Friday, November 20, 2009

Ko Lanta and our little Riviera in Thailand

Ko Lanta – Nov 5 to 11 (by Swiss)

After suffering multiple delays in trying to get my final dive (the night dive) in at Phi Phi, we were all growing a tad restless to leave the beautiful but proportionally overpriced island for a new venue. That venue was Ko Lanta, a relatively large island south of Phi Phi with a much less developed tourism industry vis-a-vis Phi Phi but littered with various beaches and paved roads buzzing with motor scooters, pickup trucks, and tuk tuks carrying people (mainly Swedes) on their journeys up and down the island. We got a tip about a resort, the Lanta Riviera, during our stay in Krabi, and after a quick phone call confirming a fan room rate of 300 thai baht (<USD 10), it was decided that we'd give them a shot.

Thursday – Diving and travel

Since I needed one more dive to complete my advanced open water cert, I opted for the afternoon ferry while Jason and team England hopped on the morning ferry to Lanta. My day would be spent diving and enjoying the weather, while Jason and Co. got to ride an overcrowded ferry and figure out accommodation details. I think I got the better end of the deal.

Having resigned myself to the fact that I would probably spend the remainder of my life waiting to complete a night dive, I did a computer dive instead, which was so-so but I got the rubber stamp for my cert. The last dive of the day then would be a fun dive, which it truly was, as we tracked down a very large (4 ft or so) turtle feasting on corals. There was a second guy on the dive doing his open water cert, so Sean (my dive instructor), did some skills stuff with him while I got to spend a good 10-15 minutes observing and helping feed Mr. Turtle. It was AWESOME and made up for the somewhat lackluster dives I had the previous couple of days, although I wish I had an underwater camera with me. I must say, I liked the dive shop on Tioman (B&J) a lot more than the shop on Phi Phi. But such is life, and I now have my cert :) Time to move on.

A quick longtail boat ride from the dive shop on Long Beach got me to the dock and by 15:30 I was on board for the 1.5 hour ride to Lanta. Contrary to Lawton's earlier ride, my ferry was fairly empty and I managed to snag a spot on the deck towards the front of the boat where I enjoyed the ocean breeze, sun, and promptly nodded off exhausted after a full day of diving.

Jason had texted me earlier that Tan from the Riviera resort would be at the terminal on Lanta with a sign for “Swiss” and provide a free ride to the resort. Service – the Lanta Riviera has it. The resort itself was very clean, located directly on Klang Kloang beach, had a restaurant, pool, and a bar overlooking the Andaman Sea. Nifty and very economical, although I think we got there right before busy season, allowing for cheaper rates.

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The first night was uneventful, with dinner had at the resort and then a couple of drinks at Freedom bar, the bar attached to our resort.

Lazy days

Although we had originally booked one night, we quickly determined that the Lanta Riviera would be our home for a little while, so we reserved the room until the following Monday. With plenty of time on our hands, it was time for relaxing island life to take over. We quickly discovered a convenience store just down the driveway of the resort that offered large beers for around 50 baht, sodas for 15 baht, so a cheap source for drinks and snacks was now close by. This, coupled with chair equipped bungalow porches, made a lazy life very easy and convenient. (Un)fortunately, rain would be the theme for most of the day, greatly limiting our mobility and thus making porch life more of a necessity.

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Friday night would be spent by Jason, Sally, and Caroline turning the Freedom bar into their Thai version of Cheers. My sleep theme continued, so while the rest of our team were busy meeting and playing cards with Dan (Chicago), Kelly (Chicago), Ollie (UK), Sophie (UK) as well as the guys at the bar (Bao, Poor, Suki, etc) I was snoozing away in bed after a brief dinner and four short rounds of playing asshole [a card game] at Freedom bar. Yeah, lame, I know.

