Ep.10 – Koh Samui & Koh Tao

Hello!

We hope you enjoy watching our underwater adventures in the Thai Islands.  See below for our fish identification chart of Koh Tao’s marine life. The video is mostly of our snorkelling in Koh Tao filmed on our GoPro!


Dave & Sophie’s fish guide to Koh Tao:

Black, white and yellow striped fish with tail
Angel Fish
Yellow and blue fish with large teeth
Blue-Barred Parrotfish
Brightly coloured closing shells
Clams
Bright yellow fish with subtle polka dots
Coral Rabbitfish
Small yellow fish with black stripes
Eight-Stripe Butterflyfish
Giant blue, brown and white clam
Giant Clam
Yellow and white fish with whiskers
Goatfish
Brown and white spotty fish hidden in coral
Honeycomb Grouper
Bright green fish with pink face markings
Lunar Wrasse
Thin silver fish with pointed noses
Needle Fish
Large, multicoloured fish with big teeth
Parrotfish
Bright yellow fish with black and white striped face
Pocket Butterflyfish
Black and white fish with red stomach
Red Breasted Wrasse
Small blue and black striped fish
Sergeant Major Fish
Extendable jaw on pastel coloured fish
Sling Jaw Wrasse
Large green fish with black scales
Thick Lip Wrasse
Large, aggressive, ugly fish with sharp teeth
Titan Triggerfish
Polkadot fish with yellow patch and spines
Yellow Blotch Rabbitfish

Koh Samui & Koh Tao – Thailand

Hello!

We’d been to the north of Thailand last month and came back to visit some of the islands. From Siem Reap, we flew to Phuket as it was a lot cheaper than heading straight to Koh Samui but unfortunately this meant we were set for another 6-7 hour bus journey upon arrival. This was probably the first time our lack of planning didn’t do us any favours… Phuket airport is about a 45 minute journey north of Phuket town, already on the way to Surat Thani (the connecting town to the islands). We assumed we’d be able to catch a bus straight from the airport instead of wasting a journey into town only to head back on ourselves an hour or two later. After bitterly trudging around the area near the airport in the mid-day sun and enquiring in several places, it was quickly apparent that we would have to catch the bus from town. Palava. So yes, we wasted more time taking a taxi to the bus stop in town.

We got a local bus rather than a tourist bus (inadvertently) which was a fair bit cheaper. The bus journey was ok but the driver frequently stopped to pick up locals in the middle of the road and inevitably we were an hour or so late. We finally arrived late in the evening but thankfully the hotel staff were very helpful in arranging our boat the following morning.

We caught an early bus to Donsak Pier and boarded a ferry to our first Thai island, Koh Samui. Again, we sort of accidentally booked a ticket on a cargo boat rather than the fancy high speed catamaran tourist boats that most people get because it was cheaper and we didn’t really question what boat we’d be on. We had found a good deal online to stay at a fancy resort on Mae Nam beach. The complex was massive and I think the fact they give you a ride to your room in a golf buggy speaks for itself. There was a massive cockroach in the room though that I valiantly removed using the ashtray (nothing else was big enough to trap it) as Dave isn’t a fan of cockroaches. Unfortunately it looked like we had brought the English weather with us. It would be sunny in the mornings but then take a turn for the worse with torrential downpours. We got caught in one and the roads filled up ankle deep really quickly. Lots of locals stopped to wave/laugh at us as we ran down the street bare foot and soaked to the core! Koh Samui’s waters are too cloudy to see any marine life so we just chilled by the beach. I’ve realised that I don’t actually like doing that because I get bored sunbathing after about 2 minutes and can’t read unless I’m in the shade. I just hassle Dave every 5 seconds asking if he’s finished his chapter yet and to come and play in the sea. Comparatively, if you give me a snorkel set, I’ll be happily amused for hours without coming up once.

A few days later, we moved round the coast slightly to Bohput Fisherman’s Village. We had both envisaged a small traditional village but if anything it was more touristy than Mae Nam. It was nice however to walk along the beach (usually ice cream in hand) and wonder through the various night stalls. We were always a little concerned about our belongings because we were staying in a bamboo hut that you couldn’t actually lock properly (all was fine though).

