My Trips: Thailand 2009

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Ko Samui, Thailand to Pulau Penang, Malaysia

We leave our house, and home for the last 3 months, and grab a iced coffee at the local bakery.

The girls at the bakery, who have seen our faces occasionally for our stay here are curious as to where we are going. We see the landlord of our house drive by, with a few bits he has taken from the house.

After our drinks we wait by the road side for a pickup to the ferry. One soon drives by and we jump in.

It’s a nice journey, still seeing things for the first time.

At the immigration office, where we got our visa extensions we see a guy still with his ferry ticket on his chest. He jumps in the pickup with us. I guess he has come over from Ko Phangan to get a visa extension, and he is on his way back now.

At the ferry terminal we jump out, and quickly chat the pickup driver. They are not all bad!

We chat with the travel agent lady. There is no organised transport from the bus station to the train station. But, he brother has a car and he can take us. Now, this is not something we would normally do, as freestyling is the way to go, but we don’t want to be standing around, in the dark, at 9pm with few options. So we take her offer, and wait for the later ferry, as we have so much time.

Once on the ferry, we relax and admire the sunset, something we have seen little of over the last 3 months, due to being on the wrong side of the island for such a thing.

Sunset leaving Samui island

Once on the mainland we take a mini-bus to the bus station. On the bus I hear a Japanese guy is also trying to get to the train station, and offer him a ride in our car. We chat with him throughout the night.

At the bus station we only wait 10 mins before getting in the car, and are whisked off to the train station.

The train station is busy. At least 3 trains come whilst we are there, and clear most of the passengers away. We have a 3 hour wait here, from 10pm until 1am. Not the best time to be hanging around on a train station, in the dark, in an area of Thailand that has seen religious troubles in the past.

However, these troubles are not taken lightly, and the police are there in numbers, tucked away, but there.

We feel comfortable and being to pass the time. Later I see that our train is 50 minutes late and will arrive at 01:35 and not 00:40 as expected. Not such a big deal when already waiting this long.

We notice a lot of homeless people sleeping/living on the platforms between the tracks. At least they don’t face the freeing temperatures of Europe here. But we do see a number of cockroaches cruising around the platforms.

Eventually, the train arrives and we jump on. We are very familiar with the Thai and Malaysian trains and jump straight into bed. It takes us both a while to get to sleep, but we do.

In the morning we are woken earlier than expected (later realising that we didn’t change our watches at the border).  After a quick DIY breakfast (croissants from Thailand and iced coffee) we are ready for the border crossing.

We are across the border, and into Malaysia without any troubles.  An easy 90 visa again.

Back onto the train, and we continue south.  The train rolls into Butterworth early we think, but of course it’s a little late as our watches are wrong.

We jump off the train, and walk on the ferry terminal.  The boat promptly leaves and we are crossing the waters towards Pulau Penang.

The island looks very enticing as we approach.  Almost like a mini Singapore.  We can see the Tune hotel that we will be staying at.  A great relief from the normal dreadful accommodation in Malaysia.

The hotel is a little further than we expected, but we walk it anyway, and we’re glad to put our bags down in our room.

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Only a week left in Thailand

Our 3 month stay here in Thailand is drawing to and end.

We’ve loved living in our house, exploring the island, working on our websites (mostly www.campervanlife.com and www.travelphotographyschool.com) and learning a bit more about Thailand and the Thai people.

Whilst we are sad to be leaving Samui, and Thailand, we’re looking forward to getting on the road again.

We are heading down to Georgetown in Malaysia.  We will try and get 2 month visas for Indonesia there, whilst exploring this historic city.

From there we will fly down to Bali.

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Plane Crash on Samui

Samui Airport Crash
Photo by soma-samui.com

As you may have heard on the news, a plane crashed on Samui airport yesterday.  The airport is about 20kms from where we are.  Sadly the pilot died.

It’s a terrible thing to happen, especially to such a small community like this.  Many people will be affected.

We were sitting outside when the lunchtime rains started.  Drizzled turned into torrential rain, even harder than normal.

When the rain eased I went to the bakery, and heard an emergency vehicle pass, but thought little of it, as this is a fairly regular sound.

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Back to Ko Samui

It’s still windy this morning, and we have to catch the ferry home.

Fortunately we are riding on the Loprayah Catamaran ferry, which makes light work of the rough’ish seas.

We pack our few things, and ride back to Thong Sala.

I call the bike guy and he opens up.

We stop at a cafe for some breakfast.  Banana pancakes, the birthday treats continue!

Then up to the ferry pier, check in, wait for the ferry, and jump on.

The rough seas mean care is necessary to get on the boat over the slippery gang way.  Whilst we are on-board it sounds like a girl slips over.  She is shortly carried in by someone.  I hope she is ok.

