Exodus of the Andaman...


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Asia » Thailand » South-West Thailand » Ko Lanta
May 27th 2013
Published: June 18th 2013
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The next destination on our Andaman tour was the city of Trang, the main port of call for those heading to the aptly named Trang Islands. We’d read that this group of Thai islands are both reasonably undeveloped and, to an extent undiscovered so had gone through our guidebook highlighting the ones we’d like to visit to map out a rough route taking in 2 or 3 of the islands depending on how we got on.

We stopped a night in Trang so we could pay a visit to the raved about night market. As it was a Sunday we got to visit both the main daily market and also the second market which sets up outside the train station and more conveniently our hotel! The first main market did not disappoint and we tried a number of mostly fried delicacies… who knows what they were but they were all delicious and really cheap too! We decided we’d eat a ‘proper’ meal at the train station market and enjoyed some BBQ’d salted fish whilst taking part in the popular pastime of people watching. We noted that all the locals purchased bags and bags full of food from the various stalls and we imagine that this is their version of a Saturday night takeaway which they share with their family when they get home and feast on it all.

We made life easy for ourselves for our travel over to Koh Mook the first island on our list, we were lured in by a travel agent who sold us a combined bus & boat ticket for 250B. She was so nice (aren’t they all!) that we also booked a couple of nights accommodation though her as the hotel was on offer and was one of the ones we’d researched anyway.

The transition from minibus to boat wasn’t quite the same as we’d experienced for Koh Lipe; we weren’t expecting a purpose built port but we were unceremoniously bundled off the bus which had parked pretty much over the water onto a very ropey looking boat that had at some point this century seen better days, and this would be our vessel for the 40 minute journey over to Koh Mook. Images of beautiful clear water and white sand were soon washed away as the heavens opened. Being inside the boat didn’t offer any protection as it had more holes than a tennis racquet and water poured down onto us and our bags which made for a somewhat squelchy journey. The locals must have known the score with this as they were sat at the other end of the boat in the dry.. with huge smiles on their faces!

Thankfully the rain had subsided as we got off the boat and we were pleased to see that the promised tricycle driver was waiting to take us to the resort, the fee to get to the other side of the island is 50B each which we avoided by prebooking our room. There are two main sides to Koh Mook; the ‘village side’ which is home to the best and most expensive resort on the island and the ‘other side’ which is the side we were staying at. The ‘other’ side housed a beach and a couple of resorts as well the place we stayed in but as was now becoming the standard story most were closed as the exodus had started.

The room we’d prebooked in Trang was really lovely (500B), a huge bungalow set in nice gardens at Had Farang Bungalows and the only downside was the promised tv didn’t work. Ok it’s not the end of the world and a little trivial but we were told that the aerial servicing all the tv’s on the resort was down and not due for repair any time soon (low season!). That was understandable, no problem really and we would have let it go had it not been for the tv in reception which worked fine and they were sat watching it all day!

We started to wonder if our journey here was a mistake when we were told that our resort restaurant wasn’t open at this time, we wouldn’t usually worry but we hadn’t spotted any other open looking options on our journey across the island. We were directed to the main beachfront resort where we had a very forgettable overpriced lunch with a warm coke and started to think this may be our only option for food.

That evening we found our salvation when we walked up the hill to find the Hillside restaurant. This little restaurant is run by the very welcoming Song and her lovely family. Her name is Number two in Thai, she was the second born and her 6 children were all named in a similar vein. The food here was really good, spicy and authentic and half the cost of the overpriced beach resort, add to that cheap beer and you have the perfect place to meet other wandering hungry travellers… to be honest it was the ONLY place to meet other travellers! Song actively encouraged everyone to sit together and we met a small crowd who we enjoyed our evenings with. To make things even better Song was playing mother to 3 tiny puppies who’s mum had died so Sophie got puppy cuddles on each visit for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

We’d read about the Emerald Cave and the secret beach which is found along the coast of the island, a popular stop for day trips from Koh Lanta. For the first couple of days the weather was too bad to be able to go round; you also have to time it right and if the waves are too high it’s dangerous to swim in the cave so we bided our time and on our final afternoon the weather changed for the better so we booked a boat to take us. Sophie was a little unsure of whether she’d be able to do it with her fear of deep water but she was determined to give it a go so we set off with Timm & Marie, a couple from Germany for the trip. We sailed round the island with Mr Yoong and enjoyed the magnificent topography that is simply breathtaking. The coastline was lovely and although the beaches are nice it's more about the limestone cliff faces that perch out of the sea.

