Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Great shot from napster's Ko Kradan Trip Report.

I’m finding it increasingly difficult to keep up to date info of all the beaches and islands in front of you guys. You can present a fresh view between my visits - and visit places without reports because I haven’t visited them (eg Pulau Belitung Report here) or haven’t visited for a long time (Pattaya Report). Plus readers never tire of looking at new photos.

So fire in a few pix and some text to - label it TRIP REPORT to distinguish from spam.
This is a great way to preserve your trip memories if you haven’t a blog or similar - and to publicise your blog if you do. I will always link your blog - plus your photo-site if you wish.

Note you don’t have to write much - I reckon one of the best presentations is a few photos with captions. I do one of BOTTLE BEACH below to give you the idea. But some are even more concise than that. Eg Rachael’s Ko Muk Trip Report. Still very useful - with nice pix: I didn’t realise what sweet looking bungalows RUBBER TREE has.
Of course if you want to write more, that is fine.

Rubber Tree, Farang (Charlie) Beach Ko Muk from Rachael

If you don’t have pix, no worries - TOM didn’t take a camera to PALAU BELITUNG but good ol’ Google comes up with plenty.

Palau Belitung - image yuvinta


Beach Blogger's Bottle Beach Trip Report - visited June 2010

I took a 20 minute longtail ride to Bottle Beach (Had Khuad) from Had Thian on the lower east coast - saved at least 3 hours on alternative access routes. Cost 1000 bargained down from 2500. This was a Had Rin based long tail which came to pick me up - so theoretically you shouldn’t pay more than say 100 extra from there.

I jumped off the boat heading for oft praised SMILE BUNGALOWS at the western end of the beach but a guy offered me one of these beachfront fan jobs at BOTTLE BEACH ONE for 450. I knew this place has a pool so I countered at 400 which was accepted. I would normally offer at least 100 down from quote, but this was one nice bungalow, spacious, got the towel/soap/shampoo inclusions, great view. BB1 has big, scenic beachfront restaurant with budget priced food for what is mainly a midrange resort. Service mostly good, sometimes chaotic.

The western third of Bottle Beach. That’s SMILE’s funky restaurant in background closest beach. Pretty nice outfit with good looking hillside bungalows out of shot to left. Walking track to Coral Beach and Chalok Lum leaves from behind the furthest building, goes over the higher saddle behind. Swimming off the beach has no problem with rock underfoot - is shallowish lowest tide but not excessively so. Place is not known for snorkelling but there would be fringing coral and fishies along the headland. This is a nice shot to click to expand.

After weeks of basic backpacking, sinking a Chang by the pool is pretty sweet. Not real crowded in June low season - a couple of bikini babes sunning it out but I figure you guys are not all that interested. Place has dive-school which uses a section of the pool at times.

When you get sick of swimming/sunning at the beach/pool you can try trekking up to the eastern viewpoint. Leave from back of clearing behind eastern most resort. Climb is quite steep in parts, takes about 30m one way mainly thru nice rainforest.

The climb up the opposite headland also takes about 30m. Just over the summit you get this view of the western end of Chalok Lum beach. Keep going down to reach the short access tracks to nice Coral Beach (very similar to Bottle Beach but rock exposed at low tide) after 30m - another 15 or so will get you to the eastern end of Chalok Lum township.

Back to the Phangan part one and part two pages.

So okay gang, fire in those trip reports - let's keep this site up to date!!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Day Trips

This page has 3 daytrips so far. all taken in November 2014 - the first to THE SIMILAN ISLANDS out of Phuket, second - THE 4 ISLANDS (TRANG ISLANDS) out of Ko Lanta and third - KO ROK out of Ko Lanta.

Beachblogger's Similan Islands daytrip out of Phuket - November 2014

I've always considered the Similans too far from Phuket for a comfortable day trip (abt 100km by van from Karon, further if you are staying south of there - and then 70km by boat EACH WAY) but I had a day to spare in Nov 2014 and managed to negotiate a huge discount so I thought I'd give it a try. I also wanted to see if the coral/fish in the Similans had improved from the poor situation of my last visit in 2012.

Places visited ranged from snorkel#1 at island 9 to beach time at the National Park HQ island 4. Islands 1 to 3 are off limits to all visitors currently. Note some day trips do the visit in more or less the reverse order.

It's a hell of a long way from Karon (towards the south of Phuket island) to the pier at Thap Lamu near Khao Lak so I was told to be ready for a 1530-0600 pick up. As usual some inconsiderate dipsticks held everyone up while they finished their breakfast so I'm about to climb into the van at 0645.

