Some exaggeration, I’ll admit, I didn’t kayak round the whole island, small though it is. Whilst kayaks are cheap to hire for the day, I had lunch first and then read a book while the midday heat tired itself out making other people hot. Their turn today. Yesterday I’d had a wander, ending up committed by my own pig-headedness to climbing a steep road, descending an equally steep one and finding a beach at the end. Wet through from the heat, dipping into the sea was glorious, though this was a quiet resort and so people’s only by couples while I was there. The walk back was equally steep, of course, but at least this time I was headed for food and a shower.
Today’s kayak; I only hired it for a couple of hours, in fact, but that was long enough to get me out into the bay, along the whole of Sairee beach, and to see just how far you can drift while kicking back and gazing up at Koh Tao’s hills.
Quite a long way, it turns out, and it is deceptive; my eye always seemed to be on something, like a hill, which didn’t show how far I was drifting, then before I knew it I was 100m from the buoy I’d found before. I can see how cousin Soph and I slipped so far out to sea in my childhood now, thinking the faint dots we knew to be our parents were waving when actually they were panickily gesturing for us to come back.
I’d timed it well, the sky clouded over, even drizzled a bit, which was decent weather for a paddle, especially for someone who carefully packed his hat earlier, then took it out and left it on the bed. Muppet.
Post kayak I ran. Plenty of people here are too cool for school, so ignore all and anything others do, but the triathlete I’d passed twice on my Wednesday run was out again, smiling in the same way, as were a few others. Today I was due a tempo run, but Koh Tao is pigging hilly, so I had to settle for a long long uphill run in mile two. That, at least, got me some kudos from those coming down the hill on scooters – every one gave me a thumbs up or, my favourite, what I can only describe as the ‘funny face of respect’.
Tomorrow I’m on the afternoon boat back to Chumphon and then the sleeper to Butterworth, Malaysia, from where it is a short ferry hop to Penang/George Town. Funny, I’d spent some time pondering routes – spend a night in Koh Samui then south to Surat Thani? Have to spend a night in a Southern Thai town if so. I checked hotels were available in (I) Hat Yai (so much right now), then went to the ferry company and found I could just go back the way I came and pick up the train the same day.
A new country beckons. It has a (road) race in it, too.
I had booked the afternoon ferry. You can go at 7am or 1pm, so the latter won; that way I got to have breakfast, talking to the Australian motorbiker about his trip and photography, pick up a cheap t shirt and then be picked up by minibus at 11.30.
That got me as far as the train station, from where I had walked the day before. If I’d known that was all the first pick up was for I could have walked and saved myself the 20minute wait in the sun, but never mind. We were shuffled onto a bus and taken to the pier. Scads of people there, but all, I think, at a resort and just not sure where to put themselves; too far out of tow to stroll in, they were left with the resort restaurant to feed, and this was lunchtime. Tickets checked for a second time, another sticker on my top – colour coded this time, so the announcements could say “if you have green sticker, leave now” for those who hadn’t quite picked up on the name of the stop. And we were off.
The island hoved into view a couple of hours or less later, after some intermittent adverts and ‘just for laughs’ on the screens. The hostel email had suggested walking for 10-15 minutes or getting a taxi to nearby for 100-150 baht. That’s only £2-3, but seemed way out of kilter for Thai prices, given the 50baht several mile transfer to the ferry. I walked, and was soon into the second half of the instructions. Then the rain dripped, and the girl ahead paused at a shelter. A macho moment made me think, pah, then I also paused, and soon it bucketed down. We had to talk to pass the monsoon time, and my mention of possible snorkelling netted me her kit – she was leaving, and it needed a home. The rain delayed entry to the beach by 20 minutes or more, but what a good stop. Walking was definitely easy, the right choice; a taxi would only have got me somewhere near. At least spotting the price had cued me in to expect things to be a little more expensive here. Not a rip off, and you can still eat for £1 off the strip, but shop items are a healthy percentage more here. Which doesn’t matter when a snickers – one of the more expensive things that I’ve noticed, though my tastes may not be typical – is normally 40p and here £1, but worth bearing in mind that the mainland is cheaper still.
I checked in, met Dave from Bradford and posh Will from gap yah, ate and sat on the beach. I figured leaving my mid length run until how had been a mistake – this is a small island – but actually, up and down the main street to both ends as an out and back was about 9 miles, with hills, so not bad.
Slipping on a turn onto a track was a bit bad, but never mind. I an a bit out of place, here. There are all ages, but not in a hostel, and the place is, earthy Dave aside, filled with okay yah, oh god I was like, oh, how you doin’? slightly strutting youth. Nobody bad, of course, just people who talk a bit louder than they might because they are a little self conscious. Not so much that I am too old for the place, but too old for the accomodation. Or it is too young for me. I spent my time aware that this is a paradise but also pondering my escape, and how imminent it should be, which is a slightly odd feeling. Haven’t quite picked a plan, whether to find a night in Koh Samui for the island hopping or push on to Surat Thani and then Malaysia, but luckily there’s no huge rush – or, rather, I know I need to move on, but if it takes an extra day then that makes for an even shorter trip to Malaysia, which by all accounts justifies more time.
I ate, and ate well, amused when I looked up from my book to spot the elderly gentlemen treating their young female Thai friends to dinner. Given more time I might have checked for wedding rings (with an airmail logo stamped in), but each to their own.
After dinner, total relaxation. As I stood on the beach, I wasn’t sure which view i liked most. The fire dancers next door were intermittently in time with the music, though I don’t think timing, other than the timing needed not to become a more literal man of fire, was their intention. That was cool. Straight up, stars; with the sea lapping gently it was just possible to forget the boom boom music. Out to sea, boat lights winking, and evenly spaced all around the horizon-probably just the minimum distance a sensible captain keeps an anchored boat to make sure of clearance if she slews round, but it looked like they were there for effect. And in the distance both right and left, lights on the shore and a few up the hill to the right.
Reading: Conan Doyle, Case of the Devil’s Foot, Alan Folsom, The Hadrian Memorandum.
The plan was to get to Chumphon, stay a night and then hop on the ferry to Koh Tao, following a Brazilian’s recommendation while I was in Korea; “I thought it was the loveliest of the islands”.
The plan changed. First I found there was a night ferry, and figured I could have caught that instead of staying at all. But here I was. I couldn’t be jiggered to move, and although this is a small town almost bereft of tourist things, that just made it seem all the more natural to stay, enjoy cheap food and an easy to wander centre. Plus there was no decent hostel accommodation available on the island tonight so I’d have had to blow more than twice as much, maybe £12, on a bungalow on the beach.
I know! Gawd, sometimes I have to make some tough decisions. I stayed, is the upshot.
I spent my day getting up late, getting hungry and then exploring, having lunch at one of the many shack-like stands that are in between street food and restaurants. It was under a pound. I mooched round, having stopped near the railway station for lunch, and had a quick chat with a local on a road to nowhere, as the sun beat down harshly. “Mel-lon”, he said. “Ha!” I replied. We repeated that a couple of times – ‘it’s hot’, maybe, or ‘this road goes nowhere other than the main road’, he was saying. I’m really not sure.
Ice cream, unbelievably cheap toothbrushes and supplies, a shirt for £4 for which I probably overpaid but good luck to her, and a gasping and under productive interval session finished my afternoon. That morning, the dude from the hostel had offered me a lift to the beach, picking me up at 7, really before I knew what was going on – I’d only just woken up – and I don’t know whether it was out of the goodness of his heart or some scam. He didn’t show at the time, anyway, but whether my sense of time was too exact, beach was off because it had tipped it down or he had left work late I don’t know. I found food, anyway, essential by now, and liked my fried rice so much I had dinner again, which narrowly averted a whole day without pad Thai, phew. I finished my second beer and realised the wifi in this place was working very well, downloading me some podcasts, unlike at the hostel. I had felt very clever reading the code off the back wall, then turned and spotted it right behind me. It turned out that my hostel friend had fallen asleep, and ‘big rain’, you know. I did know, and was not fussed. He became my Facebook friend, and promised to see me on my return. He’s the second person to think I’m coming back. The first was on the train, my seat-row-mate for several hours talked to me an hour or so from my destination, ending up giving me her email address and phone number so she could show me round – “you have to come back to Bangkok, right?” Well, no. The phone number was in case – or became so, to save face in front of my indifference, I suppose – of emergencies. I always feel I should warn people that it’s not personal, I just don’t use the phone, so don’t wait up for a call.
Back at the restaurant, I’d only turned in the first, to check that the banging I could hear was rain. Oh boy, yes it was. The corrugated iron part of the roof was now making a heck of a noise. Monsoon season, and when it goes, it goes. I was without kindle, but with “one more beer?” and the iPod, so I searched and was there for long enough to pick 30 or so podcasts to top me back up. Tomorrow I am on the ferry, it’s booked. Koh Tao in the afternoon.
