Picking which islands you want to visit in Thailand is difficult. Anybody who has traveled here will tell you that. There are just too many choices. As a result, a lot of the islands have stereotypes:
- Like diving? Go to Koh Tao!
- Like partying? Koh Phangan!
- Like partying (without psychedelic drugs)? Koh Phi Phi!
- Like climbing? Ao Tonsai! (Yes, I realize this isn’t an island, but it fits my narrative so zip it.)
- Like staying in a resort? Koh Samui!
- Like ‘getting away from it all’? Koh Lipe!
Moreover, these labels are constantly changing. Take Koh Lipe for instance. 5-10 years ago it wasn’t on anybody’s radar. Then some well known bloggers started recommending it and it started to change. Suddenly, the ‘hidden gem’ wasn’t so hidden. Initially, we had Koh Lipe high on our list, but we kept on talking with folks who had visited and came away unimpressed. So we crossed that one out and moved to the next.
Morale of the story, picking islands is tough and involves a moving target. During our research we kept on reading that Koh Lanta seemed to have a little something for everyone. Kind of like that nice, average looking person you know. “Oh Rodney? Yeah, I know Rodney. He is very nice guy.” Rodney doesn’t offend anybody, and he definitely isn’t the life of the party. Everybody likes Rodney. So one more stereotype to add to the list:
- Like Rodney? Koh Lanta!
After our visit, I think this fits nicely. Koh Lanta doesn’t do anything great, but it does a lot of things well. And yes, I realize how ridiculous this sounds, “Well THIS piece of paradise is better than THIS piece of paradise on quality metric one, but NOT quality metric two…”
High level. Ferry from Ao Tonsai.
Detailed. This one was pretty easy. We went to a travel agent on the main drag in Ao Tonsai and bought a ticket on the ferry. Pricing for ferries seems (to us) to be pretty consistent. No deals to be had by shopping around. The ferry itself was not the most enjoyable experience. We decided to go below deck to avoid getting sun burnt on the top deck (see our last post on the monetary value of sunscreen). Below deck was realllllllly hot. So that was fun.
Slow Boat Hostel (in Old Town). After our Koh Tao experience where we ended up in a hostel that was a little more party than we were looking for, we specifically looked for lodging outside of the main drag (see Long Beach). Enter Slow Boat Hostel. I loved the feel of the hostel. Old Town Lanta is a small area on the southeast side of the island with a distinctive colonial feel. Slow Boat definitely fits into this pattern. Our room had two shuttered windows opening onto a wrap around second story balcony. The balcony was open to all guests and was a wonderful place to sit, read, and enjoy the ambiance of the town. Downstairs, the owners (a French man and Thai woman) had a café with delicious mixed drinks, smoothies, coffee, and good (looking) food. No AC, but the fan worked fine.
Baharra Bungalows. Due to travel logistics we ended up spending one night in these bungalows on the northwest side of the island (close to the port). Danielle booked the room because it had AC. We showed up….and the AC was broken. We told the owner, and he got a repair team there within an hour or so. That part was fine. But when the AC repair guys showed up the owner left and we had to help the guys troubleshoot the AC unit. Hey. Guy. We are paying you for a room. We do not work here. How about you figure out if the AC is broken? We ended up switching rooms, and it was a perfectly OK place to stay.
There were extremely limited food choices in Old Town. Old Town is a tourist area that empties when the sun goes down. On one hand this is great because it is very quiet at night (except for the caged birds, but we’ll get to that later). On the other hand, it is less than ideal because your food choices are limited to restaurants geared towards westerners. Most importantly, no roadside food stands! Not good. Fortunately, we found a place just a couple of doors down that we ended up loving.
Sunee Restaurant. This place was wonderful. It is a family owned restaurant with Thai and Indian influenced dishes. They also have a restaurant cat which Danielle loved (see Instagram). Plus, if you ask, they will show you how they make your food. They bring you right into the cooking area and explain everything. Their curries are ridiculously good.
Random roadside food stand. I don’t know the name of this place, but it is located at the fork in the road on the southern end of the island where you have to choose between heading south to the National Park or cutting back to the Eastern part of the island. It lacks a little of the cleanliness of Sunee, but their cashew stir-fry is good enough to look past the grime. And it was very affordable! We ate here twice. The second time, we splurged on mango sticky rice. Delicious decision.
Rented a moped. Koh Lanta is a much larger island than Koh Tao. To really explore it, you need a moped. We have heard from many sources that you DO NOT want to hand your passport over as collateral when renting a moped. If the vendor wants you to pay extra money when you return the moped (regardless of whether the extra money is justified) there is no bargaining if they have your passport. You have to pay what they tell you to pay because they have your passport. And hey, I can see where most vendors do this with an eye towards protecting their assets, but the potential for being screwed over is too high. As such, we arrived at the Koh Lanta pier and started walking around asking each rental location “how much?” and “no passport?” They all wanted 200 baht/day AND one of our passports. No way Jose. The fifth vendor also wanted 200 baht and accepted my Colorado driver’s license as collateral. Awesome. The moped we received was….functional. I took pictures of the previous damage and we were on our way. Overall, good decision.
Animal Shelter. The highest reviewed ‘Attraction’ on TripAdvisor for Koh Lanta is the Lanta Animal Shelter. We took a tour and walked a couple of dogs our first morning on the island. Very neat place. The volunteers are helpful and passionate about the animals. And Danielle, of course, wanted to adopt all of the dogs.
National Park. Bastard monkeys. Every blog post, I feel our attitude towards monkeys changing. At first, they were these cute little creatures. Then we started to get a bit annoyed. And now we are getting into the ‘YOU LOOKING AT ME? DON’T YOU DARE LOOK AT ME YOU LITTLE SH*T” stage of the relationship. Let me explain. There are a bunch of monkeys residing near the beach in the National Park. There are signs everywhere reading ‘Don’t feed the monkeys’. But people still feed them because people are dumb. And now monkeys associate humans with food. Danielle and I were hiking through the park and two monkeys walked up to me and hissed at me. Bastards thought they could steal my water. Not going to lie, those little sh*ts freaked me out at first (enough that I threw my water on the ground). I mean, who knew monkeys would hiss at you?! After a few seconds I went from freaked out to defiant (“hiss at me one more time and see what happens, bud!”) and picked my water back up. This is all a long-winded way of saying that the monkeys in the national park are little sh*ts and you should be careful with food. If you have some, they will try and take it from you. If you have it in your backpack, they will rummage through your stuff when you are in the water (happened to two girls when we were there). Moral of the story – don’t feed the monkeys dammit. And also, make plans for how you are going to defend yourself if monkeys attack. My go-to is swinging my camelback backpack at them. Effective. End monkey rant.
Back to the National Park – we loved it. There is a nice little hike through the woods, a lighthouse with an incredible view, and a quiet beach. Good way to spend an afternoon.
Mangroves. There is a mangrove forest on the northeast side of the island. We drove up and took a hike around. It was OK. You have the option of renting a kayak or a longtail boat to explore the forest in more depth but we passed (we were planning on kayaking through a similar forest on Koh Tarutao).
Beach time. We spent an afternoon at Bamboo beach. Great location for a sunset. There is a pulloff on the side of the road and it is a short hike down. Quiet and calm.
Sunday market in Old Town. I feel like a broken record here – we went to another market and bought delicious food. This wasn’t a huge market but they had pineapple, so I count that as a win.
Run. We managed two runs while we were here. One in Old Town and one on Klong Dao beach. Old Town had a nice 2 or so mile loop that took you off of the road through a few rubber tree farms. Drawbacks included some aggressive dogs and a stinky garbage pile. Klong Dao beach was an amazing run! This is the beach just north of Long’s Beach and it was perfect for running – hard packed sand, wide berth, few people. One of my favorite runs of the trip thus far. We ran a portion on Long’s Beach (which is the more famous beach in Koh Lanta, but I wouldn’t recommend running here. Too crowded and the sand was much softer). Strava data is HERE and HERE.
Yoga. This is one of Koh Lanta’s stereotypes. We did a morning class at Oasis Yoga and enjoyed it! 90 minute class. 400 baht (or about ~$12). Bargain by USA standards for a drop in class.
Beach workout. This was one of those days where we were a little too tired in the morning to get a run in and felt bad about it later in the day. Danielle did a series of lunges, squats, and planks. I did 3×3 minute front and side plank sets. Nothing crazy, but enough to get the blood pumping. Then we went in the ocean to cool off!
- Running on Klong Dao Beach. Be prepared to sweat through everything you are wearing.
- Moped. Best way to get around the island.
- Sunee Restaurant. Such a nice family. And that curry.
- Terrible Pad Thai at roadside stand. A lot of our blog entries have remarked on the amazing food we have been eating. This is true, we have had some incredible food. As with everything, however, you are bound to strike out eventually, and boy oh boy did I strike out. We were on our way back from the National Park and decided to pull over to a random roadside restaurant. We did this earlier in the day and it produced a fantastic meal (see above). This time, however, I ended up with a pile of salty, saucy, undercooked noodles marketed as Pad Thai. I ate it all (waste not want not when you are on a budget), but Danielle wouldn’t touch it.
- Baharra Bungalows. There are better places.
- Trash hero. This is a trash collection campaign supported by business on several of Thailand’s islands. We saw a few business with the logo in Koh Tao and Ao Tonsai, but Koh Lanta seemed to have much more participation. Our hostel, Slow Boat, provided reusable water jugs for purchase that you could bring to participating business around the island for a free fill up of filtered water. Their way of cutting back on plastic water bottles. If we would have been staying here for longer this is something we definitely would have done. We also saw signs for meet ups to do trash clean ups on beaches.
- Caged birds. I can’t say that we completely understand this one, but Thailand seems to love their caged birds. There are wicker bird cages everywhere.. in front of houses and store shops, and even along roads that don’t seem to belong to anyone. The birds seem to be wild birds, but we’re not positive. Danielle tried to Google it, and she read that there is something in the Thai (maybe Buddhist?) culture about how releasing a trapped animal is a good thing to do.. as in, if there is a flood and you get a bunch of snakes in your fields, and the waters recede, a good person should release that snake back to the lake or wherever it may have come from so it doesn’t die. But, in modern days, most people don’t have a good ol’ field in back of their house to get karma points, so instead, the everyday Joe will buy a caged bird from someone and set it free. So, that seems to be a thing. But, the caged birds that we were seeing all around town seem to be different. We’ve seen some huge cages with like 10 different birds in them. I’m not sure if Thai people just enjoy the bird songs or what. If anyone else understands this, please explain it to us! Hopefully it’s a positive thing, because Danielle has already threatened to set all of the birds she sees free..
- Random town festival. One of the great things about renting a moped is the ability to see all of the small communities around the island. One night we were driving back to Old Town and stumbled upon a festival on the east side of the island. It was a predominately Muslim community which meant….YELLOW RICE. We had already eaten, but that didn’t stop me from getting a dish of yellow rice to go. You can never have too much yellow rice.
- We had read the further south you go in Thailand, the more Muslim it becomes and the spicier the food gets. True and true. Since 99% of the yellow rice we have purchased is from Muslim vendors, this means the further south you go, the more prevalent yellow rice is (see above).