A Bit of TLC Part 17 – Out of Air and Out of Time

Similian Islands and Koh Phayam, Thailand –  February/March 2024

Our time in Thailand was running out rapidly and it was time to start heading back to Bangkok for our flight home.  In our quest to find “the perfect Thai island” and wanting to finish our trip on a high,  I discovered a website heralding Koh Phayam as Thailand’s “best kept secret”  and a reminder of what this area was like before the tourist boom.  It seemed worthy of investigating, but on the way we couldn’t resist the opportunity of exploring one of Asia’s premier dive sites, Richelieu Rock, highly rated by Jacques Cousteau himself!

Richelieu rocks!

The islands off the northern Andaman coast, close to the Burmese border are highly regarded amongst the diving fraternity, and we took a snorkelling trip to the Similian Islands last year when we visited Khao Lak (unfortunately along with hundreds of other tourists!).  The Surin Archipelago is situated just north of these islands and their relative remoteness promised less crowds.

So, we set off early the following morning to the pier where we took a speedboat over to the rock. Memories of last year’s turbulent dive trip on Koh Tao “resurfaced” but luckily the weather was fine, and the waves quite manageable.  Our dive master explained the site, and with its varying depths and strong currents, I was a little apprehensive.  However, we were rewarded with fantastic visibility and a huge diversity of sea life. Struggling a little with buoyancy and the currents, we both used most of the air up in our tanks quite rapidly on the first dive, but had time to admire the enormous shoals of giant trevallies, snappers and barracudas.  Following our instructor, we swam directly through these fish “super highways” which was quite daunting, but it seems the Thais take their driving techniques from these fish, as they parted around us as we ploughed through!

Er…where’s the zebrafish crossing??

 The second dive took us around the other side of the reef and although we weren’t lucky enough to catch a ray or a whale shark – both of which occasionally visit Richelieu – I did spot a giant moray eel hiding under a rock, and a luminous spiny blue sea starfish.  Running low on air again, our affable dive master Lorenzo shared his tank with me so that I could experience a few more minutes of this underwater paradise.

Exhausted but grateful for this unique experience, we had an early night in readiness for the last stop on our adventure.

We could get used to this!

After a full English breakfast at Juice from Mars (a great little café playing 80’s hits and run by Marcel from Matlock in Derbyshire) we settled down for the long drive up the coast in our very own VIP luxury minivan.  We’d learnt our lessons last year, after travelling crammed like sardines in the tourist vans along with a dozens of other people plus backpacks!  Boy, was it worth the extra few baht!

The unusual cargo (and I’m talking about the people!)

A relaxing 3 hours later we arrived at the dock in the fishing port of Ranong, which is also the gateway town on the Myanmar border.  Grateful to leave the very fishy smelling pier, we speeded over to the nearby island of Koh Phayam along with an eclectic mix of locals, a few European families and some very odd looking “wannabe” old hippies!  This was going to be an interesting experience…

Lots of flower power…not so much electrical power!

I guess the name of our accommodation – The Flower Power Village – should have been a clue, as we were greeted by the affable Italian owner.  We were definitely “dropping out” of civilisation as we were shown our room which was “rustic” but clean and had its own outside bathroom.  The absence of a fridge, any discernible Wi-Fi or phone signal, or an efficient air conditioning unit however made the next few days slightly challenging, especially as temperatures were now reaching the high 30’s. We are definitely getting too old for “roughing it”!! A visit to the bathroom offered a sort of “reptile/bug roulette” as you were never quite sure what you were going to find!

The island, as promised, was quite hilly but completely car-less, so the only transport was by tuk tuk or scooter. The roads were mostly paved, and relatively quiet and at only 10km by 5km, the island was small enough to explore easily.

Beautiful Bamboo Bay

Bamboo Bay was only a few hundred yards away from our lodgings and I have to admit, was one of the most beautiful and serene beaches we’d discovered on our travels. All I could hear were my own footsteps and the small waves lapping against the shore, as I walked along the sand…bliss!  Unfortunately, our tranquillity was disturbed the first night by the full moon party at the nearby Hippy Bar, a ramshackle outfit constructed out of old bits of wood made to look like a boat, and obviously popular with the younger “hippies”.

A night here and we’d be “wrecked”

Luckily the peace was restored after this, but our sleep was thwarted by the sweltering temperatures and we suffered several very sticky nights.  It almost made me yearn for my own comfortable bed and chilly bedroom!


