Walking to the Yangon train station I was unsure how the train ride was going to go. I overheard one of the hostel employees recommeding a traveler to take the bus and not the train because it is a very long and rough ride. From what I have heard most of the train travel in Myanmar is long, bumpy and rough. I was running late but needed some snacks, I stopped at the Ruby Mart convenience store and made it to the station with 5 minutes to spare before the departure time of 0400 pm.
The train left at 0415 pm, I was in a sleeper cabin with four other guys. An older Aussie man named Wayne, an English guy named Jack and two other English guys named Ollie and Dave. Wayne had just spent some time traveling in India, Jack has been traveling for a few months through Europe, Mongolia and Asia, Ollie and Dave were traveling through Myanmar for 10 days on vacation. The train windows were open and we had a great view of the countryside.
Bang!! bang!! clack! The train slammed back and forth rocking constantly on the tracks. It was beyond bumpy, litereally getting tossed from my seat at times. It was a slow train, our maximum speed must have been 30 km/hour. We stopped at many stations along the way, picking up and dropping off local people in different villages.
I was introduced to some Myanmar train toilets, the system is pretty simple – a standard squatting toilet, where the waste goes directly on the tracks. Anyone who has taken the train has noticed the funny sign that asks the passenger to ‘refrain from using the toilet over the bridge – for bridge preservation reasons.’
Throwing garbage and littering is a normal habit in the Myanmar culture. A daily example: A man on the train buys a cob of corn in a plastic bag, after he is done eating his meal he then throws the plastic bag and all the trash outside of the window. All of the local people seem to do the same. A good opportunity for travelers to lead by example through simply throwing trash in the garbage bin.
It was an 18 hour journey on the train. There was no food dining cart so we bought our meals [from outside the train window] at different stations along the way. I ate some chicken and rice, people were selling drinks and other food options at some railway stations along the way.
The countryside is beautiful in Myanmar, the slow train affords you the time to take it all in. We exchaged stories and talked until it became dark and late enough to try to get some sleep. With no air condition the windows were open most of the journey, by this time many bugs and insects have flown into our cabin. We decided to leave one small light on to attract the bugs (I particularly appreciated this being on the top bunk). After laying down I got tossed around the bed a few times but was happy to be able to stretch out my legs. I’m not sure if it was more of a miracle that I got some decent sleep or that the train did not derailed.
Heading north towards Bagan morning broke into a clear sky, the rain had yielded and it was a change to see dry streets again. I leaned out the window and bought some fresh pinapple for breakfast, it was a quick exchange as we weren’t stopped at the station for long. The last few hours of the journey we saw people working all pieces of the land from ox pulling plows aerating the land, cattle being herded on farms and rice fields being worked all around the countryside.
Arriving around 0930 am the 18 hour sleeper train had ended up costing me 16,500 kyat ($18 Canadian), saving more than $10 in comparison to taking the bus. All the negatives I had heard about the train were outweighed by the benefits of traveling locally and seeing the countryside.
Leaving the train Jack and I had booked into the same hostel in New Bagan at a Ostello Bello. We managed to get a shared truck taxi for 2,500 kyat per person at the train station. Initially the driver wanted 6,000 kyat each but the price dropped significantly when we joined with another group heading into Old Bagan. Funny enough, three of the nine of us heading into town were backpacking with ukuleles. Heading into Bagan we stopped at a tourist office and were each charged the standard 25,000 kyat ($30 Canadian) entry fee to the town for five days.
Bagan is a mystical place with temples and pagodas all around. There were over 10,000 temples and pagodas from the 11th to the 13th century. Today there are more than 2,200 remaining, most of which can be explored. It baffles me that at one time in Bagan there were two temples being built per month.
After arriving at Ostello Bello and having a quick bite to eat, Jack, Hannah and I rented some electric motorbikes (ebikes) and set out to explore the area. Ostello Bello seemed expensive costing $18 Canadian/ night for the 12 person dorm. The room included sample pasta 3 times per day, free Myanmar cigars, coffee, tea, clean failities and has a great atmosphere so in the end it was definetely worth the stay.
The place to rent ebikes is right outside of the hostel. Initial the price was 3,000 kyat for an ebike and laundry [unlimited laundry included]. The two shops were competing offering better prices and the price quickly became 1,000 kyat from 0100 pm until nightfall. One dollar to rent the ebike all day and have my laundry done.
We spent hours driving through different areas, passing rice fields, countless pagodas and temples. Passing through fields where the trail was made of sand and extremely slippery we found our way to some secret pagodas. The weather was great, I couldn’t believe the change from the constant rain in Yangon to the sun in Bagan. The three of us had a great time enjoying the temples, many of which didn’t have anyone there but us.
We grabbed a bite to eat and a bottle of rum at the corner shop. I was playing ukulele on the rooftop watching the sky change colour while the sun set. Each night in the hostel there is some entertainment or activity going on. On this night it was a ‘quiz night.’ Jack, Hannah and another English guy and I entered a team. We weren’t quite as good as expected but we had a good time regardless.
