Oh, hello again! Back for more are you? Well, here it is.
The morning (and by morning, I mean late morning, since technically we were still partying on the beach when the sun broke through the clouds of Kho Phan Nhang) following the Full Moon Party, my girlfriend and I spent the next day recovering on the beach before gearing up for our overnight bus/ferry trip to Krabi. To give you an accurate picture of what the ferry portion of this trip looked like, imagine sardines. Now imagine less space in between bodies and humans in the place of fish. That was the ferry full of passengers, leaving Kho Pha Ngan behind en route to their next adventure. Having thrown-up twice and popped two Gravol in the hopes of passing out for the entirety of the journey, I was over the moon when I boarded ship and discovered I had been given a wall seat. My less fortunate travel companion, tucked snugly between my body and that of a stranger next to her, hardly slept a wink. It must be said, overnight ferry travel in Thailand is not for the weak at heart (or stomach, for that matter).
After hours spent drifting in and out of broken slumber, we pulled into Krabi and were pleasantly surprised when we checked into a great guesthouse, right on Aonang beach. After strolling downtown Aonang, we began the hunt for food. Guess what I found? Mango sticky rice! Woo hoo! Filled up the brim with my favourite Thai treat, we grabbed a boat to Railay Beach which was a great way to spend a couple hours basking under the sun. Tired from the night before, we lounged by the beach and chose not to explore the length of the island but stare upwards at the magnificent views of the limestone cliffs that hovered overhead (during my second visit to Thailand in 2011, I had the opportunity to revisit both Krabi and Railay Beach and explore them in much more depth – stay tuned!)
After a few hours, and after we had been propositioned three times by the same man trying to buy us as his girlfriends for the day, we were dying to get out. Ralaigh was beautiful with it’s looming cliffs and gorgeous beach front but the last boat left at 5pm and so did we! I was glad to get back to Aonang and walk around the promenade with it’s tiny shopping district and ocean side cafes. Have I told you how much I love Pad Thai?
The next day we caught a ferry to Ko Phi Phi and met two British girls and two fellow Canucks en route. We pulled in to what was the most perfect, crystal clear water I have ever seen and quickly checked in, sharing a hostel with our fellow countrymen and hosteleers. The six of us (the British girls too) went to dinner and then we all signed up for a half day snorkel session which took us to Maya beach and a beautiful inlet where we got to jump off the boat and enjoy fried rice on board. Jumping off a boat into the turquoise water around Kho Phi Phi was possibly one of my favourite Thai experiences – I know, I know, I’m a culture-less wretch aren’t I? I can’t explain it. There was just something about swimming in front of these hugs rock formations that took my breath away as I leaped off the boat like a care-free wanderer without a cause, or care in the world. What rush. It was pretty amazing. The fish were colours I never knew fish could be and the coral was unreal.
Maya beach, however, was something else entirely. The movie, The Beach, was filmed here and now I understand why. I don’t think they could have found a more picturesque location to film a movie portraying the edge of paradise if they searched the whole world over. Words will never do it justice, nor will the pictures I took in memory but being there was surreal.
Unfortunately, Maya beach has become a little too well known over the last few years, and now even the Krabi-Tourism board cautions potential tourists that they will have to share the beach with 30+ speedboats and long tail boats (Thai fishing boats) parked on the shore, and ferries with boatloads of tourists swimming in from deeper waters (read more about the double edge of film-induced tourism here).
After playing an enjoyable game of beach soccer and taking a quick dip in the non-shark infested waters (contrary to what the movie may lead you to believe) and made our way back from Maya Beach. We spent the eveing dancing the night away at a local bar called Hippies which was incredible. Tables on the beachfront and a live fireshow doesn’t even began to describe the dynamic scene we encountered here. This was a hub for students based in South East Asia with a week between semesters, expats looking to have a good time, and tourists wanting to unwind after a day on the beach. As fate would have it, we ran into most of the people we’d snorkeled with earlier in the day! We then headed to bed, exhausted from a fabulous day packed full of fun.
I left Kho Phi Phi the next day after relaxing for a few hours on the beach (amazing) to go back to Krabi where I spent the night alone before taking the overnight train to Bangkok where I was destined to fly north, onward to Chiang Mai. Having had my fill of beaches and relaxation, I wanted stimulus and had been aching to get a glimpse of the north before leaving Thailand for my next port of call.
To my complete shock and delight, I discovered that the German (remember him?) who I met on the beaches of Kho Pha Ngan, true to his word, had decided to join me in my adventures up north! We spent 3 incredible days together where we explored the old city which consisted of a lot of Wats – and rain unfortunately. Admittedly, this leg of the trip was less about exploring the city and more about enjoying the company of my fellow traveler. Here was this lone traveler, having come all the way from Germany, and myself, having flown all the way from Canada, only to find ourselves discussing the best way to disassemble a coconut once you’ve sucked it dry. I kid you not. The ability of travel to bring people from every corner of the world together in the common search for something, never ceases to amaze me. In this case, the search resulted in a travel partner for life, since, as most of you now know, three years later, this German on walkabout became my husband!
The Wats we did manage to see during our time in Chiang Mai, like Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh, were spectacular and similar in architecture to some of the temples we were about to see in Cambodia, during the next leg of our trip. Outside of checking out the many temples scattered throughout the city, we managed to plan a full a day of trekking that included a visit to a botanical garden, and a near death experience atop both an elephant and a bamboo raft, hiking up mountainous terrain after the rainfall.
The hike was enjoyable, but interrupted by a heavy rainfall that came in waves. On a positive note, we learned that banana leaves make great umbrellas when you’re caught in the jungle and very off guard! On a negative one, we also learned that really really big, thin black spiders live underneath them. Shudder.
The elephant trek was fun, but I can’t say I wouldn’t necessary recommend it. This has more to do with the conditions of the staging area as oppose to the actual trek itself. When we first walked up to the area where you mount the elephants, I was greeted with the sight of a few men kicking a dog off a relatively steep incline. I was less than impressed but given my presence in a foreign land, chose to keep my mouth shut. This, coupled with not knowing how the elephants are treated would probably dissuade my recommending the trek over a visit to an elephant sanctuary, of which there are also many in the area.
The best part of the day was by far the bamboo trip up the river, steered by two ten year old boys who were laughing their socks off as we sunk farther and farther under the murky water. Having seen a water snake from atop my elephant only an hour before, I started panicking. Of course, once I found myself up to my waist in river water, and after my companion decide to submerge himself entirely, I relaxed a little and savoured the moment of this once in a lifetime Thai experience.
A few days in Chiang Mai provided just enough of a glimpse into Northern Thai culture to make me want to schedule a return visit, and perhaps travel even more north towards the mountains of Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle (where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar). With a thriving night market, great food and a culture that is worth sacrificing some beach time for, you’ll be glad you made the trip.
Following our four days in Chiang Mai, I took an overnight train back to Bangkok where I was scheduled to leave for Vietnam the next day. But as luck, or love, would have it, my plans changed very quickly. Turns out the German and I weren’t quite ready to party ways and as I watched from the airport in Bangkok as my flight to Vietnam took off (without me on board), I knew this was the continuation of my best story yet.
If you want to follow in the footsteps of our next adventure, see my post about Cambodia, the destination that replaced Vietnam and provided an epic second chapter to this budding romance…