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NOVEMBER 6, 2005

We were on our own today.  From the hotel a taxi took us to the train station to pay for the tickets a day in advance of our leaving tomorrow.  Reservations were made from Bangkok to Hoi Hin and then the following day from Hoi Hin to Surat Thani.

Attached to the train station was a walkway to the subway system and we tried to explain (speaking Thai would have come in handy here) we wanted to take the subway to the first skytrain station and then by skytrain to Chatuchak Market.  We paid and received a small coin that looked like a black checker game piece.  At the first turnstile we placed the coin over a mark and the gate opened.


When we got off at the station where the maps indicated the skytrain, we had to pass through another turnstile.  This time there wasn’t any mark – only a slot in which to drop the coin.  We did and nothing came out to show we had paid for a trip all the way to the market.   We walked to the skytrain station along an elevated walkway and tried to explain we had paid for the trip.  Again lack of Thai left them in the dark as to what we were trying to say and left us paying again to get to the market. [In hindsight we should have paid the subway fare only to the skytrain station and then paid for the skytrain to the market.] On the skytrain we got talking to a fellow who explained to us that the subway and skytrain are operated by different government agencies.  One is run by the Bangkok government while the other is federal.  The two factions are currently arguing over revenues and there is no sharing taking place right now ... so .. tickets sold by one are not good on the other.  We paid in advance for the lesson.

The Chatuchak Weekend Market was established fifty-five years ago next to the Grand Palace.  It’s been in its current location since 1978.  The market has grown to be reputedly the biggest market of its kind in the world.  Because of its extensive space (around 28 acres), it appears in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest flea market in the world.  It is one of the most popular ways to spend a weekend in Bangkok.  Over 6,000 stalls selling from fish and puppies to clothing and decor items to antiques and paintings.  It is said, “If you cannot buy what you want from Chatuchak Market, chances are you will not find it elsewhere in Bangkok .”

Because lots of people get lost shopping here, we selected the clock tower near the centre to meet if we got separated.  For lunch we sought out an air-conditioned restaurant and waited for a table.  A rice dish served in a pineapple shell made for a tasty treat.  Prices in the market are negotiable and bartering is done in a cheerful and friendly way.  We were reminded that a seller will never lose money.  We found on our own that bartering doesn’t stop with an agreed price.  When paying the seller will try to round down the change to his/her benefit.  This is the time to count change and stand by the agreed to price. 
Over the years, the market has become more than just a place to buy things.  It has taken on a mystique of its own.  In spite of, or perhaps because of, its somewhat chaotic nature which resonates with life, it has become popular with both locals and visitors who are constantly reminded through signage and loud speaker announcements to safeguard against pick-pockets.  We didn’t have any problems ... only fun. 

We joined the masses on Skytrain back to Victory Square and walked back to the hotel – no rain this time.  We missed the rain by about 30 minutes when it came down so hard that nearby tall bold buildings disappeared from our hotel room view. 

We packed up our bags in preparation for an early morning departure.



Although we had some concerns about getting through the morning rush hour traffic, we did arrive at the train station in plenty of time.  The day before, Sherrie had seen a sleek looking train pull out from the station as people stood on the back platform of the observation car and waved goodbye to those left at the station.  She envisioned that being us today.  The track was empty and we waited for the sleek train to arrive.  On the next track was the local train.  The knocked out windows were a blessing since there was no air conditioning and by the looks of its condition and the state of the passengers the lack of glass probably served as needed air ventilation. 



Time was getting on when a yellow work-style train with two cars pulled onto the track where the pretty sleek train was expected.  Our train had arrived.  On the positive side – it did have windows.
We found our assigned seats as others got settled in, including three Aussies.  A few stops down the track there was discussion between the Aussies and other passengers as to seating.  When the tickets were compared the others explained to the Aussies that their tickets were for the second class car and this was first class.  They looked around and pleasantly grabbed their bags and headed to the next car.  We could understand their confusion.
The train arrived in Hoi Hin around noon. [Hoi Hin train station pictured right.]
Like everyone else, we negotiated a price for a ride to our hotel and climbed into the “taxi” – a pickup truck with narrow benches running down each side and a plastic tarp-like canopy over top.
The Casa del Mare was pleasant.  A little more rustic than we had expected but one we would have no problem in recommending.  The pool looked inviting but we only had one night here and we wanted to get a good look as to what Hoi Hin had to offer.

