Saturday, February 19, 2011

Koh Samui: There and Back Again

Cold Singha in hand, posng at the Chill-Out Cafe next door to my bungalows
What you see above is the final destination.

And let me tell you, getting there is much, much less than half the fun.  Koh Samui is off the southwestern gulf coast of Thailand (the Gulf of Siam as it was in the geography books I grew up with); it is a beaultiful island with soft sand beaches, coconut palms and smiling locals, one of the premiere vacation spots in Asia, for good reason.

Getting there and back, however, is a tedious trek involving most forms of transportation ever devised, short of hot air ballooning and a unicycle.  A five hour fifty minute flight via JinAir (KAL's price cut brand) from Incheon to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport was timely and pleasant.  Arrival in Bangkok involved a one-hour queue for immigration in an impressive modern edifice that had everything but sufficient immigration officers and air conditioning.

By 3:30 local time I was damply but happily ensconced in an Airport Express (AE) bus headed for Hualamphong Train Station, in theory one hour distant.  It actually took three hours, including forty minutes to travel--I am not kidding here--500 meters from one stop light to the next.  When I was a boy, traffic in Bangkok was terrible because it was so fast and hurly-burly; now it's terrible because it's so slow.  Despite the massive congestion, Krung Thep (as the Thai call it) has only one subway line. 

During the very, very long red lights, motorcycles weave their way to the front of the intersection
So my plan to arrive at the station, stow my bags and do a walking tour of the neighborhood shrank to watching the city crawl by from the window of the AE bus.   Once we arrived, the AE doumi (or whatever it's called in Thai)  directed me to a TAT office, or travel agent.  Some of these, my Lonely Planet guide informed me, are rather shady, so all I wanted was a first class sleeper ticket to Chumphon.  Sold out.  2nd class?  Sold out.  Everything was sold out, but for an extra 300 Bt, I could get a 2nd class sleeper (I needed lower berth, of course).

Hualamphong Train Station
At a certain time in my youth, I would have balked at this--sold out is sold out, how does bribery help?  Right?  Besides, 300 Bt is almost 50% of the 730 Bt ticket price; however, I had just paid 150 Bt for a 16 oz. Diet Coke in the airport.  Two Cokes seems a pretty minor bribe to me.  The deal is done and my train leaves in 45 minutes., just enough time for a beer.

At least on paper. 

The train is about 20 minutes late departing and over an hour late in arriving at Chumphon--not that that's a big deal, because the bus for the pier, and the next part of the journey, isn't scheduled until 6 AM.  Traveling via Thai Railroad sleeper car was an experience: my upper berth seatmate was a bloke named Jens from Amersterdam who was after a holiday where he wouldn't smoke pot, so he chose Thailand; across the aisle were an international couple who were circling the globe on twenty thousand dollars; our porter Mae opened the beer bottles with a well-practised wrist action on the lip of our table, and almost insisted we buy her a beer; once the seats were converted into sleeping berths at 11 PM, conversation was quieter, but smoking (cigarettes) was still allowed in the restroom area.

The Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran service is no more than a cattle car on the sea--only, the cattle have luggage.  30 minutes late, the boat left from a long, rickety pier with loose and broken planks.  From inside the cabin, there was no view of anything except the sky until you were right at the island, so I might as well have taken the more direct boat from Surat Thani.  Live and learn.  The boat arrived at Koh Samui one hour late.  Then I had a taxi ride to get to Ban Maenam.  I left my apartment in Gangseo-gu for line 9 with a transfer to Arex at Gimpo at 7AM and finally checked in at Maenam Village Bungalows at 12:30 PM (local time) the next day--31 hours later. 

Sure, it's a six hour flight to Thailand, but don't forget all the other steps you have to take to reach your destination.  Is it worth it?  You decide.  Here's the view from the patio of my bungalow at Maenam Beach (400 Bt per night, about USD 12, w/ fan and cold water):

And from the Seaview Restaurant, a three minute walk (good view of Koh Phangan, 15 km distant):

This is now the desktop photo on my laptop, the view from Sea One Restaurant, toes in the sand, fresh seafood on my fork:


Tanner Brown said...

Damn you lookin' good. Is it because I left?

Chris said...

welcome back, luggage-toting bovine tourist.

Tuttle said...

Thanks for the swell comments. Stay tuned and I'll tell you more about my trip.