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A Few Days in Koh Samet

So with a friend visited me recently and wanting to visit an island with 'least hassle of travel' from Bangkok. We decided on the weekend short stay island retreat favored by Bangkokians : Koh Samet. I am aware there are other cheaper ways to get there but to observe in my friends request we took a taxi from basically close to Sofitel on Sukhumvit road. This after some negotiation with the diver came to 2000 baht. The taxi agreed so long we paid the road toll fees (less than 150 baht). Others wanted 2500 but he had a SUV so was more comfortable.  We left about 2pm thinking it would only take 1-2 hours not 2.5-3 which it did, but this is the main road to Pattaya, so did have quite heavy traffic. As we drove we figured we needed to get to Bai Phe port by 5pm for the last ferry. So the long drive was uneventful until we did a rest stop somewhere enroute the road to Pattaya that had the biggest amount of shops & restaurants, I've ever seen at any rest stop. Thailand - Drive Rest Stop (Pattaya) It basically had housing and a market with all kinds of foods including fast food options. It was after this that the ever so quiet taxi driver perked up. We joked maybe he took something or just drank x2 super strong Thai redbulls, but the very mention of Ladyboys he launched into this crazed state of laughter doing ladyboy impressions and noise examples - it was incredibly entertaining and the very word 'ladyboy' would spark him off again, he was quite funny. We finally arrived at Ban Phe port & he picked up this large lady, 'look my fat friend' hs says laughing. As predicted this lady was a planned interaction to take us to her speedboat desk in which she offers direct speed boat to the hotel on Hat Sai Kaew beach. It cost 600 each both ways, you share with others and the journey is half the time of the ferry. However the ferry only costs 50 baht but at the same time it doesn't drop you off outside your hotel. At the same token, the island we later found out is so small that one end from port to other probably takes 15 minutes. Ferry Vs The Speedboat Thailand - Ferrry Crossing (Koh Samet) Thailand - Speedboat Crossing (Koh Samet) It was quite funny speeding past in the ferry where the speed boats really does go up/down quite hard against the waves yet no life jackets are given. The ferry plods along slow and smooth & you see everyone wearing life vests. However there was an impressive sunset as we travelled across the 25 minute journey to the island. Thailand - Sunset Crossing to Koh Samet (Koh Samet) We finally arrive at the Hat Sai Kaew Beach and the speed boat drops you about 5 metres from the beach edge - so expect to walk in sea a little bit. Though staff at the hotel will meet & greet you taking your bags to reception. There were some issues with hotel but basically if your wanting twin beds don't book the Thai traditional cottages. The bellboys made us laugh as we got to our room he took us to the balcony and pointed to some building and said 'girls in this bar' we kinda of laughed but same time I felt embarrassed that obviously we looked the characters that would be interested in the seediness to make him say this. Anyway the hotel had banging house music playing in this late afternoon and we watched some really impressive fire shows even from a 10 year old doing the hoop hoop with a ring of fire. It was impressive. Thailand - Friendly Bar Fire Show (Koh Samet) After having a beer at the hotel we continued to explore the night life. Hat Sai Kaew is the main beach for night life, though in comparison to other islands its more of watered down (just like the cook tails) chill beach as less than a handful of bars existed. It has some good and bad points- the sand is lovely & powdery, it's fairly clean. The sea on the other hand is full of boats though there is a dedicated swimming area. The sea was hot cloudy & the odd piece of plastic floats up to you. There is no real swimming just jumping the waves. Jet Ski’s, Para Gliding and boats are all in this beach - which is probably why the sea itself didn’t feel that clean. The general Island vibe felt much more for Thai's & Chinese groups, we white farangs were at such a minority with the occasional Russian couple that it was quite interesting. Not judging but it was obvious it's not a farang island. Some of the general interaction and lack of effort with service reflected this. It had an air of Thai snobbery and in my opinion out of 6 islands I have visited in Thailand- it was the coldest or at least Thai’s working there were not that warm and hospitable. Our hotel bar was probably appeared to be the best night spot as it had lots of seating, plenty of bean bags, seating on layered levels that face the sea. It’s a whole neon experience at night. The only issue the live DJ music, likely directed to the young Thai crowd. Terrible EDM David Guetta dribble or hip hop so badly mixed that the DJ just flips the fader without any skill. It was ok for a few drinks but the music gets annoying very quickly. We ventured down the beach to explore further, we found basically Chinese/Thai restaurants that didn't look too appetizing or inviting to the none part of these groups. Though seats were taken there wasn’t the usual vibe of staff outside pushing you to try their food.  We did though found a cool bar called 'friendly bar' it had those floor Thai pillow triangles & was very chilled out with a tiki hut bar. They also had a fire show. Thailand - Friendly Bar Fire Show Instruction (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte This was the only bar where we actually chatted to people, we met a group of Lithuanians, an Irish man & really cool Thai bar tenders. Though when we saw lights further down the coast asking what kind of bars are there, the bar tender response 'you don't go there it's only gay bars'. By no means are we homophobic but we took it that he didn't want to leave his bars. Thailand - Friendly Bar Tender (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte Thailand - Friendly Bar (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte The next day I woke up early and observed the very chilled out Sunrise where monks were walking down the beach. Thailand - Hat Sai Kaew Sunrise (Koh Samet) This was the nicest point the beach got, very relaxing and no boats in sight. Thailand - Hat Sai Kaew Sunrise by Sea (Koh Samet) That day we sunbathed, the sun and