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Archive for July, 2018

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:

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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: | 1 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:

Posted in Gozo, Malta | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Belgium

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 10, 2018

December 7 – 11, 2017

We spent a few days in Brussels. The first day we walked around the city and found all the peeing statues we could. We also saw the Grand Place. We were outdoors until it started to rain. That’s when we headed for the  Parlamentarium. By the time we were done there, it was night and the rain have stopped.

The next day we did more outdoors sightseeing, but nothing we saw was very exciting. Belgium is nice, but not too memorable. It seems like a great place to live, but not so great as a tourist destination.

The third day it snow quite heavily. We stayed in. We were starting to get worn out from our months of traveling. That’s when we decided to take a vacation from our tiring vacation. We needed some place warm. We would head to Malta next. After the snow day, we didn’t leave our Airbnb apartment until it was time to head to the airport, except to get food.

The beer aisles in the super markets in Brussels are amazing. They are like the ramen aisles in Japan or the cereal aisles in the US. Even though I don’t drink beer, I had fun picking out bottles for Mark to drink. Mark chose his beer based on reviews he’s read online.

I picked beers based on the pictures on the label. In the photo above, the middle two were Mark’s selections. Mine were the outer two.


Belgium

How to get there:

Phone:

  • 112 – emergency, ambulance, and fire
  • 101 – police

Website:

Data:

Videos:

Books: 


European Parliament

Basic Information

Website

Downloads:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • Monday 13:00 – 18:00
  • Tuesday – Friday 09:00 – 18:00
  • Saturday – Sunday 10:00 – 18:00
  • Closed 30 minutes before closing time

Video

Notes:

  • Bring your earbuds.

Atomium

Basic Information

Website

Downloads:

Cost:

  • €12

Hours:

  • 10:00 – 18:00

Video

Notes:

  • There is an expensive restaurant in the Atomium if you’re interested.
  • But, there is also an inexpensive cafe right out side the Atomium.

Don’t Miss:

Map:

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Gdańsk

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 5, 2018

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

We spent a day in Gdansk. This is a port city in northern Poland. Throughout history the city went back and forth between being Gdansk, a Polish city, and being Danzig, a German city. We walked through the beautiful city while it rained off and on. It was quite a dreary day.

I came all this way and you guys are napping… Where’s your fountain?

A lot of the things we wanted to see were outside. Like the Lion fountain in the photo above, many of the sights were turned off, under repair, or disappointing in other ways. What made things worse, Gdansk seemed to have been in a data dead spot. Neither Mark’s or my sim card worked consistently in this city.

We couldn’t explain why we had no internet connection. But, that meant we didn’t have access to my online maps or information. There were some street oddities that we just couldn’t find because of our lack of an online map.

Because of that and the rain we were ready to head home before lunch. We found an indoor restaurant with wifi and ordered food. We got directions to get us back to the train station. But, after lunch we came up with one last plan of action.

What did people do before the internet when they got to a new town? They found a Tourist Information Office and read some brochures. So, that’s what we tried.

a replica of Mussolini’s Fascistmobile

At the information office we were told that the World War II Museum was open and, on Tuesdays, it was free. An activity that was free and indoors seemed perfect for a rainy day in Gdansk. It was just a 15 minute walk from where we were.

The museum was amazing. It was informative. It was educational. It had a great audio guide. It was huge. We slowly went through the many sections and rooms of the museum. There was so much to learn.

One of the many scenes we walked through

We were a little past the halfway point of our museum tour when Mark noticed the time. It was almost 18:00. The last train to Warsaw would leave at 19:00. We had lost track of time. We ran through the rest of the museum and headed to the train station. We got there with a good 10 minutes to spare.

In the end, it was a good day in Gdansk.


Poland

How to get there:

Phone:

  • 112 – emergency, ambulance, and fire but also
  •  999 for ambulance
  • 998 for fire brigade
  • 997 for police

Downloads:

Website:

Data:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • Poland is in Europe, but things aren’t expensive.
    • And, they don’t Euros; they use Zloty.

The Museum of Second World War

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • free on Tuesdays
  • 23 zł
  • Audioguide – 5 zł

Hours:

  • 10:00 – 19:00
  • Closed Mondays

Video

Notes:

  • It’s a very good museum.
  • It’s very thorough.
  • Mark and I nearly missed our train because we lost track of time in this place.

Don’t Miss:

 

Map:

Posted in Gdańsk, Poland | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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