Khao Sok National Park – A Hop Off Thailand’s Beaten Path

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The South of Thailand is known mostly for Full Moon parties, rum buckets, and beautiful beaches.  Few people who come to Thailand know about Khao Sok National Park, the green jungle in between the Andaman Sea and Indian ocean.

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Khao Sok is a national park that’s been around since the 1980s.  It consists of your standard National Park type deal with waterfalls and hiking trails, and more importantly gorgeous limestoe-cliff-filled Cheow Lan Lake, which comes up in any google or Pinterest search of Khao Sok.  Tigers and elephants have even been spotted in the park from time to time.

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During a recent 3-day weekend, my friends & I decided to head down south to check it out.

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Getting There

From Bangkok’s Southern Bus Station (Sai Tai Mai in Thai), you can take an overnight bus to Surathani.  It’s about 10 hours, and the bus we took was only 500 baht(about $15), although they range from 500-1100-ish.  The overnight busses in Thailand are pretty nice, and usually come with water/snacks/food.  On the way back we took Krung Siam, which even included massage-chair seats and personal TVs.  High-so, am I right?

Once you get to the bus station in Surathani, you have to hop on another mini-van that goes to Khao Sok.  Staying in floating bungalows on Cheow Lan Lake an hour further is an option, but we’re peasants, so we opted to stay at Palm View Guest House, which cost 325/baht person for squeezing 4 people into a family-sized bungalow for 2 nights.  I’d highly recommend it; it’s walking distance from the town and park entrance, and the people who work there are super nice.

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The palm trees were freaking HUGEEEEEE. 
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The food at the guesthouse was also DANK.  Shout out to Mama Nu.

AirAsia also has cheap flights from Bangkok to Surathani, and you can get vans from the airport to Khao Sok.

The Park

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After rolling off at overnight bus around 7 AM and checking in to our guesthouse, we went for a 6 KM hike through the forest.  There are plenty of guides around here that offer treks, but again we’re poor, so we did it ourselves.  You can also tube, but it’s February and Thailand is heading towards dry season, so the water in the river was too low.

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The park has a steep entry fee of 300 baht, which is good for 24 hours.  You also can camp inside the park if you’re down with bugs.

Speaking of bugs – thank GOD we didn’t see any, but every other blog I’ve read about Khao Sok says that the leeches are vicious.  Apparently it’s worse during rainy season, so if you visit the park during September-December make sure you bring hella bug spray.  I drenched myself in the stuff regardless.

The hike was decent; there was a pretty nice river to swim in.  But it was rainy so we got lazy and didn’t hike all the way up to a waterfall, after another hiker informed us that it wasn’t that impressive anyways.

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Let’s all take a moment to laugh that we’re all so pale we’re LITERALLY GLOWING.  Vacation time is in order. 

That night we hit up Jumanji, 1 of 3 bars in town, complete with a bunch of hammocks and absolute garbage rasta remixes of pop songs.  Also 1 of 3 rasta bars in town; Khao Sok isn’t much for nightlife, and the town itself is kind of dead.  Because we’re American and obnoxious we even brought our own stuff to make s’mores to the bar, as they had a fire pit.  It was a Thai interpretation with 7/11 crackers instead of graham crackers & kit kats instead of Hershey’, but we did our best.  Festive, am I right?

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Cheow Lan Lake

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Day 2 we woke up chipper bright & early to head to the lake.  We hired a van to take us to that lake that cost 1500 baht, and it took about an hour to get there.  There was yet another steep friggin entrance fee, this time 250 baht.

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Baby in a hammock at the park entrance.

There’s a million different things you can do on the lake – picnic, kayak, tube, etc.; but we decided to just hire a longtail to take us around for the day.  We had to bargain a little, but for 2000 baht we had our own chauffeur longtail driver for the day.

Homie first took us around to a nice little bay to take pics (Khao Sok is GREAT for pictures), brought us to some floating restaurant for lunch, and brought us out to some other bay to swim.

