If you want to travel to Thailand’s Andaman Sea Islands, please do so by live-aboard boat. Don’t take day trips from Phuket or Krabi.* We used G Adventures and were quite happy with the trip itinerary and staff. Some other outfits I found using a quick web search include: Sea Fun Sailing Adventures, Sail Thailand, Lanta Sailing, Buffalo Tours. Or opt to charter your own boat with or without crew. Additional resources: Phuket.com, Andaman Sea Club.
Thailand has been on my “go-to” list for as long as I can remember. The name elicits lemongrass, pad thai, green (coconut) curry, limestone karsts, mountain islands, warm breezy days, swaying palm trees, unique architecture, Buddhist temples, cheap massages, and many other good things.
Like most things in life, the idea of a place is often more idyllic than reality. I was not expecting quite so much trash floating in the water and lining the beaches. I didn’t think many of the islands we’d visit would be overflowing with Russian and Chinese tourists. I also did not realize that most of the reefs would be destroyed or coral bleached. I think the biggest disappointment of all was the overwhelming spring break, touristy feel of the infamous twin islands of Ko Phi Phi Don and Ko Phi Phi Leh. Walking the vendor and bar-laden streets in Phi Phi Don, which are crawling with vacationers, is not a relaxing activity. Whiffs of feces assault the senses.
Luckily, we could escape on our floating hotel. Our 38-foot catamaran provided solace and refuge from the marauders and day-trippers. Visiting Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh, the lagoon made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach, is nothing less than disappointing. The bay is a stunning one, and when we arrived at 7 AM in the rain, not a soul in site, it was quite peaceful and alluring. When the droves of Koreans, Chinese and Russians arrived by longtail and speedboats from Phuket and Krabi, the place instantly lost its appeal. Luckily, our boat was anchored on the sleepier side of the island, in a smaller but equally as impressive bay. It takes about 10 minutes to walk across the island to Maya Bay, which I guess is worth visiting to say you’ve been there and to get a peak at its natural beauty. Just don’t linger long, unless you really like annoying tourons. (As my husband says, I shouldn’t fault the tourists. They are “just like us [after all] and want to see the bay just like we do.”) The Thai tourism industry should be held accountable for not regulating the number of visitors allowed. It would help if they could reduce the maximum quota to a more reasonable number (maybe less than 500 at a time?)
The quiet bay on the other side of the island was a little slice of heaven. Alan and I snorkeled to the small beach in the rain, swimming through schools of small iridescent fish that reflected the sunlight in shimmering waves of gold. Once on shore, it was impossible not to sit in awe and take in the scene of our small catamaran sitting in a perfectly enclosed lagoon in front of a small hilly island (right about then, I was wishing for a cheap disposable waterproof camera). Alan and I explored the small semi-circle land portion of the bay. Following the rock face wall, we crawled through hollow caves adorned with stalactites and stalagmites, some connecting to make pillars the color of bone. The lush trees had massive green leaves and climbed the mountainous island backdrop. Minus the bits of trash on the beach, this place was almost exactly the image my mind’s eye conjured when I thought of sailing around Thailand’s Andaman Sea islands (Sorry-no photos, as we swam from the boat. Just use your imagination).
* I realize that my last post was more than a week ago, due to lack of wifi while sailing around the Andaman Sea. I also realize that I set up a cruise series with that post. Instead of flipping between live posts from Southeast Asia and pre-written posts on the cruise series, I’ve decided to revisit the cruise series in late December when I return home. It’s just less confusing this way. So please enjoy my anecdotes, opinions, photos and advice from Thaialnd, Laos and Cambodia over the next four weeks!
Tomorrow’s post: James Bond Island. Is it worth the trip?
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