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Colin and Sue’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 03 May 2007

Location: Island Hopping, Thailand

MapWe both had dodgy tummies (maybe the night market food?) and debated whether or not to stay in Krabi but decided to risk the long journey to Ko Samui in search of clear seas. We crossed from the west to east coast of Thailand - a boring journey - the inland scenery here is nowhere as impressive as Malaysia and then got the ferry to Ko Samui As we weren't arriving in Ko Samui until after 6pm, we booked our first night through an agent on the bus. Quite an entertaining guy - he had a wide range of accommodation and with one look judged people's price range and "need to party" requirements. So he sold us a midrange bungalow (Marine Resort) at the quieter end of Chaweng Beach and it was fine - a nice room, just steps from the beach with a good restaurant, internet cafe and massages all right on the beach. As promised by the agent, the beach was lovely - powdery white sand but again the sea wasn't really clear or that good for swimming or snorkelling as it was too shallow.

Ko Samui was really touristy - lots of shops selling sarongs and fake labels, full English breakfasts and Irish pubs plus geezers from London selling holiday club memberships. The geezers (Matt and Stu) were quite a laugh so we agreed to go in for 90 mins to get them their commission and us our "star prize" even though they told us not to buy anything. We didn't really fit the profile as we'd been away more than a month and were a bit too backpackery, so together with Matt and Stu we came up with a cover story. Anyway, we failed to last the full time - we sat through 45 mins of Geordie Pete's anecdotes of drunken island life and motorbike accidents, after which he started his sales pitch. We gave up when Sue spotted that the "British" company was actually registered in the British Virgin Islands and Colin started asking him what exactly "underwritten by Barclays" meant - so left after about an hour. We thought the whole sales thing would be interesting to observe, but were wrong - still Pete did recommend the best place in town for full English breakfast and very nice it was too.

We decided to take advantage of our onsite massage service and had our first taste of traditional Thai massage, which is supposed to be:

"an interactive manipulation of the body using passive stretching and gentle pressure along energy lines. These movements help to

* adjust the skeletal structure
* increase flexibility
* relieve muscular and joint tension
* stimulate internal organs
* balance the body's energy system

The effect is uniquely relaxing as well as energizing. Receiving a Thai massage is a bit like doing yoga without putting forth any effort while also getting acupressure treatments!"

The masseuses use their hands, knuckles, elbows and feet - as is often the case the tiny ones are the most fierce with vice-like grips, sharp elbows and a greater propensity to stand on you during the session. We've had three now, one on each island, all slightly different but equally relaxing - a whole series would definitely make you more supple (and probably taller with all that stretching).

We moved on from Ko Samui to Ko Phangan - not a good start to the day - the camera stopped working, the bus came 45 mins early so we weren't ready and then the bus driver went off without giving us our boat tickets. Anyway the bus driver came back but the camera is still dead - not surprising really after months of battering and sand abuse. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to take any pictures of the two nicest islands, but then again it has been raining most of the time. Ko Phangan is well known (at least to younger travellers) as the venue for Full Moon parties - "thousands of happy guys and gals dancing to pumping beats on a 'paradise' beach in the moonlight". Up to 20,000 people descend on the island for the party at peak times and even as we arrived places were filling up in anticipation of the party 4 days later. Unfortunately we heard that the party was cancelled because of the weather.

We stayed at a really nice place in Ko Phangan - Tantawan Bungalows in Haad Yao. Little bungalows on stilts in gardens on a hillside for a change from the beach, with a swimming pool. It also had a traditional Thai restaurant with low tables and cushions on the floor - it was really busy the first night we ate there but the second night it was just us and the waiter had to wake the cook up, in fact the staff generally seemed to have a cat-like existence spending an astonishing amount of time asleep.

Only problem was the rainy weather - we did manage a morning of snorkelling but apart from that there was lots of book reading and watching English footy. We also met Poppy and Stew from Manchester who are travelling in the opposite direction to us and spent an afternoon and evening swapping travel tales with them - hope to meet them again in Bangkok.

We were thinking of heading straight for Bangkok, but Poppy and Stew persuaded us that it was worth going to Ko Tao despite the weather. Ko Tao is much more unspoilt and the main attraction is its diving and snorkelling. We stayed at another fine place, Viewpoint Resort in Chalok Baan Kao - the only problem was getting there. The taxi dropped us at the Viewpoint shop, which seemed promising, and waved vaguely down a track. After a quick look round we asked in the shop and a boy showed us the way - a 10 minute walk down the track, along the beach, over a causeway, through a bar (where we had to remove our shoes), along another beach and then up onto the headland. All right for Sue as the boy carried her pack! The rooms were then another good 5 minutes away up over the headland.

Viewpoint describes itself as "A Fusion of Architecture and Nature" and was apparently designed by the top architect in Thailand. He obviously never planned to stay in any of the rooms - they looked really nice but lacked some practicalities such as lighting (the roof timbers were beautifully illuminated but there was no way you could read a book) and we lost a pair of sunglasses for two days somewhere in the gloom. And, as is so often the case, there was nowhere to hang wet towels. But on the plus side our room had a large resident gecko, at least 12 inches long, to keep the mozzies down.

More rain so we splashed out on a spa day (all of 20 Pounds each for a 3-hour package!) - herbal sauna, aloe vera body wrap, chrysanthemum facial and Thai massage followed by lunch and a walk round their monkey reserve. The following day we went out on a dive boat for some snorkelling - VERY early start for us getting up at 6.30 am. The snorkelling was very good and Ko Tao definitely ranks second on our tropical island paradise list.