Island hopping in Thailand

To round out my time in Thailand, I visited a few islands on the southwestern side of the country. After my sailing course, I didn’t have much of an agenda for Thailand. My goal was to hang out on a couple of beaches and visit sights at a relaxed pace.


PHUKET

To be honest, I didn’t care much for Phuket. I stayed on Patong Beach, which is the most touristy beach on the island. I don’t necessarily mind touristy places, but Patong just didn’t appeal to me. It rained heavily during most of my days in Phuket, which probably affected my impressions of the island. I didn’t take photos in Phuket due to the rain, but Patong looked like it would be more fun in sunny weather.

At night, Bangla Road is undoubtedly the place to be in Patong. It’s a block full of bars, massage parlors, and touts. I was pleasantly surprised by Illuzion, a club on Bangla Road. There was no line or cover, the DJ played fun music, and the dance floor was full but not insanely crowded. If you’re worried about a dress code, don’t be. While locals were more dressed up, backpackers could show up in wrinkled tanks and shorts.

I also got a fantastic pedicure in Phuket. I never had a pedicure before this trip since I painted my own toenails. (New Yorkers might find this shocking, considering how cheap pedicures are in the city.) I had my first pedicure in Hoi An and was pleased since my polish lasted for a few weeks without chipping.  In Phuket, I went to Vayo for a touch-up and decided to add a foot scrub. Let me tell you – the foot scrub was a revelation. My pedicurist diligently worked on my heels, soles, and toes for about half an hour. Afterward, I marveled at how smooth and soft my feet were. I don’t think my heels had been that soft since I learned to walk. I have no idea if all pedicures are like this; if they are, I’ve clearly been missing out. Regardless, I give major props to my hardworking pedicurist at Vayo.

Other notes about Phuket:

  • I took a plane from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Phuket. I arrived in Phuket at around 9:30 PM and ordered a taxi from a desk outside of the arrivals hall. As I was counting money, I accidentally gave a 500 THB bill instead of a 100 THB bill. I didn’t notice this mistake at the time since I was tired. The taxi attendant laughed when she collected the money and said something in Thai to her coworkers. I realized my mistake when I counted my money later. It was an unlucky start to my stay in Phuket, but at least it wasn’t a big loss; the difference was about $11. This wasn’t the first (or last) time I accidentally overpaid when dealing with unfamiliar currency, but I’m grateful that everyone else has been honest and returned the extra bills.
  • Phuket contains many massage parlors, some of which offer “special services.” At night, it was easy to tell which parlors included additional perks: the masseuses sat outside the parlor, called out to men, and ignored women. Interestingly, while these masseuses focused on men at night, they hawked their services to both men and women during the day.
  • The Big Buddha is a popular attraction in Phuket. Another traveler and I tried to order a Grab car to take us there, but the driver refused to pick us up. His reason? The rain.

KRABI

Despite the title of this blog post, Krabi is actually part of the mainland and isn’t an island. After being a little bummed out in Phuket, Krabi was a welcome change. I visited several areas in Krabi (Ao Nang, Krabi Town, and Railay) and loved them all.

Ao Nang

Ao Nang is a small town with a beach. The beach was quiet when I hung out there in the late afternoon.

ao nang

While Ao Nang was sleepy during the day, it became lively at night. A number of bars were close to the beach, and locals and backpackers could stay out until dawn.

For my culture fix, I visited the Tiger Cave Temple, which was a 30-minute motorbike ride from the beach. I went with a group from my hostel, so I got to ride on the back of a bike that one of my roommates drove. The temple is located at the top of a hill and is accessible to those who are willing to climb 1,237 steps. After battling leeches and climbing 2,167 meters in Vietnam, I thought the Tiger Cave Temple climb would be relatively easy. Oh, expectations…why do we have them?

The climb was no joke. The steps were steep, and the sun was unrelenting. Everyone was drenched in sweat by step 100. Each landing contained a post that displayed the corresponding step number. The person who painted these numbers was either: (1) a kind soul trying to encourage those brave enough to tackle the climb (“Great, I’m only 1,137 steps from the top!”); or (2) a sadist trying to torture us. I’m pretty sure (2) was the motive. I stupidly didn’t eat breakfast on the day we visited the temple, so I struggled the most out of my group. Around step 900, I had an “I might die” moment when I thought I was going to throw up.

tiger cave temple

Death by stairs

I managed to keep things down; it might have been a good idea to skip breakfast after all. A Thai comrade kept the same pace as me, so we encouraged each other during the rest of the climb. I wanted to splay on my back when I finally reached the top, but that probably would have been considered undignified at a temple. I settled for gulping water and staggering around for a few minutes.

The view at the top was worth the climb. We were able to admire the surrounding karsts while enjoying a steady breeze.

tiger cave temple

I’m eating breakfast if I do this climb again.