Making the most of our last few days, we made ourselves at home in a lovely little restaurant on the beach, with a cool breeze, cheap cocktails, comfortable cabanas and reasonable internet. We enjoyed some delicious food at the Italian restaurant at our hotel, and at the family run fish barbecue next door…and not a 7-11 in sight (although we’d have been grateful for its air-conditioned interior!). 

The bridge project

Many of the restaurant workers were Moken people, or sea gypsies, a nomadic group which had settlements on or around the islands in this area.  Their village was situated in the mangrove swamps at the end of the bay and contained a school and a church.  I was interested to read that there was a local non-profit organisation (All For Villages) run by an Australian lady who provides meals, medical supplies, craft workshops and English lessons for the children and is trying to raise funds to complete a land bridge across the swamp so that the children can get to the school on the island. This may seem like outside interference by a westerner, but dwindling fish stocks and restrictions on their status mean that the Mokens need to adapt to a different way of life, and interaction with tourists is one way in which they can earn a living in an ever-changing world.

There’s rustic and there’s…

We did manage to raise the energy to hire a scooter one morning and explored the other side of the island, which consisted of a 3km stretch of beach, aptly named “Long Beach”, and down a sandy track, a little gem of a beach called Kwang Peep, which was quieter still.  Sailing back to Ranong, we concluded that Koh Phayam was one of the nicest spots we’d visited on this trip, but that we would definitely need to stay somewhere with decent air con at this time of year!  Although quite busy, it seemed to have avoided attracting the tourist hoards that other islands were blighted with, and the developments were very low key and laid-back (man!)…

After a short flight back to Bangkok and a quick transfer to an overnight hotel (with air conditioning and a nice mattress…woo hoo!) we checked in for our long journey home.  Our short connection in Dubai was cut worryingly to a meagre 30 minutes after a delayed departure from Bangkok, but to their credit, Emirates managed to transfer both us and our bags to the onward flight back to Stansted.

Views that are hard to leave behind!

While we enjoyed exploring Asia, discovering new destinations, enjoying different experiences and meeting some interesting people, the impact of mass tourism in this part of Asia really hit home.  If left unchecked, and the lure of the tourist dollar (or yen!) seems irresistible, I can imagine it will sadly change places irretrievably. 

I always have mixed feelings on arriving back home after our long trips.  I enjoy catching up with friends and family and the familiarity of home comforts, but find myself once again contemplating our next adventure!  My enthusiasm for travel isn’t waning, but I often find I’m losing the energy and confidence to do the things I wouldn’t have blinked at a few years ago.  Another of the joys of getting old!  Ah well…the quest is to find somewhere we can enjoy (at a slightly slower pace perhaps), which leaves less of an impact on the environment but continues to inspire, educate and motivate us in our old age.

Watch this space…

More photos!…

What we should have seen!
If only we'd found the slide under the seat, we may have made a loud noise
First prize for the Thai Mr Universe contest...was a job at the ice cream roll shop
Ian getting in some practice for when he gets home!
Island hopping
And this was "inside"!
Emerald jewel wasp -luckily not stingy
Great hornbill
Our little haven
Poor homeless coconuts

9 thoughts on “Bit of T L C – Part 17 – Out of Air and Out of Time”

  1. Hey the intrepid adventurers ( not old!) are back in the good old wet UK. Hoping Ian’s straw hat has made it home too 🤨 Fab blogging Kathy. x

  2. Glad the last part of your trip worked out so well, the sights underwater sound breathtaking?! You will have some fantastic memories to treasure. Welcome home both of you…..and next, onto somewhere a bit closer and less touristy hopefully. See you soon xxx

  3. …….and thank you for providing us with such entertaining reading throughout these past few cold, wet and dark months. It has been so descriptive that I have almost felt some of the time that I was there too xx

  4. The fact you can include pictures with your journals is what draws me back, time and again. Seeing what you’re seeing is priceless. I admit I’m thankful not to “feel” what you’re feeling, though!!! The heat, the queasy stomach, etc.!! Thank you for the honest assessment of what aging is doing…I think these things said aloud helps prepare the generations behind way more honestly, so that work arounds can be conceived. I have read that with so much of the scamming going on anymore (accidentally using a website for booking that tacks on charges you could avoid), fake reviews, and the like, that many are returning to using travel agents to help make bookings. Maybe letting them do the research and booking might make the planning phase less exhausting.
    Thanks again, for our “on your shoulder” look into the places you went!!!

    1. Thank you for following my travels – and for your comments. I try to make my blogs informative and interesting and it’s nice to know they are read!

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