Hong by Starlight – Our Phuket Highlight

Spring has officially arrived in Guiyang!  The trees are all in full bloom, the sun is out and the weather is gorgeous!  After 3 long months of rain and feeling like my very bones were cold, I am warm, wearing a skirt and am not bundled in 3 layers of clothing!  I couldn’t be happier!!!!

Everything is becoming greener again!
Everything is becoming greener again!
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The tree I posted last week has completely opened up and started shedding its flowers. I get to walk by this at least twice a day 🙂

The warm weather has inspired me to write about the highlight of our time in Phuket.  Our incredible Hong By Starlight Tour had it all: breathtaking views, adorable animals and fantastic food!  The trip TO the Hongs alone was impressive in of itself, but it all went uphill from here.

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The karst landscape reminded us both of our Li River Cruise in Guilin.
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There were gorgeous cliffs and plenty of islands to see.

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Now I suppose I should explain what a Hong actually is.  We passed many islands during the hour and a half boat ride to the islands we’d be exploring.

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Cute little islands like this 🙂

A small number of islands near Phuket are hollow inside, and those are called Hongs.  They are only accessible by caves and those caves are only accessible at certain points in the day, dependent on tides.  Our tour involved seeing three of these Hongs by  Sea Canoe…an inflatable canoe, designed specifically to go through caves.  They are very tough and can be deflated if the tide is too high and the squeeze is too tight getting in or out of a cave.  They are also unflippable…which is always nice 🙂

Hongs are lagoons, located within an island.  The only way to get into one is by going in through a natural cave.  These caves can only be accessed when the tide is low.
Hongs are lagoons, located within an island. The only way to get into one is by going in through a natural cave. These caves can only be accessed when the tide is low.

Though there are several companies who do these tours, we booked ours through John Gray’s Sea Canoe, which has won many awards for eco-tourism and has rave reviews on Trip Advisor, as well as on their website.  Of course, we had to experience the tour ourselves to really understand why they’d won these awards.

This is John Gray.  He is a very interesting guy who has spent his life trying to save the earth by educating people about the damage we do on a daily basis
This is John Gray. He is a very interesting guy who has spent his life trying to save the earth by educating people about the damage we do to it on a daily basis

Talk about a top notch tour!  Every aspect of our day exceeded our expectations.  The food was fantastic.  Not only was it delicious, but because John Gray is all about environmentalism, the fish was net caught (not farmed) and the chicken was free range.  This means that everything you are served on this tour is cruelty free and chemical free.  A nice touch.

Did I mention it was also delicious???
Did I mention it was also delicious???

The staff were also incredible.  Not only were they knowledgeable and friendly, but they seemed to really care about the company they work for.  They asked us to speak quietly while in the Hongs, to not disturb the wildlife.  No garbage was left behind and I actually saw our guide, Ole, pick up garbage that had been left behind by other groups.

Ole has worked for John Gray's Sea Canoe for 16 years.  He is fluent in English and is so incredibly informative!  I felt like we were on a wildlife education tour!!
Ole has worked for John Gray’s Sea Canoe for 16 years. He is fluent in English and is so incredibly informative! I felt like we were on a wildlife education tour!!

When you add up these elements of the tour, and add in a truly fascinating and beautiful tour destination, you’ve created quite the memorable day trip.  So here it goes…I’ll go one cave at a time 🙂

Cave #1 – Diamond Cave and Lagoon

As we approached first island, I could see the small entrance while still in the canoe, and it made me a little nervous.  I’m a tad claustrophobic, so the idea of going into that small opening made me quite scared.  I made sure to get it on video so you can see what it was like going into that dark space.

I didn’t have zoom on at all through that video and a moment after I stopped making the video, the ceiling was so close that I would have cracked my head on it if I’d even tried to sit up a little.  Quite the experience!!!

But then you make it to the end….

Suddenly there's sky above!
Suddenly there’s sky above!

Words fail me here…the inside of these islands is something I hope everyone in my life gets to experience at some point.  It was worth every bit of claustrophobia I felt!!  And although the scenery alone would have been enough to make my day, Ole had a lot to do with the way we experienced these 2 Hongs as well.  He spoke softly so that the wildlife didn’t run away.  He paddled softly and slowly so that we could enjoy the peaceful stillness of the Hong.  He taught us about the area in a quiet voice and paddled a little behind the other guides so that we didn’t have to be around all the other loud tourists.  These were perfect moments.

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My first Mangrove Tree 🙂 This is the only tree in the world that can grow in saltwater. They are essential to the ecosystem as they act as a nursery and hiding spot for many many types of fish.
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We saw this guy crushing a clam up against the rocks. Monkeys, unlike apes, are excellent swimmers, and they will swim from island to island to find food.
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The entrance to the second Hong
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Such beauty!!!

The way out of the island was a tight squeeze, as the tide had risen a little.  We were the last ones out of the Hong and at some points in the journey back to the boat, I thought we were going to get stuck in the cave and drown.  I could hear our canoe rubbing against sharp rocks and kept envisioning it deflating.  The cave ceiling was close to my nose even while I lay flat on my back, arms and legs tucked.  But we made it through!  I was happy to discover later one that our canoes are built with those rocks in mind and that it’s incredibly difficult to rupture one badly enough that it sinks.  Still…my mind was racing on our trip out of that island!!

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These are some of our fellow tour goers at the opening of the cave, where the ceiling was still high. It got much worse from here. Some of the other guides had actually had to deflate their canoes a little to get out of the cave!!!

Cave #2 – Mangrove Lagoon

After this first stop, I couldn’t wait to see my second Hong!  In spite of my excitement, however, I was able to enjoy the moment and take some pictures of our journey to the second island.

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This opening looks like a giant mouth 🙂
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Beautiful islands 🙂
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I miss the ocean already!!

Our second stop was in Mangrove Lagoon.  I managed to get a video of our entrance into the Hong, although it is a little distracted as Dave was as excited as I was and wanted me to take videos of everything at once!! haha!!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VU-oyWmxOWM

This particular Hong didn’t have as much wildlife in it, but what it lacked in primates it made up for in foliage.   There were over a dozen mangroves in the Hong, all different sizes and different shapes.

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I officially love Mangroves!

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And we did see SOME wild life!

Ole spotted a mudskipper :)
Ole spotted a mudskipper 🙂  Can you find it??

The mangroves weren’t the only beauty this lagoon provided.  The rocks were jacked and beautiful and as the afternoon turned to evening, the light in the lagoon made for some beautiful pictures.

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The red rocks were a beautiful contrast to the blue water
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One of my favorite pictures of the entire trip

Our second island was as gorgeous as the first, and Ole proved to be consistent with his tours.  He was wonderful yet again.

We were given a break at this point to swim in the ocean, paddle around in the canoes and take some pictures.  We took advantage of all 3 options 🙂

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Some neat rock formations coming out of the island
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We weren’t the only group there, but there was hardly a crowd. Much fewer people than in any of our other tours!!
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We enjoyed some swimming beside our boat 🙂 I left the water when a gigantic jelly fish decided to join us!!! Being stung by the little ones is bad enough!!!

