Category Archives: Thailand

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!

 

Travelogue SEA 7: Phuket

28-31 December 2011

After about an hour in a minivan transferring from the airport (north Phuket) to Patong Beach (south west Phuket), we finally arrived at our hotel – a bright yellow building called Moonlight House. Hearts sank (and octaves rose) when the reception told us that they hadn’t received our online booking. Fortunately we have copies of all booking confirmations with us so we could easily prove that we’d booked and paid. The clerk obliged with a complicated plan of rooms we’d have to swap to day by day. We weren’t having any of that after all our (unnecessarily stressful airline experience and the general stressfulness of all the necessary) planestrainsandautomobiling! Fearing the crazy eyes, the clerk quickly made a plan and we were ushered to Room 304. For 3 glorious nights in a row.

The room was lovely – clean and bright and modern, with instantly effective air con, TV with lots of English channels and a shower that had good pressure AND made hot water (a rare combo in our experience). Nirvana.

By this point it was around 8pm so we went straight out again to explore and forage.

Leaving the hotel, we (on the advice of the concierge) took a left and did a complicated circuit of main roads and alleyways to find our way to the main stretch of Patong Beach. The hotel hadn’t seemed so far from the beach on the maps on the online booking site 🙁

Nonetheless, we delighted in the busy neon bustle of infamous Bang La Road and the festival of stalls along the beachfront selling (mostly) foods of all descriptions. Perfect instant gratification for our restlessness post Day of Great Migration! We picked up some (awesome) pork ribs and tempura prawns with sweet chilli sauce – ready to eat so we could just pick, pay and eat straight away at one of the many sidewalk table areas. With only bottled water to drink. It had been *that* kind of day.

We quickly whipped around the beach area, surrounding roads and the markets nestled in between – getting a lay of the land and a feel for the local options – and soon admitted defeat from a tiring day and the very humid coastal heat. It was bliss to get back to our hotel, get showered and clean and have a lie down staring at the telly!

We had returned to our hotel via the same route we’d taken down to the beach, again disappointed by the winding route and unanticipated distance from the action (worsened enormously by every tourist city map only displaying a selection of roads and only labelling a limited portion of those depicted). So, the next day we decided to rent a scooter to do the trek to the beachfront for brunch and then perhaps do some exploring on the island.

Luckily there was a place across the road from Moonlight House offering scooters for 200 baht a day (50 baht cheaper than the beachfront rentals), so we got a nifty red and black number (concluding the deal in the office which had an adjoining bedroom where the manager appears to share his bed with an inflatable Spider-Man!) and headed seaward. Heading right this time, we found that if we followed the road straightstraightstraight it was less than 2km to the beach. An easy walk – and so much easier and quicker than the route from the night before on foot!

We got to the beachfront, parked the scooter and started trawling the food stalls for something that appealed for (late) brunch. We ended up sharing a very excellent chicken and egg Pad Thai with roast pork with sweet chilli sauce on the side. Discussing options over our meal, we both agreed that it would be good to just sit and chill all day instead of zooting around in the baking sun seeing samey-samey beaches and markets. Easily done, we secured loungers and umbrellas and set up camp.

It’s not easy being South African on a beach holiday. We had left most of our valuables in the hotel, locked in the suitcase, and made sure to only take one of everything (wallet, credit card etc) with us should ‘the inevitable’ happen and our stuff get stolen. Great debate about whether or not to take the camera as we’d want pics of the day, but was it worth risking losing the pics of the rest of the holiday? We decided to take it (and I resolved that on return home I will put a note into the case with an ‘if found, please return for reward’ message).

When we swam, we packed everything into the bag, carefully tucking it between the 2 loungers so as to hamper any potential hit and run thief sweeps and eyed our neighbours suspiciously to assess the risk they might hold. None at all from the ones on my side – a Dutch couple that seemed determined not to touch the sand, with Her putting all her efforts into smoking up a Peter Stuyvesant ad sequined-dress-on-a-yacht lifestyle and Him buying stuff from every passing peddler and constantly clicking fingers for delivery of a seemingly endless stream of drinks and snacks. Christian’s neighbours were a Russian couple with Him fiddling and faffing (digging in his bag, adjusting the umbrella, shifting the lounger into the sun, shifting his lounger out of the sun, looking for his cigarettes, looking for his wallet etc etc etc) in an shimmery silver Speedo that was constantly bobbing in Christian’s peripheral vision and adding a queasy side-story around the edges of the book he was reading. Russian Her was oblivious to her husbands fidgeting as she was tanning her leather while happily chatting away to more (of the many) Russians on the other side of her.

