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Published: March 26th 2014
After briefly touring northwestern Thailand, I opted out of 24 hours of bus/train/ferry travel and instead burned some Chase points on a surprisingly expensive direct Bangkok Air flight from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui, in the Gulf of Thailand on the East side of Thailand's skinny southern leg. “Koh” (sometimes Ko) means “island” in Thai, and Samui was one of the earlier expat vacation spots in Thailand, with things getting rolling there in the 1970s, and it now having surpassed Phuket as having Thailand's most resorts, outside of Bangkok. Phangan is a quick ferry ride to the north of Samui, but is less developed, with things only getting started there in the 1980s. It's now well-known for the full-moon parties (and now also half- and new-moon parties) that attract 10s of thousands. Koh Tao, with its famously clear waters and good dive sites became a Scuba hotspot in the 1990s.
While Samui apparently has all types of scenes available, from isolated beaches to party-hardy Chaweng beach, I didn't really do it justice as I stuck with a hostel in the thick of things in Chaweng during my 3 nights there. Chaweng kind of resembles Waikiki in Hawaii, but
with more over-the-top nightlife. It should be really fun if you are between 18-24 and like to drink a lot, but I wasn't really interested in that. Fortunately, the beach/bay was very nice, although sadly waveless. I took the opportunity to take a windsurfing lesson, and got the basics down without too much problem. I also snagged a few beachside Thai massages.
I timed my trip south to catch a full moon party on Phangan, reviews of which were pretty spectacular. I got to Phangan a day early, and was pleasantly surprised with the island. Probably the main difference compared to Samui was that I didn't stay in party-central (Haad Rin), but was in Thong Sala, which had a pretty cool food market, and good access to the rest of the island. and finally mustered up the chutzpah to rent a scooter in Thailand. Scooting around turned out to be not a big deal, especially since I owned and rode a proper 750cc motorcycle in Santa Barbara for a few months. The drivers here are pretty reasonable, aside from the occasionally reckless tourist. You also really have to keep an eye on the roads as there are
random extremely hazardous potholes. I drove up to the small, cute, Koh Maa connected to Phangan by sandbar, and did some snorkeling around there, which was not the best in the world, but overall beautiful and fun.
After hearing that the full moon party had a bar called Mellow Mountain that sold magic mushroom shakes, I had decided that that sounded like a more interesting time than merely boozing my way through the night. This was a bit of a disappointment, as their shakes turned out to be very weak, and not cheap at $15 a pop. The full moon party was as crazy as cracked up to be, with the giant flaming jump-rope, people having obvious sex in the ocean, and wild dancing all across the long beach. It was entertaining for awhile, but without serious drugs to keep me going, I had had enough and called it a night around 3am. All-in-all good fun, but I don't need to do it again.
I gave myself a day off in Phangan after to recuperate, which I didn't need since I didn’t drink or stay up all night, but just chilled out and took
the ferry the next day to Koh Tao. A lot of full-moon revelers do the same, so my boat was overflowing with them. I was planning to take the open water course, which spans 3.5 days, and then maybe take a few fun dives afterwords. Unfortunately, I got sick on day 1, and had to postpone a day. I was still somewhat sick for the remainder, but not too bad to make it through the relatively non-taxing scuba training. Day 1 we did some classroom education, and learned the equipment and basic skills in a swimming pool. Day 2 was some more classroom stuff, a theory exam, then out to practice the same skills in the ocean, and dive a bit. Day 3 morning was a few deeper dives, down to 16-18m, and then done. I really enjoyed diving, and would recommend where I did it at Big Blue to anyone else wanting to learn (supposedly, Koh Tao is the cheapest place in the world to get certified, and certifies more than any other location). I might have continued with the advanced course, which takes a mere 2 days, teaches you to use dive computers, and certifies you down to
30m, but I was out of time, as my 30-day visa exemption in Thailand was about to expire, and I already had my flight out to Bali (where there is also plentiful diving). So I took a ferry to Chumpohn, then an overnight train back to Bangkok, getting in at 5am, where in my still-diseased, exhausted delirium, I thought saying “airport” to a non-English-speaking taxi driver would be sufficient to get me where I needed to go. But in my ignorance, I didn't consider that Bangkok might have more than one major airport, and I ended up at Don Muang, rather than Suvarnabhumi (BKK) airport, where my flight was out of. Fortunately, I had enough time cushion, and it was still prior to heavy rush hour so I was able to hop on the airport transfer shuttle for the 45 min trek across the city. Let's just pretend I dreamt that detour :D.
So long, Thailand. I didn't do everything I wanted to (such as 28 day meditation retreat at a northern Buddhist monastery, see the other islands of Phuket, Krabi, Phi Phi), but I'll be back, I'm sure. Onwords to Bali!
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