Cruisin’ the Phi Phi Islands

If you have ever seen the movie “The Beach,” then you have seen the Ko Phi Phi Islands in Krabi, Thailand.  If you haven’t, then you are missing out on seeing one of the most beautiful places in the world.  Of course, instead of watching the movie, you can go there.  Which is what I did, and despite the hoards of people, beer cans strewn about, and constant chatter, it truly is a breathtaking sight.

From the Good Dream Guesthouse in Krabi town, I booked a Phi Phi Islands day trip by speedboat.  I was picked up around 8:15 the next morning and taxied to Ao Nang where I was joined by twenty other passengers or so on the boat.  I had heard that a speedboat ride in the Andaman Sea was quite an exciting one and I was reminded of that advice the first time I was vaulted off of my seat and got at least three inches of air.  Let’s just say, the 45-minute boat ride was not a relaxing one and I decided I would high-jack a seat in the front of the boat after our first stop (which ended up being much more violent, but I did get to feel the wind, so it was a necessary trade-off).

My little piece of Paradise

Our first destination was Bamboo Island and it was absolutely stunning.  The beach where we landed was extremely crowded so I decided to go on a short walk and found myself on a deserted, albeit small, stretch of the island and set up came here for the hour we were allotted on the island.  I posed in pictures (as a photographer I bring my tripod everywhere I go, and yeah scenery is great and all, but I want to be in the pictures!), swam, and sunned myself on the white sand beach.   I would have loved to stay on that island all day, but of course, there was more to see and do.

Viking Cave

The speed boat of terror’s next stop was the Viking Cave on Phi Phi Ley Island, where thousands of swallows take up residence.  I believe on some tours you are able to go inside this enormous cave, but we were not able to partake in this excursion.  We floated outside the cave for about five minute and then were on our way.  I would have loved to explore the inside, although caves definitely have an eerie, if not creepy, feeling to them. 

Entering the Lagoon

The Phi Phi Ley Lagoon was next.  We did a quick drive through, adeptly navigating through the other speedboats and longtails that had decided to do the same thing.  It was breathtaking.  Immense rock walls plunging into vividly clear blue water.  We were surrounded by the pure beauty of nature.  I love lagoons.  There is just a wonderful peacefulness about them.  There’s no beach for people to hoard onto.  Just boats and although there were about ten boats or so in the lagoon, it still was gorgeous.  But most of the time, a lagoon can be completely blown out of the water by a beautiful bay, and that is exactly what Maya Bay does to Phi Phi Ley Lagoon. 

All the snorkelers in Maya Bay

We pulled into Maya Bay a few minutes later, and I have to say I was disappointed.  I wasn’t expecting the amount of people, boats, and just all around “civilization” that encompassed the water and beach.  We stopped to snorkel and I have never been in the water with that many people.  The water was extremely clear and I spotted some fish I hadn’t seen before, but I was constantly being kicked or ran into by fellow snorkelers.  Definitely took away from the allure a little bit. 

Longtail Boats in Maya Bay

After about thirty minutes in the water, we landed on the beach and were allotted another thirty minutes to enjoy the bay.  From the beach, the bay was exactly everything I had picture.  It was stunning.  Of course, it was spotted with people and boats, but I forgot about all that.  How can you not when you’re looking at something so beautiful?  I would have loved to see it empty, and my friend informed me that you can actually go overnight camping there and thus see the bay empty in the morning.  I would have absolutely loved that.  That will definitely be on my list of things to do when I come back.

Amazingly soft sand! I love it!

We stopped on Phi Phi Don for a great buffet lunch that consisted of some cashew chicken, rice, fish sticks  and spaghetti.  I’m one that must mix all of my food, but this was definitely the one exception (although I did have all three).  We had an hour to explore the beaches, shops, restaurants, and bars of Ton Sai Bay and I took this time to finally relax in the sand.   It felt so great and its at times like these when I just relish in the fact that I’m on a tropical island.  Phi Phi, albeit crowded, took my breath away.  I loved every second I was there and it has made me yearn to go back.  Camping will definitely be my accommodation of choice because Phi Phi’s popularity has hiked hotel and guesthouses prices up and I’m not into the whole get completely plastered and hook up scene. 

What a beautiful fish! Sorry the quality isn't the greatest!

Our final stop was coral “island,” which wasn’t an island at all, just a bunch of coral off the coast of Phi Phi.  It was much less crowded and even though I was exhausted from the day and eager to get back, the snorkeling was once again awesome.  Although Ko Tao is known for its diving and snorkeling, I would have to say I saw more fish and prettier coral on this outing than I did on my snorkeling day trip on Ko Tao.

I had the most amazing day cruisin’ the Phi Phi Islands and it rounded up my amazing weekend in Krabi, probably my favorite place in Thailand!

Check out my Photo of the Day from the Phi Phi Islands!

Conquering the Rock in Railay

Krabi was one of my first trips when I arrived in the South. I loved everything about it, especially the opportunities to explore anything and everything under the sun. There are countless day trips available to book at the numerous travel agencies and guesthouses ranging from kayaking around Hong Island to Elephant treking in Khao Sok to day trips exploring the neighboring islands of Krabi.  I, of course, want to do them all, but time permitting I have had to pick and choose the ones that are at the top of my list. 

The first time I was down in Krabi I did the 4 Island tour (Chicken Island, Poda Island, Tup Island, and Phranang Cave, Railay) and the 5 Island tour, which is also known as the Hong Island Tour (and not really 5 islands).  But there were so many more that I wanted to do!

The guide showing me how to tie my knot. By the end of the day, he didn't have to show me anymore!

I had heard so much about rock climbing on Railay Beach and I told myself that I would come back and do that before I left Thailand.  This weekend I had the opportunity to do just that and it was one of the best experiences I have had!

I signed up for the half day trip with King Climbers, which is supposed to be one of the best groups to climb with.  I was advised that the half day was more than enough climbing for someone who doesn’t do it everyday and boy am I glad I only did the half day!  I ended up being completely beat at the end of the day and sore for days after!

This may look like I'm posing, but I can assure you it is "in action"

I also had the option of climbing in the afternoon.  Much much better than the morning session, which required me to wake up at 7 in the morning after a long day/night of traveling!  I immediately took this option and enjoyed my morning of sleeping in and reading by the river.  I was picked up by the King Climbers truck, was taxied over to the Railay Beach peir, and boarded a 15-minute longtail boat ride to Railay.

While getting fitted for my climbing gear, I met a fellow Californian (which NEVER happens.  I not only rarely meet Americans, but I double rarely meet someone from California!), Cat, who had been traveling for a couple months in SE Asia.  She had just gotten engaged in Cambodia and I begged her to tell me the story!  I love hearing engagement stories and hers was a great one!  We instantly became friends and vowed that we would take pictures of each other while we were scaling the rocks.  Our climbing group consisted of two Norwegians, who had never climbed before, two Californians, and a Finnish guy, Peter, who had climbed in the morning session as well. 

I'm pretty sure I'm on the easy part right now, right before I got stuck

We began with one of the easiest climbs and I started out with a bang.  Peter was blaying me and apparently he wasn’t too ready, because I slipped in the first couple seconds (sweaty palms, I was nervous ok!  I haven’t climbed in a long time!) and  plummeted the four feet and came inches from smacking into the ground.

But I got right back up and scaled that rock!  It wasn’t the hardest thing in the world, but it still felt so great to make it up to the top.  I haven’t had a challenge like that in a long time and it felt amazing to be “athletic” again!

The next one was a different story. 

The first part was pretty easy, in the sense that it didn’t take me too long to figure out my next foot or hand hold.  I was using many of the muscles I haven’t used in ages and it felt so great to “feel the burn” for the first time in months! 

But then I reached a sort of “impasse.”  I kept trying to find a foot hold and then a hand hold and then a different foot hold and then a different hand hold, but nothing seemed to be working.  I was only about 6-8 feet away from the top, but I just felt like I couldn’t do it.  My arms started shaking and my legs were barely holding me on the mountain.  I kept slipping and swinging back and forth and finally came to a point where I yelled down indicating that I was finished. 

But they didn’t let me down. 

Thanking everyone after I landed on my "hard" climb

I heard, “JUST RELAX!!” from one of the Norwegians and “YOU CAN DO IT!” from Cat.  “TAKE YOUR TIME” from Peter and “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!” from the other Norwegian were what I heard right before I decided I was going to make it.  I put all my energy and spirit  into that rock.  I took a deep breath and released all the tension from my shoulders.  I stopped focusing on my quivering arms and just told myself I was going to do it and soon enough I made it to the top.  When I landed on the ground, everyone was cheering and clapping, and through an exhausted inhale I thanked them for getting me to the top.  I couldn’t have done it without the support of four complete strangers. 

And that’s what traveling is all about. 

Making relationships with people from different countries that you’ll probably never see again.  But that doesn’t matter because for those few moments you spend with them, they’re you’re best friend and they’re all you need. 

Rock climbing on Railay Beach was one of the most fun days I have had here.  It truly challenged my mind, my body and my spirit and I have had a huge smile on my face ever since.  I would definitely recommend it and when I make it back to Krabi someday, maybe I’ll do the full day.

Just hanging with my climbing guide (that's Cat in the background)

Ko Jum – Heaven on Earth

The deserted beaches of Ko Jum

Ko Jum is a small island off the coast of Krabi in Southern Thailand.  It takes about an hour to get there on the ferry to Ko Lanta.  There is also a back way, or the local’s way, that takes a little longer, but is about half the price and a little more of a gamble on the way there.  The ferry stops mid journey and longtail boats from the various resorts on the island come and pick you up.  Its quite the service!  The island isn’t that well known.  It only has electricity during certain hours of the day.   There are bungalows sparsely scattered along the coastline and there are beaches where no one is in sight.  Thus, Ko Jum was heaven to me.

The peaceful sunset

I arrived at the island and instantly fell in love.  I stayed at a little place called Bo Daeng Bungalows (right next to the Andaman bungalows) where the manager was  an amazing lady named Deela who was a constant beam of joy.  I don’t think I ever saw her without a smile on her face and her laugh bouncing off the trees. 

The bungalow had the basic ammenities:  a bathroom (of course, no western toilet), a handheld shower, a comfortable bed, and a mosquito net.  There were hammocks everywhere.  The few guests that were there were scattered around the grounds, reading, chatting, drawing, or just enjoying the laid back atmosphere.  The weekend was full of swimming in clear blue water, sunbathing on a beach where only occasional wanderers could be seen, and reading in my favorite hammock placed perfectly on the beach ready for that sun to set.

Relaxing in the soft sand

The most important part of the weekend was my alone time.  I’m constantly surrounded by people, some speak English some speak Thai, but nonetheless I am never in complete seclusion.  Well I got it this weekend and it was exactly what I have been yearning for.  I took a step in the right direction.  Towards who I am, towards what I want and towards who I want to be. 

The path to the main town on the island

I feel like I’m constantly searching.  That my life is this eternal battle to find out who I am and where my happiness is going to lie.  This weekend on Ko Jum forced me to face this battle head on.  I spent hours scribbling away in my journal.  I wrote every thought that popped into my head, even if it contradicted the one before.  Being able to just focus on myself and my thoughts and my feelings brought me a little closer to finding myself and what I want to make out of my life, who I want to be.

The solitude of the island was absolutely amazing and I thank Ko Jum for bringing me one step closer to knowing the true me. 

 I will be back.

The only one on the beach

Island hopping in Krabi

I’ve been feeling all alone in Thailand.  Far, far away from the ones I love and I have definitely been having some trouble coping. Despite the trouble I’ve had with adjusting to my new life in Thailand I knew that a beautiful beach would help that.  I jumped on the bus to Surat Thani (the place where the lady yelled at me about my window being open) and caught a bus to Krabi.  When I got into town, there were no normal taxis, only motorcycle taxis.  Something I have never endeavored.  Well I did.  And as the wind whipped into my face, I made a promise to myself to fully enjoy where I am.  To embrace my “solitude.”  I found a hotel and as I was checking in, I met Katja from Germany.  She was traveling on holiday for a few weeks and we became instant friends.  While grabbing a drink at Chokdee restaurant in Krabi Town, we started perusing the possible day trips that Krabi had to offer.  Because we both had a strong hankering for beautiful beaches, we decided to book an island hopping tour together for the next day. 

The perfectly placed loner longtail boat

We joined the 4 island tour group and embarked on a day full of sun, snorkeling, swimming, and chatting.  It was amazing to have such a great person to experience the beautiful islands of Krabi.  Our first stop was at Poda Island where we had a quick photo shoot with a perfectly placed Longtail boat. Once we started snapping photos, a more people decided that it was a picture worth taking and started crowding around.     

Shot While snorkeling on Chicken Island

We then took a snorkeling trip at Chicken Island.  We didn’t see anything too out of the ordinary, but it was my first taste of snorkeling in Thailand so that was exciting.  When trying to juggle my underwater camera I dropped my snorkel and because I was wearing a life jacket I was unable to grab it before it slowly floated to the bottom.  I panicked because it was 1,500 baht to replace them (a little excessive I think) and I convinced an Israeli man to dive down and retrieve it for me.  Super nice of him, especially since we hadn’t spoken on the trip yet.

A view from the sand bar on Tup Island

Our next stop was Tup island, which was absolutely gorgeous.  It is connected with the other side of Chicken island by a long sand bar and it is extremely picturesque.  Definitely a beach that I pictured when I thought of Thailand.  We had lunch there and lounged about in the sun before we made our last stop of the day, Phra Nang Cave on Railay Beach.

View from inside Phra Nang Cave on Railay Beach

Railay Beach was beautiful, but very crowded.  Phra Nang cave is definitely worth a look and good for a few pictures, but it doesn’t go anywhere, so what you see is what you get. It might be a great place to visit early in the morning when everyone is still sleeping off their hangover from the night before!  

 The day was exhausting, but absolutely completely worth it.  I wanted to book another one for the next day, but because Katja is a fair, German, who doesn’t see the sun much, her bright red sunburn stood in the way of us spending another blissful day in the sun together. 

So without my new friend, I booked another island tour (Five Islands, also known as the Hong Island Tour this time), and went at it alone.    

Just soaking in some sun on Hong Island

The Five Islands tour is a little deceiving.  I’m pretty sure we didn’t see five islands.  I don’t even think we saw four islands, but the main island we did see, Hong island, was my favorite island by far.  We explored a beautiful lagoon on the island and then spent two hours basking in the sunlight, snorkeling, relaxing, and just enjoying the wondrous day.  We did a drive by of another island that was supposed to be on the tour, but somehow conveniently we couldn’t land because the tide had changed.  We also stopped on Lading Island, where we were supposed to snorkel, but the water was so shallow I didn’t feel comfortable floating an inch above coral (I’m pretty sure that’s how people come back with big gashes in their legs).

I love being on tropical islands!!

My trip to Krabi was awesome, but its definitely hard to be alone sometimes, and I know that I have a lot more where that came from!  But one thing I do know is that I will be coming back to Krabi.  Rock climbing in Railay next time.  Ko Phi Phi another.  And much much more!