Although I was pretty sure that there would be boats for hire on the beaches in the morning in front of the hotels, I decided to book a private longtail boat before we left California because I just wanted to have as much planned out in advance as I could. There are actually a number of options for how to approach island hopping. There are big ferries that take people to the really famous beaches on Koh Phi Phi, which is where the movie "The Beach" with Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed. Or you can hire private or semi-private speedboats to take you around. Or you can get a longtail boat like ours. Also, there are numerous different island groupings for day trips, but we chose Hong Islands because they are a little more protected and the days we were going it was supposed to be a little windier and choppier and so our driver recommended Hong over other options.
Our driver, Big, was awesome. He picked us up right at our beach and got us to Paradise Beach (Koh Lao La Ding) before anybody else so we had it all to ourselves for about 30 minutes before anybody else showed up. The drive across the water was lovely and the girls had fun looking through some cards identifying fish that we were likely to see later in the day, which was cool because we did end up seeing some of those fish later and could identify them. But mostly we all just sat back and took in the views of these gorgeous limestone islands that rise up out of the sea left and right, covered in green jungles, and letting the wind blow through our hair.
Being the first to get to a secluded beach means you get prime parking for the perfect shot of your longtail boat. I loved how each boat was decorated with bright fabrics and garlands. Big's boat was nicer than the others we saw which mostly had tarpaulin awnings. He actually has a wooden cabin with a teeny galley kitchen in which he prepared the most amazing lunch for us. More about that in a bit.
Big had a bag of sand toys for the girls to play with and a mat for us to keep our things off the sand and everywhere we stopped he would pick out a spot for us and get things set up. It was awesome. A little later on at a different beach he even brought out a platter of fruit that he had prepared for us as a snack, which was totally unexpected but so perfect and we devoured it.
The girls took digging in the sand verrrrrryyy seriously.
And then Clara discovered this rope swing. And that's basically all she wanted to do for the next hour. It was amazing. It had a HUGE arc that would swing her across the beach and over the water, but it was slow and secure and she wasn't scared a bit because the girl is obsessed with swinging. We just kept pulling her back farther and farther before releasing her to swing out in bigger and bigger arcs.
Rose gave it a go too and did pretty well, although she didn't want to do it more than a couple of times before gladly relinquishing the swing back to Clara.
There were two other swings there that we tried out, but neither of them were as exciting as the one with the sticks to sit on.
Eventually a couple of other boats showed up and the beach got a little more crowded. When the speedboats started pulling in along with the tide, that's when we packed up and headed to another spot.
Our next stop on Hong island was Koh Daeng, which was great for looking at fish. There were tons of them in such shallow water that the girls could wade with us or just wear their waterwings and still see tons of them. I wish I could remember which ones we identified, but there were long, thin silvery ones and short yellow and black stripey ones. I thought the girls might be afraid of the fish but they weren't at all. Clara even tried using a child-size snorkeling mask and breathing tube that Big had brought along for her, but had a hard time with it and just ended up using her normal swimming goggles and holding her breath or just watching from above water.
Rose has gotten so she gets concerned for Clara sometimes and when she thinks Clara is doing something she shouldn't be or might be in a little bit of danger, Rose will stand and holler "rare-rah!" (how she pronounces Clara's name) at her in a commanding voice to try to get her to stop doing whatever it is that Rose thinks is risky. It takes some convincing to get Rose to stop hollering, which is exactly what she was doing in this picture as Clara, Paul and Big (in black) were wading into a particularly good fish-viewing spot where there were no other people around.
A monkey joined us on the beach and boy was he intimidating. He stared down the other tourists nearby and when one woman got too close, he charged her with teeth bared. He was a little scary and we kept the girls well away from this guy. But he was a good model for photos!
It was so much fun spotting fish with the girls. When some of the other boats cleared out we ended up by ourselves here for a while again and tons of fish came back.
After spending a couple of hours around Koh Daeng, we drove into the lagoon which gives Hong island its name. Hong means "room" in Thai and there is a narrow passage between the cliffs that leads into this beautiful lagoon that can only be accessed by boats during higher tides. Otherwise you would have to kayak in. We "parked" underneath some overhanging limestone rocks and went swimming in the lagoon while Big prepared our lunch. Well, it was just Clara and Paul swimming at first because Rose had fallen asleep on the boat ride over to the lagoon.
I wish I had a better picture of Big making lunch for us and of his teensy galley kitchen. He is from Thailand but lived in Florida for 15 years working as a chef and he made the most amazing lunch for us. We had a dish of shrimp with vegetables and rice that was so insanely good my mouth is watering just thinking about it, Tom Kah Gai soup (a chicken coconut lime soup that I made in my cooking class but honestly Big's version was better), and a sweet and sour dish that is probably the best I have ever had. It was all just so, so delicious and eating it right there on the boat in that gorgeous setting made it easily the best meal of the entire trip. We devoured pretty much every last bite of food and then entertained the girls by tossing individual grains of leftover rice into the water and watching fish come up to eat them. Oh, and we let the girls try Orange Fanta for the first time ever with lunch and they both went crazy for the stuff. It was hilarious and a little scary since neither of them have had any interest in soda at all until that experience.
We asked Big to take a picture of us as we were heading out of the lagoon through the narrow passage. The girls weren't interested in posing with us.
It started raining just as we were leaving so we had a wet ride over to Koh Hong, which has a floating dock that you walk down to get to the beach. That was interesting because it was bobbing up and down in the water and was like walking through a fun-house at a carnival. And once we got to shore the sky really let loose and it poured buckets of rain for a few minutes. Luckily we were able to take shelter under some trees and the rain let up and we had a lovely rest of the afternoon on the beach, digging in the sand some more and playing in the water until the sky got dark again and everybody cleared out as the rain started up again.
Just before we left (we were some of the very last people to stick around, which was great because it meant we had the beach all to ourselves again), we asked another family to take our picture for us. I don't know why people cannot take a snapshot without cutting off feet but it was pretty good of all four of us (at least everybody was looking at the camera). And then we just had a nice long boat ride back to the resort. It was a wonderful day. Although Paul and I should have remembered to apply sunscreen more regularly because we both got pretty pink and were fairly uncomfortable for the next few days. Fortunately I was more careful with the girls and they are less prone to burning than either of us, so they were both fine.