Thailand’s Southern Islands 2014

 P1070188

Our Itinerary
Friday 24th Jan 2014 Sydney (21:40) to
Saturday 25th Jan 2014 Kuala Lumpur  (3:15)  KL (6:45)  to Bangkok (7:50)
Sunday 26th Jan 2014 Bangkok
Monday 27th Jan 2014 Bangkok overnight train to Surat Thani
Tuesday 28th Jan 2014 Surat Thani bus/4 minivans to Krabi minivan/longtail boat to Railay
Wednesday 29th Jan 2014 Railay
Thursday 30th Jan 2014 Railay ferry to Ko Phi Phi Don
Friday 31st Jan 2014 Ko Phi Phi Don ferry to Ko Lanta
Saturday  1st Feb 2014 Ko Lanta ferry to Ko Lipe
Sunday 2nd Feb 2014 Ko Lipe
Monday 3rd Feb 2014 Ko Lipe speedboat to Langkawi
Tuesday 4th Feb 2014 Langkawi flight to Kuala Lumpur
Wednesday 5th Feb 2014 Kuala Lumpur (9:10) to Sydney (20:20)

Exchange Rates

Thailand

$1AUD = 30 THB  (Thai Baht)

Malaysia

$1AUD = 3 MYR   (Malaysian Ringat

What it Cost

Air Fares

Sydney to Bangkok for two                           $669.00

Kuala Lumpur to Sydney for two                   $300.40

Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur for two                $179.00

Total                                                              $1,148.40

Train Fares

Bangkok to Surat Thani (2 X $26)                  $52

Accommodation

Wild Orchid – Bangkok  (2 nights @ $27)       $54

Rapala Rockwood – Railay  (2 nights @ $17)  $34

Ko Phi Phi Don                                                 $40

Ko Lanta                                                          $50

Mountain View Resort – Ko Lipe                     $86

Bella Vista – Ko Lipe                                       $100

Malibest Resort – Langkawi                            $46.00

Tunes Hotel – Kuala Lumpur                           $57.00

Total                                                            $467.00

Ferries

Railay to Ko Phi Phi Don                               $16

Ko Phi Phi Don to Ko Lanta                           $16

Ko Lanta to Ko Lipe                                      $60

Ko Lipe to Langkawi Island                           $80

Total                                                            $172 

Final Total                                                   $1,839

Friday 24th January, 2014     Sydney to Kuala Lumpur

Mark has gone into work at JSA to finish off a few things before we leave this afternoon. Luckily it’s not a busy time of year with lots of people still on holidays. I spend the morning with Lauren and our bubbas. We have lunch at a disappointing café in Carrington then Lauren drives us to Hamilton Station at 3.15pm. Dolly loves the trains and says ‘Hab fun on your howiday, Ma wand Pa’ – it’s killing us to leave them all and get teary waving goodbye. Elkie is still too little to understand but Lauren tells us later that Abi cried all the way home and was saying ‘I can look apter Ma wand Pa’s house, Mummy’ – she doesn’t like the idea of Al being there.

I fall asleep so it’s a quick trip for me while Mark reads. Someone has left chewing gum on the floor which sticks to my daypack which then ends up all over my top – I look a mess already. At 6 o’clock we arrive at Central where we catch the airport train to the International Terminal. After booking in our bags we splash out on drinks in one of the bars – $12 each!

Through immigration my hairspray is confiscated (must leave it in the check-in bag next time) then we buy two big bottles of Bacardi (planning on a good holiday) and a small Bacardi and two small Baileys for the plane. We buy Coke Zero at McDonalds to mix with the Bacardi – have a few drinks each before we even leave – feeling great!

We ring Lauren and Abi wants to talk to us. It kills us when she says ‘Ma wand Pa, when you come home, Uncle Al can go home to his house’ – I think she’s worried that he’s staying forever. Then when we tell her that we’re at McDonalds she says ‘Wibout me?’ – Oh Dolly, you break our hearts. Then she asks ‘Are you habing a Happy Meal wib a twoy?”. Oh God this is too much – we miss them already and we haven’t even left the country!

Taking off on Air Asia at 9.30pm, we have seats in the middle section with a lovely Malaysian lady called Lilly sitting next to me. She now lives in Sydney but is going ‘home’ for Chinese New Year. It’s the Year of the Horse and she tells me how her family celebrates it – lots of eating involved and giving money to the children in red packets – she pulls one out of her bag to show me.

Mark and I try to sleep but despite Baileys and triazapam we’re wide awake. Lilly can’t sleep either so we chat through the night. She also tries to convert me to Hillsong – shows me a newsletter and insists I keep it to read later – NOT!

Saturday 25th January, 2014     Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok

At 3am we land in Kuala Lumpur feeling very spaced out having had no sleep at all. Because we’re leaving for Bangkok in a few hours we need to go through transit which we’d imagined would be quick but everyone else on the plane seems to be doing the same thing so it’s a long wait to get into the transit lounge. We have a usual spot where we can lie down but all the seats have been updated and there aren’t any bench seats now at all. We decide to have a look upstairs and find some excellent benches in a quiet area where we crash out for an hour and a half.

Mark has set the alarm for 6am so we have plenty of time to buy breakfast before boarding at 6.45am. Mark has seafood noodles (I’m not kidding) but I can only stomach a blueberry muffin and a cup of tea this early. We also have enough time to transfer money on our laptop and to text Lauren (it’s 9.30am at home) – she said that when Abi woke up she asked if we were home yet? I talk to a young veiled Muslim girl from Indonesia. She’s been studying in Kuala Lumpur and is now on her way home – lovely meeting different people.

Our gate is literally miles away but exciting walking through the darkness in the warm tropical air. For some reason we’re the last ones to get on the plane with only ten minutes before take-off. The best news is that the back of the plane is almost empty so we have three seats each – sleep for an hour then watch a golden sun rise over fluffy white clouds – glorious!

At 7.30am we land in gorgeous sunshine at Don Muang Airport. This is Bangkok’s original airport and our old favourite. With no lines at immigration, grabbing our bags within minutes and sailing straight through customs, we’re outside in twenty minutes. Mark withdraws Thai baht from an ATM – 29 Baht to the Aussie dollar – then we grab a taxi. We would have caught the bus into the city but they don’t run anymore for some reason. The trip is fast and without the traffic jams caused by the demonstrations that we’d expected. In fact everything looks as peaceful as always (typical of news reporters being drama queens). We pass familiar wats, street markets, klongs, monks and tuktuks – wonderful to be back!

