Breaksian Travel Blog Career break traveling in Asia

A week in Ko Lanta

My old LAMP hosting is about to expire and I’m using this account only to host the breaksian blog, so I decided to migrate all the contents to the modern node.js platform I have been using for all my tools including my personal blog.

While I was in the process of migrating the data, I realised there were some old dusty posts that have been hanging around in my drafts folders for a long time!. One of them was about the week I spent in Ko Lanta, Thailand. I just clean it up, finish it and publish it with this new migration. So years late but I hope you will enjoy it nevertheless… so let’s go back in time …

In my last entry I described the day spent in Krabi town, walking along the river and visiting the market. As I described there the people from my hotel helped me to arrange the ferry transport to Ko Lanta. It was very convenient because a minibus would pick me up at the hotel to bring me directly to the Ferry terminal.

After I woke up, I went to a restaurant nearby to grab a quick breakfast and afterward I went to a 7-11 to buy enough water for the boat trip. Then I came back to the hotel and waited patiently. There is only one ferry per day that leaves the Krabi Town pier at 11:00 am. The minibus was late and it swirled around the town picking up more travelers but fortunately we made it just in time for the ferry.

We queued for a little while and then we started to board. I noticed the vessel was getting very crowded so I secured a “seating” place in the outside deck and it turned out to be a good decision because the boat was completely packed when we left the port:

The boat trip from the pier in Krabi Town to the one in Ko Lanta (Baan Saladan) took around 2 hours. The ferry stopped a couple of times and small boats approached it to pick up or leave passengers from some of the resorts off the coast, but most of the people traveling went to the final destination.

Lanta Noi and Lanta Yai

An interesting fact learned once I started to browse the Island map is that Ko Lanta includes several islands, being the two largest Ko Lanta Noi and Ko Lanta Yai. Most of the people who visit “Ko Lanta” normally head to Ko Lanta Yai where most of the tourist infrastructure is located.

I found a very nice budget hotel located in around 100 meters from the Baan Saladan ferry pier and it was perfect because there were quite a few restaurants and markets around it and the place was a nice starting point to explore the island and do some tours. This was the nice view from the hotel pier where I used to get my breakfast every morning:

I used this pier to board the boat that took me to the four islands tour.

Exploring the island by Bike.

One of the activities I enjoyed the most during my career break was to bike and I wanted to investigate if it was possible to explore the island in a bicycle. I left the hotel and started to walk around the Saladan and in a small street I found small shop renting a couple of bikes. I found a clunky but decent one and I made a deal to rent it for the rest of the week:

Old lanta town.

The day after one of owners of the guesthouse asked me if I had plans for the day. I told her I was interested in making a bike ride and she recommended me to go to the Old Town in the south part of the Island. She told me the whole ride should be relatively straightforward with only a couple of small hills.

This is small village is located in the south-east coast of the island and it has very interesting history. It used to be an important commercial port and provided a stop over for Arabic and Chinese merchants traveling to the bigger ports in the region. They mingled with the local Thai fishing families and Sea Gypsy communities creating a very interesting place.

The distance between the Saladan Pier and the Old town is around 17 km. It took me around 45 minutes to get there stopping by a few times to take pictures and to drink some water. I was glad I brought a few bottles because even if the ride was not particularly hard, it was quite hot.

Once I arrived to the old town, I parked my bike at the entrance and I started to explore it by foot. I did a nice walk all the way to the end of the pier and from there I was able to get a nice view of the old town.

Then I came back and I walked through the main street of the Old Town. Even if it’s relatively small I was able to spot the Buddhist and the Chinese temples, plus some nice jetty houses. I also enjoyed some amazing coffee and a refreshing mango smoothie.

