Published: June 3rd 2010April 13th 2010
We arrived in London once again, and were delighted to be picked up from Gatwick airport by Paul, Jaime and Jaime's sister Sam. After an hour and a half drive home, we got down to business - Jaime's sensational lasagne and various accompanying beverages. True to form we finished up at 5.30am. Welcome back to London!
Our hangovers refused to give us peace and by 9:30am the whole company was awake and ready to head down to Richmond Park to check out some of the Queen's deer and also to indulge in bacon and egg rolls while we strolled around in our stupor. Through the fuzzy haze of our minds we made it home, Nemo and Jaime went grocery shopping and then force fed themselves beer to try and make it all better. This was to become a common theme for the next 6 weeks of our travels. Happily we'd recovered sufficiently by evening to indulge in foix gras, followed by one of Jaime's world famous roasts with all the trimmings and some spectacular Chateauneuf du Pape red wine before rolling into bed past midnight.
The next day's hangover was also going to take some serious maintenance, so it
Paul And Nemo... Enough Said
Paul And Jaime's, London, England
was off for a greasy spoon feed of fried everything at a local cafe. We ate so much that the 5 of us were forced into taking a stroll along the Thames, checking out all the beautiful houses, gardens and parks. By this stage our energy levels were dwindling so we resigned ourselves to watching Robin Hood on DVD at home and lazying around in general. And alas, once again it was time to leave, so armed with a feed of roast beef sandwiches we headed to Stansted airport (another 1.5 hour drive) for our flight. A quiet beverage at the airport, some fond farewells and we were boarding our Air Asia flight away from Europe and in the direction of home.
After a 13 hour flight, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur airport at 8pm, where we had our follow on flight to Phuket at 7am the next day. Rather than waste our time trying to get into town and find somewhere to stay, we decided to sleep at the airport - something that was becoming a regular event in our travels. The airport was buzzing with people and there was an awesome Malaysian restaurant not too far away
The Queen's Deer
Richmond Park, London, England
so we made a beeline for that to get our quick fix of local food. Nemo went for a soup and I had a noodle dish of some sort and after our feast we retired to the only place we could find that wasn't going to close down for the night... A semi-outdoor lounge with some rows of seats that a few locals were already crashed out on. Nemo looked at me dubiously, but I assured him that this was a perfect place to sleep - there were chairs and everything! And the mosquitoes were almost certainly malaria free. I think he may have growled at me a little at that point.
We curled up on a seat each, read, napped, stared at the ceiling, and watched more and more travellers approach our little haven and set up camp for the night. It was a regular little party by about 3am. But sleep was evasive. By 4am we'd managed about 3 ten minute naps each, and thus refreshed we tried to kill time until we could check in at 6am. The entire airport was now strewn with bodies as people kipped - it was quite surreal and as many
Aleks, Sam, Jaime and Paul
Richmond Park, London, England
people didn't have bags with them, we couldn't help but wonder who they were.
By 5.30 we had breakfast in a fast food place similar to McD's where I had some sort of sunny breakfast plastic/egg concoction and Nemo had... you guessed it... noodles. With coffee under our belts we boarded the plane and set off to Phuket airport. The flight was quick and we saw the most epic sunrise from the plane - by 7am we had landed and we now needed to very quickly get our luggage, haggle a cab down to a reasonable price and make it down to the pier for the 8.30 boat to Phi Phi or wait for hours for the next one. For once everything went smoothly - very much so for Thailand anyway - and before we knew it we were on the ferry and heading to the Phi Phi paradise once again.
Now dedicated readers, some of you may have picked up that we were going to Phi Phi for the second time in our travels. Well, this was definitely the case. Part of the reason is that we just love the place and the other part was that
Mmm, Fois Gras
Paul and Jaime's, London, England
I'd arranged to meet my Polish cousin Dominika there. Or at least I thought I had.
We arrived at the island and picked our way past the throngs and headed straight for Phi Phi Garden Home... again. Well, what can I say? The place is paradise, the rooms are gorgeous, the bathrooms have orchids in them!!! And the manager Chris is the sweetest, most helpful person. We'd emailed Chris a few times trying to get him to confirm a reservation for us, but he hadn't replied. So we were hoping the place wasn't full and to our delight he'd reserved a lovely room for us. And so we had our first opportunity to thaw out a little and enjoy the surrounds.
