Friday, July 11, 2014

Brioni Southeast Asian World Tour: Thailand - Ko Samui

Welcome to the first part of the last installment of the Brioni Southeast Asia World Tour! I believe we left off where we had just boarded the train in Butterworth, Malaysia and were now heading to Ko Samui! Unlike the other trains we rode on during our trip, this train traveled during the day (not overnight, so we got to see all the sights of the of the Malaysian/Thai

The train service also served food on this trip, which wasn't provided on the previous train rides through Singapore and Malaysia.  Justin and I were served little carry out containers filled with fried chicken and white rice, as well as a side of little bananas for dessert,.  The meal overall was pretty good! They even had a little container of pepper sauce, which was delicious!
Because we left the Butterworth train station late in the afternoon, our scheduled arrival time at the Surat Thani train station would be a little after midnight. With the very last ferry ride for the day leaving the dock at around 8:00pm, it appeared that Justin and I were going to have to spend the night until the next ferry ride departed for Ko Samui in the morning.  Based on our research, it didn't look like there were many lodging options nearby the train station.  For hotels, most people on Trip Advisor's website recommended traveling 30 minutes from the train station to the city center.  In other words, nothing was within walking distance...
When we arrived at the train station, everything was pretty much closed as predicted. We wandered around a little bit and found two backpackers that were headed to the city center.  The two backpackers spoke fluent English, and each appeared to be trustworthy enough to follow for some lodging options.  After Justin spoke with the Thai man that was taking these backpackers to the city center, we hopped into this covered truck (or a jeepney, for all those who know what that is) and began what would be the craziest portion of our journey.
After driving down dark streets at 100 mph, holding on to dear life to our belongings in the back of the truck, we arrived at the "luxurious" Bandon Hotel.  As it turned out, the Thai man that drove us to the hotel was also the owner of this establishment.   As we walked through the entrance, what really caught our eye was the fact that guests of this hotel had to walk through a restaurant, then up a flight of stairs, in order to get to the hotel.  The owner then showed us two different rooms that we could choose from for our overnight stay. Each option was no different from the other, both offering a twin bed, bathroom, ceiling fan, and TV.  After we chose our room, the owner then instructed us to be ready by 7:00am, so that our "transportation" can pick us up and take us to the dock for the first ferry ride departure to Ko Samui. 
We realized that the cash we did have wouldn't be enough to cover our costs for this overnight stay, so we knew it would be necessary to make a trip to an ATM.  Luckily, we were told that next door to the hotel was a 7-11 with an ATM machine located outside the storefront.  Justin made the trip and made a withdrawal of what he figured would be enough to cover our overnight stay and the ride to the dock.  Unfortunately, the amount that the owner said was owed was more than what Justin took out.  Once again, Justin made a second trip to the ATM machine, this time learning not to underestimate the amount of Thai Baht needed for this little detour on our journey.
As I alluded to earlier, we knew that this place wasn't going to be 5-star accommodations. Because our stay would only be for a few hours, we were okay with the "luxurious" amenities Bandon Hotel offered. This trip so far has really brought us out of our comfort zone, but that's what makes good stories, right? Justin and I kept quoting the movie"Coming to America" as we were definitely staying in "meager accommodations".
Here's a hotel room selfie! Justin stayed up and watched the Brazil-Germany World Cup match while I caught some zzzz's. I think he was just too scared to turn off the lights and fall asleep in the room...
But hey! We had wifi! :) 

A shot of our bathroom. Justin was naively asking where the shower was (LOL).  This type of bathroom is what you would call a "wet bathroom", meaning that the entire bathroom is your shower ;)  Luckily I packed some rubber flip flops (that fit MY small feet) to use when we decided to use the shower.
Good Morning Surat Thani!
When we woke up later that morning (considering we checked in about 4 to 5 hours earlier), we met up with the owner, who directed us to outside of the hotel where we would be picked up.  We were joined by another person that needed a ride to the dock.  While we waited, I posed the hypothetical to Justin on what would happen if our "transportation" to the dock was actually one of the many motor scooters parked outside of the hotel.  He laughed and then said he didn't know if he'd want to ride one unless there was someone else operating the bike for him, and he rode as a passenger...

After waiting a few minutes the hotel owner arrived with our "transportation" to the dock....a motor scooter. We looked at each other in disbelief at what had just happened, especially after our little game of hypotheticals.  Justin then pointed out to the owner that one motor scooter would not be enough for the three of us and all of our luggage.  In response, the owner said that this motor scooter was for the other person waiting for us.  As instructed, our companion hoped on the back of the motor scooter and took off for the dock...

Just when we thought we were in the clear to take another form of transportation, two more motor scooters rolled up.  As it turned out, these guys were going to take us to the dock. That left us wondering how we would get our large suitcase to the dock with only two motor scooters.  After a few minutes of thinking about this new problem at hand, the owner returned with his motor scooter.  With our other companion no longer with him, the owner explained that he would bring our large suitcase on the back of his motor scooter...
With us losing time until the first ferry to Ko Samui left Surat Thani, Justin and I each hopped on the back of the motor scooters that were to take us to the dock.  Unfortunately, I have no photos of either of us riding these motor scooters, mainly due to the fact that I had no free hands during the ride.  The driver of my motor scooter was riding at such a fast pace, weaving in and out of the morning traffic.  I was afraid of loosening my hold around the rider's waist, and didn't have the courage to even reach for my phone or camera for the photo op.  Justin's experience was similar to mine, except that he admits freely that he screamed like a "little girl" throughout the ride, "holding on to dear life".  He even claims that his rider popped a wheelie and intentionally tried to scare him. Although our mini-motor scooter tour was unplanned and very unexpected, it was an awesome experience.  

As you can tell (from me retelling our trip to you), we made it to the dock safely, but the motor scooters were only the first leg on our trip to the dock.  After riding through the city, the motor scooters dropped us and our suitcase off at another location/building where were rejoined by the other person that was waiting with us earlier.  A truck picked the three of us up from there, and drove us to yet another location full of other backpackers.  From there, our next mode of transportation was a bus.  To make a long story short, our trip to the dock was a long-winded one, but we did eventually make it :)

It was overcast, but pretty!

The ferry ride to the island was about an hour long. Once we arrived in Ko Samui, we took another van to get to our hotel, which was located in the southern part of Chaweng (a main drag in Ko Samui). After traveling by trains, vans, and motor scooter, we finally made it to our hotel, Poppies! They even greeted us with a lei and a drink!
The inside of the hotel room/cottage was adorable! There was beautiful Thai woodwork in the details of all the furniture.

And the bathroom had a garden that added a cute touch.

There was even a bucket full of water at the entrance to our cottage for us to wash our feet of the sand before entering.   This was so thoughtful!
Justin standing in front of our very own Thai cottage!

Signage and koi fish

After a very long 24 hours of travel, and having not eaten since our train ride to Surat Thani, we were starving. Our first order of business at the hotel was to grab a bite to eat at the hotel's beach-side restaurant.
And drink a little caffeine to get us through the rest of our day...
For dinner we ate at a nearby Scandinavian restaurant called Scandic where I ordered the Swedish meatballs. We didn't stay out too late because we were still tired from all our traveling from Butterworth and Surat Thani.
The next day we got up bright and early to head to the beach. Here's a panoramic view from the front porch of our cottage.

And here's an early morning shot of the beach. It was cloudy in the morning, but it eventually cleared up!

Our hotel stay came with complimentary breakfast every morning, which included my favorite--fresh tropical fruit!

And fresh squeezed juices too! I got watermelon juice!

Because we've been eating a lot of Asian food on this trip, Justin appreciated the Western breakfast selections (including pastries!) to start our day.

Hot dogs or legs, LOL...
The beautiful beach
We also ate lunch at the hotel restaurant a few other times when we didn't feel like venturing out from the beach and hotel. The waitresses were so nice, always having a smile on their faces! They always greeted us with the traditional Thai greeting ("Sawatdee ka" for females) and even knew what table/part of the restaurant that we preferred to sit at each day (closest to the beach of course!). 
The beautiful mountains. We honestly didn't do much on this leg of the trip, which we were totally fine with! It was a much needed break after the somewhat hectic travel schedules in Singapore and Malaysia. 

We headed to the busier area of central Chaweng for our last meal on our very last night in Ko Samui.  We looked on Trip Advisor and noticed a place called The Green Bird received plenty of great reviews, so we decided to check it out. It took us quite some time to find it because the restaurant is located off the beaten path, being located off the main road between some clothing shops.  Despite the amount of time it took for us to look for it, the long search was well worth it.
Of course we got the wide noodles (pad see ew), which is Justin's favorite Thai dish...

And some crispy beef and fried rice...
We may or may not have gotten a second order of some of the above items. It was just so good and made fresh! Our entire meal for the two of us was under $10 USD...what a steal!
When we returned to our hotel room, we were greeted with a sweet treat as part of the turned down service that we received each night we stayed at Poppies. Tonight it was a coconut cookie (which Justin tried to eat without me knowing about them)!
We were sad to leave Ko Samui since we had such a great time on the island; however, it was time to head to Bangkok for the very last leg of our trip. Although we planned on taking the ferry back to Surat Thani, then continue our trip by train to Bangkok, we had to make an unplanned audible in our transportation plans. Two days before we were to depart for Bangkok, we realized that our hotel never received our train tickets from the train company.  When we originally purchased the tickets, we were told by the train company that the tickets were to be mailed to our hotel.  Because we were overly excited to have finally arrived in Ko Samui, we forgot to make sure the train tickets had actually been received.  By the time we realized that we didn't have our tickets, it was too late. The day before we were to leave was a national holiday and the ticket office was closed.  Maybe our failure to ensure we had our train tickets was a blessing in disguise because Justin and I weren't looking forward to the same travel shenanigans that we just experienced in traveling to Ko Samui. We instead booked some last minute plane tickets for a direct flight from Ko Samui to Bangkok. Although we purchased these tickets at the 11th hour, the airfare was relatively inexpensive. Additionally, the train tickets were inexpensive also, making our loss not at all huge.  A bigger plus to this travel option is that the flight was only 45 minutes. :) We enjoyed traveling by train to most of our locations on our trip, but the trip we made from the Surat Thani train station to Ko Samui was the longest and least convenient. We were glad to be taking a quick flight this time around.
Here is a shot of Justin at the Ko Samui airport and the airport's thatched roof. It kind of reminded us of the Long Beach airport because it is mostly an outdoor airport. 

There you have it, our (mostly) relaxing stay in the beautiful island of Ko Samui. Justin and I had a great time relaxing on the beach and eating all the delicious food. We were sad to leave but excited for the last leg of our trip in Bangkok, and eventually our trip back to the US.

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