Breaksian Travel Blog Career break traveling in Asia

A week in Ko Lanta

My old LAMP hosting is about to expire and I’m using this account only to host the breaksian blog, so I decided to migrate all the contents to the modern node.js platform I have been using for all my tools including my personal blog.

While I was in the process of migrating the data, I realised there were some old dusty posts that have been hanging around in my drafts folders for a long time!. One of them was about the week I spent in Ko Lanta, Thailand. I just clean it up, finish it and publish it with this new migration. So years late but I hope you will enjoy it nevertheless… so let’s go back in time …

In my last entry I described the day spent in Krabi town, walking along the river and visiting the market. As I described there the people from my hotel helped me to arrange the ferry transport to Ko Lanta. It was very convenient because a minibus would pick me up at the hotel to bring me directly to the Ferry terminal.

After I woke up, I went to a restaurant nearby to grab a quick breakfast and afterward I went to a 7-11 to buy enough water for the boat trip. Then I came back to the hotel and waited patiently. There is only one ferry per day that leaves the Krabi Town pier at 11:00 am. The minibus was late and it swirled around the town picking up more travelers but fortunately we made it just in time for the ferry.

We queued for a little while and then we started to board. I noticed the vessel was getting very crowded so I secured a “seating” place in the outside deck and it turned out to be a good decision because the boat was completely packed when we left the port:

The boat trip from the pier in Krabi Town to the one in Ko Lanta (Baan Saladan) took around 2 hours. The ferry stopped a couple of times and small boats approached it to pick up or leave passengers from some of the resorts off the coast, but most of the people traveling went to the final destination.

Lanta Noi and Lanta Yai

An interesting fact learned once I started to browse the Island map is that Ko Lanta includes several islands, being the two largest Ko Lanta Noi and Ko Lanta Yai. Most of the people who visit “Ko Lanta” normally head to Ko Lanta Yai where most of the tourist infrastructure is located.

I found a very nice budget hotel located in around 100 meters from the Baan Saladan ferry pier and it was perfect because there were quite a few restaurants and markets around it and the place was a nice starting point to explore the island and do some tours. This was the nice view from the hotel pier where I used to get my breakfast every morning:

I used this pier to board the boat that took me to the four islands tour.

Exploring the island by Bike.

One of the activities I enjoyed the most during my career break was to bike and I wanted to investigate if it was possible to explore the island in a bicycle. I left the hotel and started to walk around the Saladan and in a small street I found small shop renting a couple of bikes. I found a clunky but decent one and I made a deal to rent it for the rest of the week:

Old lanta town.

The day after one of owners of the guesthouse asked me if I had plans for the day. I told her I was interested in making a bike ride and she recommended me to go to the Old Town in the south part of the Island. She told me the whole ride should be relatively straightforward with only a couple of small hills.

This is small village is located in the south-east coast of the island and it has very interesting history. It used to be an important commercial port and provided a stop over for Arabic and Chinese merchants traveling to the bigger ports in the region. They mingled with the local Thai fishing families and Sea Gypsy communities creating a very interesting place.

The distance between the Saladan Pier and the Old town is around 17 km. It took me around 45 minutes to get there stopping by a few times to take pictures and to drink some water. I was glad I brought a few bottles because even if the ride was not particularly hard, it was quite hot.

Once I arrived to the old town, I parked my bike at the entrance and I started to explore it by foot. I did a nice walk all the way to the end of the pier and from there I was able to get a nice view of the old town.

Then I came back and I walked through the main street of the Old Town. Even if it’s relatively small I was able to spot the Buddhist and the Chinese temples, plus some nice jetty houses. I also enjoyed some amazing coffee and a refreshing mango smoothie.

When I was about to leave the town I noticed there was a nice 2 floor wooden house and when I got closer this turned out to be the Old Lanta Community Museum. This place is dedicated to the history and legacy of the main 3 communities of the island: Chinese merchants, Thai fishermen and Sea Gipsies. The place had some cool objects and pictures:

Four Islands Tour

A couple of days after I booked a tour to visit four islands around the main Lanta Island. One of the advantages of the guesthouse where I was staying was that they had a small pier in the back of the house, so they could pick me up directly there. The boat arrived around 8am and I thought "wow I have this nice speedboat only for my own!", but very soon I realised that I was just the first passenger in series pickups around Ko Lanta that took another 45 minutes.

