August

August (29)

Friday, 31 August 2018 03:34

5 Things to do in Pai

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Pai is undoubtedly one of the most popular towns for tourists to visit in Thailand, and is usually to be found on people’s itineraries when heading north. Set in a picturesque valley 3 hours from Chiang Mai (the famous drive of 762 curves) Pai is a chilled out town with a lovely river and fabulous picturesque countryside around it, making it a firm favourite with the stoner and hippy travellers that Thailand attracts by the bucket load.

Here we’ll look at what I think are the best 5 things to do when you’ve summoned up the willpower to eventually leave the hammock:

 

Pai Canyon

Probably the most beautiful place in Pai is the Pai Canyon (Kong Lan in Thai). This natural wonder is about 8km away from the centre on the road towards Chiang Mai, and is a favourite amongst travellers looking for those classic Thai sunset/sunrise photos and those looking to explore some of the great walking trails in the area.

You should try to head out trekking early morning or late afternoon before it gets too hot, and definitely wear decent shoes if planning to do some of the walks at the Canyon - there’s often narrow elevated paths flanked by 20-30 metre drops, some climbing on all fours needed, and not a single safety barrier to be seen!

 

 

Pam Bok waterfall

This is arguably the most beautiful waterfall in the Pai area, and a little less touristy than the others too. After a five minute stroll through the forest you’ll find this lovely waterfall, which also offers the opportunity to cool off with a nice relaxing swim if you clamber over the rocks a little. If you’re feeling more adventurous there is also a small dirt track that leads to a spot where you can jump from, though in the dry season there’s a good chance you’ll plummet to your death – this does not get my recommendation.

 

 

Yun Lai View Point

This is found around 5km from Pai town, above the Chinese village of Santichon, and offers a beautiful panoramic view over the Pai landscape. Entrance fee is 20 Baht, which also gets you a deliciously refreshing pot of Chinese green tea, served in an ornate teapot and little china cups. There is also a ‘romantic’ wishing tree (one for the girls I imagine) where you can buy a little ceramic heart to make a wish and hang in its branches. Best visited for sunrise, before the Chinese tour groups arrive – weekends in particular can get a little crowded with them and their ubiquitous selfie-sticks!

 

 

 

Explore Pai River

Coming from a city dominated by its river, I’m always a sucker for exploring the rivers and all going on around them, and this one is exactly what I’m looking for – hardly any other tourists at all, a few rustic bamboo bungalows lining the banks and local fisherman at work with their nets trying to pull in something to sell at the market later on. It’s possible to cross the river via some rickety-looking bamboo bridges to explore both sides, and daydream about all the river has seen on its journey down from the mountains of the Daen Lao Range…

 

Tha Pai Hot Spring

When you find yourself wanting a relaxing soak there’s no better place than the Tha Pai Hot Springs. A 7km drive from the town, a cold-water stream flows over boiling-hot rocks to create a soothing, heated pool surrounded by lush scenery – highly recommended in the winter months when the temperatures can drop a fair bit! Entry costs 300 baht, and it’s open from 07.00- 18.00.

It a lovely drive into the springs, and can be a popular spot with backpackers in Pai so if you’re looking to meet some new travel buddies then it’s absolutely somewhere to put on your list of places not to miss.

 

 

 

 

Monday, 27 August 2018 09:48

How to Stay Out of Trouble in Thailand

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Most of the backpackers I speak to here on Koh Tao all have the same thing to declare – they’d love to stay here much longer, and would do anything to do so. Here I’m going to look at the worst possible way to extend your trip to this amazing country – going to jail – and also the different ways you could end up facing a hefty cash fine.

 

Drug Laws in Thailand

Like many countries in SE Asia, Thailand can be very strict indeed with the use of illegal drugs. This following statement is taken from the Customs Department of the Kingdom of Thailand website:

“Violators of laws related to illicit drugs, e.g., having and holding for use, or being a producer, seller, or transporter are subject to the death sentence. “

The death penalty is definitely not a good souvenir to have from your Thailand backpacking trip, and if you’re caught with drugs you’ll definitely end up paying A LOT of money in fines, even just a little bit of weed will cost you at least 50,000 Baht (most probably more) and result in a court case. Leave it at home if you absolutely must indulge, and never take drugs in any public place no matter how chilled it appears.

 

Drinking Laws in Thailand

Believe it or not but the drinking age in Thailand is actually 20, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of or seen anyone being asked to prove their age in the many years I’ve spent boozing heavily here. Of course this doesn’t mean all’s well, as all it takes is a policeman in a bad mood and you could end up with a fine to pay.

