If there is ever going to be someone who ruins your day, or someone who you will spend the most time moaning about when travelling in SE Asia, it will either be the scamsters at the bus stations, or taxi drivers. I am not sure whether or not the tourism departments are onto it or not, but taxi drivers are the people who are most likely to scam you, wherever you are in SE Asia and the ones who are most likely to leave you with bad memories. Thailand is no exception and let me just explain what is not a one off, but a constant grind when you are forced to use taxi’s.
I knew taxi’s in Samui were shocking, they charge about 10 times more than in Bangkok for example. Anyway, anyone stood waiting for a taxi stands out a mile and within minutes we had attracted a guy who decided he was our agent. He gave me a price – 350thb for a taxi to travel about 6km. On the Thai mainland and the same fare would be about 35thb. So I tell him no, it’s too expensive and I’ll get a taxi myself. There we are waiting when he hails a taxi and speaks to him through the window, he was even looking at us and laughing, then says “here taxi for you” so I tell him we aren’t interested and the taxi drives on. Then, as the next taxi arrives he does some sort of sign language to him. I had a go at him, told him what scum he was and we walked 200m up the road to hail one ourselves, there again comes an ‘agent’ and the whole process starts again. We were cutting it fine for our boat and so we agreed on 300thb and set off. I had already been to where we got our boat and knew it left at midday.
There are several piers on the North coast of Samui, the one we wanted was Ban Mie Nam where the fare was 200thb for adults, 100thb for 5+ and Abi who was now 4 was free (£4/£2)
The taxi driver got on his mobile which is always a sure fire indicator of a scam and started chatting away and laughing. I heard a few familiar words mentioned and knew something was fishy.
We passed what I thought was where we needed to be and the drivers English suddenly disappeared as he gestured there was a different way to it. Of course the reality was he had decided that he would take us to a different place. The phone call was clearly “I have a family here and if I bring them to your office rather than where they have actually want to be, well, what’s in it for me”
Unfortunately for the driver I actually knew where we wanted to be, despite him telling me there were no more boats from Ban Mai Nam. Reluctantly he took us to where we asked for.
Of course there were boats from where we needed to be and the whole episode was just a familiar and common scam and one that we have seen many times.
There was a fishing boat parked up in the sea a few metres offshore, there are no piers, you wade through the sea and climb on board and then get ditched at the beach you need to be at. Ko Phangan is no different and is made up of loads of coves that are all home to beaches of various standards. We wanted to be right at the South Eastern tip in Hat Rin. There are two beaches in Hat Rin, Sunset beach and Sun Rise beach, of course one faces the East and one the West.
Ko Phangan basically is an island that is largely undeveloped, over 90% in fact is left untouched and is nothing more than coconut trees. Literally the whole island is one huge natural coconut plantation teeming with natural beauty and wildlife. It still holds the backpacker vibe and holds firmly the ‘deserted’ feel. There are few roads and many are nothing more than tracks through the jungle. But what is developed is Hat Rin. Whereas all those searching for ‘hard core’ hit Ibiza, all those with a bit more cash and looking for that ‘harder core’ hit Ko Phangan for the Full Moon Party each month. The next Full Moon Party is 25th August and it’s hard to imagine this tiny, barely inhabited island being heaving with people all off their faces and giving it big fish little fish.
Still, outside of the Full Moon shenanigans, the island retains is quietness and so as we pulled into the innocent looking beach of Hat Rin, I thought nothing of, well anything. The sea was clear blue and so when I heaved myself off the side I completely misjudged the depth and now an insurance claim for my Desire is pending.
Gutted we tabbed to our hotel. It was 30 degrees and a couple of Km. We were staying at the legendary Coral Bungalows, which is basically a holiday camp for singles up for anything and everything. We checked out after the first night and moved our operations to the North West Coast where life is a lot slower and the locals laze about in hammocks munching BBQ’d fish and drinking out of Coconuts. The whole NW is surrounded by reef and so is perfect for snorkelling. Courtesy of our little moped hired for 150thb per day (£3) we found some wooden huts on Haad Salud (Salad Beach) It is as basic as basic gets, literally a hut, with a bed and mosquito net, a porch and a hammock. But it was everything we needed.
The beach is stunning and we commuted daily to the gorgeous Ko Ma, which is an island of the NW corner of Ko Phangan connected by a sandbank in low tide. There are Reefs which are teeming with marine life and we saw some amazing things snorkelling there in the water which seemed infinitely visible.
Now, reefs are amazing and usually where there is a reef there is clear water and stunning marine life – But there is also sharp sand. Which is a bit of a pain, Charlie has sliced his foot open and so with regret we are swapping our slice of paradise on the grounds of health and safety…Well, along with the fact Chaweng beach in Samui was so damn beautiful.
On the boat to Ko Phangan I was talking to a born again traveller who said he had visited Samui 20 years ago and Ko Phangan now, was like Samui back then. I mean, right now I’m sat on the beach surrounded by the flames of night torches, with the smell of BBQ and oil lamps in the air, with Bob Marley playing away in the background. This is as close to paradise as I imagine you can get and to think that only a few years ago this island remained untouched by tourism. Now of course the tourism boom is in its early days, but to think 20 years from now this island will most likely be like Samui is actually pretty sad. One of the best things about Ko Phangan has been bombing around in the middle of the jungle with no one else in sight (though we did see a guy with a monkey on his bike) to lazing about in a hammock slung between coconut trees, to snorkelling on the amazing reefs. Ko phangan has been that slice of paradise we have been searching for and it is so easy to see why most of the restaurants are owned by Westerners who came and just never left. For now Ko Phangan remains as near to a deserted island as I think we would like.
The kids have loved it here, there is absolutely nothing to do other than be isolated and hit the beaches or go snorkelling; Like I said, our slice of paradise.