I loved the lake because it wasn’t very crowded- it was almost like we had our own private little bay to drink & swim around in for the day.  Just 8 of us, a couple bottles of Hong Thong whiskey, and an obnoxiously loud set of speakers.  And the scenery was absolutely GORGEOUS, it legit looked like something out of pirates of the Caribbean, complete with monkeys and all.  Did you know monkeys can swim?

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Our chauffeur for the day.

The sunset over the lake was by far one of the best sunsets I’ve seen in my entire life.  I also loved the lake because it was FRESHWATER, and I could swim without burning out my eyeballs.  Maybe I’m a brat because I grew up swimming on freshwater Lake Michigan beaches, but swimming in saltwater with my eyes open drives me nuts.

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Floating bungalows where we stopped for lunch.

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Group shot – with the people who worked at the restaurant who wanted pics with the weird foreigners.

I haven’t been yet, but my friends said that it compares to Halong Bay in Vietnam, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.  Obviously we’re biased because we love Thailand, but they also said it’s more beautiful than Halong Bay.  Their reasoning was that a) it’s way less crowded and b) you can see more of the limestone cliffs.  Something to consider if you’re thinking about either of the two.

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To get back it cost us 1500 to hire a van.  Our driver was DOPE and even had an AUXILIARY CHORD (a rare find in taxis/vans these days) AND lights, so we bumped all the way back to our guesthouse.

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Getting Back

You can get a big bus from the Khao Sok bus station to the Surathani bus station that leaves every hour until 4PM and costs 100 baht/person.  You also can get a van that costs 150 baht/person.  If you’re going during a holiday weekend, I’d recommend booking the van ahead, as we didn’t and we almost didn’t make it back to our overnight bus back to Bangkok.

If I did Khao Sok again, I’d definitely make sure there was some extra time for kayaking on Cheow Lan Lake, and for tubing down the river.  I’d also want to stay in one of the floating bungalows on the lake for at least a night.  They cost around 1500 baht/person/night; but they only include the bare necessities.  And by bare necessities I mean mats on  the floor and electricity that only lasts until 6PM.

All in all, Khao Sok was absolutely beautiful, and is definitely off the beaten path for most people that come to Thailand.  If you’re planning a trip, it’s a nice stop for green in between island-hopping.

OUTTAKES

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Clearly getting along well with the humidity.  Nice hair idiot.

It’s Raining But Phuket – 2 Days in Phuket Town During Monsoon Season

Ahhh the world renowned Phuket island.  PS it’s pronounced Poo-ket, not Fuk-it, and definitely not Foo-ket.  After popping onto Railay beach and Ton Sai to stay hello, Sam(@sawatdeesam on wordpress) and I decided to head back to her place in Phuket to finish our week of island hopping.  No complaints on my part, Phuket is expensive, and having someone to stay with is a wallet saver.

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We took a government van from the bus station in Krabi.  The trip took about 3 hours and cost us 180 baht.  The government vans in Thailand are how Thai people get from city to city, and they are much cheaper than the big double-decker busses you book with a travel agent.  Our trip cost us about 180 baht, quite a relief after dropping 400 baht on every single ferry ride.

Phuket is a massive freaking island.  There are many resorts, cities, and different neighborhoods.  Sam lives in Phuket Town, right by charming Old Town Phuket, so that’s where we spent our time.  To be honest we were pretty lame on this part of the trip as we were exhausted from running from island to island, plus it was monsooning almost the entire time that we were there, so we spent our time doing normal Sam & Tina things like catching up on the Bachelorette and getting our nails done.  We found this fabulous nail salon called “Get Nailed,” the language barrier never fails to entertain.

 

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Old Town Phuket

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Honestly this was my favorite part of Phuket.  We spent some time in Old Town, walking around, shopping, and checking out a couple of coffee shops(always).  Old Town almost felt like Charleston, it had Portuguese architecture, the first hint of any European influence that I’ve seen in all of Thailand (outside of Portuguese influence in food).  It was really pretty and had a charming antique vibe to it, with colorful buildings and pretty architecture.

Old Town also had some really pretty graffiti and street art, mixed in with the pastel buildings.

