We got lucky and arrived in Thailand during the University’s spring break. So Suin and her friends had already plan a little trip south to visit Koh Samui and of course try some delicious southern Thai food.
My first reaction was to take a bus, then i was reminded of the prices in Thailand and looked for a flight ticket. Suin pointed us towards a budget airline, Nok Air, and for a $100 we had round-trip tickets from Bangkok to Surat Thani. Only downside is that we chose a 6 am flight and the night before, being responsible adults we tried to go to sleep early.
That didn’t really work out, so with only a couple of hours of sleep we packed into a taxi and headed to the airport. Our original crew of 4 people got reinforcements in form of two more of Suin’s friends, Pailin and Jiyoung.
There are flights directly to Koh Samui, but that would be boring plus we had to pickup another member of our crew from Don Sak. An hour-long ride from Surat Thani to Don Sak, of which i remember nothing, because we all passed out minutes into the drive.
From Don Sak we will take an hour-long ferry to Koh Samui.
But that’s later. We met up with Mo, Suin’s friend, and her uncle who lives in this area. Following the tradition of a developing country and since we couldn’t all fit in the cab, we piled in the back of the truck.
In all the methods of transport we have had the pleasure of enduring on this trip, this is a new one. I’ll check it of our list. So far we got: car, bus, plane, boat, dingy, ferry, crop duster, bicycle, horse, train, trolley and subway…what are we missing? Segway, mag-lev train, electrical car, go-kart? Let me know what else we can do.
Remember that we are still in Thailand, so the black plastic bedliner is scolding hot. But i don’t mind, I somehow managed to sneak into a group of 6 girls.
Before we could go an relax on the beach, we need to relax next to this beautiful pond. While enjoying a picnic in this serene setting you can also get your feet cleaned by little fish.
Mostly a tourist attraction…wait but we are tourists, right? yeah, so we can enjoy this without being judged.
I really love coming to a little park, beach or a lake like this and being able to order some drinks and a snack. I’m not talking about huge lines for hot-dogs, pretzels and cotton candy. Here it is somehow more homely, cleaner and with great service.
There is always someone selling some snacks and a beer that you can calmly enjoy. It doesn’t cost a fortune, there is no police hassling you about drinking in the park. We don’t even see any police around, which is a good thing.
Btw, I forgot to mention this in the Singapore post…another strange fact. On the first day, I joked that the city is so clean that they don’t even need any police. Then I noticed that I haven’t actually seen any police cars or officers. Each day I looked and found nothing. Do they have police? Well, I think so, who else would be giving out those tickets for spitting on the street?
Even after 4 days in Singapore I didn’t see a single one. Also, the only country so far to do that.
Back to Thailand and the girls. Okay, now I’m starting to see why they brought me along…as a dedicated photographer.
I swear Suin cannot just sit still, unless she is dead tired or passed out, she is always up to something. Someone suggested that she tries to stand up on this liana, aka tree branch, which turned into a debate whether it would break under the load. Instead of arguing about, Suin just went and tried it.
I swear I would help them break that liana, but i was tasked by Jiyoung with checking if the hammock would break. Without even realizing, i passed out for an hour and was awake only when everyone was getting into the back of the truck.
Jiyoung, I’m sorry…but now i can report with confidence that it will support you and its also quite comfy.
Remember those “little” fish that I mentioned…they are not so little here. They are supposed to gently nibble on your skin and eat all the dead skin cells. When the fish are small this is a painless experience, but as they grow it becomes the most ticklish thing ever. Imagine 30 fish giving a hickey to the most sensitive part of the foot. Some fish are so big that you actual feel a bit of bite and have to pull away.
Is this a “must do” thing in Thailand…no, but if you are into tickling…this is the place for you.
Rode back to the ferry terminal and waited our turn.
