Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Malaysian Part

The First Surprise!

Journey was difficult in this uncomfortable bus
“Penang! Penang! Penang!”, the bus driver started screaming at the same moment when I could see the board reading “Ferry to Butterworth”. It was 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning when we were at the highway, were supposed to get off on the same highway and catch a ferry to Butterworth, a famous town in Penang.
Bus stop in Surat Thani. Buses to Thailand and Malaysia
Our decision, after a meaningful suggestion by Wasim, to get off at Kuala Lumpur instead of Penang as it was too late and we’d find it a little difficult to find an accommodation and waste a day before we could move to Cameron Highland, our ultimate destination and reason to come visit Malaysia, made the bus driver expectedly very angry. All he meant to say that we should have informed him earlier about getting off at Kuala Lumpur as we booked the tickets for Penang and he had to take a long turn on highway just for three of us. We had no choice but to unwillingly listen to his bitter words as we were out of nowhere on a highway, at least for us, in a new country.
Having streetfood on the way
Several travel agencies on the bus stop

The Initial Plan

It all started when we finally decided to cross the Thailand-Malaysia border by road and after a lot of combined efforts and brainstorming, we found a bus at Surat Thani bus station. After arriving at the Surat Thani station at 4 in the evening, the time when the last bus to Malaysia leaves, we were lucky to find a very comfortable bus from the station and booked the tickets for Penang. It was my plan to go to Penang and after resting for a night move to Cameron highland first and then to Taman Negara after spending a couple of days in Cameron Highlands.


The Itinerary

Penang to Cameron Highlands – 2 days
Cameron Highlands to Taman Negara – 2 days
Taman Negara – Kuala Lumpur – 1 day
Kuala Lumpur to Home

 Somewhere in Kuala Lumpur

So the above itinerary couldn’t be followed as the plan was suddenly changed in the bus. It was 4:00 in the morning when we were ordered to get off the bus somewhere in Kuala Lumpur.

Again, a situation to go with the flow! We asked a couple of people about the hostels and were told about the China town which was close with lots to options of accommodation. Instead, we decided to fill our long time empty stomach as there was a total freedom to eat whatever we wanted. There was a hotel and after we saw the menu, there was not a chance of sleeping without eating.

It was too much of an appetite! We ate a lot, especially me, after 25 days of surviving on unusual food in China and Thailand. Then we decided to think about the upcoming adventures. The luck favored us as we were informed that the bus station was just adjacent to the hotel and we could catch the bus to Cameron Highland exactly from the same bus station. It was 6 in the morning but the city woke up and activities started on, a quite unusual fact for us in Pakistan.

It took me less than half an hour to grab the tickets to Cameron highlands costing MYR 30. The bus was expectedly very comfortable as they are in Malaysia and took almost 4 hours from Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highlands. 

In Cameron Highlands

As we didn’t book the accommodation in advance and, as usual, I was worried a little about the accommodation which turned out to be a piece of cake at the end. As soon as we got off the bus we were approached by different guys offering us to visit and see their hotels on the condition to drive us back if we didn’t like the place. It didn’t take much time to reach the first place, Dew Drop Inn, and book a room costing RM 70/night for 3 persons. Again, it was an awesome deal for us, as we expected an expensive accommodation in Malaysia.
Tea plantation in Cameron Highland
Cameron Highland

The guest house/hotel was on a small hill and provided very beautiful atmosphere and scenery all the time. There’s a main road in Cameron Highlands with Indian and local restaurants, famous fast food and offering much to the tourists interested in shopping.  
The guest house, Dew Drop Inn
View from the guest house
Weather was mostly that much beautiful

Day tours in Cameron Highlands

After adventurous day tours on the islands we expected too much from the day tours offered by hotel management and we didn’t think twice before booking a half way tour. What we wanted was something adventurous but contrary to that it was a kind of family stuff. The tour included jungle trekking for 20 minutes, tea plantations and factories, strawberry farms and bee farms which we were definitely not interested in. Indian and Malaysian food is generally cheap and easily affordable on a place like Cameron highland. 
Jungle trekking

Beautiful scenery of tea plantations

Things to see

What we liked in Cameron Highland was just its calm weather, relaxing environment  and our hotel which was located up on a hill providing us the quite nights to let us sit, chat and exchange gossips outside for hours till morning. However, tea plantations and the beautiful scenery was another reason for us to stay for unintended duration. 

