#11 Move to a different island!

Apparently, there are hundreds of islands in Thailand. There’s also a lot of mainland, but lots and lots of islands, in both the Andaman Sea on the west side, and the Gulf of Thailand on the east.

map of Thailand
image from business.youbuyfrance.com

We started our journey on Koh Lanta. This is one of the larger Thaislands (see what I did there?), fairly quiet, with most of its development on the west side. There is a small community on the east side (Old Town), but most of the restaurants, hotels, night life and beaches are on the west. It has a noticeable Muslim influence, mostly found in the food and dress, and of course the daily calls to prayer. I found these quite soothing, and in general, found the people on Lanta very friendly and welcoming.

But that is now “the old.” Out with the old. After four months there, we made a move over to the east side of the country, to Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand. According to some of the internet people, we’ve moved from the #9 best Thaisland to #5. Moving on up!

Map of Koh Phangan
image from kohphangan-tourism.com

Your first question is probably “how do you pronounce Koh Phangan?”

Second is “Why did you move?” If you are going to move half way around the world, you’d better like where you are. Life really is short. That sounds trite, but it’s also true. Our worlds were not being rocked in Lanta, and so we moved forward.

 

Koh Phangan is famous for its white sand beaches, its many backpackers, and of course, for its full moon parties.

So far, we have yet to attend one of these, but never say never, right?

koh phangan
the view is okay
kari and matthew
We seem happy so far
koh phangan sunset
and who can resist a sunset like this?

 

 

#10 check out Malaysia

Ask anyone who has been in Thailand more than a few months: “Where did you go for your visa run?” The answers are varied. Laos seems popular, and if you have more time, Myanmar, Cambodia, and even Singapore and Indonesia are also on the list. I chose Malaysia, based on the price of flights (approximately $50 Canadian to fly from Krabi to Kuala Lumpur!)

swarovski tree asia kuala lumpur
the largest swarovski tree in asia. I don’t even know what that means.

I went at the beginning of December, and Christmas in Kuala Lumpur was in full swing. Quite nice, even if it is sweaty outside, still snowing and Christmas carolling inside. If you know me, you know I’m not the hugest fan of shopping (other than for groceries) or of malls. And that, dear reader, is ALL there is in Kuala Lumpur. Shopping, and malls. So I went to a movie every day (saw Spectre three times!), had a cappucino and muffin every day, and generally wandered the streets. They do have some really cool buildings, most notably the Petronas Twin Towers. Interesting to me because they were constructed by different companies. Who does that?? They were the world’s tallest for a while, now they’re just very pretty to look at.

petronus twin towers kuala lumpur
Nice view!
Petronus Twin Towers Kuala Lumpur
The Petronas Twin Towers
petronus twin towers kuala lumpur
it’s Christmas time in the city!

I did do some shopping, took care of some basics (like a good haircut), had a lot of baths (no tub at home), read my book and drank a lot of cappuccinos. I also ate some excellent food, drank some wine (finally)! Because I know you’re wishing I posted more food photos, here are some of the highlights:

whiskey bar, kuala lumpur
first night: cheese plate at The Whiskey Bar
ahhh carpaccio! and malbec!
ahhh carpaccio! and malbec!
kuala lumpur
pasta full of yum at the hotel around the corner from mine

KL is where I discovered “beef bacon” – a product presumably created to address the fact that the largely Muslim population, while not eating pork, recognizes the awesomeness of bacon.

All in all, a success. A new city under my belt.

#9 go to Krabi!

Shopping in Lanta is very islandy. In that if you see something you want, buy it – lots of it – because you might not see it again. As the months here have ticked past and we have entered high season, there are lots more goods available than when we first arrived. Still, a shopping trip to the big city is always fun! About a month after we arrived, we took the plunge: rented a car for the day, and hit the town.

The key to getting a full day in Krabi from Koh Lanta is getting on the ferry early. There are actually two ferries – making the trip twice the ferry fun!

Koh Lanta ferry
Sunrise! time to hit the road

It’s about a 90 minute drive from the entry point to the mainland to Makro (think “Costco in Thailand!”). We – of course – took a detour to nearby Ao Nang. Because that is where the Starbucks is. We had some coffee and a breakfast snack, stocked up on beans, and headed out shopping!

Ao Nang
Ao Nang – we see the island in the distance every day – from the other side!

Makro did not disappoint. Nor did Tesco, Big C or any of the other stores we visited (many of them twice, as we determined where the best deals are).

supermarket thailand
an honest to goodness meat and cheese display
frogs in supermarket thailand
Okay… maybe not this
Hello Kitty cooking set
Hello Kitty: she’s not just for kids anymore
snail white thailand
for whiter skin… white like a snail?