Drinking alcohol is illegal in the following locations in Thailand:

  • Temples or places of worship
  • Pharmacies (well that’s my Saturday night ruined)
  • Public offices
  • Education institutions
  • Petrol stations
  • Public parks

The penalty for illegally drinking alcohol at one of the above locations is six months' imprisonment, and/or no more than a fine of 10,000 Baht (which is a lot more likely than prison, thankfully).

 

Disrespecting the Thai Royal Family

Thailand is a country that is full of love for the royal family, with pretty much every single house and business containing at least one image of the King, which is also seen on roadsides and street intersections the length and breadth of the country. To insult the royal family is a very serious offence, with the Lese Majeste law of 1908 stating that it's a serious offense to defame, insult, threaten or defile any image of the Thai royal family including the currency used here, so be careful not to damage your coins and notes! To be perfectly honest I’d suggest not bringing up the royals at all with locals just in case you unintentionally offend someone!

 

Visa Laws in Thailand

If you overstay your visa, there is a daily fine of 500 Baht that you will be charged when you try to leave the country. If you can’t pay the fine this is where you get your free stay in jail! You are also very likely to be banned from Thailand if you overstayed by a long time:

  • Overstay more than 90 Days –   1 year ban
  • Overstay more than  1 Year  –    3 year ban
  • Overstay more than  3 Years –   5 year ban
  • Overstay more than  5 Years – 10 year ban

 If you are stopped before you make it to the airport with an overstay, you can go to prison if you are caught by an immigration officer and in some cases even jailed, fined AND deported from Thailand. This also comes with a ban from the country, depending on how long your overstay was:

  • Overstay less than 1 Year  –   5 year ban
  • Overstay more than 1 Year – 10 year ban

 

Gambling in Thailand

Apart from the government-supported National Lottery and betting on horseracing at the track, gambling is illegal in Thailand yet still surprisingly common. Police (in my experience) seem to be pretty strict on games of poker if they think money is involved, and even just a friendly game amongst other backpackers can attract the wrong attention from the authorities if they’re in a bad mood.

 

Littering Fines

In February 2018, Thailand authorities finally banned littering at 24 of its most popular beaches due to increasing environmental concerns. Litterers will be prosecuted and either fined 100,000 Baht or face a year in jail. 

You can be fined up to 2,000 Baht if you're caught littering on the streets, with cigarette ends and chewing gum two of the favourites for backpackers to be pulled up for. Some travellers have reported that when they were nabbed for a littering offense they offered what little money they had on them which was generally accepted.

 

Feeding the Fish

Finally Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) is getting serious about protecting its reefs and marine wildlife, and environmental violations (especially in busier tourist areas) could cost offenders a 10,000 Baht fine, a year in jail, or both. One Russian woman found this out the hard way when she was picked up by authorities for feeding fish with breadcrumbs in Phuket last year. Other offences include collecting shells and coral, spearfishing and catching protected species – for example collecting giant clams are often a target for those looking for a free feed and will definitely get you a nice fat fine if you’re caught.

 

‘Inappropriate Dress’

Now I wish that the police would throw in jail any backpacker dressed like bloody Aladdin (or wearing Crocs or Speedos for that matter) but alas I’m not the ruler of the country yet, and until then we’ll all just have to put up with the selfishness of these absolute twats. Believe it or not however (and I’m not really sure just how the local coppers would check for this) there is a wonderful rule that says that people must wear underwear in a public place.  I want to know what the hell was going on to make them create this law!

Friday, 24 August 2018 04:11

Weird Dolphin Story of the Day

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Ahhh, lovely dolphins. Our best-friend from the sea with their fake smiles plastered all over their stinking slippery faces, they're known throughout the world for saving the occasional human from sharks, making annoying squeaking sounds, being forced to swim with dickheads, being a wee bit forward with the ladies and unfortunately serving as target practice for Japanese scientists (it’s for research, not burgers). They’re also widely regarded as being one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet yet despite this superior intelligence (they can’t be that clever if a dog beat them into space) they are a little partial to eating things that they shouldn’t, and that’s exactly where this superb and completely true story starts.

Picture this: it is the 13th December 2006, and two dolphins are miserably captive in an aquarium in Fushun, north-east China.  Faced with a typical Chinese life of playing Mah-Jong, chain-smoking and grinding down rhino horns for sexy boner medicines, they decided to do precisely what any intelligent creature would do and eat a shit-load of plastic from the edge of the pool they were housed in, either in some sort of suicidal death-pact or in a pathetic last-ditch attempt to meet a celebrity, as actually occurred...

