Koh Chang pt 1: Fake Russians
I wrote a while ago about anxiety… My anxiety… Anxiety that has, over the years stopped me from doing many things… Things that, let’s be honest here, millions of people do every day without fear or worry… But here I am, held back by the invisible leash that is anxiety.
One of the things that my anxiety stopped me from doing was riding a motorbike… I have a memory of trying to ride a friends bike many years ago (Pretty sure I crashed it into a ditch) and I remember riding on the back of a relatives motorbike back in my early teens… But adult me, grown-up me was always terrified of doing it … Afraid of failing, scared of crashing… Terrified of dying.
As 2020 rolled into 2021 I made a promise to myself… This was the year I was going to be a “better me”… I would keep up with my exercise… I would finally get my teeth sorted… And I was going to try and do things a little out of my comfort zone… I couldn’t go on the way I was going… If my bad health and diet didn’t kill me, I’m pretty sure my anxiety would.
So earlier this year, as part of my “better me” campaign, me and Jo went for motorbike riding lessons in Bangkok.
Now I’m not talking big powerful Harley Davidson type machines here… Oh no… I’m talking low powered motorbikes… Scooters… The bikes I’ve seen kids ride around this country.
The lesson went well… Very well actually… I picked it up quite quickly and by the end of the lesson, was actually enjoying riding around the backstreets of Bangkok.
Fast forward a few weeks and I was on holiday with Jo and some friends on the island of Koh Samet… A beautiful island, an island that doesn’t allow motor cars… Just motorbikes and taxi trucks (Songthaew) an ideal place to hire a bike and practice.
I wasn’t comfortable at first, but as the holiday went on I got better and eventually found myself enjoying riding around the quiet roads of Koh Samet.
Fast forward again and a group holiday over the Songkran (Thai New Year) holiday… After much discussion, it was decided we would visit the island of Koh Chang, an island I’d never visited before, and an island I was eager to visit… On the lead up to our holiday, an outbreak of COVID caused our plans to change slightly, the fear of an upcoming lockdown caused a couple of our friends to pull out, leaving four of us travelling to Koh Chang with a further two joining us later on.
Our journey to Koh Chang was interesting (as all things in Thailand are) our friends arrived at our apartment at 6 am, as we had been told an early start was a wise option… Thousands of Thais would be heading out of the city on their way to enjoy the Songkran holiday, and the roads were predicted to be gridlocked… We climbed into our hired minivan and headed out of the city… Passing our friends apartment block on the way (Meaning that they actually didn’t need to get to ours after all… In fact by my calculations, if we had known the bus would pass their apartment, they could have had an extra hour in bed)… The journey took about five hours… We chatted, we slept… We worried about the driver who spent most of the journey looking at his phone and sending voice messages to people… About half an hour or so away from the ferry crossing the minivan juddered slightly, the instrument panel beeped loudly and the van coasted to an almost stop.
“He’s run out of petrol” I said… Worried looks were exchanged as (I think) we all inwardly calculated how close the nearest petrol station was, if we could manage to walk to the ferry… And should we have booked this particular driver for this journey.
The van came back to life and sort of limped the rest of the journey to the ferry port.
As we arrived the driver tried to get Jo to pay him extra so he could cross with us and take us to our hotel… Jo politely (thank God) declined and we made our way to the ferry.
At this point, I feel I must address the weight of the suitcases we had taken with us.
Henry and Angela (our friends) had packed two small bags… We, on the other hand, had not…
It’s a strange thing… I look at the number of days we will be away then I pack enough clothes for those days… Seven days? Pack seven changes plus maybe a couple of spares… I never, EVER remember the fact that almost every place we stay at has a laundry service, so actually, you don’t need to pack as much… So there I was pulling these to heavy cases toward our waiting ferry.
As we boarded the ferry I remembered that the lower deck is for cars… The upper deck is for walk-on passengers… I look at the stairs… I look at the cases… And decide to carry one case up, leave it with Jo, then go back for the second case… Henry offered to help, but me being me I said “no mate, I’m ok” before beginning my first climb up the stairs.
