|December 18, 2009
We got up in the morning and packed our bags ready to fly to Phuket. We had time for a breakfast stop and visited our local café again for another healthy muesli stop!
We jumped in (well, squeezed in) a tuk-tuk with our big bags and headed off to the airport where we got checked in easily and had some time to catch up on our travel journals. The flight was nearly 2 hours and thankfully the landing was a lot less bumpy than the previous one into Chiang Mai. This flight was packed with tourists and little else – the first such flight we had seen anywhere with so few locals. Elizabeth and I had guessed what was to come!
At the airport, we got our bags easily enough and headed out to get a taxi. The hotel had told us the fare would be around 800 Baht so when we saw a taxi stand advertising our destination at Patong as 650 Baht we took it without question. We gave the lady at the desk our hotel details and she nodded as if she knew it. Likewise, when we got in the taxi the driver claimed he knew it too. However, 15 minutes into the journey he pulled into a tour agency and claimed he needed help with the address and directions. Of course, a girl came out and claimed she needed to call the hotel and then asked us to come inside to show us some tours. We told her to get the driver out immediately (he’d gone inside for some reason) and to get him to drive us to our destination right away. When the driver returned he was rude and abrupt and we finally got to Patong. When we got there I asked him if we were on the road we needed and he claimed to not know whether it was or not. Thankfully, Elizabeth and I both spotted our hotel and told him but he carried on driving claiming he couldn’t stop! We just told him to stop and got out, deciding to walk back to the hotel rather than let him drive us around the streets. We had enough of him and his stupid bullshit and Elizabeth made a note of his details so she could complain about him.
We were glad to be at the hotel and were met by the owners, Goy and her husband Claus. They were so friendly and helpful that it was a relief to finally be here and to get to our room. We had a nice large room which was comfy and air-conditioned. Perfect!
We’d had lunch on the plane but it wasn’t very much and so we headed out for dinner fairly early. We both felt like a change from Thai food and headed out to an Irish bar called Molly Malone’s where I got a lamb burger and Elizabeth got chilli with rice. The food was good but combined with a couple of drinks and a shared apple turnover, the bill was over $30. It’s amazing how quickly western food adds up compared to the cheap Thai food we’ve had.
The main street here in Patong along the beach was a huge, massive, major tourist destination. I had been looking forward to heading south and to the islands in Thailand but having seen the various collections of families shoving pushchairs down the tiny pavements and groups of loud, obnoxious (mostly) English combined with every kind of tatty souvenir you could imagine, I wondered whether this was going to be as good as I’d hoped!
December 19, 2009
We’d arranged with the hotel to rent a scooter from them today so we could get out of the town and drive around. The bike wasn’t going to be ready until around 11am so we had a nice lie-in and a tasty breakfast at the hotel before setting off.
The guy at our hotel, Claus, had given us some good tips of where to go and see on the island including a couple of beaches for lazing around on and some viewing points around the southern tip of the island.
We started off heading out of Patong and through Karon and Kata and found a lovely viewing area close to the cape of the island, just beyond Kata beach. The view was lovely and having wound our way up through the hills, we were able to see not only the close beaches of Kata and Karon but also Patong beach some 13 or 14km back down the Andaman coast. The day was quite cloudy but the view was perfect.
From there we headed down to the very tip of the island and got some great views there, too. The island was very scenic and picturesque and we were glad to be out of the touristy town which surrounded the hotel.
We eventually stopped at a small beach to have a swim at. It was quite busy with tourists but it was quieter than most we’d seen. We decided to forego the 200 Baht to use a sun bed and umbrella and just lay out on the sand. We spent way more time in the water than we did on the beach anyway so 200 Baht was a bit excessive, especially as we weren’t intending to sunbathe very much!
After a while wading around and enjoying the cool, wonderfully clear water, we headed to a bad called After Beach for some lunch. The bar had some great views over the cove too and it was nice to have a decent sandwich and some fresh fruit while just chilling out. This certainly beat being in Patong!
We drove on a bit further and headed up towards the big Buddha which is being built in the centre of the island. The drive up to the Buddha was hard work on the small engine scooter but it was fun getting to drive fast on the highway and driving around the bends up into the hills, surrounded by lovely green forests. The Buddha was pretty impressive and we could see it from a fair few of the roads along the way, looming large on the peak of the hill.
