March 2008

Today we had to leave Ko Lipe. Check-in for the boat was at 8:30 am, departure at 9:00 am. The ferry boat was actually coming from Langkawi in Malaysia, going to Ko Lanta via Ko Lipe, Ko Bulone, Ko Muk and Ko Ngai. The price for the one-way trip Ko Lipe – Ko Lanta is 1600 Baht per person.

In order to get to the ferry we needed to take a longtail and them climb onto the ferry, which was a bit adventurous, as usual. The inside of the boat looked a bit like a wide-body plane, and it’s got 116 seats. Even though the boat looked flashy and cool from outside, the inside was different. You could smell the thousands of sweaty travellers who had used this vessel before us. Besides, I’m not sure when was the last time they cleaned that boat, and I also saw quite a few cockroaches. But at least the damn thing was pretty fast. We reached Ko Bulone at 10:20.

I had intended to stay inside the boat in order not to stress my sunburn too much, but the smell was unbearable. The aircon tried its best but did not manage to beat the smell. So at last I went to the upper deck, where you’ve got no protection from the sun. Actually, it was not too hot up there, because the speed of the boat was good enough for a refreshing breeze, but I was clearly afraid of burning my skin. But then again, the view was great. There are lots of small and not-so-small islands here that already look a little bit like the ones in Phang-nga bay.

After passing Ko Talibong we reached Ko Muk (or Ko Mook) at …, where of course again the treacherous longtail transfer to the beach took place. The beach looked quite nice, we could see a rather large resort with a swimming pool behind the trees. The resort looked well-planned, since it didn’t spoil the natural character of the island.

A few minutes later we reached Ko Ngai. We didn’t have to practise our balace again, because Ko Ngai Resort has a pier, so there’s no need to use longtails for the transfer. Those who don’t stay at Ko Ngai Resort will have to pass a treacherous trail along the rocks to reach the main beach where most of the accommodation is located – pretty dangerous when you have to carry heavy bags.

Noom and I didn’t have to do that because we were staying at Ko Ngai Resort. Right after check-in we had to realize we also had to do some hiking because our bungalow was on a hill, overlooking the bay. Great view, but pretty hard to get up there in the midday heat.

After taking a short rest we walked along the trail to the main beach. The beach looks good, not many guests there, but actually it was rather late in the afternoon so we didn’t explore the area but just stayed under the first tree we could find and slept for a while.

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Today we joined another boat trip. This time two groups of Thai students were also on board, so we were 12 persons plus 2 guides plus our boatman. So this trip was less comfortable than the trip two days before, but it was still ok. I wouldn’t recommend to take more people than that on a longtail boat.

Our first stop was a snorkeling location off Ko Hin Ngam.

Next we went to see the beautiful stones at Ko Hin Ngam again, which was not very interesting for Noom and me, because we had already seen it. We realized there were much more people on the island this time, mostly Thai groups. We had planned to take a look at the soft corals at Ko Jabang next, but there were too many people at that place so we gave it a miss and headed for Ko Yang instead, which was a really good place to snorkel as well.

Next we stopped at White Sand Beach at Ko Rawi for lunch. The water at the beach was literally littered with longtail boats, and the campground was crowded with Thai tour groups. When we found out that these groups were planning to go to exactly the same places we wanted to go to, Man decided we stay longer at White Sand Beach to avoid the crowds. Noom and I preferred to stay on the beach anyway, so we really liked that decision. So I went exploring the corals right at the beach (which are actually really nice) and later took a nap while Noom slept during all of our stay.

I must say the longtails boats here at Tarutao/Lipe are starting to annoy me. Their engines appear to be much older and noisier than at Krabi. They kinda spoilt that beautiful scenery at White Sand Beach because they were constantly moving in and out of the area, so you could never enjoy a moment of tranquility. Another noise ingredient were the tour groups. Thais, as gentle as they may be when you talk to them, tend to get very noisy when they travel in groups. Ko Rawi was no exception to this.

