Monday, November 13, 2023

[SATUN] Thailand's Andaman Islands

The original plan was to check out the north from Bangkok, so possibly Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. However, as travel dates loomed and airfare changed, I was left with a cheap Bangkok - Hat Yai flight ticket and no exit point. And so I explored some land border options heading to Malaysia when I remembered the draft itinerary I had of the Koh Lipe - Langkawi ferry route. Perhaps, it’s time to turn this draft into reality, eh? And so we did. But first, how do you get to Koh Lipe from Hat Yai?

123go has several options for you, most of them offering van/ferry combo trips in one ticket. I picked Satun Pakbara. The van was similar to those comfy and spacious ones you see in Vietnam. The trip from Songkhla province to neighboring Satun province’s jetty port takes around two hours but can easily inflate to almost three depending on how many passengers will be picked up. Once at the jetty, you exchange your PDF screenshot with a real ticket before heading to the port terminal.

The environmental fee for seven days at Koh Tarutao National Park, which includes all islands in the area, is THB200 (~PHP320). If you are staying for over a week, you will have to pay again. Do not lose that environmental fee ticket because sometimes they do random checks on random islands. Ours happened at Monkey Beach the day after arrival while we were on tour. The THB20 (~PHP32) terminal fee is just for Satun’s terminal so you can get rid of that once you are on the islands.

The ferry stopped at Koh Tarutao and Koh Khai for 20 minutes each, which inflated what was supposed to be just an hour and 15 minutes of travel time to just a little over two hours. The two islands are pretty and Instagram worthy, but since I would be visiting seven islands on the next day’s island hopping tour, I decided to just snap a few photos from the boat. Koh Khai has some sort of rock arch along the beach which reminded me of an island in Batanes. Once you dock at Koh Lipe, just walk to your hotel.

Koh Lipe is pretty much similar to other overcrowded islands around the world. While I am tempted to say Boracay, what immediately came to mind was Rio de Janeiro’s Vila do Abraao on Angra dos Reis. Since Koh Lipe is tiny, you won’t be seeing any cars there. The tiny paved roads are mostly home to motorcycles and bicycles that serve as taxis, although I doubt you would be needing their services since the island is small anyway. Everything seems to be within walking distance.

Koh Lipe has its own walking street where you will find plenty of food options, tour companies, and groceries to name a few. It also transforms into a rather mild party party place at night. Other than that, you can also find some secluded beaches at remote areas of the island, which I no longer bothered to explore. The real highlight of the trip was the next day’s island hopping tour, which involved seven islands. Yes, seven. All of them were different and served a different purpose.

First, a sail-by at Koh Hin Son, a small collection of huge rocks on the water. You just take pictures here before the boat man whisks you away to nearby Koh Palai, where the first of several snorkeling sessions take place. Consider this area as your snorkeling warmup. There are fish and corals but not as awesome as you’d think. The next island across it, Koh Lokoi is also all about snorkeling. This stop was also around half an hour but felt easier because there were corals and fish even in the shallow waters.

Next stop is Koh Ro Khloi where no snorkeling takes place, although the shallow waters allowed for tourists to go dipping a bit after the requisite selfie sessions. This island, I must say, was the most photogenic of the bunch. The different hues of blue on the water were just a sight to behold. After this, stop number 5 is Monkey Island/Monkey Bay where only three monkeys made an appearance. This is where you eat your packed lunch. Relaxed, not as crowded, and just chill overall.

Stop number 6 is Ko Ra Ba where I enjoyed snorkeling the most. Fish that you usually just see in aquariums are abundant here, and so are the corals where they hang out. If you don’t like swimming, all you have to do is hang from your boat’s steps upside down and you will already see a lot of corals and fish. Stop number 7 was Hin Ngam Island, a small island full of shiny pebbles that were hot to step on. Nothing much to see here, it was a really quick pit stop.

Bonus island number 8 is not really an island but rather a space called Jabang Dive Site where you will see some cordoned off sections where you are allowed to snorkel. Since both my phone’s and my own battery were dead, I no longer bothered to dive and just waited for them at the boat. Overall, I’d say that the Andaman Sea did not disappoint. Along with Krabi and Phuket to the north, these islands are paradise, without exaggeration. Every beach lover should definitely go!

[SATUN] Thailand's Andaman Islands

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