Koh Samui – The big 35th

Every adventure has a background. Usually. My trip to Koh Samui had a story dating back to 2012.

I am not the one for making a big hoo haa for my birthdays. But, I am big into milestones. Celebrating important days and making memories. Anyone who knows me well, knows this. So obviously, I was super excited for my 30th. Especially when it was coming at a time when I needed a celebration the most. I had been living a hermit’s life, rather a new mom’s life for the last two years. Life of sleepless nights, diaper changes and endless crying. Crying of the baby and me. I wanted to be surprised, pampered and celebrated. And none of that happened. I waited all day thinking and hoping something would come up, but nothing did. A few friends realized what a disaster it was turning into and came over to salvage it. But, the damage was done by then.

On that day, I promised myself that I would make sure I don’t depend on anyone else to make my day special on my next milestone. I will travel alone and be by myself if need be. Luckily, I didn’t have to. My friend Payal decided to join me on a trip to Koh Samui, Thailand to bring in my 35th birthday.

With typically overpacked suitcases, we were off to Koh Samui on Thai airways’ direct flight. (Not exactly direct) It would have been more economical to fly to Bangkok and then take a ferry to Koh Samui, but that would have also meant wasting 12 hours. There are no night ferries which make it worth it. And isn’t time money too? So, to save time we spent 10k more than we would have if we had flown to Bangkok and then taken a ferry.

We kick-started our holiday with a few drinks at the airport and a lot of overeating in the flights. Our transit time in Bangkok was just an hour, and it wasn’t comfortable enough for the long immigration queues and run to the last gate, where the flight to Koh Samui was departing.

 

Day 1

Land, and it’s pouring rain. Payal and I lamented on how our hair would turn into a bird’s nest. The visit to the salon before departing wasted. No amount of product could help us, and we knew that ponytails and buns were gonna be our go to style for the rest of the trip. We exchanged money and went to get a prepaid taxi at the airport. I had booked us a room at “The Bleu” at Chaweng. The taxi desk had no clue and we had no internet to look it up. Their phones were all in Thai and we all struggled for a bit. Finally, they agreed to take us there for 500 Baht when it was clearly written on the board that the charge for Chaweng was 125 Baht each. When I protested, they called the driver to ask the exact location. Luckily, he knew where we had to go. After a lot of confusion, we were finally on our way to our hotel. The Bleu is located at the end of Chaweng, which is one of the most popular strips of Ko Samui.

At the hotel, we met Pat the manager who was an extremely lively and friendly woman. We took the basic info of where to buy sims, get cabs etc from her and went upto our room to get ready. We decided to just walk through the street and take it as it goes. First stop, to buy the local sim. Right opposite was a travel agency. While coming from the airport, I had noticed enough to know that it would be tough to travel through the city on our own. And we were aware that the public transport wouldn’t be as convenient as it is the western world. So, we decided to look if we got any decent options. We got more than we expected! Bes, the Ops manager of the Opran group (the travel agency) made a customized city tour for us based on my “To do” list. We also booked our pick up and ferry for the full moon party and a day trip to Koh Tao, inclusive of meals. Everything costed around 7000 baht for both of us. We didn’t give much thought to the price. I didn’t want to, lest I feel I overpaid. (I hadn’t. It was great pricing!) We were just glad that it was being taken care of.

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As we walked up the street, we came across “The chef” a highly rated restaurant of Koh Samui which was already on my list. It was still just about 12 and the restaurant wasn’t open yet. We took some pictures at that quaint little place before we decided to walk around a bit more and come back later for lunch. The whole stretch of Chaweng is lined with all kinds of stores, bars and restaurants on both sides. We saw a cute little family grinding spices for their lunch too. You can watch the video at:

We both made up our mind to come shopping again post lunch.

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Lunch was just what we had expected and more! We obviously started with a Singha beer, and Payal ordered a Pad thai for herself whereas I ordered King prawns in chilli lime dressing. Just by looking at the Pad Thai I knew that all the times I had eaten it before this, had been s***. The perfectly translucent noodles with the veggies, sprouts and sauce. They served me a bowl of rice with my Prawn chilli lime which initially seemed weird, cause I could not imagine eating rice with a dressing like that. But, one bite and yummm!!! So so good!! We sat around chilling for a long while talking about life back home. Specially life of women back home. Not getting into that right now, but if you are an Indian woman, you know what I mean.

