Thai Islands: Above Water

by Elizabeth

After 30 days in Myanmar we were exhausted and ready to settle down for a while and do nothing.  We scrapped our original idea to visit Northern Thailand and decided to settle in to the islands on the west coast of Thailand for a little R&R and scuba diving.  Tough life, I know.  We settled on Koh Phi Phi as a starting place due to its inexpensive scuba diving options.

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So true: graffiti on Koh Phi Phi.

To get to the Thai islands we could either go overland, likely taking two separate overnight buses, or we could fly from Yangon to Phuket for about the same amount of money.  Flying it was.  The night before we left Yangon we heard about a massive storm in the region around Phuket that necessitated the Thai government to declare a state of emergency.  After a minor freakout on my part, we decided to take our chances and head towards the islands anyway.  Other than reports that the water visibility wasn’t as good as normal, we saw no effects from the storm.  Lessons learned.  We spent the night in Phuket and took the ferry the next morning to nearby Koh Phi Phi.

Koh Phi Phi

Once a quiet hideaway, the island of Koh Phi Phi was popularized in the 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach.  The island is now party central.  We opted for a budget hotel (with a pool!) outside the main party area in the hopes of escaping the noise from the clubs and beach parties and were pleased to find that we didn’t hear a thing.  A lucky break for us since we had to wake up early our first two mornings on the island to catch our scuba boat. 

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After a month in Myanmar, life on Koh Phi Phi was a bit of a culture shock.  The main town is very tourist-focused and the area is obviously much more wealthy than most of the areas that we visited in Myanmar.  The main routes are paved, motorcycles and vehicles are banned from the central area, and tattoo shops and vendors hawking counterfeit Haviana sandals and bucket cocktail drinks are ever present.  Oddly, most every shop was assigned a cat.

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I couldn’t help myself and made Michael split a bucket mango daiquiri with me.  For only costing a few dollars, it was pretty good (and strong).  When in Rome…

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Kitty will help select your tattoo free of charge.  Obviously, a lion tattoo is in order.

After getting the lay of the land, our goal for our time on Koh Phi Phi quickly became to get a couple days of scuba diving under our belts and then to get off the island.  I can see why some people enjoy the island, it just wasn’t the quiet escape that we were looking for at the time (which we knew going in).  We spent our first two days scuba diving (to be covered in our next post) and then dropping into bed exhausted as the parties on the island were just getting started. 

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Concierge kitty has tour recommendations.

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More kitties are better.

On our third morning, we walked up to the viewpoint looking over the island for a view of the narrow isthmus joining the two parts of the island. 

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A little bit of Disneyland thrown in for good kicks.

We then walked down to Long Beach for a little snorkeling (which was just ok) and beers along the beach before taking a long boat back to our hotel.  It was a nice chill day, but we were ready to get away from the hustle and bustle on the island. 

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Mmm.. crap.

The next morning we hopped on the ferry and were off to nearby Koh Lanta.

Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.  We pre-booked three nights on the island and ended up staying for seven nights.  Other than a day spent scuba diving the famous Hin Daeng and Hin Muang sites, we “filled” our days with morning walks along the beach, enjoying our hotel’s pool, and driving a rented scooter around the island.  The island has very little traffic and even fewer roads — perfect for people like us with limited motorcycling experience!

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My chauffeur for the week.

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Random roadside attractions included elephants.

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Also Bobby Bigboy… very clearly modeled off of Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank, California.  So random.

We aren’t exactly beach people (I burn way too quickly and develop heat rashes under the harsh Thai sun), but it doesn’t take being a beach person to appreciate the island’s lovely (and almost empty) beaches.  We quickly found a couple favorite spots to eat, one of which was perched on the cliffs and offered an amazing view of the beach below.

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Prime location!

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And delicious pineapple fried rice to match!

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View from our lunch spot.

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Hiding in some shade to enjoy the (largely empty) beach for a bit.

Since we were mainly looking to relax, we didn’t take advantage of Koh Lanta’s limited tourist sights, such as its caves (by guided tour) or national park at its southern tip (fairly pricey and it was too hot for any kind of jungle trekking). 

We did, however, stop by the Lanta Animal Welfare center, which focuses on providing spay and neuter services on the island and adopting out cats and dogs.  We first stopped by in the afternoon and took a tour of the facility and learned more about their mission.  One of the interesting programs that they have initiated is stopping by local schools and using visuals to show how quickly unfixed cats can multiply.  We saw the result of one such program, which was approximately 30 cats that students had brought into class a week later to be spayed/neutered free of charge!  

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Christmas means tantalizing new treats for the cats at the Lanta Animal Welfare center.

The center also accepts volunteers to walk the various dogs.  Since we were there in the heat of the day, they weren’t sending any dogs out for walks.  We returned the next morning to walk one of the (very calm) dogs for a bit before it got too hot.  I gather that the dogs get lots of walks, as there seemed to be a lot of foreigners visiting while we were there.

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Michael with Jango.  Not sure who was happier (I lie, it was Michael).

I was surprised to see how many foreigners were adopting cats and dogs from Koh Lanta.  While I would generally recommend that people find cats and dogs from their local shelters, for anyone that visits Thailand (flying out of Bangkok or Phuket) you might want to check out their website for information about becoming a flight volunteer.  Since the adoption process takes so long, adopted animals are often not able to travel back to their newly adopted family until weeks after the family’s vacation has ended.  At no additional cost (or inconvenience) to the flight volunteer, you can help bring a cat or dog home to their new family.  When we visited, there was a cat waiting for a flight to the West Coast (as well as others heading to the US and Europe), but since we weren’t heading home we weren’t able to help.  So we figured we’d put in a plug here in case anyone we knows is able to help out on a future trip.  All they need is to know your flight itinerary ahead of time to see if they can match you with a furry friend.

When we weren’t relaxing, zooming around the island, or hanging out with the cats and dogs at Lanta Animal Welfare, we were enjoying some great meals.  In addition to our cliffside restaurant find, we enjoyed three amazing dinners at a little Le Colibri, which was home to fabulous wood fired pizza and a cheese plate that was to die for (especially considering how hard it must have been to source the cheese in Thailand).  Even with Thailand’s great food, sometimes all we want is pizza 😉

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Partially eaten cheese plate at Le Colibri.  We sadly appear to have excitedly eaten our pizzas without getting a picture.

And of course, there were lots of great fruit juices.  I might be addicted to banana juice.

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I couldn’t tell if this little roadside stand was trying to be hipster with their juice jars, or if it was really old-school.

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We may have taken advantage of the half-off desserts after 4pm promotion at the bakery next door to our hotel.

That pretty much sums up the entirety of our time (above water) in Thailand.  It was mainly just a couple weeks of casually exploring Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta, with plenty of time for relaxing and enjoying getting to know one spot for a bit.

[This blog post describes our visit to Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, and Koh Lanta, Thailand from December 7 through 19, 2016.]

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One thought on “Thai Islands: Above Water

  1. Pingback: Diving Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta | two backpacks, no plan

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