25/02/13 – 04/03/13
After a short but rocky boat ride from Koh Samui we arrived on Koh Phangan. This is perhaps Thailand's most famous island due to its notorious Full Moon Party which takes place – you guessed it – every full moon.
After a well organised minibus dropped us at our accommodation, Phangan Rainbow Bungalows, it was 3pm and we were hungry. Therefore we headed off to find the local town…
After 20 minutes and many hills, we finally found a hill top restaurant with amazing ocean views. We didn't see many people walking, the lack of pavement and crazy steep hills help explain the volume of whizzing mopeds.
Full Moon Fever
After chilling out on our private beach for a bit, we tentatively rented a moped and headed off to town to buy supplies for that evening's party. This was our fifth island and we had already heard a few stories of the common 'moped scam'.
Basically you hire a moped for the agreed price – they typically slightly undercut their competition to bag more customers – then when you return the bike they sting you with a huge list of damage they say you have caused. The price tag is hefty!
It happened to our friends on Koh Tao and there is a guy on Koh Phangan who runs a similar operation. The best way to avoid such hassle is to ask a trustworthy source where's best to rent, e.g. your accommodation. Which is what we did.
We purchased lots of neon gear and then had a super cheap lunch in the food market. The fruit smoothies here were only 20 Baht (40p) – which made Katie's day – and there was a huge array of sweet treats on display. For dessert, we enjoyed a large plate of mixed fruit from a very colourful stall.
After a brief visit to the Thaan Sadet waterfall we headed back to our bungalow to have dinner and get ready for the party. Stupid headbands and embarrassing glowing t-shirts were donned. We fitted right in.
The Full Moon Party itself was manic and surreal. Thousands of people lined the streets in their neon gear and thousands more partied on the beach while drinking from lethal buckets of spirit and mixer.
No snaps I'm afraid. We didnt take the camera out – just incase we ended up in the sea – but it was a hectic, memorable evening!
After a day spent recuperating, we took the 1pm ferry back to Surat Thani port. From here it was a one hour bus journey to the centre of town on an overcrowded rickety bus with no air con. We then took a songathaew to the O Valley Hotel which is located on the outskirts of town next to the airport.
This place was luxurious by our recent standards, it was great to finally have a hot shower! Although we don't think much of Thai TV.
The next morning the free breakfast included noodles and oyster sauce – not what you fancy at 6am – so after dodging that bullet we jumped on board our 8:30am flight to Bangkok and soon arrived into Don Mueng airport.
Here we were lucky enough to be greeted by Karen, Paul's cousin's friend who lives in the outskirts of Bangkok. She had kindly offered to show us around and let us stay for three nights with her and her husband, Phil.
We think our room was bigger than all of our hostel rooms put together!
First, we went to the Cambodian Embassy. Anticipating huge queues and a three day wait for our visas, we were pleasantly surprised to be in and out in under 45 minutes, Cambodian visas in tow. We hoped this would make our border crossing in a couple of days much simpler.
From the embassy, Karen's driver – Khun Noom – headed north to Ayutthaya and we enjoyed lunch sat beside the river. A quick look around the museum taught us a little about Ayutthaya's history.
The Story of Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya was the Thai capital for 417 years, this old city is characterised by the prang (religious towers) and magnificent ancient ruins and artifacts. It was founded in 1350 by King U-Thong who proclaimed it as the capital of his kingdom.
At its peak in the 18th century it had nearly 1,000,000 citizens, making it one of the largest cities in the world at the time. However the union collapsed in 1767 when the Burmese army stormed and destroyed the city.
To this day you can see the impressive remains along with hundreds of headless Buddha statues from where the Burmese cut off their heads in the rampage.
Next was Wat Phra Si Sanphet which, in Ayutthaya's heyday, was the largest temple in the city. The three main chedis which have been restored contain the ashes of the three Ayutthaya kings. The architecture was amazing and we took some great photos – even if we do say so ourselves.
From here we visited Wat Phra Ram and watched huge elephants carry tourists around the outskirts of the ruins. The elephants, mingled with the taxis, tuk tuks and buddha statues was a memorable picture.
We had to keep jumping out of the way of the elephants who didn't seem to keep to a set path. Or perhaps it was just bad driving.
Buddha in a bush
Our third and final stop of the day was at Wat Mahathat which was built over 600 years ago. This temple is particularly famous as the head of an ancient Buddha image is encased in the overground roots of a Bo tree.
The destruction the Burmese caused is overwhelming and the headless Buddhas everywhere make the area extremely atmospheric.
We returned to Karen and Phil's at around 7pm for a wonderful turkey and vegetable dinner. Yum.
We really had no concept of just how big Bangkok was until Khun Noom started driving down the freeway the next day. The roads are massive, intermingled and extremely confusing. We couldn't believe the vast amount of noise and traffic!
At 10am we took a water taxi down the Chao Phraya river (often translated as 'the River of Kings') and got off at stop number 9 – The Grand Palace. This place is undoubtedly Bangkok's most famous landmark and we immediately saw why.
We walked past a shouting clothes inspection lady who was explaining that shoulders and all flesh above the ankle had to be covered up as a mark of respect for this sacred place. We paid the 500 Baht ticket fee and entered the palace.
This place was incredible, the golden encrusted temples and statues were like nothing we had ever seen. We spent a good hour admiring all of the beautiful architecture and intricate detail.
Our pictures really do not do the Grand Palace justice.
Within the palace complex there are several impressive buildings including Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). This building contains the small, very famous and greatly revered Emerald Buddha that dates back to the 14th century.
