Saturday, December 20, 2008

Feeling Krabi

Right, here is my Krabi post. Krabi, pronounced Cru-bee by the locals, is located almost directly to the East of Phuket, my new friend and I decided we would go ahead, even though we were missing our third 7:30 am on Saturday 13th December, we were collected by the tour company and taken through the bowels of Phuket to the port. My only experience of travelling on a ferry is a ferry I took from, I don't even know where across to the mainland of Maputo, Mozambique on a family trip when I must have been about 8 or 9 years old. I remember my parents' panic-stricken faces when they saw us and the rest of Mozambique climb
onto the creaking concoction of diesel-smelling rusting metal they called 'the ferry'. My mum took us to the top of the ferry and sat us down with a look more serious than the 'birds and the bees' talk expression and she said to us in a voice firmer than I care to remember, "Listen VERY carefully, most of the people on this boat cannot swim, if this boat sinks, you wait until you're almost in the water and you jump as far away from the boat as you can and you swim as hard and as fast as you can away from all these people, in that direction." I am glad to say we
miraculously got across fine and vowed never to use it again... So, honestly, that is what I was expecting when I booked my ferry ticket to Krabi. I was a little reserved in breaking the news to my mum as to how I planned to get there and as soon as I did, I had to laugh when she
said, "Right, do you remember the ferry rules...?" We arrived at the port and we climbed aboard a large beautifully kept speedboat and we made our way to the front of the boat where we found "our spot" - right in the bow of the boat, my friend, Annie described us as Kate and Leo in Titanic ;-)

The two hour boat trip was smooth and intoxicating. We passed several islands on the way and suntanned and took photographs along with the rest of the tourists on board. Despite this borrowed luxury, nothing could have prepared us for the sights that lay just around the
headland's bend...lush forests, soaring limestone towers and extensive shimmering sapphire waters...

For the next three days I walked around with my mouth hanging open and its just as well there wasn't a breath of wind, for if there was, in my grandmother's words, my face would have stayed like that! I just could not get enough of the raw beauty. We had found some budget
accommodation nearby, which had brightly coloured yellow and turquoise walls and comical writing on the outside. It was all we needed as we were not planning on spending any time, apart from bedtime, in our room. It was a 700m walk from Nopharat Thara Beach along a quiet road next to a mangrove swamp. We decided to take a long-tail boat (the old traditional wooded Thai boats with a small engine and a long plank extending out at the front of the boat, which wouldn't be complete without the Thai flag coloured fabric proudly displayed) to a place called Railey Beach, I still couldn't close my mouth...this was more of a cove caressed by limestone cliffs than the long stretch of white beaches that make up Ao Nang. We spent the day relaxing in the sun, swimming in the glittering waters and staring at the perfect views. As I looked down Railey beach at the row of long tail boats sitting in the sand while the water barely rolled
up on the shore with the emerald green forests dripping down the limestone cliffs reaching up to the sky and my life stopped for a second...I have always known there are beautiful places in the world but I remember thinking to myself that I found the beauty quiet surreal. I was mesmerized by the splendour of the scene to the point of feeling lethargic. Once we'd returned, Annie and I had dinner watched the sun go down and then continued along the strip of restaurants lining Nopharat Thara Beach, oohing and aahing at the great food and even better prices.