Street market for cheap shopping

Main road and market

 Leaving Cameron Highland

Bus tickets to different places are easily available from the bus station on the main road. We were supposed to get back to Kuala Lumpur and catch the flight back to our final destinations the same night. We left Cameron Highlands at 12 in the noon and were dropped off at KL central, sort of a station to catch buses to airport and other location, metro and airport link, in Kuala Lumpur after 4 hours.

A little bit of shopping was still remaining and we had to get a locker for half day till mid night to put our bags safely.

To the Airport

Contrary to the fact that airport link should be the cheapest way to get to the airports, it turned out to be expensive one for us. One way ticket cost MYR 30 which made me think about another mode of journey to the airport and the bus turned out to be the cheapest choice (MYR 10). The buses to both the airports run from the underground station and the buses are very comfortable.
KL Central

A shopping mall, metro and airport link station

Cheap buses to the airport

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Magic of Islands in the South of Thailand

From Guangzhou to Bangkok

As I mentioned in the previous part of the blog, it was a great day for me as I was about to be joined by my mates in Bangkok very soon and it was like a life long dream coming true.  

Metro stations in China are usually that much crowded. 
 Yes, its Bangkok with a shut down order by the military, on our second night and the roads were empty like they become in Karahchi when MQM, a political party in Karachi, known for its violent activities, calls for strike. But the case was different here.
Khaosan road is closed and empty because of the curfew

Yes, its a main road in Bangkok, quite and empty because of the curfew
It was the worst news for us as the military imposed curfew in Thailand after 10pm till 5am due to that political unrest. We faced the same situation the previous night after I arrived at 6 in the evening, on May 21st, 2014, when the aircraft I was traveling in landed at Suvranabhumi airport in Bangkok. Now was the time to enjoy the time with two of my best mates, Naveed and Waseem, who had been keeping me updated about how we would be spending our first night, since the previous night and I found Penpark place to be the perfect place to stay, neither too close to Khaosan road, backpackers heaven in Bangkok, to get irritated of loud music nor too far to get separated from one of the great places to live close to in Bangkok. 
They say Thai food is tasty. I wonder if it is

Me at Penpark place, a perfect guest house

My Companions

After a great trip to Kalash together, we always dreamt of a traveling abroad and Thailand would be the topic. So me and my two companions, Naveed and Waseem would talk and plan for a lots of stuff to do in Thailand, two months prior to the trip. On every Saturday night we’d sit, discuss and kill time talking about the upcoming traveling season.  

On the ferry from Krabi to Phi Phi

Why Thailand?

Thailand, mostly famous for prostitution and nasty night life usually makes everyone suspicious and people like us from such a typical and religious culture can’t afford such a position in the society. The reason behind such a mindset is that people from Pakistan usually find Thailand to be perfect for such stuff and get involved in the world most ugliest yet profitable business there. But very few people know about the different side of Thailand. Its famous islands in the south, jungles in the north, natural beauty, being cheap, convenient and safetywhich  makes Thailand one of famous tourist destinations in the world.

A pack of pinapples just for THB 20, helps a lot in boiling weather

Khaosan Road

Khaosan road became famous among the US soldiers during the Vietnam war when they used to come to Bangkok, very close to Vietnam, to fulfill their never ending lust for sex and prostitution. Later, it became one of the most famous places among hippies and other tourists from around the world.

Home to Backpackers

Glowing night at Khaosan road

Why would I like to stay near Khaosan Road?

Days and nights totally reflect each other in terms of activities and fun at Khaosan road. One can’t imagine what it’d be like at the same place after the sun sets. Its just like a cheap street market with garments, bracelets, chains and a few “7 Eleven stores” all around. But after the sun sets, the real crazy fun can be witnessed with crazy tourists owning the streets. Lots of people from each and every part of the world come out of their hostels and hotels and can be seen at Khaosan road. Music gets louder and louder as the mid night approaches and gets crazy and party stuff gets to its top level by mid night with people dancing and having fun all around.

Though there’s no metro station near Khaosan road and transport to and from the Khaosan road can be expensive sometimes. But it doesn’t have to be mentioned that one can find transport buses to find access to different places and metro stations. I always prefer to find an accommodation in the neighbors of Khaosan road as there are many ways to kill time and enjoy when I’m lonely.

