It's been a sun-soaked, adventure-packed, super-chilled three weeks I've had here in southern Thailand: first in Ko Tao, and then in Ton Sai. But now, unfortunately, the time has come to say farewell. In just four days' time, I'll be flying home to Sydney; and as such, it's time that I made my way back up to Bangkok. This morning, I said adieu to Ton Sai beach, hopped on a long-tail boat around to Ao Nang, and then caught a sawng thaew (pickup slash shared-taxi) back to Krabi. From there, I was lucky enough to purchase the last ticket on a bus back to Bangkok (via Surat Thani) this evening (my last dodgy Thai "tourist bus"). And after only a few hours of waiting during the day, I was soon on my way, and the return to Bangkok was happening. When I woke up the next morning, familiar (and still overwhelming) Khao San Road was there to greet me.
Today was a hectic day on the road — especially compared with my past week of going nowhere and of lying on the beach. Last night, I finally said goodbye to Ko Tao, departing on the night ferry back to Chumphon. The ferry set sail at 11pm, and arrived on the mainland at 5am. It was a sleeper ferry, fitted with a deck-full of bunk beds — and miraculously, I slept like a log for the entire journey. From Chumphon, I immediately grabbed a minibus (pre-booked) west to the city of Ranong, from where I did a so-called "visa run" over the border to Burma (now called Myanmar), and then came straight back without hanging around. I didn't hang around in Ranong, either: from there, I caught a bus headed south; and by 4pm, I'd made it to the city of Krabi. Lots of bussing and boating to squeeze into one day — so much, in fact, that I had time for virtually nothing else.
Yesterday I was halfway there. Today I made it all the way — I've landed in paradise, on the scuba-mental island of Ko Tao. Only took two nights, two buses, and a 5-hour ferry: and let me tell you, it was worth it. My second night bus left Bangkok yesterday evening — after my little pre-bus adventure had concluded — and the ferry from Chumphon to Ko Tao departed at about 6am this morning. Now that I'm here, I've got a feeling that I won't be leaving for a while.
My brief stint up in northern Thailand is now complete. Trekking and elephant riding are all well and good for a time — but let's face it: romping through tropical jungle is bollocks, when compared with lying on a gorgeous tropical beach. And if it's beaches you're after, then the direction to go is south, and the place to find (and there are plenty of them to be found) is a nice, idyllic island. My destination is one such island: Ko Tao. And after the overnight bus that I caught last night, from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, I'm now halfway there.
After only one night here (after getting back from the Doi Inthanon trek), this morning I said goodbye once more to Chiang Mai, and jumped on a minibus to the town of Pai. Pai's about 3 hours north-west of Chiang Mai — as the bus crawls — and it's a chilled-out place where everyone goes to relax, to find inner peace, and to meet the friendly crowd. I got picked up from my guesthouse at 9:30am, and it was a very chatty crew that we had for the morning road trip. As well as Marie and Claire (with whom I hung out almost the entire time that I was here), I also met the two Dutch guys, a vegan Aussie couple, and an older Israeli couple. By the time we arrived in Pai, I realised that I already had myself sorted — ridiculous how easily we travellers magnetise to each other, at times.
This morning marked the beginning of my trek in Doi Inthanon national park, the area south-west of Chiang Mai that's home to Thailand's highest peak, and a rich jungle-covered region that's home to several remote hill tribes. I got picked up from my guesthouse at 9:30am this morning: and to my surprise, I had to take my big backpack with me, and drop it off at the agency's office — apparently you can't leave your luggage with the guesthouse, unless you book the tour with them! I've never seen things work like that before. There were 7 of us in the back of the small pickup truck that was our lift — half of our group, which is 15 strong — and it was a quiet, sleepy and rather cosy ride out of Chiang Mai. We were all too tired, and too reserved, to introduce ourselves properly: we saved that for when the trek began.
Last night, I caught a nice 2nd-class overnight bus from Bangkok (along with my mate Jutta; and this morning, I arrived in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand's largest city. The bus last night was quite luxurious (very comfy seats, snacks served in-trip), but not exactly perfect: they played a loud and annoying Thai movie for half the night; and the air-con was on far too strong, which meant that I almost froze to death in my t-shirt and shorts. As such, I barely slept during the trip, and I arrived in Chiang Mai groggy and exhausted. Still, it's very nice to be here: after the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, Chiang Mai (although still a big place) is refreshingly serene and peaceful.
I needed to get the bus back from Bath to London this morning — but I hadn't booked a ticket; and I had no idea what the departure times were (I tried checking yesterday, but the terminal was closed). As it turned out, I was really, really lucky: I checked out of St. Christopher's, rocked up at the bus terminal at 9:40am, and just managed to jump on the 9:45am express bus to London! Phew — would have been quite a wait if I'd missed it. See, turns out that you don't have to plan and book-ahead everything here in Europe: sometimes you can get away with doing it the Latin way — i.e. turn up, and go somewhere, just like that.
London's been good, but I can't stay there for all my time in England. It's time to scoot. The place is crowded, it's impersonal, and it's jaw-droppingly, nose-bleedingly, gut-pukingly expensive. So I've headed west to the town of Bath, where I'll stay and base myself for a few days. Bath itself is a lovely town with plenty to see and do; and Bath is also a good place from which to head out to nearby places, such as Bristol and Salisbury. Got the bus over here this afternoon, and I'm liking the return to a small-town atmosphere already.
I've had a really enjoyable few days on Ilha Grande; but sadly, my flight out of São Paulo leaves tomorrow morning, and if I miss it I'm royally screwed. So this morning I had to say goodbye to this island paradise, and to begin making my way back to the mainland, and over to South America's biggest city. It took a full day — a ferry ride all morning, and a bus trip all afternoon — but after a great deal of time spent sitting on these various vehicles, I got to São Paulo. Now it's more sitting, and sleeping, as I wait for my plane.