With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

Cuba, Technically…

Posted by Heliocentrism on October 1, 2018

June 21st, 2018

After spending the first five months of the year on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand, we headed for another place known as “turtle island”. That’s right, we went to America. But as soon as we arrived, I had a pang for island life. So, we went to Cuba.

Not actual Cuba, but sort of Cuba. There is a park in Tampa whose land was donated to Cuba in 1956 and is therefore considered technically Cuban soil.

I’m not sure what would happen if a crime were committed in this park. Can I do things in the park that are legal in Cuba, but not legal in the US? Can I do things in the park that are legal in the US but not legal in Cuba?

Mark and I thought about what laws we could brake to test out this being Cuba thing. “We could smoke a Cuban cigar,” Mark offered. “That’s illegal in the US but not in Cuba.”

A nice Cuban chair that was probably made in China. Man, there are communists everywhere!

“I think it’s legal to smoke Cuban cigars in the US. It’s importing them that’s illegal.” I replied. “Do you know how to import cigars?”

Mark shook his head. Then he took out his phone and google “Cuban cigar imports”.

“That’s illegal!” I shouted.

“What?”

“Using the internet in Cuba,” I said. I looked around to see if there were any officials coming for us. There were none.

I turned back to Mark who was still googling stuff on his phone. “Did you find any cigar imports?”

“Nah, I’m looking for somewhere near here that sells empanadas.”

“You know that’s not Cuban, right?”

“Don’t care. Do you want empanadas or not?” Then Mark headed passed the gate and up the street. I followed him. I love empanadas!

A Floridian Empanada


The United States of America

How to get there:

You can enter my country by land, air, or sea. But I think flight would be your transportation method of choice.

I have no clue how to get a visa to the US or who needs one. Just assume that you need one if you are not American or Canadian and check with your local US embassy.

Phone:

  • Use 911 for the police, fire department, or to get an ambulance
  • Use 411 for information (This might cost money.)

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • It’s a big country. You’re going to need a car.

Jose Marti Park

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • Monday – Friday 8:00 to 13:30

Notes:

  • You don’t need your passport since this is just technically Cuba, not actually Cuba.
  • Parking: You can find inexpensive nearby at the Fernando Noriega Jr Garage.

La Segunda Central Bakery

Basic Information

Website:

Cost:

Hours:

  • Saturday & Sunday – 7:00 to 15:00
  • Monday to Friday – 6:30 to 17:00

Notes:

  • I highly recommend the guava and cheese turnover!

Maps

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Thailand Travel Tips: Koh Tao in particular

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 25, 2018

2018

You have to bring:

  • Make sure to bring your prescription medication and a doctor’s note.
  • Everything else can be bought here if you are staying in or starting out in a highly touristed area.

If you’re going to Koh Tao:

  • Deodorant/ Antiperspirant
    • On Koh Tao you will only find Nivea brand roll-on deodorant.
  • Bring everything you can, either from your home country or from mainland Thailand.
    • Things are more expensive on Koh Tao.
  • But, don’t bring the things that will make your journey to Koh Tao too inconvenient.
    • You can still get everything you need on Koh Tao, even if it’s at a higher price.
    • The price difference isn’t worth over packing.
    • Bring what you can, buy the rest.

Things you can buy here or bring with you (to Koh Tao):

  1. Luggage:
    • You can use a suitcase or a backpack.
    • If you use a suitcase, you might want to hire a taxi to take you to or from your hotel.
  2. Clothes:
    • You can buy tourist clothes here.
      • You can find things like sarongs, Tiger Beer t-shirts, long drapey dresses, swim suits, and the like; basically, anything that makes you look like you’re on vacation in south east Asia.
      • If you want running shoes or clothes that look unique, you will have to, at the very least, visit Koh Samui.
  3. Towel:
    • Travel towels (Nabaiji brand to be exact) can be purchased here, for a not very high price.
      • But, maybe travel towels are cheaper on mainland Thailand.
    • Bring your towel if you are staying in a hostel or going to the beach.
    • Or, you could just buy a beach towel here if your hotel doesn’t lend you one.
  4. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion:
    • You can buy all of these at any store.
      • It’s mostly Nivea brand products and some other brands I’ve never heard of before.
  5. Deodorant/ Antiperspirant:
    • On Koh Tao you will only find Nivea brand roll-on deodorant. So if that’s what you’re into, you’re set.
  6. Sunscreen:
    • You can find some of the major brands here like, Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic.
    • And, of course Nivea.
  7. Over the counter medicine:
    • No problem.
    • It’s best if you know the generic or chemical name of the drugs you need.
      • Instead of asking for Bufferine, ask for ibuprofen.
    • I would still bring some medications for basic illnesses like diarrhea, fever, and constipation.
      • Don’t run out of these.
      • It’s tough to look for medication when you’re already sick.
      • It’s easy to find what you want if you have a label of the drug you are looking for.
  8. Other things you should bring:
    • Sunglasses
    • Flip-flops
    • Swim-suit
    • Sun Hat
    • Dry bag
    • bug spray
  9. If you need to buy groceries:
    • Visit Pod.
      • They sell the best brownies I’ve ever bought outside the US and for only ฿50.

General Tips:

Transportation:

  • You can hire taxis to take you around the island
    • but, it’s cheaper to rent a scooter for a day than to pay for a one-way taxi ride.
  • Rent a scooter.
    • If you’re going to stay here for a few weeks or more, it’s cheaper to buy a scooter then sell it before you leave.
    • Many sell their scooter for the same price they bought it.
  • Walk
    • Most things are within walking distance from Mae Haad and Saree Beach.
    • There are some interesting things and nice beaches that are about a 90 minute walk from the main area, but the blazing hot sun and lack of sidewalks make it a very unpleasant walk.

Language:

  • Most people speak enough English to do their job.
  • It is easy to learn a few basic Thai pleasantries and polite words.

Food:

  • Try:
    • papaya salad
    • green mango salad
    • Panang curry
    • Pad Thai
    • Tom Yum
    • Cashew Chicken
    • All the shakes
    • No Name Chicken and No Name Vegetable are popular dishes here.
      • They are essentially fritters make with chicken and/or vegetables
  • When you get tired of Thai food, try:

Money:

  • Get money from the bank or ATM
  • Just about every shop has an ATM nearby.

Scams :

  • Not many scams on Koh Tao.
    • Just be careful when going out drinking. This is when you’ll most likely to be taken advantage of.
    • Don’t rely on people you’ve just met to take care of you when you’re drunk.
    • Drink responsibly.


Thailand
(ราชอาณาจักรไทย)
(Ratcha Anachak Thai)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, bus, or train.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to Thailand. But, you will need a visa to stay longer than 1 month or if you been to Thailand for at least 3 months already in the past 12 months.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 30-day visa at the port of entry.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Thai embassy in your country.
  • Visa laws change frequently.

Phone:

Data:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Scams & Dangers:

Notes:

  • Do not say anything negative about the king or anyone in the Royal family. And definitely do not write anything bad about the king or royal family. This offence could land you in jail. You don’t want to go to Thai jail.
  • Don’t use the city ferries in Bangkok during the peak hours. They fill those things past capacity and sometimes they sink. Use them during non-peak hours when they are not crowded.
  • Never eat female horseshoe crabs in Thailand. The roe of the horseshoe crab has tetrodotoxin (TTX) which is toxic to humans. It makes people very sick and some people have even died as a result.

Map:

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Visa Run 2: 20 Minutes in Myanmar

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 20, 2018

March 27th-28th, 2018

Mark and I took an overnight boat from Koh Tao to get to Myanmar to renew our visa. This (border run) visa run did take a long time, but it was very easy. All we had to do was buy a ticket for a Myanmar visa run. Then we showed up in time for our boat. After that, all we did was wait at various periods and not stray too far from the group.

10:30PM

Around 10:30 on the night of the 27th, Mark and I made our way to the area where the night boats dock. We checked in with a lady playing on her smartphone in front of the boats. We ticked our names off a list on a sheet and then boarded. We climbed the stairs and found our bunks. I fell asleep right away while Mark watched a movie. We were both woken up early the next morning when the boat pulled into the dock at Chumphon.

4:00AM

At Chumphon we waited for an hour before our vans came to pick us up. By then most of the people from the overnight boat had left. There were only 15, or 2 vans worth, of us doing the visa run that day.

While we waited, some old French guy kept going on and on about the free coffee available in the waiting area. No one was really interested. He couldn’t understand how free coffee from a questionably dirty coffee pot had no appeal to anyone. He had about 3 cups while complaining about the snobbishness of the people around him.

He struck up a conversation with some French 20-something-year-olds who had the misfortune of sharing a language with the scruffy old man. “Blah blah blah… café,” the old man complained. I imagined the younger mens’ response to be something like, “Oh, no thanks. We’re from the part of France where people don’t drink terrible coffee from urns that have never been washed. We like our coffee to not taste like mud.”

The old man asked the boys something and one of them fished around in his pockets. The young guy held out his well manicured hand to the old man, holding a cigarette lighter within his grasp. The old man picked his nose and then took the lighter. “Oh, by the way,” the old guy asked in French, “blah blah blah?”

The guy who had just handed over his lighter gave the old man stink eye. His friends laughed and turned away from the old man in disgust. The young man took back his lighter and joined his friends leaving the old man on his own.

I looked down, not wanting to make eye contact. I don’t speak French, but there was a chance that the old man spoke English just well enough to harass me during the whole visa run. Just in case, I got up to “check on something”.

The old guy moved on to another group. They were speaking in English, but they had heavy accents. “Where you from?” the old guy asked. “Quebec,” one of the young ladies answered with a smile. Within 20 minutes the old man was chattering away in French as the Québécois sat around him being quiet and unhappy. The man had bummed a cigarette off of one of them and was asking for another when the first van pulled up.

5:00AM

All the Canadians jumped into the first van, leaving no space for the old guy. He would ride with Mark, me, and the French boys in the other van.  With his filthy feet up on the wall of the van, he snored the whole ride to the border. But, maybe that was better than him talking all the way.

Everyone slept for most of the ride. It wasn’t too bad as long as I closed my eyes and tried to forget about the old man’s grotesque feet perched at eye level.

7:30AM

The van parked outside of a 7-Eleven and we were rushed by a mob of Thais. They brought us over to their food stall. They kept barking words at us. “10 Baht cappee!” Most of the tourists had no idea what was going on. I wanted some iced Thai coffee, so I handed 10THB over. Then some lady yelled at me. “Passpoor!”

“What!?”

“Passpoor for cappee!”

I realized that I would get no iced Thai coffee. I gave the woman my passport for her to make a photocopy. Mark and the others did the same. After which, Mark and I crossed the road and stood in line at the Thai boarder control.

It’s not “safety time” right now.

8:00

With our exit stamps from Thailand in our passports, we all got on one of two long tail boats. I sat in front of Mark, who sat next to the French old man. The man asked Mark if he had any cigarettes, but Mark didn’t have any. Neither did I.