I rented an ebike early morning and went riding into the dark to see the sunrise. The monsoon brought some unfortuante clouds and haze this morning. The views were not postcard perfect but the landscape is serene.
After taking a nap I awoke a putrid odour in the room. “Ahem, cough, cough”, trying to clear my throat, struggling to breath the odour was toxic. Thinking I’d prefer the limited oxygen in the air above 5000 meters in Nepal’s Himalaya mountains. There was a sewage problem in the room and I was upgraded to a 4 bed dorm room free of charge.
Ostello Bello and Hostelworld each sent an email to confirming my booking, not something that usually happens. Most often I make a reservation online on hostelworld or hostelbookers and only they send an email.
In the Ostello Bello email it stated that if you play an instrument, have a skill, or provide entertainment you are eligible to receive a free night accommodation. I confirmed this with them on arrival. Shortly after my arrival I was told that I would be playing on my second night and could receive my third night free of charge.
‘Ukulele live by Patrick‘ was posted on the big whiteboard all day. I spent a few hours putting together a set list including some songs on both the ukulele and guitar. I’m still new at the ukulele so I was a bit hesitant when night rolled around. It was too late to back out as it had been advertised for a day and a half so the show must go on.
I played a few songs on the ukulele and then switched to a 6 string guitar and then switched back playing a few more songs on ukulele. It turned out to be a success playing from 8:30pm until 9:30pm. The ukulele ($10) paid itself off twice on the savings I got from having a third night free for providing entertainment ($22). Likely the most profitable show of my music career so far.
Many parts of Myanmar remain closed to tourism, people often travel similar routes when exploring the country. I have run into many friends in Bagan who I met during my time in Yangon. I ran into Justine from Toronto (we met in Yangon) and some friends in the morning as they were waiting to check in.
It was a nice day so I rented an ebike for 2,000 kyat and had my shoes washed [included in the ebike rental]. I rode to the bus station and bought a ticket to Kalaw on a VIP bus for 0600 am the following day for 11,000 kyat. In the afternoon I ran into Justine and some other friends at the hostel. We took the ebikes throughout the temples throughout the day and had a blast. We played chinloo with some local guys. We watched the sun set over the temples, someone dubbed the group of us the ‘Bagan Biker Gang.’ I ran into some friends from Yangon, also sitting on the same temple watching the sunset.
Many people had issues with their ebikes, batteries dying, not starting, etc. Thankfully I was able to ride for 3 days with no issues. Be sure to get the name and phone number of the company the bike is rented from because they will bring a new ebike if there are issues.
The only place I’ve been that can compare with the vastness of the temples in Bagan are the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia. Though still they are very different, Bagan is unique and beautiful in many ways. Three days of visiting the temples and pagodas was sufficient for me, particularly with the expensive accomodation.
After adventuring around and watching the we all headed back and had some dinner. It was my last night in Bagan, the hostel had BINGO as entertainment. We played for a couple hours, the prize was one free beer per BINGO. I called it an early night because I was catching the 0620 am bus to Kalaw.
I have heard nothing but good things about the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake so I’m excited to do some trekking and see the Myanmar countryside.
I got my visa online for $80 USD (United States dollars), it was checked at the border leaving Bangkok to ensure I am able to enter Myanmar before departing Thailand. I recommend going to the embassy in Bangkok to get this visa as it about half the price. The visa states on it that it is valid only with proof of exiting the country so I booked a flight back from Mandalay in twenty-six days the night before I took my flight. With no issues at immigration I got onto the plane and a short time later landed in Yangon, Myanmar. I don’t have much knowledge about Myanmar but am seeking some new adventures.
I made a few Dutch friends passing through immigration and ended up sharing a taxi to a Okinawa Guesthouse on 32nd street, just a minute walk to Sule Pagoda. My friends and I split up the beds sharing the room for $10 USD (United States Dollars) each per night. Not cheap accomodation but I knew it would be more expensive in Myanmar. We ventured down to 28th street and had some delicious street food. The pineapple was amazing, likely the best I have ever had. Having a traditional dinner and a few Myanmar beer I called it a night early to rest up for tomorrow.
Walking down the street it is very common to see many local people with red stained teeth, spitting out red juices. I thought there was a gingivitis epidemic and was concerned for the oral health of the population. I soon found out that what they were chewing on and spitting out is betel nut. It is commonly used as a mild stimulant with or without tobacco.
I have used www.couchsurfing.com numerous times in the past and enjoy the opportunity it provides to meet and stay with local people. I arranged to stay with Koko from couchsurfing the day after my arrival.
