Due to the whistle stop tour of Australia, we had arrived in Thailand on the 24th October, earlier than expected and still within the monsoon season. The bus from Malaysia departed at Krabi, a small town in the south west coast of Thailand. Although it had been an area devastated by the 2004 tsunami, it had now fully recovered with few signs of the destruction. We had heard that the weather was due to get better in November, so we held out for a couple of days in Krabi town. Although, there wasn't much going on, we came across a great guesthouse called Good Dream that was owned by a young American guy called Brian. His days were filled by sitting at his bar and getting drunk watching South Park episodes and putting a film on at night, which suited us fine! After a few days it was obvious that the weather wasn't going to improve, but we felt that it was time to move on, so we headed for Krabi's beach resort, Ao Nang.
Despite the weather, it was still busy and more geared towards tourists with a host of crappy souvenir shops. But, to our delight, it had a fine selection of stalls selling genuine(ish) merchandise at a very cheap price. As we never like to question a bargain, we came away with some great t-shirts and DVDs!
It was also in Ao Nang that we experienced the 'go-go bars'. As we wondered down the street on the night looking for a bar for a few beers, we stumbled upon a lively place with a pool table so, we thought why not. But as we walked in all of the girls in the bar cheered, which made us freeze in our steps and actually scared us! After a few seconds pause we built up the courage to walk in and get a drink. We later discovered that these bars employ girls to act as hostesses to talk to guys who come to the bar, so after a few games of Connect4, which we have found are all completely useless at, we headed home.
Even after all that excitement, the weather still wasn't great, so after a few days we ventured up to Phuket, to the beach resorts of Karon and Kata. These resorts were much more exclusive with lots of expensive hotels and nice little restaurants. Although, the lack of sun at a beach resort is never going to be great! We had heard that Patong, a resort further up the coast, was a livelier place, so we decided to take the short taxi ride up to see what the fuss was about. Patong was a crazy place that was more like Blackpool than Thailand, and was full of old men with their young Thai 'companions'. It was here that we watched the lady boy show where Crust fell in love with a few men! Dirty Crust!
After the craziness of Patong, it was time to return to normality back at Krabi. Although, the weather was still pretty rubbish, so we decided to finish off the west coast with a kayaking trip and a day trip to the Phi Phi islands, the setting for the film The Beach. Our man Brian had informed us that the monsoon season was lasting longer than normal in the south, so after finding a flight for 20 pounds, a day later we had booked a seat to Bangkok, situated further north where the weather was supposedly hotter.
Bangkok was much more developed than we had imagined with a large financial district and many large multi-national firms, which meant a plenty of Americans and other westerners working here. The shopping centres were also filled with exclusive brands catered for the rich local expats. As our flight timetable meant that we were heading into Bangkok a couple of times, we decided that we would not hang around, but enjoy the hot weather outside of the city.
So, after a day in Bangkok we booked a trip to Kanchanaburi, which included a 3 day 2 night tour sleeping on a house boat on the River Kwai. The first day, we were up early and off to a war museum with information about the famous bridge over the river Kwai, a rail bridge built in WWII by prisoners of war and workers across Asia under Japanese rule to support the Japanese occupation of Burma. After the museum we had the chance to go on a train journey across the bridge and then headed back to the house boat. With nowhere else to go, it was a great little place to meet people and we met a few sound people including Brian the Aussie and a Holland guy that looked like Mr. White from Reservoir Dogs.
Drinking the local brew seemed the main pastime, so it was a bit of an effort to get up the next morning, but our first stop was a great waterfall with 7 tiers where you could swim in all the pools. It was very refreshing and soon sorted out the head! The whole reason we had decided to go to Kanchanaburi was because we had met a couple in Krabi Town that had told us about a Tiger Temple, and after some investigating Paul had somehow come to the conclusion that monks rode the tigers around the temple. Of course this is something we had to see! But on our arrival we discovered that there was no temple and, due to their nocturnal status, the tigers were very sedated and sleepy. Although it didn't quite live up to our crazy expectations, it was still a great experience to be that close to an adult tiger. The trip for the day finished with a long-boat trip down the river Kwai. So, we all bought some beers and jumped on board. Once on, Mr. White handed a beer to the driver and we headed up the river.
After all that, it was back to the house boat for dinner and settle down for some serious drinking. A few other people had turned up for the trips in the mean time, including Katie, a Scottish lass, so we all sat on a bamboo raft that was attached to the house boat and listened to some Led Zep and other classics while Brian fired off some of his experiences. By this time, Mr. White, who had been drinking Thai whiskey straight out of the bottle since our earlier trip to the waterfall, had passed out and was happily sprawled out on the back of the raft.
On the third and final day of our trip, as a complete coincidence, we had arrived at Hellfire Pass on Remembrance day at 11am. Hellfire pass is a rock-cutting dug out by Prisoners of War with picks and hammers for the rail line to aid the Japanese in WWII. Groups of men worked around the clock for 16-18 hours to complete the excavation of the 17 metre deep and 110-m long cutting through solid limestone and quartz rock in only 12 weeks, amidst constant torture. Forced to work at night, the area was known as "Hellfire Pass" because of the mixture of hammering noise, lighting from fires, oil fired bamboo torches and carbide lamps that created an eerie illumination that looked like the "Fires from Hell". There was a special Remembrance Day memorial with the Scots Guard and Last Post on the Bugle. It was an amazing experience, but we were soon gathered together and sent on our way to the elephant trekking, again an unforgettable experience. After which we said our goodbyes to Brian and Katie hopped on the bus back to Bangkok.
After the few hectic days in Kanchanaburi we headed for Ko Samet, a small island in the north east of Thailand that has been preserved as a national park. The beaches were beautiful and the weather was (finally!) hot so it was time to work on the tan! After three days of lazing around, we headed for Koh Chang, another island similar to Ko Samet. We had some great accommodation with bungalows right on the seafront. As the resort was new, the owners had organised a Budhist Ceremony to bless the resort with good fortune, and as this meant free food and drink we soon got involved! Four days later we were ready to move on to Cambodia!