Monday, March 19, 2012

Just Another Day in Paradise

Our hotel was up at the top, right about where the road ends.
After leaving Bangkok, we took a minibus about 2 or 3 hours outside of Bangkok to Rangoon, where we got a ferry to Koh Samed island. Koh Samed is one of a group of about five small islands to the southeast of Bangkok. I decided on Koh Samed island for two reasons. First, it is close to Bangkok, which was important because we didn't have very much time in the country. Second, it wasn't Pattaya. There's nothing really wrong with Pattaya, and it's definitely the most well-known beach/tourist location in Thailand. But I didn't want a big, party scene. I wanted a beautiful, scenic island where I could relax with my parents. Plus, I read a lot (and I mean a lot) of reviews about how seedy Pattaya is. Koh Samed seemed like the perfect place, and it was.

We got to Rangoon and had to wait about an hour for the next ferry. We dropped our luggage off and went for lunch at a little pub next door that had open seating. The ferry ended up being a little bit of a disaster. We got there right on time, which was clearly a mistake. It didn't leave for almost an hour. We were sitting in the heat on a boat for almost an hour while they loaded things, and people kept showing up. It was jammed full of tourists and people coming back from grocery shopping on the mainland. I had the misfortune of choosing a seat that was only partly under the canopy cover. I thought this would be perfect, because I could see the water and lean out to get a breeze during the 30 minute ride. I ended up getting a lovely bright red sunburn on only one side of my body.

We weren't exactly happy campers when we pulled up to the island and found that we would all have to unload our suitcases ourselves from a rocking boat onto the dock. My mood picked up, though, when I saw the taxis. They were lime green pick up trucks with benches in the bed in the back that you sat on. The ride was awesome. I was a little nervous because our truck seemed to be taking us away from the main part of the town, but our resort was beautiful. It was almost at the farthest north point of the island, right where the road stopped. The main lobby was an open bar/restaurant right on the beach, with a few seats to tan. On the left were the cabins and suites for guests, and a pool. We had a two bedroom suite, plus we could leave the air conditioning on when we left - a definite upgrade from Bangkok!

After dropping our bags off, we took a cab bag down to the main beach so we could walk around and see what there was to do. Although there wasn't a private beach, the main beach was just as quiet, if not more so, than any private beach that I've been to. It was beautiful. The colors in my pictures look unreal. The sand was soft. The beach was absolutely beautiful. Even more important, it wasn't crowded at all. The restaurants were right on the beach, and at night, they would bring out tables and benches with umbrellas. We walked all the way down to the end of the beach, until we found a little bar at the end. We decided to stop there for a drink, since it was already mid-afternoon. They had buckets of drinks there, and we ended up splitting a few buckets of mai tais. While we were there, the bartender told dad that he wanted to be his son. That bar ended up being the place that we came a lot, because this guy was absolutely hilarious. He only spoke a little bit of English, and most of it was to be able to tell jokes. He was awesome.

After our drinks, we walked back into town to look around a little bit. We stumbled upon a massage parlor that was advertising massages for about $6/hour. We went in and got Thai massages. They were absolutely amazing, even better than the ones we got in Beijing. We ended going back again the next night. I was pretty burnt the next day, so I just got a foot massage and pedicure, but that was heavenly as well.

Fully relaxed from our massage, we headed back to the beach for dinner. We sat out at one of the benches in the sand. The food was great, but what was even more interesting was the show. There were people walking up and down the beach, selling things. The first thing I got to do was light one of those lanterns that you send up in the sky. A guy was walking up and down the beach, letting people buy them and send them up in the air. The pictures we got were really blurry, but it was still really neat.

Next, we noticed a group of three boys. They were doing a show with fire batons. We saw them down the beach from us, but after their show there, they walked up right by our restaurant to repeat it. They were probably there for at least 30 minutes, just playing with fire on the beach. They had batons, a few hula hoops, and other props that they dipped in gas and then lit on fire to do their show. It was absolutely amazing. These kids couldn't have been older than 10 or 12.

My camera is old, and can't really take pictures at night, but I was able to get a few videos of them. The videos are much cooler than any description I could offer. I uploaded them at my picture website,

Again, for some reason, this blog won't let me upload pictures or videos any longer.

The next day, we got up early to go into town and rent motorbikes for the day. We got two bikes for the next 24 hours, which coincided almost perfectly with the start time of the boat tour we were taking the next day.

We wanted to see the entire island, since it was so small, and the motorbikes were really cheap to rent. We figured this would be the best (and most fun!) way to see as much of the island as possible. All we had to do was give him our licenses. He showed us how to turn the bikes on, and then off we could go!

I think I've been on a motorcycle a total of five times in my life, and not a single one of those times was I actually driving it.

