Friday, July 13, 2012

Beaches and LadyBoys: Southern Thailand

After one week beach hopping in Thailand, I am three things: extremely sunburnt, rejuvenated from the calm of the blue sea and sandy beaches, and much poorer than when I arrived. On my very last night in Koh Tao (and on my 22nd birthday!!), my new friends and I spent the night celebrating with a fresh seafood dinner on the beach, and then by drinking and dancing the night away at the famed Lotus Beach bar. It was a magical birthday night filled with fire shows and live music...until things got a little out of hand and I decided that it would be a good idea to go skinny dipping in the gulf of Thailand. Lo and behold, I returned to the shore only to find my belongings sprawled on the white sand...minus one purse. Goodbye phone, wallet, credit cards...who needs you anyway when you are young and free in Thailand! Oh wait...I do. That was probably one of the dumbest things I have ever done in my life - but hey, it's my birthday, betch. The next morning, my local guide ushered me on the back of his scooter to the local police station to file a theft report (as if that would bring back the perpetrator, with my belongings in tow).

 My 22nd birthday in Koh Tao, Thailand
 Partying at the Lotus Bar, Koh Tao

 Fire Spinning at the Lotus Bar, Koh Tao

Beside that minor setback, my time in Thailand so far has been an experience I'll never forget. I started off the next leg of my journey by flying into Bangkok, where I spent two days visiting the bustling night markets, walking down the streets of the colourful and chaotic China town, exploring the Grand Palace, Wat Prakeaw and its beautiful grounds, shopping and drinking towers of Chang along the infamous Khao San Road, and of course eating as much Pad thai as I could possibly stuff in my mouth at once. The pad thai alone would be reason enough for a person to fall in love with Bangkok. Consisting of stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, red chili peppers, plus any combination of bean sprouts, shrimp, chicken, beef, or anything else, garnished with crushed peanuts, coriander and lime, this dish is perfection materialized into an ingestible carbohydrate overload. Only in the populous capital of Thailand can you get this beautiful mixture of fresh ingredients in the most ideal proportions for a bare 60 Baht (2$) from any food stall along the side of the road.

 Khao San Road: the backpacker's mecca (not my picture)
(not my picture) 
 Pad Thai on Khao San Road

 Yummy! Crispy Critters

Khao San Road by night (not my picture)

 Bangkok's China Town (not my picture)

 The Grand Palace

 Entering Bangkok's China Town

 My first tuk-tuk ride!

 Kid's posing for pictures in Bangkok

Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn monastery

After a crazy couple of days in Bangkok, it was time to take the night train South of the country to revel in the natural beauty of Khao Sok National Park. Khao Sok NP is covered by the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world, enormous limestone mountains shooting straight up to the sky, deep valleys, breathtaking lakes, mysterious caves, wild animals and much, much more. I spent one night here amidst the rainforest in my very own tree house bungalow, and spent the day trekking along the paths. Because it was monsoon season, the paths were muddy and swarmed with leaches, sticking onto every exposed part of our bodies - an extremely unpleasant sensation. Although I only spent one day in the National Park, there are enough activities to easily fill up a a week - from hiking to canoeing, tubing to bamboo rafting, Khao Sok National Park is a paradise for nature lovers and thrill seekers alike.

Entrance to Khao Sok national park
 Floating houses (not my photo) 
River rafting (not my photo)
Monkeying around

Next stop: Koh Samui! Koh Samui is one of the most visited islands in Thailand and the largest in an archipelago of around 80 islands. Once on the island, it is easy to understand what attracts the flocks of tourists to this destination year after year - beautiful beaches, coconut palms, fresh seafood and warm, clear waters, Koh Samui has it all. Here, I spent two incredible days soaking up the sun on the pristine beaches, getting spoiled with Thai massages and pedicures right by the ocean, and enjoying the vibrant nightlife of the island.

 On the ferry to Koh Samui

Motorbiking around Koh Samui

After that, I continued onto Koh Tao, also known as "Turtle Island", well known for its scuba diving and snorkelling. With its rich and diverse marine life and coral reefs, Koh Tao is slowly becoming one of the most popular destinations in the world to learn how to dive, attracting beginners and profesionals alike. I spent two days here snorkelling the clear blue waters and bumming along the beach. On our snorkelling tour, we stopped at a private island just off of Koh Tao known as Koh Nang Yuan. Although there is a 100 Baht entrance fee, it is definitely worth the money and it is a must-see for any tourist visiting the area! It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to, with crystal clear emerald green water and stunning pebbled beaches. Since we arrived to the tiny island pretty early, we were lucky enough to have the island all to ourselves for a while before the swarm of tourists arrived. One of the highlights was the short 10-15 minute hike up to the island's highest peak, where there were spectacular views of the three little teardrops of land that compose Koh Nang Yuan, all connected by a massive sandbar. But don't be fooled by the short distance to the top!! The combination of the steep path and heat of midday makes it quite a workout - but one that will be quickly rewarded when you reach the top.

Arriving in Koh Tao (aka Turtle Island)

Long tail boats

Sairee Beach, Koh Tao

View of Koh Ngan Yuan from the highest peak

Back to Koh Tao in the early evening, we spent the night strolling along the streets of Sairee Beach. After dinner, we decided to check out the Queens Ladyboy cabaret show! From the energetic dance routines to the glamorous makeup and costumes, the entire show was non-stop entertainment. The ladyboys pranced around the stage with confidence and fabulousness, lip synching to songs by the original divas themselves (Beyonce, Lady Gaga, etc.). Because Thai people are generally petite with small frames and delicate features, I have never seen men look so believably like women before (and with such small hands!). For the final act, they even brought male audience members on stage and had them dress up and dance along with them. If you are planning on going to one drag show in Thailand (and you should), this is definitely the one not to miss!

Queens Cabaret, Koh Tao

After my island escape, it is now time to go back to Bangkok for another night before meeting up with my Contiki tour for the next part of my trip. I'm sad to leave behind this carefree island life that I've adopted over the past week, but very excited for what's to come! 

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