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Overwhelmed with Island Choices!!

  • AprilJef

    Joined Travelfish
    8th July, 2012
    Posts: 13

    Hello fellow fishes,

    My boyfriend and I are planning our first trip to SE Asia and think we've figured out most of our itinerary save for the end where we would like to hit up some beaches and chill and relax.
    We'll be arriving in Bangkok Dec 25th and after un-jet lagging and checking out Bangkok for 4 nights our plan is to take the overnight train into Laos and do the Vientaine/VV/ Luang Prabang route over 10 days. We have a coworker friend who is Lao and we'll be meeting up with him for the Vientaine/VV portion and then we'll head on to LP for probably 5 of the 10 days.
    We'll fly back to at least Bangkok to save on travel time and this is where I need help with the rest of the plan. Another friend lives in Pattaya and has invited us to hang out with him for a few days, and dispite the bad press it gets, my boyfriend and I are not offended (and perhaps even a bit titillatied) about the scene and feel that spending time with our friend would be worth the trip. So the thought is maybe that's where we head for once we fly back into Thailand, but probably only spend 3 nights there and then we still have 10 days left until we have to be back in Bangkok for our flight home.
    And that's where I get overwhelmed.
    Overnight train down to Krabi and Ko Lanta?
    Flight to Ko Samui and over to Ko Phangan? Phuket And Ko Phi Phi?
    Stick to the Eastern Coast and head towards Ko Chang and Trat?
    Save Pattaya for the very end and suck it up and do a massive day of flying straight from Luang Prabang to the southern islands?
    We are trying to avoid flying as much as possible and don't mind overnight trains (or at least we think we don't!)
    Also 10 days, should we pick 2 spots? One place and do day trips?
    We're into relaxing and swimming, nothing too adventuous, but not so secluded we feel like there's nothing to do. Our budget is what I'd call "healthy flashpacker" and we're hoping that by opting for cheaper accoms early in the trip in Laos we can have a few days of over the top splurging here at the end. That may be why I'm thinking 2 spots. One to have a medium accom and hang out then one to just blow the budget for a few nights at the end.
    Thanks so much in advance for any help you can give!!

    #1 Posted: 1/11/2012 - 16:50

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  • altmtl

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    You seem to have this pretty thought out, so basically I only have an issue with this "Flight to Ko Samui and over to Ko Phangan? Phuket And Ko Phi Phi?"
    Just Chill and pick one coast or the other and don't move so much. A beach is a beach.

    #2 Posted: 1/11/2012 - 19:17

  • tezza

    Joined Travelfish
    13th April, 2006
    Posts: 1291
    Total reviews: 61

    I've always thought the eastern Gulf islands lack nothing compared to the southern Gulf/Andaman. So unless you dearly want to see one of the latter you will save yourself quite a lot of travelling by sticking to the east.
    With that amount of time, definitely choose more than one location.
    One option is to spend time on Ko Samet on the way over to the big Ko Chang group.
    Another is to pick a beach on big Ko Chang (which has one to suit everyone) and then jump the speedboat/slowboat from Bang Bao to one of the islands further south. Super laid back Ko Wai, least attractive for many but still nice Ko Mak and fabulous Ko Kut which is kinda like big Chang 15 years ago.
    Or you could give big Chang a miss and simply select two of the others.

    #3 Posted: 1/11/2012 - 19:52

  • AprilJef

    Joined Travelfish
    8th July, 2012
    Posts: 13

    Thanks you two! I'm relieved to hear the sentiments of atlmtl that a beach is a beach.. A lot of my fellow canadian travellers go south and rave about it so I didn't want to miss out but I'm glad to hear remarks like Tezza's as I've been looking more into Ko Chang and Ko Samet and it definitely would be easier on the travelling time and budget to stick to the east coast.

    Which still leaves me about a dozen islands but at least I'm narrowing it down! :)

    A little off topic now but should I shave a few beach days to pad earlier in the trip? I was thinking of checking out Ayutthaya on the way out on the night train but perhaps I'm rushing and should stay a night... Or more time in Vientainne and/or VV? I realize to each his own but I appreciate any opinions!