When I was about to leave the town I noticed there was a nice 2 floor wooden house and when I got closer this turned out to be the Old Lanta Community Museum. This place is dedicated to the history and legacy of the main 3 communities of the island: Chinese merchants, Thai fishermen and Sea Gipsies. The place had some cool objects and pictures:

Four Islands Tour

A couple of days after I booked a tour to visit four islands around the main Lanta Island. One of the advantages of the guesthouse where I was staying was that they had a small pier in the back of the house, so they could pick me up directly there. The boat arrived around 8am and I thought "wow I have this nice speedboat only for my own!", but very soon I realised that I was just the first passenger in series pickups around Ko Lanta that took another 45 minutes.

Once we got the last tourist from a nice resort in the southern part of Ko Lanta, we actually started the visit to the 4 islands. The first stop and probably the most interesting one was the Emerald Cave in Ko Mook. The guide in the boat explained us that the only way to get there was to swim through a narrow dark cave using a headlamp but he promised the beach on the other side was lovely.

We put our swim vest and started to swim in line following the guide toward the black narrow hole in the rock. And indeed after 10 meters the light was gone and were going through a pitch black cave following the light of the guide and after some 50 meters we arrived to the other side where we were welcomed by a stunning lake / beach what made the scary trip completely worth it. We were lucky because there were not too many tourist at that time, but when we left a big boat carrying a lot a people arrived in the entrance of the cave, so it probably got quite busy afterwards.

We visited another Island with a nice stripe of white sand beach where we stopped to have lunch and enjoy a swim in a relaxed blue water environment and then we moved to another island where we did some snorkelling. I have never seen on the water so many different shapes and colours of sea life in the same spot. We spend around one hour there snorkeling around and it was quite an experience. The Island per se was quite picturesque itself since it was composed by the limestones common in this area of Thailand:

When we were about to finish the tour, the driver from the boat approached to one of the walls of the Ko Ma island and say please look up. We all did it and there in the wall were hundreds of bats staying there and making noise. We even spotted one of them flying from one place to the other:

This was the last stop of our tour and we were all very happy with the results. It was definitely a day well spent.

Bike accident

As I mentioned earlier by bike was decent but a bit clunky. It had in particular a problem with the quick-release lever at the base of the seat: Sometimes it was moving in and out and sometimes it used to get blocked pointing out. This fact it’s important for the accident I will describe next.

The day after the 4 islands tour I decided to jump again on my bike and explore a different road on the island. Someone in town mentioned there was a nice place on top a hill with a pretty nice view of the rest of the island and the sea. I love panoramic views so I decided that’s what I wanted to do.

Everything was going smoothly in my bike ride. I even found a nice spot to make a quick swim and then when I continued my trip and I was going down hill, I faced a big pothole in the road just in front of me. In a split second I decide to jump it since I couldn’t dodge and did it! I flew over the pothole like a BMX rider, but when I landed in my rear tire, the loose lever I told you about before, hit me in the back of calf when of course the muscle was completely contracted. Ouuuchhhh. I hear a ‘pop’ sound and I experience a horrible pain.

I tried to get back on the bike but I realised I couldn’t really push with this leg. I couldn’t even stand. It was really painful. I was in the middle of nowhere with just vegetation around me and no-one was passing by … fuck!. Fortunately I still have some batteries in my phone and I saw that my destination was not really far away. I started walking really slowing limping on each step until I thought maybe it was better to pedal just with one leg. It took me a really long time but I managed to get to the restaurant.

I ordered something to drink and ask them if they could give some ice. They were helpful and provide plenty of ice that I put around my leg that was getting really swollen. I stayed there a long time, ordered something to eat as well and then I started to think how to go back to the hotel. Biking like this was not option. I ask the owners that they offered to call a "tuk-tuk taxi". By the way the view on this place was nice:

A couple of hours passed and nothing arrived. One of the sons of the owner offered me to carry me and my bike in his motorbike. He told me something along the lines of “You can extend your arms and carry the bike and hold to the bike with your legs” . I declined politely. A calf injury was bad enough, I didn’t want to add a brain injury to the mix.

