Monday, 26 May 2008

Week 8 Koh Phangan, Thailand

Dear Ethel, family and friends,

The week has rushed by, last week we were in Ao Nang and on Thursday we journeyed, by way of 2 minivans, a bus and ferry to the other side of the peninsular, to an Island just north of Koh Samui called Koh Phangan. When we were in Penang, Michael and Joyce came to stay with us for a few days and brought Joyce’s nephew Richard along for a visa run. Richard is living on Koh Phangan and is starting a business here as a carpenter. So we have come along to visit on their recommendations.

The place is as beautiful as they describe it and is indeed a snapshot of Asia 20 years ago. There is a big expat community here of people in business and retired and of all nationalities as well. Lots of backpackers make a pilgrimage to Full Moon Parties on the other end of the Island at Haad Rin. The Island is not just a tourist Island exclusively like Saumi, but has a big local Thai population as well. We have spent the last 4 days in Thongsala, the main town on the Island in the southwest corner. We stayed in the very comfortable Buakao Inn Guest House above the popular A’s Coffee shop, which is in the middle of town. We have also done all the recommendations including going to the Masons Arms, a traditional English Pub for a pint and Sunday Lunch at John’s (next to the English pub). PS, mention my name to John to get a free beer.

We have borrowed Richards motorbike for a few days and headed north to a fishing village called Ao Chaloklum and will spend a bit of time by the pool and beach hopping. There is also a Laser Sailing boat for hire, I’m told so I’ll try to hunt it out. We will be on the Island for about 10 days altogether.

All the best for now

Ric & Louise

Monday, 19 May 2008

Week 7 Krabi, Thailand

Dear Ethel, family and friends,

Well what a week it’s been, after a month of staying in one place, it feels like we have jammed a lot into the last week. When I left off last, I was about to go white water rafting with Michael in Kota Kinabalu. It was tame by Tully standards, only being grade 1 and 2 rapids. The more experienced course was washed away by heavy rain and could not be reached as the train ended up in the river. It was a lot of fun all the same, we shared our raft with a group of Koreans who were a lot of fun also. You can see a video (photos) on the Youtube site.

We spent 3 nights in KK before moving on to Sandakan and we had booked into the Sepilok Jungle Resort. Wow, resort was really not the right word for it, what a dump. I’m glad we were in the luxury suite??? The only redeeming feature of the place was the restaurant. The whole point of staying at Sepilok was to visit the Orangutan rehabilitation centre next door which was run by the resort. So we went to the 3pm feeding and only saw 3 Orangutans, two adults and a baby, it was a bit disappointing as the monkeys tend to take over. However I was glad to see that they appear to spend more money on the Orangutans than on the guests, as centre seemed reasonably well maintained. We only found out the following day that the 10am feeding time is better. See Orangutan video on Youtube.

The following morning we all decided that we should move into town at Sandakan, and after paying an exorbitant fair into town, we settled into the Hotel London for half the price and twice the comfort. The town’s claim to fame is that it once was home to more millionaires than anywhere else, although I really can’t see why. It’s a very rundown little town. They are refurbishing the wharf area and maybe in a year or two it will be worth visiting again. We did have an excellent meal at the Wharf that night.

Our next big surprise was when we arrived back in Kota Kinabalu. We booked into the Tune hotel over the internet, a subsidiary of Air Asia. I inquired at Air Asia customer service office in Sandakan if Tune had a shuttle to transfer us to the hotel. They said no. It turns out that the Tune Hotel is 11 km out of KK... on the opposite side of town to the airport. So we hired a taxi to take us there. When we arrived at the hotel lobby that doubles as a site shed for the building work that is still in progress, we walked past the Airport shuttle counter and enquire about our rooms. Oh, so sorry but we cancelled your booking and didn’t bother to inform you!!! Fine, we say, we’ll stay in town, and can you arrange a shuttle back to town? No, that’s for paying guests. You will have to get a taxi.....aaahhh, enough said.

All’s well that ends well. We stayed in the Best Western in the centre of town had a great meal, said good bye to Michael & Joyce, got up early and flew to Krabi Thailand. We have spent 3 night in Krabi town itself and did a Kayaking trip through the Bor Thor mangrove forest and through the caves. Fantastic, see the video on Youtube. Krabi is very quite at this time of year, being Monsoon season, as you have no doubt heard about. We found an old friend, Captain Bou who runs a resort on Koh Jum, an Island not far from here, but its closed for low season, so we had a few drinks with him instead. We are now out at Ao Nang, a touristy beach area, where nearly everything is twice the price. We thought we would spend another three nights here, next to the pool.

Lots of video up on Youtube now.

All the best for now

Ric & Louise

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Week 6 Kota Kinabalu

Dear Ethel, family and friends,
We left Penang yesterday, a little sad that we are leaving some new friends behind. We have had a great stay in Penang. We finished our Tesol course on Friday and had our graduation lunch in a fab Thai Restaurant. Louise gave her last prac lesson on Wednesday and I did my final on Thursday. We both thoroughly enjoyed the course and look forward to doing some real live teaching. We thank all the staff at Sea English Academy Penang for all their hospitality and help during our month long stay. We also farewell our fellow classmate How Seng who was also most helpful and fun during our stay. Also to friends Danny and Barb who we shared a couple of beers and a few meals with. We hope to catch up with you all before too long.

Saturday we flew out of Penang to Kota Kinabalu on a direct flight. Meeting up with our friends Michael & Joyce again we arrived at about midday. We were able to get some lunch at a waterfront cafe and explore a town a bit. We found the local produce market which contained acres of fresh produce all under cover. In the evening we went to the outdoor wet market and food hawkers and ate fresh squid, prawns and fish with rice and noodles all for about $8AUD each. We finished the evening with the girls getting a massage and Michael & I having a beer and a game of pool.

Sunday after breakfast we visited the Sunday Markets which was more a craft and clothing markets. Then on to the wharf where we caught a ferry to Manukan Island only a short distance from the harbour, however it was a bit choppy for the 20 foot power boats and we got a tad wet. We had Lunch on the Island and did a bit of a walk, followed by a slightly less wet ride back.

First impressions of Kota Kinabalu are great, totally different to Penang, it is a lot quieter and less hectic here and you could almost be in a different country. A lot of Philippinos here and a lot less of the Indian influence which means you get better service but makes it harder to get a good curry.

News Flash: Michael & Ric are going White Water Rafting Tomorrow. Stay tuned.
BTW I have posted our Penang Photos on Picasa Web Albums (see the link on the right)
All the best for now
Ric & Louise

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Week 5 Penang

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

We have been in Penang 3 weeks now with only 1 week of our course left. We have been busy getting around the Island in our little car this weekend. We went to the Botanical Gardens on Saturday. It's a beautiful area and was especially unique on Saturday because performers from the Penang World Music festival were practicing and doing sound checks, very eerie.

Sunday we did a drive around the Island. It would probably only take 2 hours if you put your foot down, but we made a day of it, stopping along the way. Lots of jungle driving through the hills and mountains, very scenic... until you get back on the eastern side anyway.

Michael & Joyce arrive this Monday to visit us on their way back to KL. We will be seeing them in Borneo the following Saturday as well. We are having a graduation dinner on Friday and Saturday we head off to Kota Kinabalu in Saba, Borneo.

All the best for now
Ric & Louise