Island hopping from Malaysia into Thailand and making your way through the islands into Phuket sounds idyllic right? What about doing it with 2 kids in tow? A bit less romantic, a bit more planning required. The most important lesson I took from this is ‘pace yourself’ don’t try to do too many hours on the boat each day, and stay at least 2 nights in each place. In this post I talk about the islands that we stopped at and our experience with the speedboat transfers.
Island hopping Langkawi to Koh Lipe
Arriving into Koh Lipe by ferry from Langkawi, we landed on a the busy but lovely Pattaya beach. There are lots of hotels / resorts, bars and restaurants here as well as on ‘walking street’. We stayed at Lantern Inn at the top end of walking street. There are quite a few options on Agoda.
Accommodation was very expensive in Koh Lipe when we booked, I think because it was close to Chinese New Year and people had already started their holidays. We ended up in a tiny guesthouse in a very tiny room with 2 bunk beds and a shower that was virtually on top of the toilet. Despite its tininess (which we were fully aware of when we booked) we were happy enough. The staff were friendly and helpful and the location was great.
Because of the expense and the basic room we’d decided to book for just one night, but we immediately regretted that because we really loved Koh Lipe. I know it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but sometimes what you want from a destination is a nice beach, clear water and soft sand. It’s nice to order a cocktail at sunset and sit with your feet in the sand. To walk to a good choice of restaurants for dinner. To have shops and places to get your nails done, a massage or hair braiding.
Koh Lipe had all of that on a beautiful beach. We were even more disappointed the next day when we checked our booking and realised we were leaving in the morning not the afternoon. But with the one hour time change from Malaysia we woke up early and managed to fit in coffee, hair braiding for S and a hair cut for Paul before the 10am boat. The previous afternoon we had a beautiful swim, cocktails at sunset and nice dinner. We packed a lot in to 20 or so hours.
Koh Lipe to Trang
Our next destination was Trang on Thailand’s mainland. We chose this because of my seasickness I didn’t want to go more than 1.5 – 2 hours each time on the boats. Again because of Chinese New Year, accommodation on some of the smaller islands was limited. Trang was really disappointing though. We had comfortable and spacious accommodation on an almost deserted beach just a few hundred metres from the port. But there was literally nothing else there. The water was lovely until L pulled his little sister away from a sinister looking jellyfish. There are many specious of jellyfish in Thailand’s waters, including some deadly ones, so it was a quick exit from the water after that. In the end we used the 2 nights there to regroup, catch up on blogging and school work and sleep. And regret that we hadn’t stayed longer in Koh Lipe!
Trang to Koh Lanta
From Trang we headed to Koh Lanta, this was a nice spot, but we were only staying one night. However the next day’s ferry wasn’t until late afternoon, so we did have a bit more time. We headed to Klong Dao beach in the evening for dinner watching the stunning sunset. The tide was low and lots of people were out walking the beach with their families. It was a lovely time of day to be there.
The next day S wasn’t feeling well, she had a stomach bug and had a high temperature the night before. I’d been awake with her a lot during the night. So we sent Paul and L to check out the other nearby beach, while her and I went to get our nails painted. We managed to fit in lunch and a short swim at Klong Dao beach before our final island hopping ferry to Phuket.
Overall we’d highly recommend Koh Lipe and Koh Lanta to visit. On Koh Lanta we weren’t staying on the beach, we were in Ban Saladan the small tourist town. But a tuk tuk was never more than a minute away for the 5 minute drive to the beach, it was a set price of 100 Thai Baht each time.
We stayed at Lanta Residence Boutique, it was ok, their family room suited us well for a good price. If your budget allows it would probably be more convenient to stay on the beach.
In Koh Lipe any location near walking street would suit if you want to be in the thick of the action. It isn’t far to other beaches if you want somewhere more peaceful.
Island hopping Logistics
We booked with Amazing Lanta, booking agents for Tiger Travel Co, the ferry operators. If I had a choice I wouldn’t travel with them again and I wouldn’t recommend them. Depending on which islands you want to visit and the routes you are taking there are other operators.
Tiger travel were at least an hour late, every single day. In places like Koh Lipe where we had less than 24 hours, wasting an hour on a floating pontoon in the bay waiting for a boat to leave when we could have been on the beach was frustrating. More frustrating was the lack of communication. All our boats were meant to be ferries, but were then replaced with speedboats. They had no toilets and no air conditioning, at each stop to let people on or off they were incredibly hot, to the point where some people were almost passing out. Every boat we travelled on was overbooked, there was no room for luggage and not enough seating for everyone. Passengers were forced to stand in the aisle, and sit on suitcases. As life jackets were on each seat I doubt there were sufficient on board for all the passengers.
The noise from the engine was deafening and the whole experience was an exercise in endurance. There was nothing fun about ‘island hopping’ with Tiger Travel. If we’d only had one trip with them I could have put this down to a one-off but we had the same experience on 3 separate days, with never an apology or explanation for inconvenience. It would appear to be their standard practice. It was a relief to finally arrive in Phuket to stay for 5 nights.
What we had hoped to do was not book in advance, arrive at each island, explore and decide how long to stay, that is after all the point of slow travel. Unfortunately the timing of Chinese New Year, need to book ferries and accommodation in advance at this time and being more limited on budget meant that this just wasn’t going to work for us. A bit harder when travelling with children too.
There is quite a lot of time wasted checking in for ferries etc, so I would recommend spending more time at fewer islands than trying to see everything. Also if you possibly can, travel light!