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Lessons from the Andaman Isles February 2007
31st December, 2006
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This short(not really) report will chronicle an epic journey made by 6 Americans(5 ladies and one guy) through the peninsula over Chinese New Year 2007. The beginning: We left our teaching jobs at an International School near Shanghai and flew to Shenzhen which is a city that abuts Hong Kong and Macau. We needed to fly out of Macau to take advantage of Air Asia's flights to Bangkok. Our second day we were planning to take a ferry from shenzhen to macua and then board our 2:00 flight for Bangkok.
However arriving at the ferry terminal we were told the company had cancelled the ferry and failed to tell us, yet had still allowed tickets to be bought via the internet. This could have been a sign of things to come, but as it was, it was efficiently handled by the ferry manager who transported us to a different ferry company across town where we were able to make the trip to Macua. However, b/c of the delay we arrived in macau about 30 minutes before we were to fly out to Bangkok. Thankfully the border formalities went very quickly and we also hailed a cab driver who must have been an F-1 driver in gambling retirement. We made it to the airport in time and were on the way to Bangkok.
Lesson one in Bangkok- If there is a line, people are standing there for a reason, dont let yourself be pulled out. Referring to the Taxi queue outside the airport. We arrived 2 and a half hours before our train was to leave for surat thani, and I expected it to be a close connection, but we found the traffic on the highway to be very smooth, even at 5 in the afternoon and made it to the train station in less than 40 minutes.
We took the non airconditioned second class train to surat thani that night. It felt like we were standing on the equator as the train departed however it cooled down as the night went on and I actually found myself cold by morning, then I was thankful I was not in an airconditioned car. We assumed the lights would be turned off at some point, but they never were, FYI for light sleepers on those trains, bring a mask.
At surat thani, we again expected a close connection at Krabi for the ferry to Ko Phi Phi and on account of the size of our group, we decided to take a private minivan to Krabi to make it on time. I feel like we would have made it taking the regular bus, but there was no way to know. It took the minivan about an hour and a half, so we were there about 45 minutes early and the ferry ended up leaving 30 minutes late. When we arrived we did almost miss the ferry b/c we were told the price had gone up and the lady that took us did not know that, they squeezed another thousand baht out of our group, and we learned another good lesson. Pay for trips one segment at a time.
We arrived at Phi Phi on the day of a large fire, which was amazing and saddening to see. We met our longtail boat driver Koko who is like the godfather of what seems to be a good part of the longtail community and works closely with Ao Toh Ko resort where we stayed. Later in the week, whenever I needed something I would just find Koko, tell him and he'd make a few calls and get me a driver doing exactly what we wanted, fishing, snorkeling or whatever. The resort was everything it was billed to be and more. While we did have to deal with mice and ants and less than comfortable bathroom situations, I cant imagine a more idyllic and laid back spot. It is what you make of it. The snorkeling was great off the beach and it was never crowded, always room in the restaurant(right on the beach) and very helpful staff.
A few other tips for Ko Phi Phi. Beware if you go to monkey beach! We kayaked there one day and bought some bananas to feed the monkeys. They quickly stole or were given all of the bananas, yet in my quest to get one good picture with the monkeys I knelt down next to them not once but twice. The second time, out of apparent frustration with the lack of food, one monkey jumped on my leg while another jumped on my arm and mistaking it for a banana--took a good bite.
The health center on Ko Phi Phi is actually quite nice, although not the cheapest(comparatively) and I recommend it if you are in need. I received the first of 5 rabies shots there.
Secondly, beware of restaurants that serve food from more than 5 continents. We went to one such restaurant and 5 of the 6 of us paid the price the next day.
One more recommendation--Do not go scuba diving if you feel you might throw up(see above). No matter what you see, sharks, gold or whales, you will only be thinking of holding your stomach in as you take your next breath of compressed air and praying that your air tank will go down rapidly so the dive can end.
All in all though, depending a little on where you stay, I can not imagine an island vacation could be possilby any better than what we were able to do on Ko Phi Phi, almost based on shear beauty alone.
While we were all sick, after my dive, we took the ferry to ko lanta and not being in the mood to shop around too the first resort hawk that came after us and stayed at the Lanta Family Resort. The rooms and bathrooms were more up to date than Ao Toh Ko and the set up was pleasant enough. We were on Khlong Dao beach which reveals several hundred feet of rocks at low tide but seems peaceful and not too crowded at high tide. All of the resorts along that stretch are similar, and there are some that we would have preferred but could not find availability.
Ko Lanta definitely has a different feel from Ko Phi Phi but not in a bad way. Being a bigger island you can get more of a feel of actually being in a foreign country and not just a tourist destination. Renting motorscooters was a lot of fun as was elephant trekking to a cave. Although the cave part of it was fairly short and nothing too out of the ordinary, walking through the jungle was a cool experience. I recommend riding on the head/neck of the elephant if given the chance, not the most comfortable, especially if you are a guy but not something to forget either.
On the subject of motorbikes, take the time to travel to the less populated east side of the island and you will see local life slightly seperated from tourism and also have some fantastic views as you cross over the viewpoint. What you dont want to do is try to go far south on the motorbike. Once you reach the dirt road stop. And if you have less experienced female or even male(to be fair) drivers, double up on a bike instead of letting them take their own.
We ran into some trouble on the dirt road, we only crossed the first 2 or 3 very steep hills but there are pot holes and patches of thick sand like you wouldnt believe scattered around and it was very difficult to control the bike. People in cars were having a great deal of trouble as well.
A couple of locals flew past us stirring up dust which caused two of the girls I was with to lose control and fall off. They were going slow enough to not be hurt but the bikes were full of sand. This is when I come in, trying to help get the bike out of the softest sand ever felt and I decided to turn it on but not sit on it just push it/ let if move under its own power holding the handle bars. Not a good idea, always sit on the bike if the engines running. I started to lose it going down the slope and not realizing my hand was still slightly depressing the gas on the grip as I was pressing the brakes, it ripped out of my hand and flew into the air before crashing to the ground.
The bikes still ran, the one just suffered a slight crack in the back plastic and we had a heck of time convincing the rental place that they were not going to fix it anyway b/c no one would notice and they were trying to charge us too much for the repairs. That was important because by this time with my rabies shots and now bike repairs, my planned budget was long out the window.
From there the trip took a more normal course, we caught bus and van connections through to Penang in Malaysia, then down to Kuala Lumpur and finally to Singapore for a day.
All in all, despite a few misadventures, it was a great trip, everthing positive that is said or written about Thailand is generally true. Friendly people, good food and there are still many things a budget traveler can do, that could not be done anywhere else in the world.
#1 Posted: 25/3/2007 - 11:08
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