Heaven on Earth

Trip Start Mar 01, 2009
1
23
Trip End Dec 21, 2009


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Where I stayed
A little Beach hut

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Monday, November 30, 2009



Koh Tao is one of the most beautiful and amazing and relaxing places I have ever been to. All I want to do is go back and I only left it 16 hours ago.

Had a wonderful 2 days catching up with my cousin Phoebe in Bangkok. It was unexpected as we thought we were going to miss each other but in fact our dates coincided at the last minute and we spent 2 days shopping, sorting out our travel plans and doing some serious catching up. We couldn’t even remember the last time we had met up was. We braved the crazy weekend markets on the Sunday which allegedly has an estimated 200,000 visitors a day and you can buy anything from live puppies to the tackiest souvenirs. She had also met an American guy - Greg on the plane on the way over so he tagged along too making us feel very safe on his 6’7’’ shadow in Bangkok which after so long in Hanoi really didn’t seem that crazy at all. Well bar the taxi ride I’d had from the airport the night before hand!

We ended up in the most hilarious budget accommodation on our second night together where the two beds which had been squeezed into the room didn’t allow the door to open fully. This resulted in our rucksacks having to be posted through the gap in the door individually and then we would have to follow after! The joys of rooms around the Khao San road!

Phoebe then left on the Tuesday morning and I headed to China town with Greg where I ate a disgusting amount of tasty Chinese street food. Note to self never try to keep up with a guy twice my size who’s just spent 5 weeks in a monastery and is trying to eat to compensate. So after another sticky Bangkok day it was time to pick up my much heavier rucksack which was a result of the many markets and embark on a journey to Koh Tao which was to last for 22 hours and involve one 12 hour bus journey with stupidly timed stops - seriously who wants to eat curry at 2am when they had been fast asleep 5 minutes previously? We then had a 3 hour wait from 5am to 8 when we had to get on another 1 hour bus journey to get to the dock and then had a 5 hour boat which took us via Ko Samui and Pha Ngan before eventually dropping us off on Ko Tao. Weary and hot. With a slightly burnt nose and sunglass tan lines.

Had got chatting to two English guys - Tom and Andrew on the boat and so the three of us started looking for accommodation. Somehow within half an hour we had found a reasonably priced bungalow 2 minutes from the beach right in the heart of the laid back Sairee beach. The guys were hilarious and we ended up having so much fun over the 5 or so days we had together on the little Thai island.

It was stunning. White sand beaches, clear blue sea, not a cloud in the sky despite the weather forecast warnings that it was going to be relentlessly stormy for the entire week! So glad I didn’t listen to the forecast. We spent the first afternoon between the beach and the water lapping up the relaxed atmosphere before hauling our sandy selves to the nearest beach bar and into their amazing leather bean bags to watch the sun set over the Thai fishing boats and top it all off with a happy hour cocktail. I don’t think I’d been that relaxed for quite some time. Or possible ever.

We had a good introduction to the night life on the island which was an awful lot quieter then the expected Ko Pha Ngan but even better for that. Started out at another very laid back beach bar being mesmerised by the fire poi performers on the beach before heading to a much more lively bar back on the main strip where we kept winning free drinks for beating the bar man at connect 4 and picked up another 3 travellers who were an addition for the next 2 nights too. It was the next bar - back on the beach again where I discovered buckets and subsequently lost my shoes which amazingly enough turned up 2 or 3 nights later under the stage thing which came out over the beach which I was very pleased about finding as had managed to lose one flipflop on the boat on the way to the island and Andrew had consequently throw my other one in the bin as I was refusing to.

The following day was spent on the beach chilling out before heading out on a similar route that evening which resulted in fire hopscotch and firelimbo on the beach of which I had photographic evidence of until my camera got nicked later on in the night along with 500 baht of mine and 400 baht of Ben - a Scottish wannabe pirate. Which was unfortunate but luckily was just my small one and didn’t lose too many pics. So it wasn’t like when I lost my first camera. Or my second. Or my ipod. Or first, second and third phone. The only slight problem is that it wasn’t exactly my camera which means another insurance claim so I can pay Zoey back. But at least I had only had my camera with me and not my whole bag as I usually did. It could have been worse.

