February – May 2016
Volunteering for 3 months in southern Thailand doesn’t mean that you can’t experience as many local sights as possible, in your spare time…
Although volunteering with the Foundation for Education and Development (FED) for 3 months is very busy, a chance for R&R is always just around the corner. There are just too many sights in Southern Thailand’s Phang Nga region to pass up.
Bang Niang sights
As the apartment is in Bang Niang (a couple of hours north of Phuket), it’s a great location to visit the surrounding region and further afield.
Quick getaways and day outings are just a stone’s throw away. Not to mention just relaxing after work by throwing a Frisbee on one of the many gorgeous beaches, then stopping off at a local favourite restaurant for a delicious Thai feast. Did I mention food is amazing in Thailand?
Takua Pa and White Sands Beach
Although visited in 2014, travelled to these two areas again on this trip and noticed that Takua Pa has grown somewhat. There is even a Big C Supermarket here, which offers groceries at slightly cheaper prices than Khao Lak/Bang Niang; think the locals have realised that tourists and ex-pats take the time to ride here and stock-up.
Apart from a few more food stalls, White Sands Beach is still as beautiful as ever and hasn’t changed much since when I wrote my Khao Lak – Southern Thailand post.
Day trip to Koh Kho Khao Island
Famous for having some of the best beaches in Thailand, I suggest you spend a few days on this gorgeous sleepy island, although this was a day trip only.
Riding to Takua Pa, then caught the Long Tail boat across to the island (20B/person includes your bike), which takes about 10-15 minutes.
Impressive is how the boat driver wheels or rides your bike onto a very narrow plank whilst it precariously rocks on the shore from swell movement, and safely onto his Long Tail.
Always great to have locals show you around so Mark and Mya Lay from FED showed us the way, and stopped along several beaches for a good look around.
The island is unusually quiet and sadly, the famous restaurant on the lake was shut, so had to find somewhere else open for lunch.
Returned to the mainland and then more food at Bang Sak Beach, of course. Food is important here in Thailand!
Bang Sak Beach
After spending the day on Koh Kho Khao Island, stopped off at Bang Sak Beach for a look and bite to eat before heading back to Khao Lak. At the far northern end of Khao Lak, Bang Sak provides about 5 kilometres of pristine sands without the crowds.
A spectacular vista on a sunny day. With chairs and tables scattered on the sand. Pick a spot and relax. You won’t have to wait long before a waiter takes your order.
This is a lovely spot to watch the sun recede into darkness whilst sipping on a delicious refreshment! See this spot before it explodes with tourism.
Water Park 360°
About 2 hours on a scooter south of Khao Lak, this water park is busy with locals – our tribe of 5 included the only Farangs (foreigners) at the park!
Swimming in the park will set you back 100B, but you can be a spectator for free. As it’s pretty hot, I braved a soak. A couple of restaurants serving over-priced food and drinks are also on site.
If you want to break the journey up due to a sore butt from the scooter ride, stop off at one of the many waterfalls along the highway, which charge 200B entry, this time of year – steep!
Escaping to Koh Phayam Island during Songkran
Traditionally, Songkran is a mad holiday in Thailand celebrating the Thai New Year where any unsuspecting passer-by whether walking, in a car, motorbike, or other, is bombarded with water bombs, flour, and talcum powder. Bombs are hurled from secret locations along roads, against buildings, bins, anything, usually by children or teenagers, and the occasional adult. Loads of fun and everywhere is extremely busy.
A collective decision was made to escape the madness of Songkran in Bang Niang with Koh Phayam Island as the preferred destination for several days.
Speed Boat: 700B return
Accommodation: PP Land Beach Resort bungalow for 700B/night
Island Motorbike: 250B/day
Bus: Phuket to Ranong (225B)
Bus: Ranong to Phuket (350B includes mini bus to Ranong Bus Station)
Tip: Prices on the island are about 25% higher than in Bang Niang. Understandably so as everything has to be shipped to the island. At the time of writing, there are not any ATM points or banks on the island. Bring buckets of cash unless you’re planning on spending all your time in high-end hotels and restaurants, as think these do take credit cards.
Getting to Koh Phayam Island
An early start today from Khao Lak so at the highway spot before the 7:15 am pick-up. Although the bus company said it would phone before picking our group of 6 up at the Day Markets’ Bus Depot, decided to go with our gut feel, and stand along the highway. A wise move, as the bus was slightly earlier (unheard off) and didn’t drive into the Day Markets at all.
As Fiona (our fabulous Aussie Host on the island) pre-booked tickets, we even had reserved signs on our seats. With a crowded bus, we started the 4-hour journey to Ranong, which only stops for a 20-minute break at Takua Pa. This bus starts from Phuket and continues further than Ranong. As it’s Songkran holiday week (or should I say weeks), we decided to pay for the ticket from Phuket just to get seats…a good move.
The bus drops you off at the Ranong bus station, which is about 5 kilometres from the jetty. After a quick ride in the back of a Ute (pick-up), we arrived for the 35-minute speed boat ride, which left at 12:00 pm.
Pretty scenery awaits during this boat ride, which whizzes along and passes various islands in the Andaman Sea – quite relaxing.
Koh Phayam Island
As the second largest Andaman Sea island, this gorgeous piece of heaven off the coast of the Ranong Province is easily accessible to everyone!
There are no cars on the island, only motorbikes and scooters. Fuel is more expensive than the mainland and understandably so (about 40-50B/litre). Although when a local guy charges 20B to pump up one scooter tire, that get’s a tad annoying.
Taxi drivers on motorbikes are plentiful and waiting at the ferry dock, so don’t despair if you don’t have wheels. There is always someone to take you somewhere on this small 5-kilometre-long island. Luckily, Fiona was awaiting our arrival so we didn’t have to barter for bikes.
Off we rode across this tiny island on roads that barely resembled a track, to our accommodation. I’m told that during the Wet Season, most of the roads are impassable and become sandy bogs.
Although the island is busy with local and foreign tourists, there’s still a wonderfully relaxed feel although perhaps especially so as the PP Land bungalows are off the main drag. Time seems to stop on this island…
Interesting ‘Live Show’ at the bungalows!
Amidst the bungalows’ serenity of this island paradise location, guests were treated to what one can only describe accurately, as a live sex show!
The show commenced behind the walls of the bungalow next to ours one afternoon and continued again in the evening. On this very quiet and still night, one could hear the dulcet tones of moans and groans, which quickly increased to a shrilling crescendo until that ‘special’ moment of ecstasy! But the intense orchestrated experience didn’t stop there. The pleasure and show continued for an hour or so until sheer exhaustion must have overcome the 3 ladies sharing the bungalow!
Many guests in bungalows applauded following the finale, as we did! After this performance, I was beginning to wonder whether it was a LGBT weekend as there were also many same sex couples and groups staying at the bungalows.
Want to volunteer with ‘All for Villages’?
Another reason for the escape to Koh Phayam was to visit Fiona from All for Villages, which is a not-for-profit organisation started after the 2004 Tsunami that devastated most of the Andaman Coast.
If you’re interested in volunteering on a paradise island, then contact Fiona.
The organisation educates and provides community support on the island (especially for the displaced Moken Sea Gypsy Community); operates 2 HIV Outreach Programs; runs clean water projects; includes a sterilisation program for dogs and cats; and much more.
Food on the Island
It’s wonderful to have a ‘local’ to show you around the island but also the best eating places! The island offers many vegetarian and vegan alternatives, and does exude an alternative bohemian feel.
Apart from riding around the island, swimming, snorkelling, lazing around at any given sandy beach, meeting locals and ex-pats, eating your way around the island is also an excellent option! Depending how much time you’re spending in Koh Phayam, you could do worse than to try every eating place!
- Cha Chai Home (a little way down the main road to Ao Yai, Long Beach) – For the best cheesecake I’ve tried in Thailand! Incredible shakes (try the Snickers or Oreo shakes…to die for) and wonderful homemade cakes and slices; meals also available. Not the cheapest prices around but friendly owners (Charmaine and Chai) – and staff make the difference…and you can tell in the service.
- Bubble Bar – Right on the beach, you’ll spend hours here cherishing the cool evening breezes after a sweltering day, sipping your choice of liquid gold, whilst contemplating life and your navel! Alcohol prices are a little on the high side. This Swedish father and son-run operation is very relaxed and why not, you’re on island time here!
- My BBQ Bar – Don’t forget our amazing friend and host P Tao and Nara for delicious authentic local food, amazing fish, and incredible stories of piracy; what a colourful character! You must try this restaurant at least once.
- The Hippy Bar – This incredible handmade Bar has taken the owner about 8 years to complete. A labour of love collecting driftwood, flotsam and jetsam from along the beach to build a boat, and extra extensions. A testament of patience and passion.
Leaving Koh Phayam
Trying to secure a ticket from the island was a tad harder than coming over.
A suggestion is to try and buy everything as return tickets from the mainland so you don’t get ripped off as much. You’d think that the ferry would cost the same price returning as when arriving to the island? Think again…where there’s money to be made on the side, there’s a Thai waiting in the shadows. Still, it’s holiday season and a time when everyone makes extra cash.
Soi Dog – This not-for-profit association does a marvelous job with homeless dogs in Phuket and throughout Thailand.
Met a wonderful shop owner on Bang Niang Road who spoke about Soi Dog. The owner cares for 8 stray dogs – pays for vet fees, food, and anything else they need, and they all sleep at her house at the back of her shop. So very kind especially for here as typically, animals are not looked after well at all.
One of her strays followed us back to the apartment and slept at our door twice! The second time was with another of this lady’s strays. In the morning, I walked this little one back to her owner and we also decided to bring some dog food when visiting the owner next.
Back to volunteering…