We spent our days on Phi Phi trying to arrange to meet with my cousin (wasn't going to happen) and bumming on the beach, eating at Sammy's, getting massages, shopping, drinking on the beach and generally lazying around. There's not a lot to tell at this point - we were just enjoying being warm. I did get to have my feet nibbled by hundreds of cleaner fish in a tank, and they clean off all the dead
Trying The Local Fare
Kuala Lumpur Airport, Malaysia
skin on your feet! Feels really weird - ticklish at first and then like a massage. And for only $4 or so.
As Dominika wasn't going to meet us, we decided to change plans and after 3 nights we left the glorious Phi Phi and began our journey to Koh Tao.
The journey was long. Very very long.
First there was an early ferry from Phi Phi to Krabi, which took a couple of hours. Then we got to wait for a couple of hours, for no apparent reason. We were in Thailand though, so we were hardly surprised. The bus finally arrived and we got on to find that we wouldn't be able to sit next to each other, but we could sit across the aisle from each other. No problemo... we thought.
There were a couple of Israeli guys sitting at each of our window seats who spent the next few hours yelling across the two of us at full decibel level. When Nemo enquired whether they'd like us to swap seats so that they could sit next to each other, they declined and proceeded to entertain us with even more guttural conversation. But
5 Star Airport Accommodation
Kuala Lumpur Airport, Malaysia
karma came through with the goods when the air conditioning went mental and began to drip ice cold water at a regular pace onto the lap of the dude sitting next to me. Bet they wished they'd taken us up on the seat swap offer now!
After a prolonged stop, the bus finally got to Surat Thani and we missed the earlier ferry and so had to get the last one of the day to Koh Samui. There was no where to sit on a seat so we bunked on the floor (much to the amusement of the Thais around us) and pulled out our now soggy sandwiches. We'd hoped that we might somehow miraculously find a transfer to Koh Tao later that night however it was not to be. Instead we wandered around Na Thon and found out that the morning ferry to Koh Tao would leave from Bo Phut Pier on the other side of the island. Just as we were debating whether to taxi or not to taxi, a tuk tuk bus thing beeped at us, asked us where we were going. We said Bo Phut and asked how much. 60 baht each. Bargain!
Oh So Peaceful
Kuala Lumpur Airport, Malaysia
hopped on to the bench seats in this open air version of a bus and by the time we'd pulled our luggage on too we were making friends with Zat and Izzy from Sunderland in the UK. These guys work as window washers in the UK and then move to Thailand for a few months each year. Sounds perfect to me! (NA - Me too!!)
Not only did they help us load our packs onto the bus, they helped us figure out where the best place to stay the night was going to be and where a good booking agent was for us to book our ferry with. They even helped us off with our bags, carried some stuff for us and walked us to a guest house they recommended and showed us the good eateries in the area. What absolute champions! The Cha Cha guest house was lovely and so sweet and completely devoid of any other guests. So we dumped everything, showered and headed back out to check out Mae Nam town. We booked our ferry tickets which was easy, as always in Thailand and then it was time to hit the bars.
Mae Nam is
Heading Back To Paradise
En Route to Phi Phi, Thailand
lovely but quite posh and although the guest house was well priced (at 500 baht), drinks and food were pricey. Still after Europe everything seemed cheap and we headed off for Mai Tais and Margaritas. Hooray for cocktails - these were some of the best we'd had on our trip so far. We wandered around trying to find a reasonably priced meal and found it at a Thai/French restaurant that was packed to the rafters with Frenchies. He food was brilliant though the spicy salad I had was very true to its name and I downed about a litre of water to douse the flame. We headed back to Cha Cha, had another glass of wine and felt sorry for the fluffy white dog trying to cool itself by pancaking on the concrete. Off to bed early, ready for our early pickup the next morning.
In the morning as we waited for our mini bus transfer, a boat pulled in from Koh Phangan and we were accosted by 20 or so absolutely spaced out revellers who had clearly indulged in anything they could get their hands on. The stench of booze was flammable as they rolled into taxis and
tried to pick fights with each other and the taxi drivers. I'd never felt fresher. Anyway, the mini bus arrived, then ferry, breakfast, Koh Tao. Finally!