Phuket is a big island - here we are crossing the bridge to the mainland about an hour later despite the fact that I was the last pick-up and we didn't have any more time-consuming diversions into hotels. This suggests people from Patong and further north on Phuket have their own vans and don't have to start so early. 

After a toilet stop at a big service station 10 minutes north of the bridge we finally arrived at the 2 SISTERS' TOUR compound at 0850. That's a trip from Karon of just over 2 hours. Let's say you were the first pickup at 0530 - that means 3.25 hours in the van, some of it sitting outside some dill's hotel waiting for them to show. 
Above is tea/coffee toast and bickies after registration and distribution of snorkeling gear. Gear tends to be in pretty good condition these days - it was on all snorkeling trips I've taken in recent year. I take my own face mast for ease of adjustment, don't worry abt snorkel or fins.

I hate the scrum of people jostling to get onto the boat so tend to hang back on the pier - the penalty is having to sit out in the bow seats where the ride can be brutally rough and the sun merciless. The islands are a long way off the coast - despite the boat's speed the trip takes just over an hour and we arrive at 1015.

First stop is Koh Ba Ngu (island #9) - I've snorkeled here on 4 different occasions and it has never been good - even in the days when the Similans had some of the best coral in Thailand (but not good by world's best standards irrespective of what the Thais claim). This year there was virtually no coral and few fish. However the usual bread scraps in the water brought enough of the latter alongside the boat to keep first-timers entertained.
Water clarity this far off the coast is pretty good, but not as outstanding as at Ko Rok way west of the Trang islands further south proved a few weeks later.
btw that bigger boat in pic is a dive boat - the Similans are real popular with dive liveaboards out of Phuket and Thap Lamu.

Fish feeding. Who's been into the banana pancakes back at the resort? Um,maybe that's unkind - it could be an early baby-bump. Or gas.

Next stop was at Donald Duck Bay on Koh Similan (island #8). Besides the pristine beach, most visitors take the relatively short climb to Sailing Rock from which views are pretty good. I've been up there a number of times so didn't bother - below is a 2012 shot.

I think the beach here is probably the best in Thailand. Maybe Phra Nang (near Krabi's Railey) when not crowded is the equal on account of its more spectacular backdrop of limestone cliffs. This shot should click-expand nicely.

While we checked out the beach the boat people set lunch up in the fairly extensive National Park picnic area behind the beach. This was the usual yummy mild chicken curry, rice and fried chicken pieces followed by fruit. Plenty of water, juice. National Parks has a canteen/restaurant nearby for variety although the quantities involved with the boat lunch means you shouldn't still be hungry. NP has toilets too.

Part of the reason I did this day trip was that I didn't have time to do another camping visit to the Similans, so naturally I checked out the camping area adjacent the picnic area.

After another half-hour of beach time we headed out to the boat again. By this stage the tide had dropped considerably meaning the boat couldn't get near the sand. We had to wade over uneven coral rock, quite tricky. I suggest if you have surfers'/divers' reef booties or those daggy plastic Crocs, bring them along.

15 minutes later we arrived at our second snorkeling stop in the south of island #7 - Ko Payu. I've snorkeled this location several times before and although the fish and coral were better this year than at our first stop they were still pretty badly affected by global warming/coral bleaching/overfishing/careless boat anchoring. However one attraction I've seen all visits here is turtles. I followed a small one for several hundred meters this year and a big one swam under the boat just before we left - naturally after I had packed my camera away.
The boat guys said it was ok to swim into the distant beach but I found the water got way too shallow and the coral bottom made wading the last section impractical.

The second beach stop is at the front beach at National Park HQ - island #4 (Ko Miang). This is nearly as nice a beach as at Donald Duck Bay. I camped in the big tent area behind the trees several days in 2012. There is also a National Park canteen and restaurant plus big toilet/shower blocks. Note several day trip outfits make this beach their lunch stop (although the picnic area is not as extensive) and then head north to Donald Duck Bay etc.

Around 3pm after an hour or so beach time** we headed to the boat for the 70 minute haul back to the mainland. No rocks meant access to the boat was much easier.
**more time would have been available at all locations if not for the tardiness of those self indulgent inconsiderates who cause out late start.

Once at the pier we retraced our steps. Terrible late afternoon traffic on Phuket island saw us take longer for the return drive - I didn't arrive back at my Karon accommodation until 1945. And I was first off the van - I'm suggesting if we had passengers from Nai Harn in the island's far south they would have taken at least another 30 minutes, maybe more. btw people heading for the airport on the van would be less likely delayed by bad traffic - it is in the north of the island reasonably close to the mainland bridge.

