Langkawi to Koh Lipe

Tl;dr – taxi, seating area tour, ferry, longboat, wet legs, super pretty international border, muddy walk

We woke bright and early, well, early at least. Our 7:30 taxi turned up three minutes early, as if it wasn’t early enough, and we were sharing it with another couple who were going to the same jetty. She was on crutches and he seemed unable to do up his shirt buttons at all. Two terrible problems.

We got to the ferry terminal complex with plenty of time. We followed the signs to the jetty but saw nothing for Koh Lipe. I asked a chap who pointed us back the way we came and up a small flight of stairs to the private charter firm we were sailing with. We checked in at the desk, handed over our passports and filled in our Thai immigration cards. We received our passports back a few minutes later and sat in the waiting room for ages with the same generic music loop playing over the boat firm’s highlight reel, slowly driving us nuts. I had ten minutes of relief when I went to get drinks and muffins but Kate hasn’t been the same since!

After this we were directed downstairs and asked to wait. We then found ourselves in the main ferry terminal concourse next to the massage chairs. We had a few ringgits left so I had a go. It was odd but pleasant.

We were then moved on to our third seating area. The distance between all three areas must have been around 50m and all seemed a little pointless. The last seating area was easily the worst of the three, especially as the seat I picked was broken. I therefore had a quick wander to see the big Langkawi eagle.

We were eventually called through immigration and once through we walked through a fourth seating area but unfortunately were unable to use this one. We had to hand in our passports once more, this time to be collected in Koh Lipe.

After being asked if we had passports and tickets two or three times by three different people, with everyone looking rather bemused after we’d already given in our passports and had our tickets ripped, we set off.

Our journey was alright, the water wasn’t the calmest but the boat was a sturdy sea maiden and transported us to our final destination like a majestic narwhale. No film though.

We looked out of our window expecting to see a beautiful jetty that would allow us to stroll to our next hostel. What we saw was the sea, a lot of it. There was some land way out in the distance  but we were definitely not next to it. A wooden longtail boat turned up on the left side and another on the right. We were directed towards them and pointed in the direction of the violently bobbing wooden hull below. Bags were thrown on first, then babies and then us.

After that drama we were excited to pull up to the jetty. We got closer to the beach before stopping just before. Turns out Koh Lipe has no jetty, just a shipping beach. We were therefore directed towards the sea. So with our sturdy flip flops on and our bags held aloft we climbed down from the boat into the sea, which was up to our waists. Some of the smaller passengers were in much deeper. It was a short stroll to the actual beach from the sea and we found ourselves at a beautiful beach that also doubled up as an international ferry terminal and Thai border.

Koh Lipe international ferry terminal

We found the lady who provided us with our passports and we handed these and our immigration cards to a chap in an air conditioned shack on the beach. We got our second round of Thailand stamps and we were in.

We were offered a taxi (a motorbike with wooden pallet sidecar for passengers and luggage) which we refused as we were a 5-10 minute walk from the beach. We set off in the right compass direction (Google Maps had very little road detail for this island) and found ourselves confronted by multiple mucky puddles that needed walking through. We got pretty filthy.

Thankfully the walking time was as predicted and they had an assortment of hoses outside the hotel for us to wash down our muddy, sandy, seawater ridden feet before we checked in.

The stats

7:29 (GMT +8) taxi from Zackry Guesthouse to Langkawi Point Ferry Jetty: 15 MYR (for our share, £2.69), 28 minutes

9:45 ferry to Koh Lipe: 210 MYR (£37.63), 2 hours 8 minutes

11:12 (GMT +7) longboat to the beach: Included, 9 minutes

11:46 walk to A+ Hotel: 8 minutes

Arrived: 11:54 (GMT +7)

Total time in transit: 2 hours 53 minutes

Total travel time: 4 hours 35 minutes

Total cost: £40.32 (£20.16 each)

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Thailand to Taiwan: A Thairing Journey

Tl;dr – early taxi with man who laughed at everything, steamed buns are amazing, delayed flight to Taipei, long bus ride where we missed our stop, walk in the rain to the hostel, I have strong views on the mathematics of buildings

The day started somewhere between 3 and 4am for me. Due to inconsistent sleeping I had not been able to shake the jet lag so, as much as I was dreading the early start for our 7am taxi, it didn’t really matter in the end.

