Ko Lanta: Somewhere else!

A post about arriving

Am sitting here on the balcony of my absolutely amazing AirBnB apartment in Phuket, eating M&M’s, drinking a Chang beer and listening to a most bizarre Grooveshark playlist including David Bryan (the keyboard player of Bon Jovi), the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. And wow, if this was a movie, there would be a lot of Ad Placement. None of that here though. I wish someone sponsored me to eat M&Ms.

Well, now that you know the context, let me also tell you that today I arrived in Phuket having spent the last 4 days on a different island on the Andaman Coast of Thailand: Ko(h) Lanta. And what a place Ko Lanta is. Absolutely fascinating. More than that, Ko Lanta also thought me a very important lesson…exactly two months into my adventure, I have finally arrived.

Ko Lanta2

Getting there…

Not just one, Ko Lanta is actually a complex of small islands, the largest one being Ko Lanta Yai. This is what people refer to as Ko Lanta actually but there are plenty of smaller islands in the area. They are part of a National Reservoir or something like that, and they can all be visited. I never had the time, so I had to admire them from the distance. Specifically from the Old Town harbour. Below is one of the shots I liked. Somehow though, I struggled to capture the colours appropriately which still annoys me. It’s rainy season in Ko Lanta right now so the sky was a mix of clouds and sunshine yet very intense still. Ah well, it’s framed in my mind 🙂

Getting to Ko Lanta is fairly easy. You fly into Krabi and then you’re likely to be picked up by a minibus. In my case, the little guesthouse I stayed in sorted it all out. From the airport in Krabi, it takes about 3 hours. Luckily, I fell asleep straight away (if you read my ‘Up in the air‘ post you’ll see that I was not able to sleep on the plane) and only woke up twice before getting there. Once when we got onto the first ferry and once we got onto the second ferry. Can’t complain, all very easy. When I left, I took an 8 AM boat to Phuket via Phi Phi. The ride was insane [details to follow] but it also only took about three hours. So, location wise, Ko Lanta is very accessible. It’s not ‘by the airport’ but it won’t take up two days to get there either.

KoLanta1View of Ko Lanta islands complex from the Old Town harbour

The Beaches

This is actually quite important – Lanta Yai is a very long island. In fact, it looks a little bit like an erected penis pointing downwards :D. And while all the good beaches are on the west side, they are very much spread out from North to South.  Not 100% sure how long it took but it felt to be around 1h on the scooter from one end of the road to the other. Amazingly enough, on the Northern side of the island, the road leads straight and directly into the sea. This happens in Ban Saladan village. At night, if you are not careful, you might actually drive into the water so don’t drink and drive cause you’ll end up drowning.

The three most important beaches, from North to South,  are listed below:

1.Klong Dao up North. De to its location close to the harbour, it’s also the most crowded and touristy part of the island. I visited briefly but didn’t stay. It looked very nice and inviting with clear water and soft sand.

2.Phra-Ae –  also known as Long Beach. This is where I stayed and damn it was long. Awesomely long. So long that it felt like it never ended. And on my first day, there were like 3 people in total. Amazingness. The sand felt like a cloud but the sea was a little agitated. While I was swimming, a wave crashed on my back. It felt like a 2m wave (probably a lot smaller) and damn it hurt. I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but if it hasn’t – be aware. Sometimes waves can be sneaky little bastards.

Anyhow – since this was may ‘home’ for 3 full days, I will begin my picture spam. Hope you enjoy. Otherwise – just scroll down and read the rest 🙂

Ko Lanta 4View of Long Beach, looking North

Ko Lanta5Zoom into view above

Ko Lanta6View of Long Beach, looking South

Ko Lanta7Waves smashing onto rock in Long Beach

3.Klong-Khong beach – I have only seen this beach from the scooter and it seemed rather rocky and less inviting than the other two. However, there seemed to be a lot of bars and terraces around there.

Overall though – I was super impressed with Long Beach – and the locals told me it’s the most laid back of all the beaches. And that’s where it’s time to pause and change the subject a little. So far, Ko Lanta just sounds like any other island, doesn’t it. Why then did I enjoy it so much?