We arrived and Jasmin had said we should get the Big Blue Dive bus transfer from the pier to the dive shop. The bus didn't arrive of course, so we jumped in a taxi and bolted down to Big Blue. This dive shop is interesting, very different from the way things are set up in Oz. The one place has a dive shop, a tech dive shop, a scooter hire place, bungalow and apartment accommodation and a restaurant/bar. There is literally no reason to leave this place if you don't want to! We plonked ourselves down in the restaurant, ordered our usual mango and lemon shakes and waited for Jasmin and Todd to come back from diving.
The second that the long boats got in, Jasmin was flying across the sand to say hello and then Toddy, in his usual suave manner, sauntered over ready to give us some cuddles and man love. It was great to see them after a few months of being mostly alone and we caught up over
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
At this point in time I don't know where to go with this blog - we spent the next 5 weeks in Koh Tao, diving, catching up with friends and partying pretty hard. We met some awesome people and had some incredible experiences, which I will try to cut down into a blog sized account.
Todd was staying at a block of apartments halfway between 2 towns on the island called Tommy's (hereafter christened Toddy's Apartments). Considering Todd and 3 other guys from Cairns Dive Centre were all staying there, we decided to move in as well. At 9000 baht for the month it was a little expensive compared to what else you could get on the island but even then it was $300! We were in, with a one room plus bathroom apartment, with a gorgeous balcony complete with giant wasp's nest. Even though we were to get a scooter (also thanks to Todd's assistance) we figured we'd save a little driving around by all staying in one place. It was only a 15 minute walk from Big Blue too.
Incidentally when we looked at the place, the manager (aptly named Cool), said that the
Back At Sammy's
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
wasps didn't sting. This was not true and after I got stung, my finger blew up to double its size and it wasn't much fun for 2 days. But the happier wildlife was a gecko who presented himself at 4am when we got home from a night out. And he wasn't big, he was giant! When he backflipped onto the bench in the bathroom we both almost had heart failure, but after this rude first introduction we were always glad to see him around. Although his bark wasn't the subtle chirp of the QLD geckos - it was really more of a bark. He would puff himself up for about thirty seconds and then scare away the neighbourhood dogs.
Food on Koh Tao was great - cheap and cheerful, there were a few places that became our faves. Although we ate at Big Blue a lot (proximity), the food there was really nothing to rave about. As with every place that was on the water, prices were double what you could get 5 minutes walk away. Among these were Tik's and the infamous chicken lady, down towards the other end of town. Tik's was cheap - really cheap. A
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
curry set you back about $3 and rice or noodle dishes a mere $2 and they were really good! The chicken lady on the other hand is an institution. Selling bits of marinated chicken for a dollar or so was one of the best hangover cures on the island. For the fancier nights out there was Fizz, right next door to Big Blue and on the water - a bean bag laden restaurant that served some mean noodles and various Thai dishes for really good prices. And their white wine is one of the better ones on the island. Critical when you can't stomach any more beer!
The first couple of weeks in Koh Tao were a blur of partying, being consequently hungover and trying to adjust to the heat and mozzies again. Koh Tao seems to be the 'other Cairns' where loads of people from Cairns seem to end up. There were heaps of instructors and DMs we used to work with. In the end, it felt like we were coming home. Old friends and new were just another reason to go to the pub. There is always someone leaving (Dane/Todd), arriving (Haslam/Ricky), having birthdays (loads of people
including Nemo) and passing courses (Jasmin/Andy). All perfectly good reasons to finish up at 4am at Lotus Bar... again...
The partying on this island is a force to be reckoned with - be warned. We somehow managed to come away relatively unscathed, and I mean relatively. Nemo busted open his toe one night and fell asleep on the beach another night after bogging the scooter in the sand and deciding it was all too hard. I had my run in with the wasps at that particular time. But some of the other guys had some real escapades that I'm still not sure how they survived. Ricky managed a 4m flip over the staircase at Toddy's and landed on concrete unhurt only to step on broken glass later and cut his toe open and needing stitches. Andy's stories are endless, but include a 2m drop off the rafters at Lotus straight onto his head and shoulders... unhurt (how?) and met with rounds of applause. Everyone came off their scooters at one point or another and had the scars to prove it. Memories, standards and any remaining virtues are lost on this island, but it sure is fun!
