DAY 15 – Ferry to Krabi, Taxi to Thalane Pier, “Ferry” to Koh Yao Yai

After checking out and having a final breakfast on the terrace overlooking the sea, we were helped with our bags down to the beach, where we waited for a longtail boat to pick us up. Our bags were hoisted and we clambered aboard (there’s little dignity in a 15 stone man getting into a bobbing boat) and we were taken out to sea. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and as the engines were cut and we sat floating listlessly on the ocean, I wondered whether this was what it might feel like to be the survivors of a shipwreck. There was some serious heat beaming down on us, and we were starting to get into sunburn territory before the ferry appeared on the horizon. Along with several other longtails, we made a beeline for the ferry and moored up alongside it just as we had done when we’d arrived. The transfer of bags was made and we climbed the steps onto the ship. Being below deck out of the glare of the sun was a welcome relief after half an hour with no cover.

It took an hour to get into Krabi. We came in up the mouth of an estuary lined with mangrove forests and the ramshackle huts of fishermen. Longtails and half-sunken trawlers bobbed around in the bay, and fish jumped out of the water and skimmed across the surface.  There was the usual scramble to get off the boat – a deck full of backpackers locating their backpacks before struggling to hop down the gangway onto the dock. I’ve been trying to learn a few new Thai words on this trip, and my new favourite is “Laa Gon Kap” – goodbye. I’m not quite sure on the pronunciation, but I tried it out all the same on one of the crew members that helped me off the boat. He smiled at me before raising an eyebrow at his mate as if to say “Did he just call me a banana?”

We’d already pre-booked a taxi to take us to Thalane pier – a 30km trip by road. When we walked out of the ferry port we were met by a young lad holding up a sign that said “Hooie”. After confirming that he meant us, Hooie and I got in his taxi. We sped through the suburbs of Krabi and followed roads that were overshadowed by giant limestone cliffs on either side. These cliffs are everywhere on the Andaman coast – they call them “karst” and they were formed from coral reefs millions of years ago that were pushed up out of the ground by the shifting of the Earth’s plates. After half an hour or so the road came out of the jungle and clung to the coastline, giving us spectacular views over the bay.

We arrived at Thalane pier and bought our tickets for the ferry, which was due in an hour. Thalane is a pretty beautiful place to kill some time in, so we were happy just to sit down by the water and chill for a while. It was after lunchtime and we were both a bit hungry, so we popped out the Pringles. Within seconds, monkeys appeared at the end of the jetty and made their way towards us – it’s almost as if they heard us popping the tube open and thought “MMM PRINGLES!” Hollie was in possession of the tube at the time, and became panicked by the proximity of a particularly sly-looking primate. As it moved towards her she threw a Pringle to distract it. It took the Pringle and attempted to crunch on it, struggling with the shape – for a brief moment it looked as if it may choke on the crisp, before managing to crunch it down. The monkey looked at Hollie as if to say “You tryna’ kill me woman?” Before moving on to a couple sat further up the dock from us who were rustling around in their own crisps. For the record, the other couple were eating Lays (the foreign brand name for Walkers) – which answers the age old question, what’s a monkey’s favourite brand of crisps?

And don’t come back!

The vista from Thalane pier

At 1pm we boarded the ferry, which was more A+E than P&O. We sat on wooden boards that ran the width of the boat inside a dingy cabin. A boat of similar proportions left just before us and as it chugged into the distance the exhaust fumes behind it became so dense and black that we wondered whether it might have caught fire.

After this reassuring start, the journey out to Koh Yao Yai was spectacular. We weaved our way through huge kast rock formations that rose a hundred metres out of the sea, passing within metres of some of them. Many of these islands are uninhabited by humans, and all kinds of animal life must cling to the jungled slopes.

We arrived at Koh Yao Yai in about forty minutes and took a songtheaw for 600 baht – it sounds comparatively steep but Yao Yai is a bigger island than Koh Muk and our accommodation was on the far side. We drove along the pier, which was surrounded by mud flats at low tide, before climbing into the jungle in the middle of the island. We were followed for a while by three kids on a scooter who appeared to have a combined age of twelve, before they revved past us and disappeared round a bend. The journey was rocky – at one point a stretch of the road had been taken up and we braced ourselves in the back of the songtheaw as it bounced it’s way through a construction site, before we eventually arrived at Activities Resort.

