Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Two Days One Night In Koh Tao And A Night On The Ferry

We left Malaysia through Chungloon (or Changloon) post and entered Thailand through Sadao post. I will tell more about the overland border crossing on a separate post. We arrived in Hatyai bus terminal at around 5:30 p.m.

Since it's a bit difficult to stick with the trip-by-train itinerary (we were too tired to go to the train station), we decided to continue the journey by bus. As if there was not enough drama in this journey, all tickets to Surat Thani were sold out until April 12!

The next available tickets to Surat Thani were on April 13. There was no way I wanted to spend two nights in Hatyai, so I asked if they had tickets to Chumpon. Yes, they did, alhamdulillah! 

I discussed this with Aneen and we decided to change our route. We were not going to Surat Thani and then to Koh Phangan as planned, but we were taking a detour to Chumpon and then to Koh Tao. Moral of the story: when traveling, be flexible and prepare the contingency plans.

Something interesting happened when we purchased our tickets: Thailand's national anthem played on the TV and everyone, including the ticketing officers and the other people in the terminal, stopped their activity and stood up. I've read about it, but it still surprised me to see the people really dropped their activity to honor the anthem.

Since Hatyai is the closest city from Malaysia, many people can cakap Melayu (speak Malay) and the city has Muslim communities too. There was a musholla in the terminal and I saw a girl with headscarf inside. I thought she was from Malaysia, but when I asked in Malay if it was already Maghrib, she replied in English that Maghrib was still two minutes to go. Oops, so she's not a Malay-speaking person, my bad.

The bus would leave at 9 p.m. so we left the terminal to find something to eat. There was a night market nearby and there were food vendors wearing headscarves. It felt like we had yet to leave Malaysia :).

We went crazy and bought many foods for our dinner.

With our stomach full, we went back to the terminal and waited for our bus.

After almost eight hours on the road, the bus reached Chumpon at around 5 a.m. We hopped off the bus in a sleepy state and found ourselves surrounded by motorcycle taxi drivers that offered us a ride to the ferry port.  We said no and simply followed the other Caucasian bus passengers. We figured that if they made it this far (just like we did), they were going to Koh Tao too.

Several hundreds meters away from the spot where the bus dropped us was the Chumpon train station and the ticketing office for ferry going to Koh Tao. However, another drama was in place when we asked for the tickets to Koh Tao. Can you guess? Yes, all the tickets were sold out!

It's almost Songkran, one of the most important holidays for Thai people, so it's no surprise that traveling within Thailand during these days would be a bit difficult. It would be like traveling in Java during Idul Fitri. 

However, all those Internet browsing on travel forums paid off (I forgot which travel forum mentioned it, but it says that despite Songkran, there would always be an extra ticket or an extra boat, just smile and ask around politely. By the way, showing anger is a big no in Thailand) so as a man approached and offered me a fast boat ticket to Koh Tao. The fast boat was scheduled to leave at 7 a.m. We took the tickets for sure! Alhamdulillah. Despite the ticket deficiency, the journey had been quite smooth :).

While waiting for the bus that would take us to the pier, I went to the train station and asked the information officer to lend me a space to pray. It took a couple of minutes for the officer to understand my intention, but he finally let me use a small space behind his desk.

At around 6:30 a.m. we boarded the bus that took us to the pier. The fast boat ride from Chumpon to Koh Tao was only two hours that it felt like going to Karimun Jawa islands on KM Bahari Express :).

Even the welcome gate looks as if it's transported from Karimun Jawa islands :) By the way, the vehicles on the photo are used as taxi here.

Once we landed on Koh Tao, the next problem was to find a room to stay. We walked for several hundreds meter from the pier and the buzzing of taxi drivers, and a woman came to offer her taxi to us. I told her that we had yet to have any hotel booking and were looking to find a place under 500 Baht (because we still had a long journey to go).

She suggested several hotels and said that she could phone the hotels to check the room availability. A true Thailand hospitality :). We agreed, she phoned the hotel and the room was available, so we rode on her taxi to the Sunshine Hotel.

A man with ear piercings, arm-hugging tattoos and black nail polish on his finger nails was at the reception desk. We quickly checked in and put our backpacks off our backs.

I told the receptionist that we wanted to snorkle and asked if the hotel had a snorkeling tour that we could join. He said that he could show several snorkeling spots and that I could rent snorkeling gear from the hotel.

Now, this was where we had this miscommunication. I thought he would take us by boat to the snorkeling spots, whereas he meant he would show them on the map. Also, there was an information board near the hotel's restaurant about a snorkeling tour that started at 9 a.m. I thought he would take us on that tour, albeit only half day.

He said he couldn't take us to catch the tour because it was already too late. Aneen was too disappointed to hear the news that she left the restaurant hastily. The receptionist was a bit surprised to see her reaction (as I said, showing anger is a big no in Thailand, a country that is known as land of Smiles).

Keeping a friendly face, I asked him if it was possible for us to join the next day's tour and leave the island in the evening because we needed to be in Bangkok on April 14. He said yes, there was a night ferry that departed the island at 11 p.m.

I asked him again if it was alright to check out the next morning and leave our backpacks at the hotel while we take the snorkeling tour. He said, yes, sure. Hurray! Another proof of Thailand hospitality. Thailand and Indonesia do share many similarities, whereas getting angry will not solve the problems but being polite and keeping an open mind will do.

I shared the news to Aneen, who welcome the idea after giving it a few minutes thought. We booked the tour for the next day and decided to rent a motorbike to explore the island. While going around the island, I kept pinching myself and saying,"I can't believe we made it to Thailand!" that Aneen finally said,"If you say that once again, I will slap you to make you believe that we made it here." Ha!

Here are the photos of Koh Tao.

While other tourists tried to be tan, this girl sat under the shade of a coconut tree to take the pictures

Pardon my traveling toes :)
Swinging in a hammock and posting new status on Facebook are holiday's best activities

A pineapple vendor

Our very late lunch menu: tom yam kung soup (for me), stir fry prawn (for Aneen) and fruit shakes

Our hotel is just a few meters away from the beach. We hung out there on the afternoon and this toddler, who said that her name is Edie Purple, came and asked,"Are you wearing a mask?" Awww.

The good thing about Sunshine hotel is it does not serve alcoholic drinks. So if a guest wants to drink liquor, he/she can buy it at a bar next door
The boulders on Koh Tao coastlines remind me of Belitung, but Belitung is much more beautiful, methinks :)

The next day, we checked out and booked the night ferry&bus-to-Bangkok tickets through our hotel. We had asked another ticketing bureau on the tickets but the price it quoted was too expensive (1,030 Baht per person), while the hotel gave us lower prices (950 Baht per person).

The tour started at 9 a.m., would end at 5:30 p.m. and was scheduled to visit at least four snorkeling spots and Koh Nang Yuan. However, due to the bad weather (it was cloudy the whole day and at some point, it drizzled), we had to skip two snorkeling spots and went straight to Koh Nang Yuan.

If members of House of Representatives go abroad for a comparative study, these snorkeling addicts also do comparative study on snorkeling. The verdict? Indonesia has more beautiful snorkeling and diving spots. The first snorkeling spot we went to was basically dead, no live corals and only few fishes. The second had more corals and fishes, but still couldn't beat the beauty of the Gilis in Lombok. Now, the question is how to sell our potential to tourists?

Here are the photos taken during the snorkeling tour and around Koh Nang Yuan.

Aneen fed the fishes with biscuit crumbles

In Koh Nang Yuan

We returned to the hotel to take our backpacks. The ride back to the hotel was a bit wet as people on the road had been pouring water to every passing people and vehicle. It's the first day of Songkran! I borrowed the hotel's toilet to change clothes while Aneen ordered us something to eat (spaghetti for her, Tom Kha Khai for me).

Tom kha khai

A taxi picked us up at 7:50 p.m. and dropped us at the pier. The taxi driver pointed to a woman sitting on a table under a red umbrella. Seeing how local our faces were, the woman talked to us in Thai language. This happened throughout our trip, really. The good thing is we were considered as locals (read: not a ripe target for scammers). The bad thing is, hmm, well there is no bad thing about being considered as locals :).

Anyway, back to the woman at the pier, she quickly switched to English when she saw the confusion on our faces. She said that the ferry had yet to arrive and told us to wait.

That night there was a group at the pier, playing a very loud traditional music. The locals and foreigners jumped on their feet and danced. Several foreigners sat and watched the dancing people as they puffed their cigarettes.

The only smoke-free seats were next to a moustachioed, heavily tattoed Caucasian man (he has tattoos along his neck!). Aneen and I stopped short upon seeing the man. But since we love our lungs, we sat next to him.

I turned to the man, smiled and asked if he was waiting for the night ferry too. He was probably more surprised that I had the guts to talk to him. He said, yes, he wanted to go to Surat Thani.

Despite the tattoos, the man was quite friendly. He is an American and does not like too much noise, that is why he goes to Koh Tao. But since it's Songkran and he also does not like getting wet everytime he goes out for a walk, he decides to go to the southern Thailand, where it is less celebrated. He works for a fish wholesale company in America (and I quickly whispered to Aneen,"Wow, he's also into fish business, he must be your soulmate!"). His ferry departed at 9:30 p.m., 1.5 hours earlier than ours. Somehow, we both forgot to ask his name. Oh well, bon voyage monsieur!

Our ferry came several minutes after the ferry to Surat Thani departed. The night ferry ride marked our highest achievement in trying all non-airplane modes of transportation, starting from train to Penang ferry to bus to fast boat to night ferry.

Good night, everybody!

Next post: Bangkok.

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