The scaffolding around the statue was clearly visible but it was nearly complete. The views afforded from the hilltop over the rest of Phuket were nice, too.
We visited a few different dive shops in Karon trying to find a decent deal for a dive later in the week. They all seemed fairly similar in price but a couple of operators seemed a little more helpful than others so we took their leaflets. We wanted to talk to the guys at the hotel first before we made a choice.
We headed back through Kata towards the viewing point and it was here we had a near miss – the truck two in front of us was constantly stopping and starting and his brake lights didn’t work. At one point, going down a hill, he quickly stopped and the car behind had to slam on the brakes. I did similar but because of the hill the bike did little but skid and as I finally got it to a stop I was just able to hold it upright rather than letting it fall on both of us. I was relieved that neither of us were hurt and was really annoyed at the truck ahead. A fair few vehicles here have problems with their brake lights and I felt I’d been driving pretty well all day and avoiding some of the reckless driving on the island so I was annoyed with myself a little, too.
We made it to the viewing point with no further hassles and grabbed a drink to watch the sunset. However, the viewing point was not really facing the right direction for the falling sun and it was obscured by a bloody large tree. Also, the sky was fairly cloudy and we decided not to wait for the sun to fall all the way, deciding to head back a little early.
Back at the hotel, we had a shower and cleaned up before heading out to dinner. We tried one of the local street stalls just down the road from the hotel. I had a yellow curry soup and Elizabeth had the green curry. They were both excellent but the meal was memorable more for the antics of the waitress trying to chat up one of the more elderly foreign customers. She wasn’t really pretty or anything but he was at least 20 years older than her but despite her almost desperate pleas to see him tomorrow he seemed not the slightest bit interested! At one point, I thought she was going to beg him! Finally, another group of her “regular customers” showed up and she went to talk to them, almost as if she was trying to make the first man jealous. It was really surreal and bizarre!
December 20, 2009
Despite the near miss yesterday we had no problems deciding to rent the bike again and this time head north. We had another lazy start and headed off around 11 after a quick breakfast at the hotel.
It was quite a drive to our first stop, the Ton-Sai waterfall. We drove north out of Patong and went through a couple of other beach towns called Kamala and Surin. Once we had gone past Surin, we knew we would meet the highway and take a smaller road to the falls. Unfortunately, I ended up ON the highway and trying to work out how the hell I could do a U-turn and get us back to where we needed to be. I’d driven a scooter for over 4 years in Bermuda but with the small and windy roads there plus the 35km/h speed limit, I rarely drove above 50km/h. Here, on the highway, traffic was zooming past and it felt quite, well, breezy, driving at over 80km/h trying to get across to the outside lane to do a U-turn at the next turning point!
Having found the right road and almost taken flight over a well hidden speed bump, we found the waterfalls car park and took the short walk to the falls. It was lovely and peaceful around here with hardly a tourist in sight. In fact, apart from one Thai couple having lunch and a large family enjoying the pool at the bottom of the falls, there was hardly anyone except the odd passer-by. We happily sat, dangling our feet in the water and laughing at the kids playing in the water. It was so serene and the shade provided by the trees made the area really pretty. It was such a nice change from Patong, for sure!
It was quite a drive out there and after an hour or so lounging around and relaxing, we were both starting to feel hungry. We decided to head back to Surin beach for some food but as we drove through we saw very little so we continued the additional 4 or 5km to get to Kamala where the beach was lined by stalls and restaurants. We found a nice little place, run by a really friendly Thai lady and tucked into a sandwich and some nice, sweet fresh fruit. We have travelled for over 5 months now and fruit seems to have been lacking from our diets for quite a while but since we reached SE Asia, that has been rectified and we’ve been trying to eat more and more. It is so good too!
After that we just dumped ourselves on the beach and relaxed under the sun umbrella as the sun peeked in and out from behind the clouds. Apart from the day we actually arrived here, the sky has been quite cloudy but it has still been sunny and warm. We had a dip in the water, too, but both of us felt like our skin was itching as soon as we got in. we had just put sun cream on and I wondered if the salty water was reacting weirdly with the sun cream. It just felt funky, like we’d been bitten or stung and it was itchy. We both decided after a few minutes we’d be better off out of the water having been in long enough to at least cool us off!
After a bit longer lazing around and reading, we walked around some of the stalls and I bought a cap (hoping to finally get my hair cut soon!) and then we headed back, the long drive around the stunning winding coastal road seeming to take an age – we weren’t in a rush and we were both enjoying the scenery. Back at the hotel, we grabbed a juice and sorted out a diving trip with the girls at the hotel before heading to our room for much needed showers.
For dinner we headed out to Bang La Road, which is supposedly the Patong equivalent of Soi Cowboy with “girlie” bars and a little seedy. Quite honestly, I didn’t think it was anything of the sort and whilst most of the bars had girls hanging around them and doing all the serving, they didn’t seem anywhere near as bad. We found a nice little Indian restaurant for dinner and both had excellent curries. It was lucky they were excellent as the service was pretty shoddy and the servers were, at times, quite rude. Elizabeth ordered first and asked for her curry to be spicy and the girl almost flat out refused saying they would make it normal and would then take it back if it needed to be spicier! On about the fourth attempt, Elizabeth just told the girl she liked spicy food and wanted it made how she had asked! When the girl repeated our order she emphasized the spicy part and we both found this a bit petty but also amusing. When the food arrived it was spicy – nice and spicy – and perfect for what we wanted, accompanied by a couple of breads which were also good.
Suitably stuffed, we headed back to the hotel where we plonked ourselves at the bar and settled in for a few beers. We were chatting and drinking away with the owners, Claus and Goy, and before we knew it the time was bedtime, given we had an early start tomorrow. I still had time for a Mai Tai though, made with Claus’ own special recipe!
December 21, 2009
We had a day trip to Ko Phi Phi arranged today. The tour was by speedboat and took in a number of the different bays and beaches around the two main Phi Phi islands as well as some chances to snorkel.
The speedboat ride out to the islands took about an hour and a half. Everyone was enjoying the ride to begin with and was in high spirits. However, the weather wasn’t great and the wind was causing quite a swell and some large waves which meant that the speedboat bounced around a lot in the open water. Elizabeth and I were sat behind the captain so we were grateful to be shielded a little when we started hitting the big waves and everyone else was getting soaked!
Our first port of call was Maya Bay which was absolutely beautiful, despite the load of tourist speedboats there and the cramped beach. Unfortunately, we only had about 20 minutes here and our guide told us there was “nothing to see here” so didn’t give us our masks and snorkels yet. I was a bit annoyed as just swimming out for a short way I saw loads of fish under the water.
From there we drove around the other side of the bay and into a little cove which was equally scenic. Just outside this cove was Viking Cave which was supposed to be something important, I think. Our guide spoke very poor English and he spoke so fast he didn’t make any sense at all half the time. The cave didn’t look very impressive having bamboo scaffolding seemingly supporting it and a load of clothes hanging out to dry at the entrance, presumably from the people who must live there now. Along the coast, there were much more interesting looking caves.
We continued on from there to the largest of the two islands, Phi Phi Don where we stopped for lunch. This was a buffet at one of the hotels and by this point I was starving! We hadn’t eaten much all day as we were feeling a bit ill from the effects of very spicy Indian food last night so I made the most of the all-you-can-eat option!
At the end of lunch, we ended up waiting around on the boat for a while. A group of 6 Indian blokes were on our boat and every time we stopped somewhere they were late back, not giving a shit about anyone else, quite happy in their own little ignorant world. In fact, much of our boat was made up of weirdos! There was a trio of Arabic people who seemed to moan all day (especially the older of the two women), a couple of Russians who spoke not a single word all day and then a few others who didn’t say much either. The only thing missing from today was a grumpy French person but we were at least saved that pain again!
Next stop was Monkey Bay where a load of monkeys were sitting on the rocks on the beach being fed by the tourists. The stupid Arabic man on our boat decided to offer one of the monkeys a drink of coke, complete with plastic cup and all. Now, I’ve never claimed to be a genius but I am aware that giving an animal plastic to eat might just possibly, maybe be a bad thing. Are some people born as idiots or do they grow into the role?
