Thailand

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It’s been now 25 days since I came back from Thailand. This is almost how long it took me to land back mentally and starting to be conscious of the all envergure of what this trip has been. And today, tonight, right now, I finally am going to write down the history of this trip.

It’s been a long time since I wrote on my blog, basically I’ve written very few in 2013 compared to 2012. I’ll repeat to whoever is reading now: this is not informative, this is not tourist recommendation focused, this is something I’m writing to keep alive what I felt during those 17 days I’ve spent travelling with my friend Sara.

As an introduction, let’s talk about Sara. Because our story is nice to my eyes, is sure good to know for whoever is still reading this. But let’s keep it short:

October 2007: I enter the second phase of my degree in IDEP and integrate directly the class during at the beginning of their third year of term. I’m about to spend the next years with all those people that not only have 2 years of design education that I lack of, but most of all 2 years of sharing and knowing each others; I feel dropped in the middle of something strong. It’s new. I know I’m exactly where I needed to be. But man this is going to be tough in terms of adaptation, to the level as to the group.

And this is when my path meets Sara’s, one of the class students.

Can’t remember well how I started to get along with her or anyone, but I remember the three first pieces of information I got from her:

her father is from Galicia, like my mother; she likes Red Hot Chili Peppers, and she’s damn cute.

During those 2 years, we got to know each other better, partied, shared magical moments in Baba’s, I met her close friends sometimes, she met mine, but we never got to a real point of intimacy and strong friendship; just good mates.

I remember feeling honoured to be consulted about her moving to Amsterdam, and being very supportive about it. And then she did move, she left for Amsterdam, around the end of 2009, few months after finishing our degree at IDEP.

We maintained good relation after that, in the line of what we had for the past 2 years.

New year’s eve 2011: I go to Amsterdam on my own. She makes it up for me to spend New Year’s Eve at her flat, although she wasn’t in Amsterdam, and I ended up spending the best time.

December 2012: the big switch

Not sure how everything happened… but in December, she confessed a romance with one of our mutual friend, and this moment has been the beginning of many events that led us to be that good of friends.

Unforgettable nights partying around Christmas while the three of us were in Barcelona, best moments ever.

And then, on the 18th of January 2013, she came all the way from Amsterdam to Madrid for my birthday and offered me not only this exciting moment of building the surprise for her lover that didn’t knew she was coming, but also contributed in big part to make of this party and endless moment of absolute awesomeness, partying basically from Friday night until Sunday night. Our connection was made and it was strong.

The bad news of her breaking up few month after was sad for me, because this couple made me simply happy, but this also led her to give me one of my greatest moment of excitement of the year.

It was around April I think, we were both in Barcelona, and we met for drinks, at Morro Fi. And after a couple of vermouth, she looks at me and says she has to talk to me about something. She’s been thinking and trying her best to go on a long distance trip; for several reasons she hadn’t been able to make it and that she badly wanted to go to Thailand… she kept on talking, but at this same moment, my heart started beating like mad and every living cell in me was standing on their feet screaming in silence for being asked to do this trip with her… and 1 second after, she was asking me to be her trip-to-Thailand buddy. Couldn’t find the perfect way to say yes. It was yes in so many ways that I trusted a simple ‘yes’ would do it for he to understand how happy and excited I was about this.

And from this moment, there was a new thing in our lives: we were going together on a trip to Thailand!

We talked a lot, via Skype, via Facebook, via Whatsapp, via email, via GoogleChat, we met in Barcelona, we spent hours together planning, arranging and making sure, both in the most diplomatical way, that everything we wanted to do matched both our expectations. We happily realized that we were totally connected and had the same visions in our head about what this could be.

This looked good. Too good to believe maybe, but I closed my eyes I kept on running towards whatever was coming out of this.

More or less one month before leaving we booked our flights, making sure we would meet in the same city for our connection and experience the big part of the airplane flight together. We left our respective cities on the 30th of august for Helsinki from where a plane would leave at 17h10 for Bangkok.

It was a big relieve that neither of our flights had delayed from the schedule, and as if nothing, we just met in Helsinki’s airport. We wait for about half an hour, and here it was: we, Sara and Nico, designers who met at the university in Barcelona, were both boarding for a 17 days trip through Thailand.

We hadn’t booked more than our first too nights in Bangkok and our first night in Chunphom, we both felt the need to let ourselves flow and plan the less possible.

Saturday 31 August – Bangkok – 07h15

We didn’t close even one single of our 4 eyes during the flight, and we knew that we were going to begin the jetlag process in an extreme way. But we were far away from even thinking about it. A Finnish passenger, totally drunk, started making trouble in the plane shortly before landing, and the stewards and hostesses got the point of getting out plastic handcuffs and literally stopping the guy from even moving by tighting his arms and legs.

The next time I saw the guy, was in the airport; he walk just in front of me, considerably less enthusiastic, escorted by 7 Thai policemen and with some wounds on his face has a warming welcome from authorities. Let’s say it: totally disserved it. I’m not in favour of any kind of violence, but the guy was looking for trouble. He found them, the Thai way.

But here we were, glad to get our backpacks and already outside breathing the dense hot and humid air of Bangkok.

We took the subway to get to the center of the city, rather than a cab, anxious for direct contact with people.

Our first conversation with a third person was with a French girl. She was standing next to us in the metro, backpacking, and talking to Thai people. I grabbed a piece of conversation, and when she had finish talking with the guys, I started the conversation with her. It was her last days in south Asia after a 4 month trip; she was very friendly and willing to give us good tips about Bangkok, but also about Ko Tao or Ko Samui, where we were planning on going. Of the few places she recommended, I’ll highlight the “rockbar” in Ko Samui… This bar will come up later in the narration.

After half an hour of subway, we arrived somewhere in Bangkok and said bye bye to our french friend of the day.

We were under a bridge, traffic was already jammed, and we were hungry. So we just walked 10 meters and entered a food stand for our first Thai meal.

Few things I remember about the specific food we had, but man was it spicy. Cry-and-sweat-from-your-nose hot spicy. But it-was-good. And we were surrounded by only local people, which is something very valuable in Bangkok, a city infested by 24.000.000 tourists a year.

To go to our hotel, we thought it was manageable to go walking, but we quickly realized that there was no way we would stand up to this heat and the weight of our backpacks after a 10h flight without sleeping. So we hopped into a tuktuk and started our relation with Bangkok private transportation services, that’s tuk tuk and taxis. And it was a very good one for the first one, a nice guy named Suban that took us straight to the hotel, talked the all way with us, and in the end asked US to took a picture with him, something we hadn’t thought of but that was actually a very nice moment.

At this moment, we had in mind that Thailand, the land of smile, was as its name sells a land of smiling of warm people. And our first Thai friend was a confirmation. We couldn’t take the smile out of our faces.

We through our bags in our new room for the next two days and straight went to the swimming pool for a refreshing swim and turquoise-blue cocktails with some Thai food.

After a quick nap, we threw ourselves out of the hotel and started with this street the French girl had mentioned, Kao San Street, famous for its backpackers community, bars, and shops.

We didn’t loose much time in the shops since we didn’t want to buy anything until the last day, so we just walked, smelling those new aromas, eyes wide open scanning every detail of what was happening in the street, the crunchy-scorpion sellers, the street pubs waitress doing their bet to attract half Europe in her bar, fresh juices, tattoo shops, clothes, fakes and souvenirs, noises, music, tuktuk digging their way through people, an harmonic chaos that absorbed us straight away as part of the game, playing for the “occidental tourists” team of course.

IT was around 17h when we started to let ourselves get lost in some narrow humid streets where no tourist would find anything interesting, discovering what looked like the backstage of Kao San, the actors houses and residences, 14 galaxies away from Hollywood actors houses. The contrast was quite strong, and from almost occidental looking pubs and shops, few streets after we were discovering small flat, full of all families, sitting on the floor, barefoot, surrounded by strong smell of damp, with no intentions of considering us, which compared to the usual harassment of locals in touristic areas is noticeable, or smiling, which in this case in clearly understandable.

People like to say that the best thing to do in Thailand is to eat out of food carts, that you can find everywhere you look. But Thailand maybe one thing, Bangkok is a whole other one. Call us picky or posh, but believe me, you had to be totally unworried about food hygiene and stockage to dare eating a stick of the chickenishy looking meat that had been standing here in the humid and hot polluted air of the city.

Around 19h, in the middle of what was still humid narrow streets, we found a good-looking veggie/vegan restaurant (a big hole in the wall with a kitchen and tables). We definitely felt good finding this place and have a meal there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0cKilIC3y8

Our next goal was a relaxing rooftop for having drinks.

One strange thing in Bangkok, in the old city at least, is that many times locals have no clue of where things are in their own. And a top of this, turns out that even taxis and tuktuks often not only have no clue of where are things but also don’t know how to read a map one would show to explain where to go, which makes the all game even funnier…

We headed toward the river where we read there were some nice places for having a drink.

It was close from our starting point, but it took way more time than we would have dare expecting. We first took a tuktuk that took us close from our destination. But then we had to find the actual place, the Amorosa.

One of our greatest mistakes was to ask a parked taxi driver for our way. Took him about 3min looking at the map, leaving clear that he had no idea of what he was looking at, but since the culture pushes people to avoid saying no, it always seems like ‘yes’. One useful skill in Bangkok is learning how to read not even lips but behaviours, that say ‘no’.

One of the most stressing and annoying moment of our all trip was at this moment, when at this moment, in the darkness of a cross road, we had one taxi driver on one corner screaming at us to come back and use his cab, which proves that the guy hadn’t understood at all we were going really close from where we were now, and on the other corner, a couple of tuktuks literally screaming at us ‘my friend my friend!!!!” for us to hop on.

And ‘no’ is not an answer that will leave clear that you’re not interested. It’s seems like the contrary actually, it’s like if you were accepting to hear about the offer.

This aggressive behaviour toward tourist is quickly annoying and it takes a lot in terms of patience and reflection to handle it without turning into a bad tourist. It took us almost our all stay to understand those nuances and being able to deal with it, but at this moment, we were between amazingly excited about being in Bangkok, tired of not sleeping enough and easily irritable. But we just kept on going with our plan, that took us then again into dark narrow and empty streets, looking for this rooftop nobody apparently knew about. We were this close to give up when we ran across a French girl we asked our way to in part because she wasn’t looking like a tourist. And yes, she knew where we were going and were able to give us the way. Well… Still took us about half and hour to actually find the place, that of course turned out to not be opened yet, but 5 minutes after we found another one and we were finally sitting, not only on a rooftop with an amazing view on the Chinese temple, but also in what seemed suddenly like an oasis of calm and hygiene. It felt good.

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We drank some cocktails, had some food, and around 24h, we decided to leave and call it a day, and long damn day.

We started walking. At some point, we decided to stop a tuktuk to avoid walking. And surprise, the tuktuk guy, after staring at our map he obviously wasn’t understanding, told us ‘no’. A simple and single word that left us asking ‘why’, the answer to our simple question being an even more simple answer: no. And he left.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPM07V_4hR0

We weren’t sure what was going on, especially after the second tuktuk gave us the same answer to our two questions:

– We’re going to Lamphutree Hotel

Long staring at the map…

– No. No.

– But why? (With our shoulders lifted, hands like when one wants to feel if it’s raining outside, eyes of despair)

– No.

And he left. All very surprising, but we dealt with it and kept on walking toward what was going to be a great moment. After walking 20min more minute, now decided to just go home walking, we suddenly found ourselves crossing a night market, full of people, in which we were two tourists, us. Us walking at almost 1AM surrounded by Thai people who, and that’s news’ didn’t pay a tiny bit of attention to us. Not that we suddenly looked like Thai people, just that they didn’t care whom we were, and that felt amazingly good. We just wandered, watch what was being sold, trying on stuff, floating in an all universe of new secrets and left invisible to the people around.

The 2km that we still had to walk from this market to the hotel gave us a vision of the local version of the night in the popular neighbourhoods of Bangkok. Very dark streets, people sitting on plastic chairs or right on the floor, cats wandering alone, still not clear if prostitutes, but women standing straight on the street that’s for sure. And on the last 500m, Thai people lying on the floor being massaged by other Thai people, in a such natural way that it was different from any kind of similar situation we had seen before. This last walk from the rooftop to the hotel had been very interesting and refreshing, and most of all totally improvised and unexpected, and it fit straight away to the kind of things we came here for: surprises.

Before arriving to the hotel we stopped by a 7/11 for some drinks to take home, but the lady explained us in a not friendly way that after midnight no alcohol could be sold. We left the shop, amused by the way we were addressed by this woman, and decided to have the last drink in the bar next to the hotel, where we met an Italian couple and talked a while, before finally letting our bodies finally get some well disserved sleep time.

Sunday 01 September – Bangkok

We tried our best wake up not too late, but although we made it to the breakfast, we weren’t able to fall asleep again, the best part being that we didn’t care, it was all right. I’m usually tending to squeeze the most I can time and enjoy the most I can, but we both felt that we definitely needed some sleep after this long day we had.

Around 13h, we threw ourselves out again, heading towards the muai tai stadium to get tickets for the end of the afternoon. This happens every weekend, and we decided that today was the day. We crossed a local market, again, no tourists, and again, 99% of food sold wouldn’t make it to my mouth, ever. You want to convince yourself that if it’s sold it’s probably good, but even if your eyes snooze the alert and accept the conditions, your nose, occupied dealing with strong moist and garbage smells, stops you from doing anything you could easily regret. The river along which the stands were mounted didn’t help at all with the relaxing process; brownish water, strange things floating, foam… not things that are easy to pass on.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uDMO9FcOio

We actually saw popping out of the water something very similar to a crocodile. We learned 10 days later that it was a water monitor, apparently common, but definitely similar to a small alligator.

We finally got to the stadium and bought our tickets. In our imaginary, we would be surrounded by Thai holding alive chickens in their hands, screaming like mad in a humid ambiance, sweat would drop on us from both the ring and the people. But we end up buying ringside VIO tickets. Turned out to be the best idea, because none of what our imaginary was projecting actually happened, and we had great seats for enjoying the fights.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=La4cez6qWu0

It definitely was worth attending. Seeing two people, with names and shit, beating the hell out of each others in such a noble way was an experience and a lesson in many ways. And we learned, at least, how to do the previous ceremonial dance they do before each fight.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DVDBpz4Kh0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ly-5FgwQkCA

Before going to the fight we bought our train tickets for Chumphon from where we would take the boat for Ko Tao.

When booking hotels before the trip, we realized that their was no way we could take the train from Bangkok to chumphon and the boat from chumphon to Ko Tao on the same day, and we had to stay one night in Chumphon. At that moment, with went through Google, entered ‘chumphon’, viewed a couple of pictures and immediately felt fine with the idea of spending the night there.

To go back from the stadium to the hotel, we decided to take a cab, and that night, we understood a bit more about how to deal with taxi: wherever you want to go, they will offer you to pay 200bath. You go down to 50, and from there, whether they say 70 and it’s fine, or they simply say no.

200bath is an awful lot of money for a cab ride, but for a tourist, it’s 8€, that you split with your buddy, so they usually have few complains about the price.

Anyway, we ended up walking to the hotel…

There a few drinks at the bar, a quick swim in the pool, and bedtime.

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Monday 02 September – Bangkok>Chumphon

06:00 – we wake up, quickly get ready and leave the hotel for the train station, from where our train would leave at 08:05. A bit of stress, no taxi would pick us, and once we got into a cab, we got stuck in the enormous traffic jam Bangkok offers every single morning to car drivers.

But we got there in time. Not our train.

10:05 – our train leaves the station… After 2 hours of standing on our feet waiting.

It was of course amusing to discover the local trains, the crazy amount of air fans of the roof of each wagons, the seats that hardly stand straight, the free food that was quite alright, and viewing the landscapes passing by, palm trees, dried out cows, green brown and blue if you blurred your eyes.

And after 6h long hours, we finally arrived to Chumphon, also written Chumporn, which seemed somehow interesting…

First thing we did was making sure we would where to head to tomorrow morning to get our boat. Turned out to be real quick and after few papers to sign and few more money papers to give, we were on a pick up riding through the jungle towards our hotel, the Nana Beach.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeQjfpauYEM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Niam3P5SKGs

The place was as beautiful as it was empty, and there was the two of us in a huge seaside residence.

We threw our stuff and went for a quick swim and walk on the beach.

The beach was empty of any touristic presence, and many local people were spending the last hours of the day sun bathing, all dressed up in a water at 30 degrees, or just sitting on the beach with friends playing guitar. They were enjoying life in the most simple way ever, chilling in paradise basically.

We turned back and our way, we stopped at a bar got a drink and some food.

We had no clue of what kind of crazy night we were about to have.

When I got up to order the second round of drinks, a Thai guy nicely offered to join him and his friends for a snooker game. When 10minutes after he repeated his offer, we got up and started playing.

It was me, Sara, Martin a german man who moved there 8 years ago and was enjoying life in the middle of this amazing place, Kop, the bar owner who invited us to join in the first place, Tuk and Kwan, 2 nice girls, and another thai guy apparently wealthy.

We played a few games, got know everyone, and one thing led to another, we ended drinking loads of jagger shots and dancing, in the middle of a bar on the beach, in the middle of paradise. We both some moments of “this is amazing”. We closed the bar, because of course, when it comes to Jagger shots, we’re good players and hard to win, and around 4, when it was only us two and the barmaid, we went home, after a quick sea bath, so thankful and amazed by what had happen. And we slept.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvzao_agANU

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Tuesday 03 September – Chumphon > Ko Tao

Tricky to wake up on time after such a night, but we made it and took time for a nice breakfast with beautiful view before being picked up by our taxi, and started our journey to Ko Tao.

After more than 1 hour of speedboat, we got there. Ko Tao was there in front, and what we were seeing was beautiful. Light blue transparent water, green rocks and more light blue in the sky. And tourists, of course.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpClLIZx3dE

We got off the boat and our first task was to find a place that had three things: drinks, food, and Wi-Fi, for us to find a place to stay.

After 1h of browsing through tripadvisor and local guides, we decided to go for a treat and get a room in a quite classy place that wasn’t expensive. We got there in taxi, but the place was full. So the taxi, nice guy, took us to a place where we would find several nice options. We quickly got to visit the room of the SeaShell Resort and immediately took the room, a very nice one and way cheaper than our first try.

We left our stuff, and after a quick shower, we went toward the beach. What we were saying was mesmerizing.

And for if the place in itself wasn’t enough, we saw this bar on the beach, with a terrace made of poof with small wood tables and candles right onto the sand. And if ever once sitting the situation wasn’t enough, a guy was there playing guitar and singing, nice smooth acoustic covers. And if ever this was still not enough, 2 Thais places themselves between us and the seashore doing amazing moves with fire sticks. We were already in non-stop smiling mode with only the view, the rest was magic.

For dinner, around 22h, we ended up in the pizza place, the only one that would still cook at that time.

After dinner, we went back toward the beach for a quiet drink, although the mood in the all place was more similar to a place like Lloret de Mar than ant quiet place.

And yeah… Few minutes after, we were on the sand with one foot in the water, sharing a 1L bucket of mojito, on a beach full of people dancing to loud beach-party music, some other limbo’ing under a wood stick on fire, some being good at it, some others simply banging there all face into the fire and getting back on their feet with a huge black tattoo on their face, people screaming wild. The all limbo thing actually stopped when a couple ran and decided to jump over the fire stick, landing on top of it and destroying it. Quite unbelievable nobody started to burn out, but everything was still good.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwjcETB55bw

We got along with the waiter from Burma, and started drinking several shots of Jagger with him, but the local way, which is eating a whole lava-burning hot chili right after drinking. My mouth kept on burning for about half and hour after. Then we met a whole group of Dutch and German cool guys, got along and ended up having drinks on a fisher boat next to the shore.

A great night of partying, and of course, we closed the party.

Wednesday 4 September – Ko Tao

Woke up and went to the beach, for a needed session of relaxation, listening to smooth reggae and writing those lines, with this postal card landscape in front.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33-x582zFBU

At this point we already had made a big decision: although our plan was to go north to some jungle parts of the country after few days of islands, we decided there was no way we would leave the islands, basically because it’s really unique to spend several days surrounded by so much beauty.

After lunch, we went for a recommended snorkelling spot on the other side of Ko Tao, using one of those huge taxi pick-ups.

We arrived on this beautiful and way less touristic beach after 20min of driving through the jungle. We took our masks and dove in what would turned out to be the richest snorkelling experience of the all trip. Unexpected shapes and colours were floating in front of us, fishes exclusively dedicated to eat the all land of coral on the ground, which created this light crackly noise out of the underworld silence. We were flying under the level of water, in a sky of colours angels dancing for us.

After a while there and clearly falling asleep laying on the sand, it was time to go back. We offered a Greek couple to share our taxi, chat a bit, and here we were on our side of Ko Tao.

We directly went to our ‘sofa-on-the-beach-and-live-music-and-fire-acrobats’ bar to have a cocktail with intention if enjoying what could only be the most beautiful sunset. And yes it was beautiful. Great moment of laugh when our new Greek friends that happened to show up at the same bar, and while couple were like feeling forced to all do their phony sunset and ‘I love you’ picture that would must probably end up as their cover picture on Facebook, and offered us to shoot for us our couple picture and sunset. Since we were not what it could easily look like, a couple, we punked a bit the mood with a crappy hilarious picture that didn’t convey cute love but something more like trashy fun friend love. A great moment.

When sun set, we went back to our resort to have in shower in our new room, a lower class room, that at first view seemed to us as being quite enough for what we needed. 10min after opening the door we were deciding we needed a tiny bit more than this crap hole and went to complain about several details. All we got was a not so nice feedback from reception, and when we told them we wanted to rent a more tiny bit more confortable room, the lady told us that we would have to pay both rooms if we wanted another one. Fuck that. So we grabbed our shit and went in search for a new hotel. Next door, the Lotus, entered, visited room, took it.

Went for one of the few Thai places around, a place we were recommended by locals, and a quite good and relaxing dinner and long chat.

Went back to our new hotel exhausted, watched some local TV and felt asleep.

Thursday 5 September – Nangyuan Island, Ko Tao

Although our new hotel regime didn’t include breakfast, since those bastards from Seashell Resort didn’t want to turn back our money, we were able to get our breakfast there. Fortunately we were still able to cancel the next night and get our money back.

Next destination: the amazing and small island of Ko Nangyuan.

Took a taxi boat, got there, and first thing we did was to start with a diving initiation. A cool experience, flying 12m under the surface, between buildings of coral and gangs of bright shining fishes. We spent maybe 1 hour floating smoothly and end our experience.

Next step was, of course, to get food. It’s a shame that because there are only 2 places to get lunch, they don’t doubt in acting like stupid bastards toward tourists. But again, and in spite of the bad experience, we kept our smile and were lucky to talk with nice people, the Greek couple for instance. Yes, them. Again. Which was cool.

After a cool session of frisbee on the beach, we took our taxi boat back to Ko Tao, had some food in the Seashell resort, green curry chicken again, and after enjoying just looking at the view, we went for a shower before night.

After a dinner at the same place than the day before—that’s how good it was—we went back to the beach of the Lotus bar for another session of cocktails on the beach in chill mode. Well, chill mode until the music started to get more energic, which is when the joyful demons of the party rang our doors… We started mixing with the few that dared to move their body, and after closing the chill bar, here we were again on the beach dancing, meeting again with Dutch people from 2 days before. The most epic moment being our dance cover in the water of Bohemian Rhapsody, singing (or screaming maybe) and creating our own water explosions, feeling as free as man can be.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdLtR6k8PRA

For “the last one”, we all moved to the pool of the hotel. And there, talking with Katia, one of the Dutch girl, about their trip to Chiang Mai, and hearing about how incredible their experience was, we both had a mental switch. The music turned off in our ears; the bars became the less appealing thing to look out, and our brain started to change their signals, awaking us enough time to realize that we weren’t doing it right, that Thailand wasn’t about that. We were wasting our nights partying, out money for drinks, our mornings for hangovers, and this was not what we wanted, and we knew that from now on, things couldn’t keep on going this way; although we didn’t regret any single moment we had until now. But this phase was over. And we went to bed, so chocked by this overlook we suddenly had, that it was almost feeling as if we hadn’t drink one glass of anything liquorish.

This matched with our last night in Ko Tao, a perfect moment to make a change.

Friday 6 September – Ko Panghan

We woke up at 7h45, not easy, and went to grab our boat for our new destination, Ko Panghan, the second of the three islands we were planning visiting, leaving behind us Ko Tao, an amazingly beautiful place, very close to a dream, but a tiny bit too busy with tourists. Still we had a hell of a fun time.

 

We kept away from each others during the 90min trip to Ko Panghan, not because of any bad mood, just that Sara felt like laying, and I feeling awesome on the top deck with the wind and the sun, the sea around, listening to music and just thinking about stuff.

Same story again when we arrived: find a bar with Wi-Fi, connect and review trip advisor and whatever URL that would give us tips for finding the best place to stay.

I was wearing my shirt of FC Barcelona, and when I put it on earlier, I told Sara how well received it was to be wearing those colours in Asia. As soon as we got out of the boat, next to the decks, we found two kids fishing, each one of them wearing a different shirt of Barça. They kindly accepted to pose for a photo with me, for it turns out to be on my favourite pic of the all trip.

Few meters later, several Thais cheered me for the same reason: “hey!! Barssalona! Messi! The Best!” Joined with big smiles. About twice a day at least.

We walked five hundreds meters and found this food market, in which we found our bar for the next hour.

We asked for a drink, connect, but I was craving for one other green curry chicken. So I went inside the market and picked up one of the many similar options and ordered a portion of my new drug.

The kitchen was very opened, and when I asked, the woman kindly accepted that I come closer to look at how this dish was made. Quite easy, while you have the proper ingredients, the green curry paste being the most tricky to find in Madrid.

When I came back to the bar, I was carrying my take away food; which means in Thailand carrying your food in plastic bags similar to those used to carry golden fishes. There was no way I could eat this without proper plate and spoon. I had to ask the woman of the bar for a favour and ask her to lend me what I needed to eat properly.

I got up, showing my two plastic bags of food, and began my request:

“Sorry, do you have…” That’s how far she let me go before saying yes and taking out a plate, a fork, a spoon, go outside of the bar toward the market stand in front and grab a bowl she brought me back, gently took my food from my hands and served my dish. I was speechless. Not only for the gesture in itself that was so nice from her, but because my all body melted wondering if that was it, if that island was this place where people were as we were expecting in Thailand, kind, generous, smiling, and receptive to how kind we’ve always did our best to be during those days.

The generosity of the tip I left and my smile and thanks were the best I could give her as a feedback of how delighted and excited I was.

After 40 minutes looking for places, the woman’s husband came in, German, and we asked for recommendations, that proved us that asking directly people is maybe the best option, instead of reviewing dozens of critics that are to interpret since it’s impossible to know who’s actually writing. Too random to be useful, at least to be as useful has real people’s direct recommendations. After designating on the map the places for heavy partying, the places for rich folks, the man oriented us toward the northern west coast, and 10 minutes later, we were sitting on a cab toward the recommended beach. The idea once there was again to walk on the beach in search for a good place to stay. We began with the first one on the beach, and after visiting the room, we agreed to stay there. We followed the woman back to the reception for paying, but 1 meter before we got there, an American woman stopped us quietly and told us, with some kind of sincere and genuine silent rage voice “don’t stay there, the pool is infected, the people are not nice, and there’s an hotel right next door with a beautiful pool that we wish we had stayed at”. We believed her, and instead of getting our wallets out, we put our backpacks on and rode to the recommended hotel.

Bingo.

Beautiful place, stunningly nice staff, and the room were really nice. THIS is where we’re staying, at the Long Bay Resort.

First thing we do is go grab something to eat, green curry chicken for me of course.

During our all trip, we were very careful about food. We took into account every possible recommendation, and we never had water from the tap, never ordered salad, never ate fruit from the street. We always went for cooked or fried food, always chicken for me, always beef for Sara. For what is Bangkok, there was NO WAY we would have picked up one of the fast food offered on those mobile food trucks, no way we would have put in our mouth a single piece of this chicken, those shrimps or mussels, those white sausages that were laying under the sun for hours using Bangkok’s contaminated air to go on with their oxidation process toward being totally rotten and hopefully thrown away before killing anyone.

In spite of such care, we were going to be under attack few days later…

When we had finished our meal, we went in relax mode, for what was left of the day. Quick nap on the long chairs staring at the sea, then Sara went to try the famous Thai massage, while I sat at the bar chatting with the owner of the place, Vincent, a French guy who had already 8 years of experience living in Thailand, with whom we quickly got along.

