23 September 2012

Chaweng, Koh Samui

As much as we like it here on our little paradise island, it must be said that it is REALLY QUIET this time of the year. The low season has really kicked in, the restaurants are empty, the only noise is the cicadas and the occasional bark of the territorial dogs. The plus side is that you can really relax, focus on your own thoughts, concentrate on the yoga and do some work. But sometimes one does feel a touch of cabin fever setting in and then you need to go out there and see some people.

So, we decided to go and check out the neighbouring island of Koh Samui. Neither of us had been there before, so we were interested and also a bit apprehensive to see if it would meet our expectations of being a busy, touristy place, a package travellers' mecca full of westerners who drag huge Samsonite trolleys, get drunk, buy cheap fake goods and eat seafood. Nothing wrong with any of that, of course, if you're into that kind of travelling mentality, but we usually tend to steer clear of such places. But as we get an abundance of peace, quiet and tranquillity on our island, we were up for one day of mod cons.

So we drove our bike to Thong sala, bought tickets for the Seatran ferry (500 baht = 12 euros for the two of us) and 30 min later we arrived on the northern shore of Koh Samui, near Bo Phut. The other alternative would have been the trusty Lomprayah catamaran, but as its pier was further away from Chaweng, we went for Seatran this time.

Awesome food stalls abound in Thailand. Here's one at Thong sala pier.

Seatran, our red friend

Fierce speed competition with Lomprayah

 We'd booked a night in The Island on Chaweng beach (the busiest and most touristy of Samui's beaches, we'd heard), so we rented a scooter, enjoyed the comfortable ride along smooth asphalt roads (not a given on Koh Phangan where most of the roads are made of concrete), took a wrong turn only once and soon arrived at our hotel. It was nothing too special, but the location was nice and the price included breakfast. Plus the courtyard with the more expensive bungalows was super cozy:

The plan for the day was to check out the shop of my favourite clothing brand Psylo, have some drinks, get a nice massage and eat some seafood. This we achieved, plus I got to go to Boots and buy my favourite cucumber moisturizer! And there was divine Magners cider <3 Thank you, Australian and  Irish people for your pubs. The seafood was also really good, we chose a place which didn't have shark on the barbecue stand that evening (sadly it was really hard to find such a place...) and ordered some barbecued jumbo prawns and crab in curry sauce. Reasonable prices and tasty fare.

Looking a bit like Khaosan road, Bangkok


Even the leperchauns wear flip-flops around here!

Busy Chaweng

Cheerful massage spa staff. Awesome hot stone foot&leg massage <3

Gotta love the power lines around here. No wonder the electricity is a bit iffy at times.

Oh, and to top it all off: we finally tried the fish spa! It feels really weird, having these little fellas nibbling away on your feet and legs. But they do get the job done, I don't think we've ever had such smooth and silky skin in our legs. Well done, little fishies :)

Another funny thing to notice was that the nordic (mostly Swedish) influence has reached the tropics as well. There was also a Viking bar and another Swedish bar which proudly annouced that they sell snus.

To sum it all up: Samui was actually pretty nice, as it's low season: I kinda liked the hustle and bustle of tourists as a contrast to our "countryside living". What I didn't like so much were the "bouncers" who try to get people to come and eat at their restaurant or to get a suit tailored at their shop. Those we don't get here in Srithanu. Perhaps we wouldn't choose Samui on the itinerary if we were purely travelling and had only a short amount of time to stay in the tropics, but as a short break for people watching and a bit of shopping, it surely filled its purpose nicely. All in all it was a really relaxing day, and we've both recharged our "people-batteries" so that we can enjoy the peace and quiet again. It sure felt nice to come back home to Koh Phangan today!

14 September 2012

Yoga, rain, yoga

It's been a rainy few days. And when I say rain, I don't mean the half-hearted drizzle that we get in Europe most of the time. Or well yes, there can be that as well, but when it actually rains, it really pours. It's like turning on a faucet. With the view from our terrace we have a prime location of seeing the gray mass of clouds rolling in until even the sea isn't visible anymore.

And did I mention the wind? Yesterday we experienced the first, full-on tropical storm. Let's just say I'm glad I wasn't outdoors. And felt really bad for the poor bastard on a boat we saw out on the sea. Hope he didn't drown. It was a proper gale, we even had to take our hammock down as it started banging against the windows. But the cottage walls and windows held, we remained dry (if you don't take the air humidity into account), and even the poor scooter left all alone outside in the storm managed to stay upright. So storm 0 - us 1, yay. I'm sure it's not the last one that blows our way, but at least now we know that we can survive them. If not trapped outdoors. Or at sea. The bright side was that despite a 1 hour power blackout just before the storm hit, the power stayed on and the Internet miraculously worked throughout the storm. So that's another yay!

It's not supposed to be the monsoon season just yet, and the weather forecast promises better weather for next week. Keep those thumbs up for us!

Then off to a yoga related rant. If you're not interested in that, feel free to stop reading now :)

On Tuesday I started an intensive yoga class at Agama yoga. They offer a one month first level class that you can pay per day (400 baht), per week or per month (6 900 baht) and it includes 4 hours of yoga (asana practice, meditation) a day plus an evening lecture that I've managed to miss every single day, so I don't know how long that one is (I'd suppose 1 hour or so). 5 days a week. So if you have time to dedicate to plough some serious spiritual pathways, why not give it a go if you have the chance.

I'm still not quite sure if the spiritual and cosmic aspect is for me, but I'm gonna take part in the course as well as I can. I'll probably not get the certificate as I'm pretty sure I can't take part in all the lectures, as they are in the evening and I quess I need to work as well ;). But it's pretty neat that after paying the course fee, you can repeat the first level classes as many times as you want free of charge, so we'll see if I'll have the chance to get some of the lectures done as well.

The Agama style is Hatha yoga (some Kundalini as well I quess...), which means that they hold the asanas for a LONG time. This is something I'm not used to, and I think I prefer the more flowing type of Yoga, but I'm determined to go through with the course anyway. My back muscles are already complaining, so I think I'll need to give them a massage before next weeks course. If after the month I decide I need a change, there are other places that offer Ashtanga. The only yoga I've done so far at the gym is Jivamukti, so Ashtanga would be something new as well. Live and learn I say, so better try out everything they have to offer :)

Stay tuned for more excitement!

10 September 2012

The house and how we found it

Ok, let's write a few words about the house hunt. We wanted to settle on the west side of Koh Phangan, as it is the calmer side, meant for people who want to relax, do yoga, dive. The south side is meant for party people, as it is closer to Haad Rin, where the infamous Full Moon parties take place, and to the other party locations (Half Moon, Black Moon, Jungle Experience...), which take place in Baan Tai or in the jungle a few kilometers inland from Baan Tai.

There are lots of houses for rent all around the island. We contacted a few housing agencies, but didn't end up taking the house from them in the end. Word of mouth works the best: it pays off to go diving/doing yoga and asking the staff if they have any tips. There are also loads of "house for rent" signs all around, just rent a scooter (ca. 200 baht a day), drive around and go and ask. Often there are only phone numbers that you need to call and hope that the call is answered by someone who speaks English. After Indonesia it's been a small shock to realize that the people here really don't speak English all that well. Better get those Thai lessons started...

The houses are relatively cheap. You can find a basic bungalow with a fan and perhaps wi-fi (which isn't often very reliable when it's windy/stormy...) for under 10 000 baht (250 euros) a month. Most of the "normal" bungalows (one bedroom, kitchen, balcony/terrace) cost ca. 12 000 - 16 000 baht (300 - 400 euros). If you want luxury, be prepared to pay over 20 000 baht. The layout of the normal Thai style bungalow isn't what us westerners are used to: the bedroom is usually a separate small room, as is the kitchen. Often the bedroom and kitchen are accessed via separate doors from the balcony. So there is really no living room as such, as the balcony is often the coolest place and the nicest to hang out in. Most of the houses don't have very big windows either, so they are quite dark.

We managed to find something a bit different, however. A staff member at Haad Yao divers told us of a house that she had gone to see but couldn't take as she has a dog and the family who rents out the place has very territorial guard dogs. But she had fallen in love with the view from the place: the house is high up on the hill between Chao Phao and Srithanu and it's laid out like a western one-room apartment, with a small kitchen in the corner. All within the same space, and with nice, big windows and a lovely balcony. It is a bit on the small side and doesn't have air con, but given that we didn't want to spend much over 20 000 baht a month on the apartment, and that the house is so high up on the hill that there is almost always a refreshing, cool breeze, we decided to go for it. We've signed a contract for 3 months (or a "Rental contraction", written in hilarious English, for example allowing us to "make soft party".), so we're going to stay here at least until the middle of December. By then I'm sure we'll know of this is indeed our dream island, or if we'd like to try our luck somewhere else.

Oh, photos, I hear you say? Well, here they are:

Sea AND lake view! Not bad...

Living room. There will be a hammock in the corner, of course

The welcome committee

9 September 2012

Beaches, animals and food

Sorry for the radio silence, the wi-fi in our resort never revocered from another storm. Here's a post that's been waiting to go live:

Saturday was finally a lovely, sunny day after two windy and cloudy ones. We took advantage of it by going snorkeling at Haad Son beach, close to our bungalow. The visibility wasn’t super awesome and my new Pro Ear mask refuses to work properly even though I’ve shaved my hair around the ears to ensure that the silicone would stick to the skin and not let water in the ear cups. No luck so far, I think the mask might be too big and let the water in from the bottom of the ear cups and not from above the ear. Tomorrow I’ll try the dive shop’s smaller Pro Ear mask and see if there’s a difference. It’s really annoying to have to battle your mask all the time, so I hope I’ll get the situation sorted out. I did see a squid shooting by, though, and a sting ray hiding beneath a rock.  But I still don’t like snorkelling that much, it makes me claustrophobic and I feel like I’m drowning all the time… Bah.

More entertaining than the snorkeling trip was an animal encounter afterwards: we were sipping Chang in a restaurant, when suddenly a mouse fell down from the rafters on a pillow in front of us. Glancing upwards, we saw a thin, green-brown snake sliding toward what we took to be the mouse’s nest. And yes, a minute later, it started raining mice and snakes. Or just one of each, to be more exact. And then the snake promptly proceeded to squeeze the mouse to death and would have eaten it in front of our eyes, if the restaurant owner hadn’t started to poke it with a stick to try and kill it. The snake tried to make a last dash to safety with its prey, but then abandoned the mouse and slithered under the rocks to mope. Oh how I wish I’d had my camera with me, would have made awesome photos. Oh well, maybe next time, when a snake falls from the sky right in front of us…

We went and scouted out another beach as well, Haad Mae Haad, in the north-west tip of Koh Phangan, just next to the small island of Koh Ma. The beach itself was nice enough, and there were even some (quite a few, actually) tourists (most of them seemed German, Phangan seems to be really popular among them…). A word of warning, though: never eat at the restaurant at the end of the beach (nearest to Koh Ma): we ordered Pad Thai and got a sad pile of brownish noodles that didn’t taste much of anything, and a few pieces of chicken/prawns. Oh, and maybe two charred peanuts. Yay.

Haad Mae Haad and Koh Ma

Speaking of food (my favourite topic), it was quite a surprise to find that our resort, Tantawan, actually has the best food so far. And decent priced, good wine. Seems like choosing a French-owned resort paid off! Plus the restaurant is super pretty <3

 Seethrough bungalows also serves tasty dishes, although a bit more expensive because of the prime location on the beach. Apache restaurant is another one that we’ll avoid from now on: the currys yesterday were so incredibly spicy that not even S could finish his portion, let alone me… And the drinks weren’t very good either.

Even though it’s a hard climb up to our bungalow, we decided that we wanted to save us the hassle of moving our stuff somewhere else before the “final” move to our own apartment, so we booked the bungalow for 4 extra night with a small discount. An extra bonus to the resort is a cute pair of dogs, who seem to have taken a liking to us and sometimes follow us up to our bungalow to chill out on our balcony for a while.

Yesterday we did another dive trip with Haad Yao divers, this time they’re taking us to the east side of Koh Tao. And after the dives, we’ll go and sign the lease for our new apartment. Yay!

Ok, need to withdraw indoors, the rain storm you can see creeping in from the right in the picture below has reached us and the terrace is getting flooded. Until next time!

4 September 2012


We’re here, we made it! The flights were uneventful and only 2 h delayed. Abu Dhabi airport was totally crappy, we didn’t even see the cool looking hall they have on the posters. Bangkok went by in a blur, but we managed to get some delicious food eaten and to sample some street food snacks (I didn’t touch the bigger critters but both the worm type fellas were super delicious!). We also took a canal boat used by locals with no clear destination in mind and ended up in Gold Mountain temple which was a pretty cool surprise.

The reliable Tuk-tuk

View from our hotel window. Not bad, eh?

Care for some snacks?

Monday morning we got up bright and early to catch the bus to Chumporn, and then the ferry to Koh Phangan. We arrived in our bungalow after a ride from the harbor and a somewhat excruciating climb of steps and now we’re here! Today we already went diving with Haad Yao divers to Sail rock where some bull sharks have kept residence for a bit over a month now. There were of course a huge number of curious divers of various skill levels who wanted to see these magnificient animals, and see them we did! Boy what a rush. Sadly no whale sharks today, though… L

Our bungalow for the first 3 nights

A room with a view <3

Pad Thai and Chang, the fare of the day

Tomorrow we’re planning to start looking for a more permanent residende. We’re gonna go check a few areas and then make a decision where we’d like to stay (at least for starters). We heard somewhat disconcerting news from the dive shop staff that if the monsoons get really bad, the internet is the first to go… So we’ll really have to try and get a place with as dependable a connection as we can get around here. And if push comes to shove, we can always relocate to the Andaman sea side, like Phuket for example, where the infrastructure is better and the rainy season takes place at a different time. We’ll just have to wait and see. Keep your thumbs up for us!