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

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