November 18, 2008

Beach life on the Andaman Coast

The Andaman coast is located on the Southwest corner of Thailand. The place is famous for its islands and beaches, framed by picturesque cliffs in the distance. This was the area of Thailand that was hit by the big tsunami in December of 2004, but the rebuilding has finished, and tourism is pretty much back to normal. Although, with the World's economy in shambles, locals have been saying that the tourist numbers are less than last year.

Jodi and I flew from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand, on Tiger Airways for practically nothing. Thank you Tiger. Phuket is probably the largest resort area on the Andaman Coast of Thailand. It's where most of the Europeans come for the winter season, and their main beaches are pretty tacky and over crowded. I stayed in Phuket town for two nights, and checked out Kata beach, which was a little less developed than Patong and Karon beaches, but it was still too much for me. Where there is an airport, there are too many tourists. It was the same when I visited the East coast island of Ko Samui three years ago. I wanted less people, and more of a backpacker vibe, so I caught the ferry to Ko Phi Phi.

Some might say that the islands of Ko Phi Phi are paradise, and others will tell you it's a party island nightmare. I guess it depends on what you want. I wanted good beaches, great diving and snorkeling, and some nightlife. Phi Phi is made up of two islands, the main island of Phi Phi Don is where everyone stays, and Phi Phi Leh is a marine park, where they shot the movie The Beach. I went on an amazing snorkeling trip that took me to Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh, where the famous white sand beach is located. The beach really is as beautiful as the movie portrayed it, even on a cloudy day.

As for the nightlife, I definitely got what I asked for. Aside from maybe the Greek Islands, I have never seen so much debauchery and drinking by backpackers. The main town of Ton Sai Bay on Phi Phi Don is a tiny, and walkable in about ten minutes. That means that there are so many guesthouses, restaurants, dive shops, and bars, all in one cramped area. You either love it or hate it. I loved it because everyone seems to congregate at a couple of places and you meet so many people. It's definitely the most social place I've been on my travels.

For nine days I had basically the same routine. I would spend my days lounging on the secluded beach by Viking Resort (definitely stay here if you want to get away from the party), and then each night I would gather with new friends (Australians, Chileans, Swedes, Argentinians, Americans) and eat the most amazing Thai food at Papaya's restaurant. Their massamun curry is the best I've ever had. After dinner we would sit at a little makeshift bar on the main corner outside of Reggae Bar, and then proceed to drink buckets (not cups) of Sangsom Thai whiskey, and then dance on the beach until the wee hours of the morning. I should mention that the Reggae bar has Thai boxing matches every night, and they encourage backpackers to give it a go. Hey, you might get a black eye, but at least they give you a free drink! I stayed at Golden Hill bungalows, which I highly recommend if you end up coming to Phi Phi. After nine days, my body told me it was time to move on, so we jumped on another boat bound for Ko Lanta.

The island of Ko Lanta is more of a place to spend a couple weeks. The island is pretty large, and so you don't feel overpowered by all the resorts. There are beautiful beaches on the southwest side of the island, and I had so much fun renting a motorbike for three days and just touring around. We actually traveled to Ko Lanta with Matt and Siobhan, two Aussies that we met in Phi Phi, and we became one big happy family. We checked into the same resort and spent three days doing everything together. I should mention that Ko Lanta is a steal for accommodation. We stayed at a nice little resort on the beach, with a pool, and my room with satellite TV cost me $12 USD a night! Phi Phi was way too expensive, so the resort on Ko Lanta was the perfect place to rest and get a little pampering. One highlight for me was visiting old Lanta town on the East coast of the island. The town is old as the name implies, and the houses are built on stilts. The other highlight was attending the festivities for the holiday of Loy Krathong. Under the full moon, I launched a Khom Fai (a fire balloon) into the sky and sent a raft out into the sea. The rafts are made from banana trees and decorated in flowers, candles and incense. Sending the rafts out to sea is supposed to symbolize letting go of one's grudges and anger, a kind of rebirth.

From Ko Lanta, I left Jodi, Matt, and Siobhan, and traveled to the beaches surrounding the town of Krabi. I am now living on Ton Sai beach, surrounded by huge cliffs, and I will be scuba diving and rock climbing for the next couple of months. But more on that later.

Here are my photos of the Andaman coast.

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