A Travellerspoint blog

Portsmouth

My train journey to Portsmouth, was a bit of a mess. Halfway there the conductor informed us that there was a signal problem and the train would be ending at West Worthing. Huh? Where the hell is that and what do I do now? No worries- as usual, the lovely and helpful people of England were there to sort me out. The station guy let me know where to catch a bus headed in my direction and how to get to the bus stop (2 miles away- Argghh). So, on the hottest, sunniest day of the year, I prepared to walk- not so bad if it wasn’t for my stupid luggage. As I was about to set off, a lady and her daughter offered me a ride to the bus stop! Yay! Turns out she’s big into animal rights and she noticed I was wearing a T-shirt from Big Cat Rescue. Ta da!! I ended up on the right bus, miraculously caught another train down the line and made it to Portsmouth only 2 hours behind schedule.

When I arrived, my AirBnB host was nice enough to take me on a walking tour of the city. Since I was only in town for a short time I needed to make the most of my time, so after a full day of travel I set out on a 2 + mile hike of Portsmouth (yay!?). Finally I begged for mercy, food and beer, so we had dinner at the harbor and the sunset (at almost 10 pm) was beautiful.

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The next day I visited Fishbourne Roman Palace, the main reason I had come to this area. In the 1950’s a local farmer was digging a hole for a new water main and uncovered the ruins of a Roman palace built in the 1st century. There’s not much left except for some beautiful mosaic floors and the remains of the foundation, which they used to recreate the garden. There was also a small, but really good museum housing the various knick knacks found in Sussex over the years. I went on a tour with the curator and he was fascinating. One of my favorite things there was a stone hand tool from HALF A MILLION YEARS AGO!!! And I got to touch it! So very cool.

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In the afternoon I headed to the Portsmouth Dockyards and saw the HMS Victory (Nelson’s flagship from the Battle of Trafalgar) and the excellent Mary Rose exhibition. This Tudor ship sank in Portsmouth Harbor during an engagement with the French (who else?) in 1545 as Henry the Eighth watched from Southsea Castle. The wreck was discovered by a local diver in the late 1960’s and was brought to the surface in 1982. It was fascinating to learn how the archaeologists, engineers and dive team excavated this wooden ship that had been buried in sea muck for almost 400 years. When I saw the reassembled ship at the museum it literally took my breath away. It’s 3 stories tall and there are walkways on every level so you can look into each section. Just amazing. Because it was in oxygen depleted mud, not only did the ship survive relatively intact, but so did the remains of the crew and all their personal belongings. It’s a slice of Tudor life which tells the story of the crew, including the Captain, cook, surgeon and even the ship dog, Hatch. Of the 400 or so on board only 34 survived because the antiboarding netting, designed to keep attackers out, essentially trapped sailors on the ship as it sank. The photo below isn't great, so go to Portsmouth and see it person!

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Ship figureheads from the Dockyard museum. Apollo (from HMS Apollo - Napoleonic Wars) and Eurydice (HMS Eurydice 1781) - this Greek nymph has a sad story so she's supposed to look pitiful, but to be honest, I'm not sure the woodcarver captured it.

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Next up- Gloucester, Tewkesbury and more history!!!

Posted by travelinglisa 11:32 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged portsmouth fishbourne Comments (0)

Beautiful Brighton

Yay! Met up with Jim to check out Brighton and had a blast. It's so cool that we ended up in England at the same time- such jet setters (although I think I'd get kicked out of the club if the knew I traveled by bus) !

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We had a great time and ate some excellent food. I had my first real fish and chips in a pub and tried mushy peas. I'd seen them advertised everywhere and thought they sounded disgusting- canned peas, smashed into mush? Turns out that's not what they are at all. They're kind of like pea puree with a hint of mint, super fresh tasting and delicious! Of course, I embarrassed myself as a silly American when I was sampling some beer by pointing out that it was warm, and was gently reminded by the barkeep that some ales are supposed to be served at room temperature. Never mind!

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In the late 1700's this fishing town became a fashionable place for the well to do to vacation and beautiful hotels were built along the seaside. It's easy to imagine the ladies with their parasols parading up and down the seafront.

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In the mid 1800's the railroad was built and the city was in reach for the ordinary folks day tripping from London and the gentry were not pleased to be sharing their beach with the riff raff. The Pier has kind of a Coney Island feel- carnival rides and games, lots of ice cream, but instead of hot dogs they have fish and chips.

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When I saw the beach, my first thought was to feel sorry for the people having to lay on stones instead of sand. The stones, however are nice and warm and surprisingly comfortable once you squish them around to fit your body shape.

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In the middle of town there's this crazy Indian inspired Royal Pavilion built by George IV as a party house. It's totally out of place with the rest of the architecture in the City, but fits in with Brighton's funky, quirky vibe.

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We went a great bike tour of the town. It was such a treat to ride a new Raleigh- a big change from my old rickety Cambodian bike for sure! We went to an area called the North Lanes. Apparently there was a problem with graffiti in parts of the town, so the city gave permission to the artists to decorate one street and there was some cool stuff on the walls. At one time Banksy had some famous street art here, but the City sold them for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

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Another cool area is called the Lanes, old twisty turny narrow streets- we were constantly getting lost, passing the same shops over and over and never getting anywhere.

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On my last day, I decided to take a bus to see some big chalk beach heads in a nearby town. Let's just say that bus schedules are and will forever remain a mystery to me - I sped by the 2 places I wanted to see and ended up just checking out Eastbourne. Not exactly a wasted day, but I was really looking forward to walking on these cliffs and hanging with some sweet sheep.

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Again, I love the architecture and I really appreciate the historical preservation, though why they allow these modern commercial storefronts on these beautiful buildings is beyond me.

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There are some things the English do better than us (tea, scones, lovely accent...) but they suck at showers. The shower in my hotel room was literally built into a closet about 4'x 4'. The showerhead pointed straight out and there was no way to adjust it, so when I turned the faucet ice cold water shot out into my face and flooded the room and once I was in and closed the door I could barely move. Despite that, I really liked Brighton and wish I would have spent a couple more days there, but now on to Portsmouth!

Posted by travelinglisa 02:38 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged brighton Comments (0)

London Calling

I love England!! Everyone is so nice, and after spending 7 months in Asia, there’s definitely something to be said for being able to understand what people are saying again.

After a very long and uncomfortable flight from Thailand and 2+ hours standing in the immigration line at Heathrow, you’d think I’d immediately crash out at my hotel near Hyde Park, but you would, of course, be wrong. I couldn’t wait to take my poor broken body on a 3+ mile walk around the neighborhood and the park. The architecture is so beautiful and the entire country is in bloom with colorful flowers.

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I passed by St. Sophia's, a Greek Orthodox cathedral built in the 1800s, and was peaking inside when a tiny old lady dressed all in black invited me in to take some flowers from the alter display they were dismantling- how lovely!!

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Classic Hyde Park: Swan, Kensington Palace and statue of Queen Victoria.

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I found a tea shop nearby and had my first cup of English tea. I don’t know what kind of magic they use to make tea over here, but it’s ever so delicious! I By the time I finally dragged myself back to the hotel I looked and felt like an extra for the Walking Dead.

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The reason I ended up in London was to see Phil Collins at a big festival in Hyde Park. I had my eticket on my phone, a raincoat, a sweater and a sun hat to prepare for the ever changing weather and since it was such a nice day, walked the mile or so to the venue. When I tried to get in, I found I had no cell service and the ticket wouldn't load - I ended up an a no man's land between the bag search area and the ticket gate- the festival staff were so nice and we eventually found an old email on my phone verifying the purchase and they let me in- Whew! I immediately went to the cider stand and had the first of many of these delicious beverages I would enjoy on this trip. Blondie opened for Phil Collins and she was freaking awesome! I had forgotten how many of her old songs I liked and the new stuff was really excellent as well. If she ever comes to a venue near you , GO!

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The concert was standing only and by the time Phil Collins came on we were packed in closer than sardines, balancing on top of about 10,000 beer cans and wine bottles; I couldn't help but think about the soccer stampedes here that crushed people. I also thought it was odd that, other than a few teen aged event staff, there was NO security- not a cop in sight. I was really surprised, as the Manchester concert bombing had occurred only a couple weeks prior so I expected to see police everywhere. Anyway, Phil Collins was great! His voice isn't exactly perfect any more but the band was phenomenal. When they did "In the Air Tonight" I was completely blown away- I'd go back any day just to hear that again- it was just amazing. Also, his son is now the drummer for the band- he's a real cutie and it was so cool to see him performing with his dad.

