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!

A day on Railay Beach

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Railay Beach was one of the main reasons we decided to go to Krabi, so we rented a long tail boat for a day trip to the beach.

We opted for just a day trip rather than an overnight to save on money (both accommodations and food) and so we could explore the rest of Krabi. It was a decision we didn’t regret! We drove our motorbike 15 minutes from Krabi to Ao Nang beach (amazing ride!) to catch a long tail boat for 100 baht ($3 USD) each way. The boat leaves whenever it has enough people, which for us took less than five minutes.

It’s worth mentioning that the beach town of Ao Nang is worth checking out, even as a place to stay. Packed with beach stores, food options, and a good beach vacation vibe, we really wished we had known it was such a happening place. Compared to the somewhat underwhelming town of Krabi, it may have been a better home base for this leg of the trip.

The long tail boat ride was about 15 minutes and the ride itself was gorgeous. Sailing past all the rocks and peaks coming out of the water and getting to see the beach up ahead was truly breathtaking. Our anticipation to get to the beach grew and grew the closer we got.

Once we arrived, we didn’t set out our towels to relax just yet. There are many different beaches on Railay, all within walking distance, so we wanted to pick our favourite. We walked from Railay West to Railay East and then to Ao Pranang. On Ao Pranang, there are some really cool rock climbing setups and you can check out the Pranang Cave. Overall, Pranang beach was our favourite place to sunbathe.

The beaches didn’t get too busy while we were there and the water was perfect. We explored the island, met some monkeys, checked out the caves, and grabbed an incredible chicken shwarma from an expat who owns a little shack. It was the perfect day trip to take in another beautiful Thai beach.

With that, we figured only pictures could do the rest justice. Enjoy!

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The Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan

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The Full Moon Party in Thailand is one of the most famous all night beach parties in South East Asia, if not the world. Koh Phangan is not only famous thanks to the movie The Beach, but also for the monthly party hosted on Haad Rin beach. Nearly 30,000 people come to enjoy music, fire shows, neon everything, and of course buckets of booze.

When we realized we’d be arriving on the islands the day of the Full Moon Party, we decided we had to go. We looked into accommodations on Koh Phangan, but everything was either booked up, price hiked, or demanding a minimum five-day stay (which wasn’t in our plans). We did some quick research and asked a travel agent and quickly learned a really cool hack: you can stay on Koh Samui and take a $25 USD round-trip speed boat there and back. Perfect.

This catch was amazing for a number of reasons. Our bungalow on Koh Samui cost only $15 a night and we had it all to ourselves. The island wasn’t rammed with drunken partiers, but still had an exceptional music and club scene. The beaches were less packed, the food was amazing, and we could keep our distance from the craziness if we wanted to. It was an all-around way better option for us.

IMG_20150203_235238Our travel agent on Koh Samui got us a round trip speedboat trip for 800 baht, which was significantly cheaper than what was offered right at the dock. If you buy at the dock, they’re asking 1100 baht. So, try to shop around. This price included a bus from our hotel as well as the boat there, boat back, and the final bus home (note: in the early morning hours this bus ride can get pretty overloaded, so don’t rely on the ride home being straightforward). The speedboat takes about 15 minutes and everyone is cheering and stoked on life so it’s a fun trip. Oh, and skip any VIP tickets – they’re useless. Regardless of which route you pick, your ticket is good from 10pm till 7am the next day to get you home.

We had read a lot of horror stories about the Full Moon Party online. So many people say it’s not safe, it’s gross, it’s just a bunch of drunken backpackers, etc. etc. We weren’t sure what to expect and I’ll admit I was a bit nervous. Conversely, we had met two other couples that went to the Full Moon Party on a whim and loved it, so we were also hoping to be pleasantly surprised. We both grabbed some potent Thai Redbulls (Google it, they’re insane) and headed over around midnight.

We got to Haad Rin beach around midnight when everything was already in full swing. It was 100 baht entrance ($3 USD) and they weren’t checking any IDs (duh, it’s Thailand). We scored some free body paint that other partiers were sharing and Luke IMG_20150204_023617was the artist of the evening. We grabbed a flower headband, a bucket (200 baht, $6 USD for a pint of Thai rum, a Coke, and a classy plastic drinking bucket), and began to explore.

The party sprawls across the entire beach. Every little bar is selling buckets, food, and playing their own music. You can hear anything from Top 40, to electro bangers, to crazy deep psytrance, to bone-shaking drum and bass. If a song comes on that you don’t like, just walk 15 feet further and enjoy the music there. We settled in for some deep house at one place, and then ventured on to some crazy fist-pumping electro the next.

There is also fire everywhere. Fire dancers, fire signs, fire limbo, even fire jump rope. Luke gave that a try – the flaming 50’ rope would start swinging, people would join in and start jumping, and eventually someone would screw it all up and cause a wipeout. Untangle, clear the jump-rope area, repeat.

There was a water slide, dance stages on the beach, black lights and lasers everywhere, and endless opportunities for exploring. We really enjoyed just walking around, people watching, dancing, and seeing all of the stuff offered by the island. Black lights kept the neon glowing, and stores stayed open all night (in case you forgot to bring your own neon swag).

IMG_20150204_020847Yes, the Full Moon Party is a bit crazy. We saw drunkenness that can only be explained in terms of frosh week debauchery (including one guy dancing atop a billboard), and we saw some telltale signs of drugs. The large number of people and the short supply of public washrooms meant that hordes of bros were using the surf as a urinal. That was a bit grimy, but then again, when is a festival’s washroom setup not grimy? We just kept our heads about us, kept each other close, and kept our shoes on.