As Gordon Milne recalled, mistily, of his time with England: “It used to give us a such a lift when he’d [Alf Ramsay] say ****.” The guardian.
Thank **** it exists or we’d all be in the twilight world beloved of parents who don’t mind their kids growing up thinking they (parents) are outliers, pretending swearing doesn’t exist: “peculiar poetry.
For example, “What the ******* hell was that?” is a good song. “What was that?” isn’t. And to give Ince a bit of credit, “Where’s your busy fucker of a fourth?” is like Shakespeare after six pints of Stella”
A collection of little things that have eased my way
Having a washing bag for the first time in years.
The towel someone left in Tokyo, which I liberated.
Putting my sandals in the washing machine in Seoul (I no longer sit down and think “is that me?”).
Posting home ticket stubs and other bits I don’t need but want to keep.
New t shirts in Cambodia, allowing me to bin the old.
I ran to the sea in Chumphon today, after a six hour train ride. Plenty of westerners on the train, but most headed for Surat Thani, the end of this particular line, from where the boat goes to Koh Samui. It is possible to get the boat there from here, too, but much more slowly.
A new country! (Again). Yesterday I took a bike and went on a temple tour. The hostel has bikes you can take for free-a lock provided, but probably not needed. I was debating whether to go round Angkor Wat, given that I’d already seen it the day before, then remember that the chance to see it was the exact reason I’d booked a flight to Cambodia instead of straight to Thailand in the first place, and so got on with it.
After the previous day’s stormy rain, it was a lovely day – a bit hot, perhaps, given this is Asia, but it wouldn’t have been fun cycling in heavy rain. This time I followed the long straight road out of Siem Reap; I’m glad I didn’t run it yesterday; it’s not the prettiest, and busier for longer than my curvy road. Tickets for Angkor Wat are sold at a booth-more like a toll booth really – off to one side of the road a few miles before you get to the temple. They take your picture and $20 then you take your pass and off you go – though I’d nearly cycled past, not making the decision to turn in time, but was stopped by a guard telling me to get a ticket. At least I think that’s what he said-he may have been only suggesting I get one, you can probably use the roads to go to other places without a pass. I was joining a nice air of cluelessness, the bloke behind me paid, had his photo taken and was about to wander off, until reminded that he had a ticket to collect.
Angkor Wat was about 6km away from the hostel, so an easy ride. It was much more of a thrill to be going in, not just looking from the outside. After a very quick and relaxed check of my pass, I was onto the bridge over the wide moat. The temple entrance looms, magnificent, as in any pictures you’ve ever seen of it. Lots of people stop for a photo there, so getting an uncluttered one is difficult, but there are occasional opportunities. Once in there is another walkway, a couple of smaller temple buildings off to each side, the main temple peeping out and tour guides offering their services. I waved them off, along with the lady offering food and drink at her stall, “number 007, like James Bond”. Finally, the temple proper. The carvings are, beyond the sight of the building itself, the thrill, as they’re magnificent. There’s a telling of the Mahabharat, though given that the plaque says it has been forgotten in Cambodia, I’m not sure how they knew what it was. You can wander the corridors round the edge of the quadrangle, or head straight for the 60+m high central bit straight off, but those carvings in the former are worth the look. The central piece is up some steep steps. Going up was fine, particularly since I was behind some slow moving Indonesians (nationality guessed at), but I had no impatience. I’d already watched some elderly Chinese (likewise) ladies coming down backwards, and knew I’d be similarly circumspect when it came to looking at the steps from the top.
There are more intricate carvings at the top, particularly of the Srupan (check!), ladies who smile their benediction down upon you. It’s a peaceful vantage to see the rest of the site.
I wandered to the exit. No one else was leaving, and I took one look at the slope of the steps and refused. A man came past and stopped to take a picture, then paused. Now there were two of us waiting for some security, and it arrived in the shape of the Indonesians. Several girls and one big boy; I went down straight after him, followed by the words of a Dutchman helping his mate with “think of altitude as your friend”. We all made it. Heading out, I stepped off the main walkway to walk the grounds a little and was immediately spotted by a group of kids who all sell postcards, magnets, key rings. “You buy, you buy. One dollar. Two for one dollar”. They’ve learned the numbers, too, counting out the ten postcards – I learned later that some will run through French and Spanish numbers, too, though they’d managed to stump the kids’ versatility by claiming to be Russian. I bought some magnets, but learned a few days later that it’s better to buy nothing, in the hope that if no one buys anything from kids under 11, they’ll be allowed to go back to school. The schools are free, it’s just the kids’ ability to charm tourists that’s keeping them away.
They were cute, mind.
I cycled on, passing the Bayon temple, centre of Angkor Thom, again, and this time heading onwards. I can see why the landscape inspires Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider type stories; at any moment a temple may appear round a corner, or through some trees, and one of the pleasures of the day was stopping to see what the next one looked like. They’re of similar style, but some built in different coloured stone, and of course on different scales to the biggest.
Hot and thirsty, I stopped for a drink. There were temples either side of the road, and several stalls touting their wares as soon as I stopped. I haggled for a couple of drinks, turned down lunch, postcards, key rings and magnets and then wandered the temples, pretending not to notice the Scotsman who had been eating at the same place and to whom I’d already said goodbye. After a snooze I wandered back to the same place and she offered me lunch again, as she’d promised to. I turned down magnets and postcards, but entertained myself while waiting for curry by haggling over t shirts. Not from the kids this time.
Hot from the curry I grabbed water, beating her down from $1 for one to 50c for two. Which is, in fairness, the supermarket price. The next person who came along paid the dollar, so they win some, do okay on some.
Turning off the road, I was asked for my pass again, and when I paused for a moment the guard asked if I wanted to see a waterfall. I couldn’t see where he was going to pull it from on this straight road but said yes to find out, but in fact he was offering to accompany me to a waterfall the next day. No matter, then. This temple was a tout fest, from water lady (“but I have one already” “you drink, then buy on way out. Or I cry”) on the outside, to scarf girl, handbag woman and souvenir Buddha man. “You like my art? I make special price because blah blah” I was really enjoying myself by now, turning down magnets and postcards left, right and centre. “I have magnets” “you buy from me. One more, one more”.
From there – I didn’t buy more water, she didn’t cry – I cycled back, completing the loop I’d meant to run, more or less the half marathon course. Crikey, but that’s a course and a half, temples and countryside coming out of your ears. Pushing the pedals on the ancient bike a bit harder, I caught and passed the Scotsman, then stopped to watch some kids jumping off a bridge into the river, but they stopped, intimidated or offended by my presence.
I thought about sticking around for sunset, but the need for a shower and a cool in the pool won over and I headed back. It turned into a sociable evening, as my dorm friends had had a huge day, travelling hours in their tuk tuk to the far off ruined temple and waterfall, and arguing with the driver on their return. After happy hour beer, I disappeared-so they said, nice that they’d looked for me-but had only gone to watch Rocknrolla in the cinema room upstairs. Decent, though with the same ‘but he can’t act!’ problems as other Guy Ritchie films. More importantly, we were all into it, with a few belly laughs, but the cinema room closes at 11. The lights came on, we were told it was closing. “But there’s only a few minutes left!” “Ah, okay.” We relaxed, but the screen went blank-the big climax, stolen from us all.
Slightly bemused, especially when we spotted it was not yet 5 to, we milled about downstairs, and the two Dutchmen from the stairs earlier led the charge for a beer, which turned into a conversation about politics, music (The Heist, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis is great, the kids say) and English time descriptions. It is generally agreed that “half six” is three.
The next day I was up earlyish, thinking I’d head to the market to replace a once white but now grim shirt, but Singaporean dorm mate Stefen joined me for breakfast and I was having too nice a time chatting and getting food advice for Singapore. Other dorm mate, North Carolina girl whose name went in one ear and out the same way, let me know that another lady downstairs was heading for the same flight as me – “a little older, with kinda voluminous hair”.
Right. We did meet up, and did share my tuk tuk. Her hair was perfectly normal. Flying to Bangkok was dead easy, avoiding rumoured several hour queues at the border with a 45 minute flight. I had checked in online, which gave me access to a special slow lane-Karen checked in there and was waiting for me when I finally dropped off my bag. I had at least had a nice long chat with the British couple ahead of me.
I took the slow but cheap option from the airport – Don Mueang is the equivalent of Stansted, with free shuttle bus transfer to the main airport. Wikitravel suggests an hour, but it only took 40 minutes, and then I hopped on the city line which took me straight to the hostel, pretty much, at Ratchaprarop. “You need hotel?” No, not really, I’m up here. I took myself off for a wander around, realising all the big hotels were nearby, seeing a big crowd exercising in Lumphini park, alongside a tent village ‘protesting the government corruption’. The noise of traffic is a constant, enlivened by the lawnmower sounds of tuk tuks. I like it, but can see why people have suggested a couple of days is enough. See some sights, go somewhere a bit more peaceful.