We ask the taxi driver to drop us off at the top of Soi Rambutri in the backpacker Khao San Road area. The soi looks virtually the same since we were here with Lauren four years ago. We’ve arranged to meet Jillian at ten o’clock at the Wild Orchid but it’s only nine so we’re happy to see that she’s here anyway – already had breakfast and on her ipad. We haven’t seen each other since she left for her world trip four months ago. She’s done some amazing things but has never been to Thailand before and we hope she loves it as much as we do.

Jillian has booked a room here at The Wild Orchid for the next three nights but Mark and I have a look at a couple of other guesthouses nearby to see if we can get something cheaper. Not fussed on anything around here and don’t want to be too far away from Jillian so we decide to stay here as well. It’s a good room on the bottom floor with our own bathroom and, best of all, a little sun-filled window looking out onto the garden of the guesthouse next door – nice and only 800 baht (AUD $27).

Before we do anything Mark and I order breakfast sitting in The Wild Orchid’s open-air restaurant while we catch up on Jillian stories. Now we book sleeper train tickets ($27 each) at a small travel agent in Thanon Phra Athit which is the street just around the corner and runs parallel to the river. We plan to leave on Monday afternoon on the overnight train down south to Surat Thani where we’ll make our way over to the west coast.

But before that we’ve got three whole days here in Bangkok where we’ll show Jillian some of our favourite places and hopefully find a few more. Right now we want to do a klong tour of Thonburi which is on the opposite side of the Chao Praya River and was Thailand’s original capital. We walk to the Phra Athit Pier only five minutes away and ask about hiring a longtail boat for an hour and a half to take us through the klongs with a visit to the floating market.

We fly across the wide Chao Praya then enter the quiet canals of Thonburi. It’s hard to believe that the busy streets of modern Bangkok are just a stone’s throw away. Bangkok was once called the Venice of the East and while it may not be as picturesque as it once was, for me it still has the romance of the Orient. Old bridges still survive, crooked houses crowd the waters edge and monitor lizards bask themselves on sunny stone walls.

Ladies in sampans paddle frantically towards us to try and sell their souvenirs and we feed the catfish at Fish Temple with bread sent out to us via a simple overhead pulley system. The lady on the shore sends out the bread in a bucket that we send back with the money. The bread sparks a feeding frenzy with the fish swarming all over each other – a bit creepy but these ugly creatures are believed to be holy and can’t be caught.

But the highlight is definitely the Taling Chan floating market. We’ve done this klong tour probably about eight times now but this is the first time we’ve been able to stop at the market – sometimes closed because it’s only open on weekends and sometimes because we’ve just run out of time. Now we pull up beside one of the floating pontoons where you can sit on mats around low tables once you’ve chosen your food from one of the little boats that float up alongside. These are like little kitchens where ladies chop, grind and cook an amazing array of seafood. We all like the look of the king prawns – huuuge things – and Mark and I buy freshly cooked fish cakes as well.

I absolutely love it here. It’s a colourful, friendly atmosphere with musicians playing traditional music to add to the local charm. We could stay all day but after half an hour, our boat is waiting to take us back to Bangkok.

Home to the Wild Orchid before setting off again – ready for our first massage. All three of us walk through the temple grounds passing open-sided classrooms where orange-robed monks are studying at wooden desks – oh, I love this so much! Next to the temple entrance we watch shaven-headed nuns in their white robes cleaning up after a morning preparing meals for the monks. Some are sweeping with straw brooms while others are packing away the big metal cooking pots.

Inside the temple itself is like coming home, we’ve been here more times than I could count. As usual people are praying in front of the tall seated golden Buddha at one end while an old monk reads in a big carved wooden chair. Outside we watch worshippers giving offerings of marigolds and lotus flowers then burning incense and oils. And here are more nuns stringing marigolds into leis and selling candles and incense to the locals.

From here we cross the busy Chakrabongse Road to Thanon Rambutri which still has wonderful street food as well as lots of newer cafes, bars and restaurants. We stop for green curry and pad thai cooked on the footpath at one of the traditional stalls that have been here ever since our first visit to Thailand in 1997.

From here, we turn off into a laneway and head for Mummas – our favourite massage place in the whole world. Great disappointment to find ‘no massage – finished’. Mummas is now only a guesthouse. We can see Sharlo inside but not really game to ask about her husband in case it’s bad news. Oh well, we find another place and enjoy it heaps anyway.

Over in Khao San Road we call in to see our old friend Alex at Aviv Tailors but he’s visiting family in India. We’ve both had lots of clothes made here over the years and now Mark gets measured up for a grey suit and six shirts. Jillian and I help to choose the fabrics then Mark is told to come back tomorrow for final fittings.

Later at the Wild Orchid we have a quick nap before meeting Jillian downstairs and walking around to Ban Saphai for a few margaritas. Lovely out at night – still hot and lots of people around as usual. Strangely they tell us ‘no alcohol’ despite other people with beers in front of them. On the other side of the temple we find a good table near the wall where we order more drinks. We’ve noticed that everyone here is drinking coffee or tea – what the hell is going on? Apparently because of the unrest, no alcohol is supposed to be served after six o’clock but the Sawadee is disguising it in coffee cups.

Later we wander over to Khao San Road then up Chakrabongse Road towards Soi 1 where we’ve stayed many times. Over the bridge we find an interesting drinking place and get very happy on beers and Bacardi. More drinks at the Wild Orchid – Mark goes to bed while Jillian and I stay up talking.

Sunday 26th January, 2014     Bangkok

Mark is sick this morning – not a hangover. He comes downstairs with me while I have breakfast and wait for Jillian. Soon he has to rush back to the room to throw up and spend a few hours in bed. Luckily we’ve got a quiet day planned.

When Jillian arrives an Australian woman called Sandra comes to sit near her. She’s okay at first but ends up being a cynical old bat. She’s lived in France for forty years and for the last twelve years she’s been coming to Chiang Mai every winter to escape the cold. Sounds idyllic but she whines about everything – goodbye!

