I'm currently in Pucon in the lake district halfway down Chile, or thereabouts. The sun's streaming through the window, although it's not as hot as further north. Definitely pleasant though! Sympathy for the Devil by the Stones is being blasted into this net café by a soundsystem that's been set up in the street for some reason, haven't a clue why though as they're all speaking Spanish…If i walked to the doorway I'd see a huge, smoldering volcano in the distance which I'll be climbing tomorrow. But to the rather more pressing issue of what I've been up to since the year started….
Muay Thai Boxing Camp - Phuket
Following the never ending journey of boats, vans, coaches and tuk-tuks we finally made it from Koh Samui to our boxing camp in the south of Phuket on 2nd Jan. Rocking up around 9pm, we were greeted by a load of lads staying at the camp who were on their way out to town - the following day (Sun) being the rest day from training. They were all disturbingly bigger than us.
Stayed in a sweet bungalow a stones-throw from the gym for the duration of our time there. Lace and I had a bungalow to ourselves - a big double bedroom each (each with TV, DVD player, fridge), spacious kitchen and lounging area, WIFI, nice bathroom for once…and even cleaners daily! Nice having some comforts again after months of shabby budget accommodation and good staying in one spot for a couple of weeks, started to feel like home…We both hired (surprisingly fast) scooters for the two weeks too to hit the beaches, get food in etc.
After settling in on Sunday, stocking up on food and pirate DVDs etc, training started at 7.30am on Monday with a 5km run, as it day every day. After which followed skipping, stretching, bag work, pad work with trainers in the ring, some exercises/weights and maybe some more bag work. Then we'd stumble back to the bungalow before returning for the same routine again, commencing with another 5km run, at 3.30pm - by which time it was a lot hotter.
Sparring took place on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, where we'd rotate round fighting others training at the camp. First up I sparred with Lace, surprisingly no long-term nose injuries were sustained - despite both making fairly big targets. Then things stepped up a bit when I touched gloves with an older, more experienced guy in the camp. I soon knew about it early on, he caught me with a sweet right to the jaw, and in the first minute or two I questioned whether I fancied all this. But then I tightened my defence up, started learning on the job, and caught him with some sweet shots of my own. Really enjoyable after the first few minutes - it was all fairly friendly stuff with the long-termers generally taking it a bit steadier on us newbies.
Frustratingly I got injured on the second day that meant I couldn't train properly, apart from controlled runs and a few light weights, till the following Monday. I tore/strained/damaged some muscle/tissue/cartilage in my chest (basically it f**king hurt) that was massively painful every time I breathed hard. Well annoying. Lace was out for a similar amount of time in he second week with a shoulder injury, and everyone there seemed to be carrying some injury or another.
In between morning and afternoon training and when I was out injured I/we checked out more of the island, toured round loads of beaches, mostly packed with overweight Western package tourists. Managed to find some hidden gems though by investigating on travel forums and speaking to locals, including Ao Sane in the south that could only be accessed by following a road through and under a luxury yacht club, meaning no-one really knew it. Spent quite a bit of time snorkeling in the bath temperature, beautifully clear water, seeing loads of tropical fish, corals etc. We also went on a night out with the camp to see one of our trainers knock out his opponent with a vicious right elbow to the head on a big fight-night in Patong.
I left the camp leaner and fitter, and with a few tricks up my sleeve should I ever need to defend myself.
Koh Yao Noi
Monday 18th and it was time to leave the camp. I was in seriously bad shape - the previous evening I´d starting getting feverish with a banging headache...possibly sunstroke but I hadn´t been on the beach for more than a couple of hours. Either way we had to move, so we caught a boat over to the island of little visited Koh Yao Noi where I lay feeling like death in a bamboo hut for a couple of days. Had a chance to look around the island by the time I´d recovered - very unspoilt and hardly any tourists, leaving wide stretches of empty, unspoilt beaches. A nice contrast from Phuket, but so quiet you wouldn´t want to stay for too long. Lace moved on to start his PADI diving course in Koh Phi Phi, and I joined him the following day on Thurs 21st once I was back to full strength.
Koh Phi Phi
The island looked awesome as I approached in the smallish ferry - turquoise blue water surrounding the white sandy beaches - some small, some big - with lush forest reaching down to the sand. Then we pulled into the congested, developed port area and I saw the effect of tourism on the island. Made my way up through the narrow streets of dive shops, pubs and restaurants. After a fruitless search for accomodation where I thought I was going to have to break the bank to find a bed for the night, finally found a cheap dorm room up the hill inland. Bit of a slum but shared with a wicked Swiss girl and English guy. Hooked up with Lace again and signed up for a one day diving course the following day - couldn´t justify the expense of a full PADI course but I fancied seeing life underwater and was massively keen to see a shark, one of my goals before starting out on the trip.
I was surprised how little or training or instruction you need before scuba diving. Before I knew it I was in the water, the key bit of info being just equalize (pop) your ears every metre or so further down you go to relieve the pressure. Felt pretty comfortable down there, adjusted quickly. Judging by the amount of people that I´ve spoken to that have raved about diving though, I didn´t love it as much as I expected - it was ok but there´s better things I´d rather spend my money on as a long-term time hobby.Saw one shark - a leopard shark resting on the sea bed but we had to quickly move on, and it doesn´t actually look like your typical shark. Saw Maya Bay whilst on the dive boat - the much famed beach from 'The Beach'. The following day proved more fruitful for shark-watch: we clambered round to Long Beach, and hired a longtail boat to take us out to Shark Point, some rocks laying just off the coast. Lace and I dived off in search with our snorkels on, only for our boat driver to unexpectedly jump off with us, beckoning us to follow him through the water. We followed him around (just about, he was like a fish...) and sure enough we saw a smaller, then a larger, reef shark. It was wicked to see sharks in their habitat with my own eyes, and one of my ambitions fulfilled.
