I may be the last Aussie on Earth to have visited; but now, at the grand conclusion of my world trip, I've finally visited Thailand. And let's face it: Thailand is the no. 1 budget travel destination in the world, and no true round-the-world backpacking trip would be complete without it. The Land of Smiles is home to sunny beach paradises, steamy tropical jungles, curry that redefines curry, a Buddhist religious heritage of great richness, cheap shopping to please anyone... and more. The only thing that remains a puzzle: what took me so long to get here?
Piece of advice: never take directions from a gay Austrian. If only I'd followed it. After spending this morning once again chilling on Moondance beach, today I tagged along with my friend Robert, who wanted to show me the next beach along on the island, where he claimed there was nice swimming and a great restaurant. Only problem was, Robert thought he could take a "shortcut" up the hillside, and onto the main track that leads to this beach. And as anyone (named Murphy) can tell you, a shortcut is the longest possible distance between two points. Several steep cliffs, spiky ferns, bulging ant-nests, enveloping spiderwebs, and thick bush-clumps later, the truth of this rule was quite thoroughly proven. Although our intensive bush-bashing did eventually pay off: at long last, we finally found the road that we were looking for. Nice views along the way, too.
Today I discovered Moondance beach, and now I'm officially done exploring Ko Tao. Why keep searching for paradise, when you've already found it? Situated on the other side of the western headland of Chalok Baan Kao — just a 10-minute walk from my pad at Taraporn — this tiny beach is home to just two resorts, called Sunset and Moondance (respectively). Moondance beach (I forget its proper name) is calm, sandy and serene. Today, I spent the better part of the day chilling here: just swimming, reading, sunbaking and sleeping, all day long. Life here on Ko Tao is just getting harder and harder.
Robert is an Austrian fellow — another Austrian from the city of Graz. He is, like, sooo gay: I'm sure he's not the only gay on the island; although he could very well be the only gay on tiny, secluded moondance beach. Robert runs a company that organises large, mainly homosexual parties and functions in Graz, and he's a very friendly and interesting guy. He's here in Ko Tao for a month (he's not going anywhere else in Thailand), where he's doing absolutely nothing, aside from lying on the beach and working on his tan.
I bumped into this group of three at Chalok this morning, where they were scouring the beach for accommodation. Martin and Flores are two Dutch boys, and Justine is an Indonesian girl who has hooked up with Martin. The three of them have been living and studying in Shanghai, China, on exchange for the past 6 months; and now, they're down in Thailand for a holiday. They're all business / economics students: and after this, they're headed home to continue their university studies. I joined them for dinner and drinks this evening, after my Ko Tao walkabout.
I continued my exploration of greater Ko Tao today; but unlike yesterday's adventures, today I just wandered around on foot. From my new base at Chalok, I donned my hiking boots (which I haven't been wearing much, of late), and covered some serious ground. Ko Tao's a pretty small island, and virtually everywhere is reasonably accessible on foot: this makes walking a good option for reaching most places, especially considering how much safer it is than motorbike-riding on those horrific dirt roads.
With the dive course now finished, it's time to get out of Sairee, and to start exploring a bit more of Ko Tao. To kick off the exploration, today Adam and I rented a quad bike, and took it for a spin. A quad bike costs a fair bit more than a regular scooter motorbike to rent — but it's a much safer option, if you plan to tackle the shockingly poor-quality dirt roads that criss-cross most of the island. Short of running them off the road, quad bikes are extremely difficult to crash or to damage — whereas you can easily (and people regularly do) damage a scooter on a poor road, in which case you'll likely be facing a hefty repair bill. As I was still very much recovering from last night, Adam did most of the driving.
Having now finished my four-day diving course, today I said goodbye to Ban's, and to Sairee beach. I've moved down to Chalok, the second-largest beach on the island, where it's much quieter and more relaxed than Sairee, and where accommodation is much cheaper (I couldn't afford to stay at Ban's, without the complimentary room-for-four-nights deal that they gave us). I'm staying at Taraporn resort, where the bar-slash-restaurant looks out onto the gorgeous bay of Chalok Baan Kao, and where I have a cheap room that's right on the beach, as well as next to a mellow nighttime hippie bar. Now that I'm here, it's time to slow things down a bit, and to do nothing but sit on the beach and swallow a few good books.
After a difficult and lonely afternoon of separation — hell, it must have been almost 5 hours — this evening, we the Open Water crew had a grand and long-awaited reunion. It's been a while, but it was good to see everyone again :P. To celebrate, we drank the legendary farang beverage of southern Thailand: the bucket. Buckets come in two sizes: huge, and f$#%ing huge. Their contents generally consist of whisky, Red Bull and Coke; but they also come in numerous other, more exotic varieties (and, should you drink them on Ko Pha-Ngan of a full moon, less legal varieties :P). Tonight was my first bucket-drinking experience: and please G-d, may it be my biggest. Because if it gets any worse than it got tonight, then I'll be dead.
Adam's one of the quieter and less permanently-drunk Irishmen I've met over the past year. Nevertheless, he's still a right good ambassador of his booze-loving homeland: he can down his buckets all night with the best of 'em. Adam's been in my Open Water course since Friday; although somehow, I managed to avoid meeting him properly until today. Once we met, it didn't take long for us to click — or for the glasses to clink.
Claire and Amy are two young ladies from the city of Leeds, in fair old Mother England. Claire has been doing the Open Water course with me for the past four days, so she knows me and everyone else in the crew. Her friend Amy declined to partake in the diving — "it's not my thing", she said — however, this hasn't stopped her from getting in on the social side of Ban's, so we all know her as well. Lovely girls, and they've been here in southern Thailand so long, and their tan is so dark, that they're looking less English every day.