Friday 26 August 2011

Phuket to Panang

Funny little Chap

Phi Phi Longtails

Skin-Diving Treasure Haul


Low tide Sundown

Phi Phi Ley

Typical Thailand Tourist

We rode out of the rain shortly before crossing the bridge to Phuket, the largest of Thailand’s islands. While cooking breakfast in a National Park campground behind a beach where fairly large waves broke on the shore, a lycra-clad middle-aged Thai couple pulled up on mountain bikes for a chat. It turned out they ran a bicycle shop a few miles away and had all the tools and parts to repair Anja’s  bike. After a pit stop at Thalang Bikes we pedalled round this beautiful if over-touristed island stopping here and there and visiting the aquarium.
This place is a real ex-pat enclave complete with its own ‘Falang’ newspaper. This publication made quite interested reading. It seemed the undertow and short sharp waves on which we had warily body-boarded (we found one washed up on the beach) had drowned 3 tourists over the weekend to the frustration of the local lifeguards who post signs, plant flags and do their best to stop all us dumb grockels from being seduced by the warm, aquamarine waters and forgetting that the rollers, tides and currents are the grasping fingers of a hungry and unforgiving ocean. Mixed with the articles on property and investment trends were those that indicated other undercurrents; stand-over men, corruption and land-wars culminating in temple gunfights and being dragged along the bottom were the Burmese migrant workers who die in large numbers in the foundation trenches of the new luxury hotels.
We were glad to get on the ferry to Koh Phi Phi, which, although slowly sinking under the weight of the young party crowd and their back-packs, remains, due to the mountainous terrain and absence of roads, an island paradise. From a cheap guesthouse in the town which is wall to wall dive-shops and German bakeries we would walk each morning a half hour to Long-beach cook breakfast on the white sands and snorkel round Shark Point. I was thrilled to see a couple of Black Tip reef Sharks and came back to the beach to tell Anja where they were. I warned her there was a strong current that ran between two rocks but being the adventurous type she decided to go with the flow and let herself be carried through the gap. She returned in a bit of a state as she was dumped in what she called the “Shark Pool”, a group of about 20 sharks. These fine looking, 1.5m creatures are supposedly harmless but such a first sighting could make anyone panic a little. We procured another snorkel set and thereafter swam out together.
Anja had some designing work to do so we stayed a week on Phi Phi and I spent my days scrambling over the hills and exploring the island, returning to town in the evening to pick the odd drunken, injured Australian up off the pavement and help them back to their hotel.
From Phi Phi we took the ferry to Koh Lanta and cycled down to the South and the beach where we met over 3 years ago. Everything there was closed up for the low season so we had the beach to ourselves but just behind the beach I noticed a German Toyota pick-up with a camper back and as I was taking a Photo for future reference bearded Mark appeared and invited us in for an iced Tea. He and his wife Kristina had driven here 3 years ago from Germany passing through Russia and Korea on the way and had some good stories to tell. Great folks, though the complications involved in driving round the world made me glad we were on bicycles. No paperwork or customs impounding, back shish and weeks of waiting.
Anja’s friend Tatiana was on holiday on Koh Samui off the other coast of Thailand so Anja rushed up with a bus and ferry to see her for a couple of days and I was left on my lonesome. The first time in over 15 months. In the hut next to us was a Canadian called Douglas, a travelling musician who could play any instrument he was handed. I asked if he could play the harmonica (hoping to learn to play my neglected present from Bruno the Hobo we met
Last miles in Thailand
back in France), he laughed and opened with a flourish a case with an array of mouth-organs in every key. “what do you want to play, cross harp, slide harp, straight harp,folk, blues blues, bluegrass or what? I can download all the books and cd’s onto your computer if you like”. I had been looking for a book for over a year. We sat on the porch drinking beers, tapping our feet, puffing and sucking our harps and bringing a bit of Hillbilly to the beach. (well, Doug did. I added some cat with a foot on its tail harmonics to his accomplished playing). “hey shall I download some movies aswell, you don’t have anything on your new computer”. And so we joined the modern traveller fraternity, the plugged in, tuned out generation with 200 films ready to watch on rainy nights in our tent. 21st Century adventurers!!
We left Lanta with three days left on our visa and over 300kms to Malaysia so we trod on the pedals a bit and decided to take a ferry from Satun to Lankawi, an island on the Malaysian side, thereby avoiding some steep looking mountains which could have slowed us down too much.
Lankawi, Malaysia. As Peninsular Malaysias premier beach resort destination or however it was described in a pamphlet we found, I was expecting an over-developed nightmare. On the contrary, it was pretty wild for the most-part with national parks, marine-reserves etc, and a quiet little harbour town. Cheap it was not. We arrived on Patai Tenga, a most beautiful beach looking out to some unpopulated islands and were immediately greeted by a smooth talking Californian and asked if we would like to rent one of his new “cabanas” for the day. I pointed to our bikes and said that paying to spent the daylight hours somewhere was not really included in our budget. Ah, he said I see, well come and sit in the shade anyway, you don’t have to pay.
Dave and his Sarawaki wife Susan were a great couple with a new business ‘Bookakabana”. We set up our inner tent under one of their kabana’s, watched the most colourful sunset I have ever seen and cooked up dinner on a driftwood table.
Langkawi Sunset
The next day we cycled round the island in the most torrential rain and limped, bedraggled back into Kuah, the port, to dry out in a friendly Motel.
There was a ferry to Georgetown on the historic island of Penang and as the rain seemed set to continue, we took it, and here we are. This has a varied mix of Malays, Indians, Chinese and Caucasians living in ramshackle colonial style streets. There are Hindu temples sandwiched between Chinese temples and Mosques. Little India fades into Chinatown and most people seem to speak four different languages. The Tamil Indians can speak Chinese, the Chinese Tamil and everyone seems proficient in both Malay and English. An interesting town.
We are sitting out yet more rain and are trying to work out the complications that Indonesia poses. We can only get a 60 day visa but it is 5000 km from the top of Sumatra to Papua. The ferries, in places, (the ones we want of course) seem no longer to run, replaced by cheap flights. I hate flying so a route is not easy. The latest plan is to ride south to Malacca, take a boat to Dumai on Sumatra, tour round a bit on a 30 day ‘visa on arrival’, return to Malacca, ride south to Singapore, get a 60 day visa, take a ferry to the Kijang then a ship to somewhere on Java. Then see how far we can ride in the time.
Yachtclub Gatecrash, Langkawi
Maybe we can reach Timor L’est and return on another 30 day visa and figure out how to get to Australia. The only boat option is to find a friendly sailor and the only flights these days are from Bali which means missing out a whole lot of islands or back-tracking a long way. If anyone reading this has any bright ideas we would be glad to hear them.
Captain Lights Boots
Today is Anja’s birthday and tomorrow my Dads big 80th. Have a good party on Sunday everyone. We are off for a big Indian dinner!