The first thing I realised was the weight of the case… Fuck me, it was heavy… The second thing I noticed was that I was holding the case in my left hand… The third thing I noticed was that the handrail was on the left-hand side of the stairs… Meaning I (because swapping hands halfway up the stairs wasn’t an option) had to balance myself while pulling myself and the case up the stairs… Occasionally reaching out my right hand to reach for a handrail I knew actually wasn’t there… What a total fuck up.
Henry (thankfully) ignored my “I’m ok mate” comment and helped with the second case… Note to self Ade… Accept help… And check which side handrails are on in future.
I had been worried about the ferry crossing… I hate boats… I get terribly seasick… The ferry ride, however, was nothing to fear… In fact, I quite enjoyed it.
We arrived on the island of Koh Chang and got off the ferry, we found a songthaew (truck taxi) and headed toward our hotel.
I don’t think we realised how far the hotel was away from the ferry port… The roads were hilly, winding roads… I don’t think we had anticipated the effect a five-hour van drive, followed by a half-hour ferry ride, followed by this insane forty-minute truck ride up and down these hills and winding roads would affect us… By the time we got to our hotel, I was feeling more than a little travel sick.
During the planning process for this trip, Jo had found this particular place to stay, Paradise Cottage… It was cheaper than any other available property… Cheaper by far… And I (as do tend to worry quite a lot) had been worried by how cheap it actually was… As we approached the resort my fears began to rise… The area (Lonely Beach) seemed decimated (by COVID)… shops were closed… The bars were closed… As the truck travelled down a winding path toward the resort I had convinced myself that our hotel was going to be a nightmare… And that I would be writing a future blog about our shit holiday.
I grumpily (and rather nauseously) climbed out of the songthaew and walked toward the reception area… I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw… Shock horror! The resort didn’t look like a shit hole after all!
We were greeted warmly by the manager (Julia) we ordered beers and drank them as we booked in… I (as I do) took the opportunity to look at the menu and see what the prices are like (you can take the boy out of Dudley but you can’t take Dudley out of the boy) I was surprised by how reasonable everything looked… Actually not reasonable… It was (by comparison) actually cheap!
So… The accommodation was cheap… The food and drink didn’t seem overpriced… The resort poolside area looked nice… What was the catch?
We were shown to our rooms, the rooms were small, there was no TV (but who wants to watch TV on a beautiful island anyway?) there was no fridge (ooh… That could be an issue) but the aircon worked, the bed seemed comfortable and the view from our room was stunning… So far so good… What was the catch?
We met up at the poolside area for a snack and a drink before heading off for a nap… The poolside drink turned into a bit of a session and by the time We wandered off for a nap I was feeling more than a bit drunk.
After our nap, we met up and heading into Lonely Beach to see what was open, stopped by a restaurant near the entrance to the hotel for a snack and a drink (Angela remembered that this place had failed to impress her last time she had been to lonely beach) we had a couple of drinks and petted the cats that wandered around (you have to love a bar cat) before heading down to the walking street area of lonely beach.
Pre-COVID, this area would have been full of people… Full of life… Tonight, it was not… it was empty… It was quiet… It was more than a little bit sad.
We found ourselves in a cool, day-glow painted bar…. We drank and chatted… A couple of other people wandered in but the bar was by no means busy… The loud music seemed out of place…. There just wasn’t enough people to justify this loud soulless music… We moved on to another bar… The Sunshine bar and cafe.
I really liked this bar… It was decorated in a strange sort of “anything goes” style… Pictures of Jim Morrison were on the walls next to pencil drawings done by past customers… The menu consisted of a mixture of Traditional Thai and western food… Henry ordered a cheese and ham toasty… I ordered the “Hamberg Steak and mash potato” which was in fact a hamburger with a serving of mash… Actually, it was delicious… Unlike Henry’s toasty which left him with a very disappointed look on his face… The drinks were good… We were joined by a cat (you have to love a bar cat!) with a Hitler moustache… We couldn’t call him Hitler… So we opted to call him Adolph… Which I’m sure you will agree was not offensive in the slightest.
We drank, we petted Adolph, we played Jenga… We left the bar and headed back to our resort… the streets were dark… We chatted as we walked… As we approached the lane leading down to our resort we heard loud barking… Oh shit… I’d forgotten about Soi dogs!
