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Good times in Ko Lanta

First, just wanted everyone to know that we have put all of our pictures from Thailand thus far on the site. It’s been a while since we updated these pages. Still need to put up Belize and USA.

When we began doing research on the islands that are part of Thailand we quickly were overwhelmed and learned learned (learnt?) that ‘ko’ simply meant island. Ko Samui, Ko Lanta, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Lipe, Ko Tao, Ko Phi Phi — the list goes on an on. We couldn’t keep track of which island boasted what features and where they were located. We made a spreadsheet listing the islands, their main draws and the nearest major city with an airport to help put things into perspective. That didn’t help much because Thailand is pretty “skinny” in the south an islands both on the east coast and the west coast could be “close” to a large city like Krabi and yet be far from each other.

Here is a map of Thailand with the spots that we have been to through this blog post. We started in Bangkok which is sort of central Thailand, then headed north for a few days in Chiang Mai. From there we went all the way down to Ko Lanta. The Gulf of Thailand, where there are a lot of arrows on this map, has islands all over the place. We decided to skip those and head for the islands on the Andaman Sea side. I think. We still are confused.

If that wasn’t confusing enough we began to see other similar looking (and sounding) words appear in Thai such as Koh and Khao. I was completely lost. Now we might be seeing Koh Rok, an island off of Ko Lanta, listed as a great destination. After some more headaches we realized that Ko and Koh mean essentially the same thing – island, and that Khao has nothing, necessarily, to do with an island, but it could. Khao simply means mountain in Thai.

Our first island destination we decided would be Ko Lanta. One travel guide put it best: Ko Lanta is the island you go to when you don’t know what island you want to go to. We wanted to stay away from hardcore parting beaches like those on Ko Pha Ngan (known for their full-moon parties and mushroom shakes) but we didn’t want to be so completely isolated that it would take us 3 days to get there and back. We wanted to avoid gigantic resorts and overcrowding with tourists. We wanted beautiful beaches and crystal clear water. We settled on Ko Lanta.

Ko Lanta beaches are just OK

The beaches on Ko Lanta weren’t nearly as picturesque or as comfortable as we were expecting. The sand was littered with rocks, shells and other objects that made you want to avoid it. All of the businesses on Ko Lanta’s beaches (outside of a few very nice resorts) were setup to host beach parties or for you to have drinks at a table. There were no lounge chairs and not many people in the water. If you have never been to a beach before you’d probably like what Ko Lanta had to offer.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing really “wrong” with the beaches on Ko Lanta, they just really didn’t live up to our expectations of world class beaches on first impression. A lot I am sure had to due with the weather, which was overcast and rainy for almost the entire 3 days (except for our time on Koh Rok). So, what do you do? You go to Happy Hour and get a few strong drinks.

Lindsay’s drink on the left – a really nice Thai take on a margarita. Jeff’s drink on the right. A “jug” (honestly, I think probably 4 regular-sized drinks) of Long Island Iced Tea. This night was foggy for me. The jug cost less than $10 USD.

But that is why they make day trips to better beaches just a short 30 minute boat ride from the southern tip of Ko Lanta. To a little uninhabited island called Koh Rok. Lindsay and I did just a little research (stopped in one tour agency place) and booked the trip. It included two stops for snorkeling around the island, lunch on the beach, time to relax and transportation there and back. All for $27/person (USD). I thought that was a bargain. No matter what you pay if you start to ask people around town they will tell you that you overpaid. We’re over the chase the best price possible. No more stopping in 5 different agencies to save $10. If we find someone we like and they seem to have good information we go with it.

Koh Rok beaches are incredible

In a nutshell Koh Rok was awesome. I am writing this from Khao Lak (after 3 nights in Ko Lanta, 6 nights on Phuket and 1 night here) and can say this has been my favorite day so far. It started off rough. We were staying on Long Beach which on the north end of Ko Lanta. The tour picks people up from the beaches starting from the north and making it’s way south until we set off for the open waters. That means we were one of the first to board. Initially I though “oh, nice –small group” because there were only 6 or 7 of us on the boat. No no my friends. After a half dozen stops and more than an hour on the boat picking people up we were packed like sardines and the head count had to be near 30. Almost two hours after we boarded at our beach we were jumping off the back of the boat for our first snorkel.

The fish were small but really quite colorful and pretty cool to see. These clown fish lived in the yellow coral and only when you would approach would they come out and greet you. Much more friendly than most fish.

I have no clue what the heck this thing is. It was big though. Tough to tell, but that is probably 14 to 18 inches across. I opted not to touch.

The beach on Koh Rok. We snorkeled just off the beach – no more than a 5 minute boat ride, the majority of which was spent either getting in or out.

This is a great perspective of what we were looking out at. The water changes colors as it gets deeper. You can see a few boats out in the distance and that is a good estimate of where we were snorkeling.

A couple of happy campers here. What is not to be happy about. Sun shining. Relaxing knee-deep in crystal clear water and have a belly full of delicious Thai food.


What made Ko Lanta so nice

Looking back there are a few things that I really miss about Ko Lanta. The most obvious one, especially when looking at our budgeting spreadsheet, are the prices. They weren’t quite as cheap as the food in Chiang Mai, but you could still have a great dinner overlooking a beach for less than $20 total. I don’t think that you could get a single item for less than $20 with that type of view in America.

A romantic, candle-lit dinner for two with the ocean crashing just a few feet from us and beautiful views of the sunset set us back about $20 USD with main courses, appetizers and some fresh coconut shakes. The restaurant then had their chef, who also helped clear tables and do the books, give us a ride back to our hotel. 5 stars in my book.

The island was large enough to keep you occupied for a few days but small enough that if you wanted to get around you could. The roads, for the most part, were flat and well-paved making this the ideal spot to rent a scooter (for $8/day – which was expensive) and check out everything that it has to offer. After 6 hours on the bike though I was done. My ass was in pain. We handed the bike in early and opted to cab it to dinner that evening.

The last time I was on one of these I was technically off one of these. It was (I think) my junior year in high school I was riding to school and had a nasty crash on Cuba Rd just a few blocks from my house. Time heels all wounds. No accidents this time.

I loved this concept. There are tons of mopeds/scooters/motorcycles/dirt bikes on the roads all over Thailand, especially the islands. They probably outnumber traditional cars 10 or 20 to 1. Because of this pumping gas at a traditional gas station would be very inefficient, so there are these little stands selling gasoline in recycled 1-liter (probably 750ml) liquor bottles every 300 or 400 meters just off the road. 40 Baht (about $1 USD) gets you a liter and you’re good to go. Of course they don’t have change, so bring small bills.

One of the reasons we rented the scooters was to make it to the “prized” National Park on the southern most part of the island – a 45 minute scooter ride from our hotel. Well, the park was in a bit of rough shape. Not much happening. Tons of scary little monkeys running around and a few unpassable bridges, like this one behind Lindsay.

Over too soon

We only booked 3 nights on Ko Lanta because we weren’t sure what to expect. We probably could have stayed another day or two, just simply to unpack our bags and enjoy ourselves a bit more before being on the move again. The next stop-  Phuket – an island that is raved about for it’s spectacular beaches and beauty while being strongly criticized for an area that is a complete F job due to the crazy amount of growth and lack of infrastructure to properly handle it.

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