 

Specialists tried all sorts of methods to remove the plastic – begging, pleading, 24/7 nagging (worked for my ex-wife, the cow) and the all-time favourite, pretending they didn’t want the plastic out in the first place. When these attempts inexplicably failed they resorted to trying to use surgical tools, which despite sounding like a bloody good idea simply caused the dolphins’ stomachs to contract in response to the steel instruments, making them very sick and on the brink of death, by all accounts.

Mr Chen Lujun, manager of the aquarium, told The Associated Press that the shape of the dolphins' stomachs made it difficult to push an instrument very far in without hurting the animals. People with shorter arms could not reach the plastic, he said, and then came the idea to end all ideas.

"When we failed to get the objects out we sought the help of Bao Xishun from Inner Mongolia” recalled Mr Chen.

 A renowned dolphin expert is he? World-famous Plastic Removal Technician? Tiny little crane operator? Not quite.

Bao Xishun, as we all know, was a herdsman by day, and by night the Guinness Book of Records’ ‘World’s Tallest Man’, measuring a mighty 2.36m, or approximately 300 foot for you Americans. A couple of phone calls later, and Bao left his home in Mongolia, took what’s likely to have been just two or three steps to get to the aquarium and was coerced into trying use his stupid massive arms to try and help the greedy mammals.

Believe it or not, the 55-year-old herdsmen was able to use his bare arm (measuring over a metre long, or 1000 feet) to reach carefully into the dolphins' mouths and pull out the dangerous plastic shards with his hands, as handlers held their jaws open with towels so the ungrateful dolphins didn’t porpoisely try to bite him.

"The two dolphins are in very good condition now” reported Mr Chen, but he bloody would say that though. The whereabouts of Bao's missing watch is another story...

A happy ending for all, and no doubt panties all around China were dropped for our gargantuan hero Bao Xishun. He was unfortunately surpassed as the world’s tallest man in 2009 by a Turkish fella, and now spends his days scratching giraffes and cleaning the cobwebs off the bloody moon, presumably.

Monday, 20 August 2018 04:57

Ethical Elephants in Thailand

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For the majority of visitors to Thailand a trip to see the country’s national animal (the elephant, if you hadn’t figured it out) is high up on the list of things to do whilst exploring this incredible country, yet finding ethical ways to see these creatures in all their glory is becoming harder and harder.

So why the big fuss about the elephant parks here?

Elephants and humans have worked together here in Thailand for centuries now, where they were used for logging, war, farming, ceremonial stuff and cruising the streets looking for girls. In 1989 the Thai government banned this, leaving thousands of elephants out of work and trying to master the complicated unemployment benefits system.  

Most of them found themselves and their handlers (mahouts) working with illegal logging or simply begging for change on the streets, but then with the tourism boom of these years a new opportunity arose; elephant parks, where they were used to carry around tourists, perform tricks, and more importantly support the mahout and their family with an income.

Nowadays people have wised up about the conditions these captive elephants are subjected to, and no longer wish to support the chains, beatings and breaking of the young animal’s will that are necessary for the elephant to accept being used as a vehicle, or to make it perform the tricks the tourists wanted to see.

Unfortunately most of the elephant parks realised that a new type of eco-minded tourist was looking for an ethical experience, and these parks suddenly became ‘sanctuaries’, ‘eco parks’ and other wonderfully named creations which played up to the new, wiser tourist but simply went about their business exactly how they used to, with chained elephants and vicious beatings a daily occurrence.

So how do we know which parks are ethical?

 The simple answer is research, and a lot of it. Luckily for you I’ve done it all for you, and here you’ll find my list of elephant sanctuaries and parks where you can see these majestic beasts in all their glory, without a savage beating in sight:

 

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

The largest elephant park in the Chiang Mai area (it’s approximately 60km from the city centre), there are around 30 elephants living and thriving here. All of them were rescued from a life of torture and misery to be brought to this sanctuary, and to see them frolic and play seemingly without a care in the world is simply incredible. Providing a natural environment for these rescue elephants (as well as cats, dogs, and buffalo) it’s also possible to volunteer your services here if you’d like to spend more time with your new friends in a more intimate setting. No elephant riding allowed, obviously!

