Life's a beach
Trip Start Nov 24, 2010
89Trip End Nov 23, 2011
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Where I stayed
Koh Tao Tropicana Resort Ko Tao
Read my review - 3/5 stars
Read my review - 3/5 stars
To let my birthday slide by, barely a blip on the radar, is now my first thought as the calendar creeps its way towards 26th August. But as the big day approaches I always give into the in-built need for a bit of birthday attention... Not that I had any friends or family to call on in Thailand. I could, however, decide upon my geographical location. Originally, I had thought Bangkok with its infamous reputation would make a good birthday venue. But I also had Koh Tao - the Gulf of Thailand's diving mecca recommended to me by numerous people during my travels - at the back of my mind. The choice was a straight toss-up between big city excess and relaxed island surroundings above and below the surface.
After not too much soul-searching sand, scuba and, hopefully, sun won the day. Frankly, I didn't want to see out a whole week in Bangkok. I had really fallen for Tokyo by the time I left Japan and I just wasn't ready to court another big city so soon after. All that was left to do was to get myself onto the island. It would certainly require a spot more effort than brandishing my JR pass and jumping on the next shinkansen. The very helpful ladies running Smile Society told me that I should get to the southern bus terminal for 5pm and that I would be able to buy a ticket on the fly. They also said it would take 90 minutes to get there by taxi so I found myself flagging down just such a vehicle on the Silon Road at 4pm.
I had already decided that I wanted to get away from the main strip of Sairee beach and head to Chalok Bay where I had been recommended the Buddha View diving school and resort. After negotiating the
It was now my birthday but the gods did not bless me with good diving weather. Gone were the blue skies of the previous day, replaced by slate-grey clouds and a very choppy sea. I checked in at the school and packed the kit I was given into my dive bag for the day. The only other fun diver was a nice German guy called Kris who had plenty more dives under his weight belt than me. He had been to the island before and was whiling away the time while his girlfriend took her Open Water course. We were driven across to the harbour and we boarded Buddha View's huge dive boat, crammed with
We were back at the dive school by midday and I had no plans. I spent the afternoon on the beach as the sun broke through and the sea returned to the turquoise hues of the day before. I was getting the feeling that I was going to find it hard to meet other backpackers here as it felt like somewhere people go on holiday as a couple or with friends from home. And the lack of hostels with their sociability was not helping either. I decided to take a walk to a neighbouring beach and, on the way back, popped into a small bar for a beer. I got chatting to a Swedish man and his daughter and was invited to join them for dinner. Jon is married to a Thai woman and his daughter Lisbeth had spent the last four years on the island working for dive schools but now the time had come to return home. And tonight was her leaving party, so I had a couple more beers and chatted to some of her friends including a Norwegian guy who funds his island lifestyle solely with online poker. Surely a risky business at the best of times but even more so with such a frail internet connection. I had made the decision not to tell anybody that it was my birthday as I didn't want to lumber people I had just met with the need to celebrate with me. In fact, I was in bed by 11 in preparation for another morning's diving.
The sea was even rougher and we had to switch our planned dive spot due to the thumping waves. But maybe it was for the best as I made my first wreck dive. Not quite a sunken Spanish galleon, more an obsolete Thai gunboat purposefully sunk a few years before and the controls for the gun turret still worked as I changed the elevation of the barrel by turning a hand-operated wheel. But the real treat lay around the reef where we chanced upon a majestic sea turtle that swam with us for a couple of minutes before rising gracefully in search of air, disappearing into the daylight above. My birthday treat had come a day late, and I felt glad to have left the big day behind me. Another quiet evening followed and I resolved that the time had come to move on. But where to?
I really was not feeling 'it' in Thailand and the islands were succumbing to the rainy season. I had been toying with the idea of a sojourn to Indonesia and now felt like the time to do it. I decided Sumatra would be my next destination and the Gunung Leuser national park that is home to a few thousand organ-utans. I found beach life solo a bit boring and I wanted to get back into the thick of it. I would need to take an overnight ferry the following evening to Suratthani that would take nine hours and then a 12-hour bus ride to Pinang in Malaysia from where I booked a cheap flight across to Medan in northern Sumatra. I was feeling the joy of travelling again as I whiled away Sunday reading and writing. The beauty is sometimes in the tangent. And then I saw Tam, a German guy of Indian descent who had been on the Magic Bus in New Zealand. If only he had arrived a few days earlier. But then things do sometimes happen for a reason.
My Review Of The Place I Stayed