Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 247 (57)

Koh Lanta

Wednesday 10th November

We boarded the night boat last night at the main jetty. It’s not really much of a jetty so much as a slight extension of the road into the water. The boat was probably about the same size as the diving boats but consisted mostly of a large, enclosed area inside, where two rows of very narrow and very thin mattresses were all laid out on the floor down the length of the deck and tightly packed together. Small pillows were provided with each mattress and by the time we boarded, a few other travellers were already sitting there chatting away. We joined them and the boat started to make a move after about an hour. Once again, we enjoyed talking with the other travellers and exchanging anecdotes and storied about the places we’ve all been to. One couple were particularly interested to hear about our luck at previous dive sites around the world so I whipped out the laptop and was quickly able to call up the photos we took whilst diving in the Red Sea in Egypt.

The whole deck was open plan and with everybody in such close quarters to each other, people quite quickly settled down and started to doze off. I slept what I could but found it necessary to turn over every ten to fifteen minutes or so to get more comfortable on the very hard surface of the thin mattress. The journey was nowhere near as rough or turbulent as was the catamaran and I actually found the gentle swaying and rocking to be quite comforting. Before we knew it, the lights were back on and we were nearing our destination on the East coast of the mainland. I can’t remember the name of the town where we docked but it wasn’t very big and otherwise quite nondescript. We were all greeted but a half dozen or so transportation representative, each with a clipboard and a very small minivan to ferry people away in. Based on the travel coupons we each had, we were separated into a few smaller groups and slowly loaded into the backs of the open minivans with our backpacks being strapped to the roofs. We were being taken to what turned out to be somewhere half way between a coffeehouse and a bus depot. There, we exchanged our coupons for yet more coupons and had to wait a half hour or so before our double-decker coach was to depart for the town of Krabi over on the West coast. I paid for transportation from Koh Tao all the way to Koh Lanta but was given no other information on how the trip was to be made. I was given the coupon and told to be at the jetty to board the night boat by a certain time. In such situations, we cannot do anything other than allow ourselves to be herded around and handed off from one transportation representative to the next. We had to simply trust that we would somehow make all the way to our intended destination.

Our departing coach was apparently the one already standing outside the coffeehouse. It was already nearly full of passengers that had thus far travelled from Bangkok. These luxury, air-conditioned, double-decker coaches are numerous throughout Thailand and criss-cross the country between the major towns and ports, ferrying mostly foreign tourists and travellers to their intended destinations. It was actually quite comfortable and the two-hour ride to Krabi was swiftly dispensed with. There was just enough time to watch a film before we pulled into another bus terminus not far from one of the main ferry ports. The ferry port was no more than a five-minute ride farther up the road and I could see absolutely no reason why we had to terminate the bus journey here, just shy of where we actually needed to be to catch the ferry to Koh Lanta. The reason soon became apparent, when we were offloaded from the bus into an open-air office, which looked like a travel agent’s desk, behind which were three young girls asking people where they were going and whether they had their accommodation already sorted. There were maps of the various islands all over the walls and they had folders full of places to stay, complete with photos and brochures and were working over the travellers one-by-one with what was clearly a well-rehearsed routine of sales pitches. I heard all the usual key, tourist trap phrases such as ‘almost fully booked already’, ‘need to book quickly through us’, ‘last chance to book is here’, ‘nothing that cheap available anywhere on the island’ and so on. Admittedly it is now coming into the high season here on the West coast but something told me that anything we booked here was going to cost us a lot more than was necessary so we simply sat back and relaxed until our next ride was ready to depart.  There were plenty of other, less travelled, poor souls that succumbed to the tactics being put to very efficient use here and I remembered a time way back when, when we might have been sucked in just as quickly. You live and learn. We sat and ate a quick snack and discussed our various tactics for how to arrange accommodation with other travellers before the next, much smaller, bus arrived to ferry us the last few minutes over to the ferry terminal.

With our coupons in hand, we were eventually shuttled through the right walkways and down the very long jetty to a couple of already waiting boats, one of which was bound for the Krabi beach area and the other for our final destination of the island of Koh Lanta. Sandy is developing the rather unwelcome habit of tripping and slipped onto the floor with a full load on her back, slightly pulling a leg muscle in the process. She seems to trip and fall with such frequency now, that I sometimes find myself constantly telling her to watch where she walks, much to her annoyance, and watching almost in anticipation of the next fall.