Interesting to note, the robes on the Buddha are changed with the seasons by The King of Thailand, and forms an important ritual in the Buddhist calendar.
After the palace we had a look around the Textiles museum, where we both learnt a lot about Thailand's royal family. The King and Queen are highly respected figures here and have reigned for nearly 70 years. They have helped the country greatly and it was interesting to read about all the things they have done.
God Save The Queen
The Queen is a beautiful, inspirational role model to women all over Asia. In the 1940s it was the law to 'dress in western clothes' in Thailand. When the Queen was crowned in the late 50's, at the age of 17, she reinstated Thai identity by instigating the reform of their national dress.
We also learnt that the King is an accomplished musician, sportsman, inventor and 'founding father of modern day Thailand'. He converted the opium farms of the north into prosperous rice farms and enforced Thailand's brutal laws against drugs.
Drugs and thugs
Paul has just finished a book – The Damage Done – about an ex-inmate of Bang Kwang, Bangkok's most horrendous prison for drug smugglers. A English teenager recently got sentenced to 99 years for being caught at the airport with 3000 ecstasy tablets. They call the prison 'Big Tiger' because it eats men alive.
Sorry, digressing again…
Into the city….
For lunch we grabbed a few goodies from a small market, Katie sampling an odd sweetcorn and coconut pancake concoction. Verdict – nice without the sweetcorn.
We then drove to the Royal Barge museum, which was situated down some small and windy back streets. We had to carefully pass a monk on a small bridge at one point. This area of town seemed a bit more 'rural', so we were surprised to turn a corner and stumble upon elaborate royal barges!
Books and Boats
For dinner we met Karen and Phil's friends who live in Bangladesh. We enjoyed a Lebanese cuisine and numerous iced mint lemonades – much nicer than they sound!
Before we headed back to Karen's, we visited the Logos Hope floating book store. This is a massive ship which tours the world selling reasonably priced books.
It is run by a Christian charity who organise many worthwhile projects in the poorer countries they visit. All the staff are volunteers and we spoke to one girl from Poland who just boarded in Cambodia and will be living on the boat for the next two years!
While at Karen's we sampled a number of new exotic fruits. Our favourites so far have been the pomelo and mango steen.
Pomelos are similar to white grapefruits just less bitter. Mango steens are white fleshed and sweet, and encased in a hard brown shell which requires a special technique to open – Katie soon mastered this, the fruit fiend that she is.
We also ate quite a few black bean sesame biscuits during our stay!
Bikes in Bangkok
The following morning we went on a three hour bike ride with Phil through the streets of outer Bangkok. He was a superb guide and it was great to get away from the crowds and see more of the less touristic side of the city.
We cycled past many authentic stalls, cafes and traditional Thai houses built on stilts (for when it floods). We stopped briefly at a tiny floating market, where Thai women were selling hot food to locals from their boats.
We then took a small boat across the river to see the Big Golden Buddha. The boat was tiny, and balancing three big bikes on the back was a real challenge!
From here we visited the island of Ko Kret – famous for its kilns and pottery. We maneuvered our bikes through the long and windy undercover market, marveling at the crafts and interesting snacks on sale.
We stopped for a huge iced coffee – for only 20 Baht (40p) – and tiny sweet pancakes, which were covered in a tasty white meringue-like substance.
On the way back the heavens opened, and we cycled the last ten minutes or so in torrential rain. Soaked is an understatement.
After a late lunch we headed to Wat Takien temple which has an authentic floating market. The Thai women rowed their small food filled boats up and down the river selling their fresh and fantastic smelling produce. Again not a tourist in sight!
This place also had some incredible statues and monuments, the meanings behind some of them being rather unclear.
While Katie posed by a comical giant buddha, a monk walked up behind Paul and also took a photo of her and the statue – he took a while fiddling with the lens so Katie awkwardly sat in position a little longer than felt comfortable.
That night we ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant called Que Pasa ('what's happening' in Spanish).
We spent our last morning in Bangkok planning our trip through Cambodia. After this we bid Karen and Phil farewell and Khun Noom dropped us at our hostel in the centre of BKK.
That afternoon we jumped on the city's Sky Train and visited the Siam Paragon. This is an enormous mall that holds countless luxury shops. There were even Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini cars for sale on the top floor. One shop displayed only one car in some instances!
Naturally, we splashed out by going to Boots to purchase Pringles and face wipes.
After leaving the fancy mall, we went down to the street level – or the hood as the kids call it – and snooped around the local markets. The prices were much more inviting here and we went on a bit of a spending spree!
- Two t-shirts – Paul
- A dress – not Paul
- Bottle opener – no more gorilla bottle opening!
- A new lock – Paul lost the others
- A neck pillow – for luxury bus rides
- A watch – alas, Katie's £2 white one from Singapore went brown. We're quietly confident about this new beauty for £1.50
- A ring – it cost 40p and Katie was wearing it for 26 seconds before the middle 'gem' fell out.
All of this for well under £20!
Cabbages & what?!
That evening we dined at a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms. It's a quirky establishment which our South African friends in Phuket told us about.
Basically it's a nice restaurant that supports family planning in poor countries. To represent this, scattered around the restaurant are many ornaments, statues and celebrities – you guessed it – made out of condoms.
The idea being that condoms should be as easily accessible to all families as cabbages.
After our over-priced yet modest tasting meals – you cannot beat the fresh street food – we ended up walking down Soi Cowboy, a notorious red-light district in Bangkok.
If neon lights, expensive beer and old men leering over young thai girls is your style, then this is the place to be.
After a few hours sleep we got up early to board our 7 hour bus ride to Siam Reap. Off we go to Cambodia!