Koh Lanta lies on the opposite side of the Andaman coast to Phuket and its opposite to that place in almost every fashion. Where Phuket is rash and loud, Lanta is calm and sedate. You can drive up the entire western side in half an hour on a scooter and while Phuket is awash with luxury resorts and backpacker digs, most of Lanta is occupied by bungalows and low key affairs draped along the beach.
There is a definite gradient of development running along the west, with the north being somewhat crowded and a little built up and the very south almost completely silent and deserted. It was here that I started, in a bungalow on a postcard. The water was warm and sand was soft. The bar served icy beers and the staff always had a smile and in the evening they entertained with a fire show. Honeymooners stared deeply in to one another’s eyes. I was very out of place, and it was beginning to feel like Koh Lipe 2.0. So… let’s go north! To Klong Kong then, and a new beach that looked nice. Sadly however, I saw it at high tide. At low tide, a lot of rocks are exposed leaving the view unappealing and swimming nearly impossible. Again, I was in a bungalow and again, not a lot going on. Hmm. Three days of reading and sunning and off again, even further to the north but this time to a hostel – the first proper hostel for quite some time. Hot showers? Comfy beds? Air conditioning? Socialising?? Now I remember why hostels are so much better than private digs.
Christmas was soon to be upon us so in the traditional time honoured way, much time was spent lounging on the beach drinking ice cold beers and occasionally dipping in to the azure waters to cool down. Christmas Eve was spent on the beach at one of the many quiet bars, getting nicely inebriated and sending up lanterns to send in Christmas day. The big day itself was again traditional: we went kyaking and caving, visiting Skull Island, seeing spiders the size of dinner plates and bats that zipped by inches from your face. In the evening an actual traditional Christmas Dinner (albeit in the school dinner style of mushy veg) and more quiet bar jaunts on the beach. This was the first time I’ve ever spent Christmas away from family and it was certainly very different. I did not feel Christmas-y at all at any point (who have I got to kill to get a set of reindeer horns on Koh Lanta?), but it was nice to be able to spend it with lovely people anyway.
After a slightly disappointing (not to mention expensive) SCUBA dive to see promised Manta Rays that didn’t turn up (for the first time in ten dives, apparently), we actually found a proper place to party! This is a difficult feat on Koh Lanta but not to be complained about: it’s one of the things that keeps the party happy lager louts out. This time it was a terrible local band, lots of new people, cheap drinks, one crazy old Thai lady who danced like a drunk stripper – and all in a tree house.
The next destination was to the east, to a place that feels more like a forgotten island than anywhere I’ve been so far, but is actually on the mainland: Tonsai bay. Many people know Railay beach because of its awesome scenery; Tonsai includes the beautiful beach with access to Railay (when the tide is out at least) but with a seriously cheap set of accommodation options and a healthy rasta beach-bum atmosphere which is increasingly difficult to find in Thailand and one day may die out completely. Bamboo bungalows, wooden shacks selling BBQ chicken, electricity at night only… It is a hippy paradise that many people visit for one main reason – to climb.
The limestone rocks of this area are considered to be the best in east Asia for sports climbing but many of the grades are higher than my own abilities and once again, solo travel has given me a handicap for doing what I want since one can’t climb alone. Instead I plumped for some Deep Water Solo where you climb above water and if you fall, you fall! It sounds scary (it is) but safe (it mostly is) except that one guy I climbed with who landed funny, has subsequently learned he gained a hairline spinal fracture for the efforts of jumping 15 metres or more in to the water. One can take regular climbing trips also, but while this is fun it only showed me how far my own abilities have fallen since leaving the UK. Much to be done on this on my return!
Tonsai is a very easy place to hang up the flip-flops for a while, but even my 60 day visa isn’t forever so I decided to head onwards, but in the wrong direction – to Phi Phi. If I told you Leo once stayed here to film (some of) The Beach, you may get an idea of the sort of paradise you may be expecting. Of course, so do many many other people, as we’ll see.