Finally the tuk-tuk taxi arrived. We managed to tuck the bike into the passenger seat and we headed back to the hotel in Saladan. Once I got to the hotel I explained what happened to the owners and the pointed me in the map, the closest medical clinic.

I went there by tuk-tuk and the doctor on guard told me it was just some "sore muscle", put a bandage around my leg and prescribed me tons of pain killers:

When I came back to the hotel I checked on the web what he had prescribed me. Discarded half of it and spent a long night checking for signs of Compartment syndrome.

Fortunately that didn’t happen, but later on I found out I had a huge blood collection inside the muscle. In a way I was very lucky!

Last day

The after I could barely walk so I spend the day at the hotel just relaxing, taking care of my leg, reading and start writing this post that as I described earlier, it stayed on my drafts folder for a really long time.

Now I would definitely would go back to Ko Lanta!. It’s in my opinion one of the nicest places in the country.

Visiting Angkor Wat by Bike Last Part

On the last day of my Angkor Pass and my bike rental I decided to follow the big circuit ("Le grand circuit") and visit some of the temples that I haven't had the chance to see in the previous days. Based on the experience from the day before I decided to bring a lot of water and to take it easy, biking slowly and stopping as many times as possible to make short breaks.

It turned out to be a good idea, because I had the opportunity to see small temples that I missed, even in the places I had visited already and I had the chance to see also new amazing spots. In this short post I will share with you a set of "no comments" random pictures from that last day biking in the Angkor Wat Temple complex. Overall biking here was a really cool experience and an amazing way to visit this place.

This was the end of the Cambodian part of my break. The next step was to catch a flight to Bangkok to visit again Thailand.

Visiting Angkor Wat by Bike – Part II

On my second day in Siem Reap I woke up early, got a nice croissant, orange juice, bread and coffee for breakfast and I prepared to start my second visit to the Angkor Wat temple complex by bike. I studied the free map I got in the hotel and Google Maps to pick up a route to follow. I selected the small circuit, planning to visit the main Angkor Wat temple, spend a good time in Angkor Thom, explore the famous Ta Phrohm with its bayan trees and Banteay Kdei.

Arriving to Angkor Wat

Based on the exploration from my previous day I knew the best road to get directly to the temple was to go through the Charles de Gaulle road. I left the hotel took the again the Son Sak road, but this time around when I arrived to Sivatha road I headed to the central market getting to the Pokambor avenue, next to the Siem Reap river, leading directly to Charles de Gaulle.

The road was quite busy with cars, tuk tuks and minivans but there was enough room for the ours bikers heading in the same direction. When we arrived to the main entrance point there was a huge bottleneck of people trying to buy the pass, so I was glad I had bought mine the day before, so I was able to beat the queue and continue my trip. The advice of getting the pass the day before was a time saver.

I stopped briefly in the main Angkor Wat temple to take a couple of pictures but I decided to come back later and spend some good time exploring again this temple. I should mention it was around 10am and it was already extremely crowded. Nevertheless with a little bit of patience I was able to find a nice spot to get a nice view of this marvelous place:

Next stop: Angkor Thom

I left the crowds back in Angkor Wat and I continued my bike trip heading north in order to see my next stop: Angkor Thom. I was curious to see this place, because I read it was here that the last capital of the Khmer empire was located and at the center it contained the Bayon, a city state temple, featuring multiple stone faces on the towers composing the structure.

After biking for a couple of kilometers I arrived to the south gate and I started to see the stone faces since they are present in the gates as well. I stopped and I took a picture of this massive face crowning the south entrance:

I discovered later on that one of the features of Angkor Thom is those gates located in the 4 cardinal points. I was able to visit the east gate (picking a fortunate wrong turn) and the north gate when I was leaving the complex. The construction and features are very similar,

Once I flanked the gate I continued biking north and shortly I arrived to Bayon. From the distance the structure didn't look as majestic as the Angkor Wat temple, but still it was quite impressive:

I parked my bike, showed my pass to the employee and the entrance and I started to visit Bayon temple looking around and staring at the different stone face towers. There are more than plenty faces to see.

