Island Hopping – Part One Posted by sasha on Mar 11, 2011 in Travel
Getting off the train in Chumphon in the wee hours of the morning, I needed a few minutes to shake the cobwebs out before finding our bus. Luckily, I didn’t have to exert much effort in locating the bus, as Thailand specializes in herding tourists. As soon as you set foot off of your train, bus, or boat, there is a small army of people ready to help you get where you’re going. More often than not, this includes travel agents who are ready with brochures, photos, and business cards to assist you in arranging everything from transportation, accommodation, and activities. After presenting my ticket for the bus/boat ticket to Koh Tao, I was given a small colorful sticker and sent off in the right direction.
The bus ride was short and uneventful, and soon enough I was at the pier ready to board the boat. As a sufferer of motion sickness (only on boats), I chose a seat outside on the deck in hopes of avoiding a boat ride from hell. Unfortunately, everyone on this particular boat, regardless of seat choice, was in for a bumpy ride. Extremely choppy water had the boat bouncing up and down and rocking from side to side for the entire 90-minute journey. My fellow passengers were losing their breakfast left and right, and the poor attendant on the deck couldn’t dish out the “sick bags” quickly enough. Luckily, I managed to power through and keep the contents of my stomach inside. Finally spotting land, I couldn’t help but feel as jubilent as the Pilgrims must have felt on their first trip across the Atlantic, although they admittedly had it much worse…
Arriving in Koh Tao with plans to stay for just one night and no prior bookings, we set out in search of a guesthouse. The deck was cluttered with touts and taxi drivers looking to prey on unsuspecting tourists. Apparently, our newbie status in Thailand must have been all too obvious, because we were encircled by a group of them. Still reeling from the miserable boat ride and the long trip from Beijing, I told one of them just to take me someplace where we could find a reasonably priced room. We hopped in the back of his pick-up truck and drove for about 10 minutes. After paying the man what I knew was way too much, we walked into the first guesthouse we saw. It being our one and only day on Koh Tao, we opted for the beachside room. Walking onto the beach to sink my feet in the sand, I immediately noticed that the pier was a very, very short distance away – so short that we absolutely could have walked. One day into the trip and the score was: Thai taxi drivers – 2, Us – 0.
As soon as we finished our breakfast, we dropped into a local shop to rent a motorbike. For just 200 baht, or about $6, you can get a nice automatic bike for 24 hours. On the islands, all you need is cash and a passport and you’re off and riding. Cruising around a tropical island on a gas-powered bike, taking in the scenery, I was already more than happy with my choice of vacation destination. “Back in Beijing, I would probably be bundled up in layer upon layer of clothing, pushing my almost dead electric bike through a ridiculous traffic jam,” I thought to myself. This was much better.
For our one day on the “Turtle Island” (the trasnlation of the Thai name), we headed down to the beach, rented kayaks and scuba masks, and headed out in the water. Koh Tao is regarded as one of, if not the best place to scuba dive and snorkel in Thailand, and many travelers head there to get certified to scuba. With limited time, we had to go with the cheaper, quicker option. For a mere 150 baht each, we spent a few hours out in the water, kayaking around and swimming with the fishes. If the snorkeling was this good so close to the shore, I can only imagine how great it is if you get out a littler farther. I guess we’ll just have to go back to Koh Tao some day.
With the sun on its way down, we headed for higher ground to take in the view from a hill-top bar and restaurant.
Watching the sun fade away over the sea with a fruity cocktail in hand was exactly the type of evening entertainment I had in mind, and it was the perfect way to wind down our first day of island life. A relaxing atmosphere was just what we needed, as the next night would be anything but relaxing, as we were off to Koh Pha-Ngan for the most famous monthly party on Earth – the Full Moon Party. Despite the fact that we had to wake up early the next day, and that we were bound to have a late night on Koh Pha-Ngan, we had to check out the Koh Tao nightlife. Following the recommendation of the bartenders at our hotel, we headed up to Hat Sairee – a strip of beach full of bars. On any given night on any given Thai island, you are sure to stumble upon a fire show. We did just that, and we grabbed some beers and took a seat to take in the spectacle. You know that old saying, “If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned?” Well, who cares about that old staying, because Thai fire shows are awesome.