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Thailand

'Antie's Thailand in a Nutshell'

Seeing as we have a whole lot of time on our hands (sometimes methinks too much, we have started googling some whack stuff like... what was the name of that 80's programme presented by Dr Miriam Stoppard with the Jean Michel Jarre theme tune?), we decided to pose each other random questions about Thailand, as an affectionate look back on our time travelling together... this could be a continued theme as we leave each country.

Annie's questions to Ant...

What's been the most fun?
A complete lack of routine and the only days that matter are today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.

Did anything about Thailand surprise you?
Yes, Bangkok. It's more intense than anywhere I've ever been. Sometimes good (vibrant and busy), sometimes bad (seedy and smelly).

Favourite food?
Khao pad gai... or chicken fried rice as we know it.

Best day?
The day we certified as open water divers.

Most impressive thing you've seen in the sea (apart from Annie)?
The wall of Giant Barracuda at Chumphon Pinnacle, Koh Tao.

Biggest disappointment?
Overall, Thai food. I had high expectations but I'd say it's no better than the Thai food at home.

If we could have had one more place on the itinerary where would you have liked to go?
The Similian Islands, off the coast north of Krabi, for diving.

Favourite place?
Bar at Castaway Resort, Koh Lipe. Really chilled even if they did like their Gregorian chanting a bit too much.

Scariest moment?
Being in charge of a scooter with me and Annie on, something I said I wouldn't do.

Anything you would have liked to have done but didn't?
I wish we had gone to see Muay Thai (kick boxing).

Ant's questions to Annie...

Funniest moment?
Whilst learning to dive I had to take my weight belt off, but lost my balance and started to giggle as I was all over the place! Then realised it's pretty hard to laugh underwater.

Favourite item/article you've bought?
A ring I bought in a great little arts and craft shop in Lanta Old Town.

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Favourite restaurant?
Time for Lime on Koh Lanta I think.

If you could have squeezed one more thing into your rucksack, what would it have been?
Paper guidebooks. Nothing beats thumbing through a book (we've got e-reader versions) and I love putting stickers all over them.

And what would you have sacrificed for it?
Some clothes, because you can buy them as you go.

One piece of advice for others travelling to Thailand?
The best food is quite often the cheapest, so don't be afraid to try the simple looking street restaurants.

Has your everyday outlook been changed by any of your experiences?
Usually when we go anywhere I plan and research everything to death, this trip is already changing that. Quite often we are researching the next place the day before we travel there.

Where would you go back to/avoid?
I'm not in the habit of going back to the same place twice, but I'd go back to Koh Lanta just because we didn't have that long there. Hopefully I'll never need to go to Bangkok again! Surat Thani was also just a means to an end and offers nothing for the tourist.

On a scale of 1-10, overall how likely is it that you would recommend Thailand to a friend or family member?
10

Which makes the NPS for Thailand...?
+100. I see what you did there.

Posted by Galavantie 03:26 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Koh Lipe - paradise found (with a few small buts)

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We arrived mid afternoon, docking into a crescent shaped white sandy beach and crystal clear turquoise waters. Nice welcome Koh Lipe! It pretty much impressed from the off.

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We had to push the budget for our accommodation, it was either that or stay in a bamboo hut crawling with bugs (no sirree). Comparatively to the rest of Thailand Koh Lipe is expensive - but that's because it's 40 miles from the mainland and of course everything is imported. It's also part of a national marine park.

All of which meant our lodgings (Castaway Resort) were £46 a night. But so worth it! We wouldn't think twice spending two or three times that for a European city break hotel, but when you're away for 9 months (with no income), circumstances are a little different! We were really pleased when we arrived to see tastefully decked communal areas for the reception, bar and eating area. At night, the resort is lit up by candles... very pretty.

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So what does just shy of 50 quid get you? Your very own 'treehouse' as I called it! A two storey wooden hut with bathroom below and bedroom above with a small balcony. Very cute and quite homely. No aircon but a fan and cold showers.

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The island is tiny, you can walk from one side to the other in no more than 15 minutes. Our resort was right on the best beach on Koh Lipe - Sunrise Beach. The sea was amazing - along with the best I've ever swam in... 30 degrees! Pattaya Beach (the main one) is too busy and overdeveloped in our opinion.

