Tag Archives: Beach

Guide to island hopping in the Gulf of Thailand

Haad Khuad/Bottle Beach, Thailand

Islands hopped: Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao

Duration: 2 weeks (May 2008)

Sawadee! (that means Hello! in Thai by the way)

Here is a guide to the islands in the Gulf of Thailand.  So why did I pick the islands in the Gulf of Thailand instead of  the more glamourous Koh Phi Phi or Phuket on the Andaman Islands side? Simply said, mother nature.  Depending on what time of the year you go, either the east or west side of southern Thailand will experience their monsoon season.  On the west coast (or the Andaman Islands), it often rains from April through to October.  On the east side where I visited, it rains mostly between September and December.

I didn’t have enough time to stay at different beaches on each island so I picked one beach on each island after doing some research in advance.  Do research which beaches to stay at depending on what type of experience you want.  Check out this site on a guide to Thailand’s beaches.  With the shear number of beaches and what each have to offer, you can spend weeks on the islands and have plenty of stories to tell your jealous friends back home!

Koh Samui – Chaweng Beach

  • Beach: I picked Chaweng Beach because it is the most developed beach on the Koh Samui and I wanted to be able to experience a mix of tourism and seclusion.  The beach was perfect – white sand and clear blue water.  There’s also enough shade from the palm trees to get away from the strong sun.
  • Accommodation: Jungle Club in Chaweng Beach.  I found this place online through sawadee.com and picked it because of it’s location away from the busy beaches of Chaweng.  Jungle Club is like a posh resort but at backpacker prices – the grounds are beautiful, well maintained and the staff are super friendly.  I stayed in the Jungle Hut which was very new and clean.  The restaurant opens out to a breathtaking mountain top view and there are plenty of places to chill (for example, in the gazebos perched on the edge of the mountain complete with plush pillows and lanterns or the sun chairs surrounding the infinity pool on the mountain edge!).  The staff are very friendly and welcoming and they definitely go out of their way to make you feel at home.  Travelfish.org and sawadee.com have lots of places to stay listed.  If you’re looking for more relaxation and peace/quiet, stay away from the main Beach Road area and out of Chaweng Beach where there is a definite party atmosphere.
  • Activities: beach and sun, do I have to say any more? Chaweng Beach is beautiful but more touristy than most beaches.  But then again, Koh Samui is more touristy than its neighbouring islands Koh Tao and Koh Phangan.  Beach Road, which is the main road that runs behind the beach, is especially busy with many tourist agencies, sunglasses stores, restaurants, bars/cafes and “Armani” suit shops.  Word of caution though: I doubt the store “Armane” which sells “Armani” suits is real.
  • Transportation: flew into Koh Samui from Penang, Malaysia via Firefly airlines.  A very convenient way to get to the islands from the mainland or from other islands is with Lomprayah High Speed Ferries.  This is the most popular company operating between the islands and the mainland.  They are very organized and a convenient way to go island hopping.  Since Jungle Club is perched on the top of a mountain, a 4×4 jeep is the only mode of transportation from the town below.  Within the town itself, it’s very easy to find songthaews, especially along Beach Road.  These go short and longer distances and are the cheapest way to get around (cheap as in less than $1).  If you don’t feel like finding/bargaining your own transportation, most accommodations can arrange transportation to and from the airport and the ferry dock (to get to other islands).
  • Food: Most resorts and places to stay have their own restaurants which have a variety of Thai and continental cuisine items on their menus (depending on the place) .  There are also multiple cafes along Beach Road which serve a mean mango shake.

Koh Phangan – Bottle Beach/Haad Khuad

  • Beach: I highly recommend staying at Bottle Beach for anyone visiting Koh Phangan or the Gulf of Thailand islands for that matter.  It is very secluded since it’s only accessible by long tail boat and has a sense of community since everyone knows each other. Walking down the beach, you’ll be greeted by name by locals and tourists alike.  As for the beach itself, the water is very shallow so good for wading around but be careful of the rocks.
  • Accommodation: Haad Khuad Resort (or more affectionately called Bottle Beach 3) in Bottle Beach.  There are 4 places to stay along the beach – three creatively called Bottle Beach 1, Bottle Beach 2 and..you guessed it…Bottle Beach 3 and are all owned by the same family.  The fourth place to stay is Smile Bungalows which is on the west end of the beach.  All are clean and have a range of accommodation from thatch huts that almost touch the water to larger 2 bedroom cottages further away from the beach.  I picked Haad Khuad Resort just because it was the newest one but walking around, they all seemed the same.
  • Activities: I’m a beach bum so of course, I just relaxed on the beach most days.  There’s also another nearby beach which you can hike to but be warned: make sure you stay on the path or else it’s very easy to get lost in the jungle (I did, which in hindsight is a funny story but at the time was pretty scary).  You should also have some cash on you because there’s a man who charges 20 Baht to cross through his land on the mountain which the path does.  At night in Bottle Beach, it’s a very different story! Each night, there is a poi fire show on the beach with dancers and drunk tourists who think they’re fire dancers.  You can also take part of the communal lighting of paper lanterns and drinking out of the communal plastic bucket of liquor (you do get your own straw though, we’re not savages here!).  And then there’s the Full Moon Party which Koh Phangan is famous for.  I’m not going to go into the details of what this is since I’ve heard and experienced too many crazy unbelievable stories to count so if you don’t know about it, just google it.
  • Transportation: The best way to get to Koh Phangan is via a high speed ferry.  Lomprayah (see Transportation section for Koh Samui above) is the most popular choice.  You can get around the island either by long tail boat, songthaews, taxis or by scooters (but be careful, the number of tourist deaths per year by scooter accidents is alarming).  It all depends on what your budget is and how adventurous you are!
  • Food: All four places to stay on Bottle Beach also have their own restaurant which serve delicious Thai food and ice cold drinks.  All the places are about the same in terms of quality of food so my suggestion is to try all 4 places.  Also, don’t forget to get an ice cold Singha while you’re lounging on the beach.

