Bangkok was always going to be a transition point. When we began to plan our epic journey all those months ago, the backbone of it was a Round The World (RTW) ticket with stops in Asia, Europe, New York and South America. It turned out that we could get a great deal on a RTW ticket that saw us arrive into Asia at Singapore and exit from Bangkok, taking three months to wander between the two. That fitted our plans perfectly, and avoided any unnecessary and costly backtracking, so we jumped at this option.

As we’d both been to Bangkok previously (separately) we didn’t intend to do much sightseeing this time around, and in fact were prepared to stay just one night if required to maximise our time elsewhere. Like much of the detailed planning for our travels, we were happy to leave the decision about exactly how many days Bangkok deserved until we were closer to the time. In the end we settled on three nights in Bangkok, as that would give us enough time to do two vital things before leaving Asia. In some ways both of those activities were the result of the randomness of travel: One had come from our impromptu Big Day Out in Penang weeks earlier, the other from a chance reading of a magazine in a hospital waiting room!

Meeting CJ in Penang was a great day for many reasons, as we’ve blogged about previously. He lives in Bangkok and we’d made a firm promise to catch up with him when we got there in mid-June. Fitting in with his work commitments required a little juggling, and we settled on a Tuesday night dinner at an Italian restaurant run by a mate of his in the sprawling Sukhumvit nightlife zone. It was great to catch up with him in person, instead of via regular facebook updates, and again he regaled us with some hilarious stories that are too racy to be recorded on the internet! Amongst many things he also updated us on the progress of the Pakistani movie he co-produced, Seedlings, which I’m pleased to say was selected for the NY Film Festival just a couple of weeks after our dinner.

As the night wore on and the conversation flowed, we were all sorely tempted to head out afterwards for some post-dinner drinks and more merriness. But our host, CJ’s mate, brought out a free round of home-made (very delicious and very alcoholic) limoncello. Followed by another one not too long after, then another…. I think? At the end of this another hour had passed, and since CJ had to work and I was nursing a cold we decided to be sensible and call it a night. A great night, might I add, and one I’m keen to repeat when next we hit Bangers 😀

The other “must-do” we planned for Bangkok had its genesis while we were sitting in a hospital waiting room. But not just any waiting room: the one at the Skin and Cosmetic Centre at Phuket’s Bangkok Hospital more closely resembles the foyer of a five-star hotel rather than a hospital, as you can see from the pic above. With smart wooden tables and armchairs, flowers everywhere and staff scuttling softly about it was a world away from the grim, utilitarian ambiance of the average Australian hospital experience.

While waiting to see a doctor, we were perusing the luxury-minded magazine Thailand Tatler (how appropriate for the surroundings) and came across a restaurant review that immediately captured our interest. We’d been musing for several weeks about having one last fine dining experience in Bangkok, because once we hit Europe such extravagances were going to be almost entirely off the menu. The restaurant in this review, Gaggan, hit all our buttons and we knew immediately that we’d found “The One” for Bangkok. It was newish and aimed high by offering the unique fusion of molecular gastronomy and Indian cuisine. We are both fans of the “molecular” cooking style – when done with restraint – which uses various powders, gels, liquid nitrogen and other strange options to play with the texture and presentation of dishes. Some of the most memorable meals we’ve shared have cleverly incorporated these techniques (Royal Mail Hotel in Victoria and Iggy’s in Singapore), and we are greatly looking forward to our pilgrimage to the high temple of this style of food: The Fat Duck in London on August 29th. The restaurant’s chef-owner, Anand Gaggan, had honed his skills with Ferran Adria at the legendary El Bulli in Spain, and like most of the planet we love Indian food. How could we not try this place out?

Though we both thought the meal was very good I enjoyed it more than Kristen, who had some reservations about the overall value and memorable-ness of its 12 courses. The obvious use of molecular techniques was wisely limited to just a couple of dishes, with chef Gaggan letting the sublime flavours of each dish shine most of the time. We both agreed the tranquil and spacious setting of our table – facing as it did out through the window into the plant-filled courtyard – was  lovely, and a nice touch was that Gaggan himself visited our table twice during the meal to see how we were enjoying it.

We also had a very friendly and camp waiter, an older Thai man who was very playful throughout the meal. He took a particular fancy to the makeshift camera case that I use for my pocket camera (a woven pink, blue and grey glove that fits my camera well… like a glove!), at one stage borrowing it to drape over his shoulder and parade around the room. He then proceeded to greet newly arriving guests, not remembering until halfway through that he was still wearing the glove!

The sommelier recommended an excellent wine match, Discovery Point sauvignon blanc from NZ, and for the record here is the menu with some comments noted in blue:

Degustation menu, Gaggan, 13th June 2012

Yoghurt – our signature, we can’t take it off the menu

Served in a spoon, this is the size and shape of an egg yolk but white. Texture on the tongue is exactly like a soft-cooked egg yolk, until the warmth of your tongue melts the surface and an explosion of yoghurt flavour ensues. Gimmicky but good, we both really enjoyed it

Non-Fried Samosa, and Papadams two ways – reconstructed chutney chips with potato filling and fresh fennel seeds; spiced glass of carrot crisps air-dried, and homemade rice crackers

Tasty, but didn’t quite work as well as the other dishes

Liar Liar – an artificial Bellini with fresh royal farm peach and cheap chardonnay carbonated together

Truffle air – pressurised truffle espuma with green chilli oil

the truffle flavour was very strong and the green chilli offering a spicy accent. The “espuma” was foam, which didn’t stay foamy long before melting into a watery truffle soup. One of the top dishes for both of us

Goose liver – foie gras with spiced red onion chutney on a naan bread

Eggs and greens – 62 degrees slow 2-hour cooked eggs with funny tasting greens and moilee curry

One of Kristen’s favourite dishes, the “funny tasting greens” somehow having the flavour of oysters!

