Island hopping: 2 weeks of bliss 27.04.09 - 11.05.09
Life on a beach is pretty tough. There's a wide range of hard core activities to occupy you through the day - swimming, sunbathing, eating, sleeping, reading and snorkelling. All of this in addition to the 'event' of the day - walking to the shops to buy water. SO you'll forgive me for not giving a blow-by-blow rundown of the last two weeks which we have spent on the Thai islands of Koh Phi Phi, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, as aside from making everyone at home jealous, you'd probably fall asleep if i did. I've decided instead to write a list of the things i'll remember about the different islands, in the hope that it'll give you a colour of beach life thailand 2009.
First, though, a word about transport. We've had some of our most interesting journeys between the islands (which span the west and east coasts of southern thailand) - trips which have included many ferries, chicken buses, 8-hour bus stop waits, long boats, taxi buses and 4-wheeled drives and there are a few tips to impart. One, never underestimate a Thai's power to con - sorry, to market well. You'll frequently come off ferries expecting to make your way to the government bus station for the next leg of your journey, only to be confronted by a luxurious bus, a local with a clipboard pursuading you that this is a much faster/easier/more comfortable/the only option than getting to the bus station, and a hundred sweaty Brits/Americans all being herded the same way. Sheep that we are, you find yourself also drifting towards the pretty, airconditioned bus, plans of 'doing it your own way this time' flying out of the window. You part with your cash (considerably more than it would be otherwise, but what the hell, the seats are comfortable), settle back, get driven 100m (usually in a square back to where you started from) and get told to all pile out and into a tiny chicken bus with broken speedometer and petrol guage and with its fish cargo on the front seat not only taking up all the room but also stinking the place out. The advice? I'm testament to the fact that it happens all the time- we should know better, and DEFINITELY should not have a full-blown, camped-up Cockney hissy fit like the five men partiers we shared this particular journey with. The Indonesians will shrug; the Thais give as good as they get and we were treated to quite the showdown, which of course did nothing to improve 'customer service'. Hopefully they chilled out a bit after a week at the beach.
Second, if you happen to be on a jetty waiting for a ferry and one of the other passengers pulls out not only a guitar and a mouth organ, but also a flute, and his girlfriend/flower-power lover starts singing and CLAPPING along, RUN the other way. On no account spend the next 18 hours with them, on ferry, bus, boat and more jetties, because if they're not afraid to perform in front of all those people waiting, hot and sleepy, for an hour-delayed ferry, they're sure as hell not going to have any qualms about accompanying your journey the whole way with their music. Trust me; save your sanity and run the other way (unless you've brought your own triangle and fancy joining in).
Third, take the overnight ferry to Koh Tao. It's comfortable, if you're lucky you get to cosy up with some fit-bodied traveller, the locals catch it too (always a good sign) and you save on a night's accommodation. Plus, Koh Tao, my favourite island by far, is pretty stunning in the morning light as you pull into the harbour.
So, in order of occurance, rather than preference, the main memories from the islands are:
Koh Phi-Phi (27.4.09 - 30.04.09)
1. Birthday island! Pitcher of margherita wipe-out and birthday cakes and candles by the pool!
2. The most tourists I've seen in one spot and all the resulting range of resorts, nightlife, and crowded beaches. Not really backpackersville as it is more expensive and probably would be a very different experience if you had a one-week holiday there in one of the beautiful resorts near Long Beach, which we walked to
3, Sharing a green curry at Papaya under Guy's mural and beside the cat taking a nap in the fridge (must be english)
4, Putting the FT to its best use and making paper hats to shield out the sun on the boat past PhiPhi Ley (home of the Beach). THis proved to be quite the fashion trend with a group of italians following suit and borrowing them for photos.
5. Being handed copious amounts of flyers offering free buckets of alcohol
6. Walking past the water treatment plant every day - intriguingly disguised as a tropical garden (but not smelling like one!)
7. Being grateful for the pool after a long hike up the hill to our bungalow - with its large palm shade and bananas.
8. Walking the long sweaty climb up a million steps to get to to the viewpoint over the two beaches and seeing a photo fo what they had looked like post-tsunami.
9. Building work EVERYWHERE - still restoring after tsunami
10. Lunch snacks from the market stalls in an attempt to spend little, then blowing it all on massages.
Koh Tao (2.5.09 - 7.5.09)
1. Night ferry sleeplessness - up close and personal with a hundred other passengers
2. DIVING!!!! And the -friendly!-diving instructors! White Rock is the best dive site i've ever seen.
3. The Irish - and Sairee Cottages - making the whole trip hilarious.
4. Geckos freaking us out with their loud noises every time we tried to fall asleep.
5. The black and white cat who was convinced that we owned it - or that it owned our porch.
6. Discovering the genius that is local rum and peach iced tea.
7, The dive crew family - Trevor, Mick, Manuele/Miguel, Mel, Vicky, Samantha, Sebastian, Evan and Mr 90210, Buddy 1 and Buddy 2 (the Quebecois).
8. Yoga and some amazing adjustments from the beautiful instructor
9. Our first oil massage
10. Sheltering from the monsoon rain with the lady boys, dancing.
11. Watching the new X-men film with the stunts half finished
12. Dancing on the bar at Lotus while watching the fire-twirlers. Lotus in general.
13. Adding Mussaman curry to the list of food i'll order (and being shown how to eat it 'irish' style).
14. Being able to snorkel on the reef 2 seconds from the shore.
15. The restaurant staff - including the lady boy and the ever - bubbly and enthusiastic 10 year old girl.
16. The ever elusive coconut ice cream man, and Jess's resulting obsession
17. The lady at the front desk who truly loved her job
18. Nearly shedding tears on the decking on the morning we left - then being cheered up by Trevor/Samantha's 'travelling loight?' repartee..
Koh Phangan (07.05.09 - 11.05.09)
1. Arriving by long boat at sunset into the most beautiful bay and Jess in an unfathomably good mood despite the bad back
2. Beach front bungalow bliss at Bottle Beach 1
3, Mr Bong and No name who apparently never sleep but who entertained us for hours while serving our dinner.
4. Being attacked by the cleaner wrasse whilst snorkelling (our legs must be filthy)
5. Watching baby shark get caught for dinner with long poles and net.
6. Meeting the israelis and learning about military service
7. best thai massage yet - overlooking the sea.
8. Jess being blessed with the joys of heat rash, sore back and dodgy belly all in one afternoon pre-party.
9. THe exciting jeep ride over unconstructed roads to - and more distressingly, back from - the party
10. Being stunned at the size and scale of it - it truly is a tourist fairground.
11, Neon Paint everywhere.
12. Struggling through the buckets of Sangsom, Red Bull and SPrite like my life depends on it
13. Watching people leave on stretchers as we ARRIVE
14. Being looked after by Mr Bong as guide
15. Watching the partiers passed out on the sand and almost entirely covered by it.
16. Dirty loo chicken - "you're not actually gonna eat that?" asked one stranger health official. "hell yeah" i reply.
17. Pad Thai at 5am
18. Finally making it home post sun-rise.
19. Sleeping until 2pm - only to discover that Mr Bong has been at work since we returned.
20. Never wanting to drink local rum and peach tea ever again.