Islands and beaches….yep, that pretty much sums up 2 weeks! We were lucky enough to be able to explore 3 of Thailand’s popular islands and although the weather was not quite in our favour, we still made the best of it. The first island we went to after leaving Krabi was Ko Samui; with the cutest airport ever. Once the plane landed, a shuttle came to pick us up and we were dropped off at these bamboo huts with fans in the ceiling. Everything was open air and there were more plants and flowers in the airport than what we see on our walks to work. Ok, that might be an exaggeration, but you get the picture. We stayed at this hotel called Ark Bar, which was basically one big party on the beach. Music was playing almost the entire day and there were copious amounts of young people dancing and drinking their days and nights away. Even with so many people at this resort, it was actually quite easy to find chairs on the beach and join in with the obnoxious crowd. Cheap booze and good music is hard to say no to. Don’t get me wrong though; there definitely were certain times when we needed the quiet and cool environment of our hotel rooms, simply to get away from the debauchery that was Ark Bar. When these times arose we reverted back there to play some cards and continued our trip long card playing tournament. Even though it seemed like a dance party day in and day out, one Friday night there was an “actual” celebration. It was crazy. People were milling about everywhere, there was a DJ with a live saxophone player and they even had fire dancers performing amazing stunts. It was hard to know just what to look at. What was even more amazing, the fire dancers asked the two girls we were travelling with if they wanted to hula hoop with them while they were performing. The glow in the dark hoops looked amazing and the girls did a great job dancing with the music. All in all, a fun place to stay and party. However, if we go back we may find a more quiet and relaxing hotel…Or not!
Ko Samui was the perfect amount of busy. There were people walking along the streets as usual, taxis honking to try to get some money and street food vendors at every corner, but you could walk down little side streets to find yourself immersed in the local life. It was a nice mix of loud and quiet.
We were able to rent scoots again, this time without the drama! We travelled around the island to places Sean had been before, so we knew exactly where to go. We visited a temple (Wat Khunaram) in which a mummified monk is sitting in a meditative pose inside a glass coffin. He sat there with sunglasses covering his face where his eyes would have been and was draped in an orange sarong. He has been sitting there since his death in 1973. I (Lindsay) was slightly disappointed because Sean had told me that when he was here last, he had an opportunity to be blessed by a monk. This was something I have always wanted to do. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the monk was no longer at this particular temple, or maybe wasn’t there that day. It was still quite amazing to see a temple like this and to see a real person preserved so well for so long.
The rest of the day we spent scooting around the south, west and north part of the island, stopping at waterfalls, and places like Fisherman’s Pier and Big Buddha beach. The temple Wat Phra Yai sits towering above Big Buddha beach and the rest of the island. This temple as many stairs that must be conquered before reaping the benefits that lie on top. Sitting at the top is a Gold Buddha standing 15 meters tall, shining in the bright sun with endless views of the tropical sea and sky just beyond. As we walked around the temple, we noticed that there were many tiles sitting around for the roof. Each one of them had names of people, where they were from and what year they had visited. We quickly figured out that people paid money to write on these tiles, which they were re-using to retile the entire roof. Forever (well, at least for a very long time) your name would be part of this Buddhist temple. The only problem was that the tiles were still sitting in piles on the floor, not in nice patterns on the roof! What an amazing place to visit though.
After scooting around Ko Samui and listening to music non-stop, we travelled by ferry to our next island destination, Ko Pha-Ngan. For those of you who don’t know, this is the place where the infamous “Full Moon Party” is held, but we’ll get to that in a minute. We have to explain this ferry ride first because it was stomach churning. The weather was quite poor and it had started to rain just before we loaded our bags onto the ferry. The waves were a little choppy on the shore but it didn’t look too bad as we started our supposed 45 minute journey to this little island. Once we passed the safety of Ko Samui and ventured into the Gulf of Thailand, we were hit by the ferocity of this storm. Rain was pounding down on the ferry, which by the way, had minimal railings on both sides, so one wrong step and you are forever with the ocean. The boat was tossing and turning from side to side. We were all being jarred each time a wave hit the front of the boat. There were people puking into garbage cans, if they could make it, and if you stood up, heaven forbid it, there was no way you were moving anywhere unless you had a strong grasp on something to keep your balance. If you’ve ever watched “Deadliest Catch” when the huge storms come in and the waves are crashing over the sides onto the deck while the crew is trying to fish, this is what it felt like. The waves never actually made it to our deck, but there was one wave that rolled the ferry so far that people’s luggage came undone and almost slid right into the water. So after about 1.5 hrs we rolled into the harbour, a little shook up, but no worse for wear. Quite an experience to say the least.
