Koh Tao!

Paradise!  If you’re wanting clear blue waters, white sand, and activities ranging scuba diving to bouldering on their “mountains” then this is the place for it!  We bought a bus to ferry ticket so we didn’t have to worry about finding an AM bus and stayed at Salsa Hostel in Chumphon. We did a walk in price and paid 200 baht less than what was posted online.  It was seated right next to some delicious places to eat and the hostel had four cats! FOUR! The ferry to Koh Tao takes about three hours. When pulling into the Koh Tao harbor we had the opportunity to glimpse the breathtaking stay we were about to have.  Once we got off the boat and ran away from the taxi drivers we started towards our Airbnb. There are two roads to get you to all of the resorts, definitely take the road that goes along the shore. We ended up taking the long way. Carrying all of our gear, 90 degree weather and going uphill kind of sucked.  We stayed at Nat Resort. It was a laid back place, but if you’re stuck in the back of the resort with just a fan in the room it gets pretty hot. I would recommend staying as close to the beach as possible to get that breeze. We dropped off our belongings and immediately went for a swim. There is a small area of coral reef only about 20 yards from the beach and if you rent snorkeling gear from one of the smaller beer vendors it is pretty cheap.  The beer vendor we rented from costs 50 baht for one hour. There are also puppies that roam the beach to go swimming with you! We came to this location for scuba diving, which we ended up choosing Crystal Dive. There is an “AWARE” program that is eco friendly and sets out to educate people on how to better preserve the environment when you’re out on the water, and what you shouldn’t bring in the water. Crystal Dive is not only one of the most affordable diving places, but it makes it even better when you know it’s with someone working to clean up the oceans.  For our Open Water Certificate, I believe we paid around $300-$330 American dollars. We could have paid extra for their hospitality, which is right next to the facility, but we saved a chunk of change by booking elsewhere through Airbnb. When it comes to our travels, the Coronavirus has been kind of a silver lining. The Chinese population most of the time makes up about 50% of tourists. Due to the virus, all of our destinations have been pretty empty. Usually, the classes are all full at Crystal Dive (6-8) people, but my class was just me and a Canadian. Walter had already done his classroom time in America.  We went through a few hours of videos, took a few tests, then spent the next day in the pool with our scuba gear learning the basics. The next two days the dives began and Walter and a Swedish man joined us. We had an amazing instructor! Dav came to Koh Tao a few years ago from Australia and never left. He has been an instructor ever since. Taking your first breath underwater is quite the experience. We saw so many fish, stingrays, coral reefs, sea slugs, and numerous other entities! After this, we decided we HAVE to get our advanced! With the regular Open Water Diver, you can only dive down 18 meters, with the Advanced you can dive down to 30 meters; which is better since 75% of the world’s dive sites are roughly 30 meters down.  The food here wasn’t anything to brag about. Our favorite place was owned by a Thai lady so we ate there most of the time. We ended up walking to the other end of the island one day where most of the French owned resorts were. They all seemed to be closed down for some reason. We weren’t technically breaking and entering since there wasn’t a sign saying stay out, and the gate was open so we just went on it. These cabanas were pretty awesome. They had steps leading from their front door right into the water. This time around they were definitely out of our price range. I also learned here that the geckos have an ability to scream. Every now and then we would just hear a little scream and wondered wtf was going on or did someone need help…Nope.  Geckos. Unfortunately (kind of), scuba diving took up all of our days. If we had known we were going to love it so much we would have planned to stay a few days longer, but we were scheduled to catch a flight to Nepal. Quick knowledge point! If you go scuba diving you need to wait 12-18 hours before flying due to the nitrogen content in your body! I already miss this place so much. It had some of the best sunrises, sunsets, and waters I’ve ever seen. Who knows, maybe Indonesia will top this.