    #4 Posted: 1/11/2012 - 23:52

  • altmtl

    Click here to learn more about altmtl
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    Ayutthaya you can do as a day trip from BK, but you can also stay a night. I was in Laos in Feb. for a month. I'd shave days off Vientiane and maybe even skip VV altogether. I suggest Kong Lor Cave instead. My next trip I plan to check out some of the Cambodian Islands :)

    #5 Posted: 2/11/2012 - 09:24

  • altmtl

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    Unfortunately, I'm not fond of the sand flies on Koh Mak. :)

    #6 Posted: 2/11/2012 - 09:29

  • AprilJef

    Joined Travelfish
    8th July, 2012
    Posts: 13

    Yes I was thinking of just heading to Ayutthaya on the early train and spending the day there before catching the overnight train on the way to Laos. I guess we can decide how we're feeling once in Bangkok, if we're getting overwhelmed with the big city we could always head to Ayutthaya the night prior and spend a night there.
    Skipping VV isn't an option as that's where my friend lives and is the whole point of heading to Laos. That said I realize we don't need to spend a lot of time there and since our plan is to meet up in Vientaine and then head to VV with him so if you're thinking you would shave off days there then I guess no need to add any days, I'll keep it as is. I'm more excited about Luang Prabang.
    The way the dates work out I'd be hitting up Ko Samet on a weekend which I hear is when it gets busy with the Bangkok weekenders so I'm leaning towards heading right to Ko Chang from Pattaya and then checking out the islands from there.
    Tezza would you suggest staying in Ko Chang as a base and day tripping to the smaller islands? Or spending nights on some of the smaller islands as well?
    Thanks!

    #7 Posted: 2/11/2012 - 12:02

  • altmtl

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    A lot of people do day trips to Ko Wai (I stayed there a week) from Koh Chang. There should be an island hopping tour, but I wasn't interested, so I didn't check out the prices.

    #8 Posted: 2/11/2012 - 14:38

  • tezza

    Joined Travelfish
    13th April, 2006
    Posts: 1291
    Total reviews: 61

    I'm a great fan of staying a night or two on any island but I'm thinking the daytrips that takein Wai and a few other smaller islands in that area that apparently have quite good snorkelling may not be a bad option.
    When I was on Kut last Febrruary there were lots of speedboats coming in from Chang and the mainland - many of them packed with Russians which can be good value if you like people watching. But I think the speedboat daytrips may be expensive and I'm not sure what other islands they take in (I did see some stopping an hour or so at lovely little Ko Kham just off Ko Mak earlier in my trip).
    So the issue of daytrips is down to personal preference - what they cover vs costs + time available to actually go and stay a few nights.

    altml's comment re sandflies on Mak reminds me that last visit was the first in 4 that the little buggars got me.

    btw - Kut is not a small island. It's almost as big as big Chang. And way nicer. Once again there is a beach for every type of traveller - with maybe the exception of party animals. Although laid back Ao Klong Hin down south was putting on a disco for overnighting speedbaoat guests when I stayed on the adjacent beach.

    ----"not so secluded we feel like there's nothing to do. Our budget is what I'd call "healthy flashpacker" and we're hoping that by opting for cheaper accoms early in the trip in Laos we can have a few days of over the top splurging here at the end"----
    Maybe you could do some research on Ao Ban Chao/Jao on Kut which has everything from backpacker/flashpacker with cool balconies over the water up the river a bit from the main road bridge to midrange and high end joints down on the beach - Lady Tezza and I stayed at one of these, Peter Pan Resort which also has some good value flashpacker type bungalows, out choice naturally. There are a handful of shops and restaurants in the village to add some interest.
    On big Chang several beaches will do your wants - around Lonely Beach is one area. Lonely Beach itself has a big range of places these days and plenty of restaurants/bars/shops/interesting people to keep things from being boring. There is a need for many travellers to select a place far enough from the party noise. 10 minutes walk south is the quieter Bai Lan which also has plenty of accommodation etc. The Lonely Beach/Bai Lan area is fairly close to the pier at Bang Bao for the boats south. Not that other beaches are out in this respect - the boats run shuttle vans to the pier. It's a hell of a long trip from say White Sand Beach, but one way to see all the west coast I suppose.
    Note that a slow boat does a daytrip out of White Sand Beach too. And speedboats leave Kai Bea midway down the west coast - those boats at Ko Kham had Kai Bea Speedboat on them so maybe you could google to see what is on offer. Kai Bea is a pretty nice beach btw.
    Jeez, that reminds me, Siam Resort on Long Beach last I checked had a speedboat connection to their resort on Ao Bang Bao on Kut, which is arguably the nicest bay on the island. Probably enough other places there now for variety and not too far into Klong Chao. Both Siam Resorts had some budget/flashpacker rooms last I looked but the ones at Lonely Beach on Chang are mostly near a very steep hill on the busy main coastal road, could be noisy.

    I do think it is a good idea to give Samet a miss on a weekend unless you pre-book.

    #9 Posted: 2/11/2012 - 18:20

  • altmtl

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    I agree, cut Samet and slow down :)

    #10 Posted: 2/11/2012 - 23:45

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  • AprilJef

    Joined Travelfish
    8th July, 2012
    Posts: 13

    Thanks again!
    Yes slow down has been my mantra for this trip planning, and although I'm sure some people think we're still going crazy fast we started thinking we'd hit up Cambodia and Vietnam as well, not to mention Chiang Mai and the southern thai islands! Haha, thanks to this web site we hope we've found a better pace, but it's still good advice to remember.

    So Tezza I get the feeling we should think Ko Chang for a bit of night life and action, then head to Ko Kut for more seclusion and pampering. We're not much for packaged day trips just to see other islands so like you we would probably stay over. We do all-inclusives in Cuba and Mexico and have our fill of day trips with the masses to snorkel or boat trips. This trip we're more keen on getting out on our own and doing things at our own pace. Not saying we don't like resorts, but by the end of the trip we'll probably enjoy sleep, sand and sun over more day trips.

    So we are thinking 4 nights in Ko Chang and then 4 nights in Ko Kut with a chance to see Ko Mak by taking the slow boat there and have a couple hour layover before heading to Ko Kut via speedboat.

    Then we can head back to Bangkok and still have the next day back in Bangkok to do last minute shopping before heading home on an early morning flight following day.

    #11 Posted: 4/11/2012 - 10:52

  • tezza

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 1291
    Total reviews: 61

    ---"So we are thinking 4 nights in Ko Chang and then 4 nights in Ko Kut with a chance to see Ko Mak by taking the slow boat there and have a couple hour layover before heading to Ko Kut via speedboat."----


    Sounds a good plan to me. Thing about the slowboat is that it also calls in at at least two of the three piers at Wai, so you get a close-up of that nice little place too.
    And last time I took the slow boat-speedboat combo to Kut the speedboat left from a different Mak pier on the south side of the island (the slowboat comes into the northern pier - well not right in if the tide is at its lowest, you are shuttled from offshore to the pier by smaller boats) and an inclusive pickup shuttled me across the island between piers, giving a kinda mini-island tour. Note boat arrangements change all the time so this may not be the case this season.
    The speedboat into Kut can be good value too if there are passengers heading for different resorts - you get a close up of a variety of beaches etc which you may decide to visit on a hire-moto later. Kut used to have horrendous unpaved roads (so bad I often turned my hire-mountain bicycle around rather than risk a stack up on a steep rutted downhill brake-locker) but in February last year all the extensive main roads and quite a few of the side roads were paved. It's a good island to tour also from the point of view of very little traffic.

    #12 Posted: 4/11/2012 - 16:37

  • tezza

    Joined Travelfish
    13th April, 2006
    Posts: 1291
    Total reviews: 61

    You may be a cyclist - if so, hiring a bicycle to check out within say 10km each side of Ban Chao (Jao) is fine, the hills are not too bad and the distances will not kill you. There are certainly some nice beaches and a pretty good waterfall within this zone. But if you want to go right down to the south east of the island and to the north east, the hills get more taxing and the distances involved add to the effort - Kut is a big island. Nothing a super keen cyclist will find too tough, but for the average person a bit hard.

    #13 Posted: 4/11/2012 - 16:46

  • Nokka

    Joined Travelfish
    6th April, 2009
    Location United Kingdom
    Posts: 259

    You mentioned a splurge at the end maybe. Well, you may like Shantaa on Ko Kut - not a lot to do in the evenings there, so not a place to go for too long. But for a couple of nights Shantaa is a fabulous place to unwind at a price which, for what you get, is reasonable.

    #14 Posted: 5/11/2012 - 05:26

  • AprilJef

    Joined Travelfish
    8th July, 2012
    Posts: 13

    Thanks Nokka, I've been in touch with Shantaa and they've offered me a "sweet'' for 3900 baht for two with breakfast if I stay the 4 nights, otherwise it's 5000 baht per night. If we opt for a more party beach in Ko Chang this might be a great option to have some real R&R at the end of the vacation. I see tripadvisor has it as their #1 hotel in Kut, but does that price seem high for a 2 star? Agoda has Captain Hook Resort 'mini pool villa' for 4836 baht and maybe I'm just a sucker for the chance at a private pool (Jef's not a big ocean swimmer) no matter how small the pool as this would be totally out of my budget any other place. Can anyone comment on Captain Hook Resort? And what's with all the Hotels with Peter Pan references anyways? Are they all owned by the same person? I can't afford the 30000 baht luxury resorts, but I'm not adverse to paying up to 5000-6000 baht if it's something unique.

    Tezza I wouldn't say we're cyclists per say, however in Jef's youth he was a pro and I'm not that out of shape that I couldn't handle a little biking. Sounds like a nice way to see some of the sights of Ko Chang. Jef is all for motorbike rentals, but as a virgin biker I'm a little worried about how well I could drive. Maybe a silly question but can you put two on a bike? How busy are the roads around Ko Chang and Ko Kut?
    Thanks everyone!

    #15 Posted: 8/11/2012 - 10:35

  • tezza

    Joined Travelfish
    13th April, 2006
    Posts: 1291
    Total reviews: 61

    Captain Hook is a real neat looking resort at the mouth of Klong Yai Kee in the northern half of the east coast. The problem is access - it is ACROSS THE RIVER MOUTH from the rather nice beach up there. No doubt the resort shuttles guests across on demand.
    And as far as I could see there is no road access - I saw a longtail shuttle some tourists to a pier about 500m up the klong where a songheaw was waiting to take them elsewhere on the island. I also saw a Captain Hook speedboat tied to Peter Pan Resort's pier down at Ao Klong Chao - so that would be another way of letting guests see the island.

    There IS a tie up with these fairytale names - Peter Pan, Tinkerbell just down the beach and Captain Hook seem to be sister resorts. I have stayed at Neverland way down south on Ao Jark - it is downmarket and much longer established than the others, run by a family. No connection as far as I could see. But maybe a trendsetter in names.
    btw - Agoda booking site's maps STILL have Peter Pan and Tinkerbell on the wrong beach - Captain Hook's Ao Klong Yai rather than Ao Klong Chao further south.

    Shantaa is a bit further south of Captain Hook, located on a lovely little beach beside the loooong pier at Ao Taphao. When I called in there were several guests snorkelling the crystal clear water off the beach - the underwater rocks are real nice here, look like they would have a bit of fringing coral and plenty of fishies. If Shantaa guests want a longer stretch of beach they simply walk the sand under the pier - the beach continues for at least a km south. There is one other resort Cabana about 400m down there. From memory there is another budget resort back behind the pier and maybe a small shop or two. For more variety, it is about a 1km fairly flat walk into the island's biggest town - the administrative center of Ban Hin Dam. This aint big and not touristy but it does give more choice in eating and shops. It's another 4km or so down to Ban Klong Chao - I remember a couple of hills but no killers if you are bicycling.
    As a point of interest, the express boat to Laem Sok south east of Trat leaves from the end of Taphao pier - this is a quick way to get back to Trat on departure - tickets include songthaew shuttle from Laem Sok into Trat. There were a couple of fishing boats up the end of the pier - it is so long that noise would not be a problem if they come back in early morning.

    For the record I think both Captain Hook and Shantaa are lovely looking resorts and I would personally stay in both - but the latter definitely is better for access to the beach and outside.

    Ko Chang roads tend to be quite busy. Ko Kut roads are the opposite. Both have sealed surfaces for the most part - in March last year Kut's surfaces were in better condition, probably because they are more recently sealed and used far less. But Chang's surfaces were not bad.
    For the record I am a novice motorcyclists yet Lady Tezza who is very averse to risk-taking has been on the back around the Krabi area (busy) and Kuta Lombok (pretty quiet but often terrible roads). I don't find the motos difficult to ride two-up unless the roads are very rough or the surface soft sand. They are a doddle to ride one-up - automatic clutch and gearbox.

    #16 Posted: 8/11/2012 - 17:20

  • Nokka

    Joined Travelfish
    6th April, 2009
    Location United Kingdom
    Posts: 259

    I wouldn't get too hung up about Shantaa having 2 stars. The star system has always seemed a nonsense to me and is more about whether a hotel has a pool or lift rather than if its actually just a nice place to stay.

    Tezza sums up the place pretty well. The bungalows there are very nicely done. There is a nice beach (no pool) with a beach bar and the long beach beyond the pier has nobody on it. The resort is spacious and there are lots of places to sit quietly on your own, or at the beach we found the other guests very friendly. The restaurant is good and the food not expensive. The staff are wonderful and the place scores highly on the little extras you get - for example every time you sit in a communal area a glass of iced water is brought to you within seconds; kayaks are available free, as are bikes for exploring the nearby area. The roads are almost traffic free. An area with more facilities is not too far away.

    We don't usually stay in the more expensive places. We stayed at Shantaa 2 nights earlier this year after spending time in Isaan and were very impressed by its very understated style. It's number 1 on Tripadviser for a reason - I'd say if you're happy with very limited nightlife for a few days its difficult to beat.

    #17 Posted: 9/11/2012 - 04:35

  • AprilJef

    Joined Travelfish
    8th July, 2012
    Posts: 13

    Thanks Nokka, I think I need to stop second guessing myself and just book Shantaa. After all, I've never seen a place anywhere that has nothing but pages and pages of good reviews on trip advisor. There's always someone that's mad about something, but that doesn't seem to be the case with Shantaa!
    I also have to keep reminding myself that this is where we'll be at the end of our trip, and although right now I'm worried there's not much to do there, THAT IS THE POINT, and I'm sure I'll be thanking myself that I'm someplace where I can rest and relax and not feel like I'm missing out on sights or adventures or the general "go go go" of a big city or more touristy location. Perhaps it's the curse of the westerner, but I find it hard to allow myself to 'do nothing' especially when I'm travelling. But I'm really going to work in it this trip!
    Tezza thanks for the reassurace about the motorbike! Sounds like in Ko Kut I should be able to brave a ride around the island to see the waterfalls and whatnot.

    #18 Posted: 9/11/2012 - 12:31

  • Nokka

    Joined Travelfish
    6th April, 2009
    Location United Kingdom
    Posts: 259

    Actually I think you'll find there's a reasonable amount of things to do there. Some people kayaked up to the waterfall, you can swim and snorkel, take the bikes - all free. You can get a massage in a very quiet place at the resort down next to the sea, but away from the beach. The beach area usually had a few people around on it, but never seemed crowded - plus people actually spoke to each other there. The walk under the pier and down the beach was always deserted. There are also other resorts and the little village not too far away.

    Its nightlife that is missing. We were there 2 nights and then moved on to Ko Mak, which though not exactly buzzing did have a few bars and busier places to eat. We ate both nights at Shantaa and it is very nice there. I think, though, if we'd stayed longer we'd have had to go out and try other places - just to explore a little, to see different faces, if you understand me. I got the feeling that most guests don't bother ever leaving though - and to a degree I can understand why. Some places of this type ratchet up the prices of everything you buy - drinks, food etc - at Shantaa prices remained reasonable. More expensive than outside, I'm sure, but very reasonable all the same.

    We stayed in a villa which was cheaper than a sweet. Most guests I spoke to considered the sweets unnecessary - the villa is fine.

    #19 Posted: 10/11/2012 - 08:46

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