Back to (and through) Bangkok

Ko Samui airport. Very pretty indeed!
Ko Samui Airport – very pretty!

After virtually no sleep at Andy’s, I was up just after 5am to walk down to Hammersmith and onto the Tube to Heathrow. Again. A virtual repeat of my trip earlier this year. My flight to Abu Dhabi was delayed slightly, but was enjoyable. My only quibble was the starter with the meal being fish-based. Yuk.

During the flight I watched The International, Pink Panther 2 and most of Escape to Witch Mountain before I fell asleep. A quick switch over in the UAE and I boarded the connection flight to Bangkok – which was also delayed. I managed to squeeze in Paul Blart Mall Cop and the newer version of The Day The Earth Stood Still and then the next thing I knew I was having immigration forms thrust at me.

The queue at Bangkok was the usual, and the single guard in front of me using his mobile phone didn’t speed the queue up at all. I was in time to catch the 9:00 flight to Ko Samui, which is a shame as I’d booked onto the 9:40 in case I had difficulties. The 9:00 one left bang on time, and mine – surprise – was delayed.

As a result I missed the earlier boat to Ko Tao, but ended up chatting to an Irish/Spanish couple and a family from South Africa who I’m meeting tomorrow night for dinner and drinks.

The dive shop and accommodation (Sunshine Bungalows and Sunshine Divers)was easy enough to find. It was nice to get a shower at last, and a change of clothes was well-needed especially after the humidity hit.

Plans for tonight are to grab some grub and crash. I’m in two minds about going on the morning dives as I reckon I’ll be awake early enough. I’m going to crash before 9pm for certain. There’s no wifi here though plenty of places in town I can use. I still need to get hold of the hostel in Dili and figure out what’s happening with KL. I think tomorrow’s my deadline for getting those organised. Not helped by not knowing exactly when I’ll get to Dili!

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And we’re off. Again. Almost.

I will be in a few hours anyway. I’ve been rather busy since getting back from Graspop (details when I get the time to type it all up) and I will be lucky to get four hours’ sleep before I have to be up for the walk to Hammersmith; the Tube to Heathrow; and my flight to Bangkok (via Abu Dabhi).

And then my flight to Ko Samui and my ferry to Ko Tao. I will be very relieved once I dump my bags at the Sunshine 2 Bungalow Resort on Wednesday afternoon!

Once more, a big thanks to Andy for putting me up / putting up with me for a night in London. I hope the scraps of the KFC bucket I left is enough for rent.

There may be a couple of tweets from the airport before I leave, and then we’ll see what access is like in Ko Tao. Catch you all from the islands!

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And the quickest way to get to Ko Tao is…

Bangkok Airways Boeing 717 at Koh Samui Airpor...

Not much bigger than a bus...

…to fly. It’s not too expensive, either. My thanks to Honey who translated the Thai Transport Authority web page and helped me work out the bus times (which weren’t suitable).

If you’re not in a rush, you can get to Ko Tao two ways: bus or train then boat. Thing is, they’re both six-hour journeys and both will get you to Chumphon around 9pm. This is too late to get a ferry onto the island. Also, the train can be very busy so if you can’t book far enough in advance you may find yourself stranded in Bangkok waiting for a seat. Also, the new Southern bus terminal is way out on the wrong side of the river.

If I’d used eitherof these methods I wouldn’t have been diving until the 3rd.

So I’ve opted for a flight. Bangkok Airways do around 12 flights a day between Bangkok and Samui. It’s only an hour’s flight and with me arriving at 7:15 from the UK, I’ve opted to catch the 9:40 flight down. A slight gamble, but I have an hour’s leeway in case of delay.

This gets me to Ko Samui, not Ko Tao, but I’ll arrive at 10:45. This should allow me plenty of time to get down the road to the port and catch one of the ferries up to Ko Tao. Or I could stay on Samui. Or settle on Ko Pha-Ngan. They’re all pretty nice, but wherever I settle I can organise diving for the next day – something it doesn’t look like I could do if I travelled by land.

Another hint – book Bangkok Airways flights directly via their website. Through Expedia or Opodo (who often I do recommend), I found the price increased substantially. Skyscanner, however, got it pretty close once it had updated and located the “live” price. It only failed to add the tax.

I’d also recommend booking as far in advance as you can. Their prices do seem to vary depending on demand.

As I said earlier, though, land transport is perfectly viable. Were I not on a tight schedule I’d definitely have gone that route, but by flying I get an extra day diving which was the whole point of getting a flight from the UK arriving so early in the morning in the first place.

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Aussie catch-up

Hualamphong Station, Bangkok

Hualamphong Station, Bangkok

Fair bit of travelling since the last post, but I’ll try to breeze through it all. My flight from Yangon to Bangkok was on time, but I had some “fun” at the departure tax kiosk trying to convince them to accept a torn $5 bill and a $1 with the tiniest little rip in it. Two other passengers swapped the bills for me, stating how ridiculous the system was in Mynmar where the condition of the notes is so important. Their own currency can be battered, torn, ripped, covered in grease… and still accepted.