We were much more proactive the next day and got up and rented scooters. I was terrified. Not for myself although I had had another crash on my last day in Vietnam but it hadn’t been serious but I was instead afraid for Tom and Andrew who had never ridden bikes before and are slightly accident prone. We ended up having the most fantastic adventure filled day and luckily no one crashed and so al the bikes passed the inspection on return which luckily meant we weren’t hit with any ridiculous fines. Even Andrew passed although as he had been so far behind us they were convinced he must have crashed and so paid a crazy amount of attention to the bike, wiping off sand to check for scratches underneath as they just wouldn’t accept mine and Tom’s excuse that he just drove like a Granny.

We Hadn’t realised the island was quite as small as it was until we actually got on the bikes and set off and found we had overshot our destination and arrived at the end of the road in the north of the island before we knew it. We had a wander and found a nice resort whose rocks we took over for a short time in order to lap up the views. We then had several failed attempts to find a particular whale skeleton but after somehow getting up a hill that Andrews bike almost didn’t make it up as it was so steep we had to accept failure and then somehow descend from an impossibly steep hill. This was achieved by holding both brakes as tight as possible and hoping neither gave and then with feet on the ground inching our way down this hill which was quite simply terrifying. No amount of experience on Hanoi roads prepared you for this kind of driving. We eventually made it down, my feet a little worse for wear as I didn’t have any shoes on. Hadn’t re-found my sandals at this point and I wasn’t about to wear hiking boots in that heat so had reckoned bare feet would be fine. Had had to do it once in Hanoi after getting a pedicure and then the nail lady wouldn’t let me put my shoes back on as I’d smudge my nail varnish and so had to drive home in the freezing cold all the way across Hanoi in bare feet. Island driving therefore would be fine. So I thought. Island hiking was another matter though I soon found out at our next destination. Hiking for an hour on small sharp stones was interesting not to mention the several hills and everything else in between! However it was no use complaining as the boys had told me on several occasions to buy shoes but I hadn’t got round to it so I thought it was better to spare them 2 hours of me complaining (yes the way back was just as painful) and so just had to concentrate on the least stoniest path and accept that it was completely self inflicted.

We’d had to abandon the bikes as the roads were too bad due to them being sand and partly washed away - only drivable on quads or dirt bikes which would have been fun. Still it was stunning. We found a wacky café/bar on the way down with this totally eccentric Thai woman who had rabbits and dogs running around everywhere and taught them tricks. We stopped for a drink and were pretty much reduced to tears of laughter as ’Coffee’ took a dislike to Andrew and proceeded to growl and nip him for no reason and we reckoned it was revenge for him putting his chair down on a dogs paw the previous night. We left after being given random cow boy hats by this crazy woman and as the trance music faded away the beach was soon in sight. And what a beach it was. The bay was breath taking and the water a welcome relief from the oppressive heat which had just about reduced us to puddles after all the hills - not that I had noticed with the preoccupation of my feet on the way.

Swam out to some rocks but then lost our nerve given the size of the crabs on it and so decided to swim back to shore rather than battle with them on the rocks. The walk back was painful and we decided to drive on and see more of the island partly as we’d been completely ripped off with petrol earlier on and so now were all stuck with full tanks and empty wallets. Not ideal. We found some nice adventurous dirt roads which proved interesting to say the least. I found it easier being in front as it was far too easy to get distracted by the boys’ efforts and that was proving dangerous as there were a few close calls due to laughing too much. There were ravines where parts of the road had been washed away and bits of hard sand and then soft sand and then bits of concrete and then big rocks and the odd jeep. We were about to turn back when we met another two coming the other direction on bikes who told us the beach we were 5 minutes away from was amazing and so that spurred us on. They were right too. Navigating out way back up the road was treacherous and I had by this stage developed a nice chesty cough from the sand and dust which wasn’t very conducive and so we got back on the one good road on the island and found somewhere to stop and have a snack before heading back. It was on this stretch we lost Andrew. Myself and Tom pulled into the garage and waited 5 minutes laughing about Andrews Granny driving convinced every time we saw headlights it would be him but when another 5 minutes passed we thought it best to retrace our route and find out what had happened. We got our bikes back from the people we had just handed them back to and went to investigate. Was beginning to get a little worried when suddenly Captain Slow himself came into view and all was fine. He just managed to get stuck behind a lorry and couldn’t overtake. Or wouldn’t! But again me and Tom got back and had to wait another 5 minutes for Andrew which is when the meticulous bike inspection occurred! It was a really good day altogether.

