Tag Archives: couples travel

Koh Lanta, Days 3 and 4: cycling, swimming and snorkelling

On our 3rd day in Koh Lanta  (read about Day 1 and Day 2 here) we went cycling and switched accommodation after we got back late in the afternoon. We had a couple of nights booked at a bungalow rather than a room, because it’s nice to explore different kinds of options on the housing menu. Since we were after a basic place, we specifically looked into the ones with mosquito nets. We’re not at all fans of creatures that have an exoskeleton, multiple-part body, multiple pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes or antennae. Thanks, Wikipedia, for making me sound smart!

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So we stayed in a bungalow of a good size, with a net, en-suite bathroom, and a porch, right next to the beach…for only 400 baht (about £8). They had a restaurant right on the actual beach offering cocktails from 99 baht, pina colada’s for 150 – crazy. We had meals there, enjoyed beautiful sunsets and it just felt like a dream. Whenever we have to switch accommodation or catch a ferry, it takes up so much time, sometimes even the whole day, so we can’t enjoy the day to the fullest, however this time we asked the owner at Hostaria 239 to watch our stuff until late, so we could enjoy our bicycle rides around the island.

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We cycled pretty much the whole day. The weather was perfect, but the best time was in the morning, so we left early to avoid the tropical sun. It’s Thai summer you know! I had also brought a long-sleeved jumper to the islands to learn from my mistakes of just wearing a t-shirt all day. (We got sunburnt anyway and used up 2 bottles of suncream). Cycling around the island was extremely fun, as it gave us a chance to notice the little things usually missed when on a scooter. We saw some poor little monkeys chained to a pole at somebody’s property, they were grabbing the chains and pulling them with their tiny little hands, and it was just sad. My thought was they see monkeys as some people see dogs in some parts of Europe and just chain them to a kennel. I don’t know.

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We had another full day to spare before changing hotels again, and we couldn’t wait to see more islands. That’s why we went on a 4 islands tour, which was definitely worth it, I’d recommend it to anyone, just beware that the name ‘4-island tour’ is operated by different companies, and the one we went on was arranged by Mr Claudio from Hostaria 239. I think it was only around 1000 baht per person. This included snorkelling at Koh Ma and Koh Chuak, swimming through a sea cave leading to a hidden beach at Koh Mook (that place was amazing), and lunch at a quiet beach on Koh Ngai (I would consider this island for a long-term stay as a chilled-out spot with pristine white beaches).

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Koh Ngai

The tour was so relaxed, the locations chosen were away from tourist crowds (although in one snorkeling spot there were several huge boats loaded with tourists, but even then our boat stopped far away from the others and we could enjoy snorkeling with plenty of space just for us), snorkelling was fun, and the crew were amazing! The water was incredibly clear in the snorkelling spots and there were loads of beautiful corals, fish and sea creatures to admire.

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Emerald Cave, also known as Morakot Cave or Tam Nam at Koh Mook

The leader was so passionate about what he does, and while in the water he was  grabbing our hands and pulling us down to the bottom of the sea to show some weird creatures and fascinating formations. I was like, “Come on man, I can’t hold my breath for even 5 seconds!”. And then he laughed and laughed because I was so crap at diving haha. He also caught a sea hedgehog or something spiky, and he was showing that it’s poisonous if you touch it with your fingers, but harmless if touched with a forearm or other part.

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The steering wheel of the boat was slowly falling apart (noticed only by the cautious), so me and this small kid were constantly observing the ‘captain’, thinking what if the boat flips over or something. I was fine, but I could see the kid was very frightened… But it was one of the nicest tours we’ve had in Thailand. There were only about 20 people in total on the boat (it was a longtail boat, so you can’t really fit any more than that on it), so it didn’t feel overwhelming. And when the crew really love what they do and love the places they take you to, it makes a world of difference. Even if they don’t speak much English!

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Once we got back, around 6 PM we rented a Fino motorbike. I had never driven one before properly, so I did my research online – thank you youtube! We signed some papers, sat down on it, and we were like “How do we start this thing??”. I’ve been watching the wrong videos apparently. The guy approached us, started our bike by pushing one bloody button, and let’s just say I didn’t feel very intelligent at that point. But driving a bike was awesome, can’t wait to do it again. And its easy too, I’ve learnt how to do it in two minutes. This was after two full days of exploring the island on bicycles, though, so we were pretty sure the roads were safe enough for us to move at a snail’s pace. You don’t wanna go crazy when you’re riding a motorbike for the first time! We checked-out of Hostaria, and parked our baby Fino in front of our nice Green Chilli Bungalow for the night. The story continues here: Day 5.

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Koh Lanta, Day 2: captain Auste steering a longtail boat

On our second full-day on the island (read about Day 1 here) we didn’t want to waste a minute and went to see some surrounding islands. Whilst waiting for the guide to pick us up, we had another nice chat with our host and this time he was sharing a story how the Long Beach got its name. It used to be long in the direction towards the sea. We thought that it was called so, because it is quite a long stretch of sand along the shore. Visibly, in recent years a lot of it has been swallowed by the sea. He also went on about the weird and annoying administration and rules of owning the property on the island, and then how many Thai people are afraid of geckos (salamandra blanca) – they’re so cute!

