David, a HomeAway staffer, explores the beaches and cities of Thailand
We arrived in Thailand on an overnight flight to Bangkok via LA and Hong Kong. After retrieving our luggage at customs, we made our way to another gate for yet another (quick) flight to Phuket, an island off of the south-west coast of Thailand. Next up was taxi from the airport to the nearby Phuket Town for the night. It was quickly evident that travel by two wheels was far more popular here than in the States, as we passed countless bicycles, scooter, dirt bikes and motorcycles.
As we arrived in Phuket Town, we made our way out to a Thai restaurant to celebrate our arrival in Thailand. Maybe it was just the enthusiasm for travel, but after such a lengthy journey, we were not nearly as exhausted as we would have expected. We awoke in the morning, still energized and ready to catch the morning ferry to Ko Phi Phi Don, which was to be our ultimate destination for the first part of our trip. We passed many smaller island and rock formations on the ferry. The karst rock cliffs and green foliage growing amongst the rocks contrasted further against the blue waters. This was the beautiful destination we been promised, and it did not disappoint.
[Scenery from the ferry ride to Ko Phi Phi Don]
Wasting no time, we rented a sea kayak to paddle our way out to one of the island's attractions, known as Monkey Beach. Morning is a much more popular time for travelers, and by the time we arrived in the afternoon, the monkeys were a bit more hungry (and thirsty). We had barely paddled up to shore when our kayak was boarded by one of the resident Monkeys. We quickly bailed overboard, and the monkey reached in, and ran off with it's precious artifact, our bottled water. Seconds later it punctured a hole in the bottom and happily drank away. Fresh water is apparently a rarity on this sea-bounded beach. It was an entrance that we won't ever forget.
[Monkey On Monkey Beach]
We started out early the next morning with a hired Long-Tail boat trip out to the twin island Ko Phi Phi Leh, and the famous Maya Beach. We had to wait for the tide to come in before we could set out, but still managed to be one of the first boats to arrive. The beach and surrounding bay were breathtaking. After departing the bay, we made our way back around the island, and stopped off in a lagoon for some swimming and snorkeling.
The rest of our time on Ko Phi Phi Don would be spent enjoying as much as we could about the island. Every meal was superb, a highlight would have to be the restaurants in the open stalls toward the center of Tonsai. The barbecued chicken was fantastic. Time was passed enjoying the beaches, reading, drinking Chang and Singha beers, and we certainly couldn't pass up legendary Thai massage which was offered at many of the cabanas facing out over the bay.
[Ko Phi Phi Don Beach]
Our next stop was Railay, a ferry ride east across the bay, opposite of Phuket. Travelers to Railay via ferry should know that it does not dock at the beach itself, and that you will have to walk through the water a ways to reach the beach, so wear appropriate shoes!
The majority of our time on the island was spent at the beautiful Phrangnang beach. Reading, relaxing, swimming, enjoying a meal cooked up aboard one of the long-tailed boats docked at the beach.
[Boats on Phranang Beach]
One thing not to be missed is a sunset on Phranang Beach. Watching the long tails boats pass through the atmospheric lighting is soothing. After the sun goes down, splurging on a Romantic dinner at the Rayavadee is a special treat.
[Longtail Boats and Sunset at Phranang Beach]
There are a number of bars located on the east beach. One of the more well known is the appropriately named Last Bar, the last bar on the stretch. After some live music, the fire show began, where performers of various ages and abilities showed off their act twirling and throwing fire. The front row probably isn't the safest place, but makes for some great photos.
[Performer at the Fire Show at the Last Bar on Railay]
Rock Climbing at Railay is a must, even if you are inexperienced or a novice (we were both). We hired a guide for half a day and she supplied all of the gear. The views out of the bay after topping out on route have to be earned, and are worth the effort.
[Dave Rock Climbing on Railay]
After our stay at Railay was complete, we caught a long tail bought to Krabi, then a motor taxi to the small airport. Our next detonation was Chiang Mai, a City in the North of Thailand. Whereas the first part of the trip was focused on beaches and relaxation, Chiang Mai caters more towards exploration and activities.
At an information booth, we hired a driver for a day to take us to some of the local activities. We started off by visiting a monkey show, where monkeys show off their skills in activities ranging from climbing, riding tricycles, shooting hoops, and more. It was pretty touristy, especially after seeing monkeys in a more natural environment on Ko Phi Phi, but still entertaining. Our next stop was also built for tourists, but on a grander scale. "Tiger Kingdom" is a park with tigers of various ages, ranging from a few months to a few years old. The attraction here is not just seeing tigers in cages, but entering the cage with the tigers. This makes for some great photo opportunities, and allows you to pet a tiger, and these opportunities certainly are not found back home.
The final stop for our day was Wat Doi Suthep, a golden temple perched on the hill above Chiang Mai. The end of the day is a magical time to visit, as the monks come out around sunset to chant their prayers for the evening as they encircle the temple. Our driver left the car behind, and her English was good enough (better than our Thai!) to explain some of the rituals and surroundings.
[Wat Doi Suthep at Dusk]
The next day we took a tour, this time to an elephant camp outside of town. We arrived to watch the elephants bathe in the river, and then were encouraged to feed them bananas by the bunch. Next we were treated to a show where elephants showed off a number of skills, including the ability to paint a landscape scene. After the show was complete, we climbed atop one of the elephants, where we were seat-belted in, two-to-a-pachyderm and headed out into the jungle for an hour or two of trekking. It was certainly a memorable way to travel.
[An Elephant Painting]
The rest of our time in Thailand was spent browsing the Thai Market and more tourist-oriented Night Market, visiting temples (Wats) enjoying the fantastic Thai foods such as Tom Yum Soup, Northern Thai salads, curries and more. This marked the end of our stay in Chiang Mai, a place certainly worth returning to some day.