The following day we headed off on a tour that did 'island hopping' to four islands. Again, my mouth was hanging. The first island we visited was called Tup Island which joins its neighboring island by a short bar of white sand which can be crossed at low tide. We spent an hour lying on the beach, swimming and discussing our itineraries for when/if friends and family came to visit us. Every now and then throughout the day we would just gasp at the attractiveness around us...we couldn't believe our eyes. After about an hour, we went on to our next spot, passing a comparatively large island called Chicken Island named after a protruding rock that is shaped like a chicken head. We then threw anchor down at a purely limestone island, meaning, there was no sand or anywhere to walk, where we could jump off and snorkel. I was now transported to a completely different version of 'paradise'. It has been years since I have snorkeled but I was surprised to find it was much like riding a bike - I hadn't forgotten too much...I am always in awe of the abundance of life found in the ocean. My knowledge of fish is frightening so please forgive me for some of these descriptions...but you know me ;-) I saw angelfish, swordfish, clown fish, crabs, sea amenities, sea urchins, lovely colorful coral, parrot fish, little yellow stripeys (there're
those descriptions;-), green stripeys and blue stripeys. There was also a nearby cave we could go into that is famous amongst rock climbers who go to the centre of the cave where there is a small opening that they climb up. I had to laugh, most of you know, I'm a pretty expressive person and I battle to see something attractive without smiling and the first couple of fish I saw, I couldn't help but smile which made water pour in my mask, It was quiet funny - I told you I was rusty...the other thing that was funny was that Annie and I were swimming round together when I happened to hear her burst into a fit of laughter, I came up to hear the joke and she said I had swum past her and smacked her right across the face, so her mask was completely dislodged - the funniest part was I didn't feel a thing... I don't think the nearby fishermen appreciated us roaring with laughter near all their fish...haha...

The second island we went to was Chicken Island (the one we'd passed before) where we had lunch which was yummy soup and chicken fried rice. Shortly after lunch, we moved on to Pranang Island which was embraced by a cave riddled with stalactites and a calm pool formed by the cave in the corner. We went to the cave to hear the 'story of the island', we were told that you can make a wish at that cave because over 400 years ago when the island belonged solely to the local people of Thailand, a queen came there because she could not fall pregnant and she made a wish there to have a baby and she then fell pregnant, when the princess (the baby) was fully grown she was never happy - at this point my guides voice got lost in the cave - next thing I picked up was that she came back there many years later and she was buried there or something. It has now become a shrine and people leave gifts when their wishes have been granted. When I first went there, I remember looking at the rater promiscuous looking sculptures and thinking, no...surely they wouldn't have such a bizarre thing to worship, but sure enough, due to the origin of the wishes being about fertility, the sculptures were in fact, the
male organ - it wasn't pretty...anyway - I suppose it's a touristy thing - I was far more concerned about the little kids that had joined us on the tour but hopefully these graphic sculptures were not as clear to them. We spent the next hour on that beach and by now the sun was searing. I nearly finished my entire bottle of sun cream in that day.

The last island we went to was called Poda island, again, picture postcard stuff...just couldn't get enough of it. There are monkeys on this island but they asked us not to get too close to them as the day before a monkey had hopped on a girl's shoulder and bit her ear!

We were finished by the time we got back, so we went straight to dinner and then headed to the beach to watch the was picture perfect. The tide sucks right back and the locals head out to collect something - I assume its muscles or some other seafood and them, together with the mountains and islands and the crimson sunset makes a stunning view. We bumped into a British guy who runs a guesthouse and he invited us over to a bunch of friends of his - some were staying at his guesthouse, others were locals.

On Monday, we slept in and then went for a delicious breakfast and just about rolled onto the nearby beach. The weather was perfect, not a breath of wind and the waves literally creep onto the shore - there are no waves - the sea is so still it is like a lake. So we spent the day on the beach and then headed back to the hotel to be collected for our luxurious trip home. We were lucky enough to find 'our spot' on the boat again and we lay looking up at the clouds after a really good get away.

I realised that when I came to Phuket, I found myself not convinced and I couldn't figure out why. When I was looking at the scenery around me, on the first day in Krabi, it suddenly dawned on me that this was what I was expecting when I thought I was coming to live in Thailand - lush
bush, aqua-marine waters, long tail boats, lazy lifestyle and friendly people. If I was not convinced by Phuket as Thailand, I am selling Krabi as Thailand...this exquisiteness can simply not be described in words and the pictures simply do not do it justice. Take it from me - every single one of you who have not been to Thailand HAVE to do it... It is not expensive once you are here - I was on a tight budget when I came and we didn't hold back once we saw how reasonable everything was. It is charming; the tourists have been very quiet for high season this year if you don't like the crowds. The tour that we did included the snorkeling gear, lunch, drinking
water, fresh fruits and visiting the four islands and cost less than the ferry ride over there. It's ridiculous!

