The Wild Dugong Hunt

By Evie

We were on a day trip to see dugongs around Koh Libong and near the end of it, just when we had given up looking for any wildlife, our guide pointed out something in the water…

He ran up to the front of the boat and pointed out a moving black fin. Then it jumped and dived – I had never seen one before but I knew what it was at once. A dolphin! What else would jump and dive and then completely vanish? Or I thought it had vanished until – whoosh!  ­– there it was again! About 4 or 5 times.

No it wasn’t an ‘it’; it was a ‘they’ – two – two dolphins.

We asked the guide if we could swim with them; he gave us the thumbs up because he didn’t he speak enough English to say “yes”.

By the time we all had our snorkels on the dolphins had gone, however we decided to try anyway. We clambered into the water and began to swim towards where the dolphins had been. When we turned and swam back to the boat, I suddenly realized how deep the water was – so deep I couldn’t see the bottom even though the water was very clear. Ow! I bumped my head on the boat and climbed on.

I say now: “I wish we had seen dugongs as well because that is what we set out to do. Or maybe that would be a bit too lucky.”

Trip Advisor Review of Phu Khao Lak Guesthouse, Khao Lak

Janet’s Trip Advisor Review of Phu Khao Lak Guesthouse, Khao Lak. Five stars!

When we arrived here I started frantically checking the email reservation to make sure I’d not missed a zero, surely we hadn’t paid enough money for somewhere this nice?

The pool is fairly small but lovely, with an infinity edge and some water features. The garden is huge, I mean seriously huge, if you have children they will love being able to roam around in the open space.

And as for the bungalows, we had a 600B room with hot water, I was expecting it to be a bit rough and ready but it’s just lovely. Daily cleaning, soft white towels, outdoor seating area, new mattresses, clean & newly tiled bathroom. It’s perfect.

The staff cannot do enough for you, and the restaurant is packed every night because the food is so delicious.

As other have said the Wi Fi is the only improvement that is needed, but for the price you pay it is amazing value for money and I definitely intend to come back here.

See Janet’s other reviews.

Trip Advisor review of Woodland Lodge, Koh Jum

Janet’s Trip Advisor review of Woodland Lodge, Koh Jum. Five stars!

We absolutely loved our stay here and would have extended it if we could. The family bungalow was spacious, with bookshelves to unpack onto and a large bathroom (one of the few places where you can have a shower without getting the toilet wet!). It had a double bed and a single bed. As we have 3 children, 2 of them slept on out travel mats on the floor and the owners provided an umbrella-like mosquito net for them.

The verandah was very big, we had space for our Iarge hammock, plus there were deckchairs and a table provided, so for once we could all sit down at the same time. It felt as though the owners had really thought about what you want or need and tried to provide it. We felt very comfortable.

The food was outstanding, such great cooking, there was no need to go anywhere else. However, there are other resorts and restaurants in walking distance if you fancy a change. The prices were also reasonable, including beer and wine, so you didn’t feel too guilty about having a few sundowners! And the sunset is so pretty here, it’s a mini-event on the beach each evening, with lots of comfy seats, buckets of ice and cold, white wine. Lovely!

Ko Jum and this resort seem to attract a slightly older crowd, and things are very low key, which suited us just fine, it’s not a party island, but lots of chance to socialise.

There’s a big grassy area that our kids turned into a quidditch pitch (we’re in a Harry Potter phase) and Ray, co-owner, brought out some footballs for them to use, which really kept them entertained.

The beach has lovely sand, and the area outside and just to the left of the resort is good for swimming in all tides, not too rocky unlike much of the rest of the island. However, the water is not clear and hopeless for snorkelling. I prefer a good swim anyway!

There are a few bits of old exercise equipment at the resort, a bit rustyp but useable, if you feel like working off some of the great food. I also went running a few times and could easily reach the village and the port, I would come back with little chocolate treats for the kids, there are plenty of little shops there. It’s too far to walk though.

You can also get a motorbike for 350B per day, delivered to the bungalow. We enjoyed exploring, but concluded we were staying at the best bit anyway!

The owners are so friendly and helpful. We paid a lot less to leave the island than we did to arrive by travelling back to Krabi with Ray, he even gave us a lift all the way to the bus station, which we really appreciated. He also told us lots of interesting local facts on the way.

