Sunday, 29 July 2012

Another backpack in another hotel lobby

With heavy hearts we packed (OK, Jane did most of the packing) our stuff up and had our last breakfast on a tropical beach for probably quite a while. We paid up for the food and trips and transfer to Surat Thani and got into a songtheaw for the trip to the ferry terminal. We boarded another catamaran and set off across the quite choppy sea. The boat was remarkably steady, presumably just cutting through the swell as it sped along. We stopped first at Samui then on to Donsak where our bus was waiting to take us to the regional capital of Surat Thani where we were due to spend the night.

We pulled up on the street in the bustling town and made our way to the My Place hotel, sidestepping the touting songtheaw drivers (they have funny songtheaws in this town, small vans, so almost like a cross between a sontheaw and a tuk-tuk) which we were paying the princely sum of £11 for a night that was pretty clean and comfortable, with air conditioning and a TV. They even had a blackboard with the names of the guests expected for the day and a welcome.

They knew we were coming!

We headed off into Surat Thani town, wanting to grab some food as we were quite hungry and ended up getting a KFC, sadly. One of the problems with a working Thai town that is usually just a way stop for tourists to get transferred to their boats or the airport out is that virtually all of the signs at cafes etc are in Thai script so it's difficult to determine what places actually sell. KFC is KFC however, even if the Colonel has different words coming out of his mouth, it's all chicken and chips (plus, this being Asia, side orders of rice if you want it). We wandered around the local shopping centres where I managed to get a replacement pair of flip-flops for the ones lost in the river in the jungle. I paid B79 for them, less than £2!

I should say that since I lost footwear and glasses in the jungle, there is now a part of Khao Sok National Park that is forever England, just as a corner of Thialand outside a Buddhist monastery near the Bridge on the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi that is also forever England following an incident resulting from using the local tap-water to clean my teeth the previous night and a pair of discarded boxer shorts a few years back, but I digress.

After my purchase, we wandered around to see some of the local sights which were a few Chinese Taoist temples, a large Buddhist temple complex and just taking in the views of the river and the very ornate ferry gate. One of the Chinese temples was incredibly gaudy and clearly quite new, the other couple we saw (a Hainan and Hokkien one respectively) were much older. The Hokkien one had an open chapel area that had lots of swallows swooping around and the resultant guano. 

 A modern Chinese temple
The statue is huge, easily 20 metres tall

 Buddhist temple guardians
This is a classic Thai holiday snap

 An older Hainan Chinese temple
Nowhere near as gaudy.
 Gateway to the ferry pier
Pierhead in Liverpool it ain't

 Surat Thani river
Even dirty rivers can give you a nice rustic scene

After a little freshen up in our room we headed out to eat alighting at a cafe specialising in Italian food where I had a second pizza of the holiday. Jane just had a tuna butty which came with chips. Sometimes, after a long period of Asian food, even the fantastic things on offer in Thailand, you do need to get some western food (though twice in one day was taking this a bit far!). After this we went off to see the famous night market. We'd both got a little bit of Thai tummy so didn't fancy much of the food on offer, though a lot of it really didn't look that appetising anyway and there is an all-pervading smell around the town, probably due to the river running through it and the fact that the dustbin men seemed not too diligent. Rubbish doesn't take long to start being niffy in this climate. After we had been here we discovered that the river was notoriously polluted by nearby tetile factories, so that does explain some of the niff of Surat Thani. There were also various forms of dried seafood which added to the pungent aroma. I'm a bit disappointed I wasn't feeling up to eating much, for again there were deep fried insects on sale: crickets/locusts and some sort of larvae, deep fried. 

Surat Thani night market


Good enough to eat 
(if you can't smell the local ambient air)

 The (in)famous durians

Fried mealworms at the front, crickets in the container behind

There's often not much to do in working Thai towns of an evening so we just headed back to our room to play rummy and drink Coke before bed.

Busy doing nothing 2: the end is in sight

Our final full day of Thai beach-bum life so we celebrated by doing nothing, mainly. More lounging around near our pool, reading, the occasional meal. For lunch I weakened and had my second western meal of the holiday: a burger, but it was rather good. Later on I treated myself to a Thai massage (Jane didn't want to have one) which was very relaxing once it was over. I winced a few times and only once almost yelped in pain. So I was twisted, bent, kneaded and I actually  paid for it. Worse still, I had to wait about half an hour for the privilege. I did come out of it smelling of citronella and Tiger Balm so I did get something out of it.

I think this is the postal boat
More junk mail

For our last evening meal we went to Jang's Kitchen, a sort of divers' hangout bar where we'd had a drink a couple of evenings previously. They did the most enormous cocktails for a start, in pint glasses (not to mention a decent deal at B140 a piece) then our dinner arrived. We'd ordered a curry each (a jungle one and a green one for Jane and me, respectively) plus satays and they were HUGE! Either one was big enough for two and the satays were also massive. There was so much food we shared it with a couple of dogs from the bar who were quite sweet. They're not so keen on aubergine, mind, I discovered as I gave one of them a bit from my curry and it just licked the sauce off and left it. The food was actually quite excellent as well. As it happened we stayed here all night since it is the only bar that's open beyond 10. We were chatting to a British girl who was working there. She'd planned to come for a few weeks in January and was still here 7 months later. She had a bad foot as well which made waiting tables quite difficult, hobbling about. Probably got it from dog poo in the sea.

