9 months to the day from setting off from the UK on our overland adventure, travelling 36,000km’s so far, and on to our 24th country, we head towards the Thai border for the 300 mile journey to the island of Ko Lanta.
We’re apprehensive about entering Thailand; being the most visited country in Asia with over 12 million visitors each year, we hope that we will be able get off the beaten track and find some unique experiences whilst in the country.
The border crossing is one of the easiest so far, no-one at customs wanting to check the car at all. Passports and carnet stamped, half an hour later, we are in Thailand.
On the Thai side, they don’t seem to accept carnets. As they would only give us a 30 day entry for the car, we would have to extend it in Chang Mai if we wanted to stay any longer.
Driving through lush green forest and mini rainstorms under large grey clouds, lasting for no more than 5-10minutes, then abruptly stopping as fast as they had appeared.
The landscape is a sea of green, along a smooth long road cutting all the way up. We pass huge rocks covered in a blanket of trees and steep cliff faces.
Cross over a bridge, which seems to have a troop of monkeys controlling it, one even standing on his hind legs to check us out!
We then cross two ferries to reach the main island of Ko Lanta, taking the ferry over from Ban Hua Hin across, and drive down the islands western coast in search of accommodation. After checking a few we find one at a discount as it’s so late in the day.
We travel to the very south of the island, finding a nice bungalow right by the beach near Kantiang.
The beach is idyllic, white sands and palm trees with a few chilled out bars along it, and virtually deserted.
We try snorkelling in the bay, however there’s little to see. It suddenly becomes overcast so decide to visit the waterfall. As we drive up the muddy track, we pass the local elephant trekking compound. They are chained up and even seem spooked as we crawl past them. Once at the jungle school, we ask for directions to the waterfall; the guy asks us if we need a guide, we instinctively say no, and ask again for directions.
Following his directions, we find ourselves clambering through thick forest uphill to nowhere. We can’t believe he told us to go the wrong way!! Guess he was a bit annoyed we wouldn’t take up his offer of guiding us! We back track, and manage to find the obvious path that we should have taken the first time round. As we start to ascend the muddy trail, it starts bucketing it down and given that neither of us wants to slip down the cliff face today, we decide to head back.
Being on a beautiful Thai island, you would imagine right now we would be out on a boat enjoying the sun and sea, afraid not, it’s torrential rain and thunderstorms, the roar and massive flashes are amazing, whilst we sit in a bar overlooking the beach!
The roar of the thunder is so strong it shakes the cliff top bar; it’s as if the crack is being magnified and echoed by the mountains behind us.
The dirt roads to the south of island have turned to mud from the rain, many motorbikes and two wheeled cars are struggling through.
In search of some decent reefs for snorkelling, we had booked a snorkelling trip to Ko Lanta Marine National Park, Ko Rok, and hope the weather holds out for tomorrow.
The morning starts off very cloudy; we knew there could be rain today, but were expecting it in the afternoon. The boat turns up on time at 9am and we head off to Ko Rok Nok, a small Island about 25km south, within Ko Lanta Marine National Park.
It’s a 45 minute speed boat ride to the islands. As we approach our first snorkelling site, we are in luck and the sun breaks through the clouds.
It’s a small cove to the north of Island where there is a garden of coral, between 5 and 15 metres deep. The visibility is about 20metres. Most of the coral appears dead, yet there is still an abundance of sea life.
We then move on to the Island for lunch and further snorkelling off the beach. The wind has picked up, making the sea rough, and reduces the visibility to about 5-10metres. There is no one actually snorkelling over the reef apart from Martin, so has it to himself, which he seems quite happy about.
We are given a buffet lunch of chicken and Thai green curry, which tastes better than the bland food we had at Sunset Bungalows the previous evening.
After a couple of hours we head to the next spot, east of the island. Sheltered from the rough seas, with a deep reef starting off from about 5 metres and dropping quickly to 40 metres, we spend another hour here snorkelling and manage to see a wide variety of fish.
Swimming back to the boat without fins, I do not realise just how strong the current is. With every stroke I take, the strong current pushes me back. Just as I’m beginning to lose energy, Martin spots me and manages to drag me against the current back to the boat. I won’t be jumping in without my fins next time!
11th March 2011
We wake up and drive down a rough dirt track to the very south of the island to Ko Lanta Marine Park. As we reach the park entrance we have to pay a foreigners fee of 200B each to enter. We head straight for the sea for a snorkel. Unfortunately due to the recent storms the sea is quite cloudy, in addition to there being hundreds of small jelly fish. I decide to get out and leave Martin to it, but he is shortly back on shore, after being stung by the jelly fish a few times!
We head back down the track to find an empty beach sheltered from the wind where we are able to have a much better snorkel.
We head back to the waterfall we did not quite reach, a few days prior. Trekking through the jungle, we follow a stream for a couple of kilometres to reach a very underwhelming waterfall and tiger cave.
We wake at 6am to catch the ferry to Ko Phi Phi Don for a couple of days; the guest house owner has been kind enough to let us leave the car there for a few days.
We find the Thais very friendly, usually getting a smile even when no English is spoken or where no Thai is spoken on our side!
As we leave, the skies are dark, the wind is near gale force, with torrential rain. As we reach Phi Phi, the rain stops and the skies brighten slightly. We check the weather forecast in an internet cafe; it says this afternoon should be dry with more rain and storms for the next two days; we take the plunge and book an island trip.
At 2 pm we board our overloaded longboat, and begin our trip. As we leave the main bay, the wind and swell builds up, the further we go the bigger the swell and the stronger the winds. Sitting near the front of the boat we are drenched as wave after wave comes crashing over the boat, it certainly feels more like a roller coaster! After 30 minutes we reach our first stop; unfortunately the snorkelling point is rough with little visibility. The next stop is the same, yet this time there are more dangerous waves and currents. Our small boat struggles against the oncoming waves and wind, on several occasions being nearly fully swamped by the swell. It’s not just us as all the other long boats seem to be struggling with the rough seas today.
We finally reach Maya Bay (where ‘The Beach’ was filmed). Being within a sheltered bay, we are able to take a dip and snorkel in crystal clear waters. There is a jaw-dropping array of sea-life here, colourful fish to huge clams which snap shut when you swim near. We see an octopus gliding along the sea bed changing colour as it passes rocks and sand. It’s a truly amazing experience, as next we see a sting ray just below us, following it as it glides effortlessly just above the seabed.
Not wanting to leave, we later go ashore onto the beach, a stunningly beautiful place, yet the mass tourism has taken a lot of the charm and adventure out of reaching it.
On our return journey the seas are just as bad; I decide to take a seat in the back of the boat, hoping for a bit more shelter, leaving Martin at the front. Unfortunately the captain was using him as a counter weight and asked him to sit in the worst position possible where he was continually drenched, with sea water being sprayed into his eyes and mouth. Although I think he actually enjoyed it, he had a smile on his face the whole way home! It was just as an exhilarating experience at the back, both of us walking through the streets on the way back to the guesthouse completely drenched! They didn’t include that part on the leaflet!
In the evening we head into town, and the charms we had found during the day quickly disappear as we are confronted with epidemic mass tourism, teenage backpackers drinking “buckets” on the streets, and young wanna be hippies smoking their spliffs on the beach. It’s a shame, a truly picturesque place, which now resembles Malaga ten years before.
We leave Phi Phi in the morning heading back to Ko Lanta to pick up the car and head north. Despite Phi Phi being overwhelmed with tourists, it is a beautiful place to see.
We jump in the back of a pick-up truck, which seem to be very popular here. Chat with our elderly driver who tells us he has eight children (7 girls, 1 boy), one of whom is called Lanta, and how he also used to drive long-distance to various places in Thailand for holidays when he was younger.
We plan to head towards Bangkok over the next two days, and decide just to drive and see how far we get. Around 9pm, after travelling about 250 miles, we find a small guest house to rest in Bang Saphan.
14th March Kanchanaburi
We have another day of driving, towards Kanchanaburi, on fast roads. It is a relatively uneventful 5 hour drive.
The town of Kanchanaburi, made famous by the film ‘The Bridge Over The River Kwai’ set in Japanese occupied Thailand in 1942/43, is one town where, during world war II Japanese forces used Allied prisoners of war and south-east Asian labourers to construct a rail route into Myanmar (Burma) through the Three Pagodas Pass on the Thai-Burmese border. The cost of building this ‘Death Railway’ was over 100,000 lives lost, caused by the conditions the men were forced to work in and the brutality of their captors.
The bridge was only in operation for twenty months before being destroyed by Allied bombs, and was then not used as a supply route but as an escape route.
Once we arrive, we head to our guest house and go for dinner.
15th March – 17th March
Have a day of sight-seeing, going firstly to the Erawan waterfalls, which are quite a drive out of town. There are seven tiers, a hot uphill hike to the top. Martin steps into a pool to cool off but gets more than he bargains for as the tiny fish start to bite his feet-it seems he is in a natural fish spa! The falls are overwhelmed with tourists, detracting from their beauty.
Next we head to the Phra That caves. This time we seem to be the only ones here and the number of steps which will lead us up to the cave is deceptive from the bottom-the long steep hill up nearly kills us! As we near the peak, a guide suddenly appears behind us with a noisy gas lantern to light the inside of the deserted pitch black cavern. Squeezing through the small entrance, we follow our personal guide, leading us down past shimmering crystal rock of limestone and quartz and amazing rock shapes resembling dinosaurs, elephants, castles, waterfalls whilst the high-pitched sounds of bats can be heard above our heads. The caves are huge and we even spot a snake curled up in a hole in a rock we walk past, so in the end we are glad we made the effort to go all the way!
Following signs to the next waterfall takes us 40km off-road down a dirt road. The road is so bad that we wonder if we have come the wrong way, but persevere and eventually reach the Si Nakharin national park. The seven-tiered Huay Mae Khamin waterfall we find here seems much more picturesque than the Erawan falls, flowing down from limestone mountains along a 2km route, and also helped by there being hardly any tourists here at all.
After a swim we head back home for dinner straight to Apple’s guest house; we have read good reviews about the restaurant and they also provide cooking courses. I go for a chicken Massaman curry which is delicious and Martin goes for a local Jungle curry. The owner warns him it’s the hottest curry on the menu, and asks if maybe he would like something else. However he persists, complaining that even in India he rarely had anything spicy. However he is left disappointed once again, as he is not feeling the fiery heat from the chilli! We enjoy our dinner whilst thunder and flashes of lightning illuminate the river Kwai before us.
The next day we wake up to a sharp temperature drop from 32 to 20 degrees, with torrential rain pouring down outside. We have a lazy day, do some shopping, stopping for a bite to eat in a local restaurant. Martin finishes his dish then leaves me to have mine, but by the time he is back, I still have no food. It seems they had completely forgotten about me, so after a few apologies, I head to KFC instead!
Later, we cross the bridge over the River Kwai, a 300m track. As the track was destroyed by bombs in 1945, the only original parts are the outer steel curves spanning the bridge. To our surprise, there aren’t too many people around, despite the stores and stalls surrounding the area.
The next morning we leave for the 260 mile journey to Sukhothai in heavy rain. We wonder if it will ever let up… Five hours later we arrive at the guesthouse, with the unrelenting rain still continuing to pour from the sky!
Martin & Nicole