Mr J and I arrived home a few weeks ago now (sorry for delayed trip report) from our trip, returning to Phuket after 7 years. We had 4 nights in Rawai Phuket, 4 nights in Ao Nang Krabi, finishing with 5 nights (almost 6) in Bang La On / Nang Thong beach Khao Lak. With caught a ferry from Phuket to Krabi, booked easily when we were in Rawai for 1000 baht each including all transfers to/from hotels on each side. We then had a private transfer / day trip between Ao Nang and Khao Lak with stops at Bor Thor, Than Bokoranee and Wat Bang Riang, which was wonderful. Lastly, we stayed at Lah Own resort in Khao Lak that was pure paradise, and they organised our last transfer down to the airport.
We organised our own day trips in each place using the booking agents found on every street (more details below). Do ask a few different agents to check for a better deal. We had quotes that were 500-700 TB difference per person for the exactly the same tour just by asking an agent a few metres along the street. In Phuket we organised a private driver – Lek – that we had for a day. He has been mentioned a few times on TA and we highly recommend him (firstname.lastname@example.org). Each place was different with lots of great food and scenery. I guess the prices for shopping and restaurants was about the same at each, of course depending on the ‘level’ of restaurant you choose. Each place has local, simple, cheap options that were great, and more well known, up-market places that were also OK but not what I would call ‘value for money’.
Overall, we loved loved loved Khao Lak and will return if the opportunity arises. We greatly enjoyed Krabi and the spectacular scenery and would return happily. But Phuket was our least favourite, and we were oh so happy that we stayed in Rawai away from the wall-to-wall beach lounges, shopping and busyness that we saw in Kata. As you can image, it is much more developed, busier and more crowded than it was 7 years ago. The biggest change was the influx of Russians, with many signs on shops in Russian. And nothing seemed as cheap as it did back then. Just like home, the cost of living and inflation affects everywhere. I've posted my JBRs for each place in the appropriate forums (Phuket JBR : tripadvisor.com/…57241852 and Krabi JBR : tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g1507054-i14482-k7… ).
Arrival - We arrived in the mid afternoon after a day trip / transfer from Ao Nang, with stops at Than Bok Khorani (or Thanboke Koranee) national park Tham Lot (or Lot cave) and Phi Hua To cave (or Big headed Ghost cave), as well as the mountain temple Wat Bang Riang that was spectacular. It’s an easy half day trip from Khao Lak and I really found it amazing. We were warmly welcomed at Lah Own resort promptly shown to our lovely room (review in the hotel section, and this was our favourite place during our 2 week trip). Dropping our stuff, we headed to the beach café for a snack before a quick walk along the beach. Without sunscreen, we didn’t stay out too long but immediately felt happy with our hotel choice, seeing plenty of beach shacks for lunches and drinks in one direction, and a stretch of golden beach to comb the other. Perfect.
Back in Krabi, we both got a little too much sun; me a little around my bather straps on my back, but J was rather red from shoulders all the way down his back. Though we applied sunscreen, we made the silly mistake of not re-applying it sufficiently after all our time snorkelling. As a result, we were feeling it, poor J more than me. To make matters worse, a bumpy red rash had come up all over his hands. We thought it was probably just a reaction to something he touched or the insect repellent that we bought. Probably best to get some calamine lotion and an anti-histamine to try to sooth it and make sure it didn’t get worse.
The walk up the road from Lah Own to the main Nang Thong town was 500 metres or so. Turning right, the beginning of the long row of shops was not far along, with a pharmacy and doctor’s surgery among the first places we came to. Showing his hands to the pharmacist, she (like us) thought it was an allergy, saying to see the doctor if it got worse. Luckily, the nasty looking bumps didn’t cause poor Mr J any pain.
With the evening approaching, we walked up the main street, browsing the shops (that had more of the same same tee-shirts, wood carvings etc.), and checking out the various tour options to the Similan and Surin islands. At the far end of the stores, we crossed the road and had a very yummy dinner at the Curry Hut. In fact, J thought his chicken briyani was one of the best he’s ever had (with the very best at a street stall in Mandalay of all places). We had a good chat with the staff, who turned out to be from Myanmar, so they were keen to hear of our travels there. Stopping for a beer along the way we headed back after buying some supplies, both of us hoping that J’s rash would settle with a good night’s rest.
Day 1 – Enjoying the beach outlook over breakfast, we decided to have a quiet day, exploring the local area a bit, and for J to see the doctor. The rash looked as angry as ever, but there was signs of it spreading. However, the surgery didn’t open until 5pm that afternoon. With the beautiful day outside, we decided to walk up to Bang Niang town along the beach. Ten or twenty minutes along the beach from Lah Own there’s a creek. Some people waded across, the water reaching their mid-drifts. J and I didn’t have bathers on, so, after unsuccessfully looking for a way to get across via a shallower section, we paid the 20 baht to catch the ‘ferry’ across. The ‘ferry’ was a floating platform, with the ‘ferryman’ a strong guy that used a thick rope to pull us to the other side, a distance of maybe a couple of metres.
The whole length of the beach from when we left Lah Own was lined with beach huts, bars and restaurants. On this side of the creek, there were more resorts facing the beach. We chose to head off the beach to the road to find a place for lunch. Walking a little way, we gave up and chose to eat at Chong Fah, a lovely restaurant overlooking the beach from an elevated position. With juice, iced coffee, and a shady relaxing spot, we enjoyed some pretty yummy club sandwiches.
Thinking there would be a few other shops to explore, we headed back along the road, quickly finding the town was having a siesta, with very few places open. But we found something interesting on a ‘billboard’ type sign; “The Rusty Pelican World Famous Mexican Restaurant”. Tex-mex is a cuisine we both love and we seek out these restaurants when ever we travel. Though walking up and down the road, we didn’t find it, so just headed back to Lah Own along the beach. The tide had gone out by now so the water level across the creek was easily negotiable, not requiring the services of he ferryman.