I was underwhelmed.
Maybe the trouble is I've visited the Similans several times before.
One reason I took this trip was to see if the coral/fish had improved since 2012, Answer - NO. Another was to see whether my criticism on the main Similans page that the trip out of Khao Lak (which is only 15 minutes from Thap Lamu) is too time consuming and so the trip out of Phuket would be so much worse was justified - answer YES.
But that's just me - if I was a tourist who had not seen the gorgeous white sand beaches and frenzied fish feeding before or the coral/fish when they were okay I might feel differently.

btw the cost is a bomb - normally 3500baht (2500 kids). This is way too much - because of the tourism slowdown on Phuket (down to 25-30% of normal November levels this 2014) I managed to bargain a 2000b price. I'd say that price would be reasonable value for a Similans virgin.

As a point of interest, all the Similans tour companies offer a 2 day 1 night camping/bungalows package. Cost out of Phuket is 6000b - 3500kids (camping). That's outrageous and if I couldn't negotiate a big discount even at busy times I'd give up coming to Thailand.


Beachblogger's 4 Islands (Trang Islands) Day Trip out of Ko Lanta - November 2014

I've used various Trang island day trip boats to get to/from/around the islands but never done a full day trip. Having a spare day in November 2014, I booked one at my Klong Kong (Lanta) accommodation.

Pick up was off Klong Kong beach. Because the boat starts at Saladan pier at 0830 and picks up at other beaches on the way down, it didn't arrive at this mid-island location until about 0850. I chose the Lanta Garden Hill operation at 1500baht (discounted from 1700). Several other speedboat operators do the trip - google Opal Travel. Less expensive is that long-tail boat in the background - aound 950baht. 
Note that Phetpailin operates a bigger slower boat out of Saladan - I'm not sure if it picks up at many beaches on the way down (need longtails to take people out to it) or if they have a van shuttle from accommodation to Saladan. I've used it to hitch a lift from Ko Muk back to Lanta and to move across to Muk from Ko Ngai - its size means it is way more comfortable, although of course it takes more time to reach sites.

30 minutes after leaving the south of Lanta we arrived at the first snorkeling stop - what the tour people call Ko Ngai Noi (small), one of 2 small precipitous karst island stacks off the bigger Ko Ngai. I've heard this small stack referred to as Ko Cheuk, but maybe that's its twin.
Snorkeling here is pretty ordinary - water deep, not so clear, not too much coral or good fish. Best deal is close in to the island. At least there wasn't the tidal current creating a side-drag I've experience in the past - easily overcome by ordinary swimmers with fins or stronger swimmers without. btw snorkeling equipment was pretty good unlike the bad old days although as usual I used my own face-mask, no snorkel or fins. It's so much easier to get into and out of the water without them.

Ngai Noi is also noted for its sea gypsy fisherman's hut - and high on that cliff to the right....

....the only non-cave colony of bats around. They must shift sides when the afternoon sun hits this cliff face.

Less than 15 minutes got us to snorkeling location #2 off the southern beach of Ko Kradan - Ao Niang. The boat picked up a mooring near the fringing reef's drop-off. Most of the coral on the beach side was less than 2m deep - more so on the drop off wall. 
I have always found this place pretty good and it still was - the best stuff I'd seen in Thailand this past 2 years until I visited the same area's (but much further out to sea) Ko Rok a week later. There was a good variety of coral, some with colour and no lack of fish. I followed a very colourful squid some distance. A good value place.

One of the boat guys entertained those who could't make the bottom by bringing stuff up for inspection. Spiky sea urchins didn't float many guests' boat but this puffer-fish was interesting. They puff up when in danger - poisonous to eat btw.

We next motored the short distance around the south-east corner of Kradan to the nice beach section between the National Park area and the Anantara Beach Club where the boat guys quickly set up lunch. This was the usual mild chicken curry, rice, chicken pieces, fruit in seemingly unlimited amounts plus water/juice/Coke. I find these lunches very tasty.

This southern part of Kradan's eastern beach is very nice - white sand, plenty of shade (although sun-worshipers will not go without), clear water with quite a lot of fish expecting to be fed dinner scraps.
btw - some day trip operators lunch on a very similar stretch of beach on Ko Ngai a few km north. Just as well - there are lots of boats doing trips out of Trang mainland piers and the various Trang islands as well as from Ko Lanta.

We were given another hour+ to relax, swim, snorkel etc in the above area. I didn't bother.....