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I love this one personally.  If you look you can see different logos peeking through, like Dunkin’ Donuts and Glico(Japenese candy company, I highly recommend their Pocky).

Mac Chiato House

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Seeing as this was rated as one of the top coffee shops in Phuket, Sam and I of course had to pop in.  The coffee shop was super trendy and my cappuccino was decent, and it gave off warm, coffee shop vibes that I miss from the Western Hemisphere.  Their macarons were pretty good, a rare find in Thailand, I’d recommend the wasabi flavor.  I also had a solid croissant, another ~rare~ find.  All around a nice place to hang on a rainy day.

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Screwed up my latte art before snapping a pic, ooooooops.
Café 66 Coffee

Just in case you thought we only hit up ONE coffee shop while in Phuket…this one isn’t particularly well-known like Mac Chiato House, but it gets honorable mention due to the excessive Teddy Bear theme going on and the interesting plating.  Rubber duck amuse-bouche?

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Monkey Hill

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One touristy-esque thing that Sam & I did in Phuket was take a trip up Monkey Hill.  When I say touristy, that’s just comparatively speaking.  There were surprisingly few people on the hill itself, and Sam said that there actually isn’t a lot of tourists that make it up to Monkey Hill.  My theory on this is that Phuket Town is about a 15-20 minute drive on the beach, not really making it an ideal location to stay for tourists when compared to glitzy beachside resorts.

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The exercise equipment in question.  On the sign – note the difference between the two monkeys LOL.

The hill itself was just that, a hill.  Complete with public exercise equipment that I’ve seen across Thailand (get on it USA).  But I’ve never seen more monkeys in one place in my entire life.  They were literally everywhere, sometimes way too close for comfort, reaching for any object they could, be it cell phone or selfie stick.

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Sam said that it’s advised not to go to Monkey Hill at night, as the monkeys fight with the stray dogs over territory.  I’d pay to see that kind of ish go down.

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Outside of the monkeys, the hill offered a nice view of the city.  Other than that it was just pretty.

So there you have it.  My exciting and riveting 3 rainy days in Phuket.  Other than what I listed we just hit up a couple of markets, but nothing unique enough that they’re worth mentioning.  No complaints, I had coffee, the Bachelorette, monkeys, and Sam; I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I’ve heard a lot of backpackers complain and say that Phuket is overrated.  I don’t think that’s true, I just think that it’s a large island and you need to move around a lot to see the different beaches, or stay at a nice all-inclusive resort.  I think that coming back to Phuket when I’m an established real human being who has money to ball at a nice resort will provide a completely different experience.

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The view from the top of Sam’s apartment building.

Muay Thai – In The Ring with Sam & Tina

When Sam & I visited Koh Phi Phi (an island in the South) a couple weeks ago, upon recommendation we headed to Reggae Bar, a bar whose main feature is live Muay Thai boxing.  There’s a ring in the middle of the bar, and if you sign up to box you get a medal and a free bucket after, win or lose.DSC_0515.jpg

Being ourselves, after pre-gaming at our hostel Sam & I decided that it was a great idea to hop in the ring for free buckets.  In our defense, our wallets were painfully thin at the moment, as it was the week before pay day and Phi Phi was wringing us dry.  It’s a beautiful little island, but the western amenities it offers also come with western prices.  Not that we actually needed a free bucket, we just started foaming at the mouth upon hearing the word “free.”

After a few minutes of being at the bar, we realized that people were actually taking the Muay Thai fighting seriously.  The spectators were getting really into the fights, and I don’t think I saw a single other boxer that had been drinking.

 

Discussing our strategy before hopping in the ring, clearly before we realized what a mess it was going to be.  Note Sam’s stylin’ Muay Thai shorts.

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We didn’t want to actually hit each other, so we had been planning on faking it.  To be honest I was totally fine with boxing Sam, but she wasn’t cool with boxing me, since she’s actually a nice person, so I went with it.  Considering the fact that we had had a few at this point, I’d say our acting skills were slightly less than sub-par.  We were about to back out when the ref came over, handed us our clothes, and told us we had 2 minutes to get dressed and in the ring.

