Southern Thailand: A Tale of Beaches and Islands

Fairytale beach on Ko Rok

Fairytale beach on Ko Rok

From Bangkok we dared a long jump to the south of Thailand. Besides numerous beaches and islands we also had in mind to discover the beautiful nature inland. We started in the Khao Sok National Park followed by Krabi and a couple of islands further south which led to a very varied program.

Since we had bought the tickets for the night train from Bangkok to Surat Thani the previous night and the tuk-tuk driver from our guesthouse did too well a job we were happy to finally board our train around 6 pm at Hua Lamphong train station. However at 6 pm our train was not quite ready yet and suddenly a swinging melody sounded from the loudspeaker system which had a nice rythm to dance along. Luckily for me however I realized soon enough that every Thai in the train station stood up and thus realized that the daily national anthem was being played.
A few minutes later our train arrived and once the conductor had roughly prepared car number 10, we boarded and identified our seats and beds. Opposed to most other countries, the Thai night train cars function as both seat and sleeper cars. The two opposing seats are slid out and a mattress placed on top makes for a nice bed. A second bed is folded down from the ceiling and so the two passengers from the two seats get their two beds, even numbers at the bottom, odd numbers at the top. While the busy foreigners were still trying to figure out where to sit and sleep, the conductor kept busy preparing the whole car for the night. Fortunately for him, a larger group decided to get some dinner in the dining car, such that he had room enough to maneuver and roughly two hours into the train ride, the car was all set for sleeping.

Thai sleeper car on the way to Surat Thani

Thai sleeper car on the way to Surat Thani

Following a bumpy ride we arrived around 7 am in Surat Thani. Fortunately we had set our own alarm clock as the conductor only woke up passengers five minutes before it was time to get off the train. Once off the train we tried to figure out where to go, but a busy person was already pointing all the foreigners to the “bus station”. We found out that this bus station was only targeted at foreigners and offered only expensive minibus rides. Fortunately there was one person who pointed to the public bus across the square in front of the train station. Since the bus was ready to go we didn’t lose any more time and two hours later we got off the bus in Khao Sok. While all the agents at Surat Thani tried to convince us that the minibus would be the fastes and cheapest option to get to Khao Sok we didn’t see any benefit in paying double the price of the government run bus. Even worse, for other tourists the ride by minibus took 4 hours due to various detours around Surat Thani. In Khao Sok a pick-up driver offered us a ride to one of the many resorts to check out their bungalows. Happily we agreed to tag along, since the village was almost 2 km from the main road. It turned out that we finally disappointed the guy, since we chose to stay in a different place.
Thai Guilin in the Khao Sok National Park

Thai Guilin in the Khao Sok National Park

Due to rainy season and rivers carrying too much water the hiking trails in the Khao Sok National Park were mostly closed, such that we forewent the hiking and instead booked a two day trip to the artificial lake in the park. The tour we chose even included some breakfast while we were waiting for the transport, a nice way to spend the time waiting! Once all the passengers were collected we drove about one hour to the Rajadda dam where we were directed to a long-tail boat. Another 30 minutes later we had to become active for the first time. In roughly one hour we crossed over a small pass. During the hike we learned a little bit something about the flora and fauna of the region.
Another 30 minutes boat ride followed our little excursion on foot to reach the swimming bamboo huts where we were to spend the night. After an excellent lunch we had plenty of time to enjoy the fresh water of the lake either by swimming or by kayaking. Our group consisting of three English, one of Pakistani origin, five Swiss, one of Indian origin, and a Slovak only met for dinner again. Another rich meal was served and with full stomachs we enjoyed a night safari by boat around the lake. The boatsmen tried to spot some animals using their powerful flash lights. Besids a beautiful owl we didn’t see any other animals.
Beautiful bamboo huts for a good night's sleep

Beautiful bamboo huts for a good night’s sleep

We slept quite well in the bamboo hut and we were taken to another safari in the morning before breakfast. Again by boat we started chasing animals, this time a little bit more successfully. Besides a few different kinds of birds we spotted two different kinds of monkeys, some on the ground others in the tree tops. We enjoyed another delicious meal for breakfast before it was time for the next physical part: the hike to and into the Nam Ta cave. About 7 years ago the cave became famous in a sad way, since during a flash flooding after rain 9 people died inside the cave. This was probably the reason why the guide explained how careful we would have to be in case of rain and immediately leave the cave. Fortunately the weather remeind stable throughout the day and we could venture about 100 m inside the cave before we had to turn around. In the dry season one can cross the whole 680 m through the cave, but at this time of the year, the water current was too strong to dare to do that. We had time for a short swim once we were back at the bamboo huts before we got our last meal and were shipped back to the Rajadda dam and shuttled back to Khao Sok.
We gathered our gear from the lady who had sold us the tour and returned to our bungalow. Another nice dinner followed in the same restaurant as two days before, only we didn’t see the bull frog we saw the previous time. Instead we got to pet the family dog which was covered in an estimated 50 ticks. The hair which remained on the floor after petting the dog gave the lady of the house a hint of the animal’s earlier presence.
The next morning we dared to conduct another experiment. The 300 Baht, which companies were asking for a ride to Krabi seemed too much to us, such that we decided to travel by local bus instead. Just before 8:30 am we placed ourselves next to the main road to catch the public bus to Takua Pa. About 15 minutes later we successfully boarded the bus and by paying on the bus instead of the ticket office we saved a hefty 25% of the ticket price. We were proud of ourselves! In Takua Pa we waited for roughly an hour for the public bus from Ranong to Krabi and another 3 hours later we arrived in Krabi in heavy rainfall. Compared to the minibus we had saved 70 Baht per person and spent quite a bit more time on the journey. We concluded that the experiment showed that it is worth it to take the minibus from Khao Sok to Krabi, while for the journey from Surat Thani to Khao Sok, the public bus is the much better option at half the price and about the same time as the minibus.
Finally made it to the mangrove forest, this time near Krabi