Finally, we stopped to have our first snorkel of the day at a place just around the corner from Monkey Bay. The water was quite deep but it was so clear and you could make out loads of Sergeant Major fish and Parrotfish of many different colours. When we first jumped in, the staff on the boat threw some bread into the water and the Sergeant Majors all gathered around to feed. One of the Arabic women (the older, moanier one!) started to scream and had to be helped back to the boat by not only her friends but also the boat captain had to dive in and help her! Whilst we have met some cool people since we’ve been travelling, we’ve also had the dubious pleasure of meeting some absolute freaks and weirdos too!
The second snorkel stop was at a small island closer to Phuket which I think was called Ko Aew. From a distance, the place was idyllic. The sand rose from the ocean, creating a small, lovely isolated island; a true tropical paradise. On closer inspection, about 20 speedboats were moored there not to mention about 10 or more long boats while the lovely yellow sand was barely visible from the hundreds of tourists and stalls and touts and beach chairs which covered it from one end to the other. Needless to say, with all the activity here, the fish life was sparse and the water was very cloudy, the number of boats coming and going meaning the visibility here was rubbish. I’d have rather snorkeled at the “nothing to see here” Maya Bay!
Thankfully, the second stop had been quite a way back towards Phuket and so the trip back to the marina was quite short. The trip hadn’t been great and I was starting to worry that the diving we had planned for tomorrow might not be so good, particularly not looking forward to another long boat ride in windy conditions.
We were glad to be back and we got back to Patong fairly quickly and got ourselves showered and cleaned up, ready for dinner. After the spicy food last night and the Thai food I’d had for lunch, I fancied a change and so we headed to Hard Rock for dinner. It was a new place and it was really laid back, having a really good live band playing. Right by the entrance there was a really cool looking fish tank which was full of small sharks swimming around. We were sat right by it and it was fascinating watching them swim around, despite some people choosing to bang on the glass. I’d like to put all those kind of people in a glass box and spend the day banging on it to see how they like it!
Anyway, I had a really nice chicken burger and Elizabeth had the macaroni and cheese! After we’d finished, we noticed our waiter getting a bit of a telling off and the manager came over and asked us if everything had been OK and asked if we had to wait a long time for our food as he’d noticed it was quite slow coming out. We told him everything was fine and the food was great and arrived in a reasonable time. It had taken slightly longer than we’d expected but the atmosphere was nice and we weren’t in a rush. I certainly wouldn’t have raised it as an issue myself and didn’t see the need for any staff member to be criticized over it. Regardless, the service charge had been removed from our bill when it arrived. Given Hard Rocks are a bit of a splurge on our budget, I wasn’t going to get them to add it back on!
December 22, 2009
Today we had our first day diving in Thailand. I was a bit nervous for a few reasons. Firstly, the boat ride yesterday had been bumpy and the wind was still up today. I wondered whether we’d have good diving conditions. Secondly, we had not met the dive company (South Siam Divers) before we dived and I was concerned about whether we would get on with the staff, equipment, etc. Finally, we’d both been a bit ill yesterday and I was praying for a settled stomach!
Despite slightly windy weather, none of my concerns turned out to be a problem at all. The dives were within a quite sheltered bay, the dive company, our equipment and our guide were brilliant (wait until I can upload some of the photos!) and I felt fine all day.
Our dives were at Bungalow Bay where we did the South side in the morning and the North in the afternoon. The first dive dropped us into quite a sandy area and there were hardly any fish around. Our guide spotted a stray piece of fishing line and a hook so for the first few minutes we drifted around while he cut the line and removed it. It was annoying not seeing much and just drifting but it is really great when you see how divers take care of the environment in which they spend much of their time. A couple of the divers here had even mentioned how they no longer eat lobster as it had been so over-farmed here you rarely saw a lobster around the islands anymore.
As the dive went on, we saw a lot more variety of fish and the water was so clear and warm. The fish were similar to those we saw in Bermuda but we also caught sight briefly of a blue-spotted ray and a cuttlefish. The cuttlefish was really weird looking, but more of those on the second dive!
