Feeling at home in Ko Lanta Old Town

90 days travelling and we are back in one of our favourite countries

15th – 23rd December 2018 (Ko Lanta, Thailand)

As much fun as Singapore was, we were really looking forward to a little respite from our hectic schedule. Where better to do this than on an island in Thailand, the only country on this trip so far that we have visited previously. We couldn’t wait to go back and experience our favourite cuisine, along side the friendly locals. We decided to spend our time in the south of the country, having done some of the more typical stops in the north on our first trip.

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Once we had touched down at Krabi airport, we arranged a shared minibus transfer (rather effortlessly I must add) down to the picturesque island of Ko Lanta which sits right on Thailand’s southern coast in the Andaman Sea. Our transfer took around 4 hours, including a short ferry crossing to get onto the island (extra napping time for my wife). We had made the decision to stay on the eastern side of the island rather than the more touristy western side, which was the best decision we could have made – it was far more relaxed and easy going, full of genuine and friendly people.

The view from our bedroom
The view from our bedroom

Our plans for Ko Lanta mainly involved spending a lot of time relaxing, unwinding and taking in island life. We had booked into the Sweetlife Community Guesthouse for a total of 8 nights – the longest we had stayed in one place on our trip so far. The property was owned by Thai local Mon and his Israeli/Dutch wife and it was absolutely stunning – very comfortable and the perfect place to relax. It was a 10 minute walk from the centre of the small town, so it was very easy to get out and about with no trouble.

Our bedroom at Sweetlife Guesthouse
Our bedroom at Sweetlife Guesthouse

There was a huge amount of delicious food in Ko Lanta and we were very spoilt for choice. I’m glad we were there for so long as we were able to sample most of the best places there (and still have time to go back to our favourites again, and again). The best thing was that because we were on the local side of the island, prices were very reasonable as well. One of our favourite places to go was Sunees Place which was run by the lovely Sunee and her daughter Sareena. They did an amazing authentic masaman curry and incredible roti pancakes which were deep fried with Nutella and banana – which went down a right treat with my wife. They were also kind enough to come and pick us up from our guest house when it was raining on their motorbike complete with makeshift side car – sometimes it was nice to get a ride just for the fun of it, although it was incredibly practical when it rained.

View from the deck of Shanti Old Town
View from the deck of Shanti Old Town

We also spent a lot of time at Shanti Old Town, an amazing cafe just a two minute walk from our guest house which was run by a lovely Italian man. He made fresh gelato every day in a variety of flavours and also had a very select menu of gorgeous French and Italian food. We ended up eating there by chance one evening when the only dish on the menu was ‘Toulouse sausage with mashed potato’ – it was like a sign (trust my wife to find bangers and mash wherever we go). A couple of other favourites included Chomlay Restaurant which was right at the other end of town (again we took advantage of their free pick up to enjoy the scooter ride). They did the best masaman and red curry we have had during our stay in Thailand, and the restaurant was right out over the water which was quite something during high tide. We also really liked Shine Talay for its stunning panoramic views across the sea and its beautifully presented (and delicious) mango and sticky rice.

Sunday market in Ko Lanta Old Town
Sunday market in Ko Lanta Old Town

We also ventured out the weekly market, which starts at 7am on Sunday mornings. We were lucky enough to be staying there long enough to visit the market twice, as it was a real experience to mingle around with locals taking in the sights, smells and sounds. We picked up some fresh mangoes both times we visited and my wife managed to find the elusive Thai snack which we discovered on our first trip to Thailand. The best way I can describe them is a fortune cookie style wrap with a sweet marshmallow and dried mango centre. We only found these being served on a street market stall once on our last trip to Thailand, so she was delighted to find them again (funnily enough, it was the only time she found them during our whole time in Thailand again). The town also has walking street market on Saturday evenings, when traffic isn’t allowed down the Main Street (not that there is ever much) and vendors come out to sell street food, ranging from fresh grilled squid to Thai pancakes. The only bar in the whole town put chairs out in the road for people to enjoy a live band and a beer. As you can see it gets a bit wild this side of the island.

Pretty dramatic tides in Ko Lanta
Pretty dramatic tides in Ko Lanta

As well as taking plenty of time to relax while we were in Ko Lanta, we also took the opportunity to explore our surroundings and venture out of the village on a couple of occasions. Our first outing was a day trip to the visit Koh Rok and Koh Ha, which are famed for their beauty and meant to be ideal snorkelling spots. We had an early start to our day, as we were the first to be picked up for this tour, being on the eastern side of the island (all tours leave from the western side). Arriving on the jetty, we soon realised we’d be a joining a very big group to do this tour – almost 60 of us. Unfortunately we hadn’t picked the best day to go snorkelling, as the rain was starting to blow in and the sea was getting rougher by the moment. To top it off, my SD card had corrupted, so I was a bit of a grump to start with.

