Delightful Thai Beach Resorts This Winter (3/3) – Ko Lanta
Reasons for never coming back to Thai beach resorts:
• The loudspeaker cars with aggressive, repetitive propaganda for Thai boxing.
• Sikh tailors ramming their fists into your soft parts, barking "MY FRIEND, I REMEMBER YOU FROM LAST TIME" with an asphalt smile.
• The disgusting treatment tourists get from many taxi drivers and hotel clerks.
• The disgusting treatment taxi drivers and hotel clerks get from many tourists.
But then: after Phuket and Ao Nang, things can only get better.
— AO NANG TOUR SHOP —
To book a room on Ko Lanta, I have to pick one of Ao Nang's 500 tour shops? This one here? No, I see the man on duty and instantly don't like him. From his face and from my knowledge of human nature I can see he has bad English and will not listen to my special needs, especially regarding mosquito protected windows.
So I enter the next shop. He looks clever. He turns out to be stupid and unable to find something about Ko Lanta. Finally he gets up, steps onto the road and says "Please follow me, sir". He takes me to the neighboring tour shop with the man I ruled out before. "He will find you room on Ko Lanta, sir."
The man I had tried to avoid has perfect English and listens carefully to all my extra woes. From his catalogue I choose Lanta Long Beach resort. But I tell the tour shop manager I need windows with good mosquito screens, so that I can sleep semi al fresco, with a breeze in the bungalow. He calls Lanta Long Beach, makes sure they have mosquito screens, books my nights and writes a voucher. All in a few minutes.
As I've said, I would always come back to this guy.
— KO LANTA, LANTA LONG BEACH BUNGALOWS —
And yes, my bungalow windows on Lanta have mosquito screens indeed. It's just that they are completely useless: The thatched roof sits on thick bamboo poles which lie loosely on the wooden walls. This creates a gap of about 6 centimeters between walls and roof. They obviously tried to close that gap with polythene sheet, but the plastic is completely broken. A young buzzard could enter there. So in your room you have to wrap the provided mosquito tent around your bed, just what I wanted to avoid.
Mozzies who don't make it up to the wall/roof gap simply sneak in by the bathroom door. The bathroom is semi-open air without any mosquito screen: They let some "bamboo grass" grow right into your bathroom through huge gaps. Looks nice and tropical, and gets you nice and tropical creatures into your wellness compartment: geckos, spiders and other multi-legged things you'd rather see fried at the Mukdahan night market.
Gangs of Ko Lanta's interested mosquito population drop by as well.
As I use the bathroom facilities, I quickly find out that local mozzies are impressively big, thoroughly black and – lightning fast. In your private moments in the Lanta Long Beach bathroom, blood-hungry gnats feast on your private parts. Chez Hans, local mozzies are having a ball. Or two.
— KO LANTA, KHLONG DAO —
I stop moto-sai at the next-best tourist agency on the main road and introduce the young lady to my difficult travel plans full of ifs and whens. She listens concernedly, and we even get into a private chat. Then she says: "Give me one hour, then I call you back and say what I can do for you."
Just when I enjoy sunset on vast Khlong Dao beach, she rings my cellphone and says all my wishes are doable. I ask her to book everything now, I would come to her office after sunset and dinner on the beach, but before 9 p.m., her closing hour.
On the beach, of course I dine not at "Nong" or "Picasso", but at "HANS", where I get the worst pizza I ever had in SE Asia (also worse than Mr. "Wee"'s and "Nick's" on Lanta). At 8.45 p.m. I am back at my ticket shop. The young lady prepared everything, I only have to pay.
The lady is now in after-work mood and gets even more communicative. I believe my tiny bits of phasa Thai make her feel more at ease, even though mostly we talk English. She has a witty smile and pats my arm several times while we talk about Thailand and her home town of Hat Yai.
Still there is something a tad different about her, her face and her demeanour, and I'd like to find out more.
"You close soon, don't you?"
"Would you like to go to the beach with me for a cocktail?"
"No – cannot!"
"I Muslim! Cannot drink alcohol!"
"What – you are a muslima? But you don't wear a headscarf?"
"It's too hot!! But see, there it is." A silky white scarf lies on the board. "I wear it when I go out."
"OK, put on your headscarf, and we go to the beach, drink mango juice!"
"No – cannot!"
She is still her smiling, lively, entertaining self.
"My father waiting for me already, over there." She nods conspiratively to a wooden door.
— KO LANTA, SALA DAN —
In part 2, in Ao Nang's "Swedish package tour hell", as it has been described by fellow travelers, I had tried in vain to get the Rough Guide on Southern Thailand. In Ko Lanta’s harbor village of Sala Dan, I find a second hand copy of that book within minutes. Just look in the Catfish restaurant, and you have guidebooks and quality novels to get you all through cool season. Even books-wise, low-key Ko Lanta is so much better than overdeveloped Ao Nang two boating hours further north.
