MAR 18,2013 - APR 01,2013 (15 DAYS)
This is our second trip to Thailand as a family, two years after our trip to Phuket and Koh Samui. You can find details under my profile.
We traveled with our 5 year-old son and our 3.5 year-old daughter. we chose to go with hotels that have kid's pools, in addition to a private beach (a thing that dictated the level of the hotel~5000 Baht per night). In all the hotels we've been to we've had an extra bed/couch in the room so my two kids were able to share. However, kids policy varies between the hotels so do the research.
All three destinations were amazing. However, we'll definitely visit Koh Chang again. It's less commercialized then Phi Phi, Phuket, and Samui. It has amazing island vibes with a wonderful island atmosphere combined with a great wide beach .
We flew to Bangkok with Turkish Airways. It's a Star Alliance company with relatively good service, good food and the attendants had a pleasant attitude. Unfortunately, they insist on a full service ( hot towels, than a round of drinks, then another round of drinks, then supper, and then you get stuck with your tray for another hour.. same routine at breakfast) even during night flights and I'm talking about a flight that leaves after midnight and the cabin's lights were off after 3 am. Since it's our second round using Turkish with the same drill, I thought I would mention it.
Once we arrived at Krabi Airport we took a taxi service to the pier (600Baht). From there we took a long tail boat that took us to Raliey beach (you can also take a bus for 150Baht per person). Since we were four we took the Taxi.
Before I paid, I tried getting outside the terminal to see if there were "free lance" taxi drivers who could give us a better price. No one approached even though I wore my "tempting" face, so I guess it is well regulated in Krabi.
The Taxi was more of a minibus, and was amazingly convenient. We arrived at the Pier after approximately 45 minutes .
The ferry to Railay beach is a long tail wooden boat. It costs 100 Baht per person and my small kids (3+, but look smaller) didn't have to pay. We took the ferry at noon, when there was low tide. It means you have to walk to the boat, where water reaches to your knees and above. Luckily, we had our sandals and Crocs handy so we were able to switch into them, but our long trousers got wet up to the knee. Make sure your lower pockets are empty. You can also try to change into your swim suits in Krabi airport.
You also have to carry/drag your trolley on the beach sand... It wasn't much fun to drag a 30kg trolley through the sand, but eventually the long tail "captain" gave me a hand on loading it into the boat. Same routine when you land at Railay.
We arrived at Railay Beach at noon, we spent a day and a half there. Railay is an amazing secluded beach that has an east and a west side. There's also a passage to Pranang beach (south) and to Ton Sai (north) - which we couldn't find ..
Railay is an amazing place to hang out with a book or the girl of your dreams. Otherwise, two days will be more than enough, seeing as there's not much to do.
The west side beaches are very good for bathing, the eastern beaches aren't as good, have muddy shores, and trees climbing from the water.
Prices in Railay beach are 150%-300% higher than in Phuket/Koh Samui. I guess it's a matter of supply and demand. You don't have many choices when you're on this beach so the suppliers take advantage of this.
Railay Village - Excellent hotel on the west side, very good service, decent breakfast and large modern rooms. The village has both villas and buildings. We stayed in the building on the second floor. Each room has a nice porch where you can relax and dry your clothes with a pool view.
I must say a word on the service - we had brought a drawing kit for the kids full of kids handcrafts to help us with the waiting time between and during the flights. Unfortunately , we forgot it at the pier. When the receptionist heard about it , he went out with me to look for the other long tail boat's skippers. We managed to locate them as I remember the color of their shirt (keep in mind there are many operators on this route), and one of them called the pier and within an hour we got the kit back. Now that is service!
The hotel had free WiFi, I thought it would be a standard thing, but learned to appreciate it when we arrived in Phi Phi.
We love Thai food so we got along very well in Thailand. On the west side of the beach, there are about 4 restaurants, they aren't all as cheap as Thailand's restaurants price level.
We heard that there are plenty of restaurants and bars on the east side, however, we didn't do the walk in the evening. Our daughter got fixated on schnitzel so we ate twice in our hotel restaurant which wasn't bad at all, Pad-Thai was nice but the green mango salad was amazing.
From the west side we went to see the monkeys at Pranang beach. You arrive there by crossing the beach west to east, go south and then west again (see the map above). On the way there , there's a view point (you need good shoes to climb it) and nice caves.
We didn't see the monkeys. They probably were on a break...
Pranang beach is very beautiful. However, because it is so famous, many daily tours drop visitors there to see the beach, its caves and surrounding cliffs. The beach was very crowded with people coming and going. Nevertheless, don't miss it.
When you walk south on the east side, just when the road split to the east (cliff climbing) and west (Pranang) there's a nice kiosk with decent prices and heavenly corns. Large water 30Baht, shakes 50Baht, corns (amazing!) 50Baht, can of Singha 60Baht. Other places can be up to twice as much. There's also a nice relaxing spot with a nice view.