The guesthouse provided a nice breakfast. I spent the afternoon hanging out with my Dutch friends, we set off to check out the circle train. It is a 3 hour slow train that goes along the border of the city. Within a few hours we saw people working in markets, locals hopping on and off, going to and from work, kids and youth heading home from school.
A local man who could not speak English but had a translation book to practice offered a local cigar. Many of the locals smoke these throughout the city, it is made with tobacco leaves, I didn’t particularly enjoy it but smoked it to be polite. Head out the window or sitting with the door wide open watching the city function was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
After heading back to the guesthouse I picked up my things and called for a taxi. Koko had called me numerous times throughout the day to clarify my plan. Finally I was on my way over so I gave him a call and he spoke with the taxi driver. Meter taxis are not used so the price is negotiated before the ride. Unable to obtain a price Koko thought was reasonable, I hopped in anyways not minding the 2,000 kyat foreigner price mark-up. The taxi ride cost me 10,000 kyat (~$11 Canadian).
The traffic in Yangon is always busy, but becomes madness during rush hour. No motorbikes are allowed within the city. The number of cars, trucks, and taxis on the road has grown significantly in the past few years. There was a 90% reduction of vehicle prices sometime around 4 years age. Now the streets are flooded with vehicles. Licensing, obtaining a permit, and buying a nice vehicle would cost ~$400,000 USD a few years ago. Today the same vehicle is priced at ~$40,000 USD so traffic has grown exponentially.
The taxi ride I took was at rush hour. It was a draining two hour drive for a usually twenty-five minute ride. I fell into a deep sleep in the taxi and missed four calls from Koko, on the fifth call I awoke up surprised. The driver was laughing as I answered the phone. “He call you four times?” I checked my phone afterwards and laughed. “Exactly right” I said as I had picked up his fifth call. A quick update and we arrived shortly after at a local teahouse.
Koko introduced me to his father, mother and a few aunts as they were sitting having a tea. I had a tea and spoke about my journey and the long taxi ride. We chatted for a while, they were all kind people. I was not bothered by the pouring rain; it has been raining on and off since my arrival in Yangon.
We headed to Koko’s house on his motorbike where I met his wife and son. We picked up some Myanmar beer and whiskey from the store. The whisky is dirt cheap in Myanmar, about $2.20 Canadian for a 26 ounce bottle. Koko’s friend came over and we drank, played guitar and had a great time exchanging songs and singing along. I heard some great traditional and catchy Myanmar music. I spent the night in a guest room on a pretty hard bed but managed to get some sleep.
Waking up in the morning I went with Koko to the local market (3 minute walk down the street) and picked up some chicken and other groceries for his wife to make lunch and dinner. We headed out on his motorbike and he showed me where he went to university. I had my first traditional Myanmar massage. It was a bit less rough than a Thai massage though it still involved a lot of stretching and bending I wasn’t entirely comfortable with.
We visited an orphanage where 52 children live. There is minimal funding or support available for a multitude of reasons. The house that they all live in is very small, only rice and soup is served to the children because of the high price of meat. I spent some time playing soccer with a few of the kids. It’s an eye opening experience, many children are brought to the orphanage resulting from conflicts within Myanmar. Some families are in a position where they have to give their children up because of no money or opportunity.
Before I left one of the girls working gave me a package of information for providing donations. The orphanage was calledSunrise Home Youth Development Center. Donations and contact with them can be made through email@example.com. If anyone is ever looking to donate I’m sure they would appreciate any help, they are doing good things here.
The montessori we went to was just a three minute walk down the quiet street. It is a big building that provides English, French, Chinese, Japanese and Spanish lessons to students (and anyone) trying to learn a language. I met Koko’s friend, he is a monk that runs the facility. He explained to me how the programs work, the cost for each individual is only 3,000 kyat/ 3 months including books. I can’t believe that the cost is only $3 Canadian for 3 months of learning. It is a phenomenal opportunity for the youth and adults to learn English and other foreign languages.
I sat in a chair for a few minutes, hearing the children speaking with each other in English. The monk came over to me and said “alright, so Koko told me that you are looking to teach, do you have your program ready for today?”
I felt some sweat beads start from my forehead as I pulled on the neck of my shirt.
“Uhm, yes I think so” I replied,unsure of what my program was going to be about. He then continued to tell me, “So you have from 4:30pm until 6:00pm.” Wow, I thought to myself, what the hell will I do for that length of time. There was a guitar sitting by and Koko had mentioned kindly that I was great at playing and singing (as we had jammed for hours the night before). Playing and singing was now included in my program.
It was a bit longer than I had anticipated speaking for but with only 5 few minutes to develop my program itinerary, it developed quickly. I was going to talk for a bit, take questions, tell stories and then play some music on the guitar.
There were 70-80 people, mostly pre-university and university students, along with some older people and monks crammed into one room. With the understanding that they are at all levels of learning English; I was introduced and handed the microphone. It was exciting that on my third day in Myanmar I was getting the opportunity to speak here.