Overall the Full Moon Party is a blast and the basic safety rules apply: Watch your drink, watch your bucket, don’t accept drinks or party favors from strangers, take a buddy (and WATCH your buddy … too many girls were on the solo on the hunt for their lost BFF), don’t sleep on the beach, watch your stuff for pickpockets, try not to get blackout drunk, and WEAR SOMETHING GOOD ON YOUR FEET. Broken glass in the sand leaves a lot of backpackers hobbling for the rest of their trip.

In the end, it was one of the most memorable nights of our trip. Before we knew it, it was 4AM and we were grabbing chicken shwarma in preparation for battling the long line to get back on our speedboat. If you’re ever in Thailand around a Full Moon Party date, I cannot urge you enough to leave all of your inhibitions behind, grab a neon tank top, and just GO.

Watch our video recap of our night at the Full Moon Party:

So right on Koh Rong

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Koh Rong is a tiny gem of an island just off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. We were looking forward to getting away from the chaotic partying of the mainland, so we took a $5, two hour ferry ride to Koh Rong.

IMG_4922We didn’t book anywhere to stay in advance and finding a quality, affordable place to stay proved to be quite a challenge. Most places to stay were above bars and had an open concept roof as well as thin bamboo walls. Not only could you hear music until 2AM, you could also hear your neighbours’ conversations. It wasn’t in our budget to do $40+/night bungalows, so we walked further down the coast. We eventually found a really cute guesthouse up on a hill that had an amazing view of the entire island. Probably due to the distance from the main drag, it was only $12/night.

If you’re hoping to visit Koh Rong, it’s important to note that it is a tad bit more “rustic” than you might imagine. The mosquitos are fierce, the wifi is crap everywhere (oh well, turn off your phone!), and power cuts out routinely throughout the day. Finding hot showers anywhere on the island is unlikely — saving water and electricity is a huge priority to the island, as it’s still pretty underdeveloped.

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Luke checking out the plankton at night.

Embracing the authentic island vibe, Koh Rong is a great place to just sit back and relax. You can explore the various beaches, go kayaking, enjoy a seafood BBQ at night, or go snorkelling in the day. We spent most of our time in our hammock on the beach, enjoying $1 smoothies and $1 chicken fried rice. We also took part in many of the BBQs offered at night and had a really tasty grilled barracuda dinner ($5).

One night, we did a $5 boat ride to go snorkelling with the bioluminescent plankton. They were so cool to see! You could see faint blips of light, light fireflies, all around you. Stirring up the water made them glow brightly. It was definitely worth the money to get out there and experience it!

Luke was excited to get up close and personal with one of the island’s water buffalos. The local kids are also super cute to watch and stray puppies and kittens are always happy to cuddle. We spent about 3 days on the island relaxing, suntanning, and enjoying really cheap food before taking the $5 ferry back to Sihanoukville.

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See-ya later, Sihanoukville

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Sihanoukville is the backpacker’s beach of Cambodia. While some love it and other’s hate it, we truly enjoyed ourselves. We had heard that Sihanoukville was a bit of a pit, but we kept an open mind and enjoyed our first taste of ocean air.

Serendipity Beach is absolutely overloaded with backpackers, bars, and locals trying to sell everything under the sun. During the day, you can score a spot on a chair to tan, get a $2 pedicure, a $1 bag of mixed fresh fruit, a grilled squid on a stick, or just people watch. At night, the beach turns into a party haven for every kind of traveler.

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All of this for $1. How can you resist?

It’s important to note that Sihanoukville has hands down earned it’s reputation as somewhat grimy. Everything is so incredibly cheap, so backpackers who are low on funds flock here to party. Hostels and restaurants often trade work for room, board and booze, so it makes for an interesting staff. When we walked down the main strip at night, we were hounded by Aussie guys with dreadlocks and girls with cut up neon t-shirts handing out promo flyers. In the morning as we ate our breakfast, it wasn’t uncommon to see at least one drunk person being carried home by their friends (yes, even at 7-8 AM…)

That being said, it really depended on the area you’re in. We rented a bike, and after getting pulled over by a cop for having our headlight on (and having to bribe him $10 to let us go), we headed over to the more secluded Otres Beach. It’s a bit of a drive away from the main drag of Serendipity, but it was well worth the trek. The beach was almost empty, it was notably cleaner, and there were fewer locals peddling their wares. The distance from town gave us a little bit of tranquility.

The one thing we loved about Sihanoukville the most was how cheap everything was. We fell in love with an Italian place that offered a three course meal for $5.50 a person, and it was by far the best food we’ve had on our trip. It was fun to go from restaurant to restaurant trying such good food for so cheap. I still crave the delicious pasta, pizza, and meat trays from this place…

Luke celebrated his birthday in Sihanoukville and I surprised him with a snorkelling trip off of Koh Rong Samleum. It was $25 each for the full day (including breakfast and lunch) and about a 3 hour boat ride to the spot. He loved it and I got to snorkel for the first time in my life. The reefs were pretty but the water was a bit cloudy; overall I’d recommend  waiting until you get to Thailand if you want to splurge on a scuba dive trip. We ended his birthday off with a massage at Relax Massage (the best of our trip) and roman candle fireworks we bought for $1 to set off on the beach.

All in all, Sihanoukville is a classless place, but if you’re looking to relax on the beach, enjoy cheap food and lodging, or getting away to the nearby islands — have fun and keep an open mind.

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