|View from our bungalow on the beach on Koh Lipe.|
We had intended for our first stop on the Andaman Coast to be Ko Tarutao, a government protected national marine park. However, despite there being no word of this on the government website, all the boat operators told us that the island was currently shut. Whether that was the truth, or whether they couldn't be bothered to run a boat for the very few people that would want to go there, we weren't entirely sure! Instead, we opted for nearby Ko Lipe, raved about by the Thai's we had met. We caught a speed boat from the mainland out to the island and opted to sit right at the front outside, rapidly regretting it as we realised just how bumpy it was going to be! We arrived (feeling mildly nauseous and on the verge of sun stroke) to the most beautiful crystal clear waters, corals and white sands. Realising that we were at the opposite end of the island to where we wanted to stay, we trekked over to the other side and hunted for some accommodation which was actually open (it was what they call green (rainy!) season, and as a result many places were shut). Charlotte went for a reccy while Liam regained his sea legs and spoke to a guy whose extent of English was 'I don't know', tried in vain to wake up another guy sleeping in a hammock, and walked into a deserted bar where a monkey threw a plastic chair at her. It was going to be one of those days! Finally, we managed to find someone who spoke English and set ourselves up in a little wooden bungalow on the beach front. Lipe itself is a gorgeous island which felt quite odd to be visiting in 'green season' as it was geared up to receiving just so many tourists,. Luckily it has a fairly decent network of paths and roads which, for once in Thailand, are well signposted, so we enjoyed walking around the island and seeing the different beaches. Inland, the I but at this time there was probably about 50 people there. The island is a little bit bizarre, on the one hand feeling more authentic as there are lots of villagers but on the other seeming very much like a rubbish filled building site at times (this is a feeling we became accustomed to while travelling in Thailand sadly), almost like Glastonbury 3 days after the event has ended! One afternoon Liam swam for a while in the sea in the pouring rain, after which there was an astounding sunset. Our usual drinking hole was 'Time to Chill', a (admittedly rather clichédly named) nice little bar with deckchairs on the shore, and a Thai rasta bloke who cooked up some decent curries. On our last evening on the island we walked to the far side of the beach and discovered a navy bar, and enjoyed some cheap beers amongst the off duty naval officers and listened to them playing guitar!
Our next stop was Trang, back on the mainland, so we caught the boat and bought a minibus ticket to Trang. We set off and then were told that as there were only two of us it wasn't worth taking the minibus all the way to Trang! Off the mini bus we got and stood around waiting for the public bus, before the mini bus driver's 'Dad' conveniently turned up and offered to take us to Trang for very little extra than what it would have cost on the bus. After umming and ahhing we piled into a clapped out old Merc and drove round the port town for a while as he obviously stopped by all his friends saying 'I'm going to Trang, do you want me to take anything for you?' At least the few packages he ended up collecting and delivering on the way reduced our carbon footprint! Finally we were on the road and got to the guesthouse with no problems. Trang has a nice feel to it, quite a small town really but with a fair amount going on. We walked up to a Wat that we could see in the distance and went to the night market for some great food (deep fried spicy eggs on a stick, anyone? Surprisingly yummy). It was right next to the railway station so we ended up eating our goodies on the platform, realising how much we missed taking trains and watching some small children set off fireworks! The morning after we tried the two edible delights that Trang is famous for, iced coffee and muu yang (barbequed pork), both of which were utterly delicious, although the pork was fairly heart attack inducing. Having got it to take away, we hopped on a bus and then caught a boat out to Ko Mook, scoffing pork initially (the two English guys we met later told us they thought we were eating a kebab!) and then putting it away and concentrating more on whether the boat's roof was about to cave in, which seemed increasingly likely as the two guys driving the boat seemed to be holding it up themselves to contend with the very choppy sea we were ploughing through! The ferry was a rickety old wooden boat which had seen better days, all part of the experience!
Arriving on Ko Mook we met up with two English guys Henry and Rory, gap year students from Birmingham, and trekked over the other side of the island to find accommodation, again a struggle as most places were shut! Ko Mook is less toursity than Ko Lipe but still very beautiful. There is a huge local population living here, which added an air of authenticity at least. During our time on the island we ate every day in the only restaurant on the island which was actually open, where the proprietor had a pet monkey and was far too chatty, perhaps mildly deranged, for our liking. But the food was good and we literally had no other options if we wanted to eat at all, and it was about the only entertainment going on the island! We mainly spent our time playing in the waves, relaxing outside our bungalow, getting lost on the inland roads, watching a fleet of submarines doing a military excerise, and trying in vain to find some bikes to hire! We also took a longtail boat over to Ko Kraden to do some snorkelling, it was little rough but we saw some cool fish nonetheless. The real shame about our stay here is that the main attraction in Ko Mook is the 'Emerald Cave', a cave accessed from the sea where you swim 80 metres, some of which is in pitch black, to a beach at the bottom of a natural chimney; the cave was inaccessible whilst we were there due to the sea being so rough. Gutted! Even the crazy lady at the restaurant said to us, “if you haven't been to the Emerald Cave, you haven't been to Koh Mook”, before admitting that she had only been in the last year despite living there all her life.
