Day 305 – 31 Dec, 2015
As a budget traveler, sometimes you have to make tough decisions about where to splurge and where to cut corners. A flight from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui on New Years Eve, no less, was outside of what I knew I should spend. But it was a no-brainer that I wanted to spend the holiday with friends and as a result, this is how I found myself sleeping in the Bangkok airport on the eve of the Eve. The things I have done to save money…. The fare was discounted if I flew from Chiang Mai to Bangkok on the 30th and Bangkok to Koh Samui on the 31st, a total travel time of 16 hours. Wendy and Ryan joined me on the 31st on a 90 minute direct flight. One day I will find this amusing I assume?
I would be staying in a hostel on Mae Nam Beach on the north part of the island. Wendy and Ryan were staying at a resort a little further afield. In theory, the distance didn’t seem very far to go back and forth and Koh Samui is ubiquitous with red truck taxis that you can just flag down to share with others. Their resort was off the main road and a short way up a hill that afforded beautiful views of the sea. The problem being that this short distance up the hill was poorly lit at night and no taxi drivers were willing to go there. The resort offered a shuttle service every 2 hours, which required some careful planning to meet the shuttle in time.
Koh Samui is located in the Gulf of Thailand, on the eastern side of the peninsula. It’s known for luxury resorts and family vacations, lesser known as a backpacker hangout. Not so for Koh Pha Ngan, which is located just to the north, close enough we could see it looming in the distance. Koh Pha Ngan is famous (or infamous) for its Full Moon Party that occurs, you guessed it, every full moon and NYE regardless of the actual full moon schedule. For many backpackers, a night at a Full Moon Party is high on their wish list, partying until the wee hours of the morning, drinking shroom shakes, waking up the next morning face down in the sand and trying to piece together why they aren’t wearing any pants. With no disrespect to my fellow backpackers who may have lost their pants, Wendy, Ryan and I obviously decided Koh Samui was a better fit for us.
We shared a taxi to Chaweng Beach, which promised to be the liveliest part of our island. And it was. Throngs of people littered the streets, live music, street performers, dinner buffets, and drink “specials.” It was still fairly early in the evening so we easily secured a beach-side table, complete with bean bag chairs and a nice view. We selected this particular restaurant because we could still order a la carte off the menu and the drinks still held a reasonable price compared to nearby establishments. We ate a seafood dinner and ordered round after round of Tiger Beer until the beach had become quite crowded. A party vibe was in full force.
Only moments before midnight, the restaurant presented our bill, which we discovered was considerably more than we expected. The menu had one price, yet our server noted another price on a handwritten sign that had only been placed well after we arrived. This practice is all too common worldwide and, no doubt, is expected for holidays and special occasions, but this particular restaurant failed at implementation and we were standing our ground. And so it was that we missed the NYE countdown because, fired up on alcohol, we were arguing with the restaurant over the principal of only a few dollars. Not able to agree, in the end, we calculated how much we knew we should owe, paid them accordingly, and quickly dissolved into the crowds for fear that someone would chase us down for the rest. In any event, our journey back down the beach to find a cab was likened to a war zone, with fireworks haphazardly set by anyone with a few baht and a lighter (virtually everyone).
The next morning my all-female dorm room appeared to be the den of Full Moon partiers, their makeup smeared, half-dressed, empty vodka and beer bottles strewn about. Luckily, I sleep soundly enough that I didn’t hear them come in. I was pleased with my idea to go for a run, as this has always been a nice way to spend New Years Day. Wendy and Ryan, in the midst of marathon training, were going to run anyway and I thought it could work out perfectly if they ran the 4 miles to my hostel to “pick me up” and then we all run the 4 miles back to their resort. I would bring my bikini and we could all lounge by the pool post-run. Perfect right?
Sorely underestimating the heat of a Thai afternoon, this running relay began at approximately noon and my re-entry to the sport of running was likened to a test in the sport of not dying. Four miles is not so far by our standards, but try running on sidewalks that are more often obstacles of potholes, lawn furniture, motorbikes, unmoving (dead-ish?) dogs, open sewer drains, and smoothie carts than actual places to walk or run. Forced to run in the street, we were dodging more of the same, plus traffic. Add in the unwavering heat and the smell of sewage and we were all wondering – whose idea was this anyway??
The following day took us to Anthong National Marine Park, an archipelago of 40 or so islands off the west coast of Koh Samui. It is characterized by towering limestone mountains, white-sand beaches, jungle, mangroves, and aquamarine water. Literally boatloads of tourists are deposited in the marine park every day for snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking. We were no different. On a boat outfitted for 75 of our fellow tourists, we were first ferried to a sparkling beach. It was beautiful if it wasn’t for the other 10 boats with an equal number of people on board. Sadly, it took away from the pristine setting.
The snorkeling was disappointing, as there was no coral or rocky coves to speak of, but we were treated to two breathtaking viewpoints and the kayaking was superb. This is what you always imagine when you think of Thai islands – warm turquoise water, white sand. If it wasn’t for the meaty sunburned tourists, this would be heaven.
On our last day, we decided to visit a different beach. The area of Fishermans Village is a heavily touted tourist hotspot, complete with tacky souvenir shops, hair braiding, tattoo parlors, high priced fruity cocktails, and beach massages. I had been dreaming of a beach massage for the last several days. What may have seemed unattainable for this thrifty traveler, was surprisingly affordable. You can get a 60 minute massage in a cabana ON the beach for less than $10. Sold! And with no regrets on foregoing the Full Moon Party, Wendy, Ryan, and I spent our final afternoon facedown in a cabana cushion (with full possession of our pants).