The sleeper boat to Surat Thani.
While I worried about my Open Water Diving course for 4 days, I didn't have to think about anything else. Right after it ended, I suddenly had to wonder about my future plans. Furthermore, it had already been determined that Mike needed to head back to America to take care of issues back home. So while he booked a ticket back to Bangkok
for the 11th, I decided that I would also depart from Koh Tao
around the same time. My next destination would be Phuket
, a peninsula on the southwestern coast of Thailand and another hot spot for diving.
Since that boat was an evening sleeper boat, that left me time to do two more recreational dives in the afternoon. So I hit it up with Scuba Shack again (I also got a discount on the dives due to just having gotten certified with them). The first site, Japanese Gardens, had monstrous formations of live coral all through huge rocks. For a bit of a thrill, our dive master leading the group, Christina, led us through a narrow cave to swim through. That was quite fun even though I banged against the rock a few times and cut my right pinky trying to adjust. The second dive took us to a site called White Rock that had better underwater visibility than it usually does according to Christina. We swam through several schools of fish and even saw a stingray here. I was a little disappointed we didn't get to go to the site that has whale sharks or manta rays and such, but that's how the schedule went.
One of the many street circles in Phuket Town.
There would hopefully be more luck at Phuket.
Our overnight boat to the port of Surat Thani
was set to depart at 9 PM and take about 8 hours to travel around 200 kilometers. In other words, nice and slow. Standards have increased and this boat featured connected mattresses and pillows along the 2 sides of the ship. Everyone pretty much lined up head to the walls and enough leg room to mostly stretch out. I actually slept quite well on the ship once we were underway. Disembarking from the ship around 5 AM, we were taken by pickup truck to a few different stops to wait before the overland busses got going. I must regretfully say that at one of these spots, my iPod got pilfered. Our group that was using this agency was only 3 people and after we got to our 2nd stop, the other 2 guys went off to get breakfast while I sat there and napped.
Phuket's Ocean mall.
After we were taken to the bus station, I noticed my iPod was missing even though I knew I had it at the first stop. So I'm pretty certain the guy running the shop rifled through my bags and picked out something light to take and it was on the top. My laptop and camera were in the same bag, but were not taken. For all the small comfort it gives, the iPod was probably the most expendable of these 3 electronics. That's another lesson to be learned in that at this one stop, I didn't keep my personal bag on me while I slept.
Anyways, off on the bus we go to Phuket. What I was told was going to be around a 4 hour bus ride actually stretched to 7 hours due to numerous drop offs and pick ups of locals along the way. Even though I slept through most of it, I was exhausted by the time we got into Phuket after 3 PM.
The Golden Dragon fountain.
After finding a cheap guest house nearby, I set out to explore the town on foot. My impression is that it is one of the more developed towns I've been to without it seeming like a big city. The roads were developed and there were hotels and shops of all kinds. What struck me was that it even had 2 shopping malls next to each other. The first had a large department store (where I ended up buying a pair of cheap shorts) and smaller shops selling basic trinkets along with hair salons, a KFC and even a 6 theater cinema. Parts of it were still under construction, but the place was quite lively and filled up with kids in the late afternoon. The other shopping mall was pretty much a ground story supermarket and convenience store along with some racks for clothing, a bank branch, a travel agency and a McDonalds.
The open courtyard by the dragon fountain.
To sum it up, Phuket is the one place that really felt like home for parts of it and I couldn't help but feel a little homesick thinking about that. But it's still distinctly Asian-esque as a night market prevailed outside offering the usual complement of evening meals and snacks.
In preparing for what I would do while in Phuket, I got sidetracked by the revelation that at some point, my backup ATM card HAD ALSO GOT STOLEN! However, in talking with the bank, I've determined that this had actually occurred much earlier. I had last used the card to order our tickets for the Muay Thai match on February 3rd, and transactions I didn't recognize appeared 3 days later. This roughly sets the time of theft to around February 6th, or around 6 days after I discovered it. This coincides with the 2 nights I stayed at a different hotel in Bangkok and since Mike spent almost zero time at this hotel and didn't have a second key, it pretty much limits the culprit to the hotel staff rifling through my main luggage and actually finding the backup ATM card at the very bottom of the backpack.
Explanation of the fountain and the open courtyard.
I swear, at this point, I've almost got nothing else of value to have stolen from me except what I carry on my person (wallet, primary ATM card, and camera) and my laptop. Still, I was relatively annoyed as I made Skype calls last night to talk with my bank and also converse with Mike who has to deal with his issues as well (his taxi in Bangkok got hit by a drunk driver and he broke a finger and had to pay for antibiotics and the Tetanus shot although Thai universal health care covered the rest). Can't say it was a great day.
So now, I'm finally catching up to what I did today. I had decided today would be a free day to make plans for activities after I had finally let the excitement of the past day get slept on. Since I've only got a fan room, I slept with it pretty much homed in on me all night but it was still hot.
Night view. It's a relatively quiet town. I like it.
Around 10 AM, I got woken up by firecrackers. Yup, they're celebrating early. Walking through town was really weird today. Being a Saturday before Chinese New Years, the vast majority of shops were closed except mostly restaurants and internet cafes. This relative silence would frequently be interrupted by firecrackers going off in the distance so it was all rather unusual. Adding to my sudden anxiety, I realized I couldn't find an open travel agency either. But fortunately, I finally found an agency that was open and booked trips for the next 2 days. Tomorrow, I'm going to go north to the Phang-Nga province for some whitewater rafting and then a half hour trek through the forest while riding an elephant. Should be a blast. On the 15th, I'll get in my Phuket scuba diving and visit 3 sites. When one of the sites is called Shark Point, I'm hoping for the best to see something wondrous. So, here I am, after indulging on a nice Italian dinner, I'm finally caught up with the blog. Despite the setbacks in this entry, things are fine. I still have money left, still have clothes, and I still have my health. Oh sure, my right leg from the knee down has 32 mosquito bites (I kid you not) on it, I still feel fine. Taking that Doxycycline like my life depends on it.