Images of southern Thailand and its many islands are what shaped my idea of what this country would be like in the lead up to our trip. Photos of clear blue water and pristine beaches with towering limestone formations and colourful long tail boats were what I was picturing when we left Greece for Thailand. So when we arrived in Bangkok and then travelled north to mountainous jungle I was a bit disappointed we hadn't gone south straight away.
It's been a while since our last post so I'll remind you; we were in Pai in the north of Thailand and were booked to stay the next two weeks in the south, over 1500km away.
We left Pai at 8am, in a minivan, taking all 762 bends back down the mountain to Chiang Mai. We had two main choices of how to continue from Chiang Mai to Krabi; by train or by plane. The former would have required two sleeper trains and taken up the best part of three days whereas the latter took just over an hour. We decided that it was worth paying a little more each to just fly, it only worked out about £40 more expensive and it saved us from possibly having to book a night in Chiang Mai or Bangkok in-between sleeper trains.
Once we'd made it to Chiang Mai we had to get from the bus station to the airport. We could simply take a taxi or a tuk tuk, but we like doing things the awkward way so I spent a while researching and found a great site about public transport around Chiang Mai which was the only source of information about buses. We found the public bus stop without much hassle (turn left and walk toward the road once the minivan from Pai drops you off and you'll see a load of short buses parked up). Once we were on and the driver had waited as long as he was happy to we set off toward the airport (we hoped).
After a seriously bumpy bus ride we finally arrived at Chiang Mai airport. We had to queue and go through security screening to even enter the airport – we've not come across this before. We'd arrived several hours ahead of our flight time and so had some time to kill before we departed which we filled with food (I surprised Nikki with some macarons) and reading.
After our 90 minute flight, for which we waited just under three hours, we were met with a barrage of taxi drivers, tuk tuk drivers and seemingly everyone within a mile radius of the airport. With only vague online information to work from we found the ticket counter for the airport bus to Ao Nang. Admittedly it did say 'airport bus' or something above it but it gave no indication that it was the 'official' one I'd found online.
With no explanation and an unfamiliar sense of urgency we were taken to the bus and found our seats. The whole process was a shock to both of us, having spent almost two weeks in Chiang Mai and Pai, which are chilled and very chilled respectively. It was only once we'd sat down, seen that we weren't the only people of the bus and were under way that we both relaxed a little. I relaxed even more after speaking to a nice Belgian guy who was on his second visit to Ao Nang within a few weeks, which highlighted two things; we were on the correct bus and Ao Nang, at least to this guy, is pretty good. He also served as a reassurance when part way through the journey we stopped at a bus depot and people started getting off in droves. With no explanation at all from the bus driver I vaguely remembered reading something online about some passengers having to swap buses but couldn't remember if that included us or not, but the Belgian guy stayed sat down so so did we!
After just under an hour we were dropped off by our hotel, apparently. We couldn't see it and it was dark. We crossed the road and walked down toward the beach to find it, walking about 200 meters before deciding it couldn't be that far from where we thought. We turned around and walked back up to opposite where we'd been dropped off. We looked up the hill, away from the beach, and saw our hotel meters away from where we'd been dropped off! The sign was hidden behind a tree and invisible from where we'd been dropped off.
We checked in, dumped our bags and went off in search of food. While we ate we looked around, people watched and came to the conclusion that we were both a bit shocked with how busy and 'touristy' Ao Nang was, having come straight from Pai which is set in the jungle and up a mountain.
We got our bill and the surprise continued; the south, or at least Ao Nang, was almost twice as expensive as Pai and Chiang Mai!
Despite the noise and busyness outside we were still operating on Pai time so we got up super late and enjoyed a very nice lie in on a super comfy bed before going out for breakfast. We got very nice, if very expensive, 'breakfast bowls' from 8.98 café. We walked the few hundred meters from there down to the beach before heading back to our room where I promptly fell asleep while Nikki read.
We went back out just before sunset and headed down to the beach to watch the sun go down. We walked back up toward our hotel and stopped for dinner at Tandoori Nights, an Indian restaurant, on the way. We did our best to avoid all the various people on the street offering us massages and ensuring us their food was very good.
Tonight was our last night at The Nine Hotel because we couldn't decide on what we were going to do in the south. So we booked one more night at another hotel in Ao Nang to give us time to think about where we wanted to go.
