10 days of peace in a country of unrest

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May 25th 2010
Published: May 25th 2010
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Langkawi - Ko Lanta

Our trip from Langkawi to Ko Lanta was interesting to say the least. We thought the trip would be 6 to 8 hours, it turned into another all day affair. We were stamped out of Malaysia on Langkawi and boarded a boat made for midgets with assigned seating, there was zero leg room (imagine Scott, 6”2’ crammed into a window seat with no leg room) we waited until the boat got moving and found an empty row near the back where we could stretch out a bit more. The boat ride lasted about one hour and we were shuffles through Thai immigration with no problems. About a half an hour wait and we were taxied to the Bus station in Satun where we had a two hour wait mixed with confusion as to which bus we were to get on, not at all helped by the two Thai ladies telling us contradicting information. We finally figured out which bus to get on and traveled for about 5 hours to the city of Trang. Trang reminded us a lot of Hat Yai (from our trip into Malaysia) and we had a bit of a scare at the bus station where we were dropped off. Being the only English speaking foreigners in a bus station is a bit scary, trying to ask people why no one has come to pick you up, how long you are meant to wait, and why all the food looks like charcoaled fish, and everything else is some sort of bun stuffed with... green stringy hair?? Finally the woman sitting at a make-shift counter managed to get across that a bus would be by to pick us up “shortly”. Two hours later a minivan arrived with the beautiful words “Ko Lanta” written on the side, and not a moment too soon, I had started having flash images of us sleeping in the bus station, trying to figure out where the most comfortable bit of cement was, and where we could hang the mosquito net.

Another hour long wait for the bus to fill up (which it only did 5 minutes before we left) and we were once again the only western people around. We were beginning to think that all the tourists had left Thailand all together, and didn’t see anyone but Thais until the next day.

Ko Lanta is made up of two islands, Ko Lanta Noi and Ko Lanta Yai. Ko Lanta Noi is a Thai island, mostly bamboo huts along the side of the road filled with locals going about their daily business. Ko Lanta Yai is the tourist island, filled with the usual guesthouses, restaurants, travel agents and bars. (I’m going to refer to the island we stayed on, Ko Lanta Yai, as Ko Lanta from now on). The island is about 30km long, and about 8km and its widest point. Most of the activity is on the north-western part of the island, with things getting sparser as you travel south, ending in a deserted gravel road that leads to the national marine park.

We managed to get ourselves dropped off at a completely deserted guesthouse with a simple bungalow 20 feet from the beach, private bathroom, mosquito net, and a big window that opened out to a view of the meagre garden followed by the open ocean, for 300 baht ($9 cnd) a night there was no complaining from us. We unloaded and went in search of food (the restaurant where we checked in was closed for the season).

May to about October in Thailand is low season, come to the Andaman coast and you see why, it’s monsoon season (although it affects the entire country differently). The rain becomes an almost daily experience, heavy windstorms and rough waters isn’t what a lot of tourists want when coming to a beach island, but for us it was perfect. We had the entire guesthouse to ourselves (except for two nights when a group of Thai’s checked in) and found a nice little cafe up the street with wifi, decent food, and motorbikes!

Our first full day on the island we rented a motorbike from the cafe up the street and toured around the small island a bit, going to the southern part of the island to the old town and gypsy village. The old town was a touristy sort of area with shops lined up along the water, with the bamboo huts hanging out over the water; it had a quaint feeling to the area and was nice to drive along. Further down from here was the gypsy village with more bamboo huts lined up along the shore. After exploring the southern part of the island we went up to the main town of Saladan to explore the shopping area, and learned that most of the island closed down a few weeks before we got here (low season, no tourists, time to close up shop!). We had a very peaceful night sleep that night, listening to the waves rolling in with a gentle breeze blowing in through our window.