Enjoying the moment

On Ko Lanta – for the very first time on my trip – I felt like I could totally lay back and enjoy the moment. Since I was there in the low season [not sure why, the weather was marvellous], there were very few tourists, and the ones that I met were different from the usual ‘let’s get drunk and get laid crowd’.  There were no jet skis, no people trying to sell me drugs or hell knows what, no red light districts or the kind….Now I know, many people are looking just for that kind of hustle and bustle on South East Asian holidays. I had done that already, plenty and plenty, and by the time I had reached Lanta, there was nothing I was craving more than some peace and quiet. And Ko Lanta was totally quiet. More so than Gili, more so than Ubud, more so than anywhere else I had been on this trip. And for the first time, I felt no pressure to communicate, to socialise, to meet people, to go out and do stuff…no…I felt like all I needed to do was lie in a hammock and drink water melon juice. And guess what? That’s all I did for about two whole days. Yes – I had slept in hammocks before – say on Gili. But there were always some people walking by, some music playing somewhere. Not here…on Lanta, there was nothing!

Ko Lanta3Sleeping in a hammock by the sea

Must Do’s on Lanta

1.Khao Mai Kaew Cave – Right. A cave you wonder? Last time I went to a cave, I was 13 and we did a school trip. That was two days after Bayern Munich had lost the Champions League final to Manchester United back in 1999. If you are even a little bit of a football fan, you’ll remember that day. Anyhow – Bayern Munich is by far my favourite football team so I was still very upset and emotionally fragile. Visiting an ugly cold cave might have not been the best of ideas, but what could I do, it was a school trip.

Now I had not read anything about Khao Mai Kaew but when I saw the sign pointing towards it, I took a sharp right with my scooter and then up and down on a hilly road, I had arrived to the base. I won’t go into too many details – but let me tell you, this is NOT your usual boring school trip cave. No way!

Ko Lanta10Sign at the base of the cave

Notes of advice:

Well – first of all, make sure you are wearing some proper shoes when you go there. Or at least DO NOT wear just flip flops. Wear something that sits firmly on your foot. And preferably, something that isn’t too slippery.

Ko Lanta 9View from the ‘trek’ to the cave entrance. We thought this was already criminal without having an idea what was waiting for us.

DO NOT go there if you are claustrophobic. There are some tunnels in that cave that you have to crawl through on your back and you have just about enough space so that you can raise your head…a little. In most places in that cave, you can’t even fit in two people next to each other anyway.

Ko Lanta 8Little hole in the rock – the actual entrance. And our ‘cave guide’ rolling a cigarette. Picture taken with my lousy phone camera.

DO NOT go if you hate Indiana Jones movies. The whole way up to the cave is plastered with broken staircases, ropes to help you climb, and little crawlies that are just about to say hello, straight into your face.

IMG_20140731_075002Walking down some improvised staircase inside the cave. Picture taken with my phone.

DO NOT go if you have a problem with Ozzy Osbourne’s appetite for bat blood. The cave serves as sleeping ground for a colony of bats. They all hang upside down from one of the ceilings of a hall.

Ko Lanta11Bats hanging from the ceiling of one of the halls. Picture courtesy of Artem and Tina – a Russian couple I met in the cave and had a fantastic time with later on. You meet twice in life, my friends!

DO NOT go if you are afraid of spiders. You can easily end up with one of them on your face while crawling through the cave. And these aren’t the cute little Itsy Bitsy Spiders either. They are the size of your palm and have a big shiny eye that reflects the light from your head-lamp.

IMG_20140731_074942Yup – this badass spider was the size of my palm. A smaller version crawled onto Artem’s hand later on.

Bring some cigarettes with you. Getting through that cave was so stressful that almost everyone lit a cigarette at the end of the trek. Otherwise – enjoy. It’s a bit like a trip to a horror house in an amusement park. Or like watching The Descent. Just that it’s for real.

 2. Rent a damn scooter and explore. If you even consider going to Lanta and NOT hire a scooter, leave this blog immediately. Renting a scooter is like a gateway to total freedom on the island. There are hardly any cars and only minimal traffic so cruising 60km/h is perfectly normal. I must have gone even 90 at times. You get to see the little spots along the road where the water crashes so hard into the rocks that it splashes straight into your face. You get little monkeys jumping desperately to get out of your way. You get onto side streets with hills so steep that you think ‘What the fuck was I thinking to drive up here?’ but then you get a view like no other. You reach spots where no ‘normal’ tourist would go. Places where chicken jump at your feet and people speak not a word of English or Thai for that matter (such as the Sea Gypsy village). And you get to stop for food or for a drink wherever the hell you want.

