Thursday, 5 September 2013

Koh Tao, tropical island in the sun!

The diving trip we did in Chumphon was about the only thing we did do of any note in our three full days there as I ended up feeling a bit ‘under the weather’ with ‘tummy problems’. We’d already planned to have a rest day on Monday to let our bodies recover from diving (I know I get problems at altitude, where air pressures of less than ‘atmospheric 1 bar’ are present, so why shouldn’t I have problems going under water where high pressures over 1 bar are present? Our 20m depth exposed us to pressures 2 bar over atmospheric, a total of 3bar. It’s a much greater increase than altitude is a decrease!), I was feeling a bit ‘off’, but it turned into stomach cramps, headaches and just feeling ‘ill’. Don’t think it was anything to do with diving as ‘the bends’ is bubbles of nitrogen building up in blood vessels, mainly collecting at joints, so making it difficult to bend joints, hence its name. I certainly didn’t have any of that, so put it down to a bit of a bug I’d picked up.

It meant that Monday was late getting up, breakfast at a bar along the sea front at about 10:00am, back to our air-con room to get out of the heat, read, catch up on emails and check out hotels, guesthouses and transport options for our next stage, an evening drink with Werner, who rode out on his motorbike to meet us in the local bar (he was hoping we’d agree to go out diving again on Tuesday as he had three people who wanted to go out snorkelling, but the dive company wouldn’t go out unless we agreed to go diving as well as it’s not worth it with just three snorkelers. We said ‘no’ and he was obviously disappointed, but didn’t hold it against us. I thought it was a bit ‘off’ of him to put the responsibility of a trip for three snorkelers on us, but still), something to eat and home.

Tuesday evening at 'The Curry Shack'
Tuesday, with me feeling a bit worse was another late breakfast and back to read and more emails, this time downstairs in reception with no air con, but a better view than the walls of our room, followed by a meal at a different restaurant. This one was right on the seafront and was called ‘Jasmin, the Curry Shack’, obviously not a typical Thai restaurant, it had a bar with some tables and chairs and a pool table under roof, but no walls. Through the other side was a terrace right next to the beach with views out to the Gulf of Thailand and the islands we dived by on the horizon. It was only about 6:00pm and the bar had about 4 European people sitting on bar stools drinking beer. The language was English, which is fairly typical where different nationalities meet as it seems to be the common language, but the accents were definitely British, possibly American and a couple of Aussies. We ordered a beer and took it to an outside table on the terrace next to the beach to look at the menu. They had sausage and mash with onion gravy on the menu, one of my favourite meals, but would it be real or just what Thai people think it should be? Jackie wanted a Thai red curry, but I decided to stick with sausage and mash as good home cooking would be good on a dicky tummy! If it was just Thai sausage and mash I’d decided I’d mix some chillis into it from Jackie’s plate! When the Thai owner came over I asked if they were real potato’s, properly mashed creamed and the sausages were real pork. She said ‘yes’, so I ordered but expected to be disappointed. However, when it came I have to say it was fabulous, it was a 9 out of 10, losing 1 point as I felt the mash had been previously made, frozen and reheated, but it barely detracted from what was a great meal. Jackie’s Thai red curry was also very good and different from a typical Thai version. The Thai lady’s husband was a British chap who looked, to me, the image of Eric Morecambe and Jackie correctly placed him as coming from Walsall, which amazed him as he hasn’t lived there for 40 years (it was because he sounded just like Ken Tranter she said afterwards). He is a chef and, in the UK made Indian curries in restaurants. He buys local ingredients and makes his own sausages, trading his curries to locals in exchange for the produce he wants, so it’s testament to how good he is that the locals prefer his curries to their own. One of the other British guys at the bar was also tucking into sausage and mash, telling me he always has it and how much he loves it. What a great place it was, just a pity it was our last night there.

On Wednesday I was still feeling a bit ‘off’, but a bit better, so we carried on with our trip. Werner picked us up at 11:00am and dropped us off in Chumphon centre by the bus that was to take us to the port, in order to catch the high speed catamaran to Koh Tao island, one of a group of three islands in the Gulf, the largest best known (and by all accounts now largely spoilt by overdevelopment) Koh Samui. Koh Tao is supposed to be much less developed and the major place in the area for diving and snorkelling due to its abundance of coral reefs close to shore so, although we don’t intend diving again, we decided to give it a go.

On the catamaran ready to leave Chumphon
The catamaran scoots across the 30km or so ocean in less than 2 hours, so we stopped indoors as we decided the speed would make it very windy (as well as the fierce sun beating down), so we arrived in no time into what seems to be a real tropical island. It’s not quite a paradise as the main town where we are staying is quite busy, but the rest of the island looks quite rural, it’s mountainous, all covered in forest, the beach is white sand, fringed with coconut palms with little thatched bungalows set haphazardly amongst rocks and trees. The sea has virtually no waves, is beautifully warm, but still nice to get into to get away from the searing sun, it’s shallow for a long way out, until it gets to a rocky reef and there are lots of small boats in the bay offering snorkelling trips, boat rides round the islands or water taxis to the main port along the bay (‘main port’ being a relative term!).

We’ve got a very nice air con room in a guesthouse that also has a dormitory style hostel at the back, which is less than 5 minutes walk to the beach and 2 minutes into a town packed with more restaurants of every nationality (Denise – my sister – if you’re reading this you can eat a full English breakfast every day, steak and chips, Sunday roast and any other English dish you could want), plenty of roadside hawker stalls, Thai massage parlours (I think that’s all they are!) and a huge number of dive companies. The mode of transport, other than open backed pick up trucks operating as taxis, is by motorbike or motor scooter. The mountainous terrain makes bicycles un-popular, although we’ve heard of horror stories of people being charged ridiculous amounts for scratches when returning motorbikes, so we’re not going to do it. The results are streets massively crowded with motorbikes weaving in and out of people, other bikes, taxi pick up trucks and dive company vehicles – it chaos!

Our little bit of paradise on the beach
Today (Thursday) I’m feeling virtually back to normal (thank you for asking), so after a walk round to find a breakfast restaurant, we spent the day on the beach. Unusual for us, but it’s such an idyllic place and we found free of charge bamboo sun beds with pillows so you could sit up, beneath a parasol so we could keep out of the sun and right next to a restaurant/bar. We sat there and had a pineapple smoothie, a little dip in the sea, then chicken fried rice for lunch and reflected that at the prices we are paying here we could stay here forever and live within the income we are getting from the rental of our two houses back home in Alvechurch. 
Jackie goes in for a dip
I can see why I married you darlin!
Not bad for a little tropical island in the sun that’s very close to paradise! I’ve not written this to make anyone envious, but to point out that this really is within reach of anyone who has a modest income, so start planning your holiday, it’s fabulous, just as long as you can stand the heat, but there’s air conditioned rooms nearby and a nice warm sea to swim/dive/snorkel in or just to splash about in a boat or kayak (cheap flight to Bangkok, take the overnight sleeper train to Chumphon and high speed catamaran to Koh Tao bought as a package and book into a luxurious hotel/guesthouse, ours which is very presentable is £22 per night for us both, spend a maximum £20 a day for really good food for two and you’re on course for a fabulous and inexpensive holiday). We even understand there’s some rock climbing here, but a) we sent our gear home and b) it’s too hot for that!
Life's tough, but someone's got to do it!

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