Once the bar shut up we were invited with the staff to another place round the corner called Jack's Bar, where there was a bit of a jam session going on with some locals plus one or two other white people. Well, I say a jam session, when we first got there I was reminded of descriptions of opium dens from the 1800s, with loads of people lounging around the floor. We stayed for a couple of beers and it was a good way to end our last night on Salad Beach as we made our way back past our now unlit and deserted restaurant at Cookies and back to our room for the final time.

Pre-prandial chilling on a hammock
It was around about now we realised that all the Thai food was having a bad effect on Jane as she started to turn into a hobbit with her enormous hobbit feet

Late drinks with a jam session
I still say it looks like an opium den

 Our last night on our balcony

Saturday, 21 July 2012

No woman, no cry and not a great deal of fish to be honest

Another day, another buffet breakfast. This morning we were ready to go on a boat trip for a bit of snorkelling. A songtheaw came to pick us up and take us to a fishing village where we were to board the boat. I say “songtheaw,” but it was really a pick up truck with two rows of seats in the back and no roof. The rear was full when it arrived to pick me up, so we went in the cab, in air conditioned comfort, along the undulating and windy roads of Phangan. We arrived at the fishing village and waded out to our longtail called No Woman No Cry (yes, another Bob Marley reference).

 Fishing boat at the village where we boarded our boat
Note the booms full of light bulbs for attracting squid

This boat doesn't half Bob

The post-snorkelling look is going to be big in Paris this autumn

We set off on the slightly choppy sea to the first snorkelling point which was just offshore of Salad Beach. There was quite a lot of coral, most of it dead plus a few colourful fish: parrot fish, a few angel fish, plus others I don't know the name of. It wasn't especially impressive. Our second destination was the best one we made it to. There was more coral, much more of which was still alive and a lot more fish, though some parts were quite shallow and difficult to swim over. I saw plenty of purple anemones with pink clown fish (not the Nemo kind, more plain) There were some huge sea cucumbers and I managed to see a jellyfish. On spotting this I swam in exactly the opposite direction since there have been reports of box jellyfish being seen in this part of the sea. I didn't feel any stinging at least. After we upped anchor we headed to our final snorkelling destination of the day and it was the worst. It was pretty shallow an most of the coral was dead and there were a few fish swimming about. In all, as far as snorkelling was concerned, it was not that impressive at any of the destination. Saying that, we really have been spoilt for snorkelling having been to some of the islands in Malaysia which are far superior to anything we have encountered in Thailand. It was still fun, though as much as we do enjoy snorkelling, there can be nothing elegant in the way you emerge from the sea back onto the boat, a ring around your face where your over-tight mask had been digging in, and the string of snot you invariably get dangling from your nose as you take off your mask, caused by the slight leak you usually get into the nosepart of the mask. I'd challenge anyone to emerge from snorkelling like Daniel Craig coming out of the sea in Casino Royale or Ursula Andress in Dr No.

Next stop was for lunch where we got chatting to an elderly British couple who, it transpired, were about 8 weeks from completing a year round the world trip where they had been through Latin America, New Zealand, Australia and up through Asia into China. I'm very envious. This is how I'd like to spend my retirement. It's got to beat a bungalow at Clacton. Mind you, all that sun had more or less turned their skin to well worn leather (or, sour grapes, if you prefer). Lunch was fried rice at a really lovely resort called Ao Thong Nai Pan Yai which had the most soft and light sand, sloping gently into a shallow, turquoise sea which, unlike Salad Beach, had no rock or coral to negotiate. We've already earmarked this place as the ideal destination to take a young child....

We headed back to the boat and went round to Bottle Beach for a bit of chilling on the sand under a tree (no snorkelling, mind). It was pleasant, but not as good as the last place. Finally we got back in the boat and headed back to the fishing village where we had to hang about for the truck to pick us up. We were the first group dropped off and I don't think our tour companions were especially enamoured with the location of our accommodation, having to negotiate the still half-metalled road where we needed to get past an oncoming vehicle, not to mention the horrendously steep and winding road up.

For the evening we had decided to forego the fresh fish and eat at a restaurant on the actually beach. First off, though, we wanted a drink to watch the sun go down. As it happened this was probably the clearest day to see the sunset and we got some great shots whilst sipping a cocktail. This is tropical beach life at its best. For dinner we decided on a restaurant attached to one of the hotels which had some torches on bamboo poles in the sand and some tables and chairs ready and waiting on the sand very close to the water's edge. We ordered our food and waited for it to arrive as the water's edge grew ever closer with the incoming tide. It got so close at one point that we moved the table back a few feet. The wind was also getting up and it blew out the oil lamp on our table. Dinner arrived and we started eating, quickly to avoid being swept away. The table needed to be moved back yet again to avoid becoming another statistic as we continued to play chicken with the rising sea level.

