26 August 2013 – We set off very leisurely southbound from Hua Hin to Chumphon. We were catching the night ferry to Koh Tao but the boat didn’t depart until 23.00 and the ride should only take around 5 hours, so we left at 11.00am. Before we went, Paul was a little undecided on whether or not to take the bike as we couldn’t find any information from other bikers to see if they had done it. We’d read that all taxi’s were 4x4s insinuating the roads were bad, but didn’t think too much of it. It’s a very small island so we didn’t really need it to get around but if we left it, we’d firstly have to find somewhere to leave it and secondly, I know Paul would be worried the whole time about it getting it stolen whilst we weren’t with it. So more for peace of mind, than a means of transport, I thought it was a good idea to take it. We both agreed to take it in the end.
Five hours is no longer considered a big drive, yet when we were back home embarking on a 3 hour journey from Reading to Crewe always seemed a bit epic if we were heading north to see family. 5 hours on a straight road seems a bit of a breeze. So when we stopped at a seven eleven for a bit of rest bite and local mini bus driver was chatting to us, we found it amusing that he considered the final 150km a long drive. He actually burst out laughing and said ‘ooohh very long drive’ not really squire, but we laughed along with him.
Just over an hour after meeting the Thai joker, we were at the KoJaren car ferry port. Originally quoted ‘300 small bike, 500 big bike’ it quickly changed to 700 when they saw it “very very big bike, no chopper” hmmm suspicious but ok, we didn’t have any choice so they swindled an extra 200 baht. We got to the port at around 16.00 so had a long wait until it departed. There was a little cafe opposite for food. It was adorned with Walls ice cream umbrellas, napkin holders, fridges, bunting and flags. Great they clearly sell ice cream we thought, nope. Oh well, I had the tastiest seafood Pad Thai I’d ever had.
The ferry gets absolutely crammed to the brim, at around 22.00 we started to think the motorbike wasn’t going to fit. We obviously looked anxious as the crew assured Paul ‘yes fit, last mister’ Paul was more than sceptical. The time came round to put the bike on. Backwards, down a 45 degree, ridged ramp. All the crew lent a hand to wedge the bike between an oil tanker, some fruit, crates of fish and whatever junk they had on the boat. It was actually perched on an incline. I should mention here, we don’t have a centre stand [my doing as Paul frequently reminds me] so all the weight is on the side stand. The crew say they will strap it down though. Reluctantly assured all will be ok, we headed off to our bunk beds in one large shared dorm room.
We headed for Sairee Beach which is the epicentre for all backpackers. All the conveniences, but cheap. The little main road is luscious and green with tall coconut trees and dense foliage lining the edge. Right at the top end of the beach was Bowthong Beach resort which we’d earmarked as it was cheap and they had beach huts. When we arrive at 06.00am not surprisingly there was no one around. There was however, a lad who clearly had one too many rum buckets the night before and passed out by the reception. He was actually vomiting whilst asleep as I walked past. I left him in his comatose state as he was breathing. When the staff finally arrived at 08.00am they tried to stir him, but he woke up, dribbled a little and then turned over. They left him for a little then made him move before guests started to come down for breakfast. The receptionist kept assuring me he wasn’t from this resort. Ha. Later on we discovered the lad had a lucky escape, as the owner was a bit of a menace and he would have definitely felt her wrath if she had found him.
After waiting over an hour for the staff to arrive and feeling relaxed in the beautiful seafront resort already, we were majorly disappointed to be told they had nothing available. I set off to try and find somewhere else down the beach but it was still only 07.00am so no one was around. The further I walked the more stray half comatose bodies lay on the beach from the night before.
By the time I got back the receptionist had discovered some early check-outs had posted the key in the drop box which meant there was a hut for us, yeyy. It had no hot water, no A/C and a poor fan that didn’t really cool the room down but it was the perfect location and the best at that price. We had to wait a further 2 hours for the room to be ready and for the boss to arrive, who we have nick-named mama choo. She is one person who should not be working in the hospitality industry. Never have we been made to feel so unwelcome in a place. She practically scowled at us and then barked ‘pay now, give passport deposit’ no please, thankyou or the famous Thai smile were involved. We were pissed off at her attitude but wanted to stay in her hut, maybe mama choo would warm to us. Anyone around the same age as us with the backpacker look got the same treatment but if you have kids, you’re safe from the hiss of Mama Choo, she loves the kids.
Now writing in hindsight, its a little hard to remember after what has happened in the last two weeks.
Ko Tao is beautiful. So beautiful we kept taking the same picture of the same view just because it was so stunning. I’d say it’s a little too over commercialised to resemble a real remote island but the commercialisation also allows lots of benefits so it’s a bit of a compromise. There’s very little touting going on, only the occasional holler of ‘taxi boat?’ as you walk along the beach front and very minimal pleading to look at restaurant menus. There is the inevitable loud, obnoxious backpacker but you get them everywhere anyway. They certainly don’t spoil anything. It’s probably not to everyone’s taste, particularly the offer to go on pub crawls but we felt really relaxed and at home here after the first day.
We ate well the whole time, particularly at the beach front BBQ joints which also put on a free fire show. The first day we just relaxed on the beach and swam in the crystal clear shallow waters that surround the island. The second day we pretty much did the same but ran out of our factor 30 nivea suncream. This is trivial and the reason I mention it is because of what followed.
Turns out we bought [Paul will insist I bought it] knock off suncream. We purchased some 30 SPF Samui Sun sunscreen. Which had all the normal labelling making you believe it’s a bonafide suncream. I went for SPF 20 as we have been in hot countries for 4 months now, so considered us to have a base tan.
I should add, I’d used the last of the Nivea that day as I apply in the morning when getting dressed and reapply quite regularly we hadn’t been sitting directly in the sun but we had been snorkelling twice.
I hadn’t noticed Paul turning lobster pink but by the time we got back to the room, his back was gleaming. What the hell? Paul has darker skin than me and I haven’t burnt, yet the contrast in pink and white has made him look like a walking drumstick lolly. It was just his back so it happened when we were snorkelling. I joke now, but it really wasn’t good. He had very serious sunburn. It was undoubtedly the shitty Samui Sun. We’re fully convinced there is no SPF in Samui Sun and it is purely a moisturiser.
Paul was more than annoyed as he was confined to the bedroom for the entire day so I went on a coffee run mission as a peace offering. Applying lashings of sudacrem to his back worked a treat. The day after that when he wasn’t so crispy, we went out to explore a little. Reaching Mango Bay was a little troublesome, the first steep inclining road just a gentle hint at what awaits. Lots of idiots passed us on mopeds, we’d seen one too many kids already walking around with the legs, arms, backs, faces cut to shreds from their attempts at riding these roads. We headed to Shark Bay and then onto freedom beach for some snorkelling action.
It was shallow around the corals at freedom beach so we both ended up leaving with cuts on our feet. It was murky too in both the spots we went and the snorkelling on the north side of sairee beach offered better reefs and more sightings of beautifully coloured fish.
We decided to walk up to the famous sunset point which actually only took half an hour. There wasn’t anything spectacular about the sunset that night, not like the one we saw the previous night, but it did look out onto Ko Nang Yuan [3 little islands connected by a small slither of beach] we visited those little islands 6 years ago on our first ever trip to Thailand.
The next day is the day we received the phone call that Paul’s granddad was in hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest, he was doing ok, but we wanted to go home. We were on island with a motorbike, this was a difficult situation as the ferries are mainly passenger ferries not freight. The flight we originally booked, would have meant we would have to leave the island 6 hours after receiving the phone call and drive like crazy to make it back to Bangkok in time. There was a high possibility we wouldn’t make the flight so instead, confident Paul’s granddad was doing well – we decided to re-book the flight for a few days time that we knew we’d be able to catch.
We once again we boarded the night ferry which went exactly the same as when we took it last time, wait until last and the bike goes on backwards down an inclining slope. We arranged to leave our bike in Hua Hin at the lovely little guesthouse we’d stayed in last time and called Thai Customs at Bangkok Airport to see what would happen with our bike visa which expires on the 17th September. At this point we had no idea how long we’d be back in the UK but suspected we may not make it back before the 17th. When you import a motorbike into Thailand they staple a large white piece of paper in your passport with the expiry date and a notification of a huge fine if you overstay that date. However, we’d read on some ex-pat forums that if you have a genuine reason they only charge a smaller fee per day overstayed. The chap at Bangkok customs confirmed this was the case, but only if we leave via a land border and he gave his permission for us to use his number if we get stuck so fairly confident.