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Arriving at Koh Phi Phi on a sunny day was really breath-taking. The surrounding islands, blue water and white speedboats passing by reminded me of childhood days playing Vice City in my messy bedroom, annoying my parents for not helping at home, and just being a typical teenager in general. Shout out to all the GTA fans out there! The views were spectacular and I couldn’t stop taking photos from both sides of the boat – it was that pretty.
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We enjoyed the sounds of the waves, the Thai flag flapping in the wind, and we could almost taste the Pina Colladas! When we stepped off the ferry the first thing we heard was… no, it wasn’t coconuts falling on the ground. The first thing we heard was: “Teacherrrrrr…!” (OMG – is EVERYONE in Koh Phi Phi??) We bumped into one of Auste’s students who was so unsuspecting of seeing her teacher here. I can say that the bays and the beaches are a treat for everyone’s eyes. BUT there is a big but.
Phi Phi islands were recommended to me by a friend who has visited recently, and the photos were stunning so I thought why not give it a go. We were warned by another fellow traveller though that we wouldn’t be getting any sleep while on Koh Phi Phi.
Just how many tourists?
The ferry docked at the massive Tonsai beach. Tonsai Beach on the island of Koh Phi Phi is not to be mistaken with Tonsai Beach (or Bay) neighbouring Railay Beach. The latter is the quiet, world renowned climber’s paradise with only longtail boats going there. And if you’ve ever seen a never-ending line of ants in nature, then you can imagine the flow of tourists coming to Koh Phi Phi.
This highway of human ants has had its toll on the environment, and the small entry charge is nowhere near enough to fix the damage, as claimed by local news. Apparently much of the marine life and the coral has been irreversibly damaged. I remember reading some guy’s post on a Thailand travel Facebook page where they were boasting about jumping on live corals or something. That kind of idiotic behaviour is not uncommon on the countless snorkelling and diving tours offered.
It’s kind of hard to disregard the common view of boatfulls of tourists. The best way to see how many people visit the island is to do a quick image search for “Koh Phi Phi tourists”.
“Maya Bay, Maya Bay, The Beach!”
Maya Bay is the biggest attraction in the area even though there is a myriad of pristine islands nearby to choose from. The selling point from each and every tour operator, who by the way approach you every 5 seconds, is that Maya Bay is the place where “The Beach” was filmed. I didn’t even know that movie exists until they educated me. The bay is even marked as “The Beach” on Google Maps! Whenever you walk in the centre of Koh Phi Phi, some tour operator will give you the same phrase: “Hello, where you go? Maya Bay Maya Bay, The Beach – go now.” To this day whenever we talk about Koh Phi Phi, one of us always randomly throws in “Maya Bay, Maya Bay, you go now!”
From experience we can say that it’s better to find a “less pretty” place and enjoy the freedom and space, than going to crowded soulless spots where everyone else goes. In our view, the trips to Maya Bay were overpriced and there were too many tourists due to good weather. Hence, we avoided the herds of tourists and didn’t step a foot there! It should be really beautiful so if you think you can handle the crowds, go there, but don’t say we didn’t warn you!
What to do?
Everything’s a 10 minute walk away, and there are plenty of “activities” on the island: you can have a drink at a bar, or a drink at a pub, you can get a cocktail on the beach, or buy a bucket of liquor from a street bar. Or, if you’re streetwise, you can go to a local shop, buy an actual bucket, some pineapple juice and a bottle of Malibu. Now we could ACTUALLY taste the Pina Coladas! Nothing’s better than homemade, isn’t it?
On our first night we sat on the main beach, swam in the low-tide waters, took photos of longtail boats, and enjoyed the sound of sea waves crashing into the rocks – that was so relaxing, so soothing. On top of all that we were unexpectedly rewarded with a stunning sunset that took our breath away.
Half-way through this nature’s magical show of colours in such a place of natural beauty, we were suddenly shocked by blinding disco lights and heavy electro-techno-deafening beats… playing to an audience of a dozen. We were still sat there puzzled thinking what’s going on. Shortly after that we made our way back to our little crappy room, where we could still hear electro-techno-deafening beats from other nearby bars!
