Thailand – Phuket, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao: An island hopping adventure

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Dave Giblin


During my trip to the Philippines I met a lot of great people, one of those in particular was Mariana whom I had promised that on my visit to Thailand I would pop on over to see her.  And this promise I kept when I visited the large Thai island of Phuket.

Leaving the happy memories of KL, I booked my accommodation whilst at the airport (very last minute for me) and the hotel managed to receive my request the moment I arrived.  The accommodation was one dorm style room of four beds.  I entered this room to meet my new travel companion for the next few weeks, Sarah.

Apologising for waking her up (it was only 9AM but she was fast asleep), we introduced each other and in the usual backpacker style asked the standard five questions:

  • - Where are you from?
  • - How long have you been travelling?
  • - How long do you have left?
  • - Where have you been?
  • - What’s your favourite place?

Sarah had a very interesting and for her somewhat life changing trip to India.  A place where travelling on your own is a tough but equally exciting thing to do.  Her perspective on things changed since her visit, and as every traveller has discovered it is those moments that makes travelling such an illuminating experience.

Sarah
A quick synopsis of Patong Beach first.  It is the place most frequented by tourists when they visit the island.  Famed for its Ping Pong shows and dance bars it really mimics what Kosan Road was to Bangkok.  Seedy, western and pricey. 


The beach itself is littered with tourists and you are in constant fear of some parasail victim landing on top of you.  Suffice to say, I wasn’t a fan of Patong Beach all that much, despite some of the views it offered.

 Avoiding the attack...


On the Friday (I arrived on Thursday), I was planning to meet up with Misa and her friends.  Misa was the girl I went to Myanmar with and whom I met in Cambodia when touring with Jonas (from my China, Cambodia, Vietnam, a bit of KL and Thailand trip).

We met them on the main bar strip and had a few drinks together and as the night progressed we ended up trapped in a bar as it began to rain very heavily - Thailand style.  This was no disadvantage really as there is something beguiling about the sound of rain as it pounds the street whilst you’re outside, covered, enjoying a glass of wine and a bottle of beer.
The main bar strip at Patong Beach

That weekend I left Sarah, for a few days, and met up with Mariana.  We decided that we would spend the next couple of days touring the island on mopeds and since I have never rode one before Mariana gave me a few pointers and we were off on our little but fantastic adventure.

Mariana, English Teacher and Moped Instructor!
Our reunion, toasting with my favourite Philippine drink
A quiet night out

The moped riding was fairly easy, especially as it was an automatic.  Driving along the roads by the beach was breath-taking and being able to stop anytime you want to relax or take pictures is great – prior to this my only touring would have been pre-arranged as part of a trip or with a guide.

 Action shot!

My bike
Mariana really made me see what Phuket is really like.  It is beautiful.  The beaches were lovely and the views were outstanding.  It was sometimes welcoming getting back on the bike just to cool down as it was some very hot days.

  
Absorbing the view
At the end of our first day we headed back to the house and had a few games of chess (I had been learning the game since Nepal).  I am proud to say I won three games in a row :-) !

The next day Sarah came along on the tour, she decided to delay her leave from the island to take in a couple of trips that we all booked together (and had negotiated quite astutely with the travel agents - tip: never pay the price they offer!).

The first of these trips was an island hop that included the Phi Phi Islands, home to the famous beach in the film, ‘The Beach’.  Now to be honest, I am not a big fan of Phi Phi.  It was way too crowded and it’s not the idyllic place you would expect it to be.

Not exactly the paradise you'd expect - a clear example of how tourism can destroy the peace


The beach is also congested with over 30 boats, swimming mainly involves swimming in diesel fuel
The second trip that we booked was one called 'James Bond Island Tour'.  Now in this trip you get to visit various caverns, caves and islands, culminating to an island that was in a James Bond film (hence the name).  Now this trip was majestic.  Not only was the place beautiful but the staff on the tour company fell over themselves to help you.




Sarah feeling a little bloated!

A really cool creature that is a fish but can climb!

The names Bond...James Bond!
At no point do I remember Mariana or Sarah paddling...
On the visits to the caves, you are taken on a canoe by your own guide.  The three of us had an amazing and friendly guide whom behind his smiles had a tragic story.  The Tsunami. 

I remember watching an excellent documentary on Channel 4 (a UK mainstream TV channel).  It played a timeline of the Tsunami, starting 24 hours before it hit to the aftermath of the devastation.  It was unique in that all it showed was the home made videos that people made, and interviews with those people telling their story of the horrors they faced and the loss of life they endured.


I remember one story, very clearly, of a British mother whom securing herself in a backroom, was clinging onto her child as the Tsunami swept through and their child was ripped out of her hands by nature and not to be found for a few days later.

Our guide kindly recounted his story to Mariana, Sarah and myself.  He told us how he was on a tour just like the one we were on and paddled through a cave into a lagoon with some Americans on board.  As the tourists were taking pictures of the amazing scenery, the water started to rise inside quite rapidly.  They were protected from the waves themselves as they were completely enclosed by high rocks; but the sheer force of the water shooting through the only entry and exit made them rise up and then back down.

