15.04.2016 - 22.04.2016
On the morning of Friday 15th April we left Khao Lak heading to Ko Lanta. Our first leg of the journey was a cramped minibus where we got talking to a lovely retired British couple from London who had done a hell of a lot of travelling over their lives, especially around Thailand. We swapped stories and shared Britishisms (as you do) and they told us all about their very eccentric gay son and his husband.
Thankfully the cramped bus only lasted for 3 hours and we got off at Krabi to then change to a different (less cramped) minibus driven by an awfully cool Thai fella who's driving was as untamed as his long hair. On this second leg of the journey we had to get on two big, industrial, open-air car ferries to get to Ko Lanta island; which was an experience.
After another 2 hours we arrived at Ko Lanta where we were dropped right outside of our hostel; Lemonade Boutique. The hostel was really nice; our dorm room was quite unusual as it had 4 single beds along with hospital-style privacy curtains - we'd gotten used to bunks. Everything was in order and we plopped our bags down and hungrily threw ourselves in the next door to 'Salad House' restaurant, which proclaimed to be an organic health food establishment. We quickly found out that it was like every other Thai restaurant; massive menu, most things deep-fried and not many veggie options and overpriced. We ordered some basic rice and tofu dishes and quietly noted to each other that we wouldn't return.
Our tummies full, we went to check out our beach; Khlong Dao, which was only 100m behind our hostel. The beach looked amazing set against a pink sunset. It was quiet, with only a few murmurs of children playing and a slight breeze whistling through the tall trees. There were a a sprinkling of bars and restaurants set back from the white sand with some brightly coloured lanterns hanging from their decks.
Back at our hostel we heard a cat crying outside our door and naturally, being lesbians, we couldn't help but let it in for a cuddle. We named this cat Gryger as he looked like a grey tiger and he became a regular feature of our Ko Lanta trip. We cuddled with Gryger for a few hours until our dorm-mates turned up; a young guy from Amsterdam and a British girl. To Lauren's disdain these two liked to listen to crap pop music and talk loudly about clothes and diets and selfies and other young people things. It always amuses me to see Lauren angrily gurning in a corner like a bitter old woman who's confused, scared and annoyed by the modern world.
At 11pm they shut up, just in time to save Lauren from an aneurysm.
The next day we rented bicycles and rode to Ko Lanta Animal Welfare centre approx. 3km away. The centre has been going for about 5 years and is a non-for-profit organisation that treats and houses ill and/or stray cats and dogs in Ko Lanta, as well as doing mass sterilisation programmes and re-homing animals that aren't safe on the streets. The centre runs entirely on volunteers so we thought we'd get involved and take one of their dogs for a walk. We were given Lady, who had been adopted by a Dutch family and was just waiting for a flight-buddy. She was young and placid and looked a bit like a collie. We were given 45 minutes to wander around the nearby rubber-tree fields.
For the first 5 minutes everything was good, we wandered amongst the woods and kept an eye out for other dogs or anything more sinister like hungry dog-eating snakes. Soon though, Lady decided she'd had enough and just stopped still; refusing to walk any further. We had to coax and tug her for the remainder of the walk. At first we thought she might have seen or smelled something that scared her but it quickly became apparent that she just wasn't in the mood to move. To be fair to her it was incredibly hot outside, but we weren't very well equipped to deal with a pretty big dog playing dead. We managed to drag her to the road leading back to the centre and we were only 200m away when she lay down in the dirt. Luckily for us a Geordie guy who works at the centre was driving past and saw us struggling, after he had a go at energising Lady he picked her up and carried her to his van to take her 30 seconds up the road. After speaking to the girls at the centre they laughed and apologised and said that Lady could be, at times, a lazy so and so.
We got a tour of the facility and met some of the cute dogs and cats with often pretty horrific back stories. The centre really is an amazing place and if we'd have known about it sooner we would have signed up to volunteer for a month.
By now we were peckish and so biked up to a veggie restaurant called Kunda, run by a lovely Polish couple. We had an amazing smoothie and some zapiekanka (an open sandwich with cheese and other delicious toppings). While enjoying the outdoor hippie-haven garden we got talking to a British-Morocco girl called Issan who has been travelling for a number of years and had just adopted a gorgeous little dog called Teddy from the Animal Welfare centre we'd just been to. She was really lovely and praised us for the big step we'd taken to come away. She also told us about her experience working on elite yachts for the super-rich for years and how it had opened her eyes to how wasteful, cruel and vapid the industry is and how it had 'broken' her and a lot of her colleagues over the years.
We cycled back to our dorm and got a little burned by the afternoon sun and met one of our new roomies; Brad from Canada. He had long greasy hair and was wearing an Iron maiden T shirt. We chatted about music and Thailand and our respective travel experiences and plans; it was refreshing to meet a backpacker who wasn't conventionally 'sceney' or 'hip'.
That evening we cycled to Sala Dan market approx. 3km up the road from where we were staying. Lauren ingeniously put her torch on flashing mode and hung it from her front basket in order to reduce our chances of being run down (especially considering we had no helmets or high visibility items).
The market was pretty sprawling with loads of snide clothes on offer along with the usual souvenirs. On our way out of the market Lauren spotted a funky little vintage shop in the corner called Neems where we both bought some retro shorts from the bargain bin.
On the ride home we stopped at a street food market for dinner. While there we saw a big ginger cat roaming around getting strokes. Beckoning it over we soon noticed that it had a massive gaping wound on it's neck. We took a snap and later emailed it to the Animal Welfare centre we'd just visited who replied the following day to say they'd found the cat and were treating it. We like to think of ourselves as modest heroes.
We woke up very early the next day having not slept very well due to the direct hit of the AC unit. We toddled to the beach where there were no sunbeds so we used some towels we'd borrowed from the hostel. Neither of us cope very well with the proliferation of sand and so after a bit of swimming in the warm Andaman sea we pulled ourselves away to the shade of another hippie restaurant called Irie. It being low season, wherever we went felt almost empty which was both nice and sometimes a little isolating. It was interesting to see the local people packing away to head to their other off-season jobs. In keeping with the sleepy atmosphere we didn't do much else for the rest of the day besides eating our new found favourite things; chocolate bon-bon sweets from the 7/11.
The following morning we were chucked in the back of a pick-up and driven to Lanta old town pier for our '4 islands' boat trip. Our boat was a long tail and our group was 20 strong Europeans including two very cute, very well-behaved German children. The tour guides were rough round the edges and very funny but certainly not polished (we did pick the cheapest trip). We had an exhilarating 1 hour ride on the sea to get to the first 'islands' - Ko Chuek and Ko Ma where we snorkelled with the many cute and colourful fish. Here's some of what we saw;
The next mooring point was at Marakot cave (aka emerald cave) which we we swam underneath for 80m in pitch black with hundreds of other tourists. It's certainly something we've both never experienced before; it was a unique combination of unbridled terror coupled with childlike exhilaration. The sight upon exiting the cave was worth the panic as we gazed upon what could have been the Garden of Eden. There were a little too many tourists for our liking but we consoled ourselves in the fact that in high season we would have felt like caged chickens. One guy floated in wearing a trilby... now that's commitment to fashion.
After admiring the natural beauty of the bay we swam back to the boat and head to our last stop; Ko Ngai island. The island is incredibly beautiful and very secluded with only a few signs of ramshackled civilisation. We ate a delicious Thai lunch with Coca Cola included to Lauren's delight and spent the rest of our 1 hour slot snorkelling in the translucent turquoise water. We got particularly fixated on a little dotted white fish who appeared to be digging around and guarding a den most probably full of babies. I'm sure our two white arses bobbing up and down in shallow water served as interesting amusement for the Muslim natives of the island.
The breezy ride back to Ko Lanta in the back of the pick-up truck was wondrous after a day of skin-cooking. After a short recuperation we head out for a street food tea and then onto the Irish Embassy; an Irish pub up by the popular Long beach. If you know me at all you'll know that I wouldn't just spontaneously go to a pub unless there's a motive, and in this instance, the motivation was a quiz. We settled down to our table and eyed around for any other couples or loners that we may want to join our duo. Unfortunately after some careful judging we decided that everyone else looked too thick to be worthy of joining our team and so continued as a twosome.
We titled ourselves Fannypackers as homage to Lauren's love of a bum bag (and owing to us both possessing fannies) and got stuck in to the questions. In all fairness, the quiz was written and mastered by a British guy so anyone from Blightly had an unfair advantage. Like good ex-colonists we of course embraced this advantage and, despite our diminutive team size we managed to come 3rd! The teams in 2nd and 1st had 4 and 5 people in them and we definitely saw some unauthorised usage of phones too... I can only assume they were cheating Southern bastards. We even won an extra point for having a funny name. The only issue was that our prize was a 750 baht token for the nearby paint-balling centre. Neither of us fancied putting on heavy protective gear in the 40° heat nevermind shooting people so instead we were given two Sambuca shots - perhaps not a fair trade but they were free nonetheless and they washed down my earlier Guinness and black nicely.
The next day was our last and we decided to laze about, cuddle our best friend Gryger and do some planning. We unfortunately weren't sleeping very well because of the air-conditioning, so on our last night after our dorm-mates checked out we swapped beds to be further away from the unit. This helped a lot and we wish we'd done it sooner.
Ko Lanta turned out to be a heavenly home-from-home with plenty of opportunity for animal-loving; a place that fed our weary travelling souls.
Our last little detour before heading to Malaysia was the province of Trang in Southern Thailand. The journey was only 4hrs on a minibus and involved getting on 2 car ferries to first pass the Lat Bo Nae river and then the Andaman sea to mainland Thailand. We suspected that the minibus driver thought he was playing GTA as he seemed to speed up when approaching sharp bends and also enjoyed overtaking vehicles that were already overtaking someone else.
We were dropped at Trang bus station and for the first time during this whole trip we weren't mobbed by taxi and/or tuk tuk drivers touting for our custom. In fact we couldn't see any other tourists, any English information or any taxis or tuk tuks. We stood around for a while and eventually a tuk tuk or more accurately a songthaew arrived. We got on along with a few other Thai passengers and hoped the driver knew where our guesthouse was. Thankfully, he did.
One thing that immediately struck us about Trang was the tuk tuks; they weren't like any we'd seen before. They are essentially little 3-wheeler cars with a partially open 'truck' in the back.
We made it to Yamawa guesthouse and were greeted by a very sweet smiley lady who runs the place with her husband and children. After freshening up we got in an actual and headed to the retail park with plans to see a film at the cinema. We arrived early for the film and so had a peep in the supermarket where we marvelled at the unusual wares like mushroom juice and green tea yogurt as well as buying plenty of calorific snacks. At the cinema's box office we were told that all of the films are dubbed in Thai with no English subtitles. We felt rather hard done by considering in every other cinema English was kept at the speaking language. Where's my Western privilege I felt like shouting! We hung our heads and got a ride to the one of the local night markets for yet more food. The market was a hive of activity and we were the only whiteys around. Families were there buying their tea and sweet treats for their kids. Young girls were shimmying around looking at ridiculously tiny polyester dresses with lemons printed on them.
We got plenty of double-takes but even more smiles and waves which filled us both with glee. We walked back to Yamawa rather glad our film-expedition had failed and spent the evening eating our munchies in bed. Poor us.
The next day we walked around the town a little checking out the local businesses and layout of the streets. At one point an elderly lady stopped me to stroke my arm and give me a big smile. Who doesn't find bingo wings comforting!? We didn't do much else except go to the other night market where I managed to find a freshly put-together pot fruit and berries; what a revelation, I haven't had berries for a lifetime.
Trang was a welcome reprieve from the 'touristy' hotspots we'd been frequenting for a while and the perfect little precursor to our country-hop over to Malaysia.