Salad sunset

After one or two more drinks we headed back to our room for one or two more as we watched how truly narrow the beach becomes once the tide reaches its highest.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Not a full moon in sight

Koh Samui to Koh Panghan

We breakfasted, finished packing and caught a minibus to the Lomprayah ferry terminal at 11 to head over to Panghan, the next island along. The ferry terminal was organised chaos, with people being doled out coloured stickers according to their destination (orange for Panghan, pink for Kho Tao, and other colours for wherever else they were going, be it Bangkok, Hua Hin etc) .Eventually we boarded the ferry, a fast catamaran, though we got on last as Panghan was the first destination, some 20 minutes away.

 Our last breakfast on Samui
As I said, as overdeveloped as the resort is, it's still unquestionably a tropical beach

 In mid flight on a catamaran to Koh Panghan

Arrival at Koh Panghan, not knowing where to go
The top of the catamaran is in the background

We arrived and were walking out of the terminal contemplating how we were going to get transport to our accommodation when we saw a guy holding a sign for Cookies at Salad Beach (yes, salad) and he let us aboard the songtheaw with a Scandinavian (I think) family of two adults and four (yes, four on an Asian holiday!) kids and we set off for the beach. The interior of the island is breathtaking. Hilly and covered in forest. Even the more settled parts are based around groves of coconut trees. We reached a sharp turn left and headed down a road. Well, I say road, it was actually half a road since it was under construction with only half of it metalled and the other half a dirt track. We were on the track part. It went up and down some very steep slopes before ending up at the accommodation, Cookies. Our luggage was left at the top outside what was to be our room while we had to continue down hill to reception. Our first view of Salad beach was amazing. White sandy beach in front of green forested hills and a few low-key buildings in dark wood fronting onto the sand. We checked in then were shown back up the steep slope to our room. It's hard work getting up and down to it, but the views are quite stunning. We're at the highest point of the complex looking out over the bay. The room itself is quite large with a decent, though dimly lit bathroom. The bathroom is bare concrete, but it was a certain utilitarian charm. We have air-con, a TV and a mosquito net. Best of all we have a large balcony complete with hammock with that amazing vista I mentioned. Good enough for a few drinks of an evening or somewhere to lie and read.

Salad Beach at low tide
As seen from our room at Cookies

We came down and had some lunch at the hotel restaurant (they did a good red curry) before a wander along the beach. The sea here is pretty shallow at low tide and quite rocky, but a nice colour all the same. There is supposed to be snorkelling just out to sea, but it's difficult to get to, with negotiating the rocks. The sand is mostly the fine, powdery variety which is the tropical ideal, borne of fish poo, according to QI. We came back to our place and had a swim in the pool. Again, this is great, a small infinity pool looking out over the beach. The only problem was the huge number of children of various nationalities using it at the same time. Now, I know we're doing this holiday as a prelude to adoption, but really, it would be nice to have a peaceful swim without some little Scandinavian tikes whooping and screaming in their strange Nordic lingoes. I thought the Vikings had invaded again

 View of Salad Beach from sea level
Our accommodation is the block to the right of the picture up the hill.Our actual room is top right

After our cooling dip, we freshened up and wandered up the beach for some pre-dinner drinks. At one bar, overlooking the sea, we watched as in the distance there were flashes of lightning over toward the mainland, though we'd been a little late for sunset (which wouldn't have been too spectacular anyway, due to the cloud on the horizon). The bar was called My Way and the service was pretty lousy, and worse still, they started playing stuff by cod-Oirish dirge-mongers Mumford and Son, so we'll be choosing the highway next time. Overhead the sky was fairly clear and you could see stars so we didn't feel too concerned at the possibility of rain. We went to look for our major culinary objective when we come to places like this: BBQ seafood. Sure enough, they were doing it at our hotel where we got the last seabass which was enormous and only B350 (£7), with baked potatoes. Utterly delicious it was, too, cooked with pineapple and Thai spices in foil on the charcoal. Then, just as we were enjoying a couple of postprandial drinks, the heavens opened. This was proper tropical rain and you could see the slope up which we needed to climb to get to our room had become a raging torrent. Still, the night was quite young, though the staff were trying to clear up (the problem with places like this is that they do tend to shut by 10pm). We sat out the worst of the rain, chatting to a family of a British guy and a Thai or Burmese woman (she had a very posh British accent so certainly no mail-order bride) with a teenage girl, before heading back to our room when the rain had finally subsided .

 Totally addicted to bass
Dinner on the beach

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Samui and Koh

I started out on our blogging our island adventures (if you can call lazing round a pool or on a beach and drinking cocktails an adventure) on Samui explaining the flavour the various resorts on Samui actually had, but I think it is a little unfair to characterise some places like that in terms of their reputation. Mae Nam certainly was the more down-at-heel, backpacker resort, but we'd have enjoyed staying there for a while. It was also, by this very nature, cheap. Chaweng certainly is the destination of the Ibiza-seeking teenager, but again, the beach is OK and there is also a lot to do, even if it is way too over-developed for our tastes. At Lamai there was evidence of the girly bars, but they did seem to be located in one place and otherwise seemed like a pretty pleasant place to stay for a while. Of course, both Chaweng and Lamai are probably radically different at night, but there certainly seems enough in Lamai, aside from the go-go scene, to remain entertained. Bophut definitely was more suited to older couples and families, though over-developed and the beach ain't all that. Having said that, it's easy to be disparaging of these resorts in hindsight, writing this as I am on Koh Panghan, our next destination which is far more beautiful (but more about that later). It's also easy to lapse into cynical, blasé mode when looking at places like that in comparison to better ones you've been to, but it's still obvious you're on a tropical beach, with palm-fringed pale sand and turquoise water. In fact, all of the resorts on Samui we enjoyed more than Phuket where we visited a few years ago which seemed to have very little to do on the beach and remarkably little character.

