Published: January 26th 2010January 18th 2010
We were planning on crossing the border from Malaysia into Thailand overland, but we learned from some fellow travelers that if you cross the border overland, you only receive a 14 day visa and we needed to get a 30 day visa. So... we opted for a flight into Phuket from Kuala Lumpur.
We arrived into Phuket late at night and after an hour long taxi ride into town from the airport, we found a nice hotel room by the bus station, since we were catching a bus the next day to Trang, in the South of Thailand. The next day, we had to run around town trying to find the Bank of Ayudhya so we could make a deposit for our room in Railay Beach over New Years (many places were already full). After making our deposit we caught the 5 hour bus ride to Trang, where we were being picked up by our hotel from Ko Kradan (a small island).
Upon arriving in Trang, we got a ride in a tuk tuk to our hotel, Yamawa, for the night and were greeted by the nicest little Thai lady and her little girl who barely
spoke any English, but were super excited to have us stay at their place. We spent the evening walking around the night market, eating some really good snacks and Thai dishes. Trang was a very interesting city in that there were barely any tourists there and it seemed like tourists almost never came to the city at all, yet it was the place that our hotel on Ko Kradan told us they pick people up from to go to the island.
The next morning, our pick-up arrived about an hour late, and we left Trang with another couple we met that morning who were also going to our place on Ko Kradan. After an hour in the mini-van, we arrived at the boat dock and we got on a longtail boat and started our incredibly slow journey to Ko Kradan. The ride was beautiful, as we passed a multitude of islands with some gorgeous beaches, cliffs, and coastlines. After about another hour, we arrived at our island of Ko Kradan where we stayed in a small beach front bungalow. The next few days, we spend lazing on the beach, sitting in hammocks, snorkeling, and sipping delicious fresh
fruit drinks spiked with local rum, Sang Som. On Rachel's birthday, there was a gala dinner that we went to with the other couple we had met, and we enjoyed some good food, live music, and Ian even got up and played some music for Rachel. The next day, we went on a day trip to a lagoon on the island of Ko Mook, called the Emerald Cave. To get there, we took a longtail boat about 30 minutes across the sea and then we put on our snorkels and jumped out of the boat and headed into the mouth of a cave. We swam for about 50 meters in declining light, until it was completely black in the cave we were swimming through. Luckily we heard people's voices ahead of us, and a little bit further on the light from the other side of the cave shone through and we quickly made our way into the secret lagoon. Upon coming out of the cave, we were greeted by one of the most beautiful sights either of us had seen in quite some time (but we unfortunately didn't have a camera). The lagoon water was beautiful, there was a multitude
of plant life, and the sand of the beach was the softest sand we'd felt. On the way back out, Ian got us a little bit lost in the blackness of the cave, but luckily someone had a flashlight behind us and we made it out to the other side.
The next day, we took a speed boat from Ko Kradan to Ko Lanta, with a pit stop for some great snorkeling at Ko Mak. After the slowness of Ko Kradan with only about 6 resorts on the whole island, Ko Lanta was a bit of a change up. After about an hour of looking for a place to stay on our tuk tuk, we found a great place in Long Beach, the Palm Beach Resort where we got a bungalow on the second row from the beach. The massages on the beach there were incredible. Ian had never had a Thai style massage, and was not sure what to expect or how it would be different, but it turned out that he loved it and we ended up getting massaged every evening at sunset. On the second night, Ian went to see Muay Thai boxing at
the island stadium. It was quite an interesting experience to see the kick boxing with most of the hits coming from the elbows and the knees. There were multiple knockouts in the 7 fights that night with plenty of blood to go along with them. The third day there we rented a motor bike and drove it all around the island. It was fun to see more of the island than we otherwise would have.
The following day we took a boat to Railay Beach, which we were both really excited about, since we'd heard nothing but rave reviews from everyone who has ever been there. Upon pulling up in the ferry boat, the sight of the sheer limestone cliffs, amazing beaches, and green jungle caused everyone on the boat to pull out their cameras and start taking pictures from every angle. Our hotel was a little bit of a hike from where the ferry dropped us off, but the place was very nice, and $10 per night less than when we had made the reservation. We couldn't believe that they told us that, since we'd already made a deposit at the higher rate. Railay Beach is
broken up into three parts, West Railay, East Railay, and Ton Sai. We stayed on East Railay where the beach is mostly mangrove trees, but the hotels are quite nice. We spent the first day on West Railay beach, which is a wide, long, beautiful cove with incredible vistas, jungle, and limestone cliffs surrounded by expensive resorts. The second day we went to the Phra Nang Cave beach. The cave is a huge tourist attraction and was easily visited by over 1000 people in the few hours we were at the beach. The beach there was even more beautiful than on West Railay, since there was only 1 resort there, the sand was softer, and the cliffs were even more stunning. The third day we went on an adventure to find the "secret lagoon" of Railay Beach and after about an hour and a half of free rock climbing up a large hill and repelling down about 200 ft. into the lagoon we were there. All by ourselves in a lagoon of salt water with 2-300 ft. cliffs all around us, gorgeous plant life, and the sun shining down into the water, creating a welcoming swimming hole complete with some
incredible mud to give ourselves mud treatments. That night was new years and we celebrated with some friends we had made along the way with a nice dinner beach side and some strong cocktails followed by dancing and watching tons of people send off paper lanterns to celebrate the new year. There were also lots of fireworks being set off.
Ko Phi Phi
After new years, we took a boat to the famous island of Ko Phi Phi (from the movie The Beach). We spent the first day walking around the island and taking in the different, much faster pace of Phi Phi compared to the other islands we'd been on. The second day we took and island hopping tour, complete with snorkelling, kayaking, monkeys, and jumping off the top of a 3 story boat. The visual highlights were the stunning cliffs surrounding Ko Phi Phi and Maya Bay, the actually filming site of The Beach, while we thouroghly enjoyed the 3 story jump into the crystal clear water below the boat.
