Rudd On The Road
By Steve Rudd
Part Thirty One: Chipper Chaweng
So, it was 'goodbye Koh Tao', and 'hello Koh Samui'. I was getting used to the island life a little more than I ever thought I would. As a rule, I much prefer to be active and courting culture. However, since my friends were making the most of the sun, sand and sea, I caved in. If you can't beat them, I surmised, it really is essential that you join them.
The boat ride from Koh Tao to Koh Samui went without a hitch. Vampire flick 'Twilight' was just about to reach its climax before the pirated copy of the movie playing on the on-board DVD player threw a fit and froze. It was a good thing I had two new friends to distract me: Yarden Mamou and her boyfriend, Michal Kosorin.
Sharing a songthaew to the Chaweng area of the Thai island, we reflected on the madness of 'Songkran'. Only the day before I'd been innocently caught in the crossfire of one of their water-fights as I attempted to cross the balcony Yarden and Michal were sharing with a friend of mine.
Michal, soaked to the bones, had forced a retreat into their apartment, refusing to re-emerge unless Yarden promised to lay down her super-soaker. She'd won the fight fair and square, and Michal was man enough to admit defeat.
They had both spent a few days on Koh Tao but, unlike me, they had been woefully unimpressed by the island. Their expectations had been too high.
On vacation from their home in London where they both worked in a 'Pizza Express' restaurant (Michal was a chef, Yarden a waitress), they much preferred the tropical paradise of Koh Samui in every respect.
'The night-life's better here, too,' Michal grinned as the songthaew driver eased up on the accelerator to allow more passengers to board.
Having spent time on Koh Samui before their trip north to Koh Tao, Yarden and Michal knew of somewhere nice to stay, instantly recommending that I join them in booking into the 'Tong Tip Mansion.' I thanked them for their advice, sheepishly following in their footsteps to reception once we'd been dropped off outside the front door of the imposing hotel.
Surveying the building's exterior, I realised that by staying there I would destroy my daily budget.
However, hanging back there would at least save me the hassle of searching for somewhere else.
In exchange for seven crisp one-hundred baht notes I was proffered what amounted to five-star accommodation in my eyes: a huge room with a double-bed, a spotless en-suite bathroom, a channel-laden TV, air conditioning, a heavyweight wardrobe fit for a family of supermodels, and a balcony with a view... even if the view was of nothing more than the main road cutting a course past the establishment, with a smattering of roadside food stalls just beyond for good measure.
Yarden and Michal were booked into the room next door. They were clearly used to living it up in such plush surroundings. I couldn't blame them though. After all, I was backpacking, and they were on vacation. Never before had the difference between such styles of travelling been more glaring.
Yarden and Michal were eager to give me a guided tour of the main drag of shops and bars streaming parallel to the beach. They said they'd rap on my door as soon as they'd settled into their room. I nodded acknowledgement and entered mine. Flinging my satchel on the bed, I was settled already.
Michal had rented a motorbike. I wasn't aware of such a fact, however, until we'd walked out of the hotel and he instructed me to hop on it behind him and Yarden.
'Are you sure there is room for three of us on there?' I gulped, glancing across at the busy road to our right which we were evidently doomed to join sooner than I would have liked.
'Sure,' Michal suavely reassured. I got the impression that he was a big fan of 'Bond' movies; the otherwise shy and retiring facets of his personality instantly shrunk back. In the driving seat, he was all confidence.
'C'mon... hop on, Steve. Let's go check out the beach!'
In truth, I couldn't have appreciated the offer more since I was barely able to walk. Extreme sunburn on my right ankle had practically crippled me. I'd been taking anti-malarial tablets in the form of 'Doxycycline' for the past few weeks, and I now understood why so many people swear off using such tablets in light of the staggering quantity of nasty side-effects they can give rise to.
The nausea was one thing; the photosensitivity was something else. No amount of high-factor suncream was prepared to come to my rescue. The only obvious solution to prevent me from getting burnt worse than I already was involved me sacrificing my T-shirt and shorts for a long-sleeved top and trousers. My forehead, meanwhile, cried out for a wide-brimmed hat; failing to score one of those, it craved a simple bandanna.
'Steve... what are you waiting for?'
Yarden smoothly slid into position behind Michal as he ignited the engine.
'For the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,' I joked, stumbling in the bike's direction.
I got on behind Yarden, and in a second we were off, making for the main drag with conspicuous haste. It's not as though we were in a hurry. Michal simply adored travelling under his own steam at high speed.
Five minutes later we swung into the car park of a boutique resort fronting Chaweng Beach. We were surrounded by eye-catching hoardings advertising an all-night beach party scheduled to begin at six. Judge Jules was due to headline the event, aspiring to whip the huddled masses into a frenzy with his deck-exploiting talents.