Matar Paneer – Indian cottage cheese tortellini in a curried green peas sauce

Delicate, tasty and very carefully spiced. No fancy technique here, just great flavours

Back to Indian – minced chicken sheesh kebab with green chutney foam

The presentation of this dish left something to be desired (see pic above), but Kristen especially loved the samphire on the side. It was like “saltwater explosions in your mouth”

Go Goa!! – choice of fresh Spanish alaj or prawn and crab meat in spiced vindaloo curry

We both went with the prawn and crab option, this dish was very hot but balanced. Served with a superb naan bread

Lamb grilled with whiskey smoke – optional, cost approx. $10 extra p.p.

A worthy addition, this dish consisted of New Zealand lamb cutlets perfectly grilled and served with garlic cream and garlic chutney. A theatrical flourish was provided by it being served underneath a large glass bell filled with the smoke of burnt shavings from a Jack Daniels whiskey barrel. It added a definite (and delicious) whiskey flavour – our favourite dish of the night

Garden of Eden – Iranian pistachio 50-second cake with pacotized pistachio ice cream and edible flowers

Kristen loved this, I thought it good but not as great as the next dessert

I Love Chocolate – chocolate crisps, milk chocolate water mousse and cold chocolate powder

This had a wonderful golden “Crunchie” bar flavour, light with white chocolate foam underneath

We didn’t do any sightseeing at all over these three days in Bangkok, as the rest of our time was spent preparing for the next phase and simply relaxing around our excellent hotel, the Royal View Resort. We had masses of laundry to wash, blog posts to write and photos to upload, plus some shopping to be done. And we were both in various stages of dealing with colds, so there was plenty of down time too. We did everything we could to ensure that we entered our next phase as ready as possible: bring on Europe!!

Categories: food, Thailand, travel | Leave a comment

Island hopping through the Andaman Coast, Thailand

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We had quite different plans for our time in Thailand than what eventuated. We had planned on working our way up the Andaman Coast, staying at Hat Yao, Koh Kradan, Koh Lanta and then Ao Nang for the water festival and lastly finishing our Andaman amore at the rock climbing mecca of Railay. From there we were to continue our trip further north where I was keen to show Damien Erawan Falls, which had stayed in my mind (over decade later) as the most gorgeous waterfalls I had ever laid eyes on. We would spend another couple of weeks heading further north until we reached Chiang Rai, where we had booked four decadent days at the Le Meridien. In the planning  we had relished the thought of a lazy stop over here where we could rest and bliss out in lavish surroundings, after what we thought would be a few weeks of roughing it in bungalows and less salubrious accommodation.

However the accident on 11 April threw a massive spanner in the works and dictated that our sojourn in the land of smiles was to be all about the Andaman Coast, and in some parts of it that we had never thought we’d go to, much less devote nearly a month of our time to!

I decided to write about our time at all the different islands as an example of one the hundreds of different routes one could take up the coast. I for one was quite overwhelmed when I began reading Lonely Planet all those months ago at home. There are so many islands that it is really hard to narrow it down to a short list of potential options that tick all your boxes. I actually think we did alright with our choices, and here is where we went and how we went about it. I would love to go into immense detail about every exciting and interesting thing about our island time but I would need to write a short story to tell it all! I mean even the sometimes insanely mundane weeks we spent while I were recovering could be be a short story on all the TV series and movies we watched alone… because, mate, we watched a lot of TV!

So without further ado, here ’tis:

Koh Libong – 30 March 2012

How we got there

We were staying on the Andaman Coast in a small fishing village called Hat Yao. We arranged our day trip around Koh Libong via the front desk at our accommodation. It was a longtail boat with a local driver.

The cost of the trip

THB 3600 (A$120) for two; four people is THB 4800 (A$160)


At the conclusion of our day trip we casually asked about how to access the secluded beach of Hat Apo on the mainland, and our longtail driver was happy to drop us off there at no extra charge. We enjoyed a number of hours on a spectacular private beach that we will never forget.


We were led to believe that we would have an English speaking guide, as the purpose of the tour was to spot and learn about the elusive dugong in the area. Instead we got a longtail driver who didn’t speak any English at all. We were also, due to the language barrier, unable to suggest a different location for our lunch on Koh Libong. It was a wildly beautiful island with many tempting potential picnic sites, but our guide picked probably the most dull and uninspiring spot of all! We were also advised before the journey that we would be able to snorkel through the seagrass, but we were taken to an area of seagrass that seemed to be affected by algal bloom and the water was murky and not suitable for swimming. We also didn’t see any dugongs on the day (but this is really up to nature, when it comes down to it).


Haad Yao Nature Resort, Hat Yao. We had a large room with a lengthy balcony overlooking the water. It was a pleasant spot to watch the sun rise, and the goings on of the local fisherman. Although not an overly flash accommodation option and overpriced for what it was, it was by far the best of what we saw elsewhere in the area. Breakfast was included in the cost, and the dining area sat out over the water and was a wonderfully chilled place to relax and eat. The staff were friendly and helpful.

Cost of accommodation

THB 1350 (A$45) per night

Best eating options

There is a small brick building behind the large casuarina trees on the edge of Hat Yao beach (approx. 10 minute walk from Haad Yao Nature Resort). Make sure you go to the restaurant that is closest to the casuarina trees, on the left hand side of the dirt road to the beach. The food is outstanding and very cheap, but make sure you eat before dark or you’ll get carried away by the mozzies!


I wouldn’t recommend staying on Koh Libong if you’re after a typical Thai beach experience. It seemed very basic and more a local’s island, but it could be tempting to those who are into camping or a more rustic experience. If however your whole purpose is to see dugongs, it might be worthwhile researching to see if any of the accommodation options have canoe hire so you can spend as many hours as you like each day floating in the seagrass in search of the duges. It would be too expensive to do multiple day trips for this express purpose.

Koh Kradan – 31 March to 9 April 2012

How we got there

We arranged a ferry transfer from Kuantunku pier via a tourist office in Trang (Happy Trip Tours), one or two doors down from the Sri Trang Hotel. We had to get our own way to the pier because of our stay at Hat Yao; normally you can get a direct connection from Trang. We caught a local minibus from Hat Yao to the pier, the pickup point was just outside our accommodation. The only available minibus left at 8am which got us to the pier hours before our departure time scheduled for 12pm. When we arrived a local approached us and asked to see our ticket, and then advised that he was the one who would be taking us at 12pm. Instead he offered to take us immediately there by longtail, which we jumped at!