The next morning it was raining. Since we “only” had two days (after day 1 it felt like a month), we still went out with our umbrellas and had breakfast at the pier. It was fun to watch all the parked longail boats rocking on the waves.
So far, Koh Phi Phi didn’t really show any of my expected tropical qualities: tranquillity, peacefulness, unspoiled nature, even fruit variety. However, after a while the sun came out and we walked to a beautiful beach – it’s called Leh Mu Dee. There were signs showing “private beach”, but we went anyway and spent a few hours there on the soft sand. There were only two other people there and we could snorkel uninterrupted. Even after 10am, when many speedboats brought snorkelers it didn’t affect the relaxed ambience, because they were far away.
Our second favourite place on Koh Phi Phi was an Italian place which had amazing pizzas, ravioli, vegetable burgers, even FALAFELS! We ate there like 3 times a day…. washing down the falafels with a bucket of Pina Colada…
On our last day on the island we walked to the viewpoint, which was probably the best thing on Phi Phi. The locals who live on the hill charge 30 baht fare, which looks kind of dodgy, but there are paved paths and they keep it tidy. It’s like the best spot to take pictures of the island, or just relax and have a picnic. You can also buy snacks at the top. If you’re there – you have to go and enjoy one of the very few quiet spots of Koh Phi Phi.
The “local” lifestyle
The local bars and restaurants are trying their best to cater for everyone’s needs, which keeps their salary in check. That says it all. Even in the low-tourist season the neighbouring bars are competing who’s got louder speakers.
Many people come here for parties, and want to see some nature while they’re here: either the Maya Bay, the main bay from the viewpoint, or a few other attractions.Those who come for nature can be quite disappointed as it is painted over by crowds of partygoers andsingles, addicted to loud music and crowds of random people, wanting to experience “the local lifestyle”.
Beautiful nature, viewpoint, surrounding islands.
Many places to eat (vegetarian-friendly).
Easy to get to.
The beauty of nature is buried under thousands of tourists.
Crappy expensive accommodation, mainly because of huge demand. Our hotel in Phi Phi could run an online ad: “Limited offer only! Maya Bay, Maya Bay, You stay now! A tiny double room for 2,000 baht per night. No renovation since build. Includes: shower, toilet, bedbugs.”
This trip was like a relationship with someone you’re not supposed to be with. But you never know until you try. In this “relationship” we had too many people, drank buckets of cocktails, and slept in a shabby room. Do we appreciate the experience? For sure. Would we go there again? No…
I love travelling during low-tourist season. This way you can expect a friendlier, or at least a more open service with fewer fake smiles. Of course it’s not fun being served by grim staff, but I much prefer that than a fake smile –I don’t know what it is, but I like the real stuff. Many people who come to Thailand for a holiday say the service is amazing and everyone’s friendly and happy. Living in Thailand, especially working in language environment, made me realise how low most of the people’s level of English is, so they use very few words and top that up with a smile.
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Also they cannot ‘lose face’, a.k.a. mess up, especially in front of other Thais. My theory was that when happy chatty tourists ask for whatever they want from service staff/vendors, if a Thai doesn’t understand he or she will hide it with a smile and will go an extra mile to fulfill their request just for the sake of looking professional. But that’s just my theory. And there’s always the other end of the stick – not all Thais are Buddhists, and not all Thais have patience as many think. If you make a Thai lose face, it sometimes ends up in taxi drivers dumping passengers on highways, getting into fights and even murder! (many times on islands)
So here’s Day 5 on the island (if you missed the previous stories you can catch up here: Day 1, Day 2 and Days 3,4). At 7 am we got on our beautiful rented motorbike (Yamaha mio FINO, which reminded us a little bit of Vespa). Slowly we headed south, not wearing much clothing and enjoying a cool morning breeze, driving no faster than 30 km/h. At around 9 am we had to wear our long-sleeve clothes to avoid putting on loads of sun lotion later which doesn’t feel comfortable when sweating. And to be honest doesn’t help in general when you’re in the sun for 10+ hours.
