Ok the title maybe a little misleading. Its hasn’t actually rained too much, but enough so all the prices on the west coast islands are fabulously low. Win! So last time we left you we were saying goodbye to Malaysia and heading north to Thailand. Instead of taking the direct tourist minibuses to an island paradise (as you may know they’re not our favourites) we hopped on the train from Butterworth to Hat-Yai, doing the border crossing in some small town in the middle. The border crossing was pretty straight forward and involved walking around in a circle to various booths where different people stamped your passport. You leave via the same door you came in but hey-presto your in a different country…odd huh. We did however have one nervous moment while standing at one of these booths…. our train started to move away, luckily not very far, but far enough to cause a brief moment of sheer panic.
Hat-Yai, according to all government websites, is to be avoided like the plague. Apparently it has some terrorists or something, but with one of us being from Northern Ireland, that didn’t bother us too much. What we found was a very pleasant town, a nice hotel for the night, and a lively market which supplied us with a cheap and tasty breakfast before we jumped on a bus to Trang.
Trang is probably not a place on many peoples itineraries as they travel through Thailand, but as it was a good place to reach the islands from so we thought we would spend the night and explore. We found a cheap and cheerful room (mainly cheap) at PJ’s guesthouse in the centre of town and set about exploring the hot and sweaty town. What strikes you first about Trang is the surprising number of statues, in all sizes and colours of dugongs (incase you don’t know what they are click here). This at first was a little weird, but we later found out that these endangered animals live happily just of the coast of the Trang provence, and so had been adopted as the provinces symbol, this made a little more sense, but why they had a statue of naked children riding on the back of dugongs still does not.
No doubt one of our highlights of our trip to Trang was a visit to the local night market and our first introduction to authentic Thai food. The market, which is dubbed one of the best in south Thailand, was bustling and we snooped around for the busiest stall to have dinner at. What we ended up with was a bowl noodles and sauce each, and then at our table a spread of different herbs, vegetables, pickles and eggs which we could use to “pimp” or dinner, and at only 20 baht per person (36p) we really couldn’t complain.
Feeling the need for some beach time we headed off in search of the Trang islands, with the first stop being Ko Mook. After a brief journey in a particularly unstable feeling boat, we arrived at an island with blue skys, crystal clear water and empty golden beaches – we never really shared the beach with more than 4 other people. We spent a few days not doing much except getting covered in sand and reading, however we did find time to fit in a bit of snorkelling and visit the islands famous Emerald Cave. From your boat you jump in the sea (get stung by jellyfish – this part wasn’t pleasant) and swim into a low cave just above the waterline, After about 10m you take a sharp turn and are plunged into total darkness.. thats where it starts to get interesting. Swimming through the cave, following the sound of the one dude who’s got a tiny torch that seems to point no where, you finally see an opening at the end – the light at the end of the tunnel if you will. When you go through this opening you find yourself in a beautiful hidden sandy cove, surrounded by forested cliffs on all sides. Certainly a beautiful sight, but would probably have been better had we not been sharing it with around 50 other people who had taken a sunday day trip to the cave (this did provide its own entertainment though).
After all this excitement and in need of a bit more action and some reliable electricity we “island hopped” to the larger Ko Lanta. Touristy and busy in peak season but cheaper and quieter in the low season, we managed to hit the island at just the right time. It had just turned into the low season (from 1st May) but the monsoon rains are not at there worst, we had the odd shower and storm but nothing to complain about. It was Ryans birthday while we were there so we treated ourselves to lovely air conditioned (air -con is a real treat), beach side bungalow at Time For Lime, an accommodation and cooking school combo where all the profits go to the Ko Lanta Animal Sanctuary (this also meant there were lots of cats and dogs to play with at the bungalows). Doing our bit for charity we thoroughly enjoyed helping out by sipping some delicious cocktails on the beach, knowing that every mojito we drank we where saving the lives of some cats and dogs – it was tough but we feel like we did our part.
As you may have noticed throughout the journey so far we quite like our food, so what better way to fully appreciate thai food that to learn to cook it. At the time for lime cooking school, we spent the afternoon learning how to make some delicious Pad Thai (probably one of Thailands most famous dishes), some papaya salad, sweet and sour fish and stir fried water spinach (which included a lot of flames). The class was fun and we left with the skills, recipes and apron in hand. Look out friends and family thai is on the menu when we eventually return!
The rest of our time in Ko Lanta we spent laying on the beach, sipping beer in hammocks, exploring the islands on mopeds and giving medical assistance to two german girls who’s moped’s breaks failed on a steep hill and ran into a tree. No one was hurt too badly, but thats a story for another time.
Our first island hopping experience has been great, but its now time to head back to the mainland in search of a little more authentic Thai culture…