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So we got picked up and took a ferry to the north island. The ride to a small pier at the south of the island was amazing. The owner – a funny, hip, and stylish 30-something Thai man had an old rusty songthaew truck made out of wood! Racing through the hills of Lanta, ALL the locals had their eyes on the car. We then got onto a longtail boat, just me, Auste, the guide, and the boat operator. They were so cool and chilled out that they offered Auste to steer the boat! It was so funny, and she did steer it for quite a while, maneuvering through the blue waves of the Andaman.

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The Skull island

That day was exceptional as the guy was awesome, because he really enjoys what he does. Since he saw that we enjoyed climbing and exploring and taking photos, he went the extra mile to show us more places than he usually does when he has more people on the tour – he was as excited as we were. The cave on the Skull island was brilliant – with not even a single boat in sight, easy to climb, full of bats and birds and interesting rock formations. Not to mention the views you get through the “eyes” of the skull.

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To be honest, visiting all of the caves was amazing – something we didn’t expect to be as good. As we paddled the kayaks (part of the luckily private tour) around steep cliffs we had a gentle breeze from the sea, cute little splashes of waves, and an actual chance to climb up those cliffs and get inside. We were amazed by the size of the caves, we climbed around, took photos, and just listened to the waves crashing into the cliffs from the outside – indescribable feeling. Although there’s something I CAN describe – the smell inside some of those caves. If you’ve ever had blue cheese or brie, especially the expensive smelly ones – you’d know what I’m talking about, especially once you keep them unwrapped in the fridge for a while. In some caves you could hardly smell it, in others it felt like a Stilton party.

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Towards the end of our exploration we kayaked to a very, very isolated beach surrounded by limestone cliffs and had lunch. This was the time we chatted to our guides, relaxed, and fed monkeys. People, dogs, cats, birds, even monkeys eat rice in Thailand!

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Koh Talabeng – lunch time!

For the tour we paid around 1,300 per person, which was really good. (Compared to our trip to Ang Thong Marine Park from Koh Phangan, where it wasn’t bad, but the views weren’t as spectacular, we spent loads of time on a boat with roughly 50 other people, way too many tourists in all locations and zero time to explore them – and for the same price!) It’s cheaper renting a longtail boat for a day – around 1,500, but then you’d have to know where to go!

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Koh Talabeng

The trip was amazing and extremely cheap for such a quality time. It wasn’t rushed, the people were awesome, we saw amazing places, AND Auste got to steer a longtail boat! When we got back we rented bicycles (90 baht for a full day – score!), ready for some Lanta cycling action the next morning.

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Koh Lanta, Day 1: Cycling

Today was our first full-day on the island – happy! We had booked cheap accommodation because we decided there was no point of paying lots for a hotel, which would still probably be half as nice as what you’d expect.  Many times in the past we booked nice-looking hotels online, which turned out to be very out-of-date, bugs-on-sheets type of places. The fan on the ceiling was rather old and made lots of noise all night, so we both woke up with minor headaches (which could have also been the result of the hundreds of miles of travel the day before).

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If you’re the type who likes honest and friendly service, and don’t mind staying at a basic place, get in touch with Hostaria 239 – a hostel next to the entrance to Phra Ae Park and Phra Ae  beach. The owner is Italian and he honestly advised us of the best things to do and where to get reliable bikes and so on. He also does a good deal on breakfast, so [in the cute little tree-house] we both had a nice coffee, an omelette, homemade bread and fresh juice of passion fruit mixed with orange. I’m getting hungry just writing about it. He was showing me his jars of yeast and explaining bread making processes and so on, it was really cool to meet someone who just loves BREAD.

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Being slow as ever, we left in the middle of the day, with tropical sun burning everything on the surface of the earth. We rented brand new mountain bikes (bicycles) for like 60 baht for the rest of the day as they were closing around 5PM. We cycled along the main road to Saladan Pier, then followed it southwards along the eastern part of the island to the edge of the Old Town (didn’t quite reach the actual town!). There were a bunch of trees growing in weird colour water. I know my description doesn’t quite paint the picture, so you can just look at the picture haha.

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After sifting through the restaurants offering sea-view we found a nice one and had a tasty meal to ‘carb-up’ for the ride back.

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The island is quite hilly for a bicycle ride, so we were sweating non-stop, but the ride back was even hillier, where we were pushing our bikes up the steep forest road. Auste was uncomfortable at first to ride the bike along a narrow road, but the drivers were quite cautious and sounded the horn when overtaking, so we felt pretty safe.

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It was funny when we wanted to explore an interesting looking dirt road and we saw a big snake literally swimming through the tall grass with its head keeping well above the ground. In my head I was like “Dayuum! I ain’t know nothin’ about Thailand!”. I really don’t know anything about the local fauna so we made a U-turn and headed back to the main road asap. That day we saw elephants with their ‘masters’ (a.k.a. abusers), wild monkeys, chained monkeys (#whywouldyouever), eagles, giant lizards, crabs and coloured chickens  (don’t ask me why). Aaaand when we got back, we had the brilliant pizza from Le Colibri again…mmm…

Keep reading about our Krabi trip here. If you’re interested to see how we got to Koh Lanta from Bangkok, head here.

22 hour journey to Koh Lanta, Krabi

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Ko Lanta sunset