I love travelling during low-tourist season. This way you can expect a friendlier, or at least a more open service with fewer fake smiles. Of course it’s not fun being served by grim staff, but I much prefer that than a fake smile –I don’t know what it is, but I like the real stuff. Many people who come to Thailand for a holiday say the service is amazing and everyone’s friendly and happy. Living in Thailand, especially working in language environment, made me realise how low most of the people’s level of English is, so they use very few words and top that up with a smile.
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Also they cannot ‘lose face’, a.k.a. mess up, especially in front of other Thais. My theory was that when happy chatty tourists ask for whatever they want from service staff/vendors, if a Thai doesn’t understand he or she will hide it with a smile and will go an extra mile to fulfill their request just for the sake of looking professional. But that’s just my theory. And there’s always the other end of the stick – not all Thais are Buddhists, and not all Thais have patience as many think. If you make a Thai lose face, it sometimes ends up in taxi drivers dumping passengers on highways, getting into fights and even murder! (many times on islands)
So here’s Day 5 on the island (if you missed the previous stories you can catch up here: Day 1, Day 2 and Days 3,4). At 7 am we got on our beautiful rented motorbike (Yamaha mio FINO, which reminded us a little bit of Vespa). Slowly we headed south, not wearing much clothing and enjoying a cool morning breeze, driving no faster than 30 km/h. At around 9 am we had to wear our long-sleeve clothes to avoid putting on loads of sun lotion later which doesn’t feel comfortable when sweating. And to be honest doesn’t help in general when you’re in the sun for 10+ hours.
It was the first time I drove a motorbike for such a long time, so for me it was the highlight of the day and partly of the whole holiday, it was so much fun learning how to drive! When we rented it I didn’t even know how to start it. We signed the papers, got the key, and sat down. The guy was like “You OK?” . No… So HE started the bike for US, meaning we couldn’t press a button ourselves…But I was never into motorbikes. The bike allowed us to see many beaches we wouldn’t have reached by bicycles. Also we reached the southernmost part of the island (National park), but there was a fee of 200 or 400 baht, so we decided that seeing a lighthouse – the major attraction in the area – wasn’t worth it, as the views were pretty enough with lots of wildlife everywhere else. We saw lots of monkeys in many places, some of which weren’t friendly at all and scared me a little bit when approaching to take a photo!
Throughout our little drive-arounds on the island we haven’t seen a crowded beach. Most of them were cosy and isolated, without a person, or even a boat in sight. Some beaches had perhaps a couple or two enjoying the sun and the tranquil waters. Honestly, most beaches were so quiet, that you could sunbathe naked. Not that you should, I’m just saying.
On a more serious note, even though Koh Lanta is a beautiful island with exotic flora, fauna and all the amenities to have a great holiday, it is like many other places in Thailand with unaddressed issues. Just driving along the main road our eyes caught something worth stopping for – a cute little elephant! We parked immediately, as it was the first baby elephant we had ever seen, oh the joy! Unfortunately all the excitement vanished in an instant, when all the surroundings suddenly made sense:
“Look, this baby elephant has a little bungalow, a concrete well, some trees, oh wait.. the well’s empty, and he’s chained to the bungalow. That’s strange. Oh… he’s… got… tears running down his eyes. What?! Is he really crying? But look, he’s playing with some sort of twig or a piece of wood wrapped in his trunk, striking it against the dusty brown well. Ohhh nooo…. he’s trying to show he’s thirsty!”
Being animal lovers it was truly heartbreaking. We could only empathise how painful this baby elephant was feeling inside, not just emotionally, but physically too. We wanted to give him water, but kept the distance as there was a mahout (the owner?) at the back, carving something with a pocket knife, watching us closely. There was a big banner at the entrance: “Swimming with the elephants”. That explains everything… They deprive the elephants of water and then of course the poor creatures are delighted to swim with the tourists. I felt ashamed for being part of human race.
Back at our hotel we bought ferry tickets to Phi Phi, which included a pick-up, and that worked out much cheaper than buying it from the actual pier. So don’t fall for all the reviews online that 3rd party sellers rip you off, as the ones we came across so far were value for money (booking through our accommodation).
We also stopped at a café for a hot dog without the dog, which was basically two pieces of bread with some salad inside. It was pretty good though. And we had pretty expensive coffee, like 120 baht for an ice coffee at some fancy hotel’s bar by the beach. Our hotel’s bar was also fancy, but in a different way. There was a cat so friendly and oh-so confident that he walked into OUR room, enjoyed OUR water, drinking from OUR glasses… They trained him well.
Luckily we had a nice hotel for our last night in Lanta as the weather which had been perfect the whole time suddenly changed. When we went out for a meal we got caught in a storm, which lasted nearly all night, putting on an impressive show across the sky. It was also interesting to see so many crabs combing the beach after the rain – a sight that reminded me of my childhood where you see hundreds of snails sliming their way on the pavements after rain. It was the first time we had eaten dinner wearing rain ponchos. BEST tempura vegetables ever!