Monthly Archives: July 2013

Koh Samui

After leaving our apartment (and getting ripped off by a taxi diver), we arrive at Bangkok’s main train station just as it gets dark. Now that Koh Samui has an airport, we could have flown down to the islands (most people do), but we thought the experience of the overnight train and ferry would be more interesting for the kids. And they loved it. After settling in, we enjoyed watching Bangkok’s suburbs slowly go by, while having a bit of dinner and a chat with our neighbors. Just as we are getting tired, the attendants come through the carriage and convert the seats to beds. Of course, Finn and Lara opted for the upper ones, which suited us fine … we all fell asleep within minutes.

After arriving in Surat Thani the next morning we jump on a bus and then a ferry … getting us to Koh Samui around noon. All pretty smooth and easy.

Back in February, we had booked a house in Mae Nam (on the north side of the island) via airbnb.com … and like it as soon as we see it. A large porch (perfect for eating and school work), full kitchen, a sitting area and two breezy bedrooms. It’s a 5 minute stroll to the beach with easy access to restaurants and shops.

The island has changed dramatically (and for the worse) since I was first here, more than 20 years ago. Back then Chaweng and Lamai (the two nicest beaches on the island) had a few simple backpacker bungalows on them … now they are densely packed with resorts, restaurants, souvenir shops and bars. Mass tourism (the ugly kind) has completely taken over and package tourists from Europe and Russia are everywhere. As you can imagine, this mass influx has driven up prices dramatically as well. It’s still rather cheap compared to Europe or the U.S., but nothing like it was even ten years ago.

After renting an old jeep and driving around the island, we realize that we actually like our (Mae Nam) beach the best. Enough infrastructure to make it pleasant, not (yet) enough to be overrun by mass tourism.

And so we spend our days alternating between swimming, shopping at the local food markets, cooking, eating out and school work with Lara.

Truth be told, after almost ten days .. it’s getting a bit boring. The first few days it was a great change from the constant driving in Australia and from the hectic pace in Bangkok, but lately we are all getting a bit itchy to see something new.

Our original plan was to hop to the neighboring island (Koh Phang Ngan), but we changed our mind after talking to a few people. It’s main draw are the famous full moon parties, which are not exactly “child friendly”. I was there twenty years ago and they’ve only gotten bigger and rowdier since then.

Instead, we’ll head straight to Koh Tao (the smallest one of the three gulf islands), which is renowned for it’s diving and snorkeling. Unfortunately, it’s high season here by now, accomodations are filling up fast and prices are rising. So far we haven’t really found anything that looks good to us.

Here are more pictures from our first week in Koh Samui: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwefassnacht/sets/72157634632062086

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A Week in Bangkok

After two short flights from Darwin (via Singapore), we arrive in Bangkok’s new airport just after 8:00pm. I buy a local SIM card (unbelievably cheap) and easily find the driver, who was sent to pick us and get us to our apartment for the week. We had booked it via airbnb.com and are met by the (very friendly) housekeeper, who shows us around. The pictures on the web looked almost too good to be true … but it turns out that the flat is every bit as nice as advertised.

It’s in a brand new high-rise, overlooking the river and we’re up on almost the 50th floor. Four pools to choose from (one on the 40th floor), a great view of the sunset from the balcony and a private ferry to cross the river and get us to the Skyrail and Express Ferry. Fantastic place in a perfect location!

It feels unbelievably good to have a bit of space to spread out. The camper vans in Australia did feel VERY crowded after eight weeks and it’s great to have our own shower, bathroom and kitchen again. Not to mention the fact that it’s nice to be back in air conditioning and without mosquitos at night.

I think this is my fourth or fifth time in Bangkok, and I’ve always liked the city a lot. It’s not as modern (and expensive) as Singapore, doesn’t have a split personality (like Shanghai) and has plenty of historical sights (unlike Kuala Lumpur). Of course, we’re here during the completely wrong season. It’s hot, humid and we watch the gathering storm clouds every afternoon … every second day the wind whips up, the temperature drops and we get a monsoon-like downpour for a few minutes.

Even though we’ve seen them before, we visit a few of the usual tourist sights (temples, museums and markets) to show them to the kids.

To cool down, we also spend a fair bit of time (way too much if you ask me) in shopping malls. And then we’re back at the apartment in the afternoon and spend and hour or two at the pools or catching up on school work.

We are surprised how patiently the kids trod around the city in the oppressive heat without much complaining. Especially Finn, who actually seems to enjoy shopping (must be Anna’s genes!) and constantly wants to “look around” … while I’m just looking for a place to sit down and rest.

Obviously there is no shortage of great food in Bangkok and we alternate between street food, restaurants, food-courts, or just getting some take-away and enjoying it on our balcony … with a great view of the sunset.

Anna and I even left the kids with a sitter and went out for an evening by ourselves. The first time in four months that we spent more than a few minutes away from the kids … pure bliss!

The last week has been a good one and a real luxury for us. I’m sure we’ll be missing the apartment in the weeks to come.

A few more pictures from our week in Bangkok here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwefassnacht/sets/72157634429337284

Tonight we’ll take the overnight train down to the gulf islands.