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February is usually a good month to take a holiday somewhere warm which is difficult to do in Europe so that means long haul.
We decided a couple of years ago that long haul economy was not an attractive proposition for those of our great age and found premium economy gave us a little more comfort but at extra cost.
We had since flown Virgin and Air NZ with acceptable results and had decided to try out EVA Air, a Taiwanese outfit with a good reputation and competitive prices for premium economy seats.
Koh Samui in Thailand was a place we last visited in 1997 which we enjoyed so we decided to fly there then visit the nearby island of Koh Phangan.
The only National Express coach to Heathrow meant a four hour wait for our flight but we were able to check in our baggage and enjoy the usual overpriced airport drinks. Knowing the price of decent spirits in Thailand we did buy a bottle of Hendricks Gin from the Duty Free Shop to take with us.
First problem was a further hours delay in boarding the 777er aircraft and the second was when a very disturbed Chinese girl threw a wobbler and eventually had to be removed from the aircraft forcibly which delayed us a further hour.
So we were eventually served our dinner around midnight and we might have been better advised to pay those silly Heathrow prices and eaten before the flight as at least the meal would have been edible. As it was the meal served by EVA was just about the worst airline meal I have ever attempted to eat and the cheap wines dispensed from the bottle in plastic beakers seemed to be rationed unless you requested another which was inadvisable!
All economical but certainly no trace of premium apart from the seats which were spacious, comfortable and reclined enough for us to snooze though most of the flight.
We made up about an hour during the flight but arrived in Bangkok with less than an hour to transfer to the domestic terminal for our connecting flight by Bangkok Airways to Koh Samui. The ground staff were well prepared and were waiting on the airbridge with placards showing our names asking us to follow this little Thai lady. It is quite a hike and usually takes about half an hour but we did it at speed in about 20 minutes. We were given priority at the transfer desk, collected our boarding cards, passed through immigration and security and found ourselves in the departure lounge in good time for our flight. Bangkok Airways then managed to serve Pad Thai noodles during the 50 minute flight which was the best food we had since leaving home.
We were staying at the Waterfront Boutique Hotel in Bophut for the first two nights and had arranged their free transfer so an air conditioned minibus was there to meet us for the short 20 minute drive from the airport. It was now just after 7pm local time and that meant the Fishermans Village in Bophut was buzzing with the weekly Friday night street market as we arrived.
Following a shower to freshen up after the flights we wandered out into the crowded street market full of stalls selling food and wares of every description. Being Chinese New Year there were plenty of dancing dragons about. The market seemed to go on forever and Sue bought a few things to take back. I bought loads of shreddies but fake polo shirts were almost non existent and those we did see were priced no cheaper than you can buy them in the UK even after extensive bargaining for quantity discount!
We found a little Thai restaurant down an alleyway off the main drag right on the beach and enjoyed some excellent deep fried prawns in batter and tamarind sauce with noodles. The waitress asked me if I liked it spicy and I said I did then ordered two "Sex on the Beach" cocktails just to prove it! The place was called Fisherman Restaurant and it does not exist on Trip Advisor but you can find it on Google Maps down the ally to the left of Kbeach Restaurant.
Breakfast the next day was two fried eggs, bacon, sausage and tomato. A valiant attempt to replicate an English breakfast by our English hosts Robin and Sue. Unfortunately the bacon was a processed bit of square shaped meat of some kind and the sausage could have been made from anything but both were equally tasteless.
The Waterfront Hotel consists of a main building which is where we were accommodated (see the view from our balcony in the photo above) and several small beach bungalows, all situated around a nicely kept tropical garden and pool which fronts directly on the beach.
We spent most of the day on a lounger in the shade before indulging in a couple of stiffie Hendrick G&T's (and they were stiffies believe me) on our balcony as the sun set.
We had read good reviews of the little restaurant opposite the hotel called The Hut Café which advised booking so we had emailed ahead and booked a table which was acknowledged.
"The Hut" name was a little exaggerated and "The Lean To" might be a more appropriate name as you can see from the photo. Don't let it's appearance put you off as they serve great food at affordable prices.
After those stiffie G&T's we floated over the road where our table was ready and ordered but while sipping cocktails, feeling no pain and waiting for our starters, an English couple turned up for their third visit. There were no more tables available so we volunteered to move to a bigger table and shared it with them.
Our starters were tempura prawns and calamari and the batter was the crispiest, lightest melt in the mouth example I have ever eaten. This was followed by crab in Phanang curry accompanied by Pad Thai Noodles, all quite delicious. The only complaint was there was not enough of it as there is not much meat in their spider crabs.
If you ever go to the Fishermans Village in Bophut you should not miss The Hut experience.
The next morning we checked out of the Waterfront and Robin very kindly volunteered to run us to Bangrak Pier to catch our fast ferry to Koh Phangan. We had pre-booked with Samui Ferries and exchanged our printed Eticket for a real one at the ticket office. We later discovered we should have printed two Etickets, one for the return journey. A 30 minute journey in the Seatran Discovery Fast Cat found us at Thongsala Pier where we took a short taxi ride to Baan Manali Resort.
The hotel consisted of a series of bungalows in a coconut plantation which had been turned into a tropical garden. There was a small swimming pool and a private beach which was on a tidal lagoon. At low tide you could walk across to the other side in waste deep water but when the tide was in you had calm sheltered water in which to swim.
The hotel restaurant was very good, mainly Thai food and we worked our way though the menu for the next five days. Breakfast was really good with bacon which tasted of bacon, home baked bread and home made pineapple jam.
A 15 to 20 minute walk took you in to the main island town of Thongsala which was frankly a bit unattractive so we only went in once or twice to get tonic for the gin and insect repellent for all the mozzies, most of them female as the males do not bite! The slideshow above is a selection of shots from around the hotel and the sunsets were particularly lovely. We also encountered some Chinese New Year celebrations on one of our Thongsala visits and note the attractively named café passed on the way in.
We tried several places in Thonsala to hire a car but none of them would include insurance. Eventually I went on line to Phangan Car Rentals which is European managed and hired a Toyota Yaris for a couple of days which was delivered to the hotel and we dropped it off at the pier when we left thus saving the taxi fare.
On our last night the hotel restaurant was closed in the evening so we walked to the nearest place which was the Masons Arms Pub. This was a mock Tudor building which looked incongruous on a tropical island and was in a 1970's time warp. We had frozen fish, chips and peas which was uniformly awful but the Singha beer on draught was fine.
The hire car took us around the West of the island in a couple of hours with little of interest then we drove down to East coast to Haad Rin which is where all the kids go for the infamous Full Moon Party. We followed signs to Apichada Viewpoint up a hill so steep that the Yaris almost didn't make it and slaked our thirst with fresh Mango shakes.
The next day saw us in the North of the island visiting an unimpressive series of waterfalls and finishing up at Haad Than Sadat which is a very picturesque beach where we swam and were the oldest people on the beach by a country mile!
Our final visit was to Ad Thong Pad Yai and Ad Thong Pad Noi, two beautiful beaches but the latter seemed to be the better of the two having a good selection of different types of restaurants. Had we known in advance it would probably have been where we would have stayed. A selection of photos taken around the island are in the slideshow above.
The sea was quite rough on our return to Koh Samui and the journey took well over an hour. We checked in again to The Waterfront and this time had one of their more spacious bungalows which was certainly an improvement.
Our first evening we dined at Gusto, an Italian restaurant with a wood fired Pizza oven so after beef carpaccio as a starter we both had excellent pizzas washed down with a half litre carafe of white wine from Puglia and coconut gelato with limoncello to finish. Lovely table overlooking the beach with attentive but not intrusive service.
Of course the next night to finish our holiday we had to get stuck into those Prawns in Tamarind sauce again at the Fisherman Restaurant with some more Sex on the Beach!
On our return the Bangkok Airways flight was delayed 1.5 hours so we found ourselves sprinting to the international terminal on arrival at Bangkok for the EVA Air flight. After a similarly poor service and meals experience we managed to stay awake and arrived on time at Heathrow in the early evening to discover that our bags had not made it. So there we were in subzero temperatures with our warm clothes in our suitcases which would not arrive for three more days.
Fortunately we were able to get on an earlier coach and then a taxi home with the snow just starting as "The Beast from the East" arrived in Cheltenham. I turned the heating on and went to bed in all my clothes!