After we left, we realised we’d left behind some clothes, and they have very kindly arranged for us to pick them up from a guest house in Krabi. Thank you so much!

All in all, it turned out to be one of our favourite places on the Andaman coast, I think we’ll be back.

See Janet’s other reviews.

Squid Island

Sunset at Had Farang

It’s a little while since we moved on from Koh Mook (which translates as Squid Island in Thai), but it we were all rather sad to leave it behind – until we got here to Koh Libong, it was definitely our favourite island.

We stayed on Had Farang, the same beach where Janet and I spent several weeks last time we were backpacking. At that time – in 2000 – the wide, curving, white-sand beach ended with a stack of boulders to the south and an impressive sea cliff to the north; behind, it was backed by a large, empty coconut plantation; and all the bungalows were hidden behind the tree line at the very edges. It really felt like a desert island. Apart from a single longtail that was generally moored in the harbour, you could easily imagine that you had the whole island to yourself.

This time around, although the beach remains the same, the coconut plantation has been cut down and replaced with the brash, new “Charlie’s Resort” with its swimming pool, beach umbrellas and a cocktail bar pumping out Ibiza dance hits. And there are now so many longtails at the water’s edge that a section has had to be cordoned off for swimming.

Yet, despite the changes, we all still loved Had Farang. Crowded as it is, the beach remains beautiful and is big enough to accommodate the increased numbers. The views re still stunning, the water still clear (and unlike Koh Jum, actually cooler than the air so it feels refreshing when you jump in after baking in the tropical sun). Watching the sunsets in the evenings at Chill Out Bar (far enough along not to hear Charlie’s cheesy music), it was easy to see why we’d loved it here before.

Plus there were new discoveries. We passed a small massage hut on the way to and from our little bungalows. In the day we would stop there to admire the grimacing faces of farangs on the painful end of a joint-wrenching Thai massage, and in the evenings, we would duck down underneath and marvel at the hundreds of hermit crabs which congregated there. They were charming, each with its different scavenged shell; clumsy, hairy legs protruding from underneath like Jim Henson glove puppets.

We also had several fun activity days. We wandered across the island through rubber plantations, touching and stretching the rubber as it oozed from the trunks. We hired sea canoes and explored the cliffs to the north. And, best of all, we hired a longtail and guide to take us into Emerald Cave, a hidden cove only reachable at low tide by swimming through pitch-black tunnels. Emerald Cave was only rediscovered using satellite imagery but had once been the home of pirates and smugglers. It was also one of the main inspirations for The Beach. Check out the girls’ reports of the trip here, here and here.

As I finished writing, I asked Evie what her opinion of the island was. Her reply was simple: “I absolutely loved Koh Mook!”

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Move with the Times

“There are place I remember,
All my life, though some have changed,
Some forever, not for better,
Some have gone, and some remain”
The Beatles, ‘In My Life’

It’s a strange thing to be revisiting places where Fergus and I travelled 13 years ago.  This time, instead of it being my first trip out of Europe, I came from 3 months in Nepal.  As a result, rather than finding Thailand a dangerous, thrilling and alien land, I find it has a comforting, European, ‘second home’ feel to it.

And Thailand really has moved up in the world.   The evidence is everywhere. Sleek, air-conditioned bungalows have replaced almost all of the bamboo huts we stayed in last time around.  Where there were ramshackle beach bars, there are smart resorts with swimming pools.  Where there were longtail ferries, there are speedboats.  Where there were squatty pottys, there are flushing western style toilets.  You can buy good quality western food, cheese and wine are available everywhere, the mobile phone signal, the wifi and the transport connections are better than the UK, and all in all it feels a whole lot safer, more modern and a lot less remote than it used to.

You can still find the old Thai style places, but you have to look harder.  And I wonder how much longer they will last.  Thailand is on the move and has no sentimentality when it comes to growing their economy and extracting dollars from tourists.

Our last island was Ko Mook, stood out for us as a favorite from our last backpacking trip.  However, the coconut plantation we strolled though hand in hand all those years ago has been sold to a huge resort.  Much of it has been cut down to accommodate the swimming pool, and the rest has upmarket bungalows built in rows through the trees.  You can’t expect places to stay the same, and bringing our own tourist dollars here is obviously accelerating the rate of change.  But it did make us feel a bit sad.

So it is with some trepidation that we approach what we have always dreamed will be the highlight of our time in Thailand.  Our absolute favorite no 1 place was a tiny island in the deep south called Ko Turatao.  As part of a National Park, it is protected from development, although this hasn’t stopped some of its neighbours (also under National Park protection) from developing at a pace.  However, from what we can gather, there is still only 1 restaurant on the island, and all the accommodation (mostly tents) is owned by the National Park.  You can now get to it much faster in a speedboat (it used to take almost a full day on a boat) and there’s a mobile phone signal, which will make it seem a lot less remote.  But apart from that, it sounds as though it hasn’t changed a bit.

And I can’t wait to see it again.

Our Andaman Sea Island-Hopping Route

Andaman Coast Island Hopping Map

It’s occurred to me that all the little islands we’ve been visiting on Thailand’s west coast are probably so much gobbledegook to most people, so I knocked up this map to illustrate our route. Hopefully it will make it easier to see where we are as we travel.

We started at the top of the Andaman Coast, arriving on Ko Chang on the 29th of January, and since then we’ve headed south, moving on every 4-5 days. If we stick to our itinerary, we should hit Langkawi (and Malaysia) on the 20th of March, for nearly 2 long, idle months of island life. Maybe it’ll even be long enough for Janet to start getting a tan.

The House of Bamboo

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“No 54,
The House with the bamboo door,
Bamboo Roof and bamboo walls,
They’ve even got a bamboo floor,
At the house of bamboo!”
Andy Williams, ‘House of Bamboo

For the next 5 days, we’re moving in to the House of Bamboo.  It really is entirely made of bamboo, and the kids adore it.  It certainly has a lot of character, and the location is absolutely stunning: on Ko Kraden’s honeymoon brochure, picture-postcard perfect beachfront.

However, having now removed (or rather, squealed at Fergus to remove) 3 frogs (1 dead, 2 alive), 3 cockroaches (both alive) and a number of unidentified flying insects, I am starting to realise that Thailand has turned me from backpacker to flashpacker.

It’s only a couple of months ago that we were roughing it in the Himalayas with hardly a complaint, but I now find myself craving the comforts of daily bungalow cleaning, fluffly white towels and walls that don’t allow the wildlife in.

I think I better get used to it though, we have just a few weeks of luxury in the most developed nations in SE Asia before we fly to the Philipines, and then to Indonesia, where I rather suspect I may find myself craving the comforts of the House of Bamboo.

Our little semi in suburbia will feel like a mansion when we get back!

Lord of the Rings Meets the Andaman Coast

I’m ridiculously proud of my three daughters for reading the whole of the Hobbit (all completed age 7) and all of the first Lord of the Rings novel.  Jemima finished at age 7, before we left for the trip, Scarlett finished in Nepal and Evie fairly recently in Thailand.  (Actually, I can’t help but mention that Jemima has also now finished the Two Towers, how good is that?).

The story has really captured their imaginations.  “Do Gandalf’s voice, Daddy,” and, “Be Galadriel, Mummy,” are daily requests.   The storylines dominate their play, with the sound of Orcs attacking or Legolas firing a bow and arrow being the general background noise.

But I think my favorite way their new geek-chicness has manifested itself is through the sand sculptures they went off to create, completely unaided, yesterday.

Ferg’s role playing friends, you would be so proud.

The Shire

The Shire

Welcome to Rivendell

Welcome to Rivendell


This is Rivendell 1, before the tide came in

This is Rivendell 1, before the tide came in

And this is Rivendell 2, after the tide came in

And this is Rivendell 2, after the tide came in


Complete with Elven archer defending Rivendell

Complete with Elven archer defending Rivendell

The Shell Sprouts Legs!

Hermit Crabs at Had Farang, Koh Mook

By Scarlett

One night, here at Ko Mook, we found a mass of hermit crabs under the Thai massage hut.  They had all different shells which made them look pretty.  Coming back the next morning, we found they were all gone!  Had they all died?  But the next night, they had come back.  I picked up a supposedly unused shell which immediately sprouted unexpected legs!  I was terrified.  I dropped it.  Do you think you would have dropped it too?