Hi! Im writing about Koh Lanta even though I was there in what seems like ages ago by now! So, as always, I'm really really behind. Also, I wont have much to tell you about what Bridger did dduring this time as he was in a whole different place!
So when we started this trip I had this dream to "travel slow"-just hang out in a place and move when I feel like moving. This turned out to be a total farce a little because we don't have enough time in general (and Bridger thinks were getting to about 22 countries in 6 mo!) but mostly because our immigration visas limit our time and push us to keep moving because usually we only have 28 days to legally be in the country and need to hit up all the places we want to hit up in that time. So sometimes its a bit of a game of place-time tetris to make sure that we choose the right direction, time frame and destinations to be able to do it all! So that being said, we were getting close to the end of our Thai visa. Bridger had a friend he wanted to visit on an isolated island called Koh Chang and I wanted to go to a place called Koh Lanta, an island that I was supposed to go to in 2006 but we couldn't for some reason (the tsunami I think?) and that I've heard exceptional things about. Given the visa limitations, separate agendas and the fact that we had been together for almost a solid month and we were about ready to kill eachother, we split up and met up again in Bangkok. Maybe one time he'll write his own post about Koh Chang. Until then you're gonna hear alot of "I" pronouns instead of "we" pronouns.
Koh Lanta was an absolutely dream and a much needed relax time after Phi Phi. It was everything that Phi Phi was not...it was super quiet, super chilled out, little nightlife, not that many people and a really slow pace. And it had a long sandy beach with amazing clear water perfect for swimming. AND the local people there were actually friendly and people actually smiled at me! I've realized, whether it be because I'm Canadian or what, I literally have a daily smile quota where I need to be smiled at X number of times a day in order to enjoy my life, who knew! Anyways, so far, it was my favourite place I visited in Thailand by far.
I stayed in a really lovely hostel dorm with the most amazing duvet blankets I ever encountered on the road anywhere! I know Ive worn this out bc I cant stop talking about it but when you spend most of your life sleeping under a single thin sheet at best and a crusty, clammy towel blanket that I'm sure hasn't been properly washed in 2 years or nothing at worst, you really start to appreciate an amazing blanket! It was also full of some really awesome, adventurous and hilarious people that I hung out with for the few days I was there. The hostel itself was across the street from a little dirt road leading to a little hippie commune area full of cheap bungalows on or near the beach. Initially I thought I'd stay in the dorm at first and then move to a bungalow closer to the beach so I went "shopping" and asked to see a few rooms. Most were your run of the mill standard bungalows but there were a few smaller bungalows that looked perfect (and cheap!) for a single traveller. I looked inside one and my god, I just couldn't do it! It was literally a two inch mat on the floor with a bugnet and about one foot on the side of the bed to put your bag with communal hippie bathrooms. And I found out later there wasn't even a lock on the door but its ok "you just take all your valuables with you" wtf?! I wish I was that kind of a person but I just am not! Anyways, I ultimately decided against a bungalow because I thought that if I had to deal with spiders, rats or cockroaches on my own, it just wouldn't be fun or funny at all. After reading some reviews about the places that exactly confirmed those possibilities, I settled in to the dorm. Ironically we later had a cockroach in the dorm but it was swiftly squashed by the Belgian girl who quickly said "not to worry, she just killed the last cockroach in Koh Lanta" :)
I spent one day in Koh Lanta scuba diving as they are supposed to have some pretty spectacular diving. Once again I researched my dive shops and it was down to two so I wandered the beach to find and "interview" them. I went to the first and they were lovely and totally professional BUT also pretty serious and the guy didn't think I was very funny when I made some kind of a joke...so I decided they weren't for me and went to the other one haha...theres a way to make a decision! And thank god I did because the people there were SO much better. The Thai lady at the booking office was amazing and we ended up just talking for an hour when I went in to book...and she happened to say the same thing I've always said that "cockroaches could survive a nuclear war" so it was a done deal after that :) Went diving a few days later and since I was a solo, for the first time my dive buddy was somebody I didnt know. It felt weird searching for a stranger underwater every few minutes! Unfortunately the wind was high and the waves were huge that day so the visibility was pretty lame. But what was incredible about the dive site was that there was these huge black caverns underwater that you could swim into and then swim out the other side. While we were in there we were surrounded by a school of black fish that swam with us...so amazing and I kicked myself for not bringing the GoPro. During the dive I also saw several trigger fish which are huge and terrifying looking, a giant puffer fish and a sea snake which is apparently one of the most venomous snakes in the world but not a huge danger to humans as they are not aggressive and their mouths are so tiny that they cant really bite you anyways...whether that is true or not is probably open to debate.
