Koh Boulon Leh
not our bungalow!
When we were originally planning our trip we’d always wanted Thailand to be our final country. Having loved it here on previous visits and with Bangkok being a premier shopping destination we thought it would be the best place to fly out of once our time was up. Sophie pushed to have as much time as we could here as although we’d spent near on 3 months during previous visits, here we’d only travelled a relatively small part of the country. After forgoing our return to the Philippines we entered a few weeks before we had originally planned and would have just short of 2 months to spend here. We were coming in on the Andaman side at the start of May, just as it went from high to low season, although we knew that it would be the beginning of the monsoon season we hadn’t quite thought through the impact this would have on our travel but like the troopers we are we made the most of it up until the point that it got too much and we threw in the towel (next blog).
Our first stop was a night in Hat Yai, a popular city and a
Koh Adang in the background
frequent stop for those travelling between Thailand & Malaysia. We weren’t in a rush so spent a night here before heading over to Ko Lipe the following morning. We didn’t do very much here but our visit will be a memorable one because we stayed in quite possibly the worst room we’ve ever stayed in… well it’s certainly in the top 5! People will ask why we didn’t search round for a better place rather than stay in the fleapit that we found but sometimes when we are travelling we do these things just so it can be another “story for the grandkids”! It was cheap at only 240B which was a good job as we would never have stayed there otherwise and it was strangely very popular, probably because it was so cheap and very central with a good travel agent just below for booking onwards travel. We imagine they get a lot of business from people who can’t wait to get out! We’ll leave you to look at the photos so you can appreciate the true glory of this room and so those not familiar with backpacking can see that it’s not all glamour and beaches!
following morning we boarded our minibus for the 2 hour journey to Pak Bara the port for Koh Lipe and the Tarutao islands. We hadn’t expected the new huge purpose built building that greeted us and also hadn’t appreciated just how many people would be there on a Saturday. It seemed the whole of Thailand were there on their holidays and it was very busy with regular airport style announcements on which boat was just about to board & leave. The crossing over to Koh Lipe was fine on a fast ferry which took about 1.5 hours stopping for a photo opportunity at Koh Taruato on the way. From the ferry you get off onto a floating pontoon where you get a longtail transfer (50B) to the beach of your choice with 3 main ones to choose from, Pattaya, Sunrise and Sunset. As documented before it isn’t very clear when you get off the ferry what you should be doing and which boat you should be getting on, it was only out of sheer luck rather than organisation that we managed to be on the right boat going to the beach we were aiming for.
We’d opted to stay
on Sunset beach which is on the more remote North side of the island, it’s not the nicest of the 3 beaches but is a bit more relaxed and quieter than the other 2 with just a couple of resorts and a small shack style bar. Most of the rooms on this side were full when we got there and we started to wonder just how low the low season got? We stayed in Porn resort which Dale got quite excited about for obvious reasons but it did not live up to it’s name before people start flooding there! We really wanted a beachfront bungalow but they were all taken so we made do with a small bamboo hut for one night with the promise we’d get beachfront the following day (500B). We spent the remainder of our first afternoon playing in the water to cool down, enjoying a fabulous sunset from our the beach and visiting a nice BBQ for dinner over on Pattaya beach. What a difference a day makes…
The next morning we hung around the resort to change our room and looked on as what seemed like all the other guests departed. We weren’t
really sorry to see them go as they’d kept us up until 3am singing Thai karaoke in the resort restaurant but it still left a gaping hole in the resort atmosphere. Once they’d gone there were 3 groups of us left at the resort, a French couple, a group of French boys and us…
After arriving on the Saturday and seeing the restaurants reasonably full, fire dancing on the beach and Walking Street (the main ‘high street’ on the island) being quite lively we couldn’t believe the contrast when we walked around on Sunday. It was like the island had experienced an apocalypse and we’d been missed out! We went down to Pattaya beach in the morning to soak up the sun and were one of around 5 people on the whole beach, and this is quite a big beach so 5 people didn’t go any way to filling it. We put it down to people probably sleeping in after a lively night but Sunrise beach on the opposite side was exactly the same as was Walking Street. We also noted that a lot of the stalls and shops that had been open the day before had closed and
this is how it remained for our time on the island.
