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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Sandy Toes,Salty Souls | Koh Lanta & Koh Lipe | Thailand

Updated: Feb 25

So I have now been in Thailand, on and off, since November.  Looking back on all of my time travelling in Southeast Asia, I really wish I could do a re-do of my time. If I could, I would definitely put much more time and emphasis on Thailand. For a country that I fell in love with on day one, I sure did show it some neglect. Sure... I experienced a little bit of the north, a whole lot of Bangkok and now I was on my little bit of the south section.


But... so far...


To tell you the truth, so far, the South was letting me down. It was seriously disappointing me. I know that sounds bizarre but nothing could be further from the truth. 


It was… and I wasn’t quite sure why or how... or even how to react. Maybe I’d seen so many posts and pictures of people island hopping and sea kayaking and swimming under waterfalls... lazing on white sand beaches, splashing through crystal clear waters... watching the sun go down with a tropical cocktail...


You know... those things! The real heaven-like posts...


Thailand paradise.


Sure... I'd done a few of those things, but it hadn't seemed nearly as idyllic enough. I felt jibbed. Ripped off. 


Where was my Thailand paradise?

Where were my long-tail boats and majestic floats through the islands, bobbing my toes in and out of shimmering turquoise waters?


Where was this exquisite scene sensation that had everyone reeling?


And then I landed in Koh Lanta....


Koh Lanta is known for its laid-back atmosphere, quiet and secluded beaches, clear water, lush rainforests and chill vibes. At first, it seemed like just a bit of a long main dragstrip of shops and hotels… Nothing too enthralling. Nothing too enthralling... of course... until I got myself out exploring.


Falling in love with this island was quick and easy.


Koh Lanta was all about the chill, laid-back, beach vibes. I saw one sign that read, "sandy toes & salty souls," and I don't think it could have been summed up any better. Most of the beach restaurant pubs and restaurants were wooden shanties, decorated with a lot of driftwood, shells, crafts, repurposed sea finds, comical signs and vibrant colours.


I had booked a little cabana in the mid-section of the island. Nothing too elaborate. Simple and perfect for me. The room was painted a bright fuchsia, which seems to be a recurring theme with my accommodation of late. Sammy and I split up for a couple of days and In doing so, I completely realized how much my independence means to me and how much I adore just having me time.


I loved this 'me' break.


The first afternoon and evening, I just let my feet guide me, as I meandered through the wee shops and along the beach. I finally settled at one little restaurant to enjoy a stir fry and a tropical cocktail while the sun was going down. It was the perfect place and all at once, I knew that this was exactly what I had been seeking.


This was the Thailand oasis I'd been looking for.



The next day I decided to rent a moped and check out the entire island. I planned to leave no stone unturned. I was ecstatic. There was no traffic to contend with and it would just be me and the open road. I’d heard that Koh Lanta was a great place to go, and not too busy. Granted, it was busy, and very much catered to the tourists, but it wasn’t to the extreme. It wasn’t boisterous. It wasn’t over the top at all.  My moped ended up being a bit of an old clunker. It sputtered when it was started and the gas gauge was broken, but my desire to get out and explore overrode my skepticism of hiring a lemon.


The lady took 5000 baht AND my international driving permit as a deposit, which I found quite strange. So there I was again, at the local ATM, making another large withdrawal for funds that I didn't need. I was leaving Thailand soon, so I hardly needed to be stacking my pockets with local currency... but compared to handing over my passport, the deposit certainly won out.


It was the driving permit she wanted that stumped me.

“What if the police stop me?”

Valid question... I think.

Driving without a licence? Slightly unheard of...


Her reply was classic.

"You tell them to call me."


Ok…


Off I went… "See you at 6!"


So the gas gauge didn’t work... ya... and that was a bit harrowing. As I'm a bit of a moped novice, I'm not really in tune with how much gas they hold and how long they can go before filling up. Even if I did, I didn't know the distances on the island. It was just supposed to be me... cruising on my cumbrous hog... and the wind in my hair. Petrol stress was NOT invited along... though it chose to accompany me regardless.


So I have to talk briefly about the gas stations.


I think a few blogs back, I might have mentioned that there were these random stands on the side of the road, with bottles of gas. I originally thought they were plastic bottles, but they weren't. They were glass. And if I could hazard a guess... I would go as far as to say that they were old whisky bottles filled with gas. The whole concept seemed too strange to comprehend until it came time for me to use them.



