What better way to end a holiday in tropical paradise? The island of Koh Mak showed its beauty to me before in 2011 and I knew this was a perfect place to laze on the beach and enjoy the quietness and friendliness of this Thai gem.
The island Koh Mak is about 16 km2 with 800 people living on it and it is still a kind of well kept secret island in the Eastern Gulf of Thailand (between Ko Chang and the Cambodian border). There is no ATM or night-life on Koh Mak, only 10,000 palm trees, a Buddhist temple, tree fishing villages, over 20 resorts, a few shops and restaurants.
I booked myself one of the eleven bungalows in the Holiday beach resort directly on Ao Kao beach on the south-west coast of the island. This is the most popular beach with 12 little resorts along its beach and coconut trees leaning above the sea-water. The Ao Kao Beach is about 5 km long, so it was easy to find some beautiful lonely spots during my beach walks and to swim in the shallow water.
On the third day of my stay I went scuba diving in the Koh Rang National Park. In between the two dives we had a lunch on the beautiful white sand beach of Koh Rang. But most of my time was spend doing absolutely nothing while enjoying the hammock of my bungalow or having a little swim in the sea. During the sunsets I got some Thai massages (the painful ones) on the beach. This truly was the perfect end of my holiday!
Ko Chang (Lonely beach)
Ko Chang is the country’s third largest island. The last time I visited Ko Chang was in 2011. I returned to Lonely beach, a small village and beach in the south of the island. Although the west coast of the island gets more and more build up, I was pleasantly surprised how little has changed in the last few years on Lonely beach.
The crowd on Lonely beach remains the same, mainly backpackers and young people. No big resorts have been build here, so mass-tourism stays away and the village stills has the same laid-back feel as years before. I discovered a few new restaurants on the main road and menus are nowadays in Russian as well. The same guesthouses and bars run parties (including fire shows) on the beach and in the village and the white sand beach feels soft on the feet as ever.
However the best thing for me on Lonely beach are the amazing sunsets. Feels like being in paradise!
Pattaya (Jomtien beach)
Since it would make a very long day of traveling from Ao Nang tot the island of Koh Chang I decided to have a stop-over for a day between Bangkok and Koh Chang. Although I always have said I would never go to Pattaya when travelling in Thailand, the location of the city was ideal for my stop-over and it would give me the opportunity to check whether my prejudices about this city were right.
Once Pattaya used to be a small fishing village. Nowadays it is known for being the Disneyland of hedonism where nightlife, massages and bars are all in some way related to sex tourism. Because I certainly didn’t want to be in the middle of this, I booked a room in Jomtien beach area, a few kilometers south from the crowded and crazy Pattaya city center. The area is supposed to be more mellow and the beach is supposed to be a bit better.
After spending one day in Jomtien I have to conclude that my prejudices were right. The tourists around are mainly Russians (Hello Baboesjkas!) and older western man accompanied by young Thai boys/girls/ladyboys. The touts from the bars don’t hesitate to touch you wherever they like to get you into the bar. And the few kilometers of beach is mostly filled with umbrellas and sunbeds, while the water is a bit filthy.
One day on this beach is enough for me knowing that better beaches await me in Koh Chang (Thou I succeeded in finding a piece of Jomtien beach that wasn’t too crowded). And I didn’t felt the urge to visit Pattaya city to see more of this kind of tourism. It was an interesting day, but I was happy to move on to a more relaxt island vibe.
Although the weather forecasts predicted some rain, I travelled south on the Andaman coast from Khao Lak to Ao Nang near Krabi. Ao Nang beaches are framed by the limestone headlands and the town is a gateway to Railay bay (two bays further by longtail boat) and some beautiful islands. Next to the main beach is a small boulevard and across the road one can find many shops, massages and restaurants (and touts trying to get you into their shops).
I booked a guesthouse just 2 minutes from the beach and was thinking about visiting some more beaches (like Railay) from Ao Nang by longtail boat. Unfortunately the weather forecasts were right and the expected rain was not just a tropical rain shower in the end of the day. It rained pretty much all the time. Because of this the sea didn’t turn turquoise and greyness was coloring the sky…
In the dry hours I walked a bit along the beach to enjoy the beautiful scenery with the karsts rising up from the sea. The fact that I was suffering from some stomach problems didn’t help to undertake more adventurous things in the area either.
The upcoming weeks are supposed to have the same weather in the area (obviously the rainy season ends a few months later this year). Reason for me to book a ticket to Bangkok and travel to the Eastern Gulf Coast to be able to enjoy some sunshine and tan my skin. So the Southern Andaman coast islands remain on my travel bucketlist. A reason to return to Thailand once!
Similian Islands NP
An important reason for me to stay in Khao Lak for a few days was the possibility to visit the Similian Islands Marine National Park, around 60 km from the mainland. The Similian Islands NP is known to have some really good spots for scuba diving. I was advised to go scuba diving at the dive sites of Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock. These sites are actually between the Similian Islands and Surin Islands and are known to see not only the more common species of corals, fans and tropical fish, but larger animals such as manta rays, leopard sharks, nurse sharks and even whale sharks.