In summary, Bophut is a little expensive (though as I mentioned before, these things are relative), but has a great range of restaurants and bars to keep us occupied and does have opticians, which is an infrequently required bonus. We enjoyed Samui, but there are far better places to go nearby and we might have chosen to spend a night fewer on Samui and one longer on Phangan.

It's kind of a reverse road to Damascus

Friday 13th July, World Resort, Bophut, Koh Samui, Thailand

It's Friday 13th but, so what? Another day, another breakfast at World Resort. Today we had resolved to explore some of the other resorts clockwise round the island going east and then south. This would take in Chaweng and Lamai beaches (the hedonistic teenagers' and the seedy middle-aged men resorts respectively which I'd mentioned in a previous blog entry). We caught a songtheaw to Chaweng and found our way to the beach. It was somewhat over-developed with modern looking hotels and nightclubs fronting onto the beach, not to mention a few places that were in the process of being built which were a bit of an eyesore. It was also very busy with lots of people and lots of activities for them like jetskis. There were lots of places where you couldn't move for sun loungers. The latter is probably my idea of hell in reference to beaches. Why go half way round the world to lie on a sun lounger essentially identical to those you'd find in Greece or Spain? You'll get just as red from not using the appropriate level of sunblock (actually, you'll get redder at this latitude). It does make for good people watching, though. The beach itself was actually better than Bophut in terms of sand being less coarse and the water being slightly less murky.

Battery tourists on Chaweng Beach
Please join the campaign to allow these people the freedom to move around and not be chained to their sunloungers all day, only allowed to move to use the toilet or buy over-priced drinks and European food

 Electricity supply: Thai style
None of the underground cabling nonsense in this part of the world.

We wandered along a little and, after a drink stop, we headed up to try and catch another sontheaw to head over to Lamai. We waited until one came along that seemed to be heading in the right direction. It wasn't, but was, in fact, heading back the way we came. We waited longer and longer with maybe 5 or so going in the opposite direction. Two came along the road our way and it transpired that the second was actually heading the way we wanted to go so we hopped in. He stopped for one local guy and another couple of Europeans, a couple of middle-aged men. The driver seemed to go a long way round but eventually made it to downtown Lamai. The two white guys paid up and walked off, we asked how much and the driver said B200 between us. Now we knew this was too much. It had cost B60 each to go from Nathon to Bophut and this trip was further, but he insisted on the B200 saying the two guys had paid that much and I said that he had charged them too much. Meanwhile traffic was building up behind the vehicle on the single laned road (OK, a couple of jeeps and the odd moped, but they were getting irate). Our driver even threatened to get the police (yeah, good luck with that, I can bribe them more than you can). Anyway, I said OK, B150 for both which he accepted and which was still over priced (by B30 which is 60p, so hardly worth fighting over). Obviously I should have just given him the B120 and walked away, though I still saw it as something of a minor victory not paying what he first wanted especially since we Brits are generally pretty crap at haggling anyway.

Who you calling jerk?
A whole chicken between us

We searched out the beach walking down a road that had a few open air bars, clearly aimed at the girly bar fraternity, complete with dancing poles. This being mid afternoon, however, they were deserted and closed as we cut through to the beach and, first thing generally being first, decided to have lunch. We ate at some place that did jerk chicken. OK, I know we're half a globe away from the place jerk chicken originated, but it was rather good (if not as spicy as I would have liked) and there is something about the recipe with reggae playing in the background, which there was here, that just seemed right in the baking heat on a tropical beach.

Reggae seems to be quite a univesal thing around the world, whenever you go to the beach in hot countries, not just the Caribbean. Wherever you go in Thailand, Malaysia, Bali, you will find a reggae bar and. You could barely through a chopstick down any road at one of these beach resorts and not have it hit something that was painted red, gold, green and black. As I mention above it never really feels out of place either, and I feel that beer tastes better if there's a bit of Bob Marley on the stereo in the background as you watch palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze. Perhaps it's the tree swaying that makes reggae so in sync with the rhythm of tropical beaches. Whatever, unlike Irish bars which you can find at any resort that's slightly over-developed (or any city virtually anywhere in the world for that matter), reggae seems to be the heartbeat of this climate and the general beach vibe. It could also be partly due to the fact that Bob Marley is more accessible to the ignorant farang than the average indigenous music

