Sunday, April 24, 2011

Getting to Koh Tao, by Lomprayah and it Sucks

Koh Tao is an island north of Samui, north beyond the full moon party island of Phangan. No direct flights and the only way to get there is by your personal yacht or the daily ferries departing from Bangkok, Hua Hin, Chumphon or Samui.

I recommend the Chumphon route, so as I did enjoying the 7 hours drive from Bangkok at 3am in the morning, followed by the Lomprayah twin hulled high speed ferry departing at 1pm. The boat journey was an hour and a half. One could get to Chumphon in a short 5 hours if needed to, forgoing all the coffee breaks, the toilet visits, the export outlet shopping and the meal stops along route in mega petrol stations so many in Thailand.

Take your time, drive a slow pace and enjoy the pleasant experience from darkness till dawn and into the daylight morning I say. Recently, they had a new service introduced. Its called Solar Air. You take a propeller plane from Bangkok to Chumphon airport, then a bus followed by the ferry service. No need to wake that early in the morning for self-drive. It cost about THB3,000 one way.

Bookings for the ferry could be done in advance over the Lomprayah web site, that was what I did and luckily I did so too. If not, one will have to endure the slow services of the check in counter as I write later. Getting to the ferry terminal is a challenge. The directional map on the website ain’t clear at all, could end up in Burma. So, in this post I had attached a snapshot of Google Maps for references (Long 10°21'30.60"N, Lat 99°16'1.80"E).

Lomprayah in Chumphon, they provide safe overnight parking looked after by the residence for THB50 per day to watch over your precious ride. Just make sure you get a shady spot for your car if you do not want it to be baking under the glaring sun. And to do so, wait for the return ferry from Koh Tao an hour before your trip, many folks will be driving their cars out on the return trip to Bangkok and that’s when you have the luxury to choose lots under the shade. Not much point arriving too early in advance as the parking could be full.

Now, heaps of whining, Lomprayah, no queue system, no baggage services and very slow checking-in process. Checking-in took more then 10 minutes per person as the counter was only a served by single slow laid back country woman scribbling your bookings onto notebooks. They have speed limits in terms of work but strangely, no one in the queue was complaining. Haven’t they heard of computerization?

Then when it was time, I had to lug and roll my baggage over the fifty meters of creaky wooden jetty under the searing sun, I got my tan even before landing on the beach. The ferry has two levels, the top so labeled VIP and you will have to pay THB100 extra to be in (it was THB 50 last year). But you may not get it as wished. Experienced riders rushed towards the boat in an instant after the onset of announcement to board. I had sat in the mass area below, powered by only three air conditioning systems. It was hot and humid, it ain’t a pleasant ride.

And so on my second trip to Koh Tao, I opted for booking VIP when checking in, ensuring I would get that seat upstairs instead of sauna room below. I was given a special VIP sticker, pasted onto my shirt, it was suppose to indicate to all that I had special privileges. Then, no special privilege encountered, I still had to join the long queue as per normal. Waltzing into the VIP with expectations that there will be available seats waiting for me, I was greeted by a scene of chaos instead. Large noisy families, hordes of noisy Thai folks engaged in frantic throwing of belongings onto empty seats reserving them for their mothers, kids and whatsoever extended families further down the queue. And they did not have the VIP stickers, they just conquered that VIP room in a stampede. To top it off, I did not see any staffs of Lomprayah coming in to check on who had the VIP stickers and who not, by right those who did not had to pay that extra THB100, it did not happen. And when I asked the Lomprayah staffs about why those people were not being charged, here was how it went:

Me (to Staff of Lomprayah):
Excuse me, we are supposed to pay extra when we sit VIP right?

Yes sir.

Why no one come to check on me and ask me to pay extra THB100?

Staff (started looking at each other to find excuse, realizing they forgot to check who was VIP and who not):
Oh we will do so….

Paused… confusion among staffs…

Er sir, can we have a look at your ticket… ?

Me hand over ticket… .

Staff: Oh sir… you already are VIP, we no charge you extra.

Me: What about the others? Did you check on them?

Paused… confusion among staffs…

Staff: Oh no need sir, we know who VIP and who are not. So we will charge those without VIP tickets and stickers.

Me: Why I never see you charge those with normal stickers then? I have been sitting up there for 1 hour already?

Staff: That’s because we know those without the VIP stickers currently upstairs had already paid for the extra VIP charge when checking in, the check in staffs had radioed us to tell us who they are.

Bull shit, utter bullshit. Totally bullshit, how could they recognized them all? And if they did paid extra, they would have got VIP stickers!! Lomprayah is full of bullshit but why should they bother to improve services since they are the only company that monopolizes the only ferry to Koh Tao!! Assholes.

Working here for 7 years, that day, I realized why my Thai friends had told me repeatedly that Thai people are very good at telling lies in my course of work as a warning. They don’t call it lies, my Thai mates had said, they simply call it “don’t finish the sentences” that’s all. Thais are very good at twisting the story and changing the facts. This, I totally witnessed on that day.

So my advice to all, forget about opting for VIP during check in and paying in advance. Many of us with VIP stickers ended with no seats because of these ill-mannered folks who horded the VIP level. Pity the other Caucasian tourists who were squeezed out of VIP rooms and made confused by the Lomprayah staffs who gave all kinds of bullshit reasoning. I am just wondering what the Lomprayah staffs had told those who paid but did not get a seat. I got mine because I screamed at the Lomprayah staffs when I had no seats during the beginning of the journey.

My holiday in Koh Tao was almost perfect except for Lomprayah. But do we have a choice?

