SEA: Angkor Wat to Koh Phangan

The flight from Siem Reap was uneventful. I usually fly Air Asia for these little backwater jaunts, and they inevitably change their flight schedules, so I was not surprised to find that my departure time was delayed about an hour.

IMG_8537The flight connected to another flight in the Don Muang airport in Bangkok, where I had never been before, so I gave it a good looking over with the extra time I had there. It took about 10 minutes to check out, then my departing flight was delayed another two hours so I had to sit on my butt for an eternity waiting.

On the flight, two young women (20-somethings) were seated next to me, one short blonde and one taller brown-haired girl. They looked like your typical young backpackers….a bit sun-worn, dusty looking and with lots of bracelets and bubbling with enthusiasm. They had a quirky accent, so I listened for a moment and then said “You guys are from Ireland?”

YEAH! They enthusiastically responded.

I nodded at the blonde: “Dublin….” and at the other: “…and Galway?”  Having spent some time there last summer, I felt like I could venture a totally wild guess as well as the next man. They were flabbergasted.

“Oh my GOD. How can you TELL?!? That’s exactly RIGHT….she’s from Dublin, and I’m from Galway, but I live in Dublin now!” I liked how they pronounced it “Dooblin”.

That settled it. For the rest of the flight, we chatted away like old friends and had a great time talking about Dooblin, Guinness, music, and roaming southeast Asia. Turns out that they were following the same route I had just come from, so they said they’d follow my blog and see what I had to say about Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh and southern Vietnam. (If you ladies are reading this…post a message and say ‘hi’!)

During the flight, they mentioned that they were headed to Koh Phangan for the Full Moon Party. Since I had not made any plans whatsoever and was flying by the seat of my pants, I asked how they were getting from the airport to the island. They said their friend Fiona (also from Dooblin, but away for a few years now) had made arrangements for them at a backpackers hotel in Surat Thani for the night, and had secured bus/ferry tickets from the hotel to Koh Phangan for the next morning. Not having any plans of my own, I invited myself to tag along and follow their itinerary to the island.

IMG_8539We got off the plane in Surat Thani and were instantly herded into the “Backpacker Express”….a series of organized buses, guesthouses, ferries and resorts that shuffle endless streams of young travelers out to the islands for the parties. For a mere $5, I got a seat on a psychedelic bus with a bunch of 20-somethings with dreadlocks and tattoos, and driven out to the hotel district of Surat Thani. I did wonder just how the ‘older crowd’ gets around there, but then I realized that most folks my age just fly directly into Koh Samui and get picked up by their luxury resort.

The bus ride was about 90 minutes, then we arrived at the backpacker hotel where they were to meet Fiona. I checked at the desk for a room, and got a single room with TV for 1500B. It was a real dump, and I realized that people sure were making a TON of money off the kids on the Backpacker Express. I also got a ticket on the morning fast ferry to Koh Phangan, and then met up with the three girls to head out and get street food for the night.

We parted ways when the three of them carved their way into a local fast-food place (I had no interest), so with well-wishes and an expectation to meet the next morning, I headed out to get some street food. Then back to the hotel for bed.

IMG_8541The next morning I woke early, showered and packed and was just locking my room when I heard the phone ringing with my wakeup call. Ignoring it, I made my way downstairs, and after a short while I was picked up by a minivan and taken off to my bus. At this point, I realized that I was on a different ferry than the girls, as their ferry left an hour after mine, so I did not expect to see them again. That was fine, and I hoped they would have fun travels.

IMG_8543The bus took another 90 minutes to get to the ferry terminal, where we joined about 100 other people on the dock waiting for the fast boat. When it arrived, it crept slowly into the harbor looking more like a big, slow barge than a speedboat. After we loaded up and pulled out, it crept back out of the harbor. I kept waiting for the motor to kick in, but it never did. In fact, it turned out to BE a big slow barge, and rather than take the planned 90 minutes to reach Koh Phangan, it took over two hours. LOL, and the beat goes on.

Arriving on Phangan, I walked past all the fast-talking taxi touts and found a tuktuk that was going to the beach area where Lauren and the kids were staying. He told me 200B but only charged everyone else 100B, so my suspicions were aroused. I pulled the driver aside and asked “Why am I paying twice what they are?” He said it was because Haad Rin beach was much further than the others. When we pulled out, I quickly realized that he was not ripping me off at all…he was ripping THEM off. Everyone else got out within a few kilometers (for 100B), but my ride was about 15 kilometers (for 200B).

I arrived in Haad Rin, saw the sign for my resort, and hopped out and started trekking down the road. I felt a bit all alone, and was looking forward to seeing Lauren, when suddenly, someone said “Hey, aren’t you that guy who was in Ireland last summer?” and amazingly enough, there was Fiona, the friend of the two girls I met on the plane! The other two were down checking into their resort, but it was the most amazing coincidence to run into her on this little road in the middle of nowhere on this island. We chatted for a minute, I told her to say hello and ‘good travels’ to the other two, and walked on down the hill.

At the bottom of the hill was the resort, and a voice came out of the restaurant sitting area saying “and here’s Myron!”. I had found the gang, having lunch and waiting for my arrival. 🙂

The week I spent with them was great. Not much to tell….a lot of sitting around enjoying each others company, drinking beers, eating good food, exploring the beach, riding elephants, going to waterfalls, riding scooters, and enjoying the hell out of the grandchildren. I got a fishing rod and got to spend an afternoon teaching D how to reel in (he got a whole lot of strikes but was a bit oblivious to that). And little I is just so beautiful for words, and such a cheerful little smiler. All in all, it was fun and cozy, but after a week everyone had to depart, except me. (And yes, because they are minors and I haven’t gotten permission from mom or dad to post their names, I’m using initials. It’s a good protocol for a public site like this blog.)

To avoid that ‘abandoned’ feeling, I ended up moving from the luxury resort to a little beach bungalow resort next door for a night, then I moved into town to the Blue Marine cabanas for the TV and WiFi. With another week to kill before I had to return to Hong Kong, today I decided to take the ferry to the next island (Koh Tao) to see about some snorkeling.

You’d think, being smaller and a bit more remote, that Koh Tao would be a wonderful find, eh? Stay tuned…..

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3 responses to “SEA: Angkor Wat to Koh Phangan

  1. Ok Mr. Buck, riding an elephant may be every day for you and the grandkids but not for us snow lovers here in Maine. Where are the pictures of you riding or the gang riding elephants on the beach or wherever one rides an elephant, inquiring minds want to see?

    • LOL, I don’t have any pictures! The first elephant (with the kids) started hiking off, and the elephant Lauren and I were on got a bit left behind, and didn’t like it. So he started sulking and trumpeting, which make Lauren so uncomfortable that she demanded to get back off. So in the end, we never had a good look at the other elephant with the kids on it. However, I’ll be going back up there in a day or so, so watch for some photos.

      What, elephant riding isn’t an everyday thing for you guys?

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