Ko Samui, Gulf of Thailand

A surprisingly comfortable overnight sleeper train plus a two-hour ferry ride took us from Bangkok to Ko Samui (Ko means Island). Samui is the biggest island in the Gulf of Thailand with about nine beach towns within. It takes about 90 minutes to go around the island by car. We stayed at Chaweang, the most popular beach of Samui. Although Adam and I seem to always enjoy everywhere we go, Ko Samui is geared more towards a romantic get away at a 5 star resort then a backpacking/site-seeing travelers.

It is low season at the moment (June/July) so we took the risk and arrived there with out a room reservation. After asking around we found a nice place called Lucky Mother for 800 baht (around 28 dollars). It was one of the few mid-range beach bungalows in between all the upscale resorts. The food on the island in general was overpriced compared with everywhere else in Thailand, but I cannot complain about a 8 dollar dinner at a beautiful white sand beach.

Lucky Mother, where we stayed in Samui

We stayed in Lucky Mother three nights. “There is plenty of sun!” all the travel guides enthusiastically advised us, okay… maybe too much. It was so hot and humid that we didn’t feel like leaving the a/c room during the peak of day. The nights were nice though. Along the beach, all the resorts would set out tables in the sand with candles and torches. They would display a variety of fresh fish and other sea creatures that you can choose from for a nice and fresh grilled meal. A romantic scene.

The main road was madness. We found lady-boys inviting you to see their shows in the cabarets, food stands, loud music coming out of bars, restaurants, spas, pick up trucks driving by with loud speakers announcing the next boxing fight, and many people walking around like lost ants. We had been out for a long walk waiting to get hungry for dinner when through the madness we spied a sign for Gringos Cantina, a Tex-Mex restaurant. Siii! We ended up staying there until midnight talking to the Canadian owner and Victor, a Colombian musician that plays guitar at the restaurant a couple of nights a week. We talked about the challenges of an ex-pat business owner in Thailand, locals, their culture and the Colombian mafia in the 90’s.

Street Pad Thai, the best!

The following evening we went to explore Lamai, the next popular beach south. Our first stop was to see some unusual shaped rocks named Grandpa and Grandma. These peculiar rocks look like the male and female you-know-what parts. Legend has it that an old couple was sailing to the neighboring province of Prachuap to ask for the hand of some girl for their son. During their sea journey the boat was wrecked and both died, turning into rocks. The story doesn’t make much sense for the shape of the rocks but then, what legend does?!

Grandfather rock

After the penis rock we made our way to the center where we coincidentally ran into Victor, the Colombia guitar player. We hung out with him at the Barrio Latino restaurant eating tapas and listening to his acoustic Latin jazz melodies. We spent the rest of the late night walking a bit more and got to see some of Thailand’s well-known dark side: the ex-pats with young Thai prostitutes. It was a bit depressing to be honest.

Victor and us

The next day we visited the Big Buddha Temple which was really nice. It has a 15 meter tall statue of the Buddha. The stairs along the way to the statue are adorned by colorful snakes. At the top there are traditional Buddhist bells all around. It was an enjoyable quick stop before catching the ferry for the next island: Ko Pha Ngan.

Notes for fellow travelers (as of late June 2012):

– Don’t expect the same prices as the rest of Thailand. Gulf islands are more expensive. An average lunch will be 150-200 baht (5-8 dollars). Average mid budget accommodation 800-1200 baht (28-40 dollars) in low season.

– Taxis don’t go by the meter. They have set prices and it’s expensive for Thailand standards. For example, a 10 minute ride to the ferry from Chaweang will cost you 10 dollars!

– If I would go back I would stay in Lamai. It is smaller and nicer than Chaweang. And I would not come back in June or July. It’s too hot!

– I wouldn’t recommend it to low-budget travelers (although everything is possible).

– To relax: an oil massage on the beach is a must! If you are hard-core and like it intense, get a Thai massage.

– Have other questions? Feel free to ask.

Cheers!

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A few days in Bangkok

Most travelers agree on their feeling toward big cities in developing countries: traffic, pollution, tons of street markets selling all kinds of things that no one needs with tons of people everywhere. Bangkok fits the bill, but add the Thai flavor, canals, temples (more than one can handle), intense heat and naughty nightlife. It’s also very travel-friendly with amazing food everywhere, affordable and safe.

Bangkok canal

Some memorable moments:

Unexpected dancing at a Thai restaurant/cooking school. Before I get into the story I want to give props to Thai food. So good and so cheap! Adam was finishing his all time favorite, green curry extra spicy with rice, when a lady with a golden crown came to our table and asked us to stand up and follow her dance moves. Adam pretended not to hear, but she insisted and I had to stand up while Adam started to take pictures… good excuse Adam! It was fun but I am much better at salsa 🙂

FOOD, FOOD, FOOD! (re-reading this I found out I am a Thai piggy!).

Adam’s favorite dish: green curry and brown rice.

Street entertainment and people spotting (including Koh San Road). One of the things that I liked the most when I first arrived in Bangkok was all the stuff going on in the street. It can get old after some time, but as a first experience in Thailand it was fascinating to see! Lady-boys, lost tourists looking at maps, temples, palaces, street food that I couldn’t guess what it was, sex-paths (old man with young Thai women), the typical European tourist backpacking in Southeast Asia with a fluorescent shirt and a hungover face, more street food, Buddhas, the Hip-Thai type, more Buddhas, the professional Thai type, all very entertaining to watch.

Khao San Road

A 20 baht (70 cents) all day Tuk Tuk ride. We were a little surprised when a tuk tuk offered to take us to four different temples and palaces for only 20 baht, it sounded too good to be true, but at the end we took the risk. True to his word we visited the different places he said he would take us to. A big Buddha temple, a happy Buddha temple, another Buddha temple with amazing city views and a gorgeous marble palace. Then, of course, the “too good to be true” part kicked in.

Tuk tuk driver: “Let me take you to the jewelry/fabric/tourist store.”  Us: “No thanks, we have no interest in buying anything at the moment, plus we are very tired.” (it was extremely hot btw). Driver: “Please, please, do it for me, only five minutes, they pay me gas.” Us: “Ok, only five minutes…”

And the same story happened again and again. We ended up spending five minutes in two different suit/fabric stores, one jewelry shop, and a travel agency. All the while pretending we were interested in custom-made suits (when we are wearing surf shorts and Adam has a homeless man beard!), precious gems and tourist info. Sigh. Adam and I still agreed in the end that the extra half hour of visiting shops was worth the four-hour tour of town for less than a dollar.

Big Buddha temple

Marble palace

Some other notes:

-Transportation: A taxi is a good way to go in Bangkok, but be aware of the ones that refuse to use the meter, they will charge triple the price. This happened to us one time. We got into a taxi and asked to take us to the train station. He said “300 baht”, we said “meter”, he said “no, 300 baht”, we got out of the taxi and took the next one. He had no problem using the meter and the price was only 60 baht!

Sky-train and metro are other options, but not as accessible because you can only take them from certain parts of town.

-Accommodation. Sivarin Guest House, highly recommended. See my TripAdvisor review.

Wonderland Scuba Diving

Labuan Bajo

After three days on a boat without a shower and with poor sleep we arrived in Labuan Bajo. We didn’t book anything before we got there so we started wandering around town together with our 90 pounds of belongings. After asking in a couple of places we found an amazing bed and breakfast; one of the best throughout our whole travels. I took a long shower that felt like heaven and rested all day with a break for dinner with our group from the boat. The next day we treated ourselves with a massage. We ended the day having dinner and beers at a bar playing live music with Leonie, Mateo, Cinzia, Julian and Rudolph. Keep reading!

Searching for Dragons (Part 3)

Komodo Dragon

Komodos only exist in Indonesia on the Komodo, Rinca and Flores Islands. There is nothing like them anywhere else in the world. Although they are mortally dangerous because of the poisonous bacteria in their saliva, there are only a couple of incidents per year. They stick to water buffalo and deer. The giant lizards kill by biting and waiting until the poison takes its effect. They follow their target until they die a week later. It was very exhilarating to see them up close. Keep reading!