When last we left our intrepid explorer, he had arrived in a Muslim hotel on Saturday for a 2 night stay, after his train arrived in the Surat Thani area, and had feasted on canned tuna, cheese, and OJ, watched YouTube, and gone to bed. What thrilling adventures will await him next?
My brief stay at this mostly lovely place was largely influenced by two things. First, this hotel wasn’t near to anyplace. The lovely matron who ran the place expressed some surprise that I’d even heard of it, and I quickly deduced that tourists tended to go closer to downtown, and that this place probably drew most of its patronage from visiting Muslims looking for halal food (and presumably the implication of good Islamic family values). When I walked over to the Tesco for groceries just after arriving (the hotel’s kitchen was closed that weekend), the mall that I found myself in was devoid of other Europeans (or Africans, though they seem to be rare everywhere I’ve been so far). I attracted second glances all through the mall, and this time it was not due to my stunning good looks or my vast collection of geek-themed t-shirts — unlike in Chiang Mai where Europeans were beyond common. This was much more of a local neighborhood area, and there was no place “interesting” that I could go to without making an effort. Which, it must be said, is never my forte.
Adding to my reluctance to explore was that I was still suffering from the train/traffic exhaust headache I’d developed the day before. I didn’t feel it so much first thing in the morning, but it built after a few hours and then it was a long tedious day. Made lighter, thankfully, by Twitter, shows from my TiVo, and Gopher’s YouTube serials. I did go downstairs in the morning, hoping that the restaurant would be open, but discovered that the cook was gone on a big cooking gig through the weekend. (The matron had basically said this the previous evening, but I hadn’t been clear whether it was just that day or Sunday also.)
So, that was the day, just me hanging out in my small but nice hotel room. I managed to get the headache to fade a bit by late in the day, and by early evening I was watching a Gopher video and being vaguely puzzled at the weirdly electronic phone ringing sound in the background of the video, when I realized that it wasn’t the video, it was the room phone by the bed! I pulled out the earplugs and answered the call; it was the matron, asking if I was alright! The staff hadn’t seen me come out all day, and they were worried about me. This, ladies and gentlemen, is service. I thanked them for their concern, and explained that I’d had a headache and was just taking it easy. The whole thing was fairly charming — and not at all like the serial killer movies where the guy never comes out of his room and after he checks out the staff finds dismembered dentist convention attendees strewn and dripping on every surface. Which is fortunate, really, as that sort of thing rarely goes well.
Monday morning arrived, headache free, and I went down to the restaurant in the hopes of some breakfast. The “restaurant” was a room with a series of simple, round wooden tables with chairs and nothing on them, in a bare room with lots of windows and a connected, mostly open kitchen on one end and a patio off to the side. When the staff saw me arrive, they summoned the cook, and indicated that I could sit anywhere, so I went out to the patio and picked a spot at one of the 2 trestle tables, near a fountain. There were plants and open air, and a bit of a view of the surrounding neighborhood, and it was fairly nice. The menu was brought, and it was rich with fairly complex lunch/dinner foods, and almost nothing breakfasty. I had to settle for coffee, toast, and jam, which resulted in this:
To be clear, this consists of: two pieces of white bread waved briefly over a toaster, 1 packet of super artificial jam, and instant coffee with coffeemate. Not shown: the extra teapot of hot water they brought me, for reasons I cannot determine. (It’s not like they brought me extra instant coffee.) Now I understand the horror of the Travelocity reviewers who complained about the breakfasts. I might have been outraged, except (a) I’m not really good at outrage, usually managing nothing stronger than a defeated sadness, and (b) this ran straight past distressing and right on into hysterically funny. It really was too amusing for me to be bothered by, and I ate the toast-ish things and drank the coffee-ish liquid and read Twitter and had really a perfectly nice and very amused time. I’m not saying it was worth the 60 baht (about $1.80) I paid for it, but the entertainment value has to count for something, right?
