MAN-MADE BEAUTY// Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

Thinking back on the places we have been over the past weeks, Khao Sok National Park sticks out firmly as one of my favourite destinations. It was such a stunning place, and worth all the research required to get there and having to palm out a bit extra for a tour.

Khao Sok National Park is located in the Surat Thani Province, and was easy enough to access by a minibus from Krabi. The bus dropped us in what is known as ‘Khao Sok Town’, a village of sorts that serves as a main base for exploring further in the park. I had wanted to do a short hike in the afternoon, but due to the bus running late and the typical 200 baht Thailand national park fee, we opted for a walk around town.

Our walk took us past rubber and palm plantations, and limestone hills, similar to those we saw in Krabi.

The main drawcard for Khao Sok is visiting and staying on the Cheow San Lake. Apparently this can be done independently, however after some research we decided the best approach was to join an all inclusive tour. We opted for Smileys, which included transfers, accommodation, food and activities on the lake. It was reasonably priced and the tour was great!

After spending a night in town, we were up early in the morning for breakfast and to pack an overnight bag for the tour. We were loaded on to vans and spent about an hour on the road before reaching a pier, and our first views of Cheow San Lake.

We transferred from the vans to a couple of longboats, and spend a further hour cruising across the massive lake. I will let the photos speak for themselves – this place is stunning!

Alright, maybe I was bit excited with the camera on the boat!

Our accommodation was the ‘lake house’, a series of basic bungalows floating on the water above the lake. This included a communal dining area where meals were served and we could hang out during our spare time.

The main attraction was jumping straight into the crystal clear water in front of our bungalow! The water was surprisingly warm, which was amazing considering the lake is apparently 30 metres deep at the bungalow!

Our accommodation also included some communal kayaks. Chris and I were absolutely terrible at it, but we gave it a shot and explored some of the lake as it mazed around the limestone cliffs and jungle.

I tried to take a selfie but successfully hid Chris’ face with my own… we are no good at this.

The afternoon soon passed with another swim and relaxing, taking in the peace and quiet and the sheer beauty of the land surrounding us.

It is amazing to think that this lake is man-made! The lake is formed as part of dam, created by the Thai government in the 1980s. Previously, the area was inhabited by a number of villages and was predominately jungle. Animals were even relocated as part of the project, which now sees power generated, and provides irrigation to surrounding areas.

– Reanna

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LAND OF LIMESTONE // Krabi, Thailand

After spending our first few days in Thailand laying back on some tropical islands, we finally hit the mainland. Our first stop was a brief night at Krabi town, a city more well known for being a transfer point to the more famous Railay beach. Having only one night in the city we decided to pass on catching another boat our to Railay and explored what the town had on offer.

The area is well known for its limestone cliffs, with two such hills forming a natural ‘gate’ of sorts to the town.

The town itself was the busiest we had encountered in some time, and certainly the busiest we had seen in Thailand.

The main attraction to see in the town centre is the temple Wat Kaew. It is located just off the main street.

Later in the afternoon we rented a longboat for 1 hour to visit the ‘gate’ and a cave located inside, as well as explore the mangroves.

The Khao Khanab Nam Caves are located within one of the limestone mountains forming the Krabi gate. The main cave was a huge cavern with some creepy statues of people digging inside, which were slightly terrifying in the low light!

After exploring the cave we were back on the boat for a small tour of the surrounding mangroves.

In the evening we had dinner at a local food market near the main boat pier. The food was cheap and cheerful, and eating outside is always a plus.

As we were in town on the weekend, we were able to explore another market only open Friday through to Sunday. This market featured live music, snack foods and local wares for sale.

The next morning we had a few hours to kill before catching our bus onwards from Krabi. We got up early and jumped on a rented scooter and headed to the Tiger Cave Temple, located about 8km from the city centre. The temple is also accessible by local bus and tuk tuk, but we didn’t want to be limited by set times so we rented a scooter for a few dollars.

The Tiger Cave Temple itself is a large hall near the entrance of the larger temple complex. The main draw card however is climbing the 1260 stairs to the top of a mountain to get stunning views of the surrounding area.

We arrived at the temple quite early, so when we finally made it to the top (exhausted and covered in sweat) we had the entire area to ourselves.

The views of the limestone mountains were stunning, and as per usual in Thailand the weather was clear and the sky was blue.

