Travelogue SEA 8: Koh Samui – Home

31 December 2011 – 04 January 2012

We’d managed to make pre-arrangements with Mike and Michelle over BBM that we would meet them at their hotel, from where we would all transfer together to the port to leave for Koh Phangan for the Full Moon New Year Party. M&M had been touring the Thai islands and arrived at Koh Samui a few days before us, so they had a good idea of the lay of the land and the local options. Michelle had managed to strike a good deal and had our tickets (which included minibus taxi transfers between hotel and port as well as speedboat transfers from Samui to Phangan) for 700 baht apiece.

After stealing a strategic sneaky nap, we headed off to find Seascape Resort. It turns out we were at the very north of Chaweng Beach and they at the very south, so we had a longer sunset walk along the beach than planned! … But there was a Happy Hour 50 baht Singha at the end of it and we’d arrived with a half hour to spare before the taxi was due, so all’s well that ended well.

Was great to see M&M and catch up on all the travel tales (and stories from home seeing as we’ve not seen them in a while) while we went through the motions of waiting for taxi, taxiing, queuing at the pier and then the speedboat journey to the party island. Mike, who suffers badly from motion sickness, did really well on the boat, so all the boxes were ticked and we were headed for the Countdown.

The entrance fed all boat arrivals up one of the island’s narrow streets so, predictably, that section of town was teeming with people at the roadside food stalls, restaurants and most of all street bar stalls and convenience stores (cheap beer and mixers!)

We stopped at an early food stall and picked up some really divine deep-fried chicken drumsticks and wandered around exploring the winding streets criss-crossing the island on our way to inspect the mayhem at the beach. Which, we found when we got there, really truly was mayhem! Lots and lots and lots of sweaty people dancing and belting along to hideous dance music, bodies painted with fluorescent paint and drinks sloshing all over the show!

We headed right along the beachfront, zig-zagging between the people toward a club on the end of that stretch that had “The Rock” emblazoned in bright neon letters, ever hopeful that it would be a rock venue, where we could have some beers and eats listening to something with actual guitar, drums and lyrics. No such luck.

We decided that next natural step would then be to hunt for dinner in ‘town’, so we trawled the market stalls for something of interest. Pizza seemed to be the common consensus, but all the stalls had the same very-bready-but-not-cheesy-enough style, so we shifted strategy and headed for the Lazy House restaurant, which we’d stopped at for a toilet break en route and which had a varied and reasonably priced menu. We found it again with relative ease, seeming to have found our bearings on Phangan quite quickly despite the same same (but different) roads.

Good pizza (bacon, mushroom and garlic) and poor service (a common combination in South East Asia we’ve found; no qualms saying wait a minute and then leaving you hanging for ages) later and we headed to find Mellow Mountain, which someone had told Michelle was a must. It turned out to be a bar nestled in the rocks overlooking the bottom end of the main beachfront we’d been on earlier.

We settled in the loft area (the bar is spread over multi-levelled decks), but it was too loud and hot, so we didn’t last long. Moving back down the beach we found a beachside hostel that was serving from its bar and had a little raised area with mats and cushions and low tables. It was open with fans, so far better suited to our chill vibe.

We stayed there until just before midnight, then went down to the beach again to join the official countdown, which was being displayed on a big digital watch under a countdown sign with a fiery countdown sign that had just been lit. We counted in the New Year (twice) and saw in 2012 with the waves lapping at our feet as a group of 4 friends among a sea of strangers!

We then made it our mission to hunt down the elusive rock club, since a friend had told us there was one and it made sense that there must be at least one place that bucked the senseless dance music everywhere else was blasting. We got mixed response from the several people we asked along the way, but settled for the only reggae bar in town when we stumbled upon it. Very chillaxed, mats and cushions with sarong drapery and obviously only reggae music.

The return speedboats were scheduled at every hour on the hour so we left the reggae bar at 1.30 figuring we’d just hop on the 2am one. No such luck! There were long queues and the 2am boats filled all too quickly. The wait for the next batch wouldn’t have been so bad except the natives were very restless and there was pushing and crunching as every person tried to ensure that they’d secure their spot on the next boat. We managed to get on the boat just before 3 and were very lucky to catch the last 2 spaces in the minivan going to North Chaweng as we landed, which would take us right to our door. M&M weren’t quite so lucky and had to wait and then catch a  series of inter-connections and it took them ages to get home!

The 1st, as is common, was a bit of a write-off, worsened by the fact that it was raining – and as a result cooler and dark – so we didn’t even stir until midday. Heading out down the road toward town to find breakfast, we ended up getting caught in a torrential downpour, initially seeking shelter in the doorway of a market stall but eventually accepting that we’d make no notable progress toward town so we might as well make a dash across the road and eat at the very Anglo place we’d rejected on first sight.

A full English behind us, we dashed back to the hotel for an afternoon of indulgent nothingness, reading and napping and half-watching telly.

At 5-ish we hailed a taxi and headed to M&M’s resort as we’d planned to go to the night market at Lamai, which was supposed to be the best on a Sunday – and since 1 Jan is also Mike’s bday, it would make a great place to celebrate and dinner overlooking the ocean from one of the most beautiful parts of the island. But… Rain stopped play and the market was closed, so we sourced a few tinnies from the local 711 to enjoy on M&M’s stoep while we regrouped and revised plans.

