It is good to be back on the road. I have had a great time with my family in Perth and Karratha but I am looking forward to once again exploring new frontiers. The flight into Bangkok was uneventful, and arriving in the evening, I immediately headed out for dinner with Verena, who had arrived with her friend Diana the day before. The next morning, leaving Diana behind, we took the train down to Chumphon and having missed the last ferry to Koh Tao, spent the night in the wholly unremarkable town. The only problem was that Verena had hurt her hip the day before leaving Germany and so I was carrying her bag around. It is a good thing that she packs almost as light as me
The ferry the next morning took just on three hours and the weather played it's part, creating a very pleasant ride. Both Verena and I do not like big crowds and so we decided to stay in a bungalow on the eastern side of the island, away from the crowds. I had heard about this place from a couple in the Andaman Islands and as soon as I saw it I knew
that this was the place for us. Situated right on the cliffs above the beach of Aow Leuk, there are just six bungalows and a great restaurant. On the other side of the beach there are another half dozen bungalows, and that is about it. On top of this, the bay right below us is one of the prime snorkeling spots on the island (at one point we saw 10 boats parked there and over 80 people in the water). We got to just swim out from the beach when the crowds had gone. And for something that appealed to me in particular, the restaurant had Pink Floyd on an almost continual loop. For only the second time on this trip I will say the name of the hotel in which we had stayed, Aow Leuk II Bungalows, and I will highly recommend it for anyone that is looking for a quiet place to stay on Koh Tao. The only downside is that there is no night life to speak of, so singles may not find it as enjoyable.
After settling in we headed straight down to the now deserted beach for a snorkel. It is a very nice
site, as good as anything I have seen outside Exmouth, and there is a plethora of fish and a reasonable amount of coral. I even saw two small sharks swim by below me, though Verena didn't see them and insists that I was making it up.
As is typical on islands like this, the days seem to pass quickly, with little to remark upon, other than it was really fun. The afternoon before New Year's Eve we headed into the main part of town to see if we were missing anything. We walked from one end of Mae Haad Beach to the far end of Saree Beach, and while it is a nice beach, the entire two kilometer stretch is lined with restaurants, dive shops and bungalows. We were lucky in that the tide was out and so we could actually walk along the beach, when the tide is in there is little beach to speak of and you are really forced to walk along the road, inland from all the shops. We did see a spectacular sunset from the beach, while enjoying a cocktail, pad thai and a fire-dancing show.
At one point Verena decided that she
had had enough of my beard and wanted to trim it a bit. She had finished neatening the mustache and had taken about two snips of the beard when her scissors broke in two. Behold the power of the beard!
By New Years Eve Verena's back had healed and we decided to go kayaking out to Shark Island for a sunset snorkel, before heading into town to meet Diana, who had arrived from Bangkok. Verena had never been in a kayak before and was quite excited and after a while was quite proficient at paddling. The island itself is a couple of hundred meters offshore and has no beach, so we had to tie up to a bouy before jumping in for a snorkel. The island drops off quite quickly, making it not a great snorkeling sites, but one of the main dive sites on Kao Tao. Didn't see any sharks, but there were big schools of fish and lots of anenomies, though.
It was getting back on the kayak that things started going downhill, quickly. Verena got on OK, and then I managed to get on, but was facing the wrong way. I am not quite sure
how, but as I turned around, Verena moved and before we knew it we were both back in the water and the kayak upside down. I managed to right the kayak, get Verena back in and rescue the fins and out bag of goodies (thank god for my wet bag). The masks didn't float and are now being worn by the fish. I ended up towing the boat to the island and climbed on a rock and back in, cutting my feet in the process. The paddle back went smoothly enough but by the time we arrived on the beach, Verena's back had started to hurt. Within half an hour she could hardly walk and so we decided to stay close to home. It was a very nice New Year's Eve, although with some of the worst shots that either us have ever tasted (bad vodka, galliano and bitters). It was probably the only place in the world that was playing The Wall in its entirety for New Year.
The next morning Verena was basically unable out get out of bed with her hip and when it still wasn't better the day after that we headed to the island's
main clinic. After screaming in pain at the poor taxi driver, we got safely to the clinic and were looked after very professionally by the doctor (though the bed was effectively in a shopfront window, which was a little disconcerting until the curtain was shut). In the 45 minutes that we were there, a standard collection of injuries walked through the door. A shirtless South African who had too much to drink on New Year's Eve and fallen on his shoulder, a kid who had bumped his head swimming and a local girl who had torn up her knees and elbows falling off her scooter.
With Verena now on some good pain drugs and resting, I decided to walk into town to get a little exercise and book a diving trip for the following day. Of course, just after I left it started pelting with rain, the only time in the seven days we were there. In the end, even though Koh Tao is one of the premier dive sites in Thailand, I decided not to go. Given the howling wind, big tides on the full moon, rain and low chance of seeing a shark, I just didn't want
to waste my money on a sub-standard dive.
One odd, but good, thing about Aow Leuk beach is that there are two cleaners that go out there every day and clear the beach of seaweed and any rubbish that comes ashore with every high tide. Talk about a job for life.
On our last day on the island Verena was feeling much better and we decided to walk into Mae Haad and then down to the southern extremity of the island, where Diana was staying. There is a main road that runs down to Chalok Bay, but we decided to take the trail that runs along the cliffs and beachs and let me tell you it is an adventure. More of a genuine goat track than path, it regularly disappears, leaving you guessing the route. It is right through the virgin forest most of the way and quite nice, all in all. Well worth a walk if you are looking for something to do for a couple of hours. A word of warning though, there is aonly one resort, about half way around, and so take water with you.
Diana has clearly settled into beach life and
after just six days is sporting a spectacular tan. It was no surprise that she told us that she is staying here right up until she has to fly back to Germany. Leaving her to the sun, we walked around to Chalok bay, which seems very nice, in terms of action, somewhere between Saree and Aow Leuk. Given more time on the island, it would have been nice to explore it a little more. Alas, that is almost always the case on an island like this and my feet have once again begun to itch and so we head on to my first real Asian jungle, Khao Sok National Park.
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