a scamming gem market). Our other tuk-tuk journeys were crazy. They weaved in and out of traffic and wiggled across the road to play up to our screams of delight (fear). Some came with disco lights and rain covers, on others you just got wet.

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Boat to Grand Palace

Attempted to go to the Grand Palace
Myself and my two travel buddies, along with our Ozzie friend, Odette, headed to the river to get a boat up to the Grand Palace. The boat journey was a boat journey. We walked around the entire walls of the palace to get to the entrance and put on our temple attire (scarfs, long trousers, shirts) only to find that it was closing at 1pm on this particular Friday. So that was that.

Instead we sat out of the oncoming rain in a cafe across the road and sang along with the radio (the owner delightedly filmed us).

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Koh San road

Koh San road market
Against what other backpackers originally told us, we didn’t stay on the touristy Koh San road. Instead we chose the Suhkumvit area (we followed the well-travelled Odette to here). We were happy with that decision. Koh San road is busy and jam packed with people and shops and stalls and hostels. We just browsed the market and added to our trinket collections.

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Monk blessings from a truck

Got hit with water three times in one day (just me)
First was from a completely ignorant ‘farang’ who threw water over me from a moving tuk-tuk. Second was from a monk who was blessing people from a truck. I got the secondary splash of the water dong. Third was from a drain or something.

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And then there were two

Said a teary goodbye to Aisling
After a month of travelling with Aisling we had to say goodbye to her so she could go back to Amsterdam to start her new job. Naturally we spent our last night in a hotel with free water, tea and coffee, a lovely hot shower, and big soft beds. Not before having dinner in a German restaurant with Odette and a few glasses of wine.

…sniff sniff.

Bangkok notes:

– Public transport is easy to do in certain parts. Beats the crazy back log of traffic in the evening.

– Scooter taxis are mad. The ladies sit crossways on the back, don’t hold on, and lean over with their phone and bag in hand. You will also see entire families on the same scooter. Toddler standing at the front, father driving, child jammed in the middle, and mother at the back.

– It can be hard to walk around Bangkok with lanes coming in all the directions. Asking people on the street doesn’t work either. They either don’t speak English (and don’t understand that you want to go to the place you are pointing at on the map) or they want to send you to some other place. Some fella was trying to send us to a government building!

Having never been to Asia before this trip, I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting from Bangkok. Probably something more like what you’d find in India–dusty streets, crazy traffic, and lots of hassle.

I’d been told that no one would really want to stay longer than two days and the list of scams and tips to getting around was quite long. As a result, I was pretty nervous about hitting Bangkok.

The first thing I remember was coming along the outskirts of the city, after being woken at crazy o’clock on the night train, and seeing crowds of people at train stations and lots of cars whizzing about before 6 am. The next were the backs of shanty tin houses and shops with satellite dishes attached!!  

It turns out I wasn’t as overwhelmed by Bangkok as I thought I would be. I guess it just depends on what you do, where you stay, and how you travel around.

I got a random hug and kiss from a smiling Thai man on Koh San road.

It can’t be all bad. 

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Crazy scooter rides

First night train experience

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Getting off the boat in Chumpon

The journey from Koh Tao to Bangkok took almost a day. It involved a taxi to the dock, a two hour boat journey to Chumpon, a bus to the train station, a four to five hour wait (our night train was delayed), and a ten hour train to Bangkok. 

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Waiting hours for the train

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Not our train

The wait in the train station wasn’t as dull as you may think. Apparently the girls danced. I missed it because I was too busy chasing a cute puppy to take a photo of. Orna gave herself a pedicure. We were also kept on edge making sure the rats dancing, chasing, and frolicking in the grass behind us weren’t getting too close for comfort. Young school children came and interviewed us for their English class with questions about our travel plans and favourite Thai food. We started to change the answers so they wouldn’t have the exact same responses in school the next day.

Now how was the night train you ask?

It was actually fine. Orna booked the three of us lower bunks. The tour operator told her she needed them and they were a little more expensive unbeknownst to her, but it was a good choice. Mine was filled with bugs and what not at first but a quick sweep and they were all gone. 

We had dinner on the train on the food cart. I got tofu noodle soup. The tofu looked like mangled chicken. After hearing horror stories passed down the line about people getting drugged on night buses in Thailand and then getting robbed, I couldn’t help but get paranoid about spikings when numerous suited official looking men came into the carriage. Needless to say, I didn’t eat much. 

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My view from bed

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My bed

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The bed was like a private, miniature room with curtains and a window. My rucksack safely stowed at the end of the bed. Belly a third full, tucked into my sleeping bag liner, ear plugs in and eye mask on, and off I slept the shakey way to Bangkok. All for about twenty five euro.

