The tailwind keeps us sailing towards Bangkok at a pretty pace.
We receive a message from cyclist Sue.
Where are you guys? I’m in Bangkok.
No way! See you there soon.
We work out it’s the 8th time we’ve met up with her on this trip.
We spend the day exploring the city, wandering the canal paths and we take a thrilling canal boat trip across town. The boats rev their engines and speed along the narrow canals. The waves crashing against the canal walls causing more turbulence for the boat to navigate. The conductor, walking along the gunnels , has to hang on as the boat tips wildly from side to side, threatening to tip him in.
Jamie’s phone has given up and so Jamie has taken to ‘looking after’ our single phone. We think Bangkok might be a good place to buy a second hand one so we attempt the rambunctious phone marketplace in one of the massive shopping centres. It’s chaos. We make a circuit and become so baffled by all the real and fake phones on offer that we have to go outside to take stock. Thinking we’ve made a decision we go back in and immediately get side tracked and almost talked in to buying what becomes apparent is a knock-off Samsung s9.
Eventually we give up and leave empty handed.
Saying goodbye again to Sue, we leave Bangkok by train, having decided to take a few days ‘off’ to learn diving on one of the islands.
Koh Tao is not really the sort of place we usually hang out. Full of beautiful young foreigners teaching or learning to dive but run – apparently – by a couple of families referred to in some places as the local mafia.
The beaches are picture perfect, the sunsets stunning. Scantily clad beauties everywhere. I’m painfully aware of my luminous tan lines, which in no way match up with my swimwear.
… yeah well, I mutter to myself, they may look absurd but these legs cycled here…
The pep talk doesn’t stop my insecurities kicking in.
It’s a beautiful island and the marine life even more stunning. But with over a hundred dive shops on the island it’s not exactly idyllic.
I manage to get on a four day dive course starting the evening we arrive. Jamie, who’s already qualified, books on to a couple of dives separately.
The course is good. The fish are great. I am not a natural diver – more than once someone has to grab me as I absentmindly take a deep breath and shoot upwards add I lose control of my buoyancy.
It’s an extraordinary experience though.
It’s almost as wonderful, and less stressful, hiring snorkels for the afternoon and exploring the rocks close to the beach.
We catch a glimpse of a darker side of life here one night as we cycle back to our hut: a woman screams as a man – her husband – holds her by the throat in the gutter by their house. We intervene – rightly or wrongly – and convince the guy to ride off, but not before she rouses enough to heave a huge rock at his motorbike. She’s pretty shaken. We leave her in the care of two young men who stop by, who seem fairly bemused that we bothered to stop at all. It’s Thailand, they say.
We relay this incident to a couple of people who suggest it may have been unwise to get involved. You don’t want to piss off the wrong people on the island.
The next day she’s sitting outside her house and recognises me as I stop. She’s bruised but looks pleased. Via sign-language she tells me one of them has left the other (I wasn’t clear which). She seems genuinely grateful for our help.
We leave Koh Tao and boat over (expensively) to the neighbouring island of Koh Samui. We’re visiting an old school friend of Jamie’s who’s made his home here. Alex and his wife Muoy treat us royally, we stay in one of the apartments he’s developed and he takes us to see some of the highlights of the island. I overindulge and spend a luxurious morning in bed with a raging hangover.
It’s great to hang out with Alex and Muoy but their lives are worlds apart from ours at the moment. In fact both adventures on the islands are a little bewildering and we’re happy to get back on our bikes and back to living simply again.
Unfortunately, living simply is sometimes an annoyance. Mere kilometres from Alex’s door Jamie gets a puncture, which requires a new inner tube that we don’t have. Our wonderful plan to leave before it got hot is thwarted. We finally get the boat off the island early afternoon and manage a few hours of cycling along the coast before setting up the tent looking over the sea.