Did you know that Thailand has over 7,000km (4,400mi) of coastline and hundreds of islands within the Adaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand where the water is the color of emeralds? Thailand has become a popular tourist destination but because of the vast coastline and numerous islands, there are plenty of places to kick back and relax in this beautiful destination.
Our beaches of choices were Khao Lak, Ko Lanta, and Krabi town. From Chiang Mai we flew the budget airline, Asia Air, down to Phuket where we hired a driver to drive us from Phuket to Khao Lak.
Khao Lak is a small village bumped up to the mountains on the coastline. We specifically chose Khao Lak as it was the best location for diving at the Similan Islands. We stayed at the J.W. Marriott in Khao Lak due to the Sea Bees dive shop being located on the premises. It was beautiful, comfortable, and had a 4km long lazy river that wrapped around the property. However, if I had to do it over again, I would not have stayed at this beautiful hotel resort. With several hundred rooms, it felt more like I was in the United States than Thailand and with no local restaurants in the vicinity. The hotel’s restaurants are just about the only options with sub-par food and unjustifiably high prices. However, because we chose this location based on our diving itinerary and because the bed was insanely comfortable, we couldn’t be bothered by it too much.
So here’s what you should know about diving the Similan Islands from Khao Lak…it’s not close to the mainland and you have two options 1) speedboat: fast but bumpy. You will want to bring motion sickness medicine and ginger pills or 2) slow boat, smooth but long (like 3 hours each way, long). We had done a bit of research on where to dive in Thailand and we opted for the west coast, first and foremost, due to the gulf going into rainy season and also because the Similan Islands are famous for their beauty and spectacular diving. …and beautiful IT WAS! Above the water, the islands could rival the Maldives with the contrasting dark green trees, white sand beaches, and indescribable brilliant water color. I only wish we had more time ABOVE the water to enjoy its beauty. Under water…was another story. We were diving Island 8 and sadly, there was no wildlife to be seen but rather fallen rocks and boulders to swim through. Don’t get me wrong, swimming through tight crevices was thrilling but we left quite disappointed having not seen many fish, much less sharks which are sometimes seen in the area according to many dive sites. You can find a description of each of the Similan Islands here. My recommendation would be to discuss with your dive company the planned itinerary for your dive so that you know exactly what you are getting before committing. As for the Sea Bees dive company, they were professional, provided all equipment and (aside from a dull dive master) met our expectations.
After diving the Similan Islands, we hired a driver to drive us down to Ko Lanta where we were staying at another resort based on reviews, the Rawi Warin. I do not recommend the hotel and you can read my more detailed review here if you’re on the fence.
Ko Lanta is a rather large island and renting a moped to blaze some trails is the perfect way to discover this island. Many hotels offer bikes as a safer alternative.
As we had not had a proper beach day, we decided to have the ULTIMATE beach day and hire a long tail boat to take us on our own private tour. This was one of the best decision we made the entire trip. The cost was relatively inexpensive for a full day ($250ish) and included lunch and we were able to make our own itinerary. The first stop was Morakot (Emerald) Cave. We purposefully left early in the morning to arrive before the tourist crowds. Upon entering, we were guided in by headlamp through a dark cave with the sounds of waves crashing within the dwellings. It was eerie and amazing all at the same time. Eventually, light creeps in and you find yourself at the mouth of a cave opening to an area that is completely enclosed by tree-clad cliffs. I can’t imagine that there are many places in the world that rival Morakot Cave; the peacefulness, serenity, and beauty made the efforts getting there well worth it. Since we arrived early in the morning, tide was low which meant that the emerald water spilling into the enclosed jungle was sparse. However, we thought it was more than a fair trade to get to experience it without 50 tourists.
After Morakot Cave, we opted for some snorkeling. As this was not a dive company (and we don’t free dive), snorkeling sufficed and we had a great time. Our boat arrived to a snorkel spot between two high cliff islands just as other boats were leaving so once again, we had the area to ourselves. I am still working on finding out the name of the two island rock formations we were able to snorkel.
After we were finished snorkeling, our boat crew served us chicken fried rice and after an eventful morning, we enjoyed every bit of it! Our next and last stop was Bubu Island. I have referred to this island as a little piece of heaven on Earth. This picturesque island is exactly what I think of when I think of exotic beaches. Low laying trees jut out to the water with their smooth bark inviting you to lay on them…and that I did! There’s a small shop on the beach that sells some drink and food items. We found other Bubu Island visitors congregating in the area; however, we snagged a Chang beer and took off exploring around the corner. I was amazed at how we had this stunning beach to ourselves. Our time on Bubu Island transported us away from any responsibilities and all seemed right with the world.
For dinner, we went TWICE to Oasis Sunset where we snagged a front table overlooking the beach and sunset. The food and service were amazing with northern Thai cuisine. Several years ago a young couple got tired of the Chiang Mai city life and migrated south to open a restaurant on a beach….they’re like the Thai version of Tom Cruise in Cocktail…only more family friendly. One thing should be noted about Thailand sunsets in November….the skies are painted like cotton candy. Marbled deep pinks and blues fill the sky in a way no artist or picture could recreate. Easily, Thailand has come into our top three in our list of amazing sunsets and it is not to be missed!
And just when we thought our beach experience couldn’t get any better… we found ourselves in the town of Krabi. We absolutely loved our stay at Rayavadee. It is settled between Railay Beach and Phranang Beach (my favorite of the two). It was a truly special place and you can read my detailed review here. The beaches get cluttered with tourists (especially Railay) but being a guest of the hotel awarded us private sitting areas and beach front restaurants that were only for Rayavadee guests. If you want to stroll the beaches before the tourists arrive, get there early. Take a pass down the beaches before breakfast as it doesn’t take long for the long tail boats to arrive. We also had access to kayaks, rock climbing, an infinity pool overlooking the beaches, hiking and local restaurants and shops nearby….the list goes on…We dined almost exclusively at the hotel and did not regret doing so; however, for lunch one day, we walked down to the pedestrian walkway and checked out some of the local dives. One thing is for sure, authentic Thai food is AMAZING and eating in a shack while indulging on Thai teas, curries, and mango coconut sticky rice only added to the charm!
Krabi was the perfect ending to a 16 day, once-in-a-lifetime holiday!