by Modell Bleu | Nature and Wildlife, Surin Islands
The Surin Islands are located in the Andaman Sea, in an archipelago of 5 islands in Phang Nga Province, South West Thailand. Located about 60 kilometers from Nam Khem or Thap Lamu Piers in the Khao Lak area, the speed boat ride is about 90 minutes.
I was fortunate to be part of an “inspection” tour of the Similan and Surin Islands for a local outfit called Seastar Plus. For now I will focus on The Surin Islands.
I love the Surin Islands. It is, in my opinion much better than the Similan Islands. From the quality of the reefs to the abundance and wider variety of sea life, the Surin Islands are far superior.
We met at Nam Khem Pier early in the morning and were treated to a nice continental breakfast, welcome drink and refillable water bottle.
We boarded a 15 meter two level catamaran named Tao Talay 9. The cabin was air conditioned and there was plenty of room for the passengers. There was an upper deck for sunning once the boat was at anchor. The Tao Talay 9 had one toilet near the captain’s chair. The vessel was designed to seat 70 people but there were about 15 of us onboard. Once seated we all were provided with a mesh bag containing a towel, mask, snorkel and fins. Captain Mac and three boat boys got us underway for the hour and 30 minute cruise to the Similan Islands. Our guide, Khun Latte, Gave us a briefing about the day’s activities and A little of the islands history.
Click Images Below to Enlarge
After a smooth ride lasting about an hour and a half, We arrives at our first stop. The Surin Islands are the ancestral home to the Moken People. The Moken originate from Burma or so the story goes. They are sea gypsies and their villages dot the entire Andaman coast. The Surin Islands has one such village. Due to local restrictions, we were now allowed to go ashore but I have been there before. There are around 80 people in the village living in thatched houses on stilts. Every hut has its own solar panel for electricity. There is also a school and small government office and not much else. The children are some of the happiest I’ve seen and everyone is extremely friendly. Our first snorkel spot of our Surin Island tour was within view of the Moken Village and was quite impressive. The coral was magnificent and teeming with fish of all colors. We stayed for about an hour then headed to Surin Nua, North Surin, to have lunch. Other than the marine park rangers, we were the only people there. The day we went, there were no other tour boats in sight. Everywhere we visited we were the only ones around. It was heavenly.
There are accommodations at the Surin Islands. At Chong Kaard Bay, you can choose from tents pitched on a pristine beach, small bungalows for two people and larger bungalows that sleep up to six people. There are ample shower and toilet facilities, including wheelchair access, a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating and tour desk. SeaStar Plus provided us with a wonderful lunch buffet with fantastic Thai cuisine. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available but you should inform the receptionist when you check in that morning. Soft drinks, a variety of Thai sweet teas iced coffees and fresh fruit are also there to enjoy. After lunch and a chill out we got back on the Tao Takay 9 and headed to Bon Bay for snorkel spot #2. Again the reef systems were thriving and there were larger fish swimming about. We stayed at Bon Bay for about 40 minutes before heading to our last stop of the day. Mare Yai or, Mother-in–Law Bay isn’t always open to the public but today it was. I had visited this site many years ago and it is one of the better spots for marine life and coral formations. It didn’t disappoint. We spent an hour there again, by ourselves. Come to think of it, we didn’t see or hear another boat all day! I dozed off on the way back to Nam Khem Pier. Since I was on another “inspection” tour to the Similan Islands the day before, I know that we were offered fresh fruit and chocolate brownies. We arrived safely and adjourned to the reception area for a nice snack buffet and refreshing ice cream. I’ve said it earlier and I will say it again now. SeaStar Plus did a fantastic job and really took care of us on our trip to the Surin Islands. Weather your destination is the Similan Islands, Surin Islands or one of their other tours, SeaStar plus is the way to go!
by Modell Bleu | Local Knowledge, Nature and Wildlife, The Similans
The Similan Islands are a string of 11 lslands off the coast of southern Thailand in Thai Muang District. The Similan Islands are located about 48km from Thap Lamu or Nam Kaen Piers in the Khao Lak area. Similan Islands translates from Malaysian to “Nine Islands”. When the islands came under the control of Thailand two more Islands were added to the marine park. The Similan Islands are home to a wide variety of marine life from the tiniest sea creatures to the largest behemoths in the sea.
I was fortunate to be part of an “inspection” tour of the Similan and Surin Islands for a local outfit called Seastar Plus. For now I will focus on The Similans. We met at Nam Kaen Pier early in the morning and were treated to a nice continental breakfast, welcome drink and refillable water bottle.
We boarded a 15 meter two level catamaran named Tao Talay 6. The cabin was air conditioned and there was plenty of room for the passengers. There was an upper deck for sunning once the boat was at anchor. The Tao Talay had one toilet near the captain’s chair. The vessel was designed to seat 70 people but there were about 30 of us onboard. Once seated we all were provided with a mesh bag containing a towel, mask, snorkel and fins. Captain Mac and three boat boys got us underway for the hour and 30 minute cruise to the Similan Islands. Our guide, Khun Way, Gave us a briefing about the day’s activities and A little of the islands history.
