Thailand: North Andaman Paradise

Aside from being exceedingly fun, my time on Koh Samui and Koh Tao taught me a couple of very important lessons that I will take with me for the rest of my travels. To me, the most important thing I learned in the last week is also the simplest and it is that plans change. I tend to stress a little if things don’t go exactly as I plan but, the little detour to Samui showed me (and Darren) that a little bit of chaos in one’s itinerary can add something special to the trip and that the time you spend stressing over details cannot be spent enjoying them.

The town of Ranong is located at the northern end of Thailand’s Andaman coast and is primarily used to make visa runs as it is very close to the border of Myanmar. We stayed one night in this small town as we arrived too late to catch any of the ferries over to the islands. The next morning, Erin and Cecil ran for the border while the rest of us hit the docks and caught a longtail over to Koh Chang. The biggest lesson I learned about longtails is bring earplugs! After a “1 hour” turns into 2.5, you’ll wish you had something other than your fingers to jam in your ears. That being said, I was glad we spent the 150 baht otherwise we would not have run into Lek.

Initially, we had no plans for our Koh Chang accommodations and as the longtail, doubling as a cargo ship, hit its last stop on the island a Thai woman named Lek extended us an invitation to her set of Bungalows just up the beach. We were just about to explain that we would like to walk the beach and check out a few places before settling on one when, a returning tourist from Bavaria convinced us that Lek’s was the place to stay. My god was he right, this place was gorgeous! When we arrived, the tide was blocking the direct approach so we followed Lek along the beach past several bungalow resorts and then up onto a hillside path. This path took us to Nature View Bungalows where we met Lek’s husband Kase who welcomed us and showed us to our rooms.

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Our Koh Chang is not to be confused with the other larger Koh Chang also in Thailand. Power outlets were available during the day and only when the sun was shining, there was no internet and none of the rooms had an form of power. We made do, and were very happy to do so, with headlamps and candles. Our particular bungalow consisted of the bottom 2 of a 3 story building situated on the edge of a small rock face overlooking the bay. The interior of the second story room was tiled floor surrounded by windows and a large balcony complete with swinging hammock. The bathroom was windowless and built right into the rock face with candles arranged along the ledge adjacent the shower. The lack of electricity made it absolutely necessary that we slept with the windows open so, both of our rooms were complete with bug nets.

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During the second day on Koh Chang, Cameron and Cecil rejoined us while Erin went ahead to our next destination, Koh Phayam. The 6 of us explored the small island for the next few days taking small hikes into the bush up nearly overgrown trails, following the dirt paths that connect the various beaches and grabbing food wherever we pleased. I found the food to be phenomenal on Koh Chang, especially at our resort. Kase made some excellent cashew wine, a drink I had never heard of, but one which we all enjoyed over a few card games. In addition to the extremely potent wine, Cecil came back from Myanmar slingin’ the booziest Burmese “rum” (more like mosquito repellent) I had ever tried. Let me tell you, a lot of guesswork goes into that alcohol percentage.

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Eventually we felt it was time to move on so we boarded the ferry one morning and moved the 30 km over to Koh Phayam. This island was by no means as developed as the Gulf Islands but it was more so than Koh Chang and, in my opinion, my favourite stop so far. There were concrete paths, about the width of sidewalks, connecting the main beaches of Koh Phayam and dirt paths to facilitate travel to the less popular areas. So of course we decided to get our hands on some mopeds. Initially, it may have occurred to us that we don’t all need bikes as people can double to save gas but that ridiculous notion was short lived and soon we each had rides. Cecil, Patrick, Darren and Cameron managed to get their hands on the crème de la crème of island mopeds while I, being late to decide, found myself astride a faded pink beauty who eventually became known as Stinky Pinky, the dirty pink bitch…

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Aside from beautiful beaches, good food and friendly locals, one of the best parts about Koh Phayam was the noticeable lack of people. The main beach, Aow Yai, was 3km of sheer bliss. Being situated on the west coast of the island, it was the perfect place to catch the sunset and was our most frequented area of the island. The fact that it was covered in the perfect layer of hard packed sand provided us with an ideal surface on which to break the land speed record for farang on a moped. This gorgeous strip was also deserted so the risk of annoying other tourists was next to nothing. Although technically we were not supposed to be riding our bikes on the beach, the fact that nobody was there to tell us otherwise made it all too easy to roll the throttle back and hammer to’r.

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What made mopeds so necessary was that our resort, PP Land, was situated well off the beaten track and could only be reached by a trail through the bush and over a swamp. PP Land was a great place to call home for the next few days and the five of us: Cameron, Christina, Darren, Patrick and I shared a duplex bungalow, while Erin and Cecil had one just up the beach. Each was equipped with a fan and open roofed shower where, more than once, I looked over and found I was not the only one using the shower. Frogs, geckos, moths and even hairy spiders frequented the open stall.

My cousin Jenna arrived in Bangkok on the 12th and had until the 17th to unwind before her big trip through Southeast Asia, so what better way to unwind than on the beautiful beaches of Koh Phayam? After a night train, a bus and a ferry, I picked her up on the dirty pink bitch and showed her back to the Bungalows. The same day, Darren and Cameron began their Open Water Certification course in preparation for the upcoming dive trip we had planned the previous night. So while they were nerdin’ it up in school, the rest of us cruised the island, snorkelled and paid a visit to the sea gypsy village. To get to this particular part of the island we hit the dirt paths and, after a technical bit of riding we arrived at the village. To my knowledge, this was the least developed area of the island and, although the entire place was strewn with garbage, the people were friendly as ever and allowed us to explore.

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Sometimes the saying, “it’s a small world”, doesn’t quite cut it. It was our last afternoon on Koh Phayam and we decided to grab a bite to eat before heading to Phayam Divers for our dive trip. Patrick, Cameron, Darren and I had just sat down to order when we looked over and saw Patti and George Gough sitting right there beside us enjoying a plate of Pad Thai. I had heard that they were travelling Thailand but it was still a wild surprise to see fellow Terracites in such a remote location and it was great to catch up and hear about their time in Georgia. The two of them were working their way through Thailand and Koh Phayam was one of the stops on their list. Unfortunately, we had to return the mopeds and pack our bags so we had to say goodbye to the Goughs and head back to the bungalows.

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Getting away from the crowds of Koh Tao was definitely a refreshing break and I think we made the best of our time on the northern Andaman. Exploring a new island, enjoying its beaches and having them all to yourself makes for one great spot. Of the 2, Koh Chang turned out to be the better place to unplug (literally) and enjoy a plate of local cuisine but, I can’t say enough about Phayam. This place seemed to have everything, plenty to explore, lots of sand and just enough infrastructure to enjoy it all.

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Anyway, I better end this post, thank you for taking the time to read it. I know it was a long one but, I promise they will get shorter once I get caught up to the present. I am currently in Bali with Patrick, Erin and Cecil and we are getting set to head out to Raja Ampat, one of the world’s best and relatively untouched dive sites. I can’t wait. Cheers!

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