How to beat the consumerist Christmas debacle

By Ombi and Alex - April 03, 2011

Back in the land of smiles!
That's easy... run away!  And where to?  Who cares!  Overseas is always a good option!  It's quite funny, when people see me after not having seen me for a while, I usually get asked, "So, where are you going to next?" It's usually said tongue in cheek, but the ironic thing is that I usually HAVE booked a holiday to ... somewhere!  We knew months ago that we wanted to spend Christmas overseas, and so we diligently plowed through our options.  We also knew that it had to be something relatively cheap, as we would like to go to Ecuador some time in the not too distant future, and getting to South America isn't ever on the cheap side.  It was in September or so that we stared scouring for cheap destinations and flights.  We ended up finding a pretty good deal with Jetstar to Thailand ... no food included, no screens for movies, basic ... yes, yes, yes ... who said it's about the journey and not the destination? They got it all wrong, it's the destination that counts! We ended up booking a two week holiday...Thailand here we come!

Happy to be back!
Alex and I have both been to Thailand several times.  I, in fact, have been so many times that I have lost count (I should do what our friends Richard and Jo do, which is keep a table of 'where, what, when').  I must say that it still remains one of my favourite countries - I love the food, culture, people and shopping (yes you heard correctly, 'shopping'!  For those of you know that know me well, you would also know that normally I despise this pastime.) Where would we go and what would we do?  With such a short time away, we decided that we'd spent the first week or so on an island (which one?) and the other in Bangkok.  Many people do not like Bangkok, but once you acquaint yourself with her and get to know her well, she really is lots of fun!  We would also be meeting our very special friend Daniel there.  We met Dan backpacking through Laos in 2005, and later went to visit him in his native Quebec, Canada, a few years later.  He is one of those truly  special people you meet on your travels, in the  'I know that we are going to be friends for a long time' league.  Daniel has been teaching English in the north of Thailand for a couple of years, so we thought that spending New Year's in Bangkok together would be loads of fun.

Ko Chang sunset
We had booked our flight for the 22 December, and I should add here that I had only recently started a new job.  In late November I started at Diabetes Australia - Vic as Media and Communications Co-ordinator.  Funnily enough, I work a block and a half away from Alex, so we are able to travel into work together.  Technically, I am in the CBD and Alex is in Carlton, but we are both on the edge (of the suburbs in which we work), so to speak ... probably on 'the edge' in many other ways too, ha, ha!  So three weeks in, we were off to Thailand.  As usual, packing occurred virtually on the last night.  With a new job, that had taken up a lot of my time and focus, there was not a lot of time to think about our upcoming trip.  When I sat down in that plane, I was exhausted. Who needed food and movies?  I slept most of the way!

Monkeying around on Ko Chang
The only thing we had booked was our first night in Bangkok (which actually means 'City of Angels').  It had to be close to the airport, as the next morning we had to catch  a bus from the airport which would take us (coupled with a ferry) straight to the island of Ko Chang, which is on the eastern side of Thailand, near the Cambodian border. How had we picked which island to go to?  Well, we knew that we did not want anything commercial or touristy (Like Phuket, Pattaya or Ko Samui) but we also wanted something relatively close to Bangkok and where we had not been before.  A few years back we had been to Ko Kood (or Kut), very close to Ko Chang, and had loved it.  We had heard, back then, that Ko Chang, had become commercial over the years, but we thought we'd give it a go. Bad move!

Arriving on Ko Chang by ferry
Upon arriving to the airport we made our way to the Orchid Resort.  It was very close by, which is just what we needed, as we had to be back at the airport the next morning, to catch a bus at 7.00am.  It was quaint, and clean and quiet; just what we needed, as we were exhausted.  We were each given a voucher for a free ten minute foot massage (massages of ANY description are to die for in Thailand), which we took, laying by the poolside at almost midnight, after we had dumped our backpacks upstairs.  It was bliss!  After that it was a quick shower, and we were ready to hit the sack.  I think I was out in under ten seconds.


Streets of Ko Chang

Not too impressed with Ko Chang, hey?!
The next morning we were up before 6.00am getting ourselves organised, and back at the airport in order to catch catch our 7.00am bus. Before we knew it, we were on the bus, making our way to Ko Chang. As I looked around I felt comfortable and at home. The sights, feel, sounds and ambiance of Thailand, over the years, have become comfortably familiar.  It's possibly one of the few countries outside of the Latin countries (for which I have a passion, and some say addiction to!) that I can keep coming back to and never get sick of. The bus ride was several hours, and then we were on the ferry... bus and all. Luckily the sea was not choppy, as I am prone to motion-sickness. It's always a lovely feeling as a boat rocks up to an island with azure waters and swaying palms; it's that wonderful feeling of isolation, secret get-away and bliss rolled into one. Of course, we had not organised a place to stay (normal for us), but we had kind of chosen an area that we'd start looking in. We had not had that much time to do research, but figured we'd go somewhere on the central west-coast of the island.  We asked around when we got there and were told that Kaibae was a nice little place, with a nice beach.  As we jumped in the songthaew (which is basically a small pick-up truck), and started to make our way to Kaibae, I had a sinking feeling in my gut!  Whilst I understand that even developing countries have the right to 'develop', I could not help but be somewhat mortified by all the construction, development and rubble lying around. This was NOT the island bliss I had been expecting!  We got off at Kaibae, and walked around looking for a place to stay.  It looked OK (just!) but as it was only a couple of days before Christmas, most places were booked out.  I can't say that the beach blew me away either.  There was lots of rubbish lying around and it just didn't look clean.  Nope, not staying here!