I talked about myself and my travels, my work in Canada as a nurse, the healthcare, political and educational systems. Because it was my third day in Myanmar it made for a bit of trouble when I started taking questions; some of them were hard to respond to.
One student asked, “what is your favourite Myanmar food?”“So far the street food” I said trying to explain it is what I have mostly eaten in my first few days.
“What can you say in Myanmar language?” I blanked out, having trouble remembering how to say hello. I asked the student for a quick lesson and they swiftly reminded me that “mingalaba means hello”.
“Are you single or married?”“Single,” I responded and the children broke into chatter. I couldn’t help but laugh at the follow up question.
“What do you think of Myanmar woman?” “Kind and beautiful,” I responded trying to be honest. Another student graciously pointed out that the girl asking the question was also single. There was an outbreak of laughter and chatter. Avoiding an awkward moment I took another question.
“What has been your favourite thing to do in Myanmar?”“Seeing Schwedagon Pagoda was beautiful but doesn’t compare with having the opportunity to speak with you guys (the students).” It was exciting and fun to have an interative time speaking with all the students; it is one of the highlights of my whole trip so far.
So many different questions and curiosities came up that I was able to get to know Myanmar people in a unique way. After an hour and fifteen minutes of speaking and fielding questions I was relieved by the monk who took over for a quick five minutes.
I spoke with a guy who was volunteering at the montessori and he recommended I sing Baby by Justin Bieber while he plays the guitar. In retrospect we should have sang Sorry because I know the words. Singing Baby was slightly embarrassing as the students surprisingly and gracefully sung out every word while I was at the front stuttering along with the microphone trying to keep up.
Enough of that, I played a few of my own songs and regained a bit of dignity. I checked the clock and it was 6:05 time was up already. I had a photo with most of the students and then went back with Koko to his home for dinner.
After dinner it was an early night to bed. I did some reading about Myanmar trying to figure out what areas I want to visit. I didn’t sleep much this night, over exhausted and too warm to find comfort I spent much of the night tossing and turning.
In the morning I went to breakfast with Koko, his wife and son. We had a quick bite to eat and I said thanks for having me stay with them for a couple nights. It was a great experience I would not have been able to have at a guesthouse or hostel.
Back into downtown Yangon
Headed back into Yangon with Koko’s recommendation I took an Aung minibus for 1,000 kyat and arrived on 39th street. I booked into a hostel called Little Yangon. Though a bit expensive it was a great spot just a few streets up from the Okinawa guesthouse I first stayed in. There was a comfy bed, air condition in the rooms and a nice shower. Easily the best shower I have used since the start of my travels. I met some great people at Little Yangon and the atmosphere was nice.
Wifi here is slow, difficult to access and unreliable, cellphone plans and data are cheap and easy.
Five years ago the cost of cellphone a SIM card was $400 USD.
Today it cost me 7000 kyat ($6 USD) for SIM card plus calling/texting with 1.35 GB data.
It rained daily in irregular patterns, though it always seemed to be raining it would sometimes stop for a few hours in the afternoon. It didn’t bother me, I expected a lot of rain coming here in the monsoon season.
I spent days wandering visiting a few temples, trying the local Shan noodles, having coffee chatting with local people and enjoying my travels. I visited a few teahouse Yangon is renound for and was impressed with the fresh coffee. I really liked the city of Yangon so I spent a few nights at Little Yangon. My return flight ticket to Bangkok is booked from Mandalay up north so I will not be back to Yangon.
The best nightlife in Myanmar is supposedly in Yangon. One night I went to a nightclub called Pioneer, it was expensive to get into at 10,000 kyat ($11 Canadian) but worth the experience. It was filled with 95% local people whose dance moves were definitely original. The DJ was a female and she had a hype woman beside her on stage with a microphone, she was encouraging the crowd to get crazy and enjoy the night.
I have been watching pieces of Milos Raonic (#7 World Ranking) play his way to the Wimbeldon finals, the first time a Canadian man has ever competed in a Grandslam final. I found out there are no televisions in Bagan so I stayed one more night at Little Yangon to catch the final match. It was disappointing to see Milos lose the match but we had a fun atmosphere with some British and Candian friends watching.
I walked to the train station and despite some resistance booked an over night train to Bagan for the next day at 0400pm. It was 02:50 pm so the man refused to sell me a ticket despite being open until 0300 pm. It took me 35 minutes to find the right spot so I wasn’t going to leave without the ticket. I eventually had him sell me a ticket for 16,500 kyat ($18 Canadian) and an older gentleman named Wayne from Australia was behind me in called in “I’ll take the same thing” and also booked a spot on the overnight train to Bagan. After a good nights rest I headed to the train station in the afternoon unsure of how my 18 hour train ride to Bagan was going to go.