Below is a map of the interesting part of Phi Phi. We got it somewhere (hotel?). Phi Phi is a very small place, there are no cars or roads, you can get around very easily without any maps. But I had it in my pocket just in case we wanted to get to a certain location.
When we traveled (March), there was only a single direct one-day ferry from Railay to Phi Phi. It "leaves" around 9:30 from Railay. Another alternative is to catch a ferry to Krabi, and then take the 15:00 ferry to PhiPhi. It was too much hassle for us so we decided to take the early one. We booked our ride from the hotel - 450 Baht for adult, 300 for kids. Our youngest didn't pay.
What actually happened was that the ferry representative on the beach received a call on his radio receiver when the ferry approaches. Then, all the prospective passengers were forwarded to many long tail boats (be prepared to get wet till your knee caps when you board it). Then, like a scene from Troy, all boats sprung to the ocean and then in a middle point of the sea we met the ferry and boarded it while our stuff was loaded into it.
The ferry was quite large and very comfortable.
Cabana hotel - supposed to be one of the best hotels in Phi Phi. I can't compare to other hotels on the islands but it was a big disappointment and far from the level of "Railay Village" nor to the level of other hotels from the rest of our trip (although the cost was similar...).
The hotel location is great - right where the two bays of Phi Phi almost touch each other, very close to the pier and I guess that what makes it so popular. The scenery and the beach are amazing.
However, the rooms are quite small with a very small bathroom and they are not maintained to the highest level. The shower (no bath) had sliding doors which had been fixed with some rope. After a day one of the doors got loose from it's track and almost fell. When we notified guest service, they fixed it immediately. They just tied the rope again :-) We understood the situation and treated those doors very gently.
WIFI isn't free and very expensive (from 120Baht for an hour to 600Baht to 24 hours) so we didn't use it during our stay
The hotel has a really nice pool, and a very nice beach although the beach has a narrow sand strip. But its accessible to both sides of the island (the part where we slept) - the beach and the pier is very comfortable.
Bottom line - don't set your expectations too high.
Italiano - On the main street, on the opposite side of the ocean. Why go for Italian when you're in Thailand? Cause the kids wanted pizza... it also has some Thai dishes but little variety. We had Pad Thai, thai style rice, and a curry soup. All Thai dishes were nice. Can't comment on the quality of the Italian food... Free WiFi...Yay!
We ate there twice (did I mention the Pizza?) . I should say that on the second time we were there we saw that the owner was actually an Italian so you might wanna give a chance to the Italian food after all (although the chefs are Thais...)
Unknown Bakery - We searched for a quick lunch and we were tempted by one of the many bakeries on the island. We ordered banana bread, cheese bread, chocolate chip cookies and some baked salted sticks. Big mistake. All tasted like rubbish. We should have known better. If you're tempted like we were - I recommend you start by tasting one thing then decide on the rest.
Ann's - Turn left when you reach the Italiano and you'll see Ann's to your right. A very nice place with European and Thai dishes. We ordered the kids their Spaghetti and Burger and we ordered Thai food for us, which was very nice. Toilets were clean.
Lemon Grass - A Thai place in front of Ann's. When we left Ann's the other day this place was full. So we decided to pay him a visit another day. The day we arrived the place was empty. We were the only customers. We noticed that people were arriving to Ann's and when Ann's became full, people decided to compromise with Lemon Grass. I don't know if that's because the owner of Ann's just forwarded people on to Lemon Grass or they decided on their own. Anyway, no need to compromise. Best Thai food we ate in Phi Phi !!!
We ordered papaya salad, rice with pineapple, and a curry dish. All were amazing. Some word on the spicy levels - we thought we knew how to handle spicy food, however, we wanted to play safe so we ordered the papaya salad with a single chili - options are zero, one or two. It was freaking hot, and got us all sweaty - as if the high humidity isn't enough. So be careful.
The toilets, as in any real Thai restaurants are stench.
Viewpoint - A must! 40 mins walk from the cabana. After a long climb of many stairs we reached the Phi Phi view point. Very beautiful and Worth the climb. My daugther (3.5) managed to get to the lower view point. My son (5) managed to get to the upper view point. Anyway, worth the time and the 20 Baht per adult fee. The top picture is from viewpoint one, the bottom from viewpoint two.
Four islands half day boat tour - The island was crowded with tourist agents offering you full day or half day tours for the surrounding islands.
We booked a half day speed boat tour at PP Cabana (between the pier and the Cabana hotel) which started at 14:00 and ended at 18:30. The tour was fun and included the monkey island (be careful - we saw some aggressive monkeys), snorkeling in a lagoon I think called the Vikings Island and the famous Maya bay (where the movie The Beach was shot - didn't see it...). The tour ended with us watching the sun set over Phi Phi.
