LAOS BORDER TOWN ON THE MEKONG
one month has now passed since my last blog from laos, so time for another one. after leaving laos, i crossed by a small boat across the mekong river, to the thai town of chiang khong. from there i took a very slow local bus through the country byways of far northern thailand, to the city of chiang rai, and met up with ekk. spent just one night there, sampling the delights of the local night bazaar. also went to a couple of extremely bad and sorrowful gay bars, the only 2 in town. needless to say only stayed as long as i could drink my drink. it was like going back to what i imagine bangkok was like 20 years ago, ie a few local, not even that good looking, or maybe not even gay, "men", (i use that term loosely), trying their luck at being for rent to any farang desperate enough to have them for a few baht.
so the next morning we made our way to chiang mai, thailand's 2nd city, where we spent a few days enjoying the nightlife, markets and shopping there. though, as sure as night follows day, there were local elections going
on, which in thailand means no alcohol from 6pm the night before, until midnight the night after the election. this means all the bars close for the duration. still, i had a good time there. many people there still remember me when i was having a short lived relationship with my friend chai, back in 2000/2001. he unfortunately died of a heart attack, aged 28, in april 2001....
moving on.... i then took the overnight sleeper train from chiang mai back to bangkok for a few days.
anyway, after a few bangkok nights and all that entails, we made my our by bus to hua hin, ekk's home. we left hua hin by bus to near chumphon, and then took the catermaran to the island of koh tao. we had both been there before in 2004, when we stayed on a remote beach. this time we stayed on the main drag at sairee beach. there is even i ladyboy drag cabaret there now, and it turned out to be almost within the compound of our bungalows! the show was ok, though the songs and routines were rather cliched. the young backpacker/divers crowd seemed to lap it up though.... koh
tao is now a big centre for learning to dive, but there are other things to do. we took a short longtail boat trip out to koh nang yuan, went up to the viewpoint, snorkelled and relaxed around for the day, in beautiful clear sun. this weather was to continue like this for most of the past 3 weeks, which has been surprising, as its meant to be the rainy season! the next day we took a motorbike to explore the island, didnt take long, as there are not that many rideable kms of road of koh tao. still managed to get a puncture, the 1st time that has happened in many years of hiring motorbikes in asia. then we got another one 2 weeks later when we were in khao lak, both times needing a replacement inner tube...
from koh tao, we took an express boat to koh samui in perfectly calm seas. we spent 5 nights on chaweng beach. i'd been there twice recently, but ekk hadnt been since 2004. the day we arrived both the beach bungalow i stayed in at the chaweng garden beach resort, and the fah samui bar, were both in the process
of being demolished, such is the rapid pace of change on samui. the chaweng gardens are building new beach villas and a pool, and all will be completed by december... we took a motorbike here too, visiting some lesser known samui beaches, like Thongson Bay, which we had to ourselves...
after koh samui, we had to run the gauntlet of the surat thani SCAMMING TOUTS to get accoss to the krabi coast by public transport. not recommended, but we were on a tight budget this time. managed only to get ripped off by 200 baht by a women in a travel agents office, who assured us she was THE surat thani bus station. the bus had terminated outside her office, and before we alighted the bus, our bags were stacked by her desk. she sold us two tickets to for the bus to krabi, which conveniently also stopped outside her office, though we never saw them. turned out we could have bought tickets on the bus for 100 baht less per person. obviously the driver of the bus from samui to surat thani was in on the scam as he dropped us at this office, and the krabi bus
THAI NATIONAL FLAG AND THE YELLOW ROYAL FLAG
AT CHIANG MAI DAY MARKET, BUT A VERY COMMON SIGHT THROUGHOUT THAILAND!
crew were in on the scam too, because they never asked us to buy tickets. from that moment on i have become totally wise to scams, even more so than i was before... i think i had become a bit to laid back about the possibility.
having got to krabi town we had to take yet another bus, this time made mostly of wood, to get to ao nang beach. we stayed at green park bungalows, nice enough and cheap enough and in a nice garden, but a little far from the beach via a not very scenic walk. spent just 2 nights, as ao nang is quite expensive to eat, and as it is low season the businesses were desperate for our trade more than usual. at times it felt we wee the only tourists about! we planned to take a boat to chicken island, but as there was no one to share the cost, we stayed at ao nang, being amused by the many beach monkeys at the south east end of the beach... Incidently ao nang beach had the warmest water ive ever swam in, it was like a hot bath, and nearly as calm. it
ANOTHER CHIANG MAI MARKET
THE SUNDAY EVENING MARKET, IN THE OLD TOWN
has been calm for the past 3 weeks, sometimes ive wished for the wind to get up a bit for a cooling breeze, though knowing that would probably also spell rain!
due to low season numbers, there is no 2 hour express boat to phuket island from ao nang from mid may to mid october, so we had to take the bus, which takes considerably longer. as instead of leaving directly from ao nang beach by boat, we had to take the slow local bus north to faraway krabi town bus station (1 hr). then the subsequent bus journey that dumps you in tout ridden phuket town bus station takes at least another 4 hours. then from there its another hot 30 minute walk with packs, to the place where the 25 baht local bus to patong and the other beaches leaves from. so quite a long day faffing day!
spent a good few days at patong, which has the best thai gay scene outside bangkok. very quiet there too, but that was good, as its usually a very crowded beach. the water is still a little murky though, when compared with other thai beaches. took a motobike
here too, visiting places we had never been to before on the island, like beautiful laem singh cove. we arrived there at 5pm just as everyone was leaving (was it us?!). so had to place to ourselves bar a few ubiquitous local dogs! there are cute roaming dogs on EVERY thai beach, not all are strays, as some have collars...
after the excess and late nights of phuket, we journeyed north for 2 hours by bus to khao lak for a bit of quietude. we had both never been there before. i knew it from when we used to sell luxury hotels there when i worked at travelmood. sadly most of then were vaporised by the 2004 tsunami. didnt know what we would find there now, 4 years on. we stayed at green beach bungalows on nang thong beach, one of the 1st places to be rebuilt after the disaster. the bungalows are right on the shore, amongst lush vegetation and trees, and are very well designed and spacious. the owners are very friendly too. the place was near deserted though, meaning the food wasn't too great. the reason so many holidaymakers died at khao lak is because the
resorts are all right on the beach, unlike phuket, where there are very few places you can stay right on the shore. the main beaches have largely been rebuilt, but in between them, there are several kms of savanna and scrubland by the shore, where once stood luxury resorts. it was quite a ghostly experience walking along the shore, with many trees still with faded pictures of lost loved ones still posted on them. the sight of the occasional remains of concrete swimming pools and concrete beach bars, with hotel signs overgrown or hanging off their hinges, made us pause for thought somewhat.....
many people at khao lak have stories to tell. one man was saying how many local thai women lost their lives as they waited for prey in their beach massage huts. we also went to see the large police boat that still sits washed up, over 2kms from the sea, at bang niang.
after khao lak, another bus took us inland to khao sok national park for a couple of nights, another 1st for both of us. it was ok, though the scenery around our bungalow was a bit too much like scotland for me.
BTS SKYTRAIN STATION
SIAM SQUARE, BANGKOK
as for the real tropical rainforest, you had to trek for several hot and steamy kms to even get to it.... got served nice food there though, and it made a change from sun and sea. from there we took the bus to surat thani, from where ekk has just took the overnight train back to bangkok for his tb test results tommorrow. i am staying in surat thani tonight (for my sins!), and will be joining him in bangkok next week, after a few days on my own on koh samui....
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