We were on the boat for about 10 minutes when the guy controlling the boat, the “captain”, yelled something. “What!?” many of us asked. The captain pulled at his shirt, like that was supposed to mean something, but no one understood. Then he cut the engine and climbed along the outside of the boat to make his way to the front. Standing at the front, he pulled at a life vest that was hanging from the top of the boat and said, “Safety time!” He dragged out the word “time” and cocked his head to one side to let us know that he thought we were stupid.

I pulled on the vest closest to me. It was ragged with a tear all the way down the side under the arm. Most of its stuffings were coming out or had fallen out a long time ago. There was no way this life vest was better than wearing no life vest at all. It couldn’t even work as a pillow.

Once everyone had their life vest on, the captain started the motor and we passed the border police. When the cops were behind us, the captain told us we could take off the vest. Safety time was over. I was glad to be rid of my vest; it smelled funny.

8:20

We got off the boat and entered Myanmar. We walked to the immigration office. In the photo above, it’s the building on the right closest to the water. We spent a good 10 minutes there. Everyone handed over their passports and a 10 dollar bill. Someone turned in all the copies of our passports we paid for in Thailand; maybe it was the captain.

When we got our passports back, we were given 10 minutes to do whatever shopping we liked before getting back on the boat. Mark and I ran to this park next to the immigration office for a few photos. This would be the shortest time we’ve ever stayed in a country so, we wanted to make the most of it.

8:40

We got back on the boat and headed for Thailand. This time Mark and I sat towards the front of the boat. Behind us was the old French guy, shirtless, and with a bottle of beer in each hand. During the “safety time” on the return journey, the captain asked him to hide his beer. He hid the beer in his belly by chugging both beers and mumbling French nonsense to himself.

9:00

We got through Thai immigration with no problems. Even the old drunk French guy had an easy time of it.

9:10 

Everyone went to 7-Eleven for toasties, drinks, snacks, and cigarettes (to give the old French guy). The French guy went MIA. I didn’t see him in the 7-Eleven with everyone else.

When it was time to head back to Koh Tao, we got into the vans. Not everyone returned with us; some stayed. This meant that there was now room for the old French guy in the van with his new Canadian friends. So, that’s where he went, though I didn’t know this at the time.

I thought we had just left him behind. It wasn’t until the driver stopped for a smoke and a pee, that I saw him get out of the other van. He walked over to our driver and asked for a cigarette.

13:00

By the afternoon we were on a fast boat back to Koh Tao.

15:30

We were back on Koh Tao by 3:30 that afternoon.

Seasickness pills for when the fast boat is a rough ride and butter cookies for when it’s not

If you are staying on Koh Tao and need to renew your visa you might have some questions. Just remember to check government websites to make sure your information on the process is up-to-date. Things change often. Also, make sure the day you travel is not a holiday in either Thailand or Myanmar. Now, let’s go over some simple questions you might have about doing a Myanmar visa run from Koh Tao.

1. When should I buy my ticket?

If there’s a holiday coming up, tickets might run out. In this case, I advise that you get your ticket as soon as you know you need to renew your visa. Other than that, you can get your ticket right before the travel agency closes on the day you want to go. But, don’t push your luck.

Let’s say your visa expires on the 10th. I recommend, assuming there are no holidays involved, going to a travel agency on (or before) the 8th and buying tickets for a night boat leaving Koh Tao on the 9th. This will have you at the Thai Immigration office on the 10th, renewing your visa when it expires wasting no days with overlapping visas.

You need to renew your visa on the day it expires at the latest, to not have to pay a fine. The fine is only 500THB per day past the expiration date, but it’s best not to live life too far on the edge.

2. How much does the ticket cost?

About 2,300THB per person as of March 2018. Prices are about the same no matter what travel agent you go to. That said, it doesn’t hurt to shop around if you have time.

3. How long does it take?

The night boat is scheduled to leave at 22:30. You will return to Koh Tao by 15:30 the next day, assuming everything goes well.

my passport, 10 bucks, and a brand new arrival/departure card

4. What should I bring to get my visa?

  • a pen
  • Your departure card (or 100THB to get a new one)
    • This is the form you get when you arrive at the airport. You’re supposed to keep it, but if they don’t staple it in your passport for you, it will get lost.
  • Your passport
  • A photo copy of your passport photo page (or 10THB to pay for a photo copy)
  • Money for your Thai Visa
  • passport photos
    • I don’t remember now if we needed them. We had them and they took them, but they never asked for photos. So, they might take a photo if you have it.
  • A shirt and decent pants/ skirt.
    • Of course there was a “that guy” who had to be told to put a shirt on.

5. What else?

  • a book, mp3 player, smartphone… for entertainment
  • snacks & drinks (or money for snacks and drinks)
  • light jacket, towel, scarf, or fan… for when the van is too cold or too hot

6. What do I not have to bring?

  • 10USD for your Myanmar visa.
    • This is included in your ticket, so there is no need for you to bring any US dollars.
    • Do not fold the10-dollar-bill. The government of Myanmar do not like folded bills.

Thailand
(ราชอาณาจักรไทย)
(Ratcha Anachak Thai)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, bus, or train.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to Thailand. But, you will need a visa to stay longer than 1 month or if you been to Thailand for at least 3 months already in the past 12 months.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 30-day visa at the port of entry.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Thai embassy in your country.
  • Visa laws change frequently.

Phone:

Data:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Scams & Dangers:

Notes:

  • Do not say anything negative about the king or anyone in the Royal family. And definitely do not write anything bad about the king or royal family. This offence could land you in jail. You don’t want to go to Thai jail.
  • Don’t use the city ferries in Bangkok during the peak hours. They fill those things past capacity and sometimes they sink. Use them during non-peak hours when they are not crowded.
  • Never eat female horseshoe crabs in Thailand. The roe of the horseshoe crab has tetrodotoxin (TTX) which is toxic to humans. It makes people very sick and some people have even died as a result.

Myanmar

Visa Information

Website:

Videos:

Notes:

  • I don’t recommend going to Myanmar.

Map:

Posted in Koh Tao, Myanmar, Thailand | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

What you should bring to Koh Tao

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 15, 2018

January 1st – May 31st, 2018

Beach Yoga

If you’re going to Koh Tao, you might want to know what you have to bring and what you can just buy there. So, I will explain that here. First off, realize that Koh Tao is an island that takes a while to get to, so everything will cost more when you buy it on Koh Tao. But, it’s not a huge difference in price.

If it’s convenient to stop off at a Big C or Tesco Lotus before going to the island, then do so and buy some basics. Get your bug spray, shampoo, sun block, and so on. On the mainland you will have better prices but importantly, more brand choices.

Don’t have to go over board. You don’t need to bring everything or a 3 month supply of anything. You can get everything you really need on Koh Tao.

Water Mark

You can get all your scuba gear on the island.

There are many dive schools and dive shops that sell everything you need or want. I don’t know about brand selection, but I’ve never heard anyone complain about it. You can also buy (or sell) used stuff online at Koh Tao for Sale or Koh Tao Dealerz. Both Facebook Groups offer more for sale than just scuba gear.

1. Off!

You’re going to need lots of Off!. If you’re out and about after 16:00, make sure to coat your arms and legs with it. Don’t forget to wash your hands after putting it on. You don’t want to accidentally ingest the stuff.

On Koh Tao you can buy Off! in just about every shop from 7-Eleven to groceries or pharmacies.

2. Sunscreen

If you want the best sunscreen, as evaluated by Consumer Reports, then you should bring some from your home country. If not, you can find plenty of sunscreen here.  Stay away from the brands you’re unfamiliar with. I have heard bad things about Samui Rum Leuk, the sunscreen made on the neighboring island of Koh Samui.

Be careful. Don’t buy any of the sun screens that contain skin whiteners. I’m not sure what it does, if it does anything. But generally, skin whiteners damage the skin and may cause cancer

Brands like Nivea, Banana Boat, and Australian Gold can be found at 7-Eleven, pharmacies, and grocery stores.

4. Rubbing Alcohol

Everyone gets cuts and scrapes on Koh Tao. It can be from something small like a bug bite or more serious like an attack by a triggerfish. (Those fish are an abomination of nature and knowing that fact makes them really angry.)

It’s cheaper to buy rubbing alcohol from a grocery store than the pharmacy. You can get a small bottle for 15THB.

5. Travel Towel

You can buy a quick dry travel towel from many of the dive shops on the island. Nabaiji is the main brand that is sold on the island. Mark and I both have one. They came with something we bought. The most common sizes are XL and L, but you can find XXL, M, and S. The XXL will cost about 450THB on Koh Tao, which isn’t bad at all for a quick dry travel towel. You might be able to find that same brand for cheaper on mainland Thailand. But 450THB (14USD) is so low for a travel towel, it might not be worth it to go out of your way for it.

I found the XXL Nabaiji travel towel for 450THB at a convince store along Sairee beach.

6. Ibuprofen and Paracetamol (also called Acetaminophen)

Ibuprofen is the generic name for Brufen,  Advil, and Motrin. Paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen or APAP, is the generic name for Tylenol and Panadol.

The Ibuprofen on Koh Tao, comes only in double (400mg) or triple (600mg) dosages. Usually ibuprofen capsules are 200mg. Most people take 2 pills at a time, so the double dosages might not be a problem. Just remember this and don’t accidentally take 2 of these bigger pills. Remember not to take more than 1,200mg in a 24 hour period. Taking too much Ibuprofen can damage your stomach lining.

As for paracetamol, taking more than 4,000mg in a 24 hour period can cause liver damage. It’s very important to read over the counter drug label’s properly. Many cold medicines contain paracetamol, like Thera-ful and Nyquil. This makes it easy to overdose on paracetamol without realizing it.

Pain killers are cheapest when bought from the grocery stores. They are a bit expensive at the pharmacy. If you only need one or two pills, then buy a packet of Tylenol (paracetamol) at 7-Eleven. If you want the ibuprofen in liquid capsule form, you will have to buy it at a pharmacy.

 7. Tissue

You never know when the bathroom is out of toilet paper. When you run out of tissues, pick some up anywhere.

8. Hat

There are shops everywhere selling clothes, hats, bags, and flip-flops. They look nice, but they’re not exactly top quality stuff. They will last the length of your trip, but not years. It doesn’t matter, nothing is too expensive. The main downside, is that you will look like everyone else. All the tourists are wearing the same thing.

9. Swim Suits

I recommend bringing your own swim suit. If you want to buy a swim suit here, then let it be a secondary swim suit. That way, if you don’t find one that you like or in your size, it’s not a big deal.

10. Hydrocortisone Cream

Some days you will forget to put on your bug spray. Hydrocortisone Cream will help your bug bites stop itching. You can buy this at the pharmacies.

11. Flip-flops

The flip-flops sold on Koh Tao are Havaianas or random generic brands. No Crocs…

12. Cloth bag

You might not care about having one, but I hate collecting tons of plastic bags every time I buy something. I try to bring my own bag to cut down on the number of plastic bags kicking around on the island.