sea are so hot that back to the room for AC refreshment is much needed every hour or so. There were lots of traditional beach chairs. Thailand - Hat Sai Kaew Beach Day (Koh Samet) Thailand - Hat Sai Kaew Beach Chairs (Koh Samet) This evening we actually noticed a street as my friend had to go to pharmacy it's quite a small street with two 7/11 directly facing each other, massage places and restaurants. Occasional shops but not much else. This is where we noticed that people can hire mopeds (350 baht full day) or golf carts (1000 baht full day- with some strong negotiation). We decided there and then to explore and get a golf cart. We also realized after a bit of a bar crawl that we had arrived at the so called girl bar, the bellboy had pointed out- since this was 50 metres from hotel not on beach side. Thailand - Girl Bar (Koh Samet) What a weird place, the pool table is what attracted us to it. The place has a moody bar tender that looked exactly like Mr. Miyagi (from the movie Karate Kid)) but the beers are cheap. There was a closed room that we were both initially afraid to go in. So we remained outside, Thai girls just linger about but speak no English. Its cheap but its got a weird vibe. Eventually I ventured into the room and it was just tables of guys and girls with only thing seedy were the whole room was lit up in UV lights but no seedy undressed or anything like that. My friend returned to this bar the next night while I had an early evening kip and he said, he eventually was brave enough to venture into this room, he said karaoke was being played but in the most weirdest description. He said the people weren't actually singing but miming to the only song karaoke songs that were being song. Very strange. Our next day was golf cart today we had no real idea about this island, it didn't look big but we were determined to do one end to the other. Though we were worried these battery charged carts would last. Thailand - Golf Cart Driving (Koh Samet) Well the drive was interesting up and down hill with signage % declines showing up or down so at least we knew what to expect.  The golf cart almost near stops with our weight on the uphill yet uncontrollable on the downhills, with the steering being  hardest thing I've ever experienced. Coming down hills with foot on brake was pretty scary as the cart just swerves about- clearly the bearings if they have them couldn't handle the speeds down with two full size blokes in it. So we ended up at the end of the island at a place called Ao Karang it had some pathway through foliage saying 'view sight' .We came across some people leaving, we asked what's down there and the British guy's response was basically 'it's just a few rocks mate'. Thailand - Ao Karang (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte Thailand - Ao Karang Above (Koh Samet) So then we decided we needed a beach so we looked on Google Maps to the nearest beach  and came across a resort called Paradee Resort. It looked rather fancy and we could feel it had a vibe not open to non guests, so as a blagger goes we said we were meeting a guest here for lunch. Security escorted us to reception whom then got escorted to restaurant, told if I want to walk anyway else to let the staff know. I decided to go and check out the beach Ao Pakarang & Ao Kiew Nanok walking past a nice pool with a huge sign saying guests only (we were told we couldn't eat at beach despite tables set up & pool bar). I checked out the beach and the waiter had clearly come to tell the lifeguards that I wasn't a guest so I quickly returned to the bar. It looked like a nice place but very Thai snobbery. We decided against lunch, had a beer and continued our drive to the next beach place. It was probably the nicest beach on the island and if you’re a Paradee resort guest it’s all yours. Thailand - Paradee Resort Beach (Koh Samet) Thailand - Ao Pakarang Beach (Koh Samet) We continued down to find Samed Villa Resort and decided to check out that beach: Ao Wai. It had one or two resort with a chargeable pool option (300 baht) but it was nicest beach we saw on the island that you could access. It had like nice trees (not palm) leading over at the edge of the beach so you could get some shelter. Lunch was pretty good and staff were really polite - this seemed like the chilled secluded beach for couples and people wanting to mediate etc. as only one boats and cleaner sea - though still cloudy. Thailand - Ao Wai Beach (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte Thailand - Ao Wai Beach 2 (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte We decided to continue on after some time lazing about and swimming in the sea. The next place was called Ao Wong Duean , it attracted us to it due to a big foam party sign on the main road so we followed it down a lane to see if anything exciting was happening. I have to say the golf cart despite its simple looks can handle off road deep sandy condition driving quite well. Thailand - Ao Wong Duean (Koh Samet) This beach was bigger with multiple resorts, curved but again many boats. There are a few bars and resorts and we stayed for a drink. This seems like the beach was more chilled than ours, but probably more boring as well. The resorts certainly looked better. Again we left and we drove past the so called 'gay bars' which weren't so and one bar in particular between the two beach’s (ours next along)  had a neon paint wannabe full moon party vibe to it. We later went here and it was the only place with energy watching all the young backpackers drench themselves in neon paint so they could dance to crap EDM music under a blue neon light. As my friend said it was lively but the music was painful, Steve Aoki type stuff (sorry for those that like it but I prefer more underground stuff like Sasha). Thailand - Neon EDM Bar (Koh Samet) Back to the golf cart, we had to return but there was two more places to visit- my friend was adamant there was enough battery power but I wanted to risk so we drove to the only beach on the sunset side, a beach called Ao Phrao. Here there is security as it seems this is the place the top rate premium resorts. You can't enter with any vehicle unless it's the resorts one. There was some parking for motorbike but the security guard had discrimination against the golf cart, we didn't really understand why but he wanted us to park it right up the hill close to the dangerous road edge. There is a cliff with a view point above that showed a nice sunset shot. Anyway this beach was nice , it was an opening between two large hills one of which we took a photo from & was very nice. The resorts looked nice and we sat and brought the beers we had from our minibar. Unfortunately due to the evasive golf cart hirer we had to bring it back by 6, so our time there was short. [gallery type="slideshow" link="none" size="full" ids="5843,5844,5845,5846"] Our last stop was the wharf, which is only 500 meters from our beach Hat Sai Kaew. I was told magnets would be there as I needed a Koh Smaet one, alas no luck. But I did find an awesome shop on the walkway from the town to Hat Sai Kaew Beach. Thailand - Wharf Pier (Koh Samet) Upon returning that was it we had seen the whole of Koh Samet. I decided to chill at the beach & had a watered down Mojito and watched the sun set on my beach which was ok. It had a nice vibe. [gallery link="none" size="full" type="slideshow" ids="5848,5849,5850"] In my opinion, it's ok but resorts are more expensive than Koh chang. The island is definitely aimed at the Thai market and overall we found a slight attitude from Thais to us, perhaps they thought we were perverts from Pattaya having a break (well I thought anyway). The place though is pretty dull there is not much to do and though the beaches are nice I don't think I would take say future guests staying in Bangkok with me there. To put it simple it's boring the sea is not that clean the night life is annoying EDM music, why can't they have reggae or chill out. There are simple no excursions to do either unless you return to the mainland (or hire a gold cart). We also thought it was expensive place to visit, drinks are a rip off and I would advise if your visiting to not order cocktails as they are most definitely watered down. However, for a few days of sun out of the big bad city of Bangkok it was relaxing. Our taxi driver back wasn't as exciting but he did have a dvd pull down TV, just shame we didn't have any DVD's to watch.

36 Hours on Palawan Island

I was very lucky that I was given a schedule that enabled me to visit the beautiful island of Palawan, voted number one island in the last few years from Travel surveys conducted by travel magazines: Conde Naste & Travel + Leisure. However as usual my time was very short, 2 nights but with awkward flights meaning I had 36 hours on the island in total. Unfortunately, the 8 hour drive to the most spectacularly beautiful spot of El Nido, mainly responsible for the awards, was not possible. After some research & finding out that Palawan island has what they call the 7th nature wonder of the world : Puerto Princesa underground river, which is about 2 hours away. I decided to stay at the closet place to it, a small village called Sabang. The best place in my price range was a large resort called Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa in which they provide the 2 hour one-way van trip from the nearest airport Puerto Princessa International Airport) for 500 peso shared but they do offer the opton of a private van, in which I used on the way back. That costs 2800 pesos but negotiable with taxi drivers in area to 2000 pesos. The sunset drive thru the city of Puerto Princessa was interesting, a very clean city compared to the likes of anywhere else I’ve seen in Phillipines especially Cebu. However the drive though becomes progressively arduous after about an hour when the road has at least 100+ tight turns thru the mountains. I found it fine in the front seat, but recommend motion sickness tablets, if you dred such a journey. That's the basic problem with Palawan, it's big and nothing beautiful is near the airport so long transfer times are required to the beautiful spots. There is though a small airport at El Nido (ENI) where small propeller (ATR’s) fly to, currently only Air Swift fly’s there from Cebu and Manilla. So I arrived at the Sheridian resort in Sabang to a warm welcome & confirmation they had booked my underground river tour. (Please note you need a permit in which can be got in the city of Puerto Princessa but the hotel will process this if you email them in advance with your passport. Highly recommend you do this if your stay is short like mine- since a limited amount of permits are offered per day so it make take a few days to process if you just arrive and do it there & then. Next morning I wake early and firstly enjoythe beautiful grounds and sunrise of the location I am at. Philippines - Sabang Sun Rise (Palawan) The underground river tour starts early at 730am in the hotel lobby. A group of about 12of us were briefed in the lobby about the process, the two boat rides, waiting time & warning of monkeys attacking you if you have plastic bag or smile - in reality I only saw one monkey so don't be too concerned just don't smile, as showing teeth is a sign to them that you want to fight. We walked over to Sabang wharf & waited there for about 45 minutes dealing with the bureaucracy as they have re-register every visitor- though staff do this, you just sit & wait & watch the van loads of tourists doing the same thing coming from all over Palawan island. It didn’t seem staying at the closest major resort next to the wharf had much priority or difference in price from staying in the city of Puerto Princessa & doing it as a day trip. You just can wake up a bit later and don’t have that terrible drive both ways in the day. Philippines - Sabang Wharf (Palawan) The first boat is really cool, you go at an enjoyable speed & able to see the landscape of Palawan from the boat- which includes the sleeping giant - a mountain shaped like a man sleeping. Philippines - Sleeping Giant Mountain (Palawan) You then arrive at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park on a beach before walking into the jungle a bit and again some waiting while they install audio kits. This is a result of the river experiencing a huge bat decline, which they relate to noise so there is no talking inside the river therefore this one ear piece audio does the tour for you. After this you walk thru some jungle before you see the lagoon area where the cave entrance is and paddling boats are. Philippines - Underground River Beach (Palawan) Philippines - Underground River Sign (Palawan) Philippines - Underground River Entrance (Palawan) So the UNESCO world Heritage cave river consist of 5.1 miles / 8.2km though you only travel thru 1.5 miles meaning the tour, in which cost me as part of a group; 1,800 peso