The hike back down was less strenuous but significantly tougher on the knees! We passed quite a number of other visitors making their way up as well, suggesting that arriving early had been a good move on our behalf.

Krabi town had enough happening to keep us entertained for one day. If we had more time we would have gone to Railay, but unfortunately we were limited by bus timetables to our next destination.

– Reanna

PARADISE AGAIN // Koh Lanta, Thailand

With so many islands dotting southern Thailand, it was overwhelming at first to choose which tropical paradise to visit in our limited timeframe. Koh Lipe was a logical choice based on its border crossing connection with Langkawi. After some research and checking of ferry services, we decided that Koh Lanta was a reasonable step as we made our way towards the mainland.

Koh Lanta turned out to be a great choice. It had the feel of beach paradise, mixed in with local life and offering some inland features to explore as well.

After surviving a rather painful and bumpy speed boat ride from Koh Lipe, we had little on our agenda for the first night on the island. We had a quick swim at the beach and checked out a seaside bar.

For our full day on the island we rented another scooter. Koh Lanta is the perfect size to explore by bike, and the roads are relatively quiet. We headed off early in the morning and made our way to the southern tip of the island to explore Mu Ko Lanta National Park.

After paying the usual Thailand national park fee (plus another fee for parking) we explored the area on foot. The main attraction was a lighthouse which provided a view back over Rocky and Sand Beach. No prize for guessing which is which!

The national park only had one small hike, which was around 3km and took us through the jungle. We were dripping with sweat the entire walk despite the short distance, so all my photos were blurred!

Getting to the park early turned out to be a good move. On the road out of the park we passed numerous other tourists on scooters heading to the park! We had the park almost entirely to ourselves whilst we were there. The early bird gets the worm.

Our next stop was Bamboo Bay, a picturesque beach that was also quite empty in the morning. The beach only had one or two hotels nearby, so it was far more peaceful than the beach in town. It was perfect for a cool off after the national park!

The water was warm and clear. If I wasn’t so prone to getting sunburnt I could have spent hours floating in the shallows.

With the lack of buildings and all the palm trees it felt a bit like a hidden paradise.

We had lunch further along the road, complete with a view over another beautiful beach, before heading to the east side of the island to Lanta Old Town.

We had expected the Old Town to be less built up, but the main street was lined with more tourist shops and cafes.

The best thing to do in town (other than cool off with another banana shake!) was to walk out along the pier to get a view back at the old town.

After a day out in the scorching sun on the scooter, we spent the evening back on the main beach in town sitting at a couple of bars and watching the sunset.

The main townships of Koh Lanta followed the main road along the west coast of the island. There were very few roads on the island so it was almost impossible to get lost!

If hiring a scooter isn’t your thing, perhaps a local taxi is! A scooter with a sidecar, usually decorated with Hello Kitty or some Disney character!

Koh Lanta felt a bit more ‘real’ than Koh Lipe, offering more than resorts and a chance to explore further than the beach. Two nights was enough to cover most of the ground around the island, though another night would have been good to do some more island hopping.

Onwards to the mainland!

– Reanna

ISLAND HOPPING PT. 2 // Koh Lipe, Thailand

Admittedly I am not much of a beach person. Too much sand, I get sunburnt just by stepping outside, and I find the deep water makes me feel quite anxious. Yet during our day on the water on around Koh Lipe and the Tarutao National Park I made momentary peace with the beach and enjoyed the wonderfully clear, warm water.

Picking up where I left off on our snorkel tour, we made a stop for lunch on the ‘Monkey Beach’. The name soon became apparent, when a monkey came up behind me and attempted to steal my lunch! Thankfully I was able to save my food (not without screaming embarrassingly), but several other tourists lost their lunch that day. The national park rangers stationed on the beach seemed to have their work cut out chasing the monkeys away from the beach!

Despite the monkeys, the beach was actually beautiful and we were able to spend some time swimming in the water.

The water was stunning with its clarity.

Eventually it was time to escape the monkeys and head back to our boat for some more snorkeling adventures. The next stop was one of the best, which surprised me as it was one of the deepest!

The water wasn’t the clearest around this location, but the reefs were lovely and full of schools of fish.

I will admit though – the reefs around Koh Lipe were not as good as the Great Barrier Reef!

Our next stop was an island beach made up of black stones. Again, we were provided with no information from our driver and spent our time wandering ashore.

