Sunday, January 24, 2010

Koh Samui and the return home

18/01/10 - 24/01/10

So now I'm posting from back in Brisbane. I'm yet to suffer the "post-holiday blues" that many people talk about. In fact, I'm quite happy to be home. All holidays have to come to an end eventually...

So what did we do on Koh Samui, I hear you ask? The answer is, not much. Most days were spent lazing around in our villa, or by the pool. We did spend plenty of time up at Sandalwood Villas' lovely restaurant though, and one of the staff there, Mai, got to know us (and what we ordered) very well.

My impressions of Koh Samui were that it was a very nice place - we spent most of our time down in the town around Chaweng Beach, which is the busiest part of the island. It was like a watered-down version of Phuket. There were still touts asking you to buy suits and whatnot, but they weren't nearly as agressive as their Phuket counterparts.

The shopping in Chaweng Beach is also alot better, and alot more negotiable. In Phuket, if you don't accept their first offer, they aren't interested because the next gullible tourist will come and buy it for that price. At Koh Samui, you can actually haggle, often with results yielding a 40% discount.

Chaweng Beach itself was quite nice, but once again very populated by tourists. There was some techno music in the distance, and several sellers roamed the beach, trying to sell you ice cream, beach equipment or various handicrafts. The water was a very pleasant temperature, and the surf was calm - it wasn't going to drag you out to sea and then pummel you to death like it does in Australia.

On our third day at Koh Samui, we took a trip to see the Ang Thong Marine Park. The trip saw us visit two of the islands, and was narrated by a guy who spoke hillariously broken English. The first island which we visited had the quintessential desert island beach. There was coconut palms swaying in the breeze, and soft, sandy beaches. Add to this the lush vegetation and dramatically-shaped mountains, and you get the feeling that you'd be happy to spend several weeks on the island.

They advertised snorkelling on the island. It was not very impressive. I didn't see anything but seaweed, and a single fish. The fish was dead, however. Eventually we decided to just go for a swim instead. Afterwards, Emma and I did the ultra-tourist thing, and bought a coconut to drink from. It was awesome.

The next island we visited had a hidden lagoon within it's mountains. It was called "emerald lake", and certainly lived up to it's name. It was a very steep climb to reach the lagoon, but the results were well worth it. Unfortunately, we were instructed by our tour operator that "swimming is not allows", and that "only taking of the photographs". So taking of the photographs I did.

Emma and I then made our way back down to the beach. The snorkelling on offer at this island was a little better... I saw plenty of fish, and even a giant clam. But, once again, you can get better snorkelling in Australia, but that is no surprise what with the great barrier reef and all that.

The next two days were just spent shopping and beaching. On the whole, a very relaxing end to the journey. Emma and I finally did have a massage, and it was well worth it. I felt like going to sleep during the hour long experience, but managed not to.

Our flight left Koh Samui at 12:45pm on Saturday, 23rd of January. Three flights later via Bangkok and Singapore, and we landed at Brisbane at 9:55am Sunday, 24th of January. It was good to be home. It was nice to hear a non-broken English PA call. We were greeted by Emma's parents after clearing customs. It was nice to see friendly faces and not somebody holding up a sign with my name on it.

--Overall Impressions--

Thailand is an amazing country. There is a diversity of culture, sights, sounds and landscape that you just can't see in Australia. The people are shy but friendly, and even if some of them are just trying to get money out of you, most people seem to have genuine intentions, or are just doing their jobs.

The way the cities function is completely different to Australia, though. Traffic is impossible in Bangkok, and car accidents happen frequently. One of the people we met on our trip, Jennifer, was in a car accident THIRTY MINUTES after renting her car out. Alternative transport (especially by rail, if possible) is a must.

Also, there appears to be no real waste-management systems in place. Garbage is everywhere, and there are no bins visible to the tourist's eye. Expect to see and smell running sewage on a regular basis, too.

These things can be expected of most south east asian countries, however, especially in highly populated areas, so it can be forgiven.

If I were to give any advice to budding travellers wanting to go to Thailand, I would say this: Spend as little time in Bangkok and Phuket as you have to.

Bangkok is insanely busy, overcrowded, hot and smelly.

Phuket is less busy, but now seems to exist only to please tourists. Spend as much time out of the town as you can. The tours from Phuket (including the exceptional Sea Canoe Tour we did) are great, but the town itself is horrible.

Places I'd recommend going would be Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Koh Samui. They are all far more relaxed places with more genuine people. Additionally, go to Mae Hong Son if you really want to see traditional "rural" Thailand. It was an amazing experience.

And that's how I can sum up my entire holiday in Thailand. An "amazing experience". If I could do it again, I wouldn't change a thing. Even in the nastiest of places, I'm still glad that I got to experience them. I will definitely return to Thailand one day, but for now it has opened my eyes to the myriad of other cultures that need exploring around the world. Travel bug confirmed.

Up Next: Tokyo? London? Paris? New York? Who knows! But when it happens, I'll be posting it on here!

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