Rules Of The Road #4 – Moving is expensive and should be limited whenever possible.
Trains, planes, and automobiles. . . and boats, and tuk tuks, and scooters, and half a horse ride, put holes in your wallet like a shot-gun blast. Except the horse ride, we didn’t end up paying for that one. It just put holes in Sally’s face instead. The cost of transportation is the most expensive part of being on the road, followed closely by alcohol.
Similar to the sensation of watching a live MLS game that ends in a tie, you are left with the feeling of being cheated, overcharged, and thinking there has to be a better way to get to the end point than this.
Taking this rule into account and also noting that the weather forecast for the next ten days was expected showers, every, fucking, day. We decided it would be better to chill out on Koh Samui for the week, rather than spend every two days hopping from island to island. We were already staying in a good, cheap, hotel that was a five-minute walk to an excellent beach and we thought it would better to be flexible according to the weather. Go to the beach when the weather is good and spend the money we saved by not moving around on things to keep us entertained when the weather wasn’t so great.
Penzy, the owner of our guesthouse, proved to be an extremely knowledgable and well-connected asset. She had a good opinion and discount for just about everything that was on the island. Not one of the typical Thai discounts either, where you find out it’s really just one of their relatives or they get kick backs. Only to walk around the corner and find the same deal at the same price or cheaper.
Rules Of The Road #2 – When going to the beach, choosing not to wear sunblock is never an option.
Our first day in Koh Samui we decided to check out Chaweng beach (what turned out to be the first of many). Sally has a religious habit of applying sunscreen before we leave for the beach and reapplying throughout the day. Myself, being from a part of the world where we really don’t spend that much time at the beach, insists on re-learning the second rule of the road, over and over and over again. . . the hard way. Chaweng is an extremely nice piece of real estate. It is a fairly long stretch of soft sand lined mostly with resorts, each offering its own restaurant, and a couple of bars. The water isn’t as warm as Koh Phi Phi but it seemed to get a lot hotter during our visits to Chaweng so the cooler water was more than welcomed.
There are plenty of people strolling the beach offering various foods, ice cream, beads, sarongs, and flotation devices. In Thailand “No” means “Not at this particular time” or “Not from you”. Which results in a different person badgering you with their “Happy hour prices” every five minutes and the same person swinging by every hour with a “Special deal for their friend”. Occasionally the drunk ice cream guy would come by and do his karate moves, sing, and throw his sign down in front of you with sound effects. Unfortunately the only way to rid yourself of his over acted and annoying show is to give him the “I will shove that sign so far up your ass you will be shitting ice cream stickers for the next week” look. Then be thankful when he sees the person adjacent from you chuckling at his antics, which is usually enough to draw his attention away from you.
The only vender who is highly sought after and actually has the ability to post up in the shade and wait for tourists to find her is the Papaya Salad Lady, as she is formally known. She whips together what appears to be a fairly simple mix of vegetables and papaya extract, making it at various degrees of spice upon request. A sprinkle of peanuts and the best (least amount of fat / most meat) chicken kabobs on the beach, leaves her highly sought after and a staple of our diet when visiting Chaweng.
One of the activities we decided to do with our saved money from not utilizing transport, was to utilize transport. In the pursuit of freeing my inner renegade, showing my distaste for authority, and keeping up with an American veteran pastime, we decided to straddle a steel horse and hit the open road.
Live to ride and ride to live. Wanted dead or alive. Fucking outlaws!
Well, not exactly. . .
Koh Samui actually has quite a few sights that are worth checking out and plenty of beaches to offer variety from Chaweng. Our first stop was Wat Plai Laem, where you can find a statue of Chiva and one of Buddha (cough, cough) sculpted in a manner more fitting with what the 21st century American would like to worship.
Big Buddha (literally) who watches over the Samui people is just north of Wat Plai Laem and about a ten minute ride away.
