You can buy sightseeing tours, which are, I think, quite expensive. Alternatively, you can get a taxi driver with no sense of direction and you get a free sightseeing tour, and he even drops the taxi price out of sheer embarrassment. A handy tourist tip. There should be a crap taxi driver app for the fiscally aware sightseer. It could be called CrAppSi.
But we shall get to that later. Firstly, the odd little place in the Malaysian rain forest ended, eventually. I discovered that the room had unusual acoustic properties in that every conversation from miles around were amplified within its thin walls, it filled with mosquitoes through the numerous gaps in the windows and I was invaded by geckos. I don't mind geckos. I do mind noise that goes on until 3 in the morning. And when the noise of other guests (entire families in one room) finally stopped, I discovered one more horror. Air conditioning units drip, and the dripping was onto the enormous tin roof of the car port. Every night was a constant bang, bang, bang, bang, bang (you get the idea).
I then took a lovely apartment overlooking Langkawi harbour. It was the best Airbnb experience ever, I think. I went from a hot tin water-torture box to a huge apartment, and it was more wonderful than a home-cooked meal for this weary man who's now been on the road for what, it seems like ever. Langkawi has some wonderful and popular beaches, and all forms of transport assume you want to go there. But just down the road is the public beach, right by a lovely shady park. A long stretch of golden sand and warm water and not a single person there. It was lovely.
I took the boat from Langkawi to Thailand. The internet told me that arriving by air gives you 30 days Visa on Arrival, but by boat or road gives you 15. I got 30 days. Internet, you are wrong, shocking though that sounds.
I stayed in a marvellously cheap place in Satun, the town where the boat docks. It was comfortable, quiet, friendly and deep down good. I can't say I was a huge fan of Malaysia and I decided from day one that I like Thailand. When I asked how to get to the bus station for my ongoing journey, the woman went to find her boss, who not only said he'd take me to the bus station, but asked if I like fish.
“Um, yes,” I said, never having met a fish I didn't like.
“I have some. I'll make you some fish at 7pm.”
Which he did.
The following day he drove me to the bus station and refused to take any money for it. He said that everyone in Satun feels like family, and as I stayed at his place, I was family too. What a very lovely introduction to the country.
I took a 5 hour bus trip north to Krabi. The bus was decked out like a travelling bordello. It had wonderful orange fringe curtains at the windows and a ceiling composed of some squashy material in orange, cream and magenta, bedecked with mirrors. It felt like a long-distance Beatles album.
Krabi, has some rather wonderful islands, is not too far from Phuket, and an hour or so by speed boat from the famous island of Phi Phi (pronounced, amusingly, as pee pee). That's where they filmed The Beach, with Leonardo DiCaprio. Pee pee isn't the only island of course. There are lots of them. Lesser islands dot the seascape and they look as one might imagine – tall spikes of tree-covered land popping up here and there. I saw them from the bus, and climbed out into the blazing heat of a Krabi afternoon. Being more interested in A/C than travel, I took a room in a hotel close to the bus station, and then made my way to the beach.
The hotel ordered me a taxi and after a while, a strange little contraption arrived, part motorbike, part car, part travelling circus. I sat in the back and we headed off at terrifying speed toward the beach. There is a famous beach here called Ao Nang, and that's where the driver decided I must be going. I mean, I'm white, therefore I am going to Ao Nang. The hotel girl told them where I was actually going, but this man concluded otherwise. I sat in the back holding onto my belongings and my breakfast as we defied physics on every bend in the road, and then I saw the sea and all its twinkly blue island festooned loveliness. Not my beach, obviously, but it was rather lovely.
I had my map app telling me we should go right at the beach and he went left. I banged on the window and he pulled over and I got out and we consulted the map and he did a U-turn. Amusingly, he did another U-turn a few hundred yards later and off we set again in the wrong direction. He really really wanted me to go to Ao Nang. I banged again.
He got out maybe 6 times to ask how to get to where I was going, and when someone pointed left, he went right. And vise versa. Eventually my map and his bike/car thing were in agreement and we were within seconds of my new abode. So pleased was he by this, he asked someone where it was, who pointed, and off we went again along the beach toward Ao Nang. It was lovely. A sightseeing tour de force. It took for ever.
But all good things must come to an end and finally he reluctantly stopped long enough to track down my hotel. He looked so ashamed of himself that he wanted to charge me half price, but I gave him full price anyway because his mistake was my absolute pleasure, and I was also worried about the health of his children, having such an easily confused taxi driver for a father.
This room is not much more than the dirt cheap room in the rain forest of Langkawi, but offers no water torture or unwanted nocturnal conversations. It is over a PADI diving shop, 600m from the beach that's just next to Ao Nang beach, and is clean, comfortable, safe and quiet. I booked 5 nights here, the longest I've booked in one go because I'm tired of constantly looking for the next place to go and thought I'd stop a while. I was very lucky with my random choice.
I walked along this beach yesterday and it's beautiful and quiet. At the far end is a small headland and then you get to Ao Nang. Ao Nang is land of the white man. It is wall to wall tourists. The beach is no better than here, but the tourist industry herds them there in their millions. I didn't like it and I'm glad I'm at the less well known part.
There are trips a-plenty to choose from, including Phi Phi of course. I was almost tempted by it, but some research tells me that Phi Phi takes over an hour by speedboat and when you get there, all you see are tourists. Not my idea of fun, despite how beautiful the place looks.
But didn't I want to try diving? Yes, I seem to remember that. I was snokelling in Bali and I thought...I'd like to try diving, despite having tried it 25 years ago and saying never again. And aren't I temporarily living over a diving shop?
I just asked about it, and for people like me who once said Never Again, they have a one-day try diving thing. They leave at 7 in the morning and get back in the evening. There's food. And snokelling too if you don't want the second dive. And a bit of sightseeing.
“Where do you go?” I asked.
“Phi Phi,” she said. "It takes a couple of hours on the boat but it's a beautiful trip."
So I booked it. I go on Saturday. On the water and under it.
If I live, I shall tell you about it.
Eagle Square, Langkawi. No idea why it's called that.
The empty public beach...
The sun going down on Ao Nang, Thailand
[ps...Have you tried the Armchair Detective Challenge yet?]
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