As I’ve mentioned before, Swarana and I are not very good at backpacking. No more evident is that fact than in our laborious exploration of Vietnam.
Most people pick a route: north to south or south to north. We essentially did laps.
We had pals to meet, you see; friends were coming over from the US, the UK and South Korea, not to mention a mate who actually lives in Vietnam. And in our endeavour to see them all, we went to Hue twice, Hoi An twice, Saigon twice and Hanoi THREE TIMES.
This makes a mockery of chronological blog-mongering.
So, in an effort to retain some semblance of form in this account, I’ll be merging all three visits to Hanoi in one post, despite many of the events book-ending either side our 45 days in the country.
We had chosen to explore the south coast of Cambodia for one primary reason – to find bioluminescent algae, or plankton, in the ocean. We’d found none in Sihanoukville, while Kampot had its own variety of glow-in-the-dark wildlife, so Rabbit Island, off the coast of Kep, was our last chance.
Only 30 minutes down the road from Kampot, Kep sits on the Cambodian coast close to the Vietnam border. We’d booked a bus, but found the agency had overbooked the mini-van by about 10 people, most of whom were on their way to Ho Chi Minh City. Continue reading A feather in Cambodia’s Kep→
When you finally breach the sprawling limits of Phnom Penh, the shape of the country becomes apparent: it’s flat, as far as the eye can see.
To me, it’s a strange and oddly compelling sight, to see unbroken steppe fade to transparency. The absence of obstruction – hills, forests, buildings – is fascinating to me, I suppose because I’m used to rolling landscapes and obscured horizons. Continue reading We snook a look at Sihanoukville→
Our first border crossing – from Thailand to Malaysia – was impressively painless, apart from carrying around a rucksack on my freshly scalded back. Flesh-grating torture aside, the visas were free, the immigration officers unquestioning, and the boat was quick and comfortable.
Our first port of call – Pulau Langkawi – was made a duty-free zone in 1987 to boost tourism and improve the livelihoods of the island’s inhabitants. We celebrated this economic liberation with a glass of Prosecco as soon as we arrived, toasting the island’s effervescent relationship with alcohol, before heading out for a booze-free meal. Continue reading Langkawi – Malaysia’s malaise→
We left Koh Libong the way we had come, on a longtail with the locals, one of whom was having her scooter shipped over with us. It wobbled precariously on the deck in front of us, threatening to crash into my knees as the boat’s hull was thumped by each wave, in what might have been the world’s oddest traffic accident.
Thankfully, my shins remained unscathed and, with a belly-full of Imodium leading some guttural rebellion in my intestines, I was semi-confident our trip to Koh Lipe would be squit-free. Continue reading Quantum Lipe→
We left Krabi with high hopes for Trang, the next province to the south. Research told us of quieter islands, yet to be overcome by the behemoth of tourism, and a more authentic Thai way of life.
Trang Town for its part is devoid of tourism. There’s the odd hotel for people who don’t make it through to the pier in time, and a spattering of western bars and restaurants by the train station, but otherwise it’s Thai through and through. Continue reading Going lokoh on Libong→
For most visitors to Krabi province, Krabi Town is just a short stop-off before heading to either Railay beach or the islands of Koh Phi Phi or Koh Lanta. But after Koh Samui, Krabi Town feels like a cultural paradise.
Even without the comparison, the town is a sweet, easily walkable quiet spot, with as many small welcoming bars with live music as there are open-air local kitchens, not to mention the bustling night market that boasts a huge variety of freshly cooked street food and a large central stage that hosts entertainment for the locals by the locals. Continue reading A Railay good Tim→
We spent another few days on Kho Phangan after new year’s, hiring mopeds to seek secluded beach coves and jungle-covered waterfalls, and eating at a tremendous restaurant a short walk down the road from Phangan Cabana Resort (about which Carmella, in her inimitable manner, declared she would “Trip Advise the fuck out of this place”).
I’d heard cautionary tales of Koh Phangan, of raucous parties and corrupt police, overpopulated beaches and drunks at every turn, but I had enjoyed the place immensely, so it was with optimism and excitement that we packed and left for our next destination – the neighbouring island of Koh Samui.
We had done pitifully little research before we embarked just after Christmas, so were blissfully unaware of the unthinkable horrors that this island held in store for us. Continue reading Don’t waste your Tim→
All this rushing, all the flights and buses and boats to get to Koh Phangan, we were rushing to get there for New Year’s Eve.
I thought it was going to be all trance and tripped out twats, throwing shapes at the moon and dribbling on about cosmic energy. I thought it would feature teenagers rampantly forcing themselves upon each other under a deluge of alcohol and mushrooms. I’d been told about buckets – they hardly sounded appealing.
At last! After a gruelling 40-hour, spine-bending journey, we have arrived in Koh Phangan. Leaving Dorset on the 28th, we travelled by train, tube, plane, tram, tuk-tuk, truck and ferry, to arrive early morning on the 30th.
Apart from a couple of sketchy connections, the voyage was unremarkable, apart from two disturbing events that bookended the trip. Continue reading Tim on arrival→