It was the first time I drove a motorbike for such a long time, so for me it was the highlight of the day and partly of the whole holiday, it was so much fun learning how to drive! When we rented it I didn’t even know how to start it. We signed the papers, got the key, and sat down. The guy was like “You OK?” . No… So HE started the bike for US, meaning we couldn’t press a button ourselves…But I was never into motorbikes. The bike allowed us to see many beaches we wouldn’t have reached by bicycles. Also we reached the southernmost part of the island (National park), but there was a fee of 200 or 400 baht, so we decided that seeing a lighthouse – the major attraction in the area – wasn’t worth it, as the views were pretty enough with lots of wildlife everywhere else. We saw lots of monkeys in many places, some of which weren’t friendly at all and scared me a little bit when approaching to take a photo!
Throughout our little drive-arounds on the island we haven’t seen a crowded beach. Most of them were cosy and isolated, without a person, or even a boat in sight. Some beaches had perhaps a couple or two enjoying the sun and the tranquil waters. Honestly, most beaches were so quiet, that you could sunbathe naked. Not that you should, I’m just saying.
On a more serious note, even though Koh Lanta is a beautiful island with exotic flora, fauna and all the amenities to have a great holiday, it is like many other places in Thailand with unaddressed issues. Just driving along the main road our eyes caught something worth stopping for – a cute little elephant! We parked immediately, as it was the first baby elephant we had ever seen, oh the joy! Unfortunately all the excitement vanished in an instant, when all the surroundings suddenly made sense:
“Look, this baby elephant has a little bungalow, a concrete well, some trees, oh wait.. the well’s empty, and he’s chained to the bungalow. That’s strange. Oh… he’s… got… tears running down his eyes. What?! Is he really crying? But look, he’s playing with some sort of twig or a piece of wood wrapped in his trunk, striking it against the dusty brown well. Ohhh nooo…. he’s trying to show he’s thirsty!”
Being animal lovers it was truly heartbreaking. We could only empathise how painful this baby elephant was feeling inside, not just emotionally, but physically too. We wanted to give him water, but kept the distance as there was a mahout (the owner?) at the back, carving something with a pocket knife, watching us closely. There was a big banner at the entrance: “Swimming with the elephants”. That explains everything… They deprive the elephants of water and then of course the poor creatures are delighted to swim with the tourists. I felt ashamed for being part of human race.
Back at our hotel we bought ferry tickets to Phi Phi, which included a pick-up, and that worked out much cheaper than buying it from the actual pier. So don’t fall for all the reviews online that 3rd party sellers rip you off, as the ones we came across so far were value for money (booking through our accommodation).
We also stopped at a café for a hot dog without the dog, which was basically two pieces of bread with some salad inside. It was pretty good though. And we had pretty expensive coffee, like 120 baht for an ice coffee at some fancy hotel’s bar by the beach. Our hotel’s bar was also fancy, but in a different way. There was a cat so friendly and oh-so confident that he walked into OUR room, enjoyed OUR water, drinking from OUR glasses… They trained him well.
Luckily we had a nice hotel for our last night in Lanta as the weather which had been perfect the whole time suddenly changed. When we went out for a meal we got caught in a storm, which lasted nearly all night, putting on an impressive show across the sky. It was also interesting to see so many crabs combing the beach after the rain – a sight that reminded me of my childhood where you see hundreds of snails sliming their way on the pavements after rain. It was the first time we had eaten dinner wearing rain ponchos. BEST tempura vegetables ever!
I just got my Thai driving license in Bang Chak. Before my own experience I struggled to find fresh information about Thai driving licenses on the internet, so here goes my input.
I’m writing about getting my first motorcycle license, and a lot of the text is very relevant for a car license, just the practical test is different – theory is the same for both. If your car license has English writing on it, you can get a Thai (car license) without taking the practical test. You just need a certification from your embassy. The same goes if you have a motorbike license from your country and want to get a Thai motorbike license. If it’s expired OR if you have a car license, but want to get a Thai motorbike’s license – you need to do both the theory and the practical parts.
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I have a car license, but I didn’t register to change it to Thai at the same time, because being a Lithuanian national getting it translated alone would take months and cost a fortune as the nearest embassy is in China. The first license you get is considered a temporary license valid for 1 year (officially. For some reason the license that I got is valid for 2 years). As for license renewals – I don’t know.