Wherever we went we wanted it to be quieter. Both literally and less busy. We could hear the bars until 1am and very loud motorbikes revving up and down the road outside our hotel.
We checked out and got breakfast, Nikki went with a trip favourite; french toast. I had to combine two separate dishes to get my meal; scrambled egg and toast with jam. Who orders a plate of just scrambled egg I'm not sure but it left me with some jam that I didn't want, which I used anyway and had scrambled egg and jam on toast!
We sat by the beach with our bags for an hour because we couldn't check into our next hotel straight away so we people watched instead. On the way up to our hotel we bought a ticket for a minivan to Koh Lanta, having decided that was our next destination.
We checked in to the Ao Nang Eco Inn and dropped off our bags and went back out to go and explore the beach. We spent a couple of hours on the beach, having walked all the way along it to scout for good spots to take photos of the sunset. At around 5pm we went to get my camera from the hotel and walked back to the beach at a spot I'd seen earlier in the afternoon. I walked around for a bit to find the best spot, deciding on two places depending on how the clouds progressed and where the colour was going to be in the sky. As the sun dipped lower I set up my tripod on an X I'd marked in the sand and waited for the colour in the sky to get stronger. Nikki was standing about 20 meters away with my bag and I went to get something out of it and turned round to see another photographer setting up near my tripod. I could see that he had a wide angle lens on and that I was probably going to be in his shot. I thought I'd be polite and ask if I was in his way, in case he'd picked out his spot earlier only to find me there now. I tried in vain to explain what I was asking forgetting that while most people can speak English not everyone does. Eventually we understood each other and he said I was ok. I was definitely still in his photo though.
I took a few shots from my initial spot and then moved a few times as the clouds shifted and I picked out more interesting perspectives. I really enjoyed being out specifically with the intention to take photos again.
We ate in the same Indian restaurant for dinner and I asked for something off-menu (Chicken Dhansak but with black lentils, or Daal Makhani but with chicken), which they provided without issue. It wasn't as good as the butter chicken I'd had the night before but it was still tasty. I'm very picky about Indian food, having worked in a very good Indian restaurant but I really recommend Tandoori Nights in Ao Nang, if you're in the area!
Tonight was our last night in Ao Nang and while our time here was good we were both happy to be moving on to somewhere that would hopefully be a little quieter.
A quick breakfast of cereal bars in our hotel room meant we were downstairs and waiting for our minivan to Koh Lanta 10 minutes early. The minivan to Koh Lanta arrived 30 minutes late.
This inevitably put Nikki in a bad mood before we even got on it. When it did arrive we squeezed though a small gap the existing passengers made for us and found our seats. We drove for an hour or so and we both felt like we weren't going in the direction we should be. It became clear we weren't when we turned off the road and pulled up to what looked like some kind of mini depot. Once again with little to no explanation everyone got off the minivan and was herded inside and told to produce our tickets. Our minivan drove off while we gave our hotel name to a woman behind a counter. We took our cue from other people already at the 'depot' and sat and waited.
Half an hour later another minivan turned up and the driver got out and shouted something that vaguely sounded like our accommodation so we got up and other staff pointed to us and the van. We got on our second minivan of the day and continued our journey to Koh Lanta, despite Google Maps telling us that by this time we should already be there.
Without a word of explanation (a common theme in Thailand, you get used to it) our new driver took us on a detour to buy scooter parts and took his time to consider whether he wanted it in red or yellow. Then to a random building by a bus station where he went inside for about 30 seconds then came back out. Eventually we looped back around to level with where we started and headed in the direction of Koh Lanta.
We made good progress once the detour was over and made it to the ferry which took about 10 minutes to cross the channel between the mainland and Koh Lanta. From there we drove a circuitous route along very bumpy roads to drop off other passengers. We both bounced out of our seats several times! We were certainly getting what we'd asked for; Koh Lanta was quiet and the roads hinted that it wasn't very developed.
Eventually it was just me and Nikki so the driver told us to sit in the first row of seats and asked where our accommodation was as he'd never heard of it. We didn't know! All we had was a poor quality offline Google map and a vague guess at the actual location of the bamboo hut we'd booked.
Surprisingly between the three of us we found it and me and Nikki walked up to see our new home. Unimpressed and a bit worried were Nikki's first impressions as we were shown our bamboo hut (a real one this time, no concrete walls). The warning to keep the door and windows securely closed when we went out to stop monkeys coming in did little to reassure her.