Jet lag, lack of sleep and the heat…all add up to passing out at every opportunity you can lay down your head. I have to be honest with you, traveling is fun and all, but very tiring. Because you are in a place for a short time you want to go see and do everything by cutting into your sleep time. That’s all good and fun, but after a while it catches up to you. And then you just want to sleep and stay in bed.
But then again …how can you stay in bed when this is right outside of your hotel room?
We finally made it to our hotel, put our bags in the rooms and ran to the beach. I remember the first thing people used to do when i was a kid, was to try the water temperature.
And now, the young kids just want Snapchat and Instagram it. It was surreal, for the first 15 minutes of the beach at last half of our crew was walking around looking for the best angle for a selfie. I sounds like a mean old man, trust me I’m not. Quite the opposite, I’m jealous of their dedication…I should update my Instagram more often.
Dinner on the beach. You know what the first thing we said to each other after we sat down?
No sandflies. After Mexico and Central America, we avoid the beach like the plague. These pesky little bugs can ruin even the most idyllic of places. And since they are tiny, can get through that mesh on your tent. So there is no hiding. Sorry, reliving my war stories.
Never mind the refreshing seawater or the gorgeous white sand and pretty sunset, no flies equals best beach ever in our books.
Dinner time. On the left we have fresh shrimp with a spicy chili sauce, called Gung Che Nam Pra, and on the right is a papaya and shrimp salad, called Yam Pra Meuk. The shrimp thingy is awesome, the shrimp themselves are super fresh, their meat is actually sweet and doesn’t smell at all. And the chilies add that sharp kick of spice and acidity to balance out the sweetness. The salad…was just okay.
Bright and early the following morning we had plans to go snorkeling. For 1400 baht(~$40 usd) per person you the company will pick you up from your hotel, full day of snorkeling at 2 locations, great buffet lunch and finally drop you off back at your hotel.
Waking up early has a couple of advantages that older folks have figured out already. Number one, you get to see the planet wake up. Everything is calm, the weather is nice, beautiful morning views and most importantly, all the riff-raff is still asleep. And number two, you catch more hours of sunshine, which is important to older folks.
The downside is that you are a bit more tired, as you can see from the faces of our friends.
Or maybe they are sad because our Gopro didn’t charge overnight so we will not have pretty underwater videos.
Luckily we managed to find a solution, we asked one girl for a cable and Jiyoung happened to bring a portable usb battery…woohoo, problem solved.
Some coffee, snacks and a few jokes and everyone is awake…that is until the Dramamine kicks in. Notice how everyone is wearing a life jacket…i think we were the first ones to put them on. After the “Cuban Experience” of Darien Gap crossing, we take boat and water safety VERY seriously.
It’s also interesting how a traumatic experience like that has shaped our perception of the world. It stands out in our memory so much that everything we see that is even remotely similar, like the river house in Bangkok or the boat here…”Jagi, its like the Guna Yala or the Panama boat ride”.
About an hour ride from Koh Samui, we get to the first island. It probably has a name, but I don’t remember it and can’t quite figure it out on google maps.
You get your mask, your snorkel and just jump in. The water is just perfect, cools you off from the blasting sun. You can wear a life jacket or go bareback.
I like the freedom it gives to dive anywhere you want and get up close to the animals.
The first spot we stopped at wasn’t very deep, maybe 10 feet at most. You can easily just float on the surface and see everything you need without diving or struggling.
The water is pretty clear…much better than the coastal Pacific water’s I’m used to seeing in California. But definitely no match for Belize’s Caribbean crystal clarity.
Its been a few years, so i can’t say exactly, but i feel like the number and the variety of fish is also a bit smaller. Lets call these black and white striped fish, medium size… then at any given time you could see a few hundred of these swimming around, doing their thing.
Now you see that fish with an orange spot on its side? That is pretty much the largest fish that we saw and at any given time you could see, i dunno maybe 3 or 4 swimming around. We were promised that we would be able to see the Nemo fish…aka Clown fish. But as hard as i looked i couldn’t find him. Jokes aside, really wanted to see them in real life.
