Island hopping in Thailand really is all that it is cracked up to be! If only every day could be spent exploring sea caves, eating lunch on a floating village, and swimming with exotic fish...
We had 6 full days to explore the islands before heading off to Hong Kong for more city life, so these were really the days we wanted to spend unwinding and taking in the sights and beauty of some of the most stunning beaches in the world. While I have visited Phuket before for a short two days, there was so much that I actually didn't get to see during my first trip that I was excited to tick off this time around. I contemplated many different itineraries, weighing the pros and cons of staying in one location for the entire 6 days and making day trips versus hopping around from place to place. The final decision was to do 2 days in Krabi, 2 days on Phi Phi Island, and 2 days in Phuket, which is where we would fly to Hong Kong at the end.
I have two more posts coming up to talk about the beautiful Ko Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Le as well as my second visit to Phuket, but I wanted to give Krabi and Phang Nga Bay their own special spotlight!
Located on the west coast of southern Thailand, Krabi is a wildly popular destination for many, since it's the home to lush jungles, limestone cliffs, and beautiful white sand beaches. It is also a common home-base for those who go on boating day trips to various islands and adventurers going on scuba diving excursions. Our first day was intended to explore Krabi fully as we planned to do a day trip to Phang Nga Bay the next day. Unfortunately, for the first time in a week, we experience some of the worse rain and couldn't really enjoy much of the beaches in Krabi after the skies finally cleared. But given that it the rainy season in Thailand in late August and September, we really couldn't complain too much since we lucked out for all of Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Bless the weather gods (until Krabi)!
We spent our day enjoying our hotel pool and bar at the Krabi La Playa Resort, walking around the cute city of Ao Nang where we stayed, and basking in the air conditioning at a yummy coffee shop as we planned our boat trip. We even made out way to the damp beach down the road to take in the sunset before heading out to the night market to experience another part of the town (read more about it at the end of this post!)
Day Trip to Phang Nga Bay, James Bond Island, and Hong Island
When it came to island hopping in Thailand, I really only had 2 main things I really wanted to see - Phi Phi Island and James Bond Island. Inspired by one of @taramilktea's posts on Instagram of JB Island, I set my eye on the prize and I was determined not to miss it this time around since I wasn't the one planning the first time. I would like to say that I'm actually a pretty flexible person, but when I make up my mind about certain things, especially when I have a certain vision in my head, its hard to diverge sometimes without feeling disappointed.
Surprisingly enough, it was actually quite difficult to find a tour from Krabi to Phang Nga Bay and James Bond Island. We ended up booking this Full Day Tour with Chase reward points since it fit exactly what we were looking four. Thought quite pricey for the cash price at almost $130USD (at the time we were looking), it was one of the best use of our credit card points, and we were happy to have booked something with such short notice.
Krabi Discovery Tours picked up at our hotel bright and early in the morning and picked up a few other people who had booked tours with the same company. After driving for about 30 minutes, the group split up based on excursion type, and we were surprised the our group actually only had one other couple, even though our receipt said that it would not operate with less than a group of 10! There were also 3 locals on the speedboat with us the entire time, all of whom were really kind and did their best to make the experience great for us.
James Bond Island
Our first stop was to the highly anticipated Khao Phing Kan, more commonly referred to as James Bond Island. It is located in Phang Nga Bay just northeast of Phuket. About 130 feet from the shoes of the island lies a 66ft tall islet, called the Ko Ta Pu, one of the most recognizable sights in Thailand.
Both the island the islet were shown in the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun, and since 1974, have been popularly referred to as James Bond Island. To be honest, I never saw the movie and really don't care to watch it any time soon. However, the island itself is stunning and the views speak for themselves in these photos. I had so much fun exploring the "hidden" caves, and for how popular the island is, I was pleasantly surprised that there weren't as many crowds of tourists as I anticipated. Since this was the first stop on the tour, we were able to visit pretty early and avoided the mid-afternoon rush.
Phang Nga Bay
I found out recently that I actually have been to Phang Nga Bay before. But given that I didn't remember at the time of our trip, it was all a new experience for me even the second time around! We spent a decent amount of time in our speedboat enjoying the perfect weather and the island breeze, but what I really loved was how peaceful the morning was and how nice it was to really escape the city again for the day. Because there was only another couple with us, it basically felt like a private tour.
After visiting James Bond Island, our boat captains took us to our next activity of the day - a kayak tour of Lot Noi Cave. We sailed toward a large, open docked boat that looked like a kayak/canoe company operated from. Once we were dropped off, we were given life jackets and directed toward a red kayak with a local guide who would paddle through the cave for our half hour tour. Our guide was super friendly and while were were only able to communicate a little bit in English, we actually learned that he was from Phi Phi Don, our next destination! I could only imagine what it's like to grow up in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but from our observations and from speaking to the locals, it can also be a very difficult and simple life making a living in Thailand. I have a strong respect for the hardworking nature of the Thai people, and it is evident in their actions that being kindness and humbleness are deeply rooted in their culture.
Lunch on Ko Panyi Island
Known as a small Muslim fishing village in the Phang Nga region, Ko Panyi is most notable for being built on stilts by Indonesian fishermen. It looks as though the village now survives on tourism, with many groups being dropped off for a lunch buffet meal and extra time to shop. I never expect too much when it comes to meals that are included with day tours, but this one was was genuinely done very well! The spread was impressive and the Tom Yum soup was so good, I went back for seconds!
The Koh Hong group consists of 4 beautiful islands, which are all part of the National Marine Park. Located just a 25 minute speedboat or 45 minute longtail boat ride from Ao Nang in Krabi, the Hong Islands are a very popular excursion choice for many, not only for its proximity, but for its white sand beaches, and emerald tinted, crystal clear water. After having lunch on Ko Panyi, we headed back toward the directly of Krabi and our boat stopped around the island for us to get off and enjoy the water. This part of the day was actually one of the most memorable for me, since we had the opportunity to find starfish in the water and get up close and personal with them, which I've never done before. A larger boat passed us carrying dozens of tourists, but we were the only small boat who stopped in the water, which made me thankful for such a personalized experience. While there was an informal schedule, it was really up to the four of us how much time we wanted to spent at each destination, and if we wanted to leave sooner, we didn't have to wait for large group to be finished, which was the best part!
Bouncing around from place to place all morning was tiring, so I was excited to finally have a few hours of down time on Hong Beach (at least I think that's where we went), where we had the opportunity to lay out in the intermittent sun and snorkel with some of the most beautiful fish I've seen in my entire life. I've never been a strong swimmer, so when it comes to water activities, I tend to play it safe and stick to snorkeling in shallow water (this time was no different!).
As you can see from the photo below, we basically had the entire beach to ourselves since we arrived later in the afternoon and didn't come with a large group. We spent the entire time exploring and analyzing the different creatures we saw in the water, taking videos with our phones using our handy dandy JOTO waterproof phone cases. No joke, these cases are cheap and AMAZING, and I took many beautiful and clear videos of the coral reef below. While we sustained some minor foot injuries from the coral, I had so much fun and it was the PERFECT place to end our beautiful day on the water.
The funniest part of the day? Definitely when our boat's engine died 10 minutes from the shoes of Krabi. Luckily, we waited for only about 15 minutes before another boat from Krabi Discovery Tours came to our rescue. We were tugged to the shores of safety, but only after the rope snapped once and had to be retied. It wasn't a big deal at all, but definitely an entertaining and memorable end to the day!
Krabi Night Market
Ao Nang was a cute town to explore during the day, but I wanted to make sure we went out to Krabi Night Market to explore more of what Krabi has to offer in our short time there. Many tour vans leave in the early evening, around 5pm, to the main town of Krabi, but since we missed the cheaper transportation option, we took the 30 minute ride in a private tuk tuk to the market. Our driver blasted some great music during the ride with his impressive sound system for a tuk tuk! We set a meeting point near the market and ended up meeting him back there after walking around and grabbing dinner nearby. The market itself is not as large as the ones we saw in Bangkok (to be expected), but the main area was definitely crowded and had a lot to offer in terms of street food options and souvenirs. The outskirts, however, were quite dead, even for a weekend evening. I wouldn't say that a visit here is a MUST-DO, but I would recommend it if you have more time in the city of Krabi to visit more than just the main attractions, like Tiger Temple and Railay Beach.
A few weather setbacks and time constraints were trivial obstacles when it came to enjoying our first few days island-hopping in Thailand. Just writing about these few days and reliving the memories through these photos makes me wish I was back already. Cheers to warmer days and clearer waters again soon!
Up next... the incredible Phi Phi Islands!