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The beauty of doing nothing on Ko Lanta

11 Feb

'You know what tomorrow is?' my boyfriend asked rhetorically this morning. 'That's the end of our vacation. No more sitting on a beach, doing nothing, eating ourselves silly.' After 25 days, we will now be leaving Thailand tomorrow for Cambodia.

So. Our vacation is done. When we left for Asia we agreed that we would set aside the first leg of this trip to doing nothing at all. To make the most out of doing nothing, we spent this last week on two of the 11 beaches of relaxed Ko Lanta: Long Beach and Kantiang Bay.

Long Beach

 

Long Beach is simply that; a four kilometre long stretch of sand. Compared with our previous stop, Phi Phi, the sand is coarser and the beach more down-market, flanked as it is by mini markets, huts and small restaurants in between pine trees. But what Long Beach lacks in picture-perfect, it makes up for in water so calm it resembles a massive salty swimming pool as well as stunning sunsets.

(If you come here, consider staying at the family run Lanta Pearl Resort. Kantiang Bay has a nicer beach, but we ended up coming back to Long Beach for a few days at the end of our Ko Lanta-stay simply because of the friendly atmosphere of this place.)


Kantiang Bay

The further south you go on Ko Lanta, the more secluded the beaches become. Kantiang Bay is one of these. This much shorter beach – 1 km – is nestled into rainforest and is one of the quietest bays of the island. It was once voted among the 10 top tropical beaches in the world by the Sunday Times.

If you come here, make sure to have a drink at Topview Resort during sunset:

Nicest place we have ever played scrabble.

And, if you happen to be in Kantiang Bay – make sure you try the food in the restaurant to my left! Read more about the place!

 

How to turn backpacking into flashpacking

9 Feb

I like to pretend that I am not yet a backpacker. But a woman on Phi Phi made me. Four years ago I visited Ko Lanta with my family and stayed at Baan Lanta Resort in Kantiang Bay. Although I knew it would be beyond our budget, the recollection of the cool pool, the large bungalows and its position straight on the beach made me ask about its going rate. 'Ah!' The woman in the travel agency smacked her lips and unnecessarily rigorously shook her head. 'Not for you, not for you!' she said and set up a booking for us with Lanta Topview Resort. 'I have stayed there before…', I silently mumbled back, as internal monologue.

Although our daily budget is not that of Swedish tourists (all tourists seem to be Swedish here), three weeks in I have nonetheless figured how to make ours resemble it.

Book a room 3 to 4 days in advance

This may seem blindingly obvious given the current high season for tourists. But, time after time (20 times a day according to our first hotel on Ko Lanta) backpackers turn up asking for a cheap room, only to be told it´s full, having then to get back into the taxi to look for yet another hotel.

We started booking ahead in order to save time – only later did we realise it also saved us quite a bit of money. Aside from not having to lug around a backpack at random in 35 degrees heat, calling ahead gets you two perks: one of the cheap rooms at the hotel and a free pick-up service from the airport or harbour. And as a bonus, it requires hardly no effort. This being Thailand, the land of the happy tourist, there are travel agencies every 20 metres and the staff at your current hotel can also often help with your next booking.

Travelling alone? Then hurry up and find someone to travel with! The beauty of Thailand is that if you have a travel companion, you can already flashpack. A hotel room or bungalow for two is often cheaper than two dorm beds!

Listen to your boyfriend who wants to eat at cheap places

Thai food is a tourist attraction in itself. Price is however no guarantee of quality. Some of our best food experiences have been in the cheapest of places. We have however always eaten at those places after a few days of persuasion. Like tonight, at the makeshift kitchen pulled together at the intersection of two streets in Kantiang Bay, just next to the 7-11.

2 Pad Thai´s with chicken. Fried fish with garlic. Green coconut curry with chicken. 4 main courses and some of the best food so far in Thailand for 6 euro.

It was so good, we're going back there for breakfast tomorrow. (She opens at 8 she said by showing the number on the calculator).

To give you a comparison; we had lunch the other day at previously mentioned Baan Lanta Resort:

Sizzling hot pan with squid, fish and shrimps. Seafood fried in garlic. Prawn cakes with chili sauce. 2 main courses and a starter for 15 euro.

Indeed, cheap as well. 15 euro is nothing if you're travelling for a few weeks. But, if you up those weeks to about 40, those 10 euro saved every meal start adding up. And just as important, eating at the cheap places tends to get us better food, better service and it's more fun!