Lamai beach was probably the best of the beaches we had encountered on Samui. It wasn't as over developed as Chaweng or Bophut and we actually were able to find a bit of tree shade to place a towel down for a chill out until we decided to head back to the World. We caught a songtheaw quite quickly this time and he wanted B100 to go all the way back to Bophut which seemed about the going rate, unlike the cheating rascal who brought us here. The trip back was largely uneventful, apart from the van we were trailing that was advertising a muay Thai night on Saturday. It had loud speakers with a pre-recorded Australian guy announcing that it was “an international bout to be watched by millions of people and that it would be the highlight of the holiday”. Yeah, and I could buy a thorny stick and shove it up my bottom as a new way to repel mosquitoes as well. Actually, in the times we've been to Thailand we've not actually been to a muay Thai bout and I'm sure it's actually quite good. I'd even like to do a bit of training at a muay Thai gym sometime (non-contact, obviously. I'm way too much of a coward to risk getting hit) Then they played the Rocky theme. Then recording stopped for about 30 seconds then it started again. I'm just glad we overtook the van after a little while.

Views of us on Lamai Beach

Friday night in Bophut and the Fisherman's Village becomes pedestrianised as they call it the Fisherman's Walk where the path is lined with stalls selling food, drink and general tourist tat, so this was how we wanted to spend the evening, our last on Samui. Most importantly, however, we needed to get some cash out so we had some spending money and, more importantly, I could pay for my new glasses which I was hoping were ready for me at the opticians in town. We headed on a songtheaw again, this time driven by a rather attractive woman (she'd be driving me to town by way of distraction, what what?) Earlier on this trip I'd discovered that there was a charge of B150 for withdrawals which I assumed was only applicable to machines attached to shops, so we went to a back ATM only to find that it applies to all transactions in Thailand. This was probably also the reason you had to select another option on the machines at Khao Sok since they tell you that you're to be charged and ask if you want to proceed.

We get to the opticians where I got the glasses and they are perfect. I'm a bit miffed that they don't appear to have the coatings on that they were supposed to have (which wasn't really obvious at first in the dim light), but at least I now had decent visual accuity without seeing the world as a dark and polarised place, which I guess must be how Nick Griffin sees the world all the time. We then headed into the market throng and bought some cocktails at B60 a piece. I had a long island ice tea which had a stupid amount of spirit in it for just over a quid. We wandered around the place looking at the stalls, stopping for the odd extra cocktail or some food to mop up the alcohol. On sale was a massive variety of foodstuffs and I alighted on one stall where I was told by the lady selling them that it was B100 for any one of three possible selections: chicken wings, prawns and something else I couldn't quite identify. She told me they were crickets (pretty large ones at that). I'd have loved to try them, but I didn't want a full portion as my main meal. Besides, I'm not sure how the would have gone with my mojito.

 Happiness is a new pair of specs

 Fisherman's Walk Street Market, Friday night, Downtown Bophut

 Horseshoe crabs for dinner?
Apparently only the eggs are edible. They are arachnids and have blue copper-based blood

After a little more wandering, we found a bar (a reggae bar, no less) for a beer on the beach before we headed back to the hotel for our last sleep on Samui

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Dances with buffaloes and toads

Another morning at Bophut, same breakfast looking out over the bay. We spent another morning laying by the pool again before going to explore another beach to the north on Mae Nam. I can describe it the best I can, but if you weren't in Nam you don't know what it's like, man. This was the beach I said previously was reputedly frequented by scummy backpackers but it's also supposed to have the best beach. We set off walking after completing the usual rituals of liberally dousing ourselves in sunblock and DEET. Especially the latter, since I got two absolute peaches of bites the day before on my forearm which made me look a little like Popeye (also go one on my bum which made me look like Beyonce. Imagine that: the love child of Beyonce and Popeye "Got me lookin' for spinach right now"). We passed a few resorts and eventually decided to walk through one to get to the beach. The beach was awful. No more than a couple metres across at this point and lots of construction going on nearby on this first stretch. However, once we got past that we were met with a wider tract of sand with some very attractive and rustic looking beach huts with very little development. We ate some food in a small cafe (they did a pretty good tom yam goong) which was cheap. After this we headed further up the beach, and became aware of some very ominous looking cloud heading our way. It started raining almost instantaneously as if a switch had been flicked, but we made it to a beach bar just in time and had a beer as we watched the rain move out to see and over to Koh Phangan that could be seen rising up from the sea in the distance. In all it would actually have been a good place to spend some relaxing time, very basic but peaceful. Not sure if there is enough here to keep us occupied for more than a couple of nights, however.

 Mae Nam Beach hut
Every baech bum should have one

The rain that almost caught us headed off to Koh Panghan

Oh God, not more of this bull
This buffalo was in a field we passed on the way back from Mae Nam

We headed back to the main road to return to our hotel, spotting a captive water buffalo in a field as we went on our way. Once back, we relaxed whilst watching telly.

