Islands of Thailand
Friday 24th November 2017
After enjoying our time in the northern part of Thailand we decided to head to the south and experience a different side of Thailand by visiting some of the many islands before heading to Krabi.
We chose Ko Yao Noi to stay on mainly because geographically it made the most sense, laying between Phuket and Krabi but also because we were drawn to the appeal of a more untouched island, not so developed and away from the party islands which aren't what we were looking for at this point in our lives!
Ko Yao Noi and it's sister Island Ko Yao Yai have a combined population of about 12,500 with just over a third of that number occupying Yao Noi and whilst the latter is the larger Island, Noi has a better infrastructure which also appealed to us.
We chose a rustic jungle treetop family bungalow near the beach but were dismayed to find that we were in two separate rooms which didn't suit us and wasn't what we had booked. The location was great though in amongst the trees and with a restaurant and bar on the rocky beachfront.
We went for a walk - we always try to do this wherever we arrive to get our bearings and see what's around - and found a small parade with cafes, restaurants and a couple of small shops - just what we needed.
Whilst Nikki sorted out our accommodation and got us moved to a proper family room, the girls and I headed to the beach. It was a smaller beach than we imagined with a slender strip of land when the tide is in and longer stretch punctuated by rocky parts when the tide is out. We loved it though as we had it to ourselves! The girls loved searching for hermit crabs and playing in the warm waters of the Andaman Sea and I enjoyed the sunbathing!
There's really very little to do here and the pace of life is generally slower. With a room change sorted Nikki decided to hire a mini tuk tuk and with Kitty in tow they went off to explore the island while Darcy and I read on the beach.
The following day we decided to make use of the tuk tuk and drove the main perimeter of the island. We had a few hairy moments as we worried whether our contraption would make it up the few steep hills but all worked out fine. We saw rubber trees and the little bowls attached to collect them to collect the rubber sap.
We stopped at one point to walk out to a small island that you could only reach when the tide is out. We dodged the millions of tiny crabs dashing back into the holes and found a horseshoe crab shell - so strange, it's like a crab and a string ray hybrid!
We watched hawks circling waiting to swoop down and pick up a crab lunch as well as exploring an old abandoned water filled long boat.
We hopped back on and carried on, Nikki had to do an emergency stop at one point when we saw a massive monitor lizard in the road! We stopped again at a concrete pier where we could see the white sands of Ko Yao Yai and watched the longboats and fisherman speeding by. We could see a fish farm in the distance and happily sat there watching the world go by.
Back on the tuk tuk again and we had a look around the main "town" of Ko Yao Noi but it's really a collection of food outlets, grocers and a few craft shops, a chemist and lots of drink stops. There's a lot of these all with tins of carnation condensed milk lined up to make the Thai milky drinks that customers stop for.
We headed home stopping briefly at a waterfall that we walked a short distance too. It wasn't the most spectacular waterfall but we love the freedom of driving around ourselves and making random decisions like this. It's what makes our adventures.
Nikki booked us onto a longboat trip the following day having got chatting to a local fisherman who offered day trips. His name is Lip and if you're ever on the island find him and book your own trip!
We opted for a four-island tour and headed out in our private longboat. Nikki is really good at haggling prices and we got this deal for far less than the hotel we were staying in was offering it for. We also like the freedom of having our own boat rather than joining a tour so that we can choose how long to stay and when to leave.
Our first island was Koh Hong, an island with a lagoon in its centre. We stopped and jumped into its shallow warm water, snorkeling around a lone mangrove tree and watching shoals of tiny silvery fish flying out the water evading a larger predator. For a short while we actually had it to ourselves - a reward for heading out early in the morning. We headed out and round to the other side of the island where you can get out and snorkel and sit on the beach. It has National Park status so it's well protected and there's a nature trail you can walk - although we opted not to having left all our footwear on the boat.
We saw so many zebra fish and barracudas and plenty of other species I can't identify! The sand was soft and white but it's not a massive area and we headed off as more boats were turning up.
Next up we headed to Koh Lao La Ding - and even tinier cove with boats already packed in. The girls took pieces of banana and were soon overrun with the zebra fish bubbling away and then by Chinese tourists snapping photos of both the children and the fish!
The snorkelling here was incredible - a much wider range and a coral area that was just teeming with fish of all kinds, it was quite busy though and I can imagine later in the day it would just be too packed. The water here was the clearest water I have ever snorkelled in, our go pro pictures look like we're in a swimming pool!
We headed off again, distracted by the cute little black kittens on the beach and headed to Ko Pak Bia. Here we stopped and ate possibly the best chicken fried rice I've ever eaten, pre packed for us that morning. I had a little moment of sitting there eating out of our boxes with our fingers (spoons had been forgotten), on a beach, in the hot sunshine, planning to snorkel on this tiny island in Thailand thinking "yes this is how I imagined it" about our trip. It was bliss.
