Friday, January 4, 2013

A Koh Chang New Year

Thursday - We arrived at the train station in Bangkok seriously tired and overwhelmed. Bangkok has so far been our least favorite place in Thailand and we were not looking forward to trying to figure out how to get to this island from there. We had heard that we needed to go to Victory Monument (a large monument in downtown Bangkok) to catch a mini-bus (a van) to the pier where we could then catch the ferry to the island. So we found an information person who was super helpful and told us what bus to catch to get there (Ethan- the taxis were telling us 300 baht and the bus cost us a total of 24 baht!). Once there though, we had no idea what to do. So we just started walking until we saw some people selling bus tickets to other islands and places we had heard of. Luckily, they are not shy about asking where you're going, so we told them and after we, and our money, exchanged hands several times they put us on van supposedly headed for this pier. The trip was not at all comfortable, and longer than expected (5.5 hrs instead of 4), but we did make it to the pier and onto to the ferry headed for our island escape.

View from the cliff our hut sat on
Once on the island we needed to get minutes on Ethan's phone so we could call the place we were staying and let them know we were coming otherwise there was the chance that they would give our hut away. 7/11 wasn't that far away on the map so we decided to walk, but we didn't realize it was going to be so hilly. I was going pretty slow up this hill when this guy had to hop off the back of a motorbike that was going equally slow up the hill. Then he started speaking in Thai to me and laughing and I can only assume he was laughing at me or at the fact that he was too heavy for the motorbike he was on. Anyway, we walked the rest of the hill together - he continued to speak Thai and I just laughed and didn't say anything. It was awkward, but also hilarious because the dude was just wearing shorts and was totally nuts. Eventually we made it to the 7/11 got some minutes and confirmed that they hadn't given our room away. We hopped on a song-taew headed for a city on the very southern part of the island called Bang Bao. The song-taew ride was long and awkward. At first we were alone, but then when we got to the more populated areas we were joined by a family of 8 adults and 4 kids from Sweden who decided to sing every nursery rhyme they could think of the rest of the trip. I was smiling and trying to look as though I was enjoying this impromptu jam session, but really I wanted to throw myself off the nearest cliff (E- We were driving by plenty of them too. I had to hold her back!) It's not that their singing was bad, well it was kind of, but they were singing in Swedish and they were just annoying. The kids were cute, but it was just really weird. Too weird for the amount of sleep I was going on. Anyway, we made it to Bang Bao without killing ourselves or anyone else and set off to find Cliff Cottage - our home in Bang Bao for 3 days. The guy who we made the reservation with sent us walking directions there and I was getting awfully nervous about this place along the strange path he sent us. Eventually we came out to the road though and ended up finding the place with no problems. We ate dinner and then checked into our hut.

