Friday, 23 May 2014

Thailand post #7: Andaman Coast - Ao Nang, Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi

This is my seventh blog post out of nine, about the eight weeks I spent in Thailand with my girlfriend Emily. You can read about our time in Bangkok here, Chiang Mai here, the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai here, Chiang Rai here, Pai here and Sukhothai & Ayutthaya here.


AO NANG, KRABI


After a soul-destroying 17-hour sleepless bus journey from Bangkok, we were delighted to finally make it down to the south, for a month of beaches and islands. We arrived in Krabi town, where we were under the impression there would be a lovely beach waiting for us. It turned out that Krabi itself just has a river, so we caught another taxi to travel further along the coast, to Ao Nang. Ao Nang is a beach resort and is more geared to holidaymakers than backpackers. As we quickly discovered, in Ao Nang you could be in just about any other beach resort. We were so happy to be able to swim in the sea and sit on the beach, that we loved the first couple of days, despite the area being not all that exciting. It was really lovely to meet up with Sam and Janie again, who we first met in Pai and last saw in Chiang Mai a few days previously. 

First paddle in the sea!

On our second day, after a very long sleep to make ourselves feel human again after the long bus journey, we headed back to the beach for a lovely day in the sun. We bought a bucket and spade and looked very silly building a sandcastle, while all the other adults sun-bathed around us! A little girl called Liv from Holland helped us make it too. Even though we had been so careful apply sun cream, we both ended up getting very sunburnt whilst making the sandcastle and ended up feeling very sorry for ourselves!

We were going to go to the next beach along by long tail boat the next day, but ended up taking it very easy in the shade instead, due to our sore red bodies! The next beach along is called Railay and is home to the Phallus Shrine. This is where fisherman have left many phallus objects over the years, and apparently still do, as a mark of respect to a princess who is believe to have died here. They believe that by doing so, the princess will bless the water with plentiful fish for the fishermen!

Phallus Shrine in Railay. Photo source here

We built a sandcastle...

There is a huge selection of restaurants and bars in Ao Nang, but the prices were a lot more than we were used to, as it is largely geared towards holidaymakers. Ao Nang wasn't a bad place to start our relaxing time down in the south, but we were keen to move on to our first island, where we hoped it would be a little more interesting and less packed with tourists.


KOH LANTA


We travelled by minivan and boat to Koh Lanta, which took around five hours. We headed to a guest house called Somewhere Else, where Janie and Sam had reserved us a room. This is set next to Long Beach on the island. We stayed in a lovely little budget hut and spent our days chilling in beach huts, a few feet from the sea. The beach and sea was nice, but not outstanding, but it was lovely to relax, do very little and have a chance to read lots. The clubhouse at Somewhere Else served great food, which we mostly ate in the beach huts and it also had a table tennis table, which we made great use of! 

Beach Volleyball on Long Beach in Koh Lanta

Although we didn't explore a huge amount of the island, we didn't think it was particularly interesting and certainly not particularly attractive on the most part. The roads and streets are lined with litter and there is a general feeling of the island not being generally well looked after. There were many bars and restaurants in the area we were staying, but barely any people in any of them! We weren't there in peak season, but nor was it low season, so we were surprised that there were so few people around. We made the most of it though and had plenty of drinks and made our own fun. It was great with four of us, but if we had just gone as a couple or on our own, it might not have been much fun with so few people around. Koh Lanta was a nice and relaxing place to stay for a few days, but I wasn't particularly impressed and wouldn't really recommend it.



KOH PHI PHI


Our third destination on the Andaman Coast was the infamous Koh Phi Phi. This is a notorious party island, boosted in popularity by The Beach movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It was a fairly short and easy boat journey from Koh Lanta to Koh Phi Phi and we paid a small fee when entering the island at the harbour, which they say goes towards keeping the island clean. On the whole, this seems to be a good system, as the island is mostly nicely kept. Saying that, there is a lot of rubbish left on the main party beach each night, so it's not a pleasant place to go swimming or relax in the morning. 

We stayed at a guest house called Rock Backpacker, in a room next to Janie and Sam. This guest house has a few dorms, but we opted for two double rooms, to give us more privacy and only for a small cost more per person. We were pleased to know that this guest house is a designated safe place during a tsunami, due to it's high location and good structure. Lots of tsunami emergency measures are visible on the island, after it was devastated back on Boxing Day 2004. 

Sam and Emily skipping with a fiery rope

Me jumping through a burning ring of fire

The four of us went out on our first night to see one of the many fire shows on the main tourist strip, Tonsai Beach. This lasted for at least two hours and had a great variety of fire acts. At the end of the show the audience were invited to take part in various daring challenges, including skipping over a burning rope, doing the fiery limbo and jumping through a burning ring of fire. I was so impressed when Sam and Emily shot up to jump the burning rope and it was awesome doing the fiery limbo and jumping through the burning ring! We went out the following night also and made more of a proper night of out, and drank and danced in a few of the bars and clubs on this main strip. This was lots of fun, although there were lots of testosterone-pumped, rude European lads who kept hitting on the girls and generally being annoying. The whole island is full of them, but I guess that can only be expected of a party island.

Me cliff jumping

We signed up for a watersports day out, which included cliff jumping, visiting the 'monkey beach', wakeboarding, paddle boarding, snorkelling, visiting Maya Bay [where The Beach was filmed], with breakfast and lunch also included, along with soft and alcoholic drinks throughout the day. 

We found it hilarious when we got on the boat to discover that one of the main annoying letcherous guys from a couple of nights before was on the trip too! There were several lads on the trip who seemed disinterested in most of the watersports and focused on drinking the free beers all day instead. The guide was shocked to discover they had drunk through all of them - most of us had only had one or two and were looking forward to some on the journey back to the harbour! 

We didn't enjoy the trip to the monkey beach, as people were feeding them all sorts of crap. They are monkeys living in their natural habitat, who have grown used to boat loads of tourists turning up each day and feeding them. People seemed surprised when a monkey lashed out at them or even tried to bite them, when the people were trying to get really close for a monkey selfie, or teasing them with food. It was frustrating to see, so we just paddled in the sea and watched from a distance.

Emily and Sam didn't fancy the cliff jumping, so Janie, myself, our guide and a couple of other people climbed the rocks ready to jump off into the sea, with Emily and Sam in the boat on camera duty! It was terrifying standing at the top and when I finally jumped off, I forgot all about the training the guide had given us and flailed hopelessly into the water, making a horrible splatting sound! Everyone grimaced, but thankfully I wasn't hurt, probably because I was pumped with so much adrenaline at the time!

Emily and Janie paddle boarding

We really enjoyed the paddle boarding and at one point managed to get all four of us on one board! Snorkelling was amazing in the deep sea, as we could see so much below us. To be honest, it was quite daunting at first. Within a couple of minutes of being in the water, I saw two divers swim a few metres beneath me, which looks so strange. Sam had a lucky escape as he saw a jellyfish swim straight past him! 

Towards the end of the day, we could choose between tubing, wakeboarding or water skiing. Emily and I went for wakeboarding, as we had tried it a couple of times before. I had only wakeboarded on a cable lake, so was keen to try it on the back of a boat. I was delighted when I stood up on my third attempt, being the only one to stand up properly all day [albeit for about seven seconds]. All of the annoying lads on the trip didn't manage to stand up, which made me even happier!

Koh Phi Phi was a fun place to spend a few days, but it was a bit manic, so we were glad to be moving on. Our next stop was Koh Samui, which is on the other coast of Thailand, via several buses and boats. My next blog post is about the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, followed by post about Koh Sami, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.

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