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Sunday, 31 January 2016

Karon Beach, Phuket

Karon Beach, Phuket

So, enough of the historic buildings, let's move onto the main reason people go to Phuket. The beaches! I stayed at Karon Beach, I didn't organise this trip so had little idea of what to expect. After being driven through the very popular Patong Beach area with all its themed restaurants. (HardRock Cafe, Hooters!) Karon Beach was perfect, quiet and calm. (For those looking for pulsating nightlife and crowds, Patong Beach is only a 20 minute taxi ride away.)

The beach was beautiful but Thailand in January is quite hot, slather on that sunscreen! I love the heat and even I could feel my skin burning!

Obligatory stereotypical picture of one's knees whilst at the beach! I couldn't resist the temptation to do so! The ocean itself looked like one huge infinity pool, the water was that calm.

Looking south down Karon Beach.

The water was absolutely beautiful, quite warm. (I'm a bit of a delicate flower when it comes to cold water!) It does get deep quite quickly, so it's possible to stand and float close to shore. 

In the distance there is a traditional long boat, you can see them going along the coast. Tourists can be taken out to the nearby islands, Phi Phi and James Bond Island (A James Bond Film was made there!)

Table with a view at a beach cafe on the southern part of Karon Beach.

Drank half the smoothie before I thought to take a picture, need to work on my photographing of food and drink timing!!!

From my hotel you would pass by this beachside shrine with otherings placed on it.

Karon Beach was lovely would highly recommend the area, especially if you're after a relaxing holiday more than a 'let's party!' one. 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Old Phuket Town Street Market

The Walking Market

Old Phuket Town

When I was researching about visiting Old Phuket Town I read that on a Sunday night the main street, Thalong Road was closed to traffic and a night market was held. It's called the 'Walking Market' as it's spread out along the road. The market is on from 4pm to 10pm, and what I liked about it is that it wasn't something for tourists. Thalong Road is closed to traffic and all the parked cars that were there during the day visit I made. It's for locals with few tourists to be seen, so off I went Sunday night.

I caught a taxi from Karon Beach and was dropped off at the Krabi Road end of  Thalong Road. That side of the market is mainly food.

About halfway along, the stalls change to craft items, interspersed among the food and crafts are musicians with wooden benches set up for people to sit and listen to them.

There was a street barber!

And a final gratuitous photo of the old buildings!

The market seemed to be mainly locals and many family groups eating out at the various food stalls. Some of the shops along Thalong Road were open, the restaurants were not! It was a nice touch of local Phuket life away from the tourist resorts.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Old Phuket Town, Thailand

Old Phuket Town

I'm currently on a 'lie by a pool and relax' kind of holiday in Phuket. But I've also found to my delight that there's a historic old part of Phuket Town. My little historic lover heart went all a flutter and so today I went off to explore. I was armed with a tourist map, some internet research, since I knew nothing about the area I was about to see and off I went, forgoing a day by the pool!

I'm staying in Karon Beach and the hotel has a shuttle bus that was free and would take me to a shopping centre in Phuket Town about 30 minutes away. From there I caught a taxi to the old part of the town.

Phuket in the 19th century had tin mines and that attracted miners and also traders, an architect in the 1980's labelled the buildings in Old Phuket as 'Sino-Portuguese'. Other people since have suggested that there's not much 'Portuguese' left but more 'colonial' as the Chinese inhabitants were influenced by what they saw of the buildings in Penang which was run by the British.

The main street (and my starting point) is Thalong Road, which is mainly shops and restaurants from what I could see. 

The power cables have all been placed underground making for a more attractive streets cape, so there is continuing work being done on preservation and restoration.

The Chinese miners lived in long narrow houses. I found a model of one of them in the museum I visited.

