Bangkok & the Islands (Krabi, Koh Lanta, Railay Beach)
I’ve spent the last month bouncing around Southeast Asia from Thailand to Vietnam then back to the islands in Thailand and then to Cambodia. Of all the countries I have visited these past few months, I have to say that Thailand was my favorite. Honestly, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. While my heart longs for Italy, the charm and unbeatable prices of Thailand are hard to pass up.
I unfortunately became ill before leaving the states but that didn’t stop me from re-booking my flight which left me only two days in Bangkok. However, it was just the right amount of time. I stayed at Starwood’s Aloft Sukhumvit Hotel which is centrally located in the city. A couple of things that surprised me in Bangkok:
The metro – clean, fast, efficient, and unlike New York, Thai people stand in two outside lines to enter the train, leaving an opening down the middle for people to exit! How considerate! It’s also very clean and cheap. The cost varies on the distance you are traveling but I spent roughly 25 – 40 baht per ride. Don’t forget to keep your ticket to exit!
Street food – is as good as people say it is and it is possible to eat it and not get sick! I have a sensitive stomach so I figured I would catch something like I did in Mexico but took my chances anyway – just stick with cooked things are you’re good. Also, if local people are eating there, it’s probably good! You can get pad thai for 60 baht which is just over a dollar, still blows my mind. The fruit carts are awesome too! You can buy little bags of sliced fruit for literally cents!
Tuk tuks, massages, and bargaining were as expected. I managed to practice my bargaining skills scoring 200 baht tuk tuk rides. I didn’t end up having a good massage while there but my friends swear by the massage place located on the bottom of the Paragon Mall.
Day 1: My first day we took a river cruise and I visited a few temples, including Wat Pho where you’ll find the reclining Buddha. Wat Pho was my favorite temple as the grounds were bigger than meets the eye and it wasn’t crowded with tourists. We also spent a couple of hours exploring the packed streets of Chinatown – one word, insanity! It was just like New York’s China Town but 10x more crowded! I didn’t even think that was possible -just crossing the street was a feat! After taking the wrong river taxi and getting a little lost, I discovered “elephants pants” – you know those loose pants that almost every backpacker ends up wearing? I hate to admit it but I became a fan immediately. I bought them to cover my legs for the temples and ended up loving the comfort of them. Loose and airy, they even lower the risk of skeeter bites and keep you cool at the same time – well, that’s how I justified wearing them so often. I also hit up the the food court at the MBK mall and had my first Thai mango sticky rice – something I had almost every day while in Thailand. The food court was a refreshing break from the street food in the sense that I had the comfort of knowing the likelihood of creatures crawling or landing in my food was far less than on the streets. Cash isn’t even allowed so food stall vendors do not have to handle money keeping your food untouched by the germs carried by cash. We made it back to our hotel and to Issaya Siamese Club for a nice dinner which again was fancy compared to the streets of Bangkok.
Day 2: Chatuchak Weekend Market and Taling Chan Floating Village. At the end of the metro line is the Chatuchak Market where you’ll find rows and rows of stalls selling pants, t-shirts, bags, scarves, and basically anything you can think of. It is pertty much a flea market for tourists but I did manage to snag decent Muay Thai boxing shorts for 300 baht (orig. 500 baht) and a few other souvenirs. The Taling Chan Floating Village was awesome as well. Just as it sounds, you end up navigating through multiple “restaurants” floating on the water. The food is either cooked on the stoves hanging over the side railing or on a boat right next to the floating dock.
Krabi, Koh Lanta, and Railay Beach
If you’re flying to Krabi and not Phuket, you’ll definitely want to plan a little ahead of time. Getting the the islands via Krabi isn’t difficult but it takes a little more research. We flew into Krabi and spent one night there which was perfect. I actually liked Krabi a lot – coming from Bangkok it was very chill and a perfect way to ease into the island life. We stayed at Dee Andaman Hotel, just about a 15 min walk from the well-known night market. The night market was a perfect spot to get local and cheap food. Don’t be surprised about the lack of food handling regulations, it’s just something you get used to and learn to appreciate the authenticity. On our way back we stopped at an electric spot called Cozy Bar for beer and board games. One of my favorite nights throughout my trip was spent playing Jenga and ConnectFour at this little spot. The competitive intensity of the games was comical but made for a good time.
So, from Krabi to Koh Lanta, the ferry definitely did not leave from the old town port like I thought it would. Instead, a truck with janky seats in the back picked us up, we threw our luggage on top of the roof with nothing strapping them down, and prayed they wouldn’t fall off as the driver took quick and sharp turns. Not knowing exactly where we were going, we eventually made it to the ferry and set off for the island of Koh Lanta. Since the ferry was already jammed packed, we sat on the side railing towards the front of the boat – it was like being on an amusement park ride getting splashed with water every few minutes. Luckily, those Chang beers helped!
Once at Koh Lanta, we entered the blissful island life where the slow-paced environment made it easy for us to relax and really embrace the “don’t worry” Thai attitude. That’s one attitude I’d like to take with me “don’t worry” – sometimes you’ve got to just trust that things will work out and if they don’t, just go with it. After the two hour wet ferry ride, we stopped at a little restaurant, Sincere Guesthouse, along the water for lunch to decompress and take it all in… plus our stomachs were hangry. This was the start of relaxation mode and where the “letting go” started.
Rawi Warin Resort & Spa, its not heaven on earth but it was a nice break from the city (we had just come from Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok just before that). While it was a little too much on the resorty side, our view was well worth the price. Every morning we woke up to a view of the Koh Lanta coastline and had our coffee on the balcony while soaking up the sun and fresh morning air before the heat set in. After filling up on a buffet breakfast, we headed for the beach! First stop, the stretch of white sand along the west coast of Koh Lanta, Long Beach. While nice, it was unbearably hot and windy – we could barely keep our umbrellas from flipping inside out. Still the sun on our backs and ocean at our feet was a feeling that could never get old. One of the days we took a day trip to Koh Rok – one word, amazing. It reminded me of the beaches on Cayos Zapatilla in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Crystal clear blue water, white sand, and colorful fish – pure bliss.
From Koh Lanta to Railay Beach we took the Ao Nang Princess ferry which was quite the adventure. Although not an island, Railay Beach is only reachable by small boat and there are no cars. By small boat, I mean you have to transfer from the big ferry to a long-tailed boat, literally throwing your luggage in and hopping into your ride to paradise all while waves are crashing on both sides. Contrary to the experience of getting there, Railay is a small, chill, and remote beach town located between Ao Nang and Krabi and is known for its limestone cliffs and gorgeous sunsets. You can walk from Railay West to Railay East in 5 minutes and the people there exude an island mentality. The west is known for the beach and sunsets, while the east is much more chill and less expensive. There isn’t a swimmable beach on the east side but the view of the cliff sides are stunning. We stayed at Railay Princess Report & Spa and its infinity pool was the perfect spot to continue unwinding from the hustle and bustle of the cities.
What to do on Railay Beach? There are so many options for the active. From kayaking to rock climbing to hiking to getting a massage, Railay was one of my favorite places to visit! With only two full days there, we made the most of it and went kayaking against unbelievably strong winds to Phra Nang Cave Beach, the Princess Cave, and had massages at Forest Thai Massage two days in a row (the massage at our hotel sucked the first night). Thai massages, ok this was my first real Thai massage – hurt like hell but it was a good pain. This woman found every injury I had and wouldn’t stop until she worked all the knots out. She even magically fixed my strained hamstring (temporarily)!!! I don’t know how but after my first massage I could climb steps again with no pain! I went back the next day for another beating lol, it hurt to so much I’m pretty sure I was weeping in pain. However, my body wasn’t bruised as I expected the next day, rather it was perfect (aside from the food poisoning I got likely from the raw papaya salad)!