Friday, 17 December 2010

SE Asia done... for now!

So I've been back in cold old blighty now for just over 24 hours so I need to finish off my adventure. After leaving Singapore for KL we flew to Tawau which is in northern west Borneo (the Malaysian part) where we were picked up by our scuba company Scuba Junkie and taken to a little coastal village called Semporna for the night. Since Claudia was recovering from food poisoning and didn't want to eat anything remotely Asian we headed to KFC for dinner. On our way to and from dinner we realised what a dump Semporna is and we glad we were only staying there for one night. The next morning we awoke early to catch the boat to Mabul; an island where we would be staying for the next 3 nights. The first day was spent Scuba diving around the island and relaxing in the hotel bar. Because we were staying in a resort just for scuba divers and snorkellers everyone was pretty like-minded and really friendly.

The reason we went to Mabul was to dive around the world famous SIpadan; a protected island with only a limited number of permits thus limiting the number of visitors. When Claudia and I first contacted Scuba Junkie all the Sipadan permits were full for the days we wanted to visit but we were told out names would go on a waiting list and fingers crossed we would be able to dive around the incredible island. Fortunately (as it would have been a shame to travel so far for nothing) our wishes we granted and both Claudia and myself were given last minute permits to dive at Sipadan and by god was the diving amazing! Sipadan is surrounded by a 600m wall of coral which means the marine life is incredible. Sharks come up from the ocean depths to feed on the large fishes of all colours and shapes. The diving was indeed world class, we lost count of the numbers of turtles and sharks we saw and the fish we some of the most incredible I've ever seen. The day was exhausting, a 5.30am start followed by 4 dives but it as completely worth it!!!

On our third day we dived around another island; Siamil where there were tonnes of macro organisms to see. It wasn't as amazing as Sipadan (I doubt many places our) but it was still great fun. Over my travels I hacked done a total of 30 dives!!! Increasing my mere 7 I came away with to a much more respectable 37 and I can feel a massive improvement in my abilities. That evening we were able to finally relax as we didn't have to get up early the next day and therefore enjoyed a little rum with our dive masters and ended up on the beach until the early hours.

The following day, which was started by a much needed lie in was a haze of rain and an awful lot of travelling. After a boat, bus and plane journey we arrived back into KL in the evening where Hairah, a friend from our toxicology masters was waiting to pick us up (THANK YOU again)!! That even we stayed at her sisters house (just outside KL) and spent the night chatting and catching up, it was lovely! Hairah drove us into town on Wednesday morning where we eventually found a place to stay for the evening. After out goodbyes we explored the city and headed to the KL tower for afternoon tea. Unfortunately the weather the rubbish and all we could see from the 300m high revolving restaurant was clouds and rain plus the cake we had for tea was pretty nasty. The clouds started to clear and we were eventually able to see the Pertronas towers and the city scape which was pretty cool! That evening we headed into town for some ladies night action (read: free drinks) and a little bar hopping. We ended up in the Luna Bar which is on the top floor of a skyscraper where the views of the city at night are incredible. We got there after the bar had shut but we were still able to behold the city from the swimming pool and surrounded sofas at the bar.

The Thursday was our final day in Asia and we spent the majority of it shopping around China Town. We all spent far too much and took far too long doing it so we were unable to see Little India or anything else for that matter. In the evening we went to the airport to board our final plane journey, a 13 hour flight to London. The flight was of course delayed and we feared it would even be cancelled but it wasn't and we arrived into Stansted at 6.30am on Friday. Mum and Dad were waiting for me with some tasty sandwiches and I said goodbye to Claudia and Martin who had to wait until 1pm for their flight to Berlin.

