Greetings from Koh Tao

Yo guys,

Greetings from Koh Tao!!!

Well this should be an interesting email. An email from a guy who’s cycling round the world but hardly has anything to do with cycling. More a glorified postcard.

I left the town of Hua Hin about 2 weeks ago. I reckon I’ve cycled maybe 200 miles in that time. Thailand does that to you. You fall in love with the place and you don’t want to leave. I’ve met people who came here for a week’s holiday and have been here for seven years. Sure it has it’s negatives but unlike most places, you have a real choice if you want anything to do with those negatives. There’s always an option. You’ll find a Thai hospitality and sense of fun that’ll bring joy into your life no matter how weird your upbringing.

From Hua Hin I cycled down to a town called Prachuap Khiri Khan and found a place to stay which, by my standards, was the height of luxury. Running hot water and everything. During the evening I went out to check out the town and find some food. First restaurant I came across, a young Thai girl ambled towards me, looking down at her order book. She looked up, saw me and just turned and screamed “Farang” which is what the Thais call foreigners. What must have been the Farang expert came out to inform me that they were full just as about 10 busloads of Thai tourists turned up for their pre-booked meal.

PKK

I tried a few more restaurants but couldn’t really find anything I was keen on so returned to the hotel. I got chatting to a guy at the next table who it turns out is hitch-hiking around the world which tbh, ignoring the safety aspect has to be one of the best ways I can imagine to travel. I mean how can you not meet people? If you don’t then by definition you don’t go anywhere. He’d been traveling pretty much non-stop for 9 years, always looking for the next big challenge which I’m guessing is how he arrived at the idea of hitch-hiking around the world. Makes me wonder where all this will end. Are some people just pre-destined to keep pushing the boundaries of travel?

I left in the morning and headed for a quiet beach town called Wat Tan Sai. A place which possesses the type of beaches you see in travel magazines. I have a photo of me sitting on the beach and there isn’t another person for miles in either direction. I slept in the local youth hostel which had a few, but not many tourists. The rest of the youth hostel was home to 250 students from Bangkok University on holiday for the weekend. I met the other tourists at the resort and had your standard travel conversations. As you’d expect of 250 university students, the whole place eventually turned into a big party. The owners kept coming over and apologising but tbh it was pretty tame stuff compared to what their equivalent Western counterparts would have been getting up to. Later on in the evening they started a ritual with candles and some cool songs. None of us tourists could figure out what was going on so I figured I’d go and ask a few of the students to satisfy my own curiosity. Turned out it was just how they create a bond between the 3rd and 1st year students although looking at the booze they were consuming, I had a sneaky suspicion there’d be plenty of bonding going on later anyway. They were really curious about what I was doing and after showing them my bike, I sat and told a few tales about my travels so far. Eventually I left them to the latter stages of their bonding process and headed for bed.

The Beach

Crazy Thai Students

In the morning I met another of the tourists I’d missed the night before. The guy was an American and couldn’t have been more of a traveling cliche if he’d tried. He’d obviously watched Val Kilmer’s performance in The Doors and figured that was the look and persona for him. All laid back and plenty of “duuuuuuude” thrown around the conversation. He’d been coming to Thailand since 93, “before this became all touristy, just jungle” was how he put it. Like once he arrived in 93 they should have just closed off the borders and halted all development. I kept on expecting him to tell me he’d been in “Nam dude” but his age made this impossible. Turned out he had that one covered anyway as he’d been in “Bosnia dude” where he’d seen some “shit”. He even looked off into the distance all haunted when he said he’d seem some “shit”. He said he’s been in Cambodia and when I asked him how he’d found it, he said it was just to the right of Thailand. I assumed he was joking but he wasn’t. I figured I’d get going before the Jim Morrison tracks started playing.

Around this point I decided I wanted to try some diving. It seemed sacrilege to travel through Thailand without sampling some of their world famous diving spots. I decided on the island of Koh Tao which is considered one of the best dive spots in the world and accessible by ferry from the town of Chumphon, about 85 miles south of Wat Tan Sai. I arrived in Chumphon around 7 in the evening with the intention of catching the midnight ferry to the island. The night ferry was billed as being either a fantastic experience or one of the worst nights of your life depending on the weather. Sounded perfect.

