Sun, Sea and Surf: Southern Thailand

When it comes to exotic and thrilling places to travel to, Thailand has got to be at or near the top of the list.  For most travellers, Thailand is a bit off the beaten path, but in reality it has been catering to ESL teachers from Korea for the past decade! Almost every person I know teaching in Korea has been to Thailand at least once, and they all have their favourite beaches and areas to visit for some sun, sea and relaxation. And why not? The beaches of Thailand are simply amazing.  They offer the vacationer a true exotic experience where they feel like they have escaped to a far off and intriguing coastal area, because that is exactly what they have done.  Thailand has a number of different beach areas, each one featuring things about it that make it unique.  From popular beaches near cities or resorts to remote and secluded beaches that feature a tranquil atmosphere and few tourists, Thailand really does have it all. After a few days in Chiang Mai, we hopped on a Thai Airways plane and flew South. Here are the 2 places we spent the second half of our Thai holiday:

  1. Bananas, Krabi

On my last trip to Thailand I was not a huge fan of the polluted and noisy Phuket so this time round, so I was quite anxious to find something different. This is how we ended up at our destination in Krabi: The Bananas (or Bananas Bungalows). Located 2 km away from Tha Lane Pier, it has been the most remote location I’ve been to in Thailand. Not much is around, and even the Pier, which services ferries to Koh Yao Noi, consists of small boats and a handful of food shops. An ATM doesn’t even exist until you head back to Krabi Town or Ao Nang.

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At first I was alarmed at the remoteness of the location and rustic nature of the bungalows, but… I grew to enjoy it. The owner, Ollie (Oliver) is from Germany and has been living in Thailand for 20 years. So he speaks English, Thai and German. He was great and very relaxed, and more than helpful when it came to making transportation or activity arrangements for us. We were able to go sea kayaking through the mangrove swamps. It was a bit of a work out but thoroughly enjoyable.

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Besides the kayaking, we spent our time exploring the area and taking in the great scenery/reading in the hammocks. Best hammock view ever. You got your rickety old dock and Phang Nga Bay in the distance. At low tide, the beach in front of the resort is fun to explore. Millions (seriously millions) of tiny crabs scatter across the beach as you approach. It was a bit eerie to see them scatter about and the starfish floating/crawling along the shallow waters. Our mornings were filled with fruit shakes and watching chickens run about (slightly alarming as I find chickens a little creepy).

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We also spent a day looking for and enjoying the “Secret Beach” that was supposedly near our bungalows. We had to hitch-hike, cross a rubber plantation and climb down a cliff but it was worth it when we discovered this deserted piece of paradise:

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The Bananas was the perfect oasis getaway even though we were a bit cut off from the world. While there is a communal computer to share, the Internet was a little slow and the Wi-Fi a bit dodgy. But then again we were on holiday and we didn’t need to be connected 24/7.

2. Koh Lanta

After a few days enjoying the serenity at Bananas, we climbed aboard a 2-hour ferry and headed to Koh Lanta. Koh Lanta is 27 km long and 12 km wide making it the largest of 15 islands in the Andaman Sea archipelago in southern Thailand (in what is known as the Krabi area) – and this is why we came. This is why I travel.

Koh Lanta is one of those places that makes you feel alive…connected to the land and its mysteries. To feel the magic of the universe, to feel connected to nature, and oh so free! This is not your typical tourist destination, but a third world island celebrating for itself its own Thai, Chinese, and Muslim culture.  There are few places left in the world where you can travel free of tourists and have a “real” adventure. Koh Lanta is one of these few remaining lands. I chose it on a whim, and it was the most memorable part of our journey.

We stayed at the northern end at of the island at the Lanta Castaway Resort. We thought the location was perfect for the experience that we wanted – quiet but not isolated; nature, and good swimming. The hotel “rooms” are actually beachfront and garden villas. The resort had a great beachside platform for massage. After a long day touring the island, we laid down for oil massages during sunset. It was one of the best Thai massages we had on the trip.

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Since the Andaman Sea is one of the world’s top diving and snorkelling destinations due to it’s clear waters, multitudinous limestone islands, and a wealth of colourful coral and exotic marine life, we decided to take advantage of these natural opportunities with a day of island hopping, exploring, and snorkelling by booking a day trip through our hotel. Our trip began with a longtail boat ride out to Ko Ngai, a tiny strip of jungle with a shallow reef, where we were treated to some fantastic snorkelling among a wide variety of coral and fish.

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Next we sped to Ko Muk, the site of the fantastic Emerald Cave. Though inaccessible at high tide, when the sea is lower the cave allows access to a hidden beach inside Ko Muk. This spectacular Laguna is situated in the middle of a tiny island in Trang district and is only accessible by swimming through an 80-metre cave at low tide. As the cave is pitch black, this certainly is not for everyone, but overcoming that fear makes it completely worth it. When you make it through the cave (or in my case, when your fiance has propelled you through the cave), you are rewarded with the most stunning white beach you will ever see and high cliffs drenched in a gleaming emerald light.  For a moment, you feel a bit like Robinson Crusoe himself or the more contemporary Leonardo Di Caprio in The Beach. Speaking of which, The Beach was actually shot at Koh Phi Phi – an island only about an hour north of the Emerald Cave!

After reluctantly swimming back to the boat, we headed to the island of Ko Kradan where we gorged ourselves on fried veggies, curry, and pineapple while gazing out at the distant Trang islands. We had an hour here to digest, sunbathe, and snorkel off Kradan’s white sandy beaches. Faraaz lounged lazily on the beach while I spent the majority of the time in the water, enjoying the warmth of the sun.

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On our last day in Koh Lanta we tried to go horse riding but… it was a no go as two various tour agencies on the island informed us. So  Faraaz wanted to pick another activity and what did he choose? ATV riding. Oh boy.

 

We knew that there would be big mud holes and streams as well as forest trails so we wore our older clothes and removed all jewellery.  Like all of the activities we’d been on so far, the Thais deserve every accolade for their timing and organisation, without it being overdone.

 

I was quite nervous at first because I had forgotten how to drive a scooter bike and this was more or less the same as that except it was bigger. We had a guide though and he taught us the basics of driving the ATV. I had wanted Faraaz to drive and me sitting behind but the guide said I should really try to do it on my own so I did. He taught us how to switch on the engine, press the accelerator on the handle and how to brake.

 

It wasn’t so hard to drive it after all and I realized that the trick was to go at a face pace instead of a slower pace making it easier to manoeuvre. It’s also better if you get the bigger ATV than the smaller one as it’s much more stabilized.

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For about 2 hours we rode the length of Koh Lanta. The terrain through the forest was fantastic, with steep up and downhill grades, mud holes and streams. Half way through the afternoon, we stopped at a fish farm (!!) for a lunch of fresh tropical fruit and  liquids to keep up energy levels and hydration.

 

We got back just before sunset after yet another fantastic day. We were completely knackered and slept pretty darned well that night.

We enjoyed every second of our time spent on Koh Lanta and we highly recommend this island to travelers who are looking for a cheap island destination that lacks the crowds of Ko Phi Phi, Ko Samui and other over developed Thai islands.

Note: If you’re looking for a party place, Koh Lanta & Krabi shouldn’t be your first choice or your second. There are far better islands for nightlife and partying if that’s your thing. Koh Lanta & Krabi seems to cater to a crowd that enjoys the occasional drink or two, rather than a full-scale full moon party if you know what I mean.

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