I couldn’t get a bus from Khao Lak to Bangkok one night late this January. So I went to Plan B and jumped a 2nd class to Ranong to revisit Ko Phayam. Pretty good Plan B.
Kiwi Guesthouse adjacent the bus-station at Ranong is a nice quiet clean place with slightly exxy rooms (250baht), cheap internet, good food and new friendly/efficient local management - just the thing when you bail out of a bus past midnight.
They gave me a 50baht lift to the pier next morning for the horrendously slow ferry out to Phayam - with a lot of mucking around offloading passengers and stuff at the southern beach on little Ko Chang this crate took almost 3 hours to go the 30 odd km.
At 150 baht this aint no value trip. Add the fact that the seats are uncomfortable wooden slabs and cheapskate tezza had no reluctance to make the return trip on the speedboat which now goes right to Ranong rather than the pier significantly further down the coast - about 30minutes for 350 baht.
Last trip I stayed on the nice south-west beach, Ao Yai so this time I decided the other main bungalow area, Ao Kao Kwai (aka Buffalo Bay) in the north-west was the go.
Reviews of Khao Kwai Hill Bungalows suggested it could be my sort of place so I jumped on one of the motorcycle taxis at the pier and we set a course of 45degrees west of north.
Wow, what a nice setting! Buffalo Bay actually has 2 beach sections separated by a small hilly promontory and Khoa Kwai Hill Bungalows is built on this hillside overlooking the sea with direct access to the southern beach.
I walked into the open sided tiled and wood beamed restaurant perched on the edge of the cliff about 15 meters above the rocks and was pretty impressed by the tree filtered views out to the big Burmese islands and back down the southern beach.
But I noticed they only have 8 bungalows dispersed up the hillside - hope there’s a vacancy. No problems, I can have my pick of 5!! - all are trad style wood and tiled roof jobs with concrete and tiled bathrooms, clean, good condition and reasonably spacious. 3 are actually perched on the cliff-side like the restaurant, but those are already taken. I’m thinking okay, these are the sort of places I used to pay 300-350 just a few years back in other places, would be 600-1000 on Phi Phi right now - bet they’re 400+ even here on quiet Phayam. Nope, the guy tells me 200!!!! Ummm, well, sure I might just take one - how long? Well at prices like this more a couple of days.
I usually don’t waste a lot of time hanging around my accommodation, but I gotta admit I did like spending time in KKHB’s restaurant. You got those tree filtered maritime views. Nice vibe. Very quiet with the nearest longtail waaay out going across the bay mouth, and no nearby road. Good food. Prices towards low side of normal budget restaurants - small Changs 30b. Service quick and friendly. English not great except for owner, but everything gets done. Great hammocks out near the apex of the point, looking back on south Buffalo Bay, perfect place for a swing or five-hundred with the obligatory bottle of Maehkong.
Get tired of that, walk down the very good concrete stairs to south Buffalo beach - nice expanse of sand, hardly any people even at peak beach time, water not too shallow even at low tide to swim laps not that far off the beach.
To get to North Buffalo you have to wait for low tide for an easy walk across the rock platform* which separates the two, but once there, more of the same. Two sections of beach of equal appeal.
* this walk looks a bit intimidating when you approach - like 400m of rock-hopping. But once into it, you see that 90% is sand between the rocks - easy street trendsetters!!
I was kinda interested in these walks and my later bicycle tours of all the island's tracks and beaches to see what occupancy was like, on account my last visit was in March shoulder season, this one in late Jan peak (not PEAK PEAK which is Christmas/New Year).
Well it was busier, but not busy. The only places that seemed to be maybe approaching capacity were Bamboo Bungalow and Coconut Beach on Ao Yai.
Places that were maybe over 50% were Long Beach Bungalows*** (Ao Yai) and Vujits (Buffalo south).
There were nice looking places like Mr Gao, Janson’s and Sai Tong on Buffalo north; Buffalo Bay Vacation Club and Payam Cabana (both more mid-range) all with only a handful of people hanging around, the adjacent beach virtually deserted and heaps of bungalows with no towels, sarongs or washing on the verandas.
I despaired for places like Silver Sand (Ao Yai) and Arjan Pan (Buffalo north) which seemed deserted - I hope they haven’t gone broke thru lack of patronage.
*** Lots of good places to stay on Phayam, but for younger travellers wanting the old style rustic bamboo wall-thatch roof bungalows fronting the beach, you could do worse than Long Beach Bungalows. Seemed to be a fair few groovers hanging at this place. Its position at the far north end of Ao Yai makes it less accessible to town etc than a lot of joints, but this is probably an attraction to the cool types. The beach is nice all along here.
For people wanting a slightly more upmarket version, Bamboo Bungalows in the centre of the beach fits the bill.
So what else?
Okay, had to have the obligatory visit or two to Oscar’s Bar, run by expat Brit Richard, who I noticed seemed to have an new off-sider this trip.
Not a bad place to spend an afternoon (or later) hour or two - turn right off the ferry pier and walk maybe 100m. As was the case last trip, the place had a mixture of all-nations travellers from young ferals as we call them in Oz (you maybe call ‘em hippies) to older long-term travellers and expats. More than one expat bungalow owner seems to like to call in. Plus the usual handful of mature-age Brits both singles and couples who are always good value with their funny stories and irreverent attitude to things in general. Which sums up host Richard pretty well.
Richard always has some red-wine available for which tezza, starting to suffer withdrawal symptoms from the absence of Chateau Cardboard cheap Oz red paintstripper, does not hesitate to pay a whole 70baht.
And bicycle touring. Last trip I found hire-bicycles way scarce - this time they were available from a restaurant-internet place about 30m past Oscars, from the speedboat booking joint 30m up the main road inland from the pier and from a general store on the concrete road on the way down to Ao Yai not far from the cross-roads near town (and the turn-off for the track into Khao Yai Bungalows).
I got me an 8obaht fer 24hours one - hey for once I didn’t have to do the usual mini rebuild - only problem was it had a big click when pedalling, the result I figured of the main-bracket bearing having never been adjusted. Hell, the chain looked like it hadn’t received a lick of oil since it left the factory.
Anyway, I much preferred touring the island on a pushie compared to the motorcycle last visit - I’m not a real experienced motorcylist but I’ve done heaps of bicycling, so super rough sections and steep hills don’t throw me. Well sometimes steep hills do throw me - literally. But not too often. Not that Phayam has too much real steep stuff. And I reckon you can’t beat a bicycle for cruising a beach at low tide. So I managed to do just about every bit of track and most of the beaches on Phayam, including some I missed last trip.
I have got a fair bit more on Phayam including a map and some purty photos on this site - http://tezzasthaiinfo.blogspot.com/2006/12/ko-phayam.html