In August 2013, my family (Sue, Laura and Lucy) and I travelled to Thailand for a week to explore the north of the country with a responsible travel company called Intrepid. Immediately after we'd finished this trip we embarked on another trip to see the islands in the south of Thailand.
Day 1 - Bangkok - Sunday, August 18, 2013
As you may recall, we finished our Northern Thailand trip at the Viengtai Hotel and at 6pm we met up with the rest of the travellers on our Southern Thailand tour. Phe was joining us from the last tour (she had been touring for 4 weeks - covering Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand) and we were joined by two British couples (Rob and Amanda plus Lewis and Gemma), a Canadian called Neil with his Chinese wife, Chong, and Nikky, an Australian. Our tour guide was Gung again (which made things a lot easier as we already knew her). After the meeting, we went out for a meal to get to know our new companions for the next week.
Day 2 - Bangkok to Surrathani by overnight train - Monday, August 19, 2013
A trip had been organised this morning to take us to Wat Arun, one of Bangkok's most famous temples. We travelled across to the west bank of the Chao Phraya River and spent an hour or so looking around the buddhist temple. After visiting Wat Arun, we went for a ride on a long tail boat around the canals of Bangkok, were we were stopped from time to time by friends of the boat owner who paddled up next to the boat to try to sell us their wares.
Next we walked across to Wat Pho, the home of the reclining buddha. After we'd visited the buddha we noticed the 108 bronze bowls in the corridor which apparently show the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. We bought a tub of coins which we dropped into these bowls. The coins made a lovely clinking noise which could be heard around the temple. Dropping coins in the bowls is believed to bring good fortune, and to help the monks maintain the wat. While we were at Wat Pho, we visited the Thai Massage School and all had a massage by some of the trainees.
Later in the day we packed our cases and were off on our travels again! We caught another over-night sleeper train to Surrathani, which was a lot older and dirtier than the one from Chiang Mai to Bangkok but, on the positive side, we were only on it for 12 hours and it was just as comfortable.
Day 3 - Surrathani to Ko PaNgan by ferry - Tuesday, August 20, 2013
After leaving the train, we had breakfast nearby the train station in Surrathani before transferring by bus to the ferry terminal (1.5 hours). After a long wait, the ferry took us across to Thang Sala Pier in Ko PaNgan were we got a minibus across to our accomodation - Pen's bungalows. The bungalows were situated close to a beautiful beach but when we arrived there was no water or electricity. These were restored during the course of the day, although we did have some sporadic power cuts too.
We had a free afternoon to ourselves which gave us chance to sort out our washing. We've been getting our clothes washed every couple of days on the trip which has been really useful, and has meant we haven't had to carry a lot. (We bought 100 litre bags each for the trip which meant that they could squeeze in any where and, as we didn't have to carry them too far, worked out really well.) Washing generally cost us around 70p per kilo although we did get some clothes ironed too which was slightly more. Later on in the evening, we met up with the others for dinner on the beach.
Day 4 - Ko PaNgan - Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Today was a free day for us so we spent it relaxing on the beach, swimming and catching up on some well earned rest after all of our travelling. I went for a walk up into the hills above the beach and admired the views and later on went climbing on the rocks with Lucy, who cut herself quite badly. It was so quiet that the highlight of the day was when Lucy found a squid! We didn't see hardly anyone from the group during the day and met up on the evening for a BBQ meal, where we were entertained by some local boys playing with fire.
Day 5 - Ko PaNgan to Koh Tao - Thursday, August 22, 2013
After a full day of relaxing yesterday, today was another travelling day. We made our way to the pier at Thang Sala by minibus, did a little shopping and then waited for the ferry. The pier was really hot and there wasn't a lot of shade. There were a lot of young party people waiting for the ferry who had been to the full moon party the night before. The Full Moon Party is an all-night beach party that originated in Haad Rin on the island of Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand on the night of, before or after every full moon. It is mostly attended by Westerners and attracts up to 30,000 people.
