After precisely one year, I was back in Thailand. I retraced my steps almost exactly - starting in Kuala Lumpur as the easiest way to escape Mauritius, then flying to Krabi as the nearest airport to the islands of the west coast.
Here I list all of the fun things to do in Krabi:
- leave Krabi
Koh Phi Phi
There are several Thai islands with a heavy reputation as "party islands". Koh Phangan and its full moon parties are probably the most famous, and despite some recent flooding Koh Samui is also popular for the traditional Thai past times of getting incredibly drunk and dancing on the beach to overpowered speaker systems. Being the party animals that we are, Sabine and I decided our first stop from Krabi would be Koh Phi Phi. It also has a well deserved reputation as a place to drink and dance followed by dancing and drinking. You're able to change the order however you want.
The first day was eminently responsible, since the first activity would be diving and you're not supposed to drink before diving. Not much anyway, it's okay to have a little but when you're measuring the drinks you buy in buckets, it's probably wise to abstain until after the diving. And so we did, choosing instead to wander along to long beach.
Long beach can be reached by walking along a combination of beach and path from the main area Ton Sai, where all the shops and restaurants congregate. It's not a long walk and there are in fact lots of small beaches separated from each other with outcrops of rocks, and often empty or almost empty.
This was also the perfect place to try out my new hammock. In an effort to conform to stereotypes of backpackers in Thailand, I had bought one recently, and swiftly discovered two things: firstly, it's not quite big enough for two. Secondly, I had lost the instructions and wasn't quite sure how to actually hang it. It took me a little while to figure out exactly how to attach the two ropes which form the structure that the rest attaches to. A few confused looks later and some helpful sarcasm from my travelling buddy and it was at least attached to two trees, prudently hanging about 20cm above the ground just in case. Then we left it alone and went swimming.
I was mainly excited for the diving on Koh Phi Phi as I did the same thing last year and it was perfect. Amazing visibility, huge shoals of fish, so many different types. Unfortunately this time the visibility was pretty terrible, so I didn't even mind that I had forgotten to charge my camera battery (again), as the only photos I could have taken would be grey and insipid. Probably the most interesting thing to see was the turtle, but it was the most interesting thing to see so had about 15 divers hovering around it, occasionally swimming in front of you and kicking you in the face. So it's clearly a good idea to have enough time to wait for good visibility. The moon had been full a few days before, and this affects tides and current, so probably things would be better if it were possible to wait a couple of weeks.
Now that diving was out of the way, the embargo on alcohol was over and so it was time to experience the real Phi Phi. Well, the typical experience of Phi Phi, at least. The instructions are as follows:
- Buy a bucket of dubious alcohol
- Drink the bucket and watch a fire show
- (optional): giggle a lot
- put your hands up in the air under instruction from the DJ
- Eat two huge slices of pizza (also, thankfully, optional)
Babies are welcome, it seems. Gotta start early.
After getting off the ferry and paying the "environment fee" (which goes towards keeping the island clean and healthy), we got onto a taxi van which took us to the place we'd be staying for the next three nights. It was about half-way down the island on the west coast, near Klong Khong beach.
As we only had two full days, it was important to figure out what to do. The hostel helpfully had many brochures for activities, as did a near by travel shop. It was certainly easy to find possibilities to argue about. The main things we looked into were firstly doing some kind of island tour, especially for Ko Rok where the snorkelling is supposed to be amazing, and also Ko Mook to see the Emerald Cave. It sounded nice but the problem was that it was not possible to go to the island as a one-off without paying through the nose for a private speedboat. All of the offered tours took an entire day, and included several other places and from what we were told by some people we met who had already done it, it included a huge number of other tourists. The second option was to go to Hin Daeng and Hin Muang. For that, we were put off by the price approaching €240 and the poor visibility that we had on Phi Phi. They are supposedly a fantastic place to see Whalesharks, but few people were optimistic about our chances of seeing any, so we didn't try.
For the last day, we took the scooters and decided to just do something and see what that something was. The plan was to travel down to Mu Ko Lanta on the southern coast of the island, a large national park including a large forest area. It actually includes several islands too, though we wouldn't be able to get there without an expensive speed boat ride. Looking at the map and using the googles, it turns out that there were a few caves and small treks to do on the way. The initial plan was simply to stop at each of them - I had been to one such cave last year and it was nice enough but it seemed like it would fill only a small amount of the day. To that end, we stopped at the first one and prepared to have a small wander about. This was the Tiger Cave, so called because tigers supposedly used to live there. Fortunately they do not live there any more, or we'd have been eaten. That's gentrification for you!
We turned off the main road and followed signs pointing us down a winding dirt trail.
