After an amazing month in Chiang Mai, Thailand we extended our Thai visas and spent two weeks island hopping in the south. We were joined by two friends (Dan S. and Cory) who flew out from Vancouver to travel with us for a couple weeks. We all first met in Manitoba working for Kiewit (our employer before we quit to travel the world). For two weeks we island hopped across the southwest coast and southeast coast Thai islands. Dan and I upped our budget a little to stay in nicer resorts and hotels and treated ourselves to a bit more partying and alcohol (that is, if you can call being incredibly hungover a “treat”; also, when did I start getting so old that I actually get hungover – oh how I miss my early 20’s.)
EAST COAST VS WEST COAST (THE THAI ISLANDS)
Comparing the east coast to the west coast islands is like comparing one paradise to another, at the end of the day – they are both paradises. But sometimes you need to choose and you want to be as well informed as possible. Luckily, we didn’t have to choose and we visited two islands on the east coast and made four stops on the west coast. While Koh Tao on the east coast had the best snorkeling we did, the west coast islands are undeniably more beautiful. The picturesque limestone cliffs hanging out over the deep turquoise sea – it doesn’t get much more beautiful than that.
KOH TAO (EAST COAST)
The bus/boat trip from Bangkok to Koh Tao seemed to take forever, especially after an all-day train the day before from Chiang Mai, but as soon as we laid eyes on the crystal clear waters and majestic looking islands, all our woes disappeared and we celebrated making the long journey.
One of the top things we discussed doing on Koh Tao was to hire a boat to take us around to some of the top snorkeling spots only accessible by boat; however, we waited until our last day (we might have been really hungover the first day) and that day it was way too windy and the boats were restricted where they could go. Instead, we rented scooters for a fraction of the cost and drove around the island exploring and searching out our own snorkel spots. I’m actually pretty glad it worked out that way!
Dan and I decided to buy our own snorkels as we planned on being mostly on islands for the next few months and rentals get expensive. I’ve always had an issue with the dirty uncomfortable little piece of the snorkel that sits in your mouth and was stoked to discover new full-face snorkels. A little on the pricey side (although not much more than a good quality ‘regular’ snorkel), I highly recommend purchasing one! Not only are they comfortable to wear, but you can also breathe normally – through your mouth and nose. You can also dive underwater and come back up, breathing normally again with no issues. I also think we looked pretty cool wearing them!
We took advantage of our scooters and drove to the main town for dinner, catching this beauty of a sunset group selfie:
KOH PHANGAN (EAST COAST)
On Koh Phangan, we chose a resort-style hotel, See Through Resort Haad Yao, on Haad Yao Beach; supposedly the most beautiful beach on the island and 45 minutes from Haad Rin (the main town). We were more than happy to have a peaceful haven away from the craziness of the full moon party and took full advantage of the beach with the Dan’s tossing around the Frisbee in the afternoon.
Our second day we again rented two scooters. Dan and I spent the day at the Slip ‘n Fly Party: “Featuring the biggest and craziest slide in Southern Asia, with a mix of adventure, games & artists, to bring you the ultimate daytime tropical party on the beautiful island of Koh Phangan.” Basically, the main focus was on the two giant water slides set up with the sole purpose of giving you as much air as possible.
Set up around the slides were two bars, a couple foods stalls, mud wrestling and beer pong along with some limited seating. The party atmosphere was pretty clear with everyone prepping for the full moon party that evening.
Dan was cool and collected going down the slide:
While I was a little less composed:
Dan got in plenty of practice on his flips off the slides:
While I was just incredibly proud of myself for successfully landing without the token belly or back flop most people seemed to be doing:
Just a quick kissing selfie in the pool!
That night we hopped in the back of a pick-up truck which drove us to the infamous Full Moon Party, which I dedicated a short post to here: KOH PHANGAN FULL MOON PARTY.
After sleeping away the majority of the next morning, we rode the scooters to the pier town for lunch and then searched out Phaeng Waterfall. The short hike through the jungle was fun but don’t except much from the waterfall, at least not in dry season!
Leaving Koh Phangan was a complete and utterly disorganized mess, partially due to bad weather and partially due to an overall lack of efficiency, organization and signage. We also somehow managed to lose Cory when boarding our bus to Ao Nang from Krabi but luckily all ended up at our hotel later that evening!
AO NANG BEACH (WEST COAST)
Ao Nang was surprisingly developed, there was even a Starbucks in town! We stayed near the end of the main beach, just up the street at Golden Moon Aonang, which was tidy, clean and everything we needed.
On our first full day we decided to do a tour exploring the nearby islands. The most popular tour, ‘4 Islands Tour’ consists of visiting Koh Gai (“Chicken Island” ), Koh Tup & Koh Mawr which are linked to Chicken Island by a sand bar, and lastly Koh Poda. With a group of four, a private tour wasn’t much more expensive than each paying to go as part of a large group and we got the flexibility to do as we liked (definitely a better choice in my opinion!)
Our private tour was on a longtail boat, the classic albeit slightly touristy (not to mention noisy and polluting) way of travelling.
Our first quick stop was at Pranang Cave, near Railay Beach.
Next, our longtail driver/tour guide took us to a snorkel spot as per our request. To our disappointment the water was nowhere near as clear as it had been on Koh Tao (possibly due to the recent rough weather?).
Crystal clear water, snorkeling in Koh Tao:
vs. murky water off the Krabi coast:
It was still fun to swim around after fish; that is, until I started to notice all the jellyfish around us and even felt them stinging me! Needless to say I got out of the water pretty fast followed shortly by the others. Possibly by coincidence, our guide jumped in almost at the same time as we were scrambling to get out. He returned to the boat after collecting a flipper from the sea floor and pointed to his chest where he got stung. We all agreed, in broken English, that there were jellyfish in the water.
Our driver then took us around the island to a new spot where I believe he was trying to tell us there were less jellyfish. He also said “Nemo” as in maybe we would spot a clownfish. I love how a Disney movie can become so widely known that it breaks down language barriers! At our new spot, I quickly pointed to the surface of the water which was covered in patches of a clear jellyfish-like substance. He responded by snatching some up and offering them to me, explaining they were baby jellyfish and didn’t sting! While I bravely held a couple in my hand (Dan was too scared, he’s not a jellyfish fan), we still opted not to go back in the water.
Our driver then offered to take us over to the touristy side but he explained if we stop we would have to pay a 400 THB ($11 USD) fee each! Instead, he offered to drive us around a bit more and then drop us off at Railay Beach where we could grab lunch before heading back to Ao Nang. As we didn’t really see the point in paying the fee, we took him up on his offer. I mean, the sandbar didn’t look that special and we’d already seen Chicken Island as far as I was concerned. Can you spot “Chicken Island” – hint: it’s shaped like a chicken head?
On Railay, Dan and I managed to find our favourite Thai food restaurant we had discovered two years ago! To our delight, the prices were still as cheap and the food was still as good as we remembered! We also managed to snap a few quick shots of monkeys before heading back to our boat.
Our second day in Ao Nang, we returned to Railay Beach via a taxi longtail boat. After walking to East Railay and checking out the mangroves, we had lunch and then rented kayaks for two hours.
Kayaking around Railay Beach:
KOH LANTA (WEST COAST)
Koh Lanta was the largest island we visited and while I see it has a ton of ‘tourist-potential’, it’s spread out and many of the developments that are there are quite run down. However, the island is easily accessible by car ferry and we noticed bridge construction that would connect the island to the mainland. Given that, I would expect a large development boom here in no time.
We learned from our past experiences and this time rented scooters at the pier. Dan and Dan S. drove the scooters to the resort while Cory and I took all the bags in a taxi. Not only did we save money on two people not having to taxi (annoyingly, taxis charge per person) but we saved ourselves having to pay the overpriced resort scooter rental price.
Our resort was about half way down Long Beach and a gorgeous haven away from much of the run-down accommodation we saw everywhere else. As luck would have it, all of our rooms were upgraded free of charge!
After a long day of travel we treated ourselves to an overpriced western-style lunch at a nearby restaurant – Patty’s Secret Garden – which we found via TripAdvisor. That night we took it easy and stayed in. Unfortunately, none of us slept that night; Dan S., Cory and myself were all up puking our guts out. After managing to avoid any sort of food-borne illness for over a year, I had picked something up. But that’s another story, for another post.
The following day was a complete right off (I didn’t even leave our room….) and the day after that was our last day together. I attempted to pull myself together and go for a scooter ride but after taking a knee by the side of the dock and almost fainting in the extreme heat, I got Dan to take me back to the hotel. But at least we got one photo together in Koh Lanta:
Our third day on Koh Lanta we said goodbye to Dan S. and Cory who were headed to Koh Phi Phi en-route back to Bangkok. We headed in the opposite direction, south, island hopping our way into Malaysia.
Dan and I checked into a cheaper hotel next to the pier for one night before heading to Koh Lipe the following day. While I was feeling better and ready to finally explore Koh Lanta, Dan – who had managed to escape the food poisoning – was feeling exponentially worse. His skin was burning up and he was freezing cold. I walked around town a bit and picked us up dinner which I brought back to our room (along with some paracetamol and Gatorade for the sickie). Hoping that he had just gotten heat exhaustion, we woke up the next morning and got on an awful van/ferry combo to Koh Lipe.
KOH LIPE (WEST COAST)
Exhausted and frustrated beyond belief as a result of our ridiculous transport, we arrived at our guesthouse only to check-in to a fan only room that was far from clean. We aimlessly walked around looking for a restaurant where we could cool down in air-conditioning to no avail. Our only sanctuary of cool air was hiding in the back of 7-11 pretending to look around (I’m not even joking)!
Koh Lipe was not exactly what we expected, in both good and bad ways. It was far more beautiful than I had imagined – I would almost dare to say the most beautiful island I have ever seen. But it was also far more developed and overrun with tourists than I had hoped, or heard. For such a remote island that’s relatively difficult to get to I was really surprised.
The only good thing about our guesthouse was that it was located just off the beach behind one of the island’s best beach restaurants that sold cheap beer and wine by the glass along with yummy food and free WiFi. Needless to say, I used the opportunity to catch up on writing, budgeting and planning (all of which we’d fallen behind on when our friends were with us) while Dan rested in our room.
By our third day on Koh Lipe and Dan’s fifth day with a fever we’d come to the conclusion it probably wasn’t heat exhaustion. Combined with the joint pain, overall weakness and tiredness as well as a sunburn-like rash he had, we concluded he likely had dengue fever.