Our First Island: Phuket
We departed Bangkok and headed for the famous island of Phuket, the largest island in Thailand. After the chaos and crowds of the city, we were ready to relax on the beach and unwind for a couple days. We opted to stay on Karon Beach, forgoing the crowds and party-atmosphere of the more famous Patong Beach. We stayed at the Doolay Hostel, planning to use the hostel as a base to explore Phuket and the Islands in the Andaman Sea.
What We Did
Day 191 (1/29/17): We boarded a short flight from Bangkok to Phuket and took a cab to our hostel on Karon Beach. We wasted no time in putting on our swim suits and heading for the sand. After about five minutes, we realized the Thai sun is scorching hot, and we ran back across the street to a convenience store to purchase a couple of umbrellas. We got some good food and spent the night chilling out on the beachfront deck of the hostel watching the sunset.
Day 192 (1/30/17): We woke up and realized we hadn’t yet planned a way to visit some of the surrounding islands. So, Katie and I took our negotiating skills to the street, pitting a couple of travel agencies against each other to get a good deal on a tour of the Krabi Islands for the following day. After everything was booked we were super lazy, alternating between napping on the beach, listening to music, chilling on bean bags, going for walks (Justin and Kyle went on a really long one), sipping beers, trying local cuisine, and applying and reapplying gallons of sunscreen. In the evening, we took some blankets down to the beach and played euchre while watching the sun sink below the shimmering water.
Day 193 (1/31/17): Waking up early, we met our transfer to the pier to begin our tour of the Krabi Islands. We started our tour with a stop at Nok Island. It was a small island, but completely deserted except for our small group. At the encouragement of our guide, the five of us decided to hike barefoot and bathing suit-clad up the small mountain to the top. Once we reached the top, we were treated to a terrific view of the surrounding islands and posed for some awesome pictures. We descended the mountain and bounded over the sand and into the sea, desperate to wash off the sweat and mud now sticking to our brows and to soak our somewhat torn up feet in the water. We swam out to a couple of small rock formations jutting abruptly out of the sea and circled them, riding the current back towards the beach. We reboarded the boat and headed for our second island, Hong Island, known for its snorkeling. We spent about an hour or so diving down to the bottom to observe the sea cucumbers, urchins, and coral littering the bottom and swimming through the shallows with zebra fish and long tongues who were so unperturbed by our presence they would swim right up to your mask and try to take a nibble out of it. We once again got back on the boat and went to a floating Muslim village where we feasted on cashew chicken, coconut soup, squid salad, spring rolls, and white rice. We finished the meal with some fresh pineapple and watermelon before continuing on to our last stop at Long Island. Long Island was awesome in that it had a sand bar that went out into the ocean over 200 yards, and was also relatively deserted. A glance down the beach looked like a screensaver, complete with white sand, turquoise water and palm trees. After a while we boarded the boat again and headed back to the pier. We returned to our hostel, took a shower, did some laundry, and grabbed some dinner from the hostel restaurant. We popped downstairs to the convenience store and grabbed a couple bottles of cheap vodka to begin Kyle’s birthday celebration. We played euchre, asshole, and a couple other games out on the deck. Sufficiently buzzed, a few of us ventured out to some of the bars around our hostel, although the elevated cost of beer had us scampering back to the convenience store and the hostel, where we ended the evening talking on the deck.
Day 194 (2/1/17): After a bit of a lie-in, we packed our bags and made our way in a cab to Rawai Beach. When we arrived, we negotiated with a local man to rent a long-boat for the day. We took the boat out to Banana Beach on the beautiful Coral Island, arriving a bit wet already given the choppiness of the sea. Burnt crisp from the day before, we tried to find a spot on the beach in the shade away from the blistering Thai sun. We spent most of the day relaxing and swimming while watching a swarm of hornbill birds fight in a tree over our heads. We made our way back to Phuket and our beach and grabbed something to eat. We managed to catch one more sunset on this beautiful island from the water before calling it a night. Kyle was departing at 3 a.m. for his trip back to Vietnam, and we were catching an early transfer to our ferry to Koh Phangan.
What We Learned
• If you are looking for a more laid-back beach, stay at Karon. We found the beach to be gorgeous and have a good mix of restaurants and shops around. There are some bars as well if you are looking for a drink, but it is much more mellow of a scene than you will get a little farther north at Paring Beach.
• Never pay full price for a tour. When Katie and I went out looking to book some kind of island hopping tour, we were sure of our budget, but unsure of what kind of itinerary we were looking to do or even what was out there being offered. We started by just visiting a couple of agencies and looking at brochures. When the owner of the agency would come to talk to us we would show them some of the ones we were interested in, and then say something like “But it’s out of our price range”. They would almost always respond by telling us not to worry and that they would make a good deal for us. We would get their bottom line price, tell them we would think about it, and then head to another agency to tell them how much the other company was offering and asking if they would beat that price. Then, when we finally decided on our tour, we went back with slightly less money than the lowest price they had offered, told them we would pay that much and showed them the cash. This got us the lowest price possible. We paid 2200 baht ($63) for an all-day tour listed in the brochure at 3300 baht ($95). It pays to play the game.
• Don’t pay more than 1500 baht for a long boat rental from Rawai Beach during high season. They will try and argue 2000 baht, but you will be able to find someone to do it for cheaper. I promise.
• When coming to Thailand, bring loads of sunscreen. It is a rip off to buy here ($15-$20 per bottle), and you will use it every single day if you don’t want to fry.
• Eat more banana pancakes
• Our tour around the Islands was truly memorable. The beaches, snorkeling, lagoons, rock formations, and water look surreal, they are so beautiful. I always thought Pinterest and other sites were full of photo-shopped pictures of the Thai islands, and that I could expect to see something similar but not quite like those. I was wrong. It looks exactly like every beautiful picture I had ever seen. And while there were some other tourist groups there, especially on Hong island, it was nowhere near as crowded as I was expecting and some of the Islands were damn near deserted. I will never forget the magnificence of that place.