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Thailand

Ko Samet...

...Land Of Beaches & Bugs

sunny 35 °C

On the morning of the 27th, we left our hotel in Ko Samui (I never did work out what the place was called) for the airport at about 8am for our 9:45am flight. The little outdoor airport was pretty busy, but once again we managed to check in our overweight bags without any trouble. I've pretty much got it nailed now...if it's a sloping scale/conveyer belt you make sure it's hanging off the end and all the weight is transfered through the end of the bag and not down onto the scales (this was how we made our bags weigh 6kg instead of 25kg on this particular flight!)...if it's a flat scale, a deftly placed foot/leg supporting the back of the bag takes a good 5 or 6 kilo's off. Our Bangkok airways flight took off on time and we were landing in Bangkok within the hour.

Ko Samet is an island off of what they call the Eastern Seaboard of Thailand. Ban Phe is the port about a 3 hour drive east of Bangkok where the boats go from. When we got to Bangkok, we didn't really have a plan as to how we were going to get there. Whilst I stayed with the bags Kim did a deft job of finding out that there was a free shuttle bus that could take us the 45 minutes to the bus station in the middle of Bangkok, where we could then get a bus for the 3 hour journey out to Ban Phe for about 10 bucks each...whilst holding the heavy kite bags in 32 degree (92 Farhenheit) heat, I thought about this for precisely half a second before sheepishly pointing out the limousine service desk and hinting that she might like to go haggle for a car, which she managed to secure for a good price! I guess some first class travel habits never wear off! We loaded the bags into a nice air conditioned car and set off on what turned out to be about a 2 hour ride....I think we were both relieved to be doing it in comfort.

West Coast of Ko Samet
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Ban Phe is a mucky little port town spread out about half a mile along the main high street. The taxi driver dumped us at the port there. We had a tentative plan to find the local office of a hotel on the south of Ko Samet island. I left Kim with the bags and on my second attempt found the place and despite the woman there not speaking English managed to negotiate our planned 10 nights on the island plus boat trip for a reasonable price. I then just prayed that it was going to be a decent place!

We got a speed boat over to the island which dumped us right on the beach outside the hotel. Well Ko Samet Ville resort is, how shall I put it, remote! Ko Samet island is a T shape about 5 miles long and at the top a couple of miles across. Our resort is about 3 quarters of the way down the east coast. There is one main dirt track that runs north south through the middle of the island. At the top it is fairly densely populated with resorts, especially the north east. Once you get halfway down, there's really only 3 or 4 places to stay. Where we are the next nearest place is about a 15 to 20 minute walk north.

Our Room
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The accommodation is pretty new from what I can gather, at least the building we're in....there's a not very good restaurant, and a very nice beach...and, well, that's it. If I were to say it's quiet, that would be an understatement! It is actually very nice and relaxing though and as I said it is only about a 15 minute stroll to some decent places to eat and drink.

I think when we first got here we were a little shell shocked...I suspect there were maybe half a dozen other people staying here...and whilst it is a beautiful spot, I know I was wondering what the hell we were going to do for 10 days! However 3 days have passed already and it hasn't been a problem and I'm quite enjoying it!!!

The first day we explored the coastline north...it is typically nice sandy beaches in little coves, separated by rocky headlands...you can scramble between the beaches the length of the island I imagine, or you can cut inland through the jungle (yes jungle) and take the dirt road. Places have clearly been over developed, but certainly not where we are!

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We rented an ATV for a day (little quad bike) to explore the island. Kim rode whilst I navigated. The roads, well tracks, are terrible....huge holes and ruts, and you really can't get over a few miles an hour. There are no cars really (a couple of taxis that are actually pick up trucks) but the main mode of transport seems to once again be mopeds....this just seems treacherous to me....trying to stay on 2 wheels...and indeed we saw a couple of people take spills, but nothing serious as no one is moving very fast.

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Oh, and it's hot....really hot...it got above 100 degrees today with what felt like 100% humidity...and the bugs are a little irritating....well a lot irritating actually....but so far we are mostly keeping them at bay. The frogs are just unbelievable. We walked down to the beach one night and Kim said, "no way listen to the frogs!". I was convinced that there was no way they could be frogs, it sounded so loud. But she was right, a small pond full creating a noise slightly louder than a freight train. I've never heard anything like it. And then there's the snakes...they are everywhere....well I've only actually seen two, but I know they're out there! The first I think was a cobra...brown about 4 foot long....Kim disagrees and reckons it was a harmless grass snake. In hindsight I'm probably in agreement with her that the second one was an earth worm, but it was dark at the time.

PS. Have reached the upload limit for the month on photos for this site, so you'll have to wait for more!

