Finally Some R&R

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

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Unfortunately we had an early get-up and had to say goodbye to our wonderful hosts in Bangkok first thing on Tuesday as we had an 8am train to catch to Chumphon, the last town by rail before catching a ferry to the Southern islands on the East Coast of Thailand. The Hippes treated us to a lovely breakfast so we could wash down our malaria medicine (which we've learned does terrible things to your stomach unless you eat first) and had some goodbye pictures before hailing a taxi to the train station.  Judy had confirmed with several people the exact directions for the taxi driver and we had studied the map so we knew if we were going to be scammed in the taxi this time.  Luckily, it was too early for the drivers to be in full scamming mode so we made it to the train station and found our platform one-two-three.  Unfortunately the train was late arriving so we didn’t board until well after 8:30am but that was ok, we weren’t in any hurry.  This train was very different than any other train we’ve taken as it’s a day train.  So there were only 2 cars in the whole train and we enjoyed lovely leather seats in an air-con cabin.

We also enjoyed seeing the scenery for once on the train as it was daylight and a beautiful, sunny day so we could view the lush countryside.  A few minutes into the ride we notice there aren’t many tourists so we got to enjoy the local experience which was also nice.  A few minutes after that a stewardess came down the aisle with a drink cart and a little sticky bun snack for us, all included.  Well this is QUITE the surprise because there is nothing for free in this country.  Dave listened to his ipod and I nodded off for a bit and then the stewardess came back down the aisle around 11am with a box lunch for everyone and more drinks!  Lunch wasn’t spectacular, just rice with some unidentifiable fish and sausage with beans.  At least she asked us what we would like, "spicy or not-spicy?"  I got a kick out of that, not asking if we wanted vegetarian or meat or something, but spicy or not.  Only in Thailand I guess!  We were so satisfied with the service and unexpected treats and enjoying the lush scenery (by now we could see the ocean out of the left-hand side of the train) we didn’t mind that we were over an hour late getting into the Chumphon station.  We finally got in well after 3pm and found the ticket window to purchase the first ferry out the next morning at 7:30am since we missed the last one today.  They said they’d be at our hotel at 5:50am the next morning to pick us up. Oh, joy, I thought this was supposed to be our vacation?!

The taxi songtheaw took us to our hotel that looked to be on a main street.  The online reviews had described it as a Thai-version of a Travelodge and I’d have to agree.  We were quite happy, though, to relax in the air-con room with free wi-fi and relax with a siesta after our long, hot travel day.  Around dinnertime we asked the front desk where we could eat and they pointed us in one direction and said something like “brick-horn” which we just smiled and thanked them, having no idea what they meant.  We headed in the direction they suggested and came across a block of an outdoor market that looked good but there was no English anywhere and everything looked a bit like raw ingredients versus ready-made food to eat.  We decided to try going one more block and if we didn’t find anything we’d return to the market to eat.  Luckily, we found an air-con restaurant called “Prikhorn” just down the street which was where the hotel tried to tell us where to go.  It was very nice with excellent service, live music and delicious Thai food (if a bit repetitive, stir-fried noodles, shrimp and/or chicken and veggies).  After dinner we decided to call it a night as we had a very early wake-up the next day.

We’re getting pretty good at this early wake-up so at 5:45am we were all packed up and ready to go, just doing one last room check when the front desk called that the taxi was waiting for us downstairs.  We hustled down as Dave hates to be the ones holding up the mini-bus or taxi for the rest of the group.  Unfortunately, this taxi was early and then the hotel had to check our room so it technically wasn’t our fault when we got into the taxi a bit late.  There were about 5 others already on board and we had no idea where we were going in the early morning darkness.  A few turns later I realized we were headed back to the train station/ferry ticket station where we’d arrived yesterday.   They told us to disembark from the taxi and collect our bags and then get on a very large tour bus.  When we got on the bus and showed our tickets they put yellow triangle stickers on our shoulders and ushered us onboard.  We then waited for about 35 minutes until the overnight train from Bangkok arrived (the one that was too full for us) and all the other passengers boarded the bus so it was full.  We then set off – I had no idea if we were driving to the island or what. 

About 25 minutes later the bus arrived at a pier, this must be the Chumphon Pier.  We got off the bus, collected our bags and got new stickers for us and our bags depending on which island you’re heading to.  There are 3 main islands in this area – Ko Tao, Ko Pangnan and Ko Samui.  We had decided to check out Ko Tao first as it was closest and had already reserved rooms at a very nice resort for the 3 days we’d be there as a bit of a treat.  Anyway, after getting all stickered-up we were directed to the ferry – a huge boat located about 50 meters out at sea that you had to access via a rickety, unstable pier.  Some of you may know that I’m not the biggest fan of long piers, especially when you can see big gaps between the planks to the water.  In addition, we’re carrying our big backpacks which added weight and I was for sure that no way was this pier going to hold us.  As I’ve done countless times on this trip so far, I took a deep breath and plunged ahead praying the whole time that if I were to fall I wouldn’t make it all the way down to the water.   Another backpacker was trying to pass me since I was walking a bit slower than he wanted to go and assured me that he’s been here multiple times and had never seen anyone fall through.  He must have been right because we arrived at the ferry safely, handed our bags to the guys up front to stack up and went inside to the air-con lower level for a comfortable seat.  It was already pretty crowded but we managed to get 2 seats together and I quickly nodded off for a nap while Dave enjoyed some TV shows (So you think you can dance and American Dad).