One day you will be able to get a Skytrain to Don Mueang Airport like you can to Suvarnabhumi but unfortunately it is still being built at present. So we needed to get a taxi all the way to the airport and, when we asked the hostel guy, he said our options were: a) a 5-10 minute walk along the canal, with our heavy bags, to the main road to try and flag down a taxi, then hope they would put their meter on which should end up costing around 400 baht but could be much more if they refused to use the meter and we were running out of time or b) pay 500 baht for a no hassle door-to-door service. The hostel guy seemed to think this was a 50-50 call but I think we made the right choice with option b. If people will pay £10 to board a flight a couple of minutes before everyone else I thought we could justify £2 (or nothing, or a mighty saving) between us to avoid all that.

The taxi was there waiting when we got downstairs at 6:50 so we chucked our bags into a boot that got closed with some bungee rope and hopped into our hot pink cab. We went to buckle our seatbelts but the driver said “no, no, no. Hahahaha” and set off, after buckling himself in. His driving was typical for Bangkok in that it was terrifying. Every now and then he would say something like “Don Mueang, hahahaha” or, point to his watch and then say “Hahahaha” and I would laugh too whilst, at the same time, feel certain it was all going to end in a fiery pile of glass and metal as he weaved in and out of lanes like he was playing Frogger.

At 7:40 we arrived at Don Mueang Airport without incident. Our driver laughed, we laughed and we went our seperate ways. We got to the check-in desk and prepared ourselves for the stress of the weigh-in. Kate only had a 15kg check-in allowance for this flight and so I had offered to take a thing or two because even though I knew my bag was over the 10kg limit, no-one ever weighs hand luggage. Kate put her bag down… 15.2kg. A few tense moments but it was accepted! All was well! But then, I was asked to weigh my hand luggage bag. Why now? Why me? I plonked it down… 12.4kg. All was not well. Kate’s hand luggage was 5kg so we were advised to swap some bits from mine to hers (which was visibly bursting at the seems). The Lonely Planet book came out – 11.5kg, toiletries out 11.2kg. As I contemplated which was heavier, 4 t-shirts or 9 pairs of pants, they gave up their pointless charade and said it was fine and we were free to go.

As it was breakfast time Kate went for the ever popular McDonalds breakfast item of Filet-O-Fish. I held out for something a little more authentic. What I got was pretty much an oriental Sausage & Egg McMuffin – a steamed bun stuffed with minced pork and egg. It was awesome, I highly recommend it! I had it alongside my equally authentic oreo cookies and cream frappé. We waited around watching the planes take off until ours turned up. We were flying with a Taiwanese budget airline called V Air. They will cease to operate come October 2016, which is a shame because it was a good airline and it’s mascot is a super cute bear that does a little dance when anything loads on their website.

Adopting the V Bear attitude

We had been warned via email by the owner of our Taipei hostel that there was a chance of a typhoon. Luckily it remained largely in the south of Taiwan (Taipei being in the north) but we were nonetheless delayed as our flight path was altered.

After take off we were both able to catch up on lost sleep. As we approached Taipei we were then informed that there was lots of traffic waiting to land and it would be another 20-30 minutes. We started circling for a bit which allowed us to see great views over Taiwan.

Once we finally landed it was evident the weather was not being kind in the north, although apparently nothing compared with how it was in the south. We headed through the airport to the bus terminal to get us to Taipei. The 1819 bus was empty when we got on but it filled up within minutes. Once on our way it was a long, slow journey through heavy rush hour traffic and high winds to reach our destination. However, despite this, travelling over and between the mountains before catching a glimpse of Taipei City sprawling out before us was a spectacular sight.

I knew we needed to get off at the Ambassador Hotel and this was stop number 4, according to the boards at the airport, and the penultimate stop before the terminus at the city’s main train station. I watched and took note as the bus announced each stop in a number of languages, including English, before a loud buzzer went off and the bus would stop and let some passengers off. We came up to stop #3 (Taini (pronounced Tiny) Building – pretty memorable, which was good), but there was no buzzer before the bus stopped and no-one got off. This assured me that we would stop at every stop. Ambassador Hotel was announced so we stood up and walked to the front. Again, no buzzer went and the bus seemed to carry on for much longer than previously. I asked the driver if we had passed it and she apologized and said she didn’t know we wanted to stop, despite us standing right behind her. We sat back down and I looked for the source of the buzzer. Eventually I found a tiny red button with a bell on hidden overhead next to the much larger reading light buttons.

