A Rain Forest Wander, a Tarantula, and a Very Bad Ending to a Good Day

 We rode down from Ko Samui to Ko Lanta.   The roads were still the same and not much changed, making for a fairly unadventurous ride.  Except for the pig transporters.

We got to Ko Lanta, and did in fact go to the bungalows the Non-speaking Cool Guy from the previous post told us about- the one we met on the train who gave us his number, and led us to believe he lived in a tiny isolated hut he had built with his bare hands, surrounded by fishermen and kids playing in the dirt…

We found his bungalows, off the main strip of the second most populated beach in Ko Lanta.  They were sturdy huts with bamboo concealing the concrete foundations.  Our man was nowhere to be seen.  The management didn’t in fact know who he was.  And they were built fifteen years ago, ten years before he allegedly arrived.   We drank cocktails in the bar and watched the sun go down, amazed at the Cool Man‘s fibs.  It was a very fine location though.

We spent a few days there.  We found interior dirt tracks and huts still made of mud and tin.  A young elephant crossed the road with its minder, looking nervy. 

One of the interior roads led us past the evacuation houses the disaster committee had built for the tsunami refugees.   They had number plates on with the odd added touch of a giant wave as a logo, submerging the number.  I marveled at the design team who let that one slide. 

There were tsunami evacuation signs everywhere in case of future emergencies, and 4 meter high posts indicating the height of the waves.  Occasionally you could still make out where everything had been destroyed, but mostly it had all been rebuilt, sturdier, and defiantly painted in bright pastels.


We discovered the rubber plantations, where large rolled bathmat sheets of unprocessed rubber dried in the sun.

We rode up a nice looking track past houses, and ended up in a rubbish dump.  We started to turn back, but they waved us on through- it was a road that just happened to have a gigantic rubbish tip all over it.  There were people picking through it all, and even a house in the middle of it.  They waved us through- we thought it was a dead end, but no, just a normal road through rubbish.  It was in piles and burning away.  Stray dogs ate bits of crap. A tiny bit further down the road the houses were suddenly all suburban and painted again, as though the actual rubbish were invisible.

We snorkeled, and found little reefs with eels underneath them.  I watched a fight break out between a crayfish and a rock dweller fish.  The crayfish won, out of pure sneakiness, and stole the fish’s little burrow, taking an egg with him.

We left, and rode on down through Southern Thailand to the edge, a town called Sadao, where it all started to get a bit twilight zoney.

Sadao is a conservative Muslim town with girls in black half-chadors.  There are small-town shops, restaurant shacks selling halal food, and various public service buildings.  That’s about it. 

You drive a kilometer down the road, past the ‘Welcome to Thailand’ signs on the other side and past a closed border shack.

You arrive in a strange old place.  It is a two-street strip of casinos, bars and brothels, all the women wear tiny shorts and high heels and the bars are called karaoke bars but have pictures of naked young girls on the front. Stroppy looking young Thai women sit about gossiping in their underwear and playing with their mobiles.  All the hotels have blatant prostitutes in the foyer and standing about outside them, trying to entice the Malaysian business men in. Some hotels have ‘by the hour’ rates posted. 

Behind the counter of our hotel was rows of condoms and disposable panties.

The streets were neon and wide, city-like, but only for two blocks.

We found a restaurant and ordered fish stew.  The thing that arrived in  the bowl had never, possibly to its own disappointment, been a fish.  It looked to have been a crab-octopus-chicken hybrid, judging by the bits of barely decipherable goo floating about in the murky water.  We toyed with the fried tentacles and crab claws with smiles on our faces- we were being furtively but closely examined.  Trying to appear full, we watched Home Alone with Malay and Chinese subtitles.  Everyone laughed loudly, and the cheesy American Christmas spirit in it lent a comforting atmosphere to a somewhat strange night.

Someone rode an elephant up to outside the restaurant and sat it there to beg at the diners.

The women in our hotel the next morning laughed raucously at me, then tried to pretend otherwise. 

At the border a few minute away the Malaysian border guards were very friendly and welcomed us to their country.  It was all very fast and very easy and we zoomed off onto enormous motorways cutting through rice paddies and past palm trees. 


Swathes of land was covered in palm trees for palm oil.  It had all been cleared of the ancient rain forest you could still see parts of.  There were logging trucks everywhere.  There were more rubber plantations, huge ones, and big Chinese rubber factories and Kimberley Clark medical supplies factories (for rubber gloves). 

I spotted a monitor lizard dead on the road, at least a meter and a half in length.  I freaked and thought it was a crocodile. 