actual inside cave time lasts about 20-25 minutes. Birds are flying small bats are everywhere but they never flew into you or boat. Many mentions of not looking up with mouth open for reasons of dropping bat urine. There are some very alien wall structures, on which you are not allowed to touch as it damages them. It's a relaxing boat ride, but they cram you in & as a big fella I found the boat uncomfortable though luckily I got front seat. The tour explain rock formation shapes that look like food & even they have found what they describe as the face of Jesus Christ. The guide in your audio goes into much detail about different parts of the cave such as St. Pauls area which is the largest open cave area, apparently based on the London cathedral that early explorers described it as. Overall it's very interesting but it is a relief exiting the cave as it can feel a little claustrophobic at times. One of the annoying things is the boat paddler handles the light and he moves around frequently which makes it hard to film as you will notice on my you tube video. I would recommend bring a nice powerful torch like a LED tactical tactical flash light. I wish I had brought mine but didn’t think of it at the time. After disembarkation I was lucky enough to see this huge lizard called Asian Water Monitor in which looks like a baby Komodo dragon but it is not harmful to humans. Unfortunately, the minute he spotted me he legged it so ended up with a poor shot. Philippines - Asian Water Monitor (Palawan) So back to the wharf where the tour ends. Here your find some amazing fresh fruit juice stalls which was great before I headed back to Sheridian Resort to relax and sunbathe, though 30 minutes in April (the hottest time) on the boiling hot beach sand sent me to my room for an hour after nearly suffering sun stroke- yeah it's that hot. The beach is clean though as is the sea but you it is cloudy. There is many boats chugging along to the river tour, which isn’t too noisy but it affect the otherwise idyllic ambience. Philippines - Sabang Beach (Palawan) So my second tour occurred a few hours later, the mangroves & zipline. I was so tired I decided on chill out & do mangrove tour first. The highlight though was my transportation to the sight - an original 1942 American world war 2 jeep picks you up on the beach & drives you to the sights- it is awesome. Philippines - 1942 WW2 US Military Jeep (Palawan) Philippines - 1942 WW2 US Military Dashboard (Palawan) The mangrove tour includes a paddler & tour guide, the tour guide emphases at the start that they are volunteer in which I got the assumption that get ready to tip at the end - no problem. The tour is very relaxing you just go deep into swamp land with huge roots shooting out of the small river occasionally seeing small Gold Ringed Cat Snake circled up on tree I which the guide will spot for you. They sleep during the day circled up on branches but it’s not something you want falling in your boat. Philippines - Sabang Mangrooves Tour(Palawan) I got to climb up on this huge mangrove tree as a photo opportunity and that was fun.. The guide also explains the trees and on the way back of the 30 minute boat ride, the paddler and guide sing a song for you, about preserving the natural habitat- it was a bit cringe to me but nice for a family with kids. They were really nice people though and I found the paddler in particular more interesting talking about the Japanese occupation during WW2 and how the locals hid in the Jungle. Philippines - Sabang Mangrooves Tour Guides(Palawan) After this an adjacent bridge follows signs to the zipline which then leads to a 10 minute walk down the beach before you climb a steep hill which is quite tough for the unhealthy and the path seems to go on forever thru the jungle, about 25 minute walk from entering the beach. I guess no one really does the zipline twice because of this. At the Zip Line you have 2 options sitting zipline (500 peso) or superman zipline (750 peso) which is lying flat - highly recommend the latter as the sitting down one I noticed people were spinning around a bit. The superman is so amazing it like you are coming to land as you launch of a mountain side over the sea to the island. It was awesome - again see my video to view it. Philippines - Sabang Zip line (Palawan) After all this my body aches from jet lag plus climbing the zipline mountain so straight to the hotel spa, which I was incredibly impressed with. The masseuse fully unknotted my back, I used the Sheridian Spa which is more pricey than the open beach ones but it was meeting an excellent standard. After I did what would become my favourite thing to do on Sabang, lying in the hammock between trees listening to sea & watching the sunset was about the most relaxing thing I've done in a long time. I could of slept there that night. A stray dog joined me underneath. Philippines - Sabang Beach Hammock (Palawan) Next morning before my lunchtime departure, the hotel was kind to offer me a snorkeling tour following some advice I offered their corporate marketing management. The snorkeling tour as a private boat is costly at around 3000 peso. You get taken with one of the hotel guide and snorkels by private boat to a random small island with small amount of coral surrounding it. Philippines - Sabang Snorkeling Island There you board a floating bamboo hut and you launch into the sea from it. Initially as you see in my video there is the odd fish all small & not as special as I've seen in Fiji & Indonesia but the nonetheless the guide caught a sea turtle, which I felt seemed a bit harsh to pull him out from under the sea rock as it was struggling, he looked scared so I told him to eventually let it go. I also saw prongs of a lobster poking out if the coral sea terrain & finally I actually found Nemo which was awesome highlight to end my video on. It was fun and overall worth a snorkel the people at the place also swim about on the look out for you in which was helpful. Back to hotel & off to the airport completed one of best 36 hour visits anywhere I've been to. Tiring but well worth the fun. Sabang offers a good amount of activities & Sheridan resort was so chilled out - they even have outdoor movie night by the beach. I would say for short visits to Palawan without enough time to El Nido, Sabang is an excellent alternative. Hotel website link: http://www.sheridanbeachresort.com Please check out the first Travelman video which films my experience.

