Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Koh Lanta Limbo

Howdy Y'all! I'm still relaxing on Koh Lanta, taking it slow and easy right now. Before I started organizing the pictures for this post, I was thinking to myself, “Man, I haven't really don't anything for a few days, not sure what I'll have to write about.” But then I actually went over all the pictures and realized I've done quite a bit! Staying in one place does weird things to you I guess, when you are used to moving around so much as I have been. Well, let's get to it:

I spent the previous two nights in a private bungalow near the beach, and I got a good price, 400 baht, but it was a little luxury I can't and won't do very often. I saw a sign next door for a dorm room that only cost 150 baht, and decided to go for it. It's the first time I've actually used a dorm room (other than one time in the Philippines with Sandy and Kathryne, but we had that room to ourselves) and I was expecting a shabby and crowded bunk room, but was looking forward to using it as a way to meet people. It turned out the opposite was true! I got a huge and very nice room by myself, it has a loft, fridge, sink, and only 4 beds, none bunked. This is the Sonya Restaurant & Home Stay, and I highly recommend it as a place to stay.

This is Luke, his family owns the place, and he works very hard helping run the place. He has been very kind to me, and this day took me to one of the beach bars for lunch and to meet some of his friends who live on the island. We sat around under the cabana for a number of hours, just chatting and relaxing, while I built some (if I do say so myself) rather impressive sculptures/towers out of Jenga blocks. The bar is owned and run by an Irish family, but has a great group of locals who hang out at the place and work there. In the background, you can see a young boy, maybe 12 (?) doing mauy thai training, and I was told he already has 52 fights!

I ended up playing beach volley ball with the kid and an old man, getting very sweaty and sandy in the process, but once a game of football (soccer for us Yanks) was discussed, volley ball went out the window and football it was. Using sticks pounded in the ground for goal posts, running around barefoot (and getting bit by ants) I proceeded to get even more sweaty, but had a great time. My team got crushed (3-0) but I had a lot of fun playing with a few other travelers and the locals in the process.

After working up an apatite, I decided to go to the 'night market' for dinner. In a mixture of trying to save some money (about $2-$3 in all honesty) and because it was a wonderful star-filled evening, I walked the 45 minutes to the market. “Market” doesn't really describe it, this is more of a carnival. There are big glowing lights, bouncy castles and slides for the kids, a large stage for singing and dancing, carnival games, gambling, food stalls and yes, a few booths you could call a 'market'. For $1 I had a delicious chicken burger (I was curious) that contained hardly any chicken, but literally had (I watched him make it) 6 different sauces on it. Messy. It was a very small area so it literally took 10 minutes to see it all, but I had some fried things on sticks (no idea what it was) and watched the music for a bit, then caught a tuk-tuk loaded with speakers and a big subwoofer (playing Lady Gaga) back to the room. I then headed to the bar Kevin had introduced me to, and watched some live music before heading to bed early.

Bright and early, 7:15am, I was picked up by a truck and taken to the pier in town for another scuba diving trip. This was my first since the Philippines where I got my certification, and I was really looking forward to it. The prices here are a lot more than I was paying in the Philippines, so that was a bit of a bummer, but the boat I ended up on was quite nice, the food was excellent, and it was all very professional and well done. This was with Blue Planet Diving, by the way.

Somewhat ironically the spot I ended up going to was right next to Kioh Phi Phi where I had recently left. The dive sites were Koh Bida Nok and Koh Bida Nai, and I saw some wonderful things. Just like I said with the snorkeling, the diving off Alona Beach and Baligasag Island in the Philippines spoiled me rotten. I didn't find this area nearly as spectacular. The fish were quite good, and I saw some new things, but the coral was in rather poor shape, which is sad. It didn't terribly dampen my sprits however, because I got to see my first sea turtle!! That was one of my goals while diving here, so that alone almost made the trip worth it. I also saw (for the first time) a banded sea krait, a moray eel, a sting ray, a yellow tail barracuda, a peacock mantis shrimp and many more things. An excellent day of diving, and I just passed 4.5 hours of underwater time.

In the morning, I awoke to the sound of the door to the room opening, and a new face coming in. While I was losing my 'private' room I was excited to see someone new and to meet him. He turned out to be a kiwi named Joesph, and I once he had told me what he was doing for the day I was quite pleased, because it was EXACTLY what I had wanted to do as well. He had a scooter, and was going to ride around the island visiting the Old Town, the two caves and the light house on the southern tip. It's not a big island, but moto is the only economical way to get around. It also turned out that since I don't have my passport (in Bangkok to get my Indian visa) I probably couldn't rent one anyways without a huge cash deposit. Luckily my problem was solved my Joseph, who had a bike and the experience (a month riding one across Vietnam) to use it.

