Thai Islands: Book It or Bust

So much of the success of our trip was riding on our stop in Thailand. If you’ve kept up on my previous blog entries (if not, well why the hell aren’t you??) you’d know that I dubbed TWO of the four destinations a bust, which is not a very good ratio. I was banking on the fact that Thailand would meet my dreamy expectations of being a beautiful, cultured, backpackers paradise.

Come on Thailand, don’t let me down like Bali did!

Originally, the plan was to stay about a week and then finish our trip with 5 days in Beijing, China, but Air Asia cancelled our flight to Beijing forcing us to either spend MORE days in China or more days in Thailand. The choice was easy so we tacked on some extra days in what I hoped to be a magical Thai paradise.

I’ve decided to split this blog into two for a couple of reasons – one being we visited two very different areas of Thailand; the islands outside of Phuket and up north in Chiang Mai. I have a lot to stay about this country and our experience, along with recommendations because we learned some lessons the hard way and know that it’s a popular place to travel, so I want to make sure I hit all the main points!

Our Experience.

We kicked off our trip on Phuket, were we only spent an afternoon and one night as it was mainly just a stop over to catch our boat to the islands. Prior to this trip, I had the perception that Phuket was “the” place to go in Thailand. Boy was I wrong.

While I certainly did not travel to all corners of the island (it took about 1 hour plus to get from the airport on the north tip, to our hotel on the south tip) my impression of what I DID see what very crowded, dirty and far from quaint. We did not make it out to any beaches and stayed near the old town area, so in all fairness, I do not have an accurate idea of the area. From my research though, there are many beautiful hotels and resorts here for VERY cheap. We picked ours based on convenience of location because we had an early boat to catch, otherwise we would have gone with a more exclusive resort in a private location. We loved our hotel though!

The kicker was, our trip was unfortunately timed with their monsoon season and, boy, did it rain! Since it was their low season, many…ok, MOST of the stores and restaurants were shut down in the town area and we literally had a difficult time finding a place open to serve us dinner. It was very odd and desolate there.

We caught the boat the Ko Phi Phi in the morning, which was where we would catch our connection boat to Ko Lanta. Unfortunately, the only way to get to Lanta was via Phi Phi. Our plan was to spend two days in Lanta and two days in Phi Phi on the way back. Because we were an hour late leaving (we impatiently waited for 150 Chinese tourists to board the boat) we actually missed our 11:45am connection to Lanta. They said “Come back at 3!” so we waited around at a restaurant for hours, soaked from the stormy weather, luggage in tow. Three pm rolls around and when we arrive at the dock they say, “No boat! No Lanta today!” I was so furious that I could have pushed one of the little thai men into the ocean, but that would be poor form so I just imagined it in my head.

The problem was, we booked our hotels on…where there was NOT a refund for cancellation. Long story short, we ended up having to pay for the most expensive hotel on our trip for a night that we weren’t even there which was infuriating. We spent that night in Ko Phi Phi and ended up catching the first boat to Lanta in the morning.

Ko Phi Phi.

Ko Phi Phi is known as the party island and we were surrounded by 19/20 year old Brits who are living up their gap year or Australians who just never ended up going home. The majority of the bar tenders are just that – they all came to visit and never left! The island has a great little beachside area to walk around (there are no cars or scooters on the island) and a couple of nice beaches.

We stayed downtown at a cheap, dingy hotel the first night due to the itinerary change and when we returned for day 4 on the islands we were whisked away by longboat to our private resort, which was about 20 minutes by boat around the other side of the island.

We were thinking it would be smart to be secluded and away from the party scene, but it turned out to be more of a pain in the arse than anything because, as it turns out, the resort basically traps you there and you have to pay to get yourself to and from the resort. So, if you want to go into town for dinner or do an excursion NOT through the hotel, we had to pay 400 baht per person ($12 or something??) each way. Not to mention, they stop their “service” at 7:30PM. Feel like staying out late? You get to find your own boat that runs about 1200 baht ONE way.

This was a bit problematic for us because we had booked a day boat trip on day 4, which didn’t return until late. We spent about $15US per person for a tour around the islands, snorkeling, lunch and a trip to Maya Beach where they filmed “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio. Even with all of the tourists peppering the secluded beach, it was gorgeous and the sand was as fine as powdered sugar. We even got to see the glow plankton, which was crazy! At night when you create any vigorous movement in the water, you see these clouds of glow plankton light up. Very magical!

While we were not happy with our hotel, it was the most expensive one, yet it didn’t include breakfast, the rooms weren’t nice, the food sucked + was very $$ and we felt trapped, we had our own private beach which was gorgeous.

Ko Lanta.

As great as Phi Phi was, it really didn’t compare to our experience at Ko Lanta. The second we arrived at the island, I could tell it was different. We hopped in the back of a truck bed that was covered and had seats built into it – therefore, qualifying it as a taxi? – and trekked out with a few other visitors to be dropped off at our hotels. The surroundings were very lush and while there were cars and scooters on the road, there wasn’t any traffic and you got the vibe it was one of those chill beach islands.

We pulled up to our hotel tucked down a private drive to see a beautiful, modern building, which was our hotel, The Houbin. I’m not going to lie, when we were picking the hotels for Lanta, this one was a big draw because we read from a tripadvisor reviewer that it was owned by a Belgian and as a result, the bar had an amazing selection of Belgian beers. Win. Sign me up. When we stepped into the small lobby, we were greeted with cool towels and beautiful fresh pressed juice drinks dressed up with flower petals. I felt like royalty!

We were escorted up to our room located on the top floor and as they pushed the door open, we were exposed to a stunning floor to ceiling glass wall that opened up to our balcony…overlooking the ocean. The room was one of the nicest ones I’ve been in and after working in the conference industry, I’ve seen A LOT of hotel rooms! Best part…we paid about $80 per night for the top of the line luxury. J

We were able to rent a motorcycle/scooter for the next two days and really enjoyed zipping around the island on our own terms. This is one of the only places we opted not to do a tour, but that was fine by us. Despite monsoon season, the weather held out for us so we enjoyed a hike out to one of their waterfalls where we were the only people there, and visited an Animal Refuge. As funny as it sounds, it was the #1 rated place to visit on the island!

It was started by a woman who had visited Lanta about 10 years ago and saw the out of control dog and cat population. Long story short, this refuge became a vet and a place to house cats and dogs while they are put up for adoption. I LOVED this visit because I got to snuggle some kitties and love on some pups – I missed my Buddy and Bristol very much so this helped rest my heartache a bit! If we hadn’t just gotten Bristol, I may have come home with one of those sweet dogs!

The surroundings of Ko Lanta were so beautiful and the only downside was some of the activities were closed during low season. I was hoping to attend a couple yoga workshops and possibly go out snorkeling, but the beaches and surf were very rough here this time of the year and the studios were closed. Even though the beaches were not as beautiful as some of the other islands in the area, I just loved the vibe and secluded feel of Ko Lanta. We were so relaxed and enjoyed adventuring around, the cheap prices for food and the fact that we didn’t feel ancient like we did surrounded by young partiers on Phi Phi – Lanta peeps are the type that go to bed around 9pm…just our kind of people!

If you’re interested in visiting these islands, my recommendation is to do so during the spring time so you can catch the good weather! When we booked this trip, we knew it was low season but this was the time we could travel, so we didn’t have much of a choice. The bad weather can really put a damper on your travel plans (and your pocket!) so if you do go during our summer, make sure you book your hotel rooms with cancellation flexibility so you don’t get screwed!

The boat/ ferry rides are pretty brutal and rough (no matter the time of the year) so take some motion sickness pills before you depart. Give yourself PLENTLY of time to catch the ferries because the crowds are insane and island traffic can be so awful. There were times where it literally took us twice as long as we thought to get from point A to point B!

We really loved our time on the islands and could have even spent longer there, granted the sun was out and shining!

I give the Thai Islands a major thumbs up & say BOOK IT!!

Our Spots:

-Ko Phi Phi-

Night 1 Hotel: The Phi Phi Hotel

Night 2 Hotel: The Village Island Resort

Boat Day Tour: Booked through a shop on the island

Anna’s (duck curry)

-Ko Lanta-

Hotel: The Houben

Lanta Animal Welfare

Khlong Chak Waterfall

Why Not Bar (go for live music and fire show)

Scooter Rental

The Drunken Sailor (cool hammocks and coffee)

Diamond Cliff Beach Restaurant (best sunset spot)