Boring bus days part I don’t know

Day LV – Mai 12

My alarm wakes me much too early and I try to hide in Amir’s arms. But my boat will leave in an hour so we kiss and hug goodbye.
Before I get on that boat I already regret not exchanging any contact details. At least I have my sore lips to remember him by.

Goodbye Turtle Island. Now I’m going to say a few mean things about you to make the people at home feel better or just for the hack of sarcasm, but I really did have a great time with you and you are truly beautiful!
It’s just that other than diving there really is nothing to do here. It’s pretty small so you can easily walk the distance of the main beach where you find nearly all the establishments. But the other beaches and viewpoints are too far, and it’s too hot to bike there. I heard some nasty scamming stories on bike rental too, people having to pay 9.000b to mobsters for scratches they didn’t inflict etc. The taxies are too expensive for those little rides. It’s an island so everything is pretty expensive anyway. The seawater is too warm. And then there is the reef that shall not be crossed.
I found out too late about Nan Yang, a little island out there that might offer some good swimming and has a ferry service at 200b for return 10am – 4pm.
But in hindsight I think I’d been better off trying Koh Phagnan. Ah well, next time!

I sit on the front deck again, where it’s nice and windy. And I do apply a lot of sun block. But when we transfer at Koh Phangan I have to admit I’m pretty burned and sit inside the rest of the way.

At the harbour we’re ushered onto a bus that takes us to a strange back-alley bus station in Surat Thani.
“Phuket?!” We have to wait at a little restroom where the manager sitting behind his desk with his big book asks each of us to come by one by one. When I tell him I need to go to the airport he offers me a service: for 200b extra they’ll drop me off there, though it’s on the way. I tell him I’ll think about it, which pisses him off.
I sit back down and it turns out 2 others are on the exact same flight as me. The big man tries to convince us, but one of my fellow travellers is certain we could get a tuktuk from town for no more than 40b each, so we keep refusing him and he keeps being unfriendly to us. This peninsula just might have seen too many tourists.

Eventually we’re picked up by a minivan. The driver has a few arrants to run. Which is fine by me, and as I’m the one sitting next to him we joke a bit.
The passengers in the back are not amused though, and ask our driver when he stops for a second time and gets up, lights a cigarette “Can we just go please?” Our driver gets very agitated by this. He does get in and drives off, but speeds so much that after a dangerous curve, makes a little prayer and calms down.
He becomes friendly to me again and offers me a strange fruit he’s got lying on his dashboard.
I carefully try negotiating a stop over at the airport, but he still wants money and starts at the same 200b that unfriendly man did.

When we stop for dinner me and the others that are on the flight look at the map with him and try again, but only get him down to 100b each. Tired from fighting we agree, and we’re dropped at the airport by 10pm.
Our flight leaves at 6.45am, so we’ve got a considerable amount of time to kill. Luckily one of them has a laptop with many movies.

By now my burns hurt so bad I quickly run into the pharmacy before it closes to get me some of that wonderful aloë vera aftersun.

We get our boarding passes at the self-check-in and find a comfortable place with a power socket, and settle in for Beauty And The Beast. One of the security guys –we sort of stole their post- sits down to watch with us.
By 4am we make our way to check-in. We grab another quick nap while waiting for boarding. And as we’re seated on different sides of the plane, that’s goodbye.

I could take a million photos

Day LIV – Mai 11
The dreamy blue ocean, softly rolling back and forth, making the most beautiful patterns in that reversed-water-shadow, and of the white silk rippled sand, of the leftovers of last nights tide, of the little fisher boats and taxies waiting just offshore, gently bobbing their heads, of this terribly cute Thai kid in her beautiful dress busy building her fortress, of the swaying palm trees giving a little line of shelter from the unforgiving sun that makes even the sky look pale.
But it’s no use. You’ve seen those pictures in those brochures. And other than of course this is the best island ever, it’s just like any other bounty island.
tao beach
I treat myself on a wildly expensive breakfast at the western chain bakery and have my 3rd fruit shake today. A very special one, called berry breeze, dark red with ingredients I haven’t seen in a long time: strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, blueberry, blackberry; mighty tasty. And I just had this craving for grilled cheese sandwich. For anything with cheese you have to go to those western dinners, and then still that’s no guarantee. Not very cheesy in this case; I was probably off just as good with the 30b thing they have at 7/11. Ah well, the shake is still heavenly.

