Koh Lanta & (Back to) Koh Phi Phi, Thailand – Islands of the Andaman Sea

We’re starting our RTW 2.0 in the islands in the South of Thailand, mainly because we’re meeting my brother and his girlfriend in Kho Phangan for the famous Full Moon Party next week. With our visa situation, once we leave Thailand for the summer, we can’t return until we begin teaching again in August. So with an extra week to kill before my brother and Alyson arrive, we figured there’s no better place to spend it than in some neighboring islands.

The islands in the South of Thailand are comprised of two main parts: the Andaman Sea on the West side of Thailand, and the Gulf of Thailand on the East. Although there are hundreds of islands on each side, each has 3 very famous ones (the Big Three, or Six). The Andaman Sea side has Phuket (the biggest island in Thailand), Kho Phi Phi (where the movie The Beach was filmed) and Krabi, the latter of which is really a province but has two amazing beaches on the mainland, Ao Nang and Railay. The Gulf of Thailand’s Big 3 include Koh Samui (the 2nd biggest island in Thailand), Kho Tao (the scuba diving capital of Thailand and maybe the world) and Kho Phangan (home to the famous FMP). On the Andaman side, we’ve been to the Big 3 already, with Phi Phi being our favorite, followed by Krabi and lastly Phuket, though Dave’s parents enjoyed Phuket the most. On the Gulf side, we’ve only been to Kho Tao so far (where we got our advanced scuba certifications) but next week we’ll be visiting Kho Phangan for the FMP and Kho Samui.

So with an extra 4-5 days to kill before my brother and Alyson arrive, we figured we’d try a new island, Koh Lanta, which is just below Krabi on the Andaman Sea side. It’s one of the biggest islands in Thailand and supposedly much more chilled/relaxed than the more touristy islands mentioned above. After an 18 hr overnight bus/ferry combo from Bangkok (made more difficult by torrential downpours when we left Bangkok), we finally arrived in Koh Lanta and were ready for some R&R after a long semester of teaching:).

Koh Lanta:

Within minutes of arriving at our guesthouse in Koh Lanta, the owner started telling us about the island, mainly the fact that people who love Koh Phi Phi typically hate Koh Lanta and vice versa. Considering the fact that Koh Phi Phi is our favorite island so far, we weren’t sure what to expect. She also told us that we were getting into low season, so, this very chill and relaxed island would be even more chill and relaxed than usual.

One of our favorite things about many of the islands and beaches in Thailand is when you walk along the beach, there’s bar after bar with seats/cushions/beanbags set up on the beach for relaxing, drinking, eating seafood BBQs, smoking shishas (or hookas) among other things, and fire shows. After getting settled into our room, we went to check out Phra Ae beach, where we were staying, which we had read is the most touristy/happening/backpacker area on the island. Unfortunately, we only found one or two bars, no seats set up on the beach, and also almost no one in site. We didn’t know what we had gotten ourselves into, especially after our long journey to get there (in light of the downpour in Bangkok, as usual, our trip got off to a rough start; our typical 1.5 hour, 40 baht journey on our boat to Khaosan Rd., where we were leaving from, turned into a 2.5 hour, 200 baht journey in a taxi, then train, then another taxi. We almost missed our bus!).

We spent the rest of our first afternoon exploring the beach and the area where we were staying. By the end of day 1, we were very underwhelmed with Koh Lanta and were already planning our escape to Koh Phi Phi, which is only an hour ferry ride away. And to make matters worse, not only were we not very happy with the area we were staying in, we had decided to stay in a bungalow, which turned out to be a very big mistake. Between the heat (we typically only get rooms with fans, which we’re usually fine in, but the bungalows really trap the heat in), the mosquito net situation (there weren’t any mosquitos really but we were protecting ourselves from other creatures in our room – ants, cockroaches, lizards, frogs etc.), and.. well, that’s it, but isn’t that enough?? Suffice to say, we did not sleep very well during our time in Koh Lanta.

But then, on day 2, everything changed (except our room, which we still hated).

We woke up and went for a run first thing in the morning to the nearby Klong Khong beach. From what we had read about in our Lonely Planet, this was supposed to be the much more chilled out/relaxed beach. But, what we found were several more bars all along the beach, and a vibe much closer to what we had been looking for. Our plan for the rest of the day was to rent a motorbike (our first time trying one out again since our crash in Laos – but, from everything we had heard, Koh Lanta was a great place for motorbiking, as all of the roads are paved and relatively flat) and explore the island. We decided we’d start by coming back to Klong Khong Beach.