I was afraid of renting a scooter in Bali. The traffic in Kuta was so insane that I thought I’d get killed. This was different, you’ll see for yourself. But if somehow you are thinking of coming to Lanta but not renting one, change your mind. Take some lessons at home. Get over that fear, it is totally worth it.

Ko Lanta 14Rearview-mirror-selfie by a beach (guessing it’s  Khlong-Kong)

3. Go to the Reggae Bar in Long Beach and jam with the band! Hah – this was one of my favourite moments on the whole trip. We found this reggae bar accidentally somewhere in Long Beach, quite close to the much more famous (and also very good Mr. Guitar). There was hardly anyone there other than the band, the staff and some ‘wannabe-locals’ [I use this term to speak about Europeans who make it to Lanta and then they never leave. Most were from Britain/Ireland]. Back to the Reggae bar – after a few beers we became super close friends with the band (who were also serving the drinks). And after even more beers, I heavily overestimated my electric guitar virtuosity, kicked the lead guitarist off stage and went al “GHHHAA GHAA GHAAA GHHHAAA GHHHAAA GHAAAA  GHA GHA GHA      GHA GHA GHA GHAAAA GHAAAA GHAAAAAAA”. Ok, if you have no clue what the hell I am talking about, it’s because I was trying to type the riff to Highway To Hell by AC/DC. It’s basically all an A major chord with some variations. Anyhow – the drummer went along, the bass player too and suddenly, we were playing AC/DC. But that wasn’t all – I wanted to play more, this time something more elaborate so I started the power-chords for You Give Love A Bad Name by Bon Jovi. And again, the drummer went along, the bass player too, and we were headbanging to Bon Jovi, me playing the riffs. When it got to the main lick played all on the first three or four frets, my fingers just stumbled into each other – so I called it quits. I still got some mild applause, I think. Unfortunately, there is no video or photo evidence of this masterpiece so who knows, it might have been all dreamt up.

In any case – the guys working there are the friendliest bunch of bastards you’ll ever meet. On my last evening there, I told the owner I was leaving in the morning. He came over, hugged me, gave me a bucket of SangSom to drink on the house. Then everyone came and hugged me and said I should come back from Phuket and join the band. Ah well. Good times. And if it doesn’t work out with some other career options, hell, I know what to do!

IMG_20140731_075023View from the bar in the Reggae bar. Lousy phone!

4. Visit the Old Town harbour and have a drink or food at Sandy’s

The Old Town is nothing spectacular really, if it wasn’t for this amazing cafe right at the entrance and the old harbour. Sandy is probably the most beautiful middle-aged woman I have ever met. And the food is just amazing so make sure you don’t skip it.

Ko Lanta12Sandy’s Cafe Outside

Ko Lanta13Sandy’s Cafe Inside 

If you drive around the Old Town you somehow get to a beach front with something like a school or a government building. Next to it is a big helicopter landing circle. Right there is something like an old harbour with a few abandoned ships. The water had retreated when I was there (middle of the day) and the ground was very soft. I walked towards the sea, when my right leg went knee-deep into the quicksand. One of the creepiest moments I have experienced so far. Luckily, my left leg was completely stable and I was able to pull out my other leg. I then slowly went back. Still – there were no people at all there and the view over the other island was great so it’s a place worth exploring. Just make damn sure you don’t end up drowning in the quicksand.

Ko Lanta 5View from the quicksand harbour

The End

And I guess I need to finish this post now. I’m well over 2500 words, which makes it the longest post I have written so far. It also means that it’s very unlikely anyone has got all the way to this – but no worries, you won’t be losing much. Just finally, I wanted to point out that sometimes certain places are special. I can’t quite put my finger on it and I don’t think this post is representative either, but Ko Lanta is one of those place. It is…..well….it’s Somewhere Else.

Ko Lanta1

Categories: Places

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