Full photo sets here under Koh Tao Feb 2010 & Koh Tao Apr 2011.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Live Borderless - Charm Churee Villa, Koh Tao

Live Borderless, not LG LCD TV, but a resort I will blog about. Live Borderless, see the view out into the gulf spanning the horizon from my personal patio overhanging off the cliffs as the long tail boast sped by. Every morning, I woke to the warm radiance of the rising sun under the shadows of the weathered cliffs. The gentle salty breeze caressed as I stood looking down below into my personal aquarium. The spotted green crabs sunning their shells warmed up as the vibrant fishes played amongst the corals. It was the second time I was there, a hint that I found this resort worth a second visit.

Not your average budget type hotel, but worth every dear Baht I had earned. The resort had been around since 2002, but the corrosive waft of the sea had taken its toll on the wooden huts that makes up the accommodation of this dwelling. I had stayed in unit 34, for the second time. A one bedroom one living room suite, with what I gathered to be the one of the best view Charm Churee could offer. The hike to the room however does require a certain fitness level. It was through 10 minutes of meandering steep steps, over sand and challenging corners that we arrived panting and breaking out in perspiration.

And the first think I could think of was to wash myself down in the outdoor shower. It was, outdoor very much indeed as the so many gaps in the bamboo walls offered quite a good view of my tan free fair shiny glow in the dark butt cheeks. The bathroom and toilet, nestled on rocks offered a most interesting wash experience ever, guaranteed.

Getting to town was like playing a RPG game. I had to look for signs in the jungle path that indicated “To Town”. It took a good fifteen minutes off the beaten track through several resorts before arriving onto sandy tracks that lead into bustling Mae Haad Bay. Through bushes, steep slopes, narrow path and nature, I was half expecting goblin gangs to spring out from behind hidden corners and I had to kill them with my magical sword or cast an exploding spell to wipe them out in a single attempt. The Mae Haad Bay township is laden with restaurants catering to the Caucasian tourist at Caucasian price. Its here you could locate bike and ATV rentals, pharmacies, a Seven-Eleven, packages that offers round the island snorkeling trips and such. In short, there were simply no free shuttle services between hotel and anywhere on this speck of an island in the gulf.

Breakfast was buffet, not a wide selection but not too bad really. And as for dinner, if one does not want to suffer the ordeal of trekking to town in the night and having to kill magical demons of the forest, dine at the Starlight Restaurant I would recommend. Dinner was pricey for Thais, but it was the average price if compared to urban countries elsewhere in the world. And the portion was huge, therefore dividing quantity by price, it was every bit reasonable. Would suggest sharing main course of spaghetti as an option for Thais who do not want to suffer cream and carbo overdoes. The meal setting itself was exotic enough alone. We sat on the floor dining in dusk colors for dinner, we looked over the sides and we could see fishies preparing for their nightly slumber through the clear waters. One thing I do have to mention, while we dined, the mosquitoes dined on us, the whole family of them, several generations across feasting on my arms, legs, neck and even though the clothing into my back. Must bring mosquitoe repellent unless you want to become swell man.

And daytime itself was a time to just laze around and bask in the sun. Enjoy the waters of private Jansom Bay. Jansom means Orange Plates in Thai and the place was named as such for some unknown reasons. I didn’t see any plates in the water, I did’t see any orange trees growing out of the sea. The bay itself has abundant sea life. Sat still in the water and the incredible amount of fish would have chewed off my nipples clean. So, I tried as much as I could not to sit still for more then 5 seconds. Waters near shore was already stunning but swimming out beyond where the bamboo platforms where, it was exquisite. Colorful corals and shoals of large fishes, giant clams with purple lips greeted us as we waddled out with our snorkeling gear. The sea was a clam, occasionally churning only when the distant diving or long tail boats sailed past. Downing that ice cold beer in the high afternoon sun was refreshing. The only problem was getting that beer ordered. The staffs here, neither good in Thai nor English, the lot are from Myanmar, cheap labor I guess.

All in all, Charm Churee was a good stay, and in fact I find myself having good calve muscles after staying there. Yes, Koh Tao may not offer the best waters crystalline like those of Similans, but definitely, it was a resort to rest and blend one’s soul to the rustic charms of the breathtaking scenery. Every morning, I woke to the sound of the sea and the glimmering specks of colors from coral fishes playing out front under my patio. And every evening I watched the vibrant reflections of sunset broken by silhouettes of long tail boats blaring past. In aw, I was in, in paradise again I had been.

Full photo sets here under Koh Tao Feb 2010 & Koh Tao Apr 2011.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Earthquake Bangkok

I felt it, my mates felt it, most of us in high-rise felt it and the folks in the north felt it most. A roof collapsed and someone died I was told. That was the effects of the recent quake more then a week ago on 24 Mar 2011 that happened in Myanmar measuring 7.0. During that night, I felt giddy and doubted my health. And when I saw my instant noodles swishing about in its foam bowl, I did thought of scrambling for the stairs. It lasted near to a minute but I was cool about it. It was… an experience.

The next few days, we talked and doubted about the safety of condominiums in Bangkok. I was told there was nothing to worry about. I asked if the high-rise could withstand a quake and what are the evacuations plans. My mates told me, no need to worry, there is no plan. Bangkok buildings will just collapse if a massive quake were to hit. The death would be instant. I…. tend to believe this, after living here for sometime, I know the shoddy works involved in projects and the short cuts they take to minimize cost so that the funds could be channeled “elsewhere”. So sad, but so the facts or fiction I leave for others to conclude.

And today we see in the papers the story of Bangkokians still snapping up the budget condo’s so aplenty. I was then told, Bangkokians forget easily. Do they? I don’t know if forget so easily one does here really. I think it’s more of the “lets get on and not worry so much” altitude of the people in this pleasant land. Why worry so much? If one worries about everything, then your life would be a passage of stress. Is this good or bad, one and many us “kiasu / kiasi” Singaporean would contemplate.