We were told about a monkey that had come down to the rocks on the beach and watched as he stole a coke can from someone and promptly drank the lot!
We snorkelled again chasing barracuda and other shoals of fish through the warm waters. I sat and watched as the girls and Nikki continued to snorkel and we tried to warn some tourists about their bags and the monkey but it was too late, he dashed down and stole their snack bag, opening the bag and selecting out the tastiest treats before dashing up a tree to delicately eat the packet of biscuits he had pilfered!
Back on the boat once more and we headed for monkey island where we had been told that the monkeys actually swim out to catch bananas. We approached and could see them all in the rocks and the trees. Our captain had prepared a bag of bananas and the girls took great delight in throwing them in as we watched the odd monkey shimmy down a branch before plopping into the sea to collect his reward. They didn't all do it though - in fact one monkey trying very hard to reach a piece of banana in the sea from the very end of a branch went crazy when another larger monkey climbed down over him, he seemed very scared at the prospect of ending up in the water!! The ones that were braver were rewarded though with tasty fruit treats and it was fascinating to watch.
We headed off to our last island, Ko Hong where a small beach curved into the sea. There were some kayakers who had rowed across from Ko Yao Noi and a group of younger tourists playing frisbee. We often saw the same people arrive or leave as we went from island to island as it seems to be a popular route and trip out. It was nice to return to the peace and quiet of Ko Yao Noi and we were all pretty exhausted after our day at sea.
We relaxed the following day playing in the pool while Nikki decided to book us one last boat trip before we left for Krabi.
We headed out early again, this time on a smaller longtail, a shorttail I suppose and we soon realised that we had picked a pretty rough day at sea. We were drenched! Waves crashed over the side and soaked us and for the first time we felt a bit anxious about being at sea and ensured the girls had life jackets on.
Still the scenery was spectacular, the limestone rocks and islands, and the stalactites forming are just like they appear in travel brochures. They are breathtakingly beautiful and awe inspiring as you sail past.
We stopped at the first destination - the bat caves where we kayaked in with our guide called Bird. Nikki, Darcy and I shared one kayak while kitty hopped in with Bird and with our head torches in place we kayaked into the cave in the mountain side. We paddled though in silence noticing the strong odour that comes with bat caves and kept our eyes peeled for the first glimpses.
As we headed through deeper we saw them, thousands of bats hanging from the roof of the cave and up the sides. It was brilliant! We were able to paddle up close to them and see their funny little pig bear faces. A few would break off and fly around much to Nikki's horror but the girls and I loved it. Kitty ended up in the water as they capsized when Bird was trying to paddle under some low rocks but she coped really well considering the darkness and being in the water in a bat cave!!
We would have continued to offer further but unfortunately the sea was too rough so we headed back to the boat.
We headed over to another island but it was really tough in the water. We were so wet through with the waves continually hitting us over the sides and it was so rough the boat would slam down into the sea and we really were worried about the girls being flung out. Even Bird said in all his years as a guide he'd never seen waves like it in the seas around Thailand.
We decided to have a break and get off at the famous James Bond island - everyone had advised us against going here as it is extremely busy and full of tourists all taking pictures of the famous rock. Interestingly in the film that it is famous for - The Man with the Golden Gun - the rock is on a beach that you can walk around on, but it is now in the sea and you can't walk out to it anymore as the sea levels have risen.
We actually really enjoyed it and although it was really busy and full of annoying tourists taking selfies we all agreed that we were glad to have seen it and decided we would watch the film that night!
We headed off to another quieter island and had the whole place to ourselves for quite a while. We sat on the beach, grateful to be out of the choppy seas and on solid ground. We sat on the beach and Nikki climbed up a rock face enjoying the view. It was really relaxing after the hustle and bustle of James Bond Island.
We set off again round to the top of Ko Yao Noi as we headed home for the day, stopping off to see the Big Tree, something I was so pleased to see. It was a pretty strange entrance though, there was a large decking area and Big Tree sign, kitchen area and bathrooms all overgrown and ripped out. We had to tread carefully across the boardwalk avoiding nails and holes, and peered in through the windows to see much of the kitchen equipment in place. The beautiful sinks and taps all still in place and toilet doors with no toilets. It was dilapidated and abandoned completely. Bird explained that some local villagers had built it but apparently without permission so it had been torn down. It was such a shame it had fallen to such ruin and we were both dismayed and entranced by the way in.
We found out way to the Big Tree - it really is just that, a massive tree. A Hopea Beccariana officially, with massive folds stretching out over three jungle floor, so big we could fit inside them. It was huge, over 100 metres tall and estimated to be over 300 years old. Thai people believe that a female spirit Nang Ta Khian lives in the tree and she will bring bad luck to anyone who cuts or damages the tree.
