Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 267 (77)
Tuesday 30th November
It doesn’t matter how much I try, I simply cannot sleep whilst sitting I an upright position. Indeed I find it very hard to maintain a comfortable position for very long when sitting at all, let alone trying to sleep. Our overnight carriage did have reclining seats but they really don’t recline that much and when it came time to settle down and nod off, I found that I was continually shifting about from one position to another. At one point, I thought I’d take my chances on the floor in the middle of the isle but one of the train staff with a flashlight didn’t seem to think that was a good idea and kept nudging me to get up off the floor – despite my best efforts at pretending I was fast asleep. How I made it through the night I don’t know but we finally pulled in to Surat Thani train station shortly after eight o’clock in the morning.
We found our way across the street to one of the little cafés where they arrange transportation tickets but our travelling ordeal was apparently not over yet. Not only had we somehow managed to miss the only train out of Bangkok last night that had sleeper carriages but we had now arrived in Surat Thani just a few minutes after the very last air-conditioned minivan had departed for Khao Lak. Had we arrived at Bangkok train station just a few minutes earlier last night, not only would we have slept all the way here but we would have made the connection to Khao Lak without any problems too. Now, the only means of getting to Khao Lak was the public bus. Travelling by public bus is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, they are slow, bumpy, noisy and hot. On the other, they are cheap and a great way to meet other people. Even at the bus stop we met and instantly struck up interesting conversations with several other travellers. The trip did take us an extra hour or more compared to the minivan but we still pulled into Khao Lak early enough in the afternoon to give us time to make our travel arrangements as well as look for a place to stay.
The bus stop in Khao Lak is immediately across the road from the Sea Dragon dive office. All the other travellers that we met on the bus that were coming to Khao Lak were also intending on diving with Sea Dragon. All the stories we’ve heard from other travellers about the Sea Dragon dive outfit have mirrored our own positive experiences and we are happy to be back here and diving with them again. The couple of staff members that were there at the time we arrived were already busy with other customers so, with their permission, we left our bags in the back room and went off in search of a place to stay.
We just spent the past twenty-four hours getting from Phnom Penh in Cambodia to Khao Lak here in Thailand. The last time we were here, we decided we needed some pampering and treated ourselves to a really nice hotel and some decent meals. I’m sure I’ll be kicking myself in the shins for this several months down the road but we’re going to do exactly the same again for the few days that we are here now. Throwing caution to the wind, and our traveller’s budget instincts completely out of the window, we set off in search of a nice place to stay in the 1,500B – 2,000B (€30-€40) range. The Khao Lak Orchid Resortel that we stayed in last time was very nice but we thought we’d explore some more of Khao Lak to see what else was on offer too. The intense heat and humidity made it seem like hours but we probably only spent forty minutes or so hopping from one resort to the next, trying to find that one place that had everything we wanted. If it wasn’t the bad location or the high prices then it was usually the hard beds that put us off most of the places we saw. In the end, we decided to bite the bullet and go back to the Khao Lak Orchid Resortel after all. We already knew that we liked it there and it was within walking distance of the dive centre so we went in to see if they had a room. Fortunately, they still had rooms available but although we paid 1,800B (€34,61) per night the last time we were here, this time they quoted us a room rate of 4,500B (€86,54). Holiday from the holiday or not, this was a bit too much of a good thing. Neither of us was willing to take this lying down and this particular situation demanded our very best bargaining skills so the two of us tag-teamed the duty manager with all the charm and friendliness that we could muster. After several minutes of friendly banter and telling him just what a wonderful manager he was and that he was so lucky to be working in such a wonderful resort that we enjoyed so much the last time we were here and that we had liked it so much that we came back to stay here again, etc., etc., etc. He finally buckled under the weight of it all and agreed that he would extend that promotional rate that we received the last time to us once more for this visit. 1,800B (€34,61) per night for four nights – job done!
With just a hint of a satisfied grin on my face, we left our day-packs in our comfortable room and went back to the Sea Dragon offices to make the necessary arrangements for our diving. We had contemplated diving a couple of local wrecks the last time we were here but things just didn’t want to fall into place for us back then so I was eager to see about those dives again this time. We have four nights before our three-day live-aboard sails and a couple of days' worth of wreck diving would fill that gap just nicely.
The same guy that we dealt with the last time and that had confirmed by e-mail that we were booked onto the Saturday departure to the Surin Islands was back in the office when we returned and he very professionally took care of all the details surrounding our trip. I was practically already convinced that we were going to sign up for the wreck dives but his sales pitch and description of what to expect from those dive sights sealed the lid on that decision and we signed up for two days of wreck diving as well as the live-aboard. The last time we were here, the only fins that they had which fitted me were a pair of the open healed variety with the adjustable strap. In order for me to wear those comfortably, I bought a pair of diving boats. This time, however, that one and only pair of open healed fins that they have had already been reserved by another diver. This was quite worrying for a brief moment but the good guys at Sea Dragon arranged for a new pair of open healed fins to be ordered and delivered by Saturday. I really can’t fault these guys anywhere.
With all of our diving needs nicely sorted out, we were now free to relax after the very long journey here from Phnom Penh. The sun was by now starting to set and our tummies were telling us to fill them up - and quickly. Maintaining the spirit of ‘to hell with the budget’, we found a particularly nice restaurant that served particularly large steaks with all the trimmings. I spent more on mine alone than we would normally spend on a night’s accommodation, but since we have been averaging well under our daily budget for Thailand, a few days of excess will not dent this too much and we will still come in substantially under our total projected living allowance for this country by the time we leave. The diving budget for Thailand, on the other hand, is already twice as much as originally predicted and still rising. We really have pushed the boat out (no pun intended) as far as diving here in Thailand is concerned but oh how we’ve enjoyed it!
Even though it’s just a few hundred yards, we hailed one of those pick-up truck taxis to collect our main backpacks from the Sea Dragon office and to take us down to the beach road where our resort lies. The asking price was 50B (€0,96) but he accepted my offer of 40B (€0,77) without too much fuss. Back at the hotel, we had little energy left other than to shower, unpack a few things, prep the underwater camera for tomorrow morning’s wreck dive and, finally, to fall swiftly to sleep.