Saturday, September 24, 2011

Taking on Samui Roads

The good point of having a car on Samui is that one will not be restricted in coverage , bounded by an invisible barrier limited by the range covered by "two-rows" (truck taxis) that one can hop on. And they ain't cheap just for hopping from Chaweng to Lamai or the surrounding areas. I had discovered this stretch of beach facing the sunset. Takhoe is the name of the restaurant and I remembered the food was great and cheap. In contrast to the farang filled stylish restaurants on Chaweng, I was dining among the locals sipping Hundred Pipers with the soda or Coke. We came a wee bit late and missed the setting sun, the waitress told us we should have come earlier when the beach was shimmering in warm tones of orange and red. Didn't want no sand flies to jab into my foot and lay its entire family in there, so for all I would suggest - bring your insect repellent.

Takhoe place is well known for its very weird food. Away from the realm of common seafood, we had jungle mushrooms of some sort accompanied by healthy brown rice which health freaks find it ok but for me felt like chewing on dried straws I feed to my rabbit. Dining on the white weathered plastic chairs sprawled on the sandy beach, the condiments included one of the tastiest Kapi (prawn paste in chill) specially baked on coconut husk which not everyone could stomach. Normally I don't take on these weird dishes guaranteed to cause unusual lingering breath for hours, but this Kapi was something extraordinary.

Coordinates 9°34'40.53"N, 99°56'34.10"E for your reference.

On my previous blogs, I had mentioned of dining up the mountains in a place called Paradise Park. Well again, Samui is not just about the sun, sea and beach. Driving inlands heading up the mountains guided by very poor maps, I had stumbled on The Mountain Grand View Restaurant & Swimming Pool. This restaurant, they tried their best to offer guest a dip in their infinity pool which has one of the best Samui's view, but I don't think anyone would want to dip in the neglected algae infested very green waters. Pool on Samui and what comes to mind is farangs heaps basking in the sun, but I guessed this place is a challenge to find and therefore the desolation.

No guest was there and we had the whole place to ourselves. It became not economically viable to maintain the pool water and so I suppose its purpose now is a giant bird bath, a frog breeding pond or a tourist trip over and fall into water trap. Other than that aside, enjoying a cup of coffee or cooling down that cocktail accompanied by the mountain breeze with an incredible view of the distant horizon makes the trip up worthwhile.

Just watch out for the land slide areas on the way up which ate up half of the road. We were told that the weather these late years had been extreme and Samui had been trying their best to cope with fighting nature.

Coordinates 9°28'42.60"N, 99°59'49.20"E for your reference.

Here's a restaurant that offers quite a feast, not too local and reasonably priced, the crowd is a mix of locals, farangs and mosquitoes . Offering the standard range of cholesterol laden tasty Thai seafood dishes is Sabienglae Restaurant. Its located in between Lamai and Chaweng not too difficult to find. Expect the place to be packed as it is quite well known. I was not too impressed by the dinner but I would rather not risk driving into the dark mountain roads in the night and have my hungry carcass discovered in a Vios at the bottom of a landslide scene. Coordinates 9°27'11.33"N, 100° 2'10.74"E for your reference.

As you cruise the coastal roads and ascend the hills of Samui, one does come across many little spots of pleasant settings so inviting for a chill-chill (Thai slang for chill out time). Appeal of all kinds from contemporary back to rustic rural and pure simple offers a choice too many for the curious soul of an explorer. Amongst that which I mentioned, food for the belly, we scaled the hundred steps up into the temple overlooking the airport, and shopped the weekend night market of Lamai.

And as we tire we had our cocktails by the fiery night beach nearby. Just driving, maneuvering corners and watch that endless horizon revealing up as we rolled on over the top of the hill is already an episode of endorphin in my warm bloodstream.

Full photo sets here under Samui Aug 2011.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Getting to Samui the Cheaper Way

Bangkok Airways monopolized the only airport in Samui, and with that, they shout the price they want and we have no choice, or do we? Well a short flight in Bangkok Airways to Samui from Suvanaphum cost THB 3,000 one way at least (and that's during the promotion period). Double that and double the passenger, it cost THB 12,000 at least for a round trip. Yes you buy the time and the convenience, but I did it all for less than THB 5,000. That, I took the alternative, going by Air Asia to Surat Thani, and a ferry across to the island paradise. All in all, six hours or so of adventure I see it to be, and it was definitely worth the savings.

Hunting for good cheap budget airlines promotion, one could end up with return tickets for two as cheap as THB 2,000, so with that I had a smile broader then Joker in Batman - The Dark Knight . Now, once at the airport in Surat, there are 2 ways to get across to Samui. I rented a Vios from Hertz, and enjoyed my one and half hours drive over to the ferry terminal at Donsak. Or, you could purchase the bus tickets inclusive of the sea crossing while on board Air Asia when the staffs announces it.

Getting to that speck of paradise in the Ao Thai Sea consist of an enjoyable drive across well paved roads covering a distance of about 100km, that which I took one and half hours. The critical point to note is that the last ferry leaves at 19:00 hrs. So if you arrive at Surat at 16:00 to rent a car, you could be skating on thin ice. The thing about the ferry service is that, you do not know how long a queue there will be till you get there. I bought my advance ferry tickets at Raja Ferry counter at the airport for about THB 500 and they could not guarantee my getting over to Samui on the same day. You have to expect the worst if you are going during the public holiday season, so plan your timing well. Coordinates for Raja Ferry Terminal at Donsak is 9°19'42.41"N , 99°44'39.62"E .

Now, something about renting the car from Hertz, make sure you check them wheels before you take the car. It was into the second day on the island that we realized there was something stuck in our wheels. We called Hertz, they said, whatever we do, don't pull that out. It was part of the previous puncture repairs. The job looked shoddy and we asked what if the tire went flat while we were driving, won't that be dangerous? Should we not get proper wheels in the first place where safety is concerned? To which, there was no answer to our question.

Anyways, I did arrived at Donsak after a fun hour of discovering that being in the Vios taking on corners is like being in a ferry before I even got on one and that the 2000cc engine can churn out quite good torque even at speeds beyond 150km/h. I was relieved to see the clam pier with only less than five vehicles on queue and my girlfriend was glad we were still alive.

We caught the 6pm ferry, drove over the rusty gangway into the belly of the beast, we left the car on the lower deck and head on up into the comfy lounge area above to spend the next one and half hours looking through large windows as the sky turned an orange and into the deep blue. We walked the upper decks and have the breeze blow our hairs into a frenzy.

I was quite surprised the ferry was rather presentable, but not every day is we-strike-lottery day as you can see from the pictures above, on our return trip the other ferry in the Raja fleet was of a much inferior quality. Getting to a destination by never tried before means, yet another exploration chapter in my book of adventures as it continues in Thailand.