A week in the gulf of Thailand

This blog’s been a long time coming. In the brief quiet periods between the busy days and the busier nights on the islands of Tao, Phangan and Samui there was never a point where I was alone long enough to write.

Of course… I’m hardly alone now. Got this little critter enjoying a good scratch at the same time. Multi-tasking like a boss.

But I thought I’d provide my 20 Bahts worth on the island hopping experience. More importantly, the island hopping experience in December.

Being the pivotal month between the wet and dry seasons, December is not the best time to travel south. With reliance heavily on outdoor activities, many of your plans may not be possible. Storms inhibit underwater visibility, marring your diving experience. Turbulent waters make travel by boat a pukey experience (in many cases ferries cease to run in dangerous conditions too!) Blackouts kill the lights, sometimes for hours on end. And sheet rain make the roads slippery and dangerous.

We spoke to the hostel owner where we stayed on Koh Samui (Dream Cat Cher), a hilarious host, he made us blue (flower) tea and told us about island life during the monsoon season. Sounds like we got off light!

Thing is. Your experience in the gulf of Thailand could be utterly different. It just so happens we got the back end of the Philippine typhoon.

So we escaped the islands for Chiang Mai. But not before having the best time for a week in paradise.

Koh Tao

Nice eh!

Most of these pictures were taken on Koh Tao. Which is where you’ll REALLY learn to ride a scooter. Sure I dabbled in Sicily last year, but never did I tackle roads like Koh Tao’s. Whether you’re climbing to little known viewpoints across the island, or crisscrossing down dirt tracks to get your fix of tropical beach paradise, the best (and cheapest) way is by scooter.

At first we drove to the destination then ditched the bike when the road got treacherous. That resulted in a 40 minute hike down to a stormy Mango Beach. We soon learnt to just take it slow. Worst case scenario I’d drive the scooter and get Tom to walk it 😉

Unsure about your driving? Don’t tackle the dirt roads. I’d still recommend renting. Some of the best restaurants and beaches were super easy to get to, but way too far to walk. Staying on Koh Tao, if you don’t mind bugs I’d recommend Spicy Tao. Nestled in the rain forest you can spend evenings partying on the beach just down the road, or staying in watching a movie in a hammock. Bliss. Just don’t expect hot water.Eating is cheap and delicious. We found a place called Babaloo, just off the beaten track. The waiter is baked to kingdom come (did I say there’s a loooad of reggae bars?) but the food is to die for and it’s criminally cheap! If you can face an early start, I’d 100% recommend the “Love Koh Tao” vies point.Just watch out for the puppy. He WILL cuddle your leg. Oh and also there’s a viewpoint near Mango Beach called Sky View which was unexpectedly spectacular (say that out loud!) All the owners ask is that you buy a drink to help upkeep. We’re assuming the money goes into new rope swings and hammocks. I could have spent the whole day up there.

Koh Phangan

After the tranquil setting of Koh Tao we were a little worried Phangan would be a downgrade.

Dubbed the party island and home to the infamous full moon parties — we weren’t expecting to get a lot of sleep.

And from the moment we walked into The Echo Beach hostel my suspicions were confirmed. But that wasn’t a bad thing.

If you embrace the fact the island is packed with Brits, Germans and Americans with a smattering of locals selling party tickets and trying in vain to clear up the beaches. And you embrace the non-stop music and Chang consumption, then you’ll do fine.

This is your opportunity to meet lots of people. Chill on the beach, or if you fancy leaving the party behind for a few hours, rent a moped and walk up to the many view points and waterfalls around the island.

We spent Christmas on Phangan. I’d recommend it. Although don’t expect to find a good English Christmas dinner. If I were to do it again, I’d take back the 500 baht I spent at The Mason’s Arms and get a really good Pad Thai instead.

Come the afternoon and there’s always a small crowd at the bar. The music is alluring and before you know it you’ve been roped into a competitive game of beer pong.

Just me?

This is where budget will go out the window if you’re not careful. Because food is cheap as you like, but beer isn’t. And nor is entry to many of the events across the island.

We paid 1,200 Baht just for entry to the half moon at Christmas, because you only live once right?

I’d time your trip for a full moon. Cheaper and less commercialised. The half moon gave us a flavour though. The forest provided an impressive backdrop for what was actually a really enjoyable event.

Koh Samui

The day we reached Koh Samui the weather was extreme. A short walk off the ferry and our belongings were drenched.

Looking at the forecast provided a grim prospect for an indoorsy week on one of Thailand’s most revered and beautiful islands.

So we canned it. But not before the clouds briefly cleared for one of the best sunsets of the trip (so far).

Abandoned but not forgotten Samui. Tune in next time for elephants, ladyboys and a sky full of lanterns.

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