Sunday, 1 June 2014

Morocco - Summer 2014

"Hi I am looking for Mohamed"
Wednesday, 28 May
Surely the single purpose of having a name is so that you can be identified among other people.  We have probably introduced ourselves to 9 people so far and 7 of them have been called Mohamed.  The other 2 were women - called Fatima.  Morocco is just a 3 hours flight from England but feels so much further.  We landed in Fes with no real plan of what to do for the week.  A few jottings on paper after a half an hour of free WiFi at the airport suggested a small route travelling around the North.  The only thing we knew for sure was that we wanted to see Marrakesh and so our first stop in Fes was the train station to book ourselves onto a night train.  It was in the taxi from the station where our holiday really began to blossom.  Like the butterfly effect, so much has happened and it all started here - let me explain. As we didn't need to stay the night in Fes we had no hotel to go to and faced the possibility of spending the day lugging around our rucksacks.  Our taxi man, Mohamed, had a "mate", Mohamed, who owned a hotel and was apparently very happy to look after our bags.  "No Charge!".  What!? A little hesitant but we went along with it.  Mohamed (the taxi driver) drove off, without payment, insisting that we can pay later when he takes us back to the station.  Over a fresh Moroccan mint tea, Mohamed (The hotel owner) rubbished our plan to go North stating that this was "where everybody goes to smoke hash" and looked down his nose at us for even suggesting the idea.  Instead, he recommended that we ventured South to the Sahara desert and the Atlas Mountains to witness real "Mother Africa".  Ok, he clearly has a point; this sounds waaay better!

After helping us plan our itinerary, Mohamed took us to his friend, Mohamed, who works in a leather tannery.  This was the first point where we felt slightly pressured to part with some cash and after a few snapshots of the tannery and feigning interest in purchasing a leather jacket (clearly an essential item in 30+ degrees), we bought nothing which meant Mohamed was not best pleased.  He begrudgingly passed us onto a lovely young man called Mohamed who took us to some place that made (or pretended to make?) and sold Argan oil.  This is the first place that we got ripped-off.  Wrapped up in Fatima's sale talk we spent £12 on a bar of soap, some face cream and a small bottle of Argan oil.  All of which we did not need and all of which we found half the price in Marrakesh. I keep telling myself that it wouldn't be a real Moroccan experience if you did not get fleeced at least once.  Our last stop on this impromptu guide was at a weavers house where a man called Mohamed showed us the machine that he hand-built to weave cloth.  He was very friendly and wrapped us up in some of his creations (above).  What we really liked about him was that he wasn't pushy at all.  We left without buying anything and sauntered in and around the Medina until late.  The markets are a lot less grabby in Fes in comparison to middle eastern cities and I felt comfortable having a browse without being pounced on.  We ate a kefta sandwich (grilled minced beef) down a little side street of the Medina and washed it down with fresh beetroot and orange juice.  Beetroot juice? - Oh the split second fear in my heart when my toilet looked like something had been violently murdered in it! The owners were clearly entertained by our presence in their tiny kitchen and it made the perfect first Moroccan meal.  30 dirham (approx £2) for 2 hot sandwiches and glasses of fresh purple juice.  With our train not leaving until 2:30AM we had some time to kill.  We hung out in a shisha bar for a couple of hours and then ate in a restaurant near "our" hotel. The owner of the restaurant was Moroccan but lived in Chicago and gave us some sound advice for our trip; the butterfly effect was still working its magic.  He recommended that we refrain from booking an excursion for the desert and just take a bus to the area.  He explained that there would be plenty of camp owners grabbing all of the tourists to join them and that we should just sit and wait in a cafe. We could then barter down to as low as £10 for a night in the desert as they would be more eager to fill the beds!  Sound information.  And all of this because we got in Mohamed's taxi from the station.

Medinas are walled in mini cities within cities.  They are the very old part of the city with most of the 'roads' just a couple of meters wide.  In the Medinas are Soukes (little shops) and Riads (traditional houses with an open courtyard in the middle).  Our hotel in Marrakech (above) was a beautiful Riad called Oumaima and cost about £30 for a room.  From above, Medinas must look like ancient mazes as they are nigh on impossible to navigate around.  Locals have cottoned on to this fact and they look out for lost looking tourists so they can guide them, in person, to their destination and then ask for money for the inconvenience caused.  We had a map and so on getting out from our taxi (Taxis don't fit on Medina streets) we would have eventually found our way to the Riad.  However, a friendly 'selfless' local asking where we're staying seemed much quicker.  We not only learnt that you don't ask for directions but that you can't even tell somebody where you are going. Whether you are lost or not, it will result in them storming off ahead of you before you can tell them that you don't need help.  One guy asked for money even though we got to our Riad before he did! In Marrakesh, everyone is out for a quick buck.  Becky was explaining how last time she was in the square she got done over by a woman who grabbed her hand and started a henna tattoo before she could say anything.  No more than half an hour after telling me this story I turn around to find a woman holding Becky's already half tattooed - it was near finished before the words "no thank you" even had time to come out of her mouth.  "Just for good luck" she kept saying and then asked for 200dh (£14?!) for the pleasure.  We stood our ground and managed to pay 10dh.  She wasn't happy and Becky quite liked the pattern in the end.  Pretty impressive for 15 seconds work.  So it seems the girls get attacked with Henna (we found it quite entertaining watching others fall for it!) and I got a monkey in a nappy literally thrown on to me from behind and then asked for money.  We stayed well clear of the men with snakes.  Unless it is free, you are never going to get a good deal in Marrakesh.  It's a shame as you find yourself being wary or every kind gesture.  We bought some tea from a street vendor and a man shifted over on his cushioned bench and called us to sit with him.  I didn't think anything of it but Becky was sure that they were going to charge us for it.  Alas they didn't and my faith in humanity was saved.  If you can take it all in good spirit Marrakesh is a fascinating experience.  However, I can see why it may not be everybody's cup of mint tea.

Where better to take out two of the national dishes than in Marrakesh.  Couscous for lunch and tagine for dinner.  The couscous was served with beef and vegetables.  Couscous is couscous; nothing special;  it's like having rice as your national dish.  The tagine on the other hand... now that's a national dish to be proud of.  We ate at Restaurant Jama which Becky recalled from her previous visit to Marrakesh; beautiful setting in a fairy lit courtyard with an orange tree as its centre piece.  Beef tagine with figs and a basket of Moroccan bread.  Bread is served with every meal and is used more as cutlery than as a side.  This was my first ever experience of a tagine.  Served in the dish it's cooked in, bread is all you need to scrape up the sticky caramelised bits stuck to the bottom and soak up the meaty juices.  No overpowering spice, just slow cooked, sweet, succulent, meaty goodness.  It's all I'm going to eat from now on.  That's a lie.  I pretty much followed that up with a bowl of snails.  I wasn't hungry but as we made our way back through the square the markets had been transformed into a giant food court!  I couldn't not have anything! A whole row of stalls just sold snails and they were of a reasonable portion size for somebody who had just eaten a whole tagine. 

Following the instructions from our friend in Fes we spent yesterday morning catching a bus to the coach station to book two seats on a Supratours coach to Merzouga; a village that acts as Morocco's gateway to the Sahara.  No excursion, just a one way bus ride.  The day saw us ticking off Lonely Planets list of top 5 things to do in Marrakesh.  We face-timed home in a park with wifi (!?), ambled through an old palace and visited a tomb that had restrictions to get close to any of the good stuff.  It was a hoooot day and instead of ice cream carts, Marrakesh has ice cold fruit salad vendors (top right)!  What an amazing idea! Healthy and refreshing!  Walking through the old medinas, every now and then you see a crowd of men (yes - always men) around one food vendor.  My curiosity found me squeezed between a group of men gorging on fish meatballs and bread sold by one very popular guy.  These people don't tend to try and rip you off as they are not used to seeing tourists at their stall!  My favourite meal experience so far cost just 10 dirham (70p).  We did some shopping in the soukes, watched the sunset from a terrace cafe and then ate in the giant food court in the main square.  Steamed sheep's head with tongue and brain was what the locals were eating and of course where I managed to drag Becky.  It's an all out war between the food stalls in the fight to attract tourists to their grill.  It tickled us that the sheep head stalls only seemed to bother approaching the Chinese tourists.  We sat down and felt the heat from the stares as we pointed at the grinning sheep's head looking up at us.  Sliced up and elegantly served (Pah!) with salt and cumin.  We (I) ordered it as a side with two lamb tangias (like a tagine but cooked in a tall clay pot buried into a bed of coals - you can see one in the picture).  Brain is not a pleasant texture, it breaks down in your mouth a little like toothpaste that's been left out over night.  I did have to concentrate a wee bit to keep my gag reflex at bay.  Much like Becky is now on these winding roads to Merzouga.  Only 4 hours to go!