On the last approach, the road was blocked by two belligerent geese. They honked and spluttered at me, so I slowed down and stopped to see if they'd bugger off. They did not acquiesce, preferring instead to stay stubbornly right in the middle. I edged closer, fully expecting them to take the hint but they had decided that this was their road, thank you very much. I got closer and one even moved towards me, aiming a peck at my legs; I sped past, fearful that they'd start asking for a toll fee or something and managed to skirt the edge of the road and escape. A little further up I stopped and turned round to see how Sabine would fare.
She had it worse than me. Obviously my escape had angered them, and they were now even more strict about letting people through. She waited on her scooter for them to move but now they were quite insistent. Then after a little while, she got off the scooter and prepared to try to edge round them, but they made a run for her, trying to peck and making a lot of noise, which caused her to try to maneuver the scooter away. Unfortunately, it turns out if you keep hold of the accelerator in this situation, the scooter gets nervous and tries to run away into the bushes to the side of the road. My point of view about 5 metres further up the road, and what I saw was the two geese heading towards Sabine, followed by Sabine suddenly disappearing into the bushes with the scooter. The geese, now spooked, decided they didn't want to be part of a police investigation I suppose. Probably they were not licensed road-bothering geese so needed to get away. I turned off my scooter and ran down to figure out what happened, worried she'd be in a heap on the ground. Instead I found her standing sheepishly in amongst the foliage, holding the scooter, and laughing her head off.
So the lesson learned is this: beware geese on Ko Lanta.
Despite the hazards, we made it to the starting point for the trek to the cave. By this point, however, it had started raining. It was not really heavy rain, but rather sloped out of the clouds reluctantly, like a teenager moodily getting out of bed in the morning. It was the kind of rain that settles in for the day, so you know that you will just have continuous drizzle. The main problem though was that at the entrance there was a small stand where a woman was waiting, who told us a guide would cost 300 Bhat each. This was a bit of a surprise, as we thought it'd be just a small walk to a fairly boring cave, so we were reluctant to take it since we didn't think it would be necessary. We waited for a bit, and tried to start walking without the guide, but she shouted after us and told us there were dangerous animals we might disturb, like snakes and scorpions. Curiously she didn't mention geese. After a bit of a discussion and time spent hoping the rain would die down, we decided to take the guide, since we didn't have much else planned. This decision was the best one of the whole week in Thailand. The cave was probably my favourite experience in the week.
As it turns out, it's not just a simple cave you can walk into easily. It's actually a set of smaller caves connected by tiny tunnels. Once in, you have to clamber up and down ladders, and at some points you have to get onto your hands and knees to get through tiny holes into the next chamber. We absolutely could not have done it without the guide, and the guide also pointed out all of the interesting features while taking us through. Walking, ducking, crawling, climbing through between tiny spaces with very little light - we needed small head-torches to see where we were going - and seeing stalagmites, stalactites, bats and diamonds and tree roots which had stone forming around them, it really was great fun. And the walk there and back was great too, walking along side a small stream through jungly trees.
Bus to Bangkok
The two of us then decided to go to Bangkok, for different reasons - Sabine would fly to New Caledonia, while I was vaguely heading into Cambodia. There is an overnight bus from Krabi town which takes about twelve hours, leaving around 16h and depositing you around 6am. The first step was figure out how to get to Krabi from Koh Lanta but it turns out you can get a combination trip, where a minibus will pick you up from where you're staying and drive you all the way to the Krabi bus terminal, including a small ferry crossing.
Using my superlative negotiating skills, I managed to get the price down from 1,000 Bhat to 850 Bhat. I didn't actually try very hard, I just asked for the price and then, when hesitating for a few seconds, got offered a new one. I merely wanted to wait for Sabine to arrive to check the bus would get her where she needed to go on time, and that small delay meant savings! Apparently my mild bewilderment or confusion is a useful bartering tactic.
The bus had some televisions which showed a movie at around 11pm - X-Men Apocalypse, the astonishing tale of some people doing some stuff that made little sense. There are no headphones on these buses, the sound is just played throughout the whole bus and the lights are left on, so there's little chance to sleep although the choice of movie made me wish for unconsciousness. I managed to get lots of reading done though, as well as write a few blog posts wherein I explain about when I wrote blogs posts on a bus.
The bus stopped a few times for food, firstly around 8pm then again around midnight. The second one made it clear that there was more than one busline travelling to Bangkok, since around six coaches had all converged at the same time on one single restaurant that was designed for this. As I wasn't hungry, I just wandered about and admired the paint job on our coach. Then it was back on the bus and off we went for the last leg of the journey.
The next day I didn't do much except plan my trip to Cambodia a bit. Stay tuned!