Supper Break

Supper break gets it’s own section because it was that good.  And no, for once I am not solely referring to the food!  John Grey’s Sea Canoe aims to educate its customers and educate they did!  Not only did we learn about the wildlife in the Hongs and see for ourselves what sort of habitats these lagoons provide, but we were also taught about Thai Culture.

The Thai Kratong:  Proof that it isn't just Thailand's landscape that is beautiful
The Thai Krathong: Proof that it isn’t just Thailand’s landscape that is beautiful

The Loi Krathong festival typically takes place in May.  Buddists build these offerings and set them out to sea, both in gratitude for all that the sea provides and in remorse for the pollution they have caused it.  Each Krathong is different from the next, but they all share commonalities.  For examples, most Krathongs will have marigolds, which represent prosperity.  The 3 sticks of incense represent the 3 major parts of Buddhism: The Buddha, The Monk and Scripture.  Ole explains:

Ole told us that he has been making Krathongs every year since he was a child, so for him, this creation was no big deal.  I was amazed at how so little could look so elaborate!!  I took pictures as he worked.

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The Thai use every part of the Banana Tree. The round part in the middle is Banana tree trunk. The green things surrounding the trunk are made of banana leaves
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He let us help with this part 🙂 The sharper the corners, the nicer the Krathong. My OCD was thrilled at the challenge!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, he placed orchids all around the trunk.  Traditionally, they use toothpicks or pieces or wood to fasten them on, but because they take these Krathongs back every night, and don't leave them out to sea, for our purposes, metal nails were used.
Next, he placed orchids all around the trunk. Traditionally, they use toothpicks or pieces or wood to fasten them on, but because they take these Krathongs back every night, and don’t leave them out to sea, for our purposes, metal nails were used.
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Next came the marigolds and candles. We lit the candles once in the third Hong…but I’ll get to that!
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Every time I thought Ole had finished, he added more embellishments.
A close up of the birds he made using prebloomed orchids.  I got to keep one.  I've pressed it and should be able to scrapbook it later!
A close up of the birds he made using prebloomed orchids. I got to keep one. I’ve pressed it and should be able to scrapbook it later!

Sending Krathongs afloat also has another purpose.  As you let go, you are suppose to make a wish.  As it floats away, the Krathong takes your bad luck with it.  Within a few hours it becomes waterlogged and sinks into the ocean, where it provides food for fish and other sea life.  I’d love to see this festival take place in November!!  It was such a lovely addition to our already lovely day!!

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Dave and I with our completed Krathong. I tried to get Ole to take a picture with it, seeing as how he did most of the work, but he was more concerned with our happiness than with taking credit for his work.

Once done making our Krathong, we had some free time before supper.  During  break, we had plenty of time for photo ops, which worked out well because this break was during sun set.  Have you ever been on the ocean for sunset?  I hadn’t until our Starlight tour, and wow is it an experience!!!

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All the colours changed as the sun set. It was quite beautiful!!
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This boat was docked the whole evening. It made both Dave and I jealous of its owners. We’d love to retire on a boat and dock somewhere like this overnight!!
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The skies were clearing so we knew we’d have a nice view of the stars once the sun slipped away completely
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Talk about a photo op!!

After eating, it was time to head into our last cave and our last hong.

Cave #3 – The Bat Cave!!

Unlike in China, where things are given names that make no sense, this cave was named perfectly.  Yup!  It was full of bats!  I didn’t get many pictures because at this point our camera was dying, but some of these bats were as big as birds!  We saw hundreds of them once in the cave, but don’t worry, they were sleeping!!

As the last bits of light disappeared with the setting sun, we head into the bat cave…

By the time we made it through the cave and reached the Hong, it was almost completely dark outside.  We could see stars above and we were the only tour group left so it was quiet and peaceful moving slowly through the water in the dark.

On the canoe.  Ready to set out Krathong into the water
On the canoe. Ready to set out Krathong into the water

Ole lit the candles of our Krathong and we set it in to the water where it floated calmly.  The rest of our group were setting theirs into the water as well and when we looked around, we could see fire floating on water all around us.  It was quite the scene.

Ole told us to make a wish as we let go of his piece of art, and we had a hard time thinking of anything more we could want in that moment.  So we wished for a happy life for all 3 of us.  What more could we want?

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The tour was nearly over and it was time to make our way back out through the cave.  It was completely dark now and the stars were shining above us brightly.  We were able to stay sitting up while we slowly paddled through the Bat Cave; it has high ceilings and the tide was low.  Ole had one more surprise for us, but it couldn’t be caught on camera so I’ll have to tell you about it instead.

For anyone who has seen Life of Pi...we got to see the real thing.
For anyone who has seen Life of Pi…we got to see the real thing.

He told us to reach into the water and move our hands, and as we did, little specks in the water lit up.  We were surrounded by Bio-luminescent Plankton, that light up when the water is disturbed.  We put our feet and hands in the water and watched it light up!  Then we splashed water onto the walls of the cave and watched THEM light up!  This plankton can only be seen in the dark and I think it was so cool that we got to experience it while in Thailand!!!

Only special cameras can catch these creatures on camera.  Here's something I found on Google.  It doesn't come close to showing how cool it was, but you get the idea!
Only special cameras can catch these creatures on camera. Here’s something I found on Google. It doesn’t come close to showing how cool it was, but you get the idea!

Before long we were back on the boat, on our back to Phuket.  I felt sad that our Starlight Tour was done, but I comforted myself with the hope that some friends might come visit us next year, and we can all go see this together!!  It’s an open invitation, so if you’ve been thinking of meeting us in Thailand…read this post again if you need more convincing!!!

I’ve only got one more post to write for Phuket, and that will be arriving on my page some time next week.  Thanks for reading!!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Snorkeling Tours in Thailand

Every now and then Guiyang surprises me.  Since we got here, I’ve been called fat more times than I can really count.  My students make fun of how much ‘meat’ there is on my arms (thinking I don’t understand Chinese) and adults have done the same.  It seems that being a medium build brunette in China makes you the target of insult.  I get through it by reminding myself that commenting on someone’s weight is a culturally appropriate thing to do here.  I also tell myself repeatedly that I should take it as a compliment when people come up to my husband on the street to tell him how handsome he is, and then turn to me, smile a little and walk away.  I will say though…it isn’t always easy.

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The boys get it too sometimes, but not as bad as us ladies do!!

But every now and then, Guiyang surprises me…

This last Friday, I was teaching a Phonics lesson to one of my level 3 students, Lily.  She’s bright and very sweet and is always very curious about me and my life in Canada.  As I was teaching her the difference between the sounds ‘d’ and ‘t’, she reached passed me and picked up my Starbucks coffee cup and giggled.  I asked what was so funny (I don’t mind interruptions like this during class because it teaches her good conversation skills).  She read the Chinese scribble on my cup, which I assumed said something about the owner being a foreigner (they don’t often ask for my name here to write on my cup.  I kinda stand out…).  I asked what the Chinese meant and she giggled again and said ‘For the Beautiful Girl’.