Activities Resort is an eccentric kind of place. The owner was a lovely bloke, greeting us with a beaming smile, before informing us that the restaurant was closed. He showed us to our room – a stilted wooden bungalow which was all very rustic and charming, until Hollie discovered that the bathroom had no roof. I’m not sure if I’ve gone into this before, but Hollie has quite a serious phobia of bugs. Being in the middle of the jungle, the bathrom contained more bugs than you’d expect to see in your average hotel room. We were alerted to the presence of the bugs when our host walked through to the bathroom and told us “Wait a minute” before we heard him slap something on the wall with a towel. After he’d left us to it, a brief honeymoon conference was called, where both marital parties sat and discussed our options. Hollie made it clear to me in diplomatic language that the only option was for us to move to a room with a covered bathroom, or get the hell out of there. To be fair to my wife, she has impressed this holiday with her unusually high tolerance level for creepie crawlies, and I have to say I didn’t fancy a midnight trip to the lav wondering what unspeakable creatures were watching me from the walls.

Our host was completely understanding when I explained, and took me on a tour of the other available accommodation. The first bungalow he showed me had two single beds, one of which had a cat shit on it. He apologised for this and showed me another option, which mercifully contained no cat shit and had a rudimentary bathroom roof, which I accepted.
After moving our stuff in and securing any potential bug entrances with mosquito repellant, we walked down the road and found a restaurant for tea. I had chicken with green papaya, and Hollie and her newfound cat companion had deep fried chicken cakes.

We returned to the bungalow and battoned down the hatches before crawling under the mosquito net to sleep – which with the noises of creatures tip-toing over the flimsy roof, was quite a challenge.

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DAY 14 – Koh Jum

Things were still a bit dicey for Hollie in the morning, so I ventured out on my quest to find the dive shop again. I walked the same route, passing the two blokes sat on a porch drinking, past a long stretch of beach and a meticulously planted forest of rubber trees. I came on the same empty garage as before, only this time there was a sign outside saying “Koh Jum Diving – out now, back this afternoon”. They didn’t strike me as a particularly professional outfit, so I thought I might give it a miss and find a dive shop on one of the bigger islands.

The heat was intense, but I thought that I’d have a wander into Ban Koh Jum town and pick up some Pringles for Hollie. In my opinion, the Original flavour Pringle is the best fodder for testing the water after having a dicky tummy – maybe there’s a marketing idea for them there. I wasn’t much further along the road when a bloke on a moped pulled over. “Hey hey hey! Where you going?!” We were on a straight road with only one remaining destination at the end of it, but I told him anyway that I was going into town. “Get on back, I give you a ride!” He beckoned me over whilst rebalancing a bag of freshly caught fish on his handlebars. Now, if in England a strange man offered me a ride on the back of his motorbike, I’d assume he was a serial killer. This was a tiny island off the coast of Thailand though, and I decided that the probability of there being a serial killer within a population of 4000 people was unlikely – there might be a one-off, accidentally ran his mate over with a longtail boat kind of killer, but nothing more sinister than that. I got on the back of the bike.

On that short trip into the town I gained an appreciation for Hollie’s plight as the perpetual passenger on our scooter journeys. Every bump in the road causes you to slide slightly back on the bike, meaning that you either have to “hop” yourself back into position, or pull yourself forward by grabbing the driver in the midriff. Although I was confident at this point that my driver was not a serial killer, I didn’t really want to grab his paunch, incase he saw this as some kind of advance. Fortunately the journey didn’t last very long before he pulled over between some houses in the town. I got my wallet out and offered him 20 baht for his troubles, but he smiled and shook his head. He pointed to one of the buildings and said “My name is Pha Pha Din. This is my restaurant. Good seafood here – come see me!” Then he walked in under the corrugated roof and sat next to his wife. She was a big lady with a sharp tongue – she appeared to be giving him a dressing down, possibly for picking up random farang on the back of his bike.

I bought some Pringles and went for a wander round the town – a really pretty, traditional place full of old wooden houses.

I knew that I’d have to walk back past Pha Pha Din’s place in order to get back, and I’d have felt bad passing it by without giving them some custom, so I stopped in for a Chang. Pha Pha Din greeted me like an old friend, and although I wasn’t hungry his Mrs persuaded me into having a prawn curry – the threat of her disapproval was more frightening than the indigestion. Somehow I found some room, and I was glad I did. It was one of the best curries I’ve had in Thailand – a yellow sauce with onion and green beans and prawns as big as dumplings swimming in it.

