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Published: December 8th 2014
We wanta Ko Lanta
Can we just talk about the motorbike situation, please? I'm tired of appearing well traveled and laissez faire and pretending that observing impending death daily doesn't wear at my soul. Anyone who has been to Asia or Indonesia or Central/South America knows what I mean, and can picture the rogue motorcyclists weaving in and out of traffic, helmetless, obeying no lanes or lights or traffic signals or sheer common sense. And to be fair, it's like the drivers are all participating in some grand symphony that my ears are not attuned to. The horns and motors and swerves to the left and right are like music, with a grand conductor in the clouds that white people aren't able to see.
And it's not like there is just one person riding on these compact danger bombs. I watch in wonder, pondering how it is possible to fit so many people and so many things onto these bikes. I have seen a scooter with a driver, passenger and her 3 bags of luggage on the seat, all draped in one poncho. I have seen a family of 5 on one bike. Not uncommon
to see a moto carrying three teen girls in full dress and makeup off for the night, and teen boys have no problem riding two or three deep in full straddle. I just saw a helmetless mom driving the scooter while carrying her infant, cruising a major road in the rain - but at least the baby had an air filtration mask on, wouldn't want him to breathe polluted air.
I have seen too much shit come through the emergency room in "normal" conditions, that I can't help but say something about how repulsed and petrified I am at the thought of motobike travel. Particularly in Southeast Asia. I saw a woman fall off of her scooter the first day I arrived in Cambodia. No thank you.
So we rent a motobike in Ko Lanta. Cam looks like he's seen the 8th Wonder of the World when I suggest it, because he knows my views on the bikes. But honestly Ko Lanta is a large island with very little traffic, so a motobike just makes the most sense. And for some reason my practicality and desire to see the island outweighs my fear of
death and dismemberment. It's 200 Bhat for the whole day, which is a steal. I die a little on the inside and just hope I won't die fully on the outside.
We arrived in Ko Lanta via a ferry from Krabi. It's raining when we arrive, and we get shoved into the cramped backseat of a really dirty truck which we arranged on the ferry. The driver sits on a teddy bear's face so he can see over the steering wheel. He speaks to us in some form of English, and we mainly nod and laugh, so hopefully he was saying something funny. First impression of Ko Lanta from the street isn't an awesome one. It's definitely devoid of high rises and resorts, which is nice, and maybe it's just the rain, but everything seems a bit tired and droopy. We then go down some random flooded side street, make a few 5 point turns to find a clear route, and make our muddy way to our bungalows. My excitement meter is at about negative 1 at this point, and I'm pretty convinced we are going to be staying in the most ghetto place ever. But then
the road parts and we are in a beautiful strip of well kept bungalows on a long white beach. Then I understand Ko Lanta - it's meant to be enjoyed from the shore. Nothing is pretty from the street, because all of the hotels and bars are constructed to be enjoyed beachside, not roadside. So beach it is.
We then meet our hotel owner who is a crafty little business woman and the motivation for a lot of jokes in the future. The bungalows are huge and clean and we enjoy the most epic sunsets on our strip of paradise, but the food isn't that great, and the vibe is a little slow. So after the first night, we venture out for food and drinks, and we can tell she isn't too keen on this. She always asks, "Where you go? We make BBQ special just for you tonight" and "You out late last night, that's no safe" and "You pretty. Special deal just for you." Mmm hmmm. But really she's harmless, and she runs a safe, tight ship.
She is also the dealer of our motorbike, and we take off early our first
morning after breakfast. We cruise the island and see almost of it in one day. Baan Saladan is the pier to the north, the most bustling of areas and the center of commerce. The Old Town is to the west, and has one pier and a strip of shops and eats in the style of the old west (random). The south is home to the national park, where we do a slippery jungle hike and have a beautiful view of a lighthouse. There are a ton of Air Force and policemen there, and we find out later that the princess was there. We never saw her. I didn't even know Thailand had a princess.
What we DID see were the most aggressive monkeys you've ever dreamed of. I had heard stories. But I didn't know what was possible. I sat down to open up a bag of almonds and a monkey was perched in the tree above me. I figured once I started eating, the monkeys would surround me and start begging. I had a tight grip on my water bottle and the almonds. Then before I knew it, there was a ripping and then an empty sensation in my hands, and the almonds were gone. The monkey dive bombed from the tree, swung with his arms and snatched the almonds with his feet. He then scurried up the tree to hide and couldn't even open up the damn bag. I was hungry and could have punched this mammal. The locals just laughed.