13. Antibiotic Cream

You might be able to find fucidin ointment on mainland Thailand. But once you get to the island, antibiotic cream is harder to find and expensive when you do find it.

14. Schick Intuition Head

Bring one head for every month you will stay on the island.

15. Dry bag

On Koh Tao, they sell mostly name brand dry bags. Buy yours at home or from mainland Thailand, where they are much cheaper. The one in the picture is a generic dry bag I bought in Malaysia for less than 8USD. Get a heavy duty dry bag for kayaking and water sports. They keep your things dry even if it falls into water, assuming you’ve closed it properly. Do not get a camping dry bag. Those keep your stuff dry during a light rain but are not recommended for use at the beach.

16. Plastic Fan

It’s kind of hot here. Get a plastic fan you can use at the beach. I bought mine at Daiso in Japan. There is a Daiso in Bangkok

17. Reflective Band

If you’re walking around at night I recommend getting some kind of reflective band. Not every street has a street light. Also, you should bring a flash light or use the flash light app on your phone. Never go anywhere without your phone for this reason.

deodorant

You can buy antiperspirant/ deodorant on Koh Tao. They sell products for both women and men. They are limited to the roll-on type and to the Nivea brand. If you like something else, get it before going to Koh Tao.

Some more information:

A. There is plenty of Tiger Balm.

Though, I’m not sure if it actually does anything. It’s an interesting souvenir…

B. Go through the grocery/ hardware stores before you buy anything.

There are several grocery stores on the island that sell all sorts of things. They have far better prices on drugs than the pharmacies do. Buy your ibuprofen and paracetamol there. Also check these place out first when looking for stuff to buy. If they sell the thing you want, they might sell it for less.

C. Check out many pharmacies for the basics before you buy.

They’re prices vary for different items. Some have cheaper hydrocortisone. Others have cheaper antihistamine.


Thailand
(ราชอาณาจักรไทย)
(Ratcha Anachak Thai)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, bus, or train.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to Thailand. But, you will need a visa to stay longer than 1 month or if you been to Thailand for at least 3 months already in the past 12 months.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 30-day visa at the port of entry.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Thai embassy in your country.
  • Visa laws change frequently.

Phone:

Data:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Scams & Dangers:

Notes:

  • Do not say anything negative about the king or anyone in the Royal family. And definitely do not write anything bad about the king or royal family. This offence could land you in jail. You don’t want to go to Thai jail.
  • Don’t use the city ferries in Bangkok during the peak hours. They fill those things past capacity and sometimes they sink. Use them during non-peak hours when they are not crowded.
  • Never eat female horseshoe crabs in Thailand. The roe of the horseshoe crab has tetrodotoxin (TTX) which is toxic to humans. It makes people very sick and some people have even died as a result.

Koh Tao

Basic Information

Websites:

Cost:

  • It’s pretty inexpensive, but you can rack up quite a bill for just about anything if you’re a chump.

Notes:

  • Koh Tao means “turtle island”. There are no turtles on the island, but the island is shaped like a turtle. Well, at least the person who named the island thought so.
  • ◊Koh Tao has the nickname “Murder Island”. Some people think there is a serial killer on the loose. Maybe there is.  I don’t really think so but, I could be wrong.
    • Many of the people who were “murdered” were very drunk at the time. Some of them jumped into pools and drowned.
    • A lot of the “murders” were incidences of parents of 20-somethings who couldn’t believe that their kid would get so drunk and fall into a pool, run off into the jungle, or whatever.
    • There are some cases that are clearly murders and the authorities have either found no suspects or they might have imprisoned the wrong people.
  • Many people rent scooters here and then crash them.
    • Some are just bad drivers.
    • But many are driving drunk.
      • Everyone either has a drunk driving story or knows of someone who does. (I have met 2 such people who openly brag about their drunk driving adventures with pride.)
      • It’s scary how common it is for tourists to get drunk then jump on their scooters and end up in the hospital.
  • DO NOT walk around in the early hours of the morning when the drunks are likely to be driving home.

Map:

 

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Visa Run 1

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 10, 2018

March 2nd, 2018

How to get to the Koh Samui Immigration Office

Mark and I were in Thailand for 2 months and we needed to extend our visa. We had an extra day to play with, because of a tiny loop-hole. Our visa expired on a holiday. That gave us 1 extra day to get a new visa. Getting a visa renewed on the day after a holiday also means that the immigration office is very crowded.

So, the question was, “How do we get to the Koh Samui Immigration Office?”

The easy answer is that you can buy a ticket from any travel agency. That same place where you get your boat ticket to Koh Samui and back, is where you can get a van ride to the Immigration Office. If you do this, from Koh Tao, you will set out on the first boat in the morning (6:00am) and be back to Koh Tao sometime after noon. Easy peasy.

There is a KFC that sells delicious egg tarts somewhere inside.

That’s not what we did.

We wanted to go shopping in the afternoon. There is very little non-dive related shopping on Koh Tao for people not interested in purchasing genie pants or Beer Chang t-shirts. We wanted to do things we couldn’t do on Koh Tao like shop and eat fast food. So, we just bought round-trip tickets to Koh Samui. We left on the first boat and returned on the last boat.

At the dock on Koh Samui we were rushed by taxi drivers quoting us 500THB for a ride to the immigration office. That’s 15USD for a 22 minute drive. “What is this, Miami?” I thought. “There is no way we’re paying that much for a cab in Thailand.” It might have been worth it, if we had 2 other people to off set the cost. This is what the taxi drivers seemed to be going for, since they all had SUVs or minivans.

It was just the 2 of us, so we started to walk. Mark thought that we could catch a cheaper taxi from the main road. He was wrong. All the drivers we stopped wanted us to pay more than 500 THB or they flat-out refused to take us. So we kept walking as the day grew hotter and hotter.

Mark paying for a songthaew ride to the mall

We tried to keep in the shadows of buildings as we made our way. Then we heard someone yelling at us from their car. As we turned around to see who it was, the man pulled over. “Where you go? I take you, yes! 50 baht, come on!” It was a songthaew driver. We didn’t bother to argue with the man. He was smart enough to know 2 tourists that needed him when he saw them and he quoted us a fare price. We hopped in, thankful to be out of the sun.

A songthaew is like a bus, in that you share the ride with many people going to different places. But, it’s also like a taxi, in that it will stop whenever and wherever you want it to. It’s a modified pick-up truck with 2 side benches and handrails installed in the back.

On Koh Samui the cheaper songthaews stick to the main road. They costs 50THB for short trips, like the dock to the immigration office, the mall, the Big Buddha, or Chaweng Beach. But, longer trips may cost more. To get a songthaew, just wave one down or, like in our case, be found by a driver who demands you get in his truck. Just make sure you tell the driver where you want to go and settle on a price before you get in.

When you near your destination, tap on the glass and the driver will stop. Get out and go to the front passenger window. Here you can pay and thank the driver, like Mark is doing in the photo above. He just saved you a bunch of money on transportation costs.

Another thing to note, is that many songthaews on Koh Samui have destinations painted on them. This is a general idea of where the songthaew driver is willing to go. But this is Thailand. If you pay more, he will take you anywhere, especially if he has no other passengers. He will still stop to pick up other people though.

If you have a big enough group, it might be better to take a taxi. With about 4 people going a far distance, it might even be cheaper than a songthaew. Plus, they have air conditioning. The problem with taxis on Koh Samui is that they all have signs that indicated that the car is a metered taxi, but the drivers never want to use their meters. We found a metered taxi to take us from the Central Festival Mall to the dock with his meter turned on, but he was the 10th guy we asked.

How to extend your Thai Visa on Koh Samui

  1. Get these documents/ items together.
    • Your passport.
    • 1 passport photo
    • A copy of your passport photo page
    • A copy of your visa. If you have one.
    • A copy of the entry stamp in your passport. (It’s usually on or next to you visa if you have one. So, these can be in the same photo copy.)
    • A copy of the immigration card you received when you arrived to Thailand.
    • 1 filled out extension application form

If you don’t have any copies, an application form, or the passport photos, you can get them right outside the immigration office for a fee. (The application form is free.) On a busy day, you will have to stand out in the blazing sun for over 20 minutes, so it’s better to have these before you go.

2. Check the website to find the best date for you to go there.

One common problem that tourists have is not being aware of Thai holidays before setting out on their trip to Koh Samui.

3. Don’t forget a pen!

I was surprised at how many people asked to borrow my pen while I was at the immigration office. It was a very crowded day and there was a short line to use my pen. Save yourself lots of hassle; bring a pen.

4. Bring 1,900 THB.

Or whatever the amount you need after you’ve checked the website to make sure you have the most up-to-date information.

5. Bring easy to take off shoes.

There was one lady who wore gladiator sandals. You have to remove your shoes before you can enter both the immigration office and the photo copy room. She fell a good 10 places behind in line because it took her so long to get her shoes off.

When you take your shoes off, I would recommend either placing your shoes in your bag or finding a shady spot to put them. If not, your shoes will be too hot to put back on when you’re done if there are really long lines.

6. Stand in line.

If you don’t have all your documents, stand in line at the little room in front of the immigration office and get your things copied, ect. If you have everything, go straight to the immigration office by entering via the stairs on the right. Go through the door and stand in the line on the right side of the room. Read all the signs to make sure you are in the correct line. You can waste hours of your time, if you are in the wrong line.

7. Once you’ve paid, take your ticket and wait.

Remember to ask, “How long will this take?” You can then sit in the nicely air-conditioned office, have a coffee at the cafe, or go back to the main road to find a restaurant. Remember to come back in time to pick up your passport. It will be on the left side of the room.

8. Pick up your passport.

Make sure the dates and everything is correct. Leave.

heading back to Koh Tao


Thailand
(ราชอาณาจักรไทย)
(Ratcha Anachak Thai)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, bus, or train.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to Thailand. But, you will need a visa to stay longer than 1 month or if you been to Thailand for at least 3 months already in the past 12 months.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 30-day visa at the port of entry.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Thai embassy in your country.
  • Visa laws change frequently.

Phone:

Data:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Scams & Dangers:

Notes:

  • Do not say anything negative about the king or anyone in the Royal family. And definitely do not write anything bad about the king or royal family. This offence could land you in jail. You don’t want to go to Thai jail.
  • Don’t use the city ferries in Bangkok during the peak hours. They fill those things past capacity and sometimes they sink. Use them during non-peak hours when they are not crowded.
  • Never eat female horseshoe crabs in Thailand. The roe of the horseshoe crab has tetrodotoxin (TTX) which is toxic to humans. It makes people very sick and some people have even died as a result.