The cost of the transport

Minibus from Hat Yao to Kuantungku pier THB 100 (A$3.35) per person, 30 minutes. Boat transfer from Kuantungku pier to Koh Kradan THB 350 (11.65) per person, approx. 1 hour.


Staying on a small island that was the epitome of my island fantasies. No crowds, no roads and golden sandy beaches with warm azure waters, the stunning vista of surrounding islands, gorgeous sunrises and lazy, quiet days.


Around the time of the full moon there are king tides and at low tide the water creeps away so far from the shore that it makes swimming at that time of day an unattractive option.


We spent our time at Kalume Resort which is positioned at the northern end of the island (away from day tripping boats and their passengers!). It is an Italian/Thai owned resort and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves there. There are the basic bungalows which we stayed at or there are slightly more upmarket options for those who want something better. It is worth mentioning that at the time we were there they were also constructing a new set of bungalows around a pool area which I assume will cater to those with even more cash to burn. Although our bungalow consisted of no more than a bed (with mosquito net) and a separate bathroom area (with cold shower) it was extremely well maintained and a nice place to call home. There was also a hammock and built in benches on the balcony for when you felt like lounging somewhere other than the beach or the well appointed hammock pavilion (where I spent many an hour devouring the pages of my book). There is wifi at the resort.

Cost of accommodation

THB 900 (A$30) per night.

Best eating options

We actually only dined at Kalume and its neighbouring resort but this was because we were completely satisfied with the food there. Kalume has mostly Thai dishes but also some western/Italian. Coral Garden next door serves Italian food and we had a rather odd pizza from there one night that had all of the four ingredients neatly positioned in their respective food groups on a quarter of the pizza. A definite “what the?” moment for us! However, we went for some pasta dishes another evening and they were fabulous and as good as any Italian meal we’d find in a decent  restaurant back home.


Don’t come here if you are after night life, bars and shopping. There is none!

Koh Mook – 2 April 2012

How we got there

We arranged our own longtail boat via the staff at Kalume Resort. We were specifically going to Morakot (The Emerald Cave) and wanted to go early in the morning before any other tourists arrived so we could enjoy the serenity all to ourselves. We were successful 😀

The cost of the transport

THB 1000 (A$33) which included an hour in the cave itself. We noticed somewhat smugly that the other tourists who came after us were there between 10 – 30 minutes maximum as they had arrived as part of a big tour group.


Without doubt, entering the breathtakingly beautiful cave to the sounds of birds and insects singing and not another soul there. God was showing off when he created this place.


Can’t think of one!


I think this is obvious, but if you can get there early in the morning you may be rewarded with having the place all to yourself. The other is if you are claustrophobic the entrance into the tunnel to get to the cave is not very high. However, once you swim into the cave, even though it is dark the cave roof is high and with a torch you can spy the bats hanging from the rocks.

Koh Lanta – 9 to 23 April 2012

How we got there

We arranged a ride on a ferry boat from Koh Kradan via a tourist desk located out the front of Kradan Beach Resort. The ferry stopped at a few other spots along the way as it also served as a “Four Island Tour” for people wishing to do some snorkelling. We didn’t opt for this, but aside from not having a set of snorkels, I was able to jump off the boat and swim with the fishies and enjoy the sights. The water was so crystal clear that I soon ditched my swimming goggles (that kept filling up with water) as I could see all the coral and fish as if I was looking through glass anyway.

The cost of the transport

THB 550 (A $18) per person


On our first full day on Koh Lanta we had a ball. Part of what made it so much fun was hiring some scooters so we could go up and down the coast and stop wherever we pleased. It is very cheap to hire a scooter (TBH 250/A$8) and the traffic is not too busy so you feel fairly safe getting onto the road with the locals. We enjoyed a very tasty meal at the Diamond Cliff Restaurant, which has wonderful views of the coast and what looks like a great area for cocktails to watch the sun go down. The Thai massage I had at the outdoor pavilion at Kantiang Bayview Resort was awesome and I had every intention of going back the next day before the accident changed our plans. And if you enjoy a good cover band then you can’t go past the Why Not bar at this resort.


Well the second full day was the polar opposite of our first. We got caught up in the fear and the panic of a tsunami evacuation on the island and I was hit by a motorbike and that put an end to all our plans for the following month and a half. However, if I was to pick a less dramatic lowlight I would say our room at Kantiang Bayview Resort. It had a rather unpleasant odour of urine/mould and we resorted to purchasing incense sticks to disguise the smell until we could exit stage left to a new location the next fateful day.


1.Kantiang Bayview Resort. We stayed in a rather run down bungalow with a fan and cold shower. The room had that rather unpleasant odour as I mentioned. I would not recommend staying here but the massage, food, bar and beach are all nice so it’s a bit of a shame. Cost THB 500 (A $17) per night.

2.Friendly Guesthouse. This place was next to the Blue Moon Cafe and we are not even sure if it was actually called “Friendly Guesthouse” or if that was the sign to let you know they were friendly! That aside, it was positioned on the northern end Klong Nin Beach. This beach has a lovely string of guesthouses and restaurants and the leafy street really has a wonderful appeal that drew us straight in. The Guesthouse rooms are very basic – a bed, a table and a light. It has a shared bathroom. But you cannot get more beachfront than this and the staff are friendly. Due to the tsunami evacuation and my accident the day we arrived I can’t say much more about the place except to say that if our circumstances had of been different I would have loved to have stayed there. Cost THB250 (A$8) per night.

3.Ban Kantiang See. This is a small group of palatial villas perched on a hill overlooking the bay of Kantiang. The view is magnificent and so are the villas! The villas all have two bedrooms, a huge deck area, wifi, flat screen TV and are self contained There is an infinity pool as well. We stayed here during the period when I was immediately recovering from the accident and I can’t think of a more perfect place to recoup. The cost was initially THB 4800 (A$160) per night but by the end of our stay they were charging us THB 4000 (A$130). In the low season (starts May 1st) it drops to THB $2800 (A$93) per night. This is a total bargain and split across two couples you would be congratulating yourself every morning for your decision to stay there! At night you might be lucky like we were to be treated to breathtaking sunsets of firey orange, pinks and mauves or perhaps watch the fireflys that meander through the villa. There are always a few cheeky monkeys wandering around as well.

