Not all beaches are alike

The end of the last blog post had me arriving at Nathon Pier, by ferry from (roughly) Surat Thani, at 12:30 in the afternoon.

kohSamuiMap

I found what is probably a very useful map, if you were going out and seeing things. It may give you a good sense of what I spent my time ignoring while I was here.

In the map above, the town of Nathon is northward along the western shore.  I had made arrangements to be picked up by the friend/property manager of the owner (for which they were to charge me 500 baht, ostensibly cheaper than a taxi), but that wasn’t to be until 2:30pm.  My unit at the new place was to be available by 3:00pm, and I had some time to kill.  This was actually by design: I could have left on a later ferry, but I decided I wanted lunch at a place I’d seen on a Nathon map called Max Murphy’s.  My instincts unerringly draw me to the Irish pub in any town, and those instincts served me well once again.

Thankfully, Max Murphy’s was a short trudge from the ferry, because the pier area is not terribly attractive — all concrete pavement and parking, with the buildings set pretty far back — and it was pretty bright and hot.  Nathon is apparently the island’s administrative center, and it has all the charm you’d expect from such a place.  At least, from what I could see.  Perhaps the bits outside of my walk to the pub are nicer, but I have my doubts; if the area that tourists arrive at isn’t appealing, what are the odds that the rest of it will be much better?

Thankfully, Max Murphy’s itself was entirely appealing.

With my meal, I had a choice of watching soccer, or going towards the light. I like soccer, so....

With my meal, I had a choice of watching soccer, or going towards the light. I like soccer, so easy choice.

I ordered a Guinness and — after a week of fish and chips at the CC Beach Bar — a Shepherd’s Pie, my favorite Irish Pub food.  I was really a little too hot for a hot meal, and the pub was open to the street so it’s not like there was air conditioning to compensate, but I figured it was still worth it.

Alas, this turned out to be false.  The Shepherd’s Pie came in a small bowl, barely larger than the soup you’d normally get at a restaurant if you asked for the cup of soup instead of the bowl.  And it was made with so much butter that I felt nearly ill at the end of it, especially with the butter-infused vegetables that came with it.  Mind you, it wasn’t wholly unpleasant; I like butter, generally, so about 3/4 of the meal was weird but Ok.  But I’ve never had a Shepherd’s Pie that I liked less, and I most sincerely wish that I’d gone with the fish and chips.  Thankfully, I felt better after the second Guinness.

Or I would have, if my post-travel pollution headache wasn’t coming on.  I mentioned this last time, but I still wasn’t over the Chiang Mai air, and the ferry smokestack plus the passengers’ cigarette smoke had tipped me over the edge again, and I was starting to feel it.  My stay in Koh Samui is for 5 weeks, until April 27th, and I hope to be over it by then.  Fingers crossed.

At a few minutes before 2:30, I walked out and sat down at an outdoor table, and my ride arrived shortly thereafter, a tall, older (mid-60s?), British guy and his wife driving a Range Rover.  We loaded my stuff in, and headed north along the coast road — basically a low-tech, tropical version of PCH — maybe a 15 minute drive, and had a nice little chat along the way.  Fun fact that I learned on that drive: Thai people don’t really invent anything on their own, they just copy from the west.  And then, when one of them is successful — like with a western-style restaurant, another dozen Thai will immediately copy them and drive down the business at any one place by having so many competitors.  Huh.  You don’t say, British imperialist guy driving a Range Rover (and probably drinking Watney’s Red Barrel).  Thanks for sharing.

We soon arrived at my new place, which, in case you don’t recall, is this one here.  (The location on the map at the top is on the western end of the north shore, near “Bang Po Village”.)  Looking at that listing again, I can see that the price has come down a bit, from $30/night to $23/night; I guess we’re moving away from the peak season.  Anyway, that listing has some pictures in it, and here are some of mine.

The approach. A row of 7 beach houses, separated from "PCH" by store fronts (behind me) and a vacant lot (shown), which did much to reduce the traffic noise.

The approach. A row of 7 beach houses, separated from “PCH” by store fronts (behind me) and a vacant lot (shown), which did much to reduce the traffic noise.

My unit, #5 (as numbered from the beach). #6 was the owner's.  They have these double roof structures which in theory could have been used to vent heat, but don't seem to have been.

