Our Island Hopping base
We ended our tour of Thailand with a beach stay, having experienced the sights of Bangkok and the elephants of Kho Soak. Planning this trip took some time deciding between Krabi, Ko Lanta and Phuket. Ultimately it was price and accessibility of island hopping trips to the Phi Phi islands, Phang Nga Bay and Krabi from Phuket which was the main decider. We didn’t want nightlife (as we did that in Bangkok) we wanted a quiet beach, time to chill out and good service in a luxury hotel, so we booked The Surin after reading about it in The Telegraph’s travel section.
Smiles all round
On arrival we anticipated the usual palaver of checking in, but we have to say this wasn’t, it has to be the best welcome and service we’ve ever had. We were immediately sat down and offered a refreshing drink, which was really welcome after our long journey. Thai people are known for their smiles and gosh it’s true. The staff were happy and attentive giving us a comprehensive rundown of the hotel and all the facilities on offer. Before we knew it we were whisked off on a golf buggy with our luggage to our room. We realised we had made a good choice of hotel and were two very happy boys!
The Surin was amazing. A 5 star luxury hideaway with the best asset – a private beach, The Pansea Beach, which it shared with just one other hotel. The beach was immaculate, perfect golden sand with turquoise water, but the Andaman Sea was weird though. Occasionally we kept getting the sensation of being bitten or stung in the water. We were told they were bites from tiny sea mites, which are common in Phuket, after a while we got used to it and its not a problem. At the end of the beach there was also a beach bar shack run by locals with waitress service, we used it during the day instead of the hotel’s more expensive beach bar. We also took advantage of a reasonably price massages on the beach by some local Thai ladies, absolute bliss!
Our room was a cottage style bungalow set high up in the tropical hillside. The accommodation is stunning as they are positioned amongst the lush tropical landscape, making it feel very serene. However their position on the steep incline of the hill means it’s quite a workout getting there via the high up walkways. But don’t fear you can call concierge and they will send a golf buggy, we made use of this most nights after a number of cocktails! Our room was fabulous, really tasteful done shaker style. It had a huge bathroom with a separate shower and toilet and great toiletries topped up daily in nice crockery pots. Other plus points: quiet AC, an overhead fan and turn down service. Garth had read the hotel remained intact after the tragic tsunami of 2004 presumably down to how these bungalows built high up, so in some ways that was reassuring.
Dinners on the beach
Evenings were just perfect watching the sunset each night with delicious cocktails. We took advantage most nights of dinner on the beach, how often do you get to do that?! It was really romantic too.
One dramatic pool
Garth took the photo above and it looked exactly like the one they had on their glossy magazine back in the room!
We also loved the Surin’s dramatic black tiled pool, really distinctive. The food! wow 10/10 Everywhere we went in Thailand the food has been spot on and beyond our expectations, and again the Surin didn’t disappoint. Breakfast had everything you could think of or want, including our favourite at hotels – an egg station, where you can order your eggs how you like them.
We explored the immediate area outside the hotel, where the main road is dotted with small shops leads to a small promenade right by the sea. The promenade had various small shops, nice upscale bars and restaurants, as well as some really cheap street food and smaller restaurants overlooking the sea. We liked the latter, and despite being basic the Thai food was amazing, especially the Papaya Salad! And if you fancied it, you could even get a made to measure suit here, there were a couple of tailors offering that, tempting but we didn’t.
In the evenings we came here for some low key nightlife, ambient music and chilled vibes, just how we like it. We didn’t bother with Phuket’s infamous nightlife of Patong, even though it was only about 30 minutes away, we’ll save that for another trip!
Beautiful Ko Phi Phi Islands & Phang Nga Bay
Before we went Garth did loads of research on the net for the best reviews and companies for day trips to the islands of Ko Phi Phi and Phang Nga Bay. Starting with Phi Phi there’s 6 islands, we wanted to see 2 of them. The islands are incredibly popular so mass tourism goes hand in hand, resulting in a ridiculous amount of boats and people! Friends and other travel bloggers had warned us about this. So after much Googling we chose Simba Sea Trips, and booked and paid in advance for 2 separate trips. They are not the cheapest, you can hire long tail boats at a fraction of the cost. We felt afterwards Simba were worth it for their attention to detail and overall quality. We took their Sunrise Phi Phi Tour and so glad we did! They really do a great job of ‘avoiding swarms of tourists’ as they put it by leaving at strategic times and putting together an itinerary to arrive at places when they are quiet. This meant a taxi picked us up from our hotel very early and took us to Royal Phuket Marina where we boarded their speedboat early at 6am after a safety briefing by our excellent and fun guide Harry.
