We arrived in Bangkok on Monday morning and took the airport train to the Skytrain ($5) to Marilyn’s (Remember? We met her in Laos) apartment in a high rise building around the corner from the huge shopping mall district. It was nice to feel like there was continuity to a friendship made along the way, and we enjoyed relaxing in her comfortable home. Marilyn treated us to a nice lunch at the trendy Coffee Beans by Dao (where she is a regular) and we were on our way to to the train station ($2.66 by taxi). While the visit was too short, we had a great time hanging out with Marilyn (shout out: come visit us in Israel!).
After stocking up on water and ice cream bars at the Hualamphong station supermarket ($2), we boarded the train and found our first class private compartment. It was actually quite comfortable, and we were glad to have a door that locks. Still, the experience doesn’t quite compare to Austrian Airlines. What do you expect for $55 each (including train, bus and ferry from Bangkok all the way to Koh Samui)? We settled in, worked on our blog, ate some leftover airplane sandwiches from that morning’s flight, watched Breaking Bad (end of Season 2 – no spoilers please!) and then the attendant came in to make our beds for the night. Already feeling the a/c blasting cold, we changed into warmer clothes and tucked in for the night.
Just as we went to sleep at about 11pm, the train stopped. For 6 hours! We sat on the tracks somewhere in the middle of nowhere while the a/c continued to blast and freeze us. It felt like we were trying to sleep in a meat locker. This was Jordan’s hell. Finally, around 5am (an hour after we were supposed to have arrived), the train began to move. We pulled into Surat Thani station at around 10am where the local bus rep told us that although we had missed the bus, he had arranged for a songthaw to take us to the main station. A bumpy half hour ride brought us to the Songserm office where we got into a minivan that dropped us off at the SeaTran office (turns out they switched us over to another operator). We waited for an hour, but luckily, the air conditioned waiting room served a decent coffee ($4 for two coffees and an almond croissant).
At 1pm, we boarded the bus which took us to the ferry pier at Donsack for the one hour crossing. We finally arrived in Koh Samui and got a songthaw to take us to Chaweng on the other side of the island ($5). We arrived at Chaweng around 3:30pm and went to the guesthouse which we had reserved in advance. One quick look at the room and we knew we did not want to stay there, so we put our packs back on our backs and walked down the street in search of a more suitable guesthouse. Lucky for us, Martin from Akwa guesthouse flagged us down and offered us a room. One quick look and we knew this place was great – decorated in comics style and with a lot of personality ($20.50 / night). By now, it was practically candle lighting time so we showered, changed, and ran over to Chabad about ten minutes down the street just as Shavuot dinner was beginning.
The Chabad house itself is brand new and quite comfortable. We stayed until about midnight reading excerpts from the Torah as the men drank Red Label and the ladies chatted. The next day, we were definitely missing the traditional Shavuot dairy meal, but we appreciated the cheesecake kiddush. It was nice to see some familiar faces of some fellow Israeli travelers whom we had met two weeks earlier at Chabad in Chiang Mai. After lunch, we took a stroll along the beach and while the beach itself was beautiful, the area of Chaweng was a little too noisy and touristy for our taste. Craving the dairy that we miss that morning, we treated ourselves to a delicious pizza and Greek salad dinner ($13) followed by a Thai ice cream creation we had been eyeing at Swensen’s (mango and macadamia nut ice creams with pandan sticky rice and whipped cream – $4.66).
We had made plans to hang out with Miriam and Anshel on Thursday afternoon at the Conrad, their $1000/night resort (they used points – something for us to aspire to) on the other side of the island. We rented a motorbike from Martin at Akwa ($6.66 for the day plus $3.33 in gas). Happy to be mobile, we drove out on the main street where we found a cute French patisserie for breakfast (two coffees, eggs, baguette and a chocolate croissant for $ 6). From there, we drove around the island a bit in search of our next hotel and found Buddy Oriental Resort in Lamai Beach just south of Chaweng. We booked a room for two nights and arranged for a free pickup from Chaweng on Friday morning. After a quick stop to get snack at Tesco Lotus supermarket, we drove the half hour to the southwest tip of the island. Having passed the unmarked turn twice, we finally found the road block with white gloved guards leading up to the Conrad. Here we were, two backpackers on a dinky scooter carrying a supermarket bag with snacks and winding up the steep mountain road to a world class resort. About halfway up, the motorbike decided that this was too much for it and as though even it was laughing at us, it slowed to a stop on the steep incline. We both hopped off as Felix pushed the bike to the top of the hill. It’s not easy pushing a motorbike up the hill.
