Trains in Thailand are late. No, the are terribly late. I heard about it, but I was thinking:”Ok, I shall just sit for half an hour with a book in a shade. Wats the great deal?!” How about 3 hours late? Trains leave on time from their starting point, but as the journey progresses, they accumulate lateness. It is so habitual, that many stations have a white board, where they update estimated arrival time with a pen. One local lady told me, that she always called the station first, instead of showing up unnecessarily. I learned it the hard way, when all my plans got messed up.
I was due to catch a train to Cumphon at 6pm, so that I would have enough time to catch a night ferry to Koh Tao at 11. To start with the train was one hour late, which later extended to 1.50. That was a very close call, with less than one hour to change for my ferry. It got even worse latter on, and I had to bid my ferry goodbye. At least I didn’t purchase my ticket in advance, so I didn’t loose any money. The train was different that time, since it was a night one as well. It had different classes available. As soon as I went to the ticket window, I was offered a second class ticket, so I just went for it. It was an ideal combination of price/comfort. The third class was very noisy, had hard seats and was full of local farmers, kids and poorer locals. I don’t know haw the first class looked, probably only had an air con, but the second class had comfortable, reclinable leather chairs, numerous fans, and respectable, quiet public. The ticket cost 180 baht and I had to pay 120 extra for my bicycle.
I arrived in Chumphon around 11pm, I booked a hotel very last minute, very close to the train station. As I cycled there I saw, that my guesthouse was already locked. Fortunately for me, I saw someone inside. The reception was open only until 10 o’clock, but one man stayed a bit longer, doing some closing up. They didn’t even expect me, as I made a booking 10 min previously. It was such a long day for me, I was so happy to take a shower and jump into my clean bed.
The next day I checked out, left my bag behind and set out to the pier to get some information about the night boat. I also decided to go all the way around to see, what Chumphon suburbia had to offer. I cycled good 30 km and passed a few beautiful little settlements on the way. In general, cycling that area was very good, I think about it very fondly now.
My most valued memory was that of a little fishing village. I had to note, that Chumphon has a few piers, from which different companies operate. They all are situated 7-10 km outside the city and can be difficult to locate. That’s how I found my little fishing village. The village was tiny and consisted of houses built on stilts. In fact, the whole village was on stilts, even its streets between the houses. It was such a small, secluded society, that I really stood out. Never did I feel so out of place. I wanted to disappear under their curious glances. Even dogs could tell I didn’t belong there and started barking, attracting even more attention to my person. I hardly took any pictures, it simply felt like barging into someones home and showing a camera into people’s faces. I could bet, that foreigners were a rare sight in that village. That was one of the most authentic experience I’ve had, the floating village full of women and kids and colourful fishing boats, carrying their men into the sea.
After a lot of inquiries, and finger pointing, I finally arrived at the pier, that seemed to be mine. It was shut down and quiet, with no one to talk to. At least I found it! I entered its detail into the Google maps and cycled back to town to have dinner and get my bag.
I left at 9pm, so that I would have enough time to cycle there, buy a ticket and find my bed. When I reached my turning off the main road in the direction of the pier, I realised how dark the road became. I had still around 1 km to cycle but the lights were very scarce. It became even worse later on, when lights suddenly finished and I found myself in pitch darkness. I was holding my iPhone torch in front of me to get at least a bit of light. I was terrified of the idea of running a sleeping dog over, or a snake, or simply of getting caught in a ditch. When I arrived at the pier I could see no one there, the huge building looked dark and abandoned and the whole area had a creepy feel about it. “Great! Did I come to the wrong place? Where are all the passengers?” I had no choice, but to get my torch ready and prepare to go back into the darkness I came from. On the way back I noticed another little side road with a ship sign pointing at it. A few minutes later a saw a huge ferry! Phew! It was only 15 minutes before the departure. I bought my ticket for 400 baht, and again paid 100 for my bike. The ferry was carrying cars, motorbikes, boxes of food and water, toilet paper- everything people might need on an island so small, rocky and infertile as Koh Tao. Having that boat was a great experience, I felt like a real sailor, when I opened heavy metal doors and found myself in a room full of bunk beds, screwed to the floor.
Only a handful of beds were occupied, and purely by Thais. The room was quite chilly, since air cons worked restlessly. There were even showers available in the toilet, but the crew didn’t mind washing themselves right on the deck, soaping themselves up and poring water over their bodies.
The sea was rough, but I expected just as much, from what I’ve seen in other towns. I could easily imagine someone being sea sick, there was a point, when I almost rolled off my bed in my sleep.
I arrived at Koh Tao after 5am, it was still dark, but I had nowhere to go, as I didn’t book a hotel yet. But who cares about that, when you watch the sunset on a beautiful island.
I chose Koh Tao for a few reasons. First of all I have a weakness for smaller islands, the ones you can cover in a few hours. It was significantly smaller, than its bigger neighbour Koh Samui. Secondly, it was often described as one of the best dive/snorkel sites in Thailand. And thirdly it was mentioned as one of the most beautiful islands as well. As a drawback, I found the island to be so touristy, that the locals were outnumbered probably by 3:1. There was no lack of accommodation, but private rooms were a bit more expensive there, therefore a decided to stay in a hostel for once. I had to mention, that I lost my only bank card and my cash was running low, I simply couldn’t afford to get something nicer, otherwise I would end up with no money whatsoever. I found the cheapest hostel for 200 baht a night. It had a very unimaginative name of “Koh Tao hostel”. I got a tiny, dark, windowless room for 6, but it was only me and a French guy there. Thanks God for that! I can only imagine, how we all would survive there with no proper ventilation. Did I mention, that the room had a funny smell as well? Oh, G!
Koh Tao is absolutely not a pedestrian island, nor is it suitable for cycling. The best way to get around is by a motorbike. But even that should be done by sure and experienced drivers. I’ve never seen such insanely steep slopes in my life. Some of them were practically vertical. The paving also had many pits in it. The motorbike rent was very cheap 120-200 baht per day.
Pretty much the whole of Koh Tao could be used for snorkeling. I visited three different spots, but there were more than that. While there, you can easily book an all day snorkelling boat trip for 750 baht, where they take you to five different spots around the island. The price also includes lunch.
My French roomie saw a turtle at the beach close to our hostel. I researched the best snorkelling spots and settled on 3, where I could walk. I know, I said, that Koh Tao wasn’t a pedestrian island and I still stick to my words. It’s walkable only if you are very, very fit. In fact, walking sometimes resembled mountain climbing and tracking. I haven’t seen anyone else walking there. Even though the distance wasn’t long it took me around one hour to get there and the same time to walk back. Aow Leuk is considered to be the best snorkelling spot on Koh Tao. It did have a good amount of coral and a few kinds of fish. Tanote bay was only a short distance away and was similar to Aow Leuk in my opinion. As the third spot I used Freedom beach as it was an awesome beach and also was close to my hostel. It wasn’t as good as the other two, but I still saw snorkelling tourist boats pulling by.
All in all it wasn’t a mind blowing snorkelling experience, I’ve seen better places in Thailand, but it definitely was cheaper, than a marine national park I visited later.
I was leaving that very night and needed to leave my bag somewhere for a day. Obviously I was counting on my hostels reception for that very easy task. When I asked the girl, if it was ok, she said “No” with a blank face and turned away. That was, when I had to say something. I asked:
– “Why not? You have no toilet paper here, no soap, no blanket, no towel, no wi-fi, no free locker and I can’t leave my bag either?”
Customer service wasn’t their forte and the girl replied:
-“No, you pay only 200 baht. You get nothing, nothing!!!!”
– “Well, may be that’s why you are so quiet here.”
-“You already checked out! Go away!”
Jeez, what’s with the attitude? I never expect a five star service, but at least be reasonable with your customers. I put up quietly with everything. I opened the door to get rid of the bad smell, bought my own toilet paper, put my clothes on wet body after shower, used my long dress to cover myself at night and used my own 3G. Just to make it clear 200 baht was a fair price for a hostel, I saw hostels for 100-150 baht in other no less touristy places. I understand, that It would cost the hostel extra to provide those things, but keeping someone’s luggage for a few hours didn’t. I read online reviews, that the staff were very rude, and they sure were. Fortunately, it was the only negative hotel experience during my stay in Thailand.
I walked into the hotel down the street and offered to pay for keeping my bag for a while. They said:”No money, just put your bag in that room.”
I booked a night boat to Surat Thani for 500 baht and had some time to while away. I popped into the bar with live music and had a beer. Thais have got very weird voices, when they sing their own songs, but somehow those, who sing western songs have got really good, deep ones.
The night boat I took was smaller, than the ferry I had previously, instead of bunk beds it had something similar to mattresses.
The tickets didn’t sell out, I bought mine with no problem on the evening of the departure. The boat looked quite full though, the majority of passengers were backpackers. There was no shower there, and I so hoped for one, to wash away the sticky sea water from my body. They had a big bucket of water on the side with a cup in it and I used some of it to pour over myself in the toilet. I felt approximately 50% better. As soon as I lied down I fell asleep. Nothing wears one out, like water sports. I was due to arrive at Surat Thani at 5 am.