Koh Phangan: The island that never sleeps

After a far-too-short visit to Koh Phangan in February for the Full Moon Party, it was finally time for us to come back and really explore the island for everything it had to offer. This time however, we’d be alongside our friends Brad and Karalee.

For the first part of the week, we stayed on Bottle Beach. It was a more secluded part of the island, which let us relax and take in some peace and quiet. We had a beautiful beach on our front steps, and a small bay without too many neighbours. We had a lot planned for the week ahead, and this was a great little place to charge our batteries.

Our first stop was Guy’s Bar. Located on the far side of a mountain, you have two options for getting there: long tail boats through the ocean, or a near-death 4×4 truck ride up one side of the mountain and back down the other. Since it was windy and the waves were choppy, we only had one option: mountain climbing in the box of a pickup.IMG_6494

To say the drive was scary would be an understatement. In pitch black, all we could see was uphill on this narrow cracked dirt road with massive rocks and potholes. We were holding on for dear life and wondering how we were supposed to get back out of here. We were thick in the jungle and just hoping that the brakes weren’t going to give out. At one point, all you could see was the road and the sky — it was that steep.

Once at Guy’s Bar, the pounding techno and serene layout calmed us down. We settled in for a long night of dancing and we made a few friends. The exclusivity of Guy’s Bar was a bit of a treat in and of itself. The trek there kept away the casual tourists, and left you with a club of pure enthusiasts. All in all, the trip to Guy’s Bar is worth it if you’re hoping to really experience the magic of Koh Phangan.

The next few days we took rather easy, spending time walking through the night market, enjoying good food and taking in the sunsets. Koh Phagnan is beautiful and has so much to offer. It’s an island both small enough to get around but big enough it offers a bit of everything. We hiked to waterfalls and relaxed on the beaches to offset the partying, don’t worry!

Our next big event was ‘The Jungle Experience’. This party was taking place near Haad Rin beach, so we switched bungalows to one closer to the party. In the heart of the jungle with only black lights to light everything up, we found another oasis of techno. Karalee and I danced until our feet hurt, but managed to leave before Luke and Brad could get us into any trouble.

IMG_6403The next day, the four of us headed to Amsterdam Bar to catch the sunset. Amsterdam Bar is a pool and bar set on a hill in the perfect position to watch the sun setting over the island. With loungers and chill music, we were happy to sit in silence and take in the view. It was a really incredible moment to spend all together.

Later, Luke and I stopped by a free psytrance party called Baan Sabai. Tucked away by the water, this little gem of a club was filled with psychedelic posters, black lights, palm trees, and pounding psytrance. We snagged a hammock and got our fill, watching people around us feel the music and dance to the trippy beat.

On our last day, we met Brad and Karalee for some swimming on Haad Rin beach. Haad Rin is best known for its parties, but I have to say it has some of the most stunning water and an incredible view of the island. The water was crystal clear and the beach had so many food options. We sat and smoked a hookah as the sun set before finally saying goodbye to our friends.

Getting to spend a week with Brad and Karalee on Koh Phangan was the highlight of our trip. Having them around showed us that a journey is only as good as the people you get to share it with. We made unforgettable memories and it’s something that will stick with us for the rest of our lives.

Here are some of our favourite pictures from the trip. Remember, you can click on any picture in any post to see the full size image 🙂

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Snorkelling on Koh Tao

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Koh Tao is a little island off of Thailand that’s known for its scuba diving schools and picturesque snorkelling. We were very excited to meet up with our two friends from Toronto, Brad and Karalee, who were taking a week-long PADI diving course on the island.

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How does it get much better than this?

Getting to Koh Tao from Phuket was a bit of a trek. We decided to take a bus from Phuket to Surat Thani and then the night boat from Surat to Koh Tao. You can do packaged travel options but this one allowed us to enjoy the night market in Surat Thani, relax, and then save on a night of accommodation while sleeping on the boat (rather than a 12-hour day drip via bus and boat to arrive at 8pm).

The night boat is about 500 baht ($15.50 USD) and left at 11pm and arrived at 6am the next morning. You sleep on these mats in rows next to strangers but there’s a bathroom and it’s all other backpackers so it was quite comfy.

We arrived groggy and walked to Koh Tao Garden Resort where we’d be staying. It was 7am now and the little old couple running the place let us in, turned on the TV, and sat us down and got us juice as they cleaned our room. Luckily, someone checked out early and they let us check in right away. We highly, highly recommend this place. We got our own bungalow for about $15 a night and it was just like a cottage. It was perfect.

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Luke surrounded by his new friends.

Since Koh Tao is known for snorkelling and scuba diving, we opted for getting ourselves our very own snorkelling sets, renting a bike, and checking out all the recommended snorkelling points.

The snorkelling on Koh Tao is incredible. There are many spots where you can snorkel within ten or fifteen feet of the shore and already see hundreds of brightly coloured fish, sea urchins, and coral. At the northern tip of Koh Tao is the Sunset View Restaurant, with public access to an excellent dive site. As there is food from the restaurant hitting the water, there are schools of fish waiting in the shallow water where you jump in. It doesn’t get any easier to snorkel! This was also the site where Luke managed to spot a large blue triggerfish.

For those considering snorkelling, I think it’s well worth it to beach hop and see what each location has to offer. Some spots we visited were relatively empty one day, only to be filled with fish the next. All in all, it was great swimming and snorkelling pretty much wherever we went.