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We did a bit of shopping and walked up to the beach side and there came the rains pouring down!! After waiting for a while and standing by a little temple, we decided to brave it and go out. We did a little more shopping, gifts for people back at home etc and the main thing- raincoats. After bargaining we got them for around 50 baht each. They were our saviors for the rest of the trip.  Forget bikinis and sunglasses, this trip was about raincoats and umbrellas!

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With nothing else to do, we popped into Duke resto and bar. I had a super yum Mai tai, after all it was Thailand, and we ordered stuffed potato skins. We sat around till the rain subsided and decided to take a much-needed nap before we head out for the evening again.

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Music of rainfall.

Evening, we went on to the beach and were surprised to see none of the beach side bars up and about. At the end of the stretch we could see fireworks and hear music. We walked on, while Payal shared her Philippines’ travel story. The end of the beach stretch, houses all the happening joints of the city, and we plonked at the most filled and loud bar “Ark bar”. The place was full of Indians. It didn’t look like I was away from home. Same scene everywhere. Bunch of Indian men staring at every woman, especially at other Indian women, shocked, amazed and curious to see them letting their hair down. We ignored a few of them who were trying to start a conversation with us. I was getting pissed. But, then my best friend came to my rescue!! Rum!! A few drinks later, I was happy, dancing and bouncing about. The fireworks were incredible, and I recorded each and every one of them.

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At around 2 we decided to call it a night and started walking out the club. We were starving and needed something to eat. All the places and clubs shut their kitchen at 10:30, so be prepared for it when you are staying out late. As we exited from the Hotel’s main entrance we heard a sing song voice saying the most beautiful thing ever. “Falafel” A small kiosk run by 3 women selling Mediterranean finger food. We ordered a pita roll with falafel. And OH MY GOD!!! It tasted out of this world. Just the right amount of spices and sauce, and filled up to the brim.

The taxis were asking for exorbitant prices and, so we decided to walk. We walked a long long while and finally came across a shared open car ferrying people around. For 100 Baht each we reached our hotel. Thank god, we took that, because our hotel was a good 3 kms away.

 

Day 2

Next morning, we checked Payal’s step counter app and were shocked to see that we had walked 23 kms overall! That was just insane. This washed away the guilt I was feeling for all those empty calories gained from alcohol and workouts being missed. (I did my sets of floor exercises, can’t go on a day without some kind of workout)

We were booked for a city tour today. But, it was raining cats and dogs and parts of the city were flooded with water. This cancelled our tour. We were wondering if the full moon party tonight would be cancelled too. We ate breakfast at “The mambo” which was quite close to our hotel. I ordered an English breakfast which had cheese stuffed sausages!! The restaurant is run by a man who had moved to Ko Samui from Holland a year ago and decided to settle here.

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Post breakfast, we took a taxi to the Fisherman’s village in Bhoput. As you walk up to the beach, the pathway is lined with bright and colorful shops. We walked around looking, asking, shopping. This place reminded me of South Goa. The tourists were not your young kids. This place was for older people and families, with the money to splurge. Hence, the prices are all spiked up, the food and alcohol are expensive.  Friday evenings are the fisherman’s market, supposed to be the best time to visit the village as hawkers and entertainers come up for the whole evening till late night. We had no time to see that as we had to go to the full moon party. So, we decided to have our lunch here before heading back. After walking through multiple places and staring at the right side of the menu, we settled down at the Ghecko, where we had some really interesting drinks and a meal to remember.

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Red Penang curry
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Pork masaman curry

We got back to our hotel and realized we still had time before we got ready for the night. We chilled for a bit by the pool. Actually, Payal chilled in the pool, while I sat at the pool side. Apparently, that’s what people who can’t swim do. 😦

It was time for the much-anticipated full moon party in Ko Phangan. A cab picked us up from the travel agent’s office after we quickly grabbed something to eat at The Mambo. There were the same Indian boys we had seen at Ark the night before. We did what most Indian girls do. Ignore.

