Let’s Go Exploring! The Land of a Thousand Smiles Part 3

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FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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This is Part 3 of our posts on Thailand. Click here for Part 1 and 2.

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:

photo credit: Rcx10dd10 @wikipedia

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.

Here’s why:

Nang Cave

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.

Phra Nang


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:

Massaman curry right on the beach. Yum!

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.

photos courtesy of resort website
photos courtesy of resort website

Here’s how much we ended up spending on the islands:

Category Cost/couple/day (CAD) Thoughts
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.

Scuba Diving.

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

24 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! The Land of a Thousand Smiles Part 3”

  1. Hi Guys,
    how do you find your accommodations? They are stunning !! It would be great if you could share the adresses either it’s from AirBnB or hotel.

    1. Thanks! If you end up going to Thailand, highly recommend Railay and Koh Lanta 🙂 More laid back than the other crowded beaches but still developed enough to have all the comforts of home.

      The hotel we stayed in in Railay is called: “Railay Phutawan Resort”. The one in in Koh Lanta is “Morakot Lanta Resort” on Long beach.

      Here are their links:
      https://www.agoda.com/railay-phutawan-resort/hotel/krabi-th.html
      https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g303905-d7811452-Reviews-Morakot_Lanta_Resort-Ko_Lanta_Krabi_Province.html

      I found them by searching on Agoda, checking off “AC”, “pool” and “wifi” in the filters, arranging by price (lowest to highest) and then moving down the list until I see 8 and above in the reviews.

      Here’s the agoda link I used to search for hotels:
      https://www.agoda.com/?cid=1766712&pcs=1

  2. Great tips, wish I read these earlier. We’ve just been to Thailand for a very short trip. More specifically to Phuket, but not near Patong as I also read some bad comments about that part. Also visited Phi Phi and Similan islands (which were beautiful but almost as crowded as Phi Phi). Now I really wish to go back and visit places like Koh Lanta. Instead I’m back to work… 🙁

    1. Oops. Should’ve written this post sooner.

      Oh well, on the plus side you didn’t make the stupid mistake I made of staying on Patong. *facepalm*

      Definitely give Koh Lanta a try if you’re ever in Thailand again. My fingers are crossed that it stays underrated and doesn’t get mobbed by tourists like the other islands.

  3. You know you always see the gorgeous pictures of the Thai beaches, especially Phuket, but never the freaking tourists in these pictures!! I’m glad you showed a real life shot of these. I hate touristy beaches and I do everything I can to find beaches that are out of the way! Nowadays those are usually more beautiful anyway!

    1. I hear ya! The tricky thing for me was to find laid back beaches that were developed enough to still have the comforts of home (I know, I’m spoiled :P).

      There were quite a few small, remote ones, but they only had fan and mosquito netting, so I was pretty relieved to find Railay and Koh Lanta. Perfect balance between sparse crowds, good prices, and comfort.

  4. Wow, there’s going to be a part 4!?! You *really* do love Thailand!

    I’m like you — I hate crowds, and expensive. But I do like beautiful beaches….and now since you mentioned it I’m sure Koh Lanta is going to be mobbed.

    Thailand is still on my bucket list though.

    Loved all of the beautiful photos. Thanks for writing.

    1. I do. I really do! Thailand is our second home 🙂

      And now that you mention it, I probably should’ve kept Koh Lanta out of the post to keep it a secret. Damn it. Oh well, too late now.

  5. I was so excited to read this post (part 3)! Your post about your experience in Chiang Mai made me feel so much safer about my travel plans and gave some great tips that I otherwise wouldn’t have known.

    Quick question, what did you do with your travel documents and computers/tech when you were travelling to an area like the beach? I’m worried about leaving it behind if there isn’t a safe, but I also do not want to pay fancy hotel prices (that would have a safe) on a extended stay because that would be dumb. Did you just leave it in your accommodations/airbnbs or carry everything with you? Thank you so much for writing these 3 posts, they have given me the courage to follow through on an extended stay in Thailand. Did you have any trouble with theft or pickpocketing while you were out exploring?

    1. I’m so glad you’re feeling good about Thailand! That’s the thing about travelling, it really opens your eyes to the truth about places, rather than all the crap we see in the news.

      To answer your question, we kept our passports and laptops in the hotels and airbnbs when we went to the beach. Some of them didn’t have safes, but it wasn’t a problem. Never had anything stolen from a hotel or airbnb (just make sure their ratings are good when you book them).

      We never had any issues with theft or pickpocketing. As long as you don’t do stupid things like flash your money or walk around at 3am, you should be fine. Always keep your valuables with you on trains and buses, and never ever put it in the compartment below or in a separate area. This is why it helps to travel light and to get travel insurance (the one we got covers stolen electronics). Check out World Nomads Travel Insurance. (Affiliate link) That’s the insurance we used and they are very reliable.

  6. So bummed you didn’t get to see Leo, my teenage-self would have been all about finding him. Who am I kidding, I still would have looked for him today (a decade or two later). Hell, I even had my eyes open while visiting the Titanic Museum in Cobh, Ireland just a few years ago. Wishful thinking maybe? Oh Leo… Can’t wait to hear about your mermaid adventures. I’ve been a diver for many years. Plus, it is a fun thing to do as you travel and a great way to meet the locals aka fish, sharks, turtles, and even nudis!!

    1. I know right? Oh well, I’ll have to stalk him in some other part of the world.

      So cool that you are a diver! Where have you dived? Now that we’re certified, I’m looking for recommendations on the best diving sites 🙂

      1. Diving is amazing! Some of my favorites dives were in:

        Galapagos (we did Gordon Rocks, beware of hammerheads!)
        Lagos, Portugal (Praia da Ingina and a wreck dive at Burgan)
        Sifra, Iceland (between the tectonic plates, no wild life and its REALLY cold, but also a really cool experience)
        Ambergris Caye, Belize (lots of rays and turtles)
        Hawaii (done a few dives off Oahu and Kauai)
        Mexico (Land’s End in Cabo San Lucas with tons of sea lions and Cabo Pulmo)

        And since we live in California, we done countless dives off the coast. Catalina Island and the Channel Islands are pretty neat! Let me know if you are ever in southern CA and we can meet up for a dive or maybe even somewhere else in the world.

        1. Wow! Those all sound like awesome dive spots. Especially the Iceland one (though your lips must’ve been pretty blue). We’ve only done dives in the Caribbean, Cambodia and Thailand so far. That would be super cool to meet up for a dive. Provided I don’t accidentally kick you in the head while I’m done there. Apparently, Wanderer says I kept narrowly missing the dive master’s head last time in Cambodia because I was having trouble with my buoyancy. Oops.

          1. Iceland was amazing, but due to an unforeseen leak, my drysuit flooded and my whole body became an icicle! We suspect I experienced a minor case of hypothermia too! But it was totally worth it, just double check you have solid seals and you’ll be good to go… My guess, with a few more dives under your belt, you will get the hang of the whole buoyancy thing! I’ll make sure to give you your space, but I tend to have pretty good reflexes in the water in case a flailing foot/fin comes my direction.

  7. Out of curiosity, where are you two now? Are you back in Canada, or are you continuing to travel? Apologies if this was covered elsewhere in the blog and I missed it.

    1. We went back to Canada for a little while to visit family, but now we’re exploring central and south America! Will write up our experience after I’m done with Asia 🙂

  8. The reason why I found that a great movie is because I loved the islands…

    I am SOOOOO going there once I retire. If you spent 90 CADS, could I get away with 50 bucks if I travel alone?

    Thank you so much for this post, highly inspirational.

    1. $50CAD/day is doable, but I would suggest skipping the crazy high season (dec and Jan) because that’s when the prices are high and it’s really crowded.

      We were picky and only looked at places with a pool, but if you’re staying near the beach, you can get places for as little as $20CAD, without pool but still has wifi and aircon. So that’s probably your best bet.

  9. Looks like a fun trip! I’m kinda blown away by how many people were on the beach.

    There’s not even that many people on the beaches of Waikiki in Honolulu! I’ve found my private beach on Oahu I can’t tell anybody 🙂

    Ever figure out what those folks on the beach do for work and where they are from? I’m suspecting students, and lots of Europeans who work to live!

    Sam

    1. They’re mostly Chinese tourists on vacation, I think. And I suspect it’s because of the hype from “The Beach”. There are SO many nicer beaches (like Cat Ba in Vietnam) but everyone just mobbed that once because it’s the most famous one from the movie.

      I’ve heard so many good things about Hawaii…good thing it’s too far from China and Europe, so less likely to get mobbed to that extent. So you’ll be able to keep your private beach all to yourself (though, now that you mention it, I can’t help but look for it)

  10. Late to the party. (I really liked Peru, by the way. Haven’t been to any other parts of South America. Here’s a Waterloo SE grad who took a motorbike through South America: https://medium.com/the-long-way-out/about; definitely hardcore).

    I checked my records and I’ve been on that very rock that you’re standing in front of under “NANG CAVE”. Not sure which climb the guy is on but it is way hard. Harder than I can climb for sure. I futzed around with another climb to the guy’s left, and the climbs that are to the right of the picture (after the cave) are easy (I climbed those). The guidebook calls it “Pra-Nang Beach”.

    We were at Railay in September and it wasn’t so crowded, but it did rain. Still, I prefer Greece to Thailand for the climbing. Touristy parts are overrun by tourists.

    Am planning a trip to France in May. Shoulder season is awesome: is not very expensive at all for France.

    1. Very cool that you were there too!

      I guess it depends on where in Greece. Santorini was pretty crowded with tourists too, but Ios wasn’t. And I much as I love Greece, I love the food in SE Asia WAY more, so I’m more likely to go back to Asia than Greece.

      I’m trying to decide between Costa Rica and Panama, or Peru. You mentioned you like Peru …can you tell me where you went?

      Have fun in France!

    2. hmm, weird, I got an email about your reply but it vanished from the website. Presumably you’re not censoring yourself.

      Was in Kalymnos most of the time in Greece. Rhodes was much more crowded, yes. Didn’t make it to Santorini. There is definitely something to be said for SE Asian food, but European produce is still somehow better than Canadian produce. It does have less flavour than SE Asian food though.

      Can’t say anything about CR or Panama. But Peru: Was at the beginning of November. Centred around Cusco and Macchu Picchu (did the standard trek there). I liked the food in Peru a lot. Were also in Ollantaytambo and Lima briefly. Lima was OK but not as nice as Cusco. There was a super neat park in Lima with lights and fountains though.

      Oh yeah. Lots of llamas. People go around with baby llamas to put in your photos (for a modest fee).

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