The Time I Travelled at Christmas

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A couple of years ago I was travelling for three and a half months, taking in Australia, New Zealand and my first real experience of Asia. I left at the end of October and wouldn’t be back until around mid-January. This meant I would be away for Christmas for the first time, which is the time I spend most with my friends and family. To be away from the traditional Christmas experience would be a massive difference. But I figured if I was going to be away from the ‘normal’ Christmas, then I might as well go for as big a change as I could get. It had already been an unfamiliar last couple of months. From the Christmas Parade in New Zealand, the festive singing and dancing show in a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall plus ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and Christmas trees in the 38°C heat of Singapore.

I normally leave booking my hostels until as late as possible. However, since it was Christmas and I wasn’t sure how busy it would be, I decided to get my room booked earlier. After making a rough plan of where I wanted to go, I figured I would probably be in Koh Samui. I read some reviews and decided not to stay in Chaweng (Samui’s main area) so I booked a place in the Bophut district. From the hostel information it sounded like I could easily travel to all the main areas from there. It also had its own beach which would be less crowded than the one in Chaweng. I would be there from the 23rd until the 27th as I didn’t want to travel over the holidays. Initially I only booked Christmas Eve to Boxing Day and added the 23rd later. Something which worked in my favour as it turned out.

A minibus picked me up from my hostel in Krabi Town and there was just one seat left at the back. It wasn’t even a full size seat, just that half size one they squeeze in to add an extra person. Fortunately I’m not that big so could just about fit in there, apologising to the guys either side as I sat down.

The minibus took us to a kind of jungle based bus depot where we would be catching a coach to the ferry terminal. After checking in for the coach I stood around talking to the guys I’d been sat next to on the minibus. It was quite obvious straight away they were from somewhere close to me (“You’ve got a familiar accent!”). As it turned out they were from Bradford, the next town from my home in Leeds.

Eventually we arrived at Don Sak and had chance to grab some food and a beer before the ferry left (which unsurprisingly was much later than we thought and were told). While we were waiting a guy, quickly christened Ponytail Bob, was going around everyone trying to sell them accommodation and/or transport for Koh Samui. As I mentioned above, my accommodation was already booked but I only had vague instructions on how to get to the hostel from the pier. I told Bob where I was staying and he informed me they would be able to drop me off on the way from the pier to Chaweng. Fair enough, and the price was reasonable so I signed up with Bob.

Sometime much later the ferry arrived. I’m a decent traveller. I don’t get sick in cars or on planes, and ferries have never been a problem for me. However, when the ferry is bobbing around frantically, rocking from side to side while it’s still in the dock, I don’t see that as a good sign for the journey ahead. As it turned out I was fine but I’ve never seen so many people being ill on one relatively short trip. It didn’t help when the ferry was travelling across at such an incredible angle that out of one side I could see sky and out of the other only the sea.

 

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Some places in Asia were a lot more festive than I thought they were going to be

 

We made it to the other side though and everyone started looking for their transport, searching for friends or trying to arrange some accommodation. The lads I’d met were getting into a minibus and I saw Bob stood outside it. I asked him if this was my minibus too and he said it was. Bob was wrong! The minibus driver likely hadn’t been told to drop me off on the way and was more preoccupied with dropping his own friend off first. I realised we were on the main strip in Chaweng as more and more of the other backpackers were getting out.

Eventually it was just me and the lads I’d met, who were staying in a hotel at the far end. The staff at their hotel were very helpful and spoke to the driver as well as ringing my hostel to explain the situation. The driver claimed that I was drunk and had got on the wrong minibus. What’s more, he wanted paying extra to drop me off at my hostel! I refused, saying I’d already paid and the driver hadn’t dropped me off so it was his fault. Eventually he agreed to take me and we got back in the minibus. That was an uncomfortably tense ride! We pulled up outside a 7/11 and were met by the owners of the hostel who drove me the two minutes to finally reach my hostel, which seemed a bit unnecessary. I explained my story to the owners and apologised for them having been caught up in it. I hadn’t asked for them to pick me up but thanked them all the same.

