04.12.2008 - 02.01.2009 34 °C
Third time is a charm as they say; and for us it looked like our third visit to Kingdom of Thailand was going to be a beautiful and extensive visit of the country. We left off on a bus bound to the border crossing of Aranya Prathet, which was painless and once past and on the Thai side, a slew of mini-busses were waiting for us. We proceeded to Ko Chang for 5 hours, and on the way we began talking to the guys who were sitting on the plastic chairs on the bus. They had spent a month in Cambodia, however previous to that, they spent an entire month on Ko Chang. So Monique and myself, along with Lauren and John a couple from England, paired up with Nick and Adam who knew where to head once we got across to the island.
Once there, we got into a pickup taxi, and just before setting off a guy wearing a straw hat, lime green glasses and several scarves got on, beer in hand. Taking off the driver inadvertently ejected him causing the drunk to tumble down the street, only to return with an empty but not broken bottle of beer and many scrapes.
Continuing up and down the very mountainous west coast of the island, we stopped outside of Siam Hut Resort on Lonely Beach, where we jumped off and then insisted that the remainder of the people stay on and go further down the road; mainly to ensure that we had a place to stay. We secured the remaining cabins and shortly after were down by the beach at their beach charcoal BBQ ordering beautiful cuts of meat and vegetables that were cooked and then brought to us on the lounge deck that overlooked the crashing waves. With some drinks in us, we got to know our new friends and went to bed after a long day of traveling.
The following morning we were up and all convened on the beach, where we spent our time sun tanning and buying beach jewelry. Michael ended up with a necklace that was a shark tooth (specifically a “molar” tooth which are black in colour). The remainder of the day was restful and later presented us with a spectacular sunset. This was so appealing that we decided not to break this streak of activity, but simply adding the activity of watching awesome fire shows at night.
Lonely Beach on Ko Chang
Nick and the jewelry lady on the beach
The fire shows at night
One morning we decided that we should venture the island, so Michael decided to rent a bike, against Monique’s apprehensions about motorbike - Funny how hindsight works. We paired up the other couple and headed along the very steep and winding roads, up the west coast, and then down the east, stopping at some spectacular look out points.
The view of Lonely Beach from a nearby mountain
We were driving down the coast watching the waves crash from the road, as we approached the waterfall National Park. Not wanting to pay the entrance fee to the Than Ma Yom Waterfall, we decided to drive up the street to the neighbouring and non-marked water fall Klong Non Si. We were just heading down the street when all of a sudden Michael noticed that the back wheel was making a strange noise and decided to stop. After the four of us inspected it, we discovered that these bikes we were rented were missing spokes in the wheels, and left us with no choice to call the resort to replace it. After splitting up, waiting two hours and having to call a couple times, a guy with a bike and a bottle of gas shows up. After showing him that we didn’t run out of gas, but rather had an unmaintained bike he switched with us and told us he would ride the broken one home. Then watching him drive no more than 5 meters and then stopping to call, made us laugh that even they see the danger in it all.
We proceeded and luckily by asking a local and then driving through a series of fields, led us to the free waterfall. We hiked up, but then found that the sheer of it outweighed the beauty of it, so we turned back. Well everyone but Michael, who ventured to the third “floor”, who after seeing it in its totality could also head back. We rode out of the fields and along the narrow paths and then once on the road parted ways with the other couple. However not even 50 meters the back tire blew, and once again left us with an unusable bike. Monique had to get off and walk, and after a while Michael decided to ride it rather than push it to a pay phone. This was fine, except that Monique was becoming quiet small in the distance, which resulted in her getting on the back of a German couple’s bike and taking a lift. The problem was that Michael was at the pay phone organizing, anticipating that Monique would walk by, but when he saw her white helmet drive by he ran after her leaving the phone hanging, but couldn’t catch her. He went back and finished the conversation thinking she would just be up the road at the police station, but when Michael got there, she wasn’t to be found. Thinking it could have been someone else he proceeded to confirm, by retracing his steps, but he made it back so far that another couple confirmed that she had walked by. Heading back one last time thinking we were just meant to hitchhike back separately, Michael finally saw a bike with frantic arms flying out of the back approaching the opposite direction. A teary eyed Monique got off, and the Germans angrily tore off, as Monique described the story how they offered a ride, then refused to stop where she needed to, and then once she had gone way too far, refused to help get her back.