Here’s a beach guide: http://www.travelfish.org/feature/163

We also spent some time with Karalee on a secluded little beach called Freedom beach. A cute little beach that’s a bit off the beaten trail, it’s a perfect haven for getting in some snorkelling or taking a nap. Seashells hang in the streets and there’s an awesome lookout on the way there.

Overall, Koh Tao is a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the other islands and it still has everything you need: beautiful beaches, nightlife, and just enough charm.

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Koh Phi Phi and The Beach (Maya Bay)

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Luke and I watched The Beach before embarking on our trip to South East Asia, so getting to see Koh Phi Phi and Maya Bay was on the top of my list while we were island hopping through the south of Thailand.

We kept our stay on Koh Phi Phi short because finding affordable accommodation proved to be a bit difficult. Originally, our budget only permitted a one-night stay at $25/night; after falling in love with the island however, we decided to stay an extra night.

Koh Phi Phi is absolutely stunning. It’s hands down one of my favorite islands. It’s nice and small, but big enough to do some exploring. There’s tons to do there and you can enjoy the bar life, shop, hike to the viewpoints, go snorkelling, or take a day trip to the many little islands and beaches nearby.

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We loved the catching the sunset.

On day one, we got in and grabbed some food before heading to the viewpoint. It was incredibly hot and steep, but it was well worth it. We got to watch the sunset dip into the ocean while we were overlooking the entire island. The view is priceless up there.

Later that evening we explored the nightlife. There are tons of backpackers and all sorts of crazy bars offering everything from beer pong to Muay Thai. The latter bar will give you a free drink if you fight in the ring with another traveler. We happened to drop in just in time to see a couple of guys all suited up in Muay Thai gear fighting it out for their alcoholic prize. It was pretty funny to see.

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The next day, we were up early for our Maya Bay tour. There are tons of tour companies offering basic tours of the surrounding islands, including Maya Bay. We grabbed one for $12 USD that included Monkey Island (a little beach with monkeys crawling all over it), the Viking Cave (just a drive by – it’s a large but unimpressive hole in the side of a rock wall), swimming in Phi Leh Bay, and finally some snorkelling and lounging at Maya Bay for an hour.

Most of these cheaper tours are pretty basic, and the “tour guides” are just locals with long tail boats. It’s hit or miss if you’ll get a good guide, but on the plus side you get some rice and fruit on the boat. Our guide was pretty cranky but luckily the view on the trip was worth it.

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We managed to snag one picture away from the crowds!

Getting to Maya Bay (aka The Beach) was a bit disappointing but we were still happy to be there. The beach is RAMMED with tourists. The bay is filled with boats, including long tail and huge cruise ships. There are people crawling everywhere. It’s hard to take a picture or relax. It’s a shame, since that’s what the entire movie was about – how tourists spoil the natural beauty of places. It seems like the fame from the movie has done just that to this beautiful bay.

Luckily, the beaches on Koh Phi Phi itself are quite incredible. One half of the island faces onto a large bay, all of which is waist
deep and bathtub warm. I loved floating in it – it was warm, crystal clear, and the sand was that dreamy soft white. We spent a lot of our time just swimming and enjoying the view of the bay.

On night two we caught an epic two-hour fire show before heading down to the beach where they had a bunch of bars playing music. Of course, we found one playing our type of chill music and we relaxed while meeting some other travellers (and even a made a dog friend).

We’re so happy we opted to visit Koh Phi Phi. It’s something not to be missed. Here are some pictures from our stay!

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Phuket? Meh.

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Oh, Phuket.

Obviously, Phuket was on our travel itinerary since we’re in the South of Thailand and everyone and their drunk best friend has a travel story from Phuket. I guess it’s safe to say the place is more infamous than famous, and we quickly found out why.

I don’t want to completely rule out Phuket, because I’m sure there are lots of sides to it, but we really didn’t enjoy it. After seeing much of the South already, Phuket was a big let down. It had a grimier feel than Bangkok with much more in your face sex (ping pong shows, girls dancing on poles, and Asian girls teetering on platform heels galore) on the main drag and the beaches we checked out were sorta…meh.

Mind you, we stayed closer to the Patong Beach area (which is the main tourist area) and maybe that was our issue. I’m sure there’s lots to explore in Phuket but if you’re coming to Thailand, please just hop to the islands sooner rather than later and enjoy what the South really has to offer.

IMG_6165Our trip was generally uneventful. We had a hotel mishap and had to endure the blaring sounds of construction every morning, but we got a free meal out of it at least. We made a trip to the mall to replace our broken Mac charger, bought a second-hand GoPro Hero 3 (yay!), and explored the more local eateries.

One highlight was No. 9 2nd Restaurant which we only noticed due to the massive line out front. Intrigued, we lined up and we were glad we did. About a 10 minute wait (as we were salivating over all the food being brought out), we finally got to sit down and enjoy some of the tastiest Thai food we’ve had this trip. Trust us, it’s worth every minute of standing.

I’m sad to say we don’t have much else to say about Phuket. We enjoyed walking the main strip, popping into some clubs and checking out the crowd, and we liked watching the sunset on the beach.

Overall, I’d say that it’s worth checking out but only for a night or two. If you’re into partying and not knowing what happened last night (or, which ladyboy happened…) then it’s definitely the place for you. For us? Back to the islands!