Central Asia is booked!

August 9th, 2014 22:51 No comments

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve booked my next trip. In May 2015 I’ll be jetting off to Central Asia to overland with Dragoman through Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, via Istanbul.

This is a region that I’ve had my eye on for a while, ever since I travelled with Dragoman in 2009. After returning from Africa I decided to research other trips that Dragoman offered and a photo of one of their trucks next to a mountain lake got my attention. After some research I discovered that it was a photo of a trip through Kyrgyzstan and it looked so beautiful I decided to add it to my to-do list. I kept getting distracted by other destinations, such as North Korea and Myanmar, but the time has come to go!

Central Asia is best known for being the region through which the Silk Road sliced on its way from Turkey to China, and we will be visiting some of the old Silk Road cities, but the main focus will be the beautiful scenery we’ll see on the way.

The route will be as shown below.

The route of the land portion of my trip

The route of the land portion of my trip

The entire route I'll be taking, including the flights.

The entire route I’ll be taking, including the flights.

I recently stated that I didn’t expect to be doing any more camping trips but once you’ve tasted overland travel you can’t stay away for too long. The way of life on the road, the sights you see and the experiences you have just trump any other form of trip and help you grow as a person.

I’m really looking forward to the trip. It’ll be the best part of a year before my blog is online but expect tales of pristine landscapes, new cultures and great experiences from a land that’s off of the main tourist trail.

To see a Google image search of images from Kyrgyzstan, to see some of the sights I’ll encounter, click here.

Share
 

My Myanmar Travel Blog is online!

May 14th, 2014 08:41 No comments

I’m happy to announce that my blog from my recent trip to Myanmar (aka Burma) with short stops either side in Thailand and Hong Kong is finally online after some delays.

As explained on this site I write up my blog in note format and then take time to write it up in detail, and to sort through my photos properly, rather than typing it up on the move or rushing through it as soon as I get home. This is the method I’ve found works best for me.

I really enjoyed this trip. Myanmar is a country I have wanted to visit for some time and while I didn’t get to visit the mainland, other than 20 minutes at the end of the trip while our passports were being processed, I found the trip to be very worthwhile and enjoyable. The Myeik Archipelago is a beautiful location and I feel privileged and honoured to have visited it while it is still deserted and has not been ruined by being opened up to tourism too much.

There were a few highlights for me. The first highlight was the beautiful scenery which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen while travelling before as I usually go places where there’s lots to see, do and experience rather than wildernesses where I want to relax. The second highlight was visiting the Moken Sea Gypsy village and interacting with the people – we didn’t spend much time there but I really enjoyed it.

I’m having a few issues on this site and have noticed that visitors are unable to browse to older posts from the main page, however if you click “2014 Myanmar Sailing” in the main menu you should be able to browse through the posts from this trip in date order without any problems. Enjoy.

Sunrise

Sunrise from the boat

Moken village

Arriving at the Moken Village

For the benefit of search engines and ranking here’s a list of the things we saw and did:
Myanmar, Burma, Myeik Archipelago, Mergui, Sailing, Boat, Intrepid, Gecko’s, Trek, Thailand, Phuket, Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, Moken, Sea Gypsies, Andaman Sea, MacLeod Island, Lampi Island, Bo Cho Island, Myauk Ni Island, Kawthoung, Ranong, Fishing, Snorkeling, Temple, Kayaking, Swimming, Asia.

Just so that I finish my blog with something better than a list, here’s an adorable photo of some kids from the Moken Sea Gypsie village…

Moken Kids

Moken Kids posing for photos

Share
 

Thoughts from Myanmar

March 16th, 2014 10:08 No comments

Now that I’ve been back in the UK for a few days, and have started re-adjusting to UK time, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my trip to Myanmar.

I had wanted to visit Myanmar, also known as Burma, for a while. There are a few things that drew me to the country. The first is that it’s not on the general tourist map for people in the UK, secondly I like to visit somewhere that has good experiences and unique things to see and thirdly I like to visit places that have a story, event or culture that I want to learn more about. Myanmar definitely fits those three.

The trip I originally booked is different to the one I finally went on due to changes made by the tour company. Originally I was due to spend a few days in Yangon looking at the sights and learning more about Burmese culture but I was moved onto the version of the trip starting in Phuket instead which missed out the mainland of Myanmar. This had the benefit of fewer early mornings and being cheaper but resulted in me missing out learning about the culture and also resulted in me visiting the tourist hell of Phuket. I didn’t let this change spoil the trip, however, and I had a fantastic time.

Karon Beach

Karon Beach – tourist hell for me

The scenery in the Myeik Archipelago is absolutely beautiful and this was one of the things that made me pick the trip. While walking around on the islands, snorkelling in the sea and just sitting back watching the world go by we saw some of the best scenery I have seen while travelling. I’m not much of a beach person in most places that people travel as they tend to be overcrowded, full of sunbeds and be generally ruined. This was the case in Phuket, the reason I only spent one afternoon on the beach there, but the beaches we visited in Myanmar were almost a world away.

The waters were a bit murky in Myanmar which was a shame but this didn’t affect the snorkeling. If you’re looking for beautiful crystal clear waters then this might not be the best place to go but if you’re looking for a remote, unique and beautiful trip then I’d highly recommend a visit.

Me on Island 115

Me on the beach of Island 115 – a beautiful beach that I loved

Sunset

Sunset over Swinton Island – the most memorable of the trip

 

One of the good things about doing the trip this year is that it has only just started opening up to the outside world. For years it was impossible for foreigners to visit the region, then for a while it was possible to visit on short trips with liveaboard boats, and then finally this year it was possible for foreign operators to visit the region. This hasn’t spoilt the region, however, as it must be organised on a local license instead of a foreign one, so there are hardly any boats around except for fishing boats. Except for the night at MacLeod Island we didn’t share our anchorage with any non-local boats and that was brilliant.

All of this could be changing, however, as during the trip we were told that the Myanmar Government have started allowing foreign operators to bid for permits directly rather than going through a local operator. If this is managed correctly it should still preserve the pristine environment of the area but there is a risk that up to 100 boats could be operating in the area rather than the 4 that currently do.

It would be a shame if the area opened up fully as there is a chance that it could ruin the reason that people want to visit. There are hardly any pristine areas left in the world and so the area would need to be managed fully. This would mean that prices would go up but it would be a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. This is what the Government in Rwanda have done with the National Park containing the Mountain Gorillas. In Rwanda it is only possible for a maximum of 32 people to visit a day, which has resulted in the price of a Gorilla permit almost doubling since I was there, but it has helped to preserve not only the habitat but the Gorillas themselves.

There were a couple of things I was worried about before embarking on this trip. Firstly I was worried about the seas being too rough. I’m an experienced traveller, and used to sail around Dover Harbour when I was younger, but I’ve never really sailed on the open seas. This is one of the things putting me off other sailing related trips that I’ve looked at, such as The Galapagos Islands, the British Territories in the Atlantic and Antarctica. The seas did get a bit choppy on a couple of days but were never anything I couldn’t manage.

The other thing I was worried about was the cramped conditions on board the boat. We were told in advance that the cabin space would be limited to maximise public space and this was definitely the case. The cabin I was assigned to share with one other person had a double bed with hardly any space to move, a couple of shelves to put bags, a wash basin and nothing else as you can see in the photo below. Some people may be worried about not being able to get any personal space but I never found this to be an issue. During the sailing portion of the trip it was possible to sit in the social area and chat but it was also possible to sit on bean bags on the deck and relax, lay in the hammock, sit on the seats at the bow of the ship or sit on the sides of the boat with your legs over the edge if you needed a bit of personal space. The deck space was quite large and never felt cramped even though there was nowhere to go while sailing. Obviously this depends on which boat is in use, and I can’t guarantee that the same boat will be in use next year, but Intrepid won’t use an unsuitable boat for the trip.

The cabin assigned to myself and Ashu

The cabin I was assigned to share

On board the boat

Looking towards the bow of the boat. Win can be seen working hard as usual!

On board the boat

On board the boat

On board

Another view of on board the ship

Our boar

This is a view of our boat from the water

(Photo credit : Ashu Khanna for the on board photos)

One thing I’m amazed at is this is the first trip I’ve been on since I started travelling to weird and wonderful places on my own where there hasn’t been somebody moaning the entire trip about the smallest of things trying to make everybody’s life a misery for the sake of it. I guess as sailing isn’t for everybody and as this is a brand new trip, which we were told in advance to expect issues with, we were all like-minded and so got on well.

I like to visit a variety of places rather than going back to the same place all the time but I do want to visit Myanmar again soon to be able to visit the mainland and to experience more of the culture and history of the country than I did by just sailing. Myanmar has such a vibrant culture, detailed history and beautiful scenery so it’s a country I would definitely recommend to anybody who likes to get off the beaten path and experience a country which still has things to discover. This is, of course, as long as you’re somebody who likes to visit a country on its own terms rather than having things your way. Myanmar is a country which still has things to discover but according to reports it’s already changing rapidly and I don’t want my recommendations to speed this up.

Ma Kyone Galet

Walking through the Moken “Sea Gypsy” village

As far as the trip is concerned I would highly recommend it to anybody as long as you’re able to travel with no advance expectations. This is a new area which is only just opening up so things will go wrong, and you will be in close quarters with other people for a week, but it’s a highly rewarding trip if you’re able to do it.

After the issues I had with the travel company I’d recommend going direct with Intrepid as opposed to booking through Gecko’s, as they were completely incompetent, but if you’ve got this far in my blog I suspect you already have an idea that you want to go on the trip so I’d say go for it. Alternatively feel free to contact me using the contact form on this site – I’m always happy to hear from people if they want to comment on my blog or ask questions / advice.

Here’s a map of the route of the sailing portion of the trip.

Map of Myanmar Sailing Trip

The route that the sailing portion of my trip took

Myanmar Sailing Map

The red circle is the area that we sailed in. The two red X’s indicate Phuket and Hong Kong.

Share
 

Hong Kong and home again

March 12th, 2014 23:07 No comments

I’ve arrived back home after a great trip. Myanmar is a country I have wanted to visit for a long time and even though I didn’t see much of the country itself as it was a sailing trip I had such a great time. I also ticked off three new places on my list – Myanmar, Thailand and Hong Kong which was great. I even found a way to get around Hong Kong not stamping passports anymore and have just glued by arrival paper into my passport as a permanent proof that I have been to the city.

Unfortunately my time in the city wasn’t as productive as I would have liked. When I woke up this morning I saw that the fog was just as thick so most of the things I had planned to do – the Victoria Peak, sailing across the harbour, enjoying the skyline etc, would all have to be abandoned. Instead I decided to just wander round and enjoy the atmosphere of the city before grabbing food at the airport.

Fog

This is the view I was greeted with this morning

This is all I could see of the city from my room due to fog

This is all I could see of the city from my room due to fog

After checking out I wandered towards Central Station via the back roads to take in the atmosphere. Even though it has been more than a decade since Hong Kong was ruled by the UK the British influence is still felt here – from the language use to the side of the road you drive on all the way to the use of double decker buses which until now I thought were a purely British thing. It’s a weird mixture of Chinese and British cultures that’s fast paced and I really liked it. The city felt like somewhere that I could wander forever and still not see anything but as I had a flight to catch that evening I had to walk with a purpose.

I spent some time sitting in Statue Square, outside the Hong Kong Parliament, watching the world go by and assessing my options as I wanted to make the most of my time in the city but most of the things I had planned to do relied on good visibility. I decided that there was one thing I couldn’t miss and that was the Star Ferry to Kowloon. I knew that I would be unable to see the skyline but my friend who has visited Hong Kong told me it’s something I had to do and so off I went.

Hong Kong

Walking around Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Walking around Hong Kong some more

Statue Square

Statue Square

Hong Kong

This was the best view I got of the skyline all day

The ferry ride was really cheap and only takes a few minutes. The boats are in good condition but have that old maritime feel to them which I liked. As we sailed across the harbour the Hong Kong skyline quickly faded into the fog and was replaced by nothing more than a grey blur by the time we arrived in Kowloon. I decided to spend some time walking around, taking in the sights, and enjoying the atmosphere for a little while before heading back to Hong Kong Island. Among the things I saw were the Museum of Art, the Space Museum, the Cultural Centre and Nathan Road which is the Hong Kong equivalent of Regent Street or Fifth Avenue – nothing but a long road flanked by high rise buildings containing brand name shops. If I had more time I might have popped into the Space Museum as that’s a topic I’m interested in but it was also school outing day so I would have shared the museum with several hundred screaming children.

Before heading back I had to have a photo taken, even though the skyline wasn’t visible, so spoke to a Canadian couple who were in the same predicament as me – they were in Hong Kong for an overnight stopover and were a bit lost on what to do because they wanted to do the same things as me. The photo came out a bit grey but I had to at least have one photo of me while in Hong Kong.

Kowloon

Walking around Kowloon

Kowloon

Walking around Kowloon some more

Me in Kowloon

This should have been a great photo if not for fog

After arriving back on Hong Kong Island I decided to check out another unique Hong Kong experience – the mid-level escalators. As Hong Kong is very mountainous most of the commuters live in apartments built high up on the hills. This leaves a predicament about how to get to and from work and the Hong Kong authorities decided that a kilometre long series of escalators would be the key. During the morning rush hour the escalators go downhill to bring people to work but for the rest of the day they travel uphill. I decided to ride them all the way from the bottom to the top to take in some more sights and to see a more residential side of Hong Kong.

As I rode up the escalators the buildings changed from glitzy Dior shops to smaller shops and bars, then to office buildings and finally to run-down apartment buildings where the locals live. There isn’t much to see up there so I wandered around for a bit taking photos before heading through the botanical gardens and back towards the city.

Trams

Trams are regularly seen in Hong Kong

Escalators

Riding the mid-level escalators

Hong Kong

A more residential area of Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Walking back to catch the Airport Express

By this time I had run out of things I could do when time pressured in Hong Kong on a day with low visibility so decided to head back to the airport for some food. I made my way back to Hong Kong station and not long afterwards I was being whisked at high speed towards the airport on the Airport Express train. Why we can’t have something as efficient as that in London I don’t know.

Airport Express

Travelling back on tha Airport Express

I bought a few souvenirs and had dinner at Pizza Express before walking around the terminal to stretch my legs and get the blood flowing before my flight. I doubted that I would be lucky enough to have a row to myself on the way back again and I was right – I was next to an elderly Chinese couple who couldn’t work their interactive TV and kept interrupting me while I was watching my movie to ask for help. I didn’t mind just it happened far too often but I wasn’t planning on sleeping anyway and wanted to watch movies all night to get my body back into the correct time zone again.

The flight was uneventful and quick and we arrived back in London on schedule early this evening. I’m now back in my room and thoroughly exhausted but I couldn’t be happier that this trip went well considering the problems I had before departure. In my usual fashion this blog is written in note form so will take some time before it’s typed up online but when it’s finally online I hope you find it informative and that it helps you make a decision about whether a trip like this is right for you.

Share
 

From Thailand to Hong Kong

March 11th, 2014 23:59 No comments

I’ve arrived in Hong Kong and even though I’ve been here less than an hour I’m already impressed with the city. Everything just seems to work so fast and efficient compared to other places I’ve been in Asia and it’s a whole world away from Thailand where I started the day.

As my flight from Phuket to Hong Kong wasn’t until this evening I decided to have another day of exploring so after breakfast on the roof terrace I was straight out into the city to do some more exploring. I decided I was going to start the day at Monkey Hill which is just north of my hotel and is a hill overlooking the city which is home to hordes of monkeys. I thought this could be an interesting experience but the main reason I wanted to go here was to see the view due to the disappointment on Rang Hill yesterday. Unfortunately there was more disappointment as I just couldn’t find the entrance to the road leading up to the hill no matter how hard I tried looking online and at maps. Maybe the view from the hotel is the best one I will get of Phuket Town.

I decided not to let this spoil the day and decided to divert back towards the city centre to check out some more sights. My first port of call was the Chinpracha House which is the last remaining colonial mansion in Phuket that is open to the public. I passed it yesterday while walking towards Rang Hill and the guide book said it was worth a visit if you’re in the area. I would agree with that description as it was worth seeing but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit again. It was nice to see a mansion set up how it was back in the colonial era but other than few rooms with a pond and a lot of china there wasn’t much to see, although it was cheap to visit so I can’t really complain.

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Chinpracha House

Lunch Time

This is where I had lunch both days

As the Chinpracha House was just down the road from the great little cafe I had lunch at yesterday I decided to head there again for another great meal. I had the same as last time, stewed pork on a bed of leaves with various sides such as hot sauce and soup, but I really liked it so didn’t see the need to change.

There wasn’t much time left by this point so I decided to head back the hotel, via the memorial gardens to the Queen of Thailand and a few temples, to catch up on my reading before heading to the airport in my prebooked taxi. When I arrived I was told that even though I was an hour early there was a taxi available and so I decided to head to the airport straight away to allow for holdups, after changing into my travelling clothes. I could have delayed until my prebooked time and visited one of the other museums in the area or grabbed a coffee but decided there wasn’t much point and I would. rather just get there.

A park

The park dedicated to the Queen of Thailand

The park again

The park again

Phuket Town

Outside my hotel in Phuket Town

The journey to the airport was quick and I arrived an hour before check-in opened so relaxed outside reading a book and watching the world go by before checking in. The check-in process was fairly slow but the people themselves couldn’t be more helpful. As I’m only spending tonight in Hong Kong I asked if there would be a way to check my bags all the way through to maximise the time I had to look around and they were able to do this for me which was great. This way there was no waiting for luggage when I arrived in Hong Kong and no worrying about checking in on the way back as I’m checked all the way through.

The flight was on time and uneventful and I arrived in Hong Kong at 11pm which meant there was hardly anybody around. This was good with me as I wanted to get an early night and then rise early tomorrow in time to explore. The arrivals process in Hong Kong was very quick, due to the fact that they now issue slips of paper rather than stamps in the passport, and I was soon through to the Airport Express train which whisked me into the city in 20 minutes. From here I grabbed a taxi at a rank which was run with military precision and was soon at my hotel for the night, the Island Pacific Hotel. In total I landed less than an hour ago so I can’t believe I’m at the hotel already.

I decided to stay at this hotel as it is right on the waterfront and offers rooms on a high floor with a great view of the harbour. I thought this was perfect so upgraded to one of the expensive harbour view rooms on a high floor. However when I arrived I saw that the city was shrouded in thick fog so I couldn’t see a thing except the buildings next to the hotel and the ground below. Hopefully it’ll clear up by tomorrow so that I can make the most of my time in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Hotel

My room in Hong Kong

Share
 

A day in Phuket Town

March 10th, 2014 21:36 No comments

I’m back in my room after an exhausting day exploring Phuket Town but it has been worthwhile and I’ve seen a lot of things.

This morning I had breakfast on the roof terrace at the hotel. The food itself was average but the view was really nice and you could see from Monkey Hill to the north all the way south over the city. This provided great photo opportunities but I didn’t stay long as I wanted to get out and explore.

Breakfast time

The view from the breakfast terrace

Phuket Town

Phuket Town as seen from my hotel

Old Town

Walking around the old part of Phuket Town

The first port of call was the Phuket Thaihua Museum which is dedicated to the Chinese migrants who settled in Phuket when it was nothing more than a fishing island and about the culture they brought with them. It’s located in an old Chinese school and houses all sorts of artefacts including old school books, immigration papers, photos, musical instruments, an old Chinese typewriter and all sorts of scenes depicting the history of the Chinese people of Phuket and of the school itself. The building itself was a little hard to find as all of the maps only showed a vague location but after arriving I spent probably an hour and a half looking around without seeing everything. It was probably top of my list of things I wanted to see in Phuket Town so I was glad I went and I would definitely recommend a visit if you’re interested in the changing history of places you visit.

Immigration Papers

Immigration papers at the Thaihua Museum

Thaihua Musem

Artefacts at the Thaihua Museum

Thaihua Museum

The entrance hall of the Thaihua Museum

Thaihua Museum

The exterior of the Thaihua Museum

Just down from the Thaihua Museum was a great little cafe serving freshly cooked Thai food that was filling and incredibly cheap. I spent some time here watching the world go by in the old town before slowly making my way up to my next port of call, Rang Hill. Rang Hill, so the guidebook said, was the best place to catch a view over the city so I thought it would definitely be worth a visit. As I was walking towards the hill I was constantly nagged by taxi drivers trying to get me to ride with them up the hill but I declined as it was such a nice day I wanted to walk.

The walk up took rather a long time, and was rather exhausting due to the heat, but it was nice to experience the scenery and see more than if I had been whisked up in a car in a few minutes. I passed several apartment buildings, cafes, restaurants and a fitness park before arriving at the top. By this time I was pretty exhausted so I’m glad that I bought a few bottles of water from the 7-eleven at the bottom of the hill. Unfortunately the view was slightly obscured by construction work while I was there but there was a cafe and restaurant which were right on the edge and should have provided a great view if I had decided to stop there. I explored around the summit for a while taking photos and could see that if the view wasn’t obscured by construction it would have been really nice.

Rang Hill

Walking up Rang Hill

Phuket Town

Phuket Town as seen from Rang Hill

Rang Hill

An exercise park on Rang Hill

It was soon time for me to head back down to the city, and the walk down was definitely easier than the walk up! I decided to head to my hotel to freshen up and so took a detour half way down the hill past a temple and through some residential areas which acted as a shortcut. One thing I can’t get used to is the heat and humidity in this part of the world compared to what we’re used to back in the UK. Right now it’s probably raining and only in single digits whereas in Thailand it’s in the high 30s and sunny all day. This meant that the quick stop turned into a shower and a refuge in a room with air conditioning to cool off before venturing back outside again. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad it’s this hot, and I knew how hot it would be before I came, but it takes some getting used to especially if you’re doing a lot of walking.

Temple

A temple in Phuket Town

The view from my room

The view from my hotel room

After relaxing in my hotel for a little bit I headed back out to explore some more. The idea was to do a big circle of the city towards the big King Rama IX Park in the south of the city to see some sights, take some photos and scout out some places for dinner tonight. The walk itself was fairly uneventful, other than the repeated calls of “Hello, Taxi” and “Hello, Mister, I take you to women” which were aimed in my direction. That’s something you get used to when travelling though, similar to being called Mzungu when travelling in Africa. I see some interesting buildings and parks although unfortunately most of the photos I took were obscured by a smudge on my lens that I didn’t notice until checking them over tonight.

When I arrived at the park I had planned to sit down and read a book until sunset and then head out to my chosen restaurant, in this case an Italian restaurant I liked the look of in the city centre, but within seconds of sitting down on the bench I was covered in rather large, red, evil looking ants. As a result my time in the park was limited but it looked a great place to relax with friends, enjoy a ball game or chill with an ice cream if you didn’t mind the ants. I decided it would be better to do another loop of the city back to my hotel and leave everything I didn’t need before heading back out to the restaurant.

Phuket Town

Phuket Town

Phuket Town

Walking around Phuket Town

A park

A park in Phuket Town

The restaurant I chose, Salvatore’s, was very expensive by Thai standards and was closer to western city prices but I was just in the mood for somewhere I could sit down quietly and relax rather than one of the chaotic places I had seen in the very centre of town. It also looked like a really nice restaurant and I was in the mood for treating myself after an exhausting trip. The food was beautiful and didn’t disappoint. I chose a parma ham and melon starter followed by a four cheese pizza and it was almost at Italian standard and the restaurant itself was really nice. I would have had something other than pizza but I had a problem with the local ATMs and pizza was the only thing I had enough cash for.

After dinner I headed back to my hotel to relax and called my credit card company to find out why my cards didn’t work in the ATMs out here. It turns out they had blocked my card, even though I told them I was travelling, as I only tried to take out a small amount of money and they considered that suspicious. Well of course I tried to take out a small amount of money – the food is so cheap over here and I only needed enough money for food to make up for the rather large key deposit that the hotel had. If it wasn’t for the key deposit then I would have budgeted perfectly. After a 10 minute phone call everything was sorted out though so at least I can eat tomorrow.

Share
 

Back to Thailand

March 9th, 2014 23:23 No comments

I have finally arrived back in Phuket after a long day of travelling. I’m staying in Phuket Town for a couple of nights to see a non-beach side of the island and to experience life in a less touristy Thai town. Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to see much as I arrived quite late and I’m completely exhausted but I’m glad to be here.

This morning I planned to get up early to watch as we raised the anchor for the last time but they left early so I was still asleep when we started sailing. The journey back was largely uneventful and most of us spent the time repacking, relaxing and chatting about our experiences on the trip. It seems we all had different memories, highlights and low points on the trip but there were some things in common. I would say my highlights were the trek, even though it was hard, along with the time spent on Swinton Island as it was just magical. I’ll also never forget our local guides as they were so hard working and really made the trip what it was. Hein was so knowledgeable and friendly and Win worked like a machine – one thing I’ll remember forever is how one night when I was talking to Marie we saw that Win was still cleaning the deck after everybody else had gone to bed. Marie said to him “Win, it’s very late” to which he replied “I know. You go to bed now, goodnight”. This made us both laugh so much, and it made him laugh too when we talked about it, but it showed how much of a hard worker he really was.

There was one downside to the trip which was that I didn’t get to set foot on the mainland after all of the problems I had encountered with the trip being changed before arriving. I really wanted to at least set food on the mainland to see a Myanmar town so myself and Ashu came up with a plan to go ashore with Hein when he was processing our passports and luckily he agreed so as soon as we anchored off Kawthaung the three of us jumped in the dinghy and headed ashore. We were told we would only have 15 minutes but we didn’t mind.

Kawthaung

Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

 

A pagoda

A pagoda

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

 

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

We didn’t really have much of a plan other than to walk around and see the town that we would have stayed at for a day if we had been on the original version of the trip. We wandered around taking photos of the streets, markets, shops, pagodas and waterfront for a while before heading back to the pier to meet Hein. In general the streets of Kawthaung were rather busy, smelt of fish, and didn’t offer much other than the experience for travellers but it was nice to see a Myanmar town.

When we arrived back at the pier Hein wasn’t ready yet so we wandered along the shore a bit further to the southernmost point of Myanmar. Along the way there was a cafe, temple and a few children who followed us begging for money but the views we were treated with when we arrived were really nice. However we couldn’t enjoy them for long as by this point Hein was ready and waiting for us at the pier to take us back to the boat ready for our crossing back into Thailand.

Kawthaung Pier

Me at Kawthaung Pier

 

Me in Myanmar

Me at the southernmost point of mainland Myanmar

Group photo

Group photo on board

 

Back to Thailand

On the boat back to Thailand

I couldn’t find the arrival card that I was given when I departed Thailand so there was a short delay while I completed another one but the queues were short so it didn’t make much of an impact in the grand scheme of things. However the Thai authorities didn’t look impressed so try not to lose it if you come on the trip. I have found it now but wasn’t able to in the rush between getting back on board the boat and heading to Thailand.

The journey from Ranong back to Phuket was like a rally race. The driver was crazy and was continually speeding, tailgating, going around traffic lights to avoid having to stop for them and just generally swerving like a maniac the whole way back except for at police checkpoints. There was a short break for lunch, at the same restaurant we stopped at on the way up, before the rally driving recommenced and we were all thrown around like rag dolls again. We all agreed mid journey that this was the only bad point so far, and I didn’t exactly feel safe, but we got back which was all that matters.

Minibus

On board our rally driving minibus

There was a bit of an issue with language and communication. The driver had a list of where we were all staying, both in Thai and English, and asked us all several times to confirm it but he didn’t really pay attention and just drove where he wanted. After dropping Ashu at Khao Lak and a few people at the airport he completely missed the Airport Inn where one of the group was staying even though he went down the correct road and there was a big neon sign with an arrow pointing at it. There were issues with me and Sue too as we were both staying down south – Sue in Karon again and me in Phuket Town. After some argument we managed to get him to drive us to Karon but then he drove where he wanted and we had to give him directions to Sue’s hotel and he then moaned at me for having to drive to Phuket Town even though he knew I was staying here.

It took around an hour to arrive at my hotel in Phuket Town due to traffic but the hotel is so nice. I decided to stay here as it has a free breakfast, wi-fi, restaurants close by, big rooms and offered airport transfers. It’s also not too far from the town centre which is good as I intend to do a lot of exploring during my time here but there won’t be any time for exploring tonight, however, as it’s late so all I’m going to do is pop out for some snacks and head straight to bed.

My hotel

My hotel room in Phuket Town

Share
 

Our final day of sailing in Myanmar

March 8th, 2014 22:00 No comments

I’m writing a lot for this travel blog as the days go by which I didn’t expect. I was expecting to have a lot of sitting around doing nothing and relaxing, which we did, but there’s so much going on around us as well that I don’t want to forget as I’m having such a great time. Today was no exception and while it was a thoroughly exhausting day it was very special.

It was an early start this morning for two reasons. Firstly as I needed to get ready for the trek I was taking part in today and secondly as I wanted to see if it was my swim shorts I saw hoisted up the mast last night, and to take them down if it was. It seems my senses didn’t fail me last night as when I rose from my room this was what I saw. Sorry everybody but you’ll have to try harder next time.

Shorts ahoy

I found my shorts

There wasn’t time for a full breakfast as we were soon taken ashore by dinghy to start the trek to the top of the hill overlooking the bay. There were only a few of us taking part as we were warned in advance that the trek was more of a climb up rocks with the aid of ropes and was quite difficult but I wanted to take part so I didn’t end up just staying on the boat all week.

If you want to do this walk when on the trip make sure you take some proper shoes as you will need them. The terrain to start with wasn’t so bad, as we walked along a path that had been cut beside the worker accommodation, but it soon got steeper and more overgrown. I went through a lot of water as the gradient got steeper but I was advised to save some for the last half as it was even harder. This was true as the last few ascents were literally a case of pulling yourself up rocks and gravel with the aid of ropes. Some of the group found this easy but I’ve always found downhill to be easier than uphill even though most people say the opposite.

The bar

The bar at the resort

The start of the trek

The start of the trek

Trek

The trek was like this by the end

There were several times when I wanted to give up but I’m glad I didn’t as the views from the top were spectacular. You could see a large amount of the island all the way down to the bay containing the resort and our boat. There was another view point a bit further along the trail which allows you to see the other side of the island but this would add an extra hour to the trek and we didn’t have time for that so we just chilled at the first summit for a while enjoying the views, catching our breath, taking photos and watching the eagles that were soaring around the peak.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to waste as we needed to head off, and I was eager to enjoy the toasties which we had been promised for lunch, so I headed off at the head of the group and made my way down to the bottom of the steeper sections pretty quickly along with Ashu. I decided to wait for the others in case they were worried about us but Ashu headed straight down to the resort so he could make use of the wi-fi for the last time before we lost contact with the outside world again. I’m glad I waited as I was treated to a view of a pair of hornbills that were up in the trees.

MacLeod Island

The view from the summit of MacLeod Island

Me in Myanma

Me at the summit of MacLeod Island

At the peak

At the peak

Overall I really enjoyed the trek. It was almost at my physical limit, and was very hard, but was definitely worth it for the views. The rush down the hill was pretty exciting too although the others didn’t agree with me and they were happy when we arrived back at the beach meaning that the descent was over. We had to wait on the beach for a while for the others on the boat to see us and dispatch the dinghy but it was only a short ride back to the boat where we got our hands on our much deserved toasties. I was so hungry at this point!

Myauk Ni Island was our next destination today and it was a long sail so we set off as soon as everybody was on board. The journey today was a mixture of sailing and engines but we all just sat back and enjoyed the view of the islands going past. We didn’t see much wildlife, and we didn’t have anything exciting happen like yesterday, but this was our last full day on board so we were happy to just relax,

Finally we arrived at Myauk Ni which is a small deserted island in the middle of a big channel and we were all amazed how beautiful it looked. Even though it was small there was a really nice beach and the water looked clearer so we were all hopeful that we would see some marine life. We did, but I didn’t expect to see quite as much as I did after some disappointing days earlier in the trip.

Myauk Ni Island

Myauk Ni Island

When we entered the water we could see the anchor on the sea bed for the first time all trip so we knew our prediction about the water clarity was correct. However we were a little disappointed upon reaching the shore as we didn’t see much except a few small fish and urchins. We all snorkelled for a little while before taking a walk on the beach to see if we could find some better snorkelling sights further along the beach. During our walk we saw some fish traps, found Wilson, and got some great photos but were advised not to venture into the trees as Myauk Ni has quite a lot of snakes living on it.

As the island is small it didn’t take long to walk to the other end and both Ashu and myself were eager to get back in the water again so popped our snorkelling gear on and entered the water. The others decided not to join us which was a shame as we saw so much marine life – far more than the rest of the trip put together. The water was a bit murkier but, along with the usual urchins, we saw Parrotfish, Dory, Nemo and his dad swimming in and out of an anemone, angelfish and whole shoals of both large and small fish that I didn’t recognise. The highlight, however, was a stingray that we shadowed for a while before it disappeared into the murk.

Ashu started to get cramp in his legs so decided to walk back to the start of the beach but I decided to continue snorkelling while staying within reach of him to maintain the buddy system. I’m glad I did as the number of fish I saw increased even more. I saw a whole range of fish I didn’t recognise but while passing alongside the edge of a steep drop I could see shoals of large fish swimming below in the darkness. Unfortunately I couldn’t see what they were but they didn’t look like sharks so that was good enough for me.

We were ushered back to the boat by Mike as he wanted to make way for our anchorage in time to arrive before sunset. Tonight we spent the night at the same location as our first night and were once again greeted by a fleet of fishing boats although it was nice to be slowly eased back into the real world after a week of being away from everybody and everything.

Jill had issues with her credit card before the sailing started which was worrying for Marie as Jill had paid for her replacement passport on her card while they were both in Bangkok. They decided to use the satellite phone on board to try to call Jill’s credit card company but didn’t have luck and asked me for help. I had never used a satellite phone before so it was cool to get my hands on one although I didn’t have any luck either. I managed to get through but the reception was so bad and the line kept cutting out even though there was nothing but clear sky between us and the satellite. We decided to try mobile phones and it turns out we were just in range of the Thai phone masts (foreign mobile don’t work in Myanmar) so I loaned Jill my mobile and we were able to get the whole thing sorted out.

Dinner Time

Dinner Time

After dinner we gave thanks to the crew for an amazing week and gave them the proceeds from a collection I had organised to show our appreciation. They were all amazing people and great at helping us to have a good time whether we had been on a sailing trip before or not. I didn’t want to cut the night short as I was having a great time and knew this was my last night on board but we needed to leave at 6am to get back to Kawthaung so I decided to have an early night. I’m back in my cabin again and Ashu has decided to sleep out on deck so I should get a great nights sleep again. I’m not adverse to sharing rooms while travelling but this arrangement seems to work for us so we may as well stick with it.

Share
 

Pilot Whales and an overdue shower

March 7th, 2014 22:44 No comments

The days just keep getting better and better on this trip. I’m not sure if the trip has been planned this way, if I’m getting used to life on a boat away from everybody, or if it’s just the way it is but I’ve just got back to the boat after spending a great evening on Macleod Island to round off what has been a very eventful day.

We had another beautiful sunrise this morning. Unfortunately the sun itself was behind the island but all sunrises and sunsets are beautiful in this part of the world. After breakfast it was time to say goodbye to Swinton Island which was a shame but we were treated to more sailing under wind power rather than using the engines. According to Marie we’ve sailed more in the past 24 hours than the last few trips have all week which is great.

Breakfast

Breakfast before departing Swinton Island

Mike

Mike enjoying a final view of Swinton Island

Hein and Win

Hein and Win raising the main sail

Part of our journey today was across a channel which was in the region of 60 – 70 metres deep and during the short time it took us to cross so much happened. First we saw a few dolphins which, usually would make me smile for ages, but we didn’t have time as Mike soon announced that he had a fish on his line. We stopped the boat to allow him to pull it in but he had a lot of trouble. We weren’t sure whether the trouble was due to the fish wrapping around the rudder or whether it was just that there was a big fish on the line but this question was answered very quickly once a giant Oahu fish was brought up on deck.

The fish was so big that it would be enough to feed us for the rest of the trip and feed the next trip completely but the excitement didn’t stop there as the catch hadn’t even stopped wriggling when we were surrounded by a pod of Pilot Whales which didn’t come close but stayed with us long enough to get a few photos. However as quickly as the excitement started it stopped when we left the deep channel on our way to Macleod Island.

Mike catching dinner

Mike catching dinner

Pilot Whales

Pilot Whales

MacLeod Island

Me relaxing on board the boat at MacLeod Island

Macleod Island is the only island which has any tourism infrastructure on and is the site of an expensive resort containing a few dozen beach huts, a bar, and bungalows. It’s also set in a beautiful setting but none of this excited us on the remaining couple of hours of sailing today – what we had our sights set on was the showers at the resort.

When we arrived we decided to fit in one last snorkel before heading for the showers as we were told that the waters around Macleod Island were a prime spot for spotting turtles and this was too good an opportunity to miss. We were taken half way to the snorkelling area by dinghy but swam the rest of the way as we had to be quiet so as not to scare the turtles away. I stuck pretty close to Mike as he has eyes like a hawk and said he spotted turtles the last few times he snorkelled here. My plan almost worked as after about 10 minutes Mike called me over saying he had spotted a Hawksbill Turtle but unfortunately it had disappeared by the time I swam over.

The snorkelling here was the best of the trip so far and we saw lots of fish and some beautiful corals. Unfortunatley I didn’t take my camera with me as it acts a buoyancy device and the images are awful but Ashu took his so I’ll try to fit some of his photos in my blog. I was sad when it was time to stop snorkelling but I knew that it was soon time for a proper shower!

Life on a boat is fine but due to the nature of sailing you don’t really have much of a chance to shower. It’s possible to rinse the salt off using a hose on board, and to cool off by going for a swim, but there is no way to have a proper shower which is one of the reasons the trip stops at Macleod Island. The showers aren’t traditional ones we would expect in the west, instead they are situated right on the beach allowing us to enjoy the beautiful scenery while using them. I spent a long time showering as my hair was a mess by this point but by the time I dried off and met the others at the bar I had never felt so clean in my life. Ok that’s probably an exaggeration but it was nice to feel clean for the first time in a week! Another tip if you come on this trip is bring a towel that’s big enough to change under unless you want to get naked on the beach when changing into your proper clothes. I’ll add that to my list at the end of my blog.

MacLeod Island

MacLeod Island

Shower Time

Beach shower

There isn’t a dress code at the resort but I decided to dress up a bit and wear a shirt as dinner tonight was a sit down meal in the resort restaurant so I thought it would be a nice touch. However before dinner there was enough time to take advantage of the wi-fi at the resort to get in touch with the outside world for the first time in a week, and we all decided to take advantage of the resort bar. I decided to hit the cocktails and had a couple of Caipirinhas then finished off with an Amaretto Sour which were all quite expensive but worth it!

Dinner tonight was a Myanmar Tealeaf Salad followed by a seafood curry which was nice although it was a little pricey and came to $50 along with my cocktails. Although I didn’t mind as the whole atmosphere on the island was amazing. There we were in a largely deserted archipelago, on a beautiful island, sat on a veranda having drinks and that’s what travelling is about and why I decided to come on this trip.

Dinner Time

Dinner Time

Tea Leaf Salad

Traditional Myanmar Tea Leaf Salad

After arriving back on the boat I realised that I left my swim shorts drying on the back of my chair so asked Hein if he could look for them when he went back to get the second group. Officially they didn’t find them but it takes a lot for me to not notice things and I just saw Marie and Hein hoist something up the mast and it looks suspiciously like my shorts but it’s too dark to tell for sure. I’ll just get up tomorrow and play along anyway as that’s a good prank and at least they’ll be dry as it’s quite windy tonight.

Share
 

BBQ on Swinton Island

March 6th, 2014 23:01 No comments

I slept really well last night as I had the whole room to myself with Ashu in the hammock. He said he got a great nights sleep too so we’re going to have the same arrangement again tonight but I might suggest we make it permanent as I could do with a good sleep each night – these days are turning out to be more exhausting than I thought considering this is supposed to be a relaxing holiday. However today has been another day to remember.

Departing Lampi Island

Departing Lampi Island

I got up early to watch the sunrise on deck and, after an early breakfast, we set sail for Swinton Island in time to get some perfect photo of Lampi Island as we were leaving. Today there was quite a lot of wind so we managed to sail most of the journey which was great as it was so relaxing without the noise of the engine. Even though the wind was strong the seas weren’t rough at all which I was pleased about as I was told Swinton Island was the most breathtaking of all the islands we would visit and I didn’t want to arrive feeling sea sick.

When we arrived I could see what all the fuss was about. Swinton Island, which the crew and Jill have been talking about since the start of the trip, is set on a wide beautiful beach surrounded by trees, with a small island offshore stopping large waves coming in. It also has a couple of secluded bays with beautiful turquoise water which are perfect for snorkelling. Much to my delight snorkelling was the first activity after dropping anchor.

Arriving at Swinton Island

Arriving at Swinton Island

The water was still very murky but cleared once we got closer to the rocky shore and the depth decreased. I saw a LOT of urchins while snorkelling but today was also the first time we saw some proper marine life since starting the trip. I saw lots of Angelfish, Parrotfish, a few of whatever Dory is in Finding Nemo and loads of other fish I didn’t recognise. I also saw a few large clams.

During the snorkel we slowly made our way to the turquoise bays we saw upon arrival where the water got shallower and warmer. It also got clearer and unfortunately this meant not so many fish so we decided to take a break from snorkelling and enjoy the views from the beach for a while. The beach wasn’t too big but provided us with some great views and gave us a chance to take some lovely photos.

Swinton Island

Swinton Island

Swinton Islnd

Swinton Island

Me on Swinton Island

Me getting ready to snorkel again

A few of us were eager to get back in the water so decided to swim around to the second bay which looked a lot more promising for snorkelling. The water was a little murky but had lots of rocks and deep channels which provided shelter for a whole variety of marine life. I saw clownfish, an albino urchin, some Oriental Sweetlips, and lots of the same fish we saw earlier. We also saw Mike, the skipper, spearfishing and while we didn’t see him catch anything he already had a large number of caught fish in town which meant that the beach BBQ tonight would be plentiful.

Snorkelling

Snorkelling at Swinton Island

Mike

Mike Spearfishing

In order to get ready for the BBQ we had to cut the snorkelling short and after being taken back to the boat we dried off and headed straight to the main beach to collect wood and set up the area. Collecting wood was hard work – not because we we’re all unfit on this trip but because Win is like a machine. He already has a reputation within the group for working hard and today was no exception. While most of us were collecting sticks and other small burnable materials Win was chopping down trees and severing branches using what looked like nothing more than a meat cleaver. This was great and meant that we would have a huge bonfire but meant that we were exhausted carrying the logs and trees to the BBQ location. While collecting we didn’t see much wildlife but this is probably just as well as we saw some cat tracks in the sand. I don’t know what sort of cat the tracks were made by but generally the wild cats in this area aren’t too friendly!

After building the bonfire there was time to relax and enjoy the sunset on the beach. I can see what all the fuss was about as the sunset was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen – I don’t think it quite beat the sunset over the Kazinga Channel in Uganda a few years ago but it came close.

An Eagle

An Eagle visited us

Swinton Island

On Swinton Island

Bonfire

Setting up the bonfire

Sunset

Sunset over Swinton Island

We made a quick stop back on board to freshen up and grab supplies before heading back to the beach for our BBQ and Bonfire. If you come on this trip you will need to make sure you bring insect repellent as Swinton has a lot of sandflies once the sun goes down. Even though I had to apply a lot of mosquito repellent this didn’t spoil the evening as we had such a great evening. Win and Hein were in charge of the bonfire while Marie and Mike cooked us a great meal of chicken, fish, rice, potatoes, salad and much more. I’m not a huge seafood or fish person so I mainly stuck to chicken but I tried some of the Oriental Sweetlips and it was a really beautiful fish with a delicate taste. According to Mike it’s rare to find them in markets as they lead solitary lives so aren’t caught as much as we were lucky to have some for dinner.

We sat relaxing and chatting after dinner until the bonfire burnt itself out and it was such a relaxing night although it’s now almost 11pm so I’m going to be heading to bed without socialising tonight. I’ve had such a great day today and while I’ve had better snorkelling Swinton Island is so beautiful and I’m glad we spent so much time on shore.

Share