The chaos and energy of the old quarter’s narrow, busy streets is intoxicating, and it was great to be thrown into the deep end to get a sense of what we were in for in Vietnam. Nothing can quite prepare you for the number of scooters, motorbikes, carts, and weird sights and sounds that Hanoi throws at you. Our advice is to embrace it, be bold (especially when crossing the street), and take it all in.
The legendary road through the mountains Northwest from Chiang Mai has a staggering 762 corners. The bus and minivan drivers are infamous for their speed and ability to make passengers feel ill. We’re still not sure whether all those stories were exaggerated tales or whether, as Kenyans, we’re just accustomed to crazy driving and windy roads, or we simply got lucky with a good driver (both directions). Whatever the case, we were both fine, both directions, and actually enjoyed the ride and the scenery.
Koh Phangan has its own kind of special magic. Sometime in the 80’s, the first groups of backpacker tourists arrived on Koh Phangan, which had previously been settled by Buddhist monks, coconut farmers, and fishermen. When the moon was full, they held a small gathering on the beach with a campfire and guitars, vowing to come back for the full moon every year thereafter. Today, the most well-known attraction, bringing in the largest numbers of young travellers, is the world-famous Full-Moon party held on Haad Rin Beach, on the South-Eastern corner of the Island. More than 20,000 travellers visit Koh Phangan each month for a couple of days for the famous Full-Moon Party. Many of these travellers leave the island after the party, unaware that it has so much more to offer (and that’s ok with us!).
Where ever and whenever we travel, we do our best to minimize our negative impact on the places we visit. We're still learning, and we still make mistakes, but after a few years of traveling to various locations and seeing the environmental problems in each place, we'd like to help with some guidelines for other travellers who want to limit their impact as they travel.
When we’re on holiday, we rarely wake up early, unless we’re on safari. Between the jetlag and the long, hot train ride to Surat Thani, and the onward bus to Khao Sok, we could have easily slept in on our first morning. But, as John Muir once famously wrote in an 1873 letter to his sister, “the mountains are calling, and I must go”! We’d read a lot about the rich biodiversity of Khao Sok National Park, the beautiful views, the peace of the forest, and the interesting limestone geology that characterizes this ancient ecosystem, so overcoming out desire for sleep wasn’t too much of a problem. We’d booked a half-day guided walk with our guest house hosts the day before, starting at 7:30. We were told that most people get back around 10:30 or 11 am. We’re not ‘most people’.
Khao Sok National Park, the ancient rain forest that can only be described as awe inspiring and a wonderland for the nature nerds that we are. This was our first real adventure after the urban chaos of Bangkok. Our over night sleeper train screeched to a halt in the small and quiet train station of Surat Thani just after dawn. We jumped off and headed straight towards the Phantip travel office and coffee shop across the street. It was a familiar sight and not much had changed. You had to pay 10 Baht to use the wash room or to charge any electronics but our main purpose here was to book seats on a minivan to Khao Sok. Three hours and one coffee later we boarded the minivan to Khao Sok for 250 Baht each. As minivan public transport, these are the Thai equivalent of our matatus but that is where the similarities end. Air-conditioned, less cramped, newer, and all-round more comfortable without the blaring music, a much more subdued mode of public transport.
We’ve never spent much time exploring Bangkok as we’ve always been in a rush to get to some other destination. This time we had a few days in Bangkok, staying with a friend, so we decided to get out and experience something new. We were staying in Ari, a small area within the greater Phayathai part of Bangkok. From here we took a taxi to Soi Si Ayuttaya Market to stroll around and look at the wares. The main alley was full of stalls selling live catfish, eels, frogs, and terrapins. It was difficult for us, as nature lovers to see, but we understand most of it is bred in captivity for sale at markets such as this (we’ll research this more). Nevertheless it was very interesting, and not too crowded.