Same Post, But Different
As promised I am back tonight to finish telling the story of my experience in Thailand. (November 2005 – February 2006)
Let’s see – where was I?
Upon fleeing what I fondly refer to now as Monkey Mountain, we packed up, checked out and headed to the train station. We had purchased tickets for a 4pm train to take us further south. We were riding 3rd class and about to travel the distance from Calgary to Edmonton for a whopping $3. We were the only tourists aboard and had to find a seat alongside the locals that found the two of us very fascinating to watch. Which was funny, because we found them very fascinating to watch. Coming aboard hauling their chickens and giant baskets of vegetables. Selling their purple peanuts, plastic bags full of juice and dried plantain chips…I assure you, we were entertained. A very nice man came over to chat with us. He spoke very broken English, but he had been sent over to ask us some questions by the rest of his group. (I guess we looked pretty out of place) He asked where we were from…and that was the only question we could understand. There was a lot of smiling and nodding. I definitely recommend the 3rd class train though for situations where you are trying to get somewhere 2-4 hours away. It is comfortable enough (like being on a city metro), clean enough and you can’t beat the price.
We were set to overnight in Chumphon before making our way to Phuket the next morning. Whether you stay in Chumphon or Surat Thani be prepared to get in and get out. There isn’t much there for a backpacker to do, it is simply a place to stop and get some sleep while making your way down south.
Koh Phi Phi Don
From Phuket, we headed for the Koh Phi Phi islands. Some of you might recognize them as where the movie “The Beach” was filmed, with Leonardo Dicaprio. (Fantastic book by the way). Koh Phi Phi Don (the largest island in the archipelago) wasn’t able to rebuild so quickly after the tsunami. Phuket lined their beaches with big concrete resorts, which saved a lot of damage from occurring inland. But Koh Phi Phi Don is not much more than a sandbar between two mountains, and the tsunami wave went completely over it. You could walk around town and see where locals had drawn lines on the walls of the buildings and called it “Water Line”. It was close to 6′ off the ground – the town had been completely under water. Because we were there so close to the one year anniversary of the tsunami a large memorial had been set up by locals, families of lost ones and fellow tourists. Letters to the people passed lined the plaques, pictures filled the empty spaces and the area was flooded with cards and stories of past memories together and recent moments missed. The memorial was quiet, it was moving. It was a place filled with so much love, so much that it was spilling over. It was a tragic thing that this memorial had to exist all, but it was beautiful in its existence.
There was a lot of debris there still and many buildings and businesses hadn’t been able to recover, resulting in some empty real estate. The island was still stunning, if you knew where to look. But unfortunately the smell of stagnant water, debris and garbage in certain areas wasn’t helping. This island though had the best view that we were able to find in all of Thailand, NOTHING came close. It is a long hike to the top, but worth every sweaty second of it. Be sure to take some water with you!
Koh Phi Phi Ley
Refusing to leave the archipelago before seeing “The Beach” we paid a boat to take us over to Maya Bay (Koh Phi Phi Ley). This resulted in the most terrifying boat trip of my life. We noticed only after we had already set out on the water, that there were no life jackets and our driver had a bucket for bailing out water that the engine spit up into the boat….we lived to tell about it though, so it couldn’t have been all bad! At that time, you couldn’t overnight on the island of Koh Phi Phi Ley, but I know that now they do run tours where you can go and camp on the beach for a night. A friend of mine did that a couple of years ago and called it an experience of a lifetime. So don’t miss it if you are heading that way. (OMG LOOK AT THAT WATER!)
From the islands of the Koh Phi Phi archipelago we made a quick stop on the island of Koh Lanta for 2 nights. In my opinion, it isn’t worth a stop. Keep rolling. We rolled through Krabi and made our way to the very popular spot Ao Nang. Ao Nang is rugged and gorgeous, filled with caves, rock climbing and beautiful beaches. It is crammed with guesthouses, pubs and restaurants. And like most places in Thailand, no matter which of the latter you are in, it doubles as a tour agency as well. You can book almost any kind of tour anywhere, whether you are out drinking, out eating, or heading back to your room to get some rest. They want to be very available when you have a sudden urge to spend some money. 😛 Ao Nang is filled with young people who want to party. So if that is your scene, great. But if you are traveling with family, or even just not into drinking your face off every night, the scene here might wear on you quickly. Consider yourself warned!
We were done exploring the Andaman Sea side, we didn’t go further south as there was a travel advisory for the area bordering Malaysia. So we heading across to the Gulf of Thailand side once more and this time made our way by Ferry to the very popular Koh Samui. This island was comparable to Phuket in many ways. It was roughly the same price for lodging, same amenities and same amount of tourists. We were running out of time on our trip and still had two more islands we desperately wanted to see…and we had quickly sized up Koh Samui and were ready to go looking for something a little more off the beaten path.