I spent most of my days just laying on the beach in and out of the water. I tried snorkelling off the shore one day but the visibility was terrible so I gave up and just did some handstands on the beach instead (its my new goal that I will master handstands and handstand tricks!). I've also done such riveting things as watching sand crabs dig holes for an hour (They are actually SO cute because they go down, then come up slowly, look around and when the coast is clear, throw a handful (or clawful)of sand out of their hole with one claw and repeat) and contemplate why I have the sweatiest upper lip in history. Its funny because even though I spent most days doing absolutely dick all, I would come home and literally faceplant on my bed and be asleep within minutes!
One night, before i had any friends, I went by myself to this neat little treehouse bar that had live music. Haha and I sat in the corner drinking rum and coke's by myself while writing in my journal! I realized how much easier and better it would be if I just drank beer or something in a bottle/can--for one thing, it's way colder, way cheaper and my paranoid mind started to worry about getting drugged because its easy to do in a mix drink. But as usual, everything was fine and I had an absolutely lovely peaceful time! After I met people, I spent most nights sitting on the beach with people having a few drinks and watching the incredible sunset or having dinner/drinks/convos in the hostel common area...another bonus of that being that koh Lanka was really cheap.
So this is the first trip that I've travelled with my iPhone (i.e. I carry it around all the time instead of just leaving it in my bag) and it is actually amazing! I use it to map everything, track my budget, call hostels, research stuff etc. Pretty well everyone carries around their own device these days whether its a phone, ipad or computer and Ive noticed such a difference since I began traveling bc WIFI is absolutely everywhere and a given for most all accommodation (though the speed and reliability often leave much to be desired). Along with this, however, has been the dramatic decline in internet cafes...its insane how little of them actually exist anymore even when you're looking! Even though there are tons of benefits, I also have really mixed feelings about this change in travel because it really does prevent you from being disconnected from the world which historically has been so much part of the joy for me. I remember my first trips stumbling into an English news show and hearing somethingI didn't know or overhearing a convo in a shop about some news event and having a moment of realizing how much I never realized that I haven't heard news in a month or that I don't actually know anything about the real world anymore. There was definitely something charming to that and those days are over as I can now check my email and read the news while laying in my bed at night. It also really makes it difficult to be in the moment because its so easy to become pathological about checking your phone and instead of just waiting and being, myself and every other traveller buries their face in their phone to pass the time. This becomes especially bad when you're travelling alone bc your phone becomes your "friend"! One night I decided to challenge the phone domination and left my phone at home (ok my phone was charging) while I went out for dinner by myself (I would never do this at home). What an amazing time it was because I saw a big old frog hop across the alley and through the restaurant, a little clown child who kept showing people in the restaurant a random item hidden in a tennis ball like tube and then skittering off and coming back with some new mystery item in the tube over and over and I became totally enthralled with my meal that had these little grape like spicy plants in it which I actually think were actually ground pepper in its raw form before roasting/grinding...amazing!!!
When I finally had to leave Koh Lanta, I had a serious case of analysis paralysis (i.e. you think and research options so much that you then become stuck bc to many options/you cant make a decision) where I had to essentially make a decision re: my total travel direction itinerary for the next few months and I couldn't get anywhere. I could either fly into Northern Thailand and then overland into Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam but then I would barely have any days to explore Northern Thailand (visa again) so Id have to come back again. OR I could go into Cambodia, then Laos then northern Thailand but then I'd have to fly into Vietnam later. OR I could go into Cambodia and then onwards to Vietnam but then Im stuck in Vietnam and cant get to Laos overland. Its really funny bc I've met a few people on the same kind of one way ticket, open free travel as me. I thought we'd all be like these free spirit, relaxed, going with teh flow, no stress people but its actually quite funny bc literally we all get in these funks where we're just stuck and are like laying in our dorm beds saying "where should I go, what should I do, ahhhh I don't know!!!" so then we get stuck places and end up staying much longer just because we couldn't make a decision about onwards movement! Anyways, I reclused on the beach for awhile just so I could go into my own little world and think about the plan. While I was there, some older gent started to making small chat with me which I reciprocated for a few min and then he asked the inevitable where I'm from, I answered "Canada" and then his response was something along the lines of "Of course you're from Canada- so much smiling!"...so apparently we've earned ourselves a global reputation of being the smiley people. The more I thought about it, I realized that actually that is a true fact-a Canadian will always drop a smile when you're walking past them or courtesy smiles when you're talking to them where people from other countries, though not unfriendly, often (definitely not always!) just present as more indifferent and often tend to just avoid eye contact/engagement unless you've hooked them into convo/a relationship. Interesting it takes somebody else to comment on something before you notice it about yourself. And I digress again...