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Then we hopped in the ring, her in one corner with her assistant(proper boxing terminology?) and I with my own personal Mr. Miyagi in mine, and we went for it.  The bell rang, and our conversation went something like this(all done in a very loud whisper):

Me: PSSSSSST Sam just hit me!

Sam: I DON’T WANT TO HIT YOU I can’t!!!

Me: SAM just do it!

(Sam fake hits me, but judging by the boos in the audience beginning to become audible the didn’t believe her)

Me: GOOOOD!(always encouraging) Now hit me for real again, I can take it it’s totally fine!

Sam: OKAY OKAY okay okay okay (hits me a lil bit harder)

At this point I dramatically fall to the ground and roll over, before Sam fake hits me again and I pretend to be down for the count.  The bell rings, and Sam is pronounced winner.  At this point we’re both all like WOOOOO YESSS it’s over, because we just wanted to GTFO and get our free buckets, but to our disappointment, we were informed that there would be another round.

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At this point the boos in the audience were getting a little louder, so the bell rings and I begin my own coaching once again.

Me: SAM hit me it’s fine!

(Sam throws a light punch)

(I fake punch Sam back)

(Sam hits me with the one-two)

(I fake high-kick Sam, before again dramatically falling over)

At this point whoever was running this pony show realized that we weren’t going to improve our fighting, and for the sake of his business(people were REALLLLLY booing at his point) and the sake of our last few shreds of dignity, the fight was called.  Sam & I happily pranced on out of the ring and went to enjoy our free buckets.

Why anyone would get pissed about not seeing legit Muay Thai at a bar is beyond me?  But whatever, no regrets.  Oh, and our new British/Dutch roommates from the hostel got pictures of the entire fiasco.

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Sam with our bucket, me with my medal and our British hostel mate Pete, who photographed this fiasco.

So if you’re ever in Koh Phi Phi, make sure you head out to Reggae Bar to check out the Muay Thai fighting.  And if you’re in the mood to have both your ribs AND you ego kicked in, pop into the ring for a few rounds.

 

Longtail Ride of Death: Snorkeling in Koh Phi Phi

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In addition to fiery jump ropes and Muay Thai bars, Koh Phi Phi also offers beautiful snorkeling, scuba diving, and other aquatic adventures.  Originally, Sam and I had planned to sign up for a booze cruise around the island on our second day there.  Our hostel offered one that had an open bar for 1600 baht, but my roommates said they had found one for 600 baht that was BYOB when they visited, so we were on the hunt for a bargain.  That is, until we split about 3 buckets and danced on the beach until 2:30 AM.  Deciding that we were physically in no condition to even see alcohol for at least 24 hours, we decided to spend a relaxing day snorkeling around Koh Phi Phi Leh.

After a life-saving overpriced western breakfast, we went down to the pier to see what kind of day trips we could find.  Thinking that we were getting onto a nice, large, SAFE boat, we were excited when we successfully bargained with a boat captain to get a snorkel trip around the island for 600 baht per person.

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Subsequently, we were a little confused when our boat captain turned out to be a mere water taxi driver and our water chariot turned out to be a tiny little long tail boat.  As if purposefully trying to add dramatic effect, the driver then tossed two unsanitary-looking pieces of “snorkel equipment” that had been promised onto the murky boat floor.  Longtail boats are the boats that you see on Pinterest when you look up beaches in Thailand.  They’re boats with literally a longtail end, and they’re pretty freaking small when you consider that you’re taking them on the Andaman Sea.  However, we were really too hungover to do anything about it, so we said Mai Pen Rai and hopped aboard.

Disclaimer:  According to our British hostelmate there actually is a snorkeling cruise on a real ship that you can find in the harbor, we just messed up and took the wrong bargain.

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Did I say longtail boats are small?  They’re even smaller when you realize that it’s Monsoon Season, you’re 4 kilometers from shore, and massive waves and ugly rain clouds start rolling by.  I wasn’t so much concerned for my safety as I was for the safety of my cell phone and camera, but I think Sam may have found religion about 6x on that trip.

