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South East Asia Summary and Highlights

A round up of our SE Asian adventure in the same format as our South American summary


View South East Asia on Roaming Rolts's travel map.

Number of days in South East Asia: 88 days

Countries visited:

Thailand: 12 + 17 = 29 days
Laos: 8 days
Vietnam: 24 days
Cambodia: 5 days
Malaysia: 7 + (Sabah: 5 days) + 2 + 2 = 16 days
Brunei: 2 days
Singapore: 2 + 2 = 4 days

Accommodation:
45 different accommodations
+1 night bus (after that we decided never again! Not in Vietnam at least where the speed limit was 60kph most of the time, 80kph at best and flights were less than £30.)
+2 night trains

We changed accommodation within the same town on 3 occasions:

Luang Prabang was booked up for the second night.
Saigon we had booked two nights originally but the guesthouse was not particularly clean and had a bug problem so we did not extend our stay there.
Kuala Lumpur's B&B hostel got a booking for a school party therefore double booked our room and so we had to find a hotel for one night before moving closer to the train station for the second night where it was cheaper and more convenient for our early start to the airport for Australia.

48 different places over 88 nights gives us an average stay of 1.8 nights at each place, compared to 1.7 nights in South America; however we moved around a lot more in Asia, as South America’s average included changing three times in the delightful town of Calama, 3 nights camping on the Inca Trail and 9 nights travelling. If you look at the average for staying in a hotel or guesthouse only, South America’s average is 2.25 nights and Asia is 1.96 nights. Regardless of which way you calculate it, it is safe to say we moved around an awful lot! It felt as though we moved a lot more in Asia, as we rarely spent more than two nights in the same hotel.

Our longest stay for the whole time was 4 nights in Krabi over Christmas. We managed 3 nights on Phu Quoc island in Vietnam and 3 nights in Hanoi. I think it's fair to say we have literally not stopped moving for 3 months.

We rejected one accommodation and did a midnight dash (at 11pm) to another hotel in Siem Reap, where the hotel was expecting Chris to return with a hooker, when he booked the room with absolutely no belongings. The hotel we left was filthy with gunge and slime in the bathroom and the air conditioning did not work in the stifling 40 degree heat of Cambodia. That and the owner was pretty rude towards me for being a fussy English woman, with a boyfriend (husband) who just goes along with whatever I tell him. Marriage must be a strange affair if this is not the case in Cambodia!

Top 3 Accommodation

This is a lot more difficult to decide for South East Asia as everything was so cheap, we really did not slum it. We did not stay in any dorm rooms, mainly double rooms, occasionally twin and until we got to Malaysia, we did not even have to entertain the notion of sharing our bathroom.
The best country for accommodation is Vietnam, where £18 will get you a very nice 3/4 star modern western style double room with buffet breakfast. Excluding Singapore, which is just generally a lot more expensive, Malaysia was least value for money, with rooms being very basic and bathrooms being a wet room the size of a closet. Turns out our cupboard under the stairs is more than big enough for a bathroom, when I had previously thought it too small to be a downstairs toilet. North Thailand was probably the cheapest and best value for money. We struggled to spend much more than £10 for a cute little bungalow. We also stayed in the most authentic rooms here, without needing to lower expectations in comfort.

Anyway.... I digress.

Chiang Mai, Thailand - GAP's House: lovely traditional large room with lovely wooden furniture and a good breakfast. The hotel was set in the grounds of a garden, which was more like a jungle.
Krabi, Thailand - Cozy Place: this was like a miniature holiday resort hotel with the 20 or so rooms all overlooking the pool. The bed and room were massive, the balcony was a good size, breakfast was good competition for a Brazilian breakfast and Barrel dog lived there! This dog was the roundest fat dog we had ever seen!
Phu Quoc, Vietnam - Lan Anh Resort: these were cute little bungalows around a pool and garden with a lovely outside bathroom behind your room. The breakfast was pretty good too.

We stayed at the Radisson in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, which goes without saying that that was our nicest hotel, but we paid nearly £50 a night for that, and although you couldn't get anything at all for less than £40 a night in BSB, I'm sure if we had spent £50 a night in Vietnam or North Thailand we could have potentially got something even nicer. The Sheraton in Sandakan comes a very close second in the international chain hotels category.

Worst Accommodation

I would say we generally had better luck with accommodation in South East Asia, probably due to the fact there was a lot of competition and more options for each budget in each town. Also in South America, our budget although considerably more per night, was normally the minimum amount you would have to pay to put a roof over your head for the night. Anyway, the worst three:

The aforementioned dirty accommodation in Siem Reap (although can that count if we didn't manage to stay more than a couple of hours here?)
Saigon - the room with the bugs and unwashed blankets
Chiang Khong, Thailand - had a broken toilet and so faeces leaked out over the bathroom floor. Nice.

