If it hadn’t been for work I probably would never have gone to Thailand – I think tourism there potentially gets bad press – ping pong shows and sex tourists, yoof going mental at full moon parties and all inclusive package holidays – all my idea of holiday hell,. How glad I was, then, that I decided to go and get just the littlest taste of this fascinating and incredible country. Having always been a fan of latin American destinations – I think I’m now thoroughly converted to South Asia and am already secretly planning my return!
Though I spent most of my time here working, we decided to stay for one more day and take in everything the hotel had to offer – drinking cocktails in the swim up pool bar, eating at their amazing European restaurant rivet, and eventually heading out of the hotel to listen to acoustic performances in one of the many chilled out bars on the seafront.
The next day was an early start, and feeling more than a little worse for wear after our night out, we headed by private transfer to the beautiful Chiaouw Lan lake, part of the Khoa Sok national park (yeah, Thailand has lots of those…). Our guide, Yiu, met us at the pier and so began a magical voyage into the world of the lake – staying in floating rafthouses in the middle of nowhere – electricity only in the early evening, no internet, no phone and complete back to nature bliss. Our room – basically a little intricately carved hut with a matress on the floor, and no real bedding was a bit of a shock to the system after the luxury of the indigo pearl, but you couldn’t fault the beauty of the place.
The lake looks like it has been there forever – with turquoise water and stunning limestone karsts bordering the lake, but it is only 30 years old, and created when a hydroelectric damn was built to help service the needs of the area’s growing economy. Surrounded on all sides by jungle, which houses hornbills, gibbons, all manner of monkeys, snakes and apparently elephants, panthers and tigers, though we didn’t see any of those! We spent our day on guided jungle treks, visiting a magnificent cave with beautiful stalagmite and stalactite formations. and cruising the calm waters on a longtail boat, wildlife spotting and watching passing storms. One particularly memorable night we sat on the walkway after the lights had gone out and watched the stars, the sounds of the jungle coming to life all around us. Our guide Yiu was fantastic – pointing out all the flora and fauna and even taking pity on me when I found the jungle too enclosed and intense – a word of warning that one of the treks we did was too much for me – the jungle was pretty virgin and as a bit of an arachnophobe I couldn’t relax even though I was lucky enough not to see any our eight legged friends.
One of the highlights was mealtimes – each time they’d bring you a table full of beautiful tasty and freshly prepared Thai food. Food heaven.
After Khao Sok it was time to head back towards Phuket and catch the ferry to Ko Phi Phi – from the outside this Island, famed for it’s backpacker scene, its all rock, but it has a soft beachy core and a jungly centre. The main town, Tonsai is a haven for all things backpacker, with hostels aplenty and plenty of cheap fun times to be had with a bucket of Red Bull and Sangsom, but we chose to stay on the Laemtong beach in the beautiful Zeavola, a chance to see Phi Phi’s quiet, gorgeous side. The hotel was amazing – a massive room with a huge outdoor living space, and only a few steps in the sand to the beach. Breakfast there really has to be seen to be believed!
Lots of people come to Phi Phi to see Maya Bay, the setting for the film version of Alex Garland’s The Beach, as apparently we all want a piece of supposed Utopia too. Setting out at the eye watering time of 7.30am we took a speedboat to Maya Bay, just before the horde arrived with their selfie sticks and Go Pros, posing in the sea and on the sand. We made friends with the resident kitty before heading off to see the best local snorkelling spots, swim in the Pi Lei lagoon and meet the monkeys of Monkey Bay. Phi Phi has no roads, and transport from Leamtong to Tonsai is either by Longtail, or during the day, and with the right inclination you can follow the path that takes you along the coast and walk, but expect to spend a good hour and a half getting there, and don’t even think about doing it at night. We walked along the path for 40 minutes and got only as far as Lana Bay, where we found a chilled out hippy campsite serving cold beers, and where the girl behind the bar told us the best way to get to Nui Bay, usually only accessible by boat, and a prime snorkelling spot.
After three nights, it was time to leave Phi Phi and head for the Island of Ko Lanta. A chilled out spot, at the far end of the Krabi province. It’s not quite the truly undiscovered paradise of the Thailand of yore, but it’s not yet built up, the Island moves at a glacial pace and a cheap and cheerful bungalow ‘resorts’ abound – with thatched roofs and hammocks outside, all served by driftwood bars doing simple cocktails, and offering the occasional mushroom shake (!). We came to Lanta for some serious chill out time, and it was probably our favourite destination of all. Our hotel was Costa Lanta, on Khlong Dao beach and a stones throw from the little town of Saladan, where the ferry pulls in and the jetty is lined with seafood restaurants. We ate amazing Thai food, wandered along the beach, swam, read and generally chilled out. Though we did take an evening to learn to cook Thai food at the amazing Time for Lime – I’ve always wanted to learn to cook Thai successfully, and always failed, using supermarket bought pastes, and wondering why it always tasted like mildly spiced gravy. We learnt that the trick is in balancing sweet, sour and salty and promptly invested in a range of authentic sauces to replicate it all at home. What’s more the proceeds go to Lanta Animal Welfare, a charity that helps abused, abandoned and generally unloved animals on the Island. Speaking of which a visit to their centre was another highlight, meeting their beautiful cats and dogs and hearing their stories was heartwarming, and a must for any animal lover.
It’s one of the first times, that after a few weeks away, I didn’t feel ready to leave but instead ready for more adventures. Thailand has definitely won my heart!
Our trip to Khao Sok was organised by Limestone Lake Tours http://www.limestonelaketours.com/
Places we stayed
Indigo Pearl http://www.indigo-pearl.com/
Costa Lanta http://www.costalanta.com/
Ferry times can be found at http://www.andamanwavemaster.com/
Book them from any travel agent, they’ll give you a weird slip of paper which you’ll think ‘is this it – is it even valid’ – it is. Just trust in their odd systems!