Safety concerns aside, it really was a nice ride.  First the driver took us to Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh, the bay from the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio.  However, we were too cheap to drop 400 Baht to step foot on the beach, and it was wayyyy too wavy to snorkel, so we opted to skip it.  So not worth the Instagram.

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After that the driver took us to another bay, which was much calmer, and we hopped out to snorkel.  Unfortunately, as it was really rough out, snorkeling wasn’t too great, but it was nice to swim, and we did see a few little tiny fish.  Classic Thailand, the driver didn’t even have a ladder for us to get back in the boat, so when it was time to go this little 80 lb Thai man physically pulled us back in the boat.  The size and strength of Thai people never ceases to amaze me.

Our final stop was Monkey Beach around the other side of Koh Phi Phi Leh.  This beach was exactly that, a beach with monkeys.  Although there really wasn’t much of a beach, maybe because the tide was in?  Regardless, tourists from other groups were hopping in the water to swim and take pictures with the monkeys.  Sadly, we even saw a monkey grab a can of beer from one of the booze crusies.  While people laughed and took pictures, I’m sure that poor 15-lb monkey was well on the way to being drunk, confused, and miserable.

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After all of that rocking and bobbing around Koh Phi Phi Leh we returned to shore.  The whole trip was around 3 hours, and we basically hired our own private longtail to take us island hopping.  With a bigger group it would probably be much cheaper, and in nicer weather it would be great.  I’d definitely recommend trying it, but preferably not after a night out on the town.

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From Railay to Ton Sai, My First (Involuntary) Jungle Trek in Thailand

The third island that Sam and I decided to hit during our week of island hopping in the South was Ton Sai.  Ton Sai beach is next to the Pinterst-famous Railay beach.  Both are technically just beaches that are a part of Krabi next to Ao Nang, but for the sake of island-hopping I’m just referring to them as islands.

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Longtail ride of death #2 of our week in the islands, en route to Railay.

Ton Sai is a small little hippie beach, full of shroom shakes and Thai people with dreadlocks that may possibly be actually Jamaican.  It’s full of little backpacker bars coated in neon paint, some super cool graffiti, and has a really nice beach that’s far less crowded than Railay.  So after getting a 450 baht package van and ferry ride from Ko Lanta to Ao Nang to Railay, Sam and I were pumped to find a water taxi to check out this little oasis.

Ton Sai had been recommended to us by a few people.  “It’s a cheaper version of Railay” they said.  “It’s a cooler off-the-beaten-path-more-hippie version of Railay” they said.  “You can stay at Ton Sai for cheap and just walk over to Railay when the tide is down” they said.  “It’ll be fun’ they said.

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After hopping off the longtail from Ao Nang(the unsafe longtail that basically almost sank because it was so overcrowded and full of luggage), we sought a water taxi driver to take us to Ton Sai.  The tide was down, so according to what we had been told we could walk, but we didn’t know how to get there and we were carrying our heavy backpacks.  Plus it was 95 degrees, but it’s always 95 degrees so I guess that’s not a very valid point.

We were bargaining with a water taxi driver to take us to Ton Sai along with one other very lost-looking Chinese girl, when fate intervened.  A middle-aged trustworthy-looking American guy cut into our argument and said to us in a low voice “Don’t pay for a water taxi, it’s just a 20-minute walk that way” before he pointed to the right down a nice-looking sidewalk.  Sam and I looked at each other and said in unison “never mind!” to the taxi driver and headed off down the yellow-brick road.  The driver laughed as we walked away and said “it’s 40 minutes away” but we assumed he was trying to take advantage of us tourists and kept walking.

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Subtle advertising.

