Well today was the day I was going to drive out of Chaloklum town and down the highway to the main city of Tong Sala. This is only about a 15min drive, turns out it was 23min for me, but that is about 12min longer than I driven thus far. But before the drive, a good breakfast was needed, and the boys had discovered the French bakery, and the cute Thai girl there. So for 100baht ($3.50 US) we got a croissant (chocolate filled for me), a large roll (both freshly baked), a salad, an omelette and a coffee. Once we were all done, we each mounted our steeds, placed our cheesy looking helmets on our heads and headed off with me in the lead at a scary 40km/hr (25miles/hr).
I had never actually got the speedometer passed that number yet. They felt it was better that I set the pace, which I did, gripping the handle bars of Lucy Liu, my little purple scooter, so hard that when we did stop I had to peel my fingers off. But I reached 50km/hr at one point, which I was awfully proud of. When I told the others at the shop of course they nearly snorted their tea in laughter. Oh well, at least I was proud of the speed (and so was my mum). The boys were great and stayed behind me, occasionally zipping past to get me used to being overtaken over and over again.
Just before the road takes a sharp turn to the right and into Tong Sala there is a dirt road that leads to the left. Somewhere off this dirt road is a set of waterfalls that we hoped to explore. It took some finding but eventually we came across the entrance. The amusing thing was that every time we stopped to ask directions the locals knew what we wanted before we asked and would point us on our way. The little park was quite impressive, there was an environmental center, and an office for the parks and wildlife people, some cafes and places to get drinks. The best was this one sign though…
Heading along the little path that was very well maintained we went in search of the waterfalls. It was monsoon season so we expected to see something impressive. Of course, the last rain had been over a week ago resulting in something more along the lines of a watertrickle than a waterfall. But it was still beautiful to explore.
I decided to try come back after the monsoon season had actually produced some rain to see the full force of the waterfalls as the photos on the sign boards showed.
When we reached Tong Sala it was super busy due to the week long boat races, apparently a pretty big yearly event. The boys wanted to get their ferry and train tickets sorted for Bangkok first so we headed to the ferry terminal, where they quite promptly started flirting with the lovely Thai girl behind the counter. Don’t get me wrong, this was all in fun and it was a total hoot as they both acted the part of flirting and she acted right along giggling. Tom Donnelly, an Irish Expat / transport volunteer, who had lived in the islands for over 10yrs came over to help, with the tickets…not the flirting. Although he did tell them what time her shift ended and when she needed to take the ferry back to Koh Tao. Boys, they are all the same no matter what their age.
The boys had wanted a ferry and train, but Tom recommended the ferry and VIP bus, as it was cheaper and he felt much more comfortable. The boys were thrilled at the price of 650baht ($22US). Not too bad really for a 2.5hr ferry ride, followed by a 10hr bus ride with reclining seats.
Then it was time for the boat races, we walked to a tented area and found some seats that we could drag to the front and enjoy a great view. In truth it was all rather confusing as everything was in Thai and you only knew a race was on when everyone started yelling and clapping and dancing. There were numerous groups of Thai’s all in seriously impressive Hawaiin style shirts in amazing array of colors, apparently they were the boat teams and their supporters. There was also food where ever you looked and drinks…lots of drinks!