Ko Phi Phi Leh – Maya Beach
Getting there was quite an experience setting off in the dark, then witnessing the sunrise over the horizon, really beautiful. After some breakfast we sat upfront with other passengers and rode the waves at high speed! Brilliant like being on a rollercoaster, catching your breath whilst getting drenched occasionally from the boat smashing through the waves, it was quite a ride! Garth being obsessed with photo opportunities was getting a battering catching the sunrise, but so was his camera! Before we knew it, one massive wave had drenched it! It appeared our Canon wasn’t that waterproof and sadly died at this point. Disaster! or was it? Luckily Phil had brought our small point and press underwater camera, so all was not lost! Everyone was given a dry bag for their belongings, there was a reason for that!
We started getting butterflies seeing the Phi Phi islands appear on the horizon getting closer and closer, it was really exciting. Knowing we would soon be on the world famous Maya Bay where The Beach featuring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed. If only they could have played Moby’s Porcelain as we arrived!
Snorkelling in Loh Samah Bay
Loh Samah Bay has an island in the middle and was simply beautiful. You can see it like in the photo above by taking a short walk from Maya Bay to the other side of the island. We got back on the boat where it then moored up in Loh Samah Bay and we all jumped in for a spot of snorkelling, just magical! Phil was a bit freaked out by the amount of fish all swimming around, as the crew kept chucking in pieces of bananas to attract them, he’s not keen of fish swimming in ‘his’ water!
Ko Phi Phi Leh – Pileh Lagoon
The next stop on Phi Phi Leh was Pileh Lagoon, this has to be one of the most beautiful spots in Thailand! You will have seen it, without knowing on countless brochures advertising Thailand. An incredible lagoon of perfect turquoise waters surround by soaring limestone cliffs covered in vegetation. It’s here you have to do that classic jumping off a boat shot that you see on countless Insta accounts, this shot of Phil is well, rubbish.
Swimming here was like being in a warm bath, we loved our time here, swimming and soaking up the exotic scenery. We could have spent hours here, but it was time to move on… We both felt really fortunate to have visited this far flung sight, truly one of the world’s most breathtaking places.
Ko Phi Phi Don – Monkey Beach
It was time to leave Phi Phi Leh altogether and head to the slightly bigger island of Phi Phi Don and visit Monkey Beach! This beach is home to lots of monkeys and all we can say is they are not shy.
As we walked onto the beach they immediately came over to see what’s on offer. Be really careful if you are going here as they can bite. They will also try and grab your belongings, so hold onto them tight.
Monkeys aside, the beach is amazing too, perfect powder soft white sand and long tail boats in the bay, making for picture postcard imagery.
Harry asked us if we wanted to see something funny, so he pinched the back of the leg of a beefy bloke from our group, his reaction was hilarious thinking he was being attached by the monkeys!!
Loh Lana Bay
We were glad to leave Monkey Beach, it was fun but kinda scary too! Time for some lunch and a snooze on the remote Loh Lana Bay, we had it all practically to ourselves! The buffet picnic Simba laid out was great.
Loh Lana was like a desert island, there’s no development here, no infrastructure, only a few sea gypsies living on the shoreline.
Our last stop – Nui Bay
For our final stop before heading back to Phuket we had an hours snorkelling at Nui Bay on Phi Phi Don.
Snorkelling here was great fun, tons of fish and lots of different varieties, it’s like being dumped into a real life Sea Life Centre aquarium! Phil was too freaked out by the amount of fish in the water, so chilled out instead.
Phil’s Thai Cooking Lesson
The following day we chilled out at the hotel. Garth bought Phil a private cookery lesson for the morning. Phil loved the personal experience with the Surin’s chefs. He even had someone photograph every part of his cooking lesson, which he thought was for their website, but later that evening we received a knock at the room door and a porter handed us a envelope containing a DVD with all the photos on and a Surin branded apron – just brilliant!
The finished dishes we’re delicious, well done Phil! and we even got to eat them in the sunshine on the beach, washed down with a glass of fizz.
Phang Nga Bay
It was time for our second trip to Phang Nga Bay and Koh Panyee. Which meant another early start at the Phuket Marina with Simba Sea Trips, our guide was Harry again! Hooray!