Samui Immigration Office

Basic Information

Website

Downloads:

Cost:

  • Visa extension: 1,900 THB
  • Photo copies & passport photo: 100 THB
    • You can get this done somewhere else to save yourself money.
  • Overstaying your visa – 50THB/day up to 20,000THB for 40+ days
    • Overstay more than 90 Days –   1 year ban from Thailand
    • Overstay more than  1 Year  –    3 year ban from Thailand
    • Overstay more than  3 Years –   5 year ban from Thailand
    • Overstay more than  5 Years – 10 year ban from Thailand
    • The above fines and ban above are only for people who voluntarily go to the immigration office. If found by authorities with an expired visa fines can include arrest and detention.

Hours:

  • M-F 8:30 ~ 12:00 & 13:00 ~ 16:30
  • Closed on holidays
  • Busiest Days:
    • Fridays & Mondays
    • The day before a holiday
    • The day after a holiday
    • Mornings tend to be busier than afternoons
    • (Tuesdays are the least busy days.)
  • Always check their websites for their hours before you make plans to go or not go.

Notes:

  • Always check the official website. Laws and policies in Thailand change often.

Map:

Posted in Ko Samui, Thailand | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Finding a Restaurant on Koh Toa

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 5, 2018

January 1st – May 31st, 2018

A great place for fruity drinks

Here are the main points about eating establishments on Koh Tao:

  1. It’s really inconsistent.
  2. Don’t assume you know what a dish is by its (English) name.
  3. If you want better service, you might have to pay more.
  4. Almost every restaurant is more than just a restaurant.
  5. The closer you are to the beach, the more you will pay and the less delicious the food will be (unless you are really paying more).
  6. If a restaurant is good at making Thai food, 95% of the time it will be bad at making western food.
  7. Street food is delicious and cheap, but many of them cannot be counted on.
    • I mean that just because a stand was in a spot yesterday at 17:00, doesn’t mean that it will be there at 17:00 today.
    • Sometimes a lady selling spring rolls from a cart one day, will be selling soup the next.

Keep in mind that I’ve only ever gone to restaurants that I can walk to from the Mae Haad area. I don’t do scooters. Also, this is just my opinion based on observation and my tastes. I could be wrong or things might have changed by the time you read this.

Pad Thai from Simple Life Divers

1. Restaurants in Flux

There was a little shack restaurant I would visit almost daily. I loved their Crispy Pork with Kale. The pork was crispy on one side and fatty on the other. There was so much dark green leafy kale with this dish, it probably counted as 2 of my 5-a-days. It was so delicious that I would stop by and pick up an order anytime I was in the area even when I wasn’t hungry. I would just eat it later. Yes, the dish was great even when it was cold.

Then one day the lady changed the recipe. The pork was no longer crispy and fatty, but tough. Now I could count the number of measly cuts of kale on one hand. The dish had become just rice with a sprinkling of tough pork and a hint of kale. I never went back.

I’ve also had a some-what opposite experience. There was one restaurant where I thought the service was okay. But, there was one guy that annoyed me. He might have been the owner’s brother or husband. He seemed to be the fix-it guy and errand boy. Most of the time, he talked with people walking by or he would start yelling into his phone. The part that got my ire up, was that he would do this while standing on my shoes.

Like most restaurants on Koh Tao, you enter after taking your shoes off. Shoes are left by the entrance or first step. Most people, when walking into a restaurant would step over or around shoes, but not this guy. He stepped right on them. I would move my shoes out of his way, thinking he was just not looking where he was going. But then he would walk over to the new spot and step on my shoes again. I kept putting the shoes in different spots where shoes might be kept and he would keep finding them and standing on them.

At first I thought it was just a coincidence. But now I think he just didn’t like his feet touching the floor. He stood on the nearest shoes he could find. It’s like he was playing The Floor is Lava, but with the shoes of customers. My moving my shoes around just gave him more options of places to stand.

I stopped going to this place for a while. Then, one day it rained that end of the world rain that happens every so often on Koh Tao. I needed food and this restaurant was less than a minute’s walk from my hotel. This time, I kept my shoes under my table. The guy found some other people’s shoes to stand on. With my shoes next to me, I could enjoy the restaurant.

I get more chicken at Koh Tao Chicken & Rice when I eat with Mark. When I’m alone, I don’t get this much chicken in the soup side dish…

2. I ordered fried potatoes, but this is a croquette!

Many restaurants put their menus out near the street so people can look through it and decide whether or not they want to go in. One such place had “fried chicken” on their menu. I wanted some fried chicken so I took off my shoes and went inside. I ordered my food and waited.

When it came I was sure they had given me the wrong order. “Excuse me,” I waved down the unenthusiastic waitress. “I ordered fried chicken. This is more like stir-fry.”

“Yes. That’s fried chicken.”

“Oh, I thought it would be, um, breaded and fried… like KFC.”

“No, that is deep-fried chicken. We don’t make that.”

I went to another restaurant a few days later and order their deep-fried chicken. It was un-breaded chicken fried until 10 seconds before it burnt. It was dry and stringy.

There is fried chicken being served on this island, but about 50% of the restaurants don’t know what it is. You just have to go through trial and error or pay close attention to the dishes that other people are ordering. But, do not assume what a dish is based on its name written in English.

Breakfast at Cafe del Sol is always a treat.

3. Only some are paid well enough to be friendly

If you want great customer service, you have to go to the restaurants with more expensive menus or smaller places where the owner or co-owners make up the wait staff. Outside of that, you could just hope you’re interacting with people having a good day.

From what I’ve learned about Koh Tao, some of the people you see working hard day in and day out with no holidays are from Myanmar. They are immigrant workers. I think we all know, generally speaking, how well immigrant workers are treated by their bosses and by their new country of residence. So, with that in mind, it’s easier to cut some workers slack when they aren’t too happy to see you.

For the most part, the rudeness Mark and I have experienced has never been enough for either of us to never return to a restaurant. We might not go there as often as we go to one where we always get friendly service, though. There are days when I don’t feel like dealing with sulky waiters. That’s when I go to a pricier restaurant, like Cafe del  Sol, to get a warm greeting as I’m lead to my seat. It’s not great for my wallet, but it’s great for my soul.

I thought I was lucky to find such a short line at Da’s that day. Then the guy in front of me ordered 8 sandwiches.

4. Get food, a place to stay, a taxi, and diving lessons.

Da’s Sandwiches is one of the few places on this island that only does one thing. She only sells sandwiches. She has a storage room and an umbrella under which she cooks. That’s about it for her establishment. Da does one thing and she does it well. That’s what draws the long lines of hungry divers.

But most restaurants, even the fancy ones, are restaurants and something else. Most restaurants are also hotels, though many only have 1 or 2 rooms to rent. Some also have a taxi service. Many are, or are connected to, dive shops. Many also rent diving equipment. A few rent scooters, do laundry, or sell tickets for boats, trains, and buses.

Sun set, beach, and dinner at Sairee Cottage Diving

5. You will pay for that view

When I first got to Koh Tao in January, I picked restaurants based on how close to the beach they were. I love a good beach view, especially at sunset. The dishes were pricey, but it was worth it, right?

I had to be honest. The food at many of these sea-side restaurants were at best okay, at worst terrible. Their food was overpriced and tasted like a bland version of what their competitors across the street were serving. And yes, I mean literally across the street.

Restaurants on Koh Tao are a dime a dozen. Across the street, they don’t have a great view. They have to keep the tourists coming in by some other means. Since many of them don’t have cheery dispositions, nice wall paper, or air conditioning, they have to cook good food. That’s all they have to offer.

My advice is to eat delicious food at dinner time at a nice cheap restaurant. When you’re done, cross the street and sit at the beach to watch the sunset. Then leave before the bugs start biting.

There are exceptions. Sairee Cottage Diving, a restaurant, dive shop, and hotel, has a really great BBQ set menu that’s not too expensive. It’s 120THB for 2 skewers and a potato (baked or French fried). That’s a very reasonable price and it tastes really good. They have other items on their menu, but the skewers bring in the crowds.

Café Culture Coffee – Burger-wise 2nd only to Hippo Burger

6. Great Thai food = Terrible Burgers

Burgers on Koh Toa are expensive, costing something like 250THB. There is a huge temptation to just walk into the nearest pad thai place and order the 110THB cheese burger on their menu. This only leads to heart-break and anger when you realize that the chef had only a vague idea of what a hamburger is. Common missteps are a sweet burger, a huge bun and tiny burger, not having real ketchup or mayo, adding curry to the burger, using cabbage instead of lettuce, or using sweet buns. Pook, on the Mae Haad side of the island, is the only place that had both good Thai food and decent burgers.

The best burgers are made at Hippo Burger Bistro. The second best are made at Cafe Culture Coffee. Both are in the Sairee Beach area. Cafe Culture is on the beach, but they are close by 22:00. Hippo has the more expensive burger. And, they have buffalo wings, which they call hot wings. Their “buffalo wings” are just BBQ wings. It’s confusing.

Street food along Sairee Beach

7. Street Vendors come and go

Try the street food. There are many little streets where vendors hang out. They usually start setting up around 15:00 or 16:00 after the hottest part of the day has passed. Some vendors will be there at the same spot everyday at some given time. Some have their grills attached to scooters, allowing them to move around the island. Others are even harder to pin down.

Some vendors are there some days and not others. There is one lady, that I know of, that sells spring rolls sometimes and fried things other times. So, if you see something you want to try, get it. It might not be there tomorrow.

Mark’s thinking about getting the fish of the day at Seafood by Pawn.

8. Other things

Don’t worry about getting food poisoning. I don’t know of any tourist on this island who has come down with it. Mark and I eat anything that catches our interest whether it be restaurant or street food. We even ate sushi a lady was selling from a cart the other day. (The sushi was kept in a cooler with ice. We checked first.) Just use common sense. If other people are also buying from that vendor, it’s most likely okay.

Wash your hands. The food on the island is most likely not going to get you sick, but everything else will. There are stray dogs and cats everywhere. Tourists pet them, then shake your hands. Now you have stray dog germs on your hands. Wash them!

Wash your hands after you use the bathroom. Wash your hands before you eat. Wash your hands after you put on bug spray. Wash your hands every time you get the opportunity. You will cut down on so many illnesses by simply washing your hands.

The shakes aren’t that healthy. Many people think that the shakes you get here are soooo good for you. They are not. Okay, there are a few shake shacks that make their drinks with just ice and fruit. But most places add syrup; lot’s of syrup. The shakes are delicious, but keep in mind that they do have a lot of added sugar.

Don’t forget 7-Eleven. There you can get toasted sandwiches, cup noodle (the hot water dispenser is in the back of the store), cold drinks, fruit, snacks, and microwave meals. It’s not my go to choice since it’s not that much cheaper than a nice cheap pad thai shack. But, it’s always open and the toasted sandwiches are really good when you want something familiar that’s not too expensive.

The Lemon Thai Iced Tea is so good it can ruin your life. I started drinking the lemon Thai iced tea at Koh Tao Chicken and Rice. I was hooked on the stuff very quickly. I got up to 2 or 3 cups a day. The stuff is so good. But then I stopped sleeping. I felt so tired and sleepy, but I could not sleep. I got jittery and I could not stop shaking. I had to quit. I still get a cup of ice tea, but I limit myself to 1 cup a week.