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Leaving the concert was an interesting experience. At least half the people were literally falling down drunk and a few were having screaming fights. Keeping in mind that everyone was pretty much over 40, I was a bit taken aback.

The next day I went down to beautiful Soho where every building is more interesting than the next. Then I wandered down to the National Gallery and was in heaven. I went on a short tour and although we only looked at 4 paintings, I couldn't get over how much there was to learn about each of them- the provenance, the historical significance, the symbolism, the type of paint, the colors, the styling, the artist, etc. - unbelievable! I want to go back to school and major in art history. I loved the one below "The Abduction of Helen" circa 1440. Helen is literally being kidnapped by Paris, and her friends are all " Oh, Helen- so much drama- whatever".

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Trafalgar Square is right outside the National Gallery and it happened to be Canada Day- again, huge crowds, no cops. And if there is any doubt that the current US administration is viewed as a total laughingstock overseas, see below. This sidewalk artist was raking in the cash.

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I also popped into a St Martins in the Field- there's been a church on this site since the 1200's and the unusual east window is from 2008. I was lucky enough to hear a rehearsal of that night's classical concert- great acoustics in these old buildings!

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That night I saw "Bat Out of Hell" at the London Coliseum. Apparently, since this is also the home of the English National Opera, there was some controversy about it being an appropriate venue for a rock and roll musical- tut tut. The show was so much fun- it was a bit of a stretch to build a plot around the 3 albums and the lead singer was no Meat Loaf, but I loved it! How come I can remember every word of those songs 20 years later, but I can't remember where I put my phone 5 minutes ago?!

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There's so much to see and do in London- I'll be in the city a few more times during the next couple of months and I'll still only be scratching the surface.

Next on the agenda, Brighton!

Posted by travelinglisa 06:45 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london Comments (0)

Koh Samui and Koh Tao

Thai Islands

Koh Samui is two bus rides and a ferry from Ao Nang, on the other side of the Southern Thai peninsula. The 6 hour trip cost about $15. The price of a songthaew taxi from the pier about a mile to my hotel was $6- they don’t call it the Taxi Mafia here for nothing!

My first beach here was Lipa Noi, on the west side of the island. It’s low season until next month, so it was pretty quiet, but very beautiful- one of the nicest beaches here, still relatively undeveloped and had lovely sunsets. My hotel was right on the Gulf of Thailand with the pool overlooking the water. My agenda for 2 days: swim in the ocean, walk on the beach, lay on the sand, swim in the pool, lay on a lounge chair and read Stephen King. Break occasionally for yummy Thai food from the little family owned places along the road, then repeat. Paradise!

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Sunset entertainment- Russian gymnast, watching the fisherman, a water buffalo going for a walk (also met up with him later on the side of the road!) and a storm brewing.

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Next on the agenda (after another expensive taxi ride) was Bo Phut on the north side for more sun and swimming. The little area called Fisherman’s village was really cute and I was there for the weekly “walking street”- a road is closed off and set up for vendors and food stalls. It wasn’t as authentic as the ones I’ve been to in mainland Thailand- lots of cheap souvenirs, but the food was great. The trick is to go down the little alleys off the main street where the real Thai food is – had some of the best green mango salad ever!

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One of my splurges on this trip was a 3 day yoga retreat at a pretty fancy resort. The place was beautiful and the views were stunning. Unfortunately, the property is broken up into 2 parts- the “real” resort and a group of old bungalows a quarter mile down the road that are ‘sublet’ to the main resort- and guess which one I ended up in. I was not too happy. Plus the food, which was included, was awful and the timing of meals was contradictory to the yoga schedule, so by the time I finished class and hiked up the road, there was nothing left to eat. Fortunately, a 7-11 was nearby so I was able to stock up on oreos and green tea/chocolate cookies-my new favorite. The yoga classes were good- 2 hours in the morning and an hour of yin in the evening. The outdoor pavilion overlooked the sea and it was pretty awesome to practice there. I miss my Saturday AM classes in Hollywood- I need structure for my yoga- you tube videos just aren’t the same. The pool was really nice here as well. The last straw with this place though was that the power and water were off the last day I was there (of course the “main” resort had a generator, so they were fine) but those of us the “annex” were hot and dirty and the staff could not have cared less. So much for stress reduction- I couldn’t wait to leave.