.....I opted instead to walk the longish beach to see what changes had occurred since my last stay on Kradan in 2012. The main deal was this new place right up the northern end of the beach - Kradan Paradise Resort. Seems flashpacker lower midrange - with quite a few chalets still under construction. There were some elcheapo looking A-frames too but they could have been lodgings for the builders (there is no village on Kradan). Note the beach is nowhere near as nice this far northern end - very skinny top of the tide and shallow water with some rocks low tide. Thing is all the beachfront land on Kradan's main eastern beach is now developed.

On my way back to the boat I came across my old mate Wallly who runs Paradise Lost in the rainforest 300m behind camera, parked at the exit to the beach watching the passing parade. Wally is always good value and gave me all the latest Kradan  and Trang island area news. He told me he has reopened his dorm which is good news to bottom budget travelers.

You can see an island left-background in the shot of Wally. That is Ko Muk/Mook the site of our next and best stop....

....the fabulous Emerald Cave, the best thing you can do in the Andaman IMHO. The swim thru the tunnel from the ocean was fun as usual and the pool itself gobsmacking. I must have been in here half a dozen times but it still gives me a buzz. The boat guy had a wet bag and bought a whole bunch of guests' cameras in. Russian girl 2nd from right a poor swimmer - I convinced her the trip thru the tunnel was well worth while (although the 70m seemed a lot longer at life-jacket dog-paddle speed). She seemed pleased to have persevered.

The pool is ringed by rainforsted 100m high limestone cliffs. Must have been quite a splash when the top of this former cave in.

We left the cave around 1500 and I was back on Klong Kong 50 minutes later.

Trip route - I have not included the return leg. Note I have put the cave visit in front of snorkel#2 - lunch/beach. This has been the case on some of the island transfers I have done on these boats - it depends on the tide. The Emerald Cave is difficult to access at full tide, particularly on big high tide days (around full moon and no moon)

VALUE - I think this is a really good day trip. Despite having visited all locations several times, I enjoyed checking them out again. People who were new to them would get an extra charge. The Emerald Cave is tops, the snorkeling at south Kradan is second in the Andaman only to Ko Rok and the beach area we put into is almost as nice as Rok and not all that far behind even better Donald Duck Bay on the Similans day trip.
I personally got more value out of the Ko Rok day trip (see down page) but I think most newcomers may find the 4 Islands trip superior.

Phetpailin's 4 Island daytrip boat calls in for lunch/beach time at Ko Kradan


Beachblogger's Report on Ko Rok - visited late November 2014

My plan was to stay a couple of nights in the National Park camping area. But I'd heard that all the national park tents were taken by reconstruction workers refurbishing the bungalows and amenities blocks. So I made some enquiries. Opal Travel, one of the speedboat day-trip outfits who will also transfer people intending to stay overnight for a price greater than a day-trip (their argument is you take up a seat ON 2 DAYS and aldo do the snorkeling/meals the day-trippers do so you should pay more) assured me camping was possible. In typical Thai style they didn't go far enough - all the NP tents WERE taken by construction workers but if I had my OWN tent I could have stayed. So my 2 night visit turned into a day-trip. Still good value but not quite the same.

My day trip began with an 0830 boat pick up from the beach near my resort on Klong Dao. We proceeded down the west coast of Lanta, picking further guest up from various beaches over the next 30 minutes and then......

....headed for Ko Rok - Lanta in background. Ko Rok is almost 30km from Lanta's southern tip - the boat guy said this would take 40 minutes but it was more like 25. 

First stop was one of 3 snorkeling experiences - this one at South Point off Rok Nok (see Freedom Adventure's excellent map below).  We then moved across for another snorkel at Seastar Cove adjacent the main beach at Rok Noi before hitting the beach for lunch. Our third snorkel was at Clownfish Reef near the east coast of Rok Nok prior to departing the area. Note Opal Travel boasts its 3 snorkel stops beats the opposition's 2. Something for you to check when choosing a day trip.
I was impressed with the snorkeling. Thailand coral and fish, never first class by world standards have been doing it very tough in recent years - this November I snorkeled the used-to-be-good Similans (crap) and southern bay at Ko Kradan (okay, but not a patch on good snorkeling parts of the world) plus a number of very forgettable locations - Ko Rok was several steps up on Kradan with some good coral which actually had some colour, lotsa fish (even saw a sea-snake up close on the final snorkel at Clownfish Reef - these are highly toxic but apparently their mouths are so small they can't bite humans: I didn't put this to the test and kept a safe distance) and amazingly clear water. This is due to Rok's position a hell of a long way out to sea - it is nearly 40km from the nearest part of the mainland coast. I delighted in hauling myself down the boat's mooring buoy anchor rope and checking the scene from a 10m depth - I could see snorkelers on the surface clearly at least 30m away. The fish get used to you down there and tend to hang around.

