March 05 2010

The day began with an SMS from Madeleine: “WAKE UP CALL! Are you hungry yet!?”

Donkey from Shrek
Madeleine in the morning

Tanja immediately associated to Donkey from the Shrek movies.

I replied: “It’s half past five in the morning. We can wait til seven, or you can go out hunting for an open restaurant and wake us up again when you find one.” But jet-lag had caught up with us. According to our internal clocks, we’d slept away all afternoon and the entire evening without a meal in the past nine hours.

At around seven, we left our rooms to find some breakfast. The taxi was to pick us up for the trip across the country at eight, and we figured we had lots of time. First place we found wasn’t much to the liking of Madeleine and Jasmine. The restaurant served the traditional rice porridge, which didn’t appeal to them, but they also had dumplings to be eaten with condensed (“sweet”) milk. These looked a bit more interesting, so we bought one first just to try it, and decided to have one each, to start with. It wasn’t really expensive at 2 THB each. The small plastic “baglets” with condensed milk cost 5 THB each.

But we decided we wanted something more, and set off down the street. Unfortunately, this being a very tourist-centric town, we didn’t find anything, so with half an hour left before the bus was to leave, we turned around and went towards our hotel. As we went into a 7-eleven, a Muslim lady arrived with her pancake wagon and parked right next to the entrance. But while we pondered if we should go with a Nescafe Ice Latte or some other brand, a gang of Russians invaded our pancake lady, placing a huge order. Time was running out, and these guys were discussing chocolate sauce versus sweet milk! Is that even a question?

After what seemed like an eternity, she wrapped and cut up the last of their banana pancakes with chocolate topping, and we could place our order: One banana pancake with sweet milk, one tuna-tomato-onion pancake, and two tuna sandwiches. 35, 40 and 50 THB respectively. Kinda tolerable, I’d say. Tanja and Jasmine ran ahead to collect our bags and check out from the hotel, while Madeleine and I stayed behind waiting for our breakfast to get done. After we got our food, we followed the girls to the hotel, me holding a paper plate with a pancake in one hand and a plastic bag with a paper plate wrapped around a huge tuna baguette in the other. On the way an old man who passed us in the other direction, followed by his wife, gave me a huge smile and a spontaneous “Good morning, sir!”, which made my day.

Tanja and Jasmine in a Thai taxi
Seatbelts? We don't need no frikkin' seatbelts...

At the hotel, we practically just got our bags and jumped into the taxi, which was the traditional pickup truck with a sunroof and benches in the bed. It’s a great mode of transport. We sat back and enjoyed the landscape passing by, as the driver took a slight detour to say hello to his wife and perhaps two-years-old son, sitting in their shop.

After a while, we arrived at the bus stop, which was a garage yard with the passenger area consisting of a corrugated roof, some Thai style bamboo tables, a TV showing some or other game show, and a vending machine. A couple of dogs lay panting in the shadow, hosed down with water to keep cool. Madeleine and Jasmine where joking around, and Tanja and I read our books, Red Storm Rising and The Hobbit, respectively. Nothing like a classic to bide the time.

The bus to Surat Thani was a regular air-conditioned tour bus with not-quite-enough legroom for a normal-sized guy. Not a bad ride by any means, though. The bus picked us up at about 9:10 am, and at 12 pm, we were dropped off at a tourist info office for transfer to the ferry. One of the girls behind the counter asked us if we had anything booked, and when we replied that we hadn’t, she recommended a place on the west coast of Koh Phangan, called Haad Gruad, which would cost us 400 THB per fan-cooled bungalow, including transport from the pier in Thong Sala. Since that’s about what we expected just for a taxi to search for accomodation, we figured it was practically one night for free, and if it wasn’t to our liking, we could just rent bikes and look for a better place, so we accepted the offer.

At about 12:30, another bus came to pick us up. There was some confusion at first as the ten or so of us didn’t understand if he was going the right way or what he ment, but after a couple of minutes we understood that he just didn’t have enough room in the luggage compartment for all of our bags, so he took a few of them and put them there, and the rest of us just went into the bus along with our backpacks for another hour or so.

After a short and not unpleasant wait, we saw the ro-ro ferry come in, rusty and dented from a vigorous attempt to place the craft in the exact spot where a steel reinforced concrete pillar had decided to take a nap. I guess the ferry lost the fight, because at 4:40 pm, when we arrived at the Thong Sala pier, we saw the obvious spot for the fracas, and the pillar still stood proud.

Madeleine on a pickup truck
Sis doing her Miami Vice impression

Almost at once as we left the ferry, we were greeted by our chauffeur, who led us to his pickup truck and drove us to the Haad Gruad resort. We immediately realized how good this place was as we met Jaco who runs the tourist agency at the resort, and who showed us our bungalows and gave us the briefing on how stuff works there. Tanja and I got a bungalow literally across the footpath from the swimming pool/spa, and the girls, after some discussion on the importance of mirrors in the bathroom, were given one in the coconut palm grove a bit further up from the sea.

View from the Haad Gruad resort restaurant
The word you're looking for is "quaint".

I can highly recommend this place; it’s got quarters for every kind of budget, from 300 THB for the simplest bungalow, to 4000 THB for a double suite in the luxury houses above the swimming pool.

After unpacking, we had a dinner on green curry soup, and I indulged in a Singha beer, which has a primary taste a lot like the Swedish Pripps Blå, but an aftertaste like real beer. But it just shows that Pripps Blå could probably be enjoyed in 34 degrees C, if served very cold. Food at this place, as with most resort-based restaurants, wasn’t very cheap, at 80 THB, plus an additional 20 for steamed rice – but then again, when you take the time to think of the value of the currency, it really isn’t that bad.

We sat a while after dinner and just enjoyed the peace of the place, and then we rented two scooters; Honda Click-i 110 cc bikes. As usual, we had to leave our passports as security, which, contrary to some recommendations I’ve seen, isn’t anything to be afraid of. Before riding to Haad Rin, the party central of Koh Phangan, we spent a few minutes relaxing in the pool.

Fireshow at Haad Rin beach
Dancing with fire

Haad Rin seems to grow and transform a lot, due to the popularity of the full moon party and it’s spinoffs. The crew at the Cactus Bar seems to draw the greatest crowd, with a taste in music that, subjectively, of course, is a tad better than that of the Drop In bar, which is the second biggest place on the beach, which on the other hand seems to work very hard to outdo the Cactus people when it comes to their fire show. In the end it’s all very much a matter of personal taste. This night the main entertainment at Cactus was a fire-breathing competition, where people, after some instruction, were given three tries to light an oil-drenched torch on a long stick by blowing fire at it, with the first prize being a Sangsom “fuckbucket” – a DIY cocktail mix consisting of a small (33 cl) bottle of Sangsom rice (?) brandy, a can of coke, some drinking straws and a bucket for mixing it together.

All in all, we had a very rich and rewarding day, ending with about an hours ride trough the cool evening breeze, on the fantastic roads on the south and west coasts of Koh Phangan.

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