We decided to stick close to home and start with a pub they’d tried (and liked) a few times, called The Wave Samui. It’s owned by 2 English chaps who were travelling the world and happened to be in Samui when their plans to go to Hong Kong were thwarted by the bird flu outbreak, so they stayed in Samui and opened a guesthouse and pub/restaurant. The place has loads of atmosphere and is known for its wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling book cases, complete with inset door to the bathroom with books wallpaper!

We liked the pub immensely and it got us jolly and ready for the chosen fare of the night – a set menu at the local Indian with 2 potato samoosas, a chicken tikka masala and a chicken makhani with saffron rice, an onion naan, a garlic naan and 2 beers for 600 baht (ZAR 150). Very yum!

Moving from there we found an awesome bar called The Loft. Built across 2 buildings with a little pedestrian bridge connecting them, the bar was a collection of rooms and decks of varying sizes at 2nd and 3rd floor levels, front and back of the building, with some smaller mezzanines. All covered by roof but open air, not a window frame or pane of glass in sight. Very cool. And we were very happy there with their 60 baht G&T and vodka & red bulls, while the rain belted down.

We took a gap in the rain to dash home. It’s always good to have a brisk walk home after time in the pub, something that’s sorely missing in SA lifestyle. It was still drizzling though so we were soaked by the time we got back to the hotel.

Had another long sleep-in after discovering that our last full day was also destined to be rainy. We’d heard reports that parts of the island were flooding and the whole of Southern Thailand is super-flooded (destructive, but not yet life-threatening).

We’d discovered that the rain belts down, but provides periodic eyes in the storm where it gets down to virtually nothing before it starts up again so used an eye to make a dash for brunch run. We hunted down a (pork) Masamang and (chicken) Penang curry, both which Michelle had recommended and both on good advisement.

We dotted window-shopping (eyes) with actual shopping (storms) and ended up with (another) 4 bags of gifts and goods, so thought it wise to busy ourselves rather with a Thai massage (since we were in the hood after all). We spent the next hour being prodded and pressed and were most pleased with our decision.

By this time we had walked as far as The Wave so we thought it rude not to pop in. And spent the next 5 hours there! The best potato skins ever! And finally we found flexible people – easily convincing them to make us nachos with their beef and mushroom bolognaise mince (which we’d had on the skins) when there was panic because they were out of the chilli con carne mince advertised on the menu!

Again, using the eye of a storm to make a dash for home, we poked our heads in at a few of the pubs and bars with live entertainment, but nothing held our attention so we called it a night.

Fortunately, our last morning was quite painless as we’d had the good sense to book a private taxi to get us to the pier for our speedboat-bus-plane to Bangkok. We had a fair enough breakfast of cheese omelette and fried bread (they couldn’t toast because of yet another power failure – they have more than we do when we’re load-shedding!) and were soon off to start the long journey home.

Got to the harbour without incident, but the stupid speedboat was an hour late, which worried us with the tight timing of all the connections. A short 45 min ferry and the bus was waiting for us for the 30 ride to the airport, where we arrived at 16h20 for our 16h50 flight. Fearing the worst, Christian took charge of getting our bags and I scurried into the airport to find the Nok Air desk.

Shouldn’t have worried – this is Nok Air! Nobody seemed concerned at all by my urgent tone and, although there was some discussion between the *four* people clustered behind the counter, no info was forthcoming and the faces were poker-worthy. People were starting to cluster around me, with connection concerns far more time-sensitive than ours (but of course my only mission was to get us airborne).

Eventually we were issued boarding passes for what we were told was the 19h45 flight, but which said were boarding 17h55… And were both in my name!!! They reissued Christian’s. By now he was seething and there was no way they’d mess with his “don’t dare ask me to pay for overweight luggage” comment as he hoisted our 20kg (mine) and 22kg (his) suitcases onto the scale for our 15kg (each) weight-in.

We also made them give all the delayed passengers food vouchers, since we’d spent all our baht, planning on dinnering at Bangkok airport where credit cards are readily accepted and had no intention of going through the hassle and expense of drawing money to entertain ourselves in the canteen of a restaurant in this one-horse (still quicker means of transport than a Nok flight it seems) airport. They obliged (am sure they’re used to it by now) and we ordered bacon, cheese and tomato double-decker sandwiches. They were OK, but all the bacon here seems bland.

We had a last scare when all the people around us seemed to have Thai Air boarding cards when we were sitting with Nok Air slips… That said boarding at 17h55 for a 19h45 flight, with nothing filled in next to boarding gate (although there are only 2). Fearing that the team of nimrods at the desk had managed another mess, we checked with the departure gate security. And then, not taking our chances on non-airline staff, Chris went back out and double-triple checked with Information and the Nok Air desk… And, yes, we were on the 19h45 flight despite what our ticket said and what all appearances seemed to indicate.

We boarded as we were told we would, given a sausage roll (disappointing soggy pastry thing compared to home) and no sooner were we up than we were down. All that palava for such a short flight!

Bangkok Airport (Suvarnabhumi or somesuch) is a pleasure. Big and clean with lots of shops, dry toilets with toilet paper and toilets that can flush toilet paper, and several foodcourts. We did a quick Subway Melt (chicken, ham, bacon, cheese, onion, jalapenos, tomato, toasted) and are now waiting to board in an hour to go to Addis Ababa, with a short(ish) stop and then onward home.

Unless something outlandish happens en route, this should be the end of the South East Asia travelogue series.

See you soon!