I made a little video... you can watch it right here...


Come to think of it… Gas measured out in whisky bottles, on a makeshift, pallet shelf... on the side of the road… using the honour system.


Foolproof?

Right?


Ya…


It was a pretty cool way to get gas. I'll give it that. How these cute little bottles could be categorized as the largest contributor to global climate change... beyond me! They were just so cute.


My first stop was Koh Lanta's old town.


I loved it. It was delightful... like a quaint, little fishing-village-meets-tourist-trap of time standing still. I've mentioned before how much of a sucker I am for the bling bling and the colourful trinkets. The tourist traps have the power to lure me in. Even just seeing them makes me giddy. 


Pretty cool that the Old Town was originally a sea gypsy settlement, but over time, transformed into a village with distinct Chinese influence. I just wandered along the street, in no real hurry or knowledge of time, enjoying the views, the shops and the whole laid-back ambiance.


From there, I made my way back up the island to the northern tip, driving on the east coast and then did the entire main drag back down on the western coast to the southern tip, the National Park. I can't even begin to count how many times I pulled over to admire the view of the pristine beaches... and take a million photos. It was so bright and beautiful and lush and shimmering. I couldn't get enough of it. 



I said I would have the moped back by 6pm... and when I rolled up at 5:30pm, the place was locked up and the lady was gone. What the????


I banged on the door.

Nothing.


I called the number on the door.

Nothing.


I texted.

Nothing.


The lady next door even phoned.

Nothing.


Shit.

I was in a do-or-die situation here. With an early morning ferry the following morning, I hardly had time to be messing around with a moped rental.


I had no idea what to do. 


WHERE WAS SHE???

I needed to rid myself of my clunker, and get my driver's permit and my money!


Finally, at about 5:55 PM, she pulled in casually on her own moped... no biggie. Here's me, pacing back and forth... fighting back a coronary, an aneurysm and a panic attack... and she’d gone shopping and got her nails done... 


Couldn’t have put a note on the door… or texted me???


HONESTLY.


Honestly.


The following morning, I caught the ferry to Koh Lipe.  It was a bit of a distressing process, this catching a ferry process. One would think it might be quite a simple process, but nooooo....


Wrong. Very wrong.


Once I figured out which desk I needed for my check-in, the lady glanced at my reservation screenshot on my phone, got me to write my name and age (why age?? seriously???) on a piece of paper, put a sticker on my phone and waved me off to the right-hand side. 


That was it. 


I was pretty dismissed. Left to my own devices. At first, I threw down my pack and just sat there, biding my time until it was time to board and I was given instructions on where to go. But then I got worried, realizing that there might not be any instructions given. There are no signs and no visible queues. In a few places around the docks, I could see piles of luggage starting to form, but nothing that indicated where their destination might be. Finally, I approached a man, who looked official. I showed him my sticker... and once again, I was brushed off. 


"You go. Sit."


Guess I'd been told. Finally, I started seeking out others with similar-looking stickers and I carefully placed myself in their vicinity. My ferry peeps. Where they went... I was bound to go as well. The trouble was, they were all just as confused as I was and had already joined a few wrong lineups. 


Why is there zero organization?

Would writing out a couple of signs kill anyone? Maybe a few delineators and some rope????


If they spent as much time on proper signage as they do on silly stickers, life would be decidedly easier. The Thais sure do love their stickers.


My pack was grabbed and thrown into one of two boats. I kicked myself for not paying more attention to where it was being tossed. For the entire journey from Koh Lanta to Koh Lipe, I had no idea if it had made the journey with me.  


It did. Me and my sticker watched as it was heave-ho'ed off the boat and launched onto the beach. 


Good thing I don't travel with my favourite China.


So Koh Lipe...


I was very back and forth about going here. On one hand, it looked stunningly beautiful and there was nothing I wouldn't do just to be a part of it. On the other hand, it wasn't cheap... and I'm poor.


No, Koh Lipe was not cheap at all.



The best I could do was a single bed in an 8-bed dorm room. I do try to like hostels, and I always have the best intentions of staying in them, but if we're being honest, I outgrew them eons ago. The sharing-my-space ship sailed a long time ago... and now that's all left is self-centred greed for my own bedroom. I like my own space. Sharing with one person is bad enough. Sharing with 14... nightmare. 


