Getting To and Around Koh Tao

You may have noticed that one little Ray of Sunshine from the Calonder clan has been conspicuously absent from the Family Vacation posts thus far. Yes, dear little Nate-y was all tied up flying remote controlled airplanes for his summer internship and was only able to secure a week of leave, but in Blog-time the first week of the trip has elapsed and it’s high time Nate made his appearance!

Of course, there is the whole problem with the trains in Thailand always being late. Not necessarily leaving late (learned almost the hard way as we had to run to our train out of Chiang Mai as it made to roll out of the station promptly at 5 o’clock), but definitely arriving an hour or two behind schedule. Which was almost problematic because we should have arrived in Bangkok just in time for a cab to whisk us off to the airport so we could give Nate a heartfelt welcome at the gate. And instead we were still about an hour outside of Bangkok at the time Nate’s plane was landing.

Luckily we had a certain “Wayne Dog” on our side, who was able to page Nate at the airport, update him as to our situation, and give him instructions on getting a cab to the train station. (Of course, given our family history of pranks, Nate later told us he was sure we were all hiding from him and having a laugh as he tried not to look concerned while making his way through the Arrivals section.) So the heartfelt welcome instead happened in between platforms at Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station. And then we waited four more hours to get on the train to Chumphon.

bangkok’s hualamphong station, as seen from the café where mom and i grabbed a cappuccino during another hours-long wait. it’s no exaggeration to say we spent more time waiting in the train station in bangkok than we spent doing ANYthing else

as it should be

This train ride proved to be a bit of a different experience, since we only were traveling by day and therefore opted for a 2nd-class seat option. It was hot and the train did leave at least an hour late (though we boarded on time), and then took another hour just to get outside of Bangkok, but once we were on the open road (figuratively speaking) it was smooth sailing (also figuratively speaking…). Before long we were all in the dining car sharing some Leos, having a bite, and watching the scenery (and some very random monkeys, which instantly put Mom’s trip into the ‘Worth It’ category) go by.

As night fell Ryan saw fit to introduce me to Archer (an introduction for which I’m very grateful!), and after about three false alarms from the nice Thai man whose seat I jacked in order to watch TV with Ryan, we were finally in Chumphon.

And this part should have been easy, right? Just a month previous I’d taken a train to Chumphon, then (half-dazed and at the complete mercy of Wayne’s coordinating, admittedly) found myself on the back of a motorbike that took us to the pier where we got our night boat to Koh Tao, right? A night boat that, while lacking in the nicest of linens, seemed completely legitimate and was full of proper bunk beds and whatnot, right? But somewhere, somehow, things went terribly wrong…

haha, i think ryan’s expression says it all.

We were herded into a songtao and the price quoted ended up being a bit different than I remembered; I decided this must be inflation-related and gave it no more thought. And then we pulled into an unfamiliar pier and I started having my doubts. Next thing we knew we were stepping onto a much smaller boat than I remembered, and stepping around belongings and boxes that were obviously being shipped… a bicycle, a huge crate of coconuts, and lots of backpacks. The whole time I was still trying to convince (read: delude) myself that upstairs there would still be the bunk beds I was expecting…

staying positive…

We followed the people ahead of us up a ladder into what definitely seemed like the hold of a human trafficking endeavor (perhaps my naïveté– and tendency to exaggerate– is showing… I don’t suppose victims of human trafficking are treated even to mats and pillows on the floor, and I suspect there would have been more chains involved, but at the time these seemed like minor details). We clearly weren’t the only ones surprised by walking into a room chock-full of inch-thick, foot-and-a-half-wide mats on the floor, based on the looks on the faces of those around us. One girl mused, as our heads poked through the ladder opening, “Bet you didn’t realize you were coming to a pajama party!”

I was feeling kind of bad for apparently not doing the proper research to make sure my 50-year-old parents didn’t end up sleeping on a floor (for more than 2 nights of the vacation anyway, as they already had done so twice during our Chiang Mai trek!); called Wayne up to see if he knew the name of the pier we’d gone from before; asked my companions if they wanted to attempt to return our tickets and get on the other boat. But they were real champs! They grinned and bore it (wow that sounds better in the present tense…); Mom curled right up in a little ball and, perhaps due to the swaying of the boat, had the best night’s sleep of the vacation so far; the boys and I played Hearts until 1 am, and then I too fell into a nice deep sleep. In fact, we all enjoyed the experience so much, we practically replicated it on our exit trip from Koh Tao as well! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

the pajama party.

Of course, the silver lining to the whole experience was that in the morning we’d be on Koh Tao! I’ve issued a lot of discourse concerning Koh Tao over the past two years, so I think I’ll leave most of my Koh Tao-related commentary to photo captions. There’s a dive-related post to come (let’s just say we’ve got a few more certified divers in the family!), and I guess maybe it goes without saying at this point that we had another motorbike incident, but without such a happy ending (or… at least “retrospectively-‘meh’-inducing” ending) as before. In fact, the story still kind of breaks my heart to a degree that I don’t really care to retell the whole thing, but let’s just say we were all lucky that before coming, Ryan could often be heard proclaiming that his “pockets overfloweth.” And that he learned the hard way to be careful when giving an unfamiliar bike that initial burst of gas…

Anyway. Onto happier subjects!

we stayed at ko tao resort, on chalok ban kao, and they had what they called the ‘paradise zone’ at the top of the nearby mountain. such an amazing view… if only i’d taken my photos on one of the clear days!

