Arriving at 5pm we were collected by the transfer driver we had pre-booked to our accommodation Manora Garden. It was a 45-minute drive which cost us 700 thb (approximately £16). The property had excellent reviews and we hoped that it would live up to our expectations. We were not disappointed.
The garden is set in a rubber tree plantation in the Phang Nga area of Thailand. The hosts are Nui and Gerard, a Thai/Dutch couple who run the property. From our arrival we were impressed by the warmth and helpfulness we were shown by them and Nui cooked us food that evening whilst we were settling in. The couple say they do not run the business for profit but because they like meeting new people and we could believe that. We stayed in a bungalow with a 3-night booking for £90 which was very reasonable. After a lovely Thai curry, we settled down for the night ready for our next day adventures.
Despite the wildlife sounds, we had a good night sleep, breakfast and a few hours of chilling before we headed off to the Phang Nga Elephant Park. The trip we booked was not cheap; it cost 4,900 thb (approx £110) each for a half day experience but we felt it was the one extravagance of our trip and a once in a lifetime opportunity. We were especially interested in this park because of its ethical practices and concerns for animal welfare.
The transfer bus picked us at 12 and we arrived for our afternoon slot at 1pm. Upon our entry, we were very disappointed to see people having rides on elephants with chairs on their back as we understood this wasn’t what the place was about. We were reassured however this was because they had a contract with a tour company and they insisted that chairs were used for safety but numerous layers of carpet were used to protect the elephants and this contract was coming to an end. After a welcome drink and a tasty lunch, we then set off on our trek up the hill on Choosy and Patuk. Due to the fact we had booked independently from tour operators we were able to ride bareback.
Once we got to the top of the hill we then had the opportunity to feed our elephants which was quite daunting but fun at the same time.
After a short rest for the elephants and a breather for us we got back on and headed back down the hill where we then had the opportunity to bathe with them. Armed with a scrubbing brush we got into the water and scrubbed behind those ears!
After we had finished and had a shower to clean up and walked round the rest of the park and saw all the elephants and their Mahouts. There was also a baby elephant who was born there who was very interested in Nigel’s carrier bag. We headed back to our accommodation with the transported provided. On this occasion, we were driven by the park owner Jake in one of the cars and he was able to outline to us the ethical aims of the park and how they do not condone the ill-treatment of the elephants; including sacking mahouts who do not comply with his wishes. It was an amazing experience that we will not forget and despite the high cost it was clear to us the elephants were happy and well looked after; they are allowed to roam free around the park after it closes and were well fed and rested. We would definitely recommend this park.
Our evening was spent chilling in the communal area of Manora Garden where wifi is provided. We had another lovely meal cooked by Nui which was chicken in cashew nuts, organised the next day’s activities with Gerard and headed back to our bungalow for a good nights sleep in preparation for our early start.
The next morning we were collected at 7am by a private transfer to the Nai Ngob pier where we caught a boat to James Bond island, part of the Phang Nga National Park. The boat trip cost 1500tbh for all of us (approx £34). James Bond island is famous due to the rock formation which was featured in the film The Man with the Golden Gun. We arrived quite early and therefore there was no one to collect the 200bht (£4.64) entrance fee. We were soon collared however when the staff arrived by boat. Nigel decided to go in the water for a swim prior to our departure whilst Tilly and I got some rays.
After we left James Bond island we headed to Koh Panyi, a Muslim floating fishing village. The village has a population of 360 families, approximately 1,365 people and all properties are built on stilts. The village has a school, several shops and restaurants. Also, the village includes a floating football pitch which was built by children inspired by the 1986 world cup. After success in an inland tournament, the whole village was invited to play and Panyee FC is now thought of to be one of the most successful youth teams in Southern Thailand.
We headed back to Nai Ngob pier and were then taken by our driver to ‘monkey cave’ (Wat Suwannakua) which was, funnily enough, a temple in a cave with loads of monkeys around the entrance. There were stalls and a cafe there and erm several monkeys; however, after Nigel’s experience with a monkey in Cambodia, we didn’t want to get too close! We didn’t go in the temple due to the heat and neither Caitlin or I were dressed appropriately with shoulders covered we bought ice cream and then headed off to our next stop, somewhere we have no idea of the name of as we had a language barrier with the driver and could not see any signs! never the less it was very pretty and looked like some sort of National park and a walk into a cave.