The barking didn’t seem to be getting any closer… It wasn’t an “I’m going to emerge from the shadows and rip your faces off” bark… It was more of an “I’m here in the shadows, kindly fuck off back to your hotel and leave me in peace” bark.
After our run-in with the shadow dog, we walked, in the darkness toward our resort… I saw what I thought was a large frog moving on the path… I was about to say “watch out for that frog” when we realised it wasn’t actually a frog… It was a huge scorpion!
Now, I’ve seen scorpions at a zoo…When I say I’ve seen scorpions I mean I’ve seen small scorpions… Maybe an inch or two (at a push) in length… Safely placed behind big pieces of glass… This particular scorpion was about six inches in length… A jet black scorpion… Not behind a pane of glass… He (I actually have no idea what sex the fucker was) was here, on this dark path… And fuck me, he just arched his tail up like he was about to sting us!
I have to admit, it scared me… But… Bloody hell, I just found a scorpion in the wild! I would have never dreamed in a million years that I would, at some point in my life be living in a country where I can come across a scorpion wandering down a lane.
We left the scorpion in peace and made our way to our rooms… As we walked, we chatted… Our encounter with scorpion became MY encounter with the scorpion, which became Me doing battle with the scorpion… Which (by the time me and Jo got to bed) had become me becoming “The Scorpion King”… I may or may not be a drama queen.
It turns out (thanks Google) that the larger a scorpion is, the less dangerous its sting actually is… I don’t care… I did battle with a giant scorpion…
We met for breakfast in the hotel bar, looking at the menu I was quite impressed with the choices… I found myself being less than impressed with another guest who had appeared at the bar.
I struggle with people who are loud just for the sake of being loud… I had a little bit of a hangover, I was still a little tired and this loud American girl just would not stop talking.
I get it love, you went out drinking… So did I but I’m not fucking shouting about am I?
“Oh my Gawd we were soooo drunk” “
“So was I” I grunted under my breath.
“Oh my Gawd it was soooo wild”
“Oh for fucks sake”
I whispered to Jo that I was going to skip breakfast… I couldn’t stomach being in earshot of this gobshite.
Jo told me to stop being so grumpy… So old.
I felt old… And this made me hate the loud American more.
Suddenly another girl appeared, an English girl…
“Oh, my Gawd we were soooo drunk last night!”
“Oh for fucks sake” I grunted again.
Then I had an epiphany…
Backpackers…. Or to be more precise… The murder of backpackers… I understood it now…. It wasn’t such a senseless crime any more I understood it… This loud American made me realise that maybe some people did deserve to be murdered after all.
Yes, I’m old... Yes, I am grumpy.
Flushed with the joy of my epiphany I decided to stay for breakfast.
I opted for an omelette with bacon… Julia told us all food was homemade, including bread, which was baked fresh… Our breakfast arrived and I was impressed (again) by how well it was presented… Furthermore, it was delicious too!
There has to be a catch somewhere right?
For full disclosure, we encountered the American girl a few times during our stay… She was actually quite nice and doesn’t deserve to be murdered at all.
After breakfast, we headed off into lonely beach to hire motorbikes (oh, THAT’S why he waffled on about motorbike lessons earlier, I hear you cry!)
We found a place with some decent looking bikes outside… We looked at the bikes hoping for someone to come and sort out hiring them to us…
A scruffy looking white bloke with badly painted toenails (it’s amazing what things you notice about people) was hanging around and Henry asked if he was hiring the bikes… He said he wasn’t, but thinks the lady in the massage parlour over the road is… She, as if on cue appeared in her shop doorway, crossed her arms in the air and said “Closed! ”
We were about to wander off when Mr Toenails decided to take it upon himself to patronise us…
“Don’t forget to check the tires… These bikes have been left standing for months… The roads are wet… Be careful… Blah blah blah” I honestly think this bloke thought we had just stepped off the plane and had never been to Thailand before…
We eventually found ourselves back at the Sunshine cafe…It turned out they had bikes for hire… We hired three bikes, One for me, one for Jo and one for Henry to ferry Angela around on.