We spent some blissfully lazy days here. We enjoyed the resort's salas - raised wooden lounging areas - reading, swimming and snorkelling as the hours slowly passed. I felt such contentment when occassionally peering over my e-reader to take in the views.

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If one picture could sum it up, this would be it

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Even the clouds 'like' it here

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Salas

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Wagwan Terry, me feeling vexed... oops wrong part of the world!

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Locals area of the beach. Due to its geography, between the two world wars the Thai government moved a population of "sea gypsies" to Koh Lipe to ensure the British didn't claim it as part of Malaysia. The Chao Ley people thrive on the island to this day.

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Snorkelling just offshore we saw loads of clown fish! So exciting, super cute little fellas and I've been dying to see one. It's impossible not to think of the Dad in Finding Nemo as they swim a little bit out from their anemones and dart quickly back in again, "be careful, Nemo!".

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I mention a few buts in the title. We had decided to extend our stay but thought it prudent to check out a number of other accommodations to see if we could stay somewhere cheaper.

We took a stroll through the middle and up to Sunset Beach, the smallest of the three main beaches. We were saddened to see what they're doing to the island. There's seemingly uncontrolled building going on, the centre is a state. They seem to have little regard for litter, stray dogs, junk just left around... it was pretty shabby and a world away from our resort. It was a bit depressing and definitely took the shine off.

We looked at some alternatives and for £14 less a night you get a hut which is completely open to the elements at the top of the walls, and a fairly grotty bathroom. They suddenly made our 'higher end' hut look like excellent value for money. So we extended our stay. Twice.

As our little two storey hut was already booked out, they moved us to a single storey one which we actually preferred as it was more spacious.

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And the other buts? Mosquitos and dogs. We've obviously had to contend with mossies from the off and it's nothing a high dose of deet won't deter. But the mossies here are plentiful, big and when the odd one did slip through, I seemed to react to their bites more than anywhere else. Still, again, nothing some afterbite doesn't soothe. I mentioned the stray dogs too? There's quite a few, including on the beach. They don't bother you and some are well cared for, sadly others not and are woefully thin or mangy.

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It's a dog's life...

What else during our week here... we had a couple of film nights at a backpacker bar. Despite appearances from two greats, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, one of the films - Now You See Me - was just plain silly and inplausibly laughable, but it was a joy to lie back chomping Haribo and catching a movie all the same. I have a great love of films and am really missing the chance to curl up and watch some (also not helped by my current read... The Good, The Bad & The Multiplex by Mark Kermode).

We also did a dive to 'Stonehenge', a popular dive stop nearby. It was the epitomy of an underwater garden with masses of soft purple coral wafting in the current. We saw two, yes two, titan triggerfish which gave me the opportunity to do the underwater symbol for them... a 'lock and load' (says it all really), but thankfully they weren't interested in us this time around. Our Dive Master had a scar on her leg from a previous run in... crazy mental fish! We also spotted lionfish, scorpionfish, barracuda and pufferfish. Very awesome.

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On a day's boat/snorkelling trip we saw loads of other goodies including beautiful powder blue surgeon fish and a banded sea krait (latter pic thanks to my friends at google).

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Its lethal venom packs a punch ten times (!) more toxic than a rattlesnake’s, but thank the lordy they're timid creatures and don't pose much of a threat to us humans. Billy Connolly was right. We don't belong in the sea. They are also alone among the sea snakes in that they are amphibious and able to spend up to ten days at a time on land.

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Stunning 'fields' of coral

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Brightly coloured Christmas tree worms

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Pipefish on the bottom - of the seahorse family

More from the boat trip...
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I was howling in the sea taking this!

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One island had tonnes of rocks where people had made small cairns, this was ours...

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And they were hot enough to fry eggs on

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Evenings spent on Koh Lipe...
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My dinner... before...

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during...

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and after :)

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Our last night coincided with a full moon - the locals came out in their droves to light ornate decorations, pushing them out to sea. It's a big festival for Thai people even if we, as westerners, tend to just associate full moons in Thailand with the infamous all night parties on Koh Phangan. It seemed a fitting end to our time here.