After a few days, we decided we weren’t fans of Koh Samui and decided to move on. Koh Samui wasn’t what I thought it would be, it’s feels very much like a city rather than an island; I can see the draw of Koh Samui if you’re very social and like drinking (I’m still going strong on the alcohol ban) and sunbathing (I’m rubbish). But for us, we decided to head for Koh Tao about 40km north with the promise of marine life. The ferry only took a couple of hours (we entertained ourselves with a wasabi pea eating contest) and it was a welcome surprise when there was a 4×4 pick up truck waiting for us from our hotel to transfer us to the other side of the island to a remote bay called Tanote. We had originally planned to only stay a few nights but instantly loved it so much, we ended up staying 5 nights. Our favourite thing to do, obviously, was snorkelling. The coral and marine life literally started about a metre or two from the beach. We’ve been fortunate enough to snorkel in some very cool places but I think Koh Tao was the most impressive we’ve ever seen. We saw so many different species of fish and then we’d try googling them later on to learn more about them. We saw loads of beautiful Parrot fish; they’re about half a metre and the brightest colours you’ve ever seen! Upon my extensive googling endeavours, I learned that Parrot fish can change gender in their lives! If the dominant male dies, a female becomes male to take over. On the first day we saw a huge, quite ugly fish with sticky out horse-like teeth. We followed him for a while filming on the GoPro. When we researched it later, turns out it was a Titan Triggerfish which can actually be really aggressive and territorial; you should always stay clear of them, they’ve been known to bite through people’s fins! Google said to swim horizontally away if you encounter them. The next day we saw them again but they were swimming fast, so we decided to swim quickly the other way, when we watched back the GoPro footage later, we saw the fish had doubled back and come right next to me ready to attack! Stay tuned for all the different fishies on our next video!

You’d think we’d have gotten bored of 5 days of snorkelling but we were sad to leave.  We embarked on the long reverse journey back to Phuket where we had a one night stopover in the old town which is a world heritage site with quirky little meandering streets.

Thanks for reading and join us next time for our time in Singapore!

Sophie & Dave

Ep. 5 – Thailand

Hello!

If you’ve been reading our blog then you know we went to Bangkok a few weeks before Chiang Mai but we decided to put them together in a video. We’ll actually be back in Thailand next month where we’ll be visiting the Thai Islands. But for now, hope you enjoy seeing what we got up to. The elephants are undoubtedly our favourite part caught on film yet! Remember to watch in 1080p.

Sophie & Dave

Chiang Mai – Thailand

We were excited to arrive in Chiang Mai where we’d be spending a full five nights in one place, the longest stay we’ve had in the last 2 months! We stayed in a guesthouse just on the outside of Chiang Mai’s centre (a big square) near Chiang Mai Gate. There was an adorable little dog called Chanom (milk tea in Thai apparently). We were glad to be on the road just south of the main square as it was much quieter and more peaceful but within close walking distance to all the restaurants/night market etc. Unfortunately, when we left Myanmar, we said we hoped to be fighting fit. This certainly wasn’t the case. Dave had such bad food poisoning that he most definitely should have seen a doctor (but he is stubborn so obviously didn’t), I’m pretty sure he had salmonella. So for our first couple of days in Chiang Mai, Dave mostly just ran a high fever and slept (amongst other more unpleasant things). I only ventured out on my own for food rather than touristy things.

After a few days when Dave started to feel a bit better, we spent an afternoon at Chiang Mai’s Art in Paradise 3D exhibition. I have tried to drag Dave to numerous art galleries in London in vain but this one, he loved more than me. It was interactive where everything was a huge, 3D, realism painting where you became part of the art. Surprisingly we only saw about 2 kids in the whole place, it was mostly adults running around like toddlers (us included). Our favourite painting was a crocodile coming out the water and where you could lie on the ground and cling on to a branch, then rotate the photo sideways. Genius! (See below).

The next day, we woke up early and full of excitement for our day at the Elephant Nature Park. Though neither of us were 100%, we were determined not to miss this day. We were picked up from our home stay in a minivan with the other 8 people on our tour for the day. We were shown an absolutely harrowing video about the torture these rescued elephants had endured. Naturally, I spent most of the film trying to hold back tears (failing miserably and silently sobbing). Though this film was so hard to watch, it was undoubtedly partly what made the Elephant nature park so great; they really valued educating people. The film showed what they call ‘breaking the elephant’s spirit’ in order to tame them. A baby elephant is separated from their mother at about one year old and taken deep in to the jungle, away from tourists. They are chained, starved, beaten and tortured for a week and forced to obey the command of the Mahout. The Mahout must stay with the elephant 24/7 to stop the elephant trying to commit suicide by standing on its’ own trunk. This horrific process is also to make the baby forget it’s mother. Of course the torture does not end here, for the rest of their domesticated lives, they must always obey their Mahout and will be reprimanded if they don’t. So whether you ever consider going to a circus, an elephant show, or an elephant ride; consider what that elephant went through to turn it from a wild animal to a domesticated one. We will happily tell you we spent 12,000 Baht or £280  combined for this day; a hefty price tag that was worth every penny.

