A Travellerspoint blog

Phuket (Nai Yang Beach), Thailand

Final destination

sunny 30 °C

Dinner on a windswept Thai beach, free-flowing Chang beer, and a proper catch up with old friends - this was how we brought our Southeast Asian adventure to an end.

I’d posted a random photo on Facebook for a friend I thought would appreciate it, a cat cafe Phuket poster done up like a Hollywood pus, and by chance another pal saw it and realised we might well be in Thailand at the same time. By Jove, we would be!

Rich and I had had great fun checking out the beaches of Auo Nang for a few days but felt the chance to catch up with Kirsty, a former work mate of mine who’s moved to China for a bit with her husband, Nick, would be too good to miss. With the added benefit of taking us to x where they were staying right by Phuket airport and with a gorgeous beach a stone’s throw away from the main strip, we shifted our plans around and met up.

Props to these guys that when we met them early evening they were just out of an all you can drink and eat brunch, and they were remarkably coherent. Naturally, we took steps to catch up with them as we chatted about our three and a half months exploring the region, and they told us about the band of characters in their expat network and some of the quirks of living in a new culture. For instance, in China driving points can be transferred to anyone and they’re wiped out each year, which makes them kinda meaningless and explains why expats aren’t always allowed by their employers to drive. It was a great night and we felt very fortunate to have a chance to wind our trip up in the company of good friends.

As I write this, we’re juddering in the air on our Veuling flight home to London from Rome, where we stopped for a few days to get our body clocks back into whack and make the most of the opportunity to see somewhere new on the return leg. Pasta. Cheese. Wine. More pasta.

We’ve had the most fantastic time travelling together around Southeast Asia; it’s been the best experience of our lives. We’ve met wonderful people who’ve helped us have a glimpse of life in countries that, up until now, we’ve known relatively little about. We’ve enjoyed consistently wonderful hospitality and delighted in delicious local delicacies - Laos’ Lap salad, Banh Mi and white rose dumplings in Vietnam, countless fantastic pork stews in Myanmar, fish amok and beef lok lak in Cambodia, and all the prawns in Thailand.

We’ve made our way along the Mekong River, dived shipwrecks and been enveloped by thousands of tropical fish, chilled in the surf towns of Indonesia, and braved the rapids of Pai.

We’ve climbed jungle pathways and walked treacherous hill paths, through fields of ginger and chilli, up waterfalls and down red clay hills. With green tea we’ve toasted the happy couple at a tribal wedding, we’ve gleaned new insight into national histories in the places we’ve visited, chased sunsets across the region and, by gum, we’ve been to a fair few pagodas.

So many new, happy memories. We feel incredibly fortunate.

Posted by TaylorElphicks 21:06 Archived in Thailand Tagged beach thailand phuket nai_yung Comments (0)

Ao Nang, Thailand

Where the sun starts its slow descent on our protagonists' adventure

sunny 29 °C

Following the exhilaration of diving in the Similan Islands we head to Ao Nang in Krabi for a few days of classic Thai beach relaxation time.

Thoughts of returning home are starting to sneak up on us. We dream sometimes of work and increasingly about seeing family and friends.

We resolve to make the most of our final 10 days and talk about what we'll do. Visit a beach or two and get in the water, find some great food and visit a few bars.

Ao Nang's a nice town with a seafront road of bars, shops and restaurants with plenty going on and, if not the best beach, a wonderful view out to sea of little islands jutting up. We sat watching the red sun set into the sea and heard a bit of a commotion as a small confused snake popped it's head over a wall, looked at all the people, and promptly retreated back into the rock.

We found a few seafood restaurants, continuing our habit of ordering fish, either deep fried in a sauce, or BBQ with a dip alongside sea food. The thrill of looking at the array of options, set out in icy rows, for you to point at and claim continues to excite. Clams in hot chilli paste, prawns in an earthy turmeric sauce, a sizzling sea food hotpot of octopus and prawns and a big vat of mussels in a spicy aromatic light green curry sauce. As ever the size and delicacy delighted.