For some reason we were getting harassed more than usual by random resort-workers and travel agents to come stay at their resorts.  Maybe because we look like walking targets with our blonde hair?  Or maybe because it’s off-season for tourism so they need business more than usual?  But either way, it was irritating.  So when we passively and annoyedly replied “Ton Sai” to a resort worker when he asked us where we were going, we initially ignored him when he said we were going the wrong way.  But then a Thai woman that looked like she was also a tourist offered to help us, and showed us a map.  We were indeed headed in the wrong direction.  We couldn’t get to Ton Sai by walking around the perimeter, we had to walk across the little peninsula, through the area that hadn’t yet been developed by resorts.

Why we missed this first sign that the American guy was full of it is beyond me.  But it was the first indication that we should’ve just sucked up the 100 baht and taken the water taxi.  The second one came when we asked another resort worker to point us in the direction to Ton Sai, and he again laughed and said it was very far.  This was after he had tried to get us to stay at his resort, so we again didn’t believe him.  “Thais are so lazy!” we said to each other(which is kind of true when it comes to waling places).  Another shop owner told us that she didn’t know how to get there because she had never walked there in her life.  “That’s the most Thai thing I’ve ever heard, that she’s lived here her entire life and has never walked to Ton Sai” Sam exclaimed.  Again, not an entirely invalid point, Thai people do not like walking.

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Graffiti wall in Ton Sai.

We eventually found ourselves on a path that seemed to be leading through some tall grass.  We assumed that the rough grass that we could barely see through would only last for a few hundred feet, and that we would soon be walking along the pretty coastline across sand while the tide was down.

We were right about one thing.  The tall grass did end.  But then it escalated into a full-blown forest, and before we knew it we were in the middle of the jungle in Thailand on an island with no cell-phone service and heavy bags to haul.

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The path wasn’t even a nice hiking path.  It was full-blown rocks and roots, and narrow enough that we had to walk in single file.  Had we not been dressed in our island attire of flips-fops and patterned rompers and not been carrying 30 lb bags, it would have been hard.  Plus it was the middle of the day, and per usual it was absurdly hot.

I was unsure for a moment as to whether we were on the right path,  but then we stumbled onto a small abandoned shed that had graffiti on it, including “Ton Sai Beach à” with an arrow pointing down the path.  We were deep enough into our pride and the jungle at this point that a little graffiti was enough confirmation to keep going.

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Then the path started to go uphill.  I kept thinking about scary movies where hikers had gotten lost in the woods and never retured(ex. Blair Witch Project) and really freaking wanted to turn around.  But Sam insisted that we were on the right path, and that her 2 bags that she was carrying were super heavy and we had to keep walking.

This whole time our eyes were peeled for snakes and huge spiders.  I’m horrified of finding Spiders in my apartment, so trekking through their natural territory was quite stressful.  We actually stumbled onto some marble-sized shiny black egg-looking things, and I honestly think they might have been huge spider eggs.  Not wanting to scare myself, I still haven’t looked up what they were, and I have no plan on doing so.

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Then I kid you not, electrie wires started running across the path.  And not just on the ground where you can easily step over them, they were hanging 2-3 feet above the path, in clumps of 4 at a time, so I literally had to contort my body through them like a spy.  Sam actually tripped and grabbed onto one mistakenly, #blessed that it didn’t snap.

After our 40 minute walk through Dante’s Thai Inferno, we saw hope in the distance.  There were buildings, and buildings usually mean people!  To our disappointment(again), upon approach we realized that they were actually dilapidated old bungalows.  I would have thought they were abandoned, except for the fact that one unfortunate soul was out wacking monstrous weeds in the 95 degree heat.  We had finally reached Ton Sai, and there was a population of about 20 on the entire beach.

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After we passed the creepy empty bungalows, we passed some more backpacker-looking-type accomodations.   By backpacker type I mean they looked cheap.  By cheap I mean there were literally mattresses and hammocks out on dirty-looking decks.  We did see some other backpackers, about 8 total, and every single last of them dreadlocked and tie-dyed.

Then we passed the bars, which were also empty aside from one or two Thai rastas.  The signs for shroom shakes and neon graffiti were the only real indication that we had in fact landed on Ton Sai, and not stumbled onto a random little town near Railay.

