Thursday, April 8, 2010

Relaxing week on the beach

This past week was the first week that both Pae and I had time off at the same time. It was the beginning of my school vacation and all of Pae's interviews and graduation things had all just ended. We thought about hitting up Korea again, but what we were really in the mood for was the beach.There are a couple choices for beaches here in Thailand. You've got the Andaman Sea on the West which would include popular touristy places like Phuket, Krabi and Koh Phi Phi. Been there, done that and would go again someday in a heartbeat.You have the west coast of the isthmus (that's what I would call it although its part of a larger peninsula the lower part of which is Malaysia) that borders the Gulf of Siam with places like Koh Samui and Koh Pangan. Those are definitely places that I want to visit when I renew my PADI divers license. I'd love to get Pae certified too cuz under the ocean is a whole other world that not that many people actually take advantage of exploring.

We chose the opposite side of the Gulf that borders Cambodia. Here you find popular Thai weekend islands such as Koh Samet and further out of the way islands like Koh Chang and Koh Koot. We decided on Koh Chang which translates to Elephant Island. We lucked out and booked a hotel on the beach in the best area of the island...not knowing it was the best until we drove down the beaches later in the week. We stayed on White Sand Beach, pretty much the closest beach to the ferry that takes you from the Trat province to the island.Out trip from Bangkok went something like TAXI to the wrong VAN that dropped us off some 30 km from the ferry, a PICKUP TRUCK turned taxi to the pier to a FERRY that carries cars to the island. After the half hour slow cruise to the northern and more rocky side of Koh Chang we hired another PICKUP TRUCK to take us to our hotel with a bunch of other tourists from the ferry, all exchanging looks and email addresses...our favorite being a French dude talking to a guy not on our pickup (called a song taew meaning two rows because there are two rows of bench-like seats in the back). Their quick exchange of contact information went something (in a heavy French accent)like, "I am Olivier Basset, Bassett like as in...Bassett like, OLIVIER Basset"

We stayed at a hotel called Cookies Hotel on White Sand Beach. We really didn't know what to expect as our attempts to make reservations were kinda interesting in a bad way. We called the front desk a day before arriving and asked about the vacancy. They have three basic room types, Standard, Superior and Deluxe. The Deluxe and Superior are on the beach and cost between 2,500 - 3,000 baht per night. The standard rooms are in a separate complex across a road and at the base of a small jungle mountain. Standard rooms were in the 1,800 baht neighborhood.

Pae called initially, and after some major non-interest on the reservation lady's part she was told that the hotel would call her back concerning available rooms. They told her that they only had Deluxe for the higher price and Standard rooms across the street. They demanded half payment of the room rate in advance by credit card. Pae asked about Superior rooms and they told her that they were all sold out. The only difference between a Deluxe and a Superior room is that Superior is first floor and Deluxe second floor. They gave Pae a higher price than we saw on their website so she asked about the website price...the lady bitchily told her "Go reserve from the website then" and hung up! Wow.We thought about choosing another hotel or even destinations...but I decided to call about a half hour later and see what I could get from them. I kissed their butts telephonically, and in English, and asked all of the touristy questions. "I would love to stay in one of your Superior rooms that I saw online"..."How many days sir"..."Five days, are there elephants on the island?"..."Yes there are elephants and snorkeling"..."Lovely!" I was given the Superior room for 5 nights at the website published rate and no credit card deposit! Funny how one lazy person can give a place such a bad reputation (hotel desk lady, name unknown) and how another could make the experience so laid back and easy (Mr. Gugai, who arranged everything for me over the phone).