This was however not the end. This time we decided bring the bike to the police station, however when we asked to leave it there for a bit, the officer had to run it by his superior. Out of a meeting came a dozen officers carrying massive guns, and then this one man armed only with medals of honour. Indirectly, because he could not speak English agreed to let up keep the bike there, and then asked how we were getting back. We intended to hitchhike, because Michael when walking was offered several rides, however to blow off the police we just said we were going to grab a taxi. This however was debated because there weren’t any taxis near this end of the island, so the Chief of Police escorted us to his personal truck and began to drive us the 40 minutes around the island. Sitting quietly in the back of his truck, listening to a random completion of remixes (including YMCA), and next to boxes of methamphetamine drug tests we drove. Well up until the point where he stopped and got out of his running truck, leaving us in it while he went to the bank to withdraw money.
Once back at the resort we thanked him more then he could imagine, and then proceeded to the reception to deal with the bikes. Monique retreated while Michael in his frustration showed a picture of the police station where the second bike was dwelling. The owner subsequently exploded at Michael and gave him the finger while swearing at him. Almost to his surprise, Michael calmly explained that an unmaintained bike has no purpose being rented, let alone driven, and that he was quiet unprofessional. This made him angrier because as he was preparing to justify a $500 USD repair bill, Michael was arguing that along with his passport being returned, he also wanted a refund on the bike rental (which incidentally was never collected in the first place). Proving that tempers get nowhere, Michael was given his passport back along with being paid to rent the bike. However because management was so despicable we decided to pack our things that night and go out one last time with everyone before we decided to head off to Bangkok the next morning.
Our last sunset on Ko Chang
Everyone out before we left
We crossed back to mainland and boarded a bus that was pounding out the music, until someone finally got up and asked the driver to shut it off. Applauding for his action everyone was content, however hours later as we approached Bangkok, the bus pulled over and dropped us off at roadside restaurant and then took off to repair a tire. Four hours later, and unimpressed we got back on and completed the last tail of our journey to Bangkok. Strapped for cash because the banks had already closed we went for dinner and walked around to save money. However as we were returning to our hotel, we ran into the familiar and friendly faces of Tom and Paul, friends from Cambodia. We had some drinks with them and were delightfully surprised when they offered to pay, which we reluctantly accepted because of our predicament with the banks. The following days we spent our time shopping and taking care of some administrative things, and things didn’t pick up until the hours just before our departure to Phuket. We inadvertently ran into Rich, the Englishman who we had met in Xi An, and although he couldn’t join us at the moment, we agreed to meet later. As it happened, when he came to meet us, he fist recognized the people we just had starting talking to seated next to us – all which really surprised all of us as to how small the world really can be. We then went to the same restaurant where we met Paul and Tom with Rich thinking they might reunite with us, however this let to Martin, another friend who we traveled through Loas and Vietnam who just was heading to the exact restaurant. Over drinks we all shared stories of how we all indirectly were connected, and then abruptly had to leave because we were cutting it very close to our night bus departure. We caught the bus, and spent the night heading down to Phuket.
Phuket is what it is. We arrived and decided to stay in Phuket Town, because it was simply out of our backpacker’s price range to stay anywhere else. We ended up at On On Hotel, and assigned room number 11.
