28 November, 2009

The Great Adventure: Day 61 to the homecoming

I have been a bit of a slacker & not updated what we were doing.
K & I are now back in Europe, but in different countries; he's off on a sailing weekend in Germany & i'm in France chez the Parental Sins (was in severe need of my winter clothes & they're all in boxes here - think i mentioned that before)


I think i left off in Ko Phi Phi (seems like a distance memory now that i am sitting here in a sweater with the heating on, looking out on a grey & drizzly day)

I wasn't keeping my journal towards the end of the trip, so things are a bit hazy. I will try my best to remember what we did...

Day 61: Tuesday 10th November
This was our last full day in Ko Phi Phi. K went diving, I had a Thai massage and in the evening we met up with K's dive instructor & co diver (Rob) and proceeded to have a stupid night. And yes, it did involve bucket cocktails...

Day 62: Wednesday 11th November
Luckily, I hadn't booked ourselves on the 9am ferry to Phuket; we were on the 2:30pm. This meant checking out of our bungalow, having breakfast, hanging out on the beach & then making our way to the ferry.
In Phuket, we were met (eventually) by the driver from Khao Lak Scuba Adventures who took us to Khao Lak - about 3 hours from Phuket port. Once there, we filled out loads of forms & waited around for a while & then boarded out liveaboard. For those of you who haven't heard of liveaboards, they are boats for divers where you live & breathe diving. We had booked ourselves on a 4 night/4 day trip to the Similan Islands; which included 15 dives for K & snorkelling for me.
At around 7pm, we boarded our boat (Manta Queen II) and headed out to the Similans (one of the world's best dive spots, apparently. Jacques Cousteau has been here, so it MUST be good!)

Day 63 - 66 (Thurs. 12th to Sun. 15th November)
This was our liveaboard time. Everyday involved diving, sleeping, eating & maybe a few beers in the evening. There were 19 customers onboard & 18 were divers. And there was me, the only snorkeller, but it actually turned out OK. The boat crew looked out for me & i had my own tuk tuk dinghy that picked me up when i'd had enough snorkelling. As a snorkeller though, i saw pretty much the same things every time as i was always at the same (surface) level. The divers, however, saw loads of amazing things as they could go anywhere up to 30m deep. K told me about eels, shark, octopuses (octopi? Never sure which is correct...), beautifully coloured coral and that's just a few of the things he saw. Me, i saw squirrel fish, box fish, parrot fish & Nemos (anenome clown fish) It was a really good experience - the staff on board were really nice & helpful and the other divers were all really nice people.
Once we got back on Sunday evening, we met up with 2 other couples who were also staying in Khao Lak and had dinner & drinks. It was a fun evening, but i had really bad land sickness. Never thought about it - but i had got so used to being on the boat that once i got off & i felt dizzy & nauseous for about 24 hours. Was a really bizarre feeling.

Day 67 - 71 (Mon. 16th to Friday 21st November)
Once we got our feet back on dry land & after 4 intense days of diving, K decided that he wanted to continue his diving education & enrolled in a rescue diver course. This involved him first doing an Emergency First Response (EFR) course for one day, then 2 days of rescue diving. Both course meant lots of role-playing & dealing with panicking/unconscious divers. I had a quick flick through his manual, and it seems that most problems occur because of diver carelessness or over confidence. Just goes goes to show that you should never EVER underestimate the power of the ocean.
And while K was doing his rescue course, what was i doing?
Believe it or not, i was attempting once more to get my Open Water Diving License. And guess what? This time i actually passed it! I AM A LICENSED DIVER!!!!! WOOHOO! It wasn't easy & it was a touch and go for a little while, but once i had got through the skills (ie taking and replacing my mask off underwater or practicing an emergency swimming ascent) and gone underwater in the ocean, i was a lot calmer & began to enjoy diving a lot more.