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Now, the “unforgettable, shit in my pants” moment of this trip. To go to Ko Phangan, you need to go by a ferry. I had read blogs which explicitly warned against going on speed boats even if they are much faster, as they are quite unsafe. While booking, Bes said ferry and I didn’t think twice about it. My limited knowledge of anything nautical which is partly a result of my land locked life and my fear of large water bodies (I call a swimming pool a large water body too) told me that a speed boat is a jet ski. So, when I see this large boat, I think, “Phew! It’s a ferry.” It was not!! It was an effing speed boat.

By the time we entered it, the sitting area was full. They put around 7 of us on the hull. And there began the worst 40 mins of my life. And trust me, I have had a lot of shitty moments in life. It was 40 minutes of screaming, praying, wishing for all the passengers of that boat. It was not just the speed; the sea was extremely choppy, and our boat would just jump up and crash back on to the water with a soul numbing thud. The first time it happened, I flew 2 feet up my seat and was suspended in the air for a good 3 seconds. Remember, we are sitting in the hull. One more foot and I might have gone overboard. There was an Englishman on my left who grabbed me and probably saved my life. Payal hurt her leg too in the whole mess. After that, I wrapped one arm around the bar and dug the other hand’s fingers behind the seat, closed my eyes and waited for the nightmare to end. I tried to think about my son, think about anything else which would take my mind of it. But my mind was blank and my body well aware of each thud, crash and spray of water on us. I was so petrified that I didn’t think I could even cry. The Englishman tried to lift my spirits up, asking me to open my eyes, telling me we were close, telling me he could see the lights and it would all be fine again. But, I refused to budge. I finally opened my eyes when we had stopped by the pier. I was already dreading the ride back to Ko Samui early next morning in a drunken state.

For now, it was time to party!!! We bought the entry tickets for 100 baht each and walked in. Saw some great stores with awesome swimwear but couldn’t shop as we didn’t have a bag to carry them in. We were just carrying Payal’s small sling with our money and phones in it. The drinks are served in a bucket and the first stalls start as soon as you come out of the pier. Each bucket would have a quarter bottle of alcohol, mixer of your choice and ice. We both took vodka, it being the closest to a decent drink. With a bucket each we walked on, ready to party the night away. A stranger walking across me yelled, “I don’t know what you are wearing is called, but it looks great!” The night was fun already!!

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We both had a different kind of expectation from the full moon party. We expected there to be a special event, music, some thing to make it extra special. The only thing that was different, was that you didn’t have to buy the drinks from the bars and could buy the cheap buckets through the various stalls. There were fire artists everywhere doing some crazy stunts. One of my favourite, was these two guys spinning a humongous rope on fire and random tourists jumping in to skip. I took videos of it all. I had a sing off on Linkin park with some American guys. We kept getting drunker, walking through the beach, dancing with various different groups of people. At one such place we met Jonathan and his friend. We all hung out and at 12 Payal wished me and so did all of them. I asked for my phone, so I could take a picture and well, I thought some friends might call to wish me. And then all hell broke loose! We couldn’t find my phone. It wasn’t in the purse. I started wailing, Payal wanted to walk the stretch of the beach looking for it. I knew there was no point, but we still did. Jonathan was really sweet and tried to help us out. After 45 minutes and couple of buckets of tears, I gave up and decided to try and enjoy. There was no point. Luckily all I had lost were the pictures I had taken of the trip. As we hadn’t come into a wifi zone since we landed, none of them had synced to my google photos. People have lost worse things in life, haven’t they?

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We went back drinking and dancing, but I had lost the carefree mood. To make matters worse, the same bunch of Indian guys from our shuttle approached us, tried to make conversation and then getting nasty, I got into an argument, which was luckily broken by one their sober friends who had the sense to take them and walk away. I mean what is with them?!! There were loos all over the place, so bloody neat through the night, but I see an Indian guy peeing into the ocean. Indian men!! Are you listening? Please stop ruining our name all over the world!! Please!!

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It was almost 3 in the morning and I wanted to head back home. We said our goodbyes to Jonathan and started walking towards the pier. On the way, we heard the standard “mundiya tu bach ke rahi”  a Punjabi song which is popular all over the world, also thanks to the colab with Jay Z. We stopped and danced, and I noticed another Indian man trying to record us. I was close to snatching his phone. I yelled at him and he walked away. Thanks to my fellow country men, my mood was completely fucked now. We ate some disgusting Pad Thai on the way out and Payal decided she wanted to lodge a police complaint for the phone. I knew it was nothing but a waste of time. My phone was probably 2 feet under the sand already. But, there was no convincing her. So, we walked and walked and walked, lodged a complaint by writing my name and details on a random paper and went to the pier. The ride home wasn’t as bad as getting there but nothing inspiring confidence.

We had an early morning trip to Koh Tao where we were supposed to go snorkeling with black tipped reef sharks. So, we hit the bed as soon as we reached home, which was 5 in the morning.

 

Day 3

It’s my happy birthday!!!

We woke up after an hour’s sleep, got ready for our pick up at 7 a.m. A shuttle taxi took us back to the pier which we had left only couple of hours ago. After waiting a while, we were told that the weather was bad and the sea extremely choppy and they would have to cancel the trip as it was very dangerous. There were two south African couples in the taxi with us who told us that they were being told the same thing for a week now. That shook me. If the sea was that dangerous, why was the full moon party allowed last night?  Why were our lives risked in those speed boats?!!!

I called Bes and asked her to move the city tour planned for the next day to today. The taxi came to pick us at 11. Our guide was Jamie and our driver Ka. We had a lovely air-conditioned car and our first stop was Wat plai laem.

The temple of goddess of mercy and compassion, Guanyin. I wasn’t rightly dressed for the place and Jamie got me a shawl from the temple’s stand, kept for all such inappropriately dressed tourists like me, to cover myself. It was a hot hot day and Payal and I posed and took all the customary pictures a tourist would take. Jamie was a photography enthusiast and took a lot of our pictures on his camera too. I am a big fan of frescoes and I go bonkers photographing them on my European holidays. The ceiling art at this temple was something I had never seen before. The colour riot and detailing just took my breath away. The temple has a striking 18-arm statue of the goddess Guanyin and is a view into Chinese-Thai beliefs. The temple is surrounded by a lake and visitors who make a donation and get a bag of food to feed the fish.

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Next stop was the Big Buddha. Here a shawl wouldn’t suffice, I was given a whole robe to cover myself. The Big Buddha is one of the most popular attractions of Koh samui and is set on an island reachable by a causeway. The view on top was just so beautiful. Posing by the railing, it looked like I was in my balcony in my bath robe. I wish I had a balcony and a view like that.

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Off to the Samui viewing point. There are multiple viewing points in Koh samui. We were on the edge of a cliff with the vast expanse of the sea in front of us. The sky was overcast and the walkway full of people. We saw a group of youngsters with a professional photographer, in the middle of one of the most hilarious photoshoots we have seen. I wish I had recorded it all. Each one changed their pose every few seconds with a hold and change again. Payal and I had a good time watching them. Two guys, offered to take our pictures as we were struggling to take a selfie while trying to capture the gorgeous view behind us. Honestly, useless photographer. Just useless. Jamie came to our rescue. Thank god!

Next on our list were the Hin Ta and Hin Yai rock formations on the Lamai beach. Let me tell you a story. Years ago, an old couple travel by a boat across the sea to meet their prospective daughter in law. Unfortunately, their boat drowns in a storm and they are lost at sea. Now, how do they tell the girl’s family that they want their daughter to marry their son? Wait for it……. They turn themselves into stone monuments of the male and female genitalia on the beach!!! This is to tell the girl’s family that they wanted her to marry their son and procreate. I mean, what? So, here we were posing with a vagina and penis look alike rocks. Yes we did.

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We saw the cool posers here too and I quickly took a picture. There were loads of shops and I was quite tempted to buy some shell hangings and stuff, but was proud of the way I restrained myself.

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Off to the Na Muang waterfalls. These are two sets of waterfalls set at different heights. We couldn’t go to Na Muang waterfall-2 and the secret Buddha gardens as the rain had turned the track to slush and the road was quite inaccessible. The Na Muang waterfall-1 is quite miss-able. Nothing worth writing home about.