Mark never had this reaction to the tea, so it might just be me.

Try something new. You never know what you’ll find.

Cha Payom Tea Stand


Thailand
(ราชอาณาจักรไทย)
(Ratcha Anachak Thai)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, bus, or train.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to Thailand. But, you will need a visa to stay longer than 1 month or if you been to Thailand for at least 3 months already in the past 12 months.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 30-day visa at the port of entry.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Thai embassy in your country.
  • Visa laws change frequently.

Phone:

Data:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Scams & Dangers:

Notes:

  • Do not say anything negative about the king or anyone in the Royal family. And definitely do not write anything bad about the king or royal family. This offence could land you in jail. You don’t want to go to Thai jail.
  • Don’t use the city ferries in Bangkok during the peak hours. They fill those things past capacity and sometimes they sink. Use them during non-peak hours when they are not crowded.
  • Never eat female horseshoe crabs in Thailand. The roe of the horseshoe crab has tetrodotoxin (TTX) which is toxic to humans. It makes people very sick and some people have even died as a result.

Koh Tao

Basic Information

Websites:

Cost:

  • It’s pretty inexpensive, but you can rack up quite a bill for just about anything if you’re a chump.

Notes:

  • Koh Tao means “turtle island”. There are no turtles on the island, but the island is shaped like a turtle. Well, at least the person who named the island thought so.
  • ◊Koh Tao has the nickname “Murder Island”. Some people think there is a serial killer on the loose. Maybe there is.  I don’t really think so but, I could be wrong.
    • Many of the people who were “murdered” were very drunk at the time. Some of them jumped into pools and drowned.
    • A lot of the “murders” were incidences of parents of 20-somethings who couldn’t believe that their kid would get so drunk and fall into a pool, run off into the jungle, or whatever.
    • There are some cases that are clearly murders and the authorities have either found no suspects or they might have imprisoned the wrong people.
  • Many people rent scooters here and then crash them.
    • Some are just bad drivers.
    • But many are driving drunk.
      • Everyone either has a drunk driving story or knows of someone who does. (I have met 2 such people who openly brag about their drunk driving adventures with pride.)
      • It’s scary how common it is for tourists to get drunk then jump on their scooters and end up in the hospital.
  • DO NOT walk around in the early hours of the morning when the drunks are likely to be driving home.

Map:

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Never Try to Impress Teenagers

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 30, 2018

January 23rd – 30th, 2018

Mark and the Markettes

This little one-week trip to Phuket taught me 3 very valuable lessons, which I will share with you. They are:

  1. Sometimes, it is best to use the system that is already in place rather than to carve your own path. The key is to know when that is. When traveling in Thailand 99% of the time, it’s best not to break out on your own unless you got baht to burn.
  2. Don’t stress yourself out trying to impress teenagers. It is a futile and thankless endeavor.
  3. If you want to see a lot of stuff quickly (while sucking down more Pepsi in one day than you’ve consumed in the past 5 years) do a day trip with a tour company.

Part 1: Use the system that’s already in place.

When Mark and I arrived to Thailand on January 1st, we did so by flying into Phuket. We chose to enter through Phuket over Bangkok because it’s a lot closer to Koh Tao. I thought it would be a quick hop, skip, and jump to the island where we would spend the next few months.

We were wrong. To go from Phuket to Koh Tao is not a quick or easy thing. If everything goes as it should a trip from Phuket to Koh Tao is a 4.5 hour bus ride, a 20 minute wait, then a 4 hour boat ride. But things hardly ever go as they should.

A few days before we got to Thailand, Mark bought a Phuket to Koh Tao ticket online. The company might have stated everything we needed to know on their website, but the ticket as printed had very little information on it. And, Mark couldn’t remember anything. The only instructions were to go to the Phuket public bus station #2, which we did. Once there we were given stickers to wear on our chests and told to come back at 9:00am. Coming in from Malta via Istanbul we landed at the Phuket airport at 3:00am and we were at the bus station by 6:00am.

This ticket was, what I call, a point A to point B ticket, which I will refer to as an AB ticket from now on. There is no explanation as to how many buses, boats, or trains, you will take with this ticket. All you are given is a time (which Mark forgot), a place where you will leave, a place where you will end up, and sometimes a guess at the time you will end up there. There are no guarantees other than you will get to the ultimate destination sometime today, or tomorrow depending on the ticket.

The rest of our first day in Thailand was spend being herded around, with many other backpackers, from bus to boat to boat to boat… We were always waiting for the next leg of our journey, not really sure when we would leave or how long the next ride would take. It was hot and miserable.

We took a few different boats because some boat somewhere was cancelled. (Or maybe we missed it…) So by the time we got to Koh Tao it was 10:00pm. It took us a long time to go such a short distance.

So, a couple weeks later, when we needed to go back to Phuket, Mark didn’t want to deal with that. Instead of getting a Koh Tao to Phuket AB ticket, Mark just bought a ticket from Koh Tao to Chumphon on the first boat of the day. It left at 6:00am. From there we would take the fastest or next bus or train to Phuket. Instead of waiting around for a planned bus or train, we would be fully in charge of our own fate.

Things did not work out well. After landing at the dock in Chumphon, we asked about the next bus and train heading to the general Phuket area. (Nothing from Chumphon actually goes to Phuket.) The next bus left in 5 hours and the next train left in 2. So, we went to the train station.

We bought our tickets and then walked to a nearby mall for lunch and entertainment. Then we headed back to the station 15 minutes before the train was schedule to arrive. We sat there and waited, and waited, and waited. It was one and a half hours late.

Remember, the train doesn’t go to Phuket. It only goes half way there. We had to get off at a town called Ban Thung Pho. The trains in Thailand only go north or south. If you want to go east or west, you need to get a bus. Phuket is unfortunately south-west of Koh Tao.

We did know this already. We even checked to make sure that there were public buses from Ban Thung Pho to Phuket that ran regularly through out the day. But, when we got to Ban Thung Pho, with our train being an hour and a half late, we missed the last bus by 20 minutes. Rather than spend the night in this little town, we paid about 100USD on a taxi to take us to our hotel in Phuket.

One of the stickers you get when you buy a ticket to Koh Tao

Whether you get an AB ticket or you travel independently in Thailand you will always have to wait. Buses, trains, and boats will be late. Things get cancelled. But, if you get the AB ticket, when something is late or cancelled it is someone else’s problem. If you are traveling independently, you will have to find yourself another bus or get a hotel or something… But with an AB ticket, someone else will worry about that. And, they are far better equipped to do so.

Conclusion: When your Thai trip includes multiple transfers, get a point A to point B ticket.

Part 2: Teenagers are not impressed

Look at the photos in the collage above. Nice, huh? We saw some amazing stuff in a 7 day period. But it wasn’t enough to hold the attention of 2 teenagers for very long.

Lets start with the hotel. It was super nice. It was a 3 bed room apartment that was one of the nicest places Mark and I have stayed in during our trip. It came with a huge pool that was shaped in a giant cross. There were also two other smaller pools in case you didn’t like being in that much water. There was a gym too. And, a tiny, tiny sauna that’s not worth mentioning…

What the kids enjoyed the most about the hotel wasn’t any of the pools. It wasn’t the gym. It wasn’t any of the balconies with views of the big pool. It was the sofa. They parked themselves on that sofa and never wanted to leave. They would have been happy spending the whole week eating Shin ramen and playing their gem quest games on their phones while sitting on that black leather sofa.

Mark’s cousin asked us to help her. She wanted this vacation to be a fun time for the kids. She wanted her children to have an adventure they would look back on and reminisce. Mark had lots of ideas. He was happy to plan lots of fun stuff for them to see and do.

Our hotel was a 10 minute walk from the beach. So, on their first morning in Phuket, we took the kids to the beach. They begrudgingly went and got into the water. “It’s too cold,” they shrieked in Korean. So we splashed one with water and dunked the other. When they weren’t laughing they were screaming. I think that’s how you know teenagers are having a good time.

The familial resemblance is in the hat.

After an hour, they were hungry. So we took them to the nearest fancy restaurant by the beach. The restaurant was a bit snooty. They made us rinse off the sand and salt water. We had to awkwardly wait outside the restaurant until we were dry to their satisfaction. And, they made everyone put shirts on. There was no sitting in just your swim suit at this place. I thought this was a bit much for a restaurant that was essentially a pavilion on the beach; a beach that is popular with swimmers.

So, imagine this: We’re at a fancy beach-side restaurant after only an hour of swimming. We’re having a good time and I’m looking forward to getting back into the water. The beach was really nice. One of the kids ask in Korean, “Can we go home now?”

So, we went home.

The next day Mark’s cousin wanted to go shopping. So, we took them to a really nice mall a tuk-tuk ride away from the hotel. It was not too far from another nice beach, so I figured we would go swimming afterwards. We spent about 2 or 3 hours at the mall then we went to a fancy restaurant for lunch. “Okay kids, are you ready to go swimming?” their mom asked in Korean after we had all finished the meal.

They weren’t. They were tired. They wanted to go home. So we did.

Mark and I tried out all the pools at the hotel. We spent the afternoon swimming while the kids sat on the sofa playing games on their phone.

Part 3: Group Tours

The next day we took them on a group tour of the Phi Phi islands. I would not recommend this type of tour group to most people. The whole day you’re herded on and off the boat going from site to site to site around the Phi Phi islands. You don’t get to stay in any spot for too long.

Mark, his cousin and I, had been to Koh Phi Phi before. We’ve seen everything we wanted to see. It was about the kids. Since they never wanted to do anything for longer than an hour, this drive by tour was perfect. We stopped at a beach, were given cookies and Pepsi, and sent off to swim wherever we could fit. (The beach was pretty crowded.) Before the kids could get bored, it was time to go.

We stopped at a spot in the ocean. We were given cookies and Pepsi, and then we jumped off the boat. We snorkeled around looking at fish. Before the kids could get bored, it was time to go.

They did give us more than just coconuts for lunch.

We had lunch at some beach. We didn’t have time to swim there but, we stayed just long enough for the kids to ask about going home.

We went to two or three more beaches. We were given more cookies and Pepsi, and left to swim where we liked. We would swim for less than an hour at each place. By this time, the kids would ask about going home as we got off the boat. “Last?” they asked at each stop.

Viking Bay

Of course, we could not just go home. We were at the mercy of the tour schedule. They kept asking, “When, when?”  The poor kids had to suffer through Viking Bay and Maya Beach not knowing when they could go home.

That night we took them to a very fancy restaurant. The photo above is the hallway downstairs of the restaurant. The place had a very beautiful view of the beach, but since we went there at night, we couldn’t see anything.

The kids had a nice time. One of them even tried a dish he had never had before. Up until this point they had been eating mostly pizzas, hamburgers, generic Asian food like fried rice that one could easily get in Korea. But the dish he ordered, was the most amazing version of that dish I had ever tried.

