Tuesday, 27 December 2011

From Chiang Mai to Ban Bangbao

In which the police fail us, we find ourselves unable to pay for dinner and my filthy travel towel is stolen
Starring drunk tattooed French terrorism enthusiasts 

Path to the beach
Another night bus, another volley of groans.  We got onto a very full bus in Chiang Mai and had to persuaded some French boys to move so that we could have seats together.  The Thai night buses are infinitely inferior to the Laos ones.  For a start, there are seats rather than beds and although they recline the ones in front of you go back so enthusiastically that you land up, unable to move with a French coke-snorting, whiskey-swilling tattooed hooligan practically on your lap, affording you excellent views of the Twin Towers destruction footage he is watching on repeat on his laptop.  Oh how we wished some police from the numerous check points we drove through would have got on board to do a random check.

What’s more we had been repeatedly assured that the change of buses in Bangkok would be a doddle. But in the 6am darkness the map we were clutching bore no resemblance to the streets we now found ourselves in.  We stopped at several bar (still bubbling with late night revellers) to ask about the names of roads or, you know, any vague hints about where we should be going and met nothing but rude responses or directions to Thai Boxing. Eventually a very sweet guy agreed to walk us to where he thought it would be – a road we had earlier balked at going down thanks to the fact that it was littered with abandoned cars and graffitied vans.  This was in fact the correct street and we sat optimistically outside the very closed looking “Bamboo Tattoo” agency until eventually, a long haired man on a pink motorcycle turned up and instructed us to follow him.

Christmas Dinner 
24hr hours later we were in Ko Chang an island off Thailand’s northern coast which supposedly had amazing diving and was full of the "laid back traveller vibe" we were seeking. (Yes those are sarcastic quotation marks.)  We checked into Cliff Cottage on the very southern coast with a dining room overlooking the sea and some very basic huts.  “Oh, that bathroom, (the one on the top of hill where all the huts were), no, we don’t worry about cleaning that one.  Use this one down here (a good five minutes stumble through the dark)”.  Aside from the facilities it was a very lovely spot with excellent wifi that afforded good Christmas skypes.

On Christmas day took a tuk tuk down to the local beach which is lined with very cool bars and spent the day sipping cocktails and eating very unconventional fare – spicy seafood salad.  In the evening we went out for dinner along the pier where there are a series of seafood restaurants serving grilled fish and, would you believe it, white wine!  We got to the end of our very pricey meal and suddenly realised that we didn’t have enough money to pay for it.  My offers to leave my watch were poo-pooed and eventually after insisting on giving them our email address and phone number we left. When we came back to pay the next day it took a great deal of explaining – to the same waiter who had served us – that we needed to pay our bill.

On Boxing we booked on a four island snorkelling trip which I was particularly excited about as the coral was supposed to be excellent.  The boat held about one hundred passengers.  Who knew that there were this many irritating people on Ko Chang?  We arrived at the first spot alongside three similarly packed boats and everyone leapt into the water in their life jackets.  Here is the photo of the most interesting thing I saw:

I refused to even get in on several of the other stops. There has clearly been dymanite fishing of epic proportions in this area – the coral was obliterated and covered in sand and there were almost no fish to be seen.  The lunch was nice though.

Activities on Ko Chang
We spent the next two days at a beach bungalow on the local beach – doing very little between meal times and cocktail hours. The main entertainment was provided by the local dogs (of which there were many).  Over breakfast one morning we heard our very attractive hotelier saying to a German man: “Do you like my puppies?”  “Oh yes,” he replied “we will stay a long time to play with your puppies.”  The only incident that marred this otherwise idyllic time was the disappearance of my handy travel towel from the balcony.  I suspect one of the dogs is sleeping comfortably.  

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