It seems like I have been planning a solo backpacking trip overseas for ages now. I like travelling alone for various reasons. I guess that’s just the loner in me wanting some time for himself. I have travelled in India alone to quite a few places which is pretty great in itself. In a country like India, with so diverse a culture and such different landscapes, one can travel the world within the country. But the urge to make an overseas trip was fuelled mostly by a curiosity which came into being at a time I had never been abroad. However, there were many factors to overcome.

For one, Indians rarely “travel”. I had never known anyone personally who did. There are vacations with family and friends which last 4-5 days. I once made the ambitious plan of travelling in Eastern Europe for three weeks. If you do manage to overcome the problem with mentality, there are other things that need to be heeded to. There are technicalities involved for an Indian traveller. The visas are a big problem. But I had never reached that stage in my travel plans. I got till dreaming of itineraries and assuming budgets and trying to save up money. A stable job meant that I would only get a certain number of days off when I would. My longest breaks were the ones which I took between jobs. But somehow, something came up every time I was prepared to travel. It could be a friend’s bachelor party that sapped me of my leaves and savings. Or it could be a flood in Uttarakhand that urged me to go and help out the best I could. There were the yearly treks that I did. Time and money never seemed to be available in synchronization despite me making efforts for it.

After years of trying, I finally understood that I was doing it all wrong. I could not make plans and sit around waiting for things to fall in place. I needed to be more proactive than that. There were a lot of odds to fight against but as always, there is always a way out if you REALLY want one. So I quit my job in the August of 2015, travelled India on budget, got married as well (why not?), travelled more within the country, went for a three week backpacking trip in Myanmar with my newly acquired wife, learnt how to swim and then took off for a trip through South East Asia like I had always wanted to. I was dismissive of all deterring arguments. I cared not what was happening to me or around me. This trip was all that mattered right now.


Getting to Koh Tao

I was taking a train from Pune to Chennai and flying out from there. AirAisa offers super cheap tickets to Bangkok from Chennai. My eventual destination was to Surat Thani after a brief layover and then to Koh Tao, a small island known as a diving heaven.

SEA Tip #1

The cheapest flights from India to South East Asia are from Chennai. Usually Air Asia.

pune-railway-station Pune Railway Station

In the beginning there was chaos. Pune station was chaos, as is to be expected from any Indian railway station. People mindlessly crowding the walkway leading to a human traffic jam. I had enough time on my hands though. The train was a special express from Mumbai to Chennai. I was fortunate to even get a ticket when I did. All the other options were full. I mostly stayed put in my upper berth during the entire journey. A Gujju family sat below and the few other men seemed too preoccupied to talk to. I contended myself with reading my Kindle.

Getting from Chennai Central to the airport is one of the easiest things to do. Walk over to Chennai Park station and buy a ticket for 10 INR to Tirusulam. Get on the train and you are there in half an hour. Easy peasy. I got off at Minambakkam though, one stop before Tirusulam. I remembered using the money exchange there the last time I was taking a flight from Chennai. I walked around but was unable to spot the one that I had used before. I ended up using the one that offered the best rate and got 300 USD for the sake of emergencies. The Myanmar trip had taught me a thing or two about long travels.

I walked to the airport and got the CISF jawan to let me in. He complained, as usual, about it being too early but he took pity on me when I told him it was too hot to walk around. I settled myself on one of the seats and read the book till it was time to check in. The man at the check-in counter wanted to see a return ticket as well. I asked him why he needed that when I already had a visa. He told me it would be needed at emigration. Bullshit! It was not required at emigration. The emigration officer happily stamped my passport and did not give two cents about what tickets I had. It was the same in Thailand. These idiotic rules are enforced more by the flight companies than the immigration offices.

Pro Tip #6

Be prepared to face ridiculous demands from airline counters. They will ask you to produce documents that are not required by the immigration departments. Sadly, there is no easy way around this problem.

My flight to Bangkok was uneventful. I slept some and read some. Then there was the layover in Bangkok for a few hours before I could board the flight to Surat Thani. It was early in the morning when I boarded and an hour later I had landed in Surat Thani. It was raining out here. I had not expected the rains this soon into my trip. I got my luggage and went out to get some USD exchanged and check the ferry options to Koh Tao. I also needed a local SIM. The exchange gave me a decent rate. I got 200 USD worth and then went to inquire at the Songserm counter. The lady told me that the bus was going to leave immediately and I would miss it if I were to waste time buying a SIM. I confirmed whether I would get one in Koh Tao and then bought a “joint ticket” for 850 THB. She quickly gave me the tickets and stuck a sticker on my shirt. Then I was ushered out to where the bus was standing. I chose a seat and the bus started immediately after. I tried catching up on some sleep but the air-conditioner was relentlessly breathing down my back. It was raining outside. The rains usually bring out the brooder in me. I thought about how what I was doing was so exciting and scary at the same time. I had no idea of what was going to happen in the next few days. It was radically different from how I had lived my life thus far. If my life was a book, I had just bleached all the upcoming chapters and picked up the pen. Of course I was scared. Of course I was excited.

surat-thani-rains Rains in Surat Thani

The bus took us to Donsak pier where a boat stood waiting. The rain had picked up a little which meant that I was a tad bit wet by the time I got in. The air-conditioner here was uncomfortably cold as well. I tried sleeping through the journey. The boat started it’s long trip on choppy waters. Since the boat was a big one, it swayed ever so gently under the assault of such huge waves. I drifted in and out of sleep. The first stop was Koh Samui, the biggest island of this area. Some people got off and some got in. Next was Koh Phangan, the party island famous for it’s full moon parties. I had missed that by a few days, though it did not matter. I doubt I would have gone there anyway; I am not much of a party person. A lot of people with big backpacks got in here. I kept to myself and slept.

koh-tao-1 Reaching Koh Tao

The next stop was Koh Tao. The boat almost emptied here. I was part of a long, slow moving queue that took me from the boat to the pier and then to the road outside. It had rained here as well. The sky was still overcast but there was a brief respite from the showers. While others around me were getting taxis, I consulted the map and walked towards my hostel. It turned out to be just a couple of minutes walk from the pier. I walked upstairs to the reception and got myself checked in. A Thai girl showed me to my room. I had been put a 8-bed dorm and all the room was full of girls. It probably sounds exciting in theory but the state of the room was a horror! I had to tiptoe around to get to my bunk. I somehow managed to find a nook for my bag as well. Dao (the hostel staff who showed me my room) told me that she would give me another room the next day. I introduced myself to the girls. They were from England and one of them had been to India recently. That was about the only conversation I had with the group.

I went out looking for a SIM card. Internet is one luxury that I would like to indulge in. Though it is not necessary in Thailand since every single place has WiFi, I like having a constant connection on the move. I walked around the lane near the Mae Haad pier and found a mobile shop. I talked to the guy there and got a tourist SIM for 15 days. It wasn’t cheap, 650 THB but it had more than enough data to keep me worry free. The guy at the shop turned out to be one with Nepali roots and was born in Tyaunggyi, Myanmar. I talked a bit to him about Myanmar and India and he showed off his skills with Hindi.

I walked on towards Sairee Beach. There are a lot of taxis that can take you there but I prefer walking. Apart from the obvious health benefits, you get the flexibility of choosing which way to turn, stopping when you find something interesting and you see and absorb more than what you would in a taxi.

Pro Tip #7

Walk as much as you can. It is healthy, saves you money and lets you absorb things that you would otherwise miss!

There is a downside to walking though - you are not weatherproof. It was raining intermittently but the rains were light enough to let me walk on. There were diving schools all around. At Mae Haad, on the road to Sairee, at Sairee. It was too overwhelming to think of going some of them and talk around. How do I even choose which ones to talk to? So I left the activity for the following day and ate a Pad Thai from a street side stall. Sairee beach wasn’t much in itself, specially since it was raining. But there were a lot of pubs all over the place. The place must really come alive at night!

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I walked back as the showers picked up a little in intensity. I changed into a dry set at the hostel. The girls were getting ready to go out for the evening. I went to the common room and sat down for a couple of beers and my laptop. People tend to leave me alone since I always have my nose in my laptop, kindle or the phone (in that order). Usually I prefer it and so it was today. I was tired and sleep deprived. I had a couple of Changs and went to bed. I was woken up by some commotion in the middle of the night, around 2 AM, when the girls returned. It took them forever to settle down but once they did, I drifted back to sleep.

Doubts

Next day I went to one of the schools that I had researched online. Almost every school has a good rating on the forums so that was not much help. I chose one that sounded nice - Pura Vida (a Costa Rican term which roughly means pure life). I walked into their shop and was greeted with a “Hola!”. I did not know there was a thing as Spanish school. Pura Vida was one, Simple Life another. There were German and French schools as well! That probably explained so many schools. Anyway, I talked to the girl at the front desk. They could instruct in English and the rates were pretty good because of an ongoing discount. Then I talked about the problem that had been troubling me the most. I was not very comfortable in open waters. Would that be a problem? She asked one of the instructors and he told me that I needed to swim for around 10 minutes in open waters. That was actually one of the first tests in the course.

I had never swam for 10 continuous minutes. This piece of information troubled me further. I told them that I would come back later after having an answer to whether I could swim that long. I walked back to the hostel with a heavy feeling in my chest. There was just one reason why I was there in Koh Tao. I had put up with all the bullshit of visas and return tickets to go to Thailand for just one reason. I wanted to do my Open Waters diving certification. Now it seemed like the a far fetched dream.

By the time I reached the hostel, I had a vague plan. Dao asked me if I wanted to change rooms and I nodded eagerly. She moved me to another dorm which was slightly less messy, despite not having as many girls. I concluded that making a mess was a gender independent and age specific characteristic. Two young boys in this dorm were responsible for all the bags and clothes strewn around. I picked up my stuff and headed out. Ao Leuk is considered one of the better places for snorkelling on the island and that was where I was headed. The walk to Ao Leuk was quite beautiful. The road inclined and declined through the interior of the island. There was greenery all around and the island was maintained in a really clean state.

ao-leuk-walk-1 Beautiful Island roads

A woman demanded 100 THB as entrance charge for Ao Leuk. Apparently it is private beach. I came to know later that this was a very recent development. The bay was quite beautiful but the tide was low and the water somewhat shallow. It was not very crowded and I found a spot for myself. I rented out a snorkel and a mask from one of places on the small beach and went into the water. I snorkelled for a bit but there was nothing to see in the middle. Plus the overcast sky and low tide rendered the visibility low. I came back to leave the snorkel on the beach and went back to the water. Time to answer the big question. I went in till I was neck deep in the water and kicked myself away. I checked my watch every couple of minutes as I kicked to stay afloat. Sea water is definitely easier to float in and I managed more than 10 minutes! So the diving plan was definitely on! I swam back to the shore a happier man.

ao-leuk-4 Ao Leuk

I spent the rest of the day lounging on the beach. I wanted to get my 100 baht worth! I read a bit and slept a bit. I went to snorkel again and went into deeper waters this time. There was more marine life near the rocks and some beautiful fishes. Despite the recent success with floating, I still panic in deep waters. My snorkel got flooded once the way it had done in Boracay. I freaked out initially as I had done in Philippines but then when I realised that there was no one around to help me, I tried working things out. I was unable to spit out the snorkel and removing the mast was not an option since my hands were occupied with keeping me afloat. I slowly drank the water that was there in the tube and voila! The snorkel was clear again; I could breathe again! It is wonderful how much a calm mind can accomplish. After that I tried some new skills with the snorkel before heading out of water. I also tested my new camera’s water resistance. The afternoon at Ao Leuk had left me with a sense of accomplishment and my confidence in myself had gone up a notch.

ao-leuk-camera-test-2 Testing the camera

I decided to head back to the hostel as the sun was going down. I roamed around for a bit with a bottle of Chang and a pack of sweet banana chips. Koh Tao is rather expensive but I guess half of the reason is because it’s an island far from the mainland, the other half being the touristic nature of South Thailand. I walked around till the sun set and returned to the hostel after dark.

SEA Tip #2

Everything is somewhat expensive in Koh Tao; lodging, food, even water. In fact, southern Thailand is more expensive because of it’s touristic nature.

ao-leuk-walk-6 Sunset

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The guys in my dorm were going for a pub crawl. I considered but then passed. I sat in the common room with a beer. A few Thai men came in and started playing music. Guitar, bass and saxophone. There was barely a crowd and the band wasn’t really tight. But it was fun nevertheless.

common-room-jam Common Room Jam

I got talking to the bartender who turned out to be the manager at MOOV. Her name was Koko. She was Polish and had been in Koh Tao for 10 months now. I drank a couple of beers and then was considering retiring when the jamming ended. Dao called me to the table where the Thais had gathered with an Englishman, Johnny, and a Seattle guy, Jake. Koko joined us for a bit. It was a merry party that proceeded as randomly as it’s members. One of the Thai girls told me I would end up getting drunk on the Thai whiskey. The Seattle guy asked me four times where I was from and told me at length how he liked Bollywood and T-20. I did not tell him I did not care about either of those. The Englishman was trying to woo a drunk Thai girl. The party disbanded slowly, one member at a time, till I was the only one left. I cleaned up a bit and left for the room. My watch said 3 AM.

