Finally, the LAST chapter of our Thailand/Cambodia trip. It’s only taken me two months – yikes! Anyhoo, getting down to business here:
We ended our trip (before returning to Bangkok) in the south, hitting up the beaches. Well, mainly one beach, although we did see a few others. When we were initially planning the trip, we decided to go to Ko Samui, an island off the Gulf Coast of Thailand – on the eastern side of the country. However, after a bit of research, we discovered that December is the tail end of the wet season, so while it MIGHT have been great weather, we also might have spent our time avoiding the rain.
So, we opted for the western side and the Andaman Coast, which is probably a bit more touristy than Ko Samui, but we had accepted the fact that heading to the beaches would inevitably take us to a touristy area. We were, however, determined to avoid Phuket at all costs (well, except for the airport), and we stuck to that decision. Phuket does seem like a great jumping off point for other destinations, but I was okay missing out on the other destinations. We couldn’t do or see everything, so we wanted to enjoy the time we had. After some research (really, probably not enough), we opted for Bangsak Beach, Khao Lak, a good distance north of Phuket. We also decided to avoid a large resort-style hotel and stayed at a VERY small hotel for a few nights and then splurged for one night at a fancier place (that was more resort-y, but not large).
The smaller place, Loft Garden Villa was a bit of a walk to the beach – not super long and it made for a nice outing – but we really liked the bungalow. It was super private which we appreciated. The fancier place, Bangsak Village, was just a bit south, more or less on the same strip of beach, but I did like that it was RIGHT on the beach. Still, since Michael and I aren’t huge beach people, we didn’t mind Loft Garden Villa’s location. One curious thing – we were definitely some of the few Americans in that part of Thailand, at least in terms of the people we bumped into. Most of the visitors, as far as we could tell, were Germans and also Russians. That’s just an observation, by the way, not good nor bad.
The beach – Banksak Beach – was really amazing, and we loved walking there in the morning (and I went for a few runs on the beach too), but our favorite time was sunset. The sunsets were incredible! We mainly spent our days walking to and along the beach, eating, napping, going back to walk on the beach, take in the sunset, and eat again. Along the beach, there were plenty of little restaurants that served great food – from fresh seafood to green papaya salad (one of my mainstays throughout this trip) to curries.
We didn’t explore the area as much as we had hoped, in part because we wanted to relax and did not want to spend too much time going all over the place. I think this was a theme throughout the trip, and while we missed out on some of the sights, we also didn’t feel completely exhausted and also over-saturated. Maybe Cambodia was the ‘touring-heavy’ part of the trip, and we decided to just RELAX in Thailand. Who knows? In addition to the beaches, there is plenty to see in the Khao Lak area, but much of it is a bit of a drive, making for a very long day, and we didn’t want to run around that much.
We *did*, however, have some great experiences, and we learned that fruity, tropical drinks definitely taste better when you are on the beach, watching the sunset, and drinking out of a coconut.
The one big outing that Michael and I opted for was a snorkeling ‘expedition’ with Discovery Tours to the Similan Islands. The Similan Islands are off the coast (obviously, being islands) and are well-known as a diving spot. We don’t dive, and we haven’t snorkeled very much, but we definitely wanted to see/experience something different, and everyone (guidebook, person…) raves about the Similan Islands. It’s a bit of a haul to get to the islands – they picked us up around 6:30, but we finally got on the boat around 8:00 and then to the islands around 9:00. We were not, obviously, the only group touring the islands, and I wasn’t sure how the experience would be with so many people. However, I think that the tour operators do a good job in pacing the trip so that, yes, there are plenty of people around and it could have had a Disneyland-type feel, but when we stopped and took in the landscape, we were able to appreciate where we were and what we were seeing. The water is just SO SO blue, and the beaches are that white sand, and you think that it’s fake, but it isn’t.
We stopped at probably 4 different islands – walked around a few of them, had a very mediocre lunch on one – and we went to two different spots to snorkel. The first was a bit crowded, and it was interesting because when I saw the other boats and other people, I was skeptical about the experience. However, once we were in the water, it didn’t matter that much – you have your own experience. And the snorkeling was AMAZING. We don’t own a Go-Pro, and I usually don’t care, but on this outing, I really wished that we had one because the fish were so amazing. We enjoyed the snorkeling experience more than we expected, so it’s always nice to have those surprises. Again, if/when we return, we would definitely do a “liveaboard” trip – stay on a diving boat for a few days. We talked about t it for this trip, but since we weren’t sure how much we would enjoy the experience, we didn’t want to commit for multiple days. However, if you know that you love diving/snorkeling, then the liveaboard option is a great one.
That was our major adventure, but we also spent an afternoon zipping up and down the coast on a motorbike. I have to admit that I was a bit terrified! While we were on the motorbike, we saw an elephant lumbering along the ‘highway’ – that was a surprise! We also stopped at the Tsunami Memorial Park which was a sobering and also beautiful (if that’s the right thing to say about a memorial) place. I was glad that we visited the park – the area where we were staying, Khao Lak, apparently was hit hardest by the 2005 Tsunami. I realize that this is comparing apples to oranges, but it did feel a bit like visiting the Landmine Museum in Cambodia – while we certainly were “just” tourists and were there to enjoy the experience, I think that when you are a tourist, you have SOME responsibility to do and see more than the pretty sights. That is my sense of the matter, at least, as it adds another layer to the experience.
I don’t quite know how to end this chronicle of our Thailand/Cambodia trip. If anyone has made it this far, I owe you something – a drink? Reflecting on where we are right now and where we are two months ago is interesting. The Thailand/Cambodia trip was very much an interlude in our ‘normal’ life, but it allowed us to see and experience so many new things, new culture(s) and history and to appreciate a different part of the world. I feel incredibly lucky that we had the resources (time and finances) for this experience, and, as I keep saying, I’d love to return one day. Hopefully sooner than later. And if we don’t return, then we’re lucky to have taken this trip. From wats and buddhas to tropical fish, those three weeks were full of sensations, of smells, tastes, sounds, sights that I’ll always remember, in one way or another.