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We stopped at bungalow after bungalow, looking for a clean place to stay.  The only one we found that actually had other people in it was still a 10 minute walk from the beach, and the room we were shown didn’t have electricity that functioned.  I know, 10 minutes from the beach, soooo terrible.  We were spoiled after staying in a beach hostel on Phi Phi were we could roll out of bed and swim in 85 degree turquoise water.  So we kept walking, thinking we would find something.

Before we knew it, we had landed at the beach, and it looked like it was soon to storm.  “Where you go?!” the water taxi rasta drivers yelled at us.  We ignored them for a few minutes, but then decided that since no one was on the island it wasn’t worth it to stay in a gross accommodation.  Like the true fake backpackers we are, we bargained with a taxi driver to take us back to Ao Nang so we could get a bus back to Phuket and stay in Sam’s apartment.  Not that it was much of a bargaining process seeing as every taxi driver on the island was present, and we had no other option to get back to Railay besides swimming.  After we settled on a price and started to head towards the long tails, it of course started to downpour, preventing us from leaving immediately and getting us stuck on Ton Sai for another hour, sitting with all 20 people inhabiting Ton Sai at the moment hiding underneath a porch.

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Then we hopped into yet another life-threatening longtail, and landed (relatively) safely at Ao Nang, before making our way to Phuket.  I’m sure Ton Sai is nice during high season or even just in nice weather, but we couldn’t do it this time.  A day trip would have been enough.  I would like to go back, it was cool to see all the graffiti and the rasta bars, but I’ll definitely be taking a water taxi for $3 US.

I Lost My Keys, My Favorite Earrings, and My Dignity in Koh Phi Phi

Shout out to my awesome school for allowing farang teachers to have time off during Thai Midterms.  I finally had enough time to head south and see the real life Pinterest board of Thailand, including palm tree swings and long tail boats.

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My first island stop was the infamous Koh Phi Phi.  It’s pronounced Ko Pee Pee, not Ko Fee Fee.  This little island is actually 2 islands, Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Lei.  Koh Phi Phi Don is a beautiful little party island where it’s basically Spring Break year round.  The island is tiny, as much of the island is just uninhabitable limestone cliffs and beaches, with a built-up section that’s straight up resorts, party hostels, bars, tattoo parlors, and western food restaurants.

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Longtails stranded on the beach after the tide has gone out.

Koh Phi Phi Lei is about a 10-minute water taxi from Koh Phi Phi Don, the main island.  This is the island where Maya Bay is located, from the movie “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio.  After seeing Koh Phi Phi, it’s extremely ironic that this is where the film was made.  Apparently (I haven’t seen it) the film is about a little island in Thailand where Leo goes after getting fed up with all the tourist BS on Khao San Road in Bangkok.

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The irony is that Koh Phi Phi is a straight up party island that’s like Koh San Road with palm trees.  The irony continues when you learn that it’s 400 baht a person to even set foot on this little beach, and so many people go to that beach just because it’s from the movie, even though 80% of these people have never actually seen the movie.  I met one person in Koh Phi Phi who actually watched it, a nice backpacker named Jordy from Amsterdam, and he said it was terrible.  He followed this up by saying that he only watched it because he was going to Thailand.  Do you see what I mean?

Enough of that.  I was a little wary about going to Koh Phi Phi, as I’ve read many travel bloggers that said they absolutely hated it.  Even the Mr. popular Nomadic Matt (great blog, check him out) didn’t recommend it.

That being said, Koh Phi Phi was absolutely amazing.  Even though it’s the first island I’ve visited in Thailand (the blessing to be able to type those words), it’s by far my favorite, and I have a feeling it’s going to hold on to that number one spot.

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The beach by our hostel at dusk, after the tide had gone out.

To be fair, I can easily see why Koh Phi Phi isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  The entire island (or what’s inhabitable) is built up basically into one giant tourist vortex.  It’s also much more expensive than other areas in Thaialnd.  Even my number one, 7/11, increases their prices on Koh Phi Phi.  A ham and cheese toasty should be 36 baht, not 44 baht, 7 I see you.  The second you get off the dock you are greeted by a chirping welcome party full of longtail taxi drivers and hotel employees trying to suck your Western money right out of your wallet.  But the island is so gorgeous and fun that it’s 100% worth it.

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Pano literally taken while I was sitting outside of our hostel.

Even though the island is small, the beaches are breathtakingly gorgeous.  You also don’t have to pay a penny to sit on the beach, a rarity in this day and age.  Why I’ve ever paid to sit at disgusting North Ave after tanning on Koh Phi Phi for free boggles my mind.  It’s shockingly the cleanest place I’ve seen in Thailand yet.  I did not see a single plastic bottle thrown on the ground, and there were accessible garbage cans everywhere.  And that’s quite impressive considering the fact that it’s a party island.

Heads up:  You do have to pay a 20 baht fee when you step off the ferry to enter the island and “Clean up Koh Phi Phi” so maybe this has something to do with it.  But again no complaints, worth it.

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Look back @ it(view from the sand while the party is just starting)

So yes, Koh Phi Phi is one huge(tiny) party island.  The moment I hopped onto the ferry (crabby in Krabi after an 11-hour overnight bus from Bangkok) there were irritating Spring Breakers bumping Drake out of speakers in their backpacks and obnoxiously chugging Chang at 10AM.  The amount of British/Australian/random European 20-somethings is insane.  And awesome.  It was nice to be amongst my own for once, especially after spending so much time in little Dan Chang.

During the day, booze cruises are popular, and you can buy buckets at any hour.  Buckets are huge mixed drinks that you can get in Thailand that come in (you guessed it) buckets.  They’re super cheap, about 150 baht for an entire little bucket that’s your choice of Jaeger bomb, vodka cranberry, Sex on the Beach, or any other crappy alcohol combination.  At night, the smoothie stands throughout the island start selling buckets as well.

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The nightly local soccer game that went down on the sand after the tide had gone out and before the festivities began.

This trip we decided to stay at Blanco Beach Bar, a bar/hostel right on an absolutely gorgeous beach.  Our rooms were small, the wifi sucked, and there was EDM bumping at 1PM when I was life-threateningly hung over, but other than that it was a great hostel.  It was also super convenient, making it easy to go from bars in town to bars on the beach and finishing the night right at our hostel.  Sadly, this hostel was a tad expensive by the usual backpacker standards (around 425 baht/night for a 6-bed shared room), and even more sadly that’s pretty standard for Koh Phi Phi.

The nightlife in Koh Phi Phi is exactly what you picture when you think of backpacking and partying in Thailand.  There’s cheap booze, Thai men playing with fire, and most of the action happens right on the beach.

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Yours truly limbo-ing under fire against my will, aided by one of the fire-throwers themselves.

By playing with fire I literally mean playing with fire.  The night starts out tame, with Thai men simply throwing fiery batons in the air, and progressively moves toward a more dangerous route, for example encouraging foreigners to jump rope over fire and limbo under fire.  Thailand has no rules, so they let foreigners be responsible for their own safety in choosing to partake in these activities.  While no one I knew was injured this trip, I’ve heard that getting burned on Koh Phi Phi is pretty common, proved by the number of people I saw limping around in bandages the next day.  Personally I like this approach to life, people should be responsible for their own safety, although many may disagree.

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The one thing that Koh-Phi-Phi has that doesn’t have to do with drinking or being on a boat is the Koh Phi Phi Don Viewpoints.  Sorry for the picture quality, the humidity on the island complicated things with my camera.

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The hike up was a bit rough to say the least.

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Sadly this little island was affected by the tsunami that happened in the early 2000s.  Apparently the tsunami was so devastating because they didn’t have the technology to detect it early enough, and people weren’t really able to evacuate.  Near the viewpoint they had some pictures of what the island looked like right after the disaster.

All in all Phi Phi is great.  I’m even considering working there for a month after my contract is up and before Songkran/my visa expiration.  There will definitely be more fiery jump ropes and Muay Thai bar fights in the future.