At restaurants the kids would usually order “safe” foods; things they knew they would like. Mark, his cousin, and I would order riskier dishes; things that looked interesting or stuff we thought the kids would like but would never order themselves. Then everyone would try a little bit of everyone’s meal and judge whose was the best.

The dish the boy got was called Tom Kha Gai. It’s a coconut base soup with meat and vegetables. The menus came in only Thai, English, or photo. Meaning, when he ordered the dish, he chose it from a photo, not from reading a description. So he had no idea what he was going to get.

He tasted his soup and declared it “delicious chicken soup”. Mark tried the soup and declared it “yummy pineapple soup”. Mark’s cousin dipped her spoon in the soup and said it was “good carrot soup”. The sister took a sip and thought in Korean “It’s pretty good for shrimp soup”. I had a sample and called it “great grape soup”. This soup had everything in it. It’s like the leftover soup Mark and I used to make at home, except we always stopped at fruit. But at this restaurant, they tossed grapes, lychees, pineapples, and raisins in the soup. The odd thing was, it worked. The soup was delicious!

But of course, in the middle of dessert the kids started begging once again for the one thing they really wanted. “Home?” asked one. “Home!” demanded the other.

So, we went home.

Sister – Remember all the fun we had on our trip to Thailand? / Brother – Oh, my favorite moment was going home from the restaurant.

The next day we took the kids to see a show. I’m not going to mention the name of it because it was both wonderful and awful at the same time. I have no photos of it, because photos weren’t allowed. When you go to watch the show, they make you put your phone and camera into a locker. The place is so crowded that putting your stuff in a locker could take a long time, so we all left our phones and cameras at home.

The place was magical. There were carnival games, groups of singers roaming the area. There was a fancy restaurant and many street food stalls. The place reminded me of a smaller version of Six Flags, but without any of the roller coasters.

But, there were some rides there… on elephants. There were long lines of people waiting to ride an elephant. To make the rides go faster, they put a lot of people on each elephant. The animals didn’t look happy.

We had really good seats for the show. There was singing, dancing, bad acting, and very good acrobatics. Everything was wonderful and then they paraded elephants on the stage. Mark looked into the eyes of a smaller, maybe teen-aged-sized elephant and he did not like what he saw. “She looks so sad. There were tears in her eyes. Those elephants should be in a field somewhere playing, not doing tricks.” Mark also thought that the small elephant’s eyes looked a bit glazed over, like she had been drugged.

It wasn’t just elephants. They had water buffaloes, goats, and chickens in one of the acts. It was just wrong. We did not expect animals to be a part of the show at all.

At the end of the show, I was in agreement with the kids. I wanted to go home.

After that, Mark found a way for the kids to have a better elephant experience. We took them to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The people there take in performing and working elephants and care for them. Here the elephants do not entertain. They do what they like, but we did get to feed them.

The kids enjoyed it here. I think it was their favorite thing on the whole trip. We could tell they really liked it too, because they went a whole 3 hours without asking about going home. They did ask eventually though.

The kids did have fun on the trip. They just had their own way of showing it. And we had fun with them. They were pretty easy-going. They would say they didn’t want to do this, go there, or eat stuff, but in the end they did do this, go there, and eat stuff. They did try everything that was offered to them. They just wanted to go home right after.

On the last day we had some adult swim. We left the kids at home on their beloved sofa and headed down to the beach. Mark and his cousin had some beers and I had some fruity drinks, then we went for a swim. We stayed out for a long time. There was no one around to remind us about going home.

They did enjoy the super cool Phuket tuk-tuks


Thailand
(ราชอาณาจักรไทย)
(Ratcha Anachak Thai)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, bus, or train.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to Thailand. But, you will need a visa to stay longer than 1 month or if you been to Thailand for at least 3 months already in the past 12 months.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 30-day visa at the port of entry.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Thai embassy in your country.
  • Visa laws change frequently.

Phone:

Data:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Scams & Dangers:

Notes:

  • Do not say anything negative about the king or anyone in the Royal family. And definitely do not write anything bad about the king or royal family. This offence could land you in jail. You don’t want to go to Thai jail.
  • Don’t use the city ferries in Bangkok during the peak hours. They fill those things past capacity and sometimes they sink. Use them during non-peak hours when they are not crowded.
  • Never eat female horseshoe crabs in Thailand. The roe of the horseshoe crab has tetrodotoxin (TTX) which is toxic to humans. It makes people very sick and some people have even died as a result.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (Phuket)

Basic Information

Website:

e-mail:

Cost:

  • 2,500 Baht/ Person
    • Includes the ride to and from your hotel & lunch

Hours:

  • Morning Visit
    • 06:30-07:30 hotel pick up
    • 13:30 Finish time
  • Afternoon Visit
    • 11.30 -12.00 hotel pick up
    • 17.00 Finish time

Notes:

  • Bring a swimming suit, sunblock, towel, bug spray, waterproof camera, etc.
  • Don’t bring anything you don’t want to get muddy or put it in your dry bag.

SeaStar

Basic Information

Websites:

Cost:

  • It depends on the package you get and what discounts you find to add on
  • It includes:
    • a hotel pick up and drop off from just about anywhere Phuket peninsula.
    • Breakfast snacks: unlimited juice, coffees, tea, toast, cookies, candy
      • It’s not a breakfast
    • Lunch
    • unlimited Pepsi and Pepsi products & water
    • unlimited cookies and snacks
    • some fruit

Hours:

  • It’s a whole day thing. We were picked up about 7:30 one morning and came back around 18:00~18:30…

Notes:

  • You pay extra to be in a smaller tour group, but is not really ever small.

Let’s say that 50 people sign up for a tour one day. Five pay for the super small tour making one group a 5-person group. Then 20 people pay for the middle sized group tour. They will be put into 2 groups with 10 people each. And the last 25 people buy the cheapest tickets, so they are put into the largest group with 25 people. So, technically there are 4 tour groups on 4 separate boats; one with 5 people, 2 with 10 people, and 1 with 25 people.

But, these boats all go to the same places at the same time. So, even if you’re in the most expensive and smallest tour group you will still be in a group with 50 other tourists whenever you’re not on your boat. And, the trip is not about the boat ride. You’re paying to see a few island beaches and to snorkel. BTW, snorkeling with 49 other people is very difficult. These are mostly novice snorkelers and they do not spread out. Swimmers were constantly kicking each other in the head.

There is a slight benefit to being in a smaller group out of the 50. The boat cannot leave a site until they have all their people. The bigger groups were always late leaving a site and late getting to the next site because they had more people to look for. On our trip the leaders of the bigger groups always started calling for their people to come back to the boat about 10 minutes before our group leader did. And we would always leave before them because it took so long for all their tourists to return to their boat.

Map:

Posted in Phuket, Thailand | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Finding a Hotel on Koh Toa

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 25, 2018

January 1st – May 31st, 2018

So that you’re not wasting your time, I will tell you that if you are going to visit Koh Tao for a week or two this entry is not for you. This advice is for the people staying on Koh Tao for a month or two or maybe even longer.

There is a secret to this island that you might not find out about until you get here. (No, I’m not talking about the serial killer.◊) The secret is that the longer you stay, the cheaper the room rate for hotels can be, if you’re at the right hotel. They don’t usually put this information online. This can be a good and a bad thing but, I will get into this later.

Before we go further there are somethings about life on Koh Tao that you need to understand to fully appreciate what you’re getting at your hotel.

  1. The electricity goes out quite often. It can go out for an hour at a time or it can be off and on in 2 minute increments over the span of 4 hours. This happens about once to twice a week. There is nothing the hotel can do about that other than buy a noisy, stinky, expensive generator to make their own power. Most hotels do not have a generator, but many restaurants do. When the power is out, use that time to take a walk, go for a swim, take a nap, wait it out with a good book, or head to a restaurant.
  2. The internet goes out too. This might happen when the internet provider’s power goes out. When your power goes out, your internet also goes out, but sometimes you will have electricity and no internet. Here there is something you can do. You can get a sim card and pay for your own internet. I do not. I just wait it out. (All hotels and most restaurants have free wi-fi.)
  3. Service in Thailand is a little different than back home. Back in the US customer service is key and the customer is always right. People expect service with a smile and so on. But here in Thailand  unless you are in a fancier restaurant/ hotel or you are dealing with the owner of the business you will not get good service. Employees don’t care unless they are making good money. I get the feeling that many of the people in the service industry here are someone’s cousin being forced to work for just room and board, because that’s how they act. Don’t take it personally. They don’t hate you, just their job.

I tell you #3 so that you keep this in mind when reading reviews of hotels and restaurants online. Many reviewers write about their service on Koh Tao like it were something back home. They will write about wait staff not greeting them when they entered a restaurant, as they would back home, and how they were just handed a menu and taken to their seats. What they might not understand is that maybe that waiter is just the owner’s kid who is not getting paid. Maybe she speaks no English and just wants to get back to doing homework.

I know, it’s annoying when you get bad service. And, if the choice comes down to an establishment with a friendly staff and one with a staff that sits in the corner and glowers at diners while they eat, I will usually choose the friendly one. But, about 80% of the businesses on Koh Tao have a customer service problem but these tend to costs a lot less to patronize.

So, if the staff really makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t go back. But, if you’re satisfied most of the time, don’t let little incidences bother you if you like the product overall. Some of the best dishes are sold by people who hire sour waiter-staff. Maybe their sass makes the food spicy?

With that in mind, let’s move on!

Paying for your hotel with the monthly rate is a lot cheaper than paying with a daily (nightly?) rate. When you do the math, 1 month’s stay when paying monthly can cost about 14 day’s stay when paying at the daily rate. So, if you are staying more than 2 weeks, even if you don’t stay for a whole month, you might want to ask for the monthly rate. Just remember to do your own math since the rate changes from hotel to hotel and season to season.

The problem with looking for this monthly rate is that hotels almost never post it online. You can check out bookings.com, agoda, and other sites for the daily rate, but you will never see the monthly rate. You will have to show up in person and ask at the front desk what the rates are.

This might be a good thing. When you go to agoda, for example, you can see photos of the hotel and its rooms. But photos don’t always tell the truth. A lot of times photos are cropped in such a way to make the hotel room look nicer than it really is. Or, what happens a lot on Koh Tao and in highly touristed areas, the photos were taken when the hotel just opened… 20 years ago. No renovations or repairs have been done since.

So, showing up to ask about the monthly rates give you an opportunity to look at the room you might get. Hotel receptionists are happy to show you some rooms. Well, some aren’t happy, but they will show you some rooms anyway. Take notes of what you liked and didn’t like at the hotels.

The thing with renting a hotel room with a monthly rate is that water and utilities are not always included. (Also, you might have to buy things like toilet paper, shampoo, and soap yourself.) Sometimes they are and the place is super cheap. The place Mark and I got when we just arrived cost 10,000 THB a month with water and electricity included, but I thought the place was a dump. It was a tiny little air conditioned room with a small “toilet/shower”*. The room had a window the size of a science textbook and it looked out to a busy road where drunk people would walk at 3:00 am and yell at each other.