4.Lanta Loft. Set back from the road about 10 minutes south from the wharf. The rooms are huge, have balconies, wifi and flat screen TV and are self contained. The décor has a modern minimalist feel about it. There is a small pool on the property as well. Cost THB 2300 (A$77) per night.

Best eating options

By far our favourite place was Alama a trendy joint newly opened in 2012 at Ao Kantiang. We got to dine at the restaurant once and upstairs they have low tables with cushions so you can recline, enjoy a wine or cocktail while you eat some seriously tasty meals. The upstairs area of the restaurant is open to the air and it adds to the atmosphere at night. I loved the tofu in gravy. This bland sounding dish was anything but! It was packed with flavour and lots of veges, mushrooms and prawns to boot. While I started my recovery at Ban Kantiang See Damien purchased the majority of our take away meals from there.


Most beaches on Koh Lanta are at least partly rocky at low tide which makes it not so great for swimming at that time.

Phuket – 23 April to 14 May 2012

How we go there

We arranged a ferry transfer that we organised from our accommodation at Lanta Loft. It is easy to arrange tickets elsewhere as well. We changed to a much bigger and much more packed ferry at Koh Phi Phi Don for the final leg to the wharf at Phuket.

The cost of the transport

THB $550 (A $18) per person. Transport to the wharves both ends cost extra.


It may sound unfair to those who love Phuket but the highlight was definitely the day when the hospital gave us the OK to leave! Unfortunately for Phuket my impression of this island is tainted because we never intended on having to go there, and definitely didn’t want to spend three weeks there in total. You could easily forget you are even on an island as it is so large and it has become a tourist playground, and not always in a very flattering way. But it isn’t all bad and we did have some good times there and see some interesting sights. If I had to pick a single highlight I would say staying in Phuket Town. Phuket Town did not have the touristy feel that all the beachside areas did. There are some charming streets where the Sino-Portuguese architecture has been restored and you can easily while away a day in the various funky cafes and restaurants and end the night in a local bar sharing a drink with the locals. Here they let their hair down and you can pretend you are not the only falang in the joint!


Kamala Beach  gets our collective thumbs down. We hitched a local bus all the way up there from Phuket Town (It is a unique, if somewhat slow experience to save some dosh and do it the way the locals do) hoping to enjoy the surf but the beach was not at all appealing and to top it off the local taxi drivers charge a ridiculous amount of money to drive you the short distance to nearby (and much much prettier) Surin beach. Kamala just doesn’t have a nice feel about it. The streets are shabby and depressing and after experiencing Surin and Kata Noi beaches Kamala just can’t compete.


1. Villareal Heights: This property is located on a hill, set back from the beach and main tourist areas between Kata and Karon. You can walk to the beaches in 10-15 minutes. The rooms are very clean, spacious and have good bathrooms. What sets the place apart is the unbelievably friendly and personalised service of the owners. We only met Phil as his wife was on holidays when we were there but Phil went above and beyond to help us. He took us for an orientation drive around town when we first arrived, gave us a mobile phone (with credit already on it) to use, offered use of his moto for short trips and as we couldn’t use this he personally drove us to places in Kata we wanted to go to on a number of occasions. Cost THB 1650 (A$55) per night.

2. Sawaddi Patong Resort: This is a lovely little resort set back in a quieter part of town so that you can sleep at night when everyone else parties to the wee hours on Bangla Road. Possibly the nicest pool we have come across on our trip and very professional and accommodating staff to boot. Cost THB 1650 (A$55) per night.

3. 99 Oldtown Boutique Guesthouse: This done-up old Chinese shop house was very comfortable, clean and in a central part of Phuket Town – positioned on the mainstreet, Thalang Road. The only thing I didn’t rate so much was the coloured panels of glass along the top of the walls between the rooms. If you have neighbours, as we did, who come home very late and fall asleep (probably pissed) with the lights on you will not be a happy camper if you sleep lightly like moi.

Best eating options

In Kata, for beautiful Thai food, you can’t go past Kampung Hill. The prices are reasonable, the food is lovely and the service is great. The setting is a winner too with tasteful Thai and Chinese artwork inside and a pretty garden outside. You can nearly forget you are on the tourist strip. For really great cocktails and wine (with the expensive Thai price tag for wine) to enjoy the gorgeous views of Kata with, either The Boathouse or Mom Tri’s are fabulous. The cocktails made with Thai flavours are the standouts. Both establishments are very upmarket (particularly Mom Tri’s) and receive rave reviews on Trip Advisor for their food, but we felt for the expensive price tag they were little better than what you would eat in most good midrange priced places in Sydney. The other “must eat” venue is the Pad Thai shop located on Karon Hill. The shop actually doesn’t have a name on the awning outside but it is on the righthand side of the road as you head north towards Karon, just past the “Ping Pong Bar” (classy). In Phuket Town we enjoyed a couple of really good meals at Suay. It does mostly Thai dishes with a modern twist and some very fine western options as well. The standout dish for me was without doubt the mango sticky rice spring rolls, flamed mango and black sesame ice cream. The wine list is small but well chosen and not too badly priced for Thailand.  For great Thai food we loved Gotum. The yellow curry was the best I have ever eaten. In fact, every dish was excellent.

For my birthday we dined at the award winning, Acqua which is a refined and stylish Italian Restaurant on the water at Kalim Bay. It is a quick taxi ride from Patong but far enough out of the mayhem. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal here and would have happily dined there a second time but it is a little on the expensive side so we stopped at once. They have an extensive wine list and we opted for an Argentinian wine which was lovely. The only thing that let the restaurant down was the cocktails. After enjoying some excellent cocktails elsewhere, Acqua definitely was weaker in comparison.


Don’t go to Phuket if you are after an “island” experience. This place is so huge that you really feel like you are on the mainland. Go if you love getting amongst it with the other tourists, partying, shopping and lying on beaches that are covered in deckchairs and umbrellas.

