We are picked up at 7am and taken to the main pier to board a ferry to Koh Jum also known as Koh Pu. Koh Jum is not famous for beautiful white beaches, but it's laid-back vibe, very friendly locals and giving one the feeling of getting away from it all. It is the Thai island I most want to visit. Arriving at 7.30am we have an hour to wait before the ferry leaves and the journey is relaxing and smooth. It's roughly 30km from Krabi and an hour's ride. The waters around Koh Jum are too shallow for the ferry to dock, so longtail boats meet us and we switch for the final leg to shore. Once on dry land a very friendly chap calls out "David", and points to a motorbike with an open sidecar attached saying " Koh Jum Paradise Resort?". We nod, pick up our rucksacks and squash ourselves in. Driving along the dirt roads we can see the island is rustic, with swaying rubber trees everywhere. There are no cars, just a few motorbikes and bicycles pootling along. The resorts are small, low key and are either situated on beaches behind trees or just off the road. Emm our driver is very friendly and tells us about the island - he's a very proud local and loves Koh Jum. We are starting to get a good feeling about the island when we suddenly realise we are whizzing past our bungalow. Concerned, we point out the resort to Emm thinking he must've missed it, but he smiles and carries on going saying "you need to check in first ''??? A little perturbed we smile and nod, but secretly I'm wondering if we're being kidnapped. Five minutes later we reach a tiny village and Emm pulls up outside a shop saying "here you are''. We are greeted by the owner, a lovely lady who explains that our bungalow is not ready yet and presents us with some sliced mango and ice cold water and tells us all about her family and the island while we wait. Relieved we haven't been kidnapped we sit back and take it all in. Koh Jum's population is made up of Thai with Chinese, Musilm, Buddhist and Sea Gypsy heritage. She herself is half Thai, half Chinese. An hour later we are taken to our accommodation; one of six bungalows, ours set on it's own in a clearing just in front of a rubber tree plantation. There is no reception area just the bungalows and communication if needed is done via text. We are welcomed by a very friendly cleaner who unfortunately has misplaced the door key, but promises she will be back soon with a replacement. Having not eaten since 7am we are starving, and after an hour of waiting we head off for lunch making sure the door looks locked and texting our plans. She texts back saying "I'll put the key on the table outside the door for you". This is obviously a very safe island.
Later that evening while playing scrabble on the verandah we see movement among the rubber trees; looking closely we see a troupe of monkeys climbing up and down the trees; we really are in the thick of it here. At dusk while relaxing outside a pack of dogs emerge from the gloom of the forest heading our way. My imagination gets the better of me; I feel I'm part of a horror movie where the dogs come out of nowhere and savage us. They look ok but as we've had a few runnings with stray dogs in Thailand we head inside the bungalow and stay put until they have moved on. Walking to Family Restaurant that evening (me with a broom in hand to ward off any dogs, and David with a torch) we feel a little nervous. The waitress at the restaurant assures us the dogs are harmless; what a relief.
The next few days are spent exploring the island, reading and lazing on the beach. Hiring a scooter for a day is enough as there's not an awful lot to see. The island has one small paved road with dirt tracks off it to hidden coves. Local houses, stalls selling food and clothing dot the road. There are three tiny villages with a few shops and restaurants and a school. Mount Pu in the north can be climbed with a guide, however, it's too hot to contemplate. The locals main source of income is through rubber plantations, and on a smaller scale tourism. They are warm and friendly which is a nice change from the more touristy islands where they can be brusque. The tourists that visit this island come year after year, the older ones often staying throughout our winter; there is a lovely relationship between the locals and these tourists. Some bars and restaurants have older westerners working in them playing western tunes which gives the sort of "home, away from home" feeling.
Ko Jum really is the island that time forgot. If you're after a "get away from it all island" this is the one.
Over the next few days we chat to a retired chap called Micheal who's half Swiss and half German who's had a very interesting life. He's been a dancer, worked with gorillas in the jungles of Rwanda and been a sailor amongst other things. He and his wife now spend their time in Asia during our winter, sail his boat to the Mediteranean in spring, and spend the rest of their time in their apartment in Berlin; what a retirement!
The island begins to grow on us; we feel part of the community chatting to Michael at the beach, and other tourists in our favourite restaurant of an evening. The island has really made us slow down and relax. David and I love having scrabble tournaments while on holiday, and having this free time has given me the opportunity to level the score to three all. We hope to get at least one more game in to establish the champion; funnily enough it gets more competitive the closer the scores become! Also, having more time has enabled me to check my writing more thoroughly; so hopefully less mistakes?
Walking the 10km round trip along the beach and through the jungle one morning to the main village, we have coffee and two of only eight slices of delicious cheesecake that's made on the island daily. So enjoyable, it's true what they say, "it's the small things in life that make you happy" Having said our goodbyes to Michael and his wife yesterday evening, we get packing as we're heading to Bangkok, our final destination before home.
