Friday, 13 February 2009

Koh Tao to Auckland

Leaving Koh Tao should have been straightforward; catch the ferry to Chumphorn, catch the tout-free taxi to the city centre and then travel onwards to Bangkok via the night train. All was going well until we got to the train station. We waited and waited for three hours, but our train hadn't arrived. We were getting just as tired as the dog in the picture. It was snoozing away in this shop cabinet at Chumphorn train station.

Enquiring at the office, it transpired that our train had sneaked its way through the station under our very noses - we had missed it by a good two hours. Where had this ghost train gone? Luckily we were booked onto another train leaving fairly imminently. One Irishman was not so lucky. He was making a visa run to Malaysia and had missed his train in the same way. His next train was in three days' time – well after his visa had expired.

Sleeping upright in a chair on the train wasn't the best way to get a good night's sleep. Neither was the Qantas flight to Sydney, as we became over-stimulated by the food and entertainment. First we drank wine and ate cheese, something we hadn't done for many months. Next, we indulged ourselves watching films – the new Woody Allen film “Vicky Christina Barcelona” (which was excellent) and the “Wrestler” (good but violent), and then an old favourite “Sideways”. This was followed by listening to the best of R.E.M. – the iPod has died, so this dose cured Andy's withdrawal symptoms. Just before landing, we even managed a few episodes of Little Britain.

Transferring planes in Sydney, we finally landed in Auckland at lunchtime on Saturday. The plane flew very low, and we thought we were going to ditch in the water. Luckily, a reclaimed piece of land with a runway appeared just in time to save us. To our horror – and perhaps our reader's delight – we arrived to a grey, wet and cold day (14°C). Apparently two days ago it had been the hottest day since 1852. Let's hope this bad spell is just a blip.

After nine months in Asia, we're letting our guard down and readjusting to life in a developed country. It's so lovely to just hop on the bus without having to barter for the fare first. And drivers here stop to let pedestrians cross the road. This morning, we both automatically tried to stop the shuttle bus driver at Auckland airport from putting our luggage to the vehicle, even though here it's perfectly safe. We also bowed to the driver after getting dropped off. Jen struggles to remember that she can now shake men's hands again, as in Asia it's not acceptable. Life seems very easy here, and at least around Auckland, it looks just like Britain.

We are knackered now, so after a long sleep tonight, we'll begin planning our New Zealand adventure tomorrow.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Snorkelling with sharks on Koh Tao

We took the night ferry from Surat Thani to Koh Tao (“Turtle Island”), a small island off the south-east coast of Thailand. The sleeping conditions on the boat were cramped, as the narrow mattresses had not been designed for broad-shouldered Westerners. Jen was sleeping next to a space hogging girl, so they ended up having elbow fights in the middle of the night.

We arrived on Koh Tao early the next morning, tired from the eight-hour journey. We were trying to wake up over breakfast in a nice cafe, when the clouds suddenly burst into the biggest rain shower we've seen in ages. After the rain stopped, we hopped on a taxi to our final destination, Ao Tanote on the east side of Koh Tao. The local taxi is the back of a pick up truck with a few seats fitted. We went bouncing down a hillside, on a road that had half disappeared in the last monsoon.

Tanote Bay is remote and stunning. On our first afternoon here, we caught a boat to the next bay over in the hope of snorkelling with sharks. We got lucky and saw a couple of adult black tip reef sharks, a baby one and a big tuna. The reef sharks are totally harmless, and were no more than a meter and a half long. They were pretty shy too and kept swimming away from us. The snorkelling in Tanote Bay itself was fantastic! We saw stingrays, parrot fish and lots of other colourful species.

To check out the snorkelling elsewhere on Koh Tao, we joined a boat trip that went round the island. The views were good although the snorkelling didn't rival Tanote Bay - we did see some giant clams and sea anemones though. The highlight of the boat trip was Nangyuan Island, a private resort island just to the north-west of Koh Tao.

We've been staying in a lovely bungalow on the beach. In the evenings, we've enjoyed sitting in chilled out bars playing Bob Marley and watching the full moon rise over the Gulf of Thailand. This morning, the sunrise was also lovely.