Mar 3-14: Koh Pha Ngan to Phuket

As I was saying…

It’s really funny how fast time flies when you’re having fun. It’s also funny how busy you can seem to be when you’re not even doing anything but lying on the beach all day.

It seems like ages ago that we left the crazy debauchery of Koh Pha Ngan, and light years since we arrived in Chiang Mai after 40 days of touring through 3 countries. Since Koh Pha Ngan, we have been living a beach-y existence, literally doing little else other than lying on the beach, shopping, and eating. In the last two weeks we have been to four islands, one jungle, and one beach community. We have travelled on countless boats, ferries, minivans, and buses.

When we arrived in Thailand, we spent ten blissful days traversing the north of Thailand and Bangkok, in blissful ignorance of the true nature of Thai people. Northern Thailand is much more relaxed, but not in the sense of beach-relaxed, more in the sense of not-wanting-to-rip-off-every-tourist relaxed. As you head further south, the scams and half-truths begin, and it gets more and difficult to pick out which Thais to trust and which to be wary of. I’m not saying that Thais aren’t nice people, they certainly can be, but only when you are willing to help them out by spending money, giving them a recommendation, etc. Heaven forbid you don’t actually want to book something with them, or buy something, or the air conditioning in your room breaks. Thais can turn into your worst enemy at times.

Let me back it up a bit and write a bit about what southern Thailand was like…

We left Koh Pha Ngan on March 3, a bit sad to be saying goodbye to our home for 7 days, by far the longest we had spent anyplace in Southeast Asia. We were also sad to say goodbye to our friends, new and old, whom we had met during the craziness of Hat Rin. Of our buddies, Mark and Thomas headed north to Chiang Mai, Neil, John, Marco, and Anette took a boat across to Koh Tao, and J.Y., Dan, and Ae headed west toward the Similan Islands off the west coast of Thailand. I had wanted to go over to Koh Tao to check out the scuba diving scene, but Courtney had other plans for us. She convinced me that every other Full Mooner on Koh Pha Ngan would be heading over to Koh Tao, and that we should run in the opposite direction.

Therefore, our plan became to meet up with J.Y., Dan, and Ae in the Similans; however, we made a mistake in not checking the prices for the trip, and that plan was derailed when we got to Phan Nga on the night of the 3rd, and realized that the Similans were waaaay more expensive than we could afford. Just to spend one night on the island would cost us more than 2500 Baht ($80)! Instead we decided to spend the night in Phan Nga, and head to Krabi in the morning. Just to get to Phan Nga had taken us all day of the 3rd, starting with a 10AM ferry ride back to Surat Thani (ugh!), an hour wait in the sun outside a travel agency (nothing new there) and then a four hour ride to Phan Nga.

Krabi is the popular name for the island on which the town of Krabi sits, although none of the beaches are actually called Krabi. We passed over the most famous beach, Railay, in favour of the cheaper and more low key Ao Nang (long beach). This was our second mistake. Long Beach was an absolute tourist trap, complete with a crowded beach, fast-food restaurants, and more souvenir shops than one could possibly visit in a week. There wasn’t a backpacker to be found, as every person in the entire town was either someone’s mother, father, child, girlfriend, boyfriend, fiancee, grandparent, etc. Frustrating! Even more frustrating for me, Courtney came down with a bad cold and fever, and had to stay in our air conditioned room for most of the day, which left me with little else to do but sit on the beach, read, and shop for four days.

Finally, Courtney began to feel better, and we planned our escape from Krabi-Hell to Koh Lanta, a lesser-developed island halfway between Krabi and Koh Phi Phi. On March 7 we made the trek to Lanta, which is really only a few kilometres away, but took at least four hours, five transfers (probably the most so far) and two (sometimes it can take three) modes of transportation. If I haven’t already explained how travel in Thailand works, let me take the opportunity to do it now:

  • 8:30AM – scheduled minivan pick up from guesthouse
  • 8:55AM – actual pick up from guesthouse
  • 8:55AM-9:25AM – picking up other people from other guesthouses (there is no way to avoid this, either you wait because you are getting picked up last, or you sit in the bus and ride around town while the minivan picks up other people. If you are lucky, some interesting people will get on)
  • 9:25AM-10:15AM – minivan ride to travel agency
  • 10:15AM-10:3AM – wait with bags outside travel agency
  • 10:30AM – board another minivan (sometimes you will get new people on the next bus) and head to the ferry dock
  • 11AM-11:30AM – ferry ride to small island (not Koh Lanta)
  • 11:50AM-12PM – minivan ride to another ferry
  • 12:10PM-12:20PM – ferry ride to Koh Lanta
  • 12:20PM – transfer bags to local songthaew (truck with wooden benches at the back)
  • 12:20PM-1:15PM – songthaew ride to guesthouse, dropping off other people along the way (sometimes Thai people will get on and off at seemingly random points along the way. This is normal)

By this point, we were veterans of southern Thailand travel, and it didn’t alarm us that they shuttle you all over the place without ever telling you where you are or where you are going next, or how long it will take to get there (that is, if they even speak English). You learn pretty quick to use the bathroom EACH AND EVERY time you stop, because you never know when you might get to use it again! And keep your eye on your bag! Sometimes it ends up on top of the bus, sometimes in the backseat, sometimes in the front seat. People get on and off all the time. You just never know!!

Anyway, so we got dropped off at a cheap place with bungalows a stones throw from the beach. Courtney is still sick, but we get a room with a fan anyway, because it is only 400 Baht ($13) between the two of us and we want to save money for the more expensive places (Phi Phi and Phuket). It also comes at the recommendation of a fellow traveller, Ben, whom we met on the minivan. The resort (New Coconut) is super relaxed and has hammocks, and a good restaurant and bar, but the heat is too much for Court, and the rocky water and the ants building an anthill in our bathroom are too much for me, and we decided to move to Hat Phra Ae (long beach), where accommodation is considerably more expensive, but also considerably nicer, and the beach is paradise! I spent 4 days soaking up the rays and swimming every half hour or so to cool my overheated body, while Courtney slept off the last of her cold in our spacious air-conditioned room. I even got a double bed to myself for the first time since Vietnam!

On February 11 we were sad to leave Koh Lanta, but were excited to meet up with Dan and J.Y. again, as well as to let loose on Koh Phi Phi, which has earned a reputation as a beautiful yet party-hardy destination. The trip to Phi Phi was relatively easy, involving only a songthaew ride to the pier, and a 2-hour ferry ride to Phi Phi. The ferry arrives in the middle of the south beach, and it is a quick walk to the town of Ton Sai, which is where all the magic happens. Ton Sai is an odd little town, half Thai and half backpacker, with Thai businesses going about their everyday lives right next to bars, guesthouses, tour agencies, and souvenir shops. There is no lack of dive shops on Phi Phi, and Dan and J.Y. immediately decide they want to sign up for a dive the next day. I had been lamenting the fact that it seemed that I would not be diving at all in Thailand, and I jumped at the chance to go with them. Court also came along, and went snorkelling while we did two dives.

Since I was certified as an Open Water Diver in Australia in August 2004, I have done over ten dives, but I hadn’t done one since 2005, and was rusty on equipment set up and signals. I had a divemaster do a refresher with me, which I passed with flying colours, and then I was diving in one of the most renowned dive places in the world! During two dives, I saw many things, the highlights of which was a seahorse, an octupus, and four sharks! It was awesome, although diving the Great Barrier Reef still takes the cake for me.

The day of diving ended early at 1pm, and then we headed to the beach to catch our last few days of sun. Unfortunately, Phi Phi’s tides work in cycles of four days, and the tide was out while we were there, so you needed to walk for at least a hundred metres before hitting water you can sit down in. While I was walking out to meet my sister and our friend, I felt a sharp sting on my foot, thinking I had stepped on a coral, I yanked my foot out, but the pain didn’t go away! I yelped, and looked down, and sitting right where my foot had been was a small stingray! I got barbed by a stingray! There was only a tiny mark, but it hurt like hell! I traipsed back to the beach and into town, and into the first dive shop I found, where they told me to soak my ankle in hot water to get the sting out. Luckily stingrays aren’t poisonous, especially not with a sting to the foot, and the barb wasn’t left in my foot, but I was still in a considerable amount of pain. It took J.Y. Court and I half an hour before we could find a restaurant that was willing to provide a bucket of hot water for free (but I had to buy the bucket myself), and I was able to soak my foot until the sting went away. Phew, what a day!

After Phi Phi, on March 13, we headed to Phuket, but eschewed touristy Patong Beach for Kata Beach. We didn’t do anything special but sit on the beach and enjoy our last fruit shakes (my favourite were the mango and lemon) and seafood pad thai. Yesterday we embarked on a surprisingly comfortable and event-less trip down through Malaysia (with a stop in Penang) and to Singapore, where we will be staying until our flights leave on the morning of the 18th. It seems surreal that after almost 3 months we will be returning to the great white north.

Singapore is a very pedestrian friendly city, and we have spent the day walking around. Tonight we will visit the Zoo, and go on the night safari, before heading for a much-needed sleep. Tomorrow we will check out Chinatown, Little India, and the Raffles hotel, as well as the Esplanade for some skyline photos. I hope to get one more post in before we leave.

So long for now!



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