My first diving trip was to Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. On a big boat we left Khao Lak early morning to arrive at Koh Tachai a few hours later. There was a firm current during the dive and the big fishes didn’t show up. My air consumption was high and the dive lasted just over half an hour… Though it was a fair dive, I was hoping for better on the next two dives.
While the boat took us 25km south to Koh Bon we enjoyed lunch. Koh Bon is located about 20km north of Similan Island #9. We dived both the western and the eastern side of the ridge and got a better visibility then at Koh Tachai. Again no whale sharks or manta rays. However we saw many fishes, sea snakes, morays, shrimps and crabs. On the boat back to Khao Lak we enjoyed the beautiful sunset and drunk some beers to celebrate the day of scuba diving.
The purpose of my second day of scuba diving was to go to Richelieu Rock. Richelieu Rock was discovered as a recreational scuba dive site by diving pioneer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, with the help of local fishermen. Some have named this site as one of the world’s ten best sites and everybody on the boat was really looking forward dive this site. Richelieu Rock lies close to the Burmese banks, so the trip would take us a few hours by speedboat.
When we were approaching the dive site, the NP rangers called our captain to tell him we were not allowed to go diving on Richelieu Rock due to big waves. A big disappointment for the scuba divers aboard and the captain decided to go to Koh Tachai instead to make the two dives.
Compared to the dive on Koh Tachai two days before, the visibility was better today and the currents had changed directions. It made the two dives more like easy drift dives. I ended my two days of scuba diving without seeing whale sharks or manta rays. But I made some beautiful shots of the underwaterworld. The Similians Islands Marine National Park is one of the best places for beautiful scuba diving in the Kingdom of Thailand for sure!
The purpose of this holiday in Thailand was to explore the Andaman coast. So I booked a room at the Monkey Dive hostel in Khao Lak and got a flight from Bangkok to Phuket. The beachtown of Khao Lak is situated 100 km north of Phuket. Here long white sand beaches are backed by forested hills.
Nowhere outside of Aceh was hit harder by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, but the town has done some significant tourism resurgence since the tsunami. The Chinese and Russian mass-tourism hasn’t arrived in Khao Lak yet. Though the town is well equipped to tourists and has plenty of accommodation, shops and restaurants.
A major reason for many tourists is that Khao Lak is the most practical base to explore the Similian and Surin islands (70 km off shore). These islands are known for the excellent scuba diving. No wonder that so many dive shops are based in town.
I divided my time in Khao Lak between reading books on the beach and scuba diving in Similian islands NP. In the weekend I visited the festival in the main street that was organized to celebrate the end of Buddhist Rain Retreat and the start of the tourist high season.
Bangkok by bike and boat
My holiday to Thailand started in the metropolitan city of Bangkok. During my visits to Bangkok in 2009 and 2011 I stayed in the KhaoSan Road area, the backpacker-hub from Asia. Bangkok is more than tourist-madness on the streets, buckets of booze and touts shouting. So this time I decided to book a hotel at the Chao Phraya Riverside.
One of the reasons for me to stay at the riverside was the Co van Kessel bicycle-boat tour departed from the River City Shopping Center. Many times other travelers advised me to do this bicycle tour in Bangkok. Budget, time and location had been my excuses to skip the tour before. But now I wanted to be sure not to miss out on this one.
I booked the tour for the afternoon and I was a little bit worried when the pouring rain started just a little before lunchtime. We had to start the tour wearing ponchos… The first two hours we cycled through Chinatown, taking narrow alleyways and crossing several markets. Since it was a Sunday it was relatively quiet on the streets, but the smell of the food and flowers was all around. Thai people start cooking the food early morning and the smell of grilled fish (and others) at breakfast time is common here.
After visiting some of the many temple sites a longtail boat took us (and the bikes) further into rural Bangkok (Thonburi). Our prayers at one of the temple-sites probably helped us because it stopped raining. I really enjoyed watching the canal lifestyle of the Thai, the wooden stilt houses and the people fishing for food. What a contrast with the hectic city-life just a few kilometers away!
We got off the boat and cycled through some residential communities in the country-side before we enjoyed a proper Thai meal. Filled up by the delicious food we continued our biking tour through the green and humid fields. We boarded the longtail boat again to take us back to Chinatown and end this ‘off-the-beaten-track’-tour through Bangkok.
This was a great way to spend my Sunday afternoon. Bangkok deserves to be designated as the “Venice of the East” for sure!
Tomorrow I will continue this journey by flying to the south-west and visit Khao Lak, a beachtown located at the Andaman sea. Hopefully I don’t have to visit many temple-sites overthere to pray for sunshine!
I was a little disappointed by the amount of tourists on Ko Chang it was a blessing for me to arrive on the small and quiet island of Koh Mak. I found an island that even didn't have ATM's on it. I booked a hut at Monkey Island, a resort with a private beach and cozy huts. From this place I walked the beach for hours meeting just a few other travellers.
