Sunday, 4 March 2012

IATTOUR Feb 22-Mar 2 Krabi, Phi Phi and Koh Lanta Islands, Thailand

Feb 22 Departing Chaing Mai to Krabi

As we head to the airport in our sketchy micro-bus, we see the local mountains starting to appear out of the haze that has shrouded Chaing Mai since our arrival.   The check in for the first of our flights to Bangkok (BKK) on Air Asia goes as before with nary a problem…..However, the hitch on using this cheap fare to get to Krabi is that Air Asia only does point to point fares, which means we have to collect our bags in Bangkok and recheck for the next flight…in theory all OK, but if the bags don’t show up…big problem.    I worried needlessly as all bags delivered and rechecked.  BKK airport is a mega complex for both Domestic and International flights, it was quite fun listening to the range of different languages being spoken through the terminal.  On the Domestic side of the terminal, services were a bit minimal given the magnitude of travelers passing through on a daily basis, but we survived.  Another quick 1 hour flight and we were deposited in Krabi airport, with our smiling driver holding a sign with our name outside the arrivals waiting to take us to the Krabi River Hotel.  We were again whisked down unfamiliar roads..good thing we are trusting souls to be dropped at a quaint small hotel sitting on the banks of the Krabi River.    The Chinese owner greeted us and got us registered in swift order then up to our river view room that was recommended by our friends Fraser and Shary….  What a little gem of a hotel; comfy room, good AC, easy walking distance to town, ferry terminal and  the night food market…and 35 Baht ($1.10)  Chang Beers sold at the hotel..who wouldn’t be happy. We sit on the balcony enjoying the scenery and seeing the long-tail boats plying the river.

 Feb 23 Krabi- Raley and Au Nang
We have the best room for sunrises coming up over the Krabi River…to be repeated each day we are here.  We go for a nice walk along the river seeing everyone heading to work and school on the longtails. 
a little fixer upper for Dan!
After a leisurely breakfast of museli and fresh fruit, we head off to the pier to find a long-tail boat to take us from Krabi to the isolated Raley beaches.   While we sit around the pier for a bit waiting for them to fill the boat, we chat up this British bloke waiting for his mini bus to Surithani; turns out they had to send him to a different location on a motorcycle he goes!
As we come out of the harbour, the limestone cliffs start coming into view that are known world-wide.   

These impressive monoliths are the things ardent rock climbers’ dream of scaling.  Railay Climbing  

We soon find that these beaches are only isolated in the fact there is no road, however that doesn’t mean they have empty beaches…far from it; there seems to be a smattering of just about every nationality known, but with a decidedly Russian majority.   It was fun watching a number of the different pitches being climbed ranging from  4-8 in difficulty we were told.   

 Walking along the trail from the West Beach to the East Beach takes you under the cliff faces which have huge eroded undercut bases and many caves heading under the hills.    Limestone stalactites and stalagmites lined the path; some of the shapes having a rather “phallic” shape take on an icon image for the local fisherman who adorn these edifices with silk scarves and other paraphernalia…needless to say there are many women posing with these large promontories.     

Out to the other side we find our small piece of beach to call home and head in for a dip to cool off….no sooner we are in the water and Tony comments on feeling a few stings, but continue to swim for a bit as there are many swimmers in the water.  Back on the beach we watch the young-guns (guys and gals) jumping off one of the many 7+m cliffs ringing the bay.   

Further down the beach the long-tails congregated, some offering up tasty treats for lunch.  A bit more wandering and we catch another long-tail over to Au Nang beach to check out the scene their..nice long stretch of beach with lots of development, but doesn’t seem too busy.   