Wildlife Spotting#? Hundreds of monkeys just about everywhere, especially around our bungalow. #?? Scary dogs that turned into teddy bears. #??? Sandflies…..ouch…….
We've visited Bangkok so many times so have no plans to do touristy things and therefore apart from the summary below this will be the last installment so it's thanks and au revoir!
Although having visited Vietnam a few years ago we got to know the people, it's food and culture in greater depth this time. Our fondest memories are of the girls that work at the Royal Orchid Hotel in Hue who pulled out all the stops to make our stay a memorable one. Organising transport for us via email, ordering food for us when we arrived late after twelve hours of travel, and chatting to us as friends. We were so impressed with their service that we popped into the owner's restaurant to let her know. Ms Bee was so overwhelmed she hugged us both and offered us a free meal! We declined, but thanked her all the same.
Although the WorkAway in Hoi An was a bit disappointing, the people we shared the house with were great, and living there for three weeks made Hoi An feel like home, especially our neighbourhood with Yappy. Cycling to the beach, dodging the dead rats and the live buffalo, let alone navigating our way through the hectic traffic was an experience. We bumped into Simon Day from The Fast Show on our way out for dinner one night in Hoi An Town - how bizarre!
The craft beer scene and intimate speakeasy bars and restaurants in Saigon have such good food and drink; the atmosphere is something else. Vietnamese food is amazing and some so different to what we'd had before. The atmosphere and food at Mrs Hoa's stall in the covered market in Hoi An was great, and the food at Mrs Thu's restaurant in Hue was amazing.
The weather, though sometimes overcast, was perfect really; hot enough to wear 'T' shirts and shorts, but cool enough so you didn't feel your were melting. The beds in nearly all the places we stayed were so hard and uncomfortable, so much so that I'd advise taking your own mattress if it were possible lol!
A poor but beautiful country with serene and friendly people. Luang Prabang with it's beautiful temples and serene atmosphere is the jewel in Lao's crown. Spending an impromptu evening chatting and helping Laos students and monks with their English was a highlight. Although the poorest of the countries we visited, the people are so warm, gentle and honest; they speak very good English too.
Nong Khiaw in the north is our highlight. The trek to a mountain view point was tough but oh so worth it. We have never seen such amazing scenery, I doubt we ever will again. Staying in the floating River Guesthouse and swimming in the Ou River was wonderful.
Pakse, well what can I say…….a town to miss off one's itinerary if possible. Unfortunately it's virtually impossible to miss when seeking to reach 4,000 islands. The islands were an eye opener, so remote and basic with no roads and animals walking freely down the main village track. The views are amazing, especially overlooking the Mekong. Sailing down the Mekong in a longtail boat to see the Irrawaddy dolphins on the Laos/Cambodian border was magical: we still can't believe we've seen the only three in this area.
The journey from Laos to Penang was long and exhausting. The heat in 4,000 islands was unbearable and trying to convert the three currencies they use was mind boggling
What a pleasant surprise Malaysia turned out to be, especially as it was not on our initial itinerary. Penang with its vibrant and colourful culture, street art and delicious mix of cuisines was an eyeopener. The people are friendly, but it was also unbelievably hot.
Langkawi is a real gem; the beaches immaculate, stunning, quiet and accessible. Day trips are well organised and travelling around the island independently is cheap and easy. There are so many activities to choose from that you're spoilt for choice. Amenities are easily accessible; you want for nothing. The nature we saw here was the best on our trip. The people couldn't have been more accommodating; our hosts went out of their way to make us feel welcome. As English is taught in schools it's so easy to interact with the locals.
We've lost count of the number of visits we've made to this country and it never disappoints. Managing to visit new islands always makes it varied. Thai food is a favourite of ours and you can still get great food at cheap prices, beer is relatively expensive though.
Koh Samet and Koh Lanta were pleasant surprises; Samet with its stunning white beaches and crystal clear water is a short journey from Bangkok but seems a million miles away. Koh Lanta too, with its beautiful quiet beaches, rustic charm and delightful people - surprisingly not yet spoilt by mass tourism. Koh Jum is hardly developed so we had little to do but that allowed us to truly relax, and getting to know some of the tourists and locals made us feel part of the community. The sandflies were a pain though and after five days we were ready for Bangkok.
During this adventure we have had to be resilient and found that there is almost always away around adversity. Also, adapting to a new environment and settling into a new place become second nature, so much so, that after a few days we felt completely at home. One of our biggest surprises is that no matter how remote you travel there is sometimes no escpape from noise. It also makes you realise how important your own home is. Realising that you can survive and happily so on a small amount of money, clothes and toiletries is liberating.
It surprised us both how much we loved a quiet environment and seeing the birds and animals in their natural habitat. Seeing so many retirees enjoying themselves proves there is still plenty of life for these old dogs to experience.
We'd like to say a big thank you to you all for reading our blog and a special thank you to thoses of you that sent messages.