Before going back to our guesthouse, we stopped for a fruit shake. We asked for one to-go, and after agreeing, the owner came back to say that they didn’t have any plastic cups, so we’d have to stay. Much to our surprise, he brought us out a second shake, for free. Things really were turning around for us!

When we got back to our place after our delicious shakes, Dave went to open the door and all of the sudden he screamed and jumped back. There was a frog chilling on our door looking like he was waiting to get in. Dave threw a couple of rocks to try to get him down, but he didn’t budge. Finally, we realized that the frog’s leg was stuck in our door. He must have been stuck there for the two hours or so that we went running:(. We quickly opened the door and he was set free. We watched him for a few minutes after to make sure he wasn’t seriously hurt, but luckily he was able to hop away just fine. We saved him, or so we’d like to think:).

We showered up and rented our motorbikes. After taking a couple of minutes to figure out how to turn it on, we hit the road for our day of exploring Koh Lanta. We made it back to Klong Khong Beach and found High Bar, which we decided would be the perfect spot to relax at for a bit. This was exactly the type of place we had been looking for all the day before! We chatted with one of the guys working there for a bit – he was from Italy but had been in Thailand for 3 years, first in Koh Phi Phi, and now in Koh Lanta. He was a cool guy, and told us that we should come back for sunset later that day. We agreed and then set off for the next beach, and our next stop, Klong Nin.

Klong Nin Beach was even more like one of the areas that we typically like to stay in. The beach wasn’t very big, but the whole area was lined with super cute restaurants and bars. It was still very dead, but at least it was cute, unlike the area we were staying in which was a bit seedy. We decided it would be a perfect spot for lunch. We grabbed a seat on the beach, and had a really nice meal and then took a dip in the bath-temperature water (seriously, it was almost too warm).

We continued our drive after lunch further South down the island. We drove right along the ocean pretty much the whole way, and it was beautiful. By our second afternoon in Koh Lanta, it went from being probably our least favorite island to one of our favorites (probably 3rd, after Koh Phi Phi and then Koh Tao). Still probably a little too chilled out for us, but the beaches and all of the scenery was so beautiful. We stopped at a few more beaches along our drive South before making our last stop at a gorgeous bay for another dip and then the Sunset View Point for another beautiful view.

Then, on our way back, we headed inland and crossed to the East side of the island to see Lanta Old Town. It was also very cute and had a great view from the pier. Then, we decided to drive back up the East side of the island and back to our place. By the end of the day, we had made a full loop around Koh Lanta, and had a totally different view of the island than we had the day before. What a difference a day can make.

As promised, we went back to High Bar for our first whisky/redbull bucket of RTW 2.0. It was glorious! Dave also had a “magic shake” which led to an interesting next few hours. After hanging out there for a while, we headed back to our place with the bike (before we got too drunk to drive). We showered up and had a few more drinks on our balcony before heading out to play a few games of pool and pick up a pizza.

After our relaxing trip to Koh Lanta, now we’re ready for a week of partying in Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan for the Full Moon Party, and Koh Samui with my brother and his girlfriend! All told, Koh Lanta was still probably a little too chilled/relaxed for our taste, but we were also there in the middle of the week and in the low season. Perhaps in high season on a weekend, the pace is a little livelier. The beaches were some of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen however.

Koh Phi Phi:

After a short hour-long ferry ride from Lanta, Dave and I were back on our favorite Thai island (and arguably our favorite place in the world). Koh Phi Phi is an island jam packed with pretty much all of our favorite things – great food (not only at the hundreds of international restaurants on the island, also at the pizza/sandwich/burger/pancake/shake carts lining every street), amazing bars (both on and off the beach), some of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen, and tons of people wanting to have fun. All packed into a tiny, very manageable/walkable island. It really is paradise.

We quickly dropped our bags at our guesthouse (we were thrilled to have real walls and no cracks under the doors or around the windows, which is what we had been dealing with in our Lanta bungalow) and headed out to our favorite spot on the beach that we had found when we visited with Dave’s parents. Stoned is a little bar right at the end of one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen. Imagine a gorgeous bay with turquoise blue water, and green mountains all around. Top that image off with bars that line the beach and tons of chairs/cushions set up right on the sand. Paradise, right? We think so.

We plopped ourselves down at Stoned and planned to stay there for pretty much the rest of the afternoon. And with buy one get one free deals on our favorite whisky/redbull buckets, that wasn’t too difficult.