Once we got the last tourist from a nice resort in the southern part of Ko Lanta, we actually started the visit to the 4 islands. The first stop and probably the most interesting one was the Emerald Cave in Ko Mook. The guide in the boat explained us that the only way to get there was to swim through a narrow dark cave using a headlamp but he promised the beach on the other side was lovely.

We put our swim vest and started to swim in line following the guide toward the black narrow hole in the rock. And indeed after 10 meters the light was gone and were going through a pitch black cave following the light of the guide and after some 50 meters we arrived to the other side where we were welcomed by a stunning lake / beach what made the scary trip completely worth it. We were lucky because there were not too many tourist at that time, but when we left a big boat carrying a lot a people arrived in the entrance of the cave, so it probably got quite busy afterwards.

We visited another Island with a nice stripe of white sand beach where we stopped to have lunch and enjoy a swim in a relaxed blue water environment and then we moved to another island where we did some snorkelling. I have never seen on the water so many different shapes and colours of sea life in the same spot. We spend around one hour there snorkeling around and it was quite an experience. The Island per se was quite picturesque itself since it was composed by the limestones common in this area of Thailand:

When we were about to finish the tour, the driver from the boat approached to one of the walls of the Ko Ma island and say please look up. We all did it and there in the wall were hundreds of bats staying there and making noise. We even spotted one of them flying from one place to the other:

This was the last stop of our tour and we were all very happy with the results. It was definitely a day well spent.

Bike accident

As I mentioned earlier by bike was decent but a bit clunky. It had in particular a problem with the quick-release lever at the base of the seat: Sometimes it was moving in and out and sometimes it used to get blocked pointing out. This fact it’s important for the accident I will describe next.

The day after the 4 islands tour I decided to jump again on my bike and explore a different road on the island. Someone in town mentioned there was a nice place on top a hill with a pretty nice view of the rest of the island and the sea. I love panoramic views so I decided that’s what I wanted to do.

Everything was going smoothly in my bike ride. I even found a nice spot to make a quick swim and then when I continued my trip and I was going down hill, I faced a big pothole in the road just in front of me. In a split second I decide to jump it since I couldn’t dodge and did it! I flew over the pothole like a BMX rider, but when I landed in my rear tire, the loose lever I told you about before, hit me in the back of calf when of course the muscle was completely contracted. Ouuuchhhh. I hear a ‘pop’ sound and I experience a horrible pain.

I tried to get back on the bike but I realised I couldn’t really push with this leg. I couldn’t even stand. It was really painful. I was in the middle of nowhere with just vegetation around me and no-one was passing by … fuck!. Fortunately I still have some batteries in my phone and I saw that my destination was not really far away. I started walking really slowing limping on each step until I thought maybe it was better to pedal just with one leg. It took me a really long time but I managed to get to the restaurant.

I ordered something to drink and ask them if they could give some ice. They were helpful and provide plenty of ice that I put around my leg that was getting really swollen. I stayed there a long time, ordered something to eat as well and then I started to think how to go back to the hotel. Biking like this was not option. I ask the owners that they offered to call a "tuk-tuk taxi". By the way the view on this place was nice:

A couple of hours passed and nothing arrived. One of the sons of the owner offered me to carry me and my bike in his motorbike. He told me something along the lines of “You can extend your arms and carry the bike and hold to the bike with your legs” . I declined politely. A calf injury was bad enough, I didn’t want to add a brain injury to the mix.

Finally the tuk-tuk taxi arrived. We managed to tuck the bike into the passenger seat and we headed back to the hotel in Saladan. Once I got to the hotel I explained what happened to the owners and the pointed me in the map, the closest medical clinic.

I went there by tuk-tuk and the doctor on guard told me it was just some "sore muscle", put a bandage around my leg and prescribed me tons of pain killers:

When I came back to the hotel I checked on the web what he had prescribed me. Discarded half of it and spent a long night checking for signs of Compartment syndrome.

