After Chiang Mai we headed straight for the islands (by straight I mean a 28 hour overnight train ride). We decided to spend the remainder of our trip together island hopping and soaking in the sun. We covered 5 islands in total… Maybe more if you count the small islands in Angthong National Marine Park that were kayaked through. These islands, just 45 minutes from land, have become more and more popular among backpackers since Alex Garland’s cult classic book ‘The Beach’ was published. They were popular before then (as he makes a point of in the story), but I was overwhelmed by how many backpackers have continued to remain during down season. We quickly realized the truth and accuracy of the book. As a result prices have gone up, but I guess it’s to be expected with everyone following the same Lonely Planet suggestions. It’s easy to see why.
If you can put aside the unfriendly service and higher costs (still not sooo high, compared to home), the islands are a perfect vacation escape. Beachfront restaurants, cheap massage parlors on every corner, swanky bars & live music, and daily tours to the reef. For me, the reef alone would be reason enough to make the boat trip out, but in retrospect I’d skip Koh Samui and Koh Phangan and head straight to Koh Tao (just on a future travel advice note). A day trip out to Angthong National Marine Park is an absolute worthwhile stop as well.
Don’t get me wrong – Cassie, Gabe, Matt and I did live it up to the max while doing our island thang. One particular highlight was spontaneously checking out a ‘burlesque show’ that turned out to be a ‘lady boy’ drag show. Genuinely hysterical. Not only was Gabe getting hit on by the waiter, but the lady boys on stage took a particular interest in him as well. He was their apparent target of the evening… To top it off, Cassie was called on stage and of course took the opportunity to make a riot of it. The sassy little thing looked even teenier standing next to the lady men in 6″ heals, but she held her own. It was awesome.
Most of our time was spent beach or pool side, filled in with massages, shopping and eating delicious food. It was a nice ‘vacation’ from our otherwise fast-paced ‘traveling’… :). After Koh Phangan, Cassie and Gabe headed to Krabi while Matt and I finished off the last remaining island – Koh Tao. We concluded our time traveling together by lighting a ceremonious sky lantern, that when lit floats high until the material eventually combusts. It was the appropriate finale to a grand trip.
On day 1 in Koh Tao we signed up for an all day snorkel trip which stopped at 5 different places while circling the island – A definite highlight. Schools of fish surrounded us on all sides and the coral was so vivid and colorful I couldn’t help but crave to paint a mural of what we were seeing (if I only had the proper tools and a place to paint). Surely you must know the feeling! And that is exactly how it felt. It was simply magic. The following day we signed up for 2 dives, starting at 6:30AM, to get a deeper perspective. I had been lacking confidence in my diving ability lately so I was a bit hesitant to go through with it. When we dove in Belize I had serious ear problems when trying to equalize and was forced to re-surface. Then again in the Great Barrier Reef I was successful in equalizing, but so excited that I used my air quickly and had to surface before all the others. I am proud to say, however, that Koh Tao was a break through moment for me! Not only did my ears feel great, but I was completely calm and comfortable, which afforded Matt and I to stay underwater longer than any other group on the boat. A record time of 60 minutes per dive! Wowee! We were both pretty stoked. The dive site was famous for seeing whale sharks and although we didn’t sight one this round, some highlights included; great barracuda, dancing shrimps, king mackerels, travallies, an eel, grouper, angel fish and clown fish, all amid an ocean jungle of green, purple, pink and blue anemones. This must be the beginning of something wonderful.
The sunsets sealed the deal.