Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
149Trip End Ongoing
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From Hua Hin I managed to follow the coast roads through the upper southern peninsular. I passed through small villages, passed numerous undeveloped beaches and through a national park of karst formations and coastal wetlands. The small roads were well maintained but barely used, which made for a marvelously peaceful couple of days.
Many of the beaches I passed had tempted me to stop and swim, but I'd resisted. Finally, I came across a beach with fun looking waves and a swimmer in the water (testifying to its safety), with plenty of time to reach my intended destination. I caved. I pulled over near a couple of sunbathers;
-Excuse me, do you speak English?
-Yes! (with an English accent, sitting up ready to chat, possibly to begin the standard 101 'what the hell are you doing on that bike?' question marathon)
-Great. Can you keep an eye on my bike?
- (something inaudible as I ran down to the sea)
The swimmer turned out to be an Italian called Mario (arn't they all?), who was living in a nearby resort and learning Thai. His English was limited but we managed to communicate, and before long he offered me his spare room for the night. I took him up on his offer, possibly to his surprise, and followed him back to his bungalow. The remainder of the day I passed reading and swimming. That evening Mario threw a party, inviting his Canadian and Thai neighbours over for a barbeque. We sat up chatting, (mostly me and the Canadian having political chat [read: America bashing] in English, while Mario and Oeung chatted in Thai. I did enjoy the occasional surreal moments when the Thai neighbour translated my English into Thai so my Italian host could understand.
I made a 7am start the following morning, a virtuous beginning to what would be another long day. The ride was another pleasant roll through rural Thai villages, coconut, rubber and oil palm plantations and the occasional fishfarm. This brought me, a little before dark, to Chumphon. Not much of a place of itself, Chumphon is the departure point for boats to the popular east coast islands of Tao, Pha Ngan and Samui. The latter two have a reputation for drugs and parties that makes Vang Vieng look like tea with the vicar, so I'd resolved to skip them. Koh Tao, however, I believed to be quieter and a world class location for diving.
So, without pausing for breath, I found a travel agent and booked myself onto the overnight 'car ferry' from Chumphon to Koh Tao. Thankfully the travel agent had a shower, and agreed to store my bike, so I could wait until 10pm in relative comfort. They also arranged a pickup to take me to the ferry, which was a great help. The 'ferry' appeared to be a primitive landing craft that wasn't worth its own weight in scrap metal. The bike was rolled on and propped against the cargos of aggregate and rice, and I was shown to the cabin. The 'bridge' had been gutted, the walls lined with foam mattresses. A shelf had been built above these and similarly upholstered, so the interior was basically one giant bunk-bed, shared by up to 50 people. The toilet was, thanks to fairly rough seas, permantly disgorging, and the entire ship stank of diesel. We left 3 hours late and finally arrived in torrential rain at 9am, instead of the scheduled 6.