South East Asia in Monsoon Part IV

Continued from Part III

PATTAYA, THAILAND, 6th JULY, 2013.

pattaya

Pattaya Beach Front

The bus stopped at the Eastern Terminal. Traveling with me was Fernandez, an Englishman, whom I asked if he had already reserved some hotel.  He said ‘no’ but he knew of one where he usually stayed. I said that I would stay in the same hotel.  In the meanwhile, he hailed a sort of pick-up truck (Baht-Bus) and started negotiating with driver. A little later, he asked me to get in and we went to Hotel Palm Garden.  When I wanted to share the transport charges, he said ‘oh no’, he was going to take the pickup any way.

The hotel was 3-star and charges were reasonable at Baht 700 per day. Fernandez said that he would go for a bath and afterwards would take me outside to show me an Indian Restaurant. About 20 minutes later, there was a soft knock at my door and I found him fresh and dandy. We went out and he spotted the hotel hardly 5-minutes walk away. The name of this Indian Restaurant was Bombay Magic and it served mumnbai-magic-pattayabasic Indian Food Buffet for Baht 250. Unfortunately, the food was South Indian which is spicier and contained coconut milk, tamarind and some type of leaves for aroma and flavor. But these are not to my liking.  Reluctantly I ordered a Thali but could finish only half.

It was already 9 pm when I finished the dinner.  While coming out, the gate-keeper thanked me and asked me to come again.  From his crisp Hindi, I thought he was from U.P. (Utter Pradesh). To confirm, I asked him whether he was from India. He replied in a big ‘no’ and said he was a Nepali from Ghorahi.  So he was from a city adjacent to UP as his place just sits on the Indian-Nepal Border and was very near to Luknow famous for its Urdu poetry and prose.  We had a little

pattaya_gogos

chat. I asked him way to Walking Street. He pointed towards ocean and said “Just two-block up”.  A few minutes later, I was there. At night, it was closed to vehicles and was full of pedestrians – local and foreigners, males and females, seekers and suitors, lovers and beloved. Being a red-light district, it had scores of go-go bars. There was no obstruction in peeping in.  One could freely see pattaya_walking_street_bar_girls_2waitresses or bar-girls wearing little or nothing.  Side by side, there were strip clubs and discotheques, friendly ladies and even more friendly lady boys.

It was only 10 pm and Walking Street was already sizzling with neon signs and loud thumping music which would gain peak past midnight. No traffic; the place is meant to be walked down amidst a great light and sound show. I returned by 10:30 pm and had a sound sleep.

Next day, I went to the beach.  I think I was in the middle as I could not see the beginning or the end. In fact, it was 3-km long Pattaya Beach running along the city center. It was pleasure to walk on the shady footpath. The area was jam-packed with umbrellas shading couples or families from scorching sun.

At the end of Pattaya Beach, there was a small hill marking end of Pattaya Beach and start of Jomtien Beach which was less crowded. It had golden sand, clear blue sea and fringes of palm-tree.  Moreover, its calm sea was considered suitable for swimming and water sports.

I did not go far and returned to Pattaya Beach and then to the adjacent Naklua Bay.  It was famous for seafood. There were a lot of floating restaurants converted from run-down ferries. They served a wide varieties of dishes: Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French and Italian. I went to a popular place, Nang Nual, and had a lot of good seafood particularly chili crabs. The bill was 300 baht.

One walking alone becomes an easy target for the touts and con-artists. A young man pretended to be a student stuck with me like glue.  He spoke nice English and introduced me with many terms like: Freelancers – girls free to go with anyone anytime as they were not tied with any of the bars or clubs. “Guest Friendly Hotels” –those not charging joiners fee i.e. bringing in another guests. Eventually, he wanted me to buy gem at throw-away prices but I left him spell-bound by saying “No money”.

KO TAO 9th July, 2013

It took me about 20 hours to go to Ko Tao from Pattaya. Early in the morning on 8th of July, I put my carry-on on a shared tuk-tuk for 5 baht and went to Southern Bus Terminal. I bought a bus-ferry combined ticket for 750 Bahts.

tour area

Southern Thailand, a narrow strip

The bus went towards Bangkok but bypassed it and turned southwards.  There was nothing to see except greenery.  The terrain became monotonous.  However, after about 100 km, there was a change when the landscape turned hilly and area got narrower.  At one point, Trat Klong Yai Road, the width of Thailand just reduced to 450 m, hard to believe but quite true.  This narrow strip was sandwiched between Country of Myanmar (Burma)  and Gulf of Thailand.

