During the planning for our first year as full-time sailors Damian and I had planned to rest our boat up over winter in a marina which had an active liveaboard community but had also discussed taking a couple of months out during the worst of the winter weather in January and February to do some backpacking. Sailing in the Mediterranean during the winter grinds to a virtual halt and we figured that it would be good to get off the boat for a while and go and see a little more of the world.
Neither of us had been to Thailand or Indonesia before but our daughter Em had spent time in Bali and Thailand after college and had persuaded us to include both destinations in our travel plans. We had made provision in our budget for a backpackers experience, staying in modest accommodation and taking advantage of the low cost of living that we knew would be available.
We left Marina Di Ragusa on 9 January 2019 in the early hours of the morning during an angry storm.
Laden down with heavy rucksacks, we dodged the rain to catch the early morning bus to Catania airport, for our flight to Bangkok via Rome. We were both excited to be travelling again and the idea of ‘backpacking’ added an extra element of fun to the adventure.
Our Thai Airways long haul flight passed quickly and we arrived in Bangkok just as dawn was breaking over the city.
We were going to be staying in a rather nice hotel for the first 5 nights of our trip (thanks IBM – grateful for the Marriott points!!) and we were extremely happy to see the biggest, comfiest bed and huge bath awaiting. Living on a boat means the opportunities for a bath (other than in the sea) are far and few between, so this was heaven!
Bangkok was a joyful surprise, we both fell in love with the city as soon as we set foot outside the hotel. Sunshine, smiley people and a city full of life and colour awaited and we headed out on foot to explore.
For me Bangkok was very strangely familiar and we were both instantly comfortable amongst the chaotic activity all around us. From the ‘Tuk Tuks’ laden with smiling tourists racing by, to the sights and smells of the street vendors lining the streets, it all felt so joyful, yet peaceful – we loved it! During our time in Bangkok we ventured out daily on the above ground trains to explore the city, spending a day shopping at Chatuchak Weekend Markets, we took an evening riverboat ride to the famous Koh San Road, (backpacker central) and a daytime trip by river to The Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
We marvelled at the vast numbers of Chinese and Japanese tourists (Chinese New Year) and the nonchalance of the market traders. We expected to be hounded mercilessly to buy the incredibly cheap and notoriously fake goods on sale, but we weren’t. Most of the stallholders in the markets were too engrossed in their mobile phones to bother us and this made us smile a lot. Bartering became a real sport and I had a fabulous time shopping for nothing in particular, joyful in the whole experience.
Whilst in Bangkok I indulged myself in a two and a half hour Traditional Thai massage, (always good to pick up new moves and ideas for my own Thai Yoga Massages). It had been a long time since I had been on the receiving end of a Thai massage and it was absolute heaven!
Before we knew it, it was time to fly to Koh Samui for a change in pace and a taste of island life and we arrived bright and early on 15 January. Our beach bungalow was a real surprise, large and comfortable and just a few steps away from the beach.
Samui Beach Resort was one of many resorts found on booking.com, offering cheap accommodation with pool and restaurant facilities. We were blown away by what was on offer, for so little. We found decent accommodation available ranging from around £15 per night for a double room with air-conditioning and a fridge. On Koh Samui we were also able to get supper with drinks for around £10 per night for us both – quite a contrast to what we were used to paying back home and in Sicily.
We were both so happy to be back by the sea and relaxed into a calmer beach life routine for the next few days. We took long walks along the beach into town and visited the very colourful weekend markets, where we had our first taste of street food. That was a real experience, but neither of us was brave enough to try the fried bugs on offer!
Thai massages were available all along the beach so I indulged in another massage (more research of course). The pace of life slowed some more and we made some plans for the coming week. We had decided to not plan too far ahead and were going to try and book as we went. Of course the internet allows so much more flexibility in travel these days and we were taking Em’s advice, checking out booking.com and Trip Advisor reviews to help us make our travel decisions.
For me the highlight of our stay on Koh Samui was the organised trip we took out to visit Samui Elephant Haven.
The Haven provides sanctuary for rescued elephants, giving respite from hard lives working in the tourist, logging and construction industries. We got to walk with, feed and watch these magnificent animals bathing and playing together during our morning at the haven, pleased that we got to see elephants being lovingly cared for in a safe, protected environment.
From Koh Samui we took a ferry across to Koh Pha-Ngan, with the intention of being there for one of the infamous ‘Full Moon Parties’. Fortunately (as it turns out), we arrived on the island a day late and were there for the beach clean-up, having missed the full moon party completely. It was a bit of a mad moment on my part wanting to do the full ‘backpackers experience’, but after seeing the state of some of the revellers, we realised that we had probably had a lucky escape!
Our next island hop took us to Koh Tao for some snorkelling and diving. Damian is a PADI Master diver and dives regularly but I hadn’t been diving for 12 years, so we decided to go out on a snorkelling trip on our first day and I was booked onto a refresher course to get me ready to dive the next day. Koh Tao is a snorkelling and diving haven and we certainly had lots of schools to choose from. Courtesy of the reviews we read we decided to book in with Coral Grand Divers – a PADI school with an excellent reputation. I got my refresher course with a very sympathetic English instructor and two other middle-aged rusty divers and we were taken through our paces in the school’s diving pool. Our instructor Nat was extremely knowledgeable and patient and we were good to go diving by lunchtime.
I joined Damian on his dive boat and had the most wonderful afternoon doing two dives off the stunning island of Koh Nang Yuan.
After 4 nights on Koh Tao we headed off to the coastal town of Krabi on the mainland and had a couple of nights there, breaking up our onward journey to Koh Lanta – another ‘must see’ on Em’s list! We walked along the harbour front to the marina, wistful at the sight of the yachts moored there.
We visited the Kaewkorawaram Temple and wandered around the shops soaking up the relaxed feel of the city – a gentle contrast to island life.
I bagged myself another Thai massage, adding more innovation to my growing list of new moves for my own massages!
On 29 January we headed off again on a fast ferry to Koh Lanta, which turned into quite an adventure when the skipper ran the ferry aground in the mud flats! It very quickly became clear that we were not going to get off the mud by engine power, so the men on the boat climbed down into the water to try and rock the boat free.
When this didn’t work the ladies got off too and with all of us waist deep in muddy water, we rocked and pushed and eventually managed to get the boat free. I’m sure that in other circumstances there would have been a lot of angry passengers, but we all found it rather amusing, despite the fact that we were all soaked from the waist down for the rest of the journey!
We arrived in Koh Lanta to find that we had lucked in once again with our accommodation and a large, comfortable, air-conditioned room with a fridge was ours for under £20 per night. We were 10 minutes out of town, 5 minutes walk from the beach with a decent selection of restaurants and shops within easy reach. Damian and I decided that this was our favourite destination on our trip to Thailand, especially after another snorkelling trip out to the beautiful Koh Rok.
Relaxed meals out, more long beach walks and lots of time swimming and snorkelling left us both feeling calm and deeper in love with Thailand Island life.
Khao Lak was next on the destination list, to allow us to get out to the Similan Islands National Park for more diving. We arrived at our accommodation after another fast boat ride back to Krabi and a crazy minivan ride (with the driver watching a movie on his phone as he drove!). Accommodated along the busy main strip we were in the perfect location for access to the large number of dive schools offering trips out to the Islands. Khao Lak was gently hectic and vibrant with a real relaxed feel and we both loved the contrast to Koh Lanta.
We took our time to search out a PADI dive school and booked ourselves some trips out to the islands. The diving in the National Park was much more expensive than around Koh Tao, so I went out to snorkel and let Damian have some proper dive time with the ‘serious divers’.
I took some time out alone to do some more ‘serious shopping’ and had another Thai massage, a blissful experience involving lots of beautifully scented oils on my feet and lower legs. It was wonderful to have the time to pamper myself a little, especially as I could never find time to indulge myself when I was working (note to self, must find myself a Thai massage therapist in Sicily!).
After four nights in Khao Lak, we arranged a ride to Phuket to await our flight back to Bangkok. We had booked ourselves into an incredibly cheap room in a family home and were treated to more generous hospitality from the kindest Thai couple, who went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
We were very aware that our time in Thailand was drawing to a close, but had another couple of days taking it easy on Monkey Beach, watching the yachts anchoring out in the bay and musing over the possibility of sailing in Thailand in the future!
On 8 February we boarded a plane from Phuket back to Bangkok, to await our next day flight to Bali and the second phase of our backpacking adventure. Our long overnight wait in Bangkok airport was a little stressful, with the knowledge that we were overstaying our 30-day visa. I had inadvertently booked our flights out a day late and was a little worried. Thankfully a stern look and a ‘naughty stamp’ in our passports was as tough as it got and we boarded our flight for Bali early the next day.
Awaiting our arrival was happy, smiley Wayan from the family villa we were due to stay and we were whisked off to Ubud, via a stop to pick up a local SIM card and a visit to the Satria Coffee Plantation. We were treated to a tour of the plantation and a tasting session, which included the famous Luwak Coffee, deemed to be the most expensive coffee in the world.
This very special Indonesian coffee is harvested from the poo of the civet Cat, which undergoes a specialised processing to produce one of the best cups of coffee I had tasted in a long time! At the end of the tour Damian treated me to a much cheaper pack of Bali Coffee and a very special bar of the plantations dark orange chocolate, my first chocolate since leaving Sicily!