Back on the mainland we headed up to Krabi town. A pleasant riverside town, with a chilled out backpacker scene. We stayed in a really nice guesthouse and enjoyed the little coffee bars and cheap night market. At the market we just pointed at what someone else had and asked for the same, it turned out to be pork crackling curry – healthy, but awesome! We strolled down the river and enjoyed the peace, despite Krabi being very geared up towards Western travellers there really wasn't anyone there (it is rainy season on the west coast, but the weather was mostly pretty good). Whilst in Krabi we headed to Railay for the day to meet up with Emma who we'd been volunteering with. Railay has some of the most incredible limestone karst cliffs, monkey filled jungles and outstanding beaches we have ever seen. We clambered up a ridiculous 'path', where you often had to pull yourself up by rope, to get to a viewpoint overlooking the bay. Our favourite beach was undoubtedly Phra Nang Cave Beach, where you could swim out to a little rocky island ahead of you. Our guide book suggested this beach was hard to appreciate due to the crowds of people, but there was barely anyone there. We were beginning to detect a pattern here. The backpacker ghetto at the other side was pretty crappy, a great example of how to develop an unsustainable tourist industry which will surely eventually drive away most of the tourists, a la Koh Samui. We were sad to leave though at the end of the day as we had really enjoyed ourselves and the scenery was really amazing, but all our stuff was back in Krabi and we had our hearts set on hiring a car the next day.
We hired a car so we could get out to Khao Sok National Park and it felt amazing to be travelling independently after so much being herded around onto mini buses and boats with other tourists. We headed up to Khao Sok National Park with breath-taking karst scenery on the way. We did experience a frustratingly fruitless search for some 'cool springs' which were signposted off the road but we searched high and low for without finding them! We got to the national park headquarters in the early evening, bagged ourselves a treehouse and settled in for the night. In the morning to the joyful sound of pouring rain we headed out into the park for a surprisingly enjoyable trek considering the weather, encountering beautiful waterfalls and streams along the way. It rained so much that the path became flooded and we had to take shelter for a while in a closed cafe, thankfully the rain eased off and we made our way back. It being rainy season there were vast amount of leeches lurking in every puddle and tree, and we spent a fair amount of time burning each other with a lighter trying to get the leeches off. Charlotte managed to prise one out of Liam's beard without the use of a lighter, thank goodness. We had been given a concoction of shampoo and tobacco to rub on our skin to deter them by our friendly hosts, which mostly did the trick. In the late afternoon we went for a look at the reservoir, which was created by flooding a huge area of the national park. This made the whole area feel a little bizarre and (obviously) man-made and we agreed some of the landscape was not dissimilar to Tracey Island. It was pretty interesting though, and a shame that we couldn't properly explore the lake due to the weather. For our return journey to Krabi to take the car back we took a detour took the Andaman Coast road, where we encountered lots of 2004 Tsunami memorials along the way. The whole coastline here was severely affected by the tsunami and they are still trying to recover the tourist industry here; one of the resort areas we passed through has struggled as they tragically lost 80% of their English speaking residents as they were all working in the beach-front restaurants and hotels. The area is therefore trying desperately to attract as many volunteers as possible to go and teach English to adults there, so they can get the tourism industry up and running again. We were running pretty late by this point so whizzed to Ao Nang (near Krabi) to drop the car off, and had decided to head back to Railay as we'd had such a good time there with Emma. We missed the last boat over though and so stayed in Ao Nang for the night before setting off in the morning. We definitely wouldn't recommend the place to anyone, as basically it is a thin stretch of beach with a road and a massive amount of tourist tat and bad restaurants, although amazingly it was very popular even in rainy season.
There isn't too much to say about our further couple of days in Railay, we basically just spent a couple of days lolling on the beach, swimming over to a small island (about 50m away) with a valuables in a dry bag (tested for the first time and luckily seemed watertight!), and finding some reasonable places to eat (a bit of a challenge). We got a good deal at a quiet resort tucked away on its own which was about to shut down for refurbishment. Lazy afternoons and evenings on the balcony looking out to sea were the order of the day. The only disturbance was the sound of the longtail boats revving up and down the shoreline which Charlotte's Dad commented over Skype sounded like a lawnmower (this is a real annoyance at most Thai beach resorts, sadly). After a great week it was time to head off to the other side of the country to the Gulf Coast.
|Koh Lipe, Koh Mook & Trang, Thailand|
|Krabi, Railay & Khao Sok National Park, Thailand|