Onwards from here was a quite disturbing but amusing temple called Wat Tham Ta Pan. By this point, we had seen a lot of temples but this to have been the weirdest one yet! It depicts some quite gory models of the path of hell as well as more serene ones for heaven. You take a journey through the dragon’s mouth and see some of the hellish models. Certainly weird but definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
By this time we were certainly hungry and stopped for some food at a restaurant recommended by Nui. Nui instructed our driver to take us there and even wrote down the English and Thai translations so we could order what we wanted to. It was a lovely meal and very reasonably priced at £3.30 for a meal for 3 of us and a drink. All were chicken and rice meals with varying degrees of spice and it was just down the road from the weird temple.
After the early start and packing so many activities into the day we headed back to Manora Garden sadly for our last night there. Gerard was extremely helpful in helping to book our ferry for the next day and arranging a driver to come and collect us. We most certainly knew we would miss Manora Garden and the amazing hospitality we had received from Nui and Gerard, as well as the company of the two cats (nicknamed Pouncer and Wiggler) who often followed us around and kept us company! We would highly recommend this place if you just want to relax and chill out.
The next morning was time to say goodbye and head for the ferry port in Krabi to catch our boat to Phi Phi Don; however, Nui arranged for us to see a couple of other temples on our way. We were collected at 9am (although the driver turned up considerably earlier) and headed off saying bye to our wonderful hosts.
We arrived approximately two hours early for our 1.30pm ferry from Krabi (Klong Jilad Pier) and decided to grab some food from one of the many kiosks. Word of advice is don’t… a pizza was not a pizza it was processed cheese on a bit of bread with some tomatoes. I had prebooked our tickets on Phuketferry.com for 1,342 thb (approx £32 all in) however you still need to queue and get ‘proper’ tickets for the boat with your confirmation. Then you have to try and load your luggage onto the boat with everyone else which is quite something, however, after our sweaty wait, we finally got on our way to Phi Phi!
We docked at Tonsai Pier at approximately 3pm, scrabbled to retrieve our luggage and headed down the pier to try and get some indication of where we needed to head. From a map I had looked at we needed to head right out of the pier and walk a short distance to find our hotel Chao Koh Phi Phi. Struggling with our bags we made it to the hotel and checked in with a welcoming glass of juice provided. The hotel had very mixed reviews and we weren’t sure what to expect as there had been mention of building works. From some online research, I determined that the new buildings included deluxe rooms which is what we booked. Koh Phi Phi Don is not cheap to stay in and our accommodation cost £139 for 2 nights plus an extra 1600 thb (£37.50) for a 3rd person on arrival. Never the less the room was very nice and we had no complaints about the service. The only thing that wasn’t to our liking was the pool which was a horrible colour and closed upon our arrival.
Due to the unavailability/nastiness of the pool in question, there was nothing for it but to head for the beach for a late afternoon swim!
The evening was spent exploring the town including the various gift shops available and trying to find something we could agree on eating. We decided on Italiano restaurant which is on the Tonsai ferry side of Koh Phi Phi Don. It is a newly renovated restaurant and we were all happy with our choices here including a Baileys ice cream and chocolate ice cream milkshakes! Like everything else in such a lovely location, it comes at a cost but the food and drink were nice as well as the fans they had in the restaurant! We looked about for boat trips for the next day and booked a half-day trip to Maya beach for 800thb each (approx £19) before returning back for an earlyish night.
The next morning we reported to the booking office for 8.30 after a spot of breakfast and set off on our boat trip. First stop was a stop offshore at Viking Cave and then onto Phi Ley Lagoon where we got off the boat for a short swim and snorkel. Nigel also practised his diving here!
Next, we headed on to Loh Sama Bay where we got out again for a snorkel and informed if we wanted to go to Maya bay we had to hand over an extra 200thb each (£4.70). We opted to without really knowing what we were letting ourselves in for. Nigel and Tilly were offered a lifejacket and the services of a kayak but I was told to swim. We were headed towards a very dodgy looking rope bridge and I had a rather scary swim across from the boat. I was quite concerned at this point that I was never going to manage to climb that rope bridge but I made it after being battered by waves onto the rocks underneath…I would not recommend getting to Maya Bay this way!
After a precarious swim and a shaky climb, we made our way through the National Park (which it turns out is why we needed to pay the fee) and to the beach. Maya Bay is the famous film location for the Leonardo di Caprio film named The Beach. When we got there armed with a fake Go Pro it was worth it for the location. We had a lovely swim here even though it was packed.
Our return trip was quite pleasant and we ended up docking back at Tonsai Pier at 1pm as planned. We were quite keen on going to swim with the bio-luminescent plankton at sunset however it became obvious quite soon after we got back to the hotel that sun cream was not used as sparingly as it should have been and we were all burnt with Tilly and Nigel definitely looking quite lobster all over and me on my back. In light of this and the fact we had probably had way too much sun today we decided to forgo the plankton and just take it easy for the rest of day.
That evening (after the sun had disappeared!) we decided to venture out and find somewhere to eat. It was tricky to find somewhere different and everywhere seemed very busy but eventually, we found a nice restaurant which catered for all called Unn’s. We sampled a few cocktails and decided to try and find a famous Thai Boxing bar in Koh Phi Phi that Nigel had heard of called Reggae bar. It was quite amusing that they served beer in man and woman sizes. We watched a match before returning back for the night for more water and aftersun.
Our last day was taken up with mostly souvenir shopping, packing and hanging about until our ferry was due to leave at 2pm…It was nearly time to leave this lovely island and head back to the mainland to get our flights home. After wandering around the island looking for souvenirs it became more obvious that one side is more ‘party’ than the other with fishbowl drinks and cocktails aplenty (the opposite side from us). There were a lot more bars than we were aware of. There was even a Tsunami shelter which we were lucky enough not to use and of course, I had to sample a fresh coconut.
Off we went from the island at 2pm on our ferry back to Phuket quite sad to leave such a beautiful place. We got to the port and had paid 400 thb each to get both the ferry and a transfer back to the airport. After some confusion, our driver turned up and he was so old we were worried we wouldn’t make it in one piece. After a hair-raising journey, we made it back to the airport and left our cases in left luggage as our flight wasn’t leaving until 1am. This was charged at 80 thb per bag which was not unreasonable. We then got a taxi into nearby Na Yang Beach, had a nice meal and a game or two of pool and a walk round to another bar until it was time to return for our Air China flight. The flight left on time and was quite uneventful although the food left a lot to be desired!
We arrived in Beijing airport at 7.45am and this time managed to successfully navigate our way out of the airport on the airport express train, explore the underground and head to Tian’anmen Square and The Forbidden City, a place Nigel was very keen to see. What struck us upon arrival was two things; how bad the smog was and how bloomin’ cold it was compared to where we had been! this was good practice for being back in the UK. We caught the airport express to Dongzhimen and then the underground which finally got us our final stop on our trip – Tian’anmen Square.
It was then time to reverse our journey and make it back in time (which we did) for our return flight back to London Heathrow and arrive back to reality with a bang!
It was an amazing couple of weeks and we packed so much into it and experienced so many new and different things we were sad to go home but our bank account was definitely thanking us. Thank you Cambodia, Thailand (and China) for an amazing break.. I’m sure we will be back!
**It should be noted that on October 13th 2016 King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the much-loved monarch of Thailand passed away. This means that for the next 12 months Thailand is in a period of mourning; the first month it was stated that all activities would be minimised as a mark of respect which included nightlife and parties in the country. Also, there was an expectation that black and white clothes were worn. As tourists we were unsure what to expect; we noted the air hostesses and stewards had black armbands on our flights there and we dressed in black and white to be respectful on our trip back to Thailand. However it did not really affect us; we were respectful and saw many people dressed in black and shops selling all black clothes but in general, as a tourist, it was acceptable for us to wear what we wanted. There did not seem to be a limitation of activity during the mourning period**