Time flies when you are having fun. We stayed almost an hour and a half at the first stop, then moved on to a different place. The water here was much deeper and murkier, less fish but more fun for diving. We resorted to diving below the person holding the camera and blowing bubbles at it.
Looks really cool in real life, photos and actual video (coming soon).
And just like that its time for lunch. Short ride to the coast, jump off and walk to shore, where a buffet of delicious Thai food is waiting for you. There was no mad rush for the food, no extreme food hogging, everything was polite and organized. There was enough food for everyone to go around and if you are still hungry, can get some seconds.
After lunch, you take a short boat ride to this beautiful island. According to the tour brochure we were supposed to go diving one more time, but for whatever reason they canceled it and told us to hang out here for an hour. We were told that we could go climb a hill and enjoy the view from the top. Full from lunch, tired from snorkeling and extreme heat…no one wanted to go hiking.
I decided to take on for the team and go brave the heat just so that we can ALL enjoy this beautiful picture of Koh Tao together. You see it’s not all just fun and games, i really do work hard to make this fun for you guys.
Okay…okay, it wasn’t that bad…maybe 15 minutes up and 10 minutes down? Plus once you get down you can just run into the water and cool off.
And just like that we were going back. On the ride back we noticed something interesting. Only the white people were hanging out in the front of the boat under the sun and all the Asians were sitting in the back under the shade. With this kind of weather and sun all year round, I’m starting to understand the avoidance of sun exposure. Without sunscreen you get fried here in less than an hour. And just look at my pasty skill…that will sizzle in under 10 minutes…enough posing around, back to the shade.
At night, after showers and a bit of rest, famished from an active day we went out to a local family run restaurant. This is where i can’t stress enough, just how important it is to have someone from the area, who can tell you where the REALLY good food is. Thank’s to Mo’s uncle we were able to find this place.
The place is no frills you get a table, a chair and shade. Write down what you want on a piece of paper, give it to the lady and wait for 10 minutes.
As usual Suin was in charge of ordering and managed to order for a small army. For the first time, i think she finally managed to get it right. Maybe it was that we had 7 people or maybe we were just extremely hungry, but we finished everything without a problem.
After dinner it was free time, Hyein and Pailin went for a massage, Suin went back to the hotel to get better (this whole time she has been sick with a cold) and this gave me, Mo and Mook a chance to go for some last minute presents for Hyein.
Oh yeah, its her actual birthday tomorrow. And although, her official present was the DSLR…you can’t just not give anything on the actual day!
After an hour of wandering through the streets, mostly looking for the infamous holy wooden penis. No joke, in this part of Thailand you can buy little wooden male bits from a monastery. Expecting to easily find this at the night markets of Koh Samui, the only response we received: “Oh, its a bit late, you should go in the morning to the temple and buy it”. WHAT?! I’m genuinely confused by Thai culture.
I don’t have a problem with it…just how can you have such an interesting mix of sexual openness and at the same time forbid women from wearing shorts to the temple?
Okay, no wooden statues…what else can we get here.
ELEPHANT PANTS. You cannot come to Thailand and leave without them…lets just pick the brightest color and DONE. Now sleepy time.
Wait…where are the pants? Just keep reading, she actually has to wear them, right?
Bright and early in the morning, took the ferry back to mainland. This is Mo’s territory, and today she is taking us to eat a very special seafood stew, calledGuay Tiew Talay . Okay, so the name might not tell you much, but its a delicious mix of various sea creatures: clams, shrimp, crawfish, mussels and deep-friend pork skin. As usual there is an accompaniment of various sauces and pepper powders to add to the dish to make it truly your own.
This dish is served everywhere in this area of Thailand, but this place stands out. I might have gotten myself in over my head by adding a bit too much red pepper powder. By this point the heat from the sun wasn’t helping me much and whatever liquids have remained in my body were exiting faster than i could replenish them.
