Our guide to the big island of Koh Lanta, Thailand is going to be a series of diary posts from our travels there in 2014. Appologies for the layout, it was impossible to fix after importing from an earlier blog. Hopefully this gives an idea of what to expect and how you can spend your time there. We really loved Koh Lanta.
The lay out of Koh Lanta is such that you are best served to rent a motorbike to get around. There's long roads circling the island and tons to see. Enjoy!
New Years Eve on Koh Lanta
We got a late start on NYE. Truth is: we move pretty slow these days. The perk of us traveling for such a long time is that we don't have to hurry to see everything. We're taking it all in fairly slowly.
We had breakfast at our hotel restaurant overlooking Nui Bay. The water is so sparkly here. Probably the most sparkling water I've seen.
We met with an old friend of Darren's, JR and his chick Mary, who just happened to be here and they randomly ran into each other, and went for a ride across the island. I got my own scooter for this, that way I'm not a nervous wreck clawing on Nick at every turn. He's a great driver, I just have control issues.
We drove across to the east side and visited Old Town Lanta. It's a sleepy little village that apparently used to be a main hub of activity back in the day. We drove out onto the pier and saw a sailboat sinking.
We stopped for lunch at The Beautiful Restaurant. It kind of lived up to it's name. The walk in was beautiful, the view was kind of beautiful, the staff was beautiful. One dude, Sak, was so helpful and friendly. He helped Nick get an issue sorted with his bike. Nick has had bad motorbike ignition luck. This time he locked it on accident and couldn't get it unlocked.
And then settled in for the sunset at a rad little place called The Sound Shack. I fell in love with their beach seating. During low tide they dig these square ditches and put mats down inside with cushions and a table. We had two Happy hour drinks while cuddling and watching the people go by. The beaches here are much less crowded than Tonsai and Railay, probably because there's so much more space to spread out. I like it here much better.
After dark, I nearly forgot it was New Years Eve. You'd never know by the looks of our bungalow.
We headed out to have a festive dinner on the beach with a bunch of grey hairs and kids. An awesome Thai coverband was playing songs by Metallica, Rolling Stones, U2, and the like. My fave was U2's song "Wisss or Wisssout You."
Of course me and Fener left before midnight.
We were laying in our bungalow when the fucking bombs and grenades went off at midnight. I swear the Thais were initiating World War 3!
Happy New Year!
New Years Day on Koh Lanta
The island was quiet early New Years Day. I snuck out of the bungalow and went to the resort restaurant to enjoy a peaceful, windy breakfast overlooking the bay.
I'm not big on Resolutions, so I won't make a specific one this year. There are too many things to work on. I just want to focus on being a better person. Period.
On our mid day ride, Nick and I picked up a fresh dragon fruit from a street side fruit stand called UNSEEN FOODS. Makes me wonder who translated "unseen" for them. What does that even MEAN? I could publish a huge coffee table book full of funny signs around Thailand. Every few minutes I see something new that makes me laugh.
We took a random turn off the main road down a dirt path toward the beach and happened upon one of the coolest properties I've ever seen. We drove through trees and two-story bungalows with lazy tourists laying in hammocks on their porches. We parked our bike at the end and wandered through the open-air common area/bar/reception/restaurant and found two hammocks calling our names.
We were at BeeBee Bungalows on Klong Khong Beach, just about the midpoint between the north end and south end of the island. Thai music was playing, people were lounging on cushions all around us on the various platforms and structures.
Looking around, I felt like who ever built the place built it with love. We spent an hour in the hammocks, having a cold Singha beer and sharing the dragon fruit.
Dragon fruit are beautiful. A pliable pink skin that looks like a fireball in flight protects the soft, kiwi-like, mildly sweet, white-with-tiny-black-seeds inner flesh. It's a very subtle flavor, very refreshing without being overpowering. We love it. They are abundant and moderately priced here, only 70 baht per kilo (about $1.50 per fruit).
We checked the hotel for Angie or Darren but couldn't find them. It's interesting traveling with friends in a place where we don't have phones or texting. Sometimes we can message each other on Facebook and just hope the other gets it, that's what we did on Koh Tao with Angie a lot. Here, we are neighbors, so it's easy to keep track of each other. Generally when we split up we will devise a precise time and place to meet back up, but not this night. It was their last evening on Koh Lanta, so Nick and I made a guess that they were at their favorite spot, Top View, hoping we'd meet them there.
Nick and I had only seen the view at night from Top View, so we rushed up there (next resort over from the one we are staying at) to catch the tail end of the days light. What a breathtaking, gorgeous panoramic view! The name Top View has a double meaning for me now.
We sat and talked, ate, cuddled, and enjoyed the windy evening for about two hours before our friends turned up. We knew it! Koh Lanta is a small big island.
And that's banana soup. It's just as it sounds. Boiled bananas in warm coconut milk. Nick LOVED it. I wished I ordered the friend banana.
Koh Lanta Farmers Market Day
Our friends left to go back to Tonsai today. We drove together on our motorbikes up to the pier in Saladan and had lunch before they took off. It was sad to see them go, we had a lot of fun times with them and they helped us more than we could ever repay, while at the same time it's exciting to think of navigating through Thailand together with Nick; just two dumb Americans let loose on our own.