This was just the front part of the house, showing an open door so the male occupant could see out onto the covered walkway. The screen would allow a person to look out but not been seen. The upstairs person is looking down a peephole in the floor! The centre was an open internal courtyard where the women of the house could do their washing. When I saw this model it made me realise the difference between the Chinese housing I was seeing here in Phuket where many of the Chinese were miners and not shopkeepers. Different to places such as Singapore where the Chinese houses were shops on the ground floor and the family lived behind and above the shop.

All these houses have been restored and are on the surrounding streets to Thalang Road. I noticed that some have been turned into boutique hotels or guest houses, it would give people a different tourist experience than that of pool and beaches.

A closeup of the decorations on one of the attached houses. One thing I learnt about the Art Nouveau period of early 20th century architecture is that it was possible as the people who built the buildings had money for the fripperies of decoration. The same can be seen in these old buildings in Phuket.

Not all the power cables are underground! The street going across they're underground (where the motorcyclists are) the street going up the cables are all above ground.

I had read that photographers often use the buildings in the background of their pictures and sure enough when passing this bank, there was a photographer taking pictures of 3 models.

Some buildings have been turned into restaurants.

Some Chinese made a great deal of money and there were inspired by the Anglo-colonial architecture of Penang and built their own mansions.

This is called the Phra Phithak Mansion and is now a cooking school.

Not everything is restored.

This is the Luang Amnat Mansion and is still a private house with what looked like a builder's yard around it!

There are more mansions but it was a hot day and I walked around quite a bit and didn't want to go further to look for them!

More unrestored buildings.

I found walking around Old Phuket Town really interesting because I like old and historic and having to research it beforehand appealed to me as well. I learned a lot about a part of the world I knew very little about. 

It's not a place frequented by great hordes of tourists, which for me was another reason to really like it! There were some tourist around, but few and far between, and going by the guest houses, boutique hotels and hostels I saw, it's a niche tourist market that Old Phuket Town appeals to.

There are restaurants and cafes around, but it's mainly a place to walk around and appreciate an unique old town. 

From what I've read there's a night market held there where Thalong Road is closed off and becomes a market, so perhaps early evening on a Sunday (which is when the market is held) would make for a more interesting experience for those not into old buildings! It was also very hot walking around, the middle of the day wasn't the best time for it!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Derry/Londonderry Northern Ireland


The name 'Londonderry' to me brought up images of recent history, of the years of 'The Troubles', so I was curious to visit.

The historic centre of the town in enclosed by walls built in 1613 to 1619, there were 4 gates to enter the city. The walls protected the city and they were never breached, for that reason it's called the 'Maiden city' (!)

Picture taken on the walls.

It's quite simple to get up onto the walls and there's an easy walking path to do the complete circuit.

I didn't realise that when I took this picture, what a historically significant area this was. I took it as the B & B where I stayed was near the church whose steeple you can see on the right. (It's the catholic St. Eugene's church) This area is the Bogside and the site of the events of Bloody Sunday. (Which admittedly makes me think of the U2 song!)

The road that runs parallel to the walls was where 13 people were killed on January 30th 1972. I walked down the road to see the murals and there was a large plaque explaining the events of Bloody Sunday so it made me realise what a historic part of town I was in. I had wondered too why the housing was so new, the old Rossville high-rise flats that were the scene of the shootings that day were bulldozed and new housing constructed. There are murals lining the main road, called the Bogside Murals.

Besides wanting to see the murals, this sign was the main reason I walked along the street, it's very iconic. I've seen it in many books, articles, TV documentaries. What did puzzle me about it though, now it's just a wall, I was sure it had been attached to a house! The row of houses that came with the sign were ones demolished to make room for new housing and I'm assuming road widening. The sign is in the middle of a main road, it was raining that day as well, so got an extra Irish experience!

This little cottage is inside the walls, in an area with some other traditional buildings. It is chocolate box pretty, but there's a deeper meaning behind its existence. The cottage is a modern replica of a traditional whitewash, thatched roof Irish cottage. It was built during The Troubles, when the city had military checkpoints on the bridges, the gates to the cities and people's lives were disrupted with the violence of that time. A local builder built this cottage in the 1980s (I think) at the time when nothing was being built but rather destroyed, it was a sign of hope. 