As Yarden and Michal surveyed a mobile jewellery seller's wares on the beach, I took a step back to better admire the scene. Chaweng Beach is one of the most photographed beaches in the world, its palm tree-fringed crescent also constituting Koh Samui's longest stretch of sand. Still, for all its inherent beauty, I much preferred the infinitely more charming beach at Sairee on Koh Tao.
Michal seemed obsessed by the idea of hiring a jet-ski, so Michal and Yarden wasted no time in returning to their motorbike in order to back-track up the main drag in a rough northerly direction. According to Michal, jet-skis could be hired on the cheap up there.
Abandoned to my own devices, I decided to trudge up the beach. As I made tracks, the sun taunted me, provoking me to surrender to the spiel of the first Thai guy I encountered who was selling fresh fruit from a couple of baskets connected by a piece of bamboo he had balanced over his shoulders.
After I'd trekked as far north as I could before the crescent of sand petered out, I sneakily cut through the lavishly landscaped grounds of one of the many five-star boutique resorts fronting Chaweng Beach. Indeed, near-bankrupt backpackers and the filthy rich regularly rub shoulders in this area of the island, especially if the former are forced to give the latter a massage or two in order to earn themselves a bit of cash-in-hand.
I had neither the money nor the inclination to see or hear Judge Jules and pals further down the beach. Instead, I spent a lazy night in with 'House.'
I checked out of 'Tong Tip' bright and early the next morning. I knocked on the door of the room where Michal and Yarden were staying. My reward? No response. I asked at reception if they had prematurely checked out.
'No. They move rooms instead,' confided the pretty receptionist.
'OK,' I nodded. 'Could you please pass this message on to them?'
Walking out of the hotel, I felt a pang of guilt. I'd pretended that the message I'd left for them was of vital importance and that it had to be instantaneously relayed. In reality, the piece of paper I'd left divulged nothing more than my contact details for 'Facebook'.
Having promptly pocketed the three-hundred baht I'd laid down as a key deposit, I didn't have to walk far before clocking some cheap accommodation which at first sight appeared to be right up my street. I had no intention of leaving Chaweng yet; I'd fled 'Tong Tip' simply because it was too expensive.
Approximately four hundred yards from 'Tong Tip', 'Cozy Guesthouse' advertised rooms for the princely sum of just three hundred baht.
As I displayed a passing interest in such a too-good-to-be-true offer, a Thai man silently slipped out of the tiny clothes shop annexed to the guesthouse rooms. Thirty seconds later he was proudly giving me a guided tour of the facilities before warning me that all of the rooms for three hundred baht were full.
'But you can stay in a room with air con for three hundred and fifty, Sir.'
I liked his style, his business acumen. He went on to award me a crooked smile without any provocation whatsoever. Indecisively deliberating, I realised that I really couldn't be bothered to argue, to haggle.
'It's a done deal,' I announced.
To be honest, I genuinely liked the place, even if the name of the establishment had initially made me suspicious. I'd almost stayed at a guesthouse of the same name in Pattaya a few years beforehand, not realising that it wasn't a 'guesthouse' for long-term stays; to the contrary, it had been a shady massage parlour deceptively parading as a respectable-looking guesthouse.
Once I'd been assured that it cost three hundred and fifty baht for the night and not just for an hour, I checked in and made myself comfortable. The room was a loud wonderland of kitsch, the sofa and curtains snagging my attention with their matching leopard-print designs. A gigantic vase of flowers brightened up the top of the wardrobe. Gold-framed photographs of royalty dotted the walls.
Dazzled by such decadent surroundings, I hit the beach a short while later with a stupid grin plastering my face. In terms of scoring cheap yet cheerful accommodation, I'd evidently hit the pay dirt. Now it was time to find some food.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 30: The Greatest Water Fight in the World By Steve Rudd
After the madness of April's Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, I needed a spot of down-time. In typical fashion, a mass exodus from Koh Phangan occurred the morning after the night before, so I wasn't the only person who was making a beeline for Koh Tao, the much smaller yet arguably far more beautiful island located north of Koh Phangan.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 29: Raindance By Steve Rudd
In spite of the showers sweeping across the Thai island of Koh Phangan, I'd arranged to meet up with a couple of guys I'd initially met on a bus between Bangkok and Surat Thani.
Having bumped into each other again whilst frantically searching for budget accommodation on the island earlier in the day, I was due to catch up with British
backpacker Christopher Jackson
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 28: Full Moon Fever By Steve Rudd
'Four thousand baht! You must be joking!'