Our first stop once we reached the Similan Islands was the famous Donald Duck Bay on Island #8. Due to our early departure, we had the bay all to ourselves. We anchored and disembarked on the white sandy beach. A short hike followed up the rocks to the viewpoint. The trail and steps were easy to navigate and the view itself was tremendous. After about 40 minutes we got back on the Tao Talay 6 and headed to our first snorkel spot. Again we were the only ones there and spent an hour exploring the reefs and the sea life that made it their home.
Click Images Below to Enlarge
Next stop on our Similan Island tour was Island number 4 or Koh Miang. There we were greeted by the Marine Park Rangers. The tide was coming in so there wasn’t much beach to walk around but we were there for lunch. There are no cooking facilities on this Island so everything had to be brought in. We each received a Box Lunch with Seafood, Fried Chicken Rice, Thai Omlete, Pasta and Fresh Fruit. Soft drinks were provided from the Tao Talay’s coolers, which we were free to help ourselves to all day. There was also ice cold water to fill our bottles.
After lunch we got back on the Tao Talay 6 and headed to another snorkel spot in between Islands 5 and 6. Some chose to explore the reefs, others took advantage of the dive platforms on the upper deck. I took the time to relax on the over-sized bean bags scattered around the deck. Our last stop of the day was back to Island #8, Honeymoon Bay. There were a few speedboats already there but very few people in the water. Everyone jumped in and a few of us swam/snorkeled the 200 meters to the white sand beach. The Tao Talay picked us off the beach after a 20 minute break and we prepared for the ride back to Thap Lamu Pier.
There was fresh cut fruit and chocolate brownies offered to everyone. After a full day at the Similan Islands, most of us dozed off until we reached our home base at Nam Kaen. At the reception area there was a small buffet set up and ice cream to refresh ourselves after a long day. I highly enjoyed my day out to the Similan Islands and was very satisfied with the service and experience provided by Seastar Plus.
With people just starting to return to Thailand in 2021, now is the best time to visit the Similan Islands.
by Sam Goodey | Khao Lak Mangroves, Local Knowledge
The weather in Khao Lak plays a big part in what you get up to during your holiday. Between November and April you can be almost guaranteed to be treated to warm sun, clear skies and calm seas. But for the rest of the year the Khao Lak weather can be a bit unpredictable. Take yesterday for example, yesterday was a typical day in June. Hammering rain first thing in the morning followed by scorching sun and then an almighty thunderstorm that made the lights flicker in the evening. Sometimes it all comes at once and is gone within the hour, sometimes the weather lasts for a week!
So what can you do in Khao Lak when it rains?
Well some people will tell you that Khao Lak is an outdoors kind of place and you are better off looking to move somewhere on the east coast or in the north where the weather is a bit more stable. But that is not necessarily true. You can still enjoy your holiday in Khao Lak even through the biggest storms!
Why not relax with a traditional Thai massage while listening to the sound of the rain pattering on the window? There are several massage parlors lining almost every road in Khao Lak and they are open all year, rain or shine. Even if you don’t fancy heading out into town while it’s raining, almost every hotel in Khao Lak has an in-house spa that offers a full range of massage and health services.
If laying around is not for you, there are plenty of other activities in Khao Lak that are great fun even when it is raining! Trips to the waterfalls, bamboo rafting down the rivers, kayaking in the mangroves. These activities run all year round and even if it is raining, who cares? You are going to get wet anyway! The additional water just adds to the fun. A word of advice though, try to keep a shirt or a towel dry in a bag or in the car. It is still warm in Khao Lak even when it rains, but if the wind picks up and you are wet it can feel cold.
Another option for those who don’t enjoy laying around or getting wet, is to rent a car with a driver and head down to Phuket for the day. The drive from Khao Lak to Phuket takes just over an hour and a half. Once in Phuket you will be spoilt for choice. There are museums, zoos, shopping centers and even cinemas. Not forgetting of course the popular nightlife areas! In most cases your driver will be able to recommend the best places to go. Just let him know what kind of things you enjoy and let him show you around. If you are heading to Phuket for a day out I would always recommend booking a car with a driver and not trying to drive yourself. Phuket is a maze of busy streets that make Google maps and other sat navs dizzy. Even on the best of days, driving in Phuket is a tiring experience, and in the rain it is definitely not for the faint hearted. Best leave that job to the professionals.
But the most important thing to remember when it rains in Khao Lak is that the weather here can be incredibly localised. Just because it is raining outside your hotel room there is no guarantee that it is raining in the hotel car park. It is a common enough experience in Khao Lak to see it pouring with rain on one side of the road and bone dry on the other. So if you are planning a day out, go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? You might get 5 minutes down the road and discover that the sun has come out and you are missing your sunglasses. Or you might find that the rain is even harder than before and you are treated to a spectacular lightning show. Either way it keeps life exciting. The key to visiting Khao Lak in the monsoon season is to plan for rain, hope for sun.
by Modell Bleu | Khao Lak National Parks, Local Knowledge
When is the best time to visit the waterfalls in Khao Lak?