Finally made it to the mangrove forest, this time near Krabi


Wildlife in the mangrove forest near Krabi

Wildlife in the mangrove forest near Krabi

Due to the rainfall caused by a cyclone passing through the area we chose to first eat something in a restaurant and ask where to find reasonably priced accommodation. Thanks to the good pointers we got, we didn’t have to look for a place to stay for too long. The rain continued and so we opted to laze around in our hotel room studying and writing blog post respectively.
For the first full, but still rainy day in Krabi we concluded that it would be best to visit the mangrove forests surrounding Krabi. A little bit hastily we chose the variant with a boatsman and a nearby kayaking place. While we enjoyed discovering the mangroves in a kayak on our own, particularly in places where no long-tail boat could go, we realized how badly we had negotiated the price. Anyway the animals around us didn’t care and so we got to see our share of birds and monkeys. We ended our trip near a cave which is used to illustrate how people used to leave in the area in ancient times. It is quite unforuntate that the cave and the infrastructure around it are not kept in a better state, since the make a nice place to linger a little bit.
Karst landscape north of Krabi from the the Tiger Cave Temple hill

Karst landscape north of Krabi from the the Tiger Cave Temple hill


Heavy rain passing over palm plantations east of Krabi

Heavy rain passing over palm plantations east of Krabi

In the late afternoon we chose to visit the Tiger Cave Temple. In a cave at the foot of a hill north-east of Krabi a tiger used to have his home. When the cave was unoccupied a monk moved in and so the Tiger Cave Temple was established. However most tourist visit the place not only for the temple, but much more for the 1237 steps leading to the top of the hill from which one enjoy an amazing view across Krabi, the palm plantations and the karst mountains in the north. A special treat for us was the view of a couple of thunderstorms moving by. While we were hit by the first one while still at the bottom of the hill, we got a nice view of the second one passing by. We got wet anyway during our ascent due to the high humdity and the physical exercise.
Friendly monkey baby on Tiger Cave Temple hill

Friendly monkey baby on Tiger Cave Temple hill

Back in Krabi we found a nice little restaurant with an owner who was surprisingly proficient in German. She and her children operate a café and a restaurant named after her children. It was a little bit sad to hear from her that she originally only offered Thai food and realized that foreign tourists were asking for Western food instead, so she started including that on her menu. We keep being surprised how people spend a lot of money to travel to foreign countries only to find everything the way it at home.
Hidden beach on Ko Lao Lading or Paradise Island

Hidden beach on Ko Lao Lading or Paradise Island

Fortunately we chose to spend another full day in Krabi and visit Ko Hong on a kayaking trip. While it was still slightly cloudy in the morning, the sky cleared during the day and the heavy rains passed across Krabi while we were still on the way back, except for a few drops which caught us when getting of the boat back in Ao Nang. The tour led us to the few islands surrounding Ko Hong and to Ko Hong itself. It was interesting to see how even the smallest rocky islands offered some small beaches to rest for a while and go swimming. The special thing about Ko Hong however was not its two beautiful beaches, but the lagoon on the other side of the island. Our kayaking tour led us from the beaches around the island to the lagoon where we got to spend some time. An excellent choice to include the kayaking on that day, since one of the beaches was closed to to the filming of the German equivalent of “America’s got talent”.
Kayaking the Ko Hong lagoon

Kayaking the Ko Hong lagoon


Mangroves in the Ko Hong lagoon

Mangroves in the Ko Hong lagoon

The one big question which we had to answer back in Krabi was how to reach our next destination, Ko Lanta. The available options were the minibus or the ferry. We chose the minibus, since it would drop us directly in the village of Khlong Nin on Ko Lanta. So we finally were dropped of in front of the 7-Eleven in Khlong Nin and started looking for a place to spend the following two nights. Not an easy task given the abundance of mostly expensive options. Fortunately a tuk-tuk driver saw our plight and first asked for our budget before proposing some of his family’s options. This was alright with us, since one of the two options not only matched our budget, but also our standard.
Nice place for the candidates of what would be "Germany's got talent"

