Saturday, January 12, 2008

Day four on Koh Lanta

Day four started with breakfast at our resort, then us checking out of that resort. We had to move to somewhere less pricey, and had found room at a Lonely Planer recommended place just down the hill. The Kantiang Bay View Resort. We'd booked a couple of days before, as it seemed to always be full, and when they showed us our rooms we were extremely disappointed. I won't go into full details here, suffice to say that on a budget trip like we've been on, this was/is about the worst.

(Our worst ever hotel, Colleen reminded me the other day, was a government run place in Vietnam a few years ago. I'll provide details to anyone who wants to buy me a beer.)

The only solution, get out of the room ASAP and enjoy the island. So we climbed on our trusty bike and filled it up with gas, at which point the bike's owner came over to the gas station to let me know that we had a flat tire. There followed a lengthy debate with the scooter shop about whose fault the flat tire was, after which we split the costs. The big problem however was that we needed a scooter. Being Friday, anyone able to fix the scooter appeared to be off at the local mosque at the time. Eventually I got the rental person to give us a new scooter and off we went.

We had read in our semi-trusty Lonely Planet that there were caves to be explored in the middle of the island. We found our way across various dirt roads to a point where someone had put out a hand written sign letting us know that we should buy our cave tickets there. Some smart family had made cave tours their business, although I doubt they had any ownership in the land at all. Regardless, we were happy to buy tickets. I'm not a big fan of freelance spelunking, so we paid our 400 baht and waited for our guide.

Our group included three women from London, a father/son Swedish team, a lone Swede and Colleen and I, plus our Thai guide. It was a pretty good group. We made the half hour walk up to the caves, which included a pretty steep climb through jungle terrain. Then we caught our breath, our guide handed out headlamps, and we went into the caves.

The whole tour took just over 50 minutes, but it was rather impressive. Water has slowly eroded these caves over the millennia, so that now some of the interiors of the caves are the size of cathedrals. They're all interconnected and the guide family has put in some dodgy but effective bamboo ladders and bridges. The limestone in places was incredibly slippery, so you had to watch your step, and there were very interesting spiders along the walls to be identified later. Bats filled some caves and in places we had to get down on our bellies to make it through openings. (No obese people, or the elderly, should do this trip.) We enjoyed it, though Colleen and I both would have liked it to have been longer and perhaps more in depth.

Following the tour we hiked back down on our own, passing some families wearing very nice white and delicate clothes. Bad move. We climbed on our bike, went back to the "resort" for a shower, and grabbed a bit of lunch. Post-lunch I told Colleen that I wanted to go explore the south of the island on our bike. I had got the feeling that it might be nice down there, but the only way to get there was on the really bad dirt road that we'd ridden the day before. (Possible cause of the aforementioned flat tire.) Colleen was game and we headed south.

Bouncing along we passed our second hotel, then we passed a few other hotels that we thought maybe we should check out for the next day, then we continued to bump along the dirt road. Then, to our complete surprise, we came across a paved road that wasn't on any of the maps. We jumped on and drove down this road for a bit, coming to a guard station for a national park after a few minutes. There was a big sign saying we had to pay our entrance fee there, but there was no one to pay it to. After a few minutes of waiting (how Canadian of us) we just went in. The following road was incredibly steep downhill, to the point of being a little scary on the scooter, and we wondered how the brakes were on a rental bike like this, but we survived. At the bottom of the hill there were some Thais, but no one seemed to be around to give any information. After a boneheaded move on the scooter by me that I won't go into here we headed off for a little walk around.

It was a beautiful park on the Southern tip of Koh Lanta. It was surrounded by dense jungle forest with a daunting black rocky beach on one side of a point and a beautiful sandy beach on the other side. And, at the end of the point, was an old lighthouse. Colleen and I walked along the point to the lighthouse. Everything was broken down and rotted. There had clearly been no upkeep in years. But it was all open to us.

The door to the lighthouse was open, so how could I not climb up. Three flights of stairs on a rusty but solid old ladder took me to the top, where I was able to climb out onto the walkway. From there, the view was incredible. The beaches on both sides of me, the jungle forest behind them, and out at sea beautiful islands in the distance. A bit of vertigo caused me not to linger, but it was a wonderful view. After climbing down the lighthouse we set out our beach blanket on the point and I enjoyed a Heineken that Colleen had packed for me.

The sun was now setting and I wanted to get out of there before we lost too much light. I didn't want to be riding along those dirt roads, with their huge potholes, in the dark. We set off and, about two big hills before we made it back to the relative safety of pavement we turned into what had earlier appeared to be a bar beside the road, so that we could watch the end of the sunset. However, once we got into the parking lot we realized that there was definitely no longer a bar here. It had been deserted.

The deserted bar had had a fabulous viewpoint on the top of a cliff. We walked down through four levels of what had likely been seating areas, then continued down the scree below the bar area to see if there was a path down to the water. There wasn't one, so we set out our beach mat on the scree and enjoyed the end of another terrific sunset. This time, once the sunset was done, instead of packing up and moving on we simply stayed on our blanket and watched the stars come out. It was warm on the rocks and the moon was like the sliver in the Dreamworks logo. We were able to count over 50 brightly lit prawn boats out at sea, almost like stars set on the ocean. We stayed there for a couple of hours just looking out. It was a wonderful experience.

Eventually, we scrambled back up the scree and found our way to dinner. Then, we finally had to return to our ugly hotel room. It smelled funny and the bed was hard, but we'd had an eventful day and went right off to sleep.

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