Friday, February 17, 2012

Day 122 - 127: Koh Pha Ngan

A much calmer sea made for a nicer boat ride, although focusing on a laptop screen watching an episode of Nikita also helped. Koh Pha Ngan has a reputation of being a party island, mainly due to the Full Moon Party (as well as the spin-offs: Half Moon Party, Black Moon Party, Shiva Moon Party, and many, many other cash-ins), but we'd passed the full moon a few days back and it wasn't really our scene anyway. We scooted past the taxi touts at the pier and had a light lunch at Nira's Bakery - excellent cakes - before getting a more reasonably priced taxi to Lime N Soda.

This is basically a self-contained holiday resort in the Baan Tai area, with an on-site restaurant and bar, swimming pool, table tennis and pool tables, laundry and massage services, and a good number of bungalows/rooms. We were in a cold water bungalow, which was fine as the weather was baking hot. The bed was comfortable, the room was clean, and it was right on the beachfront (which was more of a reef - far too shallow to swim in). We enjoyed the facilities for a few hours then set out in search of Fisherman's Restaurant which was reputed to have amazing yellow curried crab, and we were both in the mood for some decent crab to see if it compared to Kep. After a 2.5km walk, we got there to find they hadn't managed to catch any crab for two days. We went for our fall-back dishes: fried fish in spicy sauce for me, mackerel with 3 dipping sauces for Gilly. Both were superb, and we managed to put the disappointment of no crab behind us.

The next day Oldy, Fi, Colin and V arrived. Due to crossed wires, we hadn't booked them rooms at Lime N Soda so we took them to Red Cube which we'd spotted the night before, which was similarly basic, but reasonably priced and only 5 minutes away.  Then it was time to catch-up at the Lime N Soda pool, drinking cocktails and enjoying the atmosphere, before heading out to get some food and watching the Liverpool - Manchester United match. That was the plan, but the restaurant (Lobster Seafood) took an age to get us our food, so by the time we got to the Irish Bar the first half was over at 0 - 0. I should have stayed away...Liverpool lost 2-1.

A day of lazing around the pool and “beach” (more like a shallow reef) followed, with table tennis, reading and blogging amongst the activities. We also find time to try some synchronised pool jumping followed by a sunset watch:






In the mood for a pizza in the evening, we headed out to a place called Cool Runnings which we’d spotted on our marathon trek to Fisherman’s Restaurant a couple of nights prior, only to find it was closed on Sundays. We weren’t having much luck on the food front. After tossing up the pros and cons of stopping in Outlaw Saloon Bar for a pizza instead, we decided against it. It certainly looked the part (absent saloon doors aside) but the place was empty, and the menu was pricey. Almost by chance we stumbled over Franck’s, a French joint run by a very enthusiastic Frenchman, who wouldn’t have been out of place in an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo. They also did pizzas, as well as a number of other decent dishes including a wonderfully creamy triple chocolate mousse.

As Colin and V were only going to be with us until the 19th Feb, we decided to head to the north of Koh Pha Ngan to see what else the island had to offer. Chaloklum came recommended by a dive instructor at Lime n Soda, and by chance we had a leaflet for Chaloklum Bay Resort, which we’d been given at the pier on arrival, and advertised heavily discounted rooms (300B) and bungalows (500B). I rang and booked 3 bungalows for the next day.

Unfortunately, that’s when things didn’t go so well. If you could describe Chaloklum Bay Resort in a word, it would be “disappointing”. The leaflet, no doubt Photoshopped to within an inch of its papery life, spoke of gorgeous bungalows, beach bars by the deep blue pool, and other magnificent facilities. When we arrived, it looked lovely; plenty of bungalows around with balconies, hammocks and no doubt wonderfully cool and well furnished inside. We paid for our rooms and were then shown to three concrete holes situated under the restaurant. These would have been the “rooms” advertised at 300B; I queried this with the hawk-faced harridan manning the reception desk, and she was dismissive, even when I produced the leaflet. Apparently that leaflet wasn’t valid (most likely because she was now in possession of our cash, and wasn’t prepared to part with it). Our hands were tied. Not only had we been fleeced for a room instead of a bungalow, the room itself was utter crap. Gilly and I got arguably the worst of the three, but there wasn’t much in it – the mattresses were foam planks, the bed sheet wasn’t big enough to cover the bed, the walls were covered in damp and the plaster was crumbling, the bathroom had been built at an odd angle so the water didn’t really drain away from the shower but tended to pool just after the doorframe…and so it went on. V and Colin had a dead cockroach in theirs, and Paul and Fi had been given a bath sheet instead of a bed sheet.