It was striking that almost all the faces looked like each other and later on that night I learned this fact was not a coincidence: many experts believe those faces are representations of the king Jayavarman VII, who established the city in the 12th century. Looking at the images of the available sculptures depicting this king, there is definitively a resemblance.

At this stage I had to find a shadowy spot and rest for half an hour, while drinking and pouring water on my head because it was extremely hot.

Once I cooled down and I regained my strength I jumped back in the bike and started to going north but before leaving the Angkor Thom area I visited a couple of structures more: Phimeanakas, a hindu temple, the terrace of the leper king and the elephants terrace.

Once I finished these visits I continued pedaling and once I flanked the North Gate a car pulled over next to my bike. The person in the backseat lower his window and I saw a smiley guy who asked me in english "Excuse me sir, but may I borrow your bike for a couple of minutes?". I guess the expression of my face asked right away a suspicious "Why?", because he continued: "You see we just got married and we are taking pictures and a picture on a bike would be nice.". I agree and the picture looked more or less like this:

After I got my bike back and left the happy couple behind, I continued my itinerary to Ta Prohm.

Ta Prohm

The Angkor Wat temple is majestic and the Bayon temple is quite particular with its multiple stone faces towers, but Ta Prohm was my favorite one because of the impressive scene of beautiful ancient ruins been devoured by massive Bayan trees:

When I visited Tainan in Taiwan, I went to an old house taken over by this type of vegetation, but after visiting Ta Prohm, that tree house looks like a doll house in comparison.

The history of the current state of this temple is interesting. The Khmer Empire waned in the 17th century and Ta Prohm was abandoned and forgotten for many centuries. When the French started to restore it, they decided to leave the bayan jungle that had taken over the ruins.

They invested resources in stabilizing the structure and keeping it safe, while maintaining the picturesque scenario and it looks amazing:

After visiting this temple I stopped briefly at Banteay Kdei and I bought a bottle of water from Sreykun, a Cambodian girl, with a small stall near the temple. After I finished this last stop, I started to cycle back to Siem Reap.

Visiting Angkor Wat by Bike - Part I

The morning after I arrived to Siem Reap, I was eating a nice breakfast in the hotel and suddenly the owner approached to talk to me: "Last night we didn't have time to talk about the city and the temples. If you are interested I can give you a short introduction". Of course I was interested and after our useful chat and a brief reading on the Angkor Wat wikitravel page, this is what I learnt:

  • Siem reap as a city is relatively compact and there were four roads one should be aware: Sivatha road one of the "main streets" of the town, Pokambor avenue, next to the Siem River, where there is a nice walk, Charles de Gaulle avenue that leads all the way to the anchor temple and street 8 or "pub street" where the night life happens.
  • The Angkor Wat temple complex is big. The main entrance is located half way through in the Charles de Gaulle avenue. The main temple is about 8 km away from the city.
  • In order to visit the complex is necessary to purchase an "Angkor Pass". The APSARA authority sells the pass for either one day (20 USD), 3 days (40 USD) or 7 days (60 USD) (Please note those were the prices on November 2014).

    A useful trick is to buy the ticket after 5pm, since then is valid from that moment (you get an extra afternoon "for free")

  • The most known temple is Angkor Wat but there are multiple temples and monuments in the Siem Reap area. The pass covers the entrance to all those places and its validity is checked at the entrance of almost every temple.
  • There are two main circuits to visit the temple complex. Those circuits were outlined during the french colonial times and they are still in use. The owner told me the small circuit normally costs around 15 USD by Tuk Tuk and the big circuit should cost around 30 USD.

    The following map summarizes the circuits (blue: small circuit. red: big circuit). You can see the scale of the temple complex compared to the size of the city and the airport.

