The short boat trip from Langkawi to Thailand would turn out to be the roughest of all boat trips so far. A Dutch couple was already sitting pole position next to the door for a while when we barely go our feet wet from jumping on to the stairs and the boat. There was not one inch left for our bags and the pushchair, so we just put everything on top of the huge pile of luggage that was already there. This of course to the frustration of Dutch Dick (at least that’s the name we gave him), who could barely see his own bright new Samsonite suitcase anymore. His plan of sitting pole position to be the first one able to get off the boat went down the drain. He would have to wait on the quay to be the last one to receive his luggage. The look on his wife’s face was worth a million and we could already tell what the atmosphere would be like during their dinner. Bit by bit the boat struggled to reach Satun harbour.
After going through customs, we took a ride in a jeep that would never pass any MOT in Europe, to eventually take the express bus to Krabi. We spent our trip to Krabi talking to Angelique and Ronald, both Dutch, who’d also quit their jobs to travel. They travelled for several months through Asia, from North to South. Their dream was to set up their own business in importing terra cotta pottery for home and garden back in the Netherlands. Hopefully their dream comes true. After the usual negotiations with the taxi-mob in Krabi which led to nowhere, we decided to hop on a songthaew, which cost a fraction of a trip in a taxi, to the centre of town leaving us right in front of our guesthouse. In Malaysia songthaews didn’t exist, so this was all new for us. Of course we learned quickly. A songthaew is a pick-up truck with two benches at the back, space enough for 8-10 to sit in. Definitely the best way of getting around short distance in Thailand. Since we initially hadn’t planned to go to Thailand, we had no info whatsoever on the country. Fortunately, we managed to get our hands on a 2004 Rough Guide edition back in Langkawi. The only worrying thing about the guide was that it was written before the Tsunami hit the Thai coast. We found that most of the accommodations on the West coast no longer existed. On top of that, the Andaman Sea was very rough as well and the weather was becoming more and more unpredictable. We decided to leave the West coast and booked a flight to Koh Samui on the East coast, in the Gulf of Thailand. We spent one night in Krabi, at the Chan Cha Lay guesthouse, which only had vacant rooms with shared facilities. It was very clean and nicely decorated and for the price of 200 Baht (€ 4!) more than ok. While enjoying our first cold Singha beer we met two lovely English girls, Vanessa and Sarah. Sarah had already been travelling for 2 years, never knowing what her next destination would be. Her motto “It’s not about the destination but all about the journey” said it all. Such a nice aspect of travelling: you sniff at each other like dogs in a park, tell each other stories about your lives and travels, sometimes even very personal ones, where after you say goodbye knowing that you will probably never see that person again. After the long bus trip we went to bed early, but first had some great Thai food at the night market for about € 6 for the three of us. Thailand was even cheaper than Malaysia.
The flight to Koh Samui with Bangkok Airways was in a 70-seater propeller airplane. Although we had never heard of it, the airway existed more than 40 years and the flight was very comfortable. They even managed to serve lunch to all passengers during our 50 minutes flight. Sara finished hers in no time. The airport of Koh Samui was the cutest ever; tiny tropical gardens amongst small cottages covered with palm leaves, a big sea aquarium in the toilets and plants and flowers all over the place, even at the baggage claim. Sara caused congestion amongst the ground personnel and this time she felt ok with all the touching and squeezing of the Thai hostesses. We didn’t make any reservations for accommodation beforehand, so we took a minibus to Lamai beach, which according to other travellers we met had pretty beaches and was still quite peaceful compared to Chaweng, a bit more up north. The Starbay Resort sounded familiar to us, having read about it in Vanessa’s more recent Lonely Planet back in Krabi. The resort consisted of a few beautiful privately owned Thai-style bungalows all amongst a well maintained tropical garden with pool. When the owners of the bungalows weren’t there, the bungalows were rented out to tourists. All of this managed by an older, slightly bitter Austrian man named Peter, who escaped his country after being treated badly by his own government for his disease. The same government he himself worked for many years and it was funny to see how he created his own familiar Austrian working environment in Thailand. When I wanted to pay him and walked into his office with cash in my hands, he urgently but empathetically directed me to step away and to go round the corner to the counter of his office. “Ohne Schalter ging nichts in seinem Leben” I thought was a good way to describe the man’s life and completely ignoring my slightly annoyed face, he recounted the change up to three times. Fortunately, there were other bungalow owners around who were very nice, like Henk from The Hague, the general manager of the resort, who travelled back and forward between his house in Monaco and Koh Samui. There was also Herbert, a German with a tremendous belly who only had two months per year to make sure he could show the people back home he owned a house somewhere in the tropics so he spent his days in the sun from dusk till dawn flipping himself over like a golden brown French toast. Sara’s favourites were by far Carole and Philippe, a very sympathetic Swiss-French couple. Especially Carole was like a magnet to Sara. She was working in a kindergarten in Geneva and adored Sara, so Sara’s first words of French were a fact. The best thing about our bungalow at Starbay was that the studio was like a normal house, a home far away from home. Sara discovered the cleaning material and like a ritual, she cleaned the house and terrace every morning. We still don’t know who she got this from, surely not one of us.
