Wednesday 13th: A tale of Axe Murderers & a Ghost Town

Published: January 15th 2010
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We were meant to check-out by 7am to make it to our bus station in time for our transfer to Ao Phang Nga. As usual, we hit the snooze button a few too many times and were running late. With our backpacks weighing us down, and morning traffick to dodge, we ran and got to the bus station just as our mini-bus arrived. We collected loads more passngers along the way. They kept cramming luggage in the back and at one point Ellie's luggage fell off the pile and on to the road. I sat next to a Hungarian guy (who I'd guess was in his mid Fifties) who insisted he ask me 20-questions despite knowing little English. I was impressed that he'd decided to learn the language at such a late age, and admired his commitment when he started studying his translation notes during the journey.
When we crossed the fly-over to Ao Phang Nga, the minibus stopped and the driver loaded me, Ellie & our luggage on to a Pick-up Taxi. Our new driver was called Mr Kean and ran tours around James Bond Island, he was really helpful and took us to a great Guesthouse. It was someone's Mansion, called Phang Nga Inn. All the floors were polished wood and marble, so shiny you could see your reflection. An Air-Con twin room was only 500THB between us. We dumped our bags, threw our bikini's on and asked the owner where she'd reccommend for lunch. She pointed in a direction down the road, but we'd driven through the village and it all seemed fairly remote, so we decided we'd head to the beach and grab a sandwich at a beach bar.
A guy on a moped stopped (as they often do around here - cheap illegal taxis) and looked baffled when we said we wanted to go to the beach. He asked "Pier?". Hmm, well not quite, but maybe thats what they call it round here, so we bartered him down to 80THB and were on our way. Giggling like a pair of school children, we sped down the main road and saw signs for James Bond Island everywhere we looked. James Bond Island is a small island just off Ao Phang Nga where they filmed "Man with the Golden Gun". Our hair flapped in the wind and our skin tingled as the air rushed past us, and when we got off the bike we still vibrated. Ellie joked "I sooo needed that".
So we had arrived at the Pier.
There was no beach.
There were no sandwich bars.
Instead there was a hut offering Longtail boat tours, and a number of guys were waiting around with boards detailing the trips on offer. We were in the middle of nowhere, and our Moped driver was already speaking to the Tour touts telling them what "we" wanted.
With little options available, and no escape route, we resigned ourselves to the fact we were probably going to get ripped off. What the hell - we'd come to Ao Phang Nga to see James Bond Island anyway, and managed to negotiate the trip for 500THB each instead of 600. It meant we had our own private boat, we didn't need to stick to a fixed itinerary, and it didn't cost much more than the tours Mr Kean had discussed with us.
Unfortunatly our Moped driver insisted on joining us on the trip and he sat at our end of the boat staring at our legs and perving the entire journey. Ignoring him, Ellie and I turned to watch the calm water, tall green trees and massive rocks that we passed. It was truly amazing and worth every penny. Ellie said when she goes to work each day and does her everyday tasks, she forgets places like this even exist.
We passed Kae Marjoo (an Island they say is shaped like a dog, although I didn't particularly agree); we passed Kao Khien (an Island we pulled close to, to see the drawings on the rocks that date back over 3,000 years); and we sailed through Tarhm Lod, a large water cave where lots of other tourists were canoeing.
James Bond Island (aka Ko Phing Kan) was lovely, but neither of us have seen the film which is a shame. We looked at the Island full of tourists swarming the beaches and souvenir shops.
The photos I've taken of the Islands and Caves can never do justice to seeing it in real life. I'd always thought sight-seeing was for old Fuddy-Duddy's - something that "comes with age", like the taste of Olives or Stilton. But now I understand. The thriving shrubbery, unspoilt water, and the rocks in varying colours of grey and brown were beautiful.
We stopped at a floating village (on stilts) called Ko Panyi which was built over 200 years ago. We had a pineapple shake in one of the waterfront restaurants, but found the staff moody and unhelpful, so we didn't stop for lunch. The girl in the souvenir shop was rude to Ellie, telling her to look but not touch, and we couldn't help but feel we were an inconvenience to them.
Ko Panyi has a population of 2,000 people - made up of just 4 or 5 families! The community are Muslim so have a Mosque and are called to prayer 5 times a day.
Back in the Longtail boat we continued our journey back to the pier. The occasional Speedboat would fly past, causing big waves making the boat rock up and down like we were popping wheelies.
Our Moped driver said he'd take us back to our Guesthouse (aka The Mansion). We think he had other plans for us, but luckily we spotted he'd taken a wrong turn and asked him to let us off. We weren't too far away so walked through the (deserted) village and stopped for lunch at an empty restaurant on the way. Baffled, we read the guide book - why exactly is it that Ao Phang Nga is a "must see"?? A mistake on our part, we should have read the detail earlier: it raved on about the tours to JB Island but explained you should do this as a daytrip as there "was no reason to stay overnight in the non-descript town of Ao Phang Nga".
Fortunatly we'd only paid for one nights accommodation so decided we'd leave tomorrow to make our way back up north to Kanchanaburi then Chang Mai.
Walking to our Guesthouse, the locals stared at us, evidently not used to seeing tourists. I noticed our room doesn't have a room number unlike the others, and we'd paid so much less than the price list downstairs. The owner had explained the other rooms were all full, but we'd not seen a soul all day. We slept for 4 hours in the afternoon, then woke to the sound of heavy rain, thunder and eery whistling and chanting. I looked out the window on to churned up fields and wondered if thats where they bury the locals... the ones they chop up with an axe after sneaking in to their un-numbered rooms at night.
In the shower I looked at my tan. Both Ellie and I have got quite a nice colour, but were noticing how brown we were in the evening, but by morning we'd returned to a much paler shade. After a flash of inspiration I realised we've been buying our moisturiser here in Thailand, and the label is written in Thai. They use whitener over here to look more like Westeners... we've only been bleaching our skin back to white each evening! Wasted 2.5 weeks of sunbathing. Gutted. I asked the Thai woman downstairs and she confirmed my theory by translating the label.
We read a flyer we'd been given today: Stefan's Pizza Bar. It offered to pick you up and drop you off from your hotel, and fearing this may be the only place for miles with normal civilisation, we called the number and arranged a pick up.
Our Moped driver tried to take us elsewhere (he probably gets commission from Stefan, but would prefer we ate at his families place) but we refused and he took us where we wanted to go. Stefan slurred his words and appeared drunk... either that or he's just as bizarre as everyone else around here. He tried to encourage us to partake in some cocktails but we declined - the last thing we need was to end up pissed in the strangest town on earth.
A South African guy joined us at our table, he was rude and condescending, asking us about where we've been in Thailand, then wrinkling his nose wondering why we wanted to go there. I wanted to answer his thoughts with "because it's nowhere like this place". He seemed unimpressed with my responce to "What do you do for a living?" - when I said I was a PA, he said "Ahh a secretary. So whats the bigger picture? Do you not want to be a nurse saving African babies?". The guy was a first class moron and pissed us off Royally.
My steak was great; Ellie's pizza was disappointing, which was surprising since it claimed to be a Pizza Bar. We paid the bill, drank our water and asked for our lift home. Unfortunately the South African guy had told Stefan he could take us home, but perhaps he'd picked up on the vibes that we weren't keen on him, as he seemed to be on his best behaviour all the way back. Stopping at two 7-Elevens on the way, there were no phoneboxes, which meant no phone calls home.
We walked through the polished Hallway, up the polished stairs, and in to our polished, un-numbered bedroom.

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