Flying from Denpasar, Indonesia I left for the airport at 0330 am for my 0700 am flight. This was the first plane I have taken in a long time that left at its correct departure time. I landed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at 1000 am. After entering Malaysia and collecting my baggage I soon left again back through immigration into the airport. Waiting for my next flight at 1615 pm (plus one hour because of the timezone change) made for a tiresome day.
After a long travel day I arrived sometime around 0600 pm and made a few friends at the airport. I took a shared minibus to Patong area, the city of Phuket. I stayed at a hostel named the Bodega, it had a good atmosphere and I met some really fun people.
I hung out and played football at the beach during the day and walked around checking out the local markets. It is definitely not a very classy place, with most massage parlours offering happy endings. “Massage, massage sir” can be heard numerous times walking down any block in Patong. There were many ladyboys throughout the city also offering “massage, massage” in a deeper toned voice. I avoided getting a massage in this city but I’m sure there are some reputable places if you seek some local advise. Indonesia was so different; I had forgotten the atmosphere since the last time I was in Thailand. I was lucky to meet some great people at the Bodega hostel which provided for some good conversation and fun nights out.
I stayed two nights in Phuket and it was time to leave. I wanted to get to the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan. I spoke with four or five different travel agents in regards to finding transportation to Koh Phangan. The highest price I had found was 1500 baht at a convenience store and the best price was from a kind woman just across the street from the hostel. I ended up paying 550 baht for the bus and ferry.
The world is a big place but small in so many ways. I was in my hostel room when a girl walked in named Danielle. She had just come from Indonesia a day after me. After introducing myself and speaking with her for a few minutes I found out she is from Limoges, only twenty minutes from the town I grew up in. She is 20 years old and has backpacked alone throughout Southeast Asia for 3 months. Canadians are everywhere in this part of the world. At times with only 37 million people in Canada, I wonder how many people are in Canada working.
The culture and people are visibly changed by the tourism in this area. The gorgeous beaches drive many tourists, backpackers, party people, as well as sun and sand lovers. The benefits of tourism are beyond substantial in Thailand. This was not an area where I got too local with the Thailand people. In a city with tourism as an economic steam engine, local traditions seem to be pushed towards the outside of the city.
The shops and street vendors often are not willing to negotiate prices because there are so many tourists (there is likely someone behind you willing to pay top dollar for the same item). Many people from the western world vacation for a few weeks in Thailand and often people come over from North America for a month or so. People backpacking for longer periods of time don’t have the capacity to be spending two to three times the local price all the time.
The nightlife scene is busy in the Patong area, most of the action happens on Bangla road. It lights up like what I imagine Sin City in Vegas would look like. Neon Lights everywhere. The gang from the bar and I went out to a bar named White Room. A dangerous place if looking to party hard and get drunk, the cost was 500 baht ($16.50 Canadian) for ‘all you can drink’ until 0100am. It was essentially the only option as one drink cost 230 baht. We had a pretty big group of people out from the hostel so it was fun to dance with friends.
The minibus to Koh Phangan took ages until we arrived at another bus meeting point. After getting off and waiting for a while we were bound on another bus to the harbour. Arnold, a friend I made at the Bodega split off for Koh Samui onto a different bus. We arrived to the harbour got a bite to eat and waited until 0400 pm to board the boat. We finally departed at 0500pm. We made a stop at Koh Samui and dropped off some passengers before heading to the island of Koh Phangan.
My bag was soaking wet when I picked it up, it had rained for a good portion of the ride and continued to rain when we arrived. It was a 25 minute covered truck taxi ride in the back to Haad Rin. By the time I got to my hostel it was 0800 pm, it was a long day of travelling.
I was staying in a dive hostel named ‘Jaya Hostel’, I expected it to be complete shit from the reviews online. It consisted of many different dorm rooms in different buildings but had a big central bar area. It was a 3 minute walk from my dorm room to the reception area where food was sold and the bar was located. I stayed in a building with two floors, on my floor there were two 22 bed dorms with one toilet and one shower; it was the same downstairs but with two additional showers. For the large number of people it went smoothly, bathroom facilities were throughout the hostel buildings. All in all the hostel exceeded my minimal expectations and provided me a good location in Haad Rin. It was in the heart of the Full Moon Party and had many restaurants and food options available. I had my hair cut across the street for 200 baht (tourist price of $6.60 Canadian).
The Full Moon Party is an all night party that originated on Koh Phangan island on the beach in Haad Rin. People start to migrate from Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia towards the island anywhere from a week before to the night of the party. It becomes infiltrated with tourists, over 30,000 travellers meeting up on this little island to party and have fun. I arrived two days before the Full Moon Party night.
The beach takes five minutes to walk down to so I checked it out. There are bars and small liquor stands serving beer and buckets of alcohol all over the beach. Fire shows, fire limbo, dancing and lots of drinking – the party had unofficially started – and the official Full Moon Party wasn’t for a couple days. I walked back and spent most of the night hanging out at the hostel with some of the staff and friends I made. The staff were celebrating one of the employees birthdays so hanging out there was a lot of fun. There was a ‘Waterfall Party’ on this night but I didn’t go, from what I heard it was expensive and not too fun.
