Bangkok, Ko Pha-Ngan and Ko Tao03/05/2011
After a short flight and two buses we arrived at the Khao San road, the infamous backpacker road with its pounding techno music pumping from the bars, hundreds of stalls selling various t-shirts, fake goods and postcards. It was 8pm by the time we arrived and it was clear that the night hadn't even started yet so we decided we are too old for staying actually on the Khao San road and after a green curry and beef salad we headed slightly off the main street to find a hotel for the night before exploring the street a bit more without our backpacks.
As with a large number of other capital cities around the world, Bangkok is a huge city with a big river running through it. On my first full day in Bangkok (Seth has been here many times before) we ended up being talked into taking a tuk-tuk to a couple of Buddhist monuments on the way to the MBK shopping centre. The shopping centre had always been our intended destination but the Wat's with their enormous statues of Buddha were a pleasant diversion off our route (predictably it also included a couple of detours to some tailors, no doubt paying good commissions, unfortunately for our tuk-tuk driver though, the tailors didn't make running shoes so there was no commission to be made from us). The mission at the MBK centre was to see if we could get good price - and quality! - running shoes or games console but this wasn't to be for us so we caught the sky train back to the river and then a river boat back to the Khoa San road - via a good view of the spectacle Grand Palace.
The lasting impression that Bangkok leaves you with, after all the hustle and bustle and traffic and pressure to buy things has left you, is the outstanding amount of visible wealth in the capital. The temples and statues and palace have more gold on them then I have seen anywhere else in the world, buildings (a large number of them) are huge and grand, and the sky train is smooth and clean. There is a lot of poverty in Thailand but there is also a lot of wealth and this is very obvious in the capital. As we travel around the country I am sure we will get a feeling for how much this does, or doesn't reflect the country as a whole.
On our second day in Thailand we bought our bus and boat ticket to Ko Pha-Ngan, had a Thai massage to prepare us for the journey, another green curry and set off for the islands. Ko Pha-Ngan is a beautiful island although it has become a lot more developed over the years and to find a secluded beach now seems an impossible task, so instead we just travelled to a few different ones which all had different appeals. After a slightly stressful arrival being taken for a bit of a ride by the resort reps at the port, we first stayed on Hat Yao which didn't have a lot going for it but we found a nice bar to settle down and watch sunset, play chess and chat to a dive instructor from Sweden. From there we got a lift to Hat Thong Lang for Easter day where we found the swimming was a bit better and some fair snorkelling, although the coral on the beach and in the water did do almost as much damage to our feet as the trekking in Nepal did. After a couple of days here we walked by road to Ao Chalo Lam (at this stage we had an idea of walking around the island) where we had breakfast and picked up a new book for Seth before continuing on to Hat Khom which was a beautiful and quiet beach just a little further along. Here we stayed in Haad Khom Bungalows, which I only mention because they did the best food we had on the Island so if you are in the area I recommend a visit! After a few more days of relaxing on the beach we continued our trekking plan - following a tip from the guide book which is 4 years out of date! - and headed for Bottle Beach. The guide book said it was 2.5k and would take us about an hour. Unfortunately they were wrong! It took us about 4 hours following a route marked by plastic bottles deliberately left to mark the path and it was incredibly hard going, especially with fully loaded backpacks. The climbs were rocky and steep (both up and down) and there was a lot of pulling yourself up by branches and roots of surrounding vegetation, when these weren't available sliding on our bottoms or crawling on all fours was sometimes the only option. This was not a walk that should have been carried out with only a couple of litres of water and no breakfast. Luckily our Nepal experience had gone some way to prepare us for this mistake and was probably the only reason the walk didn't end in disaster. Finally we safely arrived at Bottle Beach and promptly checked into the first hotel where we had in a lovely bungalow with an upstairs, downstairs and balcony! We felt very up market even if we were still only paying £10 a night.
After Bottle Beach we decided it was time to head to a new island and a new challenge. The trekking idea had been abandoned following a combination of the shock of the miss-information we received about getting to bottle beach (we checked the latest edition of the guide book and it no longer mentions the walk!), and the reality that much of the rest would have had to be done mostly by road in the heat of the day which just didn't sound like fun. So we booked our tickets and headed for Ko Tao to try and get me diving again. First stop was to check into a hotel and get the refresher course booked and done (it has been 8 and a half years since I did my open water and I haven't dived since). That achieved it was time to sign up for the advanced open water dive course. Now time to see if I can handle the open ocean again...