Island hopping in the Gulf of Thailand
The Gulf of Thailand has so many amazing islands to offer, with Koh Samui, Ko Tao, Koh Phangan and many more! As indecisive as ever we didn’t have a clue which islands we should visit. While talking to a resident in Khanom we were told about the Ang Thong Islands, which sounded just divine and therefore like an excellent place to start exploring the Gulf of Thailand!
The Ang Thong Islands
Comprised of several dozen islands this small archipelago is host to the Ang Thong National Park, famous for its pristine tropical beaches and wildlife. The largest of the islands is Ko Phaluai, right in the centre of it all. The island is home to about 500 people, monkeys and many birds, including the impressive hornbill. There are only three hotels, two so-called resorts (in the loosest sense of the word) and one home stay.
To get there we took a ferry from Donsak at the mainland, which was not that easy to find. Luckily the hosts from our hotel in Khanom drove us and asked around to find the right pier for us (it did take us an hour longer than necessary due to a gigantic language barrier). The ferry was filled by a group of eight french tourists and one other couple, safe to say its off the beaten track!
After making two short stops at two even smaller islands (Koh Som & Koh Nok) to supply the local fishermen we arrived at our Island. We were awaited by our happy hosts who drove us to the Eco resort nearby. When we got to our bungalow, we found out we were the only ones there, so we had the whole beach to ourselves! We enjoyed the afternoon on a rocking-sofa at the beach with a cold beer. Pure paradise!
After a small dinner it got dark and we walked back to our stylish bungalow. As I tried to walk up the steep stairs I grabbed the wooden wall of the bungalow to prevent myself from falling. As my hand touched the wood a GIGANTIC gecko walked over my arm and sped off to the roof, giving me a marvelous scare😂. As Anna-Lena shunned the torchlight we really realized the sheer size of the monster. It must have been over 50cm long! Safe to say I closed all windows after that, and checked every inch of the bungalow to make sure we wouldn’t have any unwanted visitors in the middle of the night…
The next morning we enjoyed a small breakfast at the beach and decided to have a look at the island from the sea by kayak. We paddled around the bend enjoying each and every beach on the way. By this time it was almost noon and the sun really started to roast us like marshmallows. We quickly paddled back and enjoyed a cold drink at the resort in the shade. In the late afternoon our host drove us to the base of the hill with a 360 degree viewpoint. Quite a fun ride with three people on a crappy scooter. We hiked the last kilometer uphill via a jungle trail. On top we were treated to splendid views of the nearby islands. Completely drenched from the walk we watched the birds in the canopy and the vast ocean below.
At night we had a cozy Thai dinner before heading in. Early morning we took the ferry back to Donsak. On the way we made the usual stops with local fishermen giving their daily catch to the ferrymen to transport to the mainland. It included many lobsters, shrimps, crabs but also a small reef shark.
Kicking it back at the beaches of Koh Samui!
After we arrived in Donsak we took a motorbike taxi to the ferry terminal several kilometers away. We made ourselves comfortable on lying chairs and enjoyed the sunshine during the crossing. The ferry only took one and a half hour to get to Koh Samui. Our transfer to the hotel circled almost the whole island on the way, which gave us a good first impression of the island. Koh Samui is incredibly touristy with many resorts with western amenities, very different from Ko Phaluai. We opted to stay in the Bophut area, which was supposed to be less crowded with a great beach. We thought it was still very tourist, but it does have cute stores and the people are very friendly.
We checked into the Fishermen hotel where we were assigned a comfortable quiet room. It is right in the center of town and less than 30 meters to the beach. It also has the best breakfast in town! In the afternoon we enjoyed the sandy beach of Bophut. In the evening we ate tasty pizzas at a fancy Italian place on the beach to celebrate our arrival.
Next morning we decided to chill at the beach. As Bophut Beach is one of the nicest beaches of Koh Samui with excellent views of Koh Phangan, we simply stayed here and enjoyed the weather. We grabbed a coconut and some fruits for lunch while taking a break from the soaring heat. In the late afternoon we sat on the beach some more before having a pancake dinner!
We got off to a late start the following day and rented a motorbike to explore the island. We first drove to the Big Buddha statue. Although impressive, it is relatively underwhelming compared to the thousands of other buddhas we have seen in Thailand and Myanmar. We continued our drive to Chaweng Beach. It is a soft white-sand beach with lots of palm trees and restaurants, which we enjoyed to the fullest with a ice-cold beer. In our opinion the beach is slightly nicer than Bophut beach but it sees far more tourists.
Ko Tao – Turtle Island
Early morning we were picked up and brought to the Maenam pier. While waiting for the ferry to Ko Tao, it was raining and windy. Therefore, the ferry was delayed, but the ride itself was comfortable and we were awaited by a friendly shuttle to take us to the hotel.
We checked in and hung out at the pool before the weather cleared up. When it finally did we made our way down to the beach where we enjoyed a cold beer while dangling our feet in the crystal clear sea. We got a completely different vibe from this island, far more chilled and laid back than the busy Koh Samui. Also the beaches seemed cleaner and the water was just phenomenal!
The following morning we got up early and walked to Freedom Beach, to enjoy the morning sunshine from comfy hammocks. The beach is very small, but as we were the only ones there, it was not a problem for us. We made our way back to the hotel, and grabbed breakfast next door, where they make home-made bread and excellent omelette!
To explore the island to the fullest we booked a tour with Oxygen. We were picked up around noon and were driven to the pier where we were joined by 70 other happy tourists eager to snorkel. We only just fitted on the boat, and the wavy sea didn’t help things. We first made our way to Shark Bay, famous for its harmless black-tip reef sharks. Because of the wavy sea we saw none, but were instead greeted by two massive green turtles! Majestically they came up to grasp for air and went right up to us. There is something magical about encounters with turtles. They are so chilled out and really couldn’t care less that there are people around.
When we got back on board we were told that the weather conditions were too bad to go around the island. Instead we went to Freedom Beach for some more snorkeling. At this beach we were earlier in the day, and the underwater world is stunning! Huge coral formations and large schools of colorful fish. We hopped back on the boat to get to Chalok Beach for some more snorkeling and for a local-style lunch.
Our captain then set his sights on Koh Nang Yuan Island. World famous from postcards, this beach sits between three islands and is a true wonder of nature. The beach is soft and white, the water crystal clear and the viewpoint is epic. To get there our boat had to fight its way trough huge waves and battering winds. Due to the islands reputation it’s a very well visited place and the weather conditions were far from perfect, but the view was not less impressive!
After climbing our way to the top to enjoy the view, we made our way down to the beach. We ordered a beer and took in the scenery before we made our way back to Ko Tao.
In the evening we packed our bags and said our goodbyes to our island hopping days to meet up with my parents (Igor & Elly) the next day in Cha’am, on Thailand’s mainland. The way there was dreadful. The waves were gigantic and note that half of the people on board the boat threw up. All I could do is crawl up into a ball of misery and pray for the ride to be over. Luckily we made it across without getting too sick and took the bus to Cha’am! What a ride!