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Flag of Thailand  , Surat Thani,
Friday, August 19, 2011

Not blogged (if there is such a verb) for a while as we have been lazing about on beaches most of the time. We recovered from Semporna by relaxing at The Beach House Hostel in Koto Kinabalu. There was plenty of communal space and our room was simple but clean and spacious. As it was at the beach away from the town it gave us a different perspective of KK. It seemed to be used frequently by an organisation arranging school trips, that include some voluntary work. The first school party was from Ilfracombe, and they were quite young. They had expected to travel out to an island where the 'reward' for their efforts was to be the opportunity to learn to dive. However, their travel company seemed to have booked them on to a small boat which their insurance company would not let them travel on as the weather at sea was too rough that day. So they had to spend an extra night at the hostel which wasn't a problem, but did mean they had to be up at 4am the next morning to leave for the jetty 2 hours drive away. What we did not know was that their company had arranged to bring breakfast in for them at that time (none provided in hostel) and they were to eat it outside our bedroom door! Anyway, we had an early start that day and consoled ourselves with the thought that at least they were off to the island.

After a walk we returned to make a drink at the hostel and about 10am someone walked past and said 'hi'. I said to Jim that I recognised her from the school group and we were trying to work that out when the rest arrived, tired and frustrated. They had driven for one and a half hours, were only thirty minutes from the jetty when their insurance company had called and told them the sea was still too unsettled so the bus turned round and came back. I asked reluctantly, 'Does that mean you have to be up at 4am tomorrow?'. Of course it did but they did try to be quiet and went to bed very early. The noisiest person in the morning was their male teacher.

At KK airport in the departure lounge we heard someone call our names and it was a lovely surprise to see Mathew and Sarah again. They had been busy at Kinabatangan and Sepilok while we had been resting. Eventually they left for Singapore on their way to Australia and we flew to Johor Bahru.

After a whole day travelling from Johor Bahru to Krabi, on the west coast of Thailand, changing at Kuala Lumpur, we arrived at our hostel in Krabi. We were tired and hot but looking forward to arriving as we had splashed out on a hostel on the beach with pool, tropical garden and free wifi. The receptionist smiled welcomingly but had problems finding our booking. We have come to recognise this ruse now. It has happened every time in Asia with Hostelworld bookings, but never on other continents. The system is that the booking is made online when 10% deposit is paid. A confirmation email shows this and confirms how much is outstanding (the remaining 90%) and that is what is paid to the hostel. I presume the deposit is the fee paid to Hostelworld. However, here they try to say they do not have a booking and ask you to pay the whole amount, or as happened in Krabi, even more. By standing our ground politely, and showing the confirmation email we usually manage to resolve it. But after a long journey it was an irritation that we could have done without. The receptionist smiled through all these discussions and still smiling then said, 'no swimming pool, broken, look', and she pointed through the foyer.

We went to look and saw that the pool AND tropical garden now formed a smallish open cast mine complete with earthmoving equipment. We were not happy and returned to the receptionist who said, 'new pool in October', still smiling. I am sure the inappropriate training which makes them smile all the time is going to be responsible for a few homicides! However, knowing it is not done in Asia to become angry we stayed calm.

We had booked in for three nights but we said we would stay one night and reconsider the other two, but before going up to the room Jim remembered to ask for the wifi password and the receptionist replied, giving him the benefit of her most angelic smile, 'sorry, broken'. Aarghh!

However, the room was very pleasant and the position good so we did stay the three nights and under pressure the receptionist manage to find a 'working' wifi – it wasn't broken at all she just didn't want to give it free.

The scenery around Krabi is stunning with large karst limestone outcrops which in the sea form characteristic rocks and islands. We took a boat trip to Phi Phi islands and saw the beach where the film 'The Beach' was shot. It is a beautiful area but despite it being low season (minor monsoon period) the beaches were crowded as numerous boats constantly motored in and out to let people onto the beaches. At times there were so many that I don't know how they avoided each other.

After Malaysia Thailand is very clean. It is only when we arrived here that we realised how dirty Malaysia was. I saw one young woman in Prince Philip Park, KK, tie her picnic rubbish up in a plastic bag and toss it into the stream even though a bin was only 20 feet away.

We booked a transfer to Koh Samui, an island off the west coast, but the journey proved more complex than we expected. We were collected by minibus together with two other couples and driven to a bar/office on the edge of town where we had to unload our bags and wait for 45 minutes for another minibus. I felt relieved as the first driver had been very reckless so hoped the replacement might be better. Eventually he arrived and we set off on a really excellent two lane dual carriageway. He did seem a more placid driver until we hit a stretch of roadworks where they had split the two lanes on our side with fixed bollards so that the oncoming traffic could use the right hand lane, while the other carriageway was repaired. That was fine until he became impatient behind a tanker. He slowed and turned sharply between the bollards into the lane for oncoming traffic. We travelled some distance in that lane, until rounding a bend, we faced a vehicle driving straight towards us. To avoid a head on crash he hit the brakes to slow sufficiently to turn at 45 degrees and squeeze back between the bollards. What he had not expected was that the tanker behind us had built up speed and as he veered into the lane he missed it by the width of a butterfly's wing. It was only the tanker driver's quick reaction which prevented a crash. He was not amused, and made his feelings about our driver very clear. Our speed reduced after that. The rest of the journey involved two more stops, another change of vehicle, a ferry crossing and a shared taxi but it was all worthwhile and we felt lucky to have arrived safely.

At Arayaburi Hotel we found our accommodation was everything we could have hoped for. We had switched to Agoda for the booking as they seem to work more effectively in Asia. The hotel is in a very quiet area, away from the tourist beaches, directly on the beach, with two pools, detached 'villa' accommodation with large rooms, sunken bath and shower, and verandah, all for approximately 25 including breakfast. Originally the booking was for one week but we stayed for two. The weather was also an improvement as the east coast does not suffer the same monsoon period as the west.

There is not a lot to tell, most days were the same, swimming, reading and visiting the only bar/restaurant, the Country Bar, within walking distance which happened to be only five minutes away and served excellent food. There is also a shop right next to the hotel run by a lovely man, a Mr Joseph Lim, who was amazingly helpful and sorted out a couple of excursions for us, and our transfer to Bangkok which would have been very difficult to arrange ourselves. He even arranged for his wife to take us to the bus station and collect and check our tickets.

The only English people we met at Arayaburi were from Eastbourne. Alex attended Moira House and Eastbourne College and I think her older sister was in Gilli's year. Her friend Jen is from Wolverhampton but is teaching at Causeway school in Eastbourne. It was lovely to chat to them and hear their experiences of Thailand, including the Full Moon party on an adjacent island. I hope they weren't too bored talking to people their parent's age, they were far too polite to show it if they were. Joseph also made transport arrangements for them and managed to help them return to Arayaburi when they had a bad experience after moving on to another island. Nothing was too big a problem for him so we, and they, were very grateful.

We tore ourselves away from the hotel to go island hopping and snorkelling. It was enjoyable but the snorkelling was average apart from a couple of things. The coral was covered with clams, very large and colourful, and there were huge colonies of worms. If you haven't seen the worms on coral imagine lots of tiny artificial Christmas trees, half an inch to two inches tall, in luminous and sparkly colours of orange, red, yellow, blue, green, purple and white, dotted over rock like corals. Their 'branches' flutter in the water as they sift the sea for nutrients but if something moves close to them (like a finger) they seem to disappear immediately by withdrawing the whole 'tree' back into a hole. I have never seen such huge or colourful clusters before and it seems mean spirited to call such fascinating creatures worms. Jim and I both managed to see a large nudibranch (a type of sea snail without a shell) about three inches long which was a bright white with delicate black circles and a few dots on it looking surprisingly like a piece of Chinese art. The fish life was disappointing and I think the sea there has been overfished there for some time.

Another excursion took us to a Wat (Temple), to see a mummified monk, trek through the jungle on an elephant and to see trained monkeys. It seems that before tourism everyone on the island made a living from fishing or coconut production. The monkeys were trained to climb trees, select the ripest coconuts and twist them until they fell to the ground below. Our guide said his grandfather and father trained and used monkeys like this but now it is mainly for tourists. A surprise visit was to a new Temple, built in a traditional style but where the plaster is still drying out, and the new Buddha is wrapped in cellophane. A quick trip to Chaweng Beach resort to have photographs taken for visas to Cambodia and Vietnam made us appreciate the seclusion of Arayaburi. Despite being the low season the resort was very full and is clearly a party destination for most of the visitors. We felt relieved to return to the seclusion of Arayaburi after a couple of hours.





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