You’d think that having reached the hostel, everything would be plain sailing from here. You’d be wrong. I was checked in and shown to my room. There was a girl in there (and a few others judging by the clothes around the room) and pretty much the first thing she said to me was “In the bathroom, there’s a… I don’t know the word.” I went into the bathroom and saw what it was. A massive cockroach wriggling its way around the floor. Great.

I grabbed a dish from the kitchen and a piece of card. After carefully scooping it up I took it outside and dropped it over the short wall, hearing it hit the ground with a surprisingly loud thud. It was getting a little late now so I headed out to get some food. I had a short walk back to the 7/11 and saw a few restaurants. I chose a decent looking one and ordered some Thai red curry, which was very nice. On my way back to the hostel however things hit the fan again. Off the main street where the restaurants and 7/11 were, there were only dirt tracks and no lights. I suddenly realised I had no idea where the hostel was. I’d been driven to the hostel and hadn’t paid too much attention when I came out (I was hungry and still a little pissy). I turned up the first right, I remembered that much, but there was nothing beyond that to indicate where the hostel was.

After ambling around in the dark for a few minutes I took a left. The further along this route I went the more I realised it wasn’t the road I needed or a road at all in fact. When I was being barked at by a dog on a porch I realised it was just someone’s driveway. I quickly returned to where I’d turned and continued on to the next turning. There was a sign for a tennis club, which I was happy to remember being mentioned in the hostel directions. I confidently took this path only to be met by a huge dog as it came flying through a gap in the fence, barking angrily at me. My first thought was ‘crap’. With a deep breath I yelled “Get back in there!”, swiftly followed by a huge sigh of relief as it took my advice. The hostel was just ahead and by now I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be waking up there on Christmas morning.

I tried to get back in my room but the door wouldn’t open and none of my keys worked. I went back to reception to ask for help. To get to my room I had to go through another room first and apparently I shouldn’t have closed my door on the way out as the keys only unlocked the first room’s door and my locker. Silly me.

Once I was back in my room I was sorting through my stuff when my new roommates all returned. They were a group of German girls. We exchanged the usual conversations when you first meet new people on your travels and they mentioned they were going out before bidding me good night and heading out. I do a lot of my travelling alone and the usual reaction after exchanging plans is to invite the lone person along. It’s something I’ve always done if I am part of a group and a new person comes along and is typical for most friendly travellers. Obviously it wasn’t a thought for these girls. It was also two days until Christmas. I figured I should just get an early(ish) night.

The first step after waking up on Christmas Eve was to head to the local beach. I decided if that wasn’t up to much then I was out of there. There were no more troubles getting there this time as it was light and I knew where the 7/11 was now. Since I was away from my usual Christmas experience with friends and family I decided I wanted to spend it on a beach. I’m not one for sitting around relaxing on a beach all day (I get bored) but it just seemed like a good way to experience Christmas differently. The beach unfortunately wasn’t the best. It was quiet with cool scenery but wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for.

 

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The Thai beach in Bophut on Christmas Eve

 

Back at the hostel (after no meetings with large dogs on the way) I booked somewhere else to spend Christmas. It was at the end of the main strip in Chaweng so it was a little away from the main action but close enough so I could still meet the lads from Bradford. I informed the girl on reception that I was checking out early and that I’d pay for that night as it was short notice. This was where booking those three nights separately paid off. She said she needed to check with the owners, which was fine so I went to go pack. There was just time for one more issue to deal with before I could get out of there.

Not only did the owners want paying for the three nights but they wanted extra for picking me up, something I never asked them to do. Plus the driver of the minibus from the port apparently still wanted his extra cut as well. I refused to pay anything other than the room for that night, happy to write that off, and eventually they backed down.

I collected my things from the room, wished the ‘friendly’ German girls Merry Christmas and got out of there. I was waiting a few minutes at the side of the main road by the 7/11 for the tuk tuk into Chaweng. After turning down a taxi that was charging too much, one of the motorbike taxis pulled up and gave me a price. By now I was eager to get to my new hostel and away from everything that had happened in the last 24 hours or so. I hopped on the back with my backpack behind me and we rode off, having a nice little chat on the way.

Once I was all checked in I met up with the guys from Bradford and had a great Christmas. We even met two other groups that happened to be from my hometown. Not sure I’d like to go through all of that again, but I definitely got to experience a very different kind of Christmas.

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