Phuket - Koh Phi Phi - Krabi - Ao Nang - Tonsai - Koh Lanta - Koh Lipe - Trang - Bangkok!
"The Condensed Version" - Forgetting, or rather, thinking I wouldn't need my laptop travelling the southern islands of Thailand, I am writing the quick & easy blog to play catch up...
With my friend Phil & his fiance Nudacharee - who were kind enough to show me the south & start me on my travels, we fly from Pattaya airport (Utapao) paid the expense of B2750 for the nice short flight; with the thought of spending more quality time travelling down south. Decided to continue through Phuket - one night stay - onwards to catch a ferry to Koh Phi Phi. The 2hr ferry crossing B1000 was full of high season tourists but finding a nice spot outside on the deck in the sun made the overall trip relaxing. The first view of the infamous limestone rocks as we make our way to the Phi Phi pier was truly impressive. Cameras were out on all sides of the ferry shooting like drunken hunters during duck season.
Koh Phi Phi
Pull into Koh Phi Phi (tonsai beach), unload with the throng of people, and not surprisingly locals 'welcoming' us with budget accommodation possibilities. I head for a beer. My own ritual; get away from the madness until the storm calms down a bit, then head off on on terms. Phi Phi is a literal maze of dive shops, bars, restaurants, accommodations with a "massage for you?" thrown in for good measure. Spent 4 days which find surprising; 2 days long enough. Don't get me wrong, Phi Phi is beautiful; clear waters, great snorkeling and there are places you can find to get away from the noise for a time. Walk up to View Point (nice views) and down to other side and visit Rantee Beach, a chilled l'il spot. I found a place called Tropical Gardens, definitely recommend as it's tucked away but still close enough to the action if desired. Also hiring a longtail boat to tour the surrounding area is worth a half day....monkey's are cool! Okay, there's Leo's "Beach" but as you'd suspect...busy.
Krabi - Ao Nang
Ferried from Koh Phi Phi to Krabi, about a 3hr crossing. Felt a bit like being in a cargo hold, old boat but smooth ride nevertheless. Get off @ Krabi pier, find transport and continue on to Ao Nang. A town set up for the package tourist; kayaking trips, elephant adventures and boat tours to the surrounding islands. Thought about staying to do Tiger Temple, a 1000 step climb to view an amazing (from what I hear) temple set in the jungle. But after the crowds of Phi Phi, I wanted to find some seclusion. Phil & his Thai fiancé, Nudacharee who I’ve been travelling with, suggested we go to Tonsai , so we go. A short longtail boat ride B200 from Ao Nang. We're dropped off at West Railay instead, which is just next to Tonsai. West Railay being a popular tourist destination, we quickly hop another longtail B50 to our chosen location. Tonsai.
Tonsai is a rock climbing mecca. With high limestone cliffs of all shape & sizes, it is a climbers dream. Not a 'rock' enthusiast myself, I can still understand the attraction, gorgeous. However, one doesn't have to be in the group to enjoy the relaxed, friendly feel Tonsai has to offer the weary traveller. My friends stay in the higher end accommodation (a/c & tv) while I find a B400 bungalow with fan/mosquito net, perfect. Not the prettiest beach but that's not what Tonsai's about...set in the jungle with limestone cliffs on both sides, monkeys swinging through trees, you have the feeling of being of being somewhere quite special. Yes, one of my favourite's so far. Tonsai is somewhat far removed as there are no police, so 'mushroom' shakes and desired smoke is readily available, which of course I didn't partake...it wasn't me with the french guy, his Indonesian girlfriend & a couple locals Be very careful - the laws in Thailand are extremely strict. "No candy from strangers"
The advantage of having West/East Railay so close is tourists head there and bypass Tonsai all together. West Railay has a nicer beach and is worth to go, as well as East Railay with it's mangroves, just a resort feel to it. People from the 'other' side only visit with day trips by longtail or the scramble over the slightly hidden path through the rock/jungle. I (we) stayed in Tonsai a total of 6 days, could've been longer, easily. But more to see ahead of me, after some self-deliberation, decide to island hop with Koh Lanta next. I won't say more about Tonsai as it's not for everyone, so if in the area, go see for yourself and remember, keep it under your hat Be warned: No power lines to Tonsai, all by generator. So, power is usually on from 6pm - 6am, depends where you stay. More expensive, 24hrs.
Back on the ferry trail; longtail from Tonsai to meet ferry out by West Railay B450, we board with bags in tow. A lovely ride. Sunny, blue skies passing along seemingly untouched coastlines with white beaches ready to be explored. With a few laughs with fellow passengers and a 2.5hr boat ride we arrive @ Ban Sala Dan pier, Koh Lanta. Again, politely push through the 'local welcoming' and find a cold beer & food. After a delicious meal, finding the location to stay, we find a tuk tuk driver to haul our bodies to another beach. Koh Lanta is made up up 3 primary beach fronts; Phrae Ae, Khlong Kong & Khlong Nin. Phrae Ae beach is busier with families and budget travellers as accommodation is more aplenty/cheap. Khlong Kong is quiter, slightly more expensive, but with a little scouting about can find cheap housing for your stay, as I did in the end. Never did check out Khlong Nin but am sure is fine, just a bit further along the coast. We stayed in Khlong Kong and glad we did. Again, friends chose higher end, while I found my bungalow, perfect. WhereElse Resort is a family operated, 3rd generation owned, beach/restaurant/bar. Lovely people & fun. Sightly went out of budget to stay B700 and worth it, nice feel to it.
