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The Demise of Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi

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The pilgrimage of our 2006 trip continues; however, sadly not to the same degree of awesomeness we experienced in Ko Tao.

Ko Samui

We decided to kill a few days in Ko Samui before heading off to Phangnan for the full moon party…mostly to meet up with Nathalie and Emily, our British friends that we met on our surf trip in Australia. They had booked themselves into a hotel on Lamai beach, so we took off in hopes that there would be a room for us there as well.

We met our friends Em and Nat on Ko Samui

We met our friends Em and Nat on Ko Samui

When we arrived, we were lucky and seemed to have gotten the last room (a phenomenon that seems to happen a lot here…not sure it’s always true?) and settled in. The owner claimed there were no British girls here though…only a few Swedes and Canadians. Uh oh. After some facebook sleuthing after dinner, we found out that they were in fact there, and only a few rooms down. Sweet! The owner had confused them as Swedes due to their blond hair!

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t want to co-operate with us, and we spent most of our time in Samui with a torrential downpour (note: we haven’t seen rain since we left Indonesia long ago). To pass the time, the girls and I went for Thai massages, while Scott and a fellow Canadian the girls had met named Troy played some pool. We ate lunch, walked around, and nothing much eventful happened except that I burned my leg on a stationary scooter. Niki, we may have the same scar on our calves now. :) I’ve read about the potential of this happening quite a bit and am usually really careful….but I was just standing on the road, waiting around and chatting and backed right into it. Arg.

That night, the five of us ventured into the main part of Samui at Chaweng beach (where Scott and I stayed in 2006) and had some dinner and went in search of Muay Thai boxing. We went to the main stadium, only to discover there was no fighting happening tonight. Boo. We were about to give up when a few Thai guys on motorcycles were claiming that there was a fight at another arena and that he’d take us there for a fee. They wouldn’t tell us where. Well, we finally got it out of them that it was only about 500 meters down the road. Sweet. So we walked.

Maui Thai!

Maui Thai!

This Muay Thai fight was much better than the bar one we had witnessed in Phi Phi – this was professional. We watched mostly Thai fighters, but there was a visiting boxing school from Barcelona who played a few matches against the Thais. These guys were brutes – they were much bigger than the Thai guys and didn’t seem to use the same respect as the Thais do against each other – both matches ended up with the Thai knocked out cold from a massive kick to the head. We also got to see a little Thai kid do some tight rope walking, and some younger kids, maybe 14, have a match. All in all, a good night.

Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi: So NOT What We Remembered…

Scott and I decided that we were going to take off on our own for a few days and reconvene with Nat and Em before full moon. We wanted to make a pilgrimage back to one of our favourite places on earth: Baan Panburi located on the remote beach Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi – the picture of which is what you see at the top of our blog. Pure paradise.

We managed to find a taxi to Baan Panburi straight off the ferry to experience our first surprise: the taxi taking us was a van, not a 4X4 truck that had taken us there a few years ago. This must mean the road is now in significantly better condition. In 2006, it was a rough and bumpy ride over washed out gravel that took nearly two hours. Upon setting off, we soon discovered that the journey now only takes about 45 minutes and that three quarters of the route is paved.

Baan Panburi's reception - totally different than before!

Baan Panburi's reception - totally different than before!

When we pulled up to Baan Panburi, the resort was unrecognizable. In 2006, the reception was located outdoors, with a beautiful view of the white sand beach behind it, and a few scattered huts sparsely located across the property. We arrived to a completely fenced in area, with a very small and indoor reception. They took us to our room – and wow what a difference. Although the huts were the same, they were all crowded very closely together with no beach in sight (no waves would be lulling us to sleep this time around). Everything was landscaped quite well (not the rustic look they had been going for in 2006) and it just didn’t even look like the same place….