A lazy afternoon followed with some swimming, reading and relaxing. Around 5pm, we headed to the doctor, sitting on the outside beach seats with locals and tourists alike, waiting our turn. The doctor was a friendly chap, and J was told that it was some sort of UV exposure reaction, requiring cortizone tablets and cream, and for J to stay out of the sun for a day or two. Hmm, not the best for snorkelling etc.
Dinner was at a little place called ‘Ten stars’ that was really tasty, with lots of authentic Thai dishes at a very reasonable price. Over our meals we decided that neither of us wanted to sit around the hotel doing nothing while J recovered. Having chatted to one of the tour operators through the day, we decided to do a day trip to Khao Sok. It was two hours drive there (in an air conditioned car out of the sun), then an hour on a boat under shade, then a short time on a bamboo raft (where we could use an umbrella), then in a cave, then lunch in shade, and the reverse trip back, it was worth while giving J plenty of ‘out of the sun’ time to recover, and a nice day out for us both.
We booked with ‘Green Andaman Travel’, and offered a private 2 person only personalised trip, which we were happy to pay more to do. It was barely 500 baht more each than going on a group trip with 12 others in a mini van. Tired and excited about our next day, we caught a tuk-tuk / seong teaw back to our resort, enjoying a glass of wine (that we had brought from home duty free and saved until Khao Lak) on the porch in the evening quiet.
Day 2 – Cursing the alarm, we rose early to have breakfast before our 7:30 pick up. Mr Bill arrived in a Toyota sedan, and we set off for the drive to Rajjaprapa Dam. Lovely rural countryside sped past us, with some spectacular viewpoints of the surrounding mountains along the way. We even saw some working elephants, carrying some heavy logs on a rubber farm, who were causing a little traffic jam as cars tried to go around the slower moving vehicles. The lake, or dam, is beautiful, ringed by tree-covered mountains and rugged limestone peaks. Mr Bill lead us to our longtail and we set off for the far end of the lake. Seeing other longtails the same size as ours loaded with 10 or 12 people, and others that were smaller with no shade, we were especially grateful we’d chosen the private tour option. From the outset and throughout the entire boat ride, the scenery was stunning, with a postcard picture at every point. The colour of the water was an unbelievable turquoise/aqua blue, the colour you’d expect to see on a tropical sandy island.
At the other side, we ‘parked’ the boat and headed into the jungle for an approx 1km walk over a small ridge to the second lake area on the Sok river. It’s was a easy walk, with a few steps up and down, so remember to take a drink. Insects buzzing and chirping sounds made you feel like you were in an “Indiana Jones” movie. Surrounded by the thick leafy foliage, I almost expected Doctor Jones to appear, crashing through with a machete.
Descending the last few steps, a gorgeous vista greeted us. The water was as clear and still as a mirror, reflecting the stunning craggy mountains. Over the water, a few floating bamboo huts were a home to the people who worked there driving tourists over to the cave. A raft made of lashed together bamboo with a small outboard motor was our craft over to the cave, where we were met by a local guide. He explained the cave’s history and various formations. I found the miraculous water hole that emerges deep in the cave with a Buddha like formation at its base quite amazing. The owl and mother&child formations could easily be discerned too.
Back the way we came to the main lake and longtail, it was only a few minutes to the floating boat-house restaurant. The floating bungalows are also available for visitors to stay and night or two (and it would be spectacular and peaceful!). I pencilled this place into my ‘to do’ list for a future visit for at least one night. Lunch itself was ridiculous – it was tasty and fresh etc, but for Mr J and me, we got the following (bear in mind – just for 2), a huge bowl of steamed ice, a plate of fried rice, 2 mixed veggie stir fries, a green curry with veg, a green curry with chicken, a whole spice-fried fish (the size of a medium sized snapper), a large plate of omelette, and to top it off a large plate of fresh fruit. And poor J had to try to eat a lot of it (given I don’t eat meat or fish or eggs!) We spent some time chatting with the staff there, and teaching them some English words, which included ‘too much”.
On the way back to where we started, we saw more impressive rock formations around the shoreline of the lake including the “Gui-lin” sentinel-esque rocks, standing out in the middle of the lake. Driving over the dam’s wall, we visited the little temple that overlooks the dam / lake, where local families and couples were enjoying the afternoon cool under shady trees and the magnificent surrounds. The view back up the lake was magnificent.
Back at Lah Own, J’s hands seemed no worse for the day trip, and looked a lot better. So back out for dinner. Wondering and looking at tours out to the islands, we chose a mostly outdoor large café near the McDs, may have been Ruan Mai. But it was OK but a bit pricey for what we had. Very happy with our day, we returned to the same agent to book our Similan trip for the next day. A random couple we bumped into highly recommended them, telling us how beautiful everything was on their trip the day before. So we thought, how bad could it be. We also decided to book a trip to the Surins for the day after, chosing the ‘Barracuda’ twin-hull boat, hoping it wasn’t too crowded and a smoother ride out.
Browsing through the shops, we spent a while looking through the canvases at Chen Gallery. A few of the artists were working away, patiently applying paint to their works. There were all sorts of paintings, modern, abstract, classic Asian style with Buddhas and monks, and movie poster copies. A few impressionist style frames caught my eye, but I finally purchased a gorgeous cherry blossom before a full moon. Super simple and zen like, it would fit into our home for sure. For 1000 bhat, I thought it a bargain.
Part 2 of my JBR posted separately. I will post photos up on my blog soon (kgbtravels.blogspot.com.au )