It's worth mentioning on TV channels you can get in these far away places. They had a good selection of channels in English at our place, from the sublime BBCWorld to the ridiculous Fox News from the US. I've come to the conclusion that BBC World is a pretty lousy source of news because they tend to repeat the same stories and features several times throughout the day, and a lot of their stories are nothing but fluff. Things about (and these are genuine examples they had on whilst we were here) how a school in Chinatown, NY is producing some really good chess players or the fact that some zoo in Eastern Europe has had two albino lion cubs born. It's not that you want to be brought down by depressing stories, or even that the BBC doesn't cover them, but they don't really give a huge amount of depth or analysis and follow serious news up with utterly trivial items. A superior alternative is actually Al Jazeera, wrongly maligned in some parts of the western world as nothing less than the mouthpiece of Islamic extremists, but this couldn't be further from the truth as they broadcast high quality, informative and largely impartial news so much better than the BBC. Still, at least the BBC isn't Fox News which is news for morons who think Barack Obama is a socialist infiltrator from al Qaeda.

Rant over with. We undertook our usual freshening up routine followed by the dousing in DEET encore and were about to head out when it started raining quite heavily so we sat this out in our room, but decided that our need for alcohol was gnawing at our very souls so we put up umbrellas and headed out to once again sample the delights of Bophut, having a cocktail at somewhere on the beach (literally, ending up with sand between toes as we drank) and decided on a fairly posh restaurant in one of the classier hotels for dinner, mainly because they had on a Thai music and dance show. The food was excellent if pricey. This is another thing about this sort of holiday. You kind of get used to paying a certain price for food and if you come across somwhere like this restaurant which charges more than double the going rate you kind of baulk at paying this. The thing is the price difference is that between £2 at an earthier place or £5 at this sort of classy place, so in no way expensive by European standards so you need to keep a sense of proportion. I had a musamen curry which was subtly spiced and tasted truly fantastic. We ordered mixed drinks, Bacardi and Coke for Jane and gin and tonic for me. I'm sure they had used lemonade rather than tonic water so I sent it back and it was returned tasting definitely more bitter. The Thai entertainment was colourful and added some (slightly tacky) local ambience to the meal. We chatted to the restaurant manager/head chef who was a German chap who had married a Thai girl he'd met when they were both working in Dubai and complimented him on the wonderful food. My kind of way to earn a living. Get up of a morning, start cooking in your kitchen in tropical Thailand, meander around the restaurant at night chatting to the custom, do beach stuff when you get days off. Remind me again why I live in the UK.

 Thai dancing over dinner
Gaudy but pleasant

 It's a 15 minute walk back to our hotel. 
We've got B1000 on us and need a beer on the way back. 
It's dark and I'm wearing sunglasses. 

So tell me, Mr Pickles, you think your coalition government is doing a good job?

My mistake. Please accept my apologies, Mr Toad

We stopped off at some other bar on the beach where thought we spotted John Prescott out for a beer bet thenvrealsied it was actually a toad climbing over some of the rocks by the beach so I had to take a snap. We walked back along the beach to our accommodation but discovered we'd overshot and entered the next hotel along. Not really our fault as everywhere was in pitch darkness even though it was relatively early, before 11. All that was left was to return to our room and have a swift whiskey and Coke as a nightcap

Friday, 13 July 2012

Busy doing nothing

Apologies for this update. We didn't do much at all today so it's like one of those boring Eastenders episodes where they only feature a couple of characters going over some old incident from their past, so please feel free to skip over this one and read subsequent ones where something actually happens.

Today we decided on a day of decompression after our jungle sojourn, so the plan was to have breakfast and then lay by the pool for a while. Breakfast was buffet style with an egg station to do them to your liking, bacon, sausages (of a tinned hotdog variety), tomatoes, fried potatoes. There are also a couple of Asian breakfast dishes of fried rice and fried noodles, a good selection of local fruits, waffles and cereals.

The pool is modest, as I think I mentioned before, but good for relaxing beside whilst reading a good book. There's not much more to say about it, if I'm being truthful

For lunch we sauntered over to a café across the road for some noodles then came back to lie on the beach at our hotel. Both the pool and the beach are sufficiently quiet that there is none of the placing of towels at dawn and occupying them like some colonising army or worse, fucking off for hours to come back many hours later, as you get in some resorts frequented by Europeans (and I'm not making a racist point here. Brits are as bad, if not worse than Germans, despite the stereotype). We reclined on a couple of sun loungers under some nice palm tree shade. I did wake up to see a very mature coconut on the palm directly above me which looked like it could drop at any minute so made a swift move to an adjacent bed. It didn't drop and may possibly still be clinging on to the branch by the thinnest of tendrils, but it's a little disconcerting seeing something that big and heavy poised to fall on your head. I think they might call it the Thai guillotine in some circles.The feel of Bophut beach is generally very relaxed with hawkers parading up and down trying to sell anything from jewellery to fruit, henna tattoos to massages. There was one guy who paddled along the water's edge in a canoe complete with charcoal grill to BBQ corncobs.

 Jane dissapointed that the pool isn't overflowing with ass's milk

Hawker on the beach
Thailand fast food, delivered by canoe

After heading back to our room for a quick refresh, we dropped some washing off to be laundered at some place up the road (so much cheaper than the hotel who want the same cost to do 1kg at a local shop to clean one pair of trousers). We wandered further into the Fisherman's Village for dinner, taking in the sunset and then stopping to enjoy a happy hour cocktail on the beach. We ate in a place called Villa Daudet  where they did some very pricey French stuff, some reasonably priced Thai food and pizza. I relinquished and went for a ham and mushroom pizza which was OK and made a change from coconut-laced Thai.