Day 72 (Saturday 21st November)
K & me went diving together! We had a day trip out to the Similan Islands, had two dives & had Irish Dave the Dive Master as our guide (in K's course, Dave was the panicking victim for the role plays - was really nice having a Dive Master that we both knew & knew us - me the nervous diver, K the eager rescue diver).
On the first dive, K was in full Rescue Diver mode & was constantly checking to see if i was OK. With both him & Dave checking, i felt really safe & relaxed a lot more. It was also relaxing knowing i didn't have to practice/pass any skills. I could just enjoy the view.
On the second dive, K was a lot more relaxed too, knowing that i was OK. And so we both had a great day. It was so cool that i could finally enjoy diving with K. I wish i had managed to get my licence earlier in our travels, but i don't think i would have been ready. I needed to do a lot more snorkelling & build my confidence in the water before i tackled diving again. And the liveaboard experience was the turning point for me, as i was snorkelling on my own in the ocean. I felt a lot more comfortable in/with the water & could quite easily jump off the boat into the sea. Bear in mind that at the beginning of the holiday, i could only swim in shallow water...so i have come a long way during our 2 months travelling!

Day 73 (Sunday 22nd November)
This was our last full day in Thailand. And in Asia. And on holiday.
We actually didn't do much either. Just relaxed & enjoyed our last day there. We would have gone diving again if we could, but because of pressure changes & other technical stuff, you can't fly 18-24+ hours after diving. We decided to stay safe & have a mellow day - and even packed our bags the night before.
That meant we could enjoy our last evening in Khao Lak...

Day 74 (Monday 23rd November)
We had booked a taxi for 5am. We woke up at 5:30am.
Luckily, the taxi driver was still waiting for us, so we threw ourselves together (thank goodness we'd packed our bags!!!) Drove to Phuket airport, flew to Bangkok. Had 4 hours in Bangkok, then flew to Dusseldorf & back to reality again.
Was a long day, but it was a relatively easy day. Bangkok airport is well designed and it's really easy to change from domestic to international flights; just have to go up a few escalators. The only downer were the 2 annoying kids sitting behind us. They were constantly kicking our seats, moaning, fighting & basically all round little brats. I finally complained (politely) to their mother when one of the kids ended up UNDER my seat and was grabbing my flip flops. They were a bit quieter after that, but it made the 12 hour flight seem a lot longer...

And that was our great adventure. It was a great trip; sometimes frustrating, sometimes really hard, but mostly fascinating, inspiring, relaxing, and fun. I am really glad we went & i really had a wonderful time & met really lovely people pretty much everywhere we went. And i think that will be my overwhelming memory from this trip - the people. However, considering the fact that K & I did pretty much no sightseeing (e.g. we visited absolutely no temples) and spent much of our time diving/snorkelling/relaxing, people are the only local culture that we encountered. Then again, people ARE the culture.

But, yes, it was a fantastic adventure. And i want to go again...

10 November, 2009

The Great Adventure: Day 50 to 60

We're on the final stretch now - just 2 more weeks until we launch ourselves back into our 'normal' lives. Hard to even contemplate cold weather - the other day it was 28C here & both of us felt a bit chilly. Think German winter is going to be a nasty shock to the system...

Anyway - let me update you on our adventure:

Day 50 (Friday 30th October)
Still in Kuta, Bali
Had a slow day. Found a lovely Mexican called TJs. Great food, lovely decor & quiet despite being on Poppies I (one of the crazy noisy side streets of Kuta). In the evening, we had bangers & mash (there's only so much rice one can eat on holiday...) and then played pool.
We found a lovely little bar with no other customers & an empty pool table. The staff were at a loose end & racked the balls up for us every time AND gave us free garlic bread. Needless to say, we stayed there a lot longer than intended. Was defintiely a nice way to end out last night in Bali and the Southern hemisphere.

Day 51 (Saturday 31st October)
Headed out to Bali airport (aka Denpasar or Ngurah Rai airport, which makes things a bit confusing when you're looking for flights & each airline seems to use a different name)

We didn't have much Rupiah left, so had to resort to a cheap McDs lunch. And, yes, McDs is the same everywhere; cheap, cheerful & that's about it...
And on our way out of Indonesia, we had to pay $20 fee for something or other. Not really sure what, but it was another sneaky way of getting hard currency into the country...
Anyway, we got on our flight to Singapore - which left late but managed to arrive (nearly) on time. Note to everyone - if you use Air Asia, never EVER have a tight connection time. They seem to run late a lot of the time but are cheap & clean. Plus minus...
On arrival in Singapore, we took the train into town & went hunting for a guesthouse in Chinatown. Bad idea. Everywhere we went was full & there weren't many places to choose from. We ended up staying in a 'nice' hotel for the night after having a couple of (expensive) beers.