Until next time, enjoy the Christmas buzz - wishing you all a good one and a wonderful 2009!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Day in Malaysia

On Sunday evening I was collected at 10:30pm sharp, believe it or
not…I think that is the only thing that has happened on time, besides
school, since I've been here. I was told to wait outside the 'colour'
shop which translates into waiting outside the paint shop, which I
duly did. While I was watching the number on motorbikes with Thais
passing by diminish by the minute, I was keeping my eyes open for
potential 'versions' of buses wondering what my ride would be like.
To be honest, I wasn't really looking forward to this trip. I had to
miss two days of school for it and like the nerdy teacher I've become,
all I cared about was that 'my kids' had to write a maths test on
Monday that they weren't ready for and I had a lot of work we needed
to get through this week because of loosing a day in the week later.
I eyed the 'potential' modes of transport suspiciously, I spotted a
truck that reminded me of what we called the school 'Cattle
truck' turn into the road to my hotel and my heart sank, "Oh no," I
thought, "Please don't let that be my bus to Malaysia!" Les than four
minutes later, I got a call from someone who was waiting at my hotel to take me to Malaysia. I was very relieved to find that my
bus wasn't a cattle truck but a good, strong 'sprinter, I took the
second-to-last seat which came complete with a blankie on it for my
warmth, ironic in Thailand I know, but these Thais really do know how
to blast their air-cons! I snuggled under it and we began our journey
with me not having the faintest idea how long it was going to take us.
We reached Big C – our local and cheapest shopping centre to pick up
our final passenger. This man, in his over sized yellow raincoat, said
goodbye to his Thai girlfriend and climbed onto the bus and into the
seat next to me saying, "Watch out – I'm a snorer!" It turns out, Dan
is a photographer from Chicago who came to Thailand four years ago for
a change of scenery and has been "maybe going back" all this time. He
has his own photography company here and has built up a good client base. With our mutual interest in architecture and photography, we got on incredibly well.

At about 1:30pm, we were told to shut up so the passengers could
sleep, which I was more than happy to comply with and fell straight
asleep. The drive was as can be expected – sore bums, legs and backs
and we had a break every two and a half hours. So my scenery was – a
garage, gross Muslim style filthy toilets and, of course, a 7 eleven
garage shop, which I'd sleepwalk around twice to get feeling in my
legs again. At around 5:30am (Monday) we reached the
Thailand/Malaysia Border where we drowsily submitted our passports and
filled in the necessary forms. Everyone handed in their two passport
photos and mine had been taken on two separate occasions and this was
unacceptable, despite the fact that the lady organising the trip had
assured me it wouldn't be a problem. Shortly after the border, the
bus driver pulled over and told me where to get my photos done with
comments flying round the bus, mainly from Dan, like "Ah! There's
always one, hey!" So I went into one of those photo booths commonly
found in America for those 'just for fun' kind of photos and this
passport photo place has made it into a 'do-it-yourself' passport
photo booth. You sit in the booth and press the button when you are
ready, smile for each photo and get them printed a few minutes later.
The guy in front of me had pictures that shocked the living daylights
out of the Malaysians working in the office. "Ah!!!" they said when
they saw the images of him pulling tongues, squinting his eyes etc…
"AAaaaayyyyy!" they said, this was supposed to mean "What the hell is
this?" To which this guy replied,
"What? No one told me my passport photos had to be professional
photos!" I tell you, I feel for these Malaysians and Thais with the
morons they have to deal with regardless of their limited English.

Soon after this, we stopped for breakfast at an Asian Roadhouse. I
had noodles, spiced vegetable rice, a cold fried EXTREMELY oily egg, a
slice of cucumber and a bottle of water. It was very good food after
a long journey, which, by the way was ten hours thus far and not over
yet – all in all, travelling time was twelve hours plus our time at
the embassy.

