Island Life

It’s taken a while, but finally we’re here. We’ve travelled for well over a week from Laos to get to this island off the Andaman Coast (although admittedly with a few stop, first to get Scarlett’s cast removed, then to idle in Prachuap Khiri Khan), but now we’re ready to start our two month, 300-mile, island-hopping tour down to Malaysia. The island is Koh Chang, the northern-most island on the West coast (not to be confused with the more famous Koh Chang on the Gulf of Thailand).

As I write, I am lying in the Mexican hammock my dad bought me before my first backpacking trip in 1999, a brilliant present that proved invaluable to loafing around Thailand then and is just as seductively comfortable now as it was all those years ago (provided that three 8-year olds aren’t also trying to fit into it – fortunately they’re all now asleep). The day’s two-hours-per-day of electricity are over and, as the waves lap around three sides of our bungalow that hovers over the bay on stilts, I can either look across the sea to uninhabited, jungley Burmese islands, with fewer lights than any country I‘ve ever known, or up, to see more stars than are ever visible at home. This finally feels like being in the Tropics. This is the first time I’ve strung it in all the places we’ve visited this time. Finally I feel like I’m back to the Thailand I once knew.

I’d begun to think that this Thailand had vanished. In 1999, Janet and I backpacked for a year around Thailand. We never booked ahead. And we mostly paid £2-3 a night for flimsy bamboo bungalows, and maybe 30-40p for meals.

Even then the bamboo beach hits were fast disappearing in Koh Samui but it seems now that they are relics of a bygone age. And we find ourselves rarely spending less that £20 for a room nowadays (and nearer £2 each for food). Sure, we need spacier accommodation with 5 of us to squeeze in, but Thailand has moved on in 15 years. There are a lot more tourists, Thais are wealthier and the bungalow operations realise they can get a lot more for their beachfronts.

Still, the places we’ve visited have perhaps not been representative. Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Pattaya, Hua Hin: we’ve somehow made our first month and more a tour of the most developed resorts in the whole country. And, Koh Tao apart, these aren’t the kind of places we dreamt of revisiting.

But now… little Koh Chang. No bamboo beach huts, perhaps, but hammocks, lapping waves, sunsets, starlight, no electricity; just cheap food, warm seas and wonderful beaches. This is the Thailand I loved.

I hope the next two months can live up to its promise.


As babies, we enrolled our children in the Waterbabies swimming lessons.  The course culminates in you plunging your offspring into the water for a Nirvana Nevermind style underwater photo.  I didn’t realise then that it may have been the start of a long line of underwater experiences.

Coupled with being strong swimmers and a burning desire to “see tropical fish” – plus of course wanting to be like Daddy who’s doing his PADI certification, the girls were desperate for us to enroll them on the ‘Bubblemakers’ kids scuba diving course that you can do here in Koh Tao.

So today, after much excited anticipation, they finally got to don wetsuits, flippers (well, Scarlett only got one flipper – she still has a plaster cast on her broken leg) and a full-on scuba diving vest with attached tank of air, regulator and weight belt, and had their first underwater adventure.

I came along and snorkeled in the water behind, helping Scarlett with some of the bits that are a bit tricky with a broken leg (like climbing up step-ladders onto boats…hmmmm).  It was terrifying to attach heavy weights to your children and watch them jump in the sea.  Very counter intuitive.  But they got the hang of it straight away, breathing through the regulators face down and doing the ‘OK’ hand signal to the instructor.  They looked like miniature cool scuba diving surf babes.  Perhaps a glimpse of things to come.

I loved seeing the girls’ excitement at seeing the deep, deep water and the schools of fish.  We had one little bit of a problem when Scarlett felt a bit panicky about how far we’d swum, and how far we had to go back, and somehow convinced herself that we were going the wrong way.  But a cuddle from mummy soon sorted that out.  It’s nice to know that they are still my little babies, even though they look like mini cool scuba diving surf babes.

The verdict when asked about it later was very positive from Jemima and Evie, who want to use some of their Christmas money to do another dive, but Scarlett thinks once is enough, bless her.

Reliving Our Youth

Chaloak Bay, Koh TaoIt’s our last night on Koh Tao, where we’ve been for a week over New Year.  We visited 13 years ago in our ‘youth’; the island’s much busier and built up now, it’s gone from ‘backpacker’ to ‘flashpacker’ with budget accommodation very hard to come by.  Yet the natural beauty is largely intact, the waters are still crystal clear and turquoise, and we’ve had a great time.  It feels a bit like we’ve had a package holiday away from our backpacking lifestyle!

For the most part, this visit has been a very different experience to last time around.  Up early, out on the beach trying to catch children and apply sun cream before they get in the sea, blowing up lilos, fetching various goggles, snorkels and other swimming paraphernalia to and from our beach bungalow, sweeping endless sand out of said beach bungalow (I don’t remember that every being a problem pre-children) and playing hours and hours of swimming games and card games to keep everyone happy.

It’s a stark contrast to the lie-ins, the afternoon sleeps on the sand, and the bar-hopping and late night drinking of last time around.  Actually, now I come to think about it, I’m not sure what we did all day without children.  But that applies to life both at home, too.

We had a nice opportunity to reminisce last night after Fergus finished his PADI diving course.  It’s been 3 full days of him off diving and me entertaining the troops, so to celebrate his new status as a qualified scuba diver we stayed up late, sitting on our verandah, and drank a Thai classic cocktail from back in the day – Sang Som rum, M150 and Coke. It felt good to have come full circle.

Island Hopping

Scarlett Literally Island Hopping

by Scarlett

Although we’ve only done a little island hopping before going back to the mainland, I have experienced a lot. In going from one island, Koh Samui, to another island, Koh Tao, my opinion has changed to think that island hopping is great (apart from the bumpy ferries).

I like it because of the quiet little bungalows next to the beach so we can go in the sea every day. These bungalows are nearly always on the edge of a small group of shops and ATMs so we can get new money out easily and spend it in the shops.

This is so different to Nepal because Nepal, with its stinky smell and gardenless hotels is not inviting (the mountains are an exception), whereas here I feel free. Nepal’s towering mountains are not as beautiful as the sea and you can’t go swimming in them!

We spent New Year’s Eve in Koh Tao. Unluckily, I fell asleep for the fireworks.