We woke and went down for breakfast. This was the only hotel we’d stopped in so far that didn’t have a restaurant – it was no Chatrium breakfast buffet, but free tea and toast can’t be sniffed at. We booked a snorkelling trip to Koh Rok for the following day with the lady on reception – the warmest and friendliest of all our hosts so far, which is saying something. I rented a scooter for 250 baht (around a fiver) for the day. My driving licence wasn’t requested. Before our trip I paid a fiver at the Post Office for an international driving licence – this is compulsory for driving in Thailand, but I’d bet 9/10 backpackers don’t get it. It’s all fun and games, but if you did meet with an accident and require medical treatment I’d rather not give the travel insurers an excuse to refuse to pay out.
Did I sound like a responsible adult in that last paragraph? If so, prepare to have this illusion shattered. After mounting the scooter, it took me a full five minutes to get the bloody thing started. I turned the key in the ignition and tried every single combination of button that was possible, including the horn, which brought me to the attention of some passing Thai drivers, who must have thought I was a right muppet. Eventually I managed to spark it into life (for future reference: keys in, switch ignition to on, hold the back brake on with your left hand and touch the starter button on the right handlebar). I saw Hollie, who had silently watched this performance, gulp as she shuffled herself onto the back of the bike.
As I said in yesterday’s entry, there are only two main roads on Koh Lanta, connected together by a few smaller roads that run through the hilly centre of the island. You might think that with so few directions to have to follow, it would be difficult to get lost – not so. Our intended destination was the National Park on the southern tip of the island. According to the cheap map provided by a random hostel we’d never heard of, all we had to do was drive south until the road stopped, and we’d be at the National Park. We set off along the road, doing a steady 40k and pulling in to the gutter each time a truck wanted to pass us. The journey was relatively comfortable until the potholes began to appear. I say “potholes”, but really what I mean is “giant craters”. Most of these were either avoidable, or traversed easily by slowing down to a walking pace. Every now and again though, one would surprise us, and this would be like jumping into water – you hold your breath and wait to bob up on the other side. We followed the road up into hills lined with dense jungle, past an elephant camp and an orchard of fruit trees.
The climb was a lot to handle for our underpowered bike, and it got to the point that Hollie could have hopped off and run past me. Then the gradients switched and I took my foot off the gas and applied all of the back and some of the front brake, as we weaved our way down the mountain through tight corners and narrowing lanes. There were far too many twists and turns for this to be the road that we were supposed to be following, but we were committed to the descent now and it would have been dodgier to stop and turn round. At long last we came to a crossroads, which confirmed that we’d gone wrong somewhere along the way as there were no junctions on the road that we were supposed to be following.
I pulled over and turned the gas off whilst Hollie studied the map. Whilst we were standing at the side of the road, two Ozzies came down on scooters and asked us for directions. I responded by saying “Don’t ask us, we’re farang” to which they chuckled and drove off. A quick look at our map confirmed both that we’d come about 5km in the wrong direction, and that the map was shit. I struggled to restart the bike again – I was about to wheel it to a nearby garage when I realised that the stand was down. Once I’d flicked it back up the bike started first time, and we began our slow climb back the way we came. We found where we’d gone wrong – we’d followed the road round to the left, when actually we should have turned off onto a road directly ahead of us, which looked like a straight road on the map. Please be assured though, it was the map’s fault, and not the farang who was following it.
The journey to the park was spectacular. The road became hilly and twisty-turny again, but as we headed further south the resorts and developments tailed off and we were left with beautiful vistas across the sea. We passed the odd hippy cafe along the way with signs outside offering things like “Jungle Party” and “Spliff”. We passed through a sleepy town which had a massage parlour called “Wee Massage” – whether this was a Scottish expat branching out into the spa industry, or some kind of urine therapy, we didn’t stop to find out. After a sequence of hairpins and ascents that wouldn’t have been out of place in an advert for the latest model of land rover, we arrived at the park entrance. Hollie got off to buy the tickets, and I stayed with the bike as I didn’t trust the stand to hold it steady on the steep hill we’d come down to get here. As she made the transaction with a park ranger in a little-tin-roofed hut at the side of the road, I watched as half a dozen monkeys leapt off the roof and chased a backpacker who was riding uphill out of the park. Another remained on the roof, scratching his balls just a couple of feet above the spot where Hollie stood oblivious, with a handful of cash. I mentally prepared myself for the prospect of having to defend my fair maiden by punching the monkey in the face, but fortunately this intervention wasn’t required.
We wheeled down into the park and left the scooter. There was a footpath to follow which we ambled along, taking photos of weird plants and keeping a beady eye on the monkeys that watched us from the trees. I snapped a photo of a monkey sitting on a scooter – which was funny, but put me on edge slightly. I wouldn’t put it past a gang of determined monkeys to figure out how to succeed where I’d failed in turning the ignition on. My imagination ran away with itself as I daydreamed of the monkeys forming vigilante scooter gangs and carrying out highway robberies on unsuspecting drivers.
I was snapped out of my daydream by the scaley form of a creature that made my heart leap. In the garden of one of the warden’s houses I saw what looked to me like the hood of a cobra. I made Hollie aware of this by exclaiming HOLLIE IT’S A COBRA, A F*****G COBRA! It wasn’t a cobra. It was a monitor lizard that for a split second looked like a cobra, but – all the same – I thought it was a good spot.
We followed the nature trail for a bit, but it was all wonky uphill steps – the view of the sea was spectacular to our right hand side, but the sun was intense and we couldn’t be arsed to carry on climbing. Instead we found the cafe and went for an ice cream. We sat down at a table to eat them, but found ourselves acosted by monkeys. We were about to get up and take our ice creams elsewhere, when the lady from the cafe came over to us and gave Hollie a slingshot, saying “Pull and it scares them”. I sat back down and enjoyed my cornetto, flinching at the occasional “THWOCK” of the slingshot when a monkey got too close for comfort – I think Hollie enjoyed being in this position of power.
The National Park was well worth a visit – the beach is beautiful and the wildlife is plentiful, and it helped us to see Koh Lanta in a much more favourable light than when we first arrived.
After an hour or two of exploring we set off back towards our hostel. One of the conditions of hiring a scooter is that you leave as much petrol in the tank as when you started, so I decided to fill her up before we got onto the busier roads. In South-East Asia, many houses that line the roads offer their own gasoline to scooter drivers that pass by. I have no idea how pure this product is – whether it’s been bought from a reputable gas station, or whether it’s a mix of cooking oil, ox piss and whiskey. All I know is 40 baht to fill your tank up is pretty reasonable, and that when in Rome, you should do as the Romans do. We stopped off at a house in the middle of nowhere, and an old lady used a funnel to decant a whiskey bottle full of the irn bru-coloured liquid into the tank. I find this practice of amateur gas stations quite funny. I wonder what would happen if anybody ever lit a fag up near one, and what effect the sun has on this flammable liquid contained in glass. I also find it hilarious that nine times out of ten, the gasoline is contained in a whiskey bottle, prompting serious questions over the quality of Thai whiskey. The most popular brand for recycling as a gas canister appears to be “Hong Thong”.
We made it back to the hostel – whatever the lady put in our tank was sufficient to see us home. We went for tea at a place called “Sweet and Sour” and had tom kha gai soup and mackerel in penang curry sauce – Hollie’s tom kha gai was spot on, whereas my mackerel was lacking the quantity of sauce required to soak up the rice – poor selection from Tommy. We washed them down with an iced tea each, before we had dessert. I had banana in coconut milk – a delicious Thai standard, with the heated coconut milk sweetened by sugarcane. Hollie, maverick that she is, opted for fried ice cream. The phrase “always try everything once” is especially relevant to her selection – try fried ice cream more than once and you’re likely to need a trip to the hospital to unblock your arteries! Hollie enjoyed this culinary adventure, and I must say the bit that she allowed me to sample was perverse, but tasty. I couldn’t help feeling though, that it looked exactly like a scotch egg….
We returned to Lom La Lanta to catch up on kip – tomorrow we would be snorkelling the coral reefs around Koh Rok.