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craig_foster

Koh Tao (11)

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Yo guys,

 

Greetings from Koh Tao!!!

 

Well this should be an interesting email. An email from a guy who's cycling

round the world but hardly has anything to do with cycling. More a

glorified postcard.

 

I left the town of Hua Hin about 2 weeks ago. I reckon I've cycled maybe

200 miles in that time. Thailand does that to you. You fall in love with

the place and you don't want to leave. I've met people who came here for a

week's holiday and have been here for seven years. Sure it has it's

negatives but unlike most places, you have a real choice if you want

anything to do with those negatives. There's always an option. You'll

find a Thai hospitality and sense of fun that'll bring joy into your life no

matter how weird your upbringing.

 

From Hua Hin I cycled down to a town called Prachuap Khiri Khan and found a

place to stay which, by my standards, was the height of luxury. Running hot

water and everything. During the evening I went out to check out the town

and find some food. First restaurant I came across, a young Thai girl

ambled towards me, looking down at her order book. She looked up, saw me

and just turned and screamed "Farang" which is what the Thais call

foreigners. What must have been the Farang expert came out to inform me

that they were full just as about 10 busloads of Thai tourists turned up for

their pre-booked meal.

 

I tried a few more restaurants but couldn't really find anything I was keen

on so returned to the hotel. I got chatting to a guy at the next table who

it turns out is hitch-hiking around the world which tbh, ignoring the safety

aspect has to be one of the best ways I can imagine to travel. I mean how

can you not meet people? If you don't then by definition you don't go

anywhere. He'd been traveling pretty much non-stop for 9 years, always

looking for the next big challenge which I'm guessing is how he arrived at

the idea of hitch-hiking around the world. Makes me wonder where all this

will end. Are some people just pre-destined to keep pushing the boundaries

of travel?

 

I left in the morning and headed for a quiet beach town called Wat Tan Sai.

A place which possesses the type of beaches you see in travel magazines. I

have a photo of me sitting on the beach and there isn't another person for

miles in either direction. I slept in the local youth hostel which had a

few, but not many tourists. The rest of the youth hostel was home to 250

students from Bangkok University on holiday for the weekend. I met the

other tourists at the resort and had your standard travel conversations. As

you'd expect of 250 university students, the whole place eventually turned

into a big party. The owners kept coming over and apologising but tbh it

was pretty tame stuff compared to what their equivalent Western counterparts

would have been getting up to. Later on in the evening they started a

ritual with candles and some cool songs. None of us tourists could figure

out what was going on so I figured I'd go and ask a few of the students to

satisfy my own curiosity. Turned out it was just how they create a bond

between the 3rd and 1st year students although looking at the booze they

were consuming, I had a sneaky suspicion there'd be plenty of bonding going

on later anyway. They were really curious about what I was doing and after

showing them my bike, I sat and told a few tales about my travels so far.

Eventually I left them to the latter stages of their bonding process and

headed for bed.

 

In the morning I met another of the tourists I'd missed the night before.

The guy was an American and couldn't have been more of a traveling cliche if

he'd tried. He'd obviously watched Val Kilmer's performance in The Doors

and figured that was the look and persona for him. All laid back and plenty

of "duuuuuuude" thrown around the conversation. He'd been coming to

Thailand since 93, "before this became all touristy, just jungle" was how he

put it. Like once he arrived in 93 they should have just closed off the

borders and halted all development. I kept on expecting him to tell me he'd

been in "Nam dude" but his age made this impossible. Turned out he had that

one covered anyway as he'd been in "Bosnia dude" where he'd seen some

"expletive deleted". He even looked off into the distance all haunted when he said he'd

seem some "expletive deleted". He said he's been in Cambodia and when I asked him how

he'd found it, he said it was just to the right of Thailand. I assumed he

was joking but he wasn't. I figured I'd get going before the Jim Morrison

tracks started playing.

 

Around this point I decided I wanted to try some diving. It seemed

sacrilege to travel through Thailand without sampling some of their world

famous diving spots. I decided on the island of Koh Tao which is considered

one of the best dive spots in the world and accessible by ferry from the

town of Chumphon, about 85 miles south of Wat Tan Sai. I arrived in

Chumphon around 7 in the evening with the intention of catching the midnight

ferry to the island. The night ferry was billed as being either a fantastic

experience or one of the worst nights of your life depending on the weather.