The next few days were busy with trips out to explore the district of Ubud, with Wayan as our trusty guide. We had two full days of sightseeing including an outdoor Barong traditional dance, we visited a Batik workshop, went to the beautiful Tegenungan Waterfalls, had lunch with a view overlooking Mount Batur and ended the first day with a visit to Pura Tirta Empul, a Hindu Balinese water temple, famous for its holy spring water.
On the second day we spent the most amazing morning exploring Mandala Suci Wenara Wana, Ubud’s famous sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to over 700 long tailed Balinese monkeys, who roam free throughout the forest. We were both in awe of the vast numbers of monkeys we saw as we wandered around the sanctuary, the monkeys happily going about their business, unfazed by the large numbers of human voyeurs.
We rounded off our trip to Ubud with a traditional Balinese lunch and an afternoon wandering around the town, exploring the vast array of shops before heading back to our villa.
We loved Ubud and it’s friendly relaxed feel and we were made to feel thoroughly welcome by our host Balinese family. The Balinese are deeply religious and spiritual people and we were fascinated by their daily Hindu rituals, where offerings of water, food, flowers and incense (and in some cases cigarettes and sweets) are prepared in small baskets and offered to the gods at the entrance to every home and shop.
Throughout our time in Bali we were constantly aware of the morning and evening smells of incense, an added calmness to our day.
Next stop was Canggu, with an opportunity for Damian to go surfing. On our first trip down to the beach to check out the surf we were amused to find that our local stretch of beach was called ‘Old Man’s Beach’ – perfect!
Damian’s attempt to recapture his youth gave me an opportunity to explore the local Yoga on offer and I found a couple of studios offering classes in the most idyllic settings. My favourite class was an ‘Aerial Yoga’ class and I spent the most amazing hour cavorting around in an aerial swing, tipping upside down and generally performing moves more suited to the circus. It was completely bonkers, great fun and I loved every minute of it!
We loved Canggu for it’s relaxed beach vibe and surfing, it’s great food and the incredible warmth of the local people. When we first arrived we were dismayed to see the large amounts of rubbish being washed up onto the beaches from the ocean daily and despite the strong commitment to regular beach ‘clean-ups’, the struggle was very obvious.
For the final leg of our Bali adventure we had decided to visit Nusa Lembongan, for a few days near the beach with some snorkelling and swimming. We had found a wonderfully cheap bungalow with a swimming pool virtually outside of our door, close to the beach, restaurants and cafés. I made a lovely new friend on the ferry to the island and Emily and I took ourselves off to a couple of Yoga classes whilst Damian took it easy by the pool.
We got out on another morning snorkeling trip to 3 different sites around the island and went for some lovely long walks as the sun was going down.
After 5 days in Nusa Lembongan we spent one night at Kuta Beach before heading back to Bangkok to connect to our flight to Dubai. We figured that breaking up the journey back to Sicily would be good, stopping half way to ease ourselves through the impending jet lag and take the opportunity to use up a few more Marriott points and bag ourselves a posh hotel for free.
After two flights and a full day of travelling we finally arrived in Dubai and were not disappointed – upgraded to a junior suite we were afforded a magnificent view out over the Marina from our 25th floor accommodation.
Dubai was the polar opposite to everything that we had experienced during our backpacking adventure up to that point, but it was fascinating to read about the history of the massive developments that were going on in the city and marvel at the huge amount of construction underway – all built upon sand!
We ventured out to the Souks in the Old City, visited one of the biggest shopping malls I had ever been to and took a long walk to the beach.
The warm winter sunshine we had expected didn’t materialise and instead several sandstorms, shrouded the view and brought with them a distinctly cold, chilly air. At this point we both felt that we were marking time and began to look forward to our return to the boat. I got to meet up with a friend from back home who was living in Dubai and realised just how much I was missing my girlie company and chats, it was definitely time to get back .
On 6 March 2019 we flew into Catania and arrived back in Marina Di Ragusa in the early afternoon. Blue skies and sunshine greeted us as soon as we exited the airport terminal and were both glad to be back.
Our two month adventure had been sorely needed and we returned feeling rested and peaceful, having thoroughly enjoyed our experiences of Thailand and Indonesia. We know that we want to go back and explore some more, having barely scratched the surface of either destination.
We had managed to live comfortably and enjoy the most amazing adventure on a very conservative budget. We had so many awesome experiences, met some extremely, kind and generous people and will definitely be going back.
Taking this time out for ourselves has given us both a new lease of life, something we had never dreamed would be possible when we first started planning our big sailing adventure many years ago. Neither of us can imagine ever getting back onto that stressful ‘hamster wheel’ we called life and no matter where we end up, we will not regret taking this brave step to take back ourselves, while we still can.
Watch this space for news on my plans for our new venture – ‘Active world Retreats’ and details of where we will be heading during Year 2 of our ‘Big Sailing Adventure’!
Click subscribe at the bottom of this BLOG to be receive notification when my next BLOG goes live.
Thanks for tuning in…. Sallyx