Travelling Times

We had a lot more land to cover on this section of the trip, but perhaps cheated by flying through most of Vietnam, as a 12 hour bus or train journey costed £25 for the one hour fight. Numbers in brackets are times from South America to show a comparison.

Time spent on buses: 90.75 hours (141.5)
Time spent on trains: 25 hours
Time spent on flights (excluding connection times): 44.75 hours (37)
Time spent on ferries: 33.5 hours (13.5)
Total time travelling: 194 hours/ 8 days and 2 hours (192/8 days)

Stuff Stolen

$4 additional fees at the Cambodian border. $2 of that was for the official medical check.......the other $2 were because I have your passport and because I can.

Probably completely ripped off at various other times, but actual thefts are zero! Yay! (Compared to three in South America.)

Highlights

So again I will try to do this as a top three for each country. We have an incredibly long list of highlights to choose from though.

Thailand

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The Royal Palace, Bangkok

Bangkok - Exploring the capital city of Bangkok, which we both absolutely loved. Some of our favourites were the unmissable Royal Palace, a long tail boat tour around floating villages on the Thonburi canals, Wat Arun lit up by night, exploring the locals’ alleys around the river by our first accommodation and enjoying cocktails at the Sky Bar by night.
Kanchanaburi – Riding Death Railway over the River Quai bridge and a day trip to the picturesque Erawan Waterfalls
Chiang Mai – Cooking class and the elephant conservation park, where we washed the elephants

Thai Beaches
Ah I’m cheating already….

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Sunset at Khao Lak

Khao Lak – The best snokelling trip we went on was to the islands of Koh Similan
Krabi – Kayaking around the mangroves, karsts and caves
Koh Jum – Actually stopping to relax on this deserted rustic beach island. There is nothing to do, which was just what we needed!

Laos

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Mountain scenery between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng

Slow boat along the Mekong from the border to Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang – The food! Our own private buffet barbeque and taking a rowing boat across the river to a hidden bamboo restaurant in the trees
Vang Vieng – tubing along the river and exploring the hidden caves, which included walking through the pitch black empty caves in water up to your chest.

Vietnam

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Hanoi by night

Hanoi - Exploring the narrow streets of the old quarter on foot and by cyclo before enjoying a coffee overlooking the chaotic rush hour traffic in the square below and then enjoying the corner bars known as ‘bia hoi’.
Hoi An – Wandering the streets of the old quarter, by day and lit up with colourful lanterns by night before stopping for a relaxing cup of tea and cookies in a deaf tea house.

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Children in a minority village

Kon Tum – Tour in French by moped of the minority villages and all the interesting stories he shared with us.

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Locals returning from a fishing trip at sunset on Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc Island – Relaxing on the beaches and exploring the island by moped before taking a boat out for a snorkelling trip.

Cambodia

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Former school, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Phnom Penh – Former S-21 prison, now home to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Cocktails at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club
Cheoung Ek - The Killing Fields

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Temples at Angkor

Siem Reap – Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples

Malaysia

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La maison bleue, Georgetown

Langkawi - Walking up the Telega Tujuh Waterfalls and sliding down the rocks between the Seven Pools
Georgetown - Wandering the streets of the UNESCO centre and admiring the street art, traditional Malay shop houses, Peranakan mansion house and Cheong Fatt mansion house (La maison bleue) before heading to Little India for a traditional banana leaf curry.
Ipoh – Visiting the strangely placed Kellie’s Castle, which does not exactly match its surroundings.

Borneo – Sabah

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Orang-utan!

Sandakan – Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre and Rainforest Discovery Centre and its canopy walkway
Sandakan - Afternoon tea in the traditional English tea house overlooking the bay
Kota Kinabalu - Scuba diving off the coast of Gaya Island

Brunei

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Kampung Ayer Water Village

Bandar Seri Begawan - Royal Regalia museum, the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque lit up at night and the boat trip with self-assigned tour guide for a driver along the river to find the proboscis monkeys.
Tasek Lama Park – Walking the trails along tarmac and climbing root covered steep muddy hills before watching the monkeys cool off in the stream just outside the park
Kampung Ayer – starting off in the visitor centre, which goes into more detail about the history of the villages before meandering through the jetties, which link this water village together

Singapore

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Gardens by the Bay

Singapore zoo and night safari
Gardens by the Bay Light Show before enjoying cocktails in the bar atop one of these trees
Sentosa Island - Waterslides at Adventure Cove and snorkelling through the tropical fish tank, taking the chair lift up the hill in order to toboggan back down and the S.E.A. Aquarium.

Overall, our favourite country was Thailand, with Vietnam being a close second. In both countries, they enjoy a good haggle; however this seemed to be quite light hearted and more of a game in Thailand, whereas in Vietnam, you always wondered how much you were going to have be ripped off. You never felt like you were winning or at the very least breaking even in Vietnam.

We absolutely loved our adventures and have had the most amazing six months of our lives, but my goodness, by the end of it, were we tired! We found it incredibly tiring for the last couple of weeks to pack up and change accommodation again; however this was probably partly because we knew we were nearing the end of our trip. Six months was a decent amount of time. If we had more time, we would have loved to have better explored Australia; but where do you stop?

Last post will be a short summary of our fortnight in Australia. I decided to do it separately to the Asia summary, as it was such a contrast.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 10:37 Tagged beaches singapore cambodia thailand malaysia vietnam laos borneo highlights asia sabah brunei south_east_asia summary Comments (0)

Ko Lipe

Island hopping 3: Crystal clear waters and white sand beaches

sunny 40 °C

We finally arrived on Ko Lipe at about 5pm and the music was already blaring for New Year's Eve. We were dropped off on the beach and were surprised at how easily we located our accommodation; it was a little more challenging accessing it. We walked the entire length of the beach, and fortunately the tide was out, leaving nice compressed flat sand to walk on. After about 15 minutes, we came to some seemingly impassable rocks with our accommodation on the next bay the other side of the rocks. We noticed the most rickety walkway over across the rocks and so we clambered up some of the boulders on to the wooden path. All this in the 35 degree blazing sun with our packs on our backs. Our walk around the rocks looked far more precarious than it actually was and 5 minutes later we were at our bungalow.

We have had some pretty interesting rooms over the past six months with us getting ever closer to our hundredth place. Bearing that in mind, we have generally done very well and not had to rough it too much. This bungalow definitely had to grow on you with its walls covered in plastic laminate boards printed with green palm and bamboo trees. The bed was a matress on a raised section of floor with a pink flower bed sheet which would not have looked out of place in a 5 year old girl's bedroom. The curtains were a pink satin like material with frills along the edge and the mosquito net was florescent pink. The bathroom had a matching pink sink, shelf and mirror with a pale blue toilet, which was no more than a foot off of the ground. The toilet was a dipper toilet, meaning it did not flush and required you to pour a bowl of water down after you had used it. Obviously, despite not managing to plumb the toilet in, their was still a bum cleaning hose. The shower was cold. At least we had an uninterrupted view of the sea from our balcony.

That evening, we went out for dinner and although the bars were all playing loud music, none of them seemed particularly inviting for new year. We decided to buy some drinks and ice and use a dry bag as an ice bag and saw in the new year from our balcony. From 11 o'clock onwards, there were constant fireworks from the bay. As we walked along the sea front, we saw people lighting fireworks from their child's outstretched arms!

The following day was spent on the beach. We did the ten minute walk across the island to Sunset beach, which was quieter and less touristy. We saw some children going out and catching fish with a rod to spear them. They managed to get quite a large lilac and green one, some small ones and also a puffer fish. We decided to go snorkeling sooner rather than later in case the children killed all the good fish.

We had to swim quite a way out to see any decent fish but saw plenty of sea urchins, some large blue coloured fish and plenty of black and yellow striped fish. I wish we had had a waterproof camera for this part of the trip as we have seen some pretty cool fish and coral on all our trips. Maybe next time.....

We headed back round to the main beach, Pattaya beach, where we hired a glass canoe for an hour. This was clearly just a novelty as it was very hard to control. The water is so clear here, it was actually a little scary passing over the sea urchins and being able to see them brushing up against the boat. We also saw a couple of blue starfish on some of the rocks.

The following day we had a speedboat booked to Langkawi in Malaysia.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 18:19 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches islands beer boat beach island sand Comments (1)

Koh Lanta Yai

Island hop 2!

overcast 28 °C

After waiting in the middle of the sea for about twenty minutes, the ferry boat appeared on the horizon and the party amongst the long tail boat men dispersed quickly as we did the final few hundred metres over to where the boat stops. In the boat next to ours was the owner of our accommodation who clearly cannot swim, and looked hilarious in his life jacket and checkered boxer shorts.

