Let us start by saying after living in SE Asia, you become a bit spoiled with beaches, especially since we had just been to the remote paradise of Koh Rong Sameleom. With that stipulation, to be honest, we did not care much for Southern Thailand’s Phuket region or Koh Lanta. So, read this post with that in mind…
I had been to Railay and Ko Phi Phi islands about five years before and it had been my first taste of Asia. And I FREAKING loved it. Knowing that there was sure to be development since then, I still thought it was a must for Adam to experience while we were living here (plus we got a ridiculously cheap flight, so why not?!) I had never been to Phuket but it was the frugle-est of routings and with my optimism that there are always diamonds in the rough, we went for it.
Let us start with the good things…. Old Town, Phuket!
Who knew this place was filled with so much charm? With the advice of a few good blogs (paperplanes blog), we hopped around to darling cafes and stayed in the cutest of cute Thai guesthouses. We loved Bookhemia. From the two older Thai gentlemen giddly looking over old vintage cameras they had found to the 100 Years of Solitude door opener it was the perfectly fun “thai” style cafe for green tea lattes.
We also loved this local food spot. It was right next to this cool street painting and the food was awesome. It was one of those places where you do a happy dance because you found 2$ food that is better than most $20 plates back in the states.
I should note that we started our trip at Cape Panwa. We did not want the crazy beach we had heard so much about and we opted for somewhere more off the beaten path. While it was very quiet and mellow, it was quite far and cost us about $30 for a cab ride from the airport. (The airport is a good distance from everything no matter where you are going so make sure to plan for this and see where your hotel is in reference to things. Cape Panwa is at the southern most tip of Phuket.) Our opinion is that it’s cool for a family, but not really worth the drive otherwise as the beach area is more of a bay than a ocean.
Most of our time though was spent in Koh Lanta. I had read that it was the more unspoiled islands of the area so we braved the 6 hour ferry ride over and committed to a week here. (Sidenote – they are just finishing a bridge to connect it to the mainland. It should be done in the next few months. This may bring more tourists here but also better commodities.) Once we finally got there after a 5 hour trip to Koh Phi Phi and 1.5 hour ride from Phi Phi to Lanta (the first boat wasnt bad at all – packed but had ac and could not feel the waves at all, the second boat which was an hour was pretty rough looking and was more of a locals boat), we grabbed a moto as quick as possible and jutted off to a pre-booked stay at Fisherman’s Cottage.
Dont get us wrong, while the place was adorable with bougainvillea perfectly placed over the little hatched roofs and outdoor showers, it was very basic (fans, no ac, cold water showers).We normally don’t complain about places like this but after a arduous travel day, it was a little disappointing. It felt a lot like the places we had stayed in Bali with a little less chic-ness. Like all long travel days, we threw our bags down, threw our suits on and ran into the ocean (the travellers shower). Considering it was pretty late already, after a bit, we grabbed some clothes and went for dinner. It was great because there are TONS of places right along the water. We walked barefoot down the beach, caught the sunset and settled on a random little bohemian shack for dinner. Food was just alright but the after dinner show was top notch. Like most SE Asian beach spots, they have perfected the cheap loungy areas where you can lay on the beach , drink cheap cold beers and be entertained. We watched a crazy fire show and I grabbed a 7 dollar massage.
Now again this probably just shows our Asian snobbery, but we found the beach at our place just okay. The coral around it had clearly been decimated and the shore was littered with it. Pros of FC – clean sheets, cute bungalows, down a little ways from the main tourist spot, good food and drinks, cool DJ’ed music at night. Cons – Not the most friendly of managers, no happy hour, basic and not the most comfy of seating.
We decided to find a “better” beach the next day. We hopped on the $6 a day moto and went over to Relax Bay near Layana Resort and Spa. It was exactly what we had in mind when we booked a trip to Southern Thailand – white sands and water so blingy it made our eyes squint. We snuck into a little resort next door to Layana (cuz Layana would not let us in after trying to convince them we would promise to split one of their expensive drinks in order to use their pool) and posted up at the beach in which there were a total of maybe two other couples around us. We played in the ocean and “sun bathed” which is the equivalent of a 20 minute, lay-30 minute water time dance you do in Asian heat. For lunch, we made our way down the beach and stumbled upon a cute little hippy yoga food spot.
