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.  


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My Third Quest to Explore China

Letting go and Booking Flight
“What?” yelled my family members after listening to what I was telling them about my upcoming plans to travel for almost a month and, yes, being a part of such a loving and nice family really makes one month to be as too much time.
It was May 8th, 2014, when I got out of the bed with a passion to book the tickets and start a long planned trip. Though it’s almost impossible to get everything ready in a day but thanks to some of my friends who travel frequently who inspired me to carry as less and as necessary stuff as possible and get the things done fast, economically and easily.
Finally sitting with relaxed mind.
Finally got time to have dinner in the aircarft.
My tools, Sky Scanner and ITA Matrix
I was left with only one choice to fly with Thai airlines besides Srilankan airlines, being the cheapest one! It was possible for me to find the best option using ITA Matrix software by Google and one of the best flight booking website, to which I was referred to by a CS friend. Filtering the airlines and routes for the best prices for many days finally got me the best deal and my ticket was finally booked at 12 in the noon. I had to fly at 11 on the same night. I was about the follow the itineray as below
I was wanting this route because I had to catch a flight to Kuala Lampur from Bangkok which was possible if I took Thai air. Srilankan airlines no more stops at Bangkok and directly flies from Karachi-China, taking a stopover at Colombo only.
 While at the Karachi airport I just thought about booking the hostel and it didn't take a long time or effort to find a hostel with Hostel world, one of the best hostel booking websites.
Shanghai, China
The only reason behind selecting Shanghai to be the first city to visit China is that it provides me a straight route towards Guangzhou and some beautiful cities to visit and see on the way. I reached Shanghai after a long journey which included a 5 hour stopover at the Bangkok airport where I wasn’t supposed to leave from. I ended up taking a couple of hours sleep on the airport and killing time walking around the big duty free shops inside the airport. It was around 5 in the evening when I landed at Shanghai airport and was out in about an hour towards my desired place to find my bed rest for a while before going out to see the beautiful night at the Bund.
At Suvranabhumi airport
My stuff I usually depend on a lot, at Suvranabhumi airport
Towards Shanhghai from Bangkok
As usual, Shanghai was the first city for me to untie my shoestrings. My efforts to find a couch in last minutes didn’t work and eventually hostel booking was the last option I was left with. Bund is the only area one could prefer to live close to. So do I try to find an accommodation always close to the Bund. All the famous hostels including The Blue Mountain Hostel Bund, my preference, were fully booked as Shanghai and surrounding cities start getting warmer, tourists get attracted towards this part of China. It was spectacular during the day with being surrounded by the big buildings. And when the sun sets, one can see a large verity of food in the streets.
Getting my food ready (wihtout pork or pork oil is my common slogan in China)


Outside the Phoenix hosel

Just a street outside the hostel

Judging different kinds of food to select from

My usual source of killing hunger, a boiled corn, available at stores

My usual food without pork or pork oil

Plenty of choice but I could barely eat them. Though too much to select from

Dry fruit sold in the street at 11 at night

Weather was amazing during the day. Quite better than boiling heat in Karachi, I came from

Some amazing food to capture in the camera only

I just could saw all that with hungry stomach

Finally got some good and eatable food at a muslim retaurant

View from my hostel

I spent time sitting at the roof top and chatting with travelers

Roof top kitchen, restaurant and bar at the hostel

Nice weather and I enjoyed it accordingly

Looking for the required items

We can't see things being sold in the streets

Bund, my favourite spot

People eat these things also

Some cultural stuff

The food ranges from cheaper street food to expensive restaurants and so unusual that one would be ready to pay for capturing the amazing food. There for the first time I realized the importance of food in a typical Chinese culture. Most of the time you’d notice people busy with their touch phones or enjoying food. The importance of touch phones in their lives can be witnessed on public areas and public transport where a maximum portion of people on a scale of percentage is seen to be busy with either a touch pad or a touch phone. Never expect a smile from and Chinese person when you make an eye contact but if you get in return it feels great for some moments and you might remember the smile for the whole day.

Moving to Shaoxing
My short trip to Shaoxing and visit to some historically famous places attracted me and decided to go to Shaoxing after Shanghai which just two hundred kilometers from Shanghai and is called the textile city of China due to large number of textile factories in Shaoxing.
Staying with my host in Shaoxing
I was invited by Alex, an Americal-Russian guy, teaching English and Russian, living in Shaoxing Language University, to stay at his place, a one bedroom apartment in the university campus, during my stay in Shaoxing. I consider it a good luck of mine that the time I reached his place another German guy, Vitalis, who then became a good friend of mine, was also staying at his place. While I was about to go to have my dinner somewhere outside the campus, Vitalis offered to make some Brazilian black rice with vegetable, quite different in taste and weight as well. There I experienced living with the vegetarian people. Their cause seemed quite justifiable. Two days went by enjoying and judging different kind of life style of two 26 years old western people, their mind level, level of independence, level of maturity and love for traveling.
Getting ticket at the bus station
no english on the ticket to understand things
Me and my stuff on the road, waiting for someone to pick me up
Outside the university my host lives in
Me with Alex, my host in Shaoxing
My hosts were so kind to start preparing food
I thought this would be my couch

Banana Chips as starter

Friends are busy making some quick food, rice with eggs and vegies
Brasilian rice, good for health. But I could barely feel some taste as compared to Paki rice
University campus where my host lived
The clean and relavent environment in the university. How could I even compare it with UOK, I was student of\?
Me, Alex and Vitalis, also surfing with Alex

Hangzhou – One of the Two Heavens in China according to Chinese people.