But even in this situation Thai’s have figured out a solution. Raised in the land of Big Gulp and Starbuck’s Trenta cups, i thought nothing would amaze me. I was wrong once again, I should be more humble i think. When you order a cold drink or iced coffee…you get this bag. Okay, so its about half ice, but still its huge. Plus the ice melts in 15 minutes.
Pailin, yes she has a hat with her own name on it, got Ovaltine. I think she has the hat to help her remember it better.
While Hyein and I went for a bucket of ice coffee. One thing i have to point out, is that Thai coffee is delicious. Its strong, its cold, not sour and wakes you right up.
Although done with Koh Samui, we still planned to stay in Surat Thani for a few more days. The first night we are staying on a little island in a guest house. The next day we move to a little hotel on a beautiful beach.
Remember how i said that i would burn here in minutes without sunscreen, due to my pasty complexion? Turns out even with sunscreen i managed to burn my back. And I WAS applying it every time i went into the water and once every hour when outside. Can you imagine what would have happened to me without it completely?
We scored some aloe from Mo’s farm and proceeded to rub it all over each other. This could have been a normal thing, but the moans and noises, turned it into a hilarious joke for everyone to enjoy.
In Thailand it almost seems like there are two nights in a day. During the day the streets are empty, everyone is either under a shade or better, inside an air-conditioned room. Only when the sun decides it has had enough fun grilling the streets, which is about 1-2 hours before sunset, the people start slowly venturing out.
And we walked over from our homestay to Mo’s Family’s farm. Her family works and lives in Bangkok, but have started building this farm for their retirement.
Whatever the reason, it is a beautiful piece of land right on the beach with cutest farm animals ever. They got little ponies, horses, Vietnamese pot belly pigs, sheep, cats and dogs. Farm animals are not known for their cleanliness, but here all of them looked like they just got back from the salon.
We played around for a couple of hours, until we found this beautiful spot to chill out and wait for the sunset. That’s me holding that pink umbrella and rocking it too.
Setting sun, gentle cool breeze from the sea, shade from the trees. The exhaustion of the last couple of days is kicking in.
Last photo together, tomorrow Jiyoung and Pailin are heading back to Bangkok.
Its morning, we just had breakfast but managed to score some coconut sticky rice in bamboo from the street. I’m not sure the way it is prepared, but when you buy it on the street it usually cooked in a banana leaf over some charcoals. It’s hard to imagine enjoying something hot in this heat, but once it cooled down enough to put in your mouth…its delicious.
I wasn’t even sure of the plan for the day, since Suin and Mo were in charge, I just said yes to everything and followed the orders. It’s good to just sit back and let someone else do all the work.
Apparently, today we are renting a boat and going to look for pink dolphins. Oh and you can finally see Hyein’s birthday elephant pants. Pretty bright, don’t you think? She also reminds me of “Life of Pi” movie poster.
The point of the tour is to go see the pink dolphins, at least that’s what was advertised. When we got on the boat and asked where they are, the captain responded that he is not sure and we will go look. As part of the little boat ride you go near some really beautiful island. Can you guess the name of the island in the photo above?
Its called turtle island…okay, obviously now you can see it. Maybe i’m dumb, but i was told of the name in the morning and only late at night when sitting on our balcony, staring out into the see, it finally hit me.
My best pose of trying to look cool…did i succeed? Or is the towel ruining the image?
Btw, that’s me staring at the turtle island, still not understanding why it’s called that.
As part of the tour you come to another little island sticking out of the sea. The boats come right up to it, you jump out and find out that the water is only 30 cm deep. This is a special island, somehow it has fresh water on it. At the bottom of the island there are pools of water and they are not exactly fresh, but definitely not as salty as sea water.
Could it be rain water filtering through the rock and mixing with the seawater?