Bophut sunset
Then road looks crap by daylight, but the sky makes up for it

We headed back along the FV path and stopped off at a bar called Mr Chillis where, not only were they doing a variety of cocktails at B120 (just over £2), but they were also showing some highlights from the last Premier League season (Boxing Day fixtures as it happens) and it was a delight to relive a victory over Bolton. Also here they had a duo of musicians warming up. They were both Thai with a guy on a semi-acoustic guitar and another on, of all things, a double bass. They also had various percussion things set up too. I thought “Great, a bit of jazz!” and they started of playng “Falling in Love With You” by Elvis, then another Elvis dirge then they got onto Simon and Garfunkel then stopped and the guitarist spent the next 20 minutes trying to tune his guitar, oddly enough. Then it was more S&G by which time we had finished our drinks and wandered off. We ended up in the Frog and Gecko again, the place of the Timmy Taylor beermats, where they were finishing up a quiz. Which had attracted quite a large number of teams, most of whom seemed to be expats. They had been starting this when we walked past a couple of hours ago so we were glad not to get involved, but we would have walked it had we stayed! The prize was B1300, which is about £26 so ould 1have paid for our night out but we'd better things to do than hang about in an English bar all night.

After this it was time to get home.

Goodnight to all
And to all a good night

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Bridging the Gulf

10th July

World Resort, Bophut, Koh Samui

This morning we were leaving the jungle to retreat to the beach and had a long day travelling ahead of us. We broke fast then paid up for the food and our ticket to Koh Samui , said our goodbyes to our hosts and boarded a minibus to drive the 90 minutes of so to the provincial capital Surat Thani. We then transferred to a coach to the ferry terminal (another 90 mins away) and the ferry to Koh Samui at a place called Donsak another 2 hours away. Add up waiting time between them plus transfer from ther KS fery terminal to Bo Phut another few km away and it mounts to 6 or 7 hours. Not that it's especially taxing. The minibus was a little cramped and the driver did use the road like he was playing Scalextric, but it's still sitting down doing nowt. 

 Last couple of shots from Baan Khao Sok Resort
The restaurant had fantastic views and it was good to see them without the rain. It's a great place to enjoy breakfast if the weather is good and when you can hear the gentle movement of the river and birds singing

When we arrived in Surat Thani we needed to get our receipts turned into tickets for the ferry and the lady behind the counter (which was in fact a desk in a dingy coffee shop, though since I was wearing sunglasses all the time, most places were dingy) told us we needed to board the big coach across the road and when we arrive at Koh Samui, Li Pah Noi ferry terminal, we get back on the bus which will then take us further to the town of Na Thon which is the major town on the island. From here we were to catch a songtheaw to Bo Phut. Li Pah Noi is on the western side of Samui and the rest of the trip is going clockwise round the island to Bo Phut which is on the north coast.

The minibus and subsequent coach trip were pretty uneventful. Saying that, there's still the, by now slightly diminished, thrill of going through a country as exotic as Thailand with it's different script and the sites you get along the way like the odd domestic animal milling around on the roadside or colourful temple. We had a quick walk round the block in Surat Thani while we waited to get a feel of the town (we're due to stop over here for a night on our way back to KL). It's an unremarkable, working Thai town with no tourist attractions to speak of, but we really love to get a taste of the true Thailand with a stay in somewhere like this. We set off on the coach and eventually approached the ferry terminal at Donsak where the bus rolls on board whilst we disembark on the quayside. With your tickets there are warnings that you should remove any valuables from your luggage, since this is left on the coach as you get on the ferry. We knew tht someone had gone through the side pouches of our backpacks since we had taken sunblock out of one of them before we boarded he boat and left then unclipped but they had become miraculously fastened by the time we reached the island. It seems it's not just a case of if they rifle through the easy to get to parts of your bags, but when they do it so don't keep anything remotely valuable in there at all.

The ferry trip was great. I don't think I've had a good holiday until I've actually travelled by boat for some part of it, so I am a little biased on that score. The weather got increasingly good as we moved further from the mainland with plenty of chance for photos of the turquoise sea and the shadowy islands rising out of it all around. Now we felt like we were truly on holiday. You can even enjoy a beer on the deck bought from the shop on board as you travel. In fact it was just like being on the Love Boat from the 80s but with fewer swimming pools and no moral to the story on arrival at your destination. In fact, in keeping with the 80s TV references, as we approached the harbour I was half expecting to hear a bell being rung by that dwarf from off of The Man With The Golden Gun as he shouted “De boat! De boat!”  and to be greeted by the bloke who played Khan in Star Trek 2 in a white suit (those of you who haven't a clue what I'm talking about look here). Anyway, I digress. The trip was leisurely and less perilous than our last trip on water, that's for certain.

Donsak Ferry Terminal as we leave

 Some more cliffs and stuff poking out of the Gulf of Thailand

Love, exciting and true. Come aboard! We're expecting you!
They clearly were expecting me. Singha on the deck. That's what I call a "love boat"

 Here comes Samui!