Sadly, I don’t remember who took my order that day, and I forgot to take a picture of the cup, but boy did that whole thing ever make my day!  One more point for Starbucks!!!!

Talk about making my day!!!
Talk about making my day!!!

And now after that nice story, I will move onto the ‘Bad’ and the ‘ugly’ portion of our snorkeling tours!  Don’t worry…I can find the positive in anything so it won’t be too ranty.  But I do want to warn anyone who’s looking into booking one of these tours that there are reasons that paying more can be a good idea, because in Thailand, you truly get what you pay for!

Raya Islands:  Trip 1 (The bad)

 Our first trip to the Raya Islands was on Wednesday February 11th.  It was only a half day tour (I’ll explain why in the second half of my post), but there were 3 different snorkeling stops scheduled, so we were happy as clams.  We love snorkeling so much that we actually had my mom send us our gear from Canada once we knew that we were definitely going to Thailand.
Dave was really starting to miss it....
Dave was really starting to miss his favourite pass time….

Our tour group that day mostly consisted of Chinese tourists.  Thailand is a popular destination for Spring Festival, so this was to be expected.  What we did not expect, however, was for all our fellow snorkelers to be on their phones…in the bus on the way to the pier…at the pier…in the speedboat!  One guy actually ANSWERED HIS PHONE while we were cruising along on our way to the islands!  Dave and I brought our phones along to Thailand, mainly to keep in touch with our families now and then.  When we were out for the day, our cell phones stayed in our room safe, so this sort of cellular obsession blew us both away.

Several cities in China are actually trying out 'cell phone lanes' to help fix pedestrian traffic issues. If you think North America's bad....
Several cities in China are actually trying out ‘cell phone lanes’ to help fix pedestrian traffic issues. If you think North America’s bad….

The other problem we had taking tours with Chinese tourists is that they are (for the most part) not very comfortable around water.  The ones who did go in the water needed help getting their life jackets on and we saw one guy try and stick the mouth piece from his snorkel up his nose, because he thought that that’s how it worked!  I try not to judge…I grew up around water and it’s easy for me to just hop in the water and go…but their aquatic discomfort really disadvantaged the few of us who could swim and who were not terrified of getting wet.

I find a Chinese person's fear of water to be ironic; they recommend hot water as a cure to everything from colds, to food poisoning to spasmed necks....
I find a Chinese person’s fear of water to be ironic; they recommend water as a cure to everything from colds, to food poisoning to spasmed necks….

As a result of our group’s discomfort around water, our tour crew forbid us to go where the water was too deep or where there was coral (we could hurt ourselves on the rocks). We were also forced to wear life jackets, which make swimming a tad uncomfortable.  As a result of this bummer location, we didn’t see many fish but it luckily wasn’t a long stop.  Before long we were back in the boat and on our way to the second snorkeling location, which we hoped would be better.

Nope...our next 'snorkel' stop was at the beach...the crowded beach...
It wasn’t…our next ‘snorkel’ stop was at the beach…the crowded beach…

But, as I’ve said before, Dave and I aren’t the type to let a minor set back such as ‘no snorkeling’ on our ‘snorkeling tour’ get us down.  We decided to sneak off and explore the island during the 2 hours of free time we were given on this beach.  This was definitely the most fun we’d had the entire day…

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One of the taxis we saw on the island. A local family runs a little store and restaurant and offer shuttle services to people staying on the island.
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The local store, which mostly sold what appeared to be things that tourists left behind. Used fins, old books…that sort of stuff

 

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A sweet little bench. This part of the island was so pretty and quaint!
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For my Whovian friends! I’ve decided to start taking pictures of ‘police boxes’ in every country I visit!!
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The weather was beautiful while we explored the island. I couldn’t have been happier to enjoy the sunshine 🙂

Eventually it was time to leave, so we hopped back onto the speedboat (sitting up in front, where it’s more exciting!) and head back to the pier.  We made a video to try and show you the scenery on the way back, but unfortunately you can’t hear anything I was saying.  Instead, just enjoy the scenery and get an idea of how bumpy the ocean was for us on that very calm day!  At around 0:18, I get a nice shot of the sun…that’s because the whole front of the boat was up in the air!  Quite the ride!!

We wound up having quite a long wait at the pier, as our shuttle bus was stuck in traffic, but during the wait we made some new friends 🙂  Jackie and Yaya are a young married couple from Hangzhou…one of the cities we are considering for next year’s contract.  They were very excited at the prospect of us visiting them, and even offered to pick us up from the airport if we do!  Keep in mind that these are people we spent an hour talking to while waiting for a bus.  That’s what I love about China.  The people can be so warm and welcoming!!!

We exchanged contact info and hope to see them again in the future
We exchanged contact info and hope to see them again in the future

Raya Island and Coral Island – Trip 2 (The UGLY!!!)

We learned the hard way that in Thailand…you get what you pay for.  When we were booking tours back in China, I stumbled across one in particular tour on a website specializing in discount tours for Phuket.  One tour in particular caught my eye because it involved a TONNE of snorkeling and would allow us to see several islands.  We booked and hoped for the best.

I did find a very good Spa through this website, but I would caution people to look around before booking through them. They are happy to take your money, but not very keen on helping you when things go wrong.
I did find a very good Spa through this website, but I would caution people to look around before booking through them. They are happy to take your money, but not very keen on helping you when things go wrong.

We were originally suppose to take this tour on Wednesday, so we woke up early, had some breakfast and head down to the lobby to wait for our tour to pick us up (15 minutes before our scheduled pick up time, I should add).  After watching drivers come and go for 45 minutes, we decided to call the tour company to see when our driver would arrive.  We were told that because we were late, we missed our tour…

I've been watching a lot of House...
I’ve been watching a lot of House…

We told the operator that we had, in fact, been sitting there for nearly an hour and that nobody had come looking for us (we were sitting on the steps at the entrance of the lobby) and she said once more ‘I’m sorry but you were late and we cannot refund you your money’.

We were getting less friendly...
We were getting less friendly…

After assuring them that the staff at Sea Pearl Villas would gladly confirm that we had, in fact, been waiting for an hour at this point, they finally conceded that an error may have been made, and allowed us to rebook our trip to Friday instead.

We aren’t entirely sure what happened, but there are 3 possibilities we’ve considered:

  1.   The driver screwed up the time, and showed up WAY earlier than he was suppose to.
  2. The driver forgot to stop at Sea Pearl and didn’t want to own up to his mistake
  3. The driver did stop at Sea Pearl…did look for us…but never bothered to ask the very foreign looking people who were sitting on the front steps of the resort if they were the people he was searching for.

