Our ferry docked at about 11.30am and after grabbing our backpacks we went in search of a Songathew to take us to Shiralea Backpackers which is in the northwest of the island by a beach called Haad Yao. Haad Rin is the popular backpacker beach and is on the southernmost point of the island. It's also home to the world famous Full Moon parties but it's not full moon and we're not staying there. We had chosen a quieter area based on several recommendations.
Sarah had managed to find Shiralea which looked really nice and had an excellent pool, free wifi and a bar. When we arrived we were not disappointed! Richie, a Kiwi, greeted us and explained all we needed to know about the place and we grabbed some food at the bar as it was still quite early and our room wasn't quite ready.
The whole place has a really lovely atmosphere and all the staff seem really nice which is good. There is also a "TV room" which is an area with comfy chairs, a projector and DVD player! The pool table is also one of the best we've seen.
After checking into our room we headed for the beach to check out the swimming. The backpackers is 2 minutes' walk down a gentle slope to the beach and we stopped at the shop quickly on the way to get some supplies like water and sunscreen. We spent about an hour on the beach swimming and chilling out before heading back.
Once we were showered and dressed we headed back ot the bar to order some food and a couple of drinks and got talking to the staff and a few other repeat tourists. It was good to get some local knowledge about where to go and what to do. A few had also been to Cambodia and Vietnam as well so were giving us the lowdown. A couple of drinks turned into a few too many drinks after that, for me at least.
The next day we spent most of it blogging in the bar or by the pool (the wifi reaches really far)as we really need to catch up and get some done as were still writing the blogs for January and its now nearly April!
We decided that the day after would also be dedicated to blogging and the day after that we would hire another scooter to find our way around.
The local shop hires scooters and the looked ok so we filled in the paperwork and set off. It certainly was as powerful as the one we rented on the last island!
Once hitting the main road we turned left and visited the local fishing village. It smelled bad so we didn't stay long. On the way we noticed how bad some of the roads were. Potholes everywhere and big cracks. Plus build ups of sand and grit on the corners caused by heavy rainfall. No wonder there are a lot of accidents here. I had to keep an eye out and take it steady!
Our next destination was another viewpoint we had found on a map which appeared to be quite central and well away from the main roads. It turned out that it was up a very steep and windy gravel track that the bike couldn't cope with so Sarah had to get off a walk a few times.
In the end we stopped and parked the bike on the side of the track and went the rest of the way on foot. By this time the path had really deteriorated to mud and rocks and was very slippery.
After walking for another 15 minutes or so Sarah was ready to turn back fearing we were lost and it was once again extremely hot but just then a local guy turned up on a scooter that looked in much worse condition than ours but was still going! He didn't speak a word of English but indicated that we were going the right way and should follow him up some steep, rocky steps. It looked like a long way up and we were both exhausted from the heat but I encouraged Sarah not to give up and it turned out not to be quite so far as we had expected.
Once we arrived it was worth it! We could see for miles including the whole bay below and a large portion of the island itself. The viewpoint turned out to be a bit of a shack like a rickety tree house with a few cool drinks and beers on sale. The guy we had followed spoke to a local who was there and they sold us a couple of icy cokes. They then proceeded to roll and smoke a joint whilst we took in the view which made us laugh. Out here whose going to catch them!
After about 20 minutes of catching our breath and enjoying our drinks we walked back down and collected the bike before referring to the map and deciding where to go next. We were at the northernmost point but we decided to head down to Haad Rin and see what the hype is all about. There is a road that cuts through the middle of the island and should get us there in about half an hour or so.
Once we arrived we wondered around some local shops and checked out the beach where we found some revellers passed out at the water's edge from the night before but it wasn't anything special and we both decided we preferred where we were staying.
After purchasing some more fuel from the roadside we headed back in the direction of Thong Sala, the town were the ferry docked when we arrived. I had read on the notice board in the hostel that this is where the local food markets are, to me this means cheap, tasty local Thai food for dinner!
We eventually found the market which was only just setting up when we arrived but we were hungry and wanted an early dinner and Sarah had a Pad Thai with prawns and I had the same but with chicken. It was great an only cost about 90 Baht which is less than £2! We finished up and went to look around the local craft markets, you never know what you might see or find! There was some great stuff but we didn't buy anything as we've got no room in our backpacks!
We drove around for a bit looking for some fresh pineapple and found a great little local stall down a side street near the pier. It's clear they don't normally speak to tourists as none of the family running the place spoke a word of English and they were really friendly. We've found that the people who work with tourists are usually a bit more resentful. We bought a big back of pineapple pieces for about 20 baht which was delicious!
There was probably about an hour or so until sunset by this point and I didn't really want to be on the roads after dark so we decided to follow the coast road slowly back towards Shiralea. We stopped several times to take photographs and eat our pineapple and found a great little bar called the Sunset Bar on the beach next to the road. It was basically a shed that was full to the roof with niknaks and hippy items and the hippy family that run it were tattooing each other in the traditional way with bamboo. Everyone was very relaxed watching the sunset and enjoying cocktails so we decided to head in and join them.
We were glad we did as it had such a great atmosphere and the views were outstanding. We took a few pictures but unfortunately there was a line of cloud along the horizon that prevented us from getting any amazing shots so we called it a day and headed back just before it got dark. We will be back though!
Next morning we were up early again and handed the bike back as it wasn't running as smoothly as we would have liked, and hired another from a different shop that came recommended. We wanted to go and see Koh Ma which is an island linked to the mainland by a sandspit during low tide. When we arrived we were lucky and the tide was out halfway. We walked as far as we could, which wasn't quite as far as the island, before heading back. The beach was really nice and there were a lot of people having Thai massages in the shade. It's a beautiful setting but neither of us were in the mood for just sitting and relaxing, we wanted to keep moving.
We had missed out the day before as we wanted to head to the other side of the island and Ao Thong Nai Pan which is supposed to have some of the best swimming beaches around. It also has some of the more expensive resorts that are only accessible by boat. The road to get there hasn't been finished quite yet and in places was a very bumpy track, not too bad though and we made it ok, if a bit slowly.
We went to the highest road to take a picture before going to look at the beach and have a paddle. It was getting late though so didn't stay long. On the way back we stopped off at one of the many waterfalls on the island. There wasn't much water because of the time of year but there were a few nice cool pools which had attracted a lot of locals and tourists to cool off from t the hot weather.
The Sunset Bar was our final destination of the say, we had planned to eat there as the food had looked really delicious last night but when we arrived their kitchen was closed which was really disappointing. So we just grabbed a drink, took a few photos until the camera battery died and headed back to base for dinner!
The food at Shiralea is pretty good anyway! Not the cheapest but still pretty reasonable. We played a few games of pool before heading to bed to watch a film on our laptop.
On our last day on Koh Phangan and we booked our ferry tickets to Koh Samui before handing the scooter back and spending the rest of the day chilling by the pool. The pool at Shiralea is a purpose built diving pool which is used by Reefers Dive School which is based on site. This means its 3m at the deep end! It's a pretty big pool though with a Jacuzzi section and lots of sun loungers plus the necessary bar. A beautiful place to hang out for the day, surrounded by the tropical gardens of the resort!
Koh Samui tomorrow! We were not sure whether to go there at all after hearing a few negative reviews but will check it out for ourselves before we leave the Gulf of Thailand for the Andaman Coast!