The choice to go with a speed boat had its advantages especially when you're traveling with kids - it shortened the time between the different attractions (unlike long tail boat options) and it didn't require using kayaks when we reached the lagoon , something that was needed for tours that used a large boat.
The tour cost was 1100Baht , kids were free and it was great. Don't miss it.
From Phi Phi to Kraby we took a ferry. This cost us 300Baht per person (kids didn't pay). The Ferry was smaller than the ferry we arrived from Railay although I asked several times - "Big Boat?" and got an answer "Big Boat!". We bought out tickets at PP Cabana, but there are many places around the pier who sell those tickets. Cruise was almost two hours.
While at the ferry to Krabi , we bought tickets for a taxi shuttle to our hotel in the Ao Nang area (which was 7km from the pier), from a guy that approached us. He charged us 150Baht per person (kids were free). When we disembarked the ferry, we found out that the ride was a shared ride in a minivan. They stuffed as many people as they could into the minivan (kids were on our knees) and dropped everyone off according to their addresses.
We were the last passangers to leave the van and had the pleasure of seeing almost all the hostels on Ao Nang while dropping all the other passengers off. The absurd thing was that he didn't even know our hotel address, so every now and then he stopped for directions from other locals, or 'phoned-a-friend'.
To make a long story short, we were screwed, and the 7km ride became an hour and a half (!!! ) ride in the minivan. So try to avoid our mistake and check other options when you disembark. I don't know for sure, but i guess that if we paid 600Baht from the airport to the Ao Nang pier when we took the ferry to Railay, you can get similar or even a lower price on a private taxi from the pier to your hotel, and not spend an hour and a half in a sweaty car.
Centara Anda Dhevi Resort & Spa Krabi - A very nice hotel! Spacious room , great facilities, free WiFi. It has a very nice pool with a slide for the kids. We stayed there only a single night (because we had a flight to Bangkok the day after at 10am), so we can't really tell about the beach or anything like that.
The hotel wanted 800 Baht for a shuttle to the airport. We booked a shuttle in a tourist office in front of the hotel (there were plenty) for 600 Baht. He picked us up the day after at 7:45 and we were at the airport around 8:20.
From the Ao Nang pier along the beach there were plenty of places to eat. Usually we tried to choose a restaurant by its customer's smiling faces. When we walked from the hotel to the main street and turned right, there were many deserted restaurants. So we got back and walked in the opposite direction and there we started seeing some smiling faces.
Eventually we sat in a Thai restaurant with many locals and tourists. Not sure it had a name but if you turn left from the hotel, you'll see it to your left after 100m. its surrounded by some shops.
And how do you know it's a real Thai restaurant? When we asked about a toilet for our little one who insisted on having number one every 30 mins, they recommended that we'd take her to the field besides the restaurants :=)
We got our luggage picked up around 11:45. We didn't know when the last ferry to Koh Chang (KC) leaves and we were under the assumption that the ride there would take us 5 hours, so we jumped on the first option of a taxi we saw without doing a lot of shopping.
Before customs checkpoint, there is a booth of AOT limousines. We asked them about a ride to the pier in KC and they started with 6800 Baht for a minivan. After a quick bargain the price went down to 4600 Baht. If you don't need a minivan you may get a better price. If you're not in a hurry try to close a deal with them or other companies which include the ferry transfer and the drop at the hotel (The ferry used in KC is a ferry that can carry cars, so the passengers sit on the top floor).
The AOT driver was very nice, the minivan was vary spacious and clean, and he was kind enough to do toilet stops whenever we requested. We started the ride at 12:00 and were at the pier after buying tickets at 15:45.
An important note - there are two piers from Trat to KC. Someone told us that the other pier (not the one we used, the one that is closer to the White Sand Beaches) uses faster ferries and is closer to Bangkok. So make sure to research this.
Anyway, while buying tickets (300 Baht two way - don't buy two ways - see why below) we were offered a pick up back to Bangkok from the hotel at KC and a ride to Bangkok for 4500 Baht total. We took the guy's phone number in case we would want to take him up on his offer.
The ferry ride was about 30 mins. When the ferry stopped we saw some taxis (pick up trucks with two adjacent benches on their back). Since we were the last to disembark the ferry - the kids wanted to see how the cars disembark - there was a full taxi and an empty taxi. We were offered to join the full taxi for 50 Bahts per person ("...kids free.."), or take the private taxi for 600Baht to the hotel. When we asked them how 4 people would fit in an already full taxi they said that my wife and the kids will somehow fit in the front seat near the driver and I would stand (the pickup had a standing positions in its rear end- similar to garbage track).