So, once we finally made it to the little island, we spent the next two days here. Two very rainy days. As we mentioned before, this is the Full Moon Party beach and during the week before and the day or two after the full moon, this place is out of control. It’s like Ark Bar, the hotel we stayed at in Ko Samui, but with way more people, way more bars, way more alcohol and way louder music. We had decided that we were not going to head there for a full moon party as in order to stay on the busy beaches you need to book a hotel for an entire week; an entire week for one night. We figured that we would rather see other parts of Thailand and give up the full moon party. We quickly realized that in between each full moon party, the island is basically deserted. There literally were only a handful of tourists at Haadrin Beach. This was actually a very bizarre feeling, having a beach that has parties upwards of 30,000 people all to ourselves. It had a sense of calm, tranquility and was actually quite relaxing. The quiet was something we needed after Ark Bar.
We had timed our trip, without even really knowing it, during Songkran, or Thai New Year. Songkran is basically a week full of festivities that includes buckets filled with water, hoses, balloons and most commonly, the water guns. Locals and tourists both participate in this celebration in which getting soaked and trying to soak others is the main intent. In Thailand, Songkran is the washing away of ones bad luck and sins to make way for a new year filled with joy and happiness. It is actually disrespectful to get angry or upset if someone gets you wet, so if you’re going outside, you’d better be ready!
We thought that Ko Pha-Ngan island would be busy because it was known for its parties and rambunctiousness and Songkran would be a perfect time to celebrate and party. However, as mentioned earlier, we were a little disappointed, as the beach was almost empty that night except for one bar that was packed to the brim with the small amount of tourists that were on Haadrin. It was also raining so that might have put a damper on things a little. However, we were still able to participate in some festivities during the day. As we were sitting eating lunch in a restaurant, the corner was occupied by a group of locals with buckets of water and hoses galore. Every time a scooter passed by or someone tried to walk along the street, they would unleash the fury. They soaked absolutely everybody, even getting it on themselves and dumping water on each other’s heads. We decided that we might as well jump right in and experience the New Year the way the locals do. Finishing lunch, we ran out into the street with arms wide open, egging on the locals. We. Were. Drenched. Head to toe, not a body part was spared from the water! And so, we were cleansed of our bad luck (oh wait, Sean doesn’t have any!) to make way for a prosperous new year. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of 2013.
Our two day rainy trip to this little island was over and we were on to our next adventure in Phuket. We stayed on Patong beach, which Sean says was much busier than he remembered. It was like a mini Bangkok with a beach! Like every place in Thailand, souvenir stores, street food and tuk tuks were everywhere. We discovered our love for an amazing dessert, banana pancakes (mine was pineapple because banana’s = gross) and explored as much as we could while the weather permitted. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and rainy for 4 of the 5 days there. Not the way we planned to spend our island and beach time. We decided in the beginning of the trip that we were going to do the cliché trip to Ko Phi Phi where they filmed “The Beach”. How could we possibly pass up a trip to walk where Leonardo DiCaprio once stepped? We booked the trip the day before and were told we would be picked up at 7am. The day we booked it, I (Lindsay) got super sick and pretty much was up all night, told the other two girls in the morning that I couldn’t make it and tried to go back to sleep. I was very upset that I wasn’t able to enjoy this day with the others and that I had lost out on a bunch of cash, no refunds in Thailand. When I finally woke up later that day, I found out that the boat had actually cancelled because it was raining too much and the waves were too large. The girls didn’t even leave the hotel. The company had rebooked us for the next day and once again, we got our hopes up for an amazing day.
We woke up that morning and the grey clouds were covering the sky again. We waited in the lobby; the van picked us up and drove us to the other side of the island. As we were listening to our guide about the day’s itinerary, it started to pour. This was a torrential downpour and it was so loud we couldn’t even hear the guide speaking with a blow horn as we sat just meters away from him. It lasted about 10 minutes and stopped briefly enough for us to load the boats. It was going to be a wet day, but as least we were getting to see the places we wanted to see. As we were driving to “The Beach” beach (Phi Phi Leh), it was almost as if the sky was parting. One side was miserable and cloudy; the other was filled with blue sky and the odd white fluffy cloud. From then on, the day was perfect. Once we reached the island and we held our breath as the scenery took hold of us. The crystal clear water, the soaring cliffs, the white beach sand; it was everything we had expected and more. And yes, we walked the same path as Leo did…maybe I should have stolen some of that sand? As there was tour boats lining the shore and tourists crammed every which way, it was not a completely peaceful place but we enjoyed every minute we had there. Beautiful and stunning. Especially with the sun shining down on us, the sun that we hadn’t seen in three days.
We spent the whole day boating from island to little island, stopping to see the Viking Cave, Monkey Beach (some man gave a monkey a full can of Heineken, the monkey cracked it open and chugged it back like it was water, which he probably thought it was…poor monkey), Phi Phi Don (where the wave of the tsunami in 2004 cleared the middle of the island making it two separate islands for a few days) and a small tiny island that jutted out into the ocean. Each place we stayed for less than an hour, but they were all interesting in their own way. This was one of the best “girl days” I’ve ever had and I think my company would agree on that. What a great way to end our time in Phuket and the Thai islands.
We now split off into our own groups, some of our travel mates are heading to Malaysia, some are going home and we are off to Singapore. Thailand, you’ve given us some amazing memories and each one of us will be back to visit you in the near future, I’m sure of it. Goodbye for now.