It was a great day. Very relaxing. In and out of the water, not even attempting the sun, opting rather to nap and read under the trees and umbrellas (which the lounger owners did a great job of constantly turning and shifting so that we had uninterrupted shade – much to the chagrin of Silver Speedo Ivan Guy).

We managed to get hold of Clive and Vanessa who we knew were also holidaying in Patong and made arrangements to meet them for dinner. They’d already been in Patong a few weeks so were experienced in the ‘where to and not to’ and we had an excellent dinner at a local side street restaurant, (Chris and I) sharing wok fried beef with garlic and black pepper, and calamari in oyster sauce, with a side of broccoli with oyster sauce for the table. Amazing for under 600 baht (ZAR 150), including drinks. Then we hit Pit Stop on Bang La Road, which Clive and Vanessa had made their local thanks to 50 baht Chang beers (another happy hour all night wonder).

The vantage point was superlative for people watching (and spotting our NZ friends who’d just arrived after their foray with transport of all types! … That we would have had to do if Nok Air hadn’t caught the wake-up that they did!) and there’s quite a societal cross-section making their way up and down the road all night. Not so unexpected to see ladies (and lady boys) of the night, ping pong show pushers, and bingefuls of lager louts, but weird to see so many families with babies and small children are in such a smutty environment so late at night. Each unto their own I suppose (re all of the above!)

Clive’s an epic hawker shopper and by now had a bag of bits and pieces he’d bought along our trawl, including a Singha beer cooler for Christian, so it was hardly surprising that we all ended up with green and yellow ‘WWED’ (What Would Eric Do) wristbands made-to-order in minutes by a passing sales person to remind us of the reason we had all ended up in Patong – Eric, who has been singing the praises for years of his awesome annual family vacations in Patong, with details on the where and whats of his jaunts and adventures and who had booked months ago for his family to come this December starting the impetus with the 4 of us, only to cancel at the last minute, leaving us obliged to retrace the footsteps and keep the holiday cheer alive!

The night went on longer than it should have bearing in mind our early morning start for the island tour, but a good time was had by all and after all we had been sleeping all day…

The island hopping tour was really good value, taking us to 3 islands off the coastline on the Eastern side of the island (closer to Phuket Town), providing all transfers, speed boat travel, snorkel gear, drinks and buffet lunch for ZAR500 for both of us. We first visited Monkey Island with a beautiful white sand and azure ocean beach where we could laze and paddle and ease into the day. Then we cruised around over lunch and docked in Maya Bay (where The Beach was filmed) where we snorkelled and frolicked – and the Aussie yoots got fined for jumping off the top deck… So they did it again in rebellion.

Last stop was Phi Phi Don where we docked and were given time to explore the town and its beaches. It wasn’t what we expected. It’s a motorless town, with no cars or scooters (which is a blessing) but the cyclists and their confounded bells are just as bad. Possibly even worse since the pathways through the town are so narrow. It’s searingly hot and humid on the island and it teems with sweaty people and travellers that have gotten stuck. Am very glad to have been there and seen it, but pleased that we didn’t overnight there as we’d originally considered doing.

Another dinner and drinks out with Clive and Vanessa, Rob and Aaron, meeting at Bang La Road, dabbling with an Irish pub and settling rather at the sidewalk stalls for dinner (ribs, prawns, baked potato and chicken pad thai) and moving back to the Old Faithful, Pit Stop, for drinks.

We’d had fun in Patong, but it’s not for the faint-hearted with the hot hot heat and hectic humidity, the wall-to-wall people and the nightlife and seediness that comes along with it.

Grateful for a sleep-in, we had an easy transfer to the airport, plenty of time for a leisurely brunch (Burger King Chicken Club with bacon, BBQ sauce and mayo – 5 out of 5, but pricey at ZAR75 for the meal) and a plane that was… On Time!

Another day, another island and so we arrived at Koh Samui for our New Year’s Eve celebrations. But that’s another story for another time.