Sunday, January 3, 2010

Waiting... take 23. Happy New Year!

At around 4 in the afternoon on Friday, Tim and I were sitting at the bar in the uber-fancy Peninsula hotel having a drink. Four hours later, my flight was scheduled to depart Hong Kong for Thailand, so at about 4:30 we paid the bill and headed off to the other end of the spectrum of luxury in accomadations: the Chunking Mansions where I picked up my things and headed for the airport

At the Peninsula Hotel - dubbed the 'Finest Accomodation East of the Suez' when it was first opened in the 1920's. It's been upgraded since...

The Chunking Mansions may be the other end of the spectrum, but considering the price and [especially] the location in Hong Kong, it's probably a far better deal than the neighboring Peninsula

So, with my bags all packed up, it was time to head downstairs and catch the bus for the airport. Whose schedule I did not know, but figured it would show up soon enough. And the 8 o'clock flight meant there wasn't much of a rush, so...


But this is Hong Kong - things run predictably, efficiently, and on schedule. So, after 10 minutes, my double decker bus pulled up to the bus stop, Tim and I exchanged our good-bye's and I was off to the airport, chatting with a guy on a business trip from the Ivory Coast (that would be a country in West Africa). Sitting on a bus is all about waiting too, but that's fully expected - if I didn't want to wait for the bus, I could've paid two and a half times as much to take the super-fast and efficient subway and avoid all possibility of traffic delays, but I wasn't in any hurry, so I waited on the bus.

Upon arriving at the airport, I was initially taken aback by the discovery (or rather non-discovery?) that my 8:05 flight wasn't on the big Departures board, however, the AirAsia counter was happy to check me in (once I lightened my checked baggage to be reasonably close to 15kg, of course...). Eventually, I found the flight on the Big Board, rescheduled to 8:25... So, a bit more


But waiting at the Hong Kong ariport isn't all bad - you get free Wi-Fi, comfortable chairs, and a variety of over-priced food options (including the Zakuska restaurant serving caviar... Zakuska is the Russian word for snack)

Four hours later, we landed at the Phuket airport in the South of Thailand. I wanted to get to Koh Tao and meet up with friends there. I didn't have a particularly clear idea of how this was going to happen, but assumed I'd find a way. Step 1 seemed to be to get from the airport to Phuket Town, so I ventured out to be confronted by the swarming hordes of taxi drivers vying for the arriving tourists' attentions (and cash). After confirming that there was not going to be a bus this evening (in spite of some ten people waiting - for something - at the bus station), I ventured over to the taxi hordes.

- Where is this share taxi going? (Share taxi is a minivan, which you, obviously, share with others)
- Where do you need to go, sir?
- Where is your taxi going?
- Where do you want to go?
- Phuket City
- Oh no, need a private taxi for that, no van going to Phuket...
- Where are you going then?
- Where do you want to go?
- Are you going to Patong Beach? (I've been to Phuket before, I remember some of the geography)
- Yes, five minutes.
- Ok, I'll go to Patong Beach with you then figure out a way to get to Phuket


- Five minutes, sir...

Waiting... ...

Another flight arrives, filled with more backpackers coming from Vietnam. I listen to a group of them go through the same Q and A session with the taxi driver horde. They want to go to Phuket as well, are negotiating a price (I have a 150 Baht ticket for Patong at this point)

Waiting... ...

Eventually, the group from Vietnam are at some sort of an indecision point where they seem to have settled on a price, but don't really know if they are getting ripped off or not, so are hesitating, I confirm that they are in fact trying to get to Phuket, we start talking and eventually they decide to just take the share cab. By the time the four of them, and me, have gotten our tickets for Phuket (Thailand loves giving out tickets for useless things like 30 minute van rides), there's actually six more people needing to get to Phuket, so we are up to a full van. Apparently, the van is going to Phuket after all...

30 minutes later, Phuket, center of town. Nine of us have disembarked from the van and are now searching for the next step. The consensus seems to be that buses and vans for Surat Thani, where we all need to get in order to catch the ferries for the island, won't run till the morning, so we should probably find a place to sleep near the bus station.

Waiting... ...

A friendly Thai man materializes - I don't actually know where he came from, but seems to have been there ever since we got out of our taxi. He's anxious to help - Where do you need to go? You need a hotel? A guesthouse?

- Well, we actually need to go to Surat Thani, can you get us there?
- I need to check with my driver
- do you think it's possible to go tonight?
- sure [at this point I texted the following to twitter: "Just negotiated a middle of the night ride to the coast, i love that anything is possible in this country!" It's true, anything is possible, but...]
- how much is it goint to be?
- need to check with my driver

So he goes off to look for his driver with one of the guys from the group - a Fin coming from Hong Kong. We discuss how with now 9 of us looking to go (the other two had a hotel reserved in Phuket), anything in the 5,000 Baht range would be reasonable (1 USD ~= 35 THB)


Wonder what's taking so long, hope they're coming back!

