|En route to Surat Thani|
It was dark by the time we pulled in to Surat Thani – exactly what we’d been hoping to avoid. Arriving anywhere new at night is never a great idea as transport options are fewer, theft risks greater, and it’s more difficult to work out where you are. The hotel had advised us that a taxi should be about 150 baht, and I had read online that there was a taxi stand with a list of prices – but that kind of list is not much help when it’s written in a script that you can’t read! Most of the places on the list were about 150 baht but…two farang with luggage stuck at the station after the buses have stopped? That’ll be 300 baht please. We got him to 250, but that was it. The stupid thing was that during the journey he enquired about our plans and offered a trip to the airport for a very reasonable 300 – if he wasn’t ripping us off for the current trip we would have taken his card and used him both for the airport trip and to get to the Lomprayah office, so he would have made much more than he did from the only journey we were going to make with him. We experienced this kind of short term thinking quite a bit in Thailand – it was as though either they didn’t think that farang knew when they were being overcharged (us all being so fabulously wealthly, in their minds), or that if we knew we wouldn’t resent the attempt and would happily still do business with them. Perhaps that’s how a Thai would react.
|The train – smart but hot|
The room at My Place Hotel was a bit cramped but comfortable enough but the hotel had no restaurant and it was getting late, so we dumped our bags and went straight out to scope the neighbourhood – we at least knew there was a Pizza Company down the road, and since we’d seen nowhere else by the time we reached it, that’s where we ate. There was a night market which we explored after dinner, but the offerings looked far less hygienic than those at Hua Hin’s night market and I was glad we’d wimped out with pasta.
We thought we knew where we needed to go the next morning. Lomprayah’s website was useless as it didn’t give the address of the Surat Thani office, but online research had told us it was east of the hospital, not too far from the hotel. However a photocopied not-to-scale map of Surat Thani that I picked up in the hotel lobby showed it way down to the south west of town, and the receptionist confirmed this. Luckily we didn’t have too early a start so after breakfasting in our room on 7/11 croissants, I phoned the office. It turned out that the office we nearly went to closed in April. So then we were faced with the tricky prospect of negotiating a tuk tuk fare without really having a clue how long the journey was. We got one to settle for 150 baht which turned out not to be a bad deal, since we seemed to end up almost back at the railway station before diving off into a maze of minor roads – not the most convenient location for a ferry transfer bus to leave from!
The journey to Donsak pier took about an hour and was interrupted only by the driver stopping at his regular roadside shack to pick up his lunch. Our catamaran was reassuringly large, given that the prospect towards Koh Samui was distinguished by very dark grey clouds and choppy water. Not exactly a tropical idyll. The boarding was very well organised – passengers and their bags wore different coloured stickers depending on their destination, which enabled the crew to ensure that the luggage for each port of call was all stacked in one place. The crossing to Koh Phangnan was supposed to take 1:30, but the rough sea slowed us down and we were about half an hour late arriving at Na Thon. We spent a little while looking for the driver from the hotel who was supposed to be meeting us brfore giving up and taking a taxi, which we shared with a Swiss girl who was also staying at Haad Salad.
|The view from Cookies pool|
I knew that Cookies was built on a hillside, but hadn’t really appreciated ust how steep it was. The taxi dropped us at the top of the hill and I was glad to let hotel staff carry our bags down an implausibly steep driveway. We stopped at the first block that we came to and were shown into a simple but large room with a polished concrete floor and a balcony with a sweeping view of Haad Salad bay, complete with white sand and water that I knew would be turquoise once the sun came out. This was to be our home for 2 weeks, and I was very happy with it.
|Haad Salad bay from our room|
There was a price to be paid for that view though – the climb back to our room from the restaurant, or even worse the beach, was a killer, and it meant planning our movements carefully to avoid unnecessary trips. Not that we moved around much – a walk along the beach and maybe into the village was about as far as we went, so I’m unable to report on any of the rest of Koh Phangan except to say that it’s green and hilly. It also received some of the heviest rain that I’ve ever experienced thanks to the remnants of typhoon Kalmaegi – I was very glad not to be crossing back to the mainland that day.
|Haad Salad village|
Instead we had sunshine and a millpond sea, after which we were directed to a coach and whisked back to Surat Thani, and thankfully we were deposited in the centre of town quite close to our hotel. Luckily, due to our phone’s GPS we knew where we were as tuk tuk drivers were waiting to descend on the arrivals with stories of how far away their hotel was and demands for extortionate fares. At the CBD hotel we bumped into a young Malaysian couple who had been on the coach and had been charged 150 baht for the ride – a journey we had walked in less than 10 minutes.
It turned out that the Malay couple were flying to KL the next day on the same flight as us, so we arranged to share a taxi to the airport. They were a nice couple who travelled regularly, but for some reason had avoided India on the grounds that it was dangerous, and they thought we were ‘very brave’ for going there! We tried to set them straight but they didn’t look convinced.
Surat Thani was surprisingly plush for a Thai regional airport, and apart from a slight confusion over which shuttle bus into Kuala Lumpur we had paid for with our Air Asia tickets (Skybus, not Aerobus), we arrived back at the Hotel Sentral without hiccup and in time to go out for a wander before dinner. Although not every unit was open things had progressed at the Nu Sentral shopping mall since our previous visit. It now boasted several more restaurants and the obligatory mall food court, and we settled on Waroeng Penyet, a kind of Indonesian Little Chef – traditional warung food served in a bright fast-food setting, complete with sweet, coconut-milky, jelly-blob garnished drinks which came with special fat straws.
|Es cendol and es godir – I think I prefer beer!|
We had things to do in KL – the soles of Al’s cheap Bata sandals, bought during our last KL visit, had split, so their replacement with some better quality ones was top priority. I marvel that my Merrells, which were several years old before we even started this trip, are still perfectly sound despite the hammering that they’ve had. Another parcel was sent home, this one containing the mosquito nets that we’ve never used. And another piece of IT kit was bought – a kind of laptop/tablet hybrid. A problem with the laptop disk had materialised – it was still working but Al was concerned, and we rely on it (and its external hard drive) so much for our books, films etc, and for its enhanced-security internet for financial transactions. The tablets just aren’t a substitute. We debated sending the older tablet home as we did have a problem with the battery at one point, but in the end decided not to due to the prospect of very long power cuts in Kathmandu which might make recharging difficult. So we now have two laptops and two tablets, which does seem a bit excessive. With only 3 days for shopping, downloading software, posting, a laundrette visit, and using the good internet (lacking on Koh Phangan) for making onward travel arrangements, we never ventured beyond Brickfields until the time came to catch the bus back to the airport. But I’ve decided I like KL – I could live there I think. It’s not terribly scenic or atmospheric, but it’s functional, it’s cheap, English is very widely spoken, it feels fairly safe even in down-at-heel Brickfields, and there’s no hassle to buy stuff – people are polite and helpful without the insincere auto-smiles and almost visible £££ thought bubbles that appeared so often in Thailand and occasionally in Bali. A white foreigner is of no special interest to KL residents, which is just how it should be. If only they could sort out the traffic jams…