Koh Tao and Koh Phi Phi
23.09.2008 - 30.09.2008
My Return To Thailand
Another 10hr bus journey took me back from Cambodia to Bangkok and I felt that I had arrived home.
Bangkok seemed quite different this time compared to my first visit 7weeks ago, much quieter, cleaner giving it a completely different atmosphere to what I remembered. Maybe because I was used to the Asian way of life now and familiarity is always a comforting thing or maybe compared to the poverty that I had witnessed in Cambodia Bangkok seemed much more developed.
I toured more of Bangkok this time, well the usual tourist spots anyway, seeing the Palace and the reclining Budda. If you're in Bangkok at a weekend though I would recommend the weekend market where all the locals shop, it's so big you can easily get lost, however if you fancy buying a good quality fake Northface rucksack then you can come over to Bangkok empty handed and leave with a new wardrobe and numerous household items.
After manically rushing around, realising that digital cameras aren't that much cheaper than the ones you can get on eBay, I headed off on the sleeper bus to find out what all the fuss about the Thai islands was! Not being a beach fanatic myself, I had purposely left seeing the southern islands to the end of my time in Asia, but after 7 weeks traveling on numerous sleeper buses I was still keen to have a go at diving rather than jump at the chance of sunbathing.
Known as Turtle Island
Travelers going to different islands all get on the same bus and I knew that I was to jump off at the first stop. I didn't think that it was to be 3 o'clock in the morning though! Myself and a few Italians were literally chucked off the bus onto this very quite street. We had no idea what we were to do, however after 1hr of sitting by the side of the road in true Thai style a little Thai man approached from nowhere and asked us if we were going to Koh Tao. So off we went to the ferry port and slept for a few more hours before the ferry to the beautiful Island.
One big tip for those who might take a bus to the islands from Bangkok is to hold onto all your valuables as the Italians (whom I bumped into the next day) had money taken from their rucksacks whilst on the bus.
Koh Tao is mainly known for being a perfect place to learn to dive. It's the cheapest place to do your PADI (diving certificate) and it so happened that at this time of year the weather on the east side is stunning.
Considering that I'm pretty nervous of underwater activities, thanks to getting stuck under the dingy down in Cornwall a few times when little (well stuck for a few seconds I think it was, but seemed longer!) I was proud of even putting my name down to learn to dive.
The course consists of classroom time along with 4 dives in open water. Initially we were taken to the beach, donning the half tonne diving equipment (which becomes weightless once in the water) and waddled into the sea to begin the training exercises. Well 5 seconds under water and I was freaked out to say the least! My poor instructor was then subject to my waffling "I can't do this, I'm really sorry...." I was embarrassed to have even thought that I couldn't breath through my mouth, however he assured me he hears this all the time with beginners.
A few minutes later, after a mind over matter moment, I was a fish to water as they say and loving every bit of the new world which I was to explore.
Unfortunately I don't have any underwater pictures to show you, however if you look in any aquatic book, that's what I saw; Stingrays, clown fish, butterfly fish, trigger fish to name a few. To increase the likelihood of finding more interesting species I will need to extend my certificate from 18m to the deep diving depth of 30m.
Snorkeling is also a must, especially if you don't fancy the diving. Numerous fish swim close to the surface allowing you to get a real feel for the underwater world. It's amazing that as fierce, dark and scary as the sea can be, underneath everything seems so tranquil and at a slow pace.
As well as Koh Tao being good for cheap diving it does have a nice relaxed atmosphere in the town and if you fancy a wonder on a relatively quite beach with clean creamy sand and clear waters then it's perfect for you.
Ko Phi Phi
Phi Phi Viewpoint
Once again my itchy feet took me off on a night time ferry to Surrantani, on the mainland, and then from Phuket I traveled to Ko Phi Phi (a good opportunity to top up the sun tan on the ferry on the way over). Ko Phi Phi is known by many as the location with Maya bay, used in the movie "The Beach".
On arrival the Karst scenery (similar to that in Ha Long Bay) was just beautiful and with the light blue seas and sandy beaches it was definitely worth the trip over from the east.
The town is unfortunately quite westernised and if you fancy a less developed island to spend your time then I think that Ko Jum or Koh Chang (near to the Cambodian border) are better choices. In a few years though these will be like Phi Phi is now and then other islands will start to appear as the next "best isolated island". Even the monkeys in Phi Phi have been influenced by the westerners!
Even though I had been warned, the monsoon on the west coast was unfortunately in full flow despite my first day being glorious sunshine, however with more impressive coral and underwater life than Koh Tao I went on a day tour with 11 guys from Israel. Despite our own Jack Sparrow, the long tailed boat only just made it over to Maya Bay but I would recommend the day trip to the different islands if you only have a few days on Phi Phi.
Even the monks like their vacation here!
The islands are beautiful to be sure, however with so many to choose from it's good to do a bit of research and figure out which ones are best for your needs. Koh Tao is good for cheap diving, however I think that Phi Phi has better reef and snorkeling from what I saw. They both had great beaches, however if I went back to Thailand I might be keen to explore a less developed island where I can walk on the beach in isolation.