For what has got to be the first time in my life, I went through the entire 4th of July holiday without seeing a single firework or hearing any firecrackers go off. No baseball either, or apple pie, and I certainly didn’t see any Chevys driving around. Little wonder though, as Thailand doesn’t have much reason to celbrate a purely American holiday. I have to admit, I feel a little homesick. I rather like stuffing myself on hot dogs and blowing up explosives. I did call up Jason, hoping to hear about some big blowout bar-be-que or at least that they were at the baseball game but apparently not much was happening at home either. Turns out they were watching soccer, with isn’t exactly America’s pastime, but at least they were bar-be-quing up a big hunk of meat.
I finished my extra work early last week, and then had to decide when and how to get back to Bangkok. A direct trip to Bangkok would have taken 10-12 hours by bus or train, so I decided to try and split the trip up. The weather looked promising, so I decided to take the bus-boat up to the island of Koh Tao for a few days. First I had to take a four hour minivan ride up to Surat Thani. Once in Surat Thani, I could catch one of two boats to Koh Tao; the night ferry, which left at 11:00 PM and took about 7 hours, or the express boat which left at 8:00 the next morning and only took 5 hours. Since at that point it was only 5:30 in the evening, I opted to stay the night in Surat Thani and catch the express boat in the morning.
I had no idea where to stay in Surat Thani, so I asked the ferry office what they recommended. They referred me to a hotel, and showed me a picture that looked pretty nice, but if there is one thing I’ve learned on this trip it that pictures can be deceiving. But they were willing to drive me there and also pick me up again in the morning, and the room was only 400 Baht so I decided to give it a try. Turns out it was one of the nicest places I’ve stayed in in all of SE Asia, with the sole exception being the beach resort at Bangtao. There was also a night market just a few blocks away, and I was able to get a good dinner of fried tofu, a whole sliced pineapple, and noodle soup with chicken and mushrooms, all for only 35 Baht, or about ninety cents. After getting a decent nights sleep, I woke the next morning and after breakfast I boarded the bus that was going to take me to the pier to catch the boat to Koh Tao. Aside from Koh Tao, the boats also stop at two other islands, Koh Samui and Koh Phang Nagn. These islands are all very popular, especially when the full moon party is going on, so the boat was almost full and there were many other westerners, mostly backpackers, on the trip. Once we docked at Koh Tao, we were immediately bombarded by the touts offering dive trips (Koh Tao is a popular dive spot), accomodations, and tours of the island. I always ignore the touts and if I don’t have lodging already booked, as was the case in Koh Tao, I head straight for the nearest cafe or bar so I can take off my pack and get my bearings. Lucky for me there was a pretty nice little rooftop bar at the top of the pier and I was able to bypass all the touts and go directly there to cool off and have a beer. Once the dust settled from the boatload of new arrivals, I made my way back downstairs. Since I had such good luck with the accomodations that the ferry booking office had recommended the night before, I decided to try my luck again. This time I was pointed to some bungalows at the south end of the island. They overlooked one of the many bays, and looked cozy and quiet, so I went ahead and booked it for the night. I had planned on just relaxing for the weekend with a good book and a bottle of whisky, and the bungalow had a small balcony and an outdoor restaurant that were perfect what I had in mind. But instead of cozy and quiet, it turned out to be small and boring (which I guess are really the same thing depending on your state of mind at the time). Since the bungalows were pretty far removed from the more populated parts of the island, I had rented a motorbike to get around. So the next morning I cruised back into town to look for something a little closer to the action.
I ended up finding a room in a guesthouse that was on one of the main streets above a massage parlor. (No, not that kind of massage parlor…) I then spent the rest of the afternoon cruising around the island and seeing what else was around. One of the main beaches, Sairee Beach, was lined with dive shops, bars, cafes, bungalows and the like. It seemed like a very cool place, and I made plans to walk around there later that night to check out the nightlife. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be, because for some reason when that night rolled around I didn’t have any energy left and was too tired to do anything. Turns out that was just the beginning. I’m pretty sure that the chicken I had eaten for dinner the night before wasn’t as fresh as they say (see my post on Asian Markets), and at about three in the morning I started what would become semi-hourly trips to the toilet. Thank god I had immodium and Cipro in my first-aid kit. This went on most of the next day, and I didn’t venture out of the guesthouse until late that night to get something to eat. By the next day I felt fine, and thanks to the non-stop rain that had started the night before, I didn’t miss anything anyway. The sun finally broke through again about 11:00 AM on Monday, just in time for me to check out of the guesthouse, walk down the street to get some breakfast and check my email, and head to the pier for the 2:00 boat back to the mainland.
From Koh Tao, I had booked a joint boat-train ticket that would take me from Koh Tao to Chumphon by boat, and then from Chumpon to Bangkok by overnight train. I booked a sleeper car on the train, thinking it would be more comfortable than sleeping on the VIP bus that I had taken down south to begin with. Turns out I was wrong. The bunk in the sleeper car was pretty uncomfortable and didn’t quite lay flat, and because it wasn’t air-connditioned I had craked the window, which filled the compartment with exhaust every time the train stopped and then started up again. Yechh. No wonder I still have this dang cough.
Once in Bangkok, it was pretty smooth sailing. The Bangkok train station is a large station with lots of places to relax. Since I had arrived at 5:00 in the morning and it was too early to try and find accomodations, I grabbed a newspaper and headed for the coffee shop. I had a cup of strong coffee and a couple of stale donuts, and read the Bangkok Post, not for the news neccesarily, but because it’s one of only two english language newspapers and it has comics. A few hours later I was ready to tackle the town again, and caught the subway over to Sukhumvit Road where I knew I stood a decent chance of finding a good guesthouse. The one I had chosen, a place called Suk 11, came highly recommended on the BootsNAll forums. (Suk 11 because it’s located on a road called Sukhumvit Soi 11, but also because Suk means happy as I later learned.) unfortunately, my two different attempts at making reservations were shot down because they were fully booked. However, I have also learned that more often than not, most places will have a bed available if you just show up. So armed with a couple of backup choices just in case, I went to Suk 11 and happily was given a dorm bed for two nights. Suk 11 is every bit as good as they say. On the surface, it looks like every other run down apartment building in every other SE Asian city, but inside the whole building has been renovated to resemble a Thai village with paths and hallways leading every which way, and lots of wood, plants, water, etc. The rooms are comfortable, and the bathrooms are large and clean and actually have shower curtains. (In SE Asia, it’s common for the shower and toilet to be together in one small tiled room with a drain in the middle of floor.) Add in a comfortable lounge and free breakfasts, and I can see why this place is so popular.
So I’m here in Bangkok for about 24 more hours, at which point I’ll be saying “Lah Gorn Krap” to Thailand and “Jambo” to Africa. I’ll arrive in Nairobi around noon on Friday and will try and head straight up to Moshi, a town at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro where most of the Kili climbs originate. Donovan, my BootsNAll contact in Portland was great enough to hook me up with a house to stay in in a village called Kimamboni. It’s about 12 miles from Moshi, up on the side of Kili at about 6,000 ft. elevation. I’m expecting the climate to be quite a bit cooler and drier there, and I can’t wait!Koh Tao, Photos, Suk 11, Thailand, Travel, Tag Index