So we tried to bargain. Big mistake...
We refused to join the already full Taxi and it left. When we offered the other taxi driver 400 Baht, the driver just snored with contempt at us ... So we took all our stuff and went out to the main road, checking our chances there. After 10 mins of waiting for our savior (none!), we went back to the driver with our tail between our legs and gave him the 600 Baht for his ride. From the pier to our hotel it was a 20 min drive, full of steep descents and ascents (not sure how I was suppose to do it hanging from the taxi but I guess it would have been fun).
Given all the above I recommend booking the ride from Bangkok directly to the hotel including the ferry fees, or simply don't be the last one to leave the ferry so you can catch your seat in the taxi...
Koh Chang is absolutely amazing. A piece of heaven. It's the second largest island in Thailand after Phuket, but it is less famous and therefore more virginal. Koh Chang has a very good island vibe, amazing beaches (and sunsets) and very welcoming people (nicer than PPs which to my opinion are fed up with tourists).
KC Grenade Resort & Spa - a very nice hotel on the white sand beach. We had a "garden view" room which had a view of the garden of the parking lot :-) But that didn't bother us as we spent most of the day on the beach or out at the pool.
The hotel has several room choices - we read somewhere that the villas are quite old and that we should stay in the new buildings. And this is what we did. Indeed the the room was modern and spacious and had all the facilities we needed.
The hotel has another new part just across the road with two new swimming pools - on the ground floor and on the roof top - and even a nice water slide. But when we visited those pools they were a bit abandoned. I guess there's nothing like an ocean view, so most guests chose to cross the road and use the main pool.
just like in Phi Phi at 08:00 am all pool seats were taken by towels..So we started our day at the beach and moved around noon to the pool.
Breakfast was great - the best so far in this trip - with too many sweets sins.
We heard about Koh Chang famous waterfalls... Unfortunatley when we were there they were completely dry. In some tourist's office we saw some pictures of the waterfall with a caption - "Jun - Sep". So no waterfalls in our trip.
We went to visit an elephant camp in Koh Chang (Ban Kwan Chang Elephant Camp). The trip had two options - one hour and two hours. The two hours trip included longer trip on the elephant back in the jungle and taking a bath with them. We chose this option and it cost us 800 Baht per adult and a half for our older one, our youngest was free of charge. The price included pick ups from the hotel and back.
The place is a sanctuary so the money gained is helping them with the elephant preservation, so they claim.
This was our first (and probably last :-) ) time we rode an elephant. you get to sit in a seat placed on the elephant back while the "driver" sits on top of the elephant and guide it . It was quite alarming on the first descents as this amazing animal took it steps carefully and I was wondering what would happened if it tripped... Anyways, once we got used to it , it was fun.
The real joy was when we got to the bathing part. Since our kids didn't swim, we put a life jacket on them. You then ride the elephant as it enters the pool when you're on his back. It was an amazing experience to swim next to those large animals, having them splash water on you with their trunks, seeing their eyes look at you from a near distance.
On the way out we noticed large brown balls floating everywhere with many small fishes biting them. Well, I guess elephants have their needs, and they don't care that you swim beside them .. :-)
Outside, there was a place we could wash ourselves after this "bath" so it was cool. Going back to the camp, we bought a fruit basket for 50 Baht and fed the elephants. Again, not something you do everyday - putting sugarcane in an elephant trunk and see it crashes it when it enters his jaw. I even had the joy of getting some nasal spray on my hand when I pushed its trunk while he was insisting on getting more fruit:-)
BTW - while bathing we noticed that the one hour trip also go into the pool for a refreshment... They just don't swim with the animals.
We ate one dinner at the hotel restaurant. Reasonable prices (only 30% higher than the street price). It was on our first day and we were too tired to go exploring. We ordered Thai food for us. It was nice. Worth a try.
Since we had trouble with the Taxi guys on the way to the island, we booked the ride from our hotel to the Bangkok airport in advance. It cost us 4000 Baht which included picking us up from the hotel, ferry transfer (we already had tickets) and taking us all the way to Bangkok.
We did get a minivan but it was more "colorful" than the one we had on the way to KC. The driver used the other pier so there was no use for the ferry tickets we bought the first day. So don't waste money on buying two-way tickets if you don't know which pier you'll use.
The drive to Bangkok took us 4.5 hours (compared to the 3.5 hours on the way to Bangkok). He picked us up from the hotel at 15:00 and we arrived at the airport at 20:45, almost 6 hours (a drive to the pier, a wait for transfer, 20 minutes ferry ride, a drive to Bangkok). I guess I'll never know if it was because the driver was trying to save money on paid highways or due to high traffic (as he told us) but I have my suspicion... over all it was a bit exhausting for the kids, but was worth it.