Sunday, 15 April 2018

Thailand: Ko Lanta, Phuket & back to Bangkok

It wasn't strictly half-way through, but I'm going to call the islands the second part of our adventure, because they were so different to where we began. After visiting Chiang Mai, we made our way to Ko Lanta for some sun, sea, and sand.

Our taxi arrived at 5am to take us to Chiang Mai airport. A packed breakfast from the hotel of bread and butter, croissants, a boiled egg (as you do), green fluffy cakes, and a carton of orange juice perked us up a little (even if we did then have to abandon some of it in a moment of panic when met with airport security much sooner than expected). Yet again, Air Asia was quick and easy, and we were soon at Krabi airport.

I know I'm very easily amused, but I don't think I'll ever tire of being met at airports by men holding signs with my name on them.. In the comfort of yet another wonderfully air conditioned taxi, we made our way to Ko Lanta. On the drive we passed innumerable 'palm farms', as I decided they must be, not so dissimilar to the tree-lined roads of Norfolk (only perhaps a little more exotic).

A short ferry crossing took us onto the island and in no time we had arrived to another welcome fruit juice, accompanied this time with a cold flannel to combat the heat. Truly not backpacking, our hotel, Crown Lanta Resort & Spa was in the most beautiful setting; up in the hills with panoramic views of the sea, and its own private beaches. We'd booked ourselves into a pool access room which meant just that; straight out of bed and into the pool with but a few steps. Not even unpacked yet, as we waited for our bags to be brought to the room, we sat on the edge for a little taster dip.

Our room was actually at the bottom of the hill, so getting anywhere meant climbing a long series of steps, or if well timed, hopping on a glorified golf buggy to save our legs. What felt in the heat like hours later, we made it to the beach-side terrace where I indulged in a club sandwich (holiday classic, thanks Sam) and we shared a jug of beer. It wasn't long before I was racing down the steps to actually walk on sand and wade out to sea. We whiled away the rest of the day on the beach, before moving to the hotel's Reggae Bar for a fire show, and sunset over the water, and then into town for food.

After the best breakfast yet (the selection was huge), we were ready for another day of beach. This time we ventured beyond the hotel and settled on Long Beach (which, it turned out, really was very long) on the West coast of the island for a spot of sunbathing, swimming, and more indulgence. 

A spot of Google-ing had told us that there was an animal welfare centre nearby, and as soon as Steven heard that they were on the look-out for dog walkers, it was happening. We'd read that the dog walking took place between specific hours when the heat wasn't so intense, so we made our way in time for the afternoon slot. We began our visit in Kitty City, where I got swarmed by kittens intrigued by my beach bag and flip flops, before heading into the kennels where we got the chance to walk a puppy, Olive, on an integration walk with a group of other dogs and walkers.

Having taken a tuk tuk to the centre, the driver had decided to stick around ready to take us to our next destination. We refused at first, but giving in relatively quickly, we were glad that we had when we realised how far we would have actually had to walk (darn our British stubbornness). He dropped us further along Long Beach, at Phra Ae Beach where we enjoyed another sunset; this time with added bonfires, and a small naked boy who wanted to play.. 

As we left the beach to head back to the hotel, low and behold, 'our' tuk tuk driver was still hanging around, so we took full advantage and hopped in in search of food. We ate at Fat Monkey, or Ling Uan where I enjoyed a slightly festive tasting cocktail, and we received a complimentary bamboo straw. Our final stop before the return to our hotel was Dive Bar, which turned out to be an excellent spot for people and dog watching.

Our final day in Lanta was spent exploring further afield. We booked a driver through the hotel and he took us around for the day. Clearly embracing the tuk tuk life, we requested an open-back vehicle instead of air conditioning, which turned out to be a great choice for being able to see what was around us.

I hadn't realised that many of Thailand's islands have their own mangrove forests, but they do. So our first stop was to one of these. We were offered, but declined, a boat tour, and instead took to the boardwalk for a while before feeling slightly uneasy about monkeys (we saw one and he moved fast), and buzzy, bitey things (we'd forgotten our bug spray on this particular occasion), turning back. 

The next stop was Lanta Old Town. Seemingly a small strip of quaint shops and restaurants on the East Coast of the island, we stopped for lunch with a view that took my breath away. The haze of heat over the most still, turquoise water was truly something special. I could have quite happily spent the rest of the day just admiring it. We walked a little way after food, along the pier, and back again, but it was the heat of the day at this point, so we were soon ready to move on.

The final stop was another beach; this one on the Southern coast of the island. Bamboo Beach was another quiet spot as Phra Ae had been, and the sea, clear of rocks, was very pleasant for a dip in the late afternoon.

After several ridiculously early mornings for flights, we decided to take our journey to Phuket at a more leisurely pace. Check-out was at noon, so I took full advantage of our pool, and the sunshine, before we finally headed off to catch the ferry at Saladan Pier.

A super simple journey brought us right to our next hotel, and to a waiting Clair, also now on her holidays. Already moving into the evening by the time we'd got our bearings (it really does get light far too early in Thailand), we walked along from the hotel to find food (of course). Re-energised, we made our way to the beach where we could at least hear the sea, waves crashing, even if we couldn't quite see it in the darkness. From a safe distance, we browsed the market stalls lining the seafront. 

Back at the hotel, we were treated to our night's entertainment by a one-man band and his slightly glitchy laptop. Maps and leaflets laid out on the table, we made a plan of action for the next few days.

Had an unexpected additional guest in our room...

When on the coast, go to the beach. After a Thai version of an English fry-up which came in a frying pan with hot dog sausages and some mystery green leaves (it was not Spinach), our first full day was a beach day. The heat was intense, so most of the day was spent in the fetal position trying to keep all limbs in the shade and if not in the shade, we were making mad dashes down to the sea across the burning sand. By the evening, sunset from the water was pretty special.

Our second day was spent on a speedboat exploring islands around Phuket. An early taxi pick-up meant that there was no time for breakfast. Clair and I definitely got to the verge of hangry, but were incredibly happy to discover that there was a complimentary breakfast buffet at the marina. Our plates were filled.

Once on the boat, our first stop was Khai Island which was a surreal experience, almost scarily busy with tourists. I assume that in the past, Khai Island was uninhabited. Now it's home to a daily influx of tourist boats and covered in huts selling food, drink, and souvenirs. Having walked most of the way around , we found a patch of sand near the water, and spent our time there just taking it all in.

At this point we were feeling rather guilty for adding to the tourist footprint, so some solace came in the fact that we didn't actually stop at the famous Monkey Beach, but just sailed by on our way to Phi Phi Don where we stopped for another buffet lunch, and a dip in the sea away from the crowds.

The boat continued on to a bay where Clair and Steven partook in some snorkelling for a while, and I acted as camera-woman. Our final stop then was Maya Bay, due to close in a matter of weeks to give the sea-life some rest from tourist abuse. The sand here was the most gorgeous sand we experienced in Thailand; so soft and light. We bathed in sun, and sea, before it was time to head back to the boat for the choppy ride back to Phuket.

After a full day of sun exposure, we thought we'd treat ourselves to a late night aloe vera full body massage. Full of sea air, and that floating feeling, we definitely slept well.

With an evening flight back to Bangkok, we still had a whole day left. We'd considered following the pattern of our previous destinations, and exploring the wider vicinity, but upon the realisation that this was the last of our sea and beach time, we abandoned all urges for exploration and headed back to the beach. Not before, of course, another big breakfast. This time, we indulged in a 'Viking Breakfast' which offered the usual eggs and bacon, with additional ham, and cheese. It was too good. 

This time, in a bid to keep cool while at the same time making the most of the Vitamin D before our impending return to cold and grey, I wandered along the shoreline; people watching, rescuing flip flops, and admiring a quieter beach on a Tuesday as opposed to the Sunday before.

It was good to be back in Bangkok without jet lag. Our hotel, Mövenpick Hotel, was beautifully elegant, and felt a real treat for our final few days. Again, there was welcome juice (the tastiest yet and I'm not even sure what it was.. I got 'Thai herbs' from the receptionist), and after spending a couple of nights above Phuket's night fish market, it was incredibly peaceful, too, despite being in the city.

Another lovely breakfast at Roast set us up well for the day. Felt very at home as we popped into H&M for some sunglasses and 'appropriate footwear' before heading on the Sky Train to another pier to catch a river boat. Hop on, hop off, has never felt more accurate. At each 'stop' it really was a race against time to make the jetty before the boat went on its merry way. 

We began and ended our day at Wat Arun; a beautiful ceramic-covered temple on the riverside. Later, we over-looked it from a restaurant on the other side as the sun set. A special beginning and ending to the day. Other stops included The Grand Palace which was teeming with umbrella-wielding, shouty tourists, and another temple, Wat Pho, which was much more calm and peaceful.

Sadness all round as we reached our final day in Bangkok, and waved goodbye to Thailand. Having been so busy almost every day of our stay, we were ready to flop by this point, so we didn't go too far. After a final breakfast (another excellent one. The sausage was a highlight, this time) at Chu Chocolate Bar and Cafe, we headed to The Golden Mount for a view over the city.

The rest of the day was spent by the hotel's rooftop pool from which we eventually tore ourselves away for a final dinner together at Cabbages and Condoms, a restaurant supporting social development programmes. Back at the room, we shared a few more beers, and said our goodbyes (not before Clair raided our hotel freebies). It was another early night in preparation for another early morning and a full day of flying back home. 

It's interesting that Thailand has never really appealed to me over other places, because I'm really glad we went. We had the most fantastic two weeks, full of new experiences and adventure, and it really is a lovely place to be. One day, I'm sure I'll go back, and I'll definitely be back in another part of Asia in the near future I hope, now I've had a taster..