This is the second part of a 2-part Thailand tour recap. During this tour, we traveled from Bangkok all the way down to Phuket. Click here to read Part 1.
Welcome back! It’s time to dive into Part 2 of this “Bangkok to Phuket in Two Weeks” recap with the Intro Travel Thai Experience tour, so let’s pick up where we left off: Departing the Khao Sok treehouses the morning after I cried at a sky full of stars. The next stop on our itinerary (finally) included a beach: Koh Pha Ngan, which is pronounced “Koh Pahng-yan”…more or less.
Table of Contents
Koh Pha Ngan – Sarana Bungalows
Before arriving on Koh Pha Ngan, we had been blessed with (and sometimes roasted by) hot, sunny weather during each stop along the trip.
Not this time.
Halfway through our 2-hour ferry ride, storm clouds started rolling in. By the time we actually disembarked and found the truck that would take us to our bungalows, unforgiving rain was pounding down, getting everyone’s stuff wet. I felt especially bad for the few people who had big suitcases with them – I would not have wanted to be the one dragging those through the mud that was quickly forming!
When we got to the resort about 10 minutes later, everyone’s moods had been quite dampened (sorry, I had to). One of the guys in the group was so mad about the weather that he wanted to leave the tour early! Luckily for him – and his girlfriend who he was traveling with – the storm cleared up by the late afternoon and we finally had a hint of sun come out before it set for the night.
Our resort was located right on the beach, and my roommate and I lucked out by having a bungalow that was literally steps from the ocean. I didn’t even use my usual “ocean sounds” app to fall asleep at night, because I had the real thing at my doorstep. Now this – this is what I paid for!!
That night, our whole group headed into the local town of Haad Rin for a casual dinner and a painting-slash-beach party. “Why paint?”, you may be wondering. Well, we sadly were not in town during a proper Full Moon Party, which is full of paint and also what Koh Pha Ngan is quite well-known for. However, our group leader still wanted us to get a taste of the “Full Moon” experience – so we painted ourselves!
Luckily, I had someone to help me, because I do not have “fine motor skills” (as my fashion design teacher in high school once told me – yes I still remember, Mrs. Powell). Just so you can get an idea of how bad my paint job was going, here’s a picture of the sad heart I drew around my eye versus the face that paint one of the girls in the group gave me. Also note the difference in my enthusiasm for both. Sigh – at least I can write, right?
After painting ourselves silly and filling up on tons of food – and some buckets of alcohol – it was time to head to the beach party going on at Drop In Bar. GUYS. If you have the chance to go to a beach party on Koh Pha Ngan, you simply must go. This was by far one of the most fun nights that I had during the tour (I am biased though, because I love to dance).
The DJ was amazing, playing a mix of Top 40s music, Caribbean, Latin, classics, and everything in between; they had fire performers doing insane tricks on the sand at various points throughout the night; and there was a lively dog that, for whatever reason, got super playful every time I kicked up sand for him to “fetch”. Now, I can’t guarantee that you’ll find a cute dog to play with when you go to Haad Rin, but the first two reasons alone are plenty to check out this bar.
After what seemed like too short of a time at Drop In Bar (time flies and such), we headed home to rest up for the day ahead of us. Another reason for our abrupt departure may or may have been attributed to one of the guys nearly getting into a fight…I’m sure that wasn’t a factor though. Not at all.
The second of our three days in Koh Pha Ngan was a day full of nature, and the weather was on our side! The morning started with breakfast, followed by a hike in the center of the island that took us past Phaeng Noi Waterfall and up to a viewpoint of the island. We were up so high, I could see the ocean in the distance. It was definitely worth almost spraining my ankle multiple times on the way up and down!
After a nice lunch break, it was time to head to our second destination of the day: a place called The Secret Beach. A bit of an oxymoron really, considering the volume of people there that day and the resort less than a mile down the beach…but hey, you can’t see it from the road – so it counts.
After getting settled into a more remote corner of secret beach, our leader pulled out some snorkeling gear and life jackets, then informed us that we were free to do whatever we wanted for a few hours. For me, this was a mix of snorkeling (duh), swimming freely, laying out for a bit, playing some water frisbee, and – a last-minute decision – taking a stroll down this quiet green path on the other side of the beach. I actually got the suggestion from the same girl on the tour who had painted my face the night before. Thanks Ariel!
My solo stroll ended up being the best way to end our time at the beach – and not just because I took so long, it was time to go when I finally got back. In front of the resort that I mentioned earlier, there is a path lined by palm trees and vibrant plants that will make you feel like you’re a world away from the chatter on the beach.
At the end of the path, you can even watch waves crash up against the shore. If you make it to The Secret Beach, don’t miss out on this short walk; and be sure to give the swing a try, if you can get onto it!
Our last stop of the day was Apichada Bar, which boasts an even prettier viewpoint than the one from our hike. I’ll just let this photo speak for itself:
That night, the plan was a chill beach barbecue back at the resort. Yours truly joined the group for dinner and went back to the bungalow for a power nap…which ended up so powerful that I didn’t wake up until the next morning. Oops.
As it turns out, that long night of sleep was probably a great idea, because our last day in Koh Pha Ngan involved a Muay Thai class at Chinnarach Thai Boxing Camp (the other option on this day is yoga for those of you who are calmer spirits). This gym was super legit, as it’s the in the only gym in Koh Phangan that’s recognized by the Board of Boxing Sport of Thailand. Furthermore, it’s owned and operated by 2-time world champion Master Chin. So yea, basically I’m a badass now.
But seriously, this class kicked all of our butts while teaching us some really cool basic moves that truly pack a punch (these puns are unintentional, by the way). After doing some warm-up exercises and being taught the basic stance and sparring moves, we went through some shadow-boxing drills before taking to the mat to do some partner ab exercises.
These exercises involved sitting below a punching bag, essentially straddling/overlapping your legs with your partner as you each did a crunch up, and then giving a one-two punch to the bag. So, be prepared to get up close and personal with whoever you partner with. This isn’t the time to be shy!
Our class ended with an assembly line of each coach running through the drills with us one-by-one, and then a few of us decided to get in the ring with the head coach to try out our newfound skills. When it was my turn, I thought I was being so cool and cautious, staying back in order to try and anticipate what hit the coach would call next – or if he would go for a sneaky body-shot instead.
All this resulted in was him taunting me (good-naturedly) and asking if I was scared. Yikes. There goes my badass status…I hardly knew ya. On the plus side, when it was time to do a succession of kicks to the strike pad at the end, I’m pretty sure I hit all 10 – even if I had to pause between number 9 and 10 because I was petrified about accidentally whacking my ankle (instead of my shin) and hurting myself.
Overall, the class was a great introduction to Muay Thai, and a fantastic workout! I highly recommend taking a Muay Thai class while you’re in Thailand; and checking out Chinnarach if you decide to do it on Koh Pha Ngan.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful: I had an oil massage on the beach – which felt wonderful after Muay Thai – and then went for a short swim before dinner. We were leaving for Koh Phi Phi at a bright and early 6am the next morning, so it was an early night for most of us. Well worth it though…
Phi Phi Islands – Andaman Legacy
The journey to Koh Phi Phi (pronounced like Pee-pee, get your giggles out now) was quite a long one, involving multiple car and bus rides that resulted in a ferry that finally deposited us on this beautiful little island. However, I think that Phi Phi is an absolute must-do if you’re going to Thailand! Seriously, don’t miss it.
Since we didn’t get to the island until about 3pm that day, the rest of the afternoon and evening were spent exploring the island, shopping (you can get nearly every souvenir imaginable there), and relaxing a bit before dinner and a fire show. Side-note: As we walked around, we spotted a fat, jolly monkey that was just chilling on the sidewalk with some locals! Seriously, this little (big) dude was living his best life:
Since we had the option to walk/hike to the island’s viewpoint at 6:30 the next morning, I decided to make it an early night and rest up.
Honestly, I’m really glad that I did! I could not have imagined climbing some of those steps hungover…my stomach hurts just to imagine it. For the most part, the walk was very enjoyable, but some of these staircases were steep as hell. One of them was nearly vertical, and basically, climbing it reminded me how long it had been since I’d gone to the gym.
Luckily, we all made it eventually and the views made it all worthwhile. Plus, the hike set a lovely tone for the rest of our day AND we had time to relax before our speedboat excursion that afternoon.
Now, this speedboat excursion: another one of my favorite moments from the tour, by far. We basically spent the whole day on the water, going to 5 different sites: Monkey Beach, a secluded lagoon, (near) Maya Bay, Bamboo Beach, and a fishing village island.
Monkey Beach, which we thought would be full of primates trying to snatch our cameras, sadly only had one monkey that came out during our time there. Although it was definitely cute, it became the focus of everyone’s attention – so pretty soon, people from other tour groups were crowding around and wouldn’t stop messing with it. As a result, we left early. People ruin everything, eh?
The next stop was the hidden lagoon, which was magical. Hidden deep between a circle of limestone karsts, the water here was a vivid blue-green and very vibrant. It felt like a secret little paradise tucked away from the rest of the world, and I could’ve stayed there all day. We all passed the time floating on our life jackets, exploring the nearby flora, and even jumping off the boat into the blue below. 10/10 recommend!
After the lagoon, it was time to snorkel near Maya Bay. As some of you may know, Maya Bay is the location of Leo DiCaprio’s famous film The Beach. What you may not know, however, is that the ecosystem has been so ravaged by tourism that they’ve closed it down indefinitely. Now, speedboats can’t get within a certain distance to the beach due to the closure. Read more here about how the ecosystem has been affected, and PLEASE exercise responsible tourism so that more natural wonders like this don’t have to close down and recover!
All of this said, we were fortunate enough to still see an abundance of sea life near Maya Bay: tons of fish swam around us, and bigger, more colorful ones darted far below where we (I) couldn’t quite reach to get good shots of them. But trust me, it’s better in person anyway.
The second to last stop of the day was Bamboo Beach, which was a great stop for relaxing, tanning, or – in my case – playing a hybrid of volleyball and soccer with some of the tour group. Since all of us had stronger kicks than anticipated, I definitely got my cardio in for the day running after the ball and trying to stop it from hitting any innocent passerby. We all wished that we could’ve stayed longer, as it seemed to be less than an hour before the boat departed for the last stop of the day.
However, the last stop of the day proved to be delightful in a surprising way. As I mentioned, this was a visit to a small fishing village on an island nearby. The rest of the group ventured to a bar further inland, but I decided to go back down to the beach (of course, after walking all the way to the bar) and get a last dose of vitamin-sea before we left Phi Phi the next day.
When I went back and got settled in, I was surprised and excited to come across a ton of hermit crabs! Abandoning my plan of spending the whole time in the water, I entertained myself for the next hour or so by following the crabs around and picking them occasionally (and putting them back down gently, of course). Yes, I am a child, and yes, I probably should’ve left them alone. Bad Chelsea.
Night out in Phi Phi
After we arrived back at the resort and freshened up from the long day, it was time to grab a bite to eat and hit the town for our last night in Koh Phi Phi. This night was honestly a fun, crazy blur. We started out at pirate-themed bar that had cheap buckets (those dreaded buckets), stopped by a reggae boxing club that had encouraged (drunken) amateurs to come up and fight each other in the ring, and then somehow ended up at a dance club by the end of the night. Not a bad combination to finish off our time on the island! Phi Phi had a surprisingly diverse nightlife – as you can tell – so be sure to give yourself time to wander and see what you stumble upon.
The next morning, we had a reasonable checkout time of 11am – but to me, it felt like a death sentence, since we had gotten back at very-late-o-clock. My roommate and I managed to get checked out on time, and then I spent our last few hours on the island getting breakfast and a pedicure. Afterward, it was time to head on down to Phuket.
Phuket – Hotel Clover
Phuket (pronounced “Poo-ket”, see the pattern here?) was the last stop on the group tour, and our big activity here was an Elephant Experience at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. The great thing about Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is that they rehabilitate elephants who have been abused, whether through work, trekking, shows, riding, or painting (yes, elephant painting is a cruel practice too, sadly), and allow them to thrive in a natural habitat.
I’d like to talk a bit more about the ethical aspects of interacting with elephants in Thailand as i go into detail on this experience, so that will all come in a separate post later in January (where I’ll also talk about my time meeting a baby elephant in Chiang Mai named Jacky Chan!).
READ MORE: My Experience with Elephant Sanctuaries
For now, let’s focus on Bangla Road:
Since we were only in Phuket for two nights – and one was a night-in – we went out to Bangla Road on our last night of the tour. Before coming to Thailand, I wasn’t aware of Bangla Road; but on the way to Phuket, I was informed that it would be even wilder and bigger than Khao San Road. After seeing it for myself, I think I agree! However, the chaos seems to be a bit more contained into separate bars. That said: there were definitely more bars, with more girls, in less clothing.
After popping into a few places and observing some of the raunchier ones from afar, our group (now down to a few people who didn’t have early flights the next day) came upon a live music place called Monsoon Bar. Although we went in on a whim, this place turned out to be a blast. Live music bars are usually hit or miss for me, depending on what they play, but this band was super-talented! They were all Thai musicians, but they sang popular English and Latin songs.
I was in musical heaven, and we all danced the night away. Once it was time for the night to end, a few of us grabbed a pack of water (to ward off hangovers) and went down to the beach to sit and chit-chat. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the tour.
The next day, I checked into a new hotel in Phuket while everyone else went their separate ways. The day after, I would be flying up to Chiang Mai for the rest of my trip. Which leads me to my last subject of this post:
Note: These will both be covered in their own blog posts later this month – but I wanted to make sure I mention them so you know what’s coming up!
Hong by Starlight Tour in Phang Nga Bay: For my solo day in Phuket, I decided to book a tour that was actually about 2 hours away from the city, since I figured I had gotten a good taste of what Phuket had to offer (for now). It was an all-day, guided kayaking tour with two fresh meals included, and it was an amazing experience from start to finish. Stay tuned to hear about the caves, lagoons, bioluminescent plankton, and more!
Chiang Mai: I was fully solo in this northern city, and loved every moment. It’s a laid-back place with great vibes and I’ll tell you all about my private tour, second elephant sanctuary visit (with Jacky Chan!), visit to an artist’s community, and stumbling upon a backpacker’s hostel that became my second home. Look out for that post in a few weeks!
Hard to believe that so many activities could into 2 weeks, right?! What activities would you be most excited for? Let me know in the comments!
Next week, I’ll be getting into some tips and hints that I wish I’d known before going on the trip. See you then!