Thankfully we didn’t need to stay too long in the rooms, so we had a look around the actual grounds. Everything was in a state of “almost completion”. The pool should have been great, and nearly was: stone bar stools lined one edge and there was what looked to be a beach bar next to them, but it was just a hut (unlike the leaflet which showed the bar stocked, and full of wine glasses). Added to this, packs of feral and collared dogs roamed around the resort, one of which decided to take a dip in the pool immediately after doing the same in the sea. This might have accounted for the odd saltiness mixed with the chlorine we tasted when swimming…


The beach itself was sandy but shallow, and strewn with rocks and broken glass inland, and not deep enough to swim in for a good kilometre north of the resort. The restaurant served passable food, but the prices were comparable to the more tourist-oriented (and nicer) area we’d just left. When we asked about wi-fi we were handed a payment sheet which started out at £1.20 for 30 minutes access – incredible. I asked the make-up splattered harpy how she managed to access the internet on her phone, and she claimed that she had to pay for wi-fi the same as the guests. Really, at 120B per hour? A quick check of the wi-fi networks showed one called “CBR” which must have been for people paying for expensive bungalows, and not for us mere peasants. If they were paying upwards of £30 a night and had to fork out for internet access too, they were bigger suckers than we were.

Still, I had time to practice my pool acrobatics:


We went to the little village centre of Chaloklum for some lunch at Seaside Restaurant (disappointing), and found a bakery from which Gilly ordered me a belated birthday cake for collection the next day. There was a festival on between the 12th and 14th Feb, and we’d arrived on the 13th, so we decided to check it out after enjoying another good suunset on the beach.



The "festival" was basically a stage where a few acts including dancing children in skimpy clothes danced fairly provocatively, a school music band hammered out some tunes on various percussion instruments, a group of 4 women dancing, and more promisingly, what looked to be a rock band that tuned up with some heavy riffs, only to descend into bland Thai pop when the sound check was complete. We met an Aussie from Melbourne called Rachel, who hung around with us for the night too.






Some surreal excitement came halfway through this set when one local, no doubt heavily inebriated thanks to the over-priced beer towers on offer, decided to throw a fold-up metal chair at someone, missed, and ended up hitting the female Thai partner of a western man one table away from us. Whilst the woman, who was obviously in pain, rubbed her arm he was then chased by a number of other people including, bizarrely, a balloon seller who leaped after him whilst holding on to his selection of roughly 40 inflatable animals, and escorted out of the makeshift arena.

The festival also included a small walking street, with people peddling everything from food to clothes, but oddly very little in the way of seafood, given the name of the festival. We did have some decent pork on a stick, chicken burgers, samosas and doughnuts, though. We stopped off at Woodstock Bar on the way home, and hung around in hammocks for a couple of hours:



We headed to bed hoping that some moderate intoxication would take the edge off the hard beds. It didn’t.

A new day dawned and saw us sat by the pool in the morning, sampling the aforementioned passable breakfast a little later on, then walking through the sea which barely came up to our knees. I attempted to get some blankets for our room, which we could lie on and improve our sleep quality. The sour hag was busy on the phone and muttered at me to go upstairs to talk to someone in the restaurant. There was only one person there, and he was waiting tables and looked pretty brow-beaten and barked at me to come back later. I did so, and he then furnished me with a thin sheet. I asked him (in Thai) for a blanket instead, and he stomped off complaining before returning with a bath towel. It seems that this is what passes for bed linen at Chaloklum Bay Resort.

We went to town and picked up my birthday cake (banana sponge with vanilla and lemon buttercream), and had a lunch of samosas, crisps and cake. That’s my kind of meal. The cake was fantastic and easily enough for the 6 of us. Thanks Gilly  Interestingly, one of the staff members had the decency to provide us with a knife and plates, the only one that actually appeared to care that we were guests at the resort, and not just a walking ATM to be sneered at.


We played some poker in the afternoon and for dinner headed next door to a place I’d spotted which did Nam Tok. After our experience in Koh Tao, I definitely wanted to introduce the others to this dish, and they weren’t disappointed (although it wasn’t quite as fantastic as the one we’d had on the other island). We had decided to move to Koh Lanta the next day, as it was on the way to Malaysia for us, on the way to Phuket for V and Colin, and was reputed to have fantastic beaches and be an all-round lovely place by everyone we’d talked to on our travels that had visited. That trip involved a 6:20 taxi to the ferry pier though, so we had a quiet night and retired to our cells for another fitful night’s sleep.

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