Travels without a Plan

The End of Malaysia and Into Thailand
After the stresses and strains of the Jungle, the beaches of the Perenthian Islands were definately needed. Before this trip I had never really been one to laze around on beaches, but the Australian lifestyle must have caught up with me, because now I love it, and after over a month of not seeing sand, I was missing it deeply.

Hooking up with an English couple it was decided that we would spend 8 ringit more and get ourselves the luxury of a sleeper carriage for the 8 hour journey from Jurantut to the port town of Kuala Kai. Was this extra expense worth it? Quite honestly no, I don’t think that I have ever had a worse night sleep. The train was far from stable, the driver loved his horn rather too much and the people in the compartments seemed to be able to snore for Malaysia.

Imagine my surprise as we were preparing to disembark, the curtain of the compartment with the loudest snorer opened to reveal a huge man (very unusual in Asia), dressed in the bright orange robes of a Buddhist Monk. With a broad smile, he looked at me and exclaimed, in perfect English, “Morning, hope my rumblings didn’t keep you awake.” I really didn’t have the heart to tell him that in fact it had.

From the station we took the hour taxi journey (90 pence each, for 4!!) to the ferry port, where we were greeted by the sight of pouring rain. We were heading to the Islands at the beginning of the high season, the end of the Monsoon Season, it was going to be a risk, was it going to pay off??

Setting onto the boat, everyone was craning their necks to see any blue skies. When people saw the smallest bit there was a murmur of excitement, it may be OK!!! The journey took an hour and a half of rough seas, with everyone cheering as the old rickety boat took to the air on numerous times. It really was amazing that the boat didn’t break up, it really was that old.

We arrived at the smaller of the two Islands (Pulau Perhentian Kecil, due the fact it’s cheaper and more geared up to backpackers), and then transferred onto a taxi boat to take us onto the beach. I think everyone was relieved just to have arrived.

After much discussion by everyone on the boat we all decided that going to the other side of the Island to the slightly more rustic Long Beach, would be in order so off we set through the lush rainforests. The other side was totally different, exposed to the elements, huts still being built and lots of friendly smiling locals shouting greetings and encouraging you to stay in the few places that were already open. Myself and a few others stayed at the Moonlight Chalets, a double bed a balcony with amazing sea views for the sum of £3. Bargain!

I spent a week on the Islands, sunbathing, swimming, reading, playing beach volleyball (great fun, but I’m really not a natural!!) and chatting around a bonfire. It was real bliss. It was also on the Island that I had my birthday, which was rather strange, but everyone who I met on the Island made it special, with a cake and general renditions of Happy Birthday in people’s native tongues (I counted five, all in all). It was great.

It was also at this stage that I realized another rule of travelling: your camera always plays up at the most inappropriate time (it happened on the Great Ocean Road in Australia, Singapore, and now on my Birthday). My camera is very close to being replaced and I think it knows this and is being crap on purpose!!!

We were all sad to leave, but with lots of people heading into Thailand, we all thought that we would meet sometime in the future (this has already happened on a number of times!!). Next stop was Kota Bhuru, border town with Thailand, which in the end ended up being a totally dull place. Due to the person who I had planned to travel with being struck down with a mystery illness, it was decided that I should head into Thailand and meet him later (he’s a lot better now and we have met up again). A bus ride, right up to the border, crossed the river and I had arrived in Thailand, no customs, and very little fuss.

Three minutes into town I was approached by a group of students, who were wanting to carry out interviews with travellers. After a few questions (do you like Thai food? Why did you choose to visit Thailand?? etc) they then announced that they would take me to the train station, for my journey into Hat Yai. The journey was pretty scary, first time on the back of a motorbike, along with my heavy rucksack, and daysack. After 20 minutes of tracking down a bank that would issue me money, we arrived at the station, just in time for my train to depart.

Four hours later we pulled into Hat Yai, hot and stuffy. I was decidedly unimpressed by economy seating on Thai trains. Hustled into the back of a Tuk Tuk, I was taken to the bus station, again just in time for the bus for Trang. The bus I was catching was described as an 11 seater VIP bus. In reality, it was more like a cattle crate, no leg room, air con that did not work and terrible blaring Thai Pop.

A night in Trang, it was then time for another bus journey to the port town of Krabi, jumping off site for Rai Leh Beach and the Islands of Phi Phi. The bus was like nothing I have seen before, unbelievable. In Europe, when a bus is full it leaves, this one piled yet more in with many of the seats having three people sitting on them. In the end I ended up sitting on the floor, with boxes piled up around me. Not the most pleasant trip.

I spent a total of five days on Rai Leh and Phi, staying in cool beach huts, swimming, snorkelling, but with the overall feeling that the places were rather too developed. Phi Phi was the favourite of the two, amazing scenery and a great party scene. It’s also where the film “The Beach” was filmed, an amazing area, I don’t think that I have ever seen such clear water, steep cliffs and lush forests.

One of the things that I really wanted to do during my time in Thailand was to take part in one of the (in)famous Full Moon Parties (4-8,000 people all dancing on the beach until the sun comes up) on the Island of Ko Pha Ngan. This month it takes place on the 9th, so with accommodation being highly sought after, we decided to head to the Island five days early.

So I’m now in Ko Pha Ngan, having met lots of people from Malaysia and Thailand, with everyone preparing themselves for what ought to be an awesome event. It’s a great Island, cool beaches, great bars and clubs and lots of areas to explore on motorbike. I’m really starting to enjoy the Thai lifestyle, the weather is great, scenery amazing and the Thai people are very friendly.

Next installment, I’ll let you know how the party is…

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