Too little time in Thailand, lets go back

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Our route into Thailand came via a small plane which only had about 20 people on it. When we arrive on the idyllic island of Koh Samui I know we’re in Thailand for ten days, so we buy SIM cards with unlimited data for less than £5 each. With Skype we call the hotel and a French accent explains that we’d be better off getting a taxi rather than the transfer service. Merci.

At the hotel it’s a warm welcome from the Thai staff who ask us to sit down and provide us with a drink of bottled water as we gaze out over the sea.

Weird hotel room bathrooms were becoming a theme and this place was no exception. Clearly being redeveloped; the hotel still required some work. Like a toilet door. Still it was round the corner from the bed so Kelly didn’t have to stare at me doing my business. The rest of the room was immaculate, and large, with towels folded into kissing swans on the bed.

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The French accent turned out to be a real person, the owners son or the owner himself, or one of the many French guests in this little corner of Thailand. The hotel clearly a mate’s mate’s retreat.

Nightfall comes and we wandered down the beach to find a place to eat and drink by the sea. The food was lovely and the view of the black water lapping against a coast littered with lanterns and lights from their hotels so peaceful and remote.

In the morning we ordered an American breakfast from our hotel and it’s the most awful breakfast I’ve ever eaten, backed by a soundtrack of hard clubbing tunes. The day didn’t start in relaxing fashion, so we decided to sit in sun all day listening to podcasts and music, ordering beer from our accommodating staff. It’s bliss and the sea is inviting and warm.

Even with factor 50 we got a bit burnt, Kelly especially displayed a day of laze upon her red red face.

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Once a week there is a market down the street, so everybody comes from around the island. We wandered down the night market browsing the dubious or tasty looking food (nothing in between), the trinkets and hand made Thai souvenirs on sale, before settling in a bar to watch the world go by. A couple of Chang Beer promoters stop and ask us for a photos, to which we oblige.

During dinner Kelly revealed (with Westlife playing in the background prompting a little tune from me), that it’s slightly annoying that I sing all the time. Tough really. The mood broken by the sight of Chinese lanterns being lit further down the beach, most of them rising into the night sky, some of them bursting into flames before crashing into their watery grave.

I don’t feel we did Koh Samui justice and the hotel didn’t live up to much. We’d been promised a taxi service the following morning to take us to the ferry port. But all we got was rain.

Trampling with our suitcases as the monsoon-like rain fell was a depressing feeling at 7AM. Luckily a taxi swung by quick enough and before long we were on our ferry to Koh Tao. On which our soggy bags were tossed onto the front of the boat and loosely secured with a net, along with another hundred or so bags. Ten minutes into the bumpy journey the ferry stops, there’s some shouting and the staff all run to the front of the boat to check some bags. I suspected one had fallen off and Kelly sat there in panic mode.

On Koh Tao we’re taken to our room, at the top of a small but steep hill. My heart almost popped out of its chest as I carried the bags up in the hot sun. Once we’re up the room is cool and the view is stunning, the sea and bay in sight. Another room with an exposed toilet, but neither of us care by this point.

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The resort was better than Koh Samui’s, with a stunning pool, beach and a cove filled with restaurants and bars. A seemingly secluded beauty the shore line was covered with palm trees, a bright blue sea, littered with Thai fishing boats, and little houses on poles rising up the cliff edges. Oh and some kind of palatial premium part of the hotel at the top of the hill. Kelly and I sat down to relax in the scorching sun for the day, it was glorious.

As the sun began to set we headed over to a pier with a bar. I setup my camera to capture the sunset. Meanwhile next to us a band setup and began to play. Comically they start with Ronan Keating, the singer of choice for tourism based live acts it seems. Once that was out of the way the saxophone came out and provided the perfect soundtrack for the moment. This is what Thailand’s islands were meant to feel like. As the sun finally set on our day, I felt like this was the eye of the storm before a month of intense travelling through South East Asian cities, and it’s serenity was appreciated.

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Another day in Koh Tao, another day by the pool with nothing to report. At one point I decided to swim across the bay, but as it was only 1 metre deep or less, half the time I spent walking. I made my way round the cliff edge at the end of our cove and discovered a secret beach filled with people.

The evening will continue to make you, fair reader, jealous as we wandered into town, ate some excellent Mussama curry before watching the sunset again from the comfort of a beach bar. I know, these parts while reading you begin to wish all kinds of pain inflicted upon me. Which brings us to the next day. Deep(ish) sea diving.

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Famously Koh Tao is probably the cheapest place in the world to go diving. Having enjoyed it so much during our quick taster in The Whitsundays we thought we’d give it another bash.

