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ANDAMAN COAST - advice on itinerary & transport

  • louzdelaluna

    Joined Travelfish
    12th November, 2013
    Posts: 6
    Total reviews: 2

    Hi!

    I'll be in Thailand for 15 days in December and would like to head south for some islands-hopping. I have several places in mind but don't know:
    a) How many to realistically choose for 15 days
    b) Which ones to choose (the best of course, which are?)
    c) How to connect them with affordable transportation options

    My constraints:
    > Have to leave from & go back to Bangkok for my international flights
    > Like to change place every 2 days & don't mind multiple bus rides
    > Want absolute tranquility & nature above all
    > Solo & budget traveller

    The places I have in mind:
    1 - Khao Sok National Park (Chiao Lan lake)
    2 - Surin Islands Marine National Park (Ko Surin Nuea? Via a agency?)
    3 - Similan Islands Marine National Park (Ko Similan aka #8? Via an agency?)
    4 - Ao Phang Nga Marine National Park (kayak tour?)
    5 - Kao Yao Noi or Yai
    6 - Trang Islands (Ko Ngai or Ko Lao Liang or Ko Sukorn)
    7 - Ko Tarutao

    Thank you very much in advance for your precious advice!

    #1 Posted: 13/11/2013 - 07:22

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  • LeonardCohe-
    n1

    Joined Travelfish
    24th July, 2012
    Posts: 2148
    Total reviews: 11

    Like to change place every 2 days & don't mind multiple bus rides
    > Want absolute tranquility & nature above all

    Peaceful bus rides? LOL

    3 places in 15 days is enough.

    Moving around costs money so if you are on a budget don't move so much.

    #2 Posted: 13/11/2013 - 08:16

  • DLuek

    TF writer
    Joined Travelfish
    19th June, 2008
    Location Thailand
    Posts: 871
    Total reviews: 14

    I agree with Leonard that three places in 15 days is enough. Maybe four.

    I'd choose either Ko Surin or Similans (personally I'd go with Ko Surin), but not both.

    So maybe something like this:

    Bus from Bangkok Sai Tai Mai to Khuraburi . Speedboat to Ko Surin. Camp there a couple nights.
    Then bus from Khuraburi to Khao Sok via Takua Pa (or direct via minibus from Khuraburi). Night or two in a rafthouse?
    Bus from Khao Sok to Phang Nga via Takua Pa. Go to Ao Phang Nga for kayaking.
    Then choose one or two of those last five islands to finish your trip. Ko Yao Yai or Noi would be the closest to Phang Nga, but it wouldn't be too difficult to bus it from Phang Nga to Trang and book a transfer direct from there to Ko Ngai, Ko Sukorn or Ko Tarutao. Ko Lao Liang I believe you need to contact the people there directly via their website and make arrangements first. All of the logistical info should be in the destination pages for these places here on Travelfish.

    All of those islands are good choices for tranquility / nature. But personally I'd go Ko Muk / Ko Kradan over Ko Ngai, which is a bit more built up now. But all three of those are close to one another - you could day trip from Muk to Kradan.

    #3 Posted: 13/11/2013 - 09:09

  • LeonardCohe-
    n1

    Joined Travelfish
    24th July, 2012
    Posts: 2148
    Total reviews: 11

    December is peak season which means high prices on islands. A decent room will set you back 1500-2000 baht. If you want cheaper you'll be looking at basic fan huts.

    Tigerline ferries would be the easiest for transport.

    Airports at Trang, Krabi and Phuket. If you fly into Trang you could go boat to Mook then boat to Lanta then boat again to Krabi then bus to Khao Sok and finish up in Phuket.

    http://tigerlinetravel.com/

    If you want more island time best to skip Khao Sok and do it another time.

    Maybe just book flight to Trang and a room on Mook to start. The rest work it out as you go. You can always change your mind and get a flight out of Krabi back to Bangkok.

    #4 Posted: 13/11/2013 - 20:43

  • DLuek

    TF writer
    Joined Travelfish
    19th June, 2008
    Location Thailand
    Posts: 871
    Total reviews: 14

    Good advice above. You could also start at Muk (or Ngai, or Lanta) and speedboat directly south to a fair selection of islands.
    This might help: Andaman Sea Island Hopper
    Exceptions are the Similans and Ko Surin, for which you'd have to go to the mainland and catch a speedboat from Khao Lak (for Similans) or Khuraburi (for Ko Surin). (You could also book a ticket to Similans from Phuket but that would just mean a minibus transfer from there to Khao Lak).
    I don't believe Tigerline stops at Ko Sukorn, though I think they do at Ko Libong. But you'd want to check on that as I'm not positive. In any case they would be the only ferry service that stops at them. Another island that's on most of the speedboat island hopping routes that you would also probably like is Ko Bulon Lae.

