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80 km in 7 hrs

Ferry good going! (...or Koh Ngai to Ao Nang)

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Ferry from Koh Nai to Koh Lanta (Old Town)

When the time came to leave Koh Ngai we were still worried that the ferry wouldn't come, but it did, only 10 minutes late which is very good for 'Thai Time'. Even so, when you travel around the islands in Thailand on public transport, nothing is easy. The ferry was pulled in at the jetty, tossing wildly on the waves, only about 3 feet away from the concrete steps on which we stood, easy, just jump, and mind that foot high rail as you go!

Diane on the ferry transfer bus; The ferry transfer bus (after everyone got off)

The first port of call on this epic journey was Koh Lanta Old Town where we took a wild pickup truck ride to a different ferry port, Saladan pier, rammed in with lots of others too big/too tall for Thai sized transport. Our luggage had been manhandled onto the top of the truck and at every swerve and bend I expected to see at least one bag crash to the ground behind us.

Saladan pier on Koh Lanta
Now we had to hang around for two hours. There were no facilities at the pier to store luggage so there was no point dragging bags into the town. Thus the two little restaurants on the waters edge had a captive clientele. To get inside and have lunch we had to negotiate not only tables and chairs but also mountains of parked luggage. We were much amused by a young Russian couple who simply seemed to have stuck wheels onto a pair of single wardrobes....

Passengers disembarking at Saladan pier (note luggage chute)

The next ferry was a much bigger one, as it docked, the waiting hordes and their luggage surged forward allowing no ground space for the hordes disembarking. The luggage on board was hurled down a metal chute on to the dock causing more congestion as people scrambled to retrieve their belongings. I'd like to think it was organised chaos but I think it was just chaos. By the time everyone was loaded and baggage was stowed the boat finally left port a mere 45 minutes late.

Leaving Saladan pier

Inter-island ferries are designed with sufficient air conditioned seating and life jackets for everyone on board, so what do the young and lovelies do? They drape themselves all over every available bit of outside space, getting in the way of the crew and making it impossible for anyone to get from one part of the boat to another. Sprawled across decks, hanging off rails, all intent on turning themselves into lobsters before the trip is done.
It was 4.30pm by the time the (3.30pm) ferry docked and then the surge to collect luggage before disembarking began. The Russian with the two wardrobes was intent on pushing aside both bodies and bags to get his furniture from the bottom of the pile, those closest to the heap only wanted bags that were buried. Both Keith and I tried to maintain order, the crew stood no chance. We couldn't move, I was pushed aside by a rucksack wielding Amazon and fell back into the arms of a small Chinese, we all went over like dominos, but the girl had her bag! By the time I got to my bag, the crowd was thinning and the crew were able to help, my luggage was carried up the gangplank for me.

Approaching Ao Nang pier

Patiently waiting for us was the driver from Aonang Cliff Beach Resort so finally our equilibrium was restored as we spent the final part of our journey in sublime comfort. We'd travelled only 80km in 7 hours!

Our room at the Aonang Cliff Beach Resort

Our three days in AoNang were quite full on. Our first task was, naturally enough, to replenish our gin, tonic and lime stocks. This was easy as there several small supermarkets nearby and once this mission was accomplished, we were free to enjoy ourselves in the busy seaside metropolis that is AoNang. It used to be a quiet little place blessed with a long sandy beach, but over the years, in the way that things do, it has grown and grown. Now it's a tangle of streets and lanes leading back from the beach all full of bars, restaurants, massage parlours and shops all selling the same flip flops, T shirts and sarongs. Everything is brightly coloured and everything is loud. Vendors call as you pass and a cheery 'Sawadee kah' is the best response. It seems that they don't expect visitors to these parts to attempt to speak any Thai and are surprised when they do. When I told a massage lady, in Thai, that I would see her tomorrow she was so surprised that I had to repeat it for her friend and then she hugged me, right there in the street!

Ao Nang beach & tourist shops

We had a few treats as part of out hotel package so one morning we boarded the hotel shuttle bus and were taken a few miles along the coast to their 'Beach club'. As it turned out, it's still at the stage of being built but the bar was up and running and there were some nice big squashy beanbags and hammocks on a private stretch of sandy beach shaded by trees. On our return to the hotel we had our spa treatments.... Tamarind full body scrub followed by a Thai massage with hot herbal compresses. After all the sunshine and seawater we'd been exposed to, this was just what our dry skin needed.

Diane at the Andamana Beach Club (yet to be completed)

Another treat was a trip by very bouncy speedboat to Hong Island. Hong means. 'room' and this is one of those 'hollow' islands with a beach or lagoon inside. We spent the day touring by boat around the beaches and islands stopping to sunbathe swim and snorkel and also for our picnic lunch. We last came to these islands with Kathryn four years ago and had practically the whole place to ourselves, this time the beach was so busy that it was hard to find a patch of sand to lay our beachmat on. There are a lot of Chinese tourists here and for the first time, we are beginning to hear lots of American voices too. Despite the crowds we had a nice day out and were able to do some snorkelling. Lots of pretty fish, but like pretty much everywhere around here now, very little live coral.

Keith & Diane on the speedboat to Koh Hong; Koh Hong is very popular!

So that's it, our brief stay in 'civilisation' is over and it's time to move on, about 100km north and about 20 years back in time.

Posted by GinSmugglers 17:01 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches islands ferries tourists Comments (1)

Koh Ngai Towelling Menagerie

Tortured towels in many guises!

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A nice bottle of wine (or a few beers, if preferred) on our return for the first person who correctly identifies what these tortured towels are meant to represent, or for the most amusing wrong suggestions!

Please submit your entry as a comment to this blog post.

Day 1 on Koh Ngai

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 5 (detail)

Day 6

Day 7

Posted by GinSmugglers 21:12 Archived in Thailand Tagged animals towels Comments (1)

Sojourn on Koh Ngai

Sea, sun, sand......

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As we checked in at Koh Ngai Resort the smiling girl at reception said, 'Oh, you have very nice room, many guests say this is very nice room 512'. Yes, I thought, I bet you tell all the punters that, unless they've booked the very cheapest scuzzy room behind the kitchens.

Room 512

Our trusty suitcase bearers were waiting to lead the way, but this time they were able to trundle our wheelie bags along a winding concrete path. On and on we went to a 'hidden' beachfront bungalow, the last in line...the furthest from reception, as if we haven't walked far enough.

Keith tipped the lads generously, they'd earned every Baht, and we went inside. The room was fine, simple but well equipped and clean but in the pictures these bungalows have a big (albeit rather unattractive) concrete sun deck with loungers. Ours had only a small verandah with two wooden chairs. But then we realised, we have the only bungalow that is actually on the beach, with an uninterrupted view of the sea and islands beyond AND direct beach access. It's also the only one with views both to the front and the side. So that's why it's a nice room. From here, looking out at the sea, this could be the only bungalow on the beach.

Beachfront; View from room 512 verandah

It's a pretty beach, rather rough underfoot with stones and broken corals, shaded by trees. The area within the resort is soft white sand and there's a pool and the ubiquitous massage 'hut'. Behind the beachfront bungalows the different categories of accommodation, some two storey, rise up the hill with gardens full of trees and shrubs between. Some of the higher ones may well have great views but even where we are, facing east, we can see islands, Koh Mook, Koh Cheauk, Koh Libong and over to the mainland.

Koh Ngai sunrise from room 512 verandah

Now that we've been here for a while, out days have fallen into a pattern. We get up early to watch the sun rise up over Koh Mook. It's low tide at this time and some mornings you can watch the rippling reflections of the rising sun on the exposed rock pools. It's very quiet and still as we enjoy our morning cuppa on the verandah. Gradually people appear, early risers taking photographs, some of the Thai staff making their way to their work, but often we have the whole beach to ourselves. A little later we go to breakfast, a buffet but quite relaxed. There's a great selection of Thai rice and noodle dishes, lots of fruit and prepared salad vegetables, pancakes, eggs, cold ham and sausages, bread and preserves but still people complain that there are no cornflakes! What's wrong with vegetable fried rice with an egg on top and salad for breakfast?

The sun isn't too fierce in the morning so now it's time to mooch about exploring the surroundings, not that there's far to mooch. You can scour the beach to see what the overnight tides have brought, you can walk around the rocks to the next tiny cove or you can walk up and down the pier watching the comings and goings. All of the inter-island ferries stop at this pier, weather permitting, so people who have stayed at the resorts on the other beach are longtailed around to meet them. One morning we climbed up as high as you can in this resort. Some of the highest rooms are reached by a pretty good climb but staff quarters are even higher. Further up still there's a shrine and steep concrete steps leading up into the jungle and who knows where beyond.

View from uppermost rooms

After this it's getting hotter so it's time for a sunbathe. We rotate our sunbeds throughout the day to take advantage of the sun or shade as we fancy. On our first morning, at around 10.00am, a speedboat backed up our beach and people streamed out, the boat played loud music. This wasn't what we came for, why don't they all bugger off over to the main beach? It wasn't too bad though, the people all dispersed throughout the resort and left in a couple of hours and they've not been back since.

Beach invaders daytripper boat

Since we got here, the sea has been quite choppy albeit quieter in the mornings. We've enjoyed bobbing about on the lilos and have done some snorkelling. This has been disappointing, the current is quite strong so it can be hard work and when the sea is rough the visibility is poor. When the water is clear you can see that there very little live coral left on the small reef, but there are some pretty fish. We've seen shoals of zebra fish, some colourful clams and sea urchins and a few good sized parrot fish. You have to be careful getting in and out of the water when it's rough as it's quite rocky in parts particularly as the tide is going out. Since I got stuck on the rocks when the waves were too strong to allow me to stand, I've been much more careful to get in and out via the sandy bits!