During my day time hours on Koh Phangan island I spent most of my time at the beach relaxing, playing volleyball and resting; night time hours were spent partying away.
There is always a ‘Jungle’ party the night before the Full Moon Party, it is located a taxi ride away from Haad Rin in a large jungle area. There were thousands of people, at a certain point I lost track of where my friends were and it was late so I headed back. At this point the island was almost at capacity in the Haad Rin area, the party was going all night at the beach.
It exhausts me to write about how hard I partied for the next days. I’ll spare the details for the sake of my grandparents reading but my sleeping pattern was minimal and the drinking was excessive.
One of my favourite experiences was taking a boat taxi from the main Full Moon Party beach party to a bar named Garden of Eden in Ban Tai (arriving on the isolated Yuan Beach). It is only accessible by boat but is part of Koh Phangan island. I heard about it from a guy I met in the truck taxi from the harbour to Haad Rin. I shared the boat taxi with some friends I made on the beach. The DJ’s played some amazing sets through the night and sunrise.
All you need to say to the boat taxi driver from the main beach is “Eden” or “Garden of Eden” and they will know exactly where to bring you.
The Full Moon Party days were draining. I spent a day resting after the party and departed the next morning. I forgot to set my alarm to get out of bed to catch the ferry to Koh Tao. The 1100 am taxi pickup time for the ferry to Koh Tao was full so I was forced to take the 0900 am departure to Koh Tao. I heard a guy working in the hostel wake up my friend Adam on the other side of the room.
Unfortuantely my camera did not make it out for my highlights of the party. Try a quick ‘Full Moon Party Koh Phangan Photos’ search on google to get a better impression of the beach and party.
If you have better Full Moon Party photos send them to me, I’d be happy to have a link here. Still sorting the spam out on here but best reached through @ https://www.facebook.com/BackpackingNurse/
0910 am, “Shit!” I packed all my things in under 30 seconds and rushed down the stairs to the street.
I booked my ticket to Koh Tao with a company separate from the hostel; I saved 50 baht but it didn’t come with a wake up call. The woman I booked my ticket with was an angel. I spoke with her at length the night before and she told me she worked the travel agency, the hostel and as a taxi driver, sometimes all in the same day.
I saw her on the street and waved stupidly, pretending to not notice I’m late and rolled out of bed the minute earlier. “Where’s the bus!?” I asked. She replied to me “hey, you late,” I apologized and asked “what can I do?” “Wait!” She told me as she made a call on her phone, lucky for me it was her husband working the taxi. “Get on, get on” she said as she started up her motorbike. With my bags I hopped on, we drove for about 20 minutes before meeting up with her husband driving the taxi. I hopped on the minibus taxi and we were headed to the ferry.
After arriving at the harbour the ferry to Koh Tao didn’t take long. The sun was shining and it was a gorgeous day. I ended up at the same spot as a bunch of friends I made at Jaya hostel on Koh Phangnan. I spent a few days relaxing and enjoying the sunshine. I played some volleyball in Koh Phangan but have been surprised how few nets are around.
We went out one night for the ‘Pub Crawl Night,’ there were three times the capacity of the pub crawl lined up for tickets (~500 people). It was expensive at 400 baht per ticket so my friends and I had some drinks and met up with the pub crawlers at the bar. There is no cover charge at the bars so missing out on a couple shots and a T-shirt was worth saving the baht. We had a great time, many of the people leave Koh Phangan for Koh Tao at a similar time (the pubcrawl is the biggest at this time). I ran into friends from Indonesia and Thailand.
I rented a motorbike for one day on Koh Tao spending some time exploring the 20 kilometer island. I parked the motorbike in front of the hostel overnight and someone stole the license plate right off of it. I was able to ‘bargain’ from 4,000 baht to 3,000 baht in order to have the guy renting the motorbike to return my passport and resolve the issue. The Thai people close themselves off when they are yelled at or feel disrespected so I had to stay nice and calm throughout it all. In truth I was very frustrated, likely it was him or one of his friends who stole the license plate and will put it back on in a few weeks to profit 3000 baht.
The roads are in poor condition; construction, dirt, gravel and sandy corners make for some challenging terrain. The motorbike rental companies make most of their money ripping off tourists for dents, small scratches, mirror issues and many more issues with the bikes. I caution anyone who choses to rent a motorbike on this island, take a 360 degree view video of the bike and note each scratch or they will make you pay. Within three days I spoke with over nine different people who each had to pay between 3,000 baht ($100 Canadian) to 13,000 baht ($433 Canadian) because of motorbike scratches, accidents, missing mirrors, etc. An extortionary price but they hold the renters passport as collateral so a person must do their best to bargain a better repair price.