Suzhou and Hangzhou are said to be the heavens in China.  Falling in love with a city is natural and quite convenient as falling in love with a person may not pay back always. One may fall in love with the places and this happened with me when I visited Hangzhou during the last trip. West Lake in Hangzhou Is the place where one might want to spend a day just sitting and watching the great natural scenery.
A rough experience on the roads of Hanghzhou seeking for help for hours
Hanghzou, not being the part of my plan, became a part of my plan when at 9pm I couldn’t find my place and after rubbing my shoes on the roads for several hours in the rain after the Taxi driver dropped me at some location which I told him after looking into my iphone with dying battery. 
I was asking for help and direction unsuccessfully, was given a ride by a kind person, who happened to drop me at the wrong place. After requesting at that hotel I got access to wifi and booked the hostel at the moment and somehow was dropped at the location by Taxi at 2am. All the communication part in the story was supported by Google translator.
Eventually, it came to my realization that my hostel was just a few steps away from the famous west lake in Hangzhou. Living besides the west lake is a great experience as the place is surrounded by a large number of trees and mountains which gives a feeling of a place far from a well developed city. Unintentionally, my stay in Hangzhou became longer and I was offered a free dorm by the owner of the in the hostel. She was very fascinated to see me and my itinerary. I was asked to hang the Pakistani flag in the hostel along with other flags in the newly opened hostel and was presented with some gifts, one of which was famous Chinese tea from the Hangzhou city.
My hostel was just in the middle of a zoo
Somewhere around Hanghou West Lake
Tourist places are this much taken care of and are kept clean
The West Lake
Path way around West Lake
Isn't the West Lake beautiful?
Yes, its me. Of course I was there


The scenery all around is well maintained
Found food eventually after walking for a long time around the West Lake
The hostel owner, me and a guy with multiple capabilities

I was asked to find the Pakistan flag and hand it
One of the gifts I was presented with. A hand fan with Chinese traditional painting
What else could I expect more than such a beautiful view at a random place?
Weather was extremely pleasant all the time
The environment in the hostel made me play guitar which I'm not too much good at
Leaving this beautiful hostel in a beautiful location of a beautiful city
Railway station, getting ready for a long journey

It felt they were born to eat noddles
You can find the hot water everywhere cause you may have to eat noddle anywhere
Plenty of food but I was supposed to survive on biscuites and bananas

Again, noddles time
Everyone seems tired after almost 14 hours
A 20 hours Journey to Guangzhou

Who won’t want to experience a fast train experience in China when it costs quite low as compared to air travel? I intended to take the fast train but fortunately or unfortunately the tickets were sold out and what I could get was a seat. Having no experience of such a long journey by road or train, I was afraid and was preparing my mind continuously to go with the flow. Later I understood soon that it was one of the best decisions of this trip as I could’ve never enjoyed judging Chinese people and their habits from so close as I did that day. All the talking was being done using a Chinese-English translator in the phone. In each and ever public place in China there’s hot water available for making instant noodles and drinking hot water, but not a coffee. Yes, they like hot water rather than a hot coffee with milk. 
Guangzhou city is a business hub with lots of offices by traders and factories. But, being an old city, it has a lot to offer in terms of culture and skyline. But once you come out of the train station, you can smell and feel the business atmosphere. Public transport is cheap and quite convenient with metro covering many areas and districts of the city. Fortunately, I was invited to a food exchange party organized by a CS friend at his place, where many people from different countries around the world brought their food and I got a chance to taste the food from several countries and make friends as well.
My stay in Guangzhou was in Lazy Gaga hostel, the one with the best rating and best value for the money where I happened to meet with many people, most of who were there for business and almost all the western were there to teach the English language and earn a good and easy money.

Staff at the hostel is usually very cooperative. And one needs it, specially in China

The hostel was beautiful with all the facilities
Luckily I found a kitchen in the hostel. Could make my breakfast at least


 A food exchange party at CSer's place

During my three days stay in Guangzhou, I got an opportunity to meet the amaing travelers from around the world who gathered at Ciro's (a Spanish guy with a pure heart of love with traveling, on roads for several years, stopped in Guangzhou to take some rest and continue with the plans) place. They all gathered to taste and experience the food from different countries. We had Russian, Chinese, and European food to taste from. The food wasn't the source of attraction for me to attend the party but the beautiful friends and amazing experience I was about to add into my life.
Me with Ciro
Some fruits in apple juice
Everyone's sharing something
People from around the world
 Preparing to Leave Chine

Guangzhou is a well developed city with good means of public transportation. It takes only an hour and RMB 7 to reach the airport with comfort and convenience. Metro routes and system is easy to understand as long as you want to and enjoy doing all this.
Ready for a journey to other places in Southeast Asia
Metro stations are usually crowded and sometimes look no less than Karachi airport

People rushing in and out everytime

 Where am I going?

Some people were already waiting for me to join them somewhere in Southeast Asia. A lot more to was about to come and was to be experienced yet. It was time to do some business things in Kuala Lumpur and enjoy some jungles, islands and highlands. A totally different life and state of mind. New places to come and new kind of funny stuff to enjoy.
Coming next on this blog is the trip to Malaysia.