What you need:
Passport: original plus photocopies of photo page, visa page, most recent entry stamp, and departure card. All photocopies need to be signed, with phone number written on them.
Medical Certificate: original, not older than 30 days.
Work Permit OR Residency Certificate (you do not need both as work permit has your address in it); original and a signed copy.
How much does it cost?
Once you pass the tests, the temporary license is 205 baht. Taking the tests doesn’t cost anything.
Register well in advance.
As a foreigner you need to physically go to your local Department of Land Transport Office to register for any test you want to take. “Local” may have a very broad and flexible definition. I live in Samut Prakan and my local office was apparently in Bang Chak, Bangkok. Thai people with a Thai national ID can register online, which makes it easy for them. My Thai friend registered me for the earliest slot available: nearly 2 months ahead (!!). One of my relaxed colleagues who’s also getting a bike was laughing at this until he spontaneously turned up at the transport office to get his license, and left empty-handed. Well, not empty-handed, he was given a slip saying to come back in two months.
I forgot how Thais love paperwork (it’s 2016, people…) and didn’t prepare anything during the summer holidays. Just the night before I thought I might need a medical certificate. The next day I went to Samrong General Hospital at 6am before the test, but they only do them from 8am, and they charge like 600-800 baht. Luckily, the motorcycle taxi guys at the DLT can take you to a local doctor to get one instantly for 100 baht.
No Certificate of residency was issued at Samut Prakan immigration. I almost cried after going through all the different officers. I didn’t cry though, I must have sweated all my fluids out, it’s 40 degrees you know.
Me: “I need residency certificate to get driver’s license”
Officer: “You go Embassy”
Me: “There is no Lithuanian embassy in Thailand”
Officer: *scratches head… “You work permit”
Me: “I guess I am work permit…wait, what?”
Officer: *points to address in work permit.
Me: *ahhhh, so my address IS in the work permit. The school admin had put the school’s address as my home address in my work permit, though. Not a problem. No need for the residency thingy. Fun. But if you don’t have a work permit you can get a residency permit from your embassy. (A guy before me had to present an original from the British embassy, as he didn’t have a work permit)
On the day:
I brought my Thai friend with me, but I guess if you have been exposed to more Thai conversations than “An-nee tao rai kap?” and “Pai park soi kap”, you could handle it yourself – some staff even speak English. Even though I had a slip that looked like an appointment, we had to queue to register.
7.20 Arrived at Bang Chak transport office. Many people queuing outside. Took a motorcycle taxi to a recommended doctor basically across BTS, other side of Sukhumvit. 60 baht for bike, 100 and a smile for the doctor (checked heartbeat, asked if I smoke). The taxi driver waited outside for the whole 5 minutes. Got back at 7.30. Appointment slip said 7.30-8.00 generically.
7.35 The sea of people flooded inside. I went to copy my documents and was done at 7.40.
7.47 I was sent to the long queue at counter #9. Outside there was a list of Thai people who had registered online. Many Thais who were queuing up hadn’t registered. Many Thais also seemed to be confused with the order of the queues and stuff (so it wasn’t just me!).
8.32 At the desk #9. Photocopy of my work permit was of poor quality so I had to ask my friend to go and make another copy. I glanced at the entrance and there was a queue still snaking its way outside…
8.40 Given a number 70 and told to wait for documents back.
9.00 Number called, and given my documents back and a form with incorrect date of birth! Then waiting at counter #10 again, form was corrected and signed. I was given all forms back, and an e-card.
9.10 I was sent opposite room 15 to watch physical test example videos. You don’t have to watch them, but they basically show you what to do in the actual test, so if your Thai is as basic as mine you might as well watch them while you’re waiting, so you know exactly what you’ll have to do.
9.35 The queue numbers were called and we were taken into room 16 to take the 3 tests. About 20 of us were split to make 2 queues, to take different tests for efficiency. Due to this “factory” nature the test ladies were rather generous. Many people who had poor reaction and vision, received an angry(ish) “lhuey”, which means again.
Part 1 was to sit down, press on the accelerator, and upon seeing a red light, quickly slam on the brake – super easy.