We arrived on Ko Lanta 90 minutes later and managed to get a room at the first place we went past outside the port for only 400 baht/£8. So what if it appeared to be the former kitchen with worktops and sink? Unfortunately it turned out to have a major problem with its drains and stunk more than our first one in Bangkok and Bangkok is bad for smells anyway. Thankfully it would only be for 2 nights.

The following day, we took a boat trip to Koh Mook, which we had planned to stay at, but probably couldn't have picked a worse time of year to go island hopping without prebooking accommodation. The attraction on Koh Mook is its hidden Emerald Cave set amongst the mountainous karsts in beautiful green seas.

Our long tail boat was driven by what looked like two Thai popstars from the 80s, both with thin moustaches and one with a short mullet and pink shell suit style jacket. It took a good hour and a half bouncing around in the spray from the boat to get to Koh Mook. We were drenched and annoyed that we had picked the coldest overcast day to do this trip. In the wind and waves, it was a little chilly. We stopped on the way for some snorkeling and saw plenty of black and yellow striped fish and a few other larger fish.

After lunch on the beach, we headed round to the Emerald Cave, which was unfortunately heaving with boats. It was suggested we wore lifejackets to make the swim through the cave, with the guides choosing to wear theirs upside down round their legs like nappies. Despite our boat supposedly being capable of taking 18 people on this trip, we were still a couple of lifejackets short on the 12 we needed. Chris had a ridiculously small child's vest on and I went without. The swim was only about 100m and most people found the ill fitting lifejackets to be more of a hinderance. There were a few entertaining chains of people, clinging onto each other evidently unable to swim, with their guide pulling from the front. I don't think I would have wanted to go through a pitch black cave if I couldn't swim!

Chris and I, perhaps rather sadistically, were highly amused by the number of people who were scared and freaking out from the darkness. We were in the dark for less than a minute, with a rope to follow should you wish and various guides waving torches. Karma got me though as I tripped over a submerged rock while walking out the other end of the cave onto the hidden beach. The darkness had helped build up the suspense of the lagoon, and we were not disappointed; it was beautiful with the karsts rising high, a gorgeous golden powdered sand beach, with the sea looking quite haunting as it flowed out of the dark cave.

We enjoyed the reward at the end of this cave; however preferred visiting the tourist free caves in Vang Vieng, Laos. This cave was also similar to the one we visited in Krabi on Christmas day, but with the added excitment of the darkness opening out on to the secret beach. I think we're beginning to get to the point on our trip where we have done most things, and a lot of what do now is 'same same, but different!'

The following day we have a 5 hour ferry booked to Ko Lipe, an island off the coast of Thailand near the Malaysian border.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 06:27 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches sea islands beach island cave snorkeling Comments (0)

Koh Jum, Thailand

Island hopping 1: A remote and undeveloped Thai beach island

sunny 30 °C

Koh Jum is a small island about an hour off the coast from Krabi with little else to do than enjoy the beaches. Our transfer to the port was from 10.30am, with the boat leaving at 11.30am. Knowing the port was only 3km, we were not too worried when it still had not arrived by five past as this is Thai time after all. The receptionist rang to double check and said it was on its way, they just had a lot of pick-ups around town first. By half past, we were getting anxious, even though she explained the boat left at 12. She called again, and 10 minutes later a pick up truck arrived and we were hastily packed into the cab in the back. The driver was shouting in Thai down the phone and driving pretty quickly. We were unloaded at the port and told to run the final couple of hundred metres, in the midday heat, with our backpacks.

On the boat we booked some accommodation, which was a bamboo bungalow sat a few metres up the hill just back from the beach. The ferry does not dock for Koh Jum; long tail boats come out to meet you and you make the transfer across the water. The boat takes you the final 5 minutes to the beach where it stops a couple of metres back from the shore. We trudged up the beach to our accommodation dumped our bags and headed for a swim.

Our accommodation seems as though it would remain open until it fell apart. The owner had long given up with his restaurant or even getting dressed for that matter, spending his days in his checkered boxer shorts. We didn't have any bedding and when we asked, he returned with some sheets which truly reeked of antiseptic. When we visited the restaurant next door, they asked where were staying and offered us sheets! There was another guy there who was leaving that day and had also stayed at old lamp, there to return his bedding.

The next 48 hours were spent eating, drinking, swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing (in the shade of course) and reading on the beach.

The beach was empty and had a rustic charm to it with broken tree branches and several large rocks,

By night, the wet sand by the water's edge was covered in crabs, with loads of different hermit crabs. The normal crabs would scurry off quickly but the hermits would give it a while before retracting into their shells. Some of them had a pretty jazzy shell on their backs and they came in various different shapes and sizes.