When we reached the cave we all braved the fear of the dark and dived in, as soon as you reach the entrance it’s clear to see why the cave is so called ‘Emerald’. The reflection of the sea bounces off the water onto the walls and ceiling giving it a pure green tinge that’s very magical. As you go though the 50m cave tunnel the light fades and we were left hoping that Mr Yoong would switch on the torch soon as we had no idea which way to go in the pitch black. Eventually he did and we swam though the tunnel until we reached daylight and the sight of the secret beach, an old stash for pirates treasure. It’s a cool place totally surrounded by high cliffs and we could see why it would be the perfect hiding place. After a few photos it was back in the tunnel and though to the other side with Mr Yoong this time highlighting the bats overhead which explained the awful stench in one part as their droppings have to go somewhere…. Yuck! It was a great trip and we were all pleased to have been able to experience one of the islands most beautiful sights.

We’d love to be able to say we had a fabulous time here on Koh Mook and the other Trang islands but sadly it wasn’t to be. Koh Mook wasn’t a bad place and the scenery around the island is stunning with the huge limestone cliffs that everyone associates with Thailand, the problem is that during low season pretty much everything shuts down. Of course we had read about this but thought that with is being just on the cusp of the low season that some things might be open, our experience proved otherwise with 90%!o(MISSING)f businesses shut, transport and tours not running and no-one around so no atmosphere. With all this and the weather being less than favourable we scrapped our plan to travel over to Koh Ngai which is even less developed than Mook. We had pencilled in Koh Lanta for a week or so’s time but Timm & Marie were heading to Koh Lanta the following day and wanted to charter a longtail (1600B) so we agreed to join them feeling a little disillusioned that things hadn’t worked out as we’d planned.

Koh Lanta

We were all feeling positive about our journey to Koh Lanta. People raved about this place and pretty much everyone we knew who’d been here had had a brilliant time. Our longtail pulled up at Lanta Old Town and we immediately liked the look of the island with it’s rugged scenery and quaint old town. Taxi rides here on the island are quite expensive and they wanted 150B each to take us over to the other side so we found a bike hire shop and at just 200B per bike we opted to drive ourselves.. with all our baggage which was no mean feat especially over the hill!

We were still with Timm & Marie and agreed we’d travel down the West coast and check out the various beaches before we settled on where to stay. We dumped the bags at the sister shop of the place we’d hired the bikes and headed South first to see what the beaches were like down there. The sun was shining and it was a nice ride along the coast but after travelling to the furthest South West beaches we quickly discovered that it was the same old story.. lots of places were shut or deserted and those that were open were existing on bare bones. We didn’t fancy staying in a place who’s restaurant was all packed up and the staff were sitting around smoking all day, especially when the price for a very average bamboo bungalow was 500B! We did find some nice places who would accept us (as the only guests) but they were all too expensive so we headed back North to the larger resort villages in the hope we’d have more luck.

Thankfully after a bit more searching we found Ko Lanta New Coconut on Khlong Khong beach where we bagged a nice fan bungalow complete with use of the resort pool for 400B a night. We found the pool invaluable during our time here, with it being low season the beach in front was not somewhere we spent much time as the waves were too big and the amount of rubbish on the beach could rival Kuta! We have to wonder if more of an effort is made in the high season as this isn’t the Koh Lanta that we’d seen on photos and we couldn’t imagine people raving about it at all. If we are really honest we were very disappointed with it and wondered what all the fuss was about.

We ended up staying on Koh Lanta for 8 days, we aren’t really sure why as we didn’t do much nor did we particularly have the best time here. We are sorry to sound so negative for all those people who have a special place in their heart for this island but we just didn’t get it. We are probably being a bit harsh as we have seen photos of the island in high season with people on the beach (we didn’t really see any!), and what looks like a nice atmosphere in the bars & restaurants but there was none of this in our time. As you will see from the photos the day we took a walk up to Long Beach we found 90% of the restaurants, bars & resorts closed… to the point that tarpaulin was wrapped round most of the places. The sea was very rough when we were there and it didn’t look particularly safe to go in as there was also a lot of debris being washed around so we had to enjoy the limited time we spent on that beach sat on the sand watching the waves roll in. We are pretty sure that during high season when the water is turquoise and the place is buzzing we would have a different outlook but as things stand we won’t be rushing back!