There were quite a few party bars here too, reps on the street enticing you in, we chose one place as the friendly guide had pointed us in the direction of an Irish bar (a competitor) that I'd wanted to pop in to see how England were doing in the cricket (well, but it wasn't being shown). Having got to this rooftop place we saw table football and had a game or two, honours even since you asked, and were presented with plastic glasses of cocktails that we'd ordered and free shots. It's that sort of town. Another fave was a little hut selling cocktails with stools on the pavement. The folks working there had a real pride in what they were doing even if the bottles sometimes attracted a load of wasps. Sitting back away from the wasps we watched the evening sky and people in their glad rags wandering down into town.

In the day time we got a longtail boat to nearby Railay beach, which is pretty stunning, hid in the shade (natch) and read. There's a hippy vibe to the collection of shops and bars here and there were some pungent aromas around. We also took sea canoes out and explored some of the steep cliffs and a small island off the coast whilst the waves bobbed us about. We found a shallow section in the shade behind the island and swam around the canoe enjoying the warm water, the views and being on our own in the middle of the sea. The odd jumping fish splashed around us.

Along the back of the beach, away from the main drag, there's a little row of higher end bars and we sit with a draught Chang debating the best sunsets. Luang Prabang was good, we found a wall halfway up a hill away from the busy top, and sat with our legs hanging down as the sun set behind mountains over the Mekong. Vang Vieng was similar, but the mountains were closer so as the sun went down there they were wrapped in shadows; in Bagan, one slightly cloudy day, we had sat on the roof of our hotel, and the sky had become vivid orange, reds and even purples like a sci-fi film. In Gili Air, way back 3 months before, the sky turned into many colours too, but softer tranquil yellows and oranges. Those were the best skies, though these ones in Thailand we're the best for the pure unadulterated sun shot of a large red disc slowly sinking into the ocean.

Posted by TaylorElphicks 21:06 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand ao_nang Comments (0)

Rome, Italy

An unexpected ending

overcast 12 °C

We've always liked being in Europe so we thought we'd pop in to say goodbye ahead of the UK's impending move to the comforting continent of nostalgia for a Britain that never actually existed (Ed. are we trying to reduce our already limited readership??).

We liked the idea of doing something totally different to finish our trip and so we had searched cheap flight options and these revealed Rome. We emerged blurry eyed from the airport at about 7am and took a commuter train into town, it was pleasingly mild and sunny and we knew we had done right.

One thing you rarely get in Asia is great pasta. Rome is all about peasant food so think beautiful pasta, simple generous sauces and (normally) small flavourful cuts of meat. Here are some of the great pastas we had:

-Cavatelli in a spicy pork cheek ragu
Tonnarello spaghetti with an awesome bite with, variously, generous cheese and pepper and hunks of pork and beef meatballs in a creamy tomato and white wine sauce (I couldn't eat for hours after this mammoth meal, it was very inconvenient)
-fettuccine in white beef ragu and nduja and orecchiette cheese, bacon and chicory at la meridionale
-rigatoni amatriciana (pork cheek, pecorino and tomato) and gricia (more pork cheek in a black pepper and cheese sauce) at Enzo, who incidentally, did a tiramisu that was so good it beggared belief (I'm a long time tiramisu sceptic), flakes of dark nutty chocolate that oozed out of the cream
-boar ragu parpadelle and, our one desertion of pasta, a slow cooked super succulent veal chop at la tavernaccia by Bruno

As you'd expect we accompanied all of this with lashings of red wine and aperol spritzes, blue and goat and smoked cheeses and when we needed some sustenance after a morning at the Vatican found a cured meat sandwich shop; after a wander around the Colosseum we got jewish style artichoke. The rest of the time we wandered the beautiful twisting streets, admiring the pastel buildings layered with wooden shutters, the island in the Tiber, the old town of Trastevere and the climb up the hills above with the view across the city and whilst we wandered we spotted landmarks like the Spanish Steps and the Trevi fountain and the Pantheon, stopping for the odd coffee along the way.