On our way back south toward our little town, we drove past a "farmers market" type situation and had to stop. My food budget on this trip is quite a big chunk of my total budget because of moments like this. I love trying new, unique things that are unavailable or "unseen" in the US. First we had some coconut pudding cakes. We discovered these amazing little foodgasms in Bangkok. They're like fried yogurt-y/pancake-y coconut cups with corn in them. Creamy deliciousableness. 20 baht for twelve half-cups. What a deal. We had three bags full.
There was a mushroom guy.
A guy selling random black things he swore were vegetables.
A fried meat stick lady. I learned already not to eat the meat sticks that are just chillin out on a table. But it's fun to look and play, "Guess the meat."
The first fish lady we saw was offering cooked fish and had the biggest pile of dried, open filet fish. They were disguised by a sworn of flies, that I swatted away to get a picture. We asked the lady about them, because we couldn't figure out who the hell would eat them or why. She said they're good with salt. Anything is good with salt I guess.
The veggies were beautiful. It's green bean season. I know this because every restaurant dish comes with a few on the side, and because I saw the longest ones of my life at the market.
The Thais love their spicy food. The curry lady had huge mounds of curry paste and giant bags of peppers.
The raw meat table was something Nick had never seen before. They had piles of various chicken parts just laying there raw. Claws, livers, necks. And lots of eggs.
There was an entire row of sea food. Duh, we're on an island. They had the biggest prawns I've ever seen. Prawns are very popular on Koh Lanta. Prawn pad thai, prawn fried rice, prawn curry, prawn soup, fried prawn, prawn with a side of prawn.
They were selling fish I would never consider edible. Fish I've seen in the fish tank at my dentists office.
There was so much to look at. I love this kind of stuff. I'm just glad I didn't get sick from the sketchy meat cakes I tried. Or the coconut pancakes. I only played three rounds of Thai farmers market roulette and I won.
Here's some more random shots from a random day...
A handstand in Kientiang Bay at low tide.
The sunset view of Kientieng Bay at a random little restaurant with only eight cliffside tables and one lady cooking in her home and serving while her tiny daughters do homework and give menus to new customers who pull up. The view was amazing. The pad Thai was just fried cup-o-noodles (seriously) and the curry was just flavored water. Bummer. Maybe it'll be better at breakfast, considering they don't serve beer anyway.
And finally, the new style gas pumps are all the rage here on Koh Lanta. You see them in front of random businesses or on random corners. They're open 24 hours and don't need an attendant. You pay with a card and pump whatever amount of gas you need, whenever you need it. What will they think of next?!
Koh Lanta - Old Town and trippy Mong Bar
Today was a big errand day. We ironed out a lot of the tiny travel details for the next two weeks. It's going to be a bit more hectic for us, so we took the time to sort some things out in advance. We also booked a snorkeling tour for tomorrow.
My toe is almost healed, and so is my foot, so I decided to test the waters by getting in the water. We've been looking at the damn beach for over two weeks and not getting in it. Today, we got in and enjoyed a beautiful day together.
I bought a green inflatable raft and laid on it in the calm, cool water, while Nick dragged me around near the rocks underneath the clifftop spot where we had the shitty pad thai the night before. It was clear and bright all morning, and we were sweating constantly, just dying to get in the water. That is, up until we actually got IN the water. Dark clouds came in fast and it started to rain! Giant, warm raindrops were falling on me and all around me as I floated and bounced along in the ocean on my chincy little floatie. I loved it. I figure if it's going to rain, it may as well rain on me when I'm already wet. Right?
Then we parked it on the sand for a long time and just relaxed and talked. I'm loving this time and space to reconnect with Nick. With no other distractions of daily life at home, we are able to have fun and be in the moment together. We are able to problem solve, compromise, trouble shoot, help each other, day dream, sort through our feelings, and steadily rebuild our connection, all in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Traveling is therapy baby.
After the beach we took a long sunset ride to the other side of the island back to Old Town. No biggie really: I only ran out of gas once, and I only drove off the side of the rode once. Winning. When we visited Old Town the other day I saw a very specific gift I wanted to buy for a very special friend. We had to go back for it today since we are probably leaving Koh Lanta several days earlier than we thought. We drove all the way out there in the dark to find the shop was already closed for the day. Old Town goes to sleep a lot earlier than the rest of the island. We stopped and ate an amazing Thai meal at a nice restaurant there, and stopped at a trippy little hang out bar on the way home.
We'd seen hand painted signs for Mong Bar ALL over the island on well over a hundred light posts or telephone poles. "In Bud We Trust" ... "Full Moon Party" ..."Your Ticket to the Moon" ... We saw the signs everywhere but never saw the bar.
As we passed by on our scooters, I was drawn in by the colorful lasers shooting out across the street and the black lights illuminating string structures.
At only 8:30pm the place was still empty. There was one British dude at the bar smoking a joint. The bar tender greeted us with a smile and a menu and immediately said, "Mushroom brownie, weed shake, weed joint."