Our first stop was the island of Koh Phanak where we donned hard hats and did some cave exploring. We entered a long cave tunnel which was a little claustrophobic at times because it was pitch black and we had to wade through water that was waist high. But we emerged out into a small hidden lagoon, completely surrounded by soaring limestone rocks and lined with Mangrove trees. We were there at low tide, again perfectly timed by Harry so we had the place to ourselves. When the tide is up you can kayak through the cave to reach this lagoon, that must also be spectacular when the lagoon is full of water. The Thai also refer to it as “Mangrove Hong” which means room or lagoon. Mangrove trees are sea salt tolerant, that’s how they survive here.
Khao Phing Kan and Koh Tapu
The next island hop was Koh Phing Kan. It’s right next to Koh Tapu ‘Nail Island’ – a limestone rock made famous by the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun in 1974. Since then tourists have been flocking here for decades to see this now iconic Thai landmark, commonly known as James Bond Island.
Years ago Koh Tapu used to be part of the main island, but over time the sea has carved into it. It really was an absolutely stunning location, where we were surrounded by more dramatic limestone cliffs. Since 1998 tourist boats are not allowed to approach Koh Tapu close up, to stop erosion, they also fear it may collapse. We arrived at the perfect time, before a single tourist boat and even before the tourist tat shops had even opened for business, which of course was perfect for photos and we got to enjoy the beauty of this lagoon all to ourselves, on the way back to Phuket we passed it again and saw just how incredibly crowded it gets.
Harry had even brought along his own golden gun, much to the delight of Phil and fellow passengers as we all posed for cheesy shots!
Next we moored up next to the floating Muteara Sea Canoe platform, where a Thai man paddled for us giving us the chance to really appreciate the views and take in the prehistoric world sights infront of us. We got up close to these incredible limestone formations and travelled through some incredible caves with rocky overhangs.
Koh Panyee is an interesting island to visit, but definitely more for its visual aesthetic – an incredible looking place set in the the middle of an emerald sea and dramatic limestone rock backing. It’s known locally as ‘muslim island’ and remains a fishing village but today the residents rely heavily on tourism, mainly by feeding large groups fresh sea food in a large restaurants that face out to sea. The whole village is built on stilts, some homes are basic shacks others more substantial wooden buildings. We did find it really interesting wandering the narrow streets made of planks of woods and passed little shops selling T-shirts, home made crafts, then a market selling the usual tourist tat souvenirs. Some children came up to us selling bracelets, crayons and paper, they obviously rely heavily on tourists to make a living during the summer season.
As we made our way through the warren of streets, it then opens up into larger spaces where we discovered a school and a shrine to the King. A warning to animal lovers – some residents keep hawks, monkeys and snakes offering photo opportunities to tourists, this is a side of tourism we really don’t like, neither did Harry our guide, I was pleased he told us about it in advance, but thankfully I didn’t see any caged animals.
These are the large restaurants which house large numbers of tourists. We had an ok meal there, Phil was gasping for a beer by this time, but forgot they didn’t serve alcohol.
As we made our way back to Phuket, we came across an area where there were lots of fishermen everywhere you looked. Harry told us at certain times of the year hundreds of jelly fish descend into the bay, and the locals take advantage of the opportunity. The crew asked one of them if they could pull up the boat so we could have a look at their catch. Fascinating watching the fishermen at work, they just look and wait, then when a jellyfish passes them, they just scoop them out with a net.
One last exotic beach
Our final stop was to be a real highlight of the day just chilling on another deserted island for a few hours. Sadly I didn’t note the name of this beach, do you recognise it? We went swimming and floating in that lovely warm water once again.
Even though we did’t see much of Phuket island itself, the island’s location is just perfect for island hopping and day trips like we did. We will return one day I’m sure of it, who can resist the food? the exotic scenery? and those lovely local Thai smiles?
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Phuket Tips
- Tip #1: Wear your T-shirt for snorkelling, we went in March when it’s very hot, and you easily burn, especially in the water.
- Tip #2: Don’t drink the water from taps, buy bottled water instead.
- Tip #3: Be aware at ATMs – the money comes out first before your card is ejected, so don’t forget to take your card
- Tip #4: When visiting Koh Panyee, ladies please cover up, and remember you can’t buy alcohol here.
- Tip #5: Go see the Thai elephants in Phuket, but please don’t ride them 🙂