Our journey through Thailand and quest for the best scuba diving in Thailand took us to the Andaman Sea where you have undoubtedly heard of Phuket, Krabi, and Phi Phi. We island hopped from Phuket over to Krabi, stopping to stay and play along the way. What we discovered amazed us. The reputations surrounding these iconic destinations were only somewhat accurate. Often times, there was more peace and beauty than expected. Other times, a higher price point didn’t translate into amenities or cleanliness. The Andaman Sea is truly amazing and well worth a visit, but daunting in possibilities.
The skinny: We traveled from Phuket, through Phi Phi to Railay and out Krabi Airport
The fat: Check out our cool embed map just below the gravy. If it doesn’t load try refreshing your browser. We embedded all kinds of pictures and we are still working on tuning our caching apps.
The gravy: We have so many pictures and details to share that we decided to use our enhanced slide show format like we did in 10 Tips for an Epic Thailand Bike Tour. If you like a side of gravy, play around with the sliders for more pictures and stories.
Everything Started with Phuket
Phuket is an island, but only by the slightest of margin. It has an international airport, an excellent road connection to the mainland and really, a bit of anything that you are looking for. It also provides the natural break wall that shelters the Andaman Sea from the surrounding Indian Ocean, creating a paradise of small islands surrounded by warm and gentle water.
We reached Phuket by private taxi from Khao Sok. It was about $50 for two hours of travel for the both of us. It’s hard to imagine that the driver covers wear and tear on the vehicle if he doesn’t pick up paying passengers for the return trip. Knowing what we know now, we can recommend a 13-day adventure itinerary that links together the included transportation from our bike tour and our elephant encounter glamping trips. This will drop you off in Phuket (or Krabi) and get you started on the island hopping in style. If you’re looking for a lower cost option, you can book a bus to Phuket. Tickets on the Bangkok to Phuket route are about 23$, and can be arranged overnight so you don’t have to book an overnight stay.
We didn’t have high hopes for Phuket. The raucous reputation Patong Beach preceded it and colored our expectations. What we found surprised us. We stayed at the Tint in Phuket Town for easy access to the ferry. The hotel was clean and cozy, especially at its price point. The town was clean as well. We took a walking tour through the old town square and explored the Sunday market. We also visited our first cat café in Thailand which was super fun!
We found out that Phuket offers excellent access to many of the popular attractions: Phi Phi island, Phang Nga Bay, and even Krabi. The competition in town keeps the prices down, even if you hire a faster boat. The downside is that you are here, right among the hustle and bustle. To get away, all you need to do is hop to an island.
Island hopping to Phi-Phi
We booked our ferry tickets at the Tint desk, which also included a free shuttle to the dock. The ferry ride was a little chaotic and unnerving, in that it combined a day tour boat with the transportation shuttle. The timetables they gave for the trip varied greatly as they often included the snorkeling tour into their response to “when will we arrive”. Also, despite the size of the boat, the only available seats we could find were on the sun deck. We did meet a really nice girl who gave us sunscreen and told us about getting certified to dive in Phuket. This confirmed our suspicions about staying in Patong.
We were expecting Phi Phi to be a little too busy for us. What we found was a well kept little island that was priced just a little higher than our Koh Tao experience. We paid a small dock fee at Ao Tonsai pier for island upkeep. Some of the vagabond backpacking crowd took offense to the fee, but the island, and particularly the pier looked to be in great shape because of it. The diving was about $10 more per person, but they served a real lunch and didn’t ask us to wash their gear. Everything was just a little more expensive, but we felt we got our money’s worth.
We had great hopes for Railay. It was our highest priced accommodations of the trip, but we wanted to be there in all its beauty. Why Railay? Because the caves and karst towers start right at the beach and extend in all directions. In fact, Railay is technically on the mainland but the rugged terrain keeps any overland routes from reaching the town. The rock climbing here is world class and abseiling tours are readily available. We were ready to get our rock on.
We were expecting luxury with the price point, but I really think we were paying for seclusion. The ferry stopped and we were loaded onto long tail boats to reach the beach. (No pier for you) The town had dirt roads and dusty shops. And despite our efforts to eat only at well-reviewed restaurants, Jenn and I both had some pretty intense GI issues after (and during) this part of the trip.
Jenn went first and couldn’t leave the hotel room. She had booked this section of the trip to be our 2 days of romance and pampering in the lovely 4-star rated Railay Bay Resort and Spa. Needless to say, that room saw no romance, however, Jenn was thankful she had somewhere pretty and comfortable to be sick in. She was totally guttered she missed out entirely on diving and exploring this beautiful island, not to mention the romantical stuff. Her only consolation was the adorable orange kitten that continually snuck in the room to snuggle with her. That kitten came this close to moving to San Diego.
I fetched her some rice and carbonated soda and went on to the diving trip we booked before the fateful dinner. The trip was even more expensive than Phi Phi and the equipment was only ok. My fins were designed to have booties but they didn’t bring any for me. My toes were pretty well chewed up for the remainder of the trip because of this. We dove from a long tail boat at the local islands which was neat. It was also just the DM and me since the other couple who had booked were also confined to their rooms following their dinner (from a completely different restaurant). After returning from diving, I got to explore the area and see the caves and monkeys (check out the slider for details).
Closing out at Krabi
For us, Krabi was nothing more than an air shuttle to Chiang Mai. The only surprising part is how close Railay was. It was literally a 10-minute long tail boat ride to the AO Nammao Pier in Krabi. The car shuttle to the airport took only a little longer. We chose to have the Railay Bay Resort and Spa book transportation for us. They offered a reasonable rate and they also arranged for the luggage to reach the beach and taxis to be waiting for us. We might have been able to negotiate less if we pieced it together ourselves, but the car wouldn’t have been as nice and it would have been much more stressful.
It seems like just outside of Phuket or Krabi, there are a plethora of resorts you can reach by long tail boat. Some are backpacker paradises like Ao Nang just around the corner from Railay. Others are more luxurious like Koh Yao Yai or Koh Yao Noi off of Phuket. In all, there are 39 major islands in the Andaman Sea and over 100 minor islands.
You can choose the cities in Phuket or Krabi with easy access, competitive pricing, and the urban scene. You can choose to take a step off the beaten path to solitude and peace like Railay. Somewhere in between, both literally and geographically, is Phi Phi. An island that retains its natural charm while providing accessible service. No matter what you are looking for, you can find it in the Andaman Sea.
We are excited to share our journey with you
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