The stones were quite hot from the afternoon sun, making a sauna experience of sorts when one lay down on them.

The final stop of our tour was a bit strange. I have no photos, but the boat stopped in the middle of the ocean between several islands near some rope. We all hesitantly jumped into the water, to find it dark, cold and very very deep. Apparently there was a giant reef below, but given we had no information it felt strange and a bit nerve wracking in the deep water.

The tour concluded later afternoon, leaving us with enough time for a quick shower before heading down to the main beach to watch the light fade. We stayed near Pattaya Beach, whilst there is also a Sunset and Sunrise Beach on the island. Pattaya was by far the busiest, and perhaps the most scenic with the colourful longboats lining the shore.

Everything we needed on Koh Lipe was located on Walking Street, which covered the width of the island and took about five minutes to walk along!

Both Walking Street and Pattaya Beach featured bars, however we found the best experience to be sitting in the sand with (cheaper) beers from the minimarts. After it went dark the beach lit up with lights and some local kids attempting fire twirling. Thankfully no one was hurt…

We had two nights on Koh Lipe, and both mornings we got up early to run along Pattaya Beach. This was the best time of day to take in the sights before the beach was inundated with other holidayers.

Overall, Koh Lipe was a beautiful place for a brief stay. Chris and I probably couldn’t have stayed there any longer than we did – the island felt confined with its small size and we would have felt trapped pretty quickly. It was great to do the snorkel tour and get outside, and the views were stunning. Koh Lipe also didn’t feel like Thailand – it felt like a tourist resort catering for the masses. If you want beautiful beaches, this is the place. But if you want to feel like you are on an island with the locals, our next stop of Koh Lanta felt a bit more real.

– Reanna

ISLAND HOPPING PT. 1 // Koh Lipe, Thailand

Arriving in Thailand was a bit of strange experience. We took a ferry from Langkawi in Malaysia, to the small island of Koh Lipe in the Tarutoa National Park, and it hardly felt like a crossing between two countries. Being only 2km long, the island had a pretty basic immigration facility – we sat on plastic chairs next to the beach waiting to reclaim our passports (called by country) and spending about 2 minutes in line for our stamp.

Being only a (very) small island, our initial impressions of Koh Lipe we overwhelmed by the tourism. The island is basically one big beach, with some restaurants and bars catering for everything required. Being tourists ourselves, we decided to chill out and take in the beautiful views along the beach and booked ourselves on to a snorkeling tour for the next day.

From what we could tell there were two main tour options offered in town for snorkeling Koh Lipe and the surrounding islands of Tarutao National Park. Option A, taking you to five closer islands, and Option B, taking you to six further away islands. We opted for Option B (700 baht). Both options included snorkel and fin hire, along with lunch, water and fruit.

The next morning we joined our fellow snorkel tourists on the beach at 9am. After being sorted with fins and snorkels, we were allocated a guide and long boat for the day. There ended up being eight of us on one boat, which was a comfortable amount. Several other boats also followed the same route.

After about 45 minutes of riding on our boat across the water, we slowed down to look at a couple of islands, before eventually pulling over to an area our guide indicated was for snorkeling. Floating markers and the boats marked the area we should swim with in, so with little more instruction we jumped in!

Initially I was a bit nervous with the deeper water and working out how to use my snorkel. Having only done it once before, I was no expert!

Soon I got into the swing of things, and Chris and I swam around the warm waters looking at the reefs below. There were plenty of small fish, and I tried my hand at using the gopro under water. Still a work in progress…

One of the sticking points of our tour was the lack of guidance from our boat driver. We had no time limits to get back to the boat, so Chris and I often found ourselves the last back with our other passengers waiting for us. It was a bit odd and could have been better communicated, but otherwise the tour was great!

The next island had some bigger reefs and a beach we could swim up to.

We were getting the hang of things by now and spent far longer than our tour colleagues swimming around.

Underwater selfies? Still working this thing out…

The next stop unfortunately did not include snorkeling, but was just a small island with a picturesque beach. Our driver did give us a time limit here – 10 minutes – apparently enough time for everyone to get a beach photo and move on.

Enjoying our brief time on land, we followed a small trail upwards to get some views back towards Koh Lipe – the tiny island on the horizon to the right below!

Alright, I got a lame beach photo too…

As per usual I took too many photos of this day on the reef, so I will be back with more shortly!