I personally think that the 3rd option is the most likely, but on Friday, our driver did show up a full half hour earlier than he was supposed to (interrupting our breakfast), so it could have also been the first possibility.  Either way, we had to rebook our tour for later in the week….

We did call this number from the website, and I also sent an email regarding the whole ordeal...they never bothered responding. This is why I'm so upset...they could have made things right by at least apologizing...instead they just blamed us and accused us of being irresponsible.
We did call this number from their website, and I also sent an email regarding the whole ordeal…they never bothered responding. This is why I’m so upset…they could have made things right by at least apologizing…instead they just blamed us and accused us of being irresponsible.

We arrived at the pier after an hour and a half on the bus and were greeted by a loud and obnoxious tour guide named Chai.  We spent the whole day being barked at, made fun of and bullied by this guy.  My favorite ‘Chai’ moment  of the tour was when he made fun of a Chinese boy’s attempts at speaking English.  The child’s mistake?  He called his snorkel mask ‘glasses’.  Our 40something year old tour guide stood there and mocked this kid for such a small mistake.  I shot him the dirtiest look I could and eventually he got bored and turned around, ignoring us all again.  Luckily, I don’t think the kid’s English was good enough that he really understood what was going on…

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If only I’d brought my trusty club!!

In addition to bullying young boys, Chai also liked to bully the adults on the tour, treating us like children and shouting at us in a highly condescending fashion.  On our snorkeling strops, he even threatened to leave without us  if we didn’t return to the boat as soon as he called.  On our second stop, we were told we had 30 minutes to snorkel, but I gave up after about 5 minutes and got back into the boat.  There weren’t many fish to see, and I’d been stung by several small jelly fish.  Dave stayed in the water and waited for Chai to call that it was time to leave.  Only Chai never did…he just started packing up and get ready to leave.  Luckily, Dave and a handful of other people who were still in the water noticed him pulling up the anchors, and got back into the boat.

I would highly recommend avoiding Nikorn Tours.  Pay extra money and go on a tour with a company that will actually care about your experience.

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In addition to having terrible staff, Nikorn also overbooks their trips. This was our tour group…
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Seriously…avoid them…

But the whole trip wasn’t a waste.  Once we arrived at Coral Island, we were given 2 hours of free time that most people used to book extra excursions.  We knew that if we did, Chai would receive commission, so we opted instead to walk around the island and to lay on the beach, working on our tan.   It was a wonderfully relaxing afternoon.

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Although Chai shouted at several other tourists who’d gone to explore the island, we snuck off to see what there was to see.
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There are many shops and a couple of restaurants on the island, and we found where they live.

 

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We found some broken lounging chairs to sit on (so we didn’t have to pay 200 bhat each…). Mine is propped up with a coconut haha!!!
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Our seats were a prime location to watch the para sailers come in. I’m very glad I didn’t do it, because it was 700bhat a person, and the whole ride lasted about 30 seconds.
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Instead, we sipped smoothies and relaxed, after a stressful morning with a stressful man. This was so much more our pace.

While watching the para sailors, we saw the coolest kid doing the craziest thing.  It only happened a couple of times, so I was really pumped to catch this 10 (ish) year old acrobat  on video!!

Those were the Raya and Coral Islands.  I’d definitely recommend looking into the different  tour companies before booking…there are SO many tours to choose from!  Don’t sweat over paying a couple hundred bhat extra for a proper guide…it’s well worth the extra few bucks!!

My next post will be all about our tour with John Grey Sea Canoe, a wonderful tour company who knows all about customer service and who offer the experience of a life time.  I can’t wait to write about it and show you some of the incredible things we saw in Phuket’s Hongs!!!

I’ll be writing again very soon!

Spring Festival 2015: An Overview (Part 2)

Starbucks has become an integral part of of our lives here in Guiyang.  We sometimes go to other cafes, because they are closer to home or because they have cats to keep us company, but nothing really compares to the atmosphere at Starbucks.  The Baristas now all know us by name and we’re always welcomed warmly when we visit.  It’s nice being somewhere that not only has indoor heating, but where the customer service is good and the coffee is always fresh.  Signs like these are an added bonus:

This sign is posted in the bathroom.  Many Chinese people don't like western toilets because they are 'dirty', so they hop up ONTO the toilet and squat over that instead.  The result is a very dirty toilet seat.
This sign is posted in the bathroom. Many Chinese people don’t like western toilets because they are ‘dirty’, so they hop up ONTO the toilet and squat over that instead. The result is a very dirty toilet seat.

But Starbucks isn’t just a place to relax.  I do most of my blogging and journaling here as of late, and Dave has been working hard to complete is TEFL certification, so that he can do some teaching if he so desires.  Teaching is an excellent way to meet people, after all, and the extra income means we can take more trips, so there are really no downsides 🙂

It's like they understand coffee here!  Also...it's nice to get away from the smokey haze that seems to be everywhere in Guiyang
It’s like they understand coffee here! Also…it’s nice to get away from the smokey haze that seems to be everywhere in Guiyang

Onto Bangkok, Ayutthya and Chiang Mai!!

The Best of Bangkok First, I must state how much I LOVED Bangkok!  There was something about that city that I can’t exactly explain.  It’s modernity, liveliness and history all combine to provide the experience of a lifetime.  It’s actually very difficult for me to summarize the best things quickly, but I will do my best to try.

Bangkok is located in the center of the country.  It's further north than Phuket but it's actually quite a bit hotter there.
Bangkok is located in the center of the country. It’s further north than Phuket but it’s actually quite a bit hotter there.

As is often the case, the food was a highlight for us.  Our first dinner in Bangkok was an incredible array of seafood that was about half the price of the cheapest food we’d eaten in Phuket (where we never actually had a seafood dinner because the prices were so high!).  The best meal we had though was at a western style bakery near our hostel.  I was actually able to order a smoked salmon sandwich (with capers, REAL mayonnaise and everything!!!) on a toasted EVERYTHING bagel!!  They also had cream of broccoli soup, which I hadn’t even dared to hope for in Asia.  Once more, this may not be exciting for all of you back home…but good bread is enough to get me excited…never mind a proper smoked salmon bagel!!!  And as though the food wasn’t enough, I also found A&W root beer at 7-11!  I sipped it and savored every drop!!

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This dish was made of crab and finely ground egg. It is honestly one of the best dishes I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some incredible food in my time!!

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I don't know if I have EVER enjoyed a sandwich this much!!!
I don’t know if I have EVER enjoyed a sandwich this much!!!

But there is so much more to Bangkok than good food!  There is a great deal of culture there, and in the markets you can find everything from clothing and souvenirs, to flower offerings and seafood.

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Some cooked fish for sale
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Hearts, Stomachs, Livers and Kidneys for sale
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We saw this cool little cat walking along the canopy above the night market as we were crossing the pedestrian street bridge. He’s so stealthy 🙂
Flower offerings like this are everywhere in Bangkok.  They are bought and put on Buddhist shrines as well as shrines dedicated to the royal family
Flower offerings like this are everywhere in Bangkok. They are bought and put on Buddhist shrines as well as shrines dedicated to the royal family
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I actually felt very overwhelmed when we first got to the night market. I hadn’t felt that way since our first days in China. It’s an odd feeling when everything around you (the smells, sights, sounds…) are all foreign.

