Unusually for me…..
Well, this is certainly the longest that I have gone without blogging since we started the trip, and unusually for me I am not going to give you a day-by-day breakdown of the intervening period. For one, it would be distinctly uninteresting to recount the days gone by, grain of sand by grain of sand, or splash of sea by splash of sea.
Suffice to say we have been languishing on the beach for most of the intervening period soaking up the rays and frolicking in the sea. There have of course been one or two notable events; Christmas and New Year to name but two, and also kids party and fun dive to name another two. And so, dear reader, forgive my laziness and instead imagine yourself on a island of great beauty with clear water and pristine sandy beaches and tell me that you would rather blog than pass your time enjoying some of natures best….??
One thing is abundantly clear, I think that we needed to take a break from being on the move all the time, and to settle down momentarily in a place we could call our own to celebrate that most special of family seasons, Christmas. Our place, our kitchen, our food – it was so nice to be back in the kitchen once more preparing good healthy food that pleased both us and the kids.
It is easy to see how some visitors that come to Koh Tao are seduced by the easy going pace of life. One month turns into two and before they know it they are permanent residents. There is a large ex-pat community and everyone seems to know everyone else; but that is part of the attraction, I guess. That said though, we still felt a little outside it all, not really having the opportunity of diving into the nightlife due to our progeny – most of the other parents had become parents whilst on the island and so had had ample opportunity to integrate into the party scene before the ties of mother or fatherhood.
Our life on the island was not without adventure though! Whilst the two young ‘uns continued in their schooling, Tania, Oskar and I explored a little of the island on our scooters. Other than the main road from South to North, the other roads are a combination of concrete, sand, mud and steep steep climbs full of ruts and boulders. We went over to Ao Leuk one day to check out a place for us to all go to swim and snorkel and there were several parts where it was really touch and go as to whether we would make it, and though in the end we arrived in one piece the prospect of doing it with the whole family was definitely a no go. Besides, the beach and sea were full of rubbish from Chumphon blown over the water to despoil what should have been paradise!
Anyway, I digress which is definitely not unusual for me. We found a nice spot at the north end of Sairee beach (by Grand Coral) that had small waves and a nice reef some 50m off the beach where we could snorkel to our hearts content – or until we got too cold at least. It was just a short 5min scooter ride from home and we spent a good deal of our time here, being occasionally ordered off sun loungers or spots of the beach reserved for residents by the lady appointed policewoman and who the boys dubbed the Rottweiler. Passing hawkers plied their wares and sweetcorn and pineapple sellers entreated the tourists to partake of their goods. One man in particular caught our eye. He always had a smile on his kind face and happily let the kids watch him prepare the fruit or corn, and even fan the flames of his portable charcoal stove as they waited for their golden nuggets of goodness to be ready.
There were lots of families on this stretch of beach too and the boys had no trouble making friends and playing with them, be they English, French or any other nationality. Their confidence has grown tremendously during the trip and many times they disappeared into their own world of play as we watched proudly on.
The reef was blessed with an abundance of fish and corals, clams and sea cucumbers. We had plenty to see each time we went out and quite often we saw a large school of yellow and white striped fish feasting on the coral which always evoked shouts and wild pointing from the kids, parrot fish of all sizes and of course Christmas tree worms – always fun to waft at with fin or hand to see them disappear into their refuge in the rock. The boys liken them to the plants you see in Avatar when Jake goes out for the first time. There were no turtles to marvel at or swim with, but there was a monster of the deep that we saw fairly often.
We had been warned about the Titan Trigger Fish in our PADI training. So called because of a dorsal fin that it raises as a warning shortly before it attacks with its nasty sharp pointy teeth. Its very territorial and its area is conical in shape rising upwards from the sea bed. If you see one, swim away asap – several divers have lost their fins by this fish which can be as large as a small child. Anyway, on our first snorkel trip we encountered a very large fish indeed and after goggling at it as it swam away into the murky waters by the rocks we came to the conclusion that this was a trigger fish. Cool! How awesome is that?
Subsequent snorkel trips involved looking for this magnificent if slightly dangerous fish, but it was elusive – probably just as well. I went out on a solo trip and happened upon it not far into the reef. It was hovering in the middle of a round, hollow coral. I stopped and looked at it, and as I did so it rolled over slightly to get a better look at me, fixing me with its large unblinking eye, and then its trigger went up. Heart thumping a little, I backed off towards shore keeping my fins between me and the fish and was relived to see it swim off nonchalantly in the other direction. That was only one of many encounters with this monster, but we survived all of them unscathed and lived to see then end of another day.
Being a west facing beach the sunsets were truly magnificent, and I could fill this post with a hundred photos, but here are just a few.
Christmas Eve (Day 100 of our trip)
This was always going to be a strange experience for us. Christmas Eve has a special theatre for us as a family culminating in the lighting of the tree and giving of presents, champagne and speckkuchen and a light dinner of smoked salmon. On the island it is Christmas Eve that sees most of the festivities too and we were invited to a beach party at Maya bar with the children from school and their parents The highlight was Father Christmas arriving on a long tail boat to hand out presents. We arrived just as he chugged up to the beach and leapt onto the sand in full jolly red suit, but no boots – the salt water plays havoc with the leather of course! He sat on his throne and ably helped by his little elf Bree from the school handed out the presents to all the children there.
