The Islands of the Andaman Sea: Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta
After spending a fun couple of days exploring Ao Nang and Rali we were off to Koh Phi Phi. We knew Koh Phi Phi was a small island and known for its party scene along with the fact that this is where you could catch a long tail boat to go see Maya Bay, made famous by the movie, “The Beach” starring Leo DiCaprio. Upon reading other blogs in preparation, I was personally excited for what seemed a smaller scale Full Moon Party vibe. Shortly after departing the ferry we quickly realized this had great potential to be Full Moon Party-esque minus the staying up all night thing. Koh Phi Phi is much smaller than Koh Phangan but the place was filled with backpackers and the beach and island exists to entertain. The whole island is small enough that people just walk everywhere, no cars, and barely any motor bikes. It was another typical April scorcher so by the time we eventually found our guest house, we were dripping sweat. This is basically a new tradition of ours, where upon checking in at our new hotel, a mop is needed for the front desk after we finish with checking in. On the walk to our guest house we saw a ton of bars, snack shops, bucket stands, and tattoo parlors. So, so many tattoo parlors. As a wise man once said (you know who you are), “we are way too indecisive to be tattoo people, it's for the best, otherwise we’d have Dave Matthews Band fire dancers on our arm and a life of regret.” So not for me but with the amount of shops per capita, it must be the thing to do for many of the travelers who visit. One of the key things we noticed was the amount of pizza by the slice carts. I love a big New York style slice and Koh Phi Phi was lined with options, Steph and I were excited to hunt for the best slice around. We walked for a bit, found some lunch and then made our way to the beach for some relaxation.
After a quick room change due to some weird fly/moth creature invading our room (“Oh those just happen this time of day,” we were told, but graciously they let us switch none the less), we grabbed a bucket and went to watch the sunset on the beach. Not a bad way to begin an evening and we decided to keep the party going. We found a great fire dancing show at a bar recommend by the Staves, another bucket, a couple of beers and found the gloriously simple and amazing “Snack Shack”. With cheap and great food, such as schnitzel, burgers, and egg rolls, we’d grab a little something, head back to the beach and then come back again a couple hours later. Upon realizing it was already past 1:00 am, we decided to finally call it a night but not before a couple epic slices of pizza.
The next day we headed out for a boat tour of multiple islands and sights nearby Ko Phi Phi. I know, how and why do we continually keep getting on boats? We ask ourselves the same thing every time we buy the tickets but around here, it’s generally the best way to see the sights. It was a packed boat with people from all over and for the most part it was smooth sailing. Some of our favorite stops were Bamboo Island which was beautiful along with Maya Bay where Leo once presided. Maya Bay was definitely a cool beach with huge karsts surrounding the bay, but Bamboo Island was less overrun by tourist boats and had nicer sand. We viewed the Viking Caves from afar and snorkeled a few times with some highlights being near Shark Point and then later where the crew would throw bread into the water and the fish would swarm near us. Hundreds of fish all around and Steph got some great pictures on the GoPro. The boat ride was due to end with a viewing of the sunset from the Sea. The problem with this grand idea was we arrived to our point about an hour before sunset, the water was choppy and the nausea began to settle in. This wasn’t our first boat rodeo and finally after seeing people have to lie down and murmuring about being ill, I told the driver it was about time to head back. “No sunset my friend? (everyone is My Friend, btw) Ok, if all right with everyone else.” So this loud American just goes, “Everyone ready to head back?” followed by a resounding, YES! I was the Oh Captain, My Captain of the long tail boat on this day.
We didn't have nearly the amount of energy as the previous night, not after a full day of sun and snorkeling. We checked out a different fire show, found some tasty Mediterranean food and called it an early night, compared to the day before. Ko Phi Phi is a bit like Vegas. You get there, the whole place is your oyster, you go hard at first and then by the end, you are glad to say goodbye until the next time. The next morning before our departure to Koh Lanta we did manage to drag ourselves up all the steps up to the Koh Phi Phi viewpoint!
The final leg of our Thai Island journey was taking us to Koh Lanta. Koh Samui seems to get the hype, Koh Phangan has the Full Moon Party, but to say we were pleasantly surprised by Koh Lanta would be an understatement. We found a great guest house where upon checking in we immediately knew we were ready to extend for another night, (we never book more than two nights in advance now). It was a big room, with a rain shower, and free access to the sister resort’s pool and lounge chairs just across the street. Pay the price for a place not on the beach while getting access to the resort with a pool? A budget travelers dream come true. Koh Lanta was one of the places where we really experienced what low season can feel like. The beaches felt like they were reserved for us and the streets were practically empty which made for easy moped riding.
Besides spending a couple hours every day at the pool, we explored a few different areas such as Klong Nin (where we stayed), Klong Kong, Kantiang Bay and a “secret” beach that was awesome. Randomly off the road and then down a flight of stone stairs, it was just us and one other couple, enjoying the beach and ocean just as we pictured and hoped for when we envisioned Thailand way back on that cold Chicago day when we booked our one-way ticket to travel. In addition to being beach bums, we found a way to help out a bit as Steph found an animal shelter based in Koh Lanta. We learned all about the great work they do, sterilizing and caring for all types of animals in and around the area, but mainly dogs and cats. Their goal is to get the strays as healthy as possible and if they can live a normal life on the land they will re-acclimate them once healthy or they are continually looking for animal lovers to adopt. They set up adoptions as far as Europe and the U.S. and it was a really neat organization to learn more about. Luckily for me, our bags are already too full, so Steph wasn't able to rope me into adopting a couple dogs.
Trip Advisor has been a true godsend for helping us find spots to eat when we need a break from the standard Thai food stand. We found a couple amazing places there that ended up being two of our favorites from our entire time in Thailand. The first was simply called, Phad Thai Rock n Roll. This place was super simple, about six food items on the menu, not including some of the best fruit shakes we’ve had, and each thing we had was made by the owner just next to us with his wok, talking to us, and his mother is prepping the garnishes nearby. The Tom Kha and Phad Thai were so good for lunch our first day, we went back again the next night for dinner for some Pad Se Ew and Tom Yam. The other place we found was the #1 ranked place and happened to be a three- minute scooter ride from our guest house. Yang, was our Home Bistro away from home. Truffle gnocchi, ribs, chicken thighs, Korean pork buns, tuna tartare, it was a foodie treat. Run by a Swedish couple, the place had a great candlelit path to the restaurant, the staff knew the regulars and overall the food was delicious. It was a bit of a budget buster but we had no regrets especially considering it was still a fraction of the price if we ordered all the same things back home.
What started with Songkran and a birthday celebration was now ending 3 weeks later. With a nice tan and great memories, we were sad but ready to leave the Thai Islands. We still had a ferry, shuttle and plane ahead but soon enough we’d be in Cambodia, ready to explore another Southeastern Asia gem.