Koh Pha Ngan
We took the ferry across to Koh Pha Ngan, a smaller island to the north. Known as a backpacker destination mainly we knew things would be more affordable and less Americanized. As we arrived on the island, there were several buses awaiting the ferry, all with a different beach name in the window. We quickly looked through the guidebook and spontaneously picked a bus. Turns out, we actually didn’t get on the one we thought we did. But by the time we realized, we were already long gone. So we started looking for a recommended place in the guidebook at our new unexpected destination. We arrived at Haad Yao and made our way to High Life Bungalows. Just up off the beach, High Life was set on the edge of a cliff and had a wide variety of bungalows which allowed flexibilty for what amenities you wanted or could afford. This place was incredible and I am glad we got there near the end of our trip, otherwise we might not have seen the rest of the country, we would’ve just stayed three months here. Our bungalow with fan and private bathroom was $10 a night and the onsite restaurant was to die for. I would go back and stay here in a second…it even looks like they have added a pool since I was there. Might not be quite as affordable now, but I assure you the value will still be there with this family run resort. Everyday there would be 10 people maximum on this 1km stretch of white sandy beach. You can even snorkel right off the beach in the clear water if you are into that.
And of course, you were able to book tours of the island right where you were staying, so we booked a boat tour of the island with a small excursion inland to a small waterfall to cool off in. We shared the boat ride with a couple from Italy. It was the strangest thing. Their English was poor and they didn’t understand the boat guide half the time. But…they spoke Spanish. So I took my broken Spanish and translated the English to the Italians. Who knew my Spanish would prove useful in Thailand! The boat took us to Bottle Beach…OH MY GOD was it beautiful. Koh Pha Ngan is known for it’s crazy Full Moon Parties at Haad Rin beach filled with techno music, drugs, drinking and partying all night. But this island has so much more to offer, don’t write it off if that isn’t your scene. You will be missing out if you skip Koh Pha Ngan – it was my favorite island/beach of everywhere in Thailand.
We had just one more island left before making our way back to Bangkok. Koh Tao. Known for its wonderful snorkeling and scuba diving we hoped to get in a bit more snorkeling before the end of our trip. Koh Tao is a very tiny island, but it is brutal for getting around. The roads are built on top of giant boulders and make for the most unpleasant ride in the back of a pick up truck that you could ever imagine. Your destination might not be far, but it will take FOREVER because you can’t go too fast when driving over boulders….. Our adventure in Koh Tao was just starting though, we checked in to a guesthouse that offered an inexpensive bungalow just off the beach. Rule of thumb for every time we checked in anywhere, we always did a quick scan of the room to make sure we were alone. Sometimes we would find a roach, a gecko, some really strange looking bug….etc. But I found it imperative that if I planned to sleep somewhere, I needed to know I wasn’t going to get attacked in the middle of the night. So this became a ritual, we would search and then find creative ways of removing the friends from our room. When we checked into this bungalow, there were too single beds, the guy told us to just push them together because they had no double beds left. (The pushing beds together thing is very common in Thailand) So he left us alone and we decided to push them together. We went to opposing ends and lift up the bed on the right side of the room. We start sliding it over and realize there is a small carpet on the floor underneath. What is that covering? *lifts carpet*oh look, a giant hole in the floor. So we try the bed on the left side of the room. We lift up and start sliding it across. We both saw it and we stop. Was that a tail?? We put the bed down. I grab the edge of the bed and jerk it quickly. The creature leaps out with the sudden movement and suctions onto the wall. It was a salamander, about a foot long. My boyfriend at the time looked at me and said “So, how are we going to get this out of here?”. I responded with “You’ve got to be freaking kidding me, we are getting out of here”. We stormed down to the restaurant/reception and in front of their other customers I quickly started yelling about a giant hole and a big lizard in our room. Miraculously *insert sarcasm here* a room with a double bed had become available and he would show us the way. (It was already dark out and you could tell over half of their bungalows were available.) This bungalow he took us to was beautiful, clean and lizard free. It would seem as though he was happy leaving the young kids with the pet lizard and they were wanting to save this other bungalow in case someone else came along and needed a place to stay. Freaking Thailand! You can’t ever let your guard down or you are going to get swindled!
So after 90 days in Thailand, we were headed back to Bangkok and heading home. Like I mentioned in my last post, it was all very much “Oh, I’m excited to be back, it’s so good to see you, it’s wonderful to sleep in my own bed…” …for about a week!
I really hope you enjoyed reading about my time in Thailand. I certainly enjoyed reliving it! If you made it through both blog posts on Thailand I’m really thankful you took the time. This trip was very special to me and I hope I’ve convinced you to make your way there someday too.
Here are a couple of quick notes for you:
- Most incredible food everywhere you go. Thai food 3 times a day = heaven
- Super inexpensive country to travel around and explore
- Pristine beaches everywhere you look
- Make sure you know what something is worth before you agree to pay something
- Always check your room for critters upon check in
- Be safe, use your head and you will have a trip of a lifetime!
- Take lots of pictures!!