At Bangkok, I hooked up with another guy and two girls and we shared a taxi into the city. The chap and I were both getting off at Hualamphong while the girls were going on to Khao San Road. That involved a lot of haggling with the driver, but overall it worked out at around 50 baht each cheaper than getting the bus, and far faster.

At the train station I loafed in the KFC for an hour or so until my train was ready for boarding. A menu was provided for dinner and breakfast on the train, which would cost me 250 baht in total. You can take your own (non strong-smelling) food on board if you prefer, but the grub on board wasn’t too bad for the price.

The journey was quite long – departing at roughly 3pm and arriving at Butterworth in Malaysia around 2pm the next day (an hour ahead due to the time difference). It’s fairly comfy with large seats for the start of the journey. Around 10pm, the staff wander down and convert the seated areas into berths – one upper, one lower.  The upper ones are slightly cheaper and – apparently – slightly smaller, but certainly not cramped.

I enjoyed some brief conversation on the trip with two Japanese people travelling independantly of each other. I still find it unusual to see Japanese who aren’t on package/coach tours but they’re always very nice to chat with.

No hippies allowed!

No hippies allowed!

The customs stopoff as we crossed the border at Padang Besar was fairly casual, very much like the one coming from Singapore and heading north into Malaysia. However, here there are no x-ray machines. You still have to disembark with all your luggage, stamp out of Thailand, into Malaysia and then open your luggage. The check was cursory and polite with my bag being waved on after a quick prod and a query of “clothes?”

I did spot one sign as I queued at immigration giving details on how to spot a “hippie”. Click the thumbnail for the full details. I’m hoping this dates back to the 60’s and isn’t used these days!

At Butterworth, I haggled my bus fare down from 32RM to 28 (saving about 80p…) but had to find an ATM. If you’re arriving there off the train, go to the end of the platform to the station and look to the right. You’ll see a big glass building – the dental college. It’s about a five minute walk on the other side of the freeway. There are three banks located around the bottom with ATMs.

My 14:30 bus departed at 15:45 which wasn’t great. It was very comfy, though, with fully reclining seats and just the right level of aircon. It took quite some time to get to KL – over five hours – so it was rather late when I arrived.

The stage is set...

The stage is set...

I tried to find my guesthouse – Haven – but couldn’t spot it. As I stood looking puzzled, a man walked up and identified himself as one of the staff. Due to the heavy rain in KL recently, the ceiling had sprung a leak and they’d had to close down for repairs. He then walked me to another hostel nearby where they’d made arrangements for some of their guests to be houses. It was more expensive, but they were covering the difference. Nice place, too. So next time I’m in KL, I will be booking with Haven again and hoping their ceiling’s working!

I didn’t do much in KL apart from use the internet a lot and eat too much McD’s. I had some good company in the hostel, though, with Kiki from Vietnam, a German guy who’s name I didn’t get, James from England and a chap from Sri Lanka (now living in India) who I talked to for ages.

Then the usual Skytrain/bus combo to the airport (another McDs) and late flight to Perth where the lovely Mel picked me up after midnight. Immigration was a little hiccupy as I didn’t know Mel’s address. The usual rule – if it’s got an address space on it, fill it in. Even if you don’t know one, put any old nonsense in. The immigration guy was fine about it, to be fair, but it’s still one of those daft niggles. Back at her place I was introduced to Mason – 11 months old and cute as a button. He wasn’t around the last time I was in Perth!

Again, not a lot to do in Perth except lay back and chill out with Mel, Matt, Mason and Jezza. I bought a bundle of second hand books from an OpShop (charity place) for $4. The bill only came to $2.50 (a pound!) for about 12 books, but I don’t mind giving a charity shop a bit extra. My plan’s not to use aeroplanes so the extra bulk/weight shouldn’t be a problem.

Rocking hard!

Rocking hard!

The guys also had a gig in a nearby bar on Saturday night which I went to. They’re Matt drums, Mel sings and Jezza plays guitar. There’s also a bassist and another vocalist/guitarist who I met. The band’s called Crimson Ink and they’re pretty good! The sound was a little squelchy on their first set, but by the second and third they had a decent sized crowd up and dancing.

After the gig, there was a little altercation outside. Kids who couldn’t hold their beer – same all over the world. I helped break it up and ended up with blood down my arm and on my shirt. Not my blood, I hasten to add! And I don’t even know how it got there as I didn’t see anyone actually bleeding. Still, it all ended more or less peacefully and the venue seemed to like Crimson Ink – with luck it could mean a residency.

And that’s me up to date. I’m currently trying to get a lift to Adelaide ASAP. Failing that I’ll bite the bullet and get a flight. Tiger have one for the ridiculously low sum of $88 at 1:45am on Wednesday although I have to worry about those books. Hum.

Oh, I also have an Aussie mobile. If you need the number, contact me through the link on the right and I’ll give you it. It took me an age to register it as – like in the UK now or soon or planned – you have to register with a valid Australian address. Which is pointless as it’s not checked. The online registration refused to recognise Mel and Matt’s address, so I had to go through the voice recognition system over the phone. In an area with a really dodgy signal. Somehow I got it working though.

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