Both Elizabeth and I were really relaxed on the dive and enjoyed it. I don’t think Elizabeth enjoyed it as much as me as there weren’t as many fish as we were used to. I was just glad to be under the water and swimming around free of thousands of tourists with some peace and tranquility!
The lunch on board the boat was pretty tasty and I have to admit I did stuff myself a bit. I made sure I had a good rest before the second dive though!
The second dive was great and I saw some things I had never seen before. As we descended, there was a large balloonfish/pufferfish right by the mooring line and it just cruised past as we sank. I had seen these before but never one so big and never so close. Not long after that we spotted another cuttlefish and this one was hunting. I’d never seen a cuttlefish before the first dive and to get so close to this one was great. We saw him twice attack something else in the sand, seeing his long tentacles and tongue reaching out to grab the prey. As he swam away, we also saw him change colour, blending in with the sandy bottom as he swam and wriggled away. Our guide had been taking pictures all along but it was only later when I watched back that we found out he had taken a video clip and had perfectly caught the cuttlefish hunting. It was amazing and like being in a scene from a documentary.
After that, it certainly didn’t get any worse – we saw a rare and beautiful nudi-branch, a kind of sea slug, basically. Our guide in Egypt had pointed one out to us but I had not really seen it. This one though was just sat on a piece of coral and wide out in the open. It looked quite pink under the water but the pictures showed it to actually be quite clear with orange spots.
And to finish in a good note, a huge group of juvenile barracuda swam around us, the school almost completely engulfing us. they certainly didn’t look as mean as the adult barracudas but you could definitely make out the menacing teeth! Again, our guide got some great pictures and video.
Surfacing, I knew it had been a great dive but only now as I am writing this and writing about the things I REMEMBER seeing, let alone those I forgot about, makes me think this was probably the best dive I’ve ever done.
The pictures our guide took only back up this claim as they show so well all the amazing things we saw. It wasn’t really a choice of whether to buy the pictures or not. After looking through them and seeing the quality and content, we had to buy them, even if the price was a bit steep. For me, it is rare I actually get a chance to see pictures of myself or the wonderful marine life I’d swam with so I happily paid up. We bought pictures of our cenote dive last year in Mexico but they were nothing compared to this! Totally amazing!
Back at the hotel we were glad to get into the nice warm shower and get cleaned off before a short rest and heading out for some dinner. Tonight we went to a little Thai place called Restaurant 6 – we had been past there on a few occasions and it had always been busy. It was equally busy when we got there and we managed to squeeze into a small table in the corner. We ordered some great spring rolls to start with and followed it with a lovely pad Thai and a noodle dish with chicken and basil. The food was excellent and it was amazingly cheap. Given we had lunch on the boat, this was all we’d spent on food so far today so it was a cheap day all round. So far!
That all changed back at the hotel though as we settled down at the bar and chatted and drank with the owners, Claus and Goy, as well as one of the other people staying here. We worked our way through a couple of beers and half the cocktail list, testing Claus’ bartending skills to the fullest! I think Elizabeth worked out that by the end of the night she’d had vodka, gin, rum, tequila, Cointreau, Baileys, Kahlua and I’m sure a few others too! At one point an obnoxious American turned up in the bar and was being a complete twat. I was honestly as horrible to him as I could possibly be without being overly insulting in the hope that he would disappear. Thankfully, he did disappear into town taking our other drinking buddy with him!
We eventually made it to bed around 3am having gone way past the bar closing time and way past our bed time, not to mention our alcohol tolerance levels!
December 23, 2009
Today we did absolutely nothing. Our excesses of last night meant that the marching band inside my head was marching harder than usual!
By around 3pm, I started to get hungry so I went downstairs and ordered some burgers from the hotel restaurant. Boy, did they taste good!
I’m sorry to say though, I went straight back to bed after that and I don’t even want to think about how many hours of US TV shows I watched today!
For dinner, we made it all the way downstairs again where I had a great Massaman curry – the girls who work in the kitchen at our hotel had made us some pretty good food just today, just when we needed it most!
After picking up some laundry, packing up our stuff and our dinner, we headed for an early night – we needed to leave the hotel at 7am tomorrow so we’d be having no repeat of last night!