This hostel pinned itself as 'boutique,' so I figured I would throw caution to the wind and book! Dorm room, here I come...


My hostel was ok…it was quite beautiful actually... but there was nothing 'boutique' about my bunk.


Why do I always seem to get straddled with the top bunk? Never fails.

I’m old.


*Note to self… if there are any more bunks and dorms in my future, remember to tell them that I'm old and decrepit.


Yes.


Seriously- this bunk was up-up-up. The highest bunk on planet Earth. My bed must have been 10 feet high in the air... and I was the schmuck that had to climb a steel ladder up to reach it. Getting up was ok, minus the hauling of the heavy bag. Getting down was deathly. I tried to strategically plan my descents so they were as minimal as possible, ensuring I'd peed before going up... brushed my teeth... had everything I needed. Despite my best efforts, sure enough, I'd always get settled in and then think... shit... and down I would fumble...


But still... I'm glad I went to Koh Lipe.

It was a true paradise. I knew it as soon as I stepped off the boat. I knew it even before stepping off the boat because when I stepped off the boat, I was plunging towards my luggage before sand and sea water had their way with it. 


It was the most picturesque place I have ever been... or at least up, up, up there! Truly stunning. The water was a glistening crystal turquoise, highlighted with clouds of pure, white sand beaches. The island was so tiny, only 3.5 km in length and 2.5km in width. I could have walked around and around and around it for the rest of my life.


Paradise. 

Koh Lipe was an island where the 'paradise' dream became a reality. 


Yes… it was busy, but only because it was so tiny… regardless of the tourists, it still didn't seem too overrun. At least it didn't until the sun went down and everyone headed into the main Walking Street to find somewhere to dine for the evening. The prices were exorbitant, so I didn't spend too much... which was probably a good thing.  I did have every intention of spending my entire moped deposit on beach clothes, jewelry and assorted trinkets, but the conversion to Canadian just didn’t make it seem worthwhile.



It was in Koh Lipe, that I met Matilda, an uproarious Australian.  She was a definite firecracker and had a genuine interest in the lives of the people she met. There were a lot of questions! We spent a few hours exploring together, wandering up and down the intertwining alleys of the cozy market area and strolling along the beach.  Matilda was planning on staying on Koh Lipe for at least a week, so she wasn't in any hurry to experience everything on the tiny island within 24 hours, so I finally had to break off on my own and take everything I could. I wanted to breathe it all in for as long as I could before I was ripped away from it.


So much to see... so little time.


My ferry was set to leave at 3 pm the following day. I had intentionally opted for the later ferry so that I had more time in my new favourite tropical paradise. 


That was it for Thailand and I was departing on a good note.


It was time to head to Malaysia...


The ferry organization here took some cake as well. Because I was leaving one country and entering another, I was required to check in with immigration two hours before departure. When I arrived at the pier, there was already a small line forming at the check-in window, but the miserable lady behind the glass pane ignored our requests for information and repeated "10 minutes" until we all got the hint to just leave her alone. 


Finally, she started the ball rolling, and in doing so, took our passports from each of us and in turn, gave us a laminated number card and let us know, in a very stern manner, "no lose!"

We were all instructed to come back at 2 pm.


OK.


With an hour to spare, I treated myself to a very expensive Aperol Spritz at a beachside restaurant and enjoyed my last moments of Koh Lipe. 


Once back at immigration, we stood in the same line, with the same crabby woman, behind the same check-in window... who ignored us for yet another "10 minutes," until she was good and ready to deal with her job. When 10 or 15 minutes had passed, one by one, she gave us all back our passports. I immediately leafed through mine... but there were no changes. Nothing. No new stamps at all. 

What had she done with them?


This time, she also handed us each a bright orange luggage tag indicating that we were heading to Langkawi. Then we all had to stand in another line only to have our fingerprints checked and our passports taken away again. This time, they told us that they'd return them to us on the boat.

On the boat?


I hate being separated from my passport. 


As I was coming to terms with that, the crew started throwing our luggage onto one of the long-tail wooden boats... without us. 


We sat and waited for what seemed an eternity. Finally, we boarded... but were only just transported out further and reloaded onto a bigger ferry that would transport us the rest of the way. 

When they returned our passports, a group of kids went through the crowds of us, holding stacks of passports, and yelling out our countries to get our attention.


Their program is weak...

Weak for my poor heart anyway.

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