Southern Islands in Thailand

Southern Islands in Thailand

 

View from the Pier on Koh Phangan
View from the Pier on Koh Phangan

 

If you’re not familliar with the Artists Abroad trip, you should check out the quick blog post before reading this article!

 

We left Bangkok on September 23rd and enjoyed a 13-hour bus ride, which I promise, wasn’t incredibly boring. Okay, it was incredibly boring. The bus ride ended at Don Sak Pier, a short one-hour drive from Surat Thani, Thailand. From there we took a ferry to Koh Samui (about 20 kilometers south of Koh Phangan) where we promptly learned that there would be no more ferries running to Phangan for the evening.

Thus is life.

The bus that had taken us from Bangkok had also conveniently boarded the ferry with us, and now took us from the pier into northern Koh Samui. We had literally no idea where we were going or what we were going to do.

When the bus finally stopped, we exited–since that’s what everyone else was doing–and were immediately surrounded by a hoard of taxi cab drivers. These guys like to hang out around the bus stations and ferry stops like vultures, and it’s unbelievable how intense they are.

Imagine walking into a village in Ethiopia and pulling out a candy bar; becoming instantly surrounded by crowds of children reaching for it. Now you have an idea of how the cab drivers acted.on Surat Thani are.

The ferry had taken two and a half hours; on top of the 13 we had traveled via the bus, and we were exhausted and irritated. Too irritated to listen to the taxi drivers hound us incessantly, so we essentially told them to “fuck off” (somewhat politely) and walked down the road a little ways to a Seven-Eleven.

After staring at the map and still having no idea where we were going, we were approached by a nice younger guy who told us about some cheap bungalows a short cab ride away.

And since the cab drivers have this uncanny and scientifically baffling ability to hear the words “taxi” or we need to go to ____” spoken anywhere within a 5-mile radius to them; we had no sooner thanked the kid when a van screeched up behind us.

A man jumped out yelling “Where you go–where you go?!” and we hopped in.

Summary of southern islands night one:

• The bungalow was hotter than a dragon’s asshole

• I’ve slept under bridges more comfortable than that bed

• I really like to complain, if only for the sake of humor

• Food consumption in general is very underrated

When we woke up, we hitched another ride to the pier from our bungalow manager who also drove a taxi–go figure–and had some food before hopping on the ferry.

Spirits were high as we boarded the boat and then sliced through the water at a meager pace towards Koh Phangan.

Distance is very difficult to judge when traveling long distances over relatively calm water. We saw Koh Phangan immediately upon leaving Samui, but it was another two hours before we arrived.

Exiting the ferry, we were again surrounded by the cab drivers. I briefly drifted off into a daydream where I did a spinning back-kick and simultaneously knocked them all off of the pier; walking casually away and stealing one of their cabs afterwards. Realizing that I have neither the physical capability of doing something like this or the amount of funds necessary to afford lawyer fees, I opted to once again tell them to kick rocks and just walk away.

They kept trying to haggle us as we walked, taking the price eventually down to 200 baht (about 6.30 USD) but we kept moving. After exiting the pier, we were approached by another group of cab drivers. 100 baht for this one. I wanted to walk back to the other drivers and laugh in their faces.

Now, let’s pause for a moment here. I imagine as I’ve used the term “taxi cab” you’ve been imagining a somewhat beat up New York style yellow cab with the word taxi on a little lit-up box on top.

This a fair, but inaccurate description of a Koh Phangan taxi. This was an old pick-up truck with benches welded onto the bed rails, and a luggage rack welded on top of that. They pile around eight tourists into one of these things and barrel along through the mountain roads. Nothing is tied down: not me, not my bag on top, not anything. I wondered halfway through the ride if they even actually welded the benches onto the bed rails or if they were merely relying on gravity for those as well.

We arrived at Haad Rinn–the section of the island our hostel was located in–with no problems however, and wandered the streets for only a small amount of time before finding it.

We stayed at Lazy House Shenanigans hostel during our stay on Phangan. The place was the deal of the century, and I highly recommend it to anyone who goes to the island. It was 100 baht (about $3.33 USD) per night and included air conditioning, our own private dorm, free coffee and tea and great conversation with the manager Paul.

The first few days were spent lounging around the beach and swimming in the Gulf of Thailand, which let me tell you, is the exact perfect temperature any body of water should ideally be. Absolutely perfect. Not too warm, not too cool; just right.

On one of the days we decided to rent a scooter and drive around the island. That was probably the best day during our time on Koh Phangan. We drove through the mountain roads and thick jungle areas into more remote beaches and towns and eventually stumbled across some elephants whose owners kindly allowed us to take pictures with.

If you’re planning a trip to Phangan, I recommend doing the same. It was quite a lot of fun. Be sure to spend a few days on the western side of the island where there are much fewer people. It’s very touristy around Haad Rinn, but it’s also very cheap. Maybe a mix of both sides would be adequate.

We felt at this point that we had wasted way too much time in Bangkok instead of heading here earlier. There was so much more to do and see on the island and even if there wasn’t, you could just lie on the beach all day!

The food is very good on the island as well, although we ate only local fares. It’s cheaper that way, plus why would you go somewhere thousands of miles from home with delicious cultural dishes and order a damn slice of pizza?! The possibilities are endless with Thai dishes available. Go ahead and spoil yourself, it doesn’t cost very much!

For those who want to check out some of the other islands in the area, we would recommend Koh Tao for a more isolated experience. Bungalows are available for rent at about 80 baht per night and it’s a very popular island for scuba diving and snorkeling. The west side of the island is slightly populated, but the east is very sparse in population and you could surely find a beach all to yourself.

Summary: If you find yourself in Thailand, don’t stay in Bangkok more than a couple days. It’s a complete waste of time especially compared to Northern Thailand or the Southern Islands. Plan ferries accordingly. Bring sunscreen.

Do you have any interesting travel stories from Southern Thailand? I’d love to hear about them!  Share in the comments below or visit me on Facebook and Twitter!

Peace and happy travels,

-Tom

 

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