I end up being in Thailand for Songkran holiday without any plans and no interest to stay in Bangkok. Last minute planning was in order and since I was alone in these next couple of days, I decided scuba diving was the best possible activity to do. You always meet nice people when you dive, plus it always provides an easy first topic of conversation to start getting to know your fellow travelers.
Choices where tough as it was to be my last trip from Thailand, I was tempted to dive in the Similans islands again, and particularly Richelieu Rock or Koh Tachai. But with Songkran, the prices of all flights to Phuket where quite prohibitive. I considered a couple of options from MY Genesis in Khao Lak to West Divers MV Fasai from Phuket. However this would all set me back from 34,000 THB to 37,000 THB all included ( flights / hotels and diving ) and as my final move to Indonesia is getting closer - being reasonable was in order.
Koh Lipe was on the back of my mind as we did spend the 2016 new year there and only dived 2 days, so there was still a lot of dive sites left unexplored. Plus I was in no mood for complicated and Nok air provided transfer services from Hat Yai for a decent price ( considering it was Songkran holiday... ).
How did it go, very well. I book online the flight + island transfer to be assured I got all sorted out for transport. Got into my early 6 am morning flight from Bangkok. In Hat Yai at the baggage carousel one of the Nok ground service staff was waiting for me, the bus transfer was planned for an hour later so she told me to meet her at the arrival inside the airport a little later. I got time for a coffee, roaming around the (small) airport and finally a good 20 min sitting in the waiting area. She picked me up and lead me to the mini-van with another 2 travelers. Off we went for the 2 hours bus ride to Pak Bara pier, uneventfully.
At the pier, the travel agent lead me to where we had to collect our ferry tickets, the lady at the small tourist office booth at my name on her list, gave me a sticker to put on my chest, a boat number queueing ticket and asked me to wait 20 min. I was to be on the 11 am ferry. About 15min before the boat departure time, she herded all the travelers to the pier and we paid the pier fee (20 THB) and the national park fee (200 THB) before entering the waiting lounge of the pier. The company which Nok partner with is Siri Bara travel agent.
Once the boat was here (no more than 5min later), they loaded our luggage first and then let us board the boat in order of the queueing number. (Remember the one that the lady gave me at the ferry ticket office).
All was pretty smooth, the only frustrating part is that at this point, you start to get a little tired and the boat ride to Koh Lipe is another 1h30. But the boat stops once at Koh Tarutao national parc for 15min photo time and then another beach with a stone arch for another 15min photo time. So the total time is more about 2h to 2h15.
I arrived at Koh lipe around 13:30. At my surprise... as I didn't remember this from 2 year before, the speedboat no longer stop at the beach but at a floating pier 200m from the beach for which you have to pay 50 THB per person to take a longtail boat to bring you where you want to go !
I had decided to dive with Forra Diving, as my experience with them from 2 years ago was pretty good and I booked through them the Bamboo Beach resort on Pattaya Beach. I had my 15Kg diving gear to carry and it was hot, so I walked along the back to check in at the dive center first to leave my stuff there before going to the bungalows. Had I know, for 50 THB you could go anywhere along pattaya beach with the small motorcycle taxi... I wouldn't have carried all this by myself ! The longtail on pattaya beach drop you off between the immigration office and the Bundhaya resort ferry both, in between a little at the back are some motorcycle trickshaw style taxi to help you.
I did enjoy the diving very much, we dived on these three days: Stonehenge, Koh Sarang, 8 miles and more that I can't remember now. ( I kind update my log book not regularly anymore ). Beautiful soft corals and my favorite seahorses on a few dives ! Lots of nudis and nice fishes to see. Overall under water scenery was as beautiful as I remember. Forra diving was relaxed, professional and chilled as before. I did meet awesome people during this trip which whom I shared beer and diners after diving. I am pretty sure I will keep in touch with some of them in the future.
Songkran in Koh Lipe was a one day affair, on Saturday 14th of April - anyone walking along walking street was drenched. We came back from diving around 15h and where welcome by water battle raging on from both all local thai to tourists ! It was quite fun to watch - it did die down around 7 pm so it was safe to go out for diner.
The bungalows on Pattaya beach belonging to Forra diving was very simple, made out of Bamboo and with a very nice hamoc in front. The fan is once that can be moved around, so I managed to put in inside the mosquito net on minimum for nice refreshing breeze at night. You can heard everything from the outside, so if you are a light sleeper, this is not recommended for you. If you are diving with Forra, you get 25% off the accommodation for each day you dive.
I would very much recommend the Bombay Indian restaurant which is 2 min walk left once you are out of walking street on the way to sunrise beach. The food there was amazing. For breakfast a nice combo is coffee from The Elephant bar ( which opens at 7 am ) and the banana cake from Koh lipe bakery almost in front on walking street - you can grab this and then have it at the dive shop before leaving for the day on the boat.
The way back to Bangkok was very well organized. A motorcycle taxi from the hotel to the departure point on the beach - paid a 50 THB longtail ticket ( 30min before the time of your boat, there is a lady that set up a small plastic table on the beach selling the tickets ) to the floating pier. At the floating pier, I located the ferry ticket table and showed them my boarding pass from my phone - got the same sticker and waiting the 9:30 am boat. A long boat ride later, at Pak Bara, a man with a Siri Bara T-Shirt was waiting for me a the pier and pick me up to bring me to a mini-van. We waiting maybe 15min that the van was filling up and off we went to Hat Yai airport. I arrived 2 hours before the flight - check in the luggage and went on for lunch ( my flight back was at 15:05 ).
Here are some information about the cost involved for this 5 days / 4 nights holiday:
Description - Cost (THB)
|Flight tickets with island transfer option (Nok Air)||9,930|
|Diving (I have my own gear) 3 days/3 dives per day||9,200|
|Accommodation at the Forra Bamboo resort Pattaya beach (1,100 THB/night) and 3 nights with 25% off||3,575|
|Overall food expenses||3,000|
|National Park Fee||200|
|Various taxi in the island||100|
|Grand total (THB)||26,325|