Afterwards, I talked to the matron about transportation to my next place in Khanom. It had been recommended that I take a standard minibus (a shuttle van, we would call it) to Khanom and maybe a taxi from there. The matron agreed, and said she could call me a taxi to the minibus station for 150 baht, and the minibus to Khanom would cost me 200 baht, and that sounded great so she scheduled it for noon. I hung out in the room for a bit, and then packed my backpack (and helmet bag), and came down a bit before. The songthaew showed up just after, I made my cheery farewells to the matron, and off we went at great speed.
The songthaew guy got us to the minibus place quickly, somewhere in downtown Surat Thani, and talked with the organizers, who spoke even less English than I did, about what I wanted. I paid the 200 baht, and settled on a bench with my plastic token to wait for departure time. The station seemed to be part of a big, open-air melange of mercantile activities, which might have been interesting to wander around if I hadn’t been lugging a massive backpack (and helmet bag) in hot humid weather, and if I’d had any real idea when we were departing. If memory serves, the minibuses had an hourly departure schedule, but hourly at what time? Who could say? I sat on the indicated bench, facing a white van, and meditated and tried to preemptively neutralize any reactions to passing car exhaust and stuff I’d breathed in the songthaew.
After 10-15 minutes, a skinny, middle-aged guy came by and made noises clearly indicating that it was time. I hoisted my pack (and helmet bag) again, walked around the van I’d been facing to its sliding doors, handing my plastic token to the guy with much mutual grinning, and then manhandled my stuff into the second row of van seats, behind a large European in his 40s and his Thai wife. Later, an older Thai woman climbed in and a young, possibly French couple, and I moved myself and my stuff into the last row to make room for them.
The drive was about an hour and pleasant enough, and we arrived in Khanom on the small main street, which has a collection of low end marts and hardware shops stuffed into the basic, one story buildings. As we got out of the van, a short, solid Thai guy asked if we needed lifts. The French(?) couple had no idea where they were staying (very brave of them), but when I told the guy my place was between the CC Beach Bar and the Aava Resort (as I had been instructed to tell people), he said he knew where it was and would take me for 80 baht. What a deal! I said yes.
He then led me to his scooter. Wait… let me state that again. He led me to his scooter. “On this?”, I asked, smiling. “Yes!”, he replied, also smiling. “Oh, what the hell, why not.”, I thought, still smiling inside but rather more nervously. As he rolled his bike out onto the street, I got my motorbike helmet and gloves out of their bag, latched the rest of the bag to my backpack, and climbed on behind him. This is the part where the voice announcer proclaims, “Terror has a new name!” There’s nothing quite like quickly accelerating to 70 km/hour on the back of a motorbike, with a 45 lb pack pulling firmly back on you, when you can’t hold on to the driver (one rests one’s hands on one’s thighs, when riding with strangers), a driver who had earlier shrugged off your offered view of an iPhone map by stating, “I can’t see it.” I was hoping that he’d assumed the map was something in English and meant, “I can’t read it.”, but who can say? I was certain every waver in the bike’s movement was my giant pack pulling us off balance, and I still have no idea how close I was to being right.
Despite this Dire Peril, after 10 minutes we arrived uneventfully at a pair of 6 story white buildings, one behind the other (oceanside and roadside), and I paid and thanked the driver. And the gods. There were a couple of youngish Thai people waiting below the oceanside building on the ground floor (which was mostly open air garage plus the building office), and one of them was Nuy, the building manager I’d been directed to go to for the keys. I said that I was there renting Zuzanah’s apartment, and she grabbed the keys and took me up to it.
