Phuket/Koh Chang Noi

I think before we even started our adventure, I knew South Thailand was one of the places I was most looking forward to.  I have always loved the ocean ever since the first time I saw it in Florida as a kid. Unfortunately, I was not prepared to be robbed on my way to this paradise destination.  After leaving Chiang Mai, we stayed in Bangkok for two days so Walter could get his tooth fixed. We stayed at Oh Bangkok Hostel near Khao San Road. It was a lovely hostel with beer and kitties located near some stellar street food.  We needed to get from Bangkok to Phuket and the hostel had their own bus services. Something to keep in mind when you’re traveling is if you find something that is way cheaper than the rest of the similar products (like bus lines for instance), there may be a reason it is cheaper.  We have never booked transportation through a hostel before, we have always gone online, which seems to be the safest way to not get scammed. However, we thought we would give it a try. Our first red flag was after we paid in cash, they would not give us a receipt showing that we paid.  They only handed us a piece of paper with Walter’s name on it. When it came time to leave, typically a minivan would take you to the bus station, but instead, a man on a two person scooter showed up and told us he would take us one by one. I went first. He dropped me off at a random curb where three other women were waiting looking just as confused as I was.  Walter showed up ten minutes later. A large bus came to the curb. Typically these buses hold anywhere from 60-100 people and they are ALWAYS full. The man who drove us here took our measly little paper with Walter’s name on it and rode away. The driver immediately asked us for our ticket. Of course we didn’t have one. I already saw how this might go. We told him that the man on the bike kept it and thankfully he let us on.  After driving for about two hours we realized we were going to be the only five people on this bus. Again, super weird and not normal. Aside from our backpacking bags, we carry around a small day bag that has our important stuff like passport, money, computers, my little llama, and this bag NEVER leaves my sight. Another red flag we noticed was that these bus drivers didn’t seem to know how the bus operated, and every now and then along the way they would stop and seemingly visit with friends.  Since this was a night bus, it made things a bit creepier. I think this ride truly showed me how easy it would have been to get caught up in a sex trafficking operation or something similar. We eventually stopped around midnight to eat at a bus stop restaurant. Like usual, I took my small bag with me, bought some snacks, then just headed back to the bus. Once back on the road we all separated into our own row of seats so we could stretch out comfortably. I put my bag on the floor at my feet. Throughout the night I heard the two drivers take turns walking through the aisle to get to the onboard bathroom.  Around 5 am the bus pulled over on the side of an empty street and a man demanded for us to get off. He put us on a mini bus and drove us to a makeshift bus station down the street from a real bus station. A few other travelers there shared their weird stories and we all seemed to agree we thought we were going to be kidnapped somewhere along the way. We finally figured out that the people that had driven us didn’t really work for a bus line. It seems like they maybe bought their own bus and that is why we had to pay cash so it couldn’t be traced. After we arrived at what was definitely a fake bus station we were then picked up by an authentic bus that had extra empty seats.  It was here that again someone demanded for our ticket which we were never given one. We were vigilant in stating that the driver from the last bus kept it we they didn’t make us pay again, but others weren’t so lucky. Some other travelers also were never given a ticket and were forced to pay again. After we boarded the bus we made the last stretch to Phuket. We stopped for lunch and it was there I realized while I was asleep on our overnight bus, someone had taken my little bag, rummaged through it and stole 5000 baht from me (almost $200). I was pretty upset for a while, more so because of the feeling of being violated. I was sleeping away from the three women on the bus so I can only assume when one of the drivers walked by they most likely picked up my bag.  I told Walter this was the last time we were taking a night bus. Moral of the story, don’t put your shit down. If you think you’re going to sleep at all, don’t put it under the seat or in the overhead baggage, just keep it in your lap. I am the one who decided to visit Phuket because so many people had recommended it. That was dumb. There were way too many people there for my liking and everything was hella expensive. Usually a taxi ride that lasts a few kilometers is maybe 100 baht, but here for just one kilometer they were charging 400 baht. Insane. The food was really nothing special. We finally found one good curry place and kind of stuck with that. There were loads of people at the beaches, and to get a boat ride to literally the next bay (maybe half a kilometer) was 1500-2000 baht ($35-$45).  I really would never recommend this city to anyone that is budget traveling. We did find a great rooftop place that sat on the side of a “mountain”. It was Wassa Homemade Bar. We took a taxi to get here. If you talk to the taxi drivers wearing a blue shirt they will definitely give you the best deal. We stayed at Cpak hostel. Veena was super sweet! The rooms were great and had a lot of space! Her bike rental was literally half the price of anyone else we found. After four days here we were ready to get out.

  We at this point are tired of all of the people and overrun beaches and cities.  Walter suggested we try a primitive island. Everyone recommended Koh Phayam, and since it was so highly recommended we decided to NOT go there.  We instead went to its neighbor Koh Chang that no one knew about. The speed boat is cheaper if you buy online, but the bus from Phuket is for sure going to be late so be careful which time you pick.  If you do the morning boat it will drop you off on the beach that you are staying, but if you choose afternoon they will drop you off at the pier and you will have to take a motorbike taxi (150 baht) to get to your destination.  Which was fine because the bike ride across the island was phenomenal. This was by far one of the best experiences we’ve had. We stayed at Mama’s Bungalow on the other side of the island in a bay. There were maybe 10-15 people total staying there.  Everyone was welcoming along with Mama Soi and her family. You never had to leave. Soi and her family cooked every meal (the BEST curry in the south), they had beer, water refills, snorkeling gear for free, free wifi in the common area which made everyone hang out and get to know each other.  There were Great Hornbill birds, hummingbirds, bioluminescent plankton on the beach at night, and so many pups! I would suggest visiting an island like this before it is changed by tourism. You don’t have to worry about people stealing your things, everyone leaves their doors open! I can’t rave enough about this place.  We were sad to leave. Something I always struggle with is no matter how detailed the blog or beautiful the pictures, I’ll never really be able to construe the emotions I hold for these experiences. This time we planned to leave on the first ferry. The boat comes to shore at your bungalow, you waddle out in the water a bit, throw your stuff in and jump in after it.  This post is a bit longer than I planned so I will leave Koh Tao for another blog. There is an Unesco site by Koh Chang, it holds the largest field of Mangroves in the world. We weren’t able to make time for it, but I hear it is beautiful. Not surprising.    