Walking around Koh Tao

I woke up the next day and went to talk to some of the dive schools that Koko had suggested the night before. I walked all the way up to Sairee and back. I talked to Crystal, Mojo and Golden. The prices were similar, though not same. I was slightly in favour of Mojo but had not decided yet. I returned to the common room and sat looking at a book of Koh Tao for ideas of how to spend the day. Koko was around and she suggested that I go to Chalok. I took her up on that one. She also suggested a good place for Thai food which was on the way to Chalok. The food at Tukta was probably the best I have had in Koh Tao (maybe even Thailand). I ate some red curry with rice and then continued my walk to Chalok.

tukta-red-curry Kevin loves Tukta!

Chalok was nice and uncrowded, quite opposite to what Sairee was. I walked along the beach towards the north and came across the concrete pathway that Koko had told me about. However, this looked like private property to me and I wondered if I should turn back. Had it not been for a fuzzy black dog that had decided to guide me, I would have done so. This dog nonchalantly jumped on the bridge and looked at me in expectation. I gulped down my apprehensions of trespassing and jumped from boulder to boulder onto the pathway. Then the dog led me forward to the next part of the beach which had even fewer people and a calmer bay. The dog dug himself a spot in the sand in the shade of a rock and lay down. I continued on the concrete path. It led me to another beach with even fewer people and small trees with hammocks on them. This was Freedom Beach.

chalok-1 Chalok Bay

chalok-3 Pretty concrete pathways around Chalok

I spread out my towel under a tree and lay down. I went to the water for a bit but the sea floor had a lot of corals. I ended up relaxing on the beach, reading and swinging on a hammock. I took a nap as well and watched people chill out in the water and out of it.

freedom-1 Freedom Beach

I left around 4 in the evening and went up another way. There was a viewpoint that I decided to skip because of the 50 baht entry. Paying for “viewpoints” seems plain stupid to me. I walked back to Chalok and tried finding a way to Mae Haad along the beach rather than taking the direct road back. I hit a dead end at a resort and went back. I did a tiring climb up a hilly road to bypass the resorts and found a really good viewpoint of my own which I did not have to pay for. I could see the entire Chalok Bay and the Freedom beach from here.

chalok-viewpoint-3 View of the entire Chalok Bay

The road went down to the sea side again and I came across a very quiet and uncrowded beach - Sai Nuan. Here I walked through a pretty path that led through the resorts. I no longer cared about trespassing. There were huts built on the rocks right at the edge of the sea. I saw some really picturesque views and sat to enjoy the setting sun from a random rock.

walkway-3 walkway-13 Pretty resorts along the sea

I kept walking through the pretty path that went through more resorts and a private beach. No one questioned me and I happily ambled on. Right before I was about to hit the town, I saw a group of Thai men playing chinlone. I stood watching them play and considered joining them. They gladly accommodated me and I did not suck as bad as I thought I would! I was happy and content after twenty minutes of playing with them.

A photo posted by Karan (@grasskode) on

I went to dinner with one of the guys in my dorm room. His name was Thimo and he was Swizz. He was taking a break after the military service before he would go back to join school. He was doing his Open Waters course at Golden and was full of praises for them. That settled the question of a school. I was going to sign up at Golden the next day.

Learning to dive

I got up to a sunny day and walked to the Golden Divers’ shop. I signed up for the course and paid an advance. The guy who signed me up was a dive master and told me that the instructors were out for the day. He asked me whether I wanted to start immediately or later in the day. I chose to start later because that would give me the chance to meet my instructor as well.

I spent a few restless hours till 4 PM and then left for the dive school again. I withdrew some money for paying the remaining amount and, to my surprise, my account was debited in INR. There was no silly post conversion rate and service charge like there had been with the Myanmar withdrawals. I even got a decent conversion rate. The instructors had not returned from their dives and after waiting for a bit, the dive master set me up for the first lesson. There was video, some reading and an exercise sheet at the end of each lesson. The videos had interesting content but were painfully slow. While I was doing my first exercise, my instructor came in and introduced himself. Emile was going to instruct me and he was the one that Thimo had had as well and had assured me was a really cool guy.