After Big Buddha we ducked into the area where they have elephant rides and photo ops with tigers. Nothing they were providing sounded appealing to us, it was really more or less to confirm our disagreement with their operation. Just to reiterate I have a personal conviction that there is no longer a need to ride on the back of any animal, which after our time in Bolivia Sally now fully agrees with. The elephants were kept in pens that barely provided enough room for them to turn around. When they weren’t being smacked with sticks to continue their forced march with 2 to 5 people on their back, you were given the opportunity to purchase overpriced bananas to feed them after they did a trick. Which I don’t want to know how they were “taught” to perform. The facility housed three cats; a fully grown adult tiger, a tiger cub, and a leopard cub. Each was chained by the neck to a large platform. For 400 baht (around 15 dollars) you could have a trainer slap at the animal with a stick until it gets into position so you could have your picture taken. Prior to anyone insisting on agitating the should be wild animals, they spent most of their time in a hazy sleep mode. Not deterring any of the rumours that they are kept drugged up to avoid any “situations”.
By the time we made it to Grandfather and Grandmother rock we had been on the road for almost five hours. Needless to say I now understand why there is such a high use of meth among biker gangs. Five hours put both of us in a bit of a daze and we didn’t even have to beat up any rival gang members, smuggle any weapons, or collect money from our working girls.
We had known that it was a place of interest but had put little time into finding out why in our rush to get the most out of our scooter rental. When we got to the rocks we sat confused as groups of tourists were avidly snapping away at the rocks, repositioning themselves, and giggling all the while. We stood there for about ten minutes extremely confused. “What the fuck is everyone doing?” Sally wanted to know. Conducting myself in the usual omnipotent but really has no fucking idea manner, I threw out the first piece of bull shit that came to mind. “See that is Chaweng beach right over there and if you go to the end of the rock you can get a really nice shot of the whole beach. And they are taking pictures back this way because it’s a really nice contrast between the rocks, water, and treeline.”
No, it wasn’t Chaweng beach and it wasn’t until the next day when we were looking at postcards we saw the blatantly obvious penis and vagina shaped rocks. It was like the sound of breaking glass when it finally hit us. This is why the old asian couple were working so hard to get the husbands head in the exact right place.
The weather had been working in our favor for most of the day until we were about twenty minutes from home. Then the sky turned dark grey and opened up with a powerful right cross of rain. Everyone on scooters was dashing for the nearest cover. By the grace of God we were fortunate enough to be close to a store that had a nice overhang to park our bikes and a bar across the street. I know what you’re thinking, this seems like an awkward pairing, drinking and riding scooters. No, no, you couldn’t be more off base. First and foremost, drinking goes with everything! Second, there is no better way to pass the time then sipping on a beer with good company. Not to worry, we firmly stand against driving while over the legal limit. That’s why we kept our consumption to a modest five beers each. (Just kidding parents)
Rules Of The Road #35 – If something is amazing it’s only a matter of time until its overrun. (The definition of overrun will vary depending on the traveler)
After our brief encounter with snorkeling in Koh Phi Phi, Sally decided she would like to give it another shot. After a discussion with Penzy and a visit to Tripadvisors Koh Samui activities section, we decided to do a day tour to Ang Thong National Park. Unfortunately Tripadvisor rates going to the national park very high, but doesn’t have a section about specific companies that make the trip. Penzy had recommended a few options and we decided to go with Lomprayah because they offered a high-speed boat. We thought that spending half the day just trying to get to the islands didn’t sound overly appealing.
Thankfully we didn’t do any serious drinking the night before because the water was a little choppy and the capitan was in no mood for slowing things down. The shift in waves gave the feeling of being airborne (weightless) and the hard slap back down sent your head forward sharply and water flying into the boat. Everyone from the middle of the boat back was climatized to the temperature of the ocean well before any snorkeling gear was handed out. The first ten minutes had all of the girls looking a little concerned and the guys smiling with an entertained look in their eyes. But gradually everyone’s head started to sink as the hypnotic motion began to take its toll. Even though Lomprayah was noted as being one of the quickest ways to get to the park, it still felt like one of the longer hours of my life.
