Monthly Archives: April 2011
Being English Gentleman of Leisure
we purchased a 7 day entry pass for the the Angkor Archeological Park. Most people buy a 1 or 3 day pass, but we wanted to take in the temples and ruins at a more relaxed pace, slow it down a little. Turns out, it’s a full time job due to the sheer number of historically important and impressive sites that archeologists have uncovered in the Siem Reap area over the last 100 or so years.
As I write this it is 7am and we are waiting for our Tuk Tuk driver to take us for 2 hours down a bumpy, dust track to visit a temple ruin that has been claimed by the jungle (Beng Melea).
Back in England, few eyebrows were raised when I rolled into work at 9.40am every morning, so this feels like the middle of the night to me. The tourist guides tell you Angkor Wat is the heart and soul of cambodian people, however members of the older generation would disagree. They have no interest in seeing Angkor Wat and on a number of occasions we have heard people say “Why do I care about stone? I want food. The heart and soul of Cambodian people is not Angkor Wat. It is just in trying to survive.
Fortunately, I will never begin to comprehend the attrocities that the Khmer Rouge committed against it’s own people. At The Killing Fields Genocide Memorial close to the capital city Phnom Penh an inscription in the exhibition there reads:
“The method of masacre which the clique of Pol Pot Criminals was carried upon the innocent people of Kampuchea cannot be described fully and clearly in words because the invention of this killing method was strangely cruel so it is difficult for us to determine who they are for. They have the human form, but, their hearts are demon’s hearts”.
The aftermath of this darkness is haunting and I can feel it thick in the air where ever I go. When it comes to genocide, if Hitler and Stalin et al were neuro-surgeons, Pol pot and his Khmer Rouge were back street abortionists.
Despite the continued poverty of the Cambodian people, a tourism industry has sprung up over the last decade and Angkor Wat is the Pin up Boy of Cambodian Temples, a beast of architectual endeavor. Whilst it is undoubtably impressive in size and grandeur, for me it is surpassed by the truly magical qualities of a couple of the other temples and ruins that left me completely awestruck.
I was blown away by Ta Prohm (the Tree Temple used in Tomb Raider)
and even more so by Beng Melea, which felt like discovering a lost ancient civilisation swallowed by the jungle. The whole experience was like a massive game of Lara Croft, clambering over ruins pursued by local kids (who may or may not have been packing darts with poisoned tips) whilst continuously dropping Indiana Jones quotes with Dave.
Having a seven day pass to the temples allowed us to spend time hunting down Japenese and Korean girls (hitting them with our best English Gentleman’s Japenese/Korean pick up lines) and to have an interesting discussion with a flute playing South American guy, about shifting world power, the imminant collapse of the American dollar and a new world order. All this in a small room surrounded by 40 buddah carvings in a quiet minor temple off the beaten track a bit.
A few days in Siem Reap visiting the temples and ruins can leave you with the impression that the country is developing and business is booming. Sadly that is not the case. Many of the older generation that survived the genocide are damaged beyond reprieve. Some of the younger generation are beginning to pick up the pieces and find a voice for change, but any grievences with the corruption and abuse of power by the government (many of the senior officials being former Khmer Rouge) are only whispers as to shout loudly would likely land you in a hole in a field.
To give you an idea of how corrupt the government is over here, they have called upon the services of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who is currently exiled in Dubai awaiting trial in Thailand for stealing from his own people. Asking Thaksin to become economic advisor to your country is like asking a wealthy businessman with a repuation for human rights attrocities to take over your football club. Nothing in Cambodia makes much sense.
However, many of the young people we have met have less political aspirations and a sheer drive and determination to drag themselves out of poverty. One girl we met wanted to be a journalist, but had wisely decided on a less dangerous career path. Whilst us English Gentleman were busy taking a leisurely stroll around ancient ruins perusing over women, films, music and the philosophies of the east and west, this girl was up at 4am everyday making breakfast for her family, before starting work at 6am for a 13 hour shift in a hotel then straight to school in the evening to study business and English. As the Older generation state, the heart and soul of Cambodian people is not in stone or the pure madness and evil of it’s harrowing past. The heart and soul of Cambodian people is in survival and only the younger generations determination for change and to make a brighter future for themselves will allow this to happen.
I very nearly did miss the Similan Islands, the alarm call was 5.20am and I was up drinking cocktails with friends until after 3am. Fortunately, I scrambled out of bed and miraculously had the foresight to pack my stuff the night before. I crept onto the mini-bus and promptly fell asleep, waking up only when we reached the the dive shop in Khao Lak some 2 plus hours later.
For a day trip, there was a fair amount of traveling involved for a few hours of pure pleasure, but had I missed this tour I would have missed out on one of the greatest privilages I have had in my entire life. You know that feeling when you genuinely feel privileged to be somewhere? Well, that’s how I felt about the Similan Islands.
Here are 5 reasons why you shouldn’t think twice about the travel time and be sure that you make that alarm call.
1. Snorkelling and Diving
The Similan Islands enjoy National Park status, so the snorkeling was pretty special. I didn’t dive on this occasion, but this is one of the world’s most renowned dive sites so you won’t be dissapointed. The Similan Islands are open from October until May when the national park shuts down for the Monsoon Season, so make sure to check first that tours are still running. I wanted to go last year, but just missed out.
I booked a one day snorkeling and island tour, but there are a number of different options including one day dive packages, live aboard, padi open water courses and snorkeling with over night camping.
When we arrived, I was feeling pretty hung over from the night before , but I don’t think there is any better way to spend your time than snorkeling and find this actually serves as a remarkably good remedy.
