From Siem Reap in Cambodia we took a coach, a bus and a taxi-bus-thing to our hostel in Pattaya, Thailand. We booked it all through the hostel in Siem Reap (shop around for the best deal as usual). This is how my other half and I crossed the border into our final destination of our SE Asian adventure, and this is the final entry for the Asia Travel Diary.
We had of course already seen a bit of Thailand before, but thanks to our highly original plan to go around in a giant circle, this would be where we would end our trip; amongst the islands. But before we get there, a little tip about crossing the border.
It wasn’t explained to us what it would entail, and though you’ll undoubtedly be able to work it out for yourself a little heads-up is never a bad thing. First, as is usual with budget border crossings, the bus you’re in to get to the border won’t be the bus you’ll be in to leave it. You’ll alight at the border and then you’ll queue for a rather long time, outside, before queueing again inside. When you finally get through the metaphorical gates, it’s then a hell of a long walk to the other side of the border. When you think you shouldn’t walk any further, just keep walking.
When you leave your original bus you’ll be asked where you’re headed and given a colour-coded sticker, keep a hold of this as it’s what everyone seems to use to determine which bus you get on the other side and where that bus leaves from.
Heralded as one of Thailand’s best know party places, this town ultimately stole the excitement I was feeling for returning to Thailand. Again, like Nha Trang in Vietnam, we found ourselves questioning if the Russians had invaded, but Pattaya is also, as we found out, possibly Thailand’s number one destination for sex tourists.
There’s actually a road here called “Walking Street” which, as the name implies, is closed to vehicular access, but I don’t think that’s why it’s so named. You have to visit this street just for the experience, but I think going for the experience is exactly why it’s so named. You’ll walk down it, mouth agape and amazed at the spectacle around you, but you won’t want to stop. You’ll just want to keep on walking until you get out the other end. Bearing in mind I’ve just named the town as the number one destination for sex tourists, I think you get the reasons why.
We actually stayed outside of the main town on Jomtien Beach. It is a lot cheaper to do this, but beware you are a taxi-ride away from the “fun”. Even at its height, Jomtien Beach is hardly bustling but that might be a good thing. There is, however, everything you need for a couple of days.
Needless to say we got out of Pattaya pretty quickly. However, by now we were on a tight schedule. Our plane tickets had been booked and we had no funds left to change them again. What’s more, Christmas was around the corner and due to prices and availability (“high” and “not much”, respectively), we had our Christmas accommodation pre-booked and had only a couple of weeks to get there, via all the other places we wanted to see.
From Pattaya we took a coach to Bangkok. It took a good half-a-day but was easy to book from the main station in Pattaya (buy your tickets there). We had no accommodation booked (we didn’t truly know what we were doing at this point), but upon deciding to stay the night we easily got a place through Hostelworld the same day. Our reasons for staying was for my other half to get an emergency Vietnam Visa, as she was going back to her ancestral country for a wedding. For those in need, you can get a Vietnam Visa from the Vietnamese Embassy on the same day if you’re willing to pay the price, but you’ve got to get there early.
With that little problem taken care of, it was time to head down to the islands.
Okay, so Krabi isn’t an Island, but it’s a stop on the way, and in some cases a necessary one. We took another sleeper train from Bangkok down to Surat Thani. This is where you can get connections to Ko Samui, Ko Pha-ngan and Ko Tao. They all exist on the east side of the mainland. But if you want to get to Phuket and Ko Phi Phi, you need to do what we did and, after alighting the sleeper train in Surat Thani, get a bus to Krabi. Stay there the night and then get your connection to the island of your choice.
We actually stayed there for two nights. Krabi isn’t the most exciting of places, and most people who stay on the mainland in this area head to Ao Nang. It’s a small beachside suburb but it’s better and more “happening” than all of Krabi put together, and the beach there is quite something.
Ko Phi Phi
A place I’ve wanted to visit ever since reading and watching The Beach, I was overjoyed to finally be going to the set of islands that were featured in the film (for Ko Phi Phi is actually two islands, – Don and – Le, the former is where you can stay, the latter is where the iconic scenes were filmed).
Ko Phi Phi Don ended up being a far bigger party island than I was expecting. The habitable part of the island is actually the small strip of land between the two larger land masses, and this is where a city’s worth of bars, clubs and restaurants are crammed in. No matter where you stay on the island, you will hear the music until it’s turned off at around two or three in the morning.
For boat excursions to Ko Phi Phi Le you can’t walk ten yards without finding a shop that will offer the trip. All trips are pretty much the same, though some offer free food and drink, others may offer a slightly different itinerary, and then other than that it’s the type of boat you’ll be going in. As always shop around, not just for the best deal, but for the itinerary that suits you.
My favourite place in Thailand, and possibly responsible for me holding the whole of Thailand in such high regard, I couldn’t wait to return to this island and bring my other half with me.
In one day we got the boat back to the mainland from Phi Phi, the bus back over the mainland to Surat Thani, and that night we took a sleeper boat (oh, yes) all the way up past Ko Samui and Ko Pha-ngan to Ko Tao. The boat is an experience in itself, taken mostly by budgeting backpackers (check :-) ) and you do need to be a little prepared. You are sandwiched together like sardines in a tin, the length of the boat.
The fun really starts when people get sea-sick.
We bought the boat ticket on the night, but you can (and probably should) get it beforehand.
Landing on my favourite island I still can’t recommend the place enough. Like all of Thailand it’s grown more commercial and so on, but to be fair, it’s grown less than everywhere else and has managed to retain, thus far, it’s chilled-out reputation; long days on the beach, soaking in the warm ocean that’s shallow for about a mile out, before chilling out in the bars at night. There are late-night bars if you want them, but the best thing is there’s usually only one or two, and they take it in turns to be open late. How good is that?
We bought all our tickets from Ko Tao down to Ko Samui, including the transfer to Surat Thani and the train back up to Bangkok from the Hostel in Ko Tao. Originally we weren’t going to stop off at Pha-ngan, but after making up a day or two we decided to check out what all the fuss is about.
This is where the infamous moon parties take place. The most famous is, of course, the Full Moon party once a month, but there also two Half-Moon Parties a month and a Black Moon Culture party. In between these four tent-pole parties are other parties on various nights of the week. They take place in slightly different spots over the island, but for the most part, the island is quiet aside from the four big parties. Haad Rin is the area you’ll be wanting to stay in or near for the big parties, Baan Tai is a nice small area, very quiet, and only a taxi-ride away. Don’t go any further than that, though.
And so finally we made it Ko Samui in time for Christmas. It was our last destination. We had always wanted to spend Christmas together on an island, and though Samui wasn’t our first choice, it ended up being a darn good one.
We stayed in the Chaweng area. It’s a big island and you’ll probably want to decide which part of it you want to stay in before booking accommodation and going there. We didn’t, as always flying by the seat of our pants, but we got lucky. We found a place that was on the beach, and a short walk down to a great restaurant where we had Christmas dinner literally on the beach.
Fireworks went off a lot, some of them were even good. But it made a fitting end to our adventure, spending the chilled out nights smoking a shisha on the beach after a hectic two months of travelling.
We did obviously go on from there. We did go back to Bangkok and ultimately to the airport, but why dwell on such things.
For us, we’ll forever be together on a beach in paradise.