However the beach water is far from the idyllic aqua blue waters you see in the brochures; but is OK.  Elaine spots a two piece bathing suit that is calling at one of the local shops.  We catch the Sorng-taa-ou (truck with high cab and two benchs)- the local equivalent to the community bus; back to Krabi.  By the time we reach Krabi, Tony’s lower arm is covered with a large rash; itching and stinging like crazy; unfortunately our antihistamine cream was in the “lost bag”, so we stop at a local pharmacy to pick up some topical cream to ease the symptoms…works a bit.  We figure out it was caused by “stingers”- jelly fish, certainly not mentioned in any information sources.
Out at dinner, we order up our mess-o-shrimp and veggies; our first dish arrives…wow was that scrumptious garlic and onion prawns…turns out it was our neighbours order that we demolished.  Our soon arrived and we ate that too.  We had a good laugh with the young Frenchman and found out that he was doing Dive-master work in the area and hoping to stay for a while….The end of a long day.

Feb 24  Krabi- Ao Nang
We get a bit of a late start after an action packed day yesterday.  Tony’s arm is now an angry red mess of welts looking like some alien disease; hopefully spines don’t start sprouting!   
Arriving to the beach in the Sorng-taa-ou we strike out to find the kayak rentals that we were told by the French fellow from the night before.  Success and we agree on a price of 300 baht for 2 hours, but first lunch at the last bistro on the beach.  Elaine said this was her best Phad Thai so far, washed down by a Lime Shake.   We head out to paddle around some of the large karsks and explore the shore and caves.   

This was a very enjoyable place to spend a bit of time, see some of the local birds and fish jumping about.  The kayak parked back at the beach we notice some action happening down the beach and find lots of monkeys young and ops a plenty. 

Things are pretty warm on the beach so a couple of more fruit shakes before heading back to Krabi.   
after a few days of treatment...looking better
Tony’s arm is looking angrier, so we scout out another pharmacy to try to find some anti-histamine pills…you can find/buy anything without prescriptions here. The pills do the trick..the swelling is coming down and the itching stops, but the arm doesn’t look very pretty.

Feb 25 Krabi- Au Nang Beach Part II 
We drop off the Sorng-taa-ou about 4 km short of town to another beach which is less developed.  We walk out at low tide to one of the small islands for a swim before the tide starts coming in and cuts off the island. 

It was a nice day at the beach!  We finish up the day at the Krabi Saturday Night Market, lots of food stalls, trinkets and music.  We book our ferry ticket with the hotel owner for the next day.

Feb 26 Krabi to Phi Phi Island
The old open bus arrives at the hotel at 0800hrs to take us to the ferry terminal to catch the boat to Phi Phi Don Island.  This ride to the terminal should have been our first clue that our experience on the Island might not be what we expected; there was not a soul over 30 on the bus except us!  A couple hours later we arrive to the island amid much commotion on the dock and a 20 baht “breathing” arrival tax; AKA clean beach fee.  We find our Brandon, MB friends Murray and Heather waiting to greet us on the dock.  The place is a mad house of hundreds of youngsters disembarking and embarking on the islands’ only terminal…apparently they exchange about 4,000 people a day during high season- not sure where they all stay.  Murray led us thru the winding alley ways dodging bicycles, push carts (no cars or scooters in the main town) and throngs of backpackers to get to our accommodation at Dee Dee Lodge on Loh Dalum Bay.  Cute little grass shack with a fan; best we could do for the night.  

Had a refreshing drink with Murray and Heather McCallum and planned to meet up with later that evening for dinner with them and their daughter and her partner.  We went to look for our digs for the next day and soon found out that we were situated at ground zero for the daily beach parties; think techno rave at 120 dB.  Anyway, we figured we could survive anything for a few days.  Drinks at the Apache bar then off to Tonsai Bay to a fish restaurant, off to an Irish Pub, then finished off back on our beach to watch some of the fire shows and some of the goings on and very loud music.  We finally bid Murray and Heather good night and bon voyage as they were to return to Canada the next day.  
Tony, Murray, Elaine, Heather, Kelly and Mike

Tonight we had a bit of distance to the major sound sources, but the flimsy grass walls and our mosquito net did not do much buffering, so did not get much REM sleep until the music stopped sometime after 0300 hours.  I guess we are no longer party animals.