Sometimes I go on energetic pursuits after all manner of amazing looking tropical fish, but I especially like wearing a life jacket and just floating along looking at any fish that catch my attention. Magical and so relaxing !!! Wearing a life jacket also means you can avoid nasty sunburn on your back, although you still need to be put suntan lotion on exposed parts of your body, as the water is so crystal clear it acts like a magnifying glass.
There were plenty of opportunities for snorkeling and the Pro Dive Team were serious professionals who knew all the top spots.
2. Swimming & beaches
The beaches and crystal clear waters of the Similan Islands are text book perfection. I floated on my back in the warm waters staring up at the sun for an unhealthy amount of time and buried my feet in the soft white sand, which I seem to find very relaxing also. The Similan Islands were a seriously tranquil, peaceful place, quite the dream state and every second in the paradise felt like the best I will likely spend in my lifetime.
3. Natural Beauty
In some parts of the Similan islands, I felt like I was on another planet. The Natural Beauty was otherworldly and I felt like I had stepped in to a CGI movie with George Lucas or James Cameron at the helm, dreaming up their versions of paradise in other galaxies.
4. Camping Overnight
If I had more time away from my job in Phuket, then I would have loved to stay overnight on the Similan Islands, to prolong my time in this magical place and stay in one of these kick ass camouflage tents next to the beach.
This surely must be classed as one of the worlds greatest camp sites and this utopian paradise had a tranquil atmosphere that despite increased tourism to the area felt like it would remain this way for a long time for the privileged few.
There are 2 viewpoints on the islands that we visited (islands 8 and 9) both providing absolutely breathtaking views. The first is an easy trek with bountiful rewards
but reaching the second is a mission. Getting up to this viewpoint is unbelievably good fun, equal parts climbing and rock climbing along wooden walkways, hoisting yourself up rock faces by rope, over felled trees, under felled trees, squeezing through cracks in rock formations up muddy slopes, but at the end of it the pay off is spectacular.
After my day of adventure, I slept most of the bus journey back to Phuket and woke up as we reached my condominium. This gave the strange sense that I might have dreamt the whole thing, but I am happy with that, as if it was a dream, it would have looked a whole lot like the Similan islands.
I booked this tour through Phuket Travel Company in Patong and I think you will tell I was impressed. 5/5
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It’s not like you really need a reason, but if you can’t quite handle the taste of the all action, ‘assault-on-the-senses’ flavour of Patong, then Karon Beach is a milder alternative and an ideal resort for your holiday in Phuket.
Popular with families, ex-pats and couples the world over, it is easy to see why Karon Beach enjoys such a famous reputation. If you’re still unsure then my top 5 reasons below will show you the light on why Karon Beach is the tropical paradise holiday you’ve always dreamed of.
1. Easy Access to over 3km of Uncrowded Beach
Phuket is blessed with literally miles upon miles of white sand beaches, so what makes Karon Beach any different from the rest? Well Plenty actually. I lived in Karon Beach for a while when I first arrived in Phuket and every day I enjoyed long, uninterrupted walks along this vast expanse of white sand, listening to my i-pod in total awe of my surroundings.
On smaller, more crowded beaches, I have attempted similar walks and given up after forever tripping over sunbathers lay in the swell along the shoreline.
What is so special about Karon Beach for me is that it is accessible to everyone. To enjoy a long walk along a deserted beach such as Mai Khao in the north of Phuket, you have to have deep pockets and be staying at one of the International Chain Resorts, or for mere mortals, endure a long journey there by car.
Karon Beach never feels overcrowded and can conjure up feelings of solitude, yet the other sunbathers dotted along the shoreline provide a reassuring and safe atmosphere.
It is this mixture of solitude and habitation that makes Karon Beach so unique. Resorts such as our Thavorn Palm Beach Resort are separated from the beach by a small single track road, so if you are staying here, it is literally a stones throw from the soft white sands. When you are on the beach however, the low-rise nature of the resort set back from the shores, leaves you with the magnificent sense of being alone with nature’s majesty.
2. Room to breath
There is a great sense of open space in Karon Beach, not only on the beach, but also in the areas of development. The resorts along the beach front maintain a refreshingly open and natural feel and have resisted the urge to cram every available space with rooms. They are generally low-rise, so your room is set amidst the beautiful, natural surroundings.
The development in the main area surrounding the north circle is less chaotic than in Patong and when walking through the bustling and lively streets, you never feel enclosed and are not constantly stepping aside for other people.
Those who have run the guantlet along the beach front in Patong, will know you can cover at least three times the distance through constant side stepping of people, hawker stands and batmobile Tuk-Tuks.
3. Vibrant Nightlife.
Karon Beach is often referred to as ‘Patong’s Little Sister’, but whilst it has a lively nightlife scene with plenty of variety, I think this might be overstating it. Karon Beach has a quieter much more relaxed vibe of it’s own, with a bustling hive of activity along Patak road (near the north circle), and beach front restaurants, where you can relax and catch the stunning sunset views.
4. Sandwiched between Patong and Kata Beaches
Karon Beach has a prime location on the South-West coast of Phuket and is only a short distance from Patong to the north and Kata Beach to the south. In fact, Kata Beach is only separated from Karon by a headland and depending on where your staying, is within walking distance along the beach road.
The famous nightlife and entertainment capital of Patong is only a short Taxi or Tuk Tuk ride from Karon Beach and even if this is not somewhere you want to spend the entire duration of your holiday, it really is a fantastic night out and would be a shame to miss with it being virtually on your doorstep.
A Taxi or Tuk Tuk ride will set you back around 400 THB for the journey one way.
5. Great Base for exploring the south of the island
There are plenty of places to rent motorbikes along Karon Beach with a day’s rental costing around 300 THB.
Karon Beach is a world-class beach destination with diversity and flair that offers a special and memorable holiday experience to all who stay there. For more info, join us at our Facebook page Friends of Thavorn or contact me via my details below