Koh Phi Phi – 11 May 2012

How we got there

We booked a speedboat tour from a tourist outlet in Phuket Town which included transfers to and from our hotel.

The cost of the transport

THB 1500 (A$50) per person. The price also included lunch and a snorkel for looking at the coral and fish.


Phi Phi Leh (the smaller and uninhabited of the two Phi Phi islands) was what captured my imagination. Although Maya Bay was beautiful I was actually more blown away by the impossibly aqua blue waters of the lagoon. We vowed that if we come back to this part of the world we would ensure we hired a longtail so we could spend as long as we liked swimming in this water wonderland surrounded by gorgeous karst cliffs.


There was no real downers on this day trip. However, when we arrived at Maya Bay (of Leonardo Di Caprio, “The Beach” fame) so had everyone else. I think to fully appreciate it’s beauty we would need to do what we did for the Emerald Cave and arrive early in the morning before everyone else. We also noted that you can camp at Maya Bay overnight, which would ensure you would the first there – with the sunrise, no less. Bliss.


Go to Phi Phi in the low season to avoid massive crowds. There were still a lot of people when we went, so I’d hate to see it when the high season tourists descend.

Categories: Koh Libong, Thailand, travel | Leave a comment

My version of ‘that day’

I have thought many times about recording my feelings about the day of my accident but there never seemed a right time, not least because my physical injuries prevented me from doing so. I knew that the time was definitely not right when I was still experiencing keenly the physical effects of it. Today has let me know that the emotional reactions to it will catch me unawares for some time to come. Similarly, they have made me feel very reflective and also wanting to just do it. I want to say now, if you don’t like bad language then this is not the post for you. I think expletives are almost mandatory in my portrayal of events. If you can’t swear about when you thought your time was up, when can you?

Today we went to Bangkok Phuket Hospital, again, and if I had known how many times we would frequent this place I would not have been so dismissive of the coffee card (we actually dubbed my hospital identity card as my “frequent flyer card”). Due to my parasite/fungus legacy from Malaysia we have been detained yet another week on this island….hence the visit today to get the OK from the doctor to travel to Laos.

Anyhoo, post-(successful) visit we noticed the tsunami memorial room and ventured in. After feeling so elated that Alan (the parasite/fungus’ code name) was surely being killed it was a massive deflation to walk and look at the pictures of this hospital, filled with people being operated on and sleeping in its usually perfect-looking rooms and hallways. I had to fight the tears back. God bless the Swedes and the British for taking the time to come and pay respects and ensure plaques were erected for posterity, in thanks of the tirelessly good work of the hospital staff who cared for all affected.

I also ventured to view a video of the 2004 tsunami, for only a bit, because a friend posted it on facebook today. Again, I felt very near to tears. But that is not the right emotion for tonight, as we are on the brink of nearly moving on and kickstarting our journey again. So as Damien kicks back and enjoys the soccer stuff on TV in this cool little local bar in Phuket Town (with an equally kick arse local band singing songs in Thai I don’t know and love anyway), methinks tonight is the right time to record how I felt about that shit day.

We had arrived on Koh Lanta fresh off the back of too many days of the slow, island love and reverie that was the luckily overlooked (by most) place of Koh Kradan….

How perfect was that first full day in Lanta?? So very exciting after the near comatose pace of Kradan! I overcame my fear of motorbike riding in Thailand (for those not in the know, I came a cropper, as a pillion passenger, 11 years ago. It was two nights after 9/11 and I spent 5 extra nights on Koh Samui…in a hospital) and we both zipped up and down the coast, enjoying the sights, the breeze, the speed, the freedom and the LIVING! Yes, it was exciting! Let’s not omit the delish lunch overlooking Diamond Cliff beach or the most wonderful Thai massage in the beach pavilion at Ao Kantiang.

The “most perfect day in ages” as we coined it the next morning, was made complete with an amazing meal at a newly opened restaurant followed by an unexpected visit to the resort bar, Why Not, where we were treated to some of the best covers of all the alternative and old rock music my heart desired. Furthermore, they played one of the most amazing renditions of Bad Moon Rising, which always reminds me of my Dad, it being one of his favourite songs. As it was his birthday in two days time I felt compelled to tell the lead singer and his girlfriend after the band had finished how perfect and appropriate it was for me that he sung that tune. As it turned out, it was also going to be Phoebe’s (the lead’s girlfriend) birthday on that day and they asked us to come back and celebrate with them. Indeed we would, we affirmed wholeheartedly.

Next day, somewhat dusty, we hitched a ride to our new accommodation. It was a basic but perfect guesthouse, positioned right on the sand at Khlong Nin beach. We lay around at the restaurant next to our guesthouse, lazily listening to Finley Quaye as he played out into the beautiful day. “Sucks to be them”, we joked about everyone else working somewhere in the world. I retired to our room for a snooze and later Damien came in. Sufficiently rested I strolled out the front of our guest house: Jesus, does it get more “beachfront and hippy heaven” than this I happily mused. So I wandered down to the water’s edge, scanned up and down the expanse of beach and thought, yep, perfect. I lingered a bit and contemplated taking a dip, but for some inexplicable reason I had a yearning to go and sit out the front of our guesthouse and observe the goings on of life up and down the little street we lived on.

As I sat there a low, long siren sounded out into the day. Weird siren, I thought. Obviously not an ambulance, wonder what it is? I sat and watched passers by some more and found myself fixated on an interesting European couple with a motorbike….she was tattooed to the nines (to quote one of my favourite Damien-isms) and she looked sorta mean. Next minute she dropped her helmet and ran like the clappers down the street. That’s awful fast to be running, I thought, wonder why?

Next our guest house owner (or was it worker , I’ll never know, but I’ll remember her for her kindness) said to me “you go now”, or something to that effect. I replied, ever so politely, no, I wasn’t waiting for a taxi and I would stay. “You go now”, she said again. Then almost instantaneously  a mass movement of humans was flying by. FAST. They were running fuckin’ fast, and they were driving  fuckin fast, a steely blank but determined look on their faces. My heart stopped, or did it drop, Jesus I don’t know but that mass movement in front of me in the previously slow-paced day brought me very alarmingly into the present! Holy fuck! Siren, chick running like the clappers, “you go now”, everyone else doing the ” you go now”. Shit. I ask her “is this a tsunami?”

