Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 271 (81)

Surin Islands

Saturday 4th December

Yesterday evening, Sandy had a friendly chat with the rather camp but extremely jolly hotel manager and had arranged for us to be able to stay in our room past the checkout time. With that one pressure lifted from us, we were able to spend much of the morning lying in without too much enthusiasm for the drudgery of packing our backpacks for the umpteenth time. The day was starting to slip away, however, and by mid-afternoon we slowly started to assemble our things and place them piece by piece into their respective slots in the backpacks.

Whilst I was happily snapping away beneath the waves yesterday afternoon, Sandy went off to explore some more of the local area a bit and finally managed it all the way to the beach. Neither of us had so much as even seen the beach here in Khao Lak as yet, even though it’s less than a hundred yards from our hotel. We can see the sea from our first floor hotel room window and have often sat on our balcony watching the waves crash gently against the sandy shore but we’ve never bothered to actually go strolling along the beach itself. Perhaps it’s because we’ve already seen so many beaches since we’ve been here in Thailand. There are also so many more destinations on our trip where beaches will feature quite heavily so it’s not as if we are going to somehow miss out on the opportunity to get in some quality beach time. We may very well be sick and tired of beaches by the time we’re through. But that day is not today, however, and Sandy was eager to show me all the wonderful things she saw when she was exploring yesterday. I made it half way from the hotel to the beach when Sandy pointed out an Internet café where she had previously confirmed that we could hook up the laptop for just 1B (€0,02) per minute. Well, what’s a chap to do? An cheap Internet café just a stone’s throw from our hotel room is just too much of an opportunity to pass up so I went back to collect my little aluminium baby and spent the next hour or so sending more travel updates and synchronising my website.

Now that I had satisfied my technology fix for the next few days, we carried on where we had left off and this time made it all the way to the beach. And what a lovely and tranquil place it is too. The soft, sandy beach is quite nice as beaches go and just as was the case in Koh Lanta, there were a dozen or more restaurants, massage parlours, bars and what have you for several hundred meters in both directions. A small scattering of people were either walking down the shore line or sitting in the water up to their chest, no doubt trying to cool off from the heat of the day. We chose one of the closer restaurants, found a nice table on the sand and ordered some lunch – life is good.

One of the dive gear shops here in town is owned and run by a very nice Dutchman. With the loss of my mask and snorkel during the wreck dive the other day, I wanted to go in to his shop and see about getting a replacement from him. Sandy decided to stay behind so I set off into town on my own. I had earlier tried to buy a new mask from another dive shop in town but the French owner there insisted that all his marked prices were fixed and non-negotiable. Yeah, that’ll bring all the customers flooding in won’t it?! For the past couple of days, however, the Dutchman was out of town on a visa run. The mostly foreign national workforce here in Thailand each has to exit and re-enter the country again every three months to renew their visa. They pop across the border into the next country and return again in order to get that needed stamp in their passport to ensure that they are here legally. Our dive gear shop owner had visited Burma for just this purpose and for this reason he was not there each time I tried earlier in the week. The Thai staff that were running the shop in his absence never seemed too eager to sell anything and I thought I might have much better luck with getting a discount from our Dutch friend. He was back in the shop this afternoon and, sure enough, took 10% off the price of the marked price of the mask I wanted right there and then with no questions asked. The fact that the marked price for the mask was a little less than Mr. Frenchman was asking was a sweet bonus to boot. Not content to let me walk away with a discount on just a mask, Mr. Dutchman also gave me 20% off a new snorkel for me too. Now there’s a man who knows how to keep his customers happy and I left the shop with a new mask and snorkel under my arm and a very contented grin wiped across my face.

It’s not a terribly long walk into town from our hotel, but walking the mostly uphill trail in the heat of the day with all our bags to the dive centre was not something we were looking forward to so I found a taxi driver and arranged for him to come to collect us at four o’clock. My next chore for the day was to collect our laundry from the supermarket but I got distracted along the way by a shop with a huge DVD sign standing out front. Perhaps this was my chance to expand on my library of cheap DVD titles I’ve been slowly assembling. Sure enough, once we agreed on a 100B (€1,92) price tag for each title, I was led around back and into a padlocked tin shed. The little Thai entrepreneur explained to me that the array of titles he had plastered around the walls were all shipped in from Burma on the cheap. I thought that this was more information than I needed to know and quietly sifted through his extensive collection. Before I had left, I had sorted out another dozen or so titles to add to my collection. If I can make it into Australia without them being confiscated from me at customs, I’ll be a happy man – otherwise I’ll be a jailed man.