– Reanna

SCOOTIN’ // Langkawi, Malaysia

After our epic hike up Gunung Machinchang, we had little energy for much else on Langkawi. Which as it turns out, is perfectly okay as the island is quite small but full of beautiful beaches and jungle.

Langkawi was very accessible by scooter. However, having only ridden one once before (on an even quieter island… in the middle of Ramadan…), I was very hesitant about hiring one to explore the island and get to our hike. Chris and I discussed it on our way to breakfast and I put aside my anxieties and we hired one. For a mere 35 ringet (under $12 AUD) we had our steed, and were waved off from our very dodgy hire store. After a very slow start, Chris (who was driving) got into the swing of things and we were on our way! I have to say, being on the back is far worse than driving!

Following our hike, we decided to make the most of having a scooter and explored more of the Northern end of the island.

We dropped into a waterfall, which was more of wet rock given it was the dry season. It was still worth the stop though!

There was little else to see along the road we had taken, but most of the enjoyment came from riding the scooter along the quite coastal road whilst being surrounded by jungle. With little traffic on the road we were able to gain a bit more confidence.

In the evening, we wandered down to the main townbeach. If you ignored all the jetskis flying around it was very beautiful, with islands in the distance.

Our breakfast the next day was mediocre but provided some stellar views of the beach and the main town.

We had booked a transfer to Koh Lipe, Thailand in the morning, so we only had a couple of hours to explore in the morning. We wandered up to the ‘posh’ beach, which was quieter and lined with resorts. Oh, and it had better coffee!

Our transfer to Koh Lipe was via ferry, with the terminal unexpectedly providing views of the ridge of Gunung Machinchang we had hiked the day before! It is the ridgeline to the left below.

And that brings me to the end of our tour of the Malaysian Peninsula. It was a short but wonderful time in a beautiful but varied country. I would love to come back and explore the jungle and wild mountains of Malaysian Borneo one day!

– Reanna

GUNUNG MACHINCHANG // Langkawi, Malaysia

Days have somehow slipped in to weeks and we are hitting the three week mark on our adventure through South East Asia. We are having the time of our lives, though we are both starting to get a bit weary from the nonstop travel – though the overnight train we took last night probably contributed to it!

These photos are from our last stop in Malaysia, on Palau Langkawi. This island is basically on the Thailand border, though is easily reached via ferry from Georgetown. We arrived in the late afternoon, and had enough time to walk to the main beach and have a mediocre dinner. Langkawi felt like it was purely catered for tourists, with the international restaurants and jetskis zooming around the beach. Though we couldn’t deny it was beautiful!

The only thing we had planned was a hike up Gunung Machinchang, a ridge line that can be seen from the main beach. Typically most visitors will enjoy this peak via the cable car, but we rented a scooter (more on that later!) and drove to the start of the short but painful hike to the peak.

The track started at Seven Wells Waterfalls, a short drive from the main beach. The track was well signed and took us through the jungle. Despite only being 3km to the peak, the hike up took over 1.5 hours and was honestly one of the hardest we have every done. I didn’t get many photos of the journey, but it was essentially pulling ourselves up a vertical hill by holding on to ropes, climbing over rocks, and trying not to fall backwards! The humidity didn’t help either.

But once we got to the peak, it was all worth it!

A couple of local hikers were just leaving the peak when we arrived, so we ended up having the 360 degree view all to ourselves.

The tallest peak behind me in the photo below is where the cable car comes up to – it felt like we were even higher than it!

Bilbo shared our feelings about the hike we just endured…

The hike down took about an hour, due to the technical rock scrambling required. Eventually we emerged at the pools of the top of the Seven Wells Waterfall, which just so happen to be the perfect swimming holes.

We changed and had a quick dip to cool off in the water. The pools were wonderful, and featured a few natural water slides.

A fence marks off the edge of the pools as the water spills off below into a waterfall.

After a quick lunch stop we decided we may as well check out the waterfall as well, but not before encountering some local monkeys.

The waterfall was more of a trickle, given it is the dry season. I can only imagine what it would be like in the rainy season here!

After taking in the views of the waterfall it was back on our scooter for some more exploration of the islands.

Hiking is probably not what most people come to Langkawi for, but I cannot recommend this hike enough! It was very tough, but the sense of achievement we felt at the top was second to none – not to mention the views.

– Reanna