This picture is from the walls as well. It's the Guildhall, part of which (the side) was destroyed by a bomb during The Troubles and has been restored. Behind the Guildhall can be seen a pedestrian bridge called 'Peace Bridge' it links the predominantly catholic western side with the protestant east side. It opens out at a former British Army Barracks called Ebrington Barracks where the soldiers were stationed when they served in Northern Ireland.

View of the River Foyle from Peace Bridge.

Further afield

Not Derry and not even Northern Ireland but the Republic, I drove out to Donegal and the northern most tip of Ireland. From Derry the border is a 2 minute drive, I wasn't sure if there was an border control so I brought my passport. I needn't have bothered! The only way I knew I had crossed the border was when the signs went from miles per hour, to kilometres per hour! (Northern Ireland being part of the UK still uses miles)

The border had been open before The Troubles and people were used to moving freely across the border. With the problems of that period of time the border was manned by soldiers and checkpoints that could take quite some time to get through. It was very much the atmosphere at the time of a country at war. With the peace settlement, the borders are open again.

This is the northern most point in Ireland. What fascinated me here was when I read about the sign. Eire is written in large (now fading letters) it was done during World War II, the Republic of Ireland (Eire) was neutral and military planes weren't meant to fly over it. Being so close to Northern Ireland, which as part of the UK was at war, pilots needed to have quick visual alerts that they were in the wrong place!

I loved visiting Northern Ireland, I visited 2 good museums one in Derry and one in Belfast, explaining its troubled past. I found it to be such a hopeful place, here was a country that for years had been tearing itself apart with sectarian violence, had made peace and was moving forward. Optimistically it gave me hope for other divided and violent places in the world.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Travel Tips Packing

Travel Tips  #1


Here are my packing tips, all learnt the hard way. I have over packed to the extent that one memorable occasion I had to wear 3 (!!) jumpers (sweaters for you North Americans) onto a plane as I had no room for them in my suitcase. And yes I was dying, I was so hot despite the weather being really cold. I also had a coat! I peeled all 3 jumpers off once I was on the plane and shoved them into the overhead lockers, I think I carried them off once I reached Australia, it was summer there!

Then there was the packing of my backpack for my year’s backpacking around the world. The backpack was the size of a family suitcase and I crammed everything but the kitchen sink in it. Including a travel iron (!!!!) and matching shoes and handbags. (Yes plural more than one set! I was going to some family functions and wanted to make a good impression!!) I posted the matching handbags and shoes back from my first stop in the U.S. The backpack was far too big for me, I’m only 161cm tall (5 foot 2) that was my first mistake and I couldn’t walk with it fully laden so would stagger to train station lockers, place the backpack in it and only take what I needed to the youth hostel. And then visit every few days! I don’t have this backpack anymore I gave it away last year to a tall 20 year old, off overseas, I’m sure she had more sense and didn’t overload it!

So travel tips:

·      pack light, the rule of 2 is the way to go. Pack only 2 of everything, 2 t-shirts etc, consider that you will buy things in your travels, don’t leave home with the majority of your wardrobe in your suitcase.

·      Take one set of warm clothes even if travelling in summer, there’s nothing worse than being cold if the weather is unseasonable. I take a lightweight fleece zip up jacket, a long sleeve t-shirt and one pair of long pants.

·      Zip lock bags are your friend. Place shampoo bottles in them. I’ve had 2 occasions where, because of airpressure shampoo bottles have exploded in my suitcase! I spent one evening upon arrival in my hotel room, rinsing shampoo out of my packed clothes! The second occasion, I hadn’t sealed the ziplock up fully so only a small leakage in the suitcase.