The ferry pushes off and heads back to Maenam on Samui.

We’re quickly off and passing everyone with big bags head for our pick-up.  Then back home.

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Happy Birthday to me, Ko Phangan, Thailand

It’s my birthday, so it’s birthday cake for breakfast!  You can see all of our other birthday treats on the bed as well.  Bit of a contrast to our healthy living of late.

The weather is not as sunny as normally here in Thailand, so we don’t sunbathe.

Instead we chill out, finish the book we have been sharing, and make a sand gecko

In the evening we try and find somewhere showing the F1 Grand Prix.  Nowhere is, so I ask at the Ibiza bungalows which look shut.

The lady says they are open, and I find the F1 on the satellite TV.

We have great food there and a few beers.

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Riding around Ko Phangan, Thailand

It’s a bit windy and cloudy this morning.  But, the sun is trying to break through.

The wind is onshore here at Sandy Bay, so using my surfers knowledge, we head to the north of the island and stop at a lovely little beach, where the wind is off shore, making the sea smooth.

We relax for a while, watching the local kids mess around, and also catch a truck delivering large quantities of ice onto fishing boats moored up at the pier.

We jump back on the scooter and take one of my favourite roads in Thailand, the main road south through the island.  It’s a wonderful display of tourist and authentic Thai life, all pitched wither side of the jungle road.

We pass schools, small houses, big houses, business, and more.

We get to Thong Sala, the main ferry port and town.  We buy our exit tickets for Monday morning, as it’s always good to be a few days ahead with your planning.

We grab some lunch, and then head over to Tesco.  Even a small island like Ko Phangan has a Tesco.

We stock up on birthday treats, including a small birthday cake.

Back on the bike, and back to the bungalow.

We chill on veranda.

Outside Silver Beach resort, Had Yao, Ko Phangan

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Ferry to Ko Phangan, Thailand

As it’s my birthday weekend, we are off to Ko Phangan for the weekend.

So we are up fairly early and a take short walk to the travel agent.  The Loprayah bus picks us up and we take the drive to Mae Nam.

Loprayah are certainly the most organised, and best ferry operator we have taken in Asia.  Their catamaran ferries are quick and smart.

We board, and sit, but soon get a tannoy message asking everyone to move to the front of the cabin, as the tide is unusually low, and the boat is close to grounding out.

We’re soon on our way.  The boat is certainly the fastest I have taken in Asia.  It only takes 20 minutes before the familiar site of Thong Sala, Ko Phangan appears.

We disembark and head straight to rent a scooter.  Last time I was on Ko Phangan I rented a scooter from a nice guy, who gave me a partial refund because I had the bike for part of a day.  I headed back to him, as that is rare service in Thailand.

The guy isn’t there, so we grad some lunch, and head back after.  He is there, and gives us a discount this time as we will rent the bike for 3 days.  This is a good example of how good customer service builds a good business.  I went back to this guy today (even after having to wait for him to open for the afternoon) because he gave me a discount before.  Today he has given me another discount, so I will definitely rent a bike from him in the future.

In case you are interested it is the Easy Diver bike rental, next to the 7 Eleven store, right opposite the Lomprayah pier (the more southerly pier).

As we are travelling light (a small backpack each) we jump on the bike and head north.

It’s always lovely being back on Ko Phangan.  It’s a beautiful island.

We take the coast road, passing Sunview, where we stayed last year.  They seem to have changed their name to Sun Set Bay.  Seems like a strange thing to do when you have an established business.

We turn off the road at Sandy Bay (or Long Beach, or Had Yao West, to use its real name).  We park up at the Ibiza bungalows and take a look around.

We stop at several places and ask, but most places are full, as last night was the full moon party.

After exhausting the northern end of the beach we are about to head to the other end when I spot a sign.  AC rooms for 500Baht.  Seems like a bargain.  We take a look and find ourselves a lovely, clean, brand new AC room for 500Baht.

We settle in, have a drink, and do some sun bathing on the beach.

It’s great being back here.

We watch the sun go down and relax for the night.

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2 punctures in 20 minutes

Abs and I ride off to Tesco. On the way I notice the rear tyre of the scooter feels a bit soft.

The roads on the island are fare considering it’s location. The roads are all concrete, and sometimes dirt.

Scooters tend to ride on the small hard shoulder, so that the bullish taxis and other big vehicles can drive by.

Once we have left Tesco I check the tyre, it is now completely flat. Not worrying too much, I push the bike to the front of the store, head towards what looks like a tyre repair place, and the taxi drivers instruct me to the to a tyre repair place.

Within a few minutes the young lad has replaced the inner tube with a new one. It cost 150 Baht. I’m guessing we have paid above the odds, but it is late at night, and we are Farang, so we are in no position to dispute this.

