The Beach!

Trip Start Mar 08, 2011
Trip End Jun 11, 2011

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Where I stayed
ko chang bailon beach resort

Flag of Thailand  ,
Friday, April 15, 2011

We left bright and early Friday morning (tax day as it happened to be) from our guesthouse in Siem Reap in a private taxi to the border for Thailand. Another guest in the hostel was heading the same direction so we shared the taxi with him which was nice. His name was Paddy and he was from England, headed to Australia to work for long enough to travel more.  We said farewell to Melissa and David with lots of hugs and kisses because by this time we're all old pals.  The private taxi was supposed to arrive at 7am and take us straight to the border so that we could cross into Thailand fairly early in the day.  We started out in the air-con Toyota Corolla and although the seatbelts didn't work (the driver yelled at us when we tried to find them) we were optimistic.  There was quite a bit of traffic in town as it was only day 2 of the week long Cambodian new year.  We came up on a road completely blocked by construction so we turned around. At this point it's about 20 minutes into the drive and we pull over to fill up the car with petrol (we call it gas in America).  To do so, the gas station attendant pulled all our luggage out of the trunk and unscrewed the gas tank lid from somewhere in the trunk, attached the hose and walked off.  I didn't even want to turn around to see if our bags were there or not, and if they were put back.  I keep reminding Dave that this is the reason we have travel insurance, if something were to happen.

All gassed up the driver remembers that we want to go to Poipet (the border town) instead of Phnom Penh (the dump we have already been to), so head all the way back to where we started this journey (I finally saw a sign for the border).  We had to stop once more at the driver's 'office' for him to shout at his friends and show us off to his buddies.  I just know he was saying something like, 'look at all these Western suckers I am going to take to the border if I feel like it today.'  After all his friends looked in the car we were off for an hour and a half of uninterrupted driving.  Driving where there are no rules, open "highway", this taxi barreling down at least 100KPH passing everything in sight in oncoming traffic and no working seatbelts.  I was pretty sure we wouldn't make it to the border.  After a period of time the driver pulls over on the highway in the middle of nowhere, gets out of the car and walks away.  I assumed he was making a pit stop so I was watching him walk into the brush on the side of the road.  He looked back and started to undo his pants so I stopped watching.  I started thinking about how travel insurance could help us out here.  Luckily, he came back shortly after and we were off again. 

About half an hour after his pit stop, the driver came to a screeching halt just outside a fairly good sized town.  We still had another hour or so to the border so we didn't know what this stop was for.  He threw the car in reverse and stopped in front of a man carrying a white box covered in duct tape.  He put the box in the trunk and took this guy's cell phone number and got back in the car. During all of these stops and transactions, mind you, we get no information or communication or answers to our questions.  We're not happy with the mystery box in the trunk with our bags but a short while later we finally arrived in Poipet.  We unload at the departure window and when taking our bags out Dave settled the pre-arranged fee.  Handing him exact change he looks down and then asks, "No tip?"  Dave had a few tips for him, but not in monetary form. We all had a good laugh at that.

The border crossing went very smoothly.  We had about a 15 minute wait for departing Cambodia and then walked about 10 minutes to the Thai border, passing several casinos along the way.  The Thai process went very quickly and there were no lines (which is unusual, we've heard it's quite crowded).  And another 10 minutes we walked into Thailand.  Now came the fun part.  Dave had been researching how to get to Koh Chang since we made the decision to go there.  There are direct buses running to Koh Chang from Siem Reap, but not during the holiday (which is why we had to take a private taxi to the border).  So our alternative was to follow the 6 step process found in this travelfish article.  For those that do not want to read the article, from the border we could take a tuk tuk to the bus station.  We would then take a local bus (probably no aircon) to another town 3 hours away.  The transfer to another local bus to Trat (another 2 hours).  Then take a taxi for an hour to the pier, where we would take a ferry to Koh Chang island, and finally one more taxi to our hotel (I am winded from typing all of that).  Dave had been prepping me for this travel for a few days now, so I was mentally prepared.  All of the articles he found about the trip were old, so deep down he was hoping there was a better way to get there.  Right when we cross the border we see a sign for a direct bus to Koh Chang.  Looks like we are in luck, but they tell us the bus is not running because of the holiday.  So in a last ditch effort we find a private taxi to take us directly to the pier.  Dave decides it is best to go with this option (for $70), and we we get enjoy the ride in a brand new aircon car. 