Waiting... ...

Our man is back, with a van, and our Finnish friend - 450 Baht each, we can leave right now. Done! The van is actually surprisingly more comfortable than I expected, and I get some three hours of sleep before we arrive in Surat Thani.

Except this time, we are not in the center of town, we are at the offices of a ferry company that can get us to Koh Samui. But I need to go to Koh Tao? Catch another ferry from Samui... What about a direct ferry? (I'm fairly certain there is one). No direct ferry - need to go to Koh Samui.

Later, reading the guide books while already on the ferry, we learned that there's a couple of different ferry companies - we got taken to the one that does not have a direct route to Koh Tao (but probably does pay the van service to bring it customers). Being roughly 4 in the morning, I am in no mood to argue or even further investigate, so we get our tickets, for the bus (van), which will take us to the actual ferry, another hour away.

Waiting... ...

Don Suk ar sunrise, departing on the ferry for Koh Samui, after comfirming that the ferry port we just got taken to does not in fact have direct ferries to Koh Tao. Instead they have a 7AM ferry for Koh Samui, arriving there at 8:30AM. They also have ferries from Koh Samui to Koh Tao, departing daily at 3PM, or in the morning at ... wait for it ... 8AM! Convenient...

Leaving for the islands at sunrise. Getting here overnight does seem like an accomplishment already.

A longboat awaits on Koh Samui

It got less exciting from here. Koh Samui:

Waiting... ...

then a little more

Waiting... ...

then, an hour and a half later than promised, we left for Koh Phangan, and eventually on to Koh Tao from there, but with no waiting at Koh Phangan, so that's progress. By this time, I was starting to keep track of just how long it had been since I had left Hong Kong - after disembarking in Koh Tao, and catching a taxi with Dave and Diana, the last of our group of 11 from the airport, who were going to Koh Tao same as myself, I walked up to Asia Divers Resort right around 3 in the afternoon, on a hot and muggy day in Southern Thailand.

An extra passenger on the boat to Koh Tao

The ferry arrives in Koh Tao. Several hundred tourists, large backpacks at the ready, emerge

Factoring in the time difference, that gave me a total travel time of 23 hours, including a bus, an airport shuttle, an airplane, three different minibuses, three different ferry boats, and one ride in the back of a Toyota truck, masquerading as a taxi on the islands. And then...

Waiting... ...

Turns out Dave and Sandra, the friends I had originally met in Peru back in April and was looking to meet up with here, weren't actually at Asia Divers Resort (or their actual house five minutes away), as they had taken a boat trip that afternoon, and weren't due back for another couple of hours. Having Wi-Fi, Thai food, a Thai beer, and no concerns about having to go somewhere else, made the wait a lot easier though!

Life on Koh Tao:

First night on the beach - a fire show

at the Portabello Restaurant for dinner

The very chill Fizz Bar on the beach

Paul dazzling us with Russian dance moves. He's not actually Russian - I might be, but I'm sure as hell not about to try that!

Getting to Koh Tao was interesting alright, but that's not really what Koh Tao was all about - the neighboring island of Koh Phangan is the famous (infamous) home of Thailand's Full Moon Parties, and this year, a Full Moon coincided with New Year's Eve, so after making sure I made it to the islands on the 30th of December, we headed off for a night of, well, I wasn't really sure what, on Koh Phangan on the 31st. We had a group of ten of us - Dave, Sandra, myself, and a bunch of friends they'd made traveling around SE Asia the last few months. The boat got us there by about 4:30 in the afternoon, giving us time to get dinner, stock up on alcoholic beverages from a local 7-11 and find a relatively quiet beach to hang out on until hitting the party in earnest around 11.

At 11, we made it over to Hat Rin beach, the home of the Full Moon party, which was filled with music, people, fireworks, liquor, and general revelry taken to a number of whole different levels. I had assumed that if I brought my camera with me, I'd either lose it or destroy it (and after finally managing to replace my camera on my last day in Hong Kong, I was looking to avoid those outcomes), so I din't take any pictures - Karina, however, was a lot more brave, so some visuals of the Blue Moon Party 2009:

Amelia, Kelly, Sandra, and Karina

Sandra, Karina, Dave, and me

Gary and his favorite bucket

Sandra and Dave early in the night

Sandra, Kelly, and Karina after a few drinks...

I was on the strip in Las Vegas on New Year's Eve to ring in the new millenium, I've been on a cruise-ship over New Year's, I've been to New York's TIme Square - none of those come even remotely close. This was the most wild and crazy place I'd ever seen, and I was barely even awake past about 3 in the morning. In fact, I spend about an hour and half napping on the ground outside of the 7-11 (quite comfortably, by the way) before we all met up there in the morning to head back to the pier and catch our ferry back to Koh Tao, where I was most excited to find a couch to crash on for another few hours!

So, Happy New Year, everybody - hope 2010 is off to a good start for everyone!

1 comment:

b mathew said...

happy new year you party animal!