Aaaah... Beaches at last! There's more to Koh Tao than diving and so much more to Koh Phangan than full moon parties...

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Asia » Thailand » South-West Thailand » Ko Pha-Ngan
June 13th 2013
Published: August 8th 2013
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Taking first small steps in Bangkok…

Finally the day has come… I was leaving China and heading to another country, the country I have been looking forward to visit for a long time already and the fact that I was meeting my ‘boyfriend’ there (yep! think I can actually put a label on it now 😉) just made this trip a bit extra special! At the check-in desk in Beijing I found out that my plane to Hong Kong was delayed 1,5 hour. Well, it sure wasn’t good news as I only had an hour in transit in HK! Still it looked like 120 people were in the same situation so the plane would just wait for us in HK… Pheeeew… What a relief! As there was no chance there would have been another plane leaving in the middle of the night to Bangkok so I probably would have needed to wait until the morning then… Thankfully that didn’t happen though… I was surprised to see they provided some food and drinks to all the passengers as a form of apology for the flight’s delay – quite a few of my planes were delayed before but nobody ever cared whether the passengers were hungry or thirsty waiting for the flight. So fair play to Hong Kong airlines! Very good service! When I was waiting for my flight all sorts of thoughts were flying through my head, one moment I had doubts, the other I was all hopeful…I was scared and excited at the same time, wondering what the next few days would bring… Once I got off at the airport in Bangkok though and my visa was stamped into my passport I knew everything was going to be alright, just felt it in my guts! Entered the arrival hall with a huge smile on my face which only got wider when I saw Grant… yep! he really was waiting for me here and we would be travelling together from now on... But then it just couldn’t happen any other way right? 😊

We had to wait for quite a while for our shuttle to the hotel – the woman who was arranging the transport for us simply disappeared at some point but time didn’t seem to matter that much then as first of all I was sitting next to this great guy again and I think I was reaching new levels of being tired at this point (after all it was 24 hours without sleeping so far – had maybe two 20-minute naps in the planes but obviously they didn’t really do it for me that much!). Finally the shuttle came and we were on the way to the hotel. We needed to organise some transport to Koh Tao for the next day but first it was time to rest a bit and have a bite to eat. It felt quite surreal being in Thailand and having Grant around again… I was sure I would get used to this pretty quickly though. 😉

We thought we would be able to get some info about how to get to and what to do in Bangkok at the reception, but we were only given a map and shooed away from the desk… Hmmm… I wasn’t giving up that easy though so went to the desk and tried once again to ask for some directions. I got a very short answer – taxi outside! Wow! Obviously the receptionist was very busy – looked like she had a very serious conversation on her mobile or maybe was just reaching some high level at Angry Birds??? I surely was interrupting her in whatever she was doing!!! How dared I???? I asked then if she knew how much the taxi would cost and she just said ‘meter!’ letting me know with a very furious look that this was the end of our conversation. What the hell! Well I just couldn’t leave it like this so thanked her and told her that she just couldn’t be more helpful after which we exchanged some sarcastic smiles. I surely didn’t expect this level of service here! Ah well… We tried to make a call from the room to the Lomprayah office but couldn’t as once we got through to reception and asked to be redirected outside of hotel, lovely friendly receptionist just hung up on us. Haha! What an attitude! Haven’t come across a person like this for a loooong time now… Ah well… We would need to go to the centre and book the tickets at the office then…

Once we got to the centre it started raining. No surprise I guess as seeing that monsoon came early in China, I wasn’t really expecting different weather here – had hopes! but that would be all. We got our combo tickets (bus/boat) to Koh Tao and went to explore the surrounding streets a bit. It started pouring rain though so guess it was time for a beer instead… 😊 We were here few minutes only and I really liked the place already. It was definitely much more tourist friendly (comparing to China that is) – actually totally tourist orientated! Loved the shops, the variety of food around, the fact that we weren’t the only tourists around and nobody was staring at us, just everything about it really, even the rain at that moment! Once it stopped raining we had some lovely spicy lamb wraps and headed back to our ‘lovely’ hotel. I was more than 36 hours up so I guess it was time to sleep as was beyond tired at this point.

Welcome to diver’s paradise - Koh Tao!