Khao Lak is home to a couple of beautiful local waterfalls. They have water running all year but in the summer months they are at their finest.
Chong Fa Waterfall is the one closest to town. It’s about 7 kilometers from Thanon Phet Kasem, the main highway that connects Phuket with Ranong. The road winds through the hills to the park entrance. The area is part of the national park system so there is a fee to visit. There are five levels to the falls with a mild hike through the shaded jungle canopy to get to the most popular one. The trail steepens and can be a little slippery when wet when proceeding to the upper falls. There is a back road that takes you to the top but it is hard to navigate and not recommended. The first three levels have places to get wet and depending on the time of year and water flow you can have a waterfall shower. The swimming areas have small cleaner fish swimming in them and they like to come and clean your feet. It can get humid while hiking to and from the falls so keeping hydrated is a must.
Located in Pak Weep after a winding road through rubber tree plantations is Sai Rung Waterfall. There are two levels to this water feature although the upper fall can be inaccessible due to the erosion of the hillside during the monsoon. Unlike Chong Fa, this waterfall you can almost drive up to. There is a parking area that charges 20 Baht for a car/motorbike. It’s just a few steps over a narrow footbridge and a short path to get to the swimming area. At about 15 feet, this is the most impressive fall in the Khao Lak area. There is also a small cafe near the parking area and during the winter months they will put tables and chairs in the stream for you to enjoy a cold beverage or snack.
The best time to visit the waterfalls in Khao Lak is on a weekday morning when the temperatures are cooler. On weekends the waterfalls can be quite busy with locals. At Chong Fa Waterfall young kids jump from the main waterfall into the swimming hole and families picnic on the flat rocks and shaded areas. Evenings at Sai Rung Waterfall you might witness a beautiful wedding taking place in a clearing in front of the waterfall.
Because of the close proximity between Chongfah and Sai Rung waterfalls, they are located 17 km from each other, you can easily visit both waterfalls in a few hours.
See the map on Google Earth Here
by Modell Bleu | Local Knowledge
Thailand has its own way of doing things. What is normal in Khao Lak isn’t necessarily the standard in your country. Khao Lak, as with any other town in other countries, has its habits which may or may not appeal to your sensibilities. Either way, it is good to be prepared for some usual things that you may encounter while visiting The Land of Smiles.
Beer with Ice Cubes and Soft Drinks in a Plastic Bag
Beer drinkers in Thailand take an entirely different treatment of their brew – they mix ice cubes with it. and with good reason. With all the heat and humidity, it is only logical to refresh the drink to keep it from warming up. You may find this a bit unusual and think that it waters down the beer, but give it a try and you’ll see the wisdom in putting ice in your beer. The Thais have created a way to have a drink on the go – plastic bag with a straw. A small plastic bag is filled with ice cubes; ice tea, ice coffee, coconut water, sugarcane water or any other refreshment and a straw is put in the bag for you to drink from. Before you get triggered about the environmental impact of all that plastic, These days you will only see it up-country and in smaller villages.
Insects as Snack
For the squeamish among us, insects are just not on our list of snacks to eat. They provide great nutritional value and Thai restaurants even in metropolitan cities like Bangkok and Phuket are serving anything from silk worms to water beetles, bamboo worms and crickets. Grasshopper still remains one of the top favorite snacks, especially among the children. They are fried with lime leaves and chilies until crispy and have a wonderful fragrance and texture. While snacking insects isn’t the norm, it is not unlikely to find restaurant menus that showcase extensive selections of insect-based foods. At any fair or festival in Thailand you will always come across a stand selling fried insects, give it a try.
If you happen to be in Thailand for the Songkran Festival, the traditional New Year’s Day of Thailand which falls on April 13, you will find that there are really some unusual things going on this day – . Originally Thai people gently poured water on the hands of their elders to show respect. Wishes for a long and happy life are exchanged. Temples are cleaned and merit is made. It is a time to gather with family and enjoy the day eating and relaxing in the shade. Well things have sure changed. As part of the celebration these days, merry makers use water guns to shoot water or buckets of freezing ice water on each other – no one is exempted. The unfortunate traffic policeman is a convenient target. Even children know this and take advantage of the occasion and then the buckets of water come out and everyone gets soaked from sun up to sun down. Chiang Mai is the epicenter of Songkran and festivities can last up to 5 days. Many locals who don’t want to get wet stay indoors until the sun sets and the streets dry off. In Khao Lak the Festival is only on the 13th and the government has been known to shut the water off at 5 o’clock.
From overloaded lumber trucks to 4 people on a scooter people here have a knack for the absurd when it comes to highway safety. Spend any time on the roads and you are guaranteed to witness this. Dogs on scooters. Monkeys and pigs on scooters. An entire bamboo forest stacked dangerously high in a small pickup truck. Overloaded vehicles leaning to the left. Overloaded vehicles leaning to the right. Some laying sideways in a ditch. Some upside down. Thailand is truly amazing.