It felt so good putting on a backpack again! In search of tranquil islands, this time we had our eyes on Koh Lanta. It took us a year to get round to sorting the photos from this trip because we had such a great time we took thousands of pictures as if the finger was stuck to the shutter button.
*** Our blog has moved! Please [abandon whatever you’re doing] and click HERE to read the up-to-date article on our new shiny blog! Thanks 🙂 ***
To generally categorize, there are two types of travellers: rowdy and quiet. Auste and I consider ourselves the quiet ones, and it’s very difficult for us to plan our travels mainly due to lack of straightforward reviews, or at least difficulty of finding those. Most of reviews online come either from the rowdy backpackers sharing their amazing drunken stories, painting the picture of Southeast Asia as a big cheap party, or from travel writers targeting beginner travellers, who mostly give just very generic info about the place. When exploring new places we try to get closer to nature and serenity, yet not distance ourselves too far from comfort, such as Wi-Fi and coffee.
In relation to our trip to the Krabi province, we later found out that there’s no point planning anything. Even though the internet has everything, it doesn’t really have EVERY thing. We didn’t know whether the ferries or buses were going as per timetable in the low season (April to October), how to locate the correct transfer companies, boats, how to get good prices, etc. There were more ‘official looking’ companies than we imagined, and there were no herds of tourists to ask questions (or follow!)
We took a night train from Bangkok to Surat Thani, but before we departed I couldn’t help but notice that at the train station, all the trains were painted purple. My guess was that it was for the Royal Family member’s birthday.
Once on the train, I couldn’t fall asleep even though it was a quiet train and pitch black outside, so I had my headphones in and I was lip-syncing until 1 AM. Eventually I slept for a few hours, and we arrived at Surat train station, which is about 14km outside of Surat town. We were herded to the correct coach and given colour-coded ‘Krabi’ stickers (that’s why it’s good to buy a joint train and bus ticket). Half an hour into the journey we had to change coaches, and had a cup of instant coffee (funny how that happens without proper coffee for a while) during the 15-minute wait.
The journey was supposed to take up to 3 hours. 4 hours later we were still on our way, the bus was maneuvering the winding narrow roads through villages with rocky hills on both sides. Very briefly we stopped for a toilet break, and that was only when one passenger fiercely insisted on the driver to stop. Many people went outside, but then the crazy driver was trying to drive off without all passengers back on board. Soon after, the bus reached SOME destination. It was a parking lot in the middle of nowhere with one “Tourist information” stand. But we thought we’d better get off since the driver was rushing everybody off the bus.
When the handful of tourists parted different ways, we ended up getting an all-Thai van from the “Tourist information” stand . Little did we know, the van was picking up parcels along the way, sometimes stopping for a loooong time. The tickets cost 350 baht each, direct to our hotel – it was a new van with air-con and comfy seats. We didn’t have a place to stay that night, purely because we didn’t know whether we’d make it to the ferry on time. Our host for the following night let us arrive one night early, which worked out perfectly as Krabi town wasn’t all that appealing. We were after a quiet stay, and Krabi is a rather big developed town. Many people have an idea that the huge limestone cliffs peaking through the sea are in Krabi, but actually the most impressive ones are everywhere else in surrounding areas, BUT there. Krabi is a big province with a capital town, and the cliffs and beaches are either on neighbouring beaches accessible by boat, or in surrounding islands accessible by ferry, or boat. We felt very tired, but full of excitement to visit one (or more) of our dream destinations – hello Koh Lanta!
Koh Lanta consists of two main islands: Koh Lanta Noi (the North island) and Koh Lanta Yai (South). You can either take the ferry from Krabi/other islands to Saladan pier in the South island, or take an overland route (which we did, not by choice, as there was only a morning ferry operating during the low season). In the north you can hardly see any signs of urban development, as the island is inhabited only by locals.
It took ages on the van as it was dropping parcels along the way, and it took 2 ferries to cross to the south island. Taking the ferries was quick and painless, and the views were beautiful. Once we got to the Saladan pier I suddenly thought we made a mistake of booking a lengthy 6 nights on this island. That was only because there were loads of souvenir shops, cash machines, mini marts and other kind of shops, suggesting lots of noise and lame old touristy development. But then further down the road the shops disappeared, and you could see green hills in the distance on one side, and glimpses of the sea and the beach on the other. We drove past different hostels, small local shops and restaurants, but none of it made it seem tourist-like, which was a relief.
Once we stepped out of the van we could actually hear the tranquillity of the island, even though we were on the main road. We met our friendly host and went to the beach for an unexpected magical sunset. There were very few people on the beach (or anywhere in general), yet the cosy beachfront restaurants were still open.
Then we ventured along the main road and found a French place (Le Colibri – we highly recommend it) that had the best cheese pizza… for 3 quid (150 baht)! There were only French speaking customers there, so we thought there must be a few living on the island.
Later on we had a brief chat with the lovely owners, and found out that there used to be a survivor-style show in France named Koh Lanta, which was filmed… [drumroll] in Koh Lanta. Since then many French people went there for holidays and eventually settled. We were also told that there are A LOT of Swedish people living there, and apparently there are like 3 Swedish schools on Koh Lanta. It’s a big island, but it didn’t feel all that busy. Perhaps many people just mind their own business, or maybe it felt quiet because it was low-tourist season (end of April 2015). Or maybe because there are lots of islands around Koh Lanta for people to spread out. I can keep guessing.
Anyway, we had a really good first impression of Koh Lanta – quiet, lots of green hills, friendly people, cheap tasty food and beautiful sunsets on the beach, and that’s just day one! Keep reading about our Krabi trip here.