— KO LANTA, AO MAI PHAI
After Lanta's busy Long Beach, I have a three night intermezzo on the more remote Ao Mai Phai (Bamboo Bay), in the very simply Baan Phu Lae bungalows. Later, back in my Long Beach accommodation, I discover that my mobile phone is gone – it is still in Baan Phu Lae bungalows. I call from an agency, and they found my thing and even bring it to Sala Dan town on their next regular shopping tour. I get my handphone back on the Sunday market.
— PHI PHI ISLANDS BOAT TRIP
A speedboat daytrip takes me to Ko Phi Phi island. After going ashore on touristy Tonsai bay, I ask the captain for the way to the viewpoint. "I take you there", he says! Surprise: I'd thought he would spend the one-hour shore leave in a hammock. But no – he stamps off and I have to hurry to follow him through the maze of the farang bazaar up to where the stairs to the top begin. Even there the captain continues to stay with me, and now I understand why he volunteers as a guide: Many trees here have fruit, and he jumps after every single fruit he can get all the way to the top.
Later, on the open sea, the speedboat suddenly does a sharp turn and races towards a longtail fishing boat that's not in our direction towards Maya Bay. The captain zooms towards the longtail as if he wants to overrun them, but stops in the very last moment. He jumps onto the dinghy, and now I understand his manoeuver: Out of a bucket, he fishes huge squid and shoves them into a black plastic bag that the boat operators use to collect their trash. He shouts something, and then the handyman on the speedboat throws a palette of I believe 24 coke cans over to the fishing dinghy. These ice-cold coke cans were meant for the speedboat customers, but now they pay a few sizable squids. With his heavy black sack, the captain jumps back to the speedboat.
Our hungry captain even dons flippers and snorkel gear on a snorkeling stop off rocky Phi Phi Leh island. I don't understand why he paddles in the waters, but he must surely be after edible. Sea cucumber?
— KO LANTA, MARINE NATIONAL PARK
This is what the sign says: farang adults pay 400 baht (11 USD) to enter Ko Lanta Marine National Park. (Adult Thais pay 40 baht.) It's on Lanta's southernmost tip, and I've bounced here over an abysmal dirt road on my energetic rental Suzuki Smash 110 ccm. Ko Lanta Marine National Park seems to have a lovely viewpoint cum lighthouse with panorama east and west. I'd like to look around for half an hour and tell you more.
But, 400 baht!
I approach the entry gate with two rangers on duty, shuffling ticket pads.
"Sawasdee khrap", I smile.
"I would like to look around for 30 minutes…", I smile in clear Thai.
"Oh, 30 minutes…" they reply with an unhappy face.
"Yes, just 30 minutes."
They make an unhappy face and start to look somewhere else. Suddenly they don't seem to see me any more.
"30 minutes, ok", I say and walk towards the entry gate.
The forgot me already, look into the trees.
— KO LANTA, PHRA AE (LONG BEACH) 1 —
On my morning beach walk, I am joined by a young, playful, black, labrador-like dog.
I like labradors.
After a bit of frolicking, the dog takes to the water and searches intensely. For crabs? Fish? Now Fido found a good place. The dog cramps and shits into the gently slapping Andaman Sea.
— KO LANTA, PHRA AE (LONG BEACH) 2 —
Second Home, a cozy Thai restaurant in the sand of Long Beach, becomes my default dinner venue. My default service person there has this gentle demeanor that I like about Thai women; a caring, yet flirtish smile; attentive and personal, but then discreet to boot; always with a wai; floating barefeet around the tables like a cat; long hair, shy, stylish and feminine in a way you rarely meet in the west.
Makes your heart beat.
And a voice like Johnny Cash.
— KO LANTA, PHRA AE (LONG BEACH) 3 —
10 p.m., after dinner at Second Home, I walk along the sand and step into the tour/internet shop that opens onto the Long Beach sand strip. It's late, but the lady on duty still has a smile that turns your heart into a piece of butter under the Krabi sun. Online, between five other surfing tourists, I find a good hotel for my onward travel and instantly call with my mobile phone.
10.15 p.m., under showers of smiles I step back into the sand and walk ten minutes under the stars, along fancifully lit beach bars, to my bungalow. I prepare the mosquito tent around my bed. Then I remember to charge the cellphone – but the mobye is not there. I forgot it in the tour/internet shop.
10.30 p.m., barefeet I walk back through the sand to the tour/internet shop.
10.40 p.m., even before I step into the tour/internet shop, I am waved at with my handphone – and another cascade of smiles!
And as I walk back, under the Lanta Moon, barefeet in the sand towards my Lanta bungalow, I think, no, Thai beach resorts this winter can be delightful indeed. And there stands this deckchair in my way, right in the middle of the beach, just one lone bamboo deckchair standing there without 20,000 other deckchairs around, just one individual only, inviting me, and yes, polite me I succumb, I sit down, I lie down, I greet the Lanta moon again, sabai-dee laeow, turn cellphone off, just centimeters from the gently slapping sea, which brings in a cool breeze, inhale I the moon and all the starry starry stars over me in my midnight deckchair on Ao Phra Ae, yes, no, there are actually reasons to *return* to Thai beach resorts next cool season.
At least to certain places.