In the evening, the bus dropped me at Lomprayah Ferry Office at Chumphon City.  There was no one to receive or guide me further.  Fortunately, there were another 5 Europeans who were very vocal on such a mishap.  The guard-cum-night clerk made some quick calls and was advised to wait for a van which would take us to the pier for boarding a mid-night ferry for cargo & passengers. The van arrived within the next 20 minutes and took us to a far off jetty where a ferry was being loaded.  Since there was lot of time, about 3 hours, we went to a nearby cafeteria for food. I mixed up with the local and had usual information about the area. The place was known for its touristsdesolate and beautiful beaches as well as for diving and snorkeling.  Moreover, nests were being harvested in the area and one could have bird nest soup for 50 USD per bowl. The soup was said to be good for digestion, asthma, immune system and libido.

By mid-night, we were dead tired and went into the ferry. We were led to a make-shift passenger lounge. We were so tired that we did not look around but lied down any how on the short-mattresses fetched from a corner.

Early in the morning, the ferry docked at Mae Haad, the main pier of Ko Tao. It is about 70 km away from the mainland. Since hotels and guesthouses were on Sairee Beach, we had to ride a songtheaw (shared-taxi) charging 25 baht per person.

KO tao boats but no passangersAt that time, all hotels and guesthouses were closed.  I had about 3 hours to kill sitting all alone on the roadside. Just by luck, someone waived and pointed towards a hotel.  I grabbed my carryon and rang the bell of a hotel with the name of Silver Sand.  A guard-type person responded, kept my passport and gave me key to Bungalow No.201. He asked me to go and sleep and come back at 9 am to complete the necessary formalities. This was OK and I was happy to see the bungalow and a hammock. With ocean lashing the beach and bird chirping endless songs, it was like a dream come true and I jumped into the hammock for a little swing.

Ko Tao means turtle island. It is not a massive island but a small one with an area of 21 square km. It is a popular backpacker haunt because of tranquil water which is ideal for scuba diving. Also, there were white sand beaches, beautiful bays and coastal rocks.

bean pillow

I remained there for three days and everyday I used to have a long walk on the beach.  I did not swim as it meant partingwith all the money, cards and passport wrapped around my body which was a great risk.

The bungalow, where I stayed, was very comfortable and just half minute walk from the beach. I did not see any bug or had one mozzie bite. The place was in the middle of the center with many famous restaurants and 7-Eleven Super Store. At night, tourists flocked the bars right on the beach, lounging on beanbags.

It is time to move to my next destination, Phi Phi Island.

Ko Phi Phi, 11th July, 2013

Last night I took my carryon and went to the traveling agent office a few yards away. Perhaps, I was the phi phi island twolone customer as the agent immediately arranged a taxi to drop me at the pier, Mae Haad. A ferry docked at 10 pm and all passengers were advised to get in and take their mattresses and specifically numbered places for sleeping.  It was a slow boat and reached Surat Thani,121 km away in 10 hours. The total charges were 950 Baht.

It was a bright sunny day, when the ferry reached Surat Thani. I got off the ferry and followed a small passage. Every passenger had a small sticker on the shirt indicating the destination and gate number. The officials were busy in directing the passengers to the relevant gate. I was asked to go straight ahead till a person caught me and shouted “Phi Phi” then pointing out to a waiting van. I boarded the van which dropped me at the office of the company, Arunsiri Travel. A lady inquired from all passengers where they intend to go and booked all the passages in one go.  I got a ticket for travel to Krabi, another return ticket for Phi Phi Island, a voucher for two days stay at an island hotel and another voucher for Krabi to Penang. All in 1,990 Bahts, a bare-bone price. It looked so convenient.

On the way to Krabi, the bus passed by two National Parks: Khao Sok Nation Park and The Tai Rom Yen National Park.  The parks were reportedly covered lush-green virgin forests, mountains peaks with mist and a variety of wild animals specially elephants.

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Krabi was not far, just 211 km and we were taken directly to a waiting ferry for the island. In about an hour, the ferry reached Phi Phi covering an area of 40 km. The jetty was crowded, people were pushing their way. An official asked crudely to pay Baht 20 to “keep the island sparkling clean.” Touts approached to sell their goods and services. I had all reservations and continuously said, “No please no.” Surprisingly, there was no mechanical transport on the island but long-tail push carts safely transferring my luggage to a prebooked guesthouse for 400 Baht per night. If my memories are intact, the name of the guesthouse was Harmony.

Abound with limestone cliffs and rocks, Phi Phi consisted of six small and large isles. I stayed at Phi Phi Leh.  I enjoyed walking through its narrow streets with bars and restaurants on both the sides besides shops offering boats for excursions, diving and fishing. This was the same place where a famous film “The Beach” was picturized. Also, this place was devastated by Tsunami in 2004 and brought to its former glory about six years later in 2010.

After staying for two days, I came back to Krabi and boarded a prebooked bus for Hatyai further 290 km down.  Since I was to go to Penang, Malaysia, I was transferred to another van. Another 60 km away was Border Post, Bukit Kayu Hitam. Finally, I reached Penang at 8 pm and stayed in Heritage Hotel for 30 USD per night.

To be continued.

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