Feb 27 Phi Phi Island
Twin Palms hotel on the lower left corner of the beach
Tony’s preprogrammed alarm wouldn’t let him sleep past 0700, so we got up to go find some breakfast in town as the hotels here don’t need to offer breakfast to entice patrons.  Found a nice spot with good yogurt, museli, fruit and coffee to get the engine going.  A leisurely pace this morning because we have to change hotels to the Twin Palms down the beach.  It was very nice to find the new cabin with a well-functioning AC as the mid-day temperatures soar, with not a breath of wind to be had…a refuge from the heat.  That said, it did not slow us down too much as we rented a kayak and headed out of the bay to find to open clean water.  The only beach going counter clockwise around the Island is called Maya Bay; where the Di Caprio movie “The Beach” was filmed.  
We kept going in hope of finding a secluded spot to stop, but nothing but sheer cliffs on the southern side of the island.  Could that have been Leo we saw rescuing a group of lady kayakers in his run-about?  Probably was!  Backtracking to Maya Bay we pull the kayak up onto the rocky shore and swim in the aqua waters for an hour or so till we were getting to scorched; then head back to the main beach at Loh Dalum Bay.  We enter our cold refuge for some comfort and an afternoon nap in preparation for the festivities we know are coming this evening.  We catch a bit of the fire shows and turn in about 11, the party is just getting warmed up; we were both so tired we were able to sleep, albeit intermittently.  Techno music till 0300.

Feb 28 Phi Phi Island
We grabbed a quick bite and headed off up the track to find the view point trail.  Good thing we got going fairly early, as we were wringing wet 15 minutes into the 90 minute hike up 4 km of trail and about 350 m elevation; it was only about 30 deg at 0930.  The track took us through some pretty undeveloped areas of lush tropical forest with small share crop farms along the way.  

Lots of butterflies and we could hear the monkey’s hooting in the trees.  We were rewarded with a great view of both the main bays and beaches from the top. Some industrious islander hauled a beverage refrigerator all the way up to the top viewpoint up the trail, but he wasn’t up when we came by so couldn’t buy a cool one…too bad! On the way down, we stopped to buy a ticket for Kho Lanta—we hope that’s a great place to head. Elaine is worried for the Momma cat at the hotel and her 5 kittens; off we go to find some cat food to leave at the reception desk. They need an animal rescue society to be set up on this island to start a neutering program for the burgeoning feline population... be nice to see something set up akin to the Cook Islands with visiting vets volunteering service.
 This exercise pretty much did us in for the day as we went into low power mode, read, snoozed, ate and drank and turned in early, but got even less sleep than last night.

February 29 Phi Phi to Kho Lanta Island
Up early, we pack, eat breakfast and catch up with the crush of people heading off the island.  This time, it is to catch the small green boat to Kho Lanta which has room to spare.  Many of the passengers opt to ride up top to enjoy the view—or perhaps to avoid the waves coming through the cracked window? I am tempted to tickle a set of feet dangling above my head.

  Coming into the town of Saladan by boat offered up a interesting perspective of the town
 We are happy with our choice as soon as we arrive to a much quieter Kho Lanta.. Off to the “Clean Beach Hotel”, we find a lovely bungalow with tons of space and a porch out front.  Maybe we will extend our stay!  Even the lunch stop, the “Blue Moon” Café (Ole Black Rum has an away bar to play), seems low key and mellow, with eclectic décor and beachfront dining.  

After wandering around a bit, we head back there for dinner—to find the proprietor hanging from the rafters and numerous guests reclining in hammocks.  Apparently, the dining portion is closed after 6, but we can stay for drinks…or?  Luckily, we find a BBQ place down the beach, where the very young Thai staff are pleased to see anyone arrive.   Had an interesting guest above our heads and watch a couple of gheko's catching big flying ants...yum!

 Yes, I think we will be able to sleep tonight.

