What happens when a tourist destination becomes too popular!
Ko Samui, Thailand
The boat journey between Koh Phangan and Koh Samui only takes about 30 minutes as the 2 islands are very close. In fact, if you stand on the southern most point of Koh Phangan you get a brilliant view of northern Koh Samui and vice versa.
Once we pulled up at the pier and made a scrambled exit along with hundreds of other tourists of the boat we decided to get a taxi to take us to our hotel. Our initial plan had been to walk and save some money as the hotel is literally just down the beach from the pier but we were just so hot we couldn't face carrying our backpacks any distance, especially with the extremely high potential that we might get lost as we weren't too sure where to go.
Anyway, as it turned out it was a good job we did get a taxi as the beach was much longer than it looked on a map and the total distance from pier to hotel was just over 3km! There's no way we could have made that with heavy backpacks in what was, by then, almost midday sun.
Once at the hotel we were greeted by 2 receptionists and given a funny looking bright green herbal type cold tea which I liked but Sarah wasn't too keen on. She drank it though so as not to offend the staff. We immediately got the impression that it was quite a nice hotel, a bit more upmarket than our usual picks but then, we really had gotten a very good deal on Agoda.
We walked what felt like half a mile to our room, a little cottage like building set well back within the hotel grounds with an en-suite that's almost open to the elements and both of us fell exhausted on the bed and slept solidly for a couple of hours. We hadn't slept well at all last night as someone at Shiralea had a birthday party that kept us awake until around 5am!
Feeling a bit more refreshed after our sleep we decided to have a walk around the local area to get our bearings. Our first impression was that this island is much more built up than the others we have visited so far and it has lost its traditional charm which is very disappointing.
Back at the hotel we grabbed some towels from the reception and headed to the pool for a few hours lazing in the sunshine. To give you an idea how hot it is here, the pool isn't heated at all but the water is as warm as a bath. Almost too hot! It was also a really deceptive pool that looks really shallow from the edge, like a paddling pool that barely reaches your knees, but when you get in its actually fairly deep.
We spent a couple of hours playing catch with a ball we found and enjoying the sunshine on the comfy sunloungers while a friendly local dog kept us company.
After dark we walked along the beach looking for somewhere to have dinner and found a nice little cafe/restaurant where the sand has been banked up into perfect terraces with pretty little candlelit tables for 2. We enjoyed a nice cocktail each and I ordered a massaman curry which is normally a mild curry containing chicken and potato in a korma like sauce. The waiter asked me now hot I wanted it, which is unusual as it's normally served for breakfast, so I requested mild. Well, it certainly wasn't mild and I got through quite a few napkins blowing my nose which Sarah found highly amusing.
Just as we were finishing our meal a number of the other restaurants along the beach let off a few Chinese lanterns that floated up into the atmosphere. It was very beautiful and relaxing and we stared at them until they got too high and the flame was extinguished.
Day 2 and it was raining cats and dogs in the morning! The room had a couple of umbrellas for guests to use in the rainy season which we borrowed to go for breakfast but afterwards we decided it wasn't worth going out and headed back to the room to do some blogging. It really was a torrential downpour and the pathways were flooding quickly.
In the afternoon the rain had cleared and the sun had reappeared so we decided to walk back to the pier and book our ticket back to the mainland. We really weren't enjoying this particular island at all.
By the time we arrived at the ferry we were exhausted and the road was completely flat. It certainly is a long way and I'm not sure we could have carried our backpacks the previous day at all. We made the right decision to get a taxi!
The lady in the office at the pier was very knowledgeable and friendly and helped us to plan our whole journey to Krabi. A small and popular town/area on the Andaman coast that's also a hub for people making their way to and from Koh Phi Phi.
She explained the best places to go (out of our budget for this particular visit but worth noting in case we ever get to come back) and she clearly marked places on a map for us as well. We booked our transport which included a taxi pick up from the hotel, a ferry and 2 buses to get to our destination.
