A Travellerspoint blog

Thai Beaches: Koh Samui

The big island and more SCUBA

Our final beach stop in Thailand :-( Koh Samui is the big island on the East coast. Certainly the most developed location on the East side with lots and lots of 5 star resorts, top notch restaurants, and, of course, plenty of distant beaches for tourists to consider. Samui is much bigger than Koh Tau and Koh PhanGan. Going to Samui requires some consideration when selecting your hotel location. Depending on your choice you might have busy, busy touristy beaches with busy with discos and girly bars or might be removed from the action (but also the prettiest sand and water). Generally, prices also edged upwards a bit on Samui vs. Koh PhanGan, but not too much. Maybe 10-15% more all around.

We chose to call Bo Phut home in Samui. Our moderately useful tourbooks called this “their favorite beach” because it was removed enough but still offered nicer restaurants and shops. Well... they're probably right about the shops and restaurants, but the beach? No way. Coarse sand and very little of it. No doubt the place to go to is Changwa beach. Changwa is the busy, famous beach with extremely clean, blue water and white sand. Coming to Samui and not visiting Changwa would be an error. Perhaps other beaches rival it, but we doubt it.

Beaches aside, Ren took his second diving trip from Samui. As famous as Samui might be for diving (at least for those of us who don't know any better), it turns out that all of the diving here actually takes place on or near Koh Tau. So, I went with the BoPhut diving school to enjoy two more dives. The first off the shores of Koh Tau and the second at Sail Rock. Absolutely amazing! Really, no doubt one of the best experiences I can hope to have during the entire trip. The boat we were on was great (and fast). Fun divers together with me. The first dive on Koh Tau (my 3rd dive) was straightforward and easy. At the end of 50 minutes or so, I still have 70 bars of tank pressure. So, while others were getting instruction and completing training, my dive instructor told me just to hang around. I did. But my tank really lasted a long time, so I swam around on my own for another 40 minutes. I went probably around 10 meters deep and checked out the area. I also practiced some skills like removing my mask completely underwater and putting it back on. Sounds impossible, but its quite easy to do. I stayed under until my tank was fully exhausted.

The second dive though... wow. Sail Rock was majestic. This is a 40 meter deep wall in the middle of the ocean. There's no bottom for us beginners because we're supposed to stay above 12 meters. So we're literally just gliding along in water checking out fish, eel, shrimp, corral, anemonies and more. Our max depth was 21 meters and we even swam through a “swim hole” where you enter a cave at 18 meters and exit above at 12 meters. Very cool for a complete beginner. I definitely wish I had taken the time to get cerified. By the way, if anyone is thinking of getting certification, definitely do it in Koh Tau. Its about $300 for everything including housing during the 3-4 days of course work.

Posted by dacostas 17:25 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thai Beaches: Koh PhanGan

The East side

Next stop: the islands of the East coast in Thailand. The first location was Koh PhanGan. This island is north of Koh Samui and South of Koh Tau. Its best fame is for the supposedly rowdy full moon parties that occur on the beach during... you guessed it. We weren't there for that. Instead, we traveled to the North western coast where the roads turn to dirt and the tourist scene becomes more hammock oriented. We hotelled at Long Bay beach.

The beach where we stayed was ok. Compared with some of the areas we had previously seen, we'd not give it 5 stars. However, there are plenty of highlights around. We rented a scooter to give us some freedom on the island and to hop around beaches. Ren went North from Long Beach and visited Koh Mah beach further North. That was simply amazing. A long, sandy beach with crystal clear water. While snorkeling around he saw a small sting ray among many other fishies. Lots of swimming to be enjoyed.

Another trip took him to the North East side of the island. The road there was quite tough to traverse on an automatic scooter. Seemed like the other other, occasional, vehicles on the broken, red-dirt roads where 4-wheel drive trucks and motorcross bikes (kicking up dirt on his face). But once he arrived at the beach, the trip was easily justified. Another amazing set of view of beaches, bays, crystal clear waters. Simply wonderful. And the Northern stretches features backpacker bungalows right on the beach. Probably some of the super cheap accomodations that people romantisize about in Thailand that's quite impossible to find just about anywhere else.

Posted by dacostas 17:23 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Thai Beaches: Krabi Coast

Amazing views

And we're off! The next two days were spend on what folks call “the Krabi coast”. And more specifically, on Railay beach on this coast on the main land. Arriving here is half the fun. You ferry from Phi Phi to krabi and as you approach Krabi, you transfer to a small/medium sized wooden boat. Continue towards the beach. Dock? Nah. Who needs it? The beach is a flat, unslopping 100+ meters approach to the sand. The boat pulls in perhaps 40-50 meters from shore and yep... jump out and walk. Hopefully you don't have too much luggage to carry over your head. We managed wih a little help from a British family.

Railay is small. Its the tip of a tiny peninsula off the coast. Since its separated from the rest of the land by huge, dramatic, rocky mountains, it seems like an island. A teensy-weensy little one. You can be cross it on foot (the only way to get round) in about 7-9 minutes. A single stoney path leads you across the island. All of the useable land is either beach or hotel space. No living area for locals, as far as we could tell. And a super upscale resort claims much of the space. If you're into $500+ nights, its definitely the place for you in Thailand.

Once on Railay you just kind of beach. Or eat. Or spend time just sort of walking around the tiny, sandy paths, checking for places to eat Among the highlights is the visit to Praband beach (I think that's the name). This beach is nestled in between huge rock cliffs at one end of the island. Again the pictures below tell the story. Its quite amazing really. There we sunbathed, purchased food from the food boat (pad thai and spring rolls). Probably one of the coolest beach meals we've enjoyed. There was a small rocky island about 100 or 150 meters off the beach to where you could swim or kayak.