March 1 Kho Lanta
We are up early for a swim included breakfast (complete with endearing tiny kitten scrounging around) and then hire a scooter for the day to check out the island.   We head down one side of the island, thinking about where we might move when our 4 day rental is up, but decide after seeing the island and chatting to a few other travelers that we stay put. There are a ton of beaches to explore here and we have only seen a small part of the island. So, back to Clean Beach Resort for us, to sign up until March 14th   (and more scooter time)!  
That done, we headed off to “Old Town” on the trail of the “Sea Gypsies” and really great seafood.   No beaches on this route, but a very cool fishing village with plenty of eclectic businesses, many run by ex-pats, shops, a jetty and delicious seafood in restaurants overlooking the bay.  After lunch, we decide to check out the rest of the island and head north.  No, we don’t check out Di Caprio’s house (that would feel too much like stalking).  
interesting rock on the shore near Old Town

Motorcycle Mama Elaine..hell on wheels!
 We stop in the Saladan to pick up refreshments and fruit.  The place is teeming with Scandinavian families with small children in tow.  Back at our refuge we find more time to swim and then eat more seafood at one many beachside small resturaunts.  We know better than to go back to the Blue Moon for an evening meal.

March 2 Kho Lanta
Today is all about snorkeling—4 island stops—and, hopefully, beautiful fish.  There is a bit of a communication breakdown and we wait on the beach for a bit, while our guide waits on the roadway.  Finally, all accounted for, we start out by speedboat and have our “briefing” about the dives.  

Then, we turn around as it turns out 2 more people have arrived.  I do admire the efficiency of trying to pack as many people in as possible ..~30 but its a big boat with triple 225hp outboards; lots of get up and go. The first dive reminds us that we have already seen some exceptional sites and to not get our hopes up too much.  The visibility is poor with only smaller fish around.  The next stop is really terrific.  We swim in a line through a pitch black cave (emerald cave) and arrive at a lovely interior beach, surrounded by limestone cliffs.  

Apparently a pirate hideaway and a 
swallows' nest gathering site, it is well worth a visit.  The lunch stop is on Kro Krodan Island and our multi-purpose crew serves a delicious lunch then sets us free to snorkel.  Thinking there isn’t much around, we have left our masks on the boat.  Wrong!  Retrieved gear on, we are delighted to find a large variety of fish in the water and play until it is time to go.  What a beautiful island; it apparently was pretty hard hit by the Tsunami, but looks to be back on track.

The last dive of the day takes us by a closed area (#1 dive site, now closed after Tsunami, our guide tells us).  We go to the #2 site, which is plenty wonderful for us.  Although the coral has been hit, the water teems with fish, small and large.  Some of these are fish that we haven’t yet seen in our travels.  Hooray!  Some neat sites on the way back with small beach shacks to fruit bats and fishing boats. Everyone is exhausted by the time we climb back in, though the guide tries to rev us up.  Back home, reading to dinner, we think we might even have to try this snorkeling trip again.

Next installment more Koh Lanta!


  1. Looks like Thailand is really agreeing with you guys, and I think you've finally found cheaper accommodation than I have - $1 a night is pretty sweet. I think I'll have to hit up some of those spots for climbing at some time in the future - I'm sure there's plenty of climbing types kicking around over there. You're looking great, Dad. Time out of the office definitely agrees with you. :)

  2. Hi Elaine (and Tony). Becky just pass along the link to your blog. What an amazing adventure! I love all the photos and their stories. I wanted to thank you Elaine for your thoughtful post card. Colton is doing well this year and even trying some different things in the kitchen. My dance group is doing well too and we leave next week for a tour of Europe (Holland, germany, C.Republic and Hungry) for 2 weeks. Glad you enjoyed your visit to C.B Island but then who wouldn't. I plan for a summer in Nova Scotia this year with some time on the Island. Delighted to hear you will be back here in June and I hope that includes a plan to return to SIDES (please!). I have added the blog to my Favs. So I'll be watching! Take good care and enjoy.
    Jerry :)