Due to its mystical properties, the island has a Buddhist Temple on top of the rock. We walked up, paid our respect, looked out to the sea and saw a few boats circling around what seemed to be some pink dolphins.
Quickly ran down to the boat, got in and told the captain to get on with in.
I wish i could tell you how majestic and beautiful these dolphins are. But our experience with them was a bit sad. We only saw a single dolphin that was pushing a dead baby dolphin either to the surface or to the bottom. It bummed us all out…we decided to leave them at peace and head back to the hotel.
Was the tour worth it? If the only goal is to go see the dolphin, then absolutely not. But you get to see really beautiful island, cool pancake rock formations, spend some time out on the water, swim about if you want then it becomes super fun.
Our lunch: soup, fried rice and horse-shoe crab. I’ve only seen these things in Cold Spring Harbor and they look like they came out of the history books. They are even called living fossils as the species is though to have evolved 450 MILLION years ago. If that number is correct, then they appeared 220 million years before the dinosaurs and are still around today. To them the dinosaurs were just a phase of this planet…insane.
If you think they look crazy, then imagine trying to eat them. Their underside is cut open, exposing all the eggs, which are then mixed together with nuts and green veggies to make a salad, in Thai it’s called Yam Kai Mengda.
I’m just reading the wiki now and apparently that some of the species of horseshoe crab in Thailand may contain a neurotoxin called Tetrodotoxin. Shit…is that why my eye can’t stop twitching?
The rest of the dishes seem much more acceptable after that crab. These dishes are Yam Taro (cooked taro with spicy Thai sauce) and Luk Chin Pla Tot (fried fish balls) We drank beers well into the evening, now I know that it was our subconscious defense mechanism to flush out all the possible neurotoxins from our bodies.
With a clean bill of health and a middle headache, we went back to the farm to do some horse riding.
Mo’s parents happily provided us with carrots so we can bond with animals. Here i am …not feeding the poor little pony named Mario.
Omg and they have the biggest cat EVER, they call it Cafe. So now i have no idea if it’s a male or female.
Anyway, just look how big and how furry it is. How does it not just die in the Thai summer heat?
Although, in this picture you cannot tell by its face, Cafe really likes to hang out and be pet, maybe just not picked up.
Remember when i told you no one goes out during in the middle of the day?
Well, there is one exception – Songkran Festival.
Songkran is the Thai New Year celebration and happens on April 13th every year. So how do they celebrate it?
By going out into the streets and splashing water onto each other. Our hotel was far away from the main part of town and we didn’t have a truck with us anymore since Mo’s uncle went back to work.
Luckily, for all of us the hotel owner wanted to show her foreign guests what Songkran is all about and offered to drive us.
On top of that she found large barrel that put in the back of the pickup and filled up with water.
The back of the pickup strongly smelled of old fish…so i asked Suin and she non-nonchalantly told me that they use it to transport fish mostly.
As you drive through the town, people on the side of the road proceed to douse you with water, cheer, drink and dance to music.
Another tradition is to put powder on people’s faces. This is done in the most Thai…the most polite way ever. People run up to you with the powder, bring up their hand to your face and then just stop about 2 inches away. Only when you have had the chance to nod in agreement and close your eyes, they gently smear it on and as much as they can.
I feel like in San Diego, this would devolve into people spraying each other with fire hoses and slapping faces of random people. But wait…i’ dreaming, this would not be allowed because of the drought, unless things have changed since the time we left.
Hahaha…it looks like that guy went full force and slapped the hell out of Hyein. Actually, he just happened to put too much powder and it went into Hyein’s nose…and all the powder you see here, is her blowing it out.
Some people, not satisfied with using normal water, mix the water with ice. That is actually cruel.
With outside temperatures in the 40C, dunking freezing water on your head and body makes you gasp for air from the shock.
We are still in rural Thailand, tomorrow we go back to Bangkok, where Songkran is celebrated for an extra 2 days. Lets see how it is different.