A Travellerspoint blog

Thailand - Koh Lanta

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What an awesome adventure of a bicycle trip did I have myself today! This being my first full day on Koh Lanta, I decided to spend it exploring the island. And though motorbike is pretty much the only method of transportation used here -- I haven't seen a single person, local or tourist, on a bicycle today -- I sought one out for myself as I believe the perspective form the bike is much different than the experience one gets on a faster moving motorized vehicle.

I am staying at the northern-most beach called Khlong Dao, and so the decision of which way to head was easy. For as long as I want to see beaches I gotta stay on the West side of the island, and heading South was the only option. The route, some 30km one way, was supposed to be relatively flat, though I anticipated some rocky headlands as otherwise the island's more than a dozen beaches would just be one very long stretch of sand. I figured, if I'm not up to the task, I can take a taxi back -- I did that in Koh Samui and was able to hitch a ride in a shared-taxi pickup, going over 20km for a price equivalent to $3. And so, my rusty mountain bike and I headed South to see how far the road takes us.

The ride, though conceptually similar to Koh Samui, was a very different experience. Even in the North of the island, which is more developed than areas further South, the vibe is very chill and living is simple. I've stopped at several beautiful beaches, some to swim, and some just to take in the scenery:

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If the last picture looks like it was taken from a meaningful elevation, that's because it was. This was one of the headlands I had to climb, and signs like this one below were not uncommon. I was actually relieved to notice them, because they alleviated my concern that perhaps I wasn't just breezing through those because of lost fitness.

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On my way, I had a couple of notable encounters. I saw monkeys in the trees on several occasions, this one was a male patrolling the road while his family was frolicking in the trees above. At a later point of the ride, when the sun was about to set, I was ambushed by another monkey who jumped out of the woods in front of me in the middle of one of those grueling climbs with a skill of an experienced hijacker. We had a brief standoff, with me hissing back at the monkey to make it retreat. I won.

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At one of the windy steep descents, I came across an unexpected 'vehicle' I needed to get around -- local boys returning from town after running an errand. I would later meet these elephants again.

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I rode my bike all the way down to the last beach of the island, Mai Pai Bay (Bamboo Beach). While all of Koh Lanta has the vibe of the Southern Pacific zone of Costa Rica, this most deserted beach, with the mountains of the national park as its backdrop, very much resembled my favorite hangout there, Uvita. The very last resort of the island, La Laanta, is adjacent to the national park and offers seclusion in a rather comfortable setting.

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I had to backtrack a little bit to get to the Noon View Point, a place where I would watch the sun set over the water while having a cold beer and something to eat. On the way, I heard the trumping of elephants in an area not far from where I saw the two elephants earlier. So, I followed the sounds to the beach, to find several elephants in the ocean bathing, with tourists on their back. I couldn't miss this one! Apparently most tourists sign up for this trough various travel agents for a rather steep fee, however lucky for me, showing up on a bicycle from the opposite side of the island warrants a discount of some 65%. It was a really fun experience to ride an elephant without a 'saddle', and to have her submerge herself into the water with me on her back (for those concerned, there was a trainer either with me on the elephant, or right next to me, who was overseeing this).

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I really like Koh Lanta, so much so that I decided to stay here a while rather than look for greener-yet pastures further South. I'm staying here until Dec 15.

Posted by kgbgirl11 05:35 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thailand -- Krabi and Railay

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Rather than going straight to Ko Lanta, as I intended when leaving Khao Sok, I decided at the last moment to stay in Krabi Town for two nights and do a day-trip to Railay. And I'm glad I did! Railay, and especially its Southern beach called Phranang, are one of a kind. In Phranang, a steep limestone cliff carved by the elements into what is known as The Princess Cave, hovers above the beach, making for some surreal scenery:

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I spent most of the day enjoying the beach at Phranang and Railay West, grabbing lunch at a floating Halal restaurant. There is a significant muslim population in the Krabi area, and it turns predominantly muslim further South. At least I didn't have to worry about pork finding its way into my food!