The last 2.5 months have been completely amazing and I am already desperate to go back to SE Asia and see much more. I think my favourite places have been Hong Kong, Vietnam and Northern Thailand and even though I hate to admit it tubing in Vang Vieng was one of my highlights. There are many places we didn't get to see or spend enough time in but I'm still young so there is plenty of time to go back. I would like to see more of Vietnam including Sapa, Dalat, Muine and more of Hoi An and the Mekong Delta. I would like to see the coast of Cambodia and spend more time exploring Laos. I really want to go back to Thailand and see more of the north and dive in the Simalan islands. We hardly saw anything of Malaysia so I definitely want to go back there (including Borneo again) but the country I really want to see the most is Indonesia.

I'm actually happy to be home (despite the cold) because it is so festive here but that doesn't stop me yearning to go back, which hopefully wont be too long away.

Fingers crossed it wont be too log until I update this blog again xx

Friday, 3 December 2010

Bangkok and Island Hopping (Thailand and Singapore)

Hello folks, I am in Kuala Lumpur airport waiting for our flight to Borneo and the internet costs a fortune so I'm going to have to be super quick even though I have about 3 weeks of catching up to go.... d'oh!!!

Last time we chatted I was heading towards Bangkok where Daire would be replaced by Martin (miss you). I only spent 2 days in the capital which really wasn't long enough as it is so big and there is so much to see (read shop)!!! First of all, after thinking we would miss our flight in Chaing Mai and going actual bonkers at the minibus driver, Lena and I then had to navigate ourselves to Chinatown which is where we were staying. After a slightly terrifying journey along the dark alleys we made it to the hotel where Claudia and Martin were waiting for us (on the rooftop bar). The next couple of days were spent shopping at the weekend market (totally huge and too crazy to orientate) and Khao San Road. An evening spent bar hopping was followed by a morning spent at the immigration office where Claudia and I literally begged for 2 weeks visa extensions... we were only given 1 week and it cost 40 quid not including the monstrous taxi fares!!!!

That evening we bused it down south where our 2 weeks island luxury time (or so we thought) was about to begin. First stop Ko Tao!!

The main reason for hitting Ko Tao was for some scuba diving! Many people rave about the diving on the island but in all honesty it isn't that special. There are more divers than fish and the marine life isn't really anything amazingly special. We saw some turtles, sting rays and cool fish but I've been to better places. Asides from disappointing diving the island itself was a dream and definitely one of my favourites. It is pretty small and not so built up so you can get a really good feel for the places in only a few days. We went to some lush beached (Nang Yuan) and ate some yummy food including a crazy hot curry that nearly burnt my face off. We had a few nice days of sun and on the day it didn't stop raining we hired a taxi to drive us around the place which was really interesting. The only bad thing that happened, which I completely blame crystal divers for is some dodgy wiring from a non existent light bulb on a staircase... the result... my electrocution!!!!

After a 4 night stint we boated over to Ko Phangan for the only and only Full Moon Party! Not only did we get to meet up with the lovely Bob and Natalie again (miss you too guys) we had a brilliant time at FMP which I was originally feeling sceptical about due to the abundance of 18year old pissed kids. Apart from Haad Rin being a complete and utter dump, we got to chill on some nice beaches, the weather wasn't shocking and swimming at sunset after FMP was stunning. We also checked out some Muay Thai boxing and ate some amazing pizza pre FMP and bucket frenzy.

After the party I decided to check out Ko Samui whilst Claudia and Martin stayed to rent a moped. To be honest I almost wish I hadn't bothered because Chaweng was pretty awful. Samui is the largest of these 3 islands and to me it is lacking that essential island vibe that is so present on Ko Tao. Maybe if I had seen more of the island I would feel differently but I definitely wouldn't bother with Chaweng again. After an epic journey down both ends of the beach (which is very nice) I tried and failed to find a second hand book shop so resorted to the English Pub (oh yes) and had a chicken curry pie, delicious!!

After a much needed early night in front of the telly (once I finally found my hotel because I couldn't remember where it was or the name for that matter) I awoke early to catch the ferry to Krabi where I was reunited with the Germans AKA Claudia and Martin. Krabi is on the main land and we decided to stay in Krabi Town (cheap and cheerful) and catch a long boat to the beach instead. We hung out on Railey beach which was completely stunning if not a little over crowded with fancy resorts. Claudia and Martin went rock climbing, I managed to finally find a book shop (I finished the beach and veronica decides to die and am now reading life of pi) and we checked out the night market.