After soaking up the sea and sun in the Thai islands for almost 2 weeks, we boarded an overnight bus to Bangkok. This was to
be the first of two visits to the capitol and we used this opportunity to make some key purchases in what was rumored to be the cheapest shopping in Asia. In addition to that, we went to some of the famous Wats around town. The most impressive of which housed the largest reclining Buddha in the world at 46 meters long. After sightseeing and taking a ride on the river express boat, we made our way to the other side of the city to see the Bangkok Muay Thai boxing matches. We both thoroughly enjoyed the matches, while there was less blood than the fights Ian saw in Ko Lanta, the matches were much more even and most lasted their full 5 rounds with the victor decided by a judges decision.
Damneon Saduak Floating Market
The following day we went to the Damneon Saduak Floating Market, which is about 2 hours away from Bangkok. This was a very interesting place to visit. Our Lonely Planet book told us to spend the night there and take a boat tour at 7am before the crowds arrived from Bangkok, so we did that. The book forgot to mention the fact that all
of the vendors don't really arrive until 8:30 either, so we essentially got a boat tour, in the rain, of a bunch of closed shops with very few boat sales people out yet. However, we hung around for 3 hours after our tour ended and saw the market from a much better vantage point for pictures and also for getting a good idea of the scope of the market (on the streets and bridges around the canals). We both really enjoyed this market for it's vibrant atmosphere and colors.
We then took an overnight bus to the North of Thailand and ended up in Chiang Mai. That morning we found a place to take us on an overnight elephant camp mahout training program. Basically that means we spent that day learning how to talk to the elephants and tell them where to go as we rode them. It was one of the greatest experiences either of us have ever had. To get us used to the elephants, they did all sorts of cool tricks like having them hug & kiss us with their trunks, feeding them, letting them give us massages with their feet and trunks, etc.
We then practiced the commands for making them go forward, backwards, right, left, & stop after which we went on a long ride through the jungle, finishing at a river where the elephants got their daily bath, with us as the scrubbers. This turned into a water splashing & trunk spitting game with the elephants & everyone ended up soaked and in great spirits. That night we were the only people staying at the elephant camp, and the mahouts took care of us, there was a camp fire, lots of Thai singing & guitar playing, Thai beer, and an introduction to snooker (which is similar to billiards pool). The following day we woke up and cut the elephants some grass to eat, took them on a morning ride, bathed them again, then we actually got to lead the elephants as mahouts for a group of tourists coming for a 1 hour ride in the baskets on the elephants backs. After this, we joined the daily visitors again for the long ride in the jungle and the bathing of the elephants before saying goodbye to our elephants. Ian really fell in love with his elephant, Bai Fern, who was the biggest
elephant there, and a hungry girl who could eat 300 KG of food and drink over 100 liters of water each day. This will be a memory that both of us will cherish for many years to come.
When we got back to Chiang Mai we walked around the city a bit and saw some of the beautiful Wats there, and we went to the famous Saturday and Sunday Night Markets, where we made some purchases of nice wood products made by the hill tribe people. The following day we took off for Pai, a small town about 4 hours from Chiang Mai via one of the curviest roads either of us has ever been on. Someone counted the turns and it added up to 762 turns from Chiang Mai to Pai.
We were only in Pai shortly, but it seemed to both of us to be the most self inflated town ever, since every single item that was sold in the town seemed to have the name Pai on it or I Love Pai, or some variation of that. It was a nice town, but... Oh well. We think it was ruined by all the foreigners
who live there. We decided to take in some of the beautiful nature of Northern Thailand on a white water rafting trip that took us from Pai to Mae Hong Son. Over two days we rafted down the Pai river seeing the country side and it suprised both of us how much it looked like parts of America. For the most part, the rapids were very calm, except for one set where our guide decided to take us at a very interesting angle, we hit a huge dip, Ian wasn't quite ready for it and fell into the rapids. The guide quickly got Ian back into the raft, but by that point we were stuck behind a rock, taking water into our boat at a hysterical rate. All of us were laughing so hard that we couldn't get outselves out of the rapid and we were stuck there for several minutes until our guide got out of the raft and pulled us out of the rapids.
Mae Hong Son
We ended up in Mae Hong Son which is a nice little town very close to the Burmese border. Here, we went on a trek to see the hill tribes
of the area. Most of the people here are immigrants from China or Burma and they are not Thai citizens, but are allowed to live there because of the hostility of the Burmese government. We spent the night with a Lisu tribe that was very small (4 families) but extreme welcoming, they even invited us to share in the bbq of a chicken they killed that day and their homemade rice wine. The next day we hiked to see some of the most interesting hilltribes, the long-neck and long-ear Karen people. The long-necks put brass rings around the women's necks starting at age 5 and gradually add up to 6 kg of brass rings around their necks to make their neck's longer, and thus more beautiful in their eyes. The long eared people pierce the women's ears and gradually put in larger and larger circle earrings to make the holes in their ears larger and hang lower when the earrings are not in. It was a truly foreign experience to see these women going about their daily lives, weaving cotton, making houses, etc.
Bangkok Pt. 2
After visiting the hill tribes we finished our tour of the North of
Thailand and we took an overnight bus and an all day bus to get back to Bangkok. We spent the next day walking around the Chatuchak market, which is the largest weekly market in the world, occupying more than 4 square blocks. We had heard a rumor that there was everything you could imagine for sale there, even a tiger, but after searching the market as best we could, we determined that a myth. The next day it was off to Cambodia.
There are more photos below