The following morning, and our last day on this island, we decided that we really should make the most of our time here and do a bit of exploring. So far we are not impressed with this island. It's very overcrowded and dirty and the beaches are not half as nice as you might expect. We'd heard as much from other people who have been here but know from experience that it's often better to make up your own mind so we came anyway. Yesterday's rains prevented us from hiring a scooter as the roads were wet and slippery but today, although overcast in the morning, soon brightened up and the roads dried quickly. First stop, the Big Buddha.
This is one of those touristy spots that you hear about a lot and is clearly marked on the island map so we thought it would be worth a visit. There are no entry fees either so you can't beat a free activity. We were disappointed when we arrived because it was clearly run down, almost to the point of being derelict.
In case you were wondering the Big Buddha is exactly that, one of hundreds of oversized Buddha statues in Thailand. This is an image of a golden Buddha in the familiar lotus position that's sitting on an almost pyramid like structure with steps leading up from the front a bit like an Aztec temple. All around the bottom are lots of market stalls selling the usual touristy tat as well as a few smaller temples where the local monks are praying and trying not to look at the western women swarming around in their scanty clothing. There really is an air of decay and we were extremely disappointed.
We headed up the steps towards the statue, which were narrow, slippery and lethal and found a wooden structure surrounding the statue, from which were hanging a number of gongs. One tourist found a mallet and struck the gong. We were shocked and froze expecting the monks to come running to tell him off. Then we noticed a table near the top of the steps that was covered in these mallets. You can pay a donation and have a go at making a peace destroying racket and annoying the locals if you wish! We decided we've done far more exciting things for donations and anyway, the wooden structure looked like it might collapse at any minute so we headed back down again.
In amongst the market stalls were a couple of shops and one sells some really cool warrior robots made from pieces of scrap metal such as nuts, bolts and bike chains. Some were really small but others were 7-8ft tall! We thought both Mark and Terry might like them in their gardens!
Back on the moped we carried on in the same direction following the main road that circles the entire island. We drove through the popular and touristy town of Chaweng but didn't stop as there is nothing remotely traditional or appealing about this overcrowded little place with too many bars.
Eventually, after about an hour and a couple of wrong turns thanks to bad signposting, we arrived at another popular tourist spot known at Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks. Or in Thai, Hin Ta and Hin Yai. This is a rocky outcrop by the sea that contains 2 rather interesting, and sometimes embarrassing, rock formations that are supposed to imitate the male and female genitals. We'll let you see the pictures and decide for yourselves as we're particularly unsure about the female rock!
Perhaps the most interesting part of this particular stop was the diversity of the tourists taking pictures. Literally people of all ages, cultures and religions!
We continued to follow the same road, by now in the south of the island in search of some waterfalls. We know that our previous attempts to see some great waterfalls have been thwarted by the fact it's not yet full rainy season but we've been told there is one large waterfall here that never dries up.
It started to rain as we were on the scooter but only very lightly so we carried on regardless. It's still so hot and humid here that a bit of light rain is actually a welcome relief. We had to go off the main road slightly and follow a side road for a short way inland where we found a convenient car park.
To get to the waterfalls you have to pass through what can only be described as a small theme park where the main attractions are elephant rides and having your picture taken with a tiger or leopard. Sarah was pretty anxious and depressed at this point as the queues for the elephant rides were over an hour and a half long with the elephants constantly walking around and around in circles and they didn't appear to be in the best of conditions. They looked really undernourished and were being poked in the back of the head by a big metal hook which was horrible to see, not that the people paying appeared to care.
As for the cats, that was just as horrific. We've heard these horror stories before but to see how many people are prepared to queue up and pay for such cruelty is heartbreaking. The adult tiger is clearly doped up to the eyeballs, everyday! She could barely sit up and was being prodded and poked into "pleasing" poses with a metal spike for the camera. In between every shot she would collapse on her side again clearly overcome by the amount of sedative in her system. There was a baby tiger too, (perhaps hers?), that wasn't doped as it was so small but it's been so overly handled it could never be released.
