Ko Lanta, Thailand
(Note: photos added to last couple of updates, if you feel like checking that out.) Sorry, this isn’t gonna be fancy. Ko Lanta: Oh, lovely, lovely little Ko Lanta. It’s what I was hoping other places in Thailand would be, but weren’t: rather underdeveloped, somewhat wild, with incredible beaches scattered around that feel undiscovered (except for the garbage piled up in places). Sad to say that such a glowing report probably won’t last long, as yet again, construction of new, fancy resorts is in full swing. But for now, at least, it’s a lovely, laid-back, do-nothing kind of place. At the same time, beachfront bungalow competition is fierce, so it was no problem to find great digs for 500 baht a night (do you love how “great digs” for me no longer means a suite at the Four Seasons, but rather, a solid-ish structure that most bugs and animals can’t penetrate, and a reasonably rot-free environment (except for the bathrooms….they’re all rotty, it seems)). The island thrives off of a few main beach drags and the influx of real estate dollars from the Swedes (we found out from the expat owner of a British pub that there are 3 – count ’em, 3! – Swedish schools just on Lanta alone.) Not sure why they chose this island specifically, but they’ve definitely made it a second home. Upon arrival we immediately engaged in one of our favourite new pasttimes, renting a scooter. We pretty much circumnavigated the entire island on the first day, discovering fabulous, remote beaches and little villages along the way (and Fab getting pretty good at driving on the other side of the road!). I liked watching the Muslim women bombing around on their two-wheelers with only the tiniest bit of their eyes visible (also don’ t know why this island has such a dense Muslim population – Jan, maybe the kids can research that one for me!). For sunset we stopped off at a great little chill-out bar on the beach and ordered a drink, only to find out from the proprietor that the electricity had been out the whole day on the entire island. When, I ask you, is the last time you had no electricity for an entire day and didn’t even know it? Astounding. No need for electricity. Just a scooter, $2 worth of gas, and a 2-lane concrete “road” cutting through dense jungle. We stumbled across some wild monkeys at one point, and then later, some not-so-wild ones: local men have trained monkeys to climb coconut trees, search out ripe coconuts and knock them to the ground. Some of the best entertainment we’ve had (and free!). It so happened that we were on Lanta for the Loi Krathong festival, an annual event where beautiful lanterns made of banana leaves, flowers, incense and candles are floated on the water in hopes of predicting the future of romance as well as strengthening family relations. A local told us they weren’t launching the lanterns until midnight, and since bed-time lately is about 3 hours earlier than that, we passed. It’s only the next day that we found out they launch the lanterns every hour. Anyway. It was also on Lanta that we both hit our Thai food wall (luckily, at the same time). I suddenly couldn’t look at another plate of rice, and Fab felt the same. We agreed to have an entire Thai-food-free day. Woo hoo!! Fruit and yogurt for breakfast, falafel with hummus and pita for lunch, cheeseburgers and yummy french fries for dinner. It did the trick; we were right back on the Thai track the next day. Part of our time here was also spent on practicalities; figuring out how to get across to the east coast islands and then on to Cambodiad. The trip to Ko Pha-Ngan seemed straightforward enough when we booked it at the travel agency. Wrong. Here’ s a snapshot of how the day went: 8:30 am: mini bus picks us up at our bungalow. Drive to ferry dock. Take 2 ferry boats. Mini bus drops us off at a taxi .Taxi takes us to a ticketing office. Wait. Taxi comes and takes us to a street somewhere and leaves us there. Rickety (but air-con) bus picks us up. Drive 3 hours, with many random stops (which I will later discover was just opportunities for locals to go into the baggage holder and rifle through our things. No, my bag wasn’t locked…I know, I know. Anyway nothing was stolen from my own stuff, just all upside down….but still, very violating.) Rickety bus drops us off at another taxi. Taxi takes us to another ticketing office. Wait 1.5 hours. Take another taxi (same one we just got out of) to a street corner.Wait 30 min. Big fancy bus picks us up and drops us off at the ferry dock. Take ferry boat 3 hours to KPG, arriving at 9:30 pm instead of at 6:30 pm as told (hey, stealing stuff is a business that takes patience!). Total travel time: 13 hours, with only one break for food. Whew! Sorry but the update on the island of Ko Pha Ngan is getting the short end of the stick, at least for the moment. We’re headed to Cambodia tomorrow, another long day, and I gotta get to bed. In a nutshell, the locals on KPG seem tourist-weary (and it’s not even high season yet!) I can’t blame them, what with a bunch of kids coming here once a month to trash their island at the Full Moon Party, the largest beach party in the world (over 10,000 people!). (We strategically planned our arrival for 2 days after the Full Moon Party). Anyway more about KPG another time. We basically just scootered around, and took a Thai cooking course! Spring rolls, pad thai, green curry, and coconut banana cream soup for dessert! Yum! Not only did we learn and eat, but we’ve got enough food left over to get us through the long day tomorrow, too. Sweet. Oh and we managed to get a ticket for not wearing helmets (clearly a trap as only tourists were pulled over, as we all watched helmetless locals go sailing right on by….)…ya. I feel a little sad about leaving Thailand. No more “Hey, where you go?” or “tuk tuk taxi!” or “helllooooooo you want massaaaaaage?” No more fruit shakes or banana pancakes. No more land of smiles. But, my visa’s up tomorrow, and another country is calling me. I haven’t read much about Cambodia yet, so need to get cracking on that in the next 24 hrs. Goodbye Thai Baht, hello Cambodian Riel. PS – totally shocked to see the cover of some North American magazine yesterday, touting “holiday decorating made easy!”. Is it really that time of year? I can’t believe I don’t even know what country I’ll be in for Christmas, or New Years, or my 40th birthday. Exciting. Scary. Keep on travellin’ with me, ok?