Our ferry looked very modern and sleek on the outside but seemed rather run down from within. It was a very narrow vessel with an upper and lower deck, although this was clearly quite a feat of engineering to squeeze so much in to such a narrow vessel. We took the lower deck and barely had enough room to stand up straight but the two-hour ride was otherwise very calm and comfortable. We watched the limestone formations, mangrove forests and beaches slowly slip by whilst still chatting to some of the same backpackers that we met back at the start of the journey on the night boat. Every now and then, a long boat from a nearby beach would approach and we would slow down to allow another passenger to jump aboard whilst still moving.

There were a few accommodation hawkers passing leaflets around on the boat and I took some to look over. Indeed, the places they were trawling for customers for seemed like very nice places indeed and nothing like the prices being quoted back at the bus depot. We liked the look of one in particular that had a nice pool and was quite close to the sandy beach, albeit half way down the island. The hawker assured us that all the dive operators collect their passengers from all over the island each morning so it wouldn’t be a problem where we stayed. My instincts told me I could trust him on this one and my instincts are usually correct.

We disembarked from the boat and did our best to avoid the throng of additional taxi drivers and hawkers and set off in search of the Blue Planet dive operator that we had previously received a recommendation for. It wasn’t far from the boat jetty, although we had to pass along a nearly completely collapsed boardwalk that made the rickety jetty back at Koa Toa look like a modern footbridge. How we made it the hundred meters or so without falling through or over the side with a full load of luggage on our backs, I will never know. I kept listening for Sandy to fall but this time she watched each and every step – once bitten. Collapsing jetty aside, we did find the dive operator and they seemed to be quite well organised. The Frenchman manning the front desk was quite informative and the prices were just about what I had expected after doing some research on the Internet the other day. We signed up for three consecutive days of diving (Sandy will skip the middle day and only go out twice on the boat) and we were able to secure our own dive master at no extra cost again, although this was at the cost of a 5% discount we would have had for booking three consecutive days' worth of diving. The dive sites are very much farther away from the island relative to those around Koh Tao and the boat ride will be between two to three hours there and about the same back again. Although slightly more expensive for a two tank trip, it does include breakfast and lunch so it evens out a bit. Their standard two-dive day trip on the boat with gear costs 2,500B (€48) per person.

Our man measured us both up for our dive gear and noted everything so that the right equipment would be ready and waiting for us on the boat already tomorrow morning. Using the phone number from the leaflet we received on the boat, he called the particular resort that we liked and arranged for them to come and collect us. A four-by-four truck arrived shortly thereafter and whisked us away. Koh Lanta is actually a bit bigger than I originally thought and the ride half way down the length of the island took a good fifteen minutes to complete. Nobody has been able to explain it adequately yet but we seem to have brought a spot of rain with us from the East coast and the heavens opened up for a short time. I’m hoping this isn’t a sign of things to come.

Our resort is nice enough and looks a little more established than did the Crystal Divers place back on Koh Tao. The huts are raised on stilts and are sturdier, being made of concrete blocks instead of wooden planks. After a bit of discussion with the very nice and very friendly owner, we elected to go for a nice self-contained hut near the pool with air-conditioning. We will pay 500B (€9,61) per night for the five or six nights that we will remain here. The owner was telling us that we are coming into the high season and she expects the prices to more than double as a result so we weren’t too unhappy with the rate at the end of the day. Perhaps we might have gotten something a little cheaper elsewhere but we have everything we need right here and are quite comfortable.

We finished off the afternoon with a nice dinner by the beach and a real bonus for me has been the fact that I’ve been able to hook up the laptop at the Internet café here, where they have a decent connection via satellite. I was able to upload a couple of pages of China photos as well as over two weeks' worth of travel updates. Both Lisa and Jacqueline had already sent me e-mails asking what had become of us so I’m sure they will be pleased to receive the update. It’s actually quite comforting to know that we are being thought of even though we are half way around the world.