The driver, Mr. Chai (if you're Jewish then you can pronounce it like chhhh-ia) was super nice.  We already noticed a difference in the roads (they had paved roads here, first of all), and even the houses.  I'm starting to realize the level of poverty in Cambodia now.  After an hour and a half we stop at a 7-11 for petrol and snacks/lunch.  Back on the road we came closer to some smaller towns celebrating Songkran (New Years which is a water festival).  We saw loads of traffic jams with truck after truck full of drunken Thais spraying water everywhere.  Our car was hit a few times on the drive and I was kind of surprised at how hard the water smashed into the car.  I was thinking if our windows were open this would hurt.

We arrived at the ferry terminal just as one was getting ready to take off so we quickly said goodbye to Mr. Chai, got our tickets and ran on-board just as they were closing the doors.  We enjoyed the 20 minute ride across the bay to Ko Chang peninsula.  The island is full of mountains and hills and the most beautiful beaches around it.  Once we arrived we knew that the taxis here are more like a group car that you hail when you need one and they just keep circling the island.  They're called Songtheaws but we weren't sure what that meant.  Right across the street from the ferry stop was a whole row of these things, all battered pickup trucks covered in the back part over the bed so that you can sit on a bench.   The one looked full and we had some communication problems with the guys who worked there but eventually realized we were to pile into the same already full songtheaw.  We threw our bags up top and tried to climb in the back but there was only one seat. I took it and Dave sat up front in the passenger seat.  I didn't know it then, but that was the smartest thing he did all week.  The front cab was air-conditioned (which was helpful when we were stopped getting out of the ferry area for 25 minutes just sitting there), and most importantly inside walls so protected from the throwing water. 

As soon as we started through part of the touristy beach area the streets were lined with locals and foreigners (mostly foreigners now come to think of it) spraying hoses of water and throwing buckets of water at all the passing vehicles.  The first group really got all of us sitting in the back and although I was not pleased, I didn't think there was much I could do.  Luckily, someone else in the front of the cab was getting out right then and since Dave was up front the driver told me I could join him inside. I was crammed up behind the passenger seat but it was inside and I didn't get drenched.  I couldn't believe the way the foreigners got so into dousing people with water. One lady looked like she was about to kill us with a big knife or something the way she came at the songtheaw with her water bucket. And she was not a local.  The locals were very friendly about it, laughing and smiling and gently giving us a light spray.  I guess that's how we get these reputations since I don't really think the purpose of the holiday is to douse Americans with water but what do I know.  The driver was really enjoying letting everyone else in the back get drenched and kept stopping for people to come throw water on them and to accept some flowers in a sign of prayer.  Finally, an hour and 20 minutes later and the last ones in the songtheaw, we arrived at our resort. 

The Bailon Beach Resort is a little hotel with all bungalow-style rooms right on Bailon Beach and 1KM from Lonely Beach.  We thought the Bailon Beach was rocky so we planned on visiting Lonely Beach but there was some sand and the Gulf of Thailand was so warm anyway we didn't really swim in the ocean.  Instead, we spent from 4pm on Friday the 15th until we checked out on Monday the 18th doing absolutely nothing.  We never left the resort.  We enjoyed our little bungalow, the infinity pool, the hammocks, the on-site restaurant and the beach.  I read two books and over 1000 pages of beach reading.  Dave practiced his photography every sunset.  We just relaxed and I couldn't think of a more beautiful place to do it.  The timing worked out really well for us so that we could miss the rest of the water-soaked New Year and by the time we were back on the road it was all over and everyone was back to work as normal
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