The most adventurous thing we did in Bangkok happened our last night there, on Kao San Road (it’s the backpacker’s party road).  Although culturally irrelevant, Bangkok has become known for it’s ‘deep fried bugs’.  Just as Cuba is known for their wooden carvings (although they are not popular within the culture itself…just among tourists), people flock to Kao San Road to try deep fried scorpion, tarantula, cockroach and grasshopper.  The Thais we met thought it was quite funny that tourists will pay to try to these things, but we figured we may as well give the fried critters a try!

We tried the silk worms (the small ones near the top of the plate) and the bamboo worms (the fat ones).  Both were alright...not anything I`d go out of my way to order, but they definitely weren`t as appalling as some may assume!
We tried the silk worms (the small ones near the top of the plate) and the bamboo worms (the fat ones). Both were alright…not anything I`d go out of my way to order, but they definitely weren’t as appalling as some may assume!
They also had centipede, tarantula and cockroaches, but I didn`t care to try any of them haha!
They also had centipede, tarantula and cockroaches, but I didn`t care to try any of them haha!

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The Worst of Bangkok

I actually had to ask Dave what the worst of Bangkok was, because I couldn’t really think of anything myself.  In Phuket our options for getting around were to use the shuttle bus (which stopped running at 8pm every day), hop in a tuk tuk, or hop in a taxi.  The taxis and tuk tuks there all refused to use meters, and instead just charged a flat rate that they’d all agreed on at some point, so you couldn’t get a better deal from using one over the other.  But in Bangkok, taxi drivers are far more honest.  They will sometimes try to use a flat rate, but if you request that they use the meter, they do.  As a result, the tuk tuk drivers can’t get away with being as greedy, so the prices are generally a lot better.

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The tuk tuks in Bangkok only have 3 wheels and run on propane. They’re a cool little vehicle to be driven around in!

The only exception is at the Grand Palace.  There, the tuk tuk drivers run several scams that involve getting tourists to go with them to jewelry stores and clothing shops, where they are given a cut of your purchase by the shop owners.  They’re quite sneaky with this scheme as well…they tell tourists that the grand palace is closed until *x*pm, but that they (the generous tuk tuk driver) will drive you around the city for a nominal fee until the palace is open again.  It’s gotten so bad that there are actually announcements played outside the palace, warning tourists of the scams.  We had one guy try it with us, but I’d read about it ahead of time so we just walked right by him, but one of the teachers I work with, who also visited Bangkok, did not get off so lucky.  He was taken to several stores before he caught on and nearly had to get into a fight with the driver before he finally agreed to drive them back to the palace.

These signs are posted at hostels and around the palace as well.  It's quite the problem!!
Scams in Thailand These signs are posted at hostels and around the palace as well. It’s quite the problem!!

The Grand Palace was also a bit of a downer.  Although it’s incredibly beautiful and unbelievable ornate, the crowds are ridiculous, and in the heat of Bangkok in February, it was a little too much for me to handle.  Add on the fact that you have to be wearing a long skirt or pants and that your arms can’t be showing, and I was ready to pass out from the heat.  We didn’t spend much time there, but I did get quite a few amazing pictures that I’ll be sharing in a future post 🙂

The crowds at The Grand Palace were a little crazy!  It was like being back in China!!
The crowds at The Grand Palace were a little crazy! It was like being back in China!!

The Best of Ayutthya

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The train ride to Ayutthya is a trip worth taking in of itself. Seeing Thai countryside is an interesting glimpse into ‘real’ Thailand

Although we only spent 1 short day in Ayutthya, it gets a spot in my ‘overview’ post due to its sheer awesomeness.  I encourage anyone who visits Bangkok to take the 1 hour train ride (that only costs 40bhat round trip!!!) to the old city to see the sights. We loved our day there and I wish we’d been able to spend the night.   The best part of the city was definitely its ruins.  It was once Thailand’s capital city, before the Burmese burnt it to the ground, and has since become a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.  We got so many beautiful pictures there!!  Plus, we rented a motorbike, so we had a lot of freedom, going where we wanted when we wanted, which was a nice change after all the tours we’d done in Phuket.

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A sneak peak into some of the beautiful ruins we saw in Ayutthya
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Blue skies make the most beautiful backdrop
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A vacation isn’t a vacation if Dave and I don’t rent a scooter at some point!

The Worst of Ayutthya

I never thought I’d consider seeing elephants and tigers as being the worst thing about a city, but in this case it was.  The elephants weren’t terribly abused (from what we saw), but the Mahoots did have long hooks out, ready to hit the elephants in the head with them if they misbehaved.  The little shops there also sold toy Mahoot hooks for children, which, to me at least, is horrifying.  Teaching children from a young age that it’s appropriate to hit an animal in the face with a sharp hook is not something I think should be done.  But it is…

That metal hook above the elephant's head is called a 'Mahout Hook'.  They use to to stab the elephant in the face if it misbahaves.  Many elephants have had their eyes gouged out by these hooks.  They are commonplace in trekking camps.
That metal hook above the elephant’s head is called a ‘Mahout Hook’. They use to to stab the elephant in the face if it misbehaves. Many elephants have had their eyes gouged out by these hooks. They are commonplace in trekking camps.

Worse yet, we saw several jewelry shops that were selling curious white rings and necklaces.  I went over at one point and tried to look interested.  A woman approached me and said ‘Elephant bone.  Very beautiful’.  I asked ‘oh, they aren’t ivory?’.  She replied ‘no, but THESE are ivory!!!’.  Dave pulled me away before I could tear her apart too badly, but she did get an earful, and at the very least, she knew that I was NOT impressed.  I have a feeling that they weren’t legit ivory, because if they were, they wouldn’t be sold out in the open that way, but just the advertisement that they ARE ivory, perpetuates the trade, and that is not something I can stomach or tolerate.

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I’ve always been against the ivory trade, but if you want a real eye opener, this is the edition of National Geographic that made me become more vocal about it. Too many elephants die every year so that rich people can wear pretty jewelry and religious fanatics can carve religious symbols into something that costs an animal it’s life…just for the sake of decoration.

The Best of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is located in the north of Thailand.
Chiang Mai is located in the north of Thailand.

