This is a continuation of a longer story that will make so much more sense if begun by reading Part 1!
The very best way to end an epic vacation, in my opinion, is to lounge about in crystal clear sea water. We found that water on Ko Phangan. A flight and a ferry and a flatbed found us at the Dragon Hut Guesthouse. Actually, it was a regular pickup truck but I really like the flow of the ‘f’ alliteration. We had reserved air-conditioned cabins high up on a hill overlooking the Gulf of Thailand… with balconies!!! The idyllic white sand Thai beaches were not right outside our doorsteps there. The closest little beach was a jumble of surf-rounded coral. At low tide, we could walk a good distance out from the beach and spy on the predominant lifeform amongst that sun-bleached coral. Sea cucumbers as far as the eye could see. There was not much else to ogle in those particular waters. Just sea cucumbers. So many sea cucumbers. The classic sea cucumber defense of pooping out its internal organs was not witnessed as we refrained from poking and prodding. We yearned for more than docile sea cucumbers and bleached coral. To access that more we had to walk up and over a pretty significant hill in pretty significant heat and humidity. I managed to slip on the gravel and skin my left knee on that significant hill. It should be known that road rash was not an uncommon site on the backpacker set on the island. Most acquired their scabs via thrilling motor scooter accidents involving Chang beer and poor judgment. I had a thrilling tale of walking followed by falling. Not the most proud moment of the trip but certainly the bloodiest. Sporting a giant scab on my knee made enjoying the massages on the beach a bit difficult but other than that no big deal. The nearest beach to our hotel was Haad Yao. It was a long stretch of white sand and very shallow. We bought some beers and bobbed around in the water keeping one eye on our stuff on the beach and the other eye monitoring our beer bottles for saltwater intrusion. There is a lot of responsibility that goes with bobbing with beer! We stayed at the Dragon Hut for about three days making the daily pilgrimage to the beach over steep gravelly hills. One little aside for that part of our stay was that we were turning orange! Our fingernails were turning orange and when we would start to sweat in light colored clothes they would turn orange as well. I could actually scratch the orange film off of my fingernails. There was no protecting our clothes from the orange stain. The proprietors said it was a reaction with our sunscreen. I think it was the water. We had been wearing that same sunscreen for weeks without turning into pumpkins. Also, the rooms we were staying in had orange baseboards. I think it was to mask the orange stain left by mopping. Also all of the towels there were brown. Masking the orange or the effect of multiple washing events in the suspect water. We were happy to escape the orange water but overall enjoyed our stay there.
The next adventure was definitely a highlight of the trip. We were picked up by a shuttle and brought to a pier on the north side of the island. There we boarded a long tail boat that brought us out to a beautiful wooden sailboat that was to be our home for the next two days.
We were joined by a honeymooning couple from Texas, a pair of young ladies from the SF Bay Area, a couple from NY City, a mother-son duo from Amsterdam and a couple from Germany. The Captain was Bruno and his first mate was Nico. They were both originally from France and now call Koh Phangan their home. Bruno built the boat himself and named it Itsaramai which means New Freedom. We were all fairly enamored with the idyllic life he had made for himself. We headed off to the Ang Thong Marine Park.
Once we arrived, our first order of business was to swim off the boat and get to know each other while Bruno and Nico cooked up a delicious chicken curry. Having eaten our fill and tossed the scraps out the windows to the fishes below, we went snorkeling in the center of a donut-shaped island. That unique shape made it so there was no real current or waves to contend with. The visibility was not the best but there were beautiful corals and fishes to see. Next was sea kayaking around this system of rocky islands. Bruno took the lead with my folks in his dinghy (so they didn’t have to kayak) and showed us some wild rock formations. There were all kinds of swirling caves complete with stalactites. We got out of the boats and wandered through the caves. At one point Bruno slipped away and hid. When we got close to him he jumped out at us saying whatever the French equivalent of “Boo!” might be. He was rewarded by our shrieks!
