Tag Archives: Andaman sea

Duty-Free Langkawi

I finally left Thailand via ferry from the Tammalang Port at Satun and about an hour and a half later was greeted into the Northernmost island in the Andaman sea of Malaysia, called Langkawi.  After clearing customs I grabbed a cab for the T-Star hotel in Cenang.

During the 40 minute cab ride my driver informed me of some interesting facts about the island.  According to him,  Langkawi was barely visible on the map of tourism and tourists until the 70’s when the Prime Minister declared the island Duty Free.  Since then, Langkawi has skyrocketed as a hot spot for tourism (loads of tours from feeding eagles to snorkeling are available) and shopaholics looking for the best deals on booze, makeup, chocolate, perfumes, etc.

Another tidbit he shared with me was that the population on the island was about 85% muslim, 10% Indian and the rest a mix of Chinese, Expats, and Europeans.  After having been in Thailand for so long with diversity in foods only being available in larger cities, Langkawi was a breath of fresh air on that front with a large variety of cuisine choices to choose from.  Of course they also had traditional Malay foods, which consist of rice, fish, chicken and lots of vegetable varieties.  The foods are generally a bit spicy (though not as spicy as Thailand) and their national meal is Nasi Lemak, which is a rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf 🙂

I went to Langkawi with one specific goal in mind: to check out the animal shelter on the island and see if they needed volunteers.  T-Star, my chosen hotel for the week was an absolutely delightful place and only about a 45 minute walk to the shelter.  Every day, at least twice a day troops of the macaque monkeys came through the hotel leaping from balcony to balcony in search of any sort of food.  There were signs everywhere to beware of things left on the balcony as they may be snatched and for good reason because those little guys were fast in snatching things!!

The day after I arrived I started my wander toward the animal shelter to check it out.  I was a bit confused about it at first because online they seemed somehow located at a hotel resort, which didn’t make a ton of sense until I got there and learned the story.  The Bon Ton resort, located next to The Temple Tree hotel is owned and operated by an animal lover.  The owner started both hotels and the restaurants attached to them and uses moneys from the hotel and restaurant to fund an animal shelter located just in front of the resorts.  There, over 100 dogs and over 100 cats find shelter and a loving home.

I arrived a little after 10am and chatted with the volunteer coordinator, Dorothy, and began the next day doing half days at first (since I was walking 5 km there and 5 back daily).  Morning activities consisted of taking over 50 dogs for walks around the hotel grounds with fellow volunteers, then picking up after them and finally serving them lunch, which consisted of rice cooked in beef broth with chunks of beef and a variety of vegetables, all prepared FRESH daily by the restaurant chef!!

So for the first week I walked to and from my hotel to help walk the doggies in the morning, then spent my afternoons trying out new restaurants in the area and walking along the Cenang beach.  As my week started to come to an end, it turned out that one of the Nepalese workers for the shelter had to go back home, so I was asked if I wanted to stay in one of the volunteer rooms so I could help with full-day activities along with the other 2 full-time volunteers.  I agreed and moved in to my new accommodations (complete with 2 yard dogs, John and Mummy) and began full day activities.  Of course, though I’d only planned at first for a month there, it quickly turned into two:)

On to Bon Ton Animal Shelter

Back to Malaysia

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The Beauty of Ko Lipe

Getting to this beautiful and teeny little island in the Andaman Sea was quite treacherous at some points, but very much well worth the trip!!

Really I should (or rather could) simply blame the travel treachery on the fact that I was traveling during low season.  There’s a reason why it’s low season!  Simply stated the seas are unpredictable.  In high season it is relatively easy (due to calm waters) and cheaper to get from island to island via a longtail taxi boat or other ferry boats, however once again because of low season the options were limited.

I left Ko Muk (Mook) easily on the morning ferry (which seemed to not only haul a couple of tourists but also local commuters to the mainland and bundles of rubber ready to be processed into final products) for the mainland where I was met by a mini bus.  Several very rainy hours later, we came upon a stop where I was told to exit the mini bus.  The name of the town, I can’t at this point recall, but it was a good 20 minute motorbike ride to the Pak Bara pier for Ko Lipe.

100 baht and 20-ish minutes later and I was at a teeny tour place near the pier buying my roundtrip (open return!) ticket for Ko Lipe.  As I waited for the powerboat, I encountered my first and only unsettling experience as a solo traveler.  Ladies, if you are traveling solo (or even with people!) to or from this pier, beware of the very large (literally) local.  He’s on the younger side, but you can’t miss which one he is because he really is quite obese.  When I first arrived I thought he was part of the working crew at the pier, but after observing him for a bit, I figured out he wasn’t.  What made him unsettling was he kept trying to get VERY close to me and other female tourists.  He would sit next to you on a bench, then try to shake your hand, then try to hug you, and even tried to lean in to kiss you!

What was more suspicious of his behavior as I watched, was that he would first look around as he tried to sit with a female, and if he didn’t spot any actual workers or security guards, he would sit.  But if he did (even when halfway down) he would immediately jump up and walk away.  With me, he did get as far as sitting next to me and trying for a hug to which I immediately put a very harsh stop to his behavior.  He left me alone for the remainder of my wait, but when coming back to the pier on my way back Ko Lipe, he was there again up to the same antics!  Beware female travelers!