We got off the main road and ate in a fly-infested roadside shack with lots of Muslim families all covered up.  We had giant plates of fried fish and rice for a pound each- no one told anyone here Malaysia was expensive.  It wasn’t the best meal, but it certainly was cheap. 

Off the motorway we zoomed along- the roads were still perfect, with fewer vehicles on them, and soon we were headed for the Cameron Highlands.  It was cold, but great.  The roads were swervy and swooping, and we slithered along them, gulping great lungfuls of cold fresh air.

You can tell Malaysia was once incredibly beautiful, but they are using every available natural resource for profit in their new shiny Global Economy. Malaysia’s export industry is impressive- the IMF and World Bank consider it their own development success, it has made so much money for itself. But the huge tracts of razed countryside don’t do much for the imagination.  There are many steep areas by the roads where construction companies (ironically apparently foreign) have been drafted in to concrete up the hills- the deforestation presumably having led to soil erosion.  There are big karsts jutting up from the flatter areas of the landscape, beautiful, and covered in forest.  But whole sections of them are missing, and the ones that remain are covered in the scars of mines. Alongside the road there are businesses selling off the rock.

Its only what we did hundreds of years ago to England, but its gutting to see it actually happen.  There’s no point blaming anyone- the loggers just want jobs, and Malaysia’s just meeting a global demand for beautiful wood.  But still, I am going to find out what wood it is and stop buying anything made from it. 

The palm and rubber plantations go on for miles.  Once you reach the Cameron Highlands, the farms start, and they scar the landscape too, oddly, because they are all under enormous poly-tunnels.  The rolling hills covered in tea bushes are very pretty, especially with the big storm clouds gathering above them. 

We arrived anyway, and were pleased we had made it.

We found ourselves a room in an old British tin army barrack in Tanah Rata, where the toilets are still exactly as they were, and you can imagine  load of soldiers banging about. 

We partook of High Tea with cream and scones at a tea shop, and curled our little fingers in the traditional fashion.  

We rode up more dirt tracks to the top of the nearest available summit on some very fun paths, smugly overtaking trekkers in the rain, and found a good bit of rain forest to wander around.  The trees were excellent, and very, very old and grimy, with centuries of slimy moss all over them.  



One of the bushes appeared to have a price tag though, which was worrying.


We got very excited about the prospect of visiting Taman Negara, the 130 million year old rain forest a long day’s ride away, and were determined to do a two day trek (I. Am. Not. A. Trekker) and find a Slow Loris.  Here is a Slow Loris.  It is excellent.  I desperately wanted to find one.

The ride was very very good.  We weren’t entirely sure there was a road- there wasn’t one on our map, so we figured we’d just get to the rough area and see how it went.  In the end we followed a tourist bus, sneakily.  




It was a fast road, but winding and hilly, and for the most part fairly safe.  I enjoyed it probably more than Adam, who had a far better vision of the little souped-up cars trying their hardest to overtake us on blind summits.  For me, it was pure adrenaline, with the bends and the speed.  By the time we got there I was buzzing. 

Malaysia isn’t used to bikers.  There aren’t enough of them around, and those that are, are mostly little scooters with not a whole lot of oomph.  This means that everyone assumes we, being on a bike, are very overtakable- pretty much regardless of our actual speed.  This can be dangerous, as we witnessed on our way back.

But anyway, we made it to Taman Negara in one piece.  It was very wet; so were we. The town at the edge of the rainforest is backed by more deforested area- this time even more gutting, as we rode past a loggers, with 1000 year old trees being cut into pieces and loaded onto trucks. 

It is also still flanked with bits of forest though, and we stopped for a wilderness pee, only to be threateningly squawked at by a very large and surprised monkey, who had possibly never seen people before, so enormous was his reaction.

We wombled off to find the rainforest.  It was amazing, and we definitely found it.  We also found two small bats in a hide, a whole family of wild boar at dusk, some deer, a few squirrel, and last but sadly not least, a tarantula.




Adam managed to injure himself on an unreasonably large and well-protected caterpillar.  The spikes are still in his finger.  The tarantula was hiding in a bit of erected pathway that the Forest Department had put up.  It was very large, and apparently poisonous. 

We didn’t manage to find a Slow Loris.  Apparently the best place to see them is at night, swinging on the electricity cables slung low across the palm plantations.  They must have been bored with the jungle. 