We had YUMMY green and massaman curry! And I also couldnt resist a sprite and white wine spritzer. 😉 After lots more beach time, we eventually headed back to our place for showers and a nap. I grabbed a papaya salad from our place which is the ultimate chill thai food combo. Knocks you off your feet with spicy-ness but so so worth the burn and a perfectly balanced concoction when done right (which is everywhere in Thailand). After a margarita or two, we mosied down to the Greek Taverna which we had heard decent things about. We thought we would get something small and then go for Thai food. BUT, the slovaki was GINORMOUS. It was dicey for me to eat with all the Tzatiki sauce but I could not resist eating at least some of it. Kinda crazy but for a minute we thought we were on the coast of somewhere in eastern Europe. There were many Russian families enjoying the “home cooked” Greek food of a older beach blonde Russian women with gold chains whom was shouting orders and getting things done like the boss she was.
We ended the night with another fire show and talking about our plans for the next day. We both felt like we were ready for a change and decided to go further down the island the next day to check it out. As with most adventures, we were rewarded with a cute boutique hotel called Andalay on Klong Nin Beach. After transitioning to this spot and reserving a spot to snorkel at Koh Rok the next day, we lazed around a bit again, ran out of gas and got rescued by a bribed Thai man and enjoyed the perks of a more moderately priced accommodation.
We wanted some yummy fish and were happy to learn that the place right next door on the beach had a BBQ every night. I of course found a puppy which seems to happen literally every trip we take lately. I think it’s a sign. (hint hint ADAM! 😉 We chilled by the fire, watched another fire show, picked at our fish and had one-sided convos about how having a puppy in Cambo would be possible.
The next day, we set off early on a half day snorkeling trip. We had been assured that there would be no more than 15 people which really means 25 and that latter number turned out to be right. We packed in and bonded over naseua on the 1.25 hour trip out there. A bit bitter about feeling tricked and about how many tourists/boats were also joining us, the first jump in the water helped turn our ‘tudes around. We gazed about at cool fish and pointed to real life finding nemos. The second stop was the island. Despite our guide telling us lunch would be served soon, we immediately went left where no one else was going to see what part of the spoiled beach was left. As soon as we turned the bend, we were blown away.
As you can see we were SO happy to not be around people. Hehe. We played with the hundreds of little hermies and soaked up the goodness that was our own little sliver of private island for about 30 minutes.
After a yummy lunch (thai food is the BEST thing ever and that will never change no matter how many tourists surround you) and more time on the beach, we boated back to Lanta. We chatted with a lovely older Swedish couple in their late 60’s and laughed over broken English. Back at our place, we went on an adventure to find the magical smoothie place I had seen a flyer for at 7-eleven, Pure. It was closed and I was bummed but we tried again the next morning. Highly recommend this place if you have any bit of health nut in you!
Last but not least, we made the very long trip back to Phuket. Successfully not puking, we checked into a little guesthouse (I think it was called Phuket 346 – $30 a night) we had seen when we had first gotten there. It was as lovely as ever. We enjoyed one last night by eating Thai food with a older Canadian couple from Turtle Bay whom were both incredibly inspiring people and whom we both hope we grow up to be like one day. One worked in recreation, supporting canoe trip and connecting the community with the amazing environment around them and the other as a Social Worker who specialized in adoptions. They had two adopted children themselves and they exuded a humility and adventurous spirit Adam and I both immediately felt close to. Not to mention their search criteria for hotels was $40 and below. How badass is it to think of your parents going on a trip by themselves to SE Asia and that being the way they roll?!
Overall verdict was that Southern Thailand has long been “untouched” and while Koh Lanta still maintains its “Thai-ness” it has been infiltrated by the whole of Russia who wants a cheap place to stay during winter. And who can blame them? At times, this causes it to feel like a smorgasbord of confusion as to where you really are and if Phuket will be able to maintain it’s self-identity amidst the enticement of tourism. On the flip side, Old Town is worth checking out and staying in at least 1 night. It has a quiet charm and seems to have a whiff of new Thai hipness creeping in.
“They only see what the spotlights show them. When they go home home, they’ll say they know Paris. Tomorrow they’ll go and see the Mona Lisa and claim they’ve visited the Louvre. But they don’t know Paris and have never really been to the Louvre. All they did was go on a boat and look at a painting, one painting, instead of looking at a whole city and trying to find out what’s happening in it, visiting the bars, going down the streets that don’t appear in any of the tourist guides, and getting lost in order to find themselves again. It’s the difference between watching a porn movie and making love.” – Paulo C., The Zahir