I sat on my bike and all the things I had learned during my lesson, and all things I learned while riding around Koh Samet decided to leave my head. I was back to square one.
We headed south, Henry took lead, I was in the middle and Jo was last in the convoy…
I had no confidence in my abilities… I felt nervous, I felt shaky… I was convinced I was going to crash.
The roads on the island of Koh Chang are (for the experienced rider) an absolute delight… The sweeping turns, the steep hills, the sharp hairpin turns were for me, terrifying.
On Koh Samet the roads were fun, there were just bikes and the occasional songthaew… Here on Chang, they were a different story… Bikes, cars, trucks, songthaews…. I was out of my depth… We rode to a beach, I was relieved to get off the bike, park it up and have a break… I hoped that, like on Koh Samet, I would get better as time went on.
After the beach, we headed to a restaurant for food… As we parked the bikes (Again I was relieved) A troop of monkeys appeared from the trees… Day two and I’ve already done battle with a scorpion and now I’m seeing monkeys too… Cool!
The restaurant was a cool place… All around it, there were signs with motivational phrases on…
I wondered if they would notice if I put another sign up saying “I have no fucking idea what to write on this sign” if they would notice…
We sat at a table, we noted how busy the place was and ordered food and drinks… As the waitress walked away we noticed the place was full of dogs… Not soi dogs… But full of pampered pooches of all shapes and sizes… We were joined by a cute little black and white dog, a huge fluffy labrador and other dogs… Which was actually great… Great but a distraction.
We hadn’t realised there was a reason why there was a huge table available in the middle of this very busy restaurant.
Why, when we walked into this BUSY restaurant was this table available?
We realised our mistake when the dogs had buggered off.
Directly behind our table was an equally big, centrally located table.
This table was occupied by children.
Spoilt. Obnoxious. Loud. Rude. Undisciplined children.
At the head of the table was a young boy, I’m guessing he was about 12 years old… Barking orders at the other kids sat around… I’m guessing his dad is some rich businessman who thinks the world revolves around him, and this little fucker was a clone of an equally arseholey father.
The various mothers of these children (judging by accents I think were South American) pandered to these spoilt little brats… Ordering food from waitresses who were obviously currently dealing with other customers… Taking no notice as their unruly offspring wandered around, close to other peoples tables causing mayhem…
Another set of adults appeared with two children in tow… Well, not exactly children… Teens…. Teens who had no desire to be a part of this chimpanzee tea party… The boy (teen) sat down with a glum look on his face… The girl (also teen) who seemed to be suffering from a severe outbreak of teenage acne (it happened to all of us) sat down close to the Mini-Me father clone arsehole kid… She looked so depressed… Her face seemed to silently scream “I’m almost an adult… Why do I need to be sat with children?” Her depression and embarrassment worsened when the man she had walked with (I’m guessing her dad) pointed at her and shouted loudly “oh you’re used to sweating anyway!”… I think she may well murder him later on in life… Fairplay love, he deserves it.
We couldn’t take any more… A table became available and we made a run for it… We sat at the other side of the restaurant but still we could hear the noise… Still, we saw the kids wandering around generally being annoying… We waited for an age for our food… This was not a good experience.
We left the restaurant, got on the bikes and headed back to the resort… The ride back was not much better… I still felt like I was riding badly… I was still convinced that at any minute I was going to crash.
We decided that we were going to spend the evening at the resort… We knew that happy hour was from 4 pm to 7 pm and we decided to take advantage of it.
The bar at our hotel had a sign that said the bar closes at 10 pm… We found out this was actually incorrect… The bar would, in fact, stay open for as long as there were customers… We also discovered that, yes, happy hour was from 4 till 7… UNLESS you are a resident… So happy hour was actually ALL NIGHT.
Happy hour… VERY happy hour.
We ordered drinks… Lots of drinks.
We ordered White Russians… But the bar had no Kahlua so we told them to swap it for Baileys… And the Fake Russian was born!
We chatted, we laughed, we played cards, we drank…
I awoke the next morning with a hangover…
But I’ll talk about the following days in another blog… Being as this one seems to have gone on a bit…
So until next time…