Lasers, lounge chairs, black lights, techno music. This place is what most backpackers probably seek out. There's no way in hell I would risk trippin out on the paranoia of doing psychedelic drugs in a place like this. But a lot of people do. The bar tender said New Years Eve was packed and so much fun. Three days later he said he's still tired from having too many mushroom brownies.
I had a cheap cocktail, Nick had a beer and we sat by the fire and watched the lasers and smoke dance in the air. We watched the motorbikes and tuk tuks pass though the lasers that were shining out on the road. I kept thinking how dangerous it was that the road appeared to be an extension of the bar property because of the lasers. Someone trippin on shrooms could easily mistake the road for a dance floor.
We chatted more with the Brit who was traveling alone, and just as we mentioned to him about not meeting many Americans, two Yanks sat down next to us. They were New Yorkers on a 6 month honeymoon! And we met a couple of young white fellas from Namibia as well. We all talked in a circle about our travel stories and plans. I played with the poi balls, and listened to them tell stories of ping pong shows and other Bangkok oddities. More westerners turned up and ordered shroom brownies. We left while everyone was still coherent. Something tells me the night was just getting started at the Mong Bar. Us two old fogies ain't got time fo' dat!
Koh Lanta - 4 Island Snorkel Tour
I was rudely awoken by banging outside. It sounded like someone dropped a few empty soda cans on our porch, so I jumped up to make sure some drunk guy or our neighbor who ate a magic shroom brownie at Mong Bar last night wasn't trying to get into the wrong bungalow. But we're in Thailand. I hadn't even considered the possibility that a wild family of monkeys would be tearing through the trash bag on our balcony and the one down below. The three little dudes on our balcony didn't seem to mind me staring at them, standing behind the protection of the bungalow door of course. A monkey lunged and hissed at me two nights ago as I drove by on my scooter, and I already don't trust them, so I was expecting an attack.
They wanted food, not trouble, and went back to eating the loaf of bread they scored. Babies were swinging from an electrical line, the females were distributing the random bits of loot. I even saw some impromptu monkey sex that resulted in a very unhappy female monkey.
We spent the majority of the day on a long tail boat having our most touristy experience yet: a snorkeling tour of four local islands, including the Emerald Cave. It was a perfect day to be on a boat, in and out of the water.
The snorkeling wasn't that great. We saw some schools of fish and had fun playing in the water finally. They served us a chicken green curry lunch which was enjoyed over conversation with two young British lads about the Royal Wedding, US healthcare, and the rules to Cricket.
The Emerald Cave alone was worth the price of the tour (850baht). I've never seen anything like it. We almost didn't do the tour because one traveler we met called it "tourist hell" and I'd say that's not too far from the truth. We pulled up to the rocky side of a random island where a dozen other boats were anchored and were immediately approached by a boat of camouflage wearing park rangers collecting the mandatory state park fee of 50THB per person to swim into the cave.
They made us ditch the mask and snorkel and put on bright orange life vests. Mark that down as a good Thai idea, because I'm sure about a dozen people a day would drown from panic if they had to swim the long, dark cave on their own. And here's a travel tip I wish someone would have mentioned: bring your own underwater/waterproof flashlight for this. I don't mean go out and buy one specifically for it, but if you're a diver and have a light, bring it.
Our guide had one and used it partly to shine up the cave walls to show us the eerie landscape and huge colonies of bats, and partly to keep a general "eye" on us, even though I doubt he ever did a proper head-count.
On our way in, for the first 100 meters or so, the sunshine was coming in under the rock walls of the cave and creating a beautiful, glowing emerald hue in the water. As we swam deeper into the winding cave it got darker and darker until there was no light other than the flashlights. Going inside was chaotic because several other groups were trying to swim out. Bobbing heads and orange life vests and kicking legs were everywhere. Had there been more than one way to go, people would be getting lost all the time. I saw a few tour companies that lined their people up into conga lines and made them swim through while holding each other. Our dude didn't give a shit, we just went for it and it was much more relaxed and comfortable that way.
The cave was maybe 12-20 feet wide at parts, and had a ceiling peak ranging between 30-70 feet. The sound reminded me of being at Disneyland as a kid and riding the Matterhorn or Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean. The wind and water and voices echoed in that creepy familiar way that certain roller coasters do.
After 7 or 8 minutes the cave began glowing emerald again as we reached the end. It opened up into a fully enclosed tropical beach paradise. The only way in would be through the cave or to rappel or jump in.
We didn't stay in the secret beach area for long because a choo-choo train of about 75 Chinese tourists came through the tunnel and it became very clear that it was time to go.
Our way back through the tunnel was amazing. No other groups were coming or going. It was quiet with only the sounds of the lapping water and gusting wind echoing through. I lingered last of our group and found delight in looking back and seeing nothing but black abyss. One of the most unique experiences of the trip, hands down. Loved it.
The ride back to Koh Lanta on the long tail was, well, long. Everyone was sleeping. Nick and I hit the hay fairly early due to an early pick up to leave the island in the morning. On to new adventures.