Nightlife in Phi Phi was ok but apparently quieter than usual. We paid a visit to 'Raggae Bar', which we'd heard a lot about on our travels since they've got a boxing ring where tourists can fight eachother, the winner getting a token free 'bucket' (of drink). The first fight was a bit tame, but there were a few lads going for it later, throwing big haymakers, leading to a few exciting knockdowns. Some very young Thai kids fought too - maybe about 4 or 5 years old - I wasn't entirely comfortable with it to start with but they both seemed to be loving it, and with big gloves on they didn´t seem to have the power to hurt eachother anyway. Muay Thai is a way of life from a very young age over there...
Tonsai (Railay, Krabi)
Sun 24th Jan, nearing the end of our time in SE Asia, we were off again to Railay in the south of Krabi (i think...!). We were weighing up whether to stay in Railay itself, or cheaper but more developed Ao Nang further away, and running this decision past one of the crew on the boat on the way from Phi Phi led to us hearing about Tonsai. The place was unheard of by us until then, but turned into possibly my favourite place in Thailand. It´s a small-medium sized beach next to Railay, that arcs round with cliffs sweeping round at either end of the beach, creating the sense of seclusion from Railay, Ao Nang and the outside world in general. No package tourists made it here, just climbers (Railay is a climbing mecca, one of the best spots in the world for it), seasoned backpackers and a few hippies. Beautiful and unspoilt, with funky little bars playing cool, alternative music, new and old. An awesome, chilled out vibe around the place.
All the cheap accomodation was fully booked which led us to a more expensive place that gave us a bit more comfort and probably the best buffet breakfast in the world. Anything you could think of, we had it, and as much of it as you wanted. I actually went to bed thinking about waking up to it the next morning... Tried our hand at climbing on one of the days, which I turned out to be pretty rubbish at. Always thought it would be quite easy and it would just come naturally, but when I got on the cliff face I struggled somewhat. Probably not an activity I´ll be pursuing! Frustrated with myself, we returned back to Tonsai for a swim in the fading light that turned into a swim under the moon and stars, which was pretty epic in this pretty special place - that had great sunsets too, I neglected to say...
Nightlife was fairly relaxed and always started with a happy hour cocktail in Small World - got into White Russians in a big way after a tip off from some American chicks in Samui. Small World would always be playing good tunes, some old classic stuff like the Doors, Dylan, Hendrix etc to raggae and ska. The fire-dancing bar staff were a great craic too, and there was a good bar down on the beach that provided a cool electronic soundtrack as you supped your drink looking out to sea...
Khao Sok National Park
Our final stop in Thailand before heading up to Bangkok to fly out. Arrived in the afternoon heat on Weds 27th Jan and checked in to Nung House, a quiet but great value complex on the edge of the park. Good cheap food run by lovely owners. We booked up our trip into the park through these guys, booking a two day/1 night tour leaving the following morning. Our tour group (about 12 of us) consisted of mainly older people from around the world, and a Danish family with a couple of young kids that we thought were going to make it a nightmare but were actually really good - probably less hassle than I would have been at that age! Their parents, in their early forties i guessed, were nice people to talk to too. One of the benefits of traveling, you get to chat to people from all over the world and get to hear different views, perspectives and opinions.
We spent our time in the Park on a massive man-made lake, with about 100 or so islands in it, that was created by a dam built for a hydro-electric project. A lot of our time was spent in a longtail boat on the lake cruising around looking for wildlife (mainly gibbons in the trees on the lake edge) but we also spent some time trekking, climbing through some caves (that would have given a British health and safety guy a heart-attack), swimming in the lake and kayaking on it. We spent the night in bamboo huts floating on the top of the lake that made for a unique spot to get your head down for the night. Stepping out of our hut and diving straight into the lake was a pretty awesome way to wake up first thing in the morning.
Friday 29th and it was back to Bangkok, for the third time, for our last couple of days on the continent. Caught the sleeper bus from Surat Thani arriving in Bangkok at about 5am - I later learned the bus route is a notorious one for petty crime, and so it proved since my big bag was relieved of about 50 USD while it was down in the hold - could have been a lot worse. Spent my time in Bangkok getting ready to leave Asia - sending souveneirs, clothes etc home - and preparing for the rest of my trip. Went to Chatuchak weekend market both days, 10,000 stalls making it the world´s biggest weekend market - and absolute bedlam - but a good place to pick up a bargain. Also had to fight my way into the centre of town to the shopping malls - ANOTHER broken camera necessitated the purchase of a replacement. Luckily (or so I thought) I bought my previous camera in Bangkok so I thought I´d be able to return it for a refund or replacement -¨instead they said they could only send it off to be fixed, which is about as much good as a chocolate teapot to a round the world traveler! So now I have a Lumiz TZ7 which I need to last!
After having a few beers and watching Utd beat the Gooners 3-1 at the Emirates the previous night, it was 1st Feb and time to say farewell to Lace and get my flight out of there to Oz. We´d had a great time traveling together and looking forward to reminiscing over a few beers when I`m home. Was slightly apprehensive about striking out on my own again, but at the same time excited too. Traveling with a friend is comfortable and has a lot of benefits, but at the same time travelling solo can sometimes be more of an adventure and more opportunities and random people come your way.
Highlights of SE Asia include;
- Homestay in a remote hillside village in Northern Thailand
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Relaxing in Luang Prabang
- Quaint, picturesque Hoi An
- Beach paradise Tonsai
Check out the final installment of SE Asia photos here;
There´s a few hours of sun left in the day waiting for me outside so Oz and NZ write up is to come... Hope everyone´s well back in blighty (or indeed, wherever).
Yours, Jiminez Selbador