 

Long Beach, Phi Phi

2 Feb

There has recently been some comments on our Facebook page asking us to stop updates – prompted by the apparently gross weather many places in Europe. And I can see why blog posts about tropical beaches might be slightly annoying in the middle of the winter. However, we have just found your next holiday destination, so I think you would like to hear me out. That is, if you are headed for Thailand as a couple or a family.

Enter Phi Phi’s real slice of paradise: Long Beach.

For some reason, we were of the understanding that the only places that were inhabited on Phi Phi were Ton Sai Bay and the tourist village stretching to the pier as well as a few five-star resorts on the other side of the island. By chance we happened upon Phi Phi tourist information, just off the pier, where a girl from Bristol told us what neither Rough Guide nor Lonely Planet did.

Sheltered by limestone cliffs and jungle, Ton Sai Bay is – as expected – gorgeous. However. The beach itself is so shallow that swimming is tricky, if not outright impossible. And secondly, at night-time it becomes the most happening place in town.

But there is another beach. A short longtail boat ride or a 40 minute walk from the pier you find Long Beach. Google it now and you´ll see flapping palm trees on a long, sandy beach with calm water so clear that you don´t even have to put your head below the surface to see fish. Amazing. On top of this, the beach offers some of the best snorkeling around the islands. Apparently (our backs are burnt like toast, so we will have to check this out in a few days..) you may spot shy and harmless (triple checked) sharks at the far end of the beach if you get up before 7 am.

Whereas Ton Sai Bay and the tourist village cater to twenty-something backpackers, on Long Beach people seem to have come on package holidays. The longtail boats ferry in suitcases and bags, elderly German couples and Swedish families with small children. These live on the seafront bungalows, which is where you should stay if you´re here on a short vacation (my favourite – Paradise Pearl Bungalows). If you are travelling for a longer time, check out the hillside bungalows (the cheap-o ones like ours are on top of the hill). There are also a number of restaurants along the beach (just as cheap as in the village itself), a mini market, and a couple of excellent massage places.

And this brings me to the conclusion: it´s not just better, it´s also cheaper! We were royally ripped off in Ton Sai Bay. Ok, I´m exaggerating – if we hadn´t discovered Long Beach in its full glory I would warmly recommend Sunset Bay Resort to all of you. But, now for less than half the cost (!) we get a superb beach which is so, so quiet. And the money saved treats us daily to an additional one hour massage, four Pad Thai's, six coconuts, two ice creams and one mango sticky rice. On Friday and February, the tourist season took a small dip, and the price became even lower.

As you might have guessed, we have delayed our departure for Ko Lanta. On Phi Phi, the concept of ´slow travel´ is easy to embrace.

 

Best day so far!

29 Jan

What a day! Have you seen 'The Beach'? Today I saw it!

Phi Phi is in reality two islands – Phi Phi Don Island and Phi Phi Lay Island. The former is inhabited, while the latter is a nature reserve. As soon as you set foot on Phi Phi Don Island, you're met by longtail boat-drivers and tour agencies offering to take you on round-trips of the islands or directly to the destination of your choice. Today we went for a full-day trip of the two islands, which proved excellent value for money and the most fun we have had so far in Thailand.

The larger boat we had chosen turned out to come with an additional benefit to the toilet. Too large to go to shore, we were simply asked to jump into the water whenever we were to visit a new white sandy beach. BRILLIANT! Whereas the agencies using longtail-boats or speedboats seemed to keep their people well within the boats most of the time, we got to swim and go snorkeling at four different places – including Maya Beach, where they filmed 'The Beach'. (People not too keen on swimming were given kayaks.)

While Maya Beach is supposedly the highlight, mine was rather a small moment of snorkeling outside Monkey Beach (the name is literal – the beach of monkeys!). Suddenly, while underwater, I felt two hands on the palms of my feet. My boyfriend had spotted a large group of small yellow and blue fish just ahead. And that was when I realised what he was about to do. With a small helpful push, he steered me straight into what seemed like an endless amount of tropical fish. HOLY MOLY, I love this place!!

