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Koh Chang Thailand – Perfect Place to Chillout

koh chang beach

I’ve been in Asia eleven years now, and still never been to Thailand! I decided to change that, and got in contact with my friend Kieren Krygier, who runs The Martial Man, and he suggested I go to Koh Chang. Koh Chang is Thailand’s second largest island, and is right up on the border with Cambodia.

How to Get to Koh Chang

The island itself has no airport, but you can fly to nearby Trat and then take a ferry across. However, this is an expensive option, and so your best bet is either a taxi from Bangkok (about 4500 baht) or the cheapest but least comfortable is by bus. The journey is about five-six hours. Note that if you book a taxi via an online service, they will include the ferry ticket in the cost. We went with the taxi, as my wife gets car sick easily.

Where to Stay

Basically there is one road which goes around two thirds of the island, with almost all activity based on the west coast. There are several small towns along the windy and sometimes steep road which clings to the jungle-clad hills of the island. These towns are centered around a beach and are made up primarily of hotels, restaurants and other facilities catering for tourists; locals make up a very small population of fishermen and fruit farmers. We chose Kai Bae beach as by all accounts it was the most chilled out area, without the rowdy parties of the areas like White Sands beach or Lonely beach.

koh chang beach

For our week long stay, we stayed in two resorts, Gajapuri Resort and Awa Resort, which were right next to each other. Of the two, we prefered Gajapuri as it had a more personal feel. From the moment we checked in, the staff were constantly smiling and very friendly. We had some problems with our wifi, but nothing seemed like too much trouble for them. All of the rooms were small wooden huts, which were cool inside and had all the amenities you could need. The private beach was very small, but had several swings hung from palm trees right over the sea, which was a nice touch. You could have drinks or dinner on the sea, or even a massage. Awa was very nice too, I can’t say anything bad about it but it had a more commercial, large scale feel to it. We booked a beachfront room and somehow got upgraded to a suite! The rooms were all in one large building, which didn’t feel as intimate as Gajapuri’s individual huts. The deco was very cool though, very modern but with lots of Chinese ornaments and calligraphy, giving it a museum-like feel. Awa didn’t really have a proper beach though, there was an area of sand, and then a sudden drop off into the sea, but they also offered massage and drinks overlooking the sea which was nice. Breakfast had a massive buffet, more variety than Gajapuri, I guess as there were much more guests.

 

What to Do

As I said before, Koh Chang is mainly just a great place to chill out. The biggest draws are definitely diving/snorkeling, or trekking in the jungle. We went snorkeling with the company BB Divers. I had a look around at various diving companies, and decided either BB Divers or Scubadawgs were the best choices. They provide pretty much the same services (the Scubadawgs boat was behind us for the whole day out), but we chose BB just because the website had more information about the various sites. It seems for snorkeling, most people go to the Marine Park, although we chose the shipwreck and some local reefs. The reason for this decision was that the Marine Park tends to get masses of tourists, so I had read, and so while the wreck and local reefs were less suitable for snorkeling, the atmosphere was much nicer. The main downside was that as a snorkeler, you kind of feel like you are just tagging along with the divers; you are just left to do your own thing. We were however, really well looked after by one Chinese instructor and the Thai boat captian, as my wife and our Chinese friends got very seasick.

The rest of our time in Koh Chang was just spent eating, getting massages and chilling on the beach. I had a massage almost everyday, the cost was about 250 baht for an hour, and I tried several places. I didn’t have a bad massage once; all of them were excellent and some of the best massages I’ve ever had!

Should You Visit Koh Chang?

While it doesn’t have the most spectacular beaches I’ve ever seen, I think this is a trade off. The fact the beaches are fairly average (combined with the difficulty of getting here) means less people. While the island pretty much solely caters to tourism, its not overrun with people. The other thing is that you aren’t going to get much in the way of culture, temples or monuments here. Koh Chang on the whole is just a place to come and relax. So if thats what you want, then by all means come here.

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How To Keep Up Training While Traveling

Being both an avid traveler and obsessive martial artist, I often feel I’m living two contradictory lifestyles. Martial arts requires dedication and routine, making sure you train every day no matter what. Travel is unpredictable and exhausting, and the last thing you want to do while exploring a new country is tire your body with an intense martial arts workout. If you are coming to China for the purpose of training while traveling, consider these articles: How is Kung Fu Actually Trained in China?, Train Kung Fu in China: Where to Start? and Meeting a Master for the First Time.

So How Do I Work My Way Around This?

training while traveling in VeniceOver the years I have approached this from many different ways. I’ve tried doing intense workouts in hotel rooms or parks, leaving myself totally drained of energy and unable to sitesee the rest of the day. I’ve taken breaks and just not trained, but then felt guilty about it afterwards. Finally, I took the middle ground and started working on short routines that weren’t tiring but could help me keep up my skill. In this article I will share a few of my “training while traveling” pointers. They are not only for travelers, but suitable for anyone with limited time and space who want to keep their skills sharp.

The Most Important Point for Training While Traveling is Regularity

Doing a really intense workout on one day, and then having to rest for three days is not a good idea while living on the road. We aren’t trying to make great leaps in our training, only maintaining our already attained level. The key here is little but regular. Try to aim for 15-30 minutes either in the morning before you start your day, or in the evening after you have finished. Although, if like me you enjoy a beer on a night, then morning is obviously the better choice.

So What Do I Actually Do For Training While Traveling?