Ko Tao Resort

ryan taking over poi duties at babaloo bar our first night. kid’s got skills! (and probably a few still-raw fingers from the steel handles… whoops.)

there’s that blue sky!

crossing the shallow chalok ban kao

on sairee beach with momma

back in the paradise zone

A few days into the trip we also had the happy turn of fate that Wayne was able to meet up with us, accompanied by Collette, Eugene, Jean, Chris, and Michelle, who were all there to do a bit of diving as well.

it was dad’s turn to gift a hat

during our motorbike excursion. we drove out to the northern tip and got a drink at the dusit buncha resort. from there we could see nang yuan island.

Dusit Buncha Resort

amazing menu at dusit buncha.

next stop on our motorbike tour: some point that was up a steep and gravelly hill that finally warranted this exchange: me: “i just don’t have a good feeling about these bikes anymore.” dad: “why not?” me: “well we’ve already crashed one and i just drove off the road. i think i’d just rather go home.” so we did, only stopping at mae haad first to buy ferry tickets. (also, my driving off the road was because the anonymous person ahead of me wobbled and cut me off!)

got a pancake at mae haad waiting for the sketchball ticket dealer to drive dad to the potential ticket buying locale.

haha, i showed my students my pictures and when i got to this one they all just said, ‘oooh teacher, sabai sabai!’

“Sabai sabai” review

full moon setting on our last morning

this is what a banana sandwich looks like. what did you expect when the waiter himself laughed at you?!

lazing on our final afternoon

unbelievable sunset from the paradise zone as we had our last meal before setting out for another night ferry. (thanks dad for this shot!)

pineapple-fried-rice IN a pineapple– way better than a banana sandwich!


Ollie in die Swembad (Part 2)

Day 2 of our tale is one of spontaneous island getaways… or rather, one spontaneous island getaway. After getting our feet wet in the early morning high tide, Wayne posited the idea to hire a longtail to take us to Koh Kradan. He said it would be 2500 Baht between us for the boat ($80, give or take; between 10 people, not too bad), it was about a 40 minute journey, and that we’d need to leave soon-ish because the swells get too big in late afternoon to make a safe passage. We thought it sounded great.

at the pier

puppy’s first boat ride!

ollie’s face actually represents about how i was feeling at this point… turns out the swells were already pretty big, and there were noticeable exhaust fumes making their way around my respiratory passages, and it was sooo loud… nice scenery though!

we made it!

I’d say it took a little longer than 40 minutes, but eventually we did make it. Koh Kradan is known to be a bit of a sleepier island, and as it was low season anyway we knew it might take some searching in order to find a restaurant, or any sign of civilization. The first thing we noticed was an advertisement for a resort on the Sunset beach, which was allegedly 5 minutes away in the direction of an arrow pointing us towards the island’s interior. So we set off.

ollie the trailblazer

hard to see, but the sea is right there past the trees. the trail took us to a dead end; there wasn’t even a beach but instead rocks that dropped off straight into the water. turns out we’d passed the resort without even realizing because it was very much closed.

so we headed back. did i mention that the advertised ‘5 minutes’ were also a bit of an under-estimation?

back on the original side of the island, now with 20 minutes of our allotted 2 hours gone, walking the shoreline to find a restaurant. again, at least there was phenomenal scenery!

We finally found a restaurant, as part of a gorgeous resort. This was the closest Ollie came to actually being in a swembad; there was a swimming pool there but though we were arriving with clear intentions of eating in their restaurant, we were informed that the pool was for guests of the hotel only. This sat especially poorly with us when we discovered the prices on the menu to be around 10 times, in some cases, what would normally be spent on a meal. (No really… fried rice, easily a 30-40 Baht dish on menus we’re used to, was going for 280 Baht! Daylight robbery!) Alas, we were most of us famished and had to take it on the chin.

uncle and nephew. hahaha! favorite.

Turns out the way back was even worse, from a sea-sickness perspective, than the way there. The exhaust fumes seemed to be hovering around us for the entire journey, and though we were riding with the waves (“longtail surfing,” as it were) the motion had us all feeling a bit queasy. But we were determined not to lose our $10 lunches, and so resorted to a lot of breathing-through-various-forms-of-cloth and even to rubbing a bit of my peppermint lip balm under our noses. Somewhere in the recesses of my memory I was sure I’d heard that the smell of peppermint fights nausea? Anyway, mad props to our driver… he was clearly an expert in his field.

almost back

chris has found his happy place: playing FIFA with the local chillins.

walking back from the pier to our campsite

nearly-full moon at the mediocre seafood restaurant at the pier.

After a sub-par dinner at the restaurant on the pier (in fairness, the American guy we’d met the day before had recommended that we not eat there, suggesting another place instead. Alas, we could not remember how to get there and went against his good advice.) we had another fun night around the fire. In the morning we had another breakfast of runny eggs before beginning the journey home.

look who got the toast that fell on the floor!

‘i am ready to return.’