“Yes”, she said. Well why are you just standing there like that, I thought?! Jesus. I don’t know what I really felt in that moment, was it confusion, disbelief, or brutal fear? I have thought about that moment often and honestly I think I felt the sickening reality of it all and the sickening resignation that this was real, and in an instant everything was about this moment and I could not stop what was in motion. Every decision from there counted.

So I pelted down the hallway and burst through the door screaming “get up we have to go NOW!”. Then I ran back down the hallway to the road, to check, what, I don’t know. Man, he’s still lying there! Didn’t he hear the urgency in my voice? So I run back down and scream “it’s a tsunami, get up!” That certainly got the desired response from Damien. I told him to get his small backpack thinking our passports, money and other important stuff was in it, and grabbed my small backpack too. I ran down the hallway again but Damien was still not coming. I was feeling panicky and yelled at him, “What are you doing?” and he replied that he was trying to padlock our room door.

I kept asking the lady from the guesthouse when we would leave. The car doors were open, the engine was running but we were still standing on the side of the road as everyone else screamed past. She was waiting for her friend.

I felt somewhat like a trapped and pacing animal, seeing the way out but not being able to make it happen. I said to Damien that I didn’t like waiting and that we needed to hitch a lift in some sort of vehicle so we could get to higher ground. Damien suggested that we should run across the field opposite our guesthouse and try and make it to the hills that way. But I was completely unsatisfied with that option because the hills were a long bloody way off, and there is no way I could outrun a tsunami if it was coming anytime soon.

But how the hell were we going to get a ride? No one was even remotely looking like they would stop to help us out. Then I spotted a jeep across the road with two people in the front. The back seats were empty. I had to get across and demand those seats for us I thought. Now, before they left.

I can’t really recall how well I looked, or if I even did, but with adrenalin coursing through me I ran across the road to get to the jeep. I don’t remember the impact and for that I am thankful. I do have vague recollections of a woman’s voice screaming something like, “there’s a bike coming” before I blacked out.

When I came to I was in a bad way and I knew it, I felt groggy and hot and most alarmingly I could not see. I was aware that I needed to get up before I got hit again, but I couldn’t see and I felt like I couldn’t move. All my thoughts were focused on getting the fuck up. Get up, get up, I was thinking to myself and I was trying not to be afraid of the fact I couldn’t see. This was probably all of a matter of seconds, but it felt like forever when I knew that I needed to remove myself from the road and my body was not willing.

There were others around me and as my vision started to return, they assisted me off the road. That’s when I was starting to become more aware of my body and how it felt. My arm was dangling limply, like it was a disconnected part of me and having felt that sensation before, I knew it was probably broken. But it was my head that I was more focused on and how that felt. Not good, in short.

Some of the people who helped were the couple from car, according to Damien, and they piled Damien and I into the back of their jeep. It was unbearably hot in the back seat and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I desperately wanted to bail right back out the door again. I felt claustrophobic stuck behind the front seat with no door for easy exit to my side. If the wave comes when we are in this jeep it will fill up with water and we’ll be trapped, I was thinking. My thoughts alternated from “I just want to get out” to “I have to stay in here whether I like it or not as it is our only chance of getting to higher ground quickly”. The way I was feeling I knew with certainty that I was not going to be moving fast of my own accord. So I sat there and waited until the couple got in the car. Which felt like forever.

For most of the trip to higher ground I sat as still as I could and I was focusing on whether or not we were high enough yet. No one really spoke in the car for quite some way. I do recall that at some point the girl eventually said, “well I guess we should introduce ourselves” and the other three went about it and some further conversation ensued. I sat mute and felt no obligation or desire to communicate. All my energy was focused on how high are we, and that I was hurting and that I would have to get used to this cause if there is a tsunami it’s gonna be a long time before I can get any painkillers.

I then became aware that I was bleeding in a number of places and had a fleeting thought of “I hope I’m not bleeding all over the car upholstery”, which was shortly followed by another thought more along the lines of “who gives a fuck, this hurts!”

Part way up they stopped the car. I think it was to call their friends who they were concerned for and may need to help out. I was feeling incredibly thirsty and somewhat panicky that because a big bloody wave may soon hit the island it could be forever before I could get some water to quench this overpowering thirst. So although I wasn’t happy that we were stopped… that “are we high enough yet?” a constant in my thoughts… I suddenly had to get out as I knew I was going to be sick. I felt most undignified standing on the side of the road vomiting into the dirt as people poured past up the road, and as a Muslim family watched on from the front of their home. I was hoping that the rather dishevelled state I was in – dirty, bloody and weird dangling arm – was enough for them to realise that this was an emergency spew!

Damien was by my side and I said I needed water, so he walked up to the family and asked and they kindly brought me out a glass of water. I was so thankful for that. I was still worried that it represented the only drink of water I would have for a while though…

Soon after we all piled back into the car and continued our ascent. The others were happy with our height and telling me we were high enough, but I wasn’t feeling safe. Anyway, we reached a point where all the escaping hordes became congested and we could not go any further up the hill. Some people were walking in single file like ants up a small path into the bush to the peak of the hill. I wanted to be doing the same, but the way I was feeling it seemed like a hard thing to physically achieve.

My need for more water was still a problem and as we waited outside the jeep I started asking for more. Where anyone was going to produce it from I had no idea. The guy from the jeep said he thought they had some in the back, but my hopes were soon dashed. There was none. He kindly produced a warm can of Diet Coke but I didn’t want to drink that.

However, out of nowhere a Thai man with a machete appeared and next minute he was taking Damien and I to his home up in the bushes, which consisted of a grass mat, a small knife but most importantly a mega bottle of water and a makeshift cup made out of a cut off plastic water bottle. What a relief. I could sit here and wait for whatever happened and drink as much water as my heart desired…but not before I returned the kind man’s hospitality by spewing everywhere at the foot of his mat. Most undignified, again, and I hoped he realised I couldn’t help it. I wouldn’t normally follow machete-wielding strangers into the bush so willingly, but this was not a normal kind of occasion!

Damien then saw that our jeep was moving below and he went tearing down the hill to stop them. They had been looking for us and were going to take us to their friend’s place, which was apparently at a tsunami-safe height.

We arrived at their friend’s property which was covered in trees, and the smell of horses was strong in the air. There was a gathering of foreigners and Thais and they all looked concerned when they saw me, and I was ushered in and told to take a seat. What I really wanted to do was lie down and I thought that this would have been obvious, but I didn’t want to be rude. So I sat with a collection of kittens and a goat at my feet and the lovely Thai lady, who was I think attempting to perform reiki on my arm. I was wishing so much as her hands hovered over my arm that she had some special healing powers and that my arm would feel better. Sadly, this was not my time to meet some mystical healer of the East! But her compassion was making me feel cared for and I was humbled by that.

At this time I remember others comforting Damien. He was suffering from shock himself. I thought how lucky we were to have such caring people around us and that they were tuned in enough to see that it was not only me who needed help.

Everyone there was so lovely and wanted to assist: I had a man construct a makeshift sling for me, even one of the pet dogs came to stand by my side as I had yet another “undignified” moment. Funnily enough, the tattooed young woman I saw bolt down the road also happened to be at this property, and she sat crouched a small distance away from the dog while I was sick. I felt slightly weirded out by having someone watching me so violently spew and wished she wasn’t there. But I felt bad for thinking she may be somewhat perverted, as when I stopped, her face was full of concern and she asked me if I wanted her to stay with me. She wasn’t as mean as my first impression, down near the beach.

By this time I had plucked up the courage to ask if I could lie down and they took me to a newly constructed bungalow and put a mattress on the floor and a blanket over me. I was happy about this, as despite the humidity I was shivering. A lovely Canadian girl came and starting attending to my wounds. She chatted away in a chirpy tone and I am sure it was to try and lift our spirits. What was amusing is that she spoke to Damien and I in broken English. She apologised, saying she had spent too long in Asia and found herself forgetting to speak complete English! I love this as after spending so long here too, I now talk the same way to the locals. At first I was reluctant as I thought it sounded somewhat condescending, but now I realise simplicity is the key to communication. Cut out all the unnecessary filler words!

Anyway, I was concerned about concussion, and hearing that I was worried about the hit to my head she checked my eyes with a flashlight to see how my pupils were. Just as an aside, where the hell did she pull the flashlight from?? Anyway, my eyes showed that I was fine, no concussion she advised, and I felt somewhat relieved.

At various points during our time at the property people were trying to encourage me to go to the hospital. I was resistant, even though I was worried about possible concussion  and wanted something for the pain. The hospital was not on a hill. We were advised it was on the safe side of the island and it would be entirely OK to go there. But I still wanted to wait until the moment that tsunami was supposed to hit had passed. The pain could wait.

Eventually, I became convinced that it was indeed safe and I think we may have left just before the predicted impact time. Someone had called the “ambulance” for us. It was in fact a four wheel drive, two dudes and a siren stuck on top. So off we went, siren blaring to Koh Lanta Hospital.

I don’t want to go too much into the events at the hospital except to say we were looked after at this very basic facility. It was a unique experience to receive care in what was evidently a fairly poor public hospital. So there we were, both sleeping on the same hospital bed, head to toe, on sheets that had seen better days, with the geckos, mozzies and the heat of an un-airconditioned open-to-the-elements ward. I do however, want to mention that the lady from the guesthouse appeared with her friend in the middle of the night. Although we had trouble communicating to each other, I knew that she had come especially to see if I was alright. I was further touched by her kindness, and that of her friend, when they returned the next day and waited all morning to see that I was discharged and OK.

I really wanted to go back to the house where we had stayed with the others to await the outcome of tsunami evacuation  but I was not physically able to move further than our villa. However, serendipitiously, the day we went back to Koh Lanta Hospital to get my arm put in full plaster, the Canadian girl and her friend happened to be there and we were able to sincerely thank them both and ask that they pass this on to their friends. We apologised for not making it back in person, and they smiled and dismissed this saying they were pleased things were looking up and that my recovery was paramount.

What I have taken away from this experience is my love for Damien because he was so wonderful throughout the ordeal and the weeks of recovery after, never once complaining. I also will remember the overwhelming kindness of strangers. I also have answered one of those questions I have asked myself at times throughout my life. I have always wondered how would I react if ever placed in a life threatening circumstance. I always hoped I would fight, but now I am happy to know that if the shit ever hits the fan again that I will focus on the essential thing which is to survive at all costs.

Thanks to those who contacted me during the time I was recovering. It was good to have contact from home. I especially want to thank my parents for particularly being there for me.

Although I started writing this when I was in the bar in Phuket Town, the computer ran out of battery so I have only just finished it as I sit in a café in the beautiful town of Luang Prabang, Laos. I have not felt like writing about it until now, as after arriving in Laos I was so happy to be in a country that didn’t remind me of the accident and the month and a half of recovery that put a pause to our adventure. But I am glad to have swallowed this frog, so to speak, and now I can forget about it. I have no desire to think about it again, I am much more content to enjoy the present, and what a fine place we are in to experience the present. I love you, Laos! You are the perfect antidote 😀

Categories: family, friends, Laos, Thailand, travel | Leave a comment

Back on track

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It may sound harsh to describe three weeks in Phuket as an ordeal, but that’s what it felt like to us at times recently. It’s not that it’s a bad place to visit – there are many things to see and do here to make for an exciting holiday – it’s the fact that we haven’t been able to leave when we wanted that has built the frustration.

We didn’t even intend to go to Phuket at all. Our original route saw us going from Koh Lanta to the mainland beach area of Ao Nang, visiting spectacular Railay and Ko Phi Phi while there. Then to Kantchanaburi for the wondrous Erewan Falls, then up north to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai before crossing the border into Laos at the end of April. But the tsunami evacuation and subsequent accident on April 11th derailed us completely, and the detour to Phuket was required for a precautionary CT scan at the world-class Bangkok Phuket Hospital.

Even though the scan showed no damage, it still took days for Kristen to feel well enough to leave the hotel room. Staying at the very comfortable and unbelievably friendly Villareal Heights in Kata, we managed to get through the entire eight seasons of Entourage during our first week on Phuket! But days of unending sloth can take its toll even on the most committed loungers, and as soon as Kristen was up to it we ventured out to see some of the island. During our three weeks on Phuket we visited or stayed at many different areas, including Kata and the delightful Kata Noi, Karon, the Big Buddha, Patong and its infamous Bangla Road, Kammala, Surin, Bang Tao, Rawai, Nai Harn, Promthaep Cape, Rang Hill and Phuket Town. We can’t decide whether we like Kata Noi beach or Surin beach more (but we both agree these are the pick of the eight beaches we visited).

However to our surprise, our favourite part of the island turned out to be Phuket Town with its well-preserved Sino-Portuguese shophouses, cool cafes and lively music scene. We ended up spending six nights there prior to flying out, and with the possible exception of Kata Noi and Surin it’s to Phuket Town that we would return if we ever came back to the island. Towards the end of our stay we also managed to do a day trip to Ko Phi Phi, visiting justifiably famous areas such as Maya Bay and The Lagoon. It’s somewhere that we would like to return to for a few days to see it properly, but definitely outside the high season when it must get maniacally busy.

I’ve got to say something about the food on Phuket, because that was our main pastime there! Kristen was clamouring to leave the room as much as she was able, but the slow pace of recovery meant that heading out to a restaurant was sometimes the only activity possible. I could write a whole post about the various restaurants and meals we enjoyed, but for now will limit it to a brief summary of the more memorable ones.

Thai food: Kampung Hill restaurant in Kata serves Royal Thai cuisine in a gorgeously ornate setting. Suay in Phuket Town aims for top-end Thai and fusion food that mostly hits the mark. Gotum, a pleasant and unpretentious place also in Phuket Town served some of the best Thai food I’ve had in Thailand. As did the Pad Thai shop, conveniently located a short step from our Kata home and which serves the best Pad Thai on the planet (and a pretty decent noodle soup too).

European food: Acqua, a snazzy Italian place with water views was our choice for Kristen’s birthday blowout. With a superb range of cheeses and top quality food and wine, it was easy to see why this place has won so many awards (bloody expensive, though). The acclaimed Momtri’s Kitchen and The Boathouse, both in Kata, had spectacular settings but the food at both was somewhat disappointing (but both got points for kick-arse cocktails using local ingredients). Decent Italian at more modest prices can be had at Capannina, also in Kata.

All this eating was some compensation for being forced to stay on Phuket, but what we really wanted was to get away and resume our journey. The inability to move on was sapping our motivation in many ways, and by the last week we were feeling rather depressed about the situation. But finally the doctor gave the all-clear to travel, and to give a real sense of departure from that place – plus to make up some lost time – we decided to fly out as soon as possible. It took less than two hours to put 1400 kms between us and Phuket, and after a single night’s stopover in dreary Udon Thani we crossed into Laos to get the good times rollin’ again 🙂

Categories: food, Thailand, travel | 4 Comments

What A Difference A Day Makes – Part 1


Our first full day on Koh Lanta was one of the best days we’ve had in ages; our second full day was an absolute disaster in every sense. It’s amazing how quickly the times can change from sublime to scary…


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April 10th

Waking up that first morning we resolved that finding new accommodation on the island was the main goal of the day. We’d booked a place on the southern beach of Ao Kantiang, partly on recommendation from Lonely Planet and partly from our own research. We wanted somewhere quiet, beautiful and cheap, and on all counts Kantiang was supposed to hit the mark. But we could not help comparing it to Koh Kradan when we arrived, and Kantiang did not stand up well to the immediate comparison. Plus our beach bungalow smelled rather unpleasant – not bad enough that we turned it down on arrival the night before, but bad enough to want to move somewhere better soon.

Mollified a little by an excellent breakfast at the beachside restaurant, we decided that we would rent scooters to do our hunt for new digs. This was not a decision taken lightly, as neither of us had ever really ridden scooters on our own before. Plus Kristen had an unfortunate history with motorbikes in Thailand: 11 years ago she broke her shoulder while riding (as a passenger) on Koh Samui, an injury that required days in hospital, a couple of operations to fix and months of recovery. However we reasoned that the roads here were all sealed, traffic was very light, and the locals generally did not share the Thai tendency to speed as fast as possible wherever they go.

We hired one scooter each as neither of us felt confident being on the one bike, and cost was not an issue as full day rental for both was just $15! Our first hour was very cautious, and we travelled in short bursts of several hundred metres only for a while. But eventually our collective confidence was high enough to ride properly, and we got into it so well we had perma-grins plastered on our faces after a couple of hours 😀

After hunting around we found the perfect beachside area and a super-cheap guesthouse right on the beach for just $8 a night. The sea was literally at the back door, there were several restaurants nearby, and it had the lazy traveller vibe we were looking for (and which wasn’t at Kantiang, or so we thought). Signing up for the two nights starting the next day, we then had a great lunch at the spectacular cliff-top restaurant on Diamond Cliff. Our plan was to go to the beach below the cliff after lunch, and we raced back to our bungalow to get suitably attired for an afternoon in the sun. But the weather closed in as soon as we arrived, so we turned around and raced back to the hotel to try and beat the rain.

We spent the rest of the afternoon lazing around reading while the rain fell softly, then had tandem thai massages for the gloriously low price of $10 an hour. Suitably softened, it was off to the new Alama restaurant in Kantiang village for a superb dinner and some drinks. Feeling somewhat cheerful afterwards, we dropped in to the beachfront bar at our hotel and discovered a local cover band playing excellent and rather original versions of classic rock songs. This was right up our alley, so we grabbed a table and spent the next few hours enjoying the music. Afterwards we hung out with some locals, and eventually went to bed knowing we’d had one of the best days in ages.

Categories: Music, Thailand, travel | 3 Comments

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