Thailand- what islands to see and sail.
In Thai, Koh pretty much translates as island.
So if you’ve been to Koh Samui or any other of the 1000’s of islands dotting the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand you’ve been to a Koh.
It’s knowing which ones to visit that is key.
In our case we had the unusual luxury of a self-sail and could visit anywhere we wanted, but most people can still plot their own course to stop, stay or anchor at any of these spots.
Islands and beaches of Phang Nga Bay
Straight from the Phuket airport our hire car took us (my husband and five daughters) to Yacht Haven Marina, where we boarded the Katani, a 17 year old, 55 ft cataraman owned by my husband’s uncle and aunt and we motored to our first anchorage as the sun was slowly setting in our wake.
We dropped the pin at Koh Phanak, a secluded and sheer-cliffed island with impressive limestone overhangs and spent our first night in Thailand with a wine, a mesmerising view and under the stars.
Completely tourist-free, (other than us) we enjoyed an early morning start the next day with a swim, a kayak paddle and breakfast of porridge and fruit salad back on board before setting off.
Koh Hong (Phang NA)
In Thailand, Hong means room and Koh Hong has so many rooms making up this island it could be a mansion.
On arrival at this island we had the run of the house as we clambered on kayaks and explored numerous rock rooms, some so small we had to lie completely flat on our canoes and manipulate underneath them.
What we navigated through to, were some incredible interior spaces bordered by towering rock faces and lush green overhangs.
As Koh Hong is one of the more popular day trips from Phuket or other larger, longer stay Thai locations, our visit was soon swamped by tourists on tours doing the same thing.
Unfortunately for those many hundreds of people, who visit each day, exploring on the larger canoes and paddle boats meant they were unable to manoeuvre through the low rock structures and tunnels to arrive at some of the more intriguingly, beautiful interiors that we were lucky enough to have exclusive access to.
Koh Hong Krabi
Koh Hong Krabi was one of the islands devastated by the 2004 tsunami and even though it isn’t a permanently occupied island many lives were lost, as it’s a popular destination for tourists, boasting a pristine white sandy beach, snorkelling and is a protected bay for boaties.
We moored at sea, jumped overboard and swam ashore where we were met by the returning tourists and oversized iguanas.
This is a stunning island and it was especially so as twilight descended and we watched the day visitors depart and enjoyed a home-made seafood soup sprinkled with fresh prawns, which we had purchased earlier that morning for about 1300 baht from a seller who had paddled up to the back of our boat,
A dusk swim and chilled wine capped a brilliant day.
But starting it with a swim to the beach when it’s still and stunningly free of all tourists is a highlight.
The white sand seems even more bleached blonde without footprints and the hourglass-shaped bays are spectacular.
We also had time to explore the tsunami trail with the skeletons of long tail boats shattered amongst the mess of shrubbery, and yet another cavernous Hong, before surrendering the island to the hordes.
Ao Nang is the beach area of Krabi, a mainland province of Thailand. It’s a township that hosts an international airport and is a launching port for many tourists, who set out to explore the wonders of these Thai islands.
After dropping anchor and loading the five girls onto the dingy for the trip to shore for lunch and market shopping the outboard motor refused to comply.
So it was a laughable trip paddling in to shore for the teenagers and a slog back.
With the motor fixed for the afternoon, we watched as the sky darkened and the rains slammed down, comfortable that the boatie precautions we had taken, i.e. ‘battening down the hatches’, ensured we enjoyed our dinner and drinks ashore.
Despite the quick-hit storm this was one of our favourite stops with great restaurants, great water for swimming and a good vibe for shopping.
Starting early the next day we made our way along the Krabi coastline to Tonsai Bay, which is only accessible by boat, where we ribbed ashore for breakfast under the striking rock walls and the incredible climbers who scaled them.
There are only a few little eateries here to cater for guests of a small resort and those like us, who stop in for a visit, so service isn’t a high priority.
Our breakfast orders were filled slowly and intermittently, but the view and entertainment value watching rock climbers clinging and clambering up the face made it a worthwhile wait.
From Tonsai Bay it’s a short kayak to the next bay, Railay Beach, also enclosed and only reachable by boat and where the many long tails transporting hundreds of day trippers, pull in.
Our stop coincided with a rainy day so we explored the few market stalls, opted for an hour long thai massage for 300 baht and enjoyed a cheap lunch on the east side of the beach, where I had a green chicken curry for 100 baht and an amazing coconut milk shake for 50.
A highlight was a visit to the Phranang (princess) Cave, known to locals as the penis cave.
It’s a nice walk along a track on the East Beach, which is a more like a mangrove swamp than a beach, but with the free and added attraction of completely tamed monkeys, many just babies, posturing for food. It does however funnel you to a small but beautiful sandy beach, with the famed and phallic cave at its head.
According to legend when a beautiful maiden agreed to marry a nearby islander, the locals turned violent. Unable to stop the fight a hermit transformed the scene to stone. It is now a sacred site where it’s believed the princess will protect the islanders’ livelihoods and the holy womb of the cave will ensure fertility.
Needless to say, with hundreds of penis shaped objects of offerings it was an interesting photo opportunity.
Koh Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh
It took at least three goes to get the anchor secured at Phi Phi Don, which is not the location of the Leo DeCaprio film, The Beach, but the bigger, more populous of the Phi Phi archipelago.
Over 1000 people perished when Phi Phi Don was devastated by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and it has been rebuilt to a degree, although there is still a considerable amount of construction being undertaken ten years on and there are tsunami evacuation signs aplenty to remind us of the tragedy.
We went ashore and after a spot of shopping the girls were quick to find the beach bars and the numerous backpackers who use this party island as their base for a Thai experience. You can only get here by ferry but there are numerous resorts and accommodation houses to suit all budgets. And of course it is one of the most must-do destinations for day trippers.
You can spend a few days here with the scuba diving and snorkelling excursions, there is a maze of market stalls, great restaurants, plenty of pampering with a plethora of massage, beauty and hair salons and of course boat trips to the more famous Koh Phi Phi Leh.
Koh Phi Phi Leh
Even though it is the second largest in the cluster of islands, it is uninhabited but boasts two beautiful shallow bays perfect for swimming and as the launch for a dive.
Maya Bay is the more well known and frequented as it was transformed into the ‘paradise’ that was the scenic star of the 2000 film, The Beach.
As it’s now deemed a national park there is a charge to visit, usually incorporated into the cost of your day ticket and there are some facilities on shore.
It is a gorgeous island, but no more so than many of the others in this area so the star factor is well at work.
We visited all these places over the course of a week and it was enough, coupled with a land stay at a resort in Phuket to soak up a wonderful array of much of what you expect and hope a Thai island holiday promises to deliver.