It was eat and drink what you want bliss and the perfect final stop on the perfect trip.

Thank you for reading, love Anna and Rich

Posted by TaylorElphicks 21:05 Archived in Italy Tagged italy rome colosseum vatican_city Comments (0)

Sea Bees Diving at Khao Lak, Thailand

How to bring our Southeast Asian adventure to a close...?

30 °C

Rich’s exceptional planning had taken us all the way to Cambodia and we had a loose plan to bum the beaches of Southern Thailand during our final fortnight before heading back to life, back to reality. We realised that we didn’t want to simply “chill” on sun beds during our last hurrah; we both wanted to do something a bit different that made the most of this remaining window of opportunity, and saw us finishing an already incredible adventure on a new high (if possible).


Rich began researching the world’s best dive sites and liveaboard boat trips. Now, I’d loved our diving experience in Indonesia - swimming with turtles, learning new skills, not seeing any sharks - we’d had great fun. But the prospect of ten dives (including a night dive...) over three days in the deep blue Andaman Sea had me a little rattled, though I wasn’t going to let these nerves get in the way of what was inevitably going to be a fabulous experience. We booked it. (Spoiler alert: we did end up swimming with sharks, yet here we are.)


Sometime in mid-January, we set off on the Genesis with Sea Bees Scuba Diving for three days of diving around the nine Similan Islands, joining eight other enthusiasts hailing from Holland, Switzerland, Texas, Australia and NZ, as well as professional instructors from Germany and sunny Enfield, London. Best. Trip. Ever.


We’d opted for the package including three / four dives per day spread across 10 dive sites, with each offering something different, whether it’s a current for a ‘drift dive’, a superb coral reef or series of limestone boulders to navigate, or the marine life you can hope to see there.


West of Eden, a new area attracting attention now that nearby East of Eden is well and truly discovered, had a vast corridor of colourful, varying coral, the most glorious we’ve seen in our short time diving. Electric green rosemary-style plants, lavender-coloured spaghetti legs entertaining playful clown fish, willowy and translucent blue shrubs; it was a feast for the eyes. It was all I could do not to ruffle the delightfully fat sea cucumbers or squidge the Indian cushion sea stars.


At Elephant Head Rock our instructor, Lisa, found us a discrete octopus masquerading as a rock, which begrudgingly unfurled its tentacles and changed from a camouflage greeny grey to blue as it reacted to the people around it. A giant clam flickered it’s outer casing as Lisa gently flicked waves of water its way and dancing shrimp did their thing as a sideshow.


Perhaps most unsettling was the huge moray eel we spotted blocking the ‘swim through’ tunnel we’d planned to explore. Lisa later explained that they’d usually sneak off into a corner or under a rock where they’re happiest but this bad boy wasn’t going anywhere. As these 3 metre Disney villains can be vicious if scared, she thought better of it and we swam on.


We also spotted two white tipped reef sharks resting on the bottom of the water with their mouths open as they looked for prey. At this point towards the very end of this deep dive I was sharing Lisa’s oxygen supply and, on seeing the sharks, we began swimming towards them (guess whose idea this was).


Across the 10 dives we saw so many different types of tropical fish: lots of boxy little and large puffer fish (including one curious and overly-friendly fella that I accidentally flippered), large blue-finned travelly fish hunting in little gangs, and a fair number of glamorous sweet lips in various showgirl outfits - yellow and black stripes, a brown leopard print little number. I loved how disinterested they all were with us weirdos hanging over and around them, giving us license to explore their alien world.


On paper, I’d say a night dive sounds pretty horrifying. After sunset a whole new set of marine life emerges, including some big’uns, and visibility is, err, poor. It was a surprisingly soothing experience, though. The surroundings feel still and calm, and you have to really focus to see minute animals drifting in the water around you, which means you’re barely paying attention to the infinite, looming darkness. I saw the tiniest yellow seahorse swim by me, maybe the size of my fingernail (who knows, water distorts), and we all enjoyed seeing the sinister yellow moray eel, a sleeping parrot fish incapacitated in a bubble, and a delish-looking lobster.