Checkout was at noon and since our bus wasn’t leaving until 9pm we surely weren’t leaving early. Our dear friend from the reception rang us at 11.50 shouting ‘checkout 12!’, haha! I guess it was time to go as we surely didn’t want her to get angry… 😉 We left our backpacks at Lomprayah office and went to grab a bite to eat and stroll around a bit. After having relaxed in the southern islands for the next two weeks, we knew we would be coming back to Bangkok as there were still a couple of things that were surely worth having a look at. The journey to Koh Tao was very comfortable from the very beginning. The bus was quite new and what’s more – clean and on time as well! And we had some pretty good seats – in the first row on the upper deck with lots of leg space, nice! Slept through most of the way actually. Then a short wait for the boat, just enough time to have some coffee, but way too much time dodging the termites flying all around – should’ve signed up for some kung-fu lessons while I was in China as my reflexes weren’t that good it would seem – got hit a couple of times and the annoying bugs seemed to love my hair as well… Not too fond of insects… any kind of insects! Guess I would have to get used to them around here right? Then there was a nap on the boat and we were in Koh Tao! I have to say I was very positively surprised how well the trip was organised and how comfy it was as well… Good start in Thailand for sure!

We have booked a bungalow in advance and were supposed to have someone meet us at 7/11 to bring us to our ‘resort’. Nobody showed up though… Despite having slept almost the whole way, it wasn’t exactly the same kind of sleeping as in a normal bed, so I still was pretty tired. So after standing there for a couple of minutes we just took a ‘taxi’ to our place. Wondering whether somebody was going to show up or not wasn’t exactly what I had in mind at that moment. Once we got there and asked what happened with our free pick-up, a lady (or maybe a guy, sorry but really hard to tell…) at the reception said that they just went to pick us up – sorry but a bit too late wasn’t it? Anyway… At least we were there. Not sure when they were making the pictures of the bungalows as they looked a bit older in real life… The whole place looked like it needed some proper maintenance actually – potentially it could’ve been a really lovely place as it was set on a hill and had two small private beaches. And they definitely should have had at the reception someone with more communication skills as the current receptionist just seemed to be very bothered by some silly tourists checking in and asking questions about the place. Where was this lovely Thai hospitality that I have read so much about? As so far we haven’t come across it at all…

Unfortunately we didn’t seem to be too lucky with the weather either – skies overcast and it looked like it was going to rain. Ah well… It was our first day on the beach (first day on the beach? Yay!) so no complaints. Besides a day without a strong sun after a long journey wasn’t a bad idea at all… A short walk around the resort, a couple of beers, a bit of rest… Just lovely! The next day was very overcast as well… Still there was no point sitting in our bungalow and wondering whether it was going to rain or not, so just decided to go for a walk to the village. Thankfully the tide was low at that time as otherwise we would have had to walk the round way through the hill – there was a path made of wooden planks where you could walk to another beach from the resort, if the path was leading all the way there that is as it was finishing just next to the last bungalow and then it was blocked by some huge rocks. You could jump off the path and walk through the water around it, but it was possible only in low tide though. Another thing that needed a bit of improvement in Freedom I guess – I say the list was endless! Despite the humid weather it was a nice walk to town. I just couldn’t resist and had to try the pancakes from one of the stands, which turned out to be quite dangerous as they were just yummy! Would have to try to resist the temptation each time we passed one of these I guess… Looking at the weather we were wondering if it would be a good
tattoo master... thanks but not for me though!tattoo master... thanks but not for me though!tattoo master... thanks but not for me though!

...looks very sterile by the way.... NOT!
idea to book a snorkelling trip as snorkelling when it was lashing didn’t seem like that much fun, but then so far it hasn’t been raining that much so maybe we would have a bit of nice weather after all? Snorkelling the next day it was then! I knew that Koh Tao was a diver’s paradise but didn’t realise there were going to be so many places with diving courses around! I was actually thinking about doing PADI for a while now, but there were so many places to explore that it was hard to include it somewhere in our super busy schedule. 😉 One day for sure though! We ended up having a couple of drinks on Sairee beach and watching some guys practicing for fire shows. Since we didn’t feel like walking in the dark all the way to Freedom we had to catch a pick-up truck somewhere. Once you don’t need them they are everywhere, and once you need one they are nowhere to be found! Typical! 😊 We walked through a dark path back to town (they maybe should think of putting a few lamp posts here and there). Something brushed against my calf during the walk – guess it was better not to think what it could have been though…

Thankfully it wasn’t raining in the morning so there was a chance we might have been getting decent weather for our snorkelling trip after all. Since it was a good spot for scuba diving, I imagined it would have had some nice spots for snorkelling as well right? We would find out soon enough! We were picked up from our place and headed to the pier in the main village, there we met our companions for the day, got our gear, got on our boat and were ready to set off. There would be a few snorkelling stops and at the end two hours of free time on Koh Nang Yuan. First we stopped at Shark Bay – not hard to imagine where this place takes its name from… Sadly we didn’t see any... Maybe if we came here in a smaller group we would have gotten a better chance? They are meant to be quite shy animals so no wonder why they were a bit embarrassed to show up for the crowd of 30 people or so… There actually weren’t much fish around here either and the coral was very poor – well just hoped that the next snorkelling stop would be a bit better… And it sure was… Just as the other stops were! Wow! Some beautiful kinds of fish and coral as well – so colourful! And in between the stops I even had to put sunscreen on as the weather really picked up! Apparently it was nowhere close to the corals you could see in Australia (so I’ve been told by my dear friend), still I was quite impressed. As usual I drank quite a bit of sea water as forgot that you are not supposed to be smiling under water – mask flooded all the time! Just loved the whole experience! After snorkelling and a lunch on board it was time to head do the last place on our list – Koh Nang Yuan. As we were approaching the island it was quite obvious it would be packed as there were quite a few boats ‘parked’ all around. It started getting a bit more rough on the water so it was good to set our feet on the ground actually. Apparently there was a good snorkelling spot on the island but seeing the amount of people here and having snorkelled at four different sites already, we gave it a miss and decided to head to the top of the hill to see the panorama of the island instead. I was attacked by a bunch of mosquitos of course as soon as we started going up there. As we were reaching the top suddenly it started raining (some heavy clouds were hanging above our heads for a while now so shouldn’t be a surprise, still…). Climbing rocks in flip-flops while it’s raining is not exactly my idea of fun, still even with the rain the view from the top was absolutely spectacular! Besides it rained only for a few moments, so it wasn’t that bad after all… After the ‘climb’, all soaked, we just decided to chill at the bar and wait for our boat back – we had enough excitement for one day. Or so it would seem at least as the cruise back added quite a bit of adrenaline to this trip. The sea became very rough so the boat was swinging from one side to the other (I swear I thought a couple of times that it would flip over – pretty scary!). Thankfully we were sitting on top deck so we didn’t get too wet but everybody on the bottom one was absolutely soaked, every wave just washed over the floor below… Still one crazy crew member didn’t seem to be bothered at all as he cut up some fruit and was walking around with the tray serving it to everyone as if nothing was happening around us… It was an alarming sight but quite calming at the same time in its own weird way though so thanks for that I guess. We finished our day in a lovely restaurant nearby Freedom. Did I mention I absolutely love Thai food??? Well I do! And the coconut curries, especially the red one… Yum! That’s all I can say. 😊

We woke up to a beautiful blue sky… Well… That’s what I have been hoping for all along! Unfortunately there wouldn’t be any lying on the beach that day… Guess even during an overcast day you can get some serious sunburn. I did put sunscreen on the previous day, but looked like I forgot about one very important place on my body – that’s right! I managed to burn my arse while snorkelling! One part that was sticking out from the water all the time and I forgot all about it? Ah well… Quite a big lesson learned. Let me just say that sitting down or bumpy rides weren’t too much fun for the next couple of days…On our last day on Koh Tao we decided just to chill on the Sairee beach, but somewhere in the shade of course… First booking a boat for the next day though! We found out from the tour agent that there was a festival taking place that day in Koh Tao. Well, we needed to check it out then! The girl said it was going on the whole day, but once we got to the main venue, well… except some kids practicing some crazy choreographies on the stage, there wasn’t much going on there… Maybe it would get better in the evening? But then maybe not… We just didn’t feel like going back there again. We just chilled that day on the beach, watching people all around us and just staring at the sea… There was a bit of a sunset that day, definitely the best we have seen so far, but still were hoping that some better ones were coming our way in the next few days… Next time I was in Koh Tao I would have to give scuba diving a try for sure! For now it was time to head to another island though…

More to it than full moon parties for sure!

As usual I was totally knocked out the moment we got on the boat. Just can’t resist the temptation to sleep whenever possible. 😉 We got off and straight away were bombarded with different offers for hotels and bungalows, but then what was the point in looking on our own if the offers were coming to us on their own right? So decided to give one of them a go! And it wasn’t a bad choice for sure! Super friendly staff at the reception, cute bungalow very close to the beach, nice swimming pool and town just a few minutes walking away… Quite perfect I would say! And for the first time we experienced some real Thai hospitality which apparently this country is known for (started having doubts about it at some point). After dumping our bags in our cosy bungalow it was quite necessary to check out that pool first. 😉 We enjoyed it a bit too much as the whole day seemed to fly by in a moment. We did check out the beach as well but that would be about it – well I guess there would be more exploring in the morning! We got so spoiled and lazy by the beautiful surroundings at our resort that we didn’t leave the place that day at all – even treated ourselves to dinner right there. And it turned out to be a pretty good idea as the food was simply delicious!

Enough was enough though… It was time to do some exploring the next day (and maybe jump in the pool once we were back? 😉). We rented a bike from our resort – yep! didn’t even have to leave the place to do that! Totally spoiled! Got some fancy helmets to go with it as well and were off! So many people driving without helmets though – actually very few tourists wearing ones! Come on people! Think a little bit about safety… or how cool they look like at least! 😉 First we headed to Phaeng National Park to check out some beautiful waterfalls. Well I’m sure they must be beautiful once there is water in the park…Not much water around at the beginning of rain season though or maybe more like no water at all? Well… At least we could see a big part of the island from a nice viewpoint… It sure was quite difficult to climb up the hill with all the humidity in the air! So not used to it (can you actually ever get used to it?). Next we headed to the north of the island, to Mae Head. Beautiful wide beach, water almost lukewarm, still quite cooling on a super-hot day, another lovely spot! It looked like a good spot for snorkeling as well as there were quite a few people around with the snorkeling gear but then quite a few walking around with bandages as well though – guess it’s not that difficult to get injured from the coral. Even very close by the shore you had to be very careful stepping in the water as there were lots of sharp stones all around. Once you got to the
one of our favourite of our favourite of our favourite restaurants... sure was scary passing by someone on this plank! I did see myself landing on the rocks or in the water, or both! Thankfully it didn't come to that... Pheeew
water it was difficult to get out – it was just incredible! It was sad to be leaving but we really didn’t want to be driving in the dark with all the crazy party-goers around, so jumped on a bike a headed back to our place. We saw a nice temple on the way so decided to check it out. It looked quite abandoned, if it wasn’t for the dogs of course! Three doggies ran up to us straight away wagging their tails and jumping on us looking for some attention. As friendly as they were and as much as I love dogs, still they didn’t look too healthy for sure… Poor doggies! I have to say I was a bit worried that they might be carrying something, so after a quick round around the temple we jumped back on the bike and this time headed straight to our place. Again we had a lovely dinner while watching a movie with other guests from the resort. It was a really great day. I definitely wasn’t expecting Koh Phangan to be so quiet at all and so beautiful either! For many people once you mention the name of the island it rings a bell only for one reason – full moon party of course! It’s so much more than that though. Beautiful palm forests all around, lovely beaches, great food, friendly people… and we still had another day left for exploring! 😊

In the morning we decided to make use of our bike still since we paid for it until 11am. This time we headed in the direction of party beaches. Again a lovely drive and some beautiful views on the way, especially when we started climbing up a bit. Some parts were soooo steep though! And some people really drive totally recklessly! At some point we just decided it wasn’t worth it to go all the way there especially that our scooter wasn’t exactly the most powerful one and sometimes it felt as if it wasn’t going to make it all the way to the top. We stopped at one of the restaurants with the view for a breakfast instead. I surely could wake up to a view like that every morning! After we gave back the bike we went for a walk to town. All the shops around selling full moon party gear – t-shirts, paints, all sorts of bright and colorful stuff. We came across a food market and just couldn’t get away from it actually! Everything smelled so nice! After a portion of pad thai, two fruit shakes each and some lovely honey-glazed pork on sticks we did seem to be quite full though… 😉 After walking around the town it was time to head back, this time through the beach though. Really lovely walk…

Besides that there sure is a lot to do on the island. Many excursions to the surrounding islands, including some exclusive ones by speedboat to Ang Thong National Marine Park, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, elephant riding, archery and many more… And then of course there are parties! And looks like Full Moon Party is only the beginning of it all as there are bungalow parties, waterfall parties, half-moon parties, here party, there party, everywhere parties! And it sure looks like many people come here in one reason only – to get hammered at one of these parties! Two nights before the full moon the island simply gets bombarded by young crowds of party people! The guy at our resort checked twice with us if we were definitely leaving on the day we stated at the beginning as the place was fully booked for the next couple of days already! As tempting as getting wasted was (not!), it was time to evacuate! Next stop: Koh Lanta!

Additional photos below
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think I should get one of these...think I should get one of these...
think I should get one of these...

...the whole cart I mean of course! ;)

9th August 2013

Moving on to Thailand
Looks like your transition is going well. Glad you are enjoying the snorkeling. An amazing part of the world. Looking forward to reading more.

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