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While researching things to do in Koh samui, I had come across the “Magic Alambic Rum distillery”. It was my birthday, and a visit to a Rum distillery had to be done! Jamie and Ka had never been there, and they looked it up on the map. When we got there, the distillery was shut as it was off season and I came to know that it was white rum!! Noooo!! For the sake of the journey we made to get there, I ordered a taster which was served with a sugary syrup. The syrup was delicious, which contains lime juice, brown and cane sugars, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg. The rum, wasn’t. 60Baht wasted. I left it on the table. The property was beautiful and could be booked for private events. After taking a few pictures there, we moved to the last stop of the day. Our lunch!!

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They took us to a place with a gorgeous view and even more gorgeous food. The spread! Oh, my my!! We ate like we had never eaten before.

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By 4 we were back in the room and we crashed for a well-deserved nap. I wanted to go to the famous Paris-follies cabaret as part of my birthday celebration. We were exhausted and couldn’t bear the thought of walking all the way, and decided to take a taxi. We had noticed a guy sitting everyday near the turn of our hotel offering taxi services. When we finally approached him, we realized it was bike taxi!!! We thought, what the hell, let’s do this! So, we two sat on a motorbike with a driver and went on a Chaweng street tour. Literally! That fool, took us around, right in front of the cabaret and then brought us back to the hotel. We kept asking on the way, what was he doing, and did he understand where we needed to go? Every time we got a nod and a “Yes”. We complained and tried to explain what he had done. He readily agreed to take us back and off we were again. What a guy!

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First stop, the Legends. One of the famous old timer rock and roll bars. I felt completely at home listening to “The Beatles” “Rolling stones” “Def leppard” and the likes. We had one drink each. I had something with coconut which was super yumm, like all the cocktails on this island. There was a group of Indian men sitting on a table opposite us, one of them constantly staring at us. When they got up to leave, that same man tried talking to us, we ignored, and his friends fortunately ushered him out of the place. Sigh!

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Payal kept telling me that the cabaret would be with lady boys and is usually not a pleasant experience. When I walked out of the place I saw some by the street side and dunno why, I freaked out and made my mind to not go to the cabaret. Looking back, I regret it now. Hate myself for being prejudiced like that. Would have been an experience and Paris-follies is quite highly rated for its dancing. Not for what lady boys and Thailand is famous for. We wanted to try a new club and so made our way to Cha Cha Moon. Another of Ko Samui’s famous watering holes. It is right next to Ark bar but the music couldn’t be any more different. Ark is your usual mix of hip hop, pop, EDM, to keep you moving on your toes. Cha Cha Moon is right the opposite. Barely any people with slow electro playing. It’s a beautiful and calm place till the music at Ark takes over. Once that happened, we moved over to Ark. Usual fire artists, dancing and fun. We took a break from all the drinking, well because we were quite drunk and started walking up and down the beach sharing our travel stories. Payal couldn’t stop raving about her Spiti trip earlier this year and I was quite tempted to go for it the next time. Suddenly we hear, the standard, “Mundiya tu bachch ke rahi” and, the standard, we two Indians jump up and start dancing. The rest of the crowd at Ark, around 150 odd people stood around and watched. We didn’t care!!

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A guy came up to us, asking if we were Indians. I asked him if it wasn’t obvious already? We got to talking, he was from Bahrain and mentioned how 35000 people had come for the Full moon party and 30000 of them were Indians! We were almost apologetic. We know what it is to deal with Indian men. And majority of the crowd was men. Honestly, I don’t remember how our conversation ended with them. We walked out, bought our favourite falafels, took a taxi and went back home.

 

Day 4

The sun was out!!! We called to find out if the Koh Tao trip was possible today. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The sea was still rough and Bes told us that she would refund our money back. Sad that we were gonna miss such a great experience, but, we could finally go to the beach!! So, it finally was the time for our beach wears to come out of the suitcase. We walked up to Chaweng beach and were shocked to see a complete absence of places serving food or drinks. There weren’t even beach beds!! It was available to residents of the hotel on the beach side. We convinced a small juice cafe to set up two beach beds on the promise that we would order food soon. We chilled for a while, ate super weird tomato garlic bread, took our customary pictures and decided to move out of the deadest beach scene we had ever seen.

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Low flying plane, ready to land

We walked back to the street and decided to get a massage. I forgot the name of the place, but there are dime a dozen of massage parlors anyway all over. Payal chose to get a deep tissue massage whereas I took a classic Thai massage. I knew a deep tissue massage will reduce me to scream and tears. The massage!! OMG!! Heaven!! After that, it felt like I could feel each and every cell of my body. What an experience!!

All we wanted to do was eat and sleep now. After a gorgeous lunch of Thai yellow curry, Pad Thai and the best ever Raw papaya salad at the Onion restaurant, we took a lazy nap.

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Refreshed, in the evening we set out to Lamai’s evening market. We were too early, and the shops were still being set up. We sat at a bar at the beginning of the lane and had a beer each. The street market had the same stuff as the rest of the island. We bought a few dresses and gifts for people back home. The best part here, the food lanes. Two lanes of just food stalls. So many things!! I wished I had some of my meat eating friends with me at that moment. Could have bought and tasted a lot of things. Ended up buying a steamed fish with some curry. Wasn’t great at all. The desserts looked incredible though!

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Pat from the hotel and the owner of “Mambo” had recommended “The beach club” This is right next to the Sheraton in Chaweng. We were surprised to see that place. So beautiful! And we were so close to it, completely unaware! We had couple of drinks each and decided to move on as the place was completely empty. We could see the staff and people coming in at 9 when we were leaving. The night was just beginning. I was feeling tired and sick and completely out of sorts. Payal offered to drop me back at the hotel and go out by herself. I decided to stick with her for multiple reasons.

  1. I didn’t want to just abandon her.
  2. I didn’t want to be alone in the room.
  3. It was the last night out there and I had to make the most of it.

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We walked up Chaweng street almost ready to go see a Muay Thai fight. Everyday, no! atleast 20 times a day, cars will drive through the street announcing “The best ever fight…. Tonight!! Toooooooniiigghhhttt!! But when we passed by the stadium, there was a long queue outside which deterred us from going in. We shopped around a bit, wondering where to go. As we were passing one of the bars, three old Indian men walked out. By old, I mean really old. In there 60s. One of them, blows me a kiss. “Blows me a kiss” is a very refined way of saying it. I lost it and started yelling at him. I wonder how I didn’t slap him. Mood fucked even more.

We Came across Billabong, a bar which seemed very lively. A live band was playing some lovely music. The singers were exceptionally good. Place was expensive though. We sat with a drink each, watching others dance and have a good time. Payal was eyeing a “probable Spanish guy”. In the lane next to the bar, we could see another place jam packed. We decided to go there next, as this place was turning out to be a little too heavy on the pockets. I forget the next place’s name, not like it was worth remembering in the first place. We walk in, and I know what kinda place it is. With a very disinterested, barely dancing and barely clothed girl on a pole and a local girl on every table encouraging foreigners to buy more drinks. Shit crowd. And it wasn’t all Indian too! One drink and out again. Finally settled at another place, name eludes me again, where we order food. I was sick enough to forget what we ordered but well enough to take pictures. 😀

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We ate while watching the United vs Arsenal match. The bar mostly had Britishers cheering for their respective teams. Two guys came and sat on the table next to us. They asked us if there was a specific reason why the city looked so dead. We told them we were wondering the same, maybe it was the rain. One of them was a little obnoxious, specially when he was talking about India. We didn’t encourage the conversation much and it died out. They asked the waiter at the bar where they could go for some continued fun. We all know what was suggested. We watched them walk into one of the interior lanes, surrounded by girls from one of the massage parlours which mushroom up in the night. I was knackered, and it was pretty late in the night. We finally went home.

 

Day 6

Last day. I spent all of it, inside my room while Payal went out and got another massage. We checked out at 11, left our baggage at the reception and went looking for food. We went to “Phensiri” which was highly rated. We had seen it multiple times as it was quite close to our hotel. We plonked our asses there for the next few hours as our flight was only in the evening. We ordered something every 30 minutes and how could we not?! The food was absolutely divine!!! We were even staring at other tables and asking the servers to get us the same things.

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We sat adding up the final expenses on Splitwise to track it. The craziest part? Ok. A little background. Everytime I even dream of a holiday, I make an excel sheet planning the expenses. For Koh Samui it had come upto 67,000. And guess what? We spent exactly 67,000!! Excluding shopping of course.

It was time. Time for one of the most relaxed vacations to end. This was the first time we weren’t going back home tired. And why would we? Even the airport in this city looked and felt like a resort. Homeward bound already planning the next holiday in my head.

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