I'd just been told how much it was set to cost me to rent a beachfront bungalow for the night on Had Rin Nok, the home of Thailand's infamous Full Moon Parties on the tropical island of Koh Phangan. I was frankly astonished. Four thousand baht roughly equated to eighty pounds: a blatant rip-off by anyone's standards, however desperate they might have been
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 27: A Wasted Day at the Embassy By Steve Rudd
Having reported the theft of my backpack to the police, I thought it might be beneficial to report the incident at The British Embassy, too.
Before making tracks across Bangkok to the embassy, I sat outside the police station near the end of Khao San Road for a few minutes to collect my thoughts and get organised. As I rifled through my documents,
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 26: Signing My Life Away By Steve Rudd
I could just about deal with the fallout of the theft. The thing I struggled with most was the betrayal of trust. I have always trusted everybody, regardless of whether they are a close friend or a complete stranger. I don't judge. To do so is unnatural.
Even though I'd had my backpack stolen, I doggedly refused to let such a fact affect the way I acted
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 25: A Temporary Loss of Faith By Steve Rudd
In my absence, somebody had broken into my room and stolen my backpack from where I'd rested it against the wall beside my bed. I hadn't unpacked anything since checking back into the guesthouse. I'd had neither the need nor the motivation to do so.
Fortunately, I still had my passport, my bankcard and my camera; they went everywhere with me
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 24: Spontaneous Combustion By Steve Rudd
I'd returned to Bangkok in anticipation of heading south to Ko Samui, one of Thailand's most-visited islands, on which two friends were due to be married. However, they weren't going to tie the proverbial knot for another two weeks, a fact which awarded me plenty of spare time to gad about at my leisure.
It was a scorching hot Friday morning, and I'd just met an English girl called Abi on Soi Rambuttri in Bangkok. We both had something in common: money - or rather 'lack of.'
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 23: A Cashflow Crisis By Steve Rudd
Twelve ATMs down, and not all that many to go. It was fair to say that I was in a quandary, with no cash to my name other than a few dollar notes I had left over from my recent trip to the US.
It wouldn't have been so bad if I'd had a clutch of British pounds, or a sizeable wad of notes in any currency for that matter; a staggering number of currency exchange offices line both sides of Khao San Road in Bangkok,
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 22: Trios Amigos! By Steve Rudd
OK. So what do you get if you cross a well-to-do Frenchman, a freethinking Englishman, and a mad-as-hell Spaniard? Adventure by default.
I was in Sukhothai, Thailand, all psyched up to savour the unassailable beauty of one of the most dazzling jewels in the country's crown. Long before Ayuttaya and Bangkok succeeded the city as Thailand's capital, Sukhothai flourished as the naval of the nation.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 21: The One Hundred Baht Experience By Steve Rudd
I was searching for 'The London Hotel', having had the place recommended to me by a friend. Paying close attention to the road signs, I was definitely heading in the right direction as I made tracks away from Phitsanulok's train station.
Confusingly though, the hotel that I presumed to be 'The London' had no exterior hoarding in English proclaiming it to be the place I desired. Its sign was in Thai script, and thus beyond my comprehension.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Twenty: Stray Dogs and Cheeky Monkeys By Steve Rudd
I'd barely made myself at home in Lopburi, and I was already on the verge of being chased out of town. From the off, as I ambled out of the train station after catching an early morning train north from Bangkok, the town's myriad stray dogs were on my tail, as though they genuinely resented backpackers snooping around their patch.
Making more haste than usual to find
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Nineteen: Going West for Eastern Inspiration By Steve Rudd
'Tuk-Tuk!' came the shout across the concourse. In the same beat I was offered a taxi, before a middle-aged lady rushed up offering me a cut-price massage. And this was all out front of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, into which I'd just flown from LA.
My writing work in the US finished, I had decided to head over to Southeast Asia in order to attend the wedding of a couple of friends who I'd first met on my first visit to
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Eighteen: A Mile Of Miracles, And Then Some By Steve Rudd
Taking the bus was too easy, despite the fact that my film making pal Dave Kebo had dropped me off at the Shell gas station at the Wilshire and Vermont intersection in Koreatown which was conveniently situated right beside a bus-stop.
Looking due west along Wilshire Boulevard, my feet felt the twitch before my heart. A bus bound for Santa Monica had just pulled up, and for the meagre fee of a buck and a quarter ($1.25)
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Seventeen: On Foot Across LA By Steve Rudd
I don't like not knowing what's out there. I prefer to be informed rather than ignorant. I hate living in the knowledge that there are sections of certain towns and cities in the world that I know next-to-nothing about.
That's why, given the chance, I always walk whenever and wherever I can. I walk and I walk and I walk until my feet begin to announce their grievances.