Then it was beef burger or hotdog for dinner and as the sun set. Santa said farewell and the music was pumped up higher whilst the children played on the beach and then danced on the disco floor. Ere long we dragged the kids away as the adults got ready to party on into the night and we returned home for our turn to swap presents and cards by our tree made from palm tree and banana leaves…
The present haul was much smaller than years gone by, just one present each, but it was still a special moment for us all.
New Year’s Eve
This is the only day in the year when we let the children stay up late to enjoy the festivities, and we normally spend this with family, enjoying a fabulous meal and sampling great wines and copious amounts of champagne. Since that wasn’t going to be possible, we opted for the next best thing, invite some friends over for dinner and then head out into Koh Tao for the fire dancers and the New Years fireworks at Lotus Bar.
We invited Phill, Rachel and her friend over for Spaghetti Bolognaise and Apple Crumble with Custard to enjoy a family dinner for New Years Eve. They were very touched and we spent a very very pleasant evening in their lovely company, even if the water for the spaghetti did take 40 mins to boil (methinks the gas tank is nearly empty!). But on the plus side, it was the first time in some years that they had had custard and we promised we would leave them the tin of custard powder when we left for Bangkok!
Dinner over we headed to Lotus Bar at 11:30pm and caught the end of the fire show before the night was lit up with multicoloured explosions and new constellations were created with Chinese lanterns launched into the sky. Oskar, Luca and Mateo all added to the numerous stars and made their wish for the coming year as the lanterns soared to the heavens.
As the clock pushed on to 1am we left the revellers and headed back home. There was an air of love and peace amongst the crowds of people from all over the world. Many wished us Happy New Year as we passed, and posed with the boys for photos. It was a great evening and we fell into our beds full of positive energy and happiness.
Farewell Koh Tao
Like all good things, our time on this island had to come to an end. Our visas were already half gone and there was a lot of Thailand still to see that did not involve sand or sea, but bricks and stones, jewels and gold, statues and monks. Bangkok was our destination, mode of transport – fast boat to Chumphon and then coach to Bangkok. Sounds simple enough? Matters were complicated by the weather and that the boat from the previous afternoon had not arrived due to the torrential rain, and by the time we had ferried the bags and children to Mae Haad and returned the scooters to RPM (and found out the post office was closed and we had to carry our large parcel with us) there was a considerable queue of people trying to get onto our boat.
Various announcements informed us that the boat was full and the crowd was on the verge of rioting when the situation became clearer. The company had rearranged the boat schedule so that there would be 3 boats going to Chumphon that day, and that it was only boat 1 that was full. Placated, but still rather annoyed, we patiently waited for our turn to be processed in the stuffy building by the dock. Eventually I got to the front of the shambolick queue and was given a blue circle Bangkok 2 sticker for all of us and some luggage labels. Now we just had to wait.
It wasn’t long before we were stood to and it was our turn to join the shuffling lines on the pier to board the catamaran for the main land. We found a place near the front and settled down, the boys on their games and Tania and I planning our next steps. The crossing was smooth and took only 1 ¾ hours before we arrived at the purpose built port some way outside Chumphon itself. The pier looked like it had been constructed from driftwood and was cobbled together higglety pigglety with uneven tread and gaps here and there, but it conveyed us to the next staging point where we had to register again for one of the coaches to Bangkok.
This actually went pretty smoothly and we got yellow triangle stickers this time to denote which coach we were on. After a 30 min wait we were called and followed the crowd to the waiting coach. We showed our tickets and after a hasty discussion and some worried looks we were then told that we had to wait. Further discussions then ensued amongst the assembled Thai staff culminating with the arrival of a senior staff member. All the time we were smiling and waiting having no clue as to what the problem was or whether we would actually get on the bus or not. Eventually it was all sorted out and we were allowed to board, the boys upstairs at the back and Tania and I downstairs in the luxury seats!
I popped up to see how they were, and the girls next to our 3 lads offered to swap seats so that we could all be together – why oh why did I say yes? Hahaha. And so we travelled 5 abreast to Bangkok, the soundtrack to various films blasting out of the speakers, but the TVs strangely dim, arriving just before 10pm at a stop on Kho San road. Then it was a simple matter of running the gauntlet of the waiting taxi drivers ignoring their sincere offers to take us to our hotel for 200 Baht, and then flagging down a taxi meter that would actually take us where we wanted to go.
We finally arrived at Udee Guesthouse and checked into a charming hotel off a quiet Soi in the north of the city and climbed the four flights to our beds in the eight person dormitory we had booked for the night. All of our beds were labelled (Tania P 1 – 5) and the staff were courteous, helpful and charming. Exhausted, but happy to be finally moving again, we flopped into bed and drifted into the land of dreams.