There is nowhere to hide in the desert
Sunday, 1 June

The hardest test for physical strength and endurance is climbing a sand dune; I had to give up before I passed out.  The hardest test for mental strength is being able to push a twosy out behind a dune.  "Behind" a dune gives the impression of being hidden.  Dunes are enormous; like trying to discretely pinch one off in the middle of an empty car park.  I could walk a mile and you would still see my squatting silhouette.  Well there is a first time for everything.  I'm not going to lie, it felt liberating.  In hindsight I would have preferred to use the toilet; I just happened to have asked the wrong person who prefers "au naturel" over physical and surprisingly clean toilet, which Becky had the pleasure of using when she woke up.  Our camp (which I can't for the life of me find online anywhere!?) claims to have the least impact on the Sahara's ecosystem than any other camp.  

So our plan to turn up to Merzouga without booking anything didn't quite work out.  It was getting dark; we were the only tourists on the bus and we feared arriving to a ghost town with no idea what to do.  It just so happened that the strapping young man (Becky's thoughts, not mine) that got on the bus with us in Marrakesh owns his own camp in the desert!  Butterfly effect still in action.  We had well over 12 hours to discuss and barter with him and in the end he was just a really friendly, sound guy.  And what was his name? Moha.  I wonder what it's short for.  We paid roughly £105 for the two nights in the desert including activities and visits.  We arrived to a town which was accurately described by our friend in Fes.  There were a lot of people asking us to stay at their camp but we felt happy and proud with our decision.  Moha took us to his family home (left) to freshen up and leave our rucksacks.  Whilst we waited for our camels, his mum made us mint and Absinthe(!?) tea from her garden and served us bread, olives and olive oil to snack on.  Under the stunning desert stars, in the dead of night; we trekked for 2 hours to our camp.  It was beautiful... for about 5 minutes until my arse got sore and scenes from the film Taken started to cross my mind.

There is no comfortable way to sit on a camel.  In total we have spent 5 hours on the back of a camel and I have experimented with all positions.  There are none.  Zero.  Your arse will ache and your cheeks will chafe.  Chafe right down to the bone.  Getting off a camel provides a similar pleasure to releasing a few trouser buttons after a big meal.  You breathe a sigh of relief and are in no rush to fasten them up again any time soon.  Or in terms of getting on a camel, ever again.  Life on camp in 40+ degrees Celsius is super chilled.  We arrived to camp fire songs and soon retreated to our cosy tents.  The morning was when I dropped the kids off in the desert and when we attempted to scale the dune.  Theres not much to do in the desert during the midday peak heat other than eat, read and play cards.  Moha set us up a little camp under a tree and we happily lazed until the sand didn't melt the souls of our feet any more.  We drank tea with a nomad family, had a tajine cooked for us by Mustafa (Moha's brother), practised the art of sand-boarding and took a camel for a walk.  The Sahara is a completely unique environment and Moha and Mustafa have created the perfect camp to enjoy it in.

We told Moha of our plan to go to the Atlas mountains and he recommended us to stay in Azrou.  He had a friend staying there and so he called him up and got him to pick us up from the bus station when we arrived.  How amazing is Moha!?  In fact he also went with us to the town and made sure we got a good deal on a taxi to the coach station.  We love Moha...  And now, we love Yusef!  Our new friend that picked us up and took us to a nice cheap hotel to stay in.  It just happened to be the same one he was staying in as it turned out that he was on vacation too!  A Moroccan, from Merzouga, living in Barcelona, but regularly stays in Azrou; his favourite place in the world.  Azrou is green, cool and fresh.  The complete opposite environment to the Sahara; it has scenes that really wouldn't look out of place in Englands Lake District.  Yusef is a happy happy man who regularly smokes the happy stuff and drinks all day and all night.  A Muslim of the left as he called himself.  We were constantly trying to work out what he was getting out of helping us so much but it turned out that he is just a very nice man.  We spent the evening drinking beer with him and his friends whilst they recommended sites and planned our following day.  He ended up being our guide for our time in Azrou and met us in the morning, with a beer in his hand, and took us for breakfast.  A cafe no bigger than a shipping container, I had my favourite breakfast of the holiday here.  Locals dressed for work stopped by and ordered eggs, bread and tea; scoffed it and went on their way.  Bread baked that morning and eggs quite possibly laid that morning.  They were simply fluffed up in a pan, sprinkled with toasted cumin powder and then smothered with a good glug of extra virgin olive oil.  Man it was gooooood.

Yusef had a 12km trek planned for us and bought some bread and cheese spread for a picnic before getting us a taxi into the forest.  This area of Morocco really is beautiful.  Yusef immediately lost our lunch to a monkey but it was more entertaining than annoying.  He told us stories of his fascinating life as we hand reared baby monkeys and strolled through tall trees.  He even found us a scorpion to gawk at under a rock.  Our plan was to catch a coach to Fes in the evening ready for our flight this morning; however, Yusef convinced us that it was much easier to catch a taxi in the morning straight from Azrou.  This gave us another evening with Yusef and his friends which he was delighted about!  He organised our 5am taxi and then bought a bottle of local liqueur to share with us in a car park.  Yup classy tourists.  For dinner he treated us to a Moroccan harira soup down a side street in the town with a side of dried dates and finished our final evening with a bottle of wine on the terrace of his hotel room.  We drank it in a traditional way shared between friends where we all drank from one glass.  We did the same the night before except this time Becky had the honour of designated pourer.  Yusef absolutely made our time in Azrou and after treating us to dinner and a bottle of wine we still have no idea what he had to gain from being so lovely to us.  He went completely out of his way, on his vacation, to accommodate us.  Meeting people like that is what travelling is all about.  In one week, we have essentially been on 3 different holidays; none of which would have been possible had we not met the right people at the right time.  And it all started with that taxi driver in Fes.  And to think that we were planning to travel North! What a boring holiday that would have been.  :o)

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Thailand - Spring 2014

Same Same... but different
Tuesday, 15 April
It doesn't seem too long ago since I was this side of the world.  Other than a failed attempt to enjoy the festivities of the Christmas markets in Munich (missed flight... don't ask! :o( ), my last trip saw me backpacking around Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.  I have been happily coaxed back to attend a friends wedding.  Both the Bride and Groom are keen Scuba divers and it was about time that I dusted off my "advanced scuba diver (but barely remembers how to snorkel)" card.  We had two weeks to play around with and on recommendation we decided to
dedicate half of our time to Koh Tao and half to Koh Lanta; where the wedding will be held.  Having arrived in Phuket at midnight, we learnt that we missed the Thai New Year festival (Songkran) by just a few hours.  We stayed on Karon Beach, just for the day, before making our way to Koh Tao.  Being a beach bum for the day was the first step into relaxing into the holiday after a 7 week school term.  We did it with style drinking Mai Tai cocktails out of hollowed out pineapples and ticking off one of three Thai national dishes, Pad Thai; 80p from a street stall it was hands down the best Pad Thai I have ever eaten.  It cost about £6.00 in my local take away in England and this one had so much more too it; flat noodles, crushed roasted peanuts and fresh shrimp are the key ingredients that come together with a whole bunch of other flavours and textures.  I fear that this may have ruined Pad Thai for me for the rest of my life- from now on it is always going to cost more and taste worse...

