Published: August 6th 2009July 18th 2009
Awesome coral gardens at Hin wong bay
We ventured back to our base home of Bangkok for a few days stopover before we headed south to the islands and onwards to Malaysia. Again we didn't have much planned for Bangkok except shopping and a list of errands but we do have a few things to report on...
Yet again Sophie wanted to visit the weekend market much to Dale's delight! He actually broke the record this time and managed a full 6 hours walking round and round in the 35 degree heat but he ended up getting more things than Sophie so couldn't complain too much. It was here in the market that Sophie had her thoughts on just how lazy some Asian people can be and it's something she's noticed not only in the markets but in the stores too...
When she shops in England she likes to pick up things, have a look, feel the quality etc and she's pretty sure that all ladies must do this. Here in Asia though this is quite frowned upon. Nearly every time she picks something put to have a look, the store assistant swiftly moves in to re-fold the item. That in itself is not a problem
Our awesome dive resort
and no we didn't stay in one of the bungalows.. we wish!
but on more than one occasion she has been tutted at or even told that she cannot pick up items to have a look.. WHY? A different example of this situation happened in the market when she couldn't find a t-shirt she liked on the hanger so tried to have a look at the ones on the shelves below. At this point the sales lady (who had been asleep before she did this) jumped up and told her 'no no.. same as hanger, what you look for?' Sophie had had enough by this point and just told her where to go and left the shop therefore losing the girl a sale for being so rude. She doesn't mind people telling her not to make a mess but when the sales assistant is sat there asleep, something she's probably been doing for most of the day and therefore isn't busy, would it really hurt her to re-fold anything that was looked at? Probably not!
We also visited a very strange museum which had been recommended to us by a Dutch couple we'd met along the way. After discovering Sophie's love of all things gory they said she would thoroughly enjoy
it so we ventured there on Monday..
The museum in question is the Forensics museum which is the other side of the river. The museum is actually one of 5 small museums which forms part of the Siriraj Medical museum to be found in the Siriraj Hospital grounds. For anyone familiar with the website rotten.com, (if you aren't then you probably don't want to be!) this museum is much like a room filled with items & images found on this website. The rooms with information on the various paracites that can infect you was bad enough and counjured up all sorts of images of what problems we'd had since being on the road and how nasty they could have been. We left this room feeling a little itchy and ventured into the forensics section which is what we'd really wanted to see.
As soon as you enter the door you are greeted with images of ways people have died, these include a slit neck, bullet wounds (complete with bones & skulls to match), explosion victims, train crash victims and so on. As you proceed round the museum things get even worse when you see lots of body parts
which have been preserved to show how the people died. Lungs infected with disease are not so hard to view but burn victims are a little more difficult. Next up is a whole head that has been preserved and cut in half.. and we struggled even more when we saw the collection of jars each containing foetuses and babies at various stages of development. The final straw came when we turned the corner to find 4 preserved bodies all shrivelled up in cases. The whole thing was not the most enjoyable experience we've had but certainly one of the more bizarre. We decided against visiting the 2 museums in the other building, one of which was an anatomy museum showing stages of development, we'd just had enough of seeing dead bodies so left to go and enjoy some lunch!?
We avoided the all in one packages to Koh Tao from the tour agencies which often lead to rip off scams and theft even if they are cheaper and caught the train then boat to the island. We quite enjoy train travel here in Thailand because it's relatively cheap and you can have walk around and use the facilities as
much as you like which is much better than being stuck on a cramped bus. We got great seats this time too right at the front of the carriage which meant we were sat right by the open side entrance doors making for a fun Indiana Jones type experience every time you get up to go to the toilet as you hold on for dear life to stop you falling out onto the tracks below! We'd got the afternoon train to Chumphon which got us into the town at 10.00pm ready to catch the night ferry across to the island.
In our haste we made the fatal error of going with the lady at the station who offered us a ride to the pier, we thought she'd said it was 20B which seemed about the right price for a 10km ride but when we got dropped off at a random fishermans pier and were asked for 50B we knew we'd been scammed.. impressed we were not! As soon as we'd realised our mistake we turned round to find our helpful taxi driver had gone off leaving us god knows where with our only option to catch the ferry offered
to us. To be fair their boat was the same price we'd been expecting but it was the principal that we'd not come to the correct pier outside town and been overcharged that we disagreed with.
Dale refused to get on the boat with these people so headed off to search for a proper taxi to take us to the correct pier. Of course this was in vain as we were in the middle of nowhere but he did find out that there were other fisherman boat piers further down the dark road so we headed off to find another one. We managed to find one going to the island at 11pm so we jumped on straight away before it set sail. It was a fishermans boat that was obviously used for island deliveries judging by the eggs & water on board and we boarded a little nervous that we were the only people aboard apart from the crew and just hoped they didn't throw us overboard because we felt more than a little vulnerable. We really wanted to text someone just to let them know what we were doing in case we weren't seen again but of couse
the battery on our phone had run out so Sophie pretended to text in full view of the crew to make them think we were in contact with the outside world!
We had mats laid out for us to sleep on and made ourselves as comfortable as we could laying on our bags so nothing got stolen and hoped it didn't rain. The journey to Ko Tao is 6 hours and surprisingly we both managed to get a bit of sleep with Dale keeping one eye open in case we got attacked! At one point in the middle of the night the waves got really big and we were thrown around a bit.. well Dale was because Sophie can sleep though anything and didn't even flinch! At 5am we were woken up as we'd arrived and were glad we were both in one piece with our bags in check and hopped off the boat onto Ko Tao.
