Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Beach hopping in Koh Pha Ngan

Handily enough for me, the area of Bangkok I was staying in has a lots of small minivans which scoot off to different areas of Thailand. So from Victory Monument I was able to get a minivan to Hua Hin. It filled up in just 5-10 minutes and we were off… into the Bangkok traffic jams. After clearing a short distance, we turned off into a toll road and things picked up speed as the van hurtled south. A few hours later we stopped briefly at Chaam, before continuing on. Here the landscape is dotted with highrise condo blocks every couple of hundred metres down the beachfront to Hua Hin and beyond.

As I had left most of my stuff in Bangkok it was easy just to walk around with a small bag and check out rooms, eventually after asking a guesthouse for a room, they gave me a small Thai style apartment room in a ten room building. Across the road from old style wooden houses with fish drying on sticks. However also lots of building work on this small lane, more concrete condos popping up, I suspect the wooden houses will soon be disappearing.

That night I headed down to the nearby seafront restaurants, picking one I headed out to the edge of the wooden deck, where you could see some ships all lit up, presumably cruise ships, as well as the booming bright lights of the squid ships. I went for the seabass which has encrusted in salted and barbequed, it was delicious! After that I had a look around town and found some live music in an Irish bar. A few people were engrossed in watching the cricket for some reason, maybe it wasn’t a draw.

The next day I scoured around for some brekky and located a place selling bacon baguettes! However the bread was very chewy and I had a sore jaw at the end. A long walk along the beach eventually I popped back on to the road and into the mall. I was looking to pick up some new headphones, as mine were dead. I think I had another pair in my bag in Bangkok so I wanted a cheap pair to use for a week, however most of the headphones in the mall cost more than my MP3 player. Later I had a nosy around a large 7/11 and found some headphones, in fact the cheapest ones came with a radio. I headed over to Doi Tung where I had a tasty passion fruit slushy, but drank it a bit quick and got the dreaded brain freeze. Stay very still!

The previous day I had picked up a ticket to Koh Pah Ngan, so it was an early start, get the bus at the clock tower in Hua Hin, and then down to near Chumpon and a boat across to the island. This all takes a while and about 9 hours later I landed at Tong Sala on Koh Pah Ngan, after being stuck in a seat all day I was keen to stretch my legs and so started walking, I didn’t have an accommodation planned, so I thought I would likely see something that took my fancy. After a while not much jumping out, I eventually ended up walking all the way to Haad Rin on the other side of the island! Up and down some big hills, too. I grabbed a room and got some food, but the walk had tired me out. Had a look about, not full moon time, but still very quiet only a couple of souls in the Corner place, a few years ago when I was here it was packed, still no doubt in a couple of weeks when the full moon party swings into town things will be jumping again.

I ended up flagging down a songtaew back to Tong Sala for a 100 baht, and then another 100 baht songtaew took me up to Haad Yaaw (Long Beach). This is a decent beach, not too developed (yet!). The middle section has yet to have a resort on it, and you can see that nobody cleans that section, with a lot of driftwood, coconuts etc, unlike out the front of the other guesthouses/resorts. I read my book and drink banana lassis :) There is a bit of nightlife here with some music at night but not crazy like Haad Rin.

Next I walked north over to the next beach, Ao Mae Haad. I find a small bungalow on stilts close to the beach. A small island, Koh Ma, is connected to the mainland by an isthmus of sand, at high tide it becomes an island (just) with shallow waves coming in from both sides. Lots of construction going on here, with new bungalow sprouting up, and smoky rubbish being burnt, and buzzsaws sounding. Still down on the beach I got a massage on a platform and the only sound was the lapping of the waves, yep life if hard.

My next stop was a stroll over to Chaloklum, a long crescent of sand with a small Thai village and some fishing boats. I find a room at Rose Villa, where a Thamasat-based researcher is checking out the rooms, he was off next to Iceland, I suspect he may be in for a shock with the temperatures! I went out for a stroll and ended up at the Malibu resort, here they had beautiful sand with a few coconut trees for shade, very nice maybe I should have stayed here! I had a refreshing lemonade and then a paddle along the edge back into town, where the beach isn’t quite so nice, especially as you start approaching all the fishing ships. At night time I headed out for some grub selecting a restaurant called Aunjui. A beachside balcony seat allowed me to peer down and see the crabs running around at night, skirting the water’s edge. For something different I opted for tuna, however I forgot it was a lot meatier than something like snapper and struggled to eat it, as I had a whole fish. Strangely enough a lot of the time fish can be bought cheaper in Bangkok, maybe that is just the restaurateurs adding a huge markup!

A steep walk East brought me to my next stop, Haad Chom (Coral Bay). I got a bungalow right at the end of the beach, where I could hear the waves splash at night (well if my fan wasn’t cranked up full, I would have heard them :) Still a nice sea breeze, and a very comfy hammock for reading my book. I wanted to do some snorkeling here, and so grabbed a life jacket, snorkel and mask and headed into the blue yonder. The active corals are quite far out, maybe 50-100m. The water can be shallow depending on the tides, but all the coral here seemed dead, until you move out. Then the good stuff begins! I went out a couple of times, very nice fish and corals to be seen. Decent visibility but I wasn’t that keen on going out much further, I like to stick close to shore! I slowly made my way back to shore the second time, seemed hard going sometime you’re not sure if you’re moving much, kinda hard work. (Probably would be easier if I could swim instead of just splashing my legs and arm around and hoping for the best, of course!) After all that hard work I retreated to my hammock to listen to some music, and slap some aftersun on the back of my neck.