The ride down was fantastic. I took some quiet roads and cycled through some small villages and, after a few hours, the part of my body getting the most tired wasn’t my legs but my arms and face from returning the smiles and waves of the locals. I cycled through one village and the entire town was out on their veranda and everyone waved and said hello. I felt like a visiting president. That’s what I said about Thai hospitality earlier. You just can’t help but be seduced by it. If you read the Lonely Planet guides you could have a degree of cynicism about people’s motivation but being away from the city on a bike, removes any negatives I can see.

I can usually measure a town by how long it is before I’m asked by a prostitute if I’m looking for a good time. Chumphon was about 45 seconds. I told her I’m on a bike so I’m already having a good time but thank you for the offer. Luckily I’d only be in town for a few hours. In Chumphon I came across another of my traveling cliches which, unfortunately, seems particular to the English. I was in a bar, reading a book, when two girls came over, both absolutely hammered. I was polite but made it obvious I’m just here for a bit of quiet reading. They left me and returned to the bar where they just sat, argued, swore and shouted for a few hours. The background to this is that the Thais hate confrontation. They’ll avoid it at all costs which is where the famous Thai smile comes from. You could see the distaste the local Thais had for these girls, who were oblivious to everything. At one point they were f-ing and blinding there way through an argument about who’d done the most traveling and I just sat amazed that you could travel for so long but never learn to respect the local culture. What’s the point in traveling if you never learn anything either about yourself or the people around you?

I caught the night ferry and seemingly got lucky with the weather as I slept all the way. The boat itself was a fantastic rickety affair where we all slept on a big communal mattress on the top floor. The scariest moment was when the guys carried my bike onto the boat across, what looked like, the most unstable plank known to man but, as with everything in Thailand up until that point, there was “no probleeeeem”. I arrived in the morning on the island of Koh Tao to the sight of a guy holding a sign up with my name on it. I’ve waited all my life for this to happen so it was fitting it happened in Thailand.

Koh Tao

The diving course started in the evening where I met my co-students. I was to take the course with two people, Eyan, a 32 year old Israeli guy working in IT and Irene, an attractive 22 year old student from Regensburg in Germany a city which I’d cycled through a month before. Luckily we were all traveling on our own so, after the diving was over for the day, we’d stick together, go for meals or check out the local bars. The bars here are fantastic. Right on the beach with cheap beer and everyone just chilling out on the comfy mattresses. You could spend hours just lying there, listening to the surf, the various languages floating around you while staring up at the sky. Eyan was an interesting guy but it became a bit of a standing joke that he started every story with “When I was in country>, I met this girl…..”. Probably a little unfairly he was labeled as the ladies man in the group but I suspect it’s a label he quite enjoyed.

The gang in Koh Tao

After a few days the group had grown to around 8 people mainly due to Irene’s boredom at having to hear Eyan and I discussing politics in high speed English for hours on end. Her English was excellent but it’s understandable that you need to seek out people speaking your native language from time to time. The people we met were wonderfully considerate anyway and, even though it would have been a million times easier to speak in German, they’d converse in English most of the time just so Little Englander me could take part. It’s kind of shamed me into wanting to learn German when I get home. Irene tried to teach me some German but I kept on asking for random translations and my memory is a bit rubbish anyway. Strangely, the only word I remember is “verfuhren”.

Yeah me again

The various people in the group started leaving a few days ago. It’s one of the downsides about traveling that you meet people you care about and it’s entirely plausible that you may never see them again. I stayed an extra day mainly because I needed some time to reflect and write this email. Time on my own to think has been in short supply of late although I’ve enjoyed it.

My Thai BH

It’s time to leave the island now. I’ve done what I wanted to do and met the people I wanted to meet. My ferry leaves at 21:00 back to the mainland to Surat Thani and then it’s time to get cycling again. I think I’ve used up all my rest time so it’s time to go earn some more. Time to be on my own again.

Lots of love as always

Craig.

XXX

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