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We're a little sad to be saying goodbye to Thailand, it's been a wonderful country to explore and Koh Lipe was definitely a highlight. You can still keep Bangkok though!

So, next stop Malaysia!

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Posted by Galavantie 05:44 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

15 minutes (or maybe longer) of fame

Just spotted today that our blog is highlighted on Travellerspoint homepage as a 'recently featured blog'. This makes me very happy. I am a sad creature. The next challenge is to get one of our photos featured!

Posted by Galavantie 20:18 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Koh Lanta... ahhhhh

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When you arrive on Koh Lanta, there should be a sign saying "Take one deep breath in, exhale slowly - welcome to Koh Lanta". You don't even watch sunsets sitting up, everything's geared to a more horizontal approach. Quite possibly the most chilled place I've ever been...

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Cute little fella who joined us for dinner

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Love the moodiness of this one, it's more like a painting than a photograph

Lanta is located close to the mainland and is still in the Krabi province, the island is 32km long, 20km wide. We decided to come here whilst we were in Ao Nang. That's the fantastic thing about travelling... the question "where shall we go next?".

We booked 3 nights in the northern end, a place called Klong Dao beach. Our hotel was fabulous, as the guidebook said "a 3 star hotel with 5 star service". They weren't wrong. It was located on the road but within a 5 minute walk to the beach. We should probably learn to rough it a bit more...!

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Lanta Mermaid Boutique Hotel

Now to be fair, Koh Lanta's beaches and sea aren't its crowning glory. The best beach we saw was Long Beach, but even then the seas were a little murky. I'm not sure I can describe, but it's just the feel of the place. It's unbelievably relaxed and unhurried. I loved it.

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Where the tiny crabs live :)

Technically it's now high season, but early into it - high season starts 1 November, we arrived on the 7th. As a result it was pretty quiet everywhere. Our hotel was full but that was down to its knockout reviews, otherwise restaurants and bars were generally one fifth full at best.

After some initial reticence, we rented a scooter from the hotel for a day and had brilliant fun exploring the island. We rode over Lanta's central hilly spine to Lanta Old Town, where 100+ year old houses jut out over the water on stilts. By chance, we happened upon probably the best spot on offer for lunch.

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Table for two, sir?

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Net fishing off the jetty

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Lanta Old Town to the left

The freedom the bike gave us was fab. We stopped off at a little independent jewellerymaker's and bought a bracelet each... found cafes perched on hills overlooking the sea... caught the strong scent of an avenue of hibiscus flowers as we drove past... and made it down to almost the southern tip seeing numerous bays and small resorts clustered along the coast. A really wonderful day.

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Yup, ours was the pink one

One evening in Klong Dao we had dinner at a place called Time For Lime. They offer cookery classes which we considered doing, but the prices were a bit steep for our budget. Instead we had their 6 course Thai taster menu which was superb - the nicest food we've had in Thailand so far. It also bucked the trend of empty restaurants and was full of happy eaters and cookery students.

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The view across the bay from our table

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They take their name seriously - everything is lime!

The boat service to our next stop, Koh Lipe, only runs alternate days until high season properly kicks in (in about a week's time), so we needed to stay an extra night on Lanta to pick up our boat trip the following day. We moved to Ban Saladan for our last night, the 'capital' of Lanta, although saying that is pretty funny seeing as it's just three quiet streets dotted with shops, restaurants and bars. Again, all the restaurants are built out on decks over the water making it very a quaint and great place to eat.

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Brekkie spot

The next morning we caught the fast boat to Koh Lipe (3 hours ish), which by all accounts looks to be a paradise island. We sat next to a brilliant character, Mo, a 56 year old from East London (no, not the one off Eastenders). Mo retired from teaching early and is now living on Koh Lanta permanently.

Two years ago she took her gap year and as part of that, joined the 'Kiwi Experience' - a New Zealand backpacker fun bus she referred to as the 'Chlamydia Express'... ha ha ha. She was like a Mum to them all apparently. When she returned to the UK she got itchy feet so took herself off to South Africa to volunteer with animals, and is now doing the same on Lanta. Good on her.

Posted by Galavantie 02:37 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Typhoon Haiyan - a change to the itinerary?