Something I didn't know was that Penang is an island. There is a very large port in Malaysia and the bridge's glorious
aesthetics are still in the process of being mounted. Trees line the
roads and road signs are written in English and appear far less
comical than Thailand's so-called English signs. It certainly seems
more geared towards Westerners, however, there is not much discretion,
for example I saw a 'School for the spastic' and thought that was
pretty hectic. We also passed a church with it's neighbouring
building displaying an over sized Swastika symbol overhead. This was
a little shocking to say the least but I later learned that the 'legs'
point in the opposite direction to the Swastika symbol and it is the
sign for a religion here or something…pretty weird…

Penang itself is an exquisite blend of culture in terms of people,
their influences and architecture and I therefore forgot all my
tiredness and got lost in my afternoon discovering and photographing
any building that caught my eye. The main cultures on the island are Chinese,
Balinese, Indian and Portuguese. The architecture is very old school
but was done 100% according to their cultural building regulations –
as if they were building back home. So you have these very strong
influences coming through however, they do not clash with one another
which really surprised me. I came across the Penang Museum and learnt
of the people's history and traditions. Penang's cultural influences
come from three basic groups. The Chinese, the Malays and the
Balinese. For the girls, I saw traditional dowries, wedding gowns and
crockery. For the boys, the most awesome 'Ninja' swords. I also saw
an archway decoration from a Chinese home that would traditionally be
in the entrance hall. The entrance hall of the Chinese homes is an
open display of wealth. This is where the visitors wait for the
family when they visit (including your potential son-in-law's parents
one day) so it would hold all the best furniture to impress the
visitors and potential suitors. This archway was overwhelming – it
measured over 6 meters in length and at least 4 meters in height.
Marriage, for the Chinese was a way to expand your business network.
The Chinese group as a culture was rather small in Malaysia initially
so the wealthy Chinese preferred to intermarry to keep the wealth
amongst the wealth of their cultural group. Of course you read all
this and it all seems to make 'history text book' sense and then you
see the old faded photographs of the wedding ceremonies – these brides
and grooms look about eight or nine on their wedding day – it is
frightening. However, marriage today is, hopefully very different to
what marriage meant then. Regardless – it does make me feel a little
past my sell-by date when you see an eight year old in a wedding dress

Despite this glorious history, the island has a vast amount of poverty
and homeless people. There are houses and temples that have been
deserted years ago and entire gardens have grown over, in and through
them, giving them almost completely giving them an ethereal quality,
which kept me snapping away like only I can…

The following day we were collected at around 11am Thai time, 12 noon
Malaysian time. We loaded our bags in the bus at our hotel, climbed
into the bus and began our 12 hour trip home…just as I was settling
in, literally 5 seconds after we began driving, the driver pulled over
and said "Lunch time!" It was so funny – it felt like de ja vous or
something. We ate at an Indian restaurant – I took one look at this
food with the richest, warmest colours of an artist's palette and
thought – it all looks SO good but I doubt my stomachs going to
handle this… I am proud to say that I ate the delicious food amidst a
bunch of stuck up foreigners with equally stuck up noses and thoroughly
enjoyed it. I am beginning to feel braver and braver with my food…we
finally did get on the road shortly afterwards, collected our
passports with no issues and drove through Malaysia in daylight which
we could now enjoy. It is countryside that is easy on the eyes. At
some stage, around an hour north of the Malaysian border, we passed an
area of Thailand that had recently had extremely heavy rains. The
water had flooded across the road, through houses, shops and had
swamped the landscape. People were simply carrying on as usual. I
feel so used to seeing these sights on TV but it is quiet scary when
you are driving amidst these people…living like that.