Bangkok Public Transportation

Bangkok transportation system is developed and can be said to be much developed compared with the one in Karachi, Pakistan. The skytrain runs from airport to Phaya Thai, the last station connected to the metro station which gives access to several locations in the city. One would love to use metro to avoid taxi fares and most of all the worst traffic in the Bangkok.

Ugly traffic in Bangkok


Going to Phi Phi Island

After getting frustrated with this curfew scene for two consecutive nights, I left the hotel early in the morning with Naveed and Waseem sleeping in the room and got the tickets to Krabi, the town around 800km away from Bangkok, most convenient to catch ferries to Phi Phi islands and other famous islands. The itinerary was supposed to be as follows.

Bangkok - Surat Thani by train (7:00pm to 9am) costing THB 700

Surat Thani to Krabi by bus (2-3 hours) costing THB 200

Krabi to Phi Phi islands by ferry (2 hours) costing THB 400

The combined tickets can be bought from several agents on the Khaosan road or the train+bus tickets can be purchased from Lamphong station for THB 950. It’s always better to pay the travel agent THB 100 or THB 150 more and get the tickets.
Train station in Bangkok, tourists are sometime more in number than  locals
Stand up! Its national anthem. This was normal during military control

Train, we traveled in
Seats are comfortable and turn into bed after 10


Bangkok to Surat Thani

The train was comfortable but it wasn’t up to my expectation which I thought would be like they are in China. The food is expensive and doesn’t taste too good. One has to pay the triple price of what they usually pay in the city for a bottle of water. So it’s always advisable to get your food and drinks with you on the train if you really want to save some money and spend it for some better purpose.

 The train got delayed due to some unknown reason and it reached at 10 at Surat Thani where the buses were already waiting for the passengers. One should not expect a good and committed treatment in Thailand and should be ready for a little bit off the track work. As the bus was supposed to take us to Krabi directly and it’d take two hours but instead we were shifted to a double cabin vehicle and then had to wait at some hotel for an hour, where we had our food after 20 hours. Another bus came and stopped at different tourism offices to carry some more passengers. It took 4 hours instead of two and was a difficult journey. It was 2 in the afternoon and the last ferry to Phi Phi islands leaves at 3pm. We got the tickets and we were running to the ferry. Just after getting on the ferry all of our tiredness was gone. With every air molecule striking our body, we were getting more and more energy. What else could be the source of relaxation more than being on the board of a ferry to Phi Phi islands and earphones in the ear with the most favorite songs playing?

Found some crazy friends to spend some great time
While on the road to Krabi

Don't they look desperate after seeing the food?


No shirts on? No problem, its the trend there to stay topless all the time!
Its the backpackers place. Its quite revealed

Phi is close

Phi Phi Islands

Beyond our expectations, the islands turned out to be a developed piece of land with every expected facility and a lot of tourists all around. It was very different to see the flood of people for the purpose of tourism, relaxation and partying.

Phi Phi islands became famous after the movie “The Beach” in which the famous actor Leonardo DiCaprio visits the islands after being suggested by some tourist friend at Khaosan road.

The island was badly hit by the Tsunami in Indian Ocean in 2004 but unexpectedly gained its lost name very soon. Today the island is very famous amongst the western tourist as it offers each and every kind of activities. Party people have their different part of the beach to feed their soul. There are a couple of very calm beaches offering very relaxed and quite environment for peace loving minds.

Ton Sai bay is the most famous beach of all, perhaps not the most beautiful one. There are a number of beach bars on Ton Sai bay and some of these offer a very lively and happening night life on the Phi Phi islands. Slinky Bar, Ibiza bar and the Woody Bar are the famous for the fire shows and then beach parties which goes on till 3 in the morning.

Relaxation is equally offered during the day time. Set a target of reading several books in a few days and its always easy to meet the target as one can read the book on any beach with beautiful scenery around. What could be better than lying on the beach with nothing on mind but a book in hand and nothing to worry about?
Stairs to viewpoint. Really a hard job to go up

Finally I was up
The weather got better just before sunset
Capturing sunset from viewpoint


Maya bay

Its 5 in the eveining and people are preparing for night scene

Our usual dinner at Phi Phi, one slice was enough usually

Things to do!

