E: Island Hopping around Railay Beach

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After a speedily eaten Pad Thai we reluctantly boarded our boat to leave the Phi Phi’s. Our next point of call was Railay Beach, a coastal resort in close proximity to Krabi town. Our initial plan incorporated a short stay in Krabi town, but after hearing from multiple sources that Krabi was in fact a shipping town we decided follow up Kate’s friends recommendation that Railay was her favourite place in Thailand.

The Railay beach area is made up of three stretches of coast, one pristine white sand beach tucked away by limestone cliffs (above, Phra Nang Beach), another perfectly nice beach lined with hotels (West Railay) and one small stretch of coast comprised of rocks and concrete promenade (East Railay Beach). Upon arrival we set eyes on the latter during low tide where all the rocks and mud was visible and I turned to Kate, “You made us leave paradise for this!?”

The other two coasts of Railay Beach however are the perfect place to set your worries aside and relax. The only way to get in or out is by boat and transport can be arranged at various travel agencies dotted along the sea front. Prices for drinks and food at most of the restaurants are noticeably a lot higher than the rest of the places we visited in Thailand. I’d recommend sticking to the east coast for more reasonably priced dining options. My favourite activity of Railay Beach aside from the actual shore was hiking to an enchanting viewpoint and a gorgeous green lagoon tucked away behind some forest.

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The hike entrance is located between Railay east beach and Phra Nang Beach is quite challenging and for the majority of it you find yourself climbing vertically holding on to patches of red mud and tree trunks on your way up. The distinctive red mud in Railay later proved that it was ridiculously hard to remove from clothes, since that day I have still not managed to remove a few marks on my swimming trunks. They make nice if not slightly odd reminder of our time in Railay.

At the viewpoint we met a very friendly Austrian couple where we discussed the Bangkok protests, holidays and Austria’s recent victory in Eurovision. Regrettably although getting close, we struggled with the downhill climb to reach the lagoon. It was difficult to see how we would get back up once down, a rock climbing instructor later comforted us by letting us know she didn’t get to the bottom the first time she attempted the hike either.

Finishing the hike and turning to the opposite direction of the route we came, we exited from under the cliffs and found ourselves shrouded in a large group of Asian tourists, walking a little further along away from the cliffs you discover the full beauty of Phra Nang Beach, often voted as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. It’s so easy to see why. Beyond the soft chalky sands and turquoise waters the views consisted of limestone islets laced in greenery, distant cliffs and longboats scurrying across the sea.

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Some longboats even offer fresh juice and snacks, what more could you ask for in paradise? The crowds in area  weren’t too plentiful either, probably due to the limited options for reaching the peninsula. We spent the majority of the day going for dips in the water under the isolated limestone islet and listening to music whilst drifting in and out of sleep under the shade of the local flora. It was a truly brilliant day rounded off with some delicious green curry, morning glory (the vegetable) and ridiculously overpriced mango sticky rice.

Following a visit to the enchantingly noisy bats located in Diamond Cave, we opted for a small island hopping boat tour to Chicken island, Poda island and Tup island as a way of keeping us busy for the second day. The trip provided numerous opportunities for some brilliant snorkelling where we witnessed all sorts of coral and an interesting array of tropical fish. We had booked this through the restaurant which doubled as a travel agency that we had eaten breakfast at.

All the staff on the boat were extremely friendly and welcoming, seeming very proud of the place where they call home.  As the sun set over the peninsula of Railay we sat down on the sand and devoured a delicious Thai barbecue. Just before delivering us back home the boat tour ended with a visit to see some photosynthetic plankton which lit up when disturbed by movement underwater.

The time to depart from Railay arrived the next day, once again very reluctantly we arranged our transport to Bangkok before heading back to our favourite beach for a final few hours of bliss. It was there we accidentally encountered our friend from NUS Jan! In disbelief I sighted him on Phra Nang Beach and ran over to him. Both of us where pretty shocked, I mean what were the chances of us accidentally running into each other on a coast in Thailand? He decided to join us for the next leg of our journey, to the mighty Bangkok!

Railay beach was indeed one of the most special parts of our journey.

Favourite things to see/do:

  • Hike to Viewpoint/Lagoon (free)
  • Phra Nang Beach (free)
  • Four Islands boat trip
  • Diamond Cave to see the bats
  • Fluorescent Plankton

Tips:

  • East coast Railay is much cheaper for both food and accommodation
  • It might be advisable to take some climbing gear for the descent to the Lagoon
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E: Phi Phi Islands – Thailand, Still Paradise?