    #5 Posted: 13/11/2013 - 21:12

  • louzdelaluna

    Joined Travelfish
    12th November, 2013
    Posts: 6
    Total reviews: 2

    Thank you so much for your answers!

    Yes, I did realize that although I am a "hopper", that itinerary just isn't manageable. Just by "tranquility" I mean I prefer not crowded places. And Leonard Cohen, of course I agree and am thankful for your remark, but I happen to find bus rides "peaceful" indeed, as grazing through the landscape for hours somehow soothes my mind (30-hour journeys across India were a delight to me), confirming Bruce Chatwin's theory that man was born for motion.

    I have booked a roundtrip flight BKK-Krabi to gain some time (hope I did not make a mistake choosing Krabi).

    Some people have advised to me Surin rather than Similan, do you agree?

    And I was wondering indeed if I should not skip Khao Sok for this time; but on the other hand it would be nice to include a "non beach" destination. My understanding is that the place to see there is the lake - so is it really worthy it? (beauty is everywhere, I know)

    Finally, I would prefer eco-friendly & socially responsible options, for accommodation & activities (e.g. kayaking in Ao Phang Nga) so if you have recommendations, please kindly share.

    Thanks again!

    #6 Posted: 26/11/2013 - 20:02

  • tezza

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

    To answer some of the immediate questions above first:

    - Krabi is as good a fly-in as Phuket or Trang to base your trip on. It allows a circular route to take in most of your locations.

    - Surins vs Similans: my take is that the former has better snorkelling off the beach (although the coral and fish have been 3rd rate at both locations the past few years due to global warming), a nicer camping beach at the second (slightly further from arrivals) Ao Mai Ngam area, way fewer daytrippers, less expensive (but not inexpensive) and shorter (but not close) transfers from the mainland. Disadvantages - lack of treks, fewer adjacent islands to check and the big one for you, a more northerly location which is going to take more of your valuable time.

    - the lake at Khao Sok is great and for tranquility you can't beat the raft houses near sunset/early morning, but visiting the main National Park area alone is still good value. The problem with the lake is its about 40km east of the main NP bungalow area and is relatively difficult to access without organising transport/accommodation from the latter. I stayed a night at the NP area bungalows and then organised a 2 day/1 night visit to the lake from there last visit. Well worth the diversion from Khuruburi (ex Surins) to Krabi. But I have stayed several times in the NP bungalow area - to walk the jungle paths adjacent you really need two days minimum there.


    Now for your general itinerary:
    I'm always high on number of locations needed to visit and short on time and I've found a minimum of 2 days in any area can give a good idea if I'm very active and get around. Of course if you have longer, that's better.
    One of the main problems of a geographically stretched trip like yours is that you can waste the best part of a full day or more just getting from Ato B. Like one time I left Ko Ngai for Khao Lak (for the Similans). Got first longtail out of Ngai about 0900 Got a bus in Trang, changed buses at the security checkpoint mainland side of Phuket, got off bus in Khao Lak just on dark. By the way, the speedboat got me to the Similans about 1100 next day. That's near a day and a half.
    I really think you would find your trip much more manageable if you kept it either north or south of Phuket.

    If I was keeping south of Phuket:
    Land in Krabi, spend a couple of days at the beaches, book Tigerline to Ngai, Muk or Kradan (Sukorn is nice but too time consuming to reach - ditto Lao Liang). Tarutao is way too far south - will take too long to get there and back. From the Trang islands get Tigerline back to Krabi, book Green Planet speedboat out of Ao Nang to Yao Noi. From Yao Noi you will be able to organize a visit to the Pang Nga Bay islands including some kayaking. Back to Krabi either on Green Planet or the morning super-longtail ferry/songthaew.

    Keeping north of Phuket but including Phang Nga Bay (and maybe Yao Noi).
    Couple of days at Krabi beaches and then travellers' minibus to Khao Sok NP bungalows followed by maybe an overnighter at the lake (you can do a daytrip too which is good value). Public bus to Khao Lak where you can organize a few days at the Similans OR public buses to Khuriburi (change at Takua Pa) where you can organize a few days at Surins. From Khao Lak travellers' minibuses run to Krabi over direct good mountain roads - these go thru or near Phang Nga town - get them to drop you off at the bus station, go into Mr Keans tour office there and organize one of his Phang Nga Bay tours - he can include several hours of kayaking with one of the big commercial operators on demand. If you have time, there is a daily ferry goes from near Phang Nga town across to Yao Noi - I've never used this but Mr Kean will have details. Khuriburi to Phang Nga town - public bus to Takua Pa, direct bus across the mountains to Phang Nga town bus station. Phang Na town to Krabi - heaps of public buses passing thru the bus station.