Now I think I need to get one, absolutely love it, as soon as I win the lottery. After taking a few I turned around to see the boys had been adopted by a group of Thai mamas, I should restate that, a group of very inebriated and happy Thai mamas. They had given them a bowl of papaya salad, usually so hot that it would melt your insides on the way in…and out, and were handing them something to drink in a bamboo type container. Returning, I was immediately adopted into the group and handed the bamboo container. Ummmmmm… why the hell not! It was surprisingly good and as soon as I had recovered from what felt like a mule kick, I indicated as much. This was met with great enthusiasm and I wasn’t allowed to return it until I had another swig. Thankfully they took it back after that cause I think one more and I would have started seeing double. It was a homemade liquor that had a punch 10x that of vodka but with a pleasantly mild honey taste that lingered.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon we lingered watching the races and enjoying the atmosphere, constantly trying to time the appropriate enthusiastic reactions with that of the people around us. Not easy I can tell you, as we had no idea what was going on. One minute a race would start, took us forever to even figure out where they were racing, and there would be music and fireworks and everyone would go running out and clap and sing and dance… but the next race there might only be one or two mama’s running and clapping down at the shore. Rather amusing, I guess some teams just draw a bigger crowd. Sometimes the crowd would go wild and no matter how we looked we could see no race, we had to assume that it must be warm up practice for the crowd to get them in the mood. All through the day our newly adopted Thai Mama’s kept insisting we eat, that it was free, just go help ourselves. But trying to be polite Westerners we declined…until we got hungry. It turned out it was almost impolite to decline the food, they were so thrilled to see us eat. I was trying to spoon soup like stuff over some rice on my plate when a boy came up holding a bowl, I filled it assuming it was for him. Then he gave it to me with the look of “bloody idiot westerner doesn’t she know soup goes in a bowl not a plate”. Oh dear. But he was also the dishwasher, or collector as he came up to us a little later and picked up all the plates, this time with the look every younger child who is made to do the menial clean up for parents.
By the end of the morning, the boys had been told to return in one year and they would be part of the Mama’s team, I, on the other hand, was just background apparently. It was an absolutely brilliant morning but we had big plans to find an out of the way beach the boys had heard about, and a road that many had warned us about.
The Road To Tong Nai Pan
Feeling ridiculously proud of myself for having driven the almost straight highway from Chaloklum to Tong Sala, we headed off towards Baan Tai, a little up the East coast from Tong Sala. We enjoyed the ride and stopped at a few different spots to see what was around.
We also stopped off at Phangan Divers, as I recognized some of the instructors sitting in the front. They were very bemused that I had managed to drive this far, as it appears my driving abilities were a bit of giggle to most everyone. But it was good to see them and see where the store was. Back on the road, we headed off looking for a road that led off to the left…into the jungle. Finally finding it, Willy consulted his iphone to see where we were and where we were going. I must admit that feature is one that I would love to have, and does make the iphone seem tempting.
To begin with all seemed dandy, the road was relatively well paved and only had minor curves that I was able to pretty much walk the bike around. But then it started to go up, at first this was ok, I mean I can handle uphill right? However, at some point, most likely the point of no return, I realised that it was so steep that stopping might result in me flipping backwards and rolling back down. I leaned forward in a terrified attempt to balance the bike (don’t think I was in any danger of flipping but gravity sure tried to convince me). Putting all effort, gritting my teeth and gripping the handles so hard that I lost feeling in my fingers, I started…relax isn’t the right word…let’s just say go with it. With painful clarity I remember seeing that the road not only began a rather enthusiastic set of curves that would put Marilyn Monroe to shame, but it also started to disintegrate on my side causing me to have to try and swerve..ish to the center of a blind corner all the while praying that no one was speeding downhill. Cause I am pretty certain this road was great fun for everyone on the island, and created the opportunity to drive like a demon, except me and my barely 1 month of riding experience.
After what felt like hours going up this slope the boys pulled into a little cafe and waited for me. I think it was barely 10min we had been driving, but I am going with hours. Taking a swig of water, me not so secretly wishing it was a different clear liquid, Willy consulted the iphone app. We were half way! Up the hill, but barely a quarter way to the beach. They gave em the option to turn back and tried to sound encouraging saying they could return tomorrow and I shouldn’t feel any pressure, all the while giving me those big kitty eyes that Puss in Boots pulls off in Shrek. As much as my fear of this drive was on the verge of spilling over, I decided the only way to conquer a fear is to ride uphill some more. 1min down the road I pulled off and said “I am riding with Willy”. In front of us the, already 70% gradient road seemed to take a 25% increase and disappear into a sharp right. Yup, am parking right here! Luckily there was a lady in a shack nearby and she said I could leave the bike there.
