Getting Drunk and Lost Part 1 : Thailand
Exploring 3 east coast islands of mainland Thailand – Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui.
After so many goodbyes, late nights planning and talking excitedly and sharp intakes of breath as we paid yet another wad of cash for a trip, jab or flight we were finally there. In Heathrow airport. Trying to figure out how our padlocks worked and how 30 years of life could be so easily compressed into four small (ish) bags.
After Les inevitably held us up when his bag was put in the naughty corner during security – still not sure why – we had the traditional sending off fizz and breakfast and high fived ourselves for having the balls to give up everything for a little while and see what the rest of the world has to offer.
After a long and very boring flight to Mumbai, the two hour layover in the airport made me wish for the cramped space and boredom once again. India, I’ll give you a chance in the future but I felt unbelievably uncomfortable. However it gave us a chance to bond with another traveller in the traditional British way: having a good moan about the lack of communication and rudeness.
So we landed in Bangkok and got a cab over to Kho San road where were staying. They tied the boot with cable ties and there were no seatbelts so we had a little taste of road etiquette in Thailand from the off. Kho San road was immediately overwhelming. Yes go for a night and see the madness, get a cheap pad Thai and an even cheaper bucket of questionable booze but I can’t recommend staying there as soon as you go travelling. We were like rabbits in headlights! We are spending a couple more nights in Bangkok on the trip so hopefully it can redeem itself!
So from Bangkok we took an overnight train and connecting ferry to koh Tao. Showing our age we were on the train first and soon joined by some German kids. We had to share a bunk and my top one was awful, cramped and fully lit up. I gave it half an hour then blessed Les with my company again. Spent most of the night snuggled up playing cards and surveying the Thailand scenery: some amazing, some less so. Seeing someone literally living under a railway bridge with their washing hung up certainly makes you think twice about complaining about how uncomfortable your top bunk is.
After a 5 hour wait at a pier in the middle of nowhere (!) due to 3 hour delay on train we finally landed on the shores of Koh Tao. Getting off the Pier there is crazy with everyone shouting about taxis and accommodation but once we headed down the main “road” – really just a dirt track which you couldn’t fit a car down – it was clear we were in low low season and headed to our little bungalow: home for a week. Our little stretch of Koh Tao was beautiful, truly a little paradise and we were so fortunate (given its the height of rainy season) to have beautiful weather almost every day. That and the lack of tourists meant we had huge stretches of the beach to ourselves and we whiled away the first few days getting over the madness of Bangkok and sipping Changs on the beach watching the sun go down. I think we are both still adjusting to life without a routine and it definitely feels like a holiday but it’s been a stunning start to our travels.
Paradise is still paradise, even in the rain.
Several days in and we found ourselves making dashes back and forth from the beach to dodge the showers. However the humidity makes it bearable to kick back at the bar wrapped in a beach towel and swig away till the black clouds disperse. (Just as I’m writing we have been hit with a 10 minute shower. Annoying but tolerable.) The alternative to becoming full time beach bums is to stretch our legs and attempt to adventure around the island.
Mopeds are definitely the preferred method of transport here and although I can ride, the number of Changs being consumed has made me wary to get behind the wheel. So walking has become our main method of transport. Quickly we are learning that this is not advised as the roads aren’t roads but dirt tracks and after travelling 30 minutes down one to find our way to the nearest bay an argument was quickly resolved with the promise of an all-day drinking session, that resulted in us getting a taxi back to base. I say taxi it was a pick up truck that we drunkenly hung out of the back of.
Food has become an obvious talking point quite quickly. Carla loves Thai food, whereas I’m still trying to adjust my diet to the copious amounts of noodles. This resulted in a plea to try the local pizza place (which was amazing). But I have promised to keep my pallet open to trying new cuisines. Panang curry is becoming a firm favourite but always having to answer “yes tourist spicy is enough” is not doing my street cred any favours.
One of our days was actually planned and we scurried off at 8:30 to meet up with a snorkelling tour. I’ve been scuba diving before but this was something else.
We hit 3 different spots around the island and each was entwined with underwater caves and caverns that contained an unbelievable amount of marine life. We even had to make a dash for it after a small group of fish ganged up on us and bit both me and Carla. My explanation was that we must have looked like whales and they were trying to feed off the plankton.
When heading back we made the realisation of a terrible rookie mistake. We had used no sun cream on our backs!!
Burnt to a crisp!
So as you can imagine the next day was not a happy one.
Until however my beautiful girlfriend reminded me it was Saturday and we could watch football.
So we pitched up at a (for want of a better word) “dive” bar called reef. Ordered some food and waited.
The bar then became suspiciously full of Germans, who asked in a barbaric act to watch Bundesliga. We were not going down without a fight. We immediately demanded that the nearest TV be switched back to Premier League.
To our amazement all the screens flared up, each with a different game. Heaven!
Even better to watch Burnley lose.
Sunday – check out day and ferry to our new island.
With our backs burnt and a teary eye we said good bye to this lovely little place.
Koh Phangan didn’t have the paradise feel we had expected and started with a row with a pushy taxi driver. 15 minutes later and we had cut our fare price in half, with the promise we wouldn’t tell her other
We keep this promise as the young couple from York got out at a Luxury Boutique and Spa Resort.
