Koh Lanta: The Peaceful Alternative to Koh Phi Phi

After experiencing both Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta, I came up with a loving analogy to compare the two. 

If Koh Phi Phi is a first semester freshman in college who’s never left home and is finally turned loose on the world of partying, then Koh Lanta is the super senior who’s taking the bare minimum number of classes and spending most of the time stoned on the couch.

If you’ve gone to college, you probably get what I’m saying.

IMG_9202.JPG

 

Koh Lanta is bigger, less crowded, and unbelievably chill compared to Koh Phi Phi. To be honest, one of the best things to do in Koh Lanta is nothing, which me and my two companions did plenty of. Also eating, which I recommend you do at Secret Garden. I think we went there four times in three days (the crepes...).

When we weren’t doing nothing, we explored the area around our hostel on foot and around the island by scooter. We stayed at an amazing hostel called Loro Loco, which had incredibly friendly staff and an amazing pool/lounge area. It was also right on Long Beach, the main beach on Koh Lanta, which is lined with fun, colorful sunset bars.
*Note: If you're looking for a bit more of a luxurious stay on island, ASALANTA has amazing reviews and would be well worth checking out!

Needless to say, we spent every sunset and evening on the beach with a couple of beers and as much fresh fruit as we could carry.

IMG_9200.JPG
IMG_9201.JPG

 

Renting a scooter on Koh Lanta is very cheap, only about three US dollars a day.

There's a number of places you can explore on Koh Lanta via scooter. There's Mu Koh Lanta National Park, Mai Kaew Cave, Koh Lanta Old Town, Khlong Chak Waterfall, and countless stunning beaches, including Phra Ae Beach and Bamboo Beach. If you're looking to stack your day full of activities and places to explore, there's no shortage of options.
*Note: We heard from a couple of people that the entrance fee to the National Park isn't worth it, which is why we didn't go there, but if you're still interested it's worth noting that there is in fact an entrance fee of 200B per person.

If you're in Koh Lanta for a little longer, there's also plenty to do just off the island. There's diving, sunset cruises, and a day trip to Morakot Cave. Also known as the Emerald Cave, this stunning cave is on a tiny island just off of Koh Lanta and is well worth a visit. We didn't have enough time when we were there, but if I were to go back that would absolutely be on the top of my to do list.

What we DID do is rent two scooters for the three of us to explore the perimeter of the island for an afternoon. We opted for a more casual exploration and just stuck to aimlessly driving around and seeing the landscape before parking it on a deserted beach with a couple of fresh coconuts for a few hours. If you're enjoying a more low key day or trip, you can't go wrong with this.

Whether you want to go full explorer or have a chill day meandering around the island, you've got plenty of choices.

31706641_10157366498564745_9222750499252469760_n.jpg

 

On a side note, this would be an amazing place to practice riding a scooter, due to the low traffic and wide, paved roads all over the island. So if you’re looking for a place to gain confidence before embarking on a 3-month Vietnamese bike tour… I’ll say no more, you know who you are.

If you’ve been traveling for a while and are looking for a break or if you’re simply in need of a quick detox from the craziness of Koh Phi Phi or the Full Moon Party, look no further than Koh Lanta. This is the perfect place to put up your feet, string up your hammock, and read a few chapters of that book you picked up two months ago but haven’t opened yet.

A Guide to Kata & Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

I’ll start by saying that it’s largely chance that brought us to Phuket. MJ and I were ready to write off Phuket as a tourist-heavy, crowded beach with little to do other than party. Given that we were headed to Ko Phi Phi immediately after to do just that, we almost skipped Phuket all together. 

In the end, I’m glad we didn’t. 

Phuket is one of the bigger islands off of Southern Thailand and there are many ways to see it. Here’s our take.

IMG_0879.jpg

 

Patong Beach

I know, I know, starting with the obvious here. 

Patong Beach is without a doubt the most famous beach and tourist attraction on Phuket Island. This city is a haven for backpackers is probably one of the best places to meet and party with your fellow budget travelers. 

The place essentially is a 24/7 happy hour.

There are no shortage of bars and clubs on Patong Beach. As soon as the sun goes down, head to Bangla Road and duck into any one of the tens of bars and restaurants offering food, seemingly endless happy hour deals, and live entertainment. 

Not sure where to start your night? We stayed at Slumber Party Backpackers in Patong, which offers amazingly comfortable rooms and a different party itinerary for every night of the week. If you happen to wander over on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, join their pub crawl and see how long you can keep up (spoiler alert: I personally did not impress anyone). 

What else is there to do other than party? Patong Beach is the perfect place to lay out for a nap (go on, you’ve earned it), grab an icy fruit juice (COCONUT!), or even give parasailing a try.

