Koh Lanta: Welcome to Bootcamp
Our last morning in Chiang Mai sees us being waved off tearfully by Arnie. We ask him to get us a taxi to the airport but being mindful of our finances as always, he wants us to get a cheaper tuk tuk. We’re a bit doubtful as we’ve been avoiding them all week, developing a fierce hatred for the drivers due to constantly being shouted at as we walk along minding our own business. However perhaps it’s time to have the tuk tuk experience first hand. At least we have the benefit of Arnie telling us what kind of fare we should be willing to pay. And this is how we end up precariously balanced with all our bags in the back of a vehicle that looks like a complete deathtrap. It’s basically a motor scooter with a frame built around it so that we can sit on a bench behind the driver and be fearful for our lives as he drives with typical Thai abandonment through the always crowded streets of Chiang Mai. With every sharp left turn there’s a strong sensation that the vehicle is on the verge of tipping over completely. Once we become accustomed to having vivid premonitions of meeting our maker, the journey is quite exhilarating – bombing along the roads at high speed and zipping up the outside of cars, often just zooming up the wrong side of the road to scare the oncoming traffic. In a short amount of time we’re unloading at Chiang Mai airport and settling in to wait for our flight.
Once more we arrive at Bangkok airport, only to shuffle back around through the check in and security queues to wait for our second flight. After mistakenly thinking we’ve reached our gate a few times and wondering at the deserted desks, we find ourselves in what seems like a crowded bus terminal deep in the bowels of the airport. And that’s essentially what it is. Once it’s time to board we get herded onto buses and take what must be at least a 15 minute bus journey around and under the airport before our plane comes in sight. Sitting on a piece of tarmac nowhere near the airport building. We haven’t been seated together for this flight, so we’re assuming it’s going to be full. And it almost is. So it almost makes sense that the quirky check in counter have decided to place Brodie in the seat just behind me beside an annoying couple. I, however, have 3 seats to myself. On a plane with only 2 spare seats. We can’t even begin to figure out the logic of this, though I’m definitely not complaining about the surplus leg room I enjoy for the duration of the flight.
Our destination is Krabi airport which is still some distance from the island of Koh Lanta where we’re going. After collecting our baggage we search the line of people at the arrival hall for a placard bearing my name. As the hotel we’re booked into was completely unresponsive when asked about an airport transfer, I’ve pre-booked with another company to take us the rest of the way. It’s dark outside already so we’re glad to find our driver waiting for us. We find ourselves sitting in the taxi making bizarre conversation with him for the next hour as he speeds along dark country roads, destination unknown. Some time during the long drive he reveals that he hasn’t been told which hotel we’re supposed to be going to, that the island has too many Muslims and he thought my name was Muslim. These aren’t particularly great conversation-starters, but in the face of adversity the driver’s determined to keep up the chit chat – primarily with Brodie, even though he keeps nodding off on him. The conversation stutters along until we finally reach the first of the ferries we’ll be getting.
Queues of cars wait their turn to ease up onto the dim shape of the vessel in the water. Cars, vans and scooters park in every inch of space available until the ferry is full. There’s a heavy fog hanging over the water so the air is dense and full of petrol fumes mingled with cigarette smoke from all the drivers as they congregate to have a chat while the ferry slowly heads out into the darkness. It’s a strange atmosphere with the air hanging heavy around us and the vague shape of small islands looming out of the darkness from time to time. The scene is crying out for a monster to rise from the murky depths causing chaos and pandemonium before sinking the ferry. We hang around close to the life jackets just to be on the safe side until the choking air becomes too much and we retreat to the air-conditioned car. Thankfully our driver has other victims to keep him occupied outside.
Finally the ferry arrives at Koh Lanta Noi. We disembark and race the other vehicles along the roads to reach the ferry on the far side of the island. The next island is a mere stone’s throw away. Now that we’ve reached Koh Lanta Yai, it’s a short drive to our final destination – Lanta Mermaid Boutique Hotel. This looks like an extremely nice hotel, a little too nice. There’s bound to be a catch. A feeling of disquiet grows as the owner instructs us to hand our bags over to “the boys” who will ensure they reach our room. He then stands over us while we read the laminated List of Rules before he takes a credit card slip with a hefty 4000 baht deposit. We’ll get it back when we leave, if we behave ourselves. It seems this hotel should be called the Boutique Bootcamp. After a few lectures on expected behaviour, we find ourselves in our room which is spacious and pristine. It’s a bit like being left in someone’s formal sitting room. It’s all very nice, but it’s hard to make yourself feel entirely comfortable because you’re so worried about making any kind of mess and incurring the wrath of he who lurks in reception under the stairs. More lists of rules around the room remind us that there will be hell to pay if we get any tiger balm on the sheets (a by-product of having Thai massages).
It’s been a long day, but we’re in need of some kind of food so we set out into the night. We’re planning to do a cookery class here – one of the top ten tourist things to do in Thailand. With that in mind, we go in search of Time for Lime to check it out before committing ourselves. The place has mixed reviews online, but we find what seems to be a relaxed and easygoing kitchen plus restaurant. We go ahead with booking ourselves in for Friday evening and let them convince us to partake of their tasting menu. We’re seated upstairs looking out onto a beach lit up by a string of resorts. A total of six dishes and one drink are brought out over the next hour. We sample fish cakes and pumpkin soup, prawns wrapped in herbs, chicken coconut soup, pasta with seafood, chicken cashew stirfry, and finally the signature drink of the restaurant – a lemongrass mohito. We’re no experts on Thai cuisine but we enjoy the samples which all have good flavours. This seems to be as good a place as any to learn the basics and the class downstairs are enjoying themselves. When we’ve finished the dishes we stumble back along the beach in the dark and retire for the night.