We both felt slightly out of our depth, having come from a rather plush hotel in the middle of a well developed town to a bamboo hut along a very pot holed road at the southern and most undeveloped end of an already quiet island. We went out to get food and I reassured Nikki that if it was really that bad we would just move.
Dinner was a lovely panang curry for me and a very spicy yellow curry for Nikki provided by Bobby Big Boy, a short walk from our bamboo hut. The owner, Bobby, welcomed us warmly, gave us a 10% discount and a free dessert – yay!
We went back to our bamboo hut and fell asleep to the sound of the jungle around us and unsure how long we'd be staying.
We might have fallen asleep to the soothing, if sometimes worrying, sounds of the jungle but we awoke at 5am to the nearby mosque blaring out prayers.
We both fell back asleep though and when we did finally get up at about 11am we headed straight down to Richey Bar and got breakfast. Nikki ate granola and I had pancakes while we sat watching the sea. It was an amazing location to eat breakfast!
A stroll to the end of the beach worked off our breakfast and got us thirsty so we stopped at Majestic bar for cocktails.
We walked along the beach for a few hundred meters before popping into Horizon Bar and getting another cocktail each as well as some chips. We stayed for a couple of hours before going out for dinner. At the restaurant we were shown to a table upstairs and the floor in front of the top step bowed as you placed your foot on it and the rest of the structure felt like it would topple over at any moment. We ate quickly and left, silently grateful that buildings in England have to meet building regs!
In the evening Nikki mentioned she'd like to make some changes to our blog layout so we mocked up some ideas and planned to spend Friday back at Horizon Bar to make the changes.
I'd researched a place to have breakfast but found it closed, so we never got to try the food at Shanti Shanti and instead went straight to the Horizon Bar and got lunch instead.
We stayed there for most of the day, with me in a hammock working on the blog and Nikki alternating between a hanging chair beside me and the beach. I found it fun to be doing a bit of coding again, if only for the afternoon.
The Horizon Bar is easily the most relaxed bar/restaurant I've ever been to. The 'staff' just mill around napping, playing the guitar or painting Golem from Lord Of The Rings on the wall. If you wanted something they were there to get it but otherwise they'd leave you completely alone and just do their own thing, whatever that may be.
I'm not normally a bar kind of guy but I could easily spend all day at this place. Horizon is an apt name for the place; it's so laid back it's horizontal. A comment (compliment) I've received in the past.
Once the changes to the blog were live I put the laptop away and got out my camera, ready to take some sunset photos. We strolled down the beach and I eyed up potential shots as we went. I found something I thought would work and spent a while setting up my tripod and estimating settings. As the sun got lower I could see my shot wasn't going to materialise so I packed up the tripod, took a few quick shots from other angles and we went off to get dinner.
We stopped on the way as the colours intensified to take a few photos of the two of us, as requested by one of our friends.
We went to Bobby Big Boy again and followed up our first night with another great set of meals.
Unfortunately when we got back Nikki felt quite ill, though we don't think it was because of the food but rather the sun and the heat.
Once again we'd found somewhere online that we wanted to get breakfast from, Nikki found a place called Pure just down the road. But we arrived outside to see the shutter down and a sign saying 'closed on Saturdays'! If Nikki wasn't already in a less than great mood she was now. She said we'd just eat at the next place and so we both had a disappointing and quite long awaited banana pancake.
We continued our energetic week by going back to the hut so that Nikki could lay down and nap as she still wasn't feeling great. While I started writing this blog post and messaged my mum (hi mum).
I managed to coax Nikki out of bed with the promise of food, at first she said she wasn't going to eat and I immediately knew she really wasn't feeling great. In the end we both went back to Bobby Big Boy and had another nice meal and free dessert.
We'll start with the good news for Sunday; Pure was open. We had a very Instagram-worthy breakfast in a very Instagram-worthy setting.
The day went downhill, or rather downhill then uphill then downhill again, from there. We'd decided the we wanted to go the national park at the southern tip of the island but as we don't have a scooter licence and therefore decided not to rent a scooter we're limited to either getting a tuk tuk/taxi everywhere or walking. So we started walking in the direction of the national park despite knowing it was about 7 miles away in the hope we'd find a tuk tuk to pick us up. We'd been beeped at and shouted at by tuk tuk drivers every other day so far so we thought it wouldn't be long until we found one or one found us.
We were wrong.
Nobody beeped at us, hassled us or even stopped when I tried waving at him to stop. The only time we've wanted a lift and no one was willing to give us one. After quite a while we saw a sign saying 'taxi' so we stopped and asked but the price they gave us was way more than we expected. So we continued to walk, for an hour, sweating everywhere until we finally decided 'fuck this for a laugh' and we turned round. Not before getting my camera splashed by a rogue wave on a small beach we found though.
We stopped on the way back to get lunch at Richey's beach bar and to buy some cleaning wipes to get the salt water off my camera. Then it was back to the hut to rest and think about what to do instead.
Sometimes having the whole day to do whatever you want, every day, can be a bit overwhelming and you struggle to think of anything to do. This was one of those days. Instead of going to the national park we slept in our hut for a few hours before it got too stuffy and we had to get back out. We decided to go for a walk as we'd never been further than a few hundred meters down the road to the right of where we were staying (we'd been left plenty of times).
We walked past Bobby Big Boy and into unexplored territory. We took a random turn off the main road (I say main road lightly) and soon lost the bars and restaurants which gave way to family homes and farmland. We didn't get very far before Nikki felt uncomfortable about being away from the main road and we turned around.
We ate in a random little place which, if it had a name I can't remember it, and the prices were like those we had got used to in north Thailand.
We decided to treat ourselves and have breakfast at Pure again. When we got there and sat down the woman we assume to be the owner/co-owner came up to give us our menus and thanked us for our lovely Instagram photo from Sunday and that she had cried when she saw it!
This morning we had breakfast at a very instagram worthy place called @purekohlanta, it looked like a page out of a style guide and the food looked like it was out of an advert from a healthy living magazine. Sure beats the breakfast of chips from McDonalds we had at Madrid airport when we first started our trip! What’s the best and worst breakfast you’ve had while you’re travelling? • Josh | #thailand #travel #instagramworthy #breakfastbowl #eathealthy #howmuchfruitcanyoufitinabowl #healthylifestyle #healthyfood #howdoyousayacai #kohlanta #vegetarian #wholefoods
It's weird eating the contents of a smoothie in a bowl, with a spoon but it works. They're super filling and very tasty, no wonder they're so popular at the moment.
We went back to our bamboo hut to pack and checkout ready to move to the north of the island. We went to find a tuk tuk and found a guy just outside who was only half ready to take passengers; he didn't have a top on and only did his flies up after his wife shouted at him that they were still undone.
Soon though and with a fully dressed driver we were on our way to Twin Bay Resort and looking forward to having some proper walls and a pool!
We asked to be dropped off at Saladan pier as it was the closest specific point we could name and we couldn't check in to the hotel yet so wanted to explore for a while when we got there. It took a very bumpy 45 minute journey to reach Saladan pier, where we were expecting to be dropped off in the car park or somewhere nearby and not driven right up to the ticket counter, which is what happened. Cue an awkward and confusing conversation between us, the ticket counter staff and our driver when we explain we're not getting a ferry but staying on the island, at a hotel over 2km away. At which point the ticket counter staff say something in Thai to the tuk tuk driver evidently to the effect of 'why have you dropped them off here then you idiot?' and the guy looks confused and sheepish and encourages us to get back on and he'll take us straight to the hotel. I don't think walking is a thing in Thailand, just as it definitely wasn't a thing in Greece.
We did walk though, after another confused look from our driver, in the direction of our hotel. After walking down a dead end road and watching crabs scuttle around the beach for a while we got back on track and walked through town and out the other side to our hotel.
As we got closer to our hotel we could see the Tsunami escape route posts increase in distance and the land either side of us narrow and give way to water both sides of the road.
The hotel certainly lived up to it's name of 'Twin Bay', with one bay just over the road on one side and the beach on the other side reaching right up to the hotel pool. We couldn't believe that we could afford to stay somewhere in a location like this!
We went to check in, knowing that we were still too early and initially they said our room was available but after a bit of faffage and an apology we spent an hour waiting on the beach.
Once we were checked in we did our usual thing of napping for a bit before heading back out to see what our new home had in store. We strolled down the huge beach and got a very early dinner at about 4pm on the way back.
We got back super early and didn't fancy heading back out so searched Netflix for something to watch and settled on Grace and Frankie.
Breakfast, pool, lunch, pool, dinner.
That sums up Tuesday. We had breakfast at the hotel and then went straight to the pool area to relax for a few hours and tried sitting on each others shoulders and generally behaving like children in the pool. We walked along the beach to find somewhere for lunch and then went back to the pool to swim, nap and read some more. We only left again at dinner time.
Nikki had found a place for dinner on Trip Advisor but as had often happened so far we found it closed. Instead we had dinner at the Fat Monkey, a very posh (to us) place with mood lighting and the sound of water trickling in the background. I crossed another cocktail off my maybe list; dark & stormy. It was the most expensive meal we'd had so far in Thailand at 1105B (about £26) but that included two mains, two cocktails and a dessert.
We walked back along a now very dark beach and watched more Netflix and also looked into prices for renting a camper van/rv in America for which we both found wildly different prices and might have got a little snappy with each other.
We were worried while eating our breakfast that there wouldn't be any sun loungers free when we'd finished eating. Luckily though after we changed and came back out there were some free (phew) and we settled in for another morning of swimming, reading and napping.
After we'd got lunch at a restaurant along the beach we decided to rent a paddle board (just under £5 for an hour) from a random shop with a few boards outside and had a go at SUPing. It was tricky to paddle and stay in a straight line, I think it would have been easier to try on a lake rather than in the sea with waves, albeit small ones.
We took turns to paddle around and see how long we could avoid falling in for. After half an hour we'd both had enough and I went to give the board back and see if we could swap to a surf board. The guy looked confused and asked if we were finished already but I asked to swap and given we were his only customers he didn't care.
As soon as I put the surf board on the water I knew the stability offered by the paddle board was in a different league. I was definitely not going to be standing up on this one.
Half an hour later we'd both fallen in lots and failed, unsurprisingly, to stand up. But we'd had loads of fun and definitely got our fiver's worth.
I went out in the evening to take some photos of the lights across the bay and could see some lightning in the distance so I stayed out a little longer and took many photos, trying to time it right to capture the lightning.
Today was the cremation of the Thai King and so a lot of places were closed and things were generally pretty quiet. That didn't stop our hotel blaring out dance music all day while we were by the pool though which felt a little incongruous.
While a lot of places weren't serving alcohol we had drinks by the pool bought for us (three each!) by a happy Norwegian guy called Bjørn.
After our drinks I took some photos of Nikki in the pool before a storm rolled in, so we sheltered in the restaurant area and decided we might as well have lunch while we were there.
We had dinner at the hotel as well, to round off our super adventurous day!
Waffles for breakfast is always a good way to start the day. Which we followed with another morning by the pool.
In the evening we got a tuk tuk to the main road and had dinner at The Fat Monkey again and managed to find a cocktail that I liked! We walked back to the hotel after eating and managed to get to the room seconds before it started absolutely pouring down.
Our last day in Thailand. As we were packing up and getting ready to check out we heard the lock click and the room to our door opened to reveal a very shocked looking member of staff hastily apologising and closing the door again, evidently she thought we'd already checked out!
We eventually did checkout and went down the beach to get lunch as our minivan off Koh Lanta wasn't due to pick us up until later in the afternoon.
A restaurant that had been busy the night before doesn't necessarily guarantee good food, as we unfortunately found out for our last meal in Thailand. After a bland noodle dish each we went back to the hotel to play cards and wait to be picked up.
We had extra cash, having found it tricky to estimate quite how much we'd need so we got a couple of milkshakes followed by a couple of milkshakes with Baileys (mmmmmm).
Finally the minivan arrived, in the middle of a downpour and we hustled onto it, not before seeing the rear door slam worryingly onto my bag.
We made it to Krabi airport in one piece, as did everything in my bag, and we waited a few hours for our flight to Bangkok.
At Bangkok airport we ate at Burger King, that truly authentic Thai restaurant. In reality it was about midnight and it was one of the few places open ahead of our 6am flight to Bali.
Once we left Ao Nang and arrived on Koh Lanta we both grew to like the south of Thailand more, we'd been initially put off by how loud and how full of tourists (we know we're tourists too) Ao Nang was. Koh Lanta provided the more relaxed atmosphere we'd got used to in Chiang Mai and Pai. The only downside being the increase in prices, but that's to be expected as it's more easily accessible by tourists than the north.
Our last few days in Thailand came around quickly and we left wishing we could have stayed longer but at the same time we were glad to be going somewhere new.