Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Koh Lanta - five days chillin' on Lanta

The first morning on Koh Lanta started beautiful and sunny. Though not as early as the previous morning, we were still up at 6:30am, before breakfast service began. So we started with a walk along the beach. It really was a magnificent way to start the day. As the beach faces west, the shadows of the trees shade much of the beach, making for a refreshing stroll, mostly out of that hot Thai sun.

To say that our day (and in fact most of our days) on Lanta was lazy would be an understatement. The day passed with dips in the pool, a short walk up the beach to talk with agents to organise our transfers to Koh Ngai (as well as transfers between Koh Ngai and Koh Kradan and a day trip to Koh Rok), with simple lunch at one of the restaurants about midway along Long Beach at Lym’s Bar. The afternoon brought a nice thunderstorm accompanied by a few hours of steady rain. Laying on the day bed in front of our room, book in hand, was the perfect way to witness nature’s tempest.

After the storm passed, the sun came out in time for us to take another stroll along the damp beach. The day ended with dinner at the place next door, The Thai Cat, which had great food and cocktails. Can’t come to Thailand and not have a few Mai-tais…

Day two was very similar to day one, except no thunderstorm and we had lunch and dinner in different restaurants. The weather was cloudier and felt slightly cooler, but even more humid, if that is at all possible. It was already 100% percent humidity… We did spend time sitting on the hotel’s sunlougers in front of the beach, and floating around in the ocean. From the shore, the sandy bottom fell and rose and fell again in waves, before giving out to deep water. J and I mused about the bath-water-like tepid water, commenting on how much nicer Melbourne’s beaches would be if Port Philip Bay had more tolerable water temperature. My theory is : install a huge heating element in the centre of the bay to warm the water (think of the element in a kettle but like 1000 times the size). So the day passed punctuated with walks on the beach, and beers, more silly musings.

One little bar we loved was called “SeeSunBar’, near the middle, but towards the southern end of Long Beach. It was a simple, family run place, with sun loungers in the sand, the perfect place for sunset with a few cold Changs.

After the sun had set, and we relived the bar of a few beers, we ended up walking to the end of Long Beach to Castaways for a really delicious dinner. They had a large menu with so many Thai and western choices. J and I have a tradition when we travel: find Mexican (or Tex-Mex) food. And here, we found it. Always dubious about how good the standard would be, we ordered our enchiladas and chimmi-chungas as we sipped our beers. When the meals came, they were huge! And to our delight – delicious! The beans/frijoles were the best I’ve had – clearly home made with smoky chipotle chilies.

While we were still at dinner, we could see the dark sky occasionally lit up. Nearby, a couple of thunderstorms passed close by – one out to sea, the other further south over the hills behind us. Walking back to the hotel, we sat on the cool sand in the still night air, watching the amazing light show. I would have sat out all night, but J suggested we get going in case the thunderstorm decided to come in our direction (which it didn’t). Back near the hotel, with the danger of getting drenched behind us, we enjoyed another cocktail at Thai Cat before crashing.

Not being able to take doing nothing much longer, we booked a day trip to Koh Rok on day three. Pick up was from the beach directly in front of the hotel at 8:30, giving us plenty of time for a walk and breakfast beforehand. Our speed boat (SinThongChai with the Thai flags along its side) was spacious and fast, with the staff speaking barely enough English for us to understand the program for the day. We stopped at a few more places along the beaches of Koh Lanta picking up a handful of other passengers before heading to the horizon, and the two islands of Koh Rok.

First stop took us to a spot on the south-eastern side of Koh Rok Nai. A small drop off with lots of rocky reef was the home to many fish and some corals, sadly affected by boating and fishing. The highlight was a huge, titan triggerfish trying to escape detection (that I followed until it finally swam out of my range). 

Lunch was on the southern beach of Koh Rok Nok. Set among the shady trees, many picnic tables provided a comfortable place to have your included meal. All the boat tour companies used the same facilities, and pretty much had the same meal: fried chicken, fish curry, veggie stir fry and fruit.

There’s a camp ground, and lots of men that looked like military, so I’m not sure whether it’s some sort of training area or what. And there was a separate restaurant. To the rear of the food preparation area (i.e. the rubbish area), large monitor lizards patrol, looking for an easy meal. We saw three huge adults, and a smaller juvenile. With the lizards were an army of hermit crabs, scouring the scraps for snacks. The island had so many hermit crabs. J and I entertained ourselves ‘talking’ to them (meaning picking them up, letting them crawl on our open hands, then returning them to continue their day). Some of them were really huge; some climbed trees, but most seemed to hang around shady areas or the trunks of trees. 

From shore, the outlook was stunning; crystal clear blue water with white sands – your stereotypical, tropical island that you’d see on any travel brochure. Truly gorgeous. There wasn’t much of a long beach to walk along, the sand giving way to rocky shoreline after a few hundred metres. 

In front of the picnic area, a nice snorkelling area was roped off away from the boat landing area. I found it to be as good for snorkelling as anywhere else on our day trip, with the added luxury of wading in directly from the white sandy beach. Spending most of the time in the water, I thoroughly enjoyed looking at the fish and few corals. Visibility wasn’t bad and very few other people out there made it really pleasant – not worrying about flippers in your face was nice.
The last snorkelling spot was on the south-east tip of Koh Rok Nok, at another drop off. The sea was a bit rougher here. The corals were much better with a large variety of clams and anemones (with nemo), as well as the usual fishy suspects. Though we didn’t see a shark, or turtle or any particularly unusual fish or corals, I just loved being in the water and seeing the undersea world.

Back at Lanta, we showered and headed out for dinner at the pizza place next door (Mr Wee’s), which really hit the spot. More lightening provided a lovely moving picture out to sea. The cool air breeze was so soothing, so another nice walk along the beach finished our day. With our torches in hand, we spot-lighted the crabs ambling around the beach. Some of these hermit crabs, which I named ‘Herbie’ were huge. It’s surprising how strong they can be too. On your hand, their eyes and legs appear from the shell, and then they really pull away if you try to hold their shell. We stopped and talked with some of them, always being gentle and mindful to return them carefully to the beach.

Day four was almost the same as day two, with the exception of a big walk into the Sala Dan town area in the late afternoon. From Long beach to the town area, it’s a few kilometres, with a few stalls and shops to browse along the way, which I did. As you get closer to the pier/jetty area, there are more and more convenience stores and places to eat. There is a little shopping centre with alleys of stalls selling your typical tourist fares; sarongs, tee-shirts, sunglasses, hippy pants and shorts etc.  I bought my mandatory fridge magnets and a few little presents for family. We ended with a nice dinner at ‘The Black Pearl’, which was pretty good. 

Not prepared to walk all the way back in the dark, a lady tuk-tuk drivier delivered us back to our hotel, where another beer finished our day. 

Another relaxed end to another lazy day on Lanta, our last. The next day, we were off to Koh Ngai, an idyllic tropical island from another idyllic tropical island. We thoroughly enjoyed our lazy days in Lanta, and probably should have explored more of the hinterland. It is such a laid back and beautiful place, and hopefully it won’t get so developed and busy as nearby Ao Nang, or worse - Phuket.

- K

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