Posted by msmitheman 20:52 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Ang Thong National Marine Park

sunny 30 °C

The carving course finished with a very intense afternoon and evening working on vegetable garnishes! The teacher got pretty serious on the final day for some reason and whilst I still really enjoyed it, I'd had enough by the end...my fingers wouldn't move anymore. She insisted we work holding the vegetables in one hand and the knife in the other rather than working on the cutting board as we had been for the first 2 days. I failed (and still fail) to see why this is necessary, but I struggled a bit. Not having the steadiest (or smallest) hands in the world made it tough. Anyway I still managed to turn out some decent leaves and shapes from cucumbers, chilli's, tomatoes and spring onions!

Kim & I joined the teacher for dinner that evening, and enjoyed a nice Thai meal inclusive of deep fried fish tails....a first for us, but not terrible (although I wouldn't jump at ordering them if I saw them on a menu!).

Yesterday we booked a tour to the Ang Thong National Marine Park about a 45 minute speed boat journey west of here. We were picked up from our hotel at 8am and driven to a pier about 15 minutes up the coast where we joined about 100 other people (ok, I don't know how many but there were a lot!). We were split up into speed boats of about 20 people each. The trip over was via another island called Ko Phan Ngan where we picked up a couple more, and we arrived in the marine park at about 10:30am.

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The area is an archipelago stretching north south. I don't know how many islands exactly, but a lot...a beautiful area, but I have to say it looks like tourism is spoiling it rapidly. We pulled around into a cove for the first activity of the day snorkeling. Let me just say there were that many boats there it took some time finding a bit of water where you could lay flat without hitting someone else! The snorkeling was pretty bad...poor visibility and not much marine life (probably due to the large number of boats and tourists). We were there about an hour, before being whisked off to another island.

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Kim and I were sat on the front of the speed boat with a couple of others and one of the boat crew...suddenly I heard the guy shouting "Crocodilly, crocodilly"...on closer inspection I saw a group of people snorkeling by a small rocky island and a small salt water crocodile heading there way...maybe 3 or 4 foot. I was glad at this point that our snorkeling was done for the day as I assumed its 12 foot mother was around somewhere! As we pulled away the group in the water were non the wiser and as Kim observed, no one seemed particularly concerned about pointing it out to them.

On arriving at the 2nd island we were ushered onto the beach by the guide and told "we now climb mountain!". There were a few panicked looks around the boat, but on a quick scan of the horizon it became clear that we were going to be okay as there were no mountains evident! What we did in fact do was climb an extremely steep set of staircases up and over a hill and down the other side to a lake in the middle of the island. The views and scenery were pretty spectacular.

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On arriving back at the boat we were then taken to a third island for lunch...a green curry, vegetables, rice and spaghetti?? (obviously!!!) picnic on the beach. It wasn't bad food, accompanied by the obligatory pineapple and watermelon afterwards. After lunch it was back on the boat to our third and final island where we were thrown life jackets and told to get in 2 person kayaks. We paddled in a group around a nearby island and although it seemed like we were trying to break some sort of speed record in order to get back, it was good fun. On getting back, we then laid around for about an hour before taken back to Ko Samui (hence not understanding the need to paddle like the wind in the kayaks!!!).

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It was a fun trip although it would have been nice to be rich and be able to charter a boat to do it at our leisure!

Posted by msmitheman 20:49 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Tropical Thailand...

...Ko Samui

sunny 32 °C
View Mike & Kim's Trip on msmitheman's travel map.

Our time in Bali sadly came to an end on the 13th August. We jumped in a cab at 3pm with all our gear and headed to the airport for a 6pm flight. We were flying from Bali to Jakarta and then onto Bangkok for the initial couple of legs. Assuming that our flight to Jakarta would be taking off from the domestic terminal I got our cab driver to drop us there. On chatting with the check in agent, I soon established this was wrong as our second leg was international....a new one for me...so on failing to come up with an excuse for Kim, I confessed and picked up the 2 kite bags for the walk around to the international terminal...luckily not too too far!!

That was to be the only hiccup of the trip...our Jakarta leg took off on time and we landed about 7pm....we had a couple of hours to kill there (which involved a bowl of noodles and game of scrabble) before our 9pm flight to Bangkok. Garuda airlines did us proud for both legs, landing us on time at about 1am at Bangkok airport (although I did find out, just before we left, that Garuda has been banned from flying in Europe for failing to meet safety standards...I had no complaints!).

Us In Jakarta
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On clearing immigration and collecting bags in Bangkok, we had time to kill before we could check in for our 6am flight to Ko Samui...we set up camp and found coffee and croissants, and after a quick nap were able to check in about 4am. Once again the Bangkok airlines flight took off on time and an hour later we were landing in Ko Samui, at a tiny little open air airport (basically a runway and a little shaded area for the baggage carousel) some 12 hours since departing (actually more with time differences...its really not that far distance wise).

I found us a bus to our hotel which turned out to be about a 10 minute drive away. We set up camp at the Shambala Bungalows in a place called Big Buddha on the northeast corner of the island. It's a tiny little village...one street of shops and restaurants but with a really nice beach and bay, all of which seem very quiet again. We spent two nights in the Shambala Bungalows, but soon discovered that it's a lot warmer here than Bali....we had gone for a cheapy "no aircon, no hot water" room....but with the pathetic fan in there, it was a little unbearable. We didn't have to walk far (2 doors down) to find another much nicer place for pretty much the same price with all the mod cons, including a mini bar and breakfast...(no complaints for less than 15 dollars a night).

Big Buddha Beach
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The kiting here isn't great....we made a couple of attempts, but the wind is pretty light, and there's not a lot of room for error with a thin beach, boats and piers so we've found other things to amuse ourselves. (although I have to say the bay is very shallow at low to mid tide....waist deep for a long way out, so if the conditions ever did come right it would be a good spot). Also bumping into 2 bathing water buffalo didn't help fill me with confidence that it was going to be a great spot!

Big Buddha Pier
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There are a lot of "Wat's" or Buddhist Temples on the island. As you may have guessed where we are staying is named as it is due to there being a Big Buddha at the Wat here. We can see it from the beach and I have to say when I first got here I was skeptical (shock horror I hear you say!). It didn't look that impressive and I was beginning to think they should have really called the place "Quite Big Buddha", however I stand corrected having visited it up close the other day....quite impressive...as are the other Wat's around the island. They are typically very colorful with lots of bald chaps in orange robes chanting.

Wat's
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We have rented a little jeep for our time here as it's so cheap and works out less than getting around on public transport (the taxi's are a huge rip off....they'll charge you 10 bucks or more for a journey of a few hundred yards). To give you an idea what this particular rental car is like, the windows will fall out if you open them to carelessly...the steering wheel has a bit of rope around it that I suspect is holding it on...the wind screen washer thing does a very good job at washing anyone who may be walking down the pavement 2 streets away, which doesn't really matter as the windscreen wipers don't really do anything...and it goes on...in fact when the guy handed me the keys and the bit of paper where I was supposed to mark off any "dents or scratches" on the little picture of the vehicle...I pondered for a minute before drawing a big circle around the whole thing....much to the amusement of the rental car folk...although I did notice they didn't change it!!! Having said that it's doing us proud and we've grown to love its quirkiness!

We took an initial trip around the island...it's not big...I suspect if you drove none stop you could circumnavigate it in an hour or less. Most of the villages are around the coast....the inland is very hilly and from what I can tell from the map mostly forest. On our first trip we failed to find the snake farm, butterfly farm, crocodile farm and the Ha Lin waterfall, but had fun pottering around looking at the different areas (we may make another attempt at some point!). Once again the trip confirmed our choice in locations, there are some terrible resort towns on the west side of the island that made Kuta on Bali (see previous posts) look idyllic.

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There are lots of stray animals on the island. Kim is single handedly feeding them one by one in her rescue attempts! (what with this and her "War On Sand" in our room...god forbid I don't brush off before coming in...there's almost not enough hours in the day!!!).

Kim & her kittens!
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We saw an advert soon after getting here for the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts (SITCA) that was offering various courses cuisine related....

to digress quickly, the food here has been FANTASTIC...I was worried when we first arrived that we were just going to spend all hours of the day eating (we have restrained ourselves)...so on seeing the courses we thought it would be fun to check the school out.

Turns out that there are lots of cooking classes, but also a Thai Fruit & Vegetable carving course...which runs over three days. It's a lot of fun...challenging, but doable...run by a very tenacious Thai women who will certainly let you know if your "angles are off by a few degrees" or your "cut is 5mm instead of 4mm"! It's a small class...3 hours each day and we have just completed day 2....it was water melons on the 1st day and cantaloupes on the 2nd....and assuming I don't mess up my turnip and pumpkin tomorrow, I will apparently receive a certification in "Fruit & Vegetable Carving" (that's "carving. not chopping" as the teacher likes to say to the "Italian chef" who is also on our course who seems to have a fairly hap hazard technique that has tended to result in his creation looking more weed than flower!)...who knows, maybe I'll be able to find a job at the Thai restaurant 2 doors down when we get home!

Day 1 our watermelons
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Day 2 my cantaloupe & kim at work
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We have plans to take a trip to the marine national park about 30km west of here in a couple of days. For those that have seen it this is where the movie "The Beach" was filmed. Apparently it's about an hours speed boat ride followed by a day of sea kayaking and snorkeling. Should be fun. We may also do a day trip to Ko Tao, which is another island a similar distance away....apparently good snorkeling.

We have another week here before we return to Bangkok....our plan then being to make our way to Ko Samet...another island about a 2 hour bus journey and hours boat trip from the capital.

(SIDE NOTE: We did indeed make national TV in Indonesia...can't say we saw it ourselves, but apparently it was "good good"!)

Posted by msmitheman 05:34 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

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