It's a short hop from Seastar Cove to the beach landing area in front of the ranger station. The national park camping/bungalow area is behind the trees. The boat guys started to set up lunch while we explored the beach......

.....which is one sweet stretch of silica. Sand when dry white. This is the view from near the western end.....

....this from the east. These shots click-expand nicely

There is a more easterly beach across a short section of rocks. At lower tide levels it was easy to wade around. For all I know, there is a bush track behind the headland.

Lunch was set up in the national park picnic area behind the beach. We had the usual mild Thai chicken curry, boiled rice, chicken pieces, water/juice - unlimited amounts and yummy. The nearby national park station had snacks and small cans of beer (100b - a relaxation of the no booze NP policy in force in recent years)
At this stage we thought I'd be staying 2 nights - the boat guys told me I could wander over each of the remaining 2 luch-times and have a feed. I love this stuff and it makes up for the 2200b I paid vs the 1500b for the daytrip (discounted from the brochure's 1700) and would also gives some variety to the monotony of the National Park canteen which ACK complains about below. Note National Parks tends to change canteen contractors from time to time  - I have had great to crap meals at various places - so Ko Rok NP food when you visit may not be as bad as during ACK's last stay.

After lunch I carted my luggage across to the national park counter (right of center) to learn there was no accommodation available. ACK in his report down-page says the head-ranger is one of the best and I must say he seemed to go the extra yard - even checking if there was some room in the bungalows under reconstruction. You may be thinking I should have bought my own tent but the fact is 95% of Thai NP campers use the NP tents which I have found okay in the past, plus I travel carry-on to Thailand and good ol' Jetstar's 7kg and size limits preclude bringing my own tent. So I carted my stuff back to the picnic area.

After lunch we had about 50 minutes beach time - normally longer but the boat guys were worried about the quickly dropping tide. That's Rok Nok in background - apparently an easy swim at the narrowest gap far background. Even easier at lowest tide when you can wade part of the way.

I spent part of the beach time checking out the accommodation. The tent area looked pretty nice - more shaded and with much wider spacing between tents than at 5 sites I know in the Similans, Surins and Ko Adang.

There seemed to be abt a dozen bungalows - all under extensive refurbishment. Timing of this work is a bit of a question - why not do this late wet season rather than Nov into early Dec when the park is well and truly open? But people who know how Thai National Parks operate will not be perplexed. This is one slack operation.

With the water quickly shallowing beneath our boat we left the beach, did the final good-value snorkel adjacent Rok Nok and then headed home. Along the way we spotted a pod of dolphins, tagged along for a while until we got too close and spooked them. Fruit and drinks were handed out. We did the reverse drop-off at the various beaches along Lanta - I arrived at my beach (the second most northern) at 1530.

Trip route - I have not included the return leg

One problem - I had nowhere to stay after returning to Lanta. No worries - efficient Apple at Apple Travel (inland side of the main road abt half way along the Klong Dao strip) refunded the difference between the day trip and what I'd paid, went next door to Sweet Mansion and got me a quiet (up the back away from the road) aircon big modern room for 600, considerably less than a similar (except FAN) noisy room at my previous beachside joint Ocean View (my room there was in a similar small hotel-like block 200m from the beach, adjacent the main road). Once unpacked, I walked across the road and 300m down a lane to the beach, where I watched the sunset in company with an elcheapo bottle of Thai Rum I'd bought from a 7/11 for the island stay. Sweet - but I'd prefer to be doing the same out on Ko Rok.

SUM UP - some of you are thinking I was conned: the speedboat company just wanted my bum on the seat. Possibly.
But the fact is I didn't consider the exercise a write-off. The Ko Rok excursion was the best of 3 day-trips involving snorkeling I did that Nov/Dec Andaman visit. The other two were Similans out of Phuket and the 4 islands Trang tour out of Lanta (Note newcomers may enjoy the last one as much - it has the best thing you can do in the Andaman IMHO - the gob-smacking Emerald Cave visit. My problem is I've been into the cave at least 6 times (yet it still gives me a buzz). This 4 islands trip also had reasonably good snorkeling (for Thailand) at south Ko Kradan and Kradan's eastern beach is pretty sweet.

A remaining problem is I had another day to burn in the Lanta area. I was over Lanta after an 11 night multi-location visit (plus I have done Lanta 4 times in previous years) so next morning I went and jumped onto the ferry for nearby Ko Jum.

ACK below says the main beach on Rok is pretty serene when the day trippers leave. Wasn't bad when the day trippers were there either.