Thailand Fling - 14...A Taste of The East
Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, Thailand – March 2023
Our next transfer involved two buses and a ferry, but everything ran very smoothly and within a few hours we found ourselves on the opposite (Eastern) coast of Thailand, on the island of Koh Samui.
I last visited this tourist island some 13 years ago on the way back from Vietnam, and remembered it as a peaceful stop after the bustle of Ho Chi Minh. I didn’t remember the traffic-packed roads lined, once again, with bars, shops, massage parlours etc. etc. But our hotel was thankfully set back from the main highway which ran the length of the island, and our room was spacious and boasted a balcony overlooking the very inviting (and interesting) pool area.
We soon discovered that many of the guests were elderly men, accompanied at the poolside bar by young Thai ladies (well, they looked female!). There were a few families and couples of different nationalities, but we spent many an entertaining afternoon watching the goings on from our comfortable viewpoint, likening it to a geriatric episode of “Love Island” (I don’t admit to EVER watching said programme, but I can imagine!).
The local strip of bars and restaurants ran adjacent to the beach, and Ian refused to run the gauntlet on the way to dinner each evening without firmly clutching my hand, for fear of being accosted by the bar girls! That said, the beach was reasonable (although the sea on this coast, I was to discover, was quite rough) and the resort offered a decent choice of restaurants within easy walking distance, so we spent the next few days chilling out.
We did hire a scooter for a day, and made it to the larger and even more over-populated and charmless Chaweng Beach, the over hyped Fisherman’s Village and Bo Phut (again…hundreds of hotels and dreaded jet skis). The multi-armed golden statue at Wat Plai Laem and the Big Budda Temple on the waterfront were interesting sights, but nothing compared to the temples we’d visited in Bangkok or even in Malaysia. The heavy traffic on the island made scooter riding quite scary and uncomfortable, so we were glad to give the bike back at the end of the day.
We were awaiting the arrival of my son Dan, who was flying in from Holland to join us for a couple of weeks and made our way over to the town of Nathon which was close to the ferry pier. Far from being simply a transit port, Nathon provided an interesting contrast to the busy tourist centres. We strolled along the pleasant promenade and watched a very impressive fire show as the sun set. Sadly, Dan arrived a little too late to witness the spectacle, but it was great to catch up with him, and give him his first taste of Thailand this trip. The town had even laid on a festival in anticipation of his visit (!) and the jetty was strewn with street food and clothes stalls, fairground amusements and even a live band.
Not too upset to be leaving Samui, after a good night’s sleep we took the ferry the following morning to our next port of call, Koh Phangan. Famous for its alcohol fuelled “Full Moon Parties” I’d carefully selected our dates and location to avoid this particular event. We were staying on completely the opposite side of this once idyllic island and our taxi laboured over several very large and extremely steep hills. We were pleasantly surprised to find our lodgings in Thong Nai Pan quite charming, with a friendly landlady and a lovely little pool (and bar!) overlooking the white sand beach. I’m not sure it was quite what Dan was looking for, but for ourselves it was a welcome change from the hustle and bustle.
As per usual, Ian settled himself at the bar and got chatting to a local dive master, who mentioned that a storm was predicted and that the following day was the only chance we’d have to go diving. We’d heard that Sail Rock was one of the most spectacular sites in the region and one of the top spots for whale shark sightings. The trip also commenced from our resort in the afternoon (a bonus as we usually had to get to the dive centre at the crack of dawn!). We duly signed up and had an early night in anticipation of the day ahead.
The morning broke calm and sunny although the sea on this coast was choppier than on the other side of the country. Taking some sea sickness tablets as a precaution, we set off on the 30-minute journey out to the rock. By the time we reached our destination and moored up, the boat was bobbing up and down quite violently in the waves. Once we were submerged however, the dive went smoothly and we swam amongst huge shoals of giant trevally and a multitude of smaller colourful fish.
Back on the boat lunch was served, but as it was still quite rough, I declined the vegetable curry – which turned out to be a good choice! The second dive was fun as we swam up through a huge chimney of coral, and I came nose to nose with a barracuda, although sadly the whale sharks were in short supply.
On the surface, the storm was approaching faster than predicted so we made a hasty retreat back towards shore. As the waves increased, my efforts to keep my breakfast down were in vain and I spent a turbulent hour or so sitting on the back of the boat feeding the fish. To make matters worse, we had to sail all the way around to the other side of the island where we could dock safely. Not the most pleasant of dive experiences it has to be said, and to make matters worse, Ian’s ears refused to clear, rendering him quite deaf!…maybe a blessing in disguise??
The wind had certainly picked up and the next few days were bright but breezy. Dan and I walked up to the adjacent beach to ours which was occupied by several hotels and a wide choice of restaurants, but was a daunting climb back up and over a massive hill.
Wanting to explore the island, Dan took it upon himself to rent a scooter the next morning and I was faced with a dilemma as a concerned mother. Knowing that his only experience of riding was on the relatively safe, flat roads of Holland, should I accompany him and cling on for dear life on the back of the bike, or should I let him go alone and spend the day worrying??! I figured that if we were going to die, at least we’d be together so we set off over the mountains to meet our fate.
We had a few scary moments, but we made it across to Salad Beach which was reached by riding down a precipitous hill (at this point my courage left me and I negotiated it on foot!). No idea how the beach got its name but “lettuce” just say that “dressing” was optional! After helping some Thais to push their broken down scooter back up the hill, we were on our way again. Dan wanted to experience a Thai yoga retreat and our next stop at Bamboo Bay was full of them, along with vegan cafés and a host of other hippie delights! Not feeling quite flexible enough, I declined joining him and strolled around the quaint little resort, purchasing some home-made muesli, while he found his chakras.
Hoping he wasn’t too relaxed to ride back, I was relieved when we finally made it back to our resort in one piece and even braved him ferrying us both to a nice Italian restaurant at the bottom of the hill that evening.
The final island on our route was the dive mecca of Koh Tao. Dreading taking to the sea again, I had to concentrate hard on not revisiting my breakfast. Thankfully the crossing was short although the ferry was very overbooked, totally chaotic, and nearly set off with bags and Dan on board – but without us!
A quick transfer brought us to our hotel in the main hub of Sairee Beach, which appeared to be a backpackers haven. It was also where most of the dive schools were located, and offered some of the best rates I had ever seen – this is the place if you want to learn the art of scuba. As Ian’s ear was no better, we had to forgo another dip – although Dan fitted in a couple more dives before we left. Amazingly, he also bumped into a friend from the Netherlands and spent the evening catching up. Feeling distinctly ancient in this lively resort, we once again found “the best Indian in town” and had an early night. The following day Dan and I valiantly headed off on a scooter to Shark Bay for a spot of snorkelling (I am getting more reckless with age!). I could have seen a shark (the relatively harmless black tip variety) and a turtle, had I remembered to bring my mask cleaner. All I managed to view through my fogged up mask was milky water, dead coral and a couple of bored Sargent Majors (yellow and black stripey fish). Dan, of course, saw a shark and a turtle!
Our foray out East had been interesting – we found it a big contrast in many ways to the South West Coast of Thailand where we had set out – “same, same but different”.
Suffice it to say, we were both looking forward to our return to Krabi…
Next Stop: Back to the beginning…