So, with mask, snorkel, laundry and now a handful of DVDs under my arms, I finally made it back to the hotel and we completed the necessary evil of packing everything away before waiting outside for the taxi I had ordered. We ended up waiting in vain, however, as our very unreliable taxi driver simply didn’t bother to show up at all. My eyes were watering from the sweat dripping from my forehead as we slogged up the hill with our full backpacks. Sandy’s dagger eyes were piercing through my head all the way. I can’t blame her really. The only thing that kept me going until we reached the dive centre was the thought of the pleasure I was going to derive from garrotting the taxi driver if I could find the poor bastard. Fortunately for him, he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I’ll be on the lookout for the next couple of days!

With dive boat food to look forward to for the next few days, I saw a huge steak dinner in our very near future. We found it at the same Viking restaurant we ate at the other day and it was once again delicious, just as was the banana split dessert.

After our ritual dinner, we hung out at the dive centre for a while, waiting for our taxi to the dock. When a couple of air-conditioned minivans showed up, however, I was curious and so I asked what the need was for such a relatively luxurious form of transport to take us all the short distance to the dock. Apparently, the Koragot (the name of our Surin Islands boat) is docked at another dock a little farther up the coast – a two-hour drive up the coast, no less! Still, perhaps it was a good idea that we weren’t informed about this little detail before. It would only have meant that we would have been dreading the journey. This way, we only had a few minutes to worry about it.

When we were getting ready to depart for our Similan Islands live-aboard on the Mariner-1 a couple of weeks ago, one of the guests that had just returned from a trip on the Koragot had mentioned something about the boat listing to one side. I didn’t pay this much further attention since someone had said that the problem had been corrected. Apparently, the Koragot was previously a much smaller vessel but was practically rebuilt to make it wider, longer and taller. Where it previously had just four cabins, it now has ten and can now accommodate many more paying guests. When our minivan finally arrived at the dock, we all got out and I scanned the area to see if I could see our boat. There must have been a dozen live-aboard boats there at the dock but one in particular that caught my eye looked like a stricken vessel as it was listing quite severely to one side. I remember quietly chuckling to myself and thinking ‘I’m glad that’s not our boat.’ Ahem! Yep! It’s ours! I spoke to the dive coordinator and asked him why the boat was still listing when it was supposed to have been fixed. He was suddenly very elusive and sort of shrugged off the question. All of a sudden things were starting to click. Little things I heard people saying and the odd whisper here and there back at the dive centre. I suddenly got the distinct impression that the problem with the Koragot was deliberately kept something of a secret from us paying guests so as not to scare us off from buying onto the trip. For the first time since I started dealing with Sea Dragon, I felt let down – lied to even. Was this half falling over vessel even seaworthy? Every fibre of my being was telling me that I should voice this feeling of discontent. Indeed I really felt like I needed an outlet for this pent up frustration all of a sudden Doing so would only have created a scene, however, so I decided to bottle up my anger and frustration in favour of choosing a quiet moment to broach the subject with the dive coordinator at some later point. I made sure that we were quickly on the boat so as to get the best pick of the cabins. I wanted specifically to get a cabin on the listing side of the boat. If we were going to be rolling to one side of the bed, I wanted to make sure that we would be rolling onto the window and not out of bed and onto the floor.

The procedure was much as it was on the Mariner-1 with the dive and boat crew loading all the equipment first, followed by everybody exploring all the nooks and crannies of the boat. A boat briefing followed this and I remained quiet and solemn throughout. I sensed that the dive coordinator was reading my thoughts but the opportunity to speak to him strangely never materialised. Servicing the underwater camera was about all that I could really do before fatigue sent us to bed in anticipation of an early start to the diving tomorrow morning.

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