After two days rest and relaxation, it was time to move on and so we booked a boat on to Koh Lanta. As the boat didn't dock on the island, half an hour before it was due, we headed back out on the long tail boat and waited for it to appear.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 07:26 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches sea islands beach island snorkeling Comments (0)

Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The beach island!

overcast 25 °C

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We took the ferry to Ilha Grande where after an hour and a half of navigating through the most picturesque islands and scenery, we docked on the main beach front to the port town of Abraão. Abraão is the only town on the island consisting of about 10 relatively short streets, all purposely built for tourists. There are no cars allowed on the island, which adds to the atmosphere of the bustling cobbled streets.

By night, the beach was tastefully lit up by the bars, which had stretched out towards the water's edge, using a variety of coloured lightbulbs. The whole beach front looked amazing and incredibly inviting. After stopping for dinner on the beach, we went for a walk in the water along the length of the beach, with the waves gently breaking at our ferry.

The following day, we set of at 8.45 to do one of the trails around the island, which was supposed to take an hour and a half, which would leave us plenty of time to catch the last boat to the beaches at 11.30. Our route took us past the former prison of San Lorenzo from the time when the island had been used as a penal colony. The majority of the prison had been demolished when it ceased to be a prison in the 1960s. There was still one dark and dingey cell block left, hidden by the trees looking out onto an empty sandy beach.

Our next stop was the aqueduct in the middle of the woods, next to a natural pool fed by a stream. The whole way round, we were led by a stray dog we'd picked up on leaving town. He was very sweet and acted like a little tour guide showing us the way.

Afterwards, we headed back into town and took a boat to another part of the island called Pousa, before walking 10 minutes over the hill to the famous white sand beach of Lopes Mendes with its crystal clear waters. It was like paradise with palm trees lining the beach edge and small islands in the sea along the horizon, adding to the beauty of the cove. With only a few boats going here each day and the walk time from the main town stated at 2½-3 hours, the beach was pretty empty with a clear view out to sea. Unfortunately it was quite windy on this side of the island and so after an hour or so, we walked back to the more sheltered cove of Pousa and spent the remainder of the time on the golden sand beach there.

We decided to go for a walk shortly before the boat back, and in the end decided it would be a nice walk back. After about 20 minutes we arrived at another beach with a rope attached to a tree, making it a great swinging rope. We spent about 15 minutes here before doing the hour and ten minute walk up and back down over the top of the island to Abraão, where we stopped for a beer at one of the beach bars. Clearly Chris and I are better hikers than we thought as it took half the recommended time to do this trail.

We both felt like we were on holiday here and if we didn't have all the Thai beaches to look forward to, would definitely have spent another day here.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 14:25 Archived in Brazil Tagged beaches night boats beer beach Comments (0)

Paraty, Brazil

Finally hit the beach in this colonial town.

overcast 25 °C

Our 120 mile bus journey from São Paulo did not take six hours, but seven. To be fair, it was mountain roads and foggy but it still dragged.

After our last accommodation, this next one felt like a five star hotel with its shower cubicle that didn't contain a sink and toilet and best of all, a mattress which not only gave a little when you sat on it but better still was not made of plastic. There was also a lovely garden, which as the only guests there only needed to be shared with 2 friendly cats.

Paraty is a colonial town on the coast of Brazil with a small pier, mainly for tourist boats with the mountain forests as its backdrop.

The following day was forecast to be stormy before lunch and again in the evening so instead of taking a boat trip around the islands, we planned to hire bikes and head to some waterfalls inland and afterwards try the beaches. We tried one bike shop; however he wanted to keep the passports as security in his not so secure bike shop come workshop. Having lost them once, we were not prepared to risk this, particularly as the man was incredibly rude and treating us as if we were stupid for not understanding Portuguese, even though I understood him perfectly, just struggled immensely to respond in coherent Portuguese. We suggested leaving a cash deposit, so he asked for 1000 real (£300). That's the first time we've ever had to leave any kind of deposit!

With bikes out of the question, we decided to do a boat tour around the islands, which was definitely the right choice in the end. The water was lovely, the boat was so relaxing and the beaches were very pretty and inaccessible by land. At one beach, there was some black sand, which Chris decided to throw at me. Within minutes, the pair of us were covered head to toe from a watery black sand fight.

In the evening, we wandered around the cobbled streets looking at the whitewashed colonial buildings with their brightly painted door and window frames.

Tomorrow's bus is 2½ hours to do 30 miles to Agra, the port to catch the boat to Ilha Grande. Excellent fun.....

Posted by Roaming Rolts 04:56 Archived in Brazil Tagged beaches sea water boat beach sand paraty colonial Comments (0)

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