The Elephant Nature park is home to around 70 elephants who have been rescued from the logging trade, circuses, street begging and tourist riding, some elephants are blind and disabled. All of these elephants have been bought; each costs between 1.5 and 2 million Baht (depending on their age) which equates to around £35-50k. We chose to do the day called “Sunshine for Elephants” which entailed spending most of the day with a neighbouring park’s elephants. Lek (the founder) had educated the family who owned these elephants about how to treat them properly and convinced them to follow the lead of the Elephant nature park where there is no riding, no hooks, no chains and freedom. So these elephants are a sort of sub-family to Elephant nature park. Once we’d arrived, we washed our hands thoroughly (suncream/bug spray can contaminate their food) and waited for the elephants to arrive for feeding time. Then four huge, incredible, beautiful elephants slowly trundled over to us. I literally had my jaw to the floor and was in absolute awe. I’d never seen an elephant that close and was completely gob smacked. I’ve only just taken the photos off the memory card and as I was looking through them, I realised how embarrassing the majority of me are; I look like such a dweeb just grinning and staring at the elephants. It was amazing to be in such a small group and spend such intimate time with the elephants. We fed them watermelon and sugar cane; it was mesmerising to watch them curl their trunks gently around the food we handed them and then not so gracefully stuff it into their mouths and chomp it. Some of the elephants didn’t have teeth either – did you know elephants, unlike humans, lose and get new teeth 6 times in their lives – who knew?!

After their breakfast, it was time for a hike/walk through the jungle towards where we would stop for lunch. Now, if there’s ever motivation to keep up with a group, its definitely a 1 tonne elephant on your heels. Maybe we should adopt an elephant and I’d be better at hiking… Dave and I were at the back of the group, funnily enough everyone seemed to be pushing ahead to walk with our guide. We were given a bag of bananas each to walk with and to feed them again during the break. Two of the elephants blocked Dave’s path and wouldn’t let him walk on. The Mahout’s couldn’t really speak English so they didn’t reply to Dave when he asked what he should do (I just filmed him and laughed from a distance). Dave gave most of his bananas to the two and managed to squeeze out between them.

Their second feeding time was even better because we saw their personalities and how fussy they were. They’d only eat the sugar cane once they were sure there were no bananas left in our bags. A couple of the elephants also wandered off at this point to do their own thing; either throw dirt on their backs or rub their arses against trees, all very fascinating to watch. We walked on with the elephants to our lunch spot; where we had a lovely veggie buffet. After lunch, our guide said he had a surprise for us. 2 adults and a baby elephant joined us! We got to feed them more bananas and watch them interact and play with the water from the hand tap. We headed the way we came and then went in to the river to bathe the elephants. We were an even smaller group at this point because half our group didn’t want to get wet?! Basically it was just us and another couple and the elephants’ Mahouts bathing about five of them! I was tragically poor with my water bucket aim but the Mahouts were insanely good at it. It just turned in to a massive water fight where everyone was going for human and elephant alike. After a quick change, we then ended our day at the main Elephant Nature Park, meeting many more of the 70 elephants, watching them play in the mud, or eating (again) and hearing all their different heart breaking stories. Overall, it was an incredible day and we are so glad we chose to go to this genuine sanctuary and meet these fantastic creatures.

On our last full day in Chiang Mai we got a Songthaews (red pickup truck) up the mountain to visit the temple Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. We technically got 2 different Songthaews as we decided to stop off and do a little hike to the Huay Keaw waterfall. We didn’t have high hopes because we’re in the peak of dry season (but we both secretly were hoping there was a decent trickle for us to swim). Definitely not. After a steep climb, there were just lots of rocks… We came back to the main road and drove up to the top. The road had so many hairpin bends whilst we went at full speed in an open back pickup truck that I very nearly vommitted on the poor boy sat next to me, fortunately I held it in. Wat Doi Suthep had two beautiful snake designs guarding each side of the steps leading up to the temple. We enjoyed looking round the temple and its surrounding area where you could look down over Chiang Mai from the mountain top. We headed back to our homestay but got dropped off at the nearby Saturday Night Market because the road was closed. It was the biggest market I’ve ever been to. It was a tourist’s paradise and even I (who has done SO well at not buying things) succumbed to a little bag I liked.