Vietnam – Lady in Traditional Blue (Hanoi)

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Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa (Palawan Island, Philippines)

4 Case Rating
Location The resort is located around 1.5-2hrs drive away from Puerto Princesa. There is a shared van at set times that costs 1000 peso round trip or private one way is 2-2500 pesos (one way) the hotel offers it at 2,800. If you don't book with them, you need to contact them but it's not an easy process. To get to El Nido is 5.5hrs drive away. The wharf (to get boat to the underground river) is a 5 minute walk away. Room The very wooden finish of my 2nd floor room was fairly spacious offering two beds, medium softness in which I found was comfortable for sleeping. Back lit lights are behind with plug sockets next to each bed. Between the beds is a bedside table that has a lamp, telephone & one spare plug socket. A symmetrical look faces each bed with opposite wall offering a wooden desk & chair with a large mirror in front & two plug sockets on each desk. There is a TV in the middle above a cabinet that contains a refrigerator with beers & juices. TV has 18 channels both Asian, Russian & American choices such as HBO & discovery channels are offered. Along walk way to bathroom is a open shelf, where the kettle is with slim selection of sachet coffee and tea. They do offer a 1 litre complimentary large bottle of water though in glass bottle (replenished each day). Some snacks from the mini bar items are here. Below is a luggage rack for smaller cases & below that another shelf that offer complimentary hotel branded flip flops. Opposite is a wooden wardrobe, 2 robes & some coats hangers plus a small safe really for jewellery & money only etc but not large enough for a big camera or laptop. However the hotel is quite secure and I didn't worry leaving my stuff out. The bathroom was spacious & is the most modern part of the room. A large shower cubicle is offered, granite finish top sink area with good lighting. Hotel branded amenities include dental kit, cotton buds & mini bottles of shampoo, shower gel, soap & body lotion. There is also a torch on side of sink. No bottle water in bathroom that you usually find in Asia etc so assume tap water is clean to brush teeth with. In addition as my room is on second floor a balcony was offered with tall stools & a small matching table. If you are on the ground floor you get one sun lounger. Overall the room is dated but nonetheless comfortable, some maintenance issues with 3 lights not working but still clean. It had a separate AC unit in the corner controllable via remote. Facilities Catering includes a restaurant near the sea that has quite an extensive breakfast buffet catering to both westerners and Asians alike with an egg & noodle station. There is also a lunch & dinner buffet offered depending on occupancy. However there is wood oven pizza which I had & was generous & enjoyable, plus a very extensive menu of Chinese, Filipino & western choices like Burgers & Pasta. Also like the local restaurants on the beach outside - there are barbecue fish options. The restaurant, though expensive compared to others on the beach, does have a really nice ambience at night with a live singer and candle lit tables outside. Quality of buffet is also good, tasted fresh & some interesting items. There is also 3 bars other than the one in the restaurant. One is tiki hut style closest to the beach, another inside the pool that you can swim up to & another located on one side of the pools which is also a games room. You can order food from these locations & 24 hours room service is available. Business facilities include free secure WIFI for multiple devices, it worked in my room off/on just slow for my MacBooks but my iPhone wouldn't pick it up. It does drop frequently but at this location what can you expect, At some areas like the restaurant & lobby area it is stronger & phone works there. There is a library by reception with book & dvd rentals available. It is an area you can sit & check your emails as well as just get out of the sun for a bit. The room also contains two computers but this was the first hotel in all of my reviews to charge to use them (150 peso per hour)- they are simple computers and I did not see any printers. There is also a small shop selling souvenir of crafts & coffee shop selling drinks deserts & some odd Korean items such as s happy shower head. Conference / function facilities are also available in adjoining building near reception. Leisure facilities are of course extensive, suitable for families and adults. The pool is huge, really long for laps & is the best feature of the resort, there is also 4 different size jacuzzi pools. There is an outdoor but covered small workout gym - weights & cardio. Looked modern. Facilities for young children are good as they include a tree house & covered play area outside with teddy bears & toys etc. For adults there is a chess set, multiple pool tables, table tennis & beer pong offered at the side bar. There is also a SPA which offers 30% off during sunbathing hours of 10-4pm. Lyn gave me a really impressively good standard of massage fixing my bad back which condoned the high price when compared to outside local beach side places. There is a tour desk & the hotel kindly arranged my underground cave tour before I arrived since it was a short stay. You need a permit to go (so contact hotel & email passport copy if your stay is short). Also the hotel has an organic farm that you can visit & paint trees- this is 5km away & apprently many items in the restaurant are home grown there such as rice & fruit. Other tours include the zipline, mangroves, snorkelling etc. You can also hire mountain bikes. In the evening I arrived they have a huge projector screen close to the beach where they organise a movie night placing the sun loungers there. Quite relaxing sitting with a beer with fresh sea air but loungers could do with cushions. There are also some really nice hammocks between the palm trees at the beginning of the beach (part of hotel) .These are great for relaxing & rocking while listening to the sea. The hotel also have there own swimming area in the sea & plenty of sun loungers. The beach itself is clean but don't expect to see any fish, their swimming area is also quite shallow. Staff Staff are the highlight and I found them to be very consistently friendly, always acknowledging guests & easy to talk to. I would say the discipline & friendliness is better than some 5 star's I've stayed at & I give this the most credit from the staff. Overall a nice resort & great alternative place to stay in Palawan with benefit of being with walking distance of getting a boat to the underground caves, which is worth seeing. Resort does have a very relaxing ambience & the staff are the highlight, the rooms could just do with being better maintained & more modern.
