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Published: February 12th 2008
It’s been awhile since I updated everyone on our travels, but we haven’t been doing much. We spent the last few weeks in Southern Thailand getting some sun on the beaches here. We’ve been beach bums spending most of the days reading, wading, studying (Darren), napping (Kyle), and just chilling out (Darren’s edit: What can we say; the Dude abides). Anyway, to pick up where I left off…
The trip from Taman Negara to Krabi took us 35 hours and the modes of transport went as follows: boat, mini-bus, bus, monorail, sleeper train, commuter train, mini-bus, back of pick up truck. It was quite the trip and afterwards all we wanted to do was to take a break for a bit. So we splurged, and instead of heading off to the more backpacker accommodations of East Rai Lei beach (which would have been another boat trip) we followed a Scandinavian couple in the back of the pick up truck with us to the area where their hotel was in Au Nong. It is a pretty tourist friendly city. There is one main road through the city area with great restaurants and street vendors. It is easy to see why people
get here and simply don’t leave. We planned on staying for two nights and then moving on to a different beach, but we ended up staying for four nights. Most mornings we would jump on a water taxi and head over to Rai Lei. From West Rai Lei, you can walk to several different beaches, including Ton Sai and Phraneng. Each beach has it’s own feeling; Au Nong is the most populous with a lot of Scandinavian retired couples and a very touristy feel, West Rai Lei is a more relaxed form of tourist mecca, running along the other side of the peninsula is East Rai Lei where you can find a lot of backpacker hangouts. At the head of the peninsula is Phraneng beach and cave. There aren’t any hotels on the beach, but as it is so easy to get to, it is always packed with people. Ton Sai is just around the beachhead from West Rai Lei and it is a hippie paradise. Darren and I got there, looked around, ate, and left before the patchouli could reach our nostrils.
Our days were taken up with lounging on the beaches, reading, swimming, eating some delicious Thai
food, and soaking up the sun. The beaches have the finest sand I’ve ever seen and there are enormous sheer cliffs going straight into the ocean. Random islands are sprinkled across the horizon and you can see their cliffs jutting out of the sea in the distance. All of these walls make it a major attraction for climbers and climb shops are in abundance in Rai Lei and Au Nong. We did a half-day of climbing and we had a great time. Unfortunately, it showed us how pathetically out of shape we are (Darren’s edit: Read: how pathetically out of shape Kyle is).
After Krabi we jumped on a ferry to Ko Phi Phi. It is a major tourist island destination in the Andaman Sea with visitors ranging from budget conscious backpackers to family vacationers staying in lush resorts. It tries to be too much to too many people, in my opinion. Darren and I enjoyed it, but thought it was a little over hyped and over done. However, on the first night we did a camping trip to Malay Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh, which is in the national marine park just off shore. To give you
a more familiar picture, this is the beach where they filmed the movie “The Beach”. Paradoxically, the book that pointed out the parasitic like nature of hording tourists made the beach it wrote about a tourist attraction (Darren’s edit: Like what Walden did to Walden Pond.) (Kyle’s re-edit: Pompous apropos comment by Darren about Thoreau.) (Darren’s re-re-edit: We’re getting along fine, really). So, if you go there during the day the bay is filled with boats and you can hardly find a spot on the beach. By camping overnight, we arrived as people are leaving and woke up to have the beach to ourselves for the first three hours of daylight. It is the most amazing place I’ve ever seen. It is a circular bay with enormous cliffs coming straight down into the sea on all sides and a small opening to one side where boats can enter. On the far side from the opening is about 300 yards of beautiful beach where we set up our tents. The bay floor is very shallow and you can wade for hundreds of feet with amazing corals all around you. At night the stars are spectacular and the cliffs act as a
natural picture frame. More impressive to me was the phosphorescence in the bay at night; these are little plankton that live in the bay, and when you make movement in the water at night they glow. So, imagine having dozens of fireflies glow with your every move and that is what it was like moving through the water at night in Malay Bay. It was pretty sensational (Darren’s edit: One of the highlights so far).
