Our next destination was decided in part after a recommendation from Kate's sister, Beth. A ferry took us directly from Phi Phi to the more secluded island of Ko Lanta, further south and much larger than some of the other islands. As we're just at the end of rainy season now, the collection of petite resorts are offering fairly good deals as they await the deluge of tourists that will begin arriving in November and December. Whilst we were on the ferry, a selection of touts began their essential duties in economic progression (their own mostly, I think) and upon finding out we'd already booked, offered us transport to our hotel. So we got off the ferry and, along with a handful of people who'd agreed to stay at the driver's hotel, boarded the awaiting bench-seated pick up truck.
This began yet another episode of 'Fleece the Tourist', which essentially involved taking us to their hotel first and then telling us the hotel we'd booked was currently under renovation, had no restaurant and no pool and that, in fact, we'd be better off staying here. The place they offered looked okay, and all the other people got off and looked happy, but as we'd already paid for our accommodation we stuck to our guns and told the driver to carry on. As we drove off, I had that heart sinking feeling that arises when you find out something really is too good to be true, and I was dreading what awaited us as we turned off the road and passed three bungalows that were essentially breeze block shells with massive holes in the roof and Black&Decker Workmates outside.
As it turned out, the driver was, of course, lying through his teeth. The resort were simply extending their accommodation, and our bungalow was nowhere near the construction. There was a pool, and a lovely beachfront restaurant, the staff were kind and helpful and our bungalow was roomy and spotless. Although I was hugely relieved that everything had turned out well, the way in which our expectations and ignorance had been prayed upon had left me frustrated. Don't get me wrong, Thailand has been great so far, but I think the established tourist trade here has made subtle cajoling, monetary gamesmanship and even the outright con fair game when dealing with foreigners. Since arriving we've been fending off touts and scams almost everywhere we've been, and after a little while it gets pretty annoying - especially when I consider that we hardly ran into any of this swindlery in Russia, Mongolia, Tibet or Nepal. The worst thing is that it's made extremely cynical about anybody approaching me with a smile, as I'm afraid I'm about to be offered the opportunity to become the proud owner of some magic beans. It's a shame, par for the course I suppose.
We settle into the hotel and wander down the beach, looking at the other resorts on this stretch and picking out some of the other restaurants we'd like to visit whilst we're here. As it's off-season, the beach has yet to be combed so the sand is alive with tiny, translucent crabs and larger, more ponderous hermit crabs. It's very pretty and, as I watch the sun setting, I'm feeling much better.
My days here are mostly spent wandering the beach, sipping cool drinks under the shade and trying desperately to catch up with this blog, which is falling behind at a rate of knots. The hotel is lovely, very tranquil, and seems a million miles away from the anglicised smoothness of Phi Phi. It's a short walk to a 7-11 (a mini mart essentially) and a range of local shops, but it's very easy to spend time within the grounds of the hotel itself. We spread out into the restaurant next door, a delightful arrangement of driftwood cabins and huts, with excellent food - the best so far in fact. It's a lovely spot and draws us back a couple of nights in a row, much to the disappointment of our own restaurant.
Our one day trip was to yet another cave, this time the Khao Mai Kaew Cave which is located right in the middle of the island. After a disastrous attempt at moped riding, I'll explain in person as my ego is still too wounded, we decided to walk as there would be less chance of somebody loosing a limb. It was a good three hours, but the weather was beautiful and the walk was packed with interesting sights, including abandoned hotels, banana groves and massive rubber plantations. The latter involves hundreds of trees, their trunks cut with spiralling grooves, and each supplanted with a tiny bowl full to the brim with shimmering white rubber. It amazed me to realise that this method is still used to collect the vast majority of the world's rubber, something so simple yet so labour intensive, but plantations are good earners for the people of Thailand.
The Cave itself, reached by a short walk and a daring climb up a rope over a slow waterfall, was muddier but with less water than the one at Khao Sok, but that meant it was easier to take pictures. There were amazing shapes carved into the rocks by the water that flows through here during heavy monsoons, and the guide gave us a brief (and I do mean brief) insight into the geology of the island.
Stalagmites and stalactites
Strange bamboo bridges over forty foot drops
Spiders... Big ones...
And bats... Lots of them...
It was fun, if not quite as adrenaline pumping as Khao Sok, and a nice way to spend a couple of hours. We walked back, more slowly this time, and stopped on some of the little beaches that lined the coast.
We had dinner in the lovely restaurant next door again, as a final treat before we leave, and as I'm tucking into a delicious masaman curry, there's a massive crash above me as a coconut the size of a basketball lands a foot away from my head. If it hadn't have been for the rattan roofing, I'd have been done for!
I've enjoyed Ko Lanta, it's much more of what I expected from the beaches of Thailand and somewhere I'd be happy to recommend. We're off to Railay Beach tomorrow, so I'll let you know how that turns out.