Riding home, about 1km from our house, the front wheel makes a sudden flapping noise. I fear we have something stuck in our front tyre. I stop and check, and yep, we have something stuck in.

I know that pulling it out will let it down, so I leave it in and ride home. Once parked I pull out the offending item and air rushes out, as the tyre deflates.

Now I know to repair it in the morning, rather than waiting for a suspected slow puncture.

In the morning I ride the bike to the repair shop, as the tyre keeps it form.

I wait in line, and at my turn this guy removes the tyre, without removing the wheel. He finds the hole and asks it I want to replace or fit. I say fix.

I notice that the lady 2 in front of me in the queue paid 120 Baht for her new inner tube, so the 150 I paid last night was reasonable. I also know what the going rate is now.

The guy uses a hacksaw to roughen the puncture spot, clamps a repair patch to the puncture stop and lights the pad attached to it. The pad roars with smoke and the patch fuses itself to the tube.

He re-inflates and charges me just 40 Baht (70 pence). Happy, I thank him and ride home.

We have ridden many miles over many hours in Southeast Asia, and yet get our first 2 punctures in 20 minutes.

I suspect we wont have another puncture for sometime, especially as I now ride less in the dirty part of the road, but I also suspect we will have another puncture at some point.

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Rented a house in Lamai, Ko Samui, Thailand

After a little searching, Abby and I have rented a house in Lamai, Ko Samui, Thailand.

It’s 1 bedroom house, about a 10 minute walk to the beach. It’s very close to a Wat, and amongst Thai surroundings. We even have a small view of the mountains.

We are renting the house here to have a more permanent home then a guest house, and to save money during the next 6 weeks we are here in Thailand. We hope to get a further 1 month visa extension giving us nearly 3 months here.

The house was fairly basic inside. We have a sofa, bed, some furniture, cable TV and air conditioning in the bedroom.

The house costs 7,000 Bath per month (£124). So this give us a bit of budget to buy things for the house. On our way to the supermarket we noticed a Thai style shop selling home wares. Pretty much everything in the shop was 10 Bath (20 pence!). We stocked up on a lot of things such as bowls and clothes. A trip to the supermarket got us everything else we needed.

Thailand is pretty cheap for most things, and we didn’t need to spend too much to get what we wanted.

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Expensive Thailand, Rip-off Thailand, and Good-Old Thailand

I’m trying to keep to a fairly tight budget of £10 a day.  That’s not easy, and is generally not possible in Thailand anymore unless one stays in the cheapest places (grubby and poor security) and east the cheapest foods (not generally so nice).  So I stretch my budget to about £15 per day, but I don’t loose sleep if I hit £20 per day.

My bungalow is £7 per day.  Meals in touristy places are generally expensive and not the best quality.  I have tried a few places here in Thong Nai Pan, and they’re all average.  Today I noticed a very simple place that looked very Thai.  It’s the outside section of someone’s house.  It’s very common in Thailand to convert your front room into a restaurant/shop/laundry, and actually still live in it whilst running your business.

Tonight I tried this restaurant.  The prices were cheap, about half what I would pay by the beach, and the quality and portions are much better.  I love eating at places like this.  You get more for your money, proper Thai food (with maybe less chili) and you know the money goes straight to Thai people, running a good wholesome business.  Whilst I was there it got busy, full in fact.  I could see Mum doing all of the cooking, the daughter (I’m making assumptions about the family members, but no doubt it’s correct) was taking orders, helping mum and serving.  Dad was clearing tables where possible, I saw grandma re-fill the rice cooker, and cut vegetables, and I even saw grandpa take a sack of rice from the pickup. A proper family business.  I have no doubt that this family are making more from their restaurant than any business venture they have been involved with before.  The place was packed, with a range of customers (backpackers, tourists and a couple of families), at a time when Thailand has well below normal visitor numbers, and the beach restaurants are very quiet (some have even closed).

I will definitely be eating there again, probably every other day, or every day.  I noticed a similar restaurant just a few doors down from it as well, which I’ll try tomorrow.  I’m still not ready for a spicy breakfast yet though.

The funniest thing about the restaurant was that I could buy an ice cold Beer Chang for 30Baht there (60 pence) when it costs 45Baht in the shops.  I knew the extra 20Baht or so the shops charge here, due it the remoteness of the place, was a bit steep, but this restaurant proves its over the top.  Well I know where to get a cheap beer now!

I was famished as I had only eaten breakfast all day, so I had a banana pancake from the street vendor on the way home.  30Baht and a good chat thrown in for free.

Thanks Thailand, for still having the cheap stuff, although you make me look harder than every this time to find it!