On our way back to our place to shower/change, we saw a beer pong situation at one of the bars and decided that we had to play before dinner. 500 baht for one game and your choice of 2 buckets of whiskey/redbull or 6 beers. We split it up and went for 1 bucket and 3 beers. I wish I could say that it had been a close game, but unfortunately for me, Dave won while I still had about 5 cups left (out of 10). The bet we made was that the loser had to pay for our shisha later in the night, so at least I got to benefit from my loss.

We grabbed dinner at a place we had seen last time we were in Phi Phi (as I’ve mentioned before, one of our favorite things about many of the islands and small towns we visit is their vast selection of all different types of restaurants). We went for a burger and fish & chips (one of our favorite go-to meals) and then headed back to the beach to finish the night with our hookah.

In typical Phi Phi fashion, we woke up in the middle of the night hungover and thirsty, only to realize that we were out of water (the same thing happened to us on our last visit). So, we headed out at about 1am to again find that much of the island was still awake and still partying hard. We got our water, checked out the scene on the beach (huge dance party with what seemed like hundreds of people) and we decided then and there that instead of starting our party early the following day, as we had done that day (it’s hard to stay out very late when you start drinking at 3pm), we would start later and try to stay out late enough to experience the crazy Phi Phi party scene (while actually drunk and not just out for a 1am stroll to pick up water).

The next day we slept in a bit (after we got back the night before, neither of us could fall asleep, so we watched a movie until about 3am) and by 10am, we were headed to the Phi Phi viewpoint, which we had seen the last time we visited and both agreed it was one of the most beautiful sights we’ve ever seen (maybe 2nd to Machu Picchu). This time, though, instead of just stopping at the top, we’d hike down to 2 different beaches that we’d never been to on the other side of the island.

I didn’t realize it, but the hike was right through the jungle. We had both worn flip flops, I didn’t wear any bug spray, and by the time we got down to the first beach (Rantee beach), I had about 100 mosquito bites and had to run straight into the water to cool down and wash off. The beach was pretty but also very desolate. There was maybe 1 guesthouse and 2 restaurants there. We didn’t stay long at beach #1, but we were happy that we got to check it out.

The second thing I didn’t realize was that to get to the second beach, we’d have to hike all the way back up to the viewpoint and down again another side of the mountain. Luckily, this hike was a little shorter, less challenging, and after dousing ourselves in bug spray, it was much more enjoyable. We ate lunch at the second beach, which was gorgeous. Still, there was only one restaurant/hotel on this beach, but we still stayed a while to hang out and eat. And then, the long journey home.

Before heading back to our guesthouse, we walked back into Phi Phi town to check out one last beach, by the pier, that we hadn’t been to yet and also take a look around at all the restaurants and scout out where we’d eat for dinner.

On our way back, we grabbed a quick slice of pizza (real healthy snack, I know, but we planned to not eat until much later so we could get our drink on first). We tried (unsuccessfully) to nap, watched a movie instead, and then started our “late night” in Phi Phi.

The last time we had visited, we saw a Muay Thai bar where tourists actually volunteer to fight. Dave really wanted to watch this (and I think he also secretly – or not so secretly- wanted to fight) so we went to check it out. Right outside, we met another couple from Zimbabwe (which we thought was pretty crazy) who lived in London and were visiting for a few weeks. We ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the night. Dave tried to get the guy to fight a few times, until he told him that he was in the army. Then he wasn’t so eager to fight him anymore 🙂 I was also approached by a girl who wanted to fight me (why me, I don’t know). I actually considered it until she said she had been a fighter for 2 years. Then, I changed my mind. Later on though, I saw her fight. She got her butt kicked. I think I could have taken her.

Finally, we were ready to leave the bar. Dave was ready to head to the beach with our new friends. I, on the other hand, was ready for dinner. Dave wasn’t hungry, but of course, I always have to get my three meals in, so I grabbed another slice of pizza on the way to the beach. We got some more drinks and a hookah with our new friends and before long we were so exhausted and drunk that we had to call it a night.

It was a crazy/fun few days in Phi Phi after a relaxing few days in Koh Lanta. Maybe we shouldn’t have gone to the biggest party island right before meeting Jason and Alyson for the Full Moon Party, but at least we have one night in Koh Samui to recover before they arrive.

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2 thoughts on “Koh Lanta & (Back to) Koh Phi Phi, Thailand – Islands of the Andaman Sea

  1. Pingback: Getting to Know the Thai Islands | The Stave Diaries

  2. Pingback: Koh Lanta, Thailand – Lessons Learned on Our Second Visit | The Stave Diaries

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