HEY THAILAND, ME AGAIN
Updated: May 28, 2020
I never seem to be able to stay away from Thailand for too long. For whatever reason, it feels like a home away from home. Missing the city? Thailand. Have some errands to run? Thailand. Need a break from all that other adventuring I’ve been doing? Thailand. There is just a sense of comfort about it that keeps me coming back. So back in Bangkok for the fourth time this year, I hit up my favourite night market then got up early for my next flight south to Krabi Province. I’d been to Krabi Town and Ao Nang before but didn’t have nearly enough time to explore it properly.
First stop, Krabi town. Krabi town is a perfect home base. It's a good half way point to the rest of my to-do list, has some good coffee spots to work out of, some great markets and beautiful temples.
The last time I was in the area, it was all about the water. This time, I rented a scooted and hit all the jungle spots I still wanted to see. I wanted to skip the crowds, or any tourists at all, so I set out early with two spots on my list. A hot spring waterfall and another spot called The Emerald Pool.
As I got there, I passed one couple on their way out and found the waterfall empty. Exactly what I hoped for. If it had been a little more remote, it probably would have been one of my favourite spots in all of Thailand. Even as it was, it was magic. The flow of water wasn’t aggressive, more a hot river moving through a series of waist deep pools to meet the river. I spent about 40 minutes soaking and moving from pool to pool, completely relaxed. Just as I was debating how much more heat I could stand, a tour group showed up and I took that as my cue to leave.
The Emerald Pool
As I was heading down the road Google suggested, I saw a sign on a dirt road claiming it lead to my next stop, The Emerald Pool. So I followed it. It was the right choice. Instead of the highway road, it took me on a dusty road through 20 minutes of dense palm trees. Definitely a much more scenic drive.
Arriving at the entrance of the park, it was clear that the pool is a well-established spot. A whole set of shops flanked the street all the way down to the entrance. Once inside the gate, the walk was much more pleasant with a well worn trail though the trees and boardwalks over shallow ponds and marshlands.
The pool itself was actually much larger than expected and it lived up to its name. On first impression it wass beautiful, amazingly colourful and so clear. Not nearly as warm as the waterfall but still more than comfortable to swim around in for awhile. Half an hour was as much time as I needed which worked out well because as I packed up, the sky clouded over and opened into a full-on down pour. As usual though, it didn’t last too long.
The beach is somewhere between Krabi town and Ao Nang, a drive I learned by heart after a few weeks driving back and forth. To get down to the beach, you kind of just had to jump down through a hole in the trees onto the beach. As far as beaches go, it isn’t the most beautiful but I’m always happy when I have a whole beach to myself. The geography of the area is pretty striking too, though it is the most dramatic a low tide, which I was a little late for. The fossils were interesting but I’ll admit I was hoping for something a little more dramatic as the fossils are all of small molluscs. At first glance, they were easy to miss.
All of the rocks look like this up close
I wandered around for awhile, moving through rock after rock coated in shells but as it turned out, my favourite part about the beach was the little tree swing I found on my way to the fossils. Nothing more than a stick and rope tied to a tree. Simple but perfect. I swayed around for awhile, then around and around. Just long enough to get properly dizzy.
After a week in Krabi town, I decided I needed to be a little closer to the beach so I moved over to Ao Nang. By this point, I’d gotten a pretty good moving day system down with my backpacks. Once settled in to my new home, complete with garden and pool, I started figuring out what I wanted to do next.
Khao Ngon Nak Nation Park
About a half hour drive from Ao Nang is the national park. I didn’t even know about it the last time I was in the area but I’d heard about it this time from another traveller. Listening to how he described it, it immediately went to the top of my to-do list.
The first day I planned to go, I set my alarm for a 6am start but opened my door to find myself watching a violent storm. So I went back to bed. The second time was much more successful. I made it to the park entrance right at opening, checked in with the ranger and started on my way. The trail was another one that went straight up most of the way. It was early enough that it wasn’t too hot yet but it was still a sweaty climb. Parts of the trail were rough and it was obvious where the heavy rains had washed it out in spots. It just made it a little more interesting. The ranger told me the average time up and down is about five hours but I always end up taking longer because I’m so easily distracted by all the little things along the way. One of those things that pulled my attention was a trail of ants crossing the trail. Not just a line of ants, but thousands of ants making their way to wherever ants go. They didn’t seem bothered by me, nor did they send out any scouts to bite me, so I sat and watched for awhile.
One of my favourite parts about hiking in Thailand is how the trees and vines curl around each other. There are lot of straight lines in the forest but so many more shapes running through the trees and ground that I haven’t seen anywhere else.
