She’s Japanese, not that you can tell from looking at her, she’s also small, and, dare we say, cute, she hasn’t been around much, and but for a few little tell tale signs of approaching middle age, pretty hard to tell how old she is.
But one thing we can say about her, she’s cheap.
And if you’re wondering what we’re talking about, it’s the little Yamaha step-through scooter we’ve hired for the day.
Koh Phangan is beautiful but difficult, wild but civilized, dreamy and a little bit exciting all at the same time. It has some of the best scenery and beaches going, but it’s extremely hard to get around, we tried hiring a jeep but at 2500BHT balked at the price, then we tried hiring a car but couldn’t find one, then we jumped in and out of the local songthaew taxi trucks to get around, they hammered away at our wallet pretty quickly as well, and crazy prices abound, 250BHT for a short trip, 500BHT or more to the other side of the island, and they also tended to make us sick, sitting with no view or looking backwards on bumpy roads will do that to you.
And so the inevitable had to happen, the only resort left to us, a motorbike, or rather a prissy little step-through scooter to be exact.
We’d hired one before while in Au Nang and didn’t have any issues other than having to leave our passports with the scooter hire store, that made us a little uneasy, we imagined that criminal masterminds plotting their evil intentions to control the illegal passport trade could do worse than to wander into a scooter shop and walk off with a dozen or so westerners passports without too much effort.
But we overcame that worry and booked our day with the little Yamaha, the bikes really are the only way to go and just about everybody seems to get around on the little bikes.
Our main concern, and one we didn’t take lightly, was one of safety, there’s some horror stories around of serious accidents leaving many people not only out of pocket but badly hurt. And it’s pretty easy to see why accidents keep happening, most of the riders have never been on a scooter before, they’re also riding, for them, on the wrong side of the road, a lot seem to think their heads don’t need helmets and the condition of the road is pretty average.
It’s hilly and the roads are either full on 4WD sandy tracks, or when paved, they’re paved with cement which has sandy patches hiding around every corner, and if it’s one thing a scooter doesn’t like, it’s a concrete road with slippery sand blown across it.
The scooter hire shops insist on not only holding your passport, but also of signing a waiver against any damage, if you drop the bike you can be up for anything between 5000 to 10000 BHT.
Anyway, we booked our bike, 200BHt for the day and headed, very tentatively, off towards the top corner of the island, a place we’d not been to before. Lucky for us that the roads where pretty quite and we hardly passed another car on the way, we did see some elephants though, much to Annie’s delight.
First stop, Ao Mae Haad, a little settlement that looks over the remote island of Koh Maa, we’d planned on stopping here for some mid morning snacks and maybe a swim and a walk over the little sand bank that joins Koh Phangan to Koh Maa. But when we arrived the wind had other ideas for us, it was blowing the proverbial gale, gusting fine white powdery sand in all kind of unmentionable places and making it pretty uncomfortable.
So we hopped back aboard the trusty little steed and headed out of town, and a good decision it was too, the next town along the way was much more suitable for our needs, the delightful little fishing town of Chaloklum, protected from the winds by twin hills at either end of the bay, big enough to be interesting and small enough to be a quiet retreat, and best of all, it was lunchtime.
The village seems to be the main port for the local fishing industry, lots of prawn and squid trawlers tied up along one end of the bay in front of a string of small seafood restaurants that wouldn’t look out of place in the Mediterranean.
We parked the bike and wandered along looking for a likely spot and watched the local women on the beach sun drying last nights catch of squid and some variety of fish.
After seeing so much squid and seafood drying on the beach in front of the cafe we choose, it’s pretty hard to go past the local special of squid fried with garlic and a Tom Yam seafood soup.
The Tom Yam is fiery hot with all the right ingredients, lots of chilli, ginger, lemongrass and a pungent broth full of moist fish flesh , and the squid didn’t disappoint either, soft in texture, with crunchy fried garlic chips adding a bit of chew to the dish, some fish sauce a little salad and we’re in heaven.
As we linger over lunch we’re treated to the departure of the fishermen, heading out to the boats for the evening shift. We raise our mango lassi to them and wish them a safe catch.
By now the afternoon is getting along, we can’t get much further around the island as the road deteriorates into a dirt track from here on in, so there’s nothing left but to climb back onto the scooter and head off in time to catch the sunset.
All photos copyright Ross Duncan: firstname.lastname@example.org