Thailand has some of the best beaches in the world, and that's where we were heading. It's currently low season which means the possibility of typhoons, tropical storms, monsoons... but it's not like that all the time. You can be unlucky, but most days have perfectly good weather.
We spent a few days in Bangkok in our now customary hotel, the Prince Palace (quirky but we kinda like it) before heading down to the station for our overnight train to the south-west corner of the country. We were heading for the island of Koh Lanta. We chose that island because we wanted somewhere cheap but comfortable, and quiet. The whole island seems to be pretty quiet in low season, but we wanted Really Quiet. So we chose LaLaanta Hideaway Resort, which is right at the southern tip of the island and consists of twenty beachside bungalows nestled in the jungle right next to a national park.
The train was slow and comfortable and dropped us off at Surat Thani, near the east coast—the other side of the peninsula from where we wanted to be. Note: If you're taking the train from Bangkok to Koh Lanta, forget about connecting with buses to Krabi and just stay on the train until it reaches Trang. You'll see why in a moment. It was just after dawn when we, and a handful of other crumpled westerners tumbled off the train and into the waiting grasp of the bus touts. They certainly get up early! We'd actually already got our onward bus ticket to Krabi on the west coast because we'd bought a combined train and bus ticket. But what we hadn't known at the time of purchase is that the train company had effectively just sold us on to the touts. Our ticket was for one of their buses.
What follows is an all too typical story of being passed from one bus to another, circling the streets of Surat Thani endlessly collecting groups of weary travellers who had been ferried in from all over the country, then being dropped off in the middle of nowhere (done so that you have no other options) and sold to more touts, etc etc blah blah.
We passed amazing limestone karsts just like you see in any movie featuring Thailand. The AC on the bus was reasonably effective at protecting us from the heat outside—it seemed to be one of the few functions on the bus that was still working. The speedometer registered zero throughout the trip, the oil pressure gauge was in negative territory and the odometer had stopped turning a long time ago at 527,163 kilometres. The driver, like other Thai drivers we had last year, didn't have a clue how gears worked. Luckily the route wasn't too hilly. But he made excellent use of the horn, which was still operational, and we finally got to Krabi.
Our next task was to find a minibus from Krabi to Koh Lanta. In the high season there's apparently a direct passenger ferry, but in the low season the only way onto the island is on the vehicle ferry which crosses a much narrower stretch of water, but leaves from a pier a long way out of Krabi. Finding a minibus was actually very easy, because we were dumped in a farmhouse outside Krabi which belonged, surprise surprise, to a minibus company! We grudgingly paid our 350 baht (GBP 5.24 / USD 10.40) each—sadly we couldn't be bothered to start walking into town in search of a cheaper option.
Okay. Next stop Koh Lanta? No. Next stop the minibus company's office in town to change vehicle, then another stop or two to make sure the bus was completely full.
It was almost a shock when we realised that we were finally speeding towards the Koh Lanta car ferry. Having loaded his cargo, the minibus driver was obviously on a time bonus. He barely touched the brakes until we were at the ferry port. Reading up on the journey to Koh Lanta in low season (when the car ferry is the only option) we had been warned to expect long queues at the car ferry. It can take as much as four hours to get from Krabi to the island. But for the first time in the whole day something went perfectly and there were no queues—we drove straight onto a waiting ferry!
Off the ferry, another white knuckle ride in the minibus and finally another car ferry, and we were on the right island. Phew. We had been in contact with LaLaanta on the mobile and their driver was waiting in Saladan town to pick us up. About forty-five minutes later we were delivered safely to our own personal paradise island resort, at the end of a long dirt track.
LaLaanta is everything the website says. Our new home is a beautiful bungalow with bamboo bits and a thatched roof, and the odd gecko behind the curtains. It's great! Did we say we wanted somewhere quiet? It's a case of be careful what you wish for, because it turns out we're the only guests! And the few other resorts on the beach are closed, which means that we have the entire bay to ourselves... We now have plans for at least the next two weeks. After a year of crazy working schedules we are on holiday! We celebrated in the beach bar over a beer: the first, no doubt, of many.
Bangkok to Koh Lanta Yai
This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.
Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.