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Bangrak Beach was a working fishing town and home to the Big Buddah. The things I love about the smaller beach towns are watching the fisherman and how cheap a nice, clean beachfront room is - I paid $25 for this view.

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The other planned highlight of the islands was a 3 day boat trip about an old Thai fishing vessel- snorkeling and kayaking in a marine national park off Koh Tao, a 3 hour ferry ride from Koh Samui. I was really looking forward to this as we’d be able to venture into parts of the park where tourists normally don’t get go and sleep on deck under the stars at night. Very unfortunately, I got an email at the last minute that the trip was cancelled. The owner said it was because the other passengers (there were only 3 people signed up) got sick and he wouldn’t run it just for me. I was sooooo very disappointed. I had already booked my ferry, so I headed out to Koh Tao anyway. Because I hadn’t planned anything there other than the boat trip I had to scramble to find another excursion. The one I chose stopped at 5 snorkeling sites around the island all but one turned out to be really good. Instead of reefs, the coral grows on giant rocks in the sea and there were tons of colorful fish, sea fans and big black spiny sea urchins. I just loved floating on top of the rocks and watching the comings and goings of the underwater community. The last stop was Shark Bay. This place is known for blacktip reef sharks and sometimes for sightings of green sea turtles. When we got there, it was about 4 PM and a bit overcast so the water was dark- perfect conditions for a shark attack in my opinion. The boat captain assured me it was safe, but I am pretty afraid of sharks, so I wasn’t exactly reassured. If I saw one, I was more likely to die of a heart attack than any actual shark bite. The place where the sea turtles are sometimes found was a pretty far swim from the boat and they don’t give you any flippers, so it wasn’t like I’d make it back quickly to the boat if I saw a shark. I stood on the deck debating for a few minutes, decided to be brave and go for it. I got in the water and the bottom was dark with sea grass and rocks and I could hear the theme from Jaws playing in my head. I started swimming and when I looked back at how far away the boat was I almost lost my nerve, but kept going. About 20 meters later, there was a big circle of white sand in the middle of the rocks, the sun had come out and in the middle of the sunlit circle there it was- a giant green sea turtle. It was freaking incredible! There were about 10 other snorkelers hanging on top of it, which I though was a bit intrusive, so I hung back a bit. Then the thing turned and swam right up to me- it was huge, about 4 foot shell, a big giant head and fat meaty arms and legs – definitely bigger than me. We just looked at each other for a minute and then he/she turned and swam off. It was an incredible experience! I followed it for a bit, then headed back to the boat and never saw a single shark -yay!

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We also had a hiking stop on the trip at Koh Nang Yuan. It was a hot and sweaty trek but the view from the top was great.

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Some of the beaches on Koh Tao were nicer than others- the most famous beach at Sairee had a lot of dogs running around (although this one was sweet) and some trash-due to some stormy weather, but the sunset was beyond beautiful.

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Chalok Baan Kao beach was lovely.

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Local shop on Koh Tao and the ever present taxi mafia awaiting their next victim.

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My last beach on Koh Samui was Lamai and it was definitely the most developed. The weather was a bit rainy but it cleared up enough to do some stand up paddle boarding, climb on the rocks and enjoy the beach.

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The street food scene during Lamai's walking street.

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I loved this herb and vegetable cart selling mainly to the local folks.

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The sex trade is alive and well- opens for business around 7 pm, but photos are discouraged then (learned this the hard way when walking in the Red Light District in Amsterdam a few years ago!).

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There were the usual vendors walking up and down the beach offering massages, manicures, fruit, souvenirs… and while they didn’t sell the BBQ squid that I loved eating on Cambodian beaches, they did sell the next best thing- donuts! In the US I eat about 4 donuts a year, but it’s one of the things I’d been craving for a few months so I was super happy!

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Thanks for all the sun, sea, food and fun Thailand! Next up- 2 months in England (and most probably much less sun!)

Posted by travelinglisa 02:26 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Ao Nang Adventures

Despite the fact that Thailand is so close to Siem Reap, I just couldn’t find any decent Thai food there, so I really had no choice but to go back to Thailand, this time visiting the southern part of the country and islands.