Saying that we got to our hotel and the view was spectacular. Well worth all the hills we had to climb for supplies of water and alcohol.
Our intentions were that we would purchase a large bottle of cheap vodka which would see us through a couple of days on our budget. This did not go to plan as we spent the following 7 hours on our balcony absolutely hammered.
It’s a good job we like each other’s company.
Our hotel in Koh Phangan was a little out of the way, so it’s was a bit of trek to get anywhere. Thailand is now so touristy its definitely not cheap! And taxis for £5 a go are not backpacker budget friendly. So we braved the heat and walked as much as we could. One of these walks threw up a great treat in the form of a little art and book cafe the like you’d find in shoreditch. Including some vegan nachos which Les was less than impressed with. Ok hipster moment over…
After this we spent a fantastic afternoon on a cycle tour of the jungly part of central Koh Phangan with around 15 mainly Dutch people – meaning Les and I kept to the back. As well as finally doing something active it gave us a chance to look at what the locals do including a visit to a coconut plantation. As the coconuts are so high they have to buy monkeys – around 50,000 baht or just over £4,000 and then send them to monkey school to train to become coconut collectors. We spotted such a monkey on the tour. We also saw a guy whose job was the open up the coconuts which is incredibly labour intensive. He had it down to a fine art but it’s a pretty dangerous and hardcore job to earn roughly 70p per 100 coconuts (probably an hours work).
We then headed off to a rubber plantation which was interesting but again a sad story of tourism in Thailand as so many trees are cut down to make way for the hotels and bars and indeed even an airport which we are assured the locals don’t want.
Next stop was a local family who ran a little cafe. We stopped for a beer – well Les and I did as the rest of the group has iced tea- and learnt about the Thai obsession with gambling and in particular betting on fighting. We’d had a glimpse of this in Koh Tao as we watched loads of people watching cock fighting on tv but we didn’t realise there is also a market for fish fighting. Yes, really. And we even got to meet a couple of fighting Fish. Ridiculous but no small market. The champion cock fighter is worth 4 million!!!
We headed back to Thongsala the main city on the island and to a street market. The guides bought food for dinner and we all sat and ate together. However one dish we just couldn’t stomach. The little “snack” of chickens foot. We had a toe each and then politely left it to one side. It was rank!
The next day we headed off to another little beach called Had Salad. At this point in the trip we were fast running out of clean clothes and fast ceasing to care. However that all changed when we bumped into a couple from the bike tour the day before and we were both wearing the same clothes. Shame! After a shit dinner (food was not the best on Koh Phangan) we decided tomorrow night – our last night on the island- we would treat ourselves to a nice dinner. Les is already getting bored of the food so we went to a steak place and it was amazing. We even dared to order red wine and although cold (!) was actually decent. Awesome date night and well needed cos you do have to roll with the punches a bit on a budget foodwise.
Next day we left for Koh Samui and on arrival immediately saw how different it was from the others. Aside from the odd coconut tree you could be on the Costa Blanca. Can’t say we adored this island but we only had three days and mostly stayed at Chaweng beach. As we had a kitchen in our little apartment we thought it might be a chance to save some money on food but alas we found Thailand’s answer to Waitrose (indeed it sold Waitrose own brand stuff. Bran flakes for £4 anyone!?) but other than having to avoid the wildly expensive cheese we managed to do ok and to be honest it was nice to just do some cooking and have a little normality before things kicked off properly.
In true Thailand fashion we had to indulge in some ‘bucket drinks’. We got sprite and vodka and it wasn’t too bad. However three between us was more than enough and we staggered home about 2am.
I have to say no one seemingly walks in South East Asia. I was told this but still it was completely ridiculous at Koh Samui pier when everyone got a minibus from the waiting area to the departure platform. It’s about 100 metres and it wasn’t even hot that day! After getting a school bus to Surat Thani train station we realised it was an anniversary for us. However Surat Thani is, well, quite a dump so the best we could muster was a dodgy cafe in what appeared to be someone’s garage. It was disgusting, cold and they gave us the wrong stuff. What with that and separate beds on the overnight train it wasn’t the most romantic day ever! Onwards and upwards as we prepare to leave Thailand 😀
The overnight train back to Bangkok had been relatively uninteresting and despite getting a bed to myself this time I still struggled to sleep.
We arrived at 5:30am. For those that know me this was not an acceptable time for any interaction never mind the hordes of tuk tuk drivers up in my face. (Editors note: the station also stunk of piss.)
My irritation was only calmed by a long drawn out morning at a coffee stop.
Our hostel was situated in the Siam district – the opposite side of the city to Koh San road.
A gruelling hour walk with all our bags in 30C+ left me soaked to the skin as we got to the overground rail system during what was lunch hour rush. BTS rail is essentially Bangkok’s version of the DLR in London, so it didn’t take long for us to figure out.
Although I’m sure the passengers didn’t appreciate a smelly sweaty foreigner knocking people around with his bag.
This took us to our first hostel….
Although I still have my doubts about Bangkok, Siam was almost a welcome return to city life. Maybe I am more at home around shopping centres and straightforward public transport??
We’ll see as Cambodia laid ahead of us