    #7 Posted: 27/11/2013 - 05:27

  • tezza

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

    Um, I didn't mention bungalows at Surins and Similans. Mainly on account I think them overpriced. But the Similans seem to have a greater number and more appealing looking bungalows.
    Food in the canteens btw was expensive at both locations, not great taste wise at the Surins and dire at the Similans. But this can change yearly according to contractors.
    btw all Thai national parks have been dry for several years - take a bottle of that elcheapo Thai rum or similar.
    The bungalows at the Khao Sok NP area are actually just outside the National Park boundary - lots of cheap booze and heaps of competitive bungalow and specialist restaurants. Food at the raft houses was pretty nice and come to think of it, they had beer.

    #8 Posted: 27/11/2013 - 05:30

  • LeonardCohe-
    n1

    Joined Travelfish
    24th July, 2012
    Posts: 2148
    Total reviews: 11

    Global warming? The warmest year on record is 1998. Corals thrive in warm waters not cold so dont start that gw rubbish. Corals r affected by toxic waste run off and pollution.

    #9 Posted: 27/11/2013 - 05:44

  • tezza

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

    he he he he
    "Corals thrive in warm waters not cold"
    Yep, anytime soon i'm gonna wake up one morning and find a coral reef in front of my house. And I live at least 1000km south of the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Good times a-coming!


    But relax cool singer, Stewy has told us he doesn't want extraneous stuff introduced into the threads. So I'll simply say the Surins' and Similans' coral has suffered greatly in recent years from something and is in much worse condition than at north-east Malaysia which I visited in August. That area is down a bit on past conditions but way better than anything Thailand has - makes you wonder, with Pulau Kapas being only 7km off a much more intensively farmed mainland (are the Similans 40 or 60?).


    LOU - I haven't forgotten you.
    Problematic itineraries like yours are good in that they make me think, and I remembered some stuff from my many Krabi visits which could help save time in fitting in some of the places/activities you want to do.
    - Phang Nga Bay trips: trips into the southern Phang Nga Bay near Krabi are advertised all around the beaches and towns. I did one last July - to Ko Hong (the southern one; there are 2 Ko Hongs in the Bay) and a few nearby islands. It was good although not as enjoyable as Mr Kean's trip into the eastern and central-north islands out of Phang Nga town. But you don't have to waste time getting up there. While on the Ko Hong I noticed quite a few kayaks being used and no doubt one of the daytrip outfits could fit this in.
    - Kayaking: dedicated kayaking trips are also widely promoted around Krabi. The best of these I understand go into the mangrove areas of the southern bay. Now I found the mangroves on Mr Kean's trip as scenic/interesting as the karst islands further out in the bay.
    There are also lots of kayaks for hire on West Railay beach and Ao Nang . A lot of people paddle from West Railay around to Ton Sai (the climbers' beach) and the fantastically scenic Phra Nang beach. But quite a few stretch further and cross to Ko Poda and Hen and Chicken island which may be 4-5km off Railay. I even talked to one guy packing up a tent on a tiny island off Yao Noi who had paddled across from Ao Nang - but he looked a pro: about 5 pick-ax handles across the shoulders.


    btw a lot of the regulars here are probably rolling their eyes as they try to equate "tranquility" with the Krabi beaches. Yep, these sure get busy Dec thru March.
    But I reckon nothing would be more tranquil than paddling a kayak around those huge karst headlands between West Railay and Phra Nang. btw if you go out to Ko Poda the western end of the long curved beach away from the daytrip boats will be fairly quiet. Back at Railay, the whole place is pretty relaxed after about 1700 when the daytrippers go back to Ao Nang and Krabi town. I love grabbing a beer at one of bars with the sand mats and watching dusk come in, maybe sunset if the sun is at the right latitude (depends on time of year and I can't remember the December situation).
    During the day it's pretty tranquil up at Highland Restaurant and Bar (take the track from East Railay beach, follow the signs) checking the fabulous karst cliff amphitheater and listening to the gibbons hoot.
    And I find it pretty relaxing grabbing a beer at Ton Sai's Cimbers' Bar on the beach and watching the learner climbers on the very adjacent cliff face.

    #10 Posted: 27/11/2013 - 17:01

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  • louzdelaluna

    Joined Travelfish
    12th November, 2013
    Posts: 6
    Total reviews: 2

    tezza, your blog had already helped a great deal, but this tailored answer just is precious - thank you so much!

    leonard, you might want to have a look at this sometimes: http://www.ipcc.ch. Given the complexity of ecosystems and their dynamics, not always easy to clearly identify the cause (often several mutually influencing each other) of the phenomena affecting them, true; but the point is, man is behind most of those causes, and urgent action is needed, rather than endless polemics...
    thanks again to all for taking the time to provide advice

    #11 Posted: 27/11/2013 - 19:19

  • LeonardCohe-
    n1

    Joined Travelfish
    24th July, 2012
    Posts: 2148
    Total reviews: 11

    "man is behind most of those causes, and urgent action is needed, rather than endless polemics..."

    Sorry to burst your bubble but the IPCC has been discredited. 114 of their models totally wrong and only 3 slightly wrong. That's a woeful forecasting record.

    The idea that manmade Co2 which is a small % of the total is causing all this warming is simply bad science. In the last 15 years Co2 emissions from man has increased dramatically yet average temps increase are running at 0.05 per decade which is statistically insignificant.

    http://www.climatedepot.com/2013/08/05/new-paper-finds-climate-sensitivity-to-co2-is-73-less-than-claimed-by-ipcc/

    It's a common fact (amongst everyone who has knowledge in the area) that mild warming is more beneficial than harmful and more people die in the world due to cold conditions rather than heat.

    I suggest you educate yourself in this area instead of running with the mindless scare mongering GW nonsense.

    Do you not know that spending $1 trillion to reduce Co2 emissions will not make any difference to Temps?

    http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/realism-in-the-latest-ipcc-climate-report-by-bj-rn-lomborg

    Maybe we should try to alter this scenario. We should accept that there is global warming. But we should also accept that current policies are costly and have little upside. The European Union will pay $250 billion for its current climate policies each and every year for 87 years. For almost $20 trillion, temperatures by the end of the century will be reduced by a negligible 0.05ºC.
    Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/realism-in-the-latest-ipcc-climate-report-by-bj-rn-lomborg#qLMJlHc7SEeyHAKj.99

    There's a lot of ignorance out there. That's how the IPCC gets away with the gravy train.

    #12 Posted: 27/11/2013 - 19:50

  • LeonardCohe-
    n1

    Joined Travelfish
    24th July, 2012
    Posts: 2148
    Total reviews: 11

    "Yep, anytime soon i'm gonna wake up one morning and find a coral reef in front of my house. And I live at least 1000km south of the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Good times a-coming!"

    Are you going to live for 5,000 years?


    #13 Posted: 27/11/2013 - 19:51

  • LeonardCohe-
    n1

    Joined Travelfish
    24th July, 2012
    Posts: 2148
    Total reviews: 11

    And if you really believe that CO2 plant food is bad why are you flying around the world? Rather hypocritical.

    #14 Posted: 27/11/2013 - 19:53

  • LeonardCohe-
    n1

    Joined Travelfish
    24th July, 2012
    Posts: 2148
    Total reviews: 11

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/rare-diverse-corals-thrive-in-extreme-climate/5059920

    Coral reefs are thriving here.

    Why would that be? A bit of common sense says it's a quiet area with few visitors and without local pollution.

    Even the greeny biased ABC can't explaint it LOL

    The whole GW movement is collapsing even if the lefties can't see the light thru the trees.

    #15 Posted: 27/11/2013 - 19:57

  • LeonardCohe-
    n1

    Joined Travelfish
    24th July, 2012
    Posts: 2148
    Total reviews: 11

    http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_222710_en.html

    More thriving reefs.

    So much for the scare mongering.

    Disappearing reefs hey?

    More here:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/deep-water-coral-reefs-thriving-off-puerto-rico/

    LOL

    #16 Posted: 27/11/2013 - 20:03

  • LeonardCohe-
    n1

    Joined Travelfish
    24th July, 2012
    Posts: 2148
    Total reviews: 11

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/03/06/dr-roy-spencers-sea-surface-temperatures/

    No significant change in sea temps for 15 years.

    If some reefs are not doing well it's got nothing to do with make believe warming.

    #17 Posted: 27/11/2013 - 20:11

  • LeonardCohe-
    n1

    Joined Travelfish
    24th July, 2012
    Posts: 2148
    Total reviews: 11

    "Thailand's splendid diving spots could become a thing of the past as coral reefs, especially in the Gulf of Thailand, have been severely damaged by human activity."

    "While the coral numbers in the Andaman Sea are increasing by around 5% each year, no such growth has been seen in the Gulf," Mr Niphon said.

    So it's all those backpackers doing dive courses at Tao and all the boats. Nothing to do with GW.

    http://www.asiadivesite.com/news/thailand-140909.php

    #18 Posted: 27/11/2013 - 20:16

  • louzdelaluna

    Joined Travelfish
    12th November, 2013
    Posts: 6
    Total reviews: 2

    leonard, got your point, but i don't see the need to make it so aggressively... anyway i think we've gone off-topic here. thank you.

    #19 Posted: 28/11/2013 - 00:45

  • tezza

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

    Jeez Leonard, you take all the fun out of the future.
    Lady Tezza saw your stuff above and insists I dismantle the half-built ark in the back yard.

    #20 Posted: 28/11/2013 - 03:14

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