Passing through Thailand Part 2

It feels like Thailand is a faint dream.  The passing of time has loosened the hold that it had on my mind, my spirit.  I knew it would.  That it would fade.

Thailand changed me; it affected me.  More than I imagined it would.  I went to Thailand for adventure, for something new, for the experience, to be with my sisters.  I came back feeling distant, as if I did not recognize what I had left behind.  My friends, my work, the regular jaunts.  Nothing felt right.  But now, months later, I can look back and barely remember those feelings.  I have settled back into life, this life.  Yet, I don’t feel the same. There still is a stirring in my spirit that was not there before.  I feel that the life I was leading will never be the same.  I feel like I need it to change.  I want it to change.

I don’t think Thailand itself is what made me feel distant from my own life.  I think it was the passage of time.  It was disconnecting completely from the life I was leading.  It was stopping admist the ciaos…stopping after spinning around and around, dizzy, disorientated, unable to get my barrings.  Maybe that is just age.  I don’t transition as easily as when I was young.  But I don’t think that is what it was.  I think leaving everything behind enabled me to let go more than I have in years, since I began my business. I had hit a breaking point before I left.  I realized there was too much in my life.  I was not able to do what I loved admist the necessities of the day.  I had taken on too much and was not doing anything well or enjoying any of it.  My dreams had begun to fade.  I was surviving.  I am still surviving, if it can be called that….But that is a story for another day.  Soon.  Not yet.  This is about Thailand and the wonderful time there.  So, without further ado, part two…

Koh Lanta 

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Before leaving for Thailand, my sisters and I did do enough research to select the two places we would spend our trip, Chiang Mai and Koh Lanta (you can read about part one here).  We would have loved to have seen more, explored more, but we just had two weeks.  If there is anything I have learned over the years, don’t try to do too much.  Otherwise, it won’t feel like you did anything.  Or maybe that is just what it will feel like.  That you did things rather than experienced them.

So, we skimmed over blogs and guide books to know what island or beach to go to.  Pretty much we wanted confirmation that the place would be one, not touristy, two, not a party scene, and three, beautiful.  Koh Lanta was just those things.  It was perfect for us.  Underdeveloped and beautiful.  It had secluded beaches, awesome food, motorbikes for rent, gorgeous vegetation and topography…everything we could ask for.  We booked the flight like a day before we flew (not the cheapest way to do it) and ended up getting in pretty late into Krabi.  The guide books made it sound as if it would be too late for a ferry so that we should stay the night.  However, there were not too many options listed for places to stay in Krabi and we did not know how big a place it was.  What to do?  Instead of showing up at 10 or 11 at night with no place to crash and having to figure it out, we decided to book one night at any place we could find with private transfer to their hotel on Koh Lanta.  There were only two.  Baan Laanta for around $100 a night plus an extra charge $30 for the hotel transfer or the Pimalai, which was around $300 a night and free airport transfer.  We were definitely tempted but figured we would be just crashing and then checking out in the morning to find someplace cheaper to stay.  So, the Baan Laanta it was.

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Where to Stay:

Baan Laanta:  Small.   Quiet.  Quaint.  Perfectly situated.  We arrived ridiculously late (it was about a two hour transfer from the airport by van, driving and on ferries).  But when we got there, we were kindly greeted and shown to our room.  And what a room.  We weren’t able to appreciate it in the night, as it was late and we were exhausted.  All we cared about was it had a beach view, a gorgeous bed, and lots of character.  We quickly got into bed and crashed (we ordered an extra cot, but the three of us could quite comfortably fit on the bed).  Upon waking in the morning I was able to fully appreciate where we were staying…

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an excerpt from my journal on that first morning …

“We woke this morning to one of the most breathtaking views – truly stunning.  The bay surrounded by the jungle.  Unbelievable how vast the jungle is – how wild it is.”

Koh Lanta is a very mountainous island and everything was built into the hills.  The hotels all were terraced along the bay.  Ours tucked into the trees but with direct beach access. 

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There are only about 15 rooms at the Baan Laanta, so if you are wanting an intimate, private, relaxing stay, this is definitely the place for you.  We only saw 2 or 3 couples the whole time we were there (but it that was because we were traveling during the shoulder season – which meant reduced rates and less people, but risking bad weather).  The setting was perfect.  The view from the pool was fabulous, not that we used it much at all.  With the beach and the ocean literally right down some steps, it was hard not to pick the beach.