After the kayaking Bruno rounded us up and took us to an island where we got to hike into a lagoon in the middle of the island. It was full of stingrays and other fish. Apparently, there is a connection to the sea in certain conditions. Swimming was not allowed at this lagoon, just viewing. It was a really cool hike and we got to experience it without all of the other tourists because the day trips had all left earlier so that they could get back to Koh Phangan before dark. We pretty much had the island to ourselves. Next, we had more boat swimming time while Bruno and Nico whooped up some delicious salmon and potatoes for dinner. We had a view of a couple getting married on the beach of an island from our floating home. We enjoyed getting to know our fellow boat-mates and watched the stars until the waves lulled us into sleep. The next morning we were greeted with Nescafe, scrambled eggs and croissants. I was very happy to finagle a second cup of my favorite dissolved powder to enjoy on the bow in the morning breeze! After breakfast, Bruno took us over to another island to hike to a high viewpoint. We arrived before any of the day trip tours and again had the island to ourselves. The hike was really steep and slippery through the jungle. Scott narrowly missed being urinated on by a monkey up in the trees. At intervals along the climb, there were nice viewpoints to look out over the islands of the marine park. Scott and I made it to the top thanks to a rope system that was there to help us drag ourselves over vertical fins of limestone. We took the requisite photos and headed back down. About twenty minutes into our descent we met up with my folks. Dad wanted to make it to the top and Mom was satisfied with the height she had achieved already. So Scott went back up to the top with Dad while Mom and I headed down. By the time we were at the bottom of the trail the boatloads of tourists had started to arrive. It was a crowded escalator of sweaty bodies heading up. I felt like we were fish trying to swim upstream! Anyhow, Nico brought the dinghy over and rescued us from the throngs of tourists. We were treated once again to Bruno’s fine culinary skills this time in the form of Tom Kha soup! After our bellies were filled we dropped anchor off a beach and given the option to snorkel or kayak or swim or whatever our hearts desired before heading back to Koh Phangan.
Eventually, Mother Nature told us it was time to be going. The skies were darkening and it looked like we were in for a bit of a storm. It started to sprinkle while we rounded ourselves up and got ready to head out. At one point Bruno looked behind the boat and said, “Oh shit.” From that point on we moved pretty fast! The waters stayed fairly calm but the rain came down fierce complete with thunder and lightning! By the time we were back at the pier the rain had stopped. We all thanked Bruno and Nico profusely, rounded up some money to pay for the fun and headed to our next guest house.
We arrived at the Phangan Utopia in the cover of darkness. We were shown to our rooms (complete with outdoor showers!), where we sorted out all of our gross wet laundry to be dropped off at the reception desk. The hotel had an inviting restaurant with big windows and a big menu. The entranceway to the restaurant had a pond full of the most sonorous frogs I have ever heard. We enjoyed a delicious meal and headed to bed exhausted from all the fun.
The next morning we took advantage of the free shuttle to Mae Haad beach. No more crazy hill walking for us! Mae Haad was another beautiful white sand specimen of perfection. This time complete with a gorgeous reef to snorkel with great visibility. We took turns snorkeling/poking at giant clams and bobbing with beer/watching our stuff on the sand.
When we finally had to leave the water under the threat of growing gills we retreated to a restaurant for more delicious food and more beer. One more relaxing Thai massage saw us through to the end of our beach time that day. We shuttled back to Utopia to enjoy some pool time and watch a giant storm barely miss us. The rainy season was not too much of a problem for us. My mom lives a charmed life and I inherited that charm from her!
Or vacation drew to a close with only one more day to be spent in Bangkok reminiscing about the fun we’d had. The driver of the taxi we lucked into at the airport almost gave up trying to find our final guest house. He drove around in circles for about twenty minutes and then pulled over and pointed vaguely toward some buildings. We wouldn’t get out of the car so he finally asked for directions. More driving in circles and one more stop for directions resulted in us making it to our last home sweet home. Thankfully the restaurant was still open and we got to eat delicious tod mun plaa (fish cakes) on a dock overlooking an industrial section of the river. Our final day was spent shopping for souvenirs for our dog sitters/family/friends and eating as much as we could.
Dad said that it was more fun than he expected it to be which is a win in my book!