Nothin' But Smiles in Krabi
A little known fact about Thailand is that Scouts is a mandatory activity for primary and secondary students. And yes - by Scouts I mean the Thai equivalent to American Boy Scouts, except here it’s inclusive of girls too.
At Phusangwhittayakhom School, every Wednesday the students and teachers don their adorable uniforms (tan for the teachers, green for the students, both with a fetching pink scarf) and participate in Scout activities. Each year the the students take a two day break from regular classes to go camping somewhere in mother nature where they can put their scouting skills and resourcefulness to the test. This year, Scout camp was held on January 10th - 11th, meaning Teacher David and I had somehow lucked our way into another 4 day weekend. Marveling at our good fortune, we decided to take full advantage of our extra time off school by exploring Thailand’s Krabi province, known for stunning beaches and easy access to the alluring Phi Phi Islands.
Wednesday, January 9, 2019
On Wednesday afternoon we finished our classes and hopped in our rental car to make our regular trek to the Chiang Rai International Airport. Upon returning from Vietnam, a week prior, David had the bright idea to rent a car to drive back to Phu Sang, instead of waiting for the bus (that’s typically jam packed and rarely air conditioned). Since we were planning to return to Chiang Rai within a week to travel to Krabi, it seemed as good a time as any to rent a car. Dave haggled with the rental company and ended up scoring a “deal” on a 7 day rental of a Toyota Vios for 6000 THB (~$189), a price that is comparable to what we’d pay in the States. Many things in Thailand are inexpensive compared to the United States, but renting a car is not one of them. Anyways - we returned the car in Chiang Rai and headed to a local restaurant, Phu Lae, for dinner since we had some time on our hands before our evening flight. I got the green curry and Dave had gaang hang lair, a mouth watering Burmese style pork curry (note to self - it is wise to order as the foodie orders). We paid our bill and caught a Grab to the airport, where we soon realized two fatal errors. Number one - David had booked my ticket as Mrs.David DeLorimier (a freudian slip, perhaps?). Number two - he’d also left one of his most prized hats (a souvenir from Phuket) at the restaurant. 700 THB and an extra Grab later, we fixed the flight reservation and David was reunited with his beloved hat. We landed in Bangkok around 11PM and enjoyed a comfy night’s sleep at the luxurious Amari hotel in the DMK airport. It might sound like I’m kidding since I’m speaking of a hotel in the airport, but this place is actually incredibly nice and convenient. If you have an overnight layover at DMK, I highly recommend it!
Thursday, January 10, 2019
In the morning we caught an early flight to Krabi International Airport. Upon landing, we took a cab to Ao Nang for 600 THB (pro tip: we later learned that it would have been possible for us to get a much cheaper van to Ao Nang for 150 THB). A popular beach town in Krabi, Ao Nang was an obvious choice of location for us, offering easy access to beautiful beaches and the convenience of nearby restaurants and shops (we love ourselves a good walking street!). When we arrived in Ao Nang it was a bit too early to check into our hotel. With a quick Google, we found a well regarded cafe with outdoor seating, Cafe 8.98, and stopped by for some breakfast. I ordered the salmon benedict and a cappuccino. Dave had the house eggs and an iced matcha latte. Both were tasty, especially Dave’s eggs (like I said - it is wise to order as the foodie orders). Bellies full and energy restored we meandered down the main drag of Ao Nang towards our accommodations at the Panyavee Ao Nang Bay Resort.