I had to move to Koh Tao Backpacker because my roommate and I only got the bungalow for 2 nights and he’s found himself a house – he’ll be staying a lot longer with his course and all.

I make some new friends in my new dorm room though, and we go to the promised barbecue/pool party at Davie Jones together. Promised by the hostel. Turns out they lied.
So with my new friends -3 girlfriends who met a while ago in Aus and the brother of one of them- we look for a barbecue further down the road. We find a really nice place overlooking the ocean and I accidentally get a free beer.

At some point they say this really funny thing: “How come all Dutch girls are so pretty?” Even the girls are saying it, “Yes, they all have this beautiful tan and blond hair. What, don’t you let ugly people out?” “You know, we have this bracelet for them…”*

We visit another happy hour at a shabby looking joint where I play the worlds worst game of pool with James. After one drink the girls retire, but I drag James along to Lotus bar again for more free buckets.
And what do you know, we run into Amir and his buddies; 3 more made it over tonight.
Soon enough we’re cuddled up again, and poor James who’d put on a sulky face, calls it a night.
This beach table makes a quieter seat and while we watch the fire dancers play and tease the lady in front of us that finds them terribly scary, we talk. He’s from Birmingham, his mom’s from Ukraine and his dad from North Africa. He’s a graphic designer, he’s very much into hiphop, he used to have a ‘fro but shaved it before coming here and now he can’t stop playing with his DC cap. He can’t stop smiling when he’s drunk and he can’t stop drinking once he starts. And it’s such a cute smile too! There’s nothing about this guy I don’t like. Especially how he keeps putting his cap on my head – call me weird but I just find that so romantic.
His buddy moved to another room so he invites me back to his place. When we walk by the Poolbar he stops “Sambucatime!” When we walk by another pumping club he stops again “One more drink?” Good thing because I need to visit the little ladies room. And finally I get my period. Great timing, thanks guys.
We get to his place, have a smoke on his balcony and soon move in to his cool room. I put on some José James and he’s like “But this is sex-music?” With the AC softly humming we snuggle up close all night.

*This one needs a little explaining by now. It was at the time the euthanasia-bracelet was a big deal

Lazy days, heavy nights

lotus bar
Day LIII – Mai 10

I pull off sleeping in until 10am. My roommate has already left for his diving course.
I go out to the beach and try to get deeper in the water through a path between the coral, but even that’s impossible. I remember the urchin and decide to just stick to the hot kiddie pool. There’s no one else out here but a few runners(?!).
Luckily I mastered the skill of smearing my own back. So I do a little reading, a little writing, a little napping…

The sun, on my slowly browning skin; it’s hard to see in this brightness, but when the sun lights my hairs golden and the white silklike sand sticks to my skin it’s easy to see.
A breeze to make the heat endurable, I lay with my head on my arms and peak through over my bright pink and purple shaded sarong to the blanket of sand and it’s gentle bobs where the tide last touched it, and the millions of diamonds sparkling, hidden in there. Little piles of fish poop and other tiny hills break the landscape. Even brighter sparkles the ocean, just a little further ahead, as she rolls in and out, softly whispering. Farther more are some boats, waiting for their next trip out there. The sky, blue as ever, fills the background with some white and grey mountains. And then I notice a slight burning on my legs and back; turn. And that’s all I do, all day.

(Oh and damn you Shannon, and your broken condom. I’m a week late now and I told you I am not having your baby!)

After dinner I convince my roommate to come out for a drink even though he says he should study. “Ok, just that one free bucket then.”
With 5 minutes left we rush over to Lotus Bar, a veranda build over the beach. There we meet 2 more UKs, Amir and his friend whose name I don’t remember.
We have a lot of laughs and many more drinks than my roommate intended, as the ocean comes closer and closer until there’s no beach left. The DJ is doing a very nice job and everyone is dancing on the veranda that is now hanging over the water. We decide it’s more fun to dance in the tide, with the plankton sparkling blue for discolights. More people follow, and soon enough the first go in for an actual swim. Naked; why not?
By midnight my roommate leaves us for his bed, and Amir goes back to his hotel to pick up more money. His friend is pretty pissed by now so we sit down for a bit.