Chris Haslam arrived, Jasmin was about to start her SSI Instructor course. Nemo had arranged to sit in on the course and Haslam decided to jump in too. Thankfully Jasmin's instructor (SSImon) was generous enough to welcome them both aboard as well as both of their vastly different teaching styles. So on and off for 2 weeks (and much to Jas' chagrin) the instructor course took up most of Nemo's time. On the up side it kept him semi-sober and gave him a great chance to freshen up some of his knowledge and skills and also see how someone not from the school of Beast teaches.
It was awesome to get back into diving - not just diving itself but being surrounded by people who walked and talked underwater. Some of the egos were a little much, but guess that just comes with the turf. On top of the instructor course, Nemo and I did some local fun dives. Even though we were apparently there during perfect season, we didn't see any whale sharks and were faced with very average visibility most of the time. Overall, it was great to be blowing bubbles, but Koh Tao's diving was nothing
Maenam, Koh Samui, Thailand
to blog about. Nemo upped the stakes a bit by jumping aboard with Big Blue's tech guys. They have a pretty extensive operation which is headed up by Canada and his sergeants Cav, Ash and Tomas.
Nemo did some refresher work to polish some of the skills he'd learned in Phuket last year and had a brilliant time with the tech crew. The echoes of their Spartan cries of “AGGHOO! AGHOOO! AGHOOO!” were heard all over the island and they do a great job in getting people involved in the latest and greatest crazes in diving. Nemo was having such a great time of it that he decided to spend his birthday doing a full day trip to Sail Rock and 3 tech dives with Ash. On one of his dives, Ash presented him with a birthday lollipop and there was even cake for the Fish when he got back on board. Happy Birthday indeed! Ash is such a champ.
This was fortunate as when Nemo finally got back to land he found out that I had eaten something bad at Big Blue the day before and was sick as a dog with Thai Tummy and needed nursing.
Bo Phut, Koh Samui, Thailand
A bit of an anticlimax sadly, but he had joined in on Emily and Andy's birthday bash a couple of days beforehand and had a big party, so I didn't feel quite as guilty as I otherwise might have.
Apart from the birthday party, it seemed like we'd stumbled on Koh Tao at its finest with a bunch of festivals on while we were there. There was the Koh Tao Festival - a massive local festival that is very environmentally focussed and has loads of local charities and restaurants with stalls. It also has a talent show with all the dive shops putting on performances. Big Blue's Thriller dance will live on in the memory banks for a while yet.
The festival went on for 3 days and was an absolute riot. Buckets, food and dancing were standard and a merry time was had by all. The festival also includes a release of young turtles into the wild. As part of the environmental theme, Koh Tao has put together an underwater buoyancy world for people to practice their buoyancy (and thereby preserve coral) and a bunch of the dive shops put together animals underwater as a part of
Taxi! Hang On!
Koh Tao, Thailand
the plan. Big Blue had to assemble a 3 piece giant metal gecko and Nemo and I happily joined in to help the team out. Sadly we only managed to get the head on and I wonder if the tail has been attached yet.
There was also a fashion show held at Ban's where a local swimwear designer had a load of girls and a couple of lads showing some of her designs. As a couple of our friends were models for the night, I went down to watch and it was brilliant! The bikinis, the hair, the make-up were all fantastic.
When I say that there were a lot of ex-CDC people there, I'm really not kidding. We knew Todd and Jas were there, but then Haslam and Ricky showed up and it was a little reunion. When we first got there Erik and Dane were about (though Dane left a couple of weeks later) and it was awesome catching up with those two lads for the first time in 5 ½ years. We also met a whole bunch of people who were at CDC after our days including Andy who lived downstairs and who we ended
up becoming mates with and still are. This kid parties harder than almost anyone I know but he was a really great buddy and we'll definitely stay in touch. He took us on the most awesome snorkelling trip to Shark Bay where were in the water with heaps of juvenile black tip reef sharks.