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With our previous track record (being on St Lucia when Hurricane Tomas hit in 2010), we're well aware of the devastation these huge weather fronts can cause.

It's really tragic that the Philippines have suffered the worst storm ever recorded - typhoon Haiyan - a super storm which has left a significant trail of destruction and cost the lives of thousands. RIP.

Our plan was to head there at the end of this month but, understandably, the official travel advice is not to go. We are still considering it, but now with a purpose to volunteer and offer aid. It would obviously be an entirely different experience to what we had planned, but will no doubt be extremely humbling and rewarding. That said, I can't lie, there's another part of me which says let's just go to Borneo instead to see the little orange fellas... we'll see. We both agree we won't go if it puts us in any unnecessary danger.

Some research to do and maybe make contact with the Red Cross. We'll keep you posted!

PS. Also wanted to say thanks for the kind blog comments, we love reading them x (ha ha Will!)

Posted by Galavantie 20:35 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Ao Nang minus Hubbard

sunny

So what else can I tell you about Ao Nang? Russians and reggae.

Russians far outnumber any other nationality in terms of tourists, and the best bars are reggae bars (sorry Jon, but we found by far the best bar after you had gone... Mr Long Bar... complete with very friendly Mr Long. He wasn't, although his white hair was).

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In Mr Longs with chilled live music

The living here was easy. It's definitely a package holiday destination so felt very much like a holiday rather than backpacking.

We extended our Ao Nang stay to a week as we loved our hotel so much and booked another boat trip, this time to see the Hong Islands.

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More birds' nest harvesting

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Best beach of the day, wonderful soft sand

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You see these signs everywhere near the coast since the Boxing Day tsunami hit in 2004

The Hong Islands were a bit overrated which was a shame (or have we been spoilt?!), as the marketing suggested they were the most beautiful islands close to Krabi. The scenery was still lovely but some of the beaches weren't great and we noticed piles of litter just back from the beach area. It seems there's little responsibility taken to keep some of the heavily visited beaches/sea clean and complacency about the sustainability of future tourism. Anyone who came to Thailand years ago would no doubt see much change, for the worse. However it can still offer some beautiful clean beaches (west Railay Beach is a great example).

The rest of our stay was filled with massages, beach time and mooching about. Very chilled... and hurrah, my hearing returned after 12 days, so although we couldn't dive in the Krabi region, I'm good to go again!

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Ao Nang beach

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You see a lot of singular birds in cages, Thai people prize these and pay good money for them as a sign of wealth and for decoration...

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Breakfast reading of the tourist mag letters page... weirdos...

Posted by Galavantie 02:23 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

50* Not Out

Well, I guess it's about time I wrote a blog. To be fair, a few of the words written have been mine, I've just not received any credit for them :-)

But seeing as it is a worthy milestone I thought I would write a whole blog by myself.

So today marks our 50th day travelling, or if you are reading in binary, this is day 110010. In cricketing terms we nod politely, wave our bat and acknowledge the milestone before carrying on as before. We are about 17.6% of the way through the trip (that's just under one fifth in old money), which would normally feel like an age. It's been 7 weeks (or 3.5 holidays really). Which is weird as I can't remember what it's like when not travelling, but also doesn't feel like it's been that long!

What's it been like I hear you ask? Well, it's been great and the fact that we are moving every few days means we never get bored - or settled! There's always the next place to look forward to and plan for.

There's a few things I miss about home (besides the people!!):
Tea with proper milk (currently drinking it black)
My bike, or more precisley being out on it. Although that's a slight non-truth as it would likely be too cold out!!
The build up to Xmas

But then again, that's only a few things to give up for an amazing adventure.

In the next 50 days we're hoping to travel to 4 countries, 3 of which will be new to both of us, celebrate Christmas on the beach, watch one of the world's greatest firework displays, dig for gold, dive the world's most famous coral reef and catch up with some friends and relatives.

Who knows, I might even write another blog :-)

This blog was brought to you by the numbers '5' and '0'.