When we finally reached the snorkeling location everyone gladly dismounted into the overcrowded water. The six boats already parked up left little room for the two boats from Lomprayah to wedge in. The little space was tightly packed with tourists from the various companies all jostling for a place to observe the fish. To my dismay it didn’t seem to detour any of the fish from the location. It appeared as if the same arrangement above the water was taking place below. Their was an abundance of fish that seemed to engage in their regular activity with no regard for the hundreds of orange life jackets floating above. Several groups of fish same close enough that I could literally reach out and touch them. Even with a prod from my finger, the only reaction I could coax out of the fish with my presence was a small stroke of the fin to put themselves just inches out of my reach. It only took Sally about ten minutes to confirm that snorkeling would no longer be on the list of things to do when we vacation. To her credit the water was a little murky and a bit chilly. After we crawled back onto the boat we were joined by about half of the patrons that also must have been disappointed with the conditions.
Once the hour of snorkeling concluded we headed to the national park to kayak and eat a Thai buffet lunch. The kayaks were two seaters and we ended up being the last pair to get into the water. Our unspoken natural competitiveness instantly kicked in as we went for gold. It didn’t take long for the tour guide to beckon for us to relax and wait for the rest of the group to catch up. We laughed as the entire duration of the trip around the island was spent critiquing the others technic and level of effort. Lunch was respectable. Nothing too fancy, about on par with what you can get for 100 baht at a local restaurant. White rice, green curry, vegetables, grilled chicken strips, and some watermelon.
The final stop on the tour was to the lagoon. A five-minute hike up stairs that define the word steep and you’re granted access to various decks and look out points. The lagoon is quite impressive but unfortunately you can’t swim in it and getting the opportunity to snap a quick shot without some turd disrupting your photo proves to be a challenge. Once you’re ushered through the circular route of lookouts you spend the next twenty minutes on a small over crowded beach that stinks like toilets and unconscious cigarette smokers.
I wouldn’t claim the trip as a successful journey, more like a completed journey. Thanks for showing up, here’s your participation ribbon. The Tripadvisor reviews made it sound like it’s a place where heaven comes down and touches earth. I think its more like an exploited tourist trap. Something good was found and is now overrun by people trying to squeeze as much cash out of it as possible. Can’t say it is something I would excitedly recommend for the price.
Rules Of The Road # 8 – Some of the best things happen when they’re unplanned and unexpected.
Our exhilarating, adrenaline packed, death-defying time on the scooters encouraged us to rent them again before we left Koh Samui. Having already explored a majority of the island, the plan was to take a more chill approach to the day and enjoy only a few stops for a longer duration of time. We visited the mummified monk, chilled out at Lamai Beach, and then headed for Buddhas foot print. Fortunately while on the way to Buddhas foot print something amazing happened. We were looking at the map and trying to figure out the best route to take to the foot print. We need to go along this road and turn onto this road and when we get to this road we need to left at the rum distillery.
The rum distillery!? Oh shit yeah! Penzy had neglected to mention this attraction to us.
As we headed down the gravel road of Magic Alambic Rum Distillery, thoughts of our South African Vine Hopper tour crept back into my mind. During the tour we had visited a Brandy distillery and though I absorbed and retained very little of the information that was dispersed I most certainly enjoyed the sampling portion of it. We dismounted our ferocious metal beasts (our scooters) and walked up to the bar. Not a soul in sight. We looked around a little, tried to make ourselves obvious, and then hung our heads as we slowly walked back to our steel horses. We made it half way down the driveway when a woman appeared out of a side building. We asked if she was open and she replied with a dry “You saw the sign”.
Further conversation about the operation she was running revealed her French heritage and stereotypical pretentious mannerisms. Apparently rum is a French creation and most of the rum in the world is complete shit. She came at the American first, thinking she had an easy target. Not being the first time someone has been quick to point out all the flaws of America to me (like I give a fuck) and the clear direction the conversation was going, when she asked what rum I prefer I replied back with a quick and flat “Appleton”. She seemed slightly discouraged and stated that this was in fact good rum but blah, blah, blah, this brand, that brand from America (Puerto Rico) is absolute shit. She was mildly entertaining and unrelenting in conversation, one-sided conversation. Most of our time spent with her consumed by self acknowledgement of being great and confirmation of being great by repeating what great things other important people have said to her.
“Well isn’t that just fucking great” I said to myself.
But here’s the kicker. This lady knew exactly what she was talking about. Her rum WAS fucking great! I mean really, really, fucking great! The best rum I have ever tasted and smelled in my entire life. Apparently there is a process that she follows to make it so great, but I think you can gather from my frame of mind during our conversation I didn’t really catch how all that was done. She did say that the Thai sugar cane is the best in the world and it all starts with using the best ingredients. That’s about all I picked up.
