Island hopping in the Gulf of Thailand

Island hopping in the Gulf of Thailand

Haad Yao beach

Haad Yao beach

Staying an extra week on Ko Samui with some disappointing weather turned out to be a good decision. Because, after we had returned the pickup truck to the rental company owned by a friendly Russian (his standard answer to all difficult questions: “Easy!”) and we had taken the ferry to Ko Pha-ngan (also called Koh Phangan or Ko Pha Ngan), the weather improved considerably. Ko Pha-ngan is located about fifteen kilometers north of Ko Samui, roughly between Ko Samui and Ko Tao. It is somewhat smaller and attracts a significantly different crowd than Ko Samui. Ko Phan-ngan is world famous for the Full Moon parties that have been organized for years on the beach of Haad Rin at the very south of the island. That attracts, at least around the full moon, many partygoers. The other side of the island appears to be very popular with digital nomads, people who combine travel with work (where have we heard that before? 😉 ) and yoga adepts.

Due to the Covid restrictions, there have been no Full Moon parties for a long time, but they have now started again. We do like a good party, but standing between 30,000 sweaty kids on the beach during these trying times is even for us a bit too much. Haad Rin beach is quite beautiful but the village itself is very run down and, in the absence of the partygoers, almost a scary ghosttown. It will not be a surprise that the boutique resort where we spent the first five nights was located on the other (West) side of the island. Next to, indeed, a yoga school.

The main other attractions of the island are mostly the beaches. And those are quite beautiful. Not with that snow-white coral sand and deep turquoise water as we, spoiled kids that we are, have so often seen on the islands in the Pacific. But it comes close. We now also know that at most beaches you must time your dive in the sea well because at low tide it is usually too shallow and you first have to walk a long way into the water before it is deep enough for a swim. The temperature of the water is very nice: warm but just cool enough to make it refreshing.

Waterfall near Haad Sadet beach

Waterfall near Haad Sadet beach

It is quite handy to have your own transport to move around the island. Almost all tourists do this by renting a moped. A motorbike as they call it here. What many tourists don’t know, or simply ignore, is that according to our rules, those 125cc motorbikes are full-fledged motorcycles for which you must have a motorcycle license, also according to Thai law and according to your insurance. A driver’s license is not checked by the rental companies, so you see everyone and their dog (literally), usually without a helmet, chug around the islands. What you also see very often as a result, are the tourists who hobble around with large plasters and bandages. Often these are couples who both have a leg scraped open on the same side. And those are the people who probably got lucky. “Road rash” is what you call those injuries as a result of motorcycle accidents. Locally they also call them “motorbike tattoos”.
That’s not for us so we stick to a rented car. Much safer, even though driving among the huge numbers of motorbikes, especially in the dark, is often a challenge. But, so far so good. It gives us the opportunity to try out different beaches and new restaurants every now and then.

Another well-known nearby attraction is the Ang Thong (Angthong) Marine Park. It consists of a group of about 42 islands that, by speedboat, are less than an hour away from our island. The only operator currently (Covid!) operating from Ko Pha-ngan has a policy: we will go by speedboat unless the group of guests is larger than 23 people. Then we go by a larger slow boat that takes you about two hours. Our group consisted of about forty persons (in normal times there are 100!) so we spent a large part of the day on a boat. That in itself is not really a problem. You spend most of that time outdoors and there is plenty of time in the park to snorkel, swim, kayak, visit the enclosed saltwater lake, and make the climb to the 500-meter-high lookout point. That climb, at the end of the tour, was quite tough. Every step had a different height on the uneven stairs and you notice that, in addition to the lack of a decent condition, the humidity makes such a trip extra difficult. But, we made it to the top and the view more than made up for the effort. Besides a large spider and a monkey with large ring eyes, we saw very little wildlife along the way.

Dusky Leaf Monkey in Angthong Marine Park

Dusky Leaf Monkey in Angthong Marine Park

Another place where they promised us lots of monkeys was the eco resort, more on the north side, where we spent the last three nights on the island. The villas with high open rooms have no air conditioning but are sheltered under the trees close to the beach. A beautiful place run by the American Tyler with his Thai family. Tyler, who manages just fine by working just one day a month as a consultant for the Swedish government, assured us that we would see monkeys during our stay at his resort: “I‘ll bet you ten to one you’ll see them!”. Down to earth Dutch that we are, we let that bet go. Looking back that was a stupid decision. We saw whole herds of squirrels. But monkeys…

We have now travelled from Ko Pha-ngan by ferry to the third island on this side of the Gulf of Thailand: Ko Tao. This island is slightly smaller and has beautiful beaches where you can enjoy snorkelling and is a good base for diving trips. Tomorrow we will sail around the island with a private longtail boat, where we will visit several of the beaches.

Water taxi arrives at sunset at Coconut Bay

Water taxi arrives at sunset at Coconut Bay

My birthday was February 24. It’s always nice to have a birthday while traveling. This time, the date has a sour aftertaste: it was the day when Russia launched its illegal invasion of Ukraine and started an unprovoked bloody war in Europe. More than two weeks later, the global sanctions against Russia are starting to take effect here too. Traditionally, there are many Russian tourists in Thailand because it is one of the few countries (besides Turkey and Egypt) where Russians can travel without a visa. We hear from various people that Russian and also Ukrainian tourists are getting into serious trouble here. Their money is running out and there are no flights home. Thailand’s minister for tourism has asked hoteliers to show leniency. It gives a mixed feeling: on the one hand you think about the Russians “you get what you deserve”, on the other hand these people have also become victims of a war that they did not want.

About Erwin

Erwin has created 141 entries.

One Comment

  • Thea Campagne

    Wat een mooie tochten maken jullie weer! Goed om te lezen!

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published.