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Arriving into Bangkok. Beds deconstructed

Koh Tao

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The girls say cheese in Koh Tao

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Fire show, Koh Tao

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Fire show, Koh Tao

I can’t say much about Koh Tao as I was only there for two half days and one night. What I do know is that it’s renowned for its cheap diving and so Orna opted for two days under water. However due to the price, the diving spots are more crowded there than in Koh Phi Phi and the waters more polluted from boats. Apparently the higher price is worth it in Koh Phi Phi for less crowding and better sights (Orna’s opinion).

My time on Koh Tao was spent roaming through pedestrian streets, dinner and sunset by the beach, another beach fire show, and a dip in the sea. The fire show was headed by a young teen who was amazing. The dip in the water ended in a downpour thus getting clothes and bags soaked and needing to borrow a towel and get changed in the tourist information centre across the road from the bungalow we had checked out of earlier in the day. 

The island was still in low season when we were there but seemed like it could have a cool vibe in high season and if we had more time to explore. 

Koh Phangnan

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View of The Sanctuary on Haad Thien Bay

Koh Phangan is home to the full moon party but for us it was all about yoga, meditation, pilates, vegetarian food, chilling, and chats. Not the typical scenario you’d expect from an Irish trio.

As we drove by sawngteaw to Haad Rin (full moon party beach on South east corner) through villages and up windy hills, I liked the vibe immediately. We stayed at The Sanctuary which is on Haad Thien Bay. It’s a tiny bay that is accessed by getting a long tail boat from Haad Rin. I knew it was my kind of thing as soon as we pulled up on the beach. It seemed to be away from civilisation–a private reverie.

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Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta Koh Lanta. It’s everyone’s dream who is looking to relax.

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Sunset through the restaurant

It just so happened that we were arriving in low season as high season wouldn’t start for a month or so. Lots of guys were hassling the girls with accommodation and wrecking their heads. We decided not to listen to the other Irish girls on the boat and go with a local with a free lift, despite the original annoyances,  as the brochures looked good. It turned out to be an amazing place (it could have easily been a dive). We rented a private bungalow for five euro each a night that had a pool, a gorgeous restaurant and bar, and was a few metres away from the beach.

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Wedding preparations in the background

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Koh Lanta sunset

The days went by with sunbathing, swimming, oil massages, and pedicures. We even saw an intimate wedding ceremony on the beach but the sun set just a bit too quickly (the pesky sun) and as soon as the ceremony was over the rain came so they dressed up to the nines again the next evening and got their picture perfect moments recaptured, bridesmaids, groomes men and all.

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The girls enjoying dinner at sunset

Hiring a car didn’t work out too well for us as we had to abandon it halfway up a hill due to it overheating and liquid coming out from under the bonnet. We still got to explore the Old Town, have a dip at a different beach, and be back in time to have dinner over sunset.

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Chilled after my oil massage

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Our last Koh Lanta sunset

What is Koh Phi Phi all about?

What I knew about Koh Phi Phi before going:
1. Party island
2. No cars
3. Maya Bay (where ‘The Beach’ was filmed)

What I know now:
1. Partying on the beach with buckets of alcohol and fire throwers as entertainment
2. No cars except the Policeman’s scooter and a mini pickup truck to transport bricks
3. Maya Bay’s gorgeous tropical water and soft sand
4. Locals cycle everywhere dodging each other and you by the hair on your leg with grace
5. Your rucksack can be transported from one side to the other via large trolley
6. Small pedestrian lanes lined with shops and filled with people are the main streets
7. Gorgeous viewpoint to watch sunset from
8. Great place to bump into friends from home
9. Nice Thai food, and cheese, ham and tomato pancakes
10. Apparently great place to dive even though it’s more expensive than Koh Tao
11. Knowing the tides is quite important so that you don’t get to the beach when the tide is fully out and rocks are all you can see

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Koh Phi Phi streets

Koh Phi Phi was a pleasant surprise.  We had been told about the islands being party-party but found that you can find what you’re looking for almost everywhere. The thing that struck me the most was that the narrow pedestrian streets with shops, restaurants, and hostels just never ended. That was Tonsai village and nothing else. So when we paid our twenty baht (tourists pay this to help keep the island clean), avoided the local hagglers and the girls followed my stubborn ass beyond the first hostel offers, we found ourself in a private room on the other side of the town close to the beach and the viewpoint.

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Krabi – Ao Nang

My biggest regret about Krabi was not realising before we got there that there are many different areas within the same name, ie. Ao Nang, Railay. If I had realised, I would have skipped the tourist strip of Ao Nang and headed to the apparently quieter and nicer, Railay. As it happens we didn’t spend much time in the stop-off town as we did a seven hour tour of seven islands on our only full day.

