Sabbatical days 248-271: Island Hopping around Thailand

We finally made it to southern Thailand for a bit of island hopping, and, no, I never thought I would say those words. Not sure if it sounds cool or gauche, but no matter because it’s what we are doing.

Koh Lanta, our first day at the beach

I’ve long told myself that if one must choose between the mountains or the ocean, that I was an ocean person through and through. I love being in the ocean, feeling myself become one with it as it ebbs and flows. It’s calming to give myself and my naturally fast pace over to something greater that slows me down.

Freedom Beach, Phuket

However, I realize now after months of camping our way through the mountains of North America during the first half of our sabbatical that it’s silly to think you must be one or the other. I’m definitely a little bit of both the mountain mama and the lady of the sea. Almost nothing in life that really matters is as simple as this or that. The word “and” is powerful. I learned that from a former boss.

But for five weeks, Trent and I will be living the island life, bobbing in the ocean to the tune of the waves and wandering aimlessly (I hope) through unfamiliar sandy landscapes.

While our friends and family back home in the states bundle up against the winter cold, we will be sun babies instead, trying to turn our bright white skin to something akin to a tan. For me that’s the birth of a million new freckles that join together in a valiant effort to give me a bronze glow. For Trent it’s usually repeating the sequence from blinding white to lobster red to a little less white and all over again until his camper’s tan evens out. However, with enough sunscreen and aloe he has been able to avoid the dreaded red beast we call sunburn.

The islands and the beaches here in Thailand are are as unique and welcoming as the people. And we are visiting four of them for this portion of our sabbatical: Koh Lanta, Koh Yao Noi, Phuket, and Koh Samui. Koh means island in case you were wondering.

Koh Lanta

Mu Ko Lanta National Park

New Year’s Day 2018 on Koh Lanta

We flew back from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on December 31 and stayed the night in Bangkok, flying out to Krabi province the next morning. Our first stop was Koh Lanta, a mid-size island in Krabi, which is known for its rugged landscape of limestone cliffs.

Longtail boats at Hangout Beach, Koh Lanta

Post-snorkeling, Trent at Hangout Beach, Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta was moderately touristy, with plenty of restaurants and everything from budget bungalows on the beach to high priced resorts. We stayed in a small, new mid-range resort (just 16 rooms) just off the main strip but easily walkable to the beach. The family that ran it took pristine care of the grounds and made us feel like it was our home, not just a place to sleep. This is very common everywhere we go in Thailand. I can’t emphasize enough how generous and kind the Thai people are.

View from our room at Infinity Resort, Koh Lanta

Unfortunately I was pretty ill with a serious case of food poisoning for a good chunk of our 10-day stay here. At one point, while laying shivering and shaking in bed, I convinced myself that I had contracted typhoid, yellow fever, dengue fever and malaria and would have to be flown home to the U.S. either for treatment or burial. But after a few days in bed, I forced myself up and out for some exploration of the island by motorbike. Thank goodness for Trent who saw me through the worst of it like a man who knows his way around hyperbole.

First meal after days of being sick with food poisoning.

This was our first venture on a Thai motorbike, and I think Trent was happily surprised when I suggested it. He knows that I usually call them deathmobiles after I crashed one on our honeymoon in New Zealand ten years ago. I’m just glad I chose to crash it into a mountainside instead of driving it over a cliff into the sea, which was the other option.

Anyway, needless to say Trent didn’t expect me to suggest that we rent a motorbike to explore the island. But I did, so we did, and now we are really onto something and feeling like the two-wheel locals. At just $6-8 a day, its affordable and it makes everything so much more accessible. Trent drove and I hopped on the back.

We took the motorbike all around the island over the next few days, to Old Town on the eastern coast (we were on the Western coast) and way down south to the National Park where we saw lots of monkeys and beautiful beaches.

Mu Ko Lanta National Park

We also took a snorkeling excursion, which was a wonderful way to see the island and surrounding area by boat. We saw some beautiful sea life before being thwarted by jellyfish larvae, microscopic little “sea lice” that sting when they touch you but don’t leave any lasting mark.

