Updated: Jan 28
We took our Thai Lion flight to Krabi, booked our first night in a hotel and were off to see paradise beaches. We visited two places in the South of Thailand - Ko Lanta island and the Krabi province of Ao Nang. Both have stunning views and beautiful sea; the main difference is the level of tourist and infrastructural development.
We spent four nights in Ko Lanta. It is quite a large island of 6 km wide and over 30 kms long. Interestingly, 95% of the population is Muslim, so be prepared to wake up with the prayer of the nearby mosque. I expected to see there crowds of tourists and club hotels, but was happily surprised to see that the island is very calm, family oriented, the hotels are half-empty and are of different price levels from cheap-cheap to exquisite Balinese-style luxury boutique hotels (they are in minority). There is only one street along the western coastline where all the hotels, bars and restaurants are located. The rest of the island is just a wild jungle with a few fishers' villages. Out of all the places we have been to, this place reminded me most of El Nido in the Philippines. Just as there, Lanta lives with the lazy rhythm of the sun and nonchalant background music of its numerous reggae bars: its temporary habitants wake up early, go to the beach, swim, eat, beach again, aperitif, dinner and bed at 10 pm.
We spent our first night in a small guest house right on the beach and paid 1200 THB (30 EUR). Next day we moved across the road, 20m away, to another guest house with a 500 THB rate per night for a bamboo hut with the conditions that were honestly not much worse than in the beach room. For this money you get the basics: a bed with a mosquito net, a ventilator and a shower. No hot water, AC, sink, not much light and absolutely no sound isolation; you also get occasional visitors like mice and cockroaches. BUT it's just enough to sleep and take a shower because the rest of the day you spend outside anyway and it also allows you to save money for delicious food and snorkeling trips.
We took one of them that includes four tiny islands in vicinity of Lanta. There are two ways to get there: by a speed boat and by a so-called long tail boat (a traditional Thai wooden boat that is called so because of a curious engine structure resembling a tail that allows the captain to lift it if needed and pass through shallow waters). We opted for the long tail, which seemed to us more authentic. And so it is, but also more dangerous and slower. Considering the windy weather and agitated sea, this was probably not the best decision, but we still enjoyed the trip with its jumps on the waves, water sprinkles all over the face and crazy laughter. Snorkeling by itself was average. There is nice fish, but it is not stunning, or maybe I'm getting spoilt now. What we enjoyed the most is the islands themselves with their hidden gems: caves, a lagoon, beautiful turquoise water and white sand beaches. We were 12 on the boat and paid 700 THB each. A fisherman from the village would be happy to take you there for 2500 THB by the same boat (plus 200 THB to go to the village by scooter), which makes sense if you are a company of at least 6 people.
Another way to enjoy beautiful beaches around Ko Lanta is to rent a scooter. The beaches of the South of the island are just beautiful - large strips of sand or small bays surrounded by the rocks - they are almost empty and you can enjoy the peace and quiet. You can also visit the old "capital" town of the island - Lanta town. It is cute and worth a short visit, but it doesn't have anything special really.
Talking about a scooter, it's the main means of transportation in Thailand in general, but particularly on the islands: cheap and easy to maneuver, it is used by everyone, literally everyone, including kids and families with kids (up to 5 people on a scooter) - all without a helmet of course.
After 4 nights spent on Lanta, we were happy to move to a completely different ambiance of Ao Nang, a relatively big city with a developed tourist infrastructure. There are even two McDonald’s and one Starbucks - a sign of unavoidable globalization and "touristisation"!
Sometimes I can't help wondering though why someone who crosses the world to go to a distinct exotic country would want to eat the same pizzas-pastas-burgers as back at home? We once saw a Swedish family who came to an Italian-Thai-Swedish restaurant (hmmm, I know fusion food is in fashion now, but this is a weird mixture, I'd be suspicious to eat there to start with) and were complaining the moment they received their dishes about the food that they had eaten in this same restaurant the day before - their son had a food poisoning and had been vomiting all night, they said. So why are you there again?!
We hadn't booked a hotel in advance in Ao Nang, but managed to easily find a rather cheap (700 THB) guest house with an AC and a terrace located in a beautiful garden, about 15 minutes by walk from the sea.
The first day in Ao Nang we went to the Riley beach. In fact it is not one but three beaches separated by rocks, beautifully carved by sea and time. It would be amazing if it were not for crowds of tourists. The most quiet beach out of the three is the one that you can only reach by water or by climbing through a small rock, accessible without any special clothing but it takes about 15 minutes.
On our last day in the South we rented a scooter and went about 20 km to the North from Ao Nang in the quest for beautiful wild beaches. We found ourselves in a much more luxurious zone filled with boutique hotels and 5 star resorts. The beaches were not empty, but a lot less busy there. At the end of the road we got by chance to a national park... It takes about 3-4 hours to go up and down and the beginning of this trek is steep and hard, but the view from the top on the valley and the sea is stunning and totally worth the pain. If you happen to be there, don't forget your trainers and go there in the morning when it is still fresh.
What stroke us in the South is that despite the natural beauty and touristic development (or partly because of it) of the beach resorts, they are shamefully dirty. It is hard to find a rubbish bin and garbage is thrown everywhere right on the ground. To justify European tourists, they seem to be more civilized than the locals themselves. Sometimes you can sea few garbage bags put together, but they are overfilled and look more like a pile of rubbish lying on a plastic bag. Another problem in Thailand in general is water. Waste waters flow directly to the sea without being previously cleaned and the rotten smell of the sewage pursues you wherever you go. We also noticed that the water from the shower in our hotel in Ao Nang led directly to... the small river flowing underneath.
We didn't see much of the country, and what we saw is probably just a tiny bit of a beautiful, complex and fascinating country in the middle of its development boom. But it made on us a very good impression. In the end we couldn't help asking ourselves - could it be perhaps another country where we could live one day? Why not, inshallah!
Accommodation Ko Lanta: The Round House, The Hut
Restaurants Ko Lanta: Drunken Sailors, The Hut, Jai Dee
Accommodation Ao Nang: Ao Nang Garden View Resort
Restaurants Ao Nang: Cheap-Cheap, Ton Ma Yom Thai Food Restaurant, Tandoori Night's
Trekking Ao Nang: Tub Kaek Park