Every few hundred metres you’d find small platforms on the beach where you could get a massage. Our bodies were in need of care after the flight and bus trip and we were both pampered for at least one hour. While the curing hands did their work, I’ll fell asleep with the sound of the shore and sea in the background. Sara wanted to try a massage as well and she enjoyed every second of it. This to the amusement of the Thai masseuse, who laughed out loud at the faces Sara was pulling. Every evening, on our way to one of the restaurants on the beach, we’d pass a swing that was attached high into a huge palm tree so its range would reach into the sea. Sara couldn’t get enough of it and wanted to go faster and faster, higher and higher. Especially at night, during high tide, she would swing above the sea but she didn’t care and each swing was so much fun. A bit of a difference with the swing at grandpa Gerrit’s in Meerssen.
The only disadvantage of the Starbay resort was the beach, or better said, the lack of it. Not ideal for Sara, so she’d spend the most of her time at the pool. The northern end of Lamai was indeed quieter than the centre. The first day when we arrived at Lamai, we’d already passed through Chaweng and were appalled by the noise, tourism and ugliness of the town, known for its beaches. The center of Lamai was not much different. Loads of bars and restaurants but also hooker bars and older men with hardly mature Thai girls. The “go fuck bucket” which was available everywhere, symbolised it perfectly; a beach bucket filled with whiskey, coke and condoms. This part of Koh Samui really disappointed us so we decided to move on after a few days.
We booked a few nights at Choeng Mon beach, north east of the island, a small bay with just a few expensive resorts. In between them was our affordable hotel with swimming pool. In front of the hotel was a nice beach with a shallow sea so perfect for Sara. She amused herself like always with her beach toys and made lots of new friends. The flirting game with George stood out though. George was the 4 year old son of George Senior, a 73 year old (!) Scotsman, married to a Thai woman forty years younger, and now living on Koh Samui. George Sr. happened to be a coins and banknotes collector and had been to Valkenburg aan de Geul at the “world famous” coins and banknotes fair many times in his life, practically in our backyard. Brigitte and I felt quite stupid that we never heard about it in our lives. George used the f-word in every sentence at least twice, even when talking to his own son, but still fun to talk to. In the evening the beach turned into a romantic lounge spot surrounded by candles and couches to chill out and enjoy the sunset. The food at Choeng Mon Beach restaurant was fantastic. Fresh red snapper grilled with chilli, garlic and lime, grilled tuna in red curry sauce and coconut-lime soup with chicken. Even Sara’s macaroni was made with fresh tomatoes and herbs and she finished it in no time. By the way, Sara’s menu mainly consists of pizza, pasta, fried rice with chicken or fish for dinner and jaffles and fresh fruit for lunch. On our request they prepare the rice without spices. What we thought would be a problem before we left, has actually worked out really well. She eats and drinks well and hasn’t been sick once.
Despite the intimate atmosphere on Choeng Mon Beach we still had this unsatisfying feeling about Thailand. We had only seen some touristy places on the east coast of this island that as far as we were concerned equalled the Spanish Costa del Sol. The first evening in Choeng Mon we met a nice English couple that was staying on another island close to Koh Samui and were only visiting Koh Samui for 2 nights. Their stories made us curious and the next day we arranged everything to spend 2 nights in a place that hopefully would match our idea of a tropical secluded island on the Thai coast: Koh Phangan.
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