Peter and Elizabeth - RTW 2009-11 travel blog

Gorgeous lagoon

On the beach

At the top of the viewpoint overlooking the many islands of the...

Elizabeth and the sunset

Me and the sunset

December 24, 2009

Our early pickup this morning arrived perfectly on time and we got to the airport easily enough. The flight to Samui was quick and it was lovely watching the little plane fly over the beautiful island as we came into land. The beaches and ocean looked very appealing and we couldn’t wait to get some diving done.

We arrived at the hotel near Lamai beach and checked into our room, which was nice and big. It was only when the owner asked to see our passports that we realized we had a problem – Elizabeth had left hers on the plane in her seat pocket! After some quick phone calls from the owners, we were in their car headed back to the airport as thankfully the passport had been found and could be collected from the lost baggage office. So, after a couple of hours detour we returned to our hotel room and finally got properly checked in and had some lunch.

After that we hired a bike for the week we were here and drove into Lamai to find somewhere for dinner tomorrow night and a dive company to use for a couple of days of underwater exploring! We managed to find a nice little restaurant called Churchills which was serving a more traditional Christmas lunch and sounded exactly what we needed to celebrate Christmas! Equally easily we found a good little dive shop and booked ourselves in for two Christmas day dives as well!

Apart from that, we did very little for the rest of the afternoon but have a bit of a drive around and settle into our hotel.

In the evening, we drove back into Lamai and found a quite smart looking restaurant. The western food here was quite pricey but the Thai food was less than half the price so we both went for that. So far we have not had a single bad Thai meal and this was no different, with two different Thai curries being hungrily gobbled up between us!

Back at the hotel, we borrowed a DVD and settled in for an early night – we have to be up at 7am tomorrow. 7am on Christmas Day?! Urgh.

December 25, 2009

The early start this morning was well worth the effort. The guy from the dive shop, Clive, picked us up dot on 7am and we headed north to Bo Phut where the dive company had its main office and where the boat left from.

The boat headed out to Koh Tao, taking about an hour and a half to get there. The boat was big and there were only a small number of us on board – a family of 5 Uruguayans, a couple of people doing their first ever dives and three others apart from us. There were plenty of dive guides to go around so we had one just for us two, which was the first time we’d had that since Mexico.

The first stop was Mango Bay which was to drop off the family and the first-timers. The water here was lovely and clear and the beach made a nice dive and snorkeling site for them. We headed off around the corner to our first dive spot – White Rock. The water here was so calm and clear, much calmer than we’d had in Phuket.

We dived down and had a great dive, spending an hour under the water, seeing blue spotted rays, white-eye morays, a curious batfish who followed us around for a good 15 minutes, a wide range of sea cucumbers and the amusing bulldozer shrimp and their guardian gobies.

The sea cucumbers, like in Phuket, had been really active. When I’d seen them before, both diving and in aquariums, they had been completely still and had not moved a single inch. Here, they were moving around and quite clearly wriggling around the coral.

The bulldozer shrimp were amazing. I first noticed them about half way through the dive and then realized they were everywhere! There would be a hole in the sandy bottom and outside it there would be a small gobi fish guarding it. As I hovered over and watched, the small shrimp came out of the hole carrying bits of sand and shell, obviously making the hole bigger for the fish and shrimp to cohabit! It was literally bulldozing the hole! These things were fascinating and they were everywhere. I kept getting left behind as I stopped to watch!

After that we headed back to Mango Bay for some lunch. The food was really good and consisted of a nice fresh salad, potato salad and some breaded chicken breasts. It was so good I stuffed myself but was wary of having to dive again in a bit! While we stopped for lunch, the three kids on the boat did a mini dive. They were not old enough to do a proper dive so the instructors took them out for a swim around with the full kit on. It was so cool to see them swimming around and enjoying it so much, all of them surfacing and telling their parents they wanted to learn to dive! That could be one expensive Christmas for those parents!

For the second dive we headed to a site called Twins. Here the visibility was not so good as the water had begun to get cloudier. Still, we saw another eel and another ray along with (quite fittingly) Christmas Tree worms and the attached polyps in a variety of bright colours, lots of bannerfish, and a pair of saddleback clownfish. I also saw another nudi-branch, this one being orange with blue spots compared to the one we had seem the other day. One thing I have noticed here is how brightly coloured the parrotfish were, some of the colours appearing almost neon.

