Thursday, May 16, 2013

Island Paradise

From the time we hugged Peetim goodbye, we had about twelve hours of travel in front of us. First, we climbed onto the nearly empty coach bus with Peetim and her friend jumping aboard behind us. They made sure we were settled, said a final goodbye, and then they were gone. We were on our own once again, but not entirely. Robin happened to be going in the same direction. She originally planned on flying, but with prices higher for foreigners than for Thais, the train was a better option. We already had tickets for an overnight train to Surat Thani, so Robin was hoping to find a bed on our train. Peetim had called ahead to check, and there were nine seats left when we left Singburi. We just had to get to the station in Bangkok in time to buy one of them.

The ride to Bangkok was long but uneventful. The minibuses, while less comfortable, are certainly faster. We’ve come in and out of Bangkok enough times that we can recognize where we are, though, so it was no surprise when we pulled into the northern bus station called Mo Chit. From there, we had two options for getting to the train station. A subway line connects the Mo Chit area to the train station, but the route is long and circuitous, and the subway station was too far to walk. Since we would need a taxi anyway, we decided on the second option – hire a cab to take us all the way to the train station. It was a long ride either way, but the express roads helped, and we made it to the station in plenty of time.

We led Robin to the information booth, where they could check availability. As we were talking to them, two second class sleeper seats opened up. The information agent sent us running to the ticket window. In the time it took us to get there, one seat had already been booked. As our ticket agent was processing our request, the second seat disappeared. Disappointing! The end result was perfect, though. Second class seats are such a great way to travel that they are usually all booked. TJ and I had actually bought first class tickets a few days before because they were the only ones available. Robin ended up in a first class cabin in the same train car we were in, so we spent the evening eating dinner and hanging out together. When the attendants came by to make our beds, we said our goodnights and settled in for a good night’s sleep, confident that our 4:30 AM arrival time would be delayed until at least 6:00. The attendants promised to wake us up.

At 4:32, there was frantic pounding on our door with shouts of “SURAT THANI!” How could this possibly be the one time we were on a train that wasn’t delayed? Groggily, we collected our things and shoved them into our backpacks. The tiny cabin barely had room for two people to stand, so when we opened the door for the attendants to join us, we could hardly move. They “helpfully” grabbed bags and backpacks as the train rolled to a stop, insisting in panicked voices that we get off the train, NOW! TJ, wearing the backpack that the attendant was trying to drag off the train, managed to pull out of his grasp long enough to grab our onward tickets from the table before tumbling out of the train’s open door. Robin was standing there waiting for us, and the three of us blearily watched the train pull away.

Somehow, we found our way to the row of cafes that serve as a bus stop and spent the next two hours entertaining ourselves with their free wifi and eating breakfast. When the buses pulled up, they ushered TJ and me forward and told us Robin’s ticket was for a different bus. We heard from her later that she made it to the island and to her yoga class safely, but we were sad to say goodbye. After an hour on a bus and another two hours on a ferry (where we watched the second Garfield movie in Thai), we were on Koh Samui, our island destination.

The very first booking TJ and I made when we decided to take this trip was a resort on the island of Koh Samui. Even before we bought our plane tickets, we knew that three months of traveling would wear us out, and we would need a place to refresh toward the end. Had we waited until now to make those plans, there is no way I would have been able to shell out the money, but it turns out, it was one of the best decisions we made on this trip. We have been looking forward to it since we booked it back in November, and it was it was wonderful to just relax and be taken care of.

Our resort was called “Elements”, and it was on the beach on the south side of the island. We spent five days relaxing by the pool and eating delicious food.

The package we booked included a private longtail boat tour of neighboring islands. We went snorkeling and ate a picnic lunch on our own private beach, where we stayed until the larger tourist boats showed up in the afternoon. The driver of the boat set up our picnic for us, including a few bottles of beer, and then disappeared for a while. Nothing at all like the budget tours we are used to!

A few days later, we enjoyed a couple’s massage at the resort’s spa. Then we finished the day with an amazing dinner from the onsite restaurant, delivered to our balcony as the sun set.

When we weren't living the lives of the rich and famous, we were exploring the island on motorbike, playing "football golf" and visiting the local dog rescue in honor of Beau and Kaylee.

TJ got a high score!

We met a newlywed couple from Ireland enjoying the last few days of their honeymoon and became instant friends. After that, we spent our evenings at the hotel bar or near the pool, swapping stories with our new friends and Vasco, the manager of the restaurant, and his girlfriend.

Today, we took a short joyride before returning our motorbike, dragged our empty packs out of the closet, filling them up, and checked out of our little paradise. On to Malaysia, Singapore, and ultimately, home.

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