Our diving guide was an affable Thai man called ‘Matey’. He’d been diving for 25 years in Koh Tao and was enthusiastic about everything and everyone. We suited up jumped in and we were back on our way to the dive site being dragged along.

When we started to go down I found the pressure built faster and more painfully this time around. Holding my nose and blowing to release the expanding air – didn’t do much. Keeping a brave face, for some reason I kept making the OK sign until it became too much and I rose up a foot to equalise it a bit. Gradually reaching the bottom the pressure caused pain clouding my reality so all I could think and see was the pressure. Then gone. It’s weird how you can be so focussed on something then not.

Matey felt for his new divers that holding hands for the dive was safest. So the three of us danced along the bottom of the ocean like schoolgirls playing ring of roses. Staring at the beautiful fish and trying to avoid the coral. It’s still magical to see an under water world. Up top Matey and Kelly commented on my quick breathing and overuse of the air, something I’ll have to work on given its my normal breathing rate. Yoga Kelly suggested might help. Maybe.

We had a second dive and the initial dive pain returned, but this time I had patience for its eventual dissipation. Less fish, and less hand holding allowed us to get into our swimming grove, exploring and entertaining ourselves. Giddy and happy with the day we declared our intent to take our diving accreditation at some point, although unlikely during this trip.

Feet blistered, and very tired from all the exertion we walked the bay and had an early night – our last in Koh Tao.

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I thought the ferry to Bangkok was a ten hour direct trip, so was relieved when that bumpy choppy journey turned out to be a quick assault on the mainland followed by an 8 hour coach ride. It’s still a bit mad where multiple queues form for the same thing, bags are thrown onto and off the ferry with careless abandon, and we had to sit on patio garden chairs due to the over subscription of the service that day. It works though. No one got mad, everybody knew their place and the system to transfer to the bus involved a coloured sticker system, maintaining an almost fool-proof method to the madness.

The drive through the countryside introduced rural Thailand to my eyes. Each town is adorned with large pictures of the King, national and local flag colours, creating a national community feel. As night falls the countryside lights up in a flurry of flickering neon. From the small village, temples and roadways to the outskirts of Bangkok it resembles Christmas tree decorations outside a competitive family’s home. They must all need second jobs to pay the electricity bill, but it’s a pretty and captivating welcome to Bangkok.

We’re staying on Rambuttri Alley, next to the Khaosan Road where we have a lovely room and… an enclosed toilet!

The next day saw the start of our Bamba Experience tour. We decided to get a tuktuk to the Sky train (Bangkok metro). That was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. Tuktuks are basically a motorbike with an enclosed carriage.

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Inside a safety card told us not to lean out, and secure our bags in case passing motorbike thieves struck. With the tuktuk motor screeching a soundtrack to our commute we weaved and cut through traffic. To the driver the wrong side of the road provided opportunities to shave tiny seconds off our journey time at the expense of our lives or limbs. Danger being the spice of life, Kelly and I emerged at the other end beaming with exhilaration, safe and delivered to the metro.

Our day of Bangkok danger continued as we took up the ABC (Awesome Bike Company) cycle tour. Our tour guide called On, delivered wonderful descriptions of Thai life as we weaved through the safe but tight backstreets, and occasionally across the packed main roads of the city. We fell in love with the city once we saw its untrodden untouristy dwelling areas, and ventured out into the pleasant countryside area in the south of the city over a river on a small motor boat. We cycled along a precarious raised concrete pathway through the jungle and villages, getting a sense of the rural community.

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Knackered and sore we headed back to walk home via Khaosan road, where there is the madness I expected. Hundreds of people litter the street. Ladies selling wooden frogs, hats, clothes and cocktails. It’s a street where you can buy a scorpion or spider to snack on, alongside a Man United or Spurs shirt. A feast of light, pushy sales and smells was too much without a drink so we dropped our gear off and made our way back out for the evening of people watching. The most memorable moment being when a group of Italians next to us spent half an hour devouring a fired spider on a stick, each tiny bite of a leg producing a disgusted smile until confident they consumed the rest.

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It’s a late start because of our Khaosan endeavours, but once we got going we traipsed the old town, (which was mainly closed) before getting to the Wat Pho Buddhist temple complex. Inside Wat Pho is a giant reclining Buddha, lying on his side, massive and golden in equal measure. Outside the main building is a network of Bonzi trees, towers, temples and many Buddha statues to keep us in awe.

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To complete our short Thai stint we wanted more Thai food, and found a French Thai restaurant. I had a hot spicy soup, before a large rat scampered between our legs, giving us cause to remove ourselves. A good summary of Bangkok, spicy, seductive intrigue marred by neglect and unwarranted intrusions. We had not spent enough time in Thailand by a long shot and it feels like the most likely destination we will return to on our trip.

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