·      Sandwich sized ziplock bags can be used to put small amounts of laundry detergent in, the powdered variety! That way you have detergent when you find a washing machine or want to handwash clothes. Separating the detergent into different small bags means you can cram them into small areas in your luggage, rather than a large box or bag taking up a lot of room. Plus once you’ve used up one small bag you throw it away and then that’s one less thing in your luggage!

·      Small ziplock bags are good to place different currencies in while you’re travelling. Last year in Europe I carried, pounds, euros, Czech currency and kuna all in different little bags for when I needed them.

·      Take adapters with you, nothing more annoying to find you can’t charge up all your electrical appliances we now can’t do without.

·      Roll or fold? To save as much space as possible, different people swear by different methods of packing, I use a combination of both. I roll the majority of the clothing and pack them in close together. Then fold across the top one or 2 items. I also tuck into as many things as possible into corners or shoes and for the final item, it’s usually the fleece jacket tucking everything in like a blanket!

·      Pack one ‘good’ outfit (for me usually a dress, in non crease material!) for when you go somewhere rather upmarket.

·      When choosing what clothing to bring, think lightweight. I never pack denim jeans because they weight too much! And they’re a pain to wash and take forever to dry.

·      Buy travel size toiletries, including shampoo, I just throw out the small bottles once finished. Small things are easier to find room for.

Here's the selection of luggage I currently have.

The green cabin bag sized suitcase I use for trips of 2 to 3 days, very convenient as I don't have to check it in.

The purple back pack was back pack number 2 in a much smaller size than #1! I worked out that it couldn't weigh more than 13kg when fully ladened or I couldn't walk! This is how I learned to pack light! Now used mainly for local holidays travelling by car! It has a daypack you can zip onto the front, have misplaced it so I've just got the backpack.

Red expandable suitcase at the time was a good buy, but as it could expand there was too much of a temptation to overpack or buy too many things as I travelled. Rarely used now.

The smaller tan (although it looks grey in the photo) suitcase for 1 week and over trips. I used it for a 4 week trip to Europe a few years back and managed to cram in a heavy puffy jacket in it! 

The grey/ silver suitcase is the one I use for my longer trips (6 weeks) as it doesn't expand it's easier to not overpack. The 4 wheels help with manoeuvrability. 

Notice that none of my suitcases are black, that's deliberate because everyone else's are! I chose non standard colours and have luggage tags on them that are different colours as well to spot them quickly when on a luggage carousel.

Travelling independently (i.e. not on an organised tour) means that you need to make sure you can move your luggage easily, so I've learnt to pack light right at the beginning of the trip (suitcase doesn't weigh more than about 12kg). Resist the temptation to buy a large suitcase, for long trips I have the medium one in each range. The silver hard case has the dimensions (I got out the measuring tape!) of height of 600cm, the depth of 220cm and the width of 400cm. That was fine for 6 weeks travelling in Europe.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Blog's First birthday!

Happy 1st birthday!

Today this blog has existed for a year! (I did actually have to look up what the exact date was of my first post! Didn't have it memorised!) Over a year ago I was inspired to set up a blog after reading a friend's daughter's blog about her trip to Japan. Another friend had a fashion blog which I used to enjoy reading as well, so thought perhaps it could be something I could do. It seemed a good way for family and friends to join me on my travels. 

It transpired that other people liked to dip in and out of reading my blog too! That motivated me to keep posting even when I wasn't travelling anywhere, I've got lots of material from previous trips! It's been a nice little hobby for me this year and I've really enjoyed doing it.

So happy anniversary little blog!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge Northern Ireland

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge 

and beyond

Not far from The Giant's Causeway on the coastal road heading towards Belfast is the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Fishermen built the original rope bridge to Carrick-a-Rede Island to check on their salmon nets. The gap between the mainland and the island is 23m deep and 20m wide, it's a long way down to the water!

