From the Archives: Koh Lanta

N.B. I have little pieces of writing scattered on my laptop that I’ve never published. Some might not ever see the light of day. It’s gonna play havoc with the chronology but fuck it. Here’s my jaunt to Koh Lanta in maybe early February. Coming next is a tale of attempted suicide in Chiang Mai.. heart-warming stuff. 

Where do I begin?

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I’m currently living in a bamboo hut 30 metres from the beach on the western coast of Koh Lanta. I found this place after renting a motorbike early yesterday morning then fastidiously combing the beaches looking for cheap and decent accommodation.

I spent the previous night in some concrete, open-air room looking right out onto the sea front. As soon as I arrived there I realised I had to move on as quickly as possible. I guess the seeds of my predicament can be traced back to a loose promise made by an acquaintance (let’s call him Oregon Gary) in Krabi. He told me a few days before I left for Lanta that he’d tried to book a single room at this one hostel but had been unsuccessful and had therefore had to book a twin room. He therefore had a spare bed, did I want it? Why of course, mon ami. With that seemingly settled I endeavoured to enjoy the rest of my time in Krabi, safe in the knowledge I’d soon be supine on white sands, drinking Mai Tais with Ty Ty.

The path to true love seldom runs smoothly and on the very morning I’m due to meet my new pal in the hostel lobby, he informs me that it’s actually a double room not a twin room therefore all bets are off. Whether this is true or whether it was the sheer force of my personality slash my awkwardness that had made him reconsider remains a mystery. Surely not though, right? What to do? I’ve just checked out. I could have meekly insta-checked back in like some kind of chump. No. I’m a solo traveller; a nomad; lone wolf to wolf den, I’m coming in.

The bus to Koh Lanta departs in an hour and since Oregon Gary has left my squarely up shit creek, I get on HostelWorld and see what the crack is. 1000 Thai Baht ‘resorts’ all over the gaff. What the fuck is this? I found an obscure website, booked some weird looking place and jumped on the bus. Needless to say the reception girls at Pak-Up were sad to see me go.

I should note at this juncture how green I was and how this is not how it’s done. The right play once you get got by OG is to fuck off any notion of booking anything and to jump on the bus anyway. Most of the budget places on these Thai islands (especially the less developed ones) don’t even advertise on the internet. This is some underground shit. Fucking Omerta bidness. Rock up, get a vehicle, get talking to people, get personal recommendations, negotiate prices, be charming, be friendly, be polite. Profit. Someone will sort you out. People are nice.

This is essentially what I did once the mini clusterfuck of the first night was dispatched. In that sense, maybe it was all part of the plan: part of my Coelhian Personal Legend and a watershed moment for the rest of my trip.

But let’s hop back into my fresh-off-the-boat mindset, where HostelWorld booking numbers and prior reservations are the cogs essential to the continuing survival of humanity.

The minivan I’d booked wasn’t your typical off-brand drop-you-at-a-dusty-shack affair. It took each guest right to their hotels (and most were hotels, no extra s). Koh Lanta is a pretty small island so maybe the magnanimousness of such a feat is being a mite over-blown. The whole minivan empties and I’m still sat there listening to some Frank Ocean. This is all begin to appear rather ominous. The more ‘beachy’-type places begin to thin and we drive down a bare expanse of road before I’m finally dropped off at my place. I’m on the south-Eastern tip of the island. No sandy beaches; fierce Andaman winds; population density: negligible. Interesting. I check into my room. It’s all concrete with a mosquito net. No windows, just an open expanse that looks out to the sea. Think of Tyrion Lannister’s cell at the Eeyrie. Looking back it was fucking cool as shit but I still in my gimpy phase so I was unable or unwilling to appreciate its qualities. There was also a fucking gecko the size of a Comodo dragon chilling in there with me. I bailed and decided to check out the ‘beach’.

My first step onto the sludgy sand produced a discernible ‘whump’ as my foot sank a metre into some quagmire. Fuck this beach.

Things improved from here. I began writing this blog. I ate some really nice fried rice and watched a moon as big as a dinner plate illuminate the entire Andaman sea before gracefully descending behind its horizon. The fierce whip of the Andaman wind became a cooling, soothing breeze. I got onto Whatsapp and spoke to my sisters. The owners of the establishment came over and offered to drive me to the Eastern side of the island the next morning for a nominal fee. That’s what I was looking for. They knew. They could tell that their place, while being an amazing retreat, was definitely not what I was looking for. They clocked the Byronic good looks, the pseudo-‘wacky’ swim shorts and the £73 pounds in my back-burner and consequent desire to wax the lot (the Milky Bars are on me!) and helped out a guy in need.

The next morning, the owner drove me to the ‘party side’ (and I use the term loosely, Lanta is chiiiilled) and wouldn’t leave me until I’d secured lodgings. The kindness of such people continues to astound me and you’ll have to forgive the lapse into cliché when I say that the concentration of such incidences of such generosity is definitely higher in SE Asia than in the UK. I hate the inherent condescension in the “aaaw they have so little, yet give so much” proclamations (I’m looking at you, wide-eyed Cali girls) but I suppose these twee little asides exist because they’re at least partially true. Plus I’m allowed to say it cos I’m on some council estate of mind shit.

Frankly, I was beginning to get a bit embarrassed by her munificence (and I guess by how flustered I’d briefly become the previous evening) so I walked into a place, discovered they were full, left my bags in there and went out to inform her that I was all good. Profuse thankyous dispensed with, I began my mission. Walked into a dive shop (of which Lanta is absolutely laden with), some cool as fuck Devon girl tells me to dump my bags there, hires me a scooter at a great rate, gives me three beach bungalow company names with directions and sends me on my way.

And here we are.

This is being written months from when it happened (bar the first paragraph, obviously) and as always I’m playing fast and loose with tenses so the details might be hazy but understand this: Koh Lanta is fucking cool. Get a beach bungalow (500b in high-season for twin so try to have friends); rent a scooter; grab a good book* and kick the fuck back

*I was briefly a bit fucked here cos I’d grabbed some weak Everything is Illuminated at a book exchange in Krabi. Don’t ask. People might try and tell you I gave 50 Shades of Grey a quick whirl but it’s all mendacious propaganda designed to discredit me as a purveyor of all things good taste.

Luckily, our beach bungalows were within a concentration of similar type accommodation attracting similar type revellers so without having to resort to forensic dissection of each night in turn (not that I even could), rest assured a good time was had by all, many great friendships were either struck up or cemented and a pretty awesome and memorable beach party was attended.

ImageHere’s the ‘ferry’ that takes you from mainland Thailand to the hallowed Koh Lanta. It smelled of diesel and fatigue.

ImageThe terrace of the first place I stayed and witnessed the moon setting.

ImageThe view from my room.

ImageThe room. The Comodo is lurking behind that chest, best believe.

ImageApropos of nothing, my scorched back. Listen to Baz Luhrmann kids: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTJ7AzBIJoI. Peep the original HTC Desire taking the photo, courtesy of Hugh Madborough.ImageFun and games on my new beach.ImageImageThese are pictures of the sun setting.

ImageImageI was gonna ask these Thais if I could join in but I didn’t wanna start any beef and get got by embarrassing anyone. Plus I was still nursing my well-documented busted toe so I left them to their rudimentary game. Thai football is not yet adequately prepared for the European élan I’d unleash.

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