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I'm spending the night in Krabi Town -- a cheap and accessible alternative. Tomorrow, I'm finally taking a ferry to Ko Lanta, which according to several travelers I met, has the chill vibe I've been searching for.

Posted by kgbgirl11 05:54 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thailand -- Khao Sok

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It was a long day yesterday getting from Koh Tao to Khao Sok -- two boats on a rather choppy sea, followed by two buses -- but I had hoped that at the end of the journey I would have the peace and quiet of the national park. However, that is not what I found. I should have known that the place I had reserved was trouble when, upon my mentioning that there is no toilet paper in the cabin, they responded that, well, they ran out, and would I mind hosing down instead. Any decent place that caters to the farang knows and respects the fact that the Western farang likes to wipe their behinds. Even much poorer places in Cambodia and Laos respected the farang's behinds by servicing them with toilet paper, but apparently, here it's optional. It went from there... then I discovered that there were feces on the cover of the toilet (just a gecko, they assured me, though they were in quantities more suitable for a rat). They didn't seem to think that it warrants cleaning, but per my insistence, hosed it down with the same hose they were suggesting I clean my behind with - that was the extent of the cleaning. Then, I noticed that the sheet appeared dirty; so I lifted it and saw that the mattress is covered with mold. The cleaning lady confirmed that yeah, it's 'just mold'. I tried flipping it, just to discover that the other side had large urine stains all over. Their excuse was, well, what do you want, this is the rainforest. But I've been to the rainforest before, in places like CR and Ecuador. And I firmly believe that rain forest does not have to equal feces and moldy mattress. Seems like the folk here is spoiled by the farang who, in its attempts to be adventurous and without any frame of reference is willing to accept lazy for rustic. Though I planned to stay at least three days, I changed my reservation to only 2 nights, just enough time to do the park tour that was the bare minimum of the park experience I wanted.

The tour, which I did today, consisted of a boat ride through the big lake in the center of the national park, lunch at the cabins on the lake, followed by a hike through the jungle. The boat ride was through rather picturesque landscape, which does remind of the Halong Bay in Vietnam. Limestone carsts, piercing the deep-blue waters.

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However, there is one huge difference between the Halong Bay and the Khao Sok lake. While the bay was crafted through millions of years and carved by the waves, the lake is a very recent man-made creation, and is younger than I. In 1982, Thai government, in its search for cheap energy, decided to dam the area, flooding this landscape of steep mountains and deep crevasses, creating this lake of some 160 square kilometers in area. While there are many sites that are dramatically impressive, there are no beaches of any kind, as the 'shoreline' is just some random watermark on these steep mountains, where the elements didn't yet have a chance to leave its gradual mark of a shoreline. I found it fascinating to ponder the flooding from the standpoint of the mountain, and the life that existed on its slopes. Of the countless peaks of varying elevation, some managed to keep their heads above water, but for every proud white beauty there are countless almost-made-it runner ups, sometimes not any less beautiful, just below the surface. It also saddens me to think what happened to the wildlife that inhabited its slopes, as these dilapidated reminders of the tropical forest silently tell the story of the life lost in the name of progress:

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The hike, in the afternoon, was just ok. We walked for about two hours each way to a cave. While we forded several streams, we only got to experience the undergrowth of the jungle which often looked like it could have been New Jersey in the summer, with only an occasional glimpse of primary forest giants. This experience made me appreciate even more the beautiful rainforest of Central/South America. On the upside, I was happy to discover that leeches, which are rather vicious here, were not as fond of me as fish, dogs, and elephants.

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I considered spending more time in the national park, but decided to check out early. Tomorrow, I'm heading to the Andaman coast, with the first stop being Koh Lanta.

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Posted by kgbgirl11 16:50 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thailand - Koh Tao

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Koh Tao is much more of what I expected from Thailand's islands. Though hardly uninhabited, the island is much smaller than Koh Samui and has almost no traffic. Though the main village is known to get rowdy with divers coming up for air, there are plenty of smaller coves with idyllic beaches. After seeing in Koh Samui how busy the islands can get here, I spent a considerable amount of time seeking out a place to stay that would have a more secluded vibe. And I wasn't disappointed with the location of what I found, once I got to see it in person. Set in a bay with sandy white beach with half a dozen smaller hotels around, this was a great place to kick back in for 3 days -- read, swim, nap...

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Soon after arriving, I became aware of the presence of a group of Russians when I heard the following exchange [they were discussing another hotel nearby, which they were considering moving to] -- apologies to non-Russian speakers, but these are cultural references that don't translate well:

Женщина: комната хорошая, но без холодильника. 
Вторая женщина: зато кондиционер есть. 
Мужчина: да, а колбасу в кондиционере хранить будем? А чайник-то есть?
Женщина: да зачем тебе чайник? Мы же кипятильник привезли!

They proved to be a fun bunch, and I ended up hanging out with these guys on several occasions. We've done some longer swims, beyond the bay's end, and got to see some marine life in deep crystal waters (though I have to say, it's not as impressive as the reefs of the Royal Diving Club in Aqaba, or some of the places in the Caribbean). Today, we walked over to the next bay, alluringly named Shark Bay, and I actually got to see a couple of small sharks swimming right beneath us.

Tomorrow, I'm moving to a different part of the island to stay at what hopefully will be another relaxed secluded spot, this one set in more rugged rocky surroundings.

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Posted by kgbgirl11 21:59 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thailand - Koh Samui

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And so, after being beach-deprived for over a month, the longest 'dry spell' I've had in the past 2 years, I took the Tel Aviv - Eilat flight from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui. Without exaggeration, at least a third of the plane was Israelis. Hebrew was spoken all around, and in a variety of accents. As it turns out, the place where I'm staying is owned by an Israeli, too. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, as many have discovered Thailand as far as 20+ years back while doing Tiyul Aroch, and now return with their families.

The island is rather developed. Other than the multitude of massage places and bars with names like 'Up to you' (this is a cultural reference, if you don't get it you are better for it), there is very little about it that's Thailand, it could be in any other up-and-coming beach corner. The beach around most of the island is so-so, probably rather nice by most standards, but in my opinion, not quite as nice as what I have across the street from my home, in Miami Beach. Even longer beaches are very narrow, and the water is murky, and at times dirty. Still, it was so nice to be reunited with this particular element.

After being away from the beach for a full month, I can now answer the question of whether I'm more of a beach person or a mountain person with certainty. While I definitely appreciate and enjoy mountains, the beach transforms me. It gives me energy, grounds me and inspires me all at once. Before I got here, I was starting to feel a bit tired from traveling, and in Chiang Mai I have definitely found myself wanting to take it easy, and just be, rather than do. Suddenly today, I had the energy to seek out a bicycle in this scooter-dominated island, and set off on a road trip around this rather large (about 100km circumference) island. I stopped at several beaches along the way, here are the pics from my belated lunch stop. The tolerant owner allowed me to go for a dip to cool off after a grueling climb up one of the island's many headlands, and eat lunch while drying up in my bathing suit:

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While I'm certainly appreciating being near the beach again, this is not a place where I would like to spend much time at, due to it's rampant consumerist development. The sign, below, pretty much sums it up. Tomorrow, I'm heading for what supposed to be a secluded part of Koh Tao.

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...I wrote this several hours ago, and having already downed an Advil PM in preparation for an early lights-out ahead of a break-of-dawn wake up call tomorrow, I was about to hit 'publish' before hitting the sack. Then a couple of other travelers staying at the hotel who I spoke with before (Israelis) invited me to join them for the drag show, nearby. It was a very entertaining experience! I stand corrected, this is something that distinguishes this place from run of the mill resort towns everywhere.

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Posted by kgbgirl11 04:06 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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