Ko Lanta’s coral: Look, it’s moving! It’s alive!

Ko Lanta, 13-15 February 2020

From Phi Phi we travel further south towards Malaysia and stop off at Ko Lanta. The district was established in 1901 and consists of four main island groups: Mu Ko Lanta, Mu Ko Klang, Mu Ko Rok and Mu Ko Ngai. Lanta is believed to be one of the oldest communities in Thailand, dating back to prehistoric times. Interesting about the area is its diversity. Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Muslims and sea gypsies are all found together on the islands.

Mu Ko Lanta consists of 52 island, most of which are uninhabited. We stay on the largest, most populated island Ko Lanta Yai (commonly known as Ko Lanta), which has nine beaches running down the entire west coast, as well as forests and tropical jungle.

Since the Lanta district is known for its scuba diving we look into this first, but it turns out to be quite pricey at £125 per person for only two dives. Even besides the pricetag, or the fact the divemaster (a fellow Scot!) mistakes Lauren for being Irish, recent visibility hasn’t been good either, so we decide to forget about diving here and opt for snorkeling instead.

A speedboat brings us to Ko Rok Noi (part of Mu Ko Rok), roughly 60km from Ko Lanta. As we’ve come to expect in this part of the world, it’s paradise.

Ko Rok is an area supposedly frequented by Hawksbill turtles, but there doesn’t appear to be any seagrass for the turtles to feed on and at any rate we don’t find any. What we do find however is hands-down the best coral we have seen over the past 7 months!

With all the bright colours around it’s clear the coral is pretty healthy and that attracts a lot of fish and other sea creatures. The corals are littered with brightly coloured christmas tree worms.

Hiding on the bottom of the sea bed, we spot the biggest puffer fish we’ve ever seen, and observe a giant sea cucumber eating its lunch.

Our next stop Ko Haa is one of the tiniest island groups within Lanta, but probably the most photogenic with its jaggy rocks sticking out of the water.

There are a few baby reef sharks in amongst the coral, plus an enormous triggerfish I’m following at my own risk (they can pack a mean bite), and loads of angel fish and star fish. I was almost ready to give up on ever taking a good underwater photo, but Ko Lanta saves the day!

Out of Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, and Ko Lanta, the latter has been our clear favourite. It’s been laid-back, easy to cross by scooter, not overly touristic and has the best coral. There is one last stop to go for us in the Andaman when we visit Krabi next.

Koh Rong, but oh so right!

M’pai Bai, Koh Rong Sanloem. 19-23 January 2020.

No better way to end our travels in Cambodia than by laying low for a few days on the unspoilt, exotic Koh Rong Sanloem. Over the past few weeks we’ve gained a better understanding of the do’s and don’ts of local transport. Instead of involving the hotel, this time we book directly with a travel agent, a change in tactics that pays off in dividents: around mid-day a ferry lands us in the clear blue waters of M’pai Bai. Time to finally wash off all the dirt from the road!

Koh Rong Sanloem is the smaller of two inhabitated Cambodian islands in the Gulf of Thailand, the larger being Koh Rong. The place we stay is called M’pai Bai (meaning 23 in Khmer), a little village of about 150 people on the northern tip of the island. There’s no banks here, no ATM’s, no broadband, no electricity, we’re literally off-grid.

After evading the traffic of carts loaded with island supplies running up and down the pier, once the initial excitement of landing in a little slice of heaven has worn off, it’s quite impossible not to notice a certain hard-hitting prevalence of VCSO boys and girls on the island. Gap year douchebaggery is strong in this place serviced mainly by western volunteers, but once you look past all the duck faces, ‘loner’ tattoos and man-buns bragging about how wasted they got on red wine the night before, what remains is an utter and complete paradise.

The interior of the island is almost entirely covered in dense jungle. Though there used to be a basic road system linking up the two villages, this now completely overgrown with vegetation. Taxi boats and ferries connect the island’s seven beaches, along with the occasional rocky footpath. We follow the so-called driftwood path along the sandstone rock coastline to Clearwater Bay on the east coast. It lives up to its name.

One possible translation of Sanloem is far out. Some of the island’s inhabitants, such as Lookout‘s owner Benny, take this catchphrase from The Dude to the extreme by takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners. It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to procure a good smoke here, at all. M’pai Bai appears to have just the one policeman, whom we see returning a grinder to the bartender at one of the beach bars..

Once you’re feeling totally relaxed, there are boats available to take you to marvel at the glowing plankton the two Koh Rongs are famous for. At nights, near the shores of the uninhabited island of Koh Koun just to north of Sanloem, when you stir the water the plankton flashes gold. Far out, man!

Another three beaches are accessible by taxi-boat. In the morning we’re brought to Saracen Bay, which got its name from a British survey brig, HMS Saracen, that charted the area in the late 19th century. This stretch of soft, white sand is the main tourist area on the island. From here we choose one of the paths that leads through the jungle to the other side of the island. A sign explains the wildlife we may encounter on the walk: Great hornbills, kingfishers, ospreys, macaques and various (poisonous) snakes. Sadly (or perhaps luckily) we encounter nothing of the sort, and soon arrive at stunning Sunset Beach.

We may not have seen any land animals on the way here, when we snorkel around in the clear water of Sunset Beach the marine life we find around the scattered rocks and corals makes more than up for it. We spot angel fish, parrot fish, leopard fish, and even a few we haven’t seen before: a puffer fish, sea cucumbers and a cuttlefish!

Originally we were thinking of heading to the bigger Koh Rong for a few days, but somehow never made it there.. The nice thing about a small village such as M’pai bai is that in just a few days you begin to get to know everyone. Inside the actual village behind the beachfront there are a few local food stalls. Niamh, one of the chefs there, was on Cambodian Masterchef and her food is delicious, best lok lak we’ve had so far.

We also meet ‘the Mexican on a horse’, who is a bit of an enigma around these parts. No one knows why or when exactly, but he just appeared here one day with his hat and his horse, offering horseback rides to tourists.

But then, there was a lot about it that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But then again, maybe that’s why I found the place so durned interestin’.