We ended our trip with a comical roadside stop at a Muslim run food stand. We almost ordered at least 10 wrong dishes due to our communication barriers but somehow ended up with the right food. We then scored some Changs from the 7-11 (where would we be without big Changs and 7-11) and headed to Long Beach. Long beach is the "popular beach" of Ko Lanta, but it's still sleepy on Thai standards. It's white and sandy and long, with a spattering of restaurants and bars. Really nice. I prefer our smaller beach, even though it's rockier and the low tide doesn't lend for much swimming. The vibe is better, though.
We have two fun nights out on Khlong Krong, our beach. The difference between high and low tide is impressive, during low tide you can walk almost 100 Meters into the sea, still walking rock to rock. The first night we drink plenty of Sam Som rum and bar hop down our island, ending up at the Freedom Bar and meeting a family from Amsterdam. I don't know how it happened, but I get back from the bathroom, and Cam is just shooting the shit with a white haired man with a joint in his mouth (the man, not Cam). They do things differently in Amsterdam. They are on vacation, and one of the daughters is moving to Palm Springs for 2 years with her boyfriend, and the other is working in Bogota, Ecuador and hopes to study medicine. Lots of laughs, conversation, languages, and piña coladas.
The next night we end up at "Where Else?" (That's the name of the bar) and it's a really cool spot with booths shaped like ships with thatched roofs, long tables, and beanbags on the floor. The DJ plays some eclectic sets and we order some Indian food, which they are known for. The naan and dahl is so good, we almost unnecessarily order another one.
One of the best parts was an all day long tail boat trip we booked through our hotel manager. Our "special deal" was for $750 baht/person (about $25 dollars). We were picked up from our hotel and taking to the dock in the old town. There are about 12 of us in total, and the boat can comfortably accommodate that. We travel to 4 different islands and have 3 snorkel destinations. I'm not the biggest fan of snorkeling because the masks never fit my face, but I got it right at one of the spots and was able to see coral, clownfish, fish that look like they ate a glow stick, pufferfish and urchins. One fish found some food, and the rest of the fish swarmed around me and I was surrounded by fish on all sides. So cool.
The popular attraction is the Emerald Cave, and we join many tourists there. The whole scene is pretty comical, where tour guides stretch a rope through the cave and the tourists clad in bright orange life jackets swim single file to the enclaved beach on the other side while gripping the rope. Our group goes a little more rogue, and our Thai captain wearing a cowboy hat shouts at us and we jump in and swim past all the other groups, trying to follow the flashlight beam. The entrance to the cave has deep green, emerald water which casts an eerie sheen to the cave walls. In the middle of the cave it is pitch black and you can't see your own nose without a flashlight. After about 100m swim, the cave opens to the right, and you follow the sun out. On the other side is a shallow pool and a beach surrounded by a tropical forest. It looks like a movie set. Except for the 200 other people there. Cam and I sit on the rocks and watch the rampant selfie action which occurs. I wonder if people understand how ridiculous they look while shooting selfies.
Our Thai cowboy is a bit of an enigma. He is slender but sinewed, and dances around the boat as light as a ballerina. He is balding, which is the only indication that he's probably a lot older than he appears. He dives without a snorkel and stays under for what seems like minutes, and then emerges with treasures from the sea. He speaks little English, but can communicate just fine. I later read an excerpt for our travel book about the "Chao Ley", or the sea gypsy tribe which eventually called Ko Lanta home. They are a nomadic sea based tribe thought to have originated from Indonesia. They have their own dialect and live as fishermen and are known for their ability to dive and swim like sea animals. I think that's our guy. Ko Lanta itself is quite the mixing pot, with influences from Indonesia and Vietnam. There is a strong Muslim presence, and some islands are almost 100% Muslim. There are almost 2000 islands in the Ko Lanta archipelago, but only a few are inhabited.
We head back after a curry lunch on the beach and fresh pineapple. A great trip, completely recommended.
If you are going to rent a motor bike, Ko Lanta is the place
Do the four island tour
Ko Lanta is not a party island, but there are plenty of beach bars to have a great night
Stay on the beach in a bungalow, either Long Beach or Khlong Krong
Don't underestimate the monkeys
Tell Thai cowboy I say hello
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