Perhaps not surprising was the volume of long tail boats coming to drop off tourists from other near-by areas at the beach. Since the local culture puts preservation and serenity aside when a quick buck is to be made, noisy boats spewing black smoke covered nearly every meter of the pretty by around 11am. They come right up to the sand and throw down their ankor. If you happen to be swimming along its path, you had better move. In Ren's perspective, the indiference to nature, scerenty and beauty (specially as it relates to touristy areas) reigns supreme in every part of Asia. Really makes you appreciate real government at home and the role of rules and regulations.

Posted by dacostas 17:22 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thai Beaches: Koh Phi Phi

Scuba diving and the backpacker ghetto

A 2-hr ferry ride to the South of Phuket is Koh Phi Phi. Koh Phi Phi is actually two islands—North and South Phi Phi. North is inhabited; South is not. Both have great beaches, but the South has the stuff that makes for dreams. This is where you're greeted in crystal clear, blue waters. Even as the ferry is arriving at the dock, you can look down from the boat and see fish swimming underneath. Incredible!

Phi Phi is one of the areas that was most extensively damaged by the Tsumani in 2004. Considering the geography of the island, its easy to imagine how scary and terrible the event must have been for those here. At one point in the North island, it's only about a 5 minute walk between its Eastern and Western beaches with some development in between. Probably only a few feet above sea level along this 5 minute path. Elsewhere there are incredible hills, but much of the development is around the sea, of course.

Today, Phi Phi is supposedly back to how it was pre-Tsunami. Its a backpacker ghetto of sorts with limited living space for locals. The backpacker area isn't quite 4 stars territory but its not unpleasant. And while we didn't party with the kids till the wee-hours of the night, we rather enjoyed the bars, restaurants, etc.. on the island.

Among the highlights was our snorkling trip to several of Phi Phi's beaches and few stand-alone islands. We visited Maya Bay which, if you ever come to Phi Phi, you'll learn is where Leo DeCaprio's The Beach takes place. I'm sure you've not seen the movie; Patty and Ren hadn't either until coming to Phi Phi. (btw., don't bother to watch it). However, the scenery is amazing and yes, its real and really beautiful. The water is blue as blue can be. Fish everywhere. That was my favorite place to snorkel until the next stop, and the next and so on. Perhaps the highlight is Bamboo Island—a tiny little island with sand all around it. It almost doesn't seem real. Turns out you can camp there too.

Ren also went SCUBA diving in Phi Phi. ½ day 'discovery” course. Some very limited training and before you know it you're told to jump into the water equipment strapped on. At about 5-6 meters depth, you practice adjusting your depth level, blowing out water from your mask, placing the air regulator in and out-of your mouth and then you're off. Better be comfortable; definitely not for those who feel unsure underwater. Visibility was probably about 10-20 meters. We dove as deep at about 15 meters. Ren thoughts, “I focused on surviving so I don't recall much other than just the WOW! I'm underwater! I'll definitely do it again--no doubt. Much better than skiing.”

Food was quite nice at Phi Phi. Since the island has so many backpackers, backpacker prices reigned supreme. And we watched the above mentioned The Beach movie at one of the bars. Movies at the bar are among the common night activities. Seems that every other place was playing a Will Ferrel movie. Our favorite food joint was Cosmic. Surprisingly good pasta and pizza.

Posted by dacostas 17:19 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thai Beaches: Phuket

Fun in the sun

We finally make it to the islands! This begins our 2 weeks or so of fun in the beach and sun. We begin in Phuket mostly because... well, that's where the airplane lands.

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Some detail for those not famaliar with Thailand's islands, Phuket is and has been Thailand's top beach destination for some time. Perhaps 20 years ago a tourist at Phuket could experience something like the idealized, perfect beach—you and your gal along with miles of virgin white sand and blue water. Sounds good. But now, 20 years later, Phuket's been discovered by many-a tourist and commercialization has been in high-gear for years. Today Phuket is one of three things: an over-run tourist mecca where fat, burley Euros (and Australians) come to vacation in cheap motel digs, or a location for top-notch 5-star beach luxury for those with the disposable income, or a stop over until you can find your way to Koh Phi Phi. Patty and Ren are in the latter group.

Somewhat of a surprise, we were quite pleased with our short stay in Phuket. We chose to visit Kharon Beach on the West coast. Kharon offers a long stretch of very white sand, ocean breezes and a handful of sea-front shops, hotels and restaurants. Just South of Kharon you can find some 5-star luxury, and just North you can find some busier, backpackery locations. Kharon is properly nestled right in between. Pictures do the beach better justice than words.

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Other noteables:
Hotel rates went up a bit for us ($100 was the minimum we were finding), but we did get a bit more for the extra few dollars. Food and tuk tuk costs went up as well. We're attributing the prices to the tourists in Kharon; they're willing to pay it. Many of the vacationers here are families from Europe (particularly from Scandanavia). Food prices were closer to what you might expect at B level restaurants in Europe. ie., $10-15 US per person for a standard Thai dish rather than the $2-5 we had been finding elsewhere. We even saw someone tip a tuk tuk 100 Baht (about $3). When we were tuk-tuking around Chiang Mai, we'd argue bitterly with tuk tuk drivers over 10 Baht!

Posted by dacostas 17:17 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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