The Thai Islands, As Good As They Say
As one hailing from Turkey, I have always felt a little spoiled in terms of summer/sea vacations. Turkey is a peninsula and enjoys quite generous shares both on the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. So when it comes to summer vacations, I usually chose to stay in Turkey and traveled either to the Aegean or the Mediterranean region. However, as part of an extended trip to Asia, it felt like it would be a good idea to make a quick stop in Thailand after a hiking heavy trip to Nepal and have a relaxing week in one of the countries highly praised islands.
So after an exciting and emotionally intense week in Nepal, I traveled to the eastern Thai islands – to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan – and I can easily say that they are worthy of all the hype.
Quick stop in Bangkok
Like many other island-goers, I first flew into Bangkok and spent around 1,5 days there. Bangkok is an exciting city which combines modernity with that chaotic feeling that you experience in number of other Asian cities as well. If you are fond of nice hotels like me, Bangkok has a variety of upper class hotels with rates considerably more reasonable than anywhere else in the world. So if you are planing a trip to Thai islands, I would recommend that you do not entirely skip Bangkok and at least give it a day to see if it appeals to you. People either love or hate Bangkok and I belong to the loving crew. I am not very much of a city person but if it will be a city – let it be a real one, dynamic, chaotic but at the same time traditional (this was also part of my love letter to Beijing, China).
Koh Phangan and Koh Samui Islands, take your pick
Picking which island to go in Thailand would be a difficult task if it was not for the weather conditions. The tropical weather is what makes Thai islands beautiful but it is also what makes it vulnerable to the monsoon rains.
I went to Thailand in June so the choice was quite easy for me – substantially less chance of rain on the eastern islands whereas the western ones face the rainy season starting from May until October. Thailand is a very easy place to travel within and both Thai and Bangkok Airways offer very reasonable ticket prices for the islands. I initially flew to Koh Samui where I only spent one night.
I had an open itinerary and Koh Samui felt more like a town to me rather than a secluded island and it was not what I was after. So I decided to move on to the next island – the beautiful Koh Phangan. You can either use the speed boat service of your Koh Phangan hotel (many offer such service and it is not as expensive as it sounds) or take the regular ferry which takes around 30 minutes. On my way to Koh Phangan, I used my hotels service but opted for the ferry option for the return trip and I am glad that I did as I got to experience amazingly beautiful rough see sceneries (photos at the end of this post).
Bottle Beach, a scenery out of the movies
Koh Phangan is famous for its moon parties but I was not into that and it was not the season in anyways. I picked one of the hotels (Buri Rasa that I wrote about here) located on the Northern part of the island at Thong Nai Pan for a very good rate for the service you get (USD 70 per night including amazing breakfast and a huge room with its own veranda).
I know Thailand is famous for its appeal to the shoestring travelers and also for its much cheaper rates. I can’t talk about the experience first hand but I have always heard good things about cabin type of accommodation as well (ranging from USD 10 per night – USD 40). So it is possible to travel to Thailand and still have a decent quality accommodation for even cheaper prices than what I paid. Like many of the hotels on the islands, Buri Rasa is right on the beach and has its own beach restaurant. There are two or three hotels sharing the same cove but no one disturbed each other, we all shared the same beach and the beach time was always quite and relaxing (again unlike some beaches in Turkey which feels like a night club starting at 10 am in the morning).
Buri Rasa is on a beach embraced by a tranquil cove of Thong Nai Pan but if you want something even more tranquil, you can rent a long tail boat and take a nice trip to the Bottle Beach which feels (with its wooden cabins and hippy aura) more like the island from the movie the beach (which was actually filmed in Koh Phi Phi – one of the Western Islands). I spent a day at the Bottle Beach and it was almost like I had the entire beach to myself. For the food, your restaurant options are not limited to the offerings of your hotel and I found this very nice and casual restaurant sitting on the other end Thong Noi Pan where they serve, among other things, amazing tom yom soup (my Thai favourite). I ended up going to Baantapannoi Restaurant at least three times during my five days stay.
Thailand: worth the airfare?
Back to Turkish beaches, while I am still a big fan of Kas, I have to say that the beach experience on a tropical island is something else, which can get quite addictive and it is not as expensive as you may think. The service quality and the prices in Thailand will definitely make up for the airfare and you will most probably still spend less than what you would be spending in one week at one of the famous beaches of Turkey. As for the rain – I have not experienced a single drop of rain during my five days on the islands except during the ferry ride back to Koh Samui (which was amazingly beautiful!).