We had two great dives and it was so nice to be in a small group and in great conditions. In fact, it was probably the best conditions we’d both had the pleasure of diving in. And thanks to the quiet boat, I got to lie down and have a nap on the way back!

After a chat with some of my family to wish them Happy Christmas, Elizabeth and I headed out to a restaurant called Churchill’s for our Christmas dinner. We both had a traditional dinner of roast turkey, roast potatoes and veggies. It was so hot sitting there eating it, even after sunset, but it was really nice to have something which reminded us marginally of Christmas! Plus it was a nice change from Thai food.

We had a few more drinks in the town before heading back to the hotel so Elizabeth could talk to her family, too. It was certainly a different way to spend Christmas day and even though we’d spent last Christmas in Bermuda, this felt altogether different but every bit as fun.

I won’t wish anyone reading this Happy Christmas as it will probably be 2010 by the time you get round to seeing this! So, Happy New Year!!!

December 26, 2009

Today was our quiet day – one of them, anyway. We had a few things we needed to sort out and we started off with those.

We had decided to both get our advanced diving qualification but weren’t sure whether to try and do it at our next stop in Ko Pha Ngan or to wait until Australia. We knew it would be cheaper here but we thought it would be an ideal chance to do some different type of dives when we get to the Great Barrier Reef. Eventually, we decided to do it in Australia and found a decent company operating from Cairns who were offering exactly what we wanted. It was expensive but we were going to do a liveaboard trip for 2 or 3 nights anyway so it made sense to make the most of it! We’ll just do 2 days of normal diving in KPN now.

That took longer than we expected, having searched the internet for what seemed like about a thousand different dive operators! After that we headed out for lunch and found a nice little café for a sandwich. It seems strange but on top of the fairly heavy rice-based meals we are having in the evenings, we almost seem to crave sandwiches for lunch!

Back at the hotel in the afternoon we just lazed around, tired from diving yesterday and our big meal last night. I managed to get a couple of other things sorted out for our trip (car hire in Aus and a flight over volcanoes in NZ) and got a little nap time in!

In the evening, we switched back to Thai food which we just can’t seem to get enough of. The few times we have something different in the evenings, we always seem to go back the next day, unlike China where we had mostly crap Chinese food and weren’t ever overly keen on trying more! I had a lovely pork green curry and Elizabeth had a really nice veggie one. As a treat for doing nothing all day, we even had ice cream for dessert!

December 27, 2009

We were up early this morning for a trip to An Thong Marine Park. We thought the trip was going to be a mostly snorkeling trip but it didn’t turn out that way. Thankfully, it was a lot better.

After a couple of hours on a busy boat, surrounded by lots of weird and not so wonderful people, our first stop was a small beach called Mae Koh Island. Here we climbed up to see a lagoon which was perched perfectly inside the mountain. The view was stunning from the very top view point and closer to the lagoon itself was just as picturesque. The walk up there was quite rocky and narrow in parts and having to squeeze through the tight passages made us glad we had gone up there early and quickly when we first got there. On the way back down, another large tour group were on their way up and were completely ignorant and oblivious to us coming down. We let about 15 people through one of the tiny gaps and not a single one thanked us. Eventually, we stopped them and pushed our way through, much to their annoyance. Once the other side, this group went on for ages and trailed right down the steps. There must have been over 50 of them and just 2 of us. We were glad we pushed our way through!

Back at the beach we took a chance for a quick cool down in the water. Unlike some trips we have taken, this one allowed plenty of time at the stops and it was nice to have time to relax after the climb to the viewing point.

Our boats were moored offshore and we had to take long boats to get to and from the main boat. Back on the boat we had lunch which was a mixture of a funny chicken curry thing, chicken drumsticks and some sweet and sour vegetables with shrimp. The food was OK but nothing special. Like just about every meal here though, we had a good selection of fresh fruit to finish with.

Our second stop was Wua-Talap Island. Here there was a viewing point which was a 500m walk through rocky forest just behind the beach. The walk uphill was hard work, much of the trail being steep and rocky. Along the entire way there was a rope to help you climb up some of the steeper parts but that didn’t make it any easier. By the time we were about 400m into the climb, we were both tiring but kept plugging away. About 20m from the top the tree cover ended and we did the final part, the steepest part, in the direct sunlight. Here the rocks were quite difficult to walk over but reaching the top made it all worthwhile. The view over the park was magnificent with loads of tiny little islands dotted around the water on both sides of the hill.