We decided that we would go north first, to see what was up past our hotel. To do this, we had to turn around. We took off down the narrow, crowded streets of town. It is only by the grace of God that I didn't kill myself or another person. As we took a little side road to help us turn around and head back toward the hotel, I had a terrifying realization: I had absolutely no idea how to turn. If I leaned too much, I felt like I was falling, so I kept going slower and slower to turn. That didn't help matters at all, and as I learned later, it actually helps to have speed when turning a corner. Then, as I felt like I was falling, I would grip the handlebars tighter. This also didn't help, as I kept gripping the gas and speeding up. As I sped up, I clutched onto them even harder. I missed running into a barbed wire fence by about two inches. Again, it was only by the grace of God that I survived that first turn.

Somehow, someway, I made it back through town and up to our hotel. It was there, where there was hardly any traffic, that I told my dad I was going to need some lessons before we actually took off, or it was about 95% certain that we would be spending the rest of our vacation in a hospital in Thailand.

Dad took me on the back of his bike to practice riding up and down the street. We only had two bikes - I had one and then dad drove another with mom on the back. I definitely felt more comfortable and confident after feeling how he drove it and how to move with the bike. We also changed bikes, because I think mine had more weight on the front and was harder to turn.

We found out then that the road didn't continue past our hotel and we'd have to go back down to the south of the island. Riding down through town was fine, until we got to the beach. All of the roads from our hotel down to the beach were paved, which was perfectly fine. Then, the roads turned to dirt roads. This would have been fine as well, except it had rained earlier that morning. The roads were full of ruts and potholes, and therefore, massive puddles. I actually had a lot of fun riding on these roads, because it was kind of like off-roading, and I got to splash through muddy puddles on my bike. These roads were fine, until we started to get further south on the island, and all of the roads turned into massive hills. These hills were terrifying, and we finally had to stop on one because I almost had a huge wipeout.

My problem was that I didn't allow enough room between dad's bike and mine. I could have made it up if I had enough momentum. This hill was HUGE. Dad and mom took off ahead of me, and I followed in their path. About 2/3 of the way up, dad started to lose speed. He couldn't finish making it up the hill with two people on his bike (this was how steep it was). He stopped abruptly, which made me stop. Then, my problem was that I didn't have enough weight on my bike to keep the top of it from falling back down. I felt the front starting to come back, and thankfully had enough sense to just leap off the bike and to the side. I had about two seconds to do that before the bike came crashing down. I half caught it, mostly with my ankle, so it didn't crash all the way down the hill. It would have sucked to pay for a broken motorbike. Anyway, after that, we decided that it was in our best interest to head back up to the beaches. This was all the way into the afternoon, after we had already spent at least 5 hours on the bikes, and were probably pretty far south anyway. We knew we'd just have to go up it again once we did get to the other side, so it was probably good that we headed back when we did.

Anyway, before our near-accident, we had an awesome day. All down the road running south were a bunch of side roads that led to small resorts and beaches. We rode along some of those roads, and stopped at quite a few of the smaller beaches to have a drink or to sit by the beach. The weather was perfect, and there was always a breeze so it wasn't terribly hot. We rode our bikes for most of the day, then we went and got massages again, and had dinner on the beach. We had a few drinks and then went back to the hotel.

The next morning, we got up to return the bikes in town and wait for our boat tour to start. Our boat tour was from 10am-5pm and went to a bunch of the surrounding islands. We were on a speed boat with about 15 other people, which was a little bit scary at first. Once we got going, though, it was beautiful. We made four different stops, I think. The first stop was at a beach, where we got snorkels and a few hours to look around. We had lunch on that first island. After that, we went around to a couple other beaches. Then, we stopped by a reef where we could get out of the boat with the snorkels and swim around, which was really beautiful. The last stop on our boat tour was this place where they kept a bunch of different types of fish, turtles, and sharks. This was one of my favorite places. They had each one in a net partition, with floating barrels surrounding it. Across the barrels were planks of wood to walk on, and you could walk up and down and just look at the sharks RIGHT THERE next to you. It was so awesome. I was just zooming up and down the planks, trying to find all of the sharks to get pictures. The planks weren't very sturdy, so a lot of people were just standing around or just walking very slowly. I think that the men who worked there thought I was hilarious for walking as fast as they were, so a couple of them took me around to help me find the best sharks.

After the tour, we went back to the hotel for a while to clean up and then headed out for dinner. There was a hotel/restaurant down the road that we decided to try because it was within walking distance. We thought the restaurant was just inside the hotel, but once we got there, it was much cooler. We took a little boat that was like a ferry out to the restaurant, which was raised above the water on stilts. Each of the tables were on the ground, and you sat on cushions on the floor. The tables were glass, and the floor was cut out underneath them, so while you ate, your feet were dangling over the water. It was so awesome. Plus, the restaurant was attached to the place with all of the sharks, fish, and other fresh seafood. I had fresh lobster that night, which was absolutely delicious. It was probably the best restaurant we ate at for the entire vacation.

The next morning, we headed out to begin our adventure in Vietnam! for pictures and videos from Thailand.


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