Date: Sat, 17 Nov 2001 22:17:24 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald Subject: koh lanta
I've just left Koh Lanta this morning -- rode a minibus for a couple hours through rubber plantations to the town of Trang, where I am waiting for the night train. I've got a couchette reserved -- it's 17 hours to Bangkok. It took a bit of work to gather the initiative to break free from the beach, but I'm now looking forward to some stimulation in the big city.
Have had a blast on Koh Lanta -- it's still very rural and undeveloped. They're building as fast as they can, but it looks like all local money -- no big foreign hotels or expensive tourist infrastructure. The roads are dirt, red clay, and there are still chickens and goats and a few cows and water buffalo wandering around. The fancy houses have cinderblock walls and tile roofs, but no glass in the windows -- most of the rest of the places are wood or corrugated-aluminum shacks. Some have electricity, but not many seem to have plumbing. Driving along the road at night, you generally see people's lives pretty much open to view.
There is basically one road that runs down the length of the west side of the island, where the beaches are, and it's paved for about half its length. It's lined with fields, shacks, bars, bungalow resorts, "alchohol minimarts", and rough machine shops. Any of the above, including the shacks, may turn out to sell gasoline. A Koh Lanta gas station consists of one or two 55-gallon drums of gasoline with hand pumps installed into them, kind of like beer kegs but with big glass-bell flowmeters. These drums may or may not be enclosed in flimsy corrugated-aluminum or bamboo huts, and might sit on concrete pads but more likely are just in the dirt by a place where there's room to pull over.
There are only two kinds of vehicles on the road: pickup trucks (which are usually carrying at least four people in the back), and Honda minibikes. These minibikes sell new in Krabi for ~US$150, which is why everyone seems to have one.
Time flew by when I was at the beach. I guess I was there six days, and mostly did nothing but sit and eat and talk with other travellers and the Rasta Thais who run the bar at Nice Beach. This part of Thailand is full of Brits, Swedes, Norwegians and Canadians; I've also met people France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the States. So far, about three times more Canadians than Americans -- I'm not sure what the ratio would be in a normal year, but I've noticed in other trips (in Europe) that I don't meet as many Americans as raw numbers would suggest I should. More surprisingly, I've only met one Australian -- considering how relatively close we are to Oz, I was expecting swarms -- and only one Dane. I can't explain why I've met dozens of Swedes and one Dane, but there you are.
The two most memorable things I've done in the past week were both caves. Kao Mai Gaeo, the Monkey Cave, is a big limestone complex. To get there, you have to climb about a thousand feet up the mountainside in the jungle in the middle of Koh Lanta. Inside, it's twisting muddy passages, sometimes very narrow, and unimproved by anything much more than the occasional lashed ladder made from poles hacked from the jungle outside. The formations are not spectacular -- some stalactites that look like wax flows (some of which are hollow and ring like bells), and a deep pool at the far end where the guides encourage you to take a dip. But I really enjoyed working through it, I suppose because it was all rough enough that it felt like an accomplishment to make it through.
The other cave was the truly spectacular one -- the Emerald Cave on Koh Mook ("koh" is "island" in Thai). It's a sea cave -- you can only get there by boat, so I took a day trip by longtail boat. You moor just off a sheer cliff face on the open-water side of Koh Mook, and have to swim in. The tunnel is deep and about 10-20 m wide and goes about 100-200 m in to the mountain, so it's a relatively easy swim, but it twists enough that it gets totally pitch black in the middle. Just when you're starting to get a little disoriented in the dark, you come around a bend and see light at the far end of the tunnel -- it opens into a circular crater-like lagoon inside the island. The cliff walls are almost sheer, maybe 5 or 6 storeys high, and covered with jungle trees growing from every available ledge. There's a golden crescent sand beach and a shallow turquoise lagoon -- it's honest-to-god Never-Never Land.
When you swim out, the water in the entrance room glows an unreal refracted emerald green. The place is simply astounding.
c. -- colin | opportunity calls from a payphone, bruno. you never roald | get a chance to call it back. (christopher baldwin)