Still not tired? Check out Patong’s night market for some of the most delicious and cheap eats you’ll find in the city. 

IMG_6259.JPG

 

Kata Beach

All right, so maybe you’re a little partied out and are looking for a more relaxing place to spend your time in Phuket. Allow me to direct your attention to…

Kata Beach is yet another stunningly beautiful beach town about 25-30 minutes south of Patong Beach. While it’s also got its fair share of tourists and nightlife, Kata is definitely the calmer of the two. 

You’ll have more room on the beach, less noise at night, and less traffic on the road if you’re looking to explore the city on foot, something I didn’t get to do but a friend highly recommended. 

After a few crazy nights in Patong, Kata was the perfect place to wind down with a beer on the beach at sunset.

IMG_0875.jpg
IMG_0890.jpg

 

 

Shark Bay Heritage Site

Shark Bay is a peninsula located on the West Coast of Australia, 850km north of Perth. The World Heritage Site is known for its unique ecological features including the Shell Beach, Hamelin Pools, Francis Peron National Park, and the marine wildlife of Monkey Mia.

 

Shell Beach

Shell Beach is not your average white sand beach. While it might look that way against the endless blue sky, the white rolling dunes of the beach are actually made up of tiny shells! These shells are all from a single species, an echinoderm known as the Shark Bay cockle - Fragum erugatum for my fellow biologists out there.

edit-6868.jpg

The water is only ankle-deep for most of the way out, so it’s easy to wade in the ocean and appreciate the beach from afar! 

edit-6824.jpg

 

Hamelin Pools

The Hamelin Pools are what credits the Shark Bay area for the second criteria of a World Heritage site. The flat “pancakes” are an ancient type of stromatolite that has been around for 3500 million years!

edit-6903.jpg

Enjoy a leisurely stroll on the boardwalk as you float above the starkly colored landscape. If you’re lucky, you can listen to the birds chirping as they dance in the sun. Check out this brochure if you’re interested in bird-watching throughout the area!

 

Denham

Denham is the first town upon entering the heritage area. It’s striking blue waters welcome you immediately upon pulling into the town centre.

edit-6610.jpg

The town has a rich story of sea exploration, and is themed after the historic shipwrecks off the coast. Two of the significant shipwrecks have been memorialized in the town center: Dutch merchant ship named Zuytdorp (1712), and a Norwegian whaler named Gudrun (1901). Read more about the local history on their website!

There are plenty of accommodation options in Denham, from the Heritage Resort to the variety of holiday parks along the beach. Be sure to stop by the Discovery Centre in town to check out the gallery of awe-inspiring local photography!

edit-6469.jpg

 

Monkey Mia

Monkey Mia is home to the friendly bottlenose dolphins. Every morning, the dolphins are treated to a free continental fish breakfast! For just AUS$12, you can get up close and watch them from the shore. The park is a marine reserve, so your fee is supporting a great cause. 

edit-6733.jpg

The operations at Monkey Mia have a long history of caring for the dolphins. Wildlife biologists have studied the local pod extensively, and have built the Monkey Mia experience to be as ecologically sustainable as possible. The conservationists take exceptional care to ensure that the dolphins do not feel threatened, and that their natural behavior is kept a priority. The dolphins are only there because they choose to be. There are strict guidelines for being a part of the magic, so please listen to your hosts carefully - they are professionals, and they know what’s best for the dolphins. 

edit-6688.jpg

If you’re lucky, you might even be chosen to help the volunteers feed the dolphins!

edit-6753.jpg

There are accommodation options in Monkey Mia if you’re keen on living with the dolphins for a few days. Otherwise, Denham is an easy 30-minute drive away.

There’s plenty to do in Monkey Mia. Enjoy an early morning coffee before the feeding, or grab some lunch at the Boughshed beachfront restaurant. Be careful of the pesky seabirds - they are not shy! 

edit-6800.jpg

Before leaving, say a quick hello to the giant pelicans roaming the beach! But don’t get too close, they’re stronger than you think! 

 

Francis Peron National Park

Francis Peron is a wild, remote National Park covering the entire northern half of the Shark Bay peninsula. It’s an easy drive to the homestead, but beyond that requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Hiring a tour is the best way to see the vast wildlife haven. They can show you the best landscapes without you having to worry about getting “bogged” in the sand! Stop by the Visitor Centre in Denham to book, or check online.

Exploring The Coromandel, New Zealand

The Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand stretches along the coast directly east of Auckland. This beautiful peninsula attracts hikers and nature-enthusiasts from around the world because of its lush hiking trails, landscapes, and coastline attractions. 

While our original plan was to spend a day or two hiking the Pinnacles, we had to make different plans after we learned that the trails were closed due to excessive rain (curse you, Spring). We therefore spent a couple of days exploring the Coromandel region and found these gems along the way.

EcoQuest

This was our first stop on the way to the Coromandel and MJ had been talking of nothing else for the weeks leading up to our trip. She spent 15 weeks on a field studies program during college as a study abroad and was seriously looking forward to going back.

It’s beautiful, right on the coast in a small town called Kaiaua which has one bar and a seriously amazing fish & chips takeaway. We spent a night there in one of their cabins, resting and recharging before carrying on to Hahei Beach. 

MJ recently wrote a post on her experience at EcoQuest and its significance to her and her studies. Check it out here.

edit-0445.jpg

Hot Water Beach, Hahei Beach

Hahei Beach was high on our list of things to do after we learned that hiking the Pinnacles was no longer on the table. We got two bunks at a hostel called On the Beach Backpackers, which is a crazy colorful and crazy awesome spot along the beach in Whitianga. We stayed the night, caught MJ up on Lord of the Rings before getting to Hobbiton later that week, and got up early to catch low tide at Hot Water Beach.

edit-0477.jpg

This beach is a pretty famous phenomenon and is usually pretty crowded. We happened to go on a cold, rainy day (again, awesome Spring we’re having here) which ended up working out for us because there weren’t too many people. So, after borrowing a shovel (this is a BYO-shovel location people) from our hostel, we drove 30 minutes and found the beach and the tell-tale group of people clustered around the “hot water” section of the beach.

This beach has a natural hot spring just along the edge of the water. This means that, at low-tide, you can literally dig your own hot tub in the sand between the spring and the ocean. The water can get crazy hot, so don’t try and dig too far up the beach, stick close to where the tide is just coming in. 

Turns out, digging your own hole in the rain isn’t too fun. Lucky for us, we met a couple of German backpackers who invited us to share a huge hole that they had found already made once they got to the beach. We sat there, in the mixed rain and shine, for about two hours with people from all over who had managed to get there in time for the low tide. 

We also befriended a couple of fellow Americans, who hitched a ride with us to our next location: Cathedral Cove. 

IMG_7633.jpg
GOPR2342.JPG

Cathedral Cove, Hahei Beach

For those of you who don’t know me personally, there are a few things you should know. I am a Pinterest fanatic (seriously, I don’t even know how many hours I’ve spent on there) and the beach, any beach really, is my favorite place to be. 

SO, after seeing, and pinning, many images of Cathedral Cove in preparation for this trip, I was SO excited to get there. 

Yes, it was magical. Yes, it was everything I hoped it would be. Yes, I swam in the ocean even though everyone there was in full hiking gear. (And, yes, I paid for it afterwards by getting sick almost immediately.)

Unless you decide to go by boat or kayak, it’s about a 45 minute hike to the beach. It’s not particularly difficult, but it can be muddy and you should wear decent shoes (looking at you, American friends who decided to do it in sliders). The beach is beautiful and the “cathedral” cove is just as amazing in person as it is in pictures. We got lucky and managed to snap a couple of pictures before it was crowded with tourists. 

After the beach, it was back to the hostel. We had an incredibly entertaining night of teaching our American friends about whiskey slaps (ask MJ about these) and trying to teach some French friends we met how to play Kings. In French. It got difficult a couple of slaps in.

edit-1881.jpg

Kauri Grove

This grove was a stop along our route out of Whitianga. We followed the Pacific Coast Highway, which started a little after this grove, to get to Matamata. It’s an incredibly beautiful route to take, you can read more about it in this post.

There are numerous Kauri groves in New Zealand, but the one we stopped at is particularly famous for its Kauri formation. The Kauri is one of the native trees of New Zealand and is both very important in the Maori culture as well as in the native New Zealand environment. They’re massive trees and awe-inspiring to look up at. 

While we were here, MJ told me a little history of the Kauri tree. There used to be many Kauris in New Zealand, but they were so big that many were cut down in the early ages of the logging industry. She told me that there was one tree that was cut down that was so big that they used the stump as a dance floor. Now, the trees are protected, and for good reason.

edit-1921.jpg

Driving Creek Railways & Potteries

This was another stop along our way to Matamata. Its a beautiful, unique experience that has you boarding a tiny train that takes you up in to the mountain to a tower overlooking Hauraki Golf. We got lucky with yet another beautiful day and the view is absolutely stunning. 

MJ wrote a more detailed post about our adventures at Driving Creek, you can check it out here.