Thankfully, for the ones of you finding these updates a bit over the top when it comes to sunshine and how lovely this place is, I also have some other juicy news saved up:

  • Our new unisex perfume at night is DEET 50%.
  • Also, it can be quite irksome if sunblock gets into our eyes.
Phi Phi in a minute and more fish than you can shake a stick at:

 

Postcard from Phi Phi

29 Jan

'If I came back here, this is where I would be staying'. A group of four had stopped just in front of our deck chairs in the sand. One of them was pointing to a number of small bungalows on stilts, each overlooking Ton Sai Bay. We grinned at each other as the group continued their walk along the rocky beach front, most likely on their way to the coral beach around the corner.

'Oh, this is nice' has been on repeat since we came to Phi Phi three days ago. The place delivers what the postcards promise. Perfect tropical days with unstoppable bright sun. Limestone cliffs shooting straight down into the turquoise ocean. Stunning white beaches lined by jungle and palm trees, water so clear you may simply stick your head below the surface to spot ten-folds of brightly coloured fish, and suitably starry nights. You get the idea, the whole shebang.

But, Phi Phi is also a major party place, and that's the reason the group stopped just next to where we were sitting. Phi Phi Sunset Resort, where we have been staying, is situated towards the edge of Ton Sai Bay.

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Though not completely shielded from the blasting Opa Gangam style at two in the morning, the distance and the nearby jungle cooperate well in blocking off most of the sound.

The cherry on the icing though, is the free longtail-boat trips. Only reachable by longtail-boat, the hotel offers free ferrying services until 10pm. The first time we came back at night-time we both gasped when Thai, the driver, shut off the engine. The longtail boat glided into shore to the sounds of chirping crickets, monkeys and waves breaking on the rocks.

 

I suppose we have to leave Phi Phi sooner or later. Maybe later.

 

Lessons learned in Bangkok

25 Jan

So, here we are, in a ferry on our way to the Phi Phi islands. A flat-out brilliant place if one is to belive the three-quarters Thai postcards that seem to be photographed there. But so far, all I can see is deep blue bliss. The scenic way of getting to the pier in Phuket from Bangkok starts with a 15 hour train ride to Trang. We cheated. We opted for the 1.5 hour AirAsia flight for 80 euros a person instead. To properly rub in how poor backpackers we are, the first persons we met by the ferry in Phuket were a Dutch couple in their sixties who had CYCLED down from Bangkok. Well, well. Next time.

Nonetheless, here are a few tips and things we figured out while in Bangkok:

  • Pedestrian crossings are just stripes on the road. Think of them as decorations rather than a signal for cars to stop. In order to cross what is normally a four or six-lane street the key is to wait for lots of Thai people. Lots of them. At one point you will be so many that you can simply start walking and force traffic to stop.
  • Sidewalks are not for you, they're free game. Watch out for scooters.
  • Best of all, go to the cinema. Obviously because the cinemas are ultra luxurious, but mostly because of the pre-film film. Before your film, the royal anthem is played along with a film of the king, talking to the masses, holding the hand of a poor person kneeling in front of him, and going down a river safari-style camera in hand. While this is played, you have some time to reflect over the massive billboards with photos of the king across Bangkok and the national halt twice every day at 6pm and 6am. At these times, the royal anthem is played – on the streets, in shops, in schools – and everyone stands still. Offending the king or any other member of the royal family or criticising the monarchy itself is an offence, lese majeste. A journalist was sentenced to 10 years in prison this week.
  • When you do go to the cinema, remember to nip by H&M first. They sell woollen scarves… Think of the cinema as a big fridge and dress accordingly.
  • Find a hotel next to the skytrain, an elevated train that takes you between skyscrapers in the new part of the city. While the skytrain will often cost the same as a taxi if you're travelling with someone, you avoid exhaust fumes and traffic jams.
  • If you're in Bangkok during the weekend, make sure you visit Chatuchak market. YouTube it!
  • If you are wondering if you're a proper backpacker or not, head to Khaosan Road. We went there for an hour or two one evening. I told my boyfriend to take me home when if I ever become one.
  • Take a boat trip. The major (5-star) hotels along the river provide small boats for their guests and aren't difficult about giving people who are lost a lift as well to the larger ferry stop? (No idea what this is called – this was yet another random boat we took.) When you get to the larger water taxi/ferry stop, find the free ferry for Aquatic – a stylish Thai version of Covent Garden.
  • And the best for last. We found the best Pad Thai yet in a small side street opposite State Tower: