After visiting some of Thailand’s more local beaches and islands, it was finally time for us to check out Thailand’s most famous tourist destinations: The South Islands. There are tons of islands in the South of Thailand, but there are 6 in particular that have become the most famous. On the East, there is Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and Koh Phangan. In the West, there is Krabi, Koh Phi Phi, and Phuket. After much research and deliberation, we decided to take our vacation to the islands in the West. We thought it would be the perfect trip to help show Bob and Linda all that Thailand had to offer.
We started out in Krabi, and on Ao Nong Beach to be specific. Bob and Linda flew from Bangkok, while Dave and I opted for the 12 hour overnight bus. Not only is the bus about half the price of flying, we actually always really enjoy the experience. The seats are huge and lean almost all the way back, they give you blankets and snacks, and also, it’s pretty weird but you get free dinner (some kind of rice or noodle dish), which they stop for usually around midnight or 1am. Dave and I are always all set up with our neck pillows and a movie, and for the most part we always sleep really well. Best of all, we wake up in the morning and we’re always almost at our destination.
Anyway, we arrived in Krabi Town at around 7am. Bob and Linda weren’t getting in until later that afternoon, so we thought we’d spend a few hours exploring Krabi town before hopping in a tuk tuk to Ao Nong. Well, not only was nothing really open yet, it seemed to be a pretty crappy town. So, we decided not to waste any time there, and within an hour of our arrival we were on our way to Ao Nong.
We had heard very mixed things about Chandee Guesthouse, where we were staying. The biggest compaint, however, seemed to be that it smelled like Indian food. Well, considering the fact that it’s literally on top of and next to an Indian restaurant, that’s not surprising. We didn’t notice the smell though. Just the little gnats that were flying around everywhere during our 3-night stay. The room was actually pretty nice and the guesthouse was in a great location, but this was our first real bug problem that we’ve had at any guesthouse we’ve stayed at. But, since we were hardly in our room, we didn’t really care that much.
We dropped our stuff off and set our to explore Ao Nong. From our drive in, the beach looked huge and we thought the best way to see it all was to go for a run. We made several pit stops to check out all of the tours we could do for the next day. We quickly decided that we wanted to take a longtail boat first thing in the morning to Railay Beach, which is known to be very beautiful and also famous for rock climbing. We figured out that whole situation (all we had to do was go to the longtail pier in the morning and wait for a boat to fill up and take us on the 15 minute ride to Railay – easy enough!) and then continued on our run. It was Christmas Eve and Bob and Linda had told us they wanted some nice, fresh seafood for dinner so along the way, we scouted out a great place right on the water to eat later that night. We ran all the way to the end of the beach then walked back, of course stopping for our obligatory dip in the ocean.
Finally, it was dinnertime. We went to B+L’s hotel to pick them up and then we all walked through the very cute town of Ao Nong together. There is a main street with the beach on one side and tons of shops, bars, and restaurants on the other. We stopped at one of the restaurants for “Happy Hour” (and I put that in quotes because Happy Hour pretty much lasts all day and night). Any cocktail, wine, or beer for 99 baht (about $3). Well, any cocktail other than the Johnny Walker Red Label on the rocks that Bob ordered (if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is – he got a banana daquiri instead:).
After Happy Hour, it was dinner time. We found our restaurant, which was right on the ocean, and ordered a seafood platter for 3, which came with squid, crab, prawns, and a whole fish. That plus some apps, sides, and dessert, and it was a real Christmas Eve Feast.
First thing in the morning, we met B+L at the pier and hopped on a longtail boat to Railay Beach. After a short 15-20 minutes and a beautiful ride, we were there and ready for our first beach day of the trip. Of course, Dave and I didn’t last long sitting in the sun (Dad, I’m sorry we sat in the sun at all, but we were lathered up with our sunscreen, I promise), and decided that we wanted to walk from Railey West to Railey East and then to Ao Pranang to see the Phranang Cave and the highly talked about lagoon and view point.
We got to Railay East, which is the more private/resort-y side of Railay and it was there that we got to watch a huge group of people learning how to rock climb. I couldn’t stop watching this woman who seemed to be having a very difficult time figuring out where to place her foot next after each step. She kept saying over and over that she couldn’t do it, she couldn’t do it… well, definitely not with that attitude! Other than that, everyone seemed to be racing up the side of the mountain and having a good time doing it.
From there, we continued on our walk to Ao Pranang, an even smaller and more secluded beach. We stayed there for a few minutes, walked into and out of the cave, but we wanted to move on to the viewpoint, which is what we were really excited about.
We finally found the entrance on our way back. It literally looked like a little trail going straight up the side of a mountain. It was very steep, we were in flip flips, but hey, what the hell. We started making our way up using vines, trees, and anything else we could grab a hold of. We were making good progress until we were stopped by a very large group of monkeys. Now, we’ve encountered tons of monkeys throughout our travels, but all in situations where we could just turn around and walk the other way if we chose to do so. Well, not here. We were surrounded and there was really no where to go but up. I decided the best thing to do was try to make my move, and fast, while the monkeys seemed not to be looking. I kind of felt like a monkey myself climbing up that path. Dave, on the other hand, wanted some photos (since we don’t have enough monkey pics already:). He was snapping away and I guess tried to photograph the wrong monkey. He got angry, bared his teeth at Dave, and then tried to scratch him. Luckily, he didn’t tear through the skin at all, and finally Dave realized that maybe he should follow my lead and get the hell outta there.
So, we made it past the monkeys and finally made it up to the viewpoint. From the top, you could see both East and West Railay. It was beautiful! Next, onto the Lagoon. As we started making our way down to find it, we passed another couple who told us that the lagoon was all dried up and there was really not much to see. But, we decided to see for ourselves anyway. And then, we got to an extremely steep path and I decided that maybe I would take the couples’ word for it after all. Dave went ahead to see the empty lagoon and I waited for him at the top of the path. When he finally got back he confirmed that what was once the lagoon was not nothing.
By the time we got back to the beach and found Bob and Linda, we were all ready for lunch. We found a cute sandwich place on the “walking street” and then ended our day at Railay by taking Bob and Linda back to see the rock climbers, the monkeys and Phranong Cave.
We parted ways back in Ao Nong and while Bob and Linda went back to relax, Dave and I set out to find our excursion for the following day. We wanted to do a day boat trip to see some of the islands near/around Ao Nong and were between a trip to the 4 islands, which are pretty close to where we were staying, and a trip to Hong Island, which we were told was 45 minutes away but definitely the prettiest. So, we opted for that and within minutes, we were set. A few hours later, we met B+L for another happy hour and great dinner, this time Thai food overlooking the ocean.
We were picked up from our respective guesthouse/hotels bright and early the nexr day and taken to the pier where we would leave for our day-trip. Instead of 45 minutes, the boat ride ended up being a long, windy, and wet 1.5 hours away. We made a stop or two along the way to snorkel and see some of the nearby islands, but Bob and Linda were not too happy about all of the getting on and off the boat – understandably so because it wasn’t very easy to do.
By the time we finally made it to Hong Island, we were happy to be off the boat for a couple of hours and have some time to relax on the beach. We set up shop, relaxed, swam, snorkeled and read while admiring the views of the white sand beach and the turquoise blue water.
Before it was time to go, our tour guide called us over for lunch – rice, green curry, and chicken wings. I think I was the only one who thought it was really good, but then again, I’ve never met any meals here that I didn’t like.
After lunch, we were back on the boat for the long trip back. It was equally windy, bumpy, and wet as it had been on the way there. All in all, it was a great day trip, but if we were to do it again, we probably would have just gone on the 4 Island trip since it was much closer and probably allowed for a little more time to just relax on the beach and a little less time spent getting to/from.
For our last dinner, we decided to take a break from Thai food and instead we opted for Italian. All of the Italian places in town had a great deal – 150 baht ($5) for any pizza or pasta. That is a deal that a Stave could never pass up.