Phuket/Koh Chang Noi

I think before we even started our adventure, I knew South Thailand was one of the places I was most looking forward to.  I have always loved the ocean ever since the first time I saw it in Florida as a kid. Unfortunately, I was not prepared to be robbed on my way to this paradise destination.  After leaving Chiang Mai, we stayed in Bangkok for two days so Walter could get his tooth fixed. We stayed at Oh Bangkok Hostel near Khao San Road. It was a lovely hostel with beer and kitties located near some stellar street food.  We needed to get from Bangkok to Phuket and the hostel had their own bus services. Something to keep in mind when you’re traveling is if you find something that is way cheaper than the rest of the similar products (like bus lines for instance), there may be a reason it is cheaper.  We have never booked transportation through a hostel before, we have always gone online, which seems to be the safest way to not get scammed. However, we thought we would give it a try. Our first red flag was after we paid in cash, they would not give us a receipt showing that we paid.  They only handed us a piece of paper with Walter’s name on it. When it came time to leave, typically a minivan would take you to the bus station, but instead, a man on a two person scooter showed up and told us he would take us one by one. I went first. He dropped me off at a random curb where three other women were waiting looking just as confused as I was.  Walter showed up ten minutes later. A large bus came to the curb. Typically these buses hold anywhere from 60-100 people and they are ALWAYS full. The man who drove us here took our measly little paper with Walter’s name on it and rode away. The driver immediately asked us for our ticket. Of course we didn’t have one. I already saw how this might go. We told him that the man on the bike kept it and thankfully he let us on.  After driving for about two hours we realized we were going to be the only five people on this bus. Again, super weird and not normal. Aside from our backpacking bags, we carry around a small day bag that has our important stuff like passport, money, computers, my little llama, and this bag NEVER leaves my sight. Another red flag we noticed was that these bus drivers didn’t seem to know how the bus operated, and every now and then along the way they would stop and seemingly visit with friends.  Since this was a night bus, it made things a bit creepier. I think this ride truly showed me how easy it would have been to get caught up in a sex trafficking operation or something similar. We eventually stopped around midnight to eat at a bus stop restaurant. Like usual, I took my small bag with me, bought some snacks, then just headed back to the bus. Once back on the road we all separated into our own row of seats so we could stretch out comfortably. I put my bag on the floor at my feet. Throughout the night I heard the two drivers take turns walking through the aisle to get to the onboard bathroom.  Around 5 am the bus pulled over on the side of an empty street and a man demanded for us to get off. He put us on a mini bus and drove us to a makeshift bus station down the street from a real bus station. A few other travelers there shared their weird stories and we all seemed to agree we thought we were going to be kidnapped somewhere along the way. We finally figured out that the people that had driven us didn’t really work for a bus line. It seems like they maybe bought their own bus and that is why we had to pay cash so it couldn’t be traced. After we arrived at what was definitely a fake bus station we were then picked up by an authentic bus that had extra empty seats.  It was here that again someone demanded for our ticket which we were never given one. We were vigilant in stating that the driver from the last bus kept it we they didn’t make us pay again, but others weren’t so lucky. Some other travelers also were never given a ticket and were forced to pay again. After we boarded the bus we made the last stretch to Phuket. We stopped for lunch and it was there I realized while I was asleep on our overnight bus, someone had taken my little bag, rummaged through it and stole 5000 baht from me (almost $200). I was pretty upset for a while, more so because of the feeling of being violated. I was sleeping away from the three women on the bus so I can only assume when one of the drivers walked by they most likely picked up my bag.  I told Walter this was the last time we were taking a night bus. Moral of the story, don’t put your shit down. If you think you’re going to sleep at all, don’t put it under the seat or in the overhead baggage, just keep it in your lap. I am the one who decided to visit Phuket because so many people had recommended it. That was dumb. There were way too many people there for my liking and everything was hella expensive. Usually a taxi ride that lasts a few kilometers is maybe 100 baht, but here for just one kilometer they were charging 400 baht. Insane. The food was really nothing special. We finally found one good curry place and kind of stuck with that. There were loads of people at the beaches, and to get a boat ride to literally the next bay (maybe half a kilometer) was 1500-2000 baht ($35-$45).  I really would never recommend this city to anyone that is budget traveling. We did find a great rooftop place that sat on the side of a “mountain”. It was Wassa Homemade Bar. We took a taxi to get here. If you talk to the taxi drivers wearing a blue shirt they will definitely give you the best deal. We stayed at Cpak hostel. Veena was super sweet! The rooms were great and had a lot of space! Her bike rental was literally half the price of anyone else we found. After four days here we were ready to get out.

  We at this point are tired of all of the people and overrun beaches and cities.  Walter suggested we try a primitive island. Everyone recommended Koh Phayam, and since it was so highly recommended we decided to NOT go there.  We instead went to its neighbor Koh Chang that no one knew about. The speed boat is cheaper if you buy online, but the bus from Phuket is for sure going to be late so be careful which time you pick.  If you do the morning boat it will drop you off on the beach that you are staying, but if you choose afternoon they will drop you off at the pier and you will have to take a motorbike taxi (150 baht) to get to your destination.  Which was fine because the bike ride across the island was phenomenal. This was by far one of the best experiences we’ve had. We stayed at Mama’s Bungalow on the other side of the island in a bay. There were maybe 10-15 people total staying there.  Everyone was welcoming along with Mama Soi and her family. You never had to leave. Soi and her family cooked every meal (the BEST curry in the south), they had beer, water refills, snorkeling gear for free, free wifi in the common area which made everyone hang out and get to know each other.  There were Great Hornbill birds, hummingbirds, bioluminescent plankton on the beach at night, and so many pups! I would suggest visiting an island like this before it is changed by tourism. You don’t have to worry about people stealing your things, everyone leaves their doors open! I can’t rave enough about this place.  We were sad to leave. Something I always struggle with is no matter how detailed the blog or beautiful the pictures, I’ll never really be able to construe the emotions I hold for these experiences. This time we planned to leave on the first ferry. The boat comes to shore at your bungalow, you waddle out in the water a bit, throw your stuff in and jump in after it.  This post is a bit longer than I planned so I will leave Koh Tao for another blog. There is an Unesco site by Koh Chang, it holds the largest field of Mangroves in the world. We weren’t able to make time for it, but I hear it is beautiful. Not surprising.