We didn’t get to go on our two day trek, because the guides said it was too dangerous in rainy season, and refused to take us.  Instead we went off on our own for a ‘trail walk‘.  Ha ha.  Trail walk.  Sounds so innocuous, so innocent.  But no.  This was a ferocious killer of a trail hike, a monster scramble of enormous proportions, up and down the other side of a huge hill (344 metres.  HUGE! Ahem).  Some might suggest I am not the best to determine the scale of this trek, having never before really seen a proper jungle, much less scrambled through one, (no doubt perilously close to tarantula attack at all times).  They would be wrong.  

There were vines that were thicker than some of the lesser Oaks, twisting and gnarly, and looking creepily like snakes.  And there was mud, and mush, and giant palmy fronds blocking the way with spiky leaves, and that blasted caterpillar. 


And I slipped, but only once.  And we got leached, but only once each. 

(Before we went in we saw a guy who had just come back out, with blood pouring out of holes in his feet.  He had been leached.  Whilst wearing boots, and socks, and trousers, all tucked into each other.  We were forewarned and took ridiculous precautions, even on the frankly daft  ‘Jungle Night Walk’, when we didn’t even get to veer off the slatted walkway…)

We reached the top of the 344 metre hillock, and did little victory dances in front of the view. 

We found a little hut, and scared two tiny bats, who turned round and round in circles a meter above our heads, and looked like they were inaudibly wailing for help. 


We made it back out of the jungle alive, and sat in the floating ‘restaurants’ of Kuala Tahan, watching the very bloated river churn dishwater colored eddies, and trying not to feel sick with the rocking and the atrocious fish-flavored drinks.

Eventually we had our feed of jungle wetness, and started out on the great road back.  It was proving to be a good day’s ride, and we got all the way to Gua Musang without a hitch, stopping to peer at the palm plantations in  case of occasional slow loris... 

Our day was going so well, and we were enjoying the hills.

Then suddenly as we rounded a bend, we saw a figure lying unconscious and bleeding profusely in the ditch at the side of the road.  His scooter lay close by.  Whatever had caused him to come off the road was long gone, and he was totally alone.  The cars in front of us had just driven straight past him.  We thought he was dead.  We were convinced he was dead, until we parked up and got right up close to him, when we realized he was making terrible rasping sounds trying to breathe.  Then we were convinced he was dying, and there was nothing we could about it.  We don’t have a mobile, and we don’t speak Malay.

We flagged down some passers-by, who seemed oddly reluctant to stop, but a couple did and called the emergency services and stayed with us.  It was a horrible feeling of helplessness.  Neither of us has First Aid training, and we couldn’t even speak to the man to try and reassure him. 

He was still unconscious, with a bad head injury and what looked like a broken arm, and a lot of blood around his mouth and nose, with big patches of it congealing beneath him.  He was lying approximately in recovery position, with his helmet on, so we didn’t want to move him in case of back trauma etc, but he was in a bad way.  The police took half an hour to arrive.  In that time his breathing normalized slightly- he must have swallowed the blood in the way- and he regained consciousness and tried to sit up, struggling to take his helmet off.  The Malay guy who’d stopped to help talked to him and tried to get him to stay still- we still couldn’t see what was wrong with him or how bad it was. 

Eventually the police arrived, but did very little, mainly standing far back and not helping the victim at all.  They called the ambulance though, who were a lot better, and quickly got him into a neck brace and stretcher and whisked him off. 

And that was that.  I was seriously shaken, and irritatingly faint from the sight of all the blood, which didn‘t help anyone. I’ve resolved to take a Red Cross First Aid course as soon as I can- not knowing what to do to help was horrible, and I am sure there are many ways we could improved that half an hour for the poor guy.  It didn’t help that we couldn’t speak Malay, and had we spoken to him in English we would no doubt have confused him further.  But we also couldn’t get across our meanings to the guy who was speaking to him either.

While we were stood there, people milled about trying to make sense of what happened.  His bike had taken an obvious impact to its front wheel, and there was a road sign a short way away that seemed to have been hit, but the only skids were his own.  We have no way of knowing, but it was horrendous to think that someone may have driven him off the road, only to leave him there.  It was pretty horrific that the cars in front of us had driven straight past as well.  It is possible they thought he was dead, and didn’t know what to do, but then neither did we, we just hoped to fetch someone who did.

We are hoping to find out whether he was OK from the hospital today, we have asked the hotel lady if she will call them, so hopefully we will know how it went.  By the end it looked as though he hadn’t broken any limbs, or sustained spinal injury or neck injury, and he was becoming more coherent, but for a while there we all thought he was a goner. 

