Getting up at the crack of dawn proved unsuccessful (and rather pointless, in the end) in acquiring me a ferry ticket to the Phi Phi islands. In the end, I bought my ticket at the hostel information desk, and - after a two hour wait where I took advantage of the hostel's free internet, and sampled some local delicacies (basically donuts) for breakfast - I was off to Ko Phi Phi.
Arriving at the ferry terminal on Phi Phi Don (the largest and most touristy of the Phi Phi islands), I was a little overwhelmed by the number of guesthouses on offer, and a little unimpressed with their prices. I eventually took the advice of a man trying to convince me to do a diving trip to the Similans (again!), and headed towards The Rock backpackers. The man at the dive shop was - randomly - from Forster!
Compared to the Phuket Backpackers (which I highly re;commend), The Rock was, for lack of a better expression, a shithole. Dirty, dirty showers, smelly toilets and no pillow!
Once I'd ditched my backpack, I headed out to explore my surroundings. I was buying some watermelon from a stall outside the hostel when - lo and behold - I ran into Jorgen and Christian! And so began my Thai-Norwegian experience.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at Lohdalam Beach with Jorgen, Christian and their friends, Anja and Mathilde. They were all lying in the sun (as the boys said - competing for the title of "Tan Man 2007" when they returned home to chilly Norway), while I - being the Slip Slop Slap-happy Aussie I am - bathed myself in sunscreen and sat under a beach umbrella. Despite the scores of tourists, it was a beautiful beach, with a spectacular view from my shady hideaway.
While the others went to buy plane tickets for their return to Bangkok, I went and showered (dirty, dirty), and met up with them later at their beautiful bungalows. We had dinner at a restaurant by the beach, and then sat on mats on the sand, watching fire twirling and drinking "buckets" (300mL of Thai whisky, coke and redbull in a bucket with straws). A number of buckets later, and things started to get a little fuzzy (but the number of photos I took seemingly increased!).
[Anja, Jorgen, Mathilde and Christian]
The next day, feeling a little worse for wear, I met up with the others again and got in contact with some guys we'd met the night before who'd told us they were sailing to Maya Bay (from "The Beach") that night and that for 1500 Baht we could join them. It sounded a little dodgy, but we met up with them and things seemed legit... We waited all day for them to decide when to leave, and then at 5pm they pulled the plug. It seems we weren't the "party crowd" they were looking for - they were waiting for some Swedish girls to go with them the next day. I was pretty unimpressed, but the five of us made the most of the rest of our day, and took a longtail boat to a monkey beach (where Christian saved Mathilde's camera from a quick-fingered little critter), and then to Phi Phi Ley and Maya Bay - just on sunset. Trying to barter with the longtail boat driver proved entertaining in itself. He kept talking about "him" - it turns ou there is a guy who lives at Maya Bay (which has no hotels, but is extremely popular thanks to good old Leo Di Caprio), who charges 200 Baht per person just to step onto the beach. So we agreed just to sail on by and leave "Him" be. The others "scolled" with some Singha beer (I was still not feeling up to it) as our boat bobbed about in the Adaman Sea, and the sun dropped below the horizon. A gorgeous end to the day.
[look at the cute little monkey drinking the water!]
[Bad Pun Alert: Now that's what I call a "Sea Monkey"]
We had dinner at a cute little garden restaurant, then the boys went to use the internet and the girls got pedicures. I am saving my pampering for Chiang Mai, so opted out. I had got a hotel room with the girls, and by 10pm - just as the heaviest rain I've heard in a long time started to fall - we were all deep asleep.
Easter Monday was again spent at Lohdalam Beach, after we booked ferry tickets to Ao Nang (on the mainland). I wandered off to call home at one stage, but had a very bad connection, so only spoke to Dad briefly.
Around 2:30, we went to get our backpacks. I'd left mine at The Rock, and when I went to get it, I ran into Daniel Smith - one of the temps from Law Staff. I would make a Monty Python reference, but we were on Ko Phi Phi, which is Tourist Central.
The five of us took the ferry to Ao Nang and then a very bumpy (and wet!) longtail boat to Rai Lei beach. Poor Mathilde, who was sitting in the front seat, got soaked! We had dinner at Rai Lei and, just as the stars were coming out, and the thunder began to rumble on the horizon, we headed for Ton Sai beach - the backpacker and rock climbing hang out. Now - this adventure deserves its own heading:
What I Will Do To Save 50 Baht
[Before. Someone took an "after" photo, but I was too buggered!]
We found a relatively cheap (and air-conditioned) bungalow to stay in, and after showering (and trying to was the small blood stain out of my white fisherman's pants), we went to sit at the "Viking Bar" on the beach and watch some more fire-twirling. Scoll!
What an ordeal! On Tuesday morning I ummed and ahhed for quite some time before deciding to take the bust from Ao Nang to Bangkok. I said goodby to Christian, Jorgen, Anja and Mathilde (who almost have me sold on visiting Norway), and sat at Ton Sai while they went to Rai Lei for the day. I emailed Ian and my parents (check out the view!) and spent a few hours swimming, reading a borrowed Lonely Planet and just enjoying the beautiful Thai islands for the last time.
At 1:30 I told the longtail drivers (who were sitting around playing cards) that I was heading to Ao Nang. They wouldn't take me until they had another four passengers, or unless I was willing to pay 200 Baht (ha - they needed to hear about my adventure the night before). At 2:30 there were enough of us to go, and we headed towards Ao Nang. It was too choppy (or at least I think that's what "big wave" means) to stop at Ao Nang, so we got off the boat at a very rocky, steep bank. Much better! I was directed by various people to wait for a white 4WD bus ("same same") which - I thought - would take me to Ao Nang. It was actually a bus service, which cost 50 Baht and took me to Krabi bus station. It turned out that my bus company operated from Krabi town, so I took a hurried taxi to the right bus station, only to discover the bus was leaving at 4:30 and not 4:00. Phew! I took a dodgy "shower" (splashed water on myself from the faucet used to fill the "flush bucket") and changed (my swim suit smelled terrible!). The bus turned up right on time, and I couldn't help laughing at what it looked like:
Thirteen-and-a-half hours, two rest stops, one Pad Thai, two half-movies (the first half of "National Treasure" and the last half of "Master & Commander" - Nicholas Cage and Russell Crowe - oh joy), and very little sleep later, and I was in Bangkok!
After a tuk-tuk and a skytrain trip, I was at Saphan Khwai station, and called Ian to let him know I'd arrived. It was so nice to see a familiar face! He took me back to his flat ("past the temple, and the green building...") and we had breakfast before he left for work. I had another much-needed shower and did a big, stinky load of laundry. Then it was back to Bangkok!
[view from his balcony]
Bangkok is deceptively HUGE! I looked at the map and figured that the walk from the Siam skytrain station to the Hua Lamphong train station would take maybe 20 minutes. After I asked two people for directions, and they both told me "two hour!" I decided to take the bus, and am so glad I did! I'm also going to be all the more patient with any foreign travellers I meet in Australia from now on - not speaking the language is hard!
At Hua Lamphong I was told to come back the following day and hope for a cancellation. A number of other travel agencies later, and I was starting to worry. The Thai New Year (Songkran) is 13-16 April, and it seems that every man, his dog, and his bus driver are heading to Chiang Mai at exactly the same time as I am! I decided not to worry (well, perhaps worry, but not panic - yet) and try and enjoy Bangkok.
I went to Wat Pho and saw the enormous and beautifully intricate reclining Buddha and wandered past the Grand Palace and various other Wats, on my way to Khao San Road. I figured that if anywhere would have travel agencies, Bangkok's famous backpacker mecca would be the place to go. It turns out I was wrong. An irritating tuk-tuk ride later (yes, I got sucked into going to a jewellery store, but grumpily refused to buy anything), and all I wanted to do was go back to Ian's.
[big Buddha = big toes!]
I've got to say that although the temples are beautiful, and some of the people are very friendly, I kind of understand why people who only come to Bangkok don't like Thailand. Yes, I was tired from my bus trip, but I was just so sick of saying "no" to taxis and tuk-tuks by the end of the day!
Ian came home at around 7pm and we went out for a very tradition evening in Bangkok - Indian for dinner followed by ice cream from the "Temple of Consumerism" (a huge local mall) at Swensen's - "America's favourite ice cream." And I'd thought I was full after the Indian! I look forward to hearing about Ian's attempt to tackle the "Earthquake!"
We returned to Ian's flat, took some photos and then went to bed. I was so tired, I couldn't have been the greatest company, and poor Ian insisted on sleeping on the floor!
After another fantastic breakfast (such great fruit), I said a tentative goodbye to Ian on Thursday morning (I was optimistic about finding a train ticket), and headed back to Hua Lamphong. This time I took the subway - so, so much easier than taking the bus (or walking - ha!).
When the same man who'd told me to come back the next day produced a train ticket for me, I declared my love for him and handed over the far-more-than-it's-worth-but-at-this-stage-I'd-sell-a-kidney Baht. I left my big backpack at the station and then went to find Wat Traimit. It was closed, but even without seeing the world's biggest gold Buddha, the building was still beautiful on the outside.
[outside Wat Traimit]
I walked and walked (with hours to burn before my 6pm train) and eventually had to ask for directions back to the train station. My sense of direction is terrible!).
I then sat around at the station for a while, enjoying the festivities. People wearing yellow t-shirts were everywhere (yellow is apparently the colour for people born on Monday - like the King - and everyone's wearing yellow to celebrate the New Year).
[Hau Lamphong station - water blessings and Thai dancers... presumably not part of a typical day's commute!]
And now, I'm at an internet cafe, still waiting for my train... It is now almost 3pm, so only another 3 hours to go. I will just have to find a nice Pad Thai or laksa somewhere to wile away the rest of the afternoon. Woe is me. ;)