When I was done, Pha Pha Din offered to take me back to Jungle Hill for 50 baht, which I accepted. I hopped in his sidecar and tried to ignore the murderous-looking implement which was lying on the floor.

After tipping Pha Pha Din for his troubles I walked back up the hill to chill on the balcony for a bit. The hammock had now been fixed, so Hollie swayed around in it for a couple of hours eating Pringles, before declaring herself fit enough to venture out for tea! We went to a place called Hong Yog restaurant, owned by Rosa – I know this because on the front of the menu it said “Welcome to Hong Yog restaurant, Your host, chef and occasional entertainer Rosa.” it was certainly an interesting set-up. When we arrived Rosa and her family were watching a Thai soap on telly. When we’d placed our food order she walked over to the other side of the room, where a kitchen had been set up, and started preparing it with one beady eye on the soap. As the aromas in the room got steadily more delicious we watched lizards climb the walls whilst Rosa danced around her kitchen. In ten minutes she’d whipped up a massaman for me and a spaghetti carbonara for Hollie – two totally different cuisines, cooked to perfection in the time that it’d take me to chop the onions. This is the magic of Thai food – there must be 30 million chefs in the country operating in roadside cafes, resorts and restaurants. Everywhere you go there will be slight twists on the same dish depending on the preference of the cook and the ingredients that are in stock, but it’s almost always incredible, and you’re barely ever waiting longer than fifteen minutes. The massaman was excellent, and the carbonara was the best we’ve ever had – I say “we” because I finished the last half of Hollie’s as well. As I shovelled the spaghetti into my gob I saw Rosa hold her belly and laugh like Santa Claus. When we came to pay the bill, I joked with her that Hollie had eaten all of her food – she pointed at Hollie then at me and said “She is skinny because the food goes in your belly!” A perceptive lady, to go along with her cooking and entertaining skills.

We went back to the bungalow to kip. Tomorrow we would be heading to Koh Yao Yai. We weren’t able to spend the time that we’d have liked exploring Koh Jum, but it was good to have Hollie back on form. From what I’ve seen, Koh Jum is a beautiful island full of lovely people and I’d recommend it to anyone who has the luxury of exploring these shores.

DAY 13 – Koh Jum

Today Hollie had Delhi belly and was incapacitated, whilst I broke a hammock, got caught in a rain storm and found out what “Hell’s Itch” is.

We were looking forward to a nice day on the beach, drinking Chang and reading. When the urge took us we’d have a paddle in the sea – maybe go kayaking, or rent a scooter and go for a ride. Shortly after breakfast however, Hollie became unwell and spent most of the rest of the day in the room. To cheer her up, I coaxed a kitten that was hanging around outside the bungalow in for Hollie to pet. This was a success, and she was able to briefly forget about her desperate plight by playing with it on the porch.

For the next part of the story to work properly, I am going to refer back to the events of the previous evening, when Hollie had enjoyed some time rocking gently back and forth in the hammock which was slung from the roof beams of our bungalow. As she fell to sleep in it, snoring delicately, it put me in mind of one of her favourite Disney characters…

I’d like to point out that Hollie approved of this comparison…

Later after she’d woken from her slumber, we facetimed Hollie’s family. We mentioned the hammock and I stated that I feared that it wouldn’t withstand the weight of my ample frame. Hollie’s Mum disagreed. “You’re always putting yourself down Tom!” she said.

Returning to the present, the hammock was unoccupied as Hollie was sat in the doorway, dangling the lace of one of my shoes in the cat’s mouth. With Hollie’s Mum’s words of consolation ringing in my ears, I thought to myself “You are always putting yourself down Tommy. If you want to lie in the hammock, you lie in the hammock.” I clambered in, and for ten minutes it was bliss. Hollie continued to play with the cat as I closed my eyes and swayed in the gentle breeze. I was roused from my snooze by a loud creaking. I sat up and looked at Hollie, who’s face was etched in terror – the cat had curled up and fallen asleep directly below the hammock. As I attempted to clamber out like a portly passenger tossing himself overboard from the Titanic, the rope snapped, the cat shat itself and ran into the bushes, and I landed on my arse.

