Bangkok is great, but we were here for the beach and that meant heading south to either the Andaman sea or the Gulf Coast. Initially we thought about checking out the west coast and the Krabi province, but looking at transport options we would have had a long bus ride after a long train ride. Nicole and I were still heavily jet lagged and so opted for the easier trip down the Gulf coast straight to Koh Samui.
We had been to Samui before, but only as broke backpackers. This time we could afford to book into one of the more swanky resorts along Chaweng Beach. The last time we walked along that beach the staff chased us off each private part of the beach for not having the correct resort towel!
We flew down to Samui and landed at the airport. The terminal was open-sided and made of wood and bamboo. It had a distinct island feel.
Soon we were checked in to our resort and beach-side. I ordered up a rum cocktail and we toasted the start of our relaxing holiday proper. It was about this time that a large jet flew directly overhead. We exchanged looks.. maybe not then!
Samui was fine for a day or two, but it was noisy and it was expensive. Typically the islands do cost a lot more than Bangkok, so we had to adjust all our market rates we had honed in Bangkok for the new locale. When we had exhausted the local shops and markets on Samui we decided to book our ferry across to Koh Phangan which is the next island up from Samui and one that we had not visited before. By all accounts, it was much quieter in the north of the island; In fact Nicole had a colleague from some online work who lived in a small fishing village called Chaloklum. With some ready recommendations for good places to eat and drink and local sights to see, we were keen to head over to Chaloklum and check it out.
The ferry over was smooth and it was a joy to see the beautiful coastlines speed past. Local fishermen prepared their boats and in the distance you could see dive vessels and other ferries going to and fro. As soon as we alighted on the pier we hopped in a Songthaew which is a pickup truck with seats and a tarp canopy over the back. Typically they do circular routes of the islands and you can hail one much like a bus in the UK. In this case they were lined up waiting for the ferry to evacuate and drop tourists at all their resorts. We agreed a price of 200 baht a head (about £5) to get over to the other side of the island, and chatted to a Dutch veterinarian as the truck slogged it up and down the steep hills which were sided by lush rain forest. Occasionally a break in the trees would open up and you would catch a glimpse of a turquoise bay and sweeping beaches with white sand.
This was more like it! This was the Thailand we were here for. Quiet, remote, and unspoiled.
At Chaloklum the driver hopped out and clambered up to the roof where our backpacks were stowed. He passed them down and then like a spider climbed back into his cab and drove away leaving us on the side of road, bars and restaurants opposite and the gate to our accommodation behind.
We entered the gate and found ourselves in a verdant garden surrounding a nice sized pool. Around the grounds were dotted small white bungalows. Each had a hammock and chairs outside and the rooms were immaculately presented. Just a stone’s throw from the pier and the sea, we literally had it all on our doorstep!
We stayed a few days in this accommodation, exploring the area by foot. There were local beaches to search out, along with a thriving ex-pat community who offered great options for food and drinks. We ended up at a bar run by a Dutch couple who served up seriously tasty plates of smoked and slow-cooked meats. Nicole’s colleague met up with us there, so we stayed and sampled the cocktails as well. By the end of the evening we had made friends with the bar owners and some of the other patrons who were sat at the bar. One of the things I love about being overseas is that conversation flows easily abroad and people are much more willing to talk than back home.
After a few days, we moved to different accommodation a bit further out of town. This offered a larger house for less money and we took the chance to hire a motorcycle so we could get out and see some of the other sights. Nearby were the ‘paradise waterfalls’ which we saw a sign for and decided to scoot up to. As we climbed up the steep road it became more broken, so we parked up the bike and continued the ascent on foot. At the top, a path led through some jungle and alongside a stream. The path wound further up and then in front of us a deep plunge pool sat at the base of some small falls. Recent dry weather had lessened the water flow, but the pool looked amazingly inviting in the 30 degree heat. Putting aside our bags and clothes we jumped in to the pool which was freezing cold! After some laboured, heaving breaths, I soon got used to it and we swam for about an hour before reluctantly climbing out.
The next day we took the scooter up over the nearby headland and back down to a neighbouring bay called Haad Khom. We bought a drink and some noodles at the restaurant on the top of the hill before climbing down the steps to the beach, arriving late in the afternoon. The beach below took my breath away. A sun-dappled length of white sand stretched out 300 meters away from us.
Calm azure waters lapped against the sands as we strolled the length barefoot. There were only a few other tourists on the beach so we had plenty of room to spread out and relax. Nicole lay down in the sun and I donned my snorkel for the first time so far and walked into the warm sea. About fifteen meters in, a patch of bleached coral lay home to a variety of small fish. I took the opportunity to fire up the GoPro and chase some around. As I surfaced and looked around I saw Nicole motioning to me that it had started to rain. Looking to the east, I could see a wall of black cloud sweeping in, and the wind had started to whip up the palms on the beach. Not wanting to get stuck in a torrential downpour, we made a beeline for the motorcycle and got into town just as the rain started to fall more heavily. We took refuge in a cafe called the ‘World’s End’ which sat right at the end of the pier, the views looking out across the gulf.