Friday, February 5, 2016

It has been about 10 days since my last post when I wrote about Railay. Since then we spent a week on Relax Beach, Thailand, taken a ferry and then a flight to Bangkok where we spent the night at the airport hotel in order to catch an early morning flight to Phnom Penh, where we spent the night prior to taking a four hour taxi ride from Phenom Penh to Sihanoukville on the coast where we have been for the last two nights. The last few days have been very busy compared to the relaxation of the previous few weeks.  

Our ferry ride out of Railay to Ko Lanta was interesting. We were told that we needed to be down on the beach at 9:00, when I knew from the schedule that is published the ferry left Ao Nang at 10:30 and is scheduled to arrive at Railay at 10:45. It was after 11:00 when the ferry finally arrived and we loaded up on long tails to go out to meet it as the beach is too shallow for the boat to come ashore. If I had to wait anywhere, you really can't ask for better scenery than Railay West.

The ferry was smaller than the ferries we had taken in Thailand before. As most ferries, it had seating both outside and inside. Shannon and I took seats inside which ended up being a good choice. The seas had waves that were a foot or two high, this was also a relatively fast boat and the spray was incredible. After a few minutes of being underway, we had people coming inside that were totally and utterly drenched. A younger man and woman came in and there wasn't a single part of their bodies that weren't wet. They pulled wet cell phones and passports from their pockets and just laughed. 

The ride to the pier at Ko Lanta took a little less than two hours. When we got their the small pier already had a couple of boats tied up and there was some rearranging and then we tied up next two another boat and after the chaos of getting our luggage out of tarp covered piles on the decks, had to come off of our ferry, move onto another ferry and then onto the pier. The pier and surrounding area is the normal chaos that you find in third world countries. The first want to collect a small tax of less than a dollar per person for trash removal. Once you get past that you have the taxi drivers. We hired a song-taow which is similar to a tuk tuk but it has sidecar sort of platform next to the moped. We were able to get all of our luggage and ourselves on and then off we went to our hotel.

On Lanta, we stayed at the Lazy Days Bungalows on Relax Beach.

Relax Beach

Relax Beach

It is the smallest of our hotels on this trip with just 8 bungalows. It is about mid way down Lanta’s 15 or so mile west coast. Pretty much the entire west coast of Lanta is beaches and there are hotels running pretty much the entire length. It isn’t as heavily developed with large resorts and for most of what we saw, the main road is actually always do the beach so you do have more of sense of being more private than what we experienced on both Ko Samui and Railay.

The bungalows are nice, made out of bamboo, elevated off the ground and with thatch roofs. We were in one farthest from the beach which means all of about 50’. The hotel is owned by a Swedish couple and we later found out, the whole island is almost like a Swedish colony. Our hotel actually had an incredible restaurant and unlike anywhere else we have been we ate all of our meals there. They serve western food and have a Swedish chief. I had several steaks (the beef is imported from Australia), several salads (which you never find, at least of this sot of quality is SE Asia) and the best hamburgers I have had outside of the US. 

The restaurant drew lots of Swedes. They had several large tables and every night there would be at least one if not two tables filled with 4 or 5 Swedish couples and their children. One night we talked to a couple and they were on Lanta for 2 months, staying at a Swedish resort. Lanta actually has 2 Swedish schools and they are able to have their children in school.

Relax Beach is rather small, less than ½ a mile curved between two points. Thee are several other similar sized hotels, bars and restaurants and we never saw the large numbers of people that we experienced else where. There were rocks a hundred yards or  so out on the beach and the tide was actually rather large compare with elsewhere at about 6’ or so. At low tide the rocks were exposed and we would have to do down the beach a little ways to swim.

Sunset at low tide

Sunset at low tide

But at high tide the water was just the right depth, being neck deep for about the point you went out to the rocks. The water was nice and clear and we had the best shell collecting that we have ever experienced. I think Shannon said when we left that she had 6 pounds. The only problem is that we ended up grabbing some that were occupied. One evening Shannon went through and pulled several out that had someone living in some and put them back in the ocean.

Shells on the beach

Shells on the beach

I have not really riden bicycles, mopeds or motorcycles at all in the last 25 years and had little experience with mopeds and motorcycles prior to that. Mopeds are the primary means of transportation in SE Asia and are available for rental everywhere. At the same time, you see bandaged travelers everywhere across SE Asia and the primary cause of these bandages is mopeds. A pretty sizeable number of travelers is killed every year in SE Asia while on mopeds. I have not rented a moped on any of my trips but did decide that Lanta would be a good place for me to rent one, they cost $6-7 a day and the traffic in Lanta isn’t that heavy compared with elsewhere.

It was quite the experience. I enter one from our hotel and to begin with I couldn’t start it. After having one of the women how worked the front desk show me what I was doing wrong (it had to be off the kickstand and upright) I almost crashed about 5 times in the first couple of minutes. The road right near the hotels was dirt and that was harder to maneuver than I expected. Then once I got on blacktop and turned on the main road I had to deal with traffic and the fact that they drive on the left in Thailand. I was able to make it safely to 7/11 and back to the hotel without crashing and decided that maybe this wasn’t the best place for me to try and do this and that was my last attempt on the moped. 