We always prefer a beach that isn’t packed so full of people that you have to step over to get to the sea but this was one step too far as we do also like a bit of atmosphere! We did see a few more people in the evenings but once people had eaten it was back to the ghost town and the island was once again deserted as we walked back to our resort. During times like this it’s really hard to imagine what the island must be like when it’s packed full during peak season and while we missed the atmosphere we felt quite lucky that we had it almost to ourselves. Although it was the start of the monsoon season the weather was on our side and had 4 days of almost unbroken sunshine. We had a few spots of rain one lunchtime but it soon blew over and the monsoon thunderstorms only occured in the evening which didn’t affect us at all.
The prime beaches Pattaya and Sunrise are both stunningly beautiful and everything you could want in a Thai island… white powder
sand & clear turquoise waters. There are quite a few boats moored off the beach but not so many that you can’t swim around and enjoy the water. Our favourite beach was the bit of Sunrise opposite Koh Adang and we loved the huge pine trees which provided a beautiful backdrop to the sand and much needed shade when it got too hot. It’s very easy to walk around the island which is lucky as there isn’t really any transport, there are a couple of roads which take you from Sunset beach over to Pattaya and Sunrise and Walking Street connects Pattaya to Sunrise. The centre of the island isn’t very developed at all, there isn’t much of it left but it houses a rubbish dump and a few ponds where monitor lizards have made their home with a few resorts and shops scattered in between.
Most of the restaurants and resorts are found on Pattaya and Sunrise, some looked absolutely beautiful and others are more modest bamboo type construction so there is something for everyone. There are also a number of low key bars and cheap restaurants along Walking Street but after receiving information from other bloggers (thanks
Flyers in Thailand
We see these everywhere.. has anyone ever been on these trips?!
guys!) we favoured Zanom Sunrise on Sunrise beach most evenings due to it’s delicious menu and slightly cheaper prices. Along with the beach BBQ we tried on the first night we found the food here to be excellent and it reminded us of why we’d been so keen for Thailand to be our final destination.
We did notice a lot of dogs on the island, maybe we noticed them more because there aren't many in Malaysia and of course you see these in lots of places in Asia but there seemed to be a bigger concentration here than most places. When we went over to Sunrise beach we had to walk past what we named ‘dog temple’, so called because it was an old temple like building that housed about 10 dogs all lazing around during the day. They did set our hair on end one evening when we walked back in the dark and they all started howling & barking, we love dogs but you can never be too sure so we had to grab a stick and get our water ready for fear that we might become a doggy dinner at any moment!
We had yet
more animal encounters in our room when Sophie rescued a kitten from an over friendly dog one evening; the dog wanted to make friends but the cat wasn’t so sure. Sophie immediately fell in love with him as he was a smaller version of Stuart so we gave him the original name Stuart Little and proceeded to feed him every day until we left. We always find these things difficult.. should you just leave them to their own devices or do what we do and give them a few days of all the love & attention you can spare. The only trouble with the latter option is knowing that although you’ve give them a great few days it might set them up for a fall as soon as you have gone. Everyone is different but we can’t help but become foster parents in these situations but always regret it when we have to say goodbye and wish we had a house big enough to care for all the animals we’ve loved during our travels.
We really enjoyed our time on Koh Lipe and found the place to be a perfect holiday getaway with it now being a firm favourite
Thai island for us. It’s sits in the perfect stage of development, not to much but not to little and with the Chow Lair (Sea gypsies) still living on the island and retaining a small part of land it still feels quite local. There are no huge concrete resorts (yet) and everything is quite relaxed and unrefined. Backpackers sit quite happily beside those who have paid that bit more for their rooms and there is none of that feeling that people are looking down their nose at you which you can find in some other islands. Public transport isn’t needed here but there are a few pickups and tricycles for people staying in slightly more inaccessible resorts. With everything in easy walking distance, this means you can experience 3 different beautiful beaches without straying too far from your resort, a 20 minute walk would take you from one side to the other without too much effort.
