Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Welcome to the Koh Samui Archipelago

'Someones gotta live the dream'

Is it really fair?There are over 200 countries around the globe and Thailand has managed to snag a disproportionate amount of the world's top beaches. I don't care really as I am here, its more of a question of which beach to go to. There is enough stretches of creamy beaches and honey tinged paradises to give even good old Goldilocks a complex. The Sumui Islands make up Thailand's lower southern gulf and consist of three main Islands; Ko Samui, Ko Phangan and Ko Tao. I visited all three in this order and had the time of my life. 

I hobbled with a badly infected broken toe to our beach shack, tired, and still raging at being the victim of a Thai robbery. We dropped our bags off and went straight to the hospital. I was in agony now and the infection was getting worse. The nail was barely hanging on due the bad swelling and yellow stinking puss that was now engulfing my entire big toe. In a tropical country like Thailand you need to get an infection treated quickly. We got a taxi to the hospital, and got ripped off, later realising that we had paid three times the rate. We then got to the hospital, and I was taken straight into mini surgery. I filled out a few forms and then lied down as the nurse prepared all the tools for the job. Just when you think it cant get any worse, gets even worse. The doctor walks in and takes a look at me. Before he removes the nail and squeezes out the puss  he tells me that it will cost a tidy 200 pound. I look a him in disbelief and tell him I need to go the bank. He replyed with a smile 'don't worry sir, we have one right over there' and points towards the ward. Low and behold, there is a ATM cash machine in the hospital looking at me as if I am sitting in the townie. How funny is that? A money making business and making a fortune out of us foreigners, who fill the hospital with injuries mostly from moped accidents all plodding about like the walking dead. Well to top it off, after I pay, I sat down and the doctor pulled out a needle as big as a pencil and said this wont hurt a bit and sticks into my big toe. So, as you can appreciate, I was not in the best of moods with the Thais after this escapade. 

When I got back to our beach shack, I sat down, the sun was shinning bright and the sea was lapping up against the beach and I thought, it's not all bad, there are worse place to be. I am sitting on a little piece of paradise chilling out. From now on the only way was up. We spent a week on the island relaxing and eating. Each day I would go to the local pharmacy and see my friend 'Bong' who helped me clean my toe each day and re-bandage it. He was great and even better he was a big Liverpool fan. Me and Laura spent one night watching some world famous Muay Thai boxing. It was like being on the set of kick-boxer without Tong Po. The atmosphere was electric, crazy, bloodthirsty. It was basically a small blood stained ring surrounded by loads of bars and locals all cheering their fighters on, betting and baying for blood. What an experience. 

Our Ko Samui Beach Hut

Not a bad place to nurse a broken toe

Me and Bong who was a big Liverpool fan

Our little mate in the local internet cafe

Food the traditional way-beautiful Thai BBQ

'I want Tong Po'  At the Muay Thai boxing
Ko Phangan sits in the middle of Ko Samui and Ko Tao and is home to the world famous Full Moon Party. It is in the top five list of parties in the world to go to and attracts an outrageous 30,000 partiers to one strip of lunar lit beach filled with thumping DJ beats. The 10th of December was the date for this months legendary Party and lets face it, we had planned our entire Thailand trip around it. 

We arrived on the island on the 7th December and stayed right in the heart of the party capital. The vibe here is amazing as people from all over the world have came here to have a good old jolly time. The main beach is called Hat Rin and of a day people sun bath, play football, volleyball, swim or just laze about in the sun and chill out listening to the music that booms out onto the beach. It's a cool place. Of a night the beach is transformed into neon lit, fire dancing light show of energy with thousands of people painted from head to toe with fluorescent paints and wearing various luminous cloths and paraphernalia, bumping, grinding and sweating their way through one of greatest nights until sunrise.  

On Ko phangan, they will use any excuse to a party; half-moon, quarter moon, crescent moon, black moon, no moon...they don't care, its just party time all the time. For me the lead up to the full moon party, the so called 'pre-full moon' parties are the best. We met up with friends from Bangkok, 'Trey' a Folk singer from New Orleans who is an artist recording his own music and playing all around the world. I as lucky enough to chill out with him and have a jam session playing a lot of Bob Dylan inspired songs. We met so many more people like our Dutch friend Frans-Willem who was traveling around south east Asia after competing in a the Thailand Triathlon and finished in the top 40. Great achievement. It was also during one one these parties were fate would play it's hand and lead us to a meeting with some amazing people. In the early hours of the morning whilst throwing the shapes out on the beach during one of the 'pre-full moon' parties, I looked down and saw something flashing. There was a fire show going on at the time and the lights were flashing around me like a giant kaleidoscope of rich colour. It took some time to register. was I dreaming? As I focused on it, there it was, half buried in the sand, an iPhone 4,  the very same beloved model I had to reluctantly leave behind. I picked it up in wonder and saw a picture of bearded man the image of Jim Morrison staring back at I really was dreaming. I gave the iPhone to Laura and decided to try and contact him tomorrow. The next day I met up with Ronnie and Karlie (our friends from Kirkby who we had met up with again) and showed them the picture of the this guy. He looked and with a surprised reaction  told me that that this guy was staying in the next beach shack to them...what are the odds of that? On the way to their shack I spotted these two guys walking towards us, both looked as if they had just been plucked from the 1969 Woodstock festival. I instantly recognised him and asked him if he was missing an iPhone. His reaction said it all, he had been looking for it all day. When I gave him it back, he was overjoyed and well, we all went and celebrated and the rest is history. Their names were Damon and Kyle, both from the USA who work in the shipping industry in Alaska. They were chilled out people, with a great sense of humour and behaved like time was always on their side. It was infectious. They are just good people who are just easy to get to know and have that easy way about them that makes them likeable to everyone. Good times!!!

All the crew celebrating (Kyle on the left and Damon aka Morrison) shortly after returning the iPhone 4
Me and Frans
Tray from New Orleans playing some Bob Dylan inspired Folk music
Hat Rin Beach
The calm before the storm that was the Full Moon Party

Strict dress code applies for the Full Moon Party
Fire show during the Full Moon Party
Little Ko Tao was our next destination...perched on a ledge of coral reefs, it has earned world wide fame as a diving and snorkeling mecca. The water has high visibility, there are abundant coral formations and diverse marine life and diving certification is one of the cheapest in the world. I was supposed to go here first but chance would have it I ended my journey around the Samui island here in beautiful Ko Tao.

There are so many dive centres here that you are spoiled for choice. As I was walking around the place I bumped into my American friend Kyle from Ko phangan. He wasn't there to dive but after speaking to him for a while and telling him all about it he decided to extend his stay and join me on the 4 day Open Water Course. This was to be one of the best experiences of my entire journey around the world so far. We singed up and met a an English guy named Steve who was from Portsmouth but supported Manchester United...why? However, he was a great guy and for the next 4 days we were the scuba team along with our French Dive Master Serg. The course consists of some interesting theory, confined water skills and principles finishing with 4 open water dives off Ko Tao putting all your skills together in the open sea. The first time you go under water, is quite strange, you inhale, the air comes with a reassuring hiss and within moments the bulky gear you had on aboard the boat transforms; you become light, agile and free, a feeling of weightless. Its a feeling that delivers both adrenalin and intensity, serenity and peace. You explore a world that only a few select people will ever see, It's an unknown world, one that has an abundant variety of marine life and you dive with growing anticipation and excitment of what strange creature you will encounter next. It's one of the most tranquil environments I have ever experienced, and now am hooked, I love it. I have since dived in the Andaman sea on the west of Thailand and have plans to dive on the eat of Indonesia. 

Me and Kyle learning the skills and principles on the confined water dive
Buddying up

The team:Kyle, Me, Steve and Serg

Ok: getting ready to dive

Last dive so we all somersault in

Ready to descend on our last dive

Me and Steve with our PADI Certificate 

Chilling on the beach in Ko Tao
The three weeks we spent traveling across the Samui Archipelago was some of the best times of my life; a roller-coaster ride of experiences. You meet so many people from around the world on the journey and you learn so much about life and about yourself. This is one of the the best parts of traveling. Most people you will never meet again but, for that single moment in time everything is all good. It has a positive impact on your life no matter how brief your encounter. On our last night I was sitting on the beach in Ko Tao with all our friends, it was a beautiful night. The sound of someone playing the guitar could be heard in the distance and in front of us there was a fire show lighting the sky up. People were laying about on the beach without a care in the world. I layed back, soaking it all in, catching Damon's eye as I did so. He lent over and whispered in my ear in his soft Western American voice that just summed it all up for me; "man...someones gotta live the dream" 

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