Back to Travel Tales Page or Thailand: Islands and Highlands.

Fri 25rd Nov, Surat Thani, Thailand.

A wheezy coach meets backpackers off the train, through - yup - more heavy rain, and heads off to the ferry jetty. The roof leaks - it is raining almost as much in the coach as outside. Not far south in Hat Yai, people are drowning.

The road vanishes under sheets of moving grey water, our old bus pushing forward on a bow wave in a procession of pick-ups and waterlogged motorbikes. A couple of men casually row a boat down the other side of the road.

After half an hour of this, the bus does a 3 point turn - in a lake - and drives back to the depot, where the office staff waste no time trying to sell us tickets to other destinations. This causes some ugly scenes among frustrated travellers until it is finally explained that sea conditions mean no boats are running.

A few people do buy tickets to other destinations (refund? *refund*! Hahahahaaaaaaaa!) but I head back into Surat Thani (a town where the premier attraction is a school where wild monkeys are trained to fetch coconuts) with Jens from Sweden to sit out the night, and see if the ferry will sail in the morning.

Sat 26th Nov, Gulf of Thailand.

Squalls continuously blot out everything more than a few yards of the boat, and every inch of shelter is a huddle of glum travellers, but at least the ferry is running. And at Ko Pha Ngan, Kat isn't too put out that I'm two days late.

Sun 27th Nov, Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand.

In the afternoon, weather having cleared a little, I set off to follow a faint trail over the headland behind Hat Rin beach. Kat thinks I'm quite mad, but I'm happy enough, sodden jungle clinging and sucking at my clothes, teetering over slippery granite boulders. Half an hour of sliding and stumbling later, round a corner to see a perfect curve of untouched beach. And several dogs, who burst through the undergrowth and surround me in a snarling blur of teeth. Shortly followed by a wizened, ponytailed and grey bearded farang hippy, who assures me they won't bite and beckons me on.

After I've wandered along the beach, and made peace with the dogs, he invites me in to his open shack for a cup of tea, which I accept, and a puff on his enormous bong, which I decline, leaving him to create his own cloud of Ganja.

Despite appearances, he is only in his mid-forties, in Thailand since 1981, arriving as, of all things, an airline steward. He was one of the very first at Hat Rin's famous (and quickly notorious) full moon parties, and through the smoke tells the tale of how they grew out of 'control' (according to the authorities, as if there ever was any control) with 20,000 drugged out revellers frolicking under the moon, and ending with navy gunships moored in the bay and arrests at rifle point, before the party was reborn as the current sanitized moneyspinning shadow of it's former self.

Leave as it starts to become dusk, and stumble back through the darkening jungle, loosing the path a couple of times, coming over the ridge to a purple stain of sunset over the Gulf of Thailand behind Ko Samui.

End the evening sitting on the beach with a bottle of beer, Kat and some friends, as disco and neon fires up behind. Look up bathos in the dictionary if you need to.

Tues 28th Nov, Ko Pha Ngan to Krabi, Thailand.

Of course, the day we leave, the sky is pure blue. At least this time the boat to Surat Thani is a nice run, gliding past the low green shapes of the Marine Park islands in hot sun.

Wed 29th Nov, Krabi, Thailand.

With Kat, fight through a clamour of boat drivers to take a longtail fishing boat to Hat Rai Lei, a patch of flat, beach rimmed and palm tree covered land between three towering karst domes, like a soap bubble streched between prongs of a giant, crumbling 3-pin plug.

This amazing scenery is a national park, but that doesn't even seem to slow the scrabble to develop for the tourist dollar, a rash of beach huts, bars and restaurants spreading across every piece of plausibly buildable land.

Yet it is still possible to sit and look out to the horison, ignoring the people hawking boat rides, slices of pineapple and watermelon, frisbee throwers and topless sun worshippers (though perhaps not the last *completely*) and focus instead on the white sand beaches curving between streaked umber cliffs, longtail boats fluttering coloured ribbons, and mushroom James Bond islands springing from slender bases out at sea.

Thur 30 Nov. Krabi to Ko Phuket, Thailand.

Kat and I are a weary couple of travellers when we leave Krabi this morning. We get a ferry to Ko Phi Phi (or Pi Pi, or Pee Pee, or P. P.) but take one look at the blaring stalls and garish tourist restaurants, and decide to push on to Phuket to go diving.

On to Dive Report, Andaman Sea.

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