Da Nang&Nha Trang!

The nightlife of Da Nang!

From Hue, we took our first train ride (2.5 hours) to get to Da Nang!  It was a beautiful ride that allowed us to see the lesser-known countryside.  It’s getting HOTTER! I am quite tempted to mail my winter clothing home at this point!  We mainly stopped to visit here to see the Dragon bridge that on Sundays at 9pm will shoot flames from its mouth then become a giant water cannon.  The thing that I admire most about Vietnam is their love of their culture. This dragon show, for example, it happens every single Sunday at the same time.  I figured the crowd would be made of travelers, but surprisingly it seemed as though half of the city joined. Even though they have probably seen this loads of times they still participate.  The food here is quite similar to Hue, which isn’t a surprise due to us traveling one major city south with the exception of Banh Xeo! It is a crispy pancake with seafood, vegetables and sauce wrapped up inside!  This city is referred to as the Silicon Valley of Vietnam. I myself haven’t been to the Silicon Valley of America, but this city seems to be quite further along in development than the previous cities we have visited.  Although to me, it seems similar to Vegas with a touch of New Orleans. Once the lights go down all of the city buildings light up with multicolored light shows along with Mardi Gras colored boats driving up and down the canal.  During our stay here in Vietnam, I have felt quite safe aside from a single pocket on my bag that always seems to be open after mingling in a crowd. However, I am not an idiot and would never put something in such an accessible location.  When we were in Da Nang Walter noticed a female local following us for roughly over half a mile. We even mimicked the crime shows of making random turns and street crosses, but she never strayed more than 20 feet behind us. We eventually made it to the water canal to linger in a safer location.  She stayed close to us and took a picture. We decided after that we should lose her, go back to the hotel and change clothes. This didn’t advance into a more serious scenario, but it did make me a bit more alert to what is going on behind me. We later attended the dragon show, which has a fire cannon, then sprays the crowd with a seriously powerful water cannon.  We also visited Marble Mountains which are multiple temples and caves carved into a single mountain structure. It was remarkable not only the work that went into this, but even the smallest details carved into these rocks! We got up close with a monkey and some bats! The monkey was just focused on destroying the trashcans and robbing people. We decided to head to Nha Trang next for a few beach bum days.  It is a twelve-hour bus ride so we did the overnighter again. We paid for the usual bus but got upgraded to a stellar sleeper. We were so excited to get a comfortable night’s sleep. Yeah right. The level of comfortability doesn’t rely so much on the bus as it does the driver. While this was the roomiest bus we have had yet, the driver made sure to hit every pothole possible along with beating the horn every few minutes.  Our previous drivers stopped honking after 10pm, but not this guy! He honked as though his life depended on it. We then arrived a bit early to our stop in his haste to get there (4am).  

First sunrise in Nha Trang!

Stepping off the bus at 4 am, at the wrong stop, nonetheless, I was not happy about being rushed by five old men trying to physically take my bag from me to put in their taxi.  I had to use my “work voice” to get them away. We then walked straight to the beach to watch the sunrise. Our Airbnb was actually an apartment to ourselves located in a quiet part of town.  The bus only ran until 6pm for 9,000 Dom so we made sure to be back every night by then so we weren’t forced to pay outrageous taxi fees. We found out the next day early in the morning that there was construction going on next door, of course.  When I said we wanted to be beach bums, I was being quite literal. We paid 100,000 Vietnamese Dom ($4) each to have a squishy chair and umbrella for the whole day, every day. It was nice to have these relaxing days as opposed to walking like ten miles a day exploring all the nooks and crannies.  There were constantly sellers sifting through everyone at the beach, but if you just act like you are sleeping they leave quickly. There was one lady walking the beach in full clothing including gloves and socks selling corn while she was cooking it! Along with the beautiful beaches and sunny weather, my ailments have finally decided to give me a break!  Our last night here we decided to try a hole in the wall bar down the street owned by a few Russians. We once again met and befriended the owner. People (locals and expats) love billiards in Vietnam. So naturally, everyone loves Walter. Once the owner and he hit it off, they invited us to have some shots of their vodka that they brought from Russia. I shit you not, I have never tasted a smoother vodka, I can see how they drink whole bottles so easily.  I tried to refuse but this Russian girl looked into my soul and said, “No, you drink this, and then you eat this sandwich.” I figured it would be impolite to refuse?! While traveling we are trying not to offend anyone since we do not know all of the minute details of their cultures. So when it came time to pay the bill, it was quite a bit more expensive than we expected. We tried to tell the bartender that the shots were supposed to be on the bar, but we decided not to upset any Russians tonight and just take this as a lesson learned.  Next time, I’ll get Walter to refuse for the both of us! It has been quite informative to talk to travelers from many different countries on their views of America/Americans. The only new addition to food choices was the addition of seafood. They like to eat jellyfish in their soups, and anytime shellfish is involved, they literally eat it with the shell on. I can’t live that way so I stuck to the usuals. Next stop, back to the mountains!