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Before coming to Thailand, the only thing I knew about its famous islands was from Leornardo Dicapio’s “The Beach”:
If you’ve never seen that movie, it basically has 2 claims to fame.
1) Leo runs around half-naked throughout the movie and
2) it was filmed on the island of Koh Phi Phi (pronounced “gaw Pee Pee”).
So when Wanderer asked me which of the Thai islands we should visit, “half-naked Leo + Pee Pee” was the first thing that popped into my head.
And how could Wanderer argue with such a sophisticated line of thinking? And so, off to Koh Phi Phi we went.
As it turns out, Koh Phi Phi was exactly what the travel guides said it would be.
Breathtaking but mobbed by tourists.
I didn’t know this, but the main island is actually called “Koh Phi Phi Don” which is 2 islands joined by a long, wide ridge of beach. That ridge is the coolest part, because you get to walk on it while having the mountains as a backdrop in front and behind you:
Which looks especially cool from a viewpoint at the mountain top:
After our hike, we tried to look for this famous shot from the movie:
But was told that it was on a SEPARATE island, called “Maya Bay”, accessible only by boat.
As one of most heavily visited beaches in Thailand, the Thais were trying to keep it from sprouting hotels and getting mobbed by tourists.
It didn’t work.
Because this is what we saw on Maya Bay:
Even though it was more crowded than a New York subway during rush hour, I still managed to get this obligatory jumping shot right where Leo’s sexy butt would’ve been.
But sadly, Leo and his pee pee were nowhere to be found. *sighs deeply * Oh well, c’est la vie.
Once I had had enough of Phi Phi (it didn’t take long), we headed for the lesser known, but more scenic Railay beach on the mainland, not too far away.
And let me tell you, I’m so glad I found this underrated beach because it was WAY better than Phi Phi. Even though it had the same jaw-dropping limestone cliffs, and was just as accessible by boat, because all the tourists were too busy mobbing Maya Bay, Railay was mostly spared. We still had a few tourists to share the beach with, but since there were 4 beaches in the area, we ended up being pretty spread out.
Of the 4 beaches (“Nang Cave”, “Phra Nang”, “Railay”, and “Ton Sai”), Nang Cave and Phra Nang were my favourites.
If you like swimming and rock climbing, Nang Cave offers the perfect combination. While we were there, we saw a bunch of rock-climbers scaling the walls while we floated on our backs in the water below. I was too lazy to do any rock-climbing, but it sure was nice watching other people sweat it out.
Not only was this a beach perfect in every way, there was also food being sold straight from boats docked along the beach! So we didn’t even need to get out of the water to stuff our faces. Now that’s convenience!
And after a long, hard day of beach-hopping, pad thai munching, and smoothie sipping, we went back to our hotel to unwind:
At $76/night, this was the most expensive hotel we stayed in in Southeast Asia, but it was so worth it. Especially since the limestone cliffs and beach was right outside our door.
After Railay, we headed for Phuket…which I wasn’t actually a big fan of, to be honest.
A large part of it felt like a giant Disneyland for adults…a Disneyland overrun by go-go girls and prostitutes. Which wouldn’t really have been bad, if it weren’t for all the litter, pollution, crowds, and stupid prices.
To be fair, we did make the mistake of staying at the most popular beach, Patong, which ended up being, unsurprisingly, overdeveloped and overcrowded. And on top of that, Wanderer narrowly avoided getting kicked in the head by a parasailer, so that’s always fun.
PROTIP: Do not, I repeat DO NOT do any parasailing on Thailand, unless they are launching you from the back of a boat. If they launch you from the beach, you could get tangled in electrical wires or beach-goers. Or slammed into the back of Wanderer’s head which is not fun for either parties.
I also found it pretty expensive to get around since public transportation was spotty at best and taxi drivers (or the “Tuk tuk mafia” as the tourists like to call it) basically see you as their giant piggy bank.
The one thing I did like about Phuket was the cheap accommodations, which rivalled Chiang Mai—but unlike Chiang Mai, is the result of extreme overdevelopment.
At this point, we was pretty convinced that big cities, big crowds, and stupid prices were NOT our thing.
Which is why getting to our next island was a huge relief. Because the next island we ended up going to was the exact opposite of Phuket.
Instead of overcrowded beaches, expensive and mediocre food, and overpriced transportation, we got this:
And I didn’t know it at the time, but Koh Lanta, which ended up being my favourite island of all, had the world’s best sunset:
Now that’s what I’m talking about!
And all this for a tiny price tag, because since Koh Lanta wasn’t mobbed like the other islands, we ended up finding a nice place with pool just 5 mins from the beach for only $39CAD ($30USD)/night.
Here’s how much we ended up spending on the islands:
|Accommodations||$40 CAD (or $31 USD)||Accommodations on the Thai islands averaged out to be double the price of Chiang Mai, but if you wanted to stay longer term, you can find new condos for $600CAD or 460 USD/month on Phuket.|
|Food||$22 CAD ($17 USD)||Food was more geared towards tourists, so there wasn't as much variety the quality was lower compared to Chiang Mai and Bangkok. If you go to the restaurants along the beach, expect to pay 1.5X or 2X more than Chiang Mai, but if you go a bit farther and get food from the locals, like we did, the cost isn't that much higher.|
|Attractions||$10 ($7.7 USD)||Attractions mostly consisted of massages and snorkling. Like the food, the massages on the beach were more expensive than Chiang Mai. But with so many beaches to explore and lots of swimming to do, we ended up spending very little on attractions.|
|Transportation||$17 ($13 USD)||Transportation mostly consisted of a train and bus down to Krabi (the mainland just a ferry ride away from the west coast islands), and ferries around the islands.|
|Total||$89 ($68.5 USD)|
Now that we’d had our fill of the Thai islands, I had just one more bucket list item to cross off. Something that would’ve been unthinkingable just a few years ago, when I was terrified of water.
Tune in next week for Part 4 when I face my arch nemesis head on.
Come meet us at this year's Chautauqua UK! Details here