As another plus for Ao Nang, I saw two Cornellians by pure coincidence. One was a law school classmate, while the other was a rising junior who was nine years younger than me (yikes, I’m old). Go Big Red!

Krabi Town

Krabi Town is a 30-minute drive from Ao Nang. The town is compact and easily walkable. One of the sidewalks next to the water is decorated with sculptures of several animals. Can you guess one of the animals?

krabi crabs

Crabs in Krabi

I had an incredible massage at Panchiva Spa in Krabi Town. After I chose my massages (aromatherapy and foot reflexology), I was treated to a foot soak and whisked to a spotless massage room. My masseuse was a wizard. She applied the perfect amount of pressure and was able to detect sore and tense areas. I normally don’t like having a lot of pressure applied to the arches of my feet, but I dozed off as my masseuse performed her foot reflexology magic. After my massages, the receptionist gave me tea and replenished the teapot every time I finished it. The massages were pricey by Thai standards (800 THB or about $24 for a one-hour aromatherapy massage and a one-hour foot massage), but I’d have gladly paid much more for similar massages in New York.

On weekends, Krabi Town hosts a night market with food and souvenir stalls. My favorite item was a Thai pancake with Nutella. I don’t know how authentic this was, but I had no regrets devouring it.

My hostel was a big reason why I loved Krabi Town. The rooms were quiet and contained large lockers. Washing machines were available. The bar on the ground floor was a good environment to meet other travelers and play games.

On another note, I met a couple of Minnesotans in Krabi Town. They were both familiar with Eden Prairie, the town where I lived for a couple of years in the late 1990s. Go Eagles!

Railay

Railay is widely considered a highlight of Krabi. It’s a secluded area with a couple of scenic beaches. There are no hostels, but one of my roommates in Krabi Town recommended splurging on a night at a resort called Avatar. I split a room with a Dutch traveler I met in Krabi Town, so the cost for each of us was a manageable 850 THB (roughly $25).

My roommate and I fully enjoyed living in luxury for a night. Our bed was huge, and we had a rain shower with good pressure. The resort contained a pristine pool, and we spotted a couple of rooms that had private pools.

The same traveler who recommended Avatar also suggested climbing to a viewpoint and lagoon in Railay. He claimed that the climb wasn’t particularly challenging. After following a map on my phone, my roommate and I were confused when we reached a cliff face. We were expecting a path to the viewpoint and lagoon but didn’t see one. We eventually saw people scaling down the cliff face and realized this was the climb.

railay viewpoint

With the assistance of a couple of ropes, we hauled ourselves up the cliff. The climb wasn’t strenuous (thankfully not Tiger Cave Temple redux), but we had to be methodical with our hands and feet. My roommate and I took our time while barefoot climbers bounded ahead of us.

After half an hour, we reached the lagoon and rested.

railay lagoon

We then reached the viewpoint and were able to see all of Railay.

railay

After surviving the climb, we jumped into the pool at Avatar then headed to a couple of beaches. We first visited the area’s namesake beach, also known as Railay West.

railay

In the evening, we visited Phra Nang Beach, which is south of Railay West.

phra nang

phra nang

Railay was the perfect place to recharge and relax. I originally planned to do only a day trip from Krabi, but I’m so glad I decided to spend a night in Railay.


KOH LANTA

Koh Lanta has a reputation for being more low-key than Koh Phi Phi (party central) and Krabi (party central #2, at least in Ao Nang). Many travelers use Koh Lanta as a base to recover from late nights in Phi Phi and Krabi.

I knew that June was considered “low season” in southwestern Thailand, but that didn’t hit home until I visited Koh Lanta. Many stores, tour companies, and accommodations were closed for the season. I was interested in visiting Koh Rok, a neighboring island, but it was closed from May to October.

I still enjoyed my time on Koh Lanta. Even though it was low season, the sunsets were spectacular.

koh lanta

Koh Lanta is large, so motorbike or other vehicle is necessary to explore the island. I went on the back of a motorbike driven by a Swiss traveler from my hostel. One of the highlights was Tiger Cave, not to be confused with Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi. We hired a guide, who supplied us with headlamps and led us on a 30-minute hike to the cave. Thank goodness for our guide. He was able to spot snakes, enormous spiders, and other animals we would have missed. He even pointed out a dead monkey in the jungle. The cave was cramped in some areas, and I wouldn’t have been able to navigate it without our guide.

If you visit Koh Lanta, arm yourself with bug spray, then take another bottle for extra protection. I stayed at a cool hostel on a beach, but the mosquitoes were vicious. No matter how much bug spray I applied, I’d get at least a couple of fresh bites.

Finally, I’m proud to report that I met someone who’s been to Alice Choo, a club in Zurich. My motorbike driver in Koh Lanta was from Zurich and had visited the club. Go Alice Choo (the club)!

One thought on “Island hopping in Thailand

  1. Pingback: Thailand recap | A. CHOO'S TRAVELS

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