Next time:  Honestly, after exploring the island, I loved our little bay and thought it the perfect place.  The only other recommendation I would give would be the Pimalai.  However, there were a lot of great looking places on other parts of the island.  But I liked our location so much that I wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else.

Pimalai:  We were really tempted to stay here for one night.  It was just up the beach from our hotel and it looked amazing.  We did go check out the grounds and thought they were gorgeous.  Seriously.  However, upon viewing the rooms, they lacked the character that the Baan Laanta had.  It might have been worth the splurge, but we were content staying where we were so we opted not to upgrade.  But if you want to be spoiled and stay some place grand (for Thailand), this would probably be a good pick.

Where to Eat: 

Gosh.  You just had to walk up the street for fabulous food.  And I mean fabulous.

Kampung Restaurant:  We ate here almost every night.  It was fabulous, and when you get awesome food and an awesome experience, it is hard to want anything else.  Such sweet sweet owners.  It is owned by a young couple.  She is from the UK (we assume) and he from Thailand.  Both were so kind and sweet and just made you want to come back both for the food and to support them.  It was mango season and she talked of getting mangos from his uncle’s tree up the street.  Awesome.  And the food had just the right amount of heat.  Enough to intimidate but not kill your taste (but they were willing to accommodate anyone’s palate).

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The neighbor’s cat.  He totally knew who had food and he was not shy about trying to get some.  Love how relaxed Thailand was about sitting on the floor, eating dinner, and having a neighbor’s cat hanging out in your lap.  Definite recommendation:  everything!  The banana in warm coconut milk – yum.  All the curries we tried – so good.  We really loved everything we had here.

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Okay.  So I forget the name of this place.  But if you head from the Baan Laanta up toward the park, you will pass it on the right.  It is Sunset something.  We were riding our motorbikes passed this spot, which claimed awesome views, and the sun was just setting so we figured we would stop for some cocktails.  The view did not disappoint.  It was perfect timing.  I mean, drinks while watching the sunset on the ocean.  How much better can it get?

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Same Same but Different:  Another pick just because of the location.  We could walk here from our hotel for dinner and drinks on the beach.

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Loved the sculptures at night.  Even if we did not get a view of anything else, it was pretty phenomenal with the sound of the waves on the beach.  Just wish we had had a flash light for the walk back.  We came back during the day for drinks on the beach and thoroughly enjoyed the view.  The food was good enough but we had much better, and it was a bit pricier here.  You are paying for the location.  Definite recommendation:  coconut lassi or smoothie

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Another place I cannot name…located up the road from the Baan Laanta on the left, was a developers office with a coffee bar.  I don’t quite know if they were open or not when we stopped by but they were so hospitable and gracious.  We ordered lattes and ice cream.  The best coffee we had in Thailand.  And such a gorgeous setting.  The office itself was dream home worthy (there was even a moat with fish around it with a little concrete bridge).  We wandered up to look at their development and again, gorgeous.  Very modern; totally stunning.  (It was still being built though.)  It was all so delightful we had to come back again.  The kind of place that makes your heart happy because of your interactions and the genuine kindness of the people.  I feel as though words cannot express them.

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On the other part of the island, in the old city, there were a slew of places right on the water.  I don’t know how we lucked out, but we did.  All I wanted was a whole fish, but how to choose.  We picked one that was not busy.  Usually not the best sign.  And the owners kept calling us to come in.  Doesn’t typically woo me, but we entered.  I think we were all just so amazingly hot and hungry that we weren’t thinking straight and just needed someplace to sit.  We ordered the whole fish and were so delighted.  It was delicious and totally what I had been dreaming of before coming to Thailand.  Seriously, the best whole fish I have ever had.  It had just the right heat, a perfect balance of flavor, and melt in your mouth fish.

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Next time:

Drunken Sailors:  Closed for the month.  Literally the day before we got there was their last day.  It had a hammock on the porch and looked like the most perfect lounge hangout.  Sad to have missed it because it was given rave reviews by other travelers we met.  But, it did seem more geared to tourists.  I don’t know if we would have really felt like we were in Thailand.