Then there was a leopard. Such a beautiful animal that we have had the opportunity to view in the wild on a chain barely 2 foot long that is pacing from side to side in clear distress. We walked away!
We had the option to walk to the waterfall or to pay for a 4x4 taxi. We chose the first option and were glad we hadn't paid as the 4x4 is really only worth it if you are elderly, in which case you couldn't go anyway as the final stretch is only accessible by the able bodied.
The first hill was pretty steep but short and then it was downhill following a road for perhaps 100m, where the taxi dropped you off, across a narrow bamboo bridge and up a narrow path through the forest before scrambling over large rocks slippery with wet lichen and moss.
There were lots of people around and we had wanted to cool off in the pool at the base of the fall but seeing how many people were in and around the water put us off so we took a few photo's before heading back. There was another rock pool further down that was quiet when we arrived so Sarah's tentatively headed into the freezing water leaving me with the camera but it was just too cold and she couldn't stay in there long.
Just as I was getting out in of the guides with a tour group came over and told us about the one little area in the pool where the water is deep enough and clear enough to dive so I thought I would have a little go. I went feet first though and was a bit worried about unseen rocks but it was fine. Just a bit chilly! Having seen me jump in lots of people soon arrived to join us so we headed on.
Feeling more refreshed and cool we jumped back on the scooter in search of the Buddha's Magic Garden. This is actually quite far into the centre of the island on one of the few roads that leaves the main circle route following the coast. We knew it would be remote so bought a bottle of fuel on the roadside to keep us topped up just after leaving the waterfall.
Off the main road there were a few steep hills and the vegetation was getting more and more dense. The bike really started to struggle up those hills and I thought it was just because they were so steep and Sarah was on the back. At one point we had to get off and push but once at the summit the engine started again on the downhill slope.
We eventually arrived to find that we were the only ones there. We paid our entrance and headed down some steep and slippery steps into an area that reminded Sarah of The Secret Garden that she read as a child. It's quite tropical this far inland and all the stones are covered in green moss and algae almost making it look ancient but in truth the gardens only date back to the 1970's.
It's literally an area with a few little stone temples and a whole lot of stone statues completely surrounded by hot and humid jungle. There were a few newer statues to be found amongst the originals that were tacky to the point of being a bit freaky so we avoided those in this dark and lonely location but overall had fun scrambling over the overgrown ponds and amongst the typical Thai posed statues.
Heading back to the main road and the bike started playing up again. At one point it stopped completely so on the off chance we checked the fuel levels. It was completely empty! w***!
A few people passed us as I pushed the bike up a hill and then a Canadian guy came along and stopped to see if he could help. Brilliant!
After checking and confirming we had in fact run out of fuel, he clearly knew more about bikes than we do, he informed us that the locals often water down their fuel and we should only buy it from the official stations. This was news to us as we've been buying it on the roadside since Koh Tao without any problems but we're not surprised!
Sarah jumped on the back of his scooter and went zooming off to the nearest fuel station whilst I continued to push the bike up the hill. Once at the top it was pretty much downhill all the way so I jumped back on and free wheeled all the way to the main road. I just arrived as Sarah and the Canadian guy were heading back with a large 2 litre water bottle full of pure, unwatered down fuel from the fuel station up the road. They were both surprised by how far I had managed to get.
We filled up the bike, thanked the friendly Canadian guy for his generosity and gave him directions to his destination before heading off once more, this time going north back to the little town of Mae Nam and our hotel. The bike ran like a dream all the way back.
It was getting dark by the time we hit Mae Nam and we were exhausted after a long day with sore behinds from sitting on the bike all day. It's another early morning start tomorrow and a long journey that's expected to take all day so we packed our bags and after a quick bite to eat headed to bed.