The crossing to Koh Tao was by high speed catamaran and was air conditioned and uneventful. There was even a large screen TV playing Just for Gags to keep us entertained. After we arrived at Koh Tao, we transferred by mini-bus to Seashell Resort, which was a pleasant enough boutique hotel with a relaxing swimming pool and close to the beach. It was located on a pedestrianised shopping street which was handy for massages and nail treatment for the girls. We had the afternoon free which we spent swimming and exploring the local town. This island seemed a lot more developed than Koh Phangan with hotels, bed and breakfasts and bungalows lining the beach. Apparently it is one of the cheapest places to get your PADI diving certificate.
Day 6 - Koh Tao - Friday, August 23, 2013
Today we stayed around Koh Tao, turtle island, and went on a snorkelling trip. The fish were stunning, especially the rainbow fish, and the trip was just as good as the one that we'd done in the Red Sea, last year. We visited around 5 snorkelling locations and spent some time on Ko Tao's little sister island, Ko Nangyuan, which is a private island that consists of three smaller islands connected together by a beautiful sandbank. Myself, Sue, Laura and Gemma climbed up to the top of the island whilst Lucy, Rob and Lewis carried on snorkelling in the bay.
Day 7 - Koh Tao to Koh Samui - Saturday, August 24, 2013
After a lovely buffet breakfast today, we checked out of the hotel and headed across to the pier to catch another high speed catamaran to Koh Samui, the largest of the islands in the gulf of Thailand. Unfortunately the air conditioning on the catamaran wasn't working (temperatures where around 35 degrees Centigrade) and the ride was choppy so there was a lot of seasickness, which wasn't very nice in such a confined environment. About halfway through the crossing, there were screams at the back of the boat which we later found out were coming from Neil's wife, Chong. Neil had passed out and had gone completely white. As soon as the boat reached port he was sent to the hospital where they diagnosed him with Dengue Fever, which is a common viral infection spread by mosquitoes that can be fatal. We didn't see Neil (or Chong) again but Gung, our tour guide, regularly visited him at the hospital and kept us up to date with his recovery.
Needless to say, we were all a little subdued after this incident as we drove to our resort in Koh Samui - Buddy Oriental. This was by far the most luxurious hotel that we'd stayed in and had a gym (which Lucy and I regularly used), spa and beautiful swimming pool. There wasn't a lot to do outside of the hotel so we took a taxi to nearby Chaweng, which was the bustling tourist centre of the island.
Here we checked out the beach and shopped for souvenirs. It was hard to believe that there were no roads in Koh Samui until the early 1970s, and the 15 km journey from one side of the island to the other could involve a whole-day trek through the mountainous central jungles.
Later we had dinner at the hotel and Lucy fed the turtles that were swimming in the hotel grounds.
Day 8 - Koh Samui - Sunday, August 25, 2013
Today was the last full day on our trip and unfortunately Sue wasn't well so had to stay at the hotel all day. The rest of us made the most of it by visiting Angthong National Marine Park - an archipelago of 42 islands situated around an hours speedboat ride from Koh Samui. The day started off with snorkelling which was a little hectic as 5 boats were moored up in the same area and there were over two hundred people in the water at once.
Next we visited one of the islands in the Marine Park for lunch and a spot of kayaking. Lucy went with Gemma and I went with Laura. We stopped off at a small island for Laura to do a coconut dance!
The speedboat then took us to another island which had a lagoon in the middle of it. The stairs to the viewpoint were steep and we were glad to cool off in the sea to get relief from the heat of the day.
On the evening we visited a local night market and said goodbye all of our travelling companions, except Phe who was travelling back to London on our flight. Gung updated us on Neil's progress which looked really positive and he was looking to make a full recovery.
Day 9 - Koh Samui to Hull - Monday, August 26, 2013
Homeward bound. We started our travels at 7am - picked up by minibus and transported across to Koh Samui airport. This was one of the prettiest and friendliest airports that I have been to. It had free water, free food, free WiFi and even free computers to use. If only all airports were like this.... Our flight back to Bangkok with Thai airlines took less than an hour and we had a two hour wait at Bangkok airport before departing for Heathrow. Upon arrival at Heathrow we had a transfer to the car park and then a four hour drive home, during which I found it really difficult to stay awake. We arrived home at 6am Thai time (midnight local time) after travelling for 23 hours.
The trip was a wonderful experience and it was lovely to meet such interesting people and to see such varied sights. Where next? Who knows... watch this space :)