Here I stayed my last week in Thailand and did I celebrate Christmas days with some fellow Europeans. Since they island is fairly flat I rented a bike to get around and see the agriculture and the hidden artwork in the jungle. Last but not least I went scuba diving with Koh Mak Divers in Koh Chang Marine Park for two days.
Because the weather in the south was a little unpredictable I returned to the island of Ko Chang in the southeast of Thailand (I was there two years before as well). Despite it got even more touristy the last few years, I still enjoyed my time on Lonely Beach (where I was not so lonely this time). I got my own bungalow with sea view at Siam Hut and my supplies in the little village. After almost a week it was time to leave the island and continue to the smaller island of Koh Mak.
One can find Kanchanaburi just a few hours west of Bangkok. This place is known for the bridge on the river Kwai and the nearby Erawan waterfalls. I stayed on a floating guesthouse on the river Kwai and in the evenings I spend my time in the reggae bar enjoying some live music.
I did a day trip to the Erawan waterfalls and the Hellfire pass, a section of the Death Railway where some remnants of the Thailand-Burma railway are still intact. I learned that a lot of people from the Netherlands were also killed while constructing this railway to Burma during World War II.
Just before I am about to start a new job in the Netherlands I went to Thailand for a month. It has been over two years since I was in Bangkok. Once again I checked in at the Rambuttri Village Inn, close to KhaoSan road, were tourist madness on the streets was still alive.
After two weeks in Cambodia I crossed the border with Thailand and went to Ko Chang. It took me two days before I had my own hut with a hammock and a sea view on Lonely Beach. This beach village is located on the south part of the green and hilly island. Because of low season it was quiet and peaceful on lonely beach and I decided to stay for a week.
I completed the trail from Bangkok through Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia and after Ko Chang I went back to Bangkok for a night to catch the early flight to Bali, Indonesia.
We returned in the morning from Pai by mini-van to Chiang Mai to be able to catch the afternoon mini-van to Chiang Rai. I have had better bus-rides in my life, since these vans where filled up with locals who couldn't stand the turning mountain roads (and had to throw up all the time). In Chiang Rai I spend my last night in Thailand for the moment. Next day I was going to cross the Mekong river to Laos.
In the northern Thai mountains some kind of hippy vibe is alive in Pai. I stayed there for a couple of days in a riverside bamboo hut. I got around the area by motorbike to see waterfalls, hotsprings and Thai agriculture. Opium was offered by many locals to the tourists. I wisely declined the offers.
Because of the distance from Khao Yai NP to the north of Thailand I spend one night in Phitsanulok before I boarded a train to Chiang Mai. It was a beautiful ride and for the locals my presence was like an attraction in the zoo (felang! felang!).
Chiang Mai is a laidback place with many temple sites within the old city walls. It was easy to enjoy myself for a week here. I went to Thai boxing matches (with that annoying Thai music they play during the fights), I cooked my meal in a Thai cooking class and I strolled the markets and the temple sites. I even talked with some Thai monks for an afternoon so they could practise their English and I could get an insight in their lives.
On a tour to one of the mountain villages I gave in to settle myself on the back of an elephant. Though the elephants are used to this, I felt like I was doing the wrong thing here. For the same feelings I decided not to cuddle caged Tigers and not to visit the long-neck people villages. People and animals should not be misused for tourist purposes!
Khao Yai National Park
Jungle time! The Khao Yai National Park is one of the largest monsoon forests in Asia. I booked a tourguide for two days and we explored some of the NP. The tourguide knew how to spot the animals so this was the first time of my life I saw a wild brown bear! In the evening we went with some crazy guide into some caves filled with millions of bats. When the night falls all the bats come out of the caves to feed themselves in the jungle. For one hour it was a continuous stream of bats on their way to their diner. A spectaculair view!
At a short distance from Bangkok I stayed a night in Ayuthaya, a former capital of the Thai nation. I wandered around the old temples, among them was the royal palace from the mid-15th century.
The nighttrain from the south to the capital city of Bangkok was a lot of fun (I had quite some drinks with the employees of the train...). In Bangkok I found a guesthouse close to the commercial tourist hub of KhaoSan Road. This street is packed with bars, shops and eating stalls. And the party goes on 24/7 on this street. I visited the Grand Palace and the temples around it and I wandered the 46m long statue of the reclining Buddha.
Khao Sok National Park
Between the Andaman sea and the Gulf of Thailand laysthe Khao Sok National Park. I got myself a hut in the jungle and did a few jungle treks in the National Park. One night I slept in a floating raft house on the Chiaw Lan lake. I didn't need an alarm to wake up, the sounds of the monkeys in the trees was enough!
Ko Lanta felt like a relief to Daniel and me after staying two nights on Ko Phi Phi. The island of Ko Lanta is a little bigger and way less tourists are on it. We stayed in the bay of Ao Kantiang and enjoyed beachlife. We went around the island by motorbikes. This is a paradise! After a week on the Thai islands, I said Daniel goodbye to head further north, while he returned to Malaysia.