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…
Volunteering with the Foundation for Education and Development (FED) for 3 months is very busy, but there’s always time for some R&R – just too many sights in Southern Thailand’s Phang Nga region to pass up.
As the apartment is a couple of hours north of Phuket in Bang Niang, it’s a great location from which to visit the surrounding region.
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, before stopping off at a local favourite restaurant for a delicious feast.
Have I mentioned that the food is amazing in Thailand?
Takua Pa and White Sand Beach
There’s even hosts a Big C Supermarket – groceries are slightly cheaper than Khao Lak/Bang Niang.
Apart from a few more food stalls, White Sand Beach is still as beautiful as ever and hasn’t changed much since writing my Khao Lak – Southern Thailand post.
Day trip to Koh Kho Khao Island
First a ride to Takua Pa. Then catch 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 colleagues from FED show us the way, and stop along several beaches for a good look around.
The island is unusually quiet and sadly, the famous restaurant on the lake is shut, so find somewhere an alternative open for lunch.
Returning to the mainland for then more food at Bang Sak Beach, of course.
Bang Sak Beach
A look around before a bite to eat, head back to Khao Lak.
At the far northern end of Khao Lak, Bang Sak provides around 5 kilometres of pristine sands.
No crowds either…
A spectacular vista on a sunny day.
With chairs and tables scattered on the sand, pick a spot and relax as it’s not long before a waiter takes your order.
A lovely spot to watch the sun recede into darkness, whilst sipping on a delicious refreshment – visit this spot before it explodes with tourism.
Water Park 360°
About 2 hours on a scooter south of Khao Lak, the 360° Water Park is busy with locals – our tribe of 5 includes the only Farangs (foreigners) at the park!
Swimming in the park sets you back 100B. 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.
Koh Phayam Island – escaping Songkran
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 but everywhere is extremely busy.
A collective decision is made to escape the madness of Songkran in Bang Niang for several days with Koh Phayam Island as the preferred destination.
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)
- Prices on the island are about 25% higher than in Bang Niang as everything has to be shipped to the island.
- At the time of writing, no ATM points or banks exist 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 advises pick-up for our group of 6 up is at the Day Markets’ Bus Depot, decide to go with our gut feel and stand along the highway. A wise move as the bus is slightly earlier – unheard off here – and doesn’t drive into the Day Markets at all.
As Fiona – our fabulous Aussie Host on the island – pre-booked tickets, our bus seats even boast reserved signs.
With a crowded bus we start 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 – should I explain weeks – we decide 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 arriv for the 35-minute speed boat ride, which leaves at 12:00 pm.
Pretty scenery awaits during this boat ride whilst whizzing along and passing many islands in the Andaman Sea – very relaxing.
Koh Phayam Island
As the second largest Andaman Sea island, this gorgeous slice of heaven off the coast of the Ranong Province is easily accessible to everyone!
No cars exist on the island – only motorbikes and scooters.
Fuel is more expensive than the mainland of course (about 40-50B/litre). Although when a local guy charges 20B to pump up one scooter tyre, it’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 awaits our arrival so we don’t have to barter for bikes.
Off we ride across this tiny island to our accommodation, on roads that barely resemble a track. 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 – perhaps also as the PP Land bungalow site is off the main drag.
Time seems to stop completely on this island.
Interesting ‘Live Show’
Amidst the bungalows’ serenity of this island paradise location, guests are treated to what one can only describe accurately as hearing a live sex show!
The show commences behind the walls of the bungalow next to ours one afternoon and continues again in the evening.
On this very quiet and still night, the dulcet tones of moans and groans permeate from the bungalow, which quickly increases to a shrilling crescendo until that ‘special’ moment of ecstasy is reached!
But the intense orchestrated experience doesn’t stop there as the pleasure and show continues for an hour or so until sheer exhaustion overcomes the 3 ladies sharing the bungalow.
Many guests in bungalows applaud following the finale, as we also do!
After this performance, I’m beginning to wonder whether it was a LGBT weekend as there are also many same-sex couples and groups staying at the bungalows.
Food on Koh Phayam
It’s wonderful to have a ‘local’ 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, try here for the best cheesecake I’ve had in Thailand.
Incredible shakes – try the Snickers or Oreo shakes, which is to die for – and wonderful homemade cakes and slices. Meals are also available.
Not the cheapest prices around but friendly owners (Charmaine and Chai) and staff make the difference, especially with their excellent service.
Right on the beach, you’ll spend hours here cherishing the cool evening breezes after a sweltering day, and 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 hand-crafted 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 is a tad harder than coming over.
As a suggestion, try and buy a return ticket from the mainland so you don’t get ripped off as much.
You’d think that the ferry costs 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.
Thailand has many not-for-profit organisations for which to volunteer and donate.
Volunteer with ‘All for Villages’
Another reason for the escape to Koh Phayam is to visit Fiona from All for Villages, which is a not-for-profit organisation started after the 2004 Tsunami, which 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). And, also operates 2 HIV Outreach Programs, runs clean water projects, includes a sterilisation program for dogs and cats, and much more.
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 follows us back to the apartment and slept at our door twice.
The second time is with another of this lady’s strays. In the morning, I walk this little one back to her owner and also decide to take some dog food.
Back to FED and volunteering…