One day we went back to Saladan which is the main town where we arrived on the ferry. On the way back we ended up passing hundred of Thai children that looked like they were Boy/Girl Scouts walking along the side of the road in the direction of our beach. Little did we know what we would experience. Our hotel was a couple of hundred yards from the field that they were camping in. For the next two nights until abut midnight each night three was a very loud loudspeakers going with very bad singing, hearing the same song 4-5 times a night. We were also not that far from a mosque where we would hear the call to prayer that started at 5:30 in the morning, which got the rooster started. We also had a dog that barked several times a couple of different nights. Neither of us slept that well there. While the bungalows were cute, they were not at all quiet.

Just prior to leaving Lanta we did take a day trip to the Phi Phi (Pee Pee) islands. We were on a larger speedboat with about 20 other people and we left a beach just north of where we were staying on a 45 minute trip to Maya Beach on Ko Phi Phi Leh.

The lagoon at Maya Beach

The lagoon at Maya Beach

This island was featured in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach. The movie is based on a book of the same name that was published about the same time as my very first trip to Thailand. It is about a bunch of backpackers living on this hidden paradise and its collapse. The book and then the movie in 2000 has driven a lot of people to go to the beaches in Thailand. 

In the movie there is this lagoon that is total enclosed by these towering rock walls. In reality, part of this is open to the ocean, they enclosed it in the movie with digital enhancement. The island is a national park and a huge draw. Boats come from all over and coverage on the beach which is only a couple of hundred yards long. We arrived relatively early, around 10:00 am and there were already several hundred people there, but it gets even worse later when the boats from Phuket arrive.

Maya Beach

Maya Beach

We spent about half an hour there which was about the right amount of time. There are no hotels on the island but you can camp there and it would be a great place to be able to camp and to experience in the early morning and in the evening when all the day trippers aren't there. 

We then ended up going to Ko Phi Phi Don which is about 15 minutes away by boat. This is the larger of the two islands and is the one with all of the hotels. We first stopped for snorkeling. It wasn't bad, but doesn’t compare with what we experienced in Belize. We then went to Bamboo Island for lunch.

Bamboo Island

Bamboo Island

This is the lunch stop for all of the various day trips in the area and is a beautiful beach but again with tons of people. We then made another snorkeling stop and then went into Ton Sai which is the main town on Phi Phi Don.

We were there for about an hour, which was a nice amount of time to wander around. Phi Phi Don is one of the biggest destinations for the Thai beach experience, especially with the 20 somethings that want to party. 

The beach on Phi Phi Don

The beach on Phi Phi Don

Ton Sai is in a low area that is maybe half a mile long by a couple hundred yards wide. There is basically a beach on both sides with higher hills on the other two sides. In the 2004 tsunami, waves came in from both the beach sides and 2,000 people were killed. They rebuilt almost immediately, and it appears like they might have torn down some of the buildings that wee put up right after the tsunami and are replacing them with new buildings. If you want to party it looks like it might be a great place to stay but I am really glad we didn't stay there. An hour was the right amount of time for both of us.

Another day we went to the Old Town on the east side of Ko Lanta. The east side isn’t developed as the coast is petty much just mangrove swamps. On our way over we stopped off at a tourist site that allows you to wonder around walkways than run in the swamp. It was not that impressive. We saw mangroves, mud and a few crabs. But it was only like $0.60 per person to get in.

Old Town is the original town on the island. Going back to the 1800’s it was a stop for boats in the area running up and down the peninsula. There are a number of traditional wood buildings that are built out over the water. There we some interesting shops there that we didn’t find in Saladan. 

We really enjoyed Ko Lanta. It is someplace that I could see living. It has some wonderful beaches without the chaos and all the people you have everywhere else. It is someplace I can definitely see us going back to.

Ou departure from Ko Lanta involved taking a ferry that stopped first in Railay. We waited quite a while in Railay waiting for another ferry to show up. They then moved people for the ferry we were on onto the other ferry which then was apparently going to Phuket. They then off loaded all of the people off both ferries that were getting off in Railay onto long tails. Our ferry then debated and we went into Ao Nang where we got onto to a mini van that took us to the Krabi airport. We then caught an Air Asia flight to Bangkok.

We spent the night in a hotel right next to the airport. It is part of a Thai hotel chain and worked well enough for our purpose. The interesting thing that I found was that there was a sign in reception that bringing a Durian into the hotel would result in a $1,000 fine.

Durian Warning

Durian Warning

Durian is a very interesting fruit. They are brown, oblong, spiky fruit about the size of a cantaloupe. They are similar to custard both in texture and taste and I actually kind of like it. The problem is that the smell is truly horrendous and if you did take a durian into a hotel the smell would permeate everything and for a number of rooms around the room it is in. They don't allow durians a number of places but this was the first time I had seen anything close to $1,000 fine for having one.

We had an early morning the next day. The alam went off at 4:45 as we had a 7:10 flight. The checkin lines were long and then we had to go through immigration and exit Thailand. We then had a 1 hour flight to Phnom Penh.