The next morning, it was time to say goodbye to Krabi and Ao Nong. Once again, we were picked up at our respective places and brought to the pier to catch the ferry. Bob and Linda made it there smoothly but half-way to Krabi town our driver realized that he had forgotten someone and turned around to go back. We made Bob and Linda very nervous thinking that we were going to miss the ferry, but luckily it waited for us and the 8 other people in our van.
Koh Phi Phi:
It was a two hour trip from Krabi to Koh Phi Phi and as we pulled up we could immediately tell that this would probably be the most beautiful place we visited. As soon as we got off the boat, we also saw that it would definitely be the most fun. The streets were lined with carts selling pizza by the slice, 100 baht huge sandwiches, and coffee shakes galore. There were bars, restaurants, dive shops, booze cruise stands, and pretty much anything else that would make you think “fun.” Not only that, everyone on the island seemed to be so young that it even made me feel old – I can’t imagine how Bob and Linda must have felt.
We parted ways with Bob and Linda for a few hours while we each got settled in to our respective homes for the next three nights. To our surprise and delight, our guesthouse was right on the way to the famous Koh Phi Phi viewpoint. Dave and I had allocated half a day to climb to the viewpoint, but now we’d be able to just check it out before meeting back up with Linda and Bob.
We walked up about 300 or so stairs, paid the 10 baht fee, and were at View Point #1. Overlooking all of KPP, we were able to see a narrow strip of land (KPP town) and on each side of the strip, a gorgeous lagoon. The lagoon to the left, the lagoon where the pier is, had tons of boats and dark blue water. The lagoon to the right, however, was an amazing-looking beach with light turquoise water. We vowed to find it as soon as we were done with the viewpoints.
After we had taken about 30 pictures, we moved on to View Point #2 (aka the same view, just from a higher level). The walk to the second view point was surprisingly extremely steep, but finally we made it to what was one of the most beautiful views we’ve ever seen. Again, same as the first view, but much higher. It was definitely worth the hike.
On our way to meet Bob and Linda back at the pier, we somehow found the turquoise-watered lagoon that we had seen from the view point. And, with that, we found all of our restaurants on the beach, a fire show, AND the best deal for drink buckets we had seen maybe ever (2 buckets for 300 baht, or $10). We would definitely see that place again for dinner (and also every other day/night after that).
We grabbed a sandwich and a slice of pizza for lunch and then found B+L. We wanted to take them back to the beach and to see the restaurants. Though they weren’t quite as impressed as we were, they definitely were down for a fire show later that night. They went back to relax at their hotel for a few hours and we plopped ourselves down on the beach for our first of many buckets.
Bob and Linda found us a few hours later pretty much exactly where they had left us. By now, we were on bucket # 3 and 4. They got a bucket for themselves and we all settled in for the fire show, which was amazing (as usual). We had another seafood dinner overlooking the ocean and then called it a semi-early night.
We had arranged another boat trip for the following day, but this time just a short ride away to Maya Bay, the famous beach from the movie The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio. Once again, we made a few stops along the way to snorkel and check out some other nearby islands. And, once again, it was a bumpy and wet ride. At least this time though, it was a short ride.
We pulled into Maya Bay and were amazed at how beautiful it was… and how crowded. I guess a few other people have found out about this place since Leo’s been there. The beach was in a lagoon, once again with white sand and turquoise water. It was surrounded by mountains and had tons of yachts parked in the water. We spent about an hour relaxing on the beach, though I could probably have stayed much longer.
On the way back to Koh Phi Phi, we made one more pit stop, this time to what they call Monkey Beach. As always, the name was very fitting. We pulled up and were immediately greeted by at least 10 monkeys, all looking pretty hungry. Our tour guide handed the first monkey a banana, then another monkey a bag of chips, a sandwich, a bag of chips, a carton of fried rice, and so on. The last monkey got really lucky though when one of the people on the tour handed him a beer. It was a big monkey picnic, we all loved it.