Panyavee is an outwardly unassuming resort, tucked away on a side street across from a supposedly amazing Italian restaurant called Umberto’s (sadly, we can neither confirm or deny this, as we never ended up there). We found Panyavee on a popular website we’ve used for booking hotels in Southeast Asia (Agoda) which we’ve seemed to have good luck with in finding reasonable prices and good value accommodations. We approached the front desk in the well lit, bright orange lobby and were greeted by a charismatic concierge, who let us know that a room would be available for us within the hour. In the meantime, we made ourselves comfortable by the hotel pool, one that boasted a swim up bar, might I add. The Panyavee was an all around gorgeous resort. I wouldn’t say that it was swanky enough to be 5 stars (or what I imagine a 5 star resort to be like), but I would give it a solid 4 stars. Our room had a king sized bed, a stylish bathroom with interesting stone tiling, and a private balcony. The location was awesome; we were close enough to walk to the lively part of the main street, but far enough away that noise was never a problem. The staff was super friendly and helped us arrange transportation to the airport upon our departure. All in all, we loved this place and I would highly recommend that you consider staying here if you’re planning a trip to Krabi and looking for the resort vibe on a not so resort budget.
After settling into our room we loaded our favorite Eddie Bauer backpack with sunscreen, towels, and our kindles and headed to a nearby street vendor to buy a couple of tickets for a boat ride to the peninsula of Railay. Railay is known for its beautiful beaches (the most popular being Railay East and West), limestone cliffs that make for gorgeous photos and ideal rock climbing conditions, and a pulsing nightlife. The only way to get from Ao Nang to Railay is by boat. We bought two one-way tickets for 100 THB a piece and shortly thereafter boarded a long tail boat headed to Railay. One of the things we’d read in our pre-trip research is that vendors will try their best to get you to buy a round trip ticket to and from Railay, but the long tail boat “drivers” might not accept the ticket on the way back. So to be on the safe side, we only bought one way tickets and planned to pay the long tail boat driver directly on the way back. Twenty minutes later we had arrived. The boat took us to the shores of Railay East (basically the boat pulls up as close to the shore as it can get and then you jump out into the water and walk to the shore). While Railay East beach is plenty beautiful on it’s own, we wanted to see Phra Nang beach, known for its caves and shall we say a...sensual shrine. We walked along a serene and winding path decorated with colorful sculptures, reminiscent of characters from Dr.Seuss’s The Lorax, and signs for a viewpoint (accessible by a steep climb up some rocks) for about 15 minutes until reaching Phra Nang.
The beach was as breathtaking as we’d imagined - deep caves with impressive stalactites stood tall over the sparkling jade colored water. Visitors basked in the sunlight, while looking at the exquisite scene before them or at those brave enough to try their hand at rock climbing on the surrounding limestone cliffs. Railay’s limestone cliffs remain a top attraction for the experienced (and those hoping to become experienced) rock climbers. On Phra Nang beach, visitors can purchase either half day or full day rock climbing excursions and get hands on experience (pun intended) scaling the rock. We plopped our towels down and joined our fellow beachgoers in surveying the adventure seekers carefully making their way to the tops of the cliffs. Shortly thereafter, we waded into the water, cool and refreshing in the heat. As we swam further, I began to feel like something was biting me, sort of like a pesky under water bug. I mentioned it to Dave and he started to feel it too. We later learned what we were feeling were the bites of tiny creatures known as sea lice, which turns out are more annoying than harmful! We persisted onwards, despite the strange sensation, and wriggled our way in between narrow passages, marveling at the cave’s unique formations and stones. Next to the shore, a shrine to the mythical princess of the sea, princess Phra Nang, lay in the opening of a shallow cave. Legend has it that the fisherman of Krabi province have left phallic “offerings” (aka wooden penis totems known as lingams) for the princess over the years, in the hopes that she would provide them with success in their fishing, safety in their travels, and bountiful fertility. It’s an interesting landmark, but perhaps one that’s best avoided if you shy easily or are traveling with family or small children.
An hour or so later, we decided to check out Railay West beach, a short 10 minute walk from Phra Nang, past the long tail boats that we would eventually take back to Ao Nang. Railay West was far less crowded and in my humble opinion, even more beautiful than Phra Nang. The sand was soft and powdery, the water was transparent and blue as the sky, and there was a picturesque line of long tail boats selling snacks and drinks (one of which Dave credits with the best Pad Thai he’s had in Thailand!). Eventually, Dave decided he wanted to try his hand at climbing the steep incline to the famous viewpoint and I decided to hang back. I found a shady patch of sand back on Phra Nang beach and got lost in my book (the story of Arthurs Less). Within a few minutes, a friendly Thai family asked if they could take their picture with me. This probably sounds weird, but it’s actually something I’ve gotten used to over the last three months. Seeing a farang (a foreigner of western decent) is somewhat of a rare experience for a lot of Thai people, especially if they are from rural areas, which I suspect was the case for this family. Feeling friendly, I happily obliged. I suppose I’ll never know the precise fate of those pictures, though I imagine they’ve found a home on somebody’s Facebook!
About an hour later Dave returned, a bit worn out but excited to tell me about his adventure and share the pictures he took on his climb. I had to admit the viewpoint was beautiful, though I did not regret hanging back. When traveling with your significant other, or really anyone who you’ll be spending a lot of time with, it’s important to be cognizant of your traveling styles. Dave is someone who can only lounge on the beach or by the pool for so long before getting restless. I’m quite the opposite, give me a good book and an icy cocktail and I could lie on the beach for hours. I will say that having a partner who’s more adventurous than I am (at least in matters requiring athletic coordination - re: hiking, biking, paddle boarding) definitely brings me out of my shell and encourages me to try things I might otherwise categorize as not really “my style.” On the other hand, I’d like to think that I help Dave to live a bit more in the moment and appreciate what’s in front of him (like a good book and an icy cocktail) instead of always planning the next adventure. Spending this much time with anyone is a balancing act. There are plenty of great days, sprinkled with little disagreements and tense moments here and there. The fact is, as well as we mesh together, we’re still unique individuals, learning how to honor our own desires while building a successful partnership. This situation was a microcosm of how we make our differences work for us on a daily basis.
After Dave returned from his climb to the viewpoint, we caught another long tail boat back to Ao Nang. Maybe it’s a sign of our maturing age (late twenties), but we weren’t too keen on sticking around to experience Railay’s full moon parties, having done a fair share of partying over the last decade or so. (Although, truthfully, if we were with a group of friends, I’m sure we would have at least considered it!) We saw plenty of people hand the boat guy their tickets, which they presumably purchased in Ao Nang, so we think the information we read about the Railay boat drivers not accepting return tickets was a myth (or outdated information). Either way, we paid the boat driver directly and had no trouble getting back to Ao Nang. When we made our way back to Panyavee, we hopped in the pool to take advantage of the swim up bar. Coincidentally, it was happy hour (the phrase “perfect timing” was invented by someone who fortuitously stumbled their way into happy hour - right?? ). We enjoyed a few drinks (gin for me) and the last bit of the day’s sunshine before heading upstairs for a luxurious vacay snooze.
A few hours later, we grabbed dinner at a local (touristy) Mexican restaurant, Crazy Gringos. You might think it odd that we didn’t seek out the best Thai food in Krabi, but allow me to explain. Living in a small, rural town (and falling into the good and generous graces of the infamous Piggy Gang) most days of the week we happily eat like a couple of locals would. So when traveling abroad to new parts of Thailand that offer food that we dearly miss (re: chips and queso) we jump at the chance to indulge our taste buds. While not the best Mexican food I’ve ever had (which not surprisingly was in Mexico and therefore will be extremely hard to live up to for the remainder of my Mexican food eating days), Crazy Gringos hit the spot. We shared a plate of nachos and a couple of drinks, when the restaurant manager came by our table. An excited guy from Jersey, talking about a mile a minute, we exchanged small talk about Thailand and American sports. Mid conversation, he offered us a couple of free drinks if we posted a decent review on Tripadvisor, which we eventually did (hey, after a couple of margaritas anything seems like a good idea). Dave had the chimichangas and I wolfed down a couple of steak tacos while debating whether the live musician, apparently of South African descent as relayed to us by the uber chatty restaurant manager, was actually playing guitar or not.