[geo_mashup_map enable_scroll_wheel_zoom="false"] Sabang Beach, Cabayugan, Puerto Princesa, 5300 Palawan, Philippines
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Night And Day In Vientiane, Laos

I arrived mid afternoon in Vientiane for my first visit to Laos. The city seemed very small compared to all the other major cities in South East Asia. After checking in to the Vientiane Golden Sun Hotel I decided to head to the famous Patuxi Gate, being that it is one of the major sights of Vientiane. Interesting architecture on the walk, very communist and interesting to look at, my welcome to one of the worlds few remaining communist states and also South East Asia’s poorest. Laos - Communist Office Building (Vientiane) Laos - Decaying Office Building (Vientiane) The Patuxai Monument is an interesting looking feature, its trasnalation is Victory Gate. It was built in 1968 and is dedicated to those that fought in the struggle for independence from France. Also known as the Arc de Triomphe due to its resemblance to the famous monument of the same name in Paris. It feels less grand but the palms trees surrounding it make it a striking sight in this small city. Laos - Patuxai Monument (Vientiane) Laos - Patuxiai Monument Ceiling (Vientiane) When your underneath, be sure to look up the ceiling as it has an especially interesting depiction of the Gods: Vishnu Brahma and Indra. At one of the corner of the posts is a staircase that you can enter and walk upstairs after paying a fee of $1. It is worth doing as it really is the best way to see the city as a whole, plus there are these amazing Buddhist bars on the windows; great for photos. There are about 4 floors - the first two have central covered buildings (where the staircase continues), here you will find tourist paraphernalia, some quite random articles like flick knives and other weapons, however there are also some interesting antiques as well as some local crafts and nationalistic articles. I found a shop that was especially great for magnet collectors. See my collection here. Laos - Patuxiai Monument Shop (Vientiane) After I headed straight to the top, where there are some impressive Buddhist metal frames on the window arches. Laos - Patuxiai Monument Roof View (Vientiane) Laos - Patuxiai Monument Buddha View (Vientiane) My next stop on my walking tour (yes the city is that small) was to head over to That Dam. That Dam is a large stupa which is a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics used as a place of meditation, as quoted from Wikipedia. Laotians believe it is inhabited by a seven-headed nāga who tried to protect them from an invasion by the Siamese army in 1827. Laos - That Dam (Vientiane) Without meaning to offend the Laotians, an abandoned French colonial building faces this temple directing on one side which I found far more interesting to look at. The beautiful looking architecture had a sad atmosphere of neglect. I was quite absorbed by it, as you could feel a haunted atmosphere. I spent about 30 minutes just looking at it and wondering the history it had. Laos - Old French Colonial House (Vientiane) Anyway, I walked up a random street with no plans and had my first negative experience of the Laotian people; a tuk-tuk driver. They have big tuk-tuks in Vientiane, the biggest I've seen in Asia, as they sort of have a bus behind them that could carry up to six people. What they try and do is sell it as a bus, so a small distance of 1-2km, they will quote you $10 USD, more than in New York city. So when you refuse what they do is find someone else to join the ‘tuk-tuk’ and then the fare suddenly becomes $5. I was dropped off with the intention of checking out a market on the otherside of town, sadly it already closed. It so happened that the same tuk-tuk driver was driving back and offered me a ride to the riverside for $5, after driving around in circles looking for more customers he went back to the original parking spot and decided it was now $10 to the riverside. I disputed that and he said "ok you pay me $5". I gave him $2 and ended up walking away after we drove past the riverside and he wouldn’t drop me off. He was just trying to look for other customers, it made no sense and sadly it left a lasting impression that tuk-tuk drivers here have no compassion like you might find in Phnom Penh. I just walked to the Mekong river but unfortunately due to the tuk-tuk mess, I only caught the end of what must have been a beautiful sunset over the river. Laos - Mekong Riverside Sunset (Vientiane) The riverside of Vientiane around sunet and after is the cities main hang out, lots of Laos couples walk with their partners along the sidewalk or sit watching the sunset. Everyone is just hanging out there, there is also a market and even two large exercise routines playing some beats type music where the teacher narrates like a drum 'n’ bass MC in time with the beat. Laos - Mekong Riverside Group Work Out (Vientiane) I noticed a lot of people walking down to the banks of Mekong River so I thought do the same. It takes around ten minutes to walk down a steep slope on to a sort of farming land (that I noticed the next day), along a thick sandy pathway until you hit the river where you can see Thailand on the other side. Laos - Mekong Riverbank Walk (Vientiane) Quite a romantic, relaxing and chilled out spot, I sat on a rock and watched everyone. Guys playing football, couples walking up to the shore, children with their families looking for that stone/shell. There was even a guy playing guitar with his friends. It had an interesting vibe, like it was a special place - not just the banks of the Mekong River. Laos - Mekong Riverbank People (Vientiane) Laos - Mekong River Bank Dusk (Vientiane) By the riverside where the main walkway and road is, a market that runs through a park parallel to the main riverside road. The odd stall had nice crafts and pictures but for the most part it was not a typical tourist market, with most shopping aimed at locals such as toys, clothes and electronics. Laos - Riverside Market (Vientiane) There are some nice fruit stalls and places to get that delicious coconut. Overall I found the prices to be not as cheap as expected, it was certainly more expensive for food and drink than Cambodia and even a basic foot massage was more expensive than Thailand. Laos - Mekong Riverside Fruit Seller (Vientiane) After a delicious coconut, I decided to walk around the streets and try to find my hotel without having to use a tuk-tuk. I saw some unusual sights for an evening. Whereby most places are closed even in Bangkok following sunset. In Laos it seemed everything opened. For example, two orthodontists were sitting in their window waiting for customers, somewhat appearing like the massage girls you see on Sukhumvit waiting for customers in Bangkok - yet they were Orthodontists? Laos - Orthodontics Store (Vientiane) I saw an old lady, quite old & frail waiting for customers to cut their hair. Laos - Old Lady Hair Dressers (Vientiane) Walked past some food stalls before eventually getting on the right path to my hotel. It showed how small the city was as I had practically covered the whole centre in an evening. It also seemed to be the quietist city I've ever walked through. Laos - Meat & Fish bbq store (Vientiane) The next morning there was one more major sight to check out before my afternoon departure – Pha That Luang, the gold covered Buddhist stupa. While thinking how to get there as it's about 5km and a bit too far to walk, the hotel advise me to hiring a bike for $1. I really wished I'd known this before losing $7 on a pointless tuk-tuk. This is the real way to see the city, so long you're healthy enough, I'm probably not but at least there were no hills. It is quiet so traffic is not an issue. It's not dangerous to cycle like it is in Bangkok and it's a slow moving town-like environment, so cycling is the best way to see this city. Laos - Cycling towards the Patuxai Upon arrival at Pha That Luang, you enter a Buddhist temple before you see the main Stupa. A very colourful Buddhist display welcomes you to this small area with some market stalls and the odd Buddhist Monk walking about. I found a reclining Buddha down this pathway which was a nice size - not too huge but interesting. The Taiwanese around me took plenty of selfies. Laos - Pha That Luang Buddhist Temple (Vientiane) Laos - Pha That Luang Lying Buddha (Vientiane) As this point I saw the large Stupa, which I thought would be larger - nonetheless a very impressive sight. En route I came across a lady that put a bad vibe across this nice area, she was persuading me to pay her to release birds. I understand how poor the people are with the need to make money and I almost wanted to hand over some money for the box to be opened to release them but this only encourages more of the same business. I just hope they got released. Laos - Pay Money to Free Birds Pha That Luang Temple (Vientiane) I also came across some weird market stalls, selling really odd items, such as below a J/K pop looking doll wallet that I imagined could only really attract the possible Paedo to buy it, as it certainly looked disturbing.  This next to a nasty looking hammer/saw combo. Very odd mix of items and disturbing at the same time. From initially thinking I found the most beautiful sight in Vientiane, a short walk thru this market made me think Karma is not really at work here. Laos - Pha That Luang Temple Market (Vientiane) However after entering the actual Pha That Luang, I decided it was an impressive structure that did have a positive relaxed atmosphere. I lit a candle and jok stick and did my hands clasp to the Buddha, that I always do to respect the sight. There were 4 corners of these sights, which as grass ardens surrounding the Stupa. You can’t enter it, if it is ever open, but the ground show ruins of Buddhas and the place is very relaxing. It was definitely worth the bicycle ride. [gallery type="slideshow" link="none" size="full" ids="5628,5629,5630"] After leaving I had another hour to kill so I cycled to a Buddhist monastery in the hope I would find a Buddhist monk to do a mediation, it is offered but much later in the day. I was unlucky as the only Buddha I found was not trained enough to do a foreign mediation, however the place had a nice Buddhist tower. Laos - Buddhist Temple Tower (Vientiane) I then cycled on to the riverside to see it during the day, this is where I came across the King Caho Anouvong Statue. He led a Laos Rebellion in the 18th century. The area is nice, his statue faces out to the Mekong River and Thailand beyond, there is a nice garden behind the statue that leads to the back of the main palace. As you can see the tuk-tuk driver in this photo seems unimpressed as I sit on my Bicycle and take the photo. Laos - King Chao Anouvong Statue Tuk Tuk (Vientiane) Overall Vientiane was an interesting city, it is small and can be done with a stay of 1-2 nights, depending how you much you need to explore. It’s quiet and the Mekong River was a relaxing spot. Laos seems more dated to the modern world than its neighbours which in a way was nice and authentic to see, the people overall are nice but many don’t speak English. It’s not as cheap as Cambodia but not as expensive as Thailand on some things. I enjoyed walking about watching the locals and sitting by the Mekong river. I hope to see the rest of the country in the rural parts. For an overnight stop, if you’re not tired you can see a lot very easily. Just hire a bicycle.