Anyone who knows me at all, knows where this is going!  We probably wouldn’t have visited Thailand’s second largest city if it hadn’t been for Elephant Nature Park.  When we decided to go to Thailand for Spring Festival, Dave knew that it would kill me if we went and I didn’t get to spend some time with elephants, so we started doing some research.  We are both very against cruelty against animals, and consider the use of animals for human entertainment to be a form of cruelty (I’ll be discussing why I feel this way in an upcoming post), so we were very picky on where we would be spending our money in Thailand (the best thing an individual can do to stop injustice is to vote with their dollar.  It’s also why I don’t support companies like Apple and Nike, who have been proven to use child labor in their factories).  After a great deal of reading, we found Elephant Nature Park.  Instead of riding the elephants and watching them paint pictures (which may seem harmless, but the training they are given to do such things is unspeakably cruel), you get to watch them BE ELEPHANTS.  We signed up to stay the night and had the experience of a lifetime.  Please believe me when I say I have pictures and stories to share that will be worth reading!!

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Two young elephants cuddling in the river
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Some of the first elephants we met. I don’t know any of their names, but the middle one was not fond of pumpkin, and every time I tried to give it to her, she’d spit it out and look for more watermelon! haha!!
Me and one of my favorite elephants (the one to my right).  The elephant to my left helps take care of Jokia...she's blind.
Me and one of my favorite elephants (the one to my right), Jokia. The elephant to my left helps take care of Jokia, as she was blinded by a mahout years ago.

But the elephants weren’t the only perk to staying at Elephant Nature Park.  We were surrounded by animals our whole stay there!  We even had a ‘pet’ dog who stayed at our cabin.  When we came back in the evening to grab some bug repellent, he ran down the road to greet us…thoroughly happy to see us back!  ENP truly cares about animals.  They’ve rescued over 40 elephants, 400 dogs, 100 cats and even 70 water buffalo!  It was so nice to see animals that were well cared for and who are being given good homes and learning that not all humans are cruel.

This is the sweet boy who hangs out outside the cabin where we stayed.
This is the sweet boy who hangs out outside the cabin where we stayed.
A cat stuck up in a tree.  I got the picture at the exact right moment lol!
A cat stuck up in a tree. I got the picture at the exact right moment lol!
They have signs like this up all around ENP
They have signs like this up all around ENP

The Worst Of Chiang Mai

Like Bangkok, I had do some thinking to think of a bad part of our time in Chiang Mai.  We both enjoyed ourselves so much during our stay at ENP, as well as during our time IN Chiang Mai, that it’s hard to think of a negative thing to say.  We did have one rather irritating experience though…

Banana Plantation
Banana Plantation
Scooting down some back roads near Chiang Mai
Scooting down some back roads near Chiang Mai

 

The old city walls still stands around the ancient part of the city, where we were staying at a hostel called Gong Kew Home
The old city walls still stands around the ancient part of the city, where we were staying at a hostel called Gong Kew Home

We rented a scooter so that we could visit a waterfall near Chiang Mai.  About 20 minutes into a trip, we were pulled over by a police officer who asked to see our licenses.  We were both wearing helmets and in China, you don’ t need a license to drive these scooters (nor do you in Thailand…we saw many many foreigners riding them and I can’t imagine any of them having international drivers licences).  We told him that we had Canadian drivers licenses, but that they were at the hotel (we make a point of never traveling with all our ID in the same place.  We had our passports with us, so we left our drivers licenses at home, thinking they wouldn’t be needed).

The falls where we'd been heading.  They are nicknamed the 'Sticky Falls' because there is a type of algae on them that is so sticky that you can actually climb the falls.
The falls where we’d been heading. They are nicknamed the ‘Sticky Falls’ because there is a type of algae on them that is so sticky that you can actually climb the falls.

It turns out the cop only wanted a bribe.  He told us we’d have to leave my passport with him, go to the police station and pay a 1000bhat fee for a license.  I was not about to leave my passport with anyone I didn’t know (I learned my lesson in China.  All of a sudden they don’t know which passport you’re talking about, but if you give them some money, it might help them remember…), so instead we offered to pay him.  We knew that’s what he was getting at anyway.

For any new travelers reading this:  You will never realize how important your passport is, until someone else has it and won't give it back.
For any new travelers reading this: You will never realize how important your passport is, until someone else has it and won’t give it back.

We didn’t have a whole lot of cash left, as it was the last day of our holiday, and he made fun of us for being ‘broke foreigners’.  It took everything in me not to tell him off for taking advantage of his position as cop.  I wanted to tell him that he should be ashamed for robbing people and leaving us with such a bad impression of a country we’d otherwise really loved.  But instead, I shut my mouth and we went on our way.  I’ve learned through  my travels that lipping off to authority is almost never in your best interest…

This seems very appropriate to describe how I was feeling in that moment
This seems very appropriate to describe how I was feeling in that moment

So that concludes my overview of our stay in Thailand.  There will be much more detailed posts to come, with stories about our Snorkeling Tours (the bad…), our time in Ayutthya (the good) and our day in the James Bond Hongs and at Elephant Nature Park (THE AWESOME!!)

My apologies for the delay in this post.  I’ve actually had it done for days, but haven’t had the internet to post it (or to add the last couple of pictures).  I had originally planned on posting a lot more this week…but fate seems to be working against me.  Or at least the Chinese internet companies seem to be working against me…

Until next time!

Spring Festival 2015: An Overview

Well, I’m back!  I had no intention of taking this long a hiatus from my blog, but life is sometimes best spent living.  Although I went to bed every night wishing I’d had the time to write, I knew that I had good reason not to.  For most of our 2015 vacation, Dave and I were up at the crack of dawn and on the move until the early hours of the morning on a daily basis.  Our adventures spanned a wide range of interests, from speedboats to spas and from palaces to pachyderms, and the result was probably the most interesting 3 weeks of my life!  There’s far too much for me to describe in one day or even in one week, but I need to start somewhere, so here it is: an overview of our 3 week holiday.  For now, I’m going to stick with a summary of each city where we spent time; a bit of a pros and cons list for each.  From there, I’ll start writing about specific experiences we had during our Spring Festival vacation.

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For anyone needing a reminder of why it isn’t wise to stay IN China for the holidays, this is a picture of the railway station in Shanghai, this 2015 Spring Festival! Yes…those are all people…

1st Stop:  Kunming, Yunnan Province

As some of you may already know, we had a bonus week added to our holiday at the last minute.  The winter classes that my school had planned to offer ended up not panning out, so we were given the option to take a week of unpaid holiday (in addition to the 2 weeks we WERE being paid for).  The alternative was to spend that week at the school, doing next to nothing, so Dave and I jumped on the opportunity and decided to visit Kunming during our bonus holiday.  Our flight to Thailand was departing from Kunming so it made sense for us logistically, and we’ve both always been very interested in living in Kunming, so there was really no reason to go anywhere else!

Kunming is the capital of Yunnan province, which sits to the south west of Guizhou, where we live.  It's known as 'Spring City' due to its beautiful weather and abundant floral displays
Kunming is the capital of Yunnan province, which sits to the south west of Guizhou, where we live. It’s known as ‘Spring City’ due to its beautiful weather and abundant floral displays

The Best of Kunming

Kunming is not only beautiful, but also clean and sunny.  The temperature doesn’t dip as low as it does in Guiyang, which was a welcomed change after our last weeks before the holiday (we’d both begun to feel like we would never feel warm again).  We spent as much time outdoors as possible, taking in the vitamin D and enjoying Kunming’s beautiful parks and clean streets.

Green lake was a beautiful stop.  We spent quite a while walking around there, just enjoying the clean paths and the fresh air
Green lake was a beautiful stop. We spent quite a while walking around there, just enjoying the clean paths and the fresh air
One of the many flower displays in Kunming.  All of down town looks like this
One of the many flower displays in Kunming. All of down town looks like this
West Lake was a gorgeous day trip!  The red sign in the picture is actually a 'no smoking' warning, along with a phone number where you can report people who are lighting up.  The government in Kunming is trying very hard to keep the West Hills clean and prevent any sort of destruction of the forest
West Lake was a gorgeous day trip! The red sign in the picture is actually a ‘no smoking’ warning, along with a phone number where you can report people who are lighting up. The government in Kunming is trying very hard to keep the West Hills clean and prevent any sort of destruction of the forest

One of the other perks of being in Yunnan, is that there are more Lao Wai than in Guizhou, and where there are foreigners, there are foreign comforts!  We managed to find several wonderful things from back home, including western-style bread (bread in China is sweet) and avocado.  I even saw root beer on a menu at Salvador’s Restaurant (but they were sold out :().  More than just the food though, the people are more western.  There is so much less spitting, honking and smoking in Kunming and we were both grateful for the break.

I enjoyed this fantastic tuna sandwich and potato chips, along with a Chai Latte :)
I enjoyed this fantastic tuna sandwich and potato chips, along with a Chai Latte 🙂

Of course, that’s not to say that Kunming was all sunshine and roses…After all, we are still in China!!!

The Worst of Kunming

The reduced honking, spitting and pollution was a wonderful change, but not all of the things that annoy me where I live are solely ‘Guiyangian’.  I was nearly peed on by a little boy who had decided that the middle of the sidewalk was a good place to take a pee, and Dave actually pointed out the washrooms to a couple who had decided that the garbage can just outside the bathrooms were an appropriate place to have their 3 year old relieve herself.  The funny thing about the second story, is that this happened in a mall that has a Rolex store.  China can be such a mixed bag!!  Kunming is so much cleaner than Guiyang in so many ways, but still, I saw the most terrifying toilets of my life while in the West Hills:

Yup...this is a bathroom.  When I first walked in, this is what I saw...and there was someone squatting in the second 'stall' at the time.  Keep in mind that the next closest bathroom is at least 2 hours away when you factor in all the buses and getting down the hill...
Yup…this is a bathroom. When I first walked in, this is what I saw…and there was someone squatting in the second ‘stall’ at the time. Keep in mind that the next closest bathroom is at least 2 hours away when you factor in all the buses and getting down the hill…

Of course, this is just what it’s like living in China.  You get used to this sort of stuff surprisingly quickly.  This particular bathroom was all the way up a hill, in the middle of nowhere.  It’s the Chinese version of an outhouse…and I’ve seen some pretty nasty outhouses in my time too!  And believe me…the woman who was using the washroom when I walked in did not look very impressed with the situation either…and she was Chinese!  So please don’t get the idea that all of Kunming was this gross, because it definitely was not!!!

One other exception to the ‘I LOVE KUNMING’ statement I made above, was the hostel where we stayed while we were visiting Spring City.

The Hump looked like it had it all:  good prices, great location, private rooms with double beds…I booked without much hesitation, because most of our hostel experiences in China have been good ones.  Of course, our experiences at The Hump have now made me a little more nervous about booking hostels, as the experience was a far cry from what I’d seen in Xiamen and Guilin.

I should add that the majority of these stains were visible without me pulling the bed out from the wall...which means that this particular hostel just didn't like cleaning this sort of stuff...so they just left it there instead...
Stains on the wall beside my bed.  I’ll let your imagination figure out what they are from… I can forgive a lot of things in a hostel, but a lack of cleanliness isn’t one of them!!!
The mattress
Our mattresses were only about an inch and a half thick.  They were so uncomfortable we wound up stacking both (we were put into a room with 2 twins instead of the double bed we’d booked) and sharing the tiny bed just so that we could get some sleep.
This way to a terrible night sleep, terrible food and terrible staff!!
This way to a terrible night sleep, terrible food and terrible staff!!

To anyone reading this blog for travel advice:  I’d avoid this hostel.  There are plenty of other options in Kunming that are much better, where you will get the room you paid for, where the staff will be willing to help you without first giving you a dirty look, and where, when the menu says ‘bacon’, you will be served bacon!!!  (more on that in my Kunming post!!)

So that sums up Kunming!  It was a great trip and I would highly recommend Yunnan Province to anyone who is interested in traveling China.  Visiting Spring City just made both Dave and I even more determined to find a job there next year.

The Best of Patong Beach

Here is a map of Thailand.  We were in Phuket, an island off the south west coast of Thailand.  Patong Town is located on Phuket.
Here is a map of Thailand. We were in Phuket, an island off the south west coast of Thailand. Patong Town is located on Phuket.

Our first stop in Thailand was on the island of Phuket.  More specifically, we stayed at Sea Pearl Villas resort in Patong Beach.  The weather here was beautiful: warm and sunny our entire stay!  The food in Patong was probably a highlight for both of us (other than one tour which I will be dedicating an entire post to….stay tuned).  Not only was there fantastic Thai food to enjoy, but because Phuket is such a popular destination for European tourists, there are many western food options available as well!  While there, we enjoyed sushi, shwarma, samosas, burgers, curries, falafels and pasta!  I LOVE Chinese food, don’t get me wrong!  But I didn’t realize how much I missed variety in my diet until we got to Patong beach and discovered how many options there were!

Arabic Food.  We also enjoyed a hooka!  It made us think of some good friends back home and how much we'd love it if they visited!!
Arabic Food. We also enjoyed a hooka! It made us think of some good friends back home and how much we’d love it if they visited!!
A seafood display set up by a restaurant we never got around to trying.  There were just way too many options!!
A seafood display set up by a restaurant we never got around to trying. There were just way too many options!! These displays were common around Patong Beach, and the hosts would run over and encourage you to come if you stopped to take a look.  Very good sales scheme!!
Sushi Lunch on Valentine's Day!
Sushi Lunch!  It tasted so good I could cry!  Sushi in China isn’t very good, so this was the first time I’d had authentic stuff in 6 months!
Street food crepes!  Made fresh on the grill with mango and chocolate syrup!
Street food crepes! Made fresh on the grill with mango and chocolate syrup!
The breakfast buffet at our resort was incredible every day!  Real bacon, proper bread and perfectly poached eggs!!!!
The breakfast buffet at our resort was incredible every day! Real bacon, proper bread and perfectly poached eggs!!!!

Our hotel was also a highlight for our stay on Patong Beach.  I’ve mentioned in past posts that comfort isn’t really a ‘thing’ in China, but in Thailand, we experienced a comfortable bed for the first time since we were in Xiamen (and that had only been for 1 night!).  Our king size pillow top was a thing of beauty and I truly felt sad when we said goodbye to it when our stay in Phuket was done.

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Not only was our resort beautiful, but it was also very clean. There were 8 pools on the grounds to choose from, so none of them were ever full. The one time we did go down to the pool, we were the only ones there (most people prefer the beach)
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The hall leading to our room
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A relaxing environment. The Koi fish were a lovely addition to the front lobby
We spent a lot of time in the lobby, waiting for the resort's complimentary shuttle bus, or waiting for tour drivers to pick us up. It was so nice having somewhere so beautiful (and comfortable!) to sit and wait :)
We spent a lot of time in the lobby, waiting for the resort’s complimentary shuttle bus, or waiting for tour drivers to pick us up. It was so nice having somewhere so beautiful (and comfortable!) to sit and wait 🙂
The resort was clean, modern and very welcoming.  I would absolutely stay at Sea Pearl Villas again!
The resort was clean, modern and very welcoming. I would absolutely stay at Sea Pearl Villas again!

The resort in general was very comfortable.  Resorts in Thailand get a lot of flack because they aren’t all inclusive, like the ones in the Caribbean.  While this is true, it also wouldn’t make much sense for resorts in Phuket to offer all inclusive packages, because people wouldn’t want to stay in the resort when there’s a chaotic little town to discover just down the hill!  Still, Sea Pearl Villas was a fantastic place to relax after dealing with the mayhem in Patong Town, and we enjoyed the jacuzzi on our balcony on a daily basis, as a way to unwind and admire the city below.

The view from our balcony.  The water you see is our cold jacuzzi.  It was such a fantastic way to cool off after long days in the sun or busy days in Patong town
The view from our balcony. The water you see is our cold jacuzzi. It was such a fantastic way to cool off after long days in the sun followed by busy nights in Patong town
The view was also beautiful at night.  Patong town is in the distance and there were often fireworks to enjoy
The view was also beautiful at night. Patong town is in the distance and there were often fireworks to enjoy

Although the comforts and relaxing qualities of our resort were among one of our favorite parts of being in Phuket, it is not to say that Patong Town was a quiet, quaint place.  Outside of the resort, Patong Town is the craziest place I have ever been.  I won’t go into much detail now, because if I did this post would double in length, but the nights we had on Bangla Road and at the markets were anything but relaxing!  I think it’s honestly the contrast between the two (the relaxation at the resort and the excitement of Patong Town) that made our stay in Phuket such a cool experience.

A street artist.  We ended up tipping him way too much....we weren't used to the currency yet!  I'm glad we at least made that mistake with someone who wasn't trying to rip us off!!  (he was accepting tips...not charging a fee)
A street artist. We ended up tipping him way too much….we weren’t used to the currency yet! I’m glad we at least made that mistake with someone who wasn’t trying to rip us off!! (he was accepting tips…not charging a fee)

This was another street performer we met at the end of Bangla Road.  He was pretty amusing.  When he was done with the YMCA, he moved on to Gangnam Style.

The Worst of Patong Beach

There are two sides to every coin though, and although Phuket is somewhere I can’t regret visiting, it’s also somewhere I don’t know that I’ll visit again.

I worked in sales for a good chunk of my 20s, selling everything from natural cosmetics to cell phones to environmentally friendly cleaning products, but I can honestly say I’ve never seen sales like it’s done in Patong town.  Everywhere you go, people are trying to sell you clothes, watches, DVDs, swimsuits, luggage and souvenirs.  The worst of the worst are the Tuk Tuk drivers (who are trying to sell tours), the taylors (you want a custom suit?  Very cheap!) and the massage parlors (You want a massssaaaa?????).  Everywhere you go you are being sized up by hundreds of people who all want your money.

masseuses-from-bali-hai-fern-bottom-left-patong
The look relaxed now, but as you walk by, they jump up and simultaneously ask if you’d like a ‘massaaaa’ and list all the services they offer (foot massaaaaa, oil massaaaa, thai massaaaaa….)
patong-town-market
These alleys are terrifying….they look relaxed but as you get closer, people start putting dresses, swim suits and watches into your hands to try and get you to come over to their store. They all start with exorbitantly high prices as well. We bought a piece of carry on and we got him down from 1700 bhat to 700 bhat….the mark up is ridiculous.
TukTuk_1
Would you like a ride in my blinged up Tuk Tuk? These are the best way to get around the city and some of them have fantastic sound systems in them. During the day, they try and sell tours to monkey shows or pearl factories…when I was walking down the street on Valentines day, there was a line up of about 10 of them…and they all offered me a ride. One after another after another…

The prices were the other thing that really ground my gears in Phuket.  This was our first stop in Thailand, so we didn’t know what the prices were like elsewhere, but even so…we knew they were high.  Tuk Tuks charged 300 bhat ($11 Canadian) to take us on a 10 minute ride up the hill to our resort.  That may not seem like a lot, but we had to pay it every night.  And when you compare it to Bangkok, where we got all the way across town (about a 30-40 minute ride) for 200 bhat…

The real reason people in tourism based countries think all foreigners look alike:  All they see us as is dollar signs!!!
The real reason people in tourism based countries think all foreigners look alike: All they see us as is dollar signs!!!

Even our resort, which was for the most part fantastic, found the need to overcharge us for services that are a norm elsewhere.  We asked about getting to the airport on our last night there, and we were told that it would be an insane 1200bhat to get there (we’d only paid 380bhat to get from the airport to the resort)!!!  We found out later that most taxi drivers will charge 800bhat (still high, but quite a bit lower) and that the hotels pocket the difference for bringing the taxis the business.  I was pretty fed up with this behavior by this point, so Dave and I found our own way to the airport…it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped…

We basically arrived at the airport in the back of a farmer's truck...true story...
We basically arrived at the airport in the back of a farmer’s truck…true story…

We did have several Thai people apologize to us for the behavior we saw in Phuket.  The tuk tuk drivers are especially looked down upon by Thai people and I read several websites that were regretful that so many farang (people of European descent) leave Thailand with a bad taste in their mouth due to this gouging.    Most Thais want you to feel welcomed and want you to enjoy your experience in their country and I’m very glad I experienced other areas of Thailand and that Patong Beach wasn’t my only view into Thai culture.

There is a reason photos like this are found in almost any travel brochure about Thailand.  The people are incredibly polite and welcoming.  You are greeted with a "Wai" (hands held in prayer pose) and a friendly greeting when you enter nearly any business in Thailand.
There is a reason photos like this are found in almost any travel brochure about Thailand. The people are incredibly polite and welcoming. You are greeted with a “Wai” (hands held in prayer pose) and a friendly greeting when you enter nearly any business in Thailand.

As usual, I have run out of time before I am done writing, so I will be posting part 2 tomorrow!  Stay tuned to hear about Bangkok, Ancient Ruins and Thailand’s second largest city, Chiang Mai!