Once we got back to KPP, we went to check out B+L’s hotel and then surprise, surprise, ended up back at our favorite place on the beach for a couple of happy hour buckets. Once again, we ended our night with seafood and Thai food on the beach.
Dave and I woke up early the next morning to go scuba diving. We had heard such great things about the diving in KPP so we were pumped. Of course though, we woke up to a really cloudy and somewhat chilly day. This always happens to us! Not only that, because of the weather, the dive company said that we’d no longer be going to the location we had signed up for. Instead, we were going somewhere else much closer and we were much less likely to see turtles and sharks than we were with the original location.
The two dives were ok, but nothing like what we’d been expecting. We left feeling pretty disappointed and vowing never to sign up or pay for a dive again unless we were assured that we’d definitely be going to the dive sites we had signed up for.
It was our third and final night on the island, which meant it was time to take a break from Thai food for the night. Bob and Linda said we could choose the cuisine (thanks guys!) and after seeing a great-looking Mexican place, I pretty much made the decision for us. We hadn’t had Mexican since we left the States and I pretty much couldn’t think of anything better than some chips and salsa and a plate of fajitas (which is exactly what we got). What a treat!
We went to sleep fairly early, but both Dave and I woke up at 2 in the morning hungover and thirsty, only to realize we were out of water. We decided we needed to go out to get a drink, but somehow we also ended up with a slice of late-night pizza and a walk back to the beach where we found some insane clubs with the music blasting and what seemed like hundreds of people jumping and dancing all over the beach. Since we had just woken up and were already hungover, it was a little too much for us, but it seemed like a pretty awesome scene.
The next morning, we were back on the ferry bright and early, this time on our way to our last island of the trip, Phuket, which is also the biggest and probably most famous of the Thai Islands. After a short two hours, we pulled up, 20 minutes later we were in a van, and then 30 minutes after that we were getting dropped off at our hotel. For our last island and for NYE, Bob and Linda had decided to treat us to a hotel room. It was definitely the nicest hotel we’ve been in since, well, they treated us to a hotel room on our last night in the States in Seattle. We dropped our stuff in our rooms (where we found a heart made out of rose petals on our bed!), checked out the two pools, the gym, and the breakfast buffet situation – it was all awesome and such a treat for us, thanks Bob and Linda!
From the hotel, we walked a few short blocks to Patong Beach. Similar to Pattaya, it was very seedy and there was hardly a single spot on the sand not covered with chairs and umbrellas. But, at least the beach was a little nicer. We walked along the beach until we found Bangla Road, the famous main street in Patong Beach that’s filled with go-go bars, clubs, lady boys, and other drinking establishments as far as the eye can see. This place was definitely going to get crazy at night, especially the following night for NYE.
On our walk back, we scoped out a few restaurants for dinner, but after seeing the street food stands that lined the beach, we decided that was definitely going to be our dinner move. But first, we would go back to take advantage of our nice hotel for a few hours 🙂
We started the night with what other than a few whiskey/red bull buckets. Bob and Linda actually loved the buckets so much they said they were going to buy some when they got home and serve drinks in them whenever they had guests over – definitely not a bad idea!
Once we were done drinking (or I should say done with our first drinks), we started to scout out the food situation. We sampled everything from grilled squid on a stick to papaya salad to pork and fish kebabs to wings to ribs and more. We grabbed a plastic table set up on the beach and dug in for an awesome meal – street food really never disappoints.
The next morning we really took advantage of the awesome breakfast buffet at our hotel. We had omelets, potatoes, waffles, bacon, fruit, and pretty much any other delicious breakfast food you can think of, and even some morning glory! Then, just when we thought we were done, Linda and I decided we would make some sandwiches for the road. We made them at our table, quickly wrapped them in a napkin, and as sneakily as possible, snuck them into our bags.