Some more (not as reliable) numbers:
Miles travelled - 9,000
Bad days - 2
Good days - 45
Hungover days - 3
(Days with Jon - 3)
Number of scams avoided - 17
Number of scams not avoided - 2 (we think)
New languages to say hello in - 4
New skills acquired - scuba diving, moped driving, haggling, scam avoidance

Ant

Posted by Galavantie 17:13 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

When a Hubbard came to town

Ao Nang

sunny

We were super excited to see Jon, who was over with a few friends from the UK for Nick's non-stag do and non-wedding (long story).

Having woken to a glorious day and chance to meet up with our close pal, we put the previous day's problems behind us.

So, what did we do with our J-Ho weekend...?

Big hugs. Beer. Bit o'sun. More beer. Convivial chat. Cocktails. Boats. More sun. More beer. Beaches. Gin. Hugs. Misty eyes (from me).

Ok, ok.... the detail (I'm sure Linzi will appreciate anyway, you were missed lots x).

After a quick Friday night drink just the three of us, and dinner with everyone, we went on the hunt for a decent bar or two. This search lead us down a narrow brightly lit lane before it was too late to notice they were all Thai girl and ladyboy bars... pub names like 'Kitty', 'Lovely', 'Climax' and 'Ting Tong' (no, really) should have given the game away...

I was leading the way, with the 6 guys behind. The whole street appeared to cheer loudly as the wallets, I mean guys, approached. It was hilarious. I felt like some sort of madam pimp leading fresh meat down the street. We stopped briefly and were quickly surrounded and grabbed as they tried to drag us into their bars. The boys were very gallant, took one look at me and said let's get the hell out of here. We made a quick exit!

We found another place but the guys were looking tired after their Bangkok stay so our first night was a pretty quiet one. We were also probably a disappointment to Jon as we've got used to earlier nights and early starts, so I was taking in huge lungfuls of air by 10pm!

We decided to go to Railay Beach on our first day together (a 10 minute long boat ride from Ao Nang). Ian from the group also joined us, Nick had to work (he's hopefully about to get his first book published), Roger was off to Koh Lanta and John had the two bob bits.

Railay was beautiful... archetypal Thailand beach with high surrounding cliffs. As the tide went out the shoreline was also covered in hundreds of tiny crabs, no larger than your little fingernail. I've never seen so many in one place before.

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Ian & Jon

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Railay Beach...
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After the beach, grabbing a beer, it blowed a hooley and absolutely chucked it down... I tried to get them all to look grumpy...

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We had great Thai food in the evening and the guys found a sports bar as Man U were playing. I left them to it in favour of a pedicure and some shopping. Oh why can't match nights always be this good?! We'd booked a day's boat trip to the Phi Phi islands for the next day, so we all headed home before midnight.

The speedboat trip was great... we were taken to a few scenic spots including Maya Beach on Phi Phi Leh, made famous in the Hollywood film 'The Beach'.

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Harvesting birds' nests for bird's nest soup

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Maya beach above

This was heaven and hell. Ant & I agreed it was the finest white powdery beach we've ever been on, but we also shared the experience with hundreds of other tourists. There were so many boats ours had to wait for a parking spot. Shame really, although it was no different to what we were expecting, given its fame.

We had a few snorkel stops, the water was gorgeous although there were lots of tiny jellyfish which kept giving us small stings so I didn't stay in for too long. I thought we saw a couple of seahorses on the bottom but it was hard to tell as they were swimming flat rather than with tail curled up.

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Monkeys clinging to the rocks at 'Monkey Bay'

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Does this count as fish bombing?

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Final stop was Bamboo Island, a very stunning white beach and crystal clear water. Paradise indeed, it was so hot with zero breeze everyone scurried to the shade from the boat. Ant & I enjoyed more snorkelling until a small pink territorial fish bit us both! Fiesty little thing.

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And so our last evening with J-Ho. We treated ourselves to a steak place which had great reviews. It seemed to get the thumbs up all round for juicy steaks but the service was crazy slow. We were there at 8.30 and didn't get our mains til after 10. No matter, we were downing a nice Malbec in the meantime. ;)

We had a good last night with some late night cocktails with the guys but we still weren't on top form as Ant & I both had colds. A sad farewell to Jon! We left him our heavy Buddha head as a thoughtful reminder.

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Great to see you mate! Oh, and sorry about the photos.

Posted by Galavantie 07:11 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

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