Before I tasted the rum I was trying to block her out to keep from getting a headache and after I tasted the rum I couldn’t stop staring across the bar trying to read the pricing.
She doesn’t / can’t ship to the States, not sure why, didn’t catch that part. She could have said “Because you’re a fucking asshole and you’re not listening to a damn thing I am saying right now, blah, blah, blah, Bush’s illegal war, real films derive from France not Hollywood, freedom fries, blah, blah, blah” for all I know. But they do ship to Australia! We have already worked several bottles into the budget to be shipped and waiting for us when we arrive.
On our way back home we once again got caught in the rain. Surprisingly two out of the three times we did get rained on was when we had the scooters. I think its mother natures way of making fun of me. It didn’t take us long to find a place to conduct our favorite pastime. As we sipped on our beers we marveled at the fact that the weather showed dark clouds and rain for all ten days we were set to spend in the area but most of the rain came at night. The weather didn’t really prevent us from doing anything and we had more than enough beach time. In fact the occasional cloud was savored as it temporarily blocked out the raging sun.
Rules Of The Road # 3 – Putting on your dancing shoes equates to putting a smile on your face and warming the soul.
Our recent recalculation of our budget kept us modest for most of our time in Koh Samui. It was our last night on the island and we hadn’t gone out even once with bad intentions. The recent addition of some very tempting and delicious rum made the decision to break rule number fifty-two a no brainer.
Rules Of The Road #52 – No drinking before travel days. (The lack of sleep and clouded mind do not make the navigation process easy)
The rum lady also puts together her own mixer for the rum consisting of. . . some really good tasting stuff. The recipe calls for three parts rum and one part mixer. Three shots of rum, one shot of mixer, one ice-cube. The smoothness of this drink can not be overhyped. You think there would be some kind of pull back from this drink. Either the smell of that much alcohol would tug at the nose hairs or the taste would certainly cause the lips to pucker, even if just a little. Nothing. Nothing but a sweet, smooth, delicious, taste of rum and spices. Two of these bad boys go back with extreme ease. Two of these bad boys have your dancing shoes moving to the beat and headed out of the room before you can even lock the door or turn off the lights.
We arrived at the reggae bar well before the social conscious cool kids. Nine o’clock at night and it was pretty much Sally, myself, and the live bad singing to an empty room. Dancing shoes already tapping away or not, it is going to take a few more drinks before Sally wants to dance to an empty room. The drinks are over priced and due to its location, when you commit to going to this place, you commit to going to this place. That is unless your trolling for a sexually transmitted disease.
No worries, not the first time we have been ahead of the crowd. It’s not like we were stumped on what we should do with ourselves. The bar served three liters of beer in those oversized blender looking things. You know the ones with an ice tube running down the middle. Halfway through one of those and we were so busy bobbing our heads and giggling with each other we didn’t notice the place was starting to fill up. The band was actually very exceptional. They played a variety of music and were chalked full of talent. The only problem was the rest of the patrons didn’t have their secret dancing juice before they came out. Thankfully three-quarters of the way through the beer was enough to get Sally on her feet. Some might say it was the power of the music, others the passion within for moving to a beat, but the industrial amounts of alcohol certainly didn’t hurt. The two of us spent the next four songs tearing up the dance floor all by ourselves. It wasn’t until we took a beer break that we looked around to see what we inspired. The dance floor was popping with people of all different ages.
The band took five and after a couple of songs from the DJ we decided to do the same. Our energy from the rum and the excitement of heading out to the reggae bar caused us to skip over one minor detail, eating.
Our stumble home in search of food was met with no avail. Everything was long since closed down and we were forced to venture into the 7 Eleven in attempt to fill our stomach with something absorbing enough we would not be facing handicapped mannerisms the following morning. Two minute noodles was the best we could scrounge up. . . Reminding me now, on the hot 12 hour train ride, the last leg of our two days of traveling (mini van -bus – ferry – bus – tuk tuk – overnight train – 12 hour train) that the Rules Of The Road are there for a reason and you must bear the consequences if you choose to ignore them.