My unit, #5 (as numbered from the beach). #6 was the owner’s. They have these double roof structures which at first I thought were to vent heat, but they’re just decorative.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, Plus A Bit Of My Finger. I should note that I took these pictures on a cloudy day after I arrived, so you don't have to deal with the glare.  You're welcome.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, Plus A Bit Of My Finger. I should note that I took these pictures on a cloudy day after I arrived, so you don’t have to deal with the glare. You’re welcome.

My unit, a closer view that shows the porch better, and shows the windows that swing outward, with decorative bars inside them and screens inside those.

My unit, a closer view that shows the porch better, and shows the windows that swing outward, with decorative bars inside them and screens inside those.

The view from the door. Desk (and locked cabinet) to the right, hallway past bedroom to kitchen, and the desk chair on the left (not at the desk because the back had no resistance and provided no support).

The view from the door. Desk (and locked cabinet) to the right, hallway past bedroom to kitchen, and the desk chair on the left (not at the desk because the back had no resistance and provided no support).

The living room, looking left from the door.

The living room, looking left from the door.

The hallway to the kitchen. I think that table was meant to be a breakfast table, but I appropriated a chair to be a better desk chair, and moved the living room fan to it to blow at the desk (where I spent much of my time).  Repurposing is one of my superpowers.

The hallway to the kitchen. I think that table was meant to be a breakfast table, but I appropriated a chair to be a better desk chair, and moved the living room fan to it to blow at the desk (where I spent much of my time). Repurposing is one of my superpowers.

The bedroom, where the magic happens. And, by magic, I mean how I survive on 5 hours sleep a night.  Wardrobe to the left, barely visible vanity desk with mirror on the right, bookshelves with fan in far right corner.  Owner's unit out my window, but they make zero noise.

The bedroom, where the magic happens. And, by magic, I mean how I survive on 5 hours sleep a night. Wardrobe to the left, barely visible vanity desk with mirror on the right, bookshelves with fan in far right corner. Owner’s unit out my window, but they make zero noise.

The kitchen. The big white bottle is bottled water, which the convenience store on PCH sells for 20 baht, and insanely good deal. (There's a 160 baht deposit on the bottle, but I'll get that back at the end, after 5 weeks of 20 baht refills.)

The kitchen. The big white bottle is bottled water, about 5 gallons, which the convenience store on PCH sells for 20 baht (61 cents), an insanely good deal. (There’s a 160 baht deposit on the bottle, but I’ll get that back at the end, after 5 weeks of 20 baht refills.)

The bathroom. Note the shower curtain, which hides the shower head at the upper right!  Not shown: the complete lack of air circulation (despite the vented windows); the 1-2 sizable ants that typically crawl around in there, coming from who-knows-where.

The bathroom. Note the shower curtain, which hides the shower head at the upper right! Not shown: the complete lack of air circulation (despite the vented windows); the 1-2 sizable ants that typically crawl around in there, coming from who-knows-where.

So, that’s the place.  When Ian and his wife dropped me off, I was met by the owner Steve’s wife, a Thai woman in her early 30s who showed me the place and handed off the keys (a front door key for the door handle lock, supplemented by a front door padlock).  The first thing I did, because the air inside was warm and still, was go around and open all the windows.  This consists of unlatching the screens to swing them open, pushing the wood-and-glass windows outwards, and then closing and relatching the screens.  17 times.  I have not touched them since.  Can you imagine closing all of them as the day warms and you turn on the A/C, and then opening all of them in the evening when it’s cooler?  I can’t. I mean, obviously, I can, but I’m not gonna.

I think I’ve made my point.  In short, as in my time in Khanom, I have not used my AC while I’ve been here, though there have been many days when it would have been nice.  But it’s just too much work.  And, in truth, I prefer to not use the AC and just enjoy the open air.  But I’ve been here over 3 weeks now, and there was a solid week of “94° feels like 106°” (according to my weather app, and I believe it), and that really wasn’t an entirely happy thing.

There is a real advantage to my not writing up these blog entries as the events happen.  If I’d described this place the day I arrived, and for several days after, I would not have been flattering.  Monday evening and Tuesday, I was headachey, and finally getting over it Wednesday, and the weak points of this place were a bit overwhelming, especially coming from the fairly ideal place I’d stayed at in Khanom.  Later, it was just a simpler matter of pros and cons.  But I’ll get to those in a moment.

So, I settled in on Monday.  The owner had left a really great booklet describing the unit and some of the local places, where to buy food and water, some nearby restaurants, etc.  Steve showed up that evening and introduced himself, and we had a brief chat.  A couple of days later he invited me down to the little stone table overlooking the ocean for “happy hour”, which consisted mostly of snack foods (though he did have whiskey, which I passed on).  His wife was there also, though she barely spoke, and a late-20s German guy who had the #4 unit next to me (with his girlfriend).  At that occasion I learned that Steve’s life was surprisingly parallel to mine in some superficial respects: he was about my age (I’m guestimating, I think he’s slightly younger but looks older), and he’d been a computer programmer laid off from Sony some years before, and had lived in Marina Del Rey about a block from where I’d lived during the 6.5 years I was there.  (He’s not retired, though, and does some computery business that I didn’t inquire about, on top of renting out the beach houses.) And I learned from him and from the German guy that the beach was going to be crappy for swimming.  It was super shallow — Steve pointed out a couple of people waaaay out in the water and said, “They’re standing,” which astonished me.  And apparently there was a dead coral reef out there and so, between coral bits and shells and what not, the ocean floor was so kludgey that I was advised to wear flip flops or surfboard shoes if I went out there, lest I cut my foot as the German guy did.  That was quite the bummer.  I also learned that Steve did not believe in the Green Flash and thought it was just an optical effect in your retina. (I’m always amazed to find people who think it’s a myth; I used to see it all the time when I roller bladed along the beach around sunset.)  But the snacks and conversation were nice, and there was a nice sunset.

One of many nice sunsets.

One of many nice sunsets.

My days on Koh Samui fell into a pretty steady pattern of waking in the 4-6am range, Elder Scrolls Online in the morning (afternoon/evening in the US, so more other players on at the same time), reading and Twitter in the afternoon, sometimes a bit of calisthenics during the day, and usually a brisk walk on the beach for half an hour or so around 6pm, when the sun is setting and it’s a bit cooler, and dinner around 7:00, TV and YouTube until bedtime at around 10-ish.  The afternoon typically involves a lot of sweating and drinking ice water, and sitting out on the porch if there’s enough breeze to keep the temps down. (Where we are on the north shore of the island, I think a lot of the ocean wind gets blocked, so an ocean breeze is by no means guaranteed and I often retreat inside, take off my shirt, and sit in front of the fan to read and drink my ice water.)  Every 4-5 days, I walk 15 minutes down the road to a Tesco and buy tuna and juice and snack foods, and stop by a produce market on the way back for eggs and veggies.  I really like that produce place; the mid-40s guy who runs it doesn’t speak English, but he’s friendly and it’s super cheap.  OMG, crazy cheap.  Like, compare these:

My Tesco shopping trip: 764 baht ($23.57)

My Tesco shopping trip: 764 baht ($23.57). (FWIW, the little jar is pepper, which my kitchen didn’t have.)

Produce Market: 136 baht ($4.20)

Produce Market: 136 baht ($4.20)

The produce guy just gave me the pineapple, for free.  So much good food, and for a fraction of the price.  We get used to thinking of mass-produced, processed food as cheaper (less healthy, but cheap to make).  Not here, that’s for sure.  I don’t regret the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, though.  Or the Pringles. (Crazy how those Pringles cans are single-serving size, amirite?)

And I supplement this, every 4-5 days, with eating at Armondo’s, a Swiss-Thai place down the beach that has some really amazing European food.  No alcohol worth mentioning, but they make a nice mango shake.  And it’s cute hearing the owner’s small son reciting the alphabet and switching back and forth between Thai and German.  Here’s the Armondo’s view, by the way:

I hang out here around 5:30, when I go, and that takes me past the 6:30 sunset and I walk home, cool and well fed.

I hang out here around 5:30, when I go, and that takes me past the 6:30 sunset and I walk home, cool and well fed.

Which brings me, of course, to the nice thing to read, which this time is Consider Phlebas, by Ian Banks:

Consider reading.

Consider reading.

This is the first book of Ian Banks’ Culture novels, set in a futuristic galactic civilization in which an enlightened human culture seems to have become pretty dominant, with very high-tech, world-shaping super-science, sentient AIs that do most of the work, and all the drama appearing to happen on the fringes and lower levels where events don’t go as planned.  Book 1 involves characters caught up in the first war that the Culture has seen in 10,000 years, with another advanced but warlike civilization of an alien species, and the protagonist is a shapechanger, a member of human subspecies that has allied itself with the alien civilization.  He’s been assigned a mission to retrieve an advanced Culture AI, that got separated from its Culture allies during a battle and becomes stranded on a planet that only the shapeshifter race has access to.  It will come as no spoiler, that this retrieval turns out to be a Difficult Thing.

I thought this book was great, and I didn’t much like it.  It’s great, and I’ll look forward to reading at least a couple more in the series, because it’s really well written, I thought the characters were well rendered, it’s often funny, the action is great, the civilization is interesting…  I’m not sure if the Culture is descended from Earth, millenia from now, or if Earth is a backwater planet descended from them (i.e., we’re contemporary with them and just don’t know it), and I’d like to find out which is true.  But.  Every character in this book, except for one side-character who never gets involved in the action, is a loser.  They’re losers, and they fail, and they fail again, and they run frantically trying to survive and sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t, and then they fail some more.  The only one who succeeds gets no joy from having done so, and as a result neither did I.  Mind you, I’m not saying that they’re not realistic, or not written engagingly.  But I get tired of reading about people making bad choices, and if they fail I’d really rather that they fail nobly, rather than in a series of low-grade, pedestrian, “oops, I just did something stupid” ways.  I mean, one guy dies because he forgets that his suit’s anti-grav device doesn’t work, and hops a railing over a 1,000 foot drop to plunge to his death.  Sure, it’s funny (perhaps the only fail played for flat-out comedy).  But it’s an accurate example of how the whole thing ran.  Losers making a series of bad calls.

So, if you like well-written, engaging characters in a cool, science fictional setting, with lots of action, and great concepts, I can highly recommend it.  Even I, who tire of losers fast, enjoyed it.  Just don’t expect to really be a romp.  ‘Cause, if you empathize with the characters as I do, it’s kinda not.

So, getting back to my current location: I’ve been here 3 weeks and 2 days, and I’ve got just under 2 more weeks left, so I’ll have plenty of time to write more about it.  (Like, it’s rained the last 3 days, sometimes quite hard, my first rain since coming to Thailand.  It’s been wonderful!)   For now, I think I’ll wrap it up here with the pros and cons so far:

Pros:

  • It’s a house just off the beach, so there’s kind of a built-in limit to how much can you really complain.
  • Lots of windows, so a very open feeling and a nice breeze, when there’s a breeze to be had.
  • Well equipped kitchen.
  • Mostly great internet. It gets laggy sometimes, but I can usually stream hidef video and play ESO (usually), so way better than average.
  • Groceries and restaurants in walking distance.
  • A nice porch to sit and read at.
  • Very nice when it rains, which it finally did in the last 3 days.

Cons:

  • Lousy beach for swimming, and I haven’t as a result. (Not always a great beach even for walking, thanks to sand that’s sometimes hard to find a firm walking path through.)
  • Windows laborious to close and open, if you want to use AC (which I mostly didn’t, but would have on at least a few days, if it hadn’t been such a hassle).
  • Neighbors so close that I was worried about watching anything too loud on the computer. (Thankfully, the German couple in #4 were gone after a week, and no one else has move into their unit since.)
  • Some noise and pollution from traffic and nearby burning stuff (restaurant cooking, maybe?), thankfully not constant.  I wouldn’t have cared, if I wasn’t recently sensitive to that stuff; but I’ve noticed it less lately, so maybe I’m getting better?
  • Generally hot, humid, and fairly often breezeless.
  • Not much except basic necessities in walking distance, and too hot to make walking long distances very appealing.
  • Ants.  I’ve gotten them mostly under control by sweeping them outside whenever they appear, so I’m not getting bitten as much, which is a good thing.

I think that’s most of it.  Overall, I’d rate this place a 6.5/10, where the Norwegian condo is a 9 and the Old City box is a 3.  And that pretty much brings us up to date.  Next time, I’ll flesh in some odds and ends, and talk about where I’m going next, which I just pinned down in the last couple of days.  Suspense!  How will you survive the wait?!?

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2 Responses to Not all beaches are alike

  1. Florida says:

    I thought I requested no more cliff hangers!!!

  2. Olive Biggerstaff says:

    Looks like a great place to stay even sans air conditioning. The cat is hysterical…literally. I wish I could play this at home, my cat would find it interesting to say the least. Looking forward to your next entry.

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