Travels with John Smith
Chapter 53 year 8 (2019)
Chinese New Year with Pat and Lyle
Kou Lipe and Kou Lanta, Thailand
-boat trip to Kou Lipe
-customs on a beach
-a cabin in paradise
-cabanas in nature
-refuge from the rain
-visit with Gabby and family
-Dawn Marie and I get our feet nibbled
-Old Town mishap
-give this up?
-meeting the Prime Minister of Thailand
Travels with John Smith
Chapter 53 year 8 (2019)
Kou Lippe, Kou Lanta
We are bouncing across the Andaman sea. The bow of the boat tips upwards and smacks back down again, travelling straight across a wave and I try to move with it, like riding a horse, as I think this will make it better for my back, which is now aching. My feet have cramps in them from trying to hold the bag with snacks between them but I don’t want to move for fear of upsetting the balance. I’m sweating from holding the heavy backpack on my lap, in the hot sun. I am afraid to drink any water as I don’t think there is a washroom on the boat and even if there is, I have no idea how I would be able to get to it, as I do not think I could even stand, let alone move to another part of the boat.
They told us this trip would only take one hour (depending on weather conditions) but we’ve been travelling for longer and as I look around, I don’t think I’m the only one looking worse for wear.
There is no pier at Ko Lipe. The speedboat anchors a way off the shore and they transfer us to longtail boats which take us to Pattaya beach. Getting out of the longboat, is tricky for some as we have to balance the bags and shoes above the water, which we have taken off to wade through the knee high water to get on to the beach.
There is a wooden stand, similar to a little kids lemonade stand, placed in the sand with an official looking sign on it and a Thai immigration official looking at visas and stamping passports. We stand on the hot sand waiting to get the stamp, wondering where the suitcases are. We see them in a grouping of other bags and suitcases but find out you don’t get to collect them until you clear customs. We also pay a National Park admission fee which will hopefully help with the problems like waste, energy and environmental issues because of the rapidly growing tourism here. Hopefully we are a small part of the solution even though just being here is also a part of the problem.
We see a dirt parking lot just beyond the beach and make our way there to get a taxi. Apart from scooters and motorbikes, there are no motor vehicles on Kou Lipe so we jump into 2 motorcycles with sidecars, and drive the short distance to our hotel on this small adorable L shaped island paradise.
The hotel lobby is like a beach combers, open air front desk and cafe. People are eating their breakfast in the shade, on cushions or small tables, looking at a view of wooden sun beds with umbrellas directly outside, white sandy beaches and clear, calm turquoise sea only a few metres in front. It’s still early so there are a few longboats anchored in the water, which also adds to the charm. To the right of the cafe, there is a large flat wooden area with yoga mats on it, where someone getting a massage. This is exactly what we need!
Our rooms are little wooden cabins that have small porches with a hammock in front. Inside they are simple but have everything we need. The hotel is on Sunrise beach, close to the centre of the island where there is a busy walking street with loads of restaurants, bars, massage places, clothing, tattoo, diving and tour stalls and shops. The lay-out is something we also found in Kou Phi Phi so I guess is common on smaller islands.
Kou Lipe was originally settled by sea gypsies from Malaysia called Chao leh in Thai. The name Koh Lipe means Paper island in their language. There are 3 main beaches here and besides Sunrise Beach, on the East side, there is Pattaya Beach in the South, which is the one we came through customs on, and Sunset Beach, on the West side of the island.
John and I get up at 5:00 and walk to the front of the hotel. It is still fairly dark but there are already a few people sitting on the wooden sun loungers with shawls around them in the damp, slight chill of the morning. There are some people on blankets or towels on the sand, meditating or just sitting, arms around each other. There is complete quiet, as if this moment is too precious to be spoiled by chatter, as if holding their breath will make it last longer. As the sun starts to rise, the fiery reds, orange and purple glows reflect off of people’s tanned faces. As the sky becomes lighter, it turns to pale pink, mauve and blue and the people seem to wake up with the sky. They are talking and laughing now, having shared this special moment. A lot of the people standing here are not staying in this hotel. It’s clear that it’s the best spot on the beach to watch the start of a new day.
This island and its area is quite famous for snorkelling and scuba diving. We rent some equipment for snorkelling and walk into the sea right in front of the hotel and swim around the coral that start right there. We see loads of gorgeous fish without even having to take a boat anywhere. We read somewhere that 25 percent of the world’s tropical fish can be found here and in the surroundings.
One night, John stays in bed as he isn’t feeling well so Pat, Lyle and I go out for dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant. We stop at a trendy bar on our way back. They are playing a movie on a giant screen, like a drive in, with subtitles, so we sit on lawn chairs for a while and go back to the hotel fairly early.
We relax in the sun, get massages and lay around all day. At night we go to the walking street and choose a place to eat. This is what I call a holiday. Don’t get me wrong. I love to discover different places and it’s cultures, see great architecture and different kinds of art and ways of life. A balance of those things and relaxing in the sun is always good. This Chinese New Year Holiday trip has been a little more about seeing things so this is just chilled and very easy. Tomorrow we will take the boat to Kou Lanta.
The boat moves close to the dock and people start to line up to get off. The ladder to get out and up on to the dock seems quite high up and I feel embarrassed as I try to pull my body up to place a leg on the ladder but I don’t have the strength to do it. Someone at the top notices and pulls on my arms as John pushes my bottom. It’s a struggle but I am relieved that I actually make it. I will admit I’m not in excellent shape but I’m not that bad. What happens to anyone in their older years or someone that has some kind of physical disadvantage? Anyway, we laugh at my pitiful attempt and go to the cafe with Pat and Lyle for one last cold beverage before we say goodbye and they take the longer and last part of the boat journey to Phuket.
There is a sign above the washroom door of the stick figures you see to show you which washroom is for whom but this sign shows a female figure standing on one side of a wall and a male figure climbing up the wall to have a peek over the wall. There is no line through it, to say ‘Don’t Do this’, like ‘No Smoking’, ‘No peeking over the washroom wall’. Just the picture. We are not sure we want to use this washroom but it’s the only one here and we can’t wait.
It doesn’t take us very long before John and I are standing in front of our cabana in the Costa Lanta Hotel on Klong Dao Beach. This minimalist hotel was designed by one of Thailand’s leading architects, Duangrit Bunnag and it’s got an urban feel with a respect for nature. There are 22 square cement cabanas with 2 heavy wooden walls that open up completely to the elements. They are spread around the tropical gardens with streams, coconut trees and a 25 metre long infinity pool, parallel to the 3 kilometre white, sandy beach and Andaman Sea in front of the grounds. The hotel is striving for sustainability as much as possible, with solar powered lights, the restaurant uses organic vegetables from their garden, composts any waste and recycles as much as possible. They also supply bicycles to the guests.
Inside the cabana, it is minimalist and luxurious, with a king sized bed, white sheets and the largest cotton mosquito net I’ve ever seen. I guess this makes sense if your room is open to the elements for any amount of time!
John and I take the hotel bicycles out to explore the area. We ride along a quiet road behind the hotel where there are signs that say ‘Tsunami route 700 metres’, pointing the other way and there is a large body of water with trees submerged in it. We go the other way, back towards the busier main road and spot a cool restaurant that looks like a Robinson Crusoe tree house, without the tree. We make a mental note to come back and try it.
It’s time to go out for dinner and it’s started to rain. We grab a tuk tuk at the gate and we just get in, when it starts to pour. We decide to try the restaurant we saw earlier as it’s close. We pull up in front of the 2 level open restaurant and it looks dark but there are quite a few people it. The woman who greets us tells us the power has gone off because of the downpour but they are still able to cook. We wonder if they have a generator or if they cook on a barbecue or something. She lights a candle on our table and takes our order of King Prawns. Outside the rain is still coming down so hard, there is a small river forming on the road outside and it’s rushing past the entrance. Our food arrives just as the lights come back on and the prawns are huge, grilled to perfection and delicious. Who needs electricity?
We spend the day on the long almost empty beach, swimming in the warm water, people watching and eating lunch in the wonderful restaurant. We see a couple power walking, the woman dragging a baby carriage behind her and the man dragging an occupied wheelchair behind him. While we are eating lunch we get a visit from a very big lizard. He is at least a metre long. He strolls across the lawn past our table and disappears into some bushes near the main part of the restaurant.
Our buddies and neighbours from Wuhan; Gabby, Jerry and their kids Dawn Marie and AJ are on the island somewhere so I send them a message to see if we can meet up. They have scooters and knowing them and their adventurous ways, probably travel about on the island quite freely. Even though our hotels are on different sides of the island, Dawn Marie and AJ come fairly quickly.
We order a taxi at the front gate. A small truck with benches in the back, otherwise known as a Songthaew, comes. Since it’s nighttime, it has coloured disco lights spinning around and disco music blaring out in the back. We feel like we are getting into a party van, like we are gearing up for an exciting night!
He drops us off on a street with a small night market where we meet up with Gabby and Jerry. We walk around the market, checking out the stalls that sell crispy deep fried insects and grubs before picking out a couple local specialities that look like meat balls on a stick to snack on. We have a good visit, walk around the night market and go back to a market near our place for desert and a tea.
Dawn Marie and I are getting a foot spa treatment with the little fish that eat your dead skin called, gararufa. It is the 1st time for Dawn Marie and she is giggling and shrieking without stopping. I make some funny noises of my own. AJ has decided to get a tattoo in the shop next door. Time for us to go to bed. I have mentioned how much I love meeting up with friends in other places around the world so it was great to hang out with them, even though we will see them in a few days in Wuhan.
We are in one of the little truck taxis on our way to the East Coast, on the other side of the island, to Kou Lanta’s Old Town. We are driving through the countryside and we see lots of tropical forests and open fields. It is good to see that Kou Lanta is not overly developed in some places. The whole island is about 27 kilometres long but it seems to be taking a long time because of the state of the roads. There is no disco music accompanying our ride today but the road is full of potholes and there is a lot of dust blowing around in the open back of the truck. I am feeling a little car sick because the seats face sideways so I try to position myself so I’m facing the same direction the vehicle is moving, hanging on so I don’t get knocked off the seat every time we hit a bump. It very hot and this adds to the nausea. The driver has his 5 year old daughter with him and he puts her in the back of the truck with us at the beginning of the journey. She seems sweet at first but is now quite precocious and has become quite hard work, which is adding to feeling ill. She doesn’t speak any English so the effort of trying to get her to stop what she is doing is exhausting. We stop talking so as not to encourage her behaviour any futher. The whole thing feels strange.
The Old Town is a cool area like a main street with lots of wooden houses, shops and restaurants, many on stilts over the water. It is almost like a cowboy street in the old west, as the houses are made from a kind of battered wood or what we would call barn board, with painted shutters on the 2nd floor of many of the houses. The Chinese lanterns and small shrines beside many of the buildings remind us we are still in South East Asia.
We go to a restaurant, that extends out quite far, back over the water. It has one of the best views, from behind, of the other buildings so we get another view of the town. As we eat our lunch, we notice a walkway with a swing at the edge of the pier and you can swing over the water, looking at the picture postcard view of the sea with mountains in the distance. There are people taking pictures of each other on it and we try too, but the swing is in direct sunshine and it is so hot, I can’t sit on it.
Right beside the restaurant, there is a long tiled path which has a brightly painted, fence on either side with pairs of green and golden dragons to greet visitors to a chubby, happy buddha under the shade in a small pagoda at the very end. To get to the small shrine pagoda, you must walk on the path, which is on stilts above the water. There is a sign at the foot of the fence that has a picture of a shoe with a line through it. I understand that it is a question of respect so we remove our shoes and attempt to hop along, scorching the bottoms of our feet as we go but I guess our desire for spiritual enlightenment isn’t strong enough as we give up after a few tries.
We go into a couple shops and each place has a different view from the back of the building over the water. We buy some souvenirs in one, some light clothing in another and come to an antique looking building with the door open, where we can see loads of curiosities inside.
There is a small alleyway beside it that leads down to the water and there are various types of vines growing on the side of the building, making it look like a ‘Secret garden’ passage.
We step inside and see shoes by the doorway so we remove ours as we do in lots of shops in Thailand. The cool tiles on the floor feel good on our feet and there is a fan whirling around in circles on the ceiling. There are long beams of exposed wood on the ceiling and high up, next to the rafters there are many faded, photographs of the royal family of Thailand; the old king and his wife and the new king and a few people we don’t recognize. There are a number of glass display shelves, loaded down with everything from plush toys to dishes to religious artifacts. I take a picture of John surrounded by these treasures and we hear a voice calling from another room. We respond by calling back “Hello, We are just having a look.” An old man comes out from the back, saying, “Why are you here? This is my home.” We are mortified! We apologize and quickly slip our shoes back on, backing out of the doorway, saying “Sorry! We thought it was a shop.”
We are back at the hotel, on the sun-beds after swimming in the sea. The sky is a cloudless bright blue above us, the palm trees sway in the light breeze and the sea is gently rolling in towards us. John says, “This will be hard to give up. Maybe we should stay one more year.” I feel the warmth of the sun and think about other places we could go to, but there is another side that is pulling at me. I feel a little disappointed as I was ready to go, ready for another chapter in our lives. I love that we have been so fortunate to be able to work and travel these last few years but it feels like it’s time to move on, to be somewhere we can settle. I can see the logic of it though. We make a loose plan about what we might do if we go back to Canada in a years time and what we will do in China during the next year.
It’s sadly time to leave this paradise and to get back to the mainland we take a private boat from some houses on stilts to what looks like a fishing village, then a car takes us to the Krabi airport. It is very busy today so the driver lets us off and we push through the crowd to get inside.
The plane is delayed so we take a seat and start to notice that all the locals sitting here are chatting excitedly, there is a definite buzz in the air and everyone appears to be focused on one of the arrival doors. There are people who look like security guys hanging around and photographers that bring their cameras up ready to take a picture, every time the doors open. We wonder if someone famous is coming and the word has gotten out. After guessing who it might be and getting my phone ready every time the door opens, I go over to a small group of people who are also watching the door. They have airport tags so I guess if they work there, they will probably speak English. One of them tells me yes someone very famous is coming.
The Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut chan-o-cha steps through the door and the crowd that has now gathered move towards him. We manage to stay up front and as he is coming towards us, I take his picture. One second later, he is standing right in front of me so I give him the Thai thank you gesture of slightly bowing my head, with my hands in a praying motion in front of me. He stops walking and does the same back to me, then takes my hand, and shakes it. He continues on to take pictures with local dignitaries and as he is leaving, he turns back and looks at me. I wave and smile at him. He waves back and beckons me over, then tells his security guy to take a picture of us together. John joins us for the picture and he asks where we are from. We say our goodbyes and he says, “Take care!” I say, “You too!”
We are back in Wuhan after stopping for a few days in our favourite hotel in Bangkok. While we were there, we did our fav things and one night we were getting cash from the cash machine a couple blocks from our hotel and we hear our names. There is a guy we work with in Wuhan with some mates of his. Another small world story!
It’s the 1st day back to school, after the holiday. The 1st class of the day has just finished and I am in the library. John comes in and stands in front of my desk. He says, “I can’t do another year. What about going back to Canada?” I laugh as that didn’t take long but am relieved as it feels right.