The minivan/minibus from Hat Yai to Krabi was a good deal. It fit about eleven people but was faster than a coach as it bumped along the terrible-at-times roads and overtook cars and motorbikes with oncoming traffic just a short distance away. The thunder and lightening show added to the thrill. Arriving in the town centre at nighttime with no accommodation wasn’t our best idea yet but 2.50 euro extra to the driver got us the half hour out to Ao Nang and dropped off at a few potential guest houses. We didn’t refuse.

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We look tanned in Ao Nang

After dinner we hung out at a bar with live music. It was quite the cheesy holiday package vibe in Europe but we enjoyed singing along and having a much-needed boogy.

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View from the boat

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Hazy, mysterious weather

The seven-hour tour was good, albeit the drunken lopsided ferry and needing to be transported to the beach by a long tail boat anytime we went near land. The highlight was jumping into the deep, dark water in the night and swimming with glow-in-the-dark plankton. It was just magical. A bit of snorkeling added to the adventure as schools of fish swam around me. The night was topped off with a bbq on the beach (we were a bit late to enjoy sunset from the beach) and a fire show.

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C for Colgan

Two Days in Langkawi

What can be done in two days in Langkawi?

1. Jet ski to the islands
2. Drive/scoot around the main island

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Langkawi islands

DAY ONE:

We splashed out on this tour. It was between €50-55 for a four to five hour jet ski ride to four of Langkawi’s ninety-nine islands. But let it be said, it was worth it.

Us three girls headed off on our two-seater jet skis with our two English friends with me on the back of the Malay guy’s one. He bombed it over waves as I clutched onto his tiny waist and flew up and down as we skirted the sea.

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Our friends Ben and Craig at the lake

Stop one was a fresh water lake in middle of a sea island. According to a local guy the story on how it got there is too long to explain. Jumping into fresh water with no sand and opening your eyes with no stinging is a dream. Getting back onto the dock is a little less dreamy and involves lots of laughter from onlookers (me) as others fling legs and arms in all directions reminiscent of, well, walruses.

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One of Langkawi's ninety-nine islands

We dropped by Eagle island but saw no eagles so went to two other islands with beaches to snorkel and lie in the shallow waters while chatting and thinking of nothingness.

Word of warning:
Don’t brush off the small, black, prickly plants if you don’t want to come out with black sore spots on your foot that need to be pounded with a flipflop by the instructor and doused in lemon juice (Orna’s ouchie-booboo).

One of the highlights was being able to drive right onto the beaches from the jet skis. The thrill of flying across the water was amazing too. My skills weren’t so great over choppy waters so I preferred bumping around the place on the back.

Second word of warning:
When plans change and you need to ride back to shore with your English friend Ben, and he decides to take a sharp turn which makes you fly from the vehicle and the propeller tries to take your bikini bottoms from you, use your reflexes and grab onto them for dear life. I’ve no idea what may have ensued should they have been taken by the water.

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Sunset at Pantai Cenang beach

Dinner and drinks on the beach while watching the sun set is a great ending to an adventurous day.

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Temurun waterfall

DAY TWO:

We rented a car for €17.50 between three, including insurance.

We visited the cable car (but the wait was 1 hour so we declined) and browsed the ‘Oriental village’ in the blistering heat. We also swam at Temurun waterfall (where we randomly bumped into our two English friends) and Seven Wells waterfall. Unlucky for Aisling, she tumbled off a slippy rock down into the bushes. The massage from the previous cascading waterfall a distant memory.

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Ornaments at Seven Wells waterfall

Another evening of beachside drinks and Langkawi is complete.

Penang’s Best, Worst and Okay Bits

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Penang Best Bits

Best bits about Penang:

Roaming the streets to browse through cute artsy shops and see the street art (favourite day).

Trying actual street food from the hawker stalls. Aisling did some good haggling to get them. Red Garden was also a great spot. A square of all types of Asian food stalls with corny live entertainment.

Stopping outside a cafe on our way out to have a dance to some locals having a jam. Having a singsong with them on two different nights.

Meeting my good friends, Stephen and Nicole, from home.

Making friends at Reggae Hostel.

Free shuttle bus around Georgetown.

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Penang's Worst Bits

Worst bits about Penang:

The money maker Penang Hill. 30 ringgit (7.50 euro…We can get dinner for 11 ringgit and even for 4.50 RM one evening) for a train up a steep hill and having absolutely nothing worth talking about at the top. The view was good from one spot but the viewing spot was marred by construction work.

A mouse in our dorm going through the forbidden food bag.

Nearly killing myself when getting down from my 8ft high bunk bed. My poor right arm saved me and nearly came out of its socket.

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Okay Bits from Penang

Okay bits about Penang:

The Kek Lok Si Temple. It was a little unkept and commercialised for my liking but still interesting to see.