I loved it. Really loved it. I know it's just a tree and I can't explain why but I just love nature like this, untamed, natural and pure. I would have stayed for hours but once we'd had a walk round we decided to head back as the appeal of a big tree wasn't so great for everyone else! I could also see how the fancy entrance way had been taken down, the villagers are really trying to make money out of something that doesn't justify the cost. It's really just a big tree and being free should be how it stays.
On the way home both girls fell asleep as the rough waters gradually subsided so we decided to call it a day and head home, exhausted more from the battering waves and being soaked all day than much activity!
We returned to our villa and after dinner snuggled up altogether in our bed to watch The Man with the Golden Gun and loved seeing the island we'd visited just a few hours previously.
We left Ko Yao Noi the following day and headed to get the speedboat to Thalane pier back on the mainland. We'd really recommend the island to anyone wanting to get away from commercialism and mass tourism that some of Thailand's other islands offer. We also know that we paid a lot less for the trips around the islands than the more commercial areas although it was pricier to eat out than the tourist resorts. We loved it and I'm sure we will go back one day.
We headed off for two days to the renowned Gillhams fishing resort which had been booked as a treat for Nikki's birthday back in October.
It's a fantastic resort for anglers and non anglers as there's a spa and a great pool. It has a real family feel to it too as the Gillham family live on site and there were other children accompanying their fishing parents (mainly fisher dads actually). Despite not catching on the first afternoon or indeed his second full day of fishing, thankfully Nikki landed the fish of his dreams, reeling in a 160lb Mekong catfish. We'd recommend the resort for sure, the staff were friendly and the right guide makes all the diffference. Food was great and as someone who couldn't be less interested in fishing, even I was happy to watch and enjoy the other activities that the resort had to offer. The girls loved it and happily plopped in the lake to have their picture taken with daddy's monster fish!
Finally it was time to join my mum and sister in Ao Nang, where we had a WHOLE NINE DAYS TOGTHER!! After an obviously emotional greeting we set about diving into the treats and gifts that had accompanied mum and Jens on their trip. Massive slabs of dairy milk! Jaffa cakes! Chocolate hob nobs! Tesco cheese balls! Each one adoringly held and tenderly opened before being devoured over the next few days! The girls were thrilled with some new clothes sent by granny and magazines nana had picked up and kitty had spent some birthday money on Sylvainian family toys that made their way out to us.
We really didn't do very much at all except lounge by the pool catching up on news over the last few months. Although we WhatsApp and FaceTime being together is totally different and the laughter and fun we shared over those days is something that we all loved - it was strange having family join us for our trip and Nikki's mum and our nephew are heading out in January and we can't wait having experienced the joy it brings. Nikki and I enjoyed a couple of nights out on our own too having trusted babysitters arrive, something that felt like a real treat after all being together for so long.
We did head out on one adventure where we decided to visit the memorial to those who died in the 2004 Tsunami. Thousands of people died in Krabi and the sculptures put in - called "never let me go" looked very moving online. We headed down the long beach at Nopparat Thar and after much asking around we were told that it was all overgrown and broken and you can't get in. We wandered over and found that to be an understatement. Not only is it totally overgrown but the boardwalk inside is rotten to the joists and it was too dangerous to even attempt to walk in. With a high number of venomous snakes in Thailand Jens and I decided to stay out but it's such a shame that it has been left to go to such ruin when it's to remember those who perished in a natural disaster.
We walked back over to the beach and decided to stay awhile as we had walked a long way with the children to find the memorial. The beach was lovely and all along the coastal path local people were having picnics as it was Sunday. We felt that we had stumbled across a much nicer and more local beach than Ao Nang beach and after walking across a massive sand dune and showing nana and Jens the crabs and their little holes we found a place to sit. The girls played in the sand and we collected shells whilst chatting. It was one of my favourite days as it was just a lovely place with my lovely family with us on our trip.
We introduced nana to a mini tuk tuk and headed back to our hotel. Jens and I made the most of having some time together and visited a nearby yoga retreat for a couple of classes - if you're in Ao Nang and like yoga we'd definitely recommend a visit to Marina Yoga. It was great and I hope to go for a retreat there one day.
We also enjoyed a full body Thai massage (would be rude not to in Thailand right?), a foot scrub and I also had a pedicure. That whole package cost me about £12!
Our time with mum and Jens came to an end and we'd timed our flights so that we were heading out of Krabi Airport at the same time. Mum and Jens headed back to Bangkok and we were off to Singapore so we headed off to the international departures while they stayed in domestic. It was a bit tearful but overall just happiness at having spent the best time together.
We cannot fully describe how much we all loved Thailand. It's a country with something to offer everyone, whatever your interests are and we know we will be back. So many friends of our have been to Thailand and all had raving reviews about it and now we have our own. Next up - somewhere quite different, we'll report back from Singapore!