Scott and I immediately ventured for the beach – a very short walk through the huts led us there. The restaurant was completely different…but the weirdest part is that we were located on a completely different place on the beach than 2006. WTF? We walked down the beach to where we swore Baan Panburi had been located, only to find the brand new Ka Sa Ne Dan five-star resort – with huge concrete bungalow villas taking up all the beach front property, lounge chairs everywhere (reserved for the guests of each “villa”) and large flags and other non-natural decor. Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi was unrecognizable. What had happened? The worst part of all: this place was packed. Whereas in 2006 we felt like we were the only people in this secluded piece of paradise on the edge of the world, we now felt like we were on a popular beach in Cancun.

The development on Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi was so disappointing... this used to be pristine beach.

The development on Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi was so disappointing... this used to be pristine beach.

We walked back to reception shaking our heads. I started to ask the guy at the front desk what had happened in the past 3 years? Did they actually move the resort? The answer is yes. The owner of Baan Panburri is also the owner of Ka Sa Ne Dan. They moved Baan Panburri about one year ago by using large cranes to move the huts, and rebuilding the restaurant in it’s entirety to make room for the new resort. It must have been quite the spectacle of development when this was going on. We were shocked.

We walked back to the beach to try and order a pineapple pancake – since 2006, we’ve dreamed of the Baan Panburri fluffy pancake that is served with condensed milk. To our luck, it is still exactly the same (yay). But the price at the restaurant was exhorbitant. Thong Nai Pan has become a destination for the uber rich and has lost all of its charm. Whereas once it was a hard-to-reach locale that consisted only of rustic bungalows – everything has been torn down to make way for this giant resort (and the construction of others). It was very sad for us to witness.

Our favorite restaurant, Rasta Baby

Our favorite restaurant, Rasta Baby

However, all was not lost. One of our favourite parts about Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi back in 2006 were the restaurants located in the very tiny town back from the beach. All were local houses where the people would cook simple Thai dishes for you. Our favourite, Rasta Baby was still alive and shaking…but unlike 2006 when we were literally the only people there, it was packed. We tried to eat dinner at 8:30 and had to come back at 9:30 because there was no room. At 9:30 we got the last table, and people kept streaming in until we left at 10:30. Insane. But at least it was still there.

We spent all of the next day just lounging on the beach. Even though this place is no longer the true paradise it once was, it’s still beautiful. We went back to our favourite sandwich place for lunch, “Handsome Sandwich” and took a walk over the decaying wooden plank path to Ao Thong Nai Pan Yai, the sister beach next to us. It was a lovely day. We also managed to find who we think are the puppies that charmed us in 2006: we’re pretty sure we identified three of them (of five). It seems these guys survived the daily dumps in a wheelbarrow to the other side of the beach. The staff at Baan Panburi would do this in the hopes that the pups wouldn’t find their way back…since dogs are like parasites here without proper shots or neutering.

One of the puppies from 2006!

One of the puppies from 2006!

We left the next day to meet up with Nat and Em on another beach in Phangnan for full moon. We missed the full moon party in 2006 because we were staying on Thong Nai Pan – back in that day, you could only access full moon by water taxi. A typhoon from Indonesia was ravaging Thailand at the time and the water was too choppy to navigate – so we missed the party. Land taxis were not available. This time around, taxis were advertised in abundance: every hotel and travel agency was offering taxi drop-off from 6,8,10 p.m. and pick ups from 12, 2, 4 and 6 a.m. It actually turned out to be more accessible than our beach at Chao Phao – but we’ll save those stories for our post on the full moon party.

We bid adieu to Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi with sad hearts at the loss of a once perfect paradise, but with high hopes for the fun that the full moon party was sure to offer.


1 comment to The Demise of Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi

  • Stephanie

    I miss you both soooo much! I love reading your blog when I am supposed to be working (teehee). It makes me forget that I am stuck in Edmonton. It sucks that they your favorite spots are becoming so commercial. I have a few places like that myself. hope you guys are having an incredible time!

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