We were keen to experience some more of the famous Andaman islands and had tried to divide our time so we could fit in as many as we could. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and as you’ll see in the next blog had
we known now what we later found out we would probably have stayed on Lipe for a few days more but move on we did with our next stop being a close neighbour…
Koh Boulon Leh
During the low season the usual forms of transport may not be running but there are usually other options available so weren’t too disheartened to find out that the ferry boat from Lipe to Bulon Leh wasn’t running. We were left with the decision to go back to Pak Barah and hope we could get a longtail to Koh Bulon Leh for the 400B each we’d read about, or stay on Lipe and enjoy a few more days there. It was a bit of a gamble as there was a good chance we’d get to the port and find we couldn’t afford the 2,000B for a private hire longtail but we thought it was worth the risk so we booked a ticket back to the mainland. Thankfully the gamble paid off and when we got to the port we were directed to a ticket agency who sold us tickets to Ko Boulon Leh for the advertised price even though it
was only us 2 on the boat.
We’d read that Koh Boulon Leh was a reasonably undeveloped island with beautiful beaches and this is exactly what we found although we’d add that it was also deserted! As we landed on the white sand beach of Boulone beach we could hardly spot any signs of life but plodded round the corner to find the Boulone Resort, a beautiful place perched right on the beach with some stunning bungalows which looked well out of our budget.
There were a small handful of people milling around (all 7 of them), and as beautiful as the resort looked the price of 800B for a bungalow was slightly more than we could manage so Dale set off to check out the competition across the other side of the island. The island is easy to walk across, much smaller than Lipe and once you cross the small hill in the centre it’s only another few 100m before you have gone from coast to coast. During the walk you can’t help but notice the resident monitor lizards as there are hundreds of them sunning themselves on the path with some quite reluctant to move until
you are right on top of them.
With this being low season Dale found that only one resort was open on the opposite side, all the others were shut so we had the choice of two options. Whilst the place on the North side was run by a lovely group of local ladies where we'd later have our lunches, we couldn’t resist the appeal of the posh Boulone Resort and after agreeing to a price of 700B for a huge beautiful room we decided we could go without a few things to be able to afford it. Snagging this room was one of the upsides of travelling in low season as we would never have been able to afford the price tag otherwise. We really felt like the cats who got the cream during our stay with a huge terrace, a wardrobe, shelves, 3 (yes 3!) windows and a lovely tiled bathroom! As we have said before when you normally make do with a lot lot less than this it’s the small things that matter. To make our stay even more comfortable the resort was run by a lovely family and offered excellent and cheap food & beer so
we could not have been happier.
Much like Koh Lipe, Koh Boulon Leh was devoid of people, except it was even more so! There were 4 groups on the whole island when we arrived (all staying at Boulone Resort) but by the second day this had gone down to 2 groups.. us and a French family and that is all there would be for our 3 days on the island. We had the whole beautiful beach to ourselves all day and divided our time between playing in the sea and enjoying taking in the views from our huge terrace which looked out onto the beach and the limestone islands beyond. We weren’t half as energetic as the French family who didn’t sit still for the whole time we were there.. they fished, kitesurfed, played the fiddle, snorkelled, trekked in the jungle and we felt exhausted for them when we said hello each morning and evening which is the only times our paths crossed! One day we were told that the dad had kayaked over to the island about 2km in the far distance, we were frankly gobsmacked by this as it looked well beyond reach but he’d made it
there and back.. on his own! Added to this we were told that it was very dangerous to do this, not only could he have got swept away but the island he went to is a prime birds nest havesting area patrolled by government rangers who would have shot him had be been caught in the area. Not the best idea but he seemed quite pleased with his achievement!
With us being one of the only groups on the island we received a very personal service and got to know Mr Ongsara (the resort manager) and his family quite well during our days. He gave us a bit of history of the island and although not a native himself, his wife’s family have lived there for generations and he pointed out the old well set on the beach used to be in the centre of the village, and that where the old village had been was now under the sea! Most of the residents on the island are still Chow Lair families so the resorts are all locally owned or managed which is very different to those on Koh Lipe (which they didn’t speak too well of). On the
far side of the island you walk though rubber tree plantations to a squid fishing camp which is still the main source of income for many of the local residents.
At the end of our 3rd
day Mr Ongsara informed us that a storm might be coming so we had to make the decision to go the next day or potentially stay for another 2 or 3 days until it passed. We didn’t fancy sitting it out in the rain & wind so agreed to go the following day and caught a longtail back to Pak Bara with his wife & 2 children. The crossing was a little choppier than we would have liked and Sophie always hates it when it’s not a smooth ride but we made it back to the mainland safe and sound and booked our onwards travel to Trang where we hoped to start our next island hopping adventure…
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