When it was all said and done, we had about 3 pounds of coffee, a new thermal mug, a small memory foam, pillows, a fan, a cooler, tupperware, some hamburger, salami, fresh buffalo mozzerella, HP sauce, canned tomatoes, WINE, and lots of odds and ends.

shopping in thailand
bounty!
sunset koh lanta ferry
Sunset… we must be almost home

A full day. As those who live on an island – any island – will tell you, it’s nice to get off the rock from time to time.

p.s. As the weeks went on, most of the items we purchased that day became available on the island – of course they did.

 

 

#8 go to the local market

Thai markets are a thing. Here on Koh Lanta, the market is in a different location each day. (The Love Lanta site is a map: type “market” into the search bar to find where it is each day!)

the market is a busy, blurry place.
the market is a busy, blurry place.

The market starts off pretty benign… lots of fruit and veggie stands. Limes, oranges, tons of pineapples, mangos, watermelons, and lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, yams, you name it. Peas, herbs, beans, on and on.

first is fruit...
first is fruit…

 

 

There are peppers, cucumbers, chilies, and there is food to eat right now. Fried chicken, sausages, (the most excellent) spring rolls, curries, fruit shakes.

There are fish stands: shrimps, squids and fish so fresh that occasionally a mouth gapes.

 

some shrimps...
some shrimps…
some squids...
some squids…
lots and lots of fish. Very fresh!
lots and lots of fish. Very fresh!

And there is meat. A side of pork hanging, which you point at apparently, and let the butcher know which piece you want. A large portion of beef, all cut up and ready to go, again, just point.

some meat...
some meat…

And some chickens, which are helpfully quartered.Notice that inside the chicken, some of the organs are there for you, because they are the yummiest bits.

...and finally, some chicken. Right in the heart of the market.
…and finally, some chicken. Right in the heart of the market.

When you are making your way through a new country, a new culture, there are a lot of notions you must set aside. Some things are easier to get used to than others. For now, I really appreciate that the best lettuce comes from the market, and juicy tomatoes, and lots of the yum. Working my way up to buying a chicken.

#7 try the food

When people tell you they’ve been to Thailand, one thing they ALL have in common was that they LOVED the food. Ask around. I don’t think there is a single person who has been here who didn’t love the food. Even though we do have a kitchen, we have taken many meals in restaurants. The food IS awesome, and it’s really, REALLY cheap. There are some common dishes, available in all the Thai restaurants, and we’re working our way through them.

chicken and basil leaf, at View Point Restaurant Koh Lanta
chicken and basil leaf, at View Point Restaurant
sweet and sour chicken at Krua Kritsana, Koh Lanta
sweet and sour chicken, at Krua Kritsana
pad thai at Black Pearl Restaurant, Koh Lanta
pad thai at Black Pearl
sweet and sour chicken at Black Pearl Restaurant, Koh Lanta
sweet and sour chicken, Black Pearl
summer rolls
summer rolls, in their homeland
fried rice in Old Town, Koh Lanta
fried rice. so full of yum!
phanaeng curry at Mama's Kitchen, Koh Lanta
Phanaeng gai at Mama’s Kitchen

#6 unravel the mystery of the lights

squid fishing lights koh lanta thailand
Surely, these are UFOs?

Early on, we discovered a mystery…

One of our first nights here, we went out and got all sociable at the Oktoberfest party to support Lanta Animal Welfare. (As a side note, the event raised over 300,000 THB, all of which will be used to buy new clinical equipment for the surgery. Yay!) We walked out onto the beach and noted that the coast was being overtaken by UFOs. There were several greenish lights hovering over the horizon (or looked like that, at least – it was dark). We keep seeing these UFOs… turns out they are lights on boats fishing for squid. The squid are apparently attracted, either by the lights themselves, or by the creatures that are attracted by the lights (both versions of the story can be found on the internet, so they must be true – here’s one).

Either way, mystery solved. (not UFOs after all)

lights of the squid fishermen koh lanta thailand
lights of the squid fishers from our porch

#5 visit Mu Ko Lanta National Park

Since we arrived, Iwona (owner of Palm Beach Divers) has been waiting – rather impatiently! – for the reopening of the National Marine Park for the season. The island we are living on – Ko Lanta – has a portion of the park on its southern tip, but the vast majority of the park covers over 130 square km of Andaman Sea. Our destination on October 15 (the day the park opened to diving) is Ko Haa.

Ko Haa means “Five Islands” (even though there are apparently six). We did three of the most popular dives, from what I’ve found on the web: Ko Haa Lagoon, the Cathedral, and the Chimney. Beautiful.

koh haa lagoon
koh haa lagoon
giant clam
Wow. is this even real?
sea cucumber koh haa
wha?
coral koh haa thailand
cauliflower?
sea star ko haa thailand
finally. something that makes sense: a sea star
table coral koh haa thailand
beautiful!

#4 find a place to live

lanta mountain
our place

Our first stop on the island was Lanta Pearl Beach Resort, where we stayed for week as we got our bearings. Finding a place to live was near the top of the list of “to dos” and early on, Iwona and Wlodek took us for a drive around the island to check out the general lay of the land. Seems that lots of dive people arrive around the beginning of October for “the season” and so we had heard that many of the “cheap places” were already rented.

I had a specific list: two bedrooms preferably, an outside space, a kitchen (which is not as common here as you might think), next door to a Thai family who collectively would help me go shopping, drive me around, teach me to speak Thai, do laundry, clean, teach me to cook, do massages and just generally be great neighbours. With these requirements in mind, we took the driver from the shop for an afternoon, and he helped us check out several spots. A couple we had seen on the internet, a couple that we had heard about during conversations on the island, and a few that the driver knew of.

After all that traipsing, we decided to adjust our expectations a bit, and perhaps adjust our budget… and got in touch with the very first person we’d heard from when we started looking. Isn’t that always the way it works? Here’s where we ended up:

lanta mountain
from the front door
lanta mountain
the view from my bed
Lanta Mountain and Andaman Sea
morning coffee view
lanta mountain and andaman sea
view from the rooftop sundeck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not too bad. It has loads of wonderful outside space, a fantastic kitchen with a gas stove and oven, a washing machine, a king sized (very firm) bed with an amazing view. It has a spare room for the occasional yahoo, is nicely appointed and has a beautiful tile floor. A great bathroom with a rain shower head, a little storage room, and that awesome rooftop. The woman we rented from is great; she may well fill all the roles I expected in a neighbour, and she lives just down the road. Oh and there are two Saint Bernards next door. What more could we want?? 🙂

#3 drive a scooter

During my entire youth, despite having a great friend who owned a motor bike, and drove it several times a week to my place to visit her horse, I never drove a motor bike. In all our time in Cozumel, I never drove a scooter. I walked, drove the truck, rode my bicycle, took a taxi, use the tricyclo, never drove a scooter.

fino scooter koh lanta thailand
trusty steed!

Until today. Whoo hoo! I asked on Facebook, and a helpful fellow named Stuart at AppleTravel Lanta hooked me up. I had asked for one blinged out with Hello Kitty, but sadly, no such scooter exists apparently. Instead, I have this fine Fino.

We took a short tour up the driveway three times (to convince Stuart to let me rent the thing; apparently new scooter drivers are sometimes turned away), and then we were off.

“Which way?” “Left. That way I don’t have to turn across the traffic.” Oh, that’s right. They drive on the opposite side (wrong side) of the road here. We headed left (south) and successfully* made it to the View Point restaurant on the cross island road, where we had lunched on our first full day here. The view is still fantastic, made better still by my feeling of scooter driving triumph!

And there’s a bit of Hello Kitty in this machine after all, in the floor mat. Whoo hoo!

Helllllooooo Kitty
Helllllooooo Kitty

*successfully, despite having a flat tire! Matthew encountered a nail. We had advice from Stuart that said if that happens (so perhaps it’s not that uncommon) we were to push it to the nearest tire repair guy, and get it fixed. Fortunately the incident happened pretty much in front of a guy with a shop filled with bikes and tires. On our way in about 20 minutes, after “enjoying” a green tea somehow made with corn.

green tea
hmmmm…
koh lanta tire repair
roadside tire repair, thai style

#2 go diving!

We’ve only been here a few days, but somehow it feels like it took a looooong time to get wet. Saturday we headed out on the big boat, Lila, from our new home at Palm Beach Divers. My last dives had been in Cozumel with an Atkins Scuba group, and so to simplify things, I borrowed a BCD from the shop and off we went (I only brought my sidemount gear to Thailand, and as the new person on the block, I’m desperately trying to fit in).

moorish idol koh lanta thailand
my new favourite fish

There were some fun divers who wanted to go to a wreck, and so we found ourselves at Klet Kaeow, a former gunship. WOW were there a lot of fish! Two more stops at Bida Nok and Kin Bida rounded out our day. So many fish. So many new fish. So much coral that’s new to me. So many of everything.

sea urchin koh manta
urchin!

All of it is, as they say here, “same same. but different.” Can’t wait to see more!

Matthew in his new office!
Matthew in his new office!