Our next stop was Laem Song at Ko Adang, which is the National Park’s campground there, but before we got there, we stopped at Ko Jabang to see the Soft Coral. This time there was no current, the water was clear and the colors of the corals really bright and beautiful, but unfortunately I could not dive down to take some close-up photos because the water above the coral was full of tourists and there was a big chance of hitting someone on the way up.

Ko Adang’s beach was not as not crowded. What a relief! While the others in our group hiked to some view point where you’re supposed to get a nice view of Ko Lipe, Noom and I decided to sleep on the beach. The sand here is not as nice as at Ko Rawi, it’s rather shredded corals and shells than sand. But nonetheless, there’s a lot of shade and the water is clear. The beach is rather steep, not shallow as most Thai beaches. It seems the beach option we had chosen was a good one, because the other members of our group didn’t look too impressed with the view. We stayed until 5:30 pm then went back to Ko Lipe.

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This morning we packed all our stuff and moved it to our new Deluxe Bungalow, room D003. The room is not bigger than our previous room, but it’s got a wooden floor, a TV and a safe. No fridge, and unfortunately there’s no more fan. This room is actually not worth the extra 1200 Baht per night we’re paying, but a quiet night is. We are satisfied.

Today we don’t want to do any tours but stay on the beach and relax. Our plan is to spend the hot hours of the day with massage and with planning the remaining days of our trip, so first we head to the Internet room and check information about Ko Ngai and Ko Lanta. Internet is very slow (as everywhere on the island) and costs a whooping 3 Baht per minute.

So after having spent almost 300 Baht online without coming to a final conclusion, we finally connected our laptop to our mobile phone and surf via GPRS. Seems to be a little cheaper and faster than the Internet cafe solution.

We decide to leave Ko Lipe on Sunday and head for Ko Ngai, where we will stay for 4 nights. After that we’ll move on to Ko Lanta. At Pakbara Speed Boat Club we’re buying our boat ticket Ko Lipe – Ko Lanta and also finalize our bookings at Ko Ngai and Lanta. It’s now almost 2:30 pm, so we move on to a one-hour foot massage. When we’re finally on the beach, the sun is pretty low already, but that’s good news for my brown-reddish skin.

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One of the guests in a neighboring room snores. I can hear it as clearly as if he was next to me in the same bed. At 4 am the other neighbor meets his friend on the balcony and they turn on loud music. At first I’m thinking it’s my alarm clock. Angry shouting from other rooms makes shuts them up after just a few seconds. We really gotta get out of this room.

Despite such annoyances, we got up at 5:30 am in order to have some time to wake up before we had to meet Man at 5:50 am. He arrived on time and we strolled from the Tourist part of Ko Lipe over to the Chao Leh (sea gypsies) village on the other side of the island, which was a 5 or 10 minute walk. When we arrived at the Eastern beach, the sky was just starting to get a little pink, so we were right on time. Unfortunately there were quite a few clouds blocking the sun on the horizon, but the resulting sunrise was still nice. Not exactly nice were the tons of trash scattering the Chao Leh village. I will never understand why people would want to live under such conditions and not move all their trash to a central dump. It would make their village so much nicer and safer.

At 7:30 we had breakfast. I must say I don’t like Bundhaya’s breakfast too much. The bacon is 60% pure fat and 40% meat, the ham doesn’t look to promising either. The bread is ok, and so are the fried eggs, but someone should tell the “master of the eggs” how to make decent omelettes, because his are far too oily and don’t really taste good. You can try the Asian treats, but if you’re not too fond of squid (like me), it’ll be hit and miss for you. Another option you have are corn flakes. The juices are not fresh, which is a shame in a country like Thailand.

At 8:30 we met Man again to go on a boat trip to several islands and snorkeling locations. It was quite a long trip before we reached our first stop, a snorkeling spot just off Ko Dong.

Next our boat moved further West along the shoreline of Ko Dong. This island looks like a marvelous beach spot. There are numerous small beaches along its coast, all in their natural condition, so lots of trees and shade right behind the beach. No tourists. A destination if you want to rent a longtail boat for a day. We actually stopped at another snorkelling location before we stopped for lunch at Ko Rokroy.

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Today our short trip to the Thailand’s southernmost Andaman islands has started. We are planning to travel from Ko Lipe in Tarutao National Park to Ko Lanta, with possible stops at Ko Muk and Ko Ngai. “We”, that’s my girlfriend, Noom, and myself.

The day began very early, at 4 am, since we had to check out from our hotel and arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport by 5:50 am in order to check in on time for our Air Asia flight to Hat Yai, departing at 6:50 am. The night before our departure, we had called 1681 and ordered a taxi to pick us up at our hotel at 5:15 am. This worked perfectly: as promised, we received our confirmation call at 4:40 am, the driver arrived well before 5:15 and took us to the airport in less than 30 minutes.

Checking in was also no problem. While there were long queues at the counters for Air Asia’s international flights, the domestic counters were deserted. So without any delays we could move on to our gate. Unusually (at least according to my experience with Thai Air Asia flights) boarding started on time and we even took off from Suvarnabhumi right on time. After a boring flight we arrived at Hat Yai International Airport at 8:20 am, as scheduled.

From that moment on things were getting more interesting because it’s not too easy to get to the islands of Tarutao National Park, but we were soon relieved: the minivan, provided by our tour operator (SmileSunNature), which had to take us from the airport to Pakbara Pier in neighboring Satun province, some 100 or 150 km from our location, was already waiting for us. At first we were surprised to see the two of us were the only passengers in the minivan, so we started making ourselves comfortable, when the van pulled into Hat Yai’s minivan terminal and the driver told us we had to wait for more passengers. Fortunately after not more than 15 minutes all seats were taken and our trip could continue, however, not quite as comfortable as right after leaving from the airport.

Despite that delay we didn’t have to worry about missing our express boat that would take us to Ko Lipe, via Ko Tarutao and Ko Kai (เกาะไข่ – Egg Island), because the tour operator called us every half hour or so to check on our progress. We finally arrived at Pakbara Pier well before 11 am, the departure time of our boat. The “boat” was actually a pretty large speed boat with seats for around 40 passengers, provided by Bundhaya Speed Boats. And as it turned out, they had managed to sell every single seat, or so it seemed. The passengers were predominantly foreigners, mostly a tour group from Russia, a few Western Europeans, a British-looking guy (pink skin, lots of tattoos) with his Thai wife and their three children plus quite a few Thais.

I didn’t like the speed boat trip too much. It was a bit too crowded for my taste (safety was ok, life jackets for everyone) and the landscape was all but zooming past. Hardly any chance for nice photos. But ok, at least we reached our destinations quickly.

The first stop at Ko Tarutao National Park Headquarters is hardly worth mentioning. It seems they only stop here to allow people to take pictures of themselves with the “Ko Tarutao National Park” sign. Been there, done that. Click. Noom and I actually used the 15 minutes to have a quick early lunch (Khao Pad Bpoo – Fried Rice with Crab Meat) which was provided by Man, our (private!) tour guide – a very nice guy as it turned out.

After Ko Tarutao we had another quick stop at Ko Kai, a really small island with beautiful whites beaches and a marvellous limestone arch. Nice photo stop, but that was it, because finally we had to get to Ko Lipe.

We arrived there at 2 pm. Before we could actually reach the beach, we had to change from our speed boat to a longtail boat, which was a bit uncomfortable with our bags, but we arrived without any incidents anyway. Our hotel is Bundhaya Resort. It has a large beachfront restaurant terrace (really nice), as well as a beachfront massage terrace. The bungalows look like typical Thai budget bungalows from outside.

Noom and I were not staying in a bungalow, our room was wall-to-wall with other rooms, which means you share every single word with your neighbour. The room is equipped with Air Conditioning and a wall-mounted fan, which gives us enough air to breathe. We’ve also got a small terrace with two deckchairs.

Considering we had to wake up very early that morning, we didn’t feel like exploring the island or going to the beach, but had a nap in our room first. The late afternoon we spent on the beach before enjoying our rich and tasty dinner (included in our tour package) and a conversation with Man. Tomorrow he’ll take us to see the sunrise at one of the other beaches, which means we’ll have to get up early again, so I better finish this entry NOW. 😉

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