This coincidently was the same hotel that the movie The Beach was filmed in. We then made our way to the public bus to head over the mountain towards Patong Beach. This was quite a nice beach with a lovely sunset, however it was predominately occupied by older and more family oriented people then ourselves – thus it was vastly overpriced and charged for everything including beach access and chairs. We spent the evening on the beach and enjoyed it, however once we toured around the beach front and the surrounding area, we had decided that one day would be enough. We boarded a bus that ended up being the last bus back, which consequently was completely full of locals, which slowed down the journey down from 30 minutes to two hours. Once back in Phuket Town we walked a bit more around and found one restaurant that was open, but afterwards, we ended up making it a quiet night in a very quiet town.
Patong Beach in Phuket
The city center of Phuket
The next day we made our way by boat to Phi Phi Island, which was truly a delight once arriving. The island that was hit by the tragic boxing day tsunami was rebuilt and charming as usual. The first and most obvious distinction of Phi Phi is that there are no motorized vehicles, and the roads are more like walkways lined with shops, cafes and stores. We walked deeper into the island to find a hotel, and after walking past the Tsunami Memorial Garden and heading up the mountain we finally found a nice room perched up with a very good view of the town. That night we walked the market and small street like village, and finally turned it in early, knowing we once again only had a short visit to the island and wanted to make the most of our time there.
The small streets of Phi Phi Island
So up early and in swimsuits (which has been about a week since we could wear them) we set out to the beach and spent a lovely day sun tanning and observing the scenery. What was particularly attractive of Phi Phi’s beach was that it was in a bit of a cove, and surrounded by mountains, which provided a really calm waterfront and a beautiful contrasting blue water to the green mountains around it.
The beach on Phi Phi
However as it were we were off the next morning once again, but this time going to Koh Tao, which would prove to be quite a long journey. Waking up early after having a couple drinks the night before was difficult, but the boat ride to the mainland city of Krabi was painless. We opted to leave on this earlier boat because it gave us some time in Krabi to see a bit of the sights without having to spend the night. To our surprise, and miscommunication between the agent, we were driven for free into town where we were able to walk around for a couple hours. We headed straight down to the river, and saw the very impressive and yet unusual mountains while we sat on the river and ate lunch. Shortly after we headed back to the bus terminal and made our way to Surat Thani.
This is where things became a bit unusual. We arrived at 8:30 and were told to wait while the arranged to onward travel for people to Bangkok. Once they were gone they collected our tickets and sent us off in a taxi-pickup to a pier with other travelers heading to Koh Samui. Once getting there, the driver said that our boat was cancelled and we would have to spend the night. With our ability to smell a scam, we explained that we had no money and given the time were not able to arrange to get to a bank. We further stated that we were indifferent to taking the night boat to Ko Samui, and they could allow us to get on their morning boat to Ko Tao. This led to the driver yelling at us, the people who had to get on the Ko Samui boat breaking up the situation, and finally us getting back on the taxi to sort out the situation. We dropped some other people up, and then we headed to the downtown area to a hotel. We got off and were told that he would pay for the hotel, and we were satisfied with ending the day’s journey in a free hotel.
The following morning we were up at 6:30 as the driver instructed, only to find out that he made it up to irritate us from an unnecessarily early wake up call. This however wasn’t all in vain, because we were tragically entertained by watching the hotels video footage as a guy walked through the hotel testing the doors and going in. In this case, woke up three guys mid act to chase him out (passport in hand). We however did make it to Koh Tao, and on our way over met two girls from England, Katie and Leela, who were enrolled at Crystal Drivers and suggested we join them. This worked well for us, because not only did we want to enroll in a dive course, but we also got put up for free in one of the nicest hotels we have been in since we started.
The following day Monique was in the classroom beginning her Open Water Dive course, while Michael did a refresher before his Advance Dive Class. While Monique worked late into the evening, Michael ended up meeting Stefan, who shared beers and ended up persuading Michael to wait a day to start his course.
So on the second day while Monique was struggling with the concepts of breathing underwater, Michael was enjoying the beach life. At night Monique struggled with the experience of joining the underwater world, however did end up putting it behind her as we all went out for a stunning bbq on the beach, and drinks at several of Ko Tao’s finest bars.