the "chill zone" at Cliff Cottage
Our very own hut on a cliff
Skye's nightmare
I really don't know what I expected from this hut that we rented, but I don't think that wooden shack was it. It literally was a 8 x 8 wooden shack. It had a double bed, a very large mosquito net, two plastic chairs, a fan and a night stand. It was also not level so everything kind of leaned to one side. It was not at all how I was picturing our stay for this vacation. On the plus side, it got cool at night so we were comfortable and the mosquito net kept out the bugs and geckos. There were a few other things about the place that didn't exactly suit my fancy (like the cold, shared, dirty shower and the steep stairs/hill you had to walk up to get to the shacks), but the location was quite perfect and the hangout area/restaurant had free wireless internet and a very chill vibe. (E- Skye does not do the location justice. We could watch the sunset over the ocean at this very cool "hangout area" with hammocks overlooking the ocean and then walk a little over 100 meters to the guesthouses private beach and watch the sunrise over the ocean. It was a PERFECT location and we spent very little time in our "shack" so I would say it was definitely worth it!)
Climbing the lighthouse for a better view of the Koh Chang archipelago
Friday - That morning we didn't really know what we wanted to do, so we just wandered around the village for a while. We wanted to rent a motorbike and check out some other places and maybe find a good beach to relax on, but that didn't quite work out. Our guesthouse had kayaks to rent though, so Ethan looked up a good kayak route around the little bay and after lunch we set out. We didn't take the exact route suggested because it ended up being a little too far for us (Ethan would have gone, but I was not having it). We did end up at a neat little beach area that had a bunch of restaurants right there in the sand. We had some pad thai and a banana smoothie and then set out to paddle around the peninsula on the other side of the bay. Ethan had heard that there were monkeys hanging out on the rocks, but when we got over to the peninsula we didn't see any. So we kept paddling around and sure enough we eventually spotted a couple monkeys chilling on the rocks looking for their dinner. They were cute, but a little creepy (I don't know why, but monkeys just creep me out) so we stayed pretty far from them. We kept going and further on a couple of tour boats were pulled up to the rocks and people were throwing bread to a pretty large group of monkeys. We didn't really like the idea of feeding the monkeys, but it was fun to watch them scurry around and we even saw a teeny tiny baby monkey (E- clutching to its mothers stomach.) After the monkeys, the paddle back to the huts seemed to take forever, but we made it back eventually.
Relaxing in our double kayak
 Saturday - The place we were staying also runs a scuba/snorkeling trip that we decided to take part in. We are planning on scuba diving on a different island after we're done teaching so we opted for the snorkeling. It was pretty much your typical snorkeling trip including two snorkeling spots, lunch and a little extra time to explore an itty bitty beach on an uninhabited island. The snorkeling was ok (by my standards/experience, which are obviously limited). The reef had pretty much been killed by the intense amount of tourists and boats in the water, but there were still some cool things to look at like anemones, sea cucumbers, very brightly colored fish and some strange fish that were really long and skinny. Ethan got some videos with the GoPro camera underwater, while I attempted to use my phone with the waterproof camera bag we bought some years ago... it didn't quite work out like I wanted. Mai pen rai! The lunch on the boat was actually quite good and we enjoyed taking pictures on the little beach they took us to. By the time we got to the second spot I was really tired and didn't snorkel for very long. Ethan followed one of the guides into a "cave" that wasn't really a cave and when he got back decided to take part in jumping off the sundeck of the boat into the water. I was not having any part of it, so I just watched. The snorkeling filled up most of the day and all we did after that was get dinner and eat desert at the end of the pier. (E- We got dinner at a place that we sat on the end of the restaurant with our feet dangling over the edge with the water below and the sunset in the distance. I ordered barbecue prawns and the waitress brought out something I was unsure of so I poked it a few times with my not-so-clean fingers until I determined it was definitely not shrimp. Then the waitress came back, took it off our table and placed it on our neighbors table. I hope you don't mind what was on my fingers in your food. #ThaiStyle Then we got these amazing choco balls for the second night in a row and took them to the end of the pier for a nice life chat and watched the moon come out.)
Island 2 on our 3 island snorkeling tour