Finally, at the top, we were met with gorgeous sweeping views of deep blue ocean and islands in the distance. We convinced the staff to bring us down to the room although our friends would not answer the phone as they were observing the second day of Shavuot. The golf cart / roller-coaster ride down to the room was one-of-a-kind, but the room itself really knocked our socks off. Each room is a small villa perched on the mountainside, and each has its own heated saltwater infinity pool. Wow! We had a great time hanging out, snacking, drinking beer and swimming on the edge of a cliff with the Five Islands seemingly a coconut’s throw away out in the water. Getting back to Chawang in the dark through a drizzle was surprisingly natural as Felix was a pretty confident biker at this point, and we stopped off at Chabad for a dinner of hummus im basar (with meat) and schnitzel ($14.30) to finish off the night.
Since the motorbike rental was for a full 24 hours, we woke up on Friday morning and made use of our wheels. We went back to the French patisserie for breakfast (coffee and croissant + 2 baguettes for Shabbat for $5). Next, we went to Tesco Lotus for more Shabbat supplies and picked up the new Lonely Planet China (a pricey $45) at the bookstore. We went back to Akwa to get our stuff, but since our ride to Buddy was picking us up from the McDonalds a 15 minute walk away, we made further use of our wheels. Round 1 – Felix dropped off Jordan and her bag. Round 2 – Felix dropped off his bag and some small bags. Round 3 – Martin, on his own bike (what a nice guy), dropped off Felix, just as the last bag was loaded into the Buddy van. Happy it all worked out so well, we sat back for the 15 minute drive to our resort.
Spending Shabbat at Buddy was one of the best decisions we made. We were greeted by the friendly staff with a cool refreshing towel and a welcome drink, while the bellboys took our bags to our room for us. When we arrived in our room, we were met with a kissing swan towel arrangement in a heart of flower petals. We spent some time preparing for Shabbat, including making hard boiled eggs with our butane stove on the floor. Hilarious that at the nicest place we stayed so far we went into camping mode. The pool below our balcony looked so inviting, we decided to go for a dip… in the other pool. The seaside pool, across the street but still part of the resort, was warm and quiet, and only a few meters from the beach. We swam, relaxed, had a snack, and eased into resort life. After checking out the courtyard pool and jacuzzi for a while as well, we dried off, showered and went out for an early dinner at one of the resort restaurants. Pazzo had a fine choice of Italian cuisine, and we shared a pesto linguini and a particularly good veggie pizza ($15). Once the sun had set, we sat out on the balcony in our hotel robes and slippers (although we escaped back to the a/c pretty quickly) and had a nice kiddush, complete with Israeli white wine (purchased from Chabad for $9), baguette, Brie, and assorted cookies (thanks Miriam & Anshel!) before retiring for the night and climbing into the super comfy four post bed.
Shabbat day consisted of lots of lounging by the pool and relaxing. We had yogurt and musli for a late breakfast on the balcony, and killer sandwiches for lunch on the patio. We combined rolls and hummus (purchased from Chabad for $4) with egg salad (using the hard boiled eggs we made), Israeli salad we chopped in our room, and well-travelled cabanos we brought from Israel. Lychee season had just begun, and Jordan, who had been waiting for this, went to town on those sweet fruits which we had for dessert. We went for a long walk on the beach, swam in the sea a little, and took a nap on the sand. We finally got out of the pool as the stars appeared in the sky and back in our room, we whipped up a tomato-Brie omelet with baguette for dinner. We finished off the wine and beer and relaxed. What a great Shabbat!
Felix woke us up on Sunday morning and dragged us down to the gym (what a role reversal) for a 20 minute workout and a quick dip in the pool – a great start to our week! We showered and packed up just in time for our 11:30am pickup for the transfer to the SeaTran Ferry to Koh Tao ($23 each). One Thai island down and two to go!