The Beachfront BBQ
The entertainment (and in years to come)
The following day Michael began his dive class, however this was also the same day Monique decided that she was not able to complete the course. Monique did however reattempt the course privately with her very patient instructor, however was still unable to get past the concept of diving under water. Michael on the other hand was doing well, and was able to complete his Advance Diving course with a series of deep, night and navigation dives behind him. The last day we enjoyed the island for its beaches (despite them being a bit smaller than other islands’), and some proper rest and relaxation with our travel companions, including Emily who was our Danish friend we ran into again (despite her friend Martin being the one who departed/reunited with us in Bangkok a week previous).
The sunset at Ko Tao
Everyone out before our departure
Running into Emily
The next morning we were off to reunite with Ko Phangan, and when we arrive, we were brought to Phangan Beach Resort. This was a lovely beach resort run by an English guy who set us up perfectly to enjoy our stay. We spent our first getting ready for Brent’s arrival, which when he came, was greeted by two people wearing flashing Santa hats. Now the three of us spent the next days leading up to Christmas sitting on the beach and catching up.
Poinsettias for Christmas
Michael found a garden center in Thailand
Brent found the beach
And Monique found these hats
Getting ready for Andrew’s arrival
Christmas eve was spent celebrating in style on the beach, and then into the evening. We ended up at a bar with all of Santa’s former helpers who later ended up on his naughty list… Enough said.
Christmas day we were up early and exchanged gifts and enjoyed a very calming day on the beach. At night however the resort put on a lovely Christmas Dinner, which we at first were not going to join because of the cost, but in the end, was happy we did. For starters it was put on by the couple who ran the resort, who happened to have a large part of their family staying there, which made it feel that must more family oriented. Second it was a lovely dinner complete with a spit roast pig and all you could drink wine. At dinner we met Ross and Laura, a Scottish couple who were loads of fun, and very beneficial to have at our table when the end of the night quiz was played. Our table ended up in fourth place, but by the grace of the third place team (the owners), we ended up with a beer tower, and then a free ride down to Hat Rin Beach. This led to more memorable events including Brent and Michael jumping in a fire skipping rope and becoming mysteriously covered in salt water and glow paint.
The gift exchange
Christmas day with family
We rested, needless to say, but only a couple days later it was Monique’s birthday which was to be a celebration (since she often announces that he birthday is always shadowed by the holidays). However the persistent rain and the lack of funds was keeping us from getting it started. However a change of events and the lack of new accommodation led us to getting a motorbike, money, a new place for the 29th, and some part extras. With the help of the weather, the staff at our resort who not only went into town to pick up a freshly baked cake, but also turned down the lights and had everyone in the restaurant come and sing happy birthday, we celebrated more than we ever had! Unintentionally we ended up at Hat Rin once again and had a lovely night of celebrating.
The pig for dinner
The prize from the quiz at dinner
Just before we set out for Hat Rin
At the beach party
Once again we rested on the beach, however after Monique’s birthday, we had to relocate to a new resort, this time called Charm Beach. This was truly a delight because Michael found a beach front bungalow for half the price where we spent our time both by the beach and by the fresh water pool. As our time drew to a close New Years also approached, which for us, meant a bit of a quiet night on New Years Eve. This however didn’t mean a quiet afternoon, where we ended up under shelter from the rain, and surrounded by the surplus drinks we had accumulated. We did make it to Hat Rin for one last time, however since we had to be up early we broke the New Year in together in the bungalow, which shortly ended the night. Up the following morning bright and early we separated ways from Brent and made out way to Surat Thani, which led us down to Hat Mi and eventually Malaysia.
The sunset from Ko Phangan
Monique’s Birthday Cake
Us out for Monique’s Birthday, joined by one of the resort staff (Auto.. Like the Simpsons) and a gallon bucket.