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I was determined to make Saturday more productive and perhaps even, gasp, social. Item 1 for productivity – rent a scooter. 200 baht got me a scooter for 24 hours, which in my case was good until 11:15 am the next morning. The scooter afforded us the flexibility to cruise to a nice little restaurant, Bulan Lanta, down the street that offered free wifi where email was checked and contact with the outside world established. We also found out that Gary Lo, a friend of ours from SF, was in the area and considering a visit to Lanta. As for the restaurant, it would become our go-to place for cheap food and free internet, and the owners were super nice. After the internet fix, we decided to check out the main town, where I scored some new flip flops while we explored the markets. As for the town itself, it was nothing to write home about, so I keep it at that.

The other mission for the day was to find a Styrofoam cooler, as our room didn't have a fridge and we figured it would be cool (no pun intended) to have a cooler with chilled beverages and ice handy. An exhaustive search yielded eventual victory at a Thai version of a hardware store, but with prices north of our threshold and haggling unsuccessful, the plan was abandoned. We decided it wasn't worth the expense, especially since the convenience store was literally a 1 minute walk from our room. But riding the scooter was fun, and it gave the day purpose.

For dinner, we joined up with Dan and Kelly for a trek down the road to a place called Where Else (shout out to all the Purdue people) for dinner, which was ok but quite different from the establishment in West Lafayette. But hey, at least we walked a little bit, and I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep at the table.

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The crew spent a late night with friends at Freedom bar, I resorted to more sleep after a drink or two. So Saturday was semi-productive, semi-social, and semi-awake for me.

Swiss the Explorer, Jason the Cook

Sally and Caroline also had made it to town on Saturday and found a nice German bakery with supposedly excellent coffee. Since I still had the scooter on Sunday morning, Caroline and I went to this bakery to pick up coffee and breakfast for the rest of the crew. If you are in search of some good ol' European breakfast food and strong coffee, this bakery is it. Very good. I forget the name, but then again, there aren't that many German bakeries on the island. So if you ever come visit, make sure to look it up.

Jason's plan for the day was to attend a four hour Thai cooking class, for which Sally joined him. Having blown all my money on diving, I decided instead to rent the scooter for another day and go explore the rest of the island. Below are some pictures from my 3 hour cruise north, south, east and west on the island.

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I met up with Caroline a little later and we together traveled for about 30 minutes to the southern tip of the island to catch the sunset. Besides the pot hole littered dirt roads and steep hills straining the scooter, it was a fun little exploration.

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We met back up with Jason and Sally around 18:30, where they gave us the recap on cooking school. Here's Jason's summary:

Sally and I arrived at the cooking school just before classes began at 13.30 There were 6 other people in our course, three Germans, two Dutch and one French guy. Our first task, as a group, was to widdle the list of 10 dish options down to 5 that we would actually cook in our class. This “exercise” gave me a very quick introduction into why the EU cannot get their act in gear and accomplish anything. With lots of hemming and hawing, no one wanting to insult or offend anyone, we finally (after almost 20 minutes) got the list down. We moved over to the prep area where we got a quick introduction to Thai spices and uniquely Thai ingredients, then did all the chopping for our five dishes. [My claim to exclusive knowledge in this portion...our instructor held up a Kaffir Lime leaf and asked us what it was, when I answered correctly everyone was amazed, although I pointed out that it's a popular new flavor of Gin available in the US, haha] We then moved over to our individual cooking areas where we prepared our first dish, a coconut milk soup (I made mine with chicken) which was delicious and easy!! (Although I'll need to see if I can get 1 or 2 of those ingredients back home, but I have faith in the plentiful options back home in the Bay Area!! and the power of Ranch 99 too, haha!) After enjoying that dish we moved on to a red curry (I chose seafood this time) then a chicken fried rice, massaman beef curry and finally stir fried chicken with chilies and hot basil leaves. After each dish we stopped to taste and enjoy. I finished the soup, which was delicious. I finished almost all the red curry, but quickly realized that I could not keep up this eating pace. I ate about half the fried rice, had a few bites of the massaman curry and by the chicken and hot basil leaves I had about two bites and was so full I was certain I would burst. They bagged up my leftovers to take with us, along with a book of recipes to recreate these back home. The experience was great, it was nice to see how easily some of this tasty can be made at home (at a tiny fraction of the price of Thai restaurants in the states) and I had a lot of fun!

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So that was that, I think I'm gonna spring for cooking school in Vietnam. Dinner was had right outside our resort at a quaint little british pub with free (crummy) wifi and home made speakers (yes, that’s a Styrofoam cooler.)

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Monday had now rolled around and we technically were to check out, but we really liked Lanta so it was decided to stay two more nights for good measure. Jason woke up not feeling very well, which may or may not have been a product from the cooking school the day prior. Sally was fine. I decided later that day to sample Jason's leftovers, which, after having sat out in the heat all night and day, weren't very good anymore. I had planned to see if it was the food from cooking school that made Jason sick, but after two bites that little experiment was quickly abandoned. Probably a wise move anyway.

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Monday would also mark the day that Gary Lo and Co (Lily and Linh) arrived. They, too, booked for two more nights, so plan was to hang with them as our schedules aligned.

The day was mainly spent being lazy at the resort pool, reading books, and catching some sun. Kelly, Ollie and Sophie joined the girls and us for dinner at our favorite wifi spot, where we managed to put quite the strain on their kitchen. After dinner it was back to the resort, specifically Ollie and Sophie's porch. They had an A/C room with fridge, which was quickly stocked with beverages from the convenience store. I retired early once again, but I'm told it was quite a nice little party that eventually moved to the Freedom bar, including the store bought beers, as the guys at the bar were super cool and the group was pretty much part of the bar at this point anyway. The party lasted late into the night, with music streaming from the Jason and Co's iPods via the bar stereo system.

Power outages, theft, and the last big night out

We awoke Tuesday to quietness – no power, no fan, plenty of sweat. No big deal, we figured, since the island gets power from the main land and there was probably a minor failure somewhere along the line. After 1.5 hours without power, we inquired about how long power outages generally lasted, and the smiling lady at the front desk informed us that power would probably be back by 5pm. It was eleven AM at the time. Okey dokey, and thank God for the pool and ice – it was a scorcher.

It was around noon time that we found out that Dan and Kelly's room was broken into the previous night, and the robbers stole one of their backpacks and purse. More unbelievable, Kelly was sleeping inside the room at the time, with the door unlocked as Dan was still at the bar hanging with the usual suspects. Quite bold and scary. So note to self: lock doors, even when inside the room. The intruders stole a couple of debit cards, an iPod, and Dan's sketch pads, which had very high sentimental value. Kelly borrowed Jason's phone to cancel debit cards, and we then set off for a search and recovery mode, hoping the thieves just took the valuables and tossed the bag with the drawings on the side of the road or beach. But alas, the search ended up fruitless. On top of that, Dan and Kelly's visas had just expired two days before, making a visit to the local police a non-event. Needless to say, it put quite the damper on the day. They were scheduled to leave for KL the following day, and luckily had already booked all their tickets and had enough cash on hand to get there.

Apparently Caroline and Ollie made quite the impression with their iPod playlist skills the prior night, so the bar put up a sign about a beach party on Tuesday with live “DJ's” from the UK. Quite humorous. So Ollie and Caroline were employed for the evening, and Gary Lo and Co would join us for dinner and drinks. Dinner was had at a place across the street from the resort, with slow service and so-so food. It was then back to freedom bar, where our group now had a “Stammtisch”. It was the night for the a fire show, led off by Bao and Suki, and concluded with them bringing out a jump rope that was set on fire. Given our in with the bar/fire guys, we quickly got a chance to participate in some fire spinning and jump roping. Documentation below. Cool stuff.

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It was a very fitting ending to a very enjoyable stay on Ko Lanta. While Phi Phi was probably more scenic, the vibe of Lanta was much better. I think I can speak for both Jason and I that we would certainly consider visiting again.

Wednesday marked our departure from Lanta to Phuket town. Sally and Caroline stayed behind and would join us later on.

2 comments:

Alvin said...

Keep right on eating! Also, when you go to Ranch, make sure you bring an Asian escort (like me); otherwise, they might charge you the "foreigner" prices.

Anonymous said...

Was at 99 Ranch yesterday and they had frozen durian! It's like camembert: smells like hell, but taste like heaven. SOOOO jealous of the cooking class!

Eme

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