After a couple of days of relaxation we went over to Ko Lanta for some even greater R&R time. Whilst Ko Lanta is a pretty big island the relaxation vibe is intense. I chilled by the beach / pool, went swimming and snoozed almighty. The weather was still a bit hit and miss at this stage but that's what happens when you go to Thailand in November, it rains!

Ko Lanta was followed by a not so relaxing 3 night stint on Ko Phi Phi. First and foremost, Ko Phi Phi is amazing and definitely my favourite island. It is beautiful, the water is gorgeous, the island is alive with people but not a dump like Haad Rin, the diving was the best I've done to date and the most amazing thing is you can't even tell the 2004 tsunami destroyed the majority of buildings on the island!!! I went a bit mad on the diving in Phi Phi and managed to squeeze 6 dives into 1.5 days. I did a wreck and night dive which were really cool plus the more standard dives where we saw turtles, leopard sharks, sting rays, massive fish, millions of nemos and general awesome stuff!! I was very fortunate to do most my dives 1 on 1 with my DM which was certainly not the case on Ko Tao (8 people in one night dive group, no thanks)!! Phi Phi has a great night life too and there was loads of cool fire shows going down on the beach in the evening plus 10minute frenzies at each bar where you can get free buckets. The shopping is pretty great too but by this stage the funds are dropping with all the diving I've been doing.

After Phi Phi we hit up Phuket; our final stop in Thailand. By this stage mine and Claudia's visa's had expired but more on that later. The only reason for coming to Phuket was to catch a flight to Singapore. We were staying in Phuket Town which was close to being a dump but I did manage to see Harry Potter 7.1 at the cinema which was a nice treat especially since I got free popcorn, free drinks plus a massive sofa chair complete with blanket, lush! Claudia and I did a couple of dives which were OK (not as good as Phi Phi but more expensive)! We didn't manage to get to Patong beach but since Phuket is so massive on the tourism front it wasn't really are scene anyway.

On our final night in Phuket we went out for dinner to this 'nice restaurant' where they used old TV sets as fish tanks (pretty cool) and served really delicious food which later caused Claudia to develop food poisoning.

On Dec 1st (visa minus 3 days and a 30 quid fine) we flew to Singapore. Claudia still feeling rough stayed in the hostel the entire time except for a ride to the hospital on our first evening where she was diagnosed. Martin and I checked out the rides and beach on Sentosa which was lots of fun. We went on the ludge where I managed to drop my flip-flop from the chairlift (hilarious) and the mega-zip where I thought I was going to die with fright!!! We walked around Clarke Quay which is the place to go out night and we also went to see the pretty Christmas lights on Orchard Road (but did no shopping; damn you expensive Singapore). The following day we explored Little India, Arab Town and China Town but were caught in a thunder storm. We also tried to see the Singapore Flyer (a bigger London Eye) and Marina Bay but had to give up due to the rain. After the rain settled we headed to the north to see the night safari which was really fun. There were tons of animals so doing their animal business but under the cloak of darkness ie way more interesting than a standard zoo.

Today we caught a flight to KL in Malaysia before heading of to dive around Semporna in Borneo. Claudia is feeling better and it looks like we might get some good weather for the next few days. I can't believe I'll be home in a week, the last 2 months have gone so quickly and even though I have seen so much there is still loads we've had to miss out. I'll probably fill out the last blog post once I'm home as we only have 2 more places to visit. Hopefully we wont be stranded out here due to the snow at home because a. I really want to get home now and b. I have literally run out of money which is never a good thing.

Must dash, this internet bill is quickly racking up and we probably need to check into our second flight soon. I'm really looking forward to the diving around Spidan because it is meant to be the best in the world, see you soon xxxx

PS no time to do spell check so excuse my terrible spelling =)