There was one stop at a tiny island with just 3 resorts about an hour and half into the ride and then our stop for Ko Tao was next.  The announcements were often and in English which was helpful.  We disembarked at the Ko Tao pier and by now the sun was out and it was a beautiful day.  We collected our bags and started to head off of the pier when Dave spotted our name on a sign where a group of taxi and hotel hounds were hanging out.  I already knew this was going to be a great hotel, they came to pick us up right on time.   Unfortunately we had to wait off to the side for a bit as there were others in this pick-up as well but after a few minutes the driver came back without any additional passengers and we headed off to his taxi songtheaw.  We got a lovely tour of the main road and some of the island on the way to the Chintakiri hotel.  We weren’t staying in the main backpacker beach but booked this resort that is built into the mountain overlooking the third largest beach and bay.  We had a lovely check-in and were shown to a beautiful cabana room with two floors, the closet and bathroom were upstairs while the bedroom and living area were downstairs.  We relaxed a bit and changed into bathing suits to head out to explore for some lunch, some beach and end up back at the pool.

The one problem with being up so high is that you have to get up there (and back down) to the main road.  We were just walking in flip-flops down a super steep driveway that proved a bit challenging.  We made it to the main road and set out to find the beach first.  It was just across the street but we thought it was very small, the water was a bit cloudy and there was no one there (no chairs, nothing).  We thought that was a bit strange but were hungry anyway so went looking for a place along the beach for some lunch.  We found a little restaurant with fairly cheap food right on the beach and enjoyed a delicious lunch of pad-thai (as usual) and mango shakes.  We then tried to stay on the beach for a bit but when we went into the water we couldn’t see through it and the beach sand was a bit rocky so we decided to head up to the pool in our hotel instead.  The climb up to the hotel is definitely worse than the walk down.  The worst part is that the road is a slick concrete driveway – even steep steps would be better to grip as you’re negotiating your way up.  Having finally made it to the top we decide we have to rent a moto ourselves finally because we can’t do this up and down for 3 straight days.  First, we get in some much needed pool time and enjoy the view.

Later in the day we decide to ask the front desk for a moto, we’ll go explore a bit and then find somewhere else for dinner.  The nice lady at the front desk asks us if we know how to drive a moto and if we’ve ever done it before and we grin and say no.  She shakes her head and strongly advises us not to rent one on this island as the roads aren’t the greatest so it’s not a good place to learn.  We assure her that we’ll be fine , we’ll go slowly and be home before dark.  She reluctantly hands over a moto and the keys and gives Dave a brief lesson since he’ll be the driver, I’ll be passenger.  Unfortunately, the hill is really steep and so they offer to drive it down for us, looks like we don’t get out of having to walk down the hill.  At the bottom of the hill at the street we get on board and off we go!  It’s very scary at first.  It looks really easy when everyone else is zipping by but you have to get the hang of it first, like riding a bike I guess.   We’re having a bit of a balance issue as Dave has to drive me and our big backpack around as well and we’re driving on the left-hand side of the road (they drive on the left in Thailand).  We’re zipping along on the dirt road and try to take a left turn onto the main road when a pick-up truck is headed straight for us turning right.  We make a narrow escape and it’s at this point I remember that we were supposed to rent helmets also but completely forgot.  We turn around immediately to slowly head back to our hotel, stopping along the way for dinner at a delicious burger bar.  We make back to our hotel just before sunset, unharmed.  The only problem is that Dave can’t drive the moto up the steep hill with me on it as well.  So much for getting a ride up the hill as Dave whizzes by and I’m struggling to climb up again.  Oh well, at least we’re home safe and sound and immediately get some helmets for tomorrow’s adventure.

The next day, Thursday, we enjoyed breakfast at our new posh hotel which was quite nice.  The restaurant overlooks the pool and the beach and bay so we enjoyed our muesli, fruit and yogurt very much.  After breakfast it was time to take the moto out again as when you rent it you keep it for 24 hours.  This time, though, we’ve got helmets on.  We decided to slowly make our way to the biggest beach area, Sairee beach, spend some time there and enjoy lunch before returning the moto at 5pm.  We got off to a much better start today with no almost-crashes although we did make several wrong turns along the way.  We finally made it to Sairee Beach and enjoyed a few hours on the white sand and turquoise water.  I was enjoying a book from the hotel lending library but Dave got bored very quickly, as usual, so we went back on the moto to the downtown area near the beach for some shopping around and lunch.  We ate at the Hippo Bar which was some local haunt and I had a delicious grilled veggie and steak salad.  Dave enjoyed a chicken parm sandwich since it was the first time we’ve ever seen it on the menu in Asia.  Our favorite part about Hippo Bar was the sign for the toilet.

After lunch we went across the street to the shopping mall area to scope out what goodies were there.  We found some interestingly-named alcohol but that was about it.  The one thing we did pick up was an airtight plastic bag for our camera underwater.  We were planning on a snorkel tour tomorrow (Ko Tao is known for its incredible diving and snorkeling) and thought this would be a great way to try to take pictures underwater.  Purchases in hand we found where we’d parked the moto, filled it up with more gas (which we learned isn’t gasoline or petrol, it’s actually kerosene that they sell you so you have to keep refueling) and headed back to the hotel.   We said goodbye to the moto and enjoyed cooling off in the pool and testing out the new camera bag in the water (which does seem to work so far).  We decided to enjoy our lovely hotel and air-con room for the rest of the day and evening and had dinner at the hotel restaurant overlooking the bay.
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Ann Boras on

I have a better caption for the bathroom sign. "Beware of poison ivy."

Joe on

I love the taste of "Interesting market find #1"

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