After a week of hard touring around Thailand, it was time for the flop-in-the-sun part of our holiday. I had chosen Koh Lanta for our serious R&R because of its marine sanctuary and lower tourist numbers.
Our wonderful driver from Elephant Hills drove us the five hours to the Koh Lanta car ferry, we crossed in the comfort of our air-conditioned minivan, and he dropped us at our supreme destination – Pimalai Resort on the southern end of the island. It was late afternoon when we arrived in absolute paradise and the ocean views just from the reception area were stunning. We checked into our sea view room, dropped our bags, and enjoyed the sunset.
We had run out of daylight and energy for exploring, so we headed to the resort’s Rak Talay beachside restaurant for dinner. The range of small seafood plates available was amazing and, as usual, we over-ordered so that we could get a taste of everything. There’s nothing better than having fresh sashimi right at the edge of the ocean! Word of warning: imported wine in Thailand is expensive everywhere, not just at resorts, because of the taxes imposed on it. The country has a fledgling wine industry, mainly focused on international grape varieties grown in locations such as the Asoke Valley. We tried the GranMonte Verdelho and Spring Chenin Blanc with different dinners and were pleasantly surprised by the freshness of both. Red wine is also made in the country, but it was far too hot for me to even think about ordering a big red to go with any of my Thai dinners. Again, we were asleep by 9pm after a long day of traveling.
Pimalai has an impressive range of local activities that can be booked by the hotel, so after indulging in the massive breakfast buffet, we went back to reception to see about planning some more adventures for the next few days. We both opted for the snorkeling and sunset cruise and the mangrove river tour by long-tail boat. I booked myself into a Thai cooking class, as well as a day of scuba diving. Our work done for the day, we went to claim our spot by the largest pool at the resort, located up the side of the mountain with ocean views. The steep hill climb is not for the faint of heart, so we opted to ride up the hill with one of the nice golf cart chauffeurs. We planted ourselves there for most of the day, with the nice pool man bringing us water and cocktails. We managed to haul ourselves the few feet into the restaurant for a yummy lunch of red curry sea bass, then went right back to our day of relaxation. The staff here were lovely and took the time to learn our names and address us by name for the rest of the week. More importantly, they soon learned that it was always going to be a Chang beer and Hawaiian Iced Tea for our poolside table.
Day two: being suitably rested after a full day at the resort, we were picked up at the hotel by a local tour company for our mangrove river adventure. While the natural beauty of the area was impressive, the real stars of the show were the mangrove monkeys. One of them managed to climb aboard our boat to see if we might have anything of interest for him. I was glad that we did not opt for the kayak tour – the unsuspecting kayakers went very close to the shoreline and literally had monkeys crawling all over them while trying to stay afloat! After our fill of monkeys, we stopped off at a crazy-looking river shack for refreshments, then back to the resort pool for us.
Ready for my close-up!
How's it going? Got anything for me?
Just going to chill in my tree - and maybe jump on your head.
I know a great place to stop for a drink in the mangrove...(crazy shack behind him)
Crazy mangrove shack!
Lots of bottle collecting going on in here.
Every shack needs a gold vinyl chair - for guests.
In the evening, we decided to explore the beachside community near us, which looked to have plenty of places for drinks and dinner. The Why Not Bar quickly became our favorite pre-dinner cocktail spot before wandering further along the beachside village at Kantiang Bay for food each night. It also served as the bar for the Muslim restaurant next door. The two establishments shared a communal beachside dining area, where customers were presented with two menus – one for food and one for drinks – and with two separate checks at the end. It’s a practical and widely adopted way of doing business in this part of the world. Most of Thailand’s population are Buddhists, but more people subscribe to Islam the further south you go, i.e. closer to the Malaysian border. As with the rest of the country, all of the people were incredibly nice and smiley and all of the food was amazing.
Beachside Koh Lanta
Sun-downin' at the Why Not Bar
No shoes allowed - yay! You just have to remember to collect them when you leave....
Buddhist bar + Muslim food = happy hubby
Why Not Bar at night - from another bar up the hill
Day three: This holiday is going by too quickly! Poolside lounging and reading for most of the day followed by an afternoon of snorkeling at Ko Haa, then the sunset cruise on our return to the resort. We could see the small chain of karst islands on the horizon from our hotel room balcony. It took an hour to reach them by boat. I was first off the boat to enjoy the snorkeling, while the other half stayed on board with his book. Since this area is part of the Lanta Marine Sanctuary and since it is not the easiest place to get to, the coral reefs and sea creatures are still stunningly healthy and colorful. The guides pointed out an array of marine life, including dazzling fish, sea cucumbers, giant sponges, giant clams, and a Moray eel who popped his head out of the coral to see what we were doing. Take a look at the reef’s wildlife on this website. We experienced a gorgeous sunset over Ko Haa as we headed back to the resort.
Snorkeling Koh Lanta
Limestone islands of Ko Haa
Rocks are the tops of beautiful rock formations and coral reefs below.
The only inhabitants on these islands are birds. We only saw one eagle.
The islands can be seen for miles.
Sunset cruising has begun!
Enjoying the view.
Sun nearly gone over Ko Haa as we get back to the resort.
Day four: More poolside lounging for hubby while I went to my Thai cooking class in the resort’s flagship Seven Seas restaurant, overlooking the ocean. One of the hotel’s chefs spent the morning teaching me how to cook four Thai dishes that I had chosen previously – spicy beef salad, green curry with chicken, red curry with sea bass, and the ubiquitous Pad Thai. I was the only student, so there was a lot of pressure to do exactly as the chef instructed since I couldn’t hide behind anyone. All of the prep work had been done for us, so we got to focus solely on cooking techniques. I was surprised that everything is actually cooked for longer than I thought it would be, especially the spices and coconut milk at the beginning of those dishes, but it makes such a difference in the flavor. I was given a folder with all of the recipes to attempt to recreate all of the dishes at home, which I have yet to try. The chef recommended that I call my other half up from his poolside lounger to help me eat all of the food - he was happy to help. After letting my food settle, it was time for my re-introduction to SCUBA in the resort's main beachside pool - much needed since it had been three (or four?) years since I had last gone diving.
Prep all done.
Chef must not be happy with me?
First up, spicy beef salad
Next, chicken green curry
The sea bass red curry - my favorite!
Time to eat!
Day five: After limited alcohol with last night's dinner (seriously) and a good night's sleep, I was waiting for the Scubafish dive boat at 7:30am with divers who were staying at resorts all over the island. We headed back to Ko Haa for a full day of exploring the corals and wildlife that I only saw from the surface during my snorkeling trip previously. The guys and gals at Scubafish are courteous, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and efficient - the weather was perfect, the water was crystal-clear, and everything went according to schedule. Magnus Larsson was on board to photograph all of us above and below the water during the day. His photos are amazing, so I'll just let them speak for themselves...though I wish he had also captured the giant barrel sponges, giant clams, and the cute little pufferfish who greeted us like a puppy!
Diving Koh Lanta
Above and below the water
It's me! Along with the Scubafish dive instructor and a lovely German girl who is currently living and working in Beijing.
Beautifully colored coral
Longfin Banner Fish
The crystal clear water and bright sunlight showed off the amazing colors.
Day six: We spent our last day in paradise lounging by the pool, having one final meal at the resort’s beachside restaurant, and then getting ready for the looong trek back to Heathrow which began at 2pm – a boat transfer back to the mainland, an hour’s drive to Krabi airport, a flight to Bangkok, then we finally boarded the flight to London at 12:15am. Neither of us had any trouble sleeping on the plane and the next thing we knew, we were back on the Iceberg.