Ended up booking a bus back up to Bangkok with the plan to head to Cambodia but bc I was so far south it was a gruelling day. On the day I was supposed to leave, I decided I wanted to stay in Koh Lanta for one more day longer so I could scooter around the island with my new dorm friends (Im still too scared to drive scooters by myself!) but the hostel guy said too bad, already booked, see ya later so had to go. Now, most times travelling you're content and in awe of everything but theres also just some days where you're so done and just f'ing hate everything and you want to be home where things are familiar and go "like they're supposed to"..this was one of those days...
Ok so in Thailand, pretty well everything is run by flipping tour companies and it can actually be really hard to even figure out how to go it leg by leg on your own. The problem with the tour companies is that a) its more expensive to start because the booking company takes a few dollar cut b) it usually involves shuffling around 7 different places to collect people before you actually get anywhere bc there is so many freaking middle men and c) you pay up front which means that you're money is all in and you need to make sure that you connect with the exact right person at the exact right time (which we've clearly been burned before in Railay!) to get your next leg and d) with a bus full of tourists only, the chances that you're bags under the bus will get rifled through and harvested for good stuff is much higher. This particular day I had to buy my all in ticket business from a tour company so I was already in a particularly prickly and pissed off mood to start with because these days usually don't go straightforwardly. I got picked up at 11 am in a minibus for 3 hours to the next town and the minibus driver drove SO fast that we were blowing by other vehicles going full speed on the highway-it was actually terrifying and I had to really focus to engage in something else but thinking about our speed. Luckily I had a seatbelt (haha I think I was the only one on the bus using it-another example of how Im just not hardcore anymore and thats totally ok with me!) and I wasn't in the front seat which made me feel slightly better. And then in my shitty headspace I just kept thinking how the driver just wanted to go as fast as possible so he could dump us as fast as possible and how I bet he would never go that fast with his own family in the car...again, no basis for this except a really poor mental state that was making me interpret nasty intention on the part of everyone around me! Eventually we got dropped off at a partner tour company office for an hour before shuttling us to another tour company to drop us off for another wait before going somewhere else for another wait. This whole time the tour office people kept just taking my ticket and sending me away with nothing (not even a receipt or copy like I asked for) such that if anyone wanted to extort me along the way they could pretend I needed to give them a ticket and Id have to pay again if I didn't have one. And then the nerve of them to be annoyed and dismissive at the questions I'm asking. Finally we took the mini bus for several hours to an in between town and then it dropped us off again for another hour wait. By this point I was just grumpy as hell and pissed because I was told I was booking a direct bus i.e. no getting off the whole way to Bangkok. Eventually at about 7ish pm we got on a big bus to take us the rest of the way to Bangkok over night. Well, only the front tv worked so I could barely see it and the sound barely worked so I could barely hear it (I know, poor baby right?) and the bus people left the lights on all night where on the "local" bus I took on the way down, they dimmed the lights so people could sleep...another malicious action towards tourists interpreted by my crusty mind (or was it?!). Luckily through all this I met a lovely French gal who was in the same position as me so, even with the language barrier, we stuck together and made sure we got where we needed to!
So I sleep for a bit and then the bus stops for our food and toilet pit stop at about midnight...again, these are never places to feel happy about and may very well be the most disgusting places in the world. I was pumped when, while waiting in line, I saw a few western toilets instead of squatty potty's. I tried them all but every one of them was plugged and full of quite literally, crap. Great I guess I cant avoid the squatty potty anymore and had to make a go at it unless I want to pee my pants while I sleep on the bus.
