Koh Phangan: Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Yes, Koh Phangan is home to the infamous Full Moon Beach Party, but it also one of the more unspoiled islands in the Gulf of Thailand in southeast Thailand’s Surat Thani Province. Ngan means “sand bar” and refers to the many offshore sand bars. What makes Koh Phangan wild (other than when the party scene is on) is that the island’s interior is comprised of more than 31 sq mi of relatively unspoiled rain forest.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time for rain forest explorations, but I was able to make it around the island on scooter to see some gorgeous countryside and a couple bewitching beaches. The vibe here is very laid back; it feels a bit like Hawaii.

Arrival views from ferry:

Below is the view from my hotel room, the Cocohut Beach Resort & Spa  –  top pick post to come. (Great value, great spot!)

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(Disclaimer, it’s not a walk on the wild side as the title suggests, but I do give ya a little video tour of one of the wilder islands.)

 

 

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The best mango sticky rice & view to enjoy while devouring it! Anatara Resort Area.

 

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And after a day of explorations, the view to enjoy with a refreshing cocktail in hand.

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Kayaking Along Lamai Beach, Koh Samui

Quickly discovered that my first hotel choice was not as picture perfect as it seemed. The beach was small with no where to walk / run and with the abundant coral in the water and low tide conditions, swimming or snorkeling was impossible. Fortunately the hotel had kayaks for their guests’ use so off I went…

Apologies for my shaky video skills.

What I didn’t realize is that among the rocks over there are “Hin Ta” /Grandfather  & “Hin Yai” / Grandfather so named for their interesting shapes…See if you can identify Hin Ta in the next video freeze frame and end shot. I was so focused on kayaking and videoing, I was oblivious.

Ha Ta Hin Yai

 

Inside the Gates: Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market – a feast, a fest, a fun time!

 

The Feast

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The Fest

The Sights

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The Sounds

The Scoop

The Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market is located in the center of the old walled city area of Chiang Mai and is open from 4pm until midnight. It’s a fest and a feast down Ratchadamnoen Road, which is closed to traffic for the Market – hence the i other name Walking Street”. In the vicinity, there are many temples and historical sights to see along the way as well, including Wat Phan Tao, Wat Chedi Luang and the statues of the 3 kings.

Tip: If you’re not big on crowds go early and have a full run of it before they arrive.

The place really comes alive and has a great vibe later into the night…And there are some lovely restaurants, bars and coffee shops around every corner if you’d prefer people watching (tourists & Thai locals) from a distance or just need a break from the crowds.

There are musicians, handicrafts, souvenirs, massage chairs, and perhaps best of all, world renown street food enjoyed by Anthony Bourdain and myself. (My trekking tour guide from Green Trails gave Anthony his street food tour when he was filming in Chiang Mai. ) There’s so much to see, do, buy & eat, you can easily spend hours here.

Tip: If you see something you like as a gift or a souvenir get it and consider getting more than one. The crafts are Northern Thailand specific and you may not see them again. I bought a couple beautiful bowls and wish I’d grabbed more because in my 30 days in Thailand I never saw anything like them again.

If you’re thinking about going to the Chaing Mai Sunday Night Market, don’t think twice – go. As you can see and hear, it’s a memorable experience.

 

3 Day Mt. Bike Adventure. Part 4: Thaton to Chang Rai.

It was late afternoon by the time we rolled into Ban Thaton, a charming Thai village near the Burmese border on the bank of the Maekok river. After a quick cleanup transition, I headed out to do a little exploring on foot.

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Despite weary legs from my full day of mt. biking, I took a quick hike up a road to the White Buddha that I’d seen in the distance as we were coming into town. It was worth it.

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On the way back, I stopped in for a sorely needed hour Thai massage before dinner. (Awesome and only $6!) Had a feast at a lovely riverside restaurant that evening and enjoyed a refreshing ‘cold” one. (Not a beer drinker, but it sure hit the spot.)

Next day we hit the road early, biking through parts of a national park on our way to Chiang Rai. What an incredible 3 day Mt. Bike adventure.

Our last lunch stop was superb!

Sad that it had to end. Many thanks to my guide Pan & support driver Som at Active Thailand!

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Tour company: ActiveThailand    Guide: Pan   My rating: Excellent, highly recommend

3 Day Mt. Bike Adventure. Part 3: Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.

Had an incredible day of delightful single track through the forest and miles of dirt roads through remote countryside. It was topped off with the Chiang Dao Cave  and ruins exploration and by my best meal yet here in Thailand at a local open air restaurant near the cave. The tumeric chicken dish on the right was an outstanding flavor feast!

 

After our afternoon ride, we closed the day in comfort and beautiful surroundings at the rustic mt. biker’s haven, Padeng Lodge.

 

Back on the bikes at 8 am the next morning with more wonderful single track and back roads to explore. I had to make a pit stop along the way and that’s when we discovered this delightful coffee shop/ vineyard/farm – something you might expect to see in New Zealand.

Midday, we stopped for lunch in bustling Fang at a Muslim noodle shop.

 

While I have a thing for the name Fang, I wasn’t crazy about it. Of course, this dose of civilization was a bit of a shock to my system after all the remote countryside we’d traversed by bike and following my Karen Hill Tribe trek earlier in the week. Thankfully,  it was only a matter of minutes before we were on back roads again, passing scenic mango, garlic, eggplant and rice plantations along the way.

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After roasting on the bike for the better part of the day, I was quite happy to roll into Thaton, a small riverside village with lots of charm where’d I’d staying the night on a hotel with AC. To be continued…

A Tale of 2 Snorkels, Thailand

 

                                                                                      

 

Trip 1

By speedboat

Gulf of Thailand

Multi-island, plus viewpoint hike & kayak

Lunch buffet

Fish aplenty

Boat trip length 1hr 40 ea way / 3hrs 20

Grand finale: none

 

Trip 2

By longtail boat

Andaman Sea

7 island, plus cave

Sunset BBQ

Fish aplenty

½ hour to 1st island, minutes from island to island

Grand finale: Fire show

Bioluminescent night snorkel

 

Trip 1

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pros

Our first stop was the island of Nangyuan, a pristine, snorkelers’ paradise. It was fun to hike up to the viewpoint and later to take a kayak and cruise along another island’s shore and find my own secluded snorkel spot.

cons

Over 3 hours on a speedboat with 30 plus other people was a bit much. And as you can see by the picture in the slide show, apparently not just for me. On the way back, there were 4 inebriated passengers (predictably 2 Americans and 2 Australians) who turned the boat into a party boat, drinking up a storm and blaring the music…Guess I’m showing my age here, but none of the “younger set” seemed too enthused by this behavior either.

Trip 2

pros

Much more intimate experience with only 6 other people (3 couples) on a longtail boat. Made for some nice conversations and connections.  Cave snorkel was incredible with a huge school of fish. Sunset BBQ was lovely. Fire show was an added perk. The night snorkel with bioluminescent plankton was magical. The light is a result of a series of oxidation reactions in the plankton. It was like having sparklers in the water. Unfortunately, my camera had run out of battery for this. (I was a little concerned about backing into some jellies that I might not see in the dark…)

cons

The guides spoke very little English and had to be reminded to hand out masks and snorkels. They could not identify the large white and pink jellyfish we saw, but did encourage us to get back on the boat. I know some jellyfish are relatively innocuous, but they do have Portuguese-Man-of-War here too… The guides did not point out the attractions on Railay when we docked. Having been there previously, I shared the info with my fellow passengers about the critters (monkeys and water monitor) and Princess Cave.

All said, I would do both again.  Hopefully next time I’ll have a GoPro pre-programmed!

Railay Cliffhanger

Of course, I couldn’t resist. Had to choose between the vista point and the lagoon as they were in opposite directions and it was getting dark.

Unfortunately, my videos don’t do justice to the pitch of the ascent and descent. Realize this is nothing to a rock climber, but it got my heart rate going a bit.

Well, it was a cliffhanger for me anyway.