Although snorkeling conditions in a few of our stops were less than ideal because of the jellyfish blooms, the highlight of our time on Koh Lanta was Emerald Cave, a cave in a limestone cliff that you swim through in pitch darkness to reach an inner secret beach. Simply amazing!

Emerald Cave and beach

Next island: Koh Yao Noi to the west.

Koh Yao Noi

Our next island was Koh Yao Noi, a much smaller island with only about 8,000 residents, mostly Muslim fishermen and their families, and not too many tourists. It has a few luxury resorts and a bunch of mid-range bungalows. We took a ferry and a five hour drive north followed by a 30 minute ride by speedboat to reach the island.

View of Krabi as we sped away

Baan Suan Amaleena Bungalows on a banana and papaya farm

This was our favorite island so far because it was so peaceful and quiet. It really felt like a small fishing island, and the people were incredibly warm. The residents are primarily Sunni Muslim, and we observed several beautiful mosques here as well.

Our wonderful host, Da

Although the beaches were a little rocky, we still enjoyed going for a swim. Sometimes we would be the only two people on the beach and that was a very special experience.

Now that we had become motorbike experts (okay, I was just an expert at holding on like a sack of potatoes), we decided to rent a bike again to explore the island. At times it seemed like we were the only two people for miles and miles as we drove the little winding island roads through the jungle and along the beach.

We made the mistake of taking a dirt road thinking we could cut across the middle of the island, but after miles and miles of rocky, muddy, uphill driving we reached a dead end and had to turn around and go all the way back, but not before a bird pooped on Trent. That was amusing, and apparently good luck in Thailand. Who knew?

At times the dirt road was so treacherous that I just got off and walked up the hill while Trent strongarmed the bike up up up. We fell over once or twice and both have the bruises to prove it. Like I said – Deathmobile.

Anyway, we still loved this island and our wonderful hosts, Da and Ron. Every morning before we left they offered us sticky rice and some homemade banana or papaya or coconut treat made from the fruits on their farm. And every afternoon when we returned, the same. We would definitely go back, and I hope that some day we will.

On Children’s Day we took our host’s kids and their friends out for ice cream by the beach

Next island: Phuket, further east by speedboat.

Phuket

Phuket is probably one of the best-known islands in Thailand and definitely one of the biggest, if not THE biggest. And we decided to stay right in the thick of things just steps away from Patong Beach. Patong Beach has to be one of the busiest beaches in Southeast Asia. By 10am, it is a sea of umbrellas and sunbathers and parasailers and jet skiers. It was fun to have that experience, but it definitely isn’t usually our preferred way to vacation.

There were shops everywhere and bars and nightclubs and massage parlors, both the kind that had NO SEX written in the windows and the kind that didn’t. You can read into that what you will. One of the funniest moments was on our last day when we were both getting back massages. You lie on the ground on a little mat and the ladies kind of crawl all over you and bend you this way and that way. I look over and Trent’s lady is walking on his back holding on to a pole on the ceiling. Good times.

Anyway, we spent most days at Patong beach, laying on a bamboo mat under an umbrella. I read about four books that week, and we really didn’t do much else but walk around and people watch.

We did take a trip out to Freedom Beach one day, which was quite a hike to reach, but had the very best big waves of all the beaches so far. And rather than hike back, we hailed a long tail boat and got back to Patong the easy way.

Freedom Beach, which was only accessible by hike or boat

Next island: Koh Samui a flight over land to the eastern gulf of Thailand.

Koh Samui

Now we are in Koh Samui for two weeks, and since we have just arrived I haven’t much to say yet. Except we think we really like this island too. It is a large island but feels less crazy than Phuket/Patong. We found a quiet little beach called Silver Beach on our first day of exploration, and also a small outdoor mall. So, seems perfect so far.

Trent turns 40 in a few days and he is talking about bungee jumping, so who’s knows what kind of things I will have to report by the end of our time here. Stay tuned!

Silver Beach, Koh Samui


4 thoughts on “Sabbatical days 248-271: Island Hopping around Thailand

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