I have been to two burlesque shows in my life time; once in Blackpool and once last night.  It occurred to me during the "Simon Caberet" that both of these shows involved an all male cast.  Should that worry me?  Having said that, some of them could quite easily be women pretending to be men pretending to be women! How would we ever know!?  As soon as a ladyboy bends over on stage the whole audience squint their eyes trying to focus their retinas hoping to catch a glimpse of a bulge.  I'm not convinced.  Either way, we all thoroughly enjoyed the experience of the glitter, glam, pretend singing and gonad gawking.  We walked into Patong for some food and stumbled across a great night market with fried chicken, grilled prawns, BBQ seafood and the most amazing pork belly skewers ever.  They cost about 30p and I ate about 7 with some BBQ'd octopus and fried chicken.  All washed down with decent cocktails for 89thb (£1.80) each!
"Thai Phet not Farang Phet..."
Friday, 18 April

"Thai hot not white man hot..." - famous last words.  We have been on Koh Tao for the past 4 days and I could quite happily spend the rest of my trip (life!) here.  It is the best place ever.  From Phuket, we flew to Koh Samui and caught a ferry over to Tao.  Not only did we miss Songkran (and its very rare collision with the full moon party!?) but we were also suffering in its wake.  We had to wait 6 hours in Samui for our ferry as they were all fully booked which apparently is unheard of in usual circumstances.  There wasn't really much to do in Samui but I did manage to bag number 2 of the national dishes, the hot and sour Tom Yum Goong.  It is deliciously hot and soooo so fragrant.  Just make sure you don't sneeze and get some stuck up your nose... just saying.   It's like snorting a line a fire ants.  A runny nose and beads of sweat tickling my forehead did not hamper my Tom Yum experience. 

Koh Tao is the most chilled out place on this planet.  The extra effort it takes to get here sifts out the annoying jocks and plastics that go shopping in their swim wear and don sunglasses in bars - you know the ones - leaving behind genuinely friendly and laid back people.  Asia Resort were waiting for us at the harbour (totally unbeknownst to me! I just happened to see my name on a board some guy was holding up) which at 11pm, after a full days travel, was a beautiful surprise.  This set Asia Resort in good stead.  It is a fantastic place and has a top quality PADI centre on site (again something I didn't know!?) which worked out perfectly as the two girls were hoping to gain their PADI qualification and I was in desperate need of a Scuba Review.  We freshened up and headed straight out to see the bride and groom in their self proclaimed favourite island on this planet.  We had a few drinks and finished on the beach front (Sairee beach) watching a fire show and sipping cocktails.  After the show they set up a giant skipping rope, a limbo bar, set them on fire and then invited the half cut to have a go.  Entertainment and a challenge.  We wussed out of the skipping but I had a good go at the limbo whilst its height was similar to mine.

As we were staying in the hotel we got a discount which lead to the full PADI Open Water course to be 8000 Baht (£160) which has got to be the cheapest out there.  The next morning we organised our diving and had one of those delightfully uneventful days where you feel totally productive even though nothing was really done.  We ate, we sat on a beach and we ate.  Nicely settling into Koh Tao life.  The evening marked the start of our diving as the girls had to study for the first part of the program and I had to take a review quiz.  Like being back at school but with stress being substituted with spring rolls and beer.  Brian, the groom, use to live here and still had friends on the island.  After our studies we met up with him and one of these friends who had booked us in for dinner at a Thai fusion restaurant called "Barracuda".  In a restaurant that specialises in fish it seemed stupid not to go for their "chef recommended fish platter".  More expensive than the standard Thai restaurant around here the platter cost about £20 (1000bht) and stuffed two of us.  We finished our night like most nights on Koh Tao - cocktails on the beach.

