Phang Nga Bay on a Speedboat: Part 3

Finally, the last of the Phang Nga Bay trilogy series!

It took me a while to finish this because #1. our Mac computer decided to crash on me which led to it being sent to an Apple computer repair shop #2. it took forever for the Apple guys to do their job #3. I got distracted with this Blogging 101 class. Excuses, I know.

So anyway, after exploring James Bond Island, sea kayaking was next on the itinerary. We then proceeded to a floating platform where hundreds of tourists were either waiting in line to get on a kayak or already floating on a sea of orange and reds. To me, they all looked like shipwreck survivors from some boat. I panicked! This is not my style at all. My brother simply just laughed me off and told me to go with the flow. I wanted to back out. Some tourists were pushing one another to get to the line first.

Others were too eager grabbing life vests and hitting people in the process. Arghh!!!

I said to myself if they wouldn’t let all three of us go in one kayak, I would not join this madness with another unknown rude tourist. Well and good, the kayak accommodates four people (that includes our boatman/guide). So this Thai boy starts paddling while we do our obligatory shots. Phang Nga Bay is just so beautiful that my earlier foul mood dissipated. Or maybe I just decided to go with the flow…IMG_2594IMG_2604 There was this open limestone cave where ALL THE HUNDREDS of tourists went through. Of course, we were tourists too so off we went to follow the masses. PicMonkey Collage And then we were led to this mangrove area where our guide showed us some tourist tricks.

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You signed up for this. Go with the flow.

The Koh Panyee floating village is a fishing village built on stilts by Indonesian fishermen. This was our lunch stop. IMG_2664IMG_2670IMG_2675IMG_2677 But I had to admit, it sure looks pretty. Colorful roof tops and long tail boats dot the landscape with the imposing limestone cliffs as its backdrop. Reminds me of the Badjaos in the Philippines. I am just as amazed at how they managed to live here at the mercy of the ocean.

After lunch, we had enough time to roam around and check out the village. Close to the restaurants were souvenir shops and stores all catered to the tourists. As we went deeper into the maze of concrete pathways, we soon saw that behind these stores were their dwelling places. Families lived here. Children played with their pets. They even have a postal code! 2PicMonkey Collage 3PicMonkey Collage Some had shanties, some had big concrete houses. All co-existing with each other in this harsh environment that they call home. 4PicMonkey Collage As soon as the tourist season is over, they all close shop. And they go back to their main livelihood which is fishing. IMG_2718Before heading back to Phuket, we stopped at a cave hidden amongst all the limestone cliffs along the area. Stalactites and stalagmites (and bats too!) can be found. Someone switched off all the lights and it was pitch black! I wouldn’t want to be stranded here for sure.

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We went back to our apartment tired and hungry. It made up for a very interesting nature-filled day indeed.

Next visit hopefully will be Phi Phi Island. And I will make sure to do it my way and away from this “cow herding” tourism mentality. It just ruins the whole experience for me. Or maybe it is just the rude tourists that need to chill and learn some travel manners.

Do you have any stories of “cow herding” too?

Phang Nga Bay on a Speedboat: Part 2

We left Naka Island at Ao Phang Nga National Park after swimming for what seemed to us only a couple of minutes. We didn’t even have time to explore the entire length of the beach. I just took a couple of hasty shots with my big camera (after playing with my new underwater cam) before everyone boarded back on the speedboat. I felt I needed more time to chill and just lay on the beach and stare at the open waters, but as with all guided tours, everyone is rushed because of a time schedule. Yeah, like “herding cows”. You heard me. Another reason why I try to avoid tour groups as much as possible.

Next stop, James Bond Island.

The scenery around Phang Nga Bay continues to amaze me. It looks so magical and mysterious! IMG_2504IMG_2514IMG_2522 (After doing my research, I am now officially confused as to which one is the real James Bond island. Some sources say it is Koh Phing Gan, others say it is Koh Tapu. Yet another mentioned it is both! Even the spelling of the islands differ. Our tour guide though pointed out at Koh Tapu as James Bond island. Whatever…)

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Approaching James Bond island

Koh Tapu is actually a tall rock made out of limestone, bigger on the top and slim at the bottom. Koh Tapu in English is translated as Nail island, obviously because it is shaped like a nail. After the James Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun” was filmed here in 1974, this part of Phang Bay then became famous with the tourist crowds. IMG_2566IMG_2569 Koh Phing Gan is a much bigger island close to Koh Tapu. This is where the tourist boats dock. You can either take a speedboat, a long tail boat or a slow boat to get here. If money isn’t a problem, you can also hire a private long tail boat or speedboat if tour groups aren’t your thing. IMG_2541 IMG_2546 As soon as you step foot on the beach, you can see rows of souvenir shops. James Bond island (or Koh Tapu, as per our tour guide) is just a short walk behind the stalls. IMG_2558IMG_2559 It can be quite a challenge taking a decent photo of the rock without people in it. But it can be done, with patience and the right positioning. IMG_2576 IMG_2589 There are caves you can explore and hiking trails up to the top of the island. It would have been fun and I’m sure the views would be gorgeous but then again, our tour guides were busy keeping track of all of us and doing time checks. We only managed to get up halfway and then turn back. There was even light foot traffic on the rocky trails due to the hordes of tourists going up or coming down. IMG_2585 I think Koh Phing Gan should be aptly named James Bond island as the actual shooting of the film was on this island. Koh Tapu was only a part of the movie’s background. But then again, who am I to challenge this famous landmark?

Will the real James Bond island please stand up?

Phang Nga Bay on a Speedboat: Part 1

First time on a speedboat… Images of myself sunning out on the deck in my bikini and aviators with a cocktail in my hand flash by as fast as the speedboat went.

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The beautiful Phang Nga Bay in Thailand with its limestone cliffs and emerald green waters is a sight to behold. Looking at these strange shaped huge rocks from a distance evokes an “avatar-esque” dreamy quality to this trip.

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Except that I am not alone sunning out on the desk. No bikini and aviators. Definitely no cocktails either. Dream on!

I, together with my brother and his wife and along with twenty other tourists, am cramped in this so called speedboat.

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Different nationalities are onboard and with it come different personalities. Only one family was friendly and smiled a lot. The rest were a bunch of complete snobs! Ugh! Not that I am uber friendly to begin with but it would be nice to be able to share your experiences with other people too (and so that you can also have someone to take your photo and not just all selfies). This is the reason why I hate tour groups. But when you’re pressed for time, as in two and a half days, to go see a place, you have no choice but go for the most convenient and quickest way.

After that initial “culture shock” of unfriendliness, I decided to just enjoy this trip with my family and go with the flow. It was a typical generic tour where they pick you up early from your hotel, do the actual tour, provide some snacks/drinks then take you to lunch and then back to your hotel.

Here are some of the beautiful highlights along the way….

Ao Phang Nga National Park. 

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We spent about an hour swimming here. So excited were we to test our new waterproof cameras that most of our time was spent taking pictures! And experimenting and playing….hence the crazy shots. Thanks to Nikon Coolpix and GoPro!

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I was a bit disappointed in the waters as it was not as crystal clear as I thought it would be. The color was a dismal brown. Or algae green. Boo!!! (Look, it matches my toenails!)

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But the scenery was beautiful nonetheless.

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And so I left just my footprint(s)…

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Wat Chalong: A Photo Journey

After Big Buddha, our tour proceeded to take us to Wat Chalong. It has a much longer formal name than that but for purposes of simplicity and recall, Wat Chalong is easier on the tongue.

Wat Chalong is one of the 29 temples in Phuket island**. It is the largest and the most visited. The main temple has three floors. At the very top is a glass display containing a splinter of bone from Buddha.

Again, like in Big Buddha, women must dress conservatively inside this place of worship. Sarongs and shawls are provided for (and to be returned upon exit) at the main entrance of the temple. No shoes are allowed inside too, and that includes flip flops.

** I finally know how many temples are in Phuket. Thank you Google!

I’ve taken LOTS of shots, as you will soon see. All the details and intricate craftsmanship are just begging to be photographed. And for a photo nerd like me (and my brother), I am just too happy to oblige!

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This is the very top of the temple that houses a fragment of Buddha’s bone.

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The round glass casing that contains a tiny bone splinter from Buddha. I couldn’t help but wonder if the cash scattered on the floor are donations or religious offerings.

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Surrounding buildings around the Wat Chalong grounds have different purposes. This was a crematorium.

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Can you find the Big Buddha in this picture? It does not look that big anymore!

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These colorful scarves wrapped around a tree have been blessed by Buddhist monks. The trees then are considered sacred and cannot be harmed in any way. I saw them at Big Buddha too. It is just amazing the things you learn when you travel!

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** Photo credit to my brother for some of the shots here. Thanks dong!

The Road Leading to Big Buddha

We went to the Philippines for about a month long vacation in October. Within that time, I went to Singapore to visit my brother. Within the time I was in Singapore, we made a quick weekend getaway to Phuket, Thailand. Talk about maximizing your travel plans.

Phuket is the largest island in Thailand. It is almost as big as Singapore. Where Singapore is the epitome of cleanliness and efficiency, Phuket is quite a charming mayhem!

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Bangla Road

We stayed at Patong Beach, the most popular beach in Phuket. If you’re the party type, Patong Beach is for you. The nightlife is unbelievable. Where during the day the only establishments you see are the restaurants, tour agencies and the souvenir shops, at night, Phuket transforms into a different animal. Bangla road, to me, was like a wild circus. They close this entire stretch of a road at around 5 or 6 pm. A little bit seedy and gaudy to my liking though, but educational nonetheless. I simply just wanted to see those infamous ladyboys in the flesh. That was the only reason we stayed at Patong Beach. You have to see it to believe it.

Majority of the Thai people are Buddhists. As we walked around the streets, I noticed that most homes or buildings have shrines standing outside with incense and flower offerings. A quick google search told me that these are called spirit houses. The Thai people believe they are dwelling places for the spirits of the land and that they protect the people and bring them good luck.

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Our half day city tour took us to lots of places. We had the van and the tour guide all to ourselves, which was even better.

The drive went uphill and downhill and almost everywhere along the way, the views were just gorgeous. I didn’t expect Phuket to have lots of hills. But along those stretches of flat land, I wish we can just randomly stop at a secluded beach and take a quick dip in the turquoise waters!

Karon viewpoint, or the 3 beaches viewpoint. Self-explanatory. And no, you can’t see Patong beach from here.

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Big Buddha. As the name implies, the biggest and the most revered in Phuket. It is located on top of a hill with breathtaking views of the island.

There are so many temples in this island alone and yet, we were only able to visit two. I wonder how many of them are in the entire country. Unless you’re a temple person, then this is the place for you. Cambodia IS another story. Once you’ve seen one or two “wats” here (local term for temple), you’ve seen them all. They may come in different sizes and designs but there will be a point when you’ve just been “templed out.”

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Construction of the Big Buddha has been going on for years since they rely mostly on donations. You can either buy souvenirs or pay to write your names or scribble blue messages on marble squares to be used in the construction of its walls and pillars.

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Or you can also purchase a brass bell. There were hundreds of them all over! Listening to them gently chime when a breeze blows just adds to the serenity of the place. It is quite magical!

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Before entering the temple grounds, female tourists have to cover up with a sarong that you can borrow to hide those exposed legs and bosoms. Modesty is practiced because this is a place of worship.

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I love this snapshot of a monk! I wonder what he was thinking that day…

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“In the end these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?”

Gautama Buddha

I Will Never Go On An Elephant Ride Again

Before Phuket, I was naively excited and eager to sit atop elephants. It was number one on my list of activities in Thailand. I would look at photos and read stories about the different experiences people have riding them. Some were positive, most were negative.

Elephants are everywhere in Thailand. It is a symbol of this country. The Thai people have a long standing history with them, as beasts of burden and in battle. When this need no longer existed, the “domesticated” trained elephants and their handlers had nothing to do and no where to go. Then came the tourism industry providing the handlers and their elephants with job security. If this helped them with income and jobs, how come elephant riding as a form of tourist activity is discouraged now?

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It is in the way the elephants are being trained. They start training them when they are only babies, taken away from their mothers. It is a horrible and painful process. Can you say “inhumane” when talking about animals?

As I was trying to understand more about the ethical issues involved in elephant riding, I came across these two posts. They both are for the protection of elephants but one is against riding them completely while the other is only against the use of the trekking chairs.

Click on links below to learn more.

http://expertvagabond.com/elephants-in-thailand/

http://adoreanimals.com/blog/the-ethical-elephant-experience/

Unfortunately, the city tour package that we took while in Phuket included an elephant trekking experience. I don’t even know the name of the company that offered the rides.

The elephants, to me, looked sad and lethargic. There was a baby elephant tied to a chain on the ground. He didn’t look happy either. Some of them also looked sickly.

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When we were on top of the elephant sitting on a trekking chair with the handler in front by its neck, I swear that was the first time I ever participated in a travel activity that I wasn’t too excited about. I felt so guilty. Looking at my touristy-say-cheese photos taken by my brother only adds to my guiltiness.

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The minute I saw the handlers’ hooks and how they “prodded” the elephants’ heads or ears with it, I couldn’t wait for the ride to be over. It wasn’t even considered a trek as it was just mostly around their backyard walking around in circles, with the elephants stopping most of the time to eat or I do not know what else they were waiting for.

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The handler with the hook on his right hand
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No, the sharp part wasn’t poked into this elephant’s head but the fact that they do carry it doesn’t change.

Now there are hundreds of elephant tours or elephant reserves all over Thailand. Not all of them mistreat and mishandle their animals. You just have to do your research diligently. You can either go all out and be against riding elephants completely or be selective with the kind of company you go for, the kind that treats their animals with love and respect. If you still want to interact with these creatures and not ride them, there are many elephant reserves that offer you the opportunity to feed and bathe them, watch them roaming freely in their natural habitat.

This particular tour just reeks of blatant disregard for the elephants’ well being and only concerned about tourist dollars.

Don’t say I wasn’t warned because I have been, but I refused to listen and let my eager adventurous self win. Pretty selfish, I could say, looking back at it.

Never again. And I hope you won’t make the same mistake too.

(Some of the photos used in this post are my brother’s. Thanks dong!)

Thailand: My Food Journal

If Singapore had so much multi-cultural food diversities, Thailand, or at least Phuket, has it’s own version too. Only that we chose to devour only seafood. FRESH seafood, at that. And did I say they were cheap? I know, I know, cheap is relative. But seafood is never cheap! Certainly not in the US and certainly not as fresh as you want them to be.

It was a quick weekend getaway to this island known worldwide for its beaches and nightlife and sadly, the 2004 tsunami. But life always finds a way and today, Phuket is back on it’s feet and partying once again.

On our first night, the owner of the condo that we were renting recommended to us a little thai restaurant with cheap good food. It does not have a name but it is within walking distance and that we can find it where there is a red chair in between two palm trees. Government taxes restaurant owners for every signage they put up so to bring down food costs, this one does not have a signage. So off we went in search of two palm trees and a red chair. Minutes later, we were already in the vicinity but nowhere can we find that red chair. Palm trees yes, but no chair. Starving tourists that we were, we just went ahead and randomly picked a restaurant with lots of people dining and a live band playing.

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The Tom Yum was THE best!!!
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Trying out local beer

After that first tom yum soup that I had that night, from then on, I never let a meal pass by without ordering it. Don’t get me wrong, the tom yum that I normally order in our local Thai restaurant is also good but this one had a creamier taste to it.

Lunch the next day (I don’t remember eating breakfast, we must have slept through it) was at their local wet market as recommended. It was a looong walk to find it. We walked past dozens of eateries, food stands, modern looking restaurants until we finally get to this two story box-like building.

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Lunch to say the least was a pretty complicated one this time around. We had to buy food on the first floor and then go to the second floor to have our food cooked. The language barrier was a hindrance but did not deter us from trying to get our food cooked the way we wanted it. And of course, we wanted FRESH seafood!

We had plenty to chose from…

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These crabs were still wriggling
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Not frozen and no red eyes!
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Lobsters kept alive inside these basins full of water
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Pretty crabs
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Huge shells. No idea what they’re called but they look like aliens moving around
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More huge shrimp!
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I caught this fella here trying to make a quick escape, sideways, of course!

After so much confusion as to what to buy, we ended up getting those huge shrimp and a huge snapper fish. If only we can eat them all! Our cooked meal looked like this…

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Thai food is not just flavorful and spicy, it is also very colorful. Look at all the veggies and spices they used! A feast for the senses indeed.

After a long hot day of going around Phuket for our city tour, we were ready for dinner. We were so famished that I forgot to take photos of our very interesting steak dish, tom yum (always a part of my meal) and the pesto pasta. I only have my pad thai here, which I really wasn’t happy about. Let’s just say it tasted different.

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For our very last night in Phuket, we decided to splurge on dinner (more like trying to dispose of our remaining baht) and had two lobsters! They were each cooked in different ways and they were oh-so-good! I have never eaten lobster, ever in my entire life, that was prepared this way. Mmmmm…mmmm…. mouth drool!

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We also had fish and fresh coconut for drinks.

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It was truly a feast to remember.

But we couldn’t leave Phuket without trying the ever popular crepe food stands. Sooo good!

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Banana nutella anyone?
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You can find one in almost every street corner

On our flight back to Singapore, we were at the airport early so we had lunch at a “local” Irish sports bar/resto. Lo and behold, Thai food!

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Fusion pad thai
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Sweet and sour something
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Thai fried rice
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My very last tom yum in Phuket

As I bid farewell to Phuket, memories of food and adventure with my brother and his wife are forever cherished. Full hearts and tummies are always a good thing.

We never did find that restaurant with the two palm trees and the red chair!