So what did we do here in our 8 days?! We were quite lazy and had more than one pool day, the weather was very interchangeable so we didn’t want to venture too far on the days that it looked like the monsoon rains were going to set in. The pool was a lovely area to relax in and it made a nice change to be sitting in pool chairs rather than all kinds of uncomfortable positions on the
Puppy on Koh MookPuppy on Koh MookPuppy on Koh Mook

This puppy was adorable. Sadly his owner was Muslim (they are not allowed to keep dogs) and had left him at our end of the island while she lived at the other end. This meant he was on his own for most of the day & night and tagged along with any tourists who paid him any attention which we gladly gave him.
sand!

We took a trip down to Lanta Animal Welfare which is now rated as the No 1 thing to do on the island on Tipadvisor. Everyone is aware of our love of animals so this couldn’t be a more perfect activity for us and we really enjoyed our time there, walking the dogs, petting the cats and learning about the work of the centre. This is a place born out of a woman’s love for animals and we wish there were more places like this around Asia. We’ve seen some terrible acts of cruelty in our time out here and places like this not only treat the animals but provide much needed education to the locals on the ways to treat unwanted visitors.. tipping boiling oil on them is not the way to do it. The great thing about this place is that if you fall in love with one of them they will assist you in adopting them and arranging the transport back home, in the back of our minds we kind of hoped we’d fall for one of the furry ones but sadly we didn’t make that connection so left empty handed.

We hired a bike to explore the island on more than one day and drove from North to South and East to West. We took the time to explore Lanta Old Town which still has some stilt houses which are 100 years old and beautifully maintained. The views here to the outlying islands are beautiful and we wished the weather was a bit nicer so we could take the opportunity to have a day trip out there and see them a bit closer.

We also visited the Koh Lanta Marine National Park, this is found on the Southernmost tip of the island. There is a 200B fee to get in here and we had planned to spend the day here thinking there would be a few walks to do so we could enjoy it fully. We took the short walk over to the lighthouse which is sat on an outcrop between a sand beach and a rock beach then learnt that there really is only one walk here which goes around the back of the park. It took us about a hour to walk the paved pathway though the trees and there are some information boards on route to give details on the various trees which we always find interesting. Sadly we didn’t spot any resident wildlife although Dale did manage to save Sophie’s life when his eagle eye spotted a Golden Orb spider’s web across the path and prevented her from walking headlong into it. The hill to the parking area of the park is very steep and the clapped out bike we rented just wouldn’t cope with one of us on it let alone two so poor Dale was left pushing it all the way up… memo to those visiting.. the vespa style bikes are all look and no muscle!

One thing we did love about this island was the food! We didn’t have one meal that left us unsatisfied the whole time we were here and went through probably every Thai curry possible.. all spicy hot! If you are staying in the Khlong Khong part of the island then Sonya’s is definitely worth a look, we ate there most evenings and the girls are really nice too.. even in the event of a power cut they’ll cook you something! We had to laugh one evening when we were sat in front of a British girl, very young who was asking for her food to be ‘not spicy at all’ and checking that the bottled drinking water was safe, later on she expressed her concern about catching malaria and we wondered if she was sure she shouldn’t be holidaying in Cornwall or such like.

After more than enough days of being lazy in Lanta we thought it was about time we dragged ourselves away. With our Andaman adventures looking all but lost we thought we would visit a much loved part of Thailand we’d been to before. Surely Krabi couldn’t let us down!....

Krabi

The transport there wasn’t as smooth as others, we’d booked a minibus to take us there and paid 450B each which we considered too much but options were limited. We were a bit taken aback when we had to then pay an additional 20B each to take us over on the second car ferry. The driver shrugged his head saying he spoke no English and it wasn’t his fault (convenient) and then another Thai passenger got involved arguing that she also had to pay the 20B so we weren’t being victimized for being tourists. She confirmed that she’d also paid 450B so we shouldn’t have a problem… funny then that she handed the driver just 160B when she got out! Of course these things happen all the time and it really isn’t the money but the principal of being lied to, the driver told us to call the people we’d brought the ticket from but refused to give us our tickets back so we could get the number.. and besides what would that achieve? They would hardly transfer us the 40B back to our bank account. Sadly experiences like this only lead us to have a lack of respect for these people and leaves a very bitter taste in what should have been a simple point to point journey.