The next day we continued on with exploring the island and went this time to the most southern point, to the national marine park. The road down there was broken up with bits of paved road and lots of gravely road, with some amazing views of the beaches as they became more and more secluded. The marine park, like the rest of the island, was fairly deserted, with a lighthouse point at the tip offering amazing views of the vast open sea to one side, and the smaller island just south of Ko Lanta on the other. (Lots of cool rocks as well dad!!) After spending some time exploring the rocky cliffs near the lighthouse we headed back, with a stop at a place called Nick’s Garden on Khlong Nin for some amazing pizza dinner (some of the best pizza we’ve had. Ever!) Then it was back to bed to prepare for an early morning the next day

Our third day on the island we had planned for a snorkelling tour to the nearby island of Ko Bida (just south of Ko Phi Phi). It turned out that the snorkelling trip was with a diving company called Blue Planet divers, and the boat trip to Ko Bida was on a massive, slow boat that took over two hours. Finally getting to the amazing little islands we were dropped off in some choppy waters. The colours and amount of fish we saw was amazing, slightly similar to Ko Phangan, only the depth was much greater, and the water much choppier. The water is apparently much calmer in high season, with more variety of sea-life around. We only saw fish, fish, and more fish swimming amongst the colourfully vibrant coral. After some more snorkelling at the other part of Ko Bida we set off on the long boat ride back. The trip was mediocre, very expensive for what we got, but we were with a diving group. Good tip when snorkelling, go with a snorkelling group, or on a long-tail boat, divers are an expensive group!!

That evening we discovered that after night-fall the beach at our guesthouse a massive population of hermit crabs came out and spend the evening looking for crabs fighting each other and trying to collect them into a corral of sorts. Much fun was had trying to catch and transport wiggling massive hermit crabs!

We woke up the next day to a terrific rain storm and spent most of the morning and afternoon in the cafe updating our blogs and reading. Once the rain had passed and then sun was given a chance to come out we decided to fulfil a day long craving of the pizza from Nick’s Garden and drove back down and decided that we would move there the next day.

100 baht more ($3 more a night) got us an aircon room (that we promptly shut off and found a fan, we’re weird like that), a cleaner and larger room, and an amazing view from our restaurant. The owner, his wife and their young son had just the right touch, giving the guesthouse and restaurant a nice vibe, and had some of the most delicious food ever!! We spent the morning packing up and Scott went off with both of our rucksacks bunged onto the back of our bike before coming back for me.

Another day of enjoying the beach and relaxing, we decided that the day after we would explore the Thai island of Ko Lanta Noi. We caught a ferry to the island and drove south, through a couple of small villages with some very happy friendly Thais, received a lot of smiles and a lot of waves from the locals. We wound up at a long pier where we decided to have a rest and watch some locals fishing, they kept pulling up these weird caterpillar looking things that they told us made you itchy. One of the locals pulled out his knife and let me use it to feel the bottom of the thing, it was like a cactus.

After that we continued on to a side road we had seen earlier, and wound up on a long windy stretch of road that seemed to be of very little use to anyone, and were offered amazing views of some of the rocky limestone cliffs on the nearby islands, and a real feeling of being in another country. At one point Scott came to a screeching halt as a 2m long snake wound its way slowly across the road directly in front of us before we continued on eventually finding ourselves on the main road. We then went to the most northern part of the island to find yet another deserted beach and some amazing forests; the other Ko Lanta was amazingly beautiful, offering luscious views in every direction and some amazingly dense forests on either side of the road in the uninhabited parts.

