Songkhla to Koh Samui 14 Apr - 7 May 2008
Friday 25 April 2008 - Happy Anzac's day to our Aussie readers!! We can't believe we've been in Thailand just over a week.
We spent the first few days at the seaside town of Songkhla where we found a lovely camp spot by the beach, where we relaxed for a few days. The first day I felt a bit better after my sting and the after effects we went to the museum which was great (see picture below lovely architecture) ...until we came out and realized our laptop has been stolen in the 90 minutes we were in there! We then spent the next few days having to deal with the police ...we tried to ring the tourist police on their hot line but for over 3 days they never answered!!!
So, we had to wait until the regular police tracked down an interpreter, as it was very hard to communicate. For about an hour when we were first trying to report the theft they thought we were asking where to park the car!! Finally a very charming young lady turned up to assist. Joom our interpreter was in fact the barmaid at the local dive ...I guess it stood to reason she'd speak English!! Anyway like all the other people we met she was very charming and went out of her way to assist us. We went to her friend's birthday party at the bar (and she looked very good for 50!!!) and met some other very nice people so after an appalling start we are starting to enjoy Thailand. My diary is destined to have less colour for a while ..we actually lost our camera charger which was in the laptop case, so we can't take pictures at the moment as our camera battery is flat. The only place which sells Olympus chargers in Thailand seems to be in Bangkok, and due to language issues trying to order one over the phone is very hard! So, bear with us photos hopefully to follow!
In the meantime we had a good look at- quite an attractive little town some nice old buildings, and sculptures including a serpent, its head tail and body appear at random around the city and the bronze mermaid washing her hair who is a Hindu -Buddhist earth goddess.
We also visited a nearby island on an inland sea Ko Yo, famous for its weaving and had a look around the museum. There is a local traditional dance form from this area called Nora, and we had witnessed a school production one evening and the statues in the large sculpture depict the dancer's elaborate costumes.
We drove on up the coast doing our first bit of 'off road"for a while, despite the rain!! We saw a sign to a waterfall..followed it on a whim and it ended up being a tough drive up, down and across water, followed by a tough 1 hour walk.. but we had become determined to get there!! We were very wet and muddy by the end but the waterfall was lovely. The local children were a great help guiding us, and they didn't seem to mind getting soaked in the process which was just as well!
We are now in Nakhon Si Thammarat (NST) the capital city of the province of that name. We plan to have a look around and head on up to Ko Samui an island for some R and R, but if we can't get a charger sent to us we may have to head on to Bangkok straight away so we can continue to use the camera. We don't really want to do this as it will involve a bit of back tracking, but will see how we go. Meanwhile, the rain continues which we don't mind as it is quite refreshing after the intense heat of the last week and the food is fantastic so all in all things could definitely be worse!
Tuesday 29 April 2008 - As we want to take pictures of the various attractions in NST we are planning on exploring it fully once we can use the camera again. In the meantime whilst we await the charger we have been journeying up the east coast of the gulf. This area is very unspoilt and even though we are only a stone's throw from Ko Samui a really touristy island, life here remains very traditional concentrating on fishing and prawn farming as well as growing coconuts.
The only tourists you see are Thai, and very little English is spoken. The area is traditionally a Muslim area and reminded us both of the east coast of Malaysia. The coastline is very picturesque and we have found a lovely camp spot in a largely uninhabited 4 star resort, near the coastal village of Sichon. Sichon is a pleasant little fishing village and every day we come down here to use the internet and do battle with Olympus in Malaysia (we have given up trying to deal with Bangkok..definitely in the too hard basket !!!) in an attempt to get our new charger.
Last night we bought some prawns off the local fishermen and the resort kitchen cooked them for us in spicy sauce which was delicious. We bought a kilo of the biggest prawns we'd ever seen - 14 in total - for $6.
We also bought some tropical fruit for breakfast after a bit of a peculiar breakfast the day before -we had attempted to order eggs and toast ..usually a good bet if there isn't much western food around and ended up with eggs chili and deep fried tofu not what either of us fancied first thing!
Maybe due to the fact they grow chilies locally or due to the lack of other farangs (westerners) around the food here is VERY spicy. We have had to expand our growing Thai vocabulary with a new phrase " "Khaw ma pet maak" -apologies to any Thais for the lack of accents - which means - "not too spicy please." The people at the resort are a bit amazed by us and our vehicle and we are a bit of a crowd puller! All the interest has been very friendly and, as usual on our travels, we have been warmly greeted wherever we go.
Well the good news is we have finally got the charger situation sorted out so we can once more use the camera.
We arranged for it to be couriered to us here which was very complicated, and we found out at the last minute that there is a 30% transaction charge for any international transactions out of Thailand ..ironically the day we bit the bullet and did this we saw a compatible charger for sale in a local shop after we'd spent days looking ..very frustrating (and expensive!)
Anyway we had a good look around NST. The town has an impressive Wat (or temple) Wat Phra Mahathat. It was a stunning piece of architecture with Buddhas everywhere ..none of the signs were in English so we don't really know a lot more about it, apart from the fact it is the biggest Wat in Southern Thailand and is over 1000 years old! We were sold flowers to lie on the Buddhas but we weren't really sure what it was all about. Apparently they are in the process of bringing out an English guide.
We also took in a shadow puppet show. These puppets are unique to the region and are intricately carved from buffalo hide, the puppet masters stand behind a lit screen to create silhouettes. The show also includes voices and traditional instruments. The stereotypical characters (one politician, an aristocrat, a fat lazy layabout etc) remain the same and the storylines are satirically amusing..not that we understood a word of it of course!
We journeyed up the coast again past Sichon and further up to the seaside town of Khanom and its local beaches. The area is very beautiful and again very unspoilt which is surprising given its proximity to very touristy areas - it is where the Ko Samui ferry leaves from. We once more lucked out on the accommodation front. Our web research had told us that the Talkoo beach resort allowed you to camp. When we got there it had gone very up market with lovely bungalows so they weren't really set up for camping, but they were happy to let us camp and use the swimming pool and adjacent showers and toilet. We asked what the charge was and they said we should give whatever we thought was fair! Sadly I don't think the area will remain so unspoilt, as building was going on everywhere and the next few years will see rapid change not necessarily for the better.
We really like the area, the beaches and scenery were lovely and we met some lovely people. On that note a quick mention oflocal businesses which we would definitely recommend you look up if you travel to these parts. "One More Beer" a pub run by Brian and Jen from Chicago ..friendly atmosphere and Jen was a fantastic source of tourist information providing us with an excellent map, and loads of sightseeing/eating suggestions (great spicy pork salad on the beach!)
We also spent several happy hours at the "Khula Bhula!" coffee shop with great coffee and food run by an English lady Paulette. This was particularly interesting as Paulette had done an overland journey through Iran Pakistan and India 3 years ago so we spent many happy hours picking her brain, whilst drinking excellent coffee.
One thing that puzzled us a bit were the somewhat kitsch pink dolphins to be seen everywhere. Very little advertising is done about this (in English anyway!) but the local dolphins are in fact actually PINK!! Apparently it is caused by the minerals from the seaweed they eat and they are the only pink dolphins in the world. There are no commercial tours but we found a fisherman who took us out for 3 hours...we had a lovely trip but thought we were going to miss seeing them but luckily we spotted a pod on the way back. Not sure if our photos do it justice at all …but they really were very pink (some more than others!) and it was a thrill to see them.
We really liked this area but have to keep moving as time (in terms of visa days)is ticking on, so on Wednesday 7th May we drove to Donsak Port near Khanom and caught the car ferry to make the 90 minute trip to the tropical island of Ko Samui.