We were looking forward to a night in Krabi town before making our way over to the beach of Hat Ton Sai the following morning. We stayed in the same hotel we had years ago and enjoyed a walk round the town and a feast on the night market. We have to say we remember the food being much cheaper here years ago and for our return visit a few days later we opted to eat in a restaurant which was the same price and we found the food to be of a better standard. This is a real shame as we had always loved this market but the quality seems to have gone down whilst prices have risen, quite possibly due to it’s popularity.

It was a Songthaew ride and a longtail over to Hat Ton Sai the following morning and we were happy to see that the sun had decided to come out for the journey. We found a nice huge room in Paasook resort and settled in for the afternoon with a walk along the beach and some food in the stalls by the cliff faces. We had to shelter from the rain for most of the late afternoon as the heavens opened but no matter, it’s monsoon season so we can cope with some rain in the afternoon.. besides the resort had a litter of resident kittens 3 of whom decided to make our bungalow their home so we were quite happy playing with them.

That evening we were looking forward to a movie night at our old favourite restaurant. It was quite a big place and when we’d walked past that afternoon it looks active but it was not to be… as we came along the main mud path of the village we found it was shut.. and so was the next restaurant and it was like a recurring nightmare.. nothing was open! Eventually we did find one open place and the food was really tasty so we enjoyed a Thai feast before returning to our room. Drinks on the beach were not an option that evening as the rains came down all night.. and when the rains come the frogs come out and wow the sounds we heard that evening really were something else! We’ve heard frogs singing away before but there must have been thousands of them, the sound was deafening but really made us laugh as some sound more like farts than croaks!

The sun had decided to show his face again in the morning and we were looking forward to a day on our favourite Thai beach.. Phra Nang. We walked the route through the jungle to get there as the tide was too far in to go around the rocks, things had changed a bit on the walk and a new worker village seems to have been erected in the last 4 years presumably due to expansion of the resorts. We passed the rock climbers doing their thing on the huge limestone cliffs that make this area so beautiful and walked along Railey West. More changes here as a concrete pathway has been built to make things a bit easier.. before you had to battle past the mangrove roots during high tide but now it’s much easier although you wouldn’t think it by the meal that some people were making of the water lapping at their ankles!

By the time we reached Phra Nang the weather had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. It’s incredible how quickly it can change from bright sunshine to grey skies and then the wind gets up and that’s always our cue to leave! We were shocked at the waves on the beach which were really big and a million miles away from the beautiful serene turquoise waters we were used to seeing here. We went back the way we’d just come and as we were walking back along the pathway we saw a group of Thai fishermen frantically trying to bucket water out of their longtail which had crashed up against the concrete. This goes to show how quickly the waves can get up here and take even the most experienced people unawares. The following day we also learnt that 10 other boats had capsized out at sea but thankfully everyone was ok.

We walked back to Railey East and had just sat down in a restaurant when the heavens opened. By the time we’d eaten it had left off a bit so like the true British troopers we are we decided we would be going to the beach today no matter what! Back we went to Phra Nang and along with just 3 other people we lay out our sarong and lay on the beach under the grey skies and drizzle! Dale braved the waves and had a bit of a swim and we made the most of our single hour on the beach! It was at this point that we decided enough was enough and we would be leaving not only Krabi but the Andaman side of Thailand as soon as we could. We’d tried our best to make the most of our time here but the weather was against us and added to that we couldn’t do the things we’d planned so we threw in the towel and joined in with the exodus of the Andaman..


Additional photos below
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Barbara Barbara
Barbara

One of the kittens who made our bungalow a home
Phra NangPhra Nang
Phra Nang

It actually looks quite calm on this photo... it wasn't!


18th June 2013

WOW
I only visited Phuket and some small island like Phi Phi and those ones, but the one you visited is amazing. Lovely pictures. Nice to see you again.
18th June 2013

Puppy cuddles
Being dog lovers it was always nice to be able to cuddle a dog along the road. Thanks for showing us this lovely part of the world.

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