Day 52 (Sunday 1st November)
After checking out of our nice hotel, we took the train to Little India to try our luck in finding a place there. A lot better decision - Little India has a lot more choices. They are, however, expensive. EVERYTHING in Singapore is expensive. Well, except food maybe.
But we were expecting that, so it wasn't a nasty a shock as it could have been.
This day ended up turning into a sightseeing day. And we headed out to the west of Singapore to the "Singapore Discovery Centre (SDC)". That was one SCARY place. It was verging on propaganda-like; trying to instill in everyone how GREAT Singapore is and how Singaporeans are the best people on earth. And how important it is to be proud of coming from Singapore. While this may not necessarily be a bad thing, it was a bit creepy seeing this brain-washing on such a large scale.
To balance things out, we headed to the Singapore Army Museum next door (we got cheap tickets because we'd been to the SDC.
This was not quite as scary as the SDC, but did at times feel like an army recruiting centre ("Look how fun it is to be in the army! You too can jump out of helicopters and make great friends and wear shiny boots! And fire big rocket launchers!!") It was a a bit ironic though (for me) that the Singapore Army was only established in 1957 and has never been involved in any direct combat, but has, to be fair, taken part in a lot of earthquake rescue operations in South East Asia. It just seemed such a big space to dedicate to an Army that hasn't really done much. But maybe I'm just jaded...
In the evening, we headed out to the Night Safari. Yay! I LOVE the night safari. And i think K liked it too. And the bats are still just as cool.
And that was our first day in Singapore...

Day 53 (Monday 2nd November)
This day was a totally decadent day. We went over to Clarke Quay & firstly went book shopping at Kinokuniya. Then we found a Vietnamese coffee shop & stocked up on caffeine (never sure when you'll see a proper coffee machine in SE ASIA). After that, we went and had ramen. PROPER ramen. With gyoza. Yummy. And extremely filling. But oh so satisfying.
Afterwards, K & i managed to find ourselves a happy hour (happy hours seem to last at least 4 hours for some reason. So why don't they call them "Happy evening" or "Happy Monday" or "Let's see how drunk you can get on Monday night"?) at a Microbrewery place on the Quay and proceeded to get very happy...

Day 54 (Tuesday 3rd November)
K & I surprised ourselves by actually waking up at a reasonable hour, despite our happy adventure the previous evening. Kick started the day with a curry lunch (we were staying in Little India after all) and then headed off to Singapore Zoo. There, we spent around 3 hours wandering around, watching animals doing animal things (which for lions means sitting around looking bored and listless). Our favourite area was the walk-through rain forest. Here, mousedeer, lemurs, big birds, strange pigeony things and, best of all, the Malayan Flying Fox. All of these creatures (plus butterflies & other animals i missed) were wandering around freely. The lemurs were really tame and came up and walked by everyone without a care in the world. The Flying foxes were hanging right in front of us doing shocking things, ie peeing while hanging upside down and licking parts of their body in public (and enjoying it in a very obvious male way)which they really shouldn't. Needless to say, The German and i, being serious responsible adults, didn't find this amusing at all and didn't chuckle about it for the rest of they day. Oh no...
On our way back to our guest house, we stopped at a steak restaurant to eat huge chunks of meat with potatoes (again, you never know when you'll find a good steak in SE Asia...)

Being in Singapore this time was interesting. I had already visited Singapore 4 times, when the Parental Sins were living there. But it was interesting to see how my perspectives on Singapore had changed because or both where i was coming from & why i was going there.
When i visited there before, i was coming from Tokyo, was staying with my parents & there for 2 weeks. Yes, it was expensive. Yes, it was hot. Yes, it was city. But it was a breath of fresh air coming from Tokyo.
This time, i was coming from Indonesia & staying at a guesthouse. It was still expensive (even more so because i wasn't staying chez mum & dad) . It was still hot. It was still city. But after being on islands & relatively quiet places, it was a tad overwhelming. But i still like Singapore - it just isn't SE Asia. It's Europe in a hot place.