And because I was travelling alone at this point and couldn't leave my stuff on the bus unattended, I had to do it with my mini backpack on my back and my purse dangling off me, aw crap. So I secure my stuff to my body in the most optimal place to possibly avoid dropping it on the disgusting ground or in the even more disgusting toilet and take one whole leg out of my pants and underwear and hold them to the side so I dont pee on that too. Now I would love to tell you that I overcame all odds and was successful but I wasn't...because I peed on my foot/flip flop. Great, now what am I gonna do, there's actually urine on my foot. So I took a scoop of the water you use to dump in and flush the toilet and I dumped it all over my foot to wash the pee off. Great, now I have one whole wet foot/sandal and someone is going to see and know that I peed on my own foot. Oh well, what am I gonna do. I go in the "store" to grab some food and pick up a bag of these interesting looking cookie-type things...bad news, there is 1000 ants under and in these bags feasting on them. Good for the ants, no longer good for me! Yes people, I still had to eat something from this fine establishment so I settled on plain white rice, mmmm. Haha eating on long haul bus rides becomes mostly about what can you possibly get down so you don't starve for the next 8 hours and also, about what won't give you food poisoning. So I get my rice and I sit, now the grumpiest person in SE Asia, on a bench and eat it, fine. Random solo traveller sits beside me and starts talking to me. Somehow, and i honestly don't know how stuff like this happens, but I told him I just urinated all over my own foot. Why did I have to DO that?!?! I just told a random stranger, god bless him for rolling with it graciously, that I peed on myself! I didn't have to do that, I didn't have to say anything, I could just NOT said anything but instead I said EVERYTHING I was thinking (like usual), ugh. Oh well, back on the bus to hopefully sleep for the next 5 hours. I didn't because I was sitting beside a stranger and I spent most of the ride trying to not have my body parts and possessions fall onto her side of the chair. Instead I saw most hours of the clock and noticed things like the fact that the guy sitting across from me actually had ears that wiggled back and forth...AND I think this happened naturally because he wasn't even trying to do it and didn't seem aware of it at all...it was amazing, I didnt think ears could move like that! The one small thing that brought me joy in this shitty travel day!
The bus was supposed to arrive at 6 am (a half reasonable time) close to Khao San Road but actually it arrived at 4:30 am (a terribly unreasonable and scarier time). I was so happy I had been to Khao San before so I was at least a little familiar with the area because we got off the bus to pitch black and a hungry mob of taxi drivers who refused to turn on the meter and tuk tuk drivers ready to take us to our next destination for only triple the price of usual, super! Its funny because you get off the bus and its kind of like each driver "claims" a particular tourist and then even though you try to dodge their questions ("Where you go?") and be noncommittal, they follow you and just stare and wait while you gather your stuff and your senses. So myself and the French gal just sat on our bags and tried to figure out where we were while drivers stood over us waiting for us to take their ride that we never agreed to take in the first place. Eventually we decided to just walk down the street and try to get a meter taxi that was not in the bus drop off zone. I knew I could get around Khao San Road area by foot if I could just find something familiar to orient myself to where I was...so we popped in and asked a guy working at 7-11 where Khao San Road was and we were actually really close so French gal and I split (she in a taxi and me walking down the street towards the general area of Khao San). Except I had forgotten to load my map for where my hostel was and I had NO idea how to find it. So NOW at 5 am I was walking down Khao San trying to find wifi so I could look up where my hostel was so I could finally go there! Definitely a little eerie because its dark and most things are closed but eventually found an open restaurant and ate eggs while wifi'ing and people watching--now the only life left on Khao San Road at 5 am is people cleaning, residually super drunk disgusting people and prostitutes and ladyboys/those chasing them (usually the same residually drunk people)...oh yes and rats! Got my map loaded and as soon as it got light I grabbed my stuff and started walking to my hostel but of course, its 7 am so people haven't even checked out let alone the room being clean and ready for me to move in. But the lovely people who worked there let me in, let me drop my stuff and sleep on their couch in the "lobby" for a few hours...going on 24 hours of straight travel, this was a blessing and a half!!
The hostel I stayed at was an old style Thai house that was restored and it was absolutely lovely...lovely people, lovely clean rooms and bathrooms AND they supplied shampoo AND conditioner (I cant even find it in the store)...heaven! Pretty well I did nothing all day and when it came time to go to bed, I brushed a few tiny ants off my bed and crawled in haha. Only thing was that the dorm upstairs was full of mosquitoes so in the middle of the night I had to get up and put on bug spray because I was getting eaten alive. Well, something felt a little strange with my lip so I went to the bathroom to have a look and to my horror, half of my bottom lip had swelled up to triple its normal size, wtf?!? I realized that I must have gotten bitten by a mosquito on the lip and obviously I'm a bit allergic to bites (always knew this because bites all over my body swell up huge and misshapen)--and I realized that this is probably what happened in Koh Phi Phi when my lip swelled up. So I was a little panicked that it would never go normal again but also a little feeling awesome because I figured out the mystery! And that is all I'll write now!