My first stop was Ao Nang on the Andaman Sea side of the peninsula. I flew in at night, so when I woke up and saw the giant (granite?) cliffs right outside my hotel, it was a real surprise. The scenery here is just spectacular. I was lucky to get good weather almost the whole time, as it was technically the rainy season. And even though it was still kind of hot, due to the sea breeze it was not as stifling as Cambodia- a most welcome change!
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My first afternoon I took a kayak trip across a bay and through some ravines. We stopped at an island that was covered with baby crabs and starfish and another place that had fish that walked on land- so prehistoric and odd to see fish footprints in the sand. It was a little overcast, but still a good day. In the pic below the little walking fish is at the top and his/her tiny footsteps near the bottom (mangrove stem for scale).

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The next day I took a longtail boat snorkeling trip, and it was a bit of a letdown. The first two stops were at tiny beaches packed solid with tourists from the 20 other boats that also landed there. Apparently most of the passengers couldn’t swim so they just waded next to the shore, many wearing their life jackets for fear of drowning in less than 2 feet of water. Once I got passed the huddled masses, the water really was nice, but there was no reef, just a few sergeant majors swimming around- scrambling for open waters to get away from the tourists, I’m sure. I cannot imagine the mayhem during high season.

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I amused myself by watching the Russian tourists- the women LOVE posing for photos and their men love taking them even more. Lots of props, art direction, re-shoots etc.- it was actually pretty entertaining.

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The last beach of the day was much bigger and quite beautiful and the scenery during the boat ride was just gorgeous, so the trip was not a total loss.

The whole town of Ao Nang is rather touristy- lots and lots of souvenir shops and restaurants serving faux Thai, Indian and pizza. Thanks to my friend Ron’s recommendation, I found an authentic Thai restaurant and had my first bowl of real tom yum seafood since my last trip to Thailand. You know it’s good when you order medium spicy and it kicks your ass! Luckily there’s always plenty of ice cold Singha to cool everything down.

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There are a couple of beautiful beaches near Ao Nang that are reached by longtail boat. You wade in to the ocean and just climb onboard. That’s all fine, but of course when I went it was high tide and the boat was really rocking, the waves were almost chest high and the long metal steering pole was careening all about just looking for heads to bash in. Nevertheless, I got on safely and we headed out. I met a nice guy from Portugal on that trip, quite fortuitous as I plan to be there in the fall and its always great to get local tips. We hiked all over the area and ended up on Railay beach, which was absolutely gorgeous.

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I was laying in the sand near one of the big cliffs at Railay and out of a crevasse in the rock comes this very nasty 4 foot long monitor lizard. A minute later, a big black dog appears out of nowhere to fight the thing. They both ran off into the rocks, so I’m not sure who won, but it was an exciting chase.

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I found some more good Thai food at the Krabi night market- lots of local people and home cooking. I’m not sure what I ate-some fish and noodle thing, but it was good, cheap and spicy!

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I got a great deal on a room a bit closer to the beach for my last night, so I moved down the block. As I was lazing by my lovely new pool, I started thinking, hmmm, I don’t remember seeing my wallet when I packed up my stuff from the other hotel. I hide money and different credit and ATM cards in lots of nooks and crannies in my luggage so I can never pinpoint exactly where everything is at any given moment. Just to set my mind at ease, I went up to my room to look for it, checking the usual hiding places. Couldn’t find it. I tore apart my luggage throwing clothes willy nilly all over the room-still nothing. In a complete panic, I ran back to the other hotel and told the staff what was missing. We all went back to my old room, checked the little safe and sure enough, there it was, propped against the back wall of the box. YAY!!! It only took 3 hours and 2 beers for my heart to stop racing and my legs to un-noodle themselves. Feeling all happy, I went back to my room to repack all my stuff. As I got to the door, I had a weird thought that in my rush, had I even locked the door? I turned the knob, the unlocked door opened and the room was completely empty-not a piece of luggage or even a stray t shirt to be seen. #$#%%##!!!! Seriously???? Now I'm robbed??! I double checked the room number and discovered I was in the wrong freaking room-I had turned left at the elevator instead of right! Oh happy day! And yes, I know I am an idiot-how I’ve managed to travel the world without major mishaps so far (knock on wood) is baffling even to me!!

Anyway, Ao Nang was nice, but a bit Thai lite for my taste and a bit too touristy -however, the scenery was spectacular and the Andaman sea was beautiful.

Next up- Koh Samui

Posted by travelinglisa 01:43 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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