Songkran in Hatyai and Koh Lipe

Once again we have approached the Songkran Holidays in Thailand.  This is essentially the spring break at our school, giving us two full weeks to travel.  We decided to make our way to the furthest southern parts of Thailand by flying in to Hatyai and then traveling to a small remote island located on the Andaman Sea called Koh Lipe.  This proved to be a fairly inexpensive and enjoyable holiday!

We flew out of Pattaya’s Utapao airport on a Wednesday afternoon and arrived in Hatyai around 6:30pm.

We checked into our hotel (Aloha Hatyai) located in Central Hatyai and were quite hungry so we walked outside in search of some food.  We often eat Thai food but were instead in search of something a little more Western like maybe some pizza, a sandwich, fish and chips, etc.  We walked around a few blocks only to find lots of Halal, Muslim, Malay, Thai, and Chinese foods but not what we were in search of.  We weren’t too keen on walking around much at night because of our slight paranoia due to the past turmoil that has occurred in Hatyai on occasion (look it up). We finally gave up and settled for a restaurant next to our hotel called Washington I believe.  This was a Chinese restaurant that was set up with banquet-style round tables each with their own lazy-suzan wheels in the center for sharing food.  There was also a revolving group of people who got up onto a stage in the corner to sing traditional Chinese karaoke songs. We got lots of stares and attention as we were the only western people in the place. At one point 7 or 8 servers gathered around our children, pinching their cheeks and rubbing their heads.  We got a quick dinner of stir-fried noodles and rice and made our way back to the hotel for the night.

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The next morning we were met in our hotel lobby by a gentleman from Dee Travels Hatyai to take us on a two hour shared-van ride west to Pak-Bara Pier.

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We left around 8:30AM and made our way towards Pak-Bara.  We had a brief scary moment along the way when we reached a police check-point.  The police let many cars go by but stopped our van and made us pull aside. He asked our driver to step outside and began talking to him.  Eventually he made the driver take a breath-a-lizer test.  Luckily the driver passed and we were on our way again but it was briefly scary.  It also made sense because we were driving during the first day of Song-kran and it is common to have many drunk drivers on the road.  By 11AM we arrived at Pak-Bara and walked towards the pier to check in.

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We boarded our large speedboat with about 30 others and departed for Koh Lipe at around 11:30AM.

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We arrived at Koh Lipe at about 1:00PM.  It was a beautiful island surrounded with soft white sand and clear, bluish water.  You could easily see the floor of the ocean from above in our boat.  Pockets of coral beds were everywhere.

We were dropped off at Pattaya Beach (there are three beaches; Pattaya, Sunrise, Sunset) and unloaded our bags to make way to our bungalow.  Pattaya Beach is the main beach that tourist are dropped off at so there are lots of long tail boats and speedboats parked out in the water at all times.  Also the beach has lots of people at most times of the day.

We checked in to a very chilled out, kind of hippie-style bungalow called Blue Tribes Resort.  We were given one of the best bungalows on the property which was literally steps from the water and had a wonderful view of the beach and ocean.

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Our only complaint eventually was that there was only two fans and no A/C which was difficult on the children at night, but not a deal breaker.  We placed buckets of ice in front of the fans at night to drop the temperature a little.

After checking in we walked a few meters from Blue Tribes to Walking Street which has lots of shops and restaurants.

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We had lunch at Elephant which is a very popular spot on the island. Great food!  Great ambiance!  Great music!

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We headed back to the bungalow to get some snorkel gear together and take a swim.  There were many beautiful multicolored fish and coral that could easily be seen through the ultra-clear water.  We did this for about an hour and then took a break from the sun inside the bungalow until dinner time.

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We found dinner at a place a couple of buildings up from Elephant called The Box which had Spanish tapas, good wine, pasta, and burgers.  Our waitress there had just moved to Koh Lipe the week prior from Spain.  She encouraged us to check out both Sunrise and Sunset Beach.  As it got darker it was time to head back to the bungalow to settle the kids down.  Blue Tribes was set up with beach mats out front in preparation of viewing the fire show happening in a few hours.  We hung out long enough to watch the show before crashing out for the night.

The next morning we took a tuk-tuk to the other side of the island on Sunrise Beach, next to the Andaman Resort (the tuk-tuk driver insisted it was the best view).  We immediately noticed how much less crowded this beach was.  It also sit closer to the mountains of a nearby island, Koh Adang.  We felt as if we had the beach all to ourselves.

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There none of the long tail boats or speedboats like on the Pattaya Beach side.  It was tranquil.  After about an hour we decided to make our way back towards Blue Tribes on the other side of the island to get our water guns, etc. for the Songkran festivities going on off of Walking Street.  After doing so we made our way up Walking Street greeted by the relentless onslaught of people dousing you with ice water, spraying you with supersoaker water guns, or simply smearing talcum paste on your face screaming, “Happy New Year, Happy Songkran!”  This was as exciting as we had remembered from last year’s Songkran in Ao Nang.  In front of a 7-11 people stood posted up ready to attack any tuk-tuk, motorbike, or passerby who was brave enough to walk through.  Very cool!

After a good hour or so of water wars and a quick lunch we decided we were ready for a second helping of the calmness of Sunrise Beach.  We eventually made our way back, around a small cove on Sunrise beach close to Mountain View Resort.  This vantage point was especially impressive and very secluded feeling.  It felt like a true paradise.

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This was an excellent location for snorkeling and the water in this cove never seemed to get very deep.  It is instantly awe-inspiring from the moment you see it.

The next day it was time to catch our speedboat back to Pak Bara Pier and then catch the van back to Hatyai for one more night.  We were slightly sad to leave this paradise but also welcomed the idea of our next night in an air-conditioned hotel room.  We arrived in Hatyai around 3:00PM and checked in to our hotel.  This time around we were able to find an Irish pub within walking distance to find dinner and swung by a Tops market or a couple bottles of wine.  It was a chill evening.

On our final day we had afternoon flights back to Pattaya so we decided to find somewhere to kill some time before heading back.  We made our way to Hatyai Municipal Park.  This was a nice little find that offered expansive views of Hatyai and some impressive Buddha sculptures. There was also a planetarium that had a very retro feel.

If we had more time, there was the option of taking a aerial cable car to another mountaintop across the way, where there was supposedly more temple complexes to see.   We instead caught our flight and were in route back home.  All in all, I loved Koh Lipe and Hatyai was OK.  Now, onto Siem Reap.

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