I have met a few people who were guests at that same exact hotel I hated and they enjoyed their stay. They were young single guys who spent most of their day underwater doing scuba stuff. They only went to their hotel room at night after getting super drunk and yelling at other drunks on their walk home. To each their own.

*A “toilet/shower” is a all-in-one type bathroom where the shower is right over the toilet. It’s a common find in south east Asia. There is no shower curtain; there’s just not enough room for that. When you take a shower you have to remember to place the toilet paper outside or else it will get wet. After the shower, the toilet seat is wet because EVERYTHING is wet. I hate “toilet/showers”!

So here is my advice when looking for a hotel on Koh Tao:

1. Spend the first 2 or 3 nights in whatever hotel you can book online

Most of the time you can just show up and find some hotel. It’s a little harder in the peak season (December to March and July to August), but it can still be done if you don’t care too much about where you end up. I care about where I end up, so I would find a nice hotel for the first 2 or 3 days. During that time go from hotel to hotel checking rates and find your longer term hotel.

2. Ask your scuba buddies for recommendations (I assume you’re here for scuba related purposes, because 95% of the tourists who go to Koh Tao are.)

Don’t rely to heavily on this. There have been so many times in my life when I’ve asked friends and co-workers for advice on a place to rent and got nothing. It’s not until after I’ve found a place, signed a contract, and moved in that useful information starts pouring in. Everyone always knows what you should have done, but they never know what you should do.

Sometimes you get what happened to Mark and me when we got to Koh Tao. Everyone recommended the crappy hotel we were already checked into. They all said, “Oh it’s a marvelous place!” Just because a place doesn’t have rats and roaches, doesn’t make it amazing.

But every once in a while a normal person with normal tastes will give you normal advice. That’s how Mark and I got our third hotel on Koh Tao. It’s a new hotel that’s actually still under construction, so there aren’t too many guests. (There are 2 construction workers and they are surprisingly quiet.) The hotel is off the beaten path, so we would have never known about it if one of Mark’s scuba pal’s hadn’t recommended it.

Make sure to ask people who are on Koh Tao when you are there. Don’t ask someone who was here 6 months ago. Nothing on this island stays the same for long. Even that serial killer changes up his M.O. every few weeks.◊  A hotel that was fantastic in January might have a new manager in April and soon after becomes a terrible place to stay. Or visa versa. Consistency is not something that you often get here.

◊ That’s a joke, but there might really be a serial killer on the island. Look at the information on Koh Tao below.

3. Party along Sairee Beach, stay quiet in Mae Haad 

There are hotels all over the island, but these are the two main areas. Most younger backpackers head to Sairee Beach. That’s where louder bars and restaurants that stay open later are. Mae Haad, near the docks, is more quiet. After 10:00 pm only 7-Eleven is open.

One can easily walk from the docks in the Mae Haad area to the end of Sairee Beach in less than an hour. You don’t need to hire a taxi unless you don’t know where you are going and you are lugging heavy backpacks.

4. Pick a hotel based on location, price, and amenities you can’t buy

What I mean is, if you want a hotel that comes with a pool, keep looking until you find one. But if what you want is a hotel with a tea kettle, then look for a nice hotel and if it doesn’t have a kettle, just buy one. There are a few hardware stores, grocery stores, and shops that sell stuff like that. For more expensive items check out Koh Tao For Sale. Hey, you could even get your used scuba gear there.

Some bungalows along Sairee Beach

Things to keep in mind when looking for a hotel

  1. If your hotel room faces a road, it will be noisy.
  2. If your hotel room faces a jungle, you will hear roosters crowing at the crack of dawn.
  3. If your hotel room faces a pool, you will hear drunk people yelling and splashing around at night unless the pool has a closing time.
  4. Check to see if there is any construction going on at or near the hotel.
    • Sometimes construction work only happens during the day when you’re gone anyway.
    • Sometimes there are only 2 or 3 workers who don’t really make that much noise most of the time.
    • Sometimes they use heavy machinery and they start work at the crack of dawn leaving you no peace.
  5. If your hotel is near the beach, you will get bitten by bugs every day around sunset.
    • Look for a hotel with screens on the windows.
      • In reality, screens in Thailand are almost as rare as unicycle-riding unicorns.
    • Buy bug spray, even if you’ve found one of those magical hotels with screens.
      • You can find Off in every store on Koh Tao, so there is no need to bring any with you.
      • You can also find hydrocortisone in every pharmacy on Koh Tao for the day after you forgot to use Off.
  6. If your hotel room is on the first floor then everyone who walks by can see into your room.
    • But, you don’t have to climb stairs.
  7. If your hotel room is on the top floor, you will have the best view.
    • But, you’re going to have to climb stairs.
  8. Don’t be a fool. Get a room with a balcony.
  9. You might not want to pay extra for a suite with a kitchen, but a little kitchenette is nice.
    • Some hotels have an area with an extra sink, a hot plate, and a microwave.
    • You will get tired of eating in restaurants
    • It’s nice not having to do dishes in your toilet/ shower.
  10. Not every hotel has a monthly rate.
    • Some hotels have a monthly rate, but only in the off season.
    • Some places charge even less if you rent 3 months at a time.
    • You could also make friends and rent an apartment with a real kitchen and living room for less than a hotel.
      • Per person I mean. Instead of 3 people paying 10 Money Units each on 3 hotel rooms, you guys could pay 15 Money Units together for a 3 bedroom-apartment.

Things to look for and ask about when looking at hotel rooms

  1. Check the bathrooms.
    • You want a bathroom with good ventilation. It should have a window or a fan.
    • Look to see if there is anything that is broken.
  2. Check out the balcony.
    • Make sure it has comfortable chairs for you to use when you drink your afternoon tea or beer.
  3. Ask how much everything costs.
    • Is house keeping extra?
      • When renting monthly housekeeping is usually done once a week for free.
      • Some places, but not all, charge extra to change the sheets and towels.
    • How much is the laundry service?
      • (if you’re not planning on doing your laundry by hand…)
    • How much is water and utilities?
      • Some places include utilities up to some amount. If you go over, you have to pay extra.
      • Ask how much most guests pay for water and electricity.

It’s almost noon!

Keep in mind that no matter how much time and effort you put into finding the right quiet hotel, you might still end up with idiot neighbors like this guy. He and his friends stayed up all night drinking, singing, laughing, and yelling at each other. The next day they were all passed out around the pool until way past noon, making it very uncomfortable for other people who wanted to swim. They did this 3 nights in a row. I was so glad to see those guys leave.

Likewise, I’m sure that along Sairee Beach you might find people shushing party goers. It’s important to know what kind of hotel you’re in and not to get your areas mixed up.

I’ve talked about our first hotel and our third hotel, but I haven’t said anything about our second hotel and why we left. The second hotel cost about 14,000 THB  a month not including utilities. House keeping was free, but new sheets and towels cost 150 THB. It came with a view of the docks and not much else. But, we managed to spruce up the place with a couple trips to the hardware store. We bought a kettle, a clothes horse, and an ice tray. We were living the high life!

We made friends with other guests and Mark recommended the hotel to several of his diving buddies. I would spend my evenings on the balcony talking with this guest or that one as we watched the sunset. Many evenings Mark and I would go out for dinner with someone from the hotel.

The service at the hotel wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. I enjoyed the hotel even though there were a few things I didn’t like about the place. For example, they had a pool, but they didn’t clean it often enough for my taste. (I only used the pool on very hot days or during the weeks it got cleaned.) I would have been happy to stay there during our whole stay in Koh Tao.

But, our friends one-by-one all finished their diving courses and left the island. It seemed like in the span of one week everyone we knew packed up and left. New guests moved in. They were probably all nice people, but they were heavy smokers. I don’t like to be around when people are smoking. These guys would sit out on the balcony and smoke for hours.

When they started their marathon smoking sessions I would close the window and turn on the air conditioning. The windows and doors of the hotel had a lot of gaps. So, even with the place closed up and the AC on, my hotel room would still fill up with cigarette smoke every evening.

With no friends holding me to the hotel, when the monthly deadline came I decided to check out other options. The hotel we moved to next was bigger and had a little kitchenette. It was more expensive at 17,000 THB a month. But, this one came with 300 units of water and 10 units of electricity. Anything after that we had to pay for. Also, house keeping was done once a week with new sheets and towels for free.

It was a lot more quiet and I really liked it there. I got more writing done and even started doing yoga.

I traded my beach view for a jungle view


Thailand
(ราชอาณาจักรไทย)
(Ratcha Anachak Thai)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, bus, or train.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to Thailand. But, you will need a visa to stay longer than 1 month or if you been to Thailand for at least 3 months already in the past 12 months.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 30-day visa at the port of entry.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Thai embassy in your country.
  • Visa laws change frequently.

Phone:

Data:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Scams & Dangers:

Notes:

  • Do not say anything negative about the king or anyone in the Royal family. And definitely do not write anything bad about the king or royal family. This offence could land you in jail. You don’t want to go to Thai jail.
  • Don’t use the city ferries in Bangkok during the peak hours. They fill those things past capacity and sometimes they sink. Use them during non-peak hours when they are not crowded.
  • Never eat female horseshoe crabs in Thailand. The roe of the horseshoe crab has tetrodotoxin (TTX) which is toxic to humans. It makes people very sick and some people have even died as a result.

Koh Tao

Basic Information

Websites:

Cost:

  • It’s pretty inexpensive, but you can rack up quite a bill for just about anything if you’re a chump.

Notes:

  • Koh Tao means “turtle island”. There are no turtles on the island, but the island is shaped like a turtle. Well, at least the person who named the island thought so.
  • ◊Koh Tao has the nickname “Murder Island”. Some people think there is a serial killer on the loose. Maybe there is.  I don’t really think so but, I could be wrong.
    • Many of the people who were “murdered” were very drunk at the time. Some of them jumped into pools and drowned.
    • A lot of the “murders” were incidences of parents of 20-somethings who couldn’t believe that their kid would get so drunk and fall into a pool, run off into the jungle, or whatever.
    • There are some cases that are clearly murders and the authorities have either found no suspects or they might have imprisoned the wrong people.
  • Many people rent scooters here and then crash them.
    • Some are just bad drivers.
    • But many are driving drunk.
      • Everyone either has a drunk driving story or knows of someone who does. (I have met 2 such people who openly brag about their drunk driving adventures with pride.)
      • It’s scary how common it is for tourists to get drunk then jump on their scooters and end up in the hospital.
  • DO NOT walk around in the early hours of the morning when the drunks are likely to be driving home.

Map:

Posted in Koh Tao, Thailand | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Travel Tips for Malta

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 20, 2018

2017

You have to bring:

  • Make sure to bring your prescription medication and a doctor’s note.
  • Everything else can be bought here.
    • If you can buy it in Europe, you can buy it here. (Mainly, because Malta is in Europe.)
    • In terms of grocery shopping, it’s like little Britain here.
    • Most things here are reasonably priced.

