When I went to Costa Rica last June with one of my best friends from college (which you can read all about here), we promise one another that our next trip would be to Thailand.
So I wasn't surprised when she called me months later and told me she had plane tickets booked. I was living in Bali at the time, and her dates aligned perfectly with when i'd have to do a visa run (basically, leave Indonesia for any amount of time and then come right back in order to get a new 2 month visa). It didn't take much convincing, or any at all, before I was on google flights booking my plane ticket to fulfill my promise of traveling to Thailand with her.
We decided to travel around together for two weeks, focusing on the southern Thai islands. I'd fly into Phuket and spend as little time there as humanly possible. The same day I flew in, within the hour, I was on a ferry boat over to the Ko Yao islands. First stop was Koi Yao Yai (the bigger of the two but less developed).
I'd be meeting Yassie in a few days in Ao Nang. The Ko Yao Islands were quiet and local. There were not too many restaurants, and even less tourist shops. I stayed at homestays I had found on Air Bnb and rented a motorbike on both islands to scoot around. There are many limestone rock islands around these two islands that are quite the sight from the shore. 3 days on these two islands is enough in my opinion to see everything!
Then I made my way to Ao Nang on another ferry. Ao Nang town itself was not my cuppa tea and not charming at all in my personal opinion. It's very touristy and busy. There are tourist shops that line the main street and beach front and tons of Thai ladies trying to sell you massages. I was just not into it. The beauty of Krabi is definitely the limestone rocks that surround the area and the climbing that it offers. If you are a rock climber, this is a must stop.
We went to the Tiger Cave Temple one day, about a 30 minute scooter drive from Ao Nang, which I highly recommend. Climb 1,237 steep steps up to a gold buddha statue on the top of the mountain. Soak in the beautiful views of all the surrounding mountains, farmlands, as well as Krabi Town and Ao Nang. Once you get down, past the steps, there is another set of steps that take you to a beautiful cave where Buddhist Monks pray and meditate. This cave was truly a beautiful thing to walk up upon. But, both incredibly worth it. Have fun admiring the monkeys and be sure to keep your purse and belongings near by!
Another beautiful thing we did in Krabi was take a longtail boat over to Railay Beach and hike to the viewpoint over there. When you get there just ask around where the hike is and people will be able to direct you. It's a five minute walk to the start of the incline. Proper closed toe shoes are definitely recommend. Although this hike isn't long, it is strenuous! It's all incline and includes climbing using ropes and tree roots to get up. The trail will spilt - to the right is a beautiful blue lagoon and the left is the viewpoint. My only advice: do both!
If you are looking for an easier hike - go walk the "Monkey Trail" stairs that connect Ao Nang beach to Pai Plong Beach. This is a nature reserve and tends to be a bit less crowded than the main Ao Nang beach, most likely due to the hike in unless you are staying at the only resort on this private beach, The Centara Grand.
3 days in Ao Nang was enough for us and we took a ferry boat a few hours over to Ko Phi Phi Don. Would I recommend the Phi Phi islands? yes.. absolutely. But I want you to know what you are getting yourself into going to the main island, Ko Phi Phi Don, where everyone stays, so it's not a total shock. It's very touristy, very loud, very obnoxious, and very trashed. It is a party island. I didn't make it to Koh Phangan during my Thai travels but I can imagine this is a very close second to the "Party" life that Koh Phangan offers. We had our wild party days in college and have since moved away from that scene (a blessing!) and this quickly brought us right back. Especially since we mistakenly took someones advice on a place to stay there and ended up at the most popular party hostel on the entire island. Oh man, we were greeted by loud techno music and were told that it goes on until 3am and only gets louder. Our room did not have a window and the walls were questionably made from cardboard, it was basically a dungeon and it did not have blankets. We decided we were not going to get any sleep anyways, so instead of resisting the party, we decided to join. There were tons of fire spinners, drinking games, and overall it was a wild night, but damn fun. Phi Phi knows how to party.
Ko Phi Phi Don during the day and especially early morning hours is quiet, empty, and charming, as most everyone is attempting to sleep off their hangovers. There is a beautiful lookout walk on the island that isn't too crowded if you go early. It's paved steps so sandals are ok to wear up. It's a small island with no cars. Everything is accessible by foot or longtail boat.
We also checked out early from our party hostel and found a quieter place down the way, although escaping the techno music on the island is nearly impossible, as we were still blasted with bass to ungodly hours our next two nights on Phi Phi.
We booked an all day boat snorkeling and sightseeings tour to the surrounding islands and it was so incredibly worth it! It cost us about 400 bath (~$13 USD) and was the highlight of our Phi Phi experience. The water around the islands is so clear and the views are stunning. If you go to Phi Phi this is a must do.
Another day we rented a kayak right on the beach and cruised around finding secret beaches and coves. If you do this (which you absolutely should...) call dibs on the back seat so you can secretly take photos the entire time without getting called out by your friend for not helping paddle.
Our next stop was Koh Lanta. Another ferry ride over - a few more hours- and we made it! Hopped on a Tuk Tuk and headed to our room for the next few days. Koh Lanta was much more mellow and empty compared to our previous stops. I enjoyed the local feel to it and the empty beaches. We rented a motorbike and cruised up and down the island stopping at any and all beaches along the way.
We decided to do a boat tour here as well after our amazing Phi Phi boat experience. This one was a lot more pricey at 800 bhat per person (~25 USD). If you are on a tight budget i'd recommend the Phi Phi tour over this one. If you are in ~vacay~ mindset, do both! We went to the Emerald Cave and a few surrounding islands. The Emerald Cave was beyond crowded with mass amounts of tourists which made it hard to enjoy. It will not look like the photos you see when you google it, but hey, go see it if you feel the need. We also paid visit to some surrounding islands and snorkel spots which made for a good day.
From Koh Lanta we weren't sure if we should head up North and go to Koh Samui/Phangan/Tao - or head South and go to Koh Lipe. After a few friends trusted advice we went South - and I can honestly say if Koh Lipe was the only place I went in Thailand, I wouldn't be even the slightest mad. Actually, i'm glad we saved it for last because I can't imagine leaving being very easy at the beginning of the trip. I also think after the bliss and beauty of Koh Lipe, i'd be slightly disappointed with all our other stops.
Basically, Koh Lipe was hands down the best island I went to. It's one of my favorite places in the world, and one of my top islands up there with Kauai, O'ahu, and Maui, and of course, my beloved Bali. It's a tiny little island near the Malaysian border surrounded by a national park of many different uninhabited islands. It's paradise and you must go.
Yes, it's expensive to get to. Yes, it's far.
Is it really worth it? A million times yes.
The island is small, again, with no cars. There is a blue painted concrete road that walks you from one side of the island to the next, conveniently named "Walking Road". There is a Sunrise Beach and a Sunset Beach. There are plenty of restaurants, dive shops, a few coffee shops, and even some street food. Just writing about this place is making me want to take the first flight and ferry back.
There are morning meditations and yoga on Sunrise beach and a few fire spinning shows nightly on Sunset Beach. Have fun walking the street midday, as it only takes five minutes to walk from Sunrise to Sunset beach, and about 20 minutes to walk the length of the island. The Changs (local cheap beer) are flowing and the vibes are good here. There are some local reggae shows and a few local bars to meet people at. This island does not even compare to the chaos of Phi Phi, so don't worry.
Yassie had a few days before she needed to make her way back to Bangkok to catch her flight back to Los Angeles and I decided to stay. Originally I had imagined that I'd make the trek with her up and then from there explore Northern Thailand with the remaining days on my visa. But.... I just couldn't get myself to leave. I ended up staying on this tiny island, falling more and more in love everyday with it, for two weeks. Two weeks of crystal clear waters, no shoes, amazing Thai food served beach front, and lots and lots of sunshine. Each and everyday I went down to the reception desk at the hostel I was at asking to extend my stay just one more day.
I imagine this isn't the island for everyone, as it's very small and tiny. There's not much stuff to do besides beach it, snorkel, and uhh.... beach it? But I loved every minute. It's called the Maldives of Thailand, and for good reason. I could have spent my two weeks doing nothing but staring at the color of the water and have been totally content.
If you do go, every Monday there is a big organized beach trash cleanup by Trash Hero! Look them up on facebook. It's every Monday at 10am and they meet at Sunset Beach. You take longtail boats out to a different surrounding island each week. Nearly 50 people attended and we filled over 250 bags! It was epic and a fun free adventure day and lunch was served as well.
Other than that, we stayed on the island and were very content. I