It’s soon Songkran in Thailand, the annual water festival celebrating the start of the new year. Unfortunately due to timings, we couldn’t stay for it. Chiang Mai is meant to be one of the biggest places to celebrate in all of South East Asia. Perhaps a blessing in disguise with all of our electronics, apparently everywhere you go, you’ll get water thrown on you by unsuspecting passers by. But they still celebrate it in Laos (called Pii Mai), our next stop. So we’ll let you know how that goes!

Thanks for reading,

Sophie & Dave

 

Bangkok – Thailand

As with perhaps every single place we’ve been so far, Bangkok was not at all what I expected. I’ve realised that I have so many (mostly wrong) pre-conceptions about places and countries that I must have accumulated from other people, the media, tv and film. It’s one of the few things that I’m happy to be proved wrong about. Bangkok is modern, civilised, clean, high-tech and not as overcrowded as other cities we’ve visited so far. Their public transport infrastructure is very impressive too. When we arrived at the airport we hopped on the train directly from the airport in to the centre of Bangkok. It was so surreal because it felt like we were on the DLR in East London going through Canary Wharf (if you’re from London then you know what that’s like). After a minor mishap with the taxis (now we know always use the meter, don’t agree a price up front), we arrived at our hostel, a very small private room where we basically had to exist in single file for 3 days. Walking back to our hostel after dinner on the first evening (Pad Thai, obviously) we had a really surreal experience. The street was lined with police offers and the road closed to any other vehicle other than a convoy of black cars and mini vans. The police officers even made us (and all pedestrians) stop walking whilst it all happened. Turns it out, it was the Prime Minister of Malaysia?!

On our first full day in Bangkok, we went to visit The Grand Palace and Wat Pho. We caught the public ferry along the river (Chao Phraya), a really cheap, efficient way to travel that I wasn’t even aware was an option! The boat was absolutely rammed and it pulls up to a floating pier and when you see the boat swing close enough, you jump quickly on board. We arrived at the Grand palace to discover we had turned up with approximately 97 billion other people (accurate, I swear). The King of Thailand’s body is still there so many Thais were there to pay their respects along with all the tourists. The Grand Palace is beautiful, intricate and huge! Dave has already been to Thailand before and said when he came here last, it was near empty and quite a lot had since been cornered off. We took our time looking around, with loads of breaks, partly because it was so unbelievably boiling hot, and partly because my ankle was still swollen from last week’s face plant. We then walked on to Wat Pho, a temple infamous for its’ 150ft reclining Budha. I much preferred this temple as there were fewer tourists and I actually preferred the decor and designs.

On the next day, we spent the morning in a lovely coffee shop planning our South East Asia route and booking a couple of extra internal flights. We’ve also decided to do a week volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park in Cambodia and a day tour in Thailand. This is quite pricey but its the one thing we’d happily blow a budget for. It’s our Birthday and Christmas presents to each other (let’s see how many times we say that this trip haha). Elephant Nature Park was founded in Thailand and is one of the few legitimate elephant sanctuaries. More info when we actually go…

In the afternoon, we needed to do a bit of shopping as we were pretty much out of the essentials (shower gel, contact solution etc). You wouldn’t believe what a mission it was to find shower gel in India and now Bangkok too, that doesn’t have whitening agents in it. It seems there’s nowhere in the world where people are happy with their skin tone. We tied in our shopping plans with our evening plans. As I said before, Dave’s already been to Bangkok and has been to Khoa San Road (a popular tourist destination which is basically a busy strip of bars). This is of zero interest to me (hate crowds, currently not drinking alcohol). So instead, we opted for a Thai cinema experience (in other words, I basically just really wanted to see Beauty & the Beast). We took the Sky Train, which is actually rated number 2 on trip advisor, to the massive MBK shopping centre; a true American-sized mall. We managed to find everything on our shopping list, even hand sanatizer. We had an amazing dinner of basically fried chicken but with soy and garlic soaked batter. We went to watch the film and to be fair it kind of was an experience in itself; the ads were in Thai and they were just so different to what we’d have in the UK and then just before the film started, the current Thai King’s national song started playing and everyone (including us) stood up in silence whilst the anthem played. Side note – I loved Beauty & the Beast and so did Dave haha, definitely recommend.

Next stop, Myanmar! Where the currency is 1700 Burmese Kyat to one Pound. Thank god I’m travelling with an accountant…

Sophie & Dave