To make our escape, Jillian and I do some shopping in Khao San Road. She doesn’t want to buy much so she decides to walk over towards the Grand Palace while I buy a few presents for Lauren, Josh and the bubbas – head scarves, bags, a silver anklet and some trendy clothes for Abi and Elkie.

Back at the Wild Orchid I run into Sandra again. She beckons me over and tries to keep me talking but ‘see ya later’. Mark is feeling a lot better so we decide to have a massage. In a quiet laneway nearby we find an excellent place that I think we’ll keep coming back to. It’s part of the Sawadee Smile where we stayed with Lauren but never knew about the massage bit tucked around the corner. It’s bright and airy – nothing like the wonderful old Mummas atmosphere – but we think it’s a real find and only 220 Baht (AUD $7 each) for an hour.

Now it’s my turn to feel sick so I head back to our room to sleep for an hour – hate wasting time like this but it’s all part of travel. In the meantime, Mark buys a couple of t-shirts from the deaf lady inside the temple grounds. She’s been there for as long as we can remember and Mark always buys something from her.

At four o’clock Jillian rings to say she’s in a café in Khao San Road watching the Australian Tennis Open live on tv (Nadal playing Wawrinka) – we make a quick dash to join her and are happy to see it’s another old favourite and one of the original cafes here. Lots of tables face the road but we sit at the back of the vast dark interior. I’ve always loved this place – stacks of atmosphere with dark wooden walls and ceilings, swirling overhead fans, gorgeous old pendant lights with long tassles and framed sepia photos of old Siam. It’s noisy with loud music and busy with Western backpackers, some watching the tennis like us. We all drink Chaing beers (I’m feeling good again) out of paper cups – taking the police warnings more seriously here as it’s not even dark yet.

Later we all walk back to Soi Rambutri for dinner at the Four Sons Café where we see the same drug-fucked European guy we see everywhere we go. He’s still making a pest of himself and a tragic prostitute with peroxided hair sidles up to us. She soon wanders away to follow someone else.

The Four Sons isn’t actually a hit. Everyone seems to be in slow motion and the food is only okay – I have fish salad, Mark nasi goring and chicken skewers while Jillian has vegetable noodles. Our waitress is actually a ladyboy – the long orange painted nails are a bit of a give away but then we realize that all the staff here are ladyboys. How cool is that!

Mark is feeling sick again and can’t finish his meal. While he goes back to our room, Jillian and I stay for half an hour then I head for bed as well. Jillian stays up to use the wifi in the foyer. Hope tomorrow is a sick-free day.

Monday 27th January, 2014     Bangkok to Surat Thani

Wake at 6.30am but Mark is still asleep. After a shower I decide to take my book down to the restaurant and watch the world go by – lots to see at any hour around here – a middle-aged hippie couple sitting opposite at the New Siam Guesthouse are chain smoking and drinking beer, and it’s only 7.30am! The prostitute woman is wandering around lost again and bumming cigarettes off anyone passing by.

I’m happy when Mark appears, showered and looking heaps better this morning. He has a coffee and I have a pineapple shake while we plan the day and send a few messages on Facebook. Lauren has put up some lovely photos of her and the girls so we’re extra happy.

Jillian is still getting ready so Mark and I walk up to the temple for breakfast – not open yet so we eat in the laneway. We love it here, sitting on plastic stools against the temple wall and watching the ladies making our breakfast in the makeshift kitchen – muesli, yoghurt and fruit salad.

Back inside the temple grounds, Mark buys two more t-shirts from the deaf lady. Actually he thinks she isn’t deaf but can’t speak for some reason. Anyway we get by with sign language and I think she’s a little bit in love with Mark.

On this gorgeous morning, we stroll up to the wat itself where we can see the monks having their lessons again and the nuns preparing endless bowls of food and making the flower offerings. Inside we wander around inside and buy gold leaf to put on a standing Buddha – love these temple experiences.

Jillian meets us near the temple gate so we decide to visit Wat Po. On the way to the river we notice a small shrine, elaborate with garlands of fresh jasmine and marigolds, candles, incense and a cat. A sign on a box next to the cat reads ‘Please Donate For Cat Food’ – so we do.

At the Phra Athit Pier we cram ourselves onto the local ferry to get off several stops later at the Wat Po Pier. The wharf hasn’t changed with the same little shops but sadly the long-standing dried fish market outside is gone. We wander around the old Chinese shop houses that sell traditional medicines – always love this area. It’s here that Mark and I always drop in to visit a friendly old man who sells dried fish. We met him twelve years ago when he dragged us into the back of his shop to proudly show us photos of his family and his son’s university degrees. On another trip with Lauren his wife took us out the back where she gave us slabs of a freshly baked cake. Can’t find his shop this morning but we haven’t got time to keep looking.

Now Mark and Jillian stop for a coffee before we seek out the entrance to Wat Po which is just across the road. For the 100 Baht entrance fee we get a free bottle of water each. I think we’ll need it as the temperature is full-on by now.

Inside the walls, the sunny compound is colourful with lots of tiled stupas, topiary and hundreds of gold-covered Buddhas. Beautiful! And besides all the prayer halls and shrines, there’s also a university, monks’ living quarters and a massage school (more of that later).

Actually, Wat Po is the largest and the oldest wat (temple) in Bangkok and its main claim to fame is that it’s home to the Reclining Buddha – also supposedly the largest in the whole fucking universe! Of course we have to take our shoes off to go inside but instead of leaving them at the door, each person is given a drawstring bag to put them in so we can carry them around with us. A good idea considering the crowds they get here every day. Inside we take lots of photos as usual then Jillian and I buy 20 Baht of coins to drop into the bronze monks’ bowls (symbolizing the 108 characters of Buddha – guide book info). This is to bring us good luck as well as helping the monks to look after the wat.

Now for the best part – a massage at the massage school. Wat Po is home to one of the earliest Thai massage schools and is actually believed to be the birthplace of traditional Thai massage itself. For 280 Baht, we ask for a thirty minute foot massage – expensive at twice the price as on the streets but worth it for the experience. I love this place with its gorgeous red and gold ceiling with overhead fans keeping us cool. I’m wearing a skirt so I have to change into fisherman’s pants then the three of us get comfortable in recliner chairs sitting side-by-side. The massage is great but my legs are sore with great bruises on either side of my shins where I’d jammed them under the seat in front of me on the plane. Mark gets a cramp.

From here we tuktuk to the Mahatat Amulet Market where we buy traditional necklaces for me and Lauren and a Chinese jewellery box for Abi. Wonderful bronze and brass Buddhist statues are tempting but we’ve bought so many in the past that we resist this time. Now another tuktuk through the busy streets – lovely around this area with overhanging trees, the Grand Palace, Wat Mahatat and glimpses of the Chao Praya River.

Back in Soi Rambutri, Jillian goes off to the dentist for a last minute teeth whitening while Mark and I have lunch sitting on the verandah at Sawadee – a baguette, chips, roast chicken and fresh orange shakes. Now Mark heads over to Khao San Road to pick up his suit while I just have time for a facial, hair wash and blow dry before packing for the overnight train.

Poor Jillian has been held up at the dentist but her teeth are snowy white so it’s worth the mad dash she has to make back to the guesthouse. By 4.30pm we’re all crammed into a tuktuk speeding towards Hualamphong Station. The traffic is horrendous as usual and we wait for ages at every traffic light. The only sign of political unrest is razor wire that’s been put up around some important looking buildings but we don’t know what they are. A few military guys are hanging around as well but that’s about it.

Crossing the canal we recognize where we are and soon see the station ahead. Love it here with lots of memories of other fabulous trips including our first one with Intrepid in 1997. The last time we were here was with Lauren in 2010 and I know she’d love to be doing this again. At that time we were heading north to Chiang Mai but today we’re off to Surat Thani about thirteen hours south.

Before boarding the train we visit the little old supermarket to buy coke and chips for the journey – train food is disgusting. We’ve booked second class non-air-con so we can have the windows open and we’ve all got top bunks as these were the only ones left. The lower bunks are a few dollars more anyway because they get the window.

Mark and I are across from each other and Jillian is at the other end of the carriage. Coincidentally, it seems that we’re sharing with an Intrepid group and their Thai leader is the young woman in the seat opposite Mark. Her name is Moo and we chat with her about our past Intrepid trips and where they’re all headed tomorrow. They seem a nice group except for an English wanker who Jillian falls out with – ‘bitch’ he says to her.

As we slowly pull out of Bangkok at six o’clock we pass the very luxurious Orient Express and get to check out the sleeping compartments and the posh passengers in the dining area – very gorgeous but very expensive – Moo says it’s about $2,000 for the trip from Bangkok to Singapore. I don’t know what comes over me but I have a weird urge to pull down my pants and stick my bare arse in their faces. Mark says, ‘no’.

Dark by now but too early for bed, we decide to check out the dining car – not for food, of course, but to have a drink. I don’t know what I expected but it’s as basic as can be and so, naturally, we all love it. No frills décor, bad lighting and wide open windows make for a great atmosphere. Mark and Jillian have beers while I race back for my Bacardi. Besides a dickhead western guy who yells out the window ‘show us your tits’, we have a great time. Laugh??!!

Ready for sleep now, we head back to our carriage where the seats have been made up into beds and the curtains hung across for privacy.

Love, love, love the overnight trains!!

Tuesday 28th January, 2014     Surat Thani to Krabi to Railay

Wake after a wonderful, dreamless sleep (strange for me) then pack for our seven o’clock arrival in Phun Phin. This is the closest station to Surat Thani which is a fifteen minute songthaew ride away but we won’t be going there today. Surat is the hopping off point for the ferries to Ko Samuii and Ko Phan Ang where we’ve been a couple of times before. But today we’re headed for Railay on the west coast so we need to catch a bus across the mainland to Krabi Town.

Outside the station we hop on a big bus with the Intrepid crew and a few others. With so few passengers it should be a comfy two hour drive. But, of course, this is Asia and there’s no way a half empty bus will do – must be packed to the rafters or no go. So half an hour later we pull into a sort of rest area where other backpackers are waiting for buses back to Surat Thani. I guess they’ll be getting onto our big bus while the sixteen of us and all our packs will be crammed into a minivan.

No-one is happy and Moo isn’t having a bar of it. So now we’re driven in another van twenty minutes back towards Surat to a crusty little bus station where we all pile out to wait for … what, we don’t know. Now we need to change tickets then Mark and Jillian say ‘why can’t the three of us go in the van by ourselves’. Somehow they agree so we’re soon back on the road waving goodbye to our Intrepid friends.

We don’t know what’s happening this time but we seem to be heading east and end up in Surat Thani. After two hours when we should already be in Krabi Town, we’ve actually gone backwards! Now we’re dumped at a big bus station where we’re told to wait in a little shop for half an hour. Hungry by this stage, we decide to look for a café and ask a group of locals at the next corner for directions. We walk for ages then backtrack past the shop to find a fabulous open-sided food place right at the bus station itself. Have a lovely Thai breakfast then wander back to the shop to wait with our packs for our next form of transport, whatever it may be. It soon arrives – another minivan – and we’re off at last. We enjoy the scenery as always and finally arrive in Krabi around eleven o’clock.

Krabi is a pretty, market town surrounded by limestone cliffs – very laid back with a nice area along the river. This is where we’re dropped to catch the boat to Railay. Well, actually, not quite – now we’re put in another van for a thirty minute drive to Ao Nang – this is our sixth bus/van since we left Phun Phin this morning – sooo Asia and you have to love it!

At Ao Nang we’re greeted with the stunning turquoise waters that Thailand is famous for. Palms trees, coconut palms, white sand and longtails boats make us very excited to be here at last. We throw our packs into a weathered longtail with a canvas roof and set off around the point for Railay. Lovely to be out on the water on this gorgeous hot, sunny day.

Railay (pronounce Rye-lay) is actually a small peninsula cut off from the mainland by limestone cliffs so it can only be reached by boat and feels more like an island. It’s broken into East and West beaches and to the north is the small backpacker village of Ton Sai which is where we’re now headed. As we chug towards the shore we can see that the peninsula is surrounded by enormous limestone cliffs which apparently make this area home to some of the best rock climbing in the world. It’s why heaps of young people come here but I know for sure that none of us will be trying it.

As usual on these small beaches there isn’t a pier so we just have to jump out in thigh-high water and wade to shore with our bags above our heads. As we reach the beach we’re surprised to see quite a lot of expensive looking hotels and hope we can find some cheapies to choose from. The good thing is lots of cafes and little restaurants all along the water’s edge so we find a nice place for a cool drink before we set off in search of a room.

Leaving Mark with the bags, Jillian and I set off for the opposite side of the peninsula but everywhere is either too expensive or booked out. Now Mark and I check out Tonsaii Village while Jillian stays with our packs and orders lunch. We ask at a few places but most of the budget guesthouses seem to be at the top of the cliff. We eventually find rooms at Rapala Rockwood Bungalows up a steep staircase and built on the side of the hill. It’s very tropical with thick gardens and a trendy restaurant and chilling-out-on-cushions area. Lots of young people are here reading and on their ipads.

We can get an air-conditioned room for Jillian – about $30 – and a fan only room for us – only $12. We race back to get her as we know how fast rooms disappear. Of course by the time we get back, the air-con room is gone so she has to do with one near us. For our $12 we get a good sized room with wooden flooring, woven bamboo walls, a fan and a foam mattress on the floor. We also have a nice verandah overlooking other bungalows and the gardens. The bathrooms are outside and a bit ordinary but okay for the price.

Now we all walk around to West Beach across the middle of the peninsula which is basically undeveloped with only a couple of simple cafés and the rest just family homes. West Beach itself is really lovely – a wide white stretch of sand with sandstone cliffs at either end. Upmarket hotels and restaurants line the sand with outdoor seating shaded by tall trees. We all order cool drinks and can finally relax now that we have somewhere to stay.

On the way back to Rapala we pass people decked out in climbing gear heading for the rock faces on the other side. We also see the sign for Diamond Cave and decide to have a look. After paying a 40Baht entry fee we follow wooden walkways through the cave where stalactites, stalagmites and limestone waterfalls are very impressive. And of course there are lots of bats squeaking above us in the darkness.

On dusk we head down the stairs to find a café for dinner and drinks. We also want to use Facebook so we need to find somewhere with free wifi. We like the look of the Andamantino but the service is slack and the internet connection crap so we just have a drink and decide to move on. We cross to one of the trendy places right on the edge of the sand with wooden platforms covered in cushions and low tables. Mark, though, is suddenly sick and has to go back to our guesthouse. Jillian and I stay for a pizza and a few drinks but don’t last too long – feel bad that Mark is on his own.

Wednesday 29th January, 2014     Railay

This morning he’s still sick with a rumbling stomach and the runs. The other bad news is that we can’t find his mobile phone. We search the room and all our bags over and over but it’s definitely not here. Jillian is already out walking so we head down to the cafes hoping that someone has handed it in. It’s his work phone so it’s got all his contacts (which he hasn’t backed up, by the way) but he’s more worried about losing all the photos of our dollies.

Down in the village, it’s still too early for most of the cafes to open so we wander along the shore. The tide is out exposing the mangroves – creepy things – like triffids, I always think. The sun is just peeking above a mountainous island and casting a golden path along the water towards us. A lone longtail sits silhouetted on the sand so it’s not a bad spot to hang out. Finally the cafes open but no-one has handed in his phone. We search under the platforms and the floor pillows – no luck. Nothing to be done as there isn’t anything like a police station around here so I have breakfast of pineapple juice and an omelet while Mark just has to watch – poor baby.

The rest of the morning Mark and I just lie around our room reading and sleeping while Jillian has a lovely time at West Beach.

In the afternoon we all have a massage in a cute upstairs place at the bottom of our stairs then Jillian and I have a romantic, candle-lit dinner on a floating restaurant hidden amongst the mangroves.

Thursday 30th January, 2014     Railay to Ko Phi Phi Don

Our last day in Railay and Mark is feeling himself again – happiness! We wake very early so we can check out Phra Nang Beach – Jillian said we have to see it before we leave.

The sun is barely up as we pass the cafes to reach a walkway that starts from the southwestern tip of Railay East. The small curving path winds beneath a towering rock ledge with small caves in the side of the mountain and someone is burning mounds of dry leaves. It’s really lovely in here – no-one else round except for a few naughty monkeys playing in the overhanging trees.

If we think this is impressive, we’re not prepared for how perfect Phra Nang Beach is – it’s no wonder that it’s recently been voted one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world.

A broad strip of soft white sand has massive limestone cliffs framing each end of the secluded beach and lapped by a milky turquoise sea with limestone karsts just off the shore.

At the northern tip of the beach is the very unusual Tham Phra Nang Cave. It’s dedicated to the spirit of a princess who, legend has it, drowned in the nearby waters – the reason why it’s also called Princess Cave. The very weird thing is that it’s full of wooden penises – all shapes and sizes – put here by the local fishermen who want the princess’s favour of a fruitful fishing trip. It makes sense if you think of the phallus as a symbol of fertility – a bit gross really.

But forget the penises, swimming in the calm water here is one of those very special travel moments that we’ll never forget. Only a couple of locals are around so it’s been the perfect time to come. Back at our bungalows, we find that Jillian is packed and ready to leave so we chuck everything into our bags and head down to the village to catch a boat to the Phi Phi Islands.

Although we were there in 2010 with Lauren and Julie and Steve it’s too close for Jillian to miss out but we plan to just stay for one night – better than nothing and besides Mark and I loved it last time so we’re more than happy to be going back.

Actually the boat is leaving from Railay West Beach which is a much nicer place to hang out – picture postcard stuff! The sun is scorching by now and the sky is the usual cloudless blue. We find a little place that sells coffee for Jillian and wifi for Mark so he can do some work then we all hang out on the sand with other travellers to wait for our boat. Again we have to wade out to a waiting longtail that takes us to the middle of the bay where we transfer to a beautiful big ferry for the two hour trip.

Coming into Tonsai Bay, Phi Phi Don looks as lovely as we remember although there appears to be less tourists being dropped at the wharf this time. Hopefully there won’t be as many people here as on Railay and we’ll be able to get the guesthouse we want. Last time we stayed in a really nice place near the stairs to the Viewpoint. Actually Julie and Steve had a lovely little bungalow with a cute leafy verandah while Mark and Lauren and I had a room on stilts with a view of the washing line. Anyway we hope to get one of the cute bungalows each today.

It’s a nice idea but as soon as we reach the laneways we realise there are even more people here than at Railay and twice as many as when we were here four years ago. There also seems to be a lot of young Western guys getting very drunk even at this time of day. And besides the feral people, we can’t get a room at the cute place or anywhere else for that matter.

We finally find a couple of dark rooms at a tiny guesthouse. Mark and I have a window although it seems to be boarded up. But we do have our own little bathroom as well as brown floral wallpaper so we’re very grateful to have found this place.

After booking in, we arrange to meet Jillian at Lo Dalam Beach – only about fifty metres along a sandy track opposite. Perfect here with lots of people sunbaking in deckchairs under umbrellas or the trees that line the sand. We sit outside the     which was our favourite last time. This is heaven – hot and sunny, cold drinks, pizzas, gorgeous scenery and good people watching.

Later Jillian and I wander down to the northern end of the beach to a thatched, open-sided hut for a face massage each – very bizarre and more like a facial – must be a lost-in-translation thing. Now we all have a nanna nap before Mark and I set off to find somewhere to have my hair washed and blow dried. No luck but we do find a funny little beauty salon where the owner tells me how good she is then gives me the worst manicure ever. My lovely long nails have been filed into ugly square ends and she only manages to get the nail polish down the middle of my nails – are you kidding? – ha ha!

On sunset we all head back to Lo Dalem for salads, fish and chips and cocktails. We hang out on cushions laid out on a bamboo platform drinking Margaritas for me and Jillian and Mohitos for Mark while we watch the usual fire twirlers – so Thailand!!

Friday 31st January, 2014     Ko Phi Phi Don to Ko Lanta

Another day, another island. Today we’re off to Ko Lanta, a few hours south in the Andaman Sea. We don’t leave till ten o’clock so we’ve still got time for a swim. Jillian heads off to the Viewpoint while Mark and I walk to the southern end of Lo Dalem which is the only spot on the beach with enough water for a dip – the tide is out again.

Later we buy boat tickets from a guy next to our guesthouse then pack ready to walk down to the boat pier at Tonsai Bay. Here the ticket collector is suss about our tickets and it looks like we’ve bought them from a guy who’s given us fake ones and done the bolt with our money. But I feel pretty sure he was ok and after a few phone calls we’re allowed to board. Two young girls behind us aren’t so lucky so it looks like the scam thing really does happen.

The boat is another big island-hopping ferry but not as nice as the one that brought us here yesterday from Railay. We choose to sit in the big cabin to have heaps of room to lie down then later hang out at the windows as we pass lots of little islands.

Ko Lanta itself actually consists of Ko Lanta Noi (“Small Lanta Island”) and Ko Lanta Yai (“Big Lanta Island”). It’s Ko Lanta Yai where all the tourist action is and where we pull up at the pier at Saladan Village in the far north.

We don’t waste any time grabbing a tuktuk to take us further down the coast in search of a guesthouse. Ko Lanta’s long western coast is strung with family bungalow resorts, boutique hotels, chilled out backpacker huts as well as some serious five-star opulence. We definitely want something right on the beach and something cheap.

But here again, everywhere is packed and we end up having to pay a fortune again for a room each. Definitely not happy about all this three star shit but all the budget places have already been taken. We’ve never experienced this before but nothing we can do about it.

Our hotel has a nice laidback restaurant right on the sand but the rooms are in an ugly box. We’re lucky to get rooms near each other on the ground floor facing the pool so it’s not too bad except for paying $80 for the night. The best bit though is the weird (wtf?) sign stuck on everyone’s door. No typo mistakes here, by the way.

  1. Do not towel dry feel
  2. Eat snacks in garbage already duai?
  3. Do not perform dirty in the room. Linen towels and so on
  4. Wha’t in is damaged your must pay
  5. Because some people bad habits (thank you)

So gorgeous!

The tide is out exposing coral reefs but we find a spot further along the beach where we can have a late afternoon swim. Drinks and dinner watching another lovely sunset.

Saturday 1st February, 2014     Ko Lanta to Ko Lipe

Moving again today. We’d like to stay longer on Ko Lanta but we want to have a couple of days on Ko Lipe and we’re running out of time. I love travelling this way anyhow and so does Mark – just ask him!

After a nice breakfast overlooking the beach we jump into another tuktuk to take us back to Saladan Village. We’ve got a bit of a wait for the ferry to turn up so we wander around the market stalls but don’t like anything. Our boat, called Tiger Ferry, leaves on time for the five hour trip to Ko Lipe.

Ko Lipe (say Lee-pae) is the southernmost island in Thailand and part of the Butang Island group. Guide book info says it’s inhabited by the Chao Ley (or Sea Gypsies) who used to travel from island to island looking for the best fishing spots. They eventually found a permanent home on Ko Lipe and were given a grant to settle on the island’s eastern beach (Sunrise Beach) and have remained there ever since – pretty cool! Anyway I just like saying ‘Sea Gypsies’.

And like all these southern islands, it looks perfect as we make our way slowly to a pontoon anchored off shore. There isn’t a wharf here so we‘re all transferred to a fleet of waiting longtails to take us in closer. As we did at Railay, we have to wade through the shallow water with our packs above our heads till we reach the beach.

I’ve picked out a couple of places from the Lonely Planet so we head south along Pattaya Beach. This is by far the most populated area on the island with a busy vibe that suits us just fine. But, as we’ve found everywhere else on this holiday, we can’t get a room. We take turns going into one place after another as we drag ourselves around in the burning sun. Oh shit, every answer is ‘Solly, full’. Jillian calls one guy the Soup Nazi. For some reason he hates her – ‘no room for you!’ – ha ha.

We eventually come across the entrance to Walking Street which apparently connects Pattaya to Sunrise Beach on the opposite side of the island. It’s a very long sandy laneway crammed with cheap restaurants, markets, diving shops, massage places and lots of budget accommodation – but again, all say ‘solly full’.

Eventually Jillian and I leave Mark in a café with all our packs and set off for Sunrise Beach. We meet another Aussie woman looking for a room and she’s so desperate she takes a horrible tent pitched in a scraggy yard next to a café. We also talk to an old hippie couple who tell us that they’re going to sleep on the beach and it looks like it might be our only option as well.

Sunrise Beach is much quieter than Pattaya with the hotels spread out so we have a long, long walk with no luck. Eventually I can’t be bothered and walk back to Mark – sleeping on the beach might be ok anyway if there’s heaps of other people doing it. But not long after I reach Mark, Jillian calls to say she’s found a room for $130 and that she’s coming to pick us up in the hotel songthaew.

Walking Street is just that – ‘walking only’ so we’re picked up in a side street about half way along. Throwing our gear in the back of the truck we bounce our way along a rutted track to end up at Sunset Beach and the hotel’s long, impressively paved driveway. The hotel is called Mountain Retreat and is built on the side of a hill with views of the Andaman Sea and Adang Island.

Separate bungalows are scattered across the hillside but it’s all pretty ugly. We do have air-con and hot water and a big balcony but we’re stuck in the middle of fucking nowhere. A bit of an exaggeration but hopefully we’re just here for tonight. After checking in we all walk back up to the top of the hill to wait for a lift back to Pattaya.

We’re dropped off in Walking Street so we make our way back down to the beach. We find the usual string of cool restaurants with pillows on the sand so we set ourselves up for the night. Great food here with the usual Margaritas for us girls and Mark has a couple of Mijitos – very impressive tall glasses of rum, lime juice and packed with mint.

A songthaew back to Mountain Retreat in the dark is fun.

Sunday 2nd February, 2014     Ko Lipe

Wake at seven o’clock and after quick showers we wander down the hill to the main building for breakfast which is included in the cost of our room. Shoes off we find the dining room to be a vast empty space with glass windows all around and nice views over the lagoon. Another island is very close and we see fishing boats on the shore. But it’s a soulless place as most upmarket hotels are – why we hate them. And we don’t fancy the food because they’re obviously catering to the all Asian tourists. It’s horrible and Mark’s fried eggs are raw – he cries. A bizarre place and we just want to get the hell out of here and stay somewhere with a bit of atmosphere.

After we finish eating, we ask at the desk if we can stay another night – insurance in case we can’t find something else. ‘Yes, yes’ they gush all over us.

Catch a songthaew with an Asian family back to Pattaya Beach, this time driving along a different sandy track through a tiny village – really lovely here with overhanging trees.

At Pattaya we’re surprised to see that most of the crowds have gone and we eventually find out that today is the last day of the Chinese New Year holidays so heaps of Asian tourists are heading back home. It’s the best news but rooms are still scarce. We finally find one at Bella Vista at $150 for the three of us – we’ll take it!!

In Walking Street we look for a motorbike taxi to take us back to Mountain Retreat. No songthaew this time but a motor bike with a sort of sidecar on the side for me and Mark while Jillian has to sit on the back of the bike behind the driver – looks hilarious!

Pack then Jillian kindly walks the key back to reception to tell them that we’re not staying tonight – Mark and I would have just pissed off and not told them – definitely arseholes, ha ha! Anyway the friendly people at the desk aren’t friendly anymore when they find out that we’re leaving. Too bad, they’ll have it rented out in the next five minutes anyway.

Another motorbike taxi takes us through the back entrance to Bella Vista but our room isn’t ready so we leave our bags in the office and change into our swimmers. The hotel has a large rustic restaurant right on the sand with a wooden deck shaded by overhanging trees. Mark and I get ourselves set up on beach lounges while Jillian heads off in search of coffee.

Later Mark and I have lunch in Walking Street in a fabulous café sitting on floor cushions and watching all the cool people around us. Pineapple shakes, prawn cakes, chips and salt and pepper squid then a beer for Mark – God we love being on these tropical islands!

Further along the street we buy a skirt for Lauren, wrist bands for her and Josh and a snorkeling bag for us as we’re hoping to hire a boat this afternoon. Just along from our hotel we find a place where we book a boat for four o’clock.

More lounging around now on the Bella Vista deck then we move into our room at 2pm. It’s on the top floor of a double storey bungalow so we’ve got a beautiful view from our verandah of the snowy white sand, the crystal clear water, little boats out front and a bamboo massage place just below us – so much better than Mountain Retreat! Our room is big, clean and sunny with a huge bathroom so we’re very happy.

Haven’t seen Jillian for ages so I decide to have a massage out front. The little massage lady is lovely but she kills me – ‘solly’ she keeps saying.

At four o’clock we still haven’t been able to contact Jillian but she arrives at the last minute and we’re soon heading out into the bay. Apparently the best place to snorkel around here is The Pinnacle which is about a fifteen minute ride.

It turns out that The Pinnacle is under water so we jump out where a few other boats are anchored. Luckily there’s a rope stretched across the surface for us to hang onto because the current is so strong I think we’d end up in India in no time. We just stick our heads underwater but can’t see much – too windy, choppy, too many people. As we leave a boatload of Thai tourists turn up – God help them!

Our driver takes us next to a small island where we snorkel in a sheltered bay then back in the boat to make it to Sunset Beach before the tide goes out.

After showers we walk along the shore as the sun sets in a beautiful pink sky. Near the entrance to Walking Street we find a table on the sand where we all order seafood and salads. Later we find a groovy place with big cushions spread out on woven mats and settle in for another night on cocktails and beer. A band plays good cover music – a lovely last night on Ko Lipe.

Monday 3rd February, 2014     Ko Lipe to Langkawi

This morning we wake to another gorgeous island day. Buffet breakfast on the restaurant deck then we book tickets for a boat to Langkawi this afternoon. Jillian has a flight to Kuala Lumpur at 6 o’clock so we need to get the two o’clock boat that’s advertised on their board.

Now the three of us walk over to Sunrise Beach – aqua blue water, white sand, blue sky, tiny islands just off-shore and grass huts –  really lovely. Back along Walking Street we split up then meet back at the boat booking place ready to leave. But now the guy says ‘no two o’clock boat only three o’clock’. Jillian says ‘Why?’ but the grumpy guy snaps back ‘No Why! No Boat!’. Jillian is PISSED!!! This means she could miss her plane.

She races up the laneway to another boat company and we can get an earlier boat with them. She argues with the original boat guy to give our money back – he’s not happy! After lots more running around with passports and swapping tickets we’re finally on the beach ready to hop on to one of the three catamarans revving up in the shallows. Mark and I get separated from Jillian and we hope her boat is the first one out.

We really enjoy the one hour trip to Langkawi especially when our driver does a full throttle three sixty just before we pull into Telagah Harbour. Jillian is already on the pier but because we’re entering Malaysia we have to wait while our passports are stamped. Two other western guys are on Jillian’s plane so they plan to catch a taxi together to the airport. We give Jillian goodbye cuddles then wave her off in a speeding taxi – she should make it in time.

Soon we’re also speeding towards Cenang where we had a lovely few days eight years ago. The problem is we don’t recognize anything – it’s been developed out of all recognition – bloody awful! And we’re not thrilled at the look of the Malibest either!

In a very daggy lobby area, we’re booked in by two sweet young girls wearing the traditional Muslim head scarves that all the ladies here are wearing. Of course, Langkawi is part of Malaysia so it shouldn’t be a surprise although it does seem strange after being in Thailand.

Malibest is an odd place – part daggy and part cool and trendy. The reason I’d booked somewhere to stay on Langkawi was that we needed to spend at least $250 on the trip to qualify for free travel insurance by using my ANZ Platinum credit card and we still needed to spend another $50 to combine with the cost of the flight to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow. And the reason I’d booked the Malibest is that it looked really good on Tripadvisor but unfortunately the reality doesn’t compare with the photos. I guess they were pictures of the expensive tree-house rooms right on the sand.

And while I didn’t think we’d be getting one of those I also didn’t expect the dark, dingy dump that we’re now the proud owners of. The good news is that it’s only two days – imagine how pissed off you’d be booking in for a week or more! And that’s why we hate booking ahead – best to take chances of finding something on the spot than being stuck with a shit-hole like ours. Oh, I forgot to mention that we also have a muddy puddle right at our door.

With no reason to stay in the shit-hole we set off to explore Cenang – and we’re still wondering if we’re in the right spot. This surely can’t be the quiet little place we visited in 2006. Where the occasional sandy floored café was separated by a few simple shops and houses, it’s now overcrowded with daggy, glossy shops, restaurants and upmarket hotels. Maybe if we walk far enough along the road we’ll find the Cenang of old days. But no luck, just more of the same horrible shit. Well, we think so anyway. Apparently the Malaysian tourists are loving it because they’re here in droves.

We decide to get down to the water where it might be better. Of course we have to cut through a posh hotel but eventually we’re on the beach. Not loving it here either but we do find a trendy but basic place on the sand where we catch a pretty pink sunset and order food and drinks. Don’t stay out late as we’ve got a lot planned for the morning before our afternoon flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Tuesday 4th February, 2014     Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur

Sleep okay and don’t get out of bed till 9 o’clock. Our flight doesn’t leave till seven o’clock tonight so we plan to hire a motorbike and check out some of the island including the capital, Kuah Town. But first we throw on some clothes and set off to look for breakfast. The weather is perfect yet again – we haven’t seen a cloud since we arrived twelve days ago.

The street is more bearable this morning – quieter but still a shock to see the change in this once, quiet little town. There seems to be a lot of shiny new cafes which we hate on sight so we’re very happy to find The Breakfast Place with its thatched roof, lots of greenery and basic wooden furniture – rare around here now. Next to us a large family of Asian tourists is having a riotous time and the American Breakfast of eggs, toast, jam, tea and coffee is good – can’t get bacon, of course, on this Muslim island.

Nearby we hire a motorbike for a mere 18RM then set off for a ride along the main street as far as the fountain. Unbelievably we come across the AB Hotel that’s grown into a two storey monster next to the same little huts that we stayed in eight years ago. But besides that, nothing else looks at all familiar – all been swallowed up with new development.

Back to the Malibest we walk down the beach to a simple hut for drinks and watermelon. For some reason they don’t have water or even soda water so I have to drink warm Sprite – yuk and so is the watermelon. Not loving this place at all so far. Hopefully things will look up when we get out into the countryside this afternoon.

Back to the shit-hole to pack then check out leaving our bags with the sweet girls at the office. Okay, so now we’re ready for our bike ride to Kuah Town. A petrol station is our first stop before heading inland. Later the road follows the hilly coastline with views of lots of outlying islands.

Kuah Town is attractively green with lots of parks, shops and office blocks. It’s definitely outgrown the small town that we remember when we landed here by ferry from Penang in 2006. We can’t find anywhere interesting to eat and end up in a strange shopping centre at the top of the hill. After lunch at McDonalds – tragic – we admire the surf shop where store dummies in the window model the latest in lycra burkas – ha ha.

Back at Cenang Beach we drive down to the water for a drink and find a lovely thatched place right on the sand. Bizarrely they only sell coconuts so, very disillusioned by now, we return the bike then hang out in the foyer till it’s time to leave for the airport.

Our taxi guy is very friendly and complains about the Chinese drivers. Check-in is easy so we read before boarding Air Asia at seven o’clock.  The flight is quick and we land at Kuala Lumpur’s LCCT at 8.10pm. Because we were on a domestic flight there’s no need for immigration or customs. Eat Kentucky Chicken before walking over to Tunes. Watch some of our video – noisy neighbours banging doors every ten minutes – wtf? I shower and wash my hair while Mark goes down to Seven 11 for beers and water. Glad to fall into bed.

Wednesday 5th February, 2014     Kuala Lumpur to Sydney

Wake at 6.15am to shower, pack and for me to blow dry my hair. It’s still dark as we walk across the car park to the LCCT terminal. There are hundreds of people here all trying to book in luggage so Mark has the bright idea of lining up at the Passengers With Special Needs desk. Another Aussie guy who we’d been talking to earlier hops in behind us and we’re all through in no time.

Waiting for our flight, we eat McDonalds and use their free wifi to get onto Facebook and for Mark to check his work emails. We also manage to get a call through to Lauren – only one more sleep till we see are darling girls.

Through immigration we buy the Dolly a Dora wallet then we again have to board the plane from stairs on the tarmac – much more exciting than using the jet-bridge. As we never book seats – too stingy – we’re actually across the aisle from each other – me sitting next to a nice Indian couple and Mark is sitting with an Aussie couple. I take a Triazapam and manage to get a couple of hours sleep – with mouth open as Mark tells me later.

Home again!

 

 

 

 

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About virginiascott

I'm an interior decorator, travel writer and blogger
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