Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wed 18th Jan, Ao Leuk

I enjoyed the boat ride yesterday from Koh Tao to Surath Thani on the mainland. I wrote my diary and postcards, but every time I touched the paper with my sweaty, sun-cream-covered fingers my pen stopped working. I chatted to two nice Americans - one is a manager type in TV in Hollywood, the other works in a camera shop in Vegas and recommended me a good camera to buy in Tokyo (a Pentax Optio WPI).

I cycled the 4km from the pier past the sunken ferry to the town of Surath Thani. I'd been dreading it thanks to a negative report from the Norwegians I met a week or so ago, but actually I liked it. It's a nice untouristy town. Stayed in a rather grim concrete hotel, but had a big room. I eat at teh night market, but felt really out of it and tired, so went back to the hotel and realised that I was really sunburned after a day topless on the boat (idiot). So I drank lots and went to sleep at 8.

I got up at 6 today and had a crappy breakfast from the 24 hour shop, and set off at 6.45 through the cool morning mist. The mist only lasted until 8, when I stopped for a proper breakfast of rice and fried veg. And after that it turned into the hottest, hilliest and longest day yet. I'm heading to a beach near Krabi for some rock climbing, which is on the west coast and I needed to cross Thailand in one day as I wasn't sure of any accommodation half way. Some bits were very hard work, it was so hot and hilly. I mostly survived on bananas - some I bought, others were given to me for free at a lovely friendly roadside market.

It was a relatively quiet road through beautiful limestone hills, and at one point the road turned into gravel for a couple of miles, where they were resurfacing. That was horrible - really dusty. But generally the road was good - so many people waving and smiling and saying hello.

I stopped at one small slightly hidden market. I think I was probably the only farang ever to go there. Everyone smiled curiously. I had fried bananas. Just as I was leaving a girl on a moped invited me to come to her house to rest, so I did, and it was great. Her mother was sitting there on the porch at her sewing machine, and a crowd of neighbours and family arrived, then slowly disperesed as teh usual questions were asked and answered - age, family, travelling alone, where from/to, how long for, did I think the girl was beautiful (her older sister asked that), how much my bike cost (I always get a bit awkward with that as I'm aware that it is the equivalent of about 6 months wages for a typical Thai).

It was really pleasant to sit and chat and drink a coke among such friendly, happy, generous people. The only wierd thing was that they offered me something that looked like a lolly, and turned out to be a frankfurter on a stick. I made a quick decision to eat it and not be rude, and I still consider myself veggie!

I finally made the 90 mile journey and arrived at the town of Ao Leuk, a rather non-descript town nestled amongst beautiful jungle-clad limestone spikes. I checked into a rather swanky resort at the base of a limestone lump with a hole through the centre. Most expensive yet - 600 baht - aircon, pool, ensuite, comfy bed, breakfast.

I dumped my stuff and cycled to the nearby national park and walked about 1km around a beautiful series of gentle waterfalls emerging from teh limestone gorge, among beautiful soaring trees with stunning buttress roots. I'd read in teh Lonely Planet that it was possible to swim there, but in the shade of the trees and cliffs at 5.30pm I'd cooled off and didn't fancy it, but then I saw a father and his two boys in one pool and it looked so much fun that I put on my swimming trunks and swam in another beautiful pool. It was wonderful to clean off the day's grime and sweat in such a magical setting. I was worried about leeches, but didn't see any. Saw two big spiders though. Saw lots of dead snakes on the road today, two about 3 feet long!

After some food I went back to the hotel where I chatted to a rather confused Canadian who's the only other farang here - he was hoping to do a wildlife tour, but no one here speaks English.

Then I went for a swim in the dark in the pool, watching the stars come out with the bats skimming the water around me, then had my first hot shower in Thailand - two weeks! I almost don't smell! I got pretty sunburned again today, despite the factor 30.

Later on in the evening I heard some singing coming from the hotel restaurant, so decided to take a look. In the restaurant I got a rather large beer and sat watching girl after girl take to teh stage in various combinations of stripper shoes, fmb's and miniskirkts. But they weren't strippers or anything, they just stood there looking miserable singing melancholy cheesy Thai pop songs, tugging at their ill-fitting clothes and running off as soon as the last chorus finished.

The place was filled with Thai men, each one accompanied by one of the girls as soon as he'd sat down and ordered a drink. For some reason they didn't even try to sit with me. Maybe my shower hadn't been as effective as I thought...

It was a very bizarre event in this slightly seedy 80s resort.

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