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I finished two sections before leaving for the day. Thimo and I went to get some delicious noodle soup before sitting in the common room. I got talking to two of the others who were sitting there. There was Lucian, a Romanian guy and Katie, a Canadian girl of Greek origin. Katie told me some really great things about Cambodia that I am looking forward to. Lucian had been travelling for seven months in Asia now and was at the end of his journey. The talk drifted to Europe, then to politics, to USA and Canada, India and the Koreas. Katie had been teaching English in South Korea for the past year. There were things that I got to know that I would have never known otherwise. I unwillingly put the interesting conversation to an end because I had to get up early the next day.

I went to Golden by 9 AM the next morning. It took a glass of cold Thai coffee to bring me out of sleep. I did another section of theory and then Emile went over the first two sections in more detail, stressing on the more important points. Then he showed me the equipments and explained them to me. We packed up a bag for my gear and left for the boat at 11. There were two more Germans doing their final day of Open Waters and another guy, Ippo, who was training to be a master diver. There was a group of Thai men, apparently firefighters from Bangkok who were doing their advanced course. This motley crowd made the boat’s customers as we headed out into the sea. The water was rough and it tossed the boat around like a little toy. Ippo, Emile and the Thai guys went down to the first site, which was the shipwreck.

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Paul, the other instructor, showed me how to set up and dismantle the entire gear. Then we went up to the deck and lay down to ease the seasickness. We resumed once the others had returned. I was so sick that I was in half a mind to call the entire thing off. But once we got to the sheltered side of Nang Yuan, the water became much calmer and I immediately felt better. I was ready when Emile called me down.

First up was the swimming test. Last evening I had told Emile about my lack of confidence in open waters so he got down into the waters with me today, telling me how to position myself in the water. There was a slight current on one side which made swimming a little difficult but I was anyway not swimming with my head under water. The water splashed against my face and I freaked out a bit but the imminent presence of Emile helped me get through the test. I completed the two rounds of the boat and went up. I realised how difficult it was to drown in sea water. I had been stiff with fear throughout but had still made it somehow!

Then we put on the scuba equipment and went to the shallower waters near the beach to do some exercises. I managed to do all the exercises without a problem and consequently we returned to the boat before the other had finished their dives. Once they were back, we went to another dive site for the advanced divers, White Rock. The sea was still rough but I did not feel as sick as I had felt the first time. There were dark clouds coming in from the western sky. The winds had picked up speed and a few rain drops fell with intensity. The sea is so different from a mountain. You can see the awe of a mountain whereas the sea shows you only a smooth surface. It’s might is deceptively soothing.

dive-boat-16 Ominous clouds

diveboat-vid Roughing it out

We returned to the pier after the divers returned. There was a brief rain as we unloaded but the clouds passed the island by. The German couple showed me how to clean the equipment back at the shop. Then I sat for some more theory. There were some charts and basic maths that was fun to do so I ended up doing the entire theory including the quizzes and the final exam! I just got one question wrong in the entire set and Emile was more heartbroken by that than I was. The guys congratulated me and I headed back to the hostel.

Thimo was leaving by the night ferry to Koh Phi Phi. I sat with him for a beer and then had some dinner after he left. There was no crowd in the hostel tonight. The “Full Moon Wave”, as they call it, had died and the next bout of tourists would arrive a few days before the next Full Moon party at Koh Phangan. I worked a bit and then hit the sack.

Diving days

I woke up a little late the next day since I had finished all the theory. All that was left was diving! I reached the shop around 10:30 and Emile was waiting with my bag ready. We left for the boat at 11; there were just the three of us today - Ippo, Emile and I. The sea was much calmer than yesterday.

The first dive site was Junkyard, straight off Sairee Beach. Emile told us that it was called so because of the junk that was dumped there. He told us about a lot of cool things like gym machines and cages that we would see underwater, none of which we saw because the boat had probably tagged to the wrong buoy line. However, the main motive of diving here was so that I could get better at my buoyancy control. The site had plain sandy floor which was ideal for practicing. I floundered at first and then got better. We did some exercises underwater as well and saw some cool fishes. One was a Filefish that was suspended vertically inside a metal mesh. And we also saw a family of Clownfish that were extremely cute. The parents rushed out on our approach so as to shield their kids. The little ones hung around in the back looking on with, what I assumed was, curiosity. We also saw some small fishes using beer bottles as their homes.

