We arrived at Bangkok Airport and the taxi driver wasn't sure where he was going which didn't put us at ease. We finally arrived at our hotel after stopping and asking for directions. It was a very basic double room but with our own shower and toilet and some annoying ants that found some leaked coffee on San's bag and decided to set up camp there for a few days. We were minutes away from the famous, chaotic Koh San Road so we had a nice cold beer and bought a few cheap clothes from the market stalls. We had Pad Thai from a food stall, booked our bus and ferry to Koh Phanang, got caught in a huge monsoon shower, had a Tiger beer and a green curry and ended the night with some buckets of Samsong whiskey(strong, lethal Thai whiskey) and chatted to fellow travellers who were also going to Koh Phanang.
The next day we were feeling a little fragile and it was difficult to face the bustling and noisy Koh san Road, with constant taxi drivers and tuk tuk drivers asking if you wanted a ride and Jeff was asked about 300 times if he wanted a suit made up. We went to a lady boy cabaret show which was very entertaining, the women on stage looked very attractive but up close they looked a lot more masculine. Many of the performers in the show have had or are waiting full surgery, voice box surgery and their Adam's apple removed. We got our first tuk back to Koh San Road, the driver was driving a little too fast for our liking but it was a fun experience.
We decided to have a cultural day the next day and visit the Grand Palace, other temples and places of interest. We decided to walk as it was only 15 minutes and didn't want to walk around too much with our map as tuk tuk drivers would stop every few minutes and ask if you want a ride. One of the well-known scams in Bangkok is for very well dressed and people with well-spoken English to approach you and offer you help. Well we had read all about it and still fell for the scam. A lady and a couple of men approached us on our way to the Grand Palace and told us it was closed until lunch time as it is a Buddhist holiday and the monks are praying. They advised us to see other Temples and sites before we saw the Grand Palace, we were also told that because it was a Buddhist holiday the tuk tuk drivers were being paid by the government and it was a flat rate of 40 baht (about 80p). They also told us to look out for tuk tuks with yellow registration plates; once we looked they all seemed to have yellow registration plates. Our driver was very friendly and brought us to some beautiful Temples and as we went to view the Lucky Buddha another taut came in and spoke to us about a Government run tourist agency and how we should visit this and book tours. Sure enough our tuk tuk driver said he had to go via a tailors and once of these tourist agencies to get free petrol. We went into the tailors, the guy spoke to us about everything and anything, and then he asked if we wanted a suit we just said no and he told us to go, it was a similar experience at the travel agency. Our tuk tuk driver was happy as he got free petrol. He dropped us off at the Grand Palace and headed off. We met another taut right outside who told us to go on a boat cruise because the Grand Palace was still closed, we began to put two and two together when we first got the tuk tuk so we didn't fall for that one. We tried to enter the Palace at a small entrance and a man there told us it was only open to Thai people (silly us should have just gone to the main entrance and we would have seen signs saying "Grand Palace is never closed" and all the tourists going in). We found some lunch and then we found the main entrance to the Palace. It dates back to 1782; the royal residency sits here amongst thrown halls, government buildings and The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The detail on the buildings is exquisite, we spent some time walking around but were both exhausted from the tuk tuk antics earlier that day.
We arrived back on Koh San road and went to the tourist office where we had booked our bus. After a 20 minute walk through Bangkok picking up people on the way we had been lead to another tourist office and with a group of confused tourists we boarded our bus. It was a double decker bus so San chose seats closest to the stairs in the middle of the bus so Jeff had some extra leg room. Once we had driven about 2 hours, the guide on the bus was reaching over everyone, moving handbags to close the curtains. He reached across Jeff, took San's handbag and placed it on the floor (very conveniently close to the steps); when he left San put it back by her feet. We fell asleep for an hour or so as they turned the lights off and none of the ones above our heads would turn on. We lost one of our bags at one point that eventually found it half way down the stairs. After this we stayed awake all night and Jeff caught a topless guy (we think the same guy who collected our tickets and closed the curtains) crawling along the floor trying or stealing stuff from bags. Jeff scared him off but caught him another 6 times trying to steal people's things. We had stopped a few times on random places but our journey finally ended in the middle of nowhere at 4am.They unloaded all backpacks, wouldn't turn the lights on, on the bus and hand-picked people to get a transfer immediately. We think the people he hand-picked were the ones they had stolen from. He was getting angry when San asked if we have to get off the bus. Eventually we all got off the bus and we waited in a café/someone's garden for 2 hours.
After more bus transfers and a lot of waiting we arrived in Koh Phanang after 20 hours of travelling and at about 1pm we were pretty happy to be there. We were met at the ferry port by some motor taxis who took us to our very beautiful hotel. The motor bike ride was very exhilarating and terrifying, there were huge steep hills up and down, and Jeff's hat blew off so he had to back for it. We finally arrived at the hotel and were very relieved after a long journey. We explored the backpacker town of Haad Rin and had some beers on the beach which was surprisingly quiet considering the full moon party was in two days' time. It was nice to be out of Bangkok where everyone is trying to take your money, scam you, lie to you or just outright steal from you. On Kho San Road people even tried to get you to pay for taking photos of their food carts or taking their business cards. Haad Rin was still very touristy but at a lot of a slower pace and it was much easier to enjoy being there.
The next day we swam and sunbathed for the morning and then got caught in a huge monsoon shower. Whilst everyone else ran for cover we stayed swimming in the sea. The water was so warm even with the torrential downpours! We had to wade through ankle deep water to get back to the hotel. We wondered back onto the beach later and watched all the cocktail bucket stalls, food and painting stalls go up in preparation for the next night.
The next day we sunbathed and swam the morning away. We bought fluorescent paint and clothes in preparation for the night ahead. Some friends came to our hotel and we had some beers on our balcony while we painted each other. The full moon party was so busy; we had buckets, danced, watched fire signs and decided not to swim as people were using the sea as a toilet. We arrived back at our hotel at 6am.
We moved from Haad Rin beach closer to the main town of Thong Sala where had booked a beachfront bungalow. It was beautiful we had had a basic beach hut looking out over the sea with a balcony and hammock. We spent the next few days lying in the sun, swimming and swinging in hammocks with beers. One night there was a huge thunderstorm which we watched from our balcony, the lighting seemed to light up the whole sea and loads of geckos took shelter under the roof of the balcony. Although that thunderstorm was pretty big it was nothing compared to one a few nights later. We had walked into town to eat and just sat down when lightning struck the ground just outside the restaurant! There was lots of smoke and noise and a huge flash and then the rain really started to fall and the power went out. We were going to brave it and walk home but the owners wouldn't let us and told us to wait it out, after half an hour it eased a little and they lent us some umbrellas and we got home as quickly as we could, still managing to get soaked and walking through ankle deep water most of the way. The next day we rented some kayaks and kayaked along the coral until we got into deeper water, Jeff snorkelled but didn't see any fish, we had started to drift quite far so we kayaked back. Jeff had a read in the hammock and San had a Thai massage on the beach.
After a few days of beachfull bliss we feel ready to attempt the journey back to Bangkok and on to Siem Reap in Cambodia. We have booked government buses this time which will hopefully be a little more theft free than the last ones.