Different entertainment opportunities are available at very reasonable amount of money at Phi Phi islands. From professional scuba diving to half day tours of different islands including snorkeling and rock climbing, the activities offer everything to tourists with a taste of adventure, relaxation or cool fun. The full day and half day tours cover different islands.
In the longtail boat to half day tour

We didn't sleep the whole night. But it took away all the tiredness 


Railay Beach

Arpit, a traveler and a couch surfer from India, we enjoyed talking with about the things across border and about how we miss the people from behind the border despite the fact that our politicians and army are always exchanging harsh words and fire, suggested us to visit Railay beach, close to Krabi, famous for its rock climbing activity.

Railay beach is a very calm and, according to some, the most beautiful beach in Thailand. There are not much cheaper hotels and no hostels on the beach and mostly there are resorts. Contrary to the fact that the resorts are very good and located just in front of the beach, the rooms are not too costly. The beach had its own specialty and was surprisingly too calm and cool. But our minds were not ready to synch with this relaxed environment after such a happening life and lively nights in Phi Phi.

Back to Phi Phi – An Insane but Good Decision

“We should go to back to Phi Phi”, suggested Naveed eventually. He actually spoke what was in our hearts but we were not ready to share beacaue of confusion. He got our consent the same second and it was decided that we’d leave for Phi Phi. It cost us almost THB 1000 extra to get to Phi Phi as we had to book a separate long tail boat and a private car to get to Krabi pier to catch the ferry to Phi Phi. No, we couldn’t believe when we got on the ferry. The lever excitement got higher and higher as the island came closer. This is what we call falling in love with a place!

Last sunset at Ton sai bay, Phi Phi


Leaving for Malaysia

After spending two more crazy days at the beautiful island, it was the time to leave for Malaysia, though unwillingly. The ferry had to leave at 8 and after taking a sleep of 2 hours we were trying to get ready for the longest journey of our lives. The plan was to go to Penang, Malaysia by bus or train as mentioned below.

Phi Phi islands to Krabi by Ferry – almost 2 hours – cost THB 350

Krabi to Hatyai by bus – almost 3 hours – cost THB 200

Hatyai to Penang by bus or train – almost 7 hours

Somehow, after a long but comfortable journey we reached Hatyai at 4 in the evening. All the buses for Penang had already left and we were apparently left with no choice but to stay in Hatyai for a night. Luckily a travel agent provided us bus tickets which was running from Hatyai to Singapore. The bus service was provided by some Malaysian company and had a wifi and was very comfortable.

The ticket from Hatyai to Penang would cost almost THB 500.

By Road or By Air?

The airline tickets from Krabi or Phuket to Penang or Kuala Lumpur are very cheap if purchased a few days in advance. Air Asia is usually the best option while traveling in between Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore. The prices that we expected to be PKR 5000 turned out to be PKR 11000 three days before booking. So, my decision was to travel by road, which was also the part of my plan prior to the trip, to which Naveed also agreed reluctantly. It turned out to be a clever decision as it added much to our experience and saved us a good amount of money.

Bus from Krabi to Hat Yai
Ready to get transferred to the big bus to Malaysia

The bus stops on the way for the people to get refresh

But we'd rather have street food
Yes, Malaysia is close enough

Street food on the way. Muslims are all around as you come close to Malaysia

Was it Penang?

As usual, our planned changed just half an hour before the bus driver would drop us at Penang when Wasim suggested to let Penang pass by as it was 2 am and we’d face difficulty finding an accommodation at that hour.

“So? What do we do then? What do you mean?”, I asked.

I decided to go with the flow as was the situation and a compelling reason.

Our next stop was ……….. (Read the upcoming Malaysian part of the blog)

Is it safe in Thailand?

I wonder when people from Pakistan ask this question as living in Pakistan is the most dangerous thing a person can do.

Thailand is generally very safe. There's no mugging or killing or kidnapping for ransom. However, there's too much scam in Thailand, specially in Bangkok.

No Tuk Tuk:

Try not to take the Tuk Tuk, we call Rikshaw, in Bangkok. They will probably get you scammed or ask for extra money or will try their best to take you to some brothel or ping pong show.  

Be Carefull before paying

Always ask atleast two or three vendors before paying for anything. People usually try to sell things for tripple times the reall prices.