At the terminal on KS we re-boarded the bus to go that bit further up the caost. Interestingly, other people who had been on the bus from Surat Thani didn't bother, not sure if this was because they wanted to get a taxi or because they didn't know they could carry on. It seems most likely to be the latter since most of the holiday resorts are in the direction we were headed. At Na Thon we got off avoiding the touting taxi drivers and found the place where the songthaews set off from and got on the next one leaving. The driver asked where we wanted to get off and stopped at the right place. It cost B60 each though we understand a taxi could cost 5 times as much perhaps.

We checked into our new hotel, the Samui World Resort (for the next few nights the world really IS our oyster) a nicely sized room with aircon, minibar, telly and a decent shower. It was clean, comfortable and above all, dry. We are in a hotel block whilst other accommodation is wooden huts as you walk through the complex to the beach. It is built into a lovely tropical garden a dnthe restaurant looks out over the sea. The pool is small but big enough to swim in or plunge into to cool off.

We freshened up and wandered along the beach which is fairly narrow with relatively coarse yellow sand being lapped by slightly murky, blue-green sea with views out to other islands in the distance. It's not your tropical idyll, but it's still attractive. The beach is lined with hotels and bars of various standards. I should explain that Bo Phut is a resort aimed at couples and families, so not too manic. The resort to the south is Mae Nam and has mostly a scummy, soap-dodging backpacker clientelle; the next one north of us is Chaweng, with a clientelle of hedonstic, puking teenagers; and the one after that is Lamai which is one of those more seedy, middleaged-white-men-with-young, attractive-Thai-girl-or-ladyboy pickup places that you see on Channel 5 documentaries, not that I'm any sort of travel snob (heaven forbid). Koh Samui really does have something for everyone.

There are some delightful places to stop for a drink along the beach, then you can climb up into the Fisherman's Village and onto a path that runs parallel with the sand which has bars and restaurant on either side. Best of all there was an optician where I could get some new specs. Surprisingly these aren't going to be especially cheap. Using the prescription from my ever worn sunglasses he calculated the cost. The displays had frames with a variety of prices from about B3500 to well over B6000 (that's £70 to £120). As it happened, I selected a pair and decent quality coated lenses and he gave discount to a toal cost of B5000, so a ton in quid. Stupidly, I realised afterwards that I could have haggled him down since he already had dropped the price by B1000 or so, but you don't expect to be able to do that in an opticians. I'd love to try that in Specsavers. They will be ready the following Friday (four days later). I paid B2000 in deposit which I had to take out of a cash machine. Annoyingly, the cash machines along this main drag of the resort charge B150 for withdrawals unlike the machine at Khao Sok. We had a drink at a bar called The Frog and Gecko which we realised only after we had ordered a drink was an English bar (I hate resorting to using English or, worse, Irish bars when we go to somewhere exotic, though needs must when the devil puts football on satellite channels). All the same, the beer mat was a little taste of home. We wandered further up the path to the end and walked back to our hotel where we re-freshened up.

 If I blocked out the warmth, the sound of the sea, the fact I was drinking Chang and just generally that I was in Thailand, I could have been in the Cricketer's at home

That evening we ate at the hotel restaurant. The prices hereabouts are shocking compared to the jungle, it has to be said. I'd say they are an averge twofold more, but there are some seriously expensive places further along in the Fisherman's Village. Apparently this is the most expensive resort on the island though it's still cheaper than the UK. I went for another red curry of beef. Well, I assume it was a red curry but it could have been skyblue pink, for all I could tell what with it being dimly lit and my vision being fettered by polarising filters. It tasted quite good, but not as good as the last one I had in Khao Sok. After this we wandered down the beach (we needed torches as some parts aren't well lit) and had a couple of drinks on the way. There's nothing that makes a beer or a cocktail taste nicer than to sip it with sand between your toes. Our last drink was in an Australian bar, purely because it had a nice outlook onto the beach and it may have been here that we acquired our security for the walk home. We set off walking and causafter a while became aware of three dogs running near us, one of which I may have petted in the Aussie bar. Two of them left but this dog, whcih I may have petted briefly, continued to walk with us, sometimes trotting off ahead, sometimes behind, sometimes walking at heel. He (or she) occasionally got involved with some other dogs on the way so I ended up chasing them away because I'm not having my security detail hurt by being bullied by other dogs. We had taken the long way home but this dog stayed with us all the way. Even when we got back to our accommodation, we thought we'd given him (or her) the slip as we ducked into our hotel and up the stairs, but it still managed to find us so we had to quickly lock it out in the end. I don't know why it took such a liking to us. I assume it was a stray but it seemed fairly well looked after despite not having a collar and it was very friendly. Hopefully, if it wasn't a stray (and there are a lot of stray dogs here, though the local authorities have a programme to inoculate them against rabies and I daresay they do OK for food from the soft-touch western tourists like us), it did find its way home. 

Jane enjoying a postprandial Bacardi and Coke at our accommodation

Night view of the bay from Billabong Australian bar before going home