The Islands of Southern Thailand
We embarked on our first of many ferries up to the Thai island of Koh Lipe from Langkawi, Malaysia. We were anticipating an interesting border control procedure and to obtain an “on arrival” visa for 15 days – but, to our surprise, Canadians are granted 30 days within Thailand when entering via Koh Lipe (yahoo!)
The method of getting to this little island was pretty amazing, and by amazing we mean amazingly different. We unloaded from our Langkawi ferry onto a small dock in the middle of the water not far from shore. Next, a long tail boat picked us up with our luggage and drove us to the Koh Lipe beach area where we had to jump in the water and walk up the beach to the little customs counter. Ah, island life.
We then walked to our accommodation – yes walked! The fantastic feature of Koh Lipe is that there are no vehicles on the island with the exception of scooters with little sidecars for transporting goods and serving as the occasional taxi. There is one main walking street and you can walk to the other side of the island in about 30 minutes. This island still has it’s beautiful charm, beaches, and hasn’t quite been “ruined” by tourists just yet.
We checked into our hostel and explored the walking street in search of food. At night the walking street comes alive with the shops, restaurants, and little stalls set up all along. The main beach is also lined with bars and fire shows. We picked up some Pad Thai from a street cart and sat on the beach – the perfect way to end the day.
The next day we enjoyed some island hopping via long tail boat (the only way to do it really!) and snorkeling. The water in Thailand is really something special. It is so clear and vividly blue, it’s unbelievable. The packages for island hopping, scuba diving, etc are all set at a regulated price by the island. If you are a bargain-er you will be sorely disappointed in Koh Lipe, you can’t negotiate the prices. The shops will be fined if they offer a different price.
We lazed around the island for a few days and visited the 3 beaches – sunset beach really does have the most amazing sunsets! We also witnessed an older gentleman having a wet t-shirt photography sesh with his wife while everyone else was watching the sunset… a little odd, but hey, I applaud her confidence. When it was time to leave, we really didn’t want to go, but we were eventually off to Koh Phi Phi by ferry.
Ok, so, here’s the deal with Koh Phi Phi… if you are into heavy drinking and partying on a sunny island. This is the place for you. If the smell of raw sewage, the occasional pile of vomit, staying up all night to the sound of heavy bass and people yelling on the street… this might not be your thing. We met several people on the beach who had visited Koh Phi Phi 7+ years ago and they commented on how much the island has changed, for the worse. Unfortunately, because of the “type” of tourists that visit the island now, the hotels and guesthouses are falling into disrepair, let’s be honest, if you owned a hotel that kept getting trashed would you continue to keep it up or would you throw your hands up in the air and give up? It seems many have given up on keeping things “nice”. It’s sad really because this island and it’s surrounding Phi Phi Islands are so incredible. The scuba diving is amazing and island hopping is fun. We stayed at a guesthouse on the main strip and it was OK. The lesser of the evils if you are on a budget I guess you could say. But the owner is so sweet and her staff keep it clean, it has just aged.
Despite the atmosphere, we made the most of Koh Phi Phi. We booked a scuba trip with PKT Diving and had an amazing time!
We went island hopping; which, included a visit to the famous Maya Bay from the Leo DiCaprio move The Beach.
We watched the amateur Muay Thai boxing at Reggae Bar and saw some tourists beat the crap out of each other in the ring – yes, that is a thing on Koh Phi Phi, people will apparently do anything for free alcohol.
We hiked up to the viewpoint for the sunset and the view of the island. But let’s just say when it was time to move on to our next island, Phuket, we didn’t shed any goodbye tears.
We caught another ferry to Phuket and a taxi to Kata Beach. There are 3 main areas of Phuket; Patong, Kata, and Karon. Patong is the busy party area, Kata is still busy and party (but a little less party), and Karon is the tamest of the 3. We decided on a hostel because a lot of the accommodation was sold out or not budget friendly and we were only staying 2 nights. We checked into Fin Hostel – close to the beach and shopping, new facilities, it was a shared dorm but we were cool with that because everyone was super friendly.
We enjoyed our first day walking around, relaxing, and enjoying the local food. We booked tickets to a real Muay Thai fight and our transportation to our next destination – Koh Tao. That night we were sleeping in our comfy top bunk bed when the single guy below us and his “friend” for the night woke us up at 3AM… and the fun (loud fun) didn’t stop until 5AM – I mean come on, literally and figuratively. When we finally went back to sleep, after the whole dorm stopped buzzing with laughing and whispering, we were to be awoken again at 6:30AM by transportation to Koh Tao, but it was the wrong day! Russell was incoherently saying “no, no, not us” haha. Luckily, we straightened out our transportation tickets that day, on less sleep and a little grumpier than normal, but straightened out nonetheless. That night marked the moment Meghan said she will NEVER stay in a dorm again, hostel with private room=yes, dorm=no.
When our transportation arrived, on the correct day, we made the long journey over to Koh Tao. This involved driving across land to the Surat Thani area and jumping on a ferry through the islands of Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan before reaching the small island of Koh Tao. The moment we exited the coach bus, to wait for the ferry, rain began to pour down. Sideways rain. Of course this was the time we also had to walk along the longest pier in history for our ferry. We were drenched by the time we were settled in the ferry – but we had to laugh at the timing, and we didn’t mind because it hadn’t rained our whole time in Thailand.
Koh Tao is a beautiful island with many activities – and known for it’s beautiful neighbour island of Koh Nangyuan. Despite this, Koh Tao has a bit of a bad rep… it is said to be home to many gangsters; and they had an incident a few years ago in which some tourists were found murdered on the island. But, this side was never evident to us while we enjoyed the island, in fact it was one of our favourite stops in Thailand. Many visitors come here to begin their scuba diving certifications or upgrade certifications because the diving is incredible. Quite a few hotels offer free accommodation if you complete your PADI course with them. It really seemed like a peaceful little island to us and the locals were the nicest, hardworking, and most accommodating we have experienced.
Despite being a small island, Koh Tao has its own Ladyboy Cabaret Show! We couldn’t miss this show and we loved every minute of it. They are so talented and beautiful!
After our time on Koh Tao we took our last ferry (yahoo! Meghan was running out of anti-nausea) to the mainland and an overnight bus to Bangkok. Our island living was coming to an end – for now! But we were super excited to see what Bangkok had in store for us… and not just the shenanigans that we watched in The Hangover. Don’t worry, neither of us got a face tattoo, but stay tuned for Bangkok and our journey to northern Thailand.