Mr. Gugai from Cookies Hotel, thank you. You rock...Ms. reception lady, I was gonna tell you that you suck, but I won't, although you do.The beach was long and white. The difference between high and low tide was about 50 meters max and when the tide went out the beach just got wider and whiter, unlike many of the other beaches we saw that were rocky and brown.The area was very slow, I imagined that the streets would be full, but the whole island seemed very slow in a relaxing kind of way. Above is a picture of what a gas station looks like there! I'm sure there are ones for the residents too, in the local corners of the island, but with most tourists renting mopeds, this is how fuel was sold!The beaches weren't filled with umbrellas and people kicking sand in each other's faces. Our first morning we did see a little kid throwing a frisbee with a hotel worker...another worker who went above and beyond for the guests at Cookies. There were actually no people walking selling food on the beach, which was very surprising to me. Usually we can grab some papaya salad and steamed crabs, iced drinks, snacks, chicken, rice, pretty much anything when we go to the beach, which is great when you're hungry or craving a Popsicle...but gets annoying with the 200th person who comes stuffing food in your face when you're trying to relax. Overall, there were just people walking the beach selling sunglasses, shell jewelery and other souvenir-type things. Not bad.We payed 800 baht each to take a speed boat to some of the smaller islands for snorkeling. The other option was a 500 baht all day snorkeling tour on a slower, more crowded ferry. The ferries carry like 50 people, where our speed boat carried only 12ish.The snorkeling was great. Very clear and blue water. We brought some bread with us to feed the fish. The smaller ones, like from hand size to foot size, would eat from your hand and often their aim was off and you'd get a little peck on the hand...oddly, I got several pecks on the shoulder and back...feeding frenzy!The funnest was to follow a couple parrot fish around and listen and watch them munching on the coral, seemingly not caring that we were hovering above them. Pae and I really enjoyed being out on the water and snorkeling. I Did however forget to put sunscreen on my back and shoulders and I'm gonna go peel a pound of dead skin off of my back after I finish this post.We visited four other islands off of Koh Chang. I believe they were Koh Thong Lang, Koh Mak, Koh Wai and Koh Rang. We snorkeled at all but Koh Rang, where we had lunch and just lazed around in the super shallow water off of the beach. I was very surprised that we were the only ones on the whole island for the hour that we spent there. When we were in Phuket snorkeling Phi Phi and other areas, there were always hundreds of people already on the islands when we arrived...We had all of Koh Rang to ourselves, it was great.The rest of our time, since we luckily found such a non-crowded, nice beach, was spent in the water swimming and finding shells, sand dollars and hermit crabs. Perhaps the funnest thing was searching about three inches under the sand for the bigger crabs! The kind that latch on to fingers and don't let go. We happened upon 5 or 6 of them but were only able to capture three. The first one got me with both claws on the middle and ring finger. I bled but not enough to attract the sharks! The next one grabbed Pae's pointer which didn't hurt until the next day. The third one we used a shirt to grab as it was the biggest of the three and certainly would have lopped off our fingers with its tasty looking claws! Funny thing I never realized, crabs have eight little swimming and walking legs...and two claws for a total of ten legs...I always assumed eight.

It was a great time and we were able to forget about the Red Shirts for a few days. We met an artist from Chicago and his Vietnamese wife on the pickup/ferry ride back to the mainland. It was cool to share stories with them. They brought their newborn, Koby, with them and he seemed to be soaking it all in. I Think he's like 3 months old already...they've been here over a month painting temples.Next time Pae is in country (She's off to Jordan soon) we'll have to decide if we're gonna go to the mountains or the beaches...if we go to beaches, Koh Chang is definitely on our short list!


Naomi Hanks said...

So nice that the two of you had time off together. Looks like you had tons of fun. I loved all the pictures but especially the last one. It looks like an engagement picture! Good luck to Pae in Jordon and Good luck Chris with that pound of dead skin! Love you guys!

Beccarigg said...

WOW! What a cool place and GORGEOUS pictures! That's a pretty good story about the snotty receptionist and then Mr. nice dude who hooked it up! Do you think it was because you spoke in English? Either way, glad you got a better deal and found such a cool place without all the crowds! Bummer about the sunburn! Been there done that, not fun!

The matching shirts are pretty sweet too! Kind of makes you go, "awwwww..... ; )"

Tau said...

That looks and sounds like fun brotha! Keep the updates on the trips coming. Take care.

Rachel Uda Murdock said...

That last pic is soooooo romantic!

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