Willy was an excellent driver and very considerate the whole way, making sure that I was completely comfortable as I crushed at least 2 ribs, possibly more. Round the corner of the bend the paved road disappeared and became something I would more likely refer to as thin islands of soil between rain runoff channels. However, it soon became a challenge to hit all the holes and go “ahhhhhhhhhh”, which resulted in Willy and I breaking into hysterical laughter at the fact that we sounded like we were driving over a cattle grate or something due ot the vibration. We passed some stunning landscapes, the interior of the island was lush with jungle. Unfortunately, sections of it was lush with date palms and deforestation, that was not so stunning.
Out of nowhere we came across a section of gorgeously paved road, as smooth as a baby’s bottom (at least as far as asphalt goes), and trust me after being able to giggle at the how the vibration made us sound the past 20min, this was heaven. In the middle of this seemingly random piece of road there was an all mighty round about, that split in 3 directions. Better than many I had seen in developed countries. Not sure whether to go left or right we stopped for directions and were directed right. At the same time we saw another couple on a bike looking about as lost as us. We yelled out and they said they were looking for the beach. So following us, we now had an international convoy in search of the beach. If this had involved crossing a body of water, or if Di Caprio walked past, I might have felt like I was in a movie or something.
The road continued and just as suddenly as it appeared it promptly disappeared. Literally stopped and turned back into the channel riddled dirt road from before. How very odd! We continued until we reached what appeared to be a cliff, in my opinion. In truth it was the road but instead of going uphill at an 85% grade, it went down instead, and so did much of the recent rain taking the road with it. Willy, the ever present optimist, was game. Daniel, being of sounder mind, reminded him that they had tried something similar before, and going down was one thing, but essentially having to carry the bike back up was another. The Spanish contigent and I sided with Daniel. So back on the bikes we headed off to try the last of the 3 roads that split off from the ginormous round about statue. Again the road continued for a ways and then, it too, stopped and became dirt. I honestly think that road could be an argument for aliens, I mean who else would have plopped a perfectly good road in the absolute middle of no where???
The Beach, I See The Beach
After an agonizing, yet strangely amusing, 1hr+ journey, we saw the beach…and it was glorious to behold. Mainly because I knew I could get off this bike and get feeling back into my butt cheeks and knees.
In truth I had to hand it to both Daniel and Willy, Tong Nai Pan was worth it. It is probably one of the few beaches that does actually look like it’s postcard photo. The bay was calm and water warm, the sand was white and the sun was bright. Willy and Daniel attempted some snorkeling and then, to the bemusement of the Spaniards and I, started acting out some play or show or something. I love those 2, always good for a laugh.
Unfortunately, it was already 4pm and with the sun going down at about 6pm, we couldn’t spend too long, unless we planned to spend the night. Looking at the prices of the drinks… there was no way in heck that we could afford a bungalow, and sleeping on the beach in this ritzy neighborhood might be frowned upon. Taking some time to just enjoy the view and the beauty we finally mounted our steeds and headed back.
The Ride Down
Driving back to where we had left my bike, was actually enjoyable and I don’t think I did any more damage to Willy’s ribs. Maybe a few finger shaped bruises but nothing too serious. Getting my bike and thanking the lady profusely we headed back.
Now the one good thing about going up is that gravity prevents you from going too fast. However, going down means gravity has the opposite effect. So riding my brakes all the way and losing feeling in my fingers once again, I attempted to slowly inch my way down. Even with the brake almost full on, I was still going about 40km/hr. Heaven knows how fast I would have gone if the brake had failed. The boys of course zoomed past, having the time of their life. Even stopping to chat with a mahut and his elephant.
At some point the road appeared to level, and I was thinking, thank god I made it and I did it without too much trouble. Then I turned the curve and saw that I was only half way. Eventually though, with much self encouragement, and focus, I made it to the end, and without stopping continued towards home. I could not believe I had done that, and I also do not believe I could have done it without Willy and Daniel. Without your encouragement, I don’t think I ever would have got over my fear, and never would have discovered Tong Nai Pan. However, next time, I am taking the canoe!
Finally arriving home just as night was falling we went and had dinner at the local again. The boys absolutely loved their food, we also got a beer to celebrate the crazy adventure that the day had brought. For desert we rode to the other side of town, 2min away, and I introduced them to deep fried banana balls in chocolate sauce.
A trend was started!