Though drugs can be found at some bars on Koh Tao it is best to tread carefully before indulging. The police do not often turn a blind to anyone with drugs on this island. A few days before starting my PADI course our diving instructor had to bail out one of his previous students out of a holding cell the size of a dog cage for having 5 grams of marijuana. The typical result is a criminal record, time served, labour or a lot of money. This particular situation cost the young man 80,000 baht ($2,660 Canadian) and possibly a criminal record.
I booked myself into an open water PADI scuba diving course offered by Ban’s Diving Resort. It include 4 nights accommodation in my own fan room. It was great to have my own space, taking a break from the dorm rooms I have been sharing with many people. I paid 9000 baht for all ($285 Canadian). Koh Tao is known to have some of the best prices for scuba diving certification in the world.
Day one of my PADI license started at 0500 pm and only lasted a few hours. It consisted of introductions, watching a video and completing some questions.
Day two we had a quiz and got into the pool with the scuba gear. My body had a fight or flight instinct when going under water and breathing from an air tank the first time. It took a few minutes to calm myself down and gain control of my breathing. After the first few minutes things became easier as my body adjusted to the sensation of being under the water.
Our group was big for scuba diving lesson standards. Six people in total in the group – Ban’s had two awesome instructors and a DiveMaster assisting when we went in the ocean. The group It was a ton of fun the pool we did some exercises required by PADI to obtain the open water license. One of the first exercises we completed was taking in a deep breath and throwing the regulator and air supply hose, grabbing the hose appropriately and then clearing the water out of the regulator by ‘purging’ or by blowing into the regulator. No problem.
Another exercise was letting water into the mask and then clear the mask by blowing air out of the nose and tilting the head back while putting pressure on the top of the mask. We then demonstrated taking the mask off, putting it on and then clear it by the head tilt, pressure on the top of the goggles and blowing out the nose. We then stepped it up a level and headed to the deep end of the 4 meter pool swimming and equalizing our ears. We took off our weight belts and reapplied them to adjust our buoyancy. My least favourite exercise was taking off the mask and have the instructor spin me in a circle around him, continuing to breath with the regulator but not seeing anything; still a bit dazed from the spinning I reapplied my mask and cleared it. It was a great first day getting comfortable with the equipment in the water.
Day 3 started with writing the final exam in the morning. It was straightforward enough, I got 96% and everyone in the group passed. Headed to the ocean in the afternoon I was excited to get the equipment on and jump in for the first time. I still have not shaved my beard, it has gotten thick through the past few months of travel. I brought some vaseline on the boat to help make a better seal between the mask and my face. We had our first dive to twelve meters at ‘The Twins’ site, visibility pretty poor from the storms the night previous. The monsoon season has fucked with the visibility, it was only possible to see a few meters ahead. Regardless it was a great experience, everyone was able to get to twelve meters, equalizing pressure was not a problem for anyone in the group. We adventured around underwater for about 40 minutes seeing some different fish and other people diving. The ocean waters of Indonesia were significantly more clear, I was able to see more with my snorkel and mask in Indonesia than scuba diving at this time of the year in Thailand.
We were brought to another diving site for our second dive in the ocean. Each person in the group had a buddy; my buddy was Christian from the USA, when diving we would have to be within view of each other. Prior to getting in the water we would complete a quick series of checks, these included testing the air, straps are fastened and the tank is properly attached. We completed it and hopped into the water at the point named ‘The Junkyard.’ Hoping to spice up the dive a bit our instructor knew the visibility was not good so we looking at a man-made set up underwater. We dove to twelve meters again and did a few exercises under the water. We explored different metal areas to swim under and around, saw a collection of golden thrones (toilets), a car underwater among fish and some sea life. The 40 minutes under water seemed to fly by. I adjusted to breathing from the air tank better than I imagined I would.
Day four we had planned on an early start to the day but Ban’s Diving Resort is huge and some adjustments to the boat times had to be made. We took up the final exam in the midmorning and dove in the afternoon again. I was happy with being able to sleep in; the poor visibility would not be greatly changed from the morning to afternoon. The waves had whitecaps on this afternoon. Slightly intimidating heading out on the small taxi boat to the main big boat but we made it thanks to some good driving. We made it to Red Rock diving site. Gearing up and completing our checks has become smooth within the group and a few minutes we were hopping in the water.
Jumping off the high side of the boat for the first dive was a fun change. We completed the rest of our PADI requirements when we got into the water, clearing the mask and some other exercises. We were taught to use the compass and had to navigate under the water, it was very challenging because of the poor visibility and minimal reference points. We each had to do a controlled emergency swimming ascent from 5 meters (CESA).