Well, that varies. What you need to also remember is when traveling, chances are you don’t have accesstraining while traveling in Geneva to equipment or a training partner. So basics, sections of forms and body weight exercises are your best bet. I always start with joint rotations: arm circles, turning at the hips, waist rotations etc as a warm up to keep my joints nice and loose. Then I will do some stretching, this is another thing that needs constant maintenance. Next I will do my three main stances: horse, bow and empty (often called cat stance). I don’t hold them for as long as I do in regular training, as I when traveling I’m often walking a lot. I generally do 10-20 seconds for each one. Next I do the plank for a minute, followed by 20 push-ups. Finally I do a few minutes of Ping Qi, a breathing method we use in Mantis. So this is my core routine, and pretty much never changes. It is a condensed version of what I usually do at home as a warm up. After this I take a few combos or sections of form, according to what I was working on before I hit the road, and taking into consideration space in a hotel room (if there’s no quiet parks or open spaces nearby). I will do 10 reps of maybe 5 different combos and then I may finish with some specific Fa Jin excercises or some shadow boxing.

What is most important is to stay active. If you don’t have the time or mood to train your martial arts, you can still keep active while being on the road by taking part in sports or local games wherever you are, swimming, walking, hiking etc. If you don’t mind being stared at, you can bust a few moves while waiting for a train, or do the plank or horse stance if you get a free couple of minutes. On the whole, just keep yourself active and have fun, and remember: martial arts is to make life more enjoyable, not take away your life!

 

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The Undiscovered North of Bali (and why hiring your own driver is awesome)

temple in the north of bali

Bali is one of Asia’s most popular destinations, and for good reason: the culture, the people, the natural beauty; however a lot of the island has suffered from over-development. When I visited with my family, I didn’t even bother with Kuta or Seminyak, instead I spent most of my time in the north of Bali, an area called Lovina.

temple in the north of bali

The northern area of Bali is much less visited, the only foreigners tending to be here either for the diving or dolphin watching, as well as a handful of retired Australians who have huge villas hidden away in the hills. In fact, this areas largest weakpoint also turns out to be its strongpoint: transport is very limited. The best thing you can do is either hire a car or hire a driver. We chose to hire a driver for two reasons: firstly, I don’t really want to drive on the windy roads with the crazy traffic, and two, a driver also acts somewhat as a tour guide. They can recommend sites, restaurants, and help you negotiate lower prices when shopping.

The driver we hired, a man called Agus, really made the trip for me. Balinese people are stereotyped to be really laidback, super friendly, and constantly happy. For Agus, this was definitely true. He organised some really cool trips, stuff I never would have found just relying on a Lonely Planet guide. For example, we decided we wanted to go to see the dolphins at sunrise, followed by snorkelling on the reef. Agus got us a boat that took us well away from the typical crowded snorkelling spots and we had a reef all to ourselves. Granted, seeing the dolphins, there were a lot of other boats, but there were hundreds of dolphins, and they only feed in one area.

The northern area also had some beautiful temples, some perched on rocks overlooking the sea, some in the jungle clad hills more inland. Hinduism in Bali is much more laidback than what I’d seen in India; there is no discrimination of caste, and no ill-treatment of women. It was a common site in Bali to see colourful parades and ceremonies, in fact my mum was joking that she was surprised Balinese ever get anything done with all the praying and rituals they do! For those interested in the more spiritual aspects of Balinese culture, the classic Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia is a must read.

If you are visiting the northern area of Bali, I would highly recommend the services of Agus. You can contact him at +6281805699660 or a.widiada@gmail.com.

 

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Some Tips For Planning Travel

Despite the nice instagram photos, travel isn’t always fun and games, and so I have listed a few tips for planning travel in the hope you can save some time and effort. This is by no means set in stone, but it is the way I plan all my trips, and any services mentioned are the ones I always use.

Choose A Destination

Pretty self explanatory really, but among my tips for planning travel, it is the most important one. There are so many awesome places in the world. Watch some Youtube clips, have a think what inspires you. Once you choose your destination, then you can start to really plan.

Buy A Lonely Planet Guide

Lonely Planet guides, you either love them or you hate them. Personally I love them. Whenever planning a trip, my first port of call is to consult a guidebook. Guidebooks give you a good overview of a country, dividing it up into regions and highlighting each regions features and sites. In the first part of the book, they will offer some recommended itineries, plus recommendations of regions based on your interest (shopping, hiking, culture, food etc). The key here isn’t to take the Lonely Planet as a travel bible, but to use it to get an overview and decide on your route etc. Browse Lonely Planet Guides Here.

Research Your Destinations Online

Once you have made a basic outline of your itinerary with a guidebook, its a good idea to search online for the regions you want to visit. Often you can find travel blogs, articles or other posts where people have written about certain sites, hotels or activities in greater detail than a guidebook can provide. A simple google search for your destinations will suffice. Sites like tripadvisor or wikitravel are good resources too.

Prebook Flights, Hotels & Trains

Don’t just turn up somewhere and wing it. I know a lot of people like the feeling of adventure that having no fixed plan entails, but the reality is you will just waste a lot of time and feel annoyed. Imagine getting off a bus after 10 hours through the mountains of southern China, only to have to start inspecting hostels to find a suitable place to sleep. If your trip is within China, then Ctrip is a great website for booking everything you need, whether domestic flights, trains, hotels, you can even get tourguides and drivers too. (visit here: Save on travel in China with Ctrip). Alternatively if you are travelling anywhere but China, I would recommend using something like Expedia or Booking.

Working Out Your Budget

OK, so now you have planned everything, you need to figure out how much it will all cost. This is why the resources above are so useful, because before even booking anything, you can begin to work out how much you want to spend, and find the appropriate price range of services. Once you have everything planned, just sit back and wait!