It didn’t take long to settle in and we were back in another “taxi” heading to the post office in town to buy stamps.  The post office was closed so we used it as our starting point for a walk around town.  There are a few streets dedicated to attracting tourist dollars.  These streets are lined with massage shops, tailors, art galleries, jewelry stores and restaurants.  Along the way to the beach, the roadway is lined with souvenir stalls selling all kinds of brick-a-brac and goo-gaws.
The beach is long and wide and lined with bending palms.  There are lounge chairs shaded by umbrellas that people can rent by the day.  You can also rent horses for a gallop in the surf. 

Before we got too hot and melted, we wanted to dip into the five star hotel Sofitel with rooms starting around $390 Canadian.

The guard at the gate questioned our entry.  “Are you guests here?” he asked.  “No,” we answered with Terry adding, “We are here to have a drink in the Elephant Bar.”  He looked us over and we guess concluded that we looked harmless enough to let in. 
The place was indeed beautiful.  Set within its French influenced architecture were antique cars and an antique tuk-tuk.  Soft Thai music floated throughout the open air lobby from a young man playing a classical xylophone-style instrument made of bamboo.  We peeked into the Elephant Bar – no one was there.  Perhaps it wasn’t open yet.  We strolled like guests through the grounds and down to the beach were wedding pictures were being taken.  The grounds were impeccable but there were other things to see in Hoi Hin.  As the sun set we left the Sofitel grounds under a very loud chorus of birds finding their evening perch.

We strolled along one of the tourist’s streets. 

Salespeople for tailors came out of their shop doors to solicit Terry.  Girls encouraged us to have massages while other’s praised the restaurants we passed and held up menus to view.   It was dark when we made our way to the docks.  Each evening the fish boats return with the day’s catch and it is unloaded and scurried off to the different restaurants, hotels and buyers for the retail market.  It was a hub of activity while other businesses were closing for the night.




Women crouched over big tubs of water and squid, cleaning them for the market place.  One boat was unloading a variety of fish, some was being loaded directly into a box truck while a lady stood by and ever so often would divert a box of her choice to the back of her pickup.  Another boat, finished with its unloading, kept the crew busy mending and storing the nets in readiness for another trip out into the Gulf of Thailand . 
For some the fishing was just beginning.  Shining over the edge of the pier and on some boats, were bright green lights to attract fish.  At just the right time, weighted nets were tossed into the lit water in hopes of a good catch. 

With all kinds of restaurants to choose from, we took a break from Asian cuisine and selected Italian.  Over dinner we made plans for tomorrow.




We took the opportunity to sleep in.  Our train wasn’t leaving Hoi Hin until 11:30pm so we had a long day ahead.  Checking out of our room at 11:00am, they allowed us to hang around and we used one of their breakfast tables to play Skip-Bo.

Leaving our bags at Casa del Mare, we took a “taxi” back into town and this time the post office was open.

  From there we weaved through the streets of town where the locals live, eat and do business, until we came out on a tourist street across from the Hilton. 

After listening to different sales approaches, we picked a massage shop and enjoyed a foot massage.  In fact, we enjoyed it so much we immediately booked in again for a neck and head massage  – very relaxing.
The Casa del Mare had been so kind to let us stay on and then keep our backpacks, we felt it was only right that we have dinner in their restaurant.  Afterwards, we took our bags and bid them goodbye and went back into town. 

A drink at a table overlooking tourist avenue allowed us to wile away some time people watching.  It is unnerving how many couples we see in Thailand that are made up of a way-over-the-hill-older-white-guy and a young attractive Thai woman.   We followed that pastime by going to an internet café and emailed some of our journal before taking another “taxi” to the train station. 
The train was running about a half hour late, we were told.  A bench provided a place to play Skip-Bo while Ted (the teddy bear we travel with) sat atop Sherrie’s backpack and got looks and giggles from locals.  A train pulled in – not ours – and some locals carrying trays on their shoulders loaded with food in styrofoam boxes and open bowls of stew, called out their wares to the open windows of the train.  People looked out.  Some pointed to a bowl, it was passed up and money came down into the vendor’s hand.  One young person went onboard.  He may have been selling drinks.  When the station master came out of his room and rang the big brass bell hanging from a post on the platform three times, the young fellow made his last transaction and then headed for the door before the train left the station. 
A lady stood near us and watched our game of Skip-Bo.  When Terry won, Sherrie looked at her and smiled. “I see,” she said, “but do not understand.”  Through the next game she sat on the other bench which ran back to back with the one we were playing on.  Now she had a closer look and Sherrie gave her a running commentary on what she was doing and why.  Sherrie won and shared the celebration with the Thai lady.  She was forty-three and had two sons.  She is originally from Hoi Hin but now lives and works in Bangkok .  She asked a lot about Vancouver and our family, so Sherrie pulled out the little photo album we travel with.  It is sometimes so much easier to show than tell.
A grandmother, or perhaps a great grandmother, was watching over a little two year old on the station platform.  The little fellow was adorable ... and cool; for he was only wearing a little long sleeved T-shirt ... that’s all.  She brought him over to have a closer look at Ted and went away with a gold balloon from our stash. 