  • There is also the possibility of renting a city bike for 1 USD per day or a mountain bike for 3 USD per day. The advantage of this option is that you can explore the complex at your own pace and stop whenever you want.

I thanked the owner for all this information, I finished my breakfast and I left the hotel in order to walk around the city. I wanted to understand its layout and to get a bike to start exploring the Angkor Wat complex. As soon as I hit the street I was bombarded with offers for massages, tuk tuks, motorbikes, trips, offers, etc, but in most of the cases a smile "no, thank you" was good enough.

As I was mentioning before Siem Reap is relatively compact so I was able to stroll through the main roads fairly quickly and I got a good idea about how get to the main places. One of the nicest places a visited during this morning promenade was the Pokambor avenue, next to the Siem Reap river, starting in the old market and finishing in the Royal Gardens.

This area of Siem Reap is more quiet and it has less traffic that the main Sivatha road. There was an open air exposition with very nice photographs of Cambodia, Laos, China and the Mekong River. When I finished the walk I started to head back and I found a small store in Son Sak road, relatively close to the hotel.

They had bikes to rent and I really liked they didn't ask for a deposit or the passport. Just giving the address of the hotel was good enough for them. I got a bike for next 4 days.

It was quite hot at that moment so I went back to the hotel took a shower and once the sun was more bearable I started to bike to the Angkor Wat complex to get the pass I was going to use in the following days.

I started my trip at the hotel Son Sak road, when I arrived to Sivatha road I turned left and I went north all the way. I passed next to different buildings and after 3 or 4 kilometers, the constructions were gone and there were only trees and small stands selling petrol and food.

I was expecting to find a booth to buy the temple pass but I stumbled with the first "official check point". I asked the lady: "Where I can buy the Angkor Pass?" and she told me "Oh no you forgot to turn right some 5 kilometers away, where the main entrance is". I thanked her but as soon as I was about to leave she asked me if I had plans for tomorrow because she knew a good driver and … no thanks no thanks.

I started to cycle back and a couple of kilometers after, I found a small road heading to the Charles De Gaulle road where the main entrance is located. I arrived there paid the fare and headed back my newly printed pass. It was getting late so I only paid a quick visit to the main Angkor Wat temple, but this short visit was a good apetizer to get an idea what I was going to see in the following days.

When I arrived to Angkor Wat this is the image I got for my first impression:

I knew at that point that the visit to Siem Reap was definitively worth it and I was looking forward to the following days.

Biking in Zamami Island

The day before yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with the daughter of the owner of the hotel where I’m staying in Okinawa. She did her college studies in the US, so communicating in English was not a problem. We talked about coffee, living in different countries and she gave me some interesting tips about Taiwan.

Then she asked me what were my plans for the next day and I told her that I was planning to go the aquarium in the north part of the island, but I was open to suggestions, so I asked her what would she recommend. She told me a good plan would be to hop into a boat and make a daytrip to the Zamami Island. So I trusted her local knowledge and yesterday I woke up early headed to the Naha port and bought a return ticket to Zamami.

There was a speedboat called Queen Zamami leaving Naha at 9am and getting there at 9:50 (the return trip was at 16:20). The day was cloudy and I was afraid it was going to rain, but it ended up being a pleasant day to visit the Island. I was tempted to get into the water because the beach was amazing, but after touching the water I changed my mind.

Zamami is relatively small so walking around is a possibility, but when I was crossing the main village I noticed a bike rental sign and I couldn’t resist. I ended up booking a bike for 3 hours and it is a excellent way to visit the different beaches and observatories.

Additionally you get to do some good cardiovascular exercise thanks to he mountainous nature of the island. I have to confess I had to stop quite a few times to take a breath, but every time I arrived to a summit I was rewarded with an amazing view as you could see in the pictures above. In conclusion the visit to Zamami was worth it … plus they have free wifi :).