We were also fortunate enough to be able to spend Scott’s birthday on the island, and planned an elephant and jungle trek for the next day, I also had a secret card up my sleeve for later that evening! The trek turned out to be not what we expected. We paid 1600 baht ($50 cnd) for both of us, and were told it would be around 3 to 4 hours, about an hour and a half on the elephant, and the rest of the time spent trekking to the caves, which were supposed to be beautiful. What actually happened was we were dropped off in an elephant camp with no English speaking guides (not a huge deal, you get used to it and find other ways to communicate), were loaded onto an elephant and trekked for about half an hour to a restaurant that was closed. Another guide who only knew the words “Tiger Cave” and “Jungle” met us there and guided us up to the caves, which were interesting, but not as big as we were expecting. After 20 minutes spent exploring the caves and crawling into some very narrow spaces we headed back to the restaurant and were loaded back onto our massive elephant. The trainer seemed fine until we were headed back when all sudden he was holding his stomach and shifting around on the elephants head going “ohhhh no good no good” and rubbing his belly. He made the elephant all but run back to the camp with us jostling around on the back, trying to hold for dear life and not drop the camera. We got back, were dumped off and he took off. We had about 5 minutes to take pictures of the baby and mother elephant before our driver showed up and carted us back to our guesthouse. Not too impressed.

We went back to complain to the woman who sold us the tour and asked for a refund (its Thailand so I was doubting we would see a penny). She was very understanding though and tried to get a hold of the owner to no avail. So all in all we paid 800 baht ($25 cnd) for a half-hearted rushed tour. It could have been better in a lot of way but we enjoyed the jungle trek quite a bit, and the caves were unique! We spent the rest of the day driving aimlessly around town, eventually winding up in Saladan where we bought a new set of speakers as our last ones kicked the bucket after having an incident with the floor coming at it too quickly.

That night I had planned with Nick, the owner, to have a small cake for Scott after dinner, and bought some candles for him. We had some of Scott’s favourite, Spaghetti Bolognese, and I had a delicious and massive veggie burger. After dinner Scott was playing around on the computer and I made off quietly to arrange the amazing cakes Nick had bought from a local bakery with some candles, and we came out singing Happy Birthday to a surprised Scott. After savouring some of the delicious chocolate cakes and letting Nick’s son have a tasty slice we packed in for a quiet night watching a movie before bed.

So that brings us to today, our last day on Ko Lanta. We’ve done our research and kept our eye on the local news. Now seems like as good a time as ever to head off to the capital before journeying into Cambodia via Trat and the southern border town of Hat Lek. Our bus leaves at 1 tomorrow afternoon, and arrives in Bangkok at about 5am. We’re taking one of the local buses, which costs a little bit more, instead of the “Farang only” bus as we’ve heard rumours of theft on those buses, (I had an experience with one of those buses last time I was here in 2006). We both have this feeling of finally going home (home being Bangkok) after being away from the capital for two months. It’s odd Bangkok feeling like home, it’s been more of a hub to us since arriving, and almost all of our travel has been delayed by a stop before heading off to a new destination. It will be nice to get away from this for a few months as we continue on through Cambodia and into Vietnam and China. We also have a good feeling of getting back onto track with our original plan and are looking forward to what the new countries have to offer!!

Additional photos below
Photos: 59, Displayed: 31


25th May 2010

WOW! Outstanding pics...
Must comment on the beautiful pics!...Especially the actions shots of scott and the cloud in the sky as back drop. BEAUTIFUL!
27th May 2010

Congratulations - almost perfect :)
With a horizontal horizon it would have been the perfect lightning shot! - how did you capture it?
27th May 2010

envy you !i have been paying close attention to your blog for a long time !! the articles and the photos are interesting and impressed!!! my girlfrend and i will start our asian trip very soon!!hopes we can have a cheering time too!!
28th May 2010

thanks, i know
Now if only I didn't leave my tripod at home.... I saw the flashes of lightening in the sky from our bungalow so I ran down to the beach, found an old palm stub and placed the camera up. Set it for manual and increased the +- to +max, shutter to 30 sec, aperture to 4.5 and let it rip, probably a little of a lucky shot as I took about 5 and this being the only one with a bolt lightening. Cheers, Scott
10th June 2010

this is an amazing picture! How an earth did you shoot it?! the stars and everything and the green on the horizon! ah love it! xz
7th September 2010

one awesome shot!
that is a dream once in a lifetime shot! congrats on the moment

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