Saturday, 14 September 2013

Koh Phangan, Surat Thani to Kuala Lumpur



We’ve covered a bit of ground since our last entry as we’re now in big KL in Malaysia, having flown here by Air Asia from the little airport at Surat Thani in Thailand to the capital of Malaysia. The weather’s still pretty mixed though, cloudy, humid and warm, although not too hot (32⁰C today) and now, 9:00pm it’s raining a monsoon thunderstorm, as it has been on recent nights.

A building site. Note the three people on the scaffold. No hardhats, no safety shoes, no platform to stand on and the guy at the back is welding with an arc welder while balanced on a metal beam. Health and Safety, what Health and Safety?
We were sad to leave Rung Arun Resort on the island of Koh Phangan as it was such an idyllic place, a true tropical island covered in coconut and palm trees, hot and sunny in the day, often cloudy and rainy in the evening, the resort being a cluster of bungalows set around a pool, all within about 10m of a beach and sea, with its own restaurant, very friendly owners and a plethora of well-behaved cats and dogs. Our first couple of days we were there on our own, then joined by a Kiwi couple with their 2 year old, then another couple here for the ‘half-moon party’ and then, on our last day (Thursday 13th), 6 lads from England turned up, also for the ‘half-moon party’.

The ‘moon parties’ are a bit of a feature of Koh Phangan, known as ‘the party island’, starting 25 years ago on a beach just down the road called Haad Rin and held on each full moon. Apparently up to 30,000 people can turn up for these all night affairs and the island earns a fair income from it. Catching onto a good thing they added ‘half-moon parties’, ‘black moon parties’ and now ‘shiva moon parties’ which means they can have a party every 4 days!

We were a little bit concerned coming to an island known as a party island, but it’s not a problem, or certainly not when we were there, although they tell us September to November is their quiet time. Apparently as long as you keep away from Haad Rin you’re OK and our impression of the island was very laid back, very friendly people and nothing too much trouble. We explored on a motorbike one day (200baht) and visited high viewpoints, temples, waterfalls (well, trickles of water!) and other beaches and towns and came away with a very good impression.

The storm approaches
We left on the day of the half-moon party so have no idea what happened, but the people we spoke to were gearing themselves up for an all-nighter, weather permitting (which hasn’t been that accommodating!). The previous night, for example, we had an impressive tropical monsoon storm. It had been hot and sunny all day, too hot, so after spending the day on the beach we came in to cool off under the air-con and then I went out for a dip in the pool in the hot late afternoon sun. Swimming one way the sky was blue and the sun shining, but swimming the other way the sky was black as night and I could see others on the beach with cameras. Joining them I could see a very impressive front coming in, big high cumulous clouds billowing up and a sky as black as night. It crept slowly across the, enveloping Koh Samui and, eventually us. The wind picked up, we could see the rain approaching over the sea until we were in the middle of it, a huge downpour of rain and gusty wind playing havoc with the leaves of the coconut trees and a drop in temperature to a very pleasant level!

It starts raining
After getting very wet (I was still in my swimming trunks), showering, getting changed and sensibly deciding to eat at the resort as it was still torrential rain, we sat in the open sided but covered restaurant with a beer, looking out to sea and watching the storm while waiting for dinner to be prepared. By this time it was dark and the storm cloud was right over us with impressive lightning and thunder that shook the building. We were just deciding it was very close when a massive flash of forked lightning hit the sea not 100m away with a simultaneous crash of thunder of a volume I haven’t heard before that shook the building, coupled with hissing and humming and a smell to the air. It was pretty frightening and we were all feeling very vulnerable, but fortunately it then moved away and we could safely watch the flashes and count more and more seconds before we heard the thunder and, gradually the rain subsided. What an exciting meal!

It gets pretty wild
Guess who's out in the rain!
Anyway, the next day, which was sunny but quite windy, our host drove us to the ferry and we were off back to the mainland but much further south. The tickets we had were a boat and bus into Surat Thani, a small town inland from the Donsak port and not far from the airport we were due to fly out from the following day. We’d booked into a small guesthouse Jackie found on Trip advisor which had good reviews and advised they would collect from the bus station, so we booked on ‘Booking.com’, but couldn’t find an email address to ask if they would collect us. We did find a phone number so I rang them, got their answer phone so left a message telling them what ferry we were on and would the collect us. As is usual with my messages, it was too long and the phone cut out before I could leave my phone number, so a little later I rang again. This time I got a lady, who spoke no English, so whether she understood or not I don’t know and in any case the phone cut out as it was in the middle of the thunderstorm, so we decided to make our own way there.

The ferry journey was fine, we got off in hot sun with all the other people and had a gesticulating man asking where we were going, the train station coach is here, a coach going somewhere else is over there, but we want the town centre. Gesticulating down the pier he told us to walk down there and a bus would turn up, so off we went. It’s a long pier carrying heavy rucksacks and we were unconvinced but unsure what else to do as people were mingling about all over the place, so we set off and just got to the end wondering where to go when a coach came slowly past with a man looking out of the window saying ‘where you go?’ Surat Thani centre we said. ‘OK, get in’ he said opening up the side and putting our rucksacks in – and off we went! After a short while a door opened from the front drivers area and the same man came in and said ‘what hotel you want?’ We told him and he said that if we pay 150baht each he will take us there, which seemed the easiest option. Two German girls on the seats behind were going to Phuket so we assumed the coach would stop in the town centre to let us off. In fact it stopped outside a boxing stadium and we were all off, everyone else being led inside, but our man saying ‘follow me’, round to his car where we got in and he drove us through fairly heavy traffic at 5:30pm to our small guesthouse. Jackie thought we’d been ripped off a bit, but it had started to rain so it was an easy option.

Our Guesthouse at Surat Thani
However, when we got to the guesthouse, which was just a house in a suburb with a downstairs kitchen/dining room and two bedrooms and shared bathroom upstairs, the owner wasn’t there, only a Thai student who was renting the other room. He showed us to our room and phoned the owner who said he’d be there in 30 minutes. It turned out he had heard my phone message and gone to the boxing stadium to meet us and had been there since 3:00pm. We hadn’t thought to look out for him as we got no message he would be there (but I hadn’t managed to leave my number!), so got into the other car. Embarrassing or what!

Anyway, he was fine about it and still agreed to take us to the airport this morning in his ‘classic’ Nissan Coupe that apparently came from England. Classic is too good a word, ‘wreck’ is probably more appropriate! It is literally falling to bits. As we put our luggage in the boot we could see road through the holes and wondered whether the luggage would still be in there when we arrived. Inside wiring was hanging out under the dashboard, there was a hole where once a radio was fitted and only the fuel gauge worked. 
Our man with his 'classic' car
No speedo, no temperature gauge, no clock. I was telling him about our MOT test and how all cars in the UK have to be tested each year. He held up five fingers which I assumed meant a test every five years in Thailand, but surely this car hadn’t been looked at for 10! He seemed very proud of it and puffed his chest out when I took a photo of him standing in front of it, but wow, it just needs quietly retiring! As we arrived at the very small airport departures was up a ramp and we wondered whether we’d make it! We did and he pulled in right outside waving to the security guard saying ‘he’s my friend’. 

The dashboard. No radio, wires hanging everywhere, no speedo, nothing other than a fuel gauge
As we got out he introduced us to him, we shook his hand and when I asked him ‘How are you’ our friend told him how to reply and the guard duly said ‘Very well thank you’ as we shook. It’s not often you’re introduced to the airport security guard who seems genuinely pleased to meet you!

Did we mention the local supermarket?
The whole airport experience was the same, very laid back, very friendly, nothing a problem. Security was also laid back, a lady sitting at a desk, smiling. No need to remove computer from bag, just send it through the machine, all no problem and relaxed. Why can’t all airports be like that?

Kuala Lumpur, while being a bit more rushed is still very pleasant. Sure, it’s a bit busier, but it’s still fairly laid back. Our first impressions are pretty good, we’ve been out for a good cheapish meal, a quick look at the Petronas Towers and now we’re ready for bed!

1 comment:

  1. Fascinated by your account of the thunder and lightning. I would have been really scared I think! I hope the doggie in your second pic (as storm approaches), got home before it started! Liked the Nissan too. How lovely that he was proud of his skip! Rainy here today (Sunday), though not at all the torrential, gale force weather we had been forecast. Maybe tonight? Ian flying off to Milano for work as I type and me and Rudi are home alone with the remote, some chocolate and a bottle of wine. We think we'll be ok - just for one night. Helen xx

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