Koh Tao – Haad Sai Daeng

  • Beach: I picked Haad Sai Daeng after looking through Travelfish’s guide to accommodation.  It is less busy than most of the beaches in Koh Tao and the one thing that attracted me was their close proximity to Shark Island where you can scuba dive with reef sharks.  There are only 2 resorts in Haad Sai Daeng so it is very peaceful.
  • Accommodation: Coral View Resort.  The resort consists of multiple island huts and villas tucked in a little cove along the water.  I stayed in the Traditional Island Hut which was rustic and still very clean but not as spotless as the huts on the other islands.  If you have the cash and are sensitive to noises (especially from crickets and geckos), splurge for the villas.  The main positive was the dive center – Coral View Divers.  The dive instructors are all very friendly and the groups are small so it’s more personalized.  In fact, I was the only student with the Dive Master, Robert, who was super nice and patient since it was my first time scuba diving.
  • Activities: Diving, diving, diving! Koh Tao is known as one of the best places in the world to dive so if you have the chance, go diving! Most resorts have their own Dive Center who can arrange everything for you.  They offer a variety of courses and dives ranging from those who have never dived before to pro-star divers.  If you’re still uneasy going scuba diving, you can also see lots just by snorkeling.  Most resorts can either arrange a snorkel trip for you or rent out snorkel gear so you can swim around to your little hearts desire.
  • Transportation: Coral View was very helpful in arranging transportation for me after being herded off the Lomprayah ferry from Koh Phangan.  There was a driver waiting for me at the pier holding a sign with my name on it even though I never told them what time I would be arriving.  I can’t comment on getting around the island because I mostly stayed in Haad Sai Daeng and got around on foot.
  • Food: Delicious as usual.  The green curry at the restaurant inside my resort was amazing! And as always, accompanied by a mango shake.  The view from the restaurant also drew in tourists who weren’t even staying at the resort.  There are lots of places to eat around the pier in town which serve a variety of food if you’re all Pad Thai-ed out.

So there it is, a quick guide to the islands in the Gulf of Thailand! For more information, don’t forget to check out travelfish.org or look through the many travel guidebooks out there (my personal fav is Lonely Planet)!

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Sharks and turtles and stingrays..oh my!

Kurumba Resort, Vihamanafushi, Republic of Maldives

Another update from Maldives – as you can tell, we have free internet here.

Since my last post, Mike and I have actually gotten off our butts and done some sort of physical activity.   It seems like we’ve done so much, well at least a lot for island/beach culture.  The highlight so far has been scuba diving and snorkeling. There’s a snorkeling site outside of the reef which surrounds the island and is home to so many different types of marine life.  Imagine swimming in an aquarium, that’s what snorkeling here is like! We saw rainbow coloured fish, remoras, parrotfish (it literally looks like a parrot) and even a shark.  The kinda gross thing is you can see the fish poo right infront of your snorkeling mask while you’re swimming with them – gross! But I guess it’s all worth it to see the peculiar behaviour of marine life – like fish digging holes into the sand, fish all facing inwards in a circle like a fish pow wow, sharks swimming freely with small fish and schools of tiny neon fish swimming in zig-zag patterns.  We’ve actually loved snorkeling so much that it’s become a daily activity along with laying on the beach and eating instant noodles (more on that below).

After getting used to not breathing through our noses, we decided to up the ante and try scuba diving.  We decided to try out the PADI Discover Scuba Diving course since we didn’t have enough time to do the full open water certification courses.  In the morning, our instructor Momo taught us about the equipment and how to use it, hand signals and how to properly descend/ascend – there was even a test which Mike and I cheated off of each other (or should I say collaborated together).  After a quick lunch (instant noodles), we boarded a boat with our guide Alexey (think of a stereotypical Russian man) and3 other divers.  They drove us 20 minutes to the reef off of another island and we jumped right in.  We swam along this reef wall that was filled with fish, sharks, eels and we even saw a couple of turtles! After about 45 minutes, we had to resurface – I blame Mike for breathing too much oxygen 🙂

On the boat ride back, the staff were so nice and gave us pineapple which tasted sooo good – and I don’t even like pineapple! It’s because after breathing oxygen from a tank through your mouth only for so long, your mouth and throat get extremely dry.  So if you’re ever going scuba diving, bring water! As the boat was flying through the water, my dress flew off the seat and is now lost to the Indian Ocean.  So if you’re keeping track, in the last 5 days, we’ve lost: 1. my wallet; 2. Mike’s sunglasses (he put them on his stomach on the beach and rolled over while sleeping so they washed away); and now 3.  my dress.  At this rate, I’ll have an empty backpack when I get back to Toronto!

Today is our last day in the Maldives so we’re trying to do as much as possible, which for a vacation in the Maldives means about 30 minutes of physical activity – walking to and from the restaurant counts right? For anyone who wants a very relaxing, very idyllic beach vacation and has the money to spend, Maldives is definitely a classy place to do nothing.  The people are so friendly and the resort has every comfort you can think of.  It will be very difficult to leave tomorrow but at the same time, I can’t wait to start our adventure in India!

Note on instant noodles: Mike and I looked at the menus of the restaurants at Kurumba Resort before we left Toronto and a salad was $20! So we’ve smuggled in 20 packs of instant noodles to eat.  Our first obstacle was getting cutlery so being crafty people, we took the plastic ones from our flights.  The next obstacle was getting a bowl to make the instant noodles in – thank god for ice buckets! It may seem ghetto, but I’d like to think of it as being resourceful! (Advice: don’t forget to wash out the ice bucket before using it)

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Maldives: great place to lose your wallet

Kurumba Resort, Vihamanafushi, Republic of Maldives

So the start of my trip has been very interesting to say the least. I didn’t notice how taxing travel was until I realized that we left Toronto on Sunday afternoon and didn’t arrive at our destination until Tuesday morning. Minus the time difference and we’ve been traveling for around 30 hours. But I must say, it’s been worth it!

For those short attention-spanned people like me, here’s a brief recap of the last 30 hours:

  • finally packed all my stuff into my backpack, it’s 18kg. I’m going to develop back muscles I never even knew I had!
  • last goodbye to parents and friends in Toronto and also, goodbye to instant connectivity through internet, cellphone, bbm etc. Mom and Dad, thank you for not freaking out!
  • Amsterdam airport: security is very particular here. They do all the security stuff at each gate and have special security people (employed by G4S or as we know them by in Toronto, our building concierge). These security people pull everyone aside at these podiums and ask all these questions that I found odd. For example, they questioned how Mike and I knew each other at least 3 times and how we were going to get around on our trip. It didn’t help that Mike and I had no idea what our itinerary is going to look like or how we were actually going to get around.
  • Mumbai airport: very friendly and personalized service. We had this lady take us around everywhere – maybe because we looked super disoriented from being sleep deprived. She even questioned where we were going when we left the gate – Mike had to get KFC which not too surprisingly, tasted the same as in Toronto.
  • Mumbai to Colombo to Maldives: they love fresh cold towels here and now, as do I. So refreshing and clean!

Finally landed in Maldives and automatically, it felt so baller! We were ushered to this private yacht (and when I say yacht, it’s because I’ve never seen such a nice boat in my life!) and were automatically given bottles of water and again, fresh cold towels! They even let me drive the boat which now, looking back may not have been the wisest choice considering how sleep deprived and practically inebriated from excitement I was. We sped along to Kurumba resort which is on one of the North Male atolls (i.e. islands) called Vihamanafushi and was pleasantly greeted by a hostess who showed us the resort grounds which spans the island.

Mike and I freshened up and walked around the island and I couldn’t stop smiling. We saw schools of fish and water snakes just by walking along the beach. Our beach villa is so baller that we had to hide the instant noodles we brought along in the cupboard out of shame. Then, panic struck when I realized I had lost my wallet somewhere between the Mumbai airport KFC and here. Which brings me to my next piece of advice for anyone traveling:

  1. Keep your most important stuff in a money belt at all times. Thankfully, my passport was in my money belt so I can still leave the country. Although, they’ll have to drag me off this island when it comes time to leave.
  2. Separate out your money. I only had a couple of USD in my wallet and the rest was safely tucked away in a money belt.
  3. Get a second debit card and keep that with your most valued-valuables in your money belt.
  4. Take photocopies of all your important cards and documents. I was easily able to call MBNA (for credit card) and CIBC (for debit card) to cancel my cards. MBNA is even FedEx-ing me a card to the Maldives before we set off for India!

Maldives is probably the best place to lose your wallet since everything is connected (internet, phone etc) and the staff at Kurumba have been super helpful.

After the panic wore off, we took a nap before dinner which ended being a 13 hour coma! After a 30 hour trip across the world, it’s just what we needed so today, we are fully refreshed and ready to…lay on the beach and do nothing!

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