We decided to extend our Open Water qualification to allow us to dive to 30m rather than 18m so we had more flexibility as a group to explore dive sites to their fullest. It’s not any harder than diving to 20m, certainly no harder on your ears which tend to suffer most in the first 5-10m. You tend to gobble up more air at greater depths and there’s a risk of getting ‘narked’ (suffering with narcoleptic sickness) when you’re too high on nitrogen and you go all goofy. There’s a quick cure if you’ve the presence of mind to take it - just ascend a meter or so - but those that don’t do this risk doing themselves a mischief, like knocking out their breathing apparatus or tickling a trigger fish. The other watch out is decompression sickness ‘the bends’, which is caused by bubbles of nitrogen gas forming in the blood and tissues, in many cases because you’ve ascended too quickly. Again, the method to avoid this is simple: make sure you’re well-hydrated before you set out and plan your dive to include a couple of ‘safety stops’ as you slowly ascend for a few minutes each. Dive computers / watches work this all out for you, but we just followed our instructor.


Time on the boat in between dives was enjoyed reading in the shade of the top deck, filling in our dive books with our latest underwater discoveries, and inhaling little jammy pineapple cookies like we hadn’t just eaten breakfast/ lunch/ dinner and may never eat again. The meals was great too - lots of Thai curries, fresh fruit, and the occasional home comfort (mashed potato - whoop!).


There was even a little afternoon beach stop off mid-trip. I stayed behind to swim around the boat with Hannah, a Kiwi nurse living in Abu Dhabi (formerly Fulmer, near Mum and Dad’s, and Angelina and Brad’s old place). We chatted about her love of Cardiff, where her sister lives (“Welsh cakes are amazing!”), her visit to Nepal - great for trekking but absolutely packed during high season so best avoided then, and our shared love of Sri Lanka. Rich and the rest of the group had set off for Donald Duck Bay where they discovered a huge lizard while climbing to the viewpoint. (So sorry I missed that.) The divers were all keen to get a snap of themselves and the group with the not-so-little fella, while Rich felt boxing this four foot reptile was a risky strategy. Smart lad.


Lizard aside, our time ‘living-aboard’ was the perfect way to bring our trip to a close win a bang. As horribly cheesy as it sounds, what started as ‘out of our comfort zone’ turned out to be ‘our happy place’. And the totally docile little sharks didn’t get us: win


Posted by TaylorElphicks 13:56 Archived in Thailand Tagged diving andaman_sea thailand_diving diving_in_thailand simian_islands Comments (0)

Khao Lak, Thailand

Khao Lak was far quieter than the areas we visited in Phuket: a long stretch of beach, a parallel stretch of hotels, restaurants and bars, and little else. This suited us as it was simply a base for us before we set off on our liveaboard diving adventure, as well as somewhere to simply relax, read, write, and plan.


The resorts dominate the beach somewhat so it’s not that easy to find a beach bar or sun bed for the day, but with a bit of luck you can find somewhere to settle.


The food is international - decent but pricey pizzas, pleasing curries, and your typical local bars and eateries. We found a lively street side cocktail bar called Ska Bar where the cocktails were well-made, well-priced, and served to a stellar soundtrack. The popular Hill Tribes restaurant by the International Tsunami Museum was brilliant, with its smoking seafood hot plate and ice cold pineapple smoothies.


The museum itself was a small building which set out the devastation of the 2004 tsunami that hit Southeast Asia. Around 6,000 people were killed in Thailand, (although several thousand more were registered missing) while in Indonesia the figure was much higher, around 126,000. Phuket in particular was badly hit.


The museum explained the causes of tsunamis - a movement on the ocean floor, such as via an earthquake, which causes waves which grow in height as the water’s depth reduces and it approaches land, and through a well-done documentary it introduced survivors of the tsunami, many of whom had lost family members in the disaster, which seemed to come out of nowhere.

Posted by TaylorElphicks 13:55 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand khao_lak tsunami_museum Comments (0)

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