I linked to the Airbnb listing for this place previously, but there’s link again, plus a pano taken from the door:
I’ve stayed in a bunch of places now, and I’ve been, I confess, rather critical of most of them. This place will serve as my example that I’m not critical of everything, always. This was, without question, the nicest place I’ve stayed in yet. Here’s my Airbnb review:
“This was by far the best place that I’ve stayed in my 2 months in Thailand. A clean, neat, modern place, tastefully decorated, with a view of the ocean from the comfortable balcony. The ocean was great for swimming (not too shallow, not too deep, gentle waves, and the floor was comfortable for wading around in), and the beach great for walking. The nearby town of Khanom is not walking distance, but there’s a small convenience store across the street and a decent restaurant/bar next door, and the area is wonderfully quiet. I was very happy for the week I was there, and look forward to returning sometime.”
This place had a stovetop and a full set of utensils and pots and pans, and a stove I didn’t end up using because I had nothing to cook in it. (I wanted potatoes, but found none in my brief shopping excursion.) The room was on the side of the building and face north, not directly at the ocean, and this was a bit of a problem in that it had no through-breeze and I had to run the fan 24/7 (to bring in cool air at night, and circulate the warmish air during the day), but the ocean air was never super hot and I never ran the AC while I was there. In fact, I left the balcony doors and the large bedroom window wide open the whole time, without screens.
There were no bugs to speak of (some small ants in the bathroom that were not intrusive, and ants and tiny spiders on the balcony that kind of were, but their range was surprisingly restricted to those areas). The balcony had a small table and a couple of chairs and a *great* view.
The decor was really quite nice, also.
I now regret not taking the opportunity to watch this while I was there:
The internet was great — it was down for most of the day after I arrived, and a little bit of the next, but it was fine after that and perfectly speedy, and the long dining table was the perfect place to set up my two laptops. This was absolutely the best place I’ve stayed in Thailand so far.
Of course, that’s probably because it was owned by a Norwegian. Turns out, the building was full of them… again, don’t ask me why. I’m guessing that whoever built it did a bunch of marketing there, appealing to people desperate to escape Scandinavia’s serious winters. Or maybe one person heard of it and spread it around their office. I heard later that Norwegians, some other northern nationality (I forget which), and Chinese were the main occupants. I only saw the Norwegians, mostly in their 60s+, hanging out at the pool for hours in the serious Thai sun and sporting serious tans in crazy disregard for sun damage to their Northern European skin. While my host, Zuzana, is only in her place about 3 weeks a year, the folks I saw were clearly permanent residents. You don’t get a tan like that in casual visits. I’d worry about their risk of skin cancer, but the folks I saw clearly did not care about any of the effects of aging and were tanning, spreading, and slowly going to seed in a casual way that honestly was kind of refreshing after the last 24 years that I’ve been living in LA. These were not people who cared what they looked like, and good on them.
I, however, did. So I did *not* hang out in the sun for hours — I shudder to think of the burn I’d get after about 30 minutes in the direct noon sun. So, I went out in the morning, around 7am, after the shoreline fishermen pulled in their dragnets and went elsewhere, and swam in the ocean most mornings for about 30 minutes at a time, back and forth past the building without worrying about lane lines, walls at the end, or other swimmers. The water was cool and comfortable, and the waves were small and even, and it was pretty perfect. The only downside was that, while I was at the BB2 hotel (the prior week), I had banged the little toe of my right foot so hard on the oversized wooden bedframe that I bent the toenail up and may well have broken the toe. There’s not much you can do for a broken little toe, if it is broken and not just internally bruised, so I’ve just been being gentle with it. But swimming, especially frog kicks, can pretty uncomfortable unless I keep my toes a bit clenched on that foot. Whatever, I managed, it was still great.
I’ve got more to say about this place — after all, I’m only up to my arrival. But I’m also getting close to 3,000 words, so this is probably a good time to stop. I’ll try to continue in the next few days. Sorry if this seems like a bunch of tiny increments of time, and me falling steadily behind current events. But, honestly, the place I’m at as I write this is my residence for 5 weeks, so it’s probably best that I stretch out these posts where things are happening for as long as possible. 😉