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Taking the road less traveled Spending a year in five continents to embrace my "inner turtle", to live simply, and to avoid being shark bait!

Off to Koh Tao

THAILAND | Monday, 20 February 2012 | Views [803]

Typical day on Koh Tao: blue sky, clear water, taxi water waiting for passengers.

Typical day on Koh Tao: blue sky, clear water, taxi water waiting for passengers.

Getting to Koh Tao from Bangkok required an overnight bus ride. After being assigned a seat on the bus, all of us passengers waited at Khao San Road for an hour before the bus arrived. Once on the bus around 9 PM, I was given a pillow and light throw. The bus was one of those typical travel coaches, nothing fancy but decent; the seat reclined a bit but was quite firm, guess it was no different than an airline's economy seat. A movie was playing but there was no subtitle nor sound, so no clue what the heck it was.  I barely slept, but at least the road wasn't bumpy. We got to Chumphon pier at around 4:30 AM, yawn!  The ferry check-in hasn't started so more waiting. After another 1.5 hours (you really have to be patient in Thailand), check-in finally started. We started to board the ferry at sunrise and pushed back around 7:30 AM.  

I was so tired by then, I fell asleep immediately. After almost 2 hours, the ferry arrived at Koh Nan Yuan (a private resort next to Koh Tao, more on that in a later story). I finally woke up and wow!  Blue sky, super blue water, white sand, warm yet breezy weather, I get to enjoy this for a month?  After a brief stop to drop off supplies, ferry took off to Koh Tao, just 20 minutes away.

The scene at the pier was mad and intimidating: crowds waiting to get on and off the ferry, taxi drivers looking to ripoff tourists, drivers with their sign to pick up passengers. I scanned the drivers' signs and could not find one with my name, where was my ride??  At the same time I had to reject all the taxi drivers eager to rip me off, urgh! After walking around for a good 20 minutes, I gave up and looked for a place to call the dive school that had arranged for my pickup. I went to a travel booking place and asked the gal if I could use her phone, and she wanted 20 baht, for a local call! I was tired and sweaty and anxious by then, so whatever (I know 20b is only ~US$0.75, but it's the principle of it!) Turns out the dive shop had me arriving the following week so no ride was sent, more urgh! They told me to get a taxi and would fix my booking. Oh great, now I had to return to the herd of taxi drivers whom I rejected earlier. I asked the first guy, he wanted 200b, which seemed high; I asked a second guy, he also said 200b and quickly flashed me a guide book that said "at least 200 baht ... ", so I figured that was the going rate and hopped on (days later I learned what he flashed me from the guide book was actually for traveling to much farther in the island, so I totally got ripped off as feared...) The "taxis" in Koh Tao aren't sedans, but rather a pickup truck and the passengers and luggages are in the back, and the driver may pick up multiple passengers along the way and charge each one his/her own fare (there's no meter). 

The ride was less than 10 minutes on a paved road, then pulled into a dirt road and to the Davy Jones Locker dive shop, with whom I'm booked. I was greeted by Cathy, a cheerful gal with a British accent. She apologized for the mix-up, and had a guy take me in his motorcycle (with a "side car" for hauling supplies) to my accommodation up the road. The place I stayed at was owned by a local Thai lady, who built a bunch of three-storied apartments and bungalows to rent. Since I wasn't expected until next week, she had no place for me yet, so told me to drop off my bag (all 15kg and very heavy at this point of the journey), get some food, and come back later, but all I wanted then was a shower and a change of clothes! OK breathe... just go with it.

The food situation was interesting; it was included in my diving booking, and I was given vouchers of 400 baht/day to spend at the pool bar/restaurant of the DJL dive shop. I looked at the menu, and of the 8 pages, only 3 of them had items that would accept vouchers: breakfast, Eastern food, and drinks.  Looking for authentic Thai cuisine? Hardly! The "Eastern food" menu was about as authentically Thai as the Olive Garden is Italian (or worse, as PF Chang's is Chinese). First few items: Red curry, green curry, yellow curry, select choice of meat (chicken, pork, shrimp) or vegetable. Second item: Pad Thai, select choice of meat (chicken, pork, shrimp) or vegetable. Third item: Fried Rice, select choice of meat (chicken, pork, shrimp) or vegetable. You get the picture! I managed to find a few "Eastern" items that were decent and cycled through them for weeks. The fun part, though, was trying to spend as close to increments of 100b per meal; the vouchers were 100b each and no change was given, so if the meal was 120b, I'd give them 200b and waste 80b.  Lucky for me, there were the fruit plate (60b), french fries (50b, in the Eastern menu, go figure), and best of all, Singha beer (70b). 

Back to that first day... I had breakfast (omelette and smoothie) and walked back to the apartments, which were about 800m away from the dive shop, so about a 7 minute walk. The "supervisor" (I assume) told me he would put me in a temporary room for a few nights until the permanent one opens up. We walked to the third floor of one building and into a huge flat. The living room opened to the dining room which opened to the kitchen, and there were three bedrooms and a bathroom. My bedroom was huge but sparse, just a double bed, a desk, a chair, a book shelf, and a fan (no a/c), but I was impressed since I was expecting much worse. I hoped secretly they would take a while to find a permanent place for me.

I met my flatmate "J" later that night, who personified a typical Koh Tao resident. He's a British expat who has lived in Koh Tao for a few years; came years ago to visit, loved the island, and stayed. He works as a dive instructor and is also a DJ in the various clubs and private parties on the island (coincidentally, I saw him weeks later on TV while I was in Koh Samui, it was a local show about Koh Samui's life and happenings playing on a local station, he was the host!) He was very friendly and accommodating, said this flat is considered the "penthouse" since it has a/c (in the living room). There are also huge flat panel TVs in the living room and his bedroom, as well as cable TV and wifi. I thought this must be a joke; thought I was going to a remote place, cut off from the world except at internet cafes with spotty connection, and I'm staying in a flat with a/c, cable, and wifi?? That's more than what I had back in the US!  And for the three nights that I stayed in the "penthouse", I probably watched more TV than I did in the US, including Nigella Cooks, Storm Chasers, and a documentary on National Geographic channel about Bruce Lee (no idea he made only five feature films in his lifetime). Something wrong with this picture.

Well, life at the top floor didn't last long. My permanent room opened up a few days later; it was in a flat in another building on the second floor, had a small living room, kitchen, bathroom, and five bedrooms. My bedroom was the one in the front so everyone must walk by the window before coming into the flat; a thin scarf was used as shade to cover the window, it did not work well. The others living in the flat were all long-term residents, unlike me. There were three guys and a gal, believe most of them are dive instructors; one guy was American and the others were all European. As I stayed longer, it reminded me of living in college: dishes piled up in the sink (not what you want when it was 30 degrees Celsius and cockroaches were huge), beer bottles were everywhere, toilet seat was always up, lights were left on with no one around, and the TV volume was turned up day and night. I slept with ear plugs and/or eye mask most nights. There was no more a/c so I slept with the fan on every night. Wifi was also gone, which was fine; I wasted less time online and got a lot of sleep every night (or at least when the TV wasn't blasting!) I really missed living alone after just a few days!

Tags: daily life, food voucher, koh samui, koh tao, penthouse, thai cuisine

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