At the top were a couple of men who had climbed up earlier and they congratulated us on getting to the top! After a few minutes recovery, a few pictures and some much needed water, we headed back down. The climb down was every bit as tricky as the way up but didn’t take as long as they way up. The climb up had taken around 35 minutes but down took about 25. I think gravity helped!

Back at the beach we once again jumped in the water to cool off. My t-shirt was completely soaked with sweat from the climb up the hill and I was in dire need of being refreshed! Elizabeth went and grabbed a mask and snorkel and had a swim around but the water was quite murky. I wasn’t bothered about snorkeling as I was tired enough but even though it wasn’t great, the day had been really good fun and we’d got to see some amazing views and scenery.

We had a couple of hours back on the boat back to Samui and I took the opportunity to get a bit of sleep. However, some people weren’t so fortunate with a couple of Chinese women spending most of the way being sick. Not only was this weird because the water was almost perfectly calm but weirder still was the way they were laughing and joking with everyone else on the boat in between leaning out the window to throw up! They didn’t seem in discomfort or displeasure at all and found it all quite amusing. I was pleased to nod off quickly enough to not have to listen to too much wretching!

Back at Samui, the shuttle bus took us back to our hotel and we were both worn out and hungry by this point. We both jumped in the shower and headed over to the hotel restaurant for a big, fat, unhealthy burger and fries and a beer for me – thoroughly deserved after all those calories we sweated out earlier.

December 28, 2009

Our final day in Koh Samui for now (we’re coming back after spending New Year elsewhere) and we decided to make full use of the bike and drive around some of the sights near to our hotel. After breakfast, we first headed to one of the waterfalls on the island. Having driven up a steep hill to get near the top, we parked the bike and walked down to where the falls were. As we started to near the water, a man stopped us and asked us to pay. The little hut he had didn’t look very official and there were no official signs around. We’d also been told by the guy at the dive shop earlier in the week that there was not price to go up. The bloke stood here seemed quite insistent that we pay and knowing we shouldn’t have to, plus the area looked quite crappy, we decided not to bother paying to go in.

Back at the bike, we were confronted by a Thai who demanded we pay him for parking on “his land” which he’d apparently concreted over and put up a sign saying it cost to park there. We couldn’t see any sign and had only been gone for about 5 minutes so we told him we weren’t going to pay. He then proceeded to stand in front of the bike so we couldn’t move and shout abuse at us. Eventually, we just paid as it was not worth the argument but even as we paid the bloke continued throwing abuse at us. I told him, quite clearly, to shut up and that he was a !

Further down the hill were other stopping points that led to the waterfall but every one seemed to have a fee to park and a fee to see the waterfall. Having been told that the falls were quite quiet this year due to the wet season being not so wet, we decided just to skip it.

Next stop was the aquarium and tiger zoo. We weren’t sure what to expect here but had low expectations and, equally, expected a low price! When we got there, the sight met the low expectations visually but the price was 750 Baht – nearly $23 each! Once again, after a very short deliberation, we decided not to go in as it just didn’t seem worth it. We’d seen so many cool fish underwater here whilst diving we really wondered what we would gain by paying nearly $50 for two of us to go in here. We decided the money would be much better spent elsewhere, notably on more diving when we get to Ko Pha Ngan.

It had taken us roughly an hour driving around and doing nothing and by around 11am we were back at the hotel. This at least gave us the opportunity to catch up on sleep, catch up on travel journals and also check out prices for diving in Ko Pha Ngan. It is definitely the one thing we are now really splurging on but we’re still conscious of getting a good deal and going to the places we really want to dive at.

After lunch, we had a dip in the hotel pool. It was a nice little area around the pool and the water was a nice temperature to laze around in.

We didn’t do a whole lot more during the rest of the day until we headed into Lamai in the evening for a curry, this time Indian. The little restaurant was very busy and the food explained why. It wasn’t overly spicy but given we had an hour on a boat tomorrow neither of us minded that too much!

Like Phuket, we’ve liked Samui but probably not for the reasons many people enjoy these places. Crazy as it might seem given we’d spent a fair bit of time in Phuket and now Koh Samui, but we’re not big on just laying on a beach. I guess that seems even more crazy given I spent over 4 years in Bermuda and Elizabeth about three! However, we’d come to these places mainly for the diving and that had exceeded our expectations. Equally, we haven’t really been drinking a whole lot apart from the odd night out so we maybe didn’t make the most of the drinking establishments on offer, and certainly didn’t feel any need to visit any of the clubs or later night bars. Maybe we’re just getting old – especially me!

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