Day 55 (Wednesday 4th November)
Another travelling day.
Took the train out to the airport & then bus to the Budget Terminal at Changi. Was expecting a huge shed/hangar type place, but the budget terminal was actually really nice (and new). It was even nicer than Bali airport!
Got our flight out of Singapore to Krabi in Thailand (West coast). On arrival at Krabi airport, we booked a taxi into to town. Here the taxi driver took us directly to a travel agency so we could book a guesthouse. At first, i thought this was all a bit dodgy, as we hadn't asked t be taken to a travel agency. It turned out to be a great decision though. The agency found us a nice place in Krabi, booked our ferry tickets to Ko Phi Phi and reserved a guesthouse there too. And all within our budget requests (500 Baht/night). AND the taxi driver waited for us to have lunch then drove us to our Krabi guest house. All in all, great service.
Had a pleasant evening in Krabi & despite what the guidebooks say, Krabi is nice place. Not the most beautiful of towns, but there's stuff to do & the people are really friendly.

Day 56 (Thursday 5th November)
Had to get up early for our 10am boat to Phi Phi (early = anything before 11am). Was a smooth uneventful ferry ride - nice big boat & smooth waters. When we arrived on Phi Phi, there was a man waiting to take us to our guest house AND he had a trolley to put our bags in. Hurrah.
Once there, we had a siesta, looked into diving/snorkelling trips, had dinner and watched a lady-boy cabaret show at the local Irish pub. While watching the Ladyboy show, the only question on my mind was, "Where do they put their 'bits'?" This was swiftly followed by "Do they even have bits?"
Interesting evening.

Day 57 (Friday 6th November)
Didn't really do much. We did change guesthouses though. The first one, while clean & relatively big, didn't have any wind/breeze access; neither did it have a balcony. So we decided to up grade a tad & moved up the hill to the appropriately named Uphill Cottages.
The rest of the day was spent siesta-ing, eating & having a couple of quiet beers.

Day 58 (Saturday 7th November)
Had a REALLY early start: 7am wake up! Went on our half-day diving/snorkelling trip. For me, it wasn't great as the current was quite strong on the surface & i had trouble swimming in the right direction. But as i had a life jacket on, it wasn't too stressful. K, meanwhile, had a good time and saw a turtle and lots of sharks. Everyone, in fact, saw the sharks except me. I am not sure whether it was an eyesight thing (can't wear glasses AND a snorkel) or just plain ignorance. Luckily, K's dive master took lots of pictures with his underwater camera, so we bought a copy of the CD from him. So, yeah, i saw the sharks...
After having a siesta (we are really getting into the whole siesta thing. I think it should be introduced into the ordinary working day), K & I had dinner in town & then wandered over to Reggae Bar which is probably the most touristy bar on Phi Phi. Here there is a Muay Thai (aka Thai boxing) ring and tourists can beat the crap out of each other & get a free bucket cocktail. Thing is, Reggae Bar always has 2 for 1 bucket cocktail promotions, so you'd be getting in the ring for the equivalent of about 4 Euros (or less). Still, it was entertaining in a kind of 'car crash on the motorway' way.
Afterwards, we managed to find a quiet bar on the beach. This was no easy challenge, what with fire dancers, bucket promotions, lap dance competitions and limbo dancing.

Day 59 (Sunday 8th November)
Another restful day. Then again, Sunday IS the day of rest after all.
Somehow managed to catch some Ultimate Fighting on TV at lunch time. I have never seen anything like it. It's totally & utterly MAD. It was like bar brawling, except that these guys are getting paid for it & none of their mates stop the fight. It was nasty. And i thought K1 was scary. Oh, how wrong i was. UF is nasty.
In the evening (after our siesta, of course) we played Connect 4 for hours & i drank silly cocktails which managed to delete my memory & made me get aggressive while playing Connect 4. CONNECT 4! The most non-aggressive game ever. Ah, the wonders of alcohol.

Day 60 (Monday 9th November)
Once again, we had a really slow day. Went for a wander on the beach until it started raining (rainy season may be over here, but it rains for about half an hour everyday - not necessarily a bad thing).
Had coffees in the afternoon, and both K & I had caffeine highs, which actually weren't that fun. Impelled us to go back and lie down for our siesta...
The evening was a quiet one; alcohol-, caffeine-, pool-, bar- free. Believe it or not...

And now we're on day 61. K is off diving for most of the day & I'm updating the blog. Later, I'm going to try & book our tickets onwards, have a massage & exchange some books. And then have my siesta... Ah, life is hard!