Nice place for the candidates of what would be “Germany’s got talent”

The resort where we ended up staying also rented scooters, which suited us perfectly. We grabbed one and went rode back to the 7-Eleven where we had been dropped off, since next to the shop there was a basic local restaurant which offered excellent food. We enjoyed a seafood Pad Thai and went on our first scooter ride in South East Asia. A little bit shaky we made our way to Lanta Old Town where we took a peek at the beautiful stilt houses and the pier. A little bit further down the road we reached the end of the island at a beautiful resort far away from all the craziness of tourism. Even though the beach near the resort is rocky, the whole place radiates peace and tranquility with all the wooden structures built from whatever the people could find around the resort. If we had weeks to kill and were desperate for a few quiet days, this would have been the perfect place to wind down. Since all that was not the case, we just opted for a couple of feshly squeezed lemon juices and a few minutes of rest, before we headed back to Khlong Nin.
The end of Ko Lanta

The end of Ko Lanta

In the evening we looked for a nice restaurant on the beach for a birthday meal. Not far from our accommodation we found a nice option and instead of enjoying the fire show they were presenting in the neighboring restaurant, we watched all the little animals running up and down the beach.
Happy birthday!

Happy birthday!

On our last day on Ko Lanta we again focused on the ocean. We had booked an excursion to apparently the most beautiful spot in the area, to Ko Rok. The small island is locate south-west of Ko Lanta and thus out of reach for tours from Phuket, Krabi and Ko Phi Phi, such that we were sure not to see too many people having the same interests. By speedboat we left from directly in front of our resort on the beach to Ko Rok, picking up a few more participants on a couple of other beaches further south. We had done our first share of snorkelling in Sihanoukville in Cambodia and were really surprised to find such clear water after the murky waters on the Cambodian coast. Nevertheless the experience in Sihanoukville helped us getting accustomed with the equipment, so there was some benefit there as well. We were able to spot every little detail on the ocean floor no matter how deep the water. We enjoyed two different spots before we headed to the ranger station of the nation park for a nice buffet lunch. On the far side of the ranger stations a family of monitor lizzards had set up their home and the animals were obviously used to human beings as they were rather curious and approaching us as we stood there and watched them. We were granted a short break after lunch before heading out to our last snorkelling stop and finally returning back to Ko Lanta. All in all it was a perfect birthday trip which ended in a slight sunburn along the back and the back of the legs. Even putting on sunscreen a few times during the day did not avoid that.
I am not a crocodile! Monitor lizard on Ko Rok

I am not a crocodile! Monitor lizard on Ko Rok


Oh crab, you stole my house!

Oh crab, you stole my house!

While we had chosen the speedboat on the previous day, we chose to leave Ko Lanta on the slower ferry boat. In roughly 5 hours we were expected to reach Ko Li Pe one of the southernmost islands of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. Roughly an hour later than promised we felt like meat in a fridge when we got off the ferry on the dock near Ko Li Pe. Unfortunately the dock is not connected to the island such that every arriving foreign passenger has to pay a ride on the long-tail boat to Ko Li Pe for 70 Baht or to Ko Adang for 100 Baht. We asked whether the accommodation on Ko Adang had already opened and since it did, we chose to head there instead of the overly touristy Ko Li Pe.
Anemonae and clown fish near Ko Adang (Photo by Tom O'Leary)

Anemonae and clown fish near Ko Adang (Photo by Tom O’Leary)


More beautiful underwater world around Ko Adang (Photo by Tom O'Leary)

More beautiful underwater world around Ko Adang (Photo by Tom O’Leary)

We sat down to establish a plan for the next day only to throw them away the next morning. On our first night on Ko Adang we had met three Hawaiians who had hired a long-tail boat to discover some snorkeling spots around Ko Adang. Happily we accepted their invitation to accompany them and view some more of the amazing ocean shore around the Thai islands. It turned out that the snorkeling was even better than two days prior on Ko Rok, since we got to see a few more species of coralls and a few more species of fish. During our second outing however we were surprised by some passing rain, such that we decided to head to the other side of the island. After that last stop we returned back to base with a lot more amazing impression. Lenka and I opted to use the remaining time of the afternoon to hike up to the three viewpoints on the Chado Cliff. We ascended the steep path behind the visitor center and soon reached the first view point. The view was nice but Ko Li Pe could not completely be seen from this first spot. Only the climb further up the path and to view points 2 and 3 gave us the full view of the small island which is almost completely covered in tourist infrastructure. Only a couple of tips have remained in their original natural state. The beautiful reefs around the four islands in the area attract too many tourists and are very easily reached.
In the evening we sat together with our snorkelling mates and enjoyed a beer or two in the simple restaurant where one can even get some chicken or seafood at times.
Ko Li Pe from the Chado Cliff on Ko Adang

Ko Li Pe from the Chado Cliff on Ko Adang