I have to find the toilet so tell him to stay put. He promises.
Of course, when I come back he is nowhere to be found. I do however find Amir with a fresh bucket of which he shoves a few straws in my face, “Help me drink this!” If you insist.
“I’m a little drunk and usually I’m much too shy to say these things, but I think you’re really beautiful.” I find that worth a kiss. And he seems to agree, passionately.

When the bar closes we start walking up, but somehow I get it into my head we should go back for a dive. The beach is practically empty now so we rid ourselves of most our clothes and walk into the violent tide and make out while the ocean tosses us around under a starry sky. Just that was romance enough for one night, so we get dressed, kiss each other goodnight and part to both go to our own beds.

Coming to Koh Tao

koh taoDay LII – Mai 9

At 3 am we’re rashly awoken; “Champorn, Koh Tao, Koh Pahgnan, Koh Samui! Get off now.” And we’re dropped in the middle of the street with the 26 of us.
I have a little moment of stress when I can’t find my boat ticket anymore and am threatened with having to buy a new one, but the third time I look it’s there, in my wallet.
Half an hour later a big truck comes to take us all to the harbour, where we have to wait for another 3 hours. Just enjoy the sunrise, I suppose.

Since we’re at the office, and they tell me tickets will be more expensive on the islands –sounds plausible- I arrange for my way back to mainland, to Phuket.
I need an ATM first though, so the guy that just dropped off the ice is asked to take me to the one in town in his sidecar. It’s just 6 am now but already everybody is up and about. Nice to get this little peak in most tourist will never see!

A little update on the nationalities abroad 1) French 2) Germans 3) UKs 4) Dutch. People have been saying to me they’ve met so many Dutch on the road and I have to start admitting to it. Ever since my 2nd time Bangkok I’ve been hearing them a LOT.

The sun is well up by the time we sail out. This ferry is much nicer than the one to Terschelling –one of the Dutch Islands- I can’t imagine otherwise than that Koh Tao must be much nicer too. And cheaper, even the bungalows compared to those chalets you can get in Holland. I only just got reminded by the bobbing and the breeze… But of course it already starts with the much nicer sun here on the front deck.
Up there I meet a guy, and we decide to find a bungalow together:”‘;’. We find one near the end of the beach. And as soon as we dropped our bags we go out for a dive.

The beach truly looks like paradise.
The water out here is very shallow and therefore quite warm. And the reef goes a long way, but we try to swim across it anyway. It’s too shallow too, so just 3 meters in, we decide the better of it and come out both with cuts and bruises on our legs and arms.
2nd attempt: we climb some rocks on the far end to find some deeper water. It’s still a tricky walk through some more shallow water but at least there’s less reef here, and the actual swim behind it is very nice!
When we get back to the rocks we see an urchin, the one with the poisonous spikes. Lucky we didn’t step in it!

We sunbath a little and then discover the island a little further. There is this one long line of beach and that’s the side where all the action is, all the stores, restaurants and bars are. Then there should be some more beaches but you can’t reach those by foot.

Back at the bungalow I’m up for a nasty surprise when I do some unpacking. Someone went through my bag. You hear that happens on night busses. The damage isn’t too big, nothing of real value, just sentimentals like those elephant earrings and the bracelets I bought in Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang. And the necklace Jap gave me years ago, my iCharger and –how ironic- the little travel Buddha Mies gave me to keep from harm.

After dinner we grab some beers at the 7/11 and take them to the beach. There’s hardly any sand left so we just sit in the water, super nice.
At some point he thinks he might as well give it a try and kisses me. With him I’m not feeling that at all though so I ask him if we can just keep at friends. “Oh yeah sure” he says, but things do get a little awkward…

Boring busdays part so-many

Day LI – Mai 8

I wake up when it’s lready light out and soon we’re transferred from one bus to the next for the last half hour to the border, that we cross by foot.
In the immigration room I see a poster reading about the application rules like photos and a 1.000b entrance fee. I get a huge freak out for a moment; for as far as I knew a 15-day visa was issued for free.
But all they ask for is my passport and I get the stamps without further ado.
Goodbye Cambodia, it was so good to make your acquaintance! Hello again Thailand!

I just walk out on the other end where it’s a turmoil of salesmen pulling their carts and all sorts of traffic, when the clock strikes 8 and the national anthem begins to play, and everyone freezes. It’s like a flashmob!