Gu's Bay ... tranquil and relaxing
We jumped back onto another songthaew and made our way a little further south to the infamous Lonely Beach.  This place, unfortunately, is not so lonely anymore and has been overrun by backpackers.  We were totally unimpressed with the almost one kilometre strip of virtually bumper-to-bumper bars and tacky souvenir shops, completely over-run by foreigners.  Alex looked after the backpacks whilst I trawled the strip looking for a place to stay.  Apart from the fact that almost everything was booked out, the little that was left was overpriced and/or close to more rubbish than a tip!  This was not looking good, and I was starting to feel like Ko Chang was one big mistake!

Accommodation at Gu's Bay
I made my way back to Alex and the backpacks, and was about to tell him that the news regarding accommodation was not good, when he introduced me to a local, who suggested a place to stay on Ao Bai Lan, which was the next spot down from Lonely Beach. So, this is how we came to stay at Gu's Bay, a gorgeous, non pretentious place, with everything we needed  as well as being extremely well priced and it was not overrun with bars and a million people.  What a relief!  It had such a serene feel, and whilst the beach immediately in front of us was rather rocky, the swimming pool made up for it!  We made ourselves at home immediately.  That night (24th December) we walked to Lonely Beach for a bite to eat, as there really weren't many options in the food department where we were.  We picked a seafood place with lots of locals, and I must say, the food was brilliant.  On the way home we found a massage place that was still open - what an excellent massage!  The Thais are masters at this.  Despite it not being a long way back to our accommodation, the road was windy and unlit, so we had to catch a songthaew.  So what does one do when she/he does not want to be amongst a multitude of loud and drunk foreigners...

Sunset on Ko Chang
... We had walked back to Gu's Bay and could hear some music wafting over, so we decided to make our way towards it.  It was coming from the Dusit Princess, an upmarket hotel close to where we were staying. As we got closer, so did the music. With more front than Myers, we walked straight through the hotel to the area where they were having a Christmas spectacle and whilst we did not join in the buffet meal, we did get a few decent hours of entertainment.  Apart from my shorts and singlet, I felt like a queen! We had a great time actually, and the concert was most enjoyable, hosting dancers and singers alike.  Being the past life social anthropologist (people watcher!) that I am, I was entertained (from all angles!) for hours ... stilettos, sequined tops, bouffant hairstyles ... really, a whole other world!  It ended just after midnight, and I waltzed out as gracefully as I had waltzed in...with crocs, shorts and a singlet top! Gotta love it!

On the pier at Ban Bang Bao
Apart from being woken by a disorderly bunch in the swimming pool in the early hours of Christmas morning (which I got up and addressed!), we had a great night's sleep. After a lazy breakfast, we made our way down south to Ban Bang Bao.  Once home to a quaint fishing village, it has now become one of the island's major tourist attractions, with a pier stretching well out into the sea.   This pier is home to a plethora of seafood restaurants, which are well frequented by visitors. This fascinating place is where local residents have built their houses with poles pitched into the sea and the bridge linking every house is set up to join the community together. Although hot, it was lovely to wander around, observe and try some of the local delicacies. After a couple of hours we made our way to the beach close by, and unlike the central part of the Ko Chang coast, where the beaches were infiltrated with multitudes, this was just lovely and relaxing. Sunbaking, reading, relaxing, running on the beach at dusk ... what more could one ask for?

Time to go to Ko Kood
The next day, we decided to move on. Although we had had fun, Ko Chang was not really us. We wanted and had expected something a little more idyllic. Having said that, as places become more popular, things change, and I am all too aware that even I am part of that change! With fond memories of our time in Ko Kood and Ko Mak, islands close by, a few years earlier, we decided that we would revisit Ko Kood. With such little time, we wanted to come back and say that we had 'really' enjoyed ourselves. With this, we had a relaxing last night in Ko Chang, and organised to catch a ferry to Ko Kood the next morning.

Ombi

Next: A few days on (truly) idyllic Ko Kood, before we hit Bangkok.

Paradise Updated!
Books read:Paradise Updated by Mic Looby (Thanks for this book Vick...I cannot tell you HOW appropriate it was given where we were staying and what we were doing!)

"Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are" - Bertolt Brecht



Dedication: For my maaaaaaate Rozzie!  This one's for you! Who would have thought that meeting some cool chick on one of Brazil's most spectacular beaches some 11 years ago would lead to this ... one seriously cool friendship! The world's people are broken up into two groups ... those who get it and those who don't!  You are soooooooo going to get this (please refer to Ping-Pong shot below) ... LY(very)LT!!!! Ombs

This one's for you Rozzie!

'Pier food' - Ban Bang Bao










The way to Alex's heart? His stomach!









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