As I got closer to the top, I got a better understanding of why this hike came so highly recommended. The view from the first break in the trees was unreal and it just got more and more beautiful the higher I got. The hours of hiking were more than worth it to enjoy that view.
The beach is still on the mainland but only accessible by boat because of the rock formations that surround it on all sides. I’d been here once before to rock climb but it was raining so I didn’t get much time to enjoy the beach. This time, I made an afternoon of it, finding a shady spot under the cliff. It's a stop on everyone’s list when they come to Ao Nang and it has shops and restaurants to cater to everyone but it's still easy to find a good spot to lay out your beach towel and the view doesn’t disappoint.
On the way over by boat
My last stop on this Thailand trip was Koh Lanta and it was exactly the sleepy little island I was looking for. Based on the number of empty bars I passed on my nightly drives, it's not always as sleepy but low season seemed distinctly quieter here than on the main land. That suited me just fine. Most days, I had the beach to myself. Not just one beach, all the beaches. There isn’t a ton to do on the island. My to-do list, beyond eating and sitting on the beach, was really just two hiking spots.
Mu Ko Lanta National Park At the very tip of Koh Lanta, you’ll find the national park. The road to get there is steep going up or down, and trades scenery between dense jungle and wide open coast line. I enjoyed the 40 min drive as much as this hike. The trail through the park is a pretty easy one and not too long but good exercise just the same. The end of the trail comes out onto the top of the road so instead of walking back down on the road, I doubled back to do the trail all over again. Still no monkey sightings this time.
View point on the trail
The hike was nice but best part of the park is the lighthouse on the southern most tip of the island. The beach is rocky, with shallow pools filled with all sorts of sea life that got stuck there until the tide rolled back in. I’d never seen a sea cucumber until then but the pools were filled with them, along with starfish and other small fish I can’t name.
At 35 degrees, the climb up to the lighthouse in open sun made it feel like my skin was on fire. The rock was loose and the cliffs were jagged. Not the safest combo but it’s about the view, isn’t it? There is always something about the open ocean that I find calming. I’m always drawn to the sea. Maybe because it puts life into perspective, being so small and surrounded by something so large. From the top, it’s open sea as far as you can see. Uninterrupted blue, sea to sky, forever. Maybe I was a lighthouse keeper in another life?
Khao Mai Khew Cave and Waterfall
I followed a similar winding road to get to the cave and waterfall. When I first arrived, a guide was recommended but I opted to go on my own. The trail was easy enough to navigate, I just stuck to the river or kept it’s location in mind when I moved away from it. For the directionally challenged, a guide wouldn’t have been the worst idea because the trail wasn’t just one trail. It was multiple trails crisscrossing each other. The way I came in was definitely not the same way I went out. I probably missed a few bits of nature that a local guide could have pointed out but I found my way easily enough.
Crossing the river, I found the caves first. I don’t know when I started liking caves so much but they’ve become something I seek out now. I’m always so impressed by the structure of them, the rock formations and the biodiversity hiding in them. Or maybe I like the bats? It’s probably the bats.
After exploring the caves, I followed the river upstream. It eventually lead me to the falls. While not the most impressive falls I’ve seen, it had a lot of charm. No more than eight meters tall, there wasn’t a torrent of water falling. More a steady stream that sent a layer mist over the sunny clearing and small pool below. I found a spot to sit in the pool, just out of reach of the falls to enjoy the sun for a minute when two curious little skinks found their way to spots near by. They were skittish and moved when I moved, but stayed and posed while I took some photos.
One of the skinks
Walking out, it occurred to me that this spot was probably one of the most active as far as jungle life moving and growing around me. Monkeys and birds were constantly moving in the trees above, the ground continuously shifting with ants on a mission and various lizards running around.
I spent most of the rest of my time on the beach, soaking up much of the Thai sun as possible. Unfortunately, that also included more than one beach clean. I took everything I could fit into the bags I had, found and could carry out of there but there is always more. Visiting these spots has changed my perspective in so many ways, but probably the biggest one is just how much of an impact we have on our environment. I think part of it is that where I’m from, we hide our waste better. But in so many places, the visual is striking and upsetting. Getting a plastic bag stuck on your foot while swimming is gross. Walking down the beach and passing a spot where there is more trash than sand is gross. Watching tourists tanning on the beach and ignoring a field of washed up plastic bottles all around them is shocking. What we’ve grown to accept as normal is sad. It’s something I cared about before I left but seeing our garbage destroy these places that have changed me and that I’ve grown to love along the way, has impacted me irrevocably. I’m not sure how I can convey the feeling or help others understand when they haven’t experienced it the same way. So for now, I’ll post the photos here along with the beautiful ones. If it does anything to change your perspective or habits for the better, even in a small way, I’m happy.
I’ll see you when I see you Thailand. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.