 

https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

 

 

 

Elephant Hills, Khao Sok

Not far from the edge of the Khao Sao National Park lies ‘Elephant Hills’, a luxurious tented camp which has 11 rescued elephants wandering round the grounds. Whether you choose to spend 1, 2 or 3 days touring through the park, you get the opportunity to bathe, feed and walk with these gentle giants without the disgusting treatment that so many other so-called ‘sanctuaries’ try to hide from you.  They are very strictly a ‘no riding’ elephant park!

 

https://www.elephanthills.com/

 

 

 

Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary (BEES), Chiang Mai

 

Another park for old, injured or retired elephants, this refuge is just over a 2 hour drive south of Chiang Mai, and well worth the visit even just for the scenery alone – flanked by the mountains ad greenery the north is famous for, the elephants have definitely lucked out here! With possibilities to bathe, feed and walk with the elephants (no riding, obviously) as well as cooking classes, handicrafts and some good old conservation work there’s plenty to keep you occupied whether you choose to come for their 3 day or 1 week programs – they don’t offer day visits and bookings are essential!

 

http://www.bees-elesanctuary.org/

 

 

 

Ethical Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai

This great family-run sanctuary works alongside the Karen hill tribes in the Chiang Mai area, and of course is very much anti-riding. Being involved in the care of elephants for generations, they pride themselves as being there not for the money but for the good of the Karen community and the elephants that they obviously love so much. Currently with 5 ex-worker elephants housed here, they like to keep the groups of tourists small and as well as the standard bathing, feeding and walking with the elephants. Those staying overnight also get to explore the local waterfalls, meet the Karen villagers and do a bit of trekking around the sanctuary. Half and full day excursions available, as well as longer options.

 

https://www.ethicalelephantsanctuary.com/

Saturday, 18 August 2018 02:05

Where to go in Chiang Mai

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For many backpackers a trip to Thailand isn’t complete without a visit to the fabulous north, where Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai offer the traveller a chance to see a hint of the old Thailand, where the pace of life is still relatively slow and mountains, temples and jungle replace the sun-drenched beaches of the south. Here we will be looking at the most popular of the three, the old capital of the Lanna Kingdom and favourite of the backpacker, beautiful Chiang Mai.

 

One of the most popular destinations in Thailand, the spirit of Chiang Mai is evident almost immediately when you step out on to the street for the first time and take in all the city has to offer. The life here is very relaxed, and the natural beauty of the place is matched only by the wonderful openness of the locals. A week can easily turn into a month here, and there’s not many who leave Chiang Mai never to return - once the true beauty of the place captivates you, your next trip is usually never too far away.

 

Here we will take a look at my 5 favourite, slightly more unusual things to do and see whilst exploring the city and its surrounding areas:

 

Huay Tung Tao Lake’s Floating Restaurants

A 15-minute ride out from the city, this lovely lake flanked by bamboo huts to relax in overlooks the mountains of Doi Pui, and for some reason is a lot more popular with locals than us farang, which I think really adds to its charm.  Try to give yourself at least half a day here, and don’t have too big a breakfast before going – you’ll probably yourself eating delicious local treats the whole time you’re there!

All you need to do is select a little hut, take a seat and staff from the nearest restaurant will be right over to take your order – papaya salads, grilled fish and other northern delicacies are the main items to choose from, as well as beer, whisky, fruits, ice cream and the ubiquitous fried insects that seem to be everywhere nowadays. Those wanting to swim are welcome to take a dip, and it’s also possible to cruise the lake on some wondrous plastic swan ‘pedalos’. For those wanting to stay on dry land there’s also a nice little cycle path round the lake, with bicycles readily available for hire.

 

107 Don Kaeo, Canal Road. 50 baht entry for non-Thais, 20 baht for locals.

 

Open daily, from sunrise to sunset.

 

 

‘Bua Thong’ Waterfalls

 

Widely known as the ‘Sticky Waterfalls’, no trip to Chiang Mai is complete without a visit to these beautiful multi-tiered falls.  Just an hour and a half drive from the city centre, the limestone rocks in these waterfalls are covered in a scaly mineral residue which gives a nice grip meaning it’s possible to actually walk up them, through the cascading water - it’s because of this that they have been nicknamed ‘Sticky’. Surrounded by beautiful forests full of butterflies and small flowers, the falls are a great way to cool off after walking through the foliage, but be aware that it can be a pretty challenging walk up them – you’ll certainly feel it the next day!

