BootsnAll Travel Network

Feb 2 – Feb 16: Andeman Islands: Stage 2 Blog

Railay, Phi Phi, and Phuket

After leaving Koh Ngai, we unfortunately had to go somewhere to try to extend our Thai visas . (The visa rules had changed since we had checked them online before our trip. We’d heard rumors about it from other travelers in Penang, but no one seemed to know what the real story was. I (Nat) spent an afternoon trying to get to the Thai embassy in Penang, only to arrive 6 minutes late! Part of the reason for the tardiness was that I was too cheap to take a taxi and besides, I was having fun on my own getting there by bus! Unfortunately, it meant that we arrived in Thailand with only 15 days, rather than the 30 we expected. )  Sooooo, we left Koh Ngai, for the provincial capital of Krabi, where there was an immigration office. We ended up having to pay for Tim and I to have 7 more days, but  they told us the kids could just “overstay” – that there was no fine for kids – but to be prepared for a possible hassle when we left Thailand. We’re finding that the “business” of travelling takes more time than we thought it would!

After taking care of the visa business, we took a longtail boat over to Railay Bay, which is a peninsula blocked from the mainland by massive limestone cliffs. I was here 25 years ago (where has the time gone?!) when it was just a finger of land covered by palm trees and beautiful, empty beaches. I knew it had changed, but was still shocked when we arrived to see hotels, paved paths, restaurants and LOTS of tourists. When I “got off the boat” 25 years ago, I walked down a sandy, single track through the palms to the other side of the peninsula, and stayed in a “resort” with about 20 huts and a single restaurant. It was so strange to walk through manicured “real” resorts, ATM machines, luxurious spas, pools, etc. to the other side of the peninsula and to stand on the spot where I stayed which is now a 5-star resort.

Despite all that, Railay is still a beautiful and quiet place to be. There are no roads to Railay, so no cars and no motorbikes. All the supplies are delivered by longtail every morning. I’d get up early and go have a cup of coffee, and every morning about 5 guys wheeled big wagons full of beer and ice (and I’m sure other things!) up the beach to the restaurants. Railay has also become a rock climber’s mecca, due to all the limestone cliffs, so Josh spent an afternoon climbing (and was very sore the next day!) Tim and I and the girls rented a kayak and paddled around the cliffs during Josh’s climb. The highlight of the stay was a Sunset snorkel tour we took. We left at 4:00 with about 10 other tourists, and snorkeled in 4 different places in the clearest water we’d seen so far. The girls finally enjoyed snorkeling (sort of!)because they could really see what was going on beneath them! We even fed bananas to the fish!  After all the snorkeling, we pulled onto a deserted beach and had a picnic dinner with the sunset. Just before it got dark, a huge flock (swarm? hive? school?) of fruit bats flew out of the jungle of a nearby island, bound for the mainland mango plantations. The whole thing was pretty magical. The last adventure in Railay was a climb through the jungle to a lagoon that was “inside” one of the cliffs. We couldn’t figure out how it was formed. The water in it was salty, and its level changed with the tide, so there must have been an underground channel that fed it. All around the lagoon were extensive caves. Getting there was a challenge – we had to climb up rocks and vines, with the help of ropes that were screwed into the rocks.

Leaving Railay, we took a large ferry to Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Pee Pee!). Again,  I was here 25 years ago, but it had changed so much I really couldn’t recognize it. Phi Phi was hit badly by the tsunami and there is a large section of the town that hasn’t been rebuilt yet. We went for an all-day dive trip and learned that the owner of this particular dive company had been killed in the tsunami, along with his daughter. His wife was still carrying on the business. One of their good friends, and former employees, (an English guy) has written a book about the whole experience, which we bought and read. It was, of course, a horrific experience, and made more realistic to us by being in this place and meeting people affected by it. We also hiked up to a viewpoint on the island, and by comparing a pre-tsunami postcard with what we saw, we could see how much had been re-built and how much was still just open land. As you walked around, you could often see places where there was still a lot of debris piled up – like old toilets, building materials, chunks of cement, etc. We never asked anyone about their experiences – it felt too recent and too invasive.

The diving was fantastic – again very clear. We also privately rented a longtail boat for a few hours one day and went to the beach where “The Beach” was filmed. Gorgeous, of course, and completed filled with tourists, including the Johnsons!

Our last stop in the southern islands was to go to Phuket, which was also hit very hard by the tsunami. I got into conversation one afternoon with a Thai woman about my age – about raising kids, life, etc. Since I felt we’d talked awhile on a personal level, I decided to ask her about how her business was affected by the tsunami. I’ve never seen someone’s face just sort of close up the way hers did. It was like all the animation and life in her features instantly evaporated. I felt terrible for intruding that way!

We went specifically to Phuket to see a cultural show that was supposed to be fantastic. It lived up to its reputation with 20 elephants, trapeze artists, Thai dancers, a herd of goats, a flock of chickens and doves flying through the audience! After a quick 1 night in Phuket, we had to get on the night bus to Bangkok, so that we could leave Thailand before our visas again expired. I was disappointed to have to leave now (heading for Vietnam) because I felt like my Thai was finally coming back to me and I could finally communicate at least a little bit again. We’ll be back after Vietnam, but given my memory these days, I’ll have to start all over again!

Well, this blog has been long enough. Thus ends the southern islands of Thailand. On to Bangkok and Viet Nam…


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