Things you can buy here or bring with you:

  1. Luggage:
    • You can use a suitcase or a backpack.
  2. Clothes:
    • You can buy anything here.
  3. Towel:
    • Bring your towel if you are staying in a hostel or going to the beach.
    • Or, you could just buy a beach towel here if your hotel doesn’t lend you one.
  4. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion:
    • You can buy all of these at any store.
    • They will have all the popular brands.
  5. Deodorant/ Antiperspirant:
    • You can find this here.
  6. Sunscreen:
    • No problem; you can find it here.
  7. Over the counter medicine:
    • No problem.
    • It’s best if you know the generic or chemical name of the drugs you need.
      • Instead of asking for Bufferine, ask for ibuprofen.
    • I would still bring some medications for basic illnesses like diarrhea, fever, and constipation.
      • Don’t run out of these.
      • It’s always tough to look for medication when you’re already sick.
      • It’s easy to find what you want if you have a label of the drug you are looking for.
  8. Other things you should bring:
    • Sunglasses
    • Flip-flops
    • Swim-suit
    • Light sweat – heavy sweater (depending on the time of year)
    • Smartphone
    • Hiking shoes
    • Rain jacket
    • Rain pants
    • Rain boots
    • Sun Hat
  9. If you need to buy groceries:
    • Get a car.
    • From what I could see, most of the bigger grocery stores are not within walking distance of anything.
    • But, the smaller stores aren’t too bad.
    • While I was there I found an Iceland and a shop that sold lots of generic Carrefour products.

General Tips:

Transportation:

  • You can buy a single ticket from the bus driver.
    • This gives you transportation for 2 hours (if I remember correctly) from the time of purchase.
  • The transportation cards are called Tallinja cards.
    • These cannot be bought from the bus driver.
    • Check out their website for the many places where you can buy one.
    • I remember buying our first cards from a WH Smith.
    • You can use these cards on both Malta and Gozo.
  • The buses can be very crowded. Here are some tips to avoid the crowd or fight through it.
    • To avoid the crowd:
    • Stay off the bus between 9:00 – 14:00 & 17:00 – 19:00
    • Find an alternative bus route. This may involve walking a couple extra blocks.
    • To fight through it:
    • Get on the bus at the first stop (bus depot) when possible.
    • If your at a crowded bus stop, walk up the road to the bus stop before the crowded one, so you can get on the bus before the crowd.
  • Use google for directions, bus routes, and schedules.
  • Sometimes the bus is late.
  • Sometimes the bus is so crowded it cannot stop to let more people on unless someone gets off.

Language:

  • Everyone speaks English as well as Maltese.

Food:

  • Try:
    • the many pastries sold all over the place.
    • The Wudy is my favorite.
    • I also loved Pastizzi

Money:

  • Euros!! I love a European country that uses Euros.
  • This place is so inexpensive. Eat in restaurants, order drinks, and have a great time.
  • Get money from the bank or ATM rather than exchanging it at the airport.

Scams:

  • Not many scams to look out for, just use common sense.


Malta

How to get there:

Phone:

  • 112 – emergency, ambulance, and fire

Website:

Data:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • The tap water is safe to drink, but it does taste funny.
    • It’s desalinized water.
  • There are transportation cards you can buy to use the buses in Malta or you can pay cash on the bus.
    • The transportation cards comes with discounted fares if you use it correctly.
    • Most transportation cards work on buses on Gozo too.

Posted in Malta | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Malta

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 15, 2018

December 11th – 31st, 2017

Mark checked with www.google.com/flights/ and came up with 3 different choices of destinations. One was Istanbul. Another was a city in Greece. The third was Malta. I wanted to stay in the EU a little longer, so Istanbul was out. We had already been to Greece and I would have loved to go back. But I was very curious about Malta.

Me hugging my favorite brother while my mom sings as loudly as she can (St. Croix USVI)

I am from the island of St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. Two things that every Cruzan knows are: one, a Cruzan is a person born on St. Croix, and two, all 7 flags that have flown over the island. The flags belonged to the Dutch, English, French, Spanish, The Knights of Malta, Danes, and lastly the Americans. All of these are countries that everyone is familiar with and can point to on a map. Well… except for the Knights of Malta.

I had no idea who they were, where they were from, or where they went. I remember asking my teachers about them in school and never getting a satisfactory answer. I got a few, “They don’t exist anymore” and some “No one is completely sure”. Both of which are nonsense and untrue. They still exist.

The Knights of Malta started out as a group of knights, called the Knights of St. John, who helped pilgrims going to Jerusalem. They were a cross between inn keepers and doctors without borders, except “doctor” here is too strong a word. Back then, medicine was knowing when to put poo on a wound or when to use leeches.

Eventually, they became more militaristic and moved to Rhodes to fight for Christianity which was code for harassing Jews and attacking Muslims. After awhile they became a nuisance. The Knights’ presence in Rhodes attracted more war than Rhodes wanted to deal with. Greece kicked the Knights out and they spent several years moving around Europe looking for a new home.

No one wanted the Knights in their backyard. They were a bit like a drunk who always starts bar fights that leaves the place a total wreck, then wonders later why no one wants them in their bar ever again. They kept asking around for a new city in which to stay, when finally a Spanish King with control of  Sicily let them have Malta. Not that Malta was his to give…

Oh Knights, you’re an entertaining train wreck, but no, none of you can come to my house for dinner.

The Maltese weren’t pleased with them. They thought the knights were… assholes. They were jerks who walked around like they owned the place. They renamed everything. They bossed people around. They didn’t even bring decent food with them. And, the Knights complained a lot.

But all of this could have been ignored had the Knights not attracted so many wars. There are many books written about the most epic of these wars, The Great Siege in 1565, where knights died noble and honor-rich deaths, while the Maltese died normal plain deaths even though they were both fighting on the same side. The Maltese had to put up with them for about 268 years.

In time the Knights would piss off Napoleon causing him to invade the island of Malta and kicking out the Knights. They would go back to wandering. During this time they were given the island of St. Croix. Just a few years later they sold it. Many years would pass until a weakened, fractioned Knights of Malta settled in Rome where they still are today. They still do a lot of work during war time, but now they’ve returned to focusing on humanitarian efforts without taking sides.

This was taken while on a bus ride to town

Malta is insanely beautiful. The island is filled with historical sites, catacombs, spectacular churches, and amazing landscapes. But I want to talk about the most curious of tourist attractions on the island, the old movie lot.

Apparently, a long, long time ago, back in the early 80’s a live action version of Popeye was made into a movie. I had never heard of it until I got to Malta, but it happened. It starred Robin Williams and it was really, really terrible.

They filmed here back in 1980 and for some reason the film set was never taken down. Left abandoned for years, someone bought the thing back in the 90’s. They repainted buildings, fixed up other structures, and charged admission for entrance.

A pool, a put-put course, a souvenir shop and a few restaurants were added. Tourist just poured in. I’m fairly sure this place makes more money per year than the film every did.

They do play the film at Popeye’s movie theater. I think it’s on an endless loop. But, no one stays in the theater for too long because the movie is just awful. The set is great, though. Play mini golf, go swimming, eat an over priced burger that Wimpy could never afford either today or tomorrow, but don’t watch the film.


Malta

How to get there:

Phone:

  • 112 – emergency, ambulance, and fire

Website:

Data:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • The tap water is safe to drink, but it does taste funny.
    • It’s desalinized water.
  • There are transportation cards you can buy to use the buses in Malta or you can pay cash on the bus.
    • The transportation cards comes with discounted fares if you use it correctly.
    • Most transportation cards work on buses on Gozo too.

Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 17:00 daily

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • 3300 – 3000 BC
  • Tickets are usually sold out weeks and months in advance, so buy your ticket as soon as possible.
  • Photography is not allowed inside.
  • Bring your earbuds.

The Knights Of Malta

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • €6.50

Hours:

  • 10.00 – 17.00

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • This starts out with a short film, then you walk through exhibits of history.
  • You can get tickets of The Knights of Malta in combinations with the Mdina Experience.
    • The Mdina Experience is just a 30-minute video.

Popeye Village

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  •  Spring & Summer €14.50
  • fall & winter  €10.50

Hours:

  • 9:30 – 16:30

Video

Books:

Notes:

  • They play the movie in one of the houses in the village, so there is no need to watch it before hand.
    • The movie is terrible!
  • I think the village makes way more money that the movie ever did.
  • The tickets include some free stuff.
    • We got free post cards and a cup of mulled wine.
    • (Kids got a toy instead of wine…)
  • There are lots of games to play.
    • There is a put-put course.
  • In the summer you came swim in the water or in the small pool area.
  • The food is a little over priced.
    • Generally, restaurant food in Malta is inexpensive, but not here.

Fort St. Angelo

Basic Information

Website

e-mail:

Cost:

  • €8
  • Combo Ticket €13 – includes
    • Fort St. Angelo
    • The Inquisitor’s Palace
    • The Maritime Museum

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 17:00

Video

Notes:


Inquisitor’s Palace

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • €6
  • Combo Ticket €13 – includes
    • Fort St. Angelo
    • The Inquisitor’s Palace
    • The Maritime Museum

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 17:00
  • Last admittance is at 16:30

Video

Books:

Notes:

  • Look out for:
    • The tribunal room
    • The garden in the middle
    • The prisons cells with original graffiti

St. John’s Co-Cathedral

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • €10
    • Includes an audio guide
    • Bring your earbuds

Hours:

  • M-F 9:30 – 16:30 (last admission at 16:00)
  • Sa 09:30- 12:30 (last admission at 12:00)
  • closed Sundays

Videos:

Books:

Notes:


Gozo

Basic Information:

  • The boat comes every 45 minutes during the summer.
  • The trip takes about 25 minutes.
  • A round trip ticket costs €4.65.

Website

Cost:

  • There are various combo tickets that you can get.
  • You can use the same bus card here that you use on Malta.

Video

Notes:

  • Look out for:
    • The Cittadella
      • You can walk around the Cittadella for free.
      • There are many individual tickets for little museums in the Cittadella and there are also combo tickets.
    • The Blue Hole and the Azure Window
      • Unfortunately the Azure Window fell in March 2017
      • You have to dive to see the Blue Hole

Casa Rocca Piccola

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • €9 – Guided Tour

Hours:

  • 10:00 – 17:00
  • Last tour starts at 16:00

Video

Books:

Notes:

  • Look for the parrot.

Rotunda of Mosta

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • normal church hours

Notes:

  • During WWII a bomb fell on the church, going through the dome. It did not explode.
  • There is a bomb shelter right next to the dome.

Don’t Miss:

Go Ahead and Miss:

  • The Maritime Museum
    • Basic Information
    • Why miss it?
      • It’s small and not that interesting.
      • It’s included in a combo ticket and that’s why anyone ever visits. Left on its own, I don’t think they would have many visitors.

Map:

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