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Samed Grand View Resort (Ko Samet, Thailand)

3 Case Rating
Location Hotel is located on Koh Samet party beach called Saikaew Beach. The beach has various restaurants & bars. It is a busy beach more for younger people with some party bars but light tamed- not like Koh Phan Ghan etc. Beach itself has powedery white sand & is clean. Sea is ok but the odd floating rubbish is quite frequent. Many boats are there as parasailing is offered. It's not the most chilled place but not a major party place just at nights some bars have loud music & fire shows. This hotel is one of them. During the day, it is relaxing with deck chairs but at night quite loud until about 12-1. To get here you there is a direct speed boat from Ban phae pier (300 each way) - it is quite bumpy but fast (20 min) with direct drop off outside your hotel. You just have to jump in sea, but its o your bags won't get wet as assistance is offered. Otherwise a ferry service is 50 baht, which is slower & drops off at the pier on Koh Samet-about 1-2km from hotel. From Bangkok to pier in main land to get speedboat expect 2-3 hours to get there by taxi (cost 2-2500 baht one way) but tourist buses are cheaper & available. Room The booking was for twin beds - but which hotels.com state only Thai cottages (the most expenses product) offer twin beds. However when you arrive at these cottage certainly do not offer twin beds. Only deluxe rooms do. I did see the cottage - very traditional Thai wood work design nice & cosy with a covered porch- perfect for a romantic couple but not for two friends. As we complained we needed twin beds as requested- hotel provided the cheaper deluxe room in main building. This room is like a duplex. As you enter the bathroom is presented on ground floor- large room with glass front offers shower & toilet in same room- overhead and separate shower head- be careful not to get water on toilet paper as toilet is next to shower. Large sink with hotel branded amenities of generous size - shampoo, body lotion & shampoo & soap, dental kit and vanity as well are offered Large mirror & wooden chair. To side is a wooden staircase which takes youup to the industrial clinical characterless room with two twin bed - quite hard beds. Each bed offers a bedside table with two twin pin US plugs - though one is occupied with a mosquito plug. There is oddly a window on wall where you can see into other people's room- so remember to close curtains. Facing the bed is a very poor TV - all crackly offering some channels some times but mostly crackly, some times channels are not working. We found only English speaking channel was NHK Japan (but in English) & a Korean Channel. All else is in Thai & very basic no movie channels. To the left corner is a cupboard unit with a mini bar full of beers & soft drinks in a fridge , coffee machine along with salt & sweet snacks. In addition on top is a large safe suitable for large laptops & everything else- somewhat easy to use. There is no wardrobe in room 18 which is why my review is so bad - we had to put our clothes on the floor, which for $100 is totally unacceptable. (however noticed other rooms had wardrobes). The highlight of the room was the large balcony with two chairs & is great for smokers. Overall the room is a terrible product, especially for price. Even 2 stars have wardrobes. There is also no ironing board. There is no hotel guide & beds are hard. There is also a basic A/C unit that is kind of noisey. You have to put clothes on floor which was totally unacceptable- they do have only coat hangers (2 ) I noticed was in balcony for wet clothes.I wouldn't hang up normal clothes up there as it will fade in the powerful sun. Overall the room for the price was terrible- avoid room 18 unless you like to put all your clothes on the floor as no wardrobe is offered. Facilities Catering - the hotels offers a main restaurant in which complimentary breakfast is offered. Service omelette station which also has fried eggs, pancakes , French toast , bacon rashes- all pre made. Buffet items include various breads & got foods of Asian dish such as sweet & sour pork, fried rice, fish dishes etc-they were quite nice. Some fruit is also offered. Food is actually ok but the eggs are luke warm unless you demand the chef cooks it again, she does but just cooks and leaves it there- they are heart shaped though. They also offer dinner there but did not try this. Other outlets include a neon bar(finale bar) which plays load music and offers comfy bean bags on beach. Another beach bar is opposite the neon bar that does sell Thai to western food. Pad Thai was particularly tasty. Fresh coconuts & cocktails are offered in both. Lesuire facilities include a pool table, darts & table football- at the bars. No pool but bar is directly on sea. This is where they gave an impressive fire show at 9pm at night. This bar, finale bar, has a more Bangkok boutique feel to it but dependant on the music it can be terrible or good- depends if you like banging terrible EDM music like David Guetta. Lying on the bean bags though are very easy to fall asleep to. There is some toilets & washrooms on site so you don't have to go back to your room. Inside the main building I noticed a book shelf library area. No gym, and I did not see any spa. There are no business facilities except free wifi in which frustratingly drops frequently. When it works it is ok and is secure for multiple devices. Staff Staff couldnt be more incompetent, there was no details about room at check-in and because we wanted twin beds- it seemed to obviously inconvenience them. On our 2nd day they demanded we came to reception at 6pm stating we were suppose to check out- but after showing email they agreed it was next day - no apology though, just rude & woke my friend to do this. The bar servers were only nice staff but still hit & miss. There is certainly we couldn't careless attitude & staff never smile. Check in they explained very few details. Overall for 3 nights at $320- it's a complete rip off of what is a distinctional 2 star hotel. There is nothing very strong about this hotel other than its clean. However my experience was negative & certainly hope to never stay here again.
[geo_mashup_map enable_scroll_wheel_zoom="false"] 95/2 Moo 2, Ko Samet 21160, Thailand
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