After dinner, we took a stroll around the main street, which had become a lively sea of tourists and restaurant salesmen upon nightfall. Along the way, we made a game of guessing which countries the other tourists were from. As we headed back towards Panyavee we walked by a massage parlor with several tanks of water filled with tiny fish (known as garra rufa), sitting outside. For 100 THB per person, passersby were invited to soak their feet in the tank for twenty or so minutes as the fish nibble away at the dead skin, leaving your feet clean and soft. I’d never done it before, but Dave recalled fond memories of sitting around a similar tank with a group of his buddies doing this exact thing during his study abroad trip back in college. I was a bit squeamish about it at first, but after a few drinks at dinner I was an easy sell. We scooted our bums on the seat and set our feet in the tank. Within seconds dozens of fish began feasting on our paws, a sensation I would describe as gleefully ticklish. We were giggling like a couple of mischievous kids getting into trouble and must have looked looked like we were having a bit of fun as a trio of middle aged women decided to join us. Our new companions were a friendly crowd and we quickly learned that they were visiting all the way from Kazakhstan for a wedding! We had a good laugh when the woman sitting next to me initially put her feet in the water. Within seconds, she let out an excited shriek of surprise and immediately pulled her feet out of the tank. For the next 10 minutes, she continued this routine of dipping her feet in the tank with a look of determination, erupting in surprise upon the descent of the fish, and eventually pulling her feet out amid hysterical laughter from her peers. In the end, only one of the women kept her feet in the water with us. We had a wonderful time getting to know her and her son who happened to walk by. It was the first time I’d ever had my feet cleaned by an army of tiny fish and the first time I’d ever met someone from Kazakhstan! Both were experiences I’d welcome again.
Friday, January 11, 2019
After dinner we turned in for the night at the Panyavee resort, with no early morning plans other than to sleep in. Besides eating cheesy international cuisine (hello, chips and queso) whilst traveling to Thailand’s more popular areas, another activity I look forward to doing is hitting the gym! In previous posts I’ve mentioned that I’m currently using the dirt track at Phusangwhittayakhom as my makeshift gym. So when the opportunity presents itself to workout in an actual designated gym (either at the hotel, Airbnb, or a gym that accepts drop ins) I jump at the chance. This time around, I did some research and came across Heroic Fitness Club, a quick (albeit confusing) 10 minute walk from our resort. For the next hour or so, I joined a few other Krabi beach dwellers in getting their Friday morning workout in.
Afterwards, David and I went for brunch at a nearby restaurant, Lion & Shark, known for their smoothie bowls. In hipster fashion, the restaurant was accessible by walking up a narrow ladder (I’m sure there was a front door around there somewhere), with bean bags on the floor in place of chairs. I ordered a banana coconut smoothie bowl with extra peanut butter and of course, a cappuccino. Dave ordered some other kind of fruit smoothie bowl and an iced mocha. Both were delicious and refreshing. The availability and cost fresh fruit in Thailand is amazing, and something I will dearly miss when we return home. I’d recommend a stop at Lion & Shark if you’re in the mood for a smoothie bowl and some good vibes. When we were done with lunch we walked around for a bit. I scored a cute coverup (my first successful haggle!!) from a nearby shop. We also purchased tickets for the ferry that would take us to the Phi Phi Islands on Saturday morning and bring us back to Krabi in the evening. When walking around Ao Nang, we saw a handful of vendors selling ferry tickets to the Phi Phi Islands. The price differential between the vendors was minor and most companies offered pickup and drop off from your hotel to the ferry station and vice versa. We stopped by a few different stalls and ended up buying tickets for the earliest ferry we could find leaving on Saturday morning from a vendor we chose solely because she was friendly. A friendly smile goes a long way!
