Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Southern Thailand

We've enjoyed an eventful week in Southern Thailand. After checking out the Royal Palace and Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) in Bangkok, we relaxed for the afternoon and evening before boarding a 10:50pm overnight train to Surat Thani on Thailand's gulf coast. Straight off the train, we boarded a Phuket bound bus that dropped us off at Khao Sok National Park. It was a beautiful drive past limestone cliffs jutting out on either side of the highway. Unfortunately, we had to walk 1.8km with all of our gear in the morning heat to the Visitor's Centre. We set up camp near the Visitor's Centre and relaxed in the sun, reading our new (used) Harry Potter books. There was a nearby dammed river which was nice to cool off in. We found a nice restaurant just outside the park for afternoon drinks followed by dinner. There were little squirrels running around all over the place and the staff were quite friendly. It cooled off just enough overnight for a reasonably comfortable sleep.

In the morning, we set out on a 12km hike along a river which was meant to have several waterfalls. We saw some rapids here and there, but hardly any waterfalls... The waterfall at the end was supposed to be the nicest, but there was one river-crossing that was a little bit too difficult to cross so we never made it all the way. Instead, we stopped at a nice place in the river for swimming on the way back. It was nice, but didn't meet our expectations. We packed up and walked the 1.8km back to the highway in the late afternoon and caught a bus back to Surat Thani at around 5pm. By the time we reached downtown Surat Thani, we were the last ones on the bus and the bus driver didn't even drop us off at the bus station. There was no map in our Lonely Planet book for Surat Thani, so we had to get a tuk-tuk to take us to our budget hotel.

We got up early and took a tuk-tuk to the bus station, but of course, the tuk-tuk dropped us off in front of his desired travel agency near the bus station. No one would give us a straight answer on how to get to the bus station, so we eventually bit the bullet and payed the extra dollar for a travel agency to book our bus and ferry to Ko Pha Ngan. It was never explained to us, but it would appear that the buses to the pier were sold out and the tour company had to drive us themselves by minivan to the pier. Nevertheless, we made it there in time to get on the ferry and we were on our way. Ko Pha Ngan is in Thailand's gulf and holds a famous backpackers Full Moon Party on Hat Rin Beach. This was our reason for going. The party attracts upwards to 30000 people each month in peak season (like now). After a brief search, it seemed that every hotel and guesthouse in Ko Pha Ngan's port town was full. We gambled and took a bus (pickup truck) to Ban Tai, which was about 5km from Hat Rin. We walked down to the beach to the first decent looking resort that we could find, but they were full. Nicole asked if we could just set up our tent on their property so the receptionist called his mom (the owner) and instead, they offered us a small concrete shack for 150Baht which is like $5.00, SCORE!. The shack held two rooms, each with a double bed, it was dirty, but it would be a locked room where we could store our bags while we were at the party. And we were right on the beach to relax for the afternoon. We really lucked out.
Once the sun had set and we were re-energized, we caught a truck to Hat Rin. It was only 7pm so the beach was still relatively empty. We had dinner and by about 10pm, things were really picking up. Establishments all along the beach were pumping out dance music while the beach gradually filled with more and more people. There were stalls all along the beach selling snacks and booze. The booze was served in colourful children's sand buckets. They poured a mickey of alcohol and your choice of mixer and stuck in several straws. This was a bit much for us, so we just nursed a few beers throughout the night. By midnight, the beach was packed with people. Each bar competed with lights and fireworks, fire dancers, fire jump-rope, and blaring beats. We danced a little and walked a lot, but by 1:30, we were ready to head back to our shack. Our spirits were lowered on the truckride home though. A man, likely in his 50's, was lying unconscious in the middle of the road after falling off of his moped. We and the other passengers on the truck watched as others lifted him off the street into another truck. We don't know if he just lost control or if he was freaked by a passing truck. The trucks (or taxis/buses, whatever you want to call them) drive WAY to fast on the dark windy roads. Obviously, the faster they go, the more fares they can make throughout the night. We wonder how many injuries or deaths the Full Moon Party racks up each month. :(

Up early again the next morning, we got back to the pier and took the ferry and bus back to Surat Thani where we caught another bus to Krabi on the opposite coast. From the Krabi bus station, we took a taxi truck with others from the bus to Ao Nang, a beach 30 minutes from Krabi. Ao Nang is a touristy beach town, with easy access to the beautiful Krabi coastline. We found accommodation at the PK Mansion, went out for dinner, walked down the strip and went to bed early. We moved to Bernie's Place in the morning (a slightly cheaper and nicer guesthouse just up the street) and ran some errands. In the afternoon, we took a longtail boat to West Railay Beach. Railay is only accessible by boat due to the beautiful surrounding limestone cliffs. It is a spectacular sight. The area is heavily touristed by rock climbers, but attracts many for the scenery alone. We walked the beaches and admired the cliffs for a couple of hours before heading back to Ao Nang. We booked a kayak for the following day and explored the entire strip, finding sunglasses, dinner and internet. Jason is on his third pair of fake Oakley sunglasses in the past couple of months. :)

Our kayaking day was fantastic! For under $30, we rented a kayak for the day and paddled out to the popular "4 Islands". It took us a little over an hour to reach the first island. The ocean was fairly calm when we started, but the waves gradually became bigger as the day wore on. We stopped on a few white-sand beaches, and paddled along the shore line of each of the bigger islands. Limestone cliffs jutted straight out of the water, warn away at the waterline for some exciting paddling. We really enjoyed our day. Being in the sun on the water all day, we both managed to gain some pretty decent tans/burns. Our shoulders are a deep shade of red... We enjoyed an all-you-can-eat buffet at Bernie's and doused ourselves in aloe. We spent the following day relaxing in Ao Nang, nurturing our sun burns.

Our adventure to Ko Phi Phi was something else. First, we were picked up by a bus that shuttled us to the Ao Nang Pier. Unexpectedly to us, we then had to board a long boat which took us out to the actual ferry to Ko Phi Phi. The boat filled up with people and then we proceeded to pick up even more people at Railay. It was so crammed full that people were sitting on the edge of the boat with their feet dangling. Ko Phi Phi is said to be one of the most beautiful islands of the world. It was nice, but definitely heavily touristed and really not that much nicer than the incredible Railay on the mainland. We walked through the little town and relaxed on the northern beach for lunch. It probably would have been nice to kayak around the island to get away from the people, but after a couple of hours, we boarded a ferry to Phuket.

Phuket is really nothing to write home about... It's the tourism capital of Thailand and is therefore over-touristy. The beaches were decent, but certainly no nicer than the Krabi area. We were glad to have spent our extra day in Ao Nang. We spent one night in Phuket, visited Kata Beach the next day, and then took a 13-hour overnight bus ride back to Bangkok. We splurged on a nice VIP bus with big seats and it was still way cheaper than a flight. We managed to catch a bus from the bus station to the airport with 5 hours to spare. Luckily, we found some free internet in the airport so that we can post this blog. We'll be in Singapore and Malaysia for the next week before heading to the Maldives! Woo hoo!

Pics: Bangkok | Khao Sok | Ko Pha Ngan | Around Krabi | Ko Phi Phi & Phuket


At January 31, 2008 at 12:44 PM , Blogger Daniel Wigdor said...

Some days, I look around the cold and the gloom and I think "my god" - then, I read the J-Nic blog, and it all goes away :-). Thanks for letting me live vicariously!


At February 2, 2008 at 8:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi guys,
You seem to be having such a great time... and you are able to just "go with the flow". What a gift. The kayak trips looks fabulous. Such an adventure...
Love & Hugs,
Marm & Rad

At February 3, 2008 at 3:48 PM , Blogger Lhot said...

Hi Nicole & Jason,
What an adventure :) We love and enjoying all the photos. Take care always.
Much Love,
Lhot & D'Clarke


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