The original rope bridge only had one handrail! The National Trust which runs this attraction has replaced it with 2 handrails, for safety as well they have people at either end of the bridge checking that visitors move along in single file. They also close the bridge if it's too windy. Being National Trust, it's free entry if you're a member.

It's quite the experience to cross over on the bridge, it's high with fantastic views. Once on the island you can walk around, again admiring the views. I was lucky that the day I was there was clear and sunny.

I thought the island was uninhabited until I spotted this. First I saw the boat and the hoist that would swing the boat out over the water and then lower it down. The chimney and the roof of the cottage of the fisherman who lived there I assumed, can just be seen as well! Hardy folks these fishermen!

View from the island.

Just a bit further up the road before you get to Ballycastle (love those names!) was the B&B I stayed at. It was out in the countryside with terrific views over the fields to the sea. It was called Glenmore House.

I was very lucky with my first few days as I had sunny skies, but then the famous Irish weather made an appearance. The next day was foggy, wet and rainy, I drove along a really scenic part of the Atrium coast, at least that's what I was told, I could see very little of it! At one stage all that could be seen was the road edge on one side of the car, the white line on the road on the other side and a few metres in front, due to the fog!

So sadly not many scenic pictures were taken! Still a pretty area to visit.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Titanic Belfast

Titanic Belfast

It has the Wow factor!

Full disclosure here, I have never seen the movie Titanic. I even deliberately avoid watching it if it's being shown on TV. (Pause for gasps from readers) My attitude to seeing it has always been "Why spend 4 hours watching a movie when you know the ending?! The boat sinks, people die" Admittedly the reaction from those that I've said this to is for them to roll their eyes, and if they're fans of the movie exclaim "But you must see it! It's a classic" Hmm no Gone with the Wind is a classic and I've seen that!

Regardless, my reason for wanting to visit the Titanic museum, as I called it, in Belfast, was because I was interested in the real life story, more than because I saw the movie! I spent 3 days in Belfast and on the last day I went to the former docks area which has now all been redeveloped with the Titanic Belfast building its centrepiece. As I was driving, I followed the GPS instructions, found it easily enough and there was plenty of parking nearby.

I loved the whole experience, the museum is fantastic. It was terrific as how they were able to expand on the basic facts, the ship the Titanic, along with its sister ship the Olympia were built in Belfast. Titanic sunk on its maiden voyage.

The exhibition begins with a trip to early 20th century Belfast and a look at the thriving industries in the city, along with the shipyards. There's even a 'ride', like an amusement park ride as you travel through the shipyards with all the sights, sounds and smells even. There's a recreation of the types of cabins on board. Here my photography skills let me down as the pictures I took were blurry!

Recreated Third class cabin.

The design of the Titanic Belfast building is amazing as well. Depending on the angle you look at it from the outside, it can resemble the bow of a ship. Overhead it looks like a star which was the symbol of the White Star Line. The architect also stated he had the idea of using a compass rose for the shape. The building was finished and officially opened in 2012 in time for the 100th anniversary of Titanic's first voyage.

It was a brilliant place to visit, well worth the admission price and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Belfast.

From the window you can see Hamilton Dry Dock. The ship there is the SS Nomadic, she was the tender for the Titanic. (A smaller ship that can get into a small wharf to load and unload passengers and bring them up to the main ship which is moored in deeper water) The SS Nomadic took second class passengers from the shallow docks in Cherbourg out to the Titanic. She's been restored to her 1911 glory days condition and can be toured as well as the museum. The SS Nomadic is a quarter the size of the Titanic and is the last White Star Line ship left in the world. (Titanic and Olympia belonged to the White Star Line fleet of ships)

The 'Titanic studios' are also in the redeveloped docks area, it's here that Game of Thrones is filmed.(It's the black box shaped building on the right of the picture)  The large open area are the slipways imbedded in them are the outlines of the Titanic and the Olympia main decks, which are lit up at night with led light, the lamp posts mark the stanchions of the Arrol Gantry one of the world's largest cranes.