Didn’t lose anything that night - in fact that’s when I gained my shoes back but wasn’t allowed to wear them by Ben as due to a lack of shoes on both our behalf’s we had got into a ‘no shoes on the island’ pact and so was resigned to burning my feet on the hot sand and pavement for another few days.

Saturday resulted in me finishing my advanced PADI diving course as had done my Open water and then adventure cert in Australia but needed another 2 dives signed off before I was fully certified as an Advanced diver. I wanted to get it finished before heading home so although it was quite a bit more expensive than just regular dives I decided to finish it as could jump in with Ben on the last day of his advanced course so it was a bit of fun to go diving with a friend.

The first dive was a little nerve wracking as it had been 3 months since my last dive and this company made you much more responsible for your own gear and dive which was good but had to think about things a bit more than usual. It was also the first time I had dived without a dive master or instructor with me. We were just buddied up and sent out with a map that we didn’t end up using of the dive site. And we just had to hope that we would surface near to the boat to save a long swim! It was really good. As soon as I got back in the water it was as if it was yesterday I had last been diving. The waves and currents were a little more than I was use to and the visibility wasn’t as good as I’ve become use to but it was still awesome and so loads of cool fish and coral and these were underwater rock stacks which had massive anemone on them so lots of clown fish and a few barracudas. No whale sharks though unfortunately. It’s still only the start of the season for them unfortunately.

We then went out on a night dive that evening which was absolutely amazing. So different to any of the regular dives I’ve done. Little bit scary to begin with especially as I was buddied up with the dive master who had problems equalising on the way down and so I had to lead the descent and then we had to wait a little confused as to who was having trouble for him to make it down. It was pretty dark. The moon is almost full so that was bright at times and the visibility at times was pretty good - surprisingly so in fact and it was just amazing seeing the fish at night and the colours under torch light. Red was far more vibrant than usual I thought. We saw some weird starfish things that only come out at night and glow in the dark plankton when we turned off our torches. Although when you left the coral beds the visibility got pretty bad and at one stage could barely see past the length of your arm so you just had to trust that too large eyes were not about to appear before you and then a giant jaw as you swam blindly and trustingly into the pitch black. Especially as the Bull sharks at the time were apparently a little ‘nippy’ in the area. Luckily there was no direct contact! It was fun.

It all went far too fast on the island and my plans for a few days there and a few days in Ko Pha Ngan were completely scrapped as I didn’t want to leave. But like all good things the end came eventually and I had to say my goodbyes and climb into the back of a pick up truck yesterday to be taken down to the night boat which I took back to the mainland. It was a very funny yet surprisingly comfortable boat. Just two massive rows of narrow beds which turned out to be not quite so narrow as the boat was only half full and so for an overnight journey it was pretty comfortable and was lulled to sleep by the sea air as all the windows were open and the waves rocked us nicely. Luckily met a nice welsh girl who was also coming up to the retreat and so we split the cost of a tuk tuk rather than faffing about with busses and trains as we got dropped off at 4am! So am now at the retreat centre enjoying the last of my freedom to read, listen to music, talk and write before the next 10 days where it’s all going to be a bit of a shock to the system! So far so good though - not that we’ve started but first impressions are that with the exception of the mossies and spiders it will all be good!

Will be back in the normal world on the 11th so will blog my next strange experience then! I think I deserve brownie points for resisting the urge to stay on Ko Tao and or go to the full moon party but I’m not sure I’ll be getting any of those any time soon!
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