The anglo-speaking couple that sat and started with us, turned out to be, took me some 15 minutes to realize it, the couple that saved us from staying in this crappy hotel we were about to book. A very nice Australian/English couple, Megan and Colin, who was actually still suffering from a ear infection he caught in the swimming pool, the day before they actually closed it. We were thankful to them. They left, Sara arrived, she talked with Colin and Megan further on the beach where they met, we joined the four of us for a dinner under a pouring rain and called it a day sometime around 22h.

Saturday 7 September – Marina Park/Ko Panghan

We woke up at 7 and took a cab to get to the pier from we would board a boat that would take us for a day ride at the Marina Park.

We met with a young French couple, got on the boat, and after a 40minutes ride, we jumped in the water for a half an hour swim between fishes and corals, somewhere in the middle of the ocean along a tiny piece of earth.

From there, we were taken to a desert island around which we rode a kayak boat, probably the high point of this organized trip, that led us to know for sure hate organized trips, being carried from one point to another on a tight schedule, with no options for any sort of freedom to say ‘let’s leave now’, ‘let’s stay longer’ or ‘let’s try this instead’.

The third and last stop was on another island where, after a quick steep stair climbing, we walk around an isolated lake, like a green crater of water, in which we got to see some stingrays and stuff. Beautiful place, this has to be said.

From the port, we got back to our hotel, enjoyed a few cocktails, and for dinner, we ‘agreed’ to try and eat shark, good news being that it has no special interest, not enough to justify the slaughter of the all species.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BGgR0cOvXE

11h30, we were in bed.

Sunday 8 September – ko panghan

When I woke up, I didn’t know yet I was about to have the worst day of the trip.

I was attack in my guts, literally. And the annoying thing in those countries is that he can be anything from flu to malaria. Sara was also feeling weird, but not knocked out the way I was.

Spent the day sleeping basically.

Nothing else. Just long sleeps and hoping really strong to wake up the day after feeling considerably better.

Monday 9 September – ko panghan

Hell yeah! I woke up feeling WAY better, first physically, but then thanks to this, also mentally, not worries anymore about wild diseases.

Both on tracks both of us, we headed to one of the many waterfalls on the island, in search for some nature and landscapes.

The waterfall was far from being impressive, but that led us to have a cool walk in the jungle, find a amazing viewpoint on one quarter of the island, meet with an enormous spider waiting for its prey and get lost between the trees. We then got back to the village, got ourselves half dozen of mangosteens we ate sitting on the street, and went for food at the market. Big switch: no more green curry chicken or wild stuff for few days; just regular occidental fried food, the same kind of food the tourist we pitied for eating occidental food were having few days ago. Felt good, let’s face it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3djNvrT0_U

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-pGvmDFodg

In the afternoon, we had this splendid idea of renting a moto, since we were told that it was quite safe to ride one on this island (not the case in Ko Tao or Ko Samui – not to mention Bangkok of course).

First thing we did was to book a training session of Muay Thai for Sara in a outdoor Muay Thai place in the middle of the trees, definitely a great place to get in touch this local traditional martial art.

Next, we followed a tip from a French guy living in the island to which we asked for a beautiful beach, and ended up on the desertic and indeed beautiful beach of Sabai on the west coast somewhere between the village and our hotel. We had a drink, and just walked on the beach and in the water, exploring between the rocks and simply let our eyes create in us this sensation of being extremely lucky to be there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__PIFKMJ0gk

It then was time to go back to our place, have dinner and drinks and rest for our last night on the island.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QxeTNrMnW0

Tuesday 10 September – Ko Panghan / Ko Samui

We woke up at 7:00 in order to drive Sara to her Muay Thai initiation. Since it wasn’t safe for me to try that, it left me almost two hours, me, a moto, to wander on a beautiful island. I ended up stopping more or less every 10 meters because a nice piece of lettering was calling for me to shoot a picture of it. Not everyone has to be sensitive to Handmade lettering or of how it makes a place look intimate, close, warm, but whoever is gets an extra set of eye candies, all over the damn place.

At 10:20 I got at the jungle gym to pick up Sara who was finishing her training session, got to know the owner, a cool former muay tai champion, and although I was standing aside of the people training, when they finished and gathered sitting on the floor to share some fruits the owner just had brought from his own garden, they were nice enough to not avoiding my presence and also share with me some delicious longans.

We enjoyed our last moto ride pushing a bit toward unknown roads and came back to turn back the vehicle, have lunch and get ready for our trip to Ko Samui.

We said goodbye to the staff, Vincent the Boss, Jojo the kind barman, Susy the blind dog, Jack the golf cart driver; but most of all, to the place. When leaving, I asked for Sara’s help on a big doubt that rose up to my mind: how on earth are we capable of discovering these kind of paradises and being able to say ‘ok, let’s go back home now’? What happened to us that we’re not even considering staying there instead of going back to our polluted European capitals? In the end, we know why, we know that what our eyes see with our occidental wallet in background looks way more appealing that what daily life would be there, we know that out life is not here for the moment. But at this moment, I was really amazed and disturbed by the thought. But we left. Bye butterflies, birds, dogs and people, we’re off to our last island, Ko Samui.

After forty minutes navigating between Panghan and Samui from the deck, we arrived. And we were a bit pessimistic, not convinced this island would be worth leaving Panghan, grey weather; and on the bus that took us from the port to Lamai, the piece of land we had chosen for looking for a place to stay at, we discovered that this island was way bigger and busier that the two first one. After 30 minutes of this first approach, we got thrown randomly next to Lamai. It was about 18h and we had in mind at least 2h before finding a decent place. We started walking, and straight away, a woman passes right next to us in an expensive car, stops and tells us that if we’re looking for a hotel, she’s running one right ‘there’. We said ‘why not have a look’. 10 minutes after, we had our keys to a really cool room, clean and big, surprisingly cheap, right next to the beach, with a swimming pool next to the bar. It was 18:25; we had a room; check.

Some cocktail, some good food, some hanging out looking and listening at the sea, we were back and sleeping.

Wednesday 11 September – Ko Samui

First thing first, we booked our flight tickets for Bangkok for the next day. There was no way we were going again through Chumphon and take a train back to Bangkok

After breakfast, we took a cab and asked him to take us to a waterfall not far from here.

The place wasn’t as ‘wild’ as the waterfall surroundings in Ko Panghan, way more crowdie, and way more tourist oriented. Still, we enjoyed seeing and touching elephants, having them walk just around us, 10 cm away from us.

We climbed some amusing rocks, so some nice waterfalls, not impressive at all, but still cool.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3rWTzEzA5M

From there, we took another taxi that took us to the other side of the island to the Grand Buddah Beach.

Yes, indeed, the big golden Buddha is big. Nothing else to declare apart from an amusing fish-spa session I had. Walking back, we stopped and had a walk through a local narrow market. Smell wasn’t always wonderful, and food not always appealing, but this was a genuine local food market. When it started to rain, the water leaks from the roof just added to the general feeling of authenticity to the place. People inside weren’t paying attention to us, probably because the few tourists who happened to get lost in this market would ever buy any goods and foods almost all of them miles away from our rules of hygiene.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26X4QHTEDK8

Under a pouring rain, we grabbed a cab and went back to our headquarters.

After dinner, and for our last night in the islands, we decided to follow the tip of Lucia, the French girl we had met in the subway the day we arrived in Bangkok, and go to the Rock Bar, that happened to be right next door, at the end of a dark and empty street, which is quite amazing when you know that we got the tip from a random girl out of thousands of people in the subway and that we were in this hotel totally by luck because we happened to cross path with the owner and she offered us to stay. Amazing because by the simple fact of going to this bar for a drink, we had one of our best experiences of our all trip.

We got there, few seconds after we started hearing sweet sounds of reggae music from outside; we entered this place, on the rocks, with its own small piece of beach, built out of woods, placed according to the place rocks was allowing.

We were taken to our own ‘wood platform’, sat on the floor on comfy cushions and suddenly, here we were, our mouth sweetened by a refreshing cocktail, our eye wide open on the stars and this intimate wooden structure on the rocks, our ears relaxed by the mixed sounds of small waves and Bob Marley music; non-stop and exclusively Bob Marley. We both were in a profound state of happiness and gratefulness; we couldn’t believe the amount of peace and harmony with our environment we were feeling. This was our last night here, and we were sitting in the exact perfect place. And while our air was perfumed by local goodies, as if it wasn’t enough, 2 puppies appeared from nowhere and started fooling around right by our side. 2 tiny puppies that came to warm our heart that were already spitting enormous joy flames.

Maybe lot of our smiles during our trip didn’t get the feedback we were hoping for, were frustrated for many reasons, but we never lost our kindness toward anyone we met, and I want to believe we were offered this last place for our last night of paradise islands as a reward for maintaining our spirit strong.

We went to sleep full of happiness.

Thursday 12 September

We woke up for a short last day in Ko Samui. We didn’t have a lot of time ahead, so we just went 15 minutes walking away to the view with our own eyes that indeed Hin Ta and Hin Yai Rocks did look like female and male genitals. Funny. Not much more.

Quiet walk back to the hotel, we packed and pay, got to Samui Airport, and 1h after taking off, we were again in Bangkok.

We took a cab to our hotel, the Lamphutree again, that we had already booked, and landed with a cocktail.

I was in Bangkok for few days 6 years ago, and in spite of the experience I had, not a good one, dirty streets, bad smells, annoying pressure toward tourists, all I’ve heard since then from several people is “Bangkok is great”, “Big time in Bangkok”, etc… And I got to the point of believing that I might had miss something.

For our 2 days in Bangkok, we decided to leave behind the “old city” of Bangkok, dirty and full of tourists (although still very charming, I have to say) and go explore more occidental parts of the city, toward the east.

Our first dip was at a restaurant we had the recommendation of in the inflight magazine on the plane from Ko Samui, the Opposite Mess Hall.

We took a cab and after 20 minutes of ride, we were close to the place. But not there. The taxi had no clue of where the place was. But, the man put all his guts and efforts in finding for us the place and taking us there, asking people in the street, calling the place from his phone, and finally finding the place. We were pleased to leave a grateful tip.

We entered the Opposite, discovering this “Brooklyn’ish” restaurant, lovely decoration, non-backpacking clientele, smell of roasted lamb all over the place and where everyone would speak a perfect English. This, was, new. And we were linking it.

We ate great food, and even was amazed when I ordered patatas bravas and put in my mouth what turned out to be among the top3 Patatas braves I’ve ever ate. Wouldn’t expect to eat delicious bravas in Bangkok, but I would definitely recommend many Spanish bars owners to drop by the Opposite and consider trying to deliver the same quality.

We finished our meal with cocktails, trying several of them, and around midnight, we were Sara, Me and the owner of the place, Jess, nice Australian guy, sitting on the couches, sipping more cocktails, casually chatting, viewing through the windows how it started to rain like mad. Around 01h, we left, walked a bit under the rain toward a cab and went back to our hotel, pleased by this different and unexpected kind of Bangkok experience.

Friday 13 September

After a strong breakfast, we had plan on going to the Rattanakosin Hall, a museum that looked very interesting, but that we were totally unable to find; nor people around were able to tell where the hell was this place. After walking 1 hour in the area going mad, we just decided to skip and keep on going with the next step, the Temples.

Nice visit of several temples, covered in gold and old paintings. Many people as expected. The best story being those Chinese tourist, a big group of them, politely asked us to take picture with them. They were showing unusual excitement for just taking a shot with us, and we, we couldn’t believe what was going on, but with our best smile, we posed with them and everybody was happy and smiling, basically. A fun moment.

We spent the end of the afternoon in the hotel, waiting for the rain to lower a bit the density per square meter, and planned the night, that we were definitely going to spend in the area we discovered the night before.

We left around 9 heading to the Hide & Seek, a place known for its burgers, and we definitely felt like eating a good burger.

We got the place, a relaxed terrace of a fancy hotel, full of fancy people, and us, dressed as backpackers. We had a great meal (saliva’s filling my mouth just thinking about it), some awesome cocktails, and for “the last one”, we closed the WTF on Soir51, a place we had seen on several guides that turned out be not so interesting,

Back to the hotel, a quick swim, a called it a day.

Saturday 14 September

For our last day in Bangkok, the plan was simple: shopping, something we left for the last day to avoid carrying all kinds of crap in our backpack.

We started with the Siam Market, hipsterish and fancy, definitely not what we were looking for, and after a quick food stop in a Japanese restaurant not worth mentioning the name of, we headed toward the subway to go to Tchakuchak week end market.

But, on our way, we randomly saw the Bangkok Museum of contemporaneous art; we definitely didn’t want to just pass by the place and we got in, went through two interesting exhibitions, stopped by a “ice cream designer” shop that made me forget totally about any kind of food intolerance I have and not feel bad for it, bought stuff for almost all presents needed, and after a quick tea, got back on our way to the metro for the week end market.

When we got there, here we were again, facing noise, crowds, smells and annoying pressure toward tourists. We bought few stuff and just ran the hell out of this place, where Sara and I had our first fight, based on just expressing nerves, not even being aggressive to the other or nothing, but just expressing the stress. We can perfectly that during our all trip we never had any delicate moments; that’s cool. Although I’m not surprised, since from the minute I told her months ago ‘yes’ to this trip I knew everything was going to awesome. I was right.

After leaving 4 7/11 shops around the hotel out of Tiger Balm (we bought 24), and a quick shower, we left again for the same place as the night before. Yes, no intention of being adventurous or nothing, just a simple need of being in a nice place, eating nice food, drinking nice cocktails, and this is what we got. We closed the bar around 2 and were in bed around 2h30, ready to leave in few hours for home.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1f0tm8yqsL4

Sunday 15 September

At 5:20 we woke up as we could, and at 6h we were in the cab that would take us to the airport.

The plane took off, and we were out of the country.

This awesome trip was over.

And in some ways, I think we were both happy to go back home.

Things we’ve learned from Thailand:

Bangkok

Yes, the old city is great, is a must-see and must be explored for several hours to catch its essence. But, one shouldn’t avoid having a look at the wealthier parts of the city, full of very nice bars and restaurants to discover and relax, out of the pressure toward tourist and dust and mud.

About transportation, it took us 2 weeks, but now, we know, and here’s the thing:

Tuk-Tuks are of course awesome and a nice experience. But Taxis shouldn’t be seen as a bad option, and definitely, taxis are WAY cheaper than TukTuks. This statement is only valid for tourists, don’t know about local fairs.

TukTuks just define the price when we hop on; up to you to accept or refuse. Just to be clear: they do not care if you say ‘no’ to paying 200baths for a 5minutes ride, they will find another tourist around willing to pay those 8 euros.

Now, one must be willing to negotiate. First, with Tuktuks. They say 200, you say 50. They will say ‘no no no’ before saying 100. You say 50, they say ‘no’ and drop to 80 ‘for you my friend’. This is almost correct to accept.

About taxis, things go like this: all taxis have, as any taxi in most big cities, a taximeter. Thing is in Bangkok, for tourists, it’s an option, and not the first one offered. The first option offered will always be something around 200. Again, it’s fine when one counts in euros or dollars. But it is crazy expensive for Bangkok rates. We finally discovered how to proceed.

1: lift your hand for a cab

2: say hi, and tell where you’re going. It’s not impossible that the taxi says “no, no, not going there” and leaves.

3: If he says yes, the most probable thing you’ll hear next is a price, not a cheap one.

You don’t want that. What you want is to say “no, taxi meter”, indicating with your finger the taximeter on the dashboard. IT’s probable that the guy says to you “no” and leaves. No problem, there’s MANY cabs and you’ll just have to repeat the procedure with the next one.

Believe it, 1 out of 3 or 4 will be cool and use the taximeter. And instead of 200baths, you’ll pay 40 or 50.

The important thing when asking for the taximeter is to not smile. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying one should be an asshole and treat the locals like shit, something many tourist do unfortunately. What I’m saying is that if you smile too much, you become one jollier tourist to steal money of. Once the deal is done, do come back to whoever you are, and smile and be gentle, as usual.

One other thing: one should not count too much on a map to indicate where to go. Surprisingly, and as confirmed by Jess the Australian Opposite owner, most of taxis and tuktuks you’ll catch in the street have no clue of how to read a map. And this adds up to a particular aspect of the culture, the preference for saying yes and avoiding saying ‘no’ the most possible. It gets tricky, believe us.

In general, don’t doubt in walking your ass off through the city, to discover the local way of life, and don’t stick to the obvious places, way too crowdie and annoying.

Ko Tao

If in Ko Tao, you want to watch the sun set from the beach of the Lotus Bar, while having a drink and seeing the fire acrobats doing amazing things. It’s a cool experience, you do want to do.

We were at the Seashell Resort: if you’re willing to spend 2000baths a night, then it’s worth it. For less than this, rooms are crap as shit and you may want to avoid the place and go to the Lotus.

Ko Panghan

If you’re looking for a quiet place to stay and be treated really nice, head to the Long Bay Resort, Vincent, the French owner, WILL make sure you’re enjoying your stay.

On this island, renting a moto is ok, not dangerous, and definitely a great way to discover this small island.

If you arrive there from Bangkok, you may be in stress mode and not so smiling as you thought you would be – in Panghan, relax, people are smiling, and 95% of the times, it’s not to sell you anything, it’s just people being nice – so be nice.

Ko Samui

Do NOT rent a moto, the place is chaos.

The Samui Beach resort is a very nice place to stay at.

Go chill at the Rock Bar, right next to the Samui Beach Resort.

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