Then, we headed out to find a tuk tuk driver to hire for the day. Since Phuket is so big, that’s really the only way to get around. We wanted to explore some of the other popular beaches, 2 to the North and 2 to the South. We told our driver that we’d spend about an hour on each. We ended up finding a driver for 1500 baht ($45) for the whole day, not bad considering it was Phuket the day before NYE. We went North first to Kamala and then Surin, and then South to Karon and Kata. Linda and Bob found their favorite beach early in the day at Kamala. It was a beautiful, huge beach, filled with tons of families. Surin was my favorite – it seemed like the most luxurious of the 4, with huge yachts parked in the water. Dave couldn’t decide if he liked Surin or Karon better. He agreed Surin was the prettiest, but thought Karon had the best town. It was also the biggest of the beaches. Kata was pretty much just an extension of Karon. We both agreed if we ever came back to Phuket we’d stay in Karon or Kata because it has great beaches and also a great town/nightlife options, whereas Patong only has the latter. But for NYE, Patong was still the place to be and thus the right call for us. But the day trip we took to all of the surrounding beaches was key. Having the time and flexibility to really relax and spend time on each beach, we all decided that this was one of our favorite days of the trip.
We got back to our hotel and started to get ready for NYE 2014. We chose The Wine Connection for dinner, which is a restaurant that has a few locations throughout Bangkok. We’d heard great things about it and also thought the menu looked awesome. Dave and I had been wanting to try it in Bangkok but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. And since B&L said they wanted to treat us for a NYE dinner (thanks again!), we thought this would be the perfect spot (it also happened to overlook the ocean where presumably all of the fireworks would be that night). They didn’t take reservations however, so we headed over around 8 to put our name down. We weren’t quite ready to eat since we didn’t want to finish our meal too early, so when there was no wait when we arrived, we decided to check out the scene on Bangla Road for a drink to kill some time. We were back by 9, and of course now there was a line to the street. We waited in line for another 45 minutes or so, and were seated just before 10.
We ordered a couple bottles of wine as we looked over the menu. We weren’t in any rush to eat until our waiter came by to tell us that we could no longer order because the kitchen was closing. Well, none of us were having any of that. They were out of a few things, but we got them to at least let us put our order in. Our meal was delicious and best of all, we were finishing up just in time to see the fireworks go off at midnight!
Then, on our way back to our table to finish our wine, Linda noticed that another table had left the restaurant but still had half of their bottle of wine left. I couldn’t believe when she swiped it from the table so that we could finish it! WTG Linda! Now I see where David gets all of his moves from:)
We walked back from dinner along the beach, where there were still tons of people setting off Thai wish lanterns and fireworks. When someone came up to us trying to sell us a lantern, I naively thought that just because a thousand other people were able to light them and send them to the sky, I’d be able to figure it out also. Well, I was wrong. 100 baht down the drain and no New Year’s wish for me 😦
We slept in a little on New Year’s day and had a nice leisurely breakfast at our hotel. At around noon we set off to spend our last day of vacation back at Kamala beach, because it was Linda and Bob’s favorite. We had a great day relaxing, reading, and swimming.
We had our last dinner at an American restaurant back in Patong Beach, but we were all starting to get sad that the next morning it would be time to say goodbye. We had such a great trip and seen so many beautiful beaches. Dave and I both liked Koh Phi Phi the best of the three islands we’d visited because of its beautiful beaches and fun atmosphere. Though we probably couldn’t spend a whole week there (or any beach for that matter), that’s the one we’d definitely go back to for a few days if we could. Bob and Linda liked Ao Nong in Krabi the best. Surprisingly though, our least favorite was the most touristy and the most popular, Phuket. The beaches are all so big and crowded, and everything there is pretty far from everything else (because it’s the biggest island). Patong Beach and Bangla Road were fun (though definitely very seedy), but overall, we didn’t think that Phuket was really worth the hype.
In the morning, we said our goodbyes and we’ll miss you’s and sent B+L on their way to the airport while we headed back to the bus station for another overnighter. Now, it was time to start planning my parents’ visit to Thailand and our trip to Chiang Mai!