The next dive site was Three Rocks. This one was off Jansom Bay, the private beach that I had trespassed a couple of days ago. We went in and I sunk faster than I should have. I hit the bottom of beautiful corals and tried making myself buoyant. This site was much shallower and the sunny day meant excellent visibility. It was like walking through a beautiful garden of corals and colourful fishes. It was a visual treat! There were some really cool fishes as well : a blue spotted stingray, a barracuda, crocodile needlefish and many more that I could not identify. It is also possible to spot the island’s turtle here. It is a big Hawksbill Turtle but unfortunately we did not see it.

No, I don’t have underwater shots because I was learning to dive. That took all my concentration.

We reached back by two in the afternoon. I cleaned all the equipment and went back to the hostel. I did some laundry and since it was too hot to sit in the common room, decided to go find a cafe to work in. I ended up walking mindlessly like I always do and did another tiring climb to reach the top of Sai Daeng beach. There was an excellent view of the beach and Shark Island up ahead but I did not go down since my tired mind could not digest the idea of climbing up again. I went back down the way I had come and sat in a small cafe to rest my tired legs. Walking after diving is not really the brightest of ideas.

sai-daeng View of Sai Daeng and Shark Island

I went back to the hostel in the evening. There was no one else around so I sat at the bar talking to Koko. She showed me her home in Poland and I showed her some pictures of India. She also heaped up more praises for Cambodia on top of what Katie had already left me with. Koko used to be a professional photographer and some of her work was simply breathtaking. We talked till midnight and left for our rooms when her shift got over.

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We had a few more divers the next day. There was a couple doing Discover Scuba and another girl who was starting her Open Waters. We headed out towards Nang Yuan again. The water had seemed clearer at the pier but it was actually a bit rougher than the last day. The first site was Red Rock. The visibility was not great and almost immediately after entering the water, I had trouble in my left ear. I think there was an air pocket stuck inside and it pained terribly and took really long to equalize. I had no visual reference except Emile and while I was thinking that I am making a fool of myself at 5-6 meters, Emile managed to slowly get me down to the floor. It was more than 17 meters but I was not completely at ease. We swam around and my buoyancy was better than the last day. However, I screwed up with the exercise. The unease in the ear and the bad visibility robbed this dive of any fun.

I cleared my ear while we waited for the others to come back. I lied down on my side and eventually something popped and I felt slightly better. The next dive site was on the other side of Nang Yuan. This one was called The Twins. It went much better here; my ears were equalizing properly and my buoyancy worked better. We saw a BIG puffer fish, two trigger fishes at uncomfortably close quarters, white eyed moray eel and many more colourful fishes. This was the dive which I probably enjoyed the most.

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Back on the boat, Emile congratulated me on completing the course successfully and we went back to the shop to do the certification. I was now an Open Water diver. Hurrah!

golden-1 With Emile

I went to Sairee that night in search of some good seafood. There were pubs promoting themselves by handing out flyers that could be exchanged for free shots. I had enough to get me decently drunk but I was not in a mood to party.

sairee-nightlife Nightclubs at Sairee

I was happily tired and feeling accomplished. I ate some roast duck and rice at the far end of Sairee Beach, walked back to the hostel, and watched a movie before falling asleep.

duck-with-rice-1 Treating myself to rice with roast duck

Moving on

I was planning to leave by the night boat to Bangkok today. I had decided on Ayutthaya as my next destination. Apparently Golden has the best rates for boats as well. It sells Songserm tickets at a rate lower than what Songserm sells it at its own office! I checked out the timings of the boats and found out that the afternoon boat would make more sense for me. I would reach Bangkok early next morning and could then proceed to Ayutthaya. However, the tickets for that day were sold out. Wonderful! There were no people on the island but the boat was full. I booked a ticket for the next day and came back to the hostel to extend my stay by a day.

SEA Tip #3

The joint tickets sold by the boat companies in Thailand are good value for money. But do ask around for the best price.

I played Jenga with Koko for a bit and then we headed out to get some food from Tukta. Koko had spray painted her bike with matte black that morning and it had come out really cool. Kevin and Koko made friends while we were waiting for the food at Tutka. Then we got some fresh juice and headed back to the hostel to eat the food.

koko-kevin-2 Kevin is a lucky bastard

The day had been sunny thus far and I was considering going snorkelling somewhere but all of a sudden the sky darkened and strong winds and rains ensued. The common area got drenched and everyone started drying it up and mopping the excess water.

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The rain slowed down and eventually stopped but the sky remained overcast and the temperature had cooled down. Koko ran about like a maniac all day. Her boyfriend had landed in Bangkok and would reach Koh Tao the next day. She was overflowing with happiness. I was tired of sitting in the hostel all day so I went to find the chinlone gang towards the evening. They were where I had found them last and I joined them for half an hour of play. They bid me a “see you tomorrow” when I left but sadly I had tickets out for the next day.

I took a bath in the hostel and then headed out for another pointless walk. For the sake of exercise if nothing else. Back in the hostel, the Thais were enjoying a barbecue. I joined them and invited the new girl in my dorm to join in as well. We sat there tasting the food and talking. She was Alina from Switzerland. She used to be a photographer but was not getting into the tourism industry. I realised that there had been a Swizz in that dorm room continuously. There was a Swizz girl first, then Thimo and now Alina. That also said something about how long I had stayed in the same place without moving around. Koko showed us her bungalow which she had prepared herself with the help of a few friends. It was really impressive how she had put everything together. I talked to the girls for a bit and then we split. Alina went back to the room, Koko wandered off and I sat with the Thais in the common room.

Dao showed me some pictures of Ayutthaya when I told her I was going there next. It looked like a really nice place and the Thais were really excited about me going there. We talked a bit and then I left for the room. I had a disturbed sleep because of the constant movement of the person in the bunk below me. He also got up early and that made sleeping late difficult. Anyhow, I packed up and checked out of the room. Then I sat in the common room and dozed off in front of the fan. I woke with a sudden start and checked my watch. It was still 13:20. Phew! I had not missed my boat. The sun was shining relentlessly outside. I was just about to get up and leave when Koko came around. She was on a leave for a couple of days so I was not expecting to see her. We chatted for a few minutes and then I went to pick my bags and she left to wake up her jet-lagged boyfriend.

The boat came around 14:40 and everyone got in. There was a lot of empty seats. Maybe the buses were full yesterday instead of the boat. An American girl was travelling with a big suitcase. It seemed silly to me that someone would bring a suitcase but she was a young one. At least she was travelling, which is more than I can say about me at her age. And then there are always guys who would love to help a damsel in distress. She found one to help her with getting the suitcase on the boat.

A photo posted by Karan (@grasskode) on

leaving-5 Leaving Koh Tao

I slept in the boat till a bug bit me awake. I went out to the deck to get away from the bug and the irking cold air-con. There was land up ahead. The Chumphon archipelago slowly got closer and we were docked at the pier within the next hour.

boat-5 Approaching Chumphon

A bus took the travellers who had booked the train. The ones who had to take a bus had a few hours of waiting to do. I picked up my bags and started wandering as usual. I ended up in a lively market by the Chumphon seaside. There was a lot of food and drinks going around. The people of Chumphon were celebrating their evening. I ate some fish and chicken for a small fraction of what I had been paying in Koh Tao.

chumphon-streetfood-2 Kevin is spoilt for choice!

I looked around and realised that I was the only tourist there. I wondered why people travelled without feeling the urge to explore. Maybe they had enough money to get whatever they wanted wherever they found themselves. Anyway, I saw some impressive sand art and ate some delicious food before getting a lemon slushy and watching Thai kids play basketball and badminton.

chumphon-sandart-4 Impressive sand art near Chumphon pier

Around 21:30, the staff ushered us into the bus and we drove out to the main highway where another bus was waiting for us. The American girl with the suitcase had a new suitor now, a French guy, whom she was telling about her spring breaks. The new bus was coming from further south and was already more or less full. I was the last one to board the bus so the seats were limited in choice. I got one that did not recline but then the seat next to mine was empty so I spread out horizontally. The bus made a small stop for dinner and then went on to Bangkok. The roads were smooth and well made and the bus was comfortable. I slept a good sleep despite the weird angle that my neck was dangling in.


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And here is the complete album of the Koh Tao leg of the trip.

Koh Tao, May 2016