The bulk of our diving started yesterday. The girls had to be up early to finish off their theory and so I had a lie in and late brunch at "the roasted duck" restaurant.  They served one main dish and clearly sold it in its hundreds; roasted duck with rice.  One woman's job was to constantly slice all the meat from the duck whilst another was to blanch the morning glory and one more to serve the rice and pour on the soya bean paste sauce.  A constant conveyor belt to satisfy the few hundred orders over the lunch time rush.  It is popular for a reason; it tastes amazing and it's super cheap (80bht).  I'm eating here again.  We spent the most part of the day in the pool going through all the dive skills.  Our instructor, James Pope, was great and it all made me realise how poor my PADI course in Croatia was in comparison.  I learnt all my skills in the sea which had so many disadvantages to it in comparison to learning in a pool; most notably the excitement build up to your first dive in the sea and the element of surprise when you first put your head underwater and see the abundance of life under your feet.  And I paid way more for my PADI!?  In the evening, Brian's friend booked us all into his favourite local restaurant on the island called "Tukta" which was a short taxi ride out from Siaree beach.  He just ordered a good 8/9 dishes including Massaman curry, Phad Thai and Garlic Pepper squid.  Garlic Pepper is popular here; Crispy, salty, spicy, it's just a few fried ingredients but it's frickin great with seafood! We polished off two portions of garlic pepper mackerel too.  If you are on Koh Tao and you don't have at least one meal here, you have missed out big time.    

Elbows, Knees and Heals
Sunday, 20 April

The time has come to leave Koh Tao and we are currently in transit to Koh Lanta.  Stupid wedding I have to go to...   I already miss being on Koh Tao!  We have all properly loved our time here.  Scuba diving again was awesome.  All three of us have our PADI Open Waters now (well technically I am Advanced... *smug*).  On the morning of our first real dive the girls, once again, had to be up early for some swatting and so I took the opportunity to get another roast duck meal down me and a proper Thai massage.  Little did I know that a proper Thai massage involved seven shades of shite being beaten out of you by a lady boy.  I knew she was a lady boy by her chiseled jaw, broad back and immense strength.  If it was a fight, I would have lost.  If I were to pick 3 items of my body that I could inflict the most pain with if I were ever to be in a fight; I think I would go for my elbows, knees and my heals.  These, in fact, are the items used in a Thai massage.  Sniffle... I am not ashamed to say that I am a wrestling fan (hell I've just been beaten up by a lady boy, nothing shames me now) and there were definitely a number of submission locks she had me in that I recognised.  Knee in the back of the neck whilst pulling my head round by my chin was probably my least favourite.  There were times when I was lying on my front and I couldn't for the life of me work out how she was managing to kneed 6 different points on my body at the same time!?  The long and short of it is, the more a Thai massage hurts, the better you feel after it's finished.  My body felt like a jellyfish and completely at home in our first dive.  That's a lie, it took me forever to equalise and get to the bottom but once down there, with my favourite people, I had a fantastic time.

Food wise we are here at the perfect season.  Mangoes are at their ripest and papayas are totally not ripe at all.  Ripe mangoes mean amazing smoothies but more importantly it means Mango Sticky Rice! Ok so I didn't even know what mango sticky rice was until Lucy, the bride, desperately wanted us all to try it.  Man it is good.  Who would have thought Mango and Rice would come together to make such a scrumptious dessert.  Papayas not being ripe does mean no papaya shakes (bothered?) but it also means Som Tam, national dish number 3, is out in abundance.  A spicy, sweet and sour salad made from grated raw papaya, toasted peanuts and greens.  Served in a bag from a street vendor, I opted for "Thai Phet" when asked and regretted it straight away.  It is such a refreshingly tasty salad, each mouthful extinguishes the fire instantly only to make it come back with a vengeance.  Having finished half of it I genuinely had to put it in the fridge, have a nap, and then finish it off later.  We spent our final evening eating pizza and walking all the way down Sairee Beach to a beautiful fairytale like restaurant called Rim Lae for dessert whilst we pondered our time on Koh Tao.  Sniffle.

Why Not?
Friday, 25 April

We are staying at Lantas Lodge on Klong Khong beach, Koh Lanta (the picture above is the view from our room!).  Basic but decent rooms and lovely owner.  Getting here was a full day with a ferry to to Koh Samui, a flight to Krabi and minibus to Koh Lanta.  We booked all of this in advanced and could have cried when we realised that our ferry to Koh Samui would have taken us to Krabi had we (I) researched properly.  Anyway, spilt milk and all that; we are here and only missing Koh Tao just a little bit!  Here we met up with more friends and guests of the wedding and spent most of our time at Kantiang Bay where the bride and groom were staying at the beautifully exquisite Pimalai Resort.  As wedding guests we of course had access to all of the facilities!  The "Why Not Bar" on Kantiang was my favourite part of Koh Lanta.  The workers were busy tucking into their lunch when we became the only customers to rudely interrupt them.  I asked if I could have what they were all eating in which they initially said no but then called me over and handed me a bowl of rice with a fried fish and some hot pepper sauce.  A real local meal!  Amused by my interest they also brought over a bowl of chicken (off-cuts) soup.  All for free and on top of what I had already ordered from the menu.  I love this place!

As mentioned, the soon to be married couple are avid divers and booked us all onto a full day out on a boat.  What a brilliant pre-wedding activity! A boat full of wedding guests out just for the ride, for a spot of snorkelling or full scuba diving.  This wasn't diving as I was use to (not that i'm use to any kind of diving!) as at just over £100 for the day this was posh diving.  Breakfast and lunch served on the boat, ice box full of drinks, fresh towels and diving gear all set up for you!  I was a little wary over my diving gear being set up by somebody else but soon got over it.  All of this came together to be my favourite diving experience ever.  Crystal blue water streaming with life.  We may not have seen the prized whale shark but we saw a Turtle and Leopard Shark amongst other colourful delights.  We all chipped in for a professional underwater photographer (I didn't take any of these photos!) which worked out pretty cheap split 20 ways.  The extra money was totally worth it in my eyes and I can completely recommend  Scuba Fish in Koh Lanta.  Scuba diving followed by lazing on a 5 star resort whilst paying for a 2 star is pretty sweet.  We finished our night in the Why Not Bar listening to live music and being merry.

Originally I had hoped to eat all Thai curries including yellow, green and red.  Unfortunately this did not happen due to one reason.  That reason is the Massaman curry.  Why would you bother with anything else when you can have Massaman!?  Having tasted the green and yellow curries from other peoples plates I just couldn't bring myself round to actually ordering them.  They tasted fine, just not as superb as the sweet velvety Massaman.  I did have a wonderful Thai Red Curry from the Why Not Bar but still couldn't help but think that it would just be that much better if it was a Massaman.  The Massaman at the wedding was simply beautiful.  Ok the wedding was simply beautiful but oh man the Massaman!
Why doesn't everyone get married on a beach!?  It was the most incredible setting with a stunning backdrop.  In the morning the girls all gathered to get the bride ready and so I enjoyed/endured a swim in the pool and another Thai massage before putting on my suit suitable for a beach.  Everything ran smoothly and even though it began to thrash it down the second we sat down to eat (on the beach!) the Pimalai were on it with umbrellas and escorted us to an indoor hall already kitted out and decorated as if we were gate crashing another wedding! We ate and drank like kings with the disco serving free cocktails until midnight.  Best wedding I have ever been to?  I have married friends and family that read my blog so I couldn't possible say.

Yesterday morning was a late start and to no surprise nobody was up for doing anything too strenuous.  I found the ultimate hang over cure which involved a Shisha pipe, a hammock, a book and a beach which saw through a couple of hours.  We lazed pretty much the entire day away until a couple of us joined a cooking class with "Lanta Thai Cookery School" for the evening.  Slightly on the expensive side at around £30 per head but we felt like we were in good hands.  We picked to learn how to make Spring rolls, Chicken Satay, Thai Red Curry with Seafood and Massaman curry (:o)!!!!) with Chicken.  We all cooked individually and though I am a keen cook I genuinely felt like I learnt a lot of new things.  We learnt how to make all the accompanying sauces as well, including Thai Sweet Chilli and Peanut Sauce.  We came home stuffed carrying bags of what we couldn't finish, packed up our rucksacks and prepared for our following two days worth of travel back to England.  I may have only seen a small part of Thailand in these two weeks but it was enough for me to see what all the fuss is about.  Thailand has something for everyone; beautiful beaches, awesome diving and fantastic food.  I'm kind of glad that I have only seen a small part of it as it gives me good reason to come back again soon.  I'm sure that it'll be much of the same same but different.  :o)