Seconds before disaster.  Things could have been so much worse…

Arse intact but pride in tatters, I decided to go for a walk to locate Koh Jum diving centre. I’ve been planning to do some scuba diving whilst we’re on this trip, and I thought that Koh Jum would be a nice place to do it, far from the crowds of Phi Phi and Phuket. I set out along the road in blazing heat, stopping regularly in the shadey spots to take on water. At one point on the journey two Thai blokes who were pissed out of their faces at two in the afternoon beckoned over to me to join them on their porch. I sat down with them for a minute whilst they chuckled to themselves and nodded at me. The conversation wasn’t stimulating – in fact, they didn’t say anything, so after thirty seconds of awkward smilling and nodding, I stood up and said “Water?” and they pointed me to a shop across the road. Following my google maps, I arrived at the place where it claimed that the dive shop was, to find an empty garage. Unperturbed, I walked round that area for half an hour looking for the dive shop with no success. I was walking through a complex of swanky holiday homes when I spotted a big monitor lizard and stopped to film it.

As I took a picture I noticed a spot of rain fall on the screen. “Best get back before I get wet” I thought. Fifteen seconds later, I looked like I’d been thrown in the sea. There was no point in running as I was already sodden, so I abandoned my quest for the diving centre and squelched back up the road to the bungalow, holding my phone under my shirt to prevent it from getting soaked.

A diagram to demonstrate where I looked for the diving centre – the red cross marks where I eventually discovered that it was actually located.

Upon my return to the bungalow, I took advantage of a gap in Hollie’s use of the bathroom to have a shower. After completing my ablutions, I got out and dried my back with a towel. It was then that the burning, itching sensation started on my back. You’ll think I’m moaning (and I am), but I’ve never known anything like it. It wasn’t especially painful, but the itches were that bad that I couldn’t sit still – I had to run round the room, slapping my back with my hands and scraping myself against the wall like a bear. Hollie – herself an invalid for the day, applied aloe vera and aftersun, which worked for about thirty seconds before making it worse. I googled my symptoms to ensure that this wasn’t the first stage of some kind of apocalyptic plague virus, and confirmed that it was an irritation caused by the sunburn that I’d sustained the day before last. It was described on the internet as “Hell’s Itch”, which I think is a fairly accurate description – it felt like the Devil was tickling me with a yardbrush smeared with chilli peppers.

It’s safe to say that today won’t go down as one of the better days. I share my misfortunes with you so you can have a good chuckle at my expense, but my plight was nothing to that of Hollie’s – it’s torture being in one of the most beautiful places that you’ve ever been and being too ill to leave the hotel room.

DAY 12 – Ferry from Koh Lanta to Koh Jum

After a slow start, we found things to like about Koh Lanta. In places it’s as stunning and wild as any of the other islands in this part of the Andaman sea, and aside from the odd tuk tuk hustler, the people are warm and friendly – although in our experience that comes as a given throughout Thailand. The problem I have with it is the same problem that I think that I’ll have with Koh Phi Phi when we visit later in the trip – the rapid overdevelopment. Once an island gets “discovered” more people come and more businesses set up to cater for them. The standards slip as the money rolls in, and the place gets cheaper and nastier. That said, it’s hard to find the balance between big and small. The smaller islands are generally more peaceful, but there’s less going on. You’re often stuck for choice of restaurants and partying opportunities, and there are often no supermarkets, ATMs, or even doctors.

We continued on our quest for the island with the perfect balance of the above. We were picked up and taken to Ban Saladan pier, where we’d caught the boat to Koh Rok the day before. We picked up the Koh Phi Phi – Krabi ferry, opting to sit below deck to avoid the unforgiving glare of the sun. It was a good journey. I used to think that the train was my favourite way to travel, but after this trip I’ve come to believe that cruising through the Andaman with a gentle breeze blowing through the window and islands all around us is the bees knees.

Whilst we were pootling along on the high seas, one of the crew members swung himself into the seat next to us and tried to sell us ferry tickets. “Where you go next?” he said. We explained that we thought we would go to Koh Yao Yai. He made some calculations before saying “I give you the best price. 2400 baht”. This is just over fifty quid, and equated to more than we’d paid for any journey so far. We were aware that we’d have to get a taxi from Krabi to another pier for this stage of our journey, but fifty quid seemed comparatively very steep. We dismissed his offer, but he countered with “Koh Jum is small island – you need to get a ticket before you get off the boat”. Having been witness to (and sometimes victim of) multiple scams in the past, his approach was ringing alarm bells. It sounded dodgy, but the bloke was like a dog with a bone. He kept going away and coming back, before trying to explain what he’d already told us. In the end we bought two open tickets to Krabi to shut him up. Later on Koh Jum, we would research the travel options for Koh Yao Yai and it would turn out that although his sales technique was dreadful, his price estimation wasn’t far off the mark. I felt slightly bad for having written the bloke off as a scam merchant, but many in our position would have done the same. He may well have had a heart of gold, but unfortunately for him he also had the face of a weasel.

