What is the first vision that comes to mind when you think of Thailand? White sands and turquoise waters? Mouth watering pad thai with a side of panoramic ocean views? Phuket was nothing short of what we expected for the bikini and vitamin D portion of our trip. On day one, the first thing on our agenda was to hop on a scooter and hit the beach for some rays while we waited for lions in our stomachs to wake up. We drove down a slice of the coast until we found the perfect spot to claim as our territory. We found a stunning cove and laid out our mark before cooling off in the blue waters. The water was crystal clear and the perfect way to start off our adventures in this world famous beach town. We wanted to take advantage of the access the scooter gave us, so we found a cafe on the other side of the island and set out to the see the scenery. As we continued to explore the island we hand our eyes on the Phuket Big Buddha. This landmark and temple resides on the peak of mount Nagakerd in the center of Phuket. You can see the statue from almost any location on the island. The peak of the mountain offered breathtaking views of the sprinkled islands around the coast of Phuket while the monk’s oms echoing out of the temple offered the perfect soundtrack for the presentation of the 45m tall white marble statue. We finished off day one completing our circle around the island’s coast of and taking a break for any sunset photo ops.
For day two, we signed up for a tour of Phi Phi islands where we were herded into a large boat along with 30+ others and surrounded by many other tour boats prepping for the same adventure. Our first stop was the main island where the Leo DiCaprio movie, The Beach, was filmed back in the early 2000’s (If you haven’t seen it, I recommend snagging it from Netflix for your next veg sesh). As we arrived into the cove, the waters looked surreal with it’s bright turquoise color against the luscious green mountainous backdrop. It was everything I had pictured as we turned into the cove. The edge of the water was lined with the traditional long tail wooden boats but we were surrounded with hundreds of other tourists from China. Whomp Whomp. Where was our Moby soundtrack and hidden village? (Again… rent that movie). Since we’re now on the Chinese holiday schedule, our fellow neighbors are always by our side when we travel during the holidays. Our tour guide kept making a jokes about “the time of the Chinese” without realizing one the guests on his tour was from our new motherland. …talk about awkward. Many Asian countries seem to not be the biggest fans of our fellow Chinamen (blog post on that topic coming soon). Our next stop was a snorkeling session around the coast of some of the smaller islands and a visit to monkey beach. Our visit with the monkeys was short lived as it was only a small jungle fringed bay. The monkeys patiently waiting through out trees for their next group of visitors to feed their ever growing bellies. One boat near us had a couple who thought it would be a good idea to throw potato chips off the the edge of the boat. One of the monkeys carrying it’s new baby noticed the source of the new water soaked snacks and began to swim towards them and the climb up the some fringed rope off the side of the boat to steal the remaining chips in the bag. Everyone screamed like high school girls as the guide attempted to scoop off the monkey duo with the anchor and began to descend from the island. We finished off our tour with a large Thai meal on a neighboring island and spent time exploring its roads filled with shops and small local restaurants.
I mention the crowds from our first island hop because the next tour felt like a dream in comparison. During our research before our trip to Thailand, we discovered an excursion company called Simba Sea Trips. The videos and descriptions throughout their website excited us so much we knew we had to spend a day with them, so we decided to join a group to explore James Bond Island and Phang Nga Bay. We hopped on the their bus before the sun was up and made our way to harbor to meet our new travel companions. We felt like royalty when we stepped onto the luxurious speed boat with only ten others. As we met our new friends for the day we discovered two of them were from Lakewood (it really is such a small world). Since we started our day so early in the morning, our boat was the only one on the water in bay as the sun began to rise against the calm waters. This trip was a complete contrast to the Phi Phi Islands tour we had taken the day before. The national park’s dream like landscape of over 40 krast islands jutting straight out from the calm green waters were full of surprises that we didn’t yet know existed.
Our trip started with Koh Phanak for cave exploring. We slipped on our hard hats and double checked our flashlights before stepping into the pitch black cave with waters up to our knees. The cave was damp and cool with walls coated by glittering pyrite. Once we made it to the other side, we were greeted with an enclosed patch of land covered with the endangered mangrove trees and pools of crystal clear water. This hideout is only accessible during the morning’s low tide. Within two hours after our arrival, the tide would rise and you would not be able to walk through the cave to explore the secret coop; which was home to monkeys, bats and sand critters (oh my!). Our next stop was the iconic James Bond Island from the movie The Man with the Golden Gun. It was beautiful and serene as we were again the only visitors on the island. We stopped to take photos of the famous solo rock in the center of the bay before hiking up the side of the cliff for new sights and photo ops. The tour continued to a cluster of islands where we were ushered into kayaks in pairs of two. Our personal Thai paddle man took us through the winding waters surrounding the extensive cliffs with caves so low we had to lay down in the kayak as we floated to the other side. As much as we wish we could have taken control of the paddles our selves, we appreciated having the time to soak in the views and break out the camera. Between our stops to each unique island we broke for swims around the cliffs and to eat an authentic Thai lunch at Koh Panyee, or “the village on stilts”. This island was originally settled by nomadic Malay fisherman over 200 years ago. We gathered in open back vans and drove past the local schools and got a sneak peak behind-the-scenes into this fascinating and secluded community of the locals before continuing our adventure by sea. One of our last and final stops of the day was what our guide called “Room Island” which ended up being our favorite location. Our boat slowed as we approached the one small opening to the enclosed body of water. Once we turned the corner into the “room” the waters became a turquoise blue we had never laid our eyes on before. The boat was anchored to the middle of the mountain walled room and we each took turns diving off of the edge of the boat into our private swimming pool and soaked up the sun as we relaxed on our floaties. We gathered around as our guide told us stories of his travels and tour experiences while his team members prepped us traditional rice and egg custard desserts. This final day in Phuket was the perfect ending to this beach vacation as we kept catching ourselves asking each other, “Is this real life?”