While Sherrie continued her conversation with the Thai lady, waiting for her train to Bangkok , Terry struck up a conversation with some people – one from England , a girl from Scotland who will soon be moving to Calgary with her policeman husband and another from Koh Samui (our destination).  They had tried to get a sleeper compartment as we had, but the train had sold out.  They would be sitting up all night.

A signal sounded to announce another approaching train.  Again the platform came active with food vendors.  The three that Terry was talking to started to walk down the platform.  We followed.  The ticket man stopped us.  “Not your train,” he explained.  “Your train late.”   Another half hour was added to our wait time and we waved good bye to the others.  Ours was now expected in at 12:30am.

When it finally did arrive, we didn’t waste any time climbing into our bunks.  It would be an early wake up call.


Upon arrival in Surat Thani, the train was greeted by a mass of sales people selling rides to the ferry.  We followed a couple who seemed to know what they were doing.  Our ride to the dock was made in a bus that would be an equivalent of a Tijuana taxi on steroids.   What a junker!  But we made it.  Some of the boats around didn’t look too much better than the bus.


There were a couple which had more promise and we had hope.  The trip across the water was two and a half hours.  A long time.  Thankfully we paid a bit more and got a seat in the VIP air-conditioned cabin with its ripped, torn and rejected airline seats (with tray tables removed).  At the front of the cabin was a tv playing a DVD movie about Howard Hughes.  The sound level fluctuated from non-existent to just audible; the cabin noise, on the other hand, went from audible to loud.  The movie did take away from the boring scene of water passing by, except during the long spells between DVDs.  It was a three disc movie.  Their way of showing it was three hours long.  We arrived on Koh Samui in two and a half hours.
We were greeted on the wharf by a dozen or so people selling rides and hotel rooms.  They quickly went on to others when we told them we had both.  A taxi to Natural Wings Resort and Spa would be 300 Baht but the resort’s email said they had complimentary pick up from the ferry.  Now we just needed a phone.                                                     
A very nice lady who sat at a desk near the dock let us use her phone book to get the number.  She then asked us if we had a phone.  “No,” we answered.  “Do we need a calling card to us the pay phone?”  
Without hesitating she pulled out her cell phone, made the call, talked a whole lot in Thai, hung up and said, “They will be here in 30 minutes.”  We gathered through the conversation that they had told her to tell us to take a taxi and pay 300 Baht, but she had stuck up for us (with our email copy in front of her with their free pick up offer clearly there).   We offered her money to pay for the call, but she kindly declined.
We had found Natural Wings on the internet and had also bumped into someone at the travel agency who had stayed there.  We had requested an ocean view room.  When taken there ... a short hike up the hill and a flight of steep stairs, the “ocean view” peeked through the tree tops.  We asked if they might have a “villa” (cottage) available by the pool.  They did and we were much happier.  Quickly it became evident that staff outnumbered guests by about 21 to six. 



The next three days were a blissful blur of massages and steam baths, pedicures and paddles in the pool.  A vacation from our vacation. 
One day we hired the resort’s car and driver to take us on a half day trip around the island.  900 Baht ($22.50 US) for five hours (including car, driver and gas).  He took us to the island’s huge Buddha statue, some view points and temples and one of the islands many waterfalls.


At the base of the waterfall a mother bathed her four year old boy and was happy to have us take pictures of her beautiful son.  Returning to the car, we stopped to take pictures of another baby.  A baby elephant who took an immediate shine to Terry even though he had no bananas to entice her. 


continue to November 12 - 18, 2005


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