New post by Mila —
Visible from Sairee Beach and a short boat trip from Koh Tao is Koh Nang Yuan (Nangyuan Island or simply Nangyuan), really a series of three tiny islands connected by sandbars upon which you can walk to get to and from each island. Known for its snorkeling and crystalline aqua waters, so we brought along snorkels and masks and enjoyed getting close to tropical schools of fish. Jette also brought a half slice of toast, which we shared with our underwater friends. It felt somewhat magical to have dozens of fish would swarm us, nibbling bits of the toast.
The “boardwalk” at Koh Nang Yuan
Shallow water made for some gorgeous color combinations
Some areas were just way too busy for our taste
After our daytrip, we took a longboat back into “town” to our favorite restaurant for lunch and fresh coconut water shakes, then walked around and explored a bit.
There’s a nice mix of low key, simple places and some that have invested in some modern interior design and are priced accordingly.
The perfect local spot for iced Thai tea with tapioca “bubbles”
A very nice cafe called “Butter”. Notice all of the flip flops outside. We love this Thai custom.
Giant tropical foliage
Lots of green thumbs around here
We absorbed as much of the Koh Tao life and atmosphere as we could. Even the simple pleasure of walking from our bungalow down to al fresco dinners was a delight.
Mango Bay’s version of a Caprese Salad
There were several resident kitties living (mostly) peacefully at Mango Bay. Two of them did have a wild cat-fight one night right under a table where another family was having dinner, resulting in one woman climbing onto her chair to avoid getting clawed (we didn’t act fast enough to get photos!). Moments later, this one looks so innocent.
Our work space consisted of some mats and a low coffee table. Here, I’m working on a blog post and Jette is finishing some Khan Academy math work. She’s right on track with a mastery of nearly 50% of the fifth grade lessons and quizzes.
Homework almost finished—Can I go swim now?!
One night, we were honored to have been invited to join some of the Mango Bay team in their Loi Krathong festivities. During the day, we noticed everyone working busily with flowers, not realizing each person was making their own elaborate floats using local banana leaves and flowers. As night falls, they tuck a snippet of their own hair into the float along with some money and some incense. The incense is lit and prayers are made. The belief is that each participant receives forgiveness for any transgressions of the past year and good luck for the upcoming year. Jette was kindly and generously invited to place one of the floats in the water. Not knowing the protocol, she kindly declined the generous offer and we all watched the beautiful and intimate ceremony. The aroma from the incense and twinkly lights on the water from each float was lovely and it was a true privilege to have been a small part of the celebration.
Jette getting a chance to hold our friend’s float just after he lit the candle
Our friend carrying his float down to the water
Floats being pulled away by the ocean
We were getting used to our little island life on Koh Tao, but after nearly two weeks, it was time to get back to the mainland. We said our goodbyes, took one last photo on the deck at Mango Bay, loaded bags onto a longtail boat and savored the short boat ride to the main pier.
We’ll miss this idyllic view from our bungalow balcony over thatched rooftops and innumerable beautiful sunsets.
The view off our bungalow’s balcony
We’ll miss our walks along Sairee Beach.
The three of us agreed that island life is definitely something we can live with every once in awhile.
Life in Koh Tao was pretty darn good. We spent a quite a bit more than we typically do on our hotel (about $USD 60 a night), and it was worth it. The Mango Bay Resort was a great place to get away from everything for a while, slow down, catch up on blog posts and just relax. We’ve been travelling for more than 5 months now, and even though it feels more like 5 weeks and we’re far from fatigued, it was nice to just STOP and relax and read and not think about where to go tomorrow or what to do or what’s next. Beaches are good for that I suppose.
A little seal on the beach.
We spent some days just lazing around. Reading, relaxing, and swimming/snorkeling. Other days we took the boat to Sairee Beach and into “town”. We had a favorite restaurant on Sairee Beach, and there was a Mexican restaurant (run by a Californian) in town that we enjoyed. Jette has developed quite an appreciation for bean and cheese burritos!
On Sairee Beach
Enjoying some porridge
Pad Kaprow Moo (made with more long bean than basil, but still yummy).
Jette and a friend at our favorite beachside restaurant.
Jette on a turtle off Sairee beach
Jette and the bent palm.
Sunset on our boat ride back from the beach.
The days went by quickly and pleasantly. Mila and I read quite a bit and researched some new business ideas, and Jette knocked out a lot of math, history, and writing. She’s doing great with her “school” work. We enjoyed swimming/snorkeling across the Mango Bay to the little beach and collecting shells and sea glass.
Heart shaped coral.
Eye love you!
Mila’s sea glass collection.
MIla standing on one of the boulders at the water’s edge.
Drying off in the sun after a snorkeling session
The weather was good though we had a couple rainy days. The rain created little rivers that flowed down the mountain between the boulders and emptied into the sea.
Rain washing soil into the ocean.
On the days after the rain the sea was a bit rough and the water a bit cloudy from all of the silt and soil that had washed in. Here’s a video shot on one of those days. Even with the cloudy water, you can see the abundance of sea life. You can also see the waves breaking against the stairs at the pier. They look small, but they are really powerful. Jette got bashed against the concrete stairs one day when she misjudged the waves. We quickly learned to respect the power of the ocean!
One day I made the mistake of jumping in before looking closely. It was right off the dock in a familiar spot, but this time I managed to jump into a school of jellyfish! I was stung all over my arms, legs, and torso. Before I realized what was happening, Jette jumped in after me. At first we didn’t see the jellyfish and couldn’t figure out what was going on. I said something like, “The water is making my skin burn. It feels like something is stinging me all over!”. It wasn’t until I got my head underwater and looked around, that I realized I was in the middle of a school of jellyfish. Luckily, Jette had jumped in at the edge of the school and got away with a single sting on her ankle.
Needless to say we got out of the water as fast as we could! Jette’s body reacted to the sting more strongly than mine did, but none of the stings were serious. After a good, long, soapy shower (we didn’t have vinegar) the pain and discomfort was much diminished and we were almost as good as new. Needless to say, we didn’t do anymore swimming that day. The next day the jellyfish were nowhere to be seen.
On one of our trips into town we stumbled across a trapeze school. Our young adventurer was immediately taken with the notion of flying on that trapeze, so it was arranged. A couple days later Jette was taking her first steps up the tall, narrow ladder to the trapeze platform. Here’s a video of her very first go on the trapeze. Note that she can just barely reach the trapeze, it’s a stretch! Also the dismount from the net was a bit rough at the very end!
Here’s another video from a later “swing.” Look at how far it is up to that platform!
Jette says the trapeze was, “A little bit scary but it really fun.” She definitely has an adventurous streak. Yesterday after she finished her work, she was watching YouTube videos on the Cirque du Soleil audition process!
All in all Koh Tao was great. The trapeze and swimming were excellent exercise and a refreshing change of pace. I’d been missing the exercise we were getting when we were on bikes in Europe. Here in Asia we’ve been walking a lot (and sweating a lot, LOL!) but the intensity just isn’t the same. The swimming and snorkeling worked some muscles we hadn’t worked in a while and felt really good! We’ve spent a lot of time lately in crowded, busy, noisy cities. The quiet remoteness of Mango Bay was refreshing. We found great pleasure in just listening to the waves, watching the moon rise, and looking at the stars.
View of the full moon from our balcony
More about Koh Tao and our day trip to Nangyuan Island on our next post…
We’re sitting at a little cafe in Chumphon (actually now we’re in Bangkok, but when I started writing this we were in Chumphon) watching the pouring rain outside (and inside too when the wind blows!). It is monsoon season, which means that we’ve had the occasional cooling downpour in the middle of beautiful, sunny days. It has been a great couple of weeks in Southern Thailand. Let me tell you about it…
We left Bangkok on the night train to Chumphon in Southern Thailand.
Another night train
Getting ready to leave the station
Jette enjoying a peanut butter sandwich
When we bought the train tickets the air conditioned second class cars were full, so we ended up in non-AC second class. Same fold-down sleeper seats, but no AC, so the windows were open for most of the trip. It wasn’t too bad, but the open windows made it kind of loud, especially when we passed other trains, and there was a constant stream of little bugs blowing in. In fact when it was time to go to bed we had to brush all the little gnats, beetles, and flies off our beds. Once we were tucked in, we had little bugs hitting us in the face all night long, especially for Mila and me in the lower bunks. I didn’t sleep much, but I got a lot of reading done!
Sticky rice breakfast while we wait for the bus to the ferry
We arrived at Chumphon well before sunrise. We piled off the train with all the other tourists. The ferry company that services the popular islands of Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, et. al. has an office at the train station, so we checked in there and then waited an hour or so for the big bus that would shuttle us all to the ferry pier. our fellow travellers were mostly 20-something backpackers who looked like there were ready for one of the “full-moon” parties Southern Thailand is sadly notorious for. We had chosen Koh Tao precisely because it was known more as a snorkeling and diving destination and less as a wild party scene.
While we were waiting for the bus, it started raining, but we were sheltered under the roof of the train station platform. It rained for half-an-hour or so, then conveniently slowed to a light sprinkle as the double-decker bus pulled up. We piled on the bus and headed to the ferry pier.
Jette at the ferry pier
Mila and Jette checking out the ocean
With the rain came some ocean swells. Nothing big, but just enough to make the ferry trip a puke fest. The ferry was a large catamaran. Compared to single-hulled ships, twin-hulled catamarans are often more stable and have less of a rocking and side-to-side motion in the waves. It didn’t help on this trip. Within 5 minutes of boarding the boat the crew was busy handing out small plastic bags and wads of toilet paper to increasingly sea-sick passengers. It was a puke fest. Mila and Jette both got very, very sea sick and vomited multiple times. I was very nauseated but managed to keep my breakfast down. It was an absolutely miserable two hours that seemed like it would never end. When we finally arrived at Koh Tao it was such a relief! We be landlubbers!
We made it! At the Koh Tao pier.
A “taxi” from our hotel was waiting for us. Like much of SE Asia (and the rest of the world), a “taxi” is a Toyota Hi-Lux 4×4 pickup truck with seats in the back. We were lucky and got to sit in the cab of the truck, while others piled in the back. Off we went to Mango Bay, on the North side of the island. In terms of distance, it was only 6 or 7 km, but the “road” was one of the worst and most hilariously challenging I have ever seen. As we went through town it was a typical paved road, but as we got closer to Mango Bay it was more of a washed out trail.
The route from the pier to Mango Bay in the North of Koh Tao Island.
Road to Mango Bay
The road/trail went up and down through the mountains and was much steeper than you might imagine. Think of the steepest streets in San Francisco and then make them even steeper! Along some of these very steep sections a concrete surface had been laid, about the width of a wide sidewalk. This gave the 4×4 enough traction to make it up the steep grade. In many places there were deep fissures and gullies, carved by rainwater rushing down, and large rocks (or small boulders, depending on your perspective). Some of the gullies were as big as 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep, so the driver was constantly weaving slowly to avoid getting stuck. When it is wet, the road is impassable, so people and goods must come and go by boat.
When we arrived at Mango Bay we found ourselves at the top of the mountain looking down at a hillside of giant boulders and tropical vegetation. There was a very long staircase winding down between the boulders, with small bungalows perched between and on top of the giant boulders going all the way down to the sea.
The stairs down
Jette on her way down the mountain to our bungalow.
A bungalow, Jette and the sea
On the walkway at Mango Bay
View of Mango Bay from the water.
We made it down the winding stairs, checked in at the office, and found our bungalow. It was perfectly positioned atop the boulders with unobstructed views of the sea. Beautiful.
View from our bungalow.
Mila in our bungalow.
The walkway down to the restaurant and the water.
View from the restaurant.
Another view of the bay. For scale, note the size of the people on top of the boat.
The bay at Mango Bay is a popular destination for local scuba and snorkeling, so every day there are tour boats that come in for a few hours. The Mango Bay Resort is quite secluded as it is the only active hotel in the area. Other than the occasional scuba boat tour, we have the whole bay and beach to ourselves. It is a really fantastic setup! The hotel also provides free snorkeling gear, so anytime we want we can just jump in. There are large coral formations throughout the bay and thousands of tropical fish. The small beach at the center right of the photo above is easy to swim to, and there is lots to see on the way!
The seclusion gave us lots of time to just relax, read, and do our work. Jette was very busy with her math and we have started experimenting with a new curriculum based on the “great books” or classical tradition (think trivium). I’m pretty excited about it, and will go into more detail in a future post. Of course, when we were tired of working and wanted to play there was great snorkeling just outside our door and a beach to swim to. Town, a bigger beach, shops and restaurants were just a boat ride or 4×4 truck trip away.
More about life in Koh Tao in our next post…