Two lessons learned + Christmas Day away
(Surat Thani & Koh Samui)
Same same, but different
There are times when travelling Thailand as a backpacker that you feel a bit like hurdled cattle. Tourism here seems to work in a long chain of events, that also feels a bit like an inside joke among those working along the chain. Our first experience of this came when we traveled from Bangkok to Koh Samui, the first leg of the journey being a night bus to Surat Thani. At 5.30am we were woken abruptly by a man screaming "SURAT THANI GET OFF NOW" into our faces. A very sleepy Dod and me gathered our belongings as quickly as possibly and stepped off the bus to find another man shouting at us to get in a taxi for Koh Samui. Unfortunately our wits were not about us at this point in time and so into the taxi we climbed blissfully un-aware of the chain of events beginning to unfold. After paying 200 THB (£5) for a journey that should have cost us no more than £2 (every little counts with our budget!) we were dropped at a booking agents and told to wait there until the shop owner was opened up and we could book our ferry. At this point we came to realise we were playing a part in the inside joke; the bus driver dropped us into the hands of the overpriced taxi man, the taxi man is commissioned to take us too the booking agency and so on and so forth. The joke is that the entire time you are made to feel as though there are no other options. After asking for our money back we decided to look for other options. A minutes walk away we found the actual bus station where we could book the tickets directly at half the price. We also sampled a local Thai breakfast of rice soup, raw egg and a suspicious looking meat from a lovely lady and her husband whilst sat under a tin roof in the pouring rain. Although it sounds grim, these encounters are a huge part of travelling for me. You'll like this one mum - they are the 'what-the-fuck' moments that you tell people about simply because they are so far away from anything you've experienced before. Unlike India where you seem to run into these moments hourly, it seems here you really have to look for them by escaping the clutches of the tourism chain.
Two on the ped, and the rucksack said
Our first Island stop was Koh Samui, a large island off the eastern coast of southern Thailand. Having spent 10 hours on a coach, an hour on a local bus and 2 hours on a ferry to get there we weren't in the best mood. Which worsened when we stepped off the boat to a very dark and over-cast sky. As to be expected we were offered sky-high prices for a taxi to our hostel, considering the 10 hour night bus had cost us 400 THB we weren't up for paying double that for a half an hour journey. As we began to head for the main road in hope of flagging down a cheaper lift we walked past a scooter hire shop, one look at Dod and I knew he thought it was a good idea! Me, him, two 15kg rucksacks and two small backpacks on one moped. The shop owner was willing to hire it to us for 5 days at a total pice of 750 THB; not even I could argue with that. Our transport to and from the hostel plus a moped for the full stay for less than what one taxi ride would have cost, the deal was done. When I asked the guy if he thought we would be ok he just raised his hands and cocked his head to one side, in other words 'hopefully but I've got your 2000 THB deposit if not'. Somehow we squeezed on with one small bag inside the seat, one by Dod's feet and our big rucksacks on our backs. Almost as soon as we were on our way the rain started to come down. Thunder, lightening and giant drops of rain; I was terrified. The bike felt like it was about to skid out from underneath us any moment, whilst other bikes cars and busses were all around us on the busy island ring road. I couldn't see 3 feet in front of us and I'm not sure I was helping Dod's concentration by screaming "CAN YOU EVEN SEE? COZ I CAN'T SEE" into his ear. The worst part was when we came to a steep hill around half a kilometre long. I gritted my teeth and dug my nails into Dod's rucksack and my knees into the bike as we bounced up the bumpy, slippery hill. The 15kg on my back was doing everything it could to pull me off the back of the bike but somehow we made it to the top. Going down the other side was more comical as I was squished between my rucksack and Dod's with my teeth gritted and cheeks wavering (imagine a dog hanging out of a car window but squashed between two heavy lumps - that was me). Needless to say we got there in one piece, and of course the rain stopped the moment we disembarked. An eventful and very soggy welcome to southern Thailand!
Christmas Day Away
Christmas day came all of a sudden for us. As you can imagine the weather didn't really fit the bill and our surroundings were about as festive as a court room. However the one thing we both decided was important was that we found a good group of people to spend the time with, and thank goodness we did. Our hostel was one of the best we've stayed in (US hostel - would recommend highly) and thanks to a great common room and bar area we formed a tight group of around 12 people, including two gert lush Bristolians. Our Christmas morning was spent around the hostel pool, Santa hats installed and the afternoon on the beach before heading to the Irish bar (of course) for Christmas Dinner. Just like any other day we missed our family and friends enormous amounts, but the day was made when one of our Bristolians shouted "Oi luv, you'll ever guess what? They got thatcherrs ere'!" At me across the table, and just for that moment I was transported back home. There might not have been board games, crackers or mulled wine but we did have the sun, good company and whole lot of fun.