Now the only other unpleasant portion of getting to Ko Lipe was the powerboat ride itself.  Again, it was because of the unpredictable low season seas, but if you are one who gets sea sick easily, I recommend to travel only when the seas are calm!!  The ride was only a couple of hours long but they were very bumpy, and at some points a bit unnerving as the powerboat launched skyward and then slammed down onto an oncoming wave.  Just about everyone on the boat (except the locals chilling all their way in the back smoking away) lost their lunch, and some even lost their breakfast, and perhaps even the meals from the day before!  Yes, it was THAT rough!  I almost lost it at one point smelling all the vomit surrounding me, but thankfully I didn’t… But I won’t share what I kept saying to myself in order to prevent myself from getting sick because it may make some readers lose their lunches just reading it, lol!

When we arrived to Ko Lipe, the seas were calm (protected by beautifully lush surrounding islands) as we disembarked on a floating dock and switched to a longtail taxi boat for the 2 minute transfer to the island.  Once again, I didn’t have a room booked anywhere, so once on land I started my usual walk around to try to find a place.  We were dropped off by the longtail boats on Sunrise beach (beautiful beach along the East side of the island) and it wasn’t until I made it to Pattaya beach along the South side of the island that I was able to find a place.

Again, because of low season, many of the places along Sunrise beach were closed.  In fact, even walking along the walking street in the middle of the day, the island felt relatively deserted, giving the place a slightly spooky feel to it.  As I wandered along Pattaya beach with my backpack and sweating my rear off (despite the cloud cover) I finally spotted a little sign for The Seaside Resort.  For 500 baht a night, I got my own bungalow with a bathroom and lovely porch, only about a 30 second walk from the stunning beach.  The people were very friendly (though they didn’t speak a ton of English) and accommodating for my week stay there.

While at first I wasn’t entirely convinced I liked Ko Lipe (due to the initial spooky vibe I got), after my first full day there I was in love with the place and honestly would never want to go there during high season just because I grew to adore how quiet it was and couldn’t imagine it stuffed to the gills with tourists.

Though it is a teeny island, there was plenty of walking and hiking trails to various areas of the island and the snorkeling on Pattaya beach was stunning!!  I spent hours for days on end watching clown fish nestling against sea anemones (the first in nature I’d ever seen!!  I’d seen plenty of anemones, but never the clown fish with them!!); sea urchins and sea cucumbers chilling on the ocean floor; puffer fish swimming by; angel fish, damsels of all kinds, corals, clams, you name it, they pretty much had it!  I was so enamored with the variety of tropical life just off the shore!  And while there were several times I wished I had a waterproof camera, part of me is thankful that I was actually present for the experience instead of being fussed by getting the perfect shot and looking constantly through a lens.

Seriously, while Ko Lipe does have a couple of shortcomings (revealed in Ko Lipe Trash Hero!) it is NOT an island of Thailand to miss!!

On to Koh Lipe Trash Hero!

Back to Thailand

Leaving Koh Tao

All good things come to an end, and after over 2 months on the beautiful island of Koh Tao, it was time to say goodbye.  After a lovely farewell dinner and late-night drinks with Deb and Rick, Anna (a longtime friend from Scotland visiting Thailand for 5 weeks) and I headed off the following night for the island of Koh Phi Phi Don (pronounced pee-pee, not fee-fee!!).  Koh Phi Phi Don, located in the Andaman Sea, just south of Krabi on the mainland is the larger of two islands there (the Phi Phi islands) made most famous by book “The Beach” by Alex Garland.  Well, more specifically Maya bay on Phi Phi Ley (south of Phi Phi Don) was the filming site for the movie of “The Beach”.  The book was written after the author visited and was inspired by the Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park, south of Koh Tao in the Gulf.

We traveled on the night ferry, which left the dock around 9pm.  Before boarding however we stopped in to 7-11 to stock up on some booze and snacks (of course!) for the journey, then after dropping our stuff of at our beds in the dorm room of the ferry, we headed to the top deck for some fresh air and to properly wave Koh Tao goodbye.  We were one of only 3 people on the top deck but seriously had the best view and air quality there than any other place on the boat!  We hung out for several hours on the top deck watching the stars as we lumbered along, sipping on Smirnoff Ice and chatting away.  Around 11pm we started to pass the Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park (inspired the book “The Beach”!), watching the scattered islands appear in silhouette forms lit only by the moon.

A little after midnight we headed to the dorm room for some sleep (we were due to arrive on mainland again at 5am, so sleep was necessary!!).  The beds were decently comfortable but at first I had a very hard time sleeping as the smoke from the engines smelled like it was being pumped directly in the dorm room and it felt like I could barely breathe!  I almost took my blanket and pillow back up to the top deck so I could sleep without being choked by the smoke, but ended up passing out nonetheless in the dorm.

A little before 5am we arrived at the Suratthani mainland dock and were escorted to a local eatery.  We hung about there for several hours, then were picked up by a mini-van for the 4 hour journey to Krabi.  I don’t recall much of that part of the trip as I was mostly passed out (though we were pretty tightly packed in!!) but once we arrived in Krabi we were once again dropped at a local eatery for more food or drinks if desired.  From there it was another hour until we were taken via tuk-tuk to the Krabi dock for the almost 2 hour ferry ride to Koh Phi Phi Don.  By far this was the longest stretch of traveling I’d done so far in Thailand to get to the next destination; over 14 hours in total.  What we arrived to ultimately on Koh Phi Phi Don was, well…. Interesting to say the least!

On to Favorites From Koh Tao

Back to Thailand