Lost in translation on the sleepy island of Koh Lanta

Ever since we quit our jobs, it has been a go-go-go type of life. Before we set off on this trip, we were frantically downsizing our possessions and getting organized. So although we knew that this trip would begin with the hectic pace of Bangkok, we were secretly looking forward to relaxing on a beach somewhere south just to catch our breath.

We were hoping this beach get-away would be on Koh Lanta, which is a set of two islands located in the south of Thailand, but quite a way from Phuket. Since our day trip to Phang Nga Bay was so successful, we decided to trust our hotel owner to book us a transfer to Koh Lanta Island by a ferry boat.

The next morning started out with a minibus picking us up from our hotel. But I had a strange feeling when the driver snickered when we said our destination was Koh Lanta. Thinking that this was just a peculiarity and nothing more, we boarded the minibus, dreaming of being at the pier and taking a breezy ferry soon enough. We didn’t even have any breakfast since it was quite early in the morning.

The driver visited a number of hotels nearby, picking up additional passengers along the way. This was normal and expected, and we didn’t think much about it. But when he started going north towards the Phuket International Airport, we started to get worried. Did we just book an airport transfer by mistake? The pier to board the ferry to Koh Lanta was located on the southeast part of Phuket Island, and definitely not in the north where the airport was situated. We were tracking our own movements on Google Maps, and our hearts sunk when our minibus passed the Phuket airport altogether. We realized that we were likely going all the way to Koh Lanta in this minibus. How long would it take? We had no idea. The ferry was supposed to take only three and a half hours. The driver spoke no English, so we couldn’t even ask him and our fellow passengers were all going to different destinations.

Our fears were realized as the driver made his way all along the coast, essentially tracing Phang Nga Bay that we visited just the day before. We were starving because we skipped breakfast thinking we would grab something at the ferry pier. We tried to sleep in hopes that the time would just pass faster, but the driver wasn’t very good, driving in a jerky motion kind of way. The scenery around us changed gradually from the more developed shops lining the highway to run-down shacks. This was the true, rural Thailand that perhaps not many tourists get to see.

At one point, we were stopped at a police checkpoint for a good fifteen minutes. Our driver was asked to step out of the minibus and fill out some paperwork. We had no idea what was going on, but we noticed that the men at this checkpoint were armed. Afterwards, once we were allowed to proceed, our driver stopped in the middle of the road to swap some passengers with another minibus. Here he actually made a few gestures about the police checkpoint by pretending to shoot a gun and playing dead.

A couple of hours later, we stopped for a twenty-minute break at a few shacks selling some food. Rami and I bought some snacks and had our first experience using the Thai toilets. The female toilets were basically a hole in the ground with a bucket of water next to it so that you could flush it down. The men’s toilets were a row of open urinals. There was a sink to wash your hands, but no soap, so we ended up using the disinfectant wipes we had with us instead.

Female toilet with a bucket of water for flushing
Female toilet with a bucket of water for flushing
Men's urinals out in the open air
Men’s urinals out in the open air

In a couple of more hours we arrived in Krabi, a fairly large and developed city that is a pit stop for many tours and transfers in the south of Thailand. Here we transferred to another minibus and were finally told what was going on. We were in fact going to take the minibus all the way to Koh Lanta!

Luckily, the journey from Krabi to Lanta wasn’t very long and it was actually quite interesting. In order to get to the north island of Koh Lanta, our minibus drove onto a large car ferry that took it across in about ten minutes or so. And to get to the south island of Koh Lanta Yai where we were staying, we drove across a bridge.

Our journey from Patong Beach to Koh Lanta took an excruciating seven and a half hours crammed in jerky minibuses. And this was our fault since we should have confirmed all of the details ourselves instead of relying on our hotel in Patong Beach to book the transfer for us. Needless to say, we were not in a good mood when we finally arrived at our accommodation.

However, the bungalow that we booked was cute and rustic. It had a hammock right outside the door that Rami loved. The washroom had an open concept so that you could see part of the sky as you showered. It was also our first experience sleeping under a mosquito net, and boy did we need it! There were swarms of mosquitos attacking us, and we were eaten alive even though we used bug spray.

Rami looking pretty happy about our very own bungalow
Rami looking pretty happy about our very own bungalow
But the best part is the hammock!
But the best part is the hammock!
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Nice and cozy inside, complete with a mosquito net
An open-concept shower and toilet of our bungalow
An open-concept shower and toilet of our bungalow

But was the long trip to Koh Lanta worth it? We didn’t think so in the end. We stayed on the island for three full days (and transferred to a better hotel for our last night), but we didn’t quite love it as we had hoped. Koh Lanta is hyped up quite a bit in all of the guidebooks we read. We imagined white sand beaches and clear waters, but instead the beach was made up of tiny seashell pieces that dug into the soles of your feet, and the water was brownish and full of sand. There were no lounge chairs or umbrellas. We shared our large quick-dry towel as we sat on the beach.

Happy to leave the minibus behind, but feeling a bit surprised by the not-so-impressive beach
Happy to leave the minibus behind, but feeling a bit surprised by the not-so-impressive beach

However, the workers at our bungalows were very nice and hospitable. One morning they invited us to take part in a Buddhist ceremony aimed at blessing their establishment. It was very neat to witness such a spiritual moment. There was a whole process of decorating the place where the ceremony would take place and placing various food items as offerings. The lady who came to bless the bungalows chanted throughout the entire ceremony as we all sat on a large mat on the ground, holding burning incents. Rami and I along with another couple were the only foreigners taking part in this ceremony, so we felt very special to be included.

A Buddhist ceremony to bless the bungalow establishment
A Buddhist ceremony to bless the bungalow establishment

Koh Lanta is also full of great restaurants with a beautiful view. Pretty much every restaurant along the Long Beach where we stayed had wooden structures where you could sit on Thai pillows and look out into the ocean. We enjoyed many cocktails in this way, taking in the view. We even tried our first Thai massage right in front of the ocean! It was relaxing and a bit hilarious as our limbs were bent in unusual angles and our bones cracked to the sound of the waves.

Thai massage with a view
Thai massage with a view
Sunset at one of the restaurants on the beach, overlooking the ocean
Sunset at one of the restaurants on the beach, overlooking the ocean
Having lunch on the comfy pillows and enjoying the view
Having lunch on the comfy pillows and enjoying the view

Koh Lanta is definitely a destination for families. We saw many families with kids, enjoying the serenity of it all. But we found ourselves bored, frustrated by the lack of infrastructure (muddy paths everywhere instead of properly paved roads), and disappointed by the beach. So instead of staying here for five nights as we had originally planned, we decided to cut out stay short and take the ferry over to Koh Phi Phi.

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