To the Islands

by David on November 13, 2009

Header Pic

After wandering around Chiang Mai entertaining myself for three days, I felt a bit underwhelmed.

Eating was always a gratifying experience, but that could only be done three times a day if I was going to be reasonable. Organized sightseeing was all right, but it was expensive and a little too packaged-feeling. For the first few days I began to wonder how much of this solo wandering thing I could really appreciate. I was a bit jealous of the people with travel companions.

By the last few days I had made new friends — a German girl and two Americans — with whom I’d spent three consecutive evenings, eating street food and pub-hopping. It was so nice to have people to share my experiences with. That’s what was missing: people to talk to.

Having a little crew of acquaintances dissolved any sense of disillusionment I had about traveling on my own, and I became used to the easygoing lifestyle in Chiang Mai. Warm evenings, cheap beer, jazz pubs and sidewalk meals.

I left Chiang Mai with a pang of sadness. I was finally getting comfortable, and then I had to move on. I could have easily stayed in Chiang Mai a while. I see why so many people do.

Krabby in Krabi

Krabi, one of the coastal transport hubs in the south, was to be my next stop. I flew there via Bangkok on November 8, and immediately wished I was back in Chiang Mai.

It was scorching and breezeless when I emerged from the airport to hail a cab. The agreed fare was exactly what my guidebook said it would be, but I let my guard down got taken for a bit of a ride.

I had said I wanted to go to Krabi town, but I noticed the driver never asked me exactly where in town, so I was not surprised when he pulled up in front of one of the ubiquitous “Tourist Information” offices down by the pier. A woman in a pink company golf shirt opened my cab door and ushered me inside. I should have walked away. I’m not sure why I didn’t.

She suggested a guest house that wasn’t far away, showed me some pictures of it, and sold me a voucher for 600 baht. The driver zipped me over to “Baifern Mansion,” where the owner took my voucher without looking at me and had an attendant whisk me upstairs and show me my room.

Be warned that the word “Mansion” is thrown around quite casually in Thailand. The place was a bit of a dump: a hard, drooping bed, A/C that didn’t turn off, no toilet paper, and ragged-looking sheets. It wasn’t so much that the conditions were spartan, it’s that I knew this place didn’t normally charge 600 baht for that room. I checked online later and found out they top out at 350-400 baht for a room.

I will say that one great thing about getting ripped off in Thailand is that you eventually realize that it was only six or seven dollars that you lost. It’s more of an ego bruise than anything. Still, that’s three square meals right there.

I didn’t explore Krabi, save for a quick shot to 7-11 to buy toilet paper, and I left in the morning to catch a boat.

A Humble Paradise

The laid-back island of Ko Lanta was my next destination, and I was looking forward to the one-hour boat ride through the tropical Andaman archipalego.

The boat turned out to be cramped and sweaty, and took three hours, as we kept stopping alongside longtails to transfer passengers headed to other islands on the way.

We got off the boat into the same thick, stifling heat I’d encountered at the airport, and the crowd dispersed into taxis. I had lunch first and then snagged a lone tuk-tuk, whose driver was insistent upon ripping me off. He tried several times to raise the agreed-upon fare and take me to guesthouses I didn’t want to stay at, but after the previous night’s scam, I wasn’t budging.

I was starting to get disillusioned with the touristy islands region and its money-grubbing welcome party, and actually thought about going straight back to Chiang Mai.

The destination I insisted upon was called Bee Bee village. It was “Our Pick” in the Lonely Planet guidebook, and I’d heard other glowing reviews from other travelers. “The best budget accommodation on the island,” they said.

Well, now I’m here and it is by far the coolest place I’ve stayed so far on my trip. I had no reservation, but they did have one bungalow left. The apologetic manager told me something bigger would open up in a few days, but this one was only 300 baht.

And my, is it tiny:

My home for a few days. Small but stylish.

My home for a few days. Small but stylish.

It’s got a floor about the size of a fridge door, a bed that’s not much bigger, and a primitive bathroom tacked onto the end.

The cold-water shower spits out about as much as a damaged garden hose, I can see geckos scurrying across the roof beams sometimes, and at night one hears the distinct sound of termites chewing. But it’s clean enough, and the wonderful vibe of the village makes up for everything I lack in personal amenities. The bungalows are all different, some on stilts, painted with tribal art, and each with its own private hammock.

There is a round hut in the center of the village that serves as a meeting place and a hangout for both guests and staff. Just outside is a community cooler full of soft drinks and beer. Take what you like, write it down, pay whenever you feel like it. Anywhere in the village, you can just flag down a staff member, order some food or a drink, and they’ll bring it out to you and put it on your tab.

The guests, too, are unusually engaging and helpful. Almost immediately I made friends with a Swedish couple and a Canadian couple, and we add a few more to our little circle every day.

The far side of the village gives way to the beach, which is beautiful but not particularly swimmable, on account of the maze of coral that begins a few meters into the water at high tide, and is completely exposed at low tide. Still, we go in every day, and the water is warm. The sunsets are grand.

On the Island

Ko Lanta is the first area in Thailand I’ve been to that could be described as rural. There is only a thin strip of restaurants and shops on the road out front, and internet access is not so readily available as it has been throughout the rest of my trip. You may have noticed I did not post an article on Raptitude on Monday. I am living in a toolshed-sized little hut with no A/C and no wi-fi, and even the two internet cafes here have inconsistent connections and are sometimes full. Not a good writing environment.

The pace here is exceedingly laid back. We pass the time reading in hammocks, dining in an oceanfront treehouse, taking pictures of crabs and sipping beers under the stars. After a fairly busy first three weeks on the road, I’m so glad to find the perfect place to do nothing.

Archway pic

Just like Chiang Mai, I could easily stay here a long, long while. But other destinations await. Next up is the crown jewel of the Andaman archipalego, Ko Phi Phi, the heartbreakingly beautiful backdrop to that spectacularly bad movie, The Beach. And I’m as excited as ever about New Zealand. The days are long and full here, but they seem to get behind you quickly.

{ 7 comments }

Lisis November 14, 2009 at 3:20 pm

I love it! I’m so glad you are including pics along the way because it almost makes it feel like I’m there myself (emphasis on almost). I think I’m seeing a new list post in your future: “Ten Great Things About Getting Ripped Off in Thailand.”

:)

Brenda November 14, 2009 at 3:49 pm

yay, pictures and stories from the Far East to brighten my day and let me know you’re well — just what I’d hoped for! :)

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) November 14, 2009 at 8:24 pm

I have always traveled alone~ though I take my pushbike when I can. Personally, I think you get to see a way of people that would not otherwise be encountered.

In his book Siddhartha, Hesse’s character *allows* himself to be taken advantage of sometimes, when at market~ I kept this in mind when visiting Guam and Palau~ even my local markets ~:-)

Your home is gorgeous!

Nadia - Happy Lotus November 16, 2009 at 9:14 am

Hi David,

I love the pictures. Thank you so much for sharing them and for letting us know what has been going on. Sounds awesome and I love the bungalow. The joys of simple living! I look forward to the next part of the journey! Safe travels, my friend!

Erin November 16, 2009 at 10:12 am

With these wonderful pic and the imagery of your words, we are brought into your adventure and captivated by the wonder of it all. Thanks,

Eric November 19, 2009 at 8:36 am

Thanks for sharing your journey. The pictures and stories are wonderful!

alyssa August 27, 2010 at 5:44 pm

David! u put all my thoughts about Beebee’s & Lanta into perfect words! thanks :)

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