After the whole group was able to complete the exercises we were off to have some fun. We split the group into two smaller groups as we have throughout the previous dives. The first dive down we went to about 19 meters at the maximum depth, just a hair deeper than required for the license. It was fun seeing the coral and fish, trying to maintain a good level of buoyancy. Now that my comfort level under the water has improved I have been trying to increase control of my breathing. More efficient breathing provides longer legths of time to dive. It was a good dive, the past few days have flown by; it’s hard to believe that there is only one dive left.
After meeting back up on the boat with we stayed Red Rock but took our second dive in a different part of the ocean. The instructors switched groups, we did our buddy checks and were prepared for entry. I did a front flip (a roll) into the water with my gear all on, and surprisingly all stayed on. It was by far my favourite of all. I did a front flip (roll) into the water with all my gear on. We went to some amazing underwater cave ruins. There was light flashing through the rock so visibility was not a problem. It was amazing to weave through the different areas, smaller passages and tunnels through the depths of the ocean. We passed over coral and saw schools of fish swimming about. We dove to about 18 meters and as the previous dives no one had trouble with equalizing the pressure in our ears. The final forty minutes flew by, as did my air just reaching the surface with 45 liters left.
The water was too rough for the taxi boat to bring us in to the beach at Ban’s Diving Resort so we were brought to the harbour and brought to the resort in a truck.
We all got our open water PADI licenses and agreed to meet up later that night for some drinks at the resort bar. It was a fun night celebrating with lots of laughing, dancing and drinking. There was a fun live band playing, it was a great time.
I booked a boat/bus trip to Bangkok, deciding that after a few weeks on the islands I’m ready for a change. There are many islands I didn’t make it to, perhaps I will be back. We passed through a heavy rain/ hail storm on the ferry. The weather was great for my time in Koh Tao so I didn’t mind a bit of rain on my transit day. I ended up have a few seats to myself on the bus where I was able to get a bit of sleep, which was nice because the journey was long.
Arriving into Bangkok at 0200am, I knew that I didn’t want to stay long. I have travelled through a few times travelling in the past and was caught up in the Khao San Road party scene. I just booked into a cheap one start hotel for the night and tried to relax and get some sleep. In the morning I had some breakfast and booked onto a bus to Pattaya, Thailand. I didn’t do any research about the place, just figured I would prefer it to Bangkok.
I took the jam-packed mini-bus and arrived after a few hours in the mid-afternoon. A group of five Thai people piled six people into the van so we were particularly squished in. It wasn’t until they were adding the passenger numbers up that one of the organizers noticed, they weren’t too bothered once everyone was in and we departed. (Though I am curious to know what they had to pay for the ride, plus one free passenger).
I showed up at a hostel named the Five-0, the motorbike taxi driver went to the wrong location so it took about thirty-five minutes instead of fifteen. I wasn’t in a big rush. The hostel is just a four-minute walk down to Jomtien Beach. I asked the woman working when I arrived if there was a beach volleyball net and she responded yes. “Hallelujah!” I’ll finally get to play some beach volleyball. Pattaya was a good place for me to spend four nights, I found some expats and locals who played volleyball each day in the afternoon for a few hours at the beach. I spent my days relaxing, exploring and had a few maintenance days catching up on some writing.
The truth is that Pattaya is epitomised by the slogan boasted throughout the city;
“Good Guys go to Heaven, Bad Guys go to Pattaya.”
It is a place filled with everything I thought I was leaving behind in Bangkok. Walking Street the area for nightlife is composed primarily of prostitution, aggressive ladyboys, borderline pedophilia, many Russians, expats everywhere and men who must be above 65-70 years of age walking (some with canes) with young Thai women. The place was filled with foreign men. Sad and gross to see, not the kind of place I like to spend my time. Not sure why families with young children were spending time in the area to vacation; let alone bring their children to Walking Street at midnight.
Simply enough I was able to spend some time in Pattaya relaxing at the beach and putting the wheels in motion for the next portion of my trip. I booked my flight into Yangon, Myanmar and applied for my visa online. (Though I recommend getting it in Bangkok, I recently learned it is a third of the price and only takes a day or two. Not two weeks as stated online). Looking forward Myanmar is going to be a good opportunity to explore a new place and culture.
I took a mini-bus for 100 baht from Pattaya to the Victory monument in Bangkok. I had a couple of days of hanging around Bangkok before heading to Myanmar. After learning about the 27 million people in the city I was interested to see some more local areas. I visited some markets and temples, I had a Thai massage for 200 baht ($6.60 Canadian). After spending some time in Pattaya, my appreciation for Bangkok has grown greatly. The nightlife involves local people and tourists, partying, dancing, lounging at a bar; all kinds of nightlife throughout different areas of the city. Leaving the tourist areas, it is easy to find cheap Pad Thai, noodles, street food and see the local people work and live as they usually do.
Just missing the 0900am minibus; I took a motorbike taxi with all my things to the airport. Departing July 5th from Don Mueang.
Looking forward Myanmar is going to be a good opportunity to explore a new place and culture. Next stop in Yangon, Myanmar.