Koh Jum doesn’t have a pier capable of taking on a boat as big as the Krabi-Phi Phi ferry, so a more creative approach has to be taken. When we arrived off the coast of Koh Jum, a flotilla of longtail boats were launched from the beach. As they sped towards our ferry, I wondered aloud to Hollie whether we were about to be boarded by pirates.

One by one, they moored up alongside our ferry. We went up to the top deck and found ourselves in a crush of people getting on and off various boats. The weasel from the previous paragraph asked us where we were staying. We told him Jungle Hill bungalows, and he then gestured to two barefooted longtail boatsmen, who picked up our backpacks and threw them to some other blokes, who again threw them to some other blokes, who then plonked them unceremoniously into the bottom of the longtail boat which was furthest away from us. We climbed down from the ferry into the first longtail, before hopping the gap on to the next one. The transaction complete, we unmoored from the other boats that were bobbing around and sailed off to the beach.

The boat was run gently aground on the beach and we waded up through lapping waves. The two boatsmen took our backpacks and gestured for us to follow them. I’m not usually keen on this kind of subservience and i quickened my pace to try and take my bag back off him, but just as I’d caught up with him he began climbing a long flight of steep stairs, and I thought “You go ahead, son”.

Within ten minutes we were sat on the balcony of a large stilted hut built onto the side of the hill, eating breakfast and admiring the view of the ocean and Koh Phi Phi beyond. The Jungle Hill bungalows site is a labyrinth of stilted houses, wooden walkways and bamboo steps built around tall tropical trees. For all those sci-fi geeks out there, it put me in mind of the houses that the Ewoks live in in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. After checking in and having breakfast we were shown to our accommodation – a basic little bungalow on top of the hill.

After chillaxing in the room for a bit, we hired a moped for 250 baht. Hollie got on the back, but had to immediately get off again whilst I negotiated the mud track that lead down to the main road. The frequent rainstorms had turned it into a Motocross track, and I had to keep revving the engine whilst keeping both feet on the ground, allowing it to drag me along through the mud.

Once we were motoring, we followed the road past a long stretch of beach, through an avenue of rubber trees, all the way down to a pretty little fishing town called Ban Koh Jum. Every house was open to the street, and the various residents called out in chirpy greeting to us as they passed the hottest part of the day on their porches. Following this we went the other way back past Jungle Hill. Whilst on this route a dog ran out from one of the houses without warning and it nearly ended up under the front wheel. We followed the road as far north as we could, but without warning the concrete ended and it became a rocky deathtrap. We turned back and visited Ban Ko Pu – another lovely little town where it appears the main source of income is catching fish and leaving them all to dry in the sun to make a kind of snack which is popular all over Thailand. As readers will be aware, I am something of a culinary adventurer, but I wouldn’t touch dried fish with a bargepole. I mean no disrespect to the people who obviously feel that this is a tasty snack, but for me the smell alone is enough to make me heave.

Whilst Thailand is 95% Buddhist, most of the islands off the Andaman coast are Muslim – I think this is because a lot of the residents are of Malaysian ancestry. Each town we passed had a tiny Mosque and many of the women here wear hijabs. The food as well, is subtly different to mainland Thailand. Being on an island seafood is a speciality as you’d expect, but there also seems to be a greater emphasis on using dried spices in the curries here. As I’ve mentioned before, one of Hollie and I’s all-time faves is massaman curry, which is heavy on the cinnamon and doesn’t rely so heavily on the kaffir lime that gives a lot of Thai dishes such as green curry their distinctive flavour. Massaman is apparently an old word which means “Muslim”, so I guess it makes sense that the menu reflects the dominant culture of the island.

We went back along the main road towards Jungle Hill. At the same point as before, the exact same black dog came running out at us and was almost crushed under the front wheel. I don’t think it was a stray, which begs the question, what are the owners teaching it? Maybe they’ve already been run over in previous incidents and the dog is all that remains of the household.
We returned to the balcony restaurant at Jungle Hill. I had laab chicken – an extreeemely firey dish of minced chicken and red chillis, which made my mouth tingle for about ten minutes after finishing. Hollie had a chicken burger as she was feeling slightly dodgy – it wasn’t their speciality and left her feeling even more dodgy. After this we retreated to the room to kip.