 

Best visited on a weekday, with the falls getting pretty busy on the weekends

 

 

Moo 8, Mae Ho Phra, Mae Taeng, 50150

Open daily, sunrise to sunset

 

 

Bo Sang Umbrella Village

Just outside of Chiang Mai, lies the small craft village of Bor Sang (which can sometimes be spelled a little differently), which is famous for its beautiful, handmade paper umbrellas. Used primarily to protect the wealthy, fashionable Thais from the sun in the past, they are now more often used for decoration purposes such is their beauty. Meticulously hand-painted on bamboo and mulberry bark, these exquisite umbrellas seem to be the only thing the whole village does and to wander round the streets watching the different stages of creation is really quite fascinating, and can produce some incredible photography opportunities especially in January during the Umbrella Festival.

 

Bo Sang, San Kamphaeng, 50130

Best visited in the mornings, which gives the best light for your photographs

 

 

Get a Massage from a Convict

If you have never had Thai massage, it’s something everyone should experience at least once. A combination of pushing pressure points with yoga-style stretches, it often feels like the masseur is trying to squeeze farts out of your body for an hour but leaves you feeling very invigorated – perfect for recovering from your exploring of this mountainous region.

An usual way to experience this (or less vigorous massages for those not wanting the abuse of a Thai massage) is at the Chiang Mai Women Correctional Institution Vocational Training Center, where the treatments are offered by current inmates as part of their rehabilitation. The guards are on duty, but the experience is relaxing and the convicts very talented indeed, oft described as the best massage to be had in Thailand.

Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District 50200

Open daily from 09.00 – 16.30

 

Catmosphere Cat Café

It’s a café. There are many cats to play with. There is a space theme. The owners are a bit quirky, seem to hate kids (yay!) and insist on you calling the 20 odd cats only by their names OR ELSE.

Why the hell wouldn’t you go?

 

233/5 Huaykaew Rd, Tambon Su Thep, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai 50300

Open daily from 10.00 – 20.00

No dogs allowed

 

 

 

After a bit of a whaleshark dry spell of only 3 in the last 2 weeks (all at Sail Rock) our lucky fundivers and Advanced students today managed to cross something else off their bucket lists, with a beautiful young specimen stopping by our best local site of Chumphon Pinnacle.

Initial reports have declared it to be either 3 metres long, or 4m, or possibly 5m, and of course there are a couple of people out there who have decided there were two – it’s not uncommon for people too see one, turn 360 degrees, see the same one again but decide it was another!

 

To celebrate their return we should have a look at my 3 favourite facts of the mighty whaleshark:

 

  • Despite its name, the whaleshark is not a whale and is in fact the world’s largest fish, reaching lengths of 12 metres. Weighing them isn’t so easy, but researchers from the Okinawa Aquarium that imprisons them have managed to weigh one of their larger individuals, which was over 7000 kg!

 

 

  • Experts believe they reach maturity around age 30, but their life expectancy is still a mystery to us. Some ichthyologists say they die in the sixties, while others believe they can live till around 100 to 150 years old, which is approximately as old as the clothes our favourite instructor Neil Draycott

 

 

  • No two whalesharks on the planet share the same markings! Just behind the gills of a whaleshark is a unique pattern of white spots, which can be used to identify the fish. Interestingly, the method to identify them has been adapted from The Groth Algorithm, which is a pattern-recognition formula used by NASA to map the countless star fields observed by the world’s super telescopes like the Hubble. Jason Holmberg and NASA astrophysicist Zaven Arzoumanian, the guys behind this technique, simply adapted the algorithm to read white spots on the whaleshark, rather than white stars against the black night sky!

 

Sign up for your chance to dive with one of these incredible beasts here , or if you’re not already a diver take a peek right at this

Friday, 10 August 2018 08:55

The Monsoons of Thailand

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I’d go as far to say that everyone is obsessed with the weather when backpacking Thailand. Everyone seems to want the same thing – sun, blue skies, hot and tropical, just like in the brochures and websites we’ve all been religiously studying since we first booked the trip.

A trawl through the many online forums dedicated to SE Asia and Thailand in particular will, again and again, have the same questions and more often than not the same incorrect and badly researched replies –

How’s the weather in Thailand in August?”

Monsoon!”

 

In fact, this is absolutely not the case for the whole country!

 

Thailand has 3 distinct seasons compared to the 4 most of us are used to: hot, cool and wet. The hottest and driest months of the year are usually April and May, while the monsoon rains (and rough seas) that hit the country every year actually depend on what side of the country you’re on. We’ll look at it in more detail here:

 

The Gulf Islands of Koh Tao, Koh Samui, and Koh Phangan       

Ah, the lovely Gulf Islands. Three tiny little specks on the world map that we at Big Blue call home, these beautiful islands have been popular with visitors all year round for over 20 years now, and it looks like that will continue for many years to come.   

The monsoon season on these islands differs greatly from the rest of the country, with it coming much later in the year – the rains tend to come in early November, reach their peak towards the end of the month and generally subsiding around Christmas. It’s still hot (it’s very rarely cold here) and if you’re into frogs it’s a marvelous time to visit Koh Tao, but if it’s the promise of days and days of blue skies that brings you here then it may not be the best time to visit us. It doesn’t rain every day, but pack a raincoat if you are heading over then. Diving is still possible, with 5 or 6 of our dive sites sheltered by the island from the big waves that accompany the storms that pepper us during these monsoon months

 

 

The Andaman side, South-West Thailand

On this side of the country (Phuket/Koh Phi Phi/Krabi etc) the monsoon sweeps a continual stream of moist air from the Indian Ocean sometimes as early as April/May, but starting in earnest in June and continuing usually until October. This brings with it the excellent tropical storms that show you the real power of nature, with big waves and heavy rain being the norm. September tends to be the wettest of these months, and you’ll find a lot of island resorts will actually close down completely during the monsoon season here. Boat trips will also be susceptible to cancellations due to bad weather, and any that do still go out may get a little…bumpy!

 

Chiang Mai and the North

Increasing in popularity over the years, Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai in the north of the country are always busy with travelers no matter what time of year you visit, but for those wanting that tropical shit again it’s a good idea to avoid the monsoon periods, which tend to be a little longer than in the rest of the country. The monsoon usually starts in May, reaches its peak in July/August and can continue all the way up to November. The trekking, rafting and hiking that’s so popular in the north is obviously affected a lot, but for those looking for the waterfalls at their fullest there’s no better time to visit – bring a good sturdy pair of walking boots if that’s the case, it gets very muddy. Also please try to stay out of those bloody caves too, okay?

 

The Eastern Islands – Koh Chang, Koh Kood, Koh Mak

Some of my favourite islands to visit in Thailand, the monsoon unfortunately hits this trio of islands pretty hard. Starting around May, it reaches its crescendo of downpours in July/August/September and winds up around the beginning of November. The seas get very rough during this time making swimming and any other ocean-based activities dangerous at times, with tourist drownings not an uncommon occurrence unfortunately.

 

Of course with the monsoon rains come some really good bargains to be had with accommodation options, with my last trip to Koh Chang costing me just 200 baht per night for a simple bamboo bungalow during August and September, after a fair bit of haggling.

 

 It did nearly blow away, but that’s beside the point…

 

Ultimately, the weather in Thailand can be pretty unpredictable. There have been years when the Koh Tao monsoon lasted a couple of weeks, other times when it’s still been in full swing all the way into January. I’ve had beach holidays on the islands of Koh Lanta and Koh Phayam on the Andaman side of the country smack bang in the peak of their monsoon and had nothing but blue skies, and have been nearly washed away by rains in Bangkok’s supposedly driest months.

The secret is to pack a rain-jacket, enjoy the rain when it comes – it may last a few hours, or just a few minutes. To watch the storms approach is something really awesome, with electrical storms on the horizon a sight that really blows you away if you’re lucky enough to witness them…and when it all starts getting a bit too much for you get yourself underwater where it never rains!

 

 

Sunday, 05 August 2018 11:55

Where to Stay on Koh Tao?

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When choosing to visit our little island here in Southern Thailand, one of the first things you’ll need to decide on is where you want to stay when you get here. In this blog I’m going to look at the three most popular beaches on the island, Sairee, Mae Haad and Chalok Baan Kao.

Sairee Beach

For visitors looking to experience the best sunsets Koh Tao has to offer, this lovely 1.8 km long beach on the west side of the island is the place to be. With the largest range of shops, bars, cafes restaurants and dive centres on Koh Tao this is the busiest beach, and it’s also home to the most social hostels on the island, and some very luxurious beachfront resorts making Sairee Beach the Number 1 choice for families, couples, singles & for all those adventurous travellers out there backpacking Thailand.

Most of the beach is idyllic coconut palm-lined, with the occasional Causarina (also known as the Australian Pine) providing much needed shade, without the terrifying prospect of coconuts dropping onto your skull. Another tree to keep your eyes peeled for on Sairee is the Barringtonia asiatica, (or ‘Fish Poison Tree’) with its beautiful flowers that often scatter the beach early in the mornings.

 

The snorkelling here isn’t too bad with angelfish, bannerfish, parrotfish, a few giant barracuda and the occasional turtle to be found in the shallow coral gardens just a few minutes off the beach.

Sairee Beach is also a great place to depart for Nang Yuan island from especially if you fancy a quick 20 minute paddle out in a kayak, or one of those new SUP boards.

For those wanting to let down their hair and enjoy some of the best parties Koh Tao has to offer then Sairee is definitely the place to stay. Popular places include BND Beach Club, Choppers, Fizz, Lotus Bar, Fishbowl, Maya Beach Club, Diza Bar, AC Pool Party and many more!

 

Places to Eat

A huge selection of restaurants and cafes means it’s easy to find something to keep even the pickiest of eaters happy, and it’s also home to arguably the best restaurants on the whole island too.

Well worth checking out are Duck 995, Tik, Seasons, Su Chilli, The Gallery and the ‘711 Food Court’ for Thai food, while those looking for Western/Fusion should try Baia Burger Concept, Barracuda Restaurant, La Pizzeria, Blue Water Café and Portobello’s.

Vegetarians and vegans should take a look at Vegetabowl, Lanta Restaurant, Shalimar (Indian) and Breeze for the most delicious meat-free options in the area.

 

Mae Haad

The port town where everyone first arrives on Koh Tao, Mae Haad has a lovely charm about it with the narrow streets revealing hints of what the island used to be like before tourism really hit. It’s got a good selection of clothing and souvenir shops and there are also a few stores specializing in scuba equipment for those looking to start a new diving career on the island

The narrow beach is okay for swimming and snorkelling, but the boat traffic in and out can get annoying and also contributes to the litter problem that a lot of the beach suffers from.

Home to a few excellent places to eat but not as lively as Sairee, it tends to attract a slightly older crowd and those just too damn lazy to go any further after getting off the ferry. It’s also a pretty good place for sunsets, which are often the backdrop to hundreds of swooping Asian palm swifts (Cypsiurus balasiensis) out for their evening meal – one hell of a sight for bird-lovers out there, though quite noisy too!

Party lovers may find Mae Haad a little too quiet for their liking, but with Sairee Beach just a twenty minute stroll (or a one hour drunken stumble) away it’s not completely cut-off from the action

 

Places to Eat

The town has a handful of excellent eateries for all tastes, in particular Whitening with its Thai/Western fusion and international dishes, Kakureya for delicious Japanese cuisine, Neptune  and Dolce Vita for authentic Italian delights and Pranee Kitchen or Yang’s Restaurant for good yet cheap Thai food.

Vegetarians and Vegans would be fools to miss La Carotte Qui Rit, and Coconut Monkey is also very popular with those with a penchant for veggies over beasties.

 

Chalok Baan Khao

The third largest beach on Koh Tao and the quietest one of the three I’ve talked about here, Chalok is for some reason home to the majority of our French and Spanish-speaking visitors to Koh Tao. The shallow bay is perfect for those not-too-hot at swimming, and it’s often quite popular with families because of this fact.  Unfortunately the snorkeling here is not so great due to these shallow depths.

As Chalok faces south-west it’s not the best place on the island for those classic sunset photos Thailand is famous for, but being near a handful of incredible view-points more than makes up for this fact – the ‘John Suwan’ viewpoint in particular is well worth the half-hour hike to get there!

The lack of people here is the real draw of Chalok Baan Khao to its visitors – even in high season you get a real feeling of being away from it all, but with 711 just a few minutes away there’s still plenty of home-comforts available for those less-willing to cut all ties to the real world! Nightlife options are a lot more limited as to be expected apart from a handful of nicely chilled bars, in particular Bar Next Door (BND), Pirate Bar and the aptly named High Bar with its incredible views of the bay.

Places to Eat

With far more Thai food options here than any other type of cuisine, Chalok is a nice place to sample just what real Thai cooking is all about. Yin Yang on the main street is always very busy, seafood BBQ is always very popular on the beachfront, but anyone staying here absolutely must pay a visit to The Cape Restaurant, in Viewpoint Resort on the west side of the beach. Not for those on a small budget, the quality of food that’s being produced there is worth splurging on, especially the Black Angus and the Tuna steaks!  Also one of the newer additions to the culinary delights on offer in Chalok and another worth gtting excited over is Suda, a Korean restaurant just a five minute stroll from the beach. With absolutely delicious treats simply all over the menu it’s a nice way to sample Korean food without having to take that long flight to Pyongyang.

  

One of the most breathtaking creatures on the planet to dive with, the manta ray is real bucket-list item for divers all around the world. Once commonly seen here on Koh Tao, there hadn’t been a confirmed sighting of a manta for at least 15 years…until last week when we encountered one at Chumphon Pinnacle.

With the diving community absolutely ecstatic over the magnificent manta that paid us a visit, there’s never been a better time to look more closely at these creatures, and investigate what may have brought it here.

 So what do we know about the manta ray?

There are 2 species of manta rays: the reef manta (Manta alfredi) and the giant manta ray (Manta birostris). Both are classified as “vulnerable” in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, unfortunately. They have the largest brains of all fish apparently, which doesn’t explain why it’s been so long since they came to Koh Tao the ignorant shits.

Fish you say? That’s right, just like Nemo and Dory manta rays are in fact fish, just funny-looking ones. They are actually related to sharks, but are considered gentle creatures which do not represent a significant threat to humans, plus they lack the venomous tail spikes that many of their relatives have.

The largest species is the giant manta ray, whose central disc can measure up to 9 meters wide! Despite their massive size mantas eat only tiny little plankton, which they filter through their gills with something called ‘gill rakers’ – widely sought-after in Chinese medicine due to the ridiculous belief that it can heal anything from colds to cancer. Yeah right China, keep your filthy mitts off them!

 So what brought them to us again?

Manta rays are distributed in tropical, subtropical and temperate oceans worldwide. They’re not fans of cold water at all, and with water temperatures on Koh Tao averaging around 30 degrees all year round the conditions are perfect for them to come and say hello!

As plankton eaters, it’s actually quite surprising that we haven’t been seeing them a lot more than one every million years or whatever it is – after all the ocean around Koh Tao is often full of plankton, which is the main reason why we have so many whalesharks visiting our waters all year round.

Could the recent anoxia event (complete lack of oxygen) we’ve been seeing at depth have something to do with it? It’s certainly possible, but I believe the most likely conclusion is that we’ve had an extra-long influx of planktonic matter this year, likely coming from the depths of the South China Sea – when the food comes, the hungry follow. This would also explain the numbers of whalesharks we’ve been seeing, and also the amount of salps and comb jellies we’ve been finding on every dive site and shoreline.

I’d love to be able to say these magnificent mantas are back for good, but only time will tell. Watch this space, and if you’re not already a certified diver then hurry and do something about it soon!

Sunday, 30 August 2015 07:08

Swim For Sharks 2015

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group shots4s30th August 2015

This year’s Swim for Sharks was another amazing success. First of all we would like to thank Rachel for organising the event, Shark Guardians who came to give a presentation and show their support, Scotty for roasting us up two pigs on a spit for the meal at the after party, but mostly for the kids who came down to show their support and the swimmers and snorkelers who participate in the swim. The money raised will go to Shark Guardians and Sea Shepherd.

The day started with the young children who came to swim in the pool and play games and have their faces painted, there were also giant sharks made out of sand on the beach (which actually survived all night until the tide came in).

The swim around Koh Nang Yuan is 3.6km or 3600 metres, just to put that into some perspective that’s 72 lengths of an Olympic size pool or 144 lengths of your typical 25m swimming pool in most leisure centres, or 300 lengths of our Big Blue confined pool!  We couldn’t have asked for better conditions, the sea around Koh Nang Yuan was completely flat. A small current around by Green Rock on to the final leg of the swim pushed the swimmers in the last few metres. The competitors who raced went off first, then the snorkelers followed by the fun swimmers.
 
Our very own Nick Bufton had decided that beating his personal best of 54 minutes was his main goal, not surprising as his main competitor was one of Mojos DMTs from New Zealand’s National Swim team who just missed out on qualifiers to The Rio Olympics and decided to go travelling instead! Nick lost obviously but he smashed his PB by 6 minutes, coming in at 48 minutes 45 seconds, only 3 minutes behind the professional Kiwi swimmer. Needless to say we are all extremely proud of him and his efforts for this fantastic event as we are for everyone else who took part.(Far too many names to write).

Koh Taos infamous Trigger fish claimed a few victims along the route stopping to nibble and head-butt the swimmers as they swam over them. FACT more people have been attacked by Trigger Fish than a shark on Koh Tao, probably because there are no more sharks left on Koh Tao as they have been over fished and served up in soups and in restaurants around Samui!

The evening event was just as fun seeing the traditional charity head shaving. Poor Jai Kennedy had his whole head shaved and now he looks like the end of a dirty cotton bud. But the money raised from just last night’s antics came to 75,000 baht and that not with what was raised for the actual swim and t-shirt sales.  
So again a massive Sharky fin thank you to everyone involved.

 

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