While Bangkok was clearly not my cup of tea, something I really struggled to resolve, I was able to find a happy little corner of southern Thailand – namely, the Andaman Sea. I can’t imagine a trip to Thailand would be complete without a visit to the prized southern shores of the Malay Peninsula, where hundreds of small, rocky islets speckle the turquoise waters of the northeastern Indian Ocean.
Initially, we had considered heading to the Phi Phi Islands via Phuket (Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Ley was where the movie The Beach was filmed), even though we knew these areas would likely be pretty crowded with tourists (even in low season). However, after talking with a number of other travelers who had recently visited Thailand’s beaches, we decided to find a more low-key corner of the coast. Everyone consistently lamented at how crowded Phi Phi was and, as previously established, we definitely do not thrive in noisy, bar-laden, congested environments. That said, we headed for the more secluded island of Koh Lanta, a short, two-hour ferry ride from Krabi.
To get to Krabi Town from Bangkok, we hesitantly opted for an overnight bus (all 1st and 2nd class overnight train seats were booked for the Thai New Year, and apparently you actually aren’t guaranteed a seat in 3rd class). We had decided months ago that we really wanted to get a feel for traveling around southeast Asia using overland transport, and it is by far the cheapest option when trying to stretch a budget. The fare for the 500-mile trip cost a mere 600 ฿ ($18 USD) per person, and again included bottled water and a somewhat suspect packaged snack – a white roll filled with intense green mung bean curd (the more fastidious of us opted for starvation).
We arrived with a couple hours to kill before our ferry departed, so we kicked around the small town center in search of a breakfast that was not stuffed with an artificially-dyed legume purée, and then poked along the muddy shores near the pier. Stephan astutely spotted something flopping around in the brackish mudflat and, upon investigation, discovered a collection of mudskippers that had crawled up onto shore. Having never before seen a mudskipper – other than the animated ‘Muddy Mudskipper’ from Nickelodeon’s Ren & Stimpy – I was totally enthralled with the little guys. A common resident of the Indo-Pacific and African coasts, mudskippers are amphibious fish that can survive for extended periods on land during low tide by means of modified gills and by respiring through their skin and mucosa. They laboriously propel themselves around their intertidal habitat using their pectoral fins, and it’s quite amusing to watch them interact – often brusquely deciding to defend their territory by raising their sail-like dorsal fins and aggressively charging the nearest intruder, mouths agape.
After finally reaching Koh Lanta, my whole outlook immediately transformed, and it was as if I could feel my raging cortisol level from Bangkok immediately plummet back to normal. The atmosphere was much more relaxed, our small villa was tucked into a quiet nook toward the less-developed southern end of the island, and I was only steps away from the tranquil waters of the Andaman Sea. A tiny, nearly vacant restaurant on site offered some tasty cuisine, and I even treated myself to one piña colada during our stay (I really let my hair down for a good 20 minutes there).
Even more exciting, though, was the one indulgence I most looked forward to on my Thai beach getaway – a fresh young coconut, hacked open upon order and served with a bendy straw. That right there, my friends, is pure happiness.
Because the island is about 25 kilometers long, we decided to rent a scooter and check out some of the more isolated southern beaches, including Mu Koh Lanta National Park. The small park area includes a short nature trail through the tropical forest, a pristine beach that we found to be nearly deserted, a humble little lighthouse atop a craggy hillside, and several groups of inquisitive long-tailed macaques, who were eager to examine and/or steal any enticing personal belongings they could get their sticky fingers on. Although the entrance fee for foreigners was a bit steep (200 ฿ per person), we really enjoyed the solitude the park had to offer.
Overall, we found Koh Lanta to be a refreshing change of pace from the more crowded urban areas, and feel confident in our decision to forgo the more bustling coastal town of Phuket. The simple little island provided us with some much-needed serenity, a handful of lovely white-sand beaches, a sea of flawless, turquoise water, and an endless supply of dazzling Indian Ocean sunsets.