On our Friday afternoon/evening agenda was a 4 island sunset cruise (courtesy of Dave’s exceptional planning skills). We met our fellow tour goers near Ao Nang Beach and boarded a couple of long tail boats to the larger, two level ship that would be our floating home for the next few hours. The tour included snorkeling, a stop at a small, private beach, and a late night swim. Drinks were available for purchase and snacks and dinner were included. The tour constituents varied from families with small children, to groups of twenty-something pals, to couples on romantic getaways. We quickly befriended a thirty-something couple from England, Allie and Robin, and enjoyed getting to know them for the rest of the day. Between our snorkeling excursions, a somewhat successful paddle boarding experience (they gave us one paddleboard for two people...needless to say Dave did most of the work), jumping off the top of the ship, lounging on the beach, and drinking mojitos we chatted with our new pals about life, covering all topics including: the British royal family, politics, careers, marriage, and of course, travel. Besides exploring a new culture, landscape, and food, meeting new, interesting people is definitely one of my favorite parts about traveling.
One of the families on the tour with us was an incredibly friendly Australian family with three little boys, the youngest being about four years old, named Alfie. Alfie was adorable and his older brothers did a great job of keeping him safe and entertained. Towards the end of the cruise, a large Russian family asked the tour guide if they could forego the last stop (a late night swim to see glow in the dark plankton) and board one of the long tail boats back to Ao Nang. The tour guide posed the question to the entire tour group, asking if anyone else wanted to forego the late night swim and board the long tail boat back to Ao Nang. Much to my amusement and that of the greater tour group, Alfie’s hand shot up in the air. His mother explained to him that he didn’t have to swim, but he couldn’t go back to Ao Nang until his family was ready to go. To which, he looked at her and replied, “But Mommmm, I was just answering the question. He asked who doesn’t want to swim!” The whole exchange made my heart swoon for dear Alfie and the straightforward nature of kids in general. When we made it back to Ao Nang, after our late night swim, it was pretty late. We turned in for a restful night’s sleep, looking forward to tomorrow’s excursion to the Phi Phi Islands!
Saturday, January 12, 2019
The Phi Phi Islands (pronounced Pee Pee, not Fee Fee as I had previously thought!) of Krabi province, have long lured visitors with remarkably beautiful landscape (limestone cliffs galore) and crystal clear waters reminiscent of a heavenly paradise. Ko Phi Phi Don is the largest and most populated of the Phi Phi Islands, as well as the easiest to get to from Krabi. Ko Phi Phi Le is the second largest island, boasting several breathtaking beaches that are quite popular among tourists. The other smaller and a bit more difficult to access islands, in the collection of the Phi Phi Islands, include Bida Nok, Bida Nai, and Bamboo Island.
The tickets we purchased for the ferry included pick up and drop off from our hotel to the ferry station in Krabi and a round trip ferry ride to the island of Ko Phi Phi Don. Around 8 o’clock in the morning a driver greeted us in the lobby of Panyavee and showed us to a van. We joined a few other passengers for a half an hour ride to the ferry station. When we arrived, we showed our tickets to the clerks and were directed towards the large, two level ferry boat that would transport us to the island. The ferry ride to Ko Phi Phi Don is about two hours long, which is why we decided to catch the earliest one. The ferry had two floors, providing the option for passengers to sit in an indoor air conditioned space or on the main deck. Snacks and drinks (including beer) were available for purchase and the ferry also had a couple of bathrooms. I found a shady spot on the deck and spent the majority of the ride posted up, listening to music. Dave opted to take a snooze in the air conditioning.
We docked at the Ko Phi Phi Don pier around 11:30 AM and promptly de-boarded the boat. Since we didn’t have any luggage besides our small backpack, we were able to skip the crowd of people waiting for their belongings. We were funneled through an entryway and required to pay 20 THB, going towards a fund to help maintain the island. Ko Phi Phi Don is a popular destination for tourists in Thailand. The town beyond the pier was brimming with restaurants, casual food stalls, and shops selling beachy frocks and swimwear. I ended up buying a black crochet top (successful haggle #2!) and a knock off pair of Ray Bans (which I now refer to as my Ray Bens). Walking through the village, we saw signs for the viewpoint and decided to check it out before plopping our bums down on the beach for the remainder of the afternoon. The trek to reach the view was one of winding passages and steep staircases (amidst rolling beads of sweat). At the top of the climb, we paid 30 THB each and proceeded towards the perfectly manicured garden, providing sweeping views of the island. We hiked our way from Viewpoint 1 to Viewpoint 2, taking in the extraordinary sight with our unbelieving eyes and our handy cell phone cameras. We considered trekking to the top of Viewpoint 3, but our fatigue and the additional cost of 30 THB deterred us. We made our way back down to town in about twenty minutes, the total trek lasting about an hour.
We walked back towards the beach, stopping for a banana peanut butter shake along the way, before plopping our towels down on the smooth white sand at Ko Phi Phi Don beach. If I had to pick my favorite beach in Thailand, this would be it. The water was the clearest I’ve ever seen (the kind where you look down and see your chipped toe nail polish staring right back at you) and deliciously warm beneath the sunlight. We happily soaked up the sun while hanging out on the sandbar (the natural kind, not of the alcoholic variety), as we gazed in awe of the surrounding limestone cliffs. It was one of those rare, perfect moments where I felt completely present and completely content. I sat in blissful gratitude, thinking about the series of events and actions that had led us to this point. The journey of applying for our sabbatical, taking a 12 week online TEFL class, refinancing my student loans, moving out of our apartment, and starting a new season of life in Phu Sang had been a winding one. There were times during the process when we questioned whether we were crazy for doing this, having no teaching experience and never having been to Asia before. But I’m so glad we chose not to listen to those voices in our heads - the ones based on fear and the seemingly attractive “safety” that comes with staying in your comfort zone. The richest moments of our lives happen when we embrace the uncertainty (and the fear) and take that step (even with shaky knees) beyond the familiar fences we’ve built for ourselves. Hopefully, it doesn’t take sitting on a beach for you to realize this, but if it does - Ko Phi Phi Don is a nice option.
We relaxed on the beach for a couple of hours, enjoying a few drinks from the nearby bar (of the alcoholic variety) and sharing a juicy cheeseburger from a food truck posted up on the sand. We took a stroll along the water, checking out the hostels, restaurants, bars, and beachgoers. As I mentioned above, Ko Phi Phi Don is the most populated of the Phi Phi Islands. The island has several ritzy resorts, as well as budget friendly hostels, and is known for a wild and exciting nightlife. Many people who are vacationing on the Phi Phi Islands fly into Krabi, take the ferry to Ko Phi Phi Don and stay for several days (or weeks!). Sadly, we were only visiting this piece of paradise for the day and had to catch the last ferry back to Krabi, which left at 3:30 PM. We packed up our bag and walked through town to the pier, joining the throngs of people boarding the ferry. We cracked open a couple of Chang beers and stood on the upper deck as the ferry pulled away, getting one last look at this magical island. We found a spot outside on the back deck of the boat and sat outside for the two hour ride, looking onto the blue sea and reminiscing about past travels.
When we arrived back in Krabi we joined a handful of others in a van back to Ao Nang. Our driver dropped us off on the main drag near our hotel. We headed to the room to relax and cleanup for our last night in Krabi. I had my heart set on Indian food for dinner. We ended up at a restaurant called Tandoori Nights where I ordered my standard Indian go-to fare of garlic naan, cucumber raita, and butter chicken; probably the most farang order possible, but delicious nonetheless. After dinner, we took a stroll around the block, scooped up some rolled ice cream from a very charismatic chef, and sat on the steps by Ao Nang Beach, soaking in the last bits of our island getaway.
Sunday January, 13, 2019
On Sunday morning a van came by the hotel (which we had arranged with the Panyavee concierge the day prior) to take us to the Krabi airport. We braced ourselves for the long day of travel ahead, from Krabi to Bangkok, from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, and finally from Chiang Rai to Phu Sang. We were sad to leave, but so grateful that we had the opportunity to explore Krabi, a tropical paradise well deserving of the hype it receives as one of Thailand’s most beautiful provinces.