Dennis and Helen were two other ex-CDC-made instructors and needless to say we got pretty tight with them both. So wish that Helen had been there back in those days, we would have ripped Cairns to shreds! Still, hangover days at her place were just... perfect...
We also made friends with quite a few of the Big Blue gang, and especially with Christine, an awesome Canadian girl who was doing her divemaster trainee ship over there. She's a gem and I hope that she'll be coming to our neck of the woods soon... Hint hint!
As an Aussie, our visa-free time in Thailand is only 30 days, whereas we were staying about 42. As a result we got to become a part of the great tradition of visa runs. There are dozens of different ways you can do this, but the easiest was
to pay 600 baht each ($20) and do a fully booked run. The run included jumping on the morning boat to Chumporn where we got picked up by a mini bus. The bus drives for a couple of hours (at breakneck speed) to the other side of Thailand to an immigration centre, where we handed in our passports to get stamped out of the country. Everything is so easy and the guys who drive you hold your hand through the whole process. After the immigration office, we jumped on a boat that took us out to Andaman Resort - an island resort that is technically in Myanmar. When we arrived at the resort, we just handed over our passports and headed up to the resort for an hour while our paperwork was done. A quick sandwich later, it was back down to the ferry, picking up passports on the way and back to Thailand. Easy! At the immigration office we were given another 15 days on our stay and thus armed we jumped back in the mini van and headed back to Chumporn.
We arrived in Chumporn at about 7pm and our ferry wasn't until 11pm so we had
a few hours to kill. Apart from the necessary beer and food, I went for a wander around some markets and picked up some cute baby clothes for the bubs back home. A lime green hawaiian suit caught my eye and I just had to have it. For Louis, not for me!
And finally a taxi came to pick up all of the visa runners from the Farang Bar and took us to the night ferry. And this, my friends was the part we weren't ready for. Essentially the night ferry was a giant rusted boat, that had certainly seen better days. We climbed through all sorts of awkward debris and went upstairs to where the sleeping quarters were. By sleeping quarters I mean 2 racks of inch thin mattresses where we were all to sleep essentially spooning each other. Not just Nemo and I - everyone on the boat! It was loud, rickety and brilliant fun! We managed a couple of hours sleep each before arriving back in Koh Tao having enjoyed the adventure but ready for a nap.
The second night ferry we caught was at the end of the trip. Our last day in Koh
Tao was the 13th of April which happened to also be Songkran: the new years water festival. This was hands down, absolutely the greatest festival I'd ever been to. Every street was lined with the usually demure Thais throwing buckets of water, squirting water pistols and rubbing a chalk paste on everyone that went by. We had our water gun (just one... long story) and thus armed we set forth with iced water (I'd prepared the night before) ready to wreak havoc. The whole island had started drinking at about 11am, but knowing that we had to be on the 9pm ferry out of Koh Tao we stuck with a couple of beers. At 8pm we were very glad we had as everyone was messy. Still, the festival itself was brilliant - all barriers broken down and a great deal of love on the island.
We quit the party at about 6pm and headed back to Toddy's Apartments, packed our stuff, paid Cool for our electricity and water and waited for our taxi to the pier. When the cab finally picked us up, our fellow travellers were smashed and we were concerned that one guy in particular might chuck
all over our bags. Eek! But they didn't and so we boarded this much nicer night ferry to Surat Thani, spooned with all the farang on one side of the boat while the Thais all spooned on the other side and slept until 5am.
That morning we got on our last bus to Phuket - a long and uneventful journey that was meant to be on a VIP bus but ended up being on a very squishy coach bus that deposited us on a highway near the airport. We had to get a cab to the airport, where we put our bags in storage while we headed into Phuket Town for some last minute shopping and food. When we got back we checked in, did our duty free shopping (weren't allowed to buy booze, huh?) and chilled in the lounge while we waited to board our final flight back home.
Nine hours later we landed in Sydney... travels over. Back to the real world.
Still another couple of blogs to go - one is still missing from Italy which Nemo assures me he is working on, and a last farewell blog that I will start on shortly.
Fish For Dinner?
Koh Tao, Thailand
Stay tuned readers, not much longer now!
There are more photos below