Dale had wanted to come to Ko Tao specifically to do an Open Water PADI course, this is one of the cheapest places to do this in the world and comes only second to Cairns in the number of certificates it
hands out each year so there's not really a better place to do it. Not wanting to learn to dive due to a fear of the ocean, fish and being underwater, (not good a good combination!) Sophie was more than happy to get in 4 days of lying on a beach topping up her tan while he did it so it was the perfect place for us to spend a week. We scored highly with our accommodation by walking that bit further than everyone else to the end of Sairee Beach. We found a posh diving resort that offered the PADI course for 9,000B (what we'd expected to pay) but included a free room and full use of the posh facilities so we felt pretty smug with ourselves. Dale's first day of his 4 day course was only watching a video in the afternoon so we spent the morning laying on the free sunbeds with free clean beach towels on the white sand beach and then moved to the beautiful sea view swimming pool afterwards! Great!
Dale found that after the first easy relaxing day of the course the second day was back to the nitty gritty of learning
how to dive independently. He was also pleased to find out that there was going to be only three people in his group (smaller numbers are always good for learning as he found out in Cambodia). The other two people where a friendly couple from the states who were very fun and outgoing which made for a relaxing experience.
Day 2 consisted of twenty basic manouvers you have to be able to complete before they let you go out to the ocean. One of these was showing you could actually swim. You may laugh but Dale was told by his instructor that you would be surprised how many people sign up for a PADI course and can't acutally swim! After proving he could complete the twenty manouvers sucessfully on day three he moved out to the ocean.
This day included one fun dive and another dive completing some of the manouvers learnt the previous day. The fun dive was awesome, he spotted hundreds of tropical fish including Rabbit and Butterfly Fish and also a rather large Trigger Fish which made all the hard work seem worthwhile.
Day 4 was the last day of the course and here
he learnt emergency manouvers. One pretty scary one was swimming without a mask on at 18m depth and also learning an emegency ascent without air which all really cool if a little scary stuff. After the dives it was back to the office for a final written exam which he was a little nervous about but is glad to say he passed with flying colours! The evening was spent with a videographer watching an hilarious video she had taken of all of us during the day. She then covinced us we should buy this but with us being backpackers and still a long journey ahead we decided the money would be better spent on the real thing ...more awesome dives.
The weather while we were here was a little mixed. Sophie spent one afternoon perservering with the drizzle by refusing to leave the beach but was much happier when the sun came out the next day. After his course we spent our first day together making the most of the beach with Dale purchasing a snorkel & mask and venturing out on Sairee beach to see what he could find. The snorkelling here is ok but certainly not the
best on the island so we decided to venture a little further the following day.
It was glorious sunshine again so we hired out a bike and ventured off to the other bays around the 21km2 island to see what it was like... very nice it was too! First we headed to Hin Wong Bay which has no beach to speak off but offers excellent snorkelling just 1m out to the sea. There are millions of beautiful fish here and also Christmas Tree Worms which make for amusing fun if you snap your fingers next to them and make them dart in and out. We also visited another beautiful bay, that of Tanote Bay. This bay offers both a lovely beach and excellent snorkelling for the length of the beach so we spent the remainder of our afternoon here enjoying what it had to offer.
The roads around Koh Tao are a little 'adventurous' on a bike, especially when you have hired one with normal tyres rather than the cool off road tyres that some are supplied with. Only a fraction of the roads are paved leaving the rest as heavily rutted and incredibly steep dirt tracks which
are quite scary in parts. Dale did very well on the bike though and managed to get us from A to B in one piece apart from one minor incident...
At one point we thought we'd try to find a secluded bay and drove down this road ignoring the "big dog lives here" sign. The road here was really really steep and very windy so we struggled down it to turn a corner and see this huge dog at the bottom come bolting out the house and start barking at us. We thought better of going any futher so Sophie hopped off the bike to let Dale turn round so we could make a speedy getaway. As he was struggling to turn round on the steep slope Sophie calmly commented that the dog was starting to run towards them and please could he get a move on.
Just in time he was facing the right way and Sophie got back on as the dog was just metres behind them. We sped off as the dog was literally snapping out our heels with it's teeth fully bared and Sophie squealing at Dale to put his foot down (or turn
his hand round as you do on a bike). Dale then turned round to shout and scare the dog off but as he turned round to face the right way a steep curve was upon us and we drove off the side of the road into the bushes both landing with the bike on top of us. At this point we were less concerned about any injuries sustained by the fall and more about the dog which we'd last seen just round the corner running at us and eating us alive! Thankfully though our luck was in and Dale's shouting had scared it off leaving us to pick ourselves up and assess the damage. We'd obviously had someone looking down on us though as we'd only got a few grazes, the bike was more or less in one piece and more importantly we were both thankful that we'd only gone into bushes rather than a sheer drop that we'd passed only a short time earlier! So let this story be a lesson to people... if there is a sign telling you about a big dog.. don't go there!
We both agreed that Koh Tao is probably our favourite Thai
island so far in terms of amusement. It's far from being the most authentic Thai island but is also reported to be much nicer than Koh Samui which is full of Burger Kings. We love the fact that you can explore it easily and there is something for everyone here, we've had an amazing time and will certainly recommend it to anyone coming this way. We have many more island paradises ahead of us in the coming months though so have decided to head off to travel further South back to Malaysia and onwards...
There are more photos below