What to Do:

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…other than swimming and walking along the beach and relaxing under the hot Thai sun…

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Rent motorbikes:  A definite recommendation.  We only rented them one day and wish we had been able to ride more.  It is the only way to see the whole island and without having seen the whole island, I feel my view of Koh Lanta would not have been accurate.  To see where the locals lived and how they lived (and to interact ever so briefly).  To view the treatment of the elephants.  To see the roads less taken.

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Snorkeling:  We booked a trip to Koh Phi Phi through our hotel.  Since we were going on the off season, our choices were limited and honestly we had to just take what they would give us.  We were at the mercy of the hotel to book us a trip.  And again, felt so blessed. We wanted the speed boat trip but had to opt for the ferry.  In the end, we were totally happy.  They transferred us to a long boat once we got to Koh Phi Phi and that is when we got to experience Thailand truly.  Not with a fancy fast boat.  But with a rough, loud, long boat.

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We were with a small group of other internationals and one Thai family.  We were the only Americans.  Loved that.  We took the ferry to Phi Phi Don where we then transferred to the long boat, which took us to two different locations to snorkel.  The first was an intimate cove.  Just us and the water.  It was shocking at first.  I had never been snorkeling and was not used to the constant prick and sting.  After exploring for a bit, they took us over to the main attraction…Maya Bay.  They brought us into a little cove and told us to jump out, swim across to the rope ladder and climb up.  Once at the top follow the path to the beach.  Let me just say…awesome.  So much fun swimming up to the ropes and climbing up them.  Loved how relaxed and casual they were.  No questions or instructions.  No warnings.  When we got to Maya Bay we almost immediately wanted to turn around.  People were everywhere.  It was crazy.  Did not expect that.  We got in the water and then headed back to the boat for lunch.  And did they serve lunch.  Two different curries with rice and pineapple.  And it was delicious.   So delicious.

Next time:

the national park on Koh Lanta.  We got there right when it was closing.  But after talking to a guy who lived in America but was visiting his family in Koh Lanta, we realized we weren’t up to trekking.  He thought we were crazy when we said we wanted to.  He said you really need to go with a local who knows.  And I think he was probably right.

Cooking class.  We didn’t give this much consideration but after the fact figured it might have been nice to have taken one.

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Things of Note:

Going on the off season felt a bit unnerving at first.  I mean it was deserted on our end of the island.  The first morning, literally the only humans we saw were the people working at our hotel.  It felt like we had woken up on the set of Lost.  But we soon adjusted to the lack of human beings and deserted surroundings, the emptiness.  And maybe it was just too early in the morning.

In the middle of the night the first night I was awakened by the most deafening noise.  I had no idea what it was.  All I knew was I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep.  And wondered if I could live in that noise.  Just as quickly as it started, it stopped.  Turned out to be insects.  They would start up periodically throughout the day.  But like everything else, I began not to notice as much.

Traveling on Koh Lanta: the taxis were charging ridiculous prices.  We hired rides through our hotel, which ended up being more affordable than if you sought out transportation independently (unless you are really good at bargaining).  Once booked into a place, motorbikes are the way to go, but the cost of gas can add up quickly if you are not careful.

Phone service:  I added an international plane before leaving for while I was there.  Just in case.  And so I could do business.  Pretty seamless.

Weather:  I have never been in such crazy powerful storms.  Or maybe it is just that I felt more vulnerable.  Thankfully they were at night when we were tucked safety into bed.  But even that did not feel totally safe.

Walking:  We were the only ones who seemed to walk.  And understandably so.  We didn’t realize how spread out the island was.

Cost:  I still have not figured out how much I spent all together but it was between $1500-2000.  The plan ride to Thailand cost $1050 and in Thailand $250.  I budgeted around $300 for expenses in Thailand and could have stuck to that but we started splurging toward the end of the trip.  $1500 is totally doable during the shoulder season when places are cheaper.  We just decided to say someplace a bit nicer and spend the extra money.

Overall, Thailand is a place that is wonderful and was beyond my expectations.  It is the kind of place you have to go to experience for yourself.  It is a definite recommendation!

 

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