We spent a few more days on Ko Phi Phi relaxing. The highlight was hiking to the viewpoint on the top of the island (about 500 feet above sea level) where you can find paths to the bays on the backside of the island (Darren’s edit: They had pictures from the spot of what the tsunami did to the island… Pretty startling). Darren and I picked a random path and ended up at Rankee Bay. It was a beach of a few hundred yards and at most seventeen or eighteen people on the beach. There were only a few bungalows on the beach so it still had a very natural feel to it. It was a breath of fresh air from the tattooed, sun-burned,
drunk Aussie party atmosphere of Ko Phi Phi. (Darren’s edit: It pays to explore.)
We left at midday on the eighth to get over to Koh Tao. It is a pretty small island (about 27 square kilometers) that is known for being a center for scuba diving. While it is small, there is a lot of elevation gain between the coast and the center of the island so it looks like a big hump rising out of the ocean; this is what gives it the name of Turtle Island (Tao = Turtle in Thai if you didn’t catch that). It was again a full day dedicated to traveling as you have to go across to the Gulf of Thailand and then take an overnight ferry, which felt more like a sardine can. Each individual had half a double mattress placed side by side across the floor. There were over 60 of us shoulder to shoulder laying on these pads for 7 hours. Somehow Darren and I still managed a good night’s sleep each and we got to Koh Tao at about 7 a.m. The pier is in Mae Haad Bay which is the center for scuba on the island.
Most people head to Sai Ree beach just north of there as it is the largest beach with the most activity on the island. Darren and I decided to head south to Chalok Baan Kao bay. It is a really pleasant place. There are only a handful of restaurants and bars; in fact, it would be a close contest between scuba shops and hotels here. You can guess what we are spending the days doing…
The only thing worthy of mention yet is that we went bowling the other night; needless to say the Lebowski quotes were running rampant. It was all manual scoring and pin setting. Manually doing the scoring was the most thinking I've had to do since I finished my last Progress Report (for those non-Epic folk think Office Space and TPS Reports) before I quit. On the up side, while we were throwing the balls, we had someone on the receiving side helping us out! If we hit nine down on the first ball, the pin setter would either knock the other one down for us, or move it into the middle of the lane. If we were off on the second ball, he would
move it so that it would be in the balls path. It got to some pretty funny extremes as one time I threw a gutter ball and he moved the pin into the gutter for me and a second time the ball was going to the far right and the guy literally threw the pin at the ball! He missed, but we counted it, Thai rules I guess. Anyway, we liked his style.
We are into our third day here and have two more. We are going to go to a Thai boxing match tonight, which should be pretty amazing and we will definitely send out an update after that. In a few days we are on our way north to Bangkok for two days before we head over to Cambodia. Southern Thailand was a lot better than we had expected; everyone put the fear in us that it would be nothing but drunk Aussies and Brits ripping it up Spring Break style on holiday. It was; but they were easy enough to avoid. However, we definitely missed a few spots we wish we could have seen. In particular, Ko Lepai in southern Thailand is supposedly beautiful, tiny, and
with very few tourists, and Perhentian Island on the east coast of Malaysia, which was in monsoon season when we passed. We are looking at ways to make it to these during our trip (possibly as a break from the desert heat of Rajasthan, India) as they are supposedly some of the best spots. Who knows, we may be back sooner than we thought. If anyone is thinking of taking a vacation in the near future and wants to hit up some beaches, let us know and maybe we could rendez vous in this area.
A few other fun random facts:
There are Seven Elevens and KFCs everywhere in South East Asia. We had expected to see McDs and Starbucks, but who knew that fried chicken, slurpees, and three day old hot dogs could make it big in Asia?
While in Malaysia, Darren averaged 3 Nestle’s Crunch ice cream bars a day (Darren’s edit: They are really good). To his dismay, we haven’t seen any in Thailand yet (Darren’s edit: So I’m on to peanuts. For the record, Thai food is probably the best national cuisine I’ve ever had.).
My facial hair is reaching the point of ridiculously gross
(Darren’s edit: Even worse than usual). It is thin, patchy, crude, and greasy, except the mustacio. For whatever reason, I have a thick mustache growing here and it is the only thing that given proper growth and grooming could be credible. It is scary (Darren’s edit: The mustache, that is), as in Southern Thailand you see a lot of old, obese white males here with mustaches and, needless to say, they aren’t looking for nice beaches. I hope no one gets confused.
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