We set out for one of the caves, but due to poor signage and poor navigating on my part, we went past it and ended up going to 'Old Town' first. Now I read about this before hand, and was hoping to look into a place to stay for the next night, and look into the homestay program where you go to a nearby island and spend the night with a family in a little Muslim fishing village, doing what they do in their every day life. The 'town' turned out to be only one street really, and the water-side was nothing but restaurants and expensive rooms for tourists, the other side shops. Not only was there nothing to do there, it was too expensive anyways. They also didn't know anything about the homestay program, and just told me to call, making it a bit of a bust. At least I found out before just arriving their on my own without transportation.

After lunch, I took a shot at the scooter, having never driven one before. Let me just say having your first time driving one with a passenger, on windy, hilly, potholed, Thai roads, then a dirt road, also while being your first time EVER driving on the left side of the road isn't ideal for your first time, it worked out just fine. It took me a minute to get the feel for the throttle, but especially since the bike was an automatic, it was a breeze to drive and will certainly be renting one in the future.

We got to the site of the first cave, and was told it was 300 baht each to go in! We both decided we had seen caves before, and we refused to pay that much to see this one, so we turned around to go to the smaller cave, which we were told 'takes 10 minutes' and doesn't have a fee to get in. The photo here is of a tree in a rubber plantation, which is a common sight around these parts. We motored on to the next cave, only to find they wanted 200 baht to go in, saying we 'needed' a guide! Again, we left in protest without paying a single baht.

We finally achieved some level of success when we went to the trail to the waterfall. In a mixture of luck and misfortune, it was raining for a good portion of the riding. Bad because it's not fun to ride in the rain (especially on dirt roads) but good because the falls only..... falls.... when it rains! We had to pay 20 baht to park, but we were OK with that, and headed off on the 20 minute walk. Along the way we saw some a cool lizard, some crazy insets, and a number of impressive trees such as this huge banyon (so I overheard?) tree.

The falls itself was rather unimpressive. A rather small trickle of water really, and maybe a 25-foot drop at most. Nevertheless, it was rather pretty, and the walk was very nice. After the falls, we continued our tour of the island, and rode towards the southern tip to see a lighthouse. After a number of kilometers of nasty dirt road (then a totally unconnected section of good pavement) we reached the entrance, where they wanted 100 baht a person to drive on and see the lighthouse. Again, in both cheapness and protest, we didn't pay, and instead turned around, heading back to the room after what ended up being a fairly fun day, despite the series of letdowns on the way.

In the evening, Joseph and I got dinner at one of the local restaurants, which cost 50 baht each, the cheapest you can find a meal for around here. I had fried rice, he had pad thai, both were quite good. A good rule for finding the cheap food here in southeast Asia, is look for the places with plastic chairs! If they are bamboo/wood, expect to pay at least 20 baht more, for what will often be the exact same thing. That said, the chairs where I am staying are wood and concrete (weird I know) and the dishes are more in the 70-100 range, but the food is of a notability higher quality, so I have it from time to time and enjoy it quite a bit.

After dinner, I took Joseph to the Ting Tong bar, for some drinks and live music. As usual, the band plays mostly covers of western songs and Bob Marley, but it is a cool atmosphere and some good people hanging out for sure. We ended up chatting with some Germans and an Austrian guy for most of the night, as well as a few locals in the band, and had a very good time.

This brings me to today. Joseph left early in the morning for Koh Phi Phi (where I came from a few days ago), and I spent a lazy day around the room mostly. It was cloudy and drizzling on and off most of the day, and since I saw most of the island yesterday I didn't have much to do. I sat around on the computer emailing and chatting with friends, getting this latest post ready, and trying to figure out what to do with my time. By about 3pm, the sun came out, so I headed down to the beach where I relaxed for three and a half hours, napping in the sun and reading my book until the sun went down.

I emailed the person who runs the homestay program, and when I heard back I was excited to do it. However my hopes were shortly dashed, by the cost of getting back to Old Town where you leave from. It seems taxis don't want to take people there, because the cheapest I could find for the 20 minute ride was 700 baht each way! What I had initially expected to be 350 baht had suddenly turned into 2,100 (since the price in the book of 350 is also half what they are charging for it now) and that is just too much. I wrote him back and said if I can find a way to get there and back that isn't outrageously expensive I'd still want to do the homestay, but as is it was just too much money.

In the meantime, I have a few days to kill. Tomorrow I am going to go chat with Lanta Animal Welfare, a local animal shelter about volunteering for a few days, and if that doesn't work out I guess I'm just kind of sitting on my hands for a few days, so cross your fingers! I had thought about heading farther south and inland, but I just don't have enough time to do that, so I'm sort of in limbo right now. It's a little boring right now honestly, but at the same time I really like the fact I DO have the time for something like this to happen and be OK. Flexibility is freedom, eh?

So that is where I am at right now, so for now, goodbye and take care.