We had a couple of snorkelling stops before lunch, where we saw a few fish including squid. The plan was then to relax on a beach while having lunch, but we’d only just got our food down before the heavens opened – to the extent that everyone headed straight back to the boat and they decided to leave the beach early. Our final snorkel spot for the day was meant to be the best, with the most fish and gorgeous bright coral. After a few failed attempts to find somewhere to stop, our tour guide announced it was too rough to snorkel in the planned location and we’d have to snorkel somewhere else. Where we ended up snorkelling was mostly just rocks and a little disappointing (putting it politely). I think by this point we’d been very spoilt by the amazing snorkelling we’d done in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, so in comparison this just felt a little underwhelming.

A well deserved view after some climbing
A well deserved view after some climbing

The second trip we decided to do was much more enjoyable. The tour was run by a local guide from one of the neighbouring islands and he had a maximum group size of 12 people – that’s much more like it. Our day started with a pretty long bus ride over to the pier where we caught a long tail boat over to an island cave out in the middle of the sea. It was quite something and we couldn’t wait to get inside to explore. Once we had got off the boat and made our way to the entrance, we were confused to not see any clear way into the cave. Then we noticed the ‘ladder’ made of several tyres strung together, snaking it’s way up to the entrance to the cave about 15 metres in the air.

Bloody hell, that was how we’d be getting in.

Luckily we all made it up safely and once we were in the cave it was stunning, although we had a few more ropes and ladders to contend with to fully explore. I think I lost my body weight in sweat from pure fear (heights are bad at the best of times, let alone when things are a little sketchy). Once we had finished in the cave, we did some kayaking around some of the huge limestone cliffs, taking in the stunning scenery. We didn’t see anyone other than the people on our tour with us, which was such a contrast to the trip we’d had the day before. We finished with lunch and swimming in a deserted bay (while keeping a firm eye on some of the roaming monkeys) before a quick stop at one last cave with a much higher tyre ladder leading up into darkness. Luckily we were told it was much too dangerous for us to climb – phew.

The caves we’d be climbing in
The caves we’d be climbing in

One of the best activities we did while in Ko Lanta was a cooking class which was run by our guest house host, Mon. He’s a genuinely funny guy and made the whole day an really enjoyable experience, as well as teaching us some delicious dishes and new kitchen skills. We had done a cooking class the last time we were in Thailand, and as Thai food is one of our favourites, we knew we’d love the opportunity to take another class. We learnt to cook masaman curry (one of our absolute favourites), chicken with cashew nuts and pineapple fried rice. We were also given a treat of mango sticky rice at the end of the class and were slightly horrified to see him add two ladles of sugar into the coconut milk – no wonder we like it so much.

Beautiful sunrise over Ko Lanta Old Town
Beautiful sunrise over Ko Lanta Old Town

Our final ‘activity’ in Ko Lak was our decision to hire a motorbike. We had been debating if we wanted to do this for a few days, as neither of had ever driven one before and we were aware of Thailand’s pretty appalling road safety record. Although it’s very common to see tourists riding motorbikes, we had read that it is technically illegal if you do not have an international drivers permit and a motorbike licence. Our conflict was that there were two highly recommended places to eat that could only be reached by motorbike and we were desperate to give them a try. In the end we decided to hire one (my wife refused to drive) and planned to only go the 4km up the road to the two restaurants and maybe have a little drive up the main road, but that would be it. We didn’t fancy trying to drive over to the other side of the island (which is much busier) – the side of the island we stayed on was much quieter with hardly any traffic.

Our guest house manager (and all round legend), Tommy, organised hiring the bike for us and gave me a quick crash course (no pun intended) on riding the bike. Luckily, the only thing we had to do was accelerate or break and it was fairly easy to get the hang of. We went for breakfast at the gorgeous Panorama cafe which was set up high on the island with amazing views over the sea. Our lunch was at a little restaurant called Baja Tacos where we had amazing nachos and tacos – totally worth it. Pretty sure we didn’t go much over 30km an hour.

Panoramic views at Panoramic Cafe
Panoramic views at Panoramic Cafe

By the time our time in Ko Lanta came to an end, we were sad to leave. We had made friends with several of the people in the town, who were used to tourists only being there for 2 or 3 days and for it to be deadly quiet at night when the day trippers returned to their side of the island. It was somewhere we really felt at home. With Christmas fast approaching, we headed up to Khao Sok on Christmas Eve to begin our most unusual Christmas yet.

Until next time.

P.S. I also went for my first haircut since July. The local barber was friendly, but didn’t understand a word of English. He just smiled and laughed, whilst I smiled back and nervously laughed as he trimmed my cheeks, tops of my ears and eyebrows (what?!). It was definitely an experience.

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