A Travellerspoint blog

Islands in Southern Thailand

Koh Tao and Koh Phi Phi

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View My Trip so far! on Sophfidoe's travel map.

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.

Koh Tao

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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.

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Diving Gear

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.

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Koh Tao

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

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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".

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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.

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Blue waters

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Karst Scenery

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!

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Westernised Monkeys

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.

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Jack Sparrow

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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.

Posted by Sophfidoe 06:08 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Cambodia

Siem Reap

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Siem Reap

I reached Siem Reap following a 10 hour bus journey from Ho Chi Minh. The poverty of the country became evident as soon as I crossed the border. Stopping at a roadside shop I could hardly get off the bus for the number of young children standing there with bags of pineapple, watermelon and mango for "One Dollar", "One Dollar Miss" (with hindsight I should have stayed on the bus). There were girls and boys everywhere I really was stuck but to make it worse they had an answer for everything. I told them that I had already eaten but they replied, "you will be hungry later" or "but you didn't have pineapple".
Having given in and agreed to purchase some pineapple there was consequently a scrap as to who had offered it to me first "you came to me first, I said first". I was very close to buying 20 pineapples!

Angkor Wat

Unfortunately I was short of time in Cambodia and this is definitely a country that I will be returning to. The locals are really friendly, the country is beautiful however time only allowed me to see Siem Reap. Angkor Wat is the highlight here and it was out of this world.
I teamed up with a couple from Argentina to see Angkor Wat from Sunrise to Sunset and it was definitely worth the 4:30am start.

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Angkor Wat at Sunrise

We hired the tuk tuk driver for the day which was $5 each and the best way to see the place if you're short on time. If you have a few days then I think cycling would have been a great way to see the temples as they are spread out over such a large scale, the Angkor Wat is only part of it. The driver dropped us off at each set of ruins and he would then sleep, chat to his mates for an hour or so and then drive us to the next place.

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The Sunrise at Angkor was stunning with chanting from the Monks in the background making you feel at ease. In fact just pottering around the temples all day made us feel like we were in a trance. I had heard such amazing things about this place and was a little unsure if it would stand up to the hype but I have to say that Siem Reap and Angkor Wat are the best ruins that I have seen and I can say that they will be hard to beat.
If you're in Bangkok you can get a trip which takes a few days and is worth it, even if you just have a day to see the ruins.

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Just when you think that up within the temples, after climbing 200 steps, you are free of children selling photocopied books, more pineapple, T-shirts and jewerly out pops a little girl or boy from behind a statue!

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Kids, kids everywhere - "1 Dollar!"

Some highlights within the temples are the "Tomb Raider" ruins Angkor Wat Ta Prohm Temple and then the Bayon faces. When you visit the Bayon faces, once you start to look for them you find the faces are everywhere.

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Tomb Raider!

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Bayon Faces

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Angkor at Sunset

Each temple has it's own history and is unique, Angkor Wat itself is not the only amazing temple in Siem Reap and if you get a chance to see the cambodian dancing then by all means take a look.

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Posted by Sophfidoe 23:43 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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