Monkey beach. Enjoyed lazing on the beach, drinking coconut water, and swimming in the luke warm water but we didn’t get to see the monkeys.

Cameron Highlands

The lower temperature of the Cameron Highlands was a reprieve to our bad first impression of Malaysia. The rain showers didn’t bother us either. Our first dorm experience was good, albeit the one shower/toilet between ten, and making friends and asking others about their travels and tips is easier than you could ever imagine. It happens so naturally.

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Road to Cameron Highlands looks like this

Picture a meandering river that goes on for miles upon miles and you’ve got yourself the bus journey up to Tanah Rata, the main town. It is more built up than I imagined but a half day tour in a 4×4 brought us into more treacherous meandering roads and the wilderness. I will admit, I believed I was close to losing my life at one point as we squeezed by mountain edges while letting others pass by and getting a wheel stuck in a three foot deep gully at the start of the journey didn’t help either.

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'That' 4x4

We got to see rolling hills of tea plants, walk through the rainforest with tips on all the natural remedies of the surrounding plants and did a self-navigated trek through the rainforest with a trio of English guys we met at the hostel.

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Tea leaf hills in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

A good location all round to visit with a bit of wilderness, excitement, our first night market, and exploring with new friends.

The Beginning

First impressions of Malaysia:
– Built up and not backwards like you might think
– Better long-distance buses than Ireland
– Food galore with street stalls safe to eat from
– Friendly people with good English

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Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

A week or so has gone by already since we first arrived in Kuala Lumpur airport and spent the day in bed to recooperate. We started with a quick trip up to Chinatown through tiny walkways of stalls and a mediocre dinner. Our biggest mistake on our first proper day with jetlag still lingering, was to walk from the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur into the inner city in sweltering heat and no toilet paper. The Pavilion shopping centre was our air con heaven.

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Air conditioned and roofed walkway through Kuala Lumpur

We realised that arriving at the Petronas Towers at 5pm is useless if you want to cross the bridge to see a view of the city. Queuing from 8.30am is essential in gaining one of 960 tickets sold each day. A dinner of Steamboat (raw fish that you cook yourself in choices of sweet potato porridge or chicken soup) was okay. In general my impression of Kuala Lumpur wasn’t great. According to fellow travellers the Batu Caves and Sky Bar are highlights in a city which doesn’t have much going for it.

Next stop: Cameron Highlands

We made it!

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Relieved, delirious and exhausted after no sleep on a flight to Asia.

We made it. We made it. We made it. The first thought that went through my head when we touched down in Kuala Lumpar airport in Malaysia this morning? At some point I’ll have to do that journey again.

The main flight was grand-12.5 hours, movies, TV and games to beat the band, a few nice meals and random snacks. And I have to give it to the air hostess in Asian rig-out…she kept us hydrated as she walked backwards along the aisles with a tray of water,  juices, and the odd drop of wine. And might I add, we travelled with Malaysian airlines (cue gasps of horror).

And why was I so happy to have made it?

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Top 10 Tips for Backpacking in South East Asia

(Kindly supplied by my friends as I have yet to depart. I’m sure I will come up with my own as I go along).

1. Pack light
That means no costume changes and cutting out on luxury toiletries. You’ll also want to leave space for picking things up along the way.

2. Bring good underwear
Apparently this is essential if you don’t want to be roaming around in ill-fitting, granny-esque undergarments.

3. Book bus tickets up front
Those long windy journeys on precarious roads can lead to ugly travel-sickness.

4. Be protected
Get travel insurance, malaria tablets, bug sprays, a mosquito net, and the necessary injections. You need to cover yourself for all instances. That includes tablets for stomach problems and headaches. The Tropical Medical Bureau in Ireland is great for what injections and malaria tablets you may need.

5. Pack a sleeping bag liner
Or something to keep your body from touching the beds and sheets in dodgey accommodation. A bed sheet sown together would also work.

6. Bring passport photos and US dollars
It saves time on the borders and visas are purchased using US dollars. In some places, dollars can even be the preferred currency.

7. Get a taxi further down
Don’t go with the taxis outside the stations, it’s cheaper to get them down the road. Going by the meter is generally cheaper than a fixed fare. And don’t let the taxi drivers con you by telling you the place you want to go to is closed and bringing you to over-priced jewellery shops that they get commission from.

8. Bring essential oils
Tea tree oil on your pulse points can help keep mosquitos away. A drop on your pillow at night can also make a stuffy nose breath better. Lavender can soothe mosquito bites.

9. Travel by Air Asia
Air Asia is extremely cheap when it comes to travelling internally. A flight from Kuala Lumpar to Thailand has cost me €37 including card fees and checked bag.

10. Be spontaneous
Don’t plan everything to the last meal. Go with the flow. You might meet people and things you never would have. But most importantly, have fun!