IMG_7717When the final exam paper came to a close on that glorious date the 28th of May I swiftly exited the exam hall, hit the button to the 21st floor and arrived back in the comfort of my 10 month orange walled apartment. I then began to fill my rather modestly small bag which would accompany me through the next 3295 miles or so of my final chapter of adventures in south-east Asia. The following two weeks would be the well deserved light at the end of the tunnel that everyone who studies at NUS should be entitled to. (Apart from those on pass/fail they deserve to sit some real exams)

Although excited I was slightly dubious about what my time in Thailand would be like. The comments me and Kate (my travel partner) had heard about the land formerly known as Siam formed a very mixed bag of speculations in our minds. Remarks stretched from ‘It’s the most beautiful coast you’ll ever see” to “It’s really cheap and tacky”. Expectations aside we arrived fresh and excited into Phuket International Airport. Phuket and Koh Phi Phi are often seen as the heart of the Thai tourism love story which went wrong. Phuket’s streets are messy and distasteful, cluttered with badly built bars and shops catering for a surprisingly older crowd. Lines of middle aged men desperately selling tickets to Thai Ping Pong shows prove quite the task to be overcome whilst making your way down the infamous Soi Bangla road.IMG_8220After escaping from the bombardment of people begging us to use their taxis, we were quietly approached by a duo of thai men offering us a ride. Before leaving we approached the tourist reception in hope for an estimate of a fair price for a taxi, the Thai women were not too keen to help and seemed to give us the first number that came to their head. We reluctantly agreed to take the duo’s taxi and were guided towards a shady car in an unlit parking lot. With no clue he gave us a price we got it down to half and after a few stops for food (for our driver) along the road we arrived at our hostel Sea Blue Guest House. The guy on reception was very friendly and helped us sort out transport for the next couple of days as well as kindly informing us that we had been ripped off. The room we had was clean and comfortable. Phuket gives off the vibe at one point it was a truly exciting town with a vivid night-life. Disappointingly it now carries a European package holiday vibe due to the many fast food chain restaurants that are scattered across the town. We were most surprised by the fact the main clientèle seemed to be an older crowd. We had a few beers at this one bar and a wandered around. There are still some decent street food stalls to be found for reasonable prices but quite simply we weren’t big on the feel of the place.

Boarding the boat to the Phi Phi Islands the next day, the limestone rocks which come into view near the end of the journey are truly captivating as you slowly approach them. I feel the limestone formations appear so majestic to us are because they less commonly appear in this form around Europe. Koh Phi Phi Don is the largest island of the Phi Phi’s and also houses the central ‘town’. The settlement has evolved over years into this intriguing, busy and complex backpackers maze. It is noticeable travellers have been coming here for a long period of time yet there is a definite remarkable difference between the tourists that come to Phi Phi and Phuket. Due to heavy rainfall during the first night, many of the streets flooded and this made for entertaining scenes of both tourists and locals overcoming obstacles throughout the following day. Despite that the area is slightly dated and a little uncared for, there’s a great deal of charm not only about the area but about the locals that live and work there. Many of whom have left their villages in search for a more prosperous life.IMG_8270

The town was actually badly damaged by a Tsunami that struck in 2004 but there has been rapid reconstruction work on the town and on the more badly damaged coasts. We managed to get a very decent price for a boat trip around Phi Phi Let and although bearing some resemblance to Ha Long Bay the smaller islands have a completely different atmosphere surrounding them. As we were there in low season it didn’t feel as touristy as we had prepared ourselves for. It was quiet and there was plenty of space to roam around Maya Bay without much disturbance. I think it’s wrong to look at the Phi Phi’s in the same way as Phuket, ruined by mass tourism, the islands have changed from the untouched heaven they once were, yet in it’s place there’s an incredibly exciting, fun and vibrant forum to meet other travellers and let your hair down. Paradise doesn’t have the same definition in every person’s book.

Favourite Sites to see:

  • Phi Phi Don viewpoint – A beautiful spot overlooking the two main coasts of the island. Requires climbing up a large number of stairs and a small entrance fee is charged (20 Baht)
  • A secret tucked away shore on the east of the island. Accessible on foot via a forested trail from the viewpoint. Hardly any tourists to be seen
  • The famous Phi Phi fire dancers available on the north facing coast of the main strip during most nights
  • The Lagoons around Phi Phi Let
  • The famous ‘Maya Bay’ (The beach)

Beware of:

  • Being ripped off by Taxi men at Phuket airport, even the tourist information office is on their side!

 

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