Sunday, 2 March 2008

Sunshine & Beach - Thailand, Malaysia & the Philippines

A friend of mine was trying to decide on a destination for his beach holiday in April, flying from Singapore. Needless to say, if he was loaded then the Maldives or Bora Bora would be the blindingly obvious choice. Sadly he isn’t.

Back in the good old days before I started working (that was less than 4 years ago btw), a week or two in the Southeast Asia each year was inevitable. I have lost count of the summers we spent at the Sheraton Resort in Phuket.

We have been to Bangkok, Pattaya and PaTong once, and once was too much. It’s the Laguna that we loved. The Laguna was perfect. Shuttle bus and boats that took us to the other four resorts nearby; short taxi ride to the city centre with modern shopping malls and restaurants; swimming pools that meandered around the resort; canoeing in the calm waters and the endless stretch of beach…

We used to spend a day or two on the outlying islands to snorkel and dive to our hearts content, then a couple of days to chill in the resort and perhaps another day to shop around in town. Unfortunately the islands got so badly polluted by the sudden influx of poor quality tourists. At first we were snorkelling no more than 3m from shore, and were swarmed by colourful fish the size of my forearm, nibbling our butts. Then the water quality deteriorated and we were swimming much further out to find cigarette butts.

Away from Thailand we changed destinations to Sabah in Malaysia. The resort district was closer to town centre, which was less developed than Phuket. However there is a long seaside promenade lined with all hip restaurants and bars. “Double Sky” proved to be the most-loved seafood restaurant with honest prices. It follows the traditional of allowing patrons to choose lively seafood from the tanks, then the chefs recommend their recipes.

We boated to Sipadan, one of the best diving islands on earth. It was beautiful. Thank god they banned hospitality establishments to preserve the island. Minimum facilities, we goggled up and dived. Oh, and we saw a humongous lizard that scared the crap out of us.

The highlight was white-water rafting along the Padas River. The train we took looked like the first train invented. It was pouring, and the tarnished roof was leaking more rain than outside. No doors, just spaces that invited people to jump. And the only ventilation was from the person breathing next to you. Anyhow, rafting in the rain was awesome. The operators spoke enough English to caution us about crocodiles…

No I didn’t jungle trek. I see enough monkeys on a daily basis… ugly ones too!

Getting to Boracay in the Philippines was a pain in the arse. Indirect flight to Kalibo Airport, followed by a 90-minute coach journey to the Caticlan jetty port, then 30 mins on the cute spider boats to Boracay Island. Finally another 25 mins from the port to resorts on a tricycle, which accommodated 6 people plus luggage. The poor thing could barely move. Actually it didn’t when we hit a slope. Dad had to walk his way up the slope while the second motorist pushed the bike. Not to mention the suffocating exhaust fumes it was churning out.

But it was all worthwhile when we got there. The White Beach.

Everything was along the beach. Fishermen were selling their catches of the day to tourists, and the restaurants would prepare them in the evening. I’d seriously stick to the world-class hotel restaurants, however, as our experience with the smaller local ones was awful. I thought the Filipinos are supposed to be good at cooking….

The Crystal Cove tour was fine, but better still was when we rented our spider boat for a day (for £20?!); dived, snorkelled, fished and island-hopped wherever we fancied. The locals barbequed us a seafood lunch on a deserted island, with a fire they built from scratch. Doesn’t get more primitive than this.

My ultimate, best in memory sunshine & beach spot was Langkawi, but that was so long ago. Our resort was secluded in the middle of the sea, and so we had to rely on shuttle boats to go anywhere. That was the only downside. Instead of going to the islands nearby, Langkawi already hosted the most beautiful powdery beach, still we joined a cruise tour to dive further offshore…


  1. I have read so much about the white water destinations in Southeast Asia being comparable with gatlinburg white water rafting. Would you reckon the same?

  2. Your trip seems to be very exciting. I also want to do this type of trips. Thailand and Malaysia are one of my favorite countries. I have been there many times. Langkawi beaches are very famous in Malaysia and all over the world. Its white sandy beaches attract every one. Many visitors visit it every year. Last year I went there before pittsburgh to detroit bus tour. I found it very pleasant. I visited its Pantai Cenang, Pantai Kok, Pantai Tengah, and Tanjung Rhu beach. They all were fascinating.


The Similan Islands are famous for hosting some of the most beautiful beaches, snorkeling and dive sites in Thailand and are one of the better areas for diving in the entire world.