Thankfully the station was only marginally further than the intended stop so we set off on foot. Unhelpfully it was raining quite heavily. But, like in Thailand, Taiwan fully accept that it rains occasionally and put awnings everywhere (UK take note) so it wasn’t too bad. After 15 minutes or so we arrived at our intended street for the Taipei Family Hostel. I knew there was a squirrel drawn on the wall nearby, which we found, but we needed flat 2F. We searched the vicinity for signs of 2F, we even pressed some buttons, but to no avail. A few minutes later a man walked up and we asked him where we could find the hostel. He informed us it was on the second floor and he was going into the same building. We followed him up to the first floor and he went in the only door there. We continued but were confronted by a locked gate as we tried to continue up the stairs. I went to press the buzzer on the gate but we were greeted by the hostel owner, standing in the doorway the other guy had just strolled through. It was then that it dawned on me that 2F stood for 2nd floor and, in Taiwan (and all sensible nations), the ground floor does not exist (UK take note). A lot of people would disagree I’m sure and, in some instances, it makes sense to start counting from 0 (e.g with time) but if the top level of a 2 storey building is number 1, your system is flawed (pardon the pun).

I digress, we made it to hostel number 2 and we were soggy but relieved.

The stats

06:50 (GMT +7) Taxi from Baan Nampetch Hostel to Don Mueang Airport: 50 minutes, 500 baht (£10.82)

10:57 (22 minute delay) V Air flight  to Taiwan Taoyuan (Taipei): 4 hours 18 minutes (38 minute delay), 7,420 baht (£160.52)

17:11 (GMT +8) bus from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station: 1 hour 25 minutes, 250 NT$ (£5.96)

18:36 walk to Taipei Family Hostel: 15 minutes

Arrived 18:51 GMT +8

Total time in transit: 6 hours 48 minutes

Total travel time: 11 hours 1 minute

Total cost: £177.30 (£88.65 each)

Bangkok – City of a thousand tuk tuks

Overview

Population:8,280,925

Currency:Thai Baht (THB)

1 Baht = 2.2p. £1 = 46.1 Baht

Time Zone: GMT +7 (6 hours ahead of UK summer time)

11th – 14th September

Bangkok is a huge metropolis with stark contrasts between old and new. We were based in the old town and spent pretty much all of our time in it. The first thing we noticed on our way in was just how flat this place is, which made strolling around the city much more bearable in the humid heat.

3 nights was easily enough to see the main sites (our Lonely Planet South East Asia guide only listed 5 sights) but too short to really soak everything in. We plan on coming back though, most likely to fly home, so we will have more time then, hopefully to try and experience some more of modern Bangkok.

Our first day we saw Khaosan road and it’s surrounding area. This is the heart of the tourism trade in Bangkok and everything it’s infamous for. In the early evening the crowds were sparse and we had plenty of room to manouvre the main roads and small alleyways. We quickly grew tired of the offers of tuk tuk rides and suits and so got ourselves some food in the heart of Khaosan road itself. Thai food at home is one of my favourites but Thai food in Thailand, even the touristy offerings, is phenomenal! My chicken massaman curry went down a treat, and partly down my top. After food we walked north back to an area just off Samsen road (near our hostel) that’s popular with backpackers and grabbed some drinks including some ciders for Kate, something of a luxury when outside the UK.
Day 2 we walked around the 3 temples Lonely Planet recommended us. They had also warned us of various scams such as tuk tuk trips sold as cheap tours of attractions but are actually focussed around shops where the driver gets a huge commission. Or being told attractions are shut to entice you different ones that just so happen to be a short tuk tuk ride away, often accompanied with scenario A. I thought it would be something useful to be aware of in case it happened but within minutes we were approached by a friendly stranger who told us the Grand Palace was closed due to it being happy Buddha day and we should get a cheap tuk tuk tour of all the other sites because they were all free. We thanked this kind passerby, next to a group of tuk tuk drivers, and walked to the Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew are contained within the same complex and are the premier attraction in Bangkok. At 500 baht it was by far our most expensive attraction. Wat Phra Kaew is the supposedly the most sacred temple in Thailand and contains the Emerald Buddha, a little green dude on a giant throne who gets dressed up in 1 of 3 gold outfits depending on the season. The decor and architecture inside and the surrounding building is so colourful and intricate it’s hard not to be blown away, especially as you emerge from the covered walkway for the first time.

The Emerald Buddha’s house

After this we went to go to the Siam museum but it is genuinely closed on Mondays, which a local tuk tuk driver took great delight in telling us. Instead we went to Wat Pho (temple number 2). Wat Pho’s coup de grace is a 45m long reclining Buddha. As we got in to the temple the heavens opened so we spent a lot of time admiring this big chap. His position is supposed to represent his death and passage into nirvana.

We explored the compound a little more but, as impressive as everything is, it gets a little samey and I feel someone with a greater knowledge of the Buddhist faith would appreciate it all far more than we did.

Our third and final temple of the day was Wat Arun. It’s a short boat ride across the Chao Phraya and, for the princely sum of 3 baht, it was probably the best bit about Wat Arun. During our visit it was covered in scaffolding and it had just finished raining so everything was rather wet, but it is an impressive sight to sail towards on the river. It’s an imposing structure with a huge central prang (spire) and 4 smaller ones around the outside. We walked up and down the 4 sets of steep steps around the circumference, with each prang containing a depiction of Buddha’s life from birth to death.

We walked back to our hostel via some monuments (the giant swing and the democracy monument), both on super busy roundabouts. I think these could have been happily missed.

In the evening we went to Phra Athit Road, about 15 minutes from our hostel. It’s another area similar to Samsen Road of backpacker bars with a more chilled out vibe than Khaosan road. We had a lovely meal in a bar called “Good Story” with live music including a cover of Incubus’ Drive with some adjustments to the lyrics for when he couldn’t remember/pronounce the original words.

Pork gyoza, stir fried chicken, rice and a rather expensive American craft beer

After dinner we went to see what Khaosan road was like after dark. It’s crazy. Just mental. Like magaluf with scorpions on sticks. We headed for a bar that still had seats and didn’t have the volume knob stuck on full. Halfway through our quiet evening drinks a hoard of Thai folk came rushing in bit by bit. It turned out it was a wedding party for a young Thai couple and we were fully encouraged to join in the celebration with plenty of drinks offered to us. At one point the police showed up and everything went quiet for a minute or 2. After being satisfied nothing illegal was going on at this illegal after hours party he left and the DJ put on ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ to a rapturous reception. We ended up staying out pretty late but it was well worth it.

Kate wearing the wedding party glasses

Day 3 we weren’t feeling 100% so after breakfast we went back to bed. Till 3pm… After our late lunch we headed north to a statue of a standing Buddha. Unfortunately, as the pattern seemed to be with us seeing big Buddhas, it rained. A lot. Luckily Bangkok are aware of their weather difficulties and put awnings everywhere so we waited for it to ease before walking the last couple of minutes to see this behemoth.

Whilst gazing up at him we met a German guy who had luckily found himself in Bangkok on lucky buddha day and for a mere 20 baht he was being driven round to all the sites, including a couple of excellent tailors.

Our next and final sight was Golden Mountain. A man-made mound (because Bangkok has no hills) with a temple on top. The views from the only hill for miles are incredible and the giant golden prang on the top is surrounded by beautiful decorations.

Bangkok panorama

After all this fun we had a drink at a bar just along the canal from our hostel before our final Bangkok meal the other end of the canal path. The walk between the 2 was filled with houses/businesses (most were both) and it was packed with joyous customers and some wonderful sights and smells.

We headed back to our hostel for our last nights sleep before we headed off to our next stop – Taipei

The Hostel

We stayed at a lovely hostel called Baan Nampetch. When choosing hostels my top 3 priorities tend to be price, location and Hostelworld rating, the latter backed up with the reviews and why exactly it deserved it’s score (I’ve seen reviews of 4 for cracked bathroom furniture). We needed somewhere with a double room and within walking distance to the main sites but not slap bang on top of a night club. For all our necessary boxes they were comfortably ticked. And free breakfast!