At dusk I went for a walk up the hill, beautiful mountainous green forest inland, looks like the kinda place where King Kong would live. A huge looking bird of prey with a white underside and a black top, lazily glided over the thermals, even from a distance it looked the kind of thing to keep the local stray dog population under control! Apparently there is a path to my next destination, but I don’t even see the start of it. Would be a tough hike, I decided to take the boat! A couple of French woman confirmed my decision they had been staying here for a week, and had tried to find the path with no success and they too opted for the boat.

After waiting for an hour for the tide to rise enough for the boat to be able to leave, the longtail sputtered along delivering us to Haad Kuat (Bottle Beach), a fairly small but very nice crescent of fine white sand backed by forest, possibly the nicest beach on Koh Pah Ngan. I found a tidy little garden bungalow, a little set back from the beach. Unfortunately a nearby river is stagnant and a bit smelly. Nosing around I spotted a house up top, maybe 200m above sea level, a lot of stairs anyway. Up there say a guy tapping away on his laptop, above a glorious view. Said he was a divemaster been out here for six months, the building was his friends house whom he was renting it from. Great views, but not sure about that climb, everytime you need something!

Back at the bungalow I decided to have a shave. The sink had a plug, but the metal into which said plug is inserted isn’t firmly attached to the sink, so not much use! Power here goes off between 16:30-19:00, maybe to give the generators a rest. I have a red snapper for dinner, quite busy with people watching a movie. Chatting with some of the staff, one is from Isaan (North-East Thailand), kinda far away from there, seems a bit crazy, the kinda of person that doesn’t realize that they are dancing, not walking :)

The next day I continue on I thought I was getting a taxi boat, but it turned out to be a 4x4. There is a red dirt road linking Haad Kuat with the rest of the island, and my next port of call, Tong Nai Pan, which has two beaches, Yay (Big) and Noi (Small). For no particular reason I opted for Tong Nai Pan Yay. This is like a cove, very little in the way of waves, like Lake Placid! Not much in the way of a village, just a handle of small shops, restaurants and a couple of bars back from the beach. The beach is fairly long, when you walk from end to end. I realised I could juggle sand, by scrunching up a ball, draining the water and leaving them in the sun for a couple of minutes, instant juggling balls! The only downside is that sometime they disintegrate mid-air :)

I decided to walk over to the other beach Tong Nai Pan Noi, but grab some lunch first. A sandwich shop had caught my eye on the way in. Walking in the German owner was lounging around listening to Reggae. Had been here ten years, I had a large baguette, and a browse through his English book selection. I picked up “The Insult” after about ten minutes of reading I decided I had indeed read if before.

Continuing up the steep hill, then down into TNPN. The road in has some advertisement for restaurants, things are a more upmarket here. Signs for wine bars and tapas. A bit different from the usual backpacker haunts. I had dinner here in a very swish restaurant with a big open kitchen, after sitting down at a beachside table, then they whipped the other tables away and everybody else went inside, still I had a nice view! I was going to go for a fish dish, but the waiter informed me that was a starter, when I though it was a main. I changed to a Thai duck dish. Pretty tasty it was too, not so spicy. Nice setting, but pretty pricy compared to my usual fare, over 10 quid for dinner (outrageous! :)

There was some sort of party at another restaurant where they were going to have some fire dancing, but I still had to navigate the path back to the other beach, so I gave it a skip. Luckily enough the half moon, had enough light to guide my back, except for when a motorbike shines their light in your face, I could see okay.

The day after it was back to Tong Sala in a bumpy songtaew ride along the dirt roads. I arrived fairly early, I was undecided whether to spend a night here, or head over to Chumpon. Eventually I went for the boat, and spending the night in Chumphon to break up the ride a bit. Turns out the pier in Chumpon, is more like 30 minutes outside Chumpon. Still I arrived in town, and spotted a new looking hotel out the bus window as we rolled into town. I head over but it was fully booked out by a business group, who were yet to arrive, all the keys laid on the desk. Still the had another room in the older wing that was okay. I had been through here years ago on my bike, but couldn’t really remember it. Again I would be leaving in the morning.

The next morning I woke early and headed to the train station to check out the times of the trains going North. I really should have done this the night before as I just missed one, and there basically wasn’t any more for the next 6 hours. I asked the hotel reception is I could get a minivan to Hua Hin, the said try this road, so I went there but didn’t see much, asking a local he wasn’t sure. I continued looking, then the local guy turned up again with his motorbike and dropped my back at a guesthouse (about 50m away from where I originally stayed) They had a bus in an hour going to Hua Hin. The guesthouse people got me a ticket and a “free” taxi to the bus stop (free in that I paid 100baht more for my ticket than the other people at the bus station!)

Anyway the bus rolled up and we chundered along the highway, stopped in various little places. After 3-4 hours I had to get off to change bus at Pranburi (turns out it wasn’t a direct bus, something the ticket seller neglected to mention). After twenty minutes a minibus started off to Hua Hin and we plodded along for another 30 minutes or so. Anyway I arrived and set of for the same room that was full but got another place. I again opted for the seabass as it was so tasty! The next day another minivan whizzed me back to Victory Monument where I picked up my bag and stayed a night, before flying into Vientiane in Laos to pick up a new Thai visa.