Sunday - We had only booked our hut for 3 nights so we had to check out Sunday morning. We packed up our crap and headed to town to catch a taxi back up to the northernmost city called Khlong Son. We had only booked one extra night at the place we were going (and had called to confirm this and ask if they had a room for one more night to which she said no) and had no idea what we were going to do the following night. When we got there (after having to walk/wander quite a ways back into this little neighborhood of random houses) we were a little worried about what the room would be like considering that this particular place was very rough around the edges. But we walked in and the lady who owns it confirmed who we were then took us around in back of her actual house to a very nice, concrete/tiled room. I was so happy. And then she told us we could stay the extra night in this room and I was even happier. The bed was huge and comfy, the bathroom was big and very, very clean and there were no ants, spiders, geckos or strange creatures to speak of. We thanked her way too many times, but we were just so grateful to be in such a nice room for less money/night than the hut. (E- If you end up on Koh Chang, Manee Guesthouse! Super nice and motorbike rental for $5/day!) The only downside to this place was that the town had nothing to offer in terms of activities/beaches. There is a huge resort there that we think you can go to their beach and do activities there, but we didn't know if it was free or not, so we never checked it out. The plus side was that Khlong Son is a 10 minute motorbike ride away from White Sands Beach.
Overlooking White Sands Beach
White Sands Beach reminded me of the Dominican Republic. There were a lot people, but not too many. There were several resorts, but they weren't too obnoxious and none of their beach areas were private. There were a ton of places to eat, but they weren't too expensive. And there were even more little shops along the street to shop in. We loved it! Everyone we talked to said that it was too crowded/expensive, but we really didn't think so. We ate western/American food every night and never spent more than $10 for a meal. It didn't really feel like we were in Thailand, but we really didn't mind. Anyway, we spent Sunday afternoon relaxing on the beach, playing in the warm blue water and trying to figure out why Europeans like speedos so much. It was highly entertaining. We went out to dinner at this amazing Italian place that was perched up high right next to the ocean. When the sun goes down they turn on spotlights that shine into the water and light up the rocks and you can see right to the bottom. After dinner we went back down to the beach (which gets much wider at night because of low tide) where all the restaurants had pretty lights on and there were fire dancers! We watched the fire dancers for a while and then headed back to our place.
White Sands Beach
Italian dinner at Invito Al Cibo
Monday - The day didn't exactly go as planned, but it ended up being enjoyable. The first thing we did went well now that I think of it. There are several waterfalls on the island and if Ethan had his way we would have seen all of them. But as it was we just chose the one that was easiest to get to and that you could swim in. We found the park without any problems and hung out at the waterfall for a while. We even ran into some people that we knew from orientation. Small world! After the waterfall, we wanted to check out some of the other beaches down the coast and Ethan wanted to try to get to this island that you can walk out to at low tide. However, the other beach was dirty (Klong Prao) and the tide is lowest at night. So that didn't work out and on our way back to White Sands Beach we had a teeny tiny accident with the motorbike. Ethan had to slam on the brakes because of the guy in front of us doing the same (E- because in front of that truck there was another truck parked the wrong way and sticking out into half of the already too small of a lane. Once again, #ThaiStle), so the front wheel locked up and we fell over. Ethan had a little scrape on his foot, but that was the worst of the injuries (actually Ethan's pride was probably hurt the worst). Anyway, we were wearing helmets and made sure to be extra careful the rest of the day. (E- No harm, no foul!)
Khlong Plu waterfall
We spent a few hours at the beach then came back to the beach after a shower for dinner and New Years Eve festivities. We went back to the same Italian place for dinner and got pizza and garlic bread this time. It was sooo good. After that we got dessert and headed to the beach where all the restaurants were pulling out all the stops for the celebration. The night consisted of us ordering fruity tropical drinks, while relaxing on our own beach mat complete with pillows and little table. We watched people set off random fireworks throughout the night (the fire dancers were there too) and were treated to some pretty great fireworks displays at the stroke of midnight. It was a little cold (I didn't even think it possible that far south), but other than that it was one of my favorite New Year's Eves ever. :]
New Year's Eve- Skye was cold so she stole my shirt
 Tuesday - Unfortunately, we hadn't taken the time to work out our travel plans to get back home, so to be on the safe side we needed to catch the first ferry off the island which left at the ripe hour of 6:45am. The only good thing about getting such little sleep was that we knew we'd sleep a lot on the bus. We successfully boarded the first ferry and caught a mini-bus back to Bangkok. (E- We had kind of planned to go into Trat and catch an actual bus, but there was a lady waiting on the pier for the minibus back to Bangkok so we took the easier and cheaper way, but sacrificed comfort) It was 12:30 by the time we got to the northern bus station and we were hoping real bad that we could catch a bus soon back up north to Thawangpha. But the earliest bus didn't leave until 6:30. So we waited for 5.5 hrs at the station and didn't get home until 6:30 in the morning. School started at 8. :]

Ethan- I hope everyone brought in the New Year in their own magnificent way, even if you weren't in a tropical paradise and instead had to deal with snow...  :-) love you all!

And two more pictures...

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