Me and Chairman Mao
  Ang Thong Marine Park
Like I said last time, there's not a lot to do in Koh Samui--apart from sitting on the beach, at least, which is, in general, more than enough for me. After all, tanning in that sort of weather is hard work: you have to put on suntan lotion (or sunscreen if you are a wuss: part wimp, part puss. Well, a wuss or Irish, either one) every time you get into and then out of the water, which gets old really quick. And it's even harder to put on when you have a beer in one hand, which you likely will, being on vacation and all.

Luckily, there is one side-trip to help pass the time. (Yes, one side-trip. Going to Koh Phangan, the island next door, doesn't count. Going there is just moving on, not taking a side-trip. Unless, of course, you just go for the day, in which case you might get honorable side-trip status. Maybe.) But I digress, as usual. (One might, in fact, argue this entire blog is nothing more than a digression. Maybe.) I also repeat myself, as usual. (One might, in fact ... never mind.)

Anyway, back to the point, which is the one side-trip from Koh Samui, which is Ang Thong Marine Park, which consists of a bunch of islands and rock formations about an hour (by boat) west of Samui, which are, in general, really, really pretty and nice to look at. And somewhat unspoiled, since they are a marine park, although in this case "unspoiled" would mean "no hotels, but overrun by tourists." I'm not sure if that counts as unspoiled or not, but it was pretty nice.

For those of you with a literary bent, or just a taste for bad movies--you know who you are!--Ang Thong Marine Park is the setting for The Beach. That is, in the book, the beach is supposed to be hidden somewhere in Ang Thong, although--confusingly--the beach used in the movie was on Ko Phi Phi, which is on the opposite side of Thailand off Phuket. Weird. But either way, being on Samui meant that I got to read the section of The Beach called "Koh Samui," which deals with them trying to get a boat to take them from Koh Samui to Ang Thong Marine Park, while sitting on a beach in Koh Samui listening to my friends talk to a Thai guy about getting a boat to take us to Ang Thong Marine Park, which amused me to no end. (Possibly I am too easily amused? There's a good chance ...)

Whatever. Eventually, we got a boat to take us (something that was not really that hard, since people are wandering by on the beach asking if you need to hire a tour boat ...) and went off to Ang Thong Marine park. After an hour or so on the water, we ended up at stop number one. Here's the view as we approached the shore. I would categorize it as "not bad":

Unless, of course, you get hit on the head by a falling coconut, which is apparently a very real danger:

Does anyone know where the bathroom is? Oh wait--never mind:

The point of stopping at this island, besides the bathroom, is that it has a very big hill in the center, which--if you chose to climb it--will give you a very good view of the marine park. Naturally, we decided to climb it. After all, it wasn't very far--less than one kilometer, if I'm not mistaken--and if we were going to come all the way to Thailand, why not? Turns out, that might have been a mistake.

Before we went, we were told that we should bring some shoes for the climb. Naturally, I ignored this advice, because every time I was told something like that, it was wrong. Like I dragged a pair of sneakers all the way to Cambodia to walk around the temples there and them wore them for half a day before switching to sandals, which were just as good and less sweaty. So when I was told to take a pair of shoes on the boat with me to wear for a few hours while we climbed some hill, I promptly ignored the advice and just took my flip-flops.

Was this a mistake? Well, here's a picture of the trail. A not very steep part of the trail:

So yes, it was something of a mistake on my part. Turns out, thin pieces of rubber are not so good for climbing over boulders for half a mile. And half a mile straight up as that, since in a lot of places the rope was there not so much for steadying yourself, but more for pulling you up vertical inclines that you wouldn't be able to make it up otherwise. Also, it was really hot. Did I mention that? I don't want to exaggerate, but the term "Bataan Death March" was thrown around more than once. Seriously. I mean, but without the dying and the Japanese army. But otherwise, it was pretty much the same. By the time we got to the top, I had sweated through all my clothes, and the skin between my toes where the rubber flip-flop strap hit was rubbed raw.

To make it even better, just when I though I'd gotten to the top, I turned around and saw that I wasn't quite there. It's hard to tell from this picture, but when I got there--all tired and thirsty and sweaty and in my flip-flops--but this path was steep enough that I did briefly wonder if making it up to that wooden platform was worth dying for:

Turns out, I decided it was worth dying for--although that might have just been the early stages of heatstroke talking--because here's the view from the top, looking down the path. Danger? I laugh at danger!

And here's the view. Isn't it to die for? Possibly literally, in this case? Luckily, I have taken the risk, so you don't have to. Although if you do decide to climb to the top yourself, I have one piece of advice for you: wear shoes! Also, take water. So two pieces. Also, start early, since it was pretty crowded coming down, but there's only one rope, which makes for some serious traffic jams. Also, if you do climb, don't be like the guy we passed by on the way down who was wearing a yellow Speedo and nothing else. Seriously, no one wants to be behind that for thirty minutes ...

After climbing up and down the mountain--which took about 90 minutes--it was off to lunch. Which, for the only time in Thailand, was actually "earned" on my part. I mean, in the three or four days before this death march, the most physically strenuous thing I'd done was throw a football around in four feet of water. And try to carry back four beers with two hands, which is harder than you'd think, but, as it turns out, significantly easier than climbing straight up a mountain in the jungle in 95 degree heat. With no beer.

Luckily, lunch involved being served really good Thai food, then lazing around on this beach for a while, which helped me get over my exertions. And yes, I am only putting this picture here to make you jealous, because I am just that petty. Seriously, I am:

After our strenuous lunch, it was an hour or so of cruising around and looking at the sites, which was good since everyone knows you aren't supposed to go in the water after you eat. Apparently, going ON the water is okay though:

We also stopped at another island to check out a cool, hidden lagoon. For those of you who are familiar with The Beach, this will no doubt sound familiar. Of course, as far as I recall, the beach didn't have a viewing platform built above it, but maybe I forgot that part? Also, Leonardo DiCaprio was nowhere to be found, sadly, and--even more sadly--neither was that hot French chick. Quel dommage:

After that, it was off for an hour of snorkling--not pictured, since none of us had waterproof cameras--before going back to the beach for some well-deserved rest. Well, at least a few hours of well-deserved rest, at least. And by a few hours, I mean four days, which is about 96 hours. Which is definitely a few hours ....

Previously, on my vacation:
- Koh Samui.
- Tay Ninh: The Cao Dai Temple.
- The Cu Chi Tunnels.
- The Mekong Delta.
Saigon: the Random.
Saigon: Reunification Hall.
- Saigon: the War Museum.

- Saigon: the Streets
- Hoi An: The River.
- Hoi An: My Son.

- Hoi An: the People
- Hoi An: the Streets
- Hue: Zoom, Zoom
- Hue: the River
- Hue: the Imperial Tombs
- Hue: the Imperial Palace
- Hue: the Streets
- Halong Bay: the Videos
- Halong Bay
- Hanoi: the Random
- Hanoi: Water Puppets
- Hanoi: the "Hilton."

- Hanoi: the People
- Hanoi: Zoom, Zoom
- Hanoi: the Streets.
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Koh Samui
Tay Ninh: The Cao Dai Temple
The Cu Chi Tunnels.
The Mekong Delta.
Saigon: the Random.
Saigon: Reunification Hall
Saigon: the War Museum.
Saigon: the Streets
Hoi An: the River.
Hoi An: My Son.

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