Getting to see the odd bit of Thailand and meeting the people at good
old Seven Eleven – I finally understood why they call Thailand the
'land of smiles'. Complete strangers would beam a 'mother's love'
kind of smile to me and greet me. What a warm experience…I feel like
the local people in Phuket have just been over-exposed to unfriendly
'farang' or foreigners to be known as part of the 'land of smiles'
anymore… but it was good to see. I didn't sleep much on the way home
as the driver we had was on the opposite end of the scale from our
driver on our way up there. Roaring up people's backsides, screeching
to a halt, smashing the accelerator while passing them on blind rises
with on-coming traffic – he was a mad man and I understood why Dan had
described our first driver as "Good. He's very good. No, seriously,
he's a really good driver. We're very lucky. He's very good." Our
stop for supper was at a charming little restaurant – I have no idea
where…! It was like a little log cabin amidst a wild garden with
fairy lights…on our way there we got to choose our menu which went
something along the lines of:
Chicken fried rice
Chicken fried rice with Basil
Beef fried rice
Beef fried rice with chillies
I went with Chicken fried rice, one of my new favourite meals, mainly
because of the price, but it is made really well here. In we went
into this charming setting for our dinner which we were all ravenous
for. We sat at the table and were served a delicious ton-yung soup.
This was the same soup which I was served on my first night in Bangkok
– the one I gagged at when I tasted its very strong flavour – and
guess what – I devoured the delicious bowl – it seems my taste buds
are adjusting ;-) Then I moved on to this brightly coloured chicken
fried rice…now, there is something you should know about me, I have a great appreciation
for food, cooking and spices, herbs etc but unfortunately my taste
buds cannot always share this appreciation as they cannot handle spicy
food – they go a little mad when I put pepper in my mouth. However,
everything here is SO spicy that I am thrilled to say – my little
taste buds are being fried and evolving…the thing is, is that the food
here is SO amazing that even if it is spicy (and you have retarded
taste buds) you cannot stop eating it. So I begin devouring this very
colourful Chicken fried rice on basil when I'm thinking wow, food is
so good, I'm so hungry and my taste buds are going "%*$£ What are you
feeding me?" I begin to examine my meal carefully…Ah, yes – those
lovely colourful red and green peppers…are actually chillies. No
problem taste buds, we'll put the chillies aside – 'cause there's no
way in hell I'm stopping this awesome meal half way though… Sadly
though, my taste buds were not having it – they were still yelling
naughty words ant me and I was forced to yet again, inspect my meal to
satisfy this petulant child of mine… "Oh, ok – I see what you're on
about" Removing the garnishing chillies was not enough, there were
also finely sliced and diced chillies well mixed into my fried rice.
"Well," I said, getting slightly impatient with this whining – "You're
just going to have to deal with it. – because like I said earlier,
this food is good and I'm hungry." and those two words don't normally
go in a sentence together because when I'm hungry I don't talk, I eat…
That is how my first 'chillie meal came to be eaten. I was so proud
of myself that I had the widest grin on my face – that is until I
began to smell the after effects of the meal in the bus from one of
our fellow passengers…

Friday, 5 December was Father's day in Thailand. This is not the father's
day I am used to where we give gifts to our
dads for being special fathers to us, it is because it is the King's
birthday. Should you wish to you can treat your father to something
as well though. So if it is the King's birthday, it is therefore a
public holiday and we get the day off school. Yey!!!! We were only
required to wear our bright yellow 'King's shirt' to a function that
evening. I was still suffering some of the after-effects from a
relatively safe looking restaurant across the street from me where
a friend and I had eaten lunch and I'd ordered chicken stir fry and I
was served seafood stir fry. So…as much as I didn't want to share
that with you – I had to convey how much I did NOT want to be at this
event one way or another…forgive me. So my mood was pessimistic on
the evening of the 5th, always keeping my eye out for the nearest
bathroom – which I really did not want to have to discover. The event
took place at Sa ha hin, in an open
arena. We were the only group of farangs at this event, just about
everybody else was Thai and we looked like a sea of marigolds in our
king shirt's. We wondered around before things got started (as it
always seems to happen in Thailand). There is a nearby pond which had
a giant sea serpent with lotus flowers made out of neon coloured
fabric and wire – which looked very festive from a distance. The
actual stage had an over sized picture of the king, the Thai and King's
flag and it was garnished in gold accents, marigold flowers, incense,
candles and spirit houses. It was lovely to look at…for the first
hour. Then I began to get over this whole event. My body was weak
and we were standing the whole time, doing nothing in particular. I
only understood every 400th word – no jokes, and I think I only
understood it because it was the name of my school or a greeting.
When the thanks were finally over and some random people had gone up
on stage to do whatever they were doing up there, we sang the King's
song. Some of us had bought candles from locals, which are small,
colourful candles, held in a cup with a marigold or frangie pangie at
the base, it looks very festive and beautiful. So at this point, the
candles are lit and the lights put out. The only light was shining on
the king's picture and coming from our candles – the golden light that
surrounded the event was breathtaking. My mood lifted instantly. The
candles were then blown out and the fireworks began – What a show!
So it felt so worth being there in the end…