Trial by water and rock
03.02.2015 - 03.02.2015 34 °C
As our longtail boat from Sukorn sped smoothly towards Tasae Pier, we really did wonder what all the fuss had been about. Too windy indeed, what rubbish! The nice air-conditioned mini van was waiting for us and on the cool, pleasant journey up to Pak Meng we reflected that this was actually a more comfortable way to make the trip anyway.
Our minivan transfer
The first time we visited Pak Meng it was dusty terminal for boats and buses. One simple resort with a little shop where we once bought a litre of Gilbeys Gin for about £6. Now it's a colourful, thriving little community with shops and lots of places to book trips and buy ferry tickets. Our driver took us to the main ferry office where an exchange in Thai took place, then we were loaded back into the van and driven a couple of miles down the road. Here there were moored longtails and a bus stop type shelter where the boatmen were snoozing away the morning . Ah ha, I thought, our private transfer, but no, after some more exchanges in Thai, with gesticulations, we were loaded back into the van once more and returned to the ferry office. Here our driver took us to buy ferry tickets so we knew now that we were committed to a ferry crossing, no problem though, our resort has the only pier on the island, so that is obviously where the ferry will go, no messy mid-sea transfers from boat to boat for us.
Having an hour to kill, we went to the little shop, another bottle of gin wouldn't go amiss. What's this? No Gilbeys only Gordon's.... at £28 a bottle, how times have changed! We took ourselves off to the trusty Laytrang Resort where we've stayed prior to our island hopping trips, to have a drink. Nobody there, no gin and no tonic anyway... What is the world coming to?
Pak Meng longtails
Back to the ferry office to collect our bags - no need they would be taken down the pier for us. At the end of the pier, people were waiting, lots, like us, in transit from one island to another, tanned and dressed in holiday garb, but some clearly straight from the airport, dressed in proper smart travelling clothes and looking confused. I was pleased to see that there was lots more wheelie luggage and that ours weren't the biggest either. That honour went to another Brit, travelling with an enormous bag, enough space for a couple of bottles of Prosecco she told me. In addition to all the luggage there were large gas cylinders, baskets and baskets of fruit and vegetables, stacks of eggs, sacks of ice, crates of beer and soft drinks.
Everything was loaded aboard and we were off, only 15 minutes late, pretty good for Thai Time! We sat happily on the top deck, content that we'd seen our cases on board, Keith amusing himself by recalling the names of all the islands as they came into view. The sea was a bit bumpy but I really couldn't see what all the fuss was about although we did see a little speedboat being tossed up and down. Nevertheless, there's only one pier on Koh Ngai and we'd been reassured that we were going there, right to our resort.
Looking back along the Pak Meng pier; Diane about to board the ferry
As we approached the island, the ferry did a sharp turn and tucked itself in the lee of the smaller island in front of Koh Ngai's main beach. Suddenly, 4 or 5 longtails came whizzing towards us, I looked for the one saying 'Koh Ngai Resort' but they all read 'Koh Ngai Villas'. I hate mid-sea transfers particularly when I had to concede that the waters were more than a little choppy and especially with stonking great lumps of luggage.
We waited pretty much to the end before we got off the ferry....
'Koh Ngai Resort?' I asked, pointing to the clearly visible pier, just beyond the rocky headland.
'No, cannot go, you walk' replied the boatman.
'Cannot walk' I said, 'no road'.
'Yes, is road' he shouted.
We had no choice and piled into the longtail with everyone else. As the longtail bounced towards the beach, I shuffled out of my shorts (I had a bikini underneath) and flip flops and stuffed them into my bag. One of the boat crew smiled, he knew that I knew what was coming! I looked at the others on board. - trousers, trainers, leggings, didn't they realise they'd have to jump off the boat and wade ashore?
As the boat reached the main beach, the waves were tossing it about and so many men, hauling on ropes and hanging on for dear life were needed to hold it steady. I decided to show them how it was done, as soon as they got the ladder over the side, I got up, handed my bag to one of the lads already in the water, stepped over the side and dropped into the water. The guy who was at the ladder, battling to hold the boat steady, shot me a look of pure and utter relief. I suspect he thought I might have been the type who would kick up a fuss, or fall in!
I waded in, retrieved my bag and stood on the beach watching all the unloading. Nobody fell in, not a rucksack or suitcase was dropped despite the crashing waves. Once all the passengers and bags were unloaded, the longtail boat sped away and another took its place. The last boat was filled with all the provisions. We were directly outside Koh Ngai Villas and seemingly the whole staff came out to unload, each took what they could, women carrying the baskets of vegetables Jack&Jill style, men with sacks of ice on their shoulders, children with trays of cans. One of the last items off was a shiny pink child's toy motorbike..... an incongruous choice on an island with no roads. Even so, when you see the effort it takes to get every single item of food over to the island, you can understand why meals are more expensive than on the mainland.
Rudely deposited on the WRONG beach!
People were standing around on the beach with their luggage. One by one they were picked off, collected by young men from whichever resort they'd booked, who swung their luggage in on to their shoulders and led them away. There are six resorts on this long beach and some people had quite a trek through the sand. We could see the pier of Koh Ngai Resort jutting out into the sea, surely they would send a longtail for us? Very soon there was only us two and another couple of similar age, straight from the plane and soaked to the skin, standing in the sand with our suitcases. We waited.
People from the Koh Ngai Villa reassured us that our resort knew we'd arrived and were sending somebody to collect us. Whist we waited I had a look around. It was a long narrow beach, probably because it was high tide, quite pebbly and shingly underfoot. Nobody was sitting or laying on the beach anywhere as far as I could see. All the resorts are pretty much full, where are all the people? There were a few people wandering about, all looking pretty miserable... Have we made a ghastly mistake coming here? We went into the Koh Ngai Villa restaurant, it was about 2.00pm by this time but the bar was closed! No gin and no tonic anyway..... Although it was late lunchtime, nobody was eating. The ground around the buildings was gritty hard compacted sand with straggly grass and creeper. This is one of the cheapest resorts though, and another a little further up the beach is very swish and ludicrously expensive... the Fantasy... hopefully their surroundings, and indeed ours, are more luxurious.
We ordered a drink, water and a beer, no sooner had we taken our first sip that I saw them. Not the boat I'd hoped for but four young men, all in dark red polo shirts striding purposefully towards us. My heart sank, no boat, just the dreaded climb over the rocks. The other couple who were French were not happy, they'd paid for a private transfer etc., etc..... They were lucky, they had no idea what was coming. I had!
The lads quickly shouldered our bags. All four of us had suitcases rather than rucksacks which are easier to carry, but at least ours are the soft sort, the French couple had hard plastic ones and one was huge! They set off at a lick down the beach. It's one thing going at that speed in sensible shoes, when it's cool, but it was the hottest part of the day and we were in flip flops. We had a hard time keeping up with our Croc wearing bearers and we didn't have 20kg on our shoulders.
Part of the rocky road!
At the end of the beach we began the climb over the rocks around the headland. Sure footed as mountain goats our guides leapt nimbly from rock to rock whilst we slipped and slithered behind them. Soon a 'path' of sorts appeared, up higher where tenacious trees clung onto the inch or so of dusty soil that covered the rocks. I had my little backpack on my back containing important stuff - iPad, Kindle, money. Monkey etc., but nothing useful like a pair of hiking boots. My feet were wet from skipping through rock pools on the earlier bit of our traverse, as were my flip flops. It was hard to get a stable foothold, climbing with slippery feet. Some of the 'steps' up were simply too high for me, my knees won't stand it. Sometimes the lads tried to help but our mutually sweaty hands slipped apart.
We could see the Koh Ngai Resort pier, sometimes it seemed to be getting closer, then we'd go up a bit or down a bit, fighting our way through tree branches and tripping over roots, and it would seem further away. Eventually there was one big ridge, I couldn't climb up it but with one helper pulling and Keith pushing (oh, the indignity) I made it up and over, then it was down, down. On the final descent, one bearer reached up to steady me, when my poor mistreated flip flop broke apart and I slithered down in a flurry of stones and dust, right on top of the poor man. We'd arrived!!!