The second test got me worried as apparently my depth perception is rather poor. I put my glasses on for this. Basically you have a small box like 3 metres in front of you, and 2 vertical sticks in it. The right stick is stationary, and you have to move the left one back and forth to align it with the stationary stick.
Part 3 was to sit down and look at a thick dot in front of you. The machine shows a colour either on the left or right side of the dot, and looking straight at the dot and using peripheral vision you have to say what the colour is.
One girl was told to bring either pants or a longer skirt because of a short skirt she was wearing. She went out, and came back in like 5 seconds with a longer skirt. “OK ka”.
9.55 I got sent to counter #13 for a video and given 2 booklets in 4 languages. The video covered the booklets’ content and the online test question material that I had practised a few times at home.
12.00 Lunch break. There is a cheap place that does Thai buffet style dishes, just on Sukhumvit road, on the right as you walk out.
13.00 Back in the same TV area for 2 more hours. The video is in Thai, with English subtitles. Longer sentences go outside of the screen but you get the gist of the content.
14.45 Told to go up to floor 3, room 301 for the theory test. There are 50 questions and you have to get 45 right to pass. Saw one foreigner leaving the room, who got 43/50 due to strange wording (Thai English sometimes makes no sense) and he said he’ll retake the test in 2 days. So I guess the queue for retakes is not as long as for the initial sign up.
14.50 Theory test. Literally same questions as on thaidriving.info, which also has pdf files with answers available. Wow.
15.05 The machine prints a ticket with 48/50 – geng mak! Registered with the lady for a bike test next day at 8.30.
Lady: “You have bike?”
Lady: “Only Honda wave.”
Lady: “Nooooo, manual”
Me: “Yes I have a bike.”
Only in Thailand you have to ride your motorcycle through the city to take a motorcycle test. Amazing. As per angloinfo.com, apparently it is not possible to make an appointment to take a driving test, but applicants who need to take the test must arrive at 08:30. The lady advised me to come at 8.30 and wait somewhere outside.
7.30 Lurking around at the car park for an hour, no need to go inside the office, just park your bike at the back where the test route is.
8.30 Official start of the test. Sweating like crazy, still lurking around.
8.35 A handful of staff take all the car and bike applicants to the testing grounds. Car people sit and wait (a looong time) in the waiting area, the bike people are told to drive inside and park in a long line, given their forms from the day before to write registration numbers. I was the weird foreigner with no number plates and the lady was like “Ok, ok, mister, later”.
8.50’ish The lady takes everyone around the area and explains the track – where to obey the signs, where to indicate, and where to and not to place your feet on the ground. Then you walk around the track to familiarise with it. It was all in Thai, and it sounded very helpful, like giving out answers and tips. Too bad I couldn’t understand most of it lol. I swear I saw one boy (15 years old?) pointing to the red octagonal stop sign and asking his friend, “Ton nee jot lhor?” – meaning “You stop there right?”. OMG.
9.00 Everyone sits on their bikes and waits for their turn. HAVE A HELMET. And your turn is when the next important section is free of people, for example if I’m idling at the stop sign and see someone who started before me at the railroad crossing – I need to wait. As soon as he continues driving, I can go and then stop at the crossing. If you don’t, I’d avoid you on the actual road… The same concept applies to all major parts. If there are four people on the track at the same time, and the lady’s not watching, don’t expect that you can discretely make a mistake: each important segment of the track has a camera filming it.
9.10 Still driving around: as far as I could understand you have to pass the whole track correctly 2 out of 3 times*. If you do well the first time, but hit a cone on the second one – you still have one chance left. It’s just like Super Mario.
FAIL! I did well in all parts except the elevated plank – failed twice on the same thingy! Oh, I can still hear the sigh of the crowd at night… When you finish and watch someone else doing it, it’s like watching an important match on TV – you sympathise with all test takers.
*as I found out later, apparently there was some miscommunication between the staff and the motorists, or the ladies were in a good mood. In order to pass you only have one chance, and you have to get everything right. If you fail, you do not have another go, you have to come back next time.
You start right past the gates. First stop – the stop sign. Duh… Indicate right turn and continue. Turn right, stop at railroad crossing. Then stop on the ascending part of the bridge. Then go straight and stop at the sign, twice. So all this so far is in the green area with trees and benches and stuff. Then indicate a left turn and proceed to the cone area – turn right into a narrow cone hall, where it kind of goes around 180 degrees, and then once you’re inside the cone corridor, you have to go on the plank almost straight away – very lightly elevated, not too narrow straight line, basically. This is where I failed because I feel I didn’t have enough time or space to prepare for it (little confidence, little practice). Once you ride off the plank, turn left past more cones, and the last part is manoeuvring through 5 or 6 cones. They’re not spaced well apart, but it was manageable at slow speed. Some guys were slaloming though very fast though. You’re not allowed to place your feet on the ground ANYWHERE in the cone area. Most people who failed, failed in this part.
9.30’ish Everyone waits for the paperwork to be done. The ones who passed have to sign something, and are given their documents back and go to the office building. What they do in there is still a mystery to me.
10.00 A whopping 20% of people failed. So all of them, including the ones who cannot drive in straight line eghhm….had to sign their name, did NOT get their documents back, only their IDs, and were given a slip for a re-take. It has to be done within 90 days. There were two days indicated when you cannot take the test. I wasn’t allowed to do it the next day, and was offered nothing earlier than next Tuesday. Apparently next time you have to go inside the office and show your slip.
A week later:
This was my second chance at the practical driving part. I arrived around 7.30, at about 8am we got our papers from counter 13 and proceeded to the track at 8.30. Same scenario as before: you get your papers, you listen to the instructions in Thai, and then sit on your bike. The instructors collect your papers and you go on the track. I can call myself a legend now, as I have failed AGAIN on the same bloody plank. I CAN drive straight, I manoeuvred through the morning Sukhumvit traffic, I HAVE kept extremely steady while driving along between buses and vans – why is it so hard to do that?? It’s not that difficult! So I parked and waited for the successful ones to collect their documents, and in about an hour I was ready… to come back again next week. I was told I can come in any day from Monday onwards, either at 8.30 or 13.00.
Third time’s a charm:
This time I chose the afternoon slot as it was more suitable for me, and I’m glad for one good reason: there were fewer motorcyclists. I was late, because it took me way too long to drive all the way from Samut Prakan. 13.05 I exchanged my slip for the documents at counter 13. I’ve also noticed on the papers there were 5 rows, 2 of which I had filled already. My assumption would be that you have 5 attempts in total to pass your test. The guy assumed I was there for a car test and said I was too late (pointing at 11 AM printed on the paper), so it’s important to mention that you’re (re)taking a bike test.
13.15 The same practical test process started and we lined up, listened to the instructions, walked around the track.
13.30 I started my bike and at 13.34 I had already finished and parked it outside.
I was the first in line, the only foreigner, so the guy looked at me with a questionable expression and asked my friend whether I understood any Thai or what to do. Then I heard she said that most likely I didn’t, because he speaks too fast. Haha, it was true though. It must have been funny: a foreigner on a shiny red Vespa with his shades on, going first, flying through the track in like one minute and passing first time. It felt good. Had they only known it was my third time there!
14.10 – up until this time it was all waiting around. This time they assessed the fails first, and then the rest. I heard them say that if you fail, you can come the next day, you don’t have to wait until the following week. It seems that the procedures depend on the day, the officer, and the direction of the wind, I guess. Then when you hear your name, collect your papers, and when you hear TICK, put a TICK in the pass box next to your name. I made everyone laugh because I signed it instead. The lady was like you crazy farang can you not understand English? It’s a tick!
14.15 Went to counter 13 where they mark something on the system and send you to counter 8.
14.40 Heard my number, took a photo and paid 205 baht for my licence. (This is the first time when you have to pay something. You don’t have to pay anything for taking the theory or the practical tests). This temporary license is valid for 2 years (I thought it was supposed to be 1 year…), unless they made a mistake like they made a typo with my name! The latter I corrected of course, because I didn’t want it to look like it was issued at the “Khaosan Road Transport Department” if you know what I mean!
14.45 I was done. Finally!
I would advise everyone, who wants to get a Thai driver’s license (or everyone who’s a bit of a geek or inexperienced or worried) to visit the following pages, as they helped me out a lot: