Koh Phangan you are the best!
24.01.2015 - 29.01.2015 30 °C
It is January 29, 2015, around 7:00 am and we are leaving our island paradise of Koh Phangan after a 6 night stay. We arrived early in the morning on January 23 after a 12 hour overnight train from Bangkok Hua Lamphong station. We had purchased our tickets the day before and we're lucky enough to be able to upgrade to first class which gave us our own cabin. All and all the train is very cheap and inexpensive way to travel if you have the time in your travel plans. There are lots of people who will stand outside of the train stations and try to get you before you go in so buyer beware. They will get you to go to the TAT, which is another shady little travel office outside of the station. Just keep on walking and get into the station where there are tons of ticket windows and people to help. To get to our final destination we had to arrange for a short bus ride and a ferry and again this was done through our ticket purchase at the train station. For a little over $50 Cnd we had all our transportation looked after.
Even though it was still very early in the morning when we boarded the Ferry at Donsak Pier, a shot of energy began to surge through me again. We were on the water, surrounded by beautiful islands and the sun was just beginning to rise up from behind the clouds. The ferry was well outfitted with washrooms, cabin and deck seating, along with a small assortment of refreshments and snacks. The sun was hot and the heat felt amazing when we jumped off of the boat in Koh Phangan around 9:30 am. Using our lonely planet Thailand book we had figured out where on the the island our accommodations were roughly, so we just needed to find a taxi to get us there. Just off to the right of the peer we found a taxi service that loaded us into the back of their truck and began hauling us, along with 4 other travellers up to Sunset Hill. We had no idea what to expect of our resort as we only booked it online just a few days before and we based that on great reviews from Trip Advisor in combination with the reasonable price (approx $60 Canadian/night). After what seemed like a straight vertical climb up a hillside we arrived at our hotel where we were immediately greeted by a staff member who took our bags and welcomed us to the resort. We were way early for checking in, so all we hoped for was to get that done, then maybe be able to hang by the pool until our room was ready. To our surprise, not only were we able to upgrade our room to Ocean view for a very reasonable rate, but we were also able to check in to our room right away. You will see why we upgraded if you check out some of our photo's. The staff where all so welcoming as they helped us with everything we needed and they did it all with great big smiles on their faces as well. We really felt at home! Thank you to Tina and Wii - you ladies are the best.
So, we had 7 days to live it up on the island and here is a bit of a run down on how we spent our time. Getting Around - you quickly learn that the main mode of transportation on the island is by moped, scooter or smaller dirt bikes. Taxi's are readily available but if you are staying for a long period of time, you can rack up quite a bit of cost just getting around. For 200 baht per day or $7.50 Canadian you can come and go as you please travelling all the over the island. There are some gas stations on the island but for 40 baht you can get what is the equivalent to a 26 ounce bottle of booze in volume of gasoline to top up your wheels. There are road side stands all over the place so running out of gas should never be a fear. Through our resort they ordered, dropped off and picked up our moped which was really convenient. Now this did result in me getting a hot pink coloured moped as I didn't get to pick my wheels out, but I could not have cared less as we where in paradise! Make sure you do take photos of the moped when you pick it up and do it in front of the person you are renting from. There have been scams run where they claim you damaged the vehicle and will try to get some more of your hard earned dough before letting you return the moped.
When it came to food, the options were endless. Everywhere you went there where little road side bars and restaurants. We tried to diversify the best we could in what we tried but the Soul Food cafe which was right near the pier in Thang Sala and which served vegetarian, became a common stop, along with just about any beach front bar that served cold beer. Sherry has a gluten free diet and has been eating raw for some time now and we had no problem finding places to match her appetite. The Freeway was a really cool spot that I would recommend checking out for a sunset drink and a bite to eat (see photo's). The prices are reasonable everywhere in terms of food. There are some more upscale restaurants if you wish to dine a little bit classier one night but even at these places you won't be overwhelmed by the bill.
We chose to explore the island on our own instead of signing up for tours and trips. With our moped and information gathered from talking to other travellers we made our way around almost the entire island stopping at Wai Sai Beach, Bottle Beach, Chokulum Fishing village, and many other cool, but inexpensive stops. We enjoy making our own adventures for the shear thrill of the unexpected and unknown and in many cases it is just cheaper - remember, we are unemployed and homeless! One of the highlight stops for Sherry and I was a newly established Sauna called The Dome. For 200 Baht each ($6.00 Cnd) we hung out in the middle of nature by a campfire which was surrounded by pillows and little lounge areas. For the price we paid you also got to use the Dome Sauna, and you where served watermelon and tea. This place was right up Sherry's alley and I always enjoy trying out new things and I really had a great time myself as well. You can stay as long as you want starting from 6pm and going until 12:00 am. The atmosphere is very chill and laid back with people sharing stories and trading perspectives on life. Now contrary to what my brother in law Brent thought, no giant orgies broke out while I was there but there where lots of people that you could class as "free spirits". If you decide to put this on your list of things to do then make sure you bring a bathing suit to change into - they will provide you with a towel and sarong. For those that love raw food there is also a menu that you can order from while you chill by the fire. The sign to enter the place is tough to see so make sure you are paying attention as you get close. Thong Sala is a port area where there are markets daily for shopping for just about anything and everything. There is room for a bit of bartering but not in all cases so don't push your luck too hard as the prices are already bargain basement. Another must is taking in Muay Thai fight. Just look for the posters that line then streets or listen for the pick up trucks with loud speakers going around pumping up the fight nights. Did I have a clue what was going on in terms of how the scoring worked or what the announcer was saying - nope sure didn't- did I have great time - you bet. There is great respect amongst the fighters and that was one thing that I didn't need a translator for. A highlight for me was seeing a guy knock out his opponent in just two rounds, after which he proceeded to get out of the ring, light up a smoke and then crack a beer! It was like post game rec league hockey! There are many beautiful waterfalls on the island as well. We checked I a couple but noticed not many people around as they would assume they found the waterfall as soon as they saw running water hen would walk away disappointed. If you are just a bit adventurous these places need a little exploring to get the most out of the experience. We hiked around two water falls, one of which was Wai Sai and we ended up getting some cool pictures and where able to cool off in the falls as well.
The people that would be considered permanent residents of the island are very kind and also very diverse at the same time with people coming from all over the world to open their own raw chocolate stores or beach front restaurants. Never did we feel like we where in the tourist pressure cooker. We took everything at our own pace which is why we loved it so much. Although the island is known for its crazy full moon parties which take place once a month, there is so much more to discover. Haad Rin is where the parties take place and we did take a drive over there one day just to see what it was all about but we did not stay long. There is one thing and one thing only that happens down in that beach area and it is a crazy wild "use it and abuse it" party. Remnants of the parties lay all around and for us, there just wasn't that free and welcoming feeling that we had back on our part of the island which was about 30 minutes up the coast near Haad Yao. I don't want to spoil too many of the other first time sights and sounds of island so I will refrain from going on anymore as I know how much we like going into experiences with no expectations and being pleasantly surprised when the unknown reveals itself.
Our next stop is going to be Chiang Mai which is in the North of Thailand. We hope to meet up with a friend from back home who is on a yoga retreat there. We had originally planned on going to Vietnam first before Chiang Mai, but at the last minute decided we wanted to keep exploring the country we were in. We where able to get direct flights from Surrathani through Air Asia for just under $100 Cnd each. Well that's all for now, we are off and flying to our next stop on this crazy adventure!
Shayne and Sherry