Sounded perfect.

 

The ride down was fantastic. I took some quiet roads and cycled through

some small villages and, after a few hours, the part of my body getting the

most tired wasn't my legs but my arms and face from returning the smiles and

waves of the locals. I cycled through one village and the entire town was

out on their veranda and everyone waved and said hello. I felt like a

visiting president. That's what I said about Thai hospitality earlier. You

just can't help but be seduced by it. If you read the Lonely Planet guides

you could have a degree of cynicism about people's motivation but being away

from the city on a bike, removes any negatives I can see.

 

I can usually measure a town by how long it is before I'm asked by a

prostitute if I'm looking for a good time. Chumphon was about 45 seconds.

I told her I'm on a bike so I'm already having a good time but thank you for

the offer. Luckily I'd only be in town for a few hours. In Chumphon I came

across another of my traveling cliches which, unfortunately, seems

particular to the English. I was in a bar, reading a book, when two girls

came over, both absolutely hammered. I was polite but made it obvious I'm

just here for a bit of quiet reading. They left me and returned to the bar

where they just sat, argued, swore and shouted for a few hours. The

background to this is that the Thais hate confrontation. They'll avoid it

at all costs which is where the famous Thai smile comes from. You could see

the distaste the local Thais had for these girls, who were oblivious to

everything. At one point they were f-ing and blinding there way through an

argument about who'd done the most traveling and I just sat amazed that you

could travel for so long but never learn to respect the local culture.

What's the point in traveling if you never learn anything either about

yourself or the people around you?

 

I caught the night ferry and seemingly got lucky with the weather as I slept

all the way. The boat itself was a fantastic rickety affair where we all

slept on a big communal mattress on the top floor. The scariest moment was

when the guys carried my bike onto the boat across, what looked like, the

most unstable plank known to man but, as with everything in Thailand up

until that point, there was "no probleeeeem". I arrived in the morning on

the island of Koh Tao to the sight of a guy holding a sign up with my name

on it. I've waited all my life for this to happen so it was fitting it

happened in Thailand.

 

The diving course started in the evening where I met my co-students. I was

to take the course with two people, Eyan, a 32 year old Israeli guy working

in IT and Irene, an attractive 22 year old student from Regensburg in

Germany a city which I'd cycled through a month before. Luckily we were all

traveling on our own so, after the diving was over for the day, we'd stick

together, go for meals or check out the local bars. The bars here are

fantastic. Right on the beach with cheap beer and everyone just chilling

out on the comfy mattresses. You could spend hours just lying there,

listening to the surf, the various languages floating around you while

staring up at the sky. Eyan was an interesting guy but it became a bit of a

standing joke that he started every story with "When I was in

country>, I met this girl.....". Probably a little unfairly he was labeled

as the ladies man in the group but I suspect it's a label he quite enjoyed.

 

After a few days the group had grown to around 8 people mainly due to

Irene's boredom at having to hear Eyan and I discussing politics in high

speed English for hours on end. Her English was excellent but it's

understandable that you need to seek out people speaking your native

language from time to time. The people we met were wonderfully considerate

anyway and, even though it would have been a million times easier to speak

in German, they'd converse in English most of the time just so Little

Englander me could take part. It's kind of shamed me into wanting to learn

German when I get home. Irene tried to teach me some German but I kept on

asking for random translations and my memory is a bit rubbish anyway.

Strangely, the only word I remember is "verfuhren".

 

The various people in the group started leaving a few days ago. It's one of

the downsides about traveling that you meet people you care about and it's

entirely plausible that you may never see them again. I stayed an extra day

mainly because I needed some time to reflect and write this email. Time on

my own to think has been in short supply of late although I've enjoyed it.

 

It's time to leave the island now. I've done what I wanted to do and met

the people I wanted to meet. My ferry leaves at 21:00 back to the mainland

to Surat Thani and then it's time to get cycling again. I think I've used

up all my rest time so it's time to go earn some more. Time to be on my own

again.

 

Lots of love as always

 

Craig.

 

XXX

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