Another shout-out “Bangkok?!” and I’m put on a crowded minivan for 4 more hours.

I was thinking of just going to the station and arrange a train there myself to avoid a rip-off for which one is warned in Bangkok. But right where we’re dropped of I find a travelagency and walk in just to check.
The guy makes a few calls but tells me all trains are fully booked. He offers a bus-boat combo to Koh Tao for 700b – cheaper even than Lonely Planet says it should be. And I already discovered that in my 2010 version prices are mentioned lower than they are now adays. So I take a leap, leave my backpack with him and take a walk to kill the 7 hours till pick-up.
This office is pretty neat by the way; just one desk in a little alley, some posters on the wall et voila. Bangkok does have it’s charms.

As it’s just around the corner from Koh San Road I walk over to see what all the fuss is about. But I don’t get it; it’s just another tourist shopping street with many shirts, tattoo shops and loud bars playing those same hits over and over. I do go in to one of those and sneak off to their bathroom to clean myself up a bit; my last shower was over a day ago and the next isn’t scheduled before tomorrows check-in.

I stroll through smoggy Bangkok that feels quite cool to me now. At some point there is a big road to cross and there are some other tourists waiting at the light. When it turns green the cars don’t stop they look a little panicked. I just start walking, making my way between the cars. I remember how I was them in Hanoi and smile to myself.

I try to find the Royal Palace, but instead end up in Wat Pho, a pretty temple, but it’s so crowded, and over the top bright and gold.
And then suddenly I stumble upon that same stand where I had my first streetfood 7 weeks ago, and I sit down for another ‘best padthai ever’. The lady still cooks with the same passion and it still tastes magnificent!

I walk back to the travel agency to find my pick-up is also by foot, a 20 minute walk through the maze of little alleys behind Koh San, through a fighting school and what not.
It’s a pretty comfortable bus that takes us down and again I catch quite a few hours of sleep.

Chiang Mai recommended

I fell behind on my recommendations.
Sorry there. They seem to take much longer than you, or I at least, would expect to put together. I also find they will be works in progress, as sometimes, suddenly, I remember this great little place I was in that one time. Or at the time of writing I just can’t remember it all. So keep checking back.
And sorry I’m going to leave you hanging at that very good day in Laung Prabang for the time being. It’s for a good cause.
Time to catch up where I left it:

Chiang Mai

– Transportation:
You’ll see them riding around everywhere: the red taxis, the rebuild pickup trucks with the cozy benches in their roofed-in backs. They should take you anywhere in the city for just 20 baht (about half a buck)

– Do:
Trekking. You’ll find adds for it on any hostel- or café wall. Or ask around with the locals. There’s great opportunity and beautiful nature surrounding Chiang Mai that will give you an experience you won’t forget easily. Rafting is definitely something to add to your trip!

Go to Buak Hat Park in the afternoon and find yourself a bench around the fountain just before 6pm to enjoy the daily fitness flashmob.

Don’t visit Tigerkingdom. It’s a popular touristic attraction, but made me sick to the stomach.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the only way to keep these majestic animals behave in this easygoing manner around their pray, is drugging them, heavily. They lay around half asleep, having their ‘guards’ hitting them on the head to get them to move at all.
Please do them a favor and BAN THIS SHITHOLE!

Do, however, take a good long stroll over the nightmarket (Wichayanon Rd) outside of the center quarter. Maybe spread it over more evenings even, as it is BIG. Which brings me to the next item:

– Eat:
At that nightmarket is an excelent foodcourt! They work with a coupon system and are crazy cheap but even more crazy good.
My favorites were fresh springrolls and fried vegetables who make up a fine plate together.

– Drink:
I really enjoyed Freedom bar (Rachapakinai Rd) and the whole vibe that hangs around their shack.

Another place you have to at least take a look at, is the place known as backpacker center. Ask any red-taxi driver and they’ll know where to take you.
It’s a crazy-crazy party-packer place, but on a weekday you might find some live music. And when you’ve been backpacking SEA for a little longer, you won’t even mind the choice of music and rowdy crowds.

– Sleep:
I had a great stay with Peaceful (Rachapakinai Rd), a friendly, rather quiet hostel within walking distance of anything you might need.

[Paint yourself a picture and check out the photos I took when I was there in March 2012]

Do you have anything to add to this list? Please let me know!