He said that one of the Americans immediately said that it “felt like a Tsunami”.  Our guide didn’t know what it was, and proceeded with the tour and exited the cave into the open sea.  What he saw was capsized ships, bodies in the water – some they tried to rescue and ahead of him the islands that were his home, were completely destroyed.

He recounts how he paddled back to the islands destruction; his thoughts were about his family.  Were they safe?  Sadly they were not.  His wife perished, as too did many of his friends and work colleagues.


Our brilliant guide
Throughout Phuket you can see signs that now point the direction to the Tsunami evacuation route; to higher ground or to buildings that can withstand its destructive force.  A little late some might say, but with the prodigious resilience that these people have they will be more than ready if it ever comes back again.

The Phuket experience was magnificent and I have Mariana to thank for that.  It is most certainly a place that I will return to in the next year, not just for Mariana’s fantastic hospitality and friendship, but also to beat her at Chess once again!

After Phuket Sarah and I headed on a long bus journey from the island across Thailand and onto a boat to Koh Phangan another Thai island.  We arrived at the port, a little exhausted but with the help of my mobile, we could see where the hostel was and decided that we should keep fit and walk the ten minutes there.

Nearly over thirty minutes later we arrived at the Red Cube, more exhausted than ever.  The place was very quiet and run by a couple of Dutch people (from my recollection).  This would be our home for the next week.

The following day I hired a moped and inspired by Mariana from the Phuket expedition, Sarah and I took off on our tour of the island.  We decided to split the trip into two.  Doing one side one day and another side a different day.

The moped was very cheap to hire, $5 per day, and the vehicle we got was pretty good – well it was until I finished with it.  We visited some really nice, and some deserted beach spots.  Sarah opting for the sunniest spot, whilst I gingerly picked the shade. 

However the price for visiting the beach spots deemed ‘not accessible by road’ was that I bashed our little moped up and had to pay £200 in damages.  Some say you should have gotten out of it, but I did damage it – not intentionally of course, but it was me in control and therefore it was right to pay the repair bill.  I have to point out that I never fell off from the bike nor did I crash it – despite the owner repeating to me after looking at the bike if I was okay and had I any serious injuries!




  
Sarah trying out her moped skills
The island is most famous for its Full Moon and half moon parties.  We managed to get there for the half moon party, which was an outdoor trance rave.  We met up with two girls on holiday from Germany (Linda and Greta), took a cab and headed into the craze of the trance den.


With Linda

with Greta

Linda and Sarah tackling the buckets of vodka

Sarah was in her element.  Me not so much.  I think I was hoping for a bit more mainstream dance music rather than some fairly dull repetitive tones.  I left early needing some sleep and to feed our pet cat that Sarah and I had adopted.



Our pet cat.. 


My trip to Koh Tao was more out of necessity than a desire.  Sarah was leaving to head to Cambodia, I wanted to avoid the madness that is the full moon party – the island can swell with another 20,000 people.  But I also wanted to go diving again, something I hadn’t done since my trip to the Maldives in what seems like so many years ago.  Sarah and I said our goodbyes and made a plan to meet up again in Australia (where she lives).

I was hoping that Koh Tao would offer some quiet idilic setting that you see so much of in Thailand but it wasn’t.  Koh Tao was packed to the rafters with dive centres and for my only reason going I had to put up with it. 

I settled on Sairee Cottages, a nice place, expensive to what I’ve been used to paying, but equally run by a great team.  The biggest issue though I’ve found as you delve into the more touristy areas is the lack of WiFi at some of the hotels.  So trying to Skype every day resulted in a long trek to one of the cafés in the hope of getting a strong enough signal to at least chat – video calls were out of the question.

Base camp for my daily Skype calls
The diving itself, where I did my advanced and Nitrox, was brilliantly instructed but I certainly lacked the enthusiasm and excitement of my fellow divers.  To me it’s just a fish.  Yeah it’s a little bit bigger than your standard gold fish in the kitchen, but it’s just a fish.

Their excitement and my lack of it resulted in me cancelling some of the courses that I had booked and paid for; these were EFR (a first response course) and Rescue Diver.  I thought I could use the money I saved for a quick long haul trip – but instead decided (with a little persuasion) to use it for Myanmar.

I headed back to Bangkok immediately at the end of my course and took a boat trip and then a very long and boring bus ride.


Out of the three islands I would recommend you visit Phuket and stay at Patong Beach.  Despite it's seediness it is a good base to visit the rest of the island, and every now and again you do want a bit of western food and drink.


Koh Tao is the divers paradise, though I have been on much better dives in Bali since.  Finally I really enjoyed my trip to Koh Phangan.  Outside of the Full Moon party the place is idilic and peaceful, but of course if you want to party then  head here at the end of every month - you won't be disappointed.


2 comments:

  1. A very interesting read son it was good to see you got your keyboard out again to keep us updated on you adventure.

    ReplyDelete
  2. seems like you are having an amazing time, need to skype soon. :D

    ReplyDelete

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