Exploring Gyeongju in 2 days - Day 1

When I was planning to visit Korea I started to investigate what cities and towns would the most interesting ones besides the obvious Seoul. I picked Busan and Jeju Island, but when I was talking to J., the former flatmate of my Brazilian friend, she suggested to visit Gyeongju as well. In her words Gyeongju is as a small city full of historical spots to visit.

I decided to follow her advice so before coming to Busan, I made a short stopover in Gyeongju where I spent the last couple of days. I'm happy I did it because it was definitively worth it. I took a bus from the bus terminal in Moran and it perfect great because I also had the opportunity to visit the largest traditional market in South Korea, Seongnam Moran.

Going back to the trip story, the bus from this terminal costs about 15000 KRW and it takes around 4 hours to get to Gyeongju, stopping for 15 minutes halfway through. Now I must admit I almost missed my stop at Gyeongju because it was not the final one and the bus terminal is relatively small.

A couple of passengers had left the bus already and when the bus about to leave the stop I went to the front part, asked "Gyeongju?" with a clueless face and the driver a bit annoyed say something like "ye", "ne" or "de", but his bodylanguage was clear, so I quickly descended the stairs and there I was in Gyeongju … pheeew, I almost missed it altogether!

1. Cultural Capital of Korea.

Gyeongju is described in some guides as the cultural capital of modern Korea. This city used to be the center of the Silla Kingdom, that ruled an important part of the Korean peninsula for almost 1000 years!

They developed a well organized society in a city of around 1 million inhabitants and adopted Buddhism as the religion of the state. Based on the number of palaces, tombs, ponds, pagodas, statues and astronomical constructions I saw in the last 2 days, it's don't doubt this used to be a very important place at the height of their kingdom.

2. Day 1: Bulguksa Temple and hike to Seokguram Grotto

On the first day, just after breakfast, I talked to the host of the guesthouse where I was staying and she recommended me to visit the Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram Grotto. The temple is accessible by bus from the city center (the number 11 I think) and you can pay either in cash or using a Seoul T-Money card (I'm happy I got one of those),

It takes 30 minutes to get to the slopes of mount Toham where the temple is located and the bus stop is very close to Bulguksa. The place is beautiful containing ponds, pagodas, ancient stairs and of course Buddha statues. It's considered one of the masterpieces of the Buddhist art during the Silla kingdom.

Even if the place was extremely crowded last Friday when I visited the temple, on the positive side, I had the opportunity to experience a traditional Buddhist celebration as you see in the following video:

I spent an hour and a half walking around the temple, reading the history about Bulguksa and the Buddhism in the Silla era. I also took some pictures making most of the beautiful sunny day. I left the temple and I continued to the next stop for the day: The Seokguram Grotto.

I was reading in the tourist map that I could either take another bus or I could walk through the Tohamsan Mountain hiking trail all the way up to Seokguram. I chose the latter option.

I started to hike and found out the whole path is made out of white stones like the ones you see the in the previous picture. The hike is not really hard but bear in mind you will be going uphill for 1 hour and some of the steps are steep, particularly at the end.

When I began to climb I could hear a bell sound in the distance that turned out to be my constant companion during the whole trip, but the rhythm was quite irregular so I was curious about what it was. When I got to the top I understood the mystery: There is a huge bell that the visitors can play after paying 1000 KRW. Now the view the there was amazing! It felt like a nice reward for the hiking effort.

After I sip some water and grabbed a deserved ice cream, I continued the visit paying the entrance fee for the grotto. Unfortunately the site was under renovation covered by scaffolds and other construction materials, so the view was not an amazing as it could be. Nevertheless I was able to admire the Buddha statue in detail.

I finished my visit by hiking down the same path (way easier) and taking the bus to the city. When I was walking back to the guesthouse I passed by one of the royal tombs and there was a huge gathering around it with a traditional dancing and singing show.

It was a very nice way to wrap up the first day of my visit to this ancient Korean city. I will describe in a separate post my second day, hiring a bike and wondering around the different ancient temples and constructions around the core center of Gyeongju.