Rented a motorbike B200/day for 2 days which I highly recommend as there's a lot to see and the island itself is large. Be careful - met a few unfortunate souls who had bandages & scrapes from the road. Even though I've ridden before, you can never know what's ahead, behind and around you. Saying that, it is the most enjoyable way to see the island. Head down south all the way till the road ends @ National Park - nice tour with great beaches along the way. Also, visit the other side to Old Town. Road takes you through jungle, ending up at small restaurants and shopping, worth a visit.
Stayed @ WhereElse for 4 days, then moved directly in behind, to a really nice set of bungalows for B400. In doing so, saved money but still enjoy 'my' family walking through to the beach. I'm a certified advanced open water scuba diver and Koh Lanta has some of the best diving locations in Thailand. Dipping into my funds, I dove (dived?) with Flip Flop Divers in Phrae Ae - owned by a great guy Ady originally from South Africa. Decided to to a 2 tank dive @ Koh Haa (5 islands) Beautiful dive with 100ft visibility, marine life with some cavern exploring. Worth it! A great time on Lanta. Also met Stella, a very nice gal from Austria (wink & nudge) who was near the end of her long trip. I had to say my goodbyes; Phil/Nudacharee (off home to Ban Chang), the family @ WhereElse, and after a quick morning swim - decided to keep hopping.
A flip of a coin. Head back up north to Similan Islands (next time) or keep moving in same, same direction south. Good so far - south it is.
Koh Lipe is a journey; 4.5hrs by ferry, with stops along the way dropping/picking up passengers. I bought a ticket for the Tigerline Ferry, slightly faster ferry service B1400 - speed boat @ B1900. Glad I did. Met two awesome Dutch girls and we had a laugh riding on the top deck, stretched out in the sunshine. There were clouds with bits of occasional drizzle - ongoing joke I used my powers to open the skies for more sun & worked! Gorgeous islands along the way which I have to remember for a possible return. Saskia & Denise were continuing on to Malaysia, then flying home to Holland. Koh Lipe is quite close to the Malaysian border and many travel from there in opposite direction. We part ways, say our goodbyes as I'm dropped off @ Pattaya beach in Koh Lipe.
My friend Phil was in Lipe 4 yrs ago and from what he told me of the laid back vibe & peace - much has changed in the years. Like most beautiful places, it becomes popular, then more is added to an already small island to accommodate the people. Start with the usual B20 island environmental fee (which is typical) - a dock is just off the beach where we're unloaded and have to pay B50 for longtail ride into shore. I joked I'd swim to save purely out of principal. The beach is beautiful regardless; the softest white sand I've experienced. Just too many longtail boats taking up quality space. I head for my beer before my bungalow search. Find Cafe Lipe - good food with 6 bungalows in back, run by a nice German guy with his Thai wife on Pattaya beach. Koh Lipe has 3 beaches; Pattaya, Sunset & Sunrise. Pattaya - beautiful & busy, Sunset - quiet & secluded, Sunrise - the longest & resorts. I spent most of my time, you guessed it @ Sunset. Koh Lipe is completely walkable being the size it is and don't regret coming as I wrote, relaxed & met some nice people. However, due to the length of the journey - not sure to recommend??
After an email correspondse with Stella - Austrian friend - decide to head off to Bangkok to meet up with her and sort out my visa to Vietnam. Bought a multi ticket B1650; speed boat with minibus to Trang - overnight train to Bangkok.
After an excellent breakfast @ Cafe Lipe - grab longtail to speed boat and after a rough 'rodeo' ride we arrive @ Pak Bara. 'Miss Koy' waiting to take us to minibus station - 30min wait - load up in a/c bus for the 2hr drive to Trang. Crazy driver though got us there unscathed. Unfortunately had 4hr wait in Trang before boarding overnight train to Bangkok. Free Wifi in most places kept me busy and had a quick look around while in Trang. Reunited with Stella, had a bite to eat together & catch up. Time to board - us in different cars - parted ways, found my car #3, hopped on for the night train to Bangkok...gotta be a song there somewhere.
First time on a Thai train - second class sleeper, a/c, top bunk. I don't recommend the top bunk in an a/c sleeper as it's right @ your head and cold through the night. Next time fan sleeper would be fine (cheaper as well) or lower bunk in a/c compartment. A smooth ride through the night - they serve beers & food if desired (expensive) bring own food with you. I watch as we pass by small villages & towns until the sun sets - always liked travelling by train. The Thai guy in charge of his car pulls upper bunk down for me & with clean sheets, I tuck in for the (cool) night but sleep well enough. We arrive in Bangkok; left 5:30pm in @ 8:30am in morning.
I'll finish my blog here and will continue Bangkok in a new one. I hope this helps and that you enjoyed, cheers!