Afternoon lounging

We go for lunch at about 1.00pm mainly for a drink and a break from the sun in the hottest part of the day. The menu here is quite extensive and the portions are large so we've taken to sharing a tempura or sandwich for lunch. We have two problems though, although the gin comes out of a Gordon's bottle it's nothing like any Gordon's I've ever tasted and despite the fact that they have limes, they will persist in putting lemon into it. The other problem is James Blunt. Every mealtime, James Blunt. Keith has tried bribing the bar staff not to play it but I think it's in their contract.
In the afternoons, it's more of the same. Afternoons are also massage time and we thoroughly enjoyed the ones we had, but at 400 baht (about £8.50) they are way overpriced and we haven't had any more.

Diane & Keith enjoying genuine Gordon's G&Ts on room 512 verandah

Around 5.00pm the sun slips down behind the mountain and much of the resort is in shade. This is when we retreat inside for showers, unravelling whatever towelling animal the cleaning staff have created today. Afterwards I like to sit on the verandah letting the warm wind dry my hair as I wait for G&T time (using our own carefully hoarded genuine duty free Gordon's). As the sun goes down behind us, the rocks and islands in front light up in sharp relief, often with a reddish glow. At this time the swimmers and sunbathers have all gone in and once again we have the beach to ourselves. We enjoy our drinks as it goes dark.

Koh Cheuak, afternoon & sunset

Dinner is around 7.30pm and as well as the main menu, there's always fresh fish which you buy by the 100g and which is then cooked on an oil drum barbecue and served with big corncobs dripping in butter. The lights in the resort go out at about 9.30pm and then all you can see are the stars.

Each day we've watched the ferries come and go. If we'd delayed our departure from Sukorn by one day, so we could to go to Dick and Dee's party, which we did consider, we wouldn't have had the stressful arrival that we did. But today it's rough again and more newcomers have had the same rocky trek as us.... 'Tell me there's another way out of here!' panted the girl as she stumbled into reception. Hopefully the sea will be calm tomorrow for our ferry journey on to Ao Nang...

Posted by GinSmugglers 18:51 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches island tropical Comments (1)

From Sukorn to Koh Ngai

Trial by water and rock

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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!!!

Posted by GinSmugglers 17:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches islands tropical Comments (1)

Aloe Aloe?

Aches, pains and ailments......

sunny 34 °C

Given our age and state of health I thought it might be time to give a health and fitness report. There are no pictures, you don't want pictures!
To date I've had a slight earache due to getting water in my ears whilst swimming. This lasted a few hours and was seen off by the ear drops which Keith brought. As he takes far more drugs than I ever do, he was in charge of medications. Here on Koh Ngai the beach is a bit rocky in places and I have a somewhat bruised bottom due to being washed ashore by the tide, on to a very rocky patch. Entirely self inflicted as there are much softer places to come in. The only other thing is a bruised toe, sustained during our trek across the mountain. Other than that, I'm browning nicely and all is well.

We've both had a couple of mosquito bites but none are bothering us, probably due to us continually dosing ourselves with antihistamine tablets.

Keith, on the other hand, spent his first week on the islands with a runny nose, really runny, dripping! He also had watering eyes which were sore, and his face came up in red blotches as a consequence. Photosensitive dermatitis, apparently. His medicine kit yielded some maximum strength nose unblockers, phenylephrine, which dried up his nose eventually but the eyes kept watering, he rubbed them more and more and his face got sorer and sorer.

One evening on Sukorn I noticed that I had a tiny patch of sunburn just near my right armpit. Obviously I'd missed that bit when applying sunscreen. I got out the little pot of Aloe Vera gel I'd brought with me, carefully decanted from a large tube, and applied a little to the hot spot. Keith noticed and applied a bit to the sore area around his eyes. Even if it didn't cure him the cool gel provided some relief from the itching and burning. The next day there was a marked improvement so we carried on. There are several large aloe plants at Sukorn Beach Bungalows so when we left, Keith brought away a large aloe leaf which lives in our fridge and is being peeled and applied inch by inch, to good effect. Trusty aloe saves the day. His injuries so far include a stubbed toe and broken nail sustained when he got off a boat, cut finger tips when he got too close to some barnacles and a bleeding toe when he dropped my kindle on it. The kindle is fine.

Apart from the patch mentioned earlier, neither of us have burned ourselves although we both let the tops of our feet get a bit hot on the first day, and there have been no real tummy upsets apart from Keith's self induced ones when he eats a very hot curry! Then the tummy blocker pills are deployed!

Despite all of this, we are very well. Keith would never have managed all the walking around in Cambodia or the climb over the mountain this time last year, and without my knee operation, neither would I.

Posted by GinSmugglers 17:06 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

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