I wish First Aid at school had been mandatory. 

We will be driving a bit slower from now on.  If it had been us we would probably have fared a lot better with all our protective gear, but there’s only so much the stuff can do, and at speed it’s a hell of a lot harder for it to do that. The roads here were built for fun motorbike riding, but maybe that’s not always a good thing.  

UPDATE: The nice hotel lady called the hospital.  The man is not doing so well.  The only thing the hospital would say was that he was badly injured.  He has been moved to a different hospital.  We are going to see if we can find our more today.

We are back at Cameron Highlands in the same old barracks now.  We got our dates completely wrong though. We thought it was Christmas Eve the day we got back.  It really wasn't, we were out by three days.  Not sure what happened there.  It messes up our plans for Christmas, which we will now probably be heading down to Kuala Lumpur for.

Lizards and Pterodactyls- fun and silliness on Koh Samui

In Koh Samui we saw middle age Thai women with bad facelifts try very hard to look young, while their gross old foreign counterparts, twenty years older than them, drank beer and slapped each other on the back.  We found them in the British bar in Chaweng.  The men had Brummy accents.  One was so old and liver-damaged he could barely walk to the door.  The women sat apart from their husbands and laughed, in Thai.

We tried to go exploring.  There were dirt tracks leading through the island interior with wooden huts where the more normal folk lived.  We attempted the drive up in Steve’s hire car, even gave it a good shot with a run up, but we bounced back down, backwards.  It made loud noises as it tried to deal with the pain of the rocks hitting its underbelly.  The dirt tracks were steep and covered in water drain-offs.  We tried another way, but fell off the end of the concrete road.  It was still being built.


Eventually a week later we found a route up, and went to clamber down to a signposted waterfall.  After a steep climb we found really just a pool of water, with a lady in red lingerie posing on a rock while her boyfriend did a photo shoot.  We clambered beyond the waterfall to a viewpoint, getting briefly lost and having a jungly adventure of the vine and trip hazard type.  It was very humid.  Steve found a coconut and bashed it against various hard things until it opened.  Sue searched for monkeys in the coconut palms. 



Further on into the interior we accidentally visited Paradise Farm, a sort of secret semi-zoo right on top of the cliff, with a huge number of brightly colored birds, and a stunning infinity pool overlooking the jungle.  

It was an amazing place.  There were emus, deer, lizards and monkeys, and someone had thoughtfully hand painted a selection of doves. 

There was a pterodactyl, which I thought a little mean.


There were even rabbits, though they did all look as though they had been chewed by something. I got a hug off a giant lizard, and Steve had three cockatiels placed on his head.  He looked uneasy.  Sue made friends with a large macau.

We took a boat trip to a tiny island with one ‘village’ (three shacks and some bungalows).  It was a very peaceful little place, with a Mynah bird with ruffles on its head that spoke Thai and English, and could have escaped but didn’t. 

There was an old bomb lying by the restaurant, weirdly.  No one seemed fussed.

It was looking a little like rain, so we headed back.  On the way there was a unanimous decision to snorkel, despite the ominous blackening sky, and Adam and Steve leapt in, barely avoiding a gigantic lump of coral a foot under the surface.   I joined them in a more discreet and lady-like fashion:

Two minutes later I was squealing and clinging to the side of the boat, as the waves suddenly grew enormous and definitely life-threatening.  Adam tried to save me by grabbing me round the middle, and I may have shouted a bit.  I made it out of the water only with help and sat miserably shivering and swearing about it to Sue, who put up with it remarkably well… 

Then the rain started, and we zoomed back in the stupidly small boat, hitting stupidly large waves head on in a sickening sort of way for what seemed like a very, very long time.  

We got soaked.  There was nothing dry left, apart from the boat man, who was totally without dampness.  I don’t know how. 

 before the rain...

By the time we reached the shore the wind had died down and the rain had stopped, and we all looked sheepish and wondered what all the fuss had been about.   The boat organiser had a sneaky giggle with our boat man.

A few nights later we hopped into Lamai town for the evening.  Girls in tiny shorts gyrated on top of bars in the girly-girly bars, beckoning to Adam when I looked the other way.  There were McDonalds and Pizza Huts, plural.  

There were dolled up transvestites handing out cabaret leaflets.  We were accosted simultaneously by an Indian gentleman holding a drugged-up monkey, and a Thai guy with an enormous worried-looking monitor lizard in his fist.  A Korean tourist was having his photo taking with a vulture of some kind.  It perched on his head.  There were Eighties bars with indecently cheap cocktails, and British bars with drunken expats in.  We swallowed our pride and joined in.

There we found an Australian who was biking around SE Asia, and his mate, who’d done the UK to India route by bike.  Everyone got a bit drunk reliving Pakistan.  A girl from Kansas told us all about her amazing life until we all collectively vomited into an empty pint glass and tipped it over her head.  Irritatingly, she was also quite nice, so that last bit didn’t actually happen, but I am fairly sure everyone independently thought about it. 

We headed off to one of the girly bars, and sat guzzling our way through more beers.  The girlies in this particular bar turned out to be blokesies.  The night ended with Adam visiting his favourite travel agent and waking the whole family up for a chat.

Sue and Steve left the next day, and we were sad to see them go.  It was great to see them both, and now we will be flying solo again for a time.

Driveshaft update (by Adam): Its now fixed! A local mechanic was able to order a replacement universal joint of the right size. He took  few hours to dismantle the driveshaft, knock out the old joint and put in the new one. We watched him intently throughout the process, and to his credit he coped well. The next day we had to take it back, but only to re-centre the swinging arm as we think it had been knocking slightly. It seems as good as new - time will tell. The best part was that this would have cost a fair bit at home, the driveshaft is recommended to be replaced as a whole unit, and you’re talking 300+GBP ($450). Not here thankfully - the total for the new part and all labour was 25GBP! Not at all bad.

The Last Few Days:  We’ve got our passports!! They were waiting for us in Bangkok, and after a days delay due to the King’s four day birthday extravaganza, we picked them up fine and dandy.  Its still a bit gutting having brand new passports with nothing in them though- we’ve lost all our Iran visas and things, and the new photo makes me look like a crack whore on a bad day…

The bike stayed behind in a half-built house on Samui while we lived it up at the Kings celebrations. 

There were floats and floats and floats, all made out of tissue paper with billions of tiny lights, turned into dragons and boats.  Young Thai women with elaborate headgear perched peacock-esque on top of them, waving to the crowds.  The floats were enormous, and it was amusing to watch them do six-point U-turns around the corner to head back down the packed street.   The fireworks were brilliant, and went on for hours, for four nights.  On the second day for some reason everyone wore pink, and the fireworks matched. 


We found Siam Square, a huge square of futuristic shopping centres, cinemas, and the Skytrain, all joined together with walkways above the traffic.  

Bizarrely for an almost entirely Buddhist country, there were Christmas decorations to shame Harrods.  

They were all peculiarly Asian, with cute cartoon characters and bright pastels, and teenage girls kept running up to have their photos taken in front of them.   There were Chanel branches, Tag Heuer watch shops, Hermes stores with snooty-looking shop assistants.  It was all very continental. 




We went to the cinema, and there was a 3D IMAX theatre!  Very exciting, so we watched ‘A Christmas Carol‘, in 3D, with enormous stupid-looking glasses on.  Everyone kept sticking their hands out in front of their faces to catch the snowflakes.  It all felt a bit like we had landed on a future planet.

We met an excellent taxi driver, who gave us a talisman against road accidents to keep in our car.  We are hoping it also works for other modes of transport…

On the train on the way back we settled in for an awkward ride when neither the German fellow opposite, nor the guy of indeterminate origin who was sat by me appeared to be remotely willing to communicate.  Being as how the train set-up leaves not a whole lot of leg room, we were destined to sit very, very close to two people who were totally silent, but fidgeted awkwardly for close to an hour.  Eventually the German got scared and ran off somewhere, and the indeterminate guy spoke two words or so, in monosyllabic answers to direct questions. He lived on an island in the south and considered himself far too cool to be speaking to us holidaymakers. 

Awkwardly, we headed for the train bar for something to do, and ended up getting fairly plastered with a Pole, a Russian, the indeterminate non-speaker who had followed us there and suddenly found his tongue, and the silent German, who drank copious amounts of high-strength beer,  but still didn’t speak.  The bar had funky disco lights, loud Thai music, and a bar-lady who liked to wiggle.  By the end of the night the Non-speaking Cool Guy had invited us to stay at his bungalow, and given us the address of his friend, and the Pole had given us his address in California.  The Russian had become completely unintelligible and drunk half a liter of Vodka Red Bull.  The German had said nothing.   

And last but not least, here is a Muay Thai boxing ring by night, on Ko Samui.  I am too scared of the boxers to take one by day.  They puff themselves up like robins and strut along the edge of the road pulling crazy faces.