Fortunately that didn’t happen, but later on I found out I had a huge blood collection inside the muscle. In a way I was very lucky!

Last day

The after I could barely walk so I spend the day at the hotel just relaxing, taking care of my leg, reading and start writing this post that as I described earlier, it stayed on my drafts folder for a really long time.

Now I would definitely would go back to Ko Lanta!. It’s in my opinion one of the nicest places in the country.

Day trip to Nakhon Pathom

On my second day in Bangkok I decided to make a day trip and explore one of the cities located nearby. Last time I visited the capital I had the opportunity to see Ayutthaya and that was a very interesting place, but this time around I wanted to visit a different spot.

I read about the different alternatives and I chose Nakhon Pathom, a small city situated 56 km west from Bangkok. This place is not only one of Thailand’s oldest towns but according to some travel guides, Nakhon Pathom is considered the entry point of the Buddhism religion in the region.

The main attraction of this town is Phra Pathom Chedi, with its huge 120m high stuppa that dominates the landscape on the region. This place is very important for the Thais and there is constant flow of local visitor honoring Buddha.

I read on wikitravel that was possible to get there either by bus or by train. Since I had some good memories about my Thai trips by train I decided to use this transportation option.

Thonburi Train Station

The main train station in Bangkok is Hualamphong. Most of the trains going to the North and the South of the country depart from this station, but the one heading to Nakhon Pathom leaves from the Thonburi. This is a new station located on the west side of the Chaopraya river and it's accessible either by bus by or boat.

I checked the map and the easiest way to get from my hostel in Phaya Thai to Thonburi was by bus (Route 70). I boarded the bus and as soon as the lady with the metallic "clac clac clac" sound approached to charge me for the route I told her I was going to "Thonburi". She didn't get it, so I tried to show her on the map and she charged me something like 50 baths.

Looking at her face I guess she had no idea where I was going but still it was very cheap and she tried to help as much as possible saying "not here" once in awhile. Fortunately there was another helpful English speaking Thai lady on the bus and she told me where to get off.

Third class train to Nakhon Pathom

I crossed the Chaopraya river and then after a couple of kilometers I got off at the Charan Sanitwong Road. From there I walked to the Thonburi Train Station and quickly approached the ticket booth.

I asked the vendor I could get a return ticket to Nakhon Pathom and he told me the next one was in 30 minutes. The only problem was that the return train was relatively soon after arrival (I would have only 1.5h to explore the town). Since I was already there I decided to go anyway and enjoy the ride and the city as much as possible.

The only available type of tickets for this route are third class. This is the most basic ticket you can get so they are very cheap and the service is basic. Since it was going to be a short trip I didn't mind that and I thought it was fun to travel with the locals (I was the only foreigner in the wagon), feeling the breeze on my face.

After an hour or so we arrived to Nakhon Pathom and as soon as I left the train I started my flash tour to the city.

Phra Pathom Chedi

I scanned the map and I was very happy to see that the main attraction of the town, the Phra Pathom Chedi was very close to the train station. I started to walked into that direction and 10 minutes later I was in the main entrance.

As I was discussing before this place had a special significance to the Thai people and I was able to see it directly: As soon as I arrived there I saw many peligrims and hundreds of guys getting their hair cut to start their time as monks.

The Stupa (dome-shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine) is huge. I had to take a panoramic picture in order to grab the whole structure in one single frame. Take a look at the following video I shot displaying the structure:

I walked around the temple grounds and I took my shoes off to climb and walk around the big dome.

I took a couple of pictures more and I observed the structure from different angles. But then I saw the time and I realized I had barely enough time to quickly get back to the station and take the train back to Bangkok.

The train was delayed 30 minutes so I had the chance to see a bit more the surroundings.

Even if this was a flash trip I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit this place.

Back in Bangkok

After spending a very good time in Cambodia, the next step on my itinerary was Thailand. I visited this country for the first time 3 years ago and I got an amazing time there. I loved the beaches in the Andaman sea, I enjoyed visiting the temples in the northern part of the country, I adored the Thai food and I found the Thai people extremely friendly.

This time around I wanted to enjoy the Thai seaside again, but visiting a different area. I read about different alternatives and I picked up Ko Lanta, spending a day in Krabi Town. Instead of flying directly there from Siem Reap, I decided to connect in Bangkok and spend a couple of days in the Thai capital city.

I remember the first impression I had of the city on being this huge chaotic place with buzzing traffic, high buildings, pollution and intense heat, but after spending a couple a days there, I really enjoyed the city, so I was looking forward to come back and visit it once time more.

Great hostel in a great location

In this career break I have tried a broad array of accommodation arrangements including hostals, dormrooms, hotels, guesthouses, capsule hotels, etc. But in my opinion Bangkok has one of the best places to sleep. It's a hidden gem for the budget travelers called the cloudy hostel.

The staff at this place was very friendly, everything was very clean, the free wifi worked perfect and the dorm-room was designed in such a way that even if it has many beds, it didn't feel crammed at all. Additionally since the place was tucked in a dead end street, the place was really quiet. I had some really good sleep nights at this place.

One of the best ways to move in Bangkok, avoiding the traffic is using the Skytrain (BTS) and this hostel is located very close to the Phaya Thai station. From Siem Reap I took a flight to the Don Muang airport and from there I got a bus (A1) to the Mochit BTS station, followed by a short ride in the BTS to Phaya Thai. If you are flying from Europe and arrive at international Suvarnabhumi, airport links train ends up in the Phaya Thai station as well.

Traveling in the Chao Phraya River

I remembered from my last visit to Bangkok that a very interesting way to explore the city was to travel using a public bus boat through the the Chao Phraya River. Last time I didn't have time to visit the Wat Pho temple and its giant reclining Buddha, so this was a good opportunity to do it and I decided to get into the old town with using this type of boat.

I started my trip in Phaya Thai, took a BTS train to the Siam station where I switched to the Silom line to go all the way down to Saphan Taksin. There I boarded the boat in the central pier to go up the river. It was a nice ride where I had the opportunity to see an interesting places such as a white chedi and the Wat Arun temple, located at the other bank of the river.

I got off the boat at the Chao Praya pier and from there I walked around 300m to get to the main entrance of the Wat Pho temple. After paying the 100 baht entry fee and getting the appreciated free bottle of ice cold water I started to explore the grounds.

This is one of the oldest temple complex in Bangkok containing plenty of Buddha images, Stuppas and other buddisht elements, all of them preserved in a pristine state:

Nevertheless the most impressive feature is definitively the giant reclining Buddha:

This massive sculpture of the golden reclining Buddha is 15 m high and 43 m long. The visit starts on the head side where its huge head can be observed and the moving along is possible to see the other parts of the reclining body. At the end of the hall the feet of the buddha contain some interesting patterns.

I left the temple and I continued exploring the old town. I passed by the grand palace and even if I didn't visit it this time I admired it from the outside. Afterwards I headed to the Khao san road area, chasing an amazing Shrimp Rice soup breakfast I got the last time I visited the city.

After this nice brunch I continued my walk and I ended up going all the way back to the hostel in Phaya Thai. It was definitively an energetic day!

Bangkok to Penang by overnight train.

I have been writing this blog in chronological order, but I would like to make an exception today because I have a fresh blogpost I that want to publish as soon as possible. Consider this as a small parenthesis from Cambodia to jump to Thailand.

Yesterday I finished a trip from Bangkok to Penang by train and ferry. I thought it would be interesting to write a blogpost with my phone on a diary format or rather "hourly" format documenting the travel. Here is the result.

Tuesday 27th January.

14:22: I just boarded the train to start the long trip by train from Bangkok to Butterworth, in the northern coast of Malaysia. As you can see above in theory the trip is going to last 22 hours. I'm takin the train 35k leaving at 14:45 and arriving tomorrow at 12:55.

I had to buy the train ticket a couple of days in advance to get a lower berth. Now I see it was worth it, there is definitively more space. Actually the upper berth looks a bit claustrophobic.

14:45: I was wondering if the train was going to leave the station on time and indeed it left sharp at quarter to three. I feel lucky because I don't have anyone in front, therefore I will be able to stretch my legs comfortably. yey!

15:45: We are just leaving the city limits of Bangkok. There are many crossings within the city so the train had to go really slow. Additionally, it had to go northbound until it reached Bang Sue. It took us almost half an hour to get to there. As soon as we left the Bangkok station they started checking the tickets.

We just passed Nonthaburi and the train is beginning to pick up speed. 86 km/h seems to the max. speed.

16:21: We just arrived to Nakhon Pathom. I came here briefly last time I came to Bangkok. This city has one of the biggest and oldest Chedis. I felt it was closer last time, but it's true I left from the Thomburi station on that opportunity.

17:15: Now we are heading south. We just arrived to Ratchaburi. Apparently this city has a nice floating market. Maybe next time.

18:12: We just left the Phetshaburi station. Now it's getting dark. I just noticed that there is a security guard on each wagon (police?)

19:14: I just finished my dinner. They sell meals on the train but I bought in Bangkok some rice, a Thai spicy tuna salad and bananas, so that was my dinner. I was checking the map and we are riding along the sea in the gulf of Thailand.

19:55: The employee of the Thailand Railways came here and in 30 seconds converted my seat in a comfortable bed where I will sleep tonight (hopefully). I think today I'm going to get a good use case to tryout the earplugs.

20:15: We are about to pass through Prachuap Khiri Khan. Based on what I can see on the map this is one of the narrowest parts of the country, just in the border between Thailand and Myanmar.

10:45: I think we are in the middle of nowhere. The map shows a town called Chumphon but nothing else really.

11:59: It's almost midnight and I don't feel very sleepy. I'm listening coldplay and reading the Wikitravel guide of Penang and Georgetown. The lights are on but with all the curtains are down so it is not too bright. I was thinking that I have been in this train for almost 10 hours. Here is sneak peek on how the train looks now:

Wednesday 28th January.

3:00: it's pretty noisy over here. I think the constant pffffff of the pneumatic door wake me up. I think a good advice would be to get a Berth further down the hall. I'm going to try to sleep a bit more.

5:00: I think I dozed off a couple of times but I didn't really get any deep sleep. Part of the problem was to be so close to the door. Nevertheless it was nice to lay down and rest.

I will try to catch up more sleep once I'm in Malaysia. We left Phattalung. I think this is the last stop before we arrive to Hat Yai. That is the last city on the Thai side of the border.

6:15: We are very close to Hat Yai and I just opened the curtain to enjoy the sunrise. The Sky is beginning to get a nice orangish hue.

6:44: We just left Hat Yai. I don't know if they had to change something in the train for the Malaysian gauge. The train moved back and forth for a couple of times and now it stopped completely. Meanwhile I dude just passed by selling Malayan currency. clearly we are close to the border.

7:00: We are moving again I think the next stop is going to be Padang Besar in the border between the 2 countries.

7:49: My bed was converted back into a seat. Again it took the employee not more than 30 seconds to do it.

8:15: we arrived to the Padangbesar immigration check point. We descended the train and now we are queuing on the Thai side.

8:48 -> 9:48: I'm switching to GMT+8 since we are in Malaysia now. I crossed the Thai emigration point and the Malaysian immigration and customs point. It was straightforward and I even had the time to quickly pass by the cafeteria upstairs and get a Sandwich for breakfast. They even accept Thai baths

10:00: We start our trip again leaving behind the checking point. There was an English guy in front of me who overstayed in the country. He had to pay a fine and he had to wait aside. I'm wondering if he made it back to the train.

10:21: We arrived to the Arau and this is clearly Malaysia. The train station architecture had an in distinguishable Muslim influence.

11:31: we just left Sungai Persnickety so we are about to enter the state of Penang.

12:15: We just arrived to Butterworth. This is the end of the train ride from Bangkok. We arrived a little bit earlier than expected! Great!

12:20: Now I understand why there was this guy selling currency on the train. There are no ATMs or Money Exchange stalls in the station. I will have to go to the town and get money there.

13:00: I'm went to town got some money from an ATM machine, came back to the train station and I walked through a pathway to get to the ferry station I paid 1.20 MYR and I'm in on my final way to Georgetown in Penang: