Monday, February 15, 2016

To Sand and Surf. Koh Lanta.

On the tarmac at Trang Airport.

It was an early wake up call this morning. We are leaving Bangkok for Koh Lanta and it was going to be pretty much a full day of travel. Everyone was scrambling around to get ready for the day, finish up packing and checking the apartment to make sure they've not left anything behind.

My left ankle was still badly swollen this morning but I was able to hobble on it last night so I was sure I could do the same today.  I will have to walk carefully to not injure it further.  I can be so careless!

View of the street from our apartment balcony.

Yesterday, I had arranged for our Airbnb host, JC, to meet us at the apartment at 7a. He arrived on time. I opened the door to see a tall, lanky Frenchman standing on the other side. Of course, I welcomed him inside. After all, it is his apartment :-)  We stood around the kitchen and chatted for quite some time - we were enjoying talking with him.  We were curious how a Frenchman ended up living in Bangkok.  We're nosy :-)  Soon enough, it was time to get going.  JC made a quick round of the apartment to make sure all was in order before we all headed out the front door.

At the curb, JC was kind enough to flag down a taxi for us and send us on our way.  Per his advice, he only accepted the cab after the driver was willing to use the meter.  We will have to remember to do this when we get back to Bangkok in two weeks time - much easier to insist on the meter than wasting time negotiating a rate.

Though it was morning rush hour, we were traveling in the opposite direction and in just about 45 minutes, reached Don Muang Airport.  The airport is mainly home to the low cost Thai and Asian carriers and the airline today, Nok Air, is one of the low cost Thai carriers.

We arrived with plenty of time to check in.  At the counter, we were each given a round, yellow colored Nok Air sticker that had the letters *LT* manually written in marker.  We were told to place the stickers on our shirts.  I was guessing that *LT* stood for Koh Lanta and the sticker would be used to distinguish us from passengers going to other island destinations.

At the departure lounge, Bro and I took a seat while Ayşe went off in search of breakfast. Bro had eaten the leftovers from last night as his first meal of the day.  I was still full from dinner so all I needed was some water.

On the water front, I was certain we would be allowed to bring water in but we actually got stopped at security.  Bro had brought along his water bottle, with a chunk of ice in it.  The security officer took it and tried to shake the ice out but gave up and handed him the bottle back.  They had a bit of a chuckle over the situation but the fact that they let it go makes you wonder, yet again, about why there is a water restriction to begin with.  I also got stopped and sipped whatever water I could.  The officers were so busy dealing with Bro that they left me alone so I just walked away with my bottle.

We were on the 10:55a flight and it was about 15 minutes late taking off.  The plane was full - a mix of locals and tourists. As folks gathered around to board, I had noticed that several others had the same yellow sticker, with LT, written on them, as we had.  Others had the yellow sticker but with a different set of letters.

Nok Air fly and ferry schedule from Bangkok to Koh Lanta.

The flight from Don Muang to Trang Airport took about 1 hour 10 minutes.   That was the first leg of our journey.  As we disembarked the plane, the heat and humidity here felt worse than what we had left behind in Bangkok.  The Wilted Lily is making her return.

Before we made our way across the tarmac, there was a stand of bright yellow umbrellas for us to use to shield ourselves from the sun.  In all my years of travel, I have never been offered this thoughtful gesture.  Of course, we availed ourselves of an umbrella.  Like several of the other passengers, I also couldn't help but take a picture of the very colorful plane we had just stepped out of.  I still smile every time I look at the photo of the whimsically decorated plane.



Inside the terminal, we waited for our luggage to arrive.  At the same time, there was a woman taking down information of some sort.  I walked over to find out more and it turned out she was a Nok Air agent checking off the names of the fly and ferry folks who were on the flight.  From her list of names, I identified the three of ours.  She indicated for us to stand in a specific spot inside the terminal.  One by one, we got our luggage and we stood as instructed.  Quite a crowd gathered around us.

Soon, we were all shepherded over to a set of awaiting passenger vans.  Based on the letters on our stickers, we were waved over to board a specific van.  Ours was already pretty full.  All three of us were left to sit in the bench seat in the very back of the van.

A selfie as we wait for the van to leave Trang Airport.

In no time, the caravan of vans left the airport.  For me the landscape here is a familiar one - it looks just like Malaysia.  But I knew that for Ayşe, everything around us was a new sight. I tried to point things out to her.  The rubber trees....  I explained the process of tapping the trees to collect the latex.


The date palm plantations and how these are the plants that palm oil comes from.


I pointed out villages, schools and the occasional mosque that we would pass by. There are a lot of Muslims living in this part of the country so mosques are a common sight. They don't look like the mosques in Turkey so I had to point out the star and crescent at the top of the dome so she could see that the building was indeed a mosque. I also pointed out to her how many of the houses here are built on stilts - to escape damage from the tropical floods that drench the area every year.

It was at least an hour's ride before we arrived at the ferry port at Hat Yao Pier.  With no one to tell us what we had to do, we simply followed the rest of the crowd.  Everyone plopped down their luggage in a specific area - looked to be a covered car port.  So, we did the same.

Ayşe's bright blue bag in the front, my green one, with the handle up, is two back.

Where we left our luggage was next to a small stall selling drinks and snacks.  Adjoining that was a larger space where there were tables and chairs for sitting.  On the far end was a woman.  Based on the people standing in front of her, I figured she was a person in the know.  I decided to ask her if we were in the right location.  The ferry was scheduled to leave at 1pm and it was already past that time.  Her response to my questions was that I was at the right place to catch the ferry and that we just had to wait.  Okay.  Glad I was at the right place but that just wait part.  How long to wait?  Where to wait?  The woman was far too impatient to answer any of my questions so I thought I would go away and come back in a bit.

The ferry port at Hat Yao Pier.

A few minutes, I went back to where the woman was and well, all I got was that the ferry will be about half hour late.  So, we decided to wander about the ferry port to kill time.  We landed in front of two women selling fried rice, served up in convenient packs to go.  Looked good to Bro and I so we bought two packs of the chicken fried rice.  Teasingly, I told Ayşe that the women were her peeps i.e., they were Muslim so that meant the food would be halal - not a snowflake's chance in hell of having any pork in it.



She was still a bit leery but once she saw Bro and I enjoying our meal, she caved in and got a pack for herself.  I told her we didn't know when our next meal would be so better to eat now, when she had the chance, than risk going hungry.


Munching on our small packs of rice.

By 1:30p, there was still no sign of the ferry.  I wasn't worried until we noticed a young couple approaching the woman who had been manning the desk.  Now, she was carrying a megaphone around with her.  They asked her about the status of a particular ferry and she told them it had left port!!  They were shocked and I was thinking.....Oh God....there have not been any sort of ferry arrival or departure announcements.  How are you suppose to know when your ferry is coming?

By now, we had finished eating our snack lunch and were seated on the stoop near the stall selling drinks and snacks.  I went to check on our luggage and they were among jsut a few suitcases left. I don't know where the others went to but I decided we should take them with us so we dragged them to where we were sitting.  

A European man sat down next to me.  We soon struck up a conversation.  I found out he was Finnish and was meeting up with a friend on one of the islands for a three week stay.  He was traveling very light - just a hiker's backpack.  Seated behind him was a group of three American men.  We got to chatting with them as well.  One of the guys was telling us about the larger Koh islands that make up the Krabi chain.  He really seemed to know what he was talking about....as if he had been here multiple times before.

Again, I went to find out about our ferry and I got the word back that they were waiting for a boat to arrive from Phuket.  Bro and I suspected we had missed the original 1pm ferry and we were waiting for another boat.  Not our fault that we missed the ferry and luckily, there was one coming but it  just meant that our travel day got dragged out more.

At one point, I noticed a large group of people standing on the dock.  I wondered if those were our fellow passengers.  I walked over and saw quite a few people with the same yellow stickers as ours - some were labelled *LT*.

I scurried back to Bro and Ayşe and suggested we all move over to the dock.  Better to wait in direct sight of where the boat would arrive rather than sitting a distance away.

We waited and waited and waited.

Around 2p, we saw a boat nearing the dock.


The women who sold us our lunch were at the ready to sell more.

A group of passengers got off.  They were followed by their luggage.




Then the woman with the megaphone shouted out the names of islands while pointing to spots on the pier where we were to leave our luggage.  "Lipe....here", "Ngai here",  "Muk.....here",  Lanta....here".  We moved our suitcases to the designated spot and then queued up board the boat.

Most of the passengers headed up to the upper deck but none of the three of us are sun bunnies so we opted to stay in the cabin below.  We watched men loading up the luggage onto the boat.


We wondered where suitcases would end up.....actually, we were keeping a close eye to make sure the luggage got loaded!!


Then came the Koh Lanta.  Mine was the first to come on board. 

My little green suitcase on the right, Ayşe's on the left.

It immediately got squashed by all the luggage that got piled on top!


Bro's was one of the last suitcases to be loaded.  There was no room left on the pile so his got put aside but just a few feet away so we could keep an eye on it.

It was close to 3p when the boat finally pulled away from the dock.  We're nearly two hours behind schedule and we have at least a two hour ride ahead of us.  I just hoped there would be no more delays.

Our captain.

Now, that we're aboard and our luggage is safely stowed nearby, we turned our attention to the surroundings.

The Turkish woman sees Asian sea for the first time.

We're ferrying up the Andaman Sea and the scenery is lovely.  The water is crystal clear; a stunning turquoise green in color.  Thankfully, it's a nice day and the waters are not choppy.  I'd hate to be on this boat in bad weather!




Karst boulders dot the waters.



There was good reason why the majority of the passengers were on the upper deck.  It was getting warm in the cabin and there was the smell of fuel.  I still didn't want to head up as I knew it would be crowded with tourists.  Luckily, we could just hang out near the door to catch the fresh sea breeze.



The ferry carried passengers going to several islands.   Instead our boat heading to shore to drop off passengers, long tail boats came up to us.  At one point, we had passengers being ferried off from both sides of our boat - the passengers getting off on the left were heading to Koh Kradan and the ones being ferried off on our right side were going to Koh Muk.   That's where the Finnish guy was going to.   As he walked by me, I tapped him on his back to get his attention.  He looked back and I said, "Have a wonderful stay."  He replied, "You too."

With every island drop, the passengers and luggage were moved off quickly.  I have to say, everything was handled very efficiently!!

Bye!


It took about an hour before the last of the passengers were ferried away by long tail boat.


Shortly after we transferred over the majority of the passengers on our boat, the three of us decided to go to the upper deck.  There were just a few of us up there so it was much more tolerable.

We were nearing the southern tip of Koh Lanta when a smaller ferry pulled up alongside us.  Initially, I thought that was the boat that would take us to land but as it turned out, we were taking on a few more passengers.



We watched the luggage get moved over from the other boat to ours.  This guy was smart to keep an eye out as he spotted his bag getting handed over to a guy on our boat.  A quick shout from him and the bag was moved back!


It was late afternoon.  It was warm.  We weren't tired but one can always nap. :-)

We cruised alongside the shoreline of Koh Lanta for what seemed to be an eternity.  I knew it was the largest of the islands in the Krabi chain but I didn't quite realize just how large it was!

Aboard our ferry, we tried not to gawk at a Caucasian woman who was so badly sunburned that she was literally beet red all over!!  As if that was not enough, she continued to sun tan some more as our boat moved along.  All I could think was a) you're going to be in such pain in the coming days and b) is it worth the risk of getting skin cancer?  What's wrong with the color of the skin you were born with?  Seriously.

The sun was already beginning to set when we arrived at Saladan, Koh Lanta's largest village, located in the northern part of the island.


Our captain navigated us in but there was no space alongside the pier so he literally just parked our boat next to a couple others.  To make our way to shore, we basically got off our boat and then walked across the bows of two other boats!  On the dock, we then waited for our suitcases to make it.  Once we were united with them, our next task was to catch a taxi to our hotel.  That proved to be very easy.  If you look like a tourist, a driver will spot you from a mile away and approach you.  A man did just that and when I showed him the voucher for the hotel, with instructions in Thai, he knew exactly where to go.  I knew the hotel was only located about a mile from town so it would be a short drive.  He wanted 100 baht which is about $3 USD.  We accepted without bargaining.  How cheap can you get?

He led us to his vehicle.  I was expecting the usual taxi.  Instead, we got a flat bed truck.  There were several others parked nearby, with passengers aboard, so it was not odd that this was a taxi.  We and our suitcases got on board!

There's always an adventure where you least expect it!

It was a short but I have to say, fun ride!  Most definitely, we had great views of the town as we passed through it!


Our taxi driver did indeed know where our hotel was located.  He pulled off the main road on to a smaller side road and he dropped us off right at the front door.  There was a pile of shoes, slippers and flip flops outside the front door.  I've never taken my shoes off to enter a hotel but this is Thailand and well, when in Thailand, do as the Thais do so I took off my sandals but instead of leaving them by the door, I carried them with me.  I walked across a sparkling clean, polished white stone floor. No wonder the dirty shoes were left at the door!!

I had booked us into the Lanta For Rest Hotel.  At least that's how the hotel is listed on booking.com.  As I approached the reception desk, I noticed the name printed on the front of the counter - Lanta Forest Hotel.  Ah....that name makes more sense.  Something got lost in translation by whomever posted up the hotel information on hotel.com.  Whatever you want to call the hotel, I didn't care so long as my reservation was there and indeed it was.

When I was planning the trip, I had asked the other two if they minded if all three of us share a single room and neither had issue so I had booked a triple room for us.

The bell man led us up to our room on the 2nd floor.  The room was very modern and comfortable and for the Wilted Lily, had the most important amenity - air conditioning!  We had a balcony with a view over the front of the hotel.  We were on a very quiet street.

We took a few minutes to settle in and relax a bit before heading out in search of dinner.  Following the receptionist's recommendations, we decided to head to the beach for dinner.  The beach was just further down the same road that the hotel fronted.  We had no idea what the street lights would be like or even if there would be any street lights so Bro donned his head lamp and Ayşe and I brought along our flashlights.

From our hotel, it was about a 10 minute walk to get to the beach.  There was still some light when we arrived.  Ayşe immediately took off her shoes.  I told her the sand would be powder soft.  She reveled in the feel of it and then headed down to dip her toes in the water.  We walked for a short distance before turning our attention to finding a place to eat.  Indeed, there were plenty of restaurants to choose from.  I let Bro and Ayşe take the lead on figuring where we would eat.  They checked out a few restaurants and finally settled on one that served Thai food.  We dined, al fresco, on a simple meal.  It was a lovely night.  There was a gentle breeze coming off the sea.  Although the waitress had lit up a mosquito coil and placed it on the ground next to one of our table's legs, there were no mosquitoes about. 

I enjoyed a fresh coconut, the other two downed mango lassis.

Ayşe kept asking the waitress for recommendations but she didn't seem to really understand Ayşe or else her English was not good enough to tell us what to order.  So, we went with stuff that we knew - more morning glory, panang curry and a chicken veggie dish.  Tasty enough.


After dinner, we walked to the 7-11 store near our hotel to pick up a gallon of bottled water.  Then, it was back to the room to relax.  We're here for two more days and it will all be about taking it easy.  I do have suggestions for things to do but truthfully, if all we do is laze around, I'm fine with that.  We'll have non stop sightseeing in Myanmar so a bit of down time now is not a bad thing.

It's been a long day of travel and I think we're all a bit tired so I, for one, will be calling it an early night.

Goodnight from Koh Lanta!