Paradise Found: Sleeping on a Boat in Maya Bay

On the small ferry to Ko Phi Phi. It was either sit on the hull and get windblown and wet, or suffer the thick diesel smell below ...

On the small ferry to Ko Phi Phi. It was either sit on the hull and get windblown and wet, or endure the thick diesel smell below …

We had a lot of mixed feelings about going to the touristy Ko Phi Phi islands, which are reputed to be party central. However, they are supposed to be among the most beautiful islands in the world and we wanted to have a glimpse while we were so close. The main island (Ko Phi Phi Don) is so popular that hotel prices are quite high, so we decided to take a chance on an overnight boat trip to the nearby Ko Phi Phi Leh, (a national park where The Beach was filmed). There are no hotels on this island so it is full of day trippers between sunrise and sunset. The ‘Sleep Aboard‘ trip is the only authorized group that can be on Maya Beach after sunset, so you end up having the place to yourself (aside from a few park employees that camp inland from the beach). This meant that we would only have about 6 hours to spend on the main island of Ko Phi Phi Don before our boat left, but that turned out to be just right for us.

View of the center strip of land connecting two beaches on Phi Phi Don (yes, it is pronounced 'pee pee'). It was sweltering hot and we were carrying our packs around for the overnight boat trip. John and I had a difference of opinion over whether or not to take the 1/2 hour, uphill hike to the viewpoint in the noontime heat with our bags. We compromised and John had a beer (or two) and watched the bags while I did the hike. It was a tough hike in the heat, and I don't think I would've made it to the top with my bag, so I was relieved that John didn't want to do it in the end. It all worked out and the hike was well worth it for the views.

View of the strip of land connecting two beaches in the center of Phi Phi Don (yes, it is pronounced ‘pee pee’). The heat was sweltering and we were carrying full day packs around for the overnight boat trip. John and I had a difference of opinion over whether or not to take the 1/2 hour, uphill hike to the viewpoint in the noontime heat with our bags. We compromised and John had a beer (or two) and watched the bags while I did the hike. It was a tough hike in the heat, and I don’t think I would’ve made it to the top with my bag, so I was relieved that John didn’t want to do it in the end. It all worked out and the hike was well worth it for the views.


View from the Ko Phi Phi Don viewpoint over to Ko Phi Phi Leh (where The Beach was filmed).

View from the Ko Phi Phi Don viewpoint over to Ko Phi Phi Leh (where The Beach was filmed, on the other side of the island).

After I climbed to the Phi Phi viewpoint and John had a few beers, he decided to try his luck at a local barber for his second haircut on the trip. This stylist ended up giving him a great haircut and goatee trim, all with little-to-no communication between them.

After I climbed to the Phi Phi viewpoint and John had a few beers, he decided to try his luck at a local barber for his second haircut on the trip. This stylist ended up giving him a great haircut and goatee trim, all with little-to-no communication between them.

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Choosing to breeze in and out of Phi Phi Don and spend the night on a boat in Maya Bay was a great decision. Sleeping under the stars in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been was one of my favorite nights on the trip.

We had quite a full day of activities, which included: ferrying over to Phi Phi from Ko Lanta, hiking and walking around Phi Phi Don, afternoon snorkeling off of the boat on the way to Maya Bay, watching the day trippers and other boats trickle away after the sunset, and eating a full Thai dinner and drinking a couple ‘buckets’ of the local Sangsom rum and coke while getting to know our fellow passengers on Maya Beach. All of this was followed by midnight snorkeling among the bioluminescent fish in the bay. We had so much fun and it was so beautiful that it seemed surreal.

We stayed up really late hanging out with some great folks from all over, including England, Ireland, France, Argentina, Belgium, and surprisingly, only one other American. Even after such a packed day, I was so full of adrenaline and awe at everything around us that I could barely sleep. Not only was sleeping under the stars pretty incredible, lightning in the distance made for such a beautiful sky that I didn’t want to close my eyes and miss a moment of it. I hope I never forget how I felt lying under the brilliant sky that night.

John and I were especially struck by how much better this overnight boat trip was than the one we took to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. The Ha Long Bay boat was much nicer, with private cabins and fancy-looking (but not tasting) 5 course meals. The Maya Bay boat was pretty basic, with a tiny bathroom, and buffet style food. A foam mat and pillow, wherever you threw them down, counted as your accommodation for the night. The difference was actually pretty stark (and the Ha Long Bay price almost double), but the Maya Bay folks did something right because it was by far the better trip. I thought the forced ambiance of luxury on the Ha Long bay trip was stifling, whereas the casual, no frills atmosphere that the folks running the Maya Bay trip created was conducive to connecting with folks and having an adventure. We’d highly recommend the Maya Bay boat trip for anyone going to Ko Phi Phi.

View of The Beach while there are still hundreds of tourists on it ...

View of The Beach as the sun sets, while there are still hundreds of tourists on it …

And after everyone left and just our boat was left. It was such a different (better and bigger feeling) place when it was empty.

And after everyone left and only our boat remained. So much nicer when it was empty.

Hanging out at sunset.

Hanging out at sunset.

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Waking up on the boat, with The Beach in the background

Waking up on the boat, with The Beach in the background


Feeling good even after very little sleep under amazing stars and lightning in the distance.

Feeling good even after very little sleep.


Watching the sun rise

Watching the sun rise over the bay


John taking one last swim and getting surrounded by thousands of tiny black fish.

John was surrounded by thousands of tiny black (harmless) fish while taking one last swim in Maya Bay.


Our awesome crew

Posing with the rest of our group


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Climbing, Hiking, Sweating, and Swimming in Thailand

Karsts at Railay Beach

Karsts at Railay Beach

After our amazing two weeks at Otres Beach, Cambodia, we were almost reluctant to have to go back on the road again. But with two short flights and one bus ride of about the same length, we made it all the way to the southwestern coast of Thailand in one day. And here we began our final 6 weeks of beach hopping in Thailand.
Enjoying a sunset on Railay Beach

Enjoying a sunset on Railay Beach


We spent one night on a beach called Ao Nang, which we really didn’t like that much. Next we took a boat over to a place called Railay, which is basically a peninsula cut off from the mainland by large limestone karsts. It isn’t an island, but you can only get in and out by boat. We’d heard about Railay from several friends who’d been. The thing to do there is rock climbing, so I was keen to go climbing and do a little hiking. You needn’t be a climber to enjoy Railay (or its neighbor Tonsai), as they are breathtakingly beautiful and worth the trip to get there.
Railay Beach. This is where you come in and out, and you have to carry all luggage through the water to small long boats that take you around to the mainland.

Railay Beach. This is where you come in and out, and you have to carry all luggage through the water to longtail boats that take you around to the mainland.


View from the top Phra Nang Beach hike, where you can see both Railey East and West beaches.

View from the top Phra Nang Beach hike, where you can see both Railey East and West beaches and the karsts in the background that block the area from the mainland. Even though we did this hike early in the morning to try to avoid the heat, it was extremely intense and sweaty. For much of the hike, there were ropes that you had to use to haul yourself up the rocks. It was one of the most fun hikes either of us has ever done.


At this point on our trip, it was mid-March and the temperature was getting hot. One of our main goals each day was drinking enough water and swimming after any physical activity. The weather was really starting to slow us down. Luckily, we were at the beach so the pace was slow and swimming was easy to find.

Phra Nang beach on Railay, where we happened upon after a very intense hike. We jumped right in for a swim.

Phra Nang beach on Railay. We happened upon this almost-too-good-to-be-true beach after the very intense hike to the viewpoint. We jumped right in for a swim.


We took an "intro to rock climbing" class since this was John's first time climbing outside. Maybe should've expected in such a rock climbing mecca, it was not geared toward beginners. I found it to be really tough and I have to say I was extremely impressed with how well John did. We did four climbs, and I'd say they were around 5.8/5.9s. Not beginner's routes.

We took an “intro to rock climbing” class on Railay, since this was John’s first time climbing outside. We found the routes to be simultaneously challenging and exhilarating. We had a great time and were rewarded with amazing views of the ocean from the top of the highest climb.


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Tonsai Beach, next door to Railay where the more 'hardcore' climbers now go to escape the tourists on Railay.

Tonsai Beach, next door to Railay, is where the more ‘hardcore’ climbers now go to escape the tourists on Railay. We just did some hiking and exploring around the gigantic rock formations coming up out of the beach. Once high tide came in you couldn’t walk between Tonsai and Railay on the beach; we just made it back before the path became submerged under water.


Monkey on a wire in Tonsai.

Monkey on a wire in Tonsai.


Another fun monkey pic on Tonsai.

Another fun monkey pic on Tonsai.

On the ferry to Ko Lanta.

On the ferry to Ko Lanta.

After leaving Railay, we headed even further south to an island called Ko Lanta. We weren’t sure how long we’d stay here but before we knew it we’d been there seven days.

All in all, we loved our week on Ko Lanta. I did pick up a mild case of dysentery there, but we weren’t moving around so it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. And really, the heat was far worse in my memory — Lanta was the southern most point that we’d been on our trip and at the end of March it was getting HOT. Most afternoons, the beach and the pool at our resort were too hot to swim in (I know, it was tough). Plus, the price of our rustic bungalow on Ko Lanta (and around much of the western coast) was almost double the prices we were finding back on Ko Pha Ngan (in the Gulf of Thailand, where we went our second week). So we decided to head up to see the famous Ko Phi Phi islands while we were nearby (more on that in the next post), and then make our way back to the Gulf for our final few weeks.

View down the beach on Ko Lanta

View down the beach on Ko Lanta

Another shot of Ko Lanta

Another shot of Ko Lanta

Sunset on Ko Lanta (the beach was rocky after the tide went out. So while it was pretty in its own way, it wasn't great for swimming.

Sunset on Ko Lanta. The beach was rocky after the tide went out, so swimming was best during high tide.

On Ko Lanta, we spent a lot of time in the bar that was connected to our bungalow/resort.

On Ko Lanta, we spent a lot of time in the bar that was connected to our bungalow/resort. John and I hope to have a structure like this with mats and hammocks in our backyard one day.

From Ko Lanta, we did a 'four islands' day tour that included swimming through a pitch black cave (Emerald Cave) following a guide holding a flashlight to the center of an island where you swim out into a stunning beach w/ green water. The opening of the cave is in the center of the photo where there is a group of people in life jackets coming out. John is hanging out in the water on the right.

From Ko Lanta, we did a ‘four islands’ day tour that included swimming through a pitch black cave (Emerald Cave) following a guide holding a flashlight to the center of an island where you swim out into a stunning beach w/ green water. The opening of the cave is in the center of the photo where there is a group of people in life jackets coming out. John is hanging out in the water on the right.

Swimming on scenic Ko Ngai during the four